How’s Your Soul? – A Book Review

hows-your-soul“You can have millions in the bank, a Maserati in the driveway, and more Instagram followers than the pope, but unless your soul is healthy, you won’t be happy.” So Judah Smith writes within the first pages of “How’s Your Soul?” and then he spends the whole book talking through just what it means to take care of your soul.

As I dove into this book, I entered skeptically. I knew that Judah Smith had risen through the ranks to become one of the most popular hipster pastors of late. But was he for real? While I’ve read his book “Life Is…” the jury was still out in my mind as to where he stood. I’m fine with people writing encouraging and inspirational books, but I was wondering whether or not there was any depth to Smith. After all, there’s already one Joel Osteen in the world, I’d rather not see any more like him.

Judah Smith is the real deal. He’s funny. He’s quirky. He’s self-deprecating. He’s grounded. As much as he is all these things, he brings gospel truth, not compromising the message of the cross or the gospel and clearly laying out the essentials of the Christian faith. Smith writes with a winsomeness that allows for those who aren’t quite there yet in discovering who Jesus is. He’s not pushy or arrogant, but neither does he pull punches when it comes to the truth of the gospel. That won me over.

As Smith talks about the soul, he’s honest about the beginnings of our problems. He doesn’t shy away from the word “sin” and says, “…if we try to apply these…elements to our souls without dealing with the sin issue, it won’t work.” He’s also honest about the work that we do for ourselves and the work that God has done for us when he says, “Self-effort is noble and admirable, and it will carry you through some things; but a love birthed in self will never be strong enough for all things. We need a love that transcends human ability and experience.”

His words are reminiscent of Augustine’s words when he writes, “As our souls find themselves in God, our lives will find their purpose, place, and value in him as well.” We will not find rest in our souls until we find that rest in God alone. He speaks of living lives that are surrendered and surrounded. We surrender to God and surround ourselves with others with whom we can walk. Even if we don’t fully get it or fully believe, it’s important to belong as we enter the process.

I appreciated what Smith said about belonging before believing. Too often Christians can be guilty of asking people to clean themselves up and then coming to Jesus. Smith encourages us to seek ways to allow for people to belong first rather than getting all the behavior right. It is a journey, we belong, then we believe, and then we behave. To try to behave first without belonging and believing is not only counterintuitive, it’s contrary to what Jesus taught us.

“How’s Your Soul?” was a pleasant surprise to me. There is no deep theology here, but that’s not what Judah Smith is going for, he’s just reminding his reader of the importance of soul care for living. It’s a fast read with some worthwhile truth. Check it out!

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

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On the Brink of Thankfulness

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, a day when we can gather with family, friends, and those we love to be thankful. But does it really take a special day set aside for us to be thankful? No, I don’t think so.

There have been so many emotions expressed by friends and family over the past few weeks. People are scared and afraid. People are joyous and excited. People are hopeful and confident. People are worried and skeptical. Navigating the waters of all of these emotions has been an interesting ride, at best.

In the midst of all the garbage circling around, it’s hard to get a focus on what’s most important. Removing myself from the garbage (and sometimes the people) is an important part of coming to thankfulness. I’ve found myself stepping away from things, which is important, but it’s also important not to complete sequester myself and stick my head in the sand. It can be equally easy to so remove myself from everything that I have no idea what’s reality and what’s the world that I’ve constructed around me.

Thankfulness adds another element into the mix. It shakes us back into the reality of what we have. Sometimes we need to see what we have in comparison to others who aren’t as fortunate in order to help us appreciate the depth of what we have. Sometimes we need to remember what we have and have had prior to the rug being pulled out from under us. Thankfulness can add perspective to our point of view when we are severely lacking it.

When my parents died, I had to find ways to be thankful. It was too easy for me to wallow in the moment rather than thinking about the blessings of what had been. I had my parents for nearly forty years, some of my friends had lost their parents far earlier than that. I had a great relationship with my parents, some people lose their parents while the relationship is still strained. My parents loved me unconditionally and set an example of love for me to pass on to my children, some people’s parents have given them a tainted view of love.

