Category Archives: reading
These are books, blogs, articles, or resources that I’ve found helpful.
My annual booklists are admittedly strange.
They’re usually written before the review year–sometimes much before. The list is spread across a wide spectrum of sporadic themes. Usually, it’s where my own soul happens to be at the time. For example, this year’s contains leadership development, historical fiction, theology, and even secular philosophy. They are varying degrees of comprehension.
In other words, for some reason, the books I read are all over the place. I’m not sure why, but I think two parts of the reason is that
- I need a wide spectrum to hold my attention. And…
- They are usually what I need in that particular season.
This year, I read a book a week for the year. (see all of Chris Lazo’s books read in 2015). Below, you will find my five favorites and the reasons I liked them so much. Starting with #5….
A Brief History of Thought is an introduction to philosophy. More than that, it is a narrative about how the biggest ideas in history have all attempted to prove their idea of “salvation,” either building on one another or tearing each other down. Of most interest to me, was the author’s treatment of Christianity. Luc Ferry, though a secular humanist, is sympathetic towards Christianity.
My favorite snippet: listening to Ferry describes how the juggernaut of Greek thought, after reigning for a thousand years, was quickly displaced by Christianity’s message of love and the afterlife.
Who should read it: If you want to a quick introduction to philosophy, or want to see how powerful the movement Jesus started originally was, this is a good one.
Simon Sinek’s first book, was based on a Ted Talk he gave, which argued that people do not want what you do, so much as they want why you are doing it. Leaders Eat Last is the follow up to suggest how that concept plays out in teams. His argument is that leaders must create environments of trust and sacrificial service if they want their teams to move from good to great.
My favorite snippet: when Sinek explains the biological origins of “trust.” His major point is that trust is a chemical reaction–you cannot force it, you can only create an environment for it to develop.
Who should read it: If you lead anybody, even your dog, you need this book.
After our church went through the Sermon on the Mount, and afterwards, a series on character and spiritual maturity, this was one of the books that lit the fire (besides Dallas Willard’s Renovation of the Heart which I read in 2014). Character is not the type of This book is a primer but also a persuader about why you need to long for good character.
Favorite snippet: Wright’s story about a pilot, illustrating how it takes thousands of repeated behaviors to eventually do right what needs to be done right in the moment it is needed most.
Who should read it: you.
#2 – Sitting At The Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith. By Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg.
Lois Tverberg is a wonderful researcher and writer. I love her appreciation for the ancient Jewish roots of the New Testament, and her books have made my faith, and reading of the Bible, come alive.
My favorite snippet: her explanation of the Messianic significance of the tassels on Jewish garments.
Who should read it: if you have trouble relating to the Bible when you read it (perhaps it feels outdated or removed from your contemporary experience); if you want to grow in your understanding of the Scriptures, Biblical culture, and the world that Jesus inhabited; or if you simply want to deepen and enrich your faith…this is the book for you.
I don’t even know where to start on this one, so I guess with a short description. Set in WWII, this Pulitzer Prize winner waltz around the separate stories of a blind french girl with a love for seashells and a young german boy with a love for radios. As the girl is swept into the arms of the resistance, and the boy’s talent for electronics brings him invariably to the Hitler Youth, the centripetal force of their combined stories, tragedies, and hopes work to bring them together. I have not read a book this gripping and beautiful in prose since The Great Gatsby.
Who: readers of historical fiction, WWII themes, or magical writing.
Someone gave it to me in passing a couple of years ago. I opened it the next day, skipped the introduction, and began reading from left to right, as quickly as possible. The first chapter was on “celebration,” and the second was on “gratitude.” Since I felt devoid of both, reading about their explicit practice was too much for me to bear. I felt exhausted, and stopped reading the book altogether.
I know. Awkward way to start a book review.
But I’m reviewing the book because months later, a friend told me that I was not supposed to read it from back to front; and that reading the introduction was vital to my understanding the rest. So I sat back down with what I thought was a terrible book, and read the first twenty-three pages that night. Everything changed. That night.
What it’s about.
It morphed from a book about trying harder to a book exposing my innermost self. Calhoun spends the first few pages carefully articulating a theology of desire; that is, how our desires work, how sin distorts our desires, and how God heals them. Against this, I always thought of spiritual disciplines as pietistic acts of self-hatred—-means and methods for suppressing desires, not listen to them. Now, there is a clear thread of self-denial woven through all biblical disciplines; but self-denial is not self-hatred. As Calhoun explains, the process leading to self-denial must inevitably start with a degree of honesty and vulnerability. This means listening to our desires. It doesn’t mean they are right desires. It doesn’t mean God won’t change those desires. It just means they are true, and that they tell us something about ourselves. This makes the beginning of any spiritual discipline fairly straightforward: “We simply desire. We bring our ache for change, our longing for belonging, our desperation to make a difference” (19). All of this then sets us up for any spiritual discipline worth its salt: “they simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us” (19). That’s just from the first few pages of the introduction! The rest explains how our desires help us find what discipline is necessary for spiritual maturity in any given area of our lives.
After reading this introduction, I felt a hunger in me begin to simmer, and skimmed through the various disciplines Calhoun lists to discover what I needed to single out the most in my life. The result has been spiritual, emotional, and even physical health; the thing I’ve learned the most through this process is that time spent alone with God is the best thing I can do for myself and others.
