Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

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Ecstasy: The Real “Brave New World”

September 10, 2013

SomaA recent article in The Daily Beast chronicles the latest attitudes toward the drug MDMA, also known as Ecstasy. From what author Abby Haglage reports, it is not only teens at raves that are using it. It is actually the same group, but now they have matured into their early 30s. They see it as the safest alternative to pot, alcohol or amphetamines.

One of the women interviewed for the article is Sarah, a 26-year old who has a Master’s Degree in Public health. Here is her assessment of the first time she used MDMA:

She says she uses Molly (Molly is the nickname for Ecstasy) regularly. Thirty minutes after taking it for her first time (while working in England at the age of 22) Sarah was happier than she’d ever been. “Don’t you just wish it could stay like this forever?” she told her friends, something they still laugh about today. Now, working as a public health professional, she says it’s not uncommon to hear her colleagues talk about doing the same thing

It is this idea of Sarah’s that she would want this feeling to stay with her forever that perked my ears. I mentioned this to several friends and they couldn’t see the significance of it.

It may be time for all colleges (and maybe high schools) to require that certain classics of the modern era be required reading. I am pretty sure that Brave New World is still on most reading lists for high school, but because none of my friends caught the reference in this article, I felt it was time to shed some light.

Brave New World is set in the distant future, at a time where humanity is controlled from birth to death. Everyone, at conception, is divided into five groups. The Alpha and Beta groups rule the world and the other groups are the drudges. In order to help the drudges cope with their existence, they are given a free drug called Soma. It has very few side effects and causes the person who takes it to feel content, passive and happy. Any time a person feels discomfort, they immediately take Soma, something they have been mentally conditioned to do since they are born.

The prevailing attitude toward Soma is that it is safe and is the essential ingredient that keeps the world running smoothly. At one point in the story, several people decide not to take Soma when they feel discomfort and realize in the end that they are left with no way to cope with fear, pain, loss and grief. Most of them quickly go back to Soma and then can’t remember why they ever wanted to live without it. At one point, one of the main characters, Lenina, is challenged to lay off the Soma. Here is her answer: “I wish I could feel this way forever.”

This is why the quote above set me off. This world now has two great sins it seeks to avoid at any cost: Boredom and discomfort. With drugs we can now eliminate (temporarily) both of these “horrible” conditions. The rampant use of Methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, crank,  ecstasy and even milder drugs like Adderall show a culture that cannot deal with inner relationship problems any more.

It is not much different with people who drink more than they ought, who smoke dope more than they ought…for anyone who takes a substance to give them inner peace.

Jesus says he came to offer a peace “that passes understanding.” The level of contentment we reach with his peace is one that a drug cannot touch.

Soma’s role was to control and hold in abeyance. The role of God’s Holy Spirit is to give us victory over the discomforts of life by facing them square on with God’s truth.

You choose: A brave new world or a True New Life.

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My Best Books of 2012

January 1, 2013

During 2011, I read a total of 111 books. I saw a definite drop off during 2012 where I only read 87 books. There are several reasons for this: first, the books I was reading were much longer than the ones in 2011 and my counseling load almost doubled from the year before, making it much more difficult to read. But in some ways I feel like the books I read during 2012 had much more impact than the 2011 slate of books.

Many of the books that I read during 2012 were not necessarily written during 2012, and therefore this is not a list of the best books of 2012. Most of these books were written within the last three years, but a good number were written many years before and I’ve just become aware of them during this last year. A few of them I’ve read before and I was coming back to them this last year.

Best Psychology Book-“The Brain That Changes Itself”by Norman Doidge. This is a groundbreaking book related to the theory of the plastic brain. This theory proposes that our brains are not static organs unable to change or make significant adjustments. The “plastic brain movement” has proven that almost any area of the brain can be reconditioned for a different purpose. This book is a crowning achievement of many different plastic brain endeavors.

Best novel-“11-22-63” by Stephen King. King is the world’s best-selling novelist and his latest work may be one of his two or three best books ever. The premise of this book is based on the question “What would happen if someone went back and prevented Pres. Kennedy from being killed?” The answers will surprise you.

