28.4.11

Randomness

I worked in a coffee shop for part of today. While I was there I witnessed an elderly man teaching English to a Korean woman. Before he left, he stopped to ask my opinion on laptops. He has been considering buying one for some time, and wanted my opinion. I didn't, and don't, even know his name.  Kristina says I have 'one of those trustworthy faces.' I think people need to look closer. 


Hannah is getting sick today; she was very cuddly, very needy, and she sat still for several long periods of time. She wanted to go straight to bed, have her warm milk, and have me sing 'her song' several times. Her song, when it's me she is asking, is 'Amazing Grace.' 


Someone found my blog today by entering "Mark Driscoll Vampire" into Google. I am 9th on the list of hits for this search string. I wonder what that person was looking for. 


Back in the fall I had started to feel like I was running out of good books/authors. Since then I have 'discovered' 4 'new' Sci-Fi/Fantasy authors I really enjoy, 3 'new' Christian authors whose work I intend to fully explore, and 2 'new' scientist authors with whom I will do the same. I don't know what kind of drugs I was on when I thought I was running out of authors/books, but in hindsight it is obvious no such thing is likely to be possible in my lifetime. Boredom truly is a problem of semiotic breakdown. 


I have been praying a blessing over Hannah, and Ethan, every day for months now (May the Lord bless you and keep you...). Yet, it still spawns new thoughts and reflections regularly. Makes me wonder how much I have missed through lack of repetition. I have a good memory, but it is not the same as regular recitation. 


Here is the strangest picture I think I looked at today:



Have a nice day!

27.4.11

"Stories That Feed Your Soul" by Tony Campolo



Tony Campolo, Stories That Feed Your Soul. Regal, 2010. 224 pgs. 

Yes, this books is exactly what the title claims: a collection of stories meant to 'feed your soul' (what a strange image once you think about it). 117 stories from Tony Campolo; funny, interesting, inspiring, boring, very short, short, and shorter these stories cover a huge gamut. 

Campolo divides these stories according to eight themes he finds in Romans 8: Freedom from Condemnation, The New Life in Christ, Intimacy with God, The Call to Rescue Creation, Living with Hope, Praying in the Spirit, God's Plan for Us, and The Assurance We Need.  Campolo choose to organize them this way because he has found Romans 8 to be a rich and fruitful chapter in his own life, and reflecting on the themes therein is something he wants others to do as well. 


As a whole, this book was enjoyable. Campolo has done a decent job selecting stories and he is not bad at drawing lessons from them. Of course, some of the lessons are corny; but what preacher isn't guilty of that? (says a fellow preacher). Some of the stories are better than others, naturally, and personally I found it a bit of an odd read, but not bad. 

Still, it is hard to rate a book like this.  It is not really 'a book', per se, not even in the sense that a collection of short stories might be called a book. Most of these stories fit on a page; perfect for sermon illustrations (I will probably use a couple), or a quick read in the bathroom, but not something you really want to sit down and read. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended. I am not sure how to say this; if it sounds interesting, read it. If not, don't worry about it. I think that about sums it up. 


This book was provided by TheOoze for review. 

25.4.11

"Following Jesus, The Servant King" by Jonathan Lunde





Introduction

I seem to be reviewing quite a few books on discipleship this month. "The Invitation" by Greg Sidders was the first; a fine simple introduction to the subject. Then came "The Gospel Commission" by Michael Horton; a not so fine book. The more I think about it the less I like it, and not because Horton is a reformed theologian, but because I think he has missed the point. 

Now, in comes a third in Jonathan Lunde's addition to the "Biblical Theology for Life" series. So far, the series stands at two volumes; this one, and "The Mission of God's People: A Biblical Theology of the Church's Mission" by Christopher Wright. I have to say that the first book was incredible and the second book, the subject of this review, does not disappoint. I have great hopes for the rest of this series; if they can keep up with this quality it will be well worth owning. 


