Monday, January 31, 2011

The Books #1: Desiring God by John Piper

Finally, we have arrived. Here it is. The book that has influenced me more than any other book (besides the Bible). It is Desiring God by John Piper. The first time I read this book, I was in seminary. Honestly, I wanted to throw this book across the room and never finish reading it. It just didn't sound right. But the more I read it and patiently looked up the Scriptures and wrestled through what Piper wrote, the more I came to agree and joyfully rejoice with his premises in this book.

The basis of his arguments in Desiring God are found in the introduction and first chapter. Piper is famous for changing one word in the famous saying "The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." Piper says that it would be more accurate to say "The chief end of man is to glorify God BY enjoying Him forever." He says that we glorify God when we enjoy Him.

He says, "God is not worshiped where He is not treasured and enjoyed. Praise is not an alternative to joy, but the expression of joy. Not to enjoy God is to dishonor Him. To say to Him that something else satisfies you more is the opposite of worship. It is sacrilege" (22). I can't tell you how much this has shaped my Christian life and my ministry. Jesus has become the treasure of my heart. I worship God when I treasure Him more than anything this world has to offer.

Of course, our enjoying God is rooted and found in the fact of God enjoying Himself. This is initially where I wanted to throw the book across the room, for it seemed so selfish. He says "The chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever" (31). But think about it. For God to say that there is something else more worthy than Him to glorify and worship would be idolatry. From God! He says, "My conclusion is that God's own glory is uppermost in His own affections. In everything He does. His purpose is to preserve and display that glory. To say that His own glory is uppermost in His own affections means that He puts a greater value on it than on anything else. He delights in His glory above all things" (41-2).

I do not want to trick you to tell you that this is an easy book to read. It is hard. It will stretch your thinking. You will find yourself reading paragraphs over and over to catch what he is really trying to say. But if you can do it. If you can really grasp what He is saying, I think your life will never be the same. And if you can make it all the way to chapter two, "Conversion: The Creation of a Christian Hedonist" your outlook on everything will change.

It is THE book that has influenced me more than any other one. I hope someday you will get a chance to be influenced by it as well! Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Books #2: Thoughts for Young Men by J. C. Ryle

We are down to the last two books. And both of these books were introduced to me while I was in seminary. Thoughts for Young Men was introduced to me from some friends and I am so thankful for it to this day.

If you have never read anything from J. C. Ryle, you will be in for a surprise if you were to pick up this book. He is so very unique in his writing style. He is direct. He is confrontational. Yet I always feel as I read him that he writes from such a loving and caring heart.

This is a very short book, a very easy read. So, who should read it? Well, of course, young men. He is very concerned about the youth of his day and for all generations to come. I would venture to say that any older man can greatly learn from this book as well. Just because the title states it is for young men doesn’t mean his words are not applicable to those who are older. In addition to that, I think his words are very timely for women of all ages as well. Not only are many of the principles he speaks of transgender, but maybe women can learn a bit about men through reading this. However, I would encourage them to read it first with an eye towards themselves.

His words have so encouraged me in my walk with Christ over the years. It is this book that so motivated me as a young man to be serious about the things of Jesus in all that I do. The Lord has continually used Ryle over the years to convict my heart, to enlarge my vision for ministry, and to move me to glorify God in my actions. I hope I will never be the same for reading this book and I hope you will not either. Let me leave you with two of my favorite quotes. There are so many to choose from. Literally, every page is filled with highlights and underlines in my book. But these two I have randomly chosen. Please, please, please, read this book!

“Never be ashamed of letting men see that you want to go to heaven. Think it no disgrace to show yourself to be a servant of God. Never be afraid of doing what is right” (39).

“For another thing, resolve never to forget the eye of God. The eye of God! Think of that. Everywhere, in every house, in every field, in every room, in every company, alone or in a crowd, the eye of God is always upon you. ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good” (Pro. 15:3), and they are eyes that read hearts as well as actions . . . Remember that you have to deal with an all-seeing God—a God who never slumbers  nor sleeps” (68).

By the way, if you are a Kindle sort of person. This book is available for $.99. It will be the best buck you ever spent. Greater than any sort of dollar menu at any fast food restaurant. Get it HERE!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Books #3: The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur

My youth pastor was greatly influenced by John MacArthur. When I was a freshman in college, he encouraged me to read The Gospel According to Jesus and I have never looked at salvation the same ever since. At that time, I was unaware of the controversy that arose over this book and what has since been deemed "the Lordship Controversy." I simply thought as I read it that it makes sense. Jesus is my Lord.

Since that time, I have been through this book several times. Each and every time, I have been brought back to a realization of what Jesus means when He invites others to follow Him. Probably the greatest criticism of this book is by those who claim MacArthur is teaching a works based salvation. He isn't. He very clearly from the beginning states his purposes.

"Saving faith, repentance, commitment, and obedience are all divine works, wrought by the Holy Spirit int he heart of everyone who is saved. I have never taught that some pre-salvation works of righteousness are necessary to or part of salvation. But I do believe without apology that real salvation cannot and will not fail to produce works of righteousness in the life of a true believer. There are no human works in the saving act, but God's work of salvation includes a change of intent, will, desire, and attitude that inevitably produces the fruit of the Spirit" (xiii).

His purpose in this book is to show that the calling to Jesus in salvation is not one that should be taken lightly. It is not a whimsical choice. He attacks the modern day gospel that says a person can accept Jesus as their savior now and then at some later point in life give Him their life. I fear for those people that think Jesus is there just to keep them from hell, but that He is not worthy enough to surrender their life to. Yet, this is the modern day gospel!

This book is radical. This book will change the way you view your relationship to Jesus. This book will produce questions. And this book will help you grow. So read it!

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Books #4: Knowing God by J. I. Packer

Knowing God by J. I. Packer should be required reading for all Christians. It has impacted me more than words can express. A good summary of why Packer wrote this book is found at the beginning of the book. He says, "The highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father" (17).

As it seems like most of these books, I first read this book while I was in college. What so impacted me about this book was when Packer unpacked the difference between knowing about God and knowing God. I think for so long, I had been pursuing knowing about God. I was studying Him as if He were a textbook. But God is so much more than that. Yes, He should be studied. Yes, I needed to learn more about Him. But as a believer in Him, my objective in life is to know Him personally. Not just about Him, but Him.

And this should change the way I look at everything in life. The majority of the book is his attempt at unpacking the vastness of the greatness of the character of God. No matter what Packer writes (or any other person), God cannot be defined by words and paper and ink. However, He has revealed Himself to us so we should do our best to understand what we can about that which He has revealed to us.

This book humbles the heart. If you need to be humbled, pick up this book and take a long look at the character of God. And I pray that His character is not just a textbook to you. I pray you not only learn about God, but that you grow to know Him personally!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Books #5: The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn

If you have been around me in the past five years, this book will come as no surprise. I talk about this book probably more than any other book on this list. For some reason, The Treasure Principle by Randy Alcorn always finds its way into a sermon illustration. For that reason alone, I knew it had to be in my top five books.

Another reason this book had to be in my top five was that this is one of those books that gets a quick read every year. This book is about giving, but it is much more than that. It is a book on priorities. It is a book on stewardship. It is a book designed to test your true allegiance.

