Here is a rundown of the 10 books I read. The total is aided by a few really thin volumes. It was a great collection of books. Happy reading!
Predators in our Pulpit: A Compelling Call to Follow Christ in These Perilous Times by W. Phillip Keller
This book has sat in my Amazon Wishlist for years. Something made me finally click the purchase button … I’m glad I did. This book carries a 1988 copyright date but reads like fulfilled prophecy in 2019. I see it as collection of Tweets (from an era before Tweets) that compile into a powerful statement for purity in the pulpit and purity in the pews.
On every hand we have people calling out for us to condone the corruption in our world. We are told to be tolerant of others in a multicultural society even in their beliefs and behaviors bring us down into destruction. We are urged to wink at wrong and sweep subversion under the carpet of contemporary broadmindedness, while all the time we teeter on the cliff’s edge of anarchy. All sorts of strange voices cry out to insist on their entrenched civil liberties. They shout the they have every right to do wrong even if it demolished human dignity, destroys the last remnant of social decency, and deprives other of their rights.
Imagine 152 pages of more of the same. Yet, the books does not merely address the preacher. The first part of the book looks at the role of the leader and specifically the high calling under God. The second part looks at the role of the laity and specifically the cost of following Christ.
GOD WORKS IN MISCHIEVOUS WAYS: A MEMOIR BY PAUL POWELL
After many years serving the local church in the role of pastor, Paul Powell did a number of things including serving as the dean of George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University from 2001 to 2007. I entered my first year of seminary at Truett in 2006. My most vivid memories involve Powell complimenting me on my attire. Powell desperately wanted Truett to have a dress code that included long pants and collared shirts. I could have been a poster boy.
I picked up this memoir one evening and read it from start to finish (this is the second time I’ve done just that with this volume). It is filled with Powell’s trademark humor and stories of pastoring Texas Baptist churches big and small. It is a powerful testimony of faithfully serving the Lord through pastoral ministry. I really enjoy such books. While Powell spent years serving in a large church, Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas, I appreciate his stories from serving in small, rural churches not too far from my own church. The volume is filled with wisdom. I’m shocked by how many simple statements and stories in this memoir carry such weight in light of the daily grind of pastoral ministry.
Plus its down right quotable. I like this gem: “I’ve since learned the goal of most churches is to meet next Sunday, and they are alway reaching their goal.”
If you are interested in great small church stories also check out books like Forty Years a Country Preacher by George Gilbert and Memoirs of An Ordinary Pastor: The Life and Reflections of Tom Carson by DA Carson.
Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Lovingkindness by Michael Card
This is an extremely early candidate for the book of the year. Card is an award wining musician and performing artists. His songs are known for keen biblical insights. I first came across his writing when I read his commentary on Luke in the Biblical Imagination series. I appreciate his heart and varied areas of interest and skill.
This volume is a deep dive into the Hebrew word hesed. It is a description/characteristic of God that is referenced throughout the Old Testament. Yet, the word is so weighty that it is often translated in various ways. It is translated as love, lovingkindness, enduring love, steadfast love, unfailing love, covenantal faithfulness, and generous mercy to name just a few. Card uses the following working definition of heed: “When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” While that seems a bit ethereal and esoteric, the book is nothing but a biblical understanding of the character of God.
Card comes at the topic of hesed from many different angles and all of it is helpful. My only complaint is that the three chapters focus on the work of Rabbis. I wish Card would have cut the final three chapters and ended with the chapters focused upon Jesus.
On top of being biblical and helpful, the book is downright beautiful in prose. Here is a sample from the preface:
The most profound mysteries are not hidden away in remote, secret places; they are mostly an unrecognized part of everyday life. We fret over mowing the lawn and miss the deep mystery of how the grass grows. We seek to shush a weeping baby but rarely ask where the tears come form and what they could possibly mean.
Most mysterious of all are the sound see make with our teeth and tongue, the symbols we scratch across a legal pad and peck out on a keyboard. They seem the most ordinary part of our world ~ words ~ but they are a mystery. At this moment I am writing them and you are reading them the thoughts that my words elicit in your brain are composed words. In fact, we count even think without them
This book is founded on this inexpressible mystery in general and on perhaps the most mysterious and inexpressible word of all, the Hebrew word hesed.
When God is Silent by Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara Brown Taylor is revered figure in the world of homiletics. She was named by Baylor University as one the the twelve most effective preachers in the English speaking world. While her preaching is not my preferred style, this book is profound. I picked it up early one Friday morning and finished it in about an hour and a half. It doesn’t give answer but favors deep reflection. In fact, she speaks about preachers being too quick to dish out answers:
Too often, I believe, preachers get into the business of giving answers instead of ushering people into the presence of the God who may or may not answer. We have somehow fallen into the trap of believing that we are responsible for God’s silence ~ that if those under our care do not have a sense of God’s presence, then it is because we have failed them somewhere ~ failed at Bible study, failed at prayer, failed in our preaching to bring the invisible God close enough to touch. When God falls silent, we too often compensate by talking more, which may be the very worst thing we can do. Who are we, to insert ourselves between God’s silence and those from whole the silence is intended?
At another point she offers:
Silence has become God’s final defense against our idolatry. By limiting our speech, God gets some relief from our descriptive assaults. By hiding inside a veil of glory, God eludes our projections. God deflects our attempts to control by withdrawing into silence, knowing that notions gets to us like the failure of speech. When we run out of words, then and perhaps only then can God be God.
