Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saturate; Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life, by Jeff Vanderstelt

First of all I would like top thank Crossway Publishers and Net Galley for making a review copy of this book available to me, at no cost, in exchange for a review.

Jeff Vanderstelt is a former youth Pastor with Willow Creek Church and now a church planting Pastor in Tacoma, Washington. This book is his first and is a description of his spiritual walk and to some degree his spiritual awakening to how the Christian life should be lived and how Discipleship should take place.

As the book started I thought it was a bit over the top and I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it very much. In his introduction he states, “Can you imagine every city, every neighborhood, every street, and every house saturated with Jesus’s presence through his people? What if, in every school, every classroom, and every extracurricular activity, students daily experience the person and work of Jesus? And can you dream with me of a day when no business office, retail center, or industrial hub can get away from the good news of Jesus proclaimed in words and expressed in gracious deeds? A day when every cafĂ©, pub, restaurant, or bakery smells of the aroma of Christ? This is God’s intention for this world. And his plan is to do it through his people.”

I thought that was a bit idealistic given how our culture is and how there is such a distain for Christ and His church. So I thought here is another idealistic young person whom needs a reality check!

But, as I read more of the book I found that I understood where he was coming from and I found that I agreed with him on more and more points.

Since I am working with a church plant group that is operating the same way that Pastor Vanderstelt is with his “Missional” church plant I appreciated his major points of how we are to live with Jesus as the central focus of our daily lives and that we should be so immersed and filled by the Spirit that everyone around us will see Jesus and see how Jesus wants to influence our culture and influence each person’s life, for the better.

This book is a compilation of stories about peoples changed lives and how Discipleship played an important role in each of those changes.

For those who know Christ and understand their Bible fairly well this book will seem like just a reminder of how we should be living our lives. But then again it has some radical thoughts, according the many, about how to Disciple others within their church community.

This will be an encouraging read for laypeople and pastors as well who are wanting to think through how living in the community of Christ and discipling others might look with some new emphasis on boldly living out our commitment to Christ.


Cries from the Cross, by Erwin Lutzer

Based on a sermon series by Erwin Lutzer the pastor of Moody Church. This book was released in a decade ago but is being re-released in new format's and in the Kindle format. I want to thank Moody Press for making a review copy of this book available to me for free through Net Galley.

Pastor Lutzer will take you through all of the statements that Christ made on the Cross when the Romans were crucifying him. Those statements are:
1. Father forgive them for they know not what they do
2. Today you will be with me in Paradise, a promise given to the repentant criminal
3. Woman, here is your son . . . Here, is your mother
4. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
5. I am thirsty
6. It is finished!
7. Father, into your hands I commit my spirit

Each of these statements from Christ is full of meaning. As Pastor Lutzer points out when someone is dying the last words that they utter are usually very important to them and something that you should take care to listen to. These words of Christ reveal His heart and reveal His mission that the Father sent Him to earth to accomplish. That mission is being finalized here at the Cross!

Through excellent writing and exposition of the Scripture you will find encouragement as Pastor Lutzer explains each statement and what their impact is on the people who were at the Cross watching Him die. They are statements that we should take time to carefully study and meditate on so that we understand their impact to the world and to ourselves.

I believe this is a great book for people to be reading this month before we get to Easter Sunday. I would encourage you to pick up a copy and make a careful study of it.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Rhythms of Worship, by John G. Stevens and Michael Waschevski

First of all I want to thank Westminster John Knox Press for making a review copy of this book available to me through Net Galley. I appreciate their kindness to allow me an advance look at a wonderful book.

This very short work, about 70 pages, is indeed a fabulous study guide for the lay person and lay leadership of a church. It takes much of the thought process about Worship Planning and some Theology and narrows it down into very short, very succinct, but very important chapters about each area of worship.

