Monday, April 9, 2012

Book Review - Forever

"Forever: Why You Can't Live Without It" by Paul Tripp

I bought this book at the Liberate Conference in Ft. Lauderdale.  (the bookstore at the conference had me drooling all over the place!)  Having gone through loss, Heaven and forever is suddenly a big topic of interest for me so the book and it's description really grabbed my attention.

The book is about forever - eternity - and how our view of it impacts our lives.  Most notably that we don't even think about it at all in our day to day existence.  We have, as the author frequently states, "eternity amnesia".  The book describes our neglect of eternity and how that neglect shapes the way we think and how we live.  It was very eye-opening for me.  I had no idea how vast and deep a difference having and living with a right perspective of eternity makes on your everyday life.  We generally acknowledge that our understanding of forever affects our view of death and loss, but how many of us really think that it also affects our frustrations, broken relationships, or our sense of identity?

Starting from a biblical foundation and understanding of eternity, Mr. Tripp takes us on a spiritual journey to flesh out all the ways forever shapes our lives.  We come to see how much we struggle when we live only with the here and now in view, and then see how much life and freedom there is in viewing life from Heaven's vantage point.  This book is deeply practical because it digs down into your heart, to the beliefs that root your life and your thoughts.  By focusing on the heart, you get to the heart of the problem and not just the affects of the problem. I found this book to be immensely encouraging, comforting, and challenging.  I absolutely loved it and wrote down lots of quotes that really touched my heart.  I rarely ever re-read books because I have so many new books to delve into, but this most certainly is a book that I want to read again.  It has a message I desperately needed to hear and one I definitely need to keep hearing as I fight the constant battle of living for forever against the here and now of a broken world.

To close, I wanted to post a few of my favorites quotes from the book - this is just a sampling of the wonderful teaching in the book!

Many of us treat the here and now as a destination. Whatever our confessional theology says about eternity, at the functional level we live as if this is all there is.  We live with a destination mentality instead of a preparation mentality. (p. 34)

As we begin to realize that in this broken world we cannot look for reliable hope horizontally, we are at the edge of what we were designed to do: hope in God.  And as we begin to place our hope in God, we get connected to the promise of eternity, where all that is broken will be fixed and made new again.  And as we do this, we look at life in a radically new way.  We no longer ask the broken people, places, and things to be the source of our hope.  We know they can't be, because they are broken and in need of renewal just like we are. (p.100)

When you look back on life from eternity, you begin to understand what you desperately need and what God is doing.  The result is a way of living that is different than you have ever known and a rest of heart that is more steadfast than you have ever experienced. (p.204)

Monday, March 5, 2012

Liberate - the Conference

A week and a half ago we went to the inaugural "Liberate" Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. It was an absolutely amazing event! As part of my "processing process" (ie. I'm a slow thinker and it takes me awhile to process things ;)) I thought I would share about the conference here. I haven't quite decided *how* I will do that yet - whether just general remarks about the whole conference or sharing my notes and thoughts on most of the sessions... But something will be coming in the near future! (if you have a preference as to which would be most encouraging, let me know)

Book Review - Amazing Grace

"Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery" by Eric Metaxas

I recently saw a video of Mr. Metaxas' speech at the national prayer breakfast in Washington D.C. I really enjoyed what he had to say - how he was able to mix humor and truth. When I heard that he had written some books, I knew I had to check them out. This book on Wilberforce happened to be a much more manageable size than his one on Bonhoeffer so I chose to start here.

I found this book to be very well written and gripping. I read good chunks of it on a flight recently and had a hard time putting it down to step off the plane! Unlike the title may suggest, the material covers more than just Wilberforce's work on slavery. It's really a comprehensive biography of his life, his faith, and his two "great objects". I found it fascinating to see how people's lives intertwined during that era. William Carey met William Wilberforce and Wilberforce later led the charge to allow missionaries (and subsequently Christianity) to enter into India. The last letter John Wesley wrote was to Wilberforce, encouraging him in the long hard fight for abolition and emancipation.

When Wilberforce's father died, he was sent to live with his aunt and uncle who were Methodist. In this era, Methodism was looked on with disdain and Christianity in general was a dying religion. But his relatives exposed him to the teachings of George Whitefield and John Newton. In fact, John Newton became a close friend to Wilberforce who viewed him "as a parent when I was a child." Odd as it seems to us today, his mother was appalled at his turn to Methodism and tried to do all she could to bring him out of it. It worked and it wasn't until his early 20's and not too long after his entrance into Parliament that he truly came to faith in Christ.
He had lived so long for his own ambition that to live for God, as he now longed to do, was a foreign and strange proposition and would take time to work out. (p.63)
I found that sentiment to be very encouraging - sometimes it takes awhile for us to figure out how to live for God and what He'd have us do. As well as the following quote by Wilberforce's friend, William Pitt when Wilberforce was considering leaving government work after his conversion -
Surely the principles and practice of Christianity are simple and lead not to meditation only, but to action.

