October 2011

“Community within the church today is hemorrhaging (p. 18),” says Brad House in his new book on small groups titled Community: Taking Your Small Group Off Life Support.  Sadly, though the church is a community of believers it often does not function as a community let alone a life giving community that fosters growth among its members. Though small groups are often utilized to help foster community within the local church it often becomes a place to just share prayer requests, discuss some verses and eat some food. These small groups often do not provide the kind of community growth that House believes the NT has in vision.

Small Groups or Community Groups?

What is interesting about Houses’ proposal is that he is not necessarily offering a reworking of the typical small group idea. Most small groups center themselves around an age group, stage of life or a particular aspect that each person has in common like addictions or being a single parent. Usually these groups meet in different places within the church walls and sometimes they meet in the small groups member’s houses. In other words, they usually just meet for the spiritual needs of the church members in the group. The concept that House sketches out for us in his book is quite different. House calls them Community Groups which are defined as “scattered church grouping.” The name itself does not lend to a radical view of small groups but how he describes the nature of its function does. Community groups have three main functions:

  1. Discipleship – This is “about providing the means by which we begin to shepherd people in the direction of maturity (p. 49).” What happens with discipleship is to fit into the larger structure of what the church is accomplishing as a whole which ultimately to start with the pulpit ministry of the pastor.
  2. Pastoral Care – This is about the leaders of the community groups providing shepherding to each of its members. This “ensures that every member is being cared for and is caring for others (p. 59).” Since the pastor(s) cannot shepherd each member the same and meet all of their needs, equipping the community group leaders with the skills to do this will ensure that someone is shepherding each member of the church.
  3. Mission – This is about each community group and each of its members being actively involved in the mission work of God through the church. It is the whole church that is to be involved in the mission of God and community groups are an effective way to make sure this is accomplished.

In my experience and from what I have read this idea of small groups is much different than anything I have seen. This is a whole new model of small groups that calls for not just meeting the needs of the group themselves but reaching out to meet the needs of the world in their own neighborhood. This is a model of small groups that calls for the group to take the task of the mission of the church and to make it the mission and reason for their existence as well.

The book is broken down into three sections through which House sketches his vision for community groups.

Part One – The Foundation: Building Blocks for Life

Part one deals with laying the foundation for your small group. Often times small groups exist to fill a need or a want instead of flowing from the philosophy or mission of the church. This new foundation must be built on a correct image of oneself before God as an individual and group. We were created to be in community with God and each other. Sin has broken that and the cross restores it. Second, these groups must be an integral part of the mission of the church. Finally, in order for community groups to succeed their needs to be complete ownership on the part of the leaders and those involved. The vision and missional necessity must be clearly and passionately be communicated from the top down. Members need to believe in the purpose and mission of their community group and not merely agree with it (p. 71). This requires that the pastoral leadership train and equip the leaders and allow them to run with their group.

Part Two – Health Plan: Redefining Community Groups

Part two begins by comparing the difference between small groups that exist out of pragmatism versus small/community groups that exist out of conviction because it has flowed from the mission of the church. Pragmatic small groups tend to be reactionary, product driven, have a what-we-do identity, are event driven, tend to take the life from people, conformity oriented and function out of obligation. Small groups that exist our of conviction are visionary, purpose driven, have a who-we-are identity, are lifestyle driven, life-giving, creative and function out of a desire to be a blessing to other believers and the world.

Here House also fleshes out his idea of what it means to be a community group in a neighborhood. The best was for the mission of the church to be worked out in a mission minded small group is to exist and work in the surrounding neighborhoods of the members of the local church. House writes:

As gospel density increases with the growth of groups, these groups can begin to collaborate together to reach whole neighborhoods and regions of the city. As groups draw more people to Jesus, they replicate and increase the gospel density of their neighborhoods, increasing the likelihood that more of their neighbors will be positively impacted by the gospel. In this way we can strategically advance the gospel and see whole cities transformed by the death and resurrection of Jesus (p. 107).

