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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Conventional understanding of God’s will defines it as a specific pathway we should follow into the future. God knows what this pathway is, and he has laid it out for us to follow. Our responsibility is to discover this pathway – God’s plan for our lives. We must discover which of the many pathways we could follow is the one we should follow, the one God has planned for us. If and when we make the right choice, we will receive his favor, fulfill our divine destiny and succeed in life… If we choose rightly, we will experience his blessing and achieve success and happiness. If we choose wrongly, we may lose our way, miss God’s will for our lives, and remain lost forever in an incomprehensible maze. – Gerald  Sittser, “The Will of God as a Way of Life,” quoted by Kevin DeYoung in “Just Do Something”

This conventional understanding is the wrong way to think of God’s will. In fact, expecting God to reveal some hidden will of direction is an invitation to disappointment and indecision. Trusting in God’s will of decree [God’s sovereignty] is good. Following his will of desire [God’s Word] is obedient. Waiting for God’s will of direction is a mess. It is bad for your life, harmful to your sanctification, and allows too many Christians to be passive tinkerers who strangely feel more spiritual the less they actually do.

God is not a Magic 8-Ball we shake up and peer into whenever we have a decision to make. He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him. We know God has a plan for our lives. That’s wonderful. The problem is we think He’s going to tell us the wonderful plan before it unfolds. We feel like we can know – and need to know – what God wants every step of the way. But such preoccupation with finding God’s will, as well-intentioned as the desire may be, is more folly than freedom.

The better way is the biblical way: Seek first the kingdom of God, and then trust that He will take care of our needs, even before we know what they are and where we’re going. – Kevin DeYoung, “Just Do Something”

Needless to say, “Just Do Something” is worth reading and I can’t imagine that it won’t be beneficial. DeYoung is easy to read, humorous, and quick to the point of the book: Stop seeing decision making about reading the signs in the sky and start taking risks for the kingdom of God.

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It was a crazy summer and I honestly did not read as much I had wanted. But here are 4 quick reviews from the summer: Boys Adrift, To Kill a Mockingbird, Church Planter, and Brain Rules.

Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax

Think twice before you look condescendingly at the traditions of other cultures that have lasted far longer than our own. Our culture’s neglect of the transition to manhood is not producing an overabundance of young men who are sensitive, caring, and hardworking.

This book surprised me in it’s objectivity and getting beneath the surface about the demotivation and loss of men in our culture. There are 5 factors that Sax walks through: video games, teaching methods, prescription drugs (for ADHD), endocrine disruptors (plastics/food lowering testosterone), and the devaluation of masculinity. If you have sons or deal with young men, I highly recommend this book. It’s not written from the Christian worldview, and thereby has a major hole, but Sax does value the Bible.

What does it mean to be a man? The answer is: being a man means using your strength in the service of others.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird

I know, I know, this book was written 50 years ago! Consider this book as part of my progress in rewriting my education! There is a reason everyone still talks about this book by Harper Lee: it is amazing and has a depth not found in just about anything written in the last twenty years. Lee has tremendous insight into the sinfulness of human nature and the blindness we have to it at times. Atticus Finch is my new hero, probably one of my favorite fictional characters of all time now. A father, lawyer, follower of Christ who is not perfect but seeks to see the best in people in order to love them, especially his kids. His final speech to the jury is awesome and how his manliness is displayed in how he takes it on the cheek is stirring.

Church Planter by Darrin Patrick

Hurriedness is like a strong wind that blows on the waters of your heart. If the waves are too high, you forget about others and focus on your own survival, making compassion toward others impossible.

“Church Planter” might have been better titled “Pastor” because it is essentially a synopsis of what it takes to be a pastor, what his message needs to be, and what his mission is. Yes, there are nuances to the term “church planter” that Patrick digs into, but this is a book about the sobering reality and demands of a pastor, especially the first part of the book. I genuinely desire to be a pastor one day and Patrick shook me up a bit in a good way. Being a pastor is no joke and is not like other jobs. Do you want to be a pastor? Read “Church Planter” and then see if it’s still your desire!

Most pastors live in a fairy-tale world. They refuse to engage the brutal reality that is ministry, opting instead for a safe, plastic world that never involves hard conversations or radical decisions.

Brain Rules by Dr. John Medina

What do these studies show, viewed as a whole? Mostly this: If you wanted to create an education environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a classroom. If you wanted to create a business environment that was directly opposed to what the brain was good at doing, you probably would design something like a cubicle. And if you wanted to change things, you might have to tear down both and start over.

