Bookstore Book Reviews

Book Review: Do More Better

I am always looking for ways to better structure my time. My productivity process is a beautiful, clunky work in progress.

When I came across Tim Challies website, his bio caught my eye. He was an early adopter of blogging. He is a book reviewer, an author, and a pastor.

These are all completely up my alley and I felt that he should be my role model– and thank goodness, I could learn how to be like him because he wrote a book on his productivity system– Do More Better!!

Right out of the gate, I have to say that a large portion of his productivity system was not for me.

He recommends using digital tools and focusses on task management.

Essentially, this book would be gold for a personal assistant, someone going through a career change who needs to set-up a new schedule, or someone in a job with many diverse roles– like say, a blogger, writer, reviewer, pastor.

As a mother whose preschooler is currently in the throws of needing all of mommy’s attention, I shed more technology every day.

I am not in front of my computer all day. I use a flip phone. I have an auto-reply from my email account notifying senders that I will reply to them by telephone in 24-72 hours. So, Todoist, Google Calendar, Evernote, and LastPass are tools that live far away from my toolbox.

The focus on task management is a little discouraging for me. Though, he acknowledges that productivity is not busyness; the number of tasks to manage/accomplish seems latently the measure of your “Christian character,” which is equated to productivity by Challies.

I didn’t really like that very much. Too Puritan. Overlooks the truth that sometimes even a Christian’s job is to be the weakest member.

However, by reading this thin book, I did realize that my roles and “jobs” are relationship oriented not task oriented.

My work output is by nature low– probably causing my feelings of unproductivity. Maybe rather than being unproductive, I just don’t  have much to produce right now!

But in reality, I am only truly unproductive when I spend my time trying to validate myself by churning out “work” rather than doing the invisible work of nurturing my daughter and husband.

When I do that– churn out work,– according to Challies, I am living off mission, in idolatry, and misguided in my prioritization.

Challies says that checking a bunch of minutiea off your to-do list could actually kill your productivity if your mission is the one task that you didn’t do!

This was greatly helpful to me.

I wrote out, as Challies instructed, my mission statement for each of my roles/areas of responsibility.

In doing so, I was easily able to observe that though seeing a perfect column of tick marks at the end of the day is so gratifying, it is:

  1. snuggling with my little girl and listening to her stories,
  2. tricking her into eating healthy food,
  3. going lock step with her through a tantrum,
  4. praying,
  5. singing,
  6. dancing,
  7. going for a drive with her so we can both have downtime,
  8. keeping her home when she is only “a little” sick even though I had a “to-do” list– all this is my to-do list!

And I am actually the least productive when I’ve reviewed an extra book, have done some great editing, stolen some time for cover designing, built some “content” or wrote some “copy,” but see in my family’s faces that I haven’t fulfilled the missions of my most important roles:

The mission to bring peace and health to our house. The mission to offer my child a secure love. The mission to be God-honoring in how we treat our belongings…just to name a few examples.

Undergirding it all, Tim Challies’ Do More Better is about how to do good to others and in so doing bring glory to God. 

I can’t tell you how much I don’t want it to be that my great contribution in life at 32 yrs old is cleaning my bathrooms, washing the dishes, or running to the store at 9pm for milk.

But those are my mission critical tasks every day. And acknowledging that they take priority actually frees me to do my writing, reading, and editing too.

And I can do so without feeling guilty by knowing they are second, putting them second, and entrusting my time to the Lord knowing that my “me time,” and my “passion projects” are not going to be unattended– but my very boring and important work for my family should not be stolen from.

And these are the kinds of realizations you get when pastors write books that shepherd Christians in non-ecclesiastical realms.

Challies writes about self-discipline in work as part of the spiritual work that a disciple does.

He writes using some great and recognizable coaching concepts. (I don’t know if he meant to, but he did.)

He does offer a very specific solution, which could be difficult for some people to adapt to their workflow needs.

