A few years ago I attended a service called The Practice for the first time. A friend of mine recommended the service to me, so I decided to go and check it out. The first few times I went, it was because of who was speaking that night, someone like Shauna Niequist, Sarah Bessey, or Ruth Haley Barton. After a couple of times, I found myself wanting to attend because I was drawn to the service instead of just the speaker. Now, I look forward to attending every couple of months as a kind of a personal retreat after busy seasons of ministry.
The Practice is a service and a community that embraces the idea that “A Sunday service is not the main event but rather a training ground to help all of us become people who can live the way Jesus would if he were in our place.” Because of that we should engage in practices together that prepare us to walk in this world as followers of Jesus. Every service is centered around liturgy and practice and sends you with a charge to live out what you’ve just learned. It’s this idea of a practice based faith that Aaron Niequist writes about in his book The Eternal Current. Continue reading
How do we make disciples?
This question should be at the center of everything that a church does. How do we live out the great commission that Jesus gave us? The strategy for many is to get people into the church building so that they can be taught. We want them in discipleship classes, Sunday schools, Sunday services, and sometimes Sunday night services. Before I go on, I should admit that there’s nothing wrong with these things in and of themselves. I am a full time pastor, and I teach some of these kinds of classes. The problem is that by themselves, they fall short. The heart of discipleship is teaching people to be like Jesus and doing this in a classroom alone means that we don’t have the chance to show people how to live. People hear us speaking, but don’t get to see us live it. That’s why life on life discipleship is important, and to do really be able to do that we have to be like Jesus all the time. Our lives need to be saturated with Jesus and his gospel. Continue reading
John Ortberg opens his latest book with the story of a town settled on the banks of a beautiful stream. This stream delivers pure water to the town. The town paid for an old man to care for the springs that fed this stream. After a long time of paying the man, the town decided that his work was not necessary and that they would spend their money on other things. After a while the water was no longer pure and people were becoming ill from drinking the water. The town realized their mistake and began to pay the old man again to upkeep the springs. Then Ortberg concludes the story by saying, “The life of the village depends on the health of the stream. The stream is your soul. And you are the keeper.” In this new book, Soul Keeping, John Ortberg challenges us to not neglect the keeping of our soul. In the same way the health of the village depended on the stream, our health depends on how well our soul is kept. Continue reading
If there’s one word that captures what happens when we make the choice to follow Jesus, it might just be transformed. Disciples of Jesus are not supposed to remain as they are, but instead we are transformed into something new, into the likeness of Jesus. It’s this transformation that Caesar Kalinowski writes about in his new book Transformed. Kalinowski, however, isn’t only concerned with the fact that we are being transformed, but also what we look like after we have been transformed. He writes, “The Bible teaches that if we are in Christ, we have become part of a family of missionary servants, sent as disciples who make disciples. This is who we are. This is our new identity.” And the more we are able to believe and wrap our minds around this new identity, “the more our lives will be transformed.” Continue reading
What does is mean to be a Christian? There are a lot of different views about what it means to be a Christian. Most of the time it involves a set of beliefs and specific practices that people use to define Christianity. Jefferson Bethke, who gained internet fame with the video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus,” wants to define Christianity in one way and one way alone. He defines Christianity by Jesus. It seems so simple, but many of us make Christianity way more difficult and, in Bethke’s terms, “religious.” We set up rules and regulations, determine beliefs that we have to be for or against, and create lists of people we like and people we don’t like. Often times, when we do that, we lose one important thing, Jesus. Bethke’s book Jesus > Religion (read Jesus is Greater than Religion), is an encouragement to get back to the teaching and actions of Jesus and to get away from the man made religion that has been built up around Him. Continue reading
There are many biographies of C.S. Lewis out there and more have been released recently. I can’t speak for all of them, but this one is certainly one worth reading. A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C.S. Lewis is not your ordinary biography. Devin Brown has set out to paint a picture of C.S. Lewis’s spiritual life. He admits that he is not setting out to write a lengthy and definitive biography of C.S. Lewis. Instead Brown writes that his goal is, “to focus closely on the story of Lewis’s spiritual journey and his search for the object of the mysterious longing he called Joy.” Continue reading
One of the main issues in the American churches these day is what it means to be a disciple. Many of the conferences being held and books being published are on about discipleship and how to become a disciple who makes disciples. Among those vocal about discipleship, David Platt is probably the most popularly known because of his books about being a “radical” follower of Jesus. His recent book Follow Me is similar in message to his Radical books, but is more specifically focused on discipleship.
If you’ve heard Platt speak recently, you’re probably familiar with the message of this book. Essentially, it boils down to the idea that many Christians are either being deceived or deceiving themselves when it comes to being a real disciple/follower of Jesus. Many people think they are Christians because they prayed a prayer or were baptized. After that, however, they are not changing their lives to look like Christ. They continue on with their life the way it was before. To become a follower of Christ means that your life is different than it was before. continue reading
Often times when we approach the story of scripture, we don’t realize the depth of the story that we are entering. When Jesus was here on earth, there was so much more going on that what is recorded in scripture. John even says so at the end of his gospel. It’s that depth that Frank Viola is exploring in God’s Favorite Place on Earth. The story element of his book is written in first person narrative from the perspective of Lazarus. Through the voice of Lazarus, Viola writes how Bethany was Jesus’ favorite place to stay when he lived on earth. He was welcomed by the people, developed deep friendships, performed a great miracle, and even ascended to heaven in the town of Bethany. After writing the story half, the other half of each chapter is a reflection on the text and application to our lives today. Continue reading
Originally published on Englewood Review of Books.
Review of The Lion’s World: A Journey Into the Heart of Narnia by Rowan Williams
Hardback: Oxford UP, 2013
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Recently, while discussing the role of fictional stories in spiritual formation with my students, I found myself returning to the works of C.S. Lewis as an example. While I did not discuss The Chronicles of Narnia, I can undeniably say that the fictional works of Lewis have shaped me spiritually. From a young age, I have read and reread the Narnian stories. They have become a part of my spiritual formation and of many others as well. Lewis has had this effect on Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, as well. He also confesses to repeatedly reading and studying the Lewis’ works and writes of Lewis, “He is someone that you do not quickly come to the end of – as a complex personality and as a writer and thinker” (xi). In The Lion’s World, Williams explores this complexity of Lewis in conjunction with the depth of the Land of Narnia that Lewis created. He doesn’t set out to “decode images or to uncover a system;” instead he aims “to show how certain central themes hang together – a concern to do justice to the difference of God, the disturbing and exhilarating otherness of what we encounter in the life of faith” (6). Continue reading
I have to admit, that I struggled with Prototype. I’ll go ahead and tell you now that I when I finished the book, I enjoyed it. It’s a good book and I would recommend reading it. The reason why I’m wrestling with this review is I didn’t enjoy it at first. It took me a little bit to get into the book and really understand the direction that Jonathan Martin was going. Continue reading