Top 10 Books of 2018

A quick note about this year’s book list. I tried to be better about reading more fiction and I intentionally read more books written by women, I tried to get on the Flannery O’Connor bandwagon but still do not see what all the hype is about. I am nearly halfway through reading all of the major works of C.S. Lewis. I also tried to read a couple of books by people I don’t agree with, Brian Zahnd’s book is on my list if you read his book definitely spit out the bones for they are plentiful. Lastly, I started what I hope to be a tradition with all my kids reading classics over the summer. My oldest son and I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I was so moved by the portrayal of the horrors of the slave trade and the beauty of the Gospel was breathtaking. My challenge is always to read old books and that continues but I would also add the challenge to read books by people who are different than you. One of the beautiful things that are true is that we see life through different eyes and we see Christ through the application of the gospel in our daily life yet our perspective is limited. Reading people who are different than us allows us to borrow their eyes to see the world and to share their pain and to come alongside them and bear their burdens. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy reading next year. 

My Top 10 Books of 2018

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity by Nabeel Qureshi – I listened to the Audiobook with my family on vacation. The Audiobook was read by the author Nabeel Qureshi it was powerful, moving and convicting. Hearing Nabeel in his own voice recounts the pain and difficulty that led to him walking away from everything to follow Christ was so convicting and so powerfully encouraging at the same time. It was important for me to have my boys listen in because they will wrestle with the truth claims of Scripture one day and Nabeel journey to Christ is one they will not soon forget. 

 

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Growing up moving so much meant I changed schools often and as a result, I missed a lot of classics I should have been forced to read in High School. With many schools now seemingly abandoning the classics I decided that during the summers I want to start a tradition where I read a classic work with my kids each summer of Jr. High and High School. This summer I read Uncle Tom’s Cabin with my oldest son. This was such a moving story. To read the horrors of the slave trade and at the same time, the beauty of the gospel so deeply embedded in this book knowing that this was the book that Lincoln credited with the start of the civil war easily made this book my favorite of the year. What dumbfounded me the most in reading this book is I kept waiting for Tom to betray his people as the most well know euphemism taken from this book is calling someone who betrays their own race an “Uncle Tom.” To see the Christlike sacrificial love of Tom on display page after page made me stop and pray that God would give me the love and courage that Tom had in this book. So powerful. Thankful for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s courage to write such a book in a time when doing so did not get you invitations to come to talk about your book on The View. 

 

Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots by J.C. Ryle – J.C. Ryle is one of the most profoundly deep yet at the same time deeply accessible writers of his day. Ryle had such an accessible and practically applicable style. Any work or sermon of Ryle’s I have read I am always, always challenged to live my light different in light of the Grace provided to me in Christ because of Ryle’s ability to distill truth and apply those truths in universally applicable ways. This is a book I will re-read again. 

 

Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith by Michael Reeves – One of the things I am convinced of is that Christians (this means me too) don’t understand the Trinity as we should. We hear the word, Trinity and we avoid thinking about it or talking about it and retreat with claims of mystery. To the Christians faith, there are few things that are more foundational and differentiating than the doctrine of the Trinity. The unity and diversity of God is unique to Christianity. Knowing that we can and should know more about the Trinity the question is often where do I start? I would say right here, Delighting in the Trinity is easily the most comprehensive and accessible books I have ever read on the Trinity. It is a quick read that is well worth your time. 

 

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren – Loved this book Warren has a way of seeing the beauty of Christ in things I never do. Everyone wants to live a life worth living. Our culture is fame-obsessed people do the craziest things for 15 minutes of fame. Yet most of us go from mundane to mundane. Warren explains that the extraordinary life isn’t the one that is lived outside the lines it is lived best by those who see God in the ordinary things of life in the good simple gifts he graciously gives us. 

 

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) by Jen Wilkin – Jen is a fantastic writer. She does naturally what so many speakers and writers struggle to do she takes complex ideas and she distills them to their essence. If you are not going to read Systematic Theology and most people won’t, None Like Him is a must read. Wilkin discusses each of the incommunicable attributes (the attributes of God that can only be true of God) of God with such winsomeness it was a joy to read. 

 

A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller – The best compliment I can give this book is that most books on prayer deal in the currency of condemnation this one dealt in the currency of conviction. This book and Ryle’s pamphlet on prayer are by far the best books I have read on prayer. I left this book challenged on why I pray and how I pray at the same time empowered to pray and inspired to pray. By far the best book I have read on prayer. 