Best Reread from Days Gone by- “White Fang” by Jack London. Though I had read all of the books by Jack London related to the gold rush into the northern part of Canada and the United States when I was a boy, reading this book again after all these years gave me a new appreciation for the story writing abilities of London.

Best Science Fiction– “Blackout And All Clear” by Connie Willis. Willis is clearly one of the greatest science fiction writers of our day, but she also likes to write historical fiction. This book (the two books actually function as one) combines both her science knowledge and her love of the history of World War II.

Best Sports Book-“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. In some ways this is so much more than the sports book. Is a book about survival, about the human condition, about God’s working in difficult situations and how young man’s love of running and staying in shape kept him alive when most would have died.

Best Self-Help Book-“Strength Finders 2.0” by Tom Rath. The Strength Finders survey is given much more latitude in this book. As you work through it to find your strengths and your dynamics of achievement, this book will put it into a matrix that will help you find a job; perhaps even your best job.

Best Crime/Mystery-“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn. This devolves into one of the most brutal and honest account of what can happen when two people love themselves more than each other and they are too smart for their own good.

Best Christian/Devotional-“Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. This is a day by day diary which uses Scripture portraying it as God speaking directly to the ones reading the book. It is one of those books that calls to mind the best devotional books of the early 20th century.

Best Hard Science Fiction-“Rule 34” by Charles Stross. As a science fiction fanatic, I make a distinction between regular science fiction, fantasy and hard science fiction. Hard SF focuses on the scientific principles involved in story, whereas regular science fiction is more concerned about the plot. This book by Stross is a tremendous example of a well-written science book set in the near future.

Best Fantasy Book-“Name Of The Wind/The Wise Man’s Fear” by Patrick Rothfuss. I read these two books in 10 days-they were that infectious. Rothfuss has sneaky habit of writing extremely slowly and this is going to make the third book so tantalizing and frustrating to those who read the first two.

Best Sequel-“A Dance With Dragons” by George RR Martin. Martin’s work is an acquired taste and very few people liked the first two books of the series. But each one seems to be getting better than that last.

Most Disappointing Book-“Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon. I’ve loved the work of Chabon for many years since I read his book the Yiddish Policeman’s Union. But this one failed to move me in any way. It is the story of a West Oakland neighborhood falling into disrepair, unable to rescue itself from the inevitable destruction. I wish I could say there was a plot twist that makes this easy to read, but there just isn’t. I was very disappointed at this work by very good writer.

Best Historical Book-“Killing Lincoln” by Bill O’Reilly. Though O’Reilly probably did not write the majority of this book (co-writer Martin Dugard did), his well-known name added a lot of new readers who would have passed by this historical account. This is the first in a series of books highlighting some of the great presidents, especially those who were assassinated. At every turn, there are surprising and enlightening facts about Lincoln’s life that will inform even the person who does not like history.

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The Best Books on Spiritual Formation

November 30, 2012

There are thousands of definitions of Spiritual Formation, but here’s what I mean by it:

“The activity involved with becoming more intimate with God through disciplines, practices and knowledge, with the goal of becoming more Christlike”

In my 41 years as a Christ-Follower, I have read many books that sought to help me in this process of Spiritual Formation. Many of these were written centuries ago and some show up from year to year. When I find a book that impacts me, it is usually because it shows me a path to God that is both challenging and accessible.

I realize a list like this is subjective. I have not read a lot of Eugene Peterson, Henri Noewen or Timothy Keller, so their books are not on this list. Also, as a spiritually oriented counselor, I have added more books on how to have a healthy inner man than most other people. I tried to include books from every age.

My criteria for choosing books on Spiritual Formation include the following four characteristics:

1. Good theology, but not too much

2. Biblical basis but not a lot of quotations

3. Practical elements, but not a how-to

4. Personal reflections, but not a biography.

So, without further explanation, here is a list of the books I consider essential for any disciple of Christ.

