Books I’ve Read Recently

51bwcrvgAhL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi. This book is the story of how a devote Muslim came to faith in Christ. Qureshi walks the reader through his journey of moving from a Muslim who adamantly argued against Christianity to someone who finds that Christianity is actually true. Qureshi’s story was an encouraging and enjoyable read. His story shows the power of the Gospel and effectiveness of Christians loving unbelievers and dialoging with them about their faith. Qureshi also writes this book in a way that helps the reader understand the basic ideas of Isalm. He includes definitions and explanations for most Islamic words and sayings he uses throughout the book. The reader comes away from this book not only informed about Qureshi’s faith journey but also the beliefs behind the Islamic faith.

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Know Doubt by John Ortberg. Doubt is not the opposite of faith or unbelief. Doubt can and many times does coexist with faith. This is what Ortberg argues in this book, which was previously titled Faith and Doubt. In this book Ortberg helps the reader understand how many times doubts come with true faith. He even admits some of his own. Unfortunately this isn’t the norm in most Christian circles. Doubt is seen as something we should suppress and not bring up. This leaves many Christians sinking in their doubt and wondering if they even have any true faith to begin with. This book helps Christians see that doubts are not always bad (even though it can go bad – that’s the subject of chapter 8) and many times is a part of growing and experiencing true faith. My favorite part of this book was chapter 3 where Ortberg explains what philosopher Michael Novak calls three different kinds of convictions – public, private, and core. This chapter as well as the rest of the book was fantastic. I’d recommend this book to both Christians and skeptics.

415TVIGI1PL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur. Similar to the book above, this book deals with the issue of doubt. This book however focuses specifically on doubt in regards to salvation. MacAthur believes many true believers lack assurance of their salvation (page 9-10). With a very pastoral and shepherding tone, MaArthurs spends his time in this book helping Christians understand the security of their salvation and how they can know for sure if they have experienced true salvation. My favorite part of this book was part 2 where MacArthur shares eleven tests from 1 John that can be used to evaluate the genuineness of your salvation. Overall this was a solid book on the subject of doubt and the assurance of salvation. I’d recommend them book to anyone who has or is struggling with this issue.

Next up on my reading list is Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson.

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Do You Have a Plan for Students Who Come to Faith?

new_christians_341241708The most rewarding thing for a student pastor is seeing a student come to faith in Christ. But when a student comes to Christ, that’s only the beginning. Of course, rejoice and celebrate with them, but don’t leave them there. We need to have a plan in place to help students who come to Christ move forward in their new life with Christ.

A few weeks ago one of our students came to faith in Christ on our high school missions trip. It was awesome to see this student, who has been part of our ministry for awhile, finally understand the Gospel and place her faith in Christ as her Savior. My wife and I rejoiced with her. The other students rejoiced with her. It was awesome! But I knew we couldn’t just stop at rejoicing, we had to help her build a foundation and help her get started in her new walk with Christ. As I started brainstorming with my wife I realized we didn’t have a plan. We didn’t have a process that we take students through when they become believers. I realized that if we don’t get a plan in place we will see students who are new to Christianity fall through the cracks and struggle in their new found faith.

I can’t speak as an expert on this because like I just said, we didn’t have a plan in place. We are currently working on one right now and using it to help this student grow in her walk with Christ. However, here are a few thoughts I’d like to share in regards to having a plan in place for students who come to faith while in your ministry. These are things I’m learning along the way.

1. Start the process quickly. Whatever your process is, whether it’s going through a book or getting them plugged into a small group, get things rolling right after the student becomes a believer. Don’t waste anytime!

2. Find a good resource. The process we are working with right now is having an adult leader of the same sex meet with the student one on one to go through a short booklet called First Steps: The Adventure Begins. This booklet is broken down into six short (I mean very short!) chapters that help a student understand what they just did and how they can start growing in their walk with Christ. So we have the adult leader meet with the student six times in a period of two months. Another great resource you may want to look at is New: First Steps for New Christ Followers by Youth Ministry 360. I haven’t looked into this resource too much myself, but my friend Josh Evans wrote a short review of this resource here.

3. Make sure they get plugged into your ministry. If the student is not part of your ministry or maybe only comes a few times a year, make sure they get plugged into what you are doing. Encourage them to become part of the large group and place them in one of your small groups. Becoming a vital part of community is key to their spiritual growth.

What plan do you have in place for students who come to faith in your student ministry? Don’t just make up a plan as you go, put a plan together beforehand so when a student comes to faith you can quickly start helping them grow in their faith.

Book Review: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by JD Greear

9781433679216Recently I finished reading the book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved by J.D. Greear. Don’t let the title fool you, the point of this book is not to discourage people from coming to Jesus, but instead, encourages people to place their faith and trust in Him and not in what many Christians call the “sinners prayer.” It’s a short book about doubt, assurance, and the Gospel.

I appreciate J.D.’s honesty and transparency in this book. In the first chapter of the book, as well as throughout the rest of the book, J.D. shares about his own struggle he had with doubt and assurance as he was growing up and into his college years. I can identify with his struggle and believe many other Christians can as well. J.D. writes this book with two audiences in mind. First, those who have said the “sinners prayer” and truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus, but still struggle with doubt. They wonder if they said the right words, were they sincere enough, did they really put their faith in Jesus, or if they were sorry enough for their sin. Second, he writes to those who have said the “sinners prayer,” but have really never placed their faith and trust in Jesus. J.D. says, “Jesus warned that there are a vast number of people who seem assured of a salvation they don’t actually possess” (pg. 4).

