Late Summer Reads

Summer is coming to a close most people do book lists before summer starts I thought I would blog about the best books I’ve read this summer. Summer for me means no seminary so I can read more books that accumulating on my nightstand. For me, my Favorite book of the summer is a three-way tie between “The Devine Comedy, Silence, and “A Practical Guide to Culture ”

Here is what I’ve read so far this summer. 

Handbook for young men
J.C. Ryle’s handbook for young men, replete with warnings, exhortations, and instruction about this life’s many trials, temptations, and common pitfalls. This book is a treasure.

– Short practical and like everything Ryle does it is gospel saturated.

Silence
Seventeenth-century Japan: Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. Shusaku Endo is one of the most celebrated and well-known Japanese fiction writers of the twentieth century, and Silence is widely considered to be his great masterpiece.

– This book is a must read for every High Schooler – Such a powerful story of faith and how faith is destroyed by a post modern world. 

Parenting
Sometimes parents wish there was a guaranteed formula for raising good kids–a certain list of rules to follow to ensure they’d have obedient children. But if moms and dads view their role through the lens of God’s grace, they will see that the gospel must first shape how they parent before they can effectively shape their children. In this highly practical book, Paul David Tripp unfolds a more biblical perspective on parenting than merely adhering to a list of rules. He lays out fourteen gospel-centered principles that will radically change the way parents think about what it means to raise up a child, informing everything they do as a parent.

– Parenting is one of the most convicting yet helpful books on parenting I have read in a while.

Gilead
Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel “as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering.” GILEAD tells the story of America and will break your heart.

– Gilead is a non-fiction story of faith and forgiveness. It was on a ton of lists so I read it. I thought it was good but not great. 

Inferno
This vigorous translation of Inferno preserves Dante’s simple, natural style, and captures the swift movement of the original Italian verse. Mark Musa’s blank verse rendition of the poet’s journey through the circles of Hell re-creates for the modern reader the rich meanings that Dante’s poem had for his contemporaries. Musa’s introduction and commentaries on each of the cantos brilliantly illuminate the text.

– Dante’s vision of hell was mesmerizing. Of all the classics I have read of late the Divine Comedy is near the top. Easy to read with much application to your life today. 

Live Like a Narnian
In “Live Like a Narnian” Joe Rigney shows that Owen Barfield was right–What C.S. Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything. From apologetics to his thoughts on education, from his view of science to the role of government, from Natural Law to true manhood and womanhood–the breadth of Lewis’s bright vision of life shines through in his beloved Chronicles. Come, learn to breathe Narnian air.

– This book was excellent great look at the great themes in Lewis’ Narnia. Really enjoyed this book. 

How to Evaluate Large Events

At our church, we have just completed two large events with a couple more staring us down. One of the things I try to do after each event is to evaluate the events effectiveness and my and my team’s competence. I realize that for each church this may look different, but I also realize that we sometimes need a starting point to get us going.

I break those questions down into three categories. People. Church. Me.

People

Did the right people come?
Who was missing that should have been at this event?
Who came that I didn’t expect to come?
Where were their opportunities for God to move in the lives of our kids?
Did we create memories that will last a lifetime?

Church

Did this event help build the church?
Did this event point people beyond their own need?
Did we preach Christ Crucified?
Did we as a ministry represent the values and vision of the church? Or did we do our own thing?
Was the Church fully aware of what took place?

Me

Did I do what only I could have done at this event?
What did I do that someone else can do next time?
Did my team learn something from this event?
Did I grow in my dependence on Christ through this event?

It’s very easy to measure the effectiveness of what we do by how many people came or how much money we earned both are valid and helpful but not ultimate. We are a church, not a Chic-fil-a our aim is to primarily pastor and love people not to be a CEO’s. We are more interested in helping those God has brought into our care to maintain a long obedience in the same direction. Large events to the extent they build the church and deepen our dependence on God are helpful. To the extent, they are a spectacle they are unhelpful. Let us by God’s grace create events that drive us deeper into God’s heart for our good and His glory.

Should my Kids Watch 13 Reasons Why?

Should your kids watch 13 Reasons Why? When you are asked this question what are you going to say? Questions about watching things or consuming culture that is questionable come up over and over again in life and ministry. I remember when I was first a kids pastor Harry Potter and Pokemon were all the rage. Parents would ask if their kids should participate at that time I looked at everything in the world with two lenses that aren’t horrible just incomplete. I saw everything through a secular/Christian framework. If you lead with only this framework, you tend to create kids who feel they are good based on what they avoid rather than see the world the lens of what they should love. It also tends to create a Christian subculture that the Bible never advocates for. We are to be in the world not separate from but also not defined by the world. This creates for us a paradoxical relationship between us and the world we live in.

