Real Leadership

9781433551222mOne of the most useful books I’ve read so far in 2016 is Mark Dever’s Discipling: How to Help Other Follow Jesus.

The final chapter offers nine basic steps to raising up church leaders. Tucked away in Step #6 (“Give Feedback”) is a sagacious point no pastor should miss—especially young pastors like me. Dever writes,

So many times I’ve seen men, particularly younger guys, act as if real leadership is shown in correcting others. That’s why young men’s sermons often scold. What they haven’t figured out is that you can often accomplish more by encouragement. There are times to scold. But 80 to 90 percent of what you hope to correct can be accomplished through encouragement.

As another pastor often says, “You can’t say, ‘Amen,’ if you don’t also say, ‘Ouch.'”

Save

Resources for Preaching the 10 Commandments

10 Commandments Podcast

Sometime back in 2014 I decided we’d spend the next few summers at IDC walking through the Pentateuch. It’s impossible to understand the rest of Scripture from the first five books. Also, because they are largely narratives, we wouldn’t need to spend years upon years getting through them.

So, last summer we journeyed through Genesis, largely shaping each sermon around a particular character or patriarch. June 2016 came around, and we began Exodus. The plan was to finish up chapter 40 at the end of September. But God’s Spirit gave me a hitch about that scheme, a hitch that asked, “Why not preach a “series within a series” on the 10 Commandments?”

I may never again preach through Exodus. Did I want to miss out on the opportunity to think carefully about one of the Old Testament’s most important sections?

An Oddly Compelling People

As we lead our little congregation, there are a few things we want to be true about IDC (a praying, disciple-making, welcoming, and singing church). Should God allow these few things to flourish in our lives, we believe a kind of congregational life will arise. You could call this corporate life as being mere faithfulness. But we like to think of it as oddly compelling. We find Scripture instructing God’s people to love the Lord in such a way that the world thinks us odd. But odd need to be off-putting. It seems to us that the biblical view of “odd” is quite compelling. “People will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” Jesus said. Faithful churches are strange to the culture—strangely attractive.

What best summarizes the church’s oddly compelling lifestyle? Those “Ten Words” once written on stone tablets, now written on human hearts.

Recovering a Forgotten Friend

I could be my personal experience, but a special study of the 10 Commandments seems to have disappeared from evangelicalism. The saints of old would give us a good talking to about this. For what were the ordinary tools of catechesis the church used throughout the centuries? The Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and . . . yep . . . the 10 Commandments.

I have many theories on why gospel-preaching churches no longer hold the Stone Tablets’ hands. The fundamental reason surely is the widespread neglect of the Old Testament in most churches. We’ve so rightly divided Scripture that we assume the Old Testament belongs not only to a different age but different people. But even if you’re theologically convinced the Commandments belong to a former age, you can’t deny that they are still instructive—in some way—today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6, 11).

At least that’s what we believe at IDC. So, Lord willing, on September 11th we will stare at those stony scratches Moses made.

7 Useful Resources

I’m thankful there is a cottage industry of resources on the 10 Commandments. But cottages tend to get crowded. Best friends can thus be hard to find. Here then are some of the most helpful resources I’ve found in my study (with publishers’ description included).

1596380365mHow Jesus Transforms the Ten Commandments by Edmund Clowney. For many Christians, conditioned to emphasize our freedom from the law, Jesus’ words seem strange, even incompatible with the gospel of grace. If Jesus did not abolish the law, then how should we look at the Ten Commandments today?

Clowney explains how Jesus intensifies the law and expands its scope to every situation in life. But as the author did so often during his ministry, he goes further, finding Christ in the law and showing how he fulfills it for his people. Thus believers will learn more, not only of God’s character revealed in the law, but also of the gospel with its focus on Christ.

Divided into eleven chapters, each with study questions for reflection and application, this book is an ideal resource for group study and personal growth.

0875522378mTen Commandments: Manual for the Christian Life by Joachim Douma. The Ten Commandments provide “the fundamental pointers we need for our concourse with God and our neighbors,” writes Professor J. Douma in this work. As the subtitle indicates, the Ten Commandments are a manual for the Christian life, relevant to all thought and experience.

In this commentary on the commandments, Douma tackles the difficult yet practical issues of our time with insight, thoroughness, and faithfulness to God’s word. Discussions of the commandments span current issues from religious art to sorcery and witchcraft, from Sunday observance to civil disobedience, from abortion to euthanasia and suicide.

