Book Review: No Easy Jesus

imageIf you have been a follower of Jesus for more than a few seconds, you realize that (to use a Southernism) “it ain’t easy.” To think otherwise is to miss the point. In fact, His very mission on earth was not easy. Why would we, as His followers, think that following Him would be? In being our way of salvation Jesus took the narrow road, and he calls His followers to do the same. This is what Jason Mitchell discusses in his new book No Easy Jesus (Tyndale).

Throughout the book Mitchell draws a distinction between the easy Jesus and the real Jesus. He defines the easy Jesus as a convenient savior that is there when we need him and stays out of the way for the most part. This is a Jesus that is made in our own image. On the other hand, the real Jesus is the Jesus described in the Bible. He is the Savior who stepped out of the glory of heaven and dwelt among us. He didn’t shy away from the hard stuff. The real Jesus got into our mess and was crucified in our place. The real Jesus defeated death and rose again on the third day.

Following the easy Jesus doesn’t take much effort. It is…well…easy. This is a version of Jesus that doesn’t require much out of those who follow him. Following the real Jesus, however, takes grit as Mitchell puts it in the book. It isn’t easy to leave all and follow Him. The real Jesus calls us to get messy like He did. This means that we might get hurt, because we have skin in the game. It is not enough to say that we have faith in Jesus, we must also be obedient to His call. A life lived by faith in Jesus will always lead to living in faithfulness to Jesus.

Following the real Jesus also means not pretending that we have it all together. But being willing to be vulnerable by admitting and living with our weaknesses. It means saying no to certain desires and temptations and constantly reminding ourselves that Jesus is enough for us. The real Jesus calls us to forgive, to trust Him in times of need, grow in our pain, seek His best with intimacy, steward well the gifts/resources He has given us, and love others like He does. This way of living isn’t easy, but over time it can because second nature as we humbly surrender to the Holy Spirit.

No Easy Jesus is a great reminder to stop evaluate what version of Jesus we are following. Are we following the easy Jesus of our own imagination, or are we following the real Jesus as revealed in Scripture. I reccomend this book as a good resource to anyone who is tired of following the easy road and is serious about following the real Jesus. It is full of real life stories of people who have counted the cost and remind that it is worth it.

 

 
I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, & James

imageOne of the most important aspects of the Christian life is staying rooted in the Word of God. The Scriptures are the basis of our faith and bring life to those who study and apply it. Yet, many believers would admit that it is a struggle to find the time in our fast paced society. Admittedly it is difficult. But we find the time for food, sleep, relationships, entertainment, etc. Even in our fast paced society we all find time for the things that are most important. If studying and applying God’s Word is a priority for us, we will find the time for it. The Explore by the Book series is a great resource to aide in personal Bible study. This new series published by The Good Book Company takes material from their Explore Quarterly series and adds space for journaling to better aide personal study. The newest volume in the series is 90 Days in John 14-17, Romans, & James by Timothy Keller and Sam Allberry.

 

Features of this Volume

The portion of the gospel of John chosen for this study is packed with practical truth. Sam Allberry refers to it as “Jesus preparing his disciples for the world we now live in.” This portion of John is centered around the time immediately preceding the crucifixion. It is the last time Jesus will see his disciples before his trial and brutal death. He is preparing them for the time when they will no longer have him, but promises to send the Holy Spirit to empower them to live all that he has taught.

The letter from Paul to the Romans is a deep well of truth based primarily on the church knowing, understanding, and applying the gospel message to their daily lives. Paul opens the letter by calling the gospel “the power of God.” He spends the rest of the letter unpacking the truth of the gospel that no one is good and all are spiritually dead in sin. Yet, the climax of the letter is chapter 8, which is riveted with the joy of the freedom found in Jesus.

The epistle of James is a practical letter written to Jewish believers scattered throughout the Roman Empire. He discusses topics such as true faith, taming the tongue, partiality, guarding against the false idol of money, and taking care of the vulnerable. This letter remains a relevant resource to the church today.

