Books I’ve Read Recently

download-1Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt. The vision which drives the book is “every man, woman, and child in every place having a daily encounter with Jesus through words spoken and deeds done through his people.” Saturate is written to encourage the everyday Jesus follower to engage in the everyday stuff of life with the goal of seeing Jesus saturation for everyone in every place. Vanderstelt is thorough in articulating the vision which God has placed on his heart. There is a unique balance of Scripture, story, and vision casting. Vanderstelt longs to see the church re-connected to the everyday stuff of life instead of disconnected from life. Instead of people doing church, Jesus is supposed to be living life through his church. Meaning, Christian is not an adjective for activities, events, or things; people are Christian. Therefore, followers of Jesus can make disciples who make disciples when they are shaped by the gospel in every area of life. Vanderstelt articulates how environments help shape followers of Jesus. The reality is that people are being discipled and discipling others whether they realize it or not. The question becomes: to what or to whom are you discipling them? My hope is that you consider reading Saturate for a gospel-centered vision on discipling and gospel worldview.

 

download-2The Atlantis Gene/ The Atlantis Plague by A.G. Riddle. I have been trying to reintroduce fiction into my literary diet. I found the first two books in a trilogy absolutely riveting. I am excited to read the final book. Riddle blends history, science, religious theory, and potential real-world events to uncover worldview and mankind’s motivation.

For example, “The war is always the same, only the names and places change. There are demons upon this earth. They live in our hearts and minds.” Riddle does well to communicate the longing of humanity’s soul is to find meaning and a place where the random violence makes sense.

Later, in a book steeped in science and evolutionary theory an exchange happens between a scientist and a soldier, “You already know that the universe supports the emergence of human life. In fact, the universe is strictly programmed for it. If any of the constants were even slightly different—gravity, the strength of electromagnetism, the dimensions in space-time—there would be no human life. There are only two possibilities: either human life emerged because the laws of the universe support it by random chance, or the alternative: the universe was created to foster human life.”

 

download-3Not the Place to Ignore Me by Joshua Motes. I have a unique connection to this book. Josh is one of the members of my Church Planting Residency Cohort. Josh writes about his experience in Afghanistan where he survived a horrific ambush. “Thousands of miles from home, on the business end of a daring mission into a deserted Afghan cityscape where friend and foe blend, author Joshua Motes hears God speak these words, calling him back to wholehearted devotion and a renewed commitment to be an influence for Jesus among the men he led. As one of the few American soldiers serving in the military that has experienced direct fire combat where life and death are a constant reality, First Lieutenant Motes offers a unique perspective on living out a committed life of faith.”

I am thankful for Josh and his service. Having served multiple tours, Josh is someone who listens to God and obeys. Josh is very honest about the tension he lived in and how as Christians we face a very real enemy.

“We worship God when we abandon ourselves to Him, and forsake our pathetic attempts to weather whatever it is we are facing under our own perceived strength.”

Books I’ve Read Recently

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.09.36 AMAmong Wolves by Dhati Lewis. This book takes an in-depth look at the book of Matthew as the author explores what doing ministry looks like in the density and diversity of a city. Lewis challenges the gentrifying norm in cities and looks at disciple-making and community formation in light of such realities. Dhati Lewis identifies eight movements within the book of Matthew for mobilizing disciple-makers in the city. Embedded within the book is a philosophy of church which challenges much of the predominant framework practiced by American churches because culture is no longer geographically bound. I would highly recommend this book for anyone desiring to learn about ministry in an urban context, or practicing in such context.

A quote which resonated with me: “Disciple-making is not a ministry of the church, it is the ministry of the church.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.10.39 AMStarfish Movement by Dan Drider. The idea behind the book is simple. The starfish was designed with multiplication in every cell. If you cut one starfish in half the result is two starfish and not a dead starfish. That means a starfish will often reproduce in a situation that would otherwise kill another animal. This multiplication quality is the definition of resilience. God has designed every Spirit-led believer with such innate ability to make disciples. However, in our current church systems, this innate ability has been stifled and lost. For example, “Most discipleship systems in our churches are created to increase biblical knowledge and produce behavior correction. Jesus was teaching His disciples to learn to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. He spent little time working on moralistic-behavior correction.” Drider provides real steps for the reader to begin exercising and experiencing one’s innate disciple-making ability.

A quote which resonated with me: “The average church planter in China is an eighteen-year-old girl who is minimally educated.”