The Bible: Because it shouldn’t go without saying this is THE BOOK.

cunninghamIs That Really You, God? by Loren Cunningham. This is the foundation for a missionary movement greater in scope than any other. And a simple book on Hearing God

Hind’s Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This is the only allegory on the list, but it propels the reader to greater understanding of suffering and joy.

I Found the Key to the Heart of God by Basilea Schlink. Most North Americans need to delve into what one of the world’s greatest souls found as she lived out her Christianity in a rugged culture.

Love, Acceptance and Forgiveness by Jerry Cook. Jerry understands those things that we have to have to live for God in a broken world.

Intercessory Prayer by Dutch Sheets. He understands how to pray for others and expresses it more clearly than any other book on prayer. And I’ve read a lot of them.

wallisGod’s Chosen Fast by Arthur Wallis. If you have never fasted, or never got much out of it, this is the quintessential book on the subject. I love books of less than 100 pages that say this much.

How to Be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A. W. Tozer. Another short book that delivers what it promises.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe. Many people will be shocked to see this one on here. But when you read it, the cost of what it means to follow Christ becomes clearer and clearer.

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon McDonald. This book has changed the lives of so many people.

When I Relax I Feel Guilty by Tim Hansel. Every intense follower of Christ needs this one to balance out Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Between Heaven and Earth by Ken Gire. This is the best book by a man I consider to be one of the most thoughtful writers alive.

How to Study Your Bible by Kay Arthur. No one presents the principles of Inductive Bible Study better than Kay Arthur.

Healing Life’s Hurts by Ed Smith. This is a simple to read explanation of just about every mental and spiritual problem we face. And it lays out the simple solution.

Transformation of the Inner Man by John Sandford. The tri-fold nature of man needs to be understood and this book does a thorough job.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Boenhoeffer. This is actually  not high on my list because it is difficult to read and not well written. But the concepts are foundational and may make this one of the greatest books in Christianity along with…

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Okay, here is another allegory, but it is so much more. Get a modern translation of it if you can.

NeeThe Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. The greatest mind of Chinese Christianity and some of the simplest and profound practices of getting closer to God.

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. If you ever wondered how the Enemy of our souls carries out his business, this might be the best book on the subject.

The Bait of Satan by John Bevere. This explains why most of us have trouble getting along with other people and shows how God can solve that.

The Divine Romance by Gene Edwards. When I first read it, I thought it was heresy. I have changed my mind and now consider it a great book. Read it more than once for full effect.

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows by Paul Billheimer. Have you ever grieved and mourned? Was it worth it? That strange question is the foundation for a powerful truth.

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. In this unique set of daily prayers the Bible comes alive in a semi-private conversation between Jesus and you.

Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. You need to understand real holiness and Bridges delivers in this simple book.

When Heaven Invades Earth by Bill Johnson. Though perhaps not as well written as some of the rest (from a technical standpoint), it is rich in a subject most Christians ignore: The power of God

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning. The so-called master of spiritual formation, this book is his best.

The Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster. A good explanation of all the spiritual disciplines. Please don’t let this be the only one you read (as is true of most of these).

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. The scene about washing dishes radically changed my view of the sanctity of work.

chanCrazy Love by Francis Chan. I caution the reader to see this is one man’s passion and may not be every person’s calling. That said, this is a great depiction of God’s love for us and how we can live that out.

The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer. A classic understanding of the intricate levels of our relationship with God.

Wild At Heart by John Eldridge. Like many of the books on this list, this one launched a movement of men to get closer and more intimate with God.

The Autobiography of Madame Guyon by Jeanne Guyon. This is a deep and reflective look at God by a woman literally locked up most of her life. This is not an easy book to read, but is extremely valuable.

Holiness and the Spirit of the Age by Floyd McClung. This is a glimpse in how to read our culture with a focus on how the people of God should live in that culture.

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Open Source Church – No Copyright

December 28, 2011

For those who follow my teachings on the podcast, in person or this blog, you’ll know I’ve been hawking the idea of Open Source Ministry for about 14 years.

I knew I should have written a book on it. Too late now.

