Tag Archives: Jesus

God Wants You To Be Holy

Every once in a while you hear about a book that someone reads every year. Screwtape Letters, Elements of Style, My Utmost for His Highest, or The Complete Calvin and Hobbs.  The Hole In Our Holiness will certainly make the annual reading list for thousands who take following Jesus seriously.

Kevin DeYoung makes the case for a holiness deficit in the N. American church with three penetrating questions:

1) In Romans 16.9 Paul writes, “Your obedience is known to all.” DeYoung asks, “Is this even what you want to be known for? (p. 12)

2) Based on Rev 21-22 heaven is a holy place. DeYoung asks, “If you dislike a holy God now, why would you want to be with him forever?…..You would not be happy there if your are not holy here.” (p. 15)

3) Are we Great Commission Christians? “The Great Commission is about holiness. God wants the world to know Jesus, believe in Jesus, and obey Jesus.” (p. 16)

What follows is a thoughtful book on our responsibility and the necessity of our cooperation in the pursuit of holiness and the inherent perils in that pursuit. He addresses the importance of understanding the gradation of sin: “When we can no longer see the different gradations among sins and sinners and sinful nations, we have not succeeded in respecting our own badness; we have  cheapened God’s goodness.” (p. 72). When we get complacent in the pursuit of holiness DeYoung warns “…some Christians are stalled out in their sanctification for simple lack of effort. …. And they need to fight, strive, and make every effort to work out all that God is working in them.” (p. 90)

Chapter 7 is an important and profound treatment of the doctrine of our union with Christ. This chapter alone is worth the modest price of this fine book! Here’s just one example of DeYoung’s pointed and powerful writing: “In effect God says to us, ‘Because you believe in Christ, by the Holy Spirit I have joined you to Christ. When he died, you died. When he rose, you rose. He’s in heaven, so you’re in heaven. He’s holy, so you’re holy. Your position right now, objectively and factually, is as a holy, beloved child of God, dead to sin, alive to righteousness, and seated in my holy heaven – now live like it.” (p. 105). That will preach! And it will provide great encouragement to those who struggle to live up to their calling every day.

Toward the end of the book DeYoung clearly identifies the importance of personal holiness: “We think that relevance and relate-ability are the secrets to spiritual  success. And yet, in truth, a dying world needs you to be with God more than it needs you to be “with it.” That’s true for me as a pastor and true for you as a mother, father, brother, sister, child, grandparent, friend, Bible study leader, computer programmer, bank teller, barista, or CEO. Your friends and family, your colleagues and kids – they don’t need you to do miracles or transform civilization. They need you to be holy.” (p. 145).

It’s a short trip from holiness to legalism and we are often either very eager to make that trip or take just 1 or 2 wrong turns and end up at a destination that is not where we intended to go. What DeYoung writes in The Hole In Our Holiness can be very prescriptive and preventative in keeping us on the road to holiness. Don’t miss the last paragraph. It might be the most powerful paragraph in the entire book!

As a coach and second chair leader I recommend this book to all who want their lives to reflect the reality of their union with Jesus Christ. Personally, I found this short book to be filled with balanced and accurate interpretations of what the Bible teaches on the topic of personal holiness. The thoughtful reader will find plenty of encouragement and challenging motivation from it. And if you don’t have a book that you read annually, I would encourage you to make The Hole In Our Holiness that book.

Why Holiness Matters

First-time author, (and current seminarian) Tyler Braun takes an impassioned stand for a new approach to biblical holiness in “Why Holiness Matters – We’ve Lost Our Way But We Can Get it Back” (Moody, 2012). His main thought is: “Holiness is not new behaviors. It is new affections.” (p. 12)

Written by a millennial creative for millennials, Tyler shares his compelling personal story of his holiness journey. It is a story that most readers – millennials or not – will be able to relate to on many levels. How many of us have chased some degree of personal holiness by pursuing new habits (disciplines) that are supposed to (we hope) give birth to holiness? It only takes a few days to discover that we lack the holiness to maintain those disciplines. After a few false starts we usually just give up trying. Little did we know that giving up was just the place we need to be! What we really need is not more studies, more small groups, more classes, or more sermons – we need hearts that are turned toward Jesus. He is the source of our holiness.

