“Crazy Busy” Book Review

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A few weeks ago I received a package from Crossway Publishers  which had an advanced copy of a new book titled Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung in it. I’d love to say that this is a common experience for me with publishers begging me to read their books and offer reviews of them (much like Tim Challies does), but truthfully this is the first time this has ever happened to me and in case you’re wondering, yes I’m totally going to let this go to my head Smile.

So, while I was camping with the family at Lake Tahoe I set about my newly assigned task of reading Kevin DeYoung’s Crazy Busy and as someone who struggles with busyness on a day to basis I’m very glad that I did.

Who is this book written for?

The subtitle of Crazy Busy really sums up who the book is written for. It’s “a (mercifully) short book about a (really) big problem.” In other words, this is a short book about a big problem that you are almost certainly dealing with.

This is a book for pastors, professionals, young moms, soccer moms, retirees…it’s basically written for anyone who lives in western society.

Would you recommend this book?

I would absolutely recommend this book with no reservations whatsoever. One of the most enjoyable experiences in reading is when an author says something with crystal clear accuracy that you’ve already been thinking about for a long time. In reading through Crazy Busy I was privileged to have that experience again and again. At times it almost felt like DeYoung was reading my mind and confirming many of the things that I’ve been thinking about when it comes to the crazy busyness of life.

What’s the big idea?

Most of the books in this genre offer grandiose claims of radically transforming your life so you can only work four hours a week or so that you can attain absolute mastery of your environment. DeYoung’s purpose and the big idea behind what he’s writing is much more modest. He writes, “I don’t promise total transformation. I offer no money-back guarantees. My goal is more modest. I hope you’ll find a few ways to tackle your schedule, several suggestions for how to reclaim your sanctity, and a lot of encouragement to remember your soul.”

The good news is that he succeeds in this goal and really outdoes himself in exposing the dangers associated with busyness, some of the reasons for our busyness and the one thing that we must do before we do anything else about our busyness.

What are some of the best quotes?

“How many moments of pain are wasted because we never sat still enough to learn from them…The seed of God’s Word won’t grow to fruitfulness without pruning for rest, quiet, and calm.”

“The disorder of daily life is a product of disorder in the innermost places of the heart. Things are the way they ought to be because we are not the way we are supposed to be.”

“The person who never sets priorities is the person who does not believe in his own finitude.”

“It’s taken me a while to see this, but now I do. And I absolutely believe it. I can’t serve others effectively without setting priorities…Stewarding my time is not about selfishly pursuing only the things I like to do. It’s about effectively serving others in the ways I’m best able to serve and in the ways I am most uniquely called to serve.”

“Parenting may be the last bastion of legalism. Not just in the church, but in our culture. We live in a permissive society that won’t count any sin against you as an adult, but will count the calories in your kids’ hot lunch.”

“The biggest deception of our digital age may be the lie that says we can be omni-competent, omni-informed, and omni-present. We cannot be any of these things. We must choose our absence, our inability, and our ignorance – and choose wisely. The sooner we embrace this finitude, the sooner we can be free.”

“We won’t say no to more craziness until we can say yes to more Jesus…It’s not wrong to be tired. It’s not wrong to feel overwhelmed. It’s not wrong to go through seasons of complete chaos. What is wrong – and heartbreakingly foolish and wonderfully avoidable – is to live a life with more craziness than we want because we have less Jesus than we need.”

You can get a copy of Crazy Busy on kindle here or a “real” copy here.

September 23 2013 | Blog and Book Reviews | Comments Off on “Crazy Busy” Book Review

“The Shepherd Leader” Book Review

ShepherdLeaderinHome1I recently finished reading The Shepherd Leader at Home by Timothy Z. Witmer. Witmer is the author of The Shepherd Leader, which has had a profound influence on me when it comes to how to care for the church through the ministry of shepherding. This most recent addition is addressed to men who want to “shepherd” their families well. Here’s the summary:

Who is this book for?

The Shepherd Leader at Home is definitely addressed to men regardless of their age.

Would you recommend this book?

I would definitely recommend this book to any man who wants to be a better shepherd for his family. The only caveat that I’d like to throw in there is that it isn’t quite as good Witmer’s first volume and probably could have used some additional editing before going to press. Nevertheless, this is a very helpful book and I definitely recommend it.

