"Corporate Worship" by Matt Merker (book review)


 Dr. John MacArthur and A.W. Tozer each wrote books titled “Worship”, Bob Kaufflin wrote “Worship Matters”, Bryan Chapell wrote “Christ-Centered Worship”, Matt Boswell wrote “Doxology and Theology”, D.A. Carson wrote “Worship by the Book”, Mike Harland wrote “Worship Essentials”, Louie Giglio wrote “The Air I Breathe”…and the list goes on. So why do we need yet another book about worship?  Well, I’ll tell you why:

 First, the plethora of books about worship suggests it is truly an important issue. We are designed to worship.  We all worship…it may not be right worship, it may be worship of a god in the form of fortune or fame, but we all worship one way or another. From a strictly human standpoint, worship is obviously a important crucial topic.  From a strictly Christian theological standpoint, worship of the one, true, living God is what we believe and profess Christians are designed to do. The Lord God not only desires our worship, He even commands and governs it…and the Bible has something to say about it.

 Second, we need more books on worship because we need more authors’ perspectives and insights on the topic. Some authors may be more or less helpful topic than others, but I think all of them have something important to add do the conversation. If we think any one author, or even any small group of authors, can fully exhaust all that can and needs to be discussed and revealed about true worship, then I think we are doing ourselves a great disservice.

 Enter “Corporate Worship”, by Matt Merker, one of the newest releases (2021) in the 9 Marks series of little books. Merker is a gifted songwriter and musician, and you have probably sung some of his collaborated songs (such as “He Will Hold Me Fast” and “Christ Our Hope in Life and Death,” to name a couple) in your corporate gatherings. Merker’s approach in this book is not simply about the musical aspect of worship, although that is a good portion of it. Merker brilliantly introduces the reader to other aspects of worship, such as who worships, why we worship, and Who we worship.  Anyone who has ever read these little books know they may be physically small, but they are rich in depth and theology.  Over the course of seven relatively brief chapters, matters central to our worship of the Living God are covered.  I found the fourth chapter, “What Should We Do When We Gather?” to be most thought-provoking.  All the chapters were insightful, but this one was thought-provoking in the sense that it stirred up debatable matters (such as drama, baby dedications, etc.), but Merker graciously left room for brothers and sisters to disagree on these matters.

 As one of the song leaders in our corporate gathering, I found the sixth chapter, “How Does the Whole Church Participate in the Gathering” to be helpful.  Merker provided some ideas that would be fresh and welcoming in my local context.  I look forward to applying some of those ideas to our future gatherings.

 I have yet to read any one of the nine marks and be disappointed. I will be purchasing the physical copy of “Corporate Worship”, by Matt Merker. I received it free of charge from Crossway Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5


"Improv Leadership: How to Lead Well in Every Moment", by Stan Endicott and David A. Miller (book review)


There are a great deal of leadership books available on the market.  Some contain timeless truths and others offer refreshing insight.  Some of them are good, while others are not so good.  Some are helpful, while others are simply off base.  I think a book’s overall influence and impact has a lot to do with the author’s style, and “Improv Leadership” is that kind of book.  No doubt, the principles on which the book is founded are not new: love others, set others up for success, etc.  But the approach is fresh, and is easy to understand…and hopefully, apply.

Improv Leadership”, by Stan Endicott and David A. Miller, is comprised of eight chapter, but the real meat is found in chapters three through seven.  Those five chapters provide the theme of how to do improvisational – on-the-spot – leadership: Story Mining, Precision Praising, Metaphor Cementing, Lobbing Forward, and Going North.

Story Mining is the process by which we get to know others…digging deep with questions.  Therefore, it is an active event.  “Story Mining is not about making people better.  It is about making people known” (p.57).  Endicott and Miller suggest we must get to know the person first as a person, and not as a worker.  When people feel valued as people, they will tend to be better performers and leaders.  Tip to leaders and supervisors: commit the details of others’ lives to memory.  We remember what is important to us, but a good leader will strive to remember what is important to others.  Begin practicing today by truly committing a person’s name to memory the next time you meet someone.