Brain Rules is a fun, practical, and yet puzzling book. His rules make sense along with the studies and stories to back them up. It is no surprise that things like exercise, sleep, stress, vision, gender, and his other areas affect our ability to learn and remember. You will be amazed by the brain in reading Medina’s book. It blows me away the brain’s complexity and abilities. What also blows me away is that as Medina unpacks our brain, he continually tosses in the evolutionary junk “science” as additional arguments. It adds nothing. It’s like he has seen so much design in the brain that he has to preach evolution to himself and to us. Don’t get me wrong: this is a great book that is easy to read and holds a number of lessons for us. But if anything, “Brain Rules” became an argument for how ridiculous the theory of evolution is and Medina’s evolution propaganda only cemented it.

it is not as if chimpanzees write symphonies badly and we write them well. Chimps can’t write them at all, and we can write ones that make people spend their life savings on subscriptions to the New York Philharmonic.

If I had to pick one…

It has to be “To Kill a Mockingbird” with “Boys Adrift” not far behind. Fiction wins again! Read Harper Lee’s masterpiece again if you read it awhile back. Think about the sinful nature we all have. Think about the tragedy of racism. Think about Atticus Finch and the example of a man that he is. This book is another example of why God gave us fiction and story.

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We habitually look to something or someone smaller than Jesus for the things we crave and need. And none of it is ever enough to fill the void. – Tullian Tchividjian, “Jesus + Nothing = Everything”

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

I love Mr. Tchividjian’s blog, I’ve probably read it all over the past year. It’s been a great encouragement to me and God has used it to stir me in the Gospel. He has such a strong grasp of the heart of grace and why understanding grace is crucial to running this race hard for Jesus. His talk from last year’s DG conference still sticks with me. In the message, he essentially expressed the foundation of “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”

The Blog Revealed the Book

Saying all that, I struggled with the book. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fire hose of the Gospel. He bleeds grace and does everything he can to communicate it. The problem is that I felt like I had already read the book through his blog. Chapter 12 is a profound close to the book, easily my favorite chapter. But I had already read most of it through Mr. Tchividjian’s blog! I even wrote a blog highlighting the key illustration about the daughter who is given an A by the professor.

We All Need the Fire Hose

All idolatry heads us down this path to no-nameness. And Jesus’s story reminds us that far from being some vague, painless, amorphous existence, that ultimate condition of nothingness is acutely painful in every way. Inwardly and outwardly, it brings us anguish and torment. That’s the tragic destiny Jesus wants us to connect with idolatry in our understanding of it.

Because I’ve read his blog religiously, don’t mistake my thoughts for saying this book is not worth reading. We need this fire hose. We need to swim in everything he expresses. Though I was dying for a few more illustrations, he hammered me with the Word. It would be hard to read Colossians and not see what he sees after reading “Jesus + Nothing = Everything.”

The gospel liberates us to be okay with not being okay. We know we’re not – though we try very hard to convince other people we are. But the gospel tells us, “Relax, it is finished.”

My greatest need and yours is to look at Christ more than we look at ourselves. The gospel empowers us to escape our predicament of being curved in on ourselves. In the gospel, God comes after us because we need him, not because he needs us.

His key point is this: Our problem is not that we take advantage of grace but that we don’t understand the grace of God in the Gospel well enough. In fact, most of us just don’t get it. We express a mild form of grace while clinging to our own efforts and façade. Mr. Tchividjian simply destroys the Pharisee and the sulker. There are many idols, but self-righteousness is what he guns for and continually moves to crush.

Summary

"Jesus + Nothing = Everything” is a continual tour of the equation in the name and I promise that it will be worth your time. I struggled only because I had seen much of the material in his blog so it was not as fresh as I wanted it to be. But that reveals our problem – we want something complex and new but what we need is the gospel. What I need is grace. Over and over and over again until it stirs me to look more at Christ and less of myself.

Real slavery is self-reliance, self-dependence. Real slavery is a life spent trying to become someone. But the gospel comes in and says we already have in Christ all that we crave, so we’re free to live a life of sacrifice, courageously and boldly.

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Spoiler Alert! The end of the Harry Potter series is so beautiful and such an awesome picture of what Jesus walked through for us. This is what Jerram Barrs will talk about very eloquently in the video below.

 

The final walk of Harry once he leaves the dock was very moving for me in the film. It was almost exactly as I pictured it. The choice he makes to give his life. The ache. The seeming victory for evil. It’s tremendous. But it’s all set up by the revelation about Snape.

