Core Christianity – A Book Review

core christianityWords matter. So does what you believe. When you can express in words what you believe, you’re doing very well. Beliefs that help you connect your story to the bigger story are important as well. Michael Horton believes that this is essential and the key element to living our lives. He writes, “The plot with Christ as the central character ties it all together. Every story in the Bible points not to us and how we can have our best life now, but first to Christ and how everything God orchestrates leads to redemption in him.”

 

Horton’s “Core Christianity” is a primer of sorts on theology and the basics of the Christian faith. He brings the reader through some key and essential beliefs and teachings in Christianity. He covers Jesus, who he is and how he fits into the bigger God picture of the Trinity. He talks of God’s goodness and greatness and the problem with evil. He addresses God’s Word, both the written word and the incarnation, the Son in flesh and blood. Horton also writes of sin, death, and everything after.

 

Horton addresses these topics with a conversational approach that adequately gets his point across without getting bogged down in hefty language. When there are topics or terms that he feels may need a more focused approach, he sets them off to the side in the column to specifically address certain terms and topics. It’s a helpful approach that leaves the reader feeling more informed and better able to continue on through the book.

 

The lens through which Horton is addressing these topics is important to understand for the reader. Horton has a Reformed and covenantal approach towards the theological topics which he addresses. That’s not to say that he does it poorly, he does not, but those who may approach these theological topics from a different camp would be best served understanding this at the outset.

 

Ultimately, Horton addresses these topics with the reader in order that the reader can best approach their life. In fact, Horton writes, “What I mean is that, ironically, it is only when we know how to die properly that we finally have some inkling about how to truly live here and now.” In order for us to truly live, we need to have a better understanding of how to die. It’s a topic which may seem a bit out of place amidst the subject matter until one realizes that Horton’s goal is to connect the reader to a story that exists outside of themselves.

 

As Horton wraps up the material in the book, he address the topic of God’s will in our lives. It seems that Christians have become very good at obsessing on this subject. Horton speaks of the “calling” which is a common term among Christians. Many may seek to find God’s explicit will for their lives, wanting the details of just what it is that they are called to do with their lives. Horton writes, “Don’t worry about the other callings – especially those that may lie in the future. Just be who God has called you to be right where you are, with the people he has called you to serve.” Glory to God becomes the primary calling that Horton emphasizes.

 

I’ve read other books my Michael Horton and have appreciated them. This book does not share anything earth shattering or new, but Horton does condense some hefty material into one hundred and seventy pages. This isn’t a book which needs an advanced degree or seminary degree to appreciate and understand. Horton has a way of approaching these topics with sensitivity, class, and intelligence without losing the reader along the way. As I read the book, I thought about people who I could possibly share this with to give some explanation of these topics.

 

As I said, the information that Horton shares in this book is not new, but he shares it in such a way that it can easily be understood by the average person seeking to dig deeper in their understanding of Christianity. Loftier and thicker works may exist which cover these same topics, but Horton’s book is a simple and easy way to give someone an overview. It may serve as an appetizer for some and a main course for others, either way, Horton does his job well and “Core Christianity” is a worthwhile resource for anyone who wants simple and easily explained methods of talking about theology.

 

(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.)

Just A Thought

I’ve been delving into a new world lately, finding pieces that I write needing to rely more on research and experience rather than simply thoughts and feelings. Unfortunately, my time does not always afford me to get done the things that I want to get done in an effort to get done the things that I need to get done. Therefore, I’ve gone on a hiatus of sorts here, not offering anything since I haven’t been able to offer what I want.

For that, I apologize. I’m working on the constant balance between life and work and continually struggle with it.

But for this Tuesday morning (the first day of school for my older children), my mind is buzzing with all kinds of thoughts, both relating to school and life, but also having to do with many conversations (both digital and face to face) that I have been having lately.

There will be fuller posts, but for now, in the absence of something fuller, I offer some simple thoughts.

I have had conversations of late on art and faith. It’s a topic for which I get too passionate. My criticism rises to new levels and I am misunderstood more often than not.

Based on my conversations, I am realizing that we feel very personally when we talk of what matters to us. Now, most readers are saying, “Duh! Tell me something I don’t know” to response to that. But we feel deeply to the point that criticism heaped at the things for which we are passionate is taken personally. In fact, it’s almost as if the criticism was lobbed at us rather than an inanimate and lifeless piece of art.

