Thursday, June 30, 2011

What we learned from Rob Bell...

Tim Challies has written a very interesting article called "Bell, Hell and What We Did Well". In conclusion he gave five lessons that we should learn from the whole situation (though the whole thing is worth reading):
  • The Power of Social Media - Those of us who use social media need to understand that it gives us immense power. That does not apply only to just those of us who have popular blogs, but to all of us who use Facebook or Twitter or any other form of social media. Few of us have much power alone, but as a network we wield a great deal of influence. In this case, it was enough to create the news, enough to create a bestseller and enough to cause many people to reaffirm their commitment to a doctrine. Be aware of the power you have through something so simple as a Twitter or Facebook account!
  • The Power of Leaders - There are new rules and new responsibilities when it comes to leadership in a digital age—an age in which news travels with unparalleled speed. No one foresaw that John Piper’s quick tweet “Farewell Rob Bell” would prove the catalyst for a great firestorm. Christian leaders need to understand the power of social media and recommit time and again to choosing their words carefully. The books of Proverbs and James and all they have to say about the power of words remain steady guides. (And again, do not read this as a criticism of John Piper)
  • The Temptations of Social Media - In an age of fast-paced news cycles, we need to be very careful that we do not neglect our responsibility to think carefully and prayerfully before we respond to controversy. The faster the pace, the greater the temptation becomes to emphasize immediacy over thoughtfulness. I look to myself as one who has too often failed in this regard. Where there are fast news cycles, instant communication and large audiences you will face constant temptation.
  • The Power of the Reformed - Whatever this New Calvinism is or is becoming, it has become sufficiently cohesive that it now wields a lot of influence. Our influence online and through social media is far greater than our influence in the real world I think, but since news now travels at the speed of light through social media channels, we have the ability to speak and to speak loudly. The world is watching us.
  • We Can Be Used - We need to be aware that publishers will try this again. Other publishers watched this situation play out and they are going to try to do the same thing. Our challenge is to find a way to respond well but to respond in such a way that we do not end up exacerbating a problem even while we seek to solve it. In the case of Love Wins we caused many people to buy and read a book even while seeking to tell them that it was unbiblical. I would like to think that there is a better way, though at this point I do not know what it could be.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Book Review: Smooth Stones by Joe Coffey

Smooth Stones is now the third book I've read from Cruciform Press (the first two being Cruciform and the pilot book Sexual Detox by Tim Challies) and it is in my humble opinion the best book yet from this young publishing company. If you haven't heard anything about Cruciform Press, you can check out the review of Cruciform to read more.

Joe takes on six of the biggest questions that challenge Christianity, namely:
  1. Is There a God?
  2. Does Science Disprove God's Existence?
  3. Is the Bible Authentic and True?
  4. The Question of Evil and Suffering
  5. Aren't All Religions the Same?
  6. Is Jesus for Real?
I know, I know, one of the chapter titles isn't in the form of a question. That bugged me too. But after flying through this book in one day, I was ready to forgive. As a self-proclaimed apologist, I pride myself in at least being familiar with all the big questions and answers surrounding Christian apologetics. Yet Joe surprised me on more than one occasion with simple and fresh approaches to answering these popular challenges.

The simple beauty of this book is in its brevity. This book may be the best resource I've seen for a church to keep on hand to answer common objections in every day language. I know of a number of young men in my church family who would benefit from reading a book like this, but would instantly start having heart complications if I suggested they read anything larger. I, for one, will be commending this book to my pastor to keep on hand for those questioning Christianity.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Your church resource library, arm-chair apologists, doubters

This book was a free review copy provided by Cruciform Press.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl DVD

I just had to bring a project to your attention that I am quite excited about. Notes From the Tilt-A-Whirl was my favorite book of 2009 and it has been turned into a visual offering that has jumped to the top of my wish list.

Westminster Bookstore has it for 60% off the retail price (List Price: $21.99, Westminster Bookstore: $8.80) for a limited time.

