Monthly Archives: December 2010

My 15 Most Influential Authors

I love reading.  I’m a book fan.  For some reason God has wired me to thoroughly enjoy lots of different kinds of writing, and though I don’t get the time to read nearly as much as I’d like, it is one of my favorite things to do.  Therefore, as a tribute to my favorite authors, here is my list of my 15 most influential authors in the way I think, express myself, write, and shape my understanding of the writing craft.  The first six are secular, the last nine are Christian.  I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, and I would definitely encourage you to take a look at what they’ve written if you are unfamiliar with their work.

Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorn Clemens)

I adore Mark Twain’s quick wit, incisive satire, immensely dry humor, vivid descriptions, and down-to-earth view of the world.  He has written much, but his short stories are top-notch in my opinion.  My favorites of his are: “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” “The Frog Jumping Contest of Calaveras County,” and the classics “Tom Sawyer,” and “Huckleberry Finn.”

Bill Peet

Without question, my favorite children’s book writer was Bill Peet.  His imagination, creativity, illustrations, and uncanny ability to bring fiction to life before his readers’ eyes make him an absolute joy to read.  A great overview of his material can be found in his “Autobiography,” but I would also commend to you “Cappyboppy,” (about a pet capybara) “The Wingdingdilly,” (about fantastic multi-animal wild creature) “Big Bad Bruce,” (about a bully bear who is shrunk to the size of a pebble) and just about anything else that you can find.  They are great reads, and thoroughly entertaining.

Louis L’Amour

Another author I’ve recently re-delved into is Louis L’Amour.  He wrote mostly western short stories and radio dramas.  L’Amour’s skill with plot development, his economic use of adjectives to provide full but descriptions in just a few words, and his ability to lead the reader to anticipate the plot are excellent, in my opinion.  His plot turns are interesting and leave the reader wanting to turn the page, but follow a set course that is sensible and grounded in historical fact.  He is an historian-turned-author, and he is truly excellent with the western genre of literature.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of any story that has Chick Bowdrie in it (his quintessential leading character – also a Texas Ranger), or pick up his dramatized audiobooks.  They got me through the vast majority of my childhood in the back of my family’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer.

Robert Frost

This great American poet is well-know by many, and well-loved by me.  Poetry is fairly difficult for me to analyze and dig into, but the exception to that rule is Robert Frost.  I love him for his poetry construction, creativity, imagery, and symbolism.  His melancholic but hopeful tone in much of his writing speaks deeply to me, and I am awestruck with his use of words and weaving of concepts.  He is an excellent poet, and I find myself thumbing through his collected works (which I received as a gift from a dear friend) from time to time.  I would commend to you “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” but there are many more that are well worth your time.

William Shakespeare

Shakespeare is, in my opinion, the master of puns and a genius in humor, poetry, rhetoric, plot construction, and almost every other literary category that one could be awesome in.  Though I didn’t like the way I had to dissect his art into meaningless pieces when I was in school, I dearly love and am very much entertained by his work.  My favorites of his are: “Macbeth,” “Hamlet,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “The Merchant of Venice,” (probably my favorite) and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”  I plan on reading “Twelfth Night,” and “As You Like It” sometime soon.

Charles Dickens

If Shakespeare is the master of puns, in my opinion Charles Dickens is a master of all the literary devices (foreshadowing, foils, etc.).  His descriptions are vivid, and his plot construction – though complex – is excellent.  Without question my favorite book of his is “A Tale of Two Cities.”  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.  You might want some coffee, though… he can be a bit dry and wordy.  But I like him.

The Apostle Paul

I don’t believe any other human has influenced me as much as Paul.  God used him to write the majority of the New Testament, and his writings are among the richest and most influential in the entire Bible.  I love the way Paul writes – he typically sets up a line of theological reasoning and then moves to application after setting the stage.  He has also informed my own personal letter writing, and brought much clarity to the gospel in a myriad of contexts.  My favorites in Paul’s corpus are Romans and Philippians – both for their theology, their honesty, their accessibility, and their clarity.  I dearly love Paul and look forward to meeting him someday.  If you haven’t read much Paul, you should read your Bible.  It’s pretty good.

