Archives For Book and Music Reviews

accidentalA few weeks ago, I read a book by Pastor Larry Osborne called Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith. I heard Larry Osborne share about this book during a church conference simulcast, and I wanted to find out more.

In the American church, trends come and go. One of the current trends is a much needed emphasis on the importance of discipleship. I have read and been challenged by books like Crazy Love, Radical, and Not a Fan. But I have noticed that many read the same books and walk away with feelings of guilt and shame, feeling that they will never measure up to a standard of extreme Christian discipleship. That is where this book steps in and provides balance and clarity to the topic of discipleship. God desires our obedience and faithfulness, but we must also remember that each person has different gifts and abilities. Not everyone is called to sell everything and travel to the other side of the world to spread the gospel to unreached people groups.

A book like this is helpful to bring balance and perspective. In our eagerness to promote discipleship, we must be careful to not start a new type of legalism, emphasizing works and efforts over grace. I enjoy reading books by Osborne, because they are practical and based on his pastoral experience as Pastor of North Coast Church in California. This is an interesting book because it counters some of my recent favorite reads. I do feel that at times, Osborne fails to obey some of his own cautionary advice as he critiques other movements and terminology within the church. Overall, this was a helpful book, but please don’t use it as an excuse for a failure to obey and follow Christ. It is far too easy to rationalize our faith and make excuses, so being radical is not always a bad thing.

Quotes from the Book

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When-Helping-HurtsAt church, we have been struggling with how to best help those in crisis in our own community. Since we are a downtown church in an area with a high level of poverty, we receive many requests for assistance from individuals and families. So many people are struggling to pay their bills. High electric rates coupled with high unemployment levels lead to despair and hopelessness. The requests have been increasing, so we are slowing down to see if we are truly helping those in need or hurting them by how we handle benevolence and assistance.

One of my missionary friends suggested this book to me last year, and this seemed like the perfect time to read it. We ordered several copies of When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself for those on our benevolence team, and we plan on discussing this over the next few weeks. This is a great book on how we do local relief and international missions. It highlighted many of the things we are doing right, and it definitely shows areas where we need improvement.

The basis of the book is determining the appropriate response for those in crisis. The author shares “A helpful first step in thinking about working with the poor in any context is to discern whether the situation calls for relief, rehabilitation, or development.” The book then works through the Biblical basis for each, and gives practical advice and training on how to do each effectively. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to make a difference with people in need. It is not a call to do less or spend less, but the book challenges us to do the hard work of rehabilitation and development. Honestly, this is not easy. It is messy, and it is hard work. But if we truly want to help people who are in need, we cannot hurt them by helping them.

This book also spends a considerable amount of time talking about short-term mission trips. It encouraged me to see that much of the work we are doing oversees is truly helping. In Nicaragua, we are working on training pastors who minister to their own communities, and we have helped with a model farm that trains people in how they can provide for their families. This type of development is needed, and my hope is that this book will encourage people to do more for missions, not less.

Have you ever done anything to hurt poor people? Most of you would probably answer no to this question, but the reality is that you may have done considerable harm to poor people in the very process of trying to help them. The federal government made this mistake for decades. Well-intentioned welfare programs penalized work, undermined families, and created dependence. The government hurt the very people it was trying to help. Unfortunately, the same is true for many Christian ministries today. By focusing on symptoms rather than on the underlying disease, we are often hurting the very people we are trying to help. Surprisingly, we are also hurting ourselves in the process. As followers of Jesus Christ, we simply must do better. (from the foreword by Dr. John Perkins)
But this book does not stall in the sphere of the theological and theoretical. It moves wonderfully from timeless truth to contemporary application. As you read, you won’t just learn about problems in the world; you will discover how poverty in the world can actually be addressed. … For all of these reasons (and more), this book is virtually required reading for everyone in our church who is intentionally engaging the poor here and around the world. I cannot recommend it highly enough for anyone who is passionate about spreading and showing the love of Christ to the “least of these.” (from the foreword by David Platt)

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We are currently in the middle of a five week series on marriage at Cornerstone. Over the 17+ years that Jennifer and I have been married, we have found that reading books together has really strengthened and helped our marriage. We’ve read quite a few and I wanted to share the ones that stand out in my memory. There are several newer books on marriage that I want to read, so hopefully we will continue to grow and learn as read together.