I am learning to wade more gingerly into engagements of this nature as we all feel so deeply and personally. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am grateful for those who have offered insights and direction in this area.

I am also realizing just how much I have to do more research and study in the area of faith and art. Once upon a time, sacred music was considered excellent. It may have been the “Contemporary Christian” music of the time, but it was influencing culture and having a deep impact on the world. Many of the sacred pieces of music written once upon a time remain timeless and excellent today.

C.S. Lewis had much to say about faith and art, as did Madeline L’engle, who I am currently reading. I expect that I will have much to say after spending some time with the two of them.

Until then, I offer this thought. What is art that is Christian? Is it art that specifically presents a message to unbelieving souls in order that they might know the Christ who has transformed our lives? If so, that greatly limits the possibilities.

One of the greatest and most powerful books that I have read is John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” I believe that it was Rich Mullins who pointed me towards the book. Regardless of the recommendation, I picked up the book and read it and had the desire to put it down on more than one occasion.

The book was crude and profane and yet beautiful. Within its pages was a message of calling, of gifting, of purpose. Underneath the crudity and profanity, there was a message of beauty that spoke loudly. The problem was that that message was tainted and covered over, unable to be seen by some who were still hung up on the fact that there was crudity and profanity. It’s not a book that I would recommend to everyone. In fact, there are probably some who would distance themselves from me just for the mere fact that I’ve read the book.

Years later, I have yet to open up the pages of the book again, but I know that I need to do it. I know that I need to be reminded of the message that it offers within its pages. I know that there is something within those pages that speaks to me out of the crudity and profanity that surround it.

In many ways, that book is a metaphor for so many of us and how God sees us. Beneath the crudity and profanity, there is beauty, there is hope, there is substance. Many will simply take a look at the crudity and profanity and walk away. In so doing, they will walk away from potential, from transformation, from all that could be. In failing to see past our faults and imperfections, we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

While there are limits here and the analogy can be taken to an extreme, I’m not pushing to that end. It’s not a call for those who follow Christ to embrace all things crude and profane. It’s simply an effort to ask some soul-searching questions about the things that we disregard before we’ve allowed God to speak through them.

At my worst, I am crude and profane, yet many have given me the opportunity to speak, and I am grateful for that. More importantly, God has seen through my crudity and profanity to see who he created me to be, and the image in which he created me. Thankfully, he did not abandon me, he did not walk away, he chose to engage and in that engagement is transformation and life change for me.

How grateful I am in that God sees through my imperfections. May I look with those same eyes on the world around me.

Life Is _____ – A Book Review

Life IsAugustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. I think Judah Smith would agree with his statement. The tagline for his latest book, “Life Is ______” is, “God’s illogical love will change your existence.” We will not find satisfaction and completeness until we find that in God. We may search in all kinds of places, things, and people, but they will always fall short of what God offers us.

Judah Smith explains that the premise of his book is “that Jesus shows us how to live life to the fullest.” He then proceeds to explain this throughout his book as he breaks it into four sections which complete the “Life Is ______” statement: life is to be loved and to love, life is to trust God in every moment, life is to be at peace with God and yourself, and life is to enjoy God.

With self-deprecating humor, fascinating and personal stories, and simple expositions of Bible passages, Smith explains the Gospel to his reader. He continually points to the things in this world which may claim to offer us satisfaction but explains how these things will always come up short in comparison to what God offers us. He presents the Gospel message, clearly stating that we don’t earn our salvation, it is freely given to us through Jesus Christ. We will always fall short when we try to earn righteousness, which is why we need Jesus.

Life change doesn’t happen through rules and regulations, they don’t create inner motivation. Only Jesus and a relationship with him can accomplish that.

This book isn’t written for someone who wants to dive into something theologically deep. Smith presents things in a simple and easily understood way for those who may be just setting out on a faith journey or who haven’t even begun the journey yet. His clear communication of some essential principles of Christianity are helpful for anyone who always feels as if they are being spoken down to by pastors and teachers of the Bible.

“Life Is _____” was a helpful reminder of our need for a savior and our inability to produce salvation on our own. I would highly recommend it for someone who has not yet met Jesus yet who is experiencing all of the storms that life inevitably throws at them. If you don’t know someone who can benefit from this book, then you’re hanging out with the wrong people!

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

Ferguson, Race Relations, and Advent

For Christ followers, Advent is all about expectation and waiting. From the time of the last Old Testament prophet until the birth of Jesus, there was a period of 400 years. 400 years of silence. 400 years of waiting, watching, and wondering. Waiting for a sign. Watching for a savior. Wondering if God was even there anymore.

