October 30, 2016

Review: Christ All Sufficient




"Through the power of the gospel and the work of the Spirit, we are being restored to our humanity. The gospel makes us fully alive, fully ourselves. By God's grace, we are becoming human again."
Brian Hedges

Over the past year, my pastor has been teaching through Colossians. It's been a much-discussed epistle in our home for years (in case you don't know, I happen to be married to my pastor), but hearing these verse-by-verse messages has been so helpful. When I learned that Brian Hedges had recently published a new commentary on Colossians, Christ All Sufficient: An Exposition of Colossians, I looked forward to reading it. You see, I read (and reviewed) Hedges' book, Active Spirituality, a couple of years ago and found it very helpful.


I'm no Bible scholar. I have no seminary training and do not know the biblical languages. As a Christian, however, I am a student of the Bible. For all of these reasons, I appreciate that this commentary is easily accessible to believers at all stages. Hedges admittedly draws from sermons he prepared for his own congregation, as well as the scholarship of others who have influenced him along the way. These roots make the book readable, while providing stepping stones to further reading, if desired.

For me, the book was strengthened by the clear illustrations of theological truths that were included. Some of these are timeless, others are currently more culturally relevant, all were helpful. I also appreciated the inclusion of oft-forgotten hymns that teach the truths of Scripture.

Christ All Sufficient provides clarity on the meaning of Colossians, but goes even further by providing challenging application, as well. This makes the book more than a resource for teachers of the Word, but not less than that. Throughout the book, Hedges reminds the reader of Paul's main purpose in writing this letter:

With every stroke of the pen, Colossians proclaims, "Christ is supreme! Christ is sufficient! If you have him, you have all you need!"

I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. 

October 23, 2016

Review: The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life


"People actively make choices all day long. These countless decisions flow from the more hidden dedications of the heart. Whether strongly conscious or less conscious, the heart's intentions drive a person's actions. People are, in large part, who they choose to be."
Jeremy Pierre

The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience is a convicting personal read, as well as helpful in counseling others -- as all good counseling books should be.

In The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life, Jeremy Pierre seeks to help the reader see the that our hearts respond to life in a three-fold manner: cognitively (knowledge/beliefs), affectively (desires/emotions), and volitionally (choices/commitments). Rather than being a clinical analysis, this perspective helps us understand that we are "wholly spiritual persons". And Pierre is careful to say that while "...all problems are spiritual problems, I am not saying they are merely spiritual. People have bodies as well--bodies that function not as vehicles to an independent soul that drives it, but more like the canvas and paint embodying the ideas of an artist.... all human responses are by nature spiritual."

The premise of the book is well expressed in the introduction:
People are often only partially aware of the beliefs and values residing within them, and they will tend to read these beliefs and values into Scripture. People must become more willing to listen to God's voice for what it actually is rather than what they want it to be. As Scripture is thus received in the heart, God's revelation shapes people's thoughts, feelings, and choices.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with how the heart responds dynamically. This includes a careful look at what the heart was designed for, how it was corrupted and redeemed, and how it is affected by its context. The second section deals with what the heart dynamically responds to. This section examines four facets of influence upon the heart. The last section deals brings us to nuts and bolts of counseling from this biblical paradigm.

I found The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life to present a strong, biblical perspective on common struggles, along with very practical helps in working through these struggles. It's not a quick read, but worthy of chewing on as you go. This book will be helpful for pastors, counselors, and believers who simply want to work out their own salvation (Phil 2:12) and walk side-by-side with others in this same pursuit.

"God designed the heart's functions for worship: he wants people to respond to him with the complex beauty that reflects his own. Dynamic hearts worship God in daily life--in the way they think, the things they want, the choices they make."
Jeremy Pierre



I requested and received a copy of this book in exchange for an impartial review. 

August 10, 2016

This and that 8/10/16



I'm still planning to catch up on those book club posts (in case anyone was wondering), but until those are ready, I thought I'd do a quick round-up post for you.

Despite my well-known aversion to exercise of any sort, I've (re)started Pilates. I'd done a little Pilates at home before, but the online instructor was young, bubbly, and just exhausting. I found a bunch of free workouts from The Balanced Life, and they're much more my speed. I started with her beginners' series (actually did this a couple of times) before moving on to another challenge on her channel. As you can see from the Instagram photo above, Pilates is a team sport in my house.

