World’s Apart

Posted: March 16, 2013 in Book Reviews

The Connecting Church 2.0

A Review

Randy Frazee

 9780310494355

Community” has been a buzzword in churches for quite some time. What hasn’t really been agreed upon is exactly what “community” means. Many of us probably have a more nostalgic perception when it comes to community. Maybe we sort of develop a mental image of June Cleaver leaning over the white picket fence taking a break from hanging the family clothes on the line on a breezy summer day to chat and catch up with the neighbor.

In effect, “community” has become complicated. We, in our fallen, human nature, have attempted to develop endless strategies to achieve a goal by incorporating the wrong plans. We have strived for this by running full tilt in the exact wrong direction. We have been “trying” and “plotting” and “scheming.” And, it all comes up radically short. We become frustrated and disillusioned. Why? Because, as Frazee demonstrates for us, it was never meant to be some sort of a Mount Kilimanjaro to be conquered. Community is much more about the community than it is about us.

Frazee contends that for the most part, community, in the modern sense of the word has undergone an identity crisis. It has morphed into a place where people’s insecurity and sin can go and hide and receive enablement without being challenged. It is a safe place to go and receive fuel for your codependency. There is no fear of legitimate rebuke. That is starkly contrasted with the biblical sense of community where Paul took it as his personal responsibility to admonish the apostle Peter when he was clearly behaving improperly (Gal. 2:11-14). Community is to instead be a place where we need one another; where we depend upon one another; where we genuinely care and love one another. It should be a place were we each feel comfortable in our own skin.

Today’s independent, consumerist mentality has all but destroyed community according to Frazee. We have a sense that we don’t really need each other. And when that happens, we fail to communicate to each other. And when that occurs, we built up impenetrable walls, which separate us and isolate us from our neighbors.

While not everyone will necessarily agree with Frazee about how possible it is to develop community in our day by reversing the trajectory of a decades long mass exodus to the suburbs from the urban areas, but one thing is certain, he makes you really think and re-think your motivations and attitudes. And, that to me is worthwhile. Even if it really isn’t possible to latch on to every point that he makes in how to develop authentic community, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we cannot attempt many of the helpful insights that he offers to help us develop better fellowship amongst one another and help us grow closer to Christ together.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Cross-Focused Media for the free copy of the book for me to offer this unbiased, balanced review as well as Zondervan Publishing.

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Little Black Book:
Suffering and Evil
A Review
Scott Petty

Ever question why bad things happen to such good people as you and me? Yeah, me too. But, some interesting thoughts began to plague my mind. When I look at myself in the mirror and my attitudes and responses and reactions in my normal day to day activities, I’m not really that good of a person. I understand that I am saved and that really should make a really big difference in my life. And that fact really brings on the conviction and the guilt that something may be drastically wrong. There is. And, unfortunately, for the most part, it is something that I and the rest of us are going to have to struggle with for the rest of our earthly lives. Living in a fallen world really isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I was reminded of my real place in life not so long ago. A friend posted on Facebook a really humbling quote by R.C.Sproul, Jr. It stated, “Why do bad things happen to good people? That only happened once. And He volunteered.”

No one has really understood human suffering more than Job. Which is where Petty’s book narrows in on. And, I would venture that this perspective is where the rubber meets the road. When compared to the immense suffering that this man had from every angle humanly possible, it makes my adventures in life seem paltry at best. Another beautiful thing that this reminder gives to us is the fact of the sovereignty of God. That no matter what we are going through, that somehow God is still in control. And, as absolutely crazy as it sounds, He has a purpose for it and He has actually designed it. Of course, Job did not have the privilege of peering through the curtain as we do to see exactly what was going on behind the scenes as we never do when our lives seem to be fallen apart before our very eyes. But, the same God who allowed Job to suffer so intensely for His glory is the same God who divinely understands why we need to suffer just as Job did. That, in and of itself, if we can always remember it, can bring us intense comfort and teach us valuable lessons and to always glorify God through our suffering.

As we wrestle in this fallen world stretching to see a God who is not physically visible, one thing we must learn, as Petty reminds us in his book: Trust. It’s all about trust. Faith is indeed the ingredient that turns everything upside-down. Without faith we fall down the dismal abyss without a parachute. But, with faith, our sails are lifted by an incredible tail wind which gives the ability to weather any storm. Not that we will gladly enjoy the storm, but that we will be much more like Christ as an outcome of those storms. This book serves as a good travel companion for us when we are in the thick of a trial, or, as we prepare to enter that dark season of adversity. We need to make sure that we never naively believe that bumps in the road are not ever part of the journey, let alone, a good part, an essential part.

I would like to extend my gratitude to Cross-Focused Media for the free copy of the book for me to offer this unbiased, balanced review as well as Matthias Media.

Organic Outreach For Families
By Kevin & Sherry Harney
Zondervan
A Review By Matthew Boutilier

The concept of organic outreach is based on the conviction that we can share the love, grace, and message of Jesus in ways that feel natural for us, regardless of our personality type, life experience, or skill set, and we can learn to connect with the people around us right where they are.”

