We’ve cleaned up the gift wrap from out Epiphany celebration (Three Kings Day some call it) on the 12th day of Christmastide. Now, even though we can’t bear to take down our greenery and white lights, we must admit the season is passed and the New Year is really here. Oh my.
If you are like me, with 350-some more days to go, you haven’t rushed to pick a daily devotional. Many serious readers, I find, don’t take a liking to these little devotional guides, but I think that is a bit foolhardy. Of course some are cheesy and some are shallow and maybe some don’t speak your love language. But some devotional guides are extraordinary and can be used very profitably. Some have meaty, serious text, some are creative and fascinating, many can deepen your resolve to live faithfully, even teaching a bit in short bits. So, for yourself, or to pass on to others, here is an eccentric little list of a few you might want to consider. I’ll be brief, naming only a few. Call us if these don’t seem quite right, but you’d like other advice.
Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim Philip Yancey (Zondervan) $19.99 This is a sturdy, handsome hardback, with one-page readings selected for each day. The readings are gleaned from decades of his work, including some hard to find essays and an out of print book or to. If you have appreciated Yancey’s good reportage and ruminations over the years, if you value a literary, thinking, open-minded, very talented evangelical, if you’ve been glad–as we certainly have been!–that just such writers are published these days, then this is a perfect way to dip into his work, be reminded and refreshed. If you don’t know Yancey’s writing, we truly commend this as a way into his large body of very wise and insightful work. (I think) I like the blurb on the back that says “a year with Philip Yancey will make your heart think and your mind feel.” Thoughtful, rich, interesting. Very highly recommended.
Take Hold of God and Pull Calvin Seerveld (Paternoster) $20.00 This paperback includes a few woodcuts, but the text is think and heavy. I might say that Seerveld (Rainbows for the Fallen World, Bearing Fresh Olive Leaves, Reading the Bible To Hear God Speak, Voicing God’s Praise among others) is my all time favorite author. Well, even if that is more conclusive than I might aver (I’ve got so many favorites) there is no doubt that I esteem him as much as any man alive and appreciate his books among my all time top few. His writing can be at times rather eccentric, so be warned. I think he makes up words. And it is seriously, seriously Biblical; he translates and exegetes texts, and not only explains and preaches and proclaims, he spins off towards contemporary application in ways that sounds like some Biblical prophet; he’s got the Word in his bones, racing from passage to passage, harsh and gentle and winsome, not selling anything, but often urgent. These were firstly given as chapel talks at a small, mostly Reformed Christian college (Trinity Christian in Palo Heights, IL) in the hey-day of the late 60s and Seerveld, mostly known as a philosopher of aesthetics, spoke in ways that were (I’m told by those who were there) electrifying. He has cadences that are both ancient and contemporary, philosophical yet with a blue-collar plainness at times, in a way that few match. I had a different edition of this in college, and I think I’d say it was one of those transforming experiences with the printed page that drew me to books and bookselling. Beth and I are grateful that this British publisher has kept it in print in a compact sized paperback.
On Being Human: Imaging God in the Modern World Calvin Seerveld (Welch) $7.00 At just over 100 pages, this thin book is deceptively brief. Yet the chapters should be read carefully, and often, as there is thick wisdom here. Each Biblical meditation in one way or another explores what it means to be fully human, and it does so in conversation with an art piece that he happily shows off in the start of each chapter. (Some are contemporary paintings while others are classic; several are sculptures, and there is a photograph and a lithograph.) There are songs, here (meant for singing he says), artworks for imaginative viewing and prayers offered which he hopes you will pray out loud. Part art reflection, part Bible study, part gospel proclaimation, this short book brings yous enjoyably into the living presence of God, where we find ourselves as “listening, sinful saints” sharing truth with our neighbors. “Humans should use a book humanly” he writes. Get ready to sing and pray and think and perhaps breath a sigh of gratitude for writers like this.
66 Love Letters: A Conversation With God That Invites You Into His Story Larry Crabb (Nelson) $22.99 This has the feel of an older book, with a textured paper, with a brown cover, a photo of a rope that almost feels real. I don’t know if they are conjuring up some mystery, but the idea is clever: this is an imaginary conversation where God is explaining God’s ways in each book of the Bible as Dr. Crabb replies. This is a playful–yet, I’d say, exceptionally serious–process, where Crabb cries out and listens, celebrates and praises, scratches his head and wonders. “Read on!” God says, as the story unfolds, as His grace and providence and goodness and faithfulness is increasingly seen. These are (the front cover reminds) 66 love letters “From God to You.” Here is a fresh, relational look at Scripture.
