"Dwell is great for the spiritual disciplines of memorization, meditation, or study of Scripture. The reflection times range from 3 seconds to 3 minutes, giving you plenty of flexibility."
DIsclaimer: I received a free subscription to Dwell. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Dwell (Dwellapp.io) is a superb choice for listening to God’s word. To call it an audio Bible would be an injustice. As an avid audiobook listener and lover of audio Bibles, Dwell has much more offer!
Over the years, I’ve trained myself to listen to audiobooks and bibles because it adds to the quality of commutes, cooking, yard work, etc. There are many wonderful audio bibles out there, but Dwell has immediately become my favorite source for hearing God’s Word. Here are several reasons:
It excels in quality. The 4 voices are unique and well-articulated—and I think more are coming! I especially enjoy Felix’s African accent, but the other voices are excellent as well. The background music is custom made for the app and there are several choices, including no music for those who just want Bible audio. Unlike audio Bibles, the music volume can also be controlled within the app. The interface is well-designed and beautiful to look at—especially the custom playlist and Bible passage covers. Dwell does the small things well, and they’re constantly looking to fix bugs and make the app more enjoyable.
It is highly customizable. In addition to the 4 voices and 4 types of music, the speed of the reader’s voice can also be increased up to 2x speed, giving it the flexibility of podcasts and other audiobook readers. Once you’ve found the right voice and music, you can set a default for each time you open the app.
It has Bible Passages and playlists. It’s like the Spotify of the Bible with its many curated options. There are playlists and Bible passages galore. For example, you can listen to the story of Daniel and the Lions’ Den, sections of Paul’s letters, themes of wisdom from throughout Scripture, or keystone passages like “David’s Last Words”. You can listen to soothing passages of God’s peace and love or key insights from certain biblical authors. There are long listens which would be great for planned times of silence and solitude or grasping the big picture of longer books and sections of Scripture.
There are Bible listening plans. For those wanting to listen to the Bible systematically, there are listening plans that take you through the Bible or chunks of Scripture in set amounts of time. For example, there are Bible-In-A-Year plans, 40-Day plans with a focus on a given topic or book, and shorter topical plans to help you hear what Scripture teaches on that subject. There is also Siri integration for those who are working at being more hands-free with their phones. You can even set up a notification to remind you to listen to your plan at a set time each day!
Dwell Mode. Dwell Mode is incredible. It is definitely my favorite feature of the app! In Dwell Mode, you are able to select a passage, chapter, or book of the Bible to dwell on. After choosing a passage, you listen to it on repeat with reflection time between each repetition. Dwell is great for the spiritual disciplines of memorization, meditation, or study of Scripture. The reflection times range from 3 seconds to 3 minutes, giving you plenty of flexibility.
Pricing is reasonable. There is a free, limited trial of the app, but to access all of its great features, there are yearly and lifetime options. The yearly subscription is $24.99* per year (a little over $2 a month) and the lifetime subscription is $124.99*. That’s a little steep compared to an audio Bible, but the features, updates, and contribution to the future of Dwell are well worth the investment!
Hearing the Word is a great way to increase your Bible intake and get familiar with God's glorious Word—especially the big picture of His redemptive plan. If the price point seems too high, remember that many of us spend approximately $120/year for Spotify or Netflix. What if you took a break from those services for a year to invest in treasuring Christ more and enjoying His Word. Remember that it is sweeter than honey and worth more than gold!
*Pricing as of 9/19/2019
"Something Needs To Change is powerful. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s easy to read but hard to stomach. It’s worth your time, your attention, your thoughts, and your prayers. But remember one thing: when you finish reading it, something needs to change."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book. I was not required to leave a positive review.
Have you ever been to the Himilayas? Have you ever trekked to the peak of the pinnacle of the world’s mountains? I have imagined looking out at the vastness of the jagged, snow-covered peaks with their icy blue, cloud wrapped splendor, but I doubt I’ll ever brave the days of hiking, sweating, shivering, and struggling it takes to ascend such heights.
David Platt has been up the mountain. Though he didn’t trek to the peak of Mount Everest—a feat that has only been accomplished by fewer than 1000 of the billions of human beings to ever live—he travailed through many of the steep, narrow paths on the Himilayas to see God’s glory magnified in creation (Ps. 19:1). It was every bit as glorious and more, leaving him lacking in sufficient words to describe what he saw.
