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The Bestsellers
April 20, 2014

A short time ago I launched a new Sunday series called “The Bestsellers.” The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association tracks sales of Christian books, and awards the Platinum Book Award for books whose sales exceed one million, and the Diamond Book Award for sales exceeding ten million. In this series I will look at the history and impact of some of the Christian books that have sold more than a million copies—no small feat when the average Christian books sells only a few thousand. We will encounter books by a cast of characters ranging from Joshua Harris, Randy Alcorn and David Platt all the way to Joel Osteen, Bruce Wilkinson and William Young. So far we have looked at three titles that were awarded Platinum status in 2005; today we advance to 2007 and a surprise bestseller.

90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper

90 Minutes in HeavenIt is not often that a book races to the top of the bestseller charts and opens up the way for a whole new genre of Christian literature. But such is the case with Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book that spurred an entire genre of what I refer to as “Heaven Tourism” books.

Don Piper was involved in radio and television ministry when he determined that he had been called to be a pastor. In 1985 he was ordained as a Baptist minister and was soon serving in Houston as a minister of education and single adults. It was shortly thereafter, in 1989, that he had an experience that would forever change his life and ministry. Fifteen years later, in 2004, he would team with Cecil Murphey and Baker Publishers to release 90 Minutes in Heaven, the book in which he described his experience.

On January 18, 1989, Piper was driving through rural Texas, returning from a Christian conference that had ended a little bit earlier than expected. As he was crossing a long bridge with water on either side, an 18-wheeler owned by the Texas Department of Corrections swerved over the center line and hit his Ford Escort head-on. Piper was killed instantly. The steering wheel impaled his chest and the roof collapsed on his head. Emergency medical technicians responded and pronounced him dead, laying him on the road and covering his body with a tarp.

Dick Onarecker and his wife Anita had been at that same conference and were driving the same route. They pulled up to the scene shortly after the EMTs had declared Piper dead. Onarecker later said, “The Lord just impressed on me very emphatically very urgently that I was to pray for him.” Ninety minutes after his accident, Piper awoke to hear that pastor praying and singing.

It was what happened in those ninety minutes that became the subject of his book. Piper claimed he was immediately transported to heaven. There he saw people he knew and loved—relatives, teachers who had gone on to glory years before, and friends who had died in high school. Each of these people was the age they had been when they died. They were joyful and welcoming and were there to help him through the gates of heaven. Ahead of him was a gate that looked as if it had been carved from a giant pearl. The streets were made of gold and beyond the gate was a light too bright to imagine and the sound of an angel choir. “In all honesty,” he said, “as awesome as the sight was, the sound was more amazing. I heard literally thousands of praise songs. They were all praise songs. I really couldn’t see anything. I was so preoccupied with the people around me, I couldn’t see anything. But you could sense this hum of wings hovering all about you, like you were being ministered to by angels, and they were observing this whole episode.”

And then he heard the sound of Onarecker singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” and realized he was joining in. He was alive and was quickly transported to Herman Hospital in Houston where doctors found that his body had been completely shattered. He would have to live with chronic pain and endure an excruciating recovery that required some thirty-four medical procedures. The book documents his time in heaven in about fifteen pages and the context and recovery in about one hundred and eighty.

April 19, 2014

Here are a few new Kindle deals: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart by J.D. Greear ($1.99); Heaven: Your Real Home by Joni Eareckson Tada ($1.99); The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken ($2.99).

Are We Held Guilty for the Sin of Another? - C. Michael Patton examines the doctrine of original sin and the imputation of Adam’s guilt to those who followed him.

Christian Muslim Dialog - In 2013 Thabiti Anyabwile went to Dubai to debate a Muslim apologist. The complete video is available here.

Gillette’s New Razor - According to this article, Gillette’s new razor is everything that’s wrong with America. I’d tend to agree.

No, All Christian Content Shouldn’t Be Free - Daniel Darling: “So, the question is this: Should all Christian content be free? And to this I say a hearty, “No!”

The Many Dimensions of Calvinism - Again - This is from Paul Helm: “Here we are again! ‘My Calvinism is not your Calvinism. Your Calvinism is not real Calvinism.  Here are a few thought on the latest wisdom on ‘Calvinism’.” It’s a long read, but a good one.

Hidden Mysteries of the Natural World - There is some amazing footage in this short TED talk.

ERLC Leadership Summit - The ERLC Leadership Summit will begin April 21; you can bookmark the site and check in on the livestream next week.