A Year With God: Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines edited by Richard Foster & Julia Roller (HarperOne) $22.99 You may know the reliable work of Renovare, a ministry rooted in the deepest mystic and thinkers of the church, a ministry that invites followers of Jesus to know God deeply, and to sense God’s presence as we serve Him in contemplative ways throughout our daily lives. Here, Foster (the founder of Renovare) offers some of the best short selections from some of the best writers of spirituality, including much lifted from the Life With God Bible. For each day they present a Scripture passage, then a commentary on the passage, a spiritual practice followed by a quotation, prayer or reflection relating to the passage. These are morsels—bits of sustenance for the journey. There is a wonderful format here, a nearly rigorous plan covering
great amounts of spiritual practice.
The Love Chapter: The Meaning of First Corinthians 13 St. John Chrysostom* (Paraclete) $12.99 Who hasn’t heard this glorious bit of ancient writing from Paul’s great letter to Christians living in Corinth? It may be the most well-known section of the entire Bible! And yet, there are very few books that explore it. (Ahh, do you know Jonathan Edwards’ serious Charity and Its Fruits? Now there is some meat for ya!) Here, in this new modernized text, we have 11 meditations—sermons from one of our earliest known preachers, the famous, beloved “golden-mouth” orator himself. John Chryostom lived in the late 300s as an archbishop in Constantinople. Churches in the West and East honor him as a saint. Spend a week on each one of these beautiful sermons, I’d say: they are too rich to read quickly, one after the next. As in the best sermons, he brings together other portions of the Scripture, cross-references intriguing passages, and, inspired by God’s grace in Christ, calls us to mirror the Divine love in how we relate to others.
*by the way, for those unfamiliar, I quote from the lovely forward by Frederica Matthews-Green:
As was true of St. Paul, St. John Chryostom was not impressive in appearance but his words were with power. He had more than one conflict with the imperial court, as he chastised the wealthy and powerful for their self-indulgance and lack of care for the poor. (Chrysostom himself lived a simple life, despite his high ecclesiastical rank; in his first year as bishop he saved enough money from his personal expenses to build a hospital for the poor.)
Voices From the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings Edited by Richard Rushing (Banner of Truth) $28.00 Puritans–often wrongly confused with the Victorians–were a robust and lusty bunch, relishing God’s call to live good lives in a good creation. They made a huge, huge difference for God—with some glaring problems and blind spots, to be sure. But their energetic worldview was rooted in a serious and abiding understanding of their great need for a savior from their sins, and the great savior the Lord Jesus in fact really is. The holiness of God, the lostness of mankind, the mercy of God and the Kingship of the Christ, the need to rely on God’s Spirit in times of struggle and pain—this is classic, rich, important stuff, not watered down, not made easy, but sweet to the soul nonetheless. Their preachers and theologians were very well educated, deep men who were prolific. Here you will meet the names that shaped generations of Protestants, mostly in Northern Europe and in North America—John Bunyan, Richard Baxter, Thomas Boston, Stephen Charnock, John Flavel, William Gurnell, Thomas Manton, Richard Sibbes, Thomas Watson (and many more.) And yes, the towering Edwards and the extraordinary John Owen. You are offered a Bible verse (or a phrase) and a one-page dense explication. I do not (by the way) fully agree with C.S. Lewis that we should read more old books than new. But we certainly should read some old authors. This is a history lesson, a reminder of good theology, and a great assurance of the sovereign grace of God. What a gold-mine! For those who like this sort of writing, I hope you know of The Valley of Vision: Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, also published by the Banner of Truth. (Regular-sized paperback, $16; pocket-sized leather-bound, $26.)
Faith and Culture Devotional: Daily Readings in Art, Science and Life Kelly Monroe Kullberg and Lael Arrington (Zondervan) $16.99 We promoted this last year about this time, and I am still stunned at how great it is, and how little it is known. Our pal Kelly M K worked for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship at Harvard, is a gracious and thoughtful leader, who desires for us to think faithfully about the world, to God’s glory. This is inspiring, educational, informative, and a great, fairly simple example, of what we mean when we talk about developing a Christian worldview. Can we see God’s hand in scientific discovery? God’s beauty in wonderful art? Biblical wisdom in popular culture? Can we come to understand the missional vision of the Kingdom as cultural engagement and responsible social concern as well as typical church involvement and evangelism? Of course! With thoughtful Christian leaders as diverse as Dallas Willard, Scott McKnight or Joy Jordan-Lake, Eric Metaxas, Bruce Herman or Hans Rookmaaker, this is a wonderful collection of short daily readings, inspiring and formative.
Praying for Peace Around the Globe James McGinnis (Liguori) $10.95 McGinnis (with his wife, Kathy) long ago impressed us with their organization Parenting for Peace & Justice, a network of educators, activists and ordinary family members wanting to live out the radical call to peacemaking and justice work in ways that kids could join in. Here, he gives us a guidebook to praying for some country or some concern, several for each month. They are somewhat arranged to coincide with national activist dates or historic days, marking our weeks with concerns and prayers, action suggestions and meditations so that we can pray and act for peace on a daily and weekly basis. There is a shor “Pray of Petition” that provide faiths communities a ready aid to use in corporate worship, too. A nice resource.
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