Category Archives: Books

Understanding the process of spiritual growth

Book Review: Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours, by R. C. Sproul

How do you grow spiritually? How do you progress from new faith in Christ to spiritual maturity? This is the question addressed by R. C. Sproul in his book, Growing in Holiness: Understanding God’s Role and Yours. The book is drawn from his lectures and explores the doctrine of sanctification, how to deal with obstacles and continue to grow towards greater maturity in Christ.

The book is written in an easy to read, conversational style. Dr. Sproul presents practical and helpful ideas, both to understand the doctrine of sanctification and how to press forward. He talks about how to deal with the obstacles presented by the world, the flesh, and the devil. He explains how to pursue righteousness. He clearly explains how we can have the assurance of our salvation and greater confidence in Christ. He stresses the importance of displaying love and developing the fruit of the Spirit. The author concludes by encouraging us to grow up into the fullness of Christ.

This is a helpful, practical book for a new believer who wants to understand what the Christian life is all about. It provides encouragement for a Christian who is frustrated by the lack of growth and progress in their life. Whether new to the faith or a long-term believer, the book will encourage all to press on and persevere.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.


Practical Ideas to Reach Your Community

Book Review: Loving Your Community: Proven Practices for Community-Based Outreach Ministry, by Stephen Viars

Stephen Viars has pastored a large church in Indiana for the past 30+ years. In addition, he serves as a biblical counselor and frequent speaker at conferences, colleges, and seminaries. His latest book, Loving Your Community: Proven Practices for Community-Based Outreach Ministry, is written from his experience in trying to reach his community with the gospel.

In the introduction, he lays out the idea of taking the gospel to the streets. Rather than waiting for the world to come to the church, the church needs to take the gospel to the world. According to the author, the first step is in trying to craft ministries and programs that meet the needs of the surrounding community.

In Part 1, the author presents “The Biblical Foundation of Community-Based Ministry.” Playing off the title of the book, he addresses Loving in the name of Christ, Meeting Your community’s pressing needs, and Caring for the welfare of you Community. It is a thoroughly biblical approach to serving as an ambassador for Christ in today’s culture.

In Part 2, the author presents “The Practice of Community-Based Ministry.” He describes several ways churches can meet the needs of the community. He includes offering counseling to those who are hurting, opening the church facilities for community events and needs, offering practical classes, taking surveys of the community to determine their needs, partnering with the city to develop parks and/or community centers, and offering residential treatment programs. He gives specific examples of how his church has done these things and the testimonies of those who have been touched and impacted by the programs.

In Part 3, the author addresses “The Challenges of Church-Based Ministries.” The author tries to answer the common questions and objections that might be raised, as well as providing encouragement on how to get started. He made a point to explain that community-based outreach is not a reinvention of the social gospel movement. Rather than redefining the gospel, these ministries “create compassionate platforms for addressing social need so that the gospel may be clearly and powerfully proclaimed.”

On the one hand, it would be easy to dismiss the book and ideas as something that you need to be in a larger church to do. On the other hand, the author provides practical encouragement to start small. Take one idea and implement it rather than trying to do everything. If God lays it on your heart to be part of this type of ministry, the book will give you ideas on what you might consider doing and how to get started.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on January 18, 2020 in Books, Church, Evangelism


Workload vs. Heartload

One of the Christmas gifts I received was a book by Rick Reed, President of Heritage College and Seminary entitled, The Heart of the Preacher: Preparing Your Soul to Proclaim the Word. In the Foreword, Pastor Bryan Chappell introduces the concept of “heartload” as an explanation for pastoral burnout.

A decade ago, about thirty percent of all North American seminary graduates were leaving pastoral ministry within the first five years. It was assumed that the main reason was pastoral burnout—being “expected to work long hours to serve declining congregations with diminishing finances, weakening denominational commitments, lower biblical literacy, and smaller staffs.” While fatigue was certainly a factor, it was discovered that “workloads were not as damaging as ‘heartloads.’ The Moses factor that more and more preachers were facing was heavy workloads combined with a sense of being unappreciated for bearing them. It is one thing to feel the weigh of the burdens of ministry, but quite another to be blamed for the burdens.”