Now, it’s been more than 2000 years since Jesus walked this earth. While we celebrate Christ’s first Advent, we anticipate his return as well during this time. We are reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 8 that all of creation is groaning as in childbirth, waiting for redemption and restoration. The problem with the 2000 year lapse is that we kind of fall into the “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. We stop anticipating Christ’s return. We stop thinking about the fact that things are still in need of restoration. We stop thinking about everything that is still broken and in need of fixing.

We stop remembering until something bad happens to remind us. We stop remembering until we are face to face with some of the brokenness that is prevalent in our world. When we are forced to face the bad and the broken, we have no choice but to begin to ask ourselves the question, “where is God?”

Recently, a friend shared a sermon that was preached at her home church. One of her pastors had just returned from a trip to Ferguson, Missouri. As she preached during Advent, she couldn’t help but relate the unsettled state of things there and how it related to the anticipation of Advent.

Regardless of what your particular political viewpoint or what your opinion is of the verdict that was handed down in Ferguson, it would be hard to deny that there is something wrong and in need of being fixed. There is an anticipation there, and according to this pastor, it’s palpable, you can almost feel it. If you can’t feel it, you can at least see it in the faces of those who are protesting, whether peacefully or otherwise.

Those who are protesting peacefully are seeking a redemption and restoration of sorts. They want peace. They want safety. They want some ounce of normality in their lives, especially if they are non-white and living in places like Ferguson. They wait for it, they groan for it, they crane their necks around every corner to see if they might get a glimpse of it. But when they don’t see it, they don’t stop looking for it. They keep pushing forward, anticipating, coming together, trying hard to find a pathway to restoration.

During this Advent season, I am reminded of how far we have come, but even more how far we have yet to go. While we might be far from the 1950’s and 1960’s when racial tension was more palpable across the country than it is today, there are still those places where it feels just as palpable. There are still issues that are unresolved, issues that continue to rear their ugly heads, issues that refuse to go away because they involve people who live and breathe and who care.

If ever there was a time for the Church to find ways to celebrate Advent and seek restoration, it’s now. What can we do to learn more about what our brothers and sisters are experiencing every day? What can we do to enter into dialogue with people, crossing political and racial lines for the sake of reconciliation?

I continue to listen to my African American friends who point me to resources to try to help me understand the issues that they face a little bit more every day. I am grateful for them, grateful that God brought them into my life. I want to do my best to keep this issue in front of me, but that’s hard to do. I admit that I am not in the thick of it and that’s it easy to forget it when you don’t see it every day.

For now, I can let Advent and the anticipation and expectation that I experience during this time be used as a reminder that there are issues for which we still wait, watch, and wonder. I can remember that, although I might not feel it as strongly, there are some who are longing for restoration in their lives, they are waiting for a savior to come, they are waiting and groaning, and hoping that around the corner, there will be something better waiting. I don’t want them to wait alone.

 

Another Hurdle

hurdleOne thing about grief that some people tend to overlook is facing similar circumstances to your own loss afterwards. As a pastor, that happens much sooner than it would for the average person. Pastors are called to bedsides and hospitals frequently as people near the end of their lives. Sometimes, the similarities between the experiences of these people and the experiences of your lost loved ones can be so eerily similar that the pain gets dragged up and out again, making the loss and grief feel fresh all over.

This morning, a gentleman from my church passed away. Yesterday, I stood at his bedside, prayed over him and read Scripture to him. It was a very difficult moment for me.

I had been mentally preparing myself for the visit. The Holy Spirit had laid on my heart the need to go see this man and his wife. I knew that his time on earth was short and I knew that I had to get over there.

But I also knew what I was walking into. I knew that the memories of what I experienced 1 ½ and 3 ½ years ago with my parents would come flooding in. I knew that I would be transported back to another hospital bed. I knew that I would not only be seeing this man coming to the end of his life, but I would be reliving my mom and dad’s last moments as well.

I was glad for the opportunity to mentally and spiritually prepare myself for this. Had I walked in thinking that everything would be as usual, I would have been much more impacted than I already was.

Later on in the day yesterday, I would have a conversation with someone and tell them that our own experiences helped give us sensitivity and insight into people whose experiences were similar. God can take the things that we experience and use those to help others as they encounter their own difficulties. That’s what happened for me. While I felt some moments of reliving the past, I realized that my presence there was more effective because of what I had gone through myself.

