Thursday, January 31, 2013

What I thought of what I read last year, part 2

In a previous post I briefly commented on the first 20 books I read in 2012.  Since I completed 40 books in 2012, this post will touch on the last 20 I read.

Joseph Conrad’s Victory is a great story of intrigue and adventure.  With bad guys even.

Our Triune God, I think, would be a helpful introduction to the Trinity to those who are new to this biblical teaching.  For me it seemed like more of a repeat of my theological education.  By Philip Ryken and Michael LeFebvre.

No Man Left Behind, by Patrick Morley, David Delk, and Brett Clemmer, is a how-to book for men’s ministry in churches.  Required reading for me, but, unexpectedly, not devoid of theological.

Michael Crichton’s Micro, the story of which was completed by Richard Preston after Crichton’s death, is shallow.  Characters are predictable.  But it does give one great appreciation for the marvels of God’s creation, particularly insects.  In this story, half a dozen college students are maliciously shrunk to a half inch in size and set loose in a jungle.  This would make quite a movie, and I would go see it.

Douglas Wilson has a wonderful way of looking at familiar things.  He also has a wonderful way with words.  The two are married in For a Glory and a Covering, a slim book with a wealth of wisdom on marriage.

I would love to improve my memory.  That’s why I read Joshua Foer’s Moonwalking with Einstein.  Foer, an average Joe turned U.S. Memory Champion, turned out a dynamic book, weaving together his own forays into memory training, the history of memorizing, and modern scientific discoveries about the way memory works and sometimes doesn’t work.  I have not implemented any of Foer’s techniques.

Thomas C. Oden’s theology of grace, The Transforming Power of Grace, broadened my understanding and appreciation for this great reality.

Yes, Jesus loves me.  How do I know?  The Bible (in 2012 it was the English Standard Version) tells me so.  The ESV is currently my favorite translation.

Each of the chapters of C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms deals expertly with a theme found in psalms.  It was interesting to read this in connection with Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, for they both touch on some of the same topics and come to different conclusions.

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird may be one of the best novels I’ve ever read.  One can’t help but appreciate the moral force of Atticus Finch packaged as it is in humility and kindness.

People’s natural tendency is not to love but to hate and dominate.  That’s powerfully illustrated in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Who’s the real monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein?  Not the creature at first.  It’s humanity.  The creature eventually comes to reflect his creator.

Andrew Murray’s Humility affected me years ago.  Reading it again underscored lessons first learned back then.

The Mauritius Command, book 4 in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series (a naval setting in the Napoleonic era), is delightful.

The War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells, doesn’t get really good and interesting until well into the book.  But it’s worth the read, especially being the first of its kind in literature.  When seen as a criticism of the then-practiced colonialism of the British Empire, it’s even more powerful.

I read The Black Stallion (Walter Farley) because I had Anna read it.  And I had Anna read it because I so enjoyed it when I was her age.  This second read-through did not disappoint.  The story is engagingly told.

The Chestnut King completes N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy.  The war with Nimiane escalates, and Henry, the odd, easily-overlooked boy from Henry, Kansas, comes through in a big way.  I read all three of these books to Anna, so they were each read over the period of a few months.  I think I would’ve enjoyed them more if I had read them more quickly.  Some details were easily forgot between readings.

I did not enjoy Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness near as much as Victory.  It was too subtle for me.  I appreciated it more after I read others’ interpretations of it.

J. B. Phillips’s translation of the New Testament is wonderful.  Prompts reflection on many familiar passages.

Frederick Buechner’s The Alphabet of Grace wanders around it’s point that even the routine of one’s day is full of grace.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Good Christology

On the IncarnationOn the Incarnation by Saint Athanasius
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the Incarnation, though short and at times helpfully repetitive, was not a quick read. Taking a few notes was helpful. Several of his emphases were fresh to me, which I found rewarding.

I don't know whether his "Refutation of the Jews" or "Refutation of the Gentiles" persuaded any Jews or Gentiles, but they certainly bolstered my confidence in Christ.

