Book Review: What is the Gospel

Book Review:  What is the Gospel?  by Greg Gilbert

The Good:

Let’s Gooooo.  A common joke I have with the teens of our church, go where?  But as one would say during an intense moment of the game, Let’s Goooo!  And there were times in this book, especially the closing chapters, where you are motivated to share the topic of this book.  The Gospel is on your lips and ready to be shared.

Love Increase.  You not only gain knowledge and insight about the Gospel, but it also allows the reader to gain in their love and appreciation of the Gospel, and especially with the Savior.  I can honestly say I love my Savior more after reading this book.

Finally, clarity.  You know our church culture has gone a little crazy with the use of Gospel.  Gospel living, gospel exercise, gospel pancakes (OK, maybe not that last one…maybe).  Gilbert does a masterful job of providing concise, clear doctrine of the Gospel.  Nothing added, nothing deleted in his explanation of this Biblical-based definition of the Gospel.  And the reader will certainly appreciate the clarity and conciseness of this small book.

The Bad:

Little Dog Dogmatic.  We are talking a like a teacup size dog-matic problem here.  There were small instances where the author may have gone a little too far in his own preferences and beliefs on what was truth.  However, what I may have questioned caused me to appreciate two things.  First, it spurred me to research and ask more questions on topics like “the kingdom”.  Second, I love his passion and confidence in his beliefs.  That confidence spilled over into vital doctrines of the Gospel that were needed for the reader.  This boldness allowed him to gain traction in other areas of the book where the Gospel needed clarity and boundaries.

The Grade:  A.  Has been on my reading list for some time, and so glad I had a chance to finish.  It was like a modern Gospel primer.  Sure, that’s lofty praise, but I appreciated how it clearly presented the Gospel, disputed the false claims, and brought you back to the core of the Gospel message.  I walked away encouraged, confident, and motivated.  None many books can accomplish such a feat.

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6 Lessons Parenting Has Taught Me

I’ve reached a milestone in my life.  One decade of parenting.  It would probably take me that long to write all the lessons I have learned over the years.  So instead, I’d like to list a few things parenting has taught me, and more importantly how it has changed me.

Patience.  Here’s a rule of thumb.  When you want your kids to move quickly – cleaning up, rushing to the car in the rain, or walking quickly past the toy aisle…they are in slow motion.  When you have literally an ounce of energy left, they could fill water towers with their energy.  What have I learned through this?  Patience.  (Still learning this by the way).  I have to be patient with their slow pace, learning how to pick up toys, and their misunderstanding of why they can’t do things.  Parenting is a marathon, and if you expect them to be competent, tax-paying, godly, self-sufficient people after they grow out of diapers, buckle up and take a drink from the patient drinking fountain.

Flexibility.  All the kids dressed, fed, teeth brushed, hair done, and looking very well put together.  You are headed out and we grab the baby to put into the car seat.  One problem.  Poop.  Poop.  Is.  Everywhere.  You thought you were going to be early out the door…now your plans aren’t the only things you have to change.  Kids get hurt, sick, tired, soiled…you have to be flexible.  Roll with the punches.  As a very structured, plan ahead, day-timers are fun type of guy.  This has been a challenge, but also a valuable lesson.

Confrontation.  Multiple children are screaming.  Another yells “I’m going to hit you”.  Loud noises, like someone is throwing something, is also occurring.  You just sat down for the first time all day.  You didn’t even have a chance to exhale.  So do you let it play out?  You may not believe in evolution, but you are really tempted to see if this “survival of the fittest” thing has any merit.  Oh, you’re so tempted.  But no, parenting has taught me you have to get up and confront the assailant and the defendant.  Listen to the witnesses, plea bargains, and review the evidence…and then make a verdict.  People rise when judges enter the room, you have to duck from not getting hit with a whiffle bat.  Judges also get to retire to their chambers for decision-making and a quiet moment, you have to wait till midnight for that.  So, what do you do?  You confront, correct, and discipline.  Why, because you love these kids.

