Great Reads and Good Deals on Kindle

lightstock_78067_small_user_3970569Some great Kindle Deals on these books right now.

Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost

The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters by Sinclair B. Ferguson

The Gospel of Jesus Christ by Paul Washer

Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines by David Mathis

Awe: Why It Matters for Everything We Think, Say, and Do by Paul David Tripp

New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional by Paul David Tripp

Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Paul David Tripp

The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering Joy in Our Limitations through a Daily Apprenticeship with Jesus by Zack Eswine

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin

Family Worship: In the Bible, In History, and In Your Home by Donald S. Whitney

On Grace and Free Will by Augustine

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

Called Together: A Guide to Forming Missional Communities by Jonathan K. Dodson and Brad Watson

Multiply Together: A Guide to Sending and Coaching Missional Communities

by Brad Watson

Sent Together: How the Gospel Sends Leaders to Start Missional Communities by Brad Watson

Desiring to Know the Real Reason

English: Saint paul arrested

English: Saint paul arrested (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love this simple statement Luke includes when he recounts the trial of Paul in Acts 22.  Paul had been preaching the gospel, sharing his story of encountering Jesus, and it caused a stir.  People were upset.  They couldn’t handle what he was talking about.  And their reaction was to hand Paul over to the authorities.


The Romans did what they were trained to do – get the truth out of Paul any way that they could.  Their interrogation methods included flogging.  Nothing like a few lashings to get to the truth.  But before they made it that far down the particular path, Paul explains that what they are about to do us unlawful, for although Paul is a Jew, he was also a Roman citizen by birth, and thus he had some legal protection from being bound and interrogated without cause.
What strikes me about this story though is not Paul’s social and political savvy, or even his practice of what some have labeled “riot evangelism.” (Not arguing against this either.  The demonstration and proclamation of the Gospel should cause a stir!).
No, what I find fascinating is that the Roman tribune came to back to Paul, “desiring to know the real reason why he was being accused by the Jews.” (v. 30).
Do our lives and our words have that kind of effect?
Not just the effect of causing a stir or a controversy.
Not just the kind that instigates a riot.
Not just the kind that shakes the comfortable and complacent out of their apathy.

But the kind that draws others closer, “desiring to know the real reason.”  

The real reason for the hope that we profess.
The real reason for our experience of God.
The real reason why some would struggle to the point of wanting to condemn, ostracize and even punish  us for what we believe, what we proclaim and what we demonstrate with out lives.
That’s the kind of impact I want to have.  To see men and women and children be so moved with desire to want to know the real reason why I believe the gospel.  This is why I’m excited to see more interest being taken up in the realm of “gospel neighboring” and if you haven’t yet stumbled upon Andy Stager’s  blog and podcast on this subject, you really should go check it out here.
It’s when we live with such radical hospitality, in close proximity to others in our communities, that the distinctiveness of our lives shaped by the Gospel will begin to have the effect of disrupting the perceptions and preconceived notions of Christianity and Christians themselves, and that space for desiring to know the real reason is created – in relationship.
Can you imagine what would happen if our words and lives had this as their aim and intention?
Can you see your family members, neighbors, and coworkers being so drawn to ask you that kind of question – “Tell me the real reason why……
….so-and-so seems out to get you?
….you’re not holding that grudge against that guy who threw you under the bus?
….you’re not falling apart when your husband lost his job?
….you’re neither a fundamentalist, prude, nor are you a anything-goes kind of person?
….you love your kids and yet your world doesn’t simply orbit around them and their schedules?
….you’re life has changed so dramatically?
….you go to that church?
….you are a Christian?
Can you imagine the folks in your particular sphere of influence asking you these kinds of questions? That’s the kind of person I want to be, and the kind of people God wants us to be as we seek to live a distinctively Christian life in the world He has placed us.

Review: Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard

Why Cities Matter by Um and Buzzard

Book Review: Why Cities Matter: To God, the Culture and the Church by Stephen Um and Justin Buzzard (Crossway, 2013)

Acknowledgment: I would like to express my gratitude to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Why do cities matter?