Precision Praising is not the same thing as “dropping trite compliments or insincere flattery”…but is “carefully crafting praise to inspire and course-correct your team” (p. 82).  The goal of precision praise is to reinforce right, desired behaviors that correct and redirect the wrong, undesired behaviors in a team member.  When we publicly praise with precision, it impacts all who are present, not just the person to which it is directed.  If you want to find ways to practice this, begin at home, suggests Endicott and Miller!

Metaphor Cementing “involves using concrete illustrations to teach a new point of view that reshapes a person’s perspective” (p. 112).  Endicott and Miller suggest using metaphors during conversation enhances our ability to describe things with a richness that causes the hearer to imagine the unimaginable.  They also suggest using metaphors makes us more distinguished communicators.  Ironically, I’m not using metaphor in this review.

Lobbing Forward is the process of “creatively challenging your team to look beyond the day-to-day grind of their jobs and into the future” (p. 130).  Essentially, it’s “speaking authoritatively about where the person might go” [in their future] (p. 131).  I think it’s important to remember that just as in precision praising, lobbing forward cannot be accomplished with mere flattery or manipulation, but must be done in sincerity.  The purpose, to boil it down succinctly, is to cast vision, to help your team or team members see in themselves what they may not have otherwise seen. 

Going North uses “indirect influence to redirect a person’s thinking or perspective” (p. 149).  We can easily get stuck in a rut in life and work, and sometimes in order to get someone’s attention, an attention-grabber – a redirect, of sorts – may be in order.  This is a process by which we help people change their mind.  The point is to still get people to the end goal, but to approach the end goal from a different angle.

Rating: I give “Improv Leadership” 5 out of 5 stars.  It is practical, helpful, and it’s concepts are easy to remember.  Now, if I can just apply them!  If you are in any kind of position of leadership, or if you aspire to leadership, then I honestly think this little book would be a good tool.  It ready very quickly.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from the author, Stan Endicott, and I am truly thankful for it.  In exchange, I told him I would provide an unbiased review.


"ESV Bible with Creeds and Confessions" (book review)

I’ve had an awesome opportunity to review the new .  I think this was a marvelous idea to put this resource into print in one location.  I fount it beneficial!

Cover: My copy arrived encased in a fairly sturdy sleeve-style box cover.  The Bible itself is covered with a beautiful bound leather and is outfitted in your choice of black or brown. Attached to the spine are two ribbon markers.

Type/Font: Now that I’m getting a little older, I require reading glasses for just about everything.  I found this Bible’s 10-point Lexicon in 2-column format to be easy to read.  Of course I had readers on, but the print is not so small so as to make it more difficult.

Intro: The introductory pages provide a preface to the Bible, an explanation of the ESV translation philosophy, etc.  While I suspect these pages are often passed over by many readers, I find them to be helpful because they help me learn just a little bit more about what literary scholars do for the Church.

There is also an “Explanation of Features” article which includes how to use a cross-referencing and footnoted Bible.  This is something that can be taken for granted.  As a community group leader, I know there are new/young/unaware Christians who don’t know how to use a study and/or cross-refence Bible.  I often will incorporate bite-size snippets in our studies to help explain all the features little-by-little…and they’ve proven helpful.  So this article is truly a nice feature.

Content: So is this one a “Study Bible” per se? No. It is a cross-referenced Bible that will help you study, but it is not one that contains myriad explanations and/or interpretations.  The reader would need other study helps for those.  So if you’re looking for a study Bible, this is not what you’ll want. Instead, its main highlighted feature is the complete creeds and confessions following the final Biblical book of Revelation (more to follow on that shortly).

The Concordance is a decent 60 pages long.  Obviously, that doesn’t cover every possible word-search, but it gets the reader headed in the right direction. Following the creeds and confessions, a typical appendix map section can be found that is common to just about every Bible on the shelf these days.

