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.”

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.

Review: Five Who Changed the World

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to meet a few gentlemen from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I was looking down the road a few years and trying to figure out what doctoral work would look like.  In the process of conversation the representatives of Southeastern were able to share with me in great detail about the seminary and their president, Daniel Akin, and offered me a copy of his book, “Five Who Changed the World.”

Finally last week I had the opportunity to read through the book.  While I am greatly familiar with Christian biographies (I’ve been reading them since I was 16 and helped found and sponsored the Christian Heritage Conference that we held in Mobile for several years), I was blessed to read Akin’s book.  Originally each chapter was a missions message delivered in the chapel at Southeastern.

These five messages now written down and combined in book form are challenging and motivating.  Though these messages do not contain a great amount of biographical detail they are very motivational and challenging.  I was blessed to be drawn to the heart of worshiping God through mission.  Each chapter details the life of a missionary (William Carey, Adoniram and Ann Judson, Bill Wallace, Lottie Moon, and Jim Elliot) combined with a passage of Scripture that each missionary illustrated throughout their life.

You can find the book in hard cover on Amazon.com for $15.  You can find our more about Daniel Akin 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 his site.

I highly recommend this brief book to anyone interested in understanding Christian mission.  It is a quick read and highly motivational (I was drawn to tears over and over again).  I give it 5 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?

Review: Lost and Found

Lost and Found: The Younger Unchurched and The Churches That Reach Them, is a book by Ed Stetzer, Richie Stanley, and Jason Hayes.  In it, the authors provide a great analysis of who eighteen-to-twenty-somethings are and what churches are doing to reach them.  It’s no secret that many young adults leave or never enter the fellowship of a local church. This book seeks to find the answer not only to why congregations are not reaching them, but how they can effectively reach out to them.  It is full of surprises and challenges.  I highly recommend it to pastors, church leaders, and anyone with an interest in reaching the young adult population.

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The book is divided into three main categories.

  • Polling. Which covers the raw data and the reasoning for the survey.  The author’s do a great job of breaking the data down into charts and statistics that can easily be interpreted and understood.
  • Listening. In addition to polls, the research team also invested in over 5oo personal interviews with young adults across the polling spectrum in order to gain more valuable information.  The findings of the interviews are shared in chapter format covering the generalities in regular text and setting out key images that often rose to the top.
  • Reaching. In this section of the book the authors’ turn their attention to the churches that are reaching this segment of the population in seemingly unprecedented numbers.  In doing so they breakdown what seem to be the similarities among how they appeal to young adults and the practical steps they are taking to be even more diligent in reaching this generation.

Lost and Found is a great read and the authors  include several good features.  The authors strive to present the material in such a way as to engage the reader not only with where young adults are, but  how to reach them.  They infuse the book with enough stories and quotes to ensure that the reader has not only heard the statistics, but has also heard the voice of this generation.  I give it five star rating.

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

flickrcom-photos-indigogoat-174393301One night I had a dream.  In my dream there stood a small round table with a porcelain stature of Jesus praying.  I remembered the statue from my childhood.  It was on of the figures that had always been in my parents house.

In my dream there was an open magazine with a picture of Satan.  The kind of picture you see at Halloween with a red face, horns, and a pitchfork.  Yet the eyes had been cut out and taped on the statue of Jesus.

I was indignant and mad.  I can remember saying, “Who has done this thing!  Who dares to defile this statue of Jesus?  This is blasphemy!”  And just at that moment as still, small voice said, “It is you!”

In that moment I understood the weight of my sin before a holy and righteous God and knew that he would be good and right to send me to Hell.  I felt in that instant more terror than I have ever known.  I was sure that I was going to Hell.  Yet I awoke clutching the covers in a silent scream.  My mouth hung open,  my lungs had sized, my breath was caught in my throat and I was unable to actually produce a sound.

I understood then that I was lost, but tried to rationalize with myself that it was just a dream.  I contemplated how silly it would look like for me to admit that I wasn’t even a Christian.  Pride keeps many men and women back from what would truly be theirs in Christ.

A while later I was leading a college group through a Bible study on the 7 churches in Revelation.  As I studied the scripture I came to the Church at Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22).  What I read changed my life.  I realized that I was standing naked before God and instead of trusting in Jesus Christ to remove my sin and my shame I was trusting in works that didn’t really matter to God.