If you are like me, you live with a certain level of guilt due to the fact that you aren’t being the Gospel influence in your community the way that you know that should be. Ever wonder how to really make a lasting impact on your neighborhood, your family, where you work, or where you go to school? Feel discouraged that you aren’t really making the impact that you know you should be? Kinda shrink down in your seat as people in your small group are sharing about someone they led to the Lord at work as a result of their witness and influence? This book is for you!

Granted as zealous followers of Jesus Christ who have been so dramatically impacted by the life-changing, heart-transforming, soul-saving Gospel we should have a passion to spread that to those he comes in contact with, right? Then, why don’t we do it? Or, at least, do it more often? We can come up with a whole lot of excuses (I know I just did in writing that last sentence), but God really isn’t interested in our excuses. He is interested in our obedience. And, I appreciate this element of the book that the Harney’s bring out is that they aren’t interested in the reader’s following a program to the letter and implementing it and, viola, instant evangelical success! No, their desire is instead to share how families can just merely be available to share the Gospel.

By being available, I mean that in our hectic, chaotic, “Me-focused” routines, we normally don’t make time to be available. And, what is even more tragic is that we are unintentionally teaching that to our children as a lasting legacy to the next generation. So, the Harney’s took Jesus’ commandment to heart regarding being witnesses to their world. What is so amazing about what they share is their intentionality in slowing down and making themselves available to their neighbors.

The Harney’s share that as believers we should be a lighthouse and an emergency room to our communities. This idea of being a lighthouse and an emergency room is worthy of pause. A safe haven for others. People desperately need to see that having a relationship with Christ actually makes a difference in our lives. It’s not like belonging to a country club or the Mason’s. It’s not something that you “do.” Being available and providing a place for others who are hurting will really make an impact on people. One of the examples that really struck me was this one. Another individual made it a point to reach out to their neighbors by merely just sitting in their front yard. Emphasis on “front.” Normally, we spend our time in the back yard. Yet, this couple focused on their front yard because that is where people in their neighborhood would walk by and they were more available to strike up conversations with them.

Another noteworthy component of the book is their inclusion of testimonials. Their three sons shared real life testimonials of how living in their parents home where this point of view was faithfully lived out influenced and impacted them. It isn’t included for some selfish motivations or to seek applause, but I believe it is included to give the reader an opportunity to see just how fruitful this can be not only to those whom we are witnessing to, but also to our families whom we are training to be the next generation of Gospel-proclaimers. It’s a partnership with our children. Our kids must see us love our neighbors.

What I really took away from this book was the conclusion that it is doable. I didn’t walk away from it with a sick sense of guilt that the author was attempting to sway me that I wasn’t doing my duty; shame on me. No, I received the impression that the authors really had a passion for reaching their neighbors with the Gospel and that they wanted others to join them in impacting their neighbors.

Here is a short 2:30 video of Kevin Harney giving a synopsis of the book and how he hopes it will impact and influence others as they desire to be a lighthouse and island of refuge for their neighbors and community.

Kevin Harney description video

I would like to extend my gratitude to Cross-Focused Media for the free copy of the book for me to offer this unbiased, balanced review as well as Zondervan Publishing.

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Accidental Pharisees
By Larry Osborne
Zondervan Publishers
A Review By Matthew Boutilier

Spiritual arrogance is not a back-of-the-line sin, it’s a front-of-the-line sin. So much so that sometimes I think of it as an occupational hazard of zealous faith, serious discipleship, and biblical scholarship.”

Zealous? Passionate? Intentional? How do you measure up? Better yet, how does the guy sitting in the pew next to you measure up?

Ever look in the mirror? Sure you have. Perhaps thousands of times. Like what you see? Really? Honestly? Larry Osborne in his toe-stepping, punch in the face treatise of the life of an accidental Pharisee will have you doing a double-take in the mirror tomorrow morning (perhaps right now). I guarantee you will notice a few more wrinkles and warts. Evaluation. To be perfectly honest and frank, we are never truly honest and frank, are we? We like what we see because we generally love ourselves. Yet, that really isn’t wrong, per se. I believe that to even be Scriptural. We read in Ephesians 5:29 where Paul says that a person does not hate his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. We need a biblical definition of the word “love.” In other words, we need to “love” our bodies in the sense that we recognize our body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and we should desire to be a good steward of the resources that God has blessed us with and honor our bodies and never neglect them. Yet, at the same time, we are not to set up ourselves as idols; love in that sense. What Osborne is driving home is not this sort of self-love. No, what he is driving home is this “brood of vipers” (Jesus’ wording, not mine–see Matthew 23:33). What is so interesting is that Jesus during His earthly ministry was the most critical and harsh with the religious leaders of the day because they were supposed to know better. They were supposedly experts in the Torah. And, yes, the Torah is filled with God’s grace, love, and mercy (see Exodus 14, 15; Joshua 2).

Osborne asks us if we have a list. You know, the list that gives us a detailed evaluation of those who are less-than-spiritual than we are? That list is usually comprised with those who do not share the same areas of giftedness that we do. So, we make sport of them for not being as “spiritual” as we are, because if they were, surely they would recognize the need to be doing more than they are in our area of giftedness!