Being Willing to Be Hated for the Sake of Something Greater

Snape is the mystery character throughout almost the entire series. You get glimpses of good in him but he seems tortured and absolutely appears to hate Harry. You wonder why Dumbledore trusts him so implicitly and then when Snape kills him at the end of “The Half-Blood Prince” you think Dumbledore was wrong and that he failed.

In “The Deathly Hallows,” we find out the truth about Snape and realize that he has just as much been the key to defeating Voldemort as Dumbledore was. Snape more than lays down his life, he lets himself be hated for the sake of Harry and defeating Voldemort. He lets his reputation and his name be nothing for the sake of the cause. He lets himself look like a fool and counts himself nothing. His death and the memories he passes on to Harry are so stirring in the book and the final film. His courage. His laying down of his life. His discipline to carry it all the way to the end. I want that kind of courage and that kind of disregard for my own life. It’s not common.

Video HT: Vitamin Z

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I think Harry Potter’s metanarrative will allow Harry to stand the test of time. However, what I loved most about the series is the fog of war.

What do I mean by “fog of war?” I mean a war that is underground, a war that is happening but somewhat hidden and under the surface of normal life. It is a war of truth or simply an underground war against oppressive forces. It is a war denied by most but, nevertheless, is happening.

“You have been told that a certain Dark wizard has returned from the dead – “

“He wasn’t dead,” said Harry angrily, “but yeah, he’s returned!”

“Mr.-Potter-you-have-already-lost-your-House-ten-points-do-not-make-matters-worse-for-yourself,” said Professor Umbridge in one breath without looking at him. “As I was saying, you have been informed that a certain Dark wizard is at large once again. This is a lie.

“It is NOT a lie!” said Harry. “I saw him, I fought him!”

“Detention, Mr. Potter!” said Professor Umbridge triumphantly. “Tomorrow evening. Five o’clock. My office. I repeat, this is a lie.”

The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix

After the first 3 books of the Harry Potter series, you’re still not sure where it’s all going. After the end of Book 4, “The Goblet of Fire,” when the evil Voldemort finally returns in the flesh, you know that this is all going to come down to who wins the war. I love the conflict that follows – the Ministry of Magic denies Voldemort is back and very few believe Harry and Dumbledore. The majority of people and students just want to believe everything is ok, that Harry is lying and just wants attention. The Ministry is clouded by pride and fear and therefore just views the Voldemort return story as a political power play by Dumbledore. Only the Order believes and knows Voldemort is back. And so begins the fog of war – a war that is propelled by recruiting on each side, battles, and schemes, but a war that is predominantly about truth. Once the end of “The Goblet of Fire” happens and the story amps up in “The Order of the Phoenix,” this theme drives much of the tension and the lead up to the end.

This is exactly how the New Testament paints the war we are in and it’s the temptation we are easily lulled into – just relax and be comfortable, it’s all good, no need to fight. In Harry Potter, the truth becomes very clear to all (much too late) once the Ministry of Magic falls in the final book, but we are in a fog of war that will last until the end.

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV)

The Half-Blood Prince and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter Vs Voldemort

In the “Half-Blood Prince,” everyone knows Voldemort is back, but he has become too powerful and still is content to lurk in the shadows, building his forces without direct confrontation. Even in all the conflict and tension of these 6 books, there are really only 2 outright battles: at the end of the “Order of the Phoenix” and, of course, the Battle of Hogwarts at the end of the “Deathly Hallows.” I love that. This is not a war that will be one by power or simple battle strategy. There is only one way: by sacrifice, death and perseverance. The key to victory is not just a search for and destruction of the horcruxes but the willingness of at least 3 key characters to die and give their lives that evil would be defeated. If any of those characters cling to their own life, the war is lost. No mere confrontation of Voldemort will do until these sacrifices have happened. They have no power to face Voldemort otherwise.

We have no power to face Satan or fight sin apart from the death of Jesus. We are just slaves apart from Jesus just as Voldemort would make everyone if he wins. Voldemort cherishes his worldly life, power and control, while Harry and his friends cherish love, sacrifice, and not their own lives. The film versions actually do a beautiful job with this in the last 3 books. The Battle of Hogwarts is the culmination of all of it. Those against Voldemort know the stakes and know they will not be powerful enough to win, they know something else has to happen and Harry has to come through. Does Harry come in with a secret weapon, having attained a power greater than Voldemort? You’ll have to check it out yourself.