Chappell goes on to point out that it’s not just fatigue that leads to failure.

Good research over the last decade has disclosed that such factors are still at work in modern ministry. At the same time that pastors’ workloads have been increasing, they are easy-target explanations for the diminishing congregations, finances, and loyalties. Local preachers are increasingly compared to the master communicators on radio and the internet. As lessening denominational loyalties lead to increased church shopping and hopping, ministry are too often judged for their “effectiveness” rather than their faithfulness. As pastor respect diminishes throughout the culture for a variety of reasons, pastors and their families experience increased scrutiny and insecurity. Ministry seems increasingly dangerous, and ministers feel increasingly unappreciated.

Chappell concludes the foreword with a personal statement. “I know the pain of personal attack, the pressure to succeed, and the disappointment of not meeting others’ expectations. I know how bitterness can grow in me when complaints about me multiply in others.”

The sentiments expressed in the foreword certainly captured my attention as they resonate with my own experience. I look forward to reading the book and seeing what the author suggests as a means of strengthening my own heart.

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Posted by on December 30, 2019 in Books, Ministry, Preaching, Quotes


The difference between delegating task and empowering leaders

Book Review: Behind Gold Doors-Five Legends Offer the Keys to Empowering Leadership, by Lonnie Pacelli

How do you become a more effective leader? Who can you turn to for answer? Are there mentors who can help you understand your weaknesses and help you to strengthen them? These are the questions that lie behind Lonnie Pacelli’s latest book, Behind Gold Doors-Five Legends Offer the Keys to Empowering Leadership.

The author has written a business parable, along the line of books authored by Patrick Lencioni. It is the story of Sam, who has recently been promoted to the level of manager in his company. During his annual performance review, he fully expects to be fired since he peers and reports have all painted him in a negative light. Instead, his boss gives him a gold card and sends him to leadership development class. During his time in the class, he meets Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Susan B. Anthony. Each historical figure shares insights on how to develop and empower the leaders under you.

The book is well written and the characters seem believable. You get a sense of their personalities not only in what they say, but how they say it. The book is informative and encouraging.

I received a Kindle edition of this book for free from the author in exchange for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Posted by on December 4, 2019 in Books, Leadership


Practical help in planning for retirement

Book Review: Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God, by C. J. Cagle

“Word hard, save diligently, invest wisely; but please don’t retire, at least not in the most traditional sense of the word. Instead, reimagine retirement as something different from what the world envisions.”

That statement summarizes the message of author C. J. Cagle’s practical and helpful book, Reimagine Retirement: Planning and Living for the Glory of God. As he explains in the introduction,

I have three main goals for this book:

First, that you will be inspired to reimagine a retirement that rejects modern worldly values and priorities and, realizing that God has called you for a higher purpose than the full-time pursuit of pleasure and self-fulfillment, instead reimagine a retirement focused on living for the glory and honor of God and the good of others.

Second, to help you wisely apply biblical principles and practices so you can reimagine a retirement with dignity—one with your essential spending needs met for as long as you live, perhaps with a surplus to share, while continually trusting in God as the ultimate source of your daily provision.

And third, if and when you decide to retire, to reimagine living in a way that is consistent with kingdom principles—with paid or unpaid work relationally focused activities, voluntary involvement and commitments in your church and community, and continued faithful devotion to God and his people, for as long as he give you the ability to do so.

The flow of the book follows the author’s stated goals. The first third strives to explain the current idea of retirement and contrasts that with what Scripture says on the subject. The second part of the book gives practical ideas how to plan, save, and invest for retirement, as well as deciding when to retire. The final section focuses on how to live in retirement and leave a legacy for those who will follow you.

