Book Review: Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

 Clearly Articulates the “Now-ness” of The Gospel

I was gripped by this book from the outset because it was in going through the hardest difficulty in my life a few years ago (similar to what Tullian describes in chapter one) that I realized the idolatry for what it was in my own life and learned to once again treasure the “now-ness” (not newness) of the gospel. It’s easy to take the gospel for granted when you have been a follower of Christ for many years, but I think having to personally live out or flesh out the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ makes one better appreciate the significance of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ – not only in the past and future – but especially in the now.

I am very grateful for this book because Tullian articulates the gospel with passion, clarity, and hones in on how the gospel makes a difference in the now. If you have already read a lot of Tim Keller or Paul Tripp this book will have a lot of new insights for you. However, if you have never read Keller or Tripp than you are really in for a treat. I think Tullian writes in a way that’s simpler, and more concise than Keller or Tripp. No matter how you slice it, this book has great information on the distinctions between justification and sanctification and how everything we long for can only be satisfied in Christ.

I highly recommend this book especially for people who are prone to legalism, or have come from a background where “works righteousness” has been emphasized. I think this book is MUST reading if you haven’t read any of Tim Keller or Paul Tripp’s stuff. If you like this book than you will really love Keller and Tripp. These three guys have really got a good grasp of the gospel and how it applies to all of life – past, present, and future – with a special emphasis on the present.

As Tullian writes and you read his illustrations, a plethora of Scripture, and a lot of great quotes – my hope is that you too will come to treasure and apply the gospel in your own life more than ever before. It is so exciting to see so many new writers, and pastors going into the depths of the gospel with passion and clarity. He must have a generational gift inherited from his grandfather for this ability (Billy Graham). Tullian has a great story and we all do, if we have repented of our sins and put our faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ and seek to pursue Jesus + nothing – we will indeed get everything we have ever longed for here and beyond!

Note: I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher and was not required to write a positive review. Thanks – Crossway – for continuing to put out the best books in Christian publishing (in my humble opinion).

 

*William Graham “Tullian Tchividjian” is a Florida native (born July 13, 1972 in Jacksonville) and is the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham. He is named after third century theologian Tertullian.

A graduate of Columbia International University (philosophy) and Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando (M.Div.), Tchividjian is the author of The Kingdom of God: A Primer on the Christian Life (Banner of Truth), Do I Know God? Finding Certainty in Life’s Most Important Relationship (Multnomah), Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different  (Multnomah), Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels (Crossway) and, most recently – from which the review above is based, Jesus + Nothing = Everything  (Crossway).

Before becoming senior pastor of Coral Ridge, Tchividjian was the founding pastor of New City Presbyterian Church, an Evangelical Presbyterian Church congregation which merged with Coral Ridge in April 2009.

After taking over as pastor, Tchividjian instituted sweeping changes. He made the services somewhat more contemporary than they had previously been. He canceled the church’s long-running television program, The Coral Ridge Hour. He also significantly deemphasized politics; Coral Ridge had long been reckoned as one of the most politically active churches in the country. Tchividjian’s opponents garnered enough support to force a congregational vote of confidence, but a solid majority voted to retain him as pastor. In response, more than 400 members–including a large part of the music ministry–broke off to form “The New Presbyterian Church.”

He speaks at conferences throughout the United States and his sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living. He is the new chaplain for the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Cowboys.

He married his wife Kim in 1994 and they have three children – Gabe, Nate, and Genna.

Book Review – Found: God’s Will by John MacArthur

Good Biblical Foundation For Understanding the Topic of God’s Will For Your Life

I am currently reading a handful of books on decision making. I figured I would start out with the shortest of them, and work my way to the longest (from the simple to the complex). John Macarthur’s greatest strength is that you can count on him staying close to what the Bible says and not giving any speculation as to what it doesn’t say. He doesn’t delve into the emotional or philosophical realm, but sticks like glue to what the Bible clearly articulates concerning what God’s will is for humanity.

In the first chapter John clearly spells out what he wants to do in this little booklet: “Let’s begin with a simple assumption. Since God has a will for us, He must want us to know it. If so, then we could expect Him to communicate it to us in the most obvious way. How would that be? Through the Bible, His revelation. Therefore, I believe that what one needs to know about the will of God is clearly revealed in the pages of the Word of God. God’s will is, in fact, very explicit in Scripture.”

