Posts Categorized as: reading
Dark Days Indeed:
Several of my readers and students have asked me to address some of the recent social issues that are plaguing our world today. I have hesitated to put my opinions about these issues into print because of the current climate of volatile dialogue. You and I live in an era where making any kind of statement instantly labels you: bigot or activist, hateful fear-monger or hateful defender of the status-quo. I recently read that we are in an era where people don’t want freedom of speech, we want freedom from speech (that bothers us). One person warned me that if I didn’t say something, my silence on these issues implicates me on the side of the bad guys… what’s a teacher/pastor to do?
There is a season for provocateurs and prophets. I used to think that I was someone who played both roles. As I’ve grown older, I don’t think I have either the wisdom or authority to do so. My roles of husband, Dad, pastor and teacher have more than enough challenge.
It is true. We are plagued by some really difficult issues today: Injustice, Trafficking, ISIS, War, Political disasters, Racial divides etc. It can be easy to be completely discouraged when your personal life is hurtful and the society you live in seems to disintegrate around you. What we need is a miracle. Thanks to God, there is a great new book about this.
Recently, I received an invitation to be part of the launch team for Eric Metaxas’ new book, “Miracles.” Once I accepted, I got a free book and an introduction to a well-organized group of fellow readers. I was unable to read the entire book in one sitting but, when I finally finished, I was determined to write a review that would encourage others to read this book. As I was reading the book, I began to realize that God was giving me a way to respond to the darkness of our era. Rather than opining on particular issues, this was a chance to bring encouragement and healing rather than more division. I want to start with a quick review of the book. Here are a few things that I want to share with you that I liked:
- This is a readable book. Make no mistake, it’s well-researched and full of complex issues but it is written in a way that a broad audience can enjoy and grow from this book. He does not shy away from some very difficult issues but the tone is never one of speaking down to someone.
- The key elements in understanding the big issues of miracles are dealt with (check out the subtitle on the pic above). Metaxas discusses the nature of miracles, the reason they happen, how to determine what a miracle is, why they sometimes don’t happen and discusses miracles in the Bible. Then he gives a series of miracle stories from real people. This leads to my next point:
- These are stories from Metaxas’ own life or people he personally knows. This allows the reader to see the experiential aspect of the topic. The stories are amazing and so moving! No hagiography here; just real people with real miracle stories.
- Chapter six could be seen as the fulcrum for the whole book. I’m saying this as a Pastor. As a professor, I liked chapter two the best because of the tight logic and good research about the ontology of miracles. However, almost no one I love gives one hoot about the word “ontology,” let alone what it means. What almost everyone wants to know is this: what will God do for me? We don’t mean to be myopic but pain in life does that: we don’t see the peripherals (even if they’re important). This chapter addresses the difficult questions that apply to our personal experience with miracles.
- The book is a harbinger of hope. In our world today, there are myriads of people bashing the church, pointing out where the strong ones fail, critiquing models of ministry and decrying the deterioration of society. Few voices are shouting that God is still active, still powerful and present. This book give hope in a tangible way and I loved that.
We all want God to do miracles in our lives. I think this is normal and should be expected by those of us who believe the Bible is true. Every day I am praying for miracles to happen in my life…I’m not kidding. When I pray for Kate’s legs or Shannon’s healing, I ask God to miraculously heal them. I am extremely urgent in my prayers for my house to sell. I call out to God to help my Mom with her Alzheimer’s. Yet sometimes the long days and unanswered prayers can extinguish the fervor of faith. So, on top of just asking for miracles, I want to encourage you to keep your eyes open for the miracles that God has already done for you and for others. This book is a good part of that!
When I do this in my own life, I think of my son-in-the-faith, Kevin.
There are no geographical, historical or logical reasons that we’re so close. Nonetheless, God has healed the social and racial divide that would have separated us. God has made us family! His entire life is a miracle and I thank God almost every day for bringing him into our lives…Kevin remains on my daily prayer list.
I also think of how God urged us to move to Texas. We did not know that Kate needed a more accurate diagnosis when we felt Him tell us to leave. I marvel at the doctors God has brought into our lives. I think of how God has used our local church in NE to help my Dad during these dark days… the list of miracles in my life goes on for a long, long time. Even though God has yet to answer some of my prayers, He has lovingly given me a great amount of large and small miracles! The give-and-take process of asking for miracles and then counting the ones already given has helped me have a more robust faith in God despite my sorrows and heartache. Metaxas said it well, “True faith is not a leap into the dark, it is a leap into the light” (pg14). It is in this tension that we walk—it is the already and not-yet. The light shows that God has not left us alone. He is still acting despite all the evidence being heaped up against peace.
Can you imagine the era during the birth of Jesus—the Romans, the oppression, the injustice, the loss of hope? It was during the worst of times that God sent his Son to dwell with us; to suffer with us. In our own era of darkness, there is hope that God is still working. It might be quiet and hidden in a manger, but He is here and He sees us. I hope you are able to read this book. It re-ignites my faith and I think we all need that from time-to-time…especially during the Christmas season…especially if this season brings heartache. God is with us in joy and blessing, and in pain and poverty. He is with us now.
Blessings on you. Merry Christmas and may God give you miracles.
*I am not getting any reward or compensation from this review. I’m hoping that someday I might get to meet Eric Metaxas… but no guarantees…
During my time at Wheaton, I read A LOT about missions and was glad to do so… The work and practice of living and working wisely is hard anywhere. When you add the myriad layers of complication that comes with language, different spiritual conflict, culture, sociological issues etc., you have a tough road. So, from my time and Wheaton, as a missionary, as a doctoral student and as a teacher of future missionaries, here are my top five books on missions and why:
- Landmark Essays in Mission and World Christianity by Robert L. Gallagher and Paul Hertig - I like this book so much because it is a collection of essays and research that made major changes (for the good, I think) in missionary thought and practice. The now famous “Pilgrim Principle” from Andrew Walls comes from this book. I personally enjoy collections like these because it takes some of the time out of finding the good stuff. Also, I think very highly of Dr. Gallagher and know that this was a well thought out collection.