Summary

In Following Jesus Lunde seeks to explore and explain what seems to be a tension between the uncompromising demands Jesus makes of his followers and the unprecedented grace he offers. In so doing, Lunde asks three questions of discipleship: Why? (Why is it important to try to live up to Jesus high demands) What? (What, precisely, are Jesus high demands?) and How? (How can we possibly do this?).  He argues that properly answer these questions we must understand them within a covenantal framework. Specifically, the answers are found "in the realities ushered in by the New Covenant." (31)

Obviously the full answers to these questions are extensive, as they make up the entire book. A short version might read something like what follows. 

Why: The answer to this question lies in a proper understanding of covenant. All biblical covenants are initiated by God and grounded in grace, but they all also call for an appropriate response. The gracious grounding of these covenants never diminishes the demand for wholehearted obedience. They do, however, ask that this obedience be lived out in faith. When we come to the new covenant, we have an unheard of amount of grace coming in and, rather than allowing us to lesson the demand for righteous obedience, this heightens the need for our response. 

What: This may be summarized in saying that we are called to submit to Jesus' reign, obey the law as it reflects the character of God (which is to say even more severely than was originally though; witness the amplification present in the sermon on the mount), and carry out Jesus' mission in the world. 

How: Only in the enabling grace of Jesus Christ. To understand this better, Lunde examines how there has always been three parts to enabling a proper response: regular remembrance and reception of the grace of God which enables our response. 


Response

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. More importantly, I learned from it. Lunde does an excellent job of keeping the whole of scripture in view as he explores Jesus call to discipleship. The covenantal context in which he places Jesus ministry, and ours, is eye opening and important. 

I have always felt the tension between grace and demand in the words of Jesus; I think most protestants (most Christians?) do. I see the costly effects reduced demands of discipleship has but I also the incredible damage done when Christians lose sight of grace. I have read many a book on this subject, including books by Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright, and others, but none of them have satisfied. Lunde, however, has given me new hope. I still have much to think through and I know I disagree with Lunde on some of the particulars, but this book is more than a step in the right direction. 


Conclusion

4.5 of 5 Stars. Recommended. Not everyone will find this an easy read. Lunde delves deep into covenantal theology, close readings of various parts of the bible, and a good mixture of theology and practice. However, these are important and needed. The book is worth your time. 

This book is published by Zondervan, and is available from your favorite bookseller from Zondervan. It has been provided by the Koinonia Blog for blog review purposes.

24.4.11

Politics in/and Church

No, this is not a post on church politics. It is, instead, a post on national politics as they enter/and become part of a church. I will also say in advance that this has nothing to do with my opinions on the political parties involved in what follows, nor on the individuals as politicians (i.e. this is not intended to speak to their leadership abilities, governmental policies, etc.) My focus is, rather, primarily on the church and on theology. 

Two incidents have precipitated these thoughts. 

Firstly, a long-standing member of our church is campaigning to be elected MP. A week or two ago, he was introduced to the congregation in this capacity. The church leadership was very careful and very clear about what was, and was not, going on: we are not encouraging our members to vote one way or another, we are not endorsing any political party of candidate (to the point that they never even mentioned what party he was running for); instead, we want to pray for and over the leadership, and potential leadership, of our country, as is our duty and privilege as the people of God. 

Politicians are politicians, and so we did hear, very briefly, about political stuff. But, I do not think we made a mistake in praying for our brother in Christ, lifting him and his family up to God in the midst of his campaign. 

Then, today, on Easter Sunday, our church received Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a guest of honor. It was during a brief, after services, limited space, meet-and-greet (or, as my dad called it, glad-handing). Once again, the church leadership was quite clear: this was not an endorsement, nor a command of the church's vote; it was a chance to pray with and over our nations current leader, as is our duty and privilege as the people of God. 

Still, politicians are politicians. Harper began his speech by claiming that this was not a campaign meeting. Instead, it was a break from such things to join with us on this special day. He then turned to words about Easter; how great and important a day it is, what we celebrate and why, and the hope this brings for our future. All good words and, I do not doubt, entirely sincere. However, the hope in Christ's resurrection transitioned very smoothly into the hope Canadians have in our recovering economy. There are still dangers though, and to continue moving forward we need to steady hand and good planning of inspired leadership such as our country has been enjoying... insert more political jargon here (things like a word of praise to immigrants and the energy they bring, and so on). 

