Thursday, December 29, 2011

Books that shaped my 2011.

Ok, It's that time of year. The time when lists of every kind and sort show up on anonymous blogs everywhere. So as I seem to be in the spirit today, I'll share with you some books that churned my heart, invigorated my mind, and fed my soul in 2011. So here they are, in no particular order. I hope you enjoy.

The Call by Os Guinness

I was assigned this book to read for a spiritual formation class, and from the look of it, was not excited. But I was really floored from the introduction on by Os Guinness' ability to weave art, literature, history and the humanities into gripping illustrations of spiritual longing and transformation. The book is written from a Biblical worldview, but is quite accessible to anyone yearning for a deeper meaning in life without having to default to fluffy New-Age Oprahism. What was particularly helpful were the chapters on calling as a way of life, not just a vocation. He successfully crushes the idea of "ministry" that is only available in the full-time vocational places like the pastorate or missionary work. I would highly recommend this to any person who wants to target what the call of their life is in respond to the calling of Jesus Christ.

A Meal With Jesus by Tim Chester

Tim Chester lays out here a biblical theology of meals and hospitality here with wisdom and insight, showing that a seemingly mundane event can reveal to us God's grace, draw us into God's community, and send us out on God's mission. I was deeply moved multiple times while reading of how "The Son of Man came eating and drinking..." and how Jesus used meal to bring healing and to point the a bigger reality in which we will all someday eat a meal with God in His kingdom. He brings you from Genesis to Revelation, pulling the thread of meals through the entirety of Scripture, and showing us how to eat to God's glory.

Notes From The Tilt-A-Whirl by N.D. Wilson

An intellectually and spiritually rousing collection of prose, opening us up to the wonder of the world we live in, all spoken by an infinitely powerful but intrinsically available God. If you feel like so much of the literature on apologetics is dry, wooden and unengaging, I would suggest you pick up a copy of this book. He opens up the blinds and shows you a beautiful, but badly broken world. A world that never stops moving, a world that is more alive than we ever imagined, and behind this beautiful world is a beautiful Poet, a magnificent Artist who is just waiting for his masterpiece to see Him and rejoice with Him in all that he has done.

King's Cross by Tim Keller

You can never go wrong with a book by Tim Keller. He is my favorite author, and I never get sick of reading him tell a story and weave the Gospel beautifully through it. King's Cross is no different, and I would argue might be Keller at his best. He goes through the Gospel of Mark, showing that the story of the whole world --- all of our goals, our stories, our desires are seen most clearly in the life of Jesus. In every story Keller pulls through the storyline of the Bible, centers it on Jesus, and invites us to take part in the story that shapes all of history. Please don't pass this book up. I promise you won't be disappointed.

The Hidden Life of Prayer by David M'Intyre

An old classic, reprinted for a new generation to glean from; few things in the world of publishing are better. That is what we find in David M'Intyre's little treatise on prayer. the good minister focuses in on one verse, where Jesus tells his disciples that "But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you", and spends 120 pages bringing that into the ordinary Christians life. I personally was captured up by M'Intyre's vision of communion with the Lord, and it has profoundly shaped my private prayer life.

The Same Kind Of Different As Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

This may have been the most powerful book of the year for me. The story is told from two different angles: one man, a powerful and successful art dealer, and the other man, a sharecropper's son, in all accounts, a modern-day slave. Each chapter is told by one of these men, recalling the sometimes unbelievable details of their lives, and showing the power of the Gospel to change men of every sort. I rarely cry while reading, but this book had me broken in several place, and rejoicing over grace in others. I had a tough time putting it down at many times, and would gladly pass it on to you.

When People Are Big And God is Small by Edward Welch

Some books are for the mind, like "Notes...", some are for the hear like "Same Kind..." and some are for you soul. Ed Welch's book on the fear of man is definitely one of those books. Dr. Welch, speaking from his own experiences, scholarly expertise and years of counseling brings us before God's gracious presence to show us what fear does to a soul, what we do to enable others to control us, and what God has done in Jesus to free us from that. He builds a stunning case from Scripture about how to understand the fear of man, and how to graciously come under the fear of God. I would commend this book to anyone who feels that they cower under the demands of others and how the Gospel can address a heart broken by fear and co-dependancy.

So, those are the books that have shaped my life, heart and thinking this year, and I hope they can be helpful to you as well.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Last Words of a King.

Near the end of J.R.R. Tolkien's magnum opus series "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King", Aragorn, the wandering ranger and true king of Gondor gives a rousing last call to fight hard and die well. He is preparing his army, which is being surrounded by an army of 10,000 orcs, to fight with everything they have until the very end, and he is willing to die on the battlefield with his men, like a true king. He yells, triumphantly,

"Sons of Gondor! Of Rohan! My brothers. I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down, but it is not this day! This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

We, who likewise belong to a kingdom, have all heard the same call from our King: The last words that have driven His people forward for almost 2000 years.

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

This time of year we remember how our King stepped of His throne, out of His castle and entered our pitiful village. He called men to follow him, and then led the charge against our enemies of Satan, sin, death and hell, dying on the battlefield of Golgotha, winning the fight we could not win, by giving up the life we should've given. Like a true king, he dies on the battlefield. But death couldn't hold our King. He rose to take His throne, and rule his people righteously. And as this Kingdom rule is revealed, the King declares that it must be heralded. Good news must be told of this victorious King and his Kingdom of Grace.

But I was thinking as I watched Aragorn, Gandalf, Legolas and others tear through a wall of orcs, what would have happened if Aragorn's speech had fallen on deaf ears? As they were surrounded by swarms of enemies, would they just collapse under pressure? Aragorn knew that the only way out of hell, was through it. So, what would've happened if Jesus' disciples left the mission of the Gospel behind? The most important and life-altering event in history would've passed unnoticed. We would sit, two millennia removed, knowing nothing of the salvation and kingship of Jesus Christ, and we would remain lost, wandering in a foreign and oppressive kingdom with no knowledge of the rescuing King and his Kingdom of Grace.

Don't go AWOL, move forward with the command of our good King. Tell of His great battle with death, his victory over sin, and His gracious reign and rule over all of life. Herald Him as the Great King he is, and bring His kingdom into view in all of life.