Books


This is the wonderful summary and conclusion of Chapter 2, “The Cross and the Holy Spirit” in D. A. Carson’s The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians. Truly the message of the cross would be foolishness to everyone if not for the work of the Holy Spirit.

Truly to grasp that the eternal God, our Maker and Judge, has out of inexpressible grace sent his Son to die the odious death of an abominated criminal in order that we might be forgiven and reconciled to him; that this wise plan was effected by sinful leaders who thought they were controlling events and who were operating out of selfish expediency, while in fact God was bringing about his own good, redemptive purposes; that our only hope of life in the presence of this holy and loving God lies in casting ourselves without reserve on his mercy, receiving in faith the gift of forgiveness purchased at inestimable cost – none of this is possible apart from the work of the Spirit. And Christians say, with increasing awe and gratitude, ‘God has revealed it to us by his Spirit’ (1 Cor. 2:10a).”

(Baker Books: Grand Rapids, MI; 1993. Page 66)

I was listening to an audio version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet while on a run this morning (courtesy of the Louisville Free Public Library), and heard this wonderful thought to ponder, especially here in the age of the internet and seemingly limitless information. I believe there is some wisdom here given the pressure to know everything about everything, and the apparent ability to do so with the click of a button, not to mention the amount of truly useless information in the world – much more useless than a knowledge of the Solar System.

The quote below is written from Dr. Watson’s perspective, as he describes his newfound friend, Sherlock Holmes.

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His ignorance was as remarkable as his knowledge. Of contemporary literature, philosophy and politics he appeared to know next to nothing. Upon my quoting Thomas Carlyle, he inquired in the naïvest way who he might be and what he had done. My surprise reached a climax, however, when I found incidentally that he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the Solar System. That any civilized human being in this nineteenth century should not be aware that the earth travelled round the sun appeared to me to be such an extraordinary fact that I could hardly realize it.

“You appear to be astonished,” he said, smiling at my expression of surprise. “Now that I do know it I shall do my best to forget it.”

“To forget it!”

“You see,” he explained, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled up with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it. Now the skillful workman is very careful indeed as to what he takes into his brain-attic. He will have nothing but the tools which may help him in doing his work, but of these he has a large assortment, and all in the most perfect order. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”

“But the Solar System!” I protested.

“What the deuce is it to me?” he interrupted impatiently: “you say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or to my work.”

(accessed at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/DoyScar.html)

Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” In his book The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges shares this wonderful and tender application of the truth of these verses:

The priority of love over possessions was brought home to me deeply and poignantly some ten years ago. My wife of twenty-five years was dying of cancer. We had been on the staff of a Christian organization all our married lives, and our income had usually hovered around barely adequate. If we went out to eat, it was to Burger King or the local cafeteria. We seldom had discretionary income.

Two things we did have lots of, though, were love and fun. My wife had elected to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. She spent hours with the children when they were small, and after they were in school she never missed a game or scholastic event in which they participated. When I left for the office each morning, she always stood at the door to wave a loving good-bye. Our standard of living could have been described as “a meal of vegetables.” But we had lots of love, and we enjoyed life.

With this history of twenty-five years of love and the realization that my wife was probably dying, I came across Proverbs 15:16-17 one day in my Bible reading. As I read, I wept for joy. I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Thank you, Father, for a home with love.”

My wife has now been with the Lord for ten years, but still today “her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). There is joy in fearing God and in the wisdom that comes from it.

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Psalm 128

How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion,
And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Indeed, may you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!

Some students from our youth group and I have been going through a small book over the past few weeks called, What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert. We’re over halfway through it now, and it has been focus on the central message of Christianity, to identify the sharp edges of the gospel, and to gain confidence in sharing God’s plan of redemption with those who have yet to hear and respond.

