Published: Choosing Love by Heidi Johnston

After a long absence I had a book review published at TGCA recently. I wasn’t really the intended audience of Choosing Love by Heidi Johnston, however it was still worth the read. It would be particularly helpful for parents to talk through with their daughters, or a youth ministry leader with their youth group or small group.

You can find the review here.

“From the outset, Johnston puts these themes of love, relationships, marriage and sex into perspective by reminding us that we are all created in God’s image: made for relationship, and therefore are to express our love and desire for one-another in the way God intends. The foundation of the imago dei, and the defining of love as that which comes from God, and shown through his Son Jesus, is an important truth to be understood for teenagers and adults alike.”

Other writing can be found here

My Top Books of 2019

Well, it’s that time of year folks.

The unveiling of the top books I’ve read for 2019.

Exciting, isn’t it?!

Continuing my long-standing tradition of pretentiously blogging a list of books I read and rated highly, I submit my 2019 edition to you.

Oh, and here’s the previous years if you wish to read those lists too: 2014201520162017, 2018.

My Top Books of 2019

Excellent. This is an excellent book. Theology of sleep. Theology of rest. Theology of living by grace. Theology of sustaining ministry. Excellent. I don’t think I could’ve started the year off with a better book. In this age of hurry, burnout, and distraction this book is a good reminder we need to slow-down in this hurried life.

A different approach from Grisham in some ways. I found the storyline great, although I know plenty of people who didn’t. As usual it’s fast-paced, full of intrigue, and picking up themes of race and culture in the American South.

I haven’t read this since I read a children’s version when a child. It was good to listen to the audiobook and I found myself reminded of how good the story of ‘Christian’ is. Some terrific Christian themes and a good reminder of what it takes to remain faithful and persevere in the marathon that is the Christian life.

This was the best youth ministry book I read all year. It only came out mid-year and I was keen to get my hands on it. As I wrote in a review:

I have not read a youth ministry book which actually quotes Hebrew and Greek in its pages. But now I have. And it’s not just quoted for McGarry to look scholarly, it’s quoted to show the meaning behind a number of texts in the Old and New Testaments that build towards the book’s aim of,

…presenting a clear and simple but thoroughly biblical framework for thinking about youth ministry as the church’s expression of partnership with the family for co-evangelising and co-discipling the next generation. (p3)

Sam Allberry writes really well about biblical sexuality and same-sex attraction. A same-sex attracted minister himself, Allberry writes this brief book about the biblical understanding of homosexuality and what it means for those who are same-sex attracted. I found this a very helpful primer on these themes.

Continuing in a similar vein, DeYoung dives deep into the various passages in the Bible which speak of homosexuality. Furthermore, he writes to those who are critics of Biblical sexuality seeking to winsomely show the fault in their understandings. It is very good on the exegetical front and a good resource for teaching on such a topic.

For a personalised summary of all the books I read this year you can check out my Goodreads infographic for 2019.

Published: The Power of Two by Danny Hunt

My friend and colleague, Danny Hunt, recently wrote a book about being a second-chair leader. That is, a leader that has a boss.

It’s a short book but packed with wisdom and reflection from his 30-plus years of experience in church leadership. It is aimed mainly at those who are involved in church life, but would be suitable for other industries as well.

I was fortunate to read the book recently and have a review of it published on TGC Australia.

You can find it here.

Published: Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

I recently read the book Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry.

It’s a book I’d highly recommend. And it is a book I found time to write a reflection on to better process some of the content.

As it happens, I’ve had that reflection published as a book review at The Gospel Coalition Australia site. You can read it here.

“I couldn’t be more different from Jackie Hill Perry.

I’m a man, she’s a woman.

I’m white, she’s black.

I’m from the wealthier side of Melbourne, Australia. Jackie is from a rougher area in Chicago, USA.

I’m hetero, she’s a former lesbian.

There’s a few differences, yet at the same time we now find ourselves brother and sister in Christ. No matter the differences of the past, or the differences now, our stories intersect as part of God’s grander story in Christ. And what a privilege that is having now read Jackie’s memoir, Gay Girl, Good God.”

