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Review: Killing Us Softly 3rd March, 2017

Posted by Scotty in Books.
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efremI was glad to get my hands on a copy of Killing Us Softly by Efrem Smith.

Efrem has written a solid yet provocative book about discipleship, and I enjoy the way he goes about it. The premise is straightforward—we are dying. Sin is killing us. In fact, “sin does more than just kill us. It also seeks to kill others through us” (p6). Yet “God is doing the same, but the death he brings us through is in service to the new life he has for us” (p55). We thus have a choice: we become agents of death by partnering with sin, or we allow God to kill us softly and make us agents of His transforming power.

He is honest in expressing the danger we live under as Christians, that even though we have been rescued by God “it’s still possible to participate in upside-down corporate practices” (p20) and thereby damage others. His book is a call to live thinkingly, considering the various ways we partner will fallen systems and ignorantly bring pain to others.

One insightful yet penetrating quote says,

“You can be a very wise Christian and do damage to your household, business, church, or community because you refuse to acknowledge the things in your heart that need to die. We must be willing to allow God to do soul surgery on us” (p76).

#Ouch #SoTrue

Smith balances the tension between personal inner transformation and the call to be involved in public transformation. He draws attention to the “upside-down trinity”—”broken lives, broken relationships, and broken systems and structures” (p27) which work together to damage communities. With this in mind he calls us to allow God to work his transformation in us; but to go on to become agents of transformation in the broken systems we have created. He firmly believes, and argues compellingly that “the Kingdom of God transforms every life, community, and system it enters” (p160). And we are the instruments God wants to use to bring this transformation.

Efrem is a needed voice in a field saturated by white middle class men (myself included!). He gives us pause for thought when he writes,

“Conferences and books focused on planting churches, doing outreach, developing models of discipleship, and engaging justice include inherent assumptions that the reader is part of a priviledged class. It’s as if the poor have nothing to offer when it comes to advancing the Kingdom of God” (p152-3).

Killing Us Softly is a welcome contribution, reminding us that the inner transformation of a disciple is ultimately for the benefit of others. We must take care in our zeal to understand discipleship that we don’t turn it into a white middle class endeavor. Jesus, who himself was born into poverty, chose ordinary unschooled men to launch the church around the world. We’d do well to remember these roots and strive to challenge the systems (the church included) that provide barriers to the Gospel, and to the flourishing of our brothers and sisters.

An easy read.
A simple yet provocative articulation of the Gospel.
And a compelling vision for community transformation.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

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Review: Dirty Glory 14th November, 2016

Posted by Scotty in Books, Reviews.
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207_1000Over six years ago I read Red Moon Rising, the story of the 24-7Prayer organization, and it remains one of my favorite books. (You can read my thoughts on it from six years ago). Because of that I was excited to get my hands on Dirty Glory which is part 2 of the story, updating the reader on what God has done in and through 24-Prayer over the last ten-or-so years.

As I expected, I loved Dirty Glory. I was a little disappointed at the start as it seemed a lot more autobiographical of Pete Greig than the earlier book, but I got over that quickly as the book progresses from some key events in Pete’s life and expands to God’s work around the world.

Pete Greig has a wonderful way with words. He has a gift for seeing God at work and tying together many isolated events in a way that leaves you in no doubt that God is moving. It is full of paradoxes that place to glory of God amidst the mess of the world in a way that challenges neat paradigms while exalting Jesus. It makes prayer, and indeed answered prayer, so normative that you thirst for it!

Dirty Glory aso does a good job of showing you the heart and philosophy behind 24-7 Prayer, often through real-life stories of prayer in action more than direct articulation (though there are those parts like pp238-243). 24-7Prayer is an organization that cares about “Prayer, Mission and Justice” believing that true prayer should always catalyze us outward to impact the world, and so the book leaves you hungering for prayer and desiring to make a difference in the world. This is one of those books that inspires faith, calling to something deep within your being. (Even for that reason alone it should be worth the read!)

The book has a few extra resources at the back including a study guide to help mine and apply the contents of the book, and my personal favorite: a UK-English to US-English glossary!