What books have made a difference in your marriage? Leave a comment and give me suggestions on what to read next!

Deep-and-WideLast week, I was able to finish reading Andy Stanley’s new book Deep & Wide. This is a book about Northpoint’s philosophy on creating a church that unchurched people would love to attend. Andy Stanley has proven to be a leading voice in the area of church leadership. While I may not agree with all his terminology, I found myself highlighting passage after passage in the book that I strongly agree with. I simply love his focus on reaching people for Christ.

The first part of the book reveals a very personal and insightful look at Andy’s relationship with his father, Pastor Charles Stanley of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church. The book reveals the reasons behind Andy’s departure from his father’s church and the start of Northpoint. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book as he shared a very personal glimpse into his own relational struggles. The book then transitions into presenting a case for Northpoint’s mission, vision, and strategy which Andy shares as the following:

OUR MISSION … to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. OUR STRATEGY … to create churches where people are encouraged and equipped to pursue intimacy with God, community with insiders, and influence with outsiders.

The book concludes with a section on Spiritual formation and their strategy that centers around five faith catalysts: Practical Teaching, Private Disciplines, Personal Ministry, Providential Relationships, and Pivotal Circumstances. I found this to be both a simple and profound section that really provided a good understanding of how people grow in their faith.

This is a book I would recommend to any church planter or pastor. I feel that it doesn’t glamorize church planting or Northpoint, but it gives a true glimpse into the hardship of starting a church and keeping a church focused on the vision and mission.

Great Quotes From the Book

  • I think every church should be a church irreligious people love to attend. Why? Because the church is the local expression of the presence of Jesus. We are his body. And since people who were nothing like Jesus liked Jesus, people who are nothing like Jesus should like us as well.
  • All my critics are religious people. (It may be the only thing I have in common with Jesus.)
  • …healthy local churches can be, and should be, both deep and wide. It’s not either/ or. It’s both/ and. Local churches should be characterized by deep roots and wide reaches. Churches should be theologically sound and culturally relevant. We should be bold in our proclamation and winsome in our approach. In the Gospels we find in Jesus the embodiment of both. As his body, we should be as well.
  • In the beginning, the church was a gloriously messy movement with a laser-focused message and a global mission.
  • One of the fundamental realities of organizational life is that systems fossilize with time. The church is no exception.
  • An ekklesia was simply a gathering or an assembly of people called out for a specific purpose. Ekklesia never referred to a specific place, only a specific gathering.
  • Are we moving or simply meeting? Are we making a measurable difference in our local communities or simply conducting services? Are we organized around a mission or are we organized around an antiquated ministry model inherited from a previous generation? Are we allocating resources as if Jesus is the hope of the world or are the squeaky wheels of church culture driving our budgeting decisions? Are we ekklesia or have we settled for kirche.
  • We are not mistakers in need of correction. We are sinners in need of a Savior. We need more than a second chance. We need a second birth.
  • Policies and white papers don’t work well in a church that commits to embrace the mess created by grace and truth. It’s virtually impossible to be consistent or fair when grace and truth become driving forces in a local congregation.
  • We walk toward the messes.
  • our messages and lesson preparations are not complete until we know what we want our audiences to do with what they are about to hear. To grow our congregants’ faith, we must preach and teach for life change.
  • Pastors, preachers, and teachers who are not gifted in the area of leadership default to management. Best-case scenario, they take what’s handed to them and nurture it, protect it, defend it, and in some cases, improve it. Worst-case scenario, they focus on pastoring, preaching, and teaching, and delegate key leadership decisions to committees.
  • If our church suddenly ceased to exist, would our community miss us? If so, why? What value do we bring to our community? How do people outside our church view our church?

