Tag Archive | Books

When You Can’t Afford to Travel but Want to Learn from the Church

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Over the last ten years, God has had me on a journey learning from the Church in the global South and East. Many of these lessons I’ve been able to learn directly from those from other parts of the world.  But while I have had the privilege of spending time in other countries with believers I would never meet here, not everyone will have that opportunity. Thankfully, in order to learn from the church in other parts of the world, you don’t need ot be able to afford a plane ticket, you just need to be able to read.

Even earlier than my trips overseas, God was beginning to teach me about His Kingdom through books that were written by saints from other nations. For those of you who haven’t experienced or read much beyond your own borders, the following books can be helpful:

The Rising Revival

Rising RevivalFor those of you who remember that my story started in the midst of revival, it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that the topic of revival was near and dear to my heart. Early on I started reading books on revivals in the West, but I quickly discovered there were books that talked about revivals going on in other nations of the Earth. This book documents the story of the revival that took place in Argentina over the 80’s and the early 90’s. This revival had ties to what was currently happening in the United States in the mid-90’s and talks about how Argentina was affected by this move of the Spirit. C Peter Wagner’s book not only talked about revival, but it sowed a vision for apostolic church planting in the midst of a move of the Spirit that I had never conisdered before.

Listen to Me Satan

Listen to Me SatanI picked up this copy shortly after I read “The Rising Revival.” Carlos Annacondia was featured in that book in a short way. This book is his story of becoming the Pentecostal Billy Graham of Argentina. I think the draw of this book is Annacondia’s reliance on the Holy Spirit to direct him and draw in a harvest, not just hold revival meetings. His meetings were marked by demons being cast out, the sick being healed, and the Holy Spirit filling new converts.  I loved seeing how the movement of the Spirit was playing out in a fairly modern nation like Argentina. I should note, while many of the things mentioned in “The Rising Revival” and “Listen to Me, Satan” were pivotal to my spiritual growth, I probably no longer hold to some of their views on how the church is structured like I did back then.

Houses That Change the World

HousesTechnically this breaks with my theme of learning from the church of the global South and East, since this book was written by a German. However, much of the insight that Wolfgang shares comes from studying house church planting movements all over the Earth. Most notably, Wolf spent a number of years in India trying to understand what the Lord was doing through the house church movement there with a goal of applying the lessons learned to the church in the West. This book changed my understanding of the nature of the church and I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good book on house churches.

The Heavenly Man

Heavenly ManI read this book a year after I read “Houses That Change the World” and these two books helped change the direction of my life. While Houses was more of a “how to” manual for meeting as a church like in the New Testament, the Heavenly Man read like the book of Acts. This book tells the story of one of the leaders of the underground house church movement in China. Through persecution, Brother Yun spreads the gospel, raises up leaders, and mobilizes the Chinese church to take the gospel back to Jerusalem, the very place that it came from.  You will not walk away from this book without being personally inspired and challenged. And, as a bonus, for the first time in reading, I saw a house church movement and the power of the Holy Spirit tied together in a way I hadn’t read about outside of Acts.  In many ways it’s why I’m still able to contend for the fullness of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a church planting movement. Many of us hear about how God is moving powerfully in the Chinese Church. This book give you a front row seat.

Living Water

Living WaterThis may be cheating to have two books by the same author.  This follow up is not really a sequel, as much as it is Brother Yun’s attempt to teach after having told his story. If you finished reading “The Heavenly Man” and were left wondering “How, then, should we live?” Living Water is the answer. It’s full of solid teaching on the Kingdom of God in the life of a Christian, from a Chinese perspective. Reading this book is like asking Brother Yun to disciple you a little bit each day for a month. It’s well worth your time.

The Insanity of God

Insanity of GodIt’s hard to put into words how refreshing this book was. I picked this up last year at the recommendation of some friends. It follows missionary Nik Ripken as he tries to grapple with horrible darkness and incredible fruitlessness that he encounters in Somalia. When he leaves the mission field for a season, he and his wife use the time to meet and research how the church survives and thrives under persecution. The stories he encounters and the people that he writes about are some of the most inspiring stories I’ve heard recently. They pages are also filled with a challenge to endure for Jesus under long-term sustained pressure. This is truly a global book, starting in Africa, moving to Russia, China, and the Middle East. Reading this book will convince you that God can work on your behalf anywhere you go. Because of all of this, this book was my number one book recommendation for last year.