Giving.  You’ve read the graphic.  Your kid when they are 18 will have cost you $__________.  It’s like when you buy a house, don’t look at that last page that includes all the interest.  Don’t do it.  And with kids, don’t ever think about how much they are going to cost.  Instead, think about how much love you can give them.  My wife and I have rarely worried about how God would provide for our children over these last 10 years.  He has always been faithful.  Sure, they will get more expensive in the coming years, but you can’t live life seeing children as dollar signs.  Give love to them, be wise with your money, but be willing to give too.  And giving doesn’t stop with your money, your kids need you to give them time, attention, and all the love you can possibly share.

Unselfishness.  Speaking of giving time.  Listen, there will be times when the only “me time” you get is when you go the bathroom (and even then do not expect privacy) or that sliver of time before the last child falls asleep and you pass out.  So if you go into parenting needing a lot of time to yourself, you’re in the wrong business.  Let me tell you, parenting taught me how selfish I was.  I still fight selfishness, but having little ones that need me to play with them, teach them, and show them God-moments each day…I can see the value of being unselfish.  I’m still learning this lesson every day, but my kids have helped me be more selfless.

Perspective.  Ever heard the phrase “don’t cry over spilled milk”.  My mother-in-law helped teach me this principle.  There is a difference between an accident and a deliberate act of treason by your kids.  You get me?  Yesterday one of my kids dropped a big glass bowl, and I grabbed the vacuum, my wife grabbed the broom.  Perspective.  It was an accident.  We cleaned it up, and moved on.  I’ve gone to bed with stickers or little hair rubber band stuck to my feet.  Every day I have to look in my shirt for hair that my little girls have shared with my clothes in our laundry.  I’ve stepped in toothpaste, slobbered on, and had to wipe boogers with my hand.  Hey man, perspective.  One day, I won’t have this.  And I’ll miss it.  I’ll miss the noise, the craziness, the boogers, the spilled drinks, the cheese sticks I find under our couch that have been sitting there for months (they get hard as a rock!).  I’ll miss it.  So it’s taught me perspective (that’s certainly not always perfect), but it is much healthier than it was 10 years ago.

I have a long ways to go.  I’m just in my first decade, and “teenage-dom” is around the corner.  I’m sure I’ll learn a whole new set of lessons then.  But until then, I’m thankful for the lessons God has taught me through parenting.  It is a humbling, joyful, frustrating, tiring, loving, and growing experience all rolled up in one.  And I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world.

 

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Book Review: Pilgrim’s Progress

Book Review:  Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

The Good:

I’m an adult.  I’m sure I read at least parts of this growing up in a Christian school, but I never really appreciated it.  But now I’m a full-grown man, and I didn’t have to read it for an assignment or book report.  That seemed to make a difference as I took my time with this classic.

Mastery of Theology.  What a masterful work of art, weaving God’s Word into the story of the Christian time after time.  Bible verses and passages that fit so well into the conversation and events of each page were placed perfectly.  It truly was a masterpiece.

Gospel Comes Alive.  You can’t help but feel invested in the pilgrimage.  You put people’s faces on characters as they reveal their struggles.  And as the Gospel is so richly described, you appreciate the sacrifice of the Savior and the promise of the final destination.

The Bad:

It’s Old.  Now before you rip me.  I know, it’s a classic piece of literature.  But as someone who is not classically trained in Old English, there were times when it was not a smooth read.  I’m sure there are revised versions out there, but I wanted the real deal.  So I labored at times, but it was worth it.

The Grade:  A

I’m reading a book that is centuries old that has stood the test of time.  Anything lower than an “A” would be an insult.  Pilgrim’s progress captures the essence of God’s Word while putting legs on the Gospel.  Characters are characteristics of real life, and causes the reader to place himself or herself on the map.  The question becomes, where on the Christian life journey are you?  Will you make it to the Celestial city?  What a sweet ending for the Christian, and a dark warning for those who do not believe.

