Book Review: Renew Your Life by Kai Mark Nilsen

Words are important.  Words we say, words we read, words we receive from God.  Words give life and hope.

A few months ago the words Rest, Refresh and Restore kept coming to mind.  I longed for rest, to be refreshed and restored by the Lord.  Then early in December God gave me the word Renew.  I found scripture promises associated with the word Renew.   One was very familiar, from Psalm 51:10. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.  I’m always encouraged and thrilled to discover God does the work in me.  He creates a pure heart in me and He Renews a steadfast spirit within me.  I can’t muster up more of a pure heart or renew a steadfast spirit myself.  As I write this in early January and as you read it at the end of January we remember that changes in heart and mind won’t be from us trying harder or making more effort to keep any new year’s resolutions.  What can be done is rest in God’s promises, read his Word and allow Him to refresh and restore and renew as only He knows what is needed and is possible.  All things are possible with God.

As one who enjoys books and figures and is always looking for a book that will help me and others discover more about a topic of interest, I found and am reading a book by Kai Mark Nilsen titled Renew Your Life: Discovering the Wellspring of God’s Energy.  Author Nilsen is a Pastor who went through a season in his life similar to where many Christian’s find themselves at one point or another.  His emptiness and wondering if his faith was genuine led him on a journey towards patience with himself and discovery of the power of the Holy Spirit given to him and all believers.   The power of the Holy Spirit is often ignored or not understood as a gift God provides for his children.  Pastor Nilsen, like many of us today, discovered that a quick, self-help route just doesn’t work.  Rather, God guides, teaches, restores, refreshes and renews us over time.  As we daily surrender our control and moment by moment trust him, God will lead us in the specific way he has for each individual.  God’s love never fails.  

Published in 2015, this book contains self-reflective questions that are relevant to the concerns Jesus followers face today.  I really appreciate the Essential Life Questions Pastor Nilsen scatters throughout the book.  Spend time with these questions: What is my image of God? How does my image of God affect the way I see the world, others, my own life? What hopes shape and give meaning to my life? In what ways have I been blessed by an unwanted gift? How does affirming that all people are created in the image of God affect how I see and treat them? What am I here for at this time? What in life brings me joy?  As you can tell, the questions lead one to look deep within and, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit over time, can help us discover what has held us back.  Depending on the Holy Spirit will free us, guide our choices and attitudes and will “renew that steadfast spirit within me.”

Whether you chose to read this book or not, I encourage you to take a step of deeper dependence on the LORD.  Our Father longs to grant us Rest (Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28), He will Refresh those who rest in him (he refreshes my soul.  He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.  Psalm 23:3).  He does Restore those who wait on him (who Restores to me the joy of your salvation and grants me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Psalm 51:12).  If you decide not to read this book, then by all means incorporate a daily time with God.  Try something new, like a devotion or book that will challenge you and encourage your daily walk with Jesus.  Commit to a regular time with God in His word in prayer and journal the words God gives you.  Join a Bible Study Group, a Prayer Group, or a lifeGroup.  Because each person responds to something different, consider this Essential Life Question: “What in life brings me joy”?  Then integrate that activity or spiritual discipline in your time with God.  See how He Renews you daily for the plans and purpose he has for you as His chosen child.   Be aware and rejoice (I just love re words) in what God is doing within your spirit for his glory and for the sake of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  God will Renew (but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.  Isaiah 40:31)  

Reformation is another important word for 2017.  God is at work as the Church focuses on Reformation.  What will that mean in your life?  Rest-Refresh-Restore-Reform-Renew in the Jesus Our LORD. 

New Year’s Resolution?

Did you resolve to do something different in 2017?  If so, how is it going? 

I wish I had a dollar for every time I said I wanted to read the Bible more, or said I wanted to have a quiet time more regularly.  Actually, I would rather have just done those things. 

When I look back at the times I’ve been most successful, and most engaged in my own reading of scripture, it’s been when I have someone to discuss it with.  lifeGroup can work this way, but so can family or anyone willing to talk about what you’re reading and learning. 

So, here is my New Year’s challenge: ask someone to read and talk about the Bible with you.  For me it works better to read and think about it before I get together to talk with someone.  For others, it’s better to journal, or to read it right when you’re going to talk about it. However you think it might work best, do that. 