I’ll end with a few of my favorite quotes:

God offers a big, holistic promise of salvation for individuals, societies, economies, and the environment. Whenever God’s people restore the proper ecology of creation by returning humbly to dependency upon their Creator in prayer, his life begins to overpower sin’s destructive influence at every level. The new creation begins to bud and bloom in every sphere of society. Wounded nations are made whole, poisoned creation is renewed, broken economies are repaired, dying cultures are revived, fractured relationships are reconciled (p99).

Economics, politics, the arts, education, and enterprise may well be the tools God uses to heal the land, but the impetus is repentant integrity. Humility is the heavenly algorithm for social transformation. The rusty hinge of human history turns out to be the bended knee (p99)

As a Christian you have received an even greater invitation. The King of Kings requests your presence “at the very seat of government.” He offers you a place on his executive so that you can influence his actions on behalf of the people. It is an unspeakable honor, and yet we are often too busy, or too disbelieving, to accept the invitation. The Bible is clear that our opinions and choices really can shape history, that our prayers really do make a difference in the world (p105).

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review)

Review: Discipling as Jesus Discipled 13th November, 2016

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9780802414632Discipling as Jesus Discipled is a Bible Study written by Dann Spader of Sonlife ministries. I was keen to have a look at this after hearing Dann’s story and philosophy of discipleship on the discipleship.org podcast.

The resource is designed to be a 10-week study, with 5 lessons each week. There’s great flexibility with how this could be implemented.

Based in John 17 this study explores the “seven disciplines of a disciplemaker” taken directly from the chapter:

  1. REVEAL: I revealed You to those You gave me
  2. SPEAK: I gave them the words You gave Me
  3. PRAY: I pray for them
  4. PROTECT: I protected them
  5. SENT: I sent them into the world
  6. SANCTIFY: For them I sanctify Myself
  7. SHARE: I have given them the glory You gave Me

What I like?

The study is grounded in Scripture, seeking to inspire disciple making through reflection on the life and ministry of Jesus. Each day looks at the topic through a lens of one of Dann’s stages of Christian maturity (Seekers, Followers, Workers, Mature Disciplers). There are good questions which push the reader beyond finding-the-right-answers. The questions encourage deeper reflection on the Biblical narrative trying to get you to enter into the story.

The material keeps moving from the content to practical implementation. So for example, the SPEAK section looks at Jesus as a man of the Word dependent upon the Spirit, introduces (and requires practice) of devotional Bible study and learning to hear God in Scripture, then sets the expectation of sharing what learned with others. Similarly, the section on PRAYER aims at establishing consistent prayer for those who are sovereignly positioned around you.

What I don’t like?

Dann likes to speak of those you are investing in as “your disciples”: “let’s refer to them as your disciples that God has brought to you… don’t feel uncomfortable calling them your disciples” (p81). I think it’s more appropriate to speak of them as Jesus’ disciples, not mine. As disciples of Jesus we come alongside others in their discipleship to Jesus.

However, this is a minor issue in a robust study. Overall I think this is a great resource to give people a firm grounding in how Jesus trained his discipleship and the implications of this for our investment in the lives of others. Well worth the time investment.

(I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review)

Review: Culture 11th November, 2016

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9781600668012

I was a bit surprised by this book. I enjoy reading Tozer. He has written some wonderful Christian Classics that are deep, provocative and insightful. I recently read Culture by A.W.Tozer and I’m surprised to say that I was disappointed with this book.

What did I like?

As you’d expect from Tozer, his writing is packed full of Scripture, he affirms God’s Word and our need to guard the Truth. He calls the reader to consider the cost of following Jesus and to accept that living like Christ should mean we experience trouble in the world, since the morality of Christ and morality of the world will always be at odds. He upholds the need for holiness and gives a number of critiques of the church that give pause and invite consideration about the state of our churches.

What didn’t I like?

This book is not for those who are interested in engaging the discussion about Christ and culture and how the church can engage with culture for the sake of the Gospel. From the title and subtitle (and from other Tozer books) I expected the book to contain deep insight into how to live and engage culture as Christians. Instead the chapters were mostly critical and separatist in their approach, rightly encouraging holiness and purity as Christians living in the world, but failing to give any practical help for how to engage the culture around us in a meaningful way. I’ve come to love Tozer for his penetrating insights into the character of God and the heart of man, but this book was more shallow in its discussion and somewhat one-sided in it’s approach.

Who should read it?

Those who are looking to be challenged to be distinct from the world and who are perhaps newer to contemplating the relationship between Christ and Culture.