The structure of the book is easy to follow. After the introduction, Calhoun offers sixty-two disciplines (!). This large swathe of practices makes up seven larger groupings: worship, opening self to God, relinquishing the false self, community, hearing God’s Word, incarnating the love of Christ, and prayer.
Each discipline is given a page or two of summary, along with simple, practical instructions, Scriptures, and questions to not only discover which disciplines are right for each person’s desires, but also to guide the process of practicing them once the right discipline is found.
Why you should get it.
If you have ever felt a longing inside for something deeper in your spirituality, this might be the book for you. If you’ve ever felt a disconnection between your heart and your actions, this might be the book for you. Or if you just want to wake up every day and “train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim 4:7)—in other words, to live everything Jesus taught and did at every moment of every day…this might be the book for you. Over the last two years, I have felt all of these things to the point of frustration. And this was book really helped me. It is the single most comprehensive, simple, and practical book on the disciplines I’ve ever read. I would probably still be depressed, teasing burn-out, and closed off to God (I share about that here and here) had it not been for the compassionate wisdom and simplicity of Calhoun’s writing. Needless to say, this book comes highly recommended by me.
It’s important at this juncture to know at the outset that spiritual disciplines are the means, not the end. Spiritual transformation is the end. Things get out of hand when these get mixed up. What transforms a person is not disciplines, but the Spirit of God in Christ indwelling the human heart. What disciplines can do is posture that person, already desiring God, to then receive from God and live for God; not just in moments of spiritual prosperity, but in the tedium of normal life. It’s this consistent Spirit-fanned flame of devotion, even if small at first, that causes the Christian life to soar long and true through circumstances and setbacks of any kind. Isn’t this the Christianity we long for? It is available to you. You just have to want it bad enough.
This is that time we tend to redo or accumulate plans for the new year: financial budgets, diets, exercise regimes, even plans to take a vacation later in the year.
Just about the only thing we don’t plan for is our spiritual life! But if there is anything more important to the Christian, it is the health of their inner being. The apostle Paul once said that “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come” (1 Tim 4:8, NLT).
The Bible speaks a lot about planning. By all means, get physically fit. Plan a good budget. And find time to rest with your family, or get away. But don’t forget the part of you that needs the most care.
Make a plan to feed your spirit!
One of the most basic and far-reaching ways to do this is to be in the Word of God daily. I give an extensive sermon about the value of God’s Word here. In fact, the prophet Jeremiah was so sustained by the Scriptures, that he compared them to food: “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jer. 15:16). Jesus would take this even farther, saying that God’s Word was able to sustain us even more than bread (Matt 4:4).
We may find this agreeable. But if you’re like me, it doesn’t just happen automatically. There are too many other things in our lives that want to compete with our spiritual well being. That’s why we need to have a plan. And for some of you, it may help to have a little bit of structure for reading the Bible.
Here is the whole Bible broken up into quarters for readability:
Every day it will take you through portions of the Old Testament and portions of the New Testament. You don’t have to use this for your “spiritual plan,” but if it helps, by all means use it!
There will probably be times when you skip a day or two, or ten.
When that happens, it’s easy to feel guilty about missing chapter readings, and fall even farther behind trying to catch up. Inevitably, people stop reading all together because they are discouraged. Please don’t let this happen to you! It is not about reading every single word, or filling out a quota, or saying you read the whole Bible.
This Bible reading plan is about posturing yourself in the presence of God to receive from His words!
So if you skip a day here and there, or fall behind, it’s ok! Don’t try to catch up, just take it back up where you left off. The point of all this is not perfection, but consistently opening up the Scriptures. After a year of training yourself to hear and read God’s word, your life will be significantly transformed. But it’s hard to do that sometimes, isn’t it?
That’s why we need a plan for our spiritual lives going into 2015. If you need one, I hope this will bless you next year!
Let me define “favorite” and “of 2014.”
By “favorite,” I just mean impactful. But there are other things I consider too: if it was well written, if the author was able to carry me from beginning to end, if the ideas and concepts in the book were cohesive and well-developed, and if the writer has something to say that is worth reading.
What I mean by “of 2014” is not published in 2014–some of the selections are a decade older. They are simply books I read in 2014. I’m such a latecomer to books!
As a side note, this list is not written in order of importance. I’m lining them up as a narrative. I hope that storyline pops out in the descriptions about what has been most formative for me this last year. Without further ado…
It’s about time I read this one. The late Dallas Willard is one of the greatest thinkers of our day. I hesitate to say “Christian” thinkers, because he can flex his philosophical muscles with the best secular intellectuals of the century. Willard’s books often mix his mastery of the human personality with a deep admiration for the believer’s union with Christ. The Divine Conspiracy is his magnum opus. And what a great work it is! Taking the Sermon on the Mount as his cue, Willard pokes holes in flimsy, modern assumptions of Christianity that leave the confessor void of transformation or commitment. His premise is that being a “Christian” is to live vastly different in every area of life, because of the indwelling life of Christ. What follows is a four-hundred page juggernaut to convince you. By the time I was half way through this tome, I wasn’t just convinced, I was desperately hungry for change in my own life. One that can only be described as discipleship.
