Category Archives: Devotional

New Testament Essentials by Robbie Fox Castleman

NT EssentialsCastleman, Robbie Fox. New Testament Essentials: Father, Son, Spirit, and Kingdom. IVP Essentials Series. Downers Grove, 2014. 151 pp. $17.00. Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

Robbie Castleman is professor of Biblical Studies and Theology at John Brown University. She previously served on the staff of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with an emphasis in graduate students. The IVP Essentials Set is a series of in-depth workbooks that can help spiritual growth. Books include topics such as discipleship, leadership, and evangelism with more on the way.
This particular edition “introduces the New Testament in three parts: 1) The Revelation of God in Jesus, 2)The indwelling of God in the church by the Holy Spirit, and 3)The present and coming Kingdom of God.

Summary

Designed as a 12-week study divided into three parts the first part focuses on Jesus Christ as the rull revelation of God. The five chapters include Jesus as the Messiah, as Lord of Heaven and Earth, and looks to His work and His teaching culminating in Christ as the Incarnate and Risen Savior.

The second part is a 3-week study of the church and the importance of understanding the Holy Spirit as indwelling her and giving her the power and ability to change the world. The third part spends 4-weeks looking at the present kingdom of God and a general understanding of the His coming kingdom.

Each week there is a memory verse (always good) rooted in a Bible study. The Bible study is an in-depth look at a particular passage that will take an evening to accomplish. Further, there is a reading that acts as a teacher explaining the passage with particular application. Following the reading, there are more questions designed to implement and establish the lesson being taught.

Finally, the author helps the reader connect the New Testament to the Old and applies it our personal lives today. There is a “Going Deeper” section that recommends yet another book to read.

Review

This work is not for the faint of heart. It is, however, designed to draw the reader into the Word of God in a deep and meaningful way. This is not a study you can finish in 10-minutes and feel as though you accomplished something. Rather, this is a 12-week study that will take you a full 12 weeks to finish.

This study is well written, and in my estimation, a very thorough work meant to put your faith and mind to work. It is biblically centered with a premise that God’s word is sufficient for life and unchanging. The various sections of the study can be done one per evening throughout the week and discussed together as a group.

As part of a larger series, this work can and does stand alone. It will, however, cause you to want to investigate the rest of the series.

Recommendation

For the new believer, this study can be considered indispensable. For the mature believer, this study can be a refresher. For all believers, this study will enhance and deepen your understanding of these four subjects. If you are looking for a solid Bible study for yourself or small group, you will find what you are looking for here in New Testament Essentials.

Next Step by Timothy K. Lynn

Next StepLynn, Timothy K. Next Step: How to Start Living Intentionally and Discover What Go d Really Wants for Your Life. Franklin: Carpenter’s Son Publishing, 2014. 128 pp. $24.99. Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for less.

Introduction

Timothy was born in Chicago, Illinois, where he still resides. He is an entrepreneur and the founder and chairman of a “successful company.” He is also a man of faith.

Summary

The book is presented with a nice glossy, spiral bound cover with glossy pages (makes it hard to write with a fountain pen!). The contents are divided into 6 sessions following the foundational chapter.

The foundation of the book is found in what Lynn calls the four pillars of life: faith, self, family, and life’s work. The first session focuses on who you are as a person and who it is exactly that is in your circle of influences. The second session looks to one’s faith. The work is unashamedly Christian.

The third section centers on the self – your “identity, ego, you, and all that God created you to be.” Section four begins to expand out by looking at your family. Life’s work comprises section 5 and is the longest as far as actual content is concerned. The final section is comprised of one page about “conversations with God” followed by 20+ pages of journaling paper.

Review

I would have loved to have seen more written in the section on faith. There is no gospel though faith (“in God, love, a dream, or a goal”) is discussed at length. The result is basically a faith in faith baptized as Christian because God has been capitalized. As a matter of fact, Jesus is never mentioned to my recollection.

The book centers primarily on you, the reader. This can be alright as it does give you a brief moment to pause and take stock of your life and look around to see how you are living before God. I believe there are more journaling pages than pages with content.

In the end, the presentation is excellent, the content not so much.

Recommendation

While the book will appeal to a wide audience, I cannot call it a Christian resource due to the lack of Christ and the gospel. In the end, I cannot justify spending $25 on this resource.

Disrupted by Gayla Cooper Congdon

DisruptedCongdon, Gayla Cooper.  Disrupted: Cultivating a Mission-Focused Life.  Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2013.  224 pp. $14.99. Purchase for less at Amazon.

