My slight obsession with books and a few of my favorites

I love books…but I haven’t always. In fact it wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I really got into reading and learning. Looking back I probably could have been quite the nerd back then. However, like most people, I can only really apply myself to learning about something that I actually care about.

These days I can compare my book buying habits to my CD buying habits back in the day. I use to buy between 4 and 8 CDs a week when I was in high school. Why wouldn’t I? I had a crappy job and no real responsibilities, it was clearly the logical thing to do…

Don’t get me wrong, I still love and appreciate music, probably even more than I did when I was 16. Since then My taste in style and artists has grown and matured. Notice I said grown, not changed. I still love The Ramones, Black Flag, Rancid, Minor Threat, Figure Four, New Found Glory, Terror, Alkaline Trio and all of the other bands I grew up on. Thankfully through the years I’ve learned to explore music and art outside of just the punk and hardcore scene.

When it comes to music these days my wife and I prefer to just purchase the record (even though we still don’t have a record player yet), get the album online or purchase the CD at a show. We still occasionally buy a CD from the store, but not so much these days.

Anyway, back to the books. My wife and I have a pretty good collection of books built so far in our short time marriage. Even though we don’t buy books every week it seems like we add a few books to our Amazon cart and wish list all the time. I also have a bad habit of reading four books at a time, which ends up taking longer than if I just read one of them at a time. I just love being able to learn, grow and see different opinions and interpretations of scripture other than mine or what I already know and believe. By the way, the majority of books that I read are centered around topics such as the Christian life, church history, church practice and Jesus himself. I’d just like to give you guys a small list of my all-time favorite books (so far at least). These books have played a huge part in my life as a Christian and have revealed Christ and scripture to me in ways that have been challenging and really life changing.

These books are in no certain order of importance or favoritism, they’re just altogether favorites.

1. The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee

2. The Centrality of Jesus Christ (The Collected Works of T. Austin Sparks: Volume 1)

3. From Eternity to Here by Frank Viola

4. Christ the Sum of All Spiritual Things by Watchman Nee

5. Against the Tide by Angus Kinnear (biography of Watchman Nee)

6. Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna and Reimagining Church by Frank Viola (two different books but I believe they go hand in hand to create one complete work)

7. The Community Life of God by Milt Rodriguez

8. Created for Community by Stanley Grenz

9. Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

10. The Normal Christian Church Life by Watchman Nee

11. The Untold Story of the New Testament Church by Frank Viola

This list could go on but I want to keep it fairly short for now. I’m also sure that as the months and years go on this list will continue to grow and change. But for now these have been the most influential and helpful books that God has put in my path. I’m very thankful for all of these writers and what have given to Christendom through Christ.

What are some of your favorite books? (fiction or non-fiction, all time favorites)

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A Better Understanding of Ourselves

I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him. – Romans 12:3 (The Message)

I don’t usually read out of The Message translation of the Bible, in fact it’s probably been three years since I have. For some reason though, I pulled up Romans in The Message online and started reading chapter 12. A common practice I always did “back in the day” was to open up my Bible with no plan or direction and just begin reading whatever it was I opened up to. Sometimes by God’s grace the Holy Spirit would lead me to something that would reveal Christ in a new way to me. Then of course there were times where I would end up reading something completely irrelevant and quite disturbing, yes, I’m talking about various parts of Leviticus. You know, the verses you use to look up with your friends to get a good laugh. Anyway, back to my original thought, I opened up and began reading with no plan or direction this morning and found the above passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans. To my surprise I really enjoyed reading chapter 12 of Romans in The Message. Verse 3 in particular really seemed to speak something to me though, something that I always seem to be relearning and understanding a little more.

Our view of ourselves and the truth of who we are in Christ are in my mind of the most important understandings we can have as members of Christ’s body. In today’s culture we seem to measure everything  by our accomplishments and what we’ve gained. There are different levels of accomplishment and different ideas of success, but they all have one common aspect which is it all being something we’ve done as individuals. Something we have accomplished by relying on our natural or learned skills. It appears that the Church simply changes this practice of accomplishing things for ourselves to accomplishing them for God. We still measure our success by what we’re doing doing for God, as if anything we do in ourselves is worthy of Him. Therefore we can only understand ourselves by looking at God, by what He’s done and who He is, not by what we’ve done.

I love the way Watchman Nee states in his book The Normal Christian Life that “I cannot please God, therefore I will stop trying”. Some may reply by saying this statement is ridiculous and he’s being too hard on himself, but that’s not true. If we are going to please God then we have to stop trying. Anything that we do in ourselves is reliant on the soul and our dependence has to be on Christ alone. If we are in Christ then He is alive through us, He is living and we are dead. We can only measure our worth by what Christ has done and any good thing, any worthy thing that comes out from us is from Christ, not us.

To better understand ourselves we need only to better understand Christ. He is the source that our life comes from. We may screw up and rely on ourselves from time to time but our true nature is Christ, not the dead person that we use to be. Sometimes we need to only sit in Christ with little to no action and recognize our place in Him. Other times we need to walk things out in Christ, therefore taking more action. No matter what season that God has us in, it must be lived out in Christ who is our only life source.



Leaving the Institutional Church

It’s now been about a year and 4 months since my wife and I left the institutional church. I thought it would be good and perhaps even beneficial to many to share in a little greater detail how and why we left the institutional form of church, what life has been like since we left and where we see God taking us. Please note that I do not want to discount the traditional church, I simply want to share my journey and what God has taught me during this journey.

