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Category: 2017 Reading Challenge

The Listening Life

Possibly the most transformative book I read in 2017 is Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life. Every page was like looking in a mirror; the sentences revealing how little I knew about true listening. McHugh writes

I got serious about listening when I realised I was missing things. Layers of meaning and opportunities for connection lurking near the surface of my relationships, but I wasn’t hearing them, even with those people I loved most. I was skilled at saying wise and empathetic sounding things; I was more skilled at holding people at arm’s-length. Whenever a conversation turned towards emotions, I started looking for an exit.

One of the characteristics of a genuinely good book of this genre is the ability of the author to speak personally in a way that makes us wonder how he was able to write directly to our thoughts and behaviours, while simultaneously speaking from a position of having seen things get better, and sharing a practical path forward to those goals. This is one of those books.

A Brief Review

The question that drives The Listening Life is “how would our relationships change if we approached every situation with the intention of listening first?” McHugh laments how much we have lost the art of listening in our technology-centric, modern convenience, noisy and distracting world. And so the book begins as it should, by laying a foundation for what listening truly looks like: a practice of focused attention. In order to understand ourselves and how we are truly meant to be, chapter two points us directly to our example, Jesus Christ The King Who Listens. Then the book opens up, and McHugh takes an in-depth look at how we approach, listen, and seek to better understand God (chapter 3), Scripture (chapter 4), creation (chapter 5), our neighbours (chapter 6), and our own bodies and emotions (chapter 8) through the discipline of listening. Cultivating this posture of listening not only lies at the heart of a true and mature spirituality, but greatly equips us to better participate in God’s saving mission in the world.

One Profound Takeaway

When it comes to listening to God, Scripture, or creation, I can (usually) find a quiet place and focus. Leaving my phone out of sight and keeping a notepad and pen within arms reach for those nagging thoughts pretty much does the trick. But when it comes to conversations with others, McHugh has shown me just how lazy and unloving I was being without even realising it, and how a little discipline would go such a long way in better emulating the listening Saviour who draws close and listens to me. In his chapter on loving others, he writes about Pushing The Arrow:

Imagine that there is a big arrow hovering over the space between two people engaged in a conversation. It is a very smart, mind-reading arrow, and it swivels to point at whomever the attention in the conversation is focused on. To listen, we remind ourselves, is to pay focused and loving attention on another. So, as the listener in this conversation, your goal is to keep the arrow pointing at the other person for as long as possible. That’s it. Push the arrow toward the interests, needs, and heart of the other person. Encourage the other person to keep talking, to take an idea further, to go deeper into a story, memory, or emotion. Then you are listening. If you remember nothing else from this chapter, remember this.

I was inescapably struck so many times in this chapter by how much I listen in order to respond, to offer advice, to one-up a story, or simply hearing out of obligation (all the while thinking about other things). In the last few weeks, I’ve intentionally entered every conversation with the aim of ‘pushing the arrow’; but not purely for the exercise or social experiment, but because I want to be a person who loves through listening, and you can only reliably listen in the moment if you have become a listening sort of person—someone who has developed a listening heart. When it comes to better loving God and loving others, Adam S. McHugh’s The Listening Life has been the most helpful, most revealing, most profound and practical advice I’ve ever read on how to be a listener, not just someone who occasionally listens.

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My Top 17 Books for 2017

As I look back over the books I read in 2017, coming up with a short list wasn’t easy. There has been so many valuable, entertaining, and formational pages published this year that it’s virtually impossible to select only one book as a category winner. So, in no particular order, here they are. All highly recommended.

The Listening Life

This could well be the greatest book of the 60+ books I’ve read this year. McHugh’s insight into how God as the Creator can potentially use any part of creation as his agent to speak to us is a wonderful way to expand our understanding of the transcended yet immanent God. With chapters on listening to creation, scripture, others, ourselves, and more, this book held so many lessons for a terrible listener like me that I’ll be re-reading this one very soon.

Keep an eye out for my review early in 2018.

God and the Transgender Debate

When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress and no small amount of conflict. It is a genuine experience which needs to be met with love; these are real people. In God and the Transgender Debate Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides, Walker delivers the truth in love, in a way which is helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.
Read my full review.

The Flash (New 52) Volume 1: Move Forward

Opinions are divided, but I love CW’s Flash. After reading Flash REBIRTH, this was a fantastic introduction to where the Flash is now, and where he’s going. The artwork is sublime, and the pace matches the momentum of CW’s Flash. In volume 1, Mob Rule wages a campaign of crime across Central City, plunging the city into darkness, and (in line with what we’re seeing in the current series of CW’s Flash) the only way Barry Allen can save his city is to make his brain function even faster than before — but as much as it helps him, it also comes at a steep price. My clear favourite in the Rebirthed DCU, hands down.

Meet Martin Luther: A Sketch of the Reformers Life

I’ve read a number of books on Luther in 2017 (plus attended a conference on Luther, and preached from Romans from the angle of the Reformation), and I wondered what value this one was going to add. However, in Meet Martin Luther, Selvaggio gives a brief but informative sketch that helps us to see Luther as he was, but I think it also kindles an interest in learning more about him.

None Like Him

In ten chapters Jen Wilkin looks at ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (things that are only true of God), showing that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. In a way that is accessible, but without losing any of its majesty, Wilkin talks about the importance of studying God’s attributes; getting to know this incomprehensibly glorious God who has not only made himself known to us, but wants to be known by us.

The Curious Christian

I quickly discovered that The Curious Christian describes two things simultaneously; the person I’m not and the person I should be. The Bible itself gives us one short prayer which is suitable for all who are struggling with believing… “I believe, help my unbelief.” We should be people who are characterized by a godly curiosity, and who use that knowledge to connect people and cultures to God’s truth so they too can see God’s glory. Read my full review.

100 Cupboards

In January, February, and July I completed this delightful trilogy by N. D. Wilson. In the first book of the trilogy we meet Henry York, a boy who discovers in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds. The story has a wonderful The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe-esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, and Wilson is a creative and talented world-builder.

Being There

Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Pastor Dave Furman writes of his journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. Highly personal and practical, Furman offers strategy for helping those who are hurting, and also for those who are currently in the midst of suffering. Including a helpful chapter on how not to help, books like Being There can help every one of us in the local church to pursue the broken with the healing, restoring news of the gospel. Read my full review.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

God is bringing about the redemption of the whole of creation, which includes our physical bodies. So isn’t it logical to assert that God would be interested in (even use) our bodies? In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero unpacks the benefits of paying attention to our own physiological signals. Learning to listen to our bodies helps our ongoing sanctification; why did that person or situation make me tense up? I’ve learned that listening to my body is intrinsically connected to knowledge of God and becoming who he has made me to be.

Enjoy

Enjoy is a call to delight in the gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy, and see and know Him as the giver of these good gifts. As Newbell infuses her own story into each chapter, the richness of what it means to enjoy giving, resting, sex, food, art, and more is simultaneously encouraging and transformative. Rich with scripture, Enjoy continues to point the reader back to Christ as the ultimate gift of God that we should enjoy in and above everything else. Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian. Read my full review.

On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga (of which this is book one) takes the Most Fun Book Award for 2017. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, and their crippled sister Leeli live with their noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. Their adventures see them run from the venomous Fangs of Dang, horned hounds, and toothy cows. They seek after the lost jewels of Anniera, all the while pursued by a nameless evil named Gnag, the Nameless. On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness is full of courage, discovery, and destiny. The best part is on the final pages, and I couldn’t click “Buy” on book two quickly enough.

The New City Catechism

I’m all for learning by catechism; after all, what is learning if not asking questions and getting understandable, concise yet comprehensive answers? The NCC is visually engaging, and (as I’ve said elsewhere about similar resources) packages profound theological truth in simple sentences that can be left as they are, or used as a launchpad for deeper discussion, depending on the ages of those seated at your table. Young and old in the faith will benefit from solidifying the foundational truths of Christianity with the NCC.

You Are What You Love

.When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. From society around us we run the risk of succumbing to bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies. In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. Read the full review

The Imperfect Disciple

If (like me) you’re among those who seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus, but are broken and in daily need of grace, then The Imperfect Disciple is for you too. Jared C. Wilson writes “Discipleship is for the cut-ups and the screw-ups, the tired and the torn-up, the weary and the wounded” This is the best spiritual formation book I’ve read this year.
Read my Top 10 Quotes from the book.

Ordinary Saints

Returning to the biblical language, Devenish defines saints as “all people who have been made righteous through their faith in Christ and who subsequently adjust their mode of living to reflect Christ’s life in the world.” Saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel, because Ordinary Saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved—completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review.

Sing!

