So, just like we have to try a new coffee shop sometimes, sometimes, it’s good to move things around, freshen it up and so forth.
So, join me… I’m continuing to write over at Substack. Here’s the link:
So, just like we have to try a new coffee shop sometimes, sometimes, it’s good to move things around, freshen it up and so forth.
So, join me… I’m continuing to write over at Substack. Here’s the link:
This book was superb. I think it should be making it’s way around every family in every church in North America. At a minimum it should be in every church library.
This book is so good, that for the first time in my ministry, I’m interested in taking the material from a book, this specific book, and adapting it into a message or a series of messages. I believe the content here, every believer in North America would be profoundly encouraged by.
At first, I ignored the episode on the Jordan B. Peterson podcast, (YouTube) where he was interviewing a scholar from India talking about the Bible. But, eventually, I ran a bit short on episodes I was interested in and decided to listen to it. I was blown away from the beginning of the conversation all the way through the end. I couldn’t believe that Dr. Peterson had invited someone on his show to just talk about the Bible, and speak of it in almost purely evangelical terms.
Dr. Peterson invited him on his show because someone had recommended this book to him, he enjoyed it, and wanted to have a public conversation with the author.
The angle was important. Vishal Mangalwadi is a scholar from India, and he’s showing how the Bible created modern India. In order to tell that story, he had to also talk about how the Bible created the societies in North America. The devil is always in the details, and the miracle of our society is displayed when it’s put up in contrast to other major societies including historical ones.
I picked it up from the local public library. But, I wish I had a copy of my own. Don’t be surprised if I invest in one shortly.
Dr. Mangalwadi wrote the book in answer to a fellow public intellectual in India named Arun Shourie who had publicly criticized the Bible. He wanted to answer his criticisms.
And, boy, did he give us a tremendous gift. When I got to the credits and acknowledgements, it was obvious that there was an enormous team behind this book, including multiple people that did a lot of research for the various chapters.
That shows, as Dr. Mangalwadi opens the book by contrasting the culture that produced Kurt Cobain with the culture that produced Johann Sebastian Bach. He talked about the philosophies that inspired their lives and music and the message that their lives conveyed. He also compared them and their respective cultures with the culture of India. Since India is the product of Eastern culture, Asian culture, Muslim occupation, and Greek and Roman occupation the reader has the benefit of the full spectrum of ideologies.
From there, he tells his own personal journey. I found the interview with Dr. Peterson a better version than what was written in the book. But, still, again, he’s comparing and contrasting the Christianity of his childhood with his experience in university among secular atheists, Buddhists and devout Hindus.
From there, he begins to describe the unique contribution that the Bible has made in these various realms of life. Helpfully, they are each contrasted with the cultures of India, Asia, Islam, Ancient Greek/Roman, and Europe. They are:
He closes the book with an arousing appeal for people like you and me (English-speakers) to not lose hope for Western Society in it’s obvious decline, but, actually, take heart, and not lose sight of how powerful the words in the Bible actually are. A
And, then there’s an appendix where he discusses how the Bible could be God’s Word.
My favourite chapter was the one on the family. The whole book was superb.
This is a catechism. It’s a fellow believer that is discipling fellow believers through the pen (or word processor). And, it would not only answer important questions of many believers, it would also deepen their faith. In addition, it would embolden Christians to share their faith confidently.
I may have just talked myself into a copy…
Have you read it? Have you heard of Vishal Mangalwadi? I have a friend who told me that his dad is friends with Vishal.
If we went for coffee today, this is what I would likely bring up. I just finished reading this book and it stretched me.
I kept seeing this title referred to on Twitter among some of the accounts I follow for political commentary. I saw it referenced enough, and with enough direct encouragement to read it, that I put my request in at the local library for it.
I was like 10th in line. When it finally was available, I was away on a trip and couldn’t get it. So, I had to put my name in again, this time like 4th in line and finally was able to pick it up.
