Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Some Recommended Books, and the Importance of Reading (Redeeming the Time: Part 2)

In my first 'redeeming the time' post, I suggested that listening to online sermon/message MP3s can be a very good use of time.

Now, I would like to extol the virtues of (certain kinds of) reading.

Reading is vital - especially for Christians.

People who can't read have a much lower chance of surviving and/or thriving in the world today. Hence the correlation between a country's literacy rate and its socio-economic health.

For Christians, reading is a privilege and, in most cases, a responsibility given by God. John 1:1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." There is significance to this word 'Word', and it relates directly to reading.

The most powerful example of the Word, literally, is the Bible. It was God's divine plan to put a final authority of His heart and will in word form, penned by people. In the beginning was the Word. And in the beginning was God's plan to use words for His purposes.

Words are powerful. Most of the great movements of human history I can think of were accompanied by a book. Some of these movements were good; most of them were evil; all of them wielded words for their purposes to great effect. (By the way, Satan's best strategies are always copies/ripoffs of God's.)

All of this said, here are some forms of reading that I view as either necessary, invaluable, or worthwhile:

BOOKS

A book represents, in many cases, months of work and years of thought on the part of a specialist, expert and/or gifted communicator.

The Bible
The Bible is God's book. Comprised of two testaments (with a several-hundred-year gap in between), 66 books and 40 authors - written over about 1500 years; the Bible is the final authority and our bottom line. It is like the ocean; it just gets deeper the more you study it. And, in my experience, the more I study it, the more I see its unity and the common theme: the Lord Jesus Christ.

Through the Bible, God directs us, speaks to us, teaches us, challenges us and communicates His love for us. As such, it is remarkably relevant. If we read one thing, it should be the Bible.

Christian books
What would it be like to have some of the greatest Christians of all time sit down with you one-on-one and share with you their keenest insights, carefully prepared? This is what reading a book is like. Today, we can read books from people like C.S. Lewis, Amy Carmichael, Watchman Nee, A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham, and John Stott.

I believe that Christian books are a form of fellowship. And it is unequivocally the case that God has used books to great effect for His glory. Missionary biographies have inspired thousands to 'go'. Books on Christian Living have impacted millions; and that is not an exaggeration. The same is true of Bible teaching books and commentaries.

Christian 'Fad Books'
A note on 'fad' books. For whatever reason, the evangelical church in the Western world seems to have a 'fad book' every couple of years. A few I can remember include The Prayer of Jabez, Left Behind, Wild at Heart, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Shack. Should we read them? I believe that all of these (five) books have some value to them (and I have read all of them in part or full myself). However, will they stand the test of time? Most fad books don't seem to. Are they even in the top tier of books worth reading? Usually not. So, while it is good to know what is going on (and important for some to read these books), it is unhealthy as Christians to only read fad books or to allow fad books to comprise too great a percentage of our reading. Sadly, in my experience, this is the case for too many Christians.

Christian Biographies
You know what Christian biographies are? They are testimonies. Testimonies of how God has used ordinary people in extraordinary ways. A good Christian biography will glorify God, giving him the credit as opposed to any person. We can learn a great deal from the lives of other Christians as laid out in their biographies (or autobiographies), but we do ourselves no favour when we try to emulate everything they did. This is because times change (and so must methods), we are all different (and so God uses us differently), and God works in a whole range of ways. "Things never happen the same way twice." - Aslan, Narnia

Secular books
We can learn much from non-Christians and we would be foolish to think otherwise. From university textbooks to the Britannica to books that equip us for our jobs, we should not be too quick to disqualify secular books; all can be tools for us to live God-glorifying, Kingdom-building, non-dichotomous lives.

THE NEWS

I feel that reading as it pertains to the news requires a great deal of discipline. This is because we may enjoy reading news--from 'gutter' news to the most legitimate sort--more than it is worth our time to do so. The News comes in the form of daily TV shows, all-day news-stations, radio summaries and all-day radio, multiple daily newspapers, weeklies, and probably a few forms I'm forgetting. The point is that there is no shortage of it, so how much time we spend obtaining it, and where should be carefully considered and calculated.

How much time do you spend reading, listening to or watching the news? What kind of news do you go for?

It is such a tough balance. I have found recently that I have needed to stop myself spending too much time reading news on, specifically, the U.S. primary elections and have had to cut back. Others may struggle with reading too much gossip.

On the flipside, in order to know God's heart better, and in order to better pray for the world (which all of us should be doing on a daily basis), we need to read important local and global news. For example, did you know that about 5 million people have died in the civil war in Congo in the last ten years? I feel this is one of the most underreported stories of the decade. We need to seek information like this out. And if we have difficulty caring about issues like this, we will do well to acknowledge that so that we can ask God to help us improve.

As the song "Hosanna" by Hillsong so powerfully puts it, "Break our hearts for what breaks yours." In order to know what may be grieving (or thrilling) God's heart in the world today, we need to learn and read.

Magazines
Many magazines are like a mixture of books and the news. As such, there is a great deal of important, relevant and life-impacting content in many magazines, periodicals and journals.

We should not all be reading the same magazines (or the same news, or the same books). No, we should ask God what reading out there will best equip us and augment the gifts and life-vision he has given to each of us individually. As one leader puts it, we must avoid "spiritual schizophrenia" and remember to include God in all of our decisions.

THE WEB: blogs, forums, Facebook, etc.

In order to be relevant today, and in order to be where people are, we must be on the web. Today, blogs are a new 'mass media.' Like the voices of individual people, they add up to to have a huge impact. (Indeed, some blogs have a significant impact in and of themselves; especially focused, topic-specific ones.) The same can be said for the content on forums and in places like Facebook. In every case, we should always ask God what we should read. This is possible when we obey 1 Thessalonians 5:17 - "pray continually" (NIV).