There were some areas where I thought, “Ok, where is Osborne going with this? How is going to steer the cart back on the topic at hand?” Yet, once the wheels were rolling, I began to catch up with his thought-processes. It certainly wasn’t him, it was me. Osborne has that knack. He has that keen ability to draw you into the story and to develop that rapport with you so that you don’t dismiss his discipline, rather, you welcome it. You get the feeling that he isn’t chiding you as a person who has it all together, but as a fellow struggler who is attempting to pull you out of the ditch. For that I am thankful. No use reading about not being a Pharisee by another Pharisee!

There were many areas that I found myself nodding in agreement, and, to quite frank, laughing uncontrollably! I was convicted by many areas where I found myself looking down my Pharisaical nose at those who did not somehow “measure up” to my standards of spiritual maturity. It gave me a healthy reminder that I need to be much more gracious, compassionate, and patient with my brothers and sisters. Indeed, I need to be the beneficiary of that sort of gentleness myself more often than I realize.

One point of contention that I would have with Osborne is that there are points where plays the grace card a little too loosely for my comfort. He mentions that God is a God of grace and love (which I certainly whole-heartedly agree with). For example, in developing an illustration of his point regarding how God is a God of grace and what Jesus requires to be a disciple of His Osborne remarks with the following illustration. He says that Jesus knowingly chose Peter with the complete understanding that he would later deny him. He went out of His way to reach out to doubting Thomas. And, he continues by stating that Jesus promises a lighter, not a heavier load for His disciples to carry. True, very true. But, we also need to read the rest of the story. I agree Jesus does in fact provide us with a lighter load. The Pharisees of the day (and our day as well) pride themselves on the fact that they load their adherents with heavier burdens. For whatever reason, it makes a person more spiritual if they appear to be bearing those burdens (and the heavier, the better) on their own and people witness it. But, my point is, yes, Peter denied Christ. In fact, he did so three times. Just as Jesus told him earlier. Ironically, Peter denied that as well! Thomas. The most famous skeptic in biblical history. Jesus restored him as well. But, when we look back at the story of Peter, in particular, we notice that this isn’t it. Jesus isn’t finished with Peter yet. Jesus didn’t just leave Peter where he was. Following the life-transforming, Spirit-empowering experience that occurred at Pentecost, Peter was literally a changed man (Acts 2). In fact he was martyred for his faith.

Overall, I believe Osborne gives a well-balanced, very helpful instruction in this much-needed area of spiritual arrogance. I believe that this was an ideal environment and platter in which to have it served as well. Osborne comes across as a down-to-earth fellow hiker who has come across a dark, jagged path you are approaching. He offers some good alternate routes as well as sound, biblical counsel to keep you from running down the wrong trail. It sure has sharpened my eyes. Hope it sharpens yours too…

Take a minute or two to check out the interview with Larry Osborne here:

Or, to check out the official trailer for the book here:

I would like to extend my gratitude to Cross-Focused Media for the free copy of the book for me to offer this unbiased, balanced review as well as Zondervan Publishing.

Aside  —  Posted: November 13, 2012 in Book Reviews
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Christ and The Desert Tabernacle
By J.V. Fesko
EP Books
A Review By Matthew Boutilier

There is a lot of depth of meaning to the old cliche, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I would surmise it say that even mental pictures that a good author can paint can be even more so. Ever wonder why so much ink is spilled describing the Tabernacle in the Old Testament? Why so much attention to detail is given to the furniture within? What about the priestly garb? Do any of these things have any bearing on our relationship to the Lord today? If so, what? These questions and many more that we may have failed to come up with, Fesko brings out in his small treatise on the significance of the Tabernacle…as a visible representation of the heavenly Tabernacle.

Fesko goes the distance in describing for us the intricate details laid out regarding the structure of the physical tabernacle as well as its furnishings. He then describes the garments of the priests. He then goes on to help the reader understand the significance and symbolism behind each. He reminds us that these details were not insignificant, but that there is in fact a profound reason for each intimate detail. They are to help bring to focus that God is in the camp! God is with us! God is a holy God. I believe Fesko does a great job most of the time as he ties in the Old Testament with the New Testament. He helps to remind us of the fact that the Old Testametn priesthood and the Tabernacle are in fact types that are to recall Christ, yet, there are of course significant differences. For example, yes, the Aaronic priesthood serve to represent sinful man before a holy God. But, being that the priests, although called out by God, still were very limited in that they were still in fact man. Jesus Christ, on the other hand, the Perfect High Priest, was not limited by this. Jesus, was of course 100% man, yet without sin, was also 100% God. Whereas the Aaronic priests had to continually prepare and offer up sin offerings for the people he represented a well as himself in order to meet God and represent the people. Jesus by His perfect, once-for-all sacrifice on the Cross to offer redemption for the world, only needed to perform this once. It was perfect; complete. God the Father was completely satisfied (propitiated) by this obedient, voluntary act of grace. Not only did Christ not need to offer a sacrifice for His own sins as the priests needed to because He was without sin, but His sacrifice actually brought about true forgiveness of sins. And with that, whereby a believer is free from the guilt of sin, one is also imputed the righteousness of Christ, the Perfect High Priest and has the potential of living a life which is pleasing to God. Fesko gives us the picture then of the holy garments that were to be worn by the priests of this holiness; of this righteousness.

