Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unfinished: Email Exchange

A Little Mental Exercise

Sometimes just reading a book is not enough. Sometimes we need to read and then discuss in order to fully exercise our intellectual powers and explore concepts using other senses. That's why it's good to summarize what you learned by rephrasing it in your own words.

I lent the book Unfinished: Believing is only the beginning (which I just reviewed) to a friend. I sent him an email to my review, which he read and reacted to. He gave me permission to publish his reaction below. It's always good to hear his thoughts on a spiritual topic as he merges both biblical and extra-biblical resources that relate to the subject. Enjoy!
There is a new movement afoot in evangelical Christianity.  It's really an old movement.  It goes back to the ancient church.  The medieval church lost sight of half of the truth.  The Reformers over-reacted and lost sight of the other half.  Bonhoeffer reminded the entire church of the cost of true discipleship, but sadly his message didn't take root throughout the whole body of Christ.  Stearns is a worthy successor of Bonhoeffer, however.  His latest book sounds like a rallying call to discover the true mission of the church, both as individuals and as a collective, namely, to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by our mission.  

It's important to note that often unbelievers will ask when did Jesus proclaim Himself God.  The truth is He didn't have to say anything.  His works spoke louder than words.  By His deeds it was enough to show that Jesus was the Son of God, only begotten, One with the Father.  He could have preached until the end of time.  Instead, by His powerful works and signs, He testified to His true mission and identity.  It was there for all to see, even if they couldn't understand His message fully.  

Christians should thus follow the lead of Jesus and show who they are by their deeds.  As St. Francis of Assisi said: "Preach the gospels always; if necessary, use words." Words of faith are OK.  Works of faith (as opposed to merely good works done for man's glory) are better.  It's better to pray with the hungry of the world as you break bread with them than it is to simply pray for their needs or give them a theologically correct sermon about the spiritual merits of privation.  In fact, it's better to break bread with the hungry than it is to give money for their needs.  (Of course, it's better to be charitable with your treasure than to not be!)  Often we simply throw our money at a problem and feel justified.  It's so much more meaningful to those who are hurting to see faith and works come together and Christians really being there for them.

Once and for all we should do away with sterile Reformation-era polemics.  Good works apart from faith in Christ cannot save.  Yes.    But true faith is never absent love or charity.  As St. James said in his epistle, "Faith without works is dead."  (BTW: Even a casual perusal of St. Paul's writings evidences the same message.  Do the following exercise: Circle the word faith in his letters; then see how long it takes before he brings up the theme of love.)  As Pope Francis recently said, faith in Christ is what separates the charity of the Christian from the job of social worker.  So true, so true.

Do you have a reaction to this book? I'd love to hear it below...

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Be Weak

But He said to me,
“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”
Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ.
For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10 HCSB

To be weak

Paul echoes Jesus' radical counter-intuitiveness here in this passage. Jesus says that it's good–better even–to find in yourself in a position of weakness. All this despite the fact that we normally try to position ourselves to operate out of a position of strength. Why is weakness so great?

Because it allows us to experience God's grace.

Not that we are going to overcome and triumph physically over the situation, though that would clearly glorify God and He facilitates that at times. Sometimes we enjoy immediate victory despite our weakness. But in our weakness we always see God working in us, on us and through us.

Our salvation came to us through grace. Why? Because on our own we were helpless. On our own, before redemption, we were at our weakest. By realizing our weakness, we can rely on His strength. That process does not stop after redemption, it has only begun at that point.

May we continue to rely on God's grace.

Read Some More

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Unfinished: Believing is only the beginning

The Book

Unfinished: Believeing is only the beginning 
By: Richard Stearns

In mid-April I received an email that made my day. World Vision's blogging team reached out to me asking if I wanted a free copy of Richard Stearns' new book "Unfinished" in exchange for a review. They noticed that I had written a review of "The Hole in our Gospel" and contacted me through this Holy Things blog.

I immediately pounced on this opportunity since I enjoyed the message of Richard Stearns' first book and since I review everything I read regardless of whether the publisher wants me to. I was pleased to receive the book soon after responding to the email. However, due to my class schedule and other things on my plate, I was unable to finish the book until today. (Hence, my review...)

