Tag Archives: Christianity

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Ron’s #2: A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

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Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is easily in my top ten favorite books list, perhaps even in the top 5. I’ve read this each year for the past three years, and each time the story grows richer, the language more beautiful, and Sydney Carton more courageous.

The story is an excellent portrait of the Gospel in several ways, but I hesitate to comment too much as there are some of you who still have this in the pile of “someday reads.” My recommendation is to find a friend and read this together. It’s a challenging novel, but certainly manageable. You will be glad that you did.

If you are interested in my past review of this book, check out one from 2011 and one from 2012.

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Ron’s #1: The Art of Neighboring by Jay Pathak & Dave Runyon

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I’m not the kind of guy who would tend to pick up a book on how to be a good neighbor. It’s not that I think that I’m a great neighbor already; it’s just that I don’t care. And this is the problem. Two things led me to read this book: 1. Tim Challies had it as one of his favorite books of 2012, and 2. We were moving into a kid-friendly neighborhood. It was time to make some changes in how we approach those people leaving twenty feet from our living room.

Let me get the minor criticisms out of the way to focus on the strengths. This book is poorly written overall with a lack of any compelling power. The two authors do my least favorite style of writing by putting their names in parentheses after using “I” in the text. This ping-pong method is futile as there was no real difference between these two guys. Even the fact that there are two guys is irrelevant. Also, they focused so much about buiding friendships and hosting block parties, there was no discussion (really, none) on presenting the Gospel or even what the Gospel is. OK, the criticism is over.

This is an important book for me to read at the right time in my life. Over the years, I’ve grown increasingly grouchier about being bothered at home. I viewed our house as a refuge from the world, and I know that it should be to some degree. However, in the four + years we’ve lived in Okinawa, we’ve never invited our neighbors over for a meal or a glass of wine. There seems to be something wrong with that. This book’s main thesis is this: When Jesus said to “Love your neighbor,” He meant, “Love your neighbor.” The book’s strength is this simple truth. We want to spiritualize, allegorizing, and metaphorize our Lord’s words, but we must ask how well we are reaching out and loving the family across the street or next door. I know that we’ve done a poor job of this in the past.

Pathak and Runyon have a simple exercise: sketch a map of your neighborhood and write the names and a few facts about those living close to you. If you are like me, your map is embarrassingly empty. When we moved to the Okinawa “suburbs,” I knew something needed to change.  With children running around like feral animals, and Power Wheels and balls strewn around like a suburban apocalypse, I needed another way to respond. The book helped me to frame how I think about our neighbors. They are not an interference or a bother; rather, they are people made in the image of God. I am part of community not only at work or at church, but also at home. I am my neighbor’s keeper. This rethinking has helped us get to know those around us better, and we’ve enjoyed the interactions. I think that I could fill out that map much better after two months here than I could after four years in our last place.

I’m not ready to have a block party as the authors seem to focus too much on, but I’ve had a great time talking to our new friends around us and hearing their stories, and getting to know their children, the kids that our boys will eventually play with.

Regardless of any of the criticism I have about the book, the main message is useful to us. I see that when Jesus tells me to love my neighbor, he means Terrance; Kevin & Ann; John & Daisy; Sherman & Daisy; Anthony & Sonya; and Clark.

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See more about the book here: http://artofneighboring.com

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Ron’s #37: Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller

I’ve been a mild Donald Miller fan over these past few year, first reading Blue Like Jazz during a trip in Bali. I remember sitting on the balcony of our hotel overlooking a green garden with this book about God and Portland. I liked Miller’s view of Portland far more than his view of God, a post-modern grandfatherly-type begging for his children to relax a bit. Aside from either of these, I loved Miller’s poetic prose. He writes with profound description and quiet beauty, a style that makes me pause to consider not his ideas as much as the sentence structure and content.