Therefore, MacArthur proceeds to deal only with what the Bible states explicitly about the Word of God. He gleans six principles from six (actually more – but for the purposes of this review I will only give the key texts he uses) key passages of Scripture.

1)    The first thing about God’s will is that He wants all kinds of people (economic classes, high positions, low positions and all ethnicities) to be saved based on 1 Timothy 2:3,4 – “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” (Referencing verses1 & 2 where Paul says “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way”).

2)    It is God’s will that we are Spirit-filled (numerous verses). The key verses used in the chapter is Ephesians 5:15-18 where the Apostle Paul says, “Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” According to MacArthur the Spirit-filled life is “being saturated with the things of Christ with His Word, His Person.”

3)    It is God’s will for us to be sanctified. The key verses here are in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in passionate lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

4)    It is God’s will that we be a submissive and obedient people. Colossians 3; Ephesians 5 & 6; and 1 Peter 2:3-15 all talk about the roles of submission that every believer has with ultimate submission to the Lordship of Jesus over our lives.

5)    It is God’s will that we mature in Christ through suffering. 1 Peter 4:19 & 5:10 specify, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good…And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

6)    It is God’s will that in all things we give thanks and delight in Him. In Psalm 37:4 David reminds us to “delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

In the final analysis if you are saved through the righteousness of Christ imputed to your account in exchange for your sin, and thus Spirit-filled, seeking to be sanctified, are submissive to Christ’s leadership in your life, endure suffering, and are continually giving thanks in all things – then according to MacArthur, and I agree – it doesn’t matter what you do. The foundation for all your decisions has already been established, and now you have great freedom within the parameters of God’s protective boundaries delineated in the Bible.

This book is by no means exhaustive, but is recommended because it lays a solid foundation for what the Bible does say about “finding God’s will for your life.”

Book Review on Ben Patterson’s “Muscular Faith”

The premise of this book (written by an ex-pastor/college chaplain with a lot of life, and ministry experience – he is now in his sixties) is that the Christian life is NOT easy, is extremely difficult, and that the more you train and prepare for the inevitable hardships – the better.

The book is written in Four distinct sections: Part 1 makes a case for the call to be a Christian Warrior (using God as a model of this motif); Part 2 make a case for the vigorous requirements of the war that the Christian is continually engaged in; Part 3 explains three primary obstacles to our being effective in the battle; and Part 4 discusses 7 essential habits to develop to be successful in the Christian life and how to ultimately finish well and live a life pleasing to God.

I have read all of Patterson’s books and as a result I found that there was a lot of repetition from things he has said in previous books. As a matter of fact, if you read very much (especially C.S. Lewis) – there is precious little new information here. As a matter of fact – each principle, or illustration used with only a few exceptions I have heard or read elsewhere.

Therefore, I would not recommend this book to Christians who read a lot of Christian authors – simply because, you will feel like I did in reading this book – I kept reading things that I’ve read or heard before, so it actually got annoying. However, if you are new to Patterson, and have not read C.S. Lewis or very many Christian authors, then I would highly recommend this book.

Book Review: Enemies of the Heart by Andy Stanley

Vintage Stanley: Biblical Reflections On The Four Greatest Enemies of Our Soul

I think Andy Stanley has hit it out of the park with this book. He is so good at bringing God’s truth from the Scriptures to bear on the big issues of the day. I think that along with Pete Scazzero’s books Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and the Emotionally Healthy Church – that this book is must reading for pastors, leaders, and anyone who is a part of the body of Christ. Most Bible teachers, often neglect the soulish matters of the heart, – but Stanley calls a spade a spade and writes a convicting, challenging, and much needed corrective for us to address our blind spots.

In Part 1 he addresses the fact that sin comes from the heart as Jeremiah says and is incredibly deceptive. He talks about the damage that sin does, and how to identify it, and the importance of correcting it.

In Part 2 he addresses the dynamics of the debts that result from our sin. The four biggies are: Guilt – “I owe you”; Anger – “You owe me”; Greed – “I owe me”; and Jealousy – “God owes me.” Andy handles each of these brilliantly and gives excellent examples that we can all relate to, so that we can confess them and start working in a positive direction to overcome them with the help of God the Holy Spirit.

