(Review) Ephesians: The Love We Long For, Study Guide with Leader’s Notes by Scotty Smith

Publisher and Publication Date: New Growth Press. August 24, 2020.
Genre: Christian nonfiction. Bible study.
Pages: 160.
Source: I received a complimentary eBook copy from New Growth Press, I was not required to write a positive review.
Audience: Christian readers who love Bible study.
Rating: Very good.

For more information on the Ephesians study at New Growth Press.

Author Info:
Scotty Smith graduated from The University of North Carolina, Westminster Theological Seminary, and Covenant Theological Seminary (DMin). Smith planted and pastored Christ Community Church in Franklin, TN, for twenty-six years. He worked on pastoral staff of West End Community Church as teacher in residence and also served as adjunct faculty for Covenant Seminary, Westminster (Philadelphia), RTS, Orlando, and Western Seminary in Portland, OR. He authored Unveiled HopeObjects of His AffectionRestoring Broken ThingsEveryday PrayersEvery Season Prayers, and Ephesians: The Love We Long For. Scotty and his wife of over forty-five years, Darlene, live in Franklin, TN.

Follow Scotty Smith on Twitter (@ScottyWardSmith) and Facebook.

Summary:
There’s Nothing More than the Gospel
New Bible study of the book of Ephesians reveals the boundless, timeless, endless, bottomless love we all long for.

Am I loved? The central question of every human heart is answered with a resounding yes in Ephesians: The Love We Long For (New Growth Press/August 24, 2020) by Scotty Smith. Through this easily accessible, self-contained small group study, each participant will grow in their understanding of the riches of God’s grace and how the love of Christ shapes every relationship and interaction they have with others.
 
Smith invites men and women to reflect on the God of the Bible by reading the book of Ephesians slowly. Through the study guide, they will discover the implications of God’s love for every aspect of their lives and relationships—including husband and wife, parent and child, in the workplace, and within the church family.
 
The author describes Paul’s letter to the church as swinging on a hinge. The first five lessons of the study guide examine the first three chapters of Paul’s letter, on the first side of the door. “Having explored the wonders of salvation in Christ, at the end of chapter 3, Paul kneels to pray that the Father would fill the Ephesians with that gospel,” Smith writes. “He asks that they ‘may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge’ (Ephesians 3:18–19). This is the boundless, timeless, endless, bottomless love we all long for.”
 
The seven lessons that follow go into an in-depth examination of the second half of Paul’s letter. “Paul swings open the door, as it were, and walks into the Ephesians’ daily lives. The Ephesians were the fruit of Paul’s missionary work, so he realized they were living in a culture that neither knew nor understood Jesus and his life-giving message. With this in mind, he addresses topics that range from patience and contentment and industriousness to parenting and singing and sex. But he never forgets how he got there. He keeps calling the Ephesians—and us—back to the hinge. The love we long for is the why and the how, and importantly the who, of a believer’s whole life.”
 
Each of the twelve lessons in Ephesians: The Love We Long For includes rich discussion questions, exercises, and articles to encourage deep examination of the text for one-to-one discipleship, small group, or large group settings. The study will help readers see how the New Testament letter presents God’s great love for us in Jesus. As Smith explains, there’s nothing more than the Gospel, just more of it. Ephesians is a book crammed full of the riches of God’s grace.
 
Of Smith’s Bible study, Scott Saulsauthor and pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church (Nashville) writes, “This wonderful, practical work on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is a treasure. Part commentary and part devotional, we learn about the church and also ourselves as seen through the eyes of the One who loved us and gave himself for us. Whether you use this book to prepare talks or sermons, as devotional material, or for group discussion, I pray that its effect on you will be contagious, and that the very truths that have gripped the author’s heart will also get a grip on yours.”
 
Ephesians: The Love We Long For is part of The Gospel-Centered Life in the Bible series published by New Growth Press in partnership with Serge. Each book in the series examines how the gospel story is revealed throughout both the Old and New Testaments. The other new releases in the series are Revelation: Hope in the Darkness (also by Smith) and Titus: Life-Changing Truth in a World of Lies by Jeff Dodge. Ruth: Redemption for the Broken by Jared Wilson and Jonah: Grace for Sinners and Saints by Iain Duguid are also available. The Gospel-Centered Life for Students series includes studies of Exodus and Mark.

