20 September 2005

...On reading old books

I love old—and proven—books. New books that reach popularity, including those which carry the description “Best Seller,” usually achieve their status not by quality of writing but by effectiveness of marketing. Most quickly fade in memory and become irrelevant to the future. The best measure of the quality of a book is time. Hence, I frequently turn to older books. C.S. Lewis wrote “Every age has its own outlook. It is [especially] good at seeing certain truths and [especially] liable to make certain mistakes.” He wrote of Christian books, “A new book is still on its trial…It has to be tested against the great body of Christian thought passed down through the ages, and all its hidden implications have to be brought to light…” Lewis contended that that light is brought through reading the proven books. “The only [method of correcting our error in thinking] is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.” Lewis recommended reading one old book for every new one and, if that was too hard, one old for every three new. I concur. Take Up the old books and Read!

08 September 2005

Recommended: Sanders' "Spiritual Leadership"

Spiritual Leadership: Principles of Excellence for Every Believer, by J. Oswald Sanders. Moody Press, 1967, 1980, 1994.

Over 29 years of military service, I have been exposed to many books and articles and much education and training on leadership, but Sanders contemporary classic Spiritual Leadership has proven to be the best single resource on the topic. It is a book I have read and reread over the past decade and which has become a primary reference on leadership. Spiritual Leadership is not a typical “how-to” book. In 22 short chapters, J. Oswald Sanders’ challenges leaders and potential leaders of the church at all levels with fundamental moral issues of leadership and a broad spectrum of practical topics and disciplines required for effective spiritual leadership. The themes are drawn from Scripture and from the biographies of eminent men of God with an emphasis on character and godliness in leadership. It will bring you Coram Deo (before the face of God) and challenge your thinking in regard to the duties, responsibilities, privilege, as well as the perils of leadership. Spiritual Leadership is highly recommended for individual study and for small groups. It is a must-read for all in an office of leadership, whether that office is in the home, church, workplace or community.

…On the benefits of knowing history

I disliked history while growing up, to the dismay of my father—the local high school history teacher. Not until I became a Christian did understanding history become a passion. Studying the Bible and the history of the church brings a clearer understanding of the church and us as individuals. It grows an appreciation of God’s providential work in the world and the realization that all of history is God’s redemptive history. Knowing history also brings discernment in navigating through the myriad of issues we face as responsible members of family, church, community and nation. Understanding history provides foundations for thinking, tests ideas and brings logic and stability to our reasoning. Learning history through biography encourages, gives example and makes history practical.

Author and historian David McCullough has well said, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” Ideas, perspectives, and circumstances have a history. They also have consequences. We often wrestle with or anguish in the consequences without ever considering or endeavoring to learn and understand the history. Knowing history is foundational. The Bible repeatedly surveys redemptive history (e.g. Acts 7) for good reason. Understanding God’s work in redemptive history matures us and protects us from being “tossed to and fro” (Eph 4:14). Understanding history secures us from being carried by every fad and bandwagon of contemporary thought that comes along— in the church, community, or nation. Instead we grow in discernment and in thinking responsibly as Church members and citizens. Knowing history matters—to you and the community you are part of—so take up and read!

(Originally published in DeiLight February 2005)

05 September 2005

… On the duty and blessing of gratitude

Secular researchers have recently reported that grateful people have better mental health—and to a certain extent, physical health—than those who “count their hassles.” They also sleep better, are nicer to be around and more willing to help others. Reports also reveal that those who live grateful lives are less dependent on positive life events for their level of gratitude. In other words, grateful people are grateful in spite of circumstances. Researchers have also concluded that ungrateful people are often characterized with excessive self-importance, arrogance and entitlement from others without assuming reciprocal responsibly to others—a pattern of behavior known as narcissism.

None of this recent research should surprise us. Cicero, the Roman philosopher and politician who lived during the declining years of the Roman Empire in the century before the birth of Christ, wrote, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.” Seneca, the Roman playwright, philosopher and tutor to Nero in the first century, called ingratitude “an abomination.” Indeed, it can be argued that gratitude is crucial for the welfare and survival of a family, community, and society. All of this suggests that gratitude is a moral issue because interactions among us are greatly influenced by our relative state of gratitude or ingratitude. If we live ungrateful lives, we relate to those around us differently than if we live a life of gratitude.

Moreover, our state of gratitude is a moral issue because it is a direct measure of our awareness of who God is and what he has done for us. Left to ourselves, we tend to be ungrateful or worse (Mark 7:21-22). We tend to conclude that we owe nothing. But the Gospel tells us that we owe everything! Gratitude is a product of and inherent to faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 5:20). God’s Word teaches us of the duty (1 Thess 5:18) and blessing (2 Cor 9:11) of gratitude and the consequences of its absence (2 Tim 3:1-5). Gratitude appreciates and takes nothing for granted (as reflected in the Letter to the Philippians). In the Gospel, gratitude recognizes God’s merciful, gracious provision for both time and eternity. Communion with Christ combines remembering with thanksgiving. Gratitude flows from confidence that He has and will supply all our needs. It rids us of our selfishness, impatience, criticalness, bitterness and sense of entitlement. Gratitude puts self aside and responds, “I thank You for the privilege of serving You.” And we serve Him also by serving those around us—in our homes, church, community and country.

Our relative state of gratitude is grown and nurtured by reading. Good reading helps to slow us down and take our gaze off ourselves. In addition to the Scriptures, such reading as biographies, history, of other times and of other places stimulates appreciation and broadens gratitude for what we have been given. So let us discipline ourselves to take up and read!

(Originally published in DeiLight January 2005)

04 September 2005

… On abundance of the “ordinary”

The value of reading good literature such as a classic novel, history or a good biography includes seeing the rich texture of “ordinary” lives full of good and bad complexities. Most of us live lives of abundance in regard to the complex fabric of home, family, friends, church, work, material comforts, and recreation. Abundance is good when recognized as such but most of us grow dull to it. Abundance is a matter of perspective. It easily becomes ordinary. We take the abundance for granted and grow to ignore it. Our perspective of things ordinary results in boredom, indifference and ingratitude. We even feel deprived and entitled to more. But the fruit of faith in Christ includes discernment, contentment and gratitude so our perspective has moral implications. A good book can be a mirror to sharpen our own sensibilities about life—sensibilities that weaken or die if not stimulated—and grow our sense of gratitude for what we have been blessed with and our sense of responsibility as stewards of those blessings. From reading we can gain an objective view of the richness of the “ordinary,” sharpen our moral compasses and grow a sense of appreciation and gratitude for the abundance we are given. So let us not become “dull.” In our abundance, let us sharpen our sensibilities to things “ordinary.” Let us take up and read!