Apr 25, 2011

Book Review - Max on Life

Max On Life: Answers and Insights to Your Most Important QuestionsOne of my favorite Christian writers is Max Lucado.  As a new Christian, my life and walk with Jesus was significantly impacted by the book Six Hours, One Friday.  For many years I have gobbled up Max's new books and read through them.  Max's writing is devotional in nature.  He has taught me how to see and appreciate the grace and love of God on a much deeper level.  Max is a pastor and writes profound truths in a simple, poetic style.

His new book, Max on Life, is a much different read from his previous ones.  In this book, Max answers 172 questions from the thousands that have been posed to him by readers and church members in the last 25+ years.  These are real questions from real people who have real struggles with life and faith.  Max opens the book by helping the reader to understand that life is full of questions - real, important, and challenging questions.  These questions radically impact our theology of God and our pursuit of Him.  This may Max's most pastoral book so far.  He shows the tenderness of a pastor and the craft of a theologian to provide honest, readable answers to real struggles.  As you read this book, you are hit with the subject of the depth of God's forgiveness, the reality of pain and God's purpose in it, the reliability of Scripture, the personal struggle of prayer, reconciling the pain of broken relationships, balancing work, money, and the church, assurance of life after death, and how to grieve lost loved ones. 

Overall, Max on Life is a very good book.  It's written in such a way that someone can search through the questions to find one that they have been dealing with very easily.  In most situations, Max provides very biblical and helpful advice.  One of the strengths of the book is that it is extremely practical and deals with many of the questions that people are asking.  The book's weakness is that it doesn't go into detail to really deal with some of the theological issues regarding sin, salvation, evil, suffering, etc.  In an attempt to deal with questions in a timely way and within the space of one page Lucado skims the surface without providing a theological bedrock from which to make sense of these real-life issues.  It may have been helpful if he would have offered some "For Extra Reading" recommendations for people interested in studying deeper.  However, anyone familiar with Max's books will know that he writes from a devotional, pastoral style.  He stays true to form in this book.  That is what makes his books so endearing and helpful to so many people.  I think Max on Life is a welcomed addition to most any layperson's library.  Almost anyone would resonate with several questions and find themselves saying "That's a question I have had."  It reads like having a cup of coffee at the local coffee shop and asking one of the most influential pastors some of life's most pressing questions.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Apr 13, 2011

What Front Porches Are For

Right now I am hanging out at my mom's house on her front porch.  We've been here in Mississippi for about 4 days visiting family while my kids are on Spring Break.  Whenever we are here, the central meeting point is the front porch.  It's been that way for years.  My mom's house is almost 40 years old.  It's what I called "home" from 4th grade until I married and established my own home at age 28.  It's a unique house in that there is a long front porch that runs most of the length of the front of the house with five columns that support it. For dozens of years it has been the central meeting point for the family.  It's adorned with all kinds of plants in front, planter boxes, wind chimes, hummingbird feeders, two porch swings and three rockers.  They don't make houses with porches like this anymore.  Now, houses are made with large "great rooms" where the television set is the central point for the family.

The porch and front yard are one of the things that make visits home so special.  This front yard has witnessed dozens of football games, times playing catch, and wrestling matches.  From this porch my stepdad and my sons look for planes that we hear flying overhead.  My mom and I had dozens of conversations about life, faith, and the future in these rockers.  It's a place that makes you face your neighbors when they drive up and down the road.  Now, we don't even know what our neighbors look like, much less their names.

Perhaps one of the reasons we have so many problems in families today can be traced to a lack of front porches.  Perhaps one of the reasons why teens struggle so much with the issues they face can be the fact that their parents were more concerned with the "man-cave" than the front porch.  I have read dozens of studies about the fact that children and teens who engage in weekly conversations about life are much less likely to engage in destructive behaviors.  Maybe they should do a survey about the lifestyle choices of teens who grew up in a home with a front porch and how much time they spent on it with their parents.

I know my theory isn't full-proof.  I know that a front porch doesn't insure good choices.  I am fully aware that my brother and I made plenty of bad decisions and suffered the consequences for it.  I just wonder how many more we would have made if we'd have spent more time in the den and not on the porch.  Just a thought.

