Book Reviews, summaries, applications, and more
Author: Chuck Smith
Year of Publication: 1994
Number of Pages: 175
Description: With remarkable insight gleaned from his own life, Pastor Chuck Smith unfolds the mystery of grace and reveals a suprising truth: we can never grow in grace by our own efforts. True grace flows from the heart of the Father through the love of Jesus Christ. God's undesserving love shows His tremendous grace for you, and is truly what makes life worth living.
Grace is at the heart of Christianity, and is where the love of God beats for the world. For at its heart, grace shows the unmerited favor of God for sinful man bestowing the riches of His mercy to those who do not deserve it, and in fact can do nothing to deserve it. This is why grace is so pivotal in our relationships with God because it steers the weight of salvation away from ourselves, our own work, and our own righteousness, onto the all-powerful loving Savior Jesus. In Chuck Smith’s book “Why Grace Changes Everything” the foundational truth of grace is explored in discovering God’s blessings for the believer through FAITH, and not works.
Chuck Smith lays out how faith is our only hope, and how our good deeds, efforts or works can never earn us forgiveness from God. Romans 4:5 states it so clearly, yet so often we seem to try to come to the Lord in our works instead of our faith. “And to the one who does not work but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” This is what makes grace so impactful, because it justifies us from our sin through God’s loving act of forgiveness! This forgiveness anchors on grace in that it is undeserved, giving us hope that there can be nothing that separates us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, allowing anyone despite their sin to turn to the Lord and be forgiven. (Romans 8:37-39)
This is why grace changes everything! Because one’s whole identity can be changed in a moment; from sinner to saint, from an enemy of God to a child of God. If God’s grace does not radically change your perspective, then you are not looking to the grace that God offers. However, once you begin to believe the grace that God has for you it begins to dramatically affect your life. You can no longer turn to the sin that God forgave you from so freely, because sin is now at war with what God has called you to. This is not out of a means of works, but out of the means of God seeking to fill you with His Spirit by faith! This is the battle for every believer. The battle of the flesh against the spirit. Chuck Smith states this simple, yet profound answer like this “Don’t fight the flesh; strengthen the Spirit! Don’t fight the darkness; turn on the light!” When we focus on our sin, and our own efforts we fall short because we are struggling against the flesh forgetting that as Ephesians states “our battle is NOT against flesh and blood. . .” However, when we focus on Jesus, the cross, and the resurrection, we are filled with hope knowing that God’s love for us conquered sin and death. This results in our standing before God to be the righteousness of Jesus Christ Himself, not of ourselves, but because of God’s unmerited favor for us through faith restoring man’s relationship with God. This is Grace, and this grace gives us peace.
We can never have true peace with God without having God’s grace first. That is why throughout the Epistles it is always stated “grace and peace be with you…” because without grace our relationship with God is still one of war against Him, but because of grace we are able to have peace with God resulting in a relationship restored by faith, and not works. If you find your relationship with God is not one that is very peaceful it could be because you are seeking to grow close to God out of works, and not through faith. Chuck shows how so often believers can get caught up in seeking to over come sin in their lives in their own power. In his words “They spend all their effort and energy to live a godly life in their own strength. Instead of turning their lives and struggles over to God, they keep searching for some new technique, some new method, some new program for righteousness and none of them work. It is only when we admit our utter powerlessness, however that we find hope. When we finally turn to the grace of God the Lord intervenes and begins to do a work that we could not do ourselves. It is not until we find ourselves driven by desperation to a cry of helplessness and hopelessness that we begin to enjoy real victory in Christ.” For God seeks to make us a new creation in Him, and this is not one that comes from the outside in, but rather from the inside out.