Introduction

Gayla and her husband, Scott, founded Amor Ministries in 1980 as a response to need in Mexican orphanages.  Gayla oversses the staff’s spiritual health and communicates Amor’s mission to everyone who will listen.  She has more than thirty years of cross-cultural experience.  She enjoys disrupting people’s lives and challenging them to see the world through the eyes of Jesus Christ.

Summary

Disrupted is a 52-week devotional designed to center your thoughts and life on becoming more mission focused.  The goal, as I understood it is two-fold.  First, Gayla seeks to cultivate this mission-focused mindset for anyone looking to take a short-term mission trip.  To that end, she offers practical advice leading up to, during, and after the mission trip.  Second, the 52-week devotional is meant to prepare the reader to view life as one big missional opportunity.  In other words, you are a always a missionary if you are a child of God, born again of the Spirit.

Review

The advice at the beginning is very practical and is a great starting point as you plan on going on your first short-term mission trip.  The devotional, however, is the main focus of this resource.  In being 52-weeks long, it is meant to engage the reader for an entire year in order to cultivate the mindset of missions.  Each devotional is only a few pages and could therefore, in theory, be finished in 52 days.  They are full of stories from the field as well as passages of Scripture meant to encourage one’s thinking toward the mission field and the necessity of the gospel for salvation.

The clincher in this resource are the “Disruptive Questions” found at the end of each devotional.  These aid the reader in genuinely engaging and meditating on the necessity of missions.  Further, each month offers a life-challenge designed to help you continue living a mission-focused life.

If there is a criticism it is that there appears to be more hope in this book to disrupt the reader’s life for missions than the Holy Spirit.  While that is not necessarily the case, there are comments throughout the book along the lines of the reader allowing God to use this book to disrupt their lives for missions and the like.  This is not to say that Gayla thinks to highly of herself. It is to say, however, that the book publishing industry has once again influenced an otherwise solid book.  Anytime I personally read a book that winds up promoting itself in order to sell more books, I generally lose interest.  Instead of pointing us to more books and studies written by the author or published by the publisher, please point us to the One who will disrupt our lives as He did Paul’s on the road to Damascus.

Recommendation

Even with the above criticism, I can recommend this resource to anyone thinking about serving on a short term mission trip.  Understanding, of course, that you should read with discernment, there is some excellent advice by one who has spent a life seeking to live out the Great Commission.

The Work of the Holy Spirit by Octavius Winslow

The Work of the Holy SpiritWinslow, Octavius. The Work of the Holy Spirit: An Expermimental and Practical View.  Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2013. 279 pp. $9.00.  Purchase for less at Westminster Books.

Introduction

Octavius Winslow (1808-1878) was arguably one of the best known Nonconformist minsters in England during his lifetime.  He was so well known that he was invited to be one of the preachers to attend the opening of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle.  His writings are extremely dense though very edifying.  You can find more of his resources here.

Summary

Divided into nine chapters over nearly 280 pages, this is not a beach-reader.  Winslow begins by looking at the deity and the personhood of the Holy Spirit.  He next spends two chapters in what he call the Spirit a quickener.  In other words, it is the Spirit that wakes us up to our need of salvation in Christ.  Once we have responded positively to our need of salvation, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we then are indwelt by Him as He sanctifies us to conform us to the image of Christ (chapters 4 and 5).

The sixth chapter looks at the importance of the sealing of the Spirit for the believer – a very appropriate discussion given the conversations being had today regarding the Holy Spirit.  The witness of the Spirit, chapter seven, helps the reader to understand what being born again looks like and how the Spirit testifies to our new birth.  Chapter eight deals with the way in which the Holy Spirit aids our prayers and is, in many situations, the author of our prayers.  The final chapter is a wonderful treatise on the comfort provided by the Spirit in the life of the believer.

Review

As I stated in the introduction, Winslow’s writings are a bit dense.  This is only a problem for the reader who is not familiar with 1) the language of the 19th century and 2) the writings of those who have not been influenced by social media.  There are many instances where, with pen in hand, the reader will need to put the book down and meditate on what was just said.  The pen becomes extremely important as you will want to underline sections and write thoughts in the margins.  Often, Winslow must be read paragraph by paragraph and digested in sentence chunks.

Winslow writes this as more of an apologetic for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit than a class teaching about the Holy Spirit.  The problem in his day was that the workings of the Holy Spirit were under attack on all fronts.  As in our day, there was much unknown (either by ignorance or unwillingness to learn) about the intricacies of the Holy Spirit.  Winslow set out to defend this biblical doctrine while also wanting to teach others what the Scriptures say regarding who the Holy Spirit is.  He does so with great skill.

The beauty of reading The Work of the Holy Spirit is that it becomes part instruction, part devotional, and part meditative.  Part instruction because the reader will undoubtedly learn much at the feet of Octavius Winslow.  Part devotional because you will either only be able to or you will only want to read smaller sections at a time in order to digest what has been said.  Part meditative because his writings will stick with you in the coming days and weeks and months.  This will be one of those books you read that influence your thought so deeply that when you go back and read it again, you will find yourself saying things like “Oh, that is where that thought originated” or “so, that’s where that is found.”  

In the end, Winslow writes with deep conviction and perhaps an even deeper understanding of Scripture.  To be able to read more than 100 years later his work on the Holy Spirit in the context of the discussions taking place today is both eye opening and liberating.

Recommendation

If you are going to want to do a study on the Holy Spirit, Octavius Winslow’s The Work of the Holy Spirit is the best place to start outside of Scripture.  His treatise is thorough and, when all is said and done, easy to read.  I highly recommend this work to all Christians wanting to better understand the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

Freedom Begins Here Church Tool Kit

FBH CTKFreedom Begins Here – Church Tool Kit. Purchase at FreedomBeginsHere.org for $40.00.

Introduction

As I stated in the Personal Tool Kit review, pornography is one of the greatest cancers in the church today.  The same men who taught the personal tool kit also teach the church tool kit.

Summary

From the website:

The Church Toolkit equips churches with the resources needed to recognize and confront pornography and sexual addiction, as well as beginning the journey of recovery for those in need of help.

If you are a pastor or church leader wanting to start this conversation with your congregation, we encourage you to order the Freedom Begins Here Church Toolkit as soon as possible.

We have prayerfully labored over this Church Toolkit over the last four years and provided the seasoned perspective of relationship expert Dr. Gary Smalley and his pastor Ted Cunningham to lead you and your leadership team forward in the battle. With the clinical expertise of Dr. Mark Laaser and the help of pastors and church leaders from across the country, this resource will be catalytic to your ministry – offering practical suggestions toward creating a safe place for secret sin to be secret no more.

The Church ToolKit includes:

Leaders Only DVD: Dr. Mark Laaser’s Testimony, Self Evaluation, Leadership Accountability, Call to Personal Purity, The Challenge,

Assessment DVD: Characteristics of Sexual Addiction, Types of Sexual Addiction, Sexual Addiction Cycle, Family & Trauma Origins, Sexual Addiction Screening Test, The BIG Question

Solutions DVD: Solutions Overview, Corporate Help, ToolKit Components, Individual Help, When People Respond, “Undo” Music Video, Reflections of the Journey, A Spouse’s Perspective

Resource ToolKit CD: Icebreakers, Video clips for use in PowerPoint, “LoveSong” Sermon Transcripts (Seven-Week Series), PowerPoint Templates, Sexual Addiction Screening Test (Copy master)

Review

Again, as I stated in the review of the personal tool kit, the drive behind this is the journal.  The difference between the two, however, is that there is much more accountability in doing this as a group.  The benefit here is realizing 1) that you are not alone in this war and 2) you can confide in others who will hold you accountable and lift you up in prayer and support.

More often than not, churches have been reactive to this problem rather than proactive.  Often times this is due to embarrassment or simply an unwillingness to deal with a sin issue that the leadership struggles with as well.  Not dealing with it, however, is dealing with it.  Using the Freedom Begins Here Church Tool Kit will equip the men (and women!) of your congregation to either deal with the sin in their lives or to be prepared when this particular sin rears its ugly head in your personal or congregational life.

Recommendation

FreedomBeginsHere.org is full of free information and resources that will equip you to fight this battle.  You can order all your resources (sometimes for free) if you would like to explore their courses.  Personally, I highly recommend their resources as they are saturated with Scripture and contain genuine methods of overcoming sin in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Do yourself a favor and peruse the website knowing that Satan does not want you to.

The Heidelberg Catechism – The Banner of Truth Gift Edition

The Heidelberg CatechismThe Heidelberg Catechism. Edinburg, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2014.  88 pp.  $14.00.  Purchase at Amazon for less.

Introduction/Summary

From the foreword:

In the early 1560’s Frederick III (1516-76), Elector Palatine desired that his subjects be led to a ‘devout knowledge and fear of the Almighty and his holy Word of salvation’. He commissioned a group of theologians and ministers to compose a catechetical summary of biblical truth that could be committed to memory and be an encouragement to personal faith and growth in Christ. The final version was approved by the Synod in Heidelberg (1563), the city lending its name to the catechism.