It’s too easy to get caught up in the sadness, fear, anxiety, or whatever of the moment. That’s not to say that we don’t need to spend any time there, but there has to be a limit to how long we feed that beast. If we stay there too long, thankfulness will be a hard thing to find. That’s not to say that we don’t mourn or be honest or express our frustrations, it’s just to say that we can’t stay there and expect that we will move on.

Sometimes, things become so difficult that we feel like we come right to the edge, to the brink of thankfulness. Sometimes it’s a leap to get there and we can convince us of all the reasons why we shouldn’t make that leap.

If we’ve been there before and we’ve made the leap, we know what lies beyond the leap, it’s usually not as bad as we thought it would be. In fact, it usually sets us on a trajectory that takes us away from where we’ve been.

I want to choose thankfulness. I want to find myself looking around at what I have and what I have been given and being so full of gratitude to God for what he’s provided for me. Instead of shaking my fist and asking him why certain things are happening, I want to ask him how I should deserve some of the very things that I’ve been given. I am blessed. That’s not to say I haven’t had hurt, I’ve had my share of that, but my blessings are not removed simply because hurt is introduced, they aren’t negated because something bad comes my way.

I think I’m on the brink of thankfulness, and all I need to do is make a leap to finally get there. Here’s to leaping into thankfulness!

Give It A Chance

So many things have been swirling around my head over the last week. There have been times I’ve had to simply remove myself from social media and all media outlets because of the things that I was reading and thinking. I’ve seen friends on both sides of the political spectrum crying out. I’ve heard and seen all kinds of different emotions. Fear. Anger. Joy. Relief. And so many more.

There has been a little glimmer of hope as I’ve watched people process through the election and the state of our country. The refreshing part has been watching people working together, encouraging one another, listening to one another, crying with one another, hearing one another’s story. Difficulty and adversity has a way of bringing people together, causing them to see what’s most important. As I’ve watched some of my friends vent and process their emotions, I’ve noticed a change in some of them and those around them, including me. That has been encouraging to me.

While there’s been some encouragement, there have been a lot of troubling things to me as well. The most troubling thing to me has been that people have been wishing that the president elect would fail. Before the inauguration, before he actually takes office, they’re hoping he fails.

Wow!

In the midst of all of this, I’ve thought, “These are my friends?!” Yes, it’s a question and a statement. I’ve sat in stunned disbelief that there is no grace in that wish, the wish for someone to fail. Regardless of how much I disagree with someone, no matter how much I might dislike someone, how gracious is it to wish for their demise and failure?

My biggest thought with some of these friends has been, “I feel bad for their children.” Is this the same kind of attitude they take with their children? Are they wishing for their failures? Or is it just the people with whom they don’t agree, and if it is just those people, what kind of level of maturity are we showing when we wish for the failure of anyone who “wins” when we fail to get our way?

But this is what we’ve come to, a place where we draw lines in the sand, where there is a definite “winner” and a definite “loser” in the struggle. Why can’t we find a middle ground? Why can’t we find and extend grace?

Yes, there is hurt. Yes, there have been horrible things done and said. I understand that, but wishing for the failure of the leader of your country?

After September 11th, living just outside New York City, I watched the City respond. I watched people come together. There was a unity across ideologies, across party lines, across ethnic lines. In those days after the terrorist attacks, we weren’t blacks, white, Asians, gays, straights, Republicans, Democrats, or whatever, we were Americans. There was a coming together that people somehow knew was more important.

I’m not comparing our election to the tragedy and disaster of September 11th, but the response could be similar. Like I said, I have been so proud of so many friends on both sides of the political spectrum who have understood the importance of listening. I’ve done my best to listen and observe, to hear the things that I’ve been missing all along. I’ve tried to put aside my own discomforts and listen to what’s making others uncomfortable. It’s hard, I want to talk far more than I want to listen, but that’s growth.

I’m not sure what the next four years will hold. I’m skeptical. Heck, I was born in Brooklyn and raised in New England, skepticism is part of my DNA. But I also have an otherworldly hope, a hope that isn’t in a president, a government, or a country, but in a King and a Kingdom.