If you want more info from the publisher, here's a trailer.

If you want more info from me, here's my book review from two years ago:

In the span of one paragraph, N.D. Wilson made me break out in goosebumps then made me laugh and cry at the same time. His writing in Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl from Thomas Nelson Publishers evokes emotion like the best fiction, scratches the brain like the best philosophy, and stirs a love for Creator and creation like the best theology.

His bursts of thought are not always clear-cut and linear, rather they seem to be confusing and unrelated at times. As his ideas shape the chapters, however, and the chapters form the book, a step back reveals a beautiful piece of work.

And this, I think, was no accident. Wilson's premise is that the universe we live in is a work of art and the masterpiece of The Artist. It is a drama, a play, and God is the Author. And so, just as his writing style reflects, there are surprises, twists, and turns. It doesn't progress in an uneventful, gradual incline.

The best dramas have real tragedies, the best paintings have both shadow and light. Thus it makes sense that the best of all possible worlds made by an Artist/Author will have real tragedies, both shadow and light.

N.D. Wilson writes like Donald Miller on uppers and caffeine. He writes like someone with ADD who has sat through too many college-level courses on philosophy and art appreciation. He writes like I imagine Chuck Palahniuk (author of Fight Club) would if he found Jesus and switched to non-fiction.

My favorite book of the year, hands down.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Review: A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester

It has been a while since a book so surprised and delighted me as did A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester. The way in which something so mundane and average as a meal was vested with such theological depth and significance was astounding. And yet, Tim is only following in the pattern that Jesus set in his ministry. He has found the gospel in the grub, or as the subtitle puts it: "Discovering grace, community, and mission around the table".
Jesus is called "a glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners." This is why eating and drinking were so important in the mission of Jesus: they were a sign of his friendship with tax collectors and sinners. His "excess" of food and "excess" of grace a linked. In the ministry of Jesus, meals were enacted grace, community and mission. So the meals of Jesus represent something bigger. They represent a new world, a new kingdom, a new outlook. But they give that new reality substance. Jesus's meals are not just symbols; they're also application. They're not just pictures; they're the real thing in miniature. (p. 14)
This book has been a very timely one for me as I am just about to make a shift in my community group from one that was very content-heavy to one that is more community-driven (I know, where'd I come up with it, right?). The only unfortunate part to changing our format is that I can't make this book required reading.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Ministry leaders, especially small group leaders, anyone looking for a fresh read from the usual Christian fare

Westminster Bookstore has A Meal With Jesus at the best internet price I could find: $10.04 (33% off)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Trajectory of Our Hearts, Part V

This is part four in a series of posts taken from a sermon I preached on Luke 16:19-31 under the same title: "The Trajectory of Our Hearts". You can read part one here, part two here, part three here, and part four here.

The Trajectory of our Hearts in Jesus

You see, only Jesus passed the performance test. If life were an ACT or an SAT, the results would be Jesus: pass—everyone else: fail. And without a relationship with Jesus, we’re all failing the litmus test of our hearts as well. Every problem, every tension we’ve run into in this story, Jesus solved for us. And Jesus is now the solution for us.

You see, Jesus faced the problems of Lazarus the beggar by becoming poor like him, weak, outcast, and scorned. The problem of Lazarus: brokenness, (external) the problem of a fallen world filled with disaster, disease, pain and death. Jesus was humbled in every sense of the word so that he could model a servant’s heart, so he could be there and identify with us in our times of weakness and shame, even to the point of death. Jesus faced all this so that we can say with the Apostle Paul, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength”.

Jesus took on the problems of the rich man, the problems of the Pharisees--our problems--when he took upon himself the guilt of every heart that is trying to justify itself. The problem of the rich man: sin, (internal) the problem of a fallen nature that rebels against God and causes so much evil and suffering. Jesus took our greed, complacency, pride, selfishness, our rejection of God and obsession with self and bore it in his body on the cross.

