Summer is here. It is possible you may have more time on your hands to read because of COVID. One great way to redeem the time in the season we are in is through study. Pick an area you would like to grow in as a Christian and find a good resource to help you on the journey. Here are a few books that I have found to be profitable and think you may as well. They are all affordable and I have also ordered a copy of each one for our church library.
1. Evangelism, Mack Stiles.
Mack Stiles has been a church planter and entrepreneur in the Middle East. He’s engaging in person and in print and its’ hard to be apathetic when he talks about evangelism. This short book in the 9Marks series is a wonderful introduction to thinking through evangelism in the context of the local church.
Stiles addresses practical questions many consider: Do I need to have the gift of evangelism to share the Gospel? Can I share the gospel without words? How does evangelism relate to discipleship? What is the Gospel?
The book’s has two primary strengths:
First it emphasizes the necessity of sharing the biblical gospel. “Unbiblical evangelism is a method of assisted suicide for a church, so there is much at stake in getting evangelism right.” (39) It’s tempting to shy away from sharing the challenging components of the Gospel. It’s easy to rest our confidence in unbiblical means and methods of evangelism rather than God’s work to bring someone from death to life through a faithful exposition of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The Gospel creates the church; we must get it right.
Secondly, the book highlights the beauty of a church where evangelism becomes part of the culture. Stiles points to text after text to demonstrate that evangelism was something the early church was involved in as a community. Looking at the church at Philippi he will write: “They all pulled together for the gospel. Everyone was on game.” Many of us fail to reach out with the good news because we’re failing to look at it as a community endeavor. When the church as a whole begins to see evangelism as God’s call upon the church we will pray together for the salvation of the lost, rejoice when we see the gospel take root, lament for those who have not believed, and spur one another on towards communicating the life giving message of God’s Son. There are many books on evangelism out there.
They are not all equal. Evangelism is a great place to begin thinking through what the Gospel is and how the church is called to communicate it.
2. The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis.
This is one of those books that should be required reading for every Christian. Originally an essay, it is often published with other works by the Oxford Don. Lewis believed that joy should be a mark of the Christian. Sadly, however he thinks too many of us either do not possess it, or are on a chase to get it, following a target that is ephemeral. The opening pages entice the reader to begin a quest that will not disappoint:
Indeed if we consider the unblushing promises of reward promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
We are far too easily pleased. (26)
Lewis compels us to cast aside a Stoic vision for life, devoid of joy, anticipation of reward, and wonder at the glory Christ has achieved. The Weight of Glory is the perfect book to read when things begin to feel mundane and deep down you know you’ve lost the sight of the wonder that is yours in Christ.
3. Confronted by Grace, John Webster.
The late John Webster was a British theologian who entered into glory several years ago. He has the rare gift of being able to convey biblical doctrine in a personal and accessible manner. My only regret is that I was not introduced to him earlier in life. This book is a collection of sermons he gave. Each sermon can be read in around 15 minutes, leaving an effect on the soul that far outlasts the reading.
When obedience to Christ is discussed in Christian circles it easily falls into a ‘grin and bear it’ kind of disposition. We know following Christ will be hard, and we may not like it where it takes us, but we must follow the call because God is God. This is true. But perhaps it is an incomplete truth. Following Christ is not only a matter of cost. In his sermon “Listen to Him” Webster describes obedience much more poignantly:
Listening means obedience, and obedience is not craven submission; it’s not born of fear. Obedience to God is the lifelong task of giving consent to the shape which God has for my life. Obedience is letting God put me in the place where I can be the sort of person I am made by God to be. I come to see what that kind of person this is when I stop trying to be in charge of myself, and instead acknowledge that God is my Lord, that I can only be myself if I walk in his ways. (96)
This slight turn transforms the way we understand Christ’s call on our lives, safeguarding His glory, magnifying His love, and demonstrating our incredible need for Him. Webster is able to do this again and again in this collection of sermons. Reading 1-2 a week for the summer would be a rewarding experience.
