Dug Down Deep – a book review

Dug Down Deep.jpgAbout the Book –

What will you build your life on?

With startling transparency, Joshua Harris shares how we can rediscover the relevance and power of Christian truth. This is book shows a young man who rose quickly to success in the Christian evangelical world before he realized his spirituality lacked a foundation—it rested more on tradition and morality than on an informed knowledge of God.

For the indifferent or spiritually numb, Harris’s humorous and engaging reflections on Christian beliefs show that orthodoxy isn’t just for scholars—it is for anyone who longs to know the living Jesus Christ. As Harris writes, “I’ve come to learn that theology matters. It matters not because we want to impress people, but because what we know about God shapes the way we think and live. Theology matters because if we get it wrong then our whole life will be wrong.”

Whether you are just exploring Christianity or you are a veteran believer finding yourself overly familiar and cold-hearted, Dug Down Deep will help you rediscover the timeless truths of Scripture. As Harris challenges you to root your faith and feelings about God in the person, work, and words of Jesus, he answers questions such as:

What is God like and how does he speak to me?What difference does it make that Jesus was both human and divine?How does Jesus’s death on the cross pay for my sins?Who is the Holy Spirit and how does he work in my life?

With grace and wisdom, Harris will inspire you to revel in the truth that has captured his own mind and heart. He will ask you to dig deep into a faith so solid you can build your life on it. He will point you to something to believe in again.

About the Author – joshua harris.gif

Joshua Harris is senior pastor of Covenant Life in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which belongs to the Sovereign Grace network of local churches. A passionate speaker with a gift for making theological truth easy to understand, Joshua is perhaps best known for his runaway bestseller, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which he wrote at the age of twenty-one. His later books include Boy Meets Girl, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is), and Stop Dating the Church. The founder of the NEXT conferences for young adults, Joshua is committed to seeing the gospel transferred to a new generation of Christians. He and his wife, Shannon, have three children.

My Review –

It seems like I’m always just a bit too late with getting my ideas out into the real world. If I were going to write a book about theology, a book about the basic essentials of the Christian faith, a book that would be readable my anybody in my congregation – this would be that book. Josh Harris has taken the core beliefs of the faith and put them into a very readable form. I don’t believe he’s “dumbed down” these doctrines. Rather, he’s put them into the language of most of the people of my congregation.

Harris also does a very good job of incorporating these key doctrinal concepts into real life, something for which I am very thankful. When I first began my “trek” into discovering the doctrines of grace, I’m sure I made my theology seem very academic. I’m hoping that over the years, I’ve softened the seminary approach and developed a much more pastoral approach to helping people see that we “do” theology every day of our lives. This is what Josh Harris has done in this book. He takes you along with him as he reminisces about this same process of discovery. Having served as a pastor for several years now, he too has learned that pastoral aspect of making sure what you preach moves into the realm of real living. I especially enjoyed the chapters, “Ripping, Burning and Eating” (a chapter all about the doctrine of Scripture) and “God With A Bellybutton” (solid, plain teaching on the reality of the incarnation).

Out of this entire book, I think the final chapter, “Humble Orthodoxy,” defines what Harris is doing here. He could have written (or been aided by another author) a book that lays out the doctrines of grace from a Calvinistic point of view, thumbed his nose at everyone and said, “There, this is the truth. Take it or leave it.” But that’s not Harris (at least, as I know him through all I’ve read of him and from him). I think Jesus would be pleased with this effort – Josh has captured the truth, presented it well, done it all the while conveying a sense of love that he wants you to experience as you follow Christ, and he’s done it humbly. Well done, Pastor Harris. Well done.

This book may be purchased online at:

Waterbrook Multnomah

or, their parent company,

Random House

This book was provided for review by Waterbrook Multnomah.


40 Loaves – a book review

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About this book –

“Why don’t I have more faith?”

“Why am I so bored with Jesus?”

“Why are Christians so hard for me to like?” 

There are many questions we’re not supposed to ask when playing by the religious rules. It makes people uncomfortable. So why is it that Jesus invited questions and even asked some of them himself? What is it that you’re afraid to ask God? It’s a risky prospect to begin asking–but far riskier to continue simply trying to get by without knowing. Author C. D. Baker asked himself 40 soul-searching questions which started a conversation in his heart and ultimately showed him more about God than He ever expected. 

Can we become more honest with who we really are and find who God says He really is at the same time? Come indulge yourself in daily readings with an honest exploration of your secret fears and thoughts, and know that you will always be welcomed in God’s unconditional love.

Search me, O God … and know my anxious thoughts.

–Psalm 139:23 NIV

Baker, CD.jpgauthor spotlight

C. D. Baker founded an award-winning business before redirecting his career to write full-time from his small farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. He is the author of eight books, including six novels, one of which was a finalist for a Christy Award. Baker has a Master’s degree in theological studies from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

My Review –

What a delightful read! I’ve had opportunity to read and review several "devotional" type books in the past several months. This is, by far, the best of any of them. Head and shoulders better. Mountain-top better. There, have I used a sufficient number of superlatives to describe the way I think about this book? Before I go any further, I highly recommend this book. If I could purchase one for every household in my congregation, I would do so in a heartbeat.

