500 Years of the Reformation

image

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the official start of the Protestant reformation when on October 31, 1517 Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the castle church door in Wittenburg. Although reformation ideas had been circulating long before Luther (think Jon Hus and Joh Wicliffe to name a few), he kickstarted one of the biggest movements in modern world history. The celebration of the Reformation has both societal and spiritual implications. Western society owes its foundation to many of the landmark events of the Reformation. But most significantly the Reformation sparked a spiritual revival that we are still feeling the effects of today.

The theological ideas of the priesthood of all believers, the sufficientcy of Christ, and the sovereignty of God all found their renewal in modern history through the work of the reformers. The basic doctrines of all evangelical churches would not be possible without the Reformation. Although, there came to be factions and sects within the Reformation, all modern followers of Christ owe a grate deal of gratitude to the work of God during the time period of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

For this reason, I have selected a reading plan for 2017 that will focus mainly on the German reformation through the work of Martin Luther, but will touch on the reformation in Switzerland through the work of John Calvin and Ulrich Zwingli and the English reformation through the work of William Tyndale and others. Below is a selected list of the biographies, histories, lectures, theologies and other resources I will be using this year and I reccomend them to anyone interested in deepening their own study of and appreciation for one of the most important eras of Church history.

 

 

 

Book Review: Gospel Fluency

imageWhat is the gospel? The gospel is the central teaching of the Bible and Christian life, what the Apostle Paul called the “first importance” (1 Corinthains 15:3). Namely, it is the good news of Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection. Theologically, it is the way in which sinners can come to have a relationship with God through the work Jesus on the cross. His righteousness is exchanged for ours and we are counted as righteous before God. All believers in Jesus would claim to know this truth, as well they should. But do all believers in Jesus truly allow this truth to have its full work in their lives? This is what Jeff Vanderstelt discusses in his new book Gospel Fluency: Speaking the Truths of Jesus into the Everyday Stuff of Life published by Crossway.

If the gospel is to be of first importance, it must be preeminent and affect every area of the Christian’s life. But as Jeff Vanderstelt argues in the book, not all professing believers are fluent enough in the gospel for it to work itself out in their lives. Gospel fluency, like knowing any language, takes practice and applying to all of life. The more it is used, the more proficient one becomes. But unlike knowing another language or skill, the work of the gospel is shaped in the life of believers through the Spirit of God as it is applied on a regular basis. Better put, the more one applies the gospel, the more they allow the Spirit of God to work in their lives.

The book is well laid out into five parts. Part One named “Gospel Fluency” sets up the remainder of the book by laying out the argument for the need of applying the gospel to all of life. Vanderstelt argues that all people struggle with unbelief. Some people are fully unbelievers, in that they do not yet believe in Jesus. But even people who profess to follow Jesus do not believe that His work is sufficient in certain areas of their lives. Vanderstelt displays this truth through stories and saturates the book with scripture to make his point. Becoming more gospel fluent continues the work of sanctification in an effort to become more Christlike in every area of life.

Part Two named “The Gospel” is a basic theological treatise on the overarching storyline of the Bible: Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation. He walks through the entire Bible to demonstrate the work of God in history to restore what was broken by sin. Again he saturates the section with scripture and highlights his points through stories of his pastoral and personal experiences. Parts three and four named “The Gospel in Me” and “The Gospel with Us” demonstrate that Jesus is the hero in the lives of individual believers and how this is displayed in the life of the Church. The rhythms of rememberance through worship and the Lord’s Supper serve as reminders for the need of the gospel through community.

Part Five named “The Gospel to Others” demonstrates the importance of the Church being on mission in the world to share the truth of the gospel with others. This is accomplished when individual believers all the gospel to affect all of their lives in family, work, and leisure. As followers of Jesus rub elbows with all types of people daily, they have opportunity to live and share the gospel. The Church accomplishes this by displaying the love of Jesus to the community collectively and by equipping believers to be on mission.

Gospel Fluency is an excellent practical theology of the gospel and I highly reccomend this book as resource for pastors, church leaders, and individual believers to grow in the gospel. The way Vanderstelt ties Biblical truth with story demonstrates the power of the gospel in real lives. This is highly encouraging for all believers and churches. He does not propose a fool proof model for church growth and discipleship. The gospel model he lays out in the book has been used throughout Church history and is the only hope for the Church in the future. The gospel is the first importance and without that hope, our faith is in vain.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” 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. 

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: Zeal Without Burnout

imageMinistry is hard! It is tiresome, demanding, never ending work that requires a great deal of sacrifice. If you are in ministry or have been in ministry you know exactly what I am talking about. But all too often the journey in ministry brings an unexpected detour due to burnout. For folks in ministry, the passion (or zeal) that brought them to ministry is what drives them towards burnout. In his new book Zeal Without Burnout, Christopher Ash sheds light on the reasons why ministers burnout and ways to remedy the problem before it occurs.