Though Harper came after services, instead of during, and though he spoke from behind a lectern, while standing in front of Canadian flags, instead of behind a pulpit while standing in front of a cross, I again felt that our church had been co-opted. More than that, I felt that our faith had been co-opted. 

I don't know if you noticed or not, but in Harper's speech our hope in the resurrection became the backdrop for our hope in a recovering economy and, more importantly, our hope in a government which could see to it that our economy continues to recover. This is entirely backwards. 

I expect that, for a politician, every opportunity to speak before a group will become an opportunity to campaign. Especially during an actual election campaign. This may occur in a more or less ham-fisted manner, but it will occur in one way or another. My objection is not that Harper used his speech time to promote himself, though it would have been much more impressive had he not. My objection is to the subordination of Christian truth to political expediency. I object to the hope of the resurrection being used as platform. I object to the disarming introduction ('this is not a campaign event') followed by the disarming use of Christian sign and symbol (talk about Easter) when those things are superseded by a blatantly political speech which connects Christian sign and symbol to party lines. 

It would have been so easy for Harper to have said otherwise. He could have begun by thanking our church for its support, mentioning the energy of immigrants and our recovering economy, he could have even gone on to mention the need for leadership, such as his, to support these things. Then, from there he could have turned and said something like this: "but more important than our hope that the economy is recovering, or that we can continue to lead you into a better future, is our hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That we can say to one another today 'He is risen' gives us all hope in a greater future in God, a hope I share with you. So thank you for welcoming me, and thank you for praying for me." Or something like that. 

I think that is my preacher's voice speaking though; I will always subjugate self-promotion to theology, campaigning to faith, and politics to the truth of Jesus Christ. 


IMPORTANT END NOTE:  I want to end by being as clear as I can be that I do not intend this post to influence your voting, one way or another. I do not intend it as a criticism of our church; I am glad we could pray for our leaders in these ways. I do not intend it as a criticism of Harper's politics, leadership, or of him as an individual. I have no doubt as to the sincerity of his faith, nor would I claim to question his relationship with God. This is only intended as a criticism of the way in which politics often uses the church, our faith, and the signs and symbols of these things. I am of the opinion that we could have hosted any political leader and they would have done much the same thing. It is this way of doing politics, and that it has probably gone unnoticed by most of those who were there today, that causes me to post this. 

23.4.11

"Chasing the Wind" by Robert White



Robert White. Chasing the Wind. Word Alive Press, 2011. 120 pgs. 

Chasing the Wind explores, through the lens of Ecclesiastes, three key aspects of human life: meaninglessness, futility, and frustration. More specifically, the meaninglessness of wisdom, work, and wishes; the futility of desires and deeds; the frustration of toils, treasures, and terminations (gotta like the alliteration going on there). I know, it sounds strange to say that we are going to focus on the key areas of meaninglessness, futility, and frustration. But what did you expect from a book focused on Ecclesiastes? Furthermore, these are, in fact, key areas of human experience. That we do our best to ignore and pass over them, from Monday at work to Sunday at church, does not change the fact that make up a large part of our common human experience. 

White begins each section with a verse from Ecclesiastes and a short story. He then moves on to share personal stories and details from his life to illustrate how the truths he is exploring impacted his own life. Finally, he reiterates his point and adds discussion questions. 

This book was a quick and easy read, but I didn't find it to be all that good. It was entirely formulaic, spoke through Ecclesiastes rather than under and within it, and relies entirely on stories to carry it forward. I often found that White added to the conclusions of Ecclesiastes. So, wisdom is meaningless because Solomon lost site of God's big picture. This is not an insight found in the text, but layered on top. Such was the pattern. Overall, this destroys the actual effect of Ecclesiastes, which is only fully turned upwards to hope in the final verses (though there are hints along the way). 

Conclusion: 2 Stars. Not Recommended. White is right about one thing: Ecclesiastes is an oft ignored book which we need to learn from. So go read it, instead of this book. 



Book has been provided courtesy of Word Alive Press and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Word Alive Press. 

20.4.11

Retreat Readings #5

Psalm 24:1
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.

What follows are some of my favorite readings from this retreat.

The Start; The Destination

The Easy Road

The Path

Steep Hill

Break in the Middle

More Steep Hill

The End is in Sight

The View, the Reward

More View, More Reward

Retreat Readings #4

" If we wish to make the best use of people, places, and things, Then we're going to have to deal with a law that reads about like this: as the quality of use increases, the scale of use ( that is, the size of operations) will decline, the tools will become simpler, and the message and the skills will become more complex. That is a difficult law for us to believe, because we have assumed otherwise for a long time, and yet our experience overwhelmingly suggest that it is a law, and th'at the penalties for disobeying it are severe."
- Wendell Berry " what are people for" pg 114

Berry's Standards for technological innovation
1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one replaced.
2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better then the one it replaces.
4. It should use less energy than the one it replaces.
5. If possible, it should use some form of solar energy, such is that of the body.
6. It should  be repairable by a person of ordinary intelligence, provided that he or she has the necessary tools.
7. It should be purchaseable and repairable as near to home as possible.
8. It should come from a small, privately owned shop or store that will take it back for maintenance and repair.
9. It should not replace or disrupt any thing good that already exists, and this includes family and community relationships.

" The universe does not require philosophical or theological consistency to function; it merely requires that people live according to the same inconsistencies."
- Dale S. Lushness " Sex and the Iworld" pg 102

Retreat Readings #3

" You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honored."
- Daniel 5:23b

" A powerful superstition of modern life is that people and conditions are improved inevitably by education... We think it ordinary to spend 12 or 16 for 20 years of a person's life and many thousands of public dollars on education - and not a dime or a thought on character."
- Wendell Berry " what are people for" pg 26

" Deliver us, we beseech thee, in our several callings, from the service of mammon, that we may do the work which thou givest us to do, in truth, in beauty, and in righteousness, with a singleness of heart as thy servants, and to the benefit of our fellow man."
- ibid. pg 101


19.4.11

Retreat Readings #2

God is so vastly wonderfule, so utterly and completely delightful that he can, without anything other than himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature.
- A.W. Tozer "The Pursuit of God" pg 39

" Faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving  God."
- ibid pg 81

" Let a man sanctify the lord God in his heart and he can thereafter do no common act. All he does is good and acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For such a man, living itself will be a priestly ministration. As he performs his never so simple task, he will hear the voice of the seraphim same, ' Holy, holy, holy, is the lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.'"
- ibid pg 118

Retreat Readings #1

"The whole transaction of religious conversion has been made mechanical and spiritless. Faith may now be exercised without a jar to the moral life or embarrassment to they adamic ego. Christ may be received without creating any special love for him in the soul of the reciever. The man is saved, but he is not hungry nor thirsty after God. In fact, he is specifically taught to be satisfied and is encouraged to be content with little. The modern scientist has lost god amid the wonders of his world. We Christians are in real danger of losing God amidst the wonders of His word."
- A.W Tozer "The Pursuit of God" PG. 13

" Oh god, I've tasted thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. Oh god, the triune god, I want to want thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me the glory, I pray, that's so I may know thee indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, " rise up my love, my fair one, and come away." Then give me grace to rise and follow thee up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long. In Jesus name. Amen."
- ibis PG. 20


18.4.11

Retreat!!

The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
- Sun Tzu

We are not retreating - we are advancing in another direction.
- Douglas MacArthur

No, I am not really going to write about tactics or war. I am talking about a religious retreat. That is, taking some time away from my regular daily routine to take part in intensive rest, prayer, reading, fellowship, and communing with my Lord and Savior, my God and King. 

This is an activity I need to do regularly, and I am blessed to work at a church which encourages us pastors to take a retreat day once a month. I am also blessed to be part of a denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, which organizes an annual 3.5 day long retreat for us youth pastors. 

So, I am off to RockRidge Canyon today. 

Mostly, I want to ask you to please pray for my family as Kristina has to take care of Ethan and Hannah by herself for 3 nights in a row. This will be tiring. Pray for her to have strength and energy, to get rest, and for the children to be super well behaved. 

If your curious, I am planning on doing lots of reading, having good fellowship time, and doing some hiking. 