“A relationship with Jesus that begins with anything other than the penetrating love he has for us becomes a duty-filled, contractual relationship. We begin to think of all the blessings we’ll receive when we do what we believe he desires. But a relationship with Jesus that begins with his love and fills our hearts and lives, becomes a relationship of affection. We do what we believe he desires because we love him, not for any prosperity or blessing that might come our way.” (p. 69)

I believe that Tyler has hit a home run (an analogy that he will appreciate) on his first at bat! “Why Holiness Matters” is a book that has all of the potential of becoming a classic – a clearly stated fundamental shift in status quo thinking; numerous quotes – from sentences to full paragraphs – that will be quoted and referred to in other blogs, books, articles, sermons, etc.; a compelling story that connects the reader with the author; and a desire by the reader to re-read the book.

Here is a sampling of the quotes that I think will be used heavily in other works:

“Holiness is not an outcome of perfect living, sin management, rule following, or right doctrine.” (p. 135)

“The holiest of lives would no longer make sense if God did not exist.” (p. 135)

“Holiness begins in us by following Jesus and allowing him to apprehend us through his love, not for the sake of wealth, strength, or power, but for the sake of becoming a reflection (the imago Dei) of who he is.” (p. 158)

I highly recommend reading and re-reading “Why Holiness Matters.”

You can read more about Tyler Braun and Why Holiness Matters on his blog:  manofdepravity.com

 

Chazown

Craig Groeschel defines “Chazown” as: “dream” or “revelation” or “vision.” He asserts that we all need vision to  do what God has created us to do. He identifies four things that vision brings to our lives: focus, endurance, peace, and passion (p.12). Beginning with the end in mind, Groeschel takes the reader on a journey of discovering their personal Chazown.

Part field guide, part workbook, Chazown is a practical manual for developing and identifying God’s vision for your life. Along the way you will do some writing as you wrestle with a variety of clarifying exercises the author presents. As you walk through these 76 short chapters you will refer back  to those exercises and further clarify and modify them.

At about the half-way point of the book Groeschel identifies five spokes of your personal Chazown as:

1. Your relationship with God

2. Your relationship with people

3. Your financial health

4. Your physical health

5. Your life’s work

A brief self-inventory on page 106 helps you consider one of two options. You can either focus on one of the five spokes and develop an action plan to address it or you can develop action plans on all five spokes. A section is devoted to each spoke. If you are going to just look at one at a time then this is where you skip ahead to that specific section. (You can always come back to the other sections!)

I believe that most people will find Chazown to be helpful – especially if they feel that something is missing in their lives and they are looking for direction and meaning. This is not a book that you just read and then set aside. There is a fair amount of work that one must do to fully benefit from it. There are tons of additional resources located at http://www.chazown.com that will help you. You might find the 4-session group guideline included in the back of the book to be the best way for you to process what you’ve read. But whether you make this journey alone or with others, Chazown will help you bring clarity and direction to your life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a collection of short stories taken from the memoirs of Richard Varberg – a long-time missionary to the Philippians with Converge Worldwide (BGC). Varberg served with distinction as an entrepreneurial missionary in the island nation of the Philippines. He and his wife headed off in 1958 with their infant son and raised a family in challenging circumstances. They left a significant legacy of a growing network of churches and second and third generation missionary family members.

It is difficult to imagine or appreciate the depth of the obstacles and challenges that they faced. Operating in a fair level of isolation it seems that they frequently had to improvise and figure things out for themselves. There certainly were no training manuals to cover the variety of situations they encountered. Drawing from his experience growing up on an Iowa farm, Varberg functioned as a mechanic, architect, and construction foreman. They were skills that served him well.