In Part 3 he focuses in on how to confront each of these sins, with their righteous (happy) counterparts: from anger to forgiveness; from greed to generosity; and reasons to celebrate the joy that we have in receiving Christ’s blessing and the Holy Spirit’s power at work in our lives.

In Part 4 he helps us focus on what we are modeling and the legacy we are leaving behind (especially parents for their children) and how to deal with lust.

The book includes a helpful discussion guide, which is excellent for personal application, and small group discussion. This book is vintage Stanley: full of Scripture, great examples and illustrations, and motivates you toward wanting to live the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. I can’t recommend it highly enough – life transforming!

Book Review: More Than Ordinary by Doug Sherman

Motivating You to Become God Enthralled

 What a fantastic book! The whole time I was reading it – I was thinking to myself “Why didn’t I write this book?” As a pastor and life coach everything the author talks about in this book is exactly in a nutshell what I want followers of Jesus  to know. I will definitely be buying this book and giving it away, and recommending it to others. As a matter of fact, I am preaching through the book of Colossians right now on Sunday’s but was so impacted by this book – that with Father’s Day coming up this Sunday – I’m going to use some of the Scripture passages in this book and the principles and suggestions that the author brings out to share with my flock – to remind them of what an Awesome Heavenly Father we have.

This book essentially has it all – excellent theology, wonderful Bible passages, great stories, personal and authentic, excellent applications, and flows very well. I read it in about three hours – and I’m not a fast reader, but I simply couldn’t put the book down!

The essence of this book is that God created us to know Him intimately and that He is our ultimate satisfaction in life. Doug does a fantastic job of weaving the Biblical story of the creation, fall, redemption, and restoration throughout the book. He weaves the Biblical story with his story and our story – making practical connections throughout the book. If you are having a dry spell in your walk with God, or He seems distant to you – or even if you think you are very close to Him – this book will motivate you and give you great practical ways to enjoy Him even more.

I especially recommend it for those who didn’t have a good relationship (or currently) with their earthly father – as the author relays his own testimony in regard to this. Also, as a father myself, it really motivated me to become a better father and reflect God practically to my children and grandchildren. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

The Music of Freedom (The Boy Who Loved Music)

[Chapter 2 of the excellent book on God’s Grace and Freedom by Steve Brown]

When Being Good Isn’t Good Enough, Thomas Nelson, 1990.

“The elders have ceased gathering at the gate,

and the young men from their music. The

joy of our heart has ceased; our dance

has turned into mourning.” – Lamentations 5:14-15

            Before we go any further in our discussion of freedom and grace I want to tell you a story. It is not fiction. Fiction is the telling of a story that is not true in a way that makes it seem true. The story I am going to tell is true, but its truth is deeper than the story. It is myth in the deeper sense of the word.

Some say that parables are closer to truth than polemics and that stories tell more than sermons. Or to put it another way, myth sometimes touches a deeper truth in us than philosophy. I suspect that is particularly true when presenting fairly radical ideas.

As you continue to read this book, you may grow confused and perhaps a little angry. You may think that I have gone off the “deep end” or that I have become a heretic. You may even find yourself wishing that the things I have said were true, but you are afraid to believe them because nothing could be that good!

On those occasions I want you to read this story again. In it you will find the essence of this book and, without sounding presumptuous, the essence of the Christian faith. Now relax and let me tell the story.

There once was a little boy named Ebed. Ebed had music in his heart, but he wanted it in his hands. He wanted to play the piano. In fact, he wanted to play the piano more than anything else in the world. No one knew it, of course. Boys aren’t supposed to play the piano; they’re supposed to fish and camp and play sports. Ebed liked all those things, but more than anything he wanted to play the piano.

But Ebed’s family couldn’t afford the piano lessons for him. So when his friends talked about learning to play the piano, Ebbie would laugh and make fun of them.

“Playing the piano,” he would say, “is for girls. It’s more fun to play ball. Pretty soon you guys will be wearing dresses and carrying purses!” And then Ebbie would walk off with a smirk on his face. But inside he knew the truth. More than anything in the world, he wanted to play the piano.

Sometimes when no one was around he would sit down at the piano at school and try to play. He really wasn’t that bad for someone who had never had a lesson. In fact, his untutored playing made Ebbie think that he might have talent.

