Theology book #4 – Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey

Ambition is a word tainted with negative perceptions. Someone who is ambitious is often perceived as caring only about what he or she is ambitious for. If someone is ambitious in their career, then their family might suffer.  On the other hand if someone has no life ambitions then we say that they are lazy and are not trying to accomplish anything in their life. How can we have it both ways?

In the church ambition is often seen as a negative thing because of the way people have been ambitious in the past. When most people are ambitious there main goal is for themselves to rise up, become popular, lead a group, or get recognition. Unfortunately that is the common ambition because we are all sinners.

Dave Harvey sums it up perfectly when he says, “God doesn’t oppose glory-seeking; he commends it. And what’s more astounding, he rewards it with eternal life. But there’s a condition. We must seek a certain type of glory. We’re to hunger, crave, earnestly desire–to be ambitious for–the glory that comes from God.”

Ambition needs to come back to the church, not for our gain, but for His. We need to be seeking glory for our Father in heaven, no matter if we get even so much as a nod of the head in our direction.

I want to leave you all with a few more quotes from the book and if you are struggling to be ambitious for God, then check this book out.

“Think about what you value. Maybe you can rattle off your priorities like a shopping list—God, marriage, family, work, peace—these often top the charts. But do they actually define how you live? Or are there some bottom-dweller items on the list that actually get headliner attention?”

“We’ll never be ambitious for what we don’t value. We must perceive God’s glory as infinitely more precious than the crown jewels.”

“If you perceive exercise as good, you’ll admire people who do it. If you prize exercise, you’ll rise to do it yourself.”

“Fans live vicariously; players live experientially. Same game, world of difference. Christians are not fans.”

“How we live when ambitions are delayed significantly shapes who we become. God uses the wait to teach us to walk in a manner worthy of our calling.”

Harvey, Dave (2010-05-04). Rescuing Ambition. Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Next up in my theology book list is “Speaking of Jesus: How to Tell Your Friends the Best News They Will Ever Hear” by Mack Stiles

The gospel really is the best news anyone will ever receive. So why do Christians shy away from talking about Jesus outside of church? And, when they do speak of Jesus, why do they often get a disinterested or scornful reponse?

Mack Stiles offers a wealth of answers, ideas and stories in this heads-up, hands-on evangelism handbook. His creative strategies for reaching an ethnically, culturally, economically, educationally, geographically and ideologically diverse world with the best news ever are drawn directly from his own work as an evangelist in today’s student world. In Speaking of Jesus he shows readers how to keep their eyes open for “divine appointments,” how to approach others with a servant spirit, how to cross relational barriers, how to simply tell one’s own story of faith, and how to answer questions with honesty and confidence.

Speaking of Jesus may well be an Out of the Saltshaker for the 1990s and beyond. With contagious enthusiasm, Stiles stresses that evangelism isn’t about exhibiting superhuman courage or perfecting specialized techniques or exercising extraordinary gifts. Instead, he shows that people of faith can use everyday situations and everyday language to pass on the simple–and simply wonderful–news about Jesus.

I done did read some books – fiction vs non-fiction

Two posts ago I asked for some suggestions about what to write blogs about this month as I try to write something every day. My friend Dustin answered that call and suggested two topics. His first suggestion was about reading fiction and/or non-fiction books, what my thoughts are about that and what my favorites are. Well, here goes.

I like to read a lot and I like to read books of all sorts. There is some debate, whether people will admit it or not, about what Christians should read. Should we read only books about the Bible, Jesus or God? Should we avoid fiction altogether?

Honestly I don’t know what the answers to those questions are. I don’t know what my Pastor would say is the right answer and I am sure I could find many respectable Christians that have a strong opinion on both sides. Well I am hear to give my strong opinion right down the middle. Can you even have a strong opinion in the middle? Either way, that is where I lie, right smack dab in the middle.

I think there is value in fiction and non-fiction. For me I like to read a little of both. I like to read some non-fiction about historical figures and events. Quite frankly any non-fiction that happens to spark my interest at the time is something I will grab. It might be some self-improvement topic, or informational topic about a software program I use, but historical non-fiction are my favorite. These non-fiction books provide me more information about this world and allow me to answer a lot of questions on Jeopardy! Fiction on the other hand allows me to read without having to think too much. It almost allows me to shut off my brain completely while not sleeping. Fiction also allows me to see inside some things I would never have the option to see inside of like the CIA.

Then there is Christian fiction and non-fiction. While I haven’t found a lot of Christian fiction that I enjoy I do like to read a lot of Christian non-fiction. I try to read some sort of Christian non-fiction every day, in addition to the Bible. In fact this year I gave myself a goal to read 14 theology-ish books. Currently I am reading Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey. I like to read these books to help me be as close to Jesus as I possibly can. I take the lead from men and women who are much more intelligent than I.

Here are some of my current favorites

non-fiction

Their Last Suppers:Legends of History and their Final Meals by Caldwell Andrew

fiction

any book by Michael Crichton, David Baldacci or Vince Flynn
Hunger Games trilogy

Christian non-fiction

Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
Buck-Naked Faith: A brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity by Eric Sandras

So what was the point of this blog? To inform you that I like to read? To inform you that i read books about a lot of topics? No, the real point of this blog was to show you that there is no right answer about what you should be reading. The only questions you should be asking yourself when choosing a new book to read, in my opinion, are the following:

Is this book pulling me away from time with God, family or anything else God has called me to do?
Is the book instilling non-Biblical thoughts and ideas?

If you can answer no to both of these questions, I say you are good.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, so feel free to comment below.

The Three Words Every Humans Fears To Say, “I…

was wrong.” What did you think I was going to say. “I love you.” No way, too many people throw that sentence around like it was there job, they they have a quota of things and people that they have to say they love before they die. Not lying, I have heard people say, “I love you,” to inanimate objects and while I do love food, I try not to look food in the eyes (only when its potatoes) and say I love you.

The three words I am talking about are “I was wrong.” No one likes to admit that they messed up, whether it is some obscure fact about the 13th president of the US, Millard Fillmore (didn’t even have to look that one up!) or about whether you remember someone’s name when you clearly done that (listen to Brian Regan’s bit about nicknames, hilarious!).

We, as humans like to believe we are infallible when in fact we are so fallible it is ridiculous. I can’t even type this blog without seeing the red squiggly line appear under a bunch of words, because “I was wrong” when I spelled the word.

I am here to tell you that “I was wrong.” A while back I wrote a blog about fasting. In that blog I talked about how I thought fasting was not necessarily about food, how instead of depriving myself of food and praying to God during that time, I would not use technology for one day a week and get things done. Wow, did I miss the boat. I was sooooo wrong. I have been convicted big-time by the book “God’s Chosen Fast” by Author Wallis.

In the book Mr. Wallis talks about how fasting has been converted to something different in modern society. It not longer is about what it was about in the Bible and it is something rarely done at all. He talks about how fasting is all about restricting food intake in some form, whether it is no food at all, only certain foods (like the Daniel fast) or both food and drink. The biggest thing though is that he pointed out Jesus’ words about fasting.

17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (italics mine)

When? Did you just say “when you fast”, Jesus? That means I am supposed to do this….dang it! I have to actually restrict food intake so that I may concentrate and pray. There are medical reasons why a fast can be beneficial, but honestly I don’t care about that. Jesus commands us to fast. Now I’m not going to tell you when I am fasting seeing as that would go against the next verse, but I do encourage you to read this book (it’s not too long) and check out what happened to people in the Bible and others since then when they did fast.

One warning though, do not just fast without knowing the proper way. I don’t want anyone fasting in the wrong way. Do some research first.

Theology book #2 – Buck-Naked Faith by Dr. Eric Sandras

Originally my second book was going to be Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, but after six weeks of reading it and only being through about 30% of it, I decided I needed to find something else and I can come back to that book if I have time at the end of the year.

The next book on my list was Buck Naked Faith: A Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity by Dr. Eric Sandras. I have to admit I was curious to read this book primarily because of the title. I did not know who Eric Sandras was, but I did know I liked his style!

Here is the summary from amazon:

Drop the layers of make-believe nonsense that stunts our spiritual growth. What emerges is a positive alternative to life-crushing counterfeit faiths many of us are trying our best to work through.

To do this, men, women, and teens need the vision and encouragement to take the risk and get dangerously real with God. He exposes the naked truth: We need to dress our lives with a real friendship with God and nothing else.

In keeping with my self-imposed theme of gratitude this month I looked back at my highlights from this book that fit with the theme. I’ll share a few quotes and my thoughts about each.

Often the temporary satisfaction of minimizing my flaws and maximizing my giftedness seemed appealing, but then Pastor Rick’s wisdom would push me further: “Eric, God doesn’t build a man, he breaks him.”

A lot of the times when I think about the bad things that have happened in my life I tend to dwell on the negative outcomes only, like when my dad died I thought about how he never got to see me graduate from college and if I get married he won’t be there or if I have kids he can’t be the amazing grandfather that I know he would have been. Or when I think about the fact that I am a 30-year old single man who has a major desire to be married I could I think about all of my friends getting married (4 this summer alone).

Sometimes, and unfortunately too few and far between I am grateful for these things because of the positives effects on my life. Yes, my dad did die and he won’t get to be a part of those life events, but how about the fact that I got to have a Godly man as my father for 22 years, or all of the life lessons he instilled in me? I know too many people who were not blessed with one good parent and I got two amazing ones! I am grateful.

Yes I am single, but would it have been as easy for me to make the decision to be a missionary in Germany to spread Gods kingdom if I was married? Maybe, but then again maybe not. I am grateful.

That quote at the end could have been written to me, “Jake, God doesn’t build a man, he breaks him.” I have been broken many times and I know I will be broken many more before my time is up. I am grateful.

We followers of Christ have such potential to participate in something much bigger than ourselves.

Too many people live life for themselves and end up filling alone, worthless, tired and they feel as if all that they have done in this world is worth nothing. Isn’t it awesome that what we, as Christians, get to do is beyond us and has eternal consequences. I mean think about that, eternal, forever, unending, for all time. Sink in yet? Yeah, it’s that important and for some reason God has chosen us to play a part. That is pretty darn awesome!

I really liked this book. It compared our faith life to bonsai trees. It talked about how we are often restricting our faith life so we will never grow and how we make it appear as though we have weathered storms, but in reality we couldn’t survive the smallest sprinkle. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a unique take on spiritual growth. I want to leave you all with the following quote. I cannot add to it, so I will leave it as it is.

God’s love is not that narrow; it is wide, so wide that you have never met a person God does not love.
(Have you?)

All quotes are from Sandras, Eric (2011-09-09). Buck-Naked Faith: A Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity Navpress. Kindle Edition.

Theology book #1 Church History

Last year I posted a blog that was a challenge to me and maybe others to read more books about theology this year and to really strive to learn as much as possible about our Lord and Savior from the Bible and other sources as well. I started out with Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley. I figured this would be a good place to start, giving me an overall idea about how the church is what it is and, to quote Shelley,” to separate the transient from the permanent, fads from basics.” That is my hope for this book among my readers.

Shelley, Bruce (2008-12-02). Church History in Plain Language: Third Edition (Kindle Locations 154-155). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. . Little did I know that this book was as long as it is. I started it January 1st and did not anticipate it taking me this long to finish. I didn’t want to rush through it though, so I took my time and tried to commit as much to memory as possible. My original plan was to finish 14 books by the end of the year and while that is still my goal, I have got some catching up to do.

I wanted to share a few of the highlights I made that will hopefully give you something to think about. I also will expound upon a few of them to share what thoughts were running through my brain as I read this.

In reference to Jesus it says, “Little by little his disciples came to see that following him meant saying ‘no’ to the other voices calling for their loyalties. In one sense that was the birth of the Jesus movement. And in that sense, at least, Jesus ‘founded’ the church.”

Could this be any more well-stated? “True philosophy, said Origen, always focuses on the Word, ‘who attracts all irresistibly to himself by his unutterable beauty.'”

Two quotes from John Hus, a Czech Protestant reformer really stuck out to me as how I hope I can view Christ as well.  These two quotes influenced me to find a biography of Hus so I can learn more. He said:

“O most holy Christ,” he prayed, “draw me, weak as I am, after Thyself, for if Thou dost not draw us we cannot follow Thee. Strengthen my spirit, that it may be willing. If the flesh is weak, let Thy grace precede us; come between and follow, for without Thee we cannot go for Thy sake to cruel death. Give me a fearless heart, a right faith, a firm hope, a perfect love, that for Thy sake I may lay down my life with patience and joy. Amen.”

“God is my witness that the evidence against me is false. I have never thought nor preached except with the one intention of winning men, if possible, from their sins. In the truth of the gospel I have written, taught, and preached; today I will gladly die.”

My favorite person to read about in the book was Martin Luther, mostly because he spoke his mind and said things like:

“I kept the rule so strictly,” he recalled years later, “that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”

And, “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage,” Luther said later. “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”

This is what I want to talk about today though, in a little more detail than the others.

“Any religion that becomes the religion of the majority and slowly turns into a social habit tends to grow humdrum and flat, regardless of its original glow of enthusiasm. So it proved in many areas of Lutheran Germany.”

I think we are beginning to see this in the US right now and it seems as though in Europe it has been happening for a while. People are moving away from what their parents and grand-parents did because it became a social habit instead of a lively, energetic all-life encompassing movement in their heart. Church became something to do and that’s all. That is why you have a huge number of people in the US saying they are Christian when in reality it is only because they grew up in the church that they say they are Christian. When need to get back to the revival in our nation like the stats below show is happening almost everywhere but Europe and America.

“More Christians worshiped in Anglican churches in Nigeria each week than in all the Episcopal and Anglican churches of Britain, Europe, and North America combined. There were ten times more Assemblies of God members in Latin America than in the United States. There were more Baptists in Congo than in Great Britain. And there were more people in church every Sunday in communist China than in all of Western Europe.”

My next book I am reading is Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin. It might be a long one so we will see how long it takes me to finish that one.

Let me leave you with this thought by the great evangelist George Whitefield. I can add nothing to this, but an Amen!

“Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians? No! Any Presbyterians? No! Any Independents or Methodists? No, no, no! Whom have you there? We don’t know those names here. All who are here are Christians. . . . Oh, is this the case? Then God help us to forget party names and to become Christians in deed and truth.”

Theology books? Who’s got the money?

So the other week I wrote about theology books and my goal of reading 15 within the next year. In preparation for starting the list I checked out how much this would cost me. I have a kindle so I am looking to get as many in ebook format as possible.

I totaled up all of the costs and it came out to $139.42. It’s honestly less than I thought it was going to be, but nonetheless it is still a decent amount of money to spend on books. It’s even more than that if you buy them as paperbacks (which is not necessary since Amazon has a free software program to read ebooks on your ipod, ipad, smartphone or computer if you don’t mind reading them electronically). I wanted to find a way to reduce the cost for me and for anyone looking to dig deeper into theology. I found a website ebookfling.com that allows users to lend and borrow ebooks to/from other users. You can borrow any book that another user has made available for 14 days and if you need longer than that you can borrow it an unlimited number of times. Think about it like a virtual library. You borrow an available book until the due date. If you didn’t finish you check it out again until you are finished.

I immediately check out the books I plan on reading and I was severely disappointed. There were only two of the books that I wanted to read that I didn’t already own and only two of them are allowed to be lent. Some publishers or authors do not allow their book to be lent for obvious reasons, but there were two books that I can borrow. The problem is, only one of them has been available for me right now because no one has said they have the other book.

Here is what I am thinking. Don’t we want to have as many people reading theological books as possible? What if we all went on this site and made every book we weren’t currently reading available for lending? What if every author and publisher would allow the lending of their books? It wouldn’t kill the profit margin because libraries have been doing this for a long time, so don’t worry about that. What it just might do is encourage more people to dig deeper into the Bible.

My plan is as soon as I am done reading a theology ebook I will make it available on ebookfling that way anyone who wants to read it can borrow it for free. Maybe there is another way to help get theology books to the masses, I just don’t know it. If you do, please feel free to share as I would love to be able to save money and still read these books.

Theology books? Who’s got the time?

Last November I was in Colorado at my orientation for Greater Europe Mission. There were 12 of us total, 5 couples and two single guys. I quickly realized that I was on a whole different level than these guys. I don’t mean that to sound like they were better than me or I was better than them, but it was obvious that our training levels were vastly different. I had a Bachelor’s degree in Middle Childhood Education from Bowling Green State University and a Master’s in Educational Technology from the University of Florida. Every other guy in our group had at minimum been to a Bible college and some of them had been to seminary as well.

For the most part this wasn’t too obvious, well that is until we had conversations and oh yeah when someone busted out a Calvinism joke. I still have no idea what was so funny. Throughout the week I realized that I didn’t know much about church history and that I have never really gotten to in depth in the Bible either. So i asked two of the guys for a list of “must-read” books on church history and theologians. They gave me a list of several books that I should check out and I immediately put it in my iPod for reference later. That note is still stored in my iPod and I have done exactly nothing with it.

Earlier this week I came across a blog about reading theology books and why no time is no excuse. I definitely recommend you checking it out, but here is a short summary of what the blogger quotes from a John Piper sermon called “Get Wisdom.” He says if you read 250 words in a minute for 15 minutes a day you will read 5475 minutes in a year and 1,368,750 words. He then says that the average page in a book has between 300 and 400 words so you would end up reading 3,910 pages in that year. Depending on how big the books are you are looking at reading between 13 and 20 in a year.

15 minutes a day is totally manageable so I decided to start doing that, as soon as I am done with my current book, and see how well that goes. I am aiming for 15 books within the next year so I decided to make a list of 15 books that I could read. Some are theology, some are church history and some are biographies just so I could add some variety. Here they are in no particular order in case you are curious or want to comment on them:

1. Church History in Plain Language – Bruce Shelley
2. Questioning Evangelism – Randy Newman
3. Speaking of Jesus – Max Stiles
4. Amazing Grace – Eric Metaxas
5. Introducing the Missional Church: What it is, Why it Matters, How to Become One – Alan J. Roxburgh
6. Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation – Richard J. Foster
7. Exiles: Living Missionally in a Post-Christian Culture – Michael Frost
8. God’s Chosen Fast: A Spiritual and Practical Guide to Fasting – Arthur Wallis
9. Rescuing Ambition – Dave Harvey
10. Branded – Tim Sinclair
11. From the Garden to the City – John Dyer
12. Buck-Naked Faith: A Brutally Honest Look at Stunted Christianity – Eric Sandras
13. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas
14. Commentary on Romans – Martin Luther
15. Institutes of the Christian Religion – John Calvin

Picture from http://windconcernsontario.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/induced-confusion/