Categories
Church Issues

Preaching Epidemic

I just finished a preaching workshop with Simeon Trust. The workshop was on the book of Revelation. Each participant has two passages assigned beforehand to present in their small group. Each presentation worksheet is critiqued, fine tuned, and argued. It is an incredibly helpful and humbling experience. It is also exhausting. 

I try to plan my preaching schedule so that someone else preaches the Sunday after one of these workshops because preaching takes work. It requires a lot of mental and physical energy but it is a worthy and noble task. There is a huge difference between explaining a passage like a verbal commentary and preaching a passage. The ‘sermonizing’ aspect of a passage is very hard work. 

Contrast this noble and hard task with what I recently saw of another pastor. I heard a pastor I know was retiring so I went online to see his last sermon and sermon series. What do you say in your last sermon? What do you say in your last sermon series? I was shocked to see what I saw. This church has much to commend. Its ministry seems to be quite effective. The church is growing. But the preaching? Stolen! 

Shocked and dismayed are the only ways to describe how I felt. I looked at the sermon graphics and was impressed with them. I did a simple search to see where they bought them. There are many sites that will give media files for sermon/book series. Immediately, the website came up. It happened to be a large church that offers graphics and sermon manuscripts online. As I listened to the sermon, I pulled up the manuscript from the website and it all became clear. This pastor was using someone else’s sermon. I do not think it helps but the website does not charge for the usage of their material but it is still theft. 

Plagiarism in the pulpit is a real thing. It always shocks me to hear of it but it exists. Sometimes pastors get busy and do not have as much time to study. Sometimes the pressure to perform and preach well causes them to use a service or borrow a manuscript. Sometimes large church pastors encourage the practice and share about their use of services that provide sermons for them. But each time, it is wrong. 

It is better to preach a bad sermon of your own work than the stolen work of someone else. It is better to go through the growth process of preparing and preaching than to use the sermon of another. The nature of preaching is not just the delivery. Much of preaching is what happens in the hours of study and prayer. What God does in your own heart in preparation exceeds what response you get when you finish the sermon. I am thankful for a church that will let me continue to grow in preaching. It is a testament that the church can survive bad preaching but by God’s grace and more workshops, I believe I will improve! 

To conclude, I think there are more reasons guys may choose to plagiarize sermons: 

  • They are lazy. Preaching is hard work! I sat with an elder who is preaching this Sunday. He had done his main study and knew the passage. We agonized for a couple of hours just over several words. We went back and forth with the outline and main idea until we felt it ‘fit’ the passage. None of that is easy work. 
  • They think little of the Bible. They may claim to believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, that is they believe it is true in all it says. But they do not believe in the sufficiency of the Bible. They believe the church will grow and people will be saved through a type of mechanism, experience, or gimmick. They reproduce the work of others hoping it reproduces similar results. 
  • They think little of God. The most important part of preaching is God’s own molding of the preacher. Paul tells Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15) The approved worker is one who handles the word rightly by studying it, wrestling with it, and proclaiming it, not the one who downloads the newest message. 

What should someone do if they are plagiarizing sermons? Stop. Confess the sin to the Lord and the church. You might be ‘borrowing’ or ‘using’ but know this it is stealing. It is dishonest. You need to look back at 2 Tim 2:15. You may be using someone else’s work so that you do not feel the shame of preaching a bad sermon. There is something about pouring your head, heart, and soul into a sermon and then thinking, “Well, that wasn’t any good.” It’s even worse when your wife agrees with you! There is a deep sense of pain and agony for pastors on Sunday nights and Monday mornings. Be encouraged, if you handled the word rightly, you have no shame! God approves of the one who handles the word rightly. You may need to work on your delivery but if you handled the word well, trust the Lord. 

There is an epidemic in the pulpit but it is not every pulpit. Sunday after Sunday, pastors walk up to the pulpit, Bible in hand, with a full heart, and full of trepidation to preach the word. They may lose their place in their notes. Their sermon may not have a dynamite illustration but it is faithful to the text. They have no need to be ashamed, they have rightly handled the word. Encourage your pastors out there, preaching is hard work! 

Categories
Spiritual Disciplines

Bible Reading 2023: Grace and Truth NIV Study Bible

Bible Reading 2023: Grace and Truth NIV Study Bible

Years ago, my pastor challenged me to read the Bible through in a year. It is a practice I have found beneficial for over a decade. When I first came to the church I pastor, I restarted a reading plan with them that just focused on the New Testament and Psalms. Over the last several years, I have tried to read different Bible translations and different Bibles to familiarize myself with them. I study and preach from the ESV and began reading it through, but I have ventured out to read study Bibles and read different translations. In 2023, I read the Grace and Truth Study Bible, an NIV study Bible.

Buy it here: https://www.christianbook.com/niv-study-bible-comfort-print-hardcover/9780310447122/pd/0447122?event=ESRCG

Regarding the study Bibles, this is a good Bible with sufficient notes. There are clear gospel connections throughout the notes. I found the notes in the major Prophets, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, helpful. The historical books provided some information, though I often wanted more. I know the author who wrote the notes for 1 and 2 Chronicles, so they were especially nice to read. They were also quite helpful in making connections to Jesus. The New Testament was allotted more space for notes than the Old Testament. The volume of notes was useful, especially in challenging books like 1 Peter and Jude.

The NIV translation as a whole is good. It is readable and different enough from the ESV to let me pause and look at the text a bit slower. The NIV as a translation is more thought for thought and readable. Every translation aims for readability on some level. No translation is word for word; it wouldn’t be readable if it were!

My favorite illustration for this is when you translate idiomatic phrases in another language; a little book helps you see sayings across different languages. For instance, if you say, “I’m just pulling your leg,” in English, you mean, “I’m joking with you.” How do you translate that if you are speaking to a Russian? The phrase, “I’m pulling your leg,” literally will not work in Russian. Instead, you need to use the Russian equivalent, “I’m just hanging noodles on your ears,” which is also the title of the book of these phrases (I’m Just Hanging Noodles On Your Ears).

The Grace and Truth Study Bible uses a NIV approach to their notes. They will group verses for notes they offer. They can condense their notes by doing this, and it makes sense. It is helpful, though sometimes I wanted more information than they provided.

