Thinking Out Loud

April 18, 2019

Book Review: The Baggage Handler

I am reviewing a fiction title for the first time in many years.

The Baggage Handler actually released a few weeks ago. I had read the book in February — on an airplane appropriately — but never wrote anything at the time because it wasn’t releasing until March 26th. Then, that date simply flew by unnoticed.

The premise: Michael, David and Gillian all pass through the airport on the same day and no, they don’t end up with each other’s luggage. But there is a luggage mix-up to be sure, with varying degrees of consequences. There is a baggage handler, who seems to work two locations at once; the airport itself and the downtown lost-luggage facility.

And the key to the story is in that word baggage. Don’t think luggage or suitcases, rather this is all about the metaphorical baggage we all carry around, a moment of discovery for all three characters in the story when they try to retrieve their belongings.

Not surprisingly then, author David Rawlings describes himself as a writer of “stories for those who want to dive deeper.” (His follow-up, releasing in December is about a couples’ counsellor.)

It must be said that both the cover design and the decision to release the first edition in hardcover leaves the book bearing a striking similarity to similar titles by David Gregory; Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, A Day with a Perfect Stranger, etc. These titles, as well as similar ones by Andy Andrews, ask us to temporarily suspend belief as to plausibility and accept certain plot contrivances in order to learn a greater lesson.

Bouncing back and forth between the three central characters means the book moves along at good pace, and for those who want to “dive deeper” in a book club setting or even on a personal level, there is a short collection of discussion questions breaking the book into five sections.

My personal disappointment with the book was that as a longtime reader of Christian books in general, I kept waiting for God to show up. Somewhere. On a single page, perhaps. After all, Thomas Nelson put their imprint on it.

There’s no real definition for what makes Christian fiction and I suppose that on the spectrum of books that preach and books ‘written from a Christian perspective;’ this one is in the latter category. At least I hope so.

On the other hand, as someone with much exposure to both Andy Andrews and David Gregory, I see the value in this novel, and already recommended it to someone.

We all have things in our past we need to deal with.

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April 13, 2019

Stories Can’t Change Lives if No One Reads Them

Filed under: books, Christianity, ministry, personal — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:49 am

This “Bible Book Store” serves as a generic stand-in for our own. (I’m surprised Shutterstock doesn’t own this picture by now!)

Each week I work two days at the Christian bookstore that we own. By taking the two day shifts and working without pay I make it possible for the store to remain viable financially in a smaller market. Even so, the store is continuing to lose money. After filing this year’s tax return I fully expect Revenue Canada to tell me I either need to start working more weekly shifts or I need to shut it down.

The primary work that I do is done on my laptop at home. I don’t bring my computer to the store nor is there really a decent place to set it down — the store is that crowded — nor can the store afford Wi-Fi. Some work I do at the store consists of everything from merchandising and receiving shipments to emptying the trash in the washroom.

Business has been slow lately so I often pick up a random book off the shelf, open it somewhere in the middle and start reading. This time the book was Love, Skip, Jump, a 2014 book which Shelene Bryan did for Thomas Nelson.

She’s a good writer. The place where I had landed was a story about her volunteering to organize a community barbecue in a neighborhood in East Los Angeles she had always been told to avoid.

It was a moving story. There are similarities in it to situations that my wife has found herself in over the last decade in terms of ministry to the disadvantaged. At one point I got goosebumps as I was reading. At another point I felt tears welling up. Remember, I was only reading one chapter.

The book is a $4.99 bargain book in our store. It got chosen for stock among the hundreds and hundreds of books which have remainder status each year because the foreword was by Francis Chan who turned out to be Shelene’s pastor at the time. I don’t know that we’ve ever sold any copies.

I’m not sure where all of these books will end up after we close the store but it occurred to me that hers was a story which was moving me to tears but no one in my community might ever read. I thought how sad a situation that was; that such a powerful story is just sitting here for the taking at a reasonable price and yet no one will ever see or hear of it.