Creeds & Confessions: Finally, to the main thrust of this Bible.  Before the individual creeds and confessions begin, there is a quality article explaining the value and purpose behind the C&C’s.  I like one suggestion in the introduction that “confessions used in corporate worship are good for informing and encouraging our prayer and study of the Bible.  I have found this to be true of C&C’s, as well as other passages within God’s word, namely many of the Psalms.  Many church attenders are unaware of Christian history (there are myriad reasons why), and learning…or at least being exposed to…the C&C’s will help form the understanding of good theology, as well as an understanding of our history.

Each specific Creed or Confession is preceded by a short history of why that particular document was written.  These introductions were written by Rev. Dr.Chad Van Dixhoorn, and copyrighted in 2019.

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: I received the ESV Bible with Creeds and Confessions free of charge from Crossway publishers in exchange for my unbiased opinion of it.  All opinions are mine and are freely given.  I was  not required to provide a positive review of it.


"Love Changes Everything", by Micah Berteau (book review)

Because I have so many areas I want to touch on with this review, I'm not really sure where to begin…so I will simply start from the dust cover and work my way in.

The back cover informs readers that Love Changes Everything is an unpacking of the powerful love story from the Old Testament: Hosea.  Reader be advised, though, this is definitely not an exposition of Hosea, but a rather shallow use of Hosea’s book to support what Micah Berteau likely already had intended to write.  How might we know this? Of the 15 chapters contained in this 195 page book, a full six chapters never even mention or refer to the story of Hosea and Gomer! For a modern book based upon a biblical one, I guess I would expect every chapter to dig into it.

References and Referrals:
I tend to judge whether I’m going to read any particular author by the people who they request to endorse their books.  Authors request endorsements from other people they know and/or trust…so the selection process is no accident.  I also tend to judge a book by the people the author quotes within.  I couldn’t help but notice the very first endorsement for “Love Changes Everything” was written by none other than Brian Houston, a pastor with a troubling theology. This raised a yellow flag before I dug further into the rest of the book, but I wanted to give Berteau a fair shake.  Unfortunately, I noticed some of his go-to authors also included questionable teachers/authors such as Christine Caine, Craig Groeschel, Rick Warren, and Dale Bronner.  To be fair, Berteau quoted Augustine, A.W. Tozer, and C.S. Lewis, but to quote dangerous teachers truly concerns me.  Two yellow flags now.

Nevertheless, I was still willing to give Micah Berteau a chance to prove himself on his own merits. I’ll say this right up front: To his credit, he never once called God's love reckless, as does the unfortunately popular song that has been sung in so many churches.  Thankfully, Berteau points his readers to the powerful, gracious, eternal love of God.  

Who is Worthy?
However, from the earliest pages, Micah Berteau explains Jesus died because of our worth.  He writes, “Jesus spread his arms on the cross to show you your value.  God gave his only Son to show you your worth.  Value is not birthed from what you do but the position you are in.  Your position as a son or daughter of God is your worth…When you know your value, you walk and talk differently.  Your value is not measured by…Your life is worth so much…” (p. 30).

The problem is that we are indeed born in sin, even conceived in sin (Psalm 139).  That means from day one of our conception we are sinners in need of a savior.  Sadly, Berteau’s starting point is in placing great value and worth on humanity, rather than on Jesus Christ; Berteau tells the reader s/he is valuable, not that his/her sin is great.  God Himself declared we are sinners with wicked, deceitful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), and outside Christ we are worthy only of condemnation.  Sadly, the unrepentant sinner reading this book will not learn that message from Berteau; s/he’ll not learn of the need for Jesus in their depravity.  You see, Jesus died because our sin is so great to a perfectly holy God; our sin is so damning to us that we needed a perfectly sinless savior who is worthy, who is of highest value – Jesus Christ.  Jesus died because perfection is what it took to save fallen sinners!  His worth, His value; not ours.

Message Translation
Another issue that raises flags is when pastors and authors cite the questionable Message translation of the Bible. It is a dangerous and misleading translation and should be avoided, but so many pastors these days seem to want to dumb down the scriptures for some reason (maybe for softer, easier swallowing by their hearers), but this translation changes the meaning of so many passages that it’s just not worth it to read from it.   