In Sing! Keith & Kristyn Getty masterfully communicate five goals; to discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing; to consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives; to cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life; to equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity; and to inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world. Quality reading for every Christian.
Read my full review.

I Am Spock

Currently my favourite autobiography, I Am Spock is so much more than the story of the actor who created the iconic Vulcan. Nimoy writes with the elegance of a seasoned entertainer; each sentence rich with experience and full of emotion. The ongoing dialogue with the internal and ever-present Mr. Spock sprinkles the whole journey with friendly banter as Spock and Nimoy seek to better understand each other, but also provides a fascinating insight into just how pervasive the development of this character became in Nimoy’s life. Thoroughly engaging; fun, gripping, hard to put down. Everything it should be.

So there you have it. My favourite reads for 2017. If you’d like to see the full list of what I read, you can view my 2017 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.

Sing!

Singing is one of the most commanded acts in Scripture. As Christians we should know not only that we ought to sing, but we should love to sing. In Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church Keith & Kristyn Getty outline five goals they seek to impart into pastors, worship leaders, songwriters, production teams, and singing Christians (so that pretty much covers everyone).

  1. To discover why we sing and the overwhelming joy and holy privilege that comes with singing
  2. To consider how singing impacts our hearts and minds and all of our lives
  3. To cultivate a culture of family singing in our daily home life
  4. To equip our churches for wholeheartedly singing to the Lord and one another as an expression of unity
  5. To inspire us to see congregational singing as a radical witness to the world

One of my favourite points that Keith and Kristyn raise is that the command to sing is not arbitrary, nor is the manner or content left to our own preferences. They write

We are commanded to sing the Word of God—the truth revealed in the Scriptures, the story of redemption. Fundamentally, we’re to sing about God, revealed in Christ and supremely in His suffering and His glory, since that’s what the Word of God is all about (Luke 24:26–27).

Content matters. We’re allowed to be picky, in fact we should be picky. Every part of our song lyrics should link together to bring a wonderful, thoughtful, deep expression of Scripture to every singer. If you are choosing songs as a worship leader, this is your responsibility. The question of why we sing is rarely voiced out loud, but Keith and Krisytn remind us all that our hearts and minds require a good balanced diet of gospel truth that becomes the soundtrack for our week, taking Sunday’s truths into Monday. They continue

Biblically rich content in songs, sung by people who look like they mean what they are singing, helps teach the gospel as something that is credible and powerful rather than cultural and optional.

We need to sing of how we were once under the wrath of God, condemned to die, without even a hint of hope. We need to sing of how that hope came to us as the Son of God entered the world to reconcile us to this holy God, and that we need to sing with joyful hearts to the glory of Him who saved us so that all might be pointed to Him. Whenever we sing, we witness to the faith that we hold to, and the One in whom our hope is secured. If I were a visitor to your church and knew nothing of the gospel, what would your church music (and congregational engagement) convey to me about your faith? Our singing witnesses to our faith, so the question we should be asking ourselves is this: is my singing a good witness or not?

Sing! wouldn’t be complete without including a fresh perspective on singing in the home. The Gettys provide encouragement (and a few ideas) towards making singing a regular part of home life through immersing different parts of our lives with the songs we sing on Sunday. Reminding ourselves of gospel truths through music in the car, singing while preparing dinner—or singing as grace before dinner—bedtime songs, whatever works for you; but always songs with rich theological content that your children can grow up into, and carry into their adult lives. They offer ten practical ideas for getting the gospel into our children’s lives through song

  1. Use all the help and opportunities you can get
  2. Teach your kids songs you want them to grow old with
  3. Talk about what you’re doing and what the songs mean
  4. Prepare for Sunday services
  5. Model passionate participation in the services
  6. Be aware of all the music your kids are into
  7. If your kids are into music… encourage them!
  8. If your church has a children’s choir, support it if you can
  9. Cultivate high opinions of all types of art
  10. Sing today!

All these ideas are unpacked in detail and are thoroughly inspiring for parents (like me) who haven’t got family worship all figured out yet.

Lastly, at the end are a number of “bonus tracks” with practical suggestions targeted at specific groups of people (Pastors & Elders; Worship & Song Leaders; Musicians, Choirs & Production; and Songwriters & Creatives). Each of these four bonus tracks are wonderful and insightful, even if you’re not currently in one of these specific roles. In short, Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church is one of the best books on congregational singing I’ve ever read. It is immensely readable; while also being convicting, informative, encouraging, and deep. Every pastor, worship leader, and serious Christian should read it.

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For more, check out thesingbook.com

What I Read in September

September seemed to be a hot-button issue month. There was less quantity, but significantly more quality with my reading prompting discussions and exploration of people, their stories, and how they relate to what these authors had to say. Everywhere I went these books provoked thought, and I learned a lot. Here’s a brief overview of what sat on my nightstand this month.

God and the Transgender Debate

In this 2017 book Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.  Read my full review.

 

Between the World and Me

Every page I turned in Coates’ book served to profoundly widen the gap between his world (as a black male in America) and mine. The story of race in America is one written on flesh, and this book is laid out as a letter of warning and pedagogy to his teenage son. He writes:

I have seen [The American Dream] all my life. And for so long I have wanted to escape into that Dream, to fold my country over my head like a blanket. But this has never been an option because the Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.

Amazing, emotional, and beautifully written.

Enjoying God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfy the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity. Read my full review.

The Flash Volume 3: Rogues Reloaded

If you’re enjoying watching The Flash from CW (season 3 begins early Oct 2017) then you’ll love this comic book counterpart. I’ve loved the extra character development (particularly of villains like Captain Cold, Mirror Master, and even Suicide Squad member Captain Boomerang) and a slightly different story arc with the same tensions between Barry’s relationships and those of his super identity. The DC Universe Rebirth hasn’t been wholly stellar, but The Flash continues to be my favourite.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

Enjoying God:
Finding Hope in the Attributes of God

R. C. Sproul’s latest work is a soaring, worship-inspiring piece that encourages the heart while engaging the intellect. His exploration of the attributes that are unique to God puts into proper perspective how majestic and mighty the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit truly are—all the while remaining practical and pertinent to the every day life. I thoroughly appreciate Sproul’s ability to cause my heart to sing while satisfying the “so what?” question asked by my own curiosity.

Along similar lines to the wonderful None Like Him by Jen Wilkin, Enjoying God dedicates a chapter to each of God’s incommunicable attributes (those that can be attributed to God alone), exploring the implications of how the Christian life should be lived in light of it. Chapters include God’s omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, truth, immutability, justice, and love to name a few. My favourite chapter is Sproul’s unpacking of omniscience. I found it both comforting and challenging to consider that God knows everything about everything, and he learned none of it because it was all made by him. Of course, the extension of this notion is that none of us should forget that God also knows every thought and deed, and nothing is hidden from the Judge of all the earth.

While written with the layman in mind, Sproul tends to climb quite high in order to get a view of the whole landscape, occasionally creeping into more philosophical or scientific discussions, and so this book won’t be for everyone. At the same time, Enjoying God is a wonderful resource that encourages every Christian to plumb the deep waters of the beauty of our great God who knows us and has made himself known. Enjoying God will cause you to see that the more we know God, the more we understand how worthy he is of our worship, and our lives as well.

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I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Books Bloggers for review.

God and the Transgender Debate

When someone experiences a dissonance between their biological sex and the gender they feel they identify with, this can cause deep distress, inner anguish, and no small amount of conflict from without and within. It is a genuine – often unchosen – experience which needs to be met with love and unwavering support; these are real people. In his 2017 book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say About Gender Identity? Andrew Walker has crafted a compassionate guidebook for a complex condition. Stripping away unhelpful arguments from both sides Walker delivers the truth in love, and in a way which is profoundly helpful to both those who are struggling with gender dysphoria, and those who would seek to walk alongside them.

Beginning with a quick history of how we got where we find ourselves today (thanks to events like the Sexual Revolution, and relativism), Walker moves quickly to lay out a helpful definition of terms (sex, gender, gender identity, gender dysphoria, transgender) highlighting that they’re not the same thing, and that someone struggling with one of these things is not necessarily struggling with one or more of the others. Chapter 5 provides the foundation for any discussion around these terms; it’s God’s sovereignty, his design for humankind as their Creator, and therefore his right to speak (and the words of Jesus) that are the ultimate issue behind the issue. Regarding the fact that gender dysphoria is not sinful, he writes:

It is vital to pause here to make a very clear distinction between experiencing a feeling and acting on a feeling. Come back to Eve in Eden at the start of Genesis 3. Eve was not sinning when Satan spoke to her to tempt her, when she saw the fruit’s beauty, or when she felt it was to be desired. She sinned when she went beyond observing the fruit’s beauty, followed her reason and feelings in opposition to God’s word, and took and ate it.

