Thanks to my pals John & Kathy who call from time to time to do live interviews on Pittsburgh’s WORD FM, a fine Christian radio station. I was on after Miroslov Volf talking about his new book Allah. I’d have been nervous (I don’t even want to know their drive time listener numbers) but John and Kathy are so supportive and say such outlandishly nice thing about our work here that they put me at ease. I named a few books for Lent and thought I’d share with you some of what I described to them, and a few others. As we move this week into this season of the church year may your walk with God be deepened and your journey with Christ be expanded.
Devotions for Lent from the Mosaic Bible (Tyndale) $2.99 The picture to the right which I intended as a generic Lenten graphic actually is a fabulous little pocket-sized booklet of 40+ Lenten readings, with artwork, handsome (small) typeface and fonts, a Celtic cross image on most pages, and enhanced with quotes from across the church universal. The Mosaic Holy Bible is a very nicely done New Living Translation (NLT) with a liturgical feel, some iconography and such, calligraphy and good quotes throughout which we stock in hardback and a lush leather-like. The devotional is handy and handsome.
The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life Joan Chittister (Nelson) $12.99 This is one of the “Ancient Practice” series that we have so raved about, now out in paperback, and it frames our spiritual growth by the on-going “spiraling” church seasons. I like these kind of basic books on how to live into a God-centered view of time. A lot of the book is on this particular season from Ash Wednesday into Holy Week and she covers it well (and beyond, of course, into Paschaltide or the days of Pentecost and ordinary time. If you aren’t familiar with this important custom and way of seeing our lives, this is a fine introduction by a popular writer, a Benedictine nun.
King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus Timothy Keller (Dutton) $25.95 This hardback is not too hefty and the 240 pages read easily, offering a fine study of the gospel of Mark. It is divided into two parts, the first half called “The King” and the second half “The Cross.” I announced it previously here, and mentioned it on the radio interview because I hope that reading it will root our Lenten journey to Jerusalem not only with Jesus—that’s the point, you know—but in the accounts of his life as given to us in the Scriptures. We don’t get to make this up as we go along, and Keller is an insightful contemporary pastor with much cultural savvy and not a small amount of apologetic skill. He’s done his homework on Mark’s gospel and this book walks us through the life of Jesus and into his final weeks. Keller is always worth reading and is one today’s most important Christian writers and church leaders.
Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Orbis) $18.00 Year after year we’ve exclaimed about how rich an anthology this is, compiled originally by the now-defunct Plough Press, a very literary publishing ministry of a Hutterite community. This is an unparalleled collection of authors such as C.K. Chesterton, Madeleine L’Engle, Henri Nouwen, C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Day, Frederick Buechner, Phil Yancey, Will Willimon, Barbara Brown Taylor, Edna Hong, and so many more. What collection has Philip Berrigan and Oswald Chambers? Blaise Pascal and Emil Brunner, Fleming Rutledge and Watchman Nee? These readings are fabulously interesting, deeply rewarding in many cases— short enough to read quickly but profound enough to ponder all day long. From “A Father’s Grief” by Martin Luther to “The Signature of Jesus” by Brennan Manning to “The Central Murder” by the late Dale Aukerman, this is well written and challenging. Even after Lent, these excerpts by Yoder and Wright and Romero and Stott and E. Stanley Jones are worth keeping nearby. There are poems, too—Dylan Thomas, Oscar Wilde, and the important “Seven Stanzas at Easter” by John Updike. Perhaps you know the companion volume for Advent and Christmas, Watch for the Light.
Reflecting the Glory: Meditations for Living Christ’s Life in the World N.T. Wright (Augsburg) $14.99 Drawn mostly from Pauline Epistles and the gospel of John, this is solid Bible reflection inviting us to live the life of Christ, sharing God’s glory in the world. As he puts it, “The more we find out about Jesus, and particularly about his death and resurrection, the more we are then energized by the Spirit to reveal God’s love to the world…This is our vocation: to take up our cross and be Jesus for the world, living with the joy and sorrow woven into the pattern of our days.” Excellent.
Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus N.T. Wright (The Word among us Press) $10.95 In one thin volume you can ponder 8 great sermons by the eloquent (former) Bishop, when he preached at Easington Colliery, a grief-stricken industrial town in England that had had a mining terrible disaster. Wright preaches through each day of Holy Week, and these homilies bring the pain of Christ to the pain of that place, expertly weaving together pastoral and prophetic insights, naming local injustice and sorrow even as he points to the ways the Christ suffered on our behalf and rises to bring new creation. These are real homilies, tender and meaty, raw and hopeful.
Lentwise: Spiritual Essentials for Real Life Paula Gooder (Church Publishing House)
$8.99 We import this from the the Anglican publishing house in England because it is so interesting, innovative and useful. This uses a “journey” motif, with graphic icons to mark our way. The book is arranged in five sections, offering these spiritual essentials (using passages from John’s gospel.) It includes units on Compass (finding direction), Nourishment (keeping going), Light (gaining wisdom), Shelter (finding security), and Water (enjoying refreshment.) This can be used individually but is set up for 90 minute sessions with a small group. This is user-friendly and inclu
des prayer exercises, group activity and discussion and the like. To be honest, if you are involved in a small group looking for something other than fill-in-the-blank inductive Bible studies, but don’t want something over-wrought or complex, I think this would make a fine study any time of the year. Nice.
The Kingdom and the Cross James Bryan Smith (IVP) $8.00 Co-produced by Renovare, Richard Foster’s wonderful ministry which resources folks for the contemplative life, this is a very brief and handsome book reflecting on the huge question “why did Jesus have to die?” The answers are nuanced and rich, rooted in the narratives about the nature of God and the truth of who God is, revealed by Jesus: a God who loves to help the helpless. A God who doesn’t play favorites, a God who is, in essence, self-sacrificing–even to death–to save a people He loves. In these six short chapters there is a dual focus: Christ’s work on the cross and how we might live in response. For each chapter there is a several page “soul training” exercise, included to (as they put it) “help the new true narrative take root in our hearts.” These suggestions of things to think about and do are excellent ideas. Delightfully and very helpfully, most chapters include a visual—an classic icon, a drawing, a photo of The Pieta. They also suggest several websites and films to view, so this could be a very rich, multi-dimensional experience, designed for individuals or (better) for a small group. You may know Smith’s excellent “Apprentice” trilogy, The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community. Dallas Willard has suggested they are among the best discipleship and formation books he’s ever seen. This is small but, like the others in the IVP formatio series, exceptional. Not necessarily Lenten, it sure seems like a perfect time to use it. Highly recommended.
Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer Juliet Benner (IVP) $17.00 I often say that IVP is our favorite publisher, and that their formatio line (see the Smith book, above) does some of the best stuff on spirituality these days. This is a wondrous example of a book released under their formatio imprint, a book I highlighted at BookNotes when it was released a month ago. It is about, well, learning to see. Ms Benner is a trained spiritual director and an artist. Here, she offers close readings of historic religious paintings, helping us “read” them with deep spiritual intent and guiding us into a more profound life of prayer. This is beautifully done, of course. And it is rigorous and mature. Margaret Guenther (Holy Listening) says it is a “delightful a lavish feast, it left me hungry for more!” Lent could be a time for you of slowing down, paying attention, noticing God and self and others. This creative meditation could help you learn to do that, to be that kind of a person, one who has developed a contemplative vision, who can see and care and pray. Remarkable.
Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying With My Pen Rachel G. Hackenberg (Paraclete) $15.99 I don’t know if you know the others in this “Active Prayer” series which include Praying in Color and Praying With the Body. This new one in the series is exactly what the wonderful sub-title says: praying with your pen! Yet it isn’t just about writing out prayers, but using creative writing exercises, letting the words flow. There are prayers here, there are prompts and Scripture texts and ideas offered to guide you into the deepening of a life with God. This can be used as a guide to journaling during any season of your life, but there is some specifically Lenten materiel as well. Tired of trying to “pray the right way” or only thinking about theological ideas. Allow this central Pennsylvania UCC pastor (graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary) to guide you into unleashing your heart, by way of your pen.
