Great Book: Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing

We’ve had a copy of Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing by Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago at our house for a couple of weeks. The art, just like in Jesus Storybook Bible is amazing, and it’s already sparked a couple of great conversations with my four-year-old. It’s set up as kind of a devotional book, with only one “thought” meant to be read per day. If you’re looking for a meaningful gift for your kids or a family, I highly recommend Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing.

Some Overdue Book Reviews

It’s been a while since I’ve put up any book reviews, so I thought I’d jump back into practice with a couple of books I’ve enjoyed in the past few months.

New: First Steps For New Christ Followers by Andy Blanks
Honestly, I’m usually very skeptical of any kind of devotional book aimed at teenagers. Most of the ones that I’ve picked up over the past decade feel like they were written by someone who believes that the only way to get a teenager to read a book is to use lots of outdated slang that teenagers maybe used ten years ago and put a picture of a teenager doing something radically cool on the cover–you know, like those boards on wheels so many of them are riding these days. Many are watered down at best and very few actually make much of Jesus, other than to paint him as a cool guy with a rebellious streak.

I’m grateful to my friend Andy Blanks for putting together a devotional for new followers of Jesus that simply directs teenagers who are young in their faith to the Bible and to consider what it means to follow Jesus. My favorite part of this book is that at the start, Andy includes some basic practices new Christ followers can use to rightly dive into Scripture and allow it to breathe life into them. I’m a fan of anything that points students to Jesus and his Word. I’m not sure if or how we’ll incorporate the devotional into our ministry but it’s a good tool that I’m sure we’ll put to use sooner rather than later.

Full disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book from the publisher. I was not expected to give a favorable review–or any review, for that matter–in return for the book. So, this review’s pretty unbiased, even though I’m a big fan of YM360 and their stuff.

Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together by Mark and Grace Driscoll
My wife Jennifer actually got this book for me (us?) for Valentine’s Day this year. We both read through it over a few weeks, and we’ve discussed it off and on ever since. Overall, this is an amazing tool for married couples who are committed to Jesus, especially those who are in ministry. Chapter 2 (“Friends With Benefits”) is worth the price of the book alone, and has helped me (I hope) be a better friend to Jennifer.

The biggest “pro” of this book is that Mark and Grace are very, very frank about their thoughts and their own experiences, including sexuality in marriage. While I really enjoyed the book, Mark’s tone (it’s very obvious which pages he penned because of this) grated against Jennifer in some places. It certainly didn’t make her dislike the book, but it’s a good caution for those who might consider giving it as a gift to a married (or premarital) couple that it might not be for everyone. However, I found it very helpful, both as a husband and as a pastor who counsels people struggling in their marriages.

Book Review: Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little

I’ve had Know Why You Believe by Paul E. Little on my shelf for years, on only recently picked it up to read it. The edition I read was published by InterVarsity Press in 2000, and was revised and updated by Little’s wife, Mary. I devour just about every book about apologetics I can get my hands on, and this book is by far the best “layman’s” introduction to Christian apologetics that I have ever read. By no means is an exhaustive reference, but true to InterVarsity form, it’s short, to the point, and very clear.

I highly recommend every youth worker to have a copy of Know Why You Believe on his or her bookshelf. It’s got solid answers to the most common questions I’ve fielded from teenagers over the years, such as “Is Christ God?” “Is the Bible God’s Word?” “Do Science and Scripture Agree?” and “Why Does God Allow Suffering and Evil?” I also think it would make a great book for a small group of students if they were interested in knowing more about logically defending the truth of the Christian worldview. And for youth workers who feel at a loss in their own lives for how to engage in apologetic conversations (and teach their students to do the same), it’s a great resource. There are plenty of used copies available for cheap online!

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God was one of the books I read on my Ohio trip a couple of weeks ago. It is by far one of the most convicting books I have read in a long time. I had heard so much about Francis Chan and Crazy Love from others, I was expecting to be blown away from page one. I wasn’t, but in a good way. Let me explain.

The beauty of this book is that it simply lays out what it means to follow and love God and to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I was reminded in just about every chapter how many ways God has yet to whittle me down, and how much of my own will, pride, lust, and covetousness I have yet to hand over to God to be burned. By the end of the book, I was not blown away; I was simply convicted of the sin in my life that I’m all too quick to overlook. Let me just say you should read this book, and simply share one of the more convicting passages in the book from chapter five, which is on giving to God all that we have in response to what he has given us:

Leftovers are not merely inadequate; from God’s point of view (and lest we forget, His is the only one who matters), they’re evil. let’s stop calling it ‘a busy schedule’ or ‘bills’ or ‘forgetfulness.’ It’s called evil.” Page 92, emphasis in the original

One thing that was distracting in the book was that many chapters referred to videos that can be watched online. I did not watch the videos, and so perhaps I missed out on some of the book. I really don’t see the point of mixing the two types of media, and I think the book would be strengthened if future versions just have a note at the beginning that point readers to additional material online, rather than having intermittent reminders that there are videos online we can watch, further humiliating the printed word. But I’m willing to bet I’m in the minority here.

As I recommend this book to pretty much everyone, I’m confronted with the fact that I have not read a book in a while that I’ve really disagreed with. So, if you have any reading recommendations of (good) authors who present a point of view I might disagree with, I’m all ears…or rather, I’m all eyes since this is a text blog.

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice

I traveled to Ohio a couple of weeks ago to visit my brother and his family, which afforded me little time for writing but much time for reading. One of the books I read on the trip was Wayne Rice’s recent book, Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). When Wayne came to speak to parents in our community last month, he described the book as a brief history of Youth Specialties, followed by a rant. He gives himself far too little credit in that statement.

