Books I’ve Read Recently

WeCannotBeSlient-webWe Cannot Be Silent by Albert Mohler. When it comes to being informed and educated about what’s happening in modern culture from a Christian perspective, Mohler is a guy we should listen to (check out his podcast called “The Briefing.”) In this book, Mohler speaks to the sexuality issue we have in our country today. He shares about how the sexual revolution has unfolded over the years and how we, as Christians, should respond. Mohler does an excellent job at tracing the history of the sexual revolution all the way up until current day. In the process he address everything from the homosexuality movement, same-sex marriage, the transgender revolution, and the breakdown of marriage. He caps this discussion off with chapters on Biblical sex, religious liberty, what the church should do, and the hard questions we must face and answer. Throughout this book Mohler is extremely researched, Biblical, and challenging. My favorite part of this book was the chapter on how the sexual revolution didn’t begin with same-sex marriage (chapter 2). In this chapter, Mohler points out, “Opposition to the Christian understanding of sex and marriage did not begin with the arrival of same-sex marriage. Long before those in same-sex relationships had any realistic hope for legal recognition of their unions, heterosexuals in the modern age seemed to be accomplishing the weakening and structural compromise of marriage all on their own” (page 17). Throughout this chapter he argues, “The eclipse of marriage in the last century must take into account four massive developments: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation” (page 17).

41eMBHV46BL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel. This is an older book  by Groeschel that has been on my shelve for a good while. I’ve always enjoyed his books so thought it was time to give it a read. In this book Groeschel challenges Christians to pursue holiness in a very unholy world. He uses the idea of “detox” to describe how Christians need to evaluate how they are living and how the world around them is influencing them. He calls Christians to not stay there but to turn from those things and pursue living the way God wants and tells us to. Each chapter is geared towards a certain negative behavior, emotion, or influence.. He address things like hidden sins, bitterness, envy, anger, fear, materialism, and bad relationships. Each chapter is very practical and Biblical. Groeschel does a great job at explaining what the Bible says about each of these things and what Christians should do in response. My favorite part of this book was the chapter on envy (chapter 6). Through it, God gave me a better picture of what envy is and revealed in me some roots of envy. It was a very challenged chapter that helped me grow.

Walking-with-GodWalking with God Through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller. I picked this book up to read while my wife was in the hospital and had to have emergency surgery due to an infection. It was a very painful and emotional few weeks. You can click here to read her story. Our lead pastor, Joe Coffey, recommended this book to the staff a while back. It wasn’t until my wife started her ordeal that I realized it was time to give it a read. Through it God did some work on my heart. He showed me more about what He says in His Word about pain and suffering and showed me how I should walk through it. Like most Keller books, it has both an academic feel as well as a very practical feel. Throughout the book, Keller uses the idea of a “furnace” to describe going through pain and suffering (he spends a good amount of time using the fiery furnace story in Daniel 3 as a parallel for walking with God through pain and suffering). The first section of the book his more academic and explains different secular views of suffering, the Christian view, and the problem of evil. The second and third parts of the book deal more with how Christians can prepare and walk through suffering when it comes into their lives. This book ministered to me a very deep way when I was walking through some pain and suffering. I would encourage everyone, Christian or not, to take the time to read this book. We will all face pain and suffering in our lives. This book will help you as it will ultimately point you to the One who will help you.

Another book I read that I decided not to review was How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur. I went through this little book with my student leadership team and it was great. It gave me a good refresher in understanding what the Bible is and how we should study it. I would highly recommend this book to new believers or Christians who have not started reading and studying the Bible on their own.

3 Cultural Trends From the 2015 VMAs

This past Sunday MTV held their 32nd VMAs (Video Music Awards). The VMAs is more than an awards show, it’s a cultural display of where we are as a society. If you want to see where are culture is, especially teens and young adults, than go no future than the VMAs. If you work with teens, young adults, or just want to know we are culture is and is going I’d encourage you to watch or follow the VMAs each year. It will teach you a lot. I didn’t watch the entire show this year but did go back and watch some of the highlights. On top of that I read a good amount of articles on the night. In the midst of Miley Cyrus antics, Taylor Swift winning a ton of awards, and Kayne West announcing that he will be running for president in 2020, there were three cultural trends that stood out to me.

Gender identity. Gender in our culture is now a decision left up to the individual. It no longer matters how you were born. If you want to be another gender you have the right to make that happen. Our culture has shifted to the acceptance and celebration of the transgender issue. This was clearly the case with this years VMAs. There were celebrations of transgenders as well as a stage full of drag queens joining Miley for her performance of “Dooo It.” Taylor Swift even threw a punch when she received the award for Best Video of the Year. She said, “I’m just happy that in 2015, we live in a world where boys can play princesses and girls can play soldiers.” Gender identity and manhood/womanhood is something our culture is changing and shifting on.