Just a couple of glimpses. In arguing that Jesus was divine, the very Son of God, Athanasius points to some of his accomplishments:
--He has put the Greek philosophers "in the shade."
--He has filled assembly halls with worshippers by drawing all men to himself.
--Demons are exorcised by his death and name.
--He has tamed heathens and barbarians all over the world.
--He has given men confidence in physical resurrection and immortality; it is no longer a vague hope many.
--He has inspired chastity among many.
--He has reached people who were considered unreachable.
--He has made warmongers into peace-lovers, reconciling feuding factions. (from "Refutation of Gentiles--continued")

Arguing for the resurrection of Christ: "Does a dead man prick the consciences of men, so that they throw all the traditions of their fathers to the winds and bow down before the teaching of Christ? If He is no longer active in the world, as He must needs be if He is dead, how is it that He makes the living to cease from their activities, the adulterer from his adultery, the murderer from murdering, the unjust from avarice, while the profane and godless man becomes religious? If He did not rise, but is still dead, how is it that He routs and persecutes and overthrows the false gods, whom unbelievers think to be alive, and the evil spirits whom they worship? For where Christ is named, idolatry is destroyed and the fraud of evil spirits is exposed; indeed, no such spirit can endure that Name, but takes to flight on sound of it. This is the work of One Who lives, not of one dead; and, more than that, it is the work of God. It would be absurd to say that the evil spirits whom He drives out and the idols which He destroys are alive, but that He Who drives out and destroys, and Whom they themselves acknowledge to be Son of God, is dead." (from "The Resurrection")

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 24, 2013

What I thought of what I read last year

A little late this year, but here’s the annual review of my reading last year, the first 20 books.

The Great Divorce, by C. S. Lewis, where travelers from Hell visit Heaven, and most don’t like what they see.  My third trek through this book brought fresh appreciation for the sanctified imagination of Lewis.

I sang through the Worship and Service Hymnal of the church of my childhood.  For me it’s always been the standard hymnal.  Produced by Hope Publishing Co.

Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. was my first systematic introduction to this great man who accomplished so much in his brief 39-year life.  By Stephen B. Oates.

John Baillie’s A Diary of Private Prayer widened and deepened my praying.  Thirty-one morning prayers and 31 evening prayers alternate over the pages of this slim volume.

Going against the flow, Rodney Stark defends much of the motivation and method of the role of Christians in the Crusades in God’s Battalions.  He also exposes the ruthlessness and culpability of the Moslems.

Jon Meacham’s portrayal of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, is fascinating.  American Lion gave me new appreciation for a man for whom I had little, though he was certainly not without his foibles.

Henry James’s title, An International Episode, misleads one into thinking of crisis on a grand scale.  But a mere relationship between a man and woman who originate from different sides of the Atlantic Pond can certainly seem grandiose to those involved, especially when one party’s relations object on the basis of status.

In Dandelion Fire, the middle book of N. D. Wilson’s 100 Cupboards trilogy, Henry learns more of his heritage and unique power and destiny, once again thwarting the plans of Nimiane, Queen of Endor.  Remind me a bit of Chronicles of Narnia.

George Eliot’s Middlemarch takes some patience and persistence to wade through, as many classics do, but this massive story of connected lives in an English village pays out dividends.

Edmund P. Clowney’s The Church offers many insights on this God-created institution but is at many times dry.  Will probably be helpful as a reference in the future.

Karen H. Jobes’s commentary on Esther in the New International Version Application Commentary series is fantastic: well-written and enlightening.  She deals with the thorny issues in Esther head-on, and many of her conclusions ring true.

R. C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb both introduce Islam and contrast it with Christianity in an understand way in their short The Dark Side of Islam.

Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan’s classic, offers many insights into Christ, salvation, and the Christian life.  It’s not a thrill-a-minute, but classics rarely are.

The 10 Lies about God Erwin W. Lutzer highlights are ones promoted in our culture today.  Most are dealt with in unexpected ways, though most conclusions are solidly biblical.  This served as a base for a young adult Sunday School series I taught on the same topic.

Harold Bell Wright’s That Printer of Udell’s is a wonderful novel on the order of In His Steps.  Novels like these are like vitamins for spiritual health.  This one focused on the Matthew 25 aspect of faith, that Christianity must manifest itself in service to the needy.