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5 Lessons Learned From a Local Mission Trip

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of leading a group of students on a mission trip.  We didn’t need plane tickets, or even a full tank of gas for that matter.  It was a mission trip in our very own city.  Our student ministry takes short-term mission trips very seriously.  But missionaries don’t just live in foreign countries, but also reside locally as well.  So each year, we try to give the students a different perspective of missions.  Here’s what I learned from this year’s local trip:

  1. Train for the 100m AND the marathon. Runners have to train for running short distances as well as long distances.  They have to eat right, train, lift weights, and stretch for each race.  Same with mission trips.  Just because it is a local trip, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have training.  Use the time you have with your students for unity building, leadership training, discipleship, and evangelism training.  You might be surprised how much the training will benefit a trip that is at your church or down the road.
  2. Don’t Miss What Is Right In Front of You. If a local trip is going to accomplish one thing, hopefully it increases the love for your community.  This is something I really saw in the students as we they went out and did puppet shows, and did some painting projects.  They really enjoyed serving and caring for their community.  A great benefit of local trips.
  3. Expectations Blown. I set some expectations for the students each day of what I wanted to accomplish, and they blew those expectations out of the water.  It was good to set a bar to reach, but when the students jump over that bar, it’s oh so sweet.
  4. Follow-up. Something I am learning I need to do is to make sure I follow-up more efficiently.  Sometimes I give an assignment like an email…it’s sent, check it off the list.  I need to make sure I give out assignments and tasks (delegation and leadership training is a healthy thing), but also follow up with those tasks.  I’m a work in progress.
  5. Make the connection. We did some projects for our children’s ministry this week.  We did puppet shows to help promote VBS, and we painted rooms in our children’s wing.  Why?  Because we wanted to love our community, but we also wanted our students to grow in their love for THEIR church.  I want them to WANT to invite others to church, to be proud of how they are part of the church, and a growing love for their church family.  I think this “trip” only added to those goals.

What about you?  Have you done any local trips lately?  What have you done, and what did you learn?  Would love to hear the good, the bad, and the blessings.

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5 Practical Ways to Balance Family & Ministry

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In case you missed it, here is my guest blog over at The Middle Years Ministry.  Check it out!

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Book Review: Growing Young

Book Review:  Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin

The Good:

REAL Solution.  I don’t know about you, but I am tired of books, articles, and social media posts that just surmise an issue with this current generation and the church.  I’m tired of reading about the problems, and I was refreshed to read in this book – REAL and REACHABLE solutions to the issues of growing young.  A heartfelt thank you to the all the work the writers put into this.

Dedicated Research.  This was hard work to put this together.  It was a clear dedication of the writers and research team to not leave a stone unturned.  They went to the small churches to the megas, and found answers to the growing young question.  That is something the reader will appreciate.

REAL Testimonies.  These aren’t just ideas.  These are real people who have been affected by churches that have intentionally reached out to this generation in their church.  The testimonies were not just glossed-over stories from pastors, but from people inside the church who have benefited and lived out the ministry changes and direction.

The Bad:

Nope, nope, nope.  There was one quote that made me quote Petrie on Land Before Time and say “Oh, no no no no”.  “We wonder if sermon preparation and preaching is an area in which some leaders could invest less time”.  While they did give this quote with the caveat of holding God’s Word at the “highest value”, it still is a dangerous statement.

The Random Boxes.  This is a minor complaint, but it seemed to break the flow of the chapter when a box of random information was placed in the middle of a chapter.  Suggest maybe placing this in the context of the chapter or at the end.

The Grade:  A.  I tell ya what this book did.  Honestly, it gave me great encouragement that my philosophy of ministry was on the right track with this generation.  On the flip side, it challenged me immensely in the weakness of my own ministry in reaching this generation.  That is what this book will do to you, encourage and challenge you and your ministry.

 

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Book Review: How to Keep Your Kids on Your Team

Book Review:  How to Keep Your Kids on Your Team by Charles Stanley

The Good:

Been there, done that.  Charles Stanley had both the view of the counselor and the parent when he brought personal illustrations to play.  The counseling situations were enlightening and eye-opening, and the family illustrations brought a personal touch.  Each produced a break for the mind and allowed for smooth reading.

Homework?  With each chapter, I walked away with homework.  There were parenting skills that needed sharpened, conversations that needed to take place, and changes that needed to happen.  I have a long ways to go, but there were measurable steps I could take in improving my parenting.

This Quote – “The only hope they have is to undergo a transforming experience by Christ in their life and thus gain an understanding of who they really are in Jesus Christ.”

