One of the things I do just about every time someone visits me in my study is recommend a book. It's not difficult to do, surrounded as I am in that room by over 2,000 volumes. I love to read, which means I love books, which means I love to tell others about good ones. Two tomes I've recently consumed are a gift to the church - one aimed particularly at pastors, and one to those they serve. I first read John Piper's, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea for Pastors for Radical Ministry, as I was about to move from 13 years in the corporate world into a life of full-time ministry as a pastor. As a young man filled with questions about life as a pastor, pastor John's bite-size chapters on over 30 different aspects of ministry were immensely helpful. And now, picking up this new edition with additional chapters and refreshed content, after almost a decade of pastoring myself, I've been instructed and encouraged all over again.
This time I found myself hopping around the book, which is easy to do, because it's not written in a way that requires you move from beginning to end. Each chapter is an imperative plea in an area of pastoral vocation, so I let my interest (and my gut) lead me through the table of contents. As I read, I found pastor John's voice to be a gentle challenge to earnestly pursue undistracting excellence for the glory of God in my pastorate.
I grew up spiritually in my eight years of church membership at Bethlehem Baptist Church, and during my training at what is now Bethlehem College and Seminary. The greatest gift I received there was my love, passion, and thirst for the Bible, and desire to study it to set a feast for God's people each Sunday. So let me point you to a few of my favorite chapters by way of persuading you to buy this book for yourself, or for a pastor you may know and love.
"Brothers, Be Bible-Oriented - Not Entertainment-Oriented - Preachers" reminds us of the weightiness of the call, and the challenge of holding fast when preaching to a people immersed in an entertainment culture. We must be winsome and creative to grab their attention, without falling prey to the temptation to merely entertain. Piper:
I am God's representative sent to God's people to deliver a message from God.
"Brothers, Query The Text" makes clear the simple, single, and most important pursuit of the pastor/preacher's week: prayerfully sitting under (not over) the authoritative, Sacred Writings to hear from God what you must preach to his people. Piper:
It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and see all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don't care about seeing the coherence of truth). But I don't see how anyone who is indifferent or superhuman can have a proper respect for the Bible. Therefore reverence for God's Word demands that we ask questions and pose problems and that we believe there are answers and solutions which will reward our labor with treasures new and old (Matt. 13:52).
In "Brothers, Bitzer Was a Banker", I felt the pain of conviction over all the rust that has accumulated upon my Greek and Hebrew. I have renewed zeal to spend daily time in the Sacred Writings in those original languages. Piper, quoting Heinrich Bitzer:
The more a theologian detaches himself from the basic Hebrew and Greek text of Holy Scripture, the more he detaches himself from the source of real theology! And real theology is the foundation of a fruitful and blessed ministry.
I could share so much more, but you need to read for yourself. Get a copy of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals.
I share J.D.'s history of growing up in a church culture that provided plenty of doubt over one's conversion, rather than assurance. I too probably "asked Jesus into my heart" around 5,000 times in my growing up years. Wether that's you, or you are just a Christian like any other who has struggled with doubts over your salvation, I cannot commend enough this incredibly readable but theologically serious treatment of conversion.
J.D. does a good job of, in the words of one of our elders at Calvary, "afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted." For those in the midst of despair, wondering if they can "ever know for sure I am saved," he wants you to have the Biblical evidence for why you can have peace. And for those who have wrongly believed they are in the kingdom (a "wrongness" they may not even be aware of before reading pastor Greear), maybe because they've merely "prayed for Jesus to come into their hearts," he gently but firmly presents the Scriptures that should clarify their error. All in the hopes they will repent and receive eternal life.
I love this book for how it talks about belief. I love this book for how it explains repentance. I love this book for how it displays the beauty of Jesus. I was so helped by it, I bought a copy for each of my oldest children, and we are going to read it together and talk it through. I've also had it added to our resource table at Calvary (the church where I pastor), and hope it constantly sells out. Why? Because I want people to be sure they are in Jesus. Just like pastor Greear:
I've often heard it said that many "Christians" will miss heaven by eighteen inches, the distance between their heads and their hearts. Don't let that be you. Let what you know to be true about Christ captivate your soul and command your behavior. Repent.
Make the choice to (in the words of John Piper) "replace all God-dishonoring, Christ-belittling perceptions and dispositions and purposes with God-treasuring, Christ-exalting ones."