Still, I would absolutely use this book as a coaching resource with a coaching client. His spiritual principles for productivity are great to wrestle with. His generalized organization tips are solid.

If you are willing to engage with this book, it has a lot to offer you.

 

 

Bookstore Book Reviews

Book Review: The Discipleship Gospel

There seems to me to be a creeping, flesh-eating disease killing its way through American Christianity. Every year books about church growth, church culture, empowered preaching, systematic theology, community service, and pastoral counseling come out in numbers, yet somehow none of them is the panacea.

With as much knowledge, insight, data, and as many resources as the American Evangelical Industrial Complex has, why can’t we put our finger on this mystery contagion that is causing church death one by one in small community chapels and setting entire mainline denominations on the brink of extinction?

You might have a few ideas on hand for what it is that ills the church: fractured families, secularism, the entertainment industry, public schools, the sexual revolution and the new age?

Well, those are all old news. Bill Hull and Ben Sobels would probably say that the premature aging of American churches has much less to do with outside pressure and cultural corruption, and more to do with compromise and apostasy from within.

In The Discipleship Gospel: What Jesus Preached We Must Follow, Hull and Sobels put down a hard word for pastors and lay leaders, which in essence is: you are preaching a false gospel, and it is making false disciples who are unable to share any gospel or make any disciples.

Churches are bound to age out if they are not raising up “younger” generations of believers. The apparent goal of The Discipleship Gospel is to teach pastors and lay leaders how to preach a true, complete, and biblical gospel and to teach individuals this gospel until it permeates, transforms, and radiates from them, so that those individuals can preach and teach to others who are themselves enabled to preach and teach, ad infinitum.

Such a gospel is: the discipleship gospel. It is a gospel that is active and kingdom minded, set about the work of the Father, by replicating the work of the Son. The work of the Son being namely, discipling.

Hull and Sobels deliver a cogent and relentless argument for the discipleship gospel being the only true gospel. Their logic is airtight, supported with scripture, and most importantly systematic. They give a frame-by-frame explanation of each element of the gospel and argue outward in concentric circles fitting each component into the whole.

The book takes on a lot of purposes in one tome. It refutes falsehoods, creates definitions, constructs logic models, all within a driving exhortation, and caps that exhortation with a sweeping coaching session and strategic pointers. It manages not to become unwieldy in its structure by anchoring itself to two gospel signposts. The book’s argument plays back and forth between these two gospel signposts, in my mind, as a way of surfing between the various functions that the book is servicing.

The first gospel signpost is more a “symptom.” It is open and unrepentant sin in church-going, bible-believing, Christians. This symptom is critical to diagnosing a hyper-grace, forgiveness-only gospel that fails to proclaim that following Jesus is as important as believing in Him.

The second signpost follows the logic of the first in that if you follow Jesus, you obey His commands, including to multiply the number of disciples by discipling others.

These two– following and multiplying– orbit the sun of the discipleship gospel, that is, the kingdom of God. Where the people are following Jesus’ commands and multiplying themselves, you know that there is a belief in, and urgency about, the realness of the kingdom of God and the realness of Jesus as its king– This is truly believing that Jesus is who He says He is.

That is how you know a person has heard and accepted the true gospel of Jesus; because their fruit reveals the state of their roots.

I am in very serious agreement with the authors in what they call the “need to thoroughly evangelize our church members.”

That sentence situated in the core of the book sums up the problem statement of The Discipleship Gospel. We can’t just leave each other alone in faith, or up to our own devices. We can’t assume that people are running the race to the finish, or running the race at all; maybe they are still at the starting line deciding whether to put their bib on.

A time or two in the midst of the arguments about false gospels particularly, there was reference made to Bill Hull’s previous publication, Conversion and Discipleship. It seems to me that in order to have a very clear contrast between false gospels and the true gospel, it would help to read Conversion and Discipleship as an in-depth “problem statement” introduction to The Discipleship Gospel.