- Encountering Missionary Life and Work by Steffan and Douglas - This book is a one-volume primer on what preparing for mission life looks like, I’ve not seen anything better. I use this in my classes and am very, very impressed with both the practicality of what is there as well as being impressed with the range of theology and social science that undergirds this book. I think it’ll become a classic.
- When Helping Hurts by Fikkert and Corbett - Lots and lots of people have read this book. Lots more ought to read it. Some people have critiqued an “American” need to “help.” I don’t think that the desire to help is a bad thing at all. Rather, I think the issue is that we assume that we know what is helpful for others. On top of that we also tend to think we know how to do that. This book helps activist-types to stop and think clearly before walking uninvited into a situation that they are really not ready for.
- Transforming Culture by Sherwood Lingenfelter - This is a book that helps people like me get a quick and accurate assessment of a cultural situation. It also helps show the major building blocks of culture so that my response can be transformative rather than just interactive. The point is that every culture plays toward certain social games and Lingenfelter uses his grid/group quadrants to great effect.
- Jerusalem to Irian Jaya by Ruth Tucker - Some of my students might roll their eyes at this selection because its a textbook in my sophomore class. But honestly, reading a small portion of this book can be enlightening and encouraging. It is also handy to see the maps, learn the timelines, and see how the big picture is put together. Not kidding, this book is delightful to me.
There are more book being published on mission now than ever. The list of fine books out there is amazing! But, for me, these books are my favorites. A LOT of others almost made the list… It’s tough to pare it down to just five.
Blessings on you and happy reading!
When it comes to reading for spiritual growth, obviously nothing compares to the Bible. There are (surely by now) thousands of Bible-reading plans you could use if that helps you. I personally still use the McCheyne plan and Proverbs every day (the McCheyne plan is on the ‘net). But, lots of people have been helped by reading for spiritual growth. Although it is seems to be slowly falling out of fashion, there is still something about taking the time to read something that stirs some small ember of Spirit back into a flame. As people read peers and bestsellers, the sometimes begin to hear the calling of the spiritual classics. This is GREAT but can sometimes be problematic. Many of them are ancient, some are quite mystical and others seems extremely racist or sexist. What do we do with this?
I am blessed to get to teach a class called “Readings in Christian Spirituality” for the MA in Spiritual Formation at LCU.
Shameless plug: It’s genuinely a wonderful program that can be almost all done from a distance. There are a few on-site visits but not many. Contact me for more info!
As part of that course I do a section on reading ancient Christian books. Here is a short synopsis of that lesson.
- First: Start with a primer book on how to read these books Here is a good option by Kyle Strobel. Another one that I use in class is Richard Foster’s Devotional Classics. You can find that here. I like them both but the Foster book lends itself to a huge sampling of different authors and is structured in such a way as to allow the reader to customize their reading. I would also recommend Os Guinness’ and Louise Cowan’s book on reading general classics as well. The reason I encourage people to use a starter is just to get a feel for the volume and scope of what’s out there. The Church Fathers are inspiring but, let’s face it, not light reading when you just want go home at the end of a long day and “disengage.” Once you find an author or a book you want to read, here’s a good next step.
- Second: I encourage my students to do at least a good background check on the author. This really matters because, in the end, our lives preach/teach far more than any book we read or write. Find out their cultural background, their family situation, their intellectual bias, their denominational/doctrinal stance etc. Let me give you an example of this: If you just try to read Teresa of Ávila without recognizing that she was a) a Carmelite (how many people even know what that means?) and b) deeply persecuted, it’s hard to understand what she was trying to get at regarding the soul’s interior castle. People who don’t see that might think, in the words of my daugher, “Ew. That’s so weird.” Another element to consider is the political / cultural structures surrounding the author. Watchman Nee’s writings would have been different without the severe persecution he faced, and Augustine’s City of God would not have been the same without Alaric the Goth. Those external factors really matter.
- Third: Consider the timing and worldview of the author. Are there translation issues? Neoplatonism? Heresies to be dealt with? John Cassian’s writings are very helpful and very profound but in his era, the prevailing worldview assumed that demons took the guise of “loathsome Ethiopians.” My Ethiopian friends today would have something to say about that… If the author’s doctrine has been shown to be normal-for-the-time-but-now-heretical you should take that into account and have some grace.
- Lastly: Allow for variance of personality, life-stage and intent. As I have grown in my academic efforts I have found that whereas reading Evelyn Underhill (not Baggins) used to seem like taking a bite of chalk, now her writing engages me. In fact, during the last class of “Readings” I taught, I was extolling E.U. (not the European Union) and her insight. While doing so a female student told me that reading her book on mysticism was agonizingly dry. I used to feel the same way. Every one should find authors they emotionally connect with. Sometimes the author is trying to inspire and sometimes is only trying to report. If you read Frank Laubach’s Letters of a Modern Mystic, you need to know that it was designed to be a report (in the form of letters to his father) rather than a defense. Brother Lawrence’s work on the same concept was just the opposite—he was trying to instruct fellow monastics on the practice of the presence of God.
For the reader who is tempted to be contrary, read any way you want. But I posit these things for those who have the longing to read more, on a deeper level but just get stuck. The reason that these things matter is that the evil one does not want you to grow. Period. If he can get you even a little distracted, discouraged or off-kilter you are less able to think clearly or act wisely.
Another post in the future will be about designing a reading plan to help you move toward some reading goals. Happy reading and hopefully growing.