I’ll finish with a couple of my favorite quotes:

There is an inactivity that, paradoxically, is the highest possible activity…
In the Old Testament, to wait on God meant coming before His presence with expectation and waiting there with physical and mental inactivity… There is a place where the mind quits trying to figure out its own way and throws itself wide open to God. And the shining glory of God comes down into the waiting life and imparts an activity (p101).

One picture of a Christian is a man carrying a cross… The man with a cross no longer controls his destiny; he lost control when he picked up his cross.  That cross immediately became to him an all-absorbing interest, an overwhelming interference. No matter what he may desire to do, there is but one thing he can do; that is, move on toward the place of crucifixion (p148)

(I received a copy of this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review)

Review: POTSC 27th September, 2016

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“When God writes our lives, there are never mistakes, just movements to bring us closer to Him” (59)

potscI’ve been a fan of People of the Second Chance (POTSC) since it began, having first been introduced to Mike Foster at a church retreat back in 2008/2009. I was excited to see his new book coming out and happy to get my hands on a copy. Here are a few thoughts in response to the book.

  1. Mike Foster’s writing style is really accessible. He in an artist, so has a great way with words, plenty of engaging stories and illustrations, and brings these gifts to bear on some really deep truths surrounding receiving and giving grace.
  2. When I first interacted with his writing, I found his invitation to be radically-gracious-people absolutely compelling. I admire his bravery in sharing his dark side and his clear pastoral heart that want to help people experience grace. This book takes his raw vulnerability a step further.
  3. Foster’s material is enjoyable and deep, but it’s not academic. If you’re looking for a robust and clearly articulated theology of grace, that’s not what this book is for. But if you’re hungry for hope, looking for a real life attempt to put God’s grace into action, and desiring to be an instrument of grace, then this book will scratch those itches!

One of my favourite sections of the book discusses the ways God uses the challenges in our lives to grow and shape us (pp.204+) .

  • Addiction (the power of surrender)
  • Doubt (the power of faith)
  • Emptiness (the power of self-care)
  • Loss (the power of appreciation)
  • Desperation (the power of weakness)
  • Loneliness (the power of engagement)
  • Confusion (the power of creativity)

I’m grateful for Mike Foster and POTSC! May God continue to bless his work.

Review: Failure: The Back Door to Success 9th September, 2016

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Failure-The Back Door to Success.inddI just got done reading Failure: The Back Door to Success by Erwin W. Luther and I can see why there have been over 100,000 copies sold!

In this day and age where people idolise success and quick-fixes to problems, it great to read people wrestling with the theology of mess or failure.  Lutzer writes his book from the conviction that “failure of some kind is common to us all… Successful people are those who apply God’s remedy for failure” (14). For people like me who lived riddled with perfectionism masking a tremendous fear of failure, books like that are so important!

Lutzer’s writing is biblically grounded, concise, logical, and takes some complex themes and presents them simply. He states his case humbly, while providing adequate challenge and practical steps toward godliness. He anticipates the reader’s push-back well, for example, qualifying his theology of failure, “It is not necessary to fail before we succeed, but God often uses our failures to make us more sensitive to our need of Him” (53), drawing attention to the value of these painful seasons.

This is a solid, biblically grounded, and devotionally valuable book! I look forward to reading more from Lutzer!!

(I received this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review)

Review: GO 6th September, 2016

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Back in January I read Barna’s The State of Discipleship and came across a short article called “Four Reflections on the State of Discipleship.” I thought was a great and insightful piece of writing, and so having no idea who Preston Sprinkle was, I jumped on google. I quickly discovered he was soon to release a book about discipleship  based on the findings of that Barna research project. And so, I put it on my wishlist, and was overly extremely excited when I saw a chance to grab a preview copy.

gocoverLast week I received a copy of Go: Returning Discipleship to the Front Lines of Faith by Preston Sprinkle. And I really liked this book! I flew through it in a couple of days because his writing style is so easy to follow and the content was engaging. Here are a few things I enjoyed about this book:

Firstly, I love reading works by people who have a heart to see more effective discipleship and are theologically insightful. Then when they back up their opinions with facts and figures beyond  anecdotal experience, it’s particularly enjoyable. Preston Sprinkle brings all three to the table.

