Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reading Log: March 2010

23.  The Cellist of Sarejevo, by Steven Galloway.  My wife recommended this fictional work by a Canadian author after she had read it in her book club.  This character driven novel is a good read as you get to know what it would have been like to have lived through in the terror of the siege of Sarejevo.  The author had a talent for painting pictures.  For example, you could just say, "A bomb exploded killing everyone within its radius." Or you could say,
"It screamed downward, splitting air and sky without effort.  A target expanded in size, brought into focus by time and velocity.  There was a moment before impact that was the last instant of things as they were.  Then the visible world exploded."
Pretty cool, eh?  Evidently the author liked it as well b/c he repeated it two more times in the first chapter.

I also like this line:
"It is impossible to tell which version of a lie is the truth."
I give it 7.5 stars out of 10.  A good read, but I'll probably never pick it up again.

24.  James.  This book written by the brother of the Lord Jesus Christ is packed full of practical directives for a faithful life.  I've taught through this book multiple times from large groups to small groups so I'm very familiar with it.  While in Peru, one of our former seminary professors, Dr. Knox Chamblin, came and did a spiritual life conference for us and did sort of a biblical theology of James and helped me see even more gold that I was blind to previously.  Dig in & enjoy.  Hear & do.
"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only deceiving yourselves.  For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror.  For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like.  But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing." 

25.  1 & 2 Peter.  These two letters written by the Apostle Peter & member of Jesus' inner circle of friends are pure gold.  I had the privilege of teaching through 1 Peter over the course of a year with the students at Texas A&M.  Really, you could dive in anywhere and marinate in soul-edifying & stretching truths.
  • " were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not withh perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (1, ch. 1:18-19).
  • "For Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" (1, ch. 3:18).
  • "But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2, ch. 3:13).

27.  Just Walk Across the Room:  Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith, by Bill Hybels.  7 out of 10 stars.  This is a book by the pastor of Willow Creek Church in which he does a good job of trying to get ordinary Christians to initiate spiritual conversations with ordinary people.  Much of what he teaches here is based on his opening premise that Jesus left his comfort zone to reach us and we should do the same.
"...even the most 'Christlike' Christians on the planet will be totally ineffective unless they get near people who are living far from God....If you're attempting to do the work of evangelism and your life is stuffed with believers, you'll find yourself out of work pretty quickly."  
He develops the approach of "Living in 3D":
When effective walk-across-the-room people interact with others in their world, they 
  • Develop friendships--by engaging in the lives of people around them;
  • Discover stories--before sharing their own story and God's redemptive story
  • Discern steps--by following the Holy Spirit's direction. 
28.  Proverbs.  Proverbs is one of the wisdom books of the Old Testament.  Every time I read through this book, I realize how unwise I am and how much more time I need to soak in its wisdom.
  • "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction" (1:7). 
  • "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." (30:5)

29.  Undefiled:  Redemption from Sexual Sin, Restoration for Broken Relationships, by Harry Schaumburg.  8 stars out of 10.

Dr. Schaumburg pioneered writing on this topic from a Christian perspective with his work, False Intimacy.  This follow up book focused on where the problem needs to be addressed:  the heart.  While not mentioning any books by name, he took jabs at approaches that amount to behavior (& thus 'sin') management and don't deal with the core of the problem.
"We can't manage lust simply by diverting the eyes....We must understand the proper cause and effect for real change.  Start at the beginning and don't put the proverbial cart before the horse:  Sin in our lives causes the enslavement of what is popularly called a sexual addiction.  In other words, disease or sexual addiction does not cause lust, adultery, or any form of sexual immorality.  You and I sin because we are sinners.  A sexual sinner is dealing with the bondage that comes from what's inside--the sinful nature.  The will is in bondage to sin.  Therefore, we inevitably and naturally sin."
Because Schaumburg starts in the right place, he can apply the only remedy for change:  The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  This book was good and I'll undoubtedly refer back to it, but I think the gold standard book, the one I don't need to write b/c it has already been written, is Joshua Harris' Not Even A Hint (whose title has been unfortunately changed to Sex is not the Problem (Lust is).)