I understood it like this.  God had given me a conscience and his word that exposed my wrong motives.  Like a mirror would show a person that they are naked and need clothes.  But instead of Trusting in Jesus and asking God to change my heart I was trying to answer the guilt over my sin by doing good things.  That would be like a naked person painting over a mirror.  It wouldn’t really change the fact that they were naked, it would just make it harder to see in the mirror.  There was nothing I could do to make myself right with God other than go to Him, tell him I was sorry for what I had done, and ask him to change my life.

I shared with Avia that I was lost and she quoted Isaiah 64:6 confirming that there was truly nothing I could do to make myself right before God other than humble myself and ask for his forgiveness.  The next day I met with an evangelist to learn another Evangelism strategy.  This one was called Christ-Centered Evangelism and rather than focusing on heaven it focused on Christ.

Brother Ed the Evangelist was teaching me about praying for those who have not yet come to God on his terms and lead me to read Romans 10:1-4.  As I read, he could tell something was wrong and he asked me if  everything was okay?  I couldn’t help but blurt out, “by the witness of these scriptures I am lost.  I have a zeal for the things of God, but I don’t truly know Him.”

Later that night after searching my heart, I asked Christ to be the Lord of my Life.  I told my pastor and came before my church fully expecting to lose my job.  I didn’t care.  I wanted everything to be right before God and men.

Jesus Christ changed me.  He saved he makes a difference in the way I live.  I am not a perfect person.  I continually make mistakes, but I know God accepts me based not upon what I have done, but what he has done for me.  I want the whole world to have peace with God like I do.

For more on the Christian message and how you to can have a relationship with Jesus Christ check out  2 Ways to Live

My Story (Part 3): Lost in a Religious World

flickrcom-photos-harmony19490-36241501621 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Lost in a Religious World

I found myself at the age of 16 rejecting an opportunity to attend the Alabama School of Math and Science in order to move with my family to Missouri.  I was trying to run from all the bad things I had done and ended up being a self-righteous snob.  I had an earnest desire to prove that I was a good person and a secret desire to make up for all the wrong I had done.  I was engaged in religious activity and very involved in a student group 30 minutes away from our house (back when gas was $1.16 a gallon).

I also started a small student group of about 8-10 kids in the basement of my father’s new church (an aging 25 member congregation).  I was a great self-starter but lacked substance and depth.  I learned a lot about student ministry from the way I failed when I was just a 17 or 18 year old kid trying to lead a group of my peers.

In the fall of 1997 I moved to Mobile, Alabama.  My first weekend in mobile I was invited to speak to the youth at a friends church in Gulf Shores.  The next weekend I was at Lafitte and quickly became a student ministry intern.  Things progressed quickly and just over a year later I was appointed associate student minister and then very quickly I was appointed student minister.

Building a Resume of Deeds

I had a passion and a desire for the things of God (Romans 10:2-4), but all the while I was building an impressive resume for God to accept me based on my good works.  Not realizing that my deeds did not mean as much to God as my heart (Isaiah 64:6). I worked hard to be a good communicator and studied to know much of the Bible.  You would have been hard pressed to find anyone my age more knowledgeable about the things of God.  Yet I still missed it.

I became good at telling people how to become a Christian.  Most of the places I spoke (outside of Lafitte) would see two or three students make decisions saying something had changed in their life.  Every week at Lafitte the same kids were “rededicating” their life and never changing and many of the converts I saw in those early years never became fully devoted followers of Christ.

The saddest part is that I really thought I was a Christian.  One of the things I enjoyed doing was learning new ways to present how to become a Christ follower to people.  I went through FAITH, EE, and several other presentations.  One of the key type questions in these presentations is to ask people “how does someone get to heaven?”  I always answered my instructors that it was “by doing good works” and they would correct me.  Yet, they never question me further because I was a poster child for someone interested in “Christian things.”

My list of religious deeds was long.  I lead a student group. Helped lead and developed a prayer group for reaching international students at UM.  I had opportunities to speak at several student events all over Alabama.  I helped feed the homeless on a regular basis.  I walked the streets of downtown mobile passing out religious literature.  I had been on Mission to East Asia.  I had spoken in  many churches.  I partnered in founding a conference that celebrated a protestant Christian History.  But without Christ…. I was lost and without hope (Philippians 3:4-11).

It wouldn’t be until I woke up from a Nightmare that I would come to understand just where I stood with God and what needed to be done to set things right.

Want to know more about the Christian message and how to become a Christ follower?  Click the link below.  Be sure to read the whole thing.

Who Do You Think that I Am?