The book dealt openly and honestly with the slave trade and some of the atrocities that were committed in the trade. It was very heartbreaking to see the rampant devaluation of human life. Yet it caused me to think - what lives does our culture today devalue? And am I as grieved and broken over that sin as that which was committed years ago?

One of the fabulous things about well written biographies is that you feel like the person is your friend when you get to the end. I longed to hop on over across the sea and meet this incredible man of faith! One of the things I found intriguing about Wilberforce is his ability to speak passionately - to take a strong stand for truth - but to still speak with grace and kindness.
Wilberforce's faith had given him first and foremost a painful but very real knowledge of his own sinfulness, and when he now spoke, he did so with remarkable generosity and graciousness.

His faith impacted every area of his life. It not only affected his policies and practice in government, it affected his relationships and his life outside of his job.
He wrote that he look to God in this battle now 'for wisdom and strength and the power of persuasion, and may I surrender myself to him as to the event with perfect submission and ascribe to him all the praise if I succeed, and if I fail say from the heart they will be done.' (p.144)

Wilberforce would prepare lists of his friend's names and next to the entries make notes on how he might encourage them in their faith, if they had faith, and toward a faith if they still had none. (p. 164)

I found this book to be very encouraging and inspiring. Wilberforce's faith challenged me to press on in my faith and to pray for areas to be passionately on fire for God. I borrowed this book from the library, but loved it so much it will be on my list to buy soon!
The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin and there is the comfort which combines the deepest Humiliation with the firmest Hope.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review - First Family

"First Family: Abigail and John Adams" by Joseph J. Ellis

This book offers a fascinating look into the lives, ambitions, and marriage of one of the foremost families of the Revolution era. I found it to be particularly fascinating because it isn't just a re-telling of their life - it offered a sort of "behind-the-scenes" look into their thoughts, attitudes, and motives through use of their copious amounts of letters and journals. As the reader, you aren't just walking through the events of their life, you're journeying into their heart. I also found the book to be very well-written - the words and thoughts flow so nicely together that it made reading both easy and very stimulating.

The book is about 250 pages with only seven chapters - so needless to say, the chapters can be lengthy. There are quite a few sub-headings in each chapter though so it's fairly easy to find a good stopping point. I haven't done much reading or studying on this family of the Revolution so I was very interested to learn more about them and they era they lived through.

One of the main currents of the book (because it was also the main current of their lives) was the preoccupation with fame. John Adams didn't care to have spiritual goals or be consumed with the pursuit of wealth.
"Mere worldly success in terms of wealth was never enough for him; indeed, it was actually dangerous, since wealth inevitably corrupted men and nations by undermining the disciplined habits that produced the wealth in the first place. Making wealth your primary goal, as he saw it, was symptomatic of a second-rate mind destined to die rich but unfulfilled."
Instead of pursuing wealth, John wanted fame. He wanted to be acknowledged as one of the key leaders of the Revolution and founding of this new country. He adamantly considered himself to be such and took issue with anyone who tried to lessen or demean his impact on history. He spent his entire life grasping after what he never could attain - partially because his reputation was damaged by self-centered, egotistical pursuit of his own fame. That passion also took a turn into angry, almost malicious writing when he came across people who either stood in his way or demeaned his impact on society. On his "villians" list were such notable persons as Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson. (though he later reconciled with Jefferson near the end of his life)
It was sad to see his relationship with his children. He was away most of their formative years and without the benefit of modern communication, they lacked a strong bond and friendship. His children lacked his fatherly guidance through much of their young lives. His two younger sons, though showing early promise, ended their lives in dissolution and lost to alcoholism. All the weight of carrying on both his father's mantle of fame and the great family name and legacy rode on the shoulders of their oldest son, John Quincy. Ironically, late in his life, the elder John Adams tried to dissuade his son from following in his footsteps that had led to such turmoil and dissatisfaction - but by then it was too late.