Emotional Health is a discipleship issue. Unfortunately, a lot of “discipleship” in the church consists of teachings and other knowledge gathering, with a dash of volunteering. Essentially, read more, do more. Scazzero opens with stories peppered throughout (both Biblical and personal) of why that doesn’t work. He immediately follows with examples of emotionally unhealthy habits (in case you are tempted to drop the book and think, “I’m emotionally good-looking”), before he explains what an emotionally and spiritually healthy person looks like, and how they become so. I found myself hooked. Mostly because the person he was describing so well, was me. He ends the last half offering a way out of the nightmare of emotional and spiritual immaturity. His solution involves getting mystical and contemplative, in a non-creepy sort of way.
Here is a more extensive book review I wrote on EHS.
If Scazzero revealed how detrimental emotional immaturity can be to an individual, then Lencioni shows you how it can unravel a team, community, or even a simple group project. Lencioni is a fascinating writer who takes two seemingly opposite concepts–business and narrative–and combines them. What you have left is a masterfully told story that drives home principles of team health and dynamics. The storyline is so captivating that you never even know what hit you. In the final chapters of the book, Lencioni steps out of his storytelling role, to explain what just hit you. Even if you are not a leader, per se, so much in this short read will enlighten you to why things didn’t work very well on that project you were working on with so-and-so. It will also prepare you for how to work well with others. A necessary component in today’s world of team-oriented everything.
Contemplative spirituality and spiritual disciplines can sometimes scare Protestant evangelicals, because it reeks of a mystical nature. I really appreciated Calhoun’s ability to break these practices down with clarity and brevity, supporting them with Scripture, and showing the differences between Christian acts of spiritual discipline and the counterfeits offered by other world religions. Each discipline warrants no more than three pages, including an inspirational explanation, a tutorial, appropriate Scriptures, and a litany of ways said discipline can transform your life. As good as each of these are, the gold is in the introduction. Nowhere, in all of the titans of contemplative spirituality and disciplines, have I witnessed such an clear and enlightening vision for why a Christian should practice them, or how to practice them effectively. If you get this book (and you should), DO NOT READ IT WITHOUT FIRST READING THE INTRODUCTION. It is that good, and that necessary.
This is an introduction to Lectio Divina, one of my favorite contemplative disciplines. It is the ancient practice of praying and meditating on the Scriptures, in a way that allows the Word of God to permeate, not just the intellect, but the heart. It is a slow reading of Scripture. It allows the reader of the Word to be read by the Word. Casey is filled with deep reverence and knowledge of Lectio, and his admiration for God’s word catches fire to the reader. A word of caution, it is not a manual for practicing Lectio Divina; for that, refer to Calhoun’s book on Spiritual Disciplines mentioned above; Casey’s Sacred Reading is a glimpse into a lifestyle of communion with God through His Word. It is meant to captivate you to a different way of reading.
The favorite of the favorites?
My number one book of this last year was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Scazzero. It’s affect on me was no doubt due to the journey I had been on at the time (which I talk about here). But as Scazzero points out, and as the experience of many other people I’ve talked to over the last couple months confirms, this is a topic that is as neglected by Christians as it is crucial for their maturity. This short read is a breathe of fresh air on a long pathway. So for all these reasons and more, this was the most impactful book on me in 2014.
What were your best reads of 2014, and why?
Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ is a classic approach to contemplative prayer. It’s shaped by a longing to experience the indwelling union of God. Written in the 1700’s, it was banned by the church, and Jeanne Guyon was imprisoned. The sheer impact of Madame Guyon’s approach throughout the centuries at least demands our attention. John Wesley, Count Zinzendorf, Fenelon, Hudson Taylor, Watchman Nee. They were all influenced by this unassuming little pamphlet.
Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ (EDJC) sounds like a devotional, yet it functions like a manual–with progressive steps, each leading to new levels of experiential maturity. That was the greatest draw for me—few books on prayer are written with such practical vitality. Guyon’s entire premise is based on experiencing union with Christ, so the subsequent chapters involve some added measure of surrender. I found myself easily drawn to her style of writing. It felt less like a theological exploration of prayer, and more like sitting at the feet of an older woman teaching me to pray. There were several chapters where I had to put the book down and practice what I read. Some of her instructions were as rich as they were simple, and I would get stuck on one page for several days, enjoying the journey those few words would take me. I think the power in this book lie partially in its audience. Guyon is clear in the intial chapters that she is writing to people who don’t know how to pray—basically illiterate believers of her time. I think it caused her to trim the fat, so to speak. What’s left is a powerful example of contemplative-style praying.