This new life that is born, is one that focusses on love. For once the Gospel, God’s Good News about Grace, affects your life it changes everything. For it results in a loving gratitude towards God that desire to love Him more walking in the newness of the relationship that He offers; peace with God. Chuck puts it like this “The love of Christ constrains me to live a life that pleases Him. Having tasted the goodness of His love I don’t want to walk away from Him. I want to draw as close to Jesus as possible because I love Him, and He loves me. I don’t want to get involved in anything that would dishonor Him.” Thus, showing that the reason we no longer live for the flesh and for sin, is not out of avoidance and focus of it, but rather we are too concerned with growing more in love with our Savior. Love is the best motivation for goodness which brings us to the wonderful discovery in how the holiness that we are called to is no longer a burden for us to uphold, but rather is a joy because all it is, is the expression of our love relationship with Jesus, not a set of rules and standards we have to follow. Stop here for a moment, and remember that our lives for the Lord are a response to grace. “Our relationship with God is steady and secure because it isn’t based upon our performance or us. Our relationship is reliant upon the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf. He took our sins upon Himself and died in our place to make our salvation by faith a reality.” (Chuck Smith) Our righteousness is then given to us by faith, and faith alone, for if it could be given by any other means there would be no reason for Jesus to die.
This is why grace changes everything. It is because of grace that we are saved from sin, and able to live in a restored relationship with God. I highly recommend you read Chuck Smith’s book “Why Grace Changes Everything” for yourself, and spend time relishing in the glorious love of our Savior.
Author: Bruce Olson
Year of Publication: 1978
Number of Pages: 224
Description: Bruchko follows the missionar journey of Bruce Olson in his ministry to the South American jungles. It is full of his near life and death experiences, and in the midst of his doubts, and lack of support, Bruce Olson remains faithful to God's calling resulting in Him witnessing God do the miraculous: save sinners.
Pain, suffering, disease, imprisonment, uncertainty, grief, and so much more encompassed Bruce Olson’s ministry to the Motilones, the Yuko tribe, and so many more in South America. The life of a Missionary is a life of surrendering to God’s will and allowing Him to work through you in ministry. Bruce Olson’s ministry is one that is filled with a plethora of mission principles that could, and should be applied from this book. However, there are a few key repeated principles that particularly stand out: following the Lord’s call and not the call of man, reliance upon the Lord through trusting in God’s plan, and relating the Gospel and spiritual truths to the culture and audience. Bruce Olson’s ministry was one that often left him filled with doubt, but his faith could be seen through acting in the presents of these uncertainties.
The first mission principle of following the Lord’s call and not the call of man is the first step into the life of a ministry. Bruce Olsen inspired me in that when He heard the call, He reacted to the Spirit and went, despite the challenging of fellow missionaries and other Christians! Bruce went down to South America when he was 19 years old in response to God’s call! He went without all of the “missionary training” and without being supported by a large group of people. Instead he relied upon the Lord and trusted that God would take care of his needs because he was responding to the Lord’s call. Bruce Olsen’s call to the murderous Motilone Tribe was directly from the Lord and despite all of man’s efforts to thwart him, He followed the Lord’s call! This resulted in often less support from fellow missionaries, getting looked down upon by fellow believers, and a sense of loneliness that was hard to battle. However, Olsen’s demonstration of this call to follow the Lord is a great example to all believers by showing that the Lord’s call is far more meaningful than the call of man.
The second mission principle is strongly connected with the last. It is the reliance upon the Lord and trusting in God’s plan, timing, and will. Olsen felt a strong calling to the Motilone tribe, but it was years before this calling finally came into place. Be encouraged that sometimes the Lord’s calling upon your life is one that can often take lots of time before you see its fruition. There are numerous events where Olson comes so close to death from, dangerous snakes, to all sorts of diseases such as Hepatitis and being hours from death, to being imprisoned by wartime guerrillas. Olsen relied upon the Lord in these moments trusting that God would do what He had willed. This trust and reliance showed a deepness to Bruce’s relationship with the Lord in that it was one that relied completely on the Lord for sustenance. Bruce and the prophet Jeremiah share a lot in common. Jeremiah spent his ministry seeing no fruit from his labors and no converts, and yet he is able to write these amazing words from Jeremiah 17:7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord whose confidence is in Him.” How could Jeremiah be blessed when his ministry from the world’s point of view was unsuccessful, and a lost cause? He was blessed because his trust and confidence were not in Himself but the Lord. In the world’s eyes, and even eyes of fellow believers, Olsen’s years of little to no success and his desire to minister to the Motilones seemed a like a lost cause, but Bruce kept his trust in the Lord and his reliance upon Him. This principle was largely effective for without it Bruce would have been relying on his own strength and not the Lord.
