Top Three Books for 2008!

21 02 2009

Here are my top three books for 2008!  Comment on them and tell me yours.

stott1 Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness by John Stott

It is possible that it may end up on my “Great Books” page which would make Stott the only person to have two books there (the one presently on the page is Stott’s The Cross of Christ).  This book is a prophetic call for the church of Christ to take seriously the kingdom work of God, reject modern fundamentalism’s tendency to fragment from and demonize those who disagree with them on “non essentials”, and embrace a more evangelical mindset that is mission focused.

mygrandfathersson_440x668 My Grandfather’s Son by Clarence Thomas

Post modernity will read this book and shake their heads at the “cruel and strange” approach Thomas’ grandfather used in raising his grandsons.  I read it and long for a time when common sense ruled, hard work was rewarded, and adults were allowed the freedom to raise children into great men and women who think for themselves.  Today, elites will call Thomas’ grandfather abusive.  Clarence Thomas, from his seat on the Supreme Court, calls him the “greatest man I have ever known.”  

I love this quote by Thomas’ grandfather: “Old man can’t done up and died.  I know, cause I was there when it happened.”

miller A Faith Worth Sharing: A Lifetime of Conversations about Christ by C. John Miller

The best book on evangelism which I have read in a long time.  If your tired of “sale approaches” and “techniques” this book gently and clearly reveals the truth of the matter when it comes to sharing our faith – Its about the heart of the one who shares.





A River of Grace

5 11 2008

Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River tells the story of Jeremiah Land, a custodian at a local school.  He has been known to perform miracles from time to time, including one which brought healing to his son Reuben. Jeremiah lives with his three children: 16-year-old Davy, 11-year-old Reuben, and 9-year-old Swede.  The novel is written from the perspective of Reuben Land who, as an adult, reflects on his family in 1962 Minnesota and the events that altered the path of their lives. Reuben reveals his father to be a quiet gracious man who is humble and gentle and has been given  a gift which he uses not for himself but for others.

The novel takes a dark turn when Davy kills two teenage thugs who invade his family’s home. It isn’t long before the whole community turns on the Lands, especially the school superintendent—Jeremiah’s boss—Chester Holgren. Mr. Holgren is a nasty man with a diseased face. Young Reuban, the story’s narrator, describes Mr. Holgren as “a man whose face was a minefield of red boils.” He adds: “I hated him, I’ll admit, and would soon hate him more, but a person had to feel sorry about this face. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried a dish called tomato pudding. It’s cooked soft and is ever so red and lumpy.”

Mr. Holgren does whatever he can to make Jeremiah’s life miserable, eventually firing Jeremiah for false accusations of drunkenness. The firing takes place in the school cafeteria in front of all the children. Here’s how Reuban describes the scene:

“I left my milling classmates and headed for Dad, where he stood in rapt surprise facing Holgren. I hadn’t in mind to say anything, and indeed I didn’t; for as I approached Dad lifted his hand, sudden as a windshift, touched Holgren’s face and pulled away. It was the oddest little slap you ever saw. Holgren quailed back a step, hunching defensively, but Dad turned and walked off. The superintendent stood with his fingers strangely awonder over his chin, cheeks, and forehead. Then I saw that his bedeviled complexion—that face set always at a rolling boil—had changed. I saw instead skin of a healthy tan, a hale blush spread over cheekbones that suddenly held definition; above his eyes the shine of

constant seepage had vanished, and light lay at rest upon his brow.

 

Listen: There are easier things than witnessing a miracle of God. For his part, Mr. Holgren didn’t know what to make of it; he looked horrified; the new peace in his hide didn’t sink deep; he covered his face from view and slunk from the cafeteria.

 

I knew what had happened, though. I knew exactly what to make of it, and it made me mad enough to spit.

 

What business had Dad in healing that man?

 

What right had Holgren to cross paths with the Great God Almighty?

The story of Jeremiah and Mr. Holgren is fiction, of course. But in the real world, Christian mercy is a miracle of sorts. It is two miracles! It takes a miracle of God to show that kind of mercy, and it is a miracle to be touched by such mercy.

 

 





The Nail Man

9 07 2008

The beauty of good poetry is its simplicity.  When I ran across “The Nail Man” by English poet Steve Turner the profound truth which it speaks of God’s grace moved me deeply.  In truth each of us is “The Nail Man” and with each hammer beat upon the nail rings out a tune of unfathomable grace, love and forgiveness.

 

The Nail Man

By Steve Turner

 

Which one was it
that held the nails
and then hammered them
into place?
Did he hit them
out of anger,
or a simple
sense of duty?

Was it a job
that had to be done,
or a good day’s work
in the open air?

And when they
clawed past bone
and bit into wood,
was it like all the others,
or did history
shudder a little
beneath the head
of that hammer?

