My great friend out in Fresno, Jim Gardner, tagged me on his blog to answer this survey of questions about books I’ve read, am currently reading, and am planning to read. I’m obliging because I like Jim and his blog, I’ve gained some interesting insights into him looking at his list, and you might be just as curious to see my list as I was to see his. Here goes:
One book that changed your life: The Witness of Preaching by Thomas G. Long
It was one of the textbooks assigned in my Ministry of Preaching class at Austin Grad. Long’s premise is that the preacher-witness is figuratively sworn in by his congregation to testify each week to what he has seen and heard through his study of God’s Word. The witness preacher is responsible for going to the Scriptures each week on behalf of the congregation and is bound by that arrangement to speak the truth in what he finds. What radically changed my outlook on preaching is Long’s contention that the work of a preacher—his study, his reading, his meditation, his preparation—is really the work of the entire church. The preacher doesn’t confront the people on Sundays, Christ does. The ministry of preaching actually belongs to Christ. It’s only given as a gift to the Church.
One book you’ve read more than once: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
I first read this book as a required text in an English class at Oklahoma Christian. And I’m certain I’ve read it at least a dozen times since. Every single one of the tempter’s 31 letters is about me or the church I’m in or the people around me. Every one. It’s so modern and contemporary. Everytime I read it, it seems like it was written just yesterday in the office across the hall. And it hits me everytime like a 2×4 to the face. The book always serves as a real wakeup call to my true motivations. And when I’ve used it in a men’s group, it never ceases to force us to discuss openly the things we normally ignore. I’m in a group of men right now who are going through the book on Tuesday mornings. And there are parts of this thing I’m seeing for the very first time. Again.
One book you would want on a deserted island: Sports Illustrated’s Fifty Years of Great Writing
The book came out three years ago and, while I’ve read it from cover to cover—all 558 pages—I still find myself going back to it and reading a column or two every couple of months. I love the way sports reflects life and vice-versa. And writers who can take a sporting event or a sports personality and draw larger, big-picture conclusions and observations about life are a dying breed. This book contains the best of the best. Award-winning writers from Frank Deford and Dan Jenkins to George Plimpton, Rick Reilly, and John Steinbeck on football, baseball, basketball, hockey, boxing, horseracing, you name it. From the mid 1950s to now. Wonderful stuff.
One book that made you laugh: Open Secrets by Richard Lischer
I read this book almost two years ago (another textbook in my preaching class), before I knew my first ever preaching assignment would be in a large metropolitan church in the suburbs. For all I knew, and exactly what I expected, I’d be in a much smaller church in a much less urban setting. Lischer’s book is an auto-biographical account of his very first preaching assignment, fresh out of divinity school and bursting with enthusiasm, to a very small conservative church in an economicaly-depressed town in southern Illinois. He makes plenty of mistakes at this church. The changes he tries to implement sometimes backfire. He winds up alienating several prominent church leaders. But his heart is good, he’s doing his best, and he learns a valuable lesson from each horrible miscue. It’s very funny. And very insightful. And I’ve realized after six months on the job here at Legacy, people are people, preachers and congregants. I’ve done my best to learn from Lischer’s mistakes. But I’m still making my own.
One book that made you cry: Tending the Heart of Virtue by Vigen Guroian
Another required textbook from Austin Grad, this one in my Christian Ethics class. The author’s premise is that all children are born with a natural desire to draw the distinctions between right and wrong. It’s a gift of grace given to us by God. And parents do more harm than good in teaching our children when we water down those ideals. We seem to be more concerned with teaching tolerance, paralyzed by the fear of labeling anything as absolutely black or white and, instead, painting everything a seemingly harmless shade of gray. We’ve learned somehow to allow our kids to make up their own minds about what is right or wrong for them, or to somehow grow into that knowledge on their own. We want them to develop their own morals or their own standards. And instead of shaping and molding young lives, we’re abandoning them. By ignoring the great themes of love and sin and redemption and moral goodness we are teaching our children that morality is relative to individual desires and personal cultural contexts. Guroian takes ten classic children’s stories that revolve around those great themes. He takes Pinocchio and The Little Mermaid, Bambi and Charlotte’s Web, The Velveteen Rabbit and The Snow Queen, stories we’ve all known since we were kids and stories our kids know by heart, and he draws out those great theological and moral and ethical themes that we sometimes ignore or purposefully bury. Come on, it’s about kids and being a parent. Of course I cried.
One book you wish had been written: Transformed: How the Ninevah Experience Changed My Life by Jonah
One book you are currently reading: The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson
He’s one of my favorite authors. This is the third book of his spiritual theology series and it deals with “the way” we are to be Christians. He paints, as always, vivid pictures using the lives Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, and of course, Jesus, to communicate that the “means” (way) are just as important as the “ends.” The way we do things as disciples—in our churches, in our communities, in our families—does matter. There’s a right way and a wrong way. There’s a Jesus way and an anti-Jesus way. I’m about halfway through the book. Peterson is excellent, as always.
One book you’ve been meaning to read: The Body Broken by Jack Reese
It’s been on my shelf for a year. It’s coming up very soon. What to do about our differences in the Body of Christ. How to love and serve Jesus and, at the same time, love and serve one another despite our differences. I’m looking forward to it. I’m also going to read Pastor by William Willimon very soon. It, too, has been on my shelf for over a year. The theology and practice of ordained ministry. Willimon’s one of my favorite authors. His daily blog is excellent. Check it out by clicking here.
I must give you our great news about Whitney. She saw the neuro-opthamologist in Dallas on Friday and, after a series of tests on her eyesight and peripheral vision, we were told that everything was excellent. Her peripheral vision is “excellent” for someone with her optic disc drusen condition. Nothing is deteriorating, as far as they can tell. The doctor was anticipating already starting her on the treatment. But now he’s not because it looks like everything’s staying the same. It’s not worse. Praise God!
We asked him point blank if Whitney would eventually lose her peripheral vision or her eyesight altogether. And he told us his intentions were that she would not lose either. He wants to see her every three months to keep a close handle on things and monitor her situation.
Again, our God is so very, very good. He answers prayers. He provides for his children. And he surrounds us with loving family and friends. Thank each of you so much for your thoughts and prayers on Whitney’s behalf. Thank you. And give our Father all the glory, honor, and praise for working in our daughter’s life.