Preaching for God’s Glory by Alistair Begg 📚

A quick and insightful introduction to expository preaching

Preaching for God’s Glory is a brief and compelling introduction to the topic of expository preaching. In this slim volume, Alistair Begg quickly covers a large swath of ground that serves as both a useful reminder for experienced preachers and an accessible starting point for novices. Begg is the Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland. While not explicitly stating a thesis, Begg’s aim is clear: to convince reader that the Word of God is the sole authority for the church, and the preacher of it is, “standing under Scripture, not over it.” He not only succeeds in this task, but he does so with an easy to read and disarming style that eschews any pomposity or formality.

The structure Begg gave his book clearly outlines his intentions. The book has six chapters, entitled, (1) “The Eclipse of Expository Preaching,” (2) “What Happened to Expository Preaching?,” (3) “The Nature of Expository Preaching,” (4) “The Benefits of Expository Preaching,” (5) “Practical Pointers,” and (6) “‘Who is Equal to Such a Task?’.’ As these chapter titles make clear, Begg sets out to diagnose the demise of expository preaching, explore and then extol its benefits, and then exhort and prepare the reader to undertake the task.

Begg’s style in Preaching for God’s Glory is deceptively simple. The reader is carried along by his easy and simple prose, only to find themselves downstream floating in a mass of new insight and practical wisdom about preaching. For a very small time investment, the reader is paid off in an abundance of wisdom. This book is an excellent introduction to the topic of expository preaching, for two reasons. First, the concision with which Begg approaches the topic allows the reader to get a quick overview of the whole task of preaching. Unlike other texts which might provide a very brief introduction and then jump right into the minutiae of the process, this book provides a useful level of information on each area it explores.

Second, the fifth chapter, “Practical Pointers,” is eminently helpful in orienting the reader directly to the task at hand. While the previous chapters set the reader up well to understand the big picture—as do other good introductions—this chapter then focuses their eyes on the work and hand, and reminds them that it is actually work. After reading this book, with it’s broad, accessible, and yet usefully brief coverage of every aspect of the craft of expository preaching, the reader is then well-positioned to examine other, more in-depth, works on the subject with a critical and somewhat educated eye.

The only fault that could be laid at the feet of this work is be the brevity of it. I can see where some readers would feel short-changed, or would want more from the author. That’s certainly understandable given how enjoyable of a read it is. But it’s clear that the author agrees with the old show business adage: “Always leave them wanting more.”


The Poetry Home Repair Manual by Ted Kooser 📚

A joyful read that’s full of insight for new poets—and readers of poetry

Ted Kooser was Poet Laureate of The United States from 2004-2006. He is a professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, although for years he worked as an executive in the insurance industry (because even the best poets must have day jobs). He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winner and has published many collections of poetry. And with The Poetry Home Repair Manual he wrote one of the most approachable, practical, and joyful books on writing poetry that I’ve yet run across.

A friend of mine recommended this book to me a while back when I started writing poetry, and I was intrigued by the title right away. Who writes a book for beginning poets and styles the name as a home repair manual? Well, only a few pages in, I got it. The book is a repair manual. In it, Kooser will not teach you the basics of verse, rhyme, or rhythm. He does not lecture about forms. Of course, this is all ground that he covers, and he covers it well. But it’s not academic or theoretical. Instead he approaches poetry as he would a broken lawnmower or dishwasher. He helps the reader see what’s wrong, and then instructs you how to fix it by demonstrating how the thing is supposed to work. This unusual title is actually perfect for this book.

The book is a casual read, but more than that it’s a joyful read. Kooser is not only a good teacher, he is a great curator. He uses wonderful poems (more from other poets than his own, by my estimation) to illustrate his points. And some of the gems I discovered in this slim little book made this book worth it on their own. One great example is this poem by Frank Steele:

If you are interested in writing poetry—or just understanding it—this is a great place to start. As I am writing this review it’s hard for me to think of anything I didn’t like. The chapters are a good length, the whole book is not too long—which has encouraged me to re-read it—and the tone is perfect. If I was pressed to find something that another reader may not like, I would mention that Kooser’s advice lends itself well to his own particular style and voice. If you want to write poetry that is not about everyday life, earthy, and utterly human, maybe (maybe?) you wouldn’t find it useful. But honestly, I’d only make that observation if pressed. The truth is this book is a great place for a poet to start. It will help you find your voice, understand who you are, and write poems that are yours. And really, what more can you want from a book with the subtitle, “Practical Advice for Beginning Poets”?

I highly recommend this book. Honestly, if you are serious about your writing in any form or genre, I’d suggest that you pick it up. This book can help any writer connect with their readers and write with more power and feeling. And that’s a great thing for writers of all stripes.


A Reading Plan for 2019 📚

The process is more important than the outcome

In the past I’ve set reading goals, but I’ve never really succeeded in them. Whether it was a goal of a number of books or a specific list, I’ve never been able to set a single plan and follow it for a full year. But, as with most practices that matter, the value is in the process not the results. So for 2019 I have yet another reading plan.