However, he encountered far more than just the life-altering, awe-inspiring beauty of God’s created world. He looked in the face of deep darkness that has overtaken humanity since that devastating day that Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. In Something Needs To Change: A Call to Make Your Life Count in a World of Urgent Need, Platt takes us on a visceral and introspective journey with him as he saw and felt some of the most shocking displays of spiritual and physical suffering on the planet.
Something Needs To Change is not your typical David Platt book. He admits that he has “taken a different approach in writing this book” because he doesn’t think we need “more exposition and explanation” (p. 4). He’s not saying we don’t need Scripture. He’s saying we need to do more than simply hear Biblical teaching and think, “wow that was powerful!” or “what great exposition!” only to walk away forgetting our reflection (James 1:24). He wants readers to apply the rich exposition and explanation of Scripture in real ways that impact the world with the gospel. He’s sharing how he learned this reality firsthand.
What did David Platt encounter in the Himalayas? A region of the world in which, out of 9 million people, there are likely fewer than 100 Christians. That’s 1/1000 of a percent of people in that region who profess to be Christian as compared to 75% of Americans. That level of spiritual darkness should make us weep. Most of the people there are either Buddhist, Hindu, or follow superstitions that have been ingrained in them since childhood. This led Platt to consider the reality of hell and the shocking apathy that he—and millions of professing Christians, including myself—is tempted to carelessly live with.
He also encountered a region of the world where approximately half of the children die. Many of them die of preventable and curable diseases that we blink our eyes at. A bout of diarrhea can turn into death in a matter of hours. Not to mention, the nearest hospital could be days’ journey down the steep and dangerous mountains of the Himalayas. Imagine carting your sick child for days to get to the nearest doctor’s office only to have them die on the way.
He met a man, Kamal, whose eye fell out due to an infection. He encountered a father who lost most of his children to cholera and his wife to suicide. He met a man who spent some of his childhood chained to a barn because of a hateful father’s abuse. He walked through villages absent of young women because they were forced to offer their bodies as sex slaves after being deceived into thinking they were going to help earn a living for their families.
A glimpse of this darkness led David to question his life and the work of ministry he had been doing. Why does God allow this to happen to others while he and his family have it so easy? How could he preach and teach about these realities while living in such ease and not urgently doing something about it? How could he, a pastor and author with seminary degrees and a prestigious position on the International Mission Board, see so much and not prayerfully do more? How could he see the physical needs and argue that only the spiritual needs mattered? As he read and journaled through Luke’s gospel, the Lord used His Word and the suffering of others to give him a new urgency.
Toward the end of his journey, he met people who saw the need for change and trusted God with their lives to do something about it. Of the numerous examples in the book, here is just one that he encountered at a small church in the mountains:
“Before the meeting, the church’s pastor had shared with me that his non-Christian parents died when he was just fifteen. A few years later, someone shared the gospel with him for the first time. He trusted in Jesus and was baptized, but as soon as this happened, the rest of his family abandoned him. His brothers told him to never come back, and he lost the inheritances his parents had left him. But this pastor and his people believe that Jesus is worth it. “Jesus is worth losing your family”. Then he quoted Mark 10:29-30…” (p. 102)
There is hope for the Himalayas. There is hope for our communities. Platt is not calling for us to move to the Himilayas or imitate his lifestyle and convictions. Some of us may need to move. Some will need to stay. All of us need to pray about what God is calling and strengthing us to do because He has created our lives to “count in a world of urgent need” (p. 195).
Platt doesn’t know the answer for how to change what needs to change, but He knows the God who does and he is relying on God’s Word to show him what to do. He doesn’t know where that will lead him or any of us, but he knows that God is calling us to play a part right now where we live.
Something Needs To Change is powerful. It’s heart-wrenching. It’s easy to read but hard to stomach. It’s worth your time, your attention, your thoughts, and your prayers. But remember one thing: when you finish reading it, something needs to change.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.”
Would you consider yourself a strong person? I don’t mean strong like the guys who can curl 135 pounds. I don’t mean strong like the insane (in a good way!) people who can do Iron Man or Tough Mudder competitions. Are you spiritually strong? When temptations arise, do you find yourself able to withstand? When trials come your way, do you meet them with confidence that you’re able to overcome them? Many times, I feel weak. This can be a good thing, if it leads me to humility. However, we’re called to be strong—though probably not in the way we would expect.