Misreading Scripture Through Western Eyes

MisreadingThis one deserves a mention though its a book I’m currently working through right now. The book is written by a church historian and a missionary to Thailand. Both of them use their background and education to reveal how we in the West read the Bible through lenses that the original audiences of the Bible never wore. When we do this, according to the authors, we come up with a different message than the one the Bible was intending us to hear. This book has been a fascinating look at concepts like honor/shame and individual/corporate interpretations that I think most Western believers never get exposed to. There is a lot of eye-opening thoughts here.  Reading it with an open mind will change (for the good) how you interpret Scripture.

Well, that’s enough for today. I could go on.  But my point in listing these books was that you see you can learn from the church around the world without buying a plane ticket.

Many of you have already written me some of the books you’ve read about similar things. If you’ve read a book from an author from a dramatically different part of the world that has strengthened your walk with Christ, leave a comment for us and tell us the name of the book and how it impacted you.

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The Top Ten Books I’ve Read This Year

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I really like reading. But over the last few years as my kids have gotten older and needed more attention, I’ve spent considerably less time reading than I’d like. This year, that changed, mainly because I invested in an Audible account through Amazon. At this point in the year I’ve completed 16 books. This is significant, because I probably haven’t read that many books since the first year of my marriage.

So because no one asked me but I have a sneaking suspicion some of you may be interested, here are the ten best books I read this year.  None of them are brand new, they just end up being what I was interested in this year.  I also tried to branch out some this year, so you’ll find a mix of Christian non-fiction, fiction, productivity, and business. The list is presented in order of highest impact to my life. I hope you’ll enjoy.

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken

I loved this book. There were some things about it that were very difficult for me. The first half of the book told the story of “Nik,” a missionary that paid a high price during an unfruitful time of ministry in Somolia. After a terrible tragedy causes Nik and his family to return to America, he and his wife begin a journey around the world to find out how believers in persecution thrive under the threat of death. First in Russia, then China, and finally in Islamic countries, Nik encounters stories that stun us about the power of God and His ability to sustain those who are being persecuted.

If I were to recommend one book off of this list to believers, this would be the one. This book is full of stories that reverberate with overtones of apostolic Christianity. It’s full of lessons that Nik and his wife have learned as they’ve sat at the feet of believers who have stood strong when the stakes were the highest. I warn you though: this book will challenge an easy-believing, Americanized Christianity. Read it at your own risk.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

I read this book three times this year. Three times! This book is about focusing in on the things that allow you to achieve your greatest level of contribution in life. It takes the phrase “Less, but better” and applies it to every area of your life, challenging you to become more focused in the area you are called to have greatest impact. If there is one book I wanted to buy multiple copies of and hand out around my office, this book was it. It’s a short read, but it will challenge you.

Living a Life of Fire by Reinhardt Bonkke

This book was the autobiography of German evangelist, Reinhardt Bonkke. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bonkke, he is an itinerant evangelist in Africa who at one time had the largest open-air tent in the world. He has led a million people to Christ in one crusade in Nigeria and his ministry is known to be accompanied by dramatic healings.

This book traces his life from his time as a young boy inside a post-World War II prison camp for Germans to his current life. It was really interesting for me to see the early days of Bonkke’s ministry since most of us know him as an evangelist that is larger than life. Bonkke’s passion for the Gospel going forth and his continuing reliance on the power of God are infectious. It was hard for me to read this and not want to share the Gospel or pray for the sick and I need more influences like this in my life.

The Shack by William P. Young

I hardly ever read Christian fiction. I can barely stand it most of the time. But two things motivated me to pick this book up: 1) A friend who is an evangelist told me about how his secular progressive uncle became a believer after reading it and 2) It’s slated to be a motion picture next year in March. When this book first came out there was some controversy over it, so I thought I’d check the book out and see what it was all about.

You can firmly count me among those who love this book. The whole book is based around the murder of a father’s youngest daughter and the father’s journey to come to peace with God after this event. That makes it sound like this book is your standard piece of fiction. In fact, most of this book starts when God sends the father an invitation to meet Him in the shack where the dress of his daughter was found several years earlier.

IMHO, the controversy over this book is hugely overdone. This book was written to engage the heart, not to teach theology, much in the same way that Jesus’ parables were told. I heartily recommend the book and if you can read it with an open heart, I think you’ll find yourself closer to God by the end of the story. I know I did.