C.S. Lewis

One man that I deeply respect, resonate with, and cherish is C.S. Lewis.  He is immensely creative and practical in his approach to theology, and even dabbles in apologetics.  His letters to friends and acquaintances are exemplary, and I hope to someday have a body of letters that rivals his for their application of the gospel, their accessibility, and their respectful honesty.  For my money, I suggest “Mere Christianity,” “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Efficacy of Prayer,” (from ‘The World’s Last Night and other essays’) and “The Weight of glory.”  The Chronicles of Narnia is excellent as well – I loved those books when I was much younger and plan on reading them to my children someday, Lord willing.  As a side note, I got to visit his favorite pub called ‘The Eagle and Child’ when I was studying abroad in Oxford one summer.  I sat in the very booth that he and the other ‘inklings’ occupied when they stopped in for a brew and conversation.

John Piper

I am deeply indebted to Dr John Piper for drawing a very crucial conclusion for me: that is, that God’s glory and my joy need not be divested from each other – in fact, they are one in the same!  Piper brings to the table a great deal of gospel clarity, and more than any other author I know shows his delight in living with joy in Christ.  He is also one of the more thorough writers I’ve come across.  He will usually examine and exhaust a topic before moving on – which can be both a blessing and a headache.  I have read much of Dr. Piper’s work, but I would definitely commend to you his most widely known contribution “Desiring God.”  It is his thesis and serves a foundation for the vast majority of his other writings.  God has used Dr. Piper in my life in many ways, and for him I am immensely grateful.

Mark Driscoll

If John Piper is bold and Charles Dickens is wordy, Mark Driscoll is bold and abrupt.  He is an astoundingly intense man, and his Christ-driven boldness and missional thinking for the sake of the Kingdom of God is a huge blessing.  In his boldness and passion for Christ, I have been able to see in his letter writing a beautiful contextualized gospel clarity and pastoral tone.  Though all his books and sermons have been very formative for my life and walk with Christ, I must say that my favorite is his collection of letters called “Death by Love.”  It is heart-wrenching, honest, gritty, and beautiful.  Though we live in very different places and have very different backgrounds, I’ve found that God has used Driscoll in many ways to shape my thinking, leadership, and writing.

D.A Carson

I must say that my current favorite author overall is Dr. Don Carson.  He is arguably one of the smartest men I’ve ever gotten to read, and his understanding of the Scriptures are come of the most clearly articulated applied wisdom I’ve ever seen.  He is an academic man, but his writing carries a tone of accessibility as well – incredible depth paired with personal insight.  He is becoming more of a household name, but as of right now is fairly unknown in the broader spectrum of Christian writing.  Rest assured, he is one of the best writers I’ve come across.  I commend to you just about anything he has written, including his commentaries, and especially what is currently on my bedside table: “A Call to Spiritual Reformation” (a discussion of prayer that stems from Paul’s prayers in Scripture).  My seminary Greek and New Testament professor, Dr. Paul Hoskins, also studied under Dr. Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago for quite some time.  He’s smart too.

R.C. Sproul

A great example of an old-school pastor who has spent many years in ministry, but who has decided to become conversant with the recent generations so that he can share the wisdom God has given him is R.C. Sproul.  He possesses great pastoral wisdom and theological depth, and carries the tone of a very highly educated and very friendly grandpa.  Though there are a couple of places that I differ with him theologically, I love his writing and would commend to you “The Soul’s Quest for God.”  It is excellent, and it will be a catalyst in your walk with Christ, I assure you.