Handing Down Your Faith.  The chapter on this very subject was priceless.  My favorite part of the book and made the whole read worthwhile.  Such an important concept and I’m indebted to the author for the wisdom that was shared.

The Bad:

Not too sure.  There were a couple specific parenting situations that I disagreed with the take of the author.  Nothing sinful or even anything wrong, but a stance I probably wouldn’t take.  I am still learning on the job, so maybe my view may change as my kids get older.  Seems most of my disagreements had to do with discipline that was at times on the weak side.

Not One Mention of SnapChat.  It’s no fault of the author, but the book is outdated in the area of technology.  Writing in the mid-80’s, there is no mention of the constant battle of cell phones, gaming, and technology that this generation of parents face.  (Disclaimer:  Looks like an updated version was written in 1996, but would still lag behind in some technological issues.)

The Grade:  A.  Any parenting book that teaches you practical ways of improving your relationship with your children and your role as a parent gets an A from me.  This book provides valuable insight in parenting, while providing personal ways of improving the day-to-day grind of parenting a child.  Written over 30 years ago, it just goes to show, Biblical parenting does not go out of style.

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You Just Got Asked to Do a Funeral…Now What?

Your heart sinks to your stomach, you feel a little light-headed, sweaty, clammy…nope, it’s not the flu.  You have just been asked to officiate your very first funeral.  Are there some guidelines to work from?  What are some do’s & don’ts so you don’t embarrass yourself?  Don’t worry, I got you covered.  With the help and guidance of my senior pastor, here are some protocols that will help ease your mind.

 

  • Prior to Funeral
    • Attend calling hours – be kind, ask how to help/service requests (leave after short visit)
    • Print off Obituary online
    • Review with family what needs to be included in service
    • Order of Service – give to Fun. Dir., Musicians/Participants & Head of Family Prep.
      • Leave preacher’s thoughts LAST; all other parts of ceremony early (allow appropriate special music at end if needed)
    • Arrive 30 minutes prior to funeral
    • Speak with Funeral Director prior to service
      • Ask if anything different in service (poem, music, military, etc) needs added to schedule
      • (If Out of Area) – Ask for any special/local customs
    • Service
      • 15 minute message
      • Finish with prayer and pay respects & stand by coffin
      • Start compiling list of funeral passages and remarks now, so you have a resource for when unexpected happens
    • Gravesite
      • Follow the lead car, do not agree to leading the group
      • Order: Preface Scripture, Read Scripture, Short Recap, Close in Prayer (5 minutes or so
        • Shortened service– depends on weather, quick reading of Scripture only & prayer
      • After prayer, pause for Funeral Director, go and greet family & stand to side
      • As family begins to leaves, depart
    • After Service Meal
      • Call church on way back from Gravesite – ladies with food set-up/prep.
      • If invited & schedule is clear – stay with family & eat; dismiss yourself when appropriate

Hope this helps.  What are some tips that you might have for the novice funeral officiant?  Bottom line, make sure those who hear your message know how their story will end.  Give a clear Gospel and invite the audience to make a choice in their lives before it is too late.  All while giving a personal tribute to the deceased.  You got this.  Depend on the Lord and prayer, and to God be the glory.

 

 

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Good Friday

Let’s say – You have an appointment with the doctor.  You’re feeling fine, no symptoms, just a checkup.  The doctor comes in with the lab reports and says you are going to need surgery, right away.

What do you think?  Do you just sign on the dotted line and ask where those drafty blue gowns are?  NOOOO!  You ask to see the result of the tests, the x-rays, the blood tests…show me the chart that says I have a problem.

Everyone in this room tonight is at that appointment.  All of you have the problem.  It’s called sin.  No matter what tests you have done – it’s ALL going to come back positive.

And there is only one cure – you need surgery.  That sin that is part of your life needs to be removed, and the only way it can be removed:  JESUS CHRIST.

Don’t be the patient and just stare at the lab results and toss them away…Don’t be like those at the cross and just be like the crowd that walks away.  You want to be able to call this day good?

You want to have victory in your life?  Trust in Jesus Christ as your Savior, have him forgive your sins and give you new life.  There is only ONE WAY.  Pray in your heart to Jesus and you will be able to see what many already see…how good, how oh so good – Good Friday is.

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