Because the commandments speak to every area of life, this volume lends itself to a wide range of uses. Pastors, professors, counselors, and thoughtful laypeople will gain much wisdom and direction from this careful, up-to-date exposition of the Ten Commandments.

9781601780638mThe Rule of Love: Broken, Fulfilled, and Applied by J.V. Fesko. In The Rule of Love, J. V. Fesko gives an introductory exposition of the Ten Commandments. Beginning with the importance of the prologue, and then addressing each Commandment in turn, he sets forth a balanced and biblical approach that places the law in proper perspective. Throughout the book, Fesko analyzes the historical context of God’s giving the law in order to help us accurately understand the moral demands God places upon humanity.

Yet, Fesko does not stop there; he also discusses the covenantal and redemptive context in which the law was given. Thus, he shows that the law is not presented to us in order for us to present ourselves right before God. Rather, it demonstrates our failure to love God as we should and points us to Christ and His perfect obedience in all that God requires of us. Fesko also shows how Christ applies the commandments to His people by the indwelling power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is an excellent survey of the Ten Commandments that promises to bring about a more accurate understanding of the proper uses of the law, as well as engender profound gratitude for all that God is for us in Christ.

080246372XmThe Law of Perfect Freedom: Relating to God and Others Through the Ten Commandments by Michael Horton. The Ten Commandments are not Moses’ bright ideas or simply God’s suggestions; they are God’s categorical requirements. In The Law of Perfect Freedom, Michael Horton weaves theological truth with practical application to help believers live out the Ten Commandments. Understanding how to live out these commandments brings vitality and victory to our walk with God.

9781581349832mKeeping the Ten Commandments by J.I. Packer. They are often mistakenly considered God’s ‘rules’—his outdated list of do’s and don’ts that add up to a guilt-ridden, legalistic way of life. But as beloved author and Bible scholar J. I. Packer probes the purpose and true meaning of the Ten Commandments, readers will gladly discover that these precepts can aptly be called God’s design for the best life possible. They contain the wisdom and priorities anyone needs for relational, spiritual, and societal blessing—and it’s all coming from a loving heavenly Father who wants the best for his children.

Not only does Packer deliver these truths in brief, readable segments, but he includes discussion questions and ideas for further study at the end of each chapter. This book will challenge readers to view the commandments with new eyes and help them to understand—perhaps for the first time—the health, the hope, and the heritage we’re offered there.

0875523757mThe Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses by Vern Poythress. What does the Old Testament have to do with Jesus Christ? Everything.

The first five books of the Old Testament were written centuries before the birth of Jesus. Yet they intricately involve him. Here Vern S. Poythress explores Genesis through Deuteronomy, demonstrating how the sacrifices and traditions of the Hebrews graphically foreshadow Christ’s relationship with his people. Dr. Poythress also explains how the penalties of the law refigure the destruction of sin and guilt through Jesus.

Christ himself is the key that unlocks the riches of the Old Testament. With remarkable clarity and insight, Poythress opens the door to our understanding the law of Moses and its relationship to the gospel.

0851511465mThe Ten Commandments by Thomas Watson. In this book Thomas Watson continues his exposition of the Shorter Catechism drawn up by the Westminster Assembly. Watson was one of the most popular preachers in London during the Puritan era. His writings are characterized by clarity, raciness and spiritual richness. The series of three volumes, of which this is the second, makes an ideal introduction to Puritan literature.

There are few matters about which the Puritans differ more from present-day Christians than in their assessment of the importance of the ten commandments. The commandments, they held, are the first thing in Christianity which the natural man needs to be taught and they should be the daily concern of the Christian to the last.

In The Ten Commandments Watson examines the moral law as a whole as well as bringing out the meaning and force of each particular commandment. In view of the important function of the law in Christian life and evangelism this is a most valuable volume.

And Don’t Forget!

In addition to the books above, every preacher would be wise to consult the Westminster Shorter Catechism for precise commentary and the Heidelberg Catechism for pastoral counsel. They are like perfectly aged, truth-filled wine for the soul. Your heart will be glad.

Save

Save

Save

Resource of the Year?

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 8.23.32 AMThe study Bible industry is living and active. Rarely does a year go by without a publisher announcing work on or completing the publication of their study Bible.

