Book Review : Exploring Christian Theology

exploreWhen it comes to the word theology, images of dusty books, seminary classes, and Greek/Hebrew translation come to mind. Volumes upon volumes have been written in an attempt to explain and understand the nature of God. Dallas Theological Seminary professors Nathan Holsteen and Michael Svigel has offered a contribution with their joint effort, “Exploring Christian Theology; The Church, Spiritual Growth, and the End Times”. The goal of their book is to make the very basic tenets of theology available to everyone. Their choice of doctrine to explore includes the church, sanctification, and end times study.

Exploring Christian Theology is written in two parts: Spiritual Growth and the Church (Holsteen) and End Times (Svigel). Each part is subdivided the same way containing the following elements: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past, and Shelf Space. What I enjoyed most were the Retrospect, High Altitude Survey, and Passages to Master sections in each part. The authors did a nice job of laying the proper historical groundwork so that a modern application could be made. Holsteen and Svigel’s commentary on the most prominent and familiar scripture passages within the section of writing was very helpful. Although this is a theology book, the authors chose not to use difficult language which makes the books very readable. This is a plus.

I had some minor issues with the book. The format of the book is counterproductive. It appears the authors desired to include as much information on their material as possible. The inclusion of unnecessary peripheral material takes away from what they set out to do. For example, there are 31 pages of quotes from authors, scholars, and church leaders from the time periods of their writing. The section on recommended and further reading could have been left out as well.

My greatest issue with this book is the simply the choice of subjects to be covered. Their goal was to cover the basic tenets of theology. For the time, space, and length of work the authors chose, I believe the three that were chosen are not the most basic of tenets. Doctrines such as Theology Proper (God), Christology (Jesus Christ), Harmatology (Sin), Soteriology (Salvation), and Pneumatology (Holy Spirit) would have been preferable if the goal was to provide the basics. As a pastor, if I were asked to recommend a theology book, it would not be this one.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Baker Publishing as part of their Blogger Review 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.”

Book Review : Free Book

“Free Book” by Brian Tome is a book about the freedom that an individual can find through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Tome, in a very animated and excitable fashion, encourages his readers to live this free life to its fullest. I had an immediate interest in this book due to the subject. I wish I could say that I liked it, but I can’t. “Free Book” did not deliver. Tome’s book started slowly, and I was tempted to put it down. The book does get a little better as it goes along. Tome’s style of writing is different. It is in-your-face and some may even find it offensive in parts. I had hoped this book would have been deeper. It just seemed “light” to me in the areas where depth was needed. If you have been a Christian for any period of time, there is not a whole here that you will find new. Freedom is about surrender and surrender is a life-long process. That process is discipleship. However, one part shone through. I found the chapter dealing with overcoming personal strongholds and evicting “squatters” from your life to be especially helpful. These chapters were well written and gave sound and practical principles that can help make a difference. I was challenged to evaluate my life and determine if anything negative had moved-in that did not belong that may prove harmful. Overall, I give this book two stars.  

Book Review Blogger – Where is God?

 “Where is God?” Arguably the most often asked question of the day in our world of terrorist attacks, divorce, child abuse, economic hardships, layoffs, sickness, and depression. In his latest book, Dr. Townsend tackles this age-old question. This is the first book of Townsend’s that I have read and am an instant fan. It is a true winner. Through personal experience, years of Christian counseling, and a healthy does of biblical principle, he enables the reader to understand what brings us to the point of questioning God’s presence in our lives.

 I was challenged and encouraged by this book. I was challenged to remember that although I can’t see God working up front, I can trust He is working behind the scenes. Townsend cements his writing in three over-arching themes that he further develops throughout the book: God is for us and working on our behalf, our experiences matter to God, and Bible is our only source for understanding difficulty.  What I liked most was that Townsend did not hide or sugarcoat the reality that life can be difficult and cruel. Instead, he challenges the reader to look first to God in their search for understanding.

 If you are struggling yourself or helping another work through a difficult time, this book is well worth the time. Solid and insightful.

