The Best Book I have Read this year!

I get asked every once in a while, what’s the best book you have read lately.  Usually its a bit of a toss-up because as I have grown older and read more, I’ve become more skeptical of the books I read.  However, there is no toss-up here. Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Timothy Keller is by far the best book I have read in the last 365 days!  Go get a copy and read it!

Written with both the skeptic and believer in mind, Keller weaves a compelling argument for social justice.  While pointing out the inconsistencies of consumerism with the gospel imperative to “love your neighbor” he doesn’t get bogged down with emotional and baseless arguments.  Keller does an excellent job of navigating the scriptures, answering arguments and pointing a way forward.  This book is everything I had hoped Radical would be and so much more.

Keller takes a straight forward approach to the topic of social justice: He defines the term, explores the Old Testament, examines the teaching of Jesus, examines the ethic of “love your neighbor”, compels the reader into thought about social justice and then provides a way forward, with a view to all things beautiful in our Savior Jesus Christ…. Simply amazing.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the social justice debate.  Seriously, Christian, skeptic, conservative, liberal, etc.  Go get a copy and read it.  Want to test drive it before you borrow or buy?  Go by the www.gernerousjustice.com and download the first chapter to read for free!

The retail price of Generous Justice is $19.95 (Hardcover), I purchased my copy from  Amazon.com for just under $12.00. I gave it five stars and would give it more… Its just that good!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Are you frustrated with Christian Fellowship?

I ran across this convicting Bonhoeffer quote this week and thought I’d pass it along here.

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty;  if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

This applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous members about their congregations.  A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not go God.  A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men.  When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.  But if not, let him guard against ever becoming an accuser of the congregation before God.  Let him rather accuse himself  for his unbelief.  Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren.  Let him, in the consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.  Let him do what he is committed to do and thank God.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together

Is the Kingdom now, not yet, or both? A review of “Chasing Francis” by Ian Morgan Cron

Chasing Francis By Ian Morgan Cron is an interesting and engaging book.  The book is written in novel format, but seeks to serve as an introduction to the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was called by God to “rebuild the church” and set about living a lifestyle and organizing a monastic order that set about to live out the Sermon on the Mount. According to the author and those who endorse the book, St. Francis has a lot to offer the Western church today.  I was impressed with how well the modern-day fictional story of a pastor in the midst of spiritual crisis “chasing” the footsteps of Francis on a pilgrimage really did lend itself to being a catchy introduction to the life of St Francis.

My fear with the book is philosophical in that while the church is being called to action, little is being said about the truth of who God is. A subtle “kingdom now” utopia of good works theme plays throughout the background of the book.  At one instance there is a suggestion for a church to send part of its missions budget to agencies that are formed around protecting the environment.  The question of the hour then becomes… “What makes Mission, Christian?” In other words, while we are preaching the gospel with our actions and using words (only) if necessary, what distinctively shows our actions to be gospel oriented?  Doesn’t Oprah give generously to just causes and Bill Gates?  Are they ushering in the kingdom or are they just giving money to a good cause?  What does saving the planet really demonstrate about the gospel?  I need words to tell me.

I know by fan’s of this movement it will seem like I just don’t get it, but the truth is I do.  I get it. I get it all too well.  We will teach social justice and miss the gospel all together.  I know that’s not being said, but I see it being done. Nothing wrong with what has come to be known as social justice (feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc…) except when it dominates the platform it eclipses the real issue.  We must not forget why people are hungry, naked, and in need of a savior in the first place.  Social justice is a much needed band-aide to a hurting world, but Jesus is the only solution to the sin issue, please… lets not forget that.

The book is very well written including a study guide for group study found in the back of the book. I have a hard time recommending it because of the philosophical underpinnings that I have come to find lacking a fair treatment of the gospel.  The retail price is $14.99 (Paperback), and is available at a discount at  Amazon.com for $10.14. I gave it three stars

Nearly 2 years ago I came across this theme in another book you can read my questions and responses here.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Remarkable True Stories of God’s Miraculous Work in the Muslim World

Which None Can Shut: Remarkable True Stories of Gods Miraculous Work in the Muslim World is an incredible book of stories from the life of “Reema Goode” (her name changed for security).  “Reema” is a Christian wife and mother living in a Muslim (Arab) community seeking to share the gospel with the women in her region.  She shares heartfelt and compelling stories of how God has opened the door for the gospel to reach a people group.