One day at the local ice cream parlor Ebbie noticed his friends and their piano teacher eating ice cream and laughing together. It was obvious to Ebbie that the piano teacher not only taught his students to play the piano but was also their friend. They, of course, didn’t see Ebbie standing by the door. They were too absorbed in one another. Ebbie stood there for the longest time, afraid they would notice him, but also, in a strange way, afraid they wouldn’t.

After a while Ebbie left the ice cream parlor. He felt very sad. He kept up a good front in the parlor, but if anyone had noticed him, they would have noticed the tears welling up in his eyes. Ebbie ran down to the lake, where he went sometimes when he wanted to be alone. Once he was sure nobody was around, he sat down on a rock and began to cry.

Ebbie cried and thought for a long time. He thought about how much he wanted to play the piano, and he thought about the piano teacher. He knew his family was poor and there were some things he just couldn’t have. But still, it would be nice to have a friend like the piano teacher.

All of a sudden Ebbie heard the sound behind him. Turning quickly, he found to his horror that the piano teacher was standing there, smiling at him.

“Where did you come from?” Ebbie asked more harshly than he intended.

“I noticed you at the ice cream parlor,” the piano teacher replied. “You looked lonely and I thought I would follow you. Do you mind if I sit down for a while?”

“Suit yourself,” Ebbie said, “but I did come here to be alone, and I didn’t invite you.”

The piano teacher sat down on the same rock with Ebbie and for a long time didn’t say a word. When the teacher did speak, his voice was soft and understanding.

“Ebed, would you like to play the piano?”

“What makes you think that? The piano is for girls and…” Ebbies voice trailed off as he looked into the piano teacher’s eyes. He couldn’t lie. “Yes,” Ebbie admitted slowly, “I would like to play the piano. In fact, sir, I have always wanted to play the piano, but I don’t have the money to pay for lessons.”

“Well, maybe I can do something to help.”

“Yeah,” Ebbie responded, “like what?”

“Well, I could be your friend. Friends don’t charge for helping. If I was your friend, I could teach you to play the piano.”

“That would be great!” Ebbie shouted, jumping up. In his excitement, he almost fell off the rock into the lake. But the piano teacher caught Ebbie just in time, and they both started to laugh. Ebbie couldn’t remember a time he had laughed so hard.

“You know my name,” Ebbie remarked. “I can’t believe you know my name.”

“Yes,” the piano teacher agreed. “I have known your name for a long time.”

“Well, if we’re going to be friends, I guess I ought to know your name too.”

“It’s Immanuel,” the teacher said, “But my best friends call me ‘Manny.’ I hope you will call me Manny too.”

Ebbie decided that day he was going to be the best piano player who ever lived. “Others,” he thought to himself, “don’t think playing the piano is that important, but it’s what I’ve wanted all my life. I will work and work until I’m the best piano student the teacher has, and he will be very proud of me.”

But over the next few weeks, Ebbie found that playing the piano was not as easy as he had supposed. He had thought he would be well on his way after only a few lessons. Nobody, however, had told him about scales, the hours of practice, and the simple little tunes beginners have to play.

One day, after an extremely frustrating lesson, Ebbie turned to his teacher dejectedly, “I’ll never get this right, Manny. I keep making the same mistakes over and over again. And I can see it in your eyes. You’re about ready to give up on me, and I would understand. It’s all my fault.”

“Ebed.” Immanuel’s smile made his words almost unnecessary. “I will never give up on you. Friends don’t give up on friends.”

“What if I leave and don’t come back?”

“Ebed, if you never came back, you are still my friend. I will always be here to give you lessons.” And then with a grin Immanuel asked, “Do you still want to play the piano?”

“Of course, I want to play. I’ve always wanted to play, but nobody ever told me it was going to be this hard.”

“Did I tell you it would be easy?”

“No sir.”

“But I did say you would learn to play the piano, and that I would be your friend. We’re working on the first, and the second will always be.”

Immanuel sat down on the piano bench beside Ebbie.

“Let’s look at the piece you’re working on.”

Ebbie sheepishly got out his beginner’s book and turned to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Ebbie blushed to show his teacher that he had gotten no further in the book.

“Play it for me,” Immanuel said.

“But I can only play the treble line well.”

“Doesn’t matter. Play it for me anyway.”