I don’t think that I can say that every subsequent experience gets easier. It’s never easy to open up wounds that have been trying desperately to heal. But there’s something different here, there is something healing about seeing a redemptive purpose in your own suffering and difficulty. Knowing that your own pain can help others when they find themselves in similar pain helps to feel that it all wasn’t in vain.

The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” Earlier on in the letter, the writer writes, “For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Jesus experienced what we experienced so that he could help those whose experiences would sometimes parallel his own.  He earned our trust, respect, and love by being God who took on flesh and suffered worse things than most of us will ever have to experience.  We are not alone.

It’s always nice to know that you are not alone, especially in difficult circumstances. I’m on the other side of a hurdle today, having looked in the face of death and survived. My heart is heavy and it hurts, but knowing that God has higher purposes helps the sting to be a little less painful.

Forgive Us Our Sins – Director’s Cut

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I love this post for several reasons. Honestly I didn’t know this prayer by heart until just a few years ago, not to mention I hardly considered its significance or beauty. I love the way Jon broke down this prayer, especially the parts about sin and forgiveness. I admire Jon’s raw honesty when it comes to his own struggle to forgive. As he says so eloquently, “Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.” I was blessed to study this prayer in my small group. Between studying the prayer and Jon’s blog post I look at the Lord’s Prayer in a whole different light. I look at it as God intended, as a daily reminder of how I strive to live my life, all for His glory.]

Our Father….

Who are in Heaven….

Hallowed be Thy name…..

Thy Kingdom come…..

Thy will be done…..

On earth as it is in Heaven…..

Give us this day our daily bread….

And forgive us our sins…..

As we forgive those who sin against us……

Those who sin……against……us……

When’s the last time that you prayed that prayer? When’s the last time that you actually thought about it? I mean, really thought about it….

Forgiveness. It’s a strange thing. We like to be forgiven when we do something wrong. What happens when someone does something wrong to us? How willing are we to forgive them?

Some sins are more easily forgiven than others. We can forgive a lie, depending on how big it is. We can forgive a false word, as long as it’s not said against us. We can forgive a little anger, as long as we weren’t embarrassed by it. But what happens when the sin that we’re called to forgive is more significant. What if someone steals from us? Breaks into our house? Hits our car? What happens if someone takes the life of someone we love? How do we forgive them?

I’ve had my fair share of harboring resentment and bitterness. I’ve struggled to forgive people who hurt me, and most of those hurts were insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Eventually, I came to the point where I realized that anger and withholding forgiveness wasn’t doing harm to anyone else other than me. It’s funny how that works.

But, like I said, the hurts that were caused were fairly insignificant. The only one who ever took someone from me was cancer and heart disease, and it’s kind of hard to be so angry at diseases. They’re just not people. I don’t know what I would do if I lost someone because of another person. I don’t know how I would forgive if someone else took someone that I loved away from me…..

While he was hanging on the cross being ridiculed, laughed at, mocked, and spit on, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who had put him there. He actually wanted them to be forgiven…..while he was in the thick of what they had caused. No anger. No contempt. No withholding of forgiveness.

As we forgive those who sin against us……

It’s not a good idea to pray things that you don’t mean. I’ve really got to stop and think about this one, am I really willing to forgive? I mean REALLY willing to forgive?

My forgiveness has been tested and left wanting. It’s been tested, but not as much as other’s forgiveness has. I’ve still got a long way to go to really come to that point where that prayer will roll off of my tongue easily without a stutter or a struggle. Thank God that I’m forgiven and a work in progress, now if I could just come to that place where forgiveness was as easily given as it is accepted.

Better Together [Director’s Cut]

I’ve asked 2 good friends and loyal readers to share their favorite blog posts.  Over the next few months, I will be sharing their thoughts and insights that they have shared with me regarding some of these posts.  I hope that what they share will add some new insights to some of my previous posts.

[Lesley writes: I reread this post several times, because…I felt as if Jon was writing it about and for just me! Honestly before I allowed myself to accept God and faith into my life I felt very much alone, and secluded myself from others. At a young age my parents divorced. My mom returned to the work force and went to school in the evenings. She was doing the best she could but the women she hired to care for me were not particularly loving or kind. From ages five to seven we had a woman watch me that used to beat me consistently with belts or shoes. Thus my protective shell and tendency towards distrust of almost everyone. Honestly I believe it wasn’t until I came to Christ that I felt worthy as a human being for any kind of emotional connection and deep love. This blog post confirms that we, as human beings, need each other. We can’t do this thing called life alone. God’s most treasured gifts to us are through our relationships with others.]