This last principle is essential to missions of any kind. Knowing how to relate the Gospel and spiritual truths to the culture and the audience you are ministering to is essential. My favorite chapter in this book is chapter seventeen “Jesus the Motilone”. Through this chapter the Lord sets up opportunities to use Motilone legends such as the Motilone who sought to help ants by helping build their home. But the ants were scared and thus the Motilone had to become an ant to help them and show them that he was there to help them. Bruce used this story to talk about the incarnation of Jesus. Another tradition of the Motilones was when they kill an animal they take its hide and make a headpiece that covers their ears (for in their culture evil comes from the ears). Bruce explained how Jesus was like one of these animals who was killed for them to cover over their evil. The truths of the Gospel being revealed in their culture, in a way for them to understand was amazing to see how God works and reveals Himself to people groups all over the world. Finally this last tradition Bruce used is my favorite. There is a large tradition within the Motilone tribe known as the “Festival of hammocks”. In this festival all of the people of the tribe climb to these very high heights in these trees, hang their hammocks, and begin singing together. Bruce however was afraid to go so high up in the tree as a fear of the rope snapping. Bruce asked his good friend Bobby (a Motilone) if he could have one foot on the ground and one foot in the hammock, to which Bobby responded with “You must be completely sustained by the hammock.” This idea of being completely sustained in the hammock is what Bruce used to talk with Bobby about the importance of being completely sustained by Jesus. You cannot have one foot in and one foot out. You must grasp onto the Gospel that Jesus came and died to cover your darkness and that He rose again. The effectiveness of this method was incredible to read about in seeing the explosion of Christianity that took place within this tribe. To see this tribe that was so lost come to Jesus and go on to spread Jesus as one who had been directly involved with their people was amazing to see. To see Jesus become a part of the Motilone people just showed proof to how the Gospel is meant to be spread to all people, for Jesus is not the God of civilized countries, but to even that of these rural tribes in South America! This quote from the book sums it up so well! “In Bobby’s eyes Jesus was dark skinned, his eyes were black, he wore a G-string, and hunted with bows and arrows. Jesus was a Motilone.”
Bruchko challenged me greatly on a personal level. It called me to rethink my motivations for ministry, the purpose behind why I am serving as a pastor, and to find my reliance, trust, and call from the Lord. This booked drew me in so quickly and I could not set it down! My original thought was that I would read it over a period of time, but the Lord had other plans! The truths of the Gospel, the hardships of ministry, the love for others, and how to rely upon the Lord in a practical way were laid out so plainly that I learned so much about ministry and missions from the man of Bruce Olsen. This book shows the hardships of ministry, but also how rewarding trusting in the Lord is! I am inspired to trust the Lord more and more through the story of “Bruchko” (Bruce Olsen) and the thought of going “all in” to ministry is hard to think of knowing that hardships will come, but reading about men like Olsen stirs the call of ministry within me, as I hope it stirs the call of ministry within you. God is good and this book is very inspiring to put your reliance, confidence, and trust wholly in God!
Author: Matt Redmond
Year of Publication: 2004
Number of Pages: 112
Description: Facedown focusses on the attitude, practicalities, purposes, and means of worship. This book lives up to one of Matt Redmond's greatest songs by digging deaper into the concept of "The Heart of Worship."