And, I can’t renew it, because there’s people waiting for it. And, I just finished it, 1 full day before it was due.
All that to say, I’m grateful for the local library, as this book is almost $30 new, and it’s obvious that it’s a popular book by how many people are in line to read it.
Well, the author is a professor of psychology and a self-declared atheist liberal. In the book, he attempts to understand how two good people people can have such strong feelings about an issue that are completely opposite. Specifically, he can’t understand conservatives and wants to.
The book is a journey of discovery. He starts with the state of psychology about these things when he entered college and the prevailing paradigm that they worked under. He then shows how that was completely wrong, and how they discovered that people aren’t that way at all. I don’t recall what those things were, because they were wrong anyway.
Then, he has this epiphany of sorts, that people make these moral decisions based on their intuitions and then their reason will justify it. The metaphor he uses is like a rider on an elephant. The elephant really isn’t controlled at all by the rider, the rider is like the “press secretary” for the elephant, just telling other people why it’s so good whatever the elephant happens to be doing at the time.
But, then, his world gets upended because he took 6 months in India to do some field work. While he was there, he was immersed in a culture that prized authority and attributed a sacred value to objects. He scoffed at it in the beginning, but the longer he was there, he began to see the value of having these values in the culture.
That helped him to revise his entire thought process towards moral dilemmas, and quite frankly, gave him a tremendous amount of respect for conservatives.
That whole process was interesting as he was doing these surveys of ethical questions with people, and as he broadened the kinds of people that he would ask, it helped him to see the world the way that others see it. It rescued him from mocking and having a disdainful attitude towards others.
Lastly, he spent some time talking about “the hive insect” and the way that we humans have the capability of being like bees in this one respect. We have this ability to lose ourselves into a group, into a whole. The illustrations were amazing, as it’s something every human has experienced. Typically, for us in North America, it’s by being at a concert, where the beat and the rhythm and the singing, flips some switch in our brains and we become one massive group, and our sense of belonging and identity with everyone else is activated. That was wild to read about.
He closes the book with an appeal for people on both sides of the ideological aisle to attempt to understand each other, and recognize that we have different values, and those values, when understood, can be respected. The tension is good, and will help us make better political decisions.
Well, I was astounded to see in black and white and even in diagrams how the conservative thinker actually has a broader and more developed palette of values. It made “my elephant” even more interested in people and what they think and believe and why. If you can believe it, it might make me more interested in a wider variety of people on a deeper level of topics.
This “hive mentality” thing is explosive. This is what is happening in some church services on a weekly basis. And, this is what some in our generation are really craving. They don’t have strong connections in their families and among their parents and grandparents and communities. And, so, being in a worship service, the music, the rhythm, the words, the singing, can bring such a powerful sense of belonging and oneness to the whole thing. No wonder I’ve walked away from some of those kinds of times, especially at the SouthEast Calvary Chapel Pastors Conference and the International Calvary Chapel Pastors and Leaders Conference thinking… “these are my people.” They are! And, that sense of oneness in our meetings is highly motivating. The “hive instinct” button got hit.
I think conclusions derived from the section on evolution would be way, way, easier to get to with creation. There would be a lot less guessing, and it would save a lot of embarrassment when someone comes along in a few years and shows how ridiculous all the speculative reasoning actually is.
Finally, I know this author didn’t intend this, and would probably cringe at my synopsis of his book earlier, and if I was his student would not giving me a passing grade, but he really did make the liberal atheist look ignorant, uninformed and immature. There was a big section in the book where he discussed the practical benefits of religion. It’s more than a foregone conclusion that humans thrive best in communities of faith. Beyond that, over and over, he explained how there’s really only one value that motivates the liberal and that’s care/harm. It’s off the charts. And, until this book, they had no way to understand a conservative other than as a heartless person.