There are two things I didn’t like as much about the Bible. First, it lacked notes and extra information like maps within the pages that make understanding the context easier. Other inserts on historical data are expected in study Bibles and were a miss on this one. I love to read the OT, and when I do, I want to see where people are as I’m reading. The maps in the back are good, but when they are more specific to the book/passages you are reading, it helps with understanding. The second thing I disliked was the headings and breakdowns in the text. I am not sure if it was the NIV committee who made those decisions or those who edited the Study Bible; either way, it is not my favorite.

What I loved about the Bible outside of the notes is the concordance. There are over 300 pages of an excellent concordance. I am amazed by the detail and thoroughness of it.

For me, this Bible is not my favorite Study Bible. My favorite is the ESV Study Bible. It is unmatched on information, layout, and thoroughness. It is also bigger than a phone book. My second favorite is the CSB Study Bible. It is much better than people give it credit for. I use the ESV at my church office and the CSB at home. Its maps and notes are excellent. It should get wider acclaim. No one is touching the ESV anytime soon, but the CSB holds a solid second place for me. Where does the Grace and Truth Study Bible stand? I don’t know, towards the middle? It’s very good, but if you only can buy one, buy the ESV. If you see the CSB and have some extra money, buy it. It is well worth the price.

What am I reading this next year? I will read the Evangelical Study Bible in the New King James. It is a Bible done by authors from Liberty University. A professor there recommended it to me. It has been years since I read through the NKJV, so now seems like a good time to reread it. I’m looking forward to reading the Bible in 2024. Do you want to join me? I use the YOU VERSION Bible App. Search for me there or at Clough Pike Baptist Church, and you can read along with us.

Categories
Army Uncategorized

Just War, Just Wrong

Last week, I canceled Bible study. Why? Hamas had attacked a group of young Israelis at a music festival. The scenes were horrific. Israel began to mount its forces (IDF) and threatened to remove everyone from Gaza. Something interesting happened: the world started to discuss Just War Theory. So we scraped our study of 1 Timothy and looked at Just War Theory.

The situation in Israel has revealed a surprising amount of antisemitism worldwide. We have seen groups at Harvard blame Israel for the attacks…against Israel. Your Ivy League education, ladies and gentlemen, is not what we thought. They did some serious moral gymnastics to make those claims. Black Lives Matter groups have sided with Hamas and the Palestinians. How? Critical theory, along with intersectionality, has infiltrated the hearts and minds of academic institutions and eroded their minds. It has destroyed any remnant of their moral compass.

Intersectionality looks for how one is oppressed, claiming a victim status. This new victimhood becomes the primary lens by which they view the world. The most common way we have heard of this is through critical race theory (CRT). In 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention claimed CRT was an analytical tool to understand the world. Anyone in a perceived position of power must be silent and listen to those in a perceived position of lesser power.

How does this relate to Just War? Good question. Dr. Joseph Cochran, a visiting professor of Church History at Wheaton, was aghast at anyone who would discuss Just War Theory. He did not like the replies to his post, so he took it down and protected his account. The professor of Church History must have forgotten that the Just War Theory, as currently discussed, began most clearly by Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo, in Africa.

Cochran is just one example of how college education and degrees are a measure of intelligence. If someone builds their education on the framework of the principles of CRT, it is like me trying to see with someone else’s glasses. I may see objects but can’t see the actual things clearly because the lenses are wrong. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to see that what Hamas did in Israel was immoral and wicked. You just can’t have the lenses provided in many of our premiere academic institutions, whether secular like Harvard or Christian like Wheaton.

Categories
Army Church Issues Gospel

Do we need Memorial Day?

Today is a day to remember what it means to be an American. It is not a day to thank a Veteran, that’s in November. It is not just a long weekend for cookouts and cornhole. Memorial Day is a day to remember the good ‘ol US of A. But today, I want to ask the question, Do we need another Memorial Day?

Memorial Day began as Decoration Day from May 30, 1868, to 1970. Decoration Day began as a day to remember and honor those who died in the Civil War. People would go to the graves of the deceased and decorate them. The day served as a way to unify the country after the Civil War. As other wars were fought and other lives were lost, all those who gave their lives in defense of freedom are honored on this day. In 1970, the name changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, celebrated on the last Monday in May.

As a former Solider, Memorial Day for me is a day of mixed emotions. When I woke up this morning, I went through my normal routine of cracks, pops, and pains. My hands hurt, my shoulder throbbing, my knee swells, and my hip is a constant reminder of a decade and a half of service. These pains are reminders to me of my service. I have the pain. Today, many would love it if their loved ones were injured and not memorialized. I have thoughts that run through my head of the death notifications I made as a Chaplain. Today, some families will remember my visit to their door and the agony that I brought. Those Gold Star families are on my mind today.

As I look at the landscape of America, I wonder if we have another Memorial Day in the future. I look at Memorial Day as a Soldier but also as a pastor. The last time America celebrated the wickedness of sin, we were led to the Civil War. The nation was divided into North and South, slave and free. Eventually, the nation fought a war that abolished slavery that saw over 600,000 die, a number greater than the combined number of deaths from the Revolutionary War to the Korean War.

We are not divided North and South over slavery, we are divided over conservative and progressive views of gender and sexuality. The polarization of the nation over LGTBQ+ issues is growing, the battle lines are drawn, and conflict is on the horizon. The conflict is already here in some sense. Target has lost billions of dollars in stock evaluation because of a pseudo-silent majority refusing to purchase items from them because of their recent pride displays that include a focus on children’s items. Bud Light has tried to play damage control but continues to lose in the marketplace. School board meetings are going viral when parents read the explicit content of some books in libraries. These two sides cannot come together, there is no middle ground.

The battle lines are drawn but the battlefield is not yet determined. Right now, conservatives are waging war with their wallets. Will they hold the line? Will they keep the Target app off their phone? Or, will the convenience of Target pick-up win out over their convictions? It remains to be seen.

Even though the battlefield is not yet determined, the spoils of war are evident and it’s the children of the nation. Issues of identity, gender, and sexuality are being targeted at our kids. The progressive agenda is aimed at the indoctrination and destruction of vulnerable and impressionable children. The spoils of war are too great to give up without a fight.