With those two audiences in mind, J.D. writes about what salvation really is and how someone can identify if they have been saved or not. Throughout the book J.D. communicates salvation in a very clear, Biblical way that I believe takes the focus off of the “sinners prayer” and on the person and work of Christ. He says, “Salvation is not a prayer you pray in a one-time ceremony and then move on from; salvation is a posture of repentance and faith that you begin in a moment and maintain for the rest of your life” (pg. 5).

This book has a great balance of theological meat and practical application. With chapters addressing questions like what is the Gospel? (Jesus in my place), what is belief?, what is repentance?, can you loose your salvation?, J.D. captures great theological truths found in God’s Word. Then J.D. explains the practical side of this issue. He shares practical ways from God’s Word to know you have been born again and what one should do when they continue to doubt (which is not to say the prayer again, but to continue in a posture of repentance and faith in Jesus).

I believe J.D. has written a great defense of salvation by faith in Christ alone and not on a “sinners prayer” ritual. Growing up in the Bible belt of our country like J.D. did, I have seen much emphasis be put on the “sinners prayer.” I have seen too many preachers ask people to walk down an aisle, repeat a prayer, and put more emphasis on that ritual than on faith in Jesus. This book helps us see the prayer doesn’t do anything, Jesus has done everything and all people have to do is respond to Him in repentance in faith. That may be done through a prayer or it may not. Salvation does not come through a prayer, it comes through repentance and faith in Jesus.

This has been the most helpful book I have ever read when it comes to dealing with doubt and assurance. It has been a helpful for me as I have had period of doubts in my own Christian walk and I believe it will be a great help to others in this area as well. It’s a short, easy to read book that will help you understand the Gospel and what salvation really is. Do yourself a favor and grab a copy of this book.

Birthday Reflections

Today I turned 23. It feels like just yesterday I was in high school and not being sure what I was going to do with my life when I graduated. Now, at 23 I just finished up college and about to start seminary. I am setting in a church office as a pastoral intern and waiting for God to open the door for a full-time student pastor position. As I sit here and thank back over my short 23 years, one word describes how I feel…thankful. Every year when my birthday rolls around I have different feelings about it, but this year I am overwhelmed with thankfulness for all God has done in my life so far. Here are just a few of the many things I am thankful for this year on my birthday.

My salvation. I am so thankful that before the foundations of the world God knew me and planned to save my soul! It was back in 2003, on SuperBowl Sunday, the Gospel changed my life and it has been changing my life ever since!

My family. If it were not for my family, I would not be where I am today. They helped me get through college and are helping me get through seminary. I am forever grateful for their sacrifice and loving support of all I do in this life.

My gorgeous fiancée. I am so thankful God brought Crystal Garofalo into my life two summers ago! I am so thankful for all the memories we made that summer at Skyview and thankful God has kept us together until today. I am glad I can now call her my fiancée and I am looking forward to what God is going to continue to do in our relationships as we follow Him.

My ministry. If you notice, I put family and fiancée before ministry because I am grateful God has taught me this lesson early: my walk with Him, my wife (soon to be), and family come before ministry. I will not sacrifice those things on the altar of ministry! However, I am so thankful God has called me into full-time ministry and can’t wait to continue serving Him full-time in the local church.

My education. For a guy who hated school in high school, it’s hard to believe how much I love school now. I am all about college and I am thankful God allowed me to earn my degree from a Piedmont International University, the best undergrad Bible education you can get! I am also thankful God has provided a way for me to get my Master’s through Liberty.

These are just a few of the things I am thankful for and I am praising God for today on my birthday. Don’t allow days like your birthday to go back without stepping back and seeing what all God has done. He loves us and continues to work in us, and for that, I am thankful.

What The Layaway Angels Teach us About Christ

If you have been watching the news for the past few days, you probably saw a story on what they are calling the “Layaway Angels.” It seems that all across the country people are going to their local Kmart and Wal-Mart to pay off peoples layaway accounts. People are shocked when they find out their account has been paid off. What I find interesting is how this story teaches so much about Christ, but many people miss that and say this story reminds them of how we should be “generous” during the Christmas season. I am all for being generous, but we need to realize the Christmas season is so much than just being generous.

The “Layaway Angels” remind us of the real reason for Christmas and it is not about be generous. We all are born into this world as sinners (Romans 3:32) and the price we must pay for being a sinner is death (Romans 6:23). The good news, the Gospel, is that Christ came into this world to pay that price for us by dying in our place (Romans 5:8). Not only did He die in our place, but He gave us His righteousness because being righteous, perfect, is the only way to be in relationship with a holy God. Christ, who knew no sin, became sin so that we could be given His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). The theological word for this is impute which basically means that Christ gave us His righteousness as if it were ours. So now we stand justified (“declared righteous”) before God.

Just like these “Layaway Angels” paid off the debt of others accounts, Christ paid the debt of our account, a price we could not pay. That is the reason we celebrate Christmas! We celebrate Christmas because Christ came into this world through a virgin so He could live a perfect life and go to the cross for us. Christmas is about the Gospel! If Christ were not born, there would be no cross and no salvation for us.

I think it is important to remind ourselves of what Christ did for us as much as possible. So when you hear about the “Layaway Angels” remind yourself of what Christ did for you. He came and paid off your account so you could have a personal relationship with God.

Here is one video you can find on the web about the “Layaway Angels.”