Saturday, December 20, 2014

Joy in the Journey

The popular How it Should Have Ended website parodies popular movies by suggesting alternate “improved” endings to the films. As seen below, the alternate ending for The Lord of the Rings trilogy shows Frodo riding one of the eagles into Mordor and quickly depositing the ring into the fires of Mt. Doom. In the closing dialog, the characters comment on the foolishness if they had walked the entire way.

 While we laugh at the parody, consider what was gained by traveling on foot in this epic story:
  • A strong friendship formed between an elf and dwarf, who began the story despising each other’s kind.
  • Skills and wisdom gained by the previously dismissed hobbit halflings, tested in battle and diplomatic situations.
  • New relationships created along the way with the opportunity and allow them to participate in the process (e.g. Treebeard recognizing that the Ents had a role to play).
  • Aragorn recognizing his true position and calling as king of Gondor.
  • Various evils exposed (e.g. Grima Wormtongue, Saruman)

None of these would have been accomplished if Frodo had ridden the eagles into Mordor. There was growth and gains in the lengthy and costly process.

There are great parallels as followers of Jesus Christ when we consider our sanctification process. Sanctification is the progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives (Grudem). While it begins at salvation (regeneration), it continues throughout our lives until we are with The Lord after we die, as illustrated in the following diagram.

photo credit: Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology (1994). Zondervan, p. 750.    

 How often do we desire “instant sanctification”, rather than the progressive nature of slow forward movement with occasional set backs and plateaus? Yet, like Frodo’s journey, consider how much would be missed in our Christian experience without the life-long sanctification journey accomplished through:
  • Bible reading and meditation (Psalm 1:2, Matthew 4:4, John 17:17)
  • Prayer (Ephesians 6:18, Philippians 4:6)
  • Worship (Ephesians 5:18-20)
  • Witnessing (Matthew 28:19-20)
  • Christian fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  • Self-discipline and self-control (Galatians 5:23, Titus 1:8)

While we all probably wish at times for our sanctification to occur more quickly and/or without the ongoing struggle in our sinful flesh, take time to reflect on how God is at work and blessing in the process of being conformed into His image and for the glory of His Name. There is joy in the journey!

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:12-13

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Top Books of 2014

I set a new personal record in 2014 by reading over 50 books. Like every year, some of the books were excellent and others were not. Looking back, here is my annual “top books” list, along with some honorable mentions. While I read many more good books, these are the ones that challenged me the most. This year I thought I’d publish my list before Christmas, to allow time to add to your list J.

1. Taking God at His Word by Kevin DeYoung. In a day when the Bible is being discredited from outside and inside the professing church, including the endorsement of anti-biblical positions on many issues, this is an essential read. In 124 pages DeYoung succinctly makes the case on the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture. DeYoung's stated purpose is "to convince you and (and make sure I'm convinced myself) that the Bible makes no mistakes, can be understood, cannot be overturned, and is the most important word in your life, the most relevant thing you can read every day" (page 16). Written in every-day and non-technical language this book should be widely read and discussed by students, parents, church leaders, families, church small groups, and churches as a whole. 

2. What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms How You Get Things Done by Matt Perman. It has been a long time since I have been personally challenged as much by a book as I have by this one. This book connected with me on several levels. First, as a Healthcare Process Improvement Specialist, I found the practical teaching on schedules, delegation, and efficiency/effectiveness very helpful. However, I especially appreciated the Gospel-centered approach to all of the issues covered. This book examined productivity and life focus in light of the Gospel and who I am in Jesus Christ. Perman's arguments are rooted in the fact that we are called to do good unto others as followers of Jesus Christ. He effectively supports his argument through the 350+ pages. Related, the section I found most beneficial was where he walked the reader the identifying and developing a personal mission statement, life principles, finding a life calling, and understanding life roles and responsibilities. Personally, this content has already been life transforming, as it has created a "laser beam focus" to schedules, commitments and ministry activity.

3. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. This book challenged me to consider the best approaches to address material poverty in a Gospel-centered way that respects and helps individuals, rather than inappropriately throwing money and resources toward them; contributing to the issue rather than alleviating it. The book uncovers the history and root causes of poverty in our nation and world. Having finished reading the book earlier today, I’m still wrestling with my personal action steps.

Honorable Mentions that I Would Highly Recommend
·      Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers. A practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age, this book examines how to live in our constantly connected world.
·      Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This classic Christian allegory is a must read. However, I recommend a modern English edition.
·      Real Christianity by William Wilberforce. Written in 1797, this book could have been written in 2014. Wilberforce contrasts cultural Christianity with authentic faith.
·      Recovering Redemption by Matt Chandler. A book on change for the Christian and breaking from sinful patterns based on the Gospel and our position in Jesus Christ.
·      Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. A  great book on the basic disciplines required for growth in Jesus Christ, including Bible intake, prayer, fasting, serving, evangelism, and journaling.

Great Biographies Read During 2014
·      The Thunder by Douglas Bond. A historical novel about the Scottish Reformer John Knox.
·      Amazing Grace by Eric Metxes. A biography on William Wilberforce, the 18th century abolitionist and one of my personal heroes.
·      John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aiken. A biography about the former slave ship captain and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace. Newton was Wilberforce’s pastor and co-laborer in the abolitionist movement.
·      Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior. Another biography about a contemporary of Wilberforce and partner in the abolitionist movement, Hannah More. A compelling and challenging story.

Happy reading!