I found it to be a great memoir, exploring the intersection of God’s story upon Jackie’s story as she wrestles with her sexuality and upbringing. It’s well worth reading if you have the time.

The full review can be found here.

Other books I’ve read recently, and written short summaries on, can be found here.

Recently Read: April 2019

Here are some short summaries of books I’ve read recently. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like in recent time, but here are some of the books I’ve dipped into.

Recently Read_ April 2019

1. The Reckoning by John Grisham

This is the best Grisham book I’ve read in a long time. It is his usual fiction, but this time structured differently as he delves into one of the character’s past in particular detail. This is a very sad story in many ways, but keeps you interested as there are plenty of turns and twists and secrets, only to come together in the final few pages. A great read.

2. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

I hadn’t read The Pilgrim’s Progress properly, well, not that I can remember. I certainly remember the child versions I had when I lived at home. But thanks to Christian Audio I listened to it via their app. It was a great reminder of the trials and joys it is as a believer. This is Bunyan’s classic work and is an allegory for the Christian life, following Christian and his wife and family as they seek the Celestial City.  Definitely worth the read (again) and encouraging for my walk with Jesus.

3. Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry

This is a memoir, which details Jackie’s life as she has wrestled with her sexuality and lesbianism. It tells of the horrific situations she has experienced in her childhood, everything from abuse, to being discarded by her father, to family breakdown, and more. But then she tells of how she has been be called by God to follow Him and in turn find her life transformed. This is a powerful story, and great story that points more to God than it does to Jackie herself. It’s certainly worth the read.

I’ve written a more in-depth review here.

4. Tactics for Teen Ministry by Scott Petty

Scott is a youth minister up in Sydney and has written a whole selection of books for young people. This one targets the youth pastor and volunteers.

I found this book really helpful, and will most likely use some of the content to help train my leaders. It gives a good theological and ministry philosophy foundation at the beginning. The book then moves into more practical and specifics aspects of youth ministry, everything from team meetings, youth group meetings, how to prepare a talk, how to communicate to kids, parents, leaders, and the church etc. It also comes with good resources very clearly laid out in the appendices. And, it’s short – 100 pages or so.

I’d recommend this to any average youth pastor like me.

5. The Autobiography of William Jay by William Jay

I’m still working through this second half of this book but it is excellent. Jay was a minister and preacher in England during the 19th century. He was pastor of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. His story is amazing; but his reflections on life, discipleship, evangelism, church, and preaching, and writing are even better. He writes these reflections in 19 letters to his children, about ten years prior to his death. There is a wealth of gold in these letters and reflections, some of which I’ll no doubt write about in due course. You can read a little something I wrote about his views of writing memoir and keeping a diary here.


You can also read more book summaries I’ve written at the following posts: 

William Jay On Writing Memoir And Keeping A Diary

For over a decade I’ve wanted to read the autobiography of William Jay, ever since I heard the sketch of his life delivered by Iain Murray. It’s been years in the making, which includes his memoir sitting on my bookshelf for about five of those years. By the looks of it, through my pencil markings in the margins, it seems I’ve tried to read it before but only made it so far. Nevertheless, this past little while has meant I’ve devoured it and come to appreciate much of the content. With slight warning, I think it is highly likely I’ll be using William Jay as a topic for writing and speaking in coming weeks and months!

The memoir portion of this work is set out as 19 letters, written from Jay to his children. They cover much of the main elements of his life and ministry. Astoundingly, he served as the preacher and minister of Argyle Chapel in Bath for 63 years. He has much wisdom and godliness to share. And I should probably mention he lived from 1769-1853.

In his first letter Jay outlines some of the reasons for his writing such a memoir. There seems to have been a slight hesitation about it, even though he was a reasonably prolific writer on spiritual things. One of these reasons is the amount of books, memoir, and autobiography written in his day. Imagine what he’d think of these days when every person in public seems to have a biography written of them, or they feel compelled to put together something themselves.

Jay writes this,

“The present rage for biography is excessive and notorious, such is the voracity of its appetite, that it frequently waits not for the licence which death is supposed to give. It falls upon its prey, and devours it alive; and many a man may be himself the reader of his own character and history, furnished by some anonymous or even know writer.”