The treasure principle that he talks about in the book is simply this: "You can't take it with you--but you can send it on ahead" (18). He says, "Don't ask how your investment will be paying off in just thirty years. Ask how it will be paying off in thirty million years" (19). Once I truly understood that thought, it changed the way I looked at finances & possessions--treasures!

Throughout the book, Alcorn gives six treasure principle keys. It is these keys that he unpacks throughout the book. Here they are.

  1. God owns everything. I'm His money manager.
  2. My heart always goes where I put God's money.
  3. Heaven, not earth, is my home.
  4. I should live not for the dot but for the line.
  5. Giving is the only antidote to materialism.
  6. God prospers me not to raise my standard of living, but to raise my standard of giving.
If those six principles are convicting, what he writes around them and about them really drive the point home. I said that I read this book quickly every year (usually at the beginning of the year) because it helps me refocus on what really is important. I think throughout the year, my heart tends to drift back towards the material world. I want more and more. But a book like this tends to readjust my thinking time and again.

I simply cannot recommend this book enough. Before there were the books Radical or Crazy Love, there was this book. Read it and be changed! I will pray for your investments! Let me end with this quote from Alcorn. Enjoy!

"Ask yourself, Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I would have given away while I still had the chance? When you come up with an answer, why not give it away now? Why not spend the rest of our lives closing the gap between what we'll wish we would have given and what we really are giving? . . . When you leave this world, will you be known as one who accumulated treasures on earth that you couldn't keep? Or will you be recognized as one who invested treasures in heaven that you couldn't lose? (81).

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Bible in 90 Days: A Challenge

About a year ago at this time, I was halfway through reading the Bible in 90 days. And I'm ready to start it again. This time, I will be starting on February 1st and am asking all of you if you would be willing to take the challenge with me. The plan is simple and is detailed below (or you can find a lot of information about the plan HERE). There is even a special Bible that you can purchase that is broken down into 90 days.

It will require about 45 minutes a day for the average reader. But it will be the best spent 45 minutes of your day. The plan is arranged so there are two catch-up days. While there are these two days, you really do not want to use them. You really do not want to get behind. But if you do get behind, you will for sure want to do everything you can to catch up.

My plan is to write a short blog post every Friday talking about what I have learned. If you are reading along with me, I would love to hear your thoughts as well on this blog. Let's encourage each other as we read the Bible together in 90 days. Each week, I will post the reading for the next couple of weeks. Let me simply show you what the reading will look like the first couple of weeks.

  • February 1: Genesis 1-16
  • February 2: Genesis 17-28
  • February 3: Genesis 29-40
  • February 4: Genesis 41-50 (blog post day)
  • February 5: Exodus 1-15
  • February 6: Exodus 16-28
  • February 7: Exodus 29-40
  • February 8: Leviticus 1-14
  • February 9: Leviticus 15-27
  • February 10: Numbers 1-8
  • February 11: Numbers 9-21 (blog post day)
I do not want to pretend that this will be easy. But it will be profitable. I will continue to give you the schedule each week, so keep checking back and I would love to hear what your thinking as you read. Ready? Let's do this thing together!

The Books #6: Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes

Early on in college, I was encouraged to read Disciplines of a Godly Man by Kent Hughes. Obviously, being in the top ten, I don't have to tell you how much this book has impacted me. I read it with a group of other college guys, and it seemed like every week as we talked about the chapters, the Lord was working in an amazing way.

His point in this book is that we need to be disciplined. Men need to be disciplined. But not just any sort of discipline, spiritually disciplined! He says, "When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize--running 10,000 miles to run 100 yards at one's best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair! No manliness no maturity! No discipline no discipleship! No sweat no sainthood!" (17).

There were two chapters that impacted me immediately as I read them. In his chapter on "Discipline of Purity" I was convicted and taught all at the same time. I understood his emphasis on the need for moral purity. He used the example of King David and his interaction with Bathsheba to drive the hammer home on my life. "We must understand that a progressive desensitization to sin and a consequent inner descent from holiness had taken root in David's life" (25). It was the little things that would take me down. It was simple advice, but humbling advice. I still think of these words today when I find myself in situations with women who do not dress appropriately: "If their dress or demeanor is distracting, look them in the eyes, and nowhere else, and get away as quickly as you can!" (32).

The other chapter that impacted me was chapter 6: "Discipline of Mind." He says, "The Scriptures tell us rightly that input determines output--that our programming determines production" (72). While I have never truly followed his advice to stop watching television, I do try to fill my mind with more godly things that secular things. I try to fill my mind with the Scriptures, but also good Christian literature. In reality, this list of 31 books is a direct result of this chapter. I really used to not like to read. But since reading this chapter and being convicted by what he said, I spend more time reading than almost anything else in life.

Men, this book will change the way you think about spiritual discipline in your life. I can't imagine life without having been influenced by what Hughes has to say. Read it!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Soul Print by Mark Batterson

Soul Print by Mark Batterson is one of the most confusing books I have read in a long time. Let me explain. There were times when I thought his book was great and times when I thought it was just flat out terrible.

Throughout much of the book, he said so many things that were very insightful. For instance, he says "The primary issue is who you become in the process. We fixate on what and when and where. God's primary concern is always who. And He won't get you where He wants you to go until you become who He wants you to be" (69). How true. God is so concerned about who I am as a person as opposed to what I do for Him. He says that his deepest desires is to be a better person in private than he is in public (72). That should be all of our desires.

I really appreciated when he said that leaders need to be transparent. "If leaders are transparent, it creates a culture of vulnerability. If leaders are not transparent, it creates a culture of secrecy" (101). I think that is so important for the leader to lead the people in being open. His point in that is that we all need to find our identity in Christ and not in other things. He very accurately pointed to Jesus at this point: "If you base your identity on Christ, you avoid the crisis altogether. Your security is founded in the steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases. Your identity is found in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Jesus Christ becomes your cornerstone" (108). I need to learn this more and more and I know many people I minister to needs to as well.

Yet as I read this book, I found myself so confused because some of the things he said in the book were just simply strange. For instance, one of the major premises of the book is that "the key to fulfilling your future destiny is hidden in your past memories" (6). What he tries to show throughout the book is that we can be who we were meant to be once we discover or remember those moments in our life that we have hidden. He calls these events our soul prints. He continually talks about discovering your earliest memories, for they are markers of who you really are. I just simply don't get that. Sorry, but it sounds so Freudian to me. He says, "For better or for worse, our earliest memories shape our soulprints in lifelong, life-changing ways" (57).

He also makes strong statements that simply I would not see are true. He says "If David isn't an expert marksman with a slingshot, there is no way he defeats Goliath; he most definitely doesn't become king; and he therefore never produces a royal lineage that includes the Messiah" (31). So, the royal lineage was dependent upon a boys practice at throwing a rock? Come on. God could have had this little boy surprise attack Goliath and kill him any other way.

Another example of this is when he says "Judas didn't just decide as an adult to betray Christ. The seeds of betrayal were planted in the soil of his youth. That certainly doesn't excuse what Judas did, and he still could have decided not to do it. But choices have genealogies that often trace to our earliest memories" (58). That is really not provable. He makes it sound like he did what he did because of the choices he made when he was younger in life. Was it his destiny because of those earlier bad choices?

