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.

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Book’s I’ve Read Recently

I enjoy reading and writing reviews of what I have read here on my site. However, I do not always review every book I read. Some books I simply read and put them on the shelve. But in an effort to review and recommend more books here on my site I will be posting “mini-reviews” from time to time of recent books I have read. So today I want to share some quick reviews of three books I have recently finished.

FURT_9781601424563_jkt_all_r1.inddCrash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick. Crash the Chatterbox was a good read. I read a chapter a day during my devotional time and learned a lot about how Satan and his lies can cause me to loose focus on my Savior and His promises. Furtick is one of my favorite preachers to listen to and I have enjoyed reading his books. In this book Furtick considers some of the “chatter” Christians hear in their heads from Satan that often times trips them up and causes them to fail. He gives Biblical principles in how to overcome the “chatter” and reminds readers of the promises of God. This was a really easy read that I would recommend to anyone that is looking for a book to help them in their spiritual growth. Overcoming the lies of the enemy is important if we want to believe and live out the promises of God for our lives.

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Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples by Duffy Robbins. When it comes to youth ministry, I love reading and learning from Duffy Robbins. This guys has been around for a long time and is full of youth ministry related wisdom. It’s evident from his books (and when you hear him speak) that he loves Jesus and teenagers. He is also passionate about helping youth pastors follow the Great Commission in making disciples, which is what this book if all about. In this book, Robbins shares how you can build an effective youth ministry that builds teenage disciples. This by far was one of the best youth ministry books I have ever read. It was practical, but very theologically sound. Robbins doesn’t just share how to attract teenagers, but how to pour into them and help them become fully-devoted disciples of Jesus. I really enjoyed chapters 2 and 3. In chapter 2 Robbins talks about how youth ministry is more about the youth pastors relationship with Jesus than anything else. Then in chapter 3 Robbins talks about how youth ministry must be incarnational. With Jesus ministry as the blueprint, Robbins helps youth workers see the important of being with teenagers and how healthy relationships with teenagers make for great ministry. I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone in youth ministry both full-time or as a volunteer.

cotw-cvrCreature of the Word by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson, and Eric Geiger. We need Gospel-centered local churches. Not many pastors (or Christians for that matter) would disagree with this statement. But what does a Gospel-centered local church look like? How does a Gospel-centered church operate? Those are the kinds of questions this book addresses. The local church is all about Jesus. He built it, runs it, and owns it. The Gospel, the good news of what God did through Jesus, is what should drive the church. The Gospel, the person of Jesus, should be at the center of it all. The first few chapters (chapters 1-5) unpacks this truth while the last section (chapters 6-12) get more practical in dealing with how the Gospel impacts everything from church leadership, ministry, preaching, and contextualization. I really enjoyed chapter 8 and what the writers had to say about children and student ministry. As well as chapter 9 and the discussion on what is Biblical, Jesus-centered leadership. I’d recommend this book for anyone who is in church leadership and is passionate about building a Gospel-centered church.

I’m currently reading The Judgment Seat of Christ by Samuel Hoyt and plan to start reading Perry Noble’s new book Overwhelmed this week. Reviews coming soon.

How Do Christians Respond to Tragedy

How do Christians Respond to Tragedy?The tragedy that happened last week in Newtown, Connecticut was a reminder to Christians everywhere that they live in a fallen, broken, evil world. Innocent elementary students getting shot is not right, in fact, it’s down right evil. We are torn between compassion for the families effected and anger for the person who is responsible for this senseless act. But it’s a reminder that the world is not how it should be, it is fallen and broken because of one word-sin. It would be easy to get into a theological conversation and explain the effects of the fall and try to explain how it has and is messing up our world, but that’s not my intention here. My goal in this post is to share a few thoughts on how Christians practically should respond to tragedy whether it’s tragedy in their life personally or in the world around them.

Mourn. We should never try to avoid our first response to tragedy which is to mourn. Christians must not think mourning is “not spiritual,” but should embrace a season of mourning because it’s a natural emotional response. In fact, our Savior when He was on earth mourned. In John 11:35 it says that Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus. Not only did our Savior mourn, but Scripture tells Christians to weep with those who weep. So when tragedy hits, don’t be afraid to mourn and when tragedy hits someone else, mourn with them.

Don’t try to have all the answers. I’m guilty of this myself. As the events of last weeks shooting in Newtown unfolded, you saw tons of tweets and Facebook status that either had a “clever Christian saying” or someone trying to explain why things like this happen. The most honest and respectful thing you can do when tragedy strikes is to humbly mourn and reach out to the One who does have all the answers and that is God. Whether you’re the one facing the tragedy personally or are a spectator watching tragedy unfold in someone else’s life, don’t try to “fix” it or make it seem better with right answers. We are all sinners who live in a fallen world, cry out to Jesus.