In making things about what we avoid we unintentionally do what the Jews did we add to the Law of God many times good prohibitions that end up being a crushing burden the law was never intended to be. The role of the law was to reveal our sin, show us our need for a savior, and then direct us to how life works best. It was never intended to create a crushing burden. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music much of which my parents were right to prohibit. The problem is how the line was drawn. Christian music was defined primarily by the personal profession of faith by the lead singer of the band. I could never understand why this didn’t apply to clothing labels, movies or restaurants but I digress.

To distil everything into a good/bad litmus test you end up creating weird rules to determine what is ok and what should be banned. This can work, but it doesn’t give kids the tools they need to analyze culture the turn to cultural experts they trust to give them the thumbs up or thumbs down. This does little to help our kids navigate the complex world we live in. The question we should be asking is not is the good or bad? But is this true, good and beautiful.

Is this true?

The first question we have to ask is “Does this align with the truth of God’s word?” There are many things in this world that are not mentioned in the Bible such as Pokemon but does the story that the cultural good in question tells point us to the truth of God’s word or away from it. All truth is God’s truth, so even people who don’t profess to know Christ can proclaim his truth because of common grace. Does 13 Reasons Why advance God’s truth? No, it doesn’t. It diminishes the understanding that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It attaches our hope to our appetites.

Is it Good?

Is this thing good? We must teach our kids to cultivate goodness. The question for music, books, clothing is not “Did the person who created this ever make a profession of faith in Christ?” The question should be “Is this cultural item good or bad? Music is either good music or bad music. The goodness is defined not by the style but the content message and call to action. Does this song, book, clothing or art piece lead to human flourishing?

Is it Beautiful?

The God we serve is a self-revealing God. Does the cultural item in question point beyond itself and point you toward that which is truly beautiful. The pastor and poet George Herbert does this for me, but he was a Christian. Augustine does this for me. What about pagans? Plato, Aristotle, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were atheists all of which produced art that is beautiful because it points beyond itself to the world that created by God. Does 13 Reasons Why point to beauty beyond itself. I would say no as it has inspired many kids to take their lives because of the despair they find themselves in. Rather than point kids to greater hope, it feeds their despair.

Does it Glorify God?

The Last question we ask is, does this glorify God? As those who follow Christ, we are to live for the Glory of God alone. One of the foundational principles of the Protestant Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria for the glory of God alone. We must live, work, create and consume with this question “Will God be glorified by my creation or enjoyment of this thing?” If the answer to this question is no then avoids it if it is yes enjoy it and thank God for it. As Christians, we must be careful that we are not defined primarily by what we avoid, but we must strive to be defined by who we do all things for.

If our kids grow up with a secular sacrad view of the world they live in they will be unable to meet the demands the world creates. They will be ineffective at best and Pharisees at worst. We must teach them to long for the the good, the true, and the beautiful that in their lives Christ would be glorified.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

Your Pain is Not Meaningless

The past several days I have been listening to a song by Shane and Shane such a powerful song of lament and pain taken from the book of Job. The lyrics are both challenging and life-giving.I come, God, I come

I come, God, I come
Return to the Lord
The one who’s broken
The one who’s torn me apart
You strike down to bind me up
You say You do it all in love
That I might know You in Your suffering

For those who don’t know or profess Christ’s name, there are no guarantees in life. As an adopted son or daughter of our Heavenly Father, we have a couple of powerful guarantees. We are guaranteed that we will suffer in this life.

We are also guaranteed that that suffering will be momentary and also meaningful. Paul says this so powerfully in 2 Corinthians 4

17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

John Piper expounding on this passage says the following:

Is excellence killing the church?

Why we need more good churches and fewer excellent ones.

If you regularly attend church conferences you will no doubt hear the rallying cry for excellence in the church. In some ways this is a good thing. I am all for pastors working hard and doing all they can do to reach people with the greatest message ever told. Where excellence starts to kill the church is when we make our church a polished flawless exhibition that we invite people to be impressed by.

When the church takes its cue from the business world and perfects its processes so that it can extend its reach and solidify its brand we have lost our way.

When excellence drives us to be efficient with people so we can be innovative with problems we are no longer the church we are simply a 501c3.