One aspect that I really didn't appreciate was when he quotes a friend of his as saying "If I don't take the credit, then I don't have to take the blame" (88). Then he challenges the reader: "Maybe it's time to quit taking the credit so you can quit taking the blame" (89). I don't get that. Yes, we should not take the credit, but I'm not sure passing the blame gets us anywhere either. I have always seen my life as this: If it is God-honoring, God gets the credit. If it is self-exalting, I get the blame. Job tried to blame God when things didn't go his way and how did that work? Sometimes things just don't go our way and God has a reason for it, but I wouldn't blame Him for it.

Overall, he is a fairly good writer. He keeps your attention. It is a very easy book to read. It is short. But I would say there are many other better books to use your time reading. But one last thing. I say it is so confusing because while much of the book is rooted in secular psychology, he does come around at the end with a very good perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture. He says, "The best form of self-examination is simply reading Scripture . . . If you want to discover your soulprint, you've got to begin and end with Scripture (133-5). I agree completely and totally. But which is it? Do we search out our earliest memories or do we search the Scriptures? Confused? So was I!

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

The Books #7: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

I mentioned earlier that the Lord really got a hold of my life during the summer between my junior and senior year of high school. That summer, I read two books that greatly impacted me. One was #18 on this list. The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges was the other one.

I would be surprised if you were to make a similar list as this one if some book by Jerry Bridges did not make your top ten list. If not, then that probably means you have not read much from him. He is one of the top Christian writers of our generation. And this book is one of those that is perfect to read with other people. The way that Bridges writes makes you think about your life as well as encourage you to keep going.

The reason why this book makes my top ten is that when I read it that summer, I was so impacted to stop my trivial playing the game of the Christian life and to get serious about pursuing holiness in everything that I did. I remember first reading these words: "God wants us to walk in obedience--not victory. Obedience is oriented toward God; victory is oriented toward self" (21). I realized that in my pursuits of holiness, I was doing it so that I could tell people that I was holy. I wasn't doing it so that I would please the Lord.

In reading this book, it was the first time that I really understood positional vs. practical holiness. I knew that in giving my life to the Lord I was looked at as holy or set apart. But there is a practical aspect to that each and every day. I needed to start living in light of my position. There are many days that I reflect back upon the foundations that were built in my life that summer. This book was one of the cornerstones of that foundation.

If you are looking for something to read with your small group, this is a GREAT BOOK! If you are looking for something to convict you as to living the Christian life, this is an excellent option. Or if you are just looking for a simple explanation why we should not continue to sin so that grace may increase, may I recommend to you The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. It just might change the way you look at your life. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Books #8: The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman

I first read The Master Plan of Evangelism when I was serving as a lay helper in a youth ministry while I was in college. And initially when I read this book, I thought it should be entitled The Master Plan of Discipleship. I say that because in this book, Robert Coleman paints the picture of Jesus and how He spends time with His disciples. Over time and after reading this book several times with several groups of people, I understand why it is Evangelism and not Discipleship. The way in which Jesus sought out to change the world and introduce people to Himself was through the training of a small group of men. Coleman says about Jesus: "His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with men whom the multitudes would follow . . . Men were to be his method of winning the world to God" (27).

And that is the calling that all of us have. Throughout this book, the reader is taking through the way the Master discipled men. He selected them, associated with them, consecrated them, imparted truth to them, demonstrated to them what to do, delegated to them responsibility, supervised them, and finally he expected them to do the same with others.

This book made my top ten list because the principles that Coleman teaches in this book are ones that my wife and I have committed to ministry. They have so impacted how I spend time with other men and disciple them. One of the heartbeats of my ministry has been one on one or small group discipleship of other men. But not only in the sense of spiritual maturity. Some people define discipleship as helping others learn to love Jesus better and obey Him. That is good, but I think it stops short. Discipleship to me is ministry training. It is training others to love Jesus, obey Him more, and do the work of ministry. That is what I learned from this book. That is why it is in the top ten for me.

As Paul told Timothy, "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). That is my calling. And if you are in Christ, that is your calling as well. Read this book and I pray you will be changed forever!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Books #9: The Seven Laws of the Learner by Bruce Wilkinson

I have learned tremendously through this book. In The Seven Laws of the Learner, Bruce Wilkinson lays forth some methods that teachers should be using to help people become learners. This book is not a book for learners, it is a book for teachers. Don't be fooled by the title. While his subtitle implies that these methods will help you teach almost anything to practically anyone, the main focus of this book is on teaching the Bible.

Let me say at the beginning that I am not a big fan of the newer stuff by Bruce Wilkinson. But his old stuff is really good. He is a master teacher and has been teaching for generations. The first law that he proposes impacted me the most. "At the very heart of The Seven Laws of the Learner is a total commitment to the full responsibility of the teacher to do everything in his or her power to cause the student to learn" (23). This is what so impacted me. As a teacher, my job is not just to get up and present information. My job is to do everything that I can to ensure that the student learns. Of course students are responsible (particularly when it comes to the Bible and loving Jesus), but we can never use the excuse as a teacher that I did my job. I'm sorry they didn't learn anything. They must not have wanted to learn.

One of the statements that greatly made me think in this book was when he said: "Teachers cause students to learn the material--and great teachers cause great numbers of students to learn great amounts of material" (31).

Of the seven laws, the one that moved me the most was number three, the law of application. I have grown up in culture and climate that says as a teacher of the Bible, my primary responsibility is to give the truth and let the student apply it to their life. I was already starting to change my view on this before I read this book. And what Wilkinson says just reinforced what I was thinking. My role as a teacher is to help people apply what they are learning. He says that fifty percent of what you teach should be application of the content you present. Think of that . . . 50%! It will change the way you look at teaching.

If you are a teacher at any level, this book is a MUST read. If you teach Sunday School for children, you should read this book. If you teach high school or college, you should read this book. If you are a pastor, you should read this book. If you lead a small group at your church, you should read this book! Get the point? This book didn't make number nine on my list because it is just an okay book. This book has changed the way I look at teaching and it will you as well!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Books #10: Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

I said in yesterday's post about the book, Lectures to My Students, that pastors have a great opportunity to attend a seminary class taught by Charles Spurgeon. Well, for the book that cracks the top ten, we have that same opportunity. In Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, we get the opportunity to sit at the feet of one of the finest preachers in the last 100 years.

This book is somewhat similar to Spurgeon's book, but I had to place it one spot ahead of his book for one simple reason. This book was much more helpful for me as I thought through some aspects in the writing of my book, Helping Johnny Listen. For instance, his first several chapters all were formational for me in thinking through a theology of preaching. He so clearly lays forth a purpose for the act of preaching.

I remember the first time I read these words, for they so impacted the way I have viewed preaching ever since: "Preaching . . . is a transaction between the preacher and the listener" (53). It is not to be a single act of one person spouting information. It is to be an interaction between one man and many people. They are to work in harmony with one another. He is to influence them and they are to be influenced. Earlier Jones says,

"He is not there merely to talk to them, he is not there to entertain them. He is there-and I want to emphasise this-to do something to those people; he is there to produce results of various kinds, he is there to influence people. He is not merely to influence a part of them; he is not only to influence their minds, or only their emotions, or merely to bring pressure to bear upon their wills and to induce them to some kind of activity. He is there to deal with the whole person; and his preaching is meant to affect the whole person at the very centre of life. Preaching should make such a difference to a man who is listening that he is never the same again" (53).
This is such a great book and has influenced how I preach. It has impacted my preaching ministry more than any other book. Tomorrow, I will share with you what book has influenced my teaching ministry more than any other book. But for now, if you are in full-time ministry, this book should be a MUST!