God promises the Christian heaven after death, not before it. —John Blanchard

Blanchard

April 18, 2014

This week’s Free Stuff Fridays is sponsored by a first-time sponsor: Lamplight Prints. Lamplights was founded in 2013 by two women who love Jesus, love His Word, and love their families. As part of their desire to do what Deuteronomy 6 instructs, they wanted to find interesting and attractive ways of placing Scripture in their home. They put together a great and ongoing collection of prints based around Bible verses.

There will be 5 winners this week, and each winner will receive a $50 gift certificate to purchase anything they want from the Lamplight Prints store. Here are just a couple of examples:

Redeemer Lives

Perfect Way

For now, browse the site and enter the draw. If you are one of the winners, I will notify you next week.

Enter to Win

Again, there are 5 prize packages to win. And all you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

April 18, 2014

Preparing a sermon is one of the most gratifying and the most difficult tasks you’ll ever face. There is joy in finding meaning in the text, in finding structure, in developing just the right outline, in discovering the perfect illustration. But there is also labor and, at times, intense spiritual warfare. I am a relative newcomer to preaching and as I’ve prepared sermons I’ve relied on others to teach me how to pray and how to prepare. Here are two lists that have been very helpful to me. I combine them into what I affectionately call my Preacher’s Cheat-Sheet.

Praying for a Sermon

A couple of years ago Mike McKinley shared 8 Ways to Pray During Sermon Preparation. I found those 8 ways to pray tremendously helpful and have been following them ever since. I pray in these ways at the beginning, middle and end of my time of preparation.

  1. Lord, please help me to understand the meaning of this text and how it points to Christ.
  2. Lord, please increase my love for the people who will hear this sermon.
  3. Lord, please give me wisdom to apply this text to the lives of the people in our congregation.
  4. Lord, please use this passage to help me grasp and love the gospel more so that I might help my hearers do the same.
  5. Lord, please help me to see how this passage confronts the unbelief of my hearers.
  6. Lord, please help me to be obedient to the demands of this passage. Help me to enter the pulpit having already submitted my life to this truth before I preach it.
  7. Lord, by your Spirit please help me to preach this sermon with the necessary power and with appropriate affections.
  8. Lord, please use this sermon to bring glory to your name, joy to your people, and salvation to the lost.

Preparing for a Sermon

Along with praying during sermon preparation, I also wanted to develop a checklist of sorts—not a guide to help me exegete the text or make sure I have properly found and preached Christ from it. Rather, I wanted something to use as I near the end of my preparation and want to ensure that what I have prepared is well-structured and that it will avoid missteps that may prove hindrances to my listeners. I spoke to seasoned pastors to find what they do and developed this checklist which I like to run through when the sermon is nearly complete, and return to shortly before I preach the sermon.

  1. Have you prayed for yourself and your listeners?
  2. In one sentence, what is the point of the sermon?
  3. Does the sermon have a clear, easy-to-follow outline?
  4. Can you express your outline in a way that makes sense and explains the big point?
  5. Has every theological concept or term been defined or explained?
  6. Is there a clear gospel call that expresses the gospel in a fresh way?
  7. Have you spoken to the children?
  8. Are there places you have planned to pause, or to decrease or increase volume?
  9. Is there anything that can be removed for the sake of clarity and concision?
  10. Does every point have at least one helpful illustration?
  11. Have you included some good turns-of-phrase?
  12. Have you considered how the sermon will speak to people who are: discontent, divorced, abused, addicted, mourning, in a difficult marriage, or other difficult circumstances?
  13. Is there something to jolt the regular, committed sermon-listener?

If you’d like to have these lists in printed form, you can download them in PDF format. I print this document double-sided, crop it down to size, and keep one copy on my desk and one in my car.

April 18, 2014

Here are a few Kindle deals for you: The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung ($0.99); From Glory to Golgotha by Donald MacLeod ($2.99); A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D.A. Carson ($3.99); Preaching to a Post-Everything World by Zack Eswine ($3.99). And don’t forget yesterday’s penny deals: The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul ($0.01); Old Story New by Marty Machowski ($0.01); Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur ($0.01).

Oprah, Rob Bell, And Faux Self-Empowerment For The Self-Centered - This is quite an article, and one well worth reading.

Heaven Is For Real - Randy Alcorn has a review of the new Heaven Is For Real movie. He approaches it kindly but still offers some important critcism.

Sola Experienca - Yes to this! Erik Raymond also writes about the movie. This is so important to consider: “Today our personal experience and personal interpretation of that experience is the unquestionable authority that all must submit to.”

