Late Summer Reads

Summer is coming to a close most people do book lists before summer starts I thought I would blog about the best books I’ve read this summer. Summer for me means no seminary so I can read more books that accumulating on my nightstand. For me, my Favorite book of the summer is a three-way tie between “The Devine Comedy, Silence, and “A Practical Guide to Culture ”

Here is what I’ve read so far this summer. 

Handbook for young men
J.C. Ryle’s handbook for young men, replete with warnings, exhortations, and instruction about this life’s many trials, temptations, and common pitfalls. This book is a treasure.

– Short practical and like everything Ryle does it is gospel saturated.

Silence
Seventeenth-century Japan: Two Portuguese Jesuit priests travel to a country hostile to their religion, where feudal lords force the faithful to publicly renounce their beliefs. Eventually captured and forced to watch their Japanese Christian brothers lay down their lives for their faith, the priests bear witness to unimaginable cruelties that test their own beliefs. Shusaku Endo is one of the most celebrated and well-known Japanese fiction writers of the twentieth century, and Silence is widely considered to be his great masterpiece.

– This book is a must read for every High Schooler – Such a powerful story of faith and how faith is destroyed by a post modern world. 

Parenting
Sometimes parents wish there was a guaranteed formula for raising good kids–a certain list of rules to follow to ensure they’d have obedient children. But if moms and dads view their role through the lens of God’s grace, they will see that the gospel must first shape how they parent before they can effectively shape their children. In this highly practical book, Paul David Tripp unfolds a more biblical perspective on parenting than merely adhering to a list of rules. He lays out fourteen gospel-centered principles that will radically change the way parents think about what it means to raise up a child, informing everything they do as a parent.

– Parenting is one of the most convicting yet helpful books on parenting I have read in a while.

Gilead
Nearly 25 years after Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations, from the Civil War to the 20th century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America’s heart. In the words of Kirkus, it is a novel “as big as a nation, as quiet as thought, and moving as prayer. Matchless and towering.” GILEAD tells the story of America and will break your heart.

– Gilead is a non-fiction story of faith and forgiveness. It was on a ton of lists so I read it. I thought it was good but not great. 

Inferno
This vigorous translation of Inferno preserves Dante’s simple, natural style, and captures the swift movement of the original Italian verse. Mark Musa’s blank verse rendition of the poet’s journey through the circles of Hell re-creates for the modern reader the rich meanings that Dante’s poem had for his contemporaries. Musa’s introduction and commentaries on each of the cantos brilliantly illuminate the text.

– Dante’s vision of hell was mesmerizing. Of all the classics I have read of late the Divine Comedy is near the top. Easy to read with much application to your life today. 

Live Like a Narnian
In “Live Like a Narnian” Joe Rigney shows that Owen Barfield was right–What C.S. Lewis thought about everything was secretly present in what he said about anything. From apologetics to his thoughts on education, from his view of science to the role of government, from Natural Law to true manhood and womanhood–the breadth of Lewis’s bright vision of life shines through in his beloved Chronicles. Come, learn to breathe Narnian air.

– This book was excellent great look at the great themes in Lewis’ Narnia. Really enjoyed this book. 

Should my Kids Watch 13 Reasons Why?

Should your kids watch 13 Reasons Why? When you are asked this question what are you going to say? Questions about watching things or consuming culture that is questionable come up over and over again in life and ministry. I remember when I was first a kids pastor Harry Potter and Pokemon were all the rage. Parents would ask if their kids should participate at that time I looked at everything in the world with two lenses that aren’t horrible just incomplete. I saw everything through a secular/Christian framework. If you lead with only this framework, you tend to create kids who feel they are good based on what they avoid rather than see the world the lens of what they should love. It also tends to create a Christian subculture that the Bible never advocates for. We are to be in the world not separate from but also not defined by the world. This creates for us a paradoxical relationship between us and the world we live in.

In making things about what we avoid we unintentionally do what the Jews did we add to the Law of God many times good prohibitions that end up being a crushing burden the law was never intended to be. The role of the law was to reveal our sin, show us our need for a savior, and then direct us to how life works best. It was never intended to create a crushing burden. As a kid, I wasn’t allowed to listen to “secular” music much of which my parents were right to prohibit. The problem is how the line was drawn. Christian music was defined primarily by the personal profession of faith by the lead singer of the band. I could never understand why this didn’t apply to clothing labels, movies or restaurants but I digress.

To distil everything into a good/bad litmus test you end up creating weird rules to determine what is ok and what should be banned. This can work, but it doesn’t give kids the tools they need to analyze culture the turn to cultural experts they trust to give them the thumbs up or thumbs down. This does little to help our kids navigate the complex world we live in. The question we should be asking is not is the good or bad? But is this true, good and beautiful.

Is this true?

The first question we have to ask is “Does this align with the truth of God’s word?” There are many things in this world that are not mentioned in the Bible such as Pokemon but does the story that the cultural good in question tells point us to the truth of God’s word or away from it. All truth is God’s truth, so even people who don’t profess to know Christ can proclaim his truth because of common grace. Does 13 Reasons Why advance God’s truth? No, it doesn’t. It diminishes the understanding that man is made in the image and likeness of God. It attaches our hope to our appetites.

Is it Good?

Is this thing good? We must teach our kids to cultivate goodness. The question for music, books, clothing is not “Did the person who created this ever make a profession of faith in Christ?” The question should be “Is this cultural item good or bad? Music is either good music or bad music. The goodness is defined not by the style but the content message and call to action. Does this song, book, clothing or art piece lead to human flourishing?

Is it Beautiful?

