Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What happened after Acts? Some answers are out there...

Have you ever heard that the apostle Peter was crucified upside down? That Paul was beheaded? That Thomas was a missionary to India? Where did these stories come from, and, more importantly, are they true? Because the New Testament is so shy on details about the lives of these and other prominent figures, it wasn’t long before more and more stories appeared to fill in the gaps. Bryan Litfin, professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, shares these stories with us and tries to separate fact from fiction.

I’ve heard many people—pastors, Sunday school teachers, professors—talk about some of these stories, but I didn’t have any basis on which to accept them as true or deny them false. Litfin has done the homework for us, explaining where the stories came from, including when and where they appeared and how likely they are to be true. In fact, each chapter ends with a report card of sorts, grading the credibility of various claims. The evidence for some claims, like that Peter was buried in a grave now located beneath the alter of St. Peter’s Basilica, was surprising (it’s very likely where he was buried).

After Acts is written for everyone. It’s not overly complex or full of jargon and footnotes. Although he does use some endnotes, they’re relegated to the back of the book to avoid any distraction from the reading experience. I’d recommend it for adults and even high school students. I wouldn’t be surprised if some Christian schools have incorporated it into their curriculum. I’m hopeful that this book could serve as a gateway to further study into the history of the church after the time of the apostles.

I received this book from Moody Publishers in order to conduct this review.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Not all pastors like counseling. This book might help with that.

Anytime I see the IX Marks logo in the upper left-hand corner of a book cover I make some assumptions about the content of that book. I assume it will offer practical guidance on ministry from a solid theological base. I assume I'll know more and feel better equipped for service once I'm done reading it. I make these assumptions because my past experience with IX Marks titles has consistently delivered on these features, and The Pastor and Counseling is no different.

The book is coauthored by Jeremy Pierre and Deepak Reju, but I didn't notice any significant distinction between writing styles, and I wouldn't be able to guess which chapters were written by whom. Both voices have blended into one, which makes for a positive reading experience you expect from reading a book by a single author.

Counseling is scary. I should know. I'm a pastor, and I've had many opportunities to meet one-on-one or two-on-two with people facing various life situations. Not having had any formal training, it's easy to believe that I have nothing to offer. But God's Word is sufficient to guide our faith and practice, both when gathered as a Christian community and when out and about in the world around us. If you are already operating from a Christian worldview, you're well on your way to being able to counsel others. What this book offers is a framework for counseling.

My prior experience with counseling has been somewhat haphazard and disorganized. I've seen many people blessed in spite of that, but I want the counseling I provide to be more helpful and purposeful than it has been. Pierre and Reju have given me the tools to do that. They divide their book into three parts. The first part looks at the purpose of counseling and reminds you that we should have a goal and an ascertainable end to the counseling. The second outlines some useful advice on the process from start to end. The third piece talks about how the church body should be involved, and how a pastor should handle bringing outside parties (like medical professionals) into the process. They round out the book with appendices including checklists, background forms, and a method for note taking.

I'm glad this was my first primer on biblical counseling. Doubtless there's much more to be learned, but starting well is important for ending well, and I can't think of a better place to start than with The Pastor and Counseling.

I received this book from Crossway Books in order to provide this review.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

A book for seminarians who aspire to be pastors

I saw the title and I was intrigued. The Secret Life of a Pastor (and other intimate letters on ministry) sounded like something up my alley. I'm a bivocational pastor, and this book looked like an exposé, a confession of sorts, about the challenges and joys of being a pastor. As I opened the book, I was a little disappointed. Rather than finding pages of personal anecdotes, I found instead a series of letters from a pastor and seminary professor to his students. Perhaps they should have dropped the words "secret" and "intimate." Or maybe I should have just read the back cover ;-).

My disappointment was due to my misplaced expectations about the subject matter. After getting over that, I found the book full of practical guidance and reminders about what pastoral ministry is all about. It was very encouraging, and I expect that it will be helpful to the book's target audience: young seminarians who aspire to become vocational ministers at the conclusion of their studies. Pastoring is not just about preaching sermons and teaching Sunday school lessons. Pastoring is a relational job. It can become overwhelming, especially for young guys who've been sheltered from "normal life" living on a Christian campus for a few years. Men with experience who take time to write books like this are needed and welcome. Transitioning from student to pastor can be bumpy and fraught with failure for those who don't have good, godly men speaking into their lives. This book helps those seminarians wade into the responsibility of being a pastor.

I received this book from the publisher for the purpose of providing this review.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October in Review

October started with a late 4th birthday party for Abigail with her friends and their parents. One of my earliest memories is from my 4th birthday, and the celebrations with both sets of grandparents and now with her friends gave her ample opportunities to retain something for the rest of her life. It’s scary to think that she’s to the point where she will start holding permanent memories.

We took the kids to the pumpkin patch at Tuttle’s Orchards to select their pumpkins and load up on apples. We even ran into one of my students from church (small world). I transformed Lukas’s pumpkin into Boba Fett, a character from Star Wars, and Hannah made Abby’s into Hello Kitty.

Both Abby and Lukas enjoyed being outside, and now that we have to wear coats on some days, we’re reminded that winter is on its way. Trips to the park are extra special as we get to enjoy the fall colors while watching our kids step out and do things they’ve never done on their own before. Both kids have no fear on rock walls, ladders, or stepping stones.

We’ve also started doing more inside activities like puzzles, memory games (Lukas is still learning that one. He either wants to flip over all the cards, or he wants to flip over the same two every time).

I enjoyed teaching the youth at church as we work our way through the book of Daniel. One weekend we hosted our second annual youth Oktoberfest including corn hole, ladder golf, a giant-sized Connect 4 (courtesy of my dad), and bobbing for apples. I always enjoy spending time with these “kids” who are only three to thirteen years younger than me.

I got in touch with my creative side this month, making miniature Star Wars spaceships and putting hooks on them to turn them into ornaments. Maybe I’m just antsy before the baby comes in November. Hannah finished up working at Wee Care Preschool and is officially on maternity leave. Let the nesting begin!

Our church recognized us both for Pastor Appreciation Month, including a generous monetary gift and a trip out to a nice restaurant. Hannah and I feel so blessed to be part of this community, and we know that we’ll need that support when Natalie arrives next month.