Friday, December 10, 2004

Recent Reads

In which the blogger confesses to reading without reporting

Recently, I have read a number of books. This list may be incomplete, but here it stands. It can do no other. So help it, God.

Random Acts of Grace - by Paul and Nicole Johnson

Boundaries - by Henry Cloud

Ordering Your Private World - by Gordon MacDonald

Prayer - by Ellen G. White

Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them - by Al Franken

A Wrinkle in Time - by Madeleine L'Engle

The Witches - by Roald Dahl

Angels and Demons - by Dan Brown

My Name is Asher Lev - by Chaim Potok

The Gift of Asher Lev - by Chaim Potok

Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling - by Ross King

The Practical Princess (and other liberating fairy tales) - by Jay Williams

Ticket to Ride - by Larry Kane

[unnamed self help book] - by [anonymous author]
...which, by the way, was a big help.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Tell It to the World - by C. Mervyn Maxwell, PhD

The story of how the Adventist church started, developed, and became what it is today

C. Mervyn Maxwell's Tell It to the World is an excellent popular history of the Great Advent Movement. Starting with the story of the Great Awakening and the Millerite movement, Maxwell takes us step by step through the Great Disappointment of 1844, an understanding of the heavenly sanctuary, Ellen White's first visions, Sabbath, church organization, the publishing work, education, missions, reorganization, all the way down to the 1980s.

All of the Maxwells were great story tellers, and C. Mervyn is no exception. This book is peppered with great stories of miraculous providence and divine guidance. A couple of parts are a little dull. And some are a bit over-simplified or over-dramatized, but it's a great book. And Maxwell's specialty is history, so he backs up his stories with documented references.

If you really want to gain a good understanding of what Adventists believe, why they believe it, and the culture that made it all happen, this is the book to read.

Naughty Heart, Clean Heart - By Susan Davis

Mary had a naughty heart and didn't know what to do...

By far THE BEST systematic treatment I have ever read on the subjects of righteousness by faith, substitutionary atonement, justification, sanctification, grace, authentic Christian living, prayer, and witnessing is written for 6-year-olds.

Published in the 70s, this children's book by Susan Davis follows the story of Mary, a little girl who had a naughty heart. No matter how hard she tried to be good, she just couldn't do it. So she did the only thing she could think of; she asked Jesus for a new heart. And you know what? He gave it to her. He traded his clean, perfect heart for her naughty one.

The book continues by dealing with the problem of sin, struggling with sinful desires, and Christ's perfect life. It culminates with Mary's friend Tommy choosing a clean heart for himself.

The book contains a foreword for parents and songs to teach your kids as they go through the story. I do this story over 9 weeks every couple of years with K-3rd graders in our local Christian school. It makes a big difference in their lives. I also find that it makes a big difference in my life. After each reading, I am better able to explain the gospel in simple and relevant terms.

Add this book to your list. But don't get your hopes up. It's out of print. At LNFbooks , you can put yourself on a waiting list for the next used one they get in. I'd give you mine, but the spine is torn and I have to read it every once in a while.

Christ and His Righteousness - by E. J. Waggoner

How to live a holy life by taking Christ's gift of righteousness

In his book, Christ and His Righteousness, E. J. Waggoner explores the Biblical evidence for righteousness by faith. What this book lacks in length, it makes up for in depth. Some pages will give you as many as 10 Bible verses you're expected to look up yourself (if you really want to follow his arguments in that kind of detail). Christ and His Righteousness is a treasure trove of God's love, mercy, forgiveness, grace, acceptance, and justice. But it may be a little thick for 21st Century readers to cut through (as it is written in a 19th Century scholarly style).

What I like about a Biblically-based, balanced picture of righteousness by faith is that teaches about grace while upholding the law. It shows that it is impossible for us to earn righteousness, and that it is a gift from God. At the same time it shows us how to be holy by living a God-empowered life.