Each war has its own peculiarities in how to fight. WWI had trench warfare. WWII saw better tanks, air raids, and atomic bombs. Vietnam gave us agent orange and tunnel rats. OEF and OIF saw IEDs, drones, and Stryker brigades. Each type of warfare requires flexibility and a commitment to adapt until victory is won. The current battle requires the same.

The victory is worth the sacrifice of convenience because kids are worth it. There can be much ground gained over a family dinner with an open Bible and conversation about the day’s events. It would be too simplistic to think that deleting the Target app is some type of silver bullet in the current conflict. Families have to regain the primary role in the instruction and education of their children. This isn’t just about homeschooling or not. That is far too simplistic. Families need to strategically and systematically speak to their children. Retake those hours after school and work to be the training ground for the war at hand.

Each war requires multiple modes of attack if victory is to be won. If you homeschool but don’t vote, victory will never be won. If you vote but never engage your children in real meaningful conversation about real issues from a comprehensive Christian worldview, victory will never be won. Much damage can be done when families use the Bible as a means of correction alone. Instead, families must use the Bible for instruction and center their lives around it because it is how we know God. For too long, Christians have stayed away from civil service, maybe some school boards and local elections need challengers from committed Christians. However, the battle is to be fought, it cannot be fought if Christians continue in isolation and silence.

Christianity is not a religion of silence. The very call of the Christian life is one of infiltrating enemy lines and rescuing those held captive. The charge given to Christians is to go and make disciples. It is only as Christians speak up and share the message of the gospel that true victory will be won. It is not just about biblical roles of gender and identity. Heterosexual men and women who follow biblical categories of marriage still need Jesus. Take heart, this war has already been won. Our King has come and conquered, we march on in his victory until he comes again and puts everything under his feet. The church celebrates this every week as its own type of memorial day. Instead of remembering all those who died, we remember the one who died but rose again. 

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Uncategorized

The pen is mightier than the sword

Have you ever been faced with an impossible situation? Recently, I’ve been faced with a situation where I can make no physical change. What I want, I can’t make happen. I have no power to affect change. I’m a fixer by nature. I don’t let things go. I want to try and try and try to make a difference. But now, I’m in a position where I can’t make anything happen. The situation is out of my hands and I don’t like that.

Instead of feeling hopeless, I’m hopeful but probably not for the reasons you think. I’m hopeful because of the old adage, the pen is mightier than the sword. The phrase came from Edward Bulwer-Lytton in 1839, in his play Cardinal Richelieu. Usually, the phrase is used to discourage violence or physical altercation and to defer to political and administrative intervention.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton
https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30729480

You might think I’m planning on petitioning my Representative or some lobbyist. The issue I need fixing is far beyond the scope of Columbus, OH, or Washington D.C. Very few if any problems are fixed by politics, this one is way outside of their control but I’m still hopeful because the pen is mightier than the sword.

How am I hopeful? I have a situation where I need some change, some power to be on display. I didn’t write an edict or submit a law to be passed. I don’t know a lobbyist. Instead, I did a simple task that has profound strength and might. I took the situation and wrote it down on a 3×5 notecard, that’s it. I wrote it down on a regular notecard. It is the most powerful thing I can do.

Several years ago, I read A Praying Life by Paul Miller. In this book, he shares his method of cataloging his prayer requests. He takes individuals, situations, and personal issues and writes them on 3×5 notecards. On those cards, he writes specific prayer requests and Bible verses to guide him as he prays. His method has been very helpful to me. It is one that I use regularly.

I have a small binder clip with my notecards. On those cards are people, issues, and groups I pray for regularly. I have a couple of cards for those dearest to me. Why the 3×5 cards? Honestly, if I listed everything on a piece of paper that I wanted to pray for in a given day or week, I’d be overwhelmed and distracted. However, if individual things are on a 3×5 card, I know I can hold that in my hand and pray for it. Sometimes, I get through the whole stack, other times, I don’t. I have cards I pray for daily and others I pray for weekly.

But in it all, it’s just a 3×5 card that isn’t intimidating, unless, of course, you are resisting the God of the universe because I’m praying to Him. He spoke the world into existence (Gen 1-2). He upholds the world by the word of his power (Heb 1). All the world was created for him (Col 1:15-20). He knows all things from the end to the beginning and works it in accordance with his will (Is 46:10). He will not let the evil of this world win and will use the evil in this world to bring about his good (Gen 50:20, Rom 8:28). He laughs at the nations and rulers who try to resist him (Ps 2). Things for me (and you) are impossible but that’s ok because what is impossible with man is possible for God (Matt 19:26).

Sometimes, when we are faced with an impossible situation, we think, “I can’t do anything!” This is not true. You can’t make a change but you can do something. You can pray. I can pray. When we pray, we aren’t saying we are powerful. Instead, we are declaring our dependence and inability. We are lifting our prayer requests to the Lord who is powerful and mighty. He desires to move and act but in his great providence, he uses the prayers of man to accomplish his purposes so we must pray. We must ask him (James 4:2).  

Why should you write down your prayer requests? Because the pen is mightier than the sword and your mind. When you write down a request, you are writing it down because you want to see it, pray about it, and because you are taking it seriously. Secondly, life is crazy. If you are like me and you have more going on in your life than you want. It can be very easy to forget things, even when they are important. If you write down your prayer request on a card, it’s impossible to forget. You’ll see that small stack of cards and be reminded to pray. You can’t make anything happen but you can pray!

I don’t have the power or ability to make the change I want. I can’t produce the outcome I desire but I can pray. I can be disciplined to pray to the Lord. I am thankful that God hears our prayers and answers prayers. Maybe you need to find some 3×5 notecards and pray. You can’t make things happen but you can do something. You can pray.

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Uncategorized

Book Review: Bully Pulpit by Michael Kruger

Michael Kruger, Bully Pulpit: Confronting the Problem of Spiritual Abuse in the Church. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2022.