A Gospel Foundation
After laying out the rich doctrinal truths found in Ephesians 1-3 about God’s gracious and saving work in the gospel, Paul called the Ephesian church to respond in faithful obedience. He lists 41 imperatives for them to heed and obey by faith. These imperatives range from “speak truth to your neighbor” (4:25) to “be imitators of God” and “walk in love” (5:2) to “children obey your parents” (6:1) and parents“bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:4).
Finally, Paul says to the whole church “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (6:10). With all of the gospel he had already preached and the vast array of imperatives on how to be the church, Paul’s final section of gospel application begins with be strong in the Lord. I
If you’ve heard the gospel message: “for by grace you have been saved through faith” (2:8-9), then you know you’ll need the Lord’s help to obey His commands. If God had demanded that we obey His words in our strength, Paul would have never prayed that you and I “be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being” (3:16). We wouldn’t have a shot. Thankfully, God is strengthening us for the fight of the faith. Paul’s reminder to be strong in the Lord makes perfect sense.
What does it mean to be strong in the Lord?
First, it means that we are reliant on the Lord. This is God’s work upon us, not a command to strengthen ourselves. Paul is not saying, “look deep inside and find strength for this fight”. He’s about to shed light on our fiercest enemy—the devil (6:11). If you and I are going to have a fighting chance to remain in the faith and engage in spiritual warfare, we better look away from ourselves! The “ancient serpent” (Rev. 2:20) who deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden is more crafty, more ferocious, and far more powerful than any human being could ever be (except Jesus, of course). Left to ourselves, we would be better off defending ourselves against a mother bear robbed of her cubs. We know that usually doesn’t end well.
God didn’t leave us to fend for ourselves. Paul is pointing us to a power greater than our enemy to strengthen us. He is pointing us to the Lord. He uses a passive form of the verb “be strong” because the strengthening is not from ourselves. We aren’t going to the spiritual gym benching 300 pounds, chugging protein shakes, and strengthening ourselves. If we are going to be strong at all, we will have to be strong in the Lord. That’s encouraging for the children of Adam because we know how often we follow in his footsteps and eat of the forbidden fruit. We know how easily we buy into the allure of satan’s temptations. We know how weak we are. Without the Lord, we’re hopeless.
Second, it means that we have to actually be in the Lord. Being strengthened by the Lord comes from being “in the Lord”. 22 times in Ephesians, Paul speaks of the saints being “in Christ” or “in him” because he deeply valued the reality of union with Christ. In Redemption Accomplished and Applied, John Murray states that union with Christ is “the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation”. He’s not overstating the case. This union with Christ connects believers with the Triune God in such a way that we have access to the “Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead” because He dwells in us (Romans 8:11). It is through this union that we have continual communion with God. We draw our strength from that communion.
The key here is that we are only “in the Lord” if we have turned from our sin and believed the gospel message Paul spent the early chapters of Ephesians proclaiming. This union with God is unquestionably rooted in God’s election, but the Ephesian saints (and believers since the beginning of time) believed when they “heard the word of truth, the gospel” of their salvation (Eph. 1:3-14, Hebrews 11). By grace, through faith, we are saved. These are gifts from God, and through those gracious gifts, we are able to respond to the message of the gospel by professing that Jesus is the risen Lord and Savior. By grace, we can live a life of repentance in the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we can turn to God for the strength and trust that He will provide.
Cultivate a Dependent Heart
Being “strong in the Lord” reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us? Put simply: we are called to be dependent, prayerful people. This is a continual battle to see ourselves as we really are—as God see us.
How do we cultivate dependent hearts? Here are a few suggestions:
Are you strong in the Lord?
"Being strong in the Lord reveals our neediness. Unlike God is who is completely self-sufficient, we have to rely on Someone outside of us to sustain and uphold us. Is there anything we have that has not been given to us?"
"Sufficient Hope isn’t written simply to give moms tips to survive motherhood. Fox’s aim is to draw mothers to exalt God in their hearts above their schedules, activities, and to-do lists."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Motherhood is challenging. I see the struggles my wife faces on a daily basis and wonder how moms do it! Motherhood is often thankless and exhausting work. Yet mothers are not hopeless, even in their helplessness. Christina Fox’s Sufficient Hope: Gospel Meditations and Prayers for Moms is a powerful, gospel-centered reminder to mothers that Jesus needs to be front and center in their lives and work as mothers. Her message to mothers is simple: “Christ is to be first and foremost in our lives.”