 

Union with Christ: The Way to Know and Enjoy God by Rankin Wilbourne – I really enjoyed Rankin’s writing style. His treatment of the work of Sanctification was one of the best and most accessible books I have read on such an important topic. When we get sanctification wrong it leads to legalism or cheap grace. Our church will be going through this book in our small groups this fall. I highly recommend this book. 

 

 

That Hideous Strength (The Space Trilogy, #3) by C.S. Lewis – In this book, Lewis does what Lewis always does. Lewis’ friend and fellow Inkling said it well “Somehow what Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything.” This book was no exception. If Narnia was the novel form of Mere Christianity than That Hideous Strength finds it’s counterpart largely in the Abolition of Man. Lewis dystopian fiction discusses the nature of salvation and how we in a Spiritual battle in which we have picked a side because in picking no side we have actually picked a side. George Orwell’s early review, for instance, expressed what would become a common criticism: “One could recommend this book unreservedly if Mr. Lewis had succeeded in keeping it all on a single level. Unfortunately, the supernatural keeps breaking in, and it does so in rather confusing, undisciplined ways.” Unlike Orwell, Lewis understood that the supernatural is not subject to our sensibilities. 

 

The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis by Alan Jacobs – I have read several biographies of Lewis this one was unique in that Dr. Jacobs attempts to view the life of Lewis in light of his faith and imagination. How his imagination informed everything else he said and did. Jacobs says it this way in his introduction. What made Lewis write this way, and why it is such a good thing that he was able to write this way—these are hard things to talk about without being (or at least seeming) sentimental, yet they are necessary to talk about. In most children but in relatively few adults, at least in our time, we may see this willingness to be delighted to the point of self-abandonment. This free and full gift of oneself to a story is what produces the state of enchantment….Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted, because without self-forgetfulness there can be no delight, and this is a great and a grievous loss. Those who will never be fooled can never be delighted.

Here are the other books I read this year.

  1. A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
  2. No Quick Fix: Where Higher Life Theology Came From, What It Is, and Why It’s Harmful by Andrew Naselli
  3. Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  4. Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman
  5. Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
  6. In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character by Jen Wilkin
  7. Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God: The Scandalous Truth of the Very Good News by Brian Zahnd
  8. The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther
  9. The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 
  10. Perelandra (The Space Trilogy, #2) by C.S. Lewis
  11. Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence For Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders
  12. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  13. Path of the Assassin (Scot Harvath, #2) by Brad Thor
  14. Expository Exultation: Christian Preaching as Worship by John Piper
  15. Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
  16. The Flash: Rebirth Deluxe Edition Book 1 (Rebirth) by Joshua Williamson
  17. The Lions of Lucerne (Scot Harvath, #1) by Brad Thor
  18. The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard by Kara Tippetts
  19. Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist by Karen Swallow Prior
  20. The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything by Fred Sanders
  21. Art & the Bible by Francis A. Schaeffer
  22. He Is There and He Is Not Silent by Francis A. Schaeffer
  23. Walking with Jesus through the Old Testament: Devotions for Lent by Paul E. Stroble
  24. On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder
  25. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God by D.A. Carson
  26. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture by David VanDrunen
  27. A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
  28. When to Rob a Bank by Steven D. Levitt
  29. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis
  30. Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – and Why It Matters by Helen Smith
  31. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together by Jared Wilson
  32. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach by Bruce K. Waltke
  33. Great Courses: St. Augustine’s Confessions by William R. Cook and Ronald B. Herzman
  34. The Simple Faith of Mister Rogers: Spiritual Insights from the World’s Most Beloved Neighbor by Amy Hollingsworth
  35. Thucydides: The War of the Peloponnesians and the Athenians – Translation by Jeremy Mynott
  36. The Beginner’s Gospel Story Bible by Jared Kennedy
  37. Cottonmouth and the River (Freddie Cottonmouth #1) by C.S. Fritz
  38. The Insanity of Obedience: Walking with Jesus in Tough Places by Nik Ripkin
  39. The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis
  40. 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson

Advent is About Waiting

During Advent, I generally add to devotional reading books, poems, and reflective articles that cause me to pause and think. The essence of Advent that has been lost in a culture that never stops is learning to wait. We have lost the art of patient self-reflection. We have traded introspection for over connection. We have never been more connected yet more alone than we are right now. We in our hurried age with hurried souls need the Advent season to slow us to remember and focus on what is really life.