“Reema” writes with transparency and simplicity that is both forthright and engaging.  I was deeply blessed and encouraged to hear over and over again of God’s faithfulness to use her and her family to reach their Muslim neighbors.  Many times while reading this book I was moved to prayer and tears for my neighbors in the Muslim world.

The book is written in a story format, easy to read, engaging, and a great encouragement to those who have been praying for the Arab world.  It provides great insight into how Western missionary women engage women with the gospel in a deeply Muslim culture.  I appreciate the honest portrait that “Reema” paints of Muslim culture.

Some folks will assume that “Reema” writes from a charismatic background because she shares a few stories of casting out demons and dreams.  I’m not Charismatic (I’m Southern Baptist), and I’ll go on record as saying that many of the things that “Reema” and her family came across are things that I have come across in Mobile and Pensacola.  The truth is that while there aren’t demons around every corner, they are real and a majority of cultures around the world (not to mention both the Old and New Testament) recognize that. God does choose to reveal himself in dreams to some people (I can testify that of at least 2 other American friends besides myself that were driven to the scriptures because of a dream and ended up trusting in Christ). “Reema” may be charismatic, but what she shares in this book appears to be standard fare for anyone heavily involved in ministry or missions.

If you are looking at going to the mission field, praying for Muslim people groups, or are just looking for some encouragement on how God still moves among people today…  This book is for you. The retail price of Which None Can Shut is $13.99 (paperback), and is available around the web in places like Amazon.com for $11.89. I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their Tyndale Blog Network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

My Story (Part 4): Waking up From a Dream

Philippians 1: Living Worthily of The Gospel

There is plenty to consider in Philippians chapter 1.  The apostle Paul is penning a letter from prison.  He has every reason and opportunity to be discouraged by present circumstances.  Yet this first chapter reads as a proclamation of the advance of the gospel despite Paul’s personal circumstances.  He rejoices not in his present situation, but in the fact that the Kingdom is advancing.  People are hearing the gospel!  Even while reflecting on his own potential death He muses that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Then he charges the readers with these word…  “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27 a).  Some versions may say, “conversation” instead of, “manner of life.”  The idea is that of being a “citizen” worthily of the gospel.

In other words Paul is calling on believers to live up to their present reality and not just to their visibility.  If we profess that we have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light… we should live like those who are citizens of the kingdom of light.  A transition has taken place.  We were once enemies of God and lived for ourselves, but then the gospel changed everything.  We are not ambassadors of the gospel to those who live as we once lived.

The temptation is to tuck tail and run at the first sign of difficulty or persecution, but running from persecution isn’t a right representation of the Love of God for sinners.  Jesus suffered on the cross and even gave His life to bring us to God.  Being a citizen of the gospel or having conversation worthy or living in a manner worthy of the gospel is to represent the good news even through present sufferings.  The power to live through voluntary suffering comes not from within our own heart, but on the author and perfecter of our faith… Jesus.  That is why Paul could say, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Missions: go to people, not places (Mark 16)

Mark 16 closes out the book of Mark with a brief account of the resurrection and a somewhat controversial last 11 verses. Controversy aside, what stuck out to me was the great commission like statement found in Mark 16:15. The idea is found in all the gospels, Acts… Well really the whole Bible.

God has made the way to rescue sinners from His wrath through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried and risen from the dead. This is indeed good news and the world should hear!

Believers are called to be ambassadors of Christ! We are to take the good news everywhere, including to people who may not count the gospel as good news. We are to go!

It’s the PEOPLE not the PLACE!

But where are we to go? If we are not careful we will become mistaken and think we are to go places (indeed that may be part, but it is not the whole), but the command to go and make disciples is not about geography as much as it is about people. People who at this very moment stand outside the kingdom of God. People who may have never even heard the gospel. The command is to go to the people, not the place. Sometimes we have to go places to get to the people, but please make no mistake we go to share the good news with people.