At times, her terminology has a Roman Catholic feel. This makes sense, as Guyon is apparently a Roman Catholic. I tend to veer away from Catholic books on contemplation. A Catholic might practice the same discipline as observed by a Protestant, and yet with entirely different motivations. Catholic contemplatives often practice spiritual disciplines believing that their asceticism will impact their salvation in a positive way. Protestants firmly reject this. We engage spiritual disciplines, believing that all we receive from God we receive by grace. And so the purpose of the disciplines is not to twist God’s arm, but to posture our restless hearts to experience his grace. That alone is a big difference between these two theological titans, and reason alone to generally reject Catholic books on contemplation. I think this is a healthy apprehension, summarized best by the late Lutheran theologian, John W. Doberstein,
It is not true that prayers and books of devotion, even the so-called “classics of devotion,” can be used indiscriminately. Many of them are infused with a mystical tradition which is completely alien to the gospel and can only be confusing to the evangelical user of them. Prayer and liturgy are realized dogma, doctrine which is prayed; but if the doctrine is false, putting it into the form of devotion does not make it any less false. The Roman Catholic forms of spiritual exercises can never be a pattern for us, though they have crept into many popular Protestant manuals and discussions of prayer and meditation. The difference that separates us is that all Roman Catholic meditation rests upon the dogmatic assumption of synergism. (The Minister’s Prayer Book, XIV-XV)
The Catholic influence alone would put up my defenses with this book, but Guyon kept evading many of my fears. In certain places she spoke of God’s gracious sovereignty with such brazenness, that I actually began to wonder if she was a closet Calvinist! For example, she asserts, “You can be sure you would never consent [to union with Christ] if it were not that God takes it upon Himself to act upon you…God must take responsibility for bringing man into union with Himself” (130-131).
I wonder if it were quotes like–usurping the works-based theology of the Catholic church–that resulted in her imprisonment. I can certainly understand. She said many things that initially rubbed me the wrong way. But was I simply biased and unteachable? So I tried to read it with an open, but discerning mind just to be sure. Unfortunately, some books have so much to “discern” that I wonder if they are worth reading at all! However, with EDJC, I’m torn. If it’s the case that Guyon was veering from her Roman Catholic roots, my opinion of this book would change drastically, and I would feel free to recommend it. At the moment, I don’t think I could give this book to a believer who was weak in their faith, or lacked sound theology or discernment. It’s one of those. But for Christians who have been trained with discernment, there are few books on prayer that were as exciting for me to wade through as this. It may be worth the effort for you.
Overall, it was refreshing. It is leaps and bounds more impactful than many modern books that opine for chapters on end about the technique and beauty of prayer without ever actually praying.
My final verdict: proceed with both caution and curiosity.
“I think I know what’s wrong with me now: I’m spirituality mature, but emotionally immature. I have a lot of spiritual knowledge, but I’m not very good at managing my emotions.”
To give you a little background, I was in a season of my life where I was trying so hard to be spiritual and productive for God, yet feeling more stagnant and disconnected from him than ever.
His eyes widened as he replied, “You need to read this book right now.”
The book he recommended was Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (EHS), by Peter Scazzero.
Until this point, I’d never really heard about it, even though it’s been around for a while. I was curious about why the good doctor seemed so convinced I needed to read it. When it came in the mail, I took one look at the subtitle and laughed. It said,
“It’s impossible to be spirituality mature while remaining emotionally immature.”
Before cracking open the first page, I knew this book was written for me. Chances are, it’s probably written for you too.
You only have to look at the title to guess that EHS is all about emotional health.
Broadly speaking, emotional health has to do with expressing or managing the emotions we feel. Practically speaking, it plays out in the way we interact with others. Scazzero’s entire premise is that without emotional health, you have no spiritual health either. The two are inextricably woven; really, the book is about both emotional and spiritual health. For a person to grow into a healthy disciple of Christ, they need to be concerned with managing emotions and cultivating their spiritual life (contemplative spirituality he calls it). The unambiguous diagnosis that emerges from the book, however, is that many contemporary Christians neglect either emotional health, or contemplative spirituality in the process of discipleship. But if you lack either of these, you aren’t growing in a meaningful way at all. What is absent in most Christian’s lives is not contemplation–otherwise, this would be a book about the spiritual disciplines. What’s missing is a Scriptural plan for managing emotions. Says Scazzero,
When we do not process before God the very feelings that make us human, such as fear or sadness or anger, we leak. Our churches are filled with ‘leaking’ Christians who have not treated their emotions as a discipleship issue. Grieving is not possible without paying attention to our anger and sadness. Most people who fill churches are ‘nice’ and ‘respectable.’ Few explode in anger—at least in public. The majority, like me, stuff these ‘difficult feelings,’ trusting that God will honor our noble efforts. The result is that we leak through in soft ways such as passive-aggressive behavior (e.g., showing up late), sarcastic remarks, a nasty tone of voice, and the giving of the ‘silent treatment.’ (143-144)
Scazzero’s book structure is simple.
In the first half of the book, he explains “what an emotionally unhealthy spirituality looks like” (p.2). You won’t get far in the book before you know whether the book is for you or not. In chapter three, he offers a clear solution: a marriage of emotional health with contemplative spirituality. This is the hinge of the book. The remaining half of the book offers a pathway to EHS. One that actually works.
Of the various pathways to Christian spiritual formation, there are two streams from which I have thoroughly benefitted: the Reformed tradition, with it’s panoramic view of God’s glory and emphasis on the Scriptures; and the Contemplative mystics, with their emphasis on the indwelling presence or God. One thing that always struck me about these two streams is their respective vernacular when it comes to growing in Christ. The Reformed tradition often speaks of looking outward to God who is holy other, and the contemplative stream often uses refers the believer inward to God who dwells within. One of the things I appreciated the most from Scazzero is that he marries these concepts together, as mutually compatible. He isn’t the first one to do this—there is a rich history of Reformed contemplatives at our fingertips who teach these things. Unfortunately, many of today’s books on spirituality are weighted in only one of these directions. It is refreshing to hear both “inward” and “outward” coalesce in Scazerro. For example, when he explains how emotional health keeps us from “self-absorbed narcissism” (61), while contemplative spirituality keeps us from getting exhausted as it “binds us to the living God” (155). In other words, emotional health keep us from imploding; contemplative spirituality keep us from burning out.