Another key strength of the book would be the fact of how Fesko gives us some understanding of the figures of speech in which the biblical writers use during this point in history. Such as, “being clothed in righteousness.” We can gain a deeper, more lucid understanding of what this may involve once we recognize what the priestly garments were to represent. When we observe New Testament writers utilizing this figure of speech and we have an understanding of this background, it makes the passages much more meaningful and imprints a deep, profound picture into our memory banks.

Another major strength of the book that I need to point out is this one. Even though there may some points that are stretched a little thin, Fesko does everything to point all things to Christ. I believe that this is a key area that is missing from our pulpits today. We focus on unmet needs, emotional battles, financial struggles, parenting issues, but we fail to offer people the cure for the disease. In fact, too often, we fail to properly diagnose the disease. I believe many of us could take a cue from this aspect of the book.

One of the major weaknesses of the book would be that there are some swooping conclusions that the author makes as he attempts to reconcile the symbolism of what he is describing without the necessary support from Scripture, or even a logical argumentation. I believe that is quite necessary especially in light of the terms he is defining for us in the book. Although Fesko does come up with some relatively logical conclusions regarding the “whys” and connecting the dots in his applaudable attempts to explain how the Tabernacle and the intricate details of its construction point to a typological tie in with Christ, there are times in which he seems to be a little too overzealous in his labors to force square pegs in round holes.

With that said, I also feel as though there are other descriptions by which the author does a great job helping us to see the logical meaning in which the original authors of Scripture were attempting to illustrate for us. A good example would be in contrasting the major differences between the Aaronic priesthood and the priesthood of Christ as he utilized Hebrews 5:1-3 as a foundation to support the better and more complete priesthood of Christ.

Overall, I believe this could prove to be a good resource to encourage us to recognize the major points and purposes of Scripture: pointing us to Christ. Taking a leisurely tour of the Tabernacle and the intricate details that the Lord gave regarding its construction, the dedication of the priests, and even the attire they were to wear, as well as the sacrifices, incense, and the Sabbath, forces one to pause to reflect with humble gratitude and thanksgiving as to how this mirrors the heavenly Tabernacle and most importantly, the great High Priest and the perfect sacrifice that He offered on our behalf.
I would like to thank Cross-Focused Media and EP Books for providing me with a free copy of the book for an unbiased review.

Spiritual sensitivity. God at work. Supernatural occurrences. Ethereal experiences. How do we define miracles. Many of us in the United States sweep the miraculous under the carpet telling ourselves that science has proven that the universe is sustained by a set of laws by which it cannot deviate. What “surprises” occurs are the result of laws which have not been developed and once our knowledge about this vast expanse of space evolves, we too, will have the necessary understanding of being able to predict those things as well just like solar eclipses and meteor showers.

But, is that line of reasoning true? Is God still involved in performing miracles today in the 21st century? As we read Scripture we see that the Lord during His earthly ministry did in fact perform miracles. And, we hear of accounts today in America and abroad of countless miraculous healings which take place. What are we to make of all of these stories? Tim Stafford presents an honest look from a journalist’s perspective in a broad attempt to present the data in such a way as to not sway his readership in either direction so that they may make their own decision based upon his unbiased presentation of the information.

One of the ways in which Stafford attempts to do this is by comparing and contrasting what a miracle is and what are some of the many ways in which God acts in natural ways.I love the way Stafford contrasts the miraculous and the natural. How he describes how we are awestruck by Jesus’ turning the loaves and fishes to a bouteous meal for 5000, yet we take for granted the incredible yearly harvest of wheat. The wheat harvest occurs every year in thousands of various locations. Small seeds “naturally” turn into shoots that will eventually feed billions of people. This occurs year in and year out without much fanfare or even much thoughtful consideration by us. What is the difference Stafford asks? The multiplication and distribution of the loaves and fishes didn’t occur every day. The wheat harvest was a regular observed occurrence. Yet, both are extraordinary on closer investigation. It was a miracle not because it was any more incredible. It was a miracle due the fact that it was unusual and unexpected. It was also a miracle because Jesus used it as a vehicle in which to teach a deeper message. Or, even look at some of the ways in which the body heals. We see a similar wound or disease in two different people. One person survives the injury while the other individual does not. There are seemingly endless contributors which feed into why a person would survive such a traumatic injury. We could strike it up to good genes or an outstanding immune system. Or, we could attribute it to the prayers of the saints who stood vigil over a 24-hour period of time as the patient was hanging in the balance between life and death. Either way, God is at work. God is sovereign. God always intervenes. He is not the God of the deists who believe that once God has created His universe that He now takes a hand’s off approach as life just sort of swirls out of control.

