Book Review : A Heart For The Community

heart4communityI am particularly interested in books and resources that deal with strengthening the local church for more effective community engagement. As a pastor I believe it is critically important for the church to leverage its corporate resources and individual member’s gifts and talents to engage and positively impact its immediate community surroundings. This engagement occurs through introductory methods such as community block parties and service projects and moves on to more complex efforts such as community impact centers and church planting efforts. I recently completed a book entitled “A Heart for the Community; New Models for Urban and Suburban Ministry” by Editors John Fuder and Noel Castellanos. Fuder serves as the director of community engagement at Park Community Church and Castellanos serves as the CEO of the Christian Community Development Association, both in Chicago, IL.

A Heart for the Community exposes the reader to the collaborative efforts of the Christian Community Development Association, Moody Bible Institute, and Moody Church to holistically change the city of Chicago through the power of the gospel. This book is actually a selection of essays from over thirty contributors who been involved in the trench work of urban and suburban ministry that have strategically planted churches in the urban and suburban areas of Chicago. This book is divided into four parts. Part One, Critical Issues, highlights the importance exegeting the community to better understand the who, what, when, where, and why of the people you’re ministering to. Part Two, Church-Planting Models, deals with the various models of churches being planted in Chicago as a result of the exegesis. These models include Latino, Hip Hop, Chinese, and Muslim along with ministries reaching to the homeless, drug addicts, and prostitutes. Part Three, Ministering to Suburban Needs, looks into the increasing diversity in suburban areas highlighting poverty alongside luxury and racial dynamics. Part Four, Para church Ministries, shows the importance of working alongside other agencies and ministries such as the Salvation Army and Young Life.

A Heart for the Community is practical and not overly-scholarly. Not only does it bring to the forefront the issues and needs facing churches today, but it offers strategies to tackle the problems head on. Fuder and Castellano’s work is not a “do this and you will be successful” book. It does however offer hope that communities can be reclaimed. This is a great work and I recommend it highly any church leader that is concerned about their community and wants to know the challenges and possibilities involved.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Publishers 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 : The Moody Handbook of Theology

moodyhbIn order to become a true student of the Bible, it is necessary to take advantage of the wide array of study materials available today. A casual glance around most any book store will reveals shelves upon shelves of resources such as commentaries, handbooks, gospel harmonies, maps, charts, and concordances. Each of these resources is beneficial in their own way and serves to advance the biblical knowledge of the student. One particular work, The Moody Handbook of Theology by professor Dr. Paul Enns is celebrating its twenty-fifth year of circulation.

Dr. Enns has arranged his book in an easy to follow and find system. The nearly 800 page single volume is divided into five major parts:

1. Biblical Theology – the study of God’s revelation of Himself to man through His written Word. Subjects covered in this first part include Introduction to Old and New Testament Theology, Theology of the Patriarchal, Noahic, Mosaic, and Monarchial Eras, and Theologies of the Synoptics, Acts, Paul, Hebrews, and John.

2. Systematic Theology – the discipline of Christian study that compiles an orderly account of the Christian faith. Subjects covered in this second part include Bibliology, Theology Proper, Christology, Pneumatology, Soteriology, and Ecclesiology.

3. Historical Theology – the development of Christian theology throughout the centuries from its inception. Subjects covered in this third part include Ancient, Medieval, and Reformation Theologies.

4. Dogmatic Theology – the examination of the Christian doctrine in a systematic way through the lens of a specific church or theological position. Subjects in this fourth part include Calvinistic, Arminian, Covenant, and Dispensational Theologies.

5. Contemporary Theology – the study of Christian doctrine taking into account modern influences and trends. Subjects in this fifth part include Liberal, Socialist, Catholic, Conservative, Charismatic, Postmodern, and Reformed Theologies.