The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin

This book was an inspiration. Seth basically spends an entire book encouraging the artist (that’s you and I) to dream big, push boundaries, and be daring.  This book is a manifesto of sorts that is bent on provoking us to do the art that only we can do and pursue greatness at it. Based on the story from Greek mythology of Icarus, Godin encourages not only to not fly too high, but more importantly to not fly too low, to really let our light shine where it should.

Do not read this book if you are against becoming an artist.

Saturate by Jeff Vanderstelt

For those of you who haven’t had the privilege of hearing Jeff preach, you’re missing out. Jeff gives leadership to a network of churches that are focused on missional communities, so there’s always been a lot of synergy between what he does and what we do as a house church network. The message of this book is the gospel has power to touch every human being through our ordinary lives.

What I particularly love about this book and Jeff’s approach in general is his commitment to practices that are rooted in the theology of the gospel. These methods also happen to be incredibly effective. Jeff leads people to Jesus, but he does it in a process that is birthed out of his understanding of the gospel. The critical piece of this book that was helpful to me was the section on acquiring a missional identity that comes from the different roles of the persons of the Trinity. Those four chapters are worth the cost of the book alone.

So Beautiful by Leonard Sweet

It seems cliche to say it, but this book was beautiful. It is a poet’s look into the missional DNA of God’s church. If you’re looking for 3 practical how-to steps to become more missional, I would direct you other places.  But if you’re looking for your heart to be awed by the way that God builds His church to reach the world, Sweet’s book is for you.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Yes, I read atheist Sci-Fi. And if you can read it and not get caught up in the backhanded attempt to poke fun at theists, this is an enjoyable book. This is a space opera with a huge comedic twist. It follows the adventures of Arthur Dent and his (unbeknownst to him) alien friend Ford Prefect as they escape Earth just before it is destroyed to make way for an interplanetary bypass. The rest of the book follows them as they get swept up into a drama bigger than they could ever imagine.  I don’t know that I’ve laughed out loud so many times reading any other book. Of the three books that I’ve read in this series so far, this one is clearly the best.

The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom

The Starfish and the Spider should be required reading for any and every person interested in house churches and discipleship movements. It is a book written to look at the advantages of organizations that have no leaders. It examines history and business culture to find examples of movements and organizations that thrive with no centralized form of leadership. The parallels between these organizations and house churches are many and we would do well to learn from the authors’ research.   One day I hope to do a series of blogs on what this book can tell us about how the Lord leads His church.

The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee

This is Watchman Nee’s seminal book. I’ve yet to meet anyone who knows Nee who hasn’t read this book and most who read it rave over its content. This books is the compilation of Nee’s thoughts on Romans 6-8.  There was much to challenge me and grow here and anyone who needs to understand the position in Christ they have by virtue of their repentance and belief in Jesus can benefit from reading this book.

Honorable Mentions: The Insanity of Obedience, AntiFragile, The Confessions of St. Patrick, Jesus: A Theography, Endurance: Shakelton’s Incredible Voyage, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, The Universe, and Everything.

Note: Most of the links to the books described in this post are part of Amazon’s referral program and I do get paid a slim referral fee if you purchase a book based on my recommendation. However, it should be noted, I never recommend a book to buy unless its great. Also, feel free to buy the book or not based on your own sampling of the book.

 

The Clubbed Foot Ones

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Yesterday I told the world I was going to write a book.

Today I’m hoping to give a little perspective.

Six months to a year ago I had a friend call. My friend is prophetic, which means that he hears from the Lord very accurately and will often be used by God to communicate messages to the body of Christ. He was calling with something the Lord had spoken to him about the book I was writing.

He started to talk to me about Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9 and how David made a place for the son of Jonathan to be taken care of all of his life. This story is remarkable because David showed kindness to a potential political enemy out of his loyalty to his fallen friend. But it’s even more remarkable because David welcomed Mephibosheth to his table even though as a cripple, he was basically unclean (see Leviticus 21:16-23). David made a place at his table for an outcast.

“God is calling you,” my friend said, “to start a book club for the club-footed ones. He’s calling you to make places at the table for those who sit on the outside and feel like outcasts. It will be a book to empower those who live at the margins and those from the inner city. They need a seat at the table of the church.”

And so here I am, still writing.

But make sure you don’t miss the message. There’s a message for me in what was said, but there’s also a message for you. Maybe you don’t feel like the person who should be leading people to Jesus or starting churches. But God is raising up unlikely people from the margins of society to take the Gospel where it hasn’t gone.

You may feel like a cripple. You may feel like an outcast. You might not come from right education or even the right side of the tracks. But Jesus has mercy on you and invites you to eat at His table. You are invited to the book club for the club-footed ones. You can be used by God in this hour.

Don’t miss the invitation.

Photo Credit: Clubfeet by Richard Masoner

Catching Lightning

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We’ve been trying to catch lightning in a bottle we can sell, when we already have been given lightning in a book that’s free, if we will but open it and release it’s Spirit.

-Leonard Sweet, “So Beautiful.”

You can find another great quote here.

Photo Credit: Lightning in a Bottle Trilogy by Rumble Press

Our God is Not Safe

Len Sweet

I’m finally getting around to reading Len Sweet’s book “So Beautiful.”

This amazing quote is pulled from the section on the missional life. The true nature of our missional life flows out of the nature of God. Sweet summarizes the nature of the God of mission so well, I had to share. Enjoy!

We don’t have a well behaved God, a polite God, a well-mannered God.  God is not gentrified, made socially acceptable, or given to political correctness. The time until Jesus returns is not the time for long-range plans or for franchised dreams or for risk free strategies based on pre-approved to-do lists. This is the time to blaze new trails, to explore strange new lands, to build better spaces in which to live and love. If you want a quiet life, a life of peace and contentment, then don’t follow Jesus.  If you want a safe life, a life of security and caution, then don’t follow Jesus. If you want a life that is all mapped out, a life you can plan and control, then don’t follow Jesus. Faith is the opposite of control.

Photo Credit: FutureChurch_Think_Tank_Advance2010_10 by George Fox Evangelical Seminary

Thoughts on Reading

pile of booksYesterday I mentioned that I’m trying to read more books this year. Right before New Years, I read a blog post asking “If you only read one book a year for the rest of your life, how many books will that leave you?” This was a huge kick in the pants for me because I used to read quite a bit and I have dramatically slowed down how much I’ve been reading over the last couple of years. Last year I read two books.  Not exactly thrilling, especially when there are so many books I want to read.

 
So I started the year with a list of twelve books I’d like to read before the year is over.  That list has grown now to 17.  I’m a little freaked out by the goal, but at least if I shoot high, I’ll hit something.  Anything is better than two books.

So, with no further ado, here is the list of books I’m attempting to read for this year:

What Jesus Started
T4T: A Discipleship Re-Revolution
BiVo: A Manifesto
The Permanent Revolution
Church 3.0
The Failure of Nerve
Three Roads to the Alamo
Jesus: A Theography
The Interior Castle
Apostolic Foundations
The Impossible Mentor
Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton
Getting Things Done

The Starfish Vision
The Starfish and the Spider
Church Transfusion
Life Together

One thing I don’t want to do, however, is get too focused on reading to the exclusion of everything else in my life.  I’ve certainly read more church planting books than I’ve planted churches and it’s always better to follow Jesus than read about somebody else following Jesus.  I’m always (and especially in this endevour want to be) conscious of John Wesley’s warning about books: “Beware you be not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” So keep me accountable and keep me from adding too many other books to this list!

That said, have you read any of the books on this list? What did you think? And what are you trying to knock off your reading list?

Photo Credit: Pile of Books by Aaron Suggs

Review: Viral Jesus by Ross Rohde

This is my personal review of “Viral Jesus” by Ross Rohde.  You can also find this review posted online at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.  In the interest of full disclosure, Ross was kind enough to provide me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review of the book.

Christianity was designed to spread like a virus, moving from person to person, contact point to contact point, quickly changing people and making them an agent of change.  That all came to an end after a sustained period of growth several hundred years after Jesus’ resurrection. The church slowly abandoned it’s commitment to the “epidemic principles” they were founded on and adopted a different method of living.  This is the premise of Ross Rhode’s new book, Viral Jesus.  According to Rhode, though, these “epidemic principles” can be recaptured and a viral Christianity can again become the norm.

I had been eagerly anticipating the release of Viral Jesus ever since Rhode began blogging at Viral Jesus a few years ago.  If you’ve read the blog or enjoy the missional house church/ organic church/ simple church discussion, you will certainly find an enjoyable read in this book.  But this is not just another book about doing house church.  This is a book about spreading the Lordship of Jesus throughout a society, something that house churches become a vehicle for.  This is a radically different approach than most “house church” books take, but it was incredibly helpful.

I want to offer one warning up front before I continue with the review: Do not read this book if you’re looking to transition into a new church fad.  This book is fairly unique and it will not give you step by step instructions for getting new converts.  This book presents Jesus Christ as Lord, both of the world and of the church, and that means you won’t find strategies that work apart from Him.  Rohde takes a lot of necessary time presenting this truth and because of that, someone only wanting change without prayerfully submitting to Jesus would get very frustrated. But if you desire to follow the real Jesus into His harvest field, this book will be both incredibly helpful and challenging, but well worth the read.