An Interview with Mark Phelps - Ed Stetzer has an interview with Mark Phelps, son of Fred Phelps.

Cancer Sucks, but Christ Is Better - Here’s a sweet testimony to God’s grace through affliction.

Father, Open Our Eyes - Here’s a free track from one of my favorite worship albums.

How Americans Die - Here’s an interactive look at how Americans die. 

He that serves God for money will serve the devil for better wages. —Roger L’Estrange

Estrange

April 17, 2014
Missing Jesus

Now this is a sweet little book. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I began reading Missing Jesus. The names Charles and Janet Morris were not ones I recognized immediately, though I had heard of their radio program HAVEN Today and think I may have been a guest once. What I found was a book that came like a cold cup of water on a hot day.

The book begins with the premise that sometimes we all feel like we’re missing something. We have put our faith in Christ and we are following him, attempting to live in obedience to him, and yet something still seems to be missing. We’re left wanting more. There are a thousand answers to this more; in fact, most of the Christian books that pour off the printing presses claim to have the answer. But the authors of this book say the answer is remarkably simple: We’re probably missing Jesus. What we need is to be reminded that we are caught up in a great, cosmic drama and what we need is to be reoriented to see that our small story is simply part of this much greater story.

The solution to our longing is not to look within ourselves or not to pursue the easy navel-gazing solutions we may encounter on the psychiatrist’s couch. The solution is to look outside of ourselves, to the Savior.

We’re like the solar system without the sun. The sun is so massive it can hold all the planets in their orbits, but we’re not the sun. We simply don’t have the gravity to hold our lives together even when we expend a lot of effort trying. What we need is the good news of Jesus Christ, the good news that we can look outside ourselves at last because God has provided everything we need in Jesus. God has sent his glorious Son into the world to be everything for us, to be the center of our lives, to draw us into fellowship with the living God. And it’s all by grace.

Unless we hear this news again and again, and unless we allow it to resound in our hearts, we soon grow cold, we lose sight of Jesus.

This book, then, offers many different views of the gospel and its countless benefits. The authors look at the gospel itself, they look at the importance of knowing the greater story that is unfolding around us, they glory in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they revel in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the communion they can have with the living God, they war against pride and all attempts to steal the glory that is due to God. And on it goes. Through a series of short chapters—11 of them—they offer a sustained look at what Christ has done and how it matters to his people. They draw often from their own lives, both their successes and failures, and they draw deeply from many great Christian writers of days gone by.

If there is something that concerns me in the book it is that it may not stand out among the myriad books around it. But behind the unobtrusive cover and inconspicuous title is a sweet book that offers profound answers to one of life’s most common experiences. If you feel like you’re missing out, or you’re convinced that you’re missing Jesus, get it and read it. You won’t be sorry.

April 17, 2014

Here are some excellent Easter-related books: The Cross in the Experience of Our Lord by R.A. Finlayson ($2.99); 14 Words From Jesus by James Boice & Philip Ryken ($2.99); The Unexpected Jesus by R.C. Sproul ($3.99); The Work of Christ by R.C. Sproul ($0.01); Old Story New by Marty Machowski ($0.01); Saved Without a Doubt by John MacArthur ($0.01).

Jesus’ Thirst and Our Spiritual Rehydration - Wow! “In a startling way, Jesus inserted Himself into His parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In hell, the rich man cried out for mercy, pleading for Lazarus to ‘dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame’. The rich man’s croaking screams for relief are denied. So long as He endured the hellish agony of God’s wrath against sin, Christ’s tongue, likewise, rattled in His mouth.”

Every Christian’s 2nd Most Important Book - Yes! Here is the book that ought to be every Christian’s second most important (after the Bible, of course).

The Shirt on Your Back - This is a fascinating interactive article from The Guardian.

The Fountainhead of Satanism - Joe Carter writes about the close connection between Anton LaVey and Ayn Rand.

Growing Up Gothard - Ted Kluck: “Recently, my friend Derek shared about what life was like growing up inside the Bill Gothard movement in the 1980s and ’90s. His account was utterly fascinating…”

Overcoming Passivity - “When portrayed as strong, men often exaggeratedly suffer from an overdose of testosterone.  Of course, the blame cannot wholly be laid on our modern culture, since male passivity also began in Eden, when Adam failed to stand up to the serpent and protect his wife from its temptations.  As inheritors of Adam’s sinful nature, we all can fall into passivity, failing to work and lead as we should.”

You never have to drag mercy out of Christ, as money from a miser. —C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon