From Weakness to Strength

Scott Sauls

This is an outstanding book by Scott Sauls, who is the lead pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Formerly Sauls served on the lead team and on the preaching team with Tim Keller at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

In this book Sauls discusses eight vulnerabilities – eight things to be alert to that can cause problems for leaders. But at the same time, these are eight weaknesses that God can use to make us better leaders.

The book is quite good. Sauls is insightful and bright. He is well read and the book has excellent quotes and anecdotes. He is also humble and transparent about his own struggles.

Here are the eight vulnerabilities: ambition, isolation, criticism, envy, insecurity, anti-climax (disappointment), opposition, suffering. I would say that the chapters on ambition, criticism, envy and insecurity are especially good, but all of them are good.

Near the outset of the book, he makes these comments:

Jesus also offers a radically different understanding of what it means to be a leader. His vision for leadership often parts ways with the typical American view of such things. For example:

In America, credentials qualify a person to lead. In Jesus, the chief qualification is character.

In America, what matters most are the results we produce. In Jesus, what matters most is the kind of people we are becoming.

In America, success if measured by material accumulation, power, and the positions that we hold. In Jesus, success is measured by material generosity, humility, and the people whom we serve. (p. 21)

Because of his own struggles, he makes this prayer a daily prayer for himself:

Father in heaven,

Always grant me character

that is greater than my gifts

and humility

that is greater than my influence.


(p. 64)

The book is rooted in the Scriptures. For example, he has very good sections on the rivalry of Jacob and Esau, and on Jacob’s wrestling with God in Genesis 32.

Here is an example of the kind of honesty and vulnerability that he models:

One season flattened me physically, spiritually, and emotionally to the point where, though not suicidal, I prayed daily that God would either heal the affliction or end my life. I could not sleep despite taking sleeping pills, lost thirty pounds, and could barely eat or get out of bed. If you had quoted Romans 8:28 to me or referenced other Scripture promising that God would work my situation out for good, it would have fallen on deaf ears.

In retrospect, however, I can now see the hand of God in that horrid season. (p. 179-180)

Finally, he concludes with a tribute to Tim Keller. He wrote this tribute after Tim Keller announced his planned retirement in March, 2017. There is much to be learned simply by reading about Keller’s life in this tribute.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.

Martin Luther

Eric Metaxas

Martin Luther was a troubled soul as a monk and God used this trouble to birth freedom – freedom not just for himself but for those across the globe and down through history.   For out of his pain, Luther was driven to the Scriptures and grasped the truth of grace in Christ.

He boldly spoke out against the corruption of the church, and in the process set in motion a chain of events leading to the Reformation – and a new era for the kingdom of God, an era that saw a return to biblical teachings of grace in Christ through faith alone.  Indeed, the return to sola Scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia.

Once it began, the avalanche picked up steam and took much of Europe with it.  Many today, including me, live in the wake of Luther’s bold leadership.

He had a personality bigger than life – a brilliant biblical scholar in the original languages, a gifted preacher, a writer of many books, a fearless leader in the face of opposition from both Emperor and Pope, an indefatigable servant of Christ, a candid, transparent and witty friend.

What impact he had!

He unleashed the gospel of grace!

He translated the Bible into German, giving Germany its Bible, and in the process, its language!

He created the atmosphere for religious freedom, for the dignity of every vocation.  He gave a voice to the people, gave congregational singing to the church, the Scriptures to the people.  He introduced reforms that would eventually be adopted by the Catholic Church.  His ideas of pluralism would indirectly foster democracy, liberty and government by the people.

What a titan on the world stage!  One of the handful of great characters in history.

Flawed?  Of course.  Who but Jesus is not?  Certainly he was wrong in the way he attacked the Jews in his later years.  He naively believed false accusations.  But if he had been alive 400 years later, he would have died with Bonhoeffer in opposing Hitler.

Moreover, he could be intemperate in his criticisms of people, though perhaps the desperate times called for strong men.