Trust God’s Sovereignty. I want to be careful here because I could very well fall into the trap of trying to have all the right answers. But I do know that God is sovereign, even when it doesn’t seem like it. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to believe and understand that God is sovereign, totally in control, when something as evil and senseless happens, like it did  last week in Newtown. But somehow He is. This is why I cringe when people say, “Where was God when these shootings happened” or “If we put God back in school this might have not happened.” Christians, God didn’t go anywhere and just because the Ten Commandments don’t hang on the wall of our school doesn’t mean God isn’t in the schools. In fact, God is everywhere and there is nothing we can do that can change that. Check out Psalm 139:7-8. In his book Radical, David Platt says, “We can rest confident in the fact that nothing will happen to us in this world apart from the gracious will of a sovereign God. Nothing.” How does this work when we hear about innocent children getting shot and tragedy hits homes? I don’t know, but we Christians cannot allow this fallen world to make them forget that our God is sovereign.

Hope in Christ and the good news of the Gospel! Suffering and tragedy are a part of this world. But as Christians, it should remind us that our hope is in Christ and the Gospel reminds us that God is in the process of reconciling His creation back to Himself and one day it will be complete. He will come and make all things right! I saw this tweet on the day of the shootings that reminds Christians of this truth. The tweet said, “Come Lord Jesus. End this thing and make all things new.” Our hope is not in “getting God back into our schools” or having new gun laws, but our hope is in Christ and one day He will return and make all things right.

I don’t claim to have the perfect plan for responding to tragedy and I know it’s easy to write these things when I’m not the one facing the tragedy personally. My prayer is God will give me the strength to respond to tragedy, whether in my life or in the life of someone else, in way that is true to His Word and honors Him.

Here are a few links that I have come across in the past week that add to these thoughts:
Steven Furtick talks about the Churches role in tragedy
How to Respond to the Horrors of a Broken World by Ed Stetzer
NBC’s time of reflection (not Christian-based, but is applicable).
Joey Newton’s first hand account is a very good read on this event.

Recovering from a Bad Sermon

If you have been in a ministry position where you preach or teach on a weekly basis, you know how it feels to preach a few terrible sermons. I had one of those experiences last night in our student ministry. Honestly, it was one of those sermons that I was just ready to be done with. Don’t get me wrong, the Lord spoke through His Word in spite of my terrible preaching and many students talked to me after the service about the topic. So what do we do after our preaching and teaching doesn’t go as well as planned? Here are a few things I have been reminding myself of since last night:

1. Trust in God’s sovereignty. At the end of the day, God doesn’t need us to preach or teach the world’s best sermon. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” God’s Word is powerful and able to change the heart of those who you are preaching to. You don’t have to read the Bible very long to see that God uses things that look “terrible” to us to accomplish His will. God still spoke through your terrible sermon. However, this shouldn’t push us to not prepare well and not strive to communicate God’s Word the most creative way we can, but it should give us comfort when our preaching doesn’t come out the way we intended it to.

2. Don’t dwell on it. I have a tendency to dwell on a terrible sermon. I will usually ask my fiancée over and over what she thought about it, and sometimes I even catch myself trying to “explain” to her why it was so terrible. The best thing you can do after preaching a terrible sermon is simply move on and focus on preparing your next sermon. Remind yourself of number one, trust in God’s sovereignty, and move on.

3. Learn from it. Another thing you can do after preaching a terrible sermon is to simply learn from the experience. Last night when I had my “terrible sermon” experience, I knew it wasn’t because I didn’t prepare the sermon right or study the Scriptures; it was because I stayed up way too late the night before. I was mentally and physically exhausted which resulted in not being able to communicate God’s Word well. Learning from a terrible sermon is a good way to stay humble as a preacher of God’s Word. Admit it was not your best sermon, and move on by learning from the experience. See what you need to change or do better so you can avoid it next time you preach. As people who are preaching and teaching God’s Word, we must continue to learn and grow from our mistakes.

I hope these simple thoughts will help you when you face your next “terrible sermon.” Even though God’s Word is powerful and can change hearts, we as preachers and teachers will struggle to share it well every time. If you preach God’s Word often, you will have some sermons that are not your best, but rest assured, you will have a few sermons and lessons that you knock out of the park!