Walker also unravels the “I was born this way” argument through highlighting that we are all born with broken bodies affected by the fall, with all sorts of tendencies that do not lead to our ultimate joy and wholeness. The way I was born needs constant evaluation against scripture to determine if this propensity or that should be pursued or rejected, for my good. When it comes to modern medicine  – hormone replacement therapy and body-modifying surgeries – the reality is that we can grasp at being men instead of women, but God does not allow it. We are unable to do it and though we can try to change our form, we cannot change our genetic formatting. In truth, Walker says, there is no such thing as transgender. But support for this position is by no means limited to the Christian-worldview. Paul McHugh is one of the most esteemed psychiatrists alive today. He serves as the University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School, and is the former Psychiatrist-in-chief at their Hospital. He states:

In fact, gender dysphoria – the official psychiatric term for feeling oneself to be of the opposite sex – belongs in the family of similarly disordered assumptions about the body, such as anorexia nervosa and body dysmorphic disorder. Its treatment should not be directed at the body as with surgery and hormones any more than one treats obesity-fearing anorexic patients with liposuction. The treatment should strive to correct the false, problematic nature of the assumption and to resolve the psychological conflicts provoking it.

God and the Transgender Debate would not be complete if it merely defined the terms, stated the issues, and didn’t provide the answers. And so, in the back 7 chapters of his book Walker tackles the tough questions, provides pages of real-world examples of conversations he (as a parent) would have with children of different ages, and discusses at length how the church should best seek to equip itself to compassionately engage with sons, daughters, and friends who experience various sexuality-related struggles in loving community. I’m glad he highlights the blacks and the whites, but I’m more grateful that he explores the grays; every person is different, and there are no easy paths. Love requires listening, and transformation requires truth. While Walker’s words are not intended to be the final word on any of the many critical questions he seeks to provide answers to, they are profoundly helpful, practical, and offer invaluable insight into this complex and challenging debate.

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What I Read in August

The Imperfect Disciple

I’m grateful for Jared C. Wilson’s honest, down-to-earth look at what it means to be a disciple who is also human. We all stumble and fall; even Paul knew what it means to “do what I don’t want to do”. Wilson’s writing is easy to relate to, doesn’t come off as holier-than-thou, but rather seeks to walk side by side with us; offering encouragement for the average, broken-yet-striving Christian. One of my favourite sections was his wonderful walk through understanding and applying the beatitudes. For a sneak peak (and plenty to get the grey-matter thinking about), take a look at my top ten favourite quotes from the book.

Batman: I Am Suicide (DC Universe Rebirth Vol 2)

Tom King (and friends) did such a great job with Volume 1; despite the fact that I wasn’t too thrilled that the Justice League had to show up to ‘save’ Batman, like he ever needs that. The artwork is gritty and stunning, the story is compelling, and (without spoilers) introduces Nightwing, Batwoman, and … that’s all I’ll say. Tom King as a former CIA analyst turned writer, knows how to get inside great criminal minds, and doesn’t disappoint.

I am Spock

Leonard Nimoy’s second book is simply delightful. His fascinating (I couldn’t resist using Spock vernacular) story is full of joys and frustrations, and his frequent internal dialog with the ever-present Mr. Spock infuses drama, comedy, and irresistible Vulcan logic to each decision, action, and reaction along his turbulent, successful career. Nimoy writes with the delivery of a master storyteller, and has undoubtedly renewed my love for biography.

The God-Shaped Heart

One of the joys of being a blogger/book reviewer is the opportunity to read and review books before they’re published. Scheduled to hit the shelves on September 5, Christian psychiatrist Dr. Timothy Jennings delivers what he believes to be the keys to spiritual and emotional health in looking to God and his love for us. This book adds another layer to my journey towards better understanding Emotional Intelligence from a Christian worldview. Look out for my review of this one in the near future. Spoiler: I think you’ll love it.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life

Don Whitney speaks to an area of Christian spirituality that I truly love, in a way that I truly love to hear it. His rich heritage with men like Richard Foster has given him wonderful insight into components of the Christian’s journey that sadly the Church (at least in the West) has lost. Moving beyond the Word and prayer to look at silence and solitude, worship, serving, evangelism, fasting, journalling, and others, Don writes with the knowledge of a scholar and the experience of a seasoned pastor. His practical suggestions for how to cultivate these disciplines in your life have been valuable to me, and my hope is they could help you too.

What have you been reading?


See what else I read in 2017:

Top 10 Quotes from The Imperfect Disciple

I‘m grateful that Jared C. Wilson has written a book for disciples like me. The ones who try, and fail, and strive their hardest to walk ‘in step with the Spirit’, but who are broken, messy, and not there yet. The Imperfect Disciple: Grace For People Who Can’t Get Their Act Together is full of real, relatable wisdom and needs to be read highligher-in-hand. Below are (in no particular order) my favourite quotes from this spiritually formative but earthly little book.

What is discipleship, then…

…but following Jesus not on some religious quest to become bigger, better, or faster but to become more trusting of his mercy toward our total inability to become those things?

It all boils down to this:

we have, fundamentally, a worship problem, and so long as we are occupying our minds with little, worldly things and puny, worldly messages, we will shrink our capacity to behold the eternal glory of Jesus Christ, which is the antidote to all that ails us.

Nailing it:

The point of the Christian life is not self-improvement or more Bible knowledge but Christlikeness.

None of us is better than Jesus.

So if Jesus’s intentional prayer involved withdrawal to deserted places, and he did so often, how awesome do we think we are that we don’t have to follow suit?

Oh, and by the way

None of us is ever in danger of praying too much.

To be a Christian is to be a churchman or churchwoman

As I’ve said, the New Testament knows of no vibrant discipleship apart from life in the local church and no authentic Christianity divorced from the covenant of life together according to the biblical structure of the local church.

I just really liked this. Let the reader understand.

I think of the typical Christian Living section in the mainstream bookstore down at the suburban shopping center. Row after row of pseudo-religious gobbledygook promising breakthroughs and victories and super-colossal personal affirmations for abundant living. Jesus is quoted and appropriated in these shiny tomes, their glossy covers invariably featuring successful religious spokespersons grinning big-toothed grins under waves of well-coiffed hair.
“Buy my millstone,” their smiles say. “It’s good for you.”

Be Patient

At its root, impatience is confusion about control. Impatience is the rotten fruit of self-sovereignty. We are impatient because people and circumstances do not tend to operate as if we are the center of the universe.

This is why the good news is so good!

The essential message of Christianity isn’t “do” but “done.” The good news is news, not instruction, and it announces to us not “get to work” but “it is finished.” And so it turns out that the direct route to God-honoring behavior is born not of good behavior but of good beholding.

The church is for people like me

The church has got to be a place where it’s okay to not be okay….
A message of grace will attract people but a culture of grace will keep them.

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Love, Enjoy, Resist the World

When it comes to Scripture’s use of world, it’s easy to misinterpret the term in one verse or another. The Christian who doesn’t carefully consider context can find themselves living with too much legalism or too much liberty. In his book The Disciple-Making Parent, Chap Bettis reminds us that God loves every person in the world, and as followers of Jesus He calls us to do likewise. Further, God made the world that we live in and He declared it good. He made the natural wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon, and he gifted us with every good thing the world contains for our enjoyment. But at the same time, Christians are clearly called to leave the world behind and wholeheartedly follow Jesus.

Love, Enjoy, Resist

The disciple-making parent teaches their children to love the world and enjoy the world, while simultaneously resisting the world. But what does that look like?

Love the World

When it comes to the New Testament authors’ positive use of world as the object of our loving, it should be clear that these passages aren’t referring to the broken, sinful, spiritually corrupted system that is opposed to God. Rather, this should bring to our minds those people for whom Jesus died. The New Testament presents a coherent message that as Christians we are to love our neighbour (read: everyone) and Jesus told his followers that second only to loving God, we should love our neighbour as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

Enjoy the World

Because God made all things good, a Christian can – and should – find pleasure in music, books, sports, movies, and food to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Jesus’ call to discipleship doesn’t mean we have to leave behind us the enjoyment of a sport or the exhilaration of a symphony; as disciple-making parents, we should point our children to the Creator through the enjoyment of his good gifts.

Resist the World

At the same time, Scripture teaches us that as Christians, we are not to be conformed to the pattern of the world (Romans 12) and John tells us “do not love the world” (1 John 2:15). In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer writes:

A whole new generation of Christians has come up believing it is possible to accept Christ without forsaking the world.

