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Book Review – “Wise Guys” by Kent Evans (with Rob Suggs)

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I’ll get straight to the point. This is a great book. I read it from start to finish in less than a day (unheard of for me), and then I immediately started reading it again.

Why couldn’t I drag myself away? Well, first of all it’s eminently readable. An easy, conversational tone draws you in. There are a few Americanisms along the way but I can forgive that – coming from an American author. Second, it starts rewarding you with titbits of wisdom right from the first chapter. No – earlier than that. Even during Kyle Idleman’s foreword I found myself thinking, “Yes, this is something I need to do!” And then that realization was reinforced throughout the following chapters, while I was also eagerly picking up life lessons – and being entertained to boot.

So, who are the “wise guys” of the title? They are ordinary people in the main, who happen to demonstrate a great way of thinking or behaving. And this book’s primary purpose is to encourage us to seek those people or, even better, recognise them in our daily lives; and then to learn from them, by observation and/or conversation.

It’s common sense – as is most of the finest wisdom. And most of what you learn as you read is really just reminding you of what you already know: be kind, ask questions, think before committing to a task, and so on. But these are truths that we all need to be reminded of on a regular basis if we are to develop positive habits rather than destructive ones.

The book is autobiographical, but only vaguely chronological. In each chapter Kent Evans recounts an incident in his life, which may have lasted anything from a few minutes to several weeks. He recalls a man from whom he learned something about himself or about life. And he ends each chapter describing those lessons learned, and then offering some “questions to consider.” These questions really help you change the direction of your thoughts away from Kent’s life and towards your own, giving you an opportunity to reflect on where your growth potential lies. It’s a straightforward format, and it works brilliantly.

I want to make three final observations that I hope will encourage you to purchase this book even if looking at the cover and reading the précis doesn’t convince you that it will speak to you.

One: although written from a male perspective, it is equally relevant to women. The book is unashamedly man-oriented. The full title is “Wise Guys: Unlocking Hidden Wisdom from the Men Around You.” Women barely get a mention, except in the acknowledgements. But this is for the very good reason that there is some truth in the cliché that men are generally not good at asking for help. The book is targeting those men and speaking directly to them. But the wisdom contained within is completely applicable to women, and you are just as likely to find a female mentor as a male one, depending on the circles you move in. So ladies – buy this book!

Two: although written from a business perspective, it is equally relevant to life in general. Now I’m not sure that the author intended to write a “business manual,” but many of the situations he describes arise from his business experiences, and so many of the men he learns from are businessmen, and many of his lessons learned are learned in the business arena. But at the same time, at the very heart they are lessons about relating to other human beings – and relationship lessons are invaluable in any area of life. Perhaps another way to say it is: this book will help you learn how to succeed in life – but it will also help you learn how to succeed in business.

Three: although written from a Christian perspective, it is equally relevant to people of other faiths or none. There are a few Biblical references sprinkled throughout the book, and some of the wise guys have connections through Kent’s church family, but there is not even a hint of evangelism or proselytizing; only the recognition that some of the wisdom gleaned from successful mentors also reflects Christian values. Having said that, I do feel that many of the chapters could be used as the basis for very interesting small group discussions. But ultimately, whatever your worldview, you will enjoy and get value from this book.

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This book was provided to me courtesy of City on a Hill Studio and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Is That All There Is?

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It’s not entirely surprising that our reaction to some artistic works changes with our worldviews. When I first heard this song, twenty or more years ago, I think my first thought was “hmm, a bit old-fashioned,” and then when I listened to the words, I found them sadly sweet, and because my life too felt sadly sweet, it struck a chord and became one of my favourite songs to chill to.

So it has remained on my playlist, but since finding Christ this is one of many songs I wonder about, thinking is it right for me to still connect with this. After all, the twin themes seem to be nihilism and hedonism, neither of which are exactly fruit of the Spirit.

 

Well, I can think of at least two reasons to value this song.

First, if it connected with me, then it will connect with others, and maybe it will help them, comfort them to know that there’s someone who saw things the same way they do. It’s a truth too easily forgotten in our darkest times, that “you are not alone, you’re not the only one who has felt like this.”

Second, a song like this challenges me to think about big questions, and talk about them like I’m about to do right here.

The song is actually based on a short story called “Disillusionment” by the German writer Thomas Mann. You can read it here. It is the story of a man for whom everything in life is a disappointment because nothing in the real world is ever as great, or as awful, as it is in his imagination. It is very dark, and like the song, it ends with the speculation that death itself will be the final, maybe the greatest, disappointment.

When Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller adapted the story into a song, they added a chorus which suggests that as our imaginations and expectations can only lead to disillusion, we might as well stop worrying and just enjoy empty pleasures. In other words, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die – a corrupted conflation of verses from two very different passages of scripture (Isaiah 22 and Ecclesiastes 8).

When I listened to this song a few days ago, it brought to mind quite a well known interview that Stephen Fry gave to Gay Byrne early last year. He starts his reply to the question about what he would say to God…

“I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”

There is much to be debated in that answer, and in the rest of Fry’s opinions articulated in that interview and elsewhere. But today I want to focus on how I connected his diatribe with the Peggy Lee recording.

Because in truth, if I could look at this world, and even this universe, in all its beauty and all its horror, with all its grandeur and all its injustice, and if I honestly believed that this is “all there is,” then I would probably do two things. First I would rant at God “if there is one” about how unfair and mean and stupid he is. Second, I would break out the booze and have a ball.

Because really, if that’s all there is, what else is there to do?

Now I can’t give a neat answer to the question “what’s bone cancer in children about?” There are many, many awful things that happen on this Earth. Some are manmade, and others are out of our hands. But let’s just imagine for a minute God creating the universe and making it perfect – perfect in the sense that nothing can go wrong, there can be no evil, no pain and no tears. According to the Bible there is such a place, but it isn’t Earth. Even in Genesis 1, before everything went wrong, Earth and everything in it is not described as perfect, merely “very good.”

In fact if this world and we human beings had been created perfect we would never have had a choice about how to live. We would only ever be able to make the decision that is right in God’s eyes – because by definition the Creator decides what is right in His creation. We would be robots, programmed not with Asimov’s three laws but with God’s ten commandments. The world would be beautiful and perfect, but our part in it would be meaningless. And if we were somehow given free will but nature held no peril, what purpose would our lives really have?

This outcome would not be so different from the atheist’s alternative. Theirs is a universe where there is no creator and no reason for creation to take place. It just happened, and from that moment on everything that has occurred has been entirely subject to the laws of physics. Every atom of every cell of your body is in its place because of the interaction of fundamental forces and particles. Every thought you have and every action you take is predetermined by those same natural laws. Because “if that’s all there is,” then you, as an individual, have no control over what the laws of physics lead you to do. And ultimately this means that your life, and this entire universe, has no purpose or meaning whatsoever.

Disillusionment.

There is another possibility. This is the possibility that God created the universe with intentional ‘flaws’, and that He created us with free will so that we could choose whether or not to follow His direction; so that we could decide how we wanted to respond to the threats that an ‘imperfect’ world presents; so that we could experience pain and grief and thus understand what joy really means. And all of this gives meaning to our lives. What we do, or even just try to do, matters. What we say and what we think matters, because they really are our thoughts, words and deeds. We have responsibility, and we have purpose.

And yes, there is a place of perfection, described in Revelation 21. A place where a child who died of bone cancer can live again with no tears and no pain. Maybe the broken life will be forgotten, or maybe it will be remembered in a way that heightens the joy of the new life. I don’t know. I don’t really know any details of what heaven and hell will be like. I think their reality is beyond the description of words, even the words of the Bible’s writers, even the “extravagantly rich” words that led Thomas Mann’s protagonist to his unhappy conclusions.

When every other option speaks of futility, I will choose to believe in the one that speaks of hope. And I will try to make good choices when facing the difficulties of this world, and I will try to enjoy the good things it offers, and I will know in my heart that the best is yet to come.

It is a thing most wonderful

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It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God’s own Son should come from heav’n,
And die to save a child like me.

And yet I know that it is true:
He came to this poor world below,
And wept and toiled and mourned and died,
Only because He loved us so.

I cannot tell how He could love
A child so weak and full of sin;
His love must be most wonderful,
If He could die my love to win.

I sometimes think about His cross,
And shut my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails, and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.

But even could I see Him die,
I could but see a little part
Of that great love, which, like a fire,
Is always burning in His heart.

It is most wonderful to know
His love for me so free and sure;
But ’tis more wonderful to see
My love for Him so faint and poor.

And yet I want to love Thee, Lord:
O light the flame within my heart,
And I will love Thee more and more
Until I see Thee as Thou art!

William Walsham How (1823-1897)

What Has Jesus Ever Done For Us?

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Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.

Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked — but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53, NKJV

Book Review: “And It Was Beautiful” by Kara Tippett

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In normal circumstances if I knew the ending of a book before I began reading it, I might never begin. What would be the point? Nobody likes spoilers do they?

