Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Favorite pieces of fiction

Giving others a recommendation on a fiction book is like recommending a favorite movie. On countless occasions, a recommended movie has been a flop, not because the movie couldn't have been moving, but because I was not in the same place as the previous watcher.

A piece of fiction is often powerful because it comes to a reader at an important moment in their life. It wasn't only powerful because of the literature itself, but God's unique providence was in play in having you read that book when you did.

All that to say, here are my top 7 favorite authors in years gone by, a few of their works, and why they spoke to me. I offer the names of authors first because usually the greatest authors write more than one compelling book. This shows that they have the ability to understand and depict life in a way that gets at the recesses of our souls.

Chaim Potok: The first book I read of his was, My Name is Asher Lev. This book spoke to some of my own father issues, some of my own issues in developing my own faith with the LORD, and the importance of being authentic before God and others. Other books by Chaim Potok that have been powerful for me are: The Chosen, The Gift of Asher Lev, and The Promise.

Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo may be the best book I've ever read on the nature of justice, revenge, and mercy. So too, it may be stand out as the best book overall I've ever read to date. I was quite disappointed in The Three Musketeers after reading The Count. Where The Count seems to celebrate character and truth, The Three Musketeers reads like a book about fame, sexual conquest, and boyhood antics.

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Great Divorce, his Space Trilogy are my favorites. Lewis shows that there is deep truth ("deep magic") that touches the soul of every person. These deep truths are better presented in stories than in non-fictional prose.

J.K. Rowling: I've read through all 7 Harry Potter books twice and am rereading all 7 aloud with my wife currently. These are some of the best books in recent years on the importance of friendship and sacrifice. Those who get hung up on the "witchcraft" should know that it only serves as a backdrop to a powerful tale of good vs. evil, where good triumphs.

George MacDonald: Only in recent years have I been enjoying this amazing author. Lilith and Sir Gibbie (a very trying read because he writes in a Scottish dialect), Thomas Winfield, Curate, and The Princess and the Goblin are all great reads. MacDonald touches on deep spiritual issues without giving pat answers.

Jane Austen: I think I've read all but one of her romantic comedies. She teaches us that dreams do come true, bad company corrupts good character, and that character is the foundation for deep relationships.

JRR Tolkien: Though I've never been a huge fan of The Hobbit (fun story, but not that moving), The Lord of the Rings trilogy makes my heart sing every time I read through it.

What are the 2-3 fiction books that have spoken deeply to you in your life?

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Two Ways for Understanding Evil

Charles Manson understood evil. Mother Teresa understood evil.
Adam and Eve understood evil. Jesus Christ understood evil.

There are two ways for understanding evil. 

The first way, the simplistic way, is to embrace evil. We lie, steal, cheat, commit adultery, and the like. We've tasted it and relished it. We "know" something others don't. We have a knowledge of evil because we have eaten its fruit.

The second way, the harder, more complex way, is to avoid evil and embrace the good. We refuse to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. We allow the temptation to take a bite to reach fever pitch, but in the end we have a sense that we can have a greater knowledge of evil by refusing to leave the narrow road of good. This path is more complex because we actually take a bite of goodness and that bite of goodness tastes so sweet and so wonderful that we see the danger of taking another road. The narrow path seems to be the higher path where we can look down and see the carnage of the wide road that leads to destruction. We "know" more fully the power of good and the depth of despair evil produces.

I believe this is why God told Adam and Eve to not take the bite of the knowledge of good and evil because when they did they would (and did) surely die. There was a simplistic and deadly knowledge achieved in that bite...a bite that took them and all their children (us) on a deadly path. If only they took the higher road??

Our only hope now is in the One who was tempted but without sin, whose knowledge of good and evil was so thorough that He would never take a bite of evil. And yet, though He never took a bite of evil and never wandered on the wide road to destruction, He took our deserved death and judgment. He experienced the sting of death and sin so that we could return to the path of goodness. Turn to Him. Leave the simplistic, common, and deadly path of destruction. See Christ as the Good our hearts truly desire. Jesus willingly accepts anyone who wants to leave the wide road and puts them on the narrow road to life.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Best 4 sentences on baptism ever...

"Baptism tries to tell us that the Christian life is at times discordant, dissonant, and disrupting. When one joins Rotary, or the League of Women Voters, they give you a membership card and lapel pin. When one joins the Body of Christ, we throw you under, half drown you, strip you naked and wash you all over, pull you forth sticky and fresh like a newborn. One might think people would get the message." William Willimon in Pastor: The Theology and Practice of Ordained Ministry 

Pretty good Baptist theology for a baby-sprinkling, Methodist Bishop :)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

What do the Proctors do on Sabbath?