Sadly, in the copyright section of this book, Berteau states “Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from THE MESSAGE” translation of the Bible. Other translations include the Amplified Bible, the Berean Study Bible, the English Standard Version, The New International Version, the New King James Version, and the New Living Translation.  Starting at page 1 I decided to count just how many direct quotations were taken from each of these translations. Surprisingly, there were actually more quotations from the New Living Translation (18 on my count), with only 13 quotations coming from the Message. Shouldn’t he have stated “Unless otherwise indicated, scripture quotations are from the New Living Translation”?  As a side note, I did not include any general citations where scripture was only referred to in thought, but not actually directly quoted.

Anything Good?
I don't only want to take this space only knock this book, as there are obviously some good things in it.  First, his style of writing is highly encouraging to the reader.  He reminds the reader to remember God’s love.  “We are called to look to the goodness of God…It is God’s goodness that has spared you in those moments you were about to go off the rails.  God’s goodness came through for you every time, and yet you wonder whether his goodness has departed from you because of how you are living” (p.141). For a reader battling against depression or doubt, Berteau is indeed encouraging! 

I would also like to offer Berteau kudos for one chapter in particular, chapter 8: “Highest Bidder”.  In that chapter, Berteau discusses how Hosea went to the public auction to bid on Gomer, who was already his wife. Students of scripture understand that Hosea's book is not only a true account of Hosea and his pursuit of Gomer, but is a parallel of sorts of God's dealings with his adulterous, unfaithful people.  While it was written about the ancient Israelites, it remains true today that God continues to pursue and ransom those who are His. I think this was Berteau’s best chapter, as it most clearly laid out the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

End Notes:
To put the nail in the coffin on this book, Berteau included just six end notes/citations.  Did he not research what those who have gone before us have studied and written?  A mere six notes was pretty lame, in my estimation.

I thought the overall punch of this book was not very strong, and it’s reaches were not very deep.  It lists for $15.99, according to the cover.  Regardless of the price, I just cannot recommend purchasing this book.  Too many flags.

Rating: I give “Love Changes Everything” just 2 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Handlebar Publishing in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"Spiritual Discipleship", by J. Oswald Sanders (book review)

Spiritual Discipleship” is my third read in the “Spiritual” books by the late J. Oswald Sanders, and I have to say this has been an enlightening, inspirational, and challenging series of books that hit home on so many fronts. If you want to see my previous reviews of “SpiritualMaturity” and “Spiritual Leadership” you can click here and here.  I highly recommend all three!

But, here I must talk about “Spiritual Discipleship”, as it is the focus of this review.  If you’ve read any of the other books, then the size, length, and layout will all be very similar as they’ve been reprinted by Moody Publisher.

The thrust of the book is what a disciple of Christ looks like in patterns of life conduct, rather than about how to disciple new believers.  Twenty relatively short chapters handle such topics as evidences of discipleship, tests of discipleship, maturity of the disciple, exemplary discipleship, the disciple’s hope, etc.

Because there are just so many good things to talk about in this book, I will talk about the single chapter that had the most impact on me: chapter 18, “The Disciple’s Renewed Commission”. Drawing from a real life example and applying it to the reader, Sanders asserts that believers could potentially be preoccupied with the intellectual side of the Christian faith, yet be in danger of losing zeal for God and love for our fellow man.  Drawing mostly from the account of Joshua the priest as recorded by the prophet, Zechariah, Sanders draws many parallels to the Christian who is robed in the righteousness of Christ, although accused by the devil of our sin and failures.

I mentioned earlier that this chapter impacted me most, and the reason is because I feel the heavy burden of my own sin and failures. As I desire to draw closer to Christ, I am more and more keenly aware of my sin and unworthiness, which, in turn, does make me cherish the righteousness of Christ that much more! However, I cannot ignore the fact that reflections of my life and rebellious sins shows a picture that is an ugly sight to behold.  And for the time being, rather than create in me more joy for Christ's glorious work, the devil's accusations and blows have hit their target with ferocity.  I am thankful, however, that Sanders draws my attention back to the faithful love of God the Father.  He reminded me that only God himself has the right to bring any accusation against anyone since He is the One against whom we have sinned. Conversely, the devil has no right to accuse, yet he does it so skillfully. That is why it is such a pleasure to read Sanders words that reminds the reader of the glory and beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

I’m reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…restore to me the joy of Your salvation.”