This is the question that drives the book as a whole.  Both Dr. Um and Mr. Buzzard are well versed and equipped to address such a question, as they both live and minister in world-class cities (Boston and Palo Alto), and are part of church planting movements that focus on ministry in a wide variety of contexts (Acts 29 and Redeemer City to City).

What is more, this particular book is a clarion call for effective ministry in any context, not just cities.  The focus on cities is certainly present throughout the book, but filled within it’s pages is a wealth of material to help any pastor, church planter or lay leader effective engage, reach and ultimately disciple people wherever they are.  One premise that I particularly benefited from in this book though, was that ministry is not just for individuals, it’s for cities themselves.  Each city (as defined by centers of density and diversity most generally by the authors) has a personality, and if we want to minister the gospel effectively to people in cities, we must know, engage and seek to influence the structures of the city with the message of the gospel.

The authors spend a great deal of time expressing what it is that makes cities what they are.  They do emphasize that they are primarily places of density and diversity (lots of people of different backgrounds and varieties), but in addition, they talk about the ideal of the city.  A city was a place where anyone could find safety, security and promise of hope.  This was true of cities in antiquity as they were known for their fortified walls and economic prospects, and it still hold true today.  People come to cities looking to belong (safety, security) and become (hopeful of a better future).  The authors address this in a winsome and comprehensive, yet still accessible way.  They also talk about what you find inside cities; centers of power, culture and ultimately, worship.  It is because of these centers that cities often attract what the authors label the “aspirational”, the “marginal” and the “explorational.” Each group is looking for life, meaning and happiness, and cities provide the context for finding it – whether directed towards God (as Creature and Sustainer) or other false gods (the creation and psuedo-saviors). For this reason, cities matter as a strategic place to proclaim by word and deed the message of the gospel.

In addition, their chapter on Bible and the City (ch. 3) is a masterful sweep of the Biblical portrait of cities.  Every aspect of Scripture is combed for an understanding of cities – their importance, their promise and even their dangers – and what one is left with is a biblically convincing case that cities are to be places that reflect God’s will and intention for all humanity.  Cities matter to God and it is evident throughout the pages of Scripture.

I also greatly appreciated their chapters on Contextualization in the City (ch. 4) and Ministry Vision for the City (ch. 5).  Both are treasure troves for anyone looking to make an impact in their context for the gospel.  Perhaps I was drawn to these as I am an aspiring church planter, but I believe anyone could take the principles and apply them wherever they are.  Perhaps the biggest single helpful item in these chapters is the principle that in order to reach and engage people and cities with the gospel, you must first take an interest in establishing the relationship to be able to speak intelligently into their lives.  In other words, listen, then speak.  Anyone can go anywhere and just start preaching; but to preach against the false gods and psudeo-saviors of a city as well as a neighbor, one has to take the time to think through and get to know what are the hopes, dreams, aspirations and fears held by those we’re talking with.  Both chapters provide plenty of helpful insights and questions for doing just that.

The one weakness of the book as I read it was the somewhat cavalier attitude towards non-cities.  Now, in all fairness, the scope of the book was focused on cities, and no author should ever be expected to say everything and everything.  They had a focus, and overall I think they did an excellent job covering that focus.  But throughout the book, mention was made of cities as opposed to suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.   I don’t like the contemporary debate about which is more important to God and therefore ministry – cities or other places – as I think it misses the point.  God cares about every place and is redeeming all things to Himself.  There’s plenty of room under that umbrella for both cities (who granted have a greater concentration of imago Dei‘s than rural areas) and rural communities.

What I would have liked to have seen though, is mention and discussion of the relationship between cities and suburbs, exurbs and rural areas.  These divisions make for great sociological studies and discussion topics, but in real life, they are more integrated and related than we might like to believe.    Are you only reaching, engaging and discipling a “city” if you are located in the “city-center” part of that city?  Or are there ways of reading, engaging and discipling a “city” if you go to where the people live, work and play?  I think that these questions might lend towards greater nuance of the relationship between cities and other aspects of cities (suburbs, exurbs, rural) and provide a more holistic approach to ministry in our cities.