Throughout the book, Ash gives seven keys to warding against burnout in ministry. Each of these seven brutally remind us that we finite creatures and are not God. In fact, we are in desperate need of the Lord each and every day!

 
First, we need sleep. God wired human beings for the need to sleep. This daily rhythm of rest allows us to cease from work and recharge. Sleep not only allows the body to rest, but it rests the mind. While we sleep our brains process what we experienced that day. Sleep most importantly, reminds us that while we rest God continues to work.

 
Second, we need Sabbath rest. Sabbath rest is a weekly rhythm of rest where we take an entire day off from our typical work. For most ministers this will not be on Sunday, but another day during the week. This is a time to enjoy the Lord through any means that truly allows us to rest. People rest differently. Some rest while reading or journaling, while others rest by hiking or playing a sport. The important principle is to cease from work and allow the Lord to work while we rest.

 
Third, we need friendship (or community). This is an important support system that allows us to share our burdens and enjoy the Lord together. Without friends, we become isolated and can feel like we are going at it alone. I must confess that I struggle with this key.

 
Fourth, we need inward renewal. Every day we need a time set aside where we pray and read Scripture to commune with God. By doing this we are feeding ourselves. The majority of the work of ministry is pouring into others. But if we are allowing the Lord to pour into us then we will dry up and be of no use to others.

 
Fifth, we need to warned against the celebrity mentality. Our society celebrates and worships fame. Unfortunately, this same mentality has crept into the church. All too often ministers fall into the trap of celebrity, which becomes their demise. In the end it devestates their ministry because they become disqualified for ministry service.

 
Sixth, we need encouragement. It cannot be said enough, ministry is difficult! Ministry leaders desperately need encouragement. The biggest encouragement that people in ministry need is that it is worth it. Many who are in ministry have left their family, a comfortable career, or hometown to follow their calling. Unfortunately, many times it is difficult to see how ministry is worth the sacrifice.

 
Lastly, we need to be reminded of the joy of ministry. Most people who enter the ministry do so because they express a calling from the Lord. Yet, after life punches you in the face and knocks you down that can such the joy out of ministry. The encouragement is that the Lord does not need us to serve him, but he wants us to serve him. This must serve as a wonderful reminder that serving the Lord is a joy, not a chore.

 
This book was highly encouraging and easy to read. One of my favorite quotes comes from the end of the book. Ash says, “If I never preach another sermon, never lead another church meeting, never give another talk, never have another one-to-one spiritual conversation with anyone, never use my gifts ever again in ministry, my name is still written in heaven. And in that I will rejoice.” These very powerful words speak truth to the heart of a minister on the edge of burnout. We must remember that the Lord has called us to serve him not because he needs us, but only because He chooses to work through us. This puts into perspective the need for rest in the midst of the demands of ministry.

 
I highly recommend this book to anyone who is currently in ministry and anyone who is considering ministry. It is a wonderful resource on a needed topic! If you are in ministry you must learn how to balance the demands of the job with rest and replenishment. This resource will help you work through that without throwing in the towel.

 

I received this book from Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review of the work.

Book Review: NLT Guys Slimeline Bible

imageGod’s Word is essential to personal spiritual growth. The psalmist writes “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119:105, NLT). It is not only the way through which believers get to know God, but it is the way through which God leads believers through life. This spiritual journey, for many, begins early in life. For this reason it is important for young people to understand and know God’s Word.

Commissioned in 1996 and updated in 2013, the New Living Translation is a good modern Bible translation that lands in the middle between literal and readable translation theory. It does a good job of keeping the message of the biblical text center, while simultaneously making the text readable, which is great for younger readers. The NLT translates ancient measurements, weights, currency, and time into the modern equivalent. It also translates biblical phrases, idioms, and names while some translations only transliterate them. The NLT is translated to be read aloud which is great for group study, personal reading and memorization.

 

Key Features for the Guys Slimline Bible:

  • Design: The slimline design fits easily in the hands for personal reading. It also fits well into a backpack for travel or use in various settings.
  • Footnotes: The footnotes do an excellent job of explaining portions of the text that may be difficult to translate or understand.
  • Cross-References: The NLT places cross-references in text for quick access to similar passages for personal study.
  • Dictionary/Concordance: The NLT dictionary/concordance is an excellent resource for defining biblical terms and locating other passages that use the same word.
  • Maps: The maps at the back of the bible allow the reader to understand the world of the Old and New Testaments from a geographic perspective.
  • Reading Plan: The 365-Day Reading Plan allows the reader to read through the entire bible in one year by reading a few chapters each day.
  • Memorization Verses: The NLT provides key verses to memorize that are organized by topic. This allows the reader to apply God’s Word to their lives in varying situations.