After Blue Like Jazz, I read his next book, Searching for God Knows What, and I thought that most interesting part of the book was its clever title. Miller’s PoMo poster child status went into overdrive, and I lost interest. In 2009, I picked up A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. In that book, Miller chronicles his post-Blue Like Jazz doldrums while planning a movie version of the book. The producers realize that the autobiography doesn’t have enough story in it, and work to add more story in his life story. This causes an existential crisis in Miller, and he begins ways to live life more fully, more story-worthy. From the three books, this was by far my favorite. A search for authentic life, comparing our lives to the elements of a story, as well as Miller’s excellent writing style make an excellent book, one that I plan to reread. I was a fan again. (Side note: I watched Blue Like Jazz, the movie version, and it was one of the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time.)

His earlier book, Through Painted Deserts, appeared as an audiobook on NoiseTrade, so I downloaded it and listened to it last week. It tells his road trip with his friend Paul from Houston to Oregon. I enjoyed reading his first impressions of Portland, a city that he and I both love, as well as his experiences with people and situations along the way. His writing style has developed in later books, but his writing voice is still clear, bright, and insightful. There are moments where the self-reflection feels too overwrought, and I never fully understood the difference between the overarching questions of The How’s and the Why’s. but that is no matter. I enjoyed spending a bit of time on this trip, and Miller was an engaging host.

I’m sure my future reading lists will include new books by Donald Miller. He’s an intriguing writer with much to say and many stories to tell.

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Mark’s #50 – Unto Death: Martyrdom, Missions, and the Maturity of the Church by Dalton Thomas (2012)

Gripped by fear and an overriding goal of self-preservation, few Christians today will pursue dangerous or even “risky” situations to advance the Kingdom of God

Unto Death is 27-year-old Dalton Thomas’ passionate plea for Christians today to turn their eyes to Jesus, see His all surpassing worth, and joyfully and boldly go to the most difficult places on earth with the proclamation of the gospel.  More than just an emotional plea however, Thomas grounds his convictions in the Word of God and the testimony of followers of Christ who “loved not their lives even unto death (Rev. 12:11)”.  Along the way, we are reminded of the worth of Christ, the continual presence and purposes of God in the martyrdom of His saints, the joy, love and grace of martyrdom, the role of martyrdom in the fulfilling of the great commission (Mt. 18:19-20), and how the maturity of the church of Jesus hinges on our growth toward embracing the cost of following Christ, even unto death.

In spite of his youth (27 – I’m 37), Dalton Thomas writes clearly and convincingly about an essential issue for us in the church in the west today.  I stumbled upon this book when my friend Buddy posted on his Facebook wall as a free kindle book.  I almost didn’t read it because it was free and I had never heard of the guy. However, when I saw that one of the recommendations of the book came from David Sitton, I decided it would be worth my time.  I’m glad I did.  This is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Here’s a few more quotes that grabbed my heart while reading:

“Death is a means.  Christ is the end.  Joy is the motive.  And glorious is the journey.”

“Though not every believer is called to give a martyr-witness, every believer is called to embrace a martyr-mentality, every Church a martyr-mandate, and every ministry a martyr-theology.”

“The gospel is so valuable that no risk is unreasonable”

Here’s a short trailer for the book by the author:

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Mark’s #49 – The Measure of a Man by Gene Getz (2004)

Long time pastor and author Gene Getz sets out to help men live godly lives based loosely on passages like 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.  The result is a lot of moralizing, self-congratulatory examples, some self-stylized child psychology, and very little gospel.  I would put this book in the category of a lot of contemporary mainstream evangelicalism, where the gospel is more assumed rather than being the lens through which we are to view and live life.  This is the type of Christianity that assumes everybody is on board with the gospel already, and thus we can move on to other stuff, or that the gospel really only applies to converting people to be Christians.   Thankfully there are others in the church today that are sounding the sufficiency of the gospel for all areas of life (including being a man), such as Matt Chandler, John Piper, Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Michael Horton, etc.

We recently went through this book during a men’s study.  Though the book itself isn’t all that good, it did serve as a good book for the group because it gave us opportunity each week to push our weekly reading through a gospel lens – taking the good, leaving the bad.  Since, by default, we as men prefer the moralistic, “what do I have to do to be a good man” approach, it was good to pause each week and ask, “so what does the gospel have to do with this ______ (topic)?”.

So, in conclusion, I wouldn’t waste my time reading this book on my own, but it may serve as a good springboard for gospel conversation with other men.

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