The idea of spiritual abuse is a hot-button issue. I was quite impressed to see Michael Kruger, a well-known New Testament scholar, and seminary president address this topic. He did a fantastic job. In reviewing this book, I have used some key quotes, especially from the beginning of the book, and fewer quotes and more summaries in the more pragmatic chapters at the end of the book. I encourage you to read the book on your own. Here is what I found most helpful:

9780310136385
https://www.amazon.com/Bully-Pulpit-Confronting-Problem-Spiritual/dp/0310136385/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2XVPS9J926417&keywords=bully+pulpit+michael+kruger&qid=1674649803&qu=eyJxc2MiOiIxLjMwIiwicXNhIjoiMS4xNyIsInFzcCI6IjEuNTIifQ%3D%3D&sprefix=bully+pul%2Caps%2C122&sr=8-1

Introduction:

“Some of the leaders we are producing –and, if we’re honest, some of the leaders we are wanting –have characteristics that are either absent from or completely opposed to the list of leadership characteristics laid out in Scripture (xi).”

“Here’s my point: some churches seem to have a lot of angst over whether there might be a church member somewhere bucking church authority. But there seems to be notably less concern over whether church leaders ever abuse that same authority. In their view, if there’s a problem with church authority, it’s almost. Always that there’s not enough of it rather than it going too far (xvii).”

“Yet the fact remains: some pastors are abusive (xvi).”

“So something needs to change. For the sake of the peace and purity of the church. And for the sake of the sheep we are called to protect, we must think more carefully about the type of leaders we are producing (xviii).”

Writing and using the term “victims.”

“First, some will take the use of this term as evidence that this volume is advocating a. Quote UN quote “victim mentality” among those who have suffered injustice, a mentality which presumes means that a person is free to build their whole identity around the bad things that have happened to them, blaming those injustices for all the problems in their life. But I wholeheartedly reject such a notion (xv).”

Chapter 1: The First Shall Be First

In this chapter, he begins to give case studies that focus on some prominent figures such as Mark Driscoll, Billy Hybels, James MacDonald, and Steve Timmis. He shows how their abusive power resulted in a ministry focused on a leader of charisma and celebrity instead of the biblical character qualifications.

“Given the church’s propensity to mimic the culture, it’s no surprise that the previous generation has seen increasing numbers of so-called celebrity pastors. Some churches want their own franchise player –someone who is strong, dynamic, and inspiring. They want someone exceptional, a charismatic visionary who can lead the way (9).”

“To be sure, the celebrity pastor doesn’t have to be exceptional to expect special treatment. It doesn’t matter if his church is 50 people or 500. He merely has to be the big fish in his own little pond (10).”

Writing on the need for servant leadership and not lordship, “Maybe we have hired men more eager to call down Thunder than to dawn. The servants towel and wash people’s feet (16).”

He begins his call to action which outlines the rest of the book. In this call to action, he is calling on fellow pastors and churches to care for the church by protecting her from bully pastors. “What if loving the church means loving the sheep – whom Christ loves –and guarding them against the wolves Christ asked us to watch out for (18)?”

“In other words, that the church is the beloved bride of Christ is not a reason to care less about her shortcomings; it’s a reason to care more. Indeed, the church is the most important institution on the planet. My prayer is that we can move past these defensive postures that might have built up from the unjust critiques over the last generation so that we can hear the just critiques. We need to stop thinking like lawyers – ready to litigate and rebut each and every attack – and instead be willing to hear the truth if it is spoken in our midst (18).”

Chapter 2: That Which Shall Not Be Named

The task to define spiritual abuse is the challenge. It is nebulous in some ways but this book couldn’t exist if he did not settle on a specific definition. He begins by saying what spiritual abuse is not before defining it. Spiritual abuse is not physical or sexual abuse. Those areas are defined and more determinative in nature. Spiritual abuse is more along the lines of emotional or psychological abuse. Older books on pastoral ministry used terms like spiritual tyranny and spiritual oppression which are more explicative of the idea.

Kruger defines spiritual abuse as, “When a spiritual leader –such as a pastor, elder, or head of a Christian organization – wields his position of spiritual authority in such a way that he manipulates domineers, bullies, and intimidates those under him as a means of maintaining his own power and control, even if he is convinced he is seeking biblical and kingdom-related goals (24).”

He highlights several keys to this definition. First, spiritual abuse involves someone in a position of spiritual authority. This aspect becomes quite harmful because when the person speaks, it is presumed, implicitly or explicitly, that they speak for God.

Second, spiritual abuse involves sinful methods of controlling and domineering others. The characteristics of gentleness and patience are replaced with aggressive means of lording power instead of serving as our Lord. He says, “The abusive pastor denigrates others not only to feel better about himself (thus feeding his narcissism) but also to demoralize those under him (29). He highlights those areas where someone is hypercritical, cruel, threatening, defensive, and manipulative. These types of characteristics lead to church members being afraid of their pastor. He points out, “It is not normal for people to have this sort of fear of their pastor (31).” The defensive pastor is critical but unable to take criticism, Kruger claims, a classic trait of a narcissist. Third, spiritual abusers seem to be building God’s Kingdom (but are building their own).

Finally, as a way to clarify some opposition, he gives five things that are not abuse. They are being unfriendly, intimidating personalities, not getting along, accidentally hurting someone, and confronting people’s sins. The challenge is that spiritual abuse is not a black-and-white issue. His definition and subsequent explanations are helpful as he continues his call to action regarding spiritual abuse even if a definition of it is “muddled and undefined (39).”

Chapter 3: A Heavy Yoke On Us

Kruger begins by examining evidence of sin and abuse in Old Testament before moving to the New Testament. His arguments for the Old Testament grounded all spiritual abuse in sin. The New Testament arguments were more helpful as he showed the servant nature of Jesus’s ministry. It is service, not authority that must describe the Christian ministry.

Kruger encourages churches to look for a gentle minister. The gentle minister is the antithesis of a narcissist. The narcissist shows no willingness to receive criticism. The humble minister can receive criticism. The final characteristic is kindness. The spiritually abusive is not kind because he “has a pattern of self-protection and self-gain (54).” The bully pastor seeks power and control (55).

 He finished this chapter by looking at the call of elders in 1 Peter 5. He points out that the word eager in 1 Pt 5:2 “was historically used to describe civic leaders who sacrificed their time and money for the good of the city they served (55).” The following verse says elders should serve as examples. Kruger contrasts this with the self-seeking bully pastor who does not lead by example. “In other words, he does not stand behind the sheep, cracking the whip, but goes before the sheep as an example to follow (55).”  He concludes the chapter with a sobering statement, “People don’t expect kindness from their leaders (57).”

