Books I’ve Read Recently

412glbtjnrl-_sx326_bo1204203200_On Preaching by H.B. Charles, Jr. I always enjoy reading books on preaching. This was one of my favorites because of all the practical insights it includes. It’s a short book that includes very short chapters. Each chapter covers something in regards to preaching. It feels almost like sitting at a coffee shop with a seasoned preacher who is sharing all the wisdom he has about preaching with you. I enjoyed every chapter of this little book. I’d encouraged anyone who is involved in preaching ministry to read this book. No matter if you’re a beginner or have been preaching for many years, this book will encourage and sharpen your skills.

407250Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. This is one of those books that have been on my list for a long time. Because I am doing a series with our students on what happens after we die, which includes a sermon on hell, I decided to pick this book up and give it a read. Chan and Sprinkle do a great job at addressing the topic of hell from a Biblical point of view. This book almost serves as a short survey of what the Bible teaches on hell. Believers, and non-believers, would do well to read this book. It brings the reader face to face with the reality of hell and what the Bible says about it. There was much I enjoyed about this book but my favorite parts where the short survey of universalism (chapter one) and two chapters on what Jesus and His early followers believed about hell (chapter two and three).

51g97t4vywl-_sx370_bo1204203200_The Top Ten Leadership Commandments by Hans Finzel. The Bible is full of great leaders that God used to do amazing things. One of those great leaders was Moses. In this book, Finzel looks at the life and leadership of Moses and pulls out ten “leadership commandments” that leaders should follow. I enjoyed Finzel’s Biblical approach to leadership in this book as well as how he helped the reader understand how they can apply these lessons to their own leadership. Mixed in with all of this was many examples and illustrations from Finzel’s own leadership journey. This wasn’t one of the best leadership books I have read but it was encouraging and helpful.

Books I’ve Read Recently

The Christ-Centered Expositor514vgksbzl-_sy344_bo1204203200_ by Tony Merida. This is by far one of the best preaching books I have ever read. From the title of the book it’s pretty easy to catch what Merida is passionate – expository preaching that is Christ-centered. The goal of this helpful books is to help preachers (even though others could benefit from this book but his main audience is preachers) understand how they can better preach Christ-centered expository sermons. It serves as a handbook to do just that. What I love about this book is how Merida spends the first half talking about the preachers heart. These are challenging chapters that will cause preachers to evaluate their life, doctrine, prayer life, and more. These early chapters help the preacher see that who is plays into what he preaches. The second half of the book is extremely practical. These chapters lay out a five step process to writing Christ-centered expository sermons. I’d recommend this book to those who have been preaching for a long time as well as those who may be in seminary preparing for pastoral ministry. It’s also helpful for those in between who are early in their ministry career.

Growing Younggy_green_cover_coming_soonv3 by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin. This is the newest book put out by the Fuller Youth InstituteThe Churches Engaging Young People project studied churches who were effectively engaging 15-29 year olds (click here to read more about their research). From their research they found out there are six essential strategies that churches use to engage teenagers and young adults. This book helps churches understand how they too can practice these essential strategies in their context. I really enjoyed the depth of this book and the extent of the research. In addition, the book also gives many practical steps for churches to follow if they want to effectively reach teenagers and young adults. I also really liked how they included many stories of churches doing this well. I came away with some great ideas but also with some fresh inspiration for reaching teenagers and young adults in the context of the local church. I would recommend this book to anyone who serves in a local church, especially those who work with teenagers and young adults.

67084Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. In this book Alcorn helps the reader understand money in light of God’s Word. There is almost too much in this book to even be able to write a short review. It’s packed with challenging chapters on tithing, giving, debt, savings, materialism, church finances, and money in light of eternity. Alcorn is both extremely Biblical and practical. He doesn’t hold back in sharing with the reader what God says about money and goes to great lengths to provide practical things for the reader to do in regards to their money. I’d recommend this book to every believer who wants to better understand God’s view of money and how they should handle it.

Up next on my reading list is On Preaching by H.B. Charles and Erasing Hell by Francis Chan.

Book Review: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

gospelcenteredym_205_316_90There are a few books I consider “must reads” for people in student ministry (if you want to know what they are ask me). Recently I read a book I would add to that list and it’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It’s one of the most theological and practical books I have ever read in regards to student ministry.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of voices. Every chapter focuses on a different area of student ministry and each chapter is written by someone who has a passion and gifting in that area. Each chapter is written pretty much in the same way – a section on how the Gospel informs and shapes that area of student ministry and a section on how to practically grow in that area of student ministry. Also, at the end of each chapter there is a list of recommended books on the subject of the chapter.

Two of my favorite chapters were Eric McKiddie’s chapter on expositional teaching and Tom Olson’s chapter on singing. All the chapters in this book were excellent but these two were the ones that impacted me the most.

In McKiddie’s chapter, he argues that teaching the Bible is the main task of anyone in student ministry. He says, “While fun is an indispensable part of youth ministry, your main task is to convince your students, week after week, why they need Jesus and to show how the Gospel profoundly after every area of life” (page 55). He believes expositional teaching is the best method for this. After giving his reasons for expositional teaching in student ministry he gives some practical steps in how to craft a Biblical expositional sermon for students. His steps serve as great reminders for people newer to writing sermons as well as to seasoned veterans. Olson’s chapter on singing was another one that I really enjoyed. He argues that corporate worship should be vital a part of student ministry. He says, “It’s not just a warm-up for the message or a means to corral hyperactive teenagers. God has made singing important. Singing is vital for the health of our students and the strength of our ministries and, in harmony with strong teaching, singing will get the word of Christ dwelling richly in their lives” (page 142).

I could say more about these two chapters and the rest of the book but I’d rather you grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you’re in student ministry I’d highly suggest this book for you and your team.

Books I’ve Read Recently

The Imperfect Pastor41uu0g9bztl-_uy250_ by Zack Eswine. This book is by far one of the most honest pastoral ministry books I have ever read (Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp would be another one of those). In this book Eswine helps pastors see that despite what the “celebrating pastor” culture is telling them, pastoral ministry is more about walking with Jesus and serving Him in the local context He has placed you in. Throughout this book Eswine uses the example of Jesus to show what pastoral work looks like. From this approach it’s easy to see that our current model of pastoral work doesn’t always match up with what Jesus had in mind. This book was refreshing for someone like me who during college and seminary was influenced heavily by what we may call “celebrating pastors.” Reading and listening to guys like Mark Driscoll and Steven Furtick often times left the impression that if I didn’t serve at a big church or had as much influence as them I was a failure in ministry. At times it feels like I came out of college and seminary more prepared to climb the “ministry ladder” rather than serve Jesus daily in pastoral work in whatever context He put me in. This book helped me leave some of that baggage behind and focus on what really matters, which is following Jesus daily and serving Him daily in the church context He has placed me. I would highly recommend this book to pastors, especially younger guys in pastoral ministry.

703729_f450Vertical Church by James McDonald. This is a book that had been on my list to read for quite some time. I decided to grab it and give it a read after hearing both good and bad things about it. In this book McDonald argues that churches should be “vertical.” By that he means that churches, particularly in their weekly worship services, should be about the glory of God and helping people experience that glory. The bottom line seems to be that churches should be more about God’s glory and not cultural relevance or anything else that drives churches and directs what they do. The first half of the book deals more with a Biblical basis for the “vertical church” model and the second half is more practical in that it explains how a church can be “vertical.” In the second half of the book, McDonald goes through several pillars of a vertical church – unashamed adoration, unapologetic preaching, unafraid witness, and increasing prayer. Overall I enjoyed this book. However, there were a few things that didn’t sit well with me. First, McDonald seems to have a “my way or the highway” approach. This makes sense when you realize McDonald argues that the “vertical church” model is Biblical. He has a deep and strong conviction of that, which leads to his dogmatic tone. But at times it came across a bit much. Second, his chapter on worship (unashamed adoration) seemed to make the case that expression in worship is the end goal and when one lacks expression in worship they lack true worship. I like his heart behind this chapter – that true worship seems to show itself in expression (we see that in the Bible, especially in Psalms). But true worship (which we need to be careful not to just consider singing in church as worship, worship extends beyond just singing), doesn’t always show itself in outward expression. Tim Challies shares more about the weakness and danger in this chapter as well as some other chapters in this book in his review.

9781433549731_p0_v1_s192x300When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken. I read this book in preparation for a series I did with our students called “Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering.” This book not only gave me some nuggets for that series but also helped me understand how to respond when troubles comes into my own life. This book works off the premise that trouble is a part of our lives in this fallen world. Life is tough and trouble comes our way more than we would like. In this book, Ryken uses various Biblical characters and their troubles to show us how we can walk with God when those kinds of troubles come at us. Each chapter is very practical and easily to apply to your life, especially if you’re going through the same type of trouble that Biblical character is going through. This is an easy read that I would recommend to everyone.