So Ebbie began to peck out the melody of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” To be perfectly honest, the little star didn’t twinkle very brightly. Ebbie kept missing notes and stopping often to make sure his fingers were in the right position. His rhythm was halting.

And then, to his surprise, Ebbie heard the most beautiful music he had ever heard. He looked to his right, Immanuel was adding to Ebbie’s notes with his right hand. And then, without missing a beat, the piano teacher eased himself behind Ebbie, encircled Ebbie from behind with his arms, and added bass notes with his left hand as well! Ebbie continued to play his one-note melody, but now it sounded totally different.

Immanuel’s melody wove into Ebbie’s single line, transforming the simple melody into a complex symphony of sound. Ebbie was so fascinated that he almost forgot to keep playing. The harmonies, one on top of the other, soared in an increasingly complicated arrangement, sounding almost like an orchestra. Soon Ebbie was totally lost in the wonder and beauty of the music coming from the piano.

When Immanuel and Ebbie finished playing the piece, Ebbie felt tears stinging in his eyes, and through the tears he could see Immanuel smiling.

“We make pretty good music together,” Immanuel said.

“You don’t mean ‘we,’ do you?”

“Yes, Ebed. We made the music together. You did what you could, and I did the rest.”

And then Immanuel invited Ebbie into his study. Over the weeks, Ebbie had enjoyed sitting and talking with Immanuel as much as he enjoyed learning to play the piano. In fact, if the truth were known, Ebbie enjoyed his time with Immanuel more than anything else in the world.

Immanuel lived in a large house close to the lake where he and Ebbie had first met. The house was almost overpowering in its size, and Ebbie always felt as if he were visiting the house of a great nobleman. At least, that is how he felt until Immanuel would answer the door. Then the cold, foreboding nature of the house was transformed by the presence of the teacher, and Ebbie felt he was visiting a good friend. But then, Ebbie thought often, any place where Manny lived could not help but be wonderful.

Immanuel was obviously quite wealthy and had wonderful taste. Ebbie was too young to understand the intricacies of interior design, but he was old enough to know that the house was “right.” From the paintings which hung in the large entrance hall and the thick carpet on the floors to the grand piano on which Immanuel gave lessons, everything fit together and made Ebbie feel comfortable.

One thing always puzzled Ebbie, but whenever he was with Manny, he forgot to ask him about it. Ebbie knew Manny had a lot of students, but Ebbie never saw any of them. In fact, when Ebbie was with Manny, there was never anyone else around and, even more surprising, Manny never seemed to be in a hurry to get to another lesson. Often Ebbie would expect his time to be limited, but it never was. Today wasn’t any different—Many seemed to have all the time in the world.

Immanuel’s book-lined study, where they were now sitting, felt right to Ebbie too. The study was just off the studio where Immanuel taught his students. They were sitting in easy chairs, Immanuel’s big frame filling his chair and Ebbie’s small frame almost swallowed up by his. Ebbie’s feet barely touched the floor.

“Ebed,” Immanuel began when they were settled, “you said I had made the music, or, at least, you insinuated it.”

“Well,” Ebbie replied, “you did make the music. You didn’t need my single line to produce the kind of music you played today.”

“That’s true. I could make music by myself, but I have chosen not to do that. I have chosen instead to work with my friends and to help them make the music.”

“Like today?”

“Yes, like today. You played as best as you could, and I made up for the rest. Ebed, from now on it will be that way. Whenever you do what you can, I will make up for the lack. If you do nothing, I will still make up for the rest, and when you are older and play with greater competence than you do now, you will still make some mistakes. Just remember that even then when others think you don’t need me, I will still make up for the lack.

“And there is one other thing I want you to remember always. It won’t mean a lot to you right now, but later you will think of it and be glad.”

“What’s that, Manny?” Ebbie asked, feeling a little uncomfortable.

“Don’t look so pained,” Immanuel laughed reassuringly. “It’s good. I want you to always remember that you are my piano student. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, no matter how well or poorly you play the piano, you will always be my student. And Ebed, you can hang your hat on this: Someday, perhaps in another place and time, you will be able to play the piano exactly the way I play the piano. Even then, you will be my student and my friend.”

Then, to emphasize his words, Immanuel leaned forward. “Do you understand what I am saying?”

“I think I do,” Ebbie responded.

“Ebed, I love you far more than you can possibly understand now. That will never, ever stop, no matter what else happens. I give my life for my students, and because of that they are always my students.”