We in our finititude cannot understand all of the ways of a sovereign, holy, just, merciful, gracious God. Yet, we would do a major disservice to Him if we kept Him out of the picture of how He deals with His creation. So, how do we answer the questions? God just miraculously healed me from my overwhelming migraine headaches. Praise God! That is a testimony of His divine grace and power. I have asked God in prayer to deliver me from this infection and nothing seems to happen. Praise God! That too, is evidence of His divine grace and power. How can that be? Both situations are lucid displays of His interaction and involvement. Remember Paul’s thorn in the flesh (2 Cor. 12:7f)? Paul prayed to God three times that He would intervene and remove his thorn, but to no avail. There may be reasons hidden from our eyes as to the why God orchestrates and allows seemingly painful things in our lives. We know not why, but we are foolish to brazenly question His goodness. There may be something that we need to learn that will only be accomplished by going through a particular hardship. That is why I believe that expecting God to act miraculously in our favor is totally against what Scripture teaches us. We, in our limited faculty, believe that all bad things should be avoided at all costs. Scripture never teaches that. Rather, when we encounter hardship, if God decides in His sovereignty to not remove it, we should embrace it and draw all of the marrow out of it we can in order to learn and grow more dependent upon the Lord that we can as we go through it stronger disciples.

No matter where your convictions lie, you have to appreciate the approach Stafford takes in his quest for answers. He is burdened with seeking the honest facts in an unbiased way with a clean slate and little presuppositions.

There are times where Stafford seems to swing back and forth regarding his inner convictions as to whether or not God supernaturally intervenes in His creation to perform some out of the ordinary feat to the awe of His audience. It is curious to me as well that given the experiences that he shares regarding some of the miracle-on-the-spot “healers” that he would even recommend others to visit a “Benny Hinn-type” service, yet to utilize caution. My strong concern in such matters would be not to recommend anyone to such a service. Why? It certainly wouldn’t be due to my conviction that God does not perform miracles today. It would rather be due to the fact that individuals of this stripe do not have the inner drive, motivation, nor the integrity of engaging in true, Gospel ministry. True, authentic Gospel ministry is centered on proclaiming the life-transforming message that Christ died to save sinners. It should never be distracted by other agendas and hype. Even if all of the miracles that were recorded could be legitimately authenticated by these ministries, it should never take priority over the primacy of the Gospel message.

So, what are we to make of miracles? What does Stafford conclude? As an excellent journalist, his modus operandi is merely to present the facts and give his audience the opportunity to make their own unbiased conclusions.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Bethany House Publishers who allowed me to peruse this book at no cost to me to examine and compose an unbiased review of this work.

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The overarching theme of this book is the recognition of being outsiders. What it feels like on the outside looking in. Gire states that we are the marginalized; the disenfranchised. Sin is what puts us there. Sin is what keeps us there. There are times in our lives that we feel alone. We feel as though even among friends or in a crowd that we are immersed in a sea of strangers. But, Gire concludes…there is good news for those who are believers in Christ. God relentlessly pursues those who are the loners of the world. He tirelessly seeks after us; to relate to us; to love us; to befriend us.

So, what does this look like? This whole idea of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe spending countless hours pursuing unworthy humans to have an intimate relationship with seems so out of tune with the earthly reality that we witness on a daily basis. In our daily experience, we certainly may be the beneficiaries of the loving patience of those who will forgive us for minor offenses. Even then, normally, those whom we offend do not actively pursue us to restore the relationship. Normally, they don’t run after us if they do not see any sort of remorse from us. And that is exactly the point of contrast that Gire is attempting to paint for us in this book. Jesus does exactly that. Similar to the parable of the Prodigal Son, we take from God whatever we can for our own selfish purposes and evil devices naively believing that a hedonistic life of pleasure and “freedom” await us when we turn away from God and exchange it for a life of debauchery and sin.

Normally, we give credence to the fact that God seeks the lost. We know in our heads that God is in the business of pursuing those who are far away from Him to bring them into the fold. But, Gire brings up the novel notion that His relentless pursuit doesn’t end there. Even once we are safely within the fold, we still often succumb to the tasty treats from Egypt. We long for the sweet, savory delights of our old lives. We see our lives with Christ at times as burdensome and restrictive. We wander. We run. We get lost. Even during those times God runs after us just like the one lost sheep who loses his way, God leaves the flock of 99 to make sure that we return safely back into His watchful care. He sees us as worth the pursuit. He loves us just that much.

What I appreciated about the book was the way Gire wove illustrative stories throughout which pulled upon my emotions and drew me deeply within the reality of how much God truly loves us. We are introduced to people whose lives were so chaotic and tragically sad, or hopelessly lost (such as Francis Thompson or C.S. Lewis). Gire does not attempt to paint pretty pictures of people who are living the good life now and who have their lives all together and basically deserve God to pursuit after them at a stallion’s pace. He vividly reveals the details of the way in which God actively pursues. The steps that are involved are faithfully portrayed in what cannot be denied to be anything less than the sovereign hand of God especially as he narrates the details of his own salvation testimony as to just how God relentlessly pursued him. Gire unapologetically cuts to the chase and clearly diagnoses the cancer and time and time again demonstrates the remarkable ways that God is able to intervene in a person’s life to completely change a person’s mindset and submit to this relentless Pursuer.

One particular note of disagreement I had personally lies in the observation that Gire makes regarding that God’s plans radically changed following the Fall. He notes that when Adam and Eve were sent to dwell East of Eden that this was “Plan B.” I am not sure if Gire intended for this conclusion to sound as though somehow this caught God off-guard and He had to edit His playbook to accommodate this “surprise.” But, that is the conclusion that I drew from his observation. I don’t believe this was a Plan B at all. I am certain from the broader context of Scripture that God understood this all along and that He had a redeeming plan in existence throughout eternity. The relationship that existed with Adam and Eve with God was certainly different than it was prior to the Fall. And, yes, it would affect humans throughout eternity. There would no longer be the perfect communion between man and God. Yet, to call it a “Plan B” I believe is much too strong of a term since I believe it taints an attribute of God; His immutable nature.