I know that I can’t convince anyone of anything, so this post may be simply a release of hot air to those who disagree with me. But I do think that we all need to ask ourselves some things. Have we ever said something stupid, something that we’ve regretted? Have we ever had viewpoints that changed, morphed, and evolved over time? Have we ever been given a second chance? Have we ever given a second chance to others? If we had failed miserably and acted unkindly in the past, wouldn’t we want someone to give us a chance to show that we could act differently.

No, my confidence in the president elect is not at 100%, but I know that I need to give him a chance. That’s what I would want someone to do for me. Like I read somewhere in the last few days, wishing him to fail is almost like wishing a heart attack on the pilot of the plane in which you are flying. I’ve found myself praying more since last Tuesday, and I will continue to do so. Among my prayers is the prayer that we might find a way forward….together, and that when given a chance, maybe, just maybe, we might find ourselves pleasantly surprised that failure was not on the horizon.

A Mile Wide – A Book Review

a-mile-wideBeing a disciple of Christ is more than simply wearing a label and living in a subculture in the world. True disciples of Christ are not simply looking for a surficial relationship that seems a mile wide but which fails to go deep. True disciples are seeking to be as deep as they can be and with that depth, they will automatically go wider.

Brandon Hatmaker’s latest book “A Mile Wide” is an invitation for those who truly want to seek after and follow Christ to trade in shallow religion for a deeper faith. He addresses this in two parts within the book. He spends the first have focusing on what the Gospel does to us, how it changes us and makes us different. The second half of the book focuses on that the Gospel does once it’s in us. It doesn’t just implant itself there, deep inside, to be hidden and unkempt, but instead it works its way out of us, working through us.

Brandon Hatmaker is very relatable through his writing. I feel like every pastor, at some point in his/her life, falls into the category of rebel. Brandon is there now and in that way, I can relate. He’s not rebellious simply to be rebellious, but to shake up the norms and the system and to wake us up out of complacent slumber. If we are truly to be impacted and transformed by the gospel and by Jesus, than we need to be willing to subject ourselves to the discomfort and disruption that causes.

Hatmaker writes, “We limit the gospel by how we define it. We try to control it by making it too much about us, our form, and our function. Thus, what we’re hoping to embody lacks perspective and empathy, the very things that make the gospel good news to others.” A call to the gospel is a call to put aside our creature comforts and pursue something more disruptive than we might even be ready to face. But if we are truly seeking depth, it’s only through our own transformation that we can achieve that depth.

In the second half of the book, Hatmaker calls us to see things with a different perspective. He tells us that trading shallow religion for a deeper faith will require us to view things differently. God’s kingdom. Mission. Justice. All of these things look different when viewed through a gospel lens and when we are seeking depth rather than breadth.

The reader is challenged to stay connected to the community around them rather than getting so caught up in “church” things that they effectively pull themselves out of the very places where they can be used. “Sometimes we add a church group to our schedules and end up pulling ourselves out of our most natural mission field. Perhaps instead we just need to figure out how to invest more deeply in an existing group of friends that aligns more naturally with our current schedule.”

He states that our lives can be divided into three categories: communion, community, and commission. When we find ourselves within the activities of the church, we are deeply engaged in communion but it’s the common language of community and commission that can be the bridge between believers and nonbelievers.

Hatmaker had me until the end of the book. His last chapter is called “A Fresh Perspective.” While I think it’s essential and important for believers to keep a fresh perspective, our perspective still needs to remain grounded in the gospel. It can’t be grounded in our culture, in our feelings, or even in our relationships. While those things are all important in our mission, they cannot drive the process of our shifting perspective. I fear that without the gospel grounding to inform and shape our perspective, we will find ourselves on some very slippery slopes, trading truth for feelings, emotions, and the unstable things of our culture.

“A Mile Wide” was a good book. I appreciate Hatmaker’s perspective. His challenge to trade shallow religion for deep faith will be met if the reader enters into the journey with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to let transformation take place in them first.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Who’s In Control Anyway?