Chapter 4: A Trail of Dead Bodies

The bully pastor acts aggressively and leaves many behind wounded sheep. Kruger argues the sheep are not left for dead in the open but rather are hidden from the church at large. His reasoning is as follows: “First, many victims of abusive pastors are silenced or forced to leave (62).” The second is, “the abusive pastor’s pattern of broken relationships is often no revealed to the larger leadership body and certainly not to the entire church (62).” Whenever it is revealed, “the problem is often downplayed and minimized – it’s viewed as a conflict that is inevitable in any ministry (63).”

He did a great job arguing against the sinfulness of both the victim and the abusive pastor. “Sadly, yet another misunderstanding of grace has to be used to defend abusive pastors and further harm the victims. If we are all equally sinful, it is argued, then that must mean the abusive pastor and the victim are equally to blame for the conflict. A wrong understanding of grace is used to minimize the heinousness of the abuse and accentuate the sins of the victim, whatever they may be (70).”

He offers several principles to keep if there is to be any reconciliation between the abusive pastor and victim. “First, victims should not be asked to meet with an abusive pastor unless he has been held accountable (71). Second, victims should not meet with an abusive pastor unless he is genuinely repentant (72). Third, victims should not meet with an abusive pastor until they are emotionally and spiritually ready (72).” His caution in these areas is to protect victims and keep an abusive pastor accountable.

Chapter 5: Flipping the Script

Kruger uses this chapter to help churches identify the ways an abusive pastor manipulates and distorts biblical teaching and healthy relational structures. In his study, he found the greatest misuse of Matthew 18. He argues for a biblical approach that protects the victims.

He says, “We must remember that Matthew 18 applies only to the individuals who have been sinned against (82).” The abusive pastor can misuse this passage and hide behind an elder board. The victim can be railroaded by the abusive pastor who tries to make the “sin” of bringing offense to an elder board instead of addressing the abusive pastor directly. Kruger hopes to use the information from the last chapter to interpret Matthew 18 more rightly within the context of an abusive pastor. He plainly states, “Some abusive pastors treat Matthew 18 like Miranda rights (83).” The procedure does not trump sin. “Even if the accuser follows Matthew 18 and the abusive pastor admits some wrongdoing, that does not necessarily mean the behavior should not be reported to the church’s leadership (83).” The procedure is not a sin. It is a distraction and tactic by an abusive pastor. “If a pastor is accused of abusive behavior, be wary if procedural issues become the biggest concern of all those involved (84).”

Paramount to caring for victims and holding pastors accountable is the culture where people are free to speak up. “First, they need to make sure they have the correct definition of slander (86).” He goes on to say, “To speak up about a pastor’s abusive behavior – in appropriate ways – is not slander (86).” Furthermore, “Churches need to avoid creating a culture of fear around slander by assessing, honestly and fairly, the likelihood of false accusations of abuse against a pastor (87).”

The congregation should aim to protect victims from the attacks of abusive pastors. An abusive pastor “might bring up the past sins of the victims (90).” “In addition to highlighting past sins, the abusive pastor might attack the way the victims are handling the conflict (90).” “Sometimes victims are accused of having a victimhood mentality (91-92).” The final attack is sinister, “It is not unusual for an abusive pastor to fabricate claims against the victims to make himself look better (93).”

Chapter 6: Suffering in Silence

One of the illustrations, Kruger used was from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. At the end of the story, he cites the conversation between Sam and Frodo. Sam is speaking and asks Frodo if he is going to enjoy the Shire. Frodo responds by saying, “I’ve been too deeply hurt, Sam. I tried to save the Shire and it has been saved, but not for me. It must be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so others may keep them (98).” The stark reality of people speaking up to make significant cultural changes is real. If we are to see any change, it is possible that someone must take the hurt, and someone must take the pain so that others can be safe.

Fear, anger, shame, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder are all ways victims suffer emotionally when an abusive pastor acts aggressively and when the victim is not cared for properly. Van der Kolk wrote The Body Keeps the Score and Kruger uses this book to state, “Spiritual abuse is prone to create deep and serious mental scars that in turn can produce long-term physiological consequence (103).”

Special care to victims must be given because there are various spiritual effects as a result of an abusive pastor. Victims can have doubts about the church, Christianity, God, and even themselves. Those left in the trail behind an abusive pastor should not be left to suffer in silence.

Chapter 7: They Shall Not Hurt or Destroy

This chapter is more practical for churches. He begins with ways to prevent an abusive pastor from coming to the church. The way to keep abusive pastors away is to emphasize character over competency. Once a pastor is called, there are ways to help create a culture of accountability. Rotating preaching schedules, offering real feedback, and even providing an independent leadership board. The independent leadership board should, as argued by Kruger, include people from various socioeconomic levels, and educational levels, and should have both men and women.

The goal is to create genuine transparency. He gives two interesting ways to create this culture. He suggests publishing minutes from elder meetings. The second is to allow for an annual public forum with opportunities for questions and answers. This is not the place to accuse an abusive pastor that should be done in private to allow for proper channels and keep a public presumption of innocence until an investigation is finished.

Epilogue: A Final Word to Christian Leaders

As Kruger ends the book, he ends states, “The job of the shepherd is to care for the sheep, and this includes feeding them, protecting them, encouraging them, binding up their wounds, and, yes, correcting them when needed (140).” The quote from Thomas Watson is helpful, “A humble Christian studies his infirmities, and another’s excellencies (141).”

Bully Pulpit is helpful both thinking through the idea of spiritual abuse from prevention, care, and accountability. I give Kruger credit for taking on this tough topic. You might want to change the way he creates an accountability structure, but he has a method. If you do not have a method, this is better. Some method is better than no method.

Categories
Uncategorized

2022 Books in Review

2022 is a wrap! I always like to see my progress as a reader when the year is finished. I log all the books I finished through Good Reads. I read 55 books in 2022 and 24,471 pages. All this is from someone who did not read a book until college.

I read much more this last year than what is listed. I read portions of and wrote small reviews for almost another 50 books. I only log books that I finish in the calendar year. I record books that I finish on audiobooks. If you think that is cheating or taking a shortcut, should you record the books you read, you are welcome to keep those off your list! With 55 books this last year, I’ve ranked third place out of three with my family who records their books! I’m counting audio books because I need all the help I can get!