If there is one point of critique that I would raise it is the frequency in this volume of stories of conflict with Roman Catholic missionaries and priests. At times the stories seem uncomfortably reminiscent of a time when evangelical christians and catholics often found themselves at odds. There is no doubt that there was unecessary conflict and resistance exercised by catholic leaders in the establishment of a community cemetery (pp. 61-83). Even legal action was threatened and carried out against Varberg. While significant theological differences still exist today, followers of Christ can be found in both camps and many evangelicals and catholics often work together in areas where agreement exists. These stories could have been even more powerful in their impact without the distraction of an anti-catholic theme running through many of them.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is a historical snapshot of mission work in the Philippines in the 1950’s through 1990’s. It is filled with fascinating stories of God’s grace and faithfulness in difficult – and even life-threatening – circumstances. We should be grateful to the Varberg’s and hundreds of others who served (and are serving) so faithfully to bring the Gospel to communities around the world.

“Why Didn’t You Come Sooner?” is published by the William Carey Library and is available at Amazon.

The Gospel of Yes

Mike Glenn makes a significant contribution toward bringing clarity back to a simple Gospel message that has been buried by confusion and clutter in recent decades. How many of us have come to understand the Gospel as “the Gospel plus?” Plus a dress code, plus a list of do’s and don’ts, plus a certain translation of the Bible. Enough already!

Glenn begins our journey toward a simpler Gospel with words like these found on p. 12:

“When you accept the “yes” of Christ’s redemptive grace and respond with the “yes” of faith, everything finds its rightful place. Your life finds order, meaning, and the right fit in your community. Finally you can relax in who God created you to be. If a decision before you doesn’t serve your “yes” in Christ, then the response is ‘no.'”

A few pages later Glenn adds: “”Saying ‘yes’ allows you to focus on what matters.” (p. 17)

Somewhere along the way we began defining God’s love and grace and the heart of the Gospel in negative terms. Certainly God is against some things. The same things we are all against. Things like stealing, lying, murder, adultery, etc. Those are terribly destructive behaviors that God (and all of us) should be against. But  this fascination with defining the Gospel in negative terms has been destructive, too.

“For far too many of us, Christianity has been narrowed down to sin management. Sure, we all want to get to heaven. But under the sin-management paradigm, getting to heaven is no longer about Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and his invitation to follow him in new life. The focus on sin makes getting to heaven a matter of keeping score.” (p. 26)

Hang around church for more than just a few years and you will know all about keeping score. I’ve had people hand me a bulletin from the church they visited while they were on vacation so that I would know that they went to church. Have to keep that perfect attendance streak intact! We are consumed with avoiding wrong behavior and we excel at letting people know what we are against!

“Simply not doing wrong isn’t enough. Being against sin isn’t the same as being for Christ.” (p. 27)

But ask the typical co-worker, neighbor, or unchurched relative to describe the Christians they know and odds are that they will begin with a list of things they think that Christians are against: drinking, dancing, same-sex marriage, movies, public schools, voting democrat!

“We have concluded that avoiding hell is more important that following Christ in any practical, daily, risky way. So we shut ourselves off from the world and the God who created it. This is why the gospel of Jesus Christ is such a shock to many Christians. We assumed Jesus would come to earth and say “no.” We never expect him to preach “yes.” But his message should not come as a surprise. He came, he said, to preach the message of his Father, and his Father has been saying “yes” all along. The champions of our faith – Abraham, David, Mary, and all the rest – are simply those who heard and believed the “yes” of God in Jesus. They heard the same “yes” that God spoke to call creation itself to life.

And we are invited to hear that same “yes” today.” (p. 34)

Glenn takes these basic concepts and applies them in various ways. He addresses the “yes” in creation, in the cross, and in the resurrection. He challenges his readers to consider the “yes” of forgiveness, of authentic relationships, of simplicity, and more.  If reading these excerpts from “The Gospel of Yes” have grabbed your attention then I would encourage you to read the rest of the book. There’s a simple discussion guide included in the back of the book that covers the 15 chapters in 7 sessions. “The Gospel of Yes” could be read individually, used in a small group, or with your church staff or leadership group. It is a book that should be read by all those who seek to follow Jesus and those who have grown weary of keeping score.

God-Imaging Christ Followers

In his book, Disciple, (Crossway) pastor and author Bill Clem plows new ground for those of us who seek to fulfill Jesus’ command to go and make disciples. Clem begins with the premise that we have all been created by God to his image-bearers: “…God created man both to image God and to be in relationship with others (with both God and humans).” (p. 17)  That may not be a new idea to most. Clem continues: “A person who is spiritually dead, separated by sin from oneness with God, is a distorted image bearer, and though there may be ways in which God is seen, the image portrayed will be seriously impaired and distorted.” (p. 18) Still haven’t seen anything new? Keep reading!

