The Good and Beautiful God

I have been blessed by experiencing The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith. This is the first book in The Apprentice Series from Renovare. I first heard about this book from my friends Jimmy Taylor and Ben Simpson who are both involved with the Apprentice team in conferences and development of the series.

This book is designed to help the reader come to love the God whom Jesus knows. Each of the chapters addresses a false narrative about God and fills in the narrative of Jesus’ experience with God. Accompanying these narratives are what Smith refers to as “soul training exercises.” These are simple practices which are designed to undergird the narrative that is discussed in the chapter.

I found the writing to be refreshing and accessible. The small group study guide included in the back of the book was effective for our small group interaction. Most importantly, I found the soul training exercises to be effective in bringing about change in my life. This book was not just one which I read and managed to absorb some content. It was an experience that lead me to practices of the Christian life that continue to be part of my daily and weekly life almost a month after we completed the study.

I am am looking forward to The Good and Beautiful Life: Putting on the Character of Christ and The Good and Beautiful Community. I recommend this book to pastors, local church leaders and all those seeking to experience life change and “fall in love with the God Jesus knows.”

Simple Life: Time, Relationships, Money, God

Simple Life: Time, Relationships, Money, God by Thom S. and Art Rainer is a follow up to Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples with the focus shifting from church to one’s personal life. Rainer and Rainer suggest moving through action steps of clarity, movement, alignment and focus in the areas of time, relationships, money and connecting with God. Common sense principles are mixed in with interview from individuals who were experiencing stress in these areas.

I appreciate the idea of simplifying one’s life. Simple Life offers practical steps to moving forward. However, I experienced the content as a bit fluffy. The meat of the content could have been produced in a book half the length. This book would have been more effective if the authors would have taken on the challenge of editing to a more concise length.

The connection to the successful book, Simple Church, seems contrived and a mechanism to market a nominally effective book. I recommend http://unclutterer.com over Simple Life for simplifying one’s life.

A People’s History of Christianity

I recently read A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story, the latest book from Diana Butler Bass. Bass takes the reader on a jaunt through the history of the church from the first century right up to today dividing the years into: early, medieval, reformation, modern and contemporary Christianity. In each of these eras Bass examines the particularities of devotion and ethics that characterized the believers of that time. These are each illustrated through stories of Bass’ own life journey and through characters of history – some well known and others less known.

While I am familiar with some of the general themes of church history from my courses in seminary, I found this to be a quality refresher. Addressing devotion and ethics was a somewhat tedious, yet predominantly helpful, mechanism to move through thousands of years of history in one book. I particularly appreciated the attention to particular characters throughout time that sought to love God and their neighbor in their time and place.

I recommend this book to someone that is looking for an introduction to church history and is willing to engage in the stories of individuals. Bass is a quality church historian and writer.

Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Right now I am transitioning back to Kansas City after time in Louisiana on a mission trip with the youth from Resurection. Hopefully more about the trip soon…

I first read Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges in the summer of 2006. I took the opportunity to read this book again this spring. The content is excellent.

Bridges addresses the common elements in all sorts of transitions in life. These range from the natural transitions in life time, relationships and work. In his own words,

“The subject of this book is the difficult process of letting go of an old situation, of suffering the confusing nowhere of in-betweenness and of launching forth again in a new situation (Bridges, 4).”

Bridges works through these three movements of a transition in ways that seek to make meaning out of each step. It is encouraging to me to know that when in the middle of a transition there is a framework around which to wrap the experience. While each transition is individual, there are common elements of all transitions that hold true across our life and the lives of others.

I find this book to be helpful each time I read it. It has also provided helpful guidance for my calling as a pastor. I will continue to look to this book for insights in transition and commend it to you.

Flickering Pixels

I just finished reading Flickering Pixels: How Technology Shapes Your Faith by Shane Hipps. After just finishing the book I felt thoughtful, peaceful, powerful, aware and enlightened. This book was an unexpected breath of fresh air into my life.

Hipps is a Mennonite pastor in Arizona who formerly worked in advertising. He has a distinct perspective on media and how it shapes the way that we think. Hipps suggests that the book is about “training our eyes to see things we usually overlook” (14).

Hipps is a proponent of Marshall McLuhan’s phrase – the medium is the message. Hipps helped me to think critically about the media with which I engage in every day. I am more aware of the effect that the medium itself has on me as well as any given content.

Hipps ranges across a wide variety of topics within the field of technology and faith. After addressing media, images and how our brain learns and process information, he makes a clear connection with God. God communicates in many different ways with God’s creation and in a very real sense the medium is the message, particularly in the person of Jesus Christ.

I unequivocally recommend this book to those who seek to be more aware about the infoluence which technology has on life and faith.

The Echo Within

I just finished up The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling by Robert Benson. I admit that I was a bit skeptical of the book when I started. From the front and back cover, I assumed that it would be a bit too lovely for me. I was surprised at what I found.

Benson writes with a cadence that flows between personal narrative, interactions with others and teaching about listening for God’s call in your life. The book is titled after the resonance that forms when one hears or experiences something which may be a true calling – something for which God has created a particular individual.