Anyone dealing with law vs. grace issues should read this book. Anyone interested in living a holy life through God's strength should read this book. You can order it from

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Decision in Philadelphia: the Constitutional Convention of 1787 - by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier

An amazing look into how our country was formed

This book details (though not completely chronologically) the intricate workings of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. Frankly, I am amazed that we have a functional government at all. The book shows over and over again how it almost never happened.

During the several months of constitutional meetings, many tricky balances were hammered out - how much control should a centralized government possess? How do you protect the smaller states from the larger states? How do you ensure the president doesn't become an emperor? How do you protect the rights of the southern citizens to trade and own slaves?

The entire indigenous process really points out the silliness of another country trying to impose democracy.

What amazes me is that the Supreme Court was never really given authority to interpret constitutionality. And, theoretically, our November votes for president could be completely tossed aside and the outcome determined by some other means. (Did I just talk about votes not counting and the Supreme Court in the same paragraph? Oh my!)

Also, this book clearly points out that if these men were Christians, it was only in the loosest sense of the term. George Washington was hunting on more Sundays than he was in church. The men drank like fish. And they rarely (if ever) sought heavenly guidance for the document they were creating.

A great book, and a must-read for any American.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Call Waiting: How to Hear God Speak - by Robert K. Hudnut

Biblical patterns for receiving God's call

While I think this is a good book for anyone who wants to know about hearing God's call, I think it is an especially great resource book for preachers. It provides compelling character sketches on more than 30 biblical personalities, and it shows how God worked through all sorts of different situations to make his call known.

I used some material from this book when I was constructing my Listening for God's Call sermon series last December. And I received overwhelming response. I believe this is a topic that we need to understand more about. People were just hungry to know that God is working and wants to communicate with them.

So I would highly recommend this book.

That being said, I would caution that the author has a bit too much of a predestination POV for my tastes. And while he does get wishy-washy on it in chapter 29 and make it sound like he's just talking about prevenient grace, a strong theological stream of double predestination runs throughout the whole rest of the book.

And I suppose that the idea of predestination is comforting. It makes a great excuse (eventually) for never putting yourself into a position where you can hear God's call. Either you do hear it or you don't. And I suppose if you're reading the book (or this blog), then you do hear God's call. But it was not because you chose the book. No. This isn't a book you would have chosen. It has chosen you. By God's great design.

Or something.

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Inferno - by Dante Alighieri, tr. John Ciardi

In which the blogger laments not being able to speak Italian

I guess it's time you all knew the truth. I admit it. I'm a tad ashamed, but this is the first time I have ever read Dante's Inferno. It's just that no one ever forced me to in all my academic career.

(paragraph two goes here)

And that's why I never learned Italian. So I feel ill-equipped to comment on Dante's greatness as a poet (second only to Shakespeare, from what I'm led to understand), since I don't understand the original language and didn't read it in the original anyway.

But I really like the format of the John Ciardi translation. It's easy to follow. I especially appreciate the summary of the action at the beginning of each canto. And the notes at the end of each chapter might have been useful, had I cared enough to consult them.

So I guess I have to comment about content. Right.

In a way, I feel like this might have been along the lines of a Michael Moore "documentary" when it was written. It takes special care to skewer family enemies, known criminals, and corrupt individuals within the Catholic church (kind of fun to have an "infallible" "vicar of Christ" suffering eternally in hell for his misdeeds). I bet everyone just had to have a copy to see what kind of torture Dante was meting out on the naughty neighbors in Florence. I'm certain that's why we have copies around to this very day.

It's also really bizarre to have such a mish-mash of ideas all in one book. The idea of an eternal hell, where God is actively torturing individuals throughout all eternity, is a staple of most "Christian" belief systems. And then Dante throws in a ton of ancient mythology with Minos and Cerberus and Styx, Medusa, and Hercules. Not really such good theology. But I guess I can understand it better if I see it as less of a theological work and more just playing off of the Weltanshauung of his local Florentines, using all of their reference points to present his gory tale.

