Here’s a rundown of the 9 books I read in June. I took a break from Caro’s LBJ series. I’ll pick it back up in July. Happy reading!
Developing Female Leaders: Navigate the Minefields and Release the Potential of Women in Your Church by Kadi Cole
Using data provided by interviews and surveys of more than one thousand women in key church and organizational roles, Cole has provided eight “best practices” that help develop female leaders. This is a front runner for my book of the year. In a subtle way, the book is extremely theological but never pushy. It makes room for a wide range of perspectives on women in ministry. Yet, it is downright helpful for everyone.
The eight best practices: seek to understand, clearly define what you believe, mine the marketplace, integrate spiritual formation and leadership development, be an “other,” create an environment of safety, upgrade your people practices, and take on your culture. The book is eight chapters long and cover each practice. Of course, you need to read the chapter to fully understand the practices.
In many ways Cole helpfully challenges current best practices and frequently stated assumptions. She even takes on the Modesto Manifesto, better known as The Billy Graham Rules. While she appreciates the boundaries and protections provide by the rules, she argues that we live in a different time and a different culture. Thus, she provides a few adjustments. For example, the Billy Graham Rule exhorts to never travel, meet, or eat alone with a woman (all of Graham’s crew were male). Cole counters with “always take two.” This challenges leaders to bring someone along in development as we go about leadership. She says, “If you are headed to the hospital to visit someone, don’t waste the opportunity. Take a younger leader along with you, talk on the way, explain how you prepare for this kind of ministry. Let him or her watch you serve the family, and then debrief with that person on the way back to the office. This kind of mentoring is powerful. Plus, personal time invested communicates all sorts of value to an up-and-coming leader.” This is just a glimpse of the helpful tips.
The Cross and the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants by Kenneth Bailey
Bailey spent 40 years living and teaching in seminaries and institutes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem and Cyprus. He knows a thing or two about the Middle East. He wrote more than 150 articles in English and Arabic. He knows a thing or two about scholarship. Yet, this volume also shows a tremendous pastoral heart and a creative mind.
The cultural and biblical exegesis in this volume is topnotch scholarship. Yet, perhaps even more fascinating, is the final 60 pages which provide a one act play in four scenes written by Bailey to further plunge the depth of the parable of the prodigal son. As the jacket copy states, “He highlights the underlying tensions between law and love, servanthood and sonship, honor and forgiveness that grant this story such timeless spiritual and theological power.”
This is one of those volumes in which you must read without a pen. Otherwise, you will underline, star, and circle nearly every paragraph, line, and phrase. For those preaching Luke 15, this is required study. For those interested in learning more about the prodigal story, this is a useful tool for the toolbox.
Spurgeon Commentary: Philippians edited by Phil Johnson
This is a 2015 production printed by Lexham press. As a book nerd, I love everything about it. The cover is attractive and the formatting is clean and helpful. It is extremely well-designed. On top of that, the content is excellent.
From the introduction: “The great 19th-century Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon crammed a remarkable amount of writing and speaking into his 57 years. His words fill more than 100 volumes. Although his sermons and writing touch on every book of the Bible at some point, he wrote commentaries only on Psalms and Matthew. It can be difficult to find his teachings on other biblical books within his extensive corpus.” Thus, the Spurgeon Commentary Series complies Spurgeon’s sermons and writings and organizes them into a commentary format. Each section of the commentary includes exposition, illustration, and application.
It is a tremendous help to those preaching through Philippians. Here is a taste of the writing: “In the old pictures they put a halo around the head of the saints. But, in fact, that halo encircles their hearts, and penetrates every member of their bodies. The halo of disinterested consecration to Christ should not be about their brows alone, to adorn their portraits, for it encompassed their entire being, their spirit, soul, and body. It environed them, their whole being. ‘I do one thing,’ was the motto of early saints. Let it be your motto.”
The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen
Preaching through the parable of the prodigal son lead me to reread this classic for perhaps the fifth or sixth time.
Nouwen mixes a love for the parable with a fascination with Rembrandt’s painting on the subject. The volume is a wonderful mix of memoir, art history, and biblical studies. After a random encounter with a reproduction of Rembrandt’s The Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen began a spiritual journey that led him through very nook and cranny of Luke 15. Readers should be thankful for his guided tour through his own soul and through the inner workings of the biblical text.
Here is a taste: “The open-endedness of the story itself and Rembrandt’s depiction of it left me with much spiritual work to do. As I look at the lighted face of the elder son, and then at his darkened hands, I sense not only his captivity, but also the possibility of liberation. This is not a story that separates the two brothers into the good and the evil one. The father only is good. He loves both sons. He runs out to meet both. He wants them sit at his table and participate in his joy. The younger brother allows himself to be held in a forgiving embrace. The elder brother stands back, looks at the fathers merciful gesture, and cannot yet step over his anger and let his father heal him as well.”
The Way of the Runner: A Journey Into the Fabled World of Japanese Running by Adharanand Finn
Finn’s previous book, Running with the Kenyans made my book of the year list back in 2016. That book was recommended to me via a conversation at Starbucks. I love finding books via the Starbucks route. After a conversation about running and running shoes, a fellow coffee sipper mentioned this book. I purchased it with one click before the conversation was over. Since I loved Running with the Kenyans much more than The Way of the Runner – let me talk about it some more!
Adharanand Finn (best author name ever?) decides to get serious about running. So he does the only sensible thing … he moves his family to Kenya to train with world class runners for 6 months. The adventure in Kenya concluded with a marathon deemed “difficult” even by Kenyan standards. This memoir is fascinating and a little bit of everything – it’s a human interest story, travel memoir, sports bio, and culture study rolled into 275 pages. If you’re looking for a running memoir – pick up Running with the Kenyans.