Mankind Desperately Longs For Intimacy
The World is in a hole of depravity and has been since the fall of man. Since this fall mankind has sought to find the truest intimacy to satisfy their souls. No matter where man looked this hole in their heart could not be filled, for nothing in the world could fit it quite right. This depravity is a lack of intimate connection with the Lord, and Jesus is the only one who can fill this hole in our lives. So how does one grow in this intimacy?
Intimacy comes through worship. This intimacy can be ignored and thus worshipping God becomes hindered, or it can be grasped tight. This results in the complete surrender to God who deserves all our highest praise. So what is worship? The word “worship” brings so many images, circumstances, memories, and ideas by its mere mention. Worship is giving the highest glory to something, and is what man is created to do, and if man is not worshipping God he is worshipping himself or idols. This means that worship “begins with God” (M. Redman) and ends with God by the use of His creation. Thus intimacy of worship occurs when this is in place; man surrendered to God. God is a rightfully selfish being who deserves all the glory, for there is none higher than Him. In the words of J.I. Packer, “If man can have no purpose higher than God’s glory, how can God?” Moses states it like this, “For you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” (Exodus 34:14) Therefore since man’s highest purpose is to give glory to God and this is done through a lifestyle of worship, intimacy with the creator of the universe begins to grow the more one’s life is wholly surrendered.
There is a price to worship. The price of putting yourself below that which you are worshipping. To put oneself under God is man’s rightful place, for the creation is naturally below the Creator. Jesus Himself proved this ideal when He paid the price of His own death on the cross. Thus humbling Himself below God, becoming a servant in the likeness of men, living a life of obedience, under the will of the Father; to worship is to obey.
There is a strange atmosphere when it comes to worship depending on culture, denomination, and religious background. Despite all of these differences, God is still being worshipped all around the world. However, I often wonder if in our “Conservative Christian Values” we can sometimes lose the humility that is supposed to be coupled with worship. The very title of this book “Facedown” brings an imagery to mind of worshipping the Lord out of humility, and brings up the importance of body posture while worshipping. If Jesus humbled Himself to the point of the cross, why can’t we humble ourselves to get on our knees in worship? Bow our heads in prayer? Unfortunately, when worshipping the Lord, your mind can often be fixed on “how you sound/ how you look”. When this is the focus of how you conduct yourself in worship, you are worshipping. You are just worshipping yourself, and how you want others to view you.
Matt Redmond focuses on how worship is focused on the reverence and awe of God as seen in Hebrews 12:28; “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” This verse is practically played out by worshipping of the Lord in awe despite situations that arise and yet continuing to trust in Him and give Him glory.
God works in mysterious ways, for He is a mysterious God. Worship is not only a time for the worshipper to be fixed on the Lord, but it is a time of God reminding us of His intimate love, care, and plan for His people. Jesus is the mediator for this to take place and the price He paid on the cross made it all possible. This results in man living out the mission God puts upon our hearts; a mission of love. “For mission is love on its feet, running for the glory of God no matter what the cost” (M. Redman).
Intimacy is what we long for in our relationships with others. Time spent is a common denominator in all relationships, so if you want to get to grow in intimacy with the creator of the universe you must spend time with Him. Time spent in His Word. Time spent in reveling in His mysterious nature. Time spent with Christ. Time spent in silence. Time spent being in true awe of who He is and the depth of what He has accomplished and done for us. To grow in your relationship with Christ is to spend every aspect of your life in worship of the only one worthy to be worshipped. This is true intimacy, and this what mankind truly deeply longs for. Worship.
So dear Christian, WORSHIP the Lord in Spirit and in Truth, not in the flesh and falsehoods.
Author: Lesslie Newbigin
Year of Publication: 1989
Number of Pages: 264
Description: This theological book focuses on how the Gospel affects a society where all views are considered to carry the same weight, and God's Word is truth combating relativism.
