In his book The God First Life, Stovall Weems, pastor of Celebration Church in Orlando, wants you to uncomplicate your life by doing it God’s way. Working from the familiar passage of Matthew 6:33, Stovall writes that God will provide all the things we need in life, but he has to remain first in our lives, “regardless of my questions or regardless of whether I understood something or how I felt about it.” (17) When we put God first, we get a new family, a new life, and new freedom. The life we instinctively want and pursue, he argues, is only available through “God-first living.” (20) 


A life of anxiety is never an issue of unmet need but always an issue of disordered priorities. -Stovall Weems, 22

Stovall uses the three “new” promises – a new family, a new life, and new freedom – to organize the book. Our new family is God’s family, into which we are adopted by faith in Jesus Christ, and with whom we are called to do life together. This new family is vital because “community is where God shapes us into the image of Christ.” (63) Our new life is the life in the Spirit, empowered by God himself to do more and become more than we ever thought possible. This new life is also a life of worship, prayer, and service. Finally, the new freedom we have is the grace we enjoy from being set free from sin. We are free from the sins of our past and empowered to live for God in the present. Putting God first, walking out the powerful promise of Matthew 6:33, is the key to all of this. Stovall concludes, “you will find that a world where you are not at the center is a world where happiness and blessing can be experienced – God’s way.” (154)

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In his latest book, Futureville, author Skye Jethani argues that the way we envision the future deeply affects how we live in the present. Our lives are guided by our eschatology – the way we view the end of things and the (if there will be one) new beginning. Using the 1939 World’s Fair as the controlling metaphor, Jethani guides the reader through several different ways of viewing the future, and how those visions of the future (eschatologies) direct and shape our lives in the present.

There are, he argues, three general ways we envision the future coming about. He calls them Evolution, Evacuation, and Resurrection. Evolution is the belief in the inevitability of human progress to create an ever-improving world. This view, popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, is girded by the innovation of science and the capacity of human reason. It is championed by “Change the World” propaganda. In many ways, the Church has embraced the Evolution view in its many “crusades” and willingness to influence political power for Christian ends. The trouble with this worldview, however, is that it turns our culture into a battlefield. “With more power, we tell ourselves, we can muscle our agenda into existence and force others to submit to our vision of the future.” (58)

Evacuation is the belief that the whole world is going to be destroyed, and it’s the Christian’s job to get as many people into the escape pods of salvation as possible before the fire reigns down from heaven. Evacuation is about escape. “Central to evacuation is the belief that believers will be entirely spared from the pain and suffering awaiting the rest of humanity.” (64) In this view, Christians evangelize out of safe pockets of purity, where everything they consume carries a “Christian” label. This inevitably leads to a culture of disengagement and self-centeredness, where everything becomes about the safety and purity of the isolated community of faith.

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The-Contemplative-Pastor-Peterson-Eugene-H-9780802801142Unbusy.

Subversive.

Apocalyptic.

These are the adjectives that ought to describe the pastor, according to Eugene Peterson. Though written in 1989, The Contemplative Pastor is just as, if not more, relevant to today’s church culture. The pastors we honor in American evangelicalism often do little or no pastoral work. They are high-achievers, brands unto themselves. They are CEOs of ever-expanding religious empires. They are busy. They tackle problems head-on. They have neither the time nor the patience to plow the fields of the hearts of their congregation.

The pastor should not be busy. “The word busy is the symptom not of commitment but of betrayal. It is not devotion but defection. The adjective busy set as a modifier to pastor should sound to our ears like adulterous to characterize a wife or embezzling to describe a banker. It is an outrageous scandal, a blasphemous affront.” We often search for significance in busyness. If I am busy, then I am important. But this is vanity, argues Peterson. Instead, the pastor should be unbusy enough to do three things: pray, preach, and listen. “The question I put to myself is not “How many people have you spoken to about Christ this week?” but “How many people have you listened to in Christ this week?”

The pastor should not use blunt force, but rather use the subversive methods of the kingdom of God. Jesus, after all, was the subversive par excellence. He preached in parables, which “aren’t illustrations that make things easier; they make things harder by requiring the exercise of our imaginations, which if we aren’t careful becomes the exercise of our faith.” The kingdom which is grown is more permanent and powerful than the kingdom which is imposed. “God does not impose his reality from without; he grows flowers and fruit from within.”


The way the gospel is conveyed is as much a part of the kingdom as the truth presented. -Peterson
The Contemplative Pastor is must-reading for all who are pursuing the ministry. My fear is that many young pastors, especially church planters, are motivated not by the needs of the kingdom but by the needs of their own egos. Peterson is a douse of cold water to a drunken narcissist. The work of the pastor is gloriously ordinary, but we have stars in our eyes. We long for crowds and lights and buzz, but the pastor receives something far better – ordinary people who struggle to believe, to be faithful, and to attend church even twice a month. This is not the job for superstars, but it is perfectly suited for the unbusy, apocalyptic subversive.

GISM_Cover_150ppi

What does God look like in slow motion? Does the thunderbolt in his hand meet halfway between the earth and sky, like real lightning? Does the furrow of his angry brow seem extra intimidating in super slo-mo? In fact, God in slow motion is Jesus in real life, and according to author Mike Nappa, there are ten “unexpected lessons” we can learn from his life.

These ten unexpected lessons take the form of apparent contradictions – oxymoronic chapter titles that capture the inverted nature of what we think God looks like and how he actually appears. Mischievous Glory is how Nappa describes the birth of Jesus, which is the first, and perhaps most profound, chapter of the book. Nappa argues that the way in which God chose to enter the world upends all of our expectations of what glory truly is. We see, in the nature of the Incarnation, that Glory = Humility. 


“God, in his great wisdom, thumbed his nose at all human expectations of greatness, choosing humility underfoot as the most resplendent setting for the opening act of his grand redemptive work.” (9)

Taking ten stories from Jesus’s life and ministry, Nappa paints a picture of God that is both surprising and comforting. God is, after all, like Jesus, and not like the angry gods of our imaginations. To see God in Jesus is to see God in slow motion, viewing each frame of God’s activity with full clarity and in sharp focus. Jesus makes God clear, though that doesn’t mean the oxymoronic lessons make any more sense to our imperfect, rightside-up (or is that upside-down?) minds.

Nappa’s book reads like a series of sermons about Jesus, and would be useful for new or younger believers that are just getting to know what God is like. It could also be a tremendous help for those who have grown up with a false understanding of God, particularly one that painted a picture of God as a loveless, joyless, graceless deity ready to dole out punishment at the first opportunity.

BookSneeze® provided me with a complimentary copy of this book.

 

This is a collection of essays by Teddy Roosevelt, America’s 26th president. Roosevelt is a fascinating character, and I have read several of his biographies, most notably the trilogy by Edmund Morris. I was first turned on to Teddy when I read his famous “Man in the Arena” quote at the beginning of John Eldredge’s book, Wild at Heart. Since then I’ve seen it in a number of other places, and no doubt you have seen it, too.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.-Theodore Roosevelt

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