A couple of notes about the books you’ll see. First, you will see books about the Bible and Bible commentaries. I preached through Matthew over the last two years. I included the commentaries that I read for the sermon series. I read almost all of those commentaries, only skipping the parts that are redundant or where they quote one another.

You will also see some fiction novels. I read fiction for two reasons. First, I enjoy it. It helps me to read to turn my mind off from thinking about church issues. It is an escape and an enjoyable one for me. Second, there are some fiction books that I read because I like stories and I am trying to learn how to write and tell stories better. As a preacher, I have a lot of growing to do. Those who teach preaching encourage reading fiction to develop as a storyteller. Oddly enough, they also encourage listening to comics to learn about speaking rate and inflection. They don’t encourage the use of jokes and gimmicks but do so for the public speaking aspect.  

There are a couple of books on non-fiction educational learning. The Body Keeps the Score and The Boy Crisis came highly recommended. I learned a lot from these books. They did not give sufficient answers to the questions and problems they posed but looking at the problem of trauma and manhood through a secular lens was helpful.

Best books:

The Bible is still undefeated. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. It’ll change your life! This next year, I’m reading the Grace and Truth NIV Bible.

A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin and Three Things He’ll Never Do had some of the best chapters I read this year. The book is very good some chapters were excellent to think about how God deals with sin.

The Temple and the Church’s Mission this book is phenomenal. I wish I would have read it earlier. I plan to read more Beale this coming year.

Deep Discipleship is a good book that I’m not done thinking about yet. In the book, J.T. English challenges us to think about discipleship in the church as churches use small groups. He argues that we have forgotten the educational aspect of groups as we have encouraged fellowship/community in groups, think of the difference between Sunday school (education) and community groups (fellowship). I’m not sure exactly how his model works with the church I pastor but I’ll keep thinking.

Books I should have enjoyed more: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self came as one of the highest-reviewed books of the year. There is an abridgment that I plan on reading this year. I liked this book but there was a fair amount of material that did not interest me in the slightest. The Count of Monte Cristo is the best five books in one I have ever read. I started the year with this book and it nearly killed me. It was very good in spots but I’ve never wanted an abridgment more than this book. The audiobook is a mere 52 hours and 45 minutes. Insane.

Books I learned from as a pastor: Old Time Religion in the Southern Appalachians, I found this book at Half-Price books for a couple of dollars and read it in an afternoon. It was not great but it helped me understand some of the religious backgrounds of my church members who came from mining towns in Kentucky. The Devil Is Here in These Hills taught me so much about coal miners in the Appalachians. It was almost completely new material for me and it was fascinating as it was depressing.

Books that encouraged me: The Bruised Reed is a small book by Richard Sibbes, a puritan. It is a great book that focuses on the Lord’s kindness to us. If you are struggling with your faith, this book will encourage you. Praying the Bible is a reread for me. It is a great little premier on praying through Scripture.

That’s a wrap for me. What are your plans to read in 2023?

How to Build a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
Fortress Britain by Glynn James
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
The Gospel of Matthew Volume One by William Barclay
Fallout by Craig Alanson
Sierra Six by Mark Greaney
The Judge's List by John Grisham
The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis
The Holy Trinity by Robert Letham
Celtic Empire by Clive Cussler
The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes

Christ-Centered Preaching by Bryan Chapell
Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney
First Strike by Ben Coes
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk
3 a.m. by Nick Pirog
3 by Nick Pirog
3 by Nick Pirog
3 by Nick Pirog
3 by Nick Pirog
Three Parts Dead by Glynn James
The Temple and the Church's Mission by G.K. Beale
Trap the Devil by Ben Coes
Biblical Eldership by Alexander Strauch
The Devil Is Here in These Hills by James R. Green
Rediscover Church by Collin Hansen
Convergence by Craig Alanson
A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre
A Dozen Things God Did with Your Sin by Sam Storms
The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer
The Boy Crisis by Warren Farrell
Sparring Partners by John Grisham
Oath of Loyalty by Kyle Mills
The Valley of Vision by Arthur Bennett
The Terminal List by Jack Carr
Savage Son by Jack Carr
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl R. Trueman
Old Time Religion in the Southern Appalachians by Larry G. Morgan
By Whose Authority? Elders In Baptist Life by Mark Dever
Acts 20 by Alexander Strauch
The Gospel of Matthew by James Montgomery Boice
Matthew by William Hendriksen and Simo...
Matthew by Craig L. Blomberg
Deep Discipleship by J.T. English
Matthew by D.A. Carson
The Gospel according to Matthew by Leon L. Morris

The Gospel of Matthew by Craig S. Keener
CSB Study Bible by Anonymous
In the Blood by Jack Carr
Maximum Violence by Glynn James
The Devil's Hand by Jack Carr
True Believer by Jack Carr
Match Game by Craig Alanson
Rising Tiger by Brad Thor
Failure Mode by Craig Alanson

Categories
Matthew

A look at some resources for Matthew

I began to pastor Clough Pike Baptist Church on January 21, 2021. I began an 85 sermon series from the book of Matthew. A month and a half prior, I preached from Matt 28:18-20 as my sermon that was in view of a call. Christmas Day 2022.

When I began my first Sunday, it was interesting to see the faces of people when they stood for the reading of Scripture and I read the genealogy of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-17.

I’m not a Matthew scholar but I have preached through the book and I’ve come across some books that I found helpful. These are not in any particular order.

Commentaries I found helpful throughout:

 

Morris, Leon. The Gospel According to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.

The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNT) is a very nice series. Commentary series are not all equal and books within a series are not equal. I enjoy the layout and organization of the PNT as a whole. This edition of Matthew by Leon Morris is one of the better ones in the series for sure.

Morris answers many of the questions I have asked when reading the text. While not overtly helpful in thinking about application, he does an excellent job of helping the reader understand the historical setting. His citation of Old Testament allusions and quotes is better than most. He is theologically sound and scholarly enough to allow me to nerd out some. His comments on the Greek New Testament and etymology were very helpful in deciphering various opinions.

 Hendrickson, William and Simon J. Kistemaker. Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew. Vol. 9, New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2001.