But it’s not for everyone.
The draw of this book lies in the problem it’s attempting to discuss. If you are emotionally stable, deal with conflicts well, have a rich inner life, processed your past hurts constructively, and are deeply self-aware of your own weaknesses, it’s probably not going to impress you very much. But if even one of these things rings a bell, you need to get this book.
As the beginning of my post betrays, I have experienced firsthand the frustrations that come with trying to grow in my relationship with Christ. In most cases, it’s because attention is brought to bear on only one area of life, such as the intellect, or habits. But the human personality is complex and beautiful. As the Psalmist said, “the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (Ps. 64:6). While emotional health is not all that makes up a person, it is an important and deeply-encompassing part of the human soul, and ironically, one of the most neglected areas of discipleship in the church. For that reason, I highly recommend this book to anyone who feels spiritually dry, spiritually stagnant, or on the verge of burnout. I also recommend it for anyone that just wants to walk deeper with God and others.
Where to buy it.
In my last post I talked about the beauty and importance of simplicity.
Now, a few suggestions for practicing this. In his acclaimed book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard J. Foster offers 10 principles for simplicity. It was written a decade ago, and yet is surprisingly relevant. I will mention each one, followed by a fitting quote. Then I will punctuate each of them with a successful personal experience, or a personal failure. Since some of these points connected with me more than others, the length or brevity of my “punctuations” will reflect that.
1. Buy things for usefulness rather than status
“Stop trying to impress people with your clothes and impress them with your life.”
This is cutting advice considering the city of Santa Barbara (or any part of Southern California). We are known more for image than we are for utility. And it’s hard to separate the two sometimes. I’ll admit, the jackets I wear to keep warm at night, also look really good! Rather than beat ourselves up over this one, I think it more helpful to rephrase this point in this way: “Do the things I own promote my quality of life or just my standard of living?” I hope for more of the former.
2. Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.
“Remember, an addiction, by its very nature, is something that is beyond your control…How do you discern an addiction? Very simply, you watch for undisciplined compulsions” (91).
I gave an exhaustive sermon on Alcohol and the Christian back in 2013. It’s my most viewed sermon to date. I suspect the reason for its popularity is two-fold: Santa Barbara really likes their alcohol, and no one has ever given a full-blown sermon on alcohol here before. Now, there are countless Christians who can imbibe without sinning; there are also many other who cannot. I think it’s at this point that a careful distinction needs to be made about what we are free to do. Christian liberty means you have the gospel-freedom to partake (if you can), but it also means you have the gospel-freedom to abstain if you should! Some Christians drink too much (Eph 5:18), or against their consciences (1 Cor 8:12), or against their health (Isa 5:11), or against a weaker brother (Rom 14:21) when they, in fact, need to stop. They are deceived if they think drinking, for them, is a freedom. As the apostle Paul posits, “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12, NIV). If you are mastered by anything, it’s not freedom. It’s slavery. In this case, true simplicity prevents you from developing a bondage to an otherwise good thing.
3. Develop a habit of giving things away
“Masses of things that are not needed complicate life…most of us could get rid of half our possessions without any serious sacrifice” (92).
This is a hard one, because I like my stuff. But we are graciously forced to downsize periodically because of the size of living in Santa Barbara. There’s simply not enough five bedroom homes to accommodate our love for things. This makes life easier, and, well…simple.
4. Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry
“Timesaving devices almost never save time.”
I was one of these guys. I stayed in lines during the Steve Jobs era, waiting to be one of only thousands with the next best thing in their hands. Even though I knew the feeling would dissipate in a month, it was worth it to be among the select few in the world that had something most others did not. Silly, I know. But I couldn’t shake it. Then one day, I took Abby into a pool. With my iPhone in my pocket. For forty-five minutes. I tried to resurrect that thing using every Pinterest solution imaginable. From sticking it in a jar of rice for seven days straight, to laying it on a bed of rice in an oven at low heat. Nothing. I looked up my contract to see if I had any upgrades available. Fall of 2015. Ugh. Someone graciously lent me an older version. And I’ve been learning to slow down. I had to cut out most of the apps that used to take up so much of my time, due to the lack of space. Social media stopped running as fast as it used to, and I found myself wondering if it was worth waiting five minutes to check Facebook statuses that I know are just going to be about food, ex-boyfriends, and photos of people’s babies. Because of the pool accident, my life has gotten simpler–albeit in a small way. However, the magic was in the two weeks before my friend lent me a phone, and I had nothing. No way to search social media. No phone calls. No texts. No email. I hated it at first. But within days, I felt like I had come alive. I know that sounds sensational, but it really was true for me. I spent more time in the Scriptures than I have for a long time. More time in a contemplative posture of prayer. More time with my daughter. And wife. And God. I’ve since gotten a phone back, but with some semblance of simplicity to go with it. And it’s been worth it.
5. Learn to enjoy things without owning them
“If we own it, we feel we can control it; and if we can control it, we feel it will give us more pleasure” (93).
No one owns much in Santa Barbara, so I have nothing to say about this one, haha.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation
“Simplicity means to discover once again that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof'” (Ps. 24:1).
I’ve been surfing a block from my office. And there is nothing that will silence the unending flow of emails in the brain than being in the ocean. Catching a wave is pretty darn intoxicating too. What’s your “creation” experience?
7. Look with healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes
“They are a trap.”
When I was a teenager, I racked up thousands on a credit card, because I didn’t know any better. Those cards are payed off, but the memories remain. My friend, Gerald Torres once told me, “If you live within your means, you’ll be happy. It’s as simple as that.” I’ve found those words to be true.
8. Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech
Passive aggression. That’s when you are indirectly hostile towards another person. Perhaps through a backhanded remark, an irritated comment spoken below the breath, or a Facebook status that doesn’t name anyone yet is clearly intended for a specific person to see. This is not how Jesus ever spoke. He was clear, direct, and honest. The reason we are not, is because we are too insecure with ourselves to be honest in conflict. Or because we fear. We fear the tension that will escalate when we deal with the hard issues in an interpersonal relationship. So we cover the truth, mask our feelings, and don’t say anything. Then we attach some level of piety and self-righteousness to our (in)action, thinking we took the high road. But we didn’t. This is evidenced by the fact that we cannot let it go. At least in our minds. We play the scenario over and over in our heads, thinking of what we could have said, or should have said. And we get angry while we do it. All of this anger is directed towards that person who originally upset us. We could have dealt with it at the beginning, but not it’s building up steam. Then when said person enters the room, we release a little passive-aggressive steam, couched in a note of sarcasm. And both sides of the relationship suffer for it. All of this can be prevented by being honest and forthright. Go figure.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others
Welp, that’s almost everything in my kitchen, my closet, my car, and my office. To do this with any shred of integrity, you’d have to make your own clothes, ride a bike instead of a car, buy organic veggies, free-range meat, and American products. Guess how much that would cost? Do any of us do this? Why or why not?
10. Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the Kingdom of God
Imagine a life that looks like this. Not an individual life, but corporate. Imagine everyone in your church free from status-envy, addictions, stinginess, the race to be cutting-edge, the obsession with belongings; or if we all developed a care for our surroundings, an aversion to debt (except to owe love); if we were easy to understand, and said what we meant, and if we all worked together to free the oppressed, and ran from anything that did not look like God’s will. I think our church would start to look set apart in Santa Barbara, yet, strangely alluring as well. Why? Because we don’t need anything except what we already have. What a glaringly different and attractive way to live. Such is the power of simplicity. No wonder Paul’s quirky instruction…
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NASB)
This is a piece in the Atlantic, “Debating Dinosaurs With Creationists,” interviewing Ken Ham at his famous Creation museum in Kentucky.
I figured from the title that it probably wasn’t in the Creationists favor. Surprisingly, it was a cordial, lighthearted, and honest article—not loaded with vitriol as these often are. And there were even times I resonated with Jeffrey Goldberg. However, reading it still saddened me. And my issue is not with the author. I’m upset that Ken Ham’s view of cosmology is often the only one covered or presented by the media (I’m thinking back especially to the debate between Ham and Bill Nye). For those who are unaware, Ham is one of the biggest proponents of the Young Earth view of Creation (YEC), which means he believes the planet began around 6,000 years ago. Though I am not a YEC proponent myself, I don’t mind others who hold that view—many people I love, respect, work with, and learn from do. Again, it’s the sheer volume of exposure it gets.
Young Earth Creationism is the only Christian view of origins that seems to get discussed in popular culture.
It’s the Left Behind of cosmology. To be fair, I don’t think journalists, bloggers, and debate coordinators are necessarily to blame for this (though they are to some degree, as they do not invite Creationists with varying positions). I, respectfully, lay a bit of the blame also on Ken Ham. In his writings, in this interview, and in debates, I’ve seen his view of creation presented, not merely as a contending viewpoint for Christians, but as the only valid viewpoint for Christians to believe. See, I wouldn’t mind Ham’s views if he were a little more charitable towards Christians who disagree with it. But when you combine his staunch views on cosmology with what Goldberg described as “marketing genius…his ability to shape a conversation on his terms“–you soon end up with Ham’s quotes—and only his quotes—filling the blogosphere, twitterverse, and news channels, as seemingly the only representation of what Christians believe about the origin of the universe from the book of Genesis! But it is not. It’s not.
There are many scholars who have devoted their lives to studying the Book of Genesis, who believe in the authority of the Bible, and yet hold to an entirely different interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis than Ham.
Great scholars like John Walton, Johnny Miller, and John Sailhamer have unearthed the backdrop of the ancient world against which the first book of the Bible was written. They provide contemporary readers with historic context, linguistic insight, and alternative interpretations that should be considered before developing any serious conclusions. Unlike Ham, they do this all without having to pit science against Scripture.
A common objection to this is,
“That’s letting modern science form your belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.”
I suppose this could be rephrased in the reverse: “YEC’s let their cultural literalism form their belief about the origin of the universe and not the Word of God.” Objections like this tend to be unhelpful to the conversation; both sides in the Young/Old Earth debate believe in the authority of Scripture, and it brings a robust debate to a screeching halt to throw out elementary attacks like this.
“If science and Scripture seem to contradict each other, Scripture is right, and science is wrong.”
