Thinking Through Scripture

"but the word of the Lord remains forever"

Month: May, 2015

Summer Book Recommendations

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As a minister I feel that I should probably read sometimes.  While there is no substitute for reading Scripture, there are a lot of helpful books out there.  This post is merely a list of a few books I’ve read recently that I have been able to use in some way.  Some of these books have nothing to do with ministry or the Bible, but they are interesting.  Each of them I have been able to use in my study and preaching.  I rarely read books that I already agree with, so don’t expect this list to contain my personal views on much of anything (there are a few exceptions however).

Books full of illustrations and helpful information:

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. This book, written by a Harvard professor, was full of studies on happiness and human emotion.  A fun book with a ton of illustrations that could be useful for sermons or just to file away for a conversation sometime.

Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz.  This book focuses on changing the way we view error.  Full of many stories of major errors and blunders throughout history, this books seeks to prove that error is a natural part of the human experience from which we should seek humor, knowledge, and growth. Careful, this one has some language in it.

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson.  An informative take on the history of the universe from its initial beginning until the rise of human beings, from the perspective of an agnostic.  I was able to learn a ton from this book and even have my faith built quite a bit.  I have used this book in discussions and sermons about the existence of God.

Books for anyone interested in furthering your Bible education:

What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies by Michael Joseph Brown.  This book simply outlines the principles and practices of the modern historical critical method of Biblical interpretation generally used in most universities and seminaries throughout the country.  This is not written from a conservative viewpoint, but if you are going to further your education, this will help you see what you are getting in to.

Is There a Doctor in the House? An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar by Ben Witherington III.  As stated in the title, I would recommend this book, written from a more conservative perspective, to anyone who wants to make it a life goal to become a Bible scholar.

Books with an interesting story that you could possibly use in ministry:

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.  This is a book most have probably heard of, or seen some adaptation of.  It was a quick and fun read, and I have been able to use it as an illustration of inner conflict (Romans 7:15-25).

The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons by Dan Brown.  Reading The Da Vinci Code is particularly useful in seeing where so many are coming from with their view of how we got the Bible.  I enjoy that study and have read a lot on the topic, but I never knew why anyone connected the formulation of the canon with the Council of Nicaea until reading this book.  It’s obviously fanciful, and not much can be learned about Biblical or Christian history from it, but it’s a stimulating read.  And Angels & Demons will also illustrate why there is so much deep seeded mistrust of Christianity today.  Both are enlightening as to how so many people view the Bible and “Christianity.”

The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins. I expected this book to have more of an apologetic tone than it did.  More than anything else it is a story of how one of the premier scientists and evolutionists in the world came to believe in Jesus.  He discusses his time as head of the Human Genome Project, his belief in evolution, and his view of how science and the Bible mesh together.  He concludes the book with arguments against atheism, creationism, and intelligent design, instead favoring what he calls “BioLogos.”

The Lost Letters of Pergamum by Bruce W. Longnecker.  An enjoyable, fictional book containing a series of “discovered” correspondence mostly between Antipas (Revelation 2:13) and Luke.  It shows what life in the first century church would have been like in that particular historical setting.

Books about miscellaneous Bible topics:

Churches in the Shape of Scripture: Churches of Christ and the Quest to be More than Just Another Evangelical Church by Dan Chambers.  As for books on this list I personally agree with, this one takes the cake.  For such a simple read, I feel this book more than adequately explains the goals of churches seeking to follow New Testament practices and teachings.  I appreciate the tone, perspective, and exegesis used in this book. It was given to me for free with the request that I simply read the first chapter.  I have now purchased numerous copies for people that I know and I highly recommend it as an introduction to the churches of Christ.

What Have they Done with Jesus? Beyond Strange Theories and Bad History—Why We Can Trust the Bible by Ben Witherington III.  This is a critique on many modern theories surrounding the identity of Jesus, while also presenting a perspective on Jesus gleaned from looking historically at those closest to Him.  A few surprise positions are affirmed in this book and it’s a thought-provoking ride.