Sufficient Hope isn’t written simply to give moms tips to survive motherhood. Fox’s aim is to draw mothers to exalt God in their hearts above their schedules, activities, and to-do lists. She makes clear that “this book is about the gospel’s sufficiency to give moms hope in their motherhood” because the demands and pressures of life often seem to choke out every bit of hope you have.
That pile of laundry will still stare you down as you walk by, but Christ’s glorious grace will remind you that you’re worth more than folded clothes. The kids will still cry and beg for your attention, but you’ll be reminded that dwelling with Christ helps you love them when your energy is sapped and you just need a nap. Jesus will be your hope even on good days where your head feels above water for a few moments.
Most importantly, Sufficient Hope will remind you that the ultimate aim of motherhood is to draw closer to Christ and point your children to the eternal hope that keeps you going every day. If you’re looking for a book that’s light on Scripture and heavy on lifehacks, tips, and ideas, this isn’t the book you’re looking for—but please still pick it up!
Each chapter opens with a quote from an excellent pastor or author to stir up your thoughts and give you something to ponder. Saturated with scripture, Sufficient Hope, points beyond Fox’s experiences to her Anchor—Jesus Christ. Each chapter ends with some application questions and extended study followed by a gospel-saturated prayer to help mothers seek the Lord and cast your anxieties on Him.
Fox is engaging, practical, and uses plenty of illustrations to help you see that she is in the trenches of motherhood with you. She’s not the supermom type who writes only from success. She struggles, too, and she’s willing to let you know that. She’s also willing to share what God showed her in those tough moments.
Grab a copy for yourself, your wife, or a mother who needs to be reminded of the hope found in Jesus Christ! You won’t go wrong!
"Beeke and Smalley unashamedly desire theology to be practiced, and they make it clear through the doxological and practical layout of this book."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Systematic theology is important in helping us see what the Bible teaches on a particular topic or theme in scripture. Ranging from the existence of God to the coming of Christ, systematic theologies help us grasp the breadth of scripture as we wrestle with the meaning of specific passages and how they relate to our understanding of the doctrines of the Bible.
Joel Beeke and Paul Smalley’s Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God is the first volume in an amazing corpus of systematic theology. It is accessible for every student of the Bible, especially pastors and teachers. While this is a new work, it is certainly not a novel one since Beeke draws widely and deeply from the wells of systematic theologians throughout history, especially those from the Reformed stream of Protestantism.
Beeke and Smalley’s introduction to theology is worth the price of the book. In this section, they lay out the importance of theology, what it is, why we do it, which theology we do, and how it’s done. Far from being dead orthodoxy, Reformed Systematic Theology is academic, spiritual, Christian, catholic (universal church), evangelical, and reformed (historically, confessionally, theologically, hermeneutically, polemically, and experientially). This funnel of doctrinal perspectives begins broad and narrows in on a rich history of theology which has benefited the church, especially Protestantism, for centuries.
The depth of knowledge in this work can’t be discussed at length in this short review, but what should be known is that Beeke and Smalley bring the wisdom of Scripture and witness of the church together to present theology in a richly rewarding way. Not only do they present scriptural passages and their interpretations as it relates to the various doctrines, but they also interact with objections to the biblical, orthodox, and historical understandings of the Bible. This is done in a humble and scholarly manner, leaving readers informed enough to wrestle with different perspectives without building weak, strawman arguments.
I deeply enjoy Joel Beeke’s preaching and writing because he is well-read and well-studied, yet his writing style is deep without being dry, and clear without being simplistic. As a lover of the Puritans and their writings, I also thoroughly enjoy the references to Puritan works as well as early church fathers, the Reformers, and modern systematic theologians. This breadth is enjoyable as it sheds enough light on historical thinking without becoming a historical theology and illuminates enough modern works to model and maintain the relevance needed to discuss the issues of today’s church.
As with much of what Beeke has done with his Family Worship Guide and Reformed Preaching, Reformed Systematic Theology features experiential theology. Each chapter of this book has songs for worship, questions for meditation and discussion, and questions for deeper reflection. Beeke and Smalley unashamedly desire theology to be practiced, and they make it clear through the doxological and practical layout of this book.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoy Reformed Systematic Theology: Revelation and God and look forward to the rest of the books in the series. Whether you’re a biblical scholar, pastor, or Christian who loves the Word of God, this is a great addition to your studies of theology. Lord willing, it will be one of my go-to systematic theologies for sermon prep, teaching, and deeper study of Scripture. It is obviously Reformed in its content, but don’t let this deter you from such a rich and valuable resource. It is a useful tool for the church.