Jonathan Edwards

The Puritans were an interesting sect of Christianity back in the day, and the Puritan of Puritans was Jonathan Edwards.  I love his writing because it depicts a depth and emotion in writing that is rarely duplicated – especially this day in age.  John Piper is basically a reincarnated Jonathan Edwards in his theology, but Edwards stands alone in his writing and preaching.  As the most influential American theologian (in my opinion), he is brilliant, insightful, and preaches the glories of Christ in ways that I aspire to someday.  I would encourage you to read “Religious Affections,” or any of his sermons – I’ve not read a bad one yet.

Charles Spurgeon

If there is one man in history that I feel I identify with more than others, it is likely Charles Spurgeon.  I love his writing because of his pastoral wisdom, the beautiful vivid imagery that he brings to life in his sermons, and his sheer rhetorical ability.  I have read a fair amount of Spurgeon, but I would say that any of his sermons are worth a read (I have read some of his early stuff that isn’t very good), and definitely pick up “Lectures to my Students” if you’re involved in ministry at all, or thinking about doing so.

John Owen

Finally, the most heart-wrenching author I’ve ever read in terms of his depth, blunt force, and articulation of sin and battling it is John Owen.  He says in just a few pages what many men take volumes to convey.  I’ve never come across anything of his that didn’t make me weep for my offense to God, and I am grateful to God for this man’s writings.  In my opinion, God has given the modern church an immense gift in the writings of John Owen, and I would recommend anything he has written. Some of his writing is very thick and hard to understand, but it should be no problem if you get an updated version of his works.  If you’re a Christian and you sin at all, you need to read “The Mortification of Sin” and make sure you have some serious time set aside to do so.  It is not long, but it will rip your soul and speak hard gospel-centered truths to you about how to lay your sin in its grave.

Well, that’s about all I’ve got – you now have my most influential authors… do with them what you will.  If you have any suggestions, I’d be more than happy to entertain them.  Otherwise, enjoy, read, and thank God for the men and women he’s allowed to speak the gospel into our lives.

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Luke’s Gospel: An Orderly Account (Advent 4)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:

Read Luke 1-2 (specifically Luke 1:1-4)

This third week of Advent we’ll be taking a close look at Luke’s account of the birth narrative.  From what we know, Luke was a physician, an amateur historian, and a close friend of the Apostle Paul (see Colossians 4:14, 2 Timothy 4:11, Philemon 24; also, the ‘we’ in the latter part of Acts is Luke and Paul – see chapters 16, 20, 21 especially).  He wrote the New Testament books of Luke and Acts originally as a two-part account of the life of Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity.  As such, there are several themes that are woven throughout both books and tell us a lot about the purpose that God accomplishes through Luke and his writings.  While you’re reading, pay attention to the details that Luke highlights:  historical information (people, places, dates, etc.), the role of the Holy Spirit and angels, the major theme of prayer, and the themes of joy and blessing.

That having been said, the first four verses are a very important introduction for how Luke is going to shape his account of the gospel of Jesus.  First we see in verse one that some things have been accomplished among us.  The rest of Luke’s account gives us the details of what exactly he is talking about, but the short version of the incredible heart of the gospel is that Jesus has done it all.  He is the one who was sent by God into the world to be born, live a perfect life, die a horrendous death, and be resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father.  And the amazing thing is that he did it all for those whom God would call to be followers of Jesus – and we didn’t do one thing to help him!  Salvation was accomplished before you and I were born.  Every sin that you and I have committed was paid for before we ever took a breath.  Just like Jim wrote last week, we are powerless to try and accomplish anything on our own and it’s offensive to God when we do.  So let’s rest in the fact that God has accomplished it all and given us freedom as a free gift because of his grace.

But the story doesn’t stop there – in verse two we see that the things that were accomplished spurred those who saw them to tell others about what happened, and one of those people was Luke.  What Jesus accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection moved people to action, and it resulted in the gospel spreading all over the world.  Think about it – if you’re a Christian, you probably heard about Jesus from someone, and that person heard about Jesus from someone else.  Trace that line of thought all the way back to Jesus’ original disciples and the authors of the books of the Bible.  Now, will that line end with you?  God has moved in history in such a way as to spur dozens of generations of people to tell others about him… who will you tell?  And more importantly, when will you tell them?