Ebbie thought a lot about what Manny had said to him that day. In fact, he never forgot it for the rest of his life.

But once he almost did.

As Ebbie continued piano lessons he found others teased him the way he had teased Manny’s students before he started taking piano lessons.

“Don’t see you much on the ballfield much any more,” one boy snickered at him after school one day.

“I’ve been busy,” Ebbie responded somewhat hesitantly.

“Playing the piano, huh?”

“Yeah, mostly.”

“What have you become, some kind of fairy? You and the girls ought to get along just fine.”

That was just the beginning. Soon, the other boys joined in the teasing, making fun, not only of Ebbie’s piano playing but of Ebbie’s piano teacher as well. At first, Ebbie was angry at them, but after a while he started listening to and believing some of the things they said. Little boys need friends, and Ebbie was losing his rapidly.

Ebbie visited Manny’s house less frequently, and he almost stopped practicing the piano altogether, even though he had been making genuine progress. The more he had practiced the better he had played. But now he was almost back to the level of a beginner. He was so ashamed that he finally stopped going to see Immanuel.

Weeks passed and, even though his friends had stopped making fun of him, Ebbie felt miserable. Sometimes he would look at the piano at school and think about playing, but it was just too costly. At night Ebbie would think about Manny and sometimes he would cry. He didn’t know why he cried, but he did know that he missed Manny. Then, before finally falling asleep, Ebbie would make all kinds of promises to himself about getting back to the piano and going to see Manny. But when mourning came he always forgot about the promises.

“Manny asked about you yesterday,” Martus, (Greek for “witness”) one of Immanuel’s other piano students, told Ebbie one day at recess. “He said to tell you not to forget what he told you.”

Ebbie didn’t know what Martus meant until later that afternoon when he remembered that special talk in Manny’s study. Ebbie felt the tears well up in his eyes. Instead of going home, he went to Immanuel’s house.

“I’ve been expecting you,” Immanuel said as he opened the door. “Are you ready for your next lesson?”

“But I haven’t played in so many months.” Ebbie looked down and pretended to find something quite interesting in the rock floor on the porch.

“Doesn’t matter. You are always my piano student, and that hasn’t changed. You may have been a poor one for the past few months,” Immanuel smiled, “But you are my student. Come on in, and we can begin where we left off.”

It was the best piano lesson Ebbie had ever had. In fact, Ebbie thought at home later, I’m almost glad I turned away from Manny and his piano lessons. If I had never turned away, I would never have known how much Immanuel loves me and how much he wants me to continue piano lessons.

It was a growth experience for Ebbie. Whenever his friends teased him he would remember how he had caved in to their criticism and how Immanuel still loved him, and his sadness would be transformed into joy and thankfulness.

But the trouble Ebbie had with those who didn’t understand the importance of playing the piano was minor compared to the trouble he had with his fellow piano students.

Ebbie thought that once he had become a piano student he would become part of a family of musicians where everyone understood and helped each other play the piano better. It was not to be.

“You’re doing it all wrong!” shouted a little girl who had overheard him practicing on the piano at school. “You’re playing soft when you ought to playing loud, and you’re playing loud when you ought to be playing soft.”

“You’re rhythm is all off,” criticized another student who had heard Ebbie play. “How do you ever expect to play the piano if you can’t tell the difference be between 4/4 and ¾ time?

“You hit three wrong notes,” another exclaimed, “If you don’t start playing the right notes, you are going to disappoint the teacher. And after all he has done for you! The rest of us have been talking and we’ve decided that if you don’t get better, you’re going to shame all of us.”

“If you are ever going to play the piano properly, you must practice at home, not at school,” one of the students informed Ebbie one day after class.

“But I don’t have a piano at home,” protested Ebbie.

“Well, why don’t you get your parents to buy you one?”

“We don’t have the money. That’s why.”

There was a long silence, but Ebbie noticed a look of disdain on his fellow student’s face as he walked away. He knew the boy felt that Ebbie should quit taking piano lessons if he couldn’t afford a piano.

One afternoon when Ebbie had finished his lesson, Immanuel said to him, “Ebed, you seem sad. What’s the matter?”

“Oh, nothing,” Ebbie replied, betraying his words with the grimace on his face.

“The others bothering you?”