The Heidelberg Catechism follows the pattern of the Epistle to the Romans. It opens with the question ‘What is your only comfort in life and in death?’, and then examines the realities of human sin and misery (Rom. 1-3:20); salvation in Christ, including faith and repentance (Rom. 3:21-11:36); and the Christian life of thankful obedience in response to God’s grace in Christ (Rom. 12-16). The catechism stands as a faithful testimony to the ancient Christian faith in its scripturally derived shape and content, and further expressed in its exposition and application of the Apostles’ Creed, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, the Ten Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.

Review

While there are many debates raging on the veracity of the Heidelberg Catechism, I will not delve into any of those here.  You can actually download the full catechism here. This review is going to be more about the presentation of this particular edition of the catechism than the content of the catechism.  Since it is a Reformed catechism, it will appeal to a smaller percentage of Christians than say the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

That being said, the presentation of this catechism is second to none.  It is part of a larger series of Pocket Puritans published by The Banner of Truth Trust and even smaller sub-series known as Gift Editions.  This particular edition has a tan leather cover with a durable binding.  The font size is readable and the Scriptural references are essential for the modern mind to understand the importance of the catechism.

Recommendation

I have reviewed most if not all of this series and have found them all to be extremely worthy of your attention. To be able to have the Heidelberg Catechism in such an attractive binding and to be able to have on your person at all times while you are memorizing and working through it makes this particular edition worth the money rather than printing off a copy on the Internet.  I recommend it to all interested in catechizing themselves, their children, or new believers.

 

Freedom Begins Here Personal Tool Kit

FBH PTKFreedom Begins Here – Personal Tool Kit.  Purchase at the website for $20.00.

Introduction/Summary

Let’s be honest, pornography is one of the greatest cancers in the church and world today.  It is destroying marriages, friendships, churches and ministries.  We are seeing the effects play out publicly each night in the news with the seeming rise in sex crimes.  Thankfully, there are a number of ministries looking to change this.  Enter FreedomBeginsHere.org.  Here is a video explaining their personal tool kit set.

Review

The personal kit is a 30 day, daily journey that will equip you to overcome your addiction to pornography.  Rooted in Scripture and designed to make you think each day deeper and deeper about the holiness of God and His view of the sin of pornography can and will be used of the Lord to be a light to your path as you seek to leave the dark world of porn.

The videos are co-hosted by Dr. Gary Smalley and Pastor Ted Cunningham with instruction from Dr. Mark Laaser.  The DVD is not meant to be watched everyday but is designed to be an encouragement and a challenge to your soul.  The work is found in the devotional journal.  In essence, if you devote the time you spend to looking for pornography to working through this journal, it could very well have eternal consequences.

Recommendation

While all may not agree with Dr. Gary Smalley (I have been critical of him in the past). He is in his element in this course.  Because it is rooted in Scripture, I can highly recommend this study to anyone, male or female, struggling with pornography.  There is a ton of information available for free on their website as well.  Check it out.  Indulge yourself and be free!

God Speaks by Ray Comfort

God SpeaksComfort, Ray.  God Speaks: Finding Hope in the Midst of Hopelessness – Life Lessons from the Biblical Book of Job.  Ventura: Regal Books, 2013.  224 pp.  $12.99.  Purchase at Amazon and on Kindle for less.

Introduction

I have reviewed a number of Ray Comfort’s books and resources.  Most of them deal with evangelism, but he has recently started to spread his wings so to speak with ventures into the field of apologetics with titles like Made in Heaven and now going very pastoral in God Speaks.  By far, and I do not think he would want it any other way, Ray is most known for his evangelism series, The Way of the Master.

Summary

Divided into 22 chapters covering the entirety of the Book of Job, Ray applies the principles of the Life and tragedies of Job to the modern reader.  To keep the reader’s mind squarely on the text of the Bible as Comfort seeks to teach it, every chapter’s title is “Job and…” Some titles include a look at karma, salvation, moral relativism, Lady Gage, Idolatry, Lust, the Holocaust, and even dinosaurs.

After reading the text of the book, you will want to read the Epilogue which is aptly subtitled, Save Yourself Some Pain.  Here, Ray brings everything together and explains how we can truly save ourselves unnecessary pain by continuing to seek the Lord Jesus Christ and what living a life set apart for Him looks like.

Review

Job is one of my favorite books to read when I am dealing with trials, tribulations, and tragedies.  God Speaks is written with the care of a pastor as well as the experience of a sinful human who he himself has clung to the truths found particularly in the Book of Job.  While dealing with 22 different subjects, Ray offers much hope through his understanding of Scripture in each and every chapter.