What’s the big idea?

Witmer essentially takes the same format of his original The Shepherd Leader and applies it to the family in this latest volume. The big idea is that to be a good shepherd in your family you need to do four thing. You need to 1) know your family, 2) lead your family, 3) provide for your family, 4) protect your family.

What are some of the best quotes?

Is it clear to your spouse that she is the most significant person in the world to you? Do you tell her that she is? Do you act as though she is?…There is certainly a place for appropriate friendships with “the guys,” but there should be no doubt whom you would like to be with the most and, therefore, who is most important to you.

To grow in the knowledge of your wife requires your presence. You must be there, and this takes time.

The things that really matter to you are the things for which you make room in your own life, and your children are watching.

Where can I get this book?

You can get a copy of The Shepherd Leader at Home as a kindle download here or as a “real” book here.

August 12 2013 | Blog | Comments Off on “The Shepherd Leader” Book Review

“Humilitas” Take-Aways

humilitasIn Humilitas John Dickson does an excellent job of extolling the virtue of secular humility, especially as it relates to leadership. Dickson’s thesis is that “the most influential and inspiring people are often marked by humility.” It’s a good thesis and one that Dickson explains and defends well. Here are a few of my “take-aways” from Humilitas.

  1. There’s a Big Difference Between the World’s Definition of Humility and a Biblical Understanding of Humility. While Dickson does a good job of making his case for the benefits of humility, it’s important to remember that Humilitas is not necessarily a Christian book. The intended audience is obviously those interested in secular leadership. This helps to explain Dickson’s definition of humility which is, “The noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself. More simply, you could say the humble person is marked by a willingness to hold power in service of others.” This definition is fine as far as it goes, but without the explicitly Christian foundation that undergirds the idea of humility, it just seems to fall short. The Christian understanding of humility has much more to do with our disposition towards God, than anything else. It is understanding who God is, in His transcendence and understanding who we are in our sinfulness. This isn’t necessarily a criticism of Dickson’s work, as much as me just pointing out the obvious deficiency of trying to define a Christian term without any reference to God.  As a side note, I have to point out how disingenuous it feels to read a Christian author writing about Jesus, as if He were simply a “middle eastern carpenter.” It might have been better to just leave Jesus out of it entirely, rather than to present him alongside other notable examples of secular humility like Gandhi.
  2. Secular Books on Leadership Can be Very Helpful. One of my favorite sections of Humiliatas was Dickson’s explanation of the Tools of Leadership, which include Ability, Authority, Persuasion, and Example. This was very helpful for me in thinking about what makes a good leader and how can I be a better one.

I was thrilled to find Dickson give my all time favorite quote on humility at the end of his book, which I’ll end this review with. It’s from CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

May 31 2012 | Blog | Comments Off on “Humilitas” Take-Aways

“Steve Jobs” Take-Aways

200px-Steve_Jobs_by_Walter_IsaacsonIn my experience the axiom “You are what you read” is absolutely true. The books that I read have a profound on my preaching, counseling, as well as my everyday life. In some ways I guess it would be more honest to say that sentences or paragraphs are what have had the most profound impact on my thinking and growth. It’s rare for me to find a book that has completely revolutionized my life (outside of the Scriptures), but there are usually a few key paragraphs or choice sentences in a book that become my “take away” from the book.

Given all of the reading that I’m doing lately, I’ve decided to devote some space on the blog to these “take-aways” from the various books that I’m reading. These won’t be full book reviews (there are far better bloggers capable of giving full reviews of these books), but rather a personal look at what I learned from the book and how it’s impacted me.

The first book that I want to write about is Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. Amy bought this book for me on Valentine’s Day and I finished it within a couple of weeks. Here are a few of the thoughts that I took away from this very popular book.