Despite this one weakness, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  In fact, it would be a go-to resource to anyone wanting to minister in a city context as it distills a ton of information in a clear, straightforward way, and has plenty of applicable and helpful points for anyone in ministry.  To end the review on the note the book ended:

“Cities matter. Let’s get to it.”

Link: Paperback and Kindle versions.

The Nature of Ministry – from Brothers, We Are Not Professors (HT: Desiring God)

Just read a great little article on the nature and danger of pastoral ministry.  There is enough in this to meditate on no matter what the capacity is in which you serve in ministry (Pastor, Assistant, Ministry Director, Small Group Leader, or any interested church member).  Here is a quick highlight from the article:

“It was the enlightenment, not the Light of the World, that gave us education as its high and holy sacrament. What Jesus calls us to is to repent and believe the gospel. It is more important to us and our sheep that we would learn to believe more, than that we would find more to believe.”

via Brothers, We Are Not Professors – Desiring God.

The Upshot of Being a Stranger in a Strange Land

This is a fascinating read on why women are out-performing men in today’s economy.

As I read it, I couldn’t help being a pastor, researcher and communicator that there might also be connections to why the Christian Church has historically tended to grow the most when it was in a position of least influence. Perhaps there really is something to being “strangers in a strange land,” or to use biblical phrasing, “aliens and exiles.”

Something to consider.

Why Men Fail – (HT: David Brooks)

Less is Really More, and Beware the Hunt for the Masses

Image representing Seth Godin as depicted in C...

Image via CrunchBase

Seth’s Blog: Most people.

I am an avid reader of Seth Godin (books, blogs, anything really).  I love his ability to crystalize and disseminate wisdom that can be applied to creative (writers, artists) and organizational leaders (marketers, managers, etc.).  In this short blog, he writes on the importance of “less is more” and the danger of following after the masses.


God’s New Thing

Came across this quote while doing some research work this week and thought it

Courtesy of Jonathan Grassmick

worthwhile to share.

The God who remained apparently silent on Good Friday is having the last word. He is answering the unspoken questions of Jesus’ followers, and the spoken question of Jesus himself on the cross. And what God is doing is not just an extraordinary miracle, a display of supernatural power for its own sake, or a special favour to Jesus. What God is doing is starting something new, beginning the new world promised long ago, sending the disciples to Galilee in the first place but then, as we shall see, on to the ends of the earth and the close of the age with the news of what has happened. A whole new world was opening up in front of them.”

N.T. Wright, Matthew for Everyone, Vol 2, (198-199), on the Great Commission in Matthew 28.

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes

» The Affection of Christ Alone Keller Quotes.

This is a great one from Tim Keller.  Enjoy!

Delegating discipleship?

Discipleship = The process of helping others to come along with you into God's story

I’ve been thinking about discipleship a lot lately.  Not only because its my primary focus at Christ Church Santa Fe, but because I’ve been confronted with a disturbing trend. What I have been confronted with is not merely the lack of training in or even exposure to discipleship, but a lack of desire, interest, or even willingness to engage in it. [Not talking about my church specifically, but things I’m seeing or conversations I’m engaged in on a broader level]

I’m not talking about “volunteerism” or “small groups”, but when someone is practically begging someone else to show them how to know God, walk with Him, grow in their relationship with God, there seems to be a tendency to delegate the task to others.

Where did we get this from?

The task given to the church – and that means all believers in Christ – is the task of discipleship (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).  Not schooling in a particular methodology, or training in a specific program or curriculum, but sharing our lives in such a way that others are growing closer into a relationship with God, or living out their relationship with God in maturing ways.

Its a call to enter into God’s story, live in light of it, and help others do the same. Is this really such a terrifying thing to engage in?