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and The Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright.  Obviously no list is complete without an N.T. Wright selection.  He does not disappoint in this stirring work, which should cause all of us to reflect on our own views in light of Scripture.  With a solid foundation in the past and a griping look to the future, Wright draws tremendous application for the here and now.

The Lunch Ladies: Cultivating an Actsmosphere by Philip Jenkins.  For those interested in implementing a welcoming atmosphere into the churches you are a part of, this is the book for you.  This is a very important read for churches wanting visitors, or fringe members, to feel at home and grow closer to the Lord.

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Terrible Reasons to Skip Worship

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Worship on the Lord ’s Day is as old as the church.  It was during this time that early communities of Christians would gather for study, singing, and the consumption of the Lord’s meal.  They would participate together in the sharing of their goods and they would spend time in communal prayer.  In many churches today, these practices continue.

In fact, many churches have added bonus worship times on Sunday evenings and Wednesday evenings.  Honestly, despite what some would say, there are some decent reasons for missing these services occasionally.  But throughout my life I’ve also heard many a terrible reason for missing worship.  Here are a bunch of them:

  1. “I have a Game that Day”
    This one particularly drives me crazy.  I love sports.  I loved playing football as a younger man and I still enjoy watching football.  But from a young age it was instilled within me that sports are secondary to my relationship with God.  And honestly, that’s probably right where I put them.  Number 2.  Sorry family, academics, and social life.  I like to think that I have matured since then and now sports have drifted down to maybe 3 or 4 on my list of most important things in the world.  But I have always known that God comes first.  Thanks Mom and Dad!
  2. “I’m Far too Stressed”
    I get it. Stress can be overwhelming at times.  It can make any and all chores seem insurmountable.  And we start freeing up our days of the things that don’t really matter in an attempt to alleviate our stress.  I just find it sad when worship becomes one of those chores we kick out of our day.  Especially since worship, prayer, and gathering with friends are powerful remedies to overcoming stress.
  3. “I Get Nothing Out of It”
    We have all heard it before but it demands repeating. Worship is not about what you get, but about what you give.  Worship is our sacrifice to the Lord.  And generally speaking, the more you sacrifice to the Lord, the more fulfilled you become.  Maybe our lack of “getting” directly correlates to our lack of “giving.”  Just a thought to ponder.
  4. “I Can Worship by Myself”
    Many times I have heard that one can have a better worship experience outside, alone, in God’s beautiful creation than in some stuffy church building.  Hey, sometimes I agree.  But I also feel that nothing can replace God-directed, community-centered worship.  Realizing that we are not alone, but that we have a family who is united with us in our stand with the Lord. And remember, there are plenty of other things you can skip to go be alone on a mountain with God.  I would encourage that.
  5. “I Don’t Have Any Friends”
    This one is very tough.  But, if we think about it for a second, you usually don’t make friends by avoiding people.  Maybe what you need is to become even more involved, active, and, you know, there.  All of my best friends in the world are people I have met at church, during worship, and congregational activities.
  6. “There are Too Many Hypocrites”
    There are too many hypocrites and sinners at church.  True.  Maybe that’s why we need you.  You can come and help straighten all of us out.  Leaving us to our own hypocritical and sinful destruction is not very loving.  Come and help us out (and maybe, just possibly, see if you have some room for growth also).
  7. “I Won’t Go to Hell”
    Yes, that is probably the worst reason to skip worship that exists.  “I won’t go to Hell for skipping.”  That’s always the best mindset to have.  Seriously, I doubt my wife will divorce me if I skip taking the trash out.  But that’s a pretty terrible reason to skip taking the trash out.  Maybe I should ask, “will my wife be happy if I toss this trash?”  Or, “will God be pleased if I spend time in worship?”  Plus, well, with that attitude…you might.
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