Friday, November 11, 2011

Doing Us Good In Spite of Ourselves

Every now and then you are going to have to put up with an abundance of Newton quotes on this blog; I read these things and they are such balm for my soul that I have to share them.  Consider this:

[The Lord] often takes a course for accomplishing his purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe.  He wounds, in order to heal; kills, that he may make alive; casts down when he designs to raise; brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts.  The things he does to prove us; but he himself knows, and has determined before-hand, what he will do.  The proof indeed usually turns out to our shame.  Impatience and unbelief show their heads, and prompt us to suppose this and the other thing, yea perhaps all things, are against us; to question whether He be with us and for us, or not.  But it issues likewise in the praise of his goodness, when we find, that, [in spite of] all our unkind complaints and suspicions, he is still working wonderfully for us, causing light to shine out of darkness, and doing us good in defiance of ourselves.

Repeated Multiplied Goodness

I found this very encouraging.  I believe the gentleman that Newton is writing to has cancer.  Newton’s struggle is my own:

I hope you will find the Lord present at all times and in all places.  When it is so, we are at home every where; when it is otherwise, home is a prison, and abroad a wilderness.  I know what I ought to desire, and what I do desire.  I point him out to others as the all in all; I esteem him as such in my own judgment; but alas! my experience abounds with complains.  He is my sun; but clouds, and sometimes walls, intercept him from my view.  He is my strength; yet I am prone to lean upon reeds.  He is my friend; but on my part there is such coldness and ingratitude as no other friend could bear.  But still he is gracious, and shames me with repeated multiplied goodness.  O for a warmer heart, a more simple dependence, a more active zeal, a more sensible deliverance from the effects of this body of sin and death!  He helps me in my endeavors to keep the vineyards of others; but, alas! my own does not seem to flourish as some do around me.  However, though I cannot say I labor more abundantly than they all, I have reason to say, with thankfulness, By the grace of God, I am what I am.  My poor story would soon be much worse, did not he support, restrain, and watch over me every minute.  (Newton’s Works, Volume 1, 626)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quick Review of Welcome to the Story by Stephen J. Nichols

In his book Disciple: Getting Your Identity From Jesus Bill Clem shares an analogy where he compares three drama students starring in a play they perform in their garage with a drama student auditioning for a small part in a Broadway play in New York.  The difference between the two scenarios is the one student even with a walk-on part being part of something huge.  The other students are delusional “believing their vision of the way things could be is the way things actually are”.  He compares this analogy to the difference between inviting God into our little stories or being offered whatever role in God’s epic unfolding drama.  Clem says,

Our personal story is actually a distortion of reality and a desire for significance.  God’s story is reality, and significance can be ours with even a walk-on bit part, because pleasing and glorifying the Creator is the most significant experience offered to created beings.  (Clem, Disciple, 15)

It’s not only our personal stories that can be distortions of reality.  Our reading and understanding of Scripture can suffer from the same distortion.  Yes, God’s story is about us.  It is about our creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.  but that is our part in the story.  More than our story the Bible is the story of God and we play bit-part’s in it. 

Stephen J. Nichols has written Welcome to the Story with the hopes of inviting readers to “enter in, to participate in, the story of the Bible”.  Nichols traces the Bible’s plotline of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration, then he starts teaching a street-level hermeneutics course. 

That’s really what this book is: a street-level hermeneutics course.  I have been looking for this book for quite some time.  I love Goldsworthy’s books outlining God’s story.  I found a good amount of help from Vaughn Roberts’ God’s Big Picture.  I found Dr. Wellum’s hermeneutics class immensely helpful.  Furthermore, works like Stephen Dempster’s Dominion and Dynasty and Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God helped to open my eyes to seeing the big picture of God’s story.  But up until this book by Nichols nothing seemed to translate into the pew. 

Now I finally have something that I can give curious members of my church.  Now there is something that we could use as a small group study to teach the storyline of the Bible in an engaging way.  Now there is something that I can use as an introduction to biblical theology with young men that I train for ministry. 