Technical Merit

Richard Stearns really grew as an author from his first work to this one. His writing is much more polished in this piece and I give him a 4 out of 5 based only on his diction and ability to piece together an argument. This is a more manageable volume (220 pages including the Afterword) that is focused less on statistical information and more on anecdotes and exhortation.

Note that this book is also littered with scripture references that back Richard's claims. He presents a balanced view of scripture that does not lean on works for salvation, though clearly does not leave us the option of holding on to a dead faith.


The main thesis of this book is simple, "God has invited you to join him in changing the world." (pg. 130) The great commission is a non-negotiable part of being Christ's follower. We are either taking this commission seriously and actively pursuing His interests or we are directly disobeying Him.

God's work in this world is still unfinished. God still wants to influence this world with his love through his people. Stearns stated, "God's deepest desire is not that we would help the poor... God's deepest desire is that we would love the poor; for if we love them, we will surely help them." (pg. 76) We cannot go into the world and preach a cold gospel. We cannot tell people that God loves them and not lift a finger to help people in need. Who would respond to that kind of gospel? If Christ was all about love and sacrifice (especially towards the poor, the widow and the orphan) then we should follow in His footsteps.

Christ came to begin a work, and He plans to complete it through us. Richard Stearns argues that the Body of Christ metaphor means that Christ literally wants to influence this world through his Church. He is the head, we are the members. He is giving direction and supplying power through His Holy Spirit, we need to respond and be His expression of love. Christ's work is unfinished, He seeks to finish the work in us and through us.


The section that impacted me most was in chapter 5 when Richard Stearns references Scot McKnight regarding the difference between a disciple and a decider. I believe Stearns' argument for the entire book rests on this distinction. "Deciders just believe the right things; disciples seek to do the right things." (pg. 58)

Too often, we want to make deciders of people—we want them to pray a prayer and buy some fire insurance for hell. Too often, I find my life reflects the life of a decider; I believe the right things, I have the intellectual acumen to digest theology and so on. The problem is, faith has not moved from the mind to the feet. Faith has not moved from the heart to the hands. The decision is not the finish, it is only the beginning.

"The good news of the gospel is not that I can enter God's kingdom when I die; it is that Christ's death and resurrection opens the kingdom of God to me now." (Pg. 60) Let us grow deeper in a faith that acts out and does not just sit around. Let us be disciples rather than just deciders.

Richard's challenge is a strong one, particularly as the book concludes. He does not mince his words. If you choose to read this book, which I heartily recommend, you will likely be convicted of your failure. Thankfully, Stearns also reminds us that it is never too late to obey God's calling.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Monday, July 22, 2013

Vacation Bible School (a week in 2 paragraphs)

Traveling and Talking

I have just returned from a week of VBS at North 56th Street Chapel in Tampa, Fl. I had a great time interacting with the kids and sharing the Grace of God with them. I used Max Lucado's Parable of the River from his book In the Grip of Grace as my big story for the week and weaved in parables like the Prodigal Son, Lost Sheep and the situation in John 8 with the woman caught in sin. I focused on the broken relationships and the fact that God wants to fix those broken relationships. One child said they went home and prayed to God for salvation. And we all rejoice...

The week ended with a modified version of Oscar Wilde's short story The Nightingale and the Rose. I've written an article on it before. This time, I focused on the final song that the nightingale sings of, "the Love that is perfected by Death, of the Love that dies not in the tomb." The love of our Lord Jesus is what motivated his sacrifice on the cross for our sake; to repair that broken relationship.

P.S. I want to give a shout out to +Jonathan Roberts. He is my main illustrator for all new stories. He did an awesome job drawing pictures for my slides. Jon, you rock!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

Abiding in His Love

Bold Love

Wednesday night I had the privilege of studying John 15:9-17 to discuss our Lord's amazing love to us. But I had a problem, it was impossible to study this small section without looking at the context which it came in.