This is the negative use of world that refers to those things which would seek to overthrow God as the primary object of our affections. Again, this doesn’t mean that being a Christian means we’re anti-fun or anti-possessions. My household loves all things Marvel; our bookshelves contain the latest comics, our kids wear Avengers pyjamas or sleep under Iron-Man sheets, and we never leave the cinema before watching the very last post-credit scene. However, if we’re talking about Marvel more than we’re talking about Jesus then we’ve got an idol, and we have a problem. Disciple-making parents need to talk about Jesus and his kingdom more than we talk about bands, movies, clothes, food, or things.

Why It Matters

When our children are young, they are forming their values, beliefs, and the way they look at the world. Christians parents are charged with helping these young disciples to navigate the waters of loving the world and enjoying the world, while resisting the world all at the same time. God wants us to enjoy his good gifts while remembering that our greatest pleasure is found in God Himself. One way to achieve this is by allowing Christ’s kingdom to graciously invade our conversations; that in our joys, encouragements, corrections, and conversations our children would see Christ as our treasure and goal. As disciple-making parents, we want to instill in our children an ability to delight in knowing Jesus Christ in, through, and before all other things.

What I[‘m] Read[ing] in July

July turned out to be a whirlwind month filled with all sorts of unexpected curveballs and unseen circumstances. As a result, I didn’t get through the books I had set for myself for this month, and so this edition of What I Read gets renamed “What I’m Reading”, because I’m mid-way through everything.

The Disciple-Making Parent

This could be the best book I’ve read on parenting so far. There are plenty of books that teach about parenting as connecting with the heart of your child, taking expected and unexpected moments to disciple your children, and infusing the gospel into your conversations as well as your corrections. But the value that The Disciple-Making Parent brings has been the importance of highlighting that discipleship begins with you as a person before it’s about you as a parent… and then brings in all the other things as well. This is where I’ve spent most of my July; and if you’re a parent, you won’t go wrong investing your money in this book.

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

Pete Scazzero’s book was recommended to me by my Christian Spirituality lecturer to help me become more emotionally intelligent, because I still have much – actually everything – to learn about EI. I’m finding that I relate to much of Scazzero’s book already (I’m about 1/3 of the way through) and can see how this is already helping me to become more and more open to how God works through our emotions. God is present to us in many ways, and that includes not only transcendentally (i.e. external, look outside of yourself etc.), but also immanently. A fascinating read.

The Flash

I’ve been able to catch up on a number of single issues of The Flash lately (much to my brain’s relief) and am really enjoying the direction that DC’s Rebirth is going, particularly with Barry Allen. It’s been nice to see the return of villains like Mirror Master, Captain Cold (probably my personal favourite), and even see Iris West (but no spoilers).

The Chestnut King (100 Cupboard, book #3)

I’ve been really fortunate to be introduced to some high quality fiction this last 12 months. Robbin Hobb leads the way for me, but N.D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy has been a blast, and I’m looking forward to reading it with my boys one day. The Chestnut King finishes off the trilogy, and I can’t wait to see how it ends.


See what else I read in 2017:

Making Disciples Starts with You

I try to include books on parenting and family as a regular part of my reading diet. I began this month with Chap Bettis’ book The Disciple-Making Parent: A Comprehensive Guidebook for Raising Your Children to Love and Follow Jesus Christ and I’ve been so convicted in the first couple of chapters that I’ve not only had to re-read them, but I’ve decided to blog my way through the remaining content.

Not pulling any punches, Bettis is quick to get to the real heart of the matter when it comes to effective disciple-making. Quoting Scottish pastor and theologian Robert Murray M’Cheyne, he writes

“What my children need most
is my personal holiness”

It might seem obvious, but how can I effectively disciple someone if I’m not a disciple – being discipled – myself? As a student, I often observed that what I learned at seminary wasn’t just information; I came to love what my teachers loved. I caught their curiosity for the course content, and I inherited their desire to go deeper. This didn’t happen simply by what they taught, but by how they taught it. The same thing is true for Sunday sermons; what the congregation hear in that 30 minutes is (hopefully) the result of hours of careful study and constant prayer. What I bring to my children in family devotions and daily discipleship must be the same; the overflow of my own times in the word saturated with prayer for the growth of their faith and love for the Lord. To expect them to grow by a make-it-up-as-I-go-along impromptu delivery is likely to be disastrous.

For me to be the best parent I can be, I must acknowledge my complete dependence on the Holy Spirit. I must be careful not to make an idol out of having perfect Christian children, but I should be encouraged too that God has promised to lead, teach, guide, and fulfill his promises when I put him first in my life. It sounds counter-intuitive at first, but the beginning of family discipleship really has nothing to do with children. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 shows us the order of our priorities:

“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

This command makes plain for us that we must love God with – and for – our own selves before we can teach our children to follow. We must have his laws written on our own hearts before we can effectively model what it means to be a Christ-follower. My most sincere hope is that I don’t simply teach my children about a deity that I know with my head, but rather introduce them to a Lord and Saviour that I treasure with my whole being. It begins with me.

You Are What You Love

When it comes to our spiritual formation, the average Western Christian has lost much of the value that comes from practices that quiet our souls and remind us of who we are. We live in an age of addiction to speed, multi-tasked productivity, compressed thoughts, and condensed experiences. Even when it comes to our spiritual life we find ourselves too busy to pray, too distracted to just “be still”, and even see some churches try to preach shorter sermons out of fear that they will lose the attendance of our attention-deficit generation. And from society around us we (the church) run the risk of succumbing to these bad doctrines and false narratives; carelessly adopting our secular culture’s daily liturgies.

In You Are What You Love Smith argues for a return to intentional practices that immerse our souls in “liturgies indexed to the kingdom of God”. He recognises that we are restored by being re-storied; and we have a deep need to change the rhythm of the narratives that we live by. The truth is the same whether we are considering the habits of our own lives or the environment of our local church; where we invest our time reveals where our love truly resides.

“If you want to build a ship, don’t ask people to gather wood.
Rather, teach them to long for the sea.”

But we can’t re-calibrate our hearts merely from the top-down. Intentional discipleship isn’t a purely intellectual exercise (although, I believe that it needs to begin as one). Smith helpfully points out that his solution isn’t to shun knowledge – as though being anti-intellectual would somehow make you more ‘in tune’ with matters of the Spirit – but to focus on the connection between our habits and our desires. We need to recognise the power of habit. As Christians, I think we understand routine. We strive to read our bibles regularly, we gather together every Sunday to worship as a community, but we are also bombarded with the many unhealthy cultural liturgies that would seek to distract our hearts and steal our affections. We check our social media before – or more frequently than – our time spent with God, and we are lazy about sticking to spiritual disciplines that we know are good for our souls.

Smith is quick to point out that ​we won’t be “delivered from deformation simply by new information” bur rather reflection must propel us into new practices. By grace we have been provided the means by which to nurture our love for the good and beautiful God, found in the rich practices of the historical Christian church. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to your habits, your morning routine, the order in which you sub-consciously prioritize your tasks and time. Smith reminds us that in the midst of a world of “hurry sickness”, there is infinite value in receiving and adopting the historic Christian practices as enduring gifts that help us rightly order our loves, just as they have for Christians down through time, and he shows how this deep continuity remains a radical call to discipleship.

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What I Read in June

Calling on the Name of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Prayer

Gary Millar managed to find something that I didn’t think existed in 2017: an angle on prayer that no one has ever explored before. Millar presents the first full biblical theology of prayer I’ve seen; from Genesis and the Pentateuch, through the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, Paul’s writings, and finally prayer in the remainder of the New Testament letters. All throughout, Millar adds weight to his thesis that prayer is essentially “calling on the name of Yahweh to fulfill his promises”. He adds that for us, praying “in Jesus’ name” is the New Covenant re-imaging of the this formula. This book will change how you look at prayer, and cause your prayers to be richer, more relational, and ultimately more rewarding.

Ordinary Saints

Stuart Devenish expounds the life of the ordinary saint, which he defines as “all those who have been saved by grace and through their faith in Christ subsequently adjust their mode of living to reflect Christ’s life in the world”. These character qualities are also richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read my full review here.

Commentary on Romans

Martin Luther’s theology is arguably not made clearer in any of his other works as much as it is here in his rich commentary on the New Testament letter to the Romans. This work has had significant influence on a number of great fathers of the faith, most well-known are the famous words from John Wesley:

That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

This is a wonderful, practical insight into Paul’s letter. And well worth reading slowly.

The New City Catechism

I made the time to study this on my own before inaugurating our next round of family devotions. This is a wonderful, simple yet solid launchpad from which to teach your children the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Suitable for all ages, because you can choose to simply read the question and an abbreviated answer (including scripture), or use it to go deep into a conversation about any of our beliefs and practices. Free on iPad, but our house already has enough ‘screen time’, so I opted for the paperback.