In tandem with this neighborhood approach is the thought that small groups need to rethink where they meet (in homes or more public places like a restaurant), how often they meet (weekly or biweekly), the best time to meet based on the availability of the members and the typical work schedules of those they are trying to reach and offering more than one opportunity to meet without making everyone fell as if they have to attend every time.

Integral to redefining a churches view of small groups is the structural makeup of the whole ministry. Here House draws on what he calls the Jethro Principle as inspired from Exodus 18. Here Moses is the only judge and leader of the people and he cannot handle it anymore. His father-in-law Jethro confronts him and encourages him to train other leaders and divide the people so the work is more manageable and the needs are being met. First, there is one person who oversees the entire small groups ministry. Then there are head coaches who oversee a certain number of coaches who in turn oversee a number of small group leaders. How many small groups and coaches a church has is relative to the size of the church.

Part Three – Treatment: Effecting Change in Your Groups

So how does a church with a small group ministry who is pragmatic oriented change their way of thinking and doing small groups? In part three House gives two answers. First, House believes a church must repent. If community is an integral part of the Christian life and life of the church and small groups is the best way to accomplish that, then churches who do not accomplish this through their small groups ministry have failed to live missionally and need to repent. “As we repent of the sin and disbelief that have corrupted our communities and sidelined us from the mission of God, our hearts will be prepared for a new vision. This repentance looks like a people receiving the gospel and living out of their identity as a holy nation (p. 195).” House suggests that the change that needs to take place is missional repentance. Missional repentance is when God’s people repent of their sin which leads to “the advancement of God’s kingdom and the proclamation of his glory (p. 195).”

The second way in which churches can change their small groups into missional community groups is to provide some sort of boot camp. These boot camps are designed to provide training for small group leaders and coaches. House suggests a seven week program and gives the entire outline of what they do at Mars Hill Church. This chapter of the book is worth the cost of the book alone.

If churches were to take seriously what House proposes in Community then they will be forever changed. House is right when he says,

Transformational, life-filled community in a culture of quick fixes is hard to come by. Effecting change will take commitment, hard work, and patience. Changing the culture of community in your church will require a constant plan that starts with repentance on the part of the church and dependence on the Holy Spirit to impart change in our hearts (p. 192).

Change is never easy for churches but it is the power of the gospel that enables us to change our individualistic and pragmatic small groups into community groups that function out of conviction and mission. Community will forever change how you view your small group and make you ask yourself how you can begin to make the change.

NOTE: This book was provided for free and I was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

What if you were offered anything you wanted? What would you choose? Fast cars, money, a nice job, friends, a big house or a big boat. There was one man who was offered anything he wanted and he didn’t pick any of those things. In fact, in not picking those things he ended up with most of them anyways. His name is King Solomon. Solomon didn’t ask for anything that most people ask genies for. Solomon asked for wisdom. “So give your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil (I Kings 3:5a).” To many it would seem that in making such a wise request Solomon would have been successful until the day he died. Unfortunately, as I Kings records that is not the case.

King Solomon: The Temptations of Money, Sex and Power is a devotional walk through the book of 1 Kings as it pertains to the live and reign of King Solomon. Ryken presents the reader with the highs and lows of Solomon’s life as king of Israel. We see first hand Solomon’s successes and failures. Chapter by chapter we are brought face to face with how much our hearts are like Solomon’s. How much we are tempted with the same vices of money, sex and power.

Ryken contends that Solomon’s life represents that of the literary type of ‘tragedy’ (p. 171). Solomon started off on making the right decisions but ended his life as the result of making bad decisions.

Solomon’s Right Decision

Early on in 1 Kings God approaches Solomon and offers to give him anything he asks for (1 Kings 3:9-13). Solomon makes a wise choice and chooses wisdom. As a reward for his wise choice, God promises to give him “riches and honor (1 Kings 3:13-14).” Solomon would not only be the wisest man of his time but he would also be the richest and most sought after person.