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Books #11: Lectures To My Students by C. H. Spurgeon

This is the only book on my list from Charles Haddon Spurgeon. I love this man. In many ways, he is a mentor to me in my theology and practice in church ministry. Lectures to My Students falls at #11 in my list and it starts a string of three straight books on teaching or preaching.

The book starts off very strong and bold. The first chapter is called "The Minister's Self-watch." It is a chapter on what the life of the man of God is to be. It is one chapter that every preacher or teacher of the Word of God should read and read often. He begins the book by saying that the man of God who is a preacher or pastor must ensure that he is a saved individual. As only Spurgeon can put it, he says, "A graceless pastor is a blind man elected to a professorship of optics, philosophising upon light and vision, discoursing upon and distinguishing to others the nice shades and delicate blendings of the prismatic colours, while he himself is absolutely in the dark" (9-10). This, of course, ways heavy upon me. As I have heard John Piper say before, I want to preach the gospel to myself every day. I know that I am a saved individual and I never want to lose that assurance in my life.

This book is like taking a homiletics class from Spurgeon himself. He deals with everything from the prayer life of the pastor to how he uses his voice in the pulpit. He discusses how to choose a text and how to stand in the pulpit. This is an unbelievable book and I have benefited greatly from what he has written in it.

Lastly, I have referred the second chapter of this book to many young men as they prepare for full-time ministry. It is a chapter on determining a calling to full-time ministry. I would agree with Spurgeon as he gives the advice to many men in ministry. If you can see yourself doing something else, then ministry is not for you. If you are in full-time pastoral ministry and handle the Word of God, this book is essential. This is why I love books. I have the opportunity to learn from one of the greatest men of God in the history of the church. I praise God for him.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Books #12: The Doctrine of Repentance by Thomas Watson

People do not write today like the puritans used to write. And not many puritans even wrote like Thomas Watson wrote. His books are unique, deep, and soul-refreshing. And they are convicting. The Doctrine of Repentance is one of those sort of books.

The first time I read this book, I felt as if I had never repented before. If what he is saying is true in regards to repentance, I have a long ways to go. And I still feel that way every time I look at this book. I still feel like I have a long ways to go in regards to dealing with my sin.

One thing I love about this book and Watson in general, is that he is very quotable. For instance, let me give you a few of the great quotes from this book:

  • "Either sin must drown or the soul burn" (8).
  • "Tomorrow may be our dying day; let this be our repenting day" (8).
  • "It is one thing to be a terrified sinner and another to be a repenting sinner. Sense of guilt is enough to breed terror" (15).
  • "Where there is no sight of sin, there can be no repentance" (19).
  • "Sorrow for sin must surpass worldly sorrow. We must grieve more for offending God than for the loss of dear relations" (23-4).
  • "He who hates one sin hates all" (46).
  • "Loving of sin is worse than committing it. A good man may run into a sinful action unawares, but to love sin is desperate" (47-8).
  • "Sin is a sugared draught, mixed with poison. The sinner thinks there is danger in sin, but there is also delight, and the danger does not terrify him as much as the delight bewitches him" (101).
The list can keep going. Even as I write those statements, my heart is reflecting on how easy it is to be lured into a casual view of sin and repentance. I don't really think I'm that bad. I don't really think how I act or what I think or say is really that offensive to God. And in so doing, my repentance of those things tend to be very shallow. I think I need to read this book once again. I think we all need to read this book yearly. If for no other reason, we should read it yearly to keep the issue of repentance before us all the time.

May we love Jesus more than our sin!

The Books #13: Kingdom Living Here And Now by John MacArthur

As a young college student, I was introduced to Kingdom Living Here and Now by John MacArthur and was completely blown away by his take on the Beatitudes. The way that he portrays these statements at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount has changed the way I look at my heart in regards to being a child of the Kingdom.

It was the first time that I had ever thought about the happiness that comes with knowing Jesus Christ. It was the first time I had heard this word blessed translated as happy. Of course, it is not a happiness the way the world understands it, but the way Jesus defines it.

I just spent a few weeks teaching through the Beatitudes with my ABF at Grace Bible Church. This book has influenced and shaped the way I see them. I never want to plagiarize, but I probably unintentionally used too much of MacArthur in those messages. It is an incredible book and I couldn't recommend it more.

My favorite part of the book was chapter 3, which he called "Happy are the Nobodies." He defines those who are poor in spirit as the spiritual beggars who needs God. As a child of the Kingdom, I need the Lord to do something in my life, I need to beg Him to do something because I know I cannot do it on my own. He says, "Until we know how damned we are, we cannot appreciate how glorious He is. Until we see our poverty, we cannot understand His riches. Out of the carcass comes the honey. IN our deadness we come alive. No man ever comes to Jesus Christ and enters the kingdom without crawling, without a terrible sense of sinfulness and repentance" (43).

So many people are seeking happiness. They make decisions they think will make them happy. They abandon their spouses because they think they will be happier without them. They become addicted to substances because they have been lured by the temptation of happiness. But ultimately, true happiness comes in being a child of the King. And this book helps someone see the attitude of those who are His child. Read with caution, it just might change your life (even if you are already a believer).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Books #14: The Knowledge of the Holy by A. W. Tozer

The Knowledge of the Holy is the second book on my list by A. W. Tozer, but it is the first of two that are written on the character of God. There are parts of this book that have been quoted by others and myself very often. For instance, Tozer says, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us." Ever heard that? Probably if you have been around me, you have. That was the influence of Tozer and this book upon my life.

Throughout this book, Tozer takes the reader through a systematic overview of the character and doctrine of God. Each chapter is short and lends itself to being a great book for discussion with other people in a small group format. There may be no greater study at any time than to take a look at the character of God. Why. Because when we take a look at God, a deep look at His character, we tend to shrink in humility. And that is the way it should be. Any study of the character of God should make us fall to our knees in worship. And that is what this book does.

So, read it. Enjoy it. Not because Tozer is some sort of excellent writer. But because Tozer has been able to capture a glimpse of the depth of God, the creator of all that is. And when you read it, let yourself become a worshiper of God.

The Books #15: How Readest Thou by J. C. Ryle

Okay, so I did not quite achieve my goal. I wanted to never miss a day on this series of blogs. But I have now missed the last two days. But you will forgive me, wouldn't you? The last two days have been some of the craziest of our lives. I will write more about that later, but we are in the process of moving. We are now in Indiana spending some time with some of our best friends. In order to catch up, I will be doing two blog posts today and two tomorrow. One in the morning and one in the afternoon. 

Now to the actual blog post. Do you need challenged to read the Bible? How Readest Thou by J.C. Ryle is a very short book, but it packs a heavy punch. I first read this short booklet when I was a youth pastor and was so convicted about my own Bible reading and the reading by our students. It was this book that motivated me to write Bible study guides for our students, in order to get them into the Word of God on a consistent basis.

The book is written like a letter from Ryle to you. It is based on Jesus' words in Luke 10:26 when He says, "What is written in the law? How Readest thou?" He starts the book this way: "The question before your eyes is 1800 years old. It was asked by our Lord Jesus Christ. It was asked concerning the Bible. I invite you to examine and consider this question. I warn you, it is just as mighty and important now as it was on the day when it came from the Lord's lips. I want to apply it to the conscience of every one who reads this paper, and to knock at the door of his heart. I would fain sound a trumpet in the ear of every one who speaks English, and cry aloud, 'How readest thou? Does thou read the Bible?"