Erasing Hell

I love learning from Francis Chan. So it’s not surprising that this was the first book I’ve read for a while where I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it cover-to-cover in one sitting. Chan has a remarkable ability to communicate urgency and emotion in the midst of serious and sobering content. This book goes straight on my Every Christian Should Read This list.

You Are What You Love

Much of my 2017 has been spent contemplating my regular practices, habits, call them liturgies if you will, and how they reveal where my love truly lies. This book has been formative in understanding myself better, and seeing how my heart needs constant re-calibration to point to the “true North” which is Christ.

The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows

Merging seamlessly with the content of both Ordinary Saints and You Are What You Love, James Bryan Smith’s work has a wonderful spiritual direction to it; helping me to learn how to better live as one who is following after Jesus, and how every day is an opportunity for spiritual formation; re-aligning and re-honing my habits and focus on loving the God that Jesus knows. I particularly loved the way James Bryan Smith ends each chapter with small group questions and a spiritual formation exercise; because Christian growth happens in community.


See what else I read in 2017:

Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life

Rarely do I find a book so wonderful and easy to read that I fly through it fifty pages at a time. And yet, right from the outset its clear that in Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life Devenish would encourage me to take it slow; to look under every rock, touch every leaf, smell every flower. In so doing, I learn in the pages of his book not only how I should live as a Christ-follower, but I see clearer how I am called to live Jesus’ kingdom vision for my family, for my work life, and for the way in which I am called to have an influence on the world around me.

With the movement of time and the development of language, one could easily find themselves picking up Ordinary Saints with a range of preconceived ideas and prejudices and so Devenish begins with a most helpful and illuminating definition of terms: what are saints? Returning to the biblical language, he defines saints as

all people who have been made righteous
through their faith in Christ
and who subsequently adjust their mode of living
to reflect Christ’s life in the world.

Over against the more commonly used disciple Devenish clarifies “whereas the word disciple highlights the obedience that the disciple offers to Jesus, the word saint highlights the kind of life that the Christian disciple lives before the watching world”. Before even leaving the introduction it became clear that Ordinary Saints is a highly practical, challenging, and encouraging word designed for all of God’s people.

Laying a foundation for what characterises the ordinary saint, Devenish discusses the qualities he believes should be present in their every day lives. These are: (1) love for humanity, (2) overflowing joy, (3) generosity of spirit, (4) willingness to suffer, (5) deep humility, (6) essential goodness, (7) profound wisdom, (8) holiness of life, (9) the practice of prayer, (10) an eternal perspective, (11) readiness to resist evil, and (12) forgiving one’s enemies. I found this chapter simultaneously encouraging and convicting, knowing that as Devenish drilled down into each one of these characteristics, I still have a way to go.

Chapter seven (titled “Holy Wounds”) expands on the model for the saints’ lives. Included in this chapter is a concept he has coined called “voluntary vulnerability”, which he defines as when a person who is whole, healthy, happy, and right with God through faith in Christ, nevertheless chooses to give up their “right” to ensure their own needs are met. Instead, they relinquish any claims to their own comfort and well-being, in order to act in the best interest of others, not themselves.

This pattern is richly demonstrated throughout the book with many stories and examples of ordinary saints living out what Devenish describes. These stories serve to inspire and delight; it is true that saints have currency today because their lives are revelatory; saints lives are truly the best apologetic for the gospel. In considering everything that ordinary saints have to contribute to the life of the Christian today, Devenish writes

History as a narrative rehearsal of past events is punctuated by the life stories of men and women who have performed their character and faith in the past, in such a way that they shape and influence the present (not to mention the future). History would not exist as we know it today without those cultural, religious, and political heroes who have left their “notch” on the stick of time. To that extent, the present moment springs forth from the heroic imaginings of yesterday’s people, who lived their lives not accidentally but intentionally towards making their tomorrow (our present) a better time and place.

None of the qualities that Devenish expounds in the life of the ordinary saint come naturally to any of us. And yet, this is precisely the life that those who have been saved by grace are called out of the world to live. Ordinary Saints is both a call to intentional transformation and an encouraging reminder of that great ‘cloud of witnesses’ that has gone before us, laying down their lives for the spread of the gospel in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and housing the homeless.

Ordinary saints recognise that they are to love others even as they themselves have been loved – completely and unconditionally.
Read it, then go and do likewise.

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What I Read in May

The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity

This month I’ve continued my reading on the Trinity, this time with B. B. Warfield. I thoroughly enjoyed this short walk through every passage of Scripture where the Trinity is present. You often hear people talk about the fact that the Trinity isn’t explicitly revealed in the bible, but Warfield demonstrates how the three persons of the Trinity (and the orthodox position on the Triune God) permeates all of Scripture, from the Old Testament all the way through to the words of Jesus, Paul, and others.

Enjoy

Another book added to my shelf by an fantastic woman author engaged in solid thinking. For everyone. Read my full review here.

The Flash Volume 2: Speed of Darkness

I’ve come to love so much about the Flash. There’s little doubt that Batman rules the DCU, but the way Barry Allen continues to display that his goodness is his greatest strength appeals to me. Although it works with a different plot line to where the current The Flash TV series – which just hit the end of season 3 – is headed, neither is second to the other. Both great writing, both true to the world I know and love.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts

Joshua Hammer’s true story of his time documenting the life of Abdel Kader Haidara, who smuggled tens of thousands of ancient manuscripts during the height of Al Qaeda and other extremist groups enforcing Sharia Law, banning and burning everything that opposed them. Exciting, terrifying, real. Much respect for both the author, and the men who risked their lives to preserve their culture.

The Passionate Preaching of Martin Lloyd-Jones

There’s a sense in which Steven Lawson had an easy task in writing about this man. Lloyd-Jones has been widely recognised as the man who resurrected expository preaching, passionately advocating for the systematic journey through all of Scripture. He never forced a topic upon the text, but lived and studied to bring the message of God to the people from the natural flow of God’s word. I particularly loved this sentiment from Lloyd-Jones:

“I never allow the pew to influence the pulpit;
when I was a physician I never let the patient write his own prescription”

I’ll be seeking out some more of Lloyd-Jones work now, most likely his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount.

The Hobbit

While I’m fairly certain I’m not the last person on earth to read these works by J.R.R. Tolkien, I think I must be close. I’ve never read any of Tolkien’s works, so I’m starting here. I’ll move into the LOTR trilogy in the coming months, then on to Unfinished Tales and The Silmarillion.

 

Here’s what I read in


See what else I read in 2017:

Enjoy: Trillia Newbell

I‘m one of those people who always tries to make the most of every opportunity. Need to get in the car? I’d better listen to a Christian podcast and learn something on the drive. I can sometimes find myself in low-level guilt if I simply play or relax without infusing it with more purpose. But can we honour God by doing things for no other reason than that they bring us pleasure? In her new book Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, Trillia Newbell asks the question “why did I wrestle with guilt over time spent riding my bike, feeling as if it were a waste of time unless I turned it into something greater?” By exploring the twin realities that God is the giver of good gifts and that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, Newbell invites us to consider what it looks like to enjoy a simple, leisurely activity for our good and God’s glory.

In eleven chapters, Newbell looks at how despite living in a fallen world, the Christian should never feel guilty about unwrapping and delighting in the many and varied gifts that God has intended for us to enjoy. This exploration includes our God-ordained enjoyment of (and with) other people, work, possessions, sex (in marriage), food, and more. One key area that I’m slow to get the message on is beautifully framed by Newbell in her chapter on rest called The Freedom to Press Pause. When we rest – and enjoy doing it – we’re actually fulfilling part of our design as creatures made in God’s image. Newbell is quick to remind us that taking a Sabbath is not a legalistic duty, but rather as we hit pause for a time (especially when work and deadlines are vying for our attention from every angle) we are accepting a wonderful gift of grace in which we demonstrate our trust and reliance on God.

When it comes to money and material possessions Newbell exhorts us to hold them lightly knowing that they are perishable things. By all means, remember that money and possessions are gifts from God and to be enjoyed in the knowledge that he has given them for his glory as we exercise wisdom in the distribution of our wealth among our work, rest, and play. But at the same time, Newbell encourages us to expand the categories in which we think of enjoyment, in that wealth also empowers greater generosity and here too “we give because of the joy of emulating our saviour.”

When we pause and learn to delight in these things, we also learn to delight in God and give proper thanks and admiration… We delight and give thanks not solely because he gives good gifts but also because he is God.

