[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

[Book Review] Not a fan. Kyle Idleman

Fans are people who cheer someone on from the stadium, but who you’d never see out sweating on the field. They maybe own jerseys of their favorite players, know all the stats, and never miss a game. But when the team has a bad season they are quick to jump the bandwagon and support a team having a more successful season.

Sadly, it’s how we see many fellow Christians. Maybe instead of jerseys they have t-shirts that say “Jesus is my Homeboy”, or sport one of those snazzy WWJD bracelets. They might go to church but then from Monday morning to Saturday night, there’s no evidence of spiritual fruit or that Jesus is indeed their homeboy. For this type of person, it’s more of a hobby than a lifestyle.

Our church most definitely has a disease. It’s not a new one, and in fact it’s been around ever since the days that Jesus still walked around attracting large crowds. It’s called Fandom and I’m guilty as charged of it.

Up until reading this book I would have told you with proud confidence (red flag #1) that I am most certainly a devoted follower of Jesus, not just a “creaster” (which is what he calls people that only attend church on Christmas and Easter). If you are reading this, I’m guessing you consider yourself a follower of Jesus too. But just sit back and imagine with me for a moment that every assurance of your being on the right path to salvation … is wrong. Just, what if – this whole time I’ve been thinking I was right with God but really was confusing my religion for true relationship with Jesus.

That is the premise of his well-written book – centered around the section in Matthew 7 when Jesus, frustrated with the opportunist attitude of the large crowds following him tells them plainly, “Look, you’re all calling me ‘Lord, Lord’, but the day is going to come when the truth will come out and I’m going to say, I never knew you, away from me!”

Whenever I need a slightly louder version to hammer a verse through my thick head, I turn to the MSG version. Just read Jesus in this translation:

13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

. . .

21-23 “Knowing the correct password—saying ‘Master, Master,’ for instance—isn’t going to get you anywhere with me. What is required is serious obedience—doing what my Father wills. I can see it now—at the Final Judgment thousands strutting up to me and saying, ‘Master, we preached the Message, we bashed the demons, our God-sponsored projects had everyone talking.’ And do you know what I am going to say? ‘You missed the boat. All you did was use me to make yourselves important. You don’t impress me one bit. You’re out of here.’

Lukewarmness in faith is actually the same as being stone cold in faith. Or as Revelation 3:16 puts it succinctly, “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth”. Jesus didn’t just want people to “like” his fanpage on facebook, he isn’t interested in your memorized scripture or impressed in how many charity events you coordinate. He wants your whole heart, soul, mind and life, to transform you until you are so much like him you gleam in perfection.

Although please understand, we don’t earn our salvation. Rather, we are expected to recognize ourselves as desperate and empty-handed and wholly in need of an overhaul, and then to allow God to change us through faith in Jesus and the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to work in God’s will for our good and the good of those around us.

He offers a very helpful set of questions to diagnose fandom, and help separate it from the outward “doing” part of religion. Each section should be read thoughtfully, and soberly. I definitely want to go back with a pen and spend more time answering his questions. Not only does Mr. Idleman address the state of the lukewarm Christian today, his writing style is enjoyable and easy to read. I have to be honest, I initially picked this book up because it was on sale for $2, expecting some punchy and quick encouragement to what I already thought I knew. What I found was a response to the disease of assuming. (you know what happens…) The answer: Don’t assume you’re good to go to Heaven holding your badge collection. The process of sanctification is far sweeter and far more worth the trouble.

You can get Not a fan. at Amazon here or at his site where he has small group studies and an accompanying journal.

He’s the God of my bookshelf, too

I love everything having to do with literature. I love the smell of books. I love stories that make you think. I love creating my own stories. I love drawing connections between stories. I love the way my books somehow find their ways onto the floor, flung over the sofa, propped open next to the kitchen sink.

However, like anything, there is a good sort and a bad sort of literature. I would venture to define the good sort as thought-provoking, motivational, beautiful. Above all, it should inspire one to praise God.

The bad sort of literature is the harmful kind. It’s the kind of thing that inspires and desensitizes us of the fact that sin is bad, not to be excused.

Before I go on, I want to avoid sounding legalistic, so suffice it to say that if you honestly think something might be harmful to your weaknesses or sensitivities, then maybe that is not the best use of your time. It’s your mind, heart, and soul before God and you should do what is most pleasing to Him?

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” ~Matthew 6:22

I bring this to your attention because of this excellent Christian response  about the latest fad in romantic fiction, the ironically named 50 Shades of Gray.

Then, a few days ago, I unfortunately stumbled upon something even worse, a pornographic novel about my very favorite author, Louisa May Alcott, the author of Little Women. She has been a heroine to me from childhood, and to see that some dirty mind has defiled her memory by writing 50 Shades of Louisa May, I was more than disgusted.

Hopefully this will provoke some thought on the subject, because the idea of putting junk in your mind has many more far-reaching applications than just books.

I invite you to meditate on the things that fill your eyes and ears. What do you allow to nourish your mind? Perhaps it isn’t so much harmful as it is simply empty. Could empty be harmful as well?

Surely, we shouldn’t be putting anything so unholy in our minds. That is definitely NOT an gray area.

Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. ~Philippians 4:8

 

Does God lead your writings?

Happy Sunday dear readers! I bring you an exciting and challenging realization…

We are starting a new sermon series at my church for the summer, going through this book. I am barely through the first part of the first chapter and I had to set the book down and blog about it! 😉

From the title, one can gather that the thrust of the book is about what makes a healthy church. At first I wasn’t so sure I’d be interested in such a subject, but the more I think about it, there is nothing more important to be aware of than the health of your church. After all, the Church is the hands and feet of Jesus in the world! We are the eyes and ears and hearts of God sent out to love in His name. If we and our congregations are on the path to destruction and blindness, we immediately become workers on behalf of the enemy. C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters come to mind. In that book (another one I encourage you to read!) demons are on a mission to cultivate an underhanded type of misunderstanding; humans sin but think they are doing the right thing.

If you are reading this and you don’t exactly belong to one specific church, or perhaps you don’t believe it’s necessary to belong to a church, I pray that God put it on your heart to still read this book! (Or feel free to listen to my excellent pastor’s sermons on the book starting next week at CBCSB.org)

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Now, the reason I’m so excited about the first chapter: Mark Dever says, an important mark of a healthy church is Expositional Preaching. Expositional Preaching is the practice of taking a passage of scripture and “throwing light” on it. [This is in contrast to Topical Preaching, which is the practice of choosing a topic and then going into the Bible to find all the supporting evidence for that topic.]

The difference is that Expositional Preaching looks to God’s Word first, and gleans all the nuggets of truth, versus already knowing what you want to say and going and finding verses to back yourself up. I realized, or God revealed to me, the major implications this concept has for the art of writing blogs!

If you have your own God-centered blog, this is especially for you: If you’re like me, you’re going through your day constantly mulling over in your mind anything that might be ripe for a post. Learning this tiny piece of Seminary 101 knowledge has completely changed the way I think about forming blog posts. What if…I didn’t already have an idea of what I wanted to write about, but let the Word of God lead me? Have you ever had a friend who dominated the conversation so much that you avoided talking to him at all? How much better if the other person were made to feel included. I’ll be the first one to admit my tendency to dominate my conversations with God, and leave him little room to respond to me.

Disclaimer! This is not to say that topical preaching is bad! In fact, we all need to hear what the Bible has to say to us on a particular topic. And like I mentioned before, I’m not halfway done with the chapter yet. So don’t stop your topical devotionals by any means! I only mean to bring attention to the type of thinking of which I myself am guilty – selfishly writing on topics that only interest me, and with which I am comfortable. My intention is to be more mindful of how I write and with what motivation.

Hopefully this idea is inspiring to someone! At any rate, I know that God works his power in us mightily, no matter what.

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose  for which I sent it. ~Isaiah 55:11

Pure worthiness

If you’re like me, you’ve probably already started about 20 books this year because you just can’t pick one. I’m the type of reader that reads multiple books at the same time. (Check out my Goodreads list!) Now, I was trying to decide on a topic to work on and I happened upon this book last night – Pure by Rebecca St James. It was definitely the Holy Spirit helping me choose because I wouldn’t have looked at it left to my own devices!

My new best friend for the next 90 days!

It’s a 90-day devotion-challenge for pursuing purity. And not just purity in relation to sex, but purity of heart, mind, and spirit. I love it so far. It’s an easy read, and she offers simple actions you can perform throughout the day to keep in line with the lesson.  Most importantly, meditating on the devotions is an easy transition to prayer-time.

Today’s thought was about self-worth. In spite of the knowledge that you are worth more than many sparrows to God, I tend to live in a way that assumes my own responsibility for making myself worthy before the Lord. And you can’t blame us; we live in a world that revolves around money, power, and status. I speak to the experience of my middle-class American peers, but I don’t doubt this is the norm in every place. We are necessarily driven by economics; it  all has to balance out. “Ok, you can pay this time but next time I’m going to pick up the tab” or “Why should I do all the work? He sits around and does nothing!” Probably the greatest example is Jesus’ story of the Prodigal Son. The jealous older brother is angry at his father for throwing a huge party for his unworthy brother who “squandered your property with prostitutes!”

But the father in the story, and indeed our Father in Heaven, is able to reach out and stop short our struggle over worthiness. He does this by sending Jesus, essentially saying, “Alright, NONE of you are worthy… so I’m deciding to save you out of your vicious cycle of death. Just believe in my Son and you will be saved.”

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. ~Romans 5:6-8

One think I know about myself: I’m good at studying but not so talented at application. In Attitudes of a Transformed Heart, Martha Peace makes the distinction between “head knowledge” and “heart knowledge”:

[A person] may have knowledge about the Scriptures, but does not apply it to her life or have affections for the Lord. Some people, on the other hand, seek to gain a “heart knowledge” solely through emotional experiences…No one can become more personally pure without first reading the Scriptures” (p. 89).

Dear God, you said that the pure in heart will see You. Thank you for giving us a desire to come closer and seek you. Thank you for allowing me to come back to you time after time again when I stumble. I pray for my sisters and brothers that they will be able to stop struggling for your acceptance and realize that they already have it through Jesus! If we can truly apply that thought, I think everything else will come naturally.