My Top Books of 2018

At this stage of the year every pretentious writer worth their while comes out with the most arrogant of posts. Knowing they’ve read more than most of their friends they willingly share this information in a list, highlighting their favourites reads of the year just gone. Adding to this pretentiousness I offer my not-so-humble addition for the fifth year running (for previous years see: 201420152016, 2017 ).

Without further ado, and in no particular order, here are my top books for 2018.

Enjoy.

My Top Books of 2018

This is one of the books I used in preparation for preaching a series on Ruth. I think it is fantastic.

It’s more of a devotional commentary and gives good insight into the book. It teaches the meta-narrative themes of Ruth and provides devotional material to personally ponder. It’s very helpful in understanding the book of Ruth, who God is, and the implications of the story. It’s also helpful in teaching how to read Old Testament scripture in narrative form.

I preached through the book of Ruth in February and March. This was the main commentary I used, which was excellent.

Ruth: The King Is Coming by Daniel Block is part of the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament series. This particular commentary gives a good outline of all the textual, cultural, and literary issues of the book. It walks the reader through the text and its structure in a accessible way. It raises the theological issues and conclusions of the book too. It was very helpful in thinking through the book of Ruth and and a useful preaching tool.

The writer, Jason Lloyd, has been an NBA beat journalist for years. He was the Cleveland beat writer during the time of LeBron’s coming, going, and return to the Cavs. He gives a fascinating insight into the way the club operated during this time and how the club dealt with the superstar.

While there is biographical material of LeBron himself, the real insight of the book comes in the form of team strategy. That is, the management of an NBA team and what strategic moves the back office uses to build a winning team.

This was a great book, worth reading, and some good sports writing.

This is one of the best modern Christian books you’ll ever read.

I rate it highly. So highly that I made it the first book in our church internship program.

The Prodigal God is a short book that takes the reader through the parable of The Prodigal Son. Each chapter not only reveals the content of the parable in a fresh way but is powerfully mind-blowing and heart-convicting for your soul.

If you’re looking for a great read and something that will encourage you in your Christian faith then this is well worth getting your hands on. It’s short too.

I re-read this book this year and found it helpful again. This is 25 chapters of leadership thinking by the President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. The cover of the book is pretty crass, like any leadership book with the authors picture on the front. But inside it’s worth a look and a read. I find Mohler particularly clear and insightful when it comes to wrestling with leadership as a Christian and as a Christian leader.

I hadn’t read anything by the late RC Sproul until I read this book. I know he’s been around for many many years and very highly regarded. I was blown away by the content in this book, now over 30 years old. From start to finish Sproul outlines the holiness of God. He moves from creation to mystery, from the Old Testament to the New. He shows just how large an impact God’s holiness has in the relationship he has with his creatures, and just how patient, gracious, and merciful he is.

For a more comprehensive review you can go here.

I have no way near the experience of suffering as Cole or other friends of mine have. Yet, as a pastor, and someone who is now reaching the stage of life where hearing of death and divorce has become more regular, I have found this book quite amazing. It is so comprehensive in understanding the pain of suffering and grief and so deep and rich in biblical truth. This is a pastoral book, an encouraging book, and a helpful book for anyone who is, has, and will suffer in this life (read: all of us). No wonder it won World Magazine’s Accessible Theology Book of the Year.

Thanks for reading along, hope you find something in there to read in the coming 12 months. If you’d like to read more about what I’ve read you can do so here.

The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

When things come to a close it can be a sad time.

When we come back from overseas after a wonderful holiday, when we say good-bye after a lovely dinner with friends, when the inspiring movie could have gone on much longer but had to come to an end. There is often the feeling of sadness.

So it is with youth ministries and programs that come to a close.

The Sadness Of Ministry Closure

At a recent ministry meeting a team of us decided to close a ministry that has been going on in our church for the last three years. For the past 18 months many of the main leaders in this program have left and moved onto other things. Others have simply stopped participating and helping out, not making it a priority. And some, sadly, have left the church and the faith altogether.

The feeling of the team was that it is best to lay the program down for a season or two.

And, it is sad.

It is sad because it is something many have put their hearts and souls into.

It is sad because it is a ministry that was loved by parents, students, and the wider church.

It is sad because relationships were strained because of the program and the stress involved.

It is sad because the investment of money, time, and effort into something like this brings with it an emotional connection.

But my pastor, who chaired the meeting, reminded us all of John 12:24,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” 

Our ministries, and church programs, including our precious youth group or camp or event, are like the grain. Sometimes they must fall to earth and die in order for more fruit to be produced.

Looking at this verse in closer context we see that some Greeks have come to see Jesus. From Andrew to Peter the message of these visitors is passed on to Jesus. Jesus responds by telling these visitors that his time to be glorified is close, very close.

What the…?

We find shortly after that Jesus is actually referring to his death. Through his death the disciples and the believers will bear much fruit.

But as Jesus continues to speak he says the following in v25-26:

“Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honour him.”

What a challenge!

It seems we are to look to do the things of God, look to do the work of Jesus, which is to die and be a sacrifice to the world.

How then does this relate to ministries and programs dying? 

Well, maybe it is the case of having to let them die so that more fruit can come from the wider ministries of the church. And maybe, just maybe, it is the case that we are to adjust our focus to Christ and look closely at how we serve him, realigning our ministries with his.