The place I hit some snags in following the argument was simply because of the words “kingdom of God” and “multiplication.” For myself, I need to find more specificity on what those two phrases mean and don’t mean. Though I fully recognize the importance of both concepts covenantally, in terms of my nitty-gritty biblical understanding, I am lacking. I have seen both these terms used in a subpar manner, so they are a couple of my red flag words theologically. But, I can tell you, that those red flags didn’t go anywhere in The Discipleship Gospel, all was sound!

So now, I am just left to do some follow up reading on the kingdom and on multiplication! Actually, maybe that’d be a good place to start in a discipleship group.

If you’d like to purchase The Discipleship Gospel you can find an easy purchasing button in my Bookstore. Click Here.

The Proverbs 31 Family

“Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife,” Matthew 1:20

I want to talk about Mary and Joseph as a picture of submitting our physical realities to spiritual realities. We live in the natural but are called to the supernatural.

My favorite themes in 1 Corinthians are: first, the discussion of the physical body vs. the spirit– and how those competing appetites affect how we worship and serve God, and second is, the way that Christians are assigned, appointed, anointed, and arranged in the spiritual realm to be useful in the Body of Christ with intent and specificity by the Lord.

The interplay of the physical and the spiritual pervades the New Testament– starting in the Gospel narratives. There are a lot of picnics, meals with disciples, lunch at the in-laws, dinner parties with sinners, biblical feasts, festivals, weddings, Passover, the Last Supper. Jesus’ earthly ministry is punctuated by meals.

Jesus also tells the woman at the well that he can give her living water so that she will never be thirsty after drinking it. He speaks of us “feeding” on Him, the bread of life– A spiritual meal that does not lack, does not require more meals after.

The Gospel of John, the most “spiritual” gospel, reveals Jesus as the Holy Spirit, yet talks repeatedly of food, in order to talk about spiritual hunger, and that Jesus satisfies.

This seemed the premise of Jesus’ rebuke of Martha. Martha was busy with her, possibly usual task, of preparing the meal for Jesus and his disciples. She was attending to her physical assignment, which probably would have been fine had she not complained about Mary. Mary was not preparing a meal for Jesus but was receiving a meal from Him. She was fulfilling her spiritual assignment to feed on Jesus.

We have both physical and spiritual assignments from God, but! Our physical duties always yield to the spiritual ones. Your earthly life must punctuate your spiritual life. If your spirituality is just a comma in between your workday and dinner, don’t be surprised that your soul continues to hunger and that your flesh continues to lust.

The account of Joseph’s encounter with the angel Gabriel in Matthew 1:18-25, brings insight into the gravity of both the physical and spiritual assignments that God gives us, and how we are called to submit our physical assignments to our spiritual ones.

Joseph was physically anointed, as a man, to be head of a household, husband to a virtuous woman, father to legitimate children. He was called in the natural to be religiously observant, an adherent to the law, an abhorrer of sinfulness. Yet, Gabriel tells Joseph “she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus,” Matthew 1:21. (emphasis mine)

Before this dream of Gabriel, Joseph had planned on quietly breaking off his engagement to Mary. He didn’t want to embarrass her, but it seems that he was “afraid” (Matthew 1:20) of what the implications of marrying a pregnant Mary might be.

Could the implications have been feeling like he had botched his earthly mantle as a faithful Jewish man? That he had failed to be a strong leader over his household, in which his wife and children respected him? That he might not be admired for his morality, but that people might snicker at him as a cuckold? That he’d sacrifice the satisfaction of living a righteous life in the eyes of man?

Could taking Mary as his wife– throwing away his fear– mean throwing away everything he thought God had called him to as a man?

To be the leader who would raise, protect, provide for, and name Jesus– “And Joseph named him Jesus,” Matthew 1:25– would require that Joseph lay down every right inherent to his God-given, physical assignment as a man.

He would lay down everything he had ever been taught about being a religious man in order to take up the demands of his new spiritual assignment.

