Monday, October 7, 2019

Strong- A Book Review

“This book tells the stories of eleven men who were all strong in different ways, but every one of them knew his strength had to come from God.” (xiii)

Catherine Parks has studied her subjects and carefully centers each chapter on the strength of its character.  The unique forte she presents is not what may be initially perceived. But the stories deliver a clear message of how each man was motivated to achieve God’s purpose.
It is easy to read. The stories flow well. There is enough action to keep the attention of any age reader.
These are not modern-day heroes. Parents will find this book a rewarding historical resource. The stories reveal how former champions of faith responded to adversity. For example, Parks writes how Alvin York’s generosity showed his faith. How George Liele modeled compassion.
There is a Bible-centered application at the end of each chapter.  Questions on the content of the stories allow parents and readers to go deeper into understanding each man’s character and spiritual drive.  The author’s aim is to draw attention to the God who made these men renowned.  She hits the mark.

I received this book from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Above All

 A review of the book by J.D. Greear

“If the gospel is not above all, it loses its power to change us, our families, our neighborhoods, our places of work, and our world. In fact, if the gospel is not above all, it’s not even the gospel anymore.” (p 4)
Pastor Greear has written this book to expose how less important things have “displaced the gospel as the main focus” of the church.  After a carefully written description of the gospel, he identifies the effects of returning the Gospel to its primary place. The book is built on these marks.
The Gospel promotes change.  “When the gospel gets ahold of our hearts, we can’t keep it to ourselves.” We don’t see this or hear this because “too many preachers are big on oratory and small on the gospel.”
The Gospel and mission.  The numbers of people in a church are not the measure of success. Success is measured by how many Christians are making and training disciples. Greear does not stop with oratory here but suggests 3 commitments that will lead to success.
Gospel multiplication. This chapter has an excellent description of the church doing greater works than Jesus. Three convictions motivate those works.
Gospel grace.  The author graciously presents the common perils of judgmentalism. “The antidote to judging is a culture saturated with gospel grace. A culture that feels like Jesus.”
The Gospel must be above culture, preferences, and politics. 
One of the best parts of the book is its illustrations. They are personal, sensibly chosen and reasonably applied.
Living with Gospel above all will cost us. The challenge is to ‘occupy ourselves not so much with what we are losing but with how much we are gaining.’

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Here and Now By Robby Gallaty

A Review

Pastor Gallaty wonders if believers are so obsessed with leaving earth and going to heaven that they miss Jesus’ message on the Kingdom. (page 2) Maybe it is possible to be so heavenly minded you are no earthly good. Not if you truly understand the kingdom, Gallaty believes.  Jesus message is “not a salvation out of the world; it is a rescue mission within the world.” (p. 10)
Section 1: The King Among His People.  Jesus says He and the Father will make a home with the one who loves Him. The Kingdom is here; Jesus is in the world.  “We should quit trying to get out of it.” We need a better understanding of the Old Testament where God personally reigns. The Temple is a physical illustration of this.
Section 2: The Kingdom Among Us. Jesus is the person of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is composed of those who enter it as followers of Jesus. (p 82)
Section 3: Kingdom Conduct. “Our identity influences our activity.” (p 125) Believers are citizens of another realm.  Our life here should be marked by our role as a community of royal priests and divine image-bearers, always remembering that the Kingdom is received, not achieved. (p 146.)  Sometimes God must deal with us, the King to His people, as He did with Israel and Egypt.  It took 40 years to get Egypt out of them. That was the primary goal. He was not just a Savior; He wanted to be Sovereign. (p.148) A kingdom agenda shifts the focus from a ‘come and see’ the church at work model to a ‘disciple and deploy’ model.
Occasionally, my reading slowed down. It was hard to keep pace with the flow, which seemed disjointed from time to time. But the arguments and illustrations are well-planned and Pastor Gallaty proved this premise. “God redeems, to reveal, in order to reign over us, so that we respond with obedience.”
This book will be a good resource for teachers and preachers.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Forever on a Sunday

 Significance of the First Day of the Week.
             Jesus’ resurrection is the most important miracle in history. If Christ was not raised from the dead, the faith we place in God is useless. The proclamation of the gospel is useless. Anyone who claims the tomb is empty is a liar. Without the resurrection, living is hopeless. Death, our last enemy wins, if there is no resurrection.  Paul addresses these threats in 1 Corinthians 15. He concludes in verse 20, “But now Christ
has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
There is another less measured but more familiar result of the resurrection.  The empty tomb brings priority to the first day of the week. 52 days every year we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus.
Our culture tends to look forward to the end of the week. We even have a restaurant that joins the hopeful outlook- TGIF.  The NT emphasizes that for a follower of Jesus, the first day of the week is most important.
It was not always that way.
God rested on the 7th day of creation, Saturday.  He did not do that because the whole process of creating things wore Him out. He never gets tired.  He was setting an example. We need to take a day of rest from our labor. 
God commanded His people, Israel, to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Remember harks back to Genesis.  Sabbath keeping was a pattern from the beginning of creation. 
The Sabbath signified the covenant that God had set His people apart. It was a symbol that He had created them, and they should rest as He did. The Sabbath was a reminder of redemption.  The Day of Atonement was on a Sabbath.
Sabbath rules were strict. “On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates.” “You shall not kindle a fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath day.”
Keeping the Sabbath was serious business.             
When Jesus cried “it is finished,” He attested that what Adam didn’t do, He, the second Adam, had completed. He came to fulfill the Law.
It is significant that 9 of the 10 commandments appear in the NT.  The only one not found is the 4th- remember the Sabbath to keep it holy. The 7th day Sabbath is no longer the preferred day. We worship on the first day of the week.  A day of rest and reflection is still vital to our lives. But everything changed with the Resurrection of Christ.
The first day is the day on which our Lord rose from the dead.
The first day is the day on which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church Acts 2
The first day of the week is “the Lord’s Day.” In Revelation 1:10, John gives Sunday its unique name. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day and I heard behind me a loud voice like like the sound of a trumpet.
The first day is when the church gathers. Acts 20:7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. 
This is the standard for Sunday services today. Communion and preaching. We still gather on Sundays for preaching and communion.
Alan Stillman opened the first TGI Friday restaurant in 1965 in New York. He hoped that opening a bar might help him meet women. On Sundays, we meet other believers and worship together to celebrate the Resurrection.
God’s people from Genesis to the Cross worked six days and rested on the 7th. The seventh day of creation week was not as the others; it had no evening and morning. Is this a sign that the rest day is permanent?  It has no end and looks forward to eternity itself?
Resting from physical work does not bring spiritual rest. God’s rest is found through faith. “For whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.” We rest on the first day and work the next 6; commemorating the finished work of Christ. Sunday, not the Sabbath, is the most important day of the week for followers of Christ. Sunday is forever a remembrance of the Gospel- Jesus died, was buried, and on the first day, rose again.
With the saints of every age, we await the final day of rest when “God will dwell among us, and we shall be His people, and Christ Himself will be among us, and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.”
Forever, every day will be Sunday, the Day of Resurrection when eternal rest and rejoicing will be ours.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Why We Worry After We Pray

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

The words are concise. 
Don’t worry.
Peace will protect.  
But you still worry.
Anxiety resurfaces.
Fear threatens.

1. God doesn’t answer my prayer immediately, so I doubt His power. 
‘God is omnipotent, He can do anything. He hasn’t responded to my request yet, maybe He isn’t almighty after all.’
Martha had a similar complaint. “She said to Jesus, "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.  Our version- “Jesus, if only you had answered sooner, I wouldn’t be in the mess I’m in. Life would be better.” 
God always has a greater purpose in mind.  We want a ‘healing,’ God may be planning something like a resurrection.
How should I respond when I think God is waiting too long?
Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” 
(See also Jeremiah 32:17-27)

2. God doesn’t answer my prayer the way I want, so I doubt His wisdom. 
‘God is omniscient, He knows everything. He didn’t give me what I asked for, maybe He is not all-wise after all.’
 What if God always gave us what we wanted?  “And they craved intensely in the wilderness, and tested God in the desert. So he gave to them their request, but he sent leanness into their souls.” Psalm 106: 14-15   
It is because God does know everything that He doesn’t give us we want. He uses our request to show us things we never thought about before but need to know in our current situation.
"Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name, 'Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.Jeremiah 33:2-3 
How should I respond when I don’t get what I ask for? “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight.Proverbs 3:5-6 
 (See also 1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

3. I don’t believe God will answer and I doubt His love, so I don’t ask for help.  
‘I know the Bible says Jesus loves me, but I have cast my burden on Him before and He never seemed to pick it up.’
Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”               2 Corinthians 12:8-10 
God does not love us the way we think He should.  He loves us the way we need to be loved.  The Good Shepherd teaches us that His rod and staff comfort us.  Hard times should drive us into the loving arms of God.
(See also Ephesians 3:14-21)

