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Archive for Books


Book Review: Sex and Money

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One of the best reads of 2013 was Paul David Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling. Based on the influence of that helpful work I purchased and read his next release titled, Sex and Money.

We live in a culture driven to find pleasure, observed most clearly in our preoccupation with sex and money. These two, sex and money are, as the book’s subtitle suggests, “pleasures that leave you empty.” Tripp’s observation is that sex and money are among the two most taboo subjects in modern Christianity. For too long the church has been silent on these topics, partly because of the awkward nature of the subject matter, and partly because pastors and teachers don’t know how to approach them in a healthy way.

The author has taken a thoughtful approach on these matters and has successfully deconstructed the pervasive behavior to get to the real root causes of our obsessions and our seeming inability to conquer temptations. By drilling into the root issues behind our unhealthy obsessions he presents a theological perspective on both accompanied by suggestions on how the gospel of Jesus Christ itself serves as our primary resource. I agree with his simple point: everything is spiritual. Until we are able to see pleasure, sex and money through spiritual lenses, we will continue to grapple with temptation and sin. Until we are able to see sex and money through spiritual lenses we will continue to focus on managing our behavior instead of allowing God’s grace to develop Christian character.

I can’t think of a person who would not benefit from reading this book. Its not just for adulterers and those whose finances are ravaged with credit card debt. Its for you and me. I would not only recommend it for personal growth, but would also recommend it for small group study. It’s honest, practical and biblical. And, by the way, helpful.

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One of the leaders of the organic church movement is Neil Cole. You may or may not be interested in the organic church, but here are some quotes from his most recent book that could be beneficial to any tradition.

“It is time to abandon the domestic faith of suburban consumer Christianity to live a life of risk for the love of a Savior who left heaven to live among the poor and marginalized people of a backward and oppressed nation.”

“If what we have been doing for the past hundred years hasn’t produced a movement yet, why on earth would we keep on doing what we have been doing?”

“When a church starts to accumulate things and hold on to them as prizes worth defending or preserving, they will quickly find that their affection and provision is not found in Christ but in the maintenance and management of possessions and property.”

“Any church that is in competition for a market share of a finite constituency in a given target population is propagating a business rather than a body.”

“Much can be accomplished by creating new wineskins and allowing them to coexist with the old. Wine is meant to be spent, not kept forever. Once wine is gone the old skins are to be tossed aside. The value is in the wine, not the skins. Life never comes from the structure. If we never create new wineskins for the fresh wine we will eventually run out of the wine. Old wine is valuable, and Jesus never wants to spill a drop, but without creating new wine there will never be old wine in the future. It’s the wine that is valuable to God and has the power to change the world.”

“Your church is only as good as its disciples.”

“Death is more than an important idea for discipleship—it is absolutely essential. Without a death, there is no disciple. Without dying to self, we do not have life within us…without death, you cannot have resurrection.”

“A dead leader is a dangerous leader. Such a person has nothing left to lose. No personal glory is at stake. No rewards. Ambition is dead. There is no agenda but what is asked of the leader by Jesus. A dead person has no possessions to protect. You can’t even really tempt a dead person; corpses feel no pain and have no lust. Dead people do not get their feelings hurt or feel offended by what has been said or not said. Once we pass through death, what else is there to fear?”

“Think about it: if your sermon was going to catalyze a revival, wouldn’t it have happened by now? Pastors have been preaching every Sunday for hundreds of year; it is now time to obey all that Jesus commanded, not just talk about it.”

“We believe with all our hearts that a church that is overtly generous with all the resources it has been blessed with will always have enough to do whatever God has called it to. We also believe that greater resources come to the churches that are generous. A generous church is one that Jesus will want to increase and multiply. A greedy church is one that He will not want more of.”

“A leader who is no longer haunted by the far of insecurity leads from a place of incredible strength. When one’s ego is not wrapped up with performance, one will have the courage to make right decisions that may or may not be one’s best interests.”

“Usually, if it is organic, it will not cost money. We often say that it doesn’t cost a dime to make a disciple; it only costs your life. Pour your life where there is health, and let it multiply and spread so that the life pervade the church body…Water the green spot and let it spread.”

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What Americans are Reading

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Barna Research has released a new report on the reading habits of Americans. You can find the research HERE. The research takes into special consideration books that have been made into movies. It is worth noting that fiction outsells non fiction and that Bible reading remains popular across political and religious divides.

Categories : Barna Group, Books
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Christ-Centered Worship

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One of the resources I’ve used for my current series on worship is the new release by Bryan Chapell titled, Christ-Centered Worship. Chapell serves as President of Covenant Theological Seminary and has also authored Christ-Centered Preaching. The book is helpful in that the author traces the development of worship through church history. It was interesting to see the theological development of many elements of worship that we take for granted. Listed below are some quotes from the book that I think you will find helpful.

1. “Always we are to be informed by tradition; never are we to be ruled by it. The Word of God is our only infallible rule of faith and practice, but an unwillingness to consider what previous generations have learned about applying God’s Word discloses either naiveté or arrogance.” (p. 16)

2. “Liturgy (the structure of the church’s worship service) tells a story. We tell the gospel by the way we worship. Where a church maintains the truths of the gospel, it inevitably discovers aspects of worship that are in harmony with other faithful churches. In fact, worshipping with these aspects is one important way a church maintains fidelity with the gospel.” (p. 19)

3. “The structure of a church’s liturgy also inevitably tells its understanding of the gospel story. This means the worship structures that communicate the gospel are themselves shaped by the gospel. The medium is the message because the message shapes the medium.” (p. 85)

4. “Where the church remains true to the gospel, her worship reflects the truths she holds most dear. Where the gospel is lost, worship becomes reflective of a dead tradition or an evolving heresy. There are two immediate implications: (1) when the gospel is distorted, then the worship of the church will be distorted; and (2) when the worship of the church does not reflect the gospel, then the gospel itself is in danger.” (p. 101)

5. “Understanding worship as a love response to the truths of the gospel does not merely shape the contours of the worship service; it also shirts the focus of our hearts in worship. Worship becomes less about earning God’s approval by correct observance of traditions and more about delighting to express our love for him in the ways that most please him.” (p. 112)

6. “Gospel priorities will force us to consider both God’s glory and the people’s good. We cannot simply fall back on what the church did in the past, especially if that no longer brings glory to God or ministers to his people. We cannot simply impose personal preference without idolizing our glory and good.” (p. 122)

7. “We should not be forced to choose between being traditional or being relevant. Only the most arrogant congregation would say that God has taught nothing to its forefathers from which it can learn. And only the most self-absorbed congregation would say that it does not need to be concerned about making its worship relevant to the present generation.” (p. 137)

8. “Over time, only what truly serves the ministry of the Word survives in worship.” (p. 151)

Chapell’s argument is that the gospel itself should shape our worship practices. Christ-centered worship includes–
Recognition of God’s Character (Adoration)
Acknowledgement of Our Character (Confession)
Affirmation of Grace (Assurance)
Expression of Devotion (Thanksgiving)
Desire for Aid in Living for God (Petition and Intercession)
Acquiring Knowledge for Pleasing God (Instruction from God’s Word)
Communing with God and His People (Communion)
Living Unto God with His Blessing (Charge and Benedition)

Part 1 of the book is a blend of church history, theology, and practice. Part 2 contains several practical resources and examples to utilize in worship planning. While the book’s likely target is those who devote themselves to worship leadership, any believer would benefit from Chapell’s outstanding book.

Categories : Books, Worship
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One of the books I’m working through this week is Christ-Centered Worship by Bryan Chapell. I plan to post a review of it in coming days, but wanted to share this brief reflection on how cultural sensitivity informs our worship styles.

“Sensitivity to worshipers’ capacities goes awry when concern to communicate to those in our culture tempts us to be undiscerning about the realities of our culture. Jesus and Paul were willing to challenge religious traditions in order to communicate spiritual truth, but they were not naive about their choices. They refused to be bound by conventions that would hinder the gospel, but they respected cultural norms that would enable them to keep the gospel credible and knowable. Jesus ministered to the woman at the well (which would have raised eyebrows about his message) but he did not accompany her alone to her home (which would have resulted in the rejection of his message). Paul in Athens made allusion to an unknown God, but he did not make an offering at that altar. On Mars Hill the apostle quoted pagan poetry, but he care fully chose a passage that would underscore his message and not undermine his credibility. Concern for the witness of the gospel made Jesus and Paul willing to break with some traditions and willing to honor others.

Applications of these principles are always most difficult in the present tense. How do we minister to the necessities and capacities of people in our worship today? Their necessities require our faithfulness to the gospel. Our worship must reflect the truths of the ministry of Christ revealed in his Word. As previous chapters have demonstrated, the structure of our worship and the content of our words–said, read, demonstrated, prayed, and sung–communicate the message that God’s people need. People’s ability to understand and appropriate the message depends both on the work of the Spirit in their hearts and on worship leaders’ willingness and ability to discern how to communicate in the cultural context.

Sensitivity to the cultural context does not mean automatic capitulation to cultural norms. For example, the expectation that a generation that has grown up with Power Point presentations and video marketing will want the same in worship can be quite naive. Some in this generation feel so bombarded by all this cultural “noise” that they long for a place of quiet reflection. Some persons who have experience the dead spirituality of religious formalism will long for informality that communicates authenticity. Others who feels the aimlessness of a culture without heroes, institutions, or values to respect will seek churches that “feel like” church–where faith, at least, seems secure because continuities with the past are honored through traditional songs and symbols. Some will run from churches whose anachronistic music communicates lethargy and selfishness; others will run from churches too naive to recognize their music is so “with it” that it carries secular baggage that many young people are desperate to escape.”

Chapell is clearly not advocating for one worship style over another. What he is suggesting is that we be thoughtful, biblical, and gospel centered in how we order and conduct our worship.

Categories : Books, Worship
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I’ve previously shared a couple of posts related to Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp. One of the helpful sections of the book relates to the subject of fear. Tripp contends that, “The dirty secret of ministry is that much is done out of fear, not faith.” Point well taken. Common debilitating fears include fear of myself, fear of others, fear of circumstances and fear of the future. I’m sure you can think of more to add to those broad headings.

Tripp continues his section on fear by helping the reader understand how to address it. He believes that in a fallen world filled with fallen people there are legitimate reasons to be afraid. He writes, “Faith does not require you to deny reality, so there are things that should concern and sober you and cause you grief.” Even though we should acknowledge the reality of fear, at the same time we cannot be governed by fear. Even though fear is real, it can be a good and godly thing. The problem comes when a person allows fear to overshadow what we know and lose sight of who we are.

So what’s the solution? Tripp offers five things.

1. Humbly own your fears. They will never be overcome by denying their existence.
2. Confess those places in your life where fear has produced bad decisions and wrong responses.
3. Pay close attention to your thought life.
4. Preach the gospel to yourself. Tripp states, “No pit in life is so deep that Jesus isn’t deeper.”
5. Cultivate an awe for God.

The only thing that can overcome our fears, according to the author, is our awe of God. Awe of God overcomes our mediocrity and presses us to excellence. The glory of God will cause us to do things we would never expect of ourselves.

Categories : Books, Fear
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Preaching Difficult Topics

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I have a Pastor friend that claims that once a year he likes to preach a sermon or a short series of sermons that is way over the heads of his congregation. His purpose is not to impress them with his theological knowledge or to show off his education. It’s not intended to be condescending. His purpose is to simply cause his congregation to spiritually strain at the content.

Now that sounds somewhat counter productive, given that modern preaching tends to be results oriented. But when I think of it, its really not a bad idea at all. I think congregations need to be challenged, or at least to have their safe assumptions challenged. I think its healthy every now and then to take our common assumptions and create questions that challenge the status quo. Especially if they lead us to deeper places in our faith journey.

This year I’m doing that with a new series titled “What is the Gospel?” My purpose is to challenge our basic assumptions about what the gospel is, and in so doing, hope to create positive conversations about a familiar yet often misrepresented subject. The idea came to me last year as I read Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel. I wrote a REVIEW on McKnight’s book but haven’t been able to put it away. I’m using his book to frame my series over five weekends. I hope you’ll check it out.

Categories : Books, Gospel, Scot McKnight
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Signs a Pastor is Losing His Way

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One of the helpful sections of Paul David’s Tripp’s book Dangerous Calling was his insightful list of signs that a Pastor is losing his or her way. Here it is:

1. You ignore clear evidence of problems and are defensive.
2. You become blind to the issues of your own heart.
3. Your ministry lacks personal devotion and private confession.
4. You are not preaching the gospel to yourself.
5. You stop listening to the people closest to you.
6. The acts of ministry become burdensome.
7. You begin to live in silence due to fear of becoming known.
8. You begin to question your calling.
9. You start looking for a way out.

I think people are surprised when pastors have emotional meltdowns, morally fail or just plain quit. Tripp’s point is well taken. Pastors never just lose it, or sin, or quit suddenly. Something began to erode privately long before the issue(s) became public. Before a pastor loses their ministry they first lose themselves. It’s not like falling off a ladder where one slight misstep leads to sudden catastrophe. It’s more like drifting. No one ever drifts all at once. Its a slow and subtle process. Neither does one drift closer. One always drifts away.

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Dangerous Calling

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Every now and then you come across a book that stops you in your tracks. My most recent read, Dangerous Calling by Paul David Tripp is without reservation the best book I read in 2012. Tripp spent the early years of his ministry career in pastoral ministry in the local church. Today he serves the Body of Christ through consulting and counseling pastors and people with the goal of helping them develop healthier lives and ministries.

Over the course of the next several weeks I want to interact with some of the provocative material he presents for a couple of reasons. For one, it helps me work through it personally. Every vocation has a dark side, filled with subtle temptations and challenges. Pastoral ministry is no different. Interacting with Tripp’s book as you look over my shoulder will help keep me from sticking it on a shelf alongside a multitude of other books I’ve read.

The other reason I want to do this is to help those of you who are faithful to Christ and his church understand a little more about your pastor. While this book is by a pastor for pastors, I believe some of the best support a pastor can receive from the congregation he or she serves is understanding; the proverbial mile in my moccasins, if you will. Maybe you will be so inspired that you would even consider purchasing a copy for your pastor. It could be a gift that your pastor would find to be life changing, if not life saving.

The opening pages of the book begin with the author sharing his personal struggles in ministry. I anticipated that he was going to unpack a series of stories about some terrible sin he committed and then write about other pastors who committed scarlet letter sins. But the book isn’t about those pastors we hear about on the news that got caught stealing money or violating their marriage vows or trapped in the snare of addiction or substance abuse.

To the contrary, Tripp didn’t focus on the gross public sins of pastors. He went to the heart of the matter, dealing with the private, personal issues that fester deep within. Yes, sometimes those personal challenges do manifest themselves into public scandal. But they also can slowly simmer, causing pastors to wither away in spiritual atrophy. How does this occur? As Tripp sees it, the major problem pastor’s face is the disconnect that exists between their public ministry and their private life. How does this occur? According to Tripp, the problem develops because three temptations are not dealt with.

Temptation #1: Allowing ministry to define one’s identity.
Pastors face the ongoing challenge of differentiating their profession from their personhood. When pastors see their profession and their personhood as one in the same, they begin to neglect applying the truth they offer to others to themselves. Pastor’s offer grace to others without seeing their own need for the same.

Temptation #2: Allowing biblical literacy and theological knowledge to define the depth of one’s ministry. According to Tripp, “Maturity is not about what you know it’s about how you live your life. There’s a difference between growing up and growing old.” If pastors are not careful, the truth they affirm with their brains will cease to impact their hearts.

Temptation #3: Confusing ministry success with God’s endorsement of one’s life.
Or, in everyday language, “How can I be so bad? Look at how God is blessing my ministry?” Obviously this line of logic has led and continues to lead many down slippery slopes toward self-destruction. Pastors can never forget that God will always honor his word and advance his own kingdom and often does so in spite of His human servants. God is first and foremost bound to honor his Kingdom and advance its purposes. He is not obligated to advance my kingdom or anyone else’s for that matter. Therefore large does not equal legitimate.

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Buy In

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I’m a book junkie, but unfortunately my 2012 reading habits did not keep pace with my purchases. I keep a stack of purchased but unread books sitting on a shelf in my library. In years past this stack was never more than three or four deep. This year it grew to ten or twelve. I had to reprimand myself, solemnly promising that there will be no more purchases until the stack is at a manageable level. Right.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen to you or not, but occasionally I’ll purchase a book and pass over it time and time again until I finally pick it up and read it. Then, having read it, I close the cover in frustration because the book would have been very helpful in a timely way had I read it when I purchased it. The name of the book I reference is Buy In by business consultant and Harvard Professor John Kotter.

Buy In is a leadership book that explains how to gain the buy in necessary to implement your great idea. According to the author, there are four basic attack strategies that any presenter of catalytic change needs to be aware of and prepared to counter. Those four basic attacks are:
1. To create confusion around the idea;
2. To kill the energy of the idea through delay tactics;
3. To ridicule the idea and/or the presenter; and,
4. To foster fear through fear mongering.

So what does the presenter need to know or understand to be able to effectively deal with challenges that can cripple his or her good idea?

First, Kotter strongly encourages that any challenges should be welcomed. By this he means there should be no secret or stacked meetings that eliminate dissenters. Rather, all should be welcomed and invited to ask hard questions and provide feedback. Responses to the questions raised by the challengers should be simple and full of common sense versus long, drawn out answers that are filled with statistics and hard data. Respect must be shown to all who show opposition regardless of how nasty they behave. Most importantly, all answers should be addressed to the silent majority of those in the room versus the one who raises objections. Why is that so important?

Here’s my big takeaway from the book. Most good ideas can secure a simple majority, say 51%, to get permission to proceed with the initiative. The problem is that while 51% may win the day, it may hamper the idea from actually getting off the drawing board into full implementation. Seldom is it reasonable to achieve 100% support because there will always be some who castigate the idea for one reason or another. But the 5-10% of those who speak against it aren’t the ones who will keep the idea from getting off the ground. The difference between permission giving decisions and supporting decisions swings in the balance between the 51% and the 85-90%. In other words, the presenter isn’t trying to sway a few naysayers. He or she is trying to sway the silent 40%.

So when you address challenges and opposition, the goal isn’t to win the consensus of the whole. The goal is to win the lion’s share of the room, which is usually the difference between gaining the permission to go it alone and getting the help you need to get the job done.

Categories : Books
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