In 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.
- 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.
- 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:
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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 | No Comments »
In 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.
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May 24 2012 | Blog | No Comments »
Mark & 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.
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April 27 2012 | Blog | 1 Comment »
David 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.
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August 29 2011 | Blog | No Comments »
I 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.
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August 17 2011 | Blog | No Comments »
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:
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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 | No Comments »
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.
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February 14 2011 | Blog | No Comments »
The 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:
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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 | No Comments »
The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Z. Witmer has received a lot of attention recently as it is one of the most recent books on the ministry of shepherding God’s flock. Specifically Witmer is writing to local church elders about how to carry out the shepherding ministry of the church.
For many years the prevailing model in churches with elders has been more of a business model that a biblical model. Elder boards often times function as oversight committees making financial decisions, policy decisions, etc. but very rarely getting involved in people’s lives unless there is a problem.
Witmer’s argument in The Shepherd Leader can be summed up in one simple phrase, “The business of shepherding is the sheep.” Elder boards are not executive boards over businesses, they are a team of shepherds who are intensely interested in the flock that God has entrusted to them. This radically different approach to elder ministry has massive implications. It means that elder boards should spend far more time talking about, praying for, and counseling the individual sheep entrusted to their care than talking about policies or finances. It’s not that the business of the church is unimportant, because ultimately whoever controls the money in the church controls the church, so elders need to be strongly involved in finances, etc. but the business issues of the church can not be the predominant issue on any elder agenda, because “the business of shepherding is the sheep.”
The Shepherd Leader approaches the topic of shepherding ministry in three parts. Part 1, which consists of chapters 1-4 is given over to making the case for the ministry of shepherding. Part 2 is given to the question, “What’s a Shepherd to Do?” and Part 3 is about “Putting it All Together” and contains helpful advice on how to practically go about shepherding ministry.
The meat of the book is definitely found in Part 2 where Witmer defines the ministry of a shepherd. Witmer proposes that shepherds are to be about 4 things. They are to 1) Know the Sheep, which speaks to relational engagement with the flock and simple knowledge of the people you’re caring for, 2) Feed the Sheep, which speaks to doctrinal instruction and preaching, 3) Lead the Sheep, which speaks to vision casting, 4) Protect the sheep which speaks to church discipline, protecting against false doctrine, etc. I found this four-fold description of shepherding ministry to be extremely helpful in getting a macro-view of my own job and the job of my fellow elders here at Cool Church.
I appreciated The Shepherd Leader so much that I’m reading through it again along with the elder board of Cool Church, with the intention of implementing some Witmer’s suggestions and philosophy of ministry here. The Shepherd Leader is an excellent book and is especially worthy your attention if you serve as a shepherd in your local church, because “the business of shepherding is the sheep.”
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December 13 2010 | Blog | No Comments »
I purchased Christless Christianity over a year ago, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it until just recently. To be honest, I think the reason I bought it was because of the cover, but now that I’ve read through Michael Horton’s work, I’m happy to report that the cover is only a harbinger of the good things to come in this book.
Christless Christianity weighs in at about 250 pages with a pretty good size font, so it isn’t a very dense book but it really does pack a punch. Horton takes the reader on a whirl-wind tour of evangelicalism ranging from Joel Osteen, to the Seeker Sensitive Movement, to Christian political engagement. All throughout he makes the case that by large evangelicals have left the gospel behind for other things (power, money, political influence, etc.) and he issues a call to return to the simplicity of the indicatives and the imperatives of the gospel (what Christ has done, which issues forth in what he asks us to do).
- As a side note, this book has the best treatment of what’s wrong with Joel Osteen (and the Prosperity Gospel that he preaches) that I have ever seen. If you’ve ever dealt with the “You’re Best Life Now” crowd, this book will be extremely helpful to you.
Christless Christianity is not a book for the timid. Horton comes out with some very strong statements that should cause us to pause and think very hard about the gospel and about ourselves. Time and time again I found myself evaluating my own ministry and the gospel that I have been preaching for almost 10 years now. More than anything Horton’s book has confirmed my understanding of the gospel and yet at some points I found my understanding of the gospel to be greatly helped, especially in his emphasis on the finished work of Christ.
I believe the heart of the book is best found in Horton’s chapter on “How We Turn Good News into Good Advice.” On page 119 he writes
The greatest threat to Christ-centered witness even in churches that formally affirm sound teaching is that what British evangelical David Gibson calls “the assumed gospel.” The idea is that the gospel is necessary for getting saved, but after we sign on, the rest of the Christian life is all the fine print: conditional forgiveness…What we need, therefore, is a gospel that is sufficient to save even unfaithful Christians. We can never take the gospel for granted…
The gospel is so odd, even to us Christians, that we have to get it again and again. That is why God has graciously created different avenues for getting it to us: he proclaims it by the mouth of another in Christ’s name, bathes me in it with water, and puts it in my hand through bread and wine [grape juice for us Baptists]…
On its own, more advice (law, commands, exhortations) will only lead us to either self-righteousness or despair. Yet the more Christ is held up before us as sufficient for our justification and sanctification, the more we begin to die to ourselves and live to God…
Christless Christianity is a fiery read and one very much worth the time. If you’ve wondered whatever happened to the gospel in the American Church, this is a great place to start.
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October 25 2010 | Blog | 2 Comments »