The 365-day devotional book Heart of the Matter which Christy and I are reading together this year is on sale for 60% off through Friday Nov 22. I can’t commend this devotional booklet enough. I’m thrilled it’s 60^% off this week. Pick up a copy today. Read my review “A Treasure For Hungry, Thirst Hearts” here.

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Chris Sicks, NavPress author and pastor in Alexandria, will be preaching about mercy ministry at 10:30 am on Sunday November 17, 2013, at Grace Church of Alexandria. Join us at 10:30 am to hear Chris–an engaging, thoughtful, compassionate believer–share how we can make God’s gospel love tangible to people in our city.

Chris has an incredible story of grace to tell, about how God has led his church Alexandria Presbyterian Church to have a powerful ministry to refugees in the Washington D.C. area, which has opened up countless doors to witness. Read the story here.

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As I’ve gotten to know Chris, by his life I’ve been personally challenged to reassess how I should more actively and lovingly care for the physical needs of people in my life. By sacrificially meeting physical needs, this opens up doors to speak the truth of the gospel to hurting hearts. Chris has challenged me–what he would call a “word” person”–t0 also be a “deed” person, to make God’s gospel love touchable and real to people, so they will be more open to the saving message of Christ. As Chris says,

“I find it fascinating that Jesus chose to help hurting people as the most frequent proof of his divinity. He could have commanded the sky to rain or snow, moved mountains, and turned rocks into diamonds. These acts would have demonstrated his divinity as clearly as healing and feeding did. He once calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, but even then his attention was on the terrified men in the boat. Jesus’ heart of compassion was always moved by people and their needs.”

- p. 30 from Tangible

Chris’s book Tangible is available from NavPress and will be for sale at Grace Church on November 17th. Here’s the print version and the Kindle version. I invite you to come hear Chris!

Today I’ve finished reading a book that is changing how I speak, how I listen, and how I engage people. One of our deacons who works with author and orphan advocate Jedd Medefind told me about his new book Upended: How Following Jesus Remakes your Words & World. I’m glad she did.

Letting Jesus Shape Your Communication
In order to learn from Jesus, authors Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe trace through the Gospels how Christ interacted with people. From his life and ministry, these veteran political operatives and communication specialists identified key principles for engaging people in the same spirit as Christ.

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#1 Takeaway For Communicating: The Gift of Presence
Of all the lessons of Upended, I have been challenged most by the authors’ call to give people the gift of presence. When Jesus spoke with people, he treated them with utmost focus, and (unlike me) would not let himself be distracted from giving full attention to them. Giving full attentiveness to the person you’re speaking with (instead of glancing down at your phone, or half-listening) shows them that you truly care. As Upended says–

“Presence conveys value to another like nothing else. Presence is the wellspring of influence, for it is the first step to loving well…Until we are fully present to another, connection is thin or even impossible. Without presence we will fail to understand what the other person most needs and who he or she is.” (p. 39).

Already I’ve begun listening more deeply, I trust, to my wife Christy and son Jadon and to people from our church.

#2 Takeaway For Communicating: Life Through Questions and Storytelling
I’m a simple communicator. My teaching, conversation, and presentation are straightforward. From Upended, I’ve learned that this is a liability–I’m too direct. Instead, like Christ, I should lead people to think the way I do by using questions to get them thinking, rather than always telling them flatly what is true. The Bible records that Jesus asked over 150 questions in his ministry, such as “Whom do people say I am…And who do you say that I am?” As Jedd and Erik say–

“Jesus’s questions, in contrast, invited others to participate in the activity of discovery, to take hold of truths for themselves. He understood that when an idea is imposed, however reasonable it might be, it is rarely held for long” (p. 158).

It’s simple. Presenting the truth in a way that engages listeners, this invites them to be in on thinking process & come to the right conclusions themselves.

In addition, Jedd and Erik describe the power of storytelling. Instead of declaring a principle, tell a story to get the point across. Let the gist of the story lead your audience to the truth, rather than bullet-pointing the truth you intend to communicate. There has been no greater master storyteller than Jesus of Nazareth, who told stories of weddings and wandering sons and of shepherds and kings. Jesus’s gospel teaching shows us how to persuade using a good story.

Summary
I recommend Upended for every Christian who would like to be thoughtful about their relationships, their communicating, and their listening. Specifically, this book will help sharpen you as a leader in the workplace or in your church. It’s only $10 on Amazon (as of 9.25.13) and well worth it.

