Digging Deeper: Summer Reading and other Resources

Woosh. I won’t lie. The Tension Points series we just wrapped up at South Ridge Church was tough. The two messages I (Pastor Justin) personally focused on — Grief & Loss, and Race & Racial Reconciliation — were tough topics. I think I put more thought, prayer, and time into crafting these two messages than I’ve put into any other messages throughout my time in ministry. But I’m not alone. I believe that the topics of the Economy, the Pandemic, and American Politics & Geopolitical Unrest were challenging for Pastor Daniel and Looch to teach as well. (If you’d like to revisit any of these messages, you can do so by clicking here.)

You may be thinking, Yes, the messages were tough, but good. And I’d like to really spend some time thinking about how I can respond to these and other “Tension Points” in a godly manner.”

If this is you, allow me to provide some resources you may find helpful. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend purchasing or reading all of them, but take some time to think about which one(s) may be most helpful for you. (And, of course, if you’re ever looking for another resource…a good Study Bible is always a good option.)

One book you may find interesting is Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference, Edited by Timothy Keller and John Inazu. What I love about this book is that it wasn’t written by one person, but a treasure trove of authors and artists who have a lot of experience in navigating difficult conversations on tough topics. It’s an eye opening read, and each chapter will surely provide you a lot to consider.

Of all of the resources mentioned in this post, this would be my top recommendation. We all occasionally find ourselves on uncommon ground with others. We all want to grow in responding in love. This resource provides a lot of insight, and goes to show that there can still be unity even when there is a diverse range of perspectives on tough topics.

Another book – which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this year is The Deeply Formed Life, by Rich Villodas. Here, Rich Villodas navigates through Five Transformational Values to Root us in the Way of Jesus. These values include:

Contemplative Rhythms for an Exhausted Life

Racial Reconciliation for a Divided World

Interior Examination for a World Living on the Surface

Sexual Wholeness for a Culture that Splits Bodies from Souls

Missional Presence in a Distracted and Disengaged World

Reading through The Deeply Formed Life is easy to do. Reading through it slowly, very slowly, and practicing putting these rhythms into your daily life is the greater challenge. However, those who do will find that practicing these values well really does offer life transformation.

Another worth mentioning is A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. Some books are good for a short season, and others have lasting strength. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction was first published in 1980 and continues to be one of the greatest books on Spiritual Formation. Why is it included here as a resource for the Tension Points message series? Well, like The Deeply Formed Life, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction focuses on key values that need to be regularly lived out in our lives. And as the title says, growing in Christ isn’t a quick fix. It takes…a long obedience in the same direction. It takes time.

When we are deeply rooted in Christ, we will be able to respond to difficult topics such as the Economy, Grief & Loss, and Racial Reconciliation well. And this book is one that can be read again and again and again. The truths provided here are excellent, and we need to be reminded them regularly.

One final resource to mention is The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby. Here, Tisby navigates through the history of the Christian Church being complicit in racial segregation. It’s a tough read, because the history provided here is irrefutable. While not everybody may agree with some of the proposed solutions Tisby provides, The Color of Compromise is eye-opening and will help the reader see a challenging topic through the lens of history.

I’ll be sure to throw out a couple of recommendations for the current Summer in the Psalms series soon as well. But if you’re ever looking for a resource on a specific topic, feel free to let me know.

It’s Time to Pause

Are you feeling tired? Stretched? Overworked? Anxious? All of the above?

In a culture that thrives on success and accomplishments it’s no wonder we occasionally find ourselves living at an unsustainable pace.

Fortunately, John Eldredge (author of Wild at Heart, Get Your Life Back, Resilient, and more) has created an app with the sole purpose to help you Pause once or twice a day.

As you may know, I (Pastor Justin) have regularly been an advocate for the Emotionally Healthy Discipleship material. And one of the key principles of Peter Scazzero’s work is that what we DO for God must come from our BEING with God. We are not able to give to others what we don’t have ourselves. As such, we must take in silence, be still in the presence of God, remember that He and He alone ultimately has control of the universe, and then we can live the life He has invited us to live.

Until now, I’ve simply used a timer on my phone to take opportunities to experience silence. But a few months ago I discovered the One Minute Pause app and have found it extremely helpful.

