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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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