Book Review: Side by Side by Edward T. Welch

UnknownBeing that most of my job revolves around discipleship, I try to keep up with what’s new in that area. Ed Welch’s book Side by Side (get it here or here) came out last year and it’s unique. It’s not simply a call to disciple, nor does it bash what a bad job most of us do at it. As the book claims with its 2 main sections, we are both needy AND needed.

What I liked

For me chapter 4 is worth the price of the book. Welch starts that chapter by saying, “Suffering feels like our biggest problem and avoiding it like our greatest need – but we know that there is something more. Sin is actually our biggest problem, and rescue from it is our greatest need.” (pg. 43). This is in the first section of the book on understanding that we all are needy. It’s in this neediness that we have to understand our own sin and how the gospel applies to it. Until we can do that, we really have no business attempting to help others. It is through this process that we grow in reliance on God and his Word. It’s as God works on our neediness that we are better prepared to be used by him to help others see their neediness and walk with them through it.

Where I struggled

The book stressed the importance of involving others in the process of dealing with our sin. I struggled here because it’s never easy and it’s rarely handled well. There is fear of judgment and condemnation that comes along with that kind of venerability. Welch reminds readers this is one of the primary functions of gospel community.

Believers need to be willing to risk this kind of openness for 2 reasons. First, we need the eyes of others to see our sin more clearly. Secondly, we need the eyes of others to apply the gospel more specifically. Without these things, working in tandem, we don’t experience growth, let alone the joy and peace that the gospel promises.

Conclusion

This is not a pastoral book (although pastors would benefit from reading it). This is a book for ALL believers. Anyone can disciple. God uses all his people in this process in some way. I highly recommend this book.

(The above quote was taken from Side by Side by Edward T. Welch @2015 published by Crossway.)

Book Review: Habits of Grace by David Mathis

UnknownI received a free e-copy of Habits of Grace by David Mathis (get it here or here) for the purposes of review. I chose this book because it’s something I, along with most believers, struggle with. Even as a pastor, I struggle with personal time in the Word, I struggle with regular times of prayer, and struggle to be authentic in community. This book not only helped me understand why I struggle, but gave simple, practical advice on how to overcome it.

What I Liked

Right from the beginning, Mathis states that his desire to write this book was to help believers to enjoy Christ above all things. This book puts us in the path of God’s grace and let’s that grace wash over us again and again. Mathis simply reminds believers where grace can be found: in His Word, in prayer, and in community (the three main sections of the book).

What’s interesting to me is that Mathis isn’t saying anything new. In fact, he’s spend much of the book quoting others. While he’s adding his voice to others, this a reminder more than it is a new and  revolutionary look at what grace is and how it can be found.

What I Didn’t Like

I admit, this is me just being picky and inserting my preference, but what I didn’t link about this book is that someone made the decision to put the references at the end of each chapter instead of together at the end of the book. I found that I wanted to just keep reading into the next chapter and having the notes right there slowed me down. Especially with the e-version, I could have jumped to the reference as I read, if need be. Like I said, this is a minor flaw that’s bent toward my petty preferences.

Best Quotes

Chapter 1

“The Christian life, from start to finish, is utterly dependent on the grace of God.”

Chapter 2

“… both reading and study have their place in Bible intake, and we need to periodically remind ourselves to slow down, bore in, and go deep when reading the Bible.”

Chapter 3

“… meditation bridges the gap between hearing from God and speaking to him.”

Chapter 4

“… applying God’s words to our lives is not only an effect of his grace to us, but also a means to more grace.”

Chapter 5

“Theology gets us in the ball park; memorized Scripture, into the clubhouse.”

Chapter 6

“God designed the church to be a community of lifelong learners under the earthly guidance of leaders who are teachers at heart.”

Chapter 7

“Prayer, for the Christian, is not merely talking to God, but responding to the One who has initiated toward us. He has spoken first. This is not a conversation we start, but a relationship into which we are drawn.”

Chapter 8

“Private prayer is an important test of whether we are real.”

Chapter 9

“Prayer is for all of life, and especially for our life together in community.”

Chapter 10

“Fasting is an exceptional measure, designed to channel and express our desire for God and our holy discontent in a fallen world. It is for those not satisfied with the status quo.”

Chapter 11

“Journaling is an  opportunity to preach the gospel freshly to yourself, beginning where you are, without simply feeding yourself to the canned lines of truth you’ll default to without pausing to think it over and write it out.”