This quote from Stanley Hauerwas was helpful to me in thinking about this:

“We are called to be disciples and even to count ourselves among the righteous.  Our call is not a general admonition to be good, but a concrete and definite call to take up the way of life made possible by God’s redemptive action for us in the cross.  To be redeemed, as I suggested above, is nothing less than to learn to place ourselves in God’s history, to be part of God’s people.”

Stanley Hauerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, 33

So you guys tell me, “How do we reverse the trend of delegating the responsibility of discipleship onto others, and take it up ourselves?”

Or in words that express this other picture, “How can we all take a part in helping others get up, and move into and live out their relationship with God?”

In helping others, everyone can play a part...even puppies.

Review: Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian (Crossway, 2011) – Updated 12/16/11

Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tulian Tchividjian

My time for book reviews has been sparse as of late.  That is why taking the time to write something up on Tullian Tchividjian’s new book Jesus + Nothing = Everything should carry a little extra weight if you are considering purchasing this book.

Let me start off by saying that this is the first book by Tullian Tchividjian that I have read.  I cannot be labeled a “fanboy” who is doing this out of some misplaced devotion to another person.  I have read a few articles of his over at The Gospel Coalition that I have found usually helpful.

This book was given to me by Crossway publishers to read and post several Tweets about tomorrow.  I took on the assignment out of my interest in the book, especially its title.  You see earlier this year I had the privilege of leading a group of 12 men through a study in the book of Galatians.  One of our first discussion questions, after having read through Galatians several times, was to each describe the gospel in your own words.  The one that stood out to me and several of the other guys was “Jesus + Something = Nothing, but Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”  Naturally, seeing a title of a upcoming book with that same premise peeked my interest.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything does a great job unpacking the gospel both doctrinally and practically, and it does so without being obtuse or fluffy.  I have found every chapter worth reading, and each is full of sound but intriguing insights into the nature of the gospel and how it affects our lives.

And that for me is its strength.  It takes the truth of what Jesus has done for us in all of its glorious heights, and applies to the deepest and darkest corners of my heart, particularly those that want to stroke my ego and claim that I can somehow attain or maintain my relationship with God by anything I can contribute.  I can’t.  Grace doesn’t work that way.  Instead, it works like Jesus + Nothing = Everything.

Another strength of the book is the full-orbed picture of the gospel. If you tend to follow the theological discussions in the blogosphere (are we still using that word?), you’ll know that over the past few years, discussions on the gospel have taken the line of justification by faith for the individual, or cosmic restoration of all things.  Either/or.  What I love about Jesus + Nothing = Everything is that Tchividjian doesn’t discuss the gospel along those lines.  Instead, he agrees with Paul who writes over and over again that the effect of Christ’s redeeming work covers ta panta – all things.  Thus the “everything” in the title.  And he does so without sacrificing or losing the great and principle doctrine of “justification by faith alone.”  A rare feat to achieve when the context of the conversation is set in false dichotomies.

Tullian Tchividjian’s book Jesus + Nothing = Everything will find a place on my bookshelf, both to revisit personally and to hand out to people in my church, or friends I’m having ongoing conversations with regarding the gospel and the Christian faith.  Its that good, and I commend it to you all for your consideration.

If you are wondering where more of the substance, or quotes, from Tullian Tchividjian’s book is in a review, I would encourage you all to follow me on Twitter (@gensheer) where tomorrow, I will be tweeting select quotes throughout the day and using the hashtag #JPNE.

UPDATE: I have recently come across another review of this book that I would like to include in my own blog.  It is more theologically critical of the book and particularly with the confusion over whether the gospel is more than just “justification by faith”.  I personally do not think Tchividjian’s book has to lead to this critics conclusions, but it is something worth thinking about when reading any book about the gospel.  I found the review helpful in providing a perspective I didn’t include in my own, but also, that I do not think undermines the integrity or value of Tchividjian’s book.

Mark Jones review  of Jesus + Nothing = Everything  (An Analysis) (Link here)