Review | The Reason for God

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

by Timothy J. Keller

Summary (from Goodreads)

The End of FaithThe God DelusionGod Is Not GreatLetter to a Christian Nation. Bestseller lists are filled with doubters. But what happens when you actually doubt your doubts?

Although a vocal minority continues to attack the Christian faith, for most Americans, faith is a large part of their lives: 86 percent of Americans refer to themselves as religious, and 75 percent of all Americans consider themselves Christians. So how should they respond to these passionate, learned, and persuasive books that promote science and secularism over religion and faith? For years, Tim Keller has compiled a list of the most frequently voiced “doubts” skeptics bring to his Manhattan church. And in The Reason for God, he single-handedly dismantles each of them. Written with atheists, agnostics, and skeptics in mind, Keller also provides an intelligent platform on which true believers can stand their ground when bombarded by the backlash. The Reason for God challenges such ideology at its core and points to the true path and purpose of Christianity.

Why is there suffering in the world? How could a loving God send people to Hell? Why isn’t Christianity more inclusive? Shouldn’t the Christian God be a god of love? How can one religion be “right” and the rest “wrong”? Why have so many wars been fought in the name of God? These are just a few of the questions even ardent believers wrestle with today. In this book, Tim Keller uses literature, philosophy, real-life conversations and reasoning, and even pop culture to explain how faith in a Christian God is a soundly rational belief, held by thoughtful people of intellectual integrity with a deep compassion for those who truly want to know the truth.

Review | 3 stars

Annoyed isn’t strong enough a word for how I felt about the circular argument framing the entire first half of this book. It seemed that every chapter ended with the exact same reasoning… “If you as a non-Christian think I’m wrong for believing what I believe because I don’t know/can’t explain everything, then you are also wrong because you don’t know everything either! Ha!” How childish. The accusatory tone was condemning and close-minded; how ironic, as his argument centered around others being close-minded! I nearly put the book down and swore off Keller forever. Alas, I wanted to write a review, and my ruling is that I must finish to do so.

I was incredibly relieved to see some good points made in the second half of the book. The ideas weren’t quite thought provoking, but good enough for me to say that something was decent in the volume. I can’t seem to recall any big idea that great at the moment, though.

One quote that stuck with me (in a good way): “Sin is the despairing refusal to find your deepest identity in your relationship and service to God. Sin is seeking to become oneself, to get an identity, apart from him….[sin] is not just the doing of bad things, but the making of good things into ultimate things.”

Again, the latter half almost redeemed the first, but overall the book still wasn’t nearly as profound as others claim. I can’t put my finger on why this is so highly rated (not just on Goodreads, but Amazon, etc. as well). I am blinded by Keller’s pitiful circular arguments, and as a result, I can hardly see the good in the pages. All this to say, I probably won’t pick up more Keller anytime soon. 3 stars for a last minute recovery.

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Review | Grace is Greater

Grace Is Greater: God’s Plan to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story

by Kyle Idleman

Summary (from Goodreads)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God.” Over the centuries much ink has been spilled on the subject of grace. Yet perhaps nothing is as hard to explain as God’s grace. It doesn’t make sense. It’s not fair. It can’t possibly cover over what I’ve done. The best way–perhaps the only real way–to understand it is to experience it. But too often in our churches we’re not getting grace across and grace is not experienced.

Bestselling author and pastor Kyle Idleman wants everyone to experience the grace of God. Through the powerful medium of story, Grace Is Greater leads readers past their hang-ups toward an understanding of grace that is bigger than our mistakes, our failures, our desire for revenge, and our seemingly impossible situations. No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God’s grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story.

Review | 4 stars

Short read with real, relatable stories and good scriptural references. A great reminder of the grace given to us and HOW we can pass that to others. Well-written and practical.

Study | Church Beginnings

Acts 1

Human leadership is important to grow the Kingdom of God

Luke wrote the book of Acts to directly follow the events contained in his gospel account. Keep in mind that Luke is not a disciple – he did some serious research and interviews in order to present his two books to us.

In Acts chapter 1, we pick up where we left off. Jesus is resurrected, and he’s making sure it’s known! He spends 40 days publicly presenting himself as alive, and speaking to crowds about the Kingdom of God. Beyond that, Jesus spends intimate time with the eleven (the original disciples sans Judas Iscariot). He tells them to stay in Jerusalem until the baptism of the Holy Spirit comes upon them. More on the Holy Spirit and Pentecost next week!

Jesus spends time with his followers focusing on bringing all nations into the Kingdom of God through the Holy Spirit. The Kingdom is not exclusive except that he, Jesus Christ, is the only way into right relationship with God. Membership in the Kingdom is not limited to Israel, but is for all tribes and tongues and nations! And this is all possible through the Spirit, who dwells inside each believer, uniting the community into one Kingdom.

At the end of the 40 days, Jesus ascends into the clouds. What a marvelous sight! An angel visits the disciples to reassure them that Jesus will return the same way he ascended, referencing the events to come when Heaven finally meets Earth for good.

From there, the disciples take action. The eleven along with women including Mary the mother of Jesus gather together and pray. Peter says that Judas Iscariot’s place must be filled. While Judas ultimately made terrible decisions, the Scriptures still speak about him and he did share in Jesus’ ministry.