Evidently Jay looks down upon those who forcefully push through and write of themselves for all to read.

On the question of what to add into such a memoir Jay reflects on how biographers are a good witness of a person, but that self is the best witness for such a task. He comments on how the public wish to know the salacious details of a persons life rather than being satisfied with the content of the life.

“By a competent writer, the public life of an individual is easily supplied; but people are seldom satisfied without some insight into his more private retreats and recesses. They would know, not what he did, but why he did it. They would know, not only the direction in which he moved, but whether he was led into it by design or accident, and what retarded or aided his progress.”

And Jay also highlights the difference in where the information about a life may come from by making a distinction between memoir and keeping a diary. Jay says,

“A diary regards chiefly a man’s intercourse with God; and the variations of his religious views and feelings there recorded are designed to promote self-acquaintance, and not to divulge himself to others. Such a work is devotional rather than narrator, and will abound with much that is not proper for public observation.”

It is this final quote, with its definition of what a diary is, that I find interesting.

Keeping a diary or a journal is a great way to note down the events and feelings of a particular day, circumstance, or season. Moreover, it is a terrific way to reflect and commune with God. In a diary we can write what we are feeling about what God is doing, through his Word or through others, in a private manner. It is through a diary we can find ourselves learning more of how we are to think of who God is. And we can come to find ourselves writing in a devotional frame of mind, pondering and thinking on the things of God.

In a day and age where the temptation to think and share our thinking publicly through our social media streams this is refreshing. There are private thoughts meant only for private consumption. The ability to reflect for ourselves, and keep it private, is best for all parties–ourselves and others. While we may be tempted to share the all and sundry of our life perhaps it’s best to begin with a diary and actually work out what we think, believe, and hope.

Recently Read: January 2019

Here are some books I’ve read or listened to over the summer. And for what it’s worth there are some brief comments about them too.

1. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield

This is the incredible story of Rosaria herself. At one point she was a tenured professor, thought of with high regard for her LGBT and feminist views. After conversion to the Christian faith she understood herself differently; giving up her lesbian lifestyle and in time marrying a Presbyterian minister. This is a great book and well worth the read. I listened to it with Rosaria narrating. An astounding and excellent memoir.

2. Why The Reformation Still Matters by Michael Reeves

Again, I listened to this via audio book. The final three chapters move the book up in any sort of rating. However, because the first nine chapters aren’t particularly practical, which I expected they would be, then I didn’t find this book appealing or interesting. Not really worth the read.

3. Wisdom in Leadership by Craig Hamilton

It may have taken me 2.5 years from opening to closing this book but it was still a good one. There is something like 78 chapters, each about five pages long. It provides great practical advice for Christian leaders. Anything from how to lead a team to how to lead a meeting to how to build trust to how to deal with conflict. There are good chapters for those who are main leaders or those who volunteer under other leadership. Again, worth the read but don’t expect to read it through in one hit. It’s also worth noting that the author is Australian.

4. Without Warning by David Rosenfelt

A novel based around a murderer and his son seeking to get revenge on the Chief of Police. It moves quickly, involves a good amount of mystery, and is a fun read/listen.

5. Martin Luther by Eric Metaxas

There are plenty of Martin Luther biographies to read. Some are dry and academic but Metaxas’ one certainly isn’t. Like all good Metaxas books it is reasonably fast-paced and with great little side stories about what is going on in wider culture. I tend to read quickly to the halfway point and then slow down when reading Metaxas and this happened here too. It could have been shorter but is still a valuable and fun read on the life of one of the more significant people in world history and church history. You’re in for a humorous treat on page 334 too.

6. Reset: Living a Grace-paced Life in a Burnout Culture by David Murray

Easily the best book on this list. It may have been because of the time of year I read this one, or because I was feeling tired after 2018. Whatever it was, this book gives great theology that moves into great practice for rest, sleep, work, identity, sin and temptation, eating, exercise, and numerous other factors that can cause us to deplete our energy and lead us to burnout. Again, focused on Christian leaders but really gives good wisdom for a grace-paced life for all believers. I listened by audio, I’ll make sure I pick up a hard copy in due course. I think it’ll be useful for a small group study or course too.

7. Act of Treason by Vince Flynn

A fast-paced novel (ironic given the last book mentioned) about the attempt to take down the President and the US government. A typical thriller involving the CIA, the Russians, terrorists, and sleazy politicians.

8. How To Be A Christian: Your Comprehensive Growth to Flawless Spiritual Living by The Babylon Bee

The Babylon Bee. Enough said.

The whole book is satire. It’s mostly amusing but perhaps they do their best work in short blog posts, rather than 150-page books.

9. The Hand of Justice by Susanna Gregory

This is volume 10 in the Matthew Bartholomew series. I’ve grown to love the main characters of this series and the setting of medieval Cambridge is fascinating. There are always far too many murders to be anything realistic but it’s great fun when you’re into it. It is a holiday read as the writing is slow, nothing happens quickly. But, I liked this volume more than some of the recent ones I’d read.

10. The Prophet by Gibran Kahlil

A famous spiritualistic work by the admired Lebanese poet and writer Kahlil Gibran. I’ve known of this book since I lived in Lebanon over 10 years ago, he’s very famous and well regarded. The Prophet is about a prophet (obviously) who gives wisdom on the human condition and what it means to be human in relation to love, marriage, work, death, beauty, and other such topics. I was happy to have read this for the first time.

I hope you’ve had a good time reading so far in 2019 too.

6 Reasons Not To Buy Books In 2019

On my bookshelves sit over 800 books. On my Kindle sits around 250. I haven’t read them all.

Granted, some of these books are more reference material for when required. I have plenty of commentaries and Bible dictionaries that help in Bible study or preaching preparation. However, I also have a lot of books related to the Christian faith which I haven’t read. Last year I went through a spate of buying a number of books but knew I wouldn’t be able to read them for another few months.

So this year is the year of not buying books. Instead, I have given myself a goal of reading the many books on my shelves that are unread. Yes, that’s right, I’m not going to buy a single book this year.

For some people this might be easy, very easy. It would help if one didn’t read. But, for someone like me who enjoys perusing secondhand book stores, or picking up a bargain from the Christian bookstore, then it is a significant challenge.

6 reasons not to buy books in 2019

This personal challenge is exactly that, a personal challenge. I’m not here to rope anyone else into this challenge. I just know I have enough books on my shelves that can and ought to be read. In contemplating this challenge, however, I have six reasons why I won’t be buying a book in 2019.

First, I have enough books to read without having to buy any for 12 months. 

I did just say this. I know, I can’t believe I said this myself.

There are books on my shelf that I haven’t read. They should be read. They’re good books, recommended by others or bought for a particular purpose. At some point it is worth saying, “I have enough”. I have enough books to keep me reading and achieve my goals for 2019. With this being the case there isn’t a need to buy more from a pragmatic point of view. I have books to read, this will be sufficient.

Second, I don’t want to waste money. 

Books cost money. I have a finite supply of money. Spending money on books that I don’t need right now because I have enough reading material for the moment seems logical. I don’t want to waste my money on books that I won’t read for a number of months, or possibly years!

The other side of this is all the money I have already spent. The sunk cost of the books I have on my shelves. If I don’t read them and they just sit there then this is also wasted money. The financial drivers of the reading endeavour do play into this decision of not buying a book in 2019.

Third, I want to know what I need and what I don’t.

There are books on my shelves that have sat there for years. One would think that if they haven’t been read by now, like 10 years unread, then it might be worth giving them to charity. However, I’m sure there are gems on my shelf that I’m unaware of. It would benefit me to read them, no doubt. There are also some terrible books on my shelf, no doubt. These don’t need to be read as thoroughly as others but they still need to be taken off the shelf and evaluated.

In essence, I don’t know what is in some of these books and I would like to know what’s in them so that I can use them, learn from them, grow in some capacity or make the decision to get rid of them. I want to know what I need to keep and what I don’t need anymore.

Fourth, I need to make space.

Another practical reason for reading the books I already have is that I need to make space for others. While I won’t add to them this year, my bookcases are packed. There is little room for new books. Therefore, in reading more of my own books, and deciding to part with some of them, I will help my bookcases by freeing up space. Of course, doing something for a bookcase is not really truthful, it is so I can buy more in coming years. There are ulterior motives.