I found the look into Abigail Adam's life quite intriguing. She wasn't confined to society's views of women. She was very educated and well-read for her day and she kept up with and understood politics better than most men of her day. She was an apt helpmate for John, readily able to understand and discuss any policy or opinion of the day. They were true partners together. She also tempered his personality when they were together - she knew how to handle his rantings and oftentimes overly-hard pursuit of fame and a good name. At the same time, Abigail fully embraced her role as wife and mother. She readily accepted her domestic duties and had to run both the family and her household and farm while John was away. At the same time, she never lost her opinionated mind or her personal independence that led her to do things her own way and not always be dictated to by society. While her parenting may not have been the best and her family later fell apart, I found her ability to fully embrace her roles as homemaker and wife while still retaining her personal opinions and individuality to be a great example.

My favorite quote from the book came from Abigail Adams.
"My pen is always freer than my tongue, for I have written many things to you that I suppose I never would have talked."
As an introverted, reflective person that quote really resonated with me. I've often said similar things. If I didn't have the ability to communicate through written word, there would be a lot that I would simply find very difficult or impossible to communicate. For some reason it's easier to write than to talk for me. So I enjoyed that quote - I'm going to have to put it somewhere!

In ending, I really enjoyed this book. It goes much deeper than regular biographies by digging into who they really were and why they were like that while at the same time giving you plenty of information about all the various events that were taking place and shaping their lives. It was a fascinating look into John and Abigail's life and the Revolutionary era and beyond that they helped mold. I would highly recommend this book.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review - William Carey

"William Carey: Father of Modern Missions" by Sam Wellman (part of the Heroes of the Faith series)

I picked this up to read even though it's a pre-teen/teen level biography. I've seen this series at homeschool bookfairs for years so I thought I'd give it a try.

I enjoyed this book for what it was. It is pretty well written and easy to read. It was a nice broad overview of William Carey's life, but being a pre-teen book, didn't stay too heavily on the details. I enjoy a lot of in depth details about people's lives, so this book felt more like an appetizer rather than an entree. Also because it's geared toward a younger crowd, I thought some things were over simplified and over-interpreted. (for example, there are lots of made-up/hypothetical conversations) The author was able to keep my interest throughout the book and I really enjoyed getting a look at this great man of faith. My interest in Carey's life has been piqued. I will be on the watch now for a biography that delves a little further and deeper into his story and his unique and pioneering ministry.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Book Review - Dual Citizens

"Dual Citizens" - by Jason Stellman

This book has the subtitle "Worship and Life between the Already and the Not Yet" which I found to be very intriguing. From the title, subtitle, and brief description of the book I found I thought the book would be about the seeming push-pull relationship between living on earth but living for Heaven. I was fairly wrong and disappointed.

The book is divided into two sections. The first 7 chapters cover the worship aspect of Christianity and the last 7 chapters deal, somewhat generally, with life. I felt that seven chapters on church was a little much, partly stemming from some issues I had with his theology of church. The second half is definitely the best half, with chapters 9 and 11 being my favorites. The book doesn't always make sense in it's flow from chapter to chapter. I especially found it odd to end a book for Christians on a chapter detailing the assurance of salvation provided by the Holy Spirit. I think placing it at the beginning would give you a better context for the rest of the text.

The first half of his book is dedicated to explaining various aspects of corporate worship and how they show the world that we, as Christians, are called out and different. Perhaps it was his writing style or just my thick head, but I had difficulty at times understanding the weight he intended to convey in various points he made regarding the church. There were several issues I had with his beliefs regarding the church that made it hard for me to accept his more general ideas regarding the church. First, he places in inordinate amount of weight on what he calls the sacraments - baptism and communion. I don't mean to say that they are insignificant. But he goes so far as to say that the main ways we are to grow in Christ are baptism, communion, and corporate worship. I think he overlooks and seems to dismiss some other important aspects of a Christians life - prayer, personal reading and studying, and fellowship with other believers. He also appears to believe that anything with the label "evangelical" is directly opposed to "true Christianity", which in his view means the Reformed tradition. I adhere to many parts of Reformed doctrine and there certainly are problems with some things labeled as "evangelical". I was uncomfortable though with the extreme position that he seems to take in the book.

Another important difference is that, as a Presbyterian, he believes in infant baptism. I don't believe that faith can be passed from parent to child by means of baptism, but that faith come from the Holy Spirit working in someone's life and is a personal, individual belief.