One of the more recent entries is Reformation Heritage’s KJV Study Bible. Dr. Joel Beeke—the general editor—says,

I think the best features of this study Bible is that it (1) supplies insightful thoughts at the end of each chapter for personal and family worship, so that those leading worship can find quick help; (2) provides the first study Bible ever published in the KJV that is thoroughly grounded in Reformation theology; and (3) contains excellent notes that help you understand the text without doing all your thinking for you.

For me, his first point represents this work’s unique contribution. Family worship suggestions on every chapter of God’s word? What help for every Christian parent! If you aren’t inclined to the Authorized translation, but still want the family worship helps, you will soon be blessed. RHB plans to release their Family Worship Bible Guide this November. This resource pulls together all the family worship helps from the KJV Study Bible and puts them in one place.

Click here to see the study notes on Ephesians and the corresponding thoughts for family worship.

Pastoral Ministry & Old Paths

Old Paths

“Pay careful attention to how you walk,” the Untimely Apostle said. The days are evil and few. Slippery slopes abound, so Christians must pay attention. When it comes to walking there is something comforting about an old path. The weeds have long been trampled out. The path itself was cut ages ago and has thus become nearly one with the earth.

Ah, yes. The glory of old paths.

Walking on Pastoral Paths

Pastors must pay peculiar attention to their path. If they are faithful, they will usually lead from the front. The sheep trail behind hearing the shepherd’s voice, following with trust and care. Therefore, a wise pastor won’t choose a path marked, “Contemporary,” “Culturally Relevant,” or, “Fresh.” Such things—especially in our day—are about as sturdy as an egg’s resistance to a boulder. Faddish paths tend to leave egg on the face. Wise pastors will instead choose paths of pastoral practice well trod by great men of old.

Where can we find such paths? In the books of old.

Three Glories of Old Paths

I tend to read any new book on pastoral ministry that shows up from a reliable publisher. The modern books on pastoral ministry usually only serve to increase my pining for the old ones. Maybe I’m just a soul aged before my time. Or maybe there is something different about an old book. In fact, I’d argue there are three peculiar advantages to reading earlier works on pastoral ministry:

  • Dignity. Our culture’s obsession (many a church’s obsession, as well) with casual authenticity is systematically destroying something God says every one of his elders must have: dignity. The old men radiated dignity in life, love, faith, and purity.
  • Gravity. This second point is a natural consequence of the first. My personal definition of dignity, after all, is the gravity attending godliness. There is a gravity in the old writings on ministry absent from today’s works. Pastoral ministry was serious business. Eternity hung in the balance. The pulpit was the sacred desk, not a bar table to sit behind. The prayer closet was real. The study was his home.
  • Maturity. This, for me, is probably the greatest reason to read the old books. Modern books on ministry are full of biblical awareness and personal experience. But they lack what I call “piercedness.” In my view, the new books don’t pierce like the old ones because they often come from young pastoral pens. Let me listen to a man who is decades into the ministry. Such a man has seen much and so can say much. He has piercing views in the heart. He pierces through the chaff and gives us the blessed wheat for ministry.

To the 19th Century We Go

Let me thus suggest a few 19th–century books on pastoral ministry for pastors to read. I have a theory as to why the 1800s produced such excellent reflections on ministry, but I’ll leave that for another time. Four old, trustworthy, and proven paths for ministry are:

0875521649mWords to Winners of Souls by Horatius Bonar. Bonar gets the first nod because he unleashes conviction aplenty in less than one hundred pages. This is a book you can—and probably should—reread every year.

9780851510873mThe Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges. Simply the best book on pastoral ministry yet written. It comes in second only because of its length (400 pages) being off-putting to some today.

0851518931mPrinceton and Preaching: Archibald Alexander and the Christian Ministry by James Garretson. Oh, how I wish this one got more press! It’s far too underrated. Here’s your opportunity to sit in a seminary class on ministry with Alexander. It may be the most useful class you ever take.

41sqaNuDw7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pastoral Theology by Thomas Murphy. Murphy’s work is essentially his rehashing of Archibald Alexander’s teaching. This work cuts to the quick and is astonishingly expansive. It’s also available for free online.

Christ in the Front, Not in the Footnotes

We Preach Christ

Preachers are covenant heralds of The King of King. “Him we proclaim.” We know “nothing except Christ and him crucified.” We declare “Jesus Christ as Lord.” “We preach Christ crucified.”

Or do we?

The Glory of Christ Front and Center

I’m not yet done with it, but Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, & Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters is routinely magnificent in its meditations on ministry.

