Alive in Him by Gloria Furman

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I received a copy of Alive in Him from the Publisher for the purpose of reviewing.  The thoughts and opinions in this piece are my own.

On my flight out to Indiana, for The Gospel Coalition Conference, I brought my copy of Alive in Him by Gloria Furman.  Coincidentally, the theme of the conference plenary sessions was unpacking the book of Galatians.  And, here I find myself reading about it’s neighboring book Ephesians.

Alive in Him is an exploration of the book of Ephesians, and was designed to be read along side an open Bible.  I’ve been a fan of Gloria Furman for quite some time, and I love her intelligent writing style.  She tackles the Scriptures beautifully without underestimating the readers ability to comprehend.  Yet her written word flows with grace, beauty, and femininity.

You can tell that Gloria Furman loves the Word, and desires her readers to understand the depths of God’s promises to His children of redemption.  Then she takes this information and packages it in a way that makes it relatable to our every day life… what does this mean to me today?  How do Paul’s letters to the Ephesians matter in the world, city, and church that I live in today?  What do these letters mean to my personal life and circumstances?

So why read Alive in Him?  If there is anything that I can say comes through Gloria Furman’s writings and interviews is that she has a deep love of God.  It’s not lip service, but genuine and infectious… you want the world to see that same level of love for God in your own life.  However, we must each come to that place on our own … where we truly “get it”.  That is why you should read this book, because Furman desires for you to see God’s tremendous love for you in the same way she does.

This walk through Ephesians presses you not just into how Furman perceives the text, but sends you directly to the Word for your own participation in the conversation.  She shares her wisdom and what she has learned, but challenges her readers to view the text and experience it for themselves.  This isn’t a one way teaching, with a professor standing at a lectern.  Instead you are almost transported to her living room, as if you have been invited to Small Group at the Furman house.

Her approach is kind, loving, and graceful as she unfolds the Scriptures before you.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is:

“The Holy Spirit will not allow you to live satisfied on the rubbish heap; he will nurture a longing for the City of God to beat in your heart.”

~ Gloria Furman, Alive in Him

And I think that quote really does justice to the theme of the book, to help you fulfill that desire to have the “City of God” beating in your heart.   If that is your longing, this book is a great start to put you on the path.

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On the Bookshelf, 2016

2015 is coming to a close, and if you’ve learned anything about me thus far… I like to read.  So, in case you are still contemplating your 2016 reading list… here is a sneak peak at mine.  There is a combination of books, including ones I think deserve a re-read.

I’m sure I will be adding some things to the stack as 2016 progresses, but it is a start.  HA!

For what it is worth, none of these are advertisements or sponsored suggestions.  They are not affiliate links, so I am not making any money off the recommendations. books2016

Since I am completing my Bachelors in Divinity, and I know that I will be continuing in ministry of some sort, I really wanted to take a look into the functioning of the church as a whole.

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I also got my hands on a book I’ve been wanting to read on Women’s Ministry and material that may prove to be a good resource for beginning a discipling program.

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I’m also going to be revisiting two books I’ve already read.  Mere Christianity is a text I read earlier in my walk, and I’d like to read it from new more mature eyes.  Authentic Intimacy is coming to my town in January and I want to stay acquainted with the materials as I promote it with churches, leaders, and women I encounter.25qbooks merextian

I’ve definitely been focused on my personal relationship to God, especially now in a light of transition.  I know that God has something in mind, and sometimes I get a bit afraid.  Afraid of what He is going to ask of me, afraid I am not worthy of the calling, afraid I will fail, etc.  I’m looking forward to these 3 books (and yes, 1 doesn’t come out until Feb 2016… don’t covet they neighbor’s books. )  Technically I read one of the books already, but I actually want to take my time and go through it again.

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After reading Don Whitney’s Praying the Bible, I want to explore my prayer life more.  I also have a heart for revival, and realized that in all of the past stories I have heard about revivals… they all started with a prayer group starting somewhere.  Prayer is a powerful tool in the belt of a Christian.  I long to understand how to use it to the fullest capacity.