Then, throughout the book, he is going to ask very direct questions that will pierce your heart. He so accurately diagnoses our culture, which is amazing considering that he died over a hundred years ago. Let me end with my favorite quote in the book. I hope this book motivates you to read the REAL BOOK today and always.

"I fear we are in danger of forgetting that to have the Bible is one thing, and to read it quite another. I am firmly persuaded that the Bible of many a man and woman . . . is never read at all. In one house it lies in a corner, stiff, cold, glossy, and fresh as it was when it came from the bookseller's shop. In another it lies on a table, with its owner's name written in it--a silent witness against him day after day. In another it lies on some high shelf, neglected and dusty, to be brought down only on grand occasions, such as a birth in the family, like a heathen idol at its yearly festival. In another it lies deep down at the bottom of some box or drawer, among the things not wanted, and is never dragged forth into the light of the day, until the arrival of sickness, the doctor, and death. Ah! these things are sad and solemn. But they are true" (33-4).

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Books #16: Each for the Other by Bryan Chapell

I wish I had read this book before I was married. After being married for a few years, someone introduced me to Each for the Other by Bryan Chapell. Now, it is the book that I make every young couple read through in their pre-marital sessions with me.

The premise of the book is simple. As a married couple, we each do everything for the other person. Let me explain. In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul gives some instructions to husbands and wives as to their responsibilities to the other person. Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Wives are told to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. Let me not sugar-coat these instructions. They are very difficult.

As a husband, it is could be easier for me to love my wife as Christ loved the church IF she submitted to me as to the Lord. Or, I am sure for the wife, it could be easier for her to submit to her husband as to the Lord IF her husband was loving her like Christ loved the church.

Yet, here is the standard. Here is what Chapell talks about in this book. We are called to our responsibility REGARDLESS of whether the other person is doing theirs. He calls me to love my wife as Christ loved the church not expecting anything in return. My wife is called to submit to me as to the Lord not expecting anything in return. And when we both do this together, we 100% meet each others needs. It is marriage as it's meant to be.

If you are married, this is the #1 book that I would recommend to you! Enjoy!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Books #17: When People are Big and God is Small by Edward T. Welch

Wow, what a book! The subtitle of When People Are Big and God is Small tells exactly what this book is all about. It is a book on overcoming peer pressure, codependency, and the fear of man. Let me emphasize that last phrase: the fear of man! Welch says, "We replace God with people. Instead of a biblically guided fear of the Lord, we fear others. Of course, the 'fear of man' goes by other names. When we are in our teens, it is called 'peer pressure.' When we are older, it is called 'people-pleasing.' Recently, it has been called 'codependency.' With these labels in mind, we can spot the fear of man everywhere" (14).

I care what other people think, don't you? And to some level, that is okay. But if care what they think more than what God thinks, we have somehow reversed that which should be first in our life. This book so hits home in so many ways. I have used it as a resource in small group Bible studies. I have referenced it many times in sermons. I have looked back at it and been convicted time and time again.

His solution to the fear of man is of course a healthy dose of the fear of the Lord. We should care what He thinks more than what our friends think. As Welch says, "God is much bigger to you than people are" (19). In this book, he deals with much more than simply evangelism, although there are certainly overtones of our fear of people when it comes to evangelism. The principles that he speaks about in this book will help you in your relationships with your friends, your in-laws, your parents, your spouse, your kids, and every other human relationship.

I love this book. I wish I lived this book more than I do. It is certainly one that I look forward to going back to time and time again. If you have never read it, take the time. Let me end with my favorite quote in the book. Enjoy!

"It all sounds too familiar. Sometimes we would prefer to die for Jesus than to live for him. If someone had the power to kill us for our profession of faith, I imagine that most Christians would say, 'Yes, I am a believer in Jesus Christ,' even if it meant death. The threat of torture might make people think twice, but I think most Christians would acknowledge Christ. However, if making a decision for Jesus means that we might spend years being unpopular, ignored, poor, or criticized, then there are masses of Christians who temporarily put their faith on the shelf . . . In other words, kill me, but don't keep me from being liked, appreciated, or respected" (39).

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Books #18: 30 Days To Understanding the Bible by Max Anders

Between my junior and senior year of high school, the Lord really worked on my life. It was after that time that the Christian life thing really meant something to me. There were two books that I read during that summer. One of them is #7 on my list and the other one is 30 Days to Understanding the Bible by Max Anders.

He begins the book this way: "Let's make a bargain. If you'll give me fifteen minutes a day for thirty days, I'll give you an understanding of the bible . . . In one month, you will learn . . . all the major men and women, all the major events, and all the major points of geography. You will be able to put these people and facts together in their proper chronological order and trace the geographical movement as you think your way through the entire Bible! You will know the story of the Old Testament and the story of the New Testament" (xi).

And he delivers on his promise. He does it by making you interact with him throughout the book. This is not just a book to read. This is one of those fill-in-the-blank sort of book. You will read about aspects of the history of the Bible and what happens and then you will be asked to fill in blanks about what you just read. Each chapter builds upon the next chapter. That means that in the second chapter you will be asked to fill in the same blanks that you filled out in the first chapter. Repetition is the key in this book. By the end of it, you will have a great overview and understand the basic components of the Bible.

I know sometimes the Bible can be intimidating. But what's great about this book is that it helped me gain a basic overview. I know it helped my 10 year old son as we went through it just about six months ago. If it can help him, I am sure it can help you. Give him the fifteen minutes, I know you have it. It will be some of the best fifteen minutes a day you have ever spent.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Books #19: Shepherding a Child's Heart by Tedd Tripp

I have three children that I love more than I can express in words. Last year I did a series of blog posts about them, saying why I love them so much (Karsten, J.T., Anni). These may be the favorite blog posts that I have written to date. I truly do love them!

While I fail often, I truly do desire to bring them up in the ways of Jesus, teaching and instructing them. I want them to love Jesus more than anything else this world has to offer. And this book, Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp has played an major role in my life in regards to my parenting.

What I love about this book is that it deals not just with external behaviors, but tries to get the parent to deal with the heart of their child. It is not about the hitting of their sibling, it is about the anger in their heart that led them to hit their sibling.

I also love the fact that this was one of the first books that I really read that dealt with the significance the gospel should make in our everyday life. The gospel is how you shepherd your children. He says in the introduction, "The central focus of parenting is the gospel. You need to direct not simply the behavior of your children, but the attitudes of their hearts. You need to show them not just the 'what' of their sin and failure, but the 'why.' Your children desperately need to understand not only the external 'what' they did wrong, but also the internal 'why' they did it. You must help them see that God works from the inside out. Therefore, your parenting goal cannot simply be well-behaved children. Your children must also understand why they sin and how to recognize internal change" (xxi-xxii).

I have given this book away to many people. It is the main book that we give to those who are first time parents. If you are a parent (specifically a parent to young children) and you have not read this book, you need to stop what you are doing and order it today! It is that important. And if you ever get a chance to attend a seminar with Dr. Tripp, it is well worth the time and effort. You can find his schedule by going HERE! We have had him at our church and it was one of the best conferences we have ever been to. I pray this book will change the way you parent.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Books #20: Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch

I have included this book on my list because every church I have been part of since my college days has been an elder governed church. And Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch is the standard when it comes to defining and articulating how elders should function in the life of the church.