Strengths

The first obvious strength of this book is the fact that it presents Jesus as the operating system for life, both inside and outside the church.  This is not a how-to book.  It forces you to acknowledge the ways in which you’ve been dependent on other things besides Jesus, especially in the church.  Rohde significantly develops the idea of “Jesus as Lord” that Hirsch and Frost discuss in books like “The Shaping of Things to Come” and “The Forgotten Ways.” But instead of developing the theology of “Jesus as Lord” Rohde presents very tangible examples from Scripture and experience of “Jesus as Lord” playing out in the life of the church.

One of the things I appreciated in the book was it’s strong endorsement of supernatural phenomenon in the life of Jesus movements.  Most of the current books on church planting and organic church argue for returning to most of the principles of the book of Acts, but spend little or no time discussing the place miracles plays. This is confusing because it is one of the most prominent features of the early church.  I suspect that because Rohde truly believes that the Lordship of Christ is the issue for viral Christianity to be restored, he has no problem presenting the Holy Spirit as active and involved if we submit to Jesus.  I can’t emphasize enough that these two issues need to be stressed over and over in the organic church conversation, and that fact alone makes Rohde’s book an invaluable contribution to the discussion.

Another strength of the book are the multiple stories Rohde tells about the adventures he and his co-workers have in the harvest field.  These stories take place in locations where many people think the Gospel is irrelevant, hardened Western Europe and California, and they make the principles Rohde lays out believable.  I’ve heard plenty of stories about miracles and conversions happening in America and Europe, but Rohde tells the stories in ways that make everyone believe they are capable of doing the same.  He and his friends aren’t the heroes of the stories, Jesus is, and because of that you gain faith you can participate in similar stories yourself.

Finally, Rohde’s chapters on Viral Evangelism and Viral Church Planting are worth the price of the book. Both chapters are a look at how, once submitted to Jesus, a believer is typically led by Him to share the gospel and see churches started.  Rohde makes evangelism and church planting a joy, not a burden, and accessible to everyone.  I’m actually going to list this book in the evangelism section of my Amazon bookstore because it so easily encourages and trains believers in basic principles for sharing their faith and planting churches.

Weaknesses

The one weakness I found in the book is it’s treatment of the historical Jesus movements of the past.  Rohde traces the fall of the early church away from the “epidemic principles” it was originally founded upon.  He then looks at times throughout history most Christians would call revivals and dissects how these revivals missed turning into full-fledged Jesus movements that God had intended.  I think this is the point where most Christians would have problems.  However, I actually agree with Rohde on most of the issues he presents as problems.

Rohde argues that each of these revivals were short-circuited because they didn’t completely abandon the trappings of Christendom that they emerged out of.  Because of that, these revivals eventually died down and became trapped in a dead religious state that they had been awakened out of.  I don’t even disagree with Rohde on this point. However, what was written seemed to imply that even though God moved powerfully many different times, these Jesus movements continually fell back into the Christendom mindsets they emerged out of.  Can a viral Christianity emerge in a country where Christendom is present and operating? I believe it can and I even think Rohde believes it can, but I walked away from the chapter having to truly process these thoughts out.

In the end, I believe that even this was helpful, because these chapters forced me to examine where I’ve compromised with foundational principles of the world in my Christian experience.  But my hope is that even though much of Christianity in the West is still steeped in Christendom, that viral Christianity lived out in front of the rest of the church will actually convince the church of the validity of abandoning many of the Christendom principles it has built itself on.

Should You Read Viral Jesus?

Yes, yes, and yes!  You will be encouraged, stretched, and challenged in ways you cannot imagine.  Rohde is really balanced in a radical, Jesus-following way.  Reading this book will push you in the most healthy direction you’ve been pushed in awhile—closer to Jesus.  If you’ve never been part of an organic church this a great book to get you started.  If you’ve read every book by every guy about church planting movements and house churches, this is still a really helpful and inspiring book.  And this is not a book for leaders, it’s a book for everyone, because viral Christianity is for everyone.

Because of all of this, I want to recommend you pick a copy of this book, take a journal and a Bible with you, and go and wrestle with the issues Rohde presents.  My hope is that it causes Jesus movements to spring up throughout the West and changes Christianity as we know it.