Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: Life in the Shadow of Death by Michael Whitworth

Life in the Shadow of Death by Michael Whitworth
Life in the Shadow of Death
by Michael Whitworth
2019, Start2Finish

How do you deal with grief? Everyone is different, and everyone moves through the emotions related with grief at a different pace. Michael Whitworth deals with the topic gently and with sensitivity in his book, Life in the Shadow of Death. This short book is a must-read not only for ministers, but for all Christians. Every one of us grieves and ministers to friends as they grieve, and brother Whitworth’s book gives the reader insight into what to say and do the in those situations.

Brother Whitworth reminds us of some “unconventional losses” that are often overlooked or mishandled when we think about grief: miscarriage, suicide, and divorce. The church can and must do a better job of deal with these situations with meekness and love, and the author gives some practical and Scriptural advice on how to do that.

From the back cover:

“We live in a grief illiterate society.”

Truer words were never spoken. Grief is more than unpleasant; it’s messy. Grief is more than foreign; it’s counter-intuitive. Grief is more than probable; it’s inevitable. Do you know what the Bible has to say about grief? Have you prepared yourself to grieve, and to do so well when your time comes?

Life in the Shadow of Death will educate you on grief and equip you to grieve to the glory of God. In the book Michael Whitworth discusses what the Bible has to say about the grief journey, how to weep appropriately with those that weep, how to grieve unconventional losses, and how we can know we are never alone in the valley of the shadow of death.

Purchase Life in the Shadow of Death by Michael Whitworth.

Book review: 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley

8 Hours or Less

8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster
by Ryan Huguley
Moody Publishers, 2017

Sermon prep books are plentiful—so plentiful, in fact, that it would be nearly impossible to read them all and still have time to prepare a sermon for the coming Sunday! Ryan Huguley’s offering into the subject matter, 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster, lays out a plan to attacking sermon prep for a few hours each day, Monday through Friday, along with an additional hour Sunday morning before delivering the lesson. The concept is simple, but will not fit everyone’s personality. Some find it difficult to do a little here, and a little there, as Huguley suggests. Still, his recommendations can be stylized to a preacher’s individual habits, making for a more efficient use of study time.

Young preachers who have yet to find their footing may benefit more from Huguley’s 8 Hours or Less than veterans who have developed firmly established routines. I could have used this book fifteen years ago as I struggled from week to week wondering, “What will I preach on Sunday?” I would personally rearrange and combine some of Huguley’s daily tasks so that they are not stretched over the full week, but the idea of setting deadlines for each task would have helped a great deal.

After defining what a faithful sermon is, Huguley breaks his schedule down into six areas: “Build the Frame” on Monday, which involves prayer, deep textual study, consideration of commentaries, and the actual building of the frame; “Open the Door” on Tuesday, inviting trusted co-workers in Christ to give feedback on where you plan to go with the sermon; “Sweat the Intro” on Wednesday, crafting an introduction that will capture the congregation’s attention; “Land the Plane” on Thursday, focusing on the conclusion to the lesson; “Fill in the Frame” on Friday, fleshing out the outline with illustrations and applications that show the people the relevance of God’s Word in their lives; and “Finish Strong” on Sunday, which includes additional prayer and final edits to your notes or manuscript.

Huguley recognizes that this method, which works for him, may not work for everyone. “So eat the fish and spit out the bones,” he writes. “If you find that something I’ve recommended does not work for you, don’t use it.” There are some good suggestions, and some worthwhile encouragements, but it is not likely that everything in 8 Hours or Less will fit your style.

Purchase 8 Hours or Less: Writing Faithful Sermons Faster by Ryan Huguley.

[Disclosure: Moody Publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book to Handling Aright in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed belong to the reviewer, and a positive review was not required by the publisher.]

Book Review: Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams (2006)

The story of when and how Jeffrey Dahmer was baptized and became a Christian

Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith
by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams
Leafwood Publishing, 2006

The crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer came to light while I was in high school, and I had a morbid curiosity in who he was and what he did. I recall many of the articles and interviews, and also remember hearing about his death in 1994. What I never heard about as a teenager, however, was his conversion to the true faith. It was not until I was involved in full-time ministry about a decade later that I learned that Jeffrey Dahmer obeyed the gospel.

