Category Archives: book review

Barriers to Church Growth. #2

A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss some of these barriers.

“Pastors are more concerned about self-interests than about God and His people (Philippians 2:21).”

 “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s.” – Philippians 2:21

How sad is it to think that you can’t trust a man of God? Very! But, obviously, there are many men out there who care more about their own interests than for the church.

In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul was faced with this problem. According to the Apostle, Timothy was the only one he could trust with the care of this church, because all the others sought their own, “not the thing’s of Jesus Christ.” Imagine, there were others capable of doing the work, but only Timothy proved selfless.

What an indictment! What a troubling accusation to cast upon men of God! Shouldn’t the very fact that we are called and equipped for the task of shepherding sheep qualify us for the work? Not if the work is only a tool for self-gratification or gain.

Humility Needed

What kind of pastor was Paul looking for when he finally decided on Timothy? All one has to do is examine the previous verses and see that he was looking for a man with a heart and mind like that of the Savior. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who…made himself of no reputation, and took upon the form of a servant…humbled himself…unto death (2:5-8).”

Jesus was the highest example of a man who could have taken advantage of His position; yet, He was the one who washed others’ feet; wore the same clothes; never demanded special treatment; allowed Himself to be abused and mistreated; even went to a cross. How would modern pastors fare if asked to be more like Him?

The Man Paul Picked

Think about Timothy for a moment. When you do, what kind of mental picture comes to mind? Did he wear the nicest suit? Did he drive a new car? Did he publish a new book every week, or host 15 conferences listing his name on neon parchment?

Did Timothy get offended when not addressed by the correct title? Did Timothy have an “earned doctorate?” Would you have had to make an appointment to see him in his office? If you did, would you have felt intimidated by his presence and demeanor? I don’t get this picture when I think of Timothy, but I do about a lot of preachers.

Self-Examination

What kind of pastor am I? Am I a barrier to church growth? This is a question I have to ask myself, even though it may dig up some stuff of which I am ashamed.

You see, the church is more important than my ego. It is more important than what people think of me. The church was not put here for my benefit. I was sent to care for them. I was sent to feed and protect the sheep, not sell them off to make a profit. They don’t belong to me. They belong to Jesus Christ.

Do I look at every church as a stepping stone? Do I view people as objects, or worse, servants? Am I willing to sacrifice my pride, even my life, for the sake of those for whom Christ died? If not, then I don’t deserve this “good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). Unless I want to be like Christ, as modeled in the life of Paul and Timothy, then I desire the work for the wrong reasons, which would make me a “barrier to church growth.”

Dear friend in ministry, whatever your role, are you more concerned with self? Go back and read Philippians 2 and see how your intentions stack up. Like me, you may find some barriers that need to be torn down.

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Filed under book review, Christian Maturity, God, ministry, Preaching, self-worth, worship

Barriers to Church Growth. #5 (Honoring Self)

The following was published several years ago, but since my last post was a quote addressing the worship of Self, this is pretty applicable. 


A very revealing study was done, leading to a book detailing how 300 churches went from declining or dying, to growing. In Comeback Churches, written by Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, there is a list of 30 different barriers to church growth. Having received permission from the publisher (B&H Publishing Group), I would like to discuss a different barrier each week.

“People do works for their own honor and not the glory of God (Matthew 5:16).”

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” – Matthew 5:16 KJV

Why do we do good works? Why do we feed the poor, shelter the homeless, tend to the elderly, etc. Do we do these things so that our Father will be glorified, or do we do them in order to get glory for ourselves?

To be Seen.

Some people do good works for the sole intention of being seen and considered especially spiritual. Jesus said that “Everything they do is for show” (Mt. 23:5 NLT). Jesus spoke of those who wanted to be seen as pious and holy by wearing boxes containing Scripture on their foreheads or arms. The bigger the box the better. All this was in an attempt to say, “I am keeping the law better than you!” (See Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

Then there are other people who do plenty of good deeds without even acknowledging God. For example,  go to any charity ball held by your local “high society” club. There you will find plenty of people who willingly give thousands to worthy causes, but smile as big as they can when the magazine photographers come around.