For example, in chapter two Ferguson drives home the danger of separating the benefits of Christ from the person of Christ in preaching. He writes,

Wherever the benefits of Christ are seen as abstractable from Christ himself, there is a decreasing stress on his person and work in preaching and in the books that are published to feed that preaching. That is accompanied by a stress on our experience of salvation rather than on the grace, majesty, and glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Is it possible that most preachers reading these pages own more books on preaching (and even on preaching Christ!) than they own on Christ himself?

If that is true (a survey would certainly be illuminating), we should probably ask a further question: Is it obvious to me, and of engrossing concern, that the chief focus, the dominant note in the sermon I preach (or hear), is ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’? Or is the dominant emphasis (and perhaps the greatest energies of the preacher) focused somewhere else, perhaps on how to overcome sin, or how to live the Christian life, or on the benefits to be received from the gospel? All are legitimate emphases in their place, but that pace is never center stage.

When I read that, I write in the margin, “Most convicting, Dr. Ferguson. Bless you.”

Don’t Put Him in the Footnotes of Your Sermon

In that paragraph quoted above Ferguson offers, in a footnote, an illustration for how we commonly let Christ’s benefits supersede a focus on Christ himself. He says,

This [separation] might be illustrated by the way in which, for example, John Owen’s work Of the Mortification of Sin has undoubtedly been read by many more younger ministers than either his Glory of Christ or Communion with God. That may be understandable because of the deep pastoral insight in Owen’s short work; but it may also put the practical cart before the theological horse. Owen himself would not have been satisfied with hearers who learned mortification without learning Christ. A larger paradigmatic shift needs to take place than only exchanging a superficial subjectivism for Owen’s rigorous subjectivism. What is required is a radical recentering in a richer and deeper knowledge of Christ, understood in terms of his person and work. There can be little doubt that Owen himself viewed things this way.

Christ the Center

Dear brother preacher, the Lord’s Day is right around the corner, and we must ask afresh, “Whom will we preach?” That’s the most important question, even more than, “What will we preach?” We preach Christ because Christ is the gospel. Let our preaching lift the chin of our congregation to consider Christ dead, buried, risen, and ascended to heaven. Let our preaching call for sinners to get into Christ. Let our preaching sound forth the sweetness of a Savior crushed in our place.

Let us not tear asunder Christ from His benefits. Let us preach the Benefactor who graciously gives His benefits to all who believe.

365 Days and 207 Books Later

A Banner Year

As I stand on the precipice of another year gone and look back on the last year, I’m convinced 2015 will hence be remembered as a “banner year” in my life.

Our fourth son was born. We moved into our second home. I began Ph.D. studies. I started losing my hair (I’m still trying to discern what, if any, relation it has to doctoral work). After three years of slow, steady growth on Saturday nights, God opened the door for our church to meet on His Day. Theological questions of critical nature popped up, possibly forever altering certain convictions and ministerial trajectory. Suffering struck our church in a new way and brought a taste—not just a sense—of God’s sweet sovereignty.

It was a banner year indeed.

It was also a banner year for book reading. For the first time in my life, I crossed the two-century mark in reading, completing 207 books over the last 365 days.

When the Truth is Terrifying

In 2013, I read 156 books and last year I read 160. How, I’m asking myself, did I add some 47 books to this year’s “Completed Books List?” The simple answer would be to blame the increase on Ph.D. work, for over 50 of the books I read came from some Ph.D. seminar syllabus. As I’ve considered this landmark of sorts in the last week I’ve come to realize the real answer lies within my heart; I love reading books.

Such a statement begs for a derisive, “Duh!” “Of course, a person who reads 207 books in one year loves reading books,” you might say. To which I’d respond, “Did you see where I put the accent? It’s not that I love reading books, but that I love reading books.”

And for the first time in my life that truth terrifies me.

On Books and The Book

What clear and concerning to me is that 2015 revealed a trajectory in my soul, one that proves I tend to reach for man’s book than God’s book. By my calculations, I finished, at least, one book every forty-two hours this year. That means I read tens of thousands of man’s words every two days or so while only reading a few hundred of God’s words.

In years past I’ve been able to say with a clean conscience that my persistent reading of books catalyzed even higher reading of The Book. But this year was different (I’m still trying to discern exactly why this is so). I was too quick to put down The Book to read another book. I thus stand rebuked, first by my words.