(SOME) RECOMMENDED BOOKS
(A work in progress. This list includes my very favourite books.)

Mountain Rain by Eileen Crossman. The biography of James Fraser, a missionary to China. Taught me a great deal about prayer.

Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman by Alexander Strauch. A short biography on one of my heroes, a man who was full of love and kindness, ambitious for God, a strong leader, deeply hospitable, and a key player in 19th-century missions. He lived a non-dichotomous life for Christ.

True Discipleship by William MacDonald. A challenging, radical book about being sold-out marathon-runners for the Lord.

Kwabena: an African Boy's Journey of Faith by David Mensah. An autobiography that gives one a powerfully-insightful, first-hand look into the reality and village-gripping power of the spirit world in Africa; and how Jesus Christ overcomes it all.

Run, Baby, Run by Nicky Cruz and The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson. Two accounts of the same remarkable story about how Christ transformed the lives of a a group of hell-bent gang members in New York City. "Run, Baby, Run" is especially good for teenagers.

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. An often-depressing but eye-opening book about how we are tempted, and how we need to be on our guard as Christians.

I Dared to Call Him Father by Bilquis Sheikh. An exceptionally well-written book on how Christ transformed the life of a General's daughter in Pakistan. A remarkable journey of faith. In my top five books.

Watchman Nee: Man of Suffering by Bob Laurent. The story of one of China's first third-generation Christians, a man who helped to lay the foundation for the astonishing things that God is doing in China today.

The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun and Paul Hattaway. This book has come under controversy. However, it gives one a keen insight into the staggering growth of the Chinese church today, the unmistakably-real persecution of the Chinese church present and past, and the sad reality of persecution between Christians in the global church (and how we should be on our guard against it ourselves).

Operation World by Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk. Possibly the best tool for prayer in the world, apart from the Bible. A country-by-country overview of what God is doing around the world, and what the needs and challenges are. The next edition is due soon!

The Case for Christ, and The Case for Faith, by Lee Strobel. These books strengthened my faith.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I have read the chapter on pride several times, and the only rational response after doing so is to go back to the cross, broken before the Lord.

Sadhu Sundar Singh by Phyllis Thompson. A short, well-written account about a yellow-robed Christian 'holy man' whose life and writings have challenged many. One of my favourite books.

Hunger for Reality by George Verwer. Verwer has had a greater impact on me than almost anyone else and this, of all his books, affected me the most. God stirred my heart with conviction and passion as I read it. Verwer has received more than 25,000 letters in response to this book.

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom. A sobering but inspiring first-hand account of a Holocaust survivor. A reminder that Christ was not missing during this horrific period of history; he was standing right there among the prisoners in the camps, as one of them.

God's Smuggler by John and Elizabeth Sherrill. The story of 'Brother Andrew', the founder of Open Doors. This book reads like a page-turning novel and gives one a peak into what is left when the odds are against us but we are dependent on God.

Read-Aloud Bible Stories by Ella Lindvall. I loved these as a kid. If you have young children, or know people with young children, these are great bed-night-story books.

True Grit by Debbie Meroff. Powerful, convicting, sobering, inspiring, saddening, reality-filled content about how women are suffering around the world and how God is working in the midst of it.

Discipleship by Peter Maiden. A balanced overview of what it means to be a disciple in the world today. A good book to go through with someone you may be discipling.

The Calvary Road by Roy Hession. A powerfully-humbling little book that has sold over 3 million copies and been translated into 70 languages. I have given away many copies myself and seen God use this book to change lives (including mine).
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ar TORONTO, CANADA | 2018+

JULY


AUGUST

14-15 Tue-Wed l'ship retreat (+ below)
14 Tue (7:15pm patch prayer mtg)
15 Wed 6pm dinner w/ Peter T & HE + poss. stayover
16 Thu SL
17-19 Fri-Sun church-plant camping trip - Killbear
19 Sun 5pm fun dinner w/ VT - Burlington
20 Mon 8pm Malkutha oversight mtg (VS)
21 Tue 9:30pm time w/ JVDB (+ patch prayer mtg)
23 Thu poss. time w/ DonM/S
24-25 Fri-Sat writing training wknd - Hamilton
28 Tue 10am CCWM board mtg
31 Fri eve time w/ J/BA+

SEPTEMBER
2-3 Sun-Mon new-staff retreat - Faith Mission
3-7 Tue-Fri VT retreat - Faith Mission
21 Fri MI in-person board mtg
22-23 Sat-Sun poss. visiting AR/UJ+
27 to Oct 3 Thu-Wed Dollar-a-Day

OCTOBER
... Oct 3 (see above) Thu-Wed Dollar-a-Day
5-8 Fri-Mon Thanksgiving long weekend (Mon stat. hol.)
15 to Nov 15 Mon-Thu poss. Europe + India

NOVEMBER
(speaking at Pastor Y's church)
... Nov 15 (see above) Mon-Thu poss. Europe + India
17 Khev's conf
23 Fri MI online board mtg
29 ~J's dad's b'day (poss. party on 30th)

DECEMBER
29: KH/S wedding

2019 on
Feb 15-18: MIer conference
Feb 16: Sat - 10-yr anniv
Feb 18-22: VT retreat
Feb 22-30: time off (poss. Southern Africa)
Apr 1-3: poss. First Chair retreat
May 10, 10am: CCWM board mtg
Jun 15: poss. Prayer Journey (poss. Australia); poss. visit supporters
Jun 25-29: poss. marketplace conf. - Manila
Dec: likely Indonesia