Upended: How Following Jesus Remakes Your Words and World
ISBN: 9-9746942-5-8 (published in 2012)
Authors: Jedd Medefind and Erik Lokkesmoe
Table of Contents:

I. Apprenticing to Jesus
II. Life Through Presence
III. Life Through Attentiveness
IV. Life Through Incarnation
V. Life Through Authenticity
VI. Life Through Concreteness
VII. Life Through Storytelling
VIII. Life Through Questions
IX. Life Through Time Away From the Crowd
X. Where It All Happens

Learn more at www.upended.com. Check out this interview with Jedd Medefind on good communication here.

a review of The Man Christ Jesus–Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ

Theology: A Waste of Time?

Often, theology is presented as a philosophical and theoretical exercise, divorced from everyday living. To the contrary, I’ve found that theology (truth about God) is motivating and directly practical for my daily life. This handy 147 page book The Man Christ Jesus demonstrates that the more truth from Scripture you know, the better equipped you are for the rigors of living well amidst this broken world.

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The Humanity of Jesus

In The Man Christ Jesus, Bruce Ware has given the church a readable and rich treasure from which to draw truth about the Lord Jesus to impact your life for God. Dr. Ware shines the spotlight on the humanity of Jesus, that he not only is fully God, he also took on full humanity with all of its weakness and limitations (except for the sin nature). Finishing this book, I am simply in awe at the vigorous, active living that Jesus carried out every day for thirty-three years on my behalf. His human life has become more raw and gritty to me, having had Bruce Ware as a guide to Jesus’s life.

How Did Jesus Live?

This book raises excellent questions: What does it mean that Jesus was fully human? How has Jesus’s life as a human made available to us active, powerful strength for living faithfully for God as a human? What resources (other than his divinity) did Jesus tap into in order to say not to the flesh, and how are these resources available to me? What benefits can we experience today because Jesus bodily resurrected and ascended to heaven to reign as our King?  Were his divine abilities constrained or limited by his human flesh? Why is he (who was formerly only spirit) going to remain in a body of flesh for eternity?

Immense Power to Fight Temptation

I can scarcely think of a book of theology that has personally affected my daily thinking and living more than The Man Christ Jesus. For one, I’ve come to realize that temptation is far more beatable than I have ever felt before. From Bruce Ware’s life of Jesus, I now see that all the divine resources I need to resist temptation are held out to me, if only I live dependently on the Spirit like Christ lived, in the flesh. Listen to Dr. Ware on p. 83 –

“Although Christ was fully God, and as fully God he could not sin, he deliberately did not appeal, as it were, to his divine nature in fighting the temptations that came to him. . .For every temptation he faced, he fought and resisted fully and totally apart from any use of or appeal to his intrinsic divine nature.”

This means that Jesus didn’t “cheat” by tapping into his divinity to fight temptation. He rested on the exact same resources at your disposal to fight sin…the indwelling Spirit of God and the written Word of God. He shows us frail creatures how to fight the flesh, by successfully fighting the flesh using only the tools we have at our disposal.

What’s Inside
Here’s a breakdown of this book–

Ch. 1 – taking on Human Nature
Ch. 2 – Empowered by the Spirit
Ch. 3 – Increasing in Wisdom
Ch. 4 – Growing in Faith
Ch. 5 – Resisting Temptation
Ch. 6 – Living as a Man
Ch. 7 – Dying In Our Place
Ch. 8 – Raised, Reigning, and Returning in Victory

Summary

The Man Christ Jesus makes for helpful reading for any man or woman who wants to live well for God, and makes a great 8-part study for a small group who wants to know Jesus better. It’ll challenge you to think hard about Jesus Christ. Every chapter includes bullet point takeaways for your day, along with probing questions to see the chapter’s application to your life. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this book today. Or pick up a copy at the GraceBooks Table, a table of resources available at Grace Church of Alexandria on Sundays.

I’m grateful to Crossway for a review copy of this book which they sent at my request.

Watch Bruce Ware discuss his new book…

The following is a guest blog post by Nathan Young, pastor and missionary in Scotland who has been a visiting speaker at Grace Church of Alexandria. It originally appeared at this blog in December of 2011.