Priorities

The goal of my plan for this year is not to list out specific books I must read, but instead to put in writing my priorities for reading in the next year. For this coming year my priorities are to read more regularly, balance my reading time between work/research reading, pleasure reading, and seminary reading assignments. In the past—specifically in 2018—pleasure reading has been non-existent and my actual reading time has been dominated by assigned reading. This year I aim to balance all three of these categories.

Finding the time

As I have gotten older it’s been increasingly hard to find time to read. From childhood through college reading for fun was always high on the list of what filled my free time. But as I got out of school and into a career that time started to drain away. Then, as the internet, smartphones, and social media began to loom larger I gave up even more reading time. Finally adding the weighty roles of husband and father filled up the last bit of margin. So this year I must work to find the time.

My relationship with Jesus, my family, my ministry, and my writing are the things that really matter. These are the responsibilities and commitments that actually move the needle in terms of making my time count. From that understanding, what needs to be eliminated or reduced becomes obvious: social media, time wasted on devices, and any excess screen time. I will write about how I am going to approach this in detail later, but this is where I must find time to accomplish my plan.

Finally, a key requirement of finding the time to read is that it cannot take time away from the discipline of reading my Bible daily. If my morning routine is disrupted, the first thing I will read each day will be the Bible.

Reading categories

As mentioned above, all the reading in my life falls into three buckets:

  • Pleasure
  • Research
  • School assignments

Given my particular interests, there is actually a great deal of overlap between these three categories. Seldom does a single book land in all three, but most books will fit into two of these categories. Nevertheless, sorting my reading into categories is the only way I can get close to balancing these priorities. My categories for 2019 look like this:

Pleasure

  • Fiction
  • History
  • Biography

Research

  • Writing
  • Art & Creativity
  • Productivity
  • Theology
  • Reading for Story Team, Writer Dev, or other projects

School Assignments

  • Anything assigned as part of a seminary course

The plan

In the end, my 2019 plan is simple:

  • Read for 1 hour in the evenings, five days a week
  • Read the Bible first, every day
  • Prioritize books I already own over new purchases
  • Prioritize active seminary assignments for each reading session
  • Split remaining reading time evenly between the Pleasure and Research categories
  • Always have one active book in both the Pleasure and Research categories
  • Publish a short reaction/review for each book I complete

I am not setting a “goal” of a certain number of books for each month or the year, and I don’t have a set list. Just this set of priorities and a list of books I will build out by category. If I can follow this process somewhat regularly I will be a much more active reader than I have been the last couple of years.

And honestly that’s a big deal, because I miss it.


‘Prayer’ by Tim Keller 📚

I read Prayer by Tim Keller, and I immediately plan on reading it again. I use “read” loosely as it was an audiobook, and my next reading will be on paper. I love audiobooks, I’m not a hater. But in reading this book I realized that I cannot listen to nonfiction books that I want to retain. I remember bits and pieces from the book, to be discussed below, but honestly most of it slipped through my mind like sand through fingers. I enjoyed listening to the book, but I didn’t retain enough to meaningfully shape my understanding and practice of prayer. So, on that note it was a failed experience, but it’s not the work’s fault, just the medium’s.

I did pick up a few things from the book that make it worthwhile. First, using Scripture readings as a basis for mediation as a transition into prayer. The REAP (Read, Examine, Apply, and Pray) that The Austin Stone recommends is useful, and actually works in a similar way to what Keller describes, but in my practice I have not actually meditated on Scripture, instead I just examine and apply through intellectual means. I want to start intentionally applying a meditation step into my routine.

Second, I really appreciated the thorough survey of the topic Keller offered, and how he centered on a few influential Protestants in our tradition to draw specifics from. It was a good choice and I helped me think through the practicals of prayer.

I don’t have much else to say because of the audiobook issue. Lesson learned. I may write more the next time I read it. 😉


‘Writing A Novel with Ulysses’ by David Hewson 📚

I’ve been on a string of high-minded books lately, but now I’ve dove into a few books about writing itself, and the first one was novelist David Hewson’s Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.

Yeah, it’s about as low-level as you can get, reading a book about how to write another book in a specific app. Whee!

It was really useful. I’ve recently started using Ulysses for most of my writing for this blog, Story Team, and Storyteam.org. I have the start of a novel project in Scrivener (which I like quite a bit), but the idea of having all my working in a single app and library was appealing. But from what I knew of Ulysses, I wasn’t sure I could really use it for a novel. Hence, this read.

The best review I can give of the book is this: it is short, thorough, and I’m now convinced I can write a novel quite well in it. And I am going to try.

If you like writing in Markdown and the idea of a very basic writing app (NOT word processor as you know it) appeals to you, I would highly recommend both Ulysses and Writing A Novel with Ulysses III.