Celebrating Advent means learning how to wait. Waiting is an art which our impatient age has forgotten. We want to pluck the fruit before it has had time to ripen. Greedy eyes are soon disappointed when what they saw as luscious fruit is sour to the taste. In disappointment and disgust, they throw it away. The fruit, full of promise rots on the ground. It is rejected without thanks by disappointed hands. The blessedness of waiting is lost on those who cannot wait, and the fulfillment of promise is never theirs. They want quick answers to the deepest questions of life and miss the value of those times of anxious waiting, seeking with patient uncertainties until the answers come.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Bonhoeffer is saying that those who can not wait never experience the fulfillment of a promise. Advent is the reminder that we don’t have all that we need in our gifts and abilities. We need God’s help we need rescue. Waiting on a word from God is not something we do well. Listening is not a skill that most people excel in. We must learn to wait on God, wait for a word from Him. Advent is a season of recalibration where we are reminded that doing the most things isn’t the most important thing. That the Messiah doesn’t come in the way or in the form, you would expect.

Waiting challenges our expectations our presuppositions and makes us beggars of truth rather than dispensers of it. Waiting teaches us that our desires and petitions find their fulfillment in seeing God revealed in a baby. Even though scripture doesn’t give us much detail on the years between Jesus’ birth and his ministry, I think the silence of scripture magnifies the truth that even when the Messiah was here he waited until it was his time. Likewise, we must wait. Waiting for the Messiah is something that we have done since the promise of the snake crushing seed was given to our first father and mother. Seven hundred years before Christ the promise was renewed by the prophets telling us not to lose heart the Messiah was coming he was on his way. The people of Isaiah’s day waited for the coming Messiah. It is that coming that we celebrate. It is for that coming that we recreate that sense of longing and waiting for the Advent of Christ for which so many of the true offspring of Abraham patiently endured. We don’t just remember and imagine the longing they must have felt in waiting for the fulfillment of every promise. We wait. We wait for the final Advent of Christ his second coming that was promised to us by Christ himself that is confirmed to us by Scripture.

Are you a Preacher Who Pastors or a Pastor who Preaches.

One of the temptations in ministry but particularly in youth ministry is to be a preacher who pastors. Pastoral ministry is tough there is no way around it, it just is. Preaching is generally immediately rewarding with people telling you that you did a great job or how what you said impacted them positively. Pastoring generally results in very few positive short-term results. Pastoring people is getting down into the middle messes and walking people through dark valleys. It isn’t glamorous. It doesn’t get lots of likes on Instagram.  Pastoring is the necessary hard spirit transforming work of leading your people to a long obedience in the same direction.

The problem is that we like instant feedback we like being told of our impact, so the temptation is for us to become preachers who pastor on the side. If we only ever look at pastoring as the necessary evil that allows us to preach, we have missed what it means to be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. When youth Pastors see what they do as a means to get more people there to heart them preach they have missed the point and have failed to have a broader understanding of what Pastoral Care looks like in the Bible.

We need to change our paradigm of discipleship. Preaching is a powerful means of discipleship, but if those we are training and leading only see us on stage they will fail to understand how that message is formed in years of pain and tears and think that standing on the stage in front of kids as what the Greeks called “Summum bonum” the highest good. Jesus confronted this in his disciples through his radical call to authentic discipleship. Do you want to be great? Yes? Be the least. (Matthew 20) Do you want to follow me? You can’t if you love anything. Anything. Including the good things, he gives us more than God himself (Luke 14). Jesus modeled a life a self-sacrificial love showing us what the highest good actually is.

One of the greatest temptations in ministry is to find value in the wrong things. To find our identity in what we do rather than whose we are. Not in the fact we can preach really well or if we can gather a crowd or if our Instagram photo of us preaching gets enough likes, or by getting good feedback on our facebook page after we preach. Our job is not to preach a tweetable message but to proclaim the fullness of God’s word to a generation who doesn’t want to hear the gospel.

What I have found in over twenty years of ministry in the same church is that even my best sermons are forgettable, but the moments I loved those who are the least of these those moments were never forgotten. Pastoring is showing up to pray for an 8-year-old boy in the hospital about to get his tonsils taken out and is scared. It’s walking into the room where a family is gathered because their dad just when home to Glory. It’s sitting in a living room telling a family that even though their dad left them that Jesus isn’t like that. Those moments are when you better be ready to know when to speak the hope the gospel provides and when to be quiet and weep with those who weep. It is in those moments of pastoral care that your life connects the dots preaching creates. Young pastor be a pastor who preaches not a preacher who pastors.

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary Events in the News

Parent Advice from Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers

I didn’t have a TV growing up but when I would go visit my Grandma and Grandpa for the summers as a kid I would always watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. He was riveting to 6-year-old TV-less me. Now that I am older and have worked with kids for over 20 years I know why. He understood childlikeness. He understood the hopes and fears of kids and he understood how we in many ways never grow past those hopes and fears we just learn how to ignore or indulge them. We have lost the art of civility in our country and have lost our ability and capacity for wonder. It is something that as a nation we need to fight for. We need to face our fears and regain the hope that cynicism has destroyed.