They may even be members of local churches and give large offerings to the building fund (as long as it’s named after them); buy the pastor a new car; or pay for a youth mission trip. “And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honor in the [congregation].” – Matthew 23:6 NLT

To be Accepted

Some people do good works in order to be accepted by God. They give away fortunes and spend their lives doing good deeds, but not to be seen of men. They want to be seen by God and thought of as worthy of His love. The only problem is that salvation is “not of works, lest any man should boast.” They work themselves to death in order prove their loyalty, thereby supposedly insuring a place in heaven. But the glory goes not to God, for attached to the works is an expectation of reward based on merit.

Soli Deo gloria

All glory should be to God alone. If our works are done in order to receive praise, then God is not getting the glory. If our works are meant to earn credit with God, then God is not getting the glory. If we work ourselves silly to meet the legalistic requirements placed on us by men, then God is not getting the glory. However, if out of a heart of love we do good works without expectation for reward, recognition, or acceptance, then God will receive the glory.

When all glory, honor, and praise is given to the Lord, He will draw all men unto Himself. Church growth will be unstoppable. Yet, if we expect credit for anything, then what should we expect but further decline? “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.” – Isaiah 48:11 KJV

We want others to see our good works, but not for our own glory. May they “glorify [our] Father which is in heaven.”

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You Can Call Me “Illustrator” If You Want To

The Book

As many of you already know, last year Parson’s Porch published a little book of mine, Life Lessons From the School Bus. If you haven’t picked up a copy, then why not?? I mean, seriously! It’s a good little book!

Anyway…

Each little story in the book has an illustration attached. And guess what? I did all the illustrating! Yes, I can do more than write; I can draw…sorta.

Unfortunately, because of the size of the book, and because the publisher didn’t see things that way I did, the illustrations on which I had worked very hard ended up being very small. Had I gotten my way, the illustrations would have had their own pages. Maybe, if the book ever becomes popular enough, a reprint will include just that.

The Illustrations

So, my dear friends, including those who have not yet found $10 to buy my book, I want to share with you some of the illustrations I drew. This way you will be better able to see all the illustrious and creative detail my geniusness can create 😉

Should you be on a tight budget and need an illustrator, give me a call. Seriously. I could always use a little extra gas money.

Also, if you’d like a signed and personally touched up copy of any of these illustrations, I will send you one for $20 plus shipping (which shouldn’t be much). What a deal!!

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De Nyew Testament 

Once again I am composing a post upon my old iPhone (would someone set up a GoFundAnthony account and buy me an iPhone 6?). 

I’m sitting in a school bus, under a bridge, all alone, after dropping off a bunch of kids on a summer field trip. They are riding the Riverboat while I sit here waiting. But, it’s a great opportunity to read and study. 

Anyway

One of the treasures I picked up the last time I was in Charleston was a new Bible. But this Bible is a little different – no, it’s a LOT different – from others I have: it’s in a different language! And I am reading it! 

De Nyew Testament is a translation of the New Testament into the Gullah language. No, it’s not a paraphrase or a for-fun parody of the KJV; it’s a literal translation of the NT into a genuine language. Gullah (also known as Geechee or Sea Island Creole) is a language “traditionally spoken along the coastal area of South Carolina and Georgia.” 

According to the preface, it took more than 25 years for folks from Wycliffe Bible Translators and the American Bible Society to pull this translation together. And let me tell you something: it’s worth getting. 

If you are a fluent reader of English, then you can read Gullah. It will take some practice, but you’ll get used to it and start to pick up on its rhythm. 

So, here I was under a bridge, in a school bus, next to the riverfront, reading a little from the Gullah version of the NT, when tears filled my eyes. And because of that, I wanted to write this post so I could share with you the particular verse of Scripture that got me. Read it through a few times, then let me know if it blessed you the way it blessed me 🙂 

“Look yah! We oughta study pon how de Fada da bless we wid e lob! E da lob we sommuch dat e call we e own chullun, an we e chullun fa true. People ob de wol ain been know who God da, an cause ob dat, dey ain know we.” 1 John 3:1 (Gullah)

“Look yah!” We ought to be studyin’ about how the Father has done blessed us with His love! Glory be to God! 

   

 

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Prayerless and Powerless

The Second Book

Andrew Murray

Andrew Murray

I am now well into the second week of 2015 with one book read and another started. The first book I finished was Donkey Tells a Promise Kept. The book I am reading at this moment is Living a Prayerful Life by Andrew Murray (1828-1917).

