5 book & Bible suggestions as Christmas gifts

As you make your Christmas gift purchases, why not consider a book or a Bible? Following are five books I would highly recommend.

For children & parents

Sharing God’s Love: The Jesus Creed for Children by Scot McKnight & Laura McKnight Barringer

  • Shhhh, don’t tell anyone, but my kids will receive copies of this book to read to/with my grandkids.

For anyone interested in their life with God

Life Work: Confessions of an Everyday Disciple by Randy Harris

  • Honest. Thoughtful. Insightful. Stimulating. Challenging. Reflective. Relevant. Practical. Real. This is Randy Harris. And he’s at the top of his game with this book. I don’t say this about many books, but I’ll say it about this one: would that every Christian would read this book.

For Bible students

The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament by Craig S. Keener

  • Your understanding of what’s going on in Scripture will take several leaps forward if you grasp something of what the original audience of Scripture was dealing with at the time. This book will help you do just that and since it’s arranged like a commentary rather than a textbook, you can instantly turn to the passage on which you’re seeking cultural, historical, and contextual insights. Though written by a scholar, it is not written in scholarese; it is quite readable.

For preachers (and teachers)

Rewiring Your Preaching: How the Brain Processes Sermons by Richard H. Cox

  • The author is a psychologist, physician, and preacher. Fascinating.

For those who enjoy the unique

The Jewish Study Bible: Second Edition

  • For my personal Bible reading project in 2015 I had originally intended to focus on the New Testament. That is, until I saw this book. Now I plan to focus on the Old Testament exclusively next year and this is the Bible I’ll use in that effort.

you’ve got to make your own kind of music


I have a friend who, back in the day, was in the orchestra. He was very good at what he did. It was a joy to watch and hear him play. I often sat in awe. There was simply no way on earth I could have played what he did or the way he did. Not in a million years.

Orchestra and me? Not a mix. Not that I didn’t care for orchestral music, you understand. It’s just that I was in jazz band (stage band). If you had put me in the orchestra I would have been like a fish out of water; I would have shriveled up and died. And hey, I’m even bold enough to think my friend might have struggled had he been thrust into stage band.

See, in orchestral music, there’s rarely, if ever, any real opportunity for improvisation. Every note is planned out long before the sheet music even hits the stand. The idea is sound: you take the music and you put your heart into it. Hard to argue with that.

But, in jazz band, we typically lived or died by improvisation. Improvisation was the air we breathed; it was our bread and butter. While most of what we’d do was planned out to the note before we went on stage, included in the music was deliberate open space for exploration of what was in our heart in the moment. And the way it sounded in performance might not be at all what it sounded like in practice. It’s a healthy idea: you take your heart and you let the music come out from it.

Now if you can grasp that, then understand it’s the same way with preaching. Some preachers are like those in the orchestra. They live by structure and predictable repeatability. They know what they’re going to do months in advance and their Sunday sermons are in manuscript form long before Saturday night rolls around. Improv isn’t even in the vocabulary of such ministers. And that can be a good thing.

Meanwhile, other ministers can’t plan out in detail a single sermon in advance, much less a series. A manuscript? What’s that?! Oh, but don’t think for a minute that such preachers are unprepared or of a lower grade. No, they’re prepared to the hilt! It’s just that it’s just not possible for them to preach the same sermon twice and it come out the same way. They’re often just as surprised by what comes out when they get up on stage as anyone else in the room. And that too can be a very good thing.

Now I say all of this to simply say two things. First, if you’re a minister, deliberately experiment. Find the style toward which you tend to gravitate. And then, own it. Refuse to beat yourself up for not being like – or even able to be like – others who preach differently. And if others, who preach differently, give you static, let it roll right off of you. I know, that’s easier said than done and it’s a ceaseless task, but improvise. Because you’ve got to make your own kind of music.

Second, if you’re an elder who oversees your preacher – or you’re a member who listens to your preacher – give your preacher the freedom to sing their own special song. They need that. And you need that. Don’t ever try to squeeze them into your own mold. Especially if they’re more of the jazz band type and you’re more into the orchestral mode – or vice-versa. After all, the preacher’s task isn’t to cover the song the way you would or the way you think they should, but to play the music they sense God is laying on their heart. If they try to do otherwise the music will likely, at best, come out all wrong – forced, stilted, and flat.

Imagine, and let it be.

this went thru my mind


Children, parenting & technology: * The Bible App for Kids [essential notice; by the Makers of YouVersion]; * 10 Social Networks You Didn’t Know Kids are Using

* “Help your kids fall in love with God’s word.”

* “Hats off to you for paying attention to what your kids are doing online and on their phones …”

Culture & the U.S.: Forget The 50 States; The U.S. Is Really 11 Nations, Author Says

“… Colin Woodard … has studied American voting patterns, demographics and public opinion polls going back to the days of the first settlers, and says that his research shows America is really made up of 11 different nations.”

Gifts & giving: The Gift of Not Giving a Thing [required reading]

“What if nobody gave my boys presents anymore? What if we only gave GIFTS.”

Healthcare: Some Thoughts About the Affordable Care Act

“There is a huge–HUGE–gap in our safety net because health insurance is tied to full-time employment. Too many employers can game the system by hiring people just under full-time, making American workers work two jobs without getting insurance (or related benefits) from either employer. To say nothing of those who aren’t employed or who would like to get private insurance but have preexisting conditions. The fact that you have to go through insurance companies to get healthcare in American is hugely problematic. Too many people are left out of the system. It needs to get fixed.”

Marriage: Are These Enemies of Marriage in Your House?

“Run from these enemies.”

Ministry & parenting: Prodigal Pastor Kids: Fact or Fiction?

“… where does this stereotype of the prodigal pastor kid come from?”

Preaching: * The Weekly Emotional Process of Sermon Preparation … [Amen!]; * When Good Pastors Preach Boring Sermons

* “It goes something like this …”

* “Instead of becoming dissatisfied with our churches and forsaking them to listen to podcasts of our favorite “celebrity” preachers, I would like to suggest a couple of thoughts to consider.”

Simplicity: Simple Living. The Earlier, the Better. [required reading]

“When I was 33 years old, we began giving away all the possessions in our lives that were not absolutely essential to our purpose and goals. Eventually, our family removed over 60% of our earthly possessions. And we couldn’t be happier. We found more time, money, and energy to pursue the things in life most valuable to us: faith, family, and friends. We discovered far greater fulfillment in life pursuing our passions than we had ever discovered pursuing possessions. And now, my only regret is that we didn’t do it sooner—that we wasted so much time, so many years, and so many resources.”

people of God; people of the book


NOTE: Following is a copy of the discussion guide that will be used in MoSt Church’s LIFE groups tomorrow (March 3). This guide will enable your follow-up of my sermon tomorrow morning. This sermon is entitled People of God; People of the Book. The manuscript for this sermon will appear in a post tomorrow morning. Look under the category title “LIFE group guides” and you’ll find an archive of previous discussion guides. All Scripture texts reproduced below are from the CEB.


To declare our faith in the God who provides us with what we need to grow up in him.


He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part. (Ephesians 4.11-16)


Icebreaker questions are meant to help us all start talking. Choose one of the following to discuss as a group.

1. Tell us of a time you were tricked or misled. It can be humorous, serious or whatever.

2. Tell us of someone(s) who powerfully helped you mature in life. What did they do?

3. Complete this sentence: “I sense that I’m growing as a person whenever I ________.”


These questions are meant to help us grapple with Scripture related to this morning’s sermon. Choose some.