We weren’t made to be alone. No, I’m not saying that to promote the end of singleness. I’m saying it because we are relational creatures, made in the image of God to be with one another. The moment that we begin to sequester ourselves from others is the minute that we not only begin to set ourselves up for a fall, but also when we live out of sequence with the intention of the One who created us.

You can learn an awful lot by watching your kids. My 2 oldest kids are only 23 months apart from each other. While we have had our fair share of challenging days, we’ve also begun to see the benefits of the natural relationship that forms over time with the two of them.

While my wife was putting our youngest to bed on an evening when I had a meeting, she left the 2 older children downstairs to occupy themselves quietly. After successfully getting the youngest one to sleep, my wife returned downstairs to find that the oldest had chosen a movie, loaded it into the DVD player, set everything up, and even brought his brother a snack for the movie-watching experience. What a pleasant surprise takes place when your kids are actually learning some of the things that you have been trying to teach them all along.

When I made an anniversary video for my wife for our 10th anniversary, I used Jack Johnson’s song “Better Together” as one of the background songs. Over the course of 10 years, my wife and I were constantly reminded that we do things better together. We get more done cooperatively and we have fun in the process, especially if it’s a task that we’re not necessarily crazy about doing on our own.

We weren’t made to be alone. The wisest man in the world understood this when he wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

We can find countless stories within the Bible of what happens to people when they spend too much time alone (the story of David and Bathsheba comes to mind). I’m not recommending that all of the introverts of the world rebel against their natural tendencies to be reserved and quiet, but I am recommending that we come to the realization that we need each other. We need support. We need encouragement. We need prayer. We need loving arms. We need sturdy shoulders. We need each other.

We are a gift to each other, given by God not to selfishly consume, but to lovingly and graciously give. That’s what Jesus did. I can’t imagine the number of times that he would probably have liked to tell the disciples to just leave him alone so that he could have a few moments of peace, but instead, he loved them and gave himself to them. What am I doing to give of myself to others? My children? My wife? My friends? The people who need me most? What am I doing to live out the truth that we are better together?

50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven – A Book Review

50 Things You Need to Know About HeavenAmong the questions that come up for those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ, it seems that questions about Heaven seem to top the list. I have always considered those questions in my own life, ever since I was a young boy. With the growing popularity of books like “90 Minutes in Heaven” and “Heaven Is For Real,” more questions have been raised among the Christian community as to the details about Heaven. Into this environment, Dr. John Hart offers his book titled, “50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven.”

First of all, Hart is writing this book for people who consider themselves followers of Christ. This is not a book to give people who are considering whether or not Jesus or heaven is real. Hart does not try to convince people of this but considers that they are already there if they have picked up this book to read it. That being said, Hart relies heavily on the Bible to support the answers to the 50 questions that he offers as the headings of the 50 chapters within this book.

Hart does a good job sticking with what has explicitly been written in Scripture and offers little speculation. While there may be some speculation there, Hart does his best to base even those speculations upon what’s been written within the Bible rather than offering his own opinions.

Among the questions that Hart addresses are where is Heaven? Who will go to Heaven? Will there be physical bodies in Heaven? Will we know each other in Heaven? Is Jesus in Heaven right now? These questions along with many others are the ones that Hart chooses to address, and he does a good job of dealing with them.

Hart dispels many of the traditional views of Heaven that have been wrongly embraced by the church such as the idea that we will dwell on clouds, float around in robes of white, and strum on harps all day long. Hart even dispels the notion that Heaven is actually otherworldly, enforcing beliefs that have also been espoused by the likes of N.T. Wright that Heaven will actually come down to earth in the form of the New Jerusalem.

One thing that I appreciate about Hart’s book is that he does not try to resolve the tensions of Scripture where Scripture does not specifically speak. While there are many things written in the Bible about Heaven, there are also many things left unsaid and Hart does not try to fill in the blank with anything other than what has been offered within the pages of Scripture.

Another resource that Hart offers is a section called “For Further Study” at the end of each chapter. Hart has listed out various Scripture passages that the reader can go to for further research and study. Instead of simply giving and answer and imploring the reader to simply assent to what he has written, Hart encourages the reader to find out for himself/herself based upon the passages that Hart has found helpful.