If you have never heard of Andrew Murray, he was a South African preacher and pastor (of Scottish decent), but more than anything a prayer warrior. Some of his theology may not sit well with all of us, but one thing is certain: this man had a heart for God like few others.

Quote of the Day

I am not even a quarter of the way through this little book, but there is something I’ve got to share with you. Something Murray wrote is convicting me, stinging me with a pain sharper than any wasp, more like the burn of a red-hot poker to the heart.

The Enemy uses all his power to lead the Christian – and above all, the minister – to neglect prayer. Satan knows that however admirable the sermon may be, however attractive the service, however faithful the pastoral visitation, none of these things can damage him or his kingdom if prayer is neglected. – Andrew Murray (p. 28)

I’m not going to lie – I don’t pray like I should. What a waste! What a sin!

I have preached some pretty good sermons and tried to do all the pastoral stuff, but how much more effective could I have been had I spent more time on my knees and less time at a desk? What if I spent more time talking with Jesus than talking about Him?After all, the whole reason the disciples called for the selecting of deacons was so that they might first give themselves “continually to prayer…” (Acts 6:4).

Preachers, before you worry anymore about your outline for Sunday, your clever illustrations, or your Power Point, spend some more time prostrate before the throne. If we neglect earnest prayer, we’ll have no power, so what’s the point?

One finger pointing, three back at me.

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Donkey Tells: A Review

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone! Yes, I know it is January 8, but I haven’t been able to write anything substantial until now. This, with the exception of a re-blog of something my daughter did, is the first post of 2015 – I’m so excited!

In December I wrote a couple of posts having to do with resolutions. One of the things I decided to do this year is read more – a lot more. As a matter of fact, I am going to attempt to read a book every couple weeks. Will I make it? At least I am going to try. What I will promise – and will achieve – is that I will be reading much more than that past, and that’s an improvement.

What has exceedingly hurt you in time past, nay, and I fear to this day, is want of reading. … And perhaps, by neglecting it, you have lost the taste for it. Hence your talent in preaching does not increase. … You wrong yourself greatly by omitting this. You can never be a deep preacher without it, any more than a thorough Christian.” John Wesley to John Premboth on August 17, 1760*

The First Book!

Believe it or not, I am just now into the second week of the year and have already finished my first book: Donkey Tells a Promise Kept.

Shortly before Christmas, the author of Donkey Tells (J. Thomas – aka, James Neff) paid me a welcome visit. When he came, he brought an autographed copy of his book in exchange for one of mine – a fair trade, indeed. So, after a home-cooked Southern meal which included fried okra, banana pudding, and coffee, I agreed to read Donkey Tells and write a review.

The Review

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Click on this picture to order

This is a unique little book, for sure. Even though it is meant to be read by younger children, the message is profound enough for the adult. I would, however, recommend buying this book to read to little kids. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of illustrations, so it might be more effective if read aloud as a nightly devotion for your elementary-aged child.

Donkey Tells a Promise Kept is a sweet story of a mother donkey (Sydney) explaining to her colt (Micah) the reason behind why the little colt would be carrying Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem (see Matt. 21:1-7). It also tells of what happens after all the “hallelujah’s” and “hosanna’s” fade away.

Now, don’t get your panties in a wad if you are the type who wants everything you read to be absolutely biblical; J. Thomas’ re-telling of certain well-known Bible stories, told through the recollection of a donkey, are not meant to be completely historical. However, Jesus may have talked to animals. Who knows? And, for that matter, animals may actually go to heaven, right?

Essentially, this is a sweet little book that can help communicate the gospel story to a child through an imaginative tale of talking donkeys with a little more spiritual insight than many adults.

The ending of the book leaves an opening for additional stories, to which I look forward.  However, I’d suggest firing the former illustrator and hiring me; just pay me in coffee, fried okra, pinto beans, and cornbread.

Donkey Tells is 132 pages long, but the print is larger, thereby making it a quick and fun read.

Buy the book or download it. You’ll enjoy it – and that’s a promise!

 

*Quoted in Ben Witherington’s Is There a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar, pg. 71.

 

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Mr. Monkey Endorses My Book

If you have been waiting to hear glowing endorsements before purchasing my new book Life Lessons from the School Bus, then wait no longer.

On today’s edition of “Monday Monkey” Mr. Monkey will share a few words regarding the book and our friendship.