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I am daily studying the scriptures directly, and I firmly stand on that being the primary way to study scripture.  However, I have always found blessing in other resources.  Two that I have heard great things about have made it to my list this year.  I’m not sure if I will attempt these on my own, or put together a study group (as of right now I already lead a Women of the Word study), I guess I need to pray about that.

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The other thing that is big on my agenda for 2016 is getting a better grip on my health, which I have known means reigning in my diet.  Having an autoimmune based thyroid condition means that I am constantly fighting against my own body.  It’s been a hit or miss on what works best for me, and I’ve been blessed to find an amazing doctor this year who helped me on the medication and supplement end.  Recently I was introduced to a plan by a friend, and I’ve heard good things from others with my condition.  So, I’m going to give it a try.  I bought the book & a cookbook.

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And to cap it off, I got another cookbook.  One thing most people don’t know about me is that I read cookbooks just like I would a novel.  I love them.  In fact I had so many cookbooks at one point, I had to pair down.  One of my favorite cookbooks was the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day cookbook, which is all about bread.  Great… but when the doctor tells you that you need to be gluten free… bread is a no-no.  Boooo.  Well, it turns out the authors came out with a NEW version that includes GLUTEN FREE recipes.  WOOOOOOO.   Merry Christmas to me.  If the gluten free recipes are anything like the original recipes, you’ll find me comatose in the corner … bread crumbs strewn about.

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So… what books are on your 2016 reading list?  Use the comment section to recommend something you read this year, that I MUST read.  Link to your blog with your 2015 or 2016 reading list.  Or, share which of the books I recommended jumped out at you as one you’d like to read.  Join the conversation, and let’s fill the bookshelves!  And you never know… there may be a drawing or two in the works!

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For the Love of Women’s Ministry

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This has been a very interesting summer, as I have been developing a Women’s Ministry college course.  I’ve been entrenched in books on every topic from Women’s Ministry leader books, to deeper books on the biblical stance on women as leaders in the church.  I’ve been digging into the scriptures, looking at historical evidence, and frankly…. my head is going to explode.  There is a lot of information rolling around in my head, and much of it has challenged and even changed the way I viewed certain topics.

It has also increased my passion for women’s ministry, but a different women’s ministry from what I have ever known.  It has also opened my eyes to some of the glaring holes we have in resources, as well as lifted my spirit as I have uncovered things in the works across the country that are going to turn women’s ministry on it’s head.

Women play a huge part in the life of their church, most recent surveys estimate women make up 55-65% of most congregations, additionally they make up about 80% of the volunteer force of the church.  This volunteer force are the ones responsible for teaching and leading other women, teaching our children in Sunday School, leading Kids Clubs, volunteering for VBS, and this is in addition to service like preparing meals for new moms, taking care of hospitality for Sunday morning, rocking babies in the nursery, volunteering for secretarial duties in the church, cleaning up the church, etc.

Yet, it is becoming more apparent, that the majority of these women who are volunteering to teach and lead are not being discipled for those positions.  Are we ensuring that our women are qualified to teach or lead, or thankful for the warm body willing to volunteer?  Are we encouraging our volunteers by equipping them with mentors?

Women’s Ministry has lost focus in recent years, becoming unbalanced in what they offer to the women in the church.  There are more social events, fewer study groups.  Study groups are focused on content from books, versus content from the scriptures.  We are studying books about the bible, instead of the bible itself.  We have lost our ability to interpret scripture on our own.  We come together for social events to foster community, which is important, but at the cost of spiritual growth.

Why has this happened? 

In part, it is because Women’s Ministry has no real support at the moment.

Women’s Minsitries are often independent ministries within the church, that exist in their own sphere.  Pastors, sort of leave the women to fend for themselves.  They lack invested guidance, and many are not truly clear about the church’s vision.  The goal of a women’s ministry should be to use their calender of events and studies to support the vision of the church.  But in order to do so, the leader team really needs to understand what that is.  We need our Pastors to not only allow women’s ministry to exist in the church, but also to step in and help mold it.  We need a Shepherd.

When it comes to resource materials on Women’s Ministry, much of what is available is very outdated.  There are books and websites that lean more toward party planning, and less about making sure our ministry is gospel centered.   Additionally, many of these books are out of touch with the current obstacles and difficulties women face TODAY.    We are lacking books of substance, that train us on how to be effective leaders, run effective and gospel centered ministries, how to minister to the women in our church, and with changes in societal norms…. these subjects are just going to get more confusing.

Women’s Ministries are being led off the cuff, wading the waters and uncertain of what to do.  We begin to mimic other ministries, or do age old activities because “that is what women’s ministry does”.  We are afraid to break those molds, because women won’t come.  Or, we want to… but we can’t get the support of church leadership because of the stereotype of women’s ministry in the past.

I spent the last week speaking to women’s ministry leaders across the country.  I wanted to understand what the greatest obstacles women’s ministry leaders face.  I received the same answers, state to state…. east coast to west coast.

1)  We don’t know how to reach the 20 year old women in our church.

2)  We don’t have a budget to work with, to get the materials we need.

3)  We don’t have support from our Pastors.

I reached out to a woman who wrote her doctorate thesis on Women’s Ministry, and sadly… she didn’t have an answer to these questions.  She confirmed that these are indeed real problems, on a board scale, but there hasn’t been an answer in the church.  She surmised in her thesis paper, the best way to address it was to step outside of the church and start a parachurch organization.

I was saddened that this was her conclusion.

Then I looked at the statistics on the number of women leaving the church, and began to wonder.

I dug a bit deeper…. why are women leaving the church?  Why are women not committing to bible studies?  What are we missing???

Spiritual Gifts.

We are missing the fact that we have a church made up of mostly women, where God has bestowed gifts upon them to use for His purposes.  We are not identifying them in the church, we are not developing them in the church, and we really are not using them in the church.  Women feel as if they have more to offer than child care and making coffee.  They have gifts of teaching and mentoring, that are being unused.  So they leave, looking for a place where these gifts will be embraced.

Spiritual Growth.

Women want to grow spiritually, they want to dig deeper in to the word, and they don’t know how.  We have failed in bible literacy for women, underestimating what they can and cannot do (or understand).  We offer them cake, but eventually they get tired of cake and then they stop showing up for study groups.  It’s because their spirit wants something more substantial…. they may not even realize that is what they are missing.  They do know the group is not meeting a need.  We need to create programs that address this need.   Not just asking for volunteers to lead studies, but identifying and training study leaders.  Give those without confidence, confidence.

Spiritual Community.

Something that really breaks your heart, is when you hear a woman from your church tell you that she is lonely.  Recently a well known author posed a question on her facebook page, she asked what was the one thing women felt they were lacking in their church.  The answer, community.  Women want to not just have a church family on Sunday, or bible study nights.  They want to go back to the earlier church days where we were a community who “did life together”.  Older women responded that they missed having lunch with the church on Sundays after services.  Another commented that in 10 years of being in her church, she had only been invited to dinner with another family ONE TIME, and that her invitations were going unanswered.   She lamented that she had a closer relationship with her “non-Christian friends” than those she worships with.

A women’s ministry needs balance, and needs to be Christ focused.

Have social gatherings, like brunches and ladies night out events.  This is where we begin to form community.  It is the place where we start getting to know each other, establishing trust, and building relationships.  Use these social gatherings as an avenue to tap into the spiritual gifts of the women attending.  As you learn of their spiritual gifts, funnel them toward study groups that will help develop their spiritual growth and maturity, and build closer tight knit community. It is here that women will begin to have deeper bonds and are given the ability to serve each other with compassion and love, counsel and guide, mentor and disciple.  Then, as we wrap it all together, we have built up women to serve the church.  Women who are committed to serving in ways that support the over all vision of the church.

As our Pastors begin to recognize this shift in ministry, where we are intentional about every event & study pointing toward Christ and supporting the church’s vision… I believe we will see greater support for the ministry.

The change must start with us. 

The great news is that there is a widespread recognition amongst women’s ministry leaders that there is a shift coming in women’s ministry.  The are organizations that are developing to train women’s ministry leaders, and provide support and encouragement.  Several are focusing on the Pastors, and getting them on board with effective women’s ministry.  Three books are currently on the market that should be in your Women’s Ministry library.

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As these various organizations and ministries complete their programs for Women’s Ministry trainings, and more support resources come available, I will definitely be sharing them here.

It’s time to look at our women’s ministry with new eyes.  There are many men and women who see a revival on the horizon, within women’s ministry, or at least with women’s ministry a contributing factor.  Churches can’t afford to lose their women because they feel unrecognized, under appreciated, and under valued.  And women, we can’t take a posture that we will just leave the church and do it on our own.  Let’s not divide our churches any further, but restore unity within the body.  Be a part of the solution.

BOOK REVIEW: The Hole in our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung

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This is a book about the importance of the gospel, being filled by the Holy Spirit to more toward holiness, understanding the balance of faith and works, understanding the importance of the law & heeding Jesus’ commands, facing the world that wants us to be anything BUT holy, repentance,  and the hope that while perfection will never be attainable… holiness can be found in us, through Jesus & He is our motivation for pursuing it.

In Regard to the Writer:  Kevin DeYoung

1) It’s not a short book, but not long either.  DeYoung does a great job of getting directly to his point.  Which for this reader, is HUGE.  You get enough information to drive home the point, without reading endless examples and illustrations.

2) The style in which DeYoung writes is comfortable & fluid.  You don’t find yourself back tracking to read a portion again because it didn’t click.  He transitions to new chapters and ideas smoothly.  His train of thought is easy to follow, as you move through the chapters &  DeYoung never loses track of the main idea of the book.

3) His word choice and sentence structures are familiar without being “dumbed down”.  My great uncle was a lay pastor, and I have heard him speak about theology a few times in my life.  Additionally I have sat in college classrooms with Pastors as teachers, and in churches where the Pastor has more degrees than a thermometer.  DeYoung clearly knows who his audience is, not over complicating thought processes, making relate-able parallels to every day situations and experiences, etc.  He balances writing for “every man” with doctrine and theological vocabulary that we should all be familiar with.  Yet, he makes a point of defining those words through the context of his writing.

In Regard to the Book:  The Hole in our Holiness

I often find myself looking to “experts” to get answers, in particular when I am having trouble understanding a part of scripture or Christian living.  This has a lot to do with my coming to Christ at a later age & possibly even more to do with my analytical brain wanting to get as many thoughts as possible on a subject.  What I tend to find in a lot of writings is that we assume a problem exists, we support with lots of scripture that it IS in fact a problem, throw in a bunch of stories of how others have had this same problem…. and yet fail to ever get to a real solution.  I end up no better of than when I started my research.

Fortunately, this book does NOT follow that suit.  DeYoung does a great job identifying the root problem, getting the scriptural support and even giving us some examples to build the credibility for his argument.  However, he doesn’t let it end there.  Nor, does he end the book with a simple suggestion that we should aspire to be more holy, or pray for it.  In fact, unlike other books I have read, DeYoung really put effort into clearly defining solutions and direction.

He identifies these solutions within each example he gives.  He wraps up the chapters with solutions to that particular facet or challenge to holiness.  Finally, DeYoung caps off the whole book with not only solutions but HOPE.  This book equally convicts us of the areas in which we stumble (or flat out ignore) in our pursuit of holiness, but also gives us hope in a God who sees our heart & desires to be holy.  You don’t walk away from this book feeling beat up, but instead it is more reminiscent of a locker room pep talk.  You may have fumbled.  But, the game is not over yet.  We are still in this.  We can still win.

Finally, the book concludes with study questions you can use on your own, or within a small group or book study group.  It is chock full of scriptural support and references, which are found throughout the text but also recapped in the final pages for quick reference.

Highlights from the Text:

Here are just a few excerpts from the book, that I hope will inspire you to pick up a copy for yourself.

“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.”    (The Hole in Our Holiness- Kevin DeYoung)

“The Great Commission is about holiness.  God wants the world to know Jesus, believe in Jesus, and obey Jesus.  We don’t take the Great Commission seriously if we don’t help each other grow in obedience.”      (The Hole in Our Holiness- Kevin DeYoung)

“Many Christians have the mistaken notion that if only we were better Christians, everyone would appreciate us.  They don’t realize that holiness comes with a cost.”   (The Hole in Our Holiness- Kevin DeYoung)

 

 

The Hole in Our Holiness

Kevin DeYoung

Publisher: Crossway   http://www.crossway.org

ISBN: 13:978-1-4335-4135-3