As I read them last week, I found the closing two paragraphs of chapter 5, “Response – Faith and Repentance”, to be poignant in a couple of ways. First, they pose a question that gets at the heart of the message of the gospel: How do I secure “a righteous verdict from God the Judge, rather than a guilty one?” (75). Such is the greatest need of all humanity and the need God has met through Jesus.

And, second, these words exalt in the glory of God in the salvation of sinners. They point to God’s work in Christ as the sole means of being justified before God. They rejoice in the beauty of the gospel.

When you stand before God at the judgment, I wonder what you plan to do or say in order to convince him to count you righteous and admit you to all the blessings of his kingdom? What good deed or godly attitude will you pull out of your pocket to impress him? Will you pull out your church attendance? Your family life? Your spotless thought life? The fact that you haven’t done anything really heinous in your own eyes? I wonder what you’ll hold up before him while saying, “God, on account of this, justify me!”

I’ll tell you what every Christian whose faith is in Christ alone will do, by God’s grace. They will simply and quietly point to Jesus. And this will be their plea: “O God, do not look for any righteousness in my own life. Look at your Son. Count me righteous not because of anything I’ve done or anything I am, but because of him. He lived the life I should have lived. He died the death that I deserve. I have renounced all other trusts, and my plea is him alone. Justify me, O God, because of Jesus.”

The most significant relationships in my life are my relationship with my wife and the relationships I have with each of my children. They are significant because of their depth, but also because of the God-given responsibility tied to each of them. As a husband, I am called to love my wife as Christ has loved His Bride and to wash her with the water of the Word, so that I might present her to Christ as pure and spotless (Eph. 5:25-27). And as a father, I am called to bring my children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4); to put before them the mighty deeds of God and point them to Jesus. Beyond my own personal responsibility to my family, as a pastor I am called to be a godly example in these realms and to call husbands and fathers to rise to the challenge given us in Scripture. There is joy but also soberness tied to all of these roles in my life, and I am constantly seeking to grow in my understanding of God’s calling on my life as a man.

I recently read through Mark Driscoll’s
Pastor Dad with a member of our church and found it to be a good resource in reminding me of these responsibilities I have been given, calling me to something beyond “surviving” fatherhood. For those familiar with Driscoll’s preaching style, the book follows the same vein of blunt and pithy commentary centered on God’s Word, which makes sense, given that it is the edited transcript of a message he preached at his church. The way he teaches is not for everyone, but I usually appreciate a timely bare-knuckled gut check, and Driscoll consistently delivers that. His almost patented rebuke of young men is also present and needed. And while he leaves little room for argument, his words provide significant fodder for discussion and much encouragement towards godly fatherhood.

As I reflect on Pastor Dad, which can easily be read in one or two sittings, certain encouragements that I needed come immediately to mind:

  • Focus on the future. Scripture points us as fathers to think beyond on own children to our grandchildren, and calls us to be an example in the present so that future generations will worship the God we do. My focus is often on getting through each day, or maybe the week, but I am called to consider how what I do now will cause my grandchildren to love Jesus.
  • Read and Memorize the Proverbs. Of the Scriptures cited in this small book, I’d estimate that 90% of them are from the book of Proverbs, and there is so much wisdom to be found there! I am encouraged afresh to read and memorize portions of this book of wisdom.
  • Delight in and Enjoy Your Kids. This is the lesson that rings most clearly in my ears. Before I can correct, protect, or lead my children, I must first find joy in them. I learned during the summer that I was a camp counselor that my personality will most often err on the side of discipline rather than grace. There is certainly a place for correction, and the book is clear on that, but I recognized in reading this book that I need to intentionally enjoy the time I spend with my kids. They are a blessing, not a burden, and I need to cultivate a spirit of joy and laughter in my home.
  • Bear the Name of Father Well. Driscoll sums this up well: “One of the highest compliments anyone has ever paid me came from my daughter Ashley, who at the age of four told me, ‘I’m very lucky to have two daddies. You are my daddy and God is my daddy.’ When she said that, I was struck by the incredible privilege of sharing the very honorable title of ‘father’ with God in the mind of my little girl. When God shares his name with us, it is a sacred matter that we must take very seriously.”

