So I finally finished the Hunger Games series last week. I was being tortured for many weeks of reading about this series through relentless posts on Facebook in Africa; also known by it's other name: the land of all things inaccessible. So when we returned we made sure to remedy this quickly. J and I devoured the books and I was shocked at how much this series was not about kids killing kids (as I had been told) and how much it was about all of us. The author is brilliant at writing about humans and what we allow to become reality. That we are all vulnerable and capable of being part oppressed and part oppressors. I could not stop thinking about what in my life and this culture could easily lead to watching kids kill each other for entertainment. I kept remembering an exhibit I saw at the Chicago History Museum. I was researching and writing some curriculum for them about the Emmett Till case and a travelling exhibit about lynching in America was on display. There was a collection of postcards mailed all over the US from friends to friends and from family members to other family. The writing was full of greetings and small talk and family news: "we baked apple pie today" and "uncle Gil just returned from his long trip up north" and "the children have started school already." Just normal family news. Then the front of the postcard was a photograph of people crowded around a dead, burning, lynched body. I studied history and know about the depths of violence and racism and class-ism in our past but the family news coupled with small children standing in front of another human being's burning corpse just shook me to my core. I have so many thoughts about the Hunger Game series (especially the first book because I must say while I was committed to finding out what happened to Katniss, Peeta, and Gale the second and third books lost some of the must read quality) but I found this blog post about it that says it much better than I ever could. Did you read it? What are your thoughts?
So, in other books that messed me up....Seriously, though I wanted to throw out some books that have messed my life up. In good ways, in challenging ways, and in ways that make me chase after Jesus even more and look hard at my excuses for preserving my life above counting it nothing. At first I was resistant to recommending books because I think for the most part we are information whores. That is we horde information and nod our heads in agreement or shake our fists in defiance but either way it results in little change in our actual daily lives. Almost like we are paralysed by the sheer vastness of choices and amount of options and after weighing everything DO very little. I know I plead guilty to this. We could not possibly change because there is just too much. What difference would it make anyway? Lies of the enemy that allow me to excuse my sin even when God has showed me something better. I need accountability and dialogue and butt kicking if I hope to take serious the call of Jesus on my life. These reads have helped and are helping me to do that...how ever slowly....
The Word. Of God. I know, I know.. But seriously do we read it? do we breath it? do we expect it to speak to us and redefine our lives? I know too often I have read everything but The Word. It has been rocking my world as of late, especially the books of Acts..."His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him- though He is never far from any one of us. For in Him we live, move, and exist. (Acts 17:27-28)
If that is all you have time for ignore the rest of this list.
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
This book really encouraged me to count the cost of following Jesus and not sit back and allow life to happen mostly dictated by what others say or do around me. Really helpful in beginning to question our purpose..
“If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full. This is not a book about how to avoid a wounded life, but how to avoid a wasted life. Some of you will die in the service of Christ. That will not be a tragedy. Treasuring life above Christ is a tragedy” (p. 10).
My Utmost for His Highest- Oswald Chambers
This short devotional never fails to give my sulking, pathetic self a spiritual butt kicking in less than 3 minutes a day. No excuses to not have time for that.
Thank God that He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a joyous thing, but it is also something that requires bravery, courage, and holiness. It tests us for all we are worth. Jesus is bringing "many sons to glory" (Heb 2:10), and God will not shield us from the requirements of sonship. God's grace produces men and women with a strong family likeness to Jesus, not pampered, spoiled, weaklings. It takes a tremendous amount of discipline to live the worthy and excellent life of a disciple of Jesus in the realities of life. And it is always necessary for us to make the effort to live a life of worth and excellence.
Radical by David Platt
This book expressed so much of what we experienced in taking the step to live and love in Africa, just ya know better and more eloquently. It is so challenging and edifying.
"We are starting to redefine Christianity. We are giving in to the dangerous temptation to take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into a version of Jesus we are more comfortable with.
A nice, middle class, American Jesus. A Jesus who doesn’t mind materialism and who would never call us to give away everything we have. A Jesus who would not expect us to forsake our closest relationships so that he receives all our affection. A Jesus who is fine with nominal devotion that does not infringe on our comforts, because, after all, he loves us just he way we are. A Jesus who wants us to be balanced, who wants us to avoid dangerous extremes, and who, for that mater, wants us to avoid danger altogether. A Jesus who brings us comfort and prosperity as we live out our Christian spin on the American dream….
He is beginning to look a lot like us because, after all, that is whom we are most comfortable with. And the danger now is that when we gather in our church buildings to sing and lift up our hands in worship, we may not actually be worshipping the Jesus of the Bible. Instead we may be worshipping ourselves.(p.10)
You can also listen to the series that led to the book here. I dare you to try to live the same after...
The Tangible Kingdom by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
J and I found this book really interesting in terms of how we think about "doing church" and "being the church." Hugely challenging in the call to just love people without any strings or selfish motivation (even if we can cloud those in "good reasons"). Jesus came to bring the kingdom...will I be a part of it?
“…people who only dream of community usually destroy it, but those who love people without expectation unknowingly create it.”
“The more we do ‘together,’ the less individualistic we’ll be. The more we become ‘one’ with Christ, the less comsumer oriented we’ll be. The more we do for ‘others,’ the less materialistic we’ll be.”
Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis
This author has lived in a similar culture to the one we just returned from and I really appreciate his desire to just share Jesus (not religion, culture, tradition, etc. I wrote about this here too) He questions our usual approach to telling people about Jesus with the us/them and in/out mentality. It is provocative and interesting and asks people to just talk about Jesus and what they are learning in following him. That faith is exciting and messy and dangerous and awesome and a journey that we can invite others to.
“There's a place for doctrine and dogma, and science and history and apologetics, but, these things are not Jesus - they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think that having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.”
"Evangelism, as a method, is dangerous because its something we “do” to other people. Nobody likes to be “done”.Whereas Making disciples…. is a journey of relationship that encompasses support, trial and error and difficulty…. Discipleship is a journey that requires change… Discipleship invokes time commitment."
7 by Jen Hatmaker (watch the video here)
Ok, so Jen is sorta my girl and not just because I wrote to her from Africa and asked if I could get a copy of her latest book and she responded herself with a FREE copy for my Kindle but because in one of her other books she quotes a Ben Stiller character. See, she is my homie, yo. She takes a hard look at excess and if you think that does not include you- it does: all of us! This hit home with this Western world girl living in the developing world. She is also hilarious and I can relate to so much of what she shares about kids and family. Her purpose in looking hard at her life (and us looking at ours) is to make room for God to speak, to bring Him more glory as we live out His call. But she is real about the bumps along the way and admits it is not all formula and easy. It goes deeper. If you read this and pray that God would reveal the plank in your own eye it will ruin your life. Just kidding. OK, I'm not but in the best-est ways.
None of these are the words of God (except for the obvious), none of the authors are perfect, nor do I agree with everything they write but I have been challenged by their words and their lives and I wanted to share. I love Jesus and I want to live my life pursuing Him and figuring what it means to really die to self so that Christ may reign in me. I hope that means we can all figure that out together and still be different, disagree with one another, screw up, have joy, celebrate, and fumble through this life with abundant forgiveness, grace, and love. We can be free to ask tough questions, to struggle in community, to live in tension, and to have faith while struggling with doubt. I think these books can help in that bumpy but exhilarating journey.
So, what are you reading? What has impacted you? And stay tuned for an opportunity to do community with this last book soon......are you in?