Month: October 2017

Review: Middle School Ministry

Middle School Ministry
by Mark Oestreicher & Scott Rubin

Middle school is crazy. Is it best to treat middle schoolers like elementary students when it comes to church education planning? How about treating them like high schoolers? Or do we just lock them up until the hormones calm down a little bit? In Middle School Minsitry, Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin tackle the subject head-on, arguing that middle school may be the most crucial time in a person’s life, spiritually. It’s a time when they start asking big questions, and it’s essential that the church be there to help them ask questions, value them as people, and show them Jesus. The book divides into two parts. Part one outlines the changes a middle-schooler is going through physically, mentally, and emotionally, and how all of those changes affect them spiritually. Part two then goes through how to set up a middle school program, including setting up what to talk about, how to get volunteers, and how to treat the dangerous beasts known as parents. Throughout, both authors bring up both humorous and very serious examples showing what they’re talking about, wider evidence to back them up, and interviews with ministers who specialize in middle school ministry. (more…)

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Review: Hard Sayings of Jesus

Hard Sayings of Jesus
by Joel C. Seifert

Some things Jesus said are fairly easy: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” Sometimes, though, he said some things that are… difficult. “Buy a sword!” “Hate your mom!” “Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees…” What do we do with those hard sayings of Jesus? If we value all of the Bible as God’s Word, we need to wrestle with these difficult passages. In this book. Joel Seifert walks through many of the most difficult things Jesus ever said and explains them, using context, culture, and appropriate translations to connect Law and Gospel to modern readers.

After my last… disastrous… book, I thought I’d read something fast, easy, and from a source I knew I could trust to not lead me astray. I have to say, I greatly appreciated this little volume. And make no mistake, it is little – a paltry eighty pages! Yet there’s a lot of good in it. (more…)

This Masquerade

If a member posted this on my wall, I wouldn’t know what to do. 

I keep expecting someone to reveal that it’s all a big joke.

It hit me again while I was distributing Communion today – I thought everyone was just playing a game with me. “Sure, Pastor sure takes this seriously, but we know better. We’re just humoring him.” It’s almost like I expected to be in some version of The Truman Show (which, incidentally, I’ve still never seen). I expected this entire congregation to be an elaborate hoax, that people are just playing along.

How else could you explain a group of people listening to me pointing to the grace of God for so long? I know it’s not me, unless it’s a joke. Why would anyone pay attention to me? Half the time I wonder if the sounds coming out of my mouth are actually words or just half-formed mumbles that my brain thinks are communication.

It doesn’t matter that my church council, again and again, have revealed themselves to be mature Christian men. It doesn’t matter how often they will speak about Jesus as if he’s actually real – as if it’s not about the congregation, but about sharing Jesus with others! It doesn’t matter how often I am encouraged by those around me, speaking of my sermons to me, showing how God used the sermons to bless them. My thick head just won’t accept it: (more…)

Review: The New Vintage Family

The New Vintage Family
by Drenda Keesee

Everyone seems to want vintage things these days. Hipsters are after old treasures. Antiques are still sold all over! So… why not the vintage family? Does it still work in this world? In The New Vintage Family Drenda Keesee shows how the “vintage family” that God commanded way back when not only works, but it far preferable to most modern families.

Except… don’t.

Don’t read this book. Don’t buy it. Stay away. (more…)

Review: Death by Love

Death by Love: Letters from the Cross
by Mark Driscoll & Gerry Breshears

Jesus died on the cross to take away your sins. If you are Christian, this is a truth you hold close to your heart, because it is the ultimate comfort. Yet the cross is so much richer than that. In this book, Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears explore various aspects of Jesus dying for you, examining it as though it were a multi-faceted gem. Every chapter, Driscoll introduces a person he knows, outlines their problem, and then in a letter to them shows how the cross is the answer to their problem. Then, Gerry Breshears steps in after each letter to answer some of the more technical questions about the theology examined in each chapter.

In general, this book is solid. Every chapter looks at the cross of Christ using a different theological picture: justification, redemption, propitiation, atonement, reconciliation… the list goes on. What makes this book excel though is that it’s not a dry theological text; every chapter begins with a real person struggling in real ways, and Driscoll excels in showing how the cross is the answer to what they need. (more…)

Review: What Good Is God?

What Good is God: In Search of a Faith that Matters
by Philip Yancey

Does God matter? I mean, sure, Jesus died and all that, but does any of it matter today? If God is real, we should see him and his followers doing things that matter in this world, right? In this book, Philip Yancey investigates ten different places where Christians have made a difference. For each place, he writes a chapter of background, and then presents a talk he gave at each location. Places vary from a convention for former prostitutes to Mumbai during terrorist attacks to a Bible college he graduated from. In each place, he asks: Does God matter?

Yancey wrote the excellent Where Is God When It Hurts?, and as such I was eager to read this book.

Sigh. (more…)

All that is broken..

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The fire gathered the people together. We sat around the circle, laughing, sharing life. About twenty of us from the church, parents and kids and single folks and older folks, all sitting around, the aroma of burning wood and burning marshmallows filling the night. A couple of the kids patrolled the circle. “Want me to make you a s’mores?” Apparently at some point the fun comes in making them for others.

And then I stepped forward. “Imagine… nothing. There’s nothing. Not just a space with nothing in it. There’s actually nothing there. And then God said… ‘Let’s have some light.’ And bam! There was light! And there was evening and morning, the first day. And God said, ‘This is good!’

Second day. God says that light is good, but it’s gotta shine on something! So he creates waters above and below. Look! A sky! And below, seas! And there was evening and morning, day two. And God said, ‘This is good!’

Third day. God likes the oceans, but there’s gotta be something to break them up. So he raises islands and peninsulas and continents! And the rocks are great, but there’s gotta be something growing on them. Plants! Trees and bushes and grass and –”

And now the kids are paying attention. “Wildflowers!” one calls out.

Moss!” yells another.

That’s right!” I answer. “And God looked around, and what did he say?”

This is good?” one child ventures.

This is good!” I savor the answer. (more…)