Endorsements:
“Titus is one of the most potent but often overlooked books in the New Testament. In this helpful resource, Jeff Dodge admirably brings Titus’s message to bear for contemporary believers.”
~ Jason K. Allen, President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Spurgeon College
 
“If you ever spend any time with Jeff Dodge, you will notice within five minutes that he exudes gospel clarity, missional gravity, and Christian joy. That combination comes through in this book, as he guides the reader through the riches of Paul’s letter to Titus. This book shows how similar our world is to that faced by Paul and Titus, and then applies the triumphant power of that letter. You will be strengthened and equipped by this book.”
~ Russell Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
 
“With a shepherd’s care and a teacher’s insight, Dodge excavates fresh, helpful, and clarifying riches from this important epistle that are sure to strengthen your heart and your walk with Christ.”
~ Jared C. Wilson, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Spurgeon College; author of The Gospel-Driven Church

My Thoughts:
What I love about the Ephesians study:
~A Gospel Glossary is included at the end of the book. Words like glorification and propitiation are sometimes unknown to new Christians. The glossary is not lengthy but beneficial.
~Leader’s Notes. These notes (over lessons 1-12) are not just for the leader in the study, but for people who are reading the book and want clarification and understanding. This is important additional teaching to clarify the “conversation sections.”
~Each of the 12 chapters have a lesson section, article to read, and exercise (questions). These are brief reading sections.
~I feel the Bible study is clear, concise, approachable, and reflective.

The Ephesians study is more for a group study. The study can be managed for single personal use.

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(Review) Fearfully and Wonderfully: The Marvel of Bearing God’s Image by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey

Publisher and Publication Date: InterVarsity Press. 2019. First published 1980.
Genre: Christian nonfiction. Human body.
Pages: 264.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Christian readers.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Summary:
Dr. Paul Brand (1914-2003) was an orthopedic surgeon in India and the United States. He grew up in India. He was known for his care of leprosy patients.
Philip Yancey (born in 1949) is a Christian writer. Yancey and Brand paired for the writing of this book in 1980. Yancey and IVP have updated the book to a new edition.

The title Fearfully and Wonderfully is taken from Psalm 139: 13-14. ESV.
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”


Fearfully and Wonderfully is about the wonder of the human body that God created. The human body’s purpose and its various functions are examined. For example: skin, bones, and blood.
Dr. Brand shares stories about his life in the medical field through medical study and training, and his patients.

My Thoughts:
This is the second time I’ve read this book. I first read it back in the 1980s. I was so young then… It was a book I’d borrowed from the library. It made an impression on me because I didn’t forget it. I carried a few memories of the book. For example, Dr. Brand’s stories about leprosy. Reading Fearfully and Wonderfully gave me a different perspective of this hideous skin condition.

My favorite section is when Dr. Brand teaches about the importance of touch. Jesus healed by touching people. Jesus wanted those people to know he cared, and “to feel his love and compassion.” Page 76.

One of the most profound statements that I read and I’m still thinking about.
“The basis for unity within any human community begins not with our similarity but with our diversity.” Page 41.

Dr. Brand’s personality came across strongly in the book. I saw his courage, kindness, and purposeful nature. He was a remarkable gentleman and physician.

(Review) Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: Discovering the Grace of Lament by Mark Vroegop

Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy
Publisher and Publication Date: Crossway. 2019.
Genre: Christian nonfiction. Suffering. Lament.
Pages: 224.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Christian readers who are going through suffering.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Mark Vroegop’s website
And his Facebook page
Author info: Mark Vroegop (MDiv, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) is the lead pastor of College Park Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is a conference speaker, a council member with The Gospel Coalition, a trustee of Cedarville University.

Mark’s Twitter page: https://twitter.com/MarkVroegop.

Mark Vroegop’sGoodreads author page.

For more information at the publisher (includes excerpt from chapter one): Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy.

Summary:
Vroegop explains in the introduction that the aim of Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is to help the reader know how to lament their sufferings to God. He explains the reasons why lamenting is important and he teaches how we are to lament.

“Lament is the honest cry of a hurting heart wrestling with the paradox of pain and the promise of God’s goodness.” Page 26. 