30.  The Praying Life:  Connecting with God in a Distracting World, by Paul Miller.  9.5 stars out of 10.

This is by far the most helpful book on prayer out there.  Just get it and read it.  I am already planning on reading this again, and I'm giving copies away to people.   One of my friends said that this was not only the best book on prayer that he had read, but it was the best book on the Christian life that he has read.

Drawing from the Scriptures and what God has taught him, Paul Miller calls us to enter into a praying life as a child relates to & trusts in his father.  Almost every page has a memorable quote.  Most helpful to me were his chapters on "Understanding Cynicism" and "Following Jesus out of Cynicism."
"Cynicism is the air we breathe, and it is suffocating our hearts.  Unless we become disciples of Jesus, this present evil age will deaden and then destroy our prayer lives, not to mention our souls."

"Both the child and the cynic walk through the valley of the shadow of death.  The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd."
One more quote:
"Sometimes when we say 'God is silent,' what's really going on is that he hasn't told the story the way we wanted it told.  He will be silent when we want him to fill in the blanks of the story we are creating.  But with his own stories, the ones we live in, he is seldom silent."

Trust me.  You need this book.  Make it your companion in life.

31.  Organic Outreach for Ordinary People:  Sharing Good News Naturally, by Kevin Harney. 9 stars out of 10.  This is a great book for people who are wanting to be more intentional about reaching out to others with the Gospel.  We are going to use this book with our launch team for our new church plant here in Calgary.
"Evangelism is not a spectator sport.  We are all called to get into the game.  God invites every follower of Jesus to get off the sidelines and onto the field."
Stuffed with good advice, this book teaches how to raise one's temperature for outreach, to pray for people, to live incarnationally among those who do not yet know Christ, and to engage in spiritual conversations.

He begins the book by stating that everyone is engaging in evangelism, that is, they are telling family & friends things they are excited about.  This really sunk in for me in a new way at a recent dinner party with friends and people were talking about favorite television shows, movies, & books that they liked, why they liked them, and were commending them to others.  This is essentially what Christians are called to do with others.  And this book is a good tool to help us do that.  Highly recommended.

32.  1 Corinthians, by the Apostle Paul.  Great book in the New Testament that was Paul's letter to a very messed up, struggling first century group of Christians living in Corinth.  Paul addresses all sorts of issues, from divisiveness to immorality to abuse of the Lord's Supper.
"For the Word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1:18).

33.  Joshua.  This OT book picks up with the death of Moses having occurred and his successor Joshua picking up the mantle.  Joshua leads the Israelites into Canaan to take possession of the Promised Land.
"Thus, the Lord gave to Israel all the land that he swore to give to their fathers....Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass" (24.43, 45)

34.  The Reason for God:  Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Tim Keller.  9.5 stars out of 10.  I finally made it through this book, and I was delighted with it.  This is an excellent work by Pastor Tim Keller giving both a defense of belief in Christianity and a challenge for skeptics to stop doubting everything but their skepticism.  Keller rightly shows how every doubt rests on another (blindly accepted) belief.
"All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they seem to be, are really a set of alternative beliefs."
Even a statement like, "I feel no need of God in my life," is an alternative belief system. "The speaker is betting his or her life that no God exists who would hold you accountable for your beliefs and behavior if you didn't feel the need for him."

Keller address a number of common defeater beliefs, that is, beliefs that our culture holds that automatically rules out any consideration of Christianity.   This book is written fairly, and I'd have no problem handing this book to any skeptic or any person who wants to think deeply on these issues. 

35.  Hebrews.  This NT book is simply about the Superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ over every other option.  It was written to Hebrew Christians living in Rome who were tempted to ditch the faith, no doubt in light of rising and heated persecution.  This book is a call to persevere b/c, as Peter says elsewhere, Jesus has the words of eternal life.  Where else can we go?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Singin' da blues...

Singing the blues these days?  Check out a few videos here....

The first is from a guy named Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945), whom my friend Barrett F turned me onto.  Blind Willie was a blind preacher & musician who lived in Hearne, TX, just outside of Aggieland (he was, I'm sure, an Aggie!).  Here is a video (recreated obviously but the music is original), called "Trouble Soon Be Over":

The second is a cover by Canadian Bruce Cockburn of another song by Blind Willie called "What is the Soul of a Man?".

Blind Willie is a great blues musician.  Cockburn makes me want to be able to play the blues!  Just for the record, I'm almost pretty much convinced that the blues are the modern day equivalent of lament psalms in the OT.  Maybe we could put a few of them to the blues?