Clinton, Trump pick up big winsLast night, as I sat in my chair listening to the news on the television in the other room, I opened my Bible to 1 Kings. The kingship of Israel was a tumultuous position. David was a man after God’s own heart despite his flaws. Solomon was the wisest man to live despite his affinity for foreign women. Rehoboam exploited his people and threatened to be more harsh than his father had been.

And on and on the story goes. While there were some bright spots here and there for Israel, there were far more duds.

And you know what? God was still in control. Just because the kings weren’t obedient didn’t change the fact that God was still there.

When he was writing to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul told them, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases it by saying, “All governments are under God.”

The thing is, I don’t think that the Church has been doing a really good job in the past days of really believing this and living as if it was true. I think we’ve been driven by fear. I think we’ve believed that the president of a democracy has the power to somehow seize control of that democracy and make it a dictatorship.

It’s hard to think about evil rulers without considering King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. When the Hebrew young men who were in exile refused to worship the image of gold that the king had set up, Nebuchadnezzar was furious and threatened to cast them in the fiery furnace.

I love the way that the young men responded to the king. They said, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

I think that their response is such a foreign one to the ears of so many of us who consider ourselves western evangelicals. God is for us, right? Who could possibly be against us? The United States is a Christian nation, right? God has shed his grace on us, right?

Jesus spoke often about how those of us who follow him would experience persecution. As many times as I’ve read the Bible, I’ve still failed to find the section that talks about how following Jesus sets me up for health, wealth, power, and comfortable living. Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong place, but I don’t think so.

I’ve not been thrilled coming into yesterday’s election. To be honest, I didn’t vote for either of the party nominations. In good conscience, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. But I’ve got friends who voted for both candidates, and I still consider them my friends today. I’m not judging them, I’m not angry with them, I still love them.

Yesterday was an election, and going into that election, I don’t think that the Church has done a very good job of exhibiting our confidence in a sovereign God. I think some of us have been led by fear. I think some of us have been led by anger. I think some of us have let our imaginations get the best of us after having read too many apocalypse novels.

I truly believe that this is just the beginning of a season of opportunity for all of those who believe in the sovereignty of God, all of those who consider ourselves to be faithful followers of Christ. People will be looking at us to see how we respond, not so much when we agree with the powers and authorities over us, but more when we don’t agree. We’ve not always done a good job in the last eight years of modeling a Christ-like attitude in following our president, will we continue in that vein for the next four years?

If I could have gone back and lived yesterday again, I think I might have made a pin or sticker for myself that said, “I’m with Paul” because Paul’s words still ring true today, “…for there is no authority except that which God established.” They were true back then and they still hold true today.

So, I’m going to do my best to let this be an opportunity for me to shine Christ in the midst of it all. I want my children to see that when I say that I believe in the sovereignty of God, that I mean it. I want my children to see that when their dad gets up and preaches about trusting in God, that he means it. I want my children to see that authority is still authority, regardless of whether I agree with that authority. While I won’t go against anything that God speaks against, I see this upcoming season ahead as a crucial time for the Church to be an example of what it really means to believe in the sovereignty of God.

#ImwithPaul

Saving the Saved – A Book Review

saving-the-savedOn the second to last page of his book “Saving the Saved,” Bryan Loritts writes, “”You don’t ever have to perform for me to get me to love and accept you.” End of story. Of course, God wants us to confess and trust him to wash and change us; these are not things we do to gain his love, but these are things we do in response to his amazing, performance-free love for us.” With this quote, he has summed up the premise of his book: we are not saved by what we do but what has been done for us.

Over and over again within the pages of this book, Loritts reminds his reader of the performance-free and unshakeable love of our savior, Jesus Christ. He reminds us that all of our white-knuckle efforts will not get us any closer to earning our salvation. In fact, many of the strong words that Jesus used during his time on earth were reserved for those who thought that they had a handle on that white-knuckle mentality, who thought that they had it all together.

Loritts tells his reader that, “God didn’t wait for me to get cleaned up before he loved me. Instead, he saw me as is, loved me as is, and saved me as is. Performance-free, unshakeable love.” Too often, evangelical Christianity can make it seem that we are to clean ourselves up in order to be worthy of coming to Christ. But the message of the gospel is a come-as-you-are message, not one that warrants a meritocracy where we earn everything that we get, but one that is based on the grace that is given to us through and from Jesus Christ.