Part 1 Learning to Lament/Psalms of Lament
1. Keep Turning to Prayer/Psalm 77
2. Bring Your Complaints/Psalm 10
3. Ask Boldly/Psalm 22
4. Choose to Trust/Psalm 13
Part 2 Learning from Lament/Lamentations
5. A Broken World and a Holy God/Lamentations 1-2
6. Hope Springs from Truth Rehearsed/Lamentations 3
7. Unearthing Idols/Lamentations 4
8. A Road Map to Grace/Lamentations 5
Part 3 Living with Lament/Personal and Community Applications
9. Making Lament Personal
10. Let Us Lament

The concluding chapters are the conclusion, appendix 1-4, bibliography and indexes.

My Thoughts:
I’m so thankful for authors who write about the hard stuff. I’m thankful for authors who teach it is okay to cry out to God.

What I love about this book: 
Vroegop lets me know from the start: lament is not talked about as it should be in the Christian community. It is a hard topic. It requires transparency. It requires humility to let down our guard and be honest about how we feel to God.
•Lament requires practice. It requires work. Vroegop teaches how to lament.
•Learning to lament is shown in the steps listed in chapter one and expounded on in the book. Vroegop calls it a pattern, and there are four steps in the pattern. He uses the book of Psalms as examples. He emphasizes that “lament is not a simplistic formula.” Lament is a “song” we “sing” to God believing He “will answer and restore.”
Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy is a beautiful book, because it’s a soothing balm for an aching heart.
•I learned several things personally from Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy. For example: idols in my life. Waiting is difficult but never a “waste.” God has a plan even during my time of suffering. I’d never considered my lament is a “song I sing.” Lament develops a deeper faith in God.

(Review) Exploring God Questions With Your Tween by Janelle Alberts and Ingrid Faro

Honest Answers
Publisher and Publication Date: Kregel Publications. March 24, 2020.
Genre: Christian nonfiction. Parents of tweens and teens.
Pages: 224.
Source: I received a complimentary paperback copy from Kregel, I was not required to leave a positive review.
Audience: For Christian parents of tweens and teens.
Rating: Excellent.

Link at Amazon 

Link at Kregel Publications for more information.

Link to read an excerpt: Honest Answers.

Author: Janelle Alberts:
ingridJanelle Alberts is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Gifted for Leadership, Relevant, iBelieve.com, and more. She’s committed to taking hard-to-understand Scripture and boiling it down into logical, clear messages readers can relate to. Visit her blog at janellealberts.com.

Author: Ingrid Faro:
FaroIngrid Faro is dean of academic affairs and associate professor of Old Testament at Northern Seminary in Lisle, Illinois. Her previous work includes a contributed chapter in Divine Suffering: Theology, History, and Church Mission.

Summary:
Somewhere between “Jesus Loves Me” and high school cynicism, the childlike acceptance of pat answers about faith is lost–often forever. But while many parents find this transitional period daunting, they don’t want their kids to leave the Christian faith just because they didn’t get good answers to how prayer works or whether dinosaurs were on Noah’s ark.

Honest Answers is a discussion book to help parents tackle the God questions that make them sweat. This isn’t the place to come for pat answers that will make their kids nod, smile, and disconnect. Janelle Alberts and Ingrid Faro know that when tweens start asking questions, they’re already old enough to understand the answers. They’re determined to equip parents with the language, theology, permission, and confidence to join in the discussion–and to learn how to offer deeply doctrinal answers in 140 characters or less.

The tween years present an incredible opportunity to build trust with kids and to keep them coming back to their parents for answers rather than finding other sources. With the tools and conversational tips here, mom and dad can engage in a hopeful conversation and help their children build a Christian faith to hold them steady their whole lives.

My Thoughts: 
I love how Alberts and Faro bring a new word to my vocabulary in the introduction. The word is dialegomai. It is a Greek word, meaning to discuss, dispute, or reason. They also give an example of how to bring up the subject about a family time for the topics in this book. And, they remind the parent of why understanding the basics of faith is so important. This set my heart at ease to realize this book is not going to be vague answers to hard questions teens ask or a person of any age might ask. I feel young people are more sophisticated than previous generations. They don’t appreciate a vague answer. They want to know and discuss. They want to feel free to ask hard questions. I’ve worked with young people for several years. I love talking about the hard stuff of life with them. And, if I don’t have an answer, then I tell them I don’t know…that too is important, to express that even adults struggle with hard stuff.
My favorite sections of the book is prayer, creation versus science, and the conclusion section (see quote at the bottom from page 199.)