Most importantly, not all God’s gifts can be seen. God has also given us glorious promises, and faith through which we can lay hold of those promises in – and despite of – our varied circumstances. Most of all it is Newbell’s heart for glorifying God through the enjoyment of his good gifts that shines through on every page. As she infuses her own story into each chapter, the richness of what it means to enjoy giving, resting, sex, food, art, and more is simultaneously encouraging and transformative. Enjoy is a call to see and know God as the giver of these good gifts, and how those gifts (and the enjoyment of them) reveal something about him. Rich with scripture, Enjoy continues to point the reader back to Christ as the ultimate gift of God that we should enjoy in and above everything else. Through the pages of The Enjoy Project (practical application found at the end of each chapter), Enjoy is relevant and readily adopted into the life of every Christian for their good, and God’s glory. This is a great read for individuals or small groups.

 

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I received this book free from Blogging for Books for review.

What I Read in April

I didn’t read as much as I normally would this April, but what I did read was fresh and nourishing. This month also saw me graduate with my M.Div, so I’m looking forward to being a little freer now to read more widely. Other books I read this month (not listed below) include Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism and Helmet Thieke’s A Little Exercise for Young Theologians.

Humble Roots

This month turned out holding a selection of books from thoroughly enjoyable women-theologians. The first off the bench was Hannah Anderson, whose book is tenaciously biblical while exploring humility through our physical bodies, emotions, and the natural world. Anderson reminded me afresh how pride is conquered through the recognition of our dependence on God, our need for a Saviour, and the sustaining power of the Spirit without any of whom we would be dust. These ‘roots’ were complimented with frequent practical examples of what humility looks like in real life. Highly recommended.

None Like Him

In ten chapters Jen Wilkin looks at ten of God’s incommunicable attributes (things that are only true of God), showing that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, immutable, omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, and sovereign. In a similar theme to another book I read this month, Wilkin talks about the importance of of studying God’s attributes; getting to know this incomprehensibly glorious God who has not only made himself known to us, but wants to be known by us.

The Deep Things of God: How The Trinity Changes Everything

Many people can go through the Christian life simply praying to god-in-general, never cultivating a relationship with any of the three persons of the Trinity. I loved being able to read about the beauty and wonder of the different functions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and how encountering each one has increased tenfold my Christian life (not only my prayer life). Seeing the acts of God as acts in which the whole Trinity participates (The Father sends, the Son secures, and the Holy Spirit seals), as well as remembering that the Son taught us to pray “Our Father” through the Spirit is enriching and results in a deeper love and relationship with the God who is three-in-one.

Missional Motherhood

I read Dave Furman’s book a while back (read my review) and really enjoyed his honest appraisal and compassionate advice. Gloria Furman also writes with clarity, imparting the kind of wisdom that only comes from lived experience. With eyes fixed on seeing how God’s plan for motherhood is a high calling encapsulated within God’s grand redemptive plan, Gloria takes a sweeping look at the Old Testament before traveling forward to Jesus, showing how he is every mother’s Prophet, Priest, and King. The call to live out the gospel in our homes as places of Christ-exalting hospitality is a wonderful, life-giving message that will impart courage for every mother.

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

Among the most important questions in Christianity are around how we practically ‘work out our salvation’. Far from easy-believism or cheap grace, I found this to be a super-helpful systematic look at the common questions around the call of Christ, the response of humanity, what genuine conversion looks like (in light of getting the previous two right) and the demonstration of saving faith ongoing in the life of the Christian. I listened to the audio book for this one, and found myself wishing I could take out a highlighter and mark plenty of paragraphs on the way through.

Here’s what I read in


See what else I read in 2017:

What I Read in March

I read a bunch of great stuff in March. I haven’t included everything, as there will be some reviews being posted over the next few weeks, but overall March was a great month with marriage, means of grace, history, intelligent design, and some good old (new) superhero adventures.

Know the Creeds and Councils

Having sat in more than one class on church history, I’ve seen plenty of material covering heroes and heretics, councils, creeds, and controversies of the early years. This little book by Justin Holcomb was such a great springboard; every chapter short and punchy, and closed with a “so what?” for Christians today. While you’ll move through this book easily, if you’re like me it will act like a living map where the more you look at it the more you’ll see new places pop up, waiting to be found and explored.

Batman Vol 1: I am Gotham

The DC Universe rebirth has been underway for a while now, and while my budget doesn’t allow me to keep track of all the characters, there’s always room for Batman. First, I really enjoyed this. I like the point at Bruce Wayne’s life where this story arc has picked up, and while I think Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns will always be my favourite Batman, despite what could be perceived as a slow start, I think this Batman is going to shape up to be among the best to date.

This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence

Piper spends the first 5 chapters laying a biblical foundation for what it means to be humans, together in a marriage relationship, and what that God-designed relationship ought to look like, and why. Having established first things first (love, unwavering commitment to covenant, forgiveness and forebearance, parallels to Christ and the church), Piper moves to two chapters on a biblical foundation and application of a husband’s headship in his family, and a chapter on the beauty of Christlike submission in light of the gospel. The book closes with chapters on having children and making (them) disciples. With wisdom and encouragement for singles as well as married, this is worth a read.

God and Stephen Hawking: Whose Design Is It Anyway?

The way in which Lennox unravels Stephen Hawking’s arguments is impressive, somewhat amusing, educational, and convincing. His conversational style (given the high-brow nature of the arguments) makes for a book that simple guys like me can follow, nodding in assent as pure logic (Lennox is a mathematician) is employed to dismantle seemingly intimidating and complex structures of thought. Accessible, helpful, and compelling, this book is also designed to encourage you to explore the arguments – and counter-arguments – in more detail in Lennox’s other works. I’ll get to those in the months to come.

Praying the Bible

Do you find yourself falling into the same routine when you pray? Are your prayers repetitious, or predictable to the point that your kids could pray them with you (not after you, but at the same time because they never change)? Don Whitney has a simple time-tested solution that will not only revolutionize the way that you pray, but will grow your prayer life and propel you forward in your knowledge and application of scripture at the same time. Praying the Bible is small, but packs plenty of punches.

The Gospel Call & True Conversion

Among the most important questions in Christianity are around how we practically ‘work out our salvation’. Far from easy-believism or cheap grace, I found this to be a super-helpful systematic look at the common questions around the call of Christ, the response of humanity, what genuine conversion looks like (in light of getting the previous two right) and the demonstration of saving faith ongoing in the life of the Christian. I listened to the audio book for this one, and found myself wishing I could take out a highlighter and mark plenty of paragraphs on the way through.

Here’s what I read in


See what else I read in 2017:

Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is not the Enemy of Faith

For many Christians, the very idea of having doubt is unthinkable, even sinful. Solid Christians are those who not only know what they believe, but are ready with an answer to tell you why it is the way it is, and why – if those around them would simply read scripture as it should be read – they would come to the same rock solid, unshakable conclusions. Enter Barnabas Piper, who is bold enough to ask the question “what is belief?” and explore the critical difference between doubt based in belief and doubt that undermines belief.

Through personal and often painful story, Piper recounts his journey from being a born-and-raised Christian who went on to graduate from seminary, always having the right answers, to one who learned the stark contrast between knowing God in relationship and simply knowing a lot about him. Many of us (myself included) will find resonance with Piper’s discussion of mental assent; knowing the facts, defending the arguments, even brushing aside wise counsel designed to penetrate and change us with the terse “I know”. Christians need to move beyond mere mental assent – Piper urges –  to allowing what we know to transform us. That kind of belief is what the Bible calls faith. Faith is belief that transforms into action. When we only have the mental assent part, we base our actions on something other than God, namely our own emotions or reasoning. Piper writes:

“When people say they believe in God, what does that mean? It may mean they believe God exists in some form. It may mean they acknowledge God’s moral standard as a genuine guideline. Or it may mean they believe fully in God’s word and God’s way and look to him as the object of their faith. While each of these is an accurate statement and a proper use of the term belief, only one of them is real belief. That is the third use.”

As risky or uncomfortable as we feel doubts and questions can be, Piper argues that it is much more dangerous to live in a safe Christian world refusing to exchange curiosity for comfort over the long haul. The only way to disarm the danger posed to faith by things like divorce, destitution, and disease is to engage the questions (especially with our kids) before they wreak havoc.

Through the prayer of a desperate man in Mark chapter nine (“I believe; help my unbelief”), Piper unpacks the struggle of every Christian; that we will always hold tension between believing and not believing, but we take comfort from the fact that even this prayer takes a shred of faith to pray in the first place, so all is not lost. He discusses evidence of true belief like repentance, prayer, and humility and he effectively shows how doubt is not the opposite of faith, but is in fact a healthy part of it.

As beings created by God, our finitude simply cannot grasp his infinity aside from what he chooses to reveal to us. Scripture doesn’t offer every answer. But it reveals exactly and completely everything God wanted revealed – no more, no less. This is where our belief takes comfort. When we question and wonder in ways that are firmly planted in relationship with God, then it will serve to strengthen our belief. And so our faith seeks understanding and we pray “I believe; help my unbelief”.