This is definitely a college-level book. It’s big, and parts of it are easy to get lost in. What he does really, really well in his writing, is his introductions to each chapter, and then the “In Sum” section at the end of each chapter. That’s a brilliant and helpful feature of his writing style.
His illustrations and stories are easy to follow. Without them, I would have been lost like a ball in high weeds!
How about you? Have you read this? Have you seen or heard people discussing it? What do you think of this “hive instinct?”
A few months ago, I visited my friend Art Dykstra for lunch on a weekday. Afterwards, we stopped by the church to continue our conversation. While I was there, I met a retired pastor, serving as an associate. He was intriguing to me because he had been with the Navigators for many decades and had lots of adventures in ministry.
As we introduced ourselves, talking about our families and lives, he mentioned to me that he had an autistic grandson that had been tremendously helped by the “Brain Balance” program. He hadn’t been functioning at school very well, and since the program had made some dramatic improvements and was now doing well at university both academically and socially. He suggested I do some research.
Long story short, we are a month into the 6 month program for one of my children. When we first signed up, they loaned me a copy of Dr. Melillo’s first book “Disconnected Kids” which explained what Brain Balance is and what problems it is designed to address. In short, his analysis is that ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, ODD and Dyslexia is the result of one (or both) of the hemisphere’s of the brain that are underdeveloped and causes the two sides to be “disconnected” from each other. The remedy is to stimulate the hemisphere that is delayed through non-invasive, physical exercises and activities.
He’s been doing this for over 20 years, has several centres around the country, and boasts a 70% success rate among thousands of kids.
“Reconnected Kids” is his follow up book, this time seeking to help families adjust to the new reality of a child’s behaviour during and after the program.
What he says he found was that they could help the child, but really needed to help parents make some positive and healthy changes to their families and homes in order for everyone involved to thrive and grow closer to their potential.
The book opens with a rundown of the typical American family. I was surprised to read such a traditional understanding of life from a non-religious book. He goes on to talk about how the brain of a child develops from a neurological perspective and then explains what happens when it doesn’t follow that normal path.
From there, he takes the time to tediously go through the various stages of development that children go through as they grow physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically. This matches what is readily available in research, commonly available in Pediatrics. This section includes an assessment to determine if one (or both) hemispheres may need some work.
In the heart of the book, Dr. Melillo tells a bit of his own story and how a personal health crisis “woke him up” to the reality of the brevity of life and motivated him to become much more intentional with the time, talent, passion and treasure he’d been given.
He becomes incredibly detailed and inspirational as he lays out the roadmap for what he’s called “The Family Empowerment Program” to help parents become intentional about their own lives and families. It’s not theory, as he gives examples of families and people that he’s worked with through the program and their success and setbacks.
He’s really laying his heart out, and in my estimation, providing parents something really helpful. This is parenting that we aspire to, and it’s something that provides every opportunity for our children to discover and use the tools for a meaningful life themselves.
The book closes with a brief explanation of the Brain Balance program, along with a chapter of testimonials from parents.
This book spread quite a few seeds in my thinking. They will need a little time to germinate. Much of what he’s advocating for is already part of my habits, but there’s another dimension to it that I hadn’t considered yet.
The main hesitation that I have to implementing all that he recommends is considering how this intersects with the reality of the Spirit-led life of a Christian as described by the New Testament. I’m not sure of the contours of that intersection quite yet. I do believe these ideas are complimentary, but have only seen where they are contradictory in real life.
This means, that I’m considering Jesus afresh, having been given a new perspective to peer at his example through.
If by some chance, Dr. Melillo comes across this, you’ve given parents a precious and valuable gift in your work. Thank you. May the Lord richly bless you.
How about you? Have you heard of Brain Balance? Do you have any experience with it? What parenting resource did you find the most helpful?
If we went for a coffee today, I’d tell you about this book. It’s in pieces, the paperback binding fell apart as I was reading it.