But this fails to take into account another variable: the reader! See, if science and Scripture appear to “contradict” each other, there’s still a chance that neither are “wrong.” Perhaps it’s your understanding that’s flawed. Science, after all, is the study of the natural world through observation and experiment. Creationists often (rightly) posit that the scientist-observer is wrong. But we shouldn’t stop there. You see, theology is also a field of study–the study of God. And this study also involves a certain amount of interpretation. So…perhaps Christian interpreters have gotten Genesis wrong? This is the basis for many of these OEC’s. Their overarching statements about understanding Genesis are based on the belief that Young Earth Creationism has a faulty hermeneutic, and is therefore, a wrong interpretation. Now, whether you agree with that assessment or not, can we at least agree that these other Creationists, who disagree with Ham’s Young Earth position, at least deserve a platform?
As a college pastor for four years, and a pastor of a “young” church–I’ve seen students walk away from their faith over these issues.
Christian college students are forced to bifurcate the Bible and science as if that were the only way to follow Christ. That’s the real issue that upsets me–they don’t have to do that. Of course, when YEC–or a caricature of it–creates a monopoly on hermeneutics, it’s only a matter of time before students feel a disconnect between their faith and real life. And each time, it seems like I can trace those stories back to a parochial, if not militant, view of Genesis 1 and 2 that teaches younger generations that they must choose between science and the Bible. Consider this red flag by the Barna Group:
One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries (Barna)
I’m so thankful for the flood of authors, scholars, professors, and conversationalists who have expanded the conversation. I hope we can continue to cultivate humble, open dialog around these issues.
Some of the ones I already mentioned take, I think, a more honest exegetical approach to the texts in Genesis, and the results—surprise—never force one to choose between science and Scripture. Sadly, most people, if exposed to Creationism at all, will only hear slivers of a particular view that in turn gets filtered through a magazine, a TV documentary, or the unforgiving comment sections of social media. I’m not asking YEC to change their centuries-long view; I’m asking that other experts on the Biblical account of creation get the same amount of air time as Ham. I’m also asking that the rest of us listen to them as much as we have listened to Ham. He doesn’t represent us all.
Well…yes he does. Unfortunately.
What are your thoughts on Creation and science?
Book Review ~ Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, by Ruth Haley Barton
“I cannot transform myself, or anyone else for that matter. What I can do is create the conditions in which spiritual transformation can take place, by developing and maintaining a rhythm of spiritual practices that keep me open and available to God” (12).
Sacred Rhythms is an introduction to spiritual disciplines. It’s about creating space and cultivating rhythms that allow you to enjoy God.
I know this an older book–it’s from 2006–but it so resonated with me because of its personal effect on my soul. I am a pastor–which assumes, to some degree–that I am being spiritual quite often. That’s open for debate. I know one thing for certain: I can keep myself busy. But is business necessarily spiritual? Is productivity? Success? Barton argues that those things can actually be harmful to your spiritual health when they are able to wield control over your life (a condition she calls Christian fatigue syndrome). As a “minister,” there were many opportunities to get involved with spiritual activities, a lot of opportunities to make myself busy, and even a heightened knowledge of the Bible that I developed over time.
But something was still missing.
I made the process too intellectual, too rushed, too goal-oriented. Some of this led to a feeling of disconnection in me from the very God who lives inside of me. That’s probably why I loved this book. It clearly explained what was wrong with me for many years, and offered a simple invitation back into the arms of Christ.
If you have enjoyed the recent series here on the blog, Contemplative Approach to Spirituality, and want to know and learn more, you’re hard-pressed to find a better place to start. Here’s a bit of what to expect in the outline–three basic parts.
1. Introduction to Spiritual Transformation
I felt like Barton was talking to me in the introduction. I put my highlighter down when I realized that I wanted to highlight every single line on the first three pages–it really defeats the purpose of highlighting when you do it on every line. After the first three pages, the rest of the introduction is preparing you for what to expect in the writing: book outline, practical instruction, group suggestions, etc. But it’s in the next chapter when things really get rolling.
2. Invitation to Spiritual Transformation
This is, in my opinion, the fulcrum of the book. Barton spends some time here whetting the appetite of the reader, exposing our need, and pointing us towards our truest desires. Since disciplines can seem a laborious drudgery to the uninitiated (or the badly initiated), this chapter is valuable in dispelling myths, and revealing our deep spiritual thirst, as well as the value in posturing ourselves to receive from God’s endless wells. This chapter alone is worth the price of the book. But it gets better.
3. Seven different types of disciplines
This section on disciplines are pure gold. Each of the remaining chapters explain a spiritual discipline. Collectively, they form a well-balanced diet of the Christian life. The disciplines are solitude, Scripture (lectio divina), prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment, Sabbath, and The Rule of Life.
The flow of the chapters are what drives each discipline home.
Instead of bombarding you with practical instruction or ancient sayings, Barton appeals to your deepest desires, and pulls you into a story that you want to be a part of. The danger in plunging into spiritual disciplines is two-fold: You don’t realize you need soul-care, and are cavalier with it; or you approach it as another to-do list, and end up more exhausted than ever. However, I think Barton pirouettes around these issues gracefully.