I feel strongly that the church should be led by a group of qualified men who are called to serve. This blog post will not allow me time to defend why I believe that, but this book will. At the beginning of the book, Strauch gives his reasoning for writing the book.

"Literally tens of thousands of churches worldwide practice some form of eldership because they believe it to be a biblical teaching. Unfortunately, because the advocates of eldership have been so terribly delinquent in adequately articulating this doctrine, there is a great deal of confusion and unbiblical thinking surrounding the topic among most elder-led churches. There are persistent, crippling misconceptions about eldership that hinder churches from practicing authentic biblical eldership. This subject is too important to the local church to be bogged down in such confusion. Thus this book is aimed primarily at churches that practice eldership but misunderstand its true biblical character and mandate. Its purpose is to define, as accurately as possible from Scripture, what biblical eldership is" (10).

While he says his primary audience for this book are those churches that already believe in eldership, I believe this book also serves those who do not believe in it. He has done such a great job of laying out the why's and what's of biblical eldership. I have been through this book several times and anticipate going back to it time and time again in the future. If you ever wondered who elders are to be or what they are to do, this is the book for you. You will not be disappointed.

A Personal Word: Thinking about this book has made me think about the elders that I have served with here at Grace Bible Church for the past six years. I thank you men for your impute in my life and for your character as men of God. As this is my last week here, let it be known that I will miss you. I only hope that my time with the elders at my new church will be half as profitable as my time with you has been. May God continue to mold and shape you with His Word as you lead the congregation here in Hutchinson.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Books #21: Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome by Kent & Barbara Hughes

During the summer before my 2nd year at Moody Bible Institute, I was assigned some required reading in order to be a Resident Assistant that next year. Liberating Ministry from the Success Syndrome was one of those books. And I am so glad they made me read it. I was a young man looking at ministry through some rose colored glasses thinking that if I just did this list of things correctly, the Lord would bless the ministry and it would grow. The growth I was always looking forward to was numerical growth.

Honestly, inside most young men (and probably older men), there is that desire to be very successful at what they do. That is in the heart of the ministry person as well. Well, this book helped me see that ministry isn't about being successful according to the world's standards. They say at the beginning of the book that they wrote it in order to encourage those in ministry. Check. Successful.

The book is written by Kent Hughes who shares openly about a dark time in his life when he felt as if his ministry was not what he thought it should be. He began, with his wife, to search the Scriptures to find a guideline on how to evaluate their ministry to see if it was successful. Here is what they found. "We found no place where it says that God's servants are called to be successful. Rather, we discovered our call is to be faithful" (35). They go on to say that success is faithfulness, serving, loving, believing, prayer, holiness, and an attitude.

One of the greatest chapters, which makes it a book that all of you should read, is the last chapter. It is called "How the Congregation Can Help." He shares many sad stories in this chapter on how pastors have been beat up by their congregation and left to feel as if they are not successful. He gives six specific ways that the pastor can be encouraged by their people. His advice is worth the price of this book.

If you are in ministry, this book is a MUST. Maybe of all the books on this list, this one has helped bring perspective to all that I do. If you are not in ministry, this book is highly recommended. I say that because it will hopefully bring you some perspective of what your pastors will be going through.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Books #22 - The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett

It was not long into getting serious with the Lord that I was introduced to a short collection of puritan prayers by Arthur Bennett called The Valley of Vision. From the time that I was introduced to these prayers, my prayer life has been challenged.

The first thing I would say about this book is that nobody prays like this anymore. That is a good and bad thing. It is a good thing, because I feel that our prayers should come out of a genuine heart, and I do not really think that anyone really thinks in old English these days. But I also think it is a bad thing, because my prayers are so shallow compared to these. I often find myself praying about my own comforts and trivial aspects of life. But these prayers flow out of hearts that obviously had a depth that someday I hope to find.

I have used these prayers in my quiet times with the Lord often. I will pray them to the Lord (often times trying to put them into my language). They have sharpened and focused how and what I pray. If you have never read these, they are worth the cost of the book. Pick it up and be changed and challenged forever. I leave you with one prayer, the first one in the book. It has always been my favorite. Enjoy!

Lord, High and Holy, Meek and Lowly,
Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,
     where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;
     hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.
Let me learn by paradox
     that the way down is the way up,
     that to be low is to be high,
     that the broken heart is the healed heart,
     that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
     that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
     that to have nothing is to possess all,
     that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
     that to give is to receive,
     that the valley is the place of vision.
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells,
     and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine;
Let me find they light in my darkness,
          thy life in my death,
          thy joy in my sorrow,
          thy grace in my sin,
          thy riches in my poverty,
          thy glory in my valley.

The Winner of the Giveaway! Congratulations to Mike B. You have won the copy of Humility by C. J. Mahaney. Please send me your contact information HERE to collect your prize.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Books #23: Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter

Okay, prepare yourself. This is one of THOSE books. This is one of those books that can be controversial simply because of the subject matter. But as I was reflecting upon the books that have made an impact upon my thinking, I had to include Sinners in the Hands of a Good God by David Clotfelter. This is a book that I received for free at the Shepherd's Conference several years ago. Usually, the books that are given away are ones that go onto the shelf and might be referenced later. But this book, for some reason, I decided to read.

In this book, Clotfelter tells his theological journey attempting to understand Divine Justice and how that meshes with a God that is loving. But it is more than that. He deals with the eternality of Hell. He deals with human depravity and our ability to choose God. He talks about the atonement of Christ. He deals with even some of those difficult words like predestination. I really enjoyed reading this book. And it so impacted me when I first read it not necessarily because it says something new, but how he communicates through it. He deals with his struggles in wrestling with particular doctrines. He writes about the tension he has experienced between George MacDonald and Jonathan Edwards (although, I am glad in the end he sides more with Edwards than MacDonald).

Side Note: When I read a book, I underline or highlight and even occasionally, I will write thoughts into the margin. That is why my books mean so much to me. I can go back to this book and refresh myself in a short time on the key parts of the book that meant so much to me. I knew this book would make the list and when I went to get it, it is not in my library. I can't find it! I have remembered that I let someone borrow it, and obviously they have not brought it back. If that happens to be you, please return my book, I will forgive you!

Back to the Blog. Let me give you an example of one example of how he communicates the truth of human depravity. He struggled, as do many people, on whether our sin is really that bad. I mean, how could God punish someone for all of eternity for one lustful thought. Or hateful act. Or careless word. I mean, imagine if you or I only committed one sin our entire life, would that be enough to separate us for all of eternity from a Holy God. His answer (and mine) would be YES. Let me end with a short paragraph giving his reasoning. Maybe this will serve as a teaser for you to read this book (which by the way, can be found at Amazon right now for under $8).

"Even Christians tend to have shamefully small thoughts of the Deity. We fall easily into an attitude of smug familiarity with God, imagining Him to be pretty much as we are--just larger. But the sheer horror of the doctrine of eternal punishment--like the story of the crucifixion of Christ--seems designed to burn the complacency out of our hearts and minds, teaching us a new and proper awe of God. God is not merely holy; He is infinitely holy. He is not merely good; He is so good as to pay an infinite price for our salvation. He does not merely dislike sin; He hates it with a passion that can be fully expressed only on Calvary or in the depths of an everlasting hell. The Bible's doctrine of eternal punishment does not only teach us about punishment; it teaches us about the character of God" (94).

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Books #24: The Cross and Salvation by Bruce Demarest

This is probably the most doctrinal book to make my list. In The Cross and Salvation, Bruce Demarest deals with the doctrine of soteriology (salvation) in a very clear and concise manner. If you knew me personally, you would know that the doctrine of salvation is probably what I talk about more than any other general doctrine. I love to think, study, and teach on the salvation. It is so glorious to me. It means so much to me. And this book, when I read it in seminary, helped to refresh and crystallize so many concepts.

It is hard to summarize a 500 page book into a few sentences, so let me give you what is on the back cover: "Bruce Demarest has made plain God's glorious plan of salvation his provision for the human dilemma through Christ's work on the cross, and the application of saving grace to unbelievers. Demarest's unique approach defines each topic, identifies its most pressing issues, examines the ways in which the doctrine has been understood historically, and interprets the Bible's revelation. The result is a clear and carefully constructed doctrinal statement that you can defend, live out, and communicate to others."

There is no way that I could do a blog post justice on this book. So, let me simply give you the basic outline and what doctrine is talked about in each chapter. Here you go. It is a hearty task, but one that will pay unbelievable dividends in your life if you were to read this book. I promise you, the fruit you will experience will be well worth the journey.

  • Chapter 1: "What Must I Do To Be Saved?" (Introduction to the doctrine of salvation)
  • Chapter 2: "While We Were Still Sinners" (Grace)
  • Chapter 3: "Jacob I Loved" (Election)
  • Chapter 4: "Christ Died For Sins Once For All" (The Atonement)
  • Chapter 5: "Called According To His Purpose" (Divine Calling)
  • Chapter 6: "Repent and Believe the Good News!" (Conversion)
  • Chapter 7: "Unless a Man is Born Again" (Regeneration)
  • Chapter 8: "Christ Lives in Me" (Union with Christ)
  • Chapter 9: "The Lord Our Righteousness" (Justification)
  • Chapter 10: "Transformed into His Likeness" (Sanctification)
  • Chapter 11: "Protected by the Power of God" (Preservation & Perseverance)
  • Chapter 12: "Those He Justified, He also Glorified" (Glorification)

I love this entire book, but probably chapter 9 is my favorite! Enter with fear and trepidation if you dare!

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Books #25: Humility, True Greatness by C. J. Mahaney

Who doesn't like a book on humility? Actually, because of our sinful nature, I am sure none of us love a book that confronts our pride. And this book, Humility: True Greatness, by C. J. Mahaney is one of those books that confronted my pride. Let me clear up one thing at the very beginning. This book did not make my top 31 list because he says one of the cures of pride is to play more golf. Specifically, he says, "play golf as much as possible. Yep, golf. In my athletic experience, I don't think there's a more difficult or more humbling sport. Rather, make that humiliating--because if you play at all, you know all about those shots that result in laughter from your partners and humiliation for you" (94). Not sure if I know of those shots, but I do know how it humbles me. But that is not why this book has so impacted me.

I think it has so impacted me because Mahaney writes in a very simple yet straightforward manner on how terrible pride is and how precious humility is in our life. I think it so impacted me because I needed it at the time and I still need it now.

He defines humility as "honestly assessing ourselves in light of God's holiness and our sinfulness" (22). If we do that, there is not one person that can stand boasting. He says, "the sad fact is that none of us are immune to the logic-defying, blinding effects of pride. Though it shows up in different forms and to differing degrees, it infects us all. The real issue here is not if pride exists in your heart; it's where pride exists and how pride is being expressed in your life. Scripture shows us that pride is strongly and dangerously rooted in all our lives, far more than most of us care to admit or even think about" (29).

His cure for pride (and developing humility) is to take a long look at the cross of Jesus. The cross is what we need because Jesus went to the cross because we couldn't do it on our own. "It was humanly impossible for the disciples to free themselves from their selfish pursuit of self-exaltation, just as it's impossible for us to free ourselves from the very same sins. But God accomplishes that which is humanly impossible! He pays the price for our freedom, and that price is the sinless Son of God's substitutionary sacrifice on the cross" (53). For me, it is impossible to really sit and reflect upon our sins and the cross without falling down in humility. That is why I love this book. That is why it has impacted me. He reminded me once again of the importance of the cross in my life.

TIME FOR A GIVEAWAY! Okay, this is the first time I have done this during the list of books. I have dealt with seven books so far. All of these books are great, but at this point, I want to give away THIS BOOK. I have one copy of Humility by C. J. Mahaney that I want to give away to someone. Here is the deal. All you have to do is to comment on the blog. The winner will be chosen at random at 5pm on Sunday night. That gives you a couple days to make a comment. The winner will be announced at the bottom of Monday's blog post (The Books #22).

One last word. Some of you are right now saying, "I don't need that book." If those thoughts came into your mind, you need to read this book. So, why not try to get it for free? Here's hoping you win. And whether you do or not, I pray that in 2011 the Lord will deal with your pride as He deals with mine!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Books #26: Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks

Have you ever been trained to read and study the Bible? Living by the Book by Howard Hendricks is the clearest and simplist book that I have read to recommend to people on how to study the Bible. This book reached this high on the list not necessarily because it was life changing for me in how I study the Bible. But it has been the book that I have used the most in helping other people learn how to study the Bible.

The book is broken down into the basic steps of Bible study method. First, observation; second, interpretation; third, application. Each of these are vitally important.

The one part of the book that was most impactful to me was the section on Ten Strategies to First-Rate Reading. He takes some time to teach us how to be good readers of the Bible. He says, "If you don't understand what you are reading, then you are not reading--you are wasting time. I'm afraid that many people come away from the Word having basically wasted their time, because if their life depended on it, they couldn't tell you what they read" (65). Hendricks goes on in the next several chapters to explain how to be a better reader. Here are his ten strategies:

  1. Read Thoughtfully
  2. Read Repeatedly
  3. Read Patiently
  4. Read Selectively
  5. Read Prayerfully
  6. Read Imaginatively
  7. Read Meditatively
  8. Read Purposefully
  9. Read Acquisitively
  10. Read Telescopically
It is a new year. It is not too late to make a new year's resolution. Why don't you make it your goal this year to become a better reader of the Bible, a better studier of the Bible. It starts with a book like this to help you understand how to be a student. If you have never taken a class on hermeneutics (the art and science on how to study the Bible), then this is the sort of introductory book that you need to read. It will impact you for life!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Books #27: Simple Church by Tom Rainer & Eric Geiger

This choice of Simple Church by Rainer & Geiger as being on my top 31 most influential books will be questioned more than any other book. I say that because of some of the negative reports I received when I had many men at my church read it. It was said to me that this book was just too pragmatic and did not have a high enough place for preaching and teaching.

Let me explain. I love preaching. I love teaching the Bible. But they are a means to an end, not the end. And many times, people who love preaching and teaching have a difficult time seeing past that. This is a book that deals with church structure and the motivations behind what you do as a church.

The basis of this concept of simple church is not that someone does less at their church, but that they are very intentional in their church. They write, "To have a simple church, you must design a simple discipleship process. This process must be clear. It must move people toward maturity. It must be integrated fully into your church, and you must get rid of the clutter around it" (26). I will never forget reading this book and getting to the part where they asked the question: "How do you structure your church to make disciples? How do you set up your ministry programs to move people toward spiritual transformation?" (36). I began asking myself how I would respond to this statement: "We have a clearly defined process for moving a person from salvation to spiritual maturity to significant ministry" (112).

In ministry, this is what it is all about. How are we going to see people become mature in their walk with Jesus. Like Paul, my desire in church ministry is to see people become complete in Christ (Col 1:28-29). I think what I loved about this book the most was that it brought that question to the forefront of the conversation. Do we think it just happens? Or do we need to ask the question, "Why do we do Sunday school? What purpose does that children's event have? How is that conference helping us move people to spiritual maturity? Do these events help our overall process?"

They talk about it in the book, and it is a good point. We often think of the busy church as the successful or growing church. But maybe the busyness is simply a mask that there is no intent on how to bring about people to spiritual maturity. We hope that if we just provide more and more things for them to be part of that it will just happen.

I was convicted about how I did ministry and my approach to it. I asked myself many questions about how we were doing things and what our plan was to produce spiritually mature disciples. But then they asked the question: do the people understand the process? What they meant was can the leadership identify how someone comes from spiritual infancy to spiritual maturity. And can the people of the church identify how that happens at your church? That stung.

Anyways, it is a great book. It has made me think about events and activities differently. I am sure it will be a book that I come back to time and time again in ministry to remind myself of the clarity that needs to take place in the ministry. If you are a church leader, read this book!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Books #28: Ten Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney

As I write about the books that have made an impact upon my life, I had to include the Ten Questions book by Donald Whitney. I did so because I remember back to the first time I read this book. The questions that he asks so convicted my heart. No pun intended, but these questions did really help me diagnose my spiritual health. This is one of those books in which God dealt with me on a very personal level. It was not about learning to do the ministry better, it was learning that I needed to continue to grow in my walk with Jesus. This book deals with the person, not what that person does for God. It brings to light real heart issues.

Whitney says his purpose in the introduction, "Where eternal life through Christ does exist, there should be not only health but also growth. That is what this book is about--evaluating your spiritual health and growth. Throughout, remember that just as Jesus is the source of spiritual life, so also is He the standard of spiritual health" (14). As a Christian, I should be growing. And these questions are simple ones that help lead me to ask that one main question we often want to avoid: "am I growing in Christ?"

If you are looking for a book this year to help you grow in your faith, or at least to convict you, this just might be the book. Let me end with the list of questions so that you can even now start evaluating yourself.
  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God's Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God's presence?
  5. Do you have the growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for heaven and to be with Jesus?
Well, do you?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Books #29: Between Two Worlds by John Stott

I really can't believe that John Stott's book, Between Two Worlds, falls this low on my list. I tried to get it higher, but I just couldn't bounce any of the ones above it. This is the first of four books on my list that has to do with preaching or teaching, which means that many of you will not read it. But let me just say at the beginning. If you are in ministry and you preach or teach on a regular basis and you have never read this book: shame on you! This should be your New Year's Resolution: Read Between Two Worlds by John Stott.

In many ways, this book should have been higher on my list because this book helped shape a lot of my thinking on my book, Helping Johnny Listen. For instance, listen to what Stott says about the relationship between the preacher and listener: "In nearly every church closer and more cordial relations between pastors and people, preachers and listeners, would be beneficial. There is need for more cooperation between them in the preparing of sermons, and more candour in evaluating them" (11). Later in the book, he lays the emphasis with the preacher to help the listener: "if we ourselves grow sleepy over our message, our listeners can hardly be expected to stay awake" (275).

Anyways, enough on listening to preaching, this book is primarily about the preacher and his message. The reason for the title is that Stott says the preacher must stand solidly in the world of the Bible, but he has better as well stand in the reality of the contemporary world. He must know both worlds. In his fifth chapter, he says the preacher is called to study. He says that we are called first to study the Bible. "Since the Christian pastor is primarily called to the ministry of the Word, the study of Scripture is one of his foremost responsibilities . . . The higher our view of the Bible, the more painstaking and conscientious our study of it should be" (181-2).

Most pastors in the circles I run believe that. What sometimes comes as strain for them is what Stott says next. He says that the preacher should also study the modern world. "Biblical and theological studies do not by themselves make for good preaching. They are indispensable. But unless they are supplemented by contemporary studies, they can keep us disastrously isolated on one side of the cultural chasm" (190). Those not in the ministry might not know of this, but there has been a debate over the past couple years in regards to contextualization of ministry. It centers on how much the knowledge of the modern world should dictate our ministries or teaching ministries.

I might tend to fall more on the need of contextualization than the average person in my circles. My point is not to defend my position in this blog post, but to bring to the awareness that we all live in culture. And this culture in which we live is different than the culture in which the Bible was written. Let me end with one last quote by Stott on the need for this study of the contemporary world:

"Some disagree with the call to study the modern novel, stage and screen because they consider it a compromise with fashion. They regard the quest for 'revelance' in preaching as a surrender to worldliness. Those who give in to it are dismissed as men-pleasers, whose main objective is to be trendy rather than godly. Once again, we need to heed this criticism. The lust for popularity is indeed imperious, and many of us are twentieth-century Pharisees who love 'the praise of men more than the praise of God' . . . This is a wise warning. But it does not condemn a study of contemporary trends. For what I am proposing is not co-operation with the spirit of the age, still less marriage to it, but rather an understanding of it with a view to confronting it with a relevant word from God" (194).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Books #30: Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood

There is a debate that continues to rage in defining the roles of men and women in the church and in the home. When I was in seminary at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL., I had the privilege of taking a class from Dr. Wayne Grudem. It was a class on biblical manhood and womanhood. Much of the information in the class came from this great book that along with John Piper, Dr. Grudem helped to edit.

Recovering Biblical Manhood & Womanhood has been a book that I have referenced over the years. A few pages here, a chapter there. But three years ago, for a doctoral of ministries class, I actually read the 500+ page book word for word. While it was a long process, I appreciated every word of this book. You may never read from start to finish, but I think everyone should have this book on hand to help answer questions they might ever have on the role of men and women. Even if someone does not agree with their position, there is not a book out there that so adequately explains in detail the complementarian view of men and women.

Piper & Grudem say that their primary purpose in this volume is "to help Christians recover a noble vision of manhood and womanhood as God created them to be" (xiv). The book centers on a vision for Biblical Complementarianism. That is simply the view that men and women are equal in status before God, but have been given different functions or roles in the home and in the church. If you have this book or you want to get this book, the first chapter is the one to read, word for word. In this chapter, John Piper offers his vision for why he is a complementarian. He says,

"Biblical headship for the husband is the divine calling to take primary responsibility for Christlike, servant-leadership, protection and provision in the home. Biblical submission for the wife is the divine calling to honor and affirm her husband's leadership and help carry it through according to her gifts . . . The same is true of God's design for the leadership of the church. The realities of headship and submission in marriage have their counterparts in the church" (52-3).

When people oppose this view of men and women, they usually do so because they feel like it oppresses women. You will not see that in this book. In fact, this book uplifts women. Piper even says, "If I were to put my finger on one devastating sin today, it would not be the so-called women's movement, but the lack of spiritual leadership by men at home and in the church" (53). Amen!

If you want a challenge, then pick up this book. The journey will heap great rewards for your marriage and church. As well, I would encourage you to bookmark The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood official website. It has many helpful resources.