Some Varied Vacation Reading

Apart from hearing an excellent sermon on my recent vacation, I also managed to get through a few books on my reading list.

Finally Free

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace by Heath Lambert
I read this hoping to get help in counseling others and found myself helped instead. Yes, this book will now be my first port of call when counseling porn addicts; but even for those of us who don’t struggle with this particular sin, this book’s wonderful gospel-centered focus will help us fight against all kinds of sin with the power of grace.

This is biblical counseling at its best: full of sympathy for sinners, courageous confrontation of sin, accessible biblical truth, the power of Christ’s grace, and radical dependence upon the Holy Spirit. There are just so many texts I want to preach upon now, always a reliable guide to the quality of a Christian book.

I’m no longer dreading  the next phone call or email from someone who has succumbed to porn, because with this book I now have eight grace-based strategies to offer needy sinners. Finally Free will liberate many lives and revitalize many marriages.

your-brain-at-workYour Brain At Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.
Many of us are struggling to cope with information overload and digital distraction. Our brains feel fried at the end of a day, damaging our productivity, our health, our families, and our relationship with God. This book helps us to understand the science of what we are doing to our brains with our current work practices, and helps us to manage our limited mental resources in a healthier and happier way. Put simply, “Know your brain, transform your performance.”

The author follows a totally stressed-out couple as they try to cope with the digital deluge in their work settings. He analyzes their failings and then suggests alternative scenarios that would help them to work more efficiently and enjoyably. He also shows how knowing how our brains work and respond to pressure enables us to understand others better, resulting in better communication, collaboration, and long-term change.

bit-literacy-cvr-175Bit Literacy: Productivity in an Age of Information and Email Overload by Mark Hurst
On the same subject as Your Brain at Work, but a bit more basic with more emphasis on the practical. A good place to start if you want to pick up numerous tips on how to change bad the digital habits most of us have acquired into good habits that will improve our work and lives. If you want to learn how to better manage all the “bits” that swirl around your life – email, to-do lists, photos, files, etc., – begin here.

pastor's familyThe Pastor’s Family: Shepherding Your Family Through the Challenges of Pastoral Ministry by Brian and Cara Croft
I read the pre-publication version of this book a few months ago and provided this endorsement:

Realistic…Honest…Transparent…Spiritual…Practical.” These are the words that sprang to my mind as I read this unique book that will refresh many pastors’ souls, rescue many pastors’ marriages, transform many pastors’ families, and revive many pastors’ ministries.

Anyone familiar with Brain Croft’s growing ministry at PracticalShepherding.com will know that Brian has a huge heart for pastors and their families. He doesn’t speak down from lofty heights of pastoral perfection, but speaks beside us in the trenches of the pastoral battlefield.

This book addresses the pastor, his wife, and his children, and contains a number of useful appendices including “Confessions of a Pastor’s Wife” and “My Battle with Depression” by Brian’s wife, Cara. It’s one of those books that pastors and their wives should probably schedule to read every year.

kevin deyoungCrazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung
Speaking of books that should be read every year (if not, every month!), this book is a game-changer. We’re all familiar with Kevin DeYoung’s wonderful books on a range of theological issues – he’s probably my favorite Christian writer at the moment. However, I’m going to make a prediction that although this is the shortest book he’s written, and probably the least theological and the most practical, that it’s going to outsell all the others he’s written, and I hope do even more good.

It’s not that the book is untheological or lacking in biblical exposition – far from it. It’s more that he’s dealing with such a widespread everyday practical problem – our crazy busy everyday lives – and he does so in such an enjoyable and, yes, even entertaining way. There are so many people I want to give this book to, but I’ve got to start with myself. It’s one of those rare books that you walk away from saying not, “Oh, no I’ve got so much to do,” but “Oh, yes, I’ve got to stop doing so much!” The book itself won’t tax your time too much, subtitled as it is “A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem.”