 

Features in the Series

* Daily Format: This series is set up for daily scripture reading on a quarterly basis. It is important for followers of Jesus to be in the Word daily. Just like we must eat food daily for physical sustenance, believers must feast on the Word daily for spiritual sustenance. The format is set up to allow for thirty minutes each day, which is doable in the midst of busy lives. But daily reading is also a commitment, but one that will prove worth it over time.

* Reading Portion: The series encourages reading significant portions of Scripture directly from one’s personal Bible or Bible app. This is important for two main reasons. (1) It allows the reader to cherish the Word and (2) it allows the reader to study the Bible in context. Many contemporary devotionals provide a small portion of Scripture which is most likely taken out of context. Most of the time is spent reading the devotion and not the Scripture itself. Resources that encourage reading significant portions of Scritpure daily serve the reader well. As the old adage goes, “You can give a person a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach him to fish and feed him for a lifetime.”

* Application and Journaling: The application questions and space for journaling provide an important aspect for daily Bible reading. Many devotions simply tell you what the author thinks about certain verse or topic and may even bring some encouragement, but it does not apply directly to the readers life. The application questions provide the opportunity for the reader to take what they just read and apply it directly to what is going on in their lives at the moment. This fosters growth and feasting on the Word. It causes one to cherish the Word more, when they see that it applies to their lives personally.

* Prayer: A crucial aspect of daily devotional time is prayer. Devotional reading is good, but one must take time and speak to the Lord about how that passage of Scripture is convicting, teaching, and growing them. The guided prayers printed in the book serve as a launching pad for deeper prayer and application.
I would personally reccomend the Explore by the Book series and specially this volume to anyone looking for a resource to guide them in personal study. The guided but flexible format allows the resource to be tailored to everyone’s learning style and schedule. It will take a minimum of thirty minutes each day, but on days that time allows one could spend extended time in study and prayer. This series is formatted for personal study, but it could also be used in a small group or Sunday School setting as well. I am personally thankful for the ministry of The Good Book Company, because they provide excellent resources for churches and individuals.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: Christ All Sufficient

imageI find it difficult to write a review of a exposition on a biblical book, because I don’t want to inadvertently critique the Scriptures. However, expositional texts are important because they can help illuminate a specific Scripture verse, passage, or book for use in the church. Expositional texts or commentaries can be separated into two basic categories (1) academic and (2) layman. An academic commentary will be based in the original Hebrew or Greek and can be difficult to use unless a person is proficient in those languages. A layman’s commentary may reference the original language but will breakdown the text in such a way that it is conducive for preaching, teaching, or personal study. This is what Brian Hedges does in his new book Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians.

Many Christians might think that a commentary is only for pastors. It is true that the average churchgoer does not know Hebrew or Greek. However, this is no excuse for not diving into the Word for further study. Resources like Christ All Sufficient, which I would consider a layman’s commentary, provide great tools for deeper study.

At this point I will review a few of the features in the book that aide in further study of the book of Colossians for preaching/teaching or personal study. First, Hedges provides a great outline which walks systematically through the text. The book of Colossians was originally written as a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church at Colossae. A good outline allows the reader to put each verse in context and help understand the Apostle’s train of thought. Hedges not only breaks down the text in a basic outline, but breaks it down verse by verse. This aides a more comprehensive study of the text.

Second, the book provides good exposition of the text. Not all books that claim to be expositional are good. The point of an expositional resource is to “expose” the text and reveal what it is trying to say. Some “expositional” books impose on the text the agenda of the author. Hedges, of course, adds his own voice, viewpoint, and style into the writing. However, he does an excellent job of exposing what the text is saying. He does this in a few ways: (1) he references keywords, defines them, and applies them in context. (2) He cross references with other scriptures to provide a biblical theology of what is being discussed. (3) He references other sources such as commentaries, dictionaries, and other resources.