One note of caution as I read through the book. It does appear that Gire does seem to overemphasize the role of God as Pursuer. In comparison, I don’t believe that Gire gives a balanced evaluation that, yes, indeed, God does pursue those who are lost as well as those who have been found, yet are prone to wander. But, there is an important element of human responsibility. He seems to focus primarily on the undeniable fact that the father does in fact pursue the son. Yet, he overlooks the context of the parable that the son did come to his senses first and was on his way back in repentance.

I received a free copy of this book to do this review from Bethany House Publishers.

My review of Darrell Bock’s “A Theology of Luke-Acts” will focus on Chapter 15, “Discipleship and Ethics in the New Community.” The overall emphasis on this new series of reference works is to explore “a given New Testament writing, or group of writings, within the context of the theology of the New Testament, and ultimately of the entire Bible.” Bock does an admirable job in maintaining the goal of the work with his corpus on Luke-Acts within the sub-topic of discipleship and ethics.

Within this chapter Bock aggressively fleshes out what the marks of authentic discipleship look like as it is developed within the Lucan writings. His arguments and developments are easy to follow and arrive at understandable conclusions not leaving the reader surprised as to how he landed where he did. It is absolutely no surprise to learn that the author of this work is a respectable scholar who has had decades of experience digging into the texts of Luke-Acts and has published extensively on these works previously. The work now being considered is undeniably the fruit of many individual works.

Bock breaks his subject matter down into several sub-points for the purpose of making the density of the topic much easier to digest and manage. The overall umbrella deals with the whole notion of what exactly is meant by biblical discipleship as it is described in Luke-Acts. I will attempt to summarize most of the main points Bock develops from this chapter. Bock goes on to define and describe this in these particular sub-points:

The New Community’s Activities

Bock develops a key component of what marks authentic followers of Christ by illustrating them as active in living out their faith. They are ones who not only possess knowledge of what Christ has accomplished for them, they express it by how they interact and engage with others. They no longer see themselves as hoarders of material things and are merely fixated upon themselves and how they can build and maintain their own empire. Rather, they truly see themselves as a body with a wide variety of members. They recognize and are quite sensitive to the needs and struggles of other members. Not only that, but they reach out and meet those needs. They enjoy gathering together in a corporate setting to give thanks and worship the Lord who redeemed them and baptized them into the Body of Christ. They are not merely satisfied with maintaining the status quo. They are also very interested in building up the Body both numerically as well as spiritually.

Functions in the New Community

Bock lists five church functions which are organized either as offices or some other roles. The first one he mentions is that of apostle since it is the role that is mentioned most often. It is a temporary position being that one of the key requirements is that one needed to be witness to the Lord as well as to have seen Him following His resurrection. Their responsibility was to provide foundational oversight for the newly developed community of Christian assemblies. Once the original 12 have passed on, the office passes away in its most technical sense. Yet, it is also interesting as Bock points out that other individuals are called, “apostles” after this time, such as Paul and Barnabas. This looser use of the term expresses a nuanced description of those who were in the ministry of planting local churches in the area and providing leadership within these new communities.

A second function is that of witness. This describes the testimony given of Christ’s miracles, resurrection, crucifixion, and resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances.

A third function is that of prophets.

A fourth function is that of servants. This is a supportive role to the apostles in that they met the needs of a specific problem. Bock here disagrees that they were probably not deacons listed in Acts 6 since this connection is not made elsewhere. This is a point of disagreement with me personally. I believe that the Acts 6 account is where we first are introduced to the office of deacon (http://bible.org/article/deacons-and-leadership-church).

A fifth function is that of leaders/elders. These individuals were given the responsibility of oversight of a particular area. Included with that is to serve other believers. This includes proper doctrinal instruction.

Descriptions of Community Members

The most common title that Luke uses to effectively describe followers of Christ is “disciple.” This is a very descriptive term that Luke uses since it pictures one who is following, learning, and walking with Jesus.

Another term that Luke uses to describe followers of Christ is “believers.”  Followers of Christ were termed “Christians” initially by outsiders of this new sect of Judaism. The final title of these believers were called “The Way.” Pointing the way to God and to salvation.

Disciples in Luke-Acts

Bock associates “disciple” as a descriptive term here to those who follow Christ in the midst of heavy controversy. As Jesus was noted for associating with the “sinners” of the world as judged by the religious moguls of His day, those who followed Him in a very real sense fellowshipped with them as well. This was part of the mission of Christ to go to those who were sick and offer the only cure possible. Therefore, as we are looking at how Luke describes and defines what a disciple is, one way in which to properly understand it is to see what some of the components are in following Christ.

Another key element to gain a clearly understanding of what made a true biblical disciple according to Luke’s accounts was to recognize what disciples did not do. They were judged for not following the “normal” Jewish customs such as keeping the Sabbath, fasting and the daily prayers.