Here's a few more songs on the WWW of Blind Willie.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Is God Silent?

I've been reading Paul Miller's excellent book, A Praying Life:  Connecting with God in a Distracting World, which is stuffed with great insights & quotes.  Here's just one of them....
"Sometimes when we say 'God is silent,' what's really going on is that he hasn't told the story the way we wanted it told.  He will be silent when we want him to fill in the blanks of the story we are creating.  But with his own stories, the ones we live in, he is seldom silent."  
I'm almost finished with this book (& give it top scores), but this book is not finished with me. A friend of mine said that this is not simply the best book on prayer out there, but one of the best books on the Christian life. I have to concur.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Madness

Okay, this is how it's going down...

Jason's picks: to enlarge

Jason's Elite Eight
Kentucky, Marquette, Texas A&M (whoop!), Villanova, Kansas, Georgetown, Syracuse, & Kansas St.

Jason's Final Four:
Kansas, Kansas State, Villanova, Kentucky

Jason's Championship Game:
Kansas vs. Kentucky

Jason's National Champion:  

My picks:   click to enlarge

My Elite Eight:
Kentucky, West Virginia, Duke, Baylor, Kansas, Georgetown, Syracuse, & K-State

My Final Four:
Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Duke

My Championship Game:
Kansas vs. Duke

My National Champion:

Let the games begin!!!

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Click here to learn more.

Doud on "An Inconvenient Faith"

My friend, Shawn, has a great post on an 'inconvenient faith.'
"Christianity, properly understood and practiced, is an inconvenient faith. It puts a squeeze on life as it’s currently practiced in North America. In talking with people about the Christian lifestyle employed in Acts chapter 2 of the New Testament the question is: Is this minimum church or maximum church?....
"...To steal a line of thought from former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin: You can’t have the Church Jesus wants with the participation levels that our cultural Christianity allows. Something’s gotta give."
 Read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Rage Against God

Just added The Rage Against God to my wish list:

From JT's blog:
Christopher Hitchens’s brother, Peter, has a new book coming out from Zondervan on May 1: The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith. I haven’t yet seen the book, but here’s a little preview:

Monday, March 15, 2010

Am I Sick If I Like Stuff Like This?

Is morality relative?  Well, let's test out that little theory, shall we?  

Brian Godawa, author of Hollywood Worldviews, is working on a new film called "Cruel Logic."  In it, Albert Fish, a brilliant university professor, kidnaps distinguished professors to have a little debate with them.  Specifically he challenges professsor as to their theories of morality.  This time, he captures a professor of socio-biology who insists that we are biologically determined beings. IOW, our behavior is determined by our genes. There is no such thing as right or wrong.  Just behavior. 

No absolutes.  No guilt.  No remorse. 

The question is, can the good professor live with his beliefs.  "Have you really ever lived out your theory, or are you content writing your papers inside your ivory tower torturing your captive audience of students with your intellectual posturing?"

Fish's offer:  “Give me one valid reason why I should not kill you, and I will let you go.”

WARNING:  This would be classified under the horror genre.  Video is not appropriate for kids. 

Friedrich "God is dead" Nietzsche would be proud. He'd say, "Now--at last--we starting to really debate the issues."

[DISCLAIMER: It should go without saying, but as a Christian I would disavow violence. That's b/c my worldview informs my morality. I'm just thankful that most people who embrace biological determinism, atheism, relativism, etc., don't live according to their worldview, but continually borrow capital from Christianity even as they are working hard to suppress it. But what happens when society buys into this teaching hook, line, & sinker?]

Thankful that Grace is taking my breath away today....

I came across this quote today and liked it.
"Grace is getting what we do not deserve.  It is exorbitant, senseless, staggering.  Grace takes our breath away and leaves us gasping in stunned amazement....  It is one thing to acknowledge the theological reality that God is gracious.  It is another thing altogether to personally receive that grace and breath it into your soul each day.  " 
~ Kevin G. Harney , Organic Outreach
Living by the grace of God today.  Without it, I die & cynicism wins.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Questions churches should be asking (but probably aren't)...

Timmy Brister asks the following great diagnostic questions to himself.  Here are a few of them...
1.  If our church would cease to exist in our city, would it be noticed and missed?