My biggest concern comes from his view of pastors/preachers within the church. Not only is his view of sacraments rather exalted, but so is his view of pastors. He seems to veer into Catholicism every now and then, both by his language and choice of words, his quoting of several Catholic scholars and theologians, and by his stated beliefs regarding the church. For instance, on page 83, he writes, "When your minister faithfully expounds God's Word, that is Jesus talking. When he declares the forgiveness of your sins, that is Jesus forgiving you. When he administers the bread and cup, that is Jesus feeding you His own body and blood. The keys of the kingdom have been entrusted to the officers of Christ's church for the holy purpose of opening, shutting, binding, and loosing (Matt. 16:19)." (emphasis original) From my understanding, that's essentially Catholic doctrine right there. He also views the words of preachers to be as authoritative as Scripture itself, using verses out of context to attempt and support his position. "In fact, Paul insists that when the saints hear Christ preached, they are actually hearing Christ Himself preaching (Rom. 10:14, NASB; Eph. 2:17), a point made powerfully in the Second Helvetic Confession, which states that 'the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.' Personal "quiet time," therefore, can never replace the regular hearing of the gospel preached in the context of the local church, for it is here that God addresses His people in a unique and powerful way." (p. 13)

As for the second half of the book, I found it to be rather uninspiring on the whole. I felt that only chapters 9-11 really dwelt on the subject of "dual citizenship" with any real clarity and applicability of subject. Several chapters didn't make sense to me in light of his purported topic. (boasting, and the Holy Spirit's assurance of salvation) There were some good nuggets tucked away in a few chapters, but overall it felt a little dull and disjointed.

I enjoyed his discussion of the tension we feel between physical and spiritual, and the pursuit of pleasure. I particularly liked this quote he had in his book which is referenced from "Ahlquist" - "The problem of paganism and puritanism is partly a problem of pleasure. The old paganism degenerated into the mere pursuit of pleasure. The old puritans reacted against it by the deliberate and elaborate avoidance of pleasure. The new pagans reacted against the old puritans. The new puritans reacted against the new pagans. Reactions against reactions, all missing the point. Both puritanism and paganism misunderstood pleasure. But, more importantly, both misunderstood what is good. The pagans emphasize the physical to the neglect of the spiritual. The puritans emphasize the spiritual to the neglect of the physical. Both miss the point of the Incarnation. God created a physical world and said it was good. He created us in his image. We are both spiritual and physical beings. And though we have taken a good world and misused it, though we are sinners, God himself redeemed us by becoming flesh."

I felt the book fell short of it's title and purported topic of discussion. Apart from a couple chapters I enjoyed, it seemed almost stoic and stodgy in it's presentation. And it's riddled with what I would consider as rather sketchy theology - particularly regarding the church. It's not a book I would necessarily recommend, unless you were looking for a different viewpoint on the importance of the church. I'll be giving my copy of this book away as I'm not interested in re-reading it so if you are intrigued by it, let me know and I'll get it to you.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Book Review - Dick van Dyke

"Dick van Dyke - My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business" by Dick van Dyke

I was randomly typing names into the search engine at my library when I came across this book. I immediately requested it and picked it up a few days later. I love the Dick van Dyke Show - it's hilarious and such a classic. His sense of humor and his expressions of it are just fabulous. So I was eager to read this book.

He gives some of his background and experiences growing up. One of my favorite parts was the mention of his time in the Air Force. The way he talked about his experiences made me think of Gomer Pyle - it was pretty amusing! He also documented his entry into stardom. He spent many years working from paycheck to paycheck and traveling the country before his talents were finally discovered and utilized. I really loved reading the parts about the filming of the Dick van Dyke Show. He talked about how everyone genuinely had a fabulous time working on the show together, and I think it's very evident in the features they produced. For the rest of his career highlights, you don't quite get the amount of information and behind-the-scenes look as you may desire, but it's still interesting to hear about.

There's a few things I wanted to highlight. The first would be his bought with alcoholism. I found this section to be very honest and straight-forward. His life serves as an example for one of the main reasons I choose not to drink. Unlike some teetotalers I've read, I don't see where the Bible clearly speaks to moderate drinking being a sin. My personal decision is largely based on not starting down a road that could easily become an addiction and sin - one you may not even be aware of while you're doing it. Mr. van Dyke's life is an example of this. He started off not drinking at all. After some time in Hollywood, he started having just one glass to help loosen him up and cut some of his shyness. That developed into 2-3 drinks, which eventually led to him getting drunk fairly frequently. Right before he sought treatment, he seems to indicate it was an almost daily occurance. I think one of the inherent dangers of alcohol is that you don't know if you will be attracted/addicted to it until you try it - and then it's too late. Not that it's too late to overcome the addiction, but now you have the addiction and the strong temptation to over-indulge. Mr. van Dyke also is very open about the long struggle to overcome this addiction. He candidly shares his setbacks in his 6-year journey to overcome what he calls the "disease" of alcoholism.