I don’t have a happy ending to this, I just think it’s unfortunate that we live in a part of the world where we have such a glut of print resources; instead we spend our time watching cats on YouTube.

Part of the reason I had time to pick up the book off the shelf is that over the winter I’ve had a real sense that we’re not immune from the circumstances affecting Family Christian Stores or LifeWay Christian Stores. Our store is also dying and there is a perfect storm of circumstances contributing to its death.

Amazon didn’t help the situation, but I remain unconvinced that the part of the market that it stole is actually represented by an equal amount of sales of the same types of products. My guess is that what many unsuspecting Christians are buying from them is a dog’s breakfast of doctrinal ideas.

As I write this my seven hour shift at the store is half over. So far I’ve had one customer and she is usually there waiting for me to open every Friday morning. I know the day can turn itself around, but sometimes it’s hard to pray; the reality seems to be so far removed from the desire.

When the kids were young we would have prayer time which would always include, “Please help the store to do well so that we can pay all the bills.” I realize now that’s not really the right goal. Through shrewd management we’ve been able to enter a situation where we actually are able to pay all the bills, but unfortunately cash position in and of itself is not an indicator a profitability.

My new goal would be, “Lord, please help us to be busy in the store so that the many stories contained in those books can be told to more people.”

March 25, 2019

Your Future Self Wants You to Read This

Part of the reason I had hoped to review Drew Dyck’s latest book before its publication is that there is so little available in the Christian market dealing with self-control. It’s one of the nine ‘Fruit of the Spirit,’ so why isn’t more being said? I had my only-ever audio-book experience this summer with Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test, which looks at self-control in general and delayed gratification in particular through the lens of a study done on preschool children you may have seen on YouTube. But there was no Christian bookstore equivalent.

Then, mysteriously the book arrived in the mail about ten days ago. Better late than never. In this case, much better. Your Future Self Will Thank You: Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science (Moody Publishing, 2019, paperback) ranks as one of the best-researched and one of the most-transparent books I have read in a long time. I’ve already looked at parts of it twice.  I’m not saying this because I frequently interact with Drew online. As the disclaimer goes, we’ve never met in person, but I’ll reference him here by his first name, given we have some familiarity.

The book is a mix of spiritual practices and just plain practical advice on how we can bring our lifestyle under both our control and God’s control.

A few days ago, as a precursor to this review, I excerpted a passage from the book dealing with the difference between ‘resumé virtues’ and ‘eulogy virtues.’ If you missed that, take a minute now to read it. (We’ll wait here for you.) That one really left me thinking. As we assess character, could we be using the wrong metrics?

For the goal of a self-controlled life to become reality, there are certain principles that need to be drilled deep into our hearts. Drew points out that even in the most modern megachurches, “there’s often a rather predictable cycle of songs, prayers and preaching each Sunday. There’s Sunday school or midweek small group meetings. These rhythms shouldn’t be legalistic duties; at their best, they foster belief and help give individual members much-needed support for the tough task of living the Christian life.”

He then cites Alain de Botton, an atheist who “gushed about how brilliant the church is to establish such rhythms… He completely rejects the idea of God and the doctrines of the Christian faith.” however, “he realized that by failing to employ the practices of the religious, secular people were failing to make their ideas take hold.” He quotes de Botton directly: “We tend to believe in the modern secular world that if you tell someone something once, they’ll remember it… Religions go ‘Nonsense. You need to keep repeating the same lesson 10 times a day… Our minds are like sieves.” He also praised the liturgical calendar, “arranging time” so that the faithful “will bump into certain very important ideas.” (p 126)

One of the strengths of Your Future Self… is this most diverse collection of citations; authors culled from a wide variety of disciplines; both Christian and secular. One surprising quotation Drew included came from Philip Yancey who said he once read three books per week. No longer. Yancey blames the internet (as do I for a similar experience). “The internet and social media have trained by brain to read a paragraph or two, and then start looking around… [A]fter a few paragraphs I glance over at the slide bar to judge the article’s length. My mind strays, and I find myself clicking on the sidebars and the underlined links… Soon I’m over at CNN… or perhaps checking the weather.” (p 173)

