Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Reading List! (December 31, 2014)

Happy New Year!!!! As I looked back over the past year I have read a total of 41 books! (Plus I read the whole Bible through in the month of March.) This past month I read some great books – on some of these it was like discovering a treasure mine with not only gold, but some rubies and diamonds thrown in too! I’ve been greatly challenged this month with a number of things – and actually they were very timely for where I’m at right now.

Finished this month:

Robert Chapman: Apostle of Love by Robert Peterson
This was a really inspiring biography of a man who truly sought to live his life for Christ. (Shout-out to my friend Pam who gave me this book – I finally got around to reading it!) Robert C. Chapman was known throughout England (and in many parts of the world) as a man of Christian love. Spurgeon said of him that he was the “saintliest man” he ever knew! Originally from a wealthy English family he gave it all up to be a simple pastor and evangelist. He traveled almost entirely by foot around the country of Ireland preaching and sharing the Gospel, took missionary trips to Spain; he was a good friend, advisor and supporter of George Muller, Hudson Taylor, C.H. Spurgeon and other well-known Christians. He had the gift of encouragement and from his earnest study of the Scripture was also a great teacher and preacher. The genuine love he was able to show and give to even those who despised him was really amazing and it led to many of those scoffers or wayward brethren to repentance and reconciliation.

“Love is first and foremost humble and in the very few writings he left behind he defined love this way: ‘The love we speak of is meek and lowly; behaves itself wisely and edifies; bearing with the foolish and self-conceited, while it shuns their folly’.” (p. 189)

If You Bite & Devour One Another by Alexander Strauch
This book I’m putting on my “Every Christian Must Read” list! Like, really, READ THIS BOOK! Seriously, I really think if more Christians read this book (which is just applying Scripture principles to how we respond and deal with conflict and disagreement) we’d have less conflict, drama and more peace and unity in the church today! I started reading this partway through the above book which was providential because these two books go with each other very well. This book is about handling conflict and having a Biblical and godly attitude and speech and Robert C. Chapman literally lived this (hence his reputation as “Apostle of Love”).

Strauch talks about what it means to handle conflict, how to respond, how act in the Spirit and act in love, gives Scripture and counsel for controlling the tongue, anger and criticism. He gives Biblical text and practical steps for pursuing reconciliation and pursuing peace; he discusses the need to face false teachers and face controversy (doctrinal disagreements between Christians) but emphasizes the need to do so in a manner that is gentle, kind and loving. He reminds us that we are one body with those Christians we disagree with and ought to be pursuing peace and not sowing discord. He gives the classic, but beautiful example of the relationship between George Whitefield and John Wesley – two Christians who strongly disagreed doctrinally, yet they had a great admiration and love for the other. They did manage to work together some and John Wesley preached at George Whitefield’s funeral. What would the universal Church be like if we could learn to live and love like these two men? Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

P.S. For a bonus there’s REALLY great appendix on what it means to be in Christ and thus fight sin from a position of victory! Very encouraging!
It was really hard to pick just one quote from this book, but I settled on this one which is the theme of the book: “When conflict arises, our attitudes and behaviors should reflect our new life in Christ given by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We are to display the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh. We are to walk in step with the Spirit’s leading. We are to be Spirit-controlled and not flesh-controlled or out-of-control.” (p. 8-9)

Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne
This book goes off the former two very well. Sorry to repeat myself, but you also need to READ THIS BOOK! I’m telling you, this month has been a treasure mine – and here’s the diamonds! Most of us would like to think there’s no way we could be like the Pharisees, but it’s actually a lot easier than we think! In this tremendous book Larry Osborne discusses the attitude that makes us “accidental Pharisees” – we have good intentions, we want to please God, but our understanding of what Scripture teaches, our opinions, our lines for what’s pleasing to God and what’s not (even though it’s not explicitly in Scripture) get in the way. We very easily become proud, look down on others, sometimes even others putting down and separating ourselves from those who “compromise”. What is legalism really? Are you sure you’re not guilty of it? Do you think of yourself as a better Christian than someone else because you know more about the Bible than they do? Is your church exclusive, have boundary markers that qualify you as the “right kind” of Christian? These are challenging questions, but one’s we need to face. While it was convicting, it was also encouraging! So I really encourage you to read this book!