The disciples become pupils of Christ by having constant contact with Him. They observe Him in a variety of different contexts and learn He is who He claims to be.  The disciples gain a clearer understanding of what it truly means to be a disciple. It is significantly different than being a leader in the world. A disciple is one who follows. A disciple is one who suffers. A disciple is one who serves. Discipleship is a singular focus. Christ is at the very center of all things. Nothing usurps His priority.

Luke describes that being a disciple of Christ is much different than merely being a pupil of a rabbi. The pupil of the rabbi would merely learn the teachings of his teacher. He would live with his teacher. The disciple of Christ would learn to live and walk as their Teacher lived and walked.

Luke focuses on the cost of discipleship. It involves a complete trust even though from a human perspective things in this life may not make sense. A disciple is committed to trusting the Lord and holding fast to Him. Discipleship demands a stripping away of one’s personal identity and identifying oneself with Christ.

As the account in the Gospel of Luke clearly displays, the disciples had good intentions of faithfully following Christ. Yet, they lacked the power and inner enablement and desire to carry it out when it became difficult. They needed something that was glaringly missing in order to faithfully carry out what Christ desired them to do. Enter the account of Acts. Luke recalls the historical account of exactly what God provided in order for the disciples to carry out their mission: the Holy Spirit.

The Ethics of the New Community

Total Commitment

Discipleship as described in the Lucan accounts involve a total commitment to Christ. Even though one immediately becomes a disciple once he is saved, he still possesses the sin nature which must be restrained by faithful fellowship with Christ on a continuing basis throughout the rest of his life.

Love for God and for One’s Neighbor

Jesus’ charge to His disciples could be simply boiled down to loving God and loving others. This unusual love is what is to truly distinguish a disciple. Outsiders will recognize the difference.

Prayer

A key element to being a faithful disciple is prayer. Prayer reveals a disciple’s dependence upon His Lord. It reflects a humble dependence. It reveals a communication with the Lord and the ability to be able to discern God’s direction, leading, and will.

Perseverance in Suffering

Jesus taught His disciples to expect suffering and persecution as a result of being identified as His disciples. He calls on them to persevere in the face of it. It calls for a deep-seated trust in the Lord in such bitter opposition.

Watchfulness, Patience, and Boldness

Prepare to give up all for the sake of being identified with Christ. Sacrificial living. As such, disciples are reminded to remain faithful since they will indeed be held accountable to how they remained steadfast in the midst of their persecution and sufferings.

Faith and Dependence

As a result of their being delivered of their condemnation for their sins since they have been adequately removed from the believer’s list of crimes, he can now rest assured of His eternal destiny. He does not need to be anxious any longer. He is guaranteed a place with the Father for all eternity.

Wealth and Possessions

The poor have a more natural sensitivity to what it is like to be dependent for outside sources for one’s needs. Therefore, they are more naturally inclined to better understand being dependent upon God for all things. The wealthy on the other hand have difficulty distancing themselves from their assets. Many times money and the things that can be bought with money become an idol and demands top priority over all else. A disciple of Christ cannot have competing affections.

Hindrance to Discipleship

Failure to take adequate consideration regarding the cost of discipleship can lead to spiritual ruin. It takes great patience and sacrifice of self and dedication to an authority who demands all from you. If one is unwilling to humbly depend upon Christ and follow Him wherever He leads, that individual is unfit to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. He must be willing to sacrifice self and commit himself whole-heartedly to walking with Christ and being identified with Him.

Commitment to the Lost

Another key element of being a disciple of Christ is his focus on reaching out to those who are groping around this fallen world in darkness.

Luke and Empire

A steep contrast is clearly evident when one considers the ethic of the disciple with the one of the Roman Empire. What the Roman Empire considered priority such as elevating the haves, Christ’s disciples reached out and served the have-nots.

The valuable lesson we can learn from Luke’s theology of discipleship is that it is outwards-oriented. It is aggressively looking outwards; serving and ministering to those who do not yet understand and who personally do not possess a reconciled, redeemed relationship with Christ—who are still serving the god of this world, groping around in darkness.

Overall, I believe that Bock’s case for the marks of true, authentic discipleship as it is clearly laid out in the theology of Luke-Acts is a very solid one. He clearly evaluates and draws principles directly from the text in order to gain a clear, crisp, and rich understanding of what Scripture is clearly teaching regarding Luke’s understanding of what the Lord desires for us as we seek to faithfully follow Him.

My thanks to Zondervan for providing a copy of the book to critically review and share on their Blog Tour.

Video  —  Posted: July 27, 2012 in Book Reviews
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The True Center

Posted: July 16, 2012 in Uncategorized

 Do you ever feel lost in attempting to figure out why particular things happen in your life? Do you ever struggle with understanding how God is going to use this particular thing for good? Are there things in your life that just plain don’t make sense? Plans, I mean, really good plans, which failed? Job promotions that went sour? Relationships that fade away? A routine doctor visit that ended up not being so routine? Random? Useless? God couldn’t possibly use these things for any kind of good…

 

Really… Is that really how God works? Is that really how God operates in the lives of His children? Is God capricious in His workings of His Creation?