Early on I had some questions that other commentaries did not answer. I had another pastor friend who turned me on to this series. I had it on Logos so it made it easy to access. The books are available but they are not cheap or easy to come by. Outside of answering some questions, this commentary helped me to see the argument Matthew built throughout the different sections. Hendrickson is a master at deducing the flow of the argument in short succinct ways. This didn’t translate to my preaching but it did my understanding!

Carson, D.A. “Matthew,” in The Expositors Bible Commentary, edited Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984.

Every commentary written after 1984 cites this work by Carson. I began to read him before I would read any other commentary because it seems that most people build off of his work. Reading Carson first allowed me to work through other material quickly because he addresses most everything and while other writers may deal with issues with more depth than him, they may not do so in a completely helpful way. I did not always agree with Carson but those times were few. This work is better at dealing with the text and less on the history concerning Matthew.

Blomberg, Craig. Matthew. Vol. 22, The New American Commentary. Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1992.

The New American Commentary is the most egregious commentary series for having very good and very bad volumes. This commentary by Blomberg is one of the better ones in the set. I enjoy the layout and while it seems dated in some areas, it is helpful as a good pastoral commentary. There is a balance of academic and lower-level issues handled in this set. This book is good for pastors but accessible enough for anyone to find profitable. There were some historical and cultural issues that Blomberg explained better than anyone else.

Other books I found helpful but did not find helpful enough to dig into their entirety:

Keener, Craig S. The Gospel of Matthew: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI;  Cambridge, U.K.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2009.

Keener had some parts that were excellent in cultural issues. Outside of some of the cultural issues, I did not find that I agreed with his arguments enough to continue to read and recommend.

Barclay, William, The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. 1-2. The Daily Study Bible. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster John Knox Press, 1976.

Barclay flirts with various points of heresy so I read him cautiously. Before commentators pointed to Carson, they would point to Barclay. His reading outside of the New Testament and sourcing is phenomenal. His theology, questioning of miracles, and his Christology are suspect so I read him some.

Boice, James. The Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5-7. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006.

Boice, James. The Gospel of Matthew: The King and His Kingdom Matthew 1-17. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 2001.

In full disclosure, I didn’t know Boice finished the Matthew series. I only had through chapters 1-17. His commentaries are his sermons and they are some of the most edifying and encouraging. He was the pastor of 10th Presbyterian in Philadelphia, PA. These two commentaries helped me see the pastoral heart in the text. He also disagreed with great prejudice with Barclay which I enjoyed. However, when Barclay was helpful he noted that in his commentaries. I found him to be balanced not just in how he dealt with Barclay but in other areas, a trait I hope to grow more in as a pastor.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. La Vergne, TN: Spring Arbor Distributors, 1995.

If you are a theologian and you got caught in an assassination attempt against Hitler and you wrote a book about discipleship, I’ll read it. The Cost of Discipleship is not just a commentary on the Sermon on the Mount but it is primarily that and it is fantastic. When I preached through the Sermon on the Mount, this book most challenged the application of the text.

Lloyd-Jones, Martyn. Studies in the Sermon on the Mount. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1971.

Lloyd-Jones is a master expositor and this commentary on the Sermon on the Mount was my first commentary on this subject. I have turned to it many times. Lloyd-Jones is not succinct but he is not superfluous. His thoroughness and what appears to be tenderness in dealing with the souls of those who heard him preach the sermons comes through in his commentary. I highly recommend it to you.

I read many other books, articles, and web pages. What was the most helpful? The Bible followed by the Greek New Testament. After 85 sermons through Matthew, my problem isn’t in understanding the text, it is obeying it. These verse at the end of the Sermon on the Mount summarize it best:

“And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matt 7:28-29).”

Categories
Gospel Matthew

A Letter to My Friend Matthew.

Matthew,

I wanted to write you to say thank you. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our last two years together. We have walked through about 85 sermons. You’ve taught me much of our King. I was not sure exactly where we would go when we started but I knew we’d be on this journey together.

You taught us and challenged us as you told us about Jesus. We began to see the themes of the King and the Kingdom as we walked through your gospel. As we walked through the life of Jesus, we saw his power to heal and save. We saw his tenderness to children and the needy. When we encountered the outcasts, we wanted to resonate with them but you kept showing us the religious people who just never seemed to get it. Everything we heard was not easy but it was necessary.

When we wanted to trust in our good works, you taught us the upside-down life of the Kingdom. The great sermon of Jesus taught us the character of Kingdom life in the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-12). We thought we are doing pretty good at this religious thing but you were strategic to record Jesus’s sermon that left us all condemned who rely on our best efforts (Matt 5-7). We were treated with much grace when we learned it wasn’t about doing great deeds for Jesus but knowing him (Matt 7:21-23).

With the emphasis on knowing Jesus as the essence of the Kingdom, we were energized to live with the Kingdom on display in our daily lives (Matt 8-9). As we lived to display the Kingdom, we saw how we are also sent to declare the message of the Kingdom. The Kingdom is no longer measured by geography but the Kingdom is on the move through the disciples of Jesus (Matt 10).

We were humbled again when the Kingdom expectations helped us stay on course by seeing Jesus as the Messiah. He is the Lord of the Sabbath, the one who gives us rest, the one who heals, and the one who gives us entrance into the family of God (Matt 11-12). If we are being honest, we’d like to hear Jesus teach and explain the parables (Mat 13). We want to follow Jesus but sometimes we settle for fandom. I think your gospel helps us religious people who want to make things more complicated and convoluted by things we can control (Matt 14). We don’t Jesus. He’s the King. He does as he pleases.

The Kingdom came into focus as we journeyed together (Matt 15-17). Jesus started to focus on the Kingdom community and gave us some very challenging words about how we are to live (Matt 18-20). Normally, we would want to leverage our privilege, wealth, family relationships, or even religious deeds, but the King will have not of it. If we come to him with anything, he rejects everything. If come with nothing, he gives us everything. If we are being honest, the upside-down life of the Kingdom is a work in progress.

As we approached the last week of the life of our King, the Kingdom passion, we can’t imagine what this time was like (Matt 21-28). The King’s entrance, final miracles, cleansing of the temple, and the last supper somehow didn’t prepare us for the crucifixion. I guess we are too often hard on Peter who denied Jesus. We are more like him than we want to admit but I guess that’s what we have learned, we are more like the anti-heroes of this story than we are like the hero.