Steven Furtick, lead pastor of Elevation Church, wrote a great article on this same subject. I ran across it after I wrote this post and believe it would be a great article to check out. Click here to view that article.

Favorite Quotes from The Elephant Room

Yesterday I was able to attend a live streaming of The Elephant Room at Christ Community Chapel in Hudson, OH. If you have never heard of The Elephant Room it is simply where a group of well-known pastors from different backgrounds and church styles come together to talk about the things most church leaders are debating behind closed doors. Elephant Room Round 1 took place last year and I was able to watch the DVD set when it came out. This year I was able to go watch The Elephant Room Round 2 live through a live stream. I cam away from the event yesterday encouraged, convicted, and challenged. It was simple a great event where men who love Jesus and the Gospel came together and put aside their differences to have the conversations we usually have behind closed doors. The amount of unity, love, and respect that was demonstrated by these men was amazing! I wanted to share a few of my favorite quotes and points these men made throughout the day. Before I share the quotes and points, here is a quick run down on the pastors that were a part of the event.

Jack Graham-Pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church. Has served two terms as president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Mark Driscoll-Preaching pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
Steven Furtick-Pastor of Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC.
Crawford Lorritts-Senior Pastor of Fellowship Bible Church in Roswell, GA.
Wayne Cordeiro-Founding Pastor of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Honolulu, Hawaii.
James MacDonald-Pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel and started The Elephant Room.
T.D. Jakes-Senior Pastor of The Potter’s House.

Conversation #1: With a Little Help From My Friend
What is the future of denominations. 

“Denominations that do not do missions should go away.” JG

“A denomination is a para church ministry, it should come along side local churches.” JG

“A lot of money is being given, but is work being done?” MD

“Are we going to be kingdom builders or empire builders?” WC

“Don’t take overseas what you are not doing locally.” JG

“We are not trying to be Calvinists, we are trying to be evangelists.” MD

Conversation #2: Can’t Buy Me Love
What essentials should be part of the Gospel presentation. 

“Sharing the message creatively is not watering it down.” SF

“God has called me to preach the Gospel, not critique it.” SF

“Preaching is sharing truth through personality.” JM

“If people meet Jesus, is there a wrong way to do that?” MD

“It’s easier to be a critic than a preacher.” MD

Conversation #3: A Hards Day Night
How can a pastor handle the pressures of ministry and burnout. 

“Everyone is susceptible to burnout.” WC

“What fuels you on the inside can destroy you on the outside.” WC

“Pastors dont forget their pastors, they forget they are human.” WC

“The Devil cannot steal your ministry so he steals the joy of your ministry.” WC

“The Devil cant push you off the ledge, but he will try to do something that will make you jump.” WC

“You cannot critique what you have not seen.” TJ

“I try and have relationships that complete me not compete with me.” TJ

“Your wife should be your number one accountability person.” JG

“Your identity is not your ministry.” MD

Conversation #4: Ticket to Ride
What are the “majors” of Christian doctrine that we must agree on. 

“The nature of God is a mystery.” MD

“None of our books on the Godhead will be on sale in heaven.” TJ

“Stumbling to explain God is worship.” TJ

“If we dont do a better job at communicating we will not survive.” TJ

Conversation #5: Come Together
How do we pursue racial harmony in the church. 

“The way to get the walls down is to tear off the roof” JG

“I believe some churches are dead, and should be dead, because they are full of hate.” JG

“When I know you, I can love you.” JG

“You can’t integrate your ministry until you integrate your life.” TJ

“The church is not doing as good as the world is doing with integration.” TJ

“We serve a God who challenges us to be uncomfortable.” TJ

“The lack of moral courage in the church is appalling.” CL

“If you are serious about being used by God, you must understand God is bigger than you.” TJ

Conversation #6: Help
What do we do when a pastor or church leader fails morally? 

“I’m a steward of the integrity of the church and the message.” CL

“When we confront others over sin, there should be tears in our soul.” CL

“It’s not only confession that heals, but repentance.” WC

“A mans marriage will go silent before it goes south” JM

“You can tell a lot about a mans marriage from the countenance of his wife.” JM

“Restoration to fellowship is different than restoration to leadership.” JM

“I have never talked to someone who has failed morally that was not consistent in his time with the Lord.” CL

“Ministry is not a right, it is a privilege.” JM

“It’s not about the messenger, its about the message.” JM

Conversation #7: We Can Work on It
What responsibilities do we have to local pastors who exist outside our theological boundaries, but within the body of Christ? 

“I’m still fired up about the doctrines, I’m just not angry about it.” JM

“People say they are defending the Gospel, but they really are just being crappy friends.” SF