“Sometimes.”

“They bother me too sometimes.”

“But you don’t hear all the things they say.”

And then Immanuel smiled. “Ebbie, I know my students. The girl who told you that you needed to play soft when you are playing loud, and loud when you ought to be playing soft, is only criticizing you because she is doing so badly with her own lessons. The boy who criticized you’re your rhythm hasn’t been to a lesson in almost three months. He thinks if he points out your mistakes, people will not notice his own.

“The boy who told you about the wrong notes is so busy telling others about their wrong notes, he doesn’t have much time to play himself. If he played the piano very much, which he doesn’t, he would probably hit more wrong notes than you do. The boy who told you to buy a piano with money you don’t have has three pianos, but he hardly ever plays any of them. People always admire his pianos, and he thinks it’s the same thing as admiring his piano playing.

“And the others who suggested that you were hurting the reputation of all the students are very insecure about their own piano playing. Your playing is different, and the other students don’t like piano players who are different.

“And Ebbie, the comment about disappointing me isn’t true. Never let another piano student tell you that you disappoint me. If I’m disappointed, I’ll tell you. When I’m pleased, I’ll tell you that too. But I am the only one who knows whether I’m disappointed or pleased.”

Ebbie felt a whole lot better after Immanuel told him about the other students. In fact, he felt a little superior to the others. That is, until Immanuel said to him, “Ebbie, I’m telling you all this so you will remember that I have made you my student, even with your mistakes, because I love you. But I don’t love you more than the others. The only reason I told you about them—and if I chose, I could tell them a lot about you—is so you will remember that there isn’t a single piano student in the world who doesn’t make some serious errors. Their problem is that they tried to pretend that they were better than you.

“Now you know the truth. Remember it, and don’t make their mistake. Remember how you forgot about me for so long? How you quit practicing and how I accepted you when you wanted to resume your lessons? Remember how I never stopped loving you? I will do the same for them. All my piano students are equal because they have the same teacher. You must never think you are better than the others just because you know the truth.

“And Ebbie, never forget that I make up the difference for them, just as I do for you.”

After that, Ebbie loved Immanuel more than he ever had. When he walked away from the teacher’s house, he felt free. He didn’t have to pretend to be a wonderful piano student. Nor did he have to pretend not to care. He didn’t have to point out the mistakes of the other students in order to feel better about himself; after all, the piano teacher loved all the piano students. All Ebed had to do was stay close to the piano teacher.

Every spring, Immanuel had a recital at his home for his students’ parents. Ebbie had worked for weeks on his piece, and his mother had bought him a new suit with some money she had saved. Ebbie felt wonderful—until he got up to play.

When he started to walk toward the piano and saw all the people waiting for him to perform, he panicked. He wanted to run. But when he looked over at Immanuel, his teacher gave him a “thumbs up” sign. No way am I going to disappoint Manny, Ebbie thought.

But as Ebbie began to play, he forgot the music. He played the wrong notes. Once he even lost his place and had to start over. When Ebbie got up from the piano bench, he didn’t dare look at the audience or his parents or, especially, Immanuel. He had wanted to do so much better. But instead, he had disappointed everyone.

Ebbie was so miserable he didn’t notice that the audience was applauding. In fact, they applauded for almost five whole minutes, shouting, “Encore! Encore!” Ebbie didn’t hear it. He had already walked out the back door and headed down to the lake where he sat on his rock and cursed himself.

Hours passed and the night grew cold. Suddenly, Ebbie heard a rustle behind him, and he turned to find Immanuel standing there.

“I really botched it.”

“Yes, you really botched it. But they didn’t know.”

“What do you mean, they didn’t know? Of course they knew. I’m so ashamed. How can I ever face them again? And Manny, I’m even more ashamed to face you. You loved me. You trusted me. You taught me to play the piano, and I let you down. Please don’t look at me that way, Manny. I don’t believe I can stand it.”

“Ebed,” Manny said, taking an uninvited seat on the rock by the boy, “you misinterpret my look. I’m not disappointed in you. You must remember that I’ve been teaching piano for a long time—longer than you could possibly know. Do you think your performance surprised me?”

“Well, I guess not. But…”

“No buts, child. Your vanity has been hurt, but you haven’t failed me. Ebed, I love you. I told you that, but you forgot.”

“I guess I did,” Ebbie whispered.