Title: When Will My Life Not Suck: Authentic Hope for the Disillusioned
Author: Ramon Presson
Publisher: New Growth Press, 2011
ISBN: 9781935273806
Pages: 150

When a review copy of Ramon Presson’s new book, “When Will My Life Not Suck?” appears in the mail, I have mixed feelings. I deeply appreciate New Growth Press, and I read nearly everything they publish. Ramon Presson intrigues me as a new author, but his book’s title really bothers me. It seems over the top—even rude—and the words “NOT SUCK” stick annoyingly in my mind. This tension between my admiration for New Growth and my aggravation over the title motivate me to read.

Ramon quickly demonstrates skill as a writer and an insightful observer. He draws from his years of experience as a Christian marriage and family therapist, and he reveals his own struggles with depression, anxiety, and despair. The book is accessible to a wide audience from young adults to seniors and believer or non believer. It is also brief (150 pages) and non technical so someone in the grip of suffering can summon the strength to read it.

This is not a self-help book, offering secret steps from depression to a happier life. Instead, Ramon writes out of his own weakness and models an increasing dependence on the gospel. Tracing Paul’s themes from his letter to the Philippians, Ramon addresses real life problems, asks perceptive questions, and shows readers a large God—the source of hope. For anyone in the midst of depression, anxiety, despair, or loneliness, “When Will My Life Not Suck?” is a companion through the journey. It wisely guides the depressed to hope, and it prepares the encouraged for depression.

“When will my life not suck?” is a blunt question. It makes us wince in discomfort because, if we are honest, it strikes too close to home. That’s why I am grateful Ramon Presson tackles the issue with serious reflection and Biblical hope. I recommend this book to anyone caught in depression, a friend of someone who is struggling, and church leaders who counsel the weary. It could easily be used for one-on-one discipleship or small group discussions. And the title is more than provocative—it is a perceptive lifeline to miserable sinners who need God.

This blog post first appeared at Nathan Young’s blog, Immeasurable Grace and is posted by permisson here at Grace Abounding.

From the archives: This book review was originally posted here in April 2012. We are posting it again because it’s proven to be a helpful book to so many.

Book Title: Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness
Author: Ed Welch
Pages: 275
Publisher: New Growth Press (2011).
ISBN #: 1935273876

Struggling With Despair
Do you struggle with depression? Does a family member or friend of yours struggle with despair? I can tell you that you will definitely find words of help and hope in biblical counselor Ed Welch’s book Depression: Looking Up From The Stubborn Darkness. As a pastor and counselor, Welch’s caring, honest, thoughtful, gentle approach to depression has helped me care for souls in our church and even find help for my own heart when things look bleak. Welch writes in short, clipped sentences, and bite-sized chapters so that a person whose heart is in turmoil can work through a chapter in a few minutes, without feeling like they’re wading through heavy material.

Ed Welch’s care and concern for those who struggle with depression started when he was growing up. His father, a faithful Christian man, was weighed down with depression in an era when it was shameful to talk about it. And so Ed looked for ways to encourage and uplift his father in the days when the darkness of depression weighed heavily.

Introduction
The first three chapters capture what it feels like to be depressed. If this is your battle, you will find that other people are going through exactly what you’re enduring too. If you’re a friend or counselor of someone in that battle, you’ll get a window into the thoughts, feelings, and emotions in their soul.

Part One: Depression Is Suffering
Sympathy. That’s what’s found in the next seven chapters. Here Ed Welch gives a biblical perspective on depression by showing how Job endured this stubborn darkness, how Jesus shows us the way through it, and how the Psalms give us words to cry out to help us through. Frankly, this book isn’t just for sufferers of depression, it’s for anyone who feels the pain of living under the curse. 

Part Two: Listening to Depression
Answers. In these ten short chapters, this is where Welch really applies the gospel to depression and gives answers. What are the causes of depression? How can you manage and treat the symptoms of depression if it leads you to fear, anger, shame, dashed hopes, guilt, worry of death? For each of these, he takes you to the cross and to the promises of Scripture to give you reasons to hope in the midst of shadows. Part Two reminds me that “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4.

Part Three: Other Help and Advice
Outside help. These four chapters give counsel on medical treatment, doctor’s visits, and how friends and family can best serve their friend who is going through depression.

Part Four: Hope and Joy: Thinking God’s Thoughts
Transformation. Can you believe, God is so sovereign he can use your depression to strengthen you, make you more like Christ, and develop in you the fruit of the Spirit? God can actually this struggle with despair to build you up. These two chapters show how God uses the suffering of depression to cultivate in us humility and hope, thankfulness and joy.