I was recently asked what *Sabbath* looks like for the Proctors. The *Sabbath is one 24 hour period we take each week that looks a bit different than the other six days. Here's Sabbath in a nutshell for our family. Maybe it will encourage others to embrace something similar...

We have no big rules on Sabbath.

We do work hard to "try" and have most of the house cleaning, laundry, and house projects at a place where they can go on hold. We still cook do dishes and pick up here and there on Sabbath.

Each family needs to create their own day, but we try to make our two priorities playing and praying--enjoying the wonder of God the Creator (the purpose of Sabbath as hinted in Exodus 20) and worshipping God the redeemer (the purpose of Sabbath as explained in Deut. 5). Play and pray; wonder and worship.

Our Sabbaths never looks the same. But some common items are: we eat good foods (often by candle light), take naps, go on walks, play games, share what we're thankful for, spend time with people we love, read good books, read the Good Book, eat out, enjoy nature, watch a family movie, etc.

The things we say "no" to are areas that "feel" like work. So on Sabbath I like to exercise; Carrie does not. I like to rake leaves and mow the yard, but many might not. Carrie likes to cook; if I'm in charge, we order out or in. But as far as possible, our daily work areas are laid aside and we rest in God's sovereign watch care over our lives and the universe. (I'm guessing most 9-5 folks should stay away from the work related to their career and most students shouldn't have to do homework, play their instrument or perform on a field--unless these are acts of wonder and worship and bring rest to the soul.)

Sabbath is for man...indeed. Lord, thank you.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Respect in the Wicked City - Genesis 19

Should Christians be respected? Yes and no.

Yes. Though Christians are sinful people who are by no way perfect, Christians have a responsibility to lead blameless lives, without a hint of sexual immorality or greed because these are improper for God's holy people. Our speech should be filled with wisdom, kindness, and discretion. Our conduct should be above reproach. We should seek to serve friends, coworkers, and our community. And when we fail privately and publicly (and we will), we must confess our faults, ask for forgiveness from God and others, and seek to start over by the grace of God for the good of others.

No. Christians are called to such a different goals and purposes that it seems impossible for non-Christians to look with favor on all that Christians do. Respect is a tricky thing. As Christians, we should live godly, sincere, and uncompromised lives. If in the end we gain respect in the world, so be it. But I'm guessing on more occasions than not, we will be hated, ridiculed and rejected for godliness. In the end we should not live to please men, but to please God.

A Biblical Example:

This leads me to the historical account of the patriarch Abraham's nephew Lot. Lot appears to be both a man of faith and a man of the world. He followed Abraham on the great adventure to the Promised Land. And yet, his greedy heart led him to willingly enter a well-known wicked city: Sodom (see Gen. 13). Not only that, but Genesis 19:1 suggests that he was respected in this city and allowed to sit at the city gates.

History and personal experience have regularly shown that to be respected in a wicked city often requires some measure of compromise. Maybe we are quiet when we should speak up regarding injustice. Maybe we "join in" only a little. We think we are above the fray, but Lot's story should wake us up.

Lot and his family became sexually compromised by living in a sexually compromised city. He offered his daughters to be raped, and then lo and behold, he was date raped by his own daughters in days to come. His own wife loved the city more than the command of God and lost her life. So too, Lot's faith seemed to ebb in Sodom and without God's sovereign grace (an angel pulling him out of the city), he might not have lived.

All this to say, beware of seeking respect in the wicked city.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Books Finished Oct-Dec 2012

So this is what happens when you don't do this every month...you can't remember. Here's my best guess

Book 2 (North! or Be Eaten) and Book 3 (The Monster in the Hollows) of the Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson (amazing series books...buy them!!)

The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald

Thomas Wingfold, Curate by George MacDonald

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (amazing writer, but a foolish attempt to ignore the power of the sinful nature and the reality of a divine sovereign)

Preaching and Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (one of the best books on preaching...read once to disagree with the bold opinions, read twice to feast on deep insights)

Desiring God by John Piper (I re-read the updated edition...a book worth re-reading every 5 years)

And! by Halter and Smay (good book on the gathered and scattered church)

A short biography on William Booth

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg - stellar book on spiritual growth

Hmm, that's all I can remember.