Faith disconnected from actions and lifestyle. Faith in our culture has become more of a slogan or addition life rather than a foundation of life. Faith no longer is connected to your actions or lifestyle. You can pick whatever faith you want but also live however you want. You can have both and they can be completely at odds. This was clearly seen during this years VMAs when Nicki Minaj received the award for Best Hip-Hop Video for her song “Anaconda” and said, “You know who I want to thank tonight? My pastor.” She then went you to say, “Thank you, Pastor Lydia. I love you so much.” Minaj is known for her sexual explicit content and this song, and it’s video, is no different. The song is all about sex and the video features barely clothed women twerking and dancing. After receiving the award and thanking her pastor, Minaj then goes on to blast Miley Cyrus when she turns the show back over to her. Minaj said, “And now, back to this b**** that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley what’s good?” Faith no longer dictates how one lives and behaves. In our culture we see many people play the “faith card” but rarely do we see them have a life of faith to back it up that is visible in their actions, attitudes, and character.

Drug use (especially marijuana). The use and normalization of marijuana doesn’t come to a surprise to me. It’s easily accessed and doesn’t have some of the same damaging effects other drugs have. However, there were some interesting references at the VMAs to marijuana this year. First, Kayne West admitted to smoking some before he came on stage to give his far too long 11 minute speech. He said, “The answer is YES. I rolled up a little something. I knocked the edge off.” Also, Miley Cyrus performed her song “Doo it,” which in it she boasts “Yeah, I smoke pot. Yeah, I love peace, but I don’t give a f***. I ain’t no hippie.” The point is marijuana use is on the rise, especially with teens, college students, young adults, and our cultural as a whole has become more accepting of it and will continue to be more and more.

These are just a few of the things that happened at the VMAs this year that show us where our culture is and is going. Much of these thoughts in this post come from Walt Mueller’s post on the VMAs. Read that post to get a better glimpse into what the VMAs showed about our culture.

Books I’ve Read Recently

515XatoWK1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Preaching by Tim Keller. Before reading this book it had been awhile since I had read a book on the topic of preaching. Since preaching the Bible is something I do regularly in my role I was excited to pick up a new book on the topic. I gained a lot of wisdom and practical insights from this book and I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a preaching role to read it. I’d also go as far as to say that all Christians should read this book since “preaching” is not just preparing and delivering a formal sermon. All Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel whether that’s at work, online, or in front of a large crowd. However, the majority of this book is aimed at those of us in vocational preaching roles. So this book is helpful to all Christians, but primarily for those in vocational preaching roles. Throughout this book there are several themes and main ideas that Keller covers. First, Keller points out the need for expository preaching and letting the Scriptures lead the way in preaching. This is primarily the focus in chapter one. Keller says, “I would say that expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (page 32). Keller follows this statement up with a few reasons why he believes this and also a few dangers to avoid when doing expository preaching. Second, Keller rightfully argues that the Christ and the Gospel must be at the center of every sermon and should be preached from every text. Keller spends a good amount of time explaining how this can and should be done in preaching. Third, Keller highlights cultural narratives that will impact the way we preaching to an unbelieving world. This was a large part of the book but a very helpful section. Keller helps us understand the cultural narratives that impact preaching in our cultural context and shares practical ways we can preach God’s Word by engaging those narratives. Overall this was a fantastic book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to share Christ well in our culture.

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Creating a Lead Small Culture by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell. Every now and then I read a church ministry or student ministry book that causes me to rethink and evaluate everything I am doing in my student ministry context. This was one of those books. I’m grateful the student ministry that God allows me to lead is healthy and has a good small group structure in place. However, we have areas we need to improve and our small group structure and strategy has some holes. This book has helped me strengthen our small group structure and better develop a team of leaders who serve students in a small group context. The whole point of a “lead small culture” is to have students (or kid if you’re in children’s ministry, which this book is for as well) cared for and ministered to in the context of small groups. Relationship and life change happens when students are connected with an adult that loves Jesus and cares for them. Real teaching, mentoring, and modeling happens in circles not in a crowd. This book walks through three main ways to create a lead small culture: improve the structure, empower the leader, create the experience. The book is filled with practical wisdom, insights, and experiences from other ministry leaders as they share how they have created a lead small culture in their context. If you’re a ministry leader that oversees small groups or just wants to make small groups more of a vital part of your church than you need to read this book. It’s simple, practical, but has the potential to change the way you do ministry to students and kids.

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Get Out by Alvin and Josh Reid. One of the common struggles local student pastors face is the struggle to get outside of their office and church walls and into the community where students are. That’s the issue this book addresses. This book is a practical book for student pastors who want to get onto their local school campuses and into the community where their students and their friends are. Alvin and Josh Reid say this about their book: “This book serves as a primer on student minister focused specifically on getting out of the church building and into the community to impact it for Christ” (page 15). This book helps student pastors realize a much needed shift is called for in student ministry today. We must see our ministry as bigger than our church walls and not just focus on our program and the students we have coming. We must go to the students that are not coming. We must meet them on their turf. We must reach students where they are at. In addition to all of that, this book is filled with practical advice from other student pastors and what they have done to get out and reach students in their communities. I’d encourage every student pastor to read this book. It’s challenging and will help you think about how you can get out and serve students in your community.

I’m currently reading 30 Events that Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky and plan to review that in my next “Books I’ve Read Recently” post.

Parents, Bookmark These Sites!

51af94d1a351c27119Parents, want to know more about the music, movies, and apps your teens talking about? Below are three sites you should visit often to get more information on things like music, movies, and apps. Check them out and then bookmark them so you know what your teen is listening to, watching, or using on their smartphone.

Common Sense Media. This is one of the best sites to get information on things like movies, music, apps, and other things. In particular, their movie reviews are extremely helpful and insightful. They are written for the purpose of parents so they tell you everything you need to know from positive and negative messages, violence, sexual content, and language. Another thing I like about their movie reviews is they always have a “Families can talk about…” section that offers questions and discussion starters parents can use with their children about the movie. Click here to see their movie review of the popular movie “The Fault in Our Stars” for an example of all these things. They also offers these same kind of things for their music reviews. Click here to see their music review of the popular song “Fancy” Iggy Azalea. You can also check out reviews on books, apps, and video games.

Plugged In. Plugged In is a ministry of Focus on the Family and is pretty much offers the same thing as Common Sense Media does. In addition to movies, music, and game reviews they also offer some other helpful stuff on their site. One of them is what they call the “Family Room.” In the “Family Room” parents will find tons of articles and conversations starters for parents.

iTunes Charts. Most teenagers have iPhones and on those iPhones they are downloading tons of apps and hundreds of songs. iTunes charts let you see what the top songs and apps are. This is extremely helpful because your teenagers are probably listening to the top songs and using the most popular apps. Once you see an app or a song you know your teen has said something about, jump on over to Common Sense Media or Plugged In to get a review of it.

There are many more helpful sites out there for parents, but these are three that I am always pointing parents to. Parents, inform yourself with what’s going on and what is popular in teen culture.

What Bruno Mars is Teaching Teens

Bruno-Mars-HD-WallpaperMusic is powerful. Music has a way of shaping peoples believes, identity, and behavior. This is especially true of teenagers who are striving to find out how they fit into the world around them. Many teenagers turn to music to find out what they should believe, who they are, and how they should act. This is why it’s so important for parents to be aware of what music their teenager is listening to.

One of the most popular artist right now is Bruno Mars. Bruno Mars has been around for sometime, but recently is putting out some big hits. This past weekend he performed at the Super Bowl where he sang a few of his hits. As I have listened to Bruno Mars on the radio and even went back and watched his halftime performance I am reminded of a powerful theme he is teaching teenagers through one of his songs.

Sex is the ultimate human achievement. In his song Locked Out of Heaven, Bruno Mars sings, “Cause your sex takes me to paradise. Yeah, your sex takes me to paradise. And it shows, yeah, yeah, yeah. ‘Cause you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven. For too long, for too long .Yeah, you make me feel like I’ve been locked out of heaven. For too long, for too long.” Sexual themes is not new in music and tends to be the focus on a lot of popular songs. In this song, Bruno Mars makes it seem like sex is the ultimate goal. That having sex with that special someone will be the only way to find true satisfaction. That is why so many teenagers so quickly give up their purity because they believe true happiness will come with having sex with that someone they “love.” God created sex and it’s not a bad or ugly thing. In fact, it’s a very beautiful thing God gave us as a gift. However, God did create sex to happen only within marriage between a man and a women. When sex is taken out of that context it gets messed up and it no longer brings joy as God intended. In fact, sex outside of marriage usually brings shame, guilt, and heartache. This is my fear with teenagers listening to this song and letting it shape their behavior. Sex is not the ultimate achievement. It was never intended to be. We were created to find satisfaction in God, our Creator, not sex.

Teenagers our living in a highly sexualized culture. Sex is viewed as something we can enjoy however we want and when we want. Teenagers need to have a right view of sex, but they will not get that from the culture. Parents, how are you teaching your teenagers about sex and making sure they are viewing it the way God intends?