In this app, you will have the opportunity to build from a One Minute Pause, to Three Minutes, then Five Minutes, and then Ten Minutes. You may be thinking, There’s no way I can just sit in silence for ten minutes! but you may be surprised. Eldredge’s team has created a remarkable app that really does help.

If you’re interested, you can check out it here:

One Minute Pause on iOS

One Minute pause on Android

Talk About It

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

What truths from this week’s message and the Scripture readings impacted you most this week? 

Consider talking or meeting with somebody you trust to discuss what you’ve learned this week and how it’s helping you to grow emotionally and spiritually. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

A New You

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Romans 6:23b reads, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Our culture thrives on consumerism. For example, Amazon reported a 4th quarter revenue of 87.4 Billion dollars in 2019. 87.4 Billion with a B. That’s a lot of sales and consumerism!

It shows that, at least in our culture, we’re always looking for something new. So when we think about having a New Life, or a New Nature, or New Freedom, we may immediately think to ourselves, Sign me up! But…what’s it going to cost me? 

Romans 6 answers with the most surprising answer — it’s not going to cost you a thing.  

The very idea causes some to balk and walk away. Others may want more information, but in the back of their minds they’re still thinking like a consumer: Surely it’s going to cost me something. 

In reality, there is no cost. Jesus paid it all. But if you accept it, there will be a New You. And while the New You may not be everything you expected, it’ll be far greater than you could ever hope for.

READING & JOURNALING:

     ROMANS 6:12-23

In your Study Bible of choice, read through the commentary notes for Romans 6. What if anything did you learn about God providing you a new life, a new nature, and new freedom? 

Read Matthew 13:44. What do you think about the grace of God being a “free gift” (Romans 6:23) yet also paying everything you own (Matthew 13:44) to receive it? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, Your Word is clear in saying that the Gospel message is a free gift. It’s also clear in saying that I must give up what I think I know about You and about myself in order to fully receive it. Today, I simply acknowledge that I want to know You in your fullness, and I want to see myself as You see me. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

New Nature

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Romans 6:7, 19 reads, For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin…Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

The Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible7 notes that when Romans was written, many intellectuals would use the illustration of slavery to speak against wrong ideas. As such, the Apostle Paul uses a similar argument by saying, “You are no longer slaves to sin!” Those who first read his letter would have known the illustration and would have rejoiced at the thought that they need no longer be burdened by sin. That they indeed had been given New Life, and a New Nature

But Paul then flips the argument around and encouraged the Christians in Rome to be slaves of righteous living. You can just imagine them reading his letter and thinking, What?! You just told us that we had a new life. Now you’re telling us to be slaves again?”

But Paul wasn’t encouraging the people to be slaves of sin. Instead, he was saying to be slaves to righteous living. His argument was simple: Righteous living leads to New Freedom.

READING & JOURNALING:

     ROMANS 6:12-23

How does being a slave to righteous living actually lead to experiencing freedom and fruitfulness in life? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess that when I think about being a slave to righteousness, it’s easy for me to think about a checklist of what’s right and what’s wrong. But I’m continually learning that being a slave to righteousness isn’t about a checklist but is simply about me growing in my knowledge and understanding of who You are, as well as growing in my knowledge of understanding of who You have made me to be. I pray that the truths of who You are and who I am will open my eyes to the freedom only You can provide. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

New Nature

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Romans 6:11 reads, So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus.

One of the biggest questions of the Christian faith is, Why did Jesus have to die?  In fact, some of the greatest minds from the beginnings of Christianity through today have wrestled with this question. And while there is no shortage of thoughts on how to answer this question, many have proposed that it’s not the correct question. The answer is not that Jesus had to die. Instead, the answer is that Jesus chose to die. 

As James Bryan Smith writes in The Good and Beautiful God5, “The Father, Son and Spirit worked in harmony to reach out to a fallen and broken world in order to restore it. God did for us what we could never do for ourselves. The cross is a symbol of God’s love and sacrifice. Jesus assumed and healed our human condition, and in doing so he demonstrated the depths of God’s love for all of creation.”

Jesus choosing to die allows us to have and experience a New Nature. We no longer live ruled by sin. But ruled by grace.

READING & JOURNALING:

     ROMANS 6:1-11

How would you respond to a friend or family member who was wrestling with the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?”

What would you say is currently ruling your life (sin, grace, something else)? What impact is this having on your everyday decisions? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, I confess that it’s challenging for me to think about why Jesus chose to die. As I dwell on it, I realize that Jesus chose to die to take on the punishment for my sins. May the severity of this love and grace continue to change me from the inside out. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

New Life

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Romans 6:4 reads, And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.

It’s easy to see that our world is broken. If you were to ask any individual, of any sex, of any culture, of any social status, what is broken about the world in which we live, you would receive no shortage of answers. Everybody knows that the world is broken. Fortunately, Jesus provides a path to escape from the brokenness of this world. 

The Life Application Study Bible1 notes that for all who have trusted in Christ’s death and resurrection, God has provided a New Life, a New Nature, and New Freedom. 

For many, even the idea of a New Life sounds intriguing. For example, if you were to evaluate every area of your life — physical, emotional, spiritual, your thought life, etc. — you may very well start to think, Wow. If I could actually have a New Life, I think that could be very helpful! 

But Romans 6 basically says, “This isn’t just an idea. You can truly experience New Life.”

READING & JOURNALING:

     ROMANS 6:1-11

What are the first three things that come to mind for this question: what is broken about the world in which we live?

What thoughts come to mind when you think that your New Life began the moment you professed faith in Christ? It doesn’t begin when you die, but you’re living it right now? 

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father, today I simply want to thank You for providing me with a New Life. Help me to live today and every day knowing that the next life doesn’t begin when I die but has already begun. May I rejoice in this truth each and every day. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Slaves and Masters

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

One of the devotionals earlier this week noted that those who translate the Scriptures from the original languages into English have a really difficult job. Some of that has to do with grammar and punctuation, but other aspects are cultural. 

Perhaps one of the more challenging topics to translate from Hebrew or Greek into English are passages that focus on hard topics such as slavery. As people living in the 21st Century in the United States, we have learned a great deal about the atrocities that occurred as a result of slavery. So when we read in Ephesians 6:5, Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear, we may question what it means. Some may wonder, If our God is loving, why does the Bible have verses about slaves obeying their masters?

The short answer is that the kind of slavery that existed in the Old Testament differed greatly from the kind of slavery that existed in the Greco-Roman world. And both differed greatly from the kind of slavery that is part of American History. For Paul, he encouraged both slaves and masters to treat one another with fairness and to serve one another well. 

READING & PRAYERS:

     EPHESIANS 6:5-9

What is one practical way you can live out the main principles of this passage in your life today? 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, today I thank You that Your Word is appropriate for all people in all time periods. May I not skip over some aspects of the Scriptures falsely believing that they don’t apply to me. Instead, may I dig deeply into every aspect of Your Word and come to reflect it well through my words and actions. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Parents and Children

(Begin with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Raising children is one of life’s greatest joys as well as one of life’s greatest challenges. On the one hand, godly parents want their children to have good moral virtues and to grow in their love of God and others. On the other hand, godly parents want their children to learn how to think for themselves and come to understand on their own who God made them to be. This requires parents to hold tightly to their children in some ways, but also be willing to release their children to be on their own in order to discover their own beliefs, goals, and values. It’s a very difficult tension to manage. 

Because the Word of God provides wisdom to all people in all cultures, it doesn’t provide step by step instructions for how to parent. Nor does it provide step by step instructions for how to grow as a child. It does, however, provide wisdom that can be applied within each family and culture. As an example, children are commanded both obey their parents as well as honor them. While obedience may only be required until a child leaves the home, honor is an ongoing requirement that continues throughout one’s life. 

READING & PRAYERS:

     EPHESIANS 6:1-4

What are some practical ways you currently honor your parents? 

What are at least three additional ways you can honor your parents over the next few weeks? Be specific. 

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, today I simply pray that You will continue to reveal to me how I can not only be obedient toward my parents, but also continually honor them. Similarly, help me to live an honorable life. Not so that my children will honor me, but so that they will come to see Your love and grace through my life. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

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