Recommendation
After reading Depression: A Stubborn Darkness, I realized this book isn’t just for those who wrestle with depression. It’s for all of us who face disappointment, discouragement, and weariness to any extent, light or heavy. Ed Welch brings the gospel to bear on the human condition and gives glimmers of hope by pointing to the person of Christ, his promises, his cross, his healing power, and his coming kingdom. Ultimately, this book is a guide for applying the gospel to the human condition in general.

I do highly recommend you pick up a copy if you’re feeling depressed or know someone who feels this way. I think if we understand depression in clearly biblical terms, the way forward in depression becomes more clear. Thus, my only regret for this volume is that Welch doesn’t make the case for replacing the vague modern psychological term “depression” with its more accurate biblical correspondent “despair.” Nevertheless, I’m keeping my copy of this book on my shelf as a ready reference for finding hope through Christ in the difficult moments of life.

Interview With the Author
You can catch an interview with the author about his book in the YouTube below–
  

SummerGraceBooksSale

Now through July 4th weekend, any book on the GraceBooks Table with an orange sticker is 50% off! This will make way for new books to come.

The GraceBooks Table is open before and after Sunday services at Grace Church of Alexandria. The table is a collection of DVD’s and books to help with your Christian walk, covering topics such as parenting, addictions, depression, making relationships, doctrine, Bible study, and more.  All resources are by donation. Swing by the book table now through July 7th!

Readable, Practical Help For Those Who Lead
Are you a leader of a team, an organization, a business, or a ministry within your church? If so, I highly recommend that you read an engaging book on leadership by counselor Dan Allender, Leading With a Limp.

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Not What You Expect: Embrace Your Weaknesses
Leading with a Limp calls on leaders to adopt a counter-cultural perspective on leadership…embrace your weaknesses, admit them, and turn them into advantages. Dan Allender, a counselor and seminary president, has been through the fire when it comes leadership decisions and leadership crises. He has a powerful ability with words and an uncanny knack for getting into the reader’s head. He takes leaders on a journey to admit what’s true about them so they can embark on a process of growth and change.

A Leader: The Chief Sinner of An Organization
Allender starts off by calling on leaders to confess their greatest weaknesses to themselves and to those they lead. Shocking, isn’t it? To demonstrate what he’s calling for, he puts on the table his personality and leadership struggles. He proceeds to diagnose why leaders can so easily get off track and summons leaders to conduct self-examination.

Who God Uses: Broken, Messed Up People
Then, from Scripture, he demonstrates that God delights in using those who admit their weaknesses, and those who are weak (e.g. Moses, Jacob, Paul). He doesn’t tend to use those who think they have it all together (Think “not many of you were wise” from 1 Corinthians 1).

Are You Exhausted, Disillusioned, Lonely, or Overwhelmed?
The heart of the book is the chapters that address leaders who feel exhausted, disillusioned, lonely, betrayed, or overwhelmed. You may not have taken a severe tumble in your leadership lately, but rest assured, if you’re a leader, you know it’s lonely at the top and much–too much–rests on your shoulders alone. Allender gives insightful biblical advice for handling crises, conflict, indecision, aloneness, and burnout. These chapters are gold.

Model Leading With A Limp For Others
Finally, Leading with a Limp closes with a call to seeing your job as a leader as a call to be the chief sinner, the one on the team who repents the most, who seeks Christ to change her the most, and who is willing to be pruned in character the most. This will enable you to lead your organization more wisely and will show those under your care what it means to pursue Christ-likeness.

A Critically Important Read For Leaders Of Anything

Leading with a Limp is a critically important read for every Christian who leads, whether over a small group, a ministry team, a non-profit, a business, or a church plant. I intend to review my takeaways with the elders and deacons of the church I pastor in Alexandria, Virginia, and admit to them my weaknesses so they can help shore me up. I am confident that the principles laid out by Dan Allender in his book will help sharpen me in the workplace God has called me to.

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Dispatches From the Front, Episode 6: The Power of His Rising is out, and it’s only $5 for a limited time at WTSBooks.com! This is the missions film we showed a pre-release of at Grace Church of Alexandria‘s Missions Seminar in April. In it, Tim Keesee reports about creative missions efforts–such as coffee growing, baking, and aviation–to get the gospel into difficult-t0-reach regions in South Asia.

We’ll also have copies of this on the GraceBooks Table available on Sundays at Grace Church for $5.

