24 December 2015

Book Review: Jayber Crow

Two of my favorite writers--artists really--with the last name Peterson (Andrew and Eugene) have each mentioned the importance of Wendell Berry upon them. Intrigued, I sent for his book Jayber Crow (2000), one of the many titles set in the fictional Port William, Kentucky.

The novel tells the story of Jonah Crow, known to most as "Jayber"--the barber, grave digger, and church custodian in the small town from the depression era through the middle of the Vietnam War. Written from the first person perspective, the reader is given wonderful insight into the psyche of an intriguing man.

I look forward to exploring more of Port William. Having grown up in a small town, I was strangely attracted to Berry's vision. His indirect call to simplicity was refreshing too.

A Christmas Poem

Did the stars open their eyes widely?
     Did the trees tremble with excitement?
     Did the clouds crowd in
          to get a glimpse of the newborn Savior?

Did the rocks cry out?
     Did the grasses whisper and wave?
     Did the streams and falls and rivers
          sing in harmony at the sound of the baby's cry?

All of creation echoes the psalmist
     "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel
      who alone does wondrous things.
      blessed be his glorious name forever;
      may the whole earth be filled with his glory!"

     We turn our eyes upon the latest gadgets
     We tremble at the newest hit song
     We crowd in to get a glimpse of pre-Chrismtas deals.

     We cry out, in anger, that a clerk failed to wish us a "Merry Christmas"
     We murmur and grumble about unfair treatment
     We sing not worship, but discord.

Meanwhile, meanwhile
     we lose sight
     of the One who sets all things right

This Christmas
     open your eyes widely
     tremble with excitement
     crowd around the manger

     cry out with joy
     whisper thanksgiving
     sing a lullaby to the One who makes all things well.

23 December 2015

One Word

In late 2014, I decided that I would carry with me one word or theme through all of 2015. I chose gentleness. I thought about gentleness. I prayed about gentleness. I taught about gentleness. I read about gentleness.  I routinely asked myself, "what does gentleness look like in this particular situation?" and then tried to act accordingly. I didn't always succeed, but I believe it was a worthwhile endeavor. Heather and I were talking about this yesterday and she asked me, "so do you think you are more gentle?" and I said, "yes, I think I am." Thankfully, she agreed.

My goal is to choose a word of the year and to soak in that word for 12 months. Much to our frustration, change comes slowly to us all. The biblical metaphors for sanctification support the gradual change process. Meditating for an extended period allows us to rest in the redeeming and transforming work of the Holy Spirit. We may not perceive day to day change, but over time, we grow.

I am praying about my word for 2016, but I haven't pinned it down quite yet. What about you? What would be your word?  Will you spend 2016 focusing on gentleness? If not gentleness, here are a few other suggestions: kindness, peace, joy, patience, self-control, humility, surrender, truth, or wisdom to name a few.

If you are interested, pray that the Spirit would reveal to you an area where He wants to take you deeper.  

Just prior to posting this, I found this website, My One Word, which looks to be promoting the same idea.

17 December 2015

Book Review: The Great Divorce

CS Lewis is one of my favorite authors and his 1946 book The Great Divorce is my favorite book of his. I just finished my third (or fourth) reading and I have liked it better with each reading. If you are unfamiliar with the story, Lewis wrote an allegorical story of ghosts taking a bus trip from a perpetually grey city to a beautiful land.

Each of the ghosts who make the trip share the common feature of self-centeredness, though it manifests in different ways. They encounter bright Spirits who live in perpetual joy in the presence of the Trinity. Describing one of the beings at the end of the book, Lewis wrote "The Happy Trinity is her home; nothing can trouble her joy."

I think that in addition to being a well-written, deeply engaging story, another reason I am drawn to The Great Divorce is that it seems to present a fictional account of what may become in a community centered on God rather than on self. As a student of Larry Crabb's work, The Great Divorce reminds me in ways of Shattered Dreams, which interestingly relies significantly upon Lewis's idea that if you put first things first, you will get second things thrown in, but if you put second things first, you lose both first and second things. 

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

10 December 2015

My Top Ten Books of 2015

As we near the middle of December, it is time again to put out my "best books" list. I have read well over 100 books this year and so my field of choices is large. I chose to exclude books from my 2015 list that were re-reads for me.

If you are looking for yourself or someone else for Christmas, you can find some solid options on this list.

10) Hand in Hand: The Beauty of God's Sovereignty and Meaningful Human Choice by Randy Alcorn (2014). As someone who has wrestled with the implications of Calvinism, God's sovereignty, and our ability to choose, Alcorn's book was a welcome read. The author went to great lengths to find areas of common ground between various camps (e.g., Arminianism, Calvinism) in a way that wrestles humbly and meaningfully with the biblical text.

9) The Solitary Tales (2010 to 2013)--These 4 books by Travis Thrasher tell the story of a young man with baggage who moves to an unusual community in North Carolina. The story line is compelling  and mysterious and the short, accessible chapters lead the reader to say, "just one more page."  I read the 1700 pages in just under a week because I couldn't set them down.

