Book Review: Praying the Bible by Donald Whitney

8104GWcgTOLRecently I read Donald Whitney’s newest book Praying the Bible. In this book Whitney explains why praying the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, is so important and helpful for Christians. Whitney says that many Christians don’t neglect prayer because they don’t care about it or they don’t love God, but instead they are bored with prayer because they tend to “say the same old things about the same old things” (page 11). He also says “the method of most Christians in prayer is to say the same old things about the same old things” (page 15). Whitney argues the solution to this problem is simple – “When you pray, pray through a passage of Scripture, particularly a Psalm” (page 27).

Throughout this book Whitney helps his readers understand that method a little better. He spends multiple chapters walking readers through how to pray through a Psalm as well as things to remember when doing this. He doesn’t limit this practice to the Psalm. He encourages Christians to also use other parts of Scripture for prayer. There is also a chapter that gives examples of people (including Jesus and the early Christians) who practiced this idea of praying through Scripture.

One helpful addition to this book is the “Psalm of the Day” chart that Whitney provides as an appendix. He explains how to use this chart earlier in the book but it serves as a great help to anyone who wants to use this method of prayer.

When it comes to the topic of prayer this is one of the best books I have read. It serves a great reminder of why prayer should be guided by and saturated with Scripture. Not only does it remind us of that great truth, but it guides us in how to do that well.

Book Review: Storify by Rachel Blom

51cjoMnENiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”

In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.

As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.

First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.

Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.

There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.

Books I’ve Read Recently

deyoungWhat Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung. It’s a question all Christians, and many non-Christians, have asked, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?” In this very timely book Kevin DeYoung answers that question. He correctly states that “the Bible says something about homosexuality” (page 10). God is not silent on this issue and DeYoung does an excellent job in this book of communicating what God has said in regards to homosexuality. The book is nicely broken up into two parts. Part one deals with what God, through His Word, says about homosexuality. DeYoung carefully walks the reader through the main passages of Scripture where God addresses homosexuality and clearly explains what God is communicating. In my opinion, this section contains some of the very best interpretation and explanation of the central passages of Scripture that deal with homosexuality. The second part of the book deals with the common objections many have to what God has said in His Word about homosexuality. I was very pleased with how DeYoung tackled some of the hardest questions regarding this topic with a balance of boldness and grace. Overall this is a book I believe every Christian should read. It will help the Christian understand what the Bible says about this issue and also equip them to have grace filled conversations with those who may not agree with what the Bible says.

REASON-largeThe Reason for God by Tim Keller. This is a Keller book that has been around for a while now but I have never got around to reading it. I decided to pick it up and give it a read since at the time I was in the middle of an apologetics series with our students. With Keller’s background in preaching to and dialoguing with the skeptics in places like Manhattan, he tackles in this book the common objections to the Christian faith as well as the reasons one should instead believe in the truths of Christianity. Common questions like “There can’t be just one true religion?”, “How could a good God allow suffering?”, and How can a loving God send people to hell?” and many more are answered by Keller in this book. Then in response to all those questions Keller spends the rest of the book explaining the truths of Christianity and the reasons one should have faith in it. This is a book that’s perfect for both the person who is firm in their faith as well as for the person who is skeptical of the Christian faith all together.

41mG8HhtgDL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Anxious for Nothing by John MacArthur. This is a new edition of an older MacArthur book called Anxiety Attacked. I picked this book up to read in preparation for a sermon on the topic of worry. This book ended up being more than just a help for my sermon prep but was actually a game changer for me as a person who struggles with stress and anxiety. MacArthur covers a lot of ground in this book. Everything from key Scripture passages on anxiety are clearly explained to understanding how other people help or hurt you in the area of anxiety. What I loved about this book was MacArthur’s balance of theology and practicality. MacArthur helps the reader understand what God’s Word says about anxiety as well as how to apply what it says to their daily lives. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who struggles with worry, stress, or anxiety. It will be a blessing.

Another book I read recently that I chose not to review was Rx for Worry by James Gills. I am currently reading a few books on the topic of marriage, sex, and dating that I will review soon.

What Does Jesus Say About Worry?

What Jesus Says About WorryThis past weekend we had Student Ministry Sunday at our church. This is a special Sunday we do every year where our student ministry staff, leaders, and most importantly students take over the Sunday worship services and leads the rest of our church in worship. Our high school ministry band leads worship, students run all the media/tech, students greet people at the doors, students take up the offering, we have a student host, and more. You can click here to see some pictures from the morning.

Each year for Student Ministry Sunday I get the privilege to preach. This year Student Ministry Sunday landed on a Sunday between sermon series so I had the chance to pick what topic or passage I wanted to preach on. After praying for God’s direction and talking with our pastor I decided that to preach on the topic of worry from Matthew 6. The video of the sermon is below. I hope it encourages you and helps you in times of worry.

Books I’ve Read Recently

515XatoWK1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Preaching by Tim Keller. Before reading this book it had been awhile since I had read a book on the topic of preaching. Since preaching the Bible is something I do regularly in my role I was excited to pick up a new book on the topic. I gained a lot of wisdom and practical insights from this book and I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a preaching role to read it. I’d also go as far as to say that all Christians should read this book since “preaching” is not just preparing and delivering a formal sermon. All Christians are called to proclaim the Gospel whether that’s at work, online, or in front of a large crowd. However, the majority of this book is aimed at those of us in vocational preaching roles. So this book is helpful to all Christians, but primarily for those in vocational preaching roles. Throughout this book there are several themes and main ideas that Keller covers. First, Keller points out the need for expository preaching and letting the Scriptures lead the way in preaching. This is primarily the focus in chapter one. Keller says, “I would say that expository preaching should provide the main diet of preaching for a Christian community” (page 32). Keller follows this statement up with a few reasons why he believes this and also a few dangers to avoid when doing expository preaching. Second, Keller rightfully argues that the Christ and the Gospel must be at the center of every sermon and should be preached from every text. Keller spends a good amount of time explaining how this can and should be done in preaching. Third, Keller highlights cultural narratives that will impact the way we preaching to an unbelieving world. This was a large part of the book but a very helpful section. Keller helps us understand the cultural narratives that impact preaching in our cultural context and shares practical ways we can preach God’s Word by engaging those narratives. Overall this was a fantastic book that I’d recommend to anyone who wants to share Christ well in our culture.

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Creating a Lead Small Culture by Reggie Joiner, Kristen Ivy, and Elle Campbell. Every now and then I read a church ministry or student ministry book that causes me to rethink and evaluate everything I am doing in my student ministry context. This was one of those books. I’m grateful the student ministry that God allows me to lead is healthy and has a good small group structure in place. However, we have areas we need to improve and our small group structure and strategy has some holes. This book has helped me strengthen our small group structure and better develop a team of leaders who serve students in a small group context. The whole point of a “lead small culture” is to have students (or kid if you’re in children’s ministry, which this book is for as well) cared for and ministered to in the context of small groups. Relationship and life change happens when students are connected with an adult that loves Jesus and cares for them. Real teaching, mentoring, and modeling happens in circles not in a crowd. This book walks through three main ways to create a lead small culture: improve the structure, empower the leader, create the experience. The book is filled with practical wisdom, insights, and experiences from other ministry leaders as they share how they have created a lead small culture in their context. If you’re a ministry leader that oversees small groups or just wants to make small groups more of a vital part of your church than you need to read this book. It’s simple, practical, but has the potential to change the way you do ministry to students and kids.

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Get Out by Alvin and Josh Reid. One of the common struggles local student pastors face is the struggle to get outside of their office and church walls and into the community where students are. That’s the issue this book addresses. This book is a practical book for student pastors who want to get onto their local school campuses and into the community where their students and their friends are. Alvin and Josh Reid say this about their book: “This book serves as a primer on student minister focused specifically on getting out of the church building and into the community to impact it for Christ” (page 15). This book helps student pastors realize a much needed shift is called for in student ministry today. We must see our ministry as bigger than our church walls and not just focus on our program and the students we have coming. We must go to the students that are not coming. We must meet them on their turf. We must reach students where they are at. In addition to all of that, this book is filled with practical advice from other student pastors and what they have done to get out and reach students in their communities. I’d encourage every student pastor to read this book. It’s challenging and will help you think about how you can get out and serve students in your community.

I’m currently reading 30 Events that Shaped the Church by Alton Gansky and plan to review that in my next “Books I’ve Read Recently” post.