In just a few weeks, I'll be starting what will probably be my last year of homeschooling. My youngest child will be in his final year of high school. It's hard to believe! With almost twenty years of homeschooling under my belt, I feel like I should know so much more. But you know, the further I get down this road, the less I feel like an expert -- but the more comfortable I feel about the whole thing. I think it's because I've settled into my role of not teaching my kids stuff, but teaching them to be learners. Lee Binz briefly explains here, and David Murray discusses its importance here (this post will be required reading for my son this year, as it was last year).

I've been thinking about how to listen to my pastor/hubby's sermons lately as I've discussed expository sermons with others. This post on 3 Keys to Listening to Sermons is a great starting point for older children through adults. And I'm really excited about My Church Notebook, a new kids' resource from Children Desiring God.

And this is the summer I've learned to embrace iced coffee, thanks to Starbucks Cold Brew with Sweet Vanilla Cream. Thankfully, I've learned to make my own cold brew minus the Sweet Vanilla Cream (which would probably cancel out the Pilates anyway). I'm a convert.

What have you been up to this summer?

July 17, 2016

Book Club: The Marks of Biblical Friendship



Chapter 3 of The Company We Keep took us a bit deeper into the nuts and bolts of biblical friendship. The chapter outlines "four characteristics that distinguish wise friendships": constancy, candor, carefulness, and counsel.
 ...friendship isn't so much a series of things we need to do. Friendship is more about who we need to be.
...friendship flourishes best when we seek to be and embody the type of friend we see in God himself.
Constancy can be described as being dependable "through good times and bad times, in times of prosperity and adversity." We are sharing in one another's joys and sorrows, blessings and challenges (Ephesians 4:1-3). And part of being a constant friend is being available, both physically and emotionally. As we identify and act on biblical priorities in life (more on this in Chapter 4), we'll be intentional about making time for deep friendship -- and we'll build in margin for unexpected opportunities, as well. And as we grow in our own faith, we'll be able to serve others well in friendship rather than serve our emotion-of-the-moment.

Candor is courageously speaking "truth in love for the good of your friend" (Ephesians 4:15). While this may sometimes involve admonishment, more often it can simply be reminding our friend of biblical -- God's faithfulness, mercy, grace, love. Just as we must preach the gospel to ourselves every day, we can candidly encourage one another (yes, even our fellow believers!) by preaching the gospel to them every day. (And if you're looking for a great book that includes this idea of preaching the gospel to yourself, read Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. In fact, it's a great book to read and discuss with a friend!)

Carefulness in biblical friendship "urges wisdom and consideration in how to live out the life of friendship," including including care in speech and timing, as well "wise stewardship of a friend's trust." This requires getting to know our friend well in order to serve them best. As we seek to act in carefulness, we consider the need of the moment (Ephesians 4:29).

Counsel is offered as we seek to build another up through "living out the one-another's of Scripture together" as we journey together toward Christlikeness. It's not a professional relationship, but simply purposeful friendship along life's way.

One of the things we seem to be searching for in life and relationships is to know who we are. And often, we'd like someone else to help us figure that out, to help us find our identity. But what we really need is to know Whose we are -- and we need friends who will help remind us Whose we are. The local church is a good place and natural place to seek out and build these friendships.

 This post is the fourth in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.

Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post three: Everyday Substitutes


This post contains affiliate links.

June 29, 2016

Book Club: Everyday Substitutes



In our summer book club's discussion of Chapter 2 of The Company We Keep, we recognized that, in a fallen world, we often seek out and settle for relational substitutes rather than biblical friendships. As we discussed in Chapter 1, sin turns us inward.
Because of God's common grace, relationships built on these substitutes might even thrive for a time, but they all fall woefully short of God's purposes for true friendship.
Homes identifies three types of relational substitutes: social media friendship, specialized friendship (based on stage of life or common interests), and selfish friendship. Within each of these relationship types, we sacrifice something. And because of what is lacking in these friendships, we never get to the best of biblical friendship. In fact, we often get the worst:
Often, the wounds in our lives are a direct result of insisting that somebody else be our savior and king. (Jonathan Dodson)
We often even turn them into idols, expecting the friendship to do more than friendship was ever designed to do.  Technology, social media, and common interests are helpful contexts and tools to help facilitate friendship, but friendship itself is always more than these.
Truly biblical friendship is embodied in the Trinity, empowered by Jesus Christ, and intended as a spiritual discipline among God's people for the purpose of glorifying him. This is the heart of the matter...
Friendship as a spiritual discipline?  This was, perhaps, the most thought provoking idea we discussed in Chapter 2. Discipline requires intentionality. It requires work. It means we keep the end goal in mind in order to stay the course.