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The New Books Are In

It was reminiscent of the scene in The Jerk when Steve Martin exclaimed, “The new phone books are here ! The new phone books are here!” There, leaned ever so proudly against my screen door, was a cardboard box containing my new little books. My youngest daughter and I were excited!

So, here it is, finally in my hands – excerpts from nearly 15 years of bi-vocational bus driving. Unfortunately, it doesn’t feel like 15 years-worth. You’d think I could have written a novel-sized volume, not a 75-page baby book. Nevertheless, the idea was for it to be a quick and easy read, much like a blog post; something quick and to the point.

This is a funny book, but it’s meant to make a mark or two on the soul. My prayer is that it will have a part in changing at least a few lives for the better. Since God is known for working in the strangest ways, maybe He will work through this book.

Contact me if you’d like an autographed copy.

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Kids Spitting and Truth Telling

The following is what I am planning to make the last entry of my new book. Tell me what you think.

“Unexpected Truth”

Every once in a while a bus driver, or anyone for that matter, may find himself saying, “I didn’t see that one coming!” In other words, every once in a while something happens; somebody says something that you would have never imagined. Let me tell you about one of those “once in a while’s.”

Spitting Accusations

Kids are always doing stuff to each other to be aggravating. You have probably witnessed children throwing spit wads, taking items out of another’s book bag, or hiding a child’s shoe right before her stop. No? Well what about spitting on each other?

Oh, yes, children are well-accustomed to spitting on each other, especially boys. Now, they never admit to doing it; they usually blame it on the one kid with no salivary glands. But there was this one time when a boy on my bus accused a girl of spitting on him when she actually didn’t. How do I know that she didn’t? She showed me proof!

So, “Jack” hollered from the back of the bus, “Mr. Baker! ‘Jill’ spit on me!” Before I could rationally respond, another voice came from the back, the voice of the accused, crying, “No I didn’t – he’s lying!” Since I was in the process of driving and there was no place to pull over and deal with the situation, all I could do at the moment was respond with a simple request: “STOP SPITTING!”

A moment passed, then Jill came up to the seat behind me (which is dangerous and against the rules, by the way). “Mr. Baker,” she said in a tone laced with disgust, “I did not spit on Jack; he spit on himself after he spit on the seat.”

What?” I asked. “He’s spitting on the seat?! That’s gross!”  Incidentally, this is one of those times when I find it appropriate to ask: why do people of any age find enjoyment in recreational spitting? Why waist perfectly good saliva when there’s nothing necessarily nasty to expel from one’s mouth?

Anyway, a moment or two later, Jack came up to share his side of the story. “Mr. Baker, Jill did spit on me! See my shirt? See, this is her spit…she spit on me! See?”

I couldn’t argue with what I saw. There, as plain as the marks on a Dalmatian, were wet spots where something liquidy had collided with his shirt. Somebody had spit on him.

“Jill!” I yelled, “Why did you spit on Jack?” From the back of the bus came an insistent reply, “But I didn’t! He spit on himself just to get me in trouble!”

The Truth Comes Out

Where’s Solomon when you need him? Why can’t school buses be equipped with portable DNA equipment? How was I supposed to determine who spit on whom? How could I prove who needed to be punished with a stern warning and a verbal reprimand? The answer came in a way I never would have dreamed, but I will never forget.

“Mr. Baker…” Jill had made her way back up to the seat behind me, again while I was driving. “Jill, you need to sit down!” I told her.

“But Mr. Baker…” Let me just pause here to try to describe Jill’s way of saying my name. Jill spoke with a slightly non-emotional, matter-of-fact, drawn-out southern drawl. It sounded more like “Miiis-turr Buh-ayyy-kurr…”

“Mr. Baker, I didn’t spit on Jack; he spit on the seats and then on himself to make it look like I did it,” she said. “But I didn’t, and I can prove it.”

“Really,” I asked.

“Yessir,” Jill replied. “You see, Jack was eating green candy, and the spit on his shirt was green – mine is not…SEE!

At that point, just around my right shoulder, came the arm of a little girl. Attached to that arm was a palm, and in that palm was half an ounce of spit – yes, spit! It looked like a blob of clear silicone!

“It wasn’t me that spit, ‘cause my spit is clear, seeeee Mr. Baker?”

