Books I’ve Read Recently

3782Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes by Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien. This book was one of the best books I have ever read when it comes to the topic of reading the Bible. The author’s goal in this book is to help Western readers understand how their Western context impacts the way the interpret the Bible. They point out that often we miss things (some small and some big) in Scripture that people in Eastern cultures as well as during the time when the Bible was written wouldn’t have missed. The authors chose to focus on nine major differences between Western and Eastern cultures that impact the way we read and interpret Scripture. By doing this they help the Western reader understand the Bible in the culture it was originally written. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to grow in their understanding of Scripture and how to read it well.

81pthaDM8wL._AC_UL320_SR214,320_The Self-Aware Leader by Terry Linhart. As a leader there are times you need to step back and evaluate yourself. This book was helpful to me in doing just that. As I lead others I often neglect myself and who I am as a person and a leader. I’m glad I took some time to read this book as it served as a helpful tool is evaluating myself and helping me grow. In this book Linhart helps leaders see the blind spots they often miss. He covers areas like the leader’s past, temptations, emotions, pressures, and more. In each of these areas he helps leaders see where they can go wrong but also how they can manage them well. I really liked how there was a focus on Scripture and what it says about leadership and these blind spot areas. I also liked the practical “self-check” sections inserted throughout the book to help the reader think about and apply what they are reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position.

22116686Facing Messy Stuff in the Church by Kenneth Swetland. Churches are messy because people are messy. Sin has caused major brokenness and people bring that brokenness into the church. In this book Swetland provides several case studies to help pastors and churches think about how they should deal with messy situations. Each chapter is it’s on case study and provides no instruction on what a church should or shouldn’t do. This allows the reader to think about their own situation and how they should handle in within their own church context. There are helpful questions at the end of each chapter to guide this process. The topics covered in this book through the case studies are – depression, sexual harassment, gambling, pornography, divorce, suicide, AIDS, grief, abuse, alcohol abuse, adultery, child molestation, homosexuality, miscarriage, murder, and abortion.

One other book I read recently I chose not to review was A Little Book on the Christian LifeA Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin.

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Books I’ve Read Recently

31804439._UY400_SS400_12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You by Tony Reinke. Smartphones have changed the landscape of our culture. Phones have impacted the way we communicate, view ourselves, work, and even interact with the Bible. All these things and more are discussed in this helpful book. In this book, Reinke walks through twelve ways the smartphone is changing us. Before getting into the twelve reasons he offers a very insightful and helpful theology of technology. As far as I’m aware that isn’t something that has been written about that much in other places. He does an excellent job of laying the foundation and then diving into the twelve reasons. I’m not going to list all twelve reasons here but there were a few that stood out to me as they where the most convicting in my own life – ignore people around us, loss of literacy, and are comfortable withs secret vices. My favorite thing about this book is how Reinke never encourages the read to just get rid of their smartphone as a way to fix the problems and issues it had created. In some cases that might be a good option for people (Reinke helps the reader walk through a few questions to consider if that should be their next step or not) but it may be that many people just need to make changes and adjustments to use their smartphones more wisely. Overall this was an excellent book I would recommend to anyone who uses a smartphone (which is almost everyone).

51EC4hmHOhL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgConscience by Andrew Naseli & J.D. Crowley. I’ve never seen or read a book on the topic of conscience before so when I saw this book I knew I had to read it. As someone who grew up in a culture that I was very legalistic I have always struggled with matters of the conscience and the Christian life. This book was extremely helpful in my journey out of that culture and into a better understanding of the freedom we have in Christ. The first few chapters of this book deal with defining conscience and tracing it’s appearance throughout the Bible. Once the foundation is laid the obvious questions about living as a Christian with a conscience as well as how to relate to other Christians when our consciences don’t agree. In this book the Christian is encouraged to not ignore their conscience but to calibrate it so it’s in line with God and His Word. The authors rightly point out that people tend to have one of two extremes when it comes to their conscience – insensitive (they ignore its warnings and end up with what Paul calls a “seared” conscience) or oversensitive (they pack it with more rules than God intends and make it more about matters of opinions rather than truth). Neither of those are good. God has given us a conscience and we should use it rightly, which requires us to calibrate it with God’s Word. I’d encourage every Christian to take the time to read this important book.

6989A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson. I’ve aways been a fan of Peterson. His consistency and commitment over the years have been something of a model of what a pastor should be about. He is a man who loves God and His Word. These things are evident in this classic book. The book serves as almost a practical commentary on Psalms 120-134 (Songs of Ascents). Peterson points out that “these fifteen Psalms were likely sung, possibly in sequence, by Hebrew pilgrims as they went up to Jerusalem for the great worship festivals” (page 18). Peterson walks through these fifteen chapters and explains what each ones teaches us about an area of following Jesus. As with all his writings, these pages contain a pastoral tone from Peterson and the reader will finish this book convicted for sure but encouraged to continue walking with Jesus.

Two other books I recently finished but chose to not review here are Zeal Without Burnout by Christopher Ash and The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Both were great read I’d highly recommend.

Dealing with Sin Teaching Series

Dealing With Sin Social MediaChristians struggle with sin. When someone becomes a Christians they don’t stop struggling with sin. In fact, before someone is a Christian there isn’t really a struggle at all. They are dead in their sins and live in rebellion against God. However, when someone becomes a Christian their sins are forgiven and they receive a new nature (Ephesians 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:17). This new nature in Christ is what starts the struggle with sin. The old nature remains. Until Christians get to heaven that old nature will still be with them. This old nature is at war with the new nature (Paul shares this struggle in Romans 7). The good news is God has revealed in His Word how Christians can deal with sin. We are not to continue in our sin but strive to put off our old man and put on the new man (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Below you will find a link to a three week teaching series I wrote and taugh on the topic of dealing with sin. In this series, I cover three ways the Bible tells Christians to deal with sin – confession, repentance, and war. Each week focuses on one of these things. This series includes three teaching manuscriptssmall group questions, and the series graphic.

The link below will take you to Download Youth Ministry where you can purchase the entire series or individual messages from this series. While you’re there check out some of the other resources DYM offers.

Click Here to Purchase the Dealing with Sin Series


Note: Please keep in mind this series was originally written for and taught to students. However, it’s a great series for other audiences as well so feel free to tweak it and use it how it best fits your context. I hope this series is a blessing to you and your ministry.

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).

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering (Part 3)

walking-with-god-through-pain-suffering-social-mediaSo far in this series I have talked about what the Bible teaches about pain and suffering (post one) and some of the reasons God allows pain and suffering into our lives (post two). In this final post I want to share a few things we can hold onto and remember when we go through pain and suffering.

God promises He will always be with us. We see this promise throughout the Bible. In Deuteronomy 31:6 we see God promise His chosen people that He will always be with them and that He will never forsake them. It’s His presence that will help them be strong and courageous as they move forward. In Psalm 23:4 David says he can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not fear because God is with Him. As you move into the New Testament we see that Jesus’ name Emmanuel actually means “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). The very coming of Jesus is a reminder that God is near to us. He came to us. Then in 1 Corinthians 6:19 we are reminded that even now as Christians we have God in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. God promises to always be with us. His constant, real, and powerful presence is something we must hold onto and remember during times of pain and suffering.

God understands our pain and suffering. The second truth we can hold onto when we go through pain and suffering is the fact that God Himself understands how we feel because He Himself went through pain and suffering Himself. He entered into this world of pain and suffering and suffered through it. This is a teaching that’s unique to Christianity. Christianity not only gives us a God who is above our pain and suffering but a God who entered into our pain and suffering. He willingly puts Himself through it and knows how it feels. Don Carson says, “The God on whom we rely knows what suffering is all about, not merely in the way that God knows everything, but by experience.” God’s Word reminds us of this powerful truth as well in Hebrews 4:15 (ESV), which says, ““For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” When we go through times of pain and suffering we can run to our Savior because He understands how we feels.

God will end pain and suffering one day. For Christians, the pain and suffering we face on this earth will one day end. There is coming a day when the curse of sin will be lifted and this earth will be made new. One of the amazing things about that coming day is that pain and suffering will be done away with. Speaking about this coming day, John says in Revelation 21:4 (ESV) that “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Christians can look forward to this day and have hope.

Below is the sermon where I preached much of the content above. I hope this series of posts has encouraged you and helped you.