I recommend it for someone that is looking for a narrative look at how to listen for God’s voice in your life. While I am not as comfortable with Benson’s approach to faith as others that are more direct, I found value in this book. I have someone in mind whom I believe may find it valuable and will pass it along.

If you are interested, you can purchase it at
The Echo Within: Finding Your True Calling.

The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster

I picked up the book The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster: 100 Ways to Make Life More Efficient as a Christmas present for myself with a gift card that I received in early December.

It is right up my alley. The book consists of 100 short chapters on topics that range from selling your home to planning a vacation. Each is written by an expert in that particular field and gives practical advice on how to do that particular activity more efficiently. It is easy to read through or browse as each particular chapter is self-contained and just a few pages. One of my favorite chapters is how to reduce the length of meetings. I am planning to bring it up at work and also remember the techniques when I am in a position of leading a staff team.

My wife can certainly attest to my desire to do things efficiently and this book served to feed that desire and provide helpful guidance. I hope to use some of the techniques to give me more time to spend on those areas which could really use it in my life right now – relaxation, time with friends and family.

Transformational Architecture: Reshaping Our Lives as Narrative

I found Transformational Architecture: Reshaping Our Lives as Narrative by Ron Martoia to be an excellent book that reaffirms the importance of telling the whole story in scripture when having spiritual conversations with non or nominally religious people. Martoia asserts that a focus on the brokenness of people without telling of the creation of humanity in God’s image is inadequate.  Martoia addresses the various aspects of a spiritual conversation including: context, biblical text and human text. He suggests that structuring spiritual conversations based on these three texts will prove more fruitful than focusing on just one of these aspects.
I particularly resonated with Martoia’s understanding that a spiritual journey is best done in a narrative format and that this is the format that we see in scripture. I have not yet read other texts which address this theme as explicitly.
Transformational Archtecture is generally well written, although there are a few tangents that make their way into the text. I will keep this book on my shelf and refer to it again in the future. I suggest it as reading for someone who is interested in spiritual formation and narrative as a way of understanding a spiritual journey.

Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight

I received Only Nuns Change Habits Overnight, by Karen Saclf Linamen with a slight hesitancy. I thought that this book would be only for women and I would struggle moving through it from beginning to end. I was wrong.

Linamen provides solid advice about life change that is written in a light hearted and fun way. It is directed toward women, but I found it to be helpful for me (as a man) as well.

This is a book that I will keep on my shelf and likely refer to and suggest for others. I recommend it for any woman considering making changes in her life (and guys too). You can purchase it at Amazon with this link – http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1400074002

Me, Myself and I AM

Me, Myself, and I AM: A Unique Question and Answer Book: The Story of You and God by Matthew Peters is a book unlike any other that I have experienced before. Through a series of questions on many topics the author guides the reader through a discernment process. It is designed to be used in any order, at one time, or across a period of time.

I was at first skeptical of the book, but took some time to work through a few sections myself. I was pleasantly surprised. The questions are thoughtful, probing and at times a bit off beat. I found it to be an effective way to move through a time of self-reflection and discernment. I found some similarities with Wesley’s questions contained in the Rules of the Band Groups, but not close to the depth.

This book is only as good as the effort that the reader puts into engaging with the questions. Without a serious attempt to venture into self-reflection it is a worthless addition to your shelf. However an earnest effort at introspection will yield fruit. I am looking forward to continuing to engage with this book in the months to come.

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken

The Greatest Words Ever Spoken: Everything Jesus Said About You, Your LIfe, and Everything Else (link to Amazon) is the second book by Steven K. Scott. As described on the back cover,

“For the first time ever, all the statements Jesus made in the New Testament have been brought together under more than two hundred practica, easy-to-find topics. When you want to know His will in a specific area of life; you’re seeking the answer to a perplexing question; or you are desparate for His encouragement, comfort, or wisdom, you can easily find the help you need.”

This is a very accurate description of the contents. The book is divided into chapters containing main topics and further subdivided into particular topics. The quotes are from the New International Version and does include dialogue if there is a series where Jesus is in conversation with others.

My first impression is that this is not a helpful resource. I believe that the words of Jesus are important but removing them from the rest of scripture takes away all context and does not allow for any flow of the narrative.

On a more charitable note, I think that this book may be helpful as a kind of concordance – to find specific passages and look them up in context. I would not recommend this text for use without a Bible.

Difficult Conversations

Most if not all difficult conversations have similar patterns from which lessons can be learned to better engage in them. This is the basic assertion of the authors of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most. From their website:

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most was developed over ten years of work at the Harvard Negotiation Project. Written to help professionals, parents, teachers, government officials, corporations and communities, Difficult Conversations offers a concrete, step-by-step approach to preparing for and conducting your most challenging conversations.

The authors divide difficult conversations into categories:

  • What happened? conversation
  • Feelings conversation
  • Identity conversation

Each conversation has distinct pitfalls and opportunities. The authors offer clear guidance about navigating each of these conversations in a way that bears fruit. Difficult Conversations is written with many relevant examples that illustrate and add valuable content.

I found the practical style of this book to be quite helpful and it is one that I will keep on my shelf for a long time. I recommend this to leaders, parents, and anyone anticipating a difficult conversation at some time in the future.