The implications of this are huge! Tonight as I write this there are people in my city who will lay their head on their pillow to go to sleep and they have never heard the good news. My city has an abundance of churches, and yet there are people who have not heard.  The condition of those who have not heard in Pensacola is the same as those who have not heard in another city or country with less churches. Again the command isn’t to go to places, but to go to people! Darkness is darkness wherever it exists. We can no longer use the fact that there are more people without the gospel in another region of the world as an excuse to just give our money and not search out those who are without Christ on our own neighborhood. (We should give and give generously to reach people across cultural divides, but not in replace of sharing the good news in our own culture).

The Prayer of the Lord By R.C. Sproul (Review)

The Prayer of the Lord is perhaps the best books I have ever read on the Model Prayer (sometimes called the Lord’s Prayer)!  I was deeply impressed with how Bible scholar and pastor Dr. R.C. Sproul opened the Scripture and set everything on the bottom shelf.  Dr. Sproul has an engaging and witty style of writing that is both faithful to the text of Scripture and engaging to the reader.  I continue to be amazed at how well he writes.

The Prayer of the Lord is a simple exposition of the Model Prayer.  Dr. Sproul breaks it down taking the reader through the teaching of Jesus on prayer.  Each chapter examines a phrase of the prayer in great detail.  I’ve been a serious student of Scripture for years and I was deeply impressed with how well Sproul wrote about this passage while maintaining a focus to present the truth and application within easy grasp of the reader.  This is a book I would have no problem handing off to a new believer looking to develop his prayer life or a mature believer looking to examine the model prayer.  I really appreciated the appendix that answered several questions for me.

If you are looking for a great book that teaches about the nature of prayer with the scriptures as its source, this book is for you.  I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in developing their prayer life.  The retail price is $15.00 (Hardcover), and is available at a discount at steep discount at  Amazon.com for $10.20. I gave it five stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Reformation Trust Publishers as part of their Blog for a Free Book Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

An Open Letter to All My Legalist Friends

Recently I have been bombarded by all sorts of people with legalistic agendas.  To be fair most of what I have seen or heard in recent days hasn’t been aimed at me directly.  However, some of you are making it difficult for me to share Jesus with my other friends because they think that you represent Him.  They don’t know that your legalism is a vice and a sickness that actually keeps you from Him.   I’m intentionally avoiding the particulars and get to the heart of the issue which is demanding more of others than God does.

1. Its not about YOU (or ME), its about US.

Sometimes you ask me to do things or put away things that aren’t prohibited in Scripture.  Some of these things are great ways to connect with others and are really morally neutral.  Many of these things Jesus did himself.  But you get this idea in your head that if I do things differently than you that I must not know Jesus (or at least that I am not right with Him).  However, on many of these issues, your the one who is changing His Word to make it say what it doesn’t say.

2. I’ll Gladly sacrifice ME for the sake of US, but please don’t ask me to do it for YOU.

What I mean is this.  I don’t want to be a stumbling block to you.  I don’t want to cause you to do anything against your conscience.  I will gladly not do some things that might offend you so that we can hang out.  But when you go around saying that everyone must think the same way that you do on an issue (and your thoughts don’t exactly line up with scripture), then you are asking me to be conformed to your image, not Christ’s.  Again I love you and will lay down my freedom for you, but I will not subscribe to your extra biblical ideas.

3. Don’t forget that HE loves THEM

Somehow I think that in the process you have forgotten that God loves people.  Don’t get me wrong on this.  Doctrine is important.  But perhaps the biggest truth we can know about God is that He loves people.  Some of you are good at communicating your cultural rules as a standard of holiness but you have forgotten to mention that God loves people.  Please let me remind you.  He says it plainly in His Word.  Just read it.

John 3:16-17, Romans 5:8, Ephesians 2:4-9, Ephesians 5:1-2, 1st John 4:10-16

I really am hoping the best for you.  Truth be told, I fight legalism too.  Its easy for us to come up with extra rules (especially if we don’t struggle with the new rules).  We can feel confident that we haven’t broken the rules we’ve added.  The problem is that our rules aren’t always God’s rules and we need to know the difference.