Reasons why I love this book: 
•I love the layout of the book. For example in each chapter there is a “Parent Primer #1 and #2. For the first chapter, the “Parent Primer #1: We Don’t Have Originals, Yet the Word is Stronger Than Stone.” An average of three pages follow the subjects. Then, “Honest Answers Q&A.” These sections have several questions and brief answers on the subject. In chapter one it’s the Bible, Scripture, or the Word. For chapter one the next primer is a “Parent Primer #2: A Sketch of How the Bible Was Assembled.” Three pages are available to read on this topic. The last section in the chapters is another “Honest Answers Q&A.” The book concludes with “Conclusion” and “Digging Deeper.”
•There are four major sections in the book:
“Part 1-What Does ‘The Bible Tells Me So’ Really Mean?”
“Part 2-What Is Prayer Meant to Do?”
“Part 3-If God Made the World, What’s My Science Teacher Talking About?”
“Part 4-What Is Church Supposed to Look Like?”
Each of these sections have 3 chapters in each.
I feel these 4 sections and chapters are an adequate size (not too heavy for a tween or parent) and they are a solid start to these topics and conversations.
•I feel the book is written in an easy to understand way. Theology can run deep. This is a no stress book.
•There is humor mixed in the narrative. This gives the book a light-hearted feel next to serious topics.
•I love the answer to a question that’s placed on pages 127-128. It’s about how to handle a person on the “science side” who isn’t being nice. I love the answer summed up as-mind our own business.

My favorite quotes:
God does not ask for utter devotion to a written word. He asks for utter devotion to the God of that written word. Page 22.

The greatest thing about unedited, engaging prayer is that it gives God an opening to illustrate to us in personal ways that he is real. Page 91.

We learn from our ancestors that our goal here is not about our kids sustaining a faith so much as it’s about them receiving a faith that sustains them, a God who sustains them, a love that sustains them. Ours is simply to show them a life in faith and also to bolster their knowledge of him in ways that matter and resonate with this generation. Page 199.

 

(Review) All Along You Were Blooming: thoughts for boundless living by Morgan Harper Nichols

All Along You Were Blooming
Publisher and Publication Date: Zondervan. January 21, 2020.
Genre: Poetry. Inspirational.
Pages: 192.
Source: Self-purchase.
Audience: Readers of poetry. I feel this book is written for a younger audience, but I’m certainly not young.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link 

Link to read a sample: All Along You Were Blooming.

Link to Nichols’s blog
Instagram
Facebook

Summary: 
A celebration of hope. An encounter with grace. A restoration of the heart. A healing of wounds. An anthem of freedom. All Along You Were Blooming is the ultimate love letter from the pen of popular Instagram poet Morgan Harper Nichols to your mind, to your heart, to your soul, and to your body.
Morgan Harper Nichols delivers a striking collection of illustrated poetry and prose, inviting you to “stumble into the sunlight” and delight in the wild and boundless grace you’ve been given. There is a purpose in every season, and no matter how you want to race through this day or run away from this place, rest assured that you are invited to live fully—right here, right now. Light will always find you, and even when the sun sets and you sit awaiting the dawn, know you are still blooming in the way you were meant to. And in each small moment, whether in the light or the dark, you can make room for becoming, for breathing, for stumbling, and for simply being—for there is Grace, today and every day. Summary from Zondervan.

My Thoughts:
In early March I was shopping in Target and found this book. I had not heard of the author until this shopping trip.
I’m amazed at the beauty of both the illustrated pages and the words.
My thoughts while reading the poems: wise, deep, personal, kind, loving, restful, calm, inviting, welcoming, and love.
I plan to pass the book on to my 16 year old granddaughter, Celeste.
One of the first lines in the book that first stopped me is on page 79. “Not everything can be put into words.” This past January and February I went through something deeply painful and shocking. I couldn’t even articulate the words to pray. The line on page 79 reminded me of this event. I know how it feels to not find a word to express. I know how it feels to not be able to move my mouth to speak a word.
Subjects in the poems are about relationships, betrayal, moving forward, growing, learning, strength, courage, unashamed, and love.
I recommend this book! It is a beautiful gem!