4. The Gospel comes with a House Key
Jesus loves sinners. He dined with tax collectors and prostitutes. He sought out the lost sheep of Israel. He offered the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4) water that would well up to eternal life. Salvation wasn’t simply something he had, but something he frequently offered to those who needed it. For many of us, the greatest challenge to sharing the gospel might be having a relationship with an unbeliever where we are able to share it. This is where Rosaria Butterfield’s new book, “The Gospel Comes with a House Key” might be very helpful.
The book gently weaves in and out of assorted genres, interchanging between biblical teachings, and narrative of key moments in her life, with something of a how-to book feel. Butterfield’s key phrase is “Radical Ordinary Hospitality”. For her family, welcoming others into their home with the hopes of developing a genuine relationship and sharing Christ is a part and parcel of their regular experience. “Radical Ordinary Hospitality is this: using your Christian home in a daily way that seeks to make strangers neighbors, and neighbors family of God.” (31) Hospitality is a tool for love and evangelism.
We live in the connected age. Yet for all of the promise and value of social media loneliness and
isolation are on the rise. Our culture continues to be fractured by people who talk past each other as if they are speaking a different languages. And increasingly it is common for unbelievers to have no Christian in their life through whom the light of the gospel shines, just as easy as it is for Christians to have no deep relationship with an unbeliever.
Butterfield is especially adept at carefully drawing out some of the blind spots we have in bible believing Christian communities. Too often we are known by our words rather than our actions. “Having strong words and a weak relationship with our neighbors is violence.” (35) Further on she notes how “In post Christians communities, your words can only be as strong as your relationships.” (40) Reading her book made me think of a friend I had from long ago who struggled with Christianity but kept stumbling over his atheist convictions because of the change He saw Christ work in me in the context of our relationship. The first step for us to fulfill the Great Commission involves developing relationships with people who need to hear the Gospel.
Butterfield was a lesbian Professor of English before Christ saved her. This experience leads her to exhort us to do a better job of reaching out to people who are not like us as a couple reached out to her. “Christians love to fellowship with like-minded people. Strangers can be another story.” (90) It’s easy to stumble because the longer we are in Christ the more we wonder how to really connect with someone who is vocally not. Here again, Butterfield helps us through some of our minefields: “If my unbelieving neighbors who identify as lesbians are in sin, then why are they the nicest people on the block? If our Christian worldview cannot account for that, it can
only survive in the echo chamber of our imaginary theology.” By rediscovering the fact that all
of us on this planet are made in the image of God, and recalling Christ’s love for the stranger, Butterfield helps lead us back to how we may reach them with Christ’s love and grace.
Don’t read the book trying to be exactly like her. Please. Rosaria is a Pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother who also holds a Ph.D in English and writes books. She’s a Sabbatarian who believes we should only sing from the psalter. She freely shares how she practices hospitality in the book but she does not say we must model our specific practice after her, nor should we. We are all called to be stewards of the homes, resources, relationships, and callings God has placed in our life in assorted seasons. I found her specific application of hospitality to be personally impossible for many families who embrace the vision of hospitality, including mine. Please don’t let guilt or legalism step in. For most of us, having one person over a month would be a wonderful place to begin. That said, the book’s overall point is something we can all embrace. It is convicting and out to convict us, for our good, God’s glory, and the good of our neighbors. God has saved us through the work of Christ, provided us homes, and called us reach the world for Him.
Hospitality is a spiritual gift in the bible. For some, it will be easier than others. For some, it will be easier to do more frequently than others. But, encouragement is also a spiritual gift, but something we are called to practice. So to, with hospitality. One of the best ways to show someone you care about them is to invite them into your home and share your life with them, even if it’s just for an evening.
Security when you're not in control.
Do you feel safer when you believe you are in control? You're not alone.