 

Screen Shot 2017-11-16 at 6.11.22 AMHe Is Not Silent by Albert Mohler Jr. According to the author, the solution for preaching in our post-modern context is expository preaching. Before Mohler arrives at such conclusion, he unpacks a philosophy of worship in which preaching of the Word is central. In order to support the task of post-modern preaching, in chapter seven, Mohler describes how every pastor is called to be a theologian. Therefore, the preacher must be able to dissect the Word of God, present it inline with the biblical story, and then challenge or come alongside the predominant narratives of our day. Mohler is very blunt when critiquing present-day preaching. One scathing assessment is “contemporary preaching suffers from an absence of gospel.”

In our age where topical series dominate and a plethora of Scriptures are used in every sermon, I agree that hearts are longing to hear the Word of God.

A quote which resonated with me: Americans are “Consumers of meaning just as much as they are of cars and clothing, Americans will test – drive new spiritualities and try on a whole series of lifestyles…We must seek constantly to turn spiritual hunger toward the true food of the gospel of Christ.”

To The Scaregrounds

Western culture has become very compartmentalized. We divide our lives into work time, leisure time, family time, church time, and mission or outreach time. In many ways, we seek the ever elusive balance which so many books, blogs, and teachers prescribe. Those of us who have sought balance have found it like trying to catch fog. Right when you think to can latch on to balance, it slips through your fingers.

I have come under the conviction that we only have one present life to live. We should live our present life in light of our eternal life. The attempt to maintain the false divide between life, work, family, and play brings exhaustion and anxiety all for the sake of balance. The divide and discontinuity have filtered into the church. People want a form of evangelism they can stick in their schedule, switch off, and leave behind when they go home. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle of love.

The realm of our spiritual community is divorced from our daily routine. Now, before I go any further, what I am not advocating for is a life where you should go to a “church event” every day. Rather, as the body of Christ, we bring the church into the world.

For many years the growing myth in evangelicalism that there is a difference between one’s spiritual life and one’s personal life. Many wonder why Millenials and Generation Z are charting a new course. They want a faith which affects all of life and not just a segment of it. In particular, this is why social justice issues have been thrust to the forefront of evangelical discussion (rightly so). They are willing to leave a faith or seek a new course charted through a worldview which deals systematically and totally. I think one of the main reasons is the awakening to the futility of the divided life and the freedom of a single-minded one.

Living one life in light of eternity has very real implications for seeing more people come to faith in Christ. Evangelism must regain prominence in our vocabulary and posture.

One challenge the divided, or even balanced life leads to: We want to spend more time in evangelism, but because this can happen only at the expense of something else. The result: it never happens. Church, evangelism, and even discipleship are seen as something additional that needs to be tacked on to life.

15 Pay careful attention, then, to how you live—not as unwise people but as wise— 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. – Ephesians 5:15-16

We want to build relationships with unbelievers, but often our lives are so fragmented there is little crossover between worlds.

The non-Christians in our lives need to be introduced to the network of relationships that make up that believing community so they can see Christian community in action. The Christian relationships in our lives need to be introduced to the relationships with non-Christians we have so that they can begin to awaken to the idea of life as mission–where life is lived from the overflow of what God is doing in your life.

Here’s a series of simple questions to measure your engagement with others:

  • How many meals did you eat last week?
  • How many meals did you eat with a non-Christian?
  • How many meals did you eat with Christians?

34 The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ – Luke 7:34

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We need to be communities of love where honest friendship and kindness reign. We need to be seen as communities of love by those who do not subscribe to a Christian worldview. The lines need to be blurred so that regular people see how faith impacts all of life. People need to encounter the church as a network of relationships rather than a meeting you attend or a place you enter. Mission–the idea of partnering with God in what He is doing in the world–must involve not only contact between unbelievers and individual Christians but between unbelievers and the Christian community. I am convinced conversion will flow from communion with others in community.

Last Friday, I went with a few students and adults to the Clark County Scaregrounds. While it may not be profound or world-changing, it was one small step to allow faith lived out with Christian and non-Christian students.

3 Positives from Evangelism and Discipleship

downloadThis week I wrap up another eight-week class at Midwestern Seminary. “Evangelism and Discipleship” has been a great class overall. Honestly, it has been one of the best practical ministry classes I have taken in all my years of school. While I had various takeaways from other courses, “Evangelism and Discipleship” had a unique blend of spiritual formation, practical exercises, and communal discovery. There are three reasons I greatly appreciated the course blend and the uniqueness.