“To see Jesus on the story of God means that we look at everything God has done, including every person God has put into his script, and we discover how all image God like Jesus did.” (p. 38) “Our value in God’s eyes is not determined by what we can do above and beyond his design for us but in the inherent nature of how we function in relationship to him, to others, and his creation. It is our relationships that truly bear the image of God.” (p. 60) “We started by saying everyone images God on mission to one degree of distortion or another. If this is true, then being on mission may not be about what help you can offer as much as about partnering with unbelieving image bearers already imaging (although distorted) the God they don’t know.” (p. 72).

I take that to mean that as I serve on committees in my community, interact with city leaders and officials, or join community service groups (that may or may not be connected to my church) that the members of all of these groups were created as image bearers of God (even if they don’t acknowledge it) and they are carrying out God’s mission even if their image-bearing is distorted. So when I join them in what God is already doing through them in my community, the labor of my efforts bear the image of God and so do my relationships with these fellow image-bearers! That was new to me.

From this starting point Clem explores several implications for the Christ-follower. Here are several chapter headings:

4. Identity distortions

5. Worship

6. Worship Distortions

7. Community

8. Community Distortions

9. Mission

10. Mission Distortions

The final two chapters (11. The Plan & 12. Multiplication) are the nuts and bolts of establishing transformational discipleship relationships in your life and in your church. It’s an extremely helpful book. One that has challenged me to re-tool my worn and weary method of discipleship for something much more profound and foundational. I found this statement on pp. 65-66 to be extremely challenging for me personally: “…if someone is oriented toward imaging God, then the disciple-making process will be more transformational than an informational set of verses and lessons.” “…I don’t see how teaching people that they are image bearers of God and asking the question, “How will this action or attitude image or distort the God of the Bible?” could be more basic to the nature of living as followers of Jesus. This perspective has tone our baseline (1 John 2.6).”

Second Chair leaders: If you lead a men’s ministry or small group ministry I would encourage you to get your hands on a copy of Clem’s book and explore ways that you can implement these concepts in your ministry. If you do, let me know about your plans. It would be great to dialogue with you. If you are a small group leader this book could be helpful for you although the average small group may find the content and the assignment sections following each chapter to be deeper than most other small group materials. (That’s not necessarily a bad thing!)

Josh Harris’ “Dug Down Deep!”

Quick – what comes to mind when you hear the word “theology?” For most of us we think of academic, complicated, dry, commentary. You won’t think of any of those words while reading “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. In fact, it may take you a little while to realize that you are actually reading a theology book.

“Dug Down Deep” is a systematic theology for a new generation of Christ-followers. This is no Berkhoff, or Erickson, or even Grudem-like book (nothing wrong with any of those three – I actually own and use systematics by all three). Harris approaches theology as a narrative. As you learn more about the author’s life, his father’s life, and even the church where he serves you will also learn about salvation, sanctification, the Holy Spirit, justification, atonement, and much more.

Harris states theological concepts in very clear and understandable terms:

“When we study the doctrine of God, there should be a sense of awe in our hearts. We should be like children with a telescope under a starry night sky. Then we will be filled with amazement that Someone so great – so transcendant can be known and seen by us. We will rightly feel small and insignificant as we realize how great and powerful the God we’re beholding really is. The more you learn of who God truly is, the more incredible his invitation to know him becomes.” (p. 51)

As a second chair leader with responsibilities for small groups, discipleship,  and adult ministries I found  the Reflection and Study Guide found in the back of each copy of “Dug Gown Deep” to be a great feature. It’s a resource that could be very useful for personal or small group study. I’m considering using it with a men’s small group that I am currently forming.

I especially recommend “Dug Down Deep” for those who think they have no interest in theology or those who think that theology is too difficult (or uninteresting) for them. “Dug Down Deep” will challenge that thinking and open up a new world of appreciation for biblical theology. Along the way the reader will come to know and love God in a richer and fuller way.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”