A few weeks ago, I was in Millbrook, Alabama helping clean out and sort some of my grandparents affects after they passed last year. On Wednesday night, my son and I walked up to their home church, Victory Baptist Church in Millbrook. After the prayer meeting and Bible Study, I had the opportunity to peruse their book shelves where they had this biography along with two others that I “borrowed.” There was no one there to receive my money for them. I saw the pastor, Brother Joey Byrd the next day and he didn’t seem to mind that I had helped myself to them.
If he sees this post, he might change his mind! In that case, I’d be happy to forward the $4.50 to the church.
In reading it, I deduced that it was written around 1950. I couldn’t find a publishing date printed anywhere on it. It was reprinted by Larry Harrison of the Christian Book Gallery in St. John, Indiana.
This wasn’t a well written book. I’d be surprised if it went past the desk of an editor. If it did, the editor didn’t read it, or hopefully found another line of work.
In spite of all that, the source material for the book was fascinating to me. It was the life of a man named Robert Sayers Sheffey as told by the letters he wrote and the people who knew him. Brother Sheffey lived from 1820-1902 in the hills of Virginia. He was a Methodist circuit rider, which means that he spent most of his life on the back of a horse visiting homes, villages and small towns scattered throughout 18 counties in rural Virginia and West Virginia. His life was spent with the aim of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with anyone in that geographic area.
Apparently, he wasn’t a very good preacher. At all. What he was known for was his prayer life. He wasn’t remembered because he prayed a lot, he was revered because his prayers were answered so consistently and yet in many peculiar ways.
Peculiar was the recurring word, because he was a peculiar man. There were many examples of it. He seems to have been a germaphobe and a neat freak, which is remarkable in the hills of Virginia. He was known to always be clean, and to prize clean sheets in the homes he stayed in. He would clean saucers and bowls and cups that were served to him, and talk about how being clean was important, and how water was so necessary for keeping things clean and good.
His prayers were peculiar. In fact, his prayers were sometimes offensive, as he would pray aloud exactly what was on his mind and affecting his heart.
For instance, in those days they had a lot of revivals and camp meetings where whole communities would come together for about a week of preaching and singing and praying and seeking the Lord for loved ones to become Christians. There were times that the meetings were dull and really couldn’t get going. Often in those meetings Brother Sheffey was there, but hadn’t been invited to speak or to pray, because he would sometimes say embarrassing things.
Eventually, they would ask him to pray, and he would say things like: “Lord, they have been ignoring me for a couple of days, haven’t invited me to do anything because they are ashamed of me. But, Lord, I pray that you would visit this meeting and bring revival and …” and the meeting would become full of life and vitality and many people would become Christians. The people loved him. His colleagues would sometimes struggle with him.
He would pray for insects and farm animals that were injured or weren’t acting properly. He would pray for lost objects to be found. He would pray for people to be healed.
He would also pray that the Lord would take some people home to heaven. That was when they kept continually falling back into temptation or the world, he would pray the Lord would take them after they repented “while the fur was good!”
He was well known for praying against the production of alcohol in the mountain “stills.” When it came to alcohol, seemingly whatever he prayed would come to pass. If he prayed for trees to fall on them and destroy them it would happen. If he would pray for them to be turned to pigsty’s or cow pens it would happen. If he would pray for them to be swept away by a flood it would happen. In one case, he prayed that the still and the lounge would close and be turned over to a preacher and his family and of course, a year later, it had happened.
He would pray these kinds of prayers when he saw a “still.” He would ride his horse up close to it, even when the men were working there, dismount, pull out a white sheepskin, lay it on the ground and then kneel on it and pray aloud. He was feared by people who established “stills,” lounges or bars.
He was also well known for his altar ministry. People in these revival meetings and camp meetings would come under conviction and become so troubled by the condition of their heart and soul and come forward to talk with a pastor and pray. Brother Sheffey was gifted in those moments as hundreds of people entered into peace with God through trusting Christ there at the altar under his gentle guidance.