At the risk of offending Wayne, I should point out that one of the reasons this book is so valuable is that Wayne Rice is a youth ministry elder that deserves our time. While the content of Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) is great, the real value is in the fact that it’s told by a youth ministry veteran–who’s still “in the trenches,” so to speak–looking back on the first 40 years of his time in youth ministry.

Wayne takes stock of today’s trends in youth ministry. There are times when he is critical, but it’s an honest criticism: he notes that he helped shape the way we view youth ministry today. But this is no mere rant; he notes the value of youth ministry and believes that there continues to be a place for it in the Church. In fact, one of his main points is that teenagers belong in the Church, not alongside it:

But what we have today is not really a youth ministry problem. It’s a church problem. Truth is–it has always been a church problem…It’s easy to point fingers at everyone responsible for keeping a defective model of youth ministry in place for so long, but changing how we do youth ministry, or even abolishing it altogether, won’t stem the tide of young people leaving the church and their faith as they get older. We really need to change how we do church. -pp.144-145

This book is well worth your time, and I imagine it will be a favored text in college and seminary youth ministry courses for at least the next few years.

Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis made me miss my seminary philosophy classes. It’s the first time I’ve read this work, and I won’t attempt to give much more than a brief overview. Essentially, it is a philosophical argument for the existence of an absolute and objective moral law. Lewis begins by building an argument in favor of the existence of objective value. For instance, the fact that a waterfall can be “sublime” and that such a statement expresses an objective truth rather than simply an emotional response from someone who happens to like that particular waterfall. The point is that there is inherent value in the waterfall that transcends our own opinions or emotions about it. Lewis then continues to build an argument that an objective natural law exists. He finishes the three-part essay (originally three lectures) by playing out the result of a natural moral law not existing to its logical end: arbitrary rule over many by a few.

I am looking forward to rereading this essay in the future–it’s certainly not a book one can understand in just on reading. The brilliance of this essay is that it is a sound philosophical argument that does not rely (but is enhanced by) a belief in the inerrancy of the Bible. The benefit of this is to show–using extra biblical sources (in this case the practice of philosophy)–that what the Bible says to be true, we find in our lives to be true. It’s certainly a challenging read, but ever more pertinent in our increasingly relativistic and polytheistic culture.

How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer

For Christmas, I received How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization by Franklin Foer. I had not heard of the book (though it was first published in 2004), but as a soccer fan, I was excited to read it. I’m a huge fan of all things soccer (I spend hours selecting my fantasy soccer team!) so I was desperate to read this book.

Very quickly into the book, I could see that Foer is an engaging author. Much of his research was done through interviews, and he recounts his interactions with colorful folks from around the globe. As a fan of the Beautiful Game who possesses less-than-brilliant soccer talent and is unfortunate to have been born in a culture ignorant of the virtues of the sport, I felt a sort of camaraderie with Foer while reading his book. His writing on the history and culture of soccer in different parts of the world was well worth the price of admission. What makes this book even more interesting is how Foer makes connections between the culture of soccer in a country or region and the political and economic landscape of that region. As the title promises, he weaves a few thoughts of globalization and how it relates to soccer throughout the book.

Foer’s work is a much easier read than the title suggests. To be sure, each chapter required that I brush up on my knowledge of world history, but it was an enjoyable and quick read. Definitely a good fit for any fan of the game.

North! Or Be Eaten by Andrew Peterson

I pretty much mowed my way through Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark sea of Darkness, and was excited about reading the second book in the Wingfeather Saga, North! Or Be Eaten. I was not disappointed.

The second book was just as good. What I really enjoyed about it is that it was perhaps a bit darker than the first. Just as I was getting lulled into an almost predictable cycle of “Oh, no, they’re in trouble” followed close behind with “Whew, they got out of that jam” Peterson delivered an unexpected event about halfway through the book that made me feel as though I had been punched in the gut. I was actually mad at Peterson for what happened (don’t worry, no spoilers here), which in my opinion makes a pretty good story.

I am not one to be obsessed with a movie or series, but I am rather impatiently awaiting the arrival of book number three and trying not to think about the fact that I have to wait at least another year after that for book number four (there will be five books total).

By the way, if you get into the series, make sure you check out the Wingfeather Saga’s website, which includes a lot of helpful info to keep all the characters and creatures straight.

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson

I got to finish reading two books in a week’s time–definitely a rarity for me since my venture into parenthood–while in Colorado just last week.   The second book was the first installment of The Wingfeather Saga by Andrew Peterson: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.  Peterson is one of my favorite singer/songwriters, and I was excited to get the first two books of The Wingfeather Saga for Christmas.

This really is a great read, especially if you like adventure or fantasy books.  Some story lines certainly are extended parables and have spiritual overtones, but like a good C.S. Lewis or Tolkein novel (though not on the same level), the spiritual overtones add to the experience, rather than distract from it.

In short, it’s a great page turner with fun characters.  In addition, I love Peterson’s dry sense of humor, and as I read I can picture him telling the story to his own children.  I’m not sure how long the series will be (I couldn’t find any info online; if anyone has any info, please let me know), so I’ll withhold all my praise on the whole series until I get a chance to see how the plot and characters unfold.  But this first volume in The Wingfeather Saga was a lot more fun than I’ve had reading a book in a long time, so I highly recommend it.  I’m not sure what reading level it is, but it would definitely be a great novel for younger readers as well.  Peterson is a great storyteller in his songs, and his writing is no different.