At least someone wrote it. I will have to get a copy of it for my own edification. I will let you know when I am ready to review it.

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Review of Chapter Two – “Radical” by David Platt

November 9, 2011

Synopsis of the Chapter: Platt returns to another group of Asians in an underground church. His point is to show how they commit themselves to the Bible by listening to it for 12 hours a day over a 3 day period. He uses this scene to show that North American Christians have a limited commitment to God because we don’t want to spend more than an hour and a half in church. He is trying to show how radical commitment affects our time and our loves. In addition, he is contrasting the person who makes a “decision” to follow Christ and the person who lives this out daily in their lives. He mentions that many people will come to the Judgment Day and claim they had a relationship with God, but find out they really did not.

Strong Points of Chapter: After hearing about the way Asian Christians devote themselves to the Word of God, the reader comes away with a sense of their own lack of passion for the Scriptures. Several times a year, I teach at a Youth With a Mission base in Montana where they put on a course called “School of Biblical Studies”. In this course, the students study the Bible, book by book for 8 hours a day (and 4 to 6 hours of homework each night) for up to nine months. I am sure we can find other groups that study it even more. His key strength is pointing out that the common Soteric view of the Gospel (i.e. That we just need to make a decision to follow Christ and that is enough to get into heaven) is inadequate. I completely agree.

Weaker Points of the Chapter: Platt continues to make the mistake of taking verses out of context. Unfortunately, this chapter contains the most egregious of these. He claims that the Book of Habbakuk chapter one builds a case that “God actually does more than hate sin, he hates sinners”. The author is trying to hard to re-cast God and his desire for holiness and his place as Moral Judge of the Universe. God is the judge and He does hate sin. But in no sense does God hate us. This one statement will turn off many people wanting to go further. He also seems to claim later that we really don’t have salvation unless we continue to grow into that faith through works. This is consistent with the other “Lordship” teachers of the past twenty years (typified by the Master’s College and Multnomah grads…though Platt attended other schools than these). He tries to modify this position by claiming that grace will still be extended to those who mess up, but after the harsh rhetoric of the beginning, he makes a less than compelling case for grace. Also, I am starting to get annoyed as he compares “apples and oranges” with people in third-world agrarian societies and urban office workers. Does he really expect that those who work 12 hours a day (counting commutes) in an office are going to come every day to study the Bible for six hours. Even the farmers he mentions in this chapter can’t do that. We should take a few days out of every year to study the Bible intensely, but to even leave the suggestion that this is to be the regular habit of every Christian for the rest of their lives is unrealistic and no one in the Bible lived up to it. Not even Jesus.

What I learned: Lately, I have committed myself to seeing new converts focus on living as healthy as they can and to continue growing every day and not just the first days of their faith.

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How to Read a Christian Book

May 31, 2011

Years ago, I read the biography of David Brainerd. Brainerd was the son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards, the great preacher of the Awakening and President of Princeton University. Brainerd was also a missionary to the native peoples of the Northeast and was a prodigious prayer-warrior. He mentions in his journals that he would rise at 4:30 most days and pray until noon . As I read this, I was struck with my own prayer-less life. So I devoted myself to begin rising at 5 a.m. to pray.

I distinctly remember the first time I did this. I answered the call of the alarm eagerly, bringing my list of prayer items to the place where I would pray. My wife rolled over and went back to sleep and I felt a certain sense of accomplishment having arisen to pray as she slept. Okay, there was a degree of pride there as well. I went into the room I had set aside as a prayer space (it was our storage closet. Since we had only been married for seven months, we didn’t have a lot of stuff to store). At 5:05 I started to pray Read the rest of this entry ?

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Greatest Kids Books for Adults

May 30, 2011

Just as Sesame Street had as much appeal to adults as to kids, so too there are many books written for children that cannot be fully appreciated until one has reached adult years. There are perhaps three reasons there are so many of these. First, all these books are written by adults and therefore have at least some adult thought patterns built into them. Second, it is almost impossible for an author to think concretely (as a child does) when your brain has entered the abstract world. Third, nothing grips the mind of an adult more than the realization they are seeing more than is there. Notice the fascination with “Hidden Pictures” and listening to music backwards and this will be obvious.