These are the books I am hoping to read, or start:
Being a Christian When the Chips are Down by Helmut Thielicke
Captive to the Word of God by Miroslav Volf
What are People For? by Wendell Berry
Many Dimensions by Charles Williams
The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

See you in a few days! 

17.4.11

"The Gospel Commission" by Michael Horton



Michael Horton. The Gospel Commission: Recovering God's Strategy for Making Disciples. Baker Books, 2011. 320 pgs. 

Michael Horton is concerned. He is concerned that evangelical Christians are suffering from 'Mission Creep.' That is, that we are giving up our focus on the mission God has given us, becoming distracted by other activities, and losing our clear and biblically founded grasp on the truths which God has given us with regards to the gospel commission (Matthew 28:18-20).  One might justly sum up this entire book as an extended theological commentary on the great commission.

Horton divides his book into three sections: The Great Announcement, The Mission Statement, and The Strategic Plan. In the first of these, Horton seeks to help us understand the gospel message, especially by placing it in it's full biblical context. "The Great Announcement" is, in fact, an excellent summary of the work of scholars such as N.T. Wright, Christopher Wright, and George Eldon Ladd (among others). The second section, 'The Mission Statement', asks, and answers, the question "what does it mean to make disciples?". Finally, the third (and lengthiest) section asks, and answers, the follow up/core question "how do we make disciples?" 

I am conflicted in my review of this book. Horton is a fine, and clear, writer. This book is a fine, and clear, book. More and more I have grown to appreciate how rare those things are: to be able to write adequately and explain coherently. However, Horton is a strongly reformed theologian. I am not. 

At many levels I know that the majority of my disagreements with Horton come down to my issues with reformed theology. He caricatures Arminianism, misunderstands parts of N.T. Wright, and is consistently reformed in his exegesis, theology, and thinking. I don't say that as a criticism; yes, I disagree, but I don't think being reformed makes Horton a bad writer, scholar, or Christian. This is why I am torn in reviewing this book. 

There is one area where I disagree with Horton outside of the basic theological differences mentioned above, and that is in how Horton defines the gospel. 

Horton begins his book by rightly examining the full biblical story and he has clearly done his research. However, the insights he himself offers do not seem to penetrate the rest of his book. He wants all the lines to be clear and firm; he wants to say the gospel is primarily concerned with the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ, and that the rest of what we might call "the good news" comes in elsewhere. This despite his own talk about the context of exodus and conquest, kingdom and hope. I wanted to ask how he reads Galatians 3:8. 

Horton rejects the idea of 'living the gospel'. Instead, he clarifies, we 'believe the gospel' and 'follow the commands.' This is a result of how he has defined the gospel as the proclamation of Christ's death for our sins; after all, how do you live that out? It is finished. But, even to separate the terms believe and live is to ignore the 1st century context in which those words were used; you cannot believe something without living it. Hence, Jesus commands that we "repent and believe the good news," freely mixing lived action with belief. James does the same thing. 

We need distinctions, lines, and theological demarcations where they are possible to make. However, in his zeal for clarity I believe Horton has extended them to far. 

Conclusion: 3.5 Stars. Conditionally recommended. As a reformed theologian, Horton is excellent. I enjoyed his book much more than other, more popular and well known, reformed authors. Just know that when you read his book this is the theological stream you are reading in. 


Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

15.4.11

Introducing... My Wife!

Welcome to the blogosphere love! You look a bit dazed; was the trip here long and tiring? 


Well, I, and we, are glad you are here. And I an assure you, honey, that you are going to have a great time here! Wink Wink!

                                      

By now you ought to wonder what I am talking about, yes? Of course you do! I know exactly how curious a bunch you are!

First, the obvious: Kristina has started a blog. "Mommy's Monkeys". Not only has she started a blog, but she has pre-populated it with posts so that now that she has 'gone public' there is already a bit of history on her site. That also means there are several good posts for you to go and read. But, you ask, why would you read them? I am glad you asked, because that takes us to my second point. 