3.  If the only possible means of connecting with unbelievers were through the missionary living of our church members, how much would we grow? (I ask this because the early church did not have signs, websites, ads, marketing, etc.)
4.  What are the subcultures within the church?  Do they attract or detract from the centrality of the gospel and mission of the church?

6.  What are we allowing to be our measuring stick of church health? (attendance vs. discipleship; seating capacity vs. sending capacity; gospel growth, training on mission, etc.)
7.  Are the priorities of our church in line with the priorities of Christ’s kingdom?
8.  If our members had 60 seconds to explain to an unbeliever what our church is like, what would you want them to say?  How many do you think are saying that?
9.  If the invisible kingdom of God became visible in our city, what would that look like?

12.  Are the people we are reaching more religious or pagan?
13.  What can we learn about our evangelism practices by the kind of people are being reached with the gospel?

15.  What percentage of our growth is conversion growth (vs. transfer growth)?

20. If money and space were not an issue, what is one thing we ought to dream for God to do in our midst where it is impossible for anyone to get the credit except for the omnipotent hand of God?

Read the whole list here.   There are some other great thoughts/ questions by others in the comments.  

[HT: Z: JT]

Designed to run...

In January, I read Born to Run which for a lot of folks like me has drawn attention to the way we've been taught--or not taught--to run.  Here's a video talking about barefoot running.  Heads up:  the video talks about the amazing ability to outrun quadrupeds that we somehow had the ability to evolve.  Words still out on what we did until we developed this ability, but I digress... 

I've been running some on the treadmill (mind you, I live in Calgary and don't want to try this in the snow) and can tell a big difference.  Shin splints don't come so easily anymore and I'd recommend you give it a try.  [Disclaimer:  I'm not a doctor nor do I play one on tv.]

[ht: z]

On prayer...

From Pastor Scotty Smith's blog:
Jesus, there’s no way I’m going to engage with Paul’s admonition to devote myself to prayer if I’m not increasingly aware of your devotion to me in the gospel.
Read his whole prayer here.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Well, this explains a lot....

Filed under "Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid."
You might want to sit down before you read this...
Considering that most of the 14,000 students who completed the exam (7,000 seniors and 7,000 freshmen) scored an F on the portion of the test covering basic American history and institutions, not only will they be repeating history, but with test scores like that, they’ll be repeating history class, as well....

In 2007, ISI administered a 60-question test to 14,000 students at 50 colleges nationwide. The questions were designed to measure the students’ aptitude in four areas: basic American history, government, foreign affairs, and economics. In a companion study, in 2008 ISI administered a shorter exam (33 questions) to a random sample of 2,508 Americans without a college degree in order to have a standard level against which the impact of a college education on a threshold level of familiarity with basic American institutions could be determined.

Here are a few frightening figures certain to keep you up at night:

  • 71% of Americans failed the civics knowledge test;
  • 51% of Americans could not name the three branches of government;
  • The average score for college seniors on the civics knowledge test was 54.2% (an “F” by any standard);
  • The average student’s test score improved only 3.8 points from freshman to senior year;
  • Freshmen at Cornell, Yale, Princeton, and Duke scored better than seniors on the civics knowledge test.
  • 79% of elected officials that took the civics knowledge quiz did not know the Bill of Rights expressly prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
  • 30% of office holders did not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
  • 27% of politicians could not name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • 43% did not know the purpose of the Electoral College.
  • 39% of lawmakers believe the power of declaring war belongs to the president.
  • The average score for college professors who took the civics knowledge quiz was 55%.
Are you surprised considering that the US Gov't funds education on these very things in the way of public education?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

When Demand for the Scriptures Outstrips Supply

Filed under "Aslan is on the Move"
Here's an interesting report about the demand for Bibles....
The Bible Society has reported a growing demand for copies of the Bible in China where an estimated 500,000 people converted to Christianity in 2009 alone.

Although some four million Bibles were printed and distributed across China last year, the rapid growth of the church year on year means that demand for Bibles is now outstripping supply, according to the Bible Society.
Would that this were the case around the world, that the church was growing so fast that demand for Bibles was outstretching supply.  Alas, one day....

 I remember Richard Pratt at an RUF training event stating that he believed the next 'center' of Christianity was going to be China.  He may very well be right.