Each chapter begins with her personal experience to draw your attention. Then she explains the inner desires the practice effects. After she persuades you of your need, the practical steps for getting started are laid out to be received. There is no chance of getting lost in some author’s convoluted sayings–Barton offers detailed, clear explanations on how to engage each particular discipline. Peppered throughout are historical insights, careful attention (and mercy) on our weaknesses, and expressions of the practice from Scripture. By the time I finished each chapter, I wanted to put the book down and seek the face of God.
I’ll conclude my review with eight quotes from the book…
This is fundamentally what spiritual disciplines are all about: choosing a way of life that opens us to the presence of God in the places of our being where our truest desires and deepest longings stir. (13)
A prayer welled up from the depths of my being, a prayer so full of desire that it was barely articulate: “O God, give me more moments like this–moments when I am fully present to you and to others in love.” (21)
Your desire for more of God than you have right now, your longing for love, your need for deeper levels of spiritual transformation than you have experienced so far is the truest thing about you. (24)
Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this [vicious] cycle by turning off the noise and stimulation of our lives so that we can hear our loneliness and our longing calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing. (36)
We need a way of approaching Scripture that will move us very concretely from our over reliance on information gathering to an experience of Scripture as a place of intimate encounter. (54)
One thing I know for sure about prayer these days is that we do not know how to pray. It is only the young in Christ who think they know how to pray; the rest of us know we are beginners.(63)
One of the deepest longings of the human heart is to be known and loved unconditionally (91)
Sabbath keeping is a discipline that will mess with you, because once you move beyond just thinking about it and actually begin to practice it, the goodness of it will capture you, body, soul, and spirit. (133)
I think every Christian should familiarize themselves with spiritual formation and the practices that cultivate it.
I also believe the person who would experience immediate benefits from this book are those who are spiritually dry, fatigued, or just burnt out on the church, God, or Christianity. Sacred Rhythms takes advantage of the Christian’s existing union with Christ–not by shaming you into to trying harder–but by posturing you in your weaknesses towards the One who already lives inside you.
And as a result, this may be my favorite book I’ve read all year–I’ll let you know in December. Until then, get this book, and drink so deeply!
You can find the book on Amazon: Sacred Rhythms.
- A Contemplative Approach to Christianity (doctrineontap.com)
I don’t know what others mean when they say “top 5 books,” but for me, it’s pretty straightforward:
- What I enjoyed reading most
- What impacted the way I think most
- If it uncovered a new idea for me
- If I was carried through the entire book
- I would recommend it to others
- I would read it more than once
Ok, let’s get started at the top of the list…
1. When the Church was a Family: Recapturing Jesus’ Vision for Authentic Christian Community, by Joseph Hellerman.
Ever feel frustrated over the individualism and consumerism punctuating the American church? Ever wish your local church was more like the family you read about in the book of Acts? Do you long for revival in your city? This is the book you need to read. But brace yourself–you’re probably not impervious to Hellerman’s piercing diagnosis. Of all the books I read in 2013, this gave me the most chills, the most hope, and the most excitement for the future. But it cost me dearly.
The Trinity is simultaneously the most important Christian belief, and the most difficult to understand (one might think). Reeves delivers it simpler than vanilla, and more delicious than salted caramel. In fact, his adjectives often remind me of food, with lines like, “Such is the spreading goodness that rolls out of the very being of God” (29), or “The Father, Son and Spirit have always been in delicious harmony” (59). These simple, yet vivid descriptions of the relationships between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit will cause you to reel in joy, and desire to get caught up into the same.
Biblical Theology (BT) is that area of study that looks at how the entire Bible is unified by a single story. There are some BT books that show you the story or themes unfolding through the Bible in a narrative fashion. Others, like this one, show you how to interpret the story itself. Not only does Lawrence nail this topic, but he is very comprehensive, including exegesis, systematics, and other areas of Bible study that intersect with BT. He masterfully lays it all out with practical, and fascinating precision. This is a book I am constantly referencing.
If you preach, you might consider this method. Preaching without notes brings the speaker to life, allows engagement with the listeners, and forces the preacher to condense their (oft-times scattered) ideas to a single, unforgettable point. Even the days I choose to use notes–which has it’s own merits–I still reference this book for it’s helpful methods. To preach without notes, there must be a fundamental shift in the way you think about the sermon itself, and that affects how you construct one. Unlike many books on preaching, this one is as practical as you get–if you really want to preach without notes, this one will do it for you in a week.
If you like to write, blog, or even tweet, I suggest you read this book. “Why on earth would I read about something as dry and lifeless as punctuation,” you say? Because stylistic punctuation, as this book argues, is what breathes life into your sentences. You’ve never been more romanced by a semi-colon or thrilled to wield a dash than after reading this book. The best part is, Lukeman writes the book with flair and style, often using punctuation in the very way he instructs throughout the book. For example, there are nicknames for every punctuation mark; the period is the Stop Sign; the semicolon is The Bridge; the dash is The Interrupter. And of course, there is a cornucopia of classic writers to give you examples of all of these.
These are on this list, because they are game-changers, and it would be a crime to keep them off even though the ones above were my first choices.
- The Cross of Christ, by John R.W. Stott
- Paul and Union with Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study, Constantine R. Campbell.
Obviously, I haven’t read every book that has ever been written, so take my list with an appropriate grain of that salt. Here’s the list I was working from.