Chapter 12

“Getting away, quiet, and alone, is no special grace on its own. But the goal is to create a context for enhancing our hearing from God in his word and responding back to him in prayer.”

Chapter 13

“… true fellowship not only labors to win the lost, but serves to keep fellow saints saved.”

Chapter 14

“While the corporate worship of Jesus by the church universal is an essential element in our great destiny, it the corporate worship of Jesus by the church local that is a vital means of grace in getting us there.”

Chapter 15

“Few practices will energize and affect your Christian life as much as sitting attentively under faithful preaching.”

Chapter 16

“Baptism is not only a blessing to us in that one memorable occasion  when we were the new believer in the water. It also becomes a rehearsing of the gospel for the observer and a means of grace throughout our Christian lives as we watch, with faith, the baptisms of others and renew in our souls the riches of the reality of our identity in Christ pictured in our baptism.”

Chapter 17

“… the Lord’s Supper is a powerful pathway for deepening and sustaining the Christian life.”

Chapter 18

“One of the most loving things we can do for each other in the church is tell each other when we’re wrong.”

Chapter 19

“We will only go so deep with Jesus until we start yearning to reach out.”

Chapter 20

“Generosity is one of the great evidences of truly being a Christian.”

Chapter 21

“Without scheduling, we will falter at the proactive; without flexibility, we will be unavailable for the reactive.”

Epilogue

“The crazy days will come … But with a little intentionality, and with a modest plan in place, you can learn to navigate these days, and even walk with greater dependance on God, knowing full well that it’s not the ideal execution of our morning habits of grace that secures his favor and blessing.”

(All quotes taken from the e-book edition of Habits of Grace by David Mathis @2016 published by Crossway.)

Conclusion

I recommend this book to all Christians. This is another in a long series of books that reminds us to take our walk with God seriously. Read this book. Study this book … together. Apply what it says. Give this book away. Watch what God does in and through you.

 

Ready to Disciple?

We, as believers, are called to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19). We make disciples as disciples – meaning, we should always be being discipled as well as discipling someone else. But how do we know when the person we have been discipling is ready to start discipling? It all comes down to the heart of the person. Here are 3 desires that should be shaping the heart of anyone desiring to disciple.

A Heart for the Gospel

… rightly handle the Word of truth … 2 Tim 2:15

When you see someone you are discipling able to apply the gospel to their own lives and the lives of others, it may be time to give them the opportunity to lead others in discipleship. When you see them demonstrating the ability to ask the question, “What am I (or they) not believing about the gospel in this situation?” It’s important that this potential discipler can apply what they are reading in the Word to himself and others. It’s critical that they handle God’s Word well and rightly, not as crutch or a proof-text.

The reason a person who desires to disciple needs a proper grasp on the gospel is that they need to see and understand how the gospel  applies to every situation that life brings. They need to be able to do this for themselves well before they will be able to do this for others. This takes a certain level of maturity.

A Servant’s Heart

…  not quarrelsome, but kind, able to teach, patiently endures evil, corrects with gentleness. 2 Tim 2:24

The heart of a servant is another important quality of a person who wishes to disciple. They should not be quarrelsome in the sense that they are always right and need to win the discussion, but kind. They should be growing in their ability to walk with someone and teach them  truth. They need to be patient, especially when the person they are discipling doesn’t see the danger of their own sin. It’s in those cases (along with others) that gentle correction is required and will ultimately bear fruit.

A servant’s heart is a requirement for a person wishing to disciple because the heart of a servant protects from pride. For a servant, it’s not about building themselves up or building a platform, but building the kingdom of God. A servant isn’t interesting in making a name for himself, but exalting God’s name.

A Heart of Repentance

… godly grief leading to repentance. 2 Cor. 7:10

As I look at the previous two categories, I cringe a little at my own shortcomings. I’m never going to live up to that perfectly. My own sin will get in the way. Luckily, I’m not called to. What God does expect is faithfulness, not perfection. This fact is what makes the final category all the more essential (and gives me confidence). If the person who is wishing to disciple others doesn’t know their own sin and isn’t actively (and daily) repenting of sin, their own ego and pride will ruin their discipling relationship.

Someone who desires to disciple others must not only be willing to share their sin, but walk with others through theirs, demonstrating what true godly sorrow and repentance looks like. People learn best when they have a good example. As we walk with others we allow them to see what we do and give them the opportunity to catch it for themselves.