He was known for shouting when the Lord would answer prayers, or anytime that he was just happy about what the Lord was doing.
And, he loved to have a mouthful of maple syrup, or honey, or something sweet as he would ride away to the next stop.
The book was difficult to read because it desperately needed an editor. However, the stories of Brother Sheffey’s life, and the window into what life was like over 150 years ago kept me riveted to the page, even though the page would fall out of the book!
The other thing that struck me in this book, was though he was a Methodist, and many Baptists would attend these meetings, they reported so many supernatural experiences: uncontrolled weeping and sorrow, inexpressible joy, the sound of angels singing, fainting (slain in the Spirit), but widespread return to religion that spread like a fire through communities, producing lasting change in lives, marriages, families and communities.
That was inspiring. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Lord, do it again! Raise up another Brother Sheffey for these times and these days.
Isn’t it time to seek the Lord?
A little over a year ago, I was standing in the courtyard after we finished a wonderful morning at Calvary Fellowship in Ottawa. One of my friends there is a young man who is being groomed for work in the ambassador corps. He’s incredibly intelligent, well read, and one of the most polite people that I’ve ever met.
In our conversation it became obvious that in his formal education, on the job training and mentoring there had never been one course, or one workshop, or even a session on negotiating. Doesn’t it seem obvious that if you’re a diplomat, this would be a necessary skill, one that the government would recognize as crucial? Apparently not.
Fast forward several months, I had a long drive in front of me and had caught up on my usual podcasts, and so scanned the archive of the Jordan B. Peterson podcast to see if anything caught my interest. I stumbled upon an interview from a couple of years ago with Chris Voss the FBI Hostage Negotiator. It was amazing. Super informative. I found a copy of his book at the local library and waited several more weeks till it was available.
It didn’t disappoint. Every chapter opens up with a story of a tense negotiating situation in his career in law enforcement. From there, he breaks down the situation, the factors at play and introduces the next concept of negotiation. Each chapter closes with at least one more example of that concept in a more everyday situation. It’s brilliant.
Negotiation, like most things in life, it isn’t what you think. And, like most things in life, it requires you to get a hold of your emotions and be others focused. It’s fascinating to be reminded of those truths from a completely different approach.
I wish I owned the book. There was one chapter that I read twice. I may need to read it again. My teenaged son is now reading it. I’ve recommended it to several people, hopefully, this review makes it’s way to my friend.
Let me ask you, have you had any training in negotiation? Do you have any books to recommend? Do you have any experiences using Chris Voss’s material?
This book was recommended to me by one of my brothers. He was kind and purchased a license for the audiobook version. Sadly, I don’t get as much time as I’d like for listening to content. Fortunately, the local library had a copy I was able to borrow for free. Which these days is an attractive price.
This book is a memoir of many of the author’s experiences with manic-depressive or bipolar disorder. The thing that makes this book special is that she is also a psychiatrist. She aims to bring dignity and perspective to a perplexing condition.
It’s obvious that this was a very popular book. The edition I read had a new preface from the author to commemorate 15 years of the book being in circulation. This copy was released in 2011, which makes the book over 25 years old.
I read it in two days. She’s a gifted writer. The editing is superb.
The topic hits close to home for me, as there’s more than one case of manic-depressive on my father’s side of the family. It’s helpful to read someone’s experience in their struggle to process life through a mind that isn’t always trustworthy.
There are two themes that emerge from this book. One, is to have compassion for people that have a mental illness. She admits that this is difficult because so often, the behaviour that accompanies it is corrosive to relationships. She gives multiple examples. And, they are heartbreaking. She obviously treasured people that were kind and generous and understanding.
The second is for people to take their medicine. In her case, that is lithium, which she describes as nothing special, just an elemental salt. She hammers this point home. By the middle of the book, the reader is compelled to root for her to stay regular with her medicine despite the side effects. It becomes life and death.