Lastly, Hedges writes the book with a pastoral heart. When the Apostle Paul originally wrote the letter to the church at Colossae he did so for the purpose of reminding the church of Christ’s sufficientcy. In the same way, Hedges exposes what Paul is saying and applies to the church today. We can get distracted by many things in this world, but when we remember that Jesus is enough and can provide the strength we need to face any circumstance.

I highly reccomend Christ All Sufficient as a resource for studying the book of Colossians. Whether you are preparing for a sermon series, Sunday School class, small group, or personal study Christ All Sufficient is a great resource.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Book Review: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life

img_0081Human beings are not simple creatures. We are a complex web of what we think, what we believe, and how we behave. All three aspects of the human experience affect how we relate to God, ourselves, others, and our circumstances. In personal ministry and faith based counseling, these aspects must be kept in mind, because the root issue may connected to something different than the issue at hand. This is what Dr. Jeremy Pierre discusses in his new The Dymanic Heart in Daily Life published by New Growth Press.

 
Most of us are not as self-aware as we would like to admit. Many times our behavior is connected to something deeper than what is on the surface. When we can get past the superficial issue, down to the root of what is going on in our heart we can begin to see growth and healing. For many of us we need help doing that which is why we turn to friends, pastors, and counselors for help. Whether you are the friend, pastor, or counselor it is important to be equipped to point the person seeking counsel what is truly going on in the heart.

 
In the book, Pierre gives a biblical theology of the human heart and its dynamic nature. He shows how what we think affects our beliefs (desires) which in turn affects our behavior and how that relates to the world around us. The goal of ministry and faith-based counseling is to look past the behavior to what is truly going on in the heart. Many times behavior can be modified by repenting of wrong thinking and beliefs, which is the theory of neuthetic counseling. Sometimes, however, additional psychotherapy and/or medication can be helpful. Pierre seems to point to a faith-based cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach in personal ministry and counseling. Basically, our behavior can be modified when we reorient our thinking and beliefs to match what Scripture says about who God is and who we are. The goal is to help others become more self-aware and help them apply the gospel to every day life situations.

 
Pierre does an excellent job of making this concept of faith-based CBT applicable in peronal biblically based ministry for church leaders who are not formally trained counselors. He also does an excellent job of providing real life examples of how this approach can be applied in every day life. This book is an excellent biblically based resource for pastors, ministers, and counselors who desire to serve their parishioners and clients well. It is a great side table guide to better understand how the gospel applies to the dynamic heart of people in every day life.

 

 

I received this book in participation with the Cross Focused Reviews blog tour program in exchange for an honest review of the book. 

Book Review: “Kill Devil” by Mike Dellosso

imageThe definition of great fiction is when the reader has difficultly determining where the story begins and reality ends. Great fiction draws the reader in and makes them feel like they are living in the midst of the story. The reader sees, hears, and feels what the characters see, hear, and feel. In essence the reader becomes the characters. This is the type of writing that is displayed by Mike Dellosso in his new book Kill Devil, the second book in the Jed Patrick series published by Tyndale House.

In Kill Devil, Jed Patrick and his family are trying to start a new life after leaving the Centralia Project. He thinks they are off the grid when their cover is blow and are thrust back into the throws of working with the CIA. Jed is in possession of classified information that can bring down the Centralia Project and they want the information destroyed. The storyline moves briskly from Idaho to Denver to Alcatraz. Jed thinks he is being enlisted to take down the Centralia Project, but discovers that he is in fact working for them again. With his daughter’s life at stake, Jed must wade through murky waters to discover the truth.

Mike Dellosso does an excellent job of capturing the readers interest. His writing style is much like Lee Child or Brad Thor. The reader is made to feel like they are Jed Patrick living the story as it unfolds. Dellosso moves the story along briskly and gives the reader just enough information to make them what to keep reading. Unlike some thrillers where it is easy to figure out “whodunit,” Dellosso does an excellent job of throwing in plot twists that makes the reader second guess where the storyline is going. The short chapters give a “teaser” effect that makes you want to start the next chapter to find out what happens next.