This list is not in any particular order. I get annoyed by book lists that try to put their findings in any kind of order, because the subjectivity of it all just screams for renovation. So this list is purely a group of children’s books which most adults would admire and enjoy.

1. The House at Pooh Corner: As much as the other Winnie-the-Pooh books are wonderful, this book deals with interesting themes the others don’t. Tigger, the ADHD child bounces into our hearts. Homes are lost and found as are friends. Christopher Robin shows the first signs he is about to leave childhood behind; a realization that only an adult can note with wonder and sadness.

2. Charlotte’s Web: When Wilbur asks, “why did you do this for me?”, Charlotte’s answer informs the reader of one of life’s greatest motivations – Sacrificial Love. Though humans are interlaced with the story, we feel more for the animals and their dilemmas. Even a rat and his thieving, hording ways is not without pathos.

3. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Day: if you have not read this book, then you are in for a treat. Every book by Judith Viorst is a classic, but none more so than this beauty. Alexander is petulant and angry because every thing that can possibly make his day go badly is happening to him. What adult has not thought there was a sign on his back that says “Kick me”. Alexander shows that these signs exist….even in Australia.

4. Where the Wild Things are: Max doesn’t get dinner and he imagines himself running away and being carried to a world where someone must care. Except they don’t. In reality, Max is dealing with much deeper pain than anyone suspects. But through this even wilder world, Max learns that all living beings deal with pain and he shall not ever see himself the same way again.

5. A Wrinkle in Time: The Austin family sees the world a little differently than the rest. But that’s okay because we view the end result with wonder and delight. Since reading this, I have wondered what it would be like to Tessaract and fold reality to my bidding. So far I have only added wrinkles to my face in the folding process, but I will get there.

6. The Bridge to Terebithia: Another book where children face the sense of loss and grief that come to most children when they are least ready for it. Yet in the midst of pain comes the wonder of discovery. A charming book so well written that it may be put in the category of Classic Literature (with Charlotte’s Web of course).

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I vowed I would abstain from Roald Dahl. He has a dark demented side that I cannot fully reconcile with children’s stories. But the unconquerable Charlie stands for all time as the childhood hero with flaws and emotions of real people. For this reason I include the book as the only Dahl novel to make my list.

8. The Chronicles of Narnia: Are they for children? I am not sure they qualify since the themes which dominate cannot be truly grasped by anyone under the age of accountability. But there is an innocence and wonder to Lucy which grabs the child-like reader and won’t let go.

9. The Secret Garden: What child doesn’t go looking for secrets, passageways, things that go bump in the day. It seems this list of children’s books have themes as dark as mankind and as bright as heaven. This book explores all of them and ends where a children’s book ought to end: At Truth.

10. Alice in Wonderland: This book was never intended as a children’s book. It was political satire and leaned toward the drug culture when that culture was almost unheard of. Yet Disney brought it to a child’s eyes and perhaps they were right. In any case, Tim Burton probably was closer to the original intent of its author.

11. The Giver: What child can discern the difference between an ideal world and a false Utopia. Yet this book desires to do just that. And if the child is precocious enough, they may see glimpses of reality shining forth.

12. Holes: “If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, you will make him a good boy.” This reform school classic will never go out of style. Although after reading this book (or the first part anyway) I did convince my wife it would be a good punishment for the kids. After reading the end, I changed my mind.

13. The Cat in the Hat Comes Back: The spreading stain is just the first thing that sticks to everything. The characters and wording of this book are monumentally stupendiferous.

14. Love You Forever: Other than the disturbing break-and-enter scene, this book touched my heart just as much as the kids. Maybe more. They wanted it read over and over, and I always acquiesced.

15. Island of the Blue Dolphins: This is the first book I read more than once as a child (A Wrinkle in Time was second). This is really a coming of age, Robinson Crusoe and discovery of California book all wrapped up together. I never got enough of wanting to live where she did. And now I almost do.

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