Book Notes | Soul Keeping, The Heart is the Target & Replant

Normally on Saturday’s I share some thoughts on a book I read recently. You can read past book notes here.

This week, I want to share some quick hits. I had a cross country plane ride recently, so I had the time to get through several books (and one of them was really short).

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First up, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg.

This book was so good. Easily one of the best books of the year. As soon as I was done with it, I made Katie read it. Her take, if you love what Dallas Willard has to say but have a hard time understanding what he says, this is a great book. I found myself challenged, encouraged and challenged some more. It is a mix of how to care for your soul, how to rest and ultimately, how to connect with God at a deeper level.

Can’t recommend this book enough.

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The second book is a preaching book called The Heart is the Target: Preaching Practical Application from Every Text by Murray Capill.

This is a book that every preacher should read, but especially if you are an expository preacher. This book is written to that audience and seeks to help pastors who are good at giving information, making sermons feel like seminary classes or preachers who excel at “deep preaching” but struggle to see transformation, apply what they preach to their churches or see hearts changed through their preaching. This was a stretching book and very timely for me and I’ve already seen a change in my preaching because of it.

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Lastly, Replant: How a Dying Church Can Grow Again by Darrin Patrick & Mark DeVine.

Having replanted a church I was interested in the knowledge this book could provide. I also think replanting is something we will see more often in church planting circles in the coming years as more and more older churches die and their buildings sit vacant or with a small crowd. While this book tells a great story of a church that was replanted, it lacks a lot of how-to’s on the topic. If you want to see how one leader did it, this is a helpful book, but you will not find a ton of transferable lessons, only encouragement if you can relate to the situation Darrin and Mark found themselves in.

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You Long for Blessing

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There are two great words in the Bible that describe the posture of our souls toward other people. One is to bless. The other is to curse. We are creatures with wills, and in every encounter with other people we will what is good for them, or fail to do so: we will what is bad for them. Blessing is not just a word. Blessing is the projection of good into the life of another. We must think it, and feel it, and will it. -Dallas Willard, Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You

Blessing is not something we talk a lot about in our culture, or experience or do. Our culture is more concerned about being right, putting others down, getting others in line, controlling outcomes.

Yet, blessing is something long for.

So how do you bless someone instead of curse them? Here are ___ ways to bless someone:

  1. Have a right heart. No one blesses from a place of pride or selfishness. It is a giving away. It might be financial, time, effort, care or love on your part to someone else. This is why it is rarely done. We bless people we think deserve, instead of blessing the people God has given to us. I remember when I got married and the pastor who had mentored me through college prayed over me. It was one of the most emotional moments of my life. Here was a man that to this day, I have done very little for simply because I couldn’t give him anything. He mentored me, showed interest in me, used his connections to better me and my ministry and he was asking God to pour more blessings on me. That’s a right heart. Giving, knowing that you will get nothing back. 
  2. Help them see who God wants them to become. Because blessing comes from someone, you are really helping the person you are blessing helping them see themselves as God sees them and who God wants them to become. This might be challenging a child to be who they are called to be. At the end of the day, this is vision casting. This is painting a picture for someone about how they are settling in life. Not in a negative way or a “stop doing that” sort of way. But, don’t you want more out of life kind of talk. There is a difference. One is negative that shows how much smarter you are and one is more helpful and comes from a place of serving that says, “I don’t want you to miss God’s best in your life.”
  3. Be willing to serve someone. Blessing is about giving something of yourself away, to someone. You may serve them, be generous to them. It might simply be words spoken to them. It will require you to take a step towards them. Blessing is not reciprocating. There is a difference. When I bless my children, I am not expecting them to give something back for it, or to earn it.
  4. Blessing shows someone where they have come from, but where God wants to take them. Each year, I write a letter to our kids on their birthday. In the letter, I highlight how they have grown this year, how God has worked in their hearts and lives, what has happened in our families. My plan is to give these letters to them when they graduate high school and go to college. I want them to have a picture of who they are, where they have come from, so that it influences them onto where they are going. In Scripture, when someone blesses someone there is usually a genealogy nearby in the text. This is a reminder of where these people have come from, their history. In essence, it is who they are, their identity. Blessing is a way of reorienting someone’s identity, helping them to see things more clearly so they are on track.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Dallas Willard on There’s no such thing as casual sex.