The God we serve is a self-revealing God. Does the cultural item in question point beyond itself and point you toward that which is truly beautiful. The pastor and poet George Herbert does this for me, but he was a Christian. Augustine does this for me. What about pagans? Plato, Aristotle, Claude Monet and Vincent Van Gogh were atheists all of which produced art that is beautiful because it points beyond itself to the world that created by God. Does 13 Reasons Why point to beauty beyond itself. I would say no as it has inspired many kids to take their lives because of the despair they find themselves in. Rather than point kids to greater hope, it feeds their despair.

Does it Glorify God?

The Last question we ask is, does this glorify God? As those who follow Christ, we are to live for the Glory of God alone. One of the foundational principles of the Protestant Reformation was Soli Deo Gloria for the glory of God alone. We must live, work, create and consume with this question “Will God be glorified by my creation or enjoyment of this thing?” If the answer to this question is no then avoids it if it is yes enjoy it and thank God for it. As Christians, we must be careful that we are not defined primarily by what we avoid, but we must strive to be defined by who we do all things for.

If our kids grow up with a secular sacrad view of the world they live in they will be unable to meet the demands the world creates. They will be ineffective at best and Pharisees at worst. We must teach them to long for the the good, the true, and the beautiful that in their lives Christ would be glorified.

Soli Deo Gloria

 

4 Things a Decade Worth of Blogging Has Taught Me

Around ten years ago I started following a few blogs on the internet as they were a relatively new thing. I found that there were many about lots of things that were very helpful but there were very few that provided wisdom and resources for kids and youth pastors. I think I remember there being about four to five blogs for kids pastors (David Wakerly, Jonathan Cliff, Matt Mckee, The Kidologist, I think were about it.) I can’t remember now what prompted it but I decided to jump into the blogosphere and in the following years, I shared what I was thinking about what I was processing through, good books, good ideas, and a few really bad ideas that sounded good at the time. So I thought I would share a few thoughts on blogging for a decade.

  1. The more you do something the easier it becomes
  2. Writing down your thoughts reveals the gradual changes we generally find imperceptible in our day-to-day lives.  I have changed in the last ten years more than I even realize. Looking over posts that I wrote ten years ago I find myself strongly disagreeing with myself. Which feels weird but it also helps me be more gracious with others because in ten years from now I’ll disagree with some of what I am writing at this point in my life.
  3. Sustained disciplined writing is the rings of an oak tree. You can see what happened in the life of the tree by studying its rings. I find it interesting to look back through my archive and see what God was doing and what things I was wrestling with at that season of my life.
  4. In the past ten years, I have connected with people I would never have met any other way. The community I have discovered through my blog and because of my blog has been a means of God’s grace to me in more ways you will ever fully know. For that, I am profoundly thankful. The reason I started blogging and continue to blog is to be to others what I wish I had  I started and in the family community ministry community, I have found what I always wanted as an isolated kids pastor who knew no one and painfully aware of his own inadequacy. Thank you, for taking the time to read my meandering thoughts. Thank you, for your comments your help and friendship. I am grateful to God for his grace and for your grace as well. I look forward to the next ten years with you all.

The Disordered Love of Disney

Disney Beauty and the Beast

This week The Disney company made news by introducing an LGBTQ sub-plot in its remake of Beauty and the Beast. They also are placing their first gay kiss between two animated characters. This is shocking for many Disney lovers. As someone who respects Disney’s creativity but won’t sell an organ on eBay to make the annual pilgrimage, I find it not shocking but expected. Disney has always told their fairy tales in a way that reflects culture rather than transcends culture. Most of the stories Disney tells are of reflecting our culture’s obsession with romantic love. The answer to the problem every character faces is not the proper order of love but in the right kind of love. The heart of every princess wants to find true love usually in the form of romantic love.

C.S. Lewis called Christianity a true myth. He came to faith through his friend J.R.R. Tolkien’s explanation of the gospel as the story behind every story. Lewis said “Christianity is both a myth and a fact. It’s unique. It’s the true myth.” Disney has always dealt in the currency of fairy tales, in the happily ever after. Every story Disney tells has the same framework we see in the Bible. In the Bible, we see the structure every good story has Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. In Cinderella, for example, we see Cinderella’s perfect world, followed by the death of her mother, the redemption through her Fairy Godmother and restoration with the prince and happily ever after. Our hearts long for redemption and restoration. This storyline resonates with us because we see ourselves as Cinderella in a world full of Step-mothers. We instinctively long for Redemption. The problem with Disney is their idea of love is usually reflective of culture rather than transcending culture or as we would call it otherworldly. To be fair Disney has produced movies that speak to the longing of properly ordered love in movies like Frozen and Up.

Hide and Go Seek and Letting Go.

I may not be a doctor of anything but I have a theory. I have been reluctant to throw this out there but now after we have had our third kid I am fairly certain that it’s a fact. The amount of time you spend playing peek-a-boo translates into your child’s ability to be ok with you dropping them off in the care of others. Because even though they can’t see you they know that you always come back. We tell our kids we will come back but young kids deal in concrete, not abstract thought so if you can show them that you will be back by hiding your face then popping out again you demonstrate that even when you can’t see me I am nearby and you will see me soon. They can trust you.

I am not sure if this helps the parents with the letting go part when their kids get older but it may. I do however know many two-year-old teachers that would benefit from this theory of mine.

As a parent dropping my oldest off at kindergarten I think I am starting the processes of peek-a-boo where I can let my boy go and know that he will come back. It’s not easy but few things are easy when it comes to parenting. Our job is to equip, train, release. I have to prepare my kids to be everything God created them to be and not selfishly hold them back because they fill a gap in my life.

This reminds me of Sally Lloyd-Jones’ definition of faith in her Jesus Storybook Bible

Faith is knowing that God loves you and because He loves you, you can trust Him.