Dehydrated Hearts

Water is an amazing thing. It can take many forms: ice, snow, vapor. It also makes up nearly eighty percent of the human body. It is absolutely necessary for life. Without it, our bodies will begin to shut down. There will be signs of this shut down, everything from dry mouth to illogical thought pattern. Unless water is taken in, it is of no value to the body. You can have as much water around as you like. Unless you take it in, you could die of thirst.

Your spirit needs water as well. Not the same kind of water your body needs. Without your spirit being watered, it can begin to dehydrate. There will be signs here as well. Short tempers, depression, worry, fear, guilt, insecurity, unforgiveness, and anger are all signposts along the road to spiritual dehydration. We do our best to satisfy this soul thirst  with earthly effort. We hope that increased activity, the church, or even family can make a difference. None of these will quench the thirst of a drying heart. Jesus himself gave us the remedy for soul thirst. He said in John 7:37-38, “On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Only Jesus can quench the thirst that burns deep inside our hearts. He tells us to come to Him if we have a need. The blessing for us is that we can continually come to Him as often as the need arises. The fountain never dries. Imagine a stream of water flowing that is always there for a person to drink from. This stream removes the fear of dehydration. Now imagine a river of living water that falls on our heart and spirit like a waterfall. This waterfall allows security, peace, forgiveness, love, and strength to penetrate a dry spirit. We know that in Him our spiritual thirst will be quenched.

 

Being Alone is not Always a Bad Thing

There is a fundamental fear that many people in today’s world share. This common fear is the fear of being alone. I believe that we are social creatures. We desire, if not need, interaction with others. No one wants to feel as if they are without the support, love, and companionship of others. I can remember times in my life when I felt completely alone. Growing up, we moved around frequently. Prior to my seventh grade year in school, I had attended thirteen different schools. I remember being the new kid in class many times. Perhaps my earliest memory of being alone was standing in front of a classroom full of students who had known each other for years while the teacher had me to stand up front. I can remember hearing that very familiar statement, “Class, I would like to introduce you to our new student.” Alone.

Although being alone is not the preferred choice of many, there are times when it is a good thing.  The times that we spend alone with God are both productive and beneficial. It is in our time alone with God that we are able to truly hear from our Heavenly Father. In this fast-paced world that we live in, we are often required to spend a lot of time on the phone, on the road, and even hours in front of the computer. It is extremely difficult to hear from God in the middle of that activity. We must intentionally carve out some time out of our schedules to get alone with the creator of the universe. Significant things happen get alone with God. We find this pattern throughout the Bible. Consider these: 

In Exodus 1, alone with God, the Hebrew midwives risked their lives by listening to God’s command to spare all male children, one of whom was Moses.

In Lamentations, Jeremiah, alone with God, pleaded for the salvation of an entire nation.

In Nehemiah 1, alone with God, the desire to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem was birthed in Nehemiah’s heart.

In Daniel 2, alone with God, the meaning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream was revealed.

Alone with God, in prison, Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesian church.

In Revelation, alone with God on Patmos, John received an incredible vision from Christ Himself.

Alone with God is an individual choice, a passion we choose to pursue. It is in these times that we experience the true intimacy of our relationship with God. Alone with God, we lift our petitions to Him in with a certainty that He will hear. Alone with God, we see His Word come alive in our careful study. Alone with God, the plans and purposes He has for us are spoken to our hearts. Alone with God, we feel the conviction of sin that has grieved God’s heart. Alone with God, we feel the calm assurance that regardless of outside conditions, he has control of the inside. Alone with God, our spirits are refreshed and encouraged. I can’t think of a better place for the child of God to be.

Recommended Reading

People read for different reasons. Some read for pleasure and to relieve stress. Some read for information. Still others read with a desire to learn something that can change their lives. I am of the latter. If I read a book and gain insight on becoming a better husband, father, pastor, or witness then I consider my time in that book was not wasted.

If you have a passion and desire to know what and how the unchurched person thinks, I would like to recommend a book to you. That book is: The Unchurched Next Door by Thom Rainer. (By now you have figured out that I enjoy Rainer’s work). The book is centered around research conducted with 306 unchurched people in all 50 states and Canada, across all ethnic groups, all social backgrounds, all educational levels and ages. Simply put, the research team spent hundreds of hours listening to the unchurched. Researchers asked questions about their belief in key areas such as the existence of heaven/hell, who God and Jesus are to them, the reliability of the Bible, their prayer life, and possible church attendance.