Immediately following the reception of this God given wisdom we see Solomon using it to judge Israel. When Israel hears “of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer judgment (I Kings 3:28).” God’s divine gift of wisdom to Solomon is evident to all and God is glorified in it. We have to stop and ask ourselves, “Is God glorified in the gifts He has given me?”

Though Solomon requested wisdom to judge the people God gave him much more than that. God gave Solomon riches beyond imagination. Unfortunately, Solomon’s decision to ask for wisdom did not mean he always made the wisest choices.

The Temptation of Money

As it was with the rich young ruler that Jesus encountered in the NT so it was with Solomon. Solomon was enamored with riches and possessions. Though he was obedient and built the temple he also built a house for himself that was far beyond the expense of the temple. In the royal safe he had hundreds of gold shields and in his house he had the windows plated in gold. In fact, near the end of Solomon’s rule 1 Kings 10:14 records for us how much money Solomon took in each year in gold alone: “The weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents.” Later in the text we see that Solomon amassed  ships in which he brought home different kinds of exotic animals to have for himself (1 Kings 10:22). It was not the mere possession of these things that was sinful but rather that Solomon allowed them to turn his heart away from trusting God to trusting them.

The Temptation of Sex

Many people believe that Solomon did not have a problem with women until the end of his rule. This is definitely not the case. In fact, Solomon began his rule with women problems. In chapter 3 we see Solomon starting off his rule by marrying the daughter of Pharaoh king of  Egypt. At the end of his rule in chapter 11 we see Solomon holding nothing back when it came to his desire for women and sex.  The first three verses reveal for us how sinful Solomon’s heart and actions were:

Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, “You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.” Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart (1 Kings 11:1-3).

As wise as Solomon was he played the fool when it came to women. Ironically, it was his lust for women that eventually turned his heart away from God and brought God’s judgment on him.

The Temptation of Power

In conjunction with Solomon’s desire for women was his desire for power. Many of the marriages Solomon had were primarily attempts at political alliances that would have no doubt brought Solomon protection and power. Not only did Solomon have political power but he had military power. 1 Kings 10: 26 tells us that Solomon had “1,400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen, and he stationed them in the chariot cities and with the king in Jerusalem.”

The life and rule of Solomon is truly a tragedy. One could only wonder if God’s people would ever have a godly king that would follows God all of his life. Thankfully a better king was to come. In fact, the next king of Israel to come on the scene is the final promised king – King Jesus! Jesus is the true and better king of Israel!

Aren’t you glad that Jesus is a better Solomon? That God’s kingdom is not dependent upon a failing earthly human king but a dependable heavenly saving king Jesus Christ! The temporary kingdom Solomon built is a picture of the eternal kingdom God was going to build with Jesus Christ as its king. Solomon’s successes give us a glimpse into the kingdom of God and his failures show us how much better Jesus will be as our king in God’s kingdom.

King Solomon is a humbling reminder that we can all succumb to the temptations of power, sex and money. That an earthly king will always fail to meet the perfect demands of God and that Jesus is the only true king who is ruling at the right had of the Father waiting to consummate his rule over the whole world.

NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

As you may know Zondervan has recently published their new 2011 NIV. You may also know that it has come under a lot of fire from a number of sides. Even the Southern Baptist Convention has made resolutions against it in their recent meeting.

Over at the blog of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Mary Kassian has written on Ten Reasons Why the New NIV Bible is Bad for Women. Her opening words tell you where she is going:

Don’t get me wrong. I like to be hip. And I enjoy cappuccino as much as the next person. But my biggest beef with gender-inclusive Bibles is that they lack doctrinal precision. If you mess with the words, you mess with the meaning.

You can read all ten of her reasons here along with the explanations.

Within the last ten years or so it has been the habit of publishers to make books in dictionary form that are dedicated to a particular subject, person or idea that has within it a multitude of words, concepts and ideas. Some of these are broad like the Old Testament and others are more specific like Paul. Since many of these dictionaries deal with subjects like hermeneutics, theology or backgrounds they naturally carry with them a more academic feel though the layperson can greatly benefit from them.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is the newest in a long line of needed and useful dictionaries. As a book that centers on Christian spirituality, and therefore the Christian life, it is a book that will benefit a broad range of believers beyond the pastor, student and theologian. This is a book that every Christian can benefit from both in their knowledge of Christian spirituality and in their growth as a Christian.