Al Mohler on God and the Gay Christian? A response to Matthew Vines.

Recently a new book by Matthew Vines was released claiming to present a biblical case for same sex marriage. Albert Mohler, along with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert, have produced a free eBook offering a response to the biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral issues raised by Vines’ book. To download a copy, go to sbts.me/ebook.

Hanna Rosin on Your not as busy as you think you are.

The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game. 

Ed Stetzer on Why full and public repentance matters.

Pastors are held to a higher standard and must repent of sin in accordance with that standard. As such, pastors are different, not in value, but in responsibility and expectation. They are worthy of double honor and they are harder to accuse. We can see the practical reason for this– like it or not, being a religious leader attracts a higher level of criticism. If you are a pastor, you are probably already well aware of that reality.

Brian Howard on Social media wisdom for Christians and pastors.

Be wise about what you say online. More than representing Grace, you represent Jesus to the world. As leaders, you are “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1).” Take your calling seriously, and think through how your public comments, posts and “likes” will be privately perceived. If you like it or share it, you endorse it. So if in doubt, leave it out.

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The King Jesus Gospel

Our family spent the past week with family in Kansas City and some downtime. 2011 was a long, hard season for us for a number of reasons. But while I had 2 weeks off from preaching, I spent a lot of time reading. So, this week I’ll be sharing some book reviews from the road.

The second book I read was The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited by Scot McKnight. I had heard a lot about this book, so I was glad to read it. I loved the vision that Scot puts forth in this book of the gospel.

His point is that too much of Christianity focuses the gospel simply on the death of Jesus, the forgiveness of our sins and how one can avoid hell and go to heaven. While that is part of the gospel, that is only a part of it.

One statement he made that stopped me in my tracks was, “Do you need the Old Testament for your gospel to be true? If not, you do not have the gospel.” Many times, the gospel that is preached in churches in America, the gospel that is shared with friends and family does not need the Old Testament.

One of the other things he pushed on was the question that people ask, “Did Jesus preach Paul’s gospel?” He even tells a story of a pastor saying, “Jesus couldn’t preach the gospel because he hadn’t died on the cross yet.” Scot’s wit comes through in his response, “Poor Jesus, he was born on the wrong side of the cross.” This statement shows how shallow our gospel is.

Which has led to what Scot calls a “salvation culture” in our churches instead of a “gospel culture.” A salvation culture is concerned only with salvation and getting to heaven, which is not the whole point of the gospel. While a gospel culture focuses on transformation, not only of individual lives, but also of the entire earth, which is the point of the Bible.

One of the things McKnight continually pushes on is that in our salvation culture, we simply share the plan of salvation, which is not the gospel. It boils Jesus down to only our Savior, which he is. But Scripture teaches that “The gospel story of Jesus Christ is a story about Jesus as Messiah, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as Savior, and Jesus as Son.” If the gospel we share does not point to Jesus as all those things, we have not shared the gospel. In our world today, we focus on Jesus as the Savior from my sins, but avoid the idea of Jesus as Lord and King of my life (which explains the lack of maturity in many people who attend church, they “are going to heaven” but still running their lives). This might bristle you, but think about the 4 first books in the New Testament, they are called “The Gospel according to Matthew…” What are they about? They tell the story of Jesus, his birth, life, miracles, teachings, death, resurrection and ascension. Gospels is not a genre of writing, they are the gospel.