Rating: I give Spiritual Discipleship 5 out of 5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Moody Publishers in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review.


"ESV Prayer Bible", by Crossway (book review)

I truly appreciate the intent Crossway had in putting this Bible together.  Sadly, however, I think it kinda missed the mark.  Rather than providing a host of insightful prayers inspired by following the text of scripture that teach people how to pray scripture, it mostly contained numerous prayers that simply seemed to fit a particular text of scripture.  That said, there are still good things to take away from this Bible.

First and foremost of helpfulness is the short section in the introduction that discuss “The Problem with Prayer”, “The Solution”, “How to Pray the Bible”, and “Who Has Prayed the Bible?”  I learned years ago from Dr. Charles Swindoll how to pray the Bible and make it personal, and that’s what the short section, “How to Pray the Bible”, addresses.

Next in helpfulness is the “Author Index”.  If you have a particular theologian you’re looking for, or a favorite perhaps, this is a helpful section that directs the reader to the prayers written/spoken by those persons.

Another helpful section is the “Prayer Index”.  Basically, this is the converse of the Author Index in that if you’re looking for a prayer for a particular passage of scripture, not concerned who the author of the prayer is, then this section will fly you right in.

Finally, the prayers contained within this Bible are truly rich in depth, and many believers would do well to learn how great leaders of the faith have prayed in ages past.  It seems too often prayer times are saturated with requests for Aunt Betty’s big toe or Uncle Joe’s persistent cough.  I’m being facetious, but I think you get the point 😉.  These great leaders of the faith have prayed prayers than span the ages.

Overall, I guess I expected more from this Bible.  I fully hope to use it in developing liturgies and prayers for our Sunday morning worship gatherings, but I can still say I was slightly disappointed with it.

Rating: I give the Prayer Bible just 3 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer:  I received this Bible free of charge from Crossway in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"Discerning Your Call to Ministry", by Jason K. Allen (book review)

Christian men who aspire to be -- and have the desire -- an Overseer in the church seek a noble calling. But how can one be sure that his desires are truly a calling from God, or simply a fanciful wish?
In this little book, Jason K. Allen asks 10 questions to help the reader determine if he is indeed called by God into the ministry. Just in case you might already be thinking, "Aren't we all called into the ministry?" I'll explain Allen's point of reference.  At the outset, Allen categorizes ministry into three parts. First, all Christians are ministers: Because we follow Christ as Lord, we are called to share the gospel and make disciples.  Second, all Christians are all called to ministry: We minister in our homes, in our work, and in our play.  Finally, there is THE ministry, the pursuit of pastoral Ministry: not all Christians are called to this office.  This is the ministry office that is the focus of the following 10 questions contained within its 150 pages:

1) Do You DESIRE the Ministry?

2) Does Your Character Meet God's Expectations?

3) Is Your Household in Order?

4) Has God Gifted You to Preach and Teach His Word?

5) Does Your Church Affirm Your Calling?

6) Do You Love the People of God?

7) Are You Passionate about the Gospel and the Great Commission?

8) Are You Engaged in Fruitful Ministry?

9) Are You Ready to Defend the Faith?

10) Are You Willing to Surrender?

The conclusion closes the book with an encouraging reminder that a man who has just examined his life answering these questions may very well feel as though he's just endured surgery. However, he encourages the man who still believes he is called to THE ministry to speak with his pastors and elders about it. Conversely, he also encourages the man who may no longer believe he is called to continue faithfully serving his church, because he is not, after all, a second-rate Christian.

This is a truly practical book that serves the church well by helping men ask (and answer) crucial questions before excessive time and money are invested into a fruitless pursuit.

I give this book five stars for its solid theology and useful practicality.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Moody press in exchange for my unbiased review of it. All opinions are mine. I was not required to provide a positive review of it.