This Life is Not a Pleasure Cruise but a War

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8 ESV)

The Harry Potter series is a profound picture of an underground war that hardly anyone believes in. I love the concept of the Order of the Phoenix, this band of brothers and sisters who resolve to fight for good in the fog, who know what is at stake, who know this life is not fun and games, and who commit their very lives to be laid down if necessary. It’s convicting. Am I simply strolling through life as a believer in Jesus or am I jumping in the fray to see the gospel moved forward and people rescued from slavery and a death that will simply be a door to more misery?

And how disastrous for us is the continual remembrance of death which war enforces. One of our best weapons, contented worldliness, is rendered useless. In wartime not even a human can believe that he is going to live forever. – Screwtape (“The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis)

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Wherever we see beauty, light, truth, goodness, we see Christ. Do we think him so small that he couldn’t invade a series of books about a boy wizard? Do we think him cut off from a story like this, as if he were afraid, or weak, or worried? Remember when Santa Claus shows up (incongruously) in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? It’s a strange moment, but to my great surprise I’ve been moved by it. Lewis reminds me that even Father Christmas is subject to Jesus, just as in Prince Caspian the hosts of mythology are subject to him. The Harry Potter story is subject to him, too, and Jesus can use it however he wants. In my case, Jesus used it to help me long for heaven, to remind me of the invisible world, to keep my imagination active and young, and he used it to show me his holy bravery in his triumph over the grave. – Andrew Peterson

I have been a fan of Harry Potter since I picked up the first book sometime in college in the late 90s. I didn’t think about it much at the time, I just saw a lot of good being glorified in it and was enthralled by the story. Aside from biographies and the Puritans, I’ll choose a good fiction book any day. The story of the paths of the dead in Return of the King is stunning, reminding me that Jesus is with me in the darkness. Jekyll’s slow losing battle with Hyde is demonstrates that yielding to sin does not satisfy it but actually perpetuates it and enslaves. Atticus Finch is an example of an imperfect father with rock hard conviction and integrity. Fiction can be messy, but story lingers with you and can help us understand greater truths and the gospel in deeper ways.

I think Harry Potter has lasting power and there is a lot of good built into it in a way that can stir us up in the right things. The Harry Potter series will prove to be a classic.

Side note: I will not be making this argument for Twilight.

What is the Metanarrative of Harry Potter?

Christians were warned about the dangers of Harry Potter, the draw to the occult, to witchcraft, the likelihood that Satan existed in the very pages of Rowling’s novels. Some, perhaps even some reading this, still wonder whether we should be concerned about in the Potter books. I’m not intending to tread on those concerns; we should always be discerning. But at this point, reviewing the history of the debate, the content of the Potter books, and the professions of faith from their author, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that those of us who were once concerned about or opposed to the series were wrong. It’s edifying literature, deliberately full of Christian symbols. – Travis Prinzi

Until recently, I mostly saw how Christians opposed the Harry Potter series and warned of its witchcraft and occult references. I’ve read a few things about how Harry Potter supposedly uses the same “magic words” as actual witchcraft.

That may be true and certainly there is some maturity needed to handle these books just as there is maturity needed for many a book. Readers need to be mature enough to evaluate what is glorified? What is the imparted worldview? What main themes being ingrained through this story? Evil is awesome? Be like Voldemort? Spells are what win battles? Magic rules? Anyone saying that has not read the books.

Harry Potter is all about character over magic. Love over evil. Good triumphing in the end. Battling evil is more about courage and the willingness to lay down your own life than it is about pure knowledge or being able to aim well with your wand. That’s why Harry is not the best wizard, and why Ron is so important and why we need to see Hermione’s heart more than her dazzling skills. Neville represents more of a thirst for revenge than we may like but he also represents perseverance, growth in courage, and honoring the legacy of your parents. Neville also represents the sovereignty and grace of God. The only thing that ultimately distinguishes him from Harry is the fact that Voldemort chose to try to kill infant Harry instead of infant Neville. Their destiny is by no choice of their own and yet their destiny is affected by their very character.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24-25 ESV)

Think about these themes: the destiny of good to triumph over evil, sacrifice and the willingness to lay down your own life being the route to victory, loyalty, friendship, love. Doesn’t sound like a terrible story rooted in the occult to me.

Why will Harry Potter last?