Baker’s style takes you deep, yet remains straightforward and easy to read. Each chapter is based off a question – a question he has asked himself or someone has asked him. He then goes on to provide an answer, while all the time, not coming off like "The Answer Man" that can be so trite and annoying in other formats. Here is just a sampling of the questions asked:

     • Why am I so uncomfortable with doubts?

     • Why do I get angry with God?

     • Why is loving others so hard for me?

     • Why does God seem silent in my life?

     • Why do I pray only in emergencies?

     • Why am I bored with church, the Bible, and Jesus?

He then goes on to provide insight into each question through the use of Scripture, personal experience or anecdotes of other’s lives, usually all mixed into one short reading. Each 3-4 page chapter then closes out with a "Food for Thought" section which asks the reader some questions to get him or her thinking about the issue at hand. Finally, a short prayer is provided to guide one’s own meditation upon these things. Some of the prayers are directly from Scripture (my favorite type of prayer), from some saint in the past, or simply an offering from the author.

I highly recommend this book. Order it now and you can start off the New Year with it. You can read it in forty days, or use one each week to take you more than halfway through the year. Give yourself time to meditate upon the questions, ask them of yourself, reflect if you’ve asked these kinds of questions yourself; then allow God to search your heart for answers.

You can purchase this book at WaterBrook Multnomah, or their parent company, RandomHouse.

This book was provided for reviewing by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you…

Last evening, Thanksgiving Eve, saw a small handful of the faithful gather at Cornerstone EFC to give thanks to God. We gather every Wednesday to pray, but this night was different. I had taken every household’s name and put it on a small slip of paper. Included on these slips were also every missionary family we support, every leader of our congregation, others in teaching positions, as well as service positions at Cornerstone. All these slips of paper were placed in a basket and stirred around a bit. Then, after I began leading us in prayer, we’d just pass the basket, take a slip and pray. Our prayers were short and concise – we simply wanted to thank God for each person/family/leader represented there. As we went on, it seemed the Spirit was pleased to work in us to produce such a sweet harmony of praying these notes of thanksgiving that no one was aware of the passage of time (a rare thing these days within the church). When we finished, we gave thanks to God for His many blessings upon us and our little church and headed off to our homes, in order that we might prepare to do the same again today.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

The Family God Uses – a book review

Family God Uses.jpgAbout the Book

The divide between generations has never been greater. In The Family God Uses, the Blackaby family provides churches and families with a tool to intentionally bring families back together by challenging them to creative involvement in ministry and missions. Through the stories of Christian families who have accepted God’s challenge to be involved in His kingdom work locally and around the world, your family will be inspired to work together and serve together with Christ in the center. Your family will see the possibilities of what can happen through them as you seek the Lord together.

About the Authors

Tom_Blackaby.jpgTom Blackaby – Tom Blackaby was born in California but grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada where his father Henry T. Blackaby pastored Faith Baptist Church and developed the material for Experiencing God. He holds a bachelor of education degree from the University of Saskatchewan, an master of divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a doctor of ministries degree from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Tom has served as associate pastor of music/youth/education in four churches and most recently for seven years as senior pastor of North Sea Baptist Church in Stavanger, Norway. He served four years as national worship consultant for the Canadian National Baptist Convention and currently serves as director of international ministries for Blackaby Ministries International. Tom has coauthored The Man God Uses, Anointed to Be God’s Servants, The Blackaby Study Bible, Encounters with God Daily Bible; has written four years of devotional articles for Home Life magazine; and most recently authored The Family God Uses together with his wife, Kim.

Kim_Blackaby.jpgKim Blackaby’s commitment to God has taken her from church planting in a small Saskatchewan community to pastor’s wife of three churches, from working with children’s and music ministries to developing women’s ministry, leading Bible studies, and sharing what the Lord has taught her with others. It has taken her from Canada to an international church in norway and from small assignments to larger ones. With each step she has fallen more in love with and in awe of the One who first called her to Him as a teenager.

Tom and Kim have three children and currently live near Vancouver, Canada.

My Review

I’ll have to admit that when this book arrived I was skeptical. I didn’t enjoy Experiencing God, by the author’s father (yes, out of the umpteen millions, I was one of the very few). However, once I sat down and started reading The Family God Uses: Leaving a Legacy of Influence, I was impressed. Tom & Kim Blackaby do a fine job of providing immensely practical advice to families – parents – on how to leave a lasting legacy of godliness to those who come after them. After exploring God’s design for families and how God uses the family to build the church, this husband and wife team get to the hands-on material. Drawing upon their own experience growing up (especially Tom’s life as a pastor’s kid), they provide many vignettes to illustrate the principles laid out to each family. The aim of the book is to help families be far more intentional in fulfilling God’s purpose for families: to pass on the Gospel.