I share Tom Schreiner’s enthusiasm for the book when he says,

Nichols has written a delightful and inviting book on how to understand and live out the Bible.  The storyline of Scripture is sketched in, and the book is full of wise advice on how to read and live out what God requires.  I recommend the book with enthusiasm.

There is enough in here to teach a seminary level course but it’s written in such a way that the average Bible reader would be able to understand the concepts.  As I read through the book I found myself engaged, helped, and at the end I finally realized what Nichols had done.  I thought to myself after finishing the book, “He just taught a hermeneutics course, oh my goodness, how did he do that?!?!” 

This book is very helpful.  No matter what your level of Bible reading this book belongs in your library.  For only 10.81 you can treat yourself to an engaging seminary course that you won’t even notice is a seminary course.  Buy it today!

Muscular Faith Giveaway

I just reviewed this book and I want to give it away to somebody.

Here are the rules.  I’m not looking to give this away to somebody that just wants to read it for the heck of it or to pad a library.  I want to give this to somebody that is either A) going to give it away to somebody that needs it or B) convinces me that they need it. 

So here is how you win this book.  Read the review and then be the first one that meets one of those criteria.  You can either leave a comment here or simply email me at

         mike AT fbjasper DOT org

First come first serve.

Quick Review of Muscular Faith by Ben Patterson

Confession time…

My stomach usually starts a minor Civil War against my other greater sensibilities whenever I see a Christian book title like this one.  There are quite a few “be a man” books out there.  Some are good.  Most are more about how to be Rocky Balboa than a follower of Jesus.  Books with titles like Muscular Faith are usually heavy on the muscles and lax on the faith. 

It’s the former category—the Rocky Balboa type—that I assumed this book would fall under.  It’s starts with a quote from C.S. Lewis (an apt theologian but one that those "warrior” types like to quote) and a translation from The Message.  So, I braced myself for what would be an agonizing 260 pages of my palm constantly hitting my face. 

Somewhere in the first fifty pages or so my opinion radically changed.  Rather than assuming that this was one of those theologically-weak testosterone-filled diatribe’s I soon discovered that this guy was solid.  Suddenly I realized that the “fight” and the “muscular faith” that this guy was calling for is none other than the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

This book became one worth recommending.  Once I discovered that this book would be worth recommending my next task would be to find out who needs this book.  And that proves a tough task.  I have to answer two questions, “what is this book claiming?” and “who would benefit from it?”. 

What is the book about?

Muscular Faith is a relatively lengthy book but it reads quickly.  It is filled with engaging stories and simple points.  For 260 pages Patterson gives what seems to be an introduction to the gospel and how to live out the Christian faith.  But it’s not just any old introduction to the Christian faith; it reads more like a battle plan than a theology text book.  Patterson is real about the wounds that come from following Jesus.  I appreciate that.

As near as I can tell his point is to explain the Christian faith and how to live out what Christ has purchased in a way that debunks the lazy and superficial faith of many that merely profess Christ. 

Who would benefit from it?

It seems to me that Patterson’s main audience is professing Christians, probably college guys that are more passionate about the next Halo tournament than living for Jesus.  It’s probably not going to stir up someone that reads Puritans but it may be the next step for teenagers raised on event-driven and Spam-eating youth groups. 

I could see this book appealing to and assisting college men in their walk with Jesus.  It may even be something to give to an unbeliever that thinks the Christian faith is mostly for purple-haired women and effeminate dudes. 


I kind of wish that this book were a little less lengthy.  It’s kind of like trying to convince an 80 pound junior high kid that he needs to lift weights by throwing him into a workout with the professional wrestlers.  He’s probably wondering if he can even bench press the bar and these guys are throwing on 45’s just to get him started. 

If you are trying to “build up their spiritual muscles” as the back of the book claims then perhaps you shouldn’t do it with a 260 page book.  Yes, it reads quickly but I’d rather see a shorter book that makes much the same arguments but then refers in a few places to other resources.  

This book is probably best for the guy that has been lifting weights for awhile but he’s kind of a nancy and doesn’t want to push himself any further.  He’s comfortable with his bench press so there’s really no need getting any stronger.  In other words this book is probably not the first Christian book you want your college student to read—but it might be a “raise the bar” challenge to someone that has already read a few books and is pretty confident in his stagnant Christianity. 

If you purchase this book and give it to someone I’d like to know what you think.  Did other people find it helpful?  If so, who?  If you know someone that can benefit from this book give me an email or leave a comment and I’ll send it to you free of charge…only one rule though…you HAVE to give it away, or convince me you need it.  First come first serve.

You can buy it for 11.69 or 9.99 on your Kindle.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Sleeping Away Our Mission Field

“God put Jonah in the midst of a serious situation with seriously broken people, and he slept” –D. Patrick & M. Carter from For the City

This one hurt. 

I’ve been Jonah way too many times.  My excuse has always been the same, “my wife and I are planning to move soon, this is only temporary, no point getting too attached”.  Two years later we end up at the same house still waiting for the next location. 

Granted our moves (up until the big move to Kentucky) were only across town or at least within 15 minutes.  And we could have certainly continued these relationships had we begun them.  But not us.  (I should probably say “not me” because my wife is better about this than I am).  I was too busy sleeping our mission field away. 

Is God sovereign?  Does He—somehow—through His sovereign goodness plant us exactly where He want us?  Even if we wind up where we are because of our own stupidity?  Are the people in your life (neighbors, co-workers, family, etc.) there by accident? 

Is God missional?  Is he drawing people to Himself?  Is His gospel to be proclaimed everywhere?  Is part of His work to redeem brokenness?  Who did Jesus hang out with—religious people or “sinners”? 

Does God use His church (believers) to throw back darkness?  To destroy the works of the devil?  To redeem brokenness?  To be the hands and feet of Jesus? 

I’m just guessing that God planted Jonah on a boat with lost people for a reason.  I’m just guessing that God has lost and broken people in our neighborhood for a reason. 

Time to wake up.

Review of For the City

Churches can be IN the city, AGAINST the city, OF the city, or FOR the city.  It is the latter approach that Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter encourage churches to adopt.  Actually the word “city” could be replaced with culture.  Whether it be a rural farming community, a ghetto, a wealthy suburban area, or a gathering of mountain men in the hills of Kentucky the church has these four options in regards to her response to the culture. 

The church in the city is primarily focused with bringing outsiders into the church.  The church against the city has adopted a defensive posture that considers the culture irredeemable.  The church of the city “bends so far to the culture that they lose their distinctive Christian identity—they lose their ability to speak truth effectively.” (25)  But the church for the city is:

…a model of engagement where a church speaks the truth of the gospel and is not afraid to uphold a biblical worldview and moral standard.  Such a church proclaims the truths of Scripture with passion, clarity, and boldness.  At the same time, though, this is a church that commits itself to seek the shalom, the flourishing, of the city.  This means seeking the shalom of the people they live in community with, living sacrificially and using their gifts, time, and money to seek the peace and prosperity of their neighbors.  (26)

It is this vision that Darrin Patrick and Matt Carter unfold in the latest book in the Exponential Series:  For the City.  Carter and Patrick each write four chapters and then tag-team on the last two.  In the first part of the book (which is very engaging) both men share their experience of planting a church in a large city.  Patrick helped plant The Journey in St. Louis and Carter helped plant Austin Stone in Austin, TX. 

In the second part of the book Patrick tackles the topics of contextualization, community, and what it means to serve the city.  Carter considers equipping and suffering.  The book closes with both men sharing confessions of what they have done wrong, and then with a passionate plea to live like Jonah. 


The community that houses the church where I serve is home to a little over 15,000 citizens.  If you combine the smaller surrounding towns there is at maximum 40,000 people in the area.  This is hardly what Carter and Patrick have in mind when they use the term "city”.  But that is okay says Carter, “those of you who aren’t located in a larger city, many of the concepts we discuss will work equally well where you are”.  (26)

So does it?  That is one key question that I was asking as I read through this book.  Does it transfer or do I need to be in a big city to apply the principles of For the City?

Darrin Patrick’s chapter on contextualization is certainly something that can be transferred to our church setting.  After giving a brief definition and defense for the necessity of contextualization he asks wide-open questions that can be used to exegete any culture.  He encourages churches to ask head, heart, and hand’s questions.  Such as, “what events rally the community?”, “what do they suffer and sacrifice for?, “what are people passionate about”?  Answering these questions can help a person exegete any community no matter the size.

Churches in any community are also tempted to drive off the ditch into syncretism and sectarianism.  And the healthy contextualization that Patrick presents--one which clings to “the true gospel with its brutal truth and beautiful grace (81)”—is certainly reproducible in any context. 

Patrick’s chapter on Community is also highly transferable.  Because the concepts are rooted in creation and inter-Trinitarian community they can be transferred anywhere.  The same thing goes for Patrick’s chapter on serving the city.  A smaller community may not be able to reproduce Luminary Center for the Arts or build a Karis House but they can ask questions that discern the needs of the community and figure out tangible ways to meet those needs.

Matt Carter’s chapters on Suffering and Equipping are a little less concrete than Patrick’s.  It is not difficult to see that suffering is universal.  And therefore the need for the church to not only suffer well but also meet the needs of those suffering is easily transferable. 

Carter’s central statement on equipping--1. Act, 2. Repeatedly, 3. Over Time (121) is a helpful reminder to any community.  Such a work takes time.  If we really want to be a church for the city it will take many efforts done repeatedly over time. 

For the City could easily be changed to For your Community because the concepts here really are transferable.  That alone does not make the book good.  Heresy and error could just as easily be transferable to every community as could solid biblical truth.  What makes this book good is that it is very solidly biblical, gospel-centered, and helpful to every church community. 

The fundamental question that this book leaves hanging over every church (or gathering that claims to be a church) is this one: If we shut our doors tomorrow would our community know we were gone?  Would the city leaders celebrate, feeling as if they had gotten rid of a nuisance?  Or would the city grieve and mourn our disappearance? (26)

If the principles of For the City are applied I believe that many more churches would be able to say, “yes our community would know that we were gone, and for the most part they will feel the impact of our departure”. 

One Frustration

There is one frustration that I continue to have with the books like this one.  They are almost solely written for church plants or younger churches.  I’m left with questions about how to apply some of these principles in a church that is heavily burdened (if not out right shackled) by a building program gone to seed. 

I agree that most churches are “so enamored with its own survival and maintenance that it forgot its mission” (74).  But how does that change?  In a church plant the planters/pastors have a much greater influence over creating the church culture.  Those of us that are pastors placed within a context that sometimes has deeply entrenched ideas about missions, giving, contextualization, etc. are often frustrated by the slow movement. 

I’m not faulting Patrick and Carter for not speaking to those of us that are not ministering in church plants.  We are not their fundamental audience.  I am speaking to those that are responsible for this exponential series.  Please, please, please find some people that have done it and write a book about changing a church from missional complacency to missionally passionate. 

I imagine the answer is slow patient but passionate plodding in gospel preaching. 


This book is very helpful.  Even if you are not a church plant and not in a “city” the questions in this book are broad enough to apply.  Every person reading this book will benefit from hearing Matt and Darrin’s confessions.  It will humble and encourage all that read. 

The passionate plea in the last chapter to be like Jonah is so soaked in the gospel that it will hopefully motivate for action and cause the heart to rise in worship. 

You can (and should) purchase this book for only 12.91.  I was fortunate enough to get it for free from Zondervan in exchange for a review. 


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