Which brings me to the last part of my entry: Dante is gross. "Between his legs all of his red guts hung..." etc. I think Canto 28 is the worst. I suppose Dante just wanted to use the most powerful force to get his point across about the future consequences of the afterlife. And I suppose he did a good job.

I just find it unfortunate that all of this torment, gore, blood, abuse, torture (a thousand times worse than Abu Ghraib ever dreamt of being), and evil is ascribed to the hand of God as just judgment. I can't believe some "Christians" can actually think that about God. Amazing.

It's a classic. So I guess you should probably read the book... if you have to.

Monday, July 05, 2004

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime - by Miles Harvey

In which the blogger suggests the author get counseling

I guess I should start out by saying that this is not my book. I "borrowed" it from Pastor Matt Segebartt in Lincoln, NE about a month ago when I was staying at his house. I saw it sitting on his shelf, and I appropriated it because it looked so interesting. I did ask before I removed it from his house, however. So I suppose I owe Pastor Matt a debt of gratitude for letting me run off with his book.

And what an interesting read! Maybe you've heard that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction. Island of Lost Maps proves the point. It is really a great story about a specific cartographic crime spree that hit the whole United States (and some of Canada (and maybe Britain)) in the 1990s. But as it tells its tale, it drags in the entire history of cartographic crime throughout the centuries.
And then it drags in the history of map-making.
And then it drags in every great piece of literature ever written about travel.
And then it drags in the jobs and failures of librarians . . . and map collectors and dealers.
AND THEN it drags in the neurotic compulsions of the author as he stalks the perpetrator of this crime spree.

The book seemed to be a very well planned-out piece of stream-of-consciousness writing. (Yes, I know they are supposed to be mutually exclusive.) But you end up getting caught up in the author's quest and have to keep reading the book. Even if it is pretty scattered.

Basically, for my tastes, the book seemed a little too self-serving on the part of the author. And I think the self-revelation and self-discovery belonged in a psychologist's office instead of the pages of this interesting crime documentary. But the net effect of the book is mesmerizing, in the way voyeurism might be mesmerizing.

So my ego and my id still give it two thumbs up.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

DaVinci Code (Reprise)

In which the blogger laughs out loud at Dan Brown, Dave Barry, and Hollywood (in that order)

Previously, I wrote my opinions about The DaVinci Code (read it here). It was obvious from my posting that I thought the book was pretty silly (if fun to read).

Here is Dave Barry's take on The DaVinci Code. You can tell that he and I share the same opinion about Dan Brown's bestseller. Of course, Dave Barry is much funnier in the way he presents his review. It is truly a thigh-slapper.

But all this is nothing compared to the fact that Dave Barry's (Dan Brown's) movie is actually being made. View the trailer for National Treasure here. You will be truly amazed.

Friday, July 02, 2004

The Gospel in Brief - by Leo Tolstoy

In which the author of this blog is disappointed in a neutered and impotent Gospel

I think we have to see if this "Gospel" is really all that the word denotes. Gospel means "good news." As I read through Tolstoy's gospel, I was very confused how any of this could be good news to anyone. Because of Tolstoy's philosophical bent (no doubt), all of the miraculous events are taken out of the gospel. Thus, God's plan for the virgin birth becomes just an inconvenient bastardization. Jesus doesn't heal people. He doesn't really show what God is like (because He is not divine). He merely spews political rhetoric and ticks off the Jewish authorities. So they kill Him. And then He doesn't even rise from the grave. And the whole meaning of the Son of God dying in our place to take away our sins is erased.

I guess if I had to keep the original title, I would have to put ALL of the emphasis on the word "Brief." If there was any good news of the gospel in Tolstoy's contorted retelling, it was certainly lost on me.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

I'm So Behind!!!