There’s also a great section on self-control as it applies to addictions of various types, and programs used to treat addictions such as LifeChange a residential program operated by Bill Russell in Portland, OR. Drew notes “After a few months in the system the residents feel good about themselves. They’re clean, deepening their spiritual lives and sticking to a new schedule…And that’s when the real test comes.” Russell told him one of the challenges is participants “confuse system-control and self-control.” Any one of us could avoid certain types of temptation in a residential environment like theirs but it’s not the real world. Russell added that “external system-control needs to give way to internal self-control.” Russell uses the analogy of a broken leg; when broken “you need a cast;” however, “eventually you have start moving the leg again.” This then springboards into a discussion on the value of spiritual community. It’s easy to connect the dots: Your church, your small group, etc. can help you keep those new life resolutions.(pp 199-203)

There’s more to the book than just appropriately arranged citations from other works. One of my favorite parts of the book is where Drew goes into teaching mode and shares what follows on the subject of how our part in the self-control challenge is matched by God’s part; something he later cleverly describes as akin to an employers matching contribution to a payroll deduction. (This has much broader application as well.)

We need to guard against passivity and exert effort. On the other hand, we must draw on God’s power to live the Christian life. Fudging on either commitment will stall our spiritual growth. Discounting our role in sanctification leads to license. Ignoring God’s role leads to legalism.

The Bible is crammed with passages showing both the divine and the human role in sanctification.

Consider this passage from Romans: “if by the Spirit, you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Note the dual roles represented in this verse. Who is the active agent here? Well, “you put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Does that mean God isn’t involved? Not at all! The passage is equally clear that this crucial act of killing sin only happens “by the Spirit.” We need the Spirit to eradicate sin in our lives.

In 2 Peter 1:3 we see the same pattern: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” At first blush, it appears we are mere passengers on the train to holiness. After all, God has provided the power…what’s left for us to do? A lot, apparently. The passage goes on to command us, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control.” Did you catch that? We’re commanded to “make every effort” because “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.” For Peter, divine empowerment and human effort aren’t enemies. They’re allies. God has given us His power. That’s why we strive.

In Philippians 2:12 we’re commanded to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” That language clearly shows the requirement of human effort. But the very next verse reminds us of who is really effecting the change: “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (2:13).

Perhaps the clearest example of the divine and human roles operating in tandem comes from Colossians 1:29: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he [Jesus] powerfully works within me” (ESV, emphasis mine). Here there’s no doubt that Paul is expending effort. Another translation reads, “I strenuously contend.” At the same time, it is equally clear that it is “he” (Jesus) who is working within him. And it’s Jesus’ internal working that motivates Paul’s effort: “For this I toil…” These passages (and scores of others) show that divine empowerment and human effort are not only compatible, they’re complementary. We may be tempted to pit them against each other, but it appears that the writers of Scripture envisioned them working together. (pp 146-148)

Finally, Drew gets very transparent. There’s a danger in writing a book like this which both humorous and conversational that the entire treatment becomes subjective. The author is sharing his own journey on the road to self-control and at the end of the day, you’re left with his story, rather than practical help.

There are some personal family stories represented here, however this book solves the greater dilemma, by confining Drew’s own self-control story into nine concise diary entries he calls, “Self-Control Training.” Think of it as defining, albeit anecdotally, how all this plays out in real life; where the rubber meets the road. Drew isn’t perfect — neither are you and I — but as you compare his initial miserable lack of progress with your own, or my own; it becomes clear that it takes many different spiritual disciplines working together to bring about change.

To that end, I believe this is one of a much smaller subset of books on my shelves with the potential to genuinely change the direction of a person’s life. Their future selves will thank them for having read it earlier on.