Two others books I recently read that I chose not to review were Culture Making by Andy Crouch and Excellent Preaching by Criag Bartholomew.

Book Review: Can I Smoke Pot?

pot-draft-cover4-minI’m a big fan of the books Cruciform Press are publishing. They are short and simple as well as usually geared towards relevant issues of our time. Recently I picked up a copy of one of their latest books called Can I Smoke Pot? by Tom Breeden and Mark Ward.

The tagline of this book (“Marijuana in Light of Scriptures”) says it all. In this book, Breeden and Ward use Scripture to discuss the questions many Christians are asking today: Can I smoke pot? Can I use marijuana for medical purposes? The Bible permits drinking alcohol but not drunkness so can I smoke pot as long as I don’t get high? All these questions and more are discussed in this helpful book.

Breeden and Ward start their discussion where the Bible starts – creation. They show the reader that like everything God created, marijuana was created good. However, sin entered into the world and marred God’s good creation. The idea of calling marijuana “good” may be difficult for some Christians but Breeden and Ward rightly add that “respectable, buttoned-down, middle-class, church-attending Western Christians need to say full-throatedly that marijuana is good – or they’ll be betraying Genesis 1 and 2” (page 17). If you stop reading the book at this point you may think the authors are supporting any and all uses of marijuana. This is not the case. If one continues reading they will see that.

Next Breeden and Ward discuss marijuana and government. Scripture clearly teaches that Christians are to submit to government as long as government is not out right rebelling against God’s Word. In this section the authors build a Biblical argument for government being part of God’s good creation and how Christians are to act towards government. So before one can consider if marijuana is right or wrong for medical or recreational use, they must first submit to the laws their government has put in place. For us the US, we are in a strange spot. Some states have legalized the use of marijuana but at a federal level the use of marijuana is still illegal (page 31). With this being the case, Breeden and Ward correctly state that “as of this writing, for any Christian, anywhere in the United States, to smoke pot is to resist the governing authorities. It is, in unmistakable terms, to resist God” (page 32).

What about using marijuana for medical purposes? This is where the discussion goes next. Unlike the other chapters, the authors are less strong in stating their stance here. I believe they do this wisely because there is much we still don’t know about the issue of medical marijuana. But what they do argue in this chapter is that if marijuana can be used for medical purposes, the fact that it is commonly used for evil shouldn’t keep us from using it in medically. Again, this may be a hint as to the authors convictions on this issue but they never state it much more than that in this chapter. They also use this chapter to show the reader that medicine is a gift and tool that God often uses to heal. Christians shouldn’t reject the use of medicine but should accept it as a gift and tool that God uses.

Breeden and Ward finish up their discussion with tackling the biggest question that comes up with this issue – since the Bible allows Christians to drink but not get drunk, can’t Christians smoke pot and just not get high? Before answering that question the authors spend the first part of the chapter dealing with what the Bible says about drinking alcohol. They do an excellent job of using Scripture to argue that drinking alcohol isn’t a sin but getting drunk clearly is a sin. It’s important to note that the authors themselves stand on different sides of the drinking issue but agree with the statement above. One author drinks in moderation while the other chooses not to drink at all (page 56). After this, the authors move to showing the reader how marijuana is actually very different from alcohol. One cannot use the Biblical argument for alcohol for marijuana. One can drink without getting drunk. However, very little marijuana gets you high. One can drink without the goal of getting drunk but it seems that getting high is really the only goal in doing marijuana. Breeden and Ward correctly state what I believe is the Biblical stance against recreational use of marijuana: “It is sinful to get high for the same reasons it is to get drunk. Being high lowers inhibitions, clouds decision making, and deprives people of fruitfulness in their work. Alcohol and marijuana share this danger. So we can conclude that the Bible forbids getting high just as it condemns drunkenness. Smoking marijuana recreationally in order to get high is sinful” (page 72).

This book is extremely Biblical based and gives solid content in regards to marijuana use. As marijuana use becomes even more popular (and probably more legal in the future) Christians need to know how to address it with a clear understanding of what Scripture says. I would recommend this book to all Christians, but especially those in pastoral ministry (this book will be a great resource as you teach and disciple your people).