In which the author stresses about not reviewing several books he has completed

So, since the last time I blogged (sorry about the length of my absence), I have finished reading 5 books. I will list them here, give a slight impression, and spend some time writing about them later.

Cat's Cradle - by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. - trippy

Goodbye, Mr. Chips - by James Hilton - touching

The Screwtape Letters - by C. S. Lewis - ouch. was he writing about me?

A Gift of Light - by Roger W. Coon - persuasive

The Emerging Church - by Dan Kimball - wow!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

The DaVinci Code - by Dan Brown


From all the hype, I had supposed this book either a) was extremely well written or b) provided some evidence for the Mary Magdalene conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, it failed on both counts.

The story did, however, drag the reader along quite nicely.

(I've been told Brown's Angels & Demons is better. I'll have to read it next time I want a conspiracy theory about the Catholic Church and the Illuminati.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders - by John Baldoni

In which the blogger ponders the meaning of the word "Secret"

No matter what you are doing in life, you must communicate with others in some form or another (hermits excluded). John Baldoni explores the topic of communication from a leadership standpoint, even claiming that a person can lead up the chain by communicating well. In this book, Baldoni looks at preparation, execution, and follow-up. He discusses coaching, public speaking, memos, electronic communication, and everything in between. The book is peppered with case studies of the world's best-loved communicators.

But the thing I really liked about this book is that it is really a self-study course. In each section, there are checklists, assignments, and planning worksheets, so that you can analyze your own communications style and improve it. A "must read" for any pastor, teacher, manager, CEO, housewife, politician, salesman, secretary, zoologist, etc. This great book will make you a better communicator and a better leader.

Now just a note on the word "secret" -- It seems to me that the word "secret" should become a discrete (ha!) term, connoting only that which is truly hidden from view or shrouded in mystery. There were actually no "secrets" in this book. Better titles might include Great Communication Practices of Great Leaders or Great Communication Tips from Great Leaders. But the word "secret" is a communication guffaw.

Friday, January 16, 2004

How I Find and Learn Things

In which the author exhibits frustration at chronological Bibles

So, I'm through Psalms, now. And I'm really only about 100 pages away from being half-way done with the whole Bible. I guess that means I'm still a little behind, but I'm not too far behind.

I think I have finally decided that I don't like the chronological Bible so much. I mean, it's kinda' neat to have things in chronological order, so you can put things in their historical context, but (for me) I really think the Bible loses quite a bit of its pedagogical power when it is put together this way. I suppose I really have two main complaints.

1. My visual cues are gone! Every time I read something that interests me, I reference it visually. In other words, I look up and see what's around it on the page. I don't memorize it. I just visually reference it. Unfortunately, 1st Chronicles can be right smack dab in the middle of the Psalms, or Psalm 34 might be followed directly by Psalm 56. This makes finding the information more difficult for me in the future. Hmm. I know it was around Psalm 56. It HAS to be around here somewhere!!!

2. My spiral curriculum is gone! Just up and missing. A little bit of educational theory says that we learn best by adding just a little bit to what we already know (i+1). The Bible (in its non-chronological format) does this splendidly. I read along, and I think Wow! I think I remember reading about that a couple of days ago. And then I really learn it. But with the Bible in chronological order, the story is just right there again. Boom! And I think to myself yadda yadda yadda. I just got through reading that. I don't want to read it again. And even though I do read it again, it doesn't stick the way it did when it was a spiral curriculum. :-(

But, really. Those are my only two complaints, so far.

I'll check in again later.


Friday, January 09, 2004

New Acquisitions

In which the author "hurrays" over recent gifts from his mother

Thanks to, Christmas from my mother came a bit late this year. It was good. I like it a bit more spread out. It's like the surprise dessert after an already satisfying meal. Anyway, the gifts came late. She sent us "Winged Migration" on DVD, "You are the New Day" CD by the King's Singers, and several books on bird watching for Kendra.