And the end-goal is not me as an individual, or even us as friends. It's the glory of God.

P.S. After reading this chapter, I'm definitely interested in pursuing some of this topic further. The Next Story: Faith, Friends, Family and the Digital World is now on my books-to-get list.



 This post is the third in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.

Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post four: The Marks of Biblical Friendship




This post contains affiliate links. Photo: bossfight.co

June 18, 2016

Book Club: What is Biblical Friendship?

Detail from The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo Buonarroti (public domain)






As I shared in my last post, some ladies in my church are meeting together for a book club this summer. Our first meeting was this week, and we discussed the first chapter of The Company We Keep by Jonathan Holmes.

To give us a foundation for biblical friendship, Holmes takes us to Genesis. He points out that the Trinity itself is relationship; the very first, in fact. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in perfect communion with one another. He then reminds us that Adam, created in the image of God, was designed with a need for relationship, human relationship: "... part of our image-bearing capacity entails living in relationships with others -- not relationships built merely around common interests, but relationships that emanate from our very nature as image bearers."

Of course, we don't get far in Genesis before sin is born, rupturing all relationships. Holmes reminds us that without the restoration of our relationship with God, our other relationships are likewise tainted with sin. Our motivation for pursuing relationships with others is naturally marked by a desire for personal benefit. And what does the world see in this?
When a non-Christian peers into our friendships, is he or she able to see the outlines of the gospel story, the good news of Jesus Christ? When our friendships exist for our own pleasure, comfort, and relational happiness, rather than a communication of God's love and mercy in the gospel, we're telling the story badly, and we may be telling the wrong story altogether.
Thankfully, through Christ's work on the cross, our relationship with God can be restored. "As God poured out his wrath on Jesus, he restored the friendship that had been broken by our sin."

This remarkable fact reorients our earthly friendships so that, "No longer will our friendships be situated merely around common circumstances or interests, but will instead become an embodied commitment to live out the image of God together in every area of our life." "...Biblical friendship is explicitly Christ-centered."

As this is a book about biblical friendship, Holmes' focus is on our relationships with other believers; this is not a book about evangelism or being missional (other than the impact our biblical friendships can have on a watching world). These friendships are deeper and stronger than the sweet and simple common fellowship we share with other believers. Even as believers, we have much to overcome (mostly within ourselves!) as we seek to form biblical friendships. God's grace makes this possible.

One last note... after our first meeting, I'm even more thankful for this book club. Not only am I benefiting from hearing other women share what they are learning about God, themselves, and biblical friendship, but the group is actually allowing us to get our feet wet, so to speak, as we practice a little bit of what we're learning each week.

This post is the second in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.


Post one: Summer Book Club Reading
Post three: Everyday Substitutes  
Post four: The Marks of Everyday Friendship




This post contains affiliate links.

June 13, 2016

Summer book club reading



I've never been a part of a book club before, but I've just jumped in with both feet!

A group of women from our church will be meeting weekly to discuss The Company We Keep: In Search of Biblical Friendship by Jonathan Holmes. The ladies have been asked to consider the following questions after reading each chapter:
  • What most surprised me in this chapter?
  • What scriptural truth did I learn?
  • What was my favorite quote from the author?
  • How am I motivated to change?
These questions, along with the "Digging Deeper" questions found at the end of each chapter, will help to focus our discussions. The plan is to discuss one chapter each week (there are six), then have some sort of wrap up meeting the seventh week.

It's my goal to post a bit about each chapter and our discussion after each of our weekly meetings, so check back to learn more about what we're doing. And feel free to grab a copy (paperback, Kindle and other ebook formats are all available) and join me here in talking about the book.

This post is the first in a series about a summer book club. If you'd like to read more, click the links below.
 

Post two: What is Biblical Friendship?
Post three: Everyday Substitutes  
Post four: The Marks of Everyday Friendship





This post contains affiliate links.