I really enjoyed this book. First, Enns’ choice of organizational style allows the reader to readily access a particular area of interest quickly. Second, he has included charts throughout the book that give a summary of the doctrine he is discussing; often in side-by-side format. This is helpful. As far as negatives, I would like to have seen more detail given to certain areas. This could have been a multi-volume work. It is that good. The final part, Contemporary Theology, could have been expanded. That being said, Enns told the reader in the preface that it would be impossible to deal exhaustively with the covered content. At the end of each section, Enns offers a “for further study” list of resources for deeper study. Enns’ work is solid and trustworthy. This book should be on your bookshelf.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Press 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 : The Spirit Filled Life

spiritfilledIn John 16:7, Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary that He leave so that the Comforter may come to them. He was speaking of the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity. There is much confusion today, both inside the church and out, in regards to who the Holy Spirit is and the role He plays in the life of the believer. It would be almost impossible to calculate the number of books that have been written on the person and ministry of the Holy Spirit. You can add one more to that list. Dr. Charles Stanley, pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta has a new work entitled “The Spirit Filled Life: Discover the Joy of Surrendering to the Holy Spirit”. Arguably this is Dr. Stanley’s most personal work to date.

It is very clear that Dr. Stanley wants his readers to have an accurate biblical understanding of the Holy Spirit. Through proper use of Scriptural context and personal experiences, Dr. Stanley helps the reader navigate topics such as common misconceptions about who the Holy Spirit is, empowerment, discernment, the Holy Spirit’s role in gifts, and the capacity for real life change. I found two chapters especially insightful. Chapter Five: My Life as a Branch deals with our need to connect to the master vine in order to bear the fruit that demonstrates our belonging to Him. In Chapter Twelve: The Baptism of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Stanley explains why a second baptism of the Holy Spirit is unscriptural. Best chapter in the book. If you are looking for a book that provides a no-nonsense explanation of the Holy Spirit, this is the book. Packed full of explanation and application, yet written in a personal conversational tone, this book is a winner.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers 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 : The Greatest Comeback

comebackAs Americans we enjoy one of the greatest privileges and responsibilities that can be afforded to any people: participation in the electoral process. The election process in our country is something we are very familiar with. With presidential elections held every four years and mid-term congressional election in between, we seem to be in a constant election cycle where we are inundated with campaigning and campaign promises. We have also been exposed to some great, and no so great, politicians who have produced some incredible highs and embarrassing lows. We tend to elevate politicians to movie-star status. (Actually, we have had a movie star become president) One such political figure was Richard M. Nixon. Nixon’s road to the presidency was littered with success and failure. In his new book, “The Greatest Comeback; How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority”, conservative political commentator and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan tells the story of how Richard Nixon ascended to the presidency of the United States.

Pat Buchanan was an editorial writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat prior to becoming an aide to Nixon in 1965. His book covers the three year period of 1965-1968. The bulk of the book begins with, and moves forward from, the election cycle of 1966 with Buchanan describing the state of the union under President Lyndon Johnson and the democratic-held Congress. Buchanan offers a look into the struggles the Republican Party had in voicing their opposition to areas such as the war in Vietnam and other social concerns at the time.

The subtitle to Buchanan’s book speaks of a comeback. For someone to have a comeback they had to have had past success and then lost it. This was the case with Nixon. He served as vice-president from 1953-1961. After suffering sound defeats in the presidential race of 1960 and the California gubernatorial race of 1962, Nixon declared he was finished with politics saying, “You won’t have Richard Nixon to kick around anymore”. However, Nixon did come back into politics. Buchanan details how tirelessly Nixon worked to get Republican governors elected in 1966. This investment of time and attention paid off with big dividends in November of 1968. He also reveals that part of Nixon’s comeback success was the advisors he surrounded himself with, his knowledge of foreign and domestic issues, and his ability to appeal to both moderate and conservative Republicans. This appeal was solidified as Nixon weighed in on the chaotic events of 1968. Buchanan wrote about this year saying, “America was falling apart as witnessed by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the 77-day siege of Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, the worst race riots in history, anarchic violence at Columbia University and other campuses, and a President broken by Vietnam, where 200 to 300 U.S. soldiers were being killed every week.”

“The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose from Defeat to Create the New Majority” is a thoroughly researched, well-written, informative, and entertaining work. I especially enjoyed Buchanan’s enclosed memos that he sent to Nixon while he was a candidate, as well as Nixon’s hand-written notes. This really helped the book to excel. This book would appeal to history buffs and political junkies. Because Buchanan chose the conversational style over the documentary style, it is enjoyable read. Buchanan’s best work to date.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers 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.”