“And you forgot something else.”

“What’s that?”

“Remember, I told you I would always make up for your lack. I did that tonight.”

“You mean…”

“That’s right. You didn’t play as well as you will play some day, and perhaps you didn’t play as well as you could have played. But you played, and I made up for the difference. The audience heard the music, not the mistakes!”

Ebbie jumped up and started to dance on the rock. Immanuel laughed heartily, but managed to caution Ebed, “You are going to fall off this rock if you aren’t careful, and I don’t relish going swimming on this kind of night.”

That night was one of the most important nights of Ebed’s life, second only to the evening he had met Immanuel. Ebed began to practice playing the piano far more than he had previously.

In the years to come, Ebed botched some other concerts. Sometimes he got angry at Immanuel. Sometimes he thought about giving up on the whole thing, and he even walked away a few more times. But Immanuel was always there, loving him and helping him make music.

You might wonder what happened to the little boy. That’s the best part.

Ebed grew up and became a world-class pianist. He came to be known, as one critic put it, as “the essence of perfection.” In concert after concert, all over the world, Ebed played to standing-room-only audiences. When he finished a concert, after the applause had died away, Ebed would smile and remember that no one had heard his mistakes. Later he would always thank Immanuel for making up for the lack.

One evening after a concert in New York, when he was almost seventy years old, Ebed was dining with some friends when he felt a mild pain in his chest. He marked it up to indigestion, but as the evening wore on the pain became more and more acute. Halfway through the dinner he collapsed, and his friends called an ambulance.

Ebed was only half conscious when they put him on the stretcher and placed him in the ambulance, but then he woke up. It was a strange kind of awake because he seemed to be looking at the whole scene in the ambulance from a different perspective. One of the attendants looked at the other and sighed, “We’ve lost him.”

“You haven’t lost me!” Ebed wanted to shout. “I’m right here!”

But before Ebed could speak the sound of a piano caught his ears—the most beautiful music he had ever heard! Turning around, he found himself at Immanuel’s house. Well, maybe it wasn’t Immanuel’s house, but it looked the same, only even more beautiful than he remembered.

Drawn through the front door by the music, Ebed found Immanuel playing a magnificent concerto at the grand piano. Ebed listened, entranced.

When Immanuel finished, neither he nor Ebed spoke for a moment. Then, turning to Ebed, Immanuel broke the silence. “Now, it is your turn.”

“Me?”

“Yes, you!” Immanuel laughed, “And I believe you are in for a surprise!”

Ebed sat down at the piano, and as he placed his hands on the keys, he felt a freedom and power he had never before felt. Every nuance, every note, every rhythm was perfect. The music soared and filled the room. Out of the corner of his eyes, Ebed could see Immanuel smiling, as a father smiles when his son performs perfectly. Ebed’s heart beat excitedly.

“Ebed,” Immanuel said softly, “now you play just the way I play.”

“Yes,” Ebed replied smiling, “I know.”

“And I have a new name for you, Ebed. Before, you have been called Ebed (Hebrew for “servant” or “slave”). Now your name is Deror (Hebrew for “liberty” or “freedom”). Now the music is yours forever. You are home.”

Book Review: The Hope of Glory: 100 Daily Meditations on Colossians By Sam Storms

I chose the book of Colossians as the first book to preach through in the church where I am the pastor of preaching. A large part of the reason I chose to preach through the book of Colossians is because I read Storms’ book on Colossians and benefited from it so much, that I felt like I wanted my flock to benefit from the great truths to be mined from the book of Colossians.

Colossians’ bottom line is all about Christ being our sufficiency period. As a pastor there is no truth that I want to convey more in my preaching, counseling, coaching, discipleship, and any teaching situation I find myself in. I find that the older I get and the more I experience and see people struggle – that our greatest need is always more of Jesus. It’s not a cliché – it’s just true.

I find that this book is useful as both a commentary and a devotional. Dr. Storms is a gifted scholar, but he is also a pastor and wonderfully balances mining the depths of Christ to be found in the book of Colossians with profound wisdom always leading to personal encouragement and application.

I am reading this book for the second time, and if the return of Christ lingers, I believe this will be a book I return to again and again to be encouraged in the infinite treasures that are to be found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend this book as one you will come to again and again to be encouraged in your walk with Jesus.