 

I believe the best answer we can find is how we see God’s character lucidly portrayed in Scripture. The advantage that we possess as we read Scripture as it describes the lives of its characters is that, for the most part, we get a glimpse of the whole story. Take Job for example. We know a whole lot more about the details of this story than poor Job does. As such, if we were viewing the storyline from Job’s perspective, we may possibly believe that God was absent. Possibly, that God didn’t care at all what was happening in his life. Yet, we see a very different view of God from the reader’s perspective. We see not a distant God, but One who is faithfully present. A God who cares about every detail. A God has an ultimate purpose behind those details. A God who is sovereign.

 

So, how does knowing more of the character of God build trust in our life of faith in the here and now? How does knowing that God is not capricious in His dealings with us help us in our time of need? How does it assist us when it appears that nothing in our life makes sense? Trust. Faith. Understanding who God is and how He has responded in times past brings builds a foundation and a standard. We have experienced and witnessed how God has brought us through and deepened our relationship to Him historically. We can therefore place our hope and faith in Him that since He does not change (His attribute of immutability), He will continue in the present to do the same thing in this particular circumstance.

 

Yet, even though we experience such a wide variety of adversities and we in our finitude cannot wrap our minds around it, we must trust that God does have a purpose behind it. Mostly, the reason we cannot understand why He is doing what He is doing is a direct result of our self-absorption. We are under the impression that the world revolves around us. Therefore, if pain comes our way, our natural response is to avoid it at all costs. We cannot recognize the fact that this circumstance could possibly use pain to help us. But, you know what, He can and He does.

 

Something further to reflect on. Have you ever thought that there is even a bigger story being told here? I mean sure God is definitely attempting to grow us through our hardships. But, is that the ultimate big picture? I don’t believe so. I believe there is an even deeper root cause for it. I believe that He orchestrates trials in our lives to grow us, as well as to ultimately grow us to bring glory to Himself through it. The trials are a mere thread in the beautiful tapestry. The magnificent tapestry itself is the glorification of our Lord and King. As we struggle through a difficult situation, going to the Lord in prayer, seeking earnestly His guidance, direction, His will, His course of action—we grow dependent upon Him. We grow more like Him. We testify to a lost and dying world that God is real and that He does indeed care about His children. We are reflecting Him glory. We are signifying that we are not at the center. God is.

 

This is a great little book. I would recommend using it as a tour guide when reading through the Bible in a year to remain focused. It would also be beneficial especially when going through the Old Testament to see forward as the hope of Christ is progressively revealed.

I would not recommend this volume for those looking for an exhaustive explanation of each book of the Bible. It only highlights the themes of the books as well as gives explanations as to how each points to Christ. Williams also develops some good thought-provoking questions for further reflection as well as “hook” questions to give the reader the necessary nudge he/she may need to reflect upon a passage a little more before pursuing onward.

Williams does a great job developing a theology of Christology throughout Scripture without voiding progressive revelation. Although there are rare occasions where the author does seem to stretch his theory a little thin.

The author also does a great job in helping readers look at Scripture through a contemporary perspective. Giving interpretive insights into the books and maintaining their historical integrity, he accurately issues forth principles from the text which can be spiritually beneficial for contemporary readers.

One really nice element of the book is that Williams gives a very detailed, yet concise introduction to each book highlighting the essential composition of the book. He also densely compacts the thematic element of each book in a nice summary sentence. This can assist the reader in keeping a simple theme in mind as they read the book looking for how that theme develops throughout the book.

My focal point was the book of Genesis. I chose to review the book in light of Genesis because I believe there lies the foundation of Scripture. The beginnings. We note from this book that God’s creation was created perfect. Man fell yet God still desired to have a relationship with him. Even as man did not pursue God after his initial sin, God sought after him. Even though He was the One offended, He went after man. The love of God is so evident in the book of Genesis. It was an incredible experience to look at how this points to Christ.

As we look into this ancient book through the Jesus lens we are able to earmark certain narratives which deliberately pinpoint forward to Jesus. As we do so our hearts are pricked to recognize the certain fact that nothing takes God by surprise. It did not surprise Him when Adam and Eve succumbed to the wicked lure of the enemy in the Garden. God did not have to resort to a Plan B to take these new turn of events into consideration. No, by His sovereignty, this was all part of His plan. He is well aware of all the things that go on throughout history before they occur. Therefore, He had the plan worked out before the actual events came into the actual historical narrative. There is no, “well, if this occurs, then I will respond this way.” No, it is all taken into His consideration and the conclusion has already been planned.

I really appreciate this perspective of interactive reading. Sometimes it can become easy to get wrapped up in the narratives and lose sight of God’s overall purpose behind Scripture. All Scripture is to point us to our need for a Savior. The accounts of the Israelite’s following with reckless abandon and in the next sentence brazenly disobeying God give us a mirror in which to see our own fickleness in our relationship to God. It points us to promise. God has promised to make way for a Savior. We in our sin have no good quality in which to offer God to accept us. We have nothing in which to barter with. Yet, even as we carefully read in Genesis as to how God carefully plans and coordinates the various historical events, He is coordinating the way in which we can still maintain a relationship with God. And He is pointing us to the Savior through the workings of many complicated plots and sub-plots which also provides evidence of His grace, love, and mercy.

Aside  —  Posted: July 10, 2012 in Uncategorized