1. Required Evangelism

Many classes on evangelism or discipleship share different models. They require you read about evangelism, potentially even define it. The class may even expose you to ways of presenting the gospel, share different tracks, and give biblical percent. Sometimes evangelism is also disconnected from discipleship. As I have written about here, evangelism and discipleship are really two wings of an airplane. My class included all of these elements. However, it also required we practice evangelism. Over the course of the eight weeks, I was required to go share the gospel a minimum of four times. After each encounter, I had to write up how the conversation happened and what the results were. I learned so much over the course of eight weeks. First, I am not very skilled at sharing the gospel at a restaurant with a waiter or waitress. Second, many of my opportunities came because I intentionally set aside time to be amongst non-Christians. Third, my most effective encounters came when I shared the gospel in a few sentences or less and connected it to something earlier in the conversation. Overall, I was thankful for the discipline the course instilled in me to intentionally seek out opportunities to share what God is doing in me, in the world, and through the gospel.

2. Holistic Practice

The course dealt with evangelism, follow-up, and discipleship on many layers as I alluded to in my previous reason. The goal, primarily, was to cultivate skills and awareness in me personally by crushing some of my personal preferences. For example, in evangelism, a prior relationship is not always possible and sometimes you just have to share the gospel cold turkey. Therefore, sharing the gospel is not always convenient or on your own terms. Ironically, this idea seems obvious, but how often do we really prepare our hearts and minds for the unexpected opportunity to share the gospel, invite someone over for dinner, or to church events? Another layer was how my personal ability and passion would be reflected in how the ministry I lead would perform in such activity. For example, if I am unwilling to verbally share the gospel with people then should I expect members in my small group, students, or other adults to share the gospel. If I am unwilling to set aside time to meet non-Christians, why would I expect other Christians to look for such opportunities?

Repeatedly, the course reinforced the idea: disciple to conversion, rather than from conversion. Disciple-making involves the reproduction of a life through relational evangelism, intentional follow-up, and directional development.

Where the course unexpectedly addressed was my personal walk with God. Vance Pittman says, “a person’s first call is to intimacy [with God] not ministry.” He has also said, “What God wants to do through me, he must first do in me.” If I do not exercise the spiritual disciplines, such as journaling, bible reading, and prayer, then my ability to minister will be greatly handicapped.

3. Well-Rounded Textbooks

The Soul Winner by Charles Spurgeon: I had never read a full book by Spurgeon before. For those of you who might be unfamiliar with him, C.H. Spurgeon is known as the “Prince of Preachers.” He preached at Metropolitan Tabernacle (seated 5000 and standing room for another 1000) for 38 years in London during the mid-to-late 1800s.  Throughout the book, Spurgeon masterfully weaved biblical conviction with persuasive illustration. Spurgeon thought through the many perspectives which needed addressing as it pertains to soul winning.

The Evangelism Handbook by Alvin Reid: At first glance, I thought this book would be weak and unhelpful. Never judge a book by its cover. Reid presents evangelism from a holistic perspective. My favorite section of the book was Part 3 of the book where Reid unpacked the intentional nature of evangelism. SOme of the most convicting moments came when reading these chapters. Primarily, if church leaders are not leading out in personal evangelism, then why would we expect our congregations to share the gospel. Further, are we actually equipping the believer to share Monday through Saturday, or are we expecting them to invite to church and person the “invitation” on Sunday?

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney: I am thankful this book was included in this course. Whitney addresses the elephant in the room when it comes to disciple-making. The basis for the book was is 1 Timothy 4:7 (NASB) “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness…” He exhorts the reader to remember how discipline without direction is drudgery. There must be joyful discipline in the life of the believer. Every believer is indwelt with the Holy Spirit and therefore our purpose is godliness–making us more like Him. God uses spiritual disciplines to transform believers from the inside out. Whitney works through seven key disciplines which God uses to shape and mold the believer. What I appreciated throughout the book was that the disciplines do nothing in of themselves, except for when God works through them as the believer keeps eternity in view.

Disciple-Making In 2 Timothy

The apostle Paul was a master disciple-maker. Paul excelled in evangelizing and discipleship. Evangelism and discipleship are the two wings of the disciple-making airplane. Unfortunately, in the anti-supernatural movement of 1850, a man by the name of Charles Adam separated “making disciples” into two parts: evangelism and discipleship.

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The plane I flew on when interning in Turkana, Kenya (Summer 2011).

The holistic command in Matthew 28:19-20 was split into two terms. Modern churches have been shaped by the faulty separation. Evangelism became the process of bringing people to Christ, or the communication of the gospel by saved people to lost people (Reid, Evangelism Handbook, Kindle Loc. 440). Discipleship became the process of growing people up in Christ. However, disciples cannot be made unless both evangelism and what became labeled as discipleship, defined by Michael Bird as “gospelizing,” are happening (Bird, Evangelical Theology, Kindle Loc. 104).

