30.9.14

"Childhood's End" by Arthur C. Clarke


Clarke, Arthur C. Childhood’s End. Random House, 1954 (1990).

The Overlords have come. They have ended war, ended hunger, and unified the world. But who are they? And what are they really after? And will humanity succumb to a growing malaise and lack of creative striving in the face of this newly given peace?

These are the questions which begin this great sci-fi novel. I don’t normally review sci-fi books on here. I read plenty of them, being my genre of choice when it comes to fiction, but they are typically akin to the martial arts movies I enjoy: Briefly enjoyable and suited to my tastes, but nothing to write home about. 

Still, in every genre, no matter how specific, there are hidden gems. Here is one of them. What you will find in this book is, of course, Clarke’s creative vision of a specific future. Yet embedded within are also ideas about humanity, religion, science, purpose, and the meaning of life. And while you may or may not agree with Clarke’s ideas, exploring them with him and thinking about them alongside of his writing is both fun and interesting.

Not only that, but I was pleased to find, on the back of this book, one of the original endorsements: “There has been nothing like it for years; partly for the actual invention, but partly because here we meet a modern author who understands that there may be things that have a higher claim on humanity that its own ‘survival.’” – C.S. Lewis.

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly Recommended. You may not like sci-fi, but give this a try as a thought experiment anyway. 

28.9.14

A Pastor's Word: Doubt

"The doubters are always more blessed than the mere fellow travelers in faith. For they are the only ones who fully learn that their Lord is stronger than any doubt and any hell of despair.”

- Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again


For a long time I have found bizarre comfort and encouragement from Luke 7:18-23. 

Jesus has just raised the widow's son from the dead and word is spreading that a great prophet has appeared in Israel. 

"John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
I read this and I try to imagine being John. John, Jesus' cousin, the one who baptized Jesus, the one who sent his own disciples to Jesus telling them that here is the Messiah, the one who seems to know who Jesus is  before anyone else. This John is now in prison and he must fear that he will never get out. He is correct. 

In the face of that fear he doubts. Why, if I was right about Jesus being the messiah, am I still in prison? Why is he allowing me to languish here in jail? Is he really who I thought he was? 

Out of this doubt and fear he sends his disciples to ask: "Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?" 

Jesus, perceptive as ever, answers both questions: I am the one but you, John, should not expect someone else. I am the messiah; look around, report to John all that you see and hear. And blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. Yes, John, I am the Messiah, but I am not coming to rescue you. 

Part of me rebels at this. What I want is to believe that everything is always going to be OK. But it's not. I want to believe that every bad situation has a happy ending. But they don't. I want to be able to turn to Jesus and say 'You promised!' But he doesn't. 

You may wonder how I find this encouraging or comforting. I told you it was bizarre. 

I am comforted in the knowledge that even John the Baptist doubts in the difficult time, and when he does Christ does not rebuke his doubt but answers it. 

I am encouraged in the knowledge that Jesus doesn't just answer this doubt with the evidence but he also speaks directly to the disappointment behind it. We all struggle with disappointment, expectations not met or realized, just as John does in this passage. Jesus response to this is a word of both truth and encouragement and rather than dodging the blame he acknowledges his own place at the center of our disappointment, deserved or not. 

"Blessed is the man who..."

23.9.14

"Called To Be Saints" by Gordon T. Smith



Smith, Gordon. Called to Be Saints: An Invitation to Christian Maturity. Intervarsity Press, 2014.

It is he whom we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil and struggle with all the energy that he powerfully inspires within me.
-       Col. 1:28-29

That we may present everyone mature in Christ. Is this the end we strive towards, personally? Is it what we wish and pray for those around us? Is it what our churches are about? Smith wants us to say “yes.” Not only that, he is concerned that we know understand the content of the Christian Maturity for which we strive. And so he has written this book.

Though not exhaustive in his vision, Smith argues that maturity in Christ is founded in, begins with, and is all about union with Christ. From there maturity has four marks: Wisdom, Good Work, Love, and Joy. Naturally he means something specific by each of these. Wisdom is living and walking in the truth and light. Within this we are called to do good work and maturity means we are living out God’s call for us in our vocation. Love is the deep love and radical hospitality of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 13. Finally, Joy is the attitude which comes from union with Christ and the maturity that this develops in us over time.