This townThis Town: Two Parties and a Funeral by Mark Leibovich
I’ve not finished this book, and I’m not sure that I will. It’s not so much the odd swear word here and there. It’s more the way that New York Times Magazine National Correspondent, Mark Leibovich, pulls back the curtain on Washington’s political and media elite and gives us a sniff of their dirty laundry. Although Leibovich is inviting us to laugh at him and other Washington insiders, as they back-slap, lobby, and trade influence on their way to the top, it actually gets quite sickening and depressing the more you read. If you want to have faith in politics to change America, don’t read this book, because you’ll become an apostate.

army-at-dawnAn Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa by Rick Atkinson
Another unfinished book – and at 768 pages I’m not sure I’ll ever reach the end – but one I was glad to at least begin reading. A beautifully written and deeply moving account of how the Allied forces began to liberate Europe and crush the Third Reich in North Africa in 1942-43. As usual with books of this nature, I was stunned at the sacrificial courage of the soldiers. I honestly just don’t know if I could do what they did. I was also shocked at the unpreparedness of the soldiers and sailors. The more you read, the more you realize that the North African victory was an act of God. The minimal training, the pathetic weapons, the half-baked plans, the communication meltdowns, and the egomaniacal generals and admirals, all mixed together should have spelled certain defeat.

But God.

That’s not to downplay the astounding valor of the servicemen. But nothing else can explain how such disastrous planning, equipping, and execution, was turned into such astonishing victory.


Check out

Daily Pray For Your Wife Challenge
I’m a bit late to this, but even if you don’t follow day by day, Mike Leake’s challenge gives us many varied ways in which to pray for our wives.

Reading for Pastor/Elder Development
Joe Thorn shares the books that he has his trainee pastors/elders read in preparation for their installation.

Law and Gospel-Centered Parenting
“If we’re going to parent well, we must parent as God parents. And God speaks two languages in Scripture. As parents, we dare not stop pursuing fluency in the language of the gospel. But, perhaps, it’s time more of us learn to speak the language of law.”

A New Back-To-School Series
I’m looking forward to this series by Marc Cortez: “It’s August and it’s time to think about going back to school. So I thought it might be a good time to write a few posts on approaching school successfully. The idea is to highlight some key issues, share a few of my own thoughts, and call for suggestions from other students and teachers.”

Grace at Work in Dementia
Dave Jenkins draws six lessons from experiencing his dad’s dementia.

Why Your Church Needs More Variety in Your Sermons
And how to do it.


A Powerful Vacation Sermon

I’ve been enjoying a week or so of vacation with my family in “up north” in Harbor Springs, MI. Felt like a bit of a Scottish summer there with temps rarely above 70, cool winds, bit damp, and a chilly wind at times. Home sweet home!

Apart from getting more time with my wife and children, beating my teenage supermen at tennis, and successfully avoiding the pool, the highlights of my vacation were a powerful sermon and getting to read a number of edifying and enjoyable books. I’ll get to the books tomorrow, but today let me tell you about the sermon.

Warm Welcome
We surfed around the Internet on Saturday night looking for a church to worship in and eventually chose a small Baptist Church in Petoskey. Although it looked like it was a bit Arminian in theology, it seemed the most conservative in worship among what looked more like child-dominated stage shows on other church websites.

We received a warm welcome – although by the fifth interrogation about who we were and where exactly we were from I “took the fifth” as I suspected that we’d stumbled into an NSA convention. We really should have an optional door on our churches that has a sign saying, “If you enter this door we guarantee you a seat at the back and NO QUESTIONS!” It might be the most successful outreach strategy ever – at least for men.

Anyway, the lively worship was well within my comfort zone, and I began to look forward to the sermon. And what a treat it was!

Powerful Sermon
The pastor was an ex-policeman and had the dignified bearing and posture to match. He had no seminary education, but he had what no seminary education can give – UNCTION – that mysteriously wonderful God-given passion for God’s truth and the good of souls that transforms the weakest material into preaching that glorifies God and saves sinners.

His sermon broke many “homiletical rules” and probably would have been torn apart at “Practice Preaching” but it left an abiding impression that will live much longer in my memory than many “perfect sermons” I’ve heard. Although he didn’t really expound his text, the sermon was on a biblical theme, and it had a definite structure.

Reality
What it had above all was REALITY. This was not some academic exercise. This was not delivering a manuscript. This was not someone trying to impress or please. This was a dying man preaching to dying men and women about the life-giving life-saving Christ. He really really believed this, and really really wanted us to as well.

Yes, there were verbal stumbles, logical gaps, awkward expressions, and unnecessary repetitions. But there was also sincerity, passion, urgency, and CONNECTION. Although he had notes, they did not come between him and his hearers. The paper “disappeared” and it became simply one man pleading with fellow men and women to turn from our hopelessness to hope in Jesus.

It was so refreshing, even exhilarating, to feel the power of such PERSONAL preaching. He wandered out of the pulpit and down the aisles; he named people in the congregation at times; it was an ex-policeman in hot pursuit of criminals he desperately wanted to liberate with the Gospel. It was so glorious that I almost wanted to be an unbeliever again so that I could believe for the first time again.

Yes, slightly Arminian at points, but give me a living Christ-filled sermon like this any day over our perfect fact-filled Reformed homilies that are so easy to listen to without listening.


Check out

How Do I Know I’m Saved?
Some outstanding quotes from recent “Ask Pastor John” podcasts. I especially enjoyed the extract from #135 on avoiding ministry burnout, and the childlike/childish distinction in #142.

A Baby Changes Everyone, Not Just Everything
“A baby brother has completed and fulfilled our other two children, enhancing the life of our family in ways I never expected.” I identified so much with what Trevin Wax wrote here about the blessed impact of his new son on the rest of his children.

A Response to Zealot by Reza Aslan
You’re going to be hearing a lot about this book for a few weeks, so here’s a great review to strengthen your faith in Jesus. Ross Douthat comments on the controversy in Return of the Jesus Wars

At Christian Companies, Religious Principles Complement Business Practices
Surprisingly fair and balanced New York Times piece on how Christian-owned companies like Hobby Lobby put their faith into practice.

5 Reasons it’s Past Time to End the Stereotypes About Biblical Counseling
Peace-making Bob Kellemen goes to war against counseling stereotypes.

Pastoral Visitation: The God-Given Responsibility to Shepherd
Joey Pipa provides a list of questions for both congregants and elders to review before a pastoral visit


6 Reasons Men are Opting Out of Marriage

“More and more men are choosing not to go to school, not to get a job, and not to get married. If similar numbers of women were doing the same, someone would raise the alarm, but since men are the ones opting out, the problem has been mostly met with silence.”

So says Dr Helen Smith, author of Men on Strike, in which she argues that men are acting entirely rationally in response to the lack of incentives society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers. In the video below, she presents six reasons why men are opting out of marriage:

  1. They’ll lose respect
  2. They’ll lose out on sex
  3. They can lose their children and their money
  4. They can lose their space
  5. They can lose their freedom
  6. The single life is better than ever.

Despite these powerful cultural trends, I still believe that a persuasive rational case can be made for marriage (see the early pages of Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage). However, this also demonstrates how a culture built on human reason rather than on biblical principles is always at risk of rapid disintegration.

 


Check out

“Too many old people”?
Dan Phillips: “Paul casts a net that takes in the whole age-range of the congregation. Pride of place goes to seniors, to older men and older women, who then have a ministry embracing younger women and men.”

Five Reasons to Confront Even if you Hate Confrontation
Wish I hadn’t read this.

Why Millennials are Coming to Church
Joe Thorn: “We definitely aren’t the cool church in town. Our building is busted. Our worship space is puritan-plain. We are Southern Baptist (definitely not cool up here), complementation, Reformed. There is a lot about is that is uncool in many ways–at least to many outsiders. But Jesus is here, and his people are amazing.”

The Gospel at Work
Matt Perman on productivity and the Gospel. On the same subject, here’s an extract from Matt Heerema’s sermon on How the Gospel affects our Work, and Patrick Schreiner links to a talk by a businessman on Business and the Glory of God.

Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really An Improvement?
Kevin DeYoung answers “no” and points to What the Reformed Liturgical Heritage has to offer.

What Are Areas of Common neglect in a Pastor’s life?
Brian Croft highlights lack of sleep, lack of exercise, and lack of spiritual attention to one’s soul.