Metaxas has done it again.  After superb biographies of Wilberforce and Bonhoeffer, he has now given us a superb biography of Luther.  I’ve read a number of them and this is easily the best I’ve read.

My Reading Life

Pat Conroy

I loved this book.  Pat Conroy is a novelist from the South and toward the end of his career, he pens this delicious memoir on his love affair with reading and books.  It is so fun.  Any decent bibliophile will love this book.

He talks about his childhood, which was marked by an abusive Navy pilot father, and a mother who loved books.  She successfully infected him with her delight.

The book was a treat from cover to cover, but especially the chapters that told of his mother’s influence on his reading, the life-altering influence of a high school English teacher who because a father figure for him, a quaint bookstore in Atlanta and his friendship with the eccentric owner, and the time he spent writing and walking in Paris.

But he also has chapter-length treatments of Gone with the Wind, Thomas Wolfe, War and Peace, and the writings of James Dickey.

Conroy is a powerful writer, and can he tell a story!  The vocabulary in this book delightfully stretched me perhaps more than any other book I have ever read.  This entire book was a treat, so much so that I was tempted, when I finished, to go back to page one and start over.  It is definitely a book that I will want to read again.

Enthusiastically recommended!

For the Glory: Erick Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr

Duncan Hamilton

This is a superb biography of Eric Liddell, the famed Christian and Olympian who was featured in the 1980 movie “Chariots of Fire,” which won an Oscar for best picture.  The biographer did a superb job, including extensive research on Liddell in China, Britain and Canada, where his family moved after he was martyred in 1945. 

Liddell was born in China of missionary parents from Scotland.  He went to boarding school in Britain and later attended Edinburgh University.

He was a superb athlete and began winning races all over England.  He was named to the British Olympic Team for the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris.  However, the preliminaries of his main event, the 100 meters, were held on a Sunday.  It was his strong conviction that Christians should not compete in sports on Sunday.

Unlike the movie, which is mostly but not completely accurate, Liddell knew months in advance of this conflict.  British officials tried long and hard to dissuade him from his convictions about racing on Sunday.  He was also widely criticized in the press.  But it was to no avail.  Though Liddell was a gentle and humble man in many ways, he was also a man of iron convictions and he would not budge about racing on Sunday. 

Liddell did compete at the Paris Olympic games, but he competed in the 400 meters, which did not have the Sunday conflict.  There were four rounds in the 400.  In the first round, a runner from Switzerland set a world record.  In the next round an American runner broke that record.  There was no record in the third round, but in the final round, Liddell, who was not a favorite to win or even place in this event, won with a stirring upset of these two record holders.

Though he had previously been widely criticized for his refusal to run on Sunday, after winning a gold medal in the 400 he was widely acclaimed for his convictions.  He became the British hero of the 1924 Olympics, who could win a gold medal even when it wasn’t his main event. 

After the Olympic Games Liddell spoke widely for the gospel.  He turned down lucrative opportunities to make money through speaking fees, writing fees, and endorsements.  He was not interested in fame or money.  Rather he was resolute in going to China as a missionary.  As he put it, “God made me for China.”  He would stay another year at Edinburgh, finishing his work, before making the journey to China, where he would live the rest of his life except for a furlough.

A Praying Life

Paul Miller

This is one of the best books on prayer that I have read.  I have quite a few in my library and the big important works covering the topic systematically would include the books by Timothy Keller, Philip Yancey and Richard Foster – all three valuable works.  But in some ways this is the most practical book on prayer that I’ve read.  I want to say that it is more practical than profound, but on the other hand, Miller can be very insightful.  He has certainly reflected deeply on prayer.

The book is peppered with stories, mostly from his own family life, with his wife and six children, especially including his autistic daughter, Kimberly.  He is honest, vulnerable and real.

In some ways I think this will change the way I approach intercession for people – more real, and more honest with God about challenges and needs.

Highly recommended.