3 quotes from this one: (seriously, aren’t you glad I didn’t just pick one?)
“If we fail to understand how spiritually impressive the Pharisees were, we will remain blind to the danger of becoming like them.” (p. 27)
“How is it possible for the Scriptures and obedience to produce Pharisees instead of disciples? It all has to do with how we use the Bible and how we interpret our obedience. Let me explain….” (p. 57, emphasis his)
Ironically, the more fervently we pursue theological uniformity, the more the Bible takes a back seat, even among people who pride themselves in having the Bible in the navigator’s seat. That’s because the lens of uniformity insists that everyone interpret difficult or controversial Scripture passages exactly the same way. There’s no room for differing opinions, blind spots, or simply being wrong. Those who don’t toe the company line are cast aside.” (p. 146)

Just Do Something by Kevin DeYoung
At first this book didn’t seem to relevant to me since I don’t think I struggle very much with doing things (my personality is fairly pro-active), however, as I was more honest with myself I had to admit that there are still times I am fearful or hesitant to do things because really, as he points out in this book, I don’t really believe God’s got everything under control. I believe that you cannot “miss” God’s plan/best for your life, but sometimes it’s hard to trust Him when you can’t see ahead. And I do at times struggle with trusting God so this book was really good re-enforcement. While God is sovereign we are responsible to more forward in faith and obedience. Kevin writes, “Yes, God has a specific plan for our lives. And yes, we can be assured that He works thinks for our good in Christ Jesus. And yes, looking back we will often be able to trace God’s hand in bringing us to where we are. But while we are free to ask God for wisdom, He does not burden us with the task of discerning His will of direction for our lives ahead of time.” (p. 24) This is SO freeing! Kevin also discusses how to acquire wisdom and how to grow in making God-honoring decisions without agonizing over them. Great read and I highly recommend it!

“Therefore we should be humble in looking to the future because we don’t control it, God does. And we should be hopeful in looking to the future because God controls it, not us.” (p. 47-48)

Think by John Piper (kindle)
This was a really good book about how we as Christians should view the mind and thinking and the pursuit of knowledge. Some view the pursuit of knowledge dangerous as it can lead to pride. But as John Piper says, “We are not safe from pride if we neglect serious thinking and turn away from knowledge. ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hos 4:6)’.” This book is “a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of knowing and loving God and people. It is a plea to reject either-or thinking when it comes to head and heart, thinking and feeling, reason and faith, theology and doxology, mental labor and the ministry of love.” Right thinking matters, and we must thinking rightly about God and know Him in order to love Him. If you want to love God more the solution is to get to know Him more. And that means study His Word! Do not think you can grow in your love for God if you do not read more in your Bible. He says repeatedly, “our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”

“…to see reality in the fullness of truth, we must see it in relation to God, who created it, and sustains it, and gives it all it’s properties, relations, and designs. Therefore, we cannot do Christian scholarship if we have no spiritual sense or taste for God – no capacity to apprehend his glory in the things he has made.”

Currently Reading:
She is Mine by Stephanie Fast (autobiography of a Korean War orphan)

Additional books I want to read this month:
Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher
Tempted & Tried by Russell Moore
*I’ve also been convicted that I really need to be immersing myself more in Scripture so I’ve made a commitment to be reading my Bible more this year. The goal I’ve set is to read through the Bible chronologically 2 times this year. Hope you are reminded to make THE Book, the first book. J

My Bible reading plan (only I will double up on my days and try to do it twice this year):

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If You Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It

“God has promised to supply our needs. What we don’t have now we don’t need now.”
–Elisabeth Elliot, The Path of Loneliness, p. 128

I love Elisabeth Elliot. Probably no other author has impacted me as much as she. She’s one of the people I admire more than anyone else. Her faith in God, her perseverance through hardship and testimony of God’s goodness continues to amaze me. When her husband Jim Elliot was murdered by the natives he was trying to reach with the Gospel Elisabeth sought to understand what God was doing. She wrote this:

“My questions were not answered, but I wanted to ‘see’ God, to know Him. So I kept on reading the Book, kept trying to apply it to my life, kept bringing my own thinking and conduct under its authority, seeking God’s meaning in every event that touched me, including Jim’s death and other crises. As God had promised, His Word proved true. He instructed me. He kept me. He held me. He showed me all I needed to know for life and godliness, although He did not unfold all I wanted to know for understanding.” (On Asking God Why p. 140-141, italics hers)

In 2 Peter 1:3 it does indeed say “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness”, and in Phil. 4:19 Paul says “And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” Yet, sometimes it doesn’t seem like God is keeping this promise.

Our prayers to God are filled with asking Him to supply things we think we need - or else asking Him to change the fact that we need them. In reality however, it may be that we don’t need these things at all! Perhaps what God wants is for us to learn to be content. In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul speaks of a “thorn” in his flesh. It was an affliction of some kind and three times he says he pleaded very specifically with God to remove it. I think perhaps he thought that he rather needed it to be taken away. But God’s response was only this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). It was as if God was saying, “Paul, I know this thorn is really troubling you and causing you much affliction. I know you think that it would be better if I took it away, but you see, I allowed that thorn into your life for a purpose. You don’t understand now, but someday you will see things more from My perspective and see that actually what you need is for that thorn to remain. Because you see, through your weakness My strength is going to have an opportunity to shine through your life. You may not understand, but until it one day is taken away, My grace is sufficient.” 

Paul accepted this thorny gift from God. While I’m sure he didn’t completely understand, He saw that God’s glory was the most important thing and so he was content. Paul elsewhere writes, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor 9:8).

