Books I’ve Read Recently

510broL5n+L._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Fundamentalist by Joey Svendsen. This was by far the most raw and honest book I have ever read. However, it was much needed in my life right now. In this book Svendsen shares about his legalistic upbringing in the church as well as his ongoing struggles with mental illness. One of the main themes throughout this book is Svendsen’s journey of understanding his own salvation. He shares about how he use to view the “sinner’s prayer” as a checklist of things he must say and how he felt guilt about certain behaviors or activities all the while wrestling with his faith. He continues to share his stories of faith, doubt, and mental illness all the way up into adulthood. The subtitle of the book gives you a peak into the beauty of this story – “Stories of a mentally ill, obsessive compulsive, legalistic youth group kid turned pastor.” It’s a book that shows how our upbringing can impact us in huge ways and how our own brokenness keeps us from seeing and enjoying the beauty of the Gospel. This was a great read but I say that with caution. If you’re offended by Christians who cuss and are comfortable with talking about sex and related issues openly this is not the book for you. If you are familiar with Svendsen and his work with the BadChristian community this will come as no surprise. I’d still recommend the book but be warned there will be things in this book that don’t comfortably fit into the “Christian book” category. But that’s ok; it’s a great book!

919yabQY9KLLife Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This is one of Bonhoeffer’s most popular books and it stands as a classic on the topic of Christian community. In this little book Bonhoeffer lays out what Christian community is (chapter 1) and then follows that with what daily life looks like with other believers (chapter 2) as well as with yourself (chapter 3). The final two chapters deal with ministering to others as well as confession within the Christian community. The entire book is deeply rooted in Scripture but also extremely practical for Christians among all generations. This book helped me see exactly what God calls me to when it comes to community as well as how that should practically look in my life. There are encouragements in this book that may not come naturally or easy for us in our world today but I believe Christians reading this book, including myself, would do well to follow what Bonhoeffer is suggesting. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is desiring to get a good framework on what Christian community is and how it looks practically within the church.

41aMVzv0zzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Uncomfortable by Brett McCracken. This is another book on the topic of Christian community. Like the title suggest, the theme of this book is being “uncomfortable.” McCracken argues that both our faith and community as Christians is and should be a bit uncomfortable. In the first section on “uncomfortable faith” he lays out how our faith calls us towards the uncomfortable. Everything from the cross, holiness, love, mission, and more doesn’t come naturally to us. Faith propels us to believe and live out some uncomfortable truths. Then he gets into section two on “uncomfortable community.” In this section he dives into various parts of Christian community and how they are important and needed no matter how uncomfortable they make us. For example, he deals with topics like racial diversity, worship styles, and church authority. Two things really stood out to me about this book. First, McCracken rightly admits there is no “perfect church” and that searching for a church that is the perfect fit for you is the wrong approach. In our culture of consumerism this is a much needed reminder. I needed it and I think others do as well. Second, he lives out what he writes. He shares about how his own church context is not the most comfortable to him and how his church isn’t the “perfect fit” for him. He shares stories and illustrations from this part of his life and it’s extremely helpful.

Two other books I’ve recently read that I chose not to review are Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley and More Than a Carpenter by Josh & Sean McDowell.

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Book Review: How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman

_225_350_Book.2558.coverI’m not drawn to conversations about politics and governmental affairs. I’d also consider myself a passivest when it comes to these matters as well. However, over the past year or so this has somewhat changed with the current political climate in our country. Jonathan Leeman’s book, How the Nations Rage, helped me think through how I should and should not engage in these political matters. This book provided me with many things to think through as I set out to hopefully be a humble follower of Christ that can wisely dialogue in the public square.

Overall I enjoyed reading this book. There isn’t anything negative I can really say about it. With that being the case, let me share a few things found within this book I really liked.

First, there is a great chapter on the Bible and politics (chapter 4). It seems that some people view the Bible as a political handbook in how to run a country while others claim the Bible contains nothing about politics. However, Leeman argues there is a balanced approach we can take instead of picking sides. He rightly claims that the Bible contains absolute truths that we cannot let go off no matter the political climate we find ourselves in. These absolutes are things like covenants, commissions, and commands. However, when it comes to things ideologies, constitutions, parties, candidates, and policies we should hold those loosely and seek out wisdom in making decisions in those areas. Leeman says, “When it comes to thinking about politics, the Bible is less like a book of case law and more like a constitution. A constitution does not provide a country with the rules of daily life. It provides the rules for making the rules” (page 79).

