The4thDave’s Inaugural “Friday Five” (10/28/16)

Back in the olden days of my first blog (please don’t try to find it; it’s much too embarrassing), I had a regular Monday post in which I posted a 10-item bullet-list of random coolness. Sometimes, the bullets were links, sometimes they were just random updates on things, or comments on topics I found interesting. For a while, it was a weekly update of the Cubs’ record (during a bad season, sadly).

While I pretty much use Twitter for that nowadays, I thought it would be fun to try something like that here on the blog. So, starting this week, I’m introducing a semi-regular feature called The4thDave’s Friday Five. I know other blogs do this already, and do it better than I certainly could. But while my Friday Five posts may not be as spiritually-focused as Entreating Favor’s “Daily Discovery” or as particularly useful as Tim Challies’ “A La Carte” posts (and if you’re not checking those out every day, you should!), it will have my personal flair.

Basically, a “Stuff I Like” post with longer commentary than Twitter allows. Don’t expect great depth, in other words.

If you like it, let me know! If you hate it, also let me know! If you don’t care either way, continue in your apathy!

*Mario voice* Here we go!

=====

One:  My post from February about “voting against and voting for.”
I was considering reposting this piece from February, but I figure I might as well just bump it up this way. Early voting for the US presidential election started this week. As we are now less than 2 weeks from Election Day, I wanted to make one more appeal to you, the voter–vote for something, not just against something. Vote your conscience. Vote for principles.

Two: My wife’s Etsy shop.
Nepotism and self-promotion on my inaugural Friday-Five? You betcha! But if you’re looking for a Christmas gift or something nice with which to decorate your home for the holidays, please take a look at my wife’s Etsy store. She makes beautiful handmade paper crafts, and can do special orders and custom wreaths. A brand-new item she’s just started selling: handmade paper Christmas ornaments (called “Finnish stars”). Super cool.

Three: The end-credits track from the upcoming film “Doctor Strange.”
Composed by Michael Giacchino (who wrote the music for LOST and Up, among others), this track, called “Master of the Mystic Arts,” is a trippy, swirling, operatic delight, bringing in flavors of sitar, harpsichord, and B3 organ. Giacchino has become my favorite film score composer–yes, more than John Williams, there, I said it!–because his instrumental pieces tell stories and connect to the emotions in a powerful way. So it is with this, which only makes me more excited about the upcoming Marvel film. Put on some headphones, turn this track up, and jam.

Four: My favorite musical discovery of 2015-2016. 
I don’t listen to a lot of new music, even though the opportunities for discovering new (or new-to-you) music are higher than ever before. That said, my favorite musical “discovery” of the last couple of years is the Austin band “Explosions in the Sky.” They’ve been around for more than 15 years, but I just realized last year that I really dig their music (which was featured, unbeknownst to me, on both the film and TV versions of Friday Night Lights). It’s technically classified as “post-