From about the time I was six I grew up at a local church. I was in Sunday School, Childrens’ Church, Vacation Bible School, Youth Group and even took an interest in “Big Church” (this is what the adult service was known as to the kids). I grew up and was what I believe to be a typical church kid. I eventually lost interest and faith in God but stayed involved, putting on a nice face for everyone at church. About halfway through high school, the Lord used who is now one of my closest friends to show me who Christ really is. From that point on I stayed very involved in the church I grew up at. God did great things and really showed His grace to me and revealed Christ to me while I was there. I was in the youth’s worship band, I was a youth leader and at one point I even considered it may be God’s will for me to become a youth pastor. I’m not going to lie, God did great things with me and many others there at the time, but eventually something in me changed and the sweet excitement of being involved at this church quickly became bitter and I began questioning things I had never questioned before, not even when I was blatantly living in opposition toward Christ.

The age old statement that “there must be more to this” became prevalent in my mind. I began looking at and analyzing everything I experienced from the outside in and questioning it all, and of course as any good church going Christian, I kept it all to myself. I was nervous to even tell my closest friends that something wasn’t right, that I believed everything we were doing was all wrong, besides, it’s not like I had a solution. Finally, during a conversation with two close friends, it came up. Turns out that they had felt the same way I felt. They had even been struggling for about the same length of time that I had been, yet we all kept it to ourselves, I suppose for fear of judging one another. We then decided together to seek God about what were feeling through prayer and lots of reading of the New Testament, particularly the book of Acts. We quickly came across something Paul said in 1 Thessalonians:

…but test everything; hold fast what is good. – Paul 1 Thessalonians 5:21

Naturally, we began testing everything that we had known and grown up to believe. At times we would literally sit around, think of various church practices and then find out what it said about them in the New Testament, if anything. During this time we heard about a book called Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. Upon hearing some excerpts from Pagan Christianity I quickly went to Barnes and Noble to purchase the book because I believed I was in a place where it could very helpful. I must admit, at first it a hard read. The answers to questions I was looking for were difficult at times, much more difficult to digest than I had anticipated. After putting it down for a bit I picked it up again and started over from the beginning, it was finished in a week (I was working at a hotel at the time and had a lot of free time to read). The book answered many questions and excited me about exploring authentic Church life, one that is born of Christ and that isn’t man made.

After reading Pagan Christianity I quickly found a large amount of resources to better learn about this “organic church” thing that i kept hearing and reading about. Along with constant reading of the New Testament, I read many books concerning church life by Frank Viola, Watchman Nee, George Barna and many others.

I continued attending and being involved in ministry at this church for a while during all of this. Knowing for sure that I would eventually be leaving, I stayed for probably about another six months. I felt like God wasn’t ready for me to leave just yet, and I still believe I was there at that time for a purpose, even though I may never know exactly what that purpose was.

During all of this, about five and a half months before actually leaving all forms of the Institutional Church, I got engaged to my amazing wife. God couldn’t have brought her to me at a better time, we have shared this exciting journey together and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The wedding date was set for June. A couple weeks before the wedding, I met with the youth pastor, who was a good friend and was also the pastor that would be performing our wedding ceremony and told him that we would be leaving leadership in the youth group and leaving the church altogether. It was surprisingly a good meeting, it was nice to know that he trusted Jesus and saw Him in me enough to trust this decision and trust that it was God and not me. He still performed the ceremony and I still consider him a close brother.

So we left the church that I grew up at and haven’t been to a church service since then. I’m going to continue this in my next post by explaining what we have been doing since we left, struggles we’ve faced, our progression of mindsets, our changes of heart and where we foresee God taking us in the coming legs of this lifelong journey we have embarked on.

Our death and life in Christ as a historical fact: Part 2

Last Monday I shared two excerpts of scripture that relate to our death in Christ as well as our new life in Him. To recap, here are the excerpts again:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. – Romans 6:3-11

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

One thing that really sticks out to me in Paul’s letter to the Romans is the vocabulary that he uses. In the above passage from Romans 6, Paul uses past tense vocabulary such as “if we have been united with Him” and “our old self was crucified with Him”. This wording is important because it shows that Paul is talking about past events, this means that our old self being crucified is a past event, something historical that happened long ago. We were crucified when Christ was crucified, we were in Him at the time He was crucified.

In understanding that our death in Christ is something historical that happened in the past our prayers can change from “Lord, please kill me and live through me” to “Lord, help me to remember my place in you, my new nature which is Christ”. Our old man has died and Christ is alive through us. Therefore the problem isn’t that our old man must constantly die but that we must remember that the old man is already dead and Christ is alive in his place and walk in that truth.

You may say, however, that Paul “died daily” therefore death to ourselves is a constant thing, something that happens when we wake up every morning. It’s true, we must die daily and put to death the remnants of our old self. We must submit our desires to the Lord everyday because I for one have a lot of hopes and dreams that may or may not align with God’s vision. Those things must be put to death. But i believe that those things are put death naturally when our mindset and focus is on Christ. As we constantly remember our place in Christ and allow Him to live all else falls away.

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

There’s so much more to be said on this topic. The above is simply a starting point, understanding our place in Christ is something that is essential to our life. This is something that the Spirit repeatedly reminds me of so I’m sure more posts will follow on this subject. But above all else, seek God on this matter for yourself. Read the above scriptures in their full context and allow the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal this to you and your tribe. I know there is a lot more scripture that directly relates to this, what are some that God has used to teach you these things?

Again, I highly recommend that you read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee for more teaching on the subject of our death and life in Christ.