40 Questions About Salvation

Keeping this one simple… from the publisher site:

40Q salvation.jpgThis newest contribution to the 40 Questions series continues the tradition of excellent research presented in clear, user-friendly writing. 40 Questions About Salvation makes sense of one of Christianity’s most disputed doctrines, covering the most common and difficult questions about election, the order of salvation, and perseverance of the saints.

This volume will help pastors, college and seminary students, and all Christians who want to grow in their understanding of what the Bible teaches about salvation. Each chapter is succinct and readable, with a bibliography of additional resources for those who wish to study further.

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Lay It Down — one more introduction

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:13–14).

We read these words in John 15, and take great comfort in the fact that Jesus laid down his life for us, his friends. But if we truly belong to Jesus, guess what? He’s our friend, too. If we belong to Jesus, then we too are to take up our crosses and follow him (Matthew 16:24). Reread the above with that in mind, and follow the implications.

“And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:4).

The idea of laying down our lives for Christ’s sake may seem impossible, but it’s not just an idea—it’s our calling. In fact, it’s our lifelong calling, and beyond. It’s not only foundational; it’s eternal. It’s how we first came to Jesus, and it’s how Jesus continues to shape our will in union with His. It is salvation; it is sanctification; and it is the totality of eternal life in Jesus. Our lives have to move from being of Christ or for Christ to being “in Christ” (Romans 8:1, et al.), to the point where finally our life “is Christ” (Philippians 1:21, et al.).

createspace coverTherefore, in the posts to come you’ll find some pretty heavy ideas being . . . well, laid down. And why not? This is your life we’re talking about—and about laying down every piece of it for the glory of God. There’s nothing more important than that.

It’s not easy. In fact, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do—and if you do it right, you’ll get to do it every day for the rest of your life.

In some ways, what follows is meant to be very practical. However, the objective here isn’t doing. Before that, and along with that, each of us is called to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). We’re called to become the new creations Christ intends each of us to be, and to understand that we are new persons.

The challenge for me, as writer—and for you, as reader—is to avoid compartmentalizing these things into stages, steps, ten easy ways, etc. And yes, this is a book with a beginning, middle, and end; I am using a certain structure and sequence to make all this easier to understand. However, God doesn’t compartmentalize—because he doesn’t change. Repentance and grace go hand in hand. Obedience and freedom go hand in hand. Inner discipline and outward service go hand in hand. Walking in the Spirit and loving our fellow human beings go hand in hand. And we stumble away from God’s will for us when we try to separate these things.

Furthermore: Laying it down is not just about releasing our bad stuff, but about offering up everything “good” we have to God. Jesus, the ultimate good, offered himself up for us. Who are we to do less—and why do we think the ultimate results won’t be as glorious?  “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Many equate “laying down” with giving up—with being a quitter, or just passively letting things come to/at us. In some ways that’s accurate—for example, when God calls us to quit the sins and/or idols in our lives. But as we venture further with Jesus, laying down becomes less about ceasing some activity we’re doing, sinful or otherwise, and more about a different kind of giving up—the active surrendering of everything we do to Christ. It doesn’t mean we stop doing the good things we surrender to him, but it does mean that we give up control of those things to Jesus so that he can direct them, so that his will can be done.

Therefore, we don’t stop working, but we “work . . . for the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). We’re still parents and children and spouses, but our priority becomes glorifying God in those relationships rather than pleasing ourselves, or even that spouse or parent or child. We still use our gifts and talents, but we do it to serve God fully and not just for ego fulfillment—even, or maybe especially, in the context of “doing God’s work.” We still receive amazing blessings from God, but we learn to immediately place them back in God’s hands, knowing that even the people and things we love most were given to us for his purposes, and that our joy must rest in that, rather than in his gifts.

So let’s get ready to Lay It Down.

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Baja’s Wounded Healer: On the Frontline of the War on Human Trafficking

Virtually speaking, I’ve known John Stevens for close to two decades (although we finally met in person and ate fried chicken on my back porch last year — it’s all in the book . . . OK, briefly alluded to in the acknowledgements at the end). We share a love of alternative Christian bands (which is how we first met), and our share of other musicians as well (most notably Robyn Hitchcock and Alejandro Escovedo). He’s compassionate to a fault, crazy-smart, and . . . . well, just a unique character.

At the same time, I’ve been doing editing work for Deep River Books for more than half a decade now. They’re a “partnership publisher” that genuinely cares about the authors they work with (many of them first-time authors), and I’ve always had a good working relationship with them.

So after John’s invited me to edit his manuscript and asked about a publisher, DRB was an obvious choice. They’re two good tastes that taste great together. So mangia:

baja's wounded healerJohn G. Stevens. Baja’s Wounded Healer: On the Frontline of the War on Human Trafficking. 144p., $13.99, Deep River Books.