This is a video of a Christmas poem written by John Piper. It is a story of what could have happened with the Innkeeper and his family. It is a powerful story of hope in the midst of sorrow and pain. The book is available from Amazon, or a free PDF file can be downloaded from the Desiring God website. My prayer is that you have a blessed Christmas. Remember that in Christ, you will reign forevermore.

Only two weeks from his crucifixion, Jesus has stopped in Bethlehem. He has returned to visit someone important—the innkeeper who made a place for Mary and Joseph the night he was born. But His greater purpose in coming is to pay a debt. What did it cost to house the Son of God?

Book Review: Gospel

November 6, 2012 — Leave a comment

gospel At Cornerstone, we have just finished a five-week series on the Gospel. One of the books that helped me and encouraged me was Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary by J.D. Greear, pastor of Summit Church in the Raleigh-Durham area. This book is a powerful book that I highly recommend.

Unfortunately, many people think the gospel message is based on our performance and action. Even if they don’t verbalize it, many people believe that their acceptance before God is based on how well they obey God’s commands. We need to return to the beauty and power of the Gospel, and remember that we can have a relationship with God because Christ reached down to us. We don’t need more rules and more guilt, we need to understand why Christ died for us, and then our response will be from love and gratitude. This book does a great job of taking doctrine and theology and explaining it in simple terms that everyone can understand. The Gospel is the one thing that we simply can’t mess up.

Here are some of the quotes that I highlighted:

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dogwoodandholly

I’ve been listening all morning to the new album by the band Dogwood & Holly. If you like Mumford & Sons, The Avett Brothers, Fleet Foxes, or The Civil Wars, then you’ll want to check this out. Richie Worrell and Luke Sawyer have been part of Cornerstone since the beginning of our church and they are both incredible musicians. They have joined up with Audrey Moore and Luke Owen at Liberty University to form this new band, and I think you’ll be impressed.

bonaparteThey have led worship for us at Cornerstone, and they are great songwriters as well. Their new album is titled Bonaparte as a tribute to Galax (Bonaparte was the original name of our city prior to 1904) and it contains a mix of traditional and original folk music. I love the album cover because it is looking down Main Street of Galax directly toward our church. You can pick up the album at iTunes or Amazon MP3. Also check out their Facebook page where you can preview several of the songs.

 

Richie, Luke, Owen, and Audrey like to play funk, soul, metal, blues, jazz, and worship music… but you can most often find them playing folk. They feature traditional bluegrass instrumentation (Guitar, Banjo, Mandolin, and Bass Fiddle), and enjoy incorporating elements of all the traditional American folk sub-genres into their original music. So whether you’re a mountain man, a country boy, a redneck, a cowboy, a traveler, a homebody, or a hipster, you’re likely to hear something you enjoy in their repertoire. Their lyrics deal with intellectual, spiritual, political, and philosophical matters of importance in a harmonic sort of way, because for them, the message is as important as the music.

We Need Margin

August 25, 2012 — 2 Comments

marginI’ve been preparing for a new sermon series we are starting at Cornerstone this week. It seems that our society values people who live crazy, chaotic, overloaded lives. We simply don’t have margin in our life. Margin is the difference between our current load and our limits. It’s the extra space in life that we desire and need. When we don’t have margin, we become stressed and self-absorbed. Our focus turns inward and our relationships suffer. We are going to be spending the next five weeks at Cornerstone talking about the importance of building margin into our lives. For me, this is going to be an extremely tough series because this is an area of my life that is a huge struggle.

I am always rushing from one meeting to the next, and it seems that I always have too much to get done. I know pastors only work one day a week :-), but I am more busy now that I ever was working 50 hours a week as an engineer. So I’ll be learning with the church as we go through this series.

One of the books I have read is a book simply called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Dr. Richard Swenson. It is an incredible book that I highly recommend. Here are just a few quotes that I have highlighted so far.

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