In the past couple of months I have been enjoying a renaissance in my outside reading. Reading is of course an occupational hazard but the reading I do for sermon prep often crowds out mental energy for other reading. Recently, though, I have been enjoying a number of books and thought I'd take a moment to share some of them.
On the purely entertaining end of the spectrum, Kelsey and I have enjoyed some suspense novels that we read aloud together. A while back we had read "Gone Girl" and enjoyed it, so recently we have been on a kick of reading similar offerings from world of mystery/suspense.
On a more substantial level, a good friend recommended a book that Kelsey and I have been reading separately called "Half The Church" by Carolyn Custis James. This compelling book explores God's design for men and women in the church, interacting heavily with Scripture as well as the state of women globally today. Kelsey and I are also reading a book that "Half The Church" is in part inspired by called "Half The Sky" written by journalists Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. We are only a couple of chapters in and already our eyes are being opened wider to the plight of many people, women in particular who are oppressed in the world of trafficking and slavery. In a couple of weeks when I preach on gender, sexuality and marriage I will be sharing some of the insights gained from these books.
On my own, I have been reading a couple of books recommended by friends that have nourished my spiritual life greatly. The first is Charlie Davis' excellent book "Making Disciples Across Cultures" that I read last year and that formed the foundation of our 6/12 groups in our new discipleship initiative. It is a rich resource indeed for which I am grateful! One, that I am still not done with is "Praying With Paul" by D.A. Carson. I had studied the prayers of Paul years ago as a spur to my prayer life. Carson, with his unique blend of a scholar's mind and a pastor's heart has brought them to life in a powerful way for me that has been part of a renewal of my prayer life in recent months.
One other that I recently finished is called "Growing the Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit". It has served to challenge me in both my thinking as well as in my approach to ministry and leadership and to ask whether I really operate as though Jesus, by His Spirit, is leading the church, or whether I am. It is admittedly of a charismatic bent, but the core principles the authors (Brad Long, Paul Stokes and Cindy Strickler) expound are all solidly biblical and hard to argue with. The basic idea is absurdly simple and should be obvious to us: the Holy Spirit is alive and well and stands ready to lead and empower the church of Jesus Christ to advance His kingdom if we will let him. Resonating in my mind as I read it was the caution Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 5 not to "quench the Spirit". I share the following passage form the book with you to give a flavor of what I mean. In it they contrast the attitudes of "gullibility" and "skepticism" regarding the Holy Spirit. Listen as they challenge us:
By 'gullibility' we mean the attitude that simply assumes that everything that is claimed to be from God truly is from God. Certainly this is not always the case. So if we are diligently obedient to this so-called 'guidance' we receive, then sometimes we will be acting on the basis of inauthentic guidance, pursuing wrong agendas and speaking inappropriate or even harmful words. Similarly, if we fail to be critically discerning, we place ourselves at the mercy of everyone who claims to have a word from the Lord, leaving the church vulnerable to the whims of manipulative individuals. This all-embracing attitude easily gives way to an emphasis on emotionalism (in contrast with the proper freedom to allow emotions as an authentic part of our whole-person worship). And most damaging of all, this approach can bring discredit to Jesus when alleged 'guidance' is gullibly embraced yet turns out to be fictitious. No wonder the Bible instructs us to 'test everything' (1 These. 5:21) and to 'test the spirits to see whether they are from God' (1 John 4:1).
By 'skepticism' we mean the attitude that assumes either that God no longer speaks and that every purported word from the Lord is unreal, or that we cannot be certain and therefore are better off avoiding the issue. These approaches have sometimes emerged as a well-intentioned way of protecting the church from the dangers of deception and abuse, yet they themselves are dangerous because they place us in opposition to the Holy Spirit's ongoing activity of distributing spiritual gifts and making real the lordship and leadership of Jesus Christ. Skepticism can give way to a proud intellectualism that exalts human reason above divine sovereignty. It also frustrates the effectiveness of the body of Christ by depriving the church of the very resources Jesus intended us to have. Thus the Bible instructs us: 'Do not put out the Spirit's fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.' (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). Likewise, we should, 'be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues' (1 Cor. 14:39).
So that's what I've been reading. It is said that at the end of your life you will be the same person as at birth except for the people you've met and the books you've read. It is impossible not to be affected in some way by books. Therefore, it has also been said that books are dangerous as they tend to upset our normal patterns of thinking. Of course the most dangerous book ever written does exactly that and indicates that allowing our thinking to be shaped by it is a positive transformation called "growth". And the people of the church, being committed to that Good Book, help one another appropriate its way of thinking in relationships and occasionally by writing their own books. Have you read anything good lately?