To be perfectly honest, there are times when I don’t feel like I have “an abundance for every good work”. But truth is not tied to our feelings – or to what we can see with our eyes. There are certainly many legitimate needs. A job to pay the bills and provide for your family, wisdom in making an important decision, help for dealing with a difficult relationship, heath and strength to keep at your work. But again, God promises to supply our EVERY need…. So if you don’t have it right now, maybe there’s something else you need more.  This isn’t just about physical needs either, but also emotional and spiritual needs. We think we need comfort – did you know you already have it in Christ? You just need to look to Him for it. We think we need strength – yet Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Of course, this is all much easier said than actually done, but there have been many times in my life that I’ve felt “needy” and instead of turning to Christ to satisfy me I turn to other things. There are various idols we turn to: food (yes chocolate too), entertainment, friends, alcohol, Netflix, you name it. Even exercise can be a way of making ourselves feel better apart from Christ. God’s Word says that He is sufficient for our every need. If you have a need, take it to Him. He promises to fulfill it. And if He doesn’t, than you trust that you don’t really need it. He is enough.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Book Review: Outgrowing the Ingrown Church by C. John Miller

If I take the time write a whole book summary/review you know that I have found either a really good book, or a really bad one. This, is a really good one. This is the 2nd book I’ve read from Jack Miller (first one was The Heart of A Servant Leader which was also excellent). It is really insightful as it discusses church function, purpose and ministry. But I’ll warn you, it’s rather convicting as well. Jack writes about an unfortunately tendency in churches today – the tendency to be ingrown, that is, focused on internal ministry and life. How many churches are seemingly strong doctrinally and internally, yet have very little to no community involvement, evangelism or outward ministry? Jack sees that “…it is the privilege and duty of each believer to become God’s zealous pacesetter in bringing the lost to Christ by every means available” (p. 57). As Christians we are meant to be active participants in the Great Commission, not passive supporters from the sidelines. We often tend to have “tunnel vision” and focus on internal ministries, maintaining what exists but in the process we end up ignoring Christ’s command to go and make disciples. 

As he discusses what can lead to a church being ingrown he concludes that “the most fundamental lack in the inward-looking congregation is its loss of touch with the motivational power of the divine glory at work in the church and the world” (p. 72). On the flip side, in looking at what qualities consist of a church that is not ingrown he writes, “I’m thinking of regular and thorough meditation on the promises of God, ongoing repentance based on the intense study of Scripture, continual personal and corporate prayer, daring gospel communication and discipling, mobilizing every member’s gifts for Christ’s mission to the world, and each congregation working to plant daughter churches” (p. 19). This is pretty radical when you consider most churches today. It seems to me that many individuals and most churches tend to think they are pretty healthy, when they are in fact missing a whole lot. Also Jack talks about how many times we can think we are preaching the gospel, or think that we are doing ministry when we’re really not.

Jack spends some time talking about how to develop zeal for the gospel, which is essential if you are going to overcome any ingrown tendencies. This zeal springs from faith in the power of God. He goes on to talk about how faith is expectation – it’s expecting God to answer prayer and be at work in our midst. If you don’t have a faith that expects God to move, than you will have little zeal for the Gospel. There is a chapter devoted specifically to corporate prayer and sees this as essential to the health and growth of any church. He writes that he became convinced that “a normal Christian life requires participation in corporate prayer.” Too often, corporate prayer is minimized or nearly excluded from the life of the local church. Very little to no special time is set for prayer and any of that time is mostly focused on internal needs and ministry.

Another tendency of an ingrown church or person is a superior attitude (both in regards to other Christians and to non-believers) and out of that often flows a critical attitude towards others. For this reason Jack emphasizes teaching on and training the tongue. In his sections about discipleship one fragment that he emphasizes is teaching people not to be at all critical of others or unkind. He writes, “If you criticize others in the church, you are really attacking yourself – because we are one body in Christ. Indeed, to attack others with our tongue is really to attack Him, the head of the church” (p. 34). It is so easy for us to tear down other Christians (whether within our local church, or someone else cross country) when we should be pursuing peace and unity and be busy serving Christ. I confess my own tendency in this area - it is easy to criticize others when you don’t agree with them. However, it is one thing to call someone out when they are clearly contradicting Scripture, but it is something else to unjustly criticize others or to tear someone down over some terminology or minor things you don’t agree with. If you have the tendency to look down on and/or criticize others with whom you don’t agree, let this be a warning to you as it is to me.

All this to say, this is an excellent book and one I found very helpful! I hope you'll join me as I pray and seek the Lord for how and where He will have me be more active in the great commission. I’ll quote Jack’s closing remarks to inspire you to pursue and active role in Christ’s call: “So let us go forward with this vision. Let us give it no rest until we see more and more people in our churches changing from merely surviving to working for Christ, becoming His soldiers in the noblest cause this world has ever seen” (p. 173).