These three factors are serious obstacles to peace which is the great object of our prayer.  But maybe we miss the point.  What does Philippians 4:6-7 say about how our requests are answered?  Read the verses again. 
Did you see that peace is not promised with the fulfillment of our request but simply by the offering of our prayer? Let your request be made known . . . and the peace of God will guard your mind.  When we attach stipulations, about God’s timing and choices and love, we create expectations that distract us from God’s agenda.  That is why our worry returns, anxiety resurfaces, and fear threatens.
Let your requests be made known to God, be still and wait.  Peace will come.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Scrappy Church By Thom Rainer, A Review

“We see about seven of ten churches losing ground. Declining, and frustrated.  We see about 7000 North American churches closing their doors every year. We see infighting, conflicts, and contentious business meetings. We see strained budgets, strained attitudes, and strained relationships.”  Churches that recognize these problems often become scrappy churches.  “Scrappy churches don’t see limitations, they see possibilities.”
Scrappy churches are tenacious.  Cue Rocky Balboa running with little strength left but doggedly determined to achieve his purpose. 
Thom Rainer offers this book as motivation and encouragement to show what God is doing with feisty churches in places where most have given up. 
He has succeeded.
With illustrated clarity, he reminds doubting churches that God put their church at that address for a purpose. God has given your church all the resources you need to move forward. Four distinct characteristics are the current in which these resources flow.
Rainer draws from years of research experience to illustrate the pattern these churches follow.  It is a continuous cycle from Outward Deluge to Welcome Readiness to Backdoor Closure to Outward Deluge, etc.
Most of the book describes how an outpouring of outward activity, a ready welcome and closing the backdoor foster unity and restore growth in churches that are losing ground.
If you are looking to lead The Next Scrappy Church, chapter 6, be a leader who loves your church, your church members, your community, and other churches in your community.
Scrappy Church provides hope and direction for churches who are wondering if there is any hope or direction.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Shining the Gospel on Everyday American Myths

A Review of This Is Our Time
by Trevin Wax

“We are in the midst of a moral revolution, and the world is changing around us.” (page 10) The statement is not new nor earth-shattering.  Trevin Wax forces us to challenge that revolution by considering the myths that it propagates.
Myths distort the truth by the longings they create and by the lies they tell.  The Gospel shines a light on man’s real longings and tells the truth about man’s real needs. With that premise, Wax exposes several of the myths that control America.
Being a list kind of guy, I would have liked each myth to be stated as Myth Number 1, 2, 3, etc.  Nevertheless, I got the points.
“Confusing ‘knowledge about’ and ‘knowledge of’ is one of the most common mistakes we make in a connected world.”  (p 21) This confusion is perpetuated many times each day by our smartphone which mythologizes that ‘you are the center of the universe.’ The phone tells us we have the knowledge we need and that we are right.  This was by far the most important chapter in the book, in my opinion.  Because of the commonality of all sorts of social media, it has the broadest application.  The book is worth reading for this section alone.
Hollywood is after your heart. Because of its visual and audio force, we need to equip ourselves to recognize the longings and lies of entertainment by cultivating a new imagination. A Scripture-soaked mind will enable the creation of better stories.
The author says the enjoyment of life as one’s greatest purpose is the biggest myth exposed. Believers greatest desire must be to meet our greatest Delight.
‘More stuff makes you happy’ is another myth dispelled. Wax does a good job of showing how advertising uses the myth that ‘salvation comes through accumulation.’ (p. 95) It is hard to be “The Church” in a consumer society.
Christianity is private follows in the myth-busting process. Many have chosen to save America as the best way to save Christianity and keep it public. But the “Church is God’s shining city on the hill, not the United States.” (p. 122) There follows a most biblical approach to how believers should respond to society.
Great care and gracious words are used in dispelling the marriage myths that redound in America.  There are three powerful suggestions for the church if it is to reclaim the ‘ancient vision of marriage.’
Finally, the church must be careful to recognize the “prevailing myth(s) in our society about where the world is going.” Is it declining or progressing?
The illustrations in the book are engaging and apropos. Especially the Lesslie Newbiggin story in the final chapter.

“This Is Our Time doesn’t offer the cheap grace of putting politics first. Instead, it recognizes that public policy is downstream from culture and culture is downstream from religion.” Marvin Olasky (from the Foreword.)