After being told about Jesus and becoming a Christian, Luke was led by the Holy Spirit to compile ‘an orderly account’ after ‘having followed all things closely for some time past’ (v.3).  It must’ve taken a lot of work to gather the information, ask the questions, and do the interviews in order to get an accurate record of Jesus’ life (many scholars believe that Luke’s account is based on information contributed by Mary and many other eyewitnesses).  And Luke didn’t just do this because he was bored and didn’t have an X-Box – he did it so that we would have a faith based on good reason and solid evidence (v.4).  This is now the third biblical account of Jesus’ life that we’ve dug into, and there’s one more to go after this week.  God has given us these different writers so that we may have faith when our world turns upside down or someone says the Bible is a work of pure fiction.  We don’t just have a faith that is built on speculation and rumors – rather it’s built on eyewitness testimonies from historically reliable sources and real events.  The gospel is pure Truth delivered to us by a God who loves us dearly and wants us to be encouraged to live in light of that Truth.  Consider that, and be encouraged and strengthened in your faith as you read through this week’s devotionals and the rest of Luke’s gospel account.

Questions:
–    What do your actions and motives say about your relationship with God?  To ask this question another way, are you going to church, reading your Bible, and praying out of an overflow of your heart or out of a sense of obligation to try and earn God’s favor?
–    What does Jesus’ finished work (both the cross and resurrection) mean for your whole life?  How does an already-accomplished peace with God change how you see the world?
–    When was the last time you told someone else about your faith in Jesus?  Has the Lord put someone on your heart to be praying for and share the gospel with?
–    One of the main reasons that Luke includes historical details is so that we would know that God came into history to interact with us.   How is God working in your life right now?

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Jesus: the Redeemer (Advent 3)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:

John 1:9-13; Isaiah 53 – specifically vv.3-4, 11-12

God tells us through John that Jesus is the light enlightens everyone.  This happened through his being incarnated into the world that he himself created.  God came into his creation in the form of our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.  Yet because of the sin of humanity, the world as a whole did not recognize him as the Messiah, and the very people he came to save (Jews) did not understand who he truly is.

The One who was prophesied from Genesis 3:15 who would save the world from itself and make reconciliation with God a reality was, as Isaiah tells us, ‘despised and rejected’ and ‘a man of sorrows.’  The world he came to save thought that it could do better on its own and decided to not know him or worship him.  Isaiah 53 is my favorite description of Jesus because it shows that God endured a sinful, broken people’s rejection and sacrificed himself for them anyway.  He loved the unlovable.  He redeemed the unredeemable.

Because of God’s desire to reconcile the irreconcilable and give peace to his enemies, he willed that some would believe in him and become his children.  It wasn’t by our own efforts or because we had any inherent worth, but rather it was because God was rich in mercy and abounding in grace that he laid our chastisement on Jesus, bringing us peace.  The light of the world bore our sin on the cross in order that we would come to repent of our sin, trust him as our Savior, and be redeemed from our sinful nature to glorify God out of love and obedience.

So God has given us an immense treasure in providing Christ as our redemption.  He has dealt with our sin.  He has shown his justice and grace.  He has made us righteous for his own sake.  And for this we worship him during this precious season of remembrance.  Despite how we treated his Son, he has provided reconciliation, he has accomplished it, and we are the beneficiaries as his children.

Questions:
1.    Where do you see our culture and the world rejecting Jesus today?
2.    In what ways has Jesus enlightened your life?  How about the world?
3.    How does seeing Jesus as a ‘suffering servant’ (from Isaiah) change your perception of God’s grace?

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Twenty-Seven


Another year is behind me and behold, I am twenty-seven as of today.  Life as of late has been quite the interesting experience, and I figured I’d catch up on what I’ve been doing and where God has been leading me these past few months.