If I’d followed my usual line of reasoning in the case of And It Was Beautiful then I would have missed out on a precious, thought-provoking and life-affirming read. And I would have missed the point entirely. Kara Tippett died of cancer in March 2015, and that is where this book ends, but this book isn’t about that ending.

Because first, the book radiates Kara’s faith that death is not the end. Her faith and hope lift her out of, and far above, her inevitable moments of despondency. It also prevents her story from becoming overly sentimental.

Second, the book is a story about life, not death. It is the ordinary life of a pastor’s wife, a mother of four who finds herself in a battle with a deadly foe. But in the midst of that battle she finds joy in her relationships – with her husband, children, friends and relatives. She finds kindness everywhere, and strength in God through her trust in Jesus. She has difficult conversations with her children, and she faces brutal physical pain and emotional turmoil as her cancer refuses to be stopped. But she faces it all with a courage she doesn’t even seem to see in herself, with occasional humour, and with an overriding sense of peace.

And It Was Beautiful is composed of various writings, mostly from Kara’s blog posts at http://www.mundanefaithfulness.com/ and in it she takes us with her on a journey through the last two or three years of her life. The tone is conversational. It is an easy read in that respect, although it had me struggling to hold back tears at some points. Perhaps I can sum up the book in Kara’s own words:

Some have called me heroic, for the fight, for the journey. I’m no hero. I’m just one broken woman looking for grace. I’m one needy heart in need of forgiveness. I’m just like everyone else, fighting to see grace, to live gently, to walk in integrity. It’s a daily battle, and some days it’s a war. And many days I blow it, bad. But there is always forgiveness.

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This book was provided to me courtesy of David C. Cook Publishers and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

10 Things This Christian Doesn’t Believe About The Bible

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A powerful and controversial article. The ideas articulated here are ones that all thinking Christians should consider seriously and respectfully, even if they ultimately choose to disagree.

john pavlovitz

Young man reading the Bible with bright green backgroundWhenever Christians talk about their faith with other Christians or with non-Christians the Bible is there, either as an overt discussion topic or as part of the background noise in the room. Many followers of Jesus assume that everyone believes everything about the Bible that they believe about the Bible, which makes for some very messy miscommunication and far too many disastrous conversations.

More and more Christians are gradually coming to new conclusions about the Scriptures, or they are finally putting words to things that they believed for years but felt they couldn’t express in the past in their faith communities.

If you’re a Christian, these words may not speak for you entirely (or at all) but they are things that at this stage in my own spiritual journey, I do not believe about the Bible—and I’m guessing I’m not alone.

1) I don’t believe the Bible was dictated by God. The sixty-six books comprising the Bible were composed by flawed, imperfect…

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A Distraction

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I feel the tension rise when I’m told this or that is a ‘satanic symbol’. There’s a part of me that appreciates the warning, remembers 1 Peter 5:8, and wants to avoid being devoured by the roaring lion.

But another part of me knows that symbols are nothing in themselves, that they are given meaning only in a particular context, and in the minds of those both using and viewing the symbol.

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An ‘x’ next to a schoolchild’s algebra solution means the answer is wrong. At the end of a message inside a greetings card it symbolises love. In front of the letters ‘mas’ it either means Christ, or that the perpetrator is trying to secularise the festive season.

Famously the swastika was an auspicious symbol in many Eastern religions, especially Jainism, for thousands of years before Hitler chose it as an emblem of Nazism and Aryan supremacy.

So I’m ambivalent about symbols, and this is how I rationalise my response:

Jesus is The Way. I can picture my Christian journey as a road I’m driving along, and I pray that I’m travelling in the right direction – along The Way.

There are signs along the road that are helpful to me. Sometimes the signs tell me I’m still on course. These signs might be answered prayers, small miracles or inner peace and other fruit of the Spirit.

There are more signs that warn me that I’ve taken a wrong turn, when the Spirit convicts me, or when a brother or sister corrects me.

And then there are signs that divert me. The temptations. The signs that promise me a short cut, an easier route, or the chance to take a break from the journey.

These are all signs that I need to be aware of and understand so that I don’t become lost.

And then there are the distractions. Satanic symbols are in this category. So are many church ceremonies and traditions, and denominations. In this world there are a lot of distractions.

The distractions are like advertising hoardings. They say something that may or may not be interesting or useful, but if you keep your eye on them for too long you will naturally find yourself driving towards them. That might lead to a crash, or just an uncomfortable ride, but it won’t lead to anything good. So although I might give them a glance and a thought, I want to keep my eyes on the road and The Way.

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