In December 31, 2014’s post recounting 160 books read I wrote at the end:

Here’s what I do know: books build my soul in myriads of ways, but not as powerfully as The Book does. I think I held that perspective well this year, and I want to do so even more next year. My conviction then going into 2015 is going to be different than in years past. I really don’t care how many books I read as long as The Book receives my most ardent love and attention.

Tears well up when I reread those words, for The Book didn’t receive my most ardent attention.

Henry Martyn’s example also rebukes me this year. His practice of reading is surely most pious and wise. Do you know it?

Archibald Alexander recounts it in the middle of some sage counsel to the pastor’s study habits:

It has been said that everything a minister studies should have a reference to the word of God. Through whatever fields of science or of literature he may rove, he should come back with superior relish to the Bible. In the varied regions of philosophy and taste he is permitted to rove, but the Bible should be his richest banquet. Make it a rule always to prefer it. If at the hours of devotion you are strongly drawn toward some new and interesting publication, if you are tempted for this to omit the regular study of the Scriptures, regard it as a temptation, and resist it accordingly. You may recollect the resolution of the pious Henry Martyn. He would never allow himself to peruse a book one moment after he felt it gaining preference to the Bible. As long as he could turn to his Bible with a superior relish, so long he would continue reading, and no longer. Go thou and do likewise.

Relish for The Book decreased this year and preference for books increased.

A Fresh Resolve

I thus enter 2016 with fresh resolve and zeal to situate my soul in Scripture. I want holy Martyn’s model to be real in my life next year. Should the Lord tarry and grant me another 365 days, I hope to write a post on December 31, 2016, that announces something different than this one did.

Over 200 books in one year is a banner I thought I’d be proud to wave. But instead, I find myself eager to let the banner fall—and raise a more inspired one in its place.

Favorite Books of 2015

Whittling down the list of books I read each year to a select few favorites is always an enjoyably difficult exercise. This year I decided to employ two criteria for my list of favorite books from 2015:

  1. Does this book have unusual benefit to ordinary pastors?
  2. Is this a book worth rereading every year?

Those two simple questions helped me pare down all the titles I’ve read to the following books, each of unique value to the ministry of ordinary pastors. Then I have three more titles worth your interest at the end.

Favorite Books for Ordinary Pastors Published in 2015

9781433547843#8—Praying the Bible by Don Whitney. Short, concise, and practical, I could see Whitney’s latest book offering wisdom many church members—and church leaders—are looking for. In Praying the Bible Whitney says, “If . . . mind-wandering boredom describes your experience in prayer, I would argue that if you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit—if you are born again—then the problem is not you; it is your method.” I think he’s right, especially when you understand the method he has in mind. The method is praying through Scripture, particularly the Psalms. He’s spot on to say that such a method of prayer gives structure, purpose, and longevity. This one could transform your prayer life.

9781433549373#7—What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. If ever there was a book uniquely suited for our time it’s DeYoung’s latest. What Does the Bible . . . ? is after an admittedly small slice of the categorical pie, for DeYoung writes, “This is a Christian book, with a narrow focus, defending a traditional view of marriage” (15). The work’s utility lies in its simplicity: part one deals with the five most debated passage on homosexuality and part two deals with the seven most common objections to the traditional view. As we should expect by now, DeYoung is winsomely logical, ruthlessly biblical, and pastorally helpful. Every pastor should have multiple copies on hand to distribute to church members.

9780310516828m#6—The Pastor Theologian by Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson. The Pastor Theologian well surpassed my already high expectations as the authors promote a compelling vision for recovering the long hallowed, but now forgotten, role of the pastor-theologian. Full of piercing historical and sociological analysis, rich reflection on God’s word, and surprisingly helpful tips, this is a book every pastor should read. Not all of us will become Ecclesial Theologians (the true burden of Wilson and Hiestand’s model), yet we all need fresh encouragement to zealously pursuing a learned ministry.

9780801018350m#5—The New Pastor’s Handbook by Jason Helopoulos. Believe the hype, Helopoulos’ book is indeed a “must read” for young pastors (seasoned pastors will surely benefit as well). As was the case in his first book, the instruction here is full of grace and truth. The New Pastor’s Handbook consists of forty-eight short chapters broken into five parts: The Beginning, Starting Out Strong, Encouragements, Pitfalls of Young Pastors, and Joys of Ministry. If any part is required reading it is the section on pastoral pitfalls; the one-two punch of “Taking Yourself Too Seriously” and “Not Taking Yourself Seriously Enough” hits home hard. Joe Thorn overstates his case by saying TNPH “will prove to be as helpful as The Christian Ministry by Charles Bridges.” But he doesn’t overstate the case by much, this book is that good.