Near the end of the book, the reader rejoices with her, when she lowers her daily dose, and describes how she’s able to better engage with her surroundings and increase her enjoyment of the simple things in life. Her descriptions are vivid.
This is a well written memoir. She and the team that she worked with did a superb job. It’s a helpful introduction into the experience of a loved one, or family member that struggles with this condition. For a person with a mental illness, it would be validating as it comes from a patient and a psychiatrist.
Because it was published 25 years ago, I do have two categories of questions.
First, Have there been any further developments in our understanding of treatments and causes? We do know that this has a tendency to travel in families and bloodlines. Is that genetic? Or, is that a result of the Microbiome? What role has diet, supplements, exercise and sleeping routines found to have with it?
The second set of questions come from the category of presuppositions. For instance, Is there a memoir out there that includes the realm of spirituality in it’s scope? The medical community in those days had adopted a view that completely discounted the influence of spirituality in the body and it’s processes. She makes passing reference to Christianity. It appears that it has no affect on her experiences.
Because of her worldview appears absent of spirituality, for me, it would be helpful to hear someone’s experience who wasn’t in as many intimate relationships as she was. She’s been married three times, and had significant romantic relationships outside of marriage.
These two dynamics, spirituality and sex would have a major influence on moods, emotions and feelings. I recognize that there are countless people that have struggled with mental illness that were both monogamous and spiritual, but I can’t readily recall a memoir of their experiences with mental illness.
As a dad, I can tell stories about what certain foods do to the moods and emotions and thinking of children. This is undeniable. I can’t imagine what adding alcohol to the mix would do.
Leaving my questions aside, this remains a very interesting book, from a very interesting person. It is a tremendously helpful book for anyone affected by mental illness. I would guess in western society that would be everyone. I’m grateful that my brother recommended that I read it.
What about you? Have you read this book? Do you know of other memoirs that are more recent? Or, include the items I have questions about?
This book has the best cover, don’t you think? I love it.
I picked this up about a year ago, and it got packed in a box when we moved. I found it while rifling through the box looking for a different book to give someone, and saw this one, pulled it out and said… “yeah! I did want to read this.”
Pastor Greg Laurie has written lots of books over the years. I discovered him through the book “Harvest” by Chuck Smith. Greg’s story was one of the stories in that book, these unlikely guys that the Lord worked in and changed and they are or were pastoring fairly large churches at the time.
A few years later, Greg did a movie of his life, sort of a long form testimony of what the Lord had done. That was called “Lost Boy” and it was very powerful. We used it for an outreach in Ottawa and saw a handful of people come to Christ as a result. There’s one scene near the end of the movie, where Aaron Gillespie is singing Amazing Grace, and people are responding to an invitation. It’s very powerful.
I expected this to be similar.
Surprisingly, this book is more like a history book. It’s true that Greg’s story is part of the book, and there’s elements of his story here that weren’t told in other books or the movie. There’s also parts of Chuck Smith’s story in this book that I haven’t read or heard in other books or recordings.
But, largely, this is an introduction into the world of the 60’s, 70’s and into today. It’s helpful for someone like me, or even younger than I to know what life was like in those days, how chaotic it was, how uncertain it was, and what fundamental and huge changes our society went through.
Those older than I lived through it and I would expect that would remember the events and how they felt as they lived through them.
The overall point is in in the subtitle. That the Lord did this amazing work in these very unlikely people, during a crazy time. And, that’s easy to say, and point to, but I have to say… the details make that vivid.
And, they did a great job with the details. What the Lord did, especially with the cultural context in immediate view, is nothing short of miraculous. It’s encouraging to remember.
“The Lord’s works are great, studied by all who delight in them.”https://bible.com/bible/1713/psa.111.2.CSB
Psalms 111:2 CSB
If you’re doubtful that the Lord could do something wonderful in redeeming in our current society, this would be a book that would encourage you. I’d recommend it to you.