An Open Letter to the Membership of Port Royal Baptist Church

Power of WordsFive years ago today I began my tenure as your pastor. Having spent my ministry life in Florida, the thought of moving to South Carolina never crossed my mind. My expectation was to remain in my home state. It has become clear that the plans of the Lord are far better than the plans of man. The Marine Corps brought me to Port Royal back in 1994. I had no idea this church existed. I passed it every day but never noticed it. This is because I was not a Christian, much less a pastor in those days. What a difference fifteen years can make. Being able to come back to a place that Terri and I enjoyed, now as a pastor, has been a tremendous blessing. The manner in which you embraced me and my family has been at times beyond words. As a congregation you have been very loving and encouraging. The past five years have been filled with highs and lows, good and bad, times of celebration and times of mourning. There is a great deal more in my heart that I can’t express with words. Let me just say a few words of thanks and then let you know how I am praying for you.

1. Thank you for giving me the freedom to preach God’s Word. As a minister of the gospel, I am called to share the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). At times, God’s Word is not easy to hear or handle. You have never asked me to soften, back off, or water-down God’s message. I appreciate being able to carry out my calling among you while honoring God with a clear presentation of Scripture.

2. Thank you for your willingness to accept all people into the fellowship. This can never be said enough. God has called us to reach all people. Thank you for embracing an ethnically and socially diverse community. There are churches that say, by word or action, that only certain types and colors of people are allowed and wanted. I thank my God every day that you celebrate the worth of every individual. You give me the confidence to go into our community, knock on any door, and know that whoever answers will be welcome. I’ve never had that confidence before.

3. Thank you for loving my family. The lives of a pastor’s wife and child are unique. It is lonely and frustrating at times. They must be willing to take a back seat to the entire congregation and share me with everyone else. Thank you for being a blessing to Terri and Jordan. Thank you for not putting unusually high and unfair expectations on them. Thank you for encouraging and allowing me to take the necessary time to foster these critical relationships. Thank you for taking care of my family emotionally, spiritually, and financially. I would like to especially thank you for allowing me the time to be with my dad when while he was sick. How you ministered to my family at this death is something that will live with me for the rest of my life.

4. Thank you for trusting me. From the beginning, you have trusted me. You have allowed me to lead as I have been led. I have asked a great deal from you in five years. I have asked you trust and love each other during a difficult time. I have asked you to love your neighbor as yourself. I have asked you to be increasingly active in reaching our community. I have asked you to give more to missions. Each time you have responded beautifully. Does this mean I have always gotten it right? Absolutely not. Still you trusted me. I understand that I am a steward of your trust. My prayer is that I always do right by the Lord and you.

The Apostle Paul, speaking to the Philippian Christians, wrote, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy.” Phil 1:3-4. I want you to know that I have been praying for all of you long before I met you. You have heard me say before that if you knew how I prayed for you that it would certainly surprise you. I pray big things for you because we serve a big God.

1. I pray that you always feel a little unsettled. I believe contentment and comfort are twin enemies of the gospel. I pray that you are always looking ahead. This is where your best days are. I pray that you always look for new opportunities to minister in Jesus’ name. Changing cultures will require new means to communicate the gospel. I pray that you are never satisfied with your prayer life. I pray that you are never satisfied with your missions work. I pray that there is always a sense of longing and yearning to stretch your faith, trusting that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ”.

2. I pray that your testimony will precede you. In writing to the Thessalonian Christians, Paul, speaking about their faith, said “Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.” This is what I desire for you. I pray that when you introduce yourself and the gospel, people say, “We’ve heard of you and your Lord.”

3. I pray that you would be missed. You have heard me tell you throughout these five years that is important that you grow where God has planted you. I don’t mean that as some silly cliché. You are in the location you are for a reason. The people in our community are our responsibility. I pray that your involvement in, influence over, love for, and dedication to the town of Port Royal would run so deep that if something were to happen to the church that the community would minister to you.