 

 

The Temple and the Tabernacle

To be honest I think what initially attracted me to J. Daniel Hays’ The Temple and the Tabernacle: A Study of God’s Dwelling Places from Genesis to Revelation was the fact that it boasts over 60 full colour images in its almost 200 pages. Many pages of Scripture are filled with events taking place in or around a tabernacle or temple, and I was hoping to get a better handle on the particulars of each of these structures which played such a large role in the life of God’s people. Hays delivers an accessible, enjoyable survey of how these structures came to be, but he also demonstrates how the prominent biblical motif of “temple” weaves its way through Scripture from Genesis to Jesus, and the implications for the people of God today.

Hays begins with Eden as the Garden Temple where God dwells and relates to the people he created (this is the underlying reality of the later tabernacle and temple structures), and he shows 9 ways in which this place serves as the divinely constructed prototype for the later tabernacle that Moses built, and the temples of both King Solomon and Herod the Great. What I appreciate most about Hays’ work is his detailed summaries of the construction projects, including the extravagant furnishings with their function and symbolism. He places each of these structures (and their contents) in their historical and theological contexts, and follows Scripture’s naturally growing anticipation as he discusses the role that all these things play in foreshadowing greater future realities.

After admiring the significance of Eden, Moses’ tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, the postexilic rebuilding events recorded by Ezra and Haggai, and finally the temple of Herod the Great, we find ourselves entering the New Testament period. Here we come to learn that it’s been 400+ years since the presence of God has chosen to return to any temple, that is until Jesus Christ walks in through its gates. Hays brings together every untied thread; using Scripture to show how the temple, the sacrifice, the priesthood, the ark, and the very temple itself all come to find their fulfilment in the person and work of Jesus Christ. After centuries of carrying out the blood-soaked requirements of the old covenant, and witnessing the constant rebellion and sin of God’s chosen people, Hays writes

“God is very clear throughout the Old Testament about the righteousness demanded by his holiness. That is, the whole point of the stepped gradations of holiness in the tabernacle and temple (moving from the courtyard to the holy place to the most holy place) is to stress that the powerful and dangerous holiness surrounding God’s presence cannot allow sinful or unclean people into his presence.
…But with the death and resurrection of Christ, all of this changes dramatically.”

After a detailed examination of the second temple in the time of the gospels and the book of Acts, The Temple and the Tabernacle finally reaches the glorious event that all Scripture has been anticipating for hundreds of years: the arrival of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s presence once again has come to dwell with his people, and through the sending of the Holy Spirit God now dwells in the newly constituted temple – his people. It is within the context of the sweeping arc of all salvation history that Hays has brought his readers on a journey from the garden temple at creation to the arrival of the Creator, and now he looks forward to the fullness of God’s presence in the ultimate climactic temple city of Revelation 21-22.

As the people of God today, we understand that the beauty of these remarkable structures does not lie in their being impressive feats of architecture, nor in the tons of precious resources that went into their construction. Rather, it is that God was present in them, relating to his people who came to worship him. Through them we are reminded of the immense privilege that Paul reminds us of in 1 Corinthians 3:16

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?

May we be humbled and awed as we consider that because of Jesus’ removal of the multiple layers of separation (courtyard, holy place, most holy place) the God who dwelt in unapproachable glory in the heart of the temple now chooses to dwell in our hearts. The Temple and The Tabernacle will leave you not only with a greater understanding of the reason for these old covenant structures and a greater appreciation for the unity of Scripture, but most importantly you’ll add meaning and depth to your own Christian journey by coming to see the daily joy and responsibility of living as those in whom this holy God has chosen to dwell.

You and Me Forever:
Marriage in Light of Eternity

Having recently reviewed Dave Furman’s excellent book about the most important things to do (and not do) when it comes to showing true love for someone who is hurting, and how to ensure you take care of yourself in the process, Francis and Lisa Chan’s book on marriage in light of eternity overlaps in many wonderful places. Their first chapter Marriage isn’t that Great is Francis’ usual provocative style in which he reminds us that while we should be invested in nurturing, growing, and protecting our marriages we must always remember that our worship is to be directed only to God. In firmly fixing our gaze first and foremost on the all-satisfying God, we plant ourselves by the stream of living water from which we draw all the nutrients necessary to take care of ourselves and out of which we can truly love and care for our spouse. He writes

We need to prioritize our eternal relationship with our Creator above all things.
When two people are right with Him, they will be right with each other.

Francis affirms that while we are called to love and care for our spouse as we love ourselves, we should always keep God in the front of our minds in order that the love we have for our family doesn’t eclipse all others. God is far beyond us, and so our love for him should be far beyond our love for all others. Here’s our normal way of prioritising our affections (left) contrasted with the biblical mandate (right).

Lisa Chan supplements this by reminding us (in the same vein as Dave Furman) that it is when we find our identity and fulfillment in Christ that we have all the love, joy, peace, patience, and kindness to pour into our spouses. He fills us up so much that we don’t need anyone else to meet our needs; rather we spend our lives blessing our spouse and investing this limitless grace into their life for their good, and God gets the glory.

In the middle of You and Me Forever the Chans work through their take on the famous marriage pericope found in Ephesians 5. Francis begins by addressing the husbands on what the aggressive, sacrificial pursuit of loving your wife “as Christ loved the church” looks like. Lisa then follows with a word to women on the importance of shifting the focus more towards wives who strive to possess the humility of Christ rather than over-thinking how our culture bristles against the biblical command of “submit to your own husband, as to the Lord”. In both instances there is no better way to model to the world the mutual love between Christ and church than through our sacrifice and submission, which is ultimately loving obedience to God.

The thread that runs through each paragraph and page of You and Me Forever begins in the book’s subtitle. God’s mission is bigger than your marriage; and once cast in the light of eternity, you and your spouse will come to see that – paradoxically – it is in pursuit of God’s Kingdom above all else that your marriage will flourish like never before.

The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage.

You and Me Forever is as good a book as I have ever read on marriage. It is sensitive and insightful, but also gospel-soaked and Christ-exalting. Francis and Lisa Chan write to exhort couples everywhere from their experience of life and marriage that seeks to love God and love each other while walking together in the obedience of faith. I commend it to everyone.

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The Curious Christian

Barnabas Piper begins The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life by highlighting the critical placement of the suffix “-ish”. Jesus bade people to come to him with faith that was childlike; the wonder and curiosity displayed when everything prompts a question, everything fascinates and excites, and we bubble over with a desire to know. Consider this contrasted with Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:11 regarding putting aside childish things. Paul is talking about thinking, speaking, and reasoning like a child. In The Curious Christian, Piper laments that the former has been lost to us as we seek “maturity”, and wonder no longer has a place in the version we see. But maturity doesn’t (read shouldn’t) mean growing out of those aspects of childhood that Jesus embraced. Rather, instead of smothering childlike questions and wonder to make room for responsibility and adulthood Piper urges us to see that real maturity holds information and imagination in equal measure and with equal value. Indeed

Curiosity produces a proactive life rather than a reactive life.
We go on the hunt to discover rather than letting the new and strange come to us, and that is where learning and growth happen.

Beginning with Adam and Eve we see plainly that God designed humanity to be curious and creative; but their curiosity went too far and they sought to have that which wasn’t theirs to possess. Now creation is broken, you and I are broken, and so is our curiosity. But wait… how can curiosity be one of the ways that we’re made in God’s image and likeness? God knows everything, sees everything, is everywhere. There’s nothing for him to be curious about, nothing for him to discover. Piper’s answer to this question is vocation. We reflect the glory of God in our faith seeking understanding; in order to proclaim God to the world we must get to know him, and to do that we must possess a desire to learn. Christians must be curious. Godly curiosity – deeply rooted in the truth and worldview of Scripture illuminated by the Holy Spirit – equips us with discernment to see the world as it is and reflect God more as we live in it.

Piper (accurately) likens us to real-life Hobbits; we enjoy our comfortable lives and shelter from the happenings of the outside world, though we’re fascinated with tales of the goings-on “out there”, as long as – for the most part – it stays out there. But then

A wizard, as it were, knocks on our door, or a pile of dwarves devours everything in our pantry and sings a tale of a dragon. We begin to realize that our shrunken life isn’t enough to make sense of their lives and stories. We’ve heard rumor of such people and such experiences, but they were much more palatable online or “out there” where they belong.

Then there are the negative side effects of what Piper calls “uncuriosity”; binary thinking (inability to see shades of gray in an issue), missed connections (forgetting that strangers have a story too) and depleted friendships (lack of curiosity keeps acquaintances but makes it hard to have deep friendships). Curiosity is the discipline we foster that takes risks; it moves beyond the surface level small-talk to share about hopes, beliefs, and deep fears. And while curiosity makes us vulnerable, the risks often lead to great rewards.