I’m meeting with a friend and we’re going through Nehemiah one chapter per week.  Pick a book of the Bible, maybe Romans to help prepare you for what we’re talking about in worship.

If you want a reading plan, there are many available at

If you find you’re not sure how to read the Bible, check out our Disciple’s Utility Kit under resources on our website: You don’t need to have any experience reading the Bible to jump in with any of the resources there. Whatever you do, invite a friend or family member to discuss it with you, and see what God will do with it in this next month and year. 

If you haven’t kept up with a resolution, or didn’t start, consider this a chance to start again, and have fun! 

I would love to hear how God uses your time reading and talking about how He wants you to respond to His Word.  If you have a story or feedback, please Share It with me in the comments below or via email:

Matt and his wife, Kate, have lived on the East side of Madison since 2003 and love it. They can't wait for the day when they walk to lifeGroup and lifeWorship with neighbors. Matt and Kate were married in 2000, have been lifeGroup leaders and are coaches. Matt worked as an Electrical Engineer for 11 years prior to joining the church team and completing the Specific Ministry Pastor (SMP) program through Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He loves wrestling with ideas and is always looking for teammates who are looking to practice living as disciples. You might find Matt working at a library or coffee shop, exercising at the YMCA, playing basketball or ultimate Frisbee, hiking, or camping with Kate. Looking for a teammate?


Reframing New Year’s Resolutions with Step+

How many New Year’s resolutions have you made in your lifetime? Have you met someone who’s made only one resolution in their lifetime and met it perfectly? Nor have I. At least, I haven’t met such a person face to face. The apostles and other Jesus followers we read about in the Bible, however, got to interact with the one and only person ever to have met his resolution-of-a-lifetime perfectly: Jesus!  

We know that Jesus was without sin, however he was also human and tempted to sin countless times. Rather than framing our lives as only ever striving toward, rather than accomplishing, the perfect, unconditional love Jesus’ showed to his brothers and sisters, we can look at the small, but significant, steps Jesus took to love people and change their lives, and model our day-to-day conversations and activities after those steps.  


It’s typical to approach a New Year’s resolution - for example, “In 2017 I will eat healthier and exercise more” - from the perspective of big-picture changes that we want to see in our lives. Having this picture of change in mind is important, however the big-picture perspective sometimes makes reaching the end goal seem pretty overwhelming. For me, it’s difficult to imagine giving up sweets altogether when they’re a part of my daily diet and I really enjoy eating them. And every time I contemplate “getting back into running again,” or “working out 3 times a week,” I get disheartened because I don’t know how to get to those “states” of being healthier.  


What would happen if we let go of reaching an ideal state, and let go of viewing a goal only through the big-picture perspective, and instead think about taking small steps toward those ends? Let’s look at that same resolution to eat healthier and exercise more through the lens of one of our church’s values, Step+, which tells us that “simple steps guided by Jesus accelerate the impact of new life.” Jesus modeled this many times, including asking a woman for a drink of water and then having a conversation with her that changed her life (John 4:1-40), and simply making room in his “busy schedule” to spend time with children, whose parents knew that contact with Jesus would affect them greatly (Matthew 19:13-15).


It may not be immediately clear how some of our New Year’s Resolutions can be comparable to the steps Jesus took, but bear with me. Instead of assuming I could/should give up sweets entirely, I’ve tried cutting out sugar from my diet for one month. It’s long enough that it feels significant (and that I feel physical changes), but not so long that I feel deprived or as though I can never enjoy eating a baked treat again. Even doing something like that for one week produces results. And those positive physical changes? That’s God telling me that taking care of my body - his temple - is worth prioritizing. When I’m feeding my body nourishing foods and don’t feel sluggish, I have more energy and a greater desire to enjoy and love my family, neighbors, and those I meet on a given day. Instead of “working out 3 times a week” every week, I’ve tried saying, “This week I’ll go to yoga class at 7pm on Wednesday and 10am on Saturday.” These classes enable to me to worship God with my mind and body, and I always come home with a bit more patience and love in my heart, ready to share.


It’s taken me YEARS to land on some eating habits and physical/emotional fitness routines that I enjoy maintaining and that equip me to better serve others, and I still mess up way more frequently than I succeed. But I’m learning to take it one Step+ at a time, because, guess what?  It took YEARS for Jesus to carry out his mission, too, and he’s with me every step, every day, even (especially!) when I trip and fall along the way.