While I was 26 I had a good time – In the last year I graduated from seminary, moved to my new home – Springfield, Missouri, and I’ve joined a sweet covenant community of believers at LifePoint Church.  Also, for the first time since I had first moved to Fort Worth, I have my dog Jack with me, and it’s good to have him around.  I’ve lived in Rogersville for the past six months, and the country living has been good.  I experienced fireflies for the first time, and enjoyed a real fall – the trees changing colors are gorgeous here in southern Missouri.

As far as employment goes, I went from being a glorified telemarketer to doing customer service with Wyndham, and it has been nothing short of a huge blessing.  I’ve enjoyed consistent paychecks, excellent benefits, great opportunities for advancement, and gracious management that have all allowed me the peace that a good job affords.  God has also seen fit to bring many good and godly friends into my same workplace, and in so doing has built an atmosphere of missional engagement, encouragement, and deep camaraderie.  I am thankful to not be depressed at work everyday, thankful for not having to drive to Branson, and thankful that I am both encouraged and challenged to do my best for the company that I work for.  Though my first few months in Springfield were rough to say the least, God has now seen fit to bless me with a solid, steady job for this season.

My new home church (LifePoint Church in Ozark, MO) has also been a huge blessing.  The elders there are both wise and godly men who lead their families well.  I have had the joy of learning from them as an elder-in-training for the past several months, and God has also given me an opportunity to use my gifts to encourage and sharpen the congregation.  I have spoken to Apex, the high school student ministry on two occasions, and along with writing several other documents for and with the elders, I will also teach/lead a session at our upcoming Community Group Leaders’ retreat in January.  So God has also seen fit to use me for public ministry in several ways, and I’m very excited for this next year to see how we grow together, and how I can be used of God for the betterment of his Bride.

My personal ministry has also been going well – I’ve been leading a dear younger friend (Logan) through the process of preparing for marriage, growing in the knowledge and application of the Scriptures, and in spiritual leadership.  We’ve had a great time thus far, and I’m both honored to be his mentor, and excited to see him grow and make more disciples himself.  I am further honored to stand at his side during his wedding in April, which will be a great joy.  I’ve known quite a few solid guys in my day, but there are very few that I have more respect for than my dear friend Logan.  He has shown me much about my own sin and walked through it with me, and he has been a gracious disciple as we’ve met and sharpened each other.

Along those same lines, I have been asked to officiate the wedding ceremony of another set of dear friends, Corey and his beautiful fiancée Alli.  I was overjoyed to accept, and am looking forward to seeing what happens in the next few months leading up to their wedding day.  Corey is a dear brother, and when I think back over the long hours of conversation we’ve had about marriage, I believe he will be nothing less than a godly, Christ-emulating, God-glorifying husband for his bride-to-be.

Though things as of late have been going quite well and a calm and comfort has found its way into my life for now, I have noticed a somewhat unsettling trend in the “things I never thought I’d do” category of my life.  For example, I never thought I’d have a job with a cubicle – I have now had two in a row.  I never thought I could have a job where I would be on the phone everyday all day, much less one in telemarketing – but I did serve my time there as well.  I had hoped to never turn in my Texas driver’s license – I have done that (with a bit of reservation).  At one time in my life I never thought I’d move out of Texas, much less enjoy life in another state – I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Missouri, and look forward to the next few years with these dear and precious people.  I also (and feel free to verify this with our lead planter Greg Gaumer) never thought I would plant a church.  I entertained thoughts of re-planting or revitalizing a church, but never planting and starting from the ground up.  I am now a joyful church planter and am passionate about men who feel called to plant churches.  It has been a longer process of thinking church planting appropriate for someone with my gifts, but I feel that God has indeed called me to be a part of a church planting team, and I’m excited to serve him in this way.  It is not an easy calling, but it is a precious one.  It requires of me much endurance, patience, and faith in God’s sovereign plan rather than my own selfish wants and preferences.

