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Fresh Perspectives On Vocation

In Max Lucado’s short very accessible book, YOU CAN BE EVERYTHING GOD WANTS YOU TO BE (2010, Thomas Nelson) selections are lifted from the much longer Cure For The Common Life. The value of the shorter version is the distillation of of Max’s best thinking on vocation and the ability to take a very broad and complex issue like calling and make it easy to digest, reflect upon even apply in bite sized pieces. Using language like ‘Sweet Spot ” as well as diagrams this 127 page book Max simplifies without “dumbing” down a great introduction or reminder of the ideas surrounding life calling. Pages 66-95 unpack the idea of “Studying Your S.T.O.R.Y.”.The acrostic stands for Strengths, Topics, Optimal Conditions, Relationships and Yes! Using stories, statistics, quotations and questions these ideas are explored and applied. It is a bit late for a graduation book for this spring but it would make a great gift for a high school or college graduate next commencement season. A youth worker might easily develop a camp curriculum or series of talks around these themes as well. Max closes this very useful book with this thought provoking question:

Moses had a staff

David had a sling

Sampson had a jawbone

Rahab had a string

Aaron had  a rod

Dorcus had a needle

All were used by God. What do you have?  (p.127)


A Week In The Life of Corinth

This is a unique book in my Biblical studies library that I found fascinatingly informative! A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF CORINTH by Ben Witherington III, a faculty member at Asbury Seminary (IVP Academic, 2012) takes the form of a novella but is so much more. The entertainment element is a fictional narrative featuring Biblical characters like Paul and Erastos (Romans 16:23) involves interesting plot lines, intrigue and romance but the story only acts as a delivery vehicle for a very complete exploration of first century Corinth and its social/cultural background. Helpful photographs and drawings in the frequent “sidebars” provide specific details on Corinthian coinage, City of Corinth baths, Roman roads, architecture, and slavery as well as many more topics. The book is a balance between readability and  solid Pauline scholarship set in the sociological context of a first century world. The Biblical text of Paul’s letters are incorporated into the story which is fictional but based on a Corinthian inscription of a name and governmental title also found in Paul’s writing. This book had a special impact on me because I read it in preparation for a trip to Greece including a visit to Corinth. I feel so much more prepared to see and experience the ruins and museums in the city after reading the book…it was almost as if a Bible Dictionary or Encyclopedia of Biblical Cultures came to life. I am pleased to have this book on my shelf for future reference.

Finishing Well!

According to the cover blurb, “only 30% of leaders finish well” (p.20). Author David Kraft and his book LEADERS WHO LAST (Crossway, 2010) has set out to help improve that bleak statistic. In a whimsical style that defies some normal leadership book categories David who served on the staff of The Navigators for 38 years walks the reader through a conversational journey hitting the highlights of leadership. The book is filled with great stories and quotations along with section ending reflection/discussion/application questions. The book is organized simply in three sections: Foundations-Formations-Fruitfulness with each chapter  title beginning THE LEADERS…… As part of the RE:LIT (Resurgence Literature) series the book is supported by a web site containing blogs, video, audio as well as forms to print that enhance the value of the book. I am not sure I learned anything absolutely new about ministry or leadership in the book but it was very much like a great lunch conversation with an experienced leader and great story teller who reminds the reader what they know and ask if they are practicing and applying their knowledge through encouragement and illustrations! If your leadership needs a bit of a spark grab this book, read it and then share it with a friend.

A Truly Great Play

With summer fast approaching there is time to relax and be inspired by a great play. Through out the history of the theater drama has challenged prevailing thinking and caused the opportunity for growth and new horizons. In a recent reprint of a 1946 script produced as the Lichfield Festival Play Dorothy L. Sayers has done all that. The play is titled THE JUST VENGEANCE (WIPF & Stock, 2011) and is the story of an airman seconds after he is shot down and killed during The second world war. In the city of Lichfield he meets historical English citizens like George Fox and Samuel Johnson as well as Biblical characters from Adam and Eve from the Old Testament to most of the key New Testament figures that come into play during Christ’s passion. The play explores the need and history of the shifting of human guilt to Christ on the cross.  The play includes a choir and originally utilized music which must have been majestic. The play its self is fascinating and reads well in 75 pages or so narrated by the Recorder. It is however Jesus Christ titled Persona Dei in the play who has the lines of life changing beauty and impact. Utilizing the Christian Creeds she knew so well Sayers makes the drama of redemption come alive in the power of Christ’s work on the cross explained in his dialog.  The story hings on the statement by the Choir describing all that they have seen in the play, “Whoso will carry the cross, the cross shall carry him”. The message of the play could not be more timely in our day and age as there is wide spread misunderstanding about human sin, the need for forgiveness and Divine judgement and the nature of Christ’s  death on the cross not unlike in Sayers day. If you are a fan of Sayers though her work in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries don’t ignore this play it will inspire, encourage, entertain and maybe even transform you.

