books

Learning to Love God's Ways

Amidst all the craziness of getting ready to move and trying to sell (and buy) a house, I've been slowly making my way through a much needed book for my hurried and distracted soul. It's called Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer by Richard J. Foster. God has used this little book to slow me down as I listen to him and approach him with simple words of submission and surrender. I want to share one insight from the book that was extremely helpful for me and I hope it's helpful to you as well. Isaiah 55:8 says that "God's ways are not our ways and his thoughts are not our thoughts." The text goes on to say that God's Word and his ways are like the rain and snow that gently fall down and sink into the earth, which in time, brings forth life. Foster writes,

What a contrast with our ways, which involve wanting to open up another person's head and tinker around in there for a bit! But you see, God's ways are all patience and love, all grace and mercy. Our ways are domination and control, all manipulation and guile.

Earlier he writes,

You see it's one thing to love God; it's quite another to love God's ways.

Later he gives the reader a helpful illustration to grow in accepting God's ways:

We might want to imagine ourselves on a lovely beach observing the footprints of God in the sand. Slowly we begin to place our feet into the prints. At some places the stride looks far too long for our small frame; at other places it looks so short that it appears childlike. In infinite wisdom God is stretching us where we need greater attentiveness and stillness. As we follow God's lead, we enter more and more into the divine Stride, turning where God turns, accepting God's ways and finding them altogether good.

That's my prayer for you and me - that we would learn to follow his lead and love his ways. For he is good and is working for our good always.

Can We Give Them Too Much Grace?

John Bird with an interesting critique of Elyse Fitzpatrick's new book on parenting, Give Them Grace:

If applying the gospel can be overdone, these authors do it proudly: “We’ve encouraged you to dazzle [your children] with the message of Christ’s love and welcome, and then when you think that surely they must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again.”

The only problem with this is that when we apply the gospel to every event in life, and especially when we use it to correct, children will tire of it. Not every moment needs to be a “teachable moment.” Do we need to bring up Jesus’ agony on the cross every time our child acts like a child?

The authors give an example of how we might apply the gospel to a child who pouts after losing a baseball game: “Yes, losing is difficult….Jesus Christ understands losing because he lost relationship with his father on the cross….He’s using this suffering in your life to make us both look up and see his love.”

Besides the superficial view of suffering in the above quote, this loose way of applying the gospel, especially when often repeated, takes the power out of the message and can weary the children. Something sadder than a child growing up never hearing the good news is a child who grows up hoping to never hear it again.

I'm curious.  What are your thoughts?  I encourage you to read Bird's entire review of the book as he ends on this note:

Still, the most important things to be said about this book are that it leaves room for failure, emphasizes the superiority of the gospel over the law, and is primarily about imperfect parents glorifying a perfect God (rather than themselves or their children). These things put Give Them Grace above many other Christian parenting books.

Tim Keller's New Book on Marriage

Tim Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God will be released November 1. Here’s part of the description:

There has never been a marriage book like THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE.

Using the Bible as his guide, coupled with insightful commentary from his wife of thirty-six years, Kathy, Timothy Keller shows that God created marriage to bring us closer to him and to bring us more joy in our lives. It is a glorious relationship that is also the most misunderstood and mysterious. With a clear-eyed understanding of the Bible, and meaningful instruction on how to have a successful marriage, The Meaning of Marriage is essential reading for anyone who wants to know God and love more deeply in this life.

It’s already available for pre-order. I can't wait to read it.

(HT: Matt Perman)

Get to Know John Dickson

My friend, Matt Perman, recently guest blogged at the Leadership Summit at Willow Creek. He wrote that John Dickson's message on humility was the best he's heard on the subject. Dickson is Director of the Centre for Public Christianity and Sr. Minister, St. Andrews Anglican Church, Sydney, Australia. I had the privilege of meeting him at a conference we held for pastors back in 2008. He's the real deal - probably the clearest (and most encouraging) speaker on the topic of evangelism I've ever heard. I encourage you to read John's books and listen to some of his messages here.

99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers

Walt Mueller's new book, 99 Thoughts for Parents of Teenagers, looks to be a helpful guide for parents of teens and those who work with this age group.

I appreciate Mueller's honesty as he gives the reason for writing this little book:

Once upon a time, I was the perfect parent—and then I got married and had kids. As time went on and our kids grew, I learned more and more about the realities of being a parent. I also realized how much I didn’t know. I know I’m not alone. It’s out of these realizations, my 27 years of experience as a parent of four kids (15 of those years spent parenting teenagers), and my years of work with parents and teenagers through the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding (cpyu .org) that this little book has been birthed.

Click here to download an excerpt.

Big Picture Storybook Bible eBook

Crossway Blog:

We’re proud to announce the release of The Big Picture Story Bible eBook with Read-Aloud (available only in itunes/ibookstore).

Originally released in 2004, The Big Picture Story Bible by David R. Helm and Gail Shoonmaker received such positive feedback that a companion audio CD was released in 2010. Now the two have been joined! When purchased for the iPad in the itunes/iBookstore readers can follow along as the book reads itself!

By synchronizing the pre-recorded audio track with the written text of our book, God’s big picture is literally illuminated as the words light up in sync with the narrator’s voice. We know that your children will love this easy and fun new way to read a classic book on your family’s iPad. Click here to download your copy today ($12.99).

Here’s how it works...

Read the rest.

(HT: Z)

A Good Novel on Grace and Community

One of my greatest passions is to see the church become a place of gospel-centered grace where we can be honest with each other and point each other to the Savior. A couple years ago I came across a book called TrueFaced by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John Lynch. It's a helpful book on living by grace and trusting God and others with who you really are. This summer I picked up a novel written by the same authors entitled, Bo's Cafe. I confess.  I don't read very much fiction, but I couldn't put this book down. The story of Bo's Cafe invites us to a safe place filled with people who know the worst about us and yet love us and give us room to honestly explore the deep sin issues we try to cover up through performance and self-protection. It's a story that helps us to lay our defenses down and take off our masks to embrace the grace of God as real people in real community. The only disclaimer is that the gospel is not as explicit as it could be. Nevertheless, I think you'll be encouraged by this novel as you see yourself in the story and pursue the freedom God offers you in Christ.

Follow Up Post to Heaven is for Real

I deleted my initial post on the book, Heaven is for Real, because I felt it was more appropriate for my wife to give her input since she actually read it. After reading Greg Thornbury's post on the book, she had a different take so I encouraged her to share her thoughts below:

When given a copy of this book, I was prepared to have several critiques, but the opposite happened.  I felt the author did an excellent job of telling his son's story without appearing to be exploiting him for money or fame.  While still not 100% convinced that Colton (the little boy from the story) went to heaven and back, I am convinced that this family loves Jesus and wants others to know Him.  Upon finishing the book, I recommended it to both believers and unbelievers (who I knew I would follow up with). I think it's a great conversation starter and a pointer to the Bible, not a detractor from it.  I wouldn't build my theology on it, but I thought about heaven more.  I know of another person who searched out Scripture passages on heaven after reading this book.  And I don’t think that the high volume of sales says anything other than we live in a fallen world.  People are curious.  Most people are looking for hope and a quick fix.  They want to hear heaven is real, but most want it to be for everyone.  This book clearly states that it is for those who have a relationship with Jesus Christ. The Jesus Christ of the Bible to which this book points.

Developing Disciples or Demanding Consumers?

Kent Carlson, from his thought provoking book, Renovation of the Church:

We should not assume that those people who are attracted to our church have been captivated by the message of Christ and his alternate view of life .... We should be more truthful with each other here. They come because their high school kid likes the youth program, or because their children don't get bored, or because they like the music, or because the pastor preaches the Bible the way they believe it should be preached, or because they happened to be greeted by a smiling face one day, or because the worship leader looks like Brad Pitt.

This is the hard, raw reality of life in the North American church. The people who come to our churches have been formed into spiritual consumers. This is who we are. It is our most instinctive response to life. And you can hardly blame us. Almost everything in our culture shapes us in this direction. But we must become deeply convinced that this is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ, the one who invited us to deny ourselves and lose our lives in order to find them. If we do nothing to confront this is in our churches, we are merely putting a religious veneer over consumerism and nothing is changed. We offer no real, viable, attractive, alternative way of living. And what is worse, our churches become part of the problem. By harnessing the power of consumerism to grow our churches, we are more firmly forming our people into consumers. Pastors end up being as helpful as bartenders at an Alcoholics Anonymous convention. We do not offer what people really need (p. 68).

My Summer Reading List

It's summertime!  Here's my list of books I look forward to jumping into:

Bo's Cafe by John Lynch - a novel about freedom through community and honest relationships

Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick - receiving & giving the grace of the cross to our kids

Iron Sharpens Iron by Orlando Saer - book on leading Bible-oriented small groups that thrive

Renovation of the Church by Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken - what happens when a seeker church discovers spiritual formation

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - classic novel I read in HS and wanted to read again for fun!

BTW, I just finished The Greener Grass Conspiracy by Stephen Altrogge.  Highly recommend it. What are you reading this summer?

You Should Sing More

This morning I met with a small group of pastors. At one point I asked the question, "What do you do to regularly refresh yourself in the Lord?" The first response was an honest one. "I don't know. But I'm ready to write down any good answers from the rest of you." Then our worship pastor chimed in and said something that made a lot of sense. He said, "I like to sing throughout the day and just meditate on the words of those songs." He talked about singing and repeating simple choruses as a way of reminding himself of the gospel. I liked his idea a lot. It reminded me of Joe Thorn's words in his book, Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself:

People sing about the things that capture their hearts and things that give them joy. People sing of heroes, victory, longing, and hope. People even sing as a way to express their sorrow. Does anyone have more reasons to sing than you? As a sinner who has been forgiven, a slave who has been freed, a blind man who has received sight, a spiritual cripple who has been healed--all by the gospel-you have real reasons to be known as a person of song!

I'm curious. What do you do to regularly refresh yourself in the Lord? I'd love to hear from you.

A Good Read for the Men of Your Church

A Guide to Biblical Manhood by Randy Stinson and Dan Dumas looks to be a great resource to read through with the men of your church. Stinson and Dumas outline the essentials of what it means to be a godly husband, a godly father, and godly leader in a short, readable and practical format. It's clear that their aim is that you would read this book and then lead with your actions. Dumas says, "In your marriage, don't go home and say, 'Honey, things are going to be different around here. Here are five things I'm gonna start doing.'" Just lead. Don't announce it. At the first opportunity you get, just do it. Let her discover it. The last thing you want to do is over-promise and under-deliver."

Get the book here for less than $5.

What is Contentment?

Stephen Altrogge gives a great definition of contentment in his new book, The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence:

Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God's will, whatever that will may be.

Altrogge fleshes this out by saying that a contented man "doesn't murmur and complain about his season or circumstances of life and doesn't grumble about the things he doesn't have. A contented man isn't jealous when he sees others prospering, because he knows that God is always good to him."

  • Get the book here
  • Check out the trailer
  • Family Pastors and their Favorite Books

    I'm honored to be a part of a network of family pastors from all over the country that correspond over the phone about current issues in family ministry. Guys like Deepak Reju from Capitol Hill, Marty Machowski from Covenant Fellowship, and Jared Kennedy from Sojourn. Awhile back we composed a list of our favorite books (in terms of family ministry and Christian/Non-Christian children's books). And if you're interested, here's my list of Top 10 Parenting Books.

    What Books Are You Reading?

    I enjoy reading. This year I'm intentionally reading less with the hopes of meditating more. That goes for my Bible reading plan as well. All that to say, it's hard for me to pass up a good book when I see it. Recently I picked up Russell Moore's book, Tempted and Tried. So far it's the best book I've read this year. Moore's point that we would rather be fed than fathered by God has been my meditation the last few days. I'm realizing that giving into temptation is ultimately a result of not trusting my Father's love and provision. But when I'm secure in His love I don't have to go looking for substitutes to satisfy my deepest needs. So, I'm curious ... what books are you reading? What are you finding profitable in your life and ministry? Feel free to share in the comments section.

    Parenting is a Call to Abandon our Independence

    Tim Keller, from his new book, King’s Cross:

    The only way that your children will grow beyond their dependency into self-sufficient adults is for you to essentially abandon your own independence for twenty years or so…You can make the sacrifice, or they’re going to make the sacrifice. It’s them or you. Either you suffer temporarily and in a redemptive way, or they’re going to suffer tragically, in a wasteful and destructive way.

    (HT: Justin Buzzard)