"Nelson draws from the deep wells of Scripture as well as the writings of renowned saints throughout church history. Take the deep dive into the holiness of God!"
I received a free copy of this book from the author. I was not required to leave a positive review.
We all need a good dose of teaching on the holiness of God. In Deuteronomy 8:11-18, God warned the Israelites not to forget Him so they wouldn’t say in their hearts, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth” (v. 17). If the Israelites, who saw a physical manifestation of God in His rescue from Egypt and in His appearance at Mount Sinai, could fall away, how much more should we guard against forgetting? If they needed a reminder from God and “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Cor. 10:6), we ought to slow down and meditate on God’s holiness.
Allen Nelson’s Before The Throne beckons us to slow down and really ponder what it means to say, “God is holy”. He also urges us to pause and really think about how impossible it is to fully grasp God rather than assuming we have Him all figured out. If there’s anything to learn from this book, it’s that “the holiness of God is unspeakable” (p. 30). Every page is a powerful reminder that God is infinitely immense and too grand to figure out with our feeble human minds.
Nelson is not focused on bringing any new doctrines or theories on the holiness of God. He states early in the book: “there is nothing new I can tell you about God’s holiness that Scripture has not already plainly stated” (p.2). He draws from a rich heritage on writings on holiness ranging from John Calvin to R.C. Sproul, but his primary focus is on the writings of God’s Word. There is no greater source for discussing and describing holiness than to go to the Fountain of the infinite holiness who is to be desired and enjoyed forever.
The aim of this book is not a mere academic understanding of God’s holiness. This would totally miss the mark of Scripture and be an absolute failure! Rather, Nelson knows that “we were made to adore (God)” and writes from that doxological perspective throughout this work (p. 3). We are drawn to adoration and thanksgiving as we consider that God condescended to share Himself with feeble and sinful humanity. We are unworthy of such grace, but God has shown us Himself in His Word.
Each chapter has questions for group discussion or family worship along with a Scripture review section. This brings Before The Throne even more down to earth as it can easily be brought home to our daily life and our homes. And lest you think this book is solely focused on God the Father, leaving no room for the gospel,
Nelson brings the gospel throughout this book. Here’s one specific example:
“In other words, Christ took our place on the cross so that in Him God could ‘by no means clear the guilty.’ God punished our guilt in Christ, and by faith in Christ gives us Jesus’s righteousness as a free gift.” (p.112).
If you’re looking for a book to study that is rich with scripture and theology, this is the book for you. If you’re looking for a devotional read that will challenge you to love and stand in awe of God, look no further. Before The Throne packs a one-two punch of doctrine and devotion that is sure to bless many a soul. Though it’s deep and there are some technical words and mentions of Greek and Hebrew, it’s accessible, doxological, and devotional. Nelson draws from the deep wells of Scripture as well as the writings of renowned saints throughout church history. Take the deep dive into the holiness of God with Allen Nelson!
Do You Keep Your Bible Open?
Lately I've been keeping an open Bible on my desk at work. Before you think I'm being self-righteous, it's not an attempt to show off to my boss or coworkers, nor is it to "preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words". I actually got the idea after hearing about the devotional life of a godly man who mentioned keeping open Bibles around so he could be consistently in God's Word.
This tidbit of wisdom seemed genius, and I wanted to put it to the test. I recently read Andy Crouch's Tech-Wise Family and I'm finishing up The Common Rule by Justin Whitmel Earley. These books speak of the importance of habits and nudges that help guide our lives in the direction we want them to go.
So far, keeping a Bible open has been a great nudge in the right direction, and I want to share a couple of reasons I've found it helpful.
An open Bible helps me read Scripture more frequently.
Too often, I find myself confining Bible reading to a "quiet time". While I highly value having a daily quiet time with the Lord, there are nights that I stay up late and mornings that I sleep in. However, the blessed person is the one whose "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night" (Psalm 1:1-2). In order to meditate day and night, I need more than just a once-a-day encounter with scripture. I also desire to at least read and pray morning and night.
Keeping my Bible open helps me meditate in two very practical ways:
An open Bible leads to spiritual conversations
At home, if my Bible is open on my desk, counter, or table, I am ready to look at some passage of scripture to discuss with my wife and children. Some of the best spiritual conversations I have with my wife are when we are wrestling with a truth in Scripture that has perplexed us both. It usually starts out with, "this may be a dumb question, but...". It always ends in us discussing and searching scripture to find the answers. If I'm reading Hebrews 2:1 over and over, it may lead to discussion about how to guard ourselves against apostasy. That may then lend itself to some discussion during family worship.