If you love reading a good thriller, Kill Devil is a good book to consider. I reccomend the Jed Patrick series it to anyone who loves Jack Reacher, Robert Langdon, or Scot Harvath. I could not put the book down and finished it in just a few days. I would, however, reccomend reading Dellosso’s book Centralia first because it provides some back story that you miss if you jump right into Kill Devil.
I received this book from Tyndale House Publishers as a member of the Tyndale Bloggers Network program in exchange for an honest review of the book.

 

Learning to pursue the Caller and not the calling

23505897I love it when the Lord uses a book to speak straight to my heart the exact words I need to hear at a particular time. Some time back I was in a used book store here in Birmingham when a book caught my eye. The title was Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’ House and Back Again by Ryan J. Pemberton. I was intrigued! As I thumbed through, I realized that the book was a spiritual memoir about the author’s call to ministry, which involved him studying theology at Oxford in England. I knew that I had to buy it, because I myself have been struggling with my own calling and what that means in my life. I am glad I did!

Using the medium of story, Pemberton shares his experience with following the call of God on his life. For him the call meant leaving his comfortable job and studying theology halfway around the world in an effort to become a writer who relays spiritual truth in a way that the average person can apply to their lives. The journey took him from mountain tops, living in C.S. Lewis’ home; to lows, living away from his wife during their first pregancy. However, through it all, Pemberton reminds us that “being called by God…doesn’t mean being called to a particular job, school, or even vocation, so much as it means being called to surrender” (pg.237). The calling of God is about dropping our nets and following Jesus wherever he leads. Following Jesus is not easy and will cost us something, but in the end it is worth it because Jesus is always worth it!

Although the specifics of his story are different, the journey is the same. When the journey brought him to places he never imagined he would be, like waiting in line at the social services office. He asked himself the same questions that everyone asks when life does not turn out the way we’d hoped. Lord, did I hear you wrong? Am I not called? Did I misunderstand? Is this worth it? In the end, Pemberton discovers that the Christian life is not about pursuing a calling, but pursuing the Caller. His story harkens to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “seek first the kingdom of God ships righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). When we pursue the calling above all else, it becomes an idol. Yet, when we pursue God above all else, we discover our true purpose, namely to enjoy God in personal relationship.

I loved this book because I read my story in Pemberton’s story. I have found myself in many of the same positions, spiritually speaking. His story speaks right to my heart because I fully understand the difficulty of leaving all to follow Christ. I have been where he was, ready to throw in the towel. Yet, hearing a story similar to mine, from someone who is walking the same journey reminds me that I’m not alone. It beckons me to stop and be reminded that God did not call me to serve Him, He called me to trust Him. For the first time, while reading this book, that truth made the journey from my head to my heart. My life may not end up how I envisioned, but all that matters is that my name is written in heaven and in that I rejoice.

I am thankful for Ryan Pemberton’s obedience to the call of God on his life. He truly is a wonderful storyteller! His writing is a gift from the Lord. He draws the reader into the story by making the reader feel what he felt and experience what he experienced. This book is a great reminder that the call to follow the Lord is one of adventure and is never dull! I highly recommend this charming memoir to anyone who has said yes to following God. It will remind you that you are not alone!

As a gift to my readers Ryan has graciously offered a signed copy of the book to be given away on this blog. The giveaway will be held from May 22 – June 5. More details will be forthcoming!

 

Book Review: Living in the Light Money, Sex and Power

imageWhat is supreme in our life? What takes first place in the priorities of our life? The answer will reveal where we place our hope and determine what or who we worship. In truth the place of preeminence is reserved for Christ alone, yet because of the Fall many other things take His place in our life. Three specific places that all people look for fulfillment are money, sex, and power. Put in priority, these there can bring immense joy. It is when they are put in the place of Christ, that they can become a snare that leads to other sins. This is what Dr. John Piper discusses in his new book Living in the Light: Money, Sex, and Power published by the Good Book Company.

Summary
In the book, Dr. Piper reveals that money, sex, and power are precious gifts from God in order to bring joy and fulfillment in the lives of His people. However, because of sin they can be perverted and placed as preeminent in our lives. If we allow one of these to take the first place in our hearts the damage it can have in our lives and others’ lives can be devastating.

First, sex was created by God not only for procreation, but bring joy and pleasure for His people. However, the lie of Satan “was to make the fruit look more desirable than God” (pg. 29). Our first parents “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man” (Rom. 1:23, ESV). What God intended as enjoyment and pleasure, mankind put in the place of God. In regards to sex, this was done by taking sex out of the bonds of covenant marriage and partaking whenever we see fit. This is seen rampantly in our culture with the redefinition of marriage, gender issues, pornography, premarital and extramarital sex. When enjoying sex takes priority over enjoying God through sex, we have exchanged the glory of God for images.”

Second, money was created by God as a way for mankind to flourish. Through money we can give and receive material goods and services. Money helps us meet our most basic needs and allows us to enjoy the world around us. However, because of sin we pursue the gift rather than the Giver. Money can become our primary goal in life. This can happen through seeking a lucrative career path or being stingy with what God has given us by placing it in savings accounts. Money was not meant to be pursued above God because when we pursue God first he will graciously give us all things. This does not mean that we will become wealthy, but it means that he will meet our needs and provide for us.

Third, power was created by God as a way for us to pursue pleasure through Him. However, power can easily become distorted in our lives and we pursue it above all things. Through power we can exalt ourselves and hurt others. This is most commonly seen through “climbing the corporate latter” where we step on others in an effort to get to the top. Power was not meant to be pursued above all else, but as a way to pursue please through God.

Application for the Christian Life
The remedy, as Dr. Piper puts it, is to put the Son back at the center of the solar system of our lives. When the money, sex, and power get out of “orbit” it causes many problems. However, when Christ is preeminent in our lives he graciously gives us all things as good gifts to enjoy him.

Sex was given as a gracious gift to glorify God by enjoying the pleasure that only he can give. When it is enjoyed within the bonds of convenient marriage, sex can bring immense pleasure and ecstasy. God has given us freedom within those bonds to explore and enjoy the spouse he has given us for his glory. Yet, even marital sex cannot completely satisfy, only Jesus can. Marital sex, is intended to point us to the only one who can satisfy and complete us in the covenant community we have in Christ. In marriage, we must give God the glory for the good gift of sex that points us back to him!

Money was given as a gracious gift by God as a means to provide for us and bring us pleasure. When it is enjoyed as a means of enjoying God, money can bring enjoyment and pleasure in this life. God has given us the freedom to enjoy his created world through money. To some he has given much and other he has given little, but he has graciously given to all. Whether he has given you much or little, we are tasked with the responsibility of being good stewards with what he has given. Each of us must trust God to provide no matter how much money we have in the bank.

Power was given as a gracious gift by God to pursue pleasure through him. When it is enjoyed as a means for enjoying God the good of others, power can bring us immense joy. It is only when we abuse the power we have been given for selfish gain that distorts the gift. God has given some people places of power in order for them to fight for justice. This is one way that we can exercise of our God given power, no matter how much we have been allotted.

Ultimately, all three of these gifts have been given to us, in one degree or another, as means by which we can pursue and enjoy God. We would be wise, by God’s grace, to steward them well.

I would highly recommend this resource to anyone struggling with placing money, sex, or power as preeminent in their lives. Which in one degree or another includes us all! Dr. John Piper uses his gift of writing to point the people of God back to Christ. It is only when seek Christ above all else that all these things are added to us (Matt. 6:33-34). This short book would be excellent for personal or group study. What a blessing Dr. Piper is for the church!
I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review of the work.