Financial Accountability In Ministry

No ministry is immune to the possibility of financial fraud. With many ministries and non-profits in the headlines for financial sloppiness or down right criminal behavior it is important to both the principle of stewardship and testimony for Christ to a watching world to be informed and full of integrity in matters of money. The book INTEGRITY AT STAKE by Rollie Dimos (Zondervan, 2016) is a very useful resource for helping reduce the risk of fraud or financial mismanagement. Rollie is both a certified financial professional but also a theologically trained seminary graduate who understands life in the context of church and ministry. The book is divided into two sections. The first is “A Frank Discussion On Potential Risks To Your Organization. It contains chapters like “what every leader needs to know about fraud risk”  and “Moving forward after fraud”. These are very helpful overviews to these topics readily  available to the average ministry leader, free of technical language or non-essential details.

Section two is a collection of “true case studies” involving various types and expressions of financial fraud in ministry and practical ways to prevent it. These make for compelling reading which I found hard to put down. The two appendices in the back are specific tools for performing  a fraud risk assessment and a check list for performing an internal audit. These tools alone would be worth the price of the book. I am teaching a class on youth ministry administration in the fall and I look forward to sharing many of the valuable insights I learned form this book-It is well worth your time and effort!

In The Shepherd’s Arms

During  study for a recent sermon that included references to Psalm 23 I spent some time with some classic books on the subject including The Treasury Of David by Spurgeon, A Shepard Looks At The 23 Psalm by Keller and a new favorite SAFE IN THE SHEPHERD’S ARMS: Hope and Encouragement From Psalm 23 by Max Lucado (2002, Thomas Nelson). The book showcases the themes of the Psalm from all of Lucado’s writings and arranges them with pictures and Scripture. The book includes all I have come to expect from Max from the great stories both from his own life and history to the memorable, “Mike Drop” statements like, “When you have the Shepherd you do indeed have everything you will ever need” The book was helpful in putting finishing touches on the sermon but it was also an encouragement to my soul. Of special note was the section “I Will Dwell In The House Of The Lord Forever pages 109-114 it captured powerfully the important idea as a Christian I am never really “home” until heaven which explains the reoccurring sense of unease, loss, and longing so common in all of our lives. The older I become the more Max Lucado’s word impact me with their eloquence, truth and power. If you buy and read this book I bet someone will come to mind who you want to share the book with-I know that has been the case for me!!

“Extraordinary” Youth Ministry Resource

For years students have come to me and asked for youth ministry resources that have a connection to church history and the development of theological doctrines until now I had only secondary sources not specifically focused toward youth application or developmentally appropriate for younger students. Thankfully CHARACTER COUNTS: 40 Youth Ministry Devotions from Extraordinary Christians By Karl Levthauser (Group, 1999) has come across my desk and become my “go to” resource in these areas. Each of the chapter includes a “character trait” to be explored and a short biographical sketch designed to be read by the leaders= or a students along with active  learning element, follow up discussion question and application points. The line up of individules from the pages of Church History is impressively diverse including such popular figures as C.S. Lewis, Martin Luther, Billy Graham and Jim Elliot along with lesser well known leaders like Anthony of Egypt, Karl F.A Gulzlaff, Augustine, Callistus I, Francis Xavier and Maximilian Kolbe who have great lessons to teach 21st century students. Also included in each chapter is a “Sidelight”  that includes insights in to the individules life and ministry to provoke deeper further examination or clarify a theological movement or controversy. This is truly a great if generally underappreciated book and ministry tool. Perhaps the current trend toward deeper theological reflection and interaction with our students made this book a little before its time but the material is as timeless in 2017 as it was in 1999. If you are interested in helping your students grow deeper and wider in these subjects as well as spiritual formation get your hands on a copy of this book you will not be sorry!