It’s as you see someone putting into practice these qualities that you realize they may be ready to lead someone else down the discipleship road. Be willing to let that person do it, for their growth, for your good (as you seek someone else to disciple), and most importantly, for the glory of God.

Comics and Controversy

UnknownNo one can dispute the fact that words are powerful. Spoken words. Written words. Even words spoken by a beloved comic book character. With two little words, the comic community got itself in an uproar. Those two words: “Hail Hydra.” The words themselves have been spoken before by many, people we expected to say it, and we were ok with it. This time though, we were shocked, and then offended. The “controversy”, if you want to call it that, revolves around who said it most recently. This time it was Captain America himself who uttered this phrase, “apparently” betraying everything we thought we knew about him and siding with the enemy.

As a self-professed “comic geek”

For those who don’t know, I’ve collected comics on and off (more on than off … much to my wife’s dismay) since I was 7. Conservatively speaking, I probably currently own somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 – 15,000 comics. Because they were the first books I was introduced to, I’m a Marvel Comics fan. I’ve read DC comics, I’ve read Image comics, but I’ve always come back to Marvel and preferred them. I have both the Avenger’s logo and the X-Men logo tattooed on my left forearm. Suffice it to say, I’m a fan (possibly a fan-boy).

So when it comes to this “apparent controversy” I have quite a bit of history and experience to look back on. Here’s my perspective:

  1. Just in the time I’ve been collecting comics I’ve seen Captain America (along with other heroes) “die” on more than one occasion.
  2. I’ve seen Captain America (along with other heroes) be “replaced” more times than I can count.
  3. I’ve seen Marvel move in directions with multiple heroes and villains as the’ve apparently switched allegiances.
  4. I’ve seen good writers and artists do things with my favorite characters that I wish they wouldn’t have done.

Here’s what I’ve learned

There are several lessons I’ve learned over the years that relate to this:

  1. Rarely is something as clear as it seems from the final panel of any given book. Yes, the writers of any good comic book wanted to create a “shock” or a “climax” at the end of each book. But we have to ask ourselves the question, “Why?” The simple business reason is they want to you to buy the next next book.
  2. Rarely does the last panel give you the full story. There is always a reason for the shock or climax. Let the story be told in its totality before jumping to any conclusions.
  3. Rarely (if ever) does a “seemingly” significant change in a character’s canon remain permanent. Steve Rogers will always be the original Captain America. Logan will always be the original Wolverine.  Peter Parker will always be the original Spider Man. By the end of the story, the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” holds true.

How Should We Respond

Is it right for us, as the reader, to respond in outrage? Maybe. At the very least we had a emotional response. Which is what any writer really wants, to have the reader feel something.

Is it right for us to call for a boycott of a particular company? Maybe. But it seems a bit extreme (and a lot premature) when we don’t have all the information.

Is it right for us to jump on social media and threaten the life of the writer and his family over a creative decision? Absolutely not! This is  immaturity and false bravado at its worst.

At the end of the day, this is a character in a comic book. While we all have our beloved characters, this writer has a story to tell.  I’m personally interested in seeing where it goes to see how he resolves this “apparent controversy”.

Pipe Smoking on the Go

For those of you who don’t follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you probably don’t know that I enjoy smoking a pipe and have for years. I’m a locker member at the local cigar shop and even have a blend of tobacco that I created for sale there. Most days I will invariably end up working at the shop for a least part of the day.

One of the things I struggled with in the past is how to smoke on the go. I’m fine at the shop with all my supplies and necessities right at hand, but on the go is tougher … or at least it was.

Up until recently, here’s how I traveled with my pipe. I bought this small, sitting pipe because of it’s size and shape. It fit easily into the bag (… and yes I see the irony of the “safety” bag). FullSizeRender

Now I have this for the “on the go” smoke. I could put a bag of tobacco (… namely my “pastor’s blend”) could fit in the pouch instead of a second pipe. On the go, I usually have a tin. I got it from Hank’s Handmade US. I saw someone else’s on Instagram and contacted him about what I was looking for. I had it like a week later.

IMG_4898If you are looking for an awesome way to travel with your pipe (or pipes) check out Hank‘s work.

The End of Discipleship

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV) (emphasis added)

Jesus makes it very clear what the mission of the church is; to make disciples. Discipleship is the process where we embrace the life and ethics of Jesus personally while helping others to do the same. By embracing Jesus’ life I mean having faith in his work for sinners in his life, death, and resurrection. By embracing Jesus’ ethics I mean embracing all he has commanded us to do, both explicitly and implicitly.