Therefore, 2 Timothy is filled with an abundance of “gospelizing.” As Paul writes to Timothy, Paul’s desire to ensure several disciple developmental markers which have been achieved by Timothy are continued. For structural purposes, I see three layers of discipleship Paul desires Timothy to remember. One should note that these markers are not sequential. One does not merely move on from one to the next because they have “completed” that step. Instead, they should be viewed as maturity markers. When one is deficient it should be strengthened. When one is skilled it should be refined. The layers and markers can be applied to our modern church context for holistic disciple-making.

First, Paul desires Timothy be grounded as a believer. Throughout 2 Timothy, Paul shifts from the example of himself to Timothy, to poor examples of being grounded. Just as a child grows in maturity, Paul desires Timothy to grow in spiritual maturity. Paul reminds Timothy of his identity in Christ and his spiritual lineage (1:2, 5, 10, 12; 2:11-13; 3:17; 4:8). Paul encourages Timothy to walk in obedience through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:6-7; 2:10, 22; 3:12). Paul desires Timothy learn spiritual talk in prayer and sharing the good news with others (2:2, 15, 22; 4:2). Timothy is reminded how a believer grows through feasting on the Word of God (1:10, 13; 2:9; 3:14-17). Lastly, Paul knows Timothy needs to learn how to flee from sin and purify his life (2:14-26; 3:5; 4:5). These five developmental markers are interconnected. Should Timothy waiver in any one of these areas, serious consequences would result. Paul’s goal for Timothy is long-term faithfulness and obedience to Christ. The long-term vision must be built on the gospel and being rooted in its implications.

Second, Paul desires Timothy equip others for the work of ministry. Healthy beings reproduce. The world will not be reached by the witness of a single individual. God wants us to reach the world in the same way it is populated—by multiplication. Paul instructed Timothy to entrust the grace of Christ to faithful men who will then be able to instruct others. Should this occur, Paul will have spiritual great-grandchildren in the faith. What if a new Christian was able to grow so that in two years the new Christian is ready to help another grow?

Jesus loved the world and helped thousands, but he closely trained only twelve men who trained others. The ministry of multiplying disciples comes through ministry to individuals. This is the way Paul communicated his life to Timothy (3:10). We reach the masses through the man.

In working with the man, he must be equipped. Paul compares the work of a disciple to a soldier, athlete, and farmer (2:3-6). Paul himself plodded on for the sake of others (2:10). Paul imparted his life to them and he recognizes his work in Timothy (3:10). Paul continues to equip Timothy by reminding him about the profitable use of the Scriptures. The Word is useful for teaching others to walk with God in belief and action. Rebuking identifies sin and shows where the believer has gotten off the path. Correcting shows the disciple how to get back on the path and how to change. Finally, the Word trains in righteousness by showing one how to stay on the path and live in an accordance with God’s ways.

The work in maturing others and equipping them requires desire, decision, determination, and discipline. The work is not haphazard. For example, consider a man who desires to have time with God before going to work. He realizes that in order to have enough time, he must get up early. He decided to get up at 6:30a. The next day he oversleeps because his desire and his decision alone could not get him out of bed. He then determines to use an alarm clock to help him get up. The real test comes when the alarm goes off. Discipline must then come into focus. He must shut the alarm clock off and not go back to bed. Good habits can be developed as a result of consistent discipline. The desire for good habits begins with training and accountability from another (1:3-7). Consistency requires thought and effort on a daily basis. It continues through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, Paul desires Timothy persevere in the faith by holding onto the gospel as disciples go throughout the world (1:13; 2:1, 12; 3:11). Paul reminds Timothy that time will be hard because people will reject truth (3:1-5). Paul countlessly alludes to his own suffering and coming suffering because they are engaged in a spiritual battle (2:3-4). Paul was able to testify to his perseverance, in light of his suffering, concerning his earthly walk with Christ (4:7-8). Paul was able to persevere because his focus was on eternity and life beyond this present life. Paul provided countless examples of those who did not persevere. Demas is an example of one who was choked out by the thorns (4:10; cf. Mk 4:19).

Our modern churches would do well to learn from Paul and Timothy. Present-day Christians must invest in a few people and help them become grounded in their faith. The Christian must entrust his whole life to them, rather than merely a few hours a week. This lifestyle goes beyond the small group meeting or the worship service. Further, the overseers of the church must equip followers of Jesus to reach others for Christ, grow new believers, and then equip others. Finally, the pastor must demonstrate and champion perseverance. Because many pastors oversee programs, these programs should be structured to encourage the development of disciples not inhibit them. In order to implement such principles, the church must realize equipping and needed perseverance come through engaging with those outside the building walls.