Context. Love is the motivation

John 13:1 serves as the springboard for all the action. Here, we are told that Christ was moved to love his own to the very end. Then he launches into the following activities:
  • Wash the disciple's feet (13:5-20)
  • Show grace to his traitor (13:21-27)
  • Set a new commandment (13:34-35)
  • Send a Comforter/Helper ((14:16, 25)
  • Give a place to abide (15:1-17)
  • Give a Guide to truth (16:13)
  • Assure us we have an advocate with the Father (16:25-28
  • Pray on our behalf (17)

Love, it is Christ's great motivator. In fact, if you take the "Abide in" statements from John 15:4,9, He equates himself to his love as follows:

the vine = my love = me

Allow me to paraphrase, "I am the same as my love."

Immediate Context. Vine and Branches

John 15 presents us with the Vine - Branch relationship. This says some great things about Christ's love to us. We receive a lot of blessing from the vine, namely:
  • Security
  • Stability
  • Strength
  • Sufficiency
  • Survival

Note that the branch is an extension of the vine, the converse does not work. This is not a symbiotic relationship. We are to abide in him like a branch is in the vine drawing nutrition. He abides in us like a vine is in the branch providing nutrition. There's a huge difference between the two, though they are abiding in each other.

The Text. John 15

English: tomato plant with fruit. മലയാളം: തക്ക...
English: tomato plant with fruit. മലയാളം: തക്കാളിച്ചെടി. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Verse 9 tells us that self-love and loving others is a means of abiding in his love. Remember that we are told to love others as we love ourselves. Without a healthy self-love, we cannot love others. A healthy self-love means knowing your worth in a right relation to others. Remember that we were created with great value (Gen. 1:31) and as believers we are a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), redeemed because God saw value in us. I think it is a danger to devalue ourselves. We clearly are worth something to God despite our fall from grace.

Verses 10-12 show us how obedience can be a means of abiding in his love. Remember Samuel's declaration that God requires obedience and not sacrifice? Jesus affirmed this statement in Matt. 9:13 & 12:7. However, he added some nuance to this statement. He basically equated Obedience to Compassion (Kindness/Goodwill), which is a form of Love. Remember, your level of obedience shows the value you place on the other person. More love = more obedience.

Verses 13-15 gives us the most difficult principle, sacrifice as a means of abiding in his love. Here, we are given Christ's act of sacrificial love as the model of perfection. He is the greatest example of the greatest lover. We are challenged to be prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for one another as Christ has for us. Here is a good measurement of your willingness to do this; ask yourself this question, "Do I make routine small sacrifices for my brothers and sisters?" That is probably enough to sober anyone up. Then extend that question from brothers and sisters to acquaintances, strangers and enemies. We will likely be humbled by the very thought.

Finally, verses 16-17 show us that bearing fruit is a result of abiding in his love. Here is where the context really proves useful. Remember that the branch can do nothing outside of the vine. We don't choose to bear fruit, we choose to obey Christ who is the source of all goodness in our spiritual lives. Only then will our fruit be a testimony to the world of Christ's undying love.

Bold love is not a solitary act, it should be the source that influences every action.

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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

First one in the Oven

That quiver thing...

So I just announced at prayer meeting that my wife is 12.5 weeks pregnant with our first Blessing (that's church-speak for Baby). I pray that God teaches me a bunch of stuff real quick because I need to learn how to be a godly dad. I guess I've got a lot of learning to do!

Here's to the God of grace who has guided me through every situation so far. I trust He will continue to guide and direct my paths.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

June's Top 5 Posts

One of those months

June was one of those months. I didn't post as frequently as I would have liked due to various issues. Despite that, I felt pretty happy with my pageviews. A few weeks ago while checking my stats I noticed that not one post composed in June was listed in my top 5. It's good to see my 300th post sneak into the top 5.
Also, note that simple triple digit pageviews does not automatically qualify a post to make the top 5 All-Time any longer. Elijah & the Double Portion is about to hit a thousand, making it my most popular article by far.

Month of June Posts

All Time Posts

Dec 20, 2012, 2 comments
Christopher M. Jimenez. Powered by Blogger.

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