Secondly, the flow of the book is great, progressing from our personal experience of Jesus, to the importance of relationship, to our missional outworking in this world.

Thirdly, I applaud Sprinkle for the positive way in which he critiques the present discipleship condition, while offering compelling vision for how things could be. The book cycles between humble critique, appropriate challenge, and attractive vision.

I’m glad to add this book to my collection. I’ve read a LOT of books about discipleship and really enjoyed this one.  It may be my new go-to for someone who is looking for a good overview of what effective discipleship can look like, or to help inspire passion for discipleship.

Here are some quotes I enjoyed that show the three layers of discipleship:

Personal: “The Scriptures are clear that grace must be the centrepiece of discipleship. Without a rich understanding of grace, our efforts to become like Christ will fail.” (26)

Relational: “Discipleship can’t happen without relationships. Deep relationships. Authentic relationships. Relationships where people can share their intimate struggles, confess their socially unacceptable sins, and rely on others for spiritual strength.” (42)

Missional: “Discipleship is far more than just mastering morality. It’s even more than thinking critically about tough topics… Biblical discipleship must include mission—embodying and displaying the presence of Christ beyond the four walls of the church.” (113)

I received this book free for an honest review from Tyndale Publisher’s.

Review: Messiology 1st August, 2016

Posted by Scotty in Books, Reviews.
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Messiology_COV.inddI love short, quick, insightful reads, which certainly describes George Verwer’s Messiology. The subtitle beautifully summarises what he tries to get across in the book “The mystery of how God works even when it doesn’t make sense to us.”

Written in the latter stages of a life as a career missionary, communicator, and respected evangelical leadership, Verwer invites people to consider how “God in His patience, mercy, and passion to bring men and women to Himself often does great things in the midst of a mess” (13).

Verwer writes from a place of great humility, revealing many ways he has fallen short over his life, and the various ways God has brought him from a place of critical judgementalism to a pace of greater grace, deeper unity, and a new appreciation of the place of mystery.

In a beautifully simple and humble way, Verwer calls us to trust God with our failures and our differences, to believe that He can work through us and others even when our methods are wrong, and along the way he helpfully draws attention to numerous books that have helped cultivate his heart and understanding in various areas of the Christian life.

And all of that in 127 small pages. This book is a little gem.

(I received this book from Moody Publishers in exchange for an honest review)

RESOURCE: Kneeling With Giants 30th June, 2013

Posted by Scotty in Books, Discipleship, Prayer, Reviews.
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kneeling with giantsBack in December I received a message from someone I didn’t really know.  I’d followed Gary Hansen on twitter or he’d followed me (which ended in following each other) and that led him to my blog (check out his blog here).  After reading my blog and seeing my blogs about prayer and various books, he offered to send me a copy of a book on prayer he’d written, in return for reviewing it on my blog.  My thought process went like this:

“Free book?  YES PLEASE!!”
Prayer? BONUS!!

I’m glad to say that like the book!  I wasn’t all that far through when I realised it wasn’t just a book on prayer, but also a great discipleship tool.  So rather than simply reviewing it, I want to recommend it to you as a great discipleship resource you can use to help you (or people you’re discipling) grow in the essential area of prayer.

I’ve read a number of books on prayer and have a couple of “go tos” that I suggest to people but none that I’ve taken a specific liking to… until now.

The aspect of the book that really sold it to me is how practical it is.

There are many books that talk about prayer without really helping you develop your prayer life.  While many books provide a new insight into prayer, often prayer books stay quite theoretical, talking about ways to prayer without helping you understand how to do it.  Kneeling with Giants provides you with both. More than the other books on prayer that I’ve read, Kneeling with Giants gets into the how, providing us with practical instruction and examples that really help you to engage each style of prayer.

The premise of the book is wise: Awareness of different styles of prayer will help keep prayer fresh over time, and give you access to new styles of prayer which can help sustain you in different seasons of your life.  The author’s hope in the book is to help you find a way to pray that you will find life-giving, since for so many people prayer can be such a struggle.  By introducing you to different styles of prayer found throughout the history of the church, hopefully you’ll discover a style that will bring new life and enjoyment to your time spent in prayer.  Gary’s clear pastoral desire to lead us deeper into the arms of God, and to equip us with tools to enhance our intimacy with Him come through the book clearly.