The first counter-intuitive, counter-cultural aspect of this assignment was that Joseph had to tailor the very beginning of his marriage and family life to his wife’s calling and his son’s purpose. Men in his time did not organize their lives around their wives and children.

A patriarch in Joseph’s day would probably feel that it is their right to set the agenda, to take the most important role, to delegate menial tasks to others, to arrange themselves in the natural position to receive praise. Women and children wouldn’t even be part of the plan, let alone “be the plan.”

It must have been hard to believe that this was what God was asking him to do! Wasn’t this opposed to the natural order of things?!

In his calling, to be Mary’s husband and Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph did not: set the agenda, was not even nearly the most important actor, accepted menial tasks rather than delegating them, and was completely outshone by every one else in the Nativity narrative.

Joseph, Jesus’ father, is an early and strong example of living Christianity. He completely submitted his physical duties to his spiritual assignment. He did not reserve any natural craving, but satiated his spirit with his faith in God’s word over his life.

If we continue to be hungry for the rights inherent to our physical identities, we forfeit our time at Jesus’ feet and our usefulness to the kingdom.

Shavuot and Pentecost

“The women represent two covenants.” Galatians 4:24

Where we have landed in the Proverbs 31 Family series— the Patriarchs’ families— is pretty perfect for the timing of the biblical calendar. In May, we’ll be celebrating Shavuot and Pentecost. I’ll be writing exclusively about the holidays for the month, picking The Proverbs 31 Family series back up in June.

Shavuot commemorates the giving of the Torah to Moses. Christians celebrate Pentecost at this same time, which as we read in the book of Acts was when the Spirit was given as the helper and comforter of Christ’s disciples. The giving of the Law. The giving of the Spirit.

So, what might this have to do with the families we have been reading about? Well, in Galatians 4, you’ll find Hagar and Sarah given as allegories for the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The analogy hinges on the difference between one of them being a slave and the other being free. Paul emphasizes to the Galatians that in Christ, we are not enslaved to the law but are free. He also comments that Hagar and her children are the “present Jerusalem” and that Sarah and her children of promise are of “the Jerusalem that is above.”

The Jerusalem “that is above” refers to the Kingdom of God. It’s the Jerusalem that we are waiting for. This is the life of faith— it is a life of waiting, anticipation, belief in, and fidelity to something above our comprehension and beyond our field of vision. Sarah is the mother of the children of faith.

Now, as you know, I have painted Sarah in a bit of an unflattering fashion. I have pointed out her prickly habit of unforgiveness toward Abraham, and her unfair treatment of her slave girl. Well, I am going to go ahead and continue on with that description of her.

Sarah is a priceless picture of what unforgiveness looks like in a believer’s life. Sarah exhibits actions and reactions that I believe are systematic of unforgiveness, and are recognizable in the lives of any person or family plagued by a habit of being unforgiving.

My family was discussing unforgiveness at lunch not too long ago, and my aunt asked, “How do I know if I have forgiven someone?”

Believe it or not, secular and spiritual alike, you can find myriad articles on that very question. People regardless of moral, spiritual, and religious persuasion are plagued by unforgiveness; they recognize its affect on their lives, relationships, —and health— and they desperately desire to shake off the shackles of old grudges and wounds that just won’t heal.

“How do I know if I have forgiven someone?” You know that you have forgiven someone when you stop acting like Sarah.

Sarah’s unforgiveness, and all of our unforgiveness, goes beyond an attitude or emotion set. Unforgiveness is not invisible. It’s not very sneaky either. It hides behind the sheer vestige of “getting along,” but come on— we see you, Unforgiveness!

Unforgiveness has a palpable agenda and physical pawns. These pawns are called: leverage and collateral. Sarah had leverage from the past and collateral in the present.

Sarah was so eager to blame Hagar’s presence in the camp on Abraham, but she shared some responsibility. Hagar had begged her to come with them away from Egypt. She could have said no. Can I posit for a moment that Sarah might have been happy to bring a living reminder of what Abraham had done wrong in Egypt along with her?