Drew Dyck, holding an early print edition of Your Future Self Will Thank You seen here looking for a very large stapler.


■ Listen to Drew Dyck talk more about the book in a recent Church Leaders podcast.

■ Connect with Drew’s website and sign up for his newsletter at DrewDyck.com or read more at his blog.

March 19, 2019

Two Entirely Different Sets of Values and Virtues

Filed under: books, character, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:07 am

I’m currently reading Your Future Self Will Thank You by Drew Dyck. Released just a few weeks ago, it’s already into its second printing and I had hoped to review it pre-publication, but it only showed up in the mail last week. Considering one of the things the book deals with is procrastination, I do promise a full review; but I’m only about 65% through the book at this stage so this isn’t it.

The book deals with self control. The subtitle is, Secrets to Self-Control from the Bible and Brain Science, but there’s also a tag line across the top of the cover that at least one vendor is using as the subtitle, A Guide for Sinners, Quitters, and Procrastinators. Either way, you get the idea.

But I want to look at something Drew noted early on, on paged 65-66. He references a 2015 work by journalist David Brooks titled The Road to Character which has been described as a book about humility, morality and ethics. Here’s Drew’s synopsis:

In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks argues that we live in a post-character culture. We care more about success and achievements (what Brooks calls “resumé virtues”) than we do about cultivating traits like honesty or faithfulness (what Brooks calls “eulogy virtues,” the kind of qualities that get mentioned at your funeral).

Part of the reason for this shift, Brooks writes, is that we have strayed from a school of thought that saw people, not as inherently good, but as fundamentally flawed. Brooks dubs this the “crooked timber” tradition, a phrase he borrowed from the philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.” According to this older view of human nature, we are not inherently good creatures who simply need more freedom and affirmation. Rather, we are splendid but damaged. Like crooked timbers, we need to be straightened.

Brooks writes that the crooked timber tradition was “based on the awareness of sin and the confrontation with sin.” And here’s the surprising part. According to Brooks, it was this consciousness of sin that allowed people to cultivate virtue. That might seem like a strange argument. How could having a dim view of human nature enable people to become more virtuous? Because once they were conscious of their sinful nature, they could take steps to fight against it. “People in this ‘crooked timber’ school of humanity have an acute awareness of their own flaws and believe that character is built in the struggle against their own weaknesses,” Brooks writes. “Character is built in the course of your inner confrontation.” This inner confrontation is anything but easy, but the struggle is worth it.

I included a little extra in this excerpt, but it’s the contrast between resumé virtues and eulogy virtues which really got me thinking; in a way that it really was front of mind during much of the weekend. 

It’s so easy to get caught in the now and forget the eternal.

 

March 1, 2019

“It’s the Rapture!” “No, It’s Not!”

Two forthcoming titles take two different paths to explore a similar theme. I thought it was interesting that both of these have a scheduled release date of March 19th. For the record, I did not receive review copies from either publisher.

First, Herald Press offers Unraptured: How End Times Theology Gets it Wrong by Zach Hunt, available in both hardcover and paperback.

Are you rapture ready? As a teenager in the buckle of the Bible Belt, Zack Hunt was convinced the rapture would happen at any moment. Being ready meant never missing church, never sinning, and always listening to Christian radio.

But when the rapture didn’t happen, Hunt’s tightly wound faith began to fray. If he had been wrong about the rapture, what else about his faith might not hold water?

Part memoir, part tour of the apocalypse, and part call to action, Unraptured traces how the church’s focus on escaping to heaven has it mired in decay. Teetering on the brink of irrelevancy in a world rocked by refugee crises, climate change, war and rumors of war, the church cannot afford to focus on the end times instead of following Jesus in the here and now. Unraptured uses these signs of the times to help readers reorient their understanding of the gospel around loving and caring for the least of these.

Then, releasing on the exact same day, Chosen Books releases Not Afraid of the Anti-Christ: Why We Don’t Believe in a Pre-Tribulation Rapture by Michael Brown and Craig Keener in paperback.