Run the World is well-written and engaging. Finn jumps into the Japanese running culture which centers on Ekiden, a 135-mile relay race. Yet, the ending is severely disappointing. It casts a long shadow of the entire book.
Run the World: My 3,500-Mile journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe by Becky Wade
This was my second running memoir of the month but the better of the two. Becky Wade is a professional long distance runner who competes for Asics. She ran for Rice University and was a four-time All-American.
This volume provides insights into Wade’s yearlong run across the world. Through the help of a grant, Wade traveled to nine countries, burned through 11 pairs of running shoes, and tracked 3,504 miles in the course of the year. She shares her experience running with the world’s best in England, Ireland, Switzerland, Ethiopia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Sweden, and Finland. It is much like Finn’s Running with the Kenyans. I like the depth provided by Running with the Kenyans but I appreciate the numerous running experiences provided by Wade’s volume.
I don’t read enough from female writers so I recommend this volume to others that have similar reading deficiencies. The writing is lucid and the character sketches are insightful. Yes – it is a book about running. Yet, is more a book about people.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire: What Happens When God’s Spirit Invades the Hearts of His People by Jim Cymbala
I read this book many years ago. Yet, something made me dust it off this month. Perhaps the drive to read it again was a strong case of nostalgia. I’ve been reflecting lately on my call into ministry and the twist and turns since those early days. In those very early days of discerning my call, I read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. I can still vividly remember weeping as I read story after story of God working in mighty ways. Little did I know that I would soon partner with a few faithful people in an effort to plant a church in a struggling neighborhood and preach the gospel to people facing battles against addictions, mental illness, and poverty. Often this ministry context reminded of the stories in Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. I now serve in a polar opposite ministry setting. I wear a suit and tie every week and smile big for TV cameras. Yet, the core the message is the same: We are broken people. Our only hope is the gospel. The church bears fruit through prayer.
During my doctoral studies I spent two weeks in NYC. On one Tuesday night, I jumped on the subway with two other cohort members and made my way to the prayer meeting of Brooklyn Tabernacle. It was a memory I will not soon forget. People everywhere – of all sorts of racial, economic, social backgrounds. Prayer everywhere – individual, corporate, specific, general. Worship everywhere – corporate singing, Bible reading, prayer. There were no bells and whistles. It was a prayer meeting.
Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire tells the story of Brooklyn Tabernacle and puts the focus on the prayer meeting.
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
I desperately want to be a raving fan of CS Lewis. I absolutely love the Chronicles of Narnia series but I struggle to enjoy his others work. Lewis is a literary and theological genius. The issue is me. Not him.
The Great Divorce provides an allegory of the afterlife. The narrator boards a bus and embarks on a journey through heaven and hell. Through the use of literary skill and the help of imagination, Lewis provides a deep reflection on good and evil and the consequences of choice and behavior. The work was originally published as a serial in the Anglican newspaper The Guardian in 1944 and 1945. It is an often quoted and often misrepresented treatise on a tough topic. I don’t have the space to dig deep into Lewis’ nuanced view of heaven and hell. In a nutshell: Lewis tells a story of people choosing hell and choosing to return to hell even when offered the opportunity to enter heaven. The souls are not condemned to hell as a punishment for evil behavior but rather they willing place themselves in hell. It is where they desire to be. In place of a deep analysis, here are a few of my favorite quotes”:
“That is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say, “we have never lived anywhere except in heaven,’ and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.”
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.”
“You cannot love a fellow-creature fully till you love God.”
Why Revival Tarries by Leonard Ravenhill
Why Revival Tarries was published in 1959. My favorite copy is the ninth printing from 1965. It is a used copy and falling apart. I love it but this will be the last time I can read from it. A large number of pages are falling out and the binding is almost completely unglued. The book looks old, which is appropriate since the words within it sound like nothing spoken today. Many lines jump off the page, hang in the air, and take the air from the room. This book existed long before the days of Twitter but each page contains a line that is far superior than any tweet I’ve read lately.
Here a few of my favorite lines that would serve as tremendous tweets:
The tragedy of this late hour is that we have too many dead men in the pulpits giving out too many dead sermons to too many dead people. (page 2)
Victory is not won in the pulpit by firing intellectual bullets or wisecracks, but in the prayer closet; it is won or lost before the preacher’s foot enters the pulpit. (page 2)
Yet ministers who do not spend two hours a day in prayer are not worth a dime a dozen, degrees or no degrees. (page 4)
No man is greater than his prayer life. The pastor who is not praying is playing; the people who are not praying are straying. (page 7)
Revival tarries because of cheapening the Gospel. (page 46)
One of these days some simple soul will pick up the Book of God, read it and believe it. Then the rest of us will be embarrassed. (page 59)
Men of prayer must be men of steel, for they will be assaulted by Satan even before they attempt to assault his kingdom. (page 77)
Surely revival delays because prayer delays. Nothing do Satan or hell fear more than praying men. (page 77)
As the first atom bomb shook Hiroshima, so prayer alone can release that power which would shakes the hearts of men. (page 81)
With a stack of books beside us and marginal notes in Bible for props, we have immunized ourselves from the scorching truth of the changeless Word of God! (page 98)
Preachers make pulpits famous; prophets make prisons famous. (page 101)
For the sin-hungry age we need a prayer-hungry church. (page 158)