Bryan Loritts breaks his book into three parts: What Goodness Isn’t, Authentic Goodness, and Living In and Reflecting God’s Performance-Free Love. He breaks it down for his reader to talk about what the gospel isn’t, what it is, and how we go about living into it. While he promotes the performance-free life, he is quick to point out that salvation does not mean sitting back and doing nothing. What we do, we do not to gain the love of God but in response to the love of God. As the Apostle John so eloquently put it, we love him because he first loved us.

Our lives are a response to what we have received, but we continue to struggle with the outward manifestation of that. As Loritts writes, “External righteousness is, at best, plated gold or a wood veneer, where the outside looks good but will never pass the authenticity test. This was the righteousness of the Pharisees. And maybe it’s yours as well.” If our righteousness is based on what we do, it’s a sham, a fake, but if we take on the righteousness that is ours through Christ, than we have come to the place of understanding.

This book was a refreshing read. Loritts has a way of challenging his reader all the while making them laugh as he shares his insights. There are so many tweetable quotes within “Saving the Saved” that I couldn’t help myself but tweeting them out as I read. It was a fast read that never felt laborious or condemning, but it challenged in a way that was a helpful reminder of just why I strive to perform in my life.

If you have found yourself struggling with this white-knuckle, Pharisaical life that commands you to perform in order to get in the good graces of your Heavenly Father, “Saving the Saved” is a book for you. If you need a reminder that God’s performance-free, unshakeable love is available for you, then go and pick up a copy of this book. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What Is Reformed Theology? – A Book Review

what-is-reformed-theologyR.C. Sproul has become such a staple in the world of reformed theology that it’s hard to even think about the modern world of reformed theology without uttering his name. The seminary professor, pastor, and founder of Ligonier Ministries has written more than ninety books and can be heard regularly on the radio program Renewing Your Mind.

“What Is Reformed Theology?” is a primer on reformed theology. Whether you are new to reformed theology and want to have your questions answered or you are a veteran who simply wants to be sharpened and give yourself a refresher, this book is a valuable resource. While there are times that Sproul’s language and explanations may lose the casual reader, he doesn’t spend an awful lot of time lost in academic language. The subtitle of the book is “Understanding the Basics” and that’s what Sproul seeks to do, show the reader the basics of reformed theology.

The book is divided into two parts: The Foundations of Reformed Theology and Five Points of Reformed Theology. Both parts of the book are also divided into five parts. The first part points to the essentials and foundation of reformed theology, as Sproul describes them, the foundation stones on which reformed theology was built.

Sproul leads the reader through chapters on the God-centered aspect of reformed theology, on the centrality of Scripture, on the centrality of faith and justification to our salvation, to the supremacy of Jesus Christ as prophet, priest, and king, and the three covenants that are also central to reformed theology (giving it its nickname of covenant theology).

The second half walks through the five points of Calvinism. Sproul is quick to point out that these five points were not developed by Calvin himself but by his followers in response to the followers of Arminius. While Sproul shares the acronym TULIP for these five points, he also adds language which he finds more helpful, accurate, and reliable, again pointing out that the TULIP acronym was created reactively.

This second half of the book certainly labors along at times. It feels a little more exhaustive than the first. At times seeming as if Sproul is reiterating his point to a fault rather than simply moving on. Having met peers and colleagues who consider themselves three or four point Calvinists, I could see how this section of the book could give the reader more difficulties. But Sproul’s thorough explanations make for a good apologetic of the validity of reformed theology.

Overall, this is a very helpful book. Sproul has a way of explaining things in a more pedestrian way rather than being overly academic. This will be a helpful resource on my shelf when I need my own refresher on some of the specific explanations of reformed theology and the reformed tradition. While I am not sure that this will convince any skeptics to the validity of reformed theology, Sproul’s explanations will certainly help to reinforce those who have already embraced reformed theology as a way of seeing God and the world he created.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)