Second, the soon to be obvious: Kristina's blog is about being a mother, and about our family. If you have already clicked the link to her blog, this news will have moved from being 'soon to be obvious' to 'already obvious.'  If you haven't already clicked one of the links to her blog, I only have one thing to say to you: Get moving! Who wouldn't want to read this stuff? And I am not biased in the least. 

Third, given the author and subject matter, I urge you all to check it out. You can see many more pictures of our family, learn what an amazing wife and mother Kristina is (and I am not just saying that; it is true!), get some interesting ideas of activities to do with your own kids, and generally have a good time laughing and enjoying some virtual sharing with our family. 

Once again, Kristina has started a blog. Check it out.

13.4.11

"How Fantasy Becomes Reality" by Karen E. Dill



Karen E. Dill. How Fantasy Becomes Reality: Seeing Through Media Influence. Oxford University Press, 2009. 320 pgs. 

This is a book about the massive impact that TV, Movies, Video Games, and Music has on all of us, whether we know it or not. 

Karen Dill begins by explaining the psychology of media. Most importantly, she shows that it does affect us, despite the fact that most people believe they are immune. This is called the "third person effect."  The 'third person effect' is the phenomenon that almost all people believe that other people are influenced and affected by media exposure, but they personally are not. Clearly, this is logically impossible and nonsense, but we convince ourselves anyway. 

With this established, Dill spends a chapter each exploring the following issues, relating serious scholarly studies in each instance: media violence, race and gender, social learning (focused on beauty and domestic violence), advertising and health, self-image and self-esteem, and politics. In every chapter you will be surprised at just how much of an impact media really has; I was certainly surprised. 

Dill concludes with a chapter containing a series of recommendations on how we can be more in control of our media diet and how it affects us. These range from the common sense (limit your exposure) to much more through provoking (approach your media diet as you would your food diet). 


This book was intensely interesting and a little bit dry. Yes, a book can be both simultaneously. Dill is a decent writer and, more importantly, she has some very important arguments to make. Further, she makes them well and backs them up with compelling evidence. 

The dryness comes in that this book was highly reminiscent of a textbook. Perhaps that is inevitable given the amount of evidence Dill piles into this relatively small book. Either way, it is more than worth working through just to gain the information. 

Did you know that it has been proven that playing violent video games does all the following, both immediately and in the long term: Increases physical arousal, increases aggressive thoughts, increases aggressive feelings, increases aggressive behavior, and decreases willingness to help or sacrifice for others? This is just one of the many interesting, and disturbing, facts I learned. 

A friend lent me this book and, thanks to him, I now have to contend with a deeper understanding of the impact of media violence on behavior. Newly informed, and thus newly responsible, I sit and I ponder what this must mean for not only my own behavior, but also what I teach and advise to the youth I work with. 

Conclusion: 3.5 of 5 Stars. Recommended. Though not the most exciting book in the world, it is incredibly important. Unless you are a media hermit, or maybe a Luddite, (either way, you are not reading this!) you should read this book. 

12.4.11

Wishing she would cry...

It was then that I realized that I was wishing for something I never thought I would wish. I wished she would cry. 

It was a couple of nights ago and I was putting Hannah to bed. I, myself, was very tired. The night before had been the 30Hr Famine at our church, and while I didn't stay all night I did lose a lot of sleep. Meanwhile, Hannah was as energetic as ever. 

We read our books and got ready for bed, and then I held her in my lap, radio on, while she had a bottle. In that position, she decided to get goofy. Suddenly everything was funny. 

I scratched my face: 
"Hehehe, Daddy doing?" 
"I'm scratching an itch." 
"Hannah scatch it!"

I adjusted my sitting position:
"Heheh, Daddy tickle!"

Everything I did was funny, and I just wanted her to go to sleep. From experience I know that when Hannah gets goofy she usually needs extra time to cool down, and so I was looking at a long 'night night time.' From experience I also know that if she fights with me, crying or getting upset, that she doesn't need extra cool down time. The act of crying wears her out, but the act of laughing gives her energy. 

It was then that I realized that I was wishing for something I never thought I would wish. I wished she would cry. Just fight me a little bit, tire yourself out, go to sleep, please!

