“Dad, what’s your favorite book?”

My third daughter asked this question last week and I couldn’t give a good answer. I have so many books that I love. Only book people will understand this, but books, both the physical copy and the story, are like old friends. Their presence brings comfort and joy.

So, I decided to make a list of my favorite books. At first it was going to be ten. Ten quickly became fifteen.

This list may surprise you. It did me. The books on this list are a mix of devotional, biography, and fiction. With the exception of the first, the books are listed randomly.

 

  1. Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

This book made me a reader. I finished it on my third attempt and have been reading steadily since. I connected to the story as a young boy by identifying with Jim Hawkins. My copy sits on our bookshelf today. I occasionally pick it up to remind myself that some things never change.

 

  1. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Two Volumes by Iain Murray

I’m a great admirer of Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Lloyd-Jones served Westminster Chapel in London during WWII and into the 1960s. Before London, God used him to revive a dying church in his homeland of Wales. A trained physician, Lloyd-Jones left his profession to become a pastor. Murray’s two volumes should be read by every pastor.

 

  1. Grant – Jean Edward Smith

I’ve always read about the Civil War, but I’ve only been reading about Grant in last few years. I’ve come to admire him greatly. Smith’s biography paints the picture of a leader who, though flawed like all of us, understood the reality of war, respected all people, and lived with humility. This book inspired me to read further about Grant, including additional biographies and his Personal Memoirs.

 

  1. Lincoln – David Herbert Donald

The reason I read Smith’s Grant was because of Donald’s biography of Lincoln. Years ago I decided to stop reading leadership books and instead to focus on reading biographies of leaders. If you want to be inspired to do the difficult task, then read this book.

 

  1. The Fountainhead – Ayn Rand

While Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s most famous novel, I think The Fountainhead is a superior story. Admittedly, if Howard Roark actually existed we would think that he was a massive jerk. But, the story of the individual struggle against powers-that-be is inspirational.

 

  1. Absalom, Absalom – William Faulkner

This story is visceral and complex. I had never read Faulkner before picking up this book. He’s not easy reading, but the journey is worth it. I plan to return to this story.

 

  1. The Postman – David Brin

You may be familiar with Kevin Costner’s movie adaptation. The movie was a flop, but the book is fantastic. Brin, who often criticizes negative post-apocalyptic science fiction, wrote an uplifting story set in a broken future.

 

  1. The Complete Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Okay, this isn’t exactly one book, but Holmes is my all-time favorite fictional character. Just last summer, sitting on our church bus to and from a mission trip, I reread The Hound of the Baskervilles. As much as I enjoy watching Jeremy Brett and Benedict Cumberbatch, those guys are no substitute for the real Sherlock.

 

  1. 1984/Animal Farm – George Orwell

These two books tell one story. Animal Farm shows how a totalitarian government comes into being, while 1984 details how that system remains in power. I originally read both as a teenager and revisited them in the past two years. They retained their power.

 

  1. The Fortunate Pilgrim – Mario Puzo

Most people know Mario Puzo for The Godfather. The Fortunate Pilgrim, which is more literary and written first, tells the story of early 20th century New Yorkers. I still think about the story’s characters, even though I read the novel at least four years ago. This book is on my reread list.

 

  1. Only One Life – John Phillips

I’m a great admirer of Dr. Stephen Olford. John Phillips, himself a well-known preacher and writer, wrote this biography about his friend and mentor. The scope of Dr. Olford’s ministry and his commitment to expository preaching continues to encourage me. The world could use another Stephen Olford.

 

  1. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – J.R.R. Tolkien

Peter Jackson’s movies are great, but they lose much of the story’s charm in the adaptation. Tolkien created an entire world, taking the reader through a patient, yet harrowing, journey. I’ve read these twice and plan to take another trip through Middle Earth.

 

  1. The Hustler – Walter Tevis

As an avid pool player in my youth, the movie adaptation with Paul Newman was required viewing. The novel, of which the movie is a close adaptation, is equally exciting. Tevis’ writing is lucid and concise. You can see the balls roll into the pockets as he describes the showdowns between Fast Eddie Felson and Minnesota Fats.

 

  1. Mockingbird – Walter Tevis

The Hustler introduced me to Walter Tevis. I’ve since read all of his novels, and Mockingbird is the best. The idea that a science fiction novel could be set in a future in which people have forgotten how to read is brilliant.

 

  1. Knowing God – J.I. Packer

I want to be J.I. Packer when I grow up. His books are substantial, yet relatable. This volume, probably his best-known, explains the nature of God so that anyone can understand and draw closer to the Creator. It is one of the few books I’ll loan out. Read it if you haven’t.

 

 

Now that I’ve answered my daughter’s question, I’m interested to see how this list will change over time. Maybe in five years or so, I’ll put a new list together. I’m sure some books will change, but a few of these old friends will stick around.