I couldn’t argue with her. She proved her point. There was the proof puddled in the palm of her hand, clear as day. I nearly threw up.

Life Lesson

We may not like it, but sometimes the truth is hard to stomach – and nothing like what we expected.

The simple fact is that truth isn’t always pleasant; more often it is nasty. No woman wants to hear the truth when she asks, “Does this dress make me look fat?”  No man wants to hear the truth when he asks, “How did I do with the laundry?” But sometimes the truth has to be told to make a difference. Unfortunately, to play off the words of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, many can’t handle the truth.

For example, there is a saying that goes, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Do you know where that saying came from? It comes from Jesus. He said, “If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:31-32). The part that is hard for many to stomach is the part where He says, “If you continue in my word…” In other words, in order to know the truth that will set one free, one must be a follower of Jesus Christ.

Some say that truth is relative, that it changes with the circumstances of life. Others have said that there is no truth, only perception (Gustave Flaubert). However, without truth there can be no lie, no wrong, and no remedy for the spit on some kid’s shirt, not to mention the darkness in our hearts. But when we follow Jesus, we can rest assured there is Truth to know, for He said in John 14:6, “I am the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE…”

Route Suggestions

  • When faced with a tough situation, one that demands you make a wise decision, ask God for help. James 1:5 says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God…”
  • Don’t ask someone to tell you the truth about how you look, how well you’re doing your job, etc., unless you’re willing to hear the truth.
  • Don’t “kill the messenger.” If someone does try to tell the truth, don’t get angry when they say the dress makes you look fat. Just get angry because they weren’t sensitive enough to change the subject.
  • Read the book of John in the Bible. Make a list of the claims that Jesus made. Was He telling the truth? For the atheist or agnostic, that may be a truth too hard to handle, but it can set you free.

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Feedback Needed! Don’t Be a Snotty Susie!

The following is an excerpt from a new book I am trying to complete within the next few days. It will be called Life Lessons from the School Bus. Let me know what you think. Marketable? Funny? Gets the point across? 

“Losing Marbles”

Once there was a little girl on my bus who cried over everything, especially when she didn’t get her way.  She ended up losing her marbles.

Snotty Susie

One morning this little girl – let’s just call her “Snotty Susie” – was crying about how everybody hated her.  Seriously, not two minutes after getting on the bus she started in with her caterwauling (the howling or wailing noise a cat makes). For the next 15 minutes the rest of the kids tried to console her, but all she kept saying through the sniffing, slobbering and crying was “Nobody wants to be my friend! Everybody hates me! WAAAAAH!

Fortunately, we reached the elementary school before everyone went deaf from the crying. Then, just as “Snotty Susie” was stepping off the bus, a little boy who had gotten off in front of her looked back and said, “Nobody hates you, Susie; we just don’t like you.”

At least the little guy was being honest.

The Great Giveaway

Well, that afternoon, when the elementary kids were getting on the bus to go home, “Susie” got on first and sat on the front row. “Would you like a marble, Mr. Baker?” she asked. “No,” I said, “I have plenty.”

What kind do you have?” she asked. “The round kind,” I replied.

Then, as the other children entered the bus, just as soon as they walked past her, she would ask, “Would you like a marble? You can have it for keeps. EVERYONE! Get your FREE marble, if you WANT one!

I asked, “What are you doing? Why are you giving away your marbles?” She said, “Because I am going to MAKE them like me.

Honestly, I felt sorry for the poor little girl. No one had ever taught her how to make friends.

Life Lesson

When we treat people poorly, and then try to buy their friendship with shiny trinkets, we end up losing our marbles.

“Snotty Susie” usually had a bad attitude about everything. She regularly talked mean to other kids, made fun of them, and then cried out in emotional pain when someone wasn’t nice to her. No one wanted to be her friend because she was NOT friendly! She couldn’t even buy friends for a day.

The saddest part was that I picked up a handful of marbles after all the children got off.

Route Suggestions

  • King Solomon said, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly” (Proverbs 18:24). How can you be nice to someone today?
  • Don’t try to buy your friends. If you do, you’ll just go broke (marble deficient) trying to keep them.
  • Don’t let anyone buy YOUR friendship. Be a real friend to somebody who’s a marble short.

[UPDATED IN AN ATTEMPT TO BE LESS SOPHOMORIC. I HOPE IT WORKED.]

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