The church therefore is made up of disciples who are making disciples. Disciple making is not just about acquiring head knowledge or changing outward behavior, but responding to God’s work in such a way that sanctification can be seen in all those who actively participate in the process.

But, is there an end to discipleship? How do we know when we’re done? In one sense we never are. There will never come a time when we don’t need to be discipled, or when we shouldn’t be discipling someone else. In another sense we hit a milestone when the one being discipled is effectively discipling someone else.

So, in an important way the end, or goal, of discipleship is when the person being discipled starts discipling someone else. Which frees the one doing the discipling to do the same.

The goal?

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)

Knowing when someone you’ve discipled is ready to disciple someone else will be a topic of a future post.

Discipleship Groups (pt. 3) – What They Do

Discipleship doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it requires a few things. There needs to be an intentionality for it, a desire to fight sin by going deeper into into the Scriptures, exploring not only our identity in Christ, but how to live out that identity in practical ways (part 1 here). It also requires a  group formed  to accomplish it (part 2 here). The final question that remains to be answered is to what to do?  The answer is to go deep in the areas of sharing and studying.

Sharing

I know what you’re thinking (especially if you’re a guy), “I don’t like to have feelings, let alone share them!” While feelings are part of it, it’s not all of it. Sharing requires us to be both transparent and vulnerable. This can be very scary to some of us, especially those who have been hurt in the past. But it shouldn’t be. The reason this shouldn’t be scary is because of the gospel. It’s through the gospel that we find ourselves in the same place, that of sinner/saints seeking a greater sense of sanctification. That’s part of discipleship, part of what we are trying to do. By allowing others in, we see ourselves (and thereby our sin) better. Which in turn helps us to fight sin and temptation better. It does this by exposing it to the light. It’s easy to hide our sin in the dark, when no one know about it. But when we expose it the light we see Christ more. It’s the seeing of  Christ more clearly we are better equipped to fight against the sin and temptation more effectively.

The sharing I’m describing answers 3 basic questions:

  1. What is God doing?
  2. Where we are struggling how does gospel answer?
  3. How we can be praying for one another? (James 5:16)

It’s in the answers to these questions that the members of the group have to opportunity to encourage (1 Thes. 5:11) and exhort (Heb. 3:13) one another. These questions also lead naturally into accountability (the ability to check in and see progress).

Studying

Discipleship, at its core is knowing God better. The main, and dare I say only, way that happens is by studying His Word. It’s through the Word that we get a glimpse (and just a glimpse) of: “what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph. 3:18b-19 ESV – emphasis added) This is a life long pursuit of going both deep into the meaning and experientially in the application of that truth.

The studying side of discipleship is best accomplished, in my opinion, through the use of “helps”. A good commentary on the book of the Bible you are studying together, a systematic theology on a particular aspect of faith the group is struggling with, a book from a trusted author on an a topic of interest to the whole group desires to grow in, can be helpful. Again the goal is deepen both knowledge and  experience.

So there it is, making disciples as disciples is accomplished through sharing and studying. It doesn’t matter if you’re the leader of the group or a participant, growth will happen. Yes, it takes hard work, both in being vulnerable and in study, but there is even greater joy and peace to be had, as well as greater fruitfulness to be gained as we draw near to God through Christ (Heb. 4:16; 7:19; 7:25; 10:1, 10:22, 11:6).

Praying for the Big & and the Small

As I was reading in the Valley of Vision this morning I came across this quote:

Help me not only to desire small things but with holy boldness to desire great things for thy people, for myself, that they and I might live to to show thy glory.

I have to admit, I don’t often pray with “holy boldness”. I don’t often pray for big things because they are too big for my mind to comprehend. I also struggle taking the small things to God because I either feel like I should be able to handle them on my own, or they are below His notice.

Lord, teach me to pray and help me in my unbelief.

(Quote taken page 267 of The Valley of Vision ©1975 by Arthur Bennett and published by The Banner of Truth Trust.)

When the Gospel Isn’t Good News

The Gospel is only good news if it brings us to God. Read the wise words of John Piper:

… salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if in only gives relief from guilt and doesn’t open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn’t bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage and doesn’t bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Father’s family but not in his arms. (pg. 62)

(Quote taken from Fifty Reasons Why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper ©2006 by Desiring God Foundation and published by Crossway)