At work, I am able to take a few minutes to read scripture on breaks or at lunch. When I’m actively reading and thinking about the Word, it’s more likely to mix into my conversations and allow me to witness effectively to my colleagues. While I may not quote a specific passage, I’ll certainly be reminded not to try to hide my faith or operate from a secular worldview. Rather, I’ll be more likely to let the words I’ve been glancing at to season my speech with grace. In a postmodern society, this will prove to be an effective way to witness to your coworkers.
An open Bible impacts how I live
It would be foolish to claim that the world doesn’t influence me throughout the day. From a tough student to a slow-moving tractor on a two lane road, sin is crouching at the door. If I’ve been reading scripture I may still fall into that temptation. But the chances of escaping temptation are higher when my mind is set on the Spirit and I’m putting my sin to death. How often have you found yourself in a temptation only to remind yourself of something you read or heard earlier in scripture? That’s the Spirit working through His Word to sanctify you.
If we strive to be doers rather than hearers of the Word, then reading the Word frequently will change how we live each day (James 1:22). If we are drawn to worship from a passage in the Psalms, that love for God will spill over into our work. If we have been convicted about not loving our spouse by reading Ephesians 5, that will change our home life. If we’ve just confessed pride, lust, or worldliness because we’ve been convicted by scripture, we will be more likely to forgive as God forgave us. The Spirit uses His Word in our normal, mundane, everyday lives to give us the holiness without which no one will see God (Hebrews 12:14).
Give it a try
Keep your Bible open for a week and try to intentionally read at least a verse each time you pass by. I am confident that your life will be impacted by it. If you’re like me and youve got a bunch of Bibles, set one in a few different places. As you go through your day—especially when you feel nudged to check in on social media or waste the time doing something else, take a few minutes to read a verse, think about it, and pray. Surely it will be beneficial to be with God for those few minutes, right?
What are some other small nudges or habits that have helped you spend more time in God’s Word? How have they benefitted your spiritual and devotional life?
Apostasy often happens with subtlety. Notice the signs and guard yourself against turning away from the faith.
"It is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign."
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I Wish I Had This Book Years Ago
I remember like it was yesterday. I had just moved away home for the first time in my life. I walked into a middle school gym in West Knoxville, greeted by a young guy named Wes. Soon after, I was approached by an energetic, red-bearded, bald guy who was the lead pastor Legacy Knoxville. His frame, reminiscent of collegiate distance runners who sport $400 Garmin watches and heart rate monitoring chest straps, was a picture of health! Since church planters are usually the crazy guys who have caffeine piped in via IV, work 100 hours a week, and somehow manage to keep their hipster beards perfectly groomed, I didn't think twice about Luke's health or ability to get the job done.
Months later, I was sitting with him at a coffee shop discussing a leadership cohort at Legacy and having accountability discussions with him when he told me the story of his burnout several years prior. I had never heard of burnout and still couldn't imagine a pastor being unable to get out of bed. God is sovereign, right? He can keep pastors from being weak and burning out!
Though I took Luke seriously, I couldn't imagine ever burning out. I was a millennial in the invincible stage of life known as "the 20's". Sometime after that conversation, I attended a conference called "How To Screw Up a Church" in which he discussed burnout among other topics. Still feeling invincible, I agreed with a close friend that we didn't need to be legalistic about sleep and diet because God will use us as He sees fit. If Spurgeon, Calvin, and Luther could survive on little to no sleep, so can I!
It wasn't until I moved back home, changed jobs, lost a cousin and grandfather in two months, starting raising my second daughter, and hit some significant financial struggles that I experienced a season of burnout. I wasn't even an elder yet, but I was preaching some, teaching Sunday School, leading a community group, and seriously discussing the possibility of becoming a pastor at my local church. At the same time, I couldn't sleep, my acid reflux was worse than ever, I developed some serious IBS symptoms that got me in trouble at work, my anxiety skyrocketed, and my energy plummeted. I couldn't figure out what was wrong with me!
I was I had Leadership Durability back then.
Leadership Durability by Luke Thomas is one of those books that you'll probably read through the first time and say, "Ah, that doesn't apply to me". Your pastor friends will, too. They will probably push back with some pious rejections about how we need to trust God more than diet, sleep, medicine, etc. I've been on both sides of these conversations, feeling overly skeptical sometimes and bitterly frustrated at others.
