(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.

(Review) The Unexplainable Church by Erica Wiggenhorn and Included in Christ by Heather Holleman

The Unexplainable Church

Publisher and Publication Date: Moody Publishers. June 6, 2017.
Genre: Bible Study on Acts 13-28.
Pages: 256.
Source: Complimentary paperback copy from Side Door Communications, on behalf of Moody Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Do you believe God has called you to a unique purpose? Do you ever wonder what your purpose may be? God has offered you a divine invitation. The truth is all believers have been chosen by the Holy Spirit for a special work, a mission of grace to be pursued in connection with believers around the world as part of Christ’s church. We accept, discover and become equipped for that invitation through the community of the unexplainable church.

“The wonder of the Holy Spirit is that while He calls us individually to live unexplainable lives, He works collectively through the body, bidding the realization of the unexplainable church,” says Erica Wiggenhorn, author of the new Bible study, The Unexplainable Church: Reigniting the Mission of the Early Believers (Moody Publishers, June 2017). “The early believers understood their interconnectedness to one another. They found it inconceivable to accept their divine invitation apart from each other as members of the Christian church at large.”

In her second title in Moody Publishers’ Bible study line for women, Wiggenhorn, a Bible teacher, speaker, and founder of Every Life Ministries in Phoenix, begins where her last study, An Unexplainable Life, which covers the first half of Acts, finished. Guiding readers through the second half of Acts, Wiggenhorn looks in-depth at Paul’s missionary journeys, how the early church supported him, his ministry to the Gentiles throughout the Roman Empire, imprisonment, and his trip to Rome, all while urging women to live out the mission of the church—sharing the amazing grace of God.

Designed for small groups, churches, as well as individual study, The Unexplainable Church includes ten weeks of lessons, five per week, and features a daily Scripture passage (which women are encouraged to read aloud), commentary from Wiggenhorn, and in-depth, interactive questions. Wiggenhorn’s hope is that this study would ignite the awe and wonder of God’s grace in each reader and help them discover all that God has for them in living out the mission of the unexplainable church.

“The early believers held one mission: sharing the grace available through Jesus Christ,” says Wiggenhorn. “This mission united people of different races, different religious practices, political affiliations, ethnic traditions, and social classes. This mission, the kingdom of Jesus Christ, turned the world upside down. And it is our mission today: to share the powerful, life-altering grace of the Lord. The question is, will we accept it?”

Throughout the study, Wiggenhorn guides women as they learn about unexplainable grace, the ways of God, His riches, protection, simplicity, and community through the life and ministry of Paul and the early church. She encourages women to surrender, resolving to follow Jesus wherever He may lead, and to realize that the unexplainable church needs them just as they need the church to fulfill the calling Christ has given them.

“The story of the unexplainable church heralds the atoning power of Christ and the power of His gospel over all sin and death,” says Wiggenhorn. “It prevails against injustice, racism, greed, evil, jealousy, economic disparity, corruption, and hate—along with every sin that seeks to destroy it. The one who conquered sin and death through the tremendous tragedy of the cross and the triumph of the resurrection leads the unexplainable church both now and in the ages to come. Our mission as believers in Jesus is to spread the message that God’s grace is greater than all. And for others to see its working in our lives.”

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Erica Wiggenhorn is the founder of Every Life Ministries, bringing you the truths of Scripture to transform your life. By digging deeply into God’s Word, Every Life Ministries encourages you to discover your unique purpose, accept God’s promises, and live by His power. Erica is the author of two Bible studies including An Unexplainable Life: Recovering the Wonder and Devotion of the Early Church, and The Unexplainable Church: Reigniting the Mission of the Early Believers (both Moody Publishers).

Erica serves on the women’s ministry leadership team for her church and regularly teaches in various venues. She’s also taught women in the Arizona State Prison system, and overseas. She loves to bring God’s Word to anyone who’ll listen!

A graduate and post-graduate of Azusa Pacific University, Erica lives in Phoenix with her husband, Jonathan, and their two children, Eliana and Nathan.

For more information, along with free resources that coincide with the study, visit ericawiggenhorn.com.

Included in Christ

Publisher and Publication Date: Moody Publishers. June 6, 2017.
Genre: Bible Study on Ephesians.
Pages: 240.
Source: Side Door Communications, on behalf of Moody Publishers.
Rating: Excellent.

Amazon link

Have you ever battled insecurity, rejection, or a feeling of worthlessness? Maybe your ethnic background, family dysfunction, financial struggles, career failures, or your own inner battle with shame or fear have led you to feel like an outsider. Have you been telling yourself that you just are not special, chosen, included?

“As someone who spent a lifetime feeling like an outsider and experiencing rejection—both real and imagined—the notion that I’m included reaches my soul like healing balm,” says Dr. Heather Holleman, author of Included in Christ: Living a New Story from Ephesians (Moody Publishers, June 2017). “As we learn in Ephesians, we are part of the whole of God’s family.”

Holleman, a speaker, writer, and English instructor at Penn State University, who also serves on the Faculty Commons for Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ), struggled for years with loneliness, fear, and feeling like an outsider. God used the book of Ephesians to minister to her and to usher in profound and lasting personal transformation.

“Paul’s primary purpose in writing Ephesians has everything to do with explaining to readers—and reminding them again and again—that they belong not only in personal and actual union to a living Christ, but that salvation involves including them to one another as believers,” says Holleman.