1. Where do apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers come from? (vs. 11)

2. Why did God give us apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers? (vs. 12)

3. How long did Paul perceive God’s provision of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors/teachers would last? (vs. 13a)

4. How is “unity of faith” and “knowledge of God’s Son” related to each other? (vs. 13a)

5. What is our goal in growth and with what instrument do we measure such (vs. 13b)?

6. Who is vulnerable to misleading and false teaching? (vs. 14)

7. Where does true spiritual growth come from and where does it lead (vs. 15b-16a)?

8. How does Christ’s body, the people of God, grow? (vs. 15-16)


These questions facilitate our sharing what we sense God’s Spirit is doing with us thru his word. Choose some.

1. In light of vs. 11, what is job #1 for all who seek to serve and build up Christ’s body?

2. All of the roles listed in vs. 11 involve sharing God’s word. How does this understanding color all of what follows (vs. 12-16)?

3. Why is deep sincerity alone inadequate to grow in God, and “the truth,” a necessity?

4. Tell us of a time when you, due to spiritual immaturity, believed something untrue about serving Christ. What helped you escape that point of false faith?

5. What happens to a body of believers when not every part “does their part?”

6. Someone asks you: “How can I discover my role in Christ’s body?” What do you say?

7. Who gives spiritual growth to God’s people? Let this text’s words shape your answer.

8. What good do you see in the lives of folks who are on a trajectory of spiritual growth?

this went thru my mind


Americanism: Is Americanism the Fourth Biblical World Religion? (Partial Review of Peter Leithart’s ‘Between Babel and the Beast’) by Roger Olson

“America became an agent not of God’s kingdom but an instrument for the spread of American institutions and American culture, and there was a tendency to see America ‘basking in [God’s] permanent favor.’ … Throughout American history, orthodoxy has been strong enough to check the danger of deifying America itself—check, but not eliminate. But the intellectual structure is in place for Americanists to think those who worship America are offering service to God.”

Certainty: Leaving Certainty Behind by Ted Gossard

“… I want to live and work as one whose hands are open and raised up toward God. Ready to be uncomfortable and challenged to the core on things I hold dear, or true, if and when they are challenged. Committed to the one who alone is my certainty and God, in and through Jesus together with others for the world.”

Confession, forgiveness, judgment & sin: * The Scarlet Letter: Dropping the Stones by Mike Cope [3 min. video clip]; * A People of Maybe by Jonathan Storment; * The Confession of Sins by Richard Beck; * Judging Others … A Word of Caution by K. Rex Butts

* “… this piece shot by Matt Maxwell …”

* “What the world needs to see is a people who are able to lovingly and gently correct each other without hate or envy, and for the purposes of Restoration.”

* “… the confession of sins pushes back on the triumphalism and self-righteousness of the church. … Not that saying the confession is a panacea and fix-all. But it has to have a salutary spiritual effect to take a moment each week to corporately say ‘We’ve sinned.’ We’ve sinned, often grievously so, against our neighbors by not loving them as we love ourselves in both what we’ve done to them and what we’ve failed to do for them.”

* “We are better off having said nothing at all than having said a word of judgment only to be exposed as a hypocrite.  So while on occasion circumstances may force us to pass a certain measure of judgment, we out to be very cautious in doing so.  And if I must error on one side or the other, I would rather error on the side of being too quick to forgive, show mercy, and offer generosity than being too quick to judgment.”

God: Thinking About God Makes Me Just Want to Keep My Mouth Shut by Peter Enns [required reading]

“My calculator broke.”

Women: * The Amazing Speeches of Women in the Conventions Makes the Silence of Women in the Church That Much More Deafening by Eugene Cho; * A Letter for Highland on Women’s Roles by Richard Beck

* “Before you throw stones or want to endorse me as a candidate for the next President, just hear me out. … about the importance of having the voices of both women and men in our lives.”

* “I’ve been struggling for some time with how I should best stand up for gender justice in my local church context.”

journey through James (9): twenty questions on James 1:13-18

This coming Sunday morning at MoSt, most of our adult classes will study James 1:13-18. We’ll use this phrase to focus our mind on the meaning of this passage: “grasping God’s goodness when you’re gripped by temptation.” To help you get ready for this encounter with God’s word and our discussion of it, here is the text and twenty questions with which to wrestle.

