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.”

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.

Necessity of Margin

How much margin do you have in your life?

I am talking about in all areas of your life. Finances. Total Schedule. Work. Family Time. I am convinced one reason churches are in decline, families are crumbling, anxiety and depression are on the rise, is the lack of margin in life. We need more margin. When our lives are frantic and frenzied, we are more prone to anxiety, resentment, impatience, and irritability. We are less likely to give generously with our time and money. Kevin Deyoung notes in his work Crazy Busy, “When we are crazy busy, we put our souls at risk. The challenge is not merely to make a few bad habits go away. The challenge is to not let our spiritual lives slip away.”

There is actually nothing uniquely Christian about the idea itself. However, there is something very un-Christian about ignoring it. “Margin,” Richard Swenson says, “is the space between our load and our limits.” Planning for margin means planning for the unplannable. It means we understand what’s possible for us as finite creatures and then we schedule for less than that.

Now, creating margin in your life is not easy. Creating margin takes discipline and time (that apparently none of us have). Because creating margin is not convenient or valued, we overextend ourselves. I say “we” because I do it too. Here’s what made me aware of the lack of margin in our lives.

I had a conversation with a pastor about the best ways to communicate with the congregation. He suggested video because no one takes time to actually read anything anymore. I am amazed by this phenomenon too. We all claim we do not have the time to read, yet reading is one of the best ways to stimulate imagination and provide stress relief. I want to address the time issue for a second. In reality, we do have time to read. For example, should you choose to read your Bible, here is where you might find the time according to Donald Whitney:

Perhaps one of the main reasons Christians never read through the entire Bible is discouragement. Many people have never read a thousand-page book before and get discouraged at the sheer length of the Bible. Do you realize that recorded readings of the Bible have proven that you can read through the entire Book in seventy-one hours? That’s less time than the average American spends in front of the television every month. In other words, if most people would exchange their TV time for Scripture reading, they’d finish reading the entire Bible in four weeks or less. If that sounds unworkable, consider this: In no more than fifteen minutes a day you can read through the Bible in less than a year’s time. Only five minutes a day takes you through the Bible in less than three years. And yet the majority of Christians never read God’s Word all the way through in a lifetime of decades. So we’re back to the idea that it’s primarily a matter of discipline and motivation. – Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.

That’s just TV. Throw in the 5-10 minutes of scrolling you do 5-6 times a day on your smartphone, you potentially have some time. Now, if you are like me, some of that scrolling comes while you are “on the go.” So, I will stick to the blocked aspects of your calendar. Give yourself some grace and create some margin.

The secular world is noticing the lingering lack of margin too. The other encounter, which made me aware of how pervasive our lack of margin is, came through the Global Leadership Summitt 2017 where Juliet Funt devoted a whole talk to the pause. She has a whole business devoted to people creating small windows of margin in their schedule, which actually helps them be more productive and live a more fulfilled life. Juliet’s company is called Whitespace at Work and provided tons of research for the benefits of margin.

Their website puts it this way: ” Work has become relentless. Most professional teams feel they could be ‘on’ 24 hours a day and never complete their task lists. They never disconnect. They’re frequently exhausted. Adding to the pain, employees often are held hostage to their overwhelming inboxes, pointless meetings, and a thousand forms of wasted effort.”

The whole company is devoted to making you put margin in your schedule at work, even if it is five minutes in between meetings to mentally refresh. It does not stop there. Juliet realizes the pause needs to happen at home as well. The frantic movement from event to event is cultivating poor habits in our kids.

You may be someone who agrees that the need for margin is important but never seems to get there. Why? Two reasons. Because we are unwilling to find the time and do the discipline of doing it ourselves. We do not want to make hard choices for fear of others. Frankly, if someone else does it for us, we can always opt out or blame them. If we make the choice to put margin into our schedules, then we have to own that choice. Meaning, we have to prioritize. The fear of missing out or fear of another’s opinion of our choices paralyze us into nothingness.

Second, we do not want to face the sobering reality of how much time we waste each day. To avoid the guilt we simply chalk everything up to the ethereal, “I’m just busy.” When we waste time we are not being good stewards of the time God has given us. We may even know this, but do not want to repent of our sinful behavior. To have margin is not waste. God gave us a Sabbath because He knows we need to refresh and refocus. A Sabbath is an example of margin.

Let me ask you: If you pulled out your calendar, how much white space do you see? Is there time to pause, read, think, dream a little? Is there time to just be together as a family?

Some of you reading that question immediately throw up objections. It’s not possible! It’s unproductive! Some of you may even go, tons! You do not use your calendar at all, yet you are so busy.

Because this is not natural. You may actually have to schedule margin by putting time blocks on your calendar called margin. A lack of margin may cause you to miss opportunities to give, to receive blessings, to refresh. Margin does not only help us be more productive and have a more fulfilling day. Margin allows us to meditate and refocus on God. We do not have to prove ourselves to Him. We do not have to fear others. We do not have to control every situation.

Margin enables us to rest in God’s goodness, His glory, and His grace.

D. L. Moody put it, “A man can no more take in a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs at one time to sustain life for a week. We must draw upon God’s boundless store of grace from day to day as we need it.”

How do we do it? Sit down. Pray. Make a choice. Create margin.