I want to close by saying how privileged I feel to be your pastor. I can’t imagine being anywhere else. To be honest, it has been a quick five years. I did not write this letter to solicit praise or thanks. Instead, I wrote it to express my love and appreciation for you as my church family. I am excited about the future and can’t wait to see how the Lord uses you in the years to come.

Book Review : Starting at the Finish Line

StartingAtTheFinishLine“Starting at the Finish Line; The Gospel of Grace for Mormons” is the story of Dr. John Wallace’s exit from the Church of Latter-day Saints (Mormons). He opens his book by providing unique insight into his childhood/early adult years in the church and the subsequent struggle to satisfy the requirements of the church. This struggle left him feeling empty and, at times, hypocritical. Wallace experienced a crisis of faith as became unsettled with the reality of God’s grace. In the second section of his book, he defends the accuracy and reliability of the Bible. This is crucial because the Mormon Church, as Wallace sees, is guilty of picking and choosing the parts of the Bible they will believe while at the same time dismiss it altogether. Wallace builds a solid defense of the Bible’s reliability.

In the third section, Wallace gives his readers a look into his crisis of faith as he came to terms with God’s holiness and the Mormon tenant that man has the capacity to become a god. This crisis served as the catalyst for his exit. Sections four and five consist of Wallace’s demonstration of the difference between Christianity and Mormonism in the areas of the person of Jesus Christ, the sufficiency of the blood atonement, grace, the balance between faith and works, and eternity. The latter sections are given to reconciling an existing tension between Christians and Mormons. That tension: Mormons believe there has to be something more than faith and Christians believe there can be nothing but faith.

“Starting at the Finish Line” is a good work. When it comes to leading someone out of a false belief system, the most effective means in doing so is the testimony of one who belonged to that belief system. Wallace takes a fair and balanced approach in his writing. This is not a Mormon-bashing book. Wallace puts Mormon theology and the words of their leadership alongside the Bible and asks the reader to decide. This is a great book for the Mormon who is struggling within their belief system. This is also a great book for Christians to be able to understand the basic beliefs of the LDS Church and how to defend the tenants of the Christian faith.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from CrossFocused Reviews 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.”

FIFS : Galatians 1:6-7

6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. (Gal 1:6-7)

The apostle Paul was a lot like the circuit-riding preachers of the early twentieth century. These preachers usually covered a certain area or a number of congregations.  They would then ride that circuit on a schedule either monthly or quarterly. We can see some of the similar travel habits in Paul’s letters. He was responsible, at least in some part, for the establishment of the churches we are familiar with in the New Testament (Galatia, Colosse, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus). Paul would travel around to these churches and minister to and encourage them. He would write letters (our NT books) to encourage, teach, and address problems and issues they were facing. We see this happening in the first part of Galatians. Paul had delivered to the Galatians that the resurrection of Christ was the center of the gospel. He taught them that the death of Christ was sufficient for the forgiveness of their sin. The Galatian Christians were being led astray by false teachers known as Judaizers. Judaizers were Jewish Christians who were telling the Gentile Christians that in addition to their faith in Christ they must adhere to the Jewish Law in order to be truly saved. We see Paul’s reaction in v.6, “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him”. He says that he is surprised how fast they turned from the truth of the gospel to something different. Paul spoke of a desire of some in his day to pervert the gospel. The same desire exists today.

The gospel is very simple and amazingly clear. The resurrection is the power of the gospel and grace is the vehicle that delivers it. 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says, “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures”. Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, “ For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” To “pervert” means to “misinterpret or distort”. Across the landscape of Christianity we can see the pure gospel that has been delivered to us being perverted regularly. Here are a few examples.

1. The gospel is perverted by suggesting that Jesus Christ is just simply one of many ways to the Father.

2. The gospel is perverted by suggesting that grace is not sufficient and human efforts (works) are needed to complete salvation.

3. The gospel is perverted by suggesting that an individual can accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior and continue living as they did before.

4. The gospel is perverted by suggesting that some are predestined to Heaven and some are predestined to Hell and there is nothing that can be done about it.

As believers who have been changed from the inside out, we have a responsibility to ensure that those who are lost receive the true gospel. They deserve the gospel, as offensive and difficult as it might be to hear, it is the only message that will release them from the bondage of their sin.