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Selfishness breeds paganism.

Basic paganism attempts to manipulate the gods so that those gods will favor the practitioner. This selfish way of thinking comes naturally to sinful humanity. While Christianity rescues us from this false idea, we often default to it in our relationship with God.

For instance, during a recent quiet time, I read Luke’s account of the feeding of the five thousand. This miracle appears in all four Gospels, with Matthew and Mark placing it in a similar context, while Luke and John include different material surrounding the passage. All four writers, under inspiration, point us in the same direction. That direction, however, is not always how we view the passage. Instead, we make it about ourselves.

When Luke tells the story of the five thousand, he follows it up with a conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Jesus asks them in 9:18, “Who do the people say that I am (NASB)?” The disciples then share the crowd’s idea, leading Jesus to ask the disciples’ opinion. Peter answers in verse twenty, “The Christ of God.

Both Matthew and Mark record Jesus walking on the water after feeding the five thousand. In both tellings, Jesus calms the disciples by saying, “It is I, do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27, Mark 6:50).” Mark tell us in 6:52 that the disciples “had not gained any insight from the incident of the loaves, but their heart was hardened (NASB).” Matthew adds the details of Peter’s failure to walk on the water with Jesus. In 14:33, after Jesus and Peter board the boat, the disciples say, “You are certainly God’s Son (NASB).”

John’s Gospel gives a detailed description of both the day of and the day following the feeding of the five thousand. John writes in 6:14 that the crowd responded to the feeding by saying, “This is truly the Prophet who is come into the world (NASB).” The next day, the crowd returns and Jesus rebukes them for coming only for food (6:26). Jesus then begins a long discourse and says in John 6:35, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst (NASB).”

The focus of the feeding of the five thousand is Jesus’ identity. Each Gospel writer leads us down this path.

Unfortunately, our self-centered pagan instincts often kick in when we look for personal application in familiar Bible stories. We make them about ourselves. With the feeding of the five thousand, we often emphasize the little boy and his loaves and fishes. We talk about how God takes our little and makes it big. We talk about the importance of sharing. We point out the boy’s willingness to serve and encourage ourselves to do likewise.

It’s certainly true that God uses us beyond what we imagine. And yes, the Bible calls on believers to share with those in need. And of course, we must be willing to serve when called upon.

The feeding of the five thousand, however, is not about those things. It is about Jesus’ deity and Messiahship. If we miss that, then we’ve missed the point.

How do we get beyond a self-centered approach to the Bible? It’s actually not difficult. We simply have to ask the right questions, in the correct order.

Anytime we read the Bible, we must first ask what the passage teaches about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That question forms the foundation for all Bible study and devotional reading. It allows us to get to know Him better, which is the only way to grow in holiness.

After beginning with a God-centered approach, we can ask what a passage teaches about humanity. Be careful though, it’s still not time to make it about ourselves. Rather, we must ask what the Bible portion teaches about our sinfulness, our nature, and God’s plan of redemption. In other words, we ask what the text teaches about our separation from God and the reconciliation provided through Christ.

Finally, we can ask how the passage applies personally. We should consider how the first two questions apply to our marriages, jobs, families, physical and mental health, etc.

God’s Word matters to all aspects of our lives. We only need to approach it in the correct sequence. When we don’t, our natural selfishness takes over and we misuse the Bible.

God has chosen to reveal His nature to us through the Bible. If we’ll get out of the way, we’ll hear what He has to say.

“The way to carry coffee is not to look at it.”

I was working at Bartlett Billiards and had just taken a cup of coffee to a customer playing on table five. I felt like I was going to spill the drink for the entire trip. The owner, Mike, shared this table-serving jujitsu with me when I walked back behind the counter.

He was right.

Bartlett Billiards

Bartlett Billiards

In my home, I’m the coffee maker. Each morning I pour my coffee first, then Donna’s, and finally our oldest daughter’s. I carry three different coffee mugs each day. Often, when carrying Donna’s, I’m walking in the dark. She’s just getting into the shower and I’m taking her mug to the bedroom so that it’s ready for her quiet time. In the darkness, I can’t see the mug. I have to trust that by not looking, I’m not spilling.

Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (NASB).”

So much of our relationship with Christ is based on those things we cannot see. Yet, we know them to be true. Faith is trust. Faith doesn’t double check or nag. Faith doesn’t say, “I knew you’d take care it, but I just needed to make sure for myself.” Faith believes.

The way to live with faith is not to look at it.

Today, if I look at the coffee mug, it means that I’m not trusting the lesson I learned over twenty years ago. I know that not looking means I won’t spill.

If you are a Christian, then you don’t have to make sure that God is with you. You’ve already gotten to know Him. You repented of your sin because you realized your life fell short of His glory. You placed your faith in Christ as Lord because you understood that Jesus died and rose again, proving Himself to be God in the flesh. Those facts alone should bolster your faith when walking in the darkness.