As for books for me, I received The Emerging Church, Tolstoy's The Gospel in Brief, and Lyle Schaller's 44 Questions for Congregational Self-appraisal. They were all on my wish list. How handy is that?! Thanks, Mom!!!

But because I'm reading through the Bible until February 9, the books sit on my shelf unread, taunting me like an iPod in a candy store. Of course that's a different topic for a different blog.

Still Plugging Away

In which the author admits missing a day or so

Right. So I've mostly caught up to where I'm supposed to be. I missed a day's reading. And then put in a bit of extra time trying to make it up. Luckily, I've established this as reading the Bible through in 40 days, but calculated how much I need to read based on 31 days. That way, there's some room for slip-ups.

So far, I'm through with Genesis, Job, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. Right now I'm in the Samuels somewhere. In fact, Jonathan has just rescued Israel from almost certain peril by going maverick and killing a bunch of Philistines.

Judges is really an interesting book. It's also very pertinent to the times we're living in now. It just keeps on saying that there was not yet a king in Israel, so everyone did what he thought was right in his own eyes. And so disaster kept coming on the people until things got so bad that the people turned back to God. Do we really need so much prodding? Maybe so.

I'll check in again soon.

Friday, January 02, 2004

The Bible in a year?

In which the author attempts to do it 12X as fast

I'm attempting to read through the entire Bible in 40 days. I've done it before in a month's time. It seems like a good way to start out the year. This year, the Bible I'm using is the One Year Chronological Bible, New Living Translation. It has the Bible divided up into "365 daily readings arranged in the order the events actually happened." The theory is that if I read about 12 of these per day, I will be done in about a month.

I read the Bible through in a month because it's easier than reading it through in a year. I can take all of my normal reading time (and some internet time) and devote it exclusively to reading the Bible. You hardly even notice the boring parts of the Bible when you're reading it through so fast. Leviticus is done in a day. In a normal year's reading, you'd be in Leviticus for ten whole days. Who could abide that???

Another advantage to reading the Bible through in a month is that you start to see recurring patterns and themes. You get the bigger picture. Granted, you can't spend the same amount of quality time deciphering certain passages, but you see the forrest, not just the trees.

This is my first time through a "chronological" Bible. So far it is quite interesting. We started in Genesis (duh!), had some Chronicles interspersed, and then went directly to Job. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Getting directly to Job was a nice addition to the pain and suffering book set that I just completed. Now there's a book that really tells you where pain comes from. You see, there's this great conflict between God and Satan. And Satan demands the right to inflict pain and suffering even on people devoted to God. If all your pain and suffering left when you became a Christian, it would basically be God bribing the entire world to follow Him, whether it made sense or not. God wants us to love Him out of fairness and freedom of choice, not because we're bribed.

Anyway. I'm in Leviticus now. It's actually quite interesting. We'll see where I land at my next posting.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

How We Die - by Sherwin B. Nuland

sensitive, technical, moving

Read this book and then write out your living will. In How We Die, Sherwin Nuland takes the time to demythologize the process of dying. I almost cried about 4 different places in the book, as Nuland was describing the processes of real people along with real doctors trying to fight a battle they cannot ultimately win.

Nuland is very technical as he takes us step by step through cells, organs, and systems shutting down. At the same time, he writes with the passion, sensitivity, and insight you might expect from a poet or philosopher.

I have never read a more balanced perspective on death and dying. Nuland boldly commands us to go not gentle into that dark night. Yet, he also has the insight to tell us that sometimes enough is enough. And treatment sometimes only prolongs and increases agony.

The Psalms tell us "to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." Reading this book may be a good way to do just that. In the end, what Nuland wants to say to us is that "[i]t is not in the last weeks or days that we compose the message that will be remembered, but in all the decades that preceded them."

I think this book is a must read for anyone who is a medical professional or who has to deal with medical professionals. It should be read by everyone who is going through the loss of a loved one, and by everyone who is terminally ill. It would make sense for pastors and social workers to read it.

Truly a great book.