If you love God, and love to study what he’s done, this would also be of interest to you.
A couple of final notes, things I thought about while reading this.
I wonder if one of the reasons that this book was written and published when it was, was to help ease the transition of Pastor Greg and his ministry and Harvest Christian Fellowship into the Southern Baptist Convention. I found it interesting how Greg related some of his more charismatic experiences here. I don’t think his position has changed at all. But, I could see where an SBC stalwart would want to know his position and his leanings and Greg helpful answers that through the story.
Also, Ellen Vaughn mentioned in her acknowledgements that she received so many wonderful stories and testimonies from various people from that time as part of her research. She regretted not being able to include them.
I doubt this post will reach her, but if it does, I would love to read those stories. Maybe a follow up book, that just contains more evidence of what God did during that time, would build on the cultural contextual work in this one, and really drive the point home. There’s hope for us today.
Lord, send revival to our churches!
My friend Rich Crosby was the first one that told me about this book. We were talking at the local playground one morning and he told me how much it blessed him. He wanted me to read it.
Then, over the next few months it kept popping up in conversation, as different friends who were pastors had read it and had been moved and blessed by it.
Here’s the thing though, they were all Calvinists. And, this book was published by Crossway, which to my knowledge only publishes from that theological position. I’m not a Calvinist.
So, I don’t remember how I got a copy of this book. I may have grabbed it at the same time that I snatched “If You Can Keep It” by Eric Metaxas out of the lending library at Tennessee River Baptist Church a couple of months ago.
Anyway, I finished it a couple of days ago.
Every Calvinist should read it! It provides a necessary correction to their view of God. I could see this being cold water to a heart that has been imbibing the neo-Calvinist idea of God.
If you don’t feel close to God, or have never experienced the love of God, or have listened to a lot of John MacArthur, John Piper and so forth (why are they all “Johns?”), may I encourage you to read this book?
A great way to do it, is to take a chapter a day, as a devotional and read it and meditate on it. Another idea would be to take a chapter a week, and read that chapter every day so you can meditate on it. There’s some wonderful truths about God, that God says of himself that have been neglected.
The title comes from Jesus’s autobiographical statement… “I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest for your souls.”
Sadly, this book didn’t strike me as profoundly as it did my Calvinist friends. I’m happy for them, don’t get me wrong. But, I find that these books by Calvinist authors are more difficult for me to connect with.
For this topic, I was much more blessed and encouraged by “Love – The More Excellent Way” by Chuck Smith. That book was excellent. It’s the distillation of his teaching and meditating on the love of God over fifty years. It’s far more accessible, far more practical and exponentially deeper.
Have you read either of those? What do you think? I want to know.
So… there I was, sitting at Craft Kafe with my friend Tim Wolter, discussing one of our favourite topics, church. He had been reading this book and was about 3/4 of the way through it and asked if I would read it as well and comment on it. He graciously let me borrow it, and as soon as I finish writing this, I’ll return it to him.
The book is divided into three sections, based off of Psalm 78:72 which reads:
“He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands.”https://bible.com/bible/1713/psa.78.72.CSB
Psalms 78:72 CSB
The first section is about “The Shepherd,” the second is “Integrity of Heart,” and the third is “Skillful Hands.”
One of the themes that runs through the book is transforming the reader, who is a pastor, into someone that thinks not only about Sunday, but about Monday, specifically about the work situations of the congregants and equipping them to be an effective witness for Jesus in those environments.
I found this book tough slogging through the first two sections. I wanted to put it down. That part felt forced, like maybe the editor or the publisher wanted it in there. Pastor Nelson, hit his stride in the third section, where he got into the “skillful hands” and it was obvious to me that he had some things he wanted to say and thought they were helpful.
And they were for me. Let me give you a couple of excerpts that appealed to me, and may prove to make some wholesale changes in my life.