Even more astonishing is that King Jesus knows all of this and still, he took the final cup of the Passover meal. He drank the fifth cup of God’s wrath. He drank the cup we deserved. Died the death meant for us. Death swallowed up in victory as he rose again.

It isn’t how we would have written up the story but it isn’t our story to write. I guess it isn’t yours either, you are just the one who recorded it. You were a tax collector and outcast but Jesus made you our teacher and friend. The Kingdom does that, doesn’t it? It takes enemies and makes friends. It takes outcasts and makes them family. All it took was for the Son of God to leave heaven and come to earth, live perfectly, die for us, and rise!

I think we have just scratched the service. For now, we will close your gospel but we will keep learning about Jesus. We will keep living out this Kingdom life. It isn’t our life to live but his. Thanks for helping us learn more about Jesus. We learned that what it took is what we could never provide. We need Jesus. You’ve taught us about him. Thank you.

Categories
Uncategorized

Fletcher, I’d like you to reconsider.

You wrote an article for The Gospel Coalition where you shared about your church closing on Christmas. I would like you to reconsider. You don’t know me and I don’t know you so I’d like to introduce myself to you.

We went to the same school, have mutual friends, and even share the Send Network. What you need to know is I’m committed to seeing churches flourish in New England, especially in the Boston area.

I was born and raised in Florida but I have New England blood. Steve Grogan was my favorite Patriots QB until Brady brought us back from being down 28-3. For years, my grandparents would bring Fluff to us so I was able to trade Fluffernutters in elementary school at the lunch table. I may even consider church discipline if someone says marshmallow creme is the same as Fluff. I hate the Mets and the Jets. I am still trying to forgive Billy Buckner for 1986. Anytime someone says, “Number Four” I reply with “Bobby Orr.” I don’t care what anyone says, Bill Russell is the greatest champion and Larry is still underrated. The only proper donut is from Dunkin, sorry Krispy Kreme.

Steve Grogan the neck roll-wearing Quarterback of the Patriots. https://touchdownwire.usatoday.com/2020/03/19/these-14-quarterbacks-started-for-the-patriots-before-tom-brady-did-the-job-for-20-years-2/steve-grogan-calls-the-count-2/

I thank God for the work that is going on with Send Boston and the other networks of churches in the area. You started your article disagreeing with Kevin DeYoung. Usually, that’s not a good starting point. Sadly, I think it may be the strongest part of your article. Here’s why you should reconsider and meet on Christmas Day this year.

First, the counter to your argument is written by Dustin Messer, an Anglican. Both DeYoung and Messer are meeting on Christmas Day. Since you are a Baptist, I would encourage you to have better ecclesiology than them! Ha!

Secondly, you should meet on Christmas Day because it simply is what Christians do. In your article, you mentioned two reasons to not meet. You mentioned that 80 people in your church would be traveling out of town and the set-up would be challenging. You then mentioned the highly secular area of your church would not lead you to believe any neighbors would be joining for worship.

You gave a great counter to your arguments when you said if you had a service your members would attend. I’d like to look back at your points and think differently about them. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll have reconsidered.

Your church, mine, and every other church do not exist for their neighbors. We exist for the glory of God as the body of Christ. You have 20 people who would “almost certainly come to any service we (you) put together.” Brother, you have 20 people ready to worship King Jesus on his birthday!

Also, let’s think about the set-up and takedown.  I served for years at a church plant. Set-up and takedown are tough but it doesn’t have to be for 20 people. You don’t need smoke and lights. You don’t even need mics. You need a Bible and 20 chairs. I get that it is “uniquely difficult” but difficult isn’t impossible.

Thirdly, you mentioned the context of your situation and the context of Hebrews 10:25 and here I think you are mistaken. Hebrews 10:25 says, “not neglecting to meet together” you focused on the habit aspect of not meeting together. The problem is not meeting together, habit or not. The church in Hebrews and yours are neglecting, forsaking, and abandoning meeting together. I want to encourage you to meet. I think your context demands it. The spiritual darkness of Somerville needs it.

The last time Christmas was on a Sunday was back in 2016. I was a missionary in Ecuador at that time. I preached that morning and as I did, I looked out to an older lady who was fighting sleep. She was there though and I appreciated it. After service, I learned she traveled 8 hours on a bus overnight so that she could be in service that day. For the sermon, I dressed up like Joseph and ran into the church yelling, “I’m a father, I’m a father!” It was my favorite service I ever preached in Ecuador, maybe ever. The service was great. I was happy, we had about twenty that day.

If you don’t meet for worship this Christmas Day, maybe you will next time. The next time Christmas is on a Sunday is in 2033.

Fletcher, I’d like you to reconsider.  

Categories
Uncategorized

A year of Reading

My Reading in 2023

Well that’s a wrap folks, 2023 was my most prolific year of reading. The first time I started and finished a book was my sophomore year in college. Over this last year, I read 100 books, a best for me by far. 

I track my books on Good Reads. Their records indicate my 100 books totaled 38,460 pages. My longest book, the Grace and Truth Study Bible topped at 7,829 pages. The shortest was just 40, an outlier for brevity. If you remove the Bible from my page count, the average book I read this last year was 309 pages. 

If you look at my books, you’ll see I read all of the Joe Pickett series by C.J. Box. There is one new book in the series that I’ll get to in 2024. Joe Picket is a Wyoming Game Warden. The series mixes nature and crime as Joe Picket saves the day from poachers and bandits. 

For Christian books, there are three that stood out to me. First, Keeping the Heart by John Flavel was given to me at a pastoral counseling retreat. It was thoroughly heart prodding and uplifting. Francis Grimke’s book Meditations on Preaching are notes from his larger preaching work. Again, it is a shorter book with no wasted spaces. The paragraphs are those that pack a punch. I read it slowly and devotionally. It was challenging and encouraging to think of the task of preaching sermons and the discipline of listening to sermons. The third book to highlight was Philip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. Keller is a shepherd and lay pastor who took the different stanzas of the Psalm and brought it to life with his real world examples. 

I didn’t read any bad books this year. Some are better than others. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to reach out and ask me. If you want to track your books on GoodReads, add me as a friend! I don’t plan on reading so many books in 2024. I try and set a goal of 52 a year. Any more than that is just a bonus. 

Here is a link to my GoodReads Year End Wrap up: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2023/20776017