The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
Every choice, every decision, every moral standard, every political view, everything about what one believes is formed by their own plausibility structure. This structure is often formed through a variety of ideals taken from culture, religion, life experience, and much more. To understand what a plausibility structure is, Peter Berger, in Lesslie Newbigin’s book “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society” states, “A plausibility structure is a structure of assumptions and practices which determine what beliefs are plausible and what are not”. The question arises, “How then does one know what to assume, what to practice, and what not to practice?” This answer will differ from all assortments of people, but what is the greatest source? The plausibility structure in our culture determines this source to be whatever feels right in the current moment, to being nice to others, to tradition, to experience, to doing whatever it takes to become successful, to finding your own means of truth in anything you seem fit. Newbigin states how this relativistic idea is the fault of mankind. “The relativism which is not willing to speak about truth but only about ‘what is true for me’ is an evasion of the serious business of living. It is the mark of a tragic loss of nerve in our contemporary culture. It is a preliminary symptom of death.” This symptom of death spoken about shows how this plausibility structure in our culture is lacking something: true purpose.
The Bible is a purpose-filled book with hundreds of references to purpose. This ancient, yet active and reliable book has been proven to be a source for forming a plausibility structure throughout history, and in fact is still relevant today. This essential role the Bible plays in forming a plausibility structure that challenges our own pluralistic society and the structure that it holds is seen through Newbigin’s statement, “If we cannot speak with confidence about biblical authority, what ground have we for challenging the reigning plausibility structure?”. The worldview that begins to form from the Bible begins to challenge the current plausibility structure that your culture is found in because the Bible challenges everything that is in contrast to God and calls man to a higher purpose. Newbigin states it like this, “If I do not know the purpose for which human life was designed, I have no basis for saying that any kind of human life-style is good or bad.” Thus if life does not have purpose, then there is no explanation for evil in anyway. This explanation of good and evil choices shows that there is ultimately a good standard that the purpose of man must attempt to reach. The truth is however, that this standard is a perfect one that no man could ever reach, for it is God Himself. The Bible, however still calls us to this perfection. “Be imitators of God as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us. The one who says he abides in God ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 5:1-2a, 1 John 2:6, Ephesians 2:10) This standard is met through the power of God, and His tremendous grace.
The grace of God is seen at the utmost when Jesus Christ died on the cross to fulfill the payment for sin that was needed for mankind to pay to restore relationship to God that they could never fill. However the power of God is seen ultimately on the resurrection of Jesus, an acclaimed fact proven to be true. (Read the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel for further study). Now, since this relationship between man and God has been restored through the work of Jesus on the cross and resurrection, mankind is able to have the Spirit of God dwell within him to live out this life of true purpose. “For the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Romans 8:11) The Spirit of God begins to transform your life into becoming more like Christ, and it is that purpose that fulfills the Creator’s will. This true purpose is to not remain in our culture’s plausibility structure, but rather to be transformed into God’s plausibility structure. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2) This shows how Lesslie Newbigin was right in his words in the purpose for the believer. “The business of the Christian Church in any situation, is to challenge the plausibility structure in the light of God’s revelation of the real meaning of history because history has meaning in the sense that it has a goal.” History indeed echoes this truth of goal, and purpose, and this purpose affects the very core of one’s plausibility structure.
This ultimate goal, this true purpose, is seen through history, and the Bible contains thousands of years of history pointing to the purpose of having a relationship with God for eternity, followed by thousands of years of history of people doing this same thing. So what is this eternity? John 17:3 states “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” Eternal life is relationship with God. How this relationship with God is played out is becoming more like Him, through glorifying Him and enjoying Him forever. (Westminster Shorter Catechism) Therefore, submit to God, and allow your plausibility structure to be reformed, into the ultimate goal and true purpose to have a restored relationship to the Creator as His creation living out its function.
Author: C.S. Lewis
Year of Publication: 1945
Number of Pages: 118
Description: This deeply theological book focuses on an allegorical story of life after death revealing the heart and motivations of man.
Content coming soon!
Author: Zack Eswine
Year of Publication: 2015
Number of Pages: 272
Description: The reality of pastoral ministry, and the importance of faithfulness in following Jesus daily are clearly laid out in an honest and practical manor in Zack Eswine's book "The Imperfect Pastor."