First, on pages 154-155, he starts by quoting psychiatrist Curt Thompson. Pastor Nelson writes:
“Christian psychiatrist Curt Thompson makes the point that our brains are actually altered in storytelling. ‘People change not just their experiences, but also their brains — through the process of telling their stories to an empathic listener. When a person tells her story and is truly heard and understood, both she and the listener undergo actual changes in their brain circuitry.’ If congregations are to flourish, shepherding leaders must realize that everyone has a story to tell and everyone needs someone to whom they can tell their story. Every person who is entrusted to us within the congregation needs to know others and be known by others. Storytelling is a primary way that deep relationships are formed and sustained and that joy is released. As shepherding pastors, we must grasp the importance of encouraging and equipping our congregational members not only to share their stories with one another, but to share their unique story with others who may not yet know Jesus.”“The Flourishing Pastor” by Tom Nelson, pages 154-155
I think this is clutch, especially in our cultural context. That practice we did of breaking into groups of 3 and 4 people to share testimonies and what we were grateful for at Calvary was profound in forming relationships. On top of that, and not only equally important, but maybe more important was taking a few minutes at the close of our Sunday morning gatherings to break into groups of 2 and 3 to pray for each other. I felt affirmed in that practice after reading this.
The next excerpt is much longer and for me was more personal. It’s from pages 113-114 in the second section “Integrity of Heart” in a chapter called “Pursuing Wholeness.” Pastor Nelson writes:
“I will never forget the advice a wise executive gave me when I was a seminarian… ‘love where you go home to at night.’… He simply reminded me that our homes are a place of refuge from the world, a place of rest and renewal. These wise words have guided me over the years, and my wife, Liz, and I have invested time and treasure in making the place we live a place of rest and beauty, one conducive to hospitality. As pastoral leaders we don’t have to have elaborate homes, but within our budgetary capacity we are wise to invest resources in making our homes a refuge, a place of beauty and serenity. Creating beautiful, warm and inviting spaces in our homes enhances the flourishing and joy of others who share with us times of celebration, laughter, and fun. Surrounding our lives with beauty is not only a way to minimize the corrosive effects of evil, it is also a way to bring joy and well-being to our lives and relationships. We were created to flourish in a beautiful garden, and even though we live in a fallen world, we are renewed when we encounter beauty.“The Flourishing Pastor” by Tom Nelson, pages 113-114
That struck me. I’ve thought of that idea over the years, but it’s been quite some time since Gen and I have invested time and treasure into the furnishings and decorations of our home. Part of that is because we had growing children and between the pace of life and how hard that season of life is on our effects, we were just surviving! A few days later, these words from Proverbs jumped off the page:
“A house is built by wisdom, and it is established by understanding; by knowledge the rooms are filled with every precious and beautiful treasure.”https://bible.com/bible/1713/pro.24.3-4.CSB
Proverbs 24:3-4 CSB
We have recently emptied out our storage unit and brought everything to the condo we are temporarily living it. It’s time to do some cleaning! So, with the encouragement of Pastor Nelson, and the criteria of “precious and beautiful” we have some work to do. And, yes, we will say “thank-you” to stuff like Marie Kondo.
Overall, I found the book helpful. Frankly, it must be said, that I usually find myself out of step with most of what is produced by people associated with The Gospel Coalition (TGC). There are exceptions, of course. And, that’s what I struggled with through the first two sections of the book.
Here’s the questions I had after finishing the book: I wonder if my colleagues that have swallowed Calvinism, or like one person said: “invited John Calvin, or John Piper into their hearts,” are struggling with the intimacy and integrity part of their personal relationship with the Lord? Is that why the first two sections were included?
Or, was it a publishing decision to have a larger book, a little more comprehensive, and not just be a technical, practical encouragement in the skill part of pastoring?
But, like I said, overall, I found that third section helpful and helpful enough to recommend the book to others.