8) Prodigal Church (2015)--Jared Wilson offered up another gospel-drenched book in the Prodigal Church. He issues a call to the church to move away from legalism and the attractional model to the Gospel that glorifies God and revels in God's graciousness and forgiveness.

7) Reversed Thunder (1988)--If two years ago was the year of Francis Schaeffer, and last year the year of Larry Crabb, 2015 was probably the year of Eugene Peterson. I read many of his books this year. He writes with a pastor's heart, a theologians mind, and a poet's soul. Reversed Thunder explored the imaginative language used by St John in Revelation.  This book celebrates the beauty of language rather than trying to read the apocalyptic tea leaves.

6) Relational Soul: Moving From False Self to Deep Connection (2015). Rich Plass and Jim Cofield wrote an excellent book exploring the importance of human connection to our overall well being by referencing interpersonal neurobiology, attachment, and Christian spirituality. As a fan of Larry Crabb's, this book was almost like reading fan non-fiction.

5) A Loving Life (2014). Looking back through my notes, I was a bit surprised to see that I had never written a review of this book.  Paul Miller, who a few years back wrote the excellent book A Praying Life, explored the themes of love and other-centeredness through the story of Ruth. He also wrote a wonderful book, Love Walked Among Us, a few years back that was equally edifying as are most books by Miller.

4) A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows Through Loss (2004). A Grace Disguised by Jerry Sittser was one of the most beautifully gut-wrenching books I have ever read. With each page, I was on the verge of tears, drawn in to the author's story.  I actually wrote to the author after reading this thanking him for writing it.

3) The Pastor: A Memoir (2011).  The Pastor is the second book in my list from Eugene Peterson. In this memoir, Peterson explores his own development as a pastor and along the way, invites the reader to look in on his journey, which he described with beauty.

2) The Allure of Gentleness (2015). I waited for this book, written by Dallas Willard and published posthumously. I have long enjoyed Willard's insightful, yet humble writing. He was an important contributor to the spiritual formation landscape for many years. In addition, for well over a year, I have really tried to focus on understanding gentleness because too many of us (myself included) lack it. Willard's book was a wonderful look into this Spiritual fruit.

1) Love Does (2012). Much like Barbara Duguid's Extravagant Grace from 2014, I didn't have to struggle long with my top book choice for the year.  Bob Goff's Love Does was a fun, whimsical, highly engaging book that demonstrated through several brief vignettes the effect of love upon others. I loved Love Does.

N.B. --I review most of the books I read. If you click on "BOOKS" on the right panel, it will bring you to all of my book reviews.

04 December 2015

A few of my favorite audio resources

Most people know that I read a lot, but I also listen a lot. Every Tuesday, I drive the hour to Rice Lake and I sit in my car (and whenever I am going anywhere) and I typically listen to different teachings. Some I may listen to once, but there are some that I listen to over and over again. Unsurprisingly, I have a "Larry Crabb" playlist that is perhaps over a day long that I listen to frequently. But of all of the teachings, here are some of my favorites.

Ambassador Basic Curriculum: Course 1--Although all 3 courses are very well done, Greg Koukl's course 1 are very well done. Koukl is an engaging communicator and these lectures provide a great foundation for communicating with others about the faith. ~5 hours.

Crisis of Care in the Christian Community--"Crisis of Care" presents one of the more comprehensive overviews of Larry Crabb's work in a series of lectures that were given at Regent College in Vancouver. I am not sure of the date that these lectures were given, but by the way he talks, it may be a bit earlier in his professional work, shortly after his thinking began to shift. 7.7 hours.

Eat This Book--In a series of 3 lectures given at Regent College, Eugene Peterson offers one of the finest introductions to absorbing Holy Scripture that I have heard. He has since wrote an excellent book with the same title, but these 3 lectures provide an engaging and important introduction. 3.6 hours.

The Freedom Series--Larry Crabb gave a series of 4 sermons at Valley Springs Fellowship regarding our Freedom in Christ based upon Romans 7:6, the foundational verse for New Way Ministries. ~2 hours.

Solving the Problem of Evil--When I was working on the apologetics certificate through Biola University, one of the many required lectures was entitled, "Solving the Problem of Evil" by Garrett DeWeese. Although DeWeese is a philosopher, he speaks with a pastor's heart and this lecture is one of the finest treatments of the problem of evil I have ever heard, not because DeWeese solved it, but because he was willing to wrestle with it well. 2 hours.

2 Bonus Recommendations
66 Love Letters Audio Book--I am putting this one in here for my wife. She listens to this over and over and over and over again. She also reads along in the book.  It is a full, unabridged version of Dr Crabb's excellent 66 Love Letters and until December 18, 2015, it is only $7.49.  14 hours.

The New Covenant--I just found these 15 lectures by Dwight Edwards on the New Covenant. I really liked his book Revolution Within and so far, these lectures have been great.  In addition to great material, Edward's voice is wonderful. ~8 hours.