It’s a story of redemption and deliverance—in more ways than one. And I won’t lie: It’s a tough read in places. Dorothy Greatrex has been through a great deal in her life, and John doesn’t hold any of her story back. But it all results in God giving Dorothy a new heart—one that leads her to create New Beginnings Women’s Shelter in Baja California (now Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo A.C.—where he and his family are currently visiting/helping out as we speak). To quote the DRB site:

Baja’s Wounded Healer tells Dorothy’s story in two parts. The first section focuses on her wounds and healing—her childhood abuse, her struggles with God, and the rocky road to opening a shelter. The second section tells the stories of women and children who have come through her program, Mujeres Nuevo Comienzo: the woman who escaped fifteen years of enslavement; the mother who came to love a baby conceived in rape; the children who, after being victimized by a pornography ring, learned about “good touch”; and several others who escaped enslavement, abuse, and addiction.

Baja’s Wounded Healer is an attempt to bring attention to one successful battle against human trafficking. It aims to inspire many in the Christian church to become engaged in the fight. This book makes clear that one’s brokenness need not be a deterrent to reaching out and assisting in substantial ways. In Dorothy’s case, her brokenness is near the center of her success. The story demonstrates the liberating power of God’s truth in combating one of the earth’s great scourges.

That should be enough to tell you whether this book is for you. I’m pretty sure it is.

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Bible-in-Life Curriculum

Let’s ease our new audience in, with a somewhat small-group friendly curriculum (at least at the level I write for). . . .

Bible in LifeBible-in-Life. Student book $5.99; teacher guide $10.99. David C. Cook.

Bible-in-Life is a multigenerational bible study, from toddler through adult. Quarters are built around a given theme (as in the upcoming quarter shown here, Our Love for God). Everyone, kids and adults alike, learn the same lessons, and hopefully discuss them after church. Good discussion questions, and a welcome amount of biblical content.

I’ve been writing Bible commentaries/questions for the adult lessons (and on occasion, pieces for the weekly companion newsletter RealLifeDownloaded.com) for the past five years, and it’s always been a good theological exercise. I always learn something as I create these, and I bet you will, too.


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So, not quite as long time no see, but still…. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to keep, what to toss, and what to rehash. 🙂 And here’s where I’ve landed, on all my social-media fronts:

  • First: I don’t need three Facebook pages (and due to recent updates, FB’s kind of herding me into one place anyway).
    • Sadly, From Disciples to Disciplers has had its run (although it’s still available via Amazon/CreateSpace).
    • The other two are where it gets more interesting. Lay It Down got to the table with a couple of publishers (and was this close with one of them), and I know plenty of people who’ve gotten a lot out of it. Thus, I’d like to revisit it, and without some of the trappings that inspired it, so that’s it’s more “timeless,” as it were.
    • And then there’s the much larger site, Small Group Ministry — which was created, then fell into disuse nearly eight years ago, due to said trappings. Still, I’m the “owner” and there’s nearly 1,000 members, so why not leverage that and introduce a brand-new audience to Lay It Down (among other things—see below)?
    • Thus, I’ve started herding my From Disciples to Disciplers and Lay It Down followers over to Small Group Ministry — which likely will be renamed Lay It Down at the appropriate time. You can go there, too.
  • Next: My own “journey into trust” has me still working with a bunch of different Christian publishers and organizations — so, while it hasn’t been “a steady job” for years now, it’s been a constant one. And it IS what God called me out here to do, more than 13 years ago now, as harrowing as that’s gotten at times.
    • And lately, God has been encouraging me to treat my myriad editing/writing gigs more like the ministry it is.
    • Thus, another facet of this reboot will be to spend more time giving shout-outs to all the authors/projects I’m working with/on. I’ve done that in the past here with reviews of select projects. Going forward, they’ll usually be more like quick blurbs, but far more frequent. This way, everyone gets their day in the sun, whether they’re established names or first-time authors. Because (see again bullet point one), everyone deserves that.
  • Finally (and frankly): Given the amount of material that’ll produce, that gives me a year-plus to see what I’ve got left in my own writing tank. At that point, either we’ll be starting on a brand-new adventure or I’ll (hopefully) feel like I can . . . well, lay it down, without any feeling of regret.

So that’s what I’ve got. Stay tuned, and enjoy the ride.

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Long Time No See. Here’s Some Stuff to Read.

Hey there. Been awhile since I’ve wanted to invest energy in blogging (or really, had energy to invest), but this seems like a decent time to start dipping my toe back into the self-promotional waters.

But it’s been awhile — just about a year, actually. So, to start, here’s a little of what the past year has looked like:

• Work life being the most obvious. In this past year, went from being way-underpaid temp (the agency was taking about a one-third cut) at an educational publisher, to well-paid “permanent” editorial project manager there … to, 3 1/2 months later, being laid off with the entire rest of the editorial staff. (For those keeping score at home, this is the fourth department to implode beneath me in seven years. I’ve taken to calling myself Destroyer of Departments. :P). That said, said company hired me back as a part-time consultant at a pretty significant rate (and “I alone have escaped to tell thee,” i.e., the only one from said department still working for them). And with the project I’ve been working on for 2+ years wrapping up, am currently awaiting word on whether the next major project is a “go.”