It breaks down the different aspects of worship and addresses them;
1.              The Worship Order
2.              The Gathering (Invocation, repentance and worship in song)
3.              Addressed by the Word (Scripture and Spoken Word)
4.              The Joyful Feast (Communion)
5.              Sent to Serve (Benediction and sending scripture)

They then go on to address several other aspects of worship, specifically Music and the Arts in Worship as well as special seasons of worship.

There are Chapters dealing with;
            Christmas and Epiphany
            Lent and Holy Week
            The Fifty Days Leading up to Pentecost

They then summarize some others items they call odds and ends. Finally they end with a chapter on “Is Worship Important?”

This little booklet would be a great item for church members to be asked to read during a membership class as it would give them a good overview of why the church calendar is arranged the way it is and what the purpose of worship is all about.

Each chapter in the book ends with discussion questions, so it makes it a good small group study book.

Further, there are extensive notes at the end of the book, about 20 pages worth. So, you have plenty to dig into to further any area of interest that you have.

All in all this is one of the best little books I have read in several years, it would be right up there with Greg Gilbert’s book, What is the Gospel.

Buy, read, contemplate and share with others!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Blind Spots, by Collin Hansen

First of all I want to thank Crossway Publishers and Net Galley for making an Advance Readers Copy of this book available to me for review. The book will be released on April 30, 2015. You can pre-order a copy through Amazon, Westminster Books, Christian Book Distributors or your favorite Christian Book Store.

Collin Hansen brings a fresh look at the Western Church and how we need to think and act in regards to The Gospel and our Culture. This book will be an excellent book for Pastors and Lay Leaders of our churches to read together and dialogue about the contents to make sure that our churches are “well balanced” in how we proclaim The Gospel to the world.
Hansen focuses on three categories of Christians. He believes that if we honestly look at ourselves we can find that we belong to one of these categories due to our character traits, our gifting and our call by Christ to ministry.

The three categories are:
1.     The Courage Group – those standing valiantly for the Truth (Theological group)
2.     The Compassion Group – those who stress service, listening, engagement and compassion for our culture
3.     The Commissioned Group – those committed to building the church and reaching the lost

The book is short, only 116 pages, but Hansen does a great job detailing his thoughts on these three groups and focuses on their strengths (Courage, Compassion and Commissioned) and on their Blind Spots (their weaknesses).

I was encouraged by his thoughts on the Blind Spots as he reminds us, the Church, that we need each other. We can’t go it alone. The Courageous group is important, but if they only focus on their thoughts and desires the church will fail. They need to embrace the other two groups. The same is true for each group.

As Hansen points out, any Christian who focuses on his strengths and dismisses his weaknesses, and thus dismisses the other two groups, that Christian will fail to properly proclaim The Gospel to the world.

Several quotes from the book that I found to be thought provoking:
1.     The problem with Blind Spots is that they tend to hide behind good traits. Your weakness is often the flip side of your strength.
2.     The Church must follow Christ command to love our neighbors whether or not we ever receive thank you notes.
3.     Belief that the Great Commission still applies to us today separates evangelicals from churches that have sued for peace with our pluralistic age.
4.     Commissioned Churches cannot be content with the status quo, because eternity is at stake.
5.     Unless you contextualize your mission with honest understanding of local culture, you merely add to the noise, because you will become accommodated to the spirit of the age.

I believe that this simple little book will be a revolutionary thought provoker for many churches. We need to engage our culture, but we need to be careful to not dilute The Good News of Jesus Christ. We need all three types of Christians in our churches pulling together to bring a balanced ministry to our lost world.

Read, think, discuss and decide what you will do!

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Things of Earth, by Joe Rigney

I am grateful to have received a free copy of this book from Crossway Publishers and Net Galley in exchange for a review.

Have you ever heard of the term "Christian Hedonism?" Well, that is the concept for this book. John Piper formed this concept and has developed it into a strong Biblical theme for the Christian's Life. Joe Rigney has taken the concept and written an entire book on it to bring us to a point of discussion within the Christian religious world. The thought process is this, God created and saw that it was good, so why do we not embrace the things God created and enjoy them 100%?