Imagine a church, family, or work environment that encouraged a culture of curiosity. People taking the time to ask questions, and desiring deeply to understand the answers; a place where “tension and infighting would diminish because people would be curious enough to learn what others really said and really meant instead of construing meaning and creating drama or conflict”. Christian community would be a place of rich, nourishing relationships with God and others as we seek together to understand scripture with consistent curiosity and provide counsel with curious care.

And so Piper explores the question. But infinitely more than that, he implores us to rekindle in ourselves the yearning to ask questions of our own. And keep asking. Keep discovering. And use that knowledge to connect people and cultures to God’s truth so they too can see God’s glory.

The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life will be available on 1st March 2017.
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What I’m Reading in February

Reading for 2017 is well under way (check out what I read in January here). Here’s what I’m looking forward to this month.

Habits of Grace: David Mathis

So far I’ve read the forward (by John Piper) and I love the way he sets the reader up with the expectation that Mathis’ aim is to help believers enjoy Jesus through the spiritual disciplines. Having practiced (or at the very least become aware of) many spiritual disciplines from various branches of Christianity throughout history, I’m very much looking forward to the encouragement of Mathis in deepening my Christian spirituality, and enjoying Jesus more.

Assassin’s Quest (Farseer Trilogy, Book #3): Robin Hobb

The Farseer Trilogy are the books that I both want to finish, and don’t want to finish. I love everything about the way that Robin Hobb’s immersive style of writing irresistibly and completely draws you in to the world she’s created. At the same time, there are another ten or so books after this one that Hobb has written in the same world; so I’m keen to get finished in order to get on to the next one.

Why We Love the Church: Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck

This topic never seems to be settled; it reappears in conversations of all kinds (somehow) with a far too regular frequency. The fact is, I love the church. I don’t think you can be a Christian and be isolated from attending the regular institution that is a local body of believers. I’m looking forward to reading how these two men I’ve followed for years articulate the deep love all Christians should feel for the church.

Help My Unbelief: Barnabas Piper

I’ve been struck lately by the importance of having the kind of faith which is both secure and yet possesses a healthy ability to ask questions and not shy away from (or supress in others) the difficult or controversial questions. Barnabas Piper’s book (recommended by a friend) encourages an increased understanding of curiosity and its role in the Chrisitan life.

Dandelion Fire (100 Cupboards, Book #2): N. D. Wilson

I thoroughly enjoyed book one of the 100 cupboards; I think it’s my favourite kind of fantasy. In a very The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe -esque mix of the wondrous meeting the ordinary, this is the ongoing story of Henry York, a boy who discovered in his bedroom portals to one hundred different worlds.

See what else I read in 2017:

How to Love Those who are Hurting

Ten years ago Dave Furman developed a nerve disorder resulting in chronic pain and a disability that prevents him from using both his arms. Working through depression as he came to terms with needing care on a daily basis, Furman now writes of the journey (shared with his wife and four children) offering highly practical encouragement for how to love those who are walking through pain and suffering. The first two chapters address the suffering of those who daily care for the needs of another. In a very personal way, Furman recognises that oftentimes the friends and family of the sufferer don’t have their experiences addressed or needs validated, and so he begins with two chapters called Grieving Your Loss in Another’s Pain and Walking with God. He writes

If you’re going to help the hurting, your heart needs to be healthy,
Your efforts in your own strength can only go on for so long.

Furman’s desire is to see those who care for the hurting remember that Jesus Christ should remain our greatest affection and our constant source of hope. To love and continue loving requires the help of our loving Heavenly Father, and we should tend to our own hearts through regular communion with God in prayer, immersion in scripture, and being part of a loving community of saints. I found such a strong resonance with these thoughts from chapter two; I know both as one who has experienced suffering and as one who cares for those who suffer that my walk with God has enormous impact on my capability to care for others in their pain. I would hand out copies of this book en mass even if it was only composed of these two chapters.

From chapter three onward, Furman offers practical strategy for helping those who are hurting. He begins by taking the example of the three friends in the book of Job – mainly as an example of what not to do – in order to discuss some ways in which we can minister to the hurting as faithful friends. Job’s friends question, accuse, explain, and condemn him during their time of ‘support’ but there is something they do well at the beginning. They sit on the floor with Job in silence… for seven days. There is a kind of ministry that is without words; and often just being there can be the timely balm for someone’s soul. Perhaps we have answers. Perhaps we know that God is sovereign and he has a plan. Perhaps they know it too. But – Furman writes – rather than slapping our favourite Bible verse as a Band-Aid on suffering people’s wounds, offering loyalty, longevity, and unwavering love through the darkest times can actually meet the deepest need.

Later in the book, there are four heart questions. Jesus was the suffering servant who not only condescended from the glory of heaven to become like one of us, but actually stripped off his outer garments and washed his disciples feet, wiping them with the towel he was wearing. Thinking about our own service in light of this humility, Furman asks

  • Do I get upset if no one recognises me for my service?
  • Am I ever inconvenienced in my service?
  • Do I feel too embarrassed to be treated like a servant?
  • Do I complain about the ministry of serving others that God has given me?

In this revealing self-diagnosis, I found I have a long way to go, but Furman also reveals that to be selfless and humble like Jesus is a sweet thing, and that God is most glorified in our service when people see the Saviour through the servant.

Still firing on all cylinders, the second-to-last chapter provides an insightful, helpful discussion entitled Whatever you Do, Don’t Do These Things. This chapter is brilliant, and because I’m constantly messing up how to care the way I should, it’s worth regularly re-visiting. The list of ten things in this chapter (which could have also been called “please don’t do these for your hurting friend”) includes: 1. Don’t Be The Fix-It Person, 3. Don’t Make It Their Identity, 5. Don’t Encourage Them to Just “Move On”, and 10. Don’t Condemn Them.

Being There is a powerful, insightful, and gospel-saturated resource for everyone who is called to care for those who are hurting. But to limit this book to the readership of carers would do it a grave disservice; Furman points out that to be a follower of Jesus Christ means to continually consider others as more important than ourselves. In order for the love of the suffering servant and sovereign king to be displayed in the people (not simply delivered from the pulpit), books like Being There can help every one of us in the local church to pursue the broken with the healing, restoring news of the gospel.

The 2017 Reading Challenge Begins

Now that the new year is here, I’m well underway with mapping out the books I’m excited about reading in 2017. I found last year’s choices enriching and enlarging (read that post here) and I’m looking forward to maintaining that wide variety and varied diet in the year to come. Below are the first five books I’m diving into in January (I doubt I’ll have time to review them all).

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

I thoroughly enjoyed this latest work from J.K. Rowling when it lit up the silver screen. I’m not entirely sure how I’ll fare given that her screenwriting debut has been presented through this hardcover in movie-script style (complete with stage directions, scene numbers, etc), but I’m looking forward to taking the images that I’ve already seen and adding further vibrancy to them with the new colours that the book will bring.

Being There

Buying this book a few months ago, I’ve since seen it appear on quite a few “best books of 2016” lists. The best way to convey my interest in this book is to point you to the video of Dave and Gloria Furman as they discuss their life as it pertains to this book. Also on my to-read shelf at the moment is Gloria’s Missional Motherhood, which I’ll get to later this year.

The Temple and the Tabernacle

With over fifty full colour diagrams, photos, schematics, drawings, artworks, and other visually stunning resources to help the reader get a better understanding of the significant dwelling places of God throughout the history of Israel, this looks like the most exciting, educational read on the structures that feature so prominently in the Bible that I’ve ever seen.

Theologically rich, wonderfully informative, and (at first glance) easy to flick through or dive into, I’m really looking forward to this.

You and Me Forever

I’m trying to mix in a book on marriage | parenting | family every few books this year, and this is the first one off the blocks for 2017. I quickly grew to love Chan. First via YouTube, then with Crazy Love. His ability to communicate life-altering truths so effortlessly and memorably is winsome, and I’ve always loved the way he’s taken what I thought I knew and flipped it around. Like this quote from the back cover:

“Jesus was right. We have it all backwards. The way to have a great marriage is by not focusing on marriage.

100 Cupboards

Along with On The Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (the first book in the Wingfeather Saga, which I’m really digging right now) book #1 of the 100 Cupboards series looks like it’s going to be a fantastic read, making enjoyable brain-candy for those times when I feel like reading something a little lighter.

The last interesting thing about these first five books is that they’re all paperbacks. I won’t be bringing out the Kindle until after I’ve made my way through these first few; but while my bag might be a little bit heavier for a few weeks, the truth is I actually like it that way.


See what else I read in 2017: