Following Jesus by NT Wright is really an old, unimpressive book. I’m really not even recommending it. I remember it being good, but I think there are probably better ones out there that hit on the same topic. The purpose of this series isn’t to show the best books on different topics. It is to simply reveal the books that God has used very powerfully in my own life.
When I was in High School I had a Youth Pastor that I loved and am very grateful to him to this day. Our church was not a very theologically oriented church (understatement), but my Youth Pastor- Brad Klausman, was the first person that challenged me to think theologically and asked me tough questions.
Thankfully, he also handed me books to read, err, devour. This book was one of them. He once asked me, “How was Jesus both God and Man?” I said, “I don’t know, I guess he was like 50-50 of each.” He put “Following Jesus” in my hand and it rocked my world. It was the first time I had ever read “the basics” on who Jesus was and what he accomplished. It was a basic book on discipleship and what it means to follow Jesus, who is both Fully God and Fully Man. He opened my eyes to Jesus being the mediator between God and people and what it looks like to live out of the realities of what Jesus did for me. It was/is earth shattering and life-changing.
I’m incredibly grateful for this book. It became a type of guide to me on what it looked like to read the Bible, understand who Jesus is, and follow in his ways.
When people ask me who my favorite authors are I always include John Piper and N.T. Wright. I usually get strange looks for this, but God has simply used both very powerfully in my life. They both have multiple books that have made it into this series.
In doing a series of books that God has used to change my life I decided to start with THE book that has by far had the largest impact on me. According to Plan by Graeme Goldsworthy was a serious game-changer for me.
Goldsworthy introduces the book as a “biblical theology for ordinary Christians.” It was exactly what I needed when I read it. I got this book my first semester of Bible College. When I graduated High School I was clueless on three really important issues (though closely tied together):
- Jesus as the center of all Scripture.
- The relationship between the Old and New Testaments.
- Authority of Scripture.
I had never studied biblical theology and my only relationship with it was the internal tensions I felt while trying to understand my Bible, but didn’t know how to reconcile them.
- What is the primary theme of the Bible?
- What does the Old Testament have to do with Jesus?
- Why does God seem so angry in the Old Testament and so nice in the New Testament?
- What on earth is Revelation all about?
- What is with the animal sacrifices and all the rules (laws) in the Old Testament?
In stepped According to Plan and it rocked my world. The reason why it has undoubtedly been the most impactful book in my life is because it helped me understand the Bible. If you have not read this book, please do. Click on the link above and dig in! My copy has an absurd amount of ink and highlighter filling its pages. It changed my life and because it brings great clarity to Scripture it can change yours as well.
I hear it quite often… Whether people are talking about missions, adoption, and more recently immigration people use the motto, “Let’s take care of our own.” I understand how some people can live with this mindset. I do not understand how Christians can live with this mindset.
This phrase and approach to “others” is directly against the heart of the gospel. Jesus was God’s own and he sent him to the cross to show compassion on his weak, hopeless enemies.
Whether it is immigration, adopting children, or doing world missions Christians ought to be radical about seeking out ways to be extraordinarily compassionate and loving to “those outside” or “others.”
Immigration is the topic of the day when it comes to this phrase, but every context it is used in has a very “about me” mentality. At the heart of it is a sentiment that “we” are superior or to be more highly valued therefore we can forget “them” and “take care of our own.” The gospel does not leave this as an option for us. Christians, let the gospel shape your narrative, not politics.
We are to pick up our cross and sacrifice what needs to be sacrificed in order to show compassion on those who are not our own.
Like every relationship I like to know where things stand, where they are going, and I love knowing what I enjoy most with the people I am around. God typically shatters this. My relationship with Him tends to go against the grain of every other relationship I have.
This issue is control. I have a tendency to want to have tight control on my relationships. I am rarely stuck in a spot I don’t want to be.
With God, it doesn’t ever work like this. I am never the one in control. Things rarely happen how I plan or desire them to work out. When I am really looking for God to show up he typically always does, but rarely in the way I was hoping for.
My best moments with God are when I feel like a broken sinner and yet he fills me with awe and wonder. There are seasons, days, moments when despair can be the winning emotion and feeling. Yet, when things tend to go dark is when I most deeply feel these moment of grandeur of who God is and his glory.
My best moments with God is when he totally takes me off guard. When God throws something totally unexpected, unplanned at me I am often filled with joy and wonder because I know something supernatural is happening. Too many times I am the one that tries to counterfeit spiritual experiences or order and plan my life out. I attempt to be God way too often.
Glimpses of His glory, goodness and grace typically come when I need them most and am looking for them the least. It is as if God keeps letting me see my depravity so he can put me back in awe and wonder of who He is and what He has done on my behalf.
Yes, my best moments with God are when I “taste and see” that He is good and I quickly forget about myself.
I am going to start a new series simply called, “Life Changing Books.” In this series I am simply going to walk through several books that were very life changing for me in my pursuit of Christ. God has used a very wide array of books and authors from very different theological backgrounds to shape who I am today.
I am extremely grateful for the many, many authors that God has used in my life to strengthen my walk with Him. This will be a fun series for me as I reflect on the different ways God has worked in my life through a diverse group of books.
I finished “The Pastor” by Eugene Peterson. After reading less last year than I have since High School I was committed to stepping up my game this year. Little did I know, the first book I grabbed was incredibly profound and impacted me greatly.
It is the first full book I have ever read by Eugene Peterson, but I have purchased 4 more as read it and already owned another previously. I am very much looking forward to making him one of my few authors that I commit to reading as much of his work as I can.
Moving on to the point of this post…
3 Brief Thoughts From “The Pastor:”
1) It was simply great hearing the heart of a man that gratefully enjoyed the calling that God gave him. I love that God has called me to pastoral ministry. I can’t imagine doing something else. This is probably why I found Eugene Peterson’s memoir so encouraging. You can’t get away from all the bad statistics about burnout, horror stories with churches, etc. It is encouraging to read about such a long, happy pastorate.
2) The Pastor was a breath of fresh air in the American Climate of pastoral ministry. Like, Peterson, I fear that the true nature and identity of the pastorate has taken a serious hit in America and Peterson does a great job dealing with this. What I appreciate most though isn’t his moments of critique, it is when he describes what he sees biblically about the pastorate. His descriptions of pastoral ministry grabbed my heart and resonated with me profoundly.
3) Eugene Peterson did a better job at explaining and depicting the relationship to every day normal life and pastoral calling than anything else I have read. He understands pastoral ministry as much more than praying, preaching, and “other duties.” He sees pastoral identity as affecting every area of life and showed how to faithfully function in that reality in the day to day tasks of life. It reminded me of Matthew Redmonds, “The God of the Mundane.”
I am sure I will write a lot more about this book and Eugene Peterson in the future… This will have to be true as I also work through his other pastoral writings. But, as I just finished the book those were the three things that most stuck out to me.
For those of you who have also read it, what most resonated with you?
I have been reading through 1 Corinthians the last couple days and I felt punched in the gut when I got to chapter 12. I have been a Christians for almost 11 years and in the full time ministry for 3 years. I am absolutely grateful that God saved me and I feel incredibly blessed that he called me into pastoral ministry.
With that said, there sure are times when sitting on the sidelines looks nice. I can’t be the only pastor that feels this way. As a pastor it can also be disheartening seeing so many people claiming the name of Jesus yet sitting on the sidelines week after week.
Possibly why it can be disheartening is because of the seasons when it looks so attractive. There are certainly weeks were a “regular 9-5 job” and getting to simply “attend church” with my family sounds awesome. What 1 Corinthians 12 shows me, though, is that really isn’t an option for any Christian. In this chapter Paul is clearly laying out that every single Christian has been given gifts by the Holy Spirit to contribute to the common good. We all ought to be working for the edification of the saints around us and the common good.
For myself, when the sidelines look nice I can usually find selfish, ungodly reasons for why the sideline is all of a sudden so attractive. Typically, I hate the sidelines. I want to be in the middle of the madness.
When the sidelines look attractive I have to remind myself of three great truths that 1 Corinthians 12 pulls out:
- “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” God does not make mistakes and he knows what he is doing. He has put us in the game for a reason.
- “All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit.” It can make us very tired when we start functioning out of our own power and might. Why weren’t only given gifts by the Holy Spirit, He is also the one who empowers us for the work. We can lean on him.
- “For the body does not consist of one member but of many.” Paul spends two full paragraphs making the point that though we are all very different we quite desperately need one another. We can’t afford to sit on the sidelines because it isn’t only us that it affects.
Here is a quick summary of how it looks in 1 Corinthians 12:
- God has saved us and manifested his Spirit to us for the common good.
- We each have received specific gifts and are empowered by the Spirit to use those gifts.
- God has arranged it in a way that all gifts are needed for the health of the church and the advancement of God’s kingdom.
Fellow Christians, I know the sidelines can look nice, but we only have one race to run. God has graciously saved us and now he empowers us. Let us live out what we have received from the gospel of God through the Spirit of God.