Written as part narrative but full Bible study, Included in Christ takes readers through an in-depth, eight-week study of the book of Ephesians. Designed to be studied in community, Holleman focuses the first seven week’s themes around a vivid verb—included, chosen, seated, strengthened, renewed, filled, and proclaiming. Each week, women study Ephesians through the lens of the verb, engage in personal reflection questions, discuss lessons in community, and work on developing, what Holleman calls, their Savior Story.

“The Jesus I met through the book of Ephesians is a God who includes us, chooses us, seats us at the table, connects us deeply with others, refreshes us, empowers us, and proclaims truth through us,” says Holleman. “Instead of the Shadow Narratives that often dominate our lives, we need to replace them with our Savior Stories and begin to live and walk in that freedom.”

Many women are stuck in their Shadow Narrative–a story that they tell themselves over and over again that keeps them in the darkness of exclusion and loneliness, weariness, and toxic patterns of jealousy, comparison, and despair. As readers study the verbs and phrases found in Ephesians and work through the discussion questions both personally and in community, they will replace these stories with those that have shaped their lives in Christ. These new stories are what Holleman calls Savior Stories, stories that look at who you are as a new creation in Christ, living with a different, biblical reality of a new mindset.

“Can you imagine living each day like an included person?” says Holleman. “Someone chosen instead of rejected or ignored? Someone seated at the Greatest Table with the Greatest King instead of lonely and fighting for belonging? Someone strengthened instead of weary and powerless? Someone renewed instead of languishing in sin? Someone filled with the Holy Spirit instead of living in self-effort all day long? And finally, someone proclaiming her Savior Story instead of living in silence or stuck in her Shadow Narrative.”

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Heather Holleman, PhD, is a popular author, speaker, and college instructor. She is a faculty member of Penn State’s English Department and teaches both freshman composition and advanced writing. Heather studied shame and narcissism for her doctoral work in English literature. She is the author of three books including Seated with Christ, Guarded by Christ, and Included in Christ (all Moody Publishers).

Along with teaching and writing, Heather serves on the staff of Faculty Commons with Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) and helps direct the graduate student ministry at Penn State. She has received numerous teaching awards and her teaching philosophy finds its roots in what it means to be “seated at the table.”

She’s obsessed with vivid verbs like grapple, fritter, and effervesce. She also greatly admires the semicolon; it is the most beautiful and misunderstood punctuation mark, she says. In addition to teaching, she loves writing books, encouraging teachers, reflecting on spiritual principles in everyday life, petting her cats, walking with her neighbors, lighting candles, reading grammar books, watching movies and any television show with singing and dancing in it, entertaining, eating leftover Chinese food, and blogging. Her favorite Psalm is Psalm 16, and her three favorite Bible verses are Galatians 2:20, Ephesians 2:6, and Deuteronomy 31:6.

In addition to her full speaking schedule, Heather writes daily inspirational material that reaches thousands through social media on her blog, Live with Flair, and is slowing making her way through seminary classes in the summers.

Heather lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Ashley, and their two daughters.

Learn more about Heather at www.heatherholleman.com.

My Impressions of both Bible studies: 

  1. The Unexplainable Church by Erica Wiggenhorn is a 10 week study of Acts chapters 13-28.
    “Paul’s Acts 29 Story” is the last chapter in the Bible study.
    A full map of the Mediterranean Sea area is located on two, full-spread pages.
    The paperback is 9 1/2 inches tall and 7 inches length.
    The pages are a matte finish.
    The type font and size is not available, but it’s easy for my bi-focal wearing eyes to see.
    The print color is in black and turquoise.
    Before the study begins two chapters give us “A Divine Invitation” and “Making The Most Of This Study.”
    The Bible translation text used is the ESV.
    Each of the 10 weeks are broken down into 5 daily lessons.
    I noticed after several pages were turned the book began to lay open on its own. I love this!
    The book does not have illustrations. It is directly words and the map included.What I love about this study is it is a Bible study. This is not a topical study. Topics are addressed in the Bible study. But, the focus and intent is to study chapters 13-28 of Acts.
    A secondary reason is I love the questions. For example in Week 7/Day 2, Acts 20:7-16. “What do you sense the Lord is saying to you in this season of your life?”
    “Do you feel as though your spiritual journey is speeding up or slowing down? In what way(s)?”
    These two questions are evaluation questions. I love thinking questions that provoke my mind and heart to evaluate where I am at this point in time.
    Week 1/Day 1 gives a brief overview of the previous Acts study, chapters 1-12.
    Greek terms are taught. For example the word “doxa, meaning “honor, renown, and glory, especially divine.”
  2. Included in Christ by Heather Holleman is an 8 week study of Ephesians.
    This paperback book is the same in size, lay-out, organization of the weeks and days, and type-font as the previous reviewed study.
    The differences is the print is black and teal. I do not see maps. The translation used is the NIV. Some Scripture translations are NASB and the NLT.
    At the starting page for each week, a beautiful quote is given on a two page graphic lay-out.
    Week 3/Day 4, Ephesians 2:1-10. A stirring quote is given, “Seated people adore instead of obsess over appearance.” Holleman goes on to talk about how she has tried to “hide my imperfections.” Instead, “We radiate the beauty of Christ as we adore Him from our seats in the heavenly realms.” Page 92.
    I noticed this study of Ephesians prompted further Scripture readings than the Acts study.
    The final chapter is on sharing the message of the Gospel that’s been read.