No one who is tested should say, “God is tempting me!” This is because God is not tempted by any form of evil, nor does he tempt anyone. Everyone is tempted by their own cravings; they are lured away and enticed by them. Once those cravings conceive, they give birth to sin; and when sin grows up, it gives birth to death.

Don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from above. These gifts come down from the Father, the creator of the heavenly lights, in whose character there is no change at all. He chose to give us birth by his true word, and here is the result: we are like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created. (James 1:13-18 CEB)

1. What’s the difference between the “tests” God gives everyone (1:2-12) and the “temptations” he gives no one (1:13-18)?

2. What sort of thoughts could be going through someone mind that would lead them to accuse God of “tempting” them?

3. If God “cannot be tempted by any form of evil” (1:13b), how could Jesus be equal with God (something James apparently believed; 1:1), since Jesus himself was tempted (Matt. 4:1-11; Mk. 1:12-13; Lk. 4:1-13)?

4. While God and humans are discussed in James’ description of the cycle of sin, James never directly mentions Satan and his role here in this cycle (1:13-14). Why do you think this is the case?

5. In light of what is said in vs.13-14, do you believe it is possible for a Christian to mature to such a point that they can always live above temptation and never succumb? Explain.

6. What is a temptation to one person may not be a temptation at all to another. Temptations are tailor-made to the individual; one size does not fit all. Consequently, we should never belittle others for their struggling with something that is no real temptation to us. What phrase in this section (1:13-18) seems to underscore that truth?

7. Compare the wording of 1:14 in several different English translations. What other renderings do you find used for the word translated “cravings” in the CEB? How do these words help you appreciate the source of what becomes sin in us?

8. In vs.14-15a, James makes a clear distinction between “cravings” and “sin.” What does this say about our cravings, what it means to be human, our self-worth, and sin?

9. Are there any parallels between the trail toward maturity through our faith being tested (1:4) and the trail that leads toward maturity in sin and ultimately, spiritual death (1:14-15)? How are these trails similar and dissimilar?

10. How would you explain the connection between our need to pray for wisdom as God deliberately tests our faith (1:2-8) and wisely talking to God about our cravings (1:13-15), their conception (sin), and their potential for corruption (death)?

11. In your your own words, describe what it is James is concerned that Christians could be “misled” about (1:16).

12. Have you ever gone through a time in your life when you seriously questioned God’s goodness? That is, you had begun to wonder if God was part of the problem and not the solution. Can you tell us about that experience and how you came through it?

13. Understood strictly in the context in which the statement is found, to what might James have had reference when he spoke of the “good gifts” or “every perfect gift” that “comes from above?” (1:17)

14. God is depicted as “the creator of the heavenly lights” (1:17b). Of all the depictions of God that James could have chosen from to use here, why do you suppose he chose this depiction? That is, what connection is there between God as “the creator of the heavenly lights” and the surrounding context? What is this understanding supposed to do for us in terms of helping us successfully resist temptation?

15. What sort of comfort do you get from the declaration that God’s character never changes (vs.17b)? If it helps you formulate your answer, imagine what it would do to your faith in God if his character was quite flexible instead.

16. “He chose to give us birth by his true word …” (1:18a) With what word/phrase/concept would you say the phrase “his true word” is contrasted in this section (1:13-18)?

17. “He chose to give us birth by his true word …” (1:18a) List everything this single statement tells you about God.

18. With the last verse of this section in mind (1:18), what would you say is the best illustration available to the world that God gives good gifts?

19. The wording of the latter half of the last sentence of this text leaves us tantalized with a bit of open-ended mystery, doesn’t it? If Christians are “like the first crop from the harvest of everything he created” (1:18b), we’re left to wonder what the remainder of the harvest could be about. What does this say to you about God’s role as a Creator and his involvement with all of his creation?

20. How does the last verse in this section (1:18) compare with the last verse in the preceding section (1:12)?