Our kids are growing up seeing more painful things on TV and social media than many in previous generations never experienced in a lifetime. How as parents do we shield our kids without being overprotective? How do we talk to them about the scary things they have seen or experienced? 

Mr. Rogers gives us the following advice that is so typically Rogers: that is both pithy and profound.

  1. Ask your kids how much they know about the situation they are asking about. We find that their fantasies are very different from the actual truth. (Address their fears and give them hope.)
  2. What children need to hear most is that they can talk to us about anything. (We need to listen more than give quick answers or false assurances.)
  3. We will do all that we can to keep them safe in any scary time.

Kids need our presence and our promise to do all we can to protect them more than the need perfect answers to impossible questions. Don’t avoid hard conversations or difficult questions show up and give kids your full attention and then assure them that you will protect them as much as you can in every situation and God will be with them in every situation and perfectly protect them. Kids like us need assurance far more than they need pat answers.

 

 

Build Something Worth Building

Are you building something that has worth?

Building something of worth doesn’t happen just because you work at a church or volunteer at one. Building something of worth isn’t taking some good idea you hear at a conference and force it on your church with the ferocity of a hostage negotiator. Many Churches struggle with what it means to build something of worth. One of the reasons for this struggle is many churches have a warped view of worth. Often we equate success with worth. Often having the right people think highly of us equals worth. At times we actually think that becoming famous builds the kingdom of God when the weight of scripture goes out of its way to communicate that our job is not vine building and fruit-bearing but just being a stick that derives it’s life and produces fruit because of the vine it’s connected to. We need to understand what Jesus considers valuable.

When I am weak then I am strong –

2 Corinthians 12:8-10
8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

To build something of worth, weakness is the way. The older I get the more I realize that what I thought was valuable 20 years ago is worthless. The more I know Christ the more I understand the gospel. The more I realize that Christ is my treasure. He is infinitely more valuable to me than anything. When I understand that I am free to not have to be the man I can make mistakes I can love those who take advantage of me, I can build in a way that checks my ego at the door because It’s not about me being remembered it’s about Christ getting all the glory. Being in the same church for over 17 years I have come to the understanding that if I left not long after I left I would be forgotten.  When we build our own kingdom we waste our strength building what we could never sustain. When we spend our lives glorifying God we pass to the young leaders God has entrusted to us to lead a rich heritage of faith that will outlive us.

Be a good branch –

John 15:1-5 
1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

There is a misguided and if we are honest an exhausting truth that the bigger deal we become the broader our ability to make Jesus more famous. Are we supposed to work hard? Yes. But what we don’t get to do is determine what we want the outcomes to be. We are called to abide to be hidden with Christ. It’s very easy for us to get distracted by the promise of deeper truth or the desire to become Christian famous when all we are called to do is abide. Abide. Our ability to build something that produces fruit is not in how much how hard or how deeply we are connected to the vine but simply that we are connected. If you want to build something of worth and you should. Abide in Christ. What does it mean to abide? Trust Him. Talk to Him. Think about Him. Place your hopes and dreams in His infinite hands. Abide.

You don’t need another good idea –

Ephesians 3:7-9

7 Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. 8 To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things,

Everyone likes a good idea. In fact, I think many of us are addicted to them. I know I am. When I get in trouble or something isn’t going right, attendance is below last year, giving is down. What do I do? Do I ask God for help? No, I go into my thought palace and try to find a good idea to help me out of the hole that I have most often dug for myself. Why do I try and come up with a good idea? Because many times a good idea works for a while. Until it doesn’t then we look for another good idea. We become good idea junkies. We go to conferences to get the next good idea to keep our church or our ministry going. What we fail to realize is good ideas are a by-product, not a source. Good ideas come for principle-based, gospel-centered, Christ exhausting ministries who exist to Glorify God for who he is not just for what he can do for them. Our ability to minister in whatever capacity we find ourselves in a work of grace. Recognize you are a great sinner, preach the riches of Christ because of the miracle of grace by which you have been saved. Do that and no matter what happens in your life you will build something bigger than you. You will build something that will outlast you…..something of worth.

Weakness produces humility, abiding produces dependence and principles sustain.

How do you want to build something of worth?

1. Make sure your life is hidden in Christ. (Col. 3:3)
2. Remember your weakness is a showcase for His glory
3. It’s our connectedness that makes us fruitful
4. Be principally based not idea driven
5. Make sure that you never forget that you are a great sinner who has a great Saviour.

Do those things and your impact may never be felt on twitter but it most definitely will be felt in eternity.