  • Don’t Take Yourself to Seriously. Based on Isaacson’s account of Steve Jobs life, I think that you would be hard pressed to find a more succinct definition of narcissm. There was simply no end to the man’s pride and no depth to which he would not sink in order to let you know how much lower than him you were. It’s easy to look at a biography like this and say, “Thank goodness I’m not like that guy!” but all of us struggle with the idol of self to one degree or another, so it was good for me to be reminded that I’m really not that great and that I need to be careful about taking myself too seriously.
  • Focus is the Key to Success. What made Steve Jobs such a successful man was his uncanny ability to focus all of his attention on one thing. He was ruthless in getting rid of distractions or superfluous features. This is truly an admirable quality about the man and one that I would do well to emulate. It’s easy to get distracted in life and ministry by things that seem  important, all the while missing the one thing that really is important. Jobs is a great example of a man who could cut through all of the trivial matters of life and business to get to the one or two things that really matter.
  • Your Legacy is Being Written Right Now. Another way of saying this is that the legacy of your life simply is what it is. Once you die there’s no chance to make things right with people that you’ve hurt or people you’ve ignored (like the tragic story of his neglect of two of his daughters). The take away for me was to make sure that I’m making the most of every opportunity that God gives to bring grace and redemption into the lives of the people that He has entrusted me with.
  • “Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication.” This concept was the guiding principle for all of Jobs projects. While he was famous for his impeccable taste and sense of style, his aesthetic sensibilities can really be boiled down to his love of simplicity. This is a good lesson for me to learn in ministry as well. More is not always better and to be truly great at something (whether it be preaching, counseling, or administrating), you have to learn the art of simplicity.

I would definitely recommend reading Steve Jobs biography, especially if you love Apple products or have any interest in the history of technology and silicon valley. The only caution I would give is that the book is filled with foul language, so be prepared for a lot of expletives in your reading.

You can find Tim Challies full review of the book here.

May 24 2012 | Blog | Comments Off on “Steve Jobs” Take-Aways

“Real Marriage” Book Review

real-marriageMark & Grace Driscoll recently released the book Real Marriage. The reviews have been pouring in over the last couple of months and the overall consensus on the book is decidedly negative. Heath Lambert recently published what I believe will be the definitive review of Real Marriage in the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. What Lambert chronicles in this review is nothing short of shocking when you consider that this is a book from an evangelical pastor. You can read the review online for free in this month’s edition of the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Here’s Lambert’s conclusion:

I want to be clear: I have nothing against Mark Driscoll and his wife. Instead, I am thankful for (what I have been told is) a clear witness to the gospel in Seattle. Having said that, I am deeply disturbed by this book on marriage. This book will hurt people. It is going to create confusion in marriages, trouble in the sexual relationships of married couples, turmoil in individuals struggling with all manner of difficulties, and questions about the nature of marriage from God’s perspective.

When I first received the advance review copy my wife and I agreed to read the book together. I was further along that she, and ultimately asked her to stop reading it. I could not imagine asking her to process all the bad material in the book when there are so many other things she might read that would be beneficial. I pray that you too will spare yourself, those you love, and those in your ministry the many troubles of Real Marriage by focusing on a Christian book on marriage that is more helpful.

The first time I heard Mark Driscoll speak, I cried. To be very hones, I also cried when I read this book on marriage. Unfortunately, my tears in each case were for very different reasons. My initial tears were full of joy over a man who so clearly desires to spread the gospel of Jesus. More recently my tears are full of sadness over the message of a book that has strayed so far from the intentions of its authors and will bring pain to many real marriages.

I think the take away here is that Real Marriage is a book that’s best to avoid. Instead, you might want to take a look at Dave Harvey’s, When Sinners say I Do or Paul’s Tripp’s What Did You Expect.

You can find another well written review of Real Marriage from one of Mars Hill’s former women’s ministry directors here.

April 27 2012 | Blog | 1 Comment »

“Seeing with New Eyes” Book Review

667578-LDavid Powlison has quickly become one of my favorite authors, speakers, and teachers. I am most familiar with Powlison from CCEF where he regularly appears on their podcasts, videos, etc. along with speaking at various conferences.

Seeing with New Eyes is the first book that I’ve read by Powlison and it was a true blessing. The book is somewhat eclectic ranging over a large number of topics, but the unifying theme of the book is that growth in the Christian life is about learning to see with new eyes.

The book begins with a quote from CS Lewis, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." The basic idea of the book is that growing in godliness is the process of learning to see things as they really are, learning to see our lives and the circumstances of our lives as God sees them. In other words, we need new eyes in order to see what God sees and to think as God thinks. Powlison writes, "This seeing, this gaze, means to wake us up from our fantasies, fictions, and nightmares to see things as they are in fact. God has the real take on things and God teaches us his gaze." The metaphor is a powerful one that I’ve found myself using time and again in pastoral counseling.

The content of the book is divided into two parts. Part one contains six chapters about how scripture opens blind eyes. This section is basically a series of expositions on various passages of Scripture with a very personal and applicational approach. His chapter on Psalm 131 – "Peace, Be Still" was especially helpful to me personally. Part two is about "Reinterpreting Life". This section covers a lot of ground from a powerful critique of the five love languages phenomenon to a series of x-ray questions intended to help the reader diagnose idols of the heart.

I think the only complaint that I have about the book is that while all of the material is very well written and thought provoking, it is kind of disjointed. There isn’t an especially clear argument being made here, but even with that this is an outstanding book and very helpful.

August 29 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on “Seeing with New Eyes” Book Review

“Worship Matters” Book Review

Worship-MattersI started at my first church in December of 2001 as a youth pastor / worship leader. Having never done either of those jobs, I had a pretty steep learning curve to overcome. When it came to worship, I had some practical skills because I had lead worship in High School and College, but I found that I still wasn’t quite prepared for what was in front of me. I just hadn’t been equpped to start a new contemporary service from scratch, lead a band (I’d never even played with a band) or shepherd an entire church in their understanding of worship. By God’s grace, PMC Church thrived and prospered in spite of my many mistakes as a worship leader, but it still would have been nice to have some kind of a resource to draw from instead of having to learn everything the hard way. That’s why I’m so thankful for Bob Kauflin’s book Worship Matters because it has become that go to resource for myself and the worship team here at Cool Community Church.

Kauflin is associated with the Sovereign Grace movement and especially with CJ Mahaney, who he served with as worship pastor for many years. He has been a worship pastor longer than I’ve been a Christian, so he speaks from significant experience as well as theological depth. That’s not to say that I would agree with everything that Kauflin holds to (charismatic issues being one area of concern), but whatever disagreements I might have are relatively small.

Worship Matters is one of those books that helps to define a category for me. There are lots of books out there on worship, some are good, some are not so good, but Worship Matters is the most practical and cross-centered work that I know of when it comes to the category of worship.

On page 25 Kauflin writes, “I want to make it clear from the start that worship isn’t primarily about music, techniques, liturgies, songs, or methodologies. It’s about hearts. It’s about what and who we love more than anything."

The book is about 260 pages long, broken down into 32 chapters mostly 7-8 pages long. It’s obviously meant to be taken in a little bit at a time, possibly as a small group study or worship team devotional. Kauflin deals with four primary themes in the book, in part one he addresses "The Leader" discussing what kind of a man you need to be in order to lead worship. In part two he discusses “The Task”, helping to define what exactly it is that worship leaders do.

In part three he talks about "Healthy Tensions". This was one of the best parts of the book, because as a former worship pastor I know how important it is to maintain these healthy tensions. For example, in chapter 19 Kauflin addresses the tension between the transcendence and immanence of God in our worship. He makes the point that we are to worship God in his transcendence (bigness), so we are never to be cavalier or flippant with God. At the same time God is also immanent. He is near to the broken-hearted and we want to make sure that we are worshiping Him for that aspect of His character as well. The solution is to hold both of these in tension together.

In part four Kauflin deals with right relationships, how to work with your worship team, your pastor, your church, etc. This section wraps up with a very helpful chapter written directly to pastors who are working with worship leaders.

Worship Matters is going to be one of those "go to" resources for me, when it comes to any discussion about worship. I highly recommend it.

August 17 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on “Worship Matters” Book Review

“The Thought of God” Book Review

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I first read Maurice Robert’s The Thought of God when I was in college. I recently decided to re-read this classic work and found a special blessing in reacquainting myself with it.