The Jesus Inquest: The Case for and Against the Resurrection of the Christ Charles Foster (Nelson) $15.99 This book is a worthy investment at twice the price as it is really two books in one. This feisty writer—he wrote an in-depth book called The Selfless Gene about Christian faith and Darwin and the beloved last volume in the “Ancient Practices” series The Sacred Journey—takes us into the serious debates amongst historians, scholars, theologians and philosophers. The tale begins as Foster observes that he thought he had this all figured out, understanding the standard, traditional view. As he grapples with alternative theories, a new generation of liberal scholars, he needs to rethink the question of whether there is sound historical foundations for believes about the resurrection of Christ. As it says on the back cover “He turned the war in his head—the war between faith and doubt—into this heated, no-holds-barred debate, which presents the case both for and against the resurrection of Jesus.” It looks at medical evidence, Jewish burial practices, archaeological hypotheses, maps, ancient artifacts, the canonical and non-canonical gospels and much more. If you read his book on pilgrimage you know he has traveled and explored extensively in the Middle East and has both a scholarly side (he’s a practicing trial attorney and an Oxford grad) and a tactile, adventurous, journalistic style. This debate rages in many places (outside of and within the church) and Charles Foster gives us, in The Jesus Inquest, an intellectually exciting, seriously probing, well-written, survey.
Fasting Schot McKnight (Nelson) $12.99 Another in the “Ancient Practices” (like the liturgical calendar one above) I thought I’d mention this as self-denial is, after all, one of the most classic motifs of the Lenten period. Whether you “give something up” or not, this study of the practice of fasting is the best I’ve ever read. Now might be a good time to explore it, no?
Comforts from the Cross: Celebrating the Gospel One Day at a Time Elyse Fitzpatrick
(Crossway) $14.99 I end with this as it is so very clear; I would not call it an anti-Lent book, but it is clear (without a polemic about it, really) that we need not “earn” God’s favor by seasonal spiritual activities. This i
s not a book to invoke self-hatred or weird ascetic practices or odd mystical experiences but is a clear-headed and happy reflection on the way the cross of Christ is at the heart of the good news of salvation. This is no-nonsense, meaty, orthodox and oh so helpful for those that need to return to first things. Ms Fitzpatrick is a retreat leader and the head of Women Helping Women Ministries. Of her many books, her recent Because He Loves Me is a current best-seller. Don’t you love the title: Comfort from the Cross. These “celebrations” are 31 solid, endearing, faithful Biblical meditations on applying gospel truths for gospel transformation.
A GREAT BOOK FOR FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN
Amon’s Adventure: A Family Story for Easter Arnold Ytreeide (Kregal) $16.99 This author has written three other similar books, short stories that unfold day by day to be read and discussed as a family devotional, written for Advent (Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, and Tabitha’s Travels.) They show that he understands the culture and history of first century Judaism, and he knows how to weave a good tale. In the new Amon’s Adventure he carries the story 30 some years into the future. (Amon is the 13-year old son of Jotham and Tabitha—ha!) Not unlike the other ones, there is some serious stuff here, so it isn’t for little children. Amon’s father is accused of a terrible crime and Jotham, seemingly sacrificing his boyhood innocence, tries to free him. In what ensues he is swept up in the jubilant crowds gathered on Palm Sunday, hears the Messiah address the angry mob, is present during the daring betrayal of Judas, and witnesses the bloody afternoon of Good Friday. These are good read-alouds, include a daily short devotionals and allows us to enter into the drama of the story, helping this season become a time of reflection and worship. There is a very nice page or two in the beginning about Lent, a discussion of how the story avoids “on screen” graphic violence, there is serious conflict and the murder of Jesus can be upsetting to children. In just a few pages he offers some helpful wisdom about story and truth and parenting.
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