Second, there is a great section on the purpose of government. Why does government exist? Does the Bible support it? About midway through the book Leeman gives a short summary of the purpose of government from a Biblical perspective. I found this section to be one of the most helpful in the entire book. I know the Bible talks about government and that there is good use for it but I never really formed a great defense of the purpose behind it all.

Third, the local church is elevated throughout this book. What I absolutely loved about this book was how the local church was constantly elevated and kept at the center. Almost everything Leeman says in this book ties itself back to the local church. The church is where good, God honoring politics should take place. Leeman says, “Our political instincts should develop by living inside the loving and difficult relationships that comprise the church. You might even say our political thinking should be pastoral” (page 133). In addition to making points like the one above, Leeman makes a habit of using his own local church experience to share examples of what it looks like to practice good politics within the local church. These examples help the reader understand how they too can live out good politics within their own local body of believers.

I’d encourage anyone who desires to get a better grip on being a political engaged Christian to read this book. It’s balanced, thought-provoking, and will help you understand how to better being a follower of Christ who lovingly engages the world of politics.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers.

Talking with God Teaching Series

Talking With God Title SlideCommunication is vital in any relationship including a Christian’s own relationship with God. Helping people understand how God communicates to us and we to Him is so important. That’s why we took two weeks in our middle school ministry to talk about just that – how to talk to God. The idea behind this short series is very simple. We wanted to our students to understand that God speaks to us through the Bible and we have the privilege of speaking to Him through prayer. The first week we talked about Bible reading. We looked at what the Bible is and a very practical tools we can use to read it better. The second week we talked about prayer. Much like the talk on the Bible, we looked at what prayer is and how we can pray better following the example Jesus gave in Matthew 6.

I wrote the talk for the first week and our two-year intern Allen Williams wrote the talk for the second week. We wanted to make this short series available to others to use in their own ministry context. As stated above, these talks were originally written for a middle school audience but can be tweaked to fit in almost any context. Click the link below to get both teaching manuscripts as well as the graphics for this series. There is also a “Bible Study Plans and Methods” handout that you can share to go along with the first talk in this series.

Talking with God Teaching Series

Books I’ve Read Recently

173481762God and the Transgender Debate by Andrew Walker. The transgender issue is a popular one in our culture right now. It’s not only a highly debated topic among people but is also becoming a normal part of our culture. From things like gender-nuetral bathrooms to more and more people adopting the transgender lifestyle and the necessary changes that takes. This issue isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. To be fair, this isn’t a topic I’m very familiar with and so far I haven’t done a lot of reading on it. That’s the reason I picked up this book and gave it a read. In this helpful book, Walker helps the reader understand what God says through His Word about the issue of gender identity. Before he dives into any Scripture he does a great job at setting up the book with a few helpful chapters on remembering that Jesus loved people (and we should too regardless of where they stand on this issue), tracing history to see how we got to where we are in our culture, and also defining the terms that go along with gender identity and associated issues. After all this Walker walks through the Biblical narrative of creation, fall, and redemption to show how being transgender and pursuing such doesn’t fit within God’s original design. He writes from an evangelical position that believes the Bible is God’s inspired Word and carries ultimate authority so his conclusion may not be the same as others who do not hold to this same view of the Bible. He ends the book with a few practical chapters on things like how should the church should respond, how parents should respond, and how Christians in general should respond. This was a very helpful book and I’d encourage anyone who wants to understand this issue better to read it.

41mEUKP5ywL._SX348_BO1,204,203,200_United by Trilla Newbell. I recently came to two conclusion – I don’t read enough books written by women and I don’t read enough books written by people of color. In an effort to change that I picked this book up after my wife read it and spoke very highly of it. This little book is both a personal story as well as practical guide to pursuing racial unity within the body of Christ. In her own words, Newbell says this near the beginning of her book: “I’ll share about the beauty of diversity that can be on display to a broken world. We will look at my life as a black female and how God fulfilled a desire of my heart through friendships. I will encourage you to know the benefits of being united in Christ both practically and relationship and the mutual growth acquired through fellowshipping with those different from you” (page 20). I really enjoyed reading your own story as well as learning from many of the practical points she brought up throughout the book. I’d encourage anyone (especially those of us who are white) to read this book and pursue racial diversity in our churches.

31bKcx1VYwL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Bob Cutillo. This is one of those books I started reading and was tempted to put down and not finish. Part of it was because the content was a bit different than I expected and what the content did present didn’t seem relevant to me. However, I’m a big fan of finishing books and making myself read outside my comfort zone. I’m glad I did because it turned out to be an excellent book. In this book Cutillo dives into modern health care and how we as a society are viewing and going about our health. He rightly points out we have become somewhat obsessive over it and with new technology are tempted to think we are in control of our health. Throughout this book Cutillo points to the Gospel as the only answer in this life as well as the benefit of modern heath care when used properly. Two sections of this book really stand out to me as highlights. First, there is a few chapters on death. In those chapters Cutillo does a great job at showing us how we as Christians should face death. It’s part of life and we should embrace it as such while clinging to our hope in Christ. Secondly, there is a chapter on health being a community thing. In this chapter we see that proper health and health care can be found and facilitated within a community of people who love and acre for one another. As believers, this community is the church and we should be loving and caring for one another.

Another book I read recently that I chose not to review was Love Does by Bob Goff.

Transition Ideas For Students

smart-304883-unsplashAround this time of year a few transitions happen within our student ministry: 5th graders move into the middle school ministry, 8th graders move out of the middle school ministry and into the high school ministry, and seniors transition out of the high school ministry. These transitions really start during the last few weeks of the school year and continue throughout the summer months. By the time the next school year starts everyone is in (or out of) the appropriate ministry.

Transitioning students into, out of, and even within your student ministry is not an easy task. However, over the past few years our student ministry team has gained some great experience in this area and have crafted a pretty good plan for transitioning students. We aren’t perfect by any means and some of the stuff we do isn’t even original with us but has been adopted from other ministries we respect.

I want to share with you three ideas you can steal from us to implement within your transition process. Tweak these ideas to best fit your context and see if they help you shepherd your students through these transitions.

Sixth Graders Into the Middle School Ministry
A few years back one of our children’s ministry staff members came up with the idea of having a breakfast for the current 5th graders where the children’s ministry team can officially “send them off” as well as have those students meet the student ministry staff. We tried it and it went great. Each year around this time we have meet with all the current 5th graders to introduce our student ministry team as well as share with them what to expect in our middle school ministry. We show them pictures, videos, and even play some of the most popular games from our ministry. We also give them some free stuff as well as some resources help them (and their parents) connect with our middle school ministry and keep up with what’s happening. This year we are doing all this as well as having a cereal bar that morning. We do all of this within the kids worship services on Sunday mornings so parents are not having to bring their kids to another event during the week.

Eight Graders Into the High School Ministry
Transitioning our 8th graders into our high school ministry is the hardest transition we have. For us, our middle school and high school ministries are very different as far as atmosphere and programming (example – no musical worship in middle school but in high school we have a full band that leads worship each week). Many students have a hard time with this change and we are always looking for ways to do better. Also, a lot of students just get more busy in high school so we don’t see them stick around or at least show up consistently. However, we do our best to celebrate them as they leave our middle school ministry and encourage them to make the transition to our high school ministry. We do this with an event called Edguation. This is one of the things we have adopted from another church that we use to be a campus of. Edge is the name of our middle school ministry so “Edguation” is like our 8th grade graduation. It’s a special night during our normal program where we honor our 8th graders, give them free stuff (ESV compact Bible and high school ministry t-shirt), craft a talk to challenge them (click here to see how we did it this year with a panel of high schoolers), and have some of our high school students there to meet them. One of my favorite parts of this night is when we send all the 8th graders out of the room (our way of sending them out of the middle school ministry) and into the atrium where they are greeted by screams, high-fives, claps, and more from our high schoolers (click here to see a video). After this happens the 8th graders go into another room where they have some cake and spend time talking to the high schoolers. It’s always a great night.

Seniors Out of the High School Ministry
It’s always bittersweet when our seniors graduate out of our ministry. However, we do our best to celebrate with them. One of the ways we do this is by doing a senior night within our normal program. We usually do it within the last few weeks of the school year and it’s a night where we honor our seniors, give them some free stuff (costum ministry alumni t-shirt), and challenge them from God’s Word. In addition to all this we also do a senior video where we have them answer some questions and share advice for underclassmen (click here to see the video from this past senior class).

Transitions are not easy but doing them well is so important to the health of your student ministry as well as for the ongoing discipleship of your students. Above are just a few things we do that you can use in your ministry as well.