NIV Faithlife Study Bible — Review

I had the good fortune of being sent the NIV Faithlife Study Bible for review purposes. I am thankful to Zondervan and their marketing team for making this available.

Over the years I have shied away from study Bibles. They are big and bulky and even then they are too limiting in the ability to truly study the Word. I’ve taught students and my church for years on ways to get away from study Bibles. Does that take people away from study Bibles and into the Word so they study it for themselves? Nope.  Continue reading “NIV Faithlife Study Bible — Review”

Book Review — The Church as Movement

When it comes to team building beyond the silly exercises of doing an obstacle course together or having some “trust fall” experience go bad on you, there is the need to actually build a team. When it comes to building a church planting team so a church is built on the basis of discipleship, there is a need to have training in place that is more than the pragmatics of how a Sunday service will go. Continue reading “Book Review — The Church as Movement”

The hope of human flourishing

Miroslav Volf and Ryan McAnnally-Linz have authored a new book called:
Public Faith in Action: How to Think Carefully, Engage Wisely, and Vote with Integrity

Their main contention is that Christian faith belongs in the public square. It’s beyond the voting booth. It is engagement and there is a goal. The goal is not to “win.” The goal is to understand the activity of the Spirit that isn’t just about our own personal “flourishing” but also about the world around us to understand what is possible in true human flourishing.

What brings “Kingdom best” to the world around us? It is about abundant life. Not just our abundant life as individuals, but the life of the world around us.

Three measurements the authors use in defining “human flourishing”:

  1. Leading life well. How do I conduct myself in the world? Have I received God’s gifts well? Am I living in discernment of how to use those gifts? Am I acting “well” in light of, and in spite of, circumstances around me?
  2. Life going well. Working for our life circumstances to be “genuinely good.” Life going well depends on circumstances beyond our control. Our upbringing, our general health, the economic and political stability/instability of our country, etc. In Jesus’ day, he lived in a place where for a lot of people life wasn’t “going well,” so he delivered Kingdom power (healing, deliverance, etc.) into their lives so it had opportunity to “go well.” It is the understanding that we don’t minister to the “spirit” alone. We need to establish physical space of “going well” so physical needs aren’t huge obstacles.
  3. Life feeling good. There is an emotional component to the whole picture as well. The flourishing life is a life of joy. It is Paul saying no matter where he found himself, he was content.

Volf’s book is a challenge to go beyond our own spiritual “well being” to understand we can powerfully engage the world around us. We must engage the world around us. We need to do it with our own souls “being well.”

A challenge I like to bring to people from time to time is this question: “Is it well with your soul?” The deepest part of who we are can indeed be satisfied in Christ. And when that goes well, we can thoughtfully and joyfully engage our world to bring human flourishing more into a reality.

 

Book Review: Lessons from the East…

Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church

I received a review copy of Lessons from the East: Finding the Future of Western Christianity in the Global Church by Bob Roberts, Jr. and have enjoyed the read. The book is a quick read and seems to be the life journey of a Southern Baptist pastor who has discovered a lot of things from traveling to other places in the world to observe what is going on outside Western Christianity.

Roberts calls us as Western pastors to make some shifts in mentality. It’s a good reminder for me because I struggle with these shifts and realities all the time. I’m not a “megachurch.” I don’t get “noticed.” I don’t have money. I haven’t written a book. Who pays attention anyway?

The book walks readers through Roberts’ observations from how churches outside the U.S. conduct themselves. The biggest takeaway here is this: the pastors aren’t the “heroes.” A church is successful if they are making disciples. People are far more empowered outside the U.S. We tend to go to bigger churches and allow the main speaker to be the one with knowledge and we sit and learn. Overseas, people are empowered and expected to lead. They may go to a church service on Sunday, but they are then empowered to lead small groups during the week.

It’s not about excellent church services on Sunday that draw people in. It’s about taking Sunday to celebrate the wins of what has happened all week long in the lives of disciples. Worship services can be “good,” but they won’t be the show we’ve come to expect in our Sunday American church experience.

A great challenge for me from this book is the expectation of multiplication. When Roberts’ church plants another church, there is an expectation that the new church will immediately begin thinking of planting another church. It doesn’t matter the size! He has had a church of 60 start other churches. There is a sense of mission. There is a sense of release.

The book is a “manual” of how things were being accomplished in Roberts church and ministry, but it is also the story of how a Southern Baptist pastor grew into understanding more about the Church, the power of the Spirit, and how to take the very fundamentals of Books of Acts faith and get it back into his own life. It is a refreshing reminder.

There is a need to equip people and launch them into ministry. It happens with such speed and ease overseas. In the U.S., with all our resources, we are so much slower to release people into ministry. We want them to just like us. 

One of the big things we’ve done in the American Church over the past few years has been multisite churches. Several years ago one pastor doing multisite services was very plain as to his reason. HE was the teacher. Others could run the specific local sites as “pastors” during the week, but no one was quite to his caliber in teaching ability. That may sum up best the key flaw in multisite churches.

Multisite churches are “successful.” In our American measurements, they are wildly successful. Yet… they are not releasing gifts. It is saying to others, “You may be called, but can you teach like me? I don’t think so!”

I love teaching and preaching the Word. But even in our small church I’ve released that to other gifted teachers so people hear more than my voice. Plus, as we launch other churches, there are gifted teachers ready to go. It’s a hard thing for me, because I love teaching the Word!

Roberts invites us to a mess. A mess of engaging the culture. A mess of empowering others to teach and lead and sing worship songs even if they aren’t “trained” enough. He gives the invitation because he has watched the church around the world engage even hostile environments and seen the church thrive. It’s time for that to happen in the American church.

Self-Discovery

The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner is the second book in a three book set that leads the reader into understanding who they are in God. Each book is fairly brief and has discussion questions for personal and group study.

This particular volume leads the reader into “self” discovery, but not in a way one would normally think.

“Discovering yourself” isn’t about constructing something through self-improvement. It’s not an object to be grasped. It can’t be torn down and built back up by therapy.

Benner’s contention is we find out WHO we are by seeking GOD.

“There is no true life apart from relationship to God.”

A fairly bold statement for a therapist to make.

As we seek and know God, we find true freedom. We also find our calling. We find the pleasure of understanding what brings pleasure to God… and how he pours that pleasure back through us.

This past week I was reminded of that joy when I shared in another class about my main vocation: pastoring. I teach as an adjunct and really enjoy it, but when I was in another class sharing about my city, my church, and the ministry… I was overwhelmed with joy again. THIS is what brings pleasure more than anything. It wasn’t talking about the relationships I have with city leaders and others in my community. It was the relationships themselves that brought me joy. I think of the deep friendships cultivated and the HOPE of seeing these friends come into Kingdom blessing… and I find true joy.

Two buzzwords we have about our lives are “happiness” and “fulfillment.”

“God just wants me to be happy.”

“I just want to be FULFILLED in life.”

Those are important to God, but can’t be divorced from his DESIRE for us. Deep joy isn’t found in our personal happiness or fulfillment. Deep joy is found in Christ.

Benner boldly states that simply pursuing happiness and fulfillment as ultimate goals is idolatry. Our purest joy, deepest satisfaction, and true authentic self can only be found in Christ.

Benner’s slim volumes are packed with intense thoughts. Short sentences leave me thinking about those thoughts long after I put the book down.

IVP sent me these books at no cost and no obligation for review.