Apr 8, 2011

"Children Of God" by Third Day

I have always loved Third Day. It's probably the Southern boy in me that resonates with the music. Here is one of their new songs that I think is awesome and also promotes the cause of adoption.

Apr 7, 2011

"What Bible Should I Use?"

As a pastor, this is one of the questions I get asked a lot over the years.  It usually comes up when someone is looking to buy a Bible for someone in their family or when someone who's been using King James since childhood finally decides to try something else.  Honestly, it was not a question I gave a lot of thought to for the first 10+ years of my ministry.  I would usually answer with "New International Version" because it was the most popular and every preacher I knew used it.  However, sometime around 2004 I picked up a copy of Leland Ryken's The Word of God in English from a recommendation at John MacArthur's Shepherd's Conference.  It was the first time I began to seriously investigate the issue of Bible translation and why it's so important.

First, you need to know that the leading factor driving most of the Bible translation market is "what sells."  Most (not all) Bible publishers only want to produce what they can sell.  Marketing is the master.  This is why you see versions like the New International Version and the New Living Translation advertised so much.  It's not because they are better translations.  It's because they sell well, the publishers can put slick covers on them, and those names are familiar.  Most publishers are not primarily concerned with delivering a faithful and true text of Scripture.  What good does it do to have an accurate translation if you can't sell it?  This is why the New American Standard Bible (probably the most accurate) still only encompases about 2% of Bible sales every year.  John MacArthur tried to publish his first edition of the MacArthur Study Bible in NASB because that is what he preaches out of.  His publisher denied it because NASB doesn't sell.  It was only after he sold hundreds of thousands of NKJV editions that they agreed to release it in NASB.

The issue of Bible translation really comes down to understanding what drives translators.  Basically there are two historic schools of Bible translation.  One is the "formal equivalent" (FE) crowd which tries to be more "word-for-word" when translating.  The other is the "dynamic equivalent" (DE) crowd which tries to be more "thought-for-thought."  The FE crowd desires to get the most accurate translation to what the author says as possible.  The DE crowd desires to interpret what the author was saying and then put it in more modern, understandable terms.  Both of these ideas are difficult because of the syntax of the Greek language.  Greek sentence structure makes a "word-for-word" translation difficult to read.  However, trying to alter the text to fit a nice English structure can lose much of the author's meaning.  The basic historical formal equivalent translations are King James Version, New King James, Revised Standard Version, and New American Standard.  The basic dynamic equivalents are Good News Bible, Contemporary English Version, The Message, and the New Living Translation.  The New International Version claims to be an balance between the two, but leans heavily towards dynamic equivalence in my opinion. 

I have come to the conclusion that I want to have as accurate a translation as possible for both my personal study and for my preaching.  I do have several versions that would be dynamic equivalence that I look at sometimes to see an alternative way to say a text.  However, I think not having an accurate translation hinders people from being grounded in the sufficiency of God's word.  There are deep theological truths buried deep within the greek words and structure.  I don't think that a group of translators can accurately understand or convey what Paul or Peter were thinking enough to put it in modern terms.  I think that DE translations have helped foster the rampant biblical illiteracy we have in the American church.  We have more Bible translations than any culture at any time in history.  At the same time, we have more ignorance to what God's word says and alignment with it than at any time.

A few years ago a group of scholars released a new FE translation called the English Standard Version.  Crossway, a major publisher, has put a lot of money into marketing this very good text of Scripture.  Several well-known scholars were brought in to work on the project and many strong expositors and preachers have endorsed it.  Their website, esv.org, is an excellent one.  You can read the Bible on there.  You can work through a Bible reading plan.  This is the Bible I preach from every week and will continue to do so for a long time.  Here are some reasons why:
  1. It's extremely accurate to the Greek text.  I don't know Hebrew, so I can't comment on that.  However, when I have translated and compared to ESV, I find it to be strong.
  2. It's very readable.  Although it is a FE text, it is not as difficult to read as KJV or NASB.  It reads a lot like the more popular New International Version but stays much more true to the text.
  3. It's affordable.  Crossway has done a good job of keeping these translations where people can buy them.  The Bible I preach from each week is a thinline version that can be bought on Amazon for about $20.  The ESV Study Bible is one of the best I have ever seen and can be bought in hardback for about $30.  
  4. It's popular.  Most of the guys I like to listen to preach are now using ESV.  Men like Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Mark Driscoll, David Platt, John Piper, and James MacDonald use it.  These men are diligent, faithful theologians and scholars with a deep pastoral heart.  
Here is a great video to watch with some endorsements:

ESV Trusted By Leaders from Crossway on Vimeo.

I would recommend to every one of my church members to get a copy of the ESV and dive deep into it.  Memorize Scripture from it.  Rest in the fact that you can read it and know that you are reading a faithful text written much like the Apostles wrote.  The issue of Bible translation is not a matter of taste.  Not every version of the Bible says the same thing.  It does matter what you read and what version shapes your theology and ultimately your obedience.

Here is a vimeo website by Crossway with other important videos on the ESV and Bible translations.  There are some great interviews on there. 

Apr 6, 2011

Book Review - Radical Together by David Platt

Radical Together: Unleashing the People of God for the Purpose of GodI was extremely excited a few weeks ago to receive an invitation to review David Platt's new book Radical Together.  I was profoundly challenged by his first book Radical and the challenges it presented.  I recommended Radical to several people in my church who were deeply moved by it.  Four families were so moved by it that the men helped form our first mission team to an unreached people group in West Africa.

Platt's new book is taking the message of Radical to a new level.  He says that his purpose for writing this edition is "to consider what happens-or what can happen-when we apply the revolutionary claims and commands of Christ to our communities of faith."  This book may actually be more important than its predecessor.  One or two radical believers in a church are not much of a danger to the kingdom of darkness.  An entire church of believers that are centered around joining together to take the word of God and the glory of God to every person on the planet is a serious threat.  Platt's book inspires church leaders and radical Christians to do just that.

This book may be one of the most important books written and will hopefully shape the landscape of church culture.  In previous years, much of what was written on church leadership focused on how to develop and prepare your church for growth.  Success was measured by attendance figures and auditoriums.  It played right into the hands of a baby-boomer culture where "bigger is better" and marginal Christians wanted a church with all the bells and whistles.  Platt is tapping into the heart of the next generation.  No longer is the measure of success for a church going to be its seating capacity, but its sending capacity.  While Platt pastors a mega-church, he appears genuine that he is more concerned with his members being obedient to the Great Commission in his local context and globally to unreached people groups than he is that they enjoy the perks of a large auditorium and the latest high-tech audio/visual gadgetry.

Radical Together is deeply theological while at the same time very readable.  Platt is a master of biblical exposition and drawing its implications into understandable principles.  He also shows his mastery of language by creating dozens of memorable statements that sound much like what he shares in his sermons.  The reader is drawn into a biblical gospel that measured more by self-denial than self-fulfillment.  He is inspired to become a devoted student of God's word and a disciple-maker in his culture.  Platt also makes no bones that building a biblical church is hard work that requires us to be radically faithful to God's commands in Scripture.  This book will shape the ecclesiology of hundreds of thousands of average church members for the better in the months and years to come.  I hope and pray that every member of my church will pick up and read Radical Together this year and begin a dialogue of what we are going to do to make disciples wherever we are and wherever God calls us to go.

This book was provided for review free of charge by Waterbrook Multinomah Publishers.  

Apr 4, 2011

Must Hear Sermon - Voddie Baucham on "The Centrality of the Home"

I downloaded a copy of this message last year and was instantly pierced by it.  Dr. Voddie Baucham is a much needed voice in our time for the gospel and families.  I believe every parent and every pastor and minister of the gospel should hear this message and evaluate our ministry structures to make sure that we are working to enable and equip parents to be the spiritual force for the gospel in their children's lives.  Buckle up and make sure you are ready for this one.  The implications for church youth ministry and homes is tremendous.

Listen to the sermon here.