Maybe you are like me and the term "Christian Hedonism" turns you off. You have strong feelings that this is something evil or to be avoided. It just sounds wrong. But John Piper assures us that, "the very heart of Christian Hedonism, textually, is found in Philippians 1:19-23, where Christ is most magnified in our dying, because we treasure Christ so supremely that we call dying gain--because we get more of Christ." He then goes on to say, "The weakness of this emphasis is that little space is devoted to magnifying Christ in the right enjoyment of creation and culture."

So, Joe Rigney takes Piper's teaching and gives us work that reminds us that Creation is Good. God is the Creator and what He Created He intended for good and for our enjoyment. So, why is it that we don't enjoy? Why is it that we instead tend to make idols of material things instead of enjoy them how God intended for us to enjoy them?

I don't agree with everything that Rigney has written, but he sure has given me pause to stop and look at the Things of Earth in a different way and in a way that will make me enjoy God's creation even more.

The two chapters that I enjoyed the most were Chapter 5, "The Gospel Solution to Idolatry" and then Chapter 9, "Sacrifice, Self-Denial and Generosity." If you take a hard look at those chapters they will challenge you to understand how to enjoy God's creation without turning the Creation into the thing to be worshiped instead of remembering to worship the Creator.


War on Terror, by Grant Jeffery

I want to thank Blogging for Books for making a review copy of this book available to me.

While this book was written quite some time ago I found it both interesting and informative. I read it when it first came out soon after the World Trade Towers were destroyed. I then re-read it now as a prelude to some other work I am doing on Terrorism and books that I'm reviewing.

Jeffrey has a keen sense of Biblical Prophecy and is able to weave that in to his discussion of terrorism from around the world. While his insights are good they are also frightening. To think that some people hate the West so much that they would give their lives to inflict hurt and terror on them is unbelievable. But the problem is that the West does not understand fully the religious fever that takes over people in the Middle East. They are completely sold out to their faith, some good and some bad.

The good Muslim believer is not someone to fear. Just like a good Christian is not someone to fear. But the bad Muslim believer (the fanatic) is someone to be avoided just like the bad Christian fanatic is someone that we all are frustrated and hurt by.

Jeffrey's gives us a good treatment of Biblical Prophecy and how that relates to current headlines. He goes beyond what you hear from the News Media and brings to light many of the underlying values and issues that lead to terrorism.

All in all this a good read and one that is still timely even given a decade of removal from the Twin Towers 911 attack.

There is a new documentary available that will also be helpful.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Every Tear a Memory, by Myra Johnson

First of all I want to thank Abingdon Press for making a review copy of this novel available to me in exchange for an honest review.

This Christian Novel will explore several Biblical Issues. It will deal with Forgiveness, Guilt, Acceptance, Pride, Arrogance and Moral Character. Each of the issues is done in a way that is subtle through the story.

The characters each have things that they need to deal with. Joanna needs to deal with her past hurts over her mothers depression, the loss of her moral character through gossip and the loss of love through death or neglect.

Jack must deal with his guilt feelings over the way he treated his mother and how he is frustrated and angry over the actions of little sister, not to mention his feelings of abandonment by his older sister.

Thomas must deal with his guilt over not serving in the war, his anger issues with his mother, his feelings of inadequacy in regards to relationships and then eventually with the issue of forgiveness for his attitudes and mistaken thoughts.

Gil has come home from the war missing a leg, he seems to be the most whole member of the story having dealt with his demons and overcome them with the help of his wife Mary.

Mother Ballard must deal with her issues of pride and arrogance, especially when it comes to the woman her boys have fallen in love with who seem to be beneath their social class.

All these issues are woven together wonderfully in a simple story of making life work and accepting God’s hand at work in all areas of your life.

I’m sure you will enjoy the stories that you will find here and come to have good discussions with your book club as you read, think, meditate and then discuss the issues that are written about.