The Thought of God is a collection of articles by Maurice Roberts who served as the editor of the magazine Banner of Truth from 1988 – 2003. The content of the book is somewhat random, but has been categorized under five headings 1) Our Great God, 2) Fellowship with Christ, 3) The Christians’ Walk, 4) Life Together, 5) The Glory to Come. I don’t mean this as a criticism to the book, but it does help in the readers approach. The best way to read The Thought of God is devotionally, not expecting the chapters to build upon one another but rather as individual units to be taken in one at at time.

My favorite sections of the book were by far the first two 1) Our Great God and 2) Fellowship with Christ. This seems to be where Roberts shines, when he is talking about the nature of God and the joy of intimacy with Christ. I started reading through The Thought of God several months ago during a particularly difficult season in ministry. God used the words on these pages, especially in the first two sections to lift my eyes above the anxiety of the moment and to fill my heart with thoughts about him.

I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

Nothing can approach in beauty to the idea of the true and living God. That there exists a Being who is infinite in power, knowledge and goodness, that that Being cares for me with a  perfect love as though I were the only man in existence, that he loved me before I was born and created me to enjoy him eternally and that he sent his Son to suffer the agony of the cross to secure my eternal happiness – that, surely, must be a thought to end all sorrow. It ought to be and it often is…It therefore remains a principle of universal application that we can cope with our afflictions just so long as we ‘look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen’.

March 14 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on “The Thought of God” Book Review

“Images of Georgetown” Book Review

51rcXzrawcL._SL500_AA300_One of the things that’s becoming increasingly clear to me is that ministry in the country is a lot different from ministry in the city. The people are different, the problems are different, and the potential is different. That’s not at all to say that it’s bad, I actually love what I’m doing and wouldn’t trade it for anything but it is a lot different from suburban or city ministry.

One of the major differences is that folks in small towns or rural settings generally have long histories in those places and they highly value the history of the region. The other day I was at Ace Hardware and I found a book on the history of Georgetown, which is “way beyond Cool” (that’s a phrase the locals like to use), actually it’s just a few miles up the road but in any case, I thought it would be interesting to read up on the history of the area.

The book actually ended up being very interesting. It’s a photographic collection of the area focusing primarily on the Gold Rush. Most of the material focuses on the rise and decline of Georgetown as a Gold Rush town, but it does mention Cool, which apparently was a stage coach stop on the way to Georgetown before it became a town itself.

For most readers, the material in the book is more of a novelty than anything, but for me this was a treasure trove of insights into the Georgetown Divide and consequently into the flock that God has assigned to me here.

February 14 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on “Images of Georgetown” Book Review

“The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World” Book Review

751422The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World by John Piper is a collection of essays which grew out of the 2006 Desiring God national conference.  Contributors include such men as David Wells, John Piper, DA Carson, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll and others.

I really appreciate the fact that Desiring God puts out these books as recaps of their conferences.  I’ve read several and have found all of them to be very helpful including this volume.

The book consists of 6 chapters covering a wide range of topics from culture and truth, to joy and love, the gospel, and the always contentious issue of contextualization.  Each of these chapters is well written, although admittedly some are more difficult to grasp than others.

It’s kind of hard to summarize a book like this, because the topics and the authors are so varied.  What I will share is one of my favorite quotes from John Piper’s chapter.  This is probably more of a testimony to my love for Dr. Piper than anything.  At the end of his chapter on joy and the supremacy of Christ Dr. Piper writes:

I close with a personal plea.  Probably most people reading this book are younger than I am, and many of you are young enough to be my sons or daughters.  I am increasingly aware of that; the older I get, frankly, I like it.  I am not upset about getting older.  If what I have written here is true, I am fast approaching the face of Jesus and the voice saying, “Enter into the joy of your Master.”  This sense of age and nearness to the final river crossing colors how I think about the generation of my children (ages eleven to thirty-four).  I don’t feel like fighting with them.  I feel like pleading: Don’t waste your life on experiments.  There are proven paths.  They are marked out in the Word of God.  They are understandable.  They are precious.  They are hard.  And they are joyful.  Search the Scriptures for these paths.  When you find them, step on them with humble faith and courage.  Set your face like flint toward the cross and the empty tomb-your cross and your empty tomb.  Then, for the joy set before you, may a lifetime of sacrifices in the paths of love seem to you as a light and momentary affliction.

January 03 2011 | Blog | Comments Off on “The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World” Book Review

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