Owen on the Christian Life – Review

I’m not a big biography reader, but I have been incredibly pleased and have enjoyed the Theologians on the Christian Life series from Crossway. I have now read four books in this series, and have thoroughly devoured and highlighted heavily each of these books. Most recently I have read Owen on the Christian LifeAlong with not reading many biographies, I have not read any books by John Owen. I have had Mortification of Sin on my reading list for about five years now, but just haven’t read it. However, I have heard a great deal about this theologian and so I was immediately interested in diving into this book from Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin.

One thing that I have loved about this series is that they have taken theological “giants” and made the accessible for all levels of reader whether new believer, long time believer, pastor, seminarian, etc. Barrett and Haykin walk through the life of John Owen as well as looking at the doctrines that he contributed to the most, and shown how his life and his understanding of a specific Christian doctrine help the reader to be able to live their own Christian life better knowing this all. Barrett and Haykin (as well as all the others/editors in this series) have done a great job of showing Owen and the other theologians in this series are human and have questions about many doctrines and how they walked through Scripture and life to put their understandings into practice. We all need to see this as we all go through these same walks.

I would thoroughly recommend this book to all Christians to want to know how to pursue God more fully. I am appreciative to Matthew Barrett and Michael Haykin for this book, and I am more appreciative to John Owen for his passion for Christ and desire to show Him in all that He did in his life.

 

Do Our Church Calendars Show Grace or Works?

How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place? –Eugene Peterson

Many churches are way too busy. Programs, ministries, events, seminars, conferences, studies, etc. dominate church calendars in many churches today. Churches seem to add more and more to the calendar in hopes that the more there is to do the more people will come and hear about Jesus, and often times with hopes they will bring their friends and family to hear about Him too. However, I have never heard a pastor or church say, “The more we did, the healthier we felt as a church” or “The more we did, the stronger the discipleship and relationships were” or “The more we did, the healthier and stronger our marriages and families became.”

Usually, when churches load and overload the calendar with more programs, more events and more things for people to come and attend, something gives elsewhere. It may be family time. It may be marriage time. It may be neighbor time. It may even be time away from the Lord. Instead of coming to more events and programs, people usually pull back at some point. Churches that load the calendar with more and more seem to look like the surrounding culture and just add to the clutter and noise.

I love Eugene Peterson’s thought here when we think about the busy and over-scheduled church. Churches and pastors often talk about faith by grace and not works, but most churches function in a way that emphasizes works over grace. “Come to the next big event; come to the new program; make sure your kids don’t miss the fun, new thing; get to this 5 week seminar.” What if instead of more there was less? Instead, more intentionality with fewer things and a greater importance on time at home, time together, and family worship? I’ve heard pastors talk about the importance of families not having their kids in every local program for sports, activities, etc. and then in the very next breath plug the upcoming event for kids or the whole family. Do we even hear ourselves?!?

As the church enters into the Advent season in the next few weeks, I encourage churches, pastors and families to step back and take a look at your calendars over the coming weeks, months and year. Are you living a faith that shows you are a people of grace or a people of works? Please don’t hear me wrong, programs and events are not bad and evil things. But simply step back and see what you personally are involved in and what your church is asking of people? Are you allowing space to be quiet and present? Are you allowing space for families to worship together? Are you allowing space for people to truly know their neighbors? As we think about Advent season and the year ahead that follows, consider Eugene Peterson’s thought again and how can your life and/or your church make room for people to live by faith and not by works:

How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?” – Eugene Peterson, The Contemplative Pastor

Favorite Quotes from Searching For Sunday

I read Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans this past summer, and I have recommended it to many people. In the book, Evans walks through seven of the sacraments through stories that help the reader to see what it really means to be part of the Church. She walks through her story of doubts about the church and the faith of her childhood. I think this resonates strongly with many people today, and I know it resonated well with my upbringing.