The convicted killer had received correspondence courses from Christians in Oklahoma and Virginia, and after completing the courses, he determined that he needed the blood of Christ to cover his sins. He indicated his desire for baptism. Shortly thereafter, a minister in Wisconsin named Roy Ratcliff was dispatched to see to Mr. Dahmer’s spiritual needs. After discussing the issue with him and determining that he understood the purpose of baptism, and that he was truly remorseful and repentant, brother Ratcliff agreed to baptize Jeffrey Dahmer. He was a man the world saw as a monster, but brother Ratcliff saw him as a lost soul in need of God’s grace.

In the epilogue of his book, Dark Journey, Deep Faith, brother Ratcliff writes, “The greatest thing I learned from Jeff is that he was a person with needs, just like the rest of us. He was just as disturbed about his crimes as everyone else. He had fears and concerns and dreams and hopes as we all do. He was a person, not a monster. He needed God, and when he found God, his life was enriched and blessed.”

I was impressed with brother Ratcliff’s book and the tender way that he dealt with the question posed on the book’s front cover, “Can God forgive even Jeffrey Dahmer?” He met with brother Dahmer weekly for seven months, studying various topics and Bible verses, and sharing stories about their lives. There was no doubt in brother Ratcliff’s mind of brother Dahmer’s sincerity, nor of God’s ability and desire to forgive his sins.

Brother Dahmer expressed some concern about his ability to take the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis, as well as the fact that the chapel services offered at the prison included instrumental music. He said, “Well, I just want to do everything right. I’ve lived my life in the wrong ways long enough. I just want to do what is right as far as God is concerned.” This shows a mature attitude toward God’s Word and the need for obedience to His commands.

From some of the statements brother Ratcliff makes concerning these matters, I imagine he and I have some differing views on the authority of the Scriptures and the prohibitive nature of the Word’s silence on the matter of instrumental music. He addresses the danger of legalism—and I agree that there is a danger, but I do not agree with his particular definition of legalism. That issue aside, however, I get the sense that brother Dahmer understood what Jesus did for him on the cross, and the necessity and purpose of baptism as a response to that. I rejoice that brother Ratcliff was able to see to that need, and made a commitment to study with brother Dahmer on a weekly basis until his death.

Dark Journey, Deep Grace is partly about Jeffrey Dahmer. It is partly about Roy Ratcliff. But more than either of them, it is about the immeasurable grace of God.

Purchase Dark Journey, Deep Grace: Jeffrey Dahmer’s Story of Faith by Roy Ratcliff with Lindy Adams.

Book Review: Preaching Sticky Sermons by Brandon Kelley and Joe Hoagland

Preaching Sticky Sermons

Preaching Sticky Sermons
by Brandon Kelley and Joe Hoagland
Rainer Publishing, 2017

Whether you have been preaching for decades or just a few months, every man who stands in the pulpit can learn more about the art of preparing and delivering a sermon. Preaching Sticky Sermons is divided into four sections, focusing on preparation, writing, delivery, and evaluation. Many of the tips found in the book are reminders of long-held truths, while others are suggestions on using more modern technological tools to better engage the congregation. The bottom line throughout, however, is not only preaching more effectively, but preaching so that the hearts of the congregation are turned toward the Word.

The authors encourage the use of Evernote, a free app available for smart phones; they also offer a free download of resources to use with Evernote. I have attempted to use the app on several occasions, but I personally do not find it efficient. Others use it and use it well; it boils down to what you are comfortable with. I prefer old-fashioned note-taking, and feel that Evernote is more of a burden than a blessing to me.

Though the authors come from a different religious background, doctrine is not directly discussed in this volume. The focus of Preaching Sticky Sermons is not Biblical content, but how to deliver Biblical content. A commitment to the revealed Word is encouraged. They write, “Every sermon you preach should be focused on God’s Word, not your own ideas, opinions, or anecdotes. If you want to see God work in a special ay through your message, it must be biblically true.” Elsewhere, they write, “If you stick to preaching the truth of Scriptures, people will be offended, but they won’t be offended because of some idea you came up with. They’ll be offended because the Word of God is sharper than any double-edged sword. It pierces to the depths of the heart. Let it do its job.” If every denominational preacher would do just that, we could do away with the sinful divisiveness in the religious world today.

Kelley and Hoagland’s book can be a great benefit to preachers, helping them to strengthen their delivery on Sunday by looking more closely at their preparation and evaluation. There are even tips on how to take the sermon past Sunday and give it more life through further writing. Preaching Sticky Sermons is an encouraging book for preachers, young and old.

Purchase Preaching Sticky Sermons by Brandon Kelley and Joe Hoagland.

[Disclosure: Rainer Publishing provided a complimentary copy of this book to Handling Aright in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed belong to the reviewer, and a positive review was not required by the publisher.]