#4—How to Walk Into Church by Tony Payne9781922206725m. The fact that How to Walk Into the Church is more a booklet than a book and yet still manages to rank so high on my list tells you how good I found it to be. Payne’s says we should walk into church praying about who we will sit next to. The book goes on to offer beautiful, warm, and simple counsel on the joyful necessity of gathering weekly with the church. One great thing you might do next year is get a case of this book and hand out a copy to ever family in your church. I believe How to Walk Into Church contains life-changing instruction for many ordinary Christians . . . maybe even ordinary pastors.

9780830840229m#3—Rejoicing in Christ by Michael Reeves. If there is a contemporary author I love more than Mike Reeves, I’m hard pressed to think who it could be. He’s written my favorite introduction to the Reformation, my favorite introduction to the Trinity, and with Rejoicing in Christ he’s written my favorite populary-level intro to Christology. I’m not sure, however, if this book appropriately falls into the category of “Christology.” Whenever I think of Christology, I think of textbook-ish works on the hypostatic union, eternal generation, and the like. Those volumes are vital indeed; we also need books that simply show us how to stare at Jesus—and do so with joy and hope! Rejoicing in Christ models exultational Christology at its finest.

9781433543548m#2—The Compelling Community by Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop. Dever’s book The Deliberate Church is the resource, outside of Scripture, we value most when training future officers at IDC. It offers an astonishing amount of biblical truth and practical wisdom on matters of pastoral ministry, church polity, corporate worship, and even gets down to things like hiring church staff and running elders’ meetings. Whereas The Deliberate Church aims to set a foundation for a healthy church, The Compelling Community is something like a sequel that tries to let us know—as difficult as it can be to capture in print—what a healthy church feels like. And what a fantastic sequel this is! The Compelling Community offers a vision for healthy church life from which any pastor or church leader can profit. I found the discussion of a church being a place of either “Gospel Plus Community” or “Gospel Revealing Community” worth its weight in gold. I’ll cast aside all other superlatives that come to my mind and simply say, “Get this book!”

9781848716308m#1—Knowing Christ by Mark Jones. If Helopoulos’s book is a modern version of Bridges’ The Christian Ministry then Mark Jones’ latest is a modern-day The Glory of Christ by John Owen. Knowing Christ is devotional Christology par excellence. Those familiar with Jones will know he is a faithful guide on the Christological paths; he employs the full range biblical theology, systematic theology, and historical theology (especially the Puritans) to make the heart happy in Christ. This is not a book to read quickly; I’d recommend reading one chapter during each day’s daily devotions. I was regularly so moved at the glories of Christ that I had to put the book down to contemplate, pray, and worship. May this book receive the widest audience possible.

Favorite Book for Ordinary Pastors Not Published in 2015

Words to Winners of Souls0875521649m by Horatius Bonar. How I’ve made it over a decade in ministry without reading Bonar’s classic is a mystery to me. The influence of the tiny island of Scotland on the Christian history is stunning. And most of it stems from the view of ministry that has permeated its pastors for centuries. In Words to Winners of Souls Bonar casts a vision for gospel ministry that is simultaneously comforting and convicting. Perhaps the greatest section of the book isn’t even written by Bonar. In 1651, a collection of pastors in Scotland came together a drew up “an humble acknowledgment of the sins of the ministry.” They sensed God’s judgment upon the country and viewed themselves as no small part of the problem. Horatius Bonar called the subsequent ministerial confession “one of the fullest, most faithful and most impartial confessions of ministerial sin ever made.” Read this and don’t be surprised if you weep for greater faithfulness in stewarding the gospel.

Favorite Non-Fiction Book

513F52vnKLL._SX341_BO1,204,203,200_The Wright Brothers by David McCullough. There isn’t anyone from whom I’d rather learn about American history than David McCullough. The two-time Pulitzer winner writes with such a warmth and familiarity of understanding I feel as though I’m listening to my grandfather tells stories of days gone by. His latest work focuses on how Wilbur and Orville Wright created their “flying machine.” This story of the boys from Dayton, Ohio is quintessentially “American”—two men rising from obscurity to change the world through undaunted industry and ingenuity. The Wright Brothers is a story we all should know. And McCullough’s reverent and beautiful prose is the perfect guide.

Favorite Fiction Book

BTThe Bone Tree by Greg Iles. I loved Iles’ Natchez Burning so much that I named it my favorite fiction book of 2014. Natchez was the first book in a trilogy and ever since reading it I’ve tried to temper my expectations for its sequel, The Bone Tree. I am delighted to say there was no need for such tempering; The Bone Tree is excellent! Iles picks up right where the narrative left off and for 800 pages, with unrelenting force, he never lets the reader go. The pages fly as Penn Cage tries to save his father, uncover the truth about Kennedy’s assassination, and take justice into his hands when he loses a loved one. I was shocked to see just how many loose ends Iles tied up from Natchez while simultaneously opening up new ones that will make any reader ravenous to read the trilogy’s final entry.

Click here to see my Favorite Books of 2014 and Favorite Books of 2013.

A Man of the Word

“There are so many things that will demand your attention in those early days of the pastorate, yet nothing is more important than getting to know the Word of God thoroughly, accurately, and confidently. Immerse your soul and mind and heart in this Holy Word. Spend hours reading it. Steal away moments to meditate on it. Engage in the hard work of memorizing it. Read an entire book in one sitting. Memorize and outline for each of the sixty-six books so that you know what they contain. . . . Your people need to know that you know the Word of God and that you speak with authority because you are rightly handling the Word of Truth (2 Tim. 2:15).” – Jason Helopoulos, The New Pastor’s Handbook, 62-63.

A Series Worth Serious Investment: Christian Pocket Guides

For a few years now Christian Focus has quietly amassed a nice little storehouse of little books on essential matters of Christianity in Christian Pocket Guide series. Averaging eighty pages per book and overflowing with helpful comments on matters of “Warning,” “Don’t Forget,” “Stop and Think,” and “Points of Interest,” this series is ideal for two reasons. First, it is a fantastic resource for refreshing your basic understanding of the main business of the faith. Second, these books are excellent discipling resources.

Check them out and see if you don’t agree.

9781845509514mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Jesus Christ: An Introduction to Christology by Mark Jones. Could you explain Christology if asked to? For many of us, the whole concept of Christology is as mystifying as a foreign language, yet Christians down the ages have fought to defend the person and work of Christ – seeing him and what he did quite rightly as a vital element of how we are saved. If we are to understand this subject we need to know the person of Christ; not just what he did (his work) but who he is (his person).

Through this book we get to know the Son of God who indeed is God and not just a superman! He is the one who came from above and became fully human having a human body and soul. Being God enabled him to pay the debt owed for sin and being man enabled him to stand on man’s behalf for their sin. In straightforward and simple layman terms this book will explain the interconnectivity of the work and person of Jesus Christ and dispel any misconceptions you may have.

9781781916476mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Sin: The Disease and Its Cure by Iain Campbell. The doctrine of sin is a dark doctrine. It takes us to the very core of our being, and to our radical departure from God. It speaks in negative terms. Its tones are shadowy, its notes deep. It is not a user-friendly doctrine. Our need is great; that is what the doctrine of sin is saying. But, there is an answer, and it is in Jesus Christ. “A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Sin” maps out the nature of the disease which only God, by His grace in Jesus Christ, is able to heal.

9781781911099mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Being Made Right with God: Understanding Justification by Guy Waters. Justification is not a relic of the past – it has direct relevance to us as Christians today. We often struggle with the thought of justification because of human pride; “I can’t be that bad” and so justification is often undermined, wrongly presented or just plain ignored. Scripture though, is brutally clear: we have a real problem – the prospect of our lives marred by wrong-doing being laid out before an almighty God who is pure and will not forever let wrong go unpunished. We can’t earn our way out of our predicament – as this is just “rubbish” according to the apostle Paul. We need something else, someone who can take the hit we so richly deserve – leaving us to be declared innocent instead.

9781845508104mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Growing in Holiness: Understanding Sanctification by J.V. Fesko. No true Christian wants to keep on sinning. Yet the battle seems unwinnable. For every slain opponent two more emerge from the shadows. And to make matters worse, an endless stream of pundits are on hand with conflicting combat tactics: ‘Try harder. Do more.’ ‘It’s a matter of mind over matter.’ ‘Imitate Christ. Ask, What would Jesus Do?’ ‘Take a break. Even if you yield to every known sin, you’re still a winner because Christ has forgiven everything.’