So read it online or print the pdf or order a copy and be challenged by this short book. May we fathers who name the name of Christ represent our heavenly Father well in the way we lead our families.

Some of the changes in life were imposed, and some were chosen – if by ‘chosen’ I may mean that I chose what I seemed already to have been chosen by, desire having obscured the alternatives. (From Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry, pg. 29)

As I was reading this wonderful novel about Jayber Crow, the fictional barber of the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, I was struck by this statement. As a student and pastor, I have done a lot of thinking and reading and musing and meditating about the issue of reconciling divine sovereignty and the human will. Haven’t we all? Questions pertaining to these seemingly contradictory truths arise constantly in small groups, youth groups, and countless other groups, and I often formulate answers that feel unsatisfactory, both to myself and others. Yet this simple statement penned by Wendell Berry made me wonder if it may be helpful to think of free will as Jayber does – as a perceived reality. He says that some changes in his life were imposed – forced upon him – while others he ‘chose,’ though his choice also seemed forced. That he in essence chose what was the only possible choice for him.

I don’t know if that’s what is meant by the statement, but the thought of an “imposed choice,” and that my will may only be a perceived reality is helpful to me. Even comforting. Probably because I find it to ring true with who God has revealed Himself to be in His word and who I have seen myself to be as I’ve looked into the mirror of Scripture.

“I don’t want to analyze a story. I don’t want to find hidden meaning. I just want to escape from the real world for a bit.” – J. R. R. Tolkien

There is something great about books with maps at the beginning – even before reading the first words, you are invited to lose yourself in a world not your own. In Andrew Peterson’s second installment in the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten, that world is Aerwiar. The first book in the series introduces readers to the Igilby children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli, their noble mother, their ex-pirate grandfather, the mysterious Peet the Sockman, and the lover of literature, Oskar N. Reteep. Our heroes are back in N!OBE, on the cusp of a journey to the Ice Prairies. Always close behind them are the dreaded Fangs of Dang, ravenous toothy cows, and hungry horned hounds, not to mention quill diggles, snickbuzzards, and bomnubbles.

Peterson returns with everything that worked so well in the first book: action, adventure, laugh-out-loud humor, creative footnotes, timely quotations from Oskar N. Reteep, and thought-provoking lines throughout. Yet North! Or Be Eaten takes the story of the Igilbys to a new level. I was reminded of the transition from Tolkien’s The Hobbit to his Lord of the Rings series: the truths of the wide-world were introduced in the first book, but the depths of those realities were plumbed in the series that followed. Such is the nature of the Wingfeather Saga. As the story unfolds from Janner Igilby’s perspective, we watch a young boy’s world expand from a cottage in the small town Skree to the vastness of thundering Fingap Falls, the seemingly impassable Stony Mountains, and the daunting Ice Prairies. More than the physical landscape, Janner’s eyes are opened to the realities of evil and betrayal, the value of family and courage, and the sometimes hard to grasp ways of the Maker. As Janner deals with fear, loss, and lonliness and as he grows in valor and love, the reader is able to learn the universal lessons of life that join the world of Aerwiar and our own.

North! Or Be Eaten lets the reader escape the real world for bit, yet in the midst of humor, suspense, and adventure there are truths from this other world so clear and parallel to our own that it is impossible to not be changed by them. 

 

Andrew Peterson is the author of On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, Book One in the Wingfeather Saga, and The Ballad of Matthew’s Begats. He’s also the critically-acclaimed singer-songwriter and recording artist of ten albums, including Resurrection Letters II and my all-time favorite album, Love and Thunder. He and his wife, Jamie, live with their two sons and one daughter in a little house they call The Warren near Nashville, Tennessee. Visit his websites: www.andrew-peterson.com and www.rabbitroom.com.

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