Fifth, I can bless others with books I don’t need. 

I know a few avid readers and a number of theological students who could benefit from some of the books I don’t need. Giving books away to people I know, with books that I believe would benefit them, helps them as much as it helps me. And while saying good-bye to some books sounds like a sad proposition, if it helps others then that’s great.

Sixth, of many books there is no end. 

As the write of Ecclesiastes reminds us, and all good students, at the end of his book of wisdom,

“Of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

There will always be books, and in coming years I will no doubt buy more. And while being surrounded by books somehow makes me feel more intelligent than I really am there can be a weariness that comes from it. Although, apparently it is a good thing to be surrounded by more books than you can ever read. In any case, I’ll keep reading, and learn to be a little less precious about my own collection and learn to enjoy them for what they are.

Therefore I Have Hope by Cameron Cole

My experience of suffering is minimal compared to many around the world. Let’s be honest, it’s minimal compared to many people I know.

While I have seen suffering in different forms; everything from widespread child exploitation and slavery in the Middle East, to sex trafficking and its effects in Asia, to friends and acquaintances who have lost spouses, children, or been  diagnosed with something horrendous. In my own life, however, I can’t really put a finger on too much suffering, that’s just a fact right now,. Something will come along some day, one can’t help but wonder when.

But, it’s not helpful in comparing my own lack of suffering with people who have suffered much. The comparison game is never helpful in any setting, and with regard to suffering it seems rather morbid. But this does not mean I cannot have empathy, sympathy, and feel the affects of what others are going through. However, in reality it is just not the same.

With this in mind, a friend of mine has written a book. I don’t know him all that well, and didn’t know his story until earlier this year. But he has written a book because he and his wife lost their first child when he was 3-years-old. Their child died in his sleep, there was nothing that could be done.

Yet out of this tragedy it is evident that Cameron Cole and his wife, and the awful sitaution they have been through, is something of a blessing to so many people. This blessing is now in the form of his recently published book ‘Therefore I Have Hope: 12 Truths That Comfort, Sustain, and Redeem In Tragedy‘.

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Throughout the book Cameron outlines 12 truths that comfort, sustain and redeem in tragedy. These are: Grace, Gospel, Resurrection, Faith, Empathy, Providence, Doubt, Presence, Sin, Joy, Service, and Heaven.

In each chapter Cameron outlines what he and his wife experienced, what stage of grief they were going through, and how it affected them. But, he then goes on to talk about the key truths that helped them understand more of God and more of the situation.

There are left some unknowns; and rightfully so when we live under the Creator God. But each chapter finds its place in helping work through an aspect of grief, and also an aspect of what God says through his Word about this suffering, this ‘Worst’ as Cameron calls it.

Of course, suffering comes in different ways, and in different stages, and for different lengths of time. In whatever way suffering may come to me or to you this book provides excellent foundations for being able to process it without becoming bitter and angry with God (at least in the long run). It acknowledges that these emotions toward God will of course occur, but God is still here and giving hope.

“…we must remember that our stories fall under Christ’s story of redemption. Your life is but a chapter in God’s greater narrative of restoring the world. Your Worst is merely a chapter in your own story. If we allow God to write our stories and to carry us through the season of darkness and despair, he will ensure that redemption constitutes the central progression of our stories (p47)…All the promises and comforts–the presence of God, the possibility of joy, the empathy of a suffering God, the hope of heaven, the promises of redemption of the world, the availability of grace, the gospel–apply to your story. The promises of the gospel become something you can bank on. They comprise a narrative under which you can live and thrive and hope (p58).”

There is little wonder this book won the World Magazine’s ‘Most Accessible Theology Book of the Year for 2018’. It is simply a great book on suffering, a great book on the impact of the gospel in our lives in times of suffering, and a great book on the character and nature of God.

In my role as pastor I come across people suffering regularly. This is the book I will be giving to them before, during, or after whatever their Worst may be. It is a terrific book, one of my top reads for 2018.

If you’d like to listen to Cameron talk further about the book and his experience you can do so here. And you can read another review of the book here and here