I thought this book was great. It asks a very good set of questions (what is the life we are called to? How do we grow into it? How do fellowship, worship, teaching, prayer, spiritual direction, the church, and more play a part in this journey?) and he offers excellent answers. By the very nature of the subject this book is a beginning; no book can replace the journey of growing into maturity. Instead, we are given a vision, a set of means, and an invitation to take that journey.

I will say that some of the things he lays out as means are not as fleshed out as I would have liked them to be (issues around communion, for example, or prayer), but you have to stop at some point. Within this, a saving grace is the sparse but highly useful reference notes which will lead you to valuable further reading.

Conclusion: 4.5 Stars. Highly Recommended. 

21.9.14

A Pastor's Word: Desire

"We can't choose what we want and don't want and that's the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it's going to kill us. We can't escape who we are."
- Theodore Decker in The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

There is an attitude that places desire at the heart of identity and then assumes both to be unchangeable. Immutable and thus unquestionable. The Goldfinch is an excellent novel for many reasons, but one is that by the end it is clear that such a belief is equivalent to fatalism. 

However, it is much easier not to argue about where one thinks this belief leads and instead simply point out that it is mistaken. Desires are not beyond our ability to affect. 

None of us were born needing to wind down at the end of the day with TV and a bag of chips. Our three year old selves did not long for the things we dream of now. And yes, I suppose these are simplistic illustrations, but perhaps it is high time we realized that this attitude towards desire is equally simplistic. Infantile even. 

Our desires have been formed. They can be reformed.

This is an important part of my reading of the Psalms. When I get a Psalm inside of me it reforms my desire. 

"Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you..." 
"O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water..." 
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God..."

Desire is not a bad thing, but it is a sad truth of our times that our desires are often formed towards things that do not lead to life. I have found the Psalms to be a particularly strong anti-viral, necessary and vital for my faith and my self. 

19.9.14

Paths

Though both are beautiful, I sometimes wish the path of life looked more like this


And less like this




16.9.14

The Silence of God by Helmut Thielicke


Thielicke, Helmut. The Silence of God. Eerdmans Publishing, 1962.

I am almost always in the middle of a book of sermons. I read them both to increase my own skill as a preacher and to hear, in the voice of these other preachers, the word of God preached to me. For the year 2014 I am also almost always in the middle of a book by Helmut Thielicke. I am experimenting this year with taking one author who I respect and learn from and attempting to read all of their books. I’m not sure if I am going to make it. Thielicke wrote a lot.

Much about Thielicke’s writing impresses me; more than I am willing to type out in a book review. One of the constant themes, however, is his ability to speak deeply into the experience of doubt and struggle in faith. So far this book does this best.

The Silence of God is a collection of ten sermons – six ‘regular’ sermons and four ‘festive’ sermons (those preached on holy days). Each deals with the ways silence of, or questions of, or actions of, God seem confusing or threatening to faith. The ways, in other words, in which God’s silence demands answers.

In doing this he takes on some very difficult texts, such as Matthew 15:21-28, with marvelous results.
Speaking of the Canaanite woman in this passage Thielicke points out that: “There are some among us who cannot make anything of one or another dogma or who have doubts that they cannot resolve. They should prick up their ears and hear about this great faith. For it does not consist in regarding something as true, or in a capacity for dogmatic understanding, but in a struggle, in a dialogue with God.” (pg. 11)

Not all questions are answered, and I would not classify this in any way as apologetics. Instead, these are sermons which are meant to draw you forward to the only one who can answer: Jesus.  