I appreciated the fact that the Blackabys challenged families to involve themselves in the life of their local church and in missions efforts around the world. They provide lots of practical resources (both organizations and projects) for families to use. As a pastor, I can tell you, when I read a book that challenges families today to get involved in the life of their local church, rather than staying at home and “doing church” on your own, I want to stand up and cheer.

If I had any negative critique of the book it would be threefold:

1. The authors talk about the family as God’s pattern for the Church.

While I understand what they’re saying, I’m troubled theologically by their understanding. As I read Ephesians 5, regarding husbands and wives, I see that Christ and His bride, the Church, are the pattern for marriages everywhere. Carry this out logically, and the same should be true for families: Christ & His Church are our pattern to follow (even as Paul shows in the context which flows on into Ephesians 6.1–4). When anyone begins to switch this pattern around, even in as positive a light as the Blackabys do in this work, I get nervous. It’s too tempting to put us first – man ahead of Christ. And this has always led to trouble later on, in subsequent generations. So, this is a caution.

2. I’m currently reading a book on family: Gospel-Powered Parenting by William P. Farley. It’s an excellent book precisely because it has the gospel at the center of all that family is to be about. I wish that the Blackabys could have done this more. It’s not that they don’t include Scripture and the gospel in their presentation; I just had to keep telling myself “This is the gospel here, isn’t it?” Maybe I’m dull and simple and just like it on the page in a more blatant fashion, but this would have raised this book even higher in my esteem for it.

3. I wish there weren’t as many references to the family upbringing as there were here. As a pastor, I almost wondered how a non-pastorally raised family would perceive some of the vignettes and anecdotes. I thought that many of the examples narrowed that target audience down to just families in ministry. However, I have to remember that my perspective is skewed somewhat because of my role in ministry. How much better would it have been for the authors to gather other insights from other families not in ministry.

I don’t think these three marks are anything to keep someone from purchasing this book (which may be done through New Hope Publishers). The large load of practical advice will help make this a worthwhile read and tool in the hands of families.

This book was provided for review purposes by New Hope Publishers.

Some Thoughts on Prayer

93E6B3F5-AE77-4AA0-8ECE-89AC94E794B2.jpgI’m reading a wonderful book entitled, A Praying Life by Paul E. Miller. I’m not reading this book because a publisher asked me to review it (although I’d be glad to do so). I’m not reading this book because a group of pastors is reading it together and going to discuss it in so many days (although this would be a very worthwhile exercise and a wise use of time). I’m reading this book because I need to.

My prayer life isn’t very good right now. This is due, in part, to my pouty behavior (yes, I pout; when things don’t go well or someone says something that crushes a large part of my spirit, I pout; it’s sinful, I know and believe me, it’s been confessed repeatedly… I need to fully repent, however; God give me the grace to do so). A few weeks ago, someone, right after finishing a time of prayer together, said that our times were in need of something. To use his exact words, he said “We just don’t seem to pray ‘in the Spirit’.”

Now, I think I know what it means to pray in the Spirit. This past Sunday, in preaching my next to the last message in a lengthy series from Ephesians, I was dealing with prayer. Ephesians 6.18 says, “…praying at all times in the Spirit…” I think I did the passage justice in expounding what that phrase means. Yet, I’m still haunted by the statement, “We just don’t seem to pray in the Spirit.”

How does he know? How can he tell? How can I tell? It’s stuck in my theological craw right now. I’m working on it. But am I letting God work on it within me? That’s probably the better, yet more difficult question. I’m holding out hope that God will just send me a letter, an email or a text message saying, “Here’s what it’s all about.” But that would be way too much like Gideon and his polar fleece jacket testing of God in Judges 6 (even if I’m not actually asking for this kind of sign, I’m still expecting it).

So, I’m reading a book on prayer and praying. I’m hoping it will answer my question, “How do I know if I’m praying ‘in the Spirit’?” So far it has not answered my question. What it has done is stir up lots of other, different thoughts. It’s also very humbling.

In the section on praying like a child, Miller shares anecdotes from his own life with a daughter who is autistic. From these experiences, he’s learned what it is to be helpless – both as a parent and as a child. This is how we’re to come to God in prayer: helpless and needy. I must confess that too often I want to come in my own strength, on my own terms and in my own way. In other words, I want to talk to me, not to God. So now, in my acts of repentance, I must embrace weakness. I must grab on to my helpless state and come running immediately to God. He’s not asking me to clean myself up before I come to Him. How could I do that and to whom else could I go?

You’d think I’d know this by now, but somehow, in the sinful stubbornness of my heart, weakness is not something I want to glam onto. I’d rather avoid it. No one else should know that I have them (ha! that’s laughable; when I think about it, it’s really all too apparent to them that I have glaring weaknesses). So, I’ll keep reading. I’ll seek to understand and learn experimentally what it means to come as a helpless but trusting little child to my heavenly Father. Maybe, just maybe, in the midst of all this, God will show me what praying ‘in the Spirit’ is really all about.

I want you to go here and read Stephen’s post on weakness. No, go. Don’t tell me you’ll do it later. Go now and read it. It won’t take you more than five minutes.

Then come back (just hit the ‘return’ button) and read this.