As the title indicates this is a book about spirituality within the Christian tradition. As such there is plenty of material not covered on the topic of spirituality. This is by no means a downfall as the book is seeking to service Christians in their walk with the true and living God.

Before this book even gets to the dictionary part for which it was made it deals with a number of necessary introductory issues. The idea and Biblical basis for Christian spirituality are laid out. The various methods of Christian spirituality are presented with pros and cons. Two chapters deal with spirituality in both testaments. Several chapters deal with the triune nature of God and the role each member of the trinity plays in the Christians life. A number of chapters provide a brief overview of the history and development of Christian spirituality beginning with the early church to the present. Many of the key aspects of the spiritual life are discussed such as the role of prayer, experience, music and the arts and church liturgy.

Borrowing from Aumann, John Coe sets forth the following as a definition of Spiritual theology:

Spiritual theology is that part of theology that brings together (1) a study of the truths of Scripture with (2) a study of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the experience of human beings (3) in dependence on the illuminating work of the indwelling Christ, in order to (a) define the nature of this spiritual life in Christ, (b) explain the process of growth by which persons advance from he beginning of the spiritual life to its full perfection in the next life, and (c) formulate directives for spiritual growth and development (38).

Setting up this definition Coe offers four implications for the study of Christian spirituality. First, despite the often esoteric, mythical and subjective idea of spirituality as found in many religions, Christian spirituality stems from a revealed faith. God defines Christian spirituality and not man. Second, Christianity derives its theology of spirituality and the spiritual life from a revealed base – namely, Scripture. As such, the nature and outworkings of Christian spirituality are not left to the person themselves but are grounded in and guided by the revealed word of God in Scripture. Third, inherent in the word spiritual is reference to the Spirit of God Himself. Spirituality for the Christian is an interest in the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. In this sense, the only true spirituality is Christian spirituality. Finally, foundational to the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer is the Spirit’s preparing of a persons heart and mind for the work of the Word in bringing spiritual growth. This preparing starts with initial salvation and continues in the life of the believer as they grow in their spiritual walk.

The Dictionary of Christian Spirituality is a great addition to ones personal library of spiritual works. It is a broadly evangelical work not just by the wide range of denominational representatives who contributed but it also seeks to tie in the contribution of Christians outside North America. The first 240 pages provide the reader with much needed and useful information and enriching discussion on the multifaceted nature of Christian spirituality. One stand out aspect of this work is that it draws on and connects Christian spirituality with many of the major doctrines of Scripture such as the doctrine of man, sin, the church and the end times. Most fundamentally is the relating of Christian spirituality with the triune nature of God. Simon Chan contends that “spiritual theology may be understood as the exploration of the nature of life in relation to the Trinitarian economy (p. 53).” Thus, the spiritual life is the exploration of the persons “relation to the distinct works of the persons of the Trinity (53).”

The dictionary portion of the book itself includes entries that fall under a number of categories:

  1. Christians known for their work on spiritual theology like Francis of Assisi and Jonathan Edwards.
  2. Spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation and reading.
  3. Christian denominational spiritualities like Fundamentalist Spirituality and Reformed (Calvinist) Spirituality.
  4. Spiritualities of other religions such as Hindu Spirituality and Nature Mysticism.

It was Lovelace who coined the term “the sanctification gap” which as Coe defines it is “a gap that exists in the minds of many believers between what they know to be the goal of sanctification and growth, the spiritual ideal clearly set forth in the Bible, and where they actually know they are in their lives (p. 37).” It is an effort to aid the church in filing this gap that the Dictionary of Christian Spirituality exists. At the end of each chapter in the beginning of the book is a list of books for further study on the given subject. These suggestions will greatly aid the reader in gaining a better grasp of the spiritual life as defined by the Christian faith.