The reader might only want to read a chapter here and there, and that can be done effectively, but the pay off is when you read this work cover to cover and culminate with the epilogue.  After reading it like that, you will be better equipped to not only deal with your own trials and tragedies but be able to point others to the hope you have in the midst of their own hopeless situations.  That being said, this will be a resource that you should first read cover to cover and then go back during specific times in your life and read the individual chapters.

Finally, given the length of the chapters, this work could be read devotionally as well.

Recommendation

You will want to own a couple copies of this book because after you read it, you will probably want to give your copy away!  Ray speaks directly to the heart with God Speaks because Ray deals directly with the Word of God as he seeks to instruct and teach and edify the saints to biblically deal with trials and tribulations.  A superb book that is must reading for anyone who has ever suffered through a tragedy or will suffer through a tragedy.

The Gospel of Christmas by Patty Kirk

The Gospel of ChristmasKirk, Patty.  The Gospel of Christmas: Reflections for Advent.  Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2012.  169 pp.  $15.00.  Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for less.

Introduction

Patty Kirk serves as a writer-in-residence and as associate professor of English at John Brown University.  She has written a few other books all of which have her raw and real perspective.  They can be found here.

Summary

Patty has written a number of essays she keeps in a file marked “Advent.”  Thirteen of these essays have found their way into this book.  They come from many different aspects of the Advent season but all of them point to Christ.

From the back of the book:

A child yearns as at no other time in the days leading up to Christmas. That yearning doesn’t entirely go away as we grow older. It still lingers in the backs of our minds. We imagine that Christmas is mainly for children and our adult lives don’t stop in the way that children’s lives stop on Christmas morning, so we don’t give ourselves time to notice the yearning. But it’s there–hope mingled with anxiety about what lies ahead. In The Gospel of Christmas, Patty Kirk helps us get in touch with our muted hopes and fears and reminds us that they are met and given their resolution in the coming of Christ, which Christmas celebrates and Advent anticipates, and all our lives prepare us for.

Review

The beauty of this book of reflections is that it is Patty’s personal thoughts.  She does not claim to be a theologian only a Christian who enjoys writing and wants to write about the many and various things that prompts her to meditate on Christ and her (relatively) new faith in Him.  She doesn’t write for a specific audience.  Rather, she writes as one who is pouring her heart before the Lord.  This gives her an authenticity that many writers wish they had.

Are you going to agree with everything she says?  Probably not.  I didn’t.  That is not the point of this book, however.  Patty simply writes down her thoughts and has decided to share them with you, the reader.  Regardless, The Gospel of Christmas will help you to meditate on the importance of the season.

Recommendation

If you are looking for a conversation starter for the Advent season, Patty Kirk has written it.  If you are looking for something to help you meditate, this resource is for you.

Country Faith Compiled by Deborah Evans Price

Country FaithPrice, Deborah Evans.  Country Faith: 56 Reflections from Today’s Leading Country Music Stars.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013. 128 pp.  $12.99.  Purchase at Amazon and for Kindle for much less.

Introduction

Growing up, I went to church (even though I was not a believer).  Growing up, I also listened to country music (because I was a believer in the many of the messages being sung on my radio).  What I knew about country music was that there was a lot sung about God and country in addition to a ton of music about broken relationship and even some about long lasting relationships.  Even now as a believer, I still find many country songs resonate with my personal life though I don’t listen as much as I used to.  Country Faith brings both of these worlds together.

Summary

With fifty-six different music stars, Deborah Evans Price compiled a devotional rooted in Scripture complete with each artist’s thoughts as to why that verse is personally important.  On one page you have the verse and the devotional thought.  On the facing page, there is a glossy picture of the music artist. At the end of the book, the Gospel of Mark is included in its entirety so you can begin your own quest in seeking which passage in Scripture is most meaningful to you.

Review

I can already hear someone arguing against who was selected to be in this book to share their thoughts about their favorite passage in Scripture.  For example, Billy Ray Cyrus is included as is Wynonna Judd.  They have come under fire for their take on Christianity in the past.  Regardless of any of that flack, I found the work to be genuine and heart felt.

From Randy Owens of Alabama fame to Rodney Atkins and Phil Vassar and Charlie Daniels, the reader will enjoy some insight into the spiritual lives of many Country musicians from the later 20th and early 21st century.  My personal favorite was Alan Jackson sharing how his song, Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)? actually stemmed from his meditation on 1 Corinthians 13:13.  Watch the video from when he first sang this song:

Recommendation

This book makes a perfect coffee table book that will lead to many gospel conversations.  Not that the Holy Spirit needs it, but the star power in these pages can and will be used by the Lord to further His kingdom.  You will enjoy this book and it will make an excellent gift for anyone who enjoys Country Music.  I highly recommend this book to everyone.