One of the challenging things about the COVID-19 era is how out of control it makes us feel. We can't control whether or not there is toilet paper at the store, what's happening with our 401K, or when it will be safe to see people again. In my neighborhood we can't even control if the internet is working on a given day. Many of us are taking precautions to try and be safe but the situation reminds us how out of control we are. We want to do something. But we're liable to either feel powerless or try and act like we are still in control by going to the beach with a thousand other people and acting like everything is going to be OK.
It's a good time to read Psalm 91. I’d encourage you to pause here and take a moment to read it, before we walk through the main themes together.
What jumps out at you?
The psalm is built upon the premise that the psalmist is living in the middle of a dangerous environment. Can you see any similarities between their situation and ours?
The Psalmist is enjoying security in the midst of trial, but the security does not come through their own control. The Psalmist is enjoying security because of the intimate and incredible protection of the Lord.
There is a lot we might note from this beautiful psalm but let me offer the following brief observations:
1-Danger is real, and so is God’s protection.
The psalmist is crying out to the Lord amid real danger. His gaze catches the fowler (91:3), the deadly pestilence (91:3), the lion and the adder (91:13). It feels as if he is experiencing danger from almost every aspect of creation, from men to beasts to pandemics. As followers of Christ we are not called to live in some alternate universe, denying reality. The life of the Christian is not the life of Pollyanna. Jesus promises us that in this world we will have trouble (John 16:33).
The focus of the psalm however is not on the danger, but on God’s protection in the middle of it. As varied as the opposition to the Psalmist is, God’s protection is repeated again and again. Verse 4: “He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.” The danger the psalmist has faced in life is real, but so is the Lord’s presence with them in the middle of that danger.
The psalm invites us to join in declaring God to be “our Refuge and Fortress”. It offers an opportunity to reflect on ways in which we may have looked for security in something or someone other than the Lord. Trials are often fertile ground for repentance. The Psalm offers an opportunity to reflect on the protection the Lord has covered you with in the past. One of our greatest weaknesses as human beings is our capacity to forget the previous blessings of the Lord. Recounting the blessings of the past often gives us strength in the present and hope for the future.
We cannot control that which is around us because we are not in control. But we worship a God who is, and He offers us wonderful promises: “With long life I will satisfy him, and show him my salvation.” (Psalm 91:16).
Take a few minutes and focus on all of the verbs in the psalm which declare what God is doing for you, right now. Use this as an opportunity to praise Him and to petition Him for your specific needs.
2-The psalmist gives us specific ways to engage with God in the midst of the danger.
We may not be in control, but there are important things we can do to engage with God in the middle of danger. Cruise down to verses 14-16 and identify the descriptive actions of the believer.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because
he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.”
The psalmist “holds fast” to God, “knows” God’s name, and “calls to Him” in the midst of trouble. These three verbs are quite significant.
When trial comes there is a temptation to let go of God rather than hold fast. We grow tired, the enemy wields doubt against us, and rather than clinging to the Lord like a rudder in a storm we lose our grip and let go. We back off devotional habits, corporate worship and service and begin to drift.
When trial comes there is a temptation to doubt who God is, failing to “know His name”. We might think that He doesn’t care about our trial or doubt His power or willingness to protect us. This particularly becomes acute when we don’t see a swift fulfillment of our prayers, and begin to question God’s promises. It is a great danger to the believer to doubt God’s faithfulness and yet it happens easier than we would like to admit.
Finally, when trial comes it is so easy for us to look for deliverance somewhere else, rather than calling upon God. I remember hearing one senior saint say that prayer should be our first response rather than our last resort. How true.
Trials offer real temptations and dangers. But they also offer an opportunity to experience God’s presence and protection. We don't have to strive to exert control because God is in control and He will not let us down. Doubtless the psalmist’s trust in God’s protection in the present is influenced by God’s protection in the past. We cannot control events around us, but we can control how we respond to the trial. Psalm 91 invites us to hold fast to the Lord, grow in our knowledge of Him, and call upon Him for help. We way not be able to control the outcome of the trial, but we may actively walk with the one who is leading us through it.
"He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”