NOTE: I received this book for free and am under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Zack Nielsen is giving away two great new books from Crossway:

  1. Gospel Wakefulness by Jared Wilson
  2. Jesus + Nothing = Everything by Tullian Tchividjian

Enter to win here!

“Abortion is the defining experience of this generation. It is an experience involving the shedding of innocent blood, a sin of bloodguilt, a sin that can only be addressed by a forthright, compassionate, and unapologetic gospel.” In his new book Innocent Blood, John Ensor makes a passionate plea for the church to “prevent the death of innocents and the bloodguilt that results.” Ensor grounds this plea in Deuteronomy 19:7-10:

Therefore I command you, You shall set apart three cities. And if the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he has sworn to your fathers, and gives you all the land that he promised to give to your fathers…then you shall add three other cities to these three, lest innocent blood be shed in your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, and so the guilt of bloodshed be upon you.

The numbers are staggering:

  1. There are 42 million induced abortions performed worldwide very year.
  2. At the current rate, one-third of all American women has or will have had an abortion by the age of 45.
  3. Women who have an abortion are at an elevated risk of death caused by many things such as suicide and depression.
  4. China alone is responsible for over 400 million deaths by abortion which is 25% more than America.
  5. 56% of the world’s female suicides occur in China which is five times the world average.

Ensor’s aim is simple, to present a biblical case for why believers should not partake in the shedding of innocent blood and do what they can to stop it from happening. This is a call to protect the innocent among us.

Who are the innocent among us?

They are

The harmless, pure, or free from guilt before our fellow man or the laws of man. Babies and little children come to mind first when we speak of the innocent in this sense; they are harmless and without guile. But adults, too, are called innocent when they have done nothing wrong toward their neighbor. To punish them without due process, or on the basis of a false report, or because they are poor and have no proper defenders, or to please the wealthy or powerful, is to harm the innocent.

Why should we care for the innocent and vulnerable among us?

Christ cared for them and they have value because He made them. Being made in the image of God gives value to every person despite the color of their skin or the stage of their human development. Because the innocent Christ shed His blood to save us we should seek to save the innocent among us. God shows His value for our lives through Christ’s shedding of blood and so we should value the life of others.

Who is guilty of shedding innocent blood?

The answer may shock you. Ensor rightly points out that it is not just those who have a direct hand in the killing of the innocent but those who can do something to prevent it and don’t. This second category joins more of us into it than we may want to think and the weight of our responsibility is heavy. Ensor is clear that God will exact justice and judgment on those who shed innocent blood and it goes for both parties – the active and passive participants.

So what is the hope of the bloodguilty?

The hope of the bloodguilty is nothing other than the shedding of blood in the atonement of Christ. Ironically, it is the shedding of the innocent Christ’s blood that provides the atoning covering for the bloodguilty. Innocence for guilt. Ensor masterfully points out that Satan tried to attack baby Jesus as an infant. Jesus Himself as a baby was the target of innocent killing. Herod tried to take his life as a baby and Pilate succeeded while he was a man. The first attempt on his life would have stopped the gospel from becoming a reality. The second attempt resulted in his death and made the gospel a reality.

Innocent Blood: Challenging the Powers of Death with the Life of the Gospel is a jolt to the conscience of anyone who reads it. It is a much needed gut check on how truly pro-life one is. It will challenge your heart and make you ask yourself if you are doing your part to stop the shedding of innocent blood. You will finish the book asking yourself one question – do I have the blood of the innocent on my hands?

NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.

Last week I received a new book by John Piper called Bloodlines: Racism, Cross and the Christian. There are probably few Christians who knew that John Piper was a racist. In true Piper fashion, he has written this book sharing with the reader how he went from being a racist to adopting an African American girl. In Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian, John Piper lays out for us how he repented from his racism and came to embrace ethnic diversity through the redemptive power of the cross of Christ.

Corssway has made this great short documentary for the book:

You can also purchase a hardcover copy at Westminsterbooks.com for $14.76 or the Kindle version from Crossway for $9.99.

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