The book looks at ten styles of prayer.  For each one Gary Hansen explains the particular type of prayer, grounds it in Scripture and historical writings, then by using his own experiences he helps guide us in experimenting with that particular method of prayer.  Of the ten styles covered, I’d say that his chapters healing and intercession are the weakest, but they introduce you to some great writings you can jump to for more!

When I received the book back in January my thought had been to bash through the book quickly and get a blog up.  At the end of his introduction came the exhortation: “However you go through this book, the one crucial thing is to pray (p15)” and I realised that “bashing through” would not do justice to his gift!  [If you read this book without giving time to his suggestions, you’ll miss just how rich this resource is and rob yourself of some opportunities to experience God in a new way!!]

The material is rich!  Each chapter looks at the writing of a great man or woman in church history (like St Benedict, Luther, Calvin, Ignatius of Loyola, and the Puritans) and explores how they experienced prayer.  Coated with Hansen’s personal experiences, which he reflects on throughout the book, the pages take on a humble pastoral persona, like a spiritual director helping you (and challenging you) to experience deep new ways of meeting with Jesus.

This would be a good book to work through as a group study.  At the end of the book are two helpful appendices.  The first suggests ways to use the book as a small group or class curriculum, and the second is a helpful summary of suggestions for to how to practice each of the 10 styles Hansen discusses.

I’d recommend buying the e-book.  It includes a reader (that isn’t included in the paper copy) containing excerpts from the primary source texts, which he draws from throughout the book.  Though the book is a fine tool without this, the reader would add an extra element of depth through exposure to some of the writings from the history of the Church.

So… if you find prayer challenging, if your prayer times seem dull, if you’re looking for a prayer study for yourself or a group, or if you’re simply intrigued now that you realise there’s more than one way to pray, I’d highly recommend you grab a copy of Kneeling With Giants!

Thanks go to Gary for sending me such a great resource!

Imagine Your Church… 11th February, 2013

Posted by Scotty in Books, Challenges, Church, Mission.
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platt-follow-meI spent the last few days reading Follow Me by David Platt.  Towards the end of the book (p175-176) he says something that I think most churches today would find challenging and so I thought I’d share it:

“Imagine your church.

Don’t picture the building or parking lot, and don’t envision the activities and programs.  Just the people.  Whether there are fifty, one hundred, five hundred, or five thousand of them, simply imagine the people who comprise your church.

People living in a world of sin and rebellion, suffering and pain.  A world where over three billion men, women and children survive on less than two dollars a day, and a billion of those people live in absolute poverty—in remote villages and city slums where hundreds of millions are starving and dying of preventable diseases.  A world where billions of people are engrossed in false religions, and around two billion of them have never even heard the gospel.  They are all (literally billions of people) on a road that leads to an eternal hell—suffering that will never, ever, ever end.

But you and the people in your church have been transformed by the gospel of Christ.  In your minds, you know that Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to save people from their sins.  In your hearts, you have tasted and seem that he alone can satisfy people’s souls.  Your wills are now abandoned to his ways, and you long to be his witnesses throughout the world.  God has banded you together as brothers and sisters in a local church with a global commission:  make disciples of all nations.  God has filled every single one of you with the power of his own Spirit to enable each of you individually and all of you collectively to reach the world with the gospel.

So if you had nothing but people—no buildings, no programs, no staff, and no activities—and you were charged with spreading the gospel to the whole world, where would you begin?  Would you start by pooling together your money so that you could spend millions of dollars on a building to meet in?  Would you get the best speaker, the greatest musicians, and the most talented staff in order to organise presentations and programs that appeal to your families and you children?  Would you devote your resources to what is most comfortable, most entertaining, and most pleasing to you?

I don’t think your church would do these things—and neither would mine.  Not if we really believed God’s Word and were honestly looking at God’s world.”

To give a wee bit of context… David Platt is a mega church pastor in the States.  He’s been on an intense journey… thrust into the lead role in a mega church at a young age, pouring over the Scriptures, and trying to reconcile pastoring thousands of people with Jesus example of spending time with twelve men (and turning away thousands)!

He is in no way suggesting we throw out the baby with the bath water.  He’s simply inviting us to consider what the Word says we should be all about (making disciples of all nations) and to evaluate how effective we are being in carrying it out.

How easy it is to get our priorities in the wrong place and subtly make it about us instead of the nations!