Despite the popular belief that Christians will be raptured before the start of the Tribulation, Scripture paints a very different picture. Nowhere does the Bible promise that believers will escape the revelation of the Antichrist and his war on the saints. In fact, God tells His people to expect tribulation–and to persevere through it.

In this eye-opening text, acclaimed scholars and authors Michael Brown and Craig Keener offer encouragement and hope for the approaching dark times. Together they walk you through an intensive study of Bible passages, helping you gain a better understanding of what the future holds. Through it all, there is no need to fear; God has a plan. He will not abandon His people in the terrible days ahead.

Take comfort in the words of Jesus: He has overcome the world. Even in the midst of great sorrows on the earth, we live in Jesus’ victory until He returns at the end of the age.

People who are strong adherents of traditional Evangelical eschatology may be offended by both books (!) but there are those who have misgivings about that end times model which may welcome these two books.

January 22, 2019

Rooted in Reality, Released as Fiction: Book Took 23 Years to be Published

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:28 am

Last week, Michael Bell, one of the contributors at Internet Monk shared the story behind the just-released book In His Majesty’s Secret Service written by his younger brother, Patrick. First here’s what Michael wrote at iMonk:

A little over thirty years ago my younger brother, Patrick Bell, left on an adventure. He joined Greg, his best friend from high school, on a clandestine team smuggling bibles behind the Iron Curtain. For two years they crisscrossed Eastern Europe bringing Bibles, medicines, and food to Christians who faced persecution and even death because of their faith.

They took ten trips into Romania, where Christians were having a particularly difficult time under President Nicolae Ceaușescu. It was also very stressful for the smuggling teams. “When you hear gunfire outside your hotel and there are bullet holes in the window and blood on the carpet, you know you’re in the thick of things.” A network of informers meant that they could never be sure who they could trust.

In his downtime he started writing about what he was experiencing. He wrote in the genre of a historical fiction, with himself and Greg being portrayed as two of the main characters in the book.

His letters from their Austrian base kept us up-to-date on what he was doing. Some of his stories made it into the manuscript he was writing. Others for security reasons did not. He wrote to our family about some of the ethical issues that a Bible Smuggler faces: What do you do when asked at the border if you have Bibles? How do you hold church services when they have been banned? These very real dilemmas were addressed in his manuscript in the context of a story of high risk, betrayal, faith, prison escapes, near misses, revolution, death, and even a little romance. All was skilfully woven together in a way that put the manuscript into the “can’t put down” category.

In the late fall of 1989 we received a letter from Pat. “I’m not very hopeful for the situation in Romania”, he wrote, “there are soldiers with sub-machine guns on every corner.” Six weeks later, the revolution had been successful and Ceaușescu was arrested.. “When Ceaușescu was shown on TV, soldiers became so angry at him, they wanted to shoot the TV.” On Christmas day, 1989, Ceaușescu and his wife were led before a firing squad and executed. They had been tried before a secret tribunal and found guilty of multiple crimes against the country.

A few days later I was watching the CBS evening news. The Romanian border had just been opened with the West and CBS had a reporter on the spot interviewing the first visitors to make the trip across. I almost fell out of my chair when I saw my brother Pat, and Holly (his future wife), smiling at the cameras from inside their vehicle? “Why are you headed into Romania”, the reporter asked? “We heard there was great skiing in Romania!”, came the response. The Bibles were, as usual, still carefully concealed. I learned later that they were given a tank escort into Bucharest and he was offered a ride!

So what happened to the manuscript? In 1995, Pat and Holly moved to Japan to teach English in order to pay down school debts. The manuscript went into a box. For the twelve years they were in Japan, another year in Kenya, and nine more years in Canada, the manuscript sat in the box unseen. About a year ago Pat happened upon the box and opened it. There was the manuscript. The floppy disks on which it had been written were long gone. “We really should do something with this,” Holly said. With the help of a friend, Pat had the book scanned and converted back into readable text. Holly found a publishing contest to enter, and so Pat spent a few more weeks editing the book to get it ready to submit.