• Freelance world has also ramped up, thankfully, so God’s making all this work. Although I haven’t been doing reviews lately, here’s a small sampling of the books I’ve worked on in the past year — with links if you want to pursue them:

And then there’s this one (which really, is what got me off my figurative butt to write Life of Paulthis), which I actually wrote (as in: authored) as said layoffs were going down and which comes out next week (go here to investigate further, and perchance to purchase). And for what it’s worth: It’s also kind of nice to be published in a book with a full-color interior — you don’t see a whole of that anymore.

In short, the walk of faith continues, and continues to produce fruit (in print form, at least). Tell your friends (especially if they need an editor).

That said, there’s at least one upcoming book I worked on recently that I’ll want to review when it’s available, maybe more. And maybe this’ll even inspire me to get back to some more original writing. In short: Stay tuned.


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Out of Our Heads and into the Streets

As a fellow introvert, the subject of this book really resonated with me. I can often fall subject to “the ruthless hum of dread,” as songwriter Terry Taylor once put it, and I found the insights in this book useful. It’s a great help in helping introverts “renew their minds” and head outward.

Jared Mellinger reminds us that introspection, in itself, is not a bad thing—in fact, it can and should be a part of everyone’s life. Unhealthy introspection, however, can keep us trapped in our heads and overwhelmed by self-criticism. In addition to crippling us outwardly, it also gives us a tendency to judge others as harshly as we judge ourselves. The key to this “relief from the burden of introspection,” then, is remembering our identity in Christ.

think-again-thumbnail__54712_1490985626_350_450.jpgJared Mellinger. Think Again: Relief from the Burden of Introspection. 192p., $17.99, New Growth Press.

As Jared puts it, “We spend so much of our time and energy making negative judgments, condemning ourselves and condemning each other. But when Christ comes, human condemnation gives way to divine commendation, and all those who are in Christ will receive personal affirmation from the King. Therefore, not only is God’s assessment of us more important than all other assessments, it is often far more gracious.” As he more bluntly puts it elsewhere, “We are unworthy, but we are not worthless.”

Thus, the book takes us on a journey “from introspection to Christ-ospection,” addressing related topics such as false guilt, developing a healthier sense of self-reflection,  the joy of self-forgetfulness, discovering the beauty outside of us, and ultimately (and most critically, in a practical sense) the need for community. And while it’s easy to focus on negative examples of introspection, there are many positive examples of introspection to be found here. I especially loved the chapter “Grace in the Mirror,” on this count, in its encouragement to not only recognize Christ in others, but to recognize it in ourselves.

I also loved (and on a personal level, have previously resonated with) the calling-out of the example of the psalmist Asaph here—”not your typical, enthusiastic, extroverted, rock-star worship leader[, but] clearly well-acquainted with depression, introspection, and melancholy”—especially in his exposition of Psalm 77:

There is unrest in his soul as he dwells upon his situation and his troubles. He tries to think his way out of his condition, but the more he meditates, the more miserable he becomes….

It’s not so much that we doubt the existence of God as it is that we doubt his goodness—his care for us. Why isn’t God helping me out of this? Doesn’t he see that I’m in over my head? Why is God doing this to me? Doesn’t he care about me? Isn’t he loving and gracious toward  me?…

The answer to these questions comes later on: “Because the darkness turns us inward, escaping the darkness requires a change in focus. This is the biblical process for escaping gloomy introspection. We fight doubt by feeding our faith. Christ rescues us by turning our thoughts away from ourselves.”

Framing this book is a suggestion from the nineteenth-century preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne: “For every look at yourself take ten looks at Christ.” Jared adds, “The antidote to excessive introspection is not to completely forget myself, but to look more to the Lord Jesus Christ, which leads to thinking rightly—and less often—about myself.” In the closing chapter, Jared cites Hebrews 12:1-2—“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith”—and ties it back to “the burden of introspection,” inviting us to something better:

“Every weight” certainly includes the weight of excessive introspection. Not every weight is a sin. But every weight is to be thrown aside.  If introspection is weighing you down, get rid of it….

To look to Christ as we ought, we must lay aside certain weights. Lay aside the weight of ego, which will only lead to the smugness of a fulfilled pride or the self-pity of an unfulfilled pride. Lay aside the weight of vanity, which will only lead to self-love or self-hatred. Lay aside the weight of false guilt, which will only breed discouragement and rob us of joy. Lay aside the weight of comparison, which will only take our eyes off Christ and the finish line and place them on others. Lay aside the weight of condemnation, which will only slow us down by keeping our focus on our guilt and denying the finished work of Christ for us.

Lay aside every weight, and run.

(Obligatory disclaimer: I was also editor for this book. Darn tootin’ I was. 🙂 And enjoyed every bit of the experience.)

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