Archives For Books

GileadThis is the first fiction work to be included as our Book of the Month. I’m sure it won’t be the last. After years of people telling me that I need to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, I finally did (the book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way). Quite simply: This is far and away one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s in my top three, for sure. Having just finished it this weekend, I’m still feeling emotional and inspired.

Like all good fiction, Gilead pulls you away from the strains of every day life so that you can see life in a new light and then be thrust back into life with a new sense of appreciation and wonder. Here’s how Robinson does it.

Gilead is written as a memoir from an old preacher writing to his young son after having been diagnosed with an illness that will soon end his life. John Ames, the preacher, writes to explain himself to the son who will be too young at the time of his death to understand who his father was. He writes about his preacher father, his preacher grandfather, the small and quirky town in which they live, the old and dilapidated church and its history, etc.

The storyline itself is fairly simply and endearing. It’s Robinson’s fascinating ability to draw her readers casually into the deep mysteries of life and faith that give this book its power. Here are just a couple of examples from near the end of the book. The Reverend Ames tells his son:

“I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.”

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

These are just a couple of the gems Robinson offers in this masterful book. The plot and character development are wonderful, and the pacing of the book itself is a breath of fresh air. Robinson has a calm writing style, and John Ames’ simple outlook on life as he reflects on a long life in a quiet but often troubled town is oddly life-giving.

Marilynne Robinson

I would have a hard time explaining exactly why I love this book as much as I do, but I’m certain that I have closed the back cover with a greater appreciation for life, a greater respect for the mysteries of God, an increased love for the Creator, and who knows what else. I am also certain that I will be re-reading this book multiple times.

If you love reading fiction, this is a must read. If you have not yet learned to love fiction, this would be an excellent place to start. And if you need to be convinced of why fiction matters, click here for some wise words from C. S. Lewis.

The Freedom of Self-ForgetfulnessIf you want to gain some powerful insight in a very short amount of time, I’m going to recommend you read The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller. It’s very short—as in, you’ll likely be able to read the whole thing in an hour or two. And it’s inexpensive—as in, $1.62 on Kindle at the moment I’m writing this.

Like everything I’ve read from Keller, this book is powerful. It’s well thought out, it is right on the money in terms of its description of the human condition, and its advice for growth is saturated in the gospel. Here’s my pitch: If you have two dollars and two hours, you can’t afford to skip this little book.

Keller’s argument runs like this…

We’ve all heard it said that our human problems are caused by low self-esteem. What we need is to believe in ourselves, to be more self-confident, to grow in our self-esteem. But Tim Keller argues that there is no evidence to say that low self-esteem causes problems, nor is there evidence that high self-esteem would solve anything.

We don’t need to think more highly of ourselves, but neither do we need to become more self-deprecating. What we need, Keller says, it to think about ourselves less. Worrying about yourself, protecting your own interests, making a name for yourself—there is incredible freedom in letting go of these pursuits and instead choosing to love and serve others.

Keller’s book focuses on Paul’s statements in 1 Corinthians 4. In particular, Keller finds Paul’s basis for self-forgetfulness in verses 3–4:

“With me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me.”

Essentially, Paul is saying, “I’m not worried about your verdict on my life. Nor am I worried about my own verdict on my life. The only verdict that matters is God’s.” When we can live in confidence that only God’s view of our lives matters, then we are free to stop trying to prove ourselves.

We are constantly trying to prove ourselves to other people. They are trying to hold us to some standard (or at least, we often think they are trying to hold us to some standard), so we do our best to show them that we’re good enough. But we’re not good enough, so we disappoint them. We also try to live up to our own standards, but we also fail miserably at that, so we disappoint ourselves.

Paul’s words are revolutionary at this point: I don’t care what you think about me. But I also don’t care what I think about me. The only thing I care about is what God thinks about me. And because God has given his own Son to reconcile me to God and make me holy before him, God is pleased with me. That’s all that matters.

Tim KellerKeller explains that Christianity is the only religion in which the verdict precedes the performance. In every religion, if you perform well enough throughout your life, you receive the verdict that God (or the gods, or some impersonal force) is pleased with you, that you’re good enough. But in Christianity, the verdict comes first. God declares himself to be pleased with us before we perform anything but wicked deeds. He loves us while we are still sinners. And then that verdict enables the performance.

All of this frees us from having to prove ourselves. It frees us from having to make a name for ourselves. It frees us from having to look out for ourselves. We belong to God and he is pleased with us and he has given us a mission to accomplish. We can and must spend our lives in pursuit of something greater than ourselves.

 

 

Walls Fall Down

Mark Beuving —  September 10, 2014 — Leave a comment

Walls Fall Down - RutherfordI want to share a book that originated close to home: Walls Fall Down by Dudley Rutherford. Dudley is the pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, just over the hill from us here at Eternity Bible College. We’ve had a great relationship with Shepherd of the Hills over the years, so I was pleased to have a chance to review Pastor Dudley’s new book.