They won the contest!

At his website, Patrick writes: “…I’m a Canadian, now living in Kelowna, BC. I’m a graduate of Wheaton College (MA, Inter-cultural Studies, 1995) and Regent University (MBA, International Business, 2007)…” He adds that he “is an ambassador for Open Doors, Canada. If you want to help your persecuted brothers and sisters around the world, there are so many opportunities to get involved.”

At Word Alive, here’s a summary of the book:

Jim, Nick, and Kirsten have always had a heart for their fellow believers behind the Iron Curtain. It’s one thing to pray for their brothers and sisters in Romania, though, and another thing entirely to face hostile border guards with illegal Bibles hidden in their van. Only God can blind the eyes of those searching the vehicle so the three of them will be allowed to pass through safely.

Someone in the underground Romanian church is an informer, and the three Bible smugglers want to know who. The brutal dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the watching eyes of the secret police, and a personal vendetta being carried out by a colonel with a forty-year grudge have put them and all the believers in danger. As rumours of revolution swirl around them, Jim, Nick, and Kirsten face an impossible dilemma. If they can’t trust those who call themselves Christians, who can they trust?

At Internet Monk there’s an excerpt from the book.

Finally, at Word Alive Press, you can read the official contest announcement with winners and runners-up.

U.S. customers can inform their local bookstore that the title may be ordered through Anchor Distributors.


ISBN: 9781486617548 | paperback | 224 pages | $19.99 US/CDN

January 8, 2019

Melding the Church Categories

Last year the academic books division of InterVarsity Press (IVP) released a title which intrigued me.  Gordon T. Smith is the President of Ambrose University in Calgary. Evangelical, Sacramental, Pentecostal: Why the Church Should Be All Three struck me as an ecclesiastic and doctrinal equivalent to what the late Robert Webber was trying to move us toward; the idea of blended worship. The idea is to move from a polarized, either/or approach to incorporating the best from different traditions.

At least I think that’s what it’s about. I don’t, after many attempts, get review books from IVP, be they academic or otherwise. (I’ll admit a lack of full qualification to review scholarly titles, but at 160 pages, I’d be willing to look up the big words!) For that reason, I’ll default to the publisher’s summary:

Evangelical. Sacramental. Pentecostal. Christian communities tend to identify with one of these labels over the other two. Evangelical churches emphasize the importance of Scripture and preaching. Sacramental churches emphasize the importance of the eucharistic table. And pentecostal churches emphasize the immediate presence and power of the Holy Spirit. But must we choose between them? Could the church be all three?

Drawing on his reading of the New Testament, the witness of Christian history, and years of experience in Christian ministry and leadership, Gordon T. Smith argues that the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church. As the church navigates the unique global challenges of pluralism, secularism, and fundamentalism, the need for an integrated vision of the community as evangelical, sacramental, and pentecostal becomes ever more pressing. If Jesus and the apostles saw no tension between these characteristics, why should we?

I mention the book now only because today is the release day for another book that I think offers a similar challenge and has a similar title.

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor of King’s Church in London, part of the Newfrontiers network of churches. His book is titled: Spirit and Sacrament: An Invitation to Eucharismatic Worship (Zondervan). Full marks for the adjective — eucharismatic — which I’d never heard before. (Google produced 5,700 results, but the first page results were all for this book.)

Even though it’s only 140 pages, because the book just arrived late yesterday afternoon, I’ll again refer to the publisher summary:

Spirit and Sacrament by pastor and author Andrew Wilson is an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship, the Eucharistic and the charismatic, with the grace of God at the center.

Wilson envisions church services in which healing testimonies and prayers of confession coexist, the congregation sings When I Survey the Wondrous Cross followed by Happy Day, and creeds move the soul while singing moves the body. He imagines a worship service that could come out of the book of Acts: Young men see visions, old men dream dreams, sons and daughters prophesy, and they all come together to the same Table and go on their way rejoicing.