An Unhurried Leader: The Lasting Fruit of Daily Influence by Alan Fadling
Fading is president and founder of Unhurried Linving in Mission Viejo, California and fills his schedule leading churches and organizations in the area of spiritual formation. This book follows his book An Unhurried Life. The author and his previous book was unknown to me when I picked up this volume.
For those unfamiliar with the discipline of spiritual formation, this would be a informative introduction to the topic and how it impacts spiritual leadership. For those well versed in the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Ruth Haley Barton and others, this volume does not add much. Great content but another book among many in the genre.
The book is concise and clearly written. The content is solid ~ chapters discuss leading from abundance, leading in His presence, unhurried influence, how grace empowers leadership, and prayer as a primary influence (among others). If I had to recommend a book on a similar topic ~ I’d point you to Barton’s Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.
Your God Is Too Small by JB Phillips
I love this classic, thin volume from JB Phillips. The premise: Far too many people are crippled by a limited understanding of God. Rather than having the full understanding of the God of the Bible, many have settled for caricatures and cliches. Phillips spends the majority of the book dismantling such misguided notions as God as the resident policeman, the grand old man, God in a box, and the managing director. With the destruction of the limited God complete, Philipps contracts a more helpful and accurate picture.
The first half of the book is worth the admission charge. I too find that many people reject God but they reject a god that is foreign to the pages of Scripture and foreign to God With Us, Jesus Christ. We’d all benefit from checking our understanding of God with the straw men that Phillips tears down. The construction of an accurate picture of God in the second half of the book is a bit too philosophical at points. I’d prefer Phillips to give a very clear description of Jesus Christ as “the image of the invisible God (See Colossians 1:15).
The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
Brother Lawrence learned a valuable lesson as a humble cook and shoe repairman: the time spent in communion with the Lord should be the same, whether performing menial tasks or on your knees in prayer. The volume provides great instruction on how to practice the presence of God.
The book is comprised of four parts: a handful remembrances of conversation with Brother Lawerence, a collection of his letters, a collection of his spiritual maxims, and a record of his life written by a dear friend shorty after Lawrence’s death. The pages reveal a humble man that sought first the kingdom of God. Throughout the work you find simple yet profound statement like, “I have been serving God simply, in humility and faith. Out of love, I try not to say, do or think anything that might offend him. My only request is that He do whatever He please with me.” You also find, “If I were a preacher, I would preach nothing but practicing the presence of God. If I were to be responsible for guiding souls in the right direction, I would urge everyone to be aware of God’s constant presence, if for no other reason than because His presence is a delight to our souls and spirits.”
I’ve probably read this one a half dozen times. I benefited from it each time.
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
After reading Into the Wild and Into Thin Air last year, I decided to read through the work of Krakauer. This volume proves that to be a wise decision. Into Thin Air made my favorites of the year list in 2018 and this a candidate for the 2019 list. While the subject matter was almost unbearable at points, this work is a tremendous feat of journalism and writing. In particular, Under the Banner of Heaven, discusses a 1984 murder of a woman and her infant daughter by two brothers, Mormon fundamentalists, who believed they were ordered to kill by God himself. In general, this work researchers the history of Mormonism and its followers.
I almost stopped reading at a number of points early in the volume. The content was tremendous but depicted things that I’d rather not contemplate ~ to include details of polygamy and what I would consider child rape. While never graphic, the material is simply hard to stomach. Yet, pressing on, I gained insight into the formation and underpinning of Mormonism. I stated over and over while reading: How can millions of Americans follow such a religion? While I’m sure Mormons would disagree with much of the material in the book, there is too much fact to ignore.
On top of a great read about Mormonism this books is also a case study in the danger of those who far too loosely use “God told me” language.
Three Cups of Deceit by Jon Krakauer
Here’s another volume in my quest to read the works of Jon Krakauer. This particular book might only appeal to a small group of people ~ but I’m counted in that number. Greg Mortensen, the bestselling author of Three Cups of Tea, made of fortune from books sales and his reputation as a school builder and generous humanitarian. His “work” even landed him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. Yet, Jon Krakauer would tell you, that’s quite an accomplishment for someone prone to spinning tall tales.
Three Cups of Deceit is the result of countless interviews with former employees, board members, and others with insider information on Mortensen and his charity, Central Asia Institute. Krakauer exposes flat out lies, misrepresentations, and all sorts of deception and faulty practices. While the book reads like Krakauer has a major axe to grind, I’m glad he’s choosing to grind it. As a pastor of small church, my time and energy is poured to the work of the church that is fueled by the generous donations of the congregation (and a heavy dose of the Holy Spirit). I go through painstaking efforts to make sure that we are above board in every single penny that is spent. It pains me to see an organization such as CAI be so careless with money spent.
The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe
This book came unto my radar after I read Scott Kelly’s memoir, Endurance, that mentioned how this book formed dreams of space into his mind as a young boy. I found an old copy in a load of books a church member dropped off for me to look through. Pastor Perk.
Wolfe’s literary and journalism masterpiece is about the United States’ upstart space program that put the first man into space in 1961. It provides the insider view into the world of John Glenn, Alan Shepherd, Gus Grissom and other Mercury astronauts. Its fascinating to see how these men were fighter pilots one day and astronauts the next. I personally loved the section that provided insights to the life of the astronauts’ family and particularly the astronauts’ wives. Can you imagine being the wife of these astronauts as their husband are stropped to can of metal and shot into space?
I also found the portions related to John Glenn fascinating. At many points his Christian faith (Presbyterianism in particular) is on full display in both word and deed. Yet, it is mocked around every corner. The book even takes a few jabs at John Calvin!