Searching for Sunday is a brutally honest look at evangelicalism and the raw messiness that makes up community and the church. I would highly recommend you pick up Searching for Sunday and see the hope for the church within it.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book, in no particular order:

  • When my faith had become little more than an abstraction, a set of propositions to be affirmed or denied, the tangible, tactile nature of the sacraments invited me to touch, smell, taste, hear, and see God in the stuff of everyday life again. They got God out of my head and into my hands. They reminded me that Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people. They reminded me that, try as I may, I can’t be a Christian on my own. I need a community. I need the church. (xiv)
  • We all long for someone to tell us who we are. The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. (19)
  • The people didn’t have to go to God anymore; God was coming to the people. And God, in God’s relentless love, would allow no mountain or hill–no ideology or ritual or requirement or law–to obstruct the way. (37)
  • Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable. Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth. We might just create sanctuary. (73)
  • No one ever said the fruit of the Spirit is relevance or impact or even revival. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control–the sort of stuff that, let’s face it, doesn’t always sell. (…) There is a difference, after all, between preaching success and preaching resurrection. Our path is the muddier one. (112)
  • Whenever we show others the goodness of God, whenever we follow our Teacher by imitating his posture of humble and ready service, our actions are sacred and ministerial. To be called into the priesthood, as all of us are, is to be called to a life of presence, of kindness. (116)
  • The church is positively crawling with people who don’t deserve to be here…starting with me. But the table can transform even our enemies into companions. The table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. (152)
  • Walking with someone through grief, or through the process of reconciliation, requires patience, presence, and a willingness to wander, to take the scenic route. But the modern-day church doesn’t like to wander or wait. The modern-day church likes results. Convinced the gospel is a product we’ve got to sell to an increasingly shrinking market, we like our people to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished–proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! (…) But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. And the truth is, the church doesn’t offer a cure. It doesn’t offer a quick fix. The church offers death and resurrection. The church offers the messy, inconvenient, gut-wrenching, never-ending work of healing and reconciliation. The church offers grace. (208-9)

For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

I’m only a few pages into Jen Hatmaker’s new book, For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standardsand I’ve already highlighted and starred the majority of the Introduction. This is always a good sign for the next 200 some pages to come in a book! So I wanted to share of few of the paragraphs that have already hit me, and encourage you to buy/borrow this book.

God has always made the most sense to me through people, His image bearers. I crave dignity and healing and purpose and freedom for me and mine, you and yours, them and theirs. I want us to live well and love well. The substance of life isn’t stuff or success or work or accomplishments or possessions. It really isn’t, although we devote enormous energy to those goals. The fullest parts of my life, the best memories, the most satisfying peices of my story have always involved people. Conversely, nothing hurts worse or steals more joy than broken relationships. We can heal and hurt each other, and we do.

I see a generation of people ON THE HOOK. Man, we are tough on one another, starting with ourselves. When Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself,” I don’t think He meant judmentally; but that is exactly how we treat our own souls, so it bleeds out to others. Folks who thrive in God’s grace give grace easily, but the self-critical person becomes others-critical. We “love” people the way we “love” ourselves, and if we are not good enough, then no one is. (Kindle Loc. 184)

Whoa. Great stuff right from the start! I’ve heard incredible things about this book, and I’m looking forward to diving deeper into it. We absolutely need to have more grace for ourselves and therefore have more grace for others. Check out For the Love today.

Things Not Seen – Jon Bloom Review

We all have times when we feel tired, worn out and at the end of our ropes. Even as Christians who put their trust and hope in Christ, it is easy to forget in the hard moments that God is near us and with us in those exact times. In his new book, Things Not SeenJon Bloom reminders readers of God’s presence to His people while walking through familiar Bible stories that we all know, but by putting a different twist on them.

Bloom walks through these popular Bible stories adding in his own narrative and dialogue between characters in these stories which helps the reader to feel the story better and relate to it more. Bloom writes to start out the book that, “Hebrews 11 reminds us that God is doing far more than we can see in our agonies–these things that are so painful at times that they seem unbearable. We plead for God to deliver us from them, and we wonder why he keeps letting them go on” (Kindle Loc. 294). Bloom uses classic Biblical stories that illustrate tough times, pain and suffering to show God’s people seeking God, and His response to them.

In devotional style, Things Not Seen can be read throughout a month (give or take a day) or in a few days leisurely. I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys narratives and stories, and wants to have an extra-biblical resource that can help us as readers possibly see the context, emotions and feelings of some of the heros of the faith in their times of need.