The picture of modern-day North Korea that The Orphan Master’s Son paints is horrific.  Adam Johnson’s novel makes one appreciate one’s freedom while at the same time shocking the reader at the lengths to which totalitarian governments will go to control its citizens.  The reality of the depths of man’s depravity is portrayed here, whether Johnson would call it that or not.  To me it points to the need of the Savior.  A remarkable, well-written, ghastly, and sometime explicit book.

Paul Barnett’s The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (New International Commentary on the New Testament series) is thorough and helpful, though it occasionally lacks clarity and sometimes doesn’t answer the questions one is asking.  But the positives far outweigh the negatives.  My go-to commentary on 2nd Corinthians (even over Hafemann’s).

The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett, is a phenomenal prayer book.  This was my fourth time praying through it.  How it helps me pray!

In The Disappearance of God, Albert Mohler, Jr. helpfully deals with contemporary issues affecting the church.  Perspective-shaping.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together gave me new perspectives on the blessings and dynamics of Christian fellowship.  Theological and practical.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Great book for men

What Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told HimWhat Every Man Wishes His Father Had Told Him by Byron Forrest Yawn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Best book on manhood I've read. Practical, and more biblical than most. Balanced between the extremes of feminine men and chest-thumping bravado.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

God will then appear for the safety of his people

Englishman Matthew Henry, resident of the 17th century, wrote a commentary on the entire Bible.  I frequently visit that commentary enlightenment and inspiration.  An example is Henry's comments on Isaiah 25:4
(For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,  [ESV]):

He has seasonably relieved and succoured his necessitous and distressed people (v. 4): Thou has been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy. As God weakens the strong that are proud and secure, so he strengthens the weak that are humble and serious, and stay themselves upon him. Nay, he not only makes them strong, but he is himself their strength; for in him they strengthen themselves, and it is his favour that is the strength of their hearts. He is a strength to the needy in his distress, when he needs strength, and when his distress drives him to God. And, as he strengthens them against their inward decays, so he shelters them from outward assaults. He is a refuge from the storm of rain or hail, and a shadow from the scorching heat of the sun in summer. God is a sufficient protection to his people in all weathers, hot and cold, wet and dry. The armour of righteousness serves both on the right hand and on the left, 2 Co. 6:7 . Whatever dangers or troubles God’s people may be in, effectual care is taken that they shall sustain no real hurt or damage. When perils are most threatening and alarming God will then appear for the safety of his people: When the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall, which makes a great noise, but cannot overthrow the wall. The enemies of God’s poor are terrible ones; they do all they can to make themselves so to them. Their rage is like a blast of wind, loud, and blustering, and furious; but, like the wind, it is under a divine check; for God holds the winds in his fist, and God will be such a shelter to his people that they shall be able to stand the shock, keep their ground, and maintain their integrity and peace. A storm beating on a ship tosses it, but that which beats on a wall never stirs it, Ps. 76:10 Ps. 138:7.

Matthew Henry's commentary is also online.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The hidden ways you help

In the classic Christmas movie, It's a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, desperate and depressed, is ready to take his own life because he thinks his life has been a waste. But an angel intervenes and shows him the radical difference he's made in the lives of so many people and his hometown as a whole. He just wasn't aware of the difference he had made.
 
I want to suggest that we believers are similarly unaware. At times the devil whispers in our ears that we're not accomplishing anything, that all are efforts in ministry and in following Christ are futile and ineffective. He's dead wrong, and he knows it.
 
Where am I going with this? A couple things:
 
1) If you look back at last year and wonder, "What good did I do? Did I really make a difference?", let me tell you that if you were living out your calling to the best of your ability last year, then YES, you did make a difference. You just can't see it.
 
2) Our job is not to worry so much about the results of our lives. Our job is to be more concerned that we are living our lives in obedience to God and in faithfulness to the settings in which he's placed us. If you are obedient and faithful, rest assured God will use you, whether you see results or not.
 
So this year, resolve to be faithful in your calling, whatever that is--in family and work and church and community. Resolve to draw close to Christ daily, and he will shine that much more brightly through you. Know that if you are faithful to Christ, you ARE salt and light; you just can't see all the ways in which you are making a difference.