If Luke didn't write this book, I would be inclined to believe the same thing. If I hadn't seen pastors in my own life on the verge of burnout, I would think otherwise. If it weren't for my own experiences with overwork and constant stress, I would write this book off, too. It is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign. For many of us—whether we are leaders or not—the ominous clouds, cool wind, and rumbling thunder in the distance have been ignored for too long. It's time to take cover.
"I'm thankful to have met Luke, and it is my hope that you'll treat this book more like a tornado siren than a wet floor sign."
Some authors are unnecessarily provocative. Luke isn't one of them. Sometimes we need Terry Tate, The Office Linebacker (be prepared for some language if you look him up!) to slam us into the wall when we do stupid stuff. In many ways, Luke offers a much needed and well appreciated wounding to my ego. I'll leave you with a few examples:
As a hungry reader and semi-professional Googler, I do a lot of research. I found out the other night that mid back pain is a sure sign of cancer, even though it's likely to be a pulled muscle or minor strain that a chiropractor adjustment and some physical therapy can fix. I've read up on adrenal fatigue, burnout, fad diets and their thousands of alterations, masterclasses for more energy, HIIT training techniques, and much more! However, I've never actually been to a naturopathic doctor, read books and research papers on these topics, received extensive testing and diagnosis of issues, or worked with specialists in these fields.
Leadership Durability boasts a hefty lists of references from noteworthy Christian authors from Kevin DeYoung and Jerry Bridges to experts in productivity, nutrition, and health like Cal Newport and Ben Greenfield. Luke disperses technical language, relevant quotes, and clear explanations to help readers understand the nuance and validity of his recommendations as well as the depth of research behind them. Aside from reading this book, I now have a wealth of resources to dive deeper into specific areas Luke covered.
Luke Thomas pastors a local church. More specifically, he is one of the pastors at Legacy Knoxville, and he penned Leadership Durability with a desire to help other pastors and leaders lead well. He lays out copious amounts of scientific and psychological research to back his points, yet he is more concerned with being godly, Christ-honoring pastors. In order to do this we have to humble, and "the key here is to be totally honest with yourself, freely acknowledging you’re a cracked and imperfect jar of clay that God has grace and love for. Health and growth begins here" (p. 63).
In one of his frequent reminders to find true rest, Luke cuts deep and urges that "if you’re interested in avoiding burnout, or are attempting to come out of burnout, you must find rest, find it often, and do it to the glory of God!" (p. 174). He is not offering secular psychology or worldly self-help, because the results will only be superficial and short-lived. For pastors and godly leaders in a variety of fields, this is never enough. Rather, we must make it our life's goal to preach the gospel to ourselves and remember Jesus' powerful—and deeply truthful—words, "apart from Me, you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
If you're a leader, get your hands on Leadership Durability. We're not invincible and we're certainly not beyond the need to grow in some of the most vital areas of our lives. If you're not a leader, you can still benefit from much of what Thomas teaches here. Pastors love gifts, especially good books! Grab a copy for your pastor!
Leadership Durability by Luke Thomas will be released on June 28th, 2019. Pre-orders are available now!
I jokingly sent the following Father's Day sermon outline to a pastor friend who asked me to preach at his church on Sunday morning.
Three C’s of fatherhood are:
In reality, this isn't far from our culture’s view of fatherhood, and this deficient view has even crept into the church. Too many wives and mothers sit alone on Sunday morning. A woman begs her husband to come to church. She prays fervently to get him to show up on a Wednesday night. If she can coax him to lead a class one time, she feels like she's got the next John Piper!
Of course, I’m being facetious, but why are 61% of our churches made up of women? In a country with 97 males for every 100 females, why are so few men and fathers attending a local church? The answer vary, and pragmatism won't fix the problem. How men can be spiritual leaders in their homes when they're actively neglecting the local gathering (Hebrews 10:25).
There is a fatherhood crisis in our culture, and it's a not a social problem. It's a spiritual problem. God programs aren't cure, Good News is. The issue is more than mere presence, we have a problem of purpose.
Where have all the fathers gone?
We need fathers in our homes flipping through books and tucking their children in bed. Our children must hear the gospel preached and see God's power in their homes every day. Little boys long to see their father pursue his wife in ways that movies refuse to portray. Our daughters yearn to see a man who models the biblical standards they'll one day seek in a husband.
The world needs fathers who believe the gospel and point their children to God’s grace in their obedience as well as their failures. Are you doing your part?
Youtube is a double-edged sword. Anytime an average Joe can film himself on a smartphone and influence people, it's destined to fail miserably. However, Youtube is great for many reasons, especially my DIY needs. I'm broke and always looking to fix things myself.
When my dishwasher flooded the kitchen floor, some plumber taught me how to replace the gaskets that were leaking. When the dishes wouldn't come clean, another Youtube plumber taught me how to remove the milling blade and clear out the filters. I wouldn't call myself a handy man or Mr. Fix It, but I got the job done.
Too often we think the Bible is like Youtube. Something needs to be fixed and we've seen plenty of fathers go to church, read the Bible, and do better. It's a fatal misconception. While Christian bookstores and pulpits across the globe are filled self-help practices and DIY guides guaranteeing results, the reality is that the solution is outside of yourself. There aren't 10 steps or 5 C's to become a better dad. Becoming a godly father is often a grueling process of failures and success resembling a rollercoaster rather than a steep ramp.
Fathers, we need the gospel.
"A surefire way to destroy your home is to try to fix it yourself."
Without the Gospel...
1. Without the gospel, you are dead in your sins. Christ alone brings redemption through His blood (Ephesians 1:7), and we are all sinners who have earned the wages of death. Only Christ can bring us the forgiveness we vitally need. Until we believe the gospel and trust in Him, we remain dead (Ephesians 2:1). Not paralyzed. Not weak. Dead. Dead people don't fix things. A surefire way to destroy your home is to try to fix it yourself.
2. Without the gospel, you are spiritually fatherless. Through Christ, believers have access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). The Holy Spirit—the Spirit of adoption—in us cries out, “Abba, Father” to remind us that we are God's children. As a child of God you have a loving, caring Father who loved you enough to send His Son to die on the cross for you. God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and faithful toward His children (Psalm 86:15). Until you become God's child, you are a spiritual orphan.
3. Without the gospel, you have no power. If you want to live a powerless life, live a gospel-less life. You may be able to go to work, pay the bills, and berate your family into submission, but you’ll never have the power to be a godly father. You're weak and deficient at worst and self-congratulatory and prideful at best. Worst of all, you’ll never be able to obey the clear biblical commands. God’s power works mightily in the heart of every believer, building us together into a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:22). Left to yourself, you can do nothing.
4. Without the gospel, your message is hypocritical. Without believing the gospel yourself, you walk in contradiction each time you call your children to believe the gospel. You can tell them to love God, but you can't love Him yourself. You aren't being strengthened through the Spirit to understand the love of Christ that surpasses all understanding. Even a vast theological library and expansive knowledge of scripture won’t be enough to show your children the power of the gospel in your life. Only God can. He does this as you behold Christ and His Spirit transforms you from the inside out (2 Corinthians 3:18). Minus the gospel, your life will be that of a graceless hypocrite.
5. Without the gospel, you’ll have no victory in spiritual warfare. Since the Garden of Eden, we have seen Satan waging all out war on our souls, our families, and our communities. Unarmed and unguarded against our spiritual enemy, we are in a fearful place. In Christ you're guaranteed victory over sin and Satan—part victory now and ultimate victory when Christ returns. Not only did Jesus disarm Satan and his fallen angels, He has also already marched them around in a victory march broadcasting their shame (Colossians 2:15). He has triumphed over them in His resurrection, and in Him, you have died with Christ and been raised with Him. Arming yourself with only physical weaponry puts you in a losing battle on the defeated team.
"You may be able to go to work, pay the bills, and berate your family into submission, but you’ll never have the power to be a godly father."
Run To Jesus
You need Christ to make you the father you want to be. If you don’t desire to be a godly father, beg God to give you the right desires. The greatest need for you and for your children is that you know Christ and point them to Him! Don't try harder in your own strength. You need to drop to the feet of Jesus and cry out for help. Don’t bruise yourself and wallow in the mire of your failure. Instead, set your eyes on the One who bore the cross and despised its shame. Cling to this great Savior who brings forgiveness only through His name!
Take your fatherhood successes and failures to God in prayer. Confess your sins to God and earnestly seek forgiveness Turn from your insufficient fatherhood and cling to the heavenly Father who put perfect fatherhood on display. Pore over the scriptures and be the father God has called you to be.
Fathers, you are needed!