It has definitely given me much to think about. I haven't wished she would cry going to bed since then, even though she got goofy last night in exactly the same way, but I still have to figure out what to do what this. 

What would you do? 

6.4.11

"Life is a Miracle" by Wendell Berry



Wendell Berry. Life Is a Miracle: An Essay Against Modern Superstition. Counterpoint, 2001. 176 pgs. 

Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist, essayist, and farmer. He has consistently worked and written in favor of traditions over the new and rejected the notion that the modern, progressive, way is always better. In this essay Berry takes particular issue with "Consilience" by E.O. Wilson. Berry does so because he sees Wilson as a representative of modern superstition in the form of faith in human progress and knowledge and the belief that our best hope lies in placing all things under the hegemony of the natural sciences. 

One by one, Berry cogently and powerfully argues against materialism, imperialism, and reductionism. "To reduce the mystery and miracle of life to something that can be figured out is inevitably to enslave it, make property of it and put it up for sale." Berry argues that we must evaluate our choices, behavior, and technology with a focus on the health and durability of our communities; communities which are much deeper, more particular, and more local than the modern mind assumes. Berry adds to this: "it is impossible to prefigure the salvation of the world in teh same language by which the world has been dismembered and defaced." In other words, we need a different, older, understanding of knowledge, the good, and our world.

This is, hands down, one of the best books I have read in a long time. I have known of Wendell Berry for some time now but, seemingly inevitably, he has not been at the top of my reading list. This is the first of his books I have read and if the rest of his works are of this caliber then I have just discovered one of my new favorite authors. 

Berry is an incredibly good writer who shares wisdom and passion in exquisite balance. His arguments have given me much to think upon, and the list of quotations and notes I have marked in this book will take my a goodly number of days to digest. Let me give you a few examples:

"What I am against - and without a minute's hesitation or apology - is our slovenly willingness to allow machines and the idea of he machine to prescribe the terms and conditions of the lives of creatures, which we have allowed increasingly for the last two centuries, and are still allowing, at an incaclulable cost to the other creatures and to ourselves... It is easy for me to imagine that the next great division of the world will be between people who wish to live as creatures and people who wish to live as machines."

"The worth of freedom depends upon how it is used. The value of freedom is probably not intrinsic and is certainly not limitless... That is true freedom. It means simply that beyond all error we can begin again; redemption is possible... Work that diminishes the possibility of a new start, of 'making it new,' is bad work."

"People follow religion, he says (referring to Wislon), because it is 'easier' than empiricism, the lab evidently being harder to bear than the cross."

"You cannot serve both God and Mammon, and you cannot work without serving one or the other."

"The religion of professionalism is progress, and this means that, in spite of its vocal bias in favor of practicality and realism, professionalism forsakes both past and present in favor of the future, which is never present or practical or real. Professionalism is always offering up the past and the present as sacrifices to the future, in which all our problems will be solved and our tears wiped away - and which, being the future, never arrives."

"The anti-smoking campaign, by its insistent reference to the expensiveness to government and society of death by smoking, has raised a question that it has not answered: What is the best and cheapest disease to die from, and how can the best and cheapest disease best be promoted?"

Conclusion: 5 of 5 stars. Recommended. As I have already said, I may have found one of my new favorite authors. In any case, this book is certainly worth reading and pondering. 



3.4.11

By This All Men Will Know...


"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another" John 13:35

What is a disciple? What characterizes, differentiates, identifies, and defines Christians? What are we known for? I know a lot of generalizations, false statistics, and self-depreciating comments on this subject get thrown around in the church (to get a good perspective, read this). However, I still want to ask if we have taken John 13:35 seriously enough. 

The question isn't whether or not we are known best for our love. Good question, but not one for this post.

The question isn't whether or not we are the most loving. That is not even a good question. 

The question is whether or not this command from Jesus has penetrated our theology, our understanding of mission, the life of our church, or our own life.

Read the passage in John 13 again. 'A new command, to love one another (fellow disciples), to love them as as Christ loved them.'

Paul understood. Look at Galatians 6:10 "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."  

'Let us do good to all people, especially our fellow disciples. '

This, says Jesus, is how we are to be identified. This is our best form of evangelism. This is our mission. Not to exclude those who are not disciples, nor to love them less, but love our fellow disciples more. To take special care to do good to them. 