As mentioned above, the NLT is great for younger readers. The Guys Slimline Bible would make a great gift for graduations, baptisms, confirmations, etc. I would reccomend this resource to youth pastors and youth workers for use in with their students.

 

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: God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life

image


What is God’s will for my life? What is God calling me to do? I know that every Christian has asked those two questions a thousand times. What do those two questions reveal about the heart? It reveals that everyone, no matter if they are a follower of Christ or not, wrestles with this idea that they were born for a purpose. Many people spend their entire life trying to figure out their purpose. Why is that? A.W. Tozer would argue that we all search for our purpose, because God has innately wired us with a specific purpose in life, namely to worship Him(The Purpose of Man, Bethany House). The Protestant Reformers agree with that as well by stating that man’s primary purpose (or chief end) is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” This is what Gene Edwards Veith, Jr. ties together in his book God at Work published by Crossway.

In the book Veith describes what he calls the “doctrine of vocation.” Namely, this is the biblical teaching on how God works in the world. He defines the doctrine of vocation as the way in which “God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve each other.” This means that God has designed human societies to work in such a way that, when functioning properly, our individual gifts, skills, and abilities are used for the common good. Think about it for a moment. Our cities and communities function best when every citizen is doing their job well. That means everyone from the mayor, city council, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and business owners, give to the common good of the city for it to prosper.

However, to put it the way Veith does in chapter one, “sin spoils everything.” Now because of the Fall, human beings do not always seek to use their talents for the common good, but their individual gain. This causes crime and injustice to flourish. Yet, there is a better way. As followers of Christ who have been redeemed by His blood to live for His glory, we can help make a difference in our community by the way we live. The Lord has gifted and called every believer to glorify Him and serve others. He has given each of us specific talents, skills, and abilities in order to serve the common good.

Some might read the previous statement and assume that the Lord called every believer to serve in vocational ministry. That is not what Vieth is saying. He is actually advocating for the opposite. Biblically speaking, yes, every believer has been called as a missionary. But that does not mean that every believer is called to leave everything and go over seas to be a “missionary.” In fact, the Lord has gifted and skilled us to serve as missionaries in a myriad of ways. Wherever their is “work” to be done, the Lord has called someone to go as a missionary. This means that he calls people to be doctors, teachers, business owners, retail workers, lawyers, servers, and yes pastors. Where has the Lord called you to serve?

Vieth explores five ways every believer has been called to serve in the world. First, he explores our calling as a worker. In chapter five he argues that “a Christian and a non-Christian may labor side by side in the same job, and on the surface they are doing exactly the same thing. But work that is done in faith has a significant difference than work that is done in unbelief.” When we do our work in faith for the glory of God and the good of others, it helps put our work into the proper perspective. Yes, we have to work in this life to make a living and provide for our families. But, our work does not define us…it does not save us. As followers of Christ, we rest in His finished work and trust that he will and has provided for our every need. Our work then becomes not a way for us to succeed and make a name for ourselves, but a way we glorify God and serve others. A right perspective changes everything!

Second, he explores our calling in the family. For married believers, this means that the Lord has called us to lovingly serve our spouse. Husbands, God has called us to love our wives and point them toward the gospel. Wives, God has called you to lovingly serve your husband and point him toward the gospel. For married couples who are parents, the Lord has given you children to raise up as a new generation for Christ. Parents are called to lovingly nurture, guide, and discipline their children in the gospel. For children, God has called you to lovingly obey your parents and trust their leadership in the home. Truthfully, our family is the primary ministry to which we have been called.

Third, he explores our calling as a citizen. Biblically speaking God has called people from every nation, tribe, and tongue. So, the way in which we live out our calling a citizens looks different in every culture and society. For some people, the Lord will call them to be leaders in their local government. They are to serve the community well and lead toward justice. For regular citizens, the Lord has called us to humbly submit to the leadership he has placed over us according to the law of the land. However, this does not mean that we follow blindly. Sometimes leaders do not fight for justice. For citizens in free countries it is our responsibility as believers to fight against injustice and seek the wellbeing of our community. This means that unless our government leaders do not go against God’s law, we are called to humbly submit.

Fourth, he explores our calling in the church. Not everyone is called to be a pastor or church leaders. However, every believer has a way in which they can serve their local church well. Every local church needs people are willing greet people as they walk in the door on Sunday morning, work in the nursery, teach a class, help with administration, lead a small group, or help setup and break down (for church plants). But there is also need for encouragers, discernment, and pastoral care. The important thing is not what role you play, but the fact that everyone is need to help the church continue in its mission. There is nothing less God honoring than an apathetic church. The Lord has called every believer to play an important role without which the local church cannot properly function.

God at Work is a highly practical book! I recommend this book to anyone struggling with calling and ways they can serve in their job, family, community, and church. I recommend this book to pastors and church leaders to use as a way to disciple the whole church in the doctrine of vocation. Everyone in the church will benefit from reading this book.

I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book.