The God-Man Pastor
To be a pastor one is by nature imperfect for a pastor is still a man, with civil war within the soul of the flesh battling the Spirit. However, in this battle in man’s attempt to become more like God, the pastor can make the mistake of replacing themselves with who God is in an attempt of trying be an imitator of God as seen in Ephesians 5:1. This results in the pastor attempting to be God by trying to be three things; everywhere for all, the fix-it all, and the know-it-all thus creating the God-Man Pastor. These three things are by their nature characteristics of God that man can never achieve and instead of the pastor relying upon God in these areas they fall into the temptation of relying upon their failing flesh. For only God is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. The problem with the God-Man Pastor is that there was only one God-Man, Jesus, and thus trying to become a God-Man yourself is the direct replacement of who Jesus was. For the pastor is not perfect, but rather an imperfect soul that needs to rely upon the Lord and His will, and not His own.
The aspect that I fail in my battle with these temptations the most is attempting to be everywhere for all. This ideal of being there for all people is often done in an attempt of bringing people to God, but also is done selfishly in the light of desiring others to come to me when troubles arise. This selfish problem results in a life that is pulled in so many directions by attempting to be present for all the issues that could arise for those I am ministering to. Although it is very important to be available and present for those you are ministering to, you cannot be the God-man. For there will always only be one God-man. Jesus. So often I am looking to the future, the next step of ministry, my next step of moving forwards and onwards from my current moment. This problem is one that prevents me of pointing people to the only God who is omnipresent. This is because I focus on the fruits and labor of the ministry, and not the roots of it. For “Standing long in one place for a while allows the roots to deepen. It allows pastors to become pastors. Slowly the shade grows and a life gives. It is Jesus of Nazareth who walks with you.” (Z. Eswine) So why would I point people to myself being present to fulfill their needs when this God-Man Jesus walks besides us to whom we can point to? The answer is I should not, for I was never meant to repent for not being everywhere for everybody and all at once. Rather they are called to repentance because I have tried to making myself the God-Man Pastor. (Z. Eswine)
Zach Eswine in this book gives a very practical realization of problems that have arisen within the Western Cultured church in trying to do great things for God as a pastor, while also getting “famous” in the process. This book clearly unfolds the essential nature of ministry. The every day calling to follow Jesus both in the exciting and in the mundane. We are called to make disciples not of ourselves, but of Jesus. This all takes place best when we are first and foremost disciples of Jesus, following Him in the everyday parts of life. “Everything pastors hope will take place in a person’s life with God remains outside the pastor’s own power.” I truly desire to see lives changed for Jesus and in Jesus. However, I can so often get caught up in my own abilities and giftings, seeking to change people myself instead of relying on God to do the work holding tightly to God through a fostered relationship of prayer, fasting, and meditation of His word.
So how do we keep from becoming the God-Man Pastor? The answer is the call that Jesus gives and points to a life surrendered to Him. A life that is surrendered in goals, aspirations, desires, purposes, ministries, family, and everything that is present in life. For if the life is surrendered to God, the priorities that God desires will begin to take place. So often serving in the ministry can lead to an aspiration and desire of fame. This idea of fame is completely contrary to a life surrendered to God, for it is a life that desires to become the known God-Man Pastor to all. “It is possible for ministry leaders to desire greatness in ways no different from anyone, anywhere in our culture. Attaching Jesus’s name to these desires doesn’t change the fact that they look just like the cravings of the world.” (Z. Eswine) Therefore surrender your desires of becoming great in view of the world, but become great in the view of God, which is a life fully surrendered to Him.
Take moment. Look at the current goals you have been pursuing. Are their purposes to make you great in view of the world? In view of your family? In view of a rival? In view of a friend? Or are your purposes to find more ways to wholly surrender to the Lord. I’ll end with these truthful words of Jesus. “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Matthew 6:33