And Jesus faced the problem of hell when, on the cross, he suffered the ultimate consequence of our sin--judgment and separation from God. The problem of hell: death, (eternal). Remember I said hell shows us the depth of the love of God, and it is here on the cross. However infinitely terrible you imagine hell to be, Jesus was willing to endure that to save you. Jesus stared sin, death, and hell in the face so that he could defeat them and overcome them on behalf of all those who would trust in him. To lose the love of an acquaintance hurts a little. To lose the love of a friend hurts a lot. To lose the love of a spouse hurts immensely. The deeper and greater the relationship, the more devastating and agonizing the loss of love. How can we know how much God really loves us, if he loves us at all? We look to Jesus on the cross, bearing our sin and shame, suffering the judgment of separation from the Father that should have been our own--God the Son rejected by God the Father, a fundamentally deeper separation and isolation than we could ever experience if we spent a thousand eternities in hell-- and then we see how far he was willing to come to save us and to show us his love.

“That sounds nice” you say “but how do I know it’s true? How do I know that Jesus really accomplished all of that for me?” Two Sundays from now is the most important Sunday of the year for the Christian when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 that his resurrection is the promise and guarantee of his victory over brokenness, sin, and death. Jesus died in the suffering and agony of a broken world, but rose in victory over pain and death. Jesus died bearing the sin and guilt of fallen humanity, but rose in victory breaking the bonds of slavery to sin. Jesus died bearing the full weight of hell itself, but rose in victory ransoming sons and daughters for God. If Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then even Paul says, “we’re wasting our time here”. But if Jesus did rise from the dead, then there is nothing more important—nothing more relevant with where you are today—than to pursue that relationship.

The Gospel busts every category of who’s “in” and who’s “out” in any culture. Some Christians will be rich, others poor. Some will be healthy, others sick. Some successful, some just eeking by. But the trajectory of a life transformed by the Gospel will not be so categorized by any one of these characteristics. Rather, each of these conditions we find ourselves in serve to test the true trajectory of our hearts. And every day we are confronted with new tests about the trajectory of our hearts. The beggar was that test for the rich man. When you have yours today, ask yourself, “What is my heart doing?”

Heaven and hell isn’t about good hearts and bad hearts and their respective trajectory. It’s about bad hearts that try to do it their own way and justify themselves before men and God, and bad hearts who give up doing it their own way and cast themselves on the mercy of God in the living Christ Jesus. Only then are we given a new heart, one that seeks after God. Only Jesus changes the trajectory of a heart.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Book Review: Cruciform by Jimmy Davis

Cruciform Press is a brand new publisher that seems to be on the cutting edge of publishing in the digital age. One book is released each month (in print, ebook, and audio) and they are concise enough (about 100 pages) that you can finish one before the next comes out. But the really unique thing about Cruciform Press is the fact that you can subscribe to their monthly releases for dirt cheap.

So, it is only fitting that one of the first books released by Cruciform Press is called Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life. Jimmy Davis presents a simple and simply beautiful picture of what living a life shaped by the gospel looks like and it forms the crux (pun intended) of the book.
"The Gospel accounts of Jesus' life, along with the prescription for the Christian life found in the rest of the New Testament, have convinced me there are two major roles in which disciples progressively become like their Master (Luke 6:40). As we each become more and more conformed to the image of Christ, we increasingly live as son and love as servant." (p. 35)
The book resonates with these twin themes of son and servant, and Jimmy's writing is at its best in such simplicity and clarity. Consequently, this simplicity is lost when Jimmy begins to diagram the aspects of the Christian life into the shape of a cross. The constant references to the diagram and the various explanations of the pictures seemed to break the flow of the book for me in a way that hurt rather than helped me follow his train of thought.

However, there is much to be commended here in both author and publisher. If this book is a sign of things to come, I expect great things from both!
"When through the gospel we have become sons, then through the gospel we can become servants." (p. 55)
Rating: 3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Recommended for: Any Christian seeking a gospel-driven life

This book was a free review copy provided by Cruciform Press.