The past five years have been fairly challenging and have seen many trials come and go.  Fear, uncertainty, and doubt have plagued me and I have seen my fair share of sorrow.  I don’t know exactly what God has in store for me in the coming months, but I must say that he has chosen to bless me and bring me a certain kind of peace and security as I begin my 27th year under the sun.

I do praise God for this respite, knowing that my journey is far from complete.  I pray that I remember this season of blessing when joy is not as readily accessible and his praises are more seldom found on my lips.


I share a birthday with:
Franz Ferdinand (1863 – whose assassination began World War I),
Charles Wesley (1707 – hymn writer and brother of John Wesley),
Ty Cobb
(1886 – baseball player),
Keith Richards (1943 – of the Rolling Stones),
Steven Spielberg (1947 – amazing director),
Ray Liotta
(1954 – actor),
Brad Pitt
(1965 – actor),
Katie Holmes (1978 – actress),
Christina Aguilera
(1980 – singer).

A bit of trivia for December 18th:
In 1918 the House of Representatives approved the 18th Amendment, enacting Prohibition; in 1865 the 13th Amendment was ratified, abolishing slavery in the United States.

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Jesus: the Light (Advent 2)

The following was written for a devotional guide for CityView Church for Advent 2009…

Reading:
John 1:4-9; see also 1 John 1:5-10, 2 Corinthians 4:6

One of the most significant titles that John uses for Jesus is ‘Light’ (see John 1:4, 9; 8:12; 9:5), which carries an immense amount of meaning, both in a biblical context and for us today.  In these few verses, Jesus is shown to be the ‘light of men’ (v.4), meaning that he is the true representation of life – a shining example of perfection in a world full of disobedient sinners.  Not only does he serve as an example, but he also teaches and gives insight into (‘enlightens,’ v.9) how to live life on earth.  In other words, John is telling us that the key to life is both to follow and to learn from Jesus.  Not only that, but in 2 Corinthians 4 (specifically v.6), God tells us through Paul that he has given Christians this ability to have faith by shining the light of Christ into our hearts and letting us know the grace that we’ve been given through Jesus.

Because God has given us this shining light in Christ who brings insight, makes all things known, and reveals Truth, we know that God is light, and as Christians we should walk in the light, not in darkness (1 John 1:5-10).  This means that we should confess sin, repent (turn away from sinful pursuits and turn toward God), and trust that God’s grace is fully realized in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  This also means that we shouldn’t be walking in consistent sin, enslaved to wickedness and shameful pursuits that both dishonor our God and warp our minds to the point that we think sin is awesome and God is some divine buzzkill.  Jesus came to bring us an abundant life, not a repressed, bitter existence that’s merely endured.

God is the Creator of the universe, and the Bible tells us that he knows us more intimately than we know ourselves (Psalm 139).  Therefore, since he is both sovereign and good, we can and should trust the way he wired the world to work and live accordingly.  You see, God’s glory and our joy are not mutually exclusive.  When we live in harmony with God’s design, we experience peace, true joy, God’s glory, and our greater good.  God gives life; sin destroys it.  God gives joy and peace; sin breeds bitterness and discord.

This joy and peace doesn’t just end with us, though.  We Christians must pour our lives out in worship to God by following him faithfully and by sharing that faith with others.  Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).  That means that we should reflect God’s glory to a dark world and do our best to push back the darkness of sin wherever we find it.  We engage sin and darkness by sharing the gospel, by serving our community in beneficial ways, and by actively praying for our leaders and non-Christians in our spheres of influence.

Questions:
1.    Are you walking in darkness (sin/disobedience) in any part of your life?  How will you go about confessing, repenting, and walking in the light?
2.    What are areas of darkness that you can begin pushing back in your own life (at work, with your wife, etc.), in your family (generational sins, etc.), and with your home group (community service opportunities, etc.).
3.    What has God shown you about himself and his character in the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ?
4.    Do you see God’s commands as life-giving or life-draining?  How do your thoughts line up with what the Bible says?

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