The research was compiled and the responses were groups into one of five faith stages. This rating became known as the Rainer Scale. It looks like this:

U5 – Highly resistant to the gospel, antagonistic attitude
U4 – Resistant to the gospel, but not an antagonistic attitude
U3 – No apparent receptivity, neutral, perhaps open to discussion
U2 – Receptive to the gospel and to the church
U1 – Highly receptive to the gospel, “the Philipian jailer”

 

This book, in my opinion, does a fantastic job of dealing with three key areas that I feel the church today struggles to understand. First, a thorough description is given as to what the unchurched look like at every faith level. Second, recommendations are given on how to interact with the unchurched at every faith stage. Third, suggestions on how to move an unchurched person down the scale toward increased receptivity. This book has led me to change the way I personally look the unchurched. They are not all alike. Information is power. If you have a heart for those not yet connected to God’s church, you will be encouraged by this book.

 

 

Choose Thanksgiving

When we stop to think of Thanksgiving, certain things come to mind. Eating turkey, watching football, and a short work week are just a few. Thanksgiving is a time set aside to reflect on what we are thankful for. I believe thankfulness is a choice we make. We can choose to take everything for granted and believe it is our right to have, or we can be truly thankful for what we have been given, realizing many don’t have what we enjoy. Thankfulness is something we learn. God’s Word gives us a story that shows this principle in action. Jesus told us of ten lepers who cried out to Him for relief of their condition. He heard them and told them to go and show themselves to the priest.  The Bible tells us that while they were on their way to the priest, they were healed. Of the ten, only one came back to show his gratitude. Jesus then asked if there were not ten and why did only one come back.  I want to share with you here what I shared with our people this past Sunday night. I believe that we will learn to be thankful when we have a good understanding of certain things.

1. We learn to be thankful when we think about how desperate  our   situation was before we met Jesus.

2. We learn to be thankful when we think about what we have gained in Christ.

3. We learn to be thankful when we think about what was done for us could not have been done by us.

4. We learn to be thankful when we think about how much our ingratitude grieves the heart of God.

As you enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays this year, take time to remember and reflect on the impact that Jesus has had in your life. When we do, it makes the choice to be thankful that much easier.

FIFS : Isaiah 6:1-8

1. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. 2. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3.  And one cried to another and said:   “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!”  4. And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. 5. So I said:   “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts.” 6. Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. 7. And he touched my mouth with it, and said:   “Behold, this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, And your sin purged.” 8.  Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:   “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?”   Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”

When we think about the encounter between God and Isaiah, our minds run to the end where Isaiah says, “Here I am. Send me”.  Isaiah received an upward vision of God first,  I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up”Isaiah secondly received an inward vision of his unworthiness and sinfulness,Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips”. When you spend time in God’s presence this is inevitable.  For Isaiah, the upward vision of God led to the inward vision of himself. As you understand more clearly who God is, your own condition becomes more clear. These two led to the third, an outward vision of the world. God saw there were more like Isaiah. More in the same condition. God was looking for someone to go and share the same vision Isaiah received : God is holy. Man is sinful. God forgives. As a result of Isaiah understanding who called him, he dealt with his sinfulness. He could then go and be God’s messenger to the people.

This sequence is beneficial for us today. Before we can run out and share who God is, we must be changed by Him first. Often I think we want to say, “Here I am. Send me” without first saying “I am a man of unclean lips”.

Works in Progress

There is a song that children learn in church at an early age that goes something like this, “He’s still working on me, to make me what I ought to be.” That simple song has its roots in a much deeper spiritual truth. The truth is that each day, God is working in us and on us to make us ore like His Son Jesus. This happens through the application of the written Word, revealing how we are to act and live. This also happens through conviction by the Holy Spirit, revealing areas that are not pleasing and need to be changed.

Recently, I came across a video by the The Skit Guys that gives an accurate, vivid picture of this process at work. The video is about 8 minutes long, but well worth your time. Please watch, enjoy, and apply.