Walls Fall Down is meant to help you address the struggles in your life in a God-honoring way. Each time a trial arises, we have to choose to respond in a godly way. Too often our responses are less than Christian—we succumb to fear, we hold a small view of God, we try to “go it alone,” or we fail to follow God’s instructions in the midst of our struggles. Walls Fall Down offers powerful direction for those who want to overcome the struggles in their lives in a way that glorifies God.

The approach of Walls Fall Down is unique. Rather than simply listing out helpful tips for addressing trials, Dudley uses the Battle of Jericho recorded in Joshua 6 as an analogy of what it looks like to rely on God in a trying situation.

Now, it’s important to recognize that the book of Joshua is a narrative. In other words, it’s telling us a story—a gripping story that still has much relevance for us today. But the historical accounts in the book of Joshua are not primarily intended to give us advice on facing life’s problems. They tell us stories about God’s greatness and about the people who trusted in God (or who failed to do so). Nevertheless, there are principles to be gleaned throughout these ancient stories, and Walls Fall Down does an excellent job of carefully observing this great battle and drawing out principles that we need to consider as we navigate our modern world.

For example, Dudley paints a vivid picture of the highly fortified walls of Jericho and explains that Israel had to see their God as more powerful than the military fortifications of their opponents. Then he draws a parallel: we too, must view God as bigger than our problems. So true and so helpful! Similarly, Dudley observes that God’s plan seemed ridiculous (march around the city for seven days, blow trumpets, and the walls will fall down on their own!), but the Israelites had to follow God’s seemingly nonsensical instructions precisely if they wanted victory. So we today must trust God’s instructions—even when they seem crazy—if we want to glorify God in this life.

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley Rutherford, pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Church

Dudley also begins each chapter with a fictionalized account that helps readers feel what it must have been like to be an Israelite during this unique moment in history. I found these sections, and the analogies drawn with the battle of Jericho, to be helpful as I considered what it requires to follow God’s leading today.

Now, there were one or two points where this format felt a bit limiting. For example, Dudley offers the reader true and priceless advice: as we follow Jesus in this life, we need to rely on the guidance of seasoned “veterans,” Christians who have gone before us, who have followed God in similar situations and found him to be faithful. Wonderful advice; point well taken. However, I don’t see anything in the biblical account of Joshua 6 that indicates that this dynamic was in play. It may have been happening, but the story of Jericho seems to show that God gave Israel the victory not because of their strategy, but because God was working miraculously through unusual means. So while it is true that we must look to the wisdom of seasoned saints (other biblical passages teach this), I don’t see it in Joshua 6. What this means to me is that Dudley’s teaching is sound and insightful, but that the analogy breaks down at some point (as they all do).

I’m glad Dudley wasn’t a slave to the format of the book and still chose to include powerful insights like this. Because the book is more than an exposition of Joshua 6, such additions work well. The format of comparing our modern life with this ancient battle makes the overall message of the book more powerful, and in the few places where Dudley took the liberty of reaching beyond the confines of the analogy, the message of the book is strengthened even further.

So if you’re looking for a compelling retelling of the Battle of Jericho, and if you want to focus your mind on what it takes to pursue God in the midst of trying circumstances, Walls Fall Down would be a great place to start. Dudley Rutherford and Shepherd of the Hills Church have had a powerful ministry for many years, and this book flows out of and will continue the work God has been doing there.

I’ve written a bit about Francis and Lisa Chan’s new book, You & Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity. The book is now available, and you definitely need to read it, whether you’re married, engaged, think you might someday be married, or know someone who is or will be. This book is perspective changing, and I’m excited for people everywhere to begin digging into it.

I just came across this 13 minute video that really conveys the heart of the book. The stories in this video are so powerful. They will inspire you to see your marriage as bigger than your own happiness. God has a purpose for you and your marriage. A mission to pursue. He wants to change lives through your marriage, and not just your own. I’m so thankful for people like this who challenge us to see our lives and marriages as God sees them.

Settle in with a box of tissues and watch this video, then order the book below.

You and Me Forever from You and Me Forever on Vimeo.

 

Order the book now at Amazon or at youandmeforever.org.

You & Me Forever Cover - Francis & Lisa Chan

 

I am excited about the upcoming release of You & Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan. The book will release next week: August 26. And while I think the cover design is excellent, I wish Francis hadn’t chosen to use a hand model. So here is my proposed cover revision (which will also require a reformatting of the page layout due to its unconventional height).

 

You & Me Forever Cover Revision

 

This is just a mockup, of course, since nobody knows the actual length of “Francis Fingers.” (Though there are rumors that he can palm an ESV Study Bible.)

Francis Fingers

 

You & Me Forever releases next week (Aug 26), and it will be available at regular book outlets and at youandmeforever.org (100% of the net proceeds will fund important projects around the world). For more on the book, and why I think this particular marriage book is vital for the church today, click here.

 

DISCLAIMER: I am a huge fan of Francis Chan and the message God has given him to preach. His fingers make him neither more nor less adequate as a minister of the gospel. God looks not on the length of the fingers, but on the heart.