The is a book that would be helpful to read at two different points in your life. Since the bulk of the book focuses on planning, saving, and investing, it would be helpful to read early in your working career. It would help you start on a strong footing and plan for the long term. It would also be helpful to read in the decade before you retire, so that you develop a proper mindset of how to continue to serve the cause of Christ in your retirement years.

Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on November 12, 2019 in Books, Quotes, Retirement


A search for redemption inside the L.A. film scene

Book Review: Unscripted: A Novel, by Davis Bunn

Broken people searching for redemption making a film about broken people searching for redemption. That phrase could summarize Davis Bunn’s latest novel.

The two main characters in the story are broken people. Danny Byrd is a Hollywood line producer who is well known for being someone who gets things done on time and under budget. That is, until his business partner steals his investors’ money, ruins Danny’s reputation, and leaves him bankrupt and in jail.

Megan Pierce is an L.A. lawyer who has worked hard to make a name for herself in the courtroom. However, she has become disillusioned with the unethical practices of her demanding, snobbish bosses. A unique opportunity to make a difference lands in her lap, but she is not quite sure what “it” is or what to do with it.

When Megan is asked to defend Danny and get him out of jail, they both discover that they are each other’s best hope for redemption and a second chance.

The book is a well written look into the fictional world of Hollywood film making. The author brings the story to life and gives a vivid look behind the scenes of the film industry. There are plots and counterplots, double dealing, struggles, and love all mixed together. The author provides an accurate portrayal of those who struggle with grief and past failures and what they need to do to find healing and move forward. While not overtly Christian or preachy, the book contains two minor characters who are Bible believers and who encourage Danny to look to the Scriptures for hope.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on October 2, 2019 in Books


Guidelines for following Jesus in a digital world

Book Review: Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon, by David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock

How do we disciple young adults in a digital age? How do we encourage people who are interconnected by their smart phones, tablets, and computers to follow Jesus? Those are the questions explored by authors David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock in their book, Faith For Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon. The book is the culmination of a groundbreaking, three year research study conducted by the Barna Organization.

Ancient Babylon was the pagan-but-spiritual, hyperstimulated, multicultural, imperial crossroads that became the unwilling home of Judean exiles, including the prophet Daniel, in the sixth century BCE. But digital Babylon is not a physical place. It is the pagan-but-spiritual, hyuperstimualted, multicultural, imperial crossroads that is the virtual home of every person with Wi-Fi, a data plan, or—for most of us—both.

In a previous era, the church had success with mass-producing disciples using big rallies and crusades and large events where many young people came forward to pledge their lives to Christ. But in today’s digital Babylon, we must get back to making faithful, resilient disciples one life at a time.

To accomplish that goal, the authors suggest five key practices:

  • Practice 1 – To form a resilient identify, experience intimacy with Jesus. The first practice answers the question, “Who am I, really?”
  • Practice 2 – In a complex and anxious age, develop the muscles of cultural discernment. The second practice addresses deep questions related to “How should I live?”
  • Practice 3 – When isolation and mistrust are the norms, forge meaningful, intergenerational relationships. The third practice lays a foundation for one of the fundamental questions people ask, “Am I really known and loved by anyone?”
  • Practice 4 – To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship. The fourth practice builds a foundation to help people wrestle with this issue, “What am I called to do with my life?”
  • Practice 5 – Curb entitlement and self-centered tendencies by engaging in countercultural mission. The final practice helps us address gnawing questions like, “What is the significance of life?” and “What kind of legacy am I leaving?”

Not only do the authors identify and explain the problems, they give practical solutions that can be implemented by churches to help solve the problem. Unlike some books, they see the church as being a key element in meeting the needs and moving forward a solution. The authors combine research, statistics, biblical insights, and personal illustrations to explain and flesh out the concepts and principles.

While you may not agree with everything the authors say, the book will challenge your thinking. Since we live in a new digital age, we need new strategies and approaches to make disciples. A challenging and helpful book.

Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.

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Posted by on September 7, 2019 in Books, Faith, Quotes