The question is whether or not this truth is reflected in your organization. Do you sacrifice fellow disciples on the altar of evangelism? Working them to exhaustion in the name of the great commission? Do you put so many of your resources into other things (whatever they are) that you have no ability to actively, energetically, and fully love your fellow disciples? If so, you have not applied or understood Jesus words. 

The next time you have decisions to make, plans to outline, resources to allocate, or just another day of your life to live, think about these things. 

(This post was inspired by Greg Sidders The Invitaiton)

2.4.11

"The Invitation" by Greg Sidders



Greg Sidders. Invitation, The: The Not-So-Simple Truth about Following Jesus. Revell, 2011. 160 pages. 

Jesus called his disciples with a simple invitation: "Follow Me." He calls us the same way. What many find, as they set out on this journey, is that a simple invitation quickly becomes incredibly difficult to follow. Greg Sidders is one of those people. A person for whom the 'red letters' became something to avoid. 

In The Invitation, Sidders invites readers to go deeper into their obedience to this command. He explores what Jesus is calling us to, what discipleship is, and why it is more than worth giving up everything to follow Jesus. Set out in thirteen chapters with a study guide in the back, The Invitation is a formulaic Christian living book (Step 1: Begin each chapter with personal story. Step 2: See what the bible has to say about the issue. Step 3: Bring the point to the reader) designed to offer an introduction to, and encouragement in, the Christian life. 

As such, it is quite a good book. Sidders honesty is one of the qualities which helps the most in making this an effective introduction to following Christ. He does not mince words when it comes to acknowledging how he has struggled to take Jesus' commands seriously. He offers a frank analysis of what it costs to follow Jesus, and what it costs to not follow Jesus. Though it is a formulaic book, Sidders is a decent writer. His stories are not excessive, nor off the point, and even if they felt a little bit too much like mediocre sermon illustrations they still got his point across. More important than the style, or the quality of the stories, is the fact that Sidders gives a theologically sound, experientially satisfying, and spiritually encouraging call to the life of discipleship as a core part of Christianity. 

Many of Sidders chapters contain good summaries of material you can find elsewhere. Some examples: Chapter 3, 'Minimum Requirement', argues for discipleship as a requirement of faith; I felt like I was read a concise, and clear, Dallas Willard. Chapter 11, 'Abiding for Dummies', is straight out of Andrew Murray. Chapter 13, 'The Power of One', is vintage Robert Coleman discipleship/multiplication material.  You may have thought, from the first sentence in this paragraph, that I was about to criticize Sidders for this. I intend quite the opposite. You can do far worse, and not much better, than those kinds of influences. 

4.5 of 5 Stars. Recommended. I am happy to say that this is a book I will use. It will come in handy as a pastor, and I can see myself ordering more copies to give away. Grab one if you get the chance. 



Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.

1.4.11

March Reflections

One quarter of 2011 has now passed us all by. I hope you used it well.

Top Posts of March 2011

1. "Love Wins" By Rob Bell - Controversy wins again I suppose. 

2. Regent Summer School - I am glad this post was the second most popular. I know it is because of links on Regents web pages, but still, if any post is to be popular then I am glad it is this post which points people to a good place. 

3. Controversy Rages On - Indeed... 


Obviously I didn't learn anything from my top posts that I didn't already learn last month. However, despite none of them being in the top 3, I was able to follow through on my promise to review other books. Some of the highlights, in my own mind (regardless of what the number of hits might say!) were:
"To Change the World" by James Davison Hunter - a must read if ever there was one. 
"Is God a Moral Monster" by Paul Copan - An excellent handling and exploration of very difficult questions. 
"An Unsettling God" by Walter Brueggemann - Thought provoking and intelligent. 

As well as those being highlights, I have found that I enjoy reviewing good books a lot more than bad ones. I am still striving towards a balance in accepting free books and reviewing other good books, but hopefully I am on my way. 

Do you have any suggestions for my blog? Any requests? As I mentioned in one of my book reviews, I was reading it and reviewing it because a friend asked. So, ask away!