In Deuteronomy 31:6 and 31:8, Moses told Israel and its new leader Joshua that God “will not fail you or forsake you (NASB).” The writer of Hebrews applied this promise to all believers when he wrote in 13:5, “Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU (NASB).”

If God is with you, He’s with you. He is faithful because He is God.

Don’t doubt what you already know.

You’re not going to spill.

 

I didn’t realize that I had groaned aloud. My eight year old daughter asked me what was wrong.

“Nothing you need to worry about. It’s not important.”

“Dad, when you say that it usually means that it is important.”

“You’re right, it’s just nothing you need to worry about.”

I had groaned while reading an opinion peace printed in our local paper. The writer, Susan Stamper Brown, compared Donald Trump to the Apostle Paul. She was writing about Christians who have decided not to support Donald Trump. Brown wrote that the video containing Trump’s now famous locker room talk came years before, what she called, his conversion to Christianity. She noted that in 2011 Trump claimed to be a Christian. Brown wrote that this conversion has led Trump to be pro-life and in favor of conservative judges. She then took evangelicals to task for not backing Trump.

Brown then wrote: “It’s fair to ask what would have happened to Christianity if the apostle Paul was treated the same way some evangelicals treat Trump for his preconversion activities.” She correctly noted that Paul rabidly opposed the church before becoming a believer. Plus, she proof-texted from Romans 7:15 that Paul still struggled with sin after conversion.

Hence, my groan.

The apostle Paul, once the scales fell from his eyes, immediately began proclaiming Jesus as Messiah. He immediately discipled others. Certainly the leaders of the Jerusalem church were doubtful, but God used Barnabas to take care of those hesitations.

Trump, however, does not display the fruit of Spirit. While we cannot truly know someone’s heart, we can view spiritual fruit. At best, if converted, Trump is a carnal Christian.

So, what do we do in November?

I’ve had several church members ask me about the election. I’ve hesitated to write this post because the situation is so volatile. However, I’ve always been very open about why and who I’ve voted for with my congregations, so I’m going to try to be consistent.

First, since my first opportunity to vote in 1996, I’ve always supported the Republican candidate. Like many evangelicals, I’m pro-life, in favor of small government, lower taxes, a strong military, and pro-second amendment, among other stances.

Second, these opinions mean that I cannot vote for Hilary Clinton. It’s not an option.

Third, I cannot vote for Donald Trump.

I’ll give you a second to calm down.

I know. I understand all the arguments favoring Trump. They all make sense.

But, I just can’t do it.

I’ve asked myself if, twenty years from now, I can look my wife and daughters in their eyes and say that I voted for a man who viewed women like Trump does. Notice that I said “does.” After the second debate, in which he dismissed his “locker room” talk, Trump spent time criticizing Clinton’s body, specifically her rear end. He said, “I’m standing at my podium and she walks in front of me, right. She walks in front of me, you know. And when she walked in front of me, believe me, I wasn’t impressed.” I googled “Trump body shames Hillary Daily Beast” to find the article on the news site The Daily Beast. I’m not linking it here because the article contains offensive language when quoting Trump’s hot mic conversation. I’ll let you decide about visiting the page.

I cannot bring myself to vote for a man who would treat my wife and daughters that way. I realize I have a strong protective streak and that this decision probably stems from that instinct. My daughters are going to encounter plenty of creeps like Trump. I’m not willing to help make one of those men the most powerful leader in the world.

Before I say what I plan to do when voting, I also want to address the main issue for many evangelicals—the Supreme Court. I understand that judges need to be put in place who hold to the Constitution’s original intent. I understand the issues surrounding judges and abortion. I understand that Trump has pledged to appoint conservative judges.

Can Trump be trusted to do what he says?

Never forget that Trump is a master negotiator. Commercial real estate is about making deals. Can Trump be relied upon to uphold his pledge if it isn’t politically expedient? What if appointing, or not appointing, a particular judge becomes part of larger political agenda. I believe Trump won’t hesitate to do what Trump thinks is best for Trump’s success.

So, what about November?

I’ve decided to vote for the independent conservative candidate Evan McMullin. He’s a write-in candidate in Tennessee and I plan to do just that. McMullin’s positions are consistent with my own and he doesn’t have the character questions associated with Trump.

I don’t accept the argument that a vote for a third party is a vote for Hillary. I understand that McMullin doesn’t have a real chance to win. Honestly though, neither did Bob Dole, John McCain, or Mitt Romney when I voted for them. But, when I look back on 2016, I have to be able, in good conscience, to say that I voted according to my principles and beliefs. We all do.

I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote. I know that most who read this will be voting for Trump. I understand why and respect that you have thought this through as I have.