Was he still there,
packing away his tools,
when ‘It is finished’
was uttered to the throng,
or was he at home
washing his hands
and getting ready
for the night?

Will he be
among the forgiven
on that Day of Days,
his sin having been slain
by his own savage spike?

 

 





Coming Home to Grace

17 06 2008

The irony in Cynthia Voight’s novel Homecoming is that Dicey Tillerman and her three siblings spend the entire novel searching for a home when in reality the bond of grace and mutual love they share for each other is their home.  Their “Gram”, on the other hand, believes she has a home but in reality it is barely even a house because Gram resides in a shell devoid of the grace needed to turn houses into homes.

At the beginning of the novel we discover Dicey and her siblings sitting in a parking lot waiting on a mother who will never return.  They begin a long journey looking for a family; for a home.  After many stops and starts, including the rejection of an uptight self-focused “religious” cousin, the Tillerman children end up at their maternal Grandmother’s farm.

Abigail Tillerman, the children’s grandmother, is a bitter recluse who has a reputation in town as an eccentric.  Years of betrayal and desertion by those she loved has led her to become unloving and unlovable.  Her house symbolizes the bitterness which has taken root in her heart.  It is completely covered with weeds and honeysuckle.  No light gets into the house; no work is ever done on it’s rotting foundation.  It has become hidden, closed off and is simply waiting for time to do its work.  Abigial considers this her home, but it is in reality her tomb.

Abigail does not offer her abandoned grandchildren grace.  But slowly the grace they freely give begins to break through and her heart begins to open.  The children also remove the weeds and stubborn tendrils of honeysuckles from the house, letting light in and slowly making it a home.  The honeysuckle and weeds symbolize the bitterness and isolation that comes from Abigail’s life devoid of grace.

Dicey and her siblings thought they had found a home in their grandmother’s house; in reality they found a house in which their home could rest.  But Abigail found grace in the unconditional love of her grandchildren and, in discovering grace, she found the home she had not realized she was without.

The Tillerman children remind me of many Christians I know.  They have all they need through God’s grace but don’t realize it and keep looking for something more.  Abigail reminds me of many non-Christians who believe that they have what they do not, and the very thing which they cling to for security becomes destruction.  Abigail did nothing to receive the love of her grandchildren; in truth she fought against it.  But they loved her, they pursued her, they hunted for her, they never gave up on her and they stripped the weeds from her heart until the bright light of love could shine through. 

What a picture of how Christ pursues us and captures us with His grace!  If He has not captured you, I pray you will give up the fight and let the light in!

 





A Good Man is Hard to Find

1 04 2008

    

 Can grace be found in violence, in the grotesque, in pain and falleness?  Flannery O’Connor spent her short thirty-nine years answering the question through thirty-three short stories and novels which delved into the full measure of human depravity in difficult, and often frightening, ways.  O’Connor’s work uses shocking, violent, or despairing themes to ultimately reveal to humanity its helplessness apart from the grace of God.  “I have found that violence is strangely capable  of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace,” she writes.  “Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work.”

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” a grandmother and her son’s family are ruthlessly killed by an escaped convict while on vacation.  Many struggle with the violent plot because the family and grandmother seem so innocent.   This gruesome scene does not, however, serve as senseless violence.  Beyond the disturbing imagery is a story that makes poignant Christian claims.  The grotesque scenes allow readers “to peer into the souls of the character.”  As O’Connor herself said, “Distortion in this case is an instrument; exaggeration has a purpose, and the whole structure of the story or novel has been made what it is because of belief.  This is not the kind of distortion that destroys; it is the kind that reveals, or should reveal.”  What it reveals is the total depravity of the human heart and soul apart from God.  What it reveals is the destruction sin brings and the need for an unfathomable grace.

In “A Good Man is Hard to Find” the moment of grace occurs as the grandmother reaches out toward the convict, calls him one of her children, and then is shot three times.  The grandmother realizes that nothing is going to stop the convict but reaches out anyway.  Unfortunately, the killer is so in love with his falleness that he rejects her love and embraces death.  In this moment, O’Connor highlights the sad reality of so many who hear the grace of Christ but refuse to surrender that which enslaves them.

O’Connor wrote that “grace changes us, and change is painful.”  In “A Good Man”, the grandmother suddenly sees the convict as a creature Jesus loves.  If you read her stories carefully you see see beauty where you otherwise wouldn’t.  You will be encouraged to engage the culture in which you live without surrendering your faith, to honestly address the evil we encounter living in a fallen world, you see the grace of God in the brokenness.  “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

So to answer our question: Can grace be found in violence and the grotesque?  O’Connor believed it could.  However, if you do not believe her, look to Genesis and Noah or look to Joshua and the Israelites.  But, perhaps the best place to look is into the face of God as He hung on a cross so that you could become one of His children.