Peter references Davidic Psalms 69 and 109 (which foretell the emergence of and victory over the enemy) in making his case for Judas’ replacement. This new leader must have spent time with Jesus and witnessed the resurrected Christ to strengthen his belief and testimony to others as the church is formed. This reminds me of 1 Timothy 3, where Paul makes a strong argument that leaders in the church should not be new believers but should be seasoned to help others in their walk with Christ.

At the end of this chapter, two nominees arise: Joseph (known as Barsabbas or Justus) and Matthias. After prayer and the casting of lots (as this is how people sought God’s will before Acts 2/the Pentecost when the Spirit began living inside believers as The Helper), Matthias is chosen.

Questions for discussion:

  1. Who is the Holy Spirit and why does Jesus emphasize his importance?
  2. What type of person did Peter and the apostles want to replace Judas?
  3. Why does Peter emphasize human leadership?
  4. How are you a leader in your home, workplace, and community?

Reading | Week 21

Day 1 // Matthew 19:13-15

Spend some time thinking about whether anyone has ever turned you away from approaching Jesus. While I hope that’s never happened, we can take time now to think of those times or maybe when we’ve accidentally or purposefully rebuked people like the disciples rebuke the little children. Pray for grace and forgiveness.

Day 2 // Matthew 19:16-22

What earthly possessions distract you from seeking Jesus?

Day 3 // Matthew 19:23-24

Reflect on Jesus’ metaphor and apply it to your life.

Day 4 // Matthew 19:25-26

Why is it so important to remember that we people cannot save ourselves?

Day 5 // Matthew 19:27-30

How can you take last place today?

Review | Make it Happen

Make it Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live On Purpose.

by Lara Casey

Summary (from Goodreads)

You were created for a purpose, and it’s time to make it happen.

Make It Happen is the story of how I surrendered my fear, took the leap, and got a life. In my case, a perfectly imperfect, fulfilling life as a mama, a working woman, and a grateful wife. This is the story of how I chose to make “it”—a greater purpose than mine—happen, and how you can too.

Make It Happen is for

  • women who find themselves worried, anxious, and completely overwhelmed by the constant chase for perfection
  • those seeking the courage to jump into a new venture
  • working women who are struggling to “do it all”
  • weary wives and moms looking for relief from burning the candle at both ends
  • anyone who dreams of a life lived not by accident, but on purpose

Your time has come to take a leap of faith. Join me as we surrender our fears, end the chase for perfection, and say yes to cultivating the meaningful lives God desires for us.

You know all those things you’ve always wanted to do? You should go do them.

Review | 4 stars

As a person who has not read anything by Lara Casey before, I appreciated the marriage of testimony and practical advice derived from her experiences contained in this book. Lara’s writing is relatable for women in any stage in their lives. The format made sense and was easy to navigate. I also like the writing prompts throughout.

Study | Therefore

Matthew 28:18-20

Because Jesus has all authority, we are to GO!

In this story from the Bible, Jesus gives a command that is just as relevant today as it was when Peter and the other disciples heard it 2,000 years ago.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

The word “therefore” is used all throughout the Bible, and in our lives today. “Therefore” means that x leads directly to y. Simple cause and effect, right?

Even though Jesus speaks clearly, his command is not the easiest to carry out.

Jesus says that because he has complete authority, the disciples and all his followers are to go and continue going for all their days to make disciples in every place on earth. The Kingdom of God is not limited to peoples of certain races, upbringing, geographical locations, anything. Jesus is sure to say, make disciples of all nations!

He gives distinct instructions on how to make more disciples, expanding the Kingdom. Jesus directs the disciples to grow their numbers by baptizing people in the name of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. He also tells the disciples to raise new believers up by teaching them to obey everything he has commanded during his time on Earth.

Jesus, speaking from his place of power as conqueror of death, confers the holy purpose of growing God’s Kingdom to his disciples. He has established the Kingdom on Earth and now hands his mission to the eleven. Jesus gives them the blueprints, the plans to continue growing the Kingdom – by making disciples, and baptizing and teaching new followers. But beyond all this, Jesus provides sustenance to follow through on all these commands.

Jesus gives the disciples the promise of his presence. “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Be encouraged as you go to carry out this mission!

Questions for discussion:

  1. What is the Kingdom of God? What does it mean to you?
  2. How do you grow the Kingdom? Look at the main action verbs of the passage.
  3. What are we saying to Jesus if we do not follow through on those verbs? What does inaction say of Jesus’ authority over your life?

Reading | Week 20

Day 1 // Matthew 18:10-14

At this point in time are you the one the Shepard seeks, or one of the ninety-nine in full community with the flock? Do you feel like you’re a combination of both?

Day 2 // Matthew 18:15-20

Why do you think it’s so important that the church have a method of correcting its members?

Day 3 // Matthew 18:21-22

Do you ever get tired of forgiving? Pray for renewal and grace.

Day 4 // Matthew 18:23-35

Take time to read through this parable slowly. How can you take this lesson to heart and apply it?

Day 5 // Matthew 19:1-12

Jesus brings Genesis into modern context in this passage. How can you apply Old Testament truths like purity to your daily life?