I’d love it if you’d share your 2017 resolutions and steps with me!


Policy Based Governance and the Role of the Board

Members of the board look forward to talking with you at our first “Coffee with the Board” on January 22nd at 9:15am. This won't be a meeting but rather a time for brothers and sisters in Christ to sit down over coffee and talk about our shared ministry.  We hope you can either stay after first service or come early to second service so that we can have some time together. As we prepare for this time together, the Board wanted to help give some clarity to what their specific role is within the Church.


The Church adheres to a policy-based governance model. The purpose of the Leadership Board is to develop policy, supervise the Lead Pastor, and uphold fiscal responsibility.


Policy development focuses on four categories: 1) Desired Outcomes, 2) Board Self-Governance, 3) Lead Pastor Limitations, and 4) Board and Lead Pastor Relationships.


Desired outcomes describe the ends, or purposes of our church. Desired outcomes policies describe what results we are here to achieve, who the recipients will be, and the cost of those results. These policies do not address means, methods, activities, or specific programs.


Governance process policies describe the standards of behavior for individual Board members and the Board as a group. These policies describe the way the Board operates.


Lead Pastor Limitations policies address staff means --what the Lead Pastor and staff may and may not do. They define the out-of-bounds lines. These policies communicate what behaviors, methods, and practices are acceptable and not acceptable. Unless restricted by the policies, all other reasonable actions are considered acceptable. This approach empowers the staff from needing to delay action until the Board can approve each new initiative. It also allows the Board to responsibly minimize involvement in the details of day-to-day operations. These policies are addressed to the Lead Pastor rather than the entire staff. The Lead Pastor is held accountable that all staff actions fall within the boundaries established by these policies.


Board-Lead Pastor Relationship policies address how the Board and Lead Pastor relate to each other.  In general, the Board speaks with one voice and all Board authority is delegated through the Lead Pastor. This means the Lead Pastor reports to the Board as a whole, not to individual Board members, officers of the congregation, or Board committees. This also means the Board works only with the Lead Pastor and does not direct the work of staff or volunteers.


The Leadership Board for the Church is honored to serve our ministry in this way. Members of the board include Peter Hueber, Chad Koch, Dannie Jaeger, Laura Potter, Eldon McLaury, Joan Dawson and myself. We would love to talk with you if you have questions or concerns, and look forward to our time together on January 22nd.


Read a good book today!

Our church library offers a cozy space with comfortable seating to pray or catch your breath or peruse a book.  Pick out several to take home to read to or with your child.  Or select from the many topics represented for yourself.  There are some oldies-but-goodies that may surprise you with their relevance to our lives today.   Remember to check the bookcases outside the Fellowship Hall and Sanctuary for newer titles by current authors.  One such author is Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.   He currently continues to lead the urban flock that has grown to more than 5,000 regular Sunday worshippers at several locations in the City.   

One of Keller’s titles, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, especially caught my interest for several reasons.   For over thirty years I worked in the secular world of government and public libraries and didn’t truly serve as though God was my boss.  During this period of time, I often visited a lifelong friend who worked as Executive Director of Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work, leading thousands of people to live out their faith in the marketplace where they were employed.  I benefitted from many of Dr. Keller’s sermons and highly recommend his books, as he is one of the rare people who writes as well as he speaks.

Throughout Every Good Endeavor, Keller utilizes Scripture to emphasize his points that God created us to work and because of our feelings of fruitlessness and pointlessness, we tend to make work our idol. The third section of his book presents a Gospel worldview that will help us gain perspective on how we understand and embrace the work God has given us to do. 

Whether it be this excellent resource by Dr. Keller or another book by one of your favorite authors, the church library has the resources you need to explore a number of topics pertinent to your growth in faith. 

Other titles available in our librrary by Timothy Keller are Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Counterfeit: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters.  Enjoy!

Beth Ziegler Roberts—Wife of Gary Roberts for 23 years, parent to Sarah & Noah, grandmother to Anna, Lisa & Jedd, retired librarian who enjoyed over 30 years of service to communities through work in public libraries in New Jersey, California & Minnesota.