In his own words: “Thus the message which we now have to proclaim from Calvary’s hill is that there hangs here One on whom our burden rests and on whom we may lay it – our care, our anxious fear of the future, our guilt, our broken homes, the many bankruptcies we experience in life. Here hangs One who bears all that we find intolerable and who knows all that we dare not know. And here also hangs One who for us has burst open, or rather prayed open, the way to the heart of the Father. And if I am at my wits’ end when the hostile power of conscience attacks and accuses me, if I am oppressed by sickness and misfortune, if I am forsaken by men, if I can no longer see the divine hand or higher thoughts, then I may confidently repeat what the dying Savior dared to cry in His last agony: ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ And as I say this, the everlasting hands are there into which I may entrust myself and from which I can receive all things; and the comforting angels will come and lead me. For the way is open; One has gone before. Hence the night of Good Friday is full of the joy of Easter which is possible only in this night and at this place of a skull:

I cling and cling for ever
A member of this Head,
We go our way together
Wherever Christ may tread.
Through death He onward goes,
The world and sin and woes;
He makes his way through hell
And I will follow still.

But before I may sing and praise thus, I msut first come to Golgotha and say to the Man of Sorrows, the Man of my sorrows: ‘I will stand here at Thy side; despise me not.’” (pg. 75-76)

Conclusion: 5 Stars. Highly Recommended. 

14.9.14

A Pastor's Word: Wonder

"When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?"

I read Psalm 8 and it speaks to me of wonder. Wonder at the marvelous creation we inhabit, and wonder at the gracious God who cares about us in the midst of it. Yet, when I think of my own habits and ways I realize that I ‘wonder’ less and less. And not just me – as one living in Vancouver and as a pastor I see this often.

It seems the longer one lives in a place as beautiful as this, the longer one spends time in between this ocean and these mountains, or in any other setting of natural beauty, the more the wondrous becomes commonplace.

Hannah, Ethan, and I went hiking the other day, and reached the peak of Black Mountain in Cypress park. Hannah jumped up on top of a rock and exclaimed, “Ethan, look at all we can see!” Ethan responded, “We can see all the way to China from up here!”

Meanwhile, three others arrived, looked around, and said “Is this it?”

It seems the longer one is a Christian, the longer one partakes of Christian education, the more the marvelous becomes commonplace. We sit through Christmas and Easter services, hearing of our God who loves us enough to become one of us, to defeat death for us, and we are unmoved. “Is this it?” we think.

Perhaps one of our failures is a failure to consider. A failure to pause (and who has time to pause in this day and age? If I pause anything it’s the TV so that I can finish the game on my cell phone while waiting for the video to finish buffering on my computer) and reflect.

Perhaps you could change that this week. 

12.9.14

Books I Like: Survival and Conversion

On Tuesday I mentioned two genres I enjoy: Conversion narratives and survival narratives. I also mentioned the first book I enjoyed in each category. This gave me an idea. Why not give a short list of books I enjoy and recommend in each of those two categories? Indeed. And so I am doing so today on my misc. post.

These lists are in no particular order. 


Conversion Narratives:

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton – I mentioned this in the book review on Tuesday.

Confessions by Augustine – I suppose you can’t have a list like this without Confessions on it. It really is a good book, though it is difficult reading if you are not used to reading older books.

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – Another book which has impacted my own life a lot, this is the story of Brother Andrew’s conversion but also his smuggling bibles into communist countries.

John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken – Incredibly well written biography of a man whose life story really is amazing. I know, that’s a lot of superlatives, but it is a good book.

Surprised by Joy by C.S. Lewis – His autobiography; well worth reading.


Survival Narratives:

The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen – Also mentioned on Tuesday’s post.

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe – Sometimes you just can’t beat the classics.

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand – Superb. Similar to John Newton; this is an amazing story told incredibly well.

The Martian by Andy Weir – This is a sci-fi story, set in the very near future, about a man stranded on Mars. Gripping, but be aware there is a fair amount of profanity.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – True story of the 1996 'Everest disaster'.  


If you have any recommendations to make in either of these categories then please do pass them on!

9.9.14

We Thought We Heard The Angels Sing




We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing, by Lieutenant James C. Whittaker. 1943, Public Domain.

This is the tale of eight men lost in the pacific in 1942. Stranded on rafts with four oranges, no water, one watch, life jackets, a Bible, and a few flares, they hope for rescue and struggle to survive.

In the end, seven make it. On the way some find more than just hope of rescue; some find faith in God.

I came across this book because Helmut Thielicke referred to it in one of his sermons. It sounded like an interesting story so I looked it up. I was pleased to find it free online and I read it. This was the right choice. It is an excellent story, worth reading.

In reading that recommendation you should know that this is a book which fits into two genres I quite enjoy: Survival and Conversion.

One of the first fiction books I fell in love with was The Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. I read it multiple times and then read everything else I could find by Paulsen. It is the story of a 13 year old who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and survives for nearly 2 months before being rescued. I read it again earlier this summer.

One of the first non-fiction books I fell in love with was Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. I read it multiple times and then read everything else I could find by Chesterton. It is about many things and includes the story of how Chesterton came to faith. I read this book every 2-3 years.

Reading a book in which these two things came together was great. But apart from fitting my tastes so well, and coming with just the right amount of nostalgia despite my never having read it before, I stand by my recommendation that you read this book. We Thought We Heard The Angels Sing is a worth your time.

Conclusion: 4 Stars. Highly Recommended. 

7.9.14

A Pastor's Words

As I write this, the first in a promised four months worth of ‘Pastor’s Word’ posts, I am struck by how little you need more words. If ever there were a culture with too many words then we who are buffeted by tens of thousands of words from hundreds of sources every day live in that culture.

The addition of the title ‘pastor’ does not improve upon this judgment. I, like you, am frail, fallen, failing, and failed. My words, insofar as they are merely that, offer no sustenance, relief, or hope.

If these posts are to have any value it will be found only insofar as they turn you away from me and towards the one whose word, and presence, offers these and much more.

If you take these posts and do not click them, or read them, or pass them on, but instead allow them to act merely as reminders to listen to Jesus, that would be OK. Still, I hope there is more here than that. 

But this reflection contains questions.

Who are you listening to? That is, whose words do you take seriously or obey?

Who are you listening for? That is, whose voice do you long to hear, search for, and desire?

Who, or what, defines you? That is, whose words do you take to heart, allowing to penetrate your everyday defenses?

Take, for example, these words from Psalm 105:

Your statutes are wonderful; therefore I obey them.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands.
Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.
Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
Redeem me from the oppression of men, that I may obey your precepts.
Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your decrees.
Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.
Do they draw a response from you?

Or these, uttered about Jesus on the Mount: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”

Does it strike you that Moses upon the mountain received books of law while Jesus on the mountain receives but these few words? 

Does it make you want to listen? 

3.9.14

It's "About" Time?

The following is an update I have added to my "About This Blog" page:

It has been a long time. I haven't posted in 5 months, and I haven’t posted regularly in far longer. However, this is about to change.

Beginning this Sunday, Sept. 7th, I am going to post three times a week. On Sunday I will post a ‘Pastor’s Word’, on Tuesday I will post a book review, and on Friday I will post something miscellaneous.

Pastor’s Word: Every week at my church, in our Sunday bulletin, one of the pastors writes what is called a ‘Pastor’s Word.’ There are almost no content guidelines, except that they need to be 350-400 words long. Personally, I have only done this four times, and I have written them as devotionals. I will continue that here, and post one every Sunday. Some of them will be the very same that I have written for our church bulletin.

Book Reviews: The format of my book reviews will remain unchanged. I will tell you what the book is about, tell you what I thought of it and why, and summarize my recommendation. What will change are the books I review. In the past I have largely reviewed books which I received in exchange for the promise of a review. Now I will be reviewing two kinds of books: books I want to recommend to you and books that placed in me a need to write or respond.

Miscellaneous: This ought to be fairly self-explanatory.

A few caveats:
Life happens; things may change.
I reserve the right to post more often.
No doubt I will change this schedule someday, perhaps soon. For now, I am committed to following this three post a week schedule until near Christmas of 2014. At that time I will likely take a Christmas break, re-evaluate, and see where to go from there.

As always, thanks for reading, and do let me know your thoughts, requests, and so on.
P.S. Yes, Snook, if you end up reading this: I do plan on eventually getting to at least some of the books you have asked me to review.