Here are a few other things that jumped out:

  • The gospel is the story of Jesus of Nazareth told as the climax of the long story of Israel, which in turn is the story of how the one true God is rescuing the world.
  • Most evangelism today is obsessed with getting someone to make a decision; the apostles however, were obsessed with making disciples. Those two words – decision and disciples – are behind this entire book. Evangelism that focuses on decisions short circuits and – yes, the word is appropriate – aborts the design of the gospel, while evangelism that aims at disciples slows down to offer the full gospel of Jesus and the apostles.
  • The gospel doesn’t work for spectators; you have to participate for it work its powers.
  • One reason why so many Christians today don’t know the Old Testament is because their gospel doesn’t even need it.
  • The gospel is to announce good news about key events in the life of Jesus Christ. To gospel for the apostle Paul was to tell, announce, declare, and shout aloud the story of Jesus Christ as the saving news of God.
  • Because the gospel is the story of Jesus that fulfills, completes, and resolves Israel’s story, we dare not permit the gospel to collapse into the abstract, de-storified points in the plan of salvation.
  • Jesus died with us, instead of us, and for us.
  • There is not such thing as gospeling that does not include the summons to respond in faith, repentance, and baptism.

All in all, I was really challenged by the larger vision of the gospel this book puts forth. I loved his emphasis that Jesus is the gospel and that we need the whole Bible for a full gospel. I love the Old Testament and have always been fascinated by the imagery in the Old Testament and have often been saddened by how few other Christians have the same love, but without the Old Testament, Jesus and the New Testament do not make any sense.

Reading

I often get asked, “How do you read so much?” I can honestly tell you, I didn’t always like to read. When I first started college, I hated to pick up a book, but something happened along the way.

Here are some ideas:

  • Always have a book and a highlighter/pen with you. At home, in the car, when you are meeting someone (in case their late), at an appoitment, next to your bed, in your bathroom. If you want to read a lot, you have to maximize the time available.
  • If you exercise or drive a lot, books on your ipod.
  • Read good books. This seems like a no-brainer, but a lot of people read the wrong books. Ask readers what they are reading, what their favorite books are and then read those. There is nothing worse than buying a book only to find out it is a waste of time.
  • If a book doesn’t grab you after 30 – 40 pages, stop reading.
  • Read only the chapters that jump out at you in a book.
  • Most authors quote a certain group of people. For example, while John Ortberg is a great author, he is always quoting Dallas Willard. Find out who authors quote a lot and read them.  If you wrote an emergent book, you will quote Brian McLaren, so read him. I always read those authors before I read the authors that quote them.
  • Find out who your favorite authors are reading. They will tell you on their websites or blogs what books they are reading right now.
  • Read books about a ton of topics, don’t get pigeonholed, make sure you are reading on spirituality, theology, relationships, biblical history, leadership, etc. Too many people (especially pastors) only read one kind of book. It gets kind of lopsided.
  • Read reviews on Amazon and blogs. Find out what people thought. Most reviews in my opinion are right on. You can check out my recommended list here and my book reviews here.

Convergence: Protecting Yourself from Spiritual Disease (Titus 1:9 – 16)

Today was part 2 of our series Convergence through the book of Titus.  We looked at Titus 1:9 – 16.  This was a difficult passage to work through because spiritual disease is not something we often talk about or even think about.  Consequently, you almost have to convince people, this is a big deal. 

Some of the diseases that we looked at were pluralism, not to say that it is bad, but that it is a reality of our world.  The danger it presents to Christians is when we bring pluralism into our Christianity, when we start looking around and say, “What if I add this about buddhism or add this about Islam to my Christian walk.”  The other problem is that often as Christians, in an effort to not offend anyone, we cut corners, we don’t take stands when we should.  When we do take stands, we are often not heard because of the way we take our stand.

We also showed a clip of Joel Osteen preaching.  I have never met Joel, I have never read any of his books, I have only heard him preach.  The danger that he presents is the old debate about the ‘health & wealth’ gospel.  Joel’s definition of a healthy Christianity is when we have no relational strains, no debt, no pain, that we are not victims, but victors.  The reality is, because of sin, we will not always be free from those things.  When this becomes a disease is when we look for that in our Christian walk & when it doesn’t work, we say things like, “I tried the God thing & it just didn’t work for me.”  I wrestled all week with whether or not to show this, because I don’t want to make fun of Joel or say, I am more spiritual than him, but I feel a responsibility as the pastor of Beginnings to show people what others are saying.  Also, this passage is addressed to the false teachers on the Island of Crete, and I see what Joel Osteen is saying as false. 

The interesting thing about spiritual disease is that you are always that last one to see it.  We get so wrapped up in the fact that we are right, that we have things going the way they should, it is everyone else that is a heretic or wrong.  This is where community comes in, to have those people who can say tough things to you, tell where you are missing the mark and help you find spiritual health. 

Without that, here are a few ways to spot it in your life:  The obvious is when you start to do something or believe something that is contrary to what the Bible teaches.  I remember talking to someone about a situation and they asked me what the Bible said and I told them, showed them the verse.  He looked at me, he was a leader in the church I worked at and he said, “I don’t buy that.”  I said to him, “It is right there.”  To which he said, “I know it’s right there, but that just gets in my way.”  That’s a clue.  If your Christian walk has become more about you and less about God, that is a clue.  For example in small groups around the country the question is asked after reading a passage “What does this mean to you?”  It does not matter what a passage means to us, it matters what it means to God.  The question we ask in our small groups is, “Of all the things that could be here, why is this here?  Why this verse?”   

If you find yourself thinking, how can I blend Christianity with Buddhism, Wicca, and Mormonism.  That is spiritual disease. 

If you missed today, you can listen to it here & you can join the conversation on our discussion blog here

Passages we looked at:
Titus 1:9 – 16
Matthew 15:11, 15 – 20
Luke 11:37 – 41
Titus 3:9 – 11

Books to check out:
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality:  Unleash the Power of Authentic Life in Christ  (Pete Scazzero)
The Great Omission  (Dallas Willard)

God @ the Movies: Spiderman 3

One thing you need to know about me is that I love movies. I love talking about them, reminiscing about great lines and great scenes. I once had 2 friends and we could do pretty much the entire script of Monty Python and the holy grail. Think about it, how many times have you been on a road trip and started using lines from Dumb and Dumber or Tommy Boy?

Movies entertain us, but they also speak to us. They say things we are feeling, but aren’t able to put into words. They also help us guys. Women, if you have a good engagement story, it is probably because your husband was inspired by something he saw in a movie.

I do love movies.  So I love doing a series on movies.

Ever since I was younger, I have loved the stories of Spiderman, so I was really excited when the third movie came out. While I think this is the best of the three, I know others, like Travis, differ in that opinion. We can’t all be right about movies.

One of themes in Spiderman 3 is the battle that Peter Parker has within himself. He starts to deal with this dark side that has shown its face in the form of an alien substance. This battle, while his visible ones are going on, rages beneath the surface. This is where the battle within our lives is going on. Often though, especially in churches, we focus on changing our behavior. Doing what Dallas Willard calls “sin management.” When we do this, we never get to the root of the problem. We just change the window shade color.

In his book Inside Out, Larry Crabb uses the illustration below to talk about our lives. What we do he said, is worry about the part of our lives that people see, the visible part of the iceberg. That is what we change, what we work on.

Beneath the surface is the problem though. Why do I have a problem with anger? Why do I have this addiction? Going about it this way is more painful and takes more time, which is why we avoid it and choose another path. But it is the harder path that God calls us to if we are really going to make any lasting changes.

Today, we had Cameron Hood from ryanhood fame lead us in worship. He did a great job of leading us. He has a great servant heart that comes through when he leads.

Books to check out on the topic:
The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering our Hidden Life in God (Dallas Willard)
Inside Out (Larry Crabb)

Passages we looked at today:

Matthew 23:25 – 28

Matthew 7:15 – 20