If you are looking for a good and simple resource that can help in pointing you in the direction of some answers about Heaven based upon what’s written in the Bible, I would highly recommend Hart’s book. It’s not exhaustive and doesn’t delve into heady theological language, but it’s a worthwhile resource for those who want to gently wade into a topic that has been both controversial and intriguing, especially in recent years.

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

Multiply

multiplyThere has been a resurgence within the Christian subculture and the church to focus on discipleship. While it’s probably always been there as a goal, it has never been emphasized and enforced as much as it has now, at least not in my lifetime. Jesus’ call to the disciples, and subsequently to us, was to make disciples. It was a command and a commission not a gentle nudge or option. It doesn’t matter whether or not we feel we have the gift of evangelism or teaching, discipleship is at the core of who we are as followers of Christ, we teach others what Christ commanded and to obey all that he commanded.

But how do you start? It seems like such a daunting task. During my time in the church, I’ve seen people start in various places. Recently, the Gospel of John has been a focus to get started. Some people start at the beginning of the Bible and think that going from the beginning to the ending will be sufficient but they usually get burned out or frustrated by the time they hit Leviticus, the third book of the Bible……and there’s still 63 books to go.

So, the starting point? I’ve been looking for a good resource for a while. What can you give people to help them begin the journey of discipleship? Well, part of the problem is that we try to hand out resources without attaching a relationship to them. We can’t simply hand people a book and say, “Here, read this and get back to me when you’re done.” My parents took the same approach with sex, but that’s the story for another time. Discipleship for the first twelve that Jesus called happened through a relationship, not through reading a book, so if you simply want a book to hand to someone with no strings attached, you probably should keep looking.

On the other hand, if you are willing to walk along on the journey with someone, Francis Chan has a good resource for you. It’s called “Multiply.”

Chan does a good job of breaking up the topics that he chooses to cover. He breaks the material into 5 sections: Living as a Disciple Maker, Living as the Church, How to Study the Bible, Understanding the Old Testament, and Understanding the New Testament. Each section is further broken up into chapters and at the end of each chapter, Chan and his friend, David Platt, have prepared brief videos that accompany the material.

This book isn’t short nor is it completely exhaustive. There is plenty of other material to help in getting people started in their journey as disciples of Christ, but it’s a really good start. The true test of the material is when it’s practically used to walk others through it, something I haven’t yet done. I look forward to being able to do that.

If you are just starting out in your journey with Christ or have been looking for a resource to use with people who are just starting out, I would highly recommend this. Like I said, it’s not perfect, but it’s a great place to start.

Perfect Love and Fear

We’ve been going through a series in my church on 1st John. As John writes the letter that is 1st John, he speaks over and over again of the love of God and how that love needs to play out in all of us. We love because we have been loved by God. We love and it’s a testimony to who we are in God. We are different and changed by the love of God that he has shown us in Christ Jesus.

In the middle of John’s letter, he writes a verse that has come back to me over and over again in the past few months. John writes in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” That verse has been a gift to me.

Lately, it’s been really hard to keep my head up. It seems that everything around me is reminding me of the fragility and frailty of life. Cancer. Severe burns. Infections. Leukemia. Death. It’s all fairly overwhelming when you take it at face value. It’s hard to see past what’s right in front of you. It’s hard not to be overcome by fear of the outcome.

That’s where John’s words resonate in such a powerful way. There is no fear in love. NO FEAR. Not only is there no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear. There is only one kind of perfect love, the love that we receive from God and that love drives out fear. In fact, the Greek word for “drives” here literally means, “to throw.” Perfect love takes fear and throws it away, it’s not there anymore.

I can too easily be caught up in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of the current circumstances. Fear of what MIGHT happen. But none of those fears come from God. While the circumstances might, and probably will be, difficult, we need not fear them if we really trust that God is sovereign and in control of everything and that he loves us. Do we really believe that he loves us?

Over and over again, I’ve had to recite this word in my mind. Over and over again, I’ve had to allow the love of God to throw my fears away. Fear has to do with punishment, as the verse says, and God is not about simply seeking ways to punish us when we live in obedience to him.

As you enter this day, remember the love of God. Remember that his love is perfect. Remember that perfect love throws fear away and there is no reason for us to give in to that fear. Perfect love drives out fear, so may we seek out the love of God in the midst of the ruins of our lives. May we find that perfect love is able to combat every fear that we might entertain. May God’s love help us to conquer all of our fears.