Two sentences from the précis of both books:

  • “..the church not only can be all three, but in fact must be all three in order to truly be the church.” 
  • “…an impassioned call to join together two traditions that are frequently and unnecessarily kept separate. It is an invitation to pursue the best of both worlds in worship.”

Hopefully people are listening.


Read an excerpt from Andrew Wilson’s book at this link.

 

 

December 27, 2018

By Their Libraries You Shall Judge Them

Filed under: books, Christianity — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:00 am


I just organized all of the books I’ve read and reviewed here in 10½ years, and some I re-read over the same time period.

They’re on five shelves in our living room. The same living room where people sit and talk and drink coffee and eat desserts when we have guests.

They’re all in alphabetical order.

And that’s the problem.

Alphabetical order is so patently unfair.

My bottom shelf contains A. W. Tozer. J. Warner Wallace. N. T. Wright. Philip Yancey.

These are people I would like to showcase. I’d like to have arrows pointing at these books or a flashing light that says, “Look at my library!” “These are the people I read.”

Instead, nobody can see the bottom shelf. It’s partly blocked by the end of the couch and rearranging that would be a major task.

It’s not that I care what people think of me; it’s just that as a book nerd, I want people to think that I read good authors.

Instead, they have a front row view to the top shelf.

My Rob Bell collection.


December 20, 2018

A Cup of Cold Water; A Stack of Good Books

Filed under: books, Christianity, evangelism — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:18 am

I came across this quotation while preparing an article for another blog I edit.

If he shall not lose his reward who gives a cup of cold water to his thirsty neighbour, what will not be the reward of those who by putting good books into the hands of those neighbours, open to them the fountains of eternal life? – Thomas a Kempis

As a book guy, it resonated.

At Christmas, it’s timely.

It now sits atop my Facebook page; in perfect ratio for FB if you wish to borrow!

November 29, 2018

Book Review: Not Dressed for the Occasion

As more and more people are diagnosed with ADHD, and the internet erodes the attention span of the rest of us, I would expect books which offer smaller bites are an ideal reading retreat in a distracted world. Mart DeHaan did this a decade ago with Been Thinking About, but for the most part, if you want a quick read on your lunch break or before falling asleep, most of what’s out there is either fictional short stories or collections of news stories involving emergency responders performing heroic acts.

What if there were simply a collection of articles which — not unlike the blog you’re reading now — offered some thought-provoking insights into a somewhat random collection of topics? What if, in your own busyness you could consider a faith-focused subject with a three or four minute investment?

Not Dressed for the Occasion by Ron Harris (with Christine Winter) is one such book.

The 71 articles are gathered here in a form the author says, “has no beginning and no end.” You can jump in anywhere and read as many or as few as time permits. The articles are somewhat devotional in nature — think something 3 to 5 times longer than Our Daily Bread, The Upper Room or if you’re in the UK, Every Day With Jesus — which allows more space to anchor the reading in more than one scripture text reference. Each piece is clearly written from a pastor’s heart.

But the articles are also topical. Ron leads a congregation about 40 minutes east of Toronto and there are frequent references to current Canadian current news stories and organizations, though he has also ministered in England and South Africa. Although his church is Charismatic, I would argue that the writing gives the book a much broader appeal, as do citations of everyone from Tim Keller to Rick Joyner, along with the use of a wide variety of Bible translations.

Collections of this nature are also very suitable for older readers, though the publisher has inexplicably chosen to set the book in one of the smallest fonts of any Christian book I own, other than some Bibles. The book can also be used as springboard for topical discussions in a less formal small group setting.

Not Dressed for the Occasion is published by Word Alive Press and available throughout the U.S. and Canada through Anchor Distributing. (9781486616763, paperback, $17.99 US/Can.) The book is one of only a few in the Christian market belonging to a rather unique genre and I would argue it thereby fills a need.

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