In the Bible we find a more coherent and realistic approach to growing in holiness. Victory over sin does not come to the spiritual sluggard. Effort is essential. Even so, self-transformation is not possible. ‘Sanctification is by faith alone in Christ alone.’ The gospel is not just for day one of the Christian life; it’s for the whole journey. How do we grow in holiness? We grow through the word of God and prayer and sacraments. This book will help us find the benefits of growing in Christ for which there is no substitute.

9781845509682mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism: The Water That Unites by Robert Letham. What is Christian baptism? Is it, as many believe, a mere symbol? When should someone be baptized? In A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Baptism, Robert Letham answers such questions from Scripture. He reflects sensitively on historic Christian teaching and avoids the extremes that often mark discussions of this subject, making this a book for everyone. Letham’s plain talk will not leave beginners bemused, nor will it frustrate those who want to make real progress in their theological understanding. It is a ‘tragedy’, says Letham, that Christians should think of baptism as ‘the water that divides’.

The sign of our union with Christ should unite Christians, not least because it does not focus on our actions, but on God’s mighty deeds. Baptism belongs to him. It must always be administered in connection with faith, yet that does not mean Christians do anything to receive or to earn baptism. They are to be baptized solely because of God’s gracious promises.

9781781915806mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving The Old Testament: One Book, One God, One Story by Alec Motyer. Many of us know and love the stories and characters of the Old Testament such as Joseph, Moses and Jonah. But how do we view its importance in relation to New Testament teaching and our 21st century experiences? This accessible yet powerful addition to the Pocket Guide series draw together the threads of Scripture to help us understand the power of God’s word when viewed in its completeness.

9781781912997mA Christian’s Pocket Guide to Papacy: Its Origin and Role in the 21st Century by Leonardo Di Chirico. Who are the Popes and how does the Roman Catholic Church define their role? What about the present day Popes? What is the ecumenical significance of the Papacy and what are its prospects in the global world? These and other questions are tackled as Leonardo De Chirico explores the Biblical, historical, and theological fabric of the Papacy.

Preaching Nourished by Prayer

The Pastor and Prayer

It’s a perennial question, “Where should you start a book on preaching?” You could give a brief theology of Scripture, survey its primacy in church history, or you could do something totally different like write a chapter on prayer. That’s exactly where Gary Millar and Phil Campbell begin their book Saving Eutychus: How to Preach God’s Word and Keep People Awake. That emphasis seems just right. That apostles did say they would devote themselves “to prayer and to the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4). So, when a book self-consciously reflects this order my interest is automatically piqued.

Gary Millar takes five pages and fills them with punch and pith on the necessity of prayer if we are ever going to keep Eutychus awake. His sage counsel is summarized with these points: 1) resolve now to pray fervently for your own preach, and 2) make sure that your church prays together for the preaching.

Putting It Into Practice

To illustrate the power of the second point Millar recounts his experience at Gilcomston South Church. I found the example of this community stirring. May it do the same for you and lead to you place greater emphasis on prayer in your preaching ministry. Millar writes,

From 1988-1991 (when I was a theological student), I was part of a remarkable church family. Gilcomston South Church of Scotland in Aberdeen wasn’t a huge church. Nor was it a particularly ‘happening’ church. We met twice on a Sunday, had a midweek central Bible study and a Saturday night prayer meeting—and that was it. There was an organ, and we sang five hymns or psalms (often to Germanic minor tunes). The pastor, William Still, preached steadily through the Bible (this was still relatively novel at the time, even though he had been doing it for 40 years). But what set that church family apart was its very simple commitment to ‘the ministry of the word nourished by prayer’ (as Mr. Still would repeatedly say). I have never been part of a church family that had a greater sense of expectancy when we gathered to hear the Bible explained. And I have never been part of a church family where prayer was so obviously the heartbeat of everything that went on. And I have never been part of a church family where God was so obviously present week by week as he spoke through his word. And, it seems to me, there might just be a connection.

Of course ‘Gilc’ was, and is, just like any church family—full of flawed, messed-up people like you and me. But those of us who had the privilege of ‘passing through’ went on from there with an indelible sense that preaching and praying go together. It was just part of the DNA of the church family. The precious group of 50 or 60 people who met week by week at the Saturday night prayer meeting spend most of the two hours praying for the proclamation of the gospel elsewhere—in other churches in our city, in Scotland, and on every continent around the world, one by one. Eventually, someone would pray, ‘And Lord, spare a though for us in our own place tomorrow . . .’ and the others, who had been praying faithfully on their own all through the week for the preaching at Gilc, would murmur a heartfelt ‘Amen.’