Consider the long-standing, complicated issue of fate and free will, which has been endlessly debated in systematics and caused harsh and violent lines to be drawn between Christian groups. Now, watch the way events unfold in Oedipus Rex, or in MacBeth, or in Harry Potter, where free will and prophecy fulfillment interact and intersect and weave in and out of each other. The issue, in story form, produces mystery and wonder, whereas in our theological propositions, it tends to produce argument and frustration. Fairy tales give us imaginative access to truth in places our religion textbooks cannot go. – Travis Prinzi

I’m not sure if Harry Potter will have the lasting power of a Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. It might have too many roots in our current culture to be a classic. However, when I think back to my childhood and the 80s and 90s, I can think of no lasting classics like this. Harry Potter stands out. How many other series have been written using similar themes and magic and coming of age children? Along with vampires and other similar themes, I’m guessing too many to count.

I think Harry Potter will still be worth reading (movies get old very quickly!) in 25 years. The themes are so accessible and glorifying of the right things that it will last. The characters are fantastic. The story brings in way too much of the gospel to ignore it. Forget about the movies, read the books. Try not to be moved. Try not to get caught up in the war against evil. Try not to be moved by a character willing to be hated by all in order to be a major component for good. Just try. This is a story that will last because it has so much of the one story we all need.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

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These are a few books that I simply have not had time to devote an entire post to but felt like they were worth calling attention to: Brave New World, Radical, Crazy Love, and Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a profound work of fiction. Published in 1931, Huxley’s work is about the world in the year 2540. It’s a world state of genetic engineering, no more marriage or parents, and complete sterilization of culture apart from sensual pleasure and drugs.

Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn’t nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand.

This is a must read book. You could very easily make the argument that this is not the future but now. Think about the pervasiveness of abortion, pornography, and the numbness of America. Think about the dominance of comfort and the slow dissolving of marriage. Huxley even wrote a nonfiction follow up in 1952 expressing his fear that “Brave New World” was becoming a reality much more quickly than he thought. I ache for Huxley and the despair of his atheistic worldview but also for how a key flaw of Brave New World is his lack of understanding of the gospel. Huxley ultimately sees Christianity as ascetism and God as a killjoy even when acknowledging the numbness he has to settle for. One of the promises of the gospel is God showing us the riches of his grace in his kindness for all of eternity. That doesn’t sound like asceticism to me.

Radical by David Platt

Too long have we been waiting for one another to begin! The time for waiting is past!… Should such men as we fear? Before the whole world, aye, before the sleepy, lukewarm, faithless, namby-pamby Christian world, we will dare to trust our God,… and we will do it with His joy unspeakable singing aloud in our hearts.

This is a solid book worth reading if your struggle in the Christian life is not guilt or having a “should” mentality. Platt can very subtly slide into a “radical = justification” worldview that I trust is not his full motivation but is too assumed in his writings here. I agree with 99% of what he says, my fear is the motivation this book can slide to. Our justification is in Jesus not in what our lives amount to. We can be worried about the ramifications of that kind of grace but Jesus wasn’t. People who seem to “waste” their lives for him are praised and shown to have the kind of love that Jesus desires and gives. However, again I say, Platt is very solid. The last 2 chapters are worth the cost of the book.

Crazy Love by Francis Chan

Crazy Love is actually similar to Radical except that it is much more injected with Chan simply spilling his guts and appealing to you by the love of God to understand the life that Jesus has for you and has called you to. Chan, like Platt, hammers Jesus’ words but is very careful to not simply give you a recipe. What strikes me about both Crazy Love and Radical is their similar appeals to not forget the poor. These men are broken over the neglected poor and needy and it shakes me a bit in a good way.

But the fact is that nothing should concern us more than our relationship with God; it’s about eternity, and nothing compares with that. God is not someone who can be tacked on to our lives.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema by Tony Watkins

Reading this book was practically a guilty pleasure for me. Watkins basically makes arguments for a number of reasons that I write about movies, media, and culture.

Nevertheless, underpinning them [Films] all is this deeply instinctive longing for shalom. We need to recognize how echoes of this yearning crop up in films, and to help others come to a fuller understanding of what the human heart needs above all.

When it comes to the gospel, I think Watkins gets it. But he also understands what inherent to the art of film and works to help you see how it all comes together – valuing the creativity and beauty but not missing the worldview and the need for Jesus. Watkins’ writing is very accessible. If watching movies is a part of your regular weekly media regimen, add this book to your reading list.

If I had to pick one…

Out of these four books, Brave New World probably impacted me the most. I love fiction. Beauty illustrates core truth and gets to the heart quicker than a mere direction or instruction. That’s what good writing does. Brave New World illuminated our culture a bit more for me, helped me understand the offer of the Gospel and suffering better, and convicts me of how much I can seek numbness and not Jesus. I doubt that is what the atheist Huxley had in mind when he wrote it!

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