What we all need to remember is that no matter what happens, God allows it. Our calling as believers is to be the best citizens we can be, no matter who is in White House. Paul made it clear in Romans 13 that we are to be submissive to government.

Do I fear what happens if Clinton is elected? I’m certainly concerned. I pray that those in Congress can stop the continuing rise of liberalism. If they can’t, we’ll deal with the world we’ve been given. After all, this world is not our home. Ultimately our citizenship is in Heaven.

The great news is that our eternal leader has no flaws.

44 funerals.

At least, that’s how many I can account for. There are probably three or four that evaded my Excel spreadsheet. The first was on June 13th, 2005, during my first year as a pastor. The most recent was August 19th, 2016. It was my fourth funeral in less than a month.

The names include church members, family, and strangers. I shared the occasional service, but mainly it was just me.

I don’t know if that number of funerals in eleven years is normal, low, or high. I’ve never asked another pastor. But, what I do know is that I’ve learned a lot about what’s important when the time comes to say goodbye to a loved one.

First, family is vital. If a family is close, then they can endure grief together. Remaining spouses need the comfort of children and grandchildren. Siblings need shared memories and experiences. Grandchildren need assurances about the nature of life and death.

While each funeral home differs, normally there is a final viewing for the family before the service. I stand near the head of the casket out of respect for the deceased and to be available to the family. In this intimate moment, families are at their most vulnerable. They gather strength from one another. A loving family is gift from the Lord.

Second, church is essential. Many times during these forty four funerals and visitations, people have asked me, “Brother John, I don’t know how someone gets through this who doesn’t have a church family.” I always agree with them. I don’t know how they do it either.

In the two churches I’ve been privileged to pastor, I’ve seen God’s people step up to care for the grieving. Food is brought. Visits are made. Time is given. Without these things, families are left to go through loss unaccompanied. God didn’t design us to grieve alone. We bear one another’s burdens.

Third, Heaven is crucial. Depending on circumstances, Heaven may offer relief or reassurance. Families, though hurting, find relief in the healing that Heaven provides. In tragic cases, the reassurance that the loved one is with the Lord may be the only solace in the early days of loss.

I don’t know how many more funerals God will allow me to preach. Preachers never truly retire, so I suspect I’ll be conducting services for at least another 40 years. But, I believe that these things I’ve written about will always be true, because they come from God. He created the family. He loves the church. He promises Heaven to those who call on His name. Fortunately, He uses these truths when we need them the most.

Rosco 1

My daughters like routine. Especially, when that routine involves doughnuts.

Whenever they spend time with grandparents, I head to the local doughnut shop to buy breakfast before they leave.

To get there, I turn left out of our neighborhood onto a four-lane state highway. The turn can be tricky if traffic is heavy. Sometimes, I need to drive into the turn lane and then ease my way into traffic. I hate doing this, but this trip was during the morning rush hour. It was either creep into traffic or wait until lunch to turn left.

I was turning north, so when the southbound lanes cleared I drove into the turn lane and managed, fairly quickly, to move into the right hand lane.

While performing my Andretti-like maneuver, I noticed a Highway Patrol car driving southbound. I looked into my rearview mirror and saw that the car was making a U-turn to drive back north. Its lights began to flash.

For some reason, perhaps latent criminal tendencies, I assumed that the officer was going to pull me over. I knew I had done nothing wrong, but I also knew that Rosco had me.

Rosco 2

As bad as getting a ticket is, it was an even bigger deal that morning. It just happened that the previous Sunday I had preached about Christian submission to government, from 1 Peter 2:13-17. The example that I stressed was obeying the speed limit.

When I saw the patrol lights flashing, I thought, “Great, it’s Friday morning and all of South Jackson is driving to work. At least half of the church will see me pulled over after I just preached about doing the speed limit.”

In a split second, I decided to own up. Once the ticket was written, I would post about it on Facebook and Twitter and confess my sin publicly, hopefully humorously.

As my resolve steeled, the patrolman passed me and pulled over an 18 wheeler.

If I’ve ever felt that stupid, I can’t remember when.

I was innocent.

I knew I was innocent.

Yet, I acted as if I was guilty.

Paul wrote in Romans 6:8–14, “8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (NASB).”

As Christians, we understand that we have been freed from the power of sin.

We are free.

We know we are free.

We act as if we are slaves.

If you have surrendered your life to Christ, then you have been freed from the power of sin. This freedom means that each sin we commit comes about because we have decided to sin. God, through the Holy Spirit, has freed us to choose not to sin. We know this. We just don’t act like it.

We also understand that we are not perfect. We will continue to sin until we are with Jesus. But, that general truth is no excuse for our specific sin.

Live free from fear of condemnation because Christ has freed you.

Live free from guilt of past sin because Christ paid the price.

Don’t let the sin you see in the rear Read More