Why We Hunt Easter Eggs, but Don’t Do Santa

3 Things You Should Know Before You Judge Your Friends

Review: “Spectacular Sins” By John Piper

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Florida Baptist Convention where I got a chance to buy a copy of John Piper’s book, Spectacular Sins at the Lifeway store.   Being a Piper fan and having read most all of his works I set out to read this book this past weekend.  I was refreshed with the candor and diligence with which Piper writes in this book.  The introduction alone is worth the price of the book.

After establishing a need for a more vigilant Christianity and pleading with the reader to be prepared for the advancing darkness Piper launches into an exposition of several of the spectacular sins that have been recorded in the scriptures.  He writes of sins such as the fall in the Garden of Eden, rebellion at the Tower of Babel, selling of Joseph, and betrayal by Judas and how through each rebellious act God was in control, turning evil on its nose and causing great good to come out of acts that were intended for evil.

You can find the book in hard cover it normally goes for $15.99, but you can find it on Amazon.com for $10.87 and even cheaper from Desiring God in paper back for $6.49.  You can find our more about John Piper and resources he has written and produced here.  The original sermons that have been recorded in print in this book can also be found free of charge here on the Desiring God ministry site.

I highly recommend this brief book (128 Pages) to anyone interested getting a glimps at how God can cause good to triumph over plans that were intended for evil.  It is an urgent message that is much-needed in our day.  I give it 4 stars.

Every Student, Every Neighbor

It was 4 AM and I couldn’t sleep.  So I just laid there in bed with thoughts racing through my head about prayer, how to pray, why we pray, why we don’t pray enough and who would be at their flag pole in the morning.  I was worried because I am not normally compulsive about simple events like asking students to show up and pray at their flag pole.  So I eased my mind and began to call out to Jesus for clarity and  for focus.  In my heart he began a burden that was more fully realized later at the flagpole that day.

Flag's at Ransom Middle School (iphone)

I stood around with a crowd of about sixty teenagers at a flag pole as they prayed.  I watched from my huddle of adults as hundreds of other kids piled around the court yard wondering what was going on at their flag pole.  My heart broke for the students.  Sixty at the pole and about three hundred on the outside watching, more arriving each minute.  As I stood there I could see it like a sign over thier heads.  People lost like sheep without a shepherd.  Words about addictions, struggles, and issues that lead to death filled my mind. Words like anorexia, school violence, drugs, depression, peer pressure, alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, bulemia, abortion, suicide, rape, racism, bullying… lies that people believe.  My heart was broken knowing that many have never even heard the name of Jesus other than a cuss word.

Then I called out to God from the noise in my head and pleaded for him to empower these sixty, these few to reach their school for Jesus.  Though much of the freedoms once afforded teachers and other adults on the campus were coming under attack in our area, one thing was clear… students still have the freedom to share the gospel and tell their friends about Jesus.

Yet peer pressure stands in the way.  That is what kept sixty around the pole instead of in the crowds.  Its also what kept students from finding their way to school on time and praying at the pole.  The older I get, the easier it is to see.  Like going on a mission trip and seeing the need in another culture, I look at students, now that I am a generation removed, and see more clearly than ever their need for the gospel.  Indeed, I am a missionary to another culture.

Then it struck home.  What about the place where I live?  What about my culture?  What about my neighborhood just a few blocks away?  Do I see the need there?  There is a need.  Though my neighbors have houses like mine, cars like mine, kids like mine, and experience the same weather I do, many do not know, or have not heard about Jesus.

So I transitioned out of thought and into thoughtful action.  Rebekah (my 3 year old) and I are out walking the streets in the evenings meeting neighbors and developing relationships for a bridge to the gospel.  My aim is to meet and find opportunities to share the gospel with all of my neighbors.

I am still burdened for our schools and the student culture (and their parents) that I have been called to pastor and be a missionary to.  My prayer is that as we pray and ask God to send laborers that students and families would catch a vision for God and He would use them to share the gospel with every student, teacher, and faculty member by the end of the school year.

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  (Matthew 9:35-38 ESV)

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”(Romans 10:13-16 ESV)

What about you?  What is your strategy to reach your neighborhood, school, or workplace?  Are you partnering with others to see Jesus proclaimed where you are?