Trailer – Episode 6: The Power of His Rising from Frontline Missions International on Vimeo.

Description:

Over two billion people in the world have no access to the Gospel—no Bible, no church, no Christians, no hope. Since many of them live in countries closed to traditional missionaries, how will they hear the Good News? One way is that Christ is calling and equipping men and women with skills—professionals—to use their talents to reach people who are hard to get to. The Power of His Rising is an inside look at how this is unfolding in South Asia, where baristas and bakers, pilots and farmers are a force for the Gospel! It’s an amazing journey by land, sea and air—down crowded streets and remote rivers—to find light shining in darkness and persecuted believers singing because of Jesus! Dispatches from the Front opens yet another window to see Christ at work in the world through His endless life and relentless grace!

More about episode 1, episode 2, episode 3, episode 4, and episode 5 here.

I’ve long admired the life and work of William Wilberforce, the British member of parliament and evangelical Christian, who championed the abolishment of the slave trade in the United Kingdom. Now, after getting an up-close look at Wilberforce’s determination and frailty, and his faith and growth, by reading William Hauge’s epic biography William Wilberforce, I’m more in awe of the man.

Hague’s biography is immensely practical and inspiration for wrestling with the extent to which we should seek for our faith to impact and shape culture. Wilberforce’s life is a lesson in wisely, persistently, compassionately engaging fallen culture with the truths of Christ, for the betterment of humanity and the spread of the gospel (think Niehbuhr’s Christ and culture discussions). And so fresh off from finishing the book, I’d like to share some casual reflections from Wilberforce’s life.

Three Takeaways

Here are a few takeaways I gleaned:

(1) The power of persistence. 

For decades William Wilberforce was a mocked and marginalized politician because he consistently cried out against the inhumanity of the slave trade. Nevertheless, he pressed on annually to call for the abolishment of the slave trade (the first step to ending slavery). He never let opposition, slander, political pressure, loneliness, or exhaustion deter him from standing for justice for Africans who were being trafficked. When ending the slave trade proved to be an uphill battle, he personally spent a great deal of his wealth on establishing and equipping a colony for freed slaves in Sierra Leone. Truly, he put his money where his values were, and spared no expense to protect and serve people who had been treated unjustly. Finally, in the days before his death, he got to see the slave trade’s abolishment become a reality wherever the British flag flew.

(2) The importance of collaboration. 

Wilberforce, though a key (if not the key) leader of anti-slavery efforts, was one of many individuals who compacted together to see slavery to its end. His fellow believer Thomas Clarkson was the data gatherer and statistician of the anti-slave trade efforts. Clarkson complied hard data (difficult to obtain in those days) to show the evils and harm done by human trafficking. On top of this, the first grassroots political efforts in English politics led to a groundswell of opposition to slavery, of which Wilberforce was merely the lead spokesman. Truly, ending slavery was a multigenerational effort that required participation from ordinary Christians across the land, and political leaders as well. Change in society swings on collaboration.

(3) Honestly About One’s Ordinariness

William was his own fiercest critic. Every day he rated himself for his performance and discipline in eating, devotional life, and self-control, and usually rated his days as “bad.” He had no false estimations of greatness on his part and was not in the arena for self-promotion. On top of this he was a sickly, frail man, who frequently had to take months off after overdoing it to convalesce. He simply served as hard and diligently as he could for his fellow man. William depended entirely on the Lord to grant grace for his efforts and did not care who received credit for great victories. In addition, he saw his consequential role in world politics as inconsequential for himself, and only consequential because it was for God and for his fellow humanity.

Who Is This Book For?

These are just three of about eight key lessons I took away from Wilberforce’s life. I highly commend this book to anyone–

  • who is engaged in politics and government,
  • who is desiring to promote social justice in our fallen world,
  • who wants to serve God faithfully in spite of physical and spiritual weakness in their lives, or
  • who wants to do better at living a wise, skilled life that is productive for God’s kingdom.

I’ll be reading this book again and again through the years to glean more life lessons from Wilberforce’s journey of faith.

A Few Final Notes

William Hague is an author with a unique perspective to guide the reader through Wilberforce’s storied life, for he too has been a member of Parliament and is currently First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary of Great Britain.

I want to thank my brother J. Nathan Matías for lending me his copy of the U.K. version of this book. Nathan models a joy in collaboration and credit-sharing, one of the key values evidenced by Wilberforce.

Where to Buy

Half.com
Amazon

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