How many of us have been happy to keep a little something from the past with us to use against a loved one? A good failure from someone’s past works wonders in the “getting my way” department.

And while you are keeping the past alive, make sure to double down on the mess “he made” in the present— find a way to grow that past failure into a living, breathing piece of collateral— like Ishmael. “If you don’t…I will.” That’s collateral.

Sarah had cast Ishamael out once while just in his mother’s belly, when Abraham didn’t hop to. You better believe she’d do it again…which she did. And you can’t say that didn’t hurt Abraham, because the bible specifically says that it did.

How do you know if you’ve forgiven? If you have stopped weaponizing the past, you have forgiven. If you’ve stopped insinuating threats, then you have forgiven.

If someone is “on probation,” that’s not forgiveness. If you’re still “always right,” that’s not forgiveness. If you could write the play book for “How to Get Others to Walk on Egg Shells”— that’s not forgiveness!

So many of us, who are called by Christ’s name, feel like we have not been set free. We still feel chained down, fogged in, and like every door is painted shut. We still feel like we are under the law.

If that is the case for you, which it has been for me— God has been revealing my own spiritual baggage, praise Jesus!— you need to recall the Lord’s prayer. “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

I have often wondered which meaning of “as” that phrase was using. And that’s not a nit-picky, semantic question— it makes a difference. Because of how we use the word “as” in English, this line of the prayer could mean two things.

  1. “Forgive us our sins while we forgive those who have sinned against us.”
  2. “Forgive us our sins like we forgive those who have sinned against us.”

Well, the good news, and very challenging news, is I believe that it is both. The second reading, I interpret, as relating to Jubilee. To forgive like the Jews would have been in the biblical style of Jubilee. I will be touching on this subject this month in the context of Shavuot, and again during Advent.

The first reading of “Forgive us our sins” is the personally challenging reading. Forgive us “while.” That’s a conditional word. It means our ability to forgive has a direct correlation to our being forgiven. I know— of course!— that Jesus paid the penalty of our sins, as our kinsman Redeemer. However, forgiveness is an ongoing process that is dependent on us. Let me put it this way: “Free us while we free others.”

If you want to experience freedom, you’ve got to free others.

Leverage and collateral are actions. They’re not attitudes that we can’t help. Whether or not we use them is within our self-control. They are conscious, active, formulated, weaponized words and non-verbal communication that are meant to keep others enslaved by us.

And, yes, I know those others deserve it! Believe me— mine deserve it!!

Under the law they deserve it. But Jesus makes it clear that we are not under the law, but in the Spirit. And in the Spirit, our freedom depends on our freeing others.

We might think that we need deliverance from some ball and chain that is keeping us down. Well, let me inform you— there are two kinds of ball and chain. One is a shackle that weighs down a prisoner from escaping. The other is a weapon. It’s a medieval weapon called a “flail” or a “ball-mace.” If you’ve seen Braveheart you’ve seen this weapon. It is also a ball and chain— a ball covered in spikes, wielded and swung by a chain.

We are the one’s holding the chain, wielding reckless death to others. The scariest thing about forgiveness is that if we put our ball-mace down, if we stop holding leverage and collateral over other people’s heads, how do we know they won’t hurt us again?

We don’t know that, but life in the Spirit is a life of faith. It is “the Jerusalem that is above.” We put our faith in God not the other person. And we do it imperfectly. We forgive and have faith imperfectly. Thank God, that just like Sarah, who didn’t really by the book deserve to be hailed as faithful or forgiving, we are perceived by God, in the Spirit, as deserving and faithful.

I am so excited for Shavuot and Pentecost as we will look more deeply into forgiveness and faith, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.

What are we forgiven from?— our failures under the law— Shavuot. And what are we forgiven for?— freedom in the Spirit— Pentecost.