I also found his musings on life and the purpose of life to be interesting. From piecing together bits and pieces from his book, it seems fairly likely that he doesn't have a clear understanding of the Gospel and possibly even Scripture as a whole. Even though he was an elder in a church at one point, his own words don't really portray him as a Christian. He admitted to spending a lot of time throughout the years, and particularly during a mid life crisis, wrestling with life - what it's meaning and purpose was, and what his own life was supposed to be for. In the end, it seems in all his searching he missed the Truth. For Mr. van Dyke, the meaning of life is love. As he says near the end of the book, "Hope is life's essential nutrient, and love is what gives life meaning. I think you need somebody to love and take care of, and someone who loves you back. In that sense, I think the New Testament got it right. So did the Beatles. Without love, nothing has any meaning." (p. 271) I hope that soon he comes to see the riches and beauty of the true Gospel.

Another thing that bears mentioning- Mr. van Dyke divorced and lived the next 30 years with his girlfriend. The topic is covered in a gracious way - there's no dirty talk or very deep details of their relationship - either before and after the divorce. Though it's certainly disappointing, it's not an uncomfortable read. In the end, he decided to go with what felt good to him instead of what was right before God. I found this to be especially ironic as he would emphasize his desire for his public persona (people he portrayed on the film and tv screen) to be very family friendly and values oriented.

While he kept his relationship details clean, there were a few comments about movies or shows he participated in that weren't quite that way. I felt they could have been left out and not been detrimental to the storyline in any way. He also has a penchant for cuss words, even taking Christ's name in vain a couple times near the end of the book. It's something to watch out for as there's an average of about one per chapter. (some have none and some have several) Overall, I found it to be an interesting light read into the life of a beloved entertainer and comedian. It won't be finding it's place at the top of my favorite's list. But I would recommend it, with discretion, if only for the forthright dealing with alcoholism which I found very intriguing and honest.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Book Review - Ginger Rogers

One of my goals for the new year is to read at least 2 books per month. Along with that, I thought it'd be nice for both my writing and analyzing/critical thinking skills to post a review of most of the books I read. So - here goes!

"Ginger, My Story" by Ginger Rogers

This book combines two things I've long been fascinated with - biographies and movie stars. One of my favorite things as a youth was to randomly wander the biography aisle at the library looking for new and interesting people to read about. Even today I often gravitate towards the biography sections in the bookstores. I found a sad thing though as I grew up. Biographies were no longer guaranteed to be wholesome and compelling. I started to realize that many people's lives weren't as "clean" as children's literature made them seem. After taking home books only to give them up in disgust a little ways into them, I started scanning books while still in the library. That led to even more disgust (particularly with movie stars!) and a decision to put away that genre for awhile. (unless it came from a really reputable source or was about a very holy person)

Why this long intro? Well, as you know (and if you don't, you should! ;) ) Ginger Rogers is a movie (and Broadway) star. When I picked the book up at a library sale, I noticed that Ginger specifically stated in the sleeve that this was not a "tell-all" dirty secrets book. Since the book was very cheap and it's a subject I love, I took a chance and bought it. And I'm glad I did! She truly meant what she said and I found it to be, overall, a relatively clean book. Coming from a woman who was married 5 times and had numerous other romances, that's something! Her marriages and romances are covered in the book, but tend to be handled very delicately - never too explicit. She also never mentions how far her romances went leaving you room to imagine them as innocent as you please.

One of the best parts of the book is the "behind-the-scenes" look you get into the movies. She has at least one paragraph talking about every single movie she was apart of. It may be something as simple as a short comment regarding who directed it and the plot line, or as expansive as giving insight into other actors and funny happenings on the set. She also handles it with grace. You won't find her ratting on other actors or difficult directors - she loved working with just about everyone. And those who did rub her wrong - you're really not going to find an expose on all their supposed sins. She comes across as a fun, energetic person with a bubbly personality and an occasional sense of the prankster. The book is filled with interesting and funny memories about actors, sets, and pranks.

The one thing I didn't enjoy as much was the sometimes heavy handed way she talked about her religion - Christian Science. Most of the references to her religion come when someone gets sick (and they're healed through a certain kind of prayer) or when she needs wisdom with a major decision. There are about half a dozen or so in depth explanations of healings attributed to her religion. While she never put out a call or plea, it felt like she was advocating and promoting her religion throughout her story.

Overall, it was a very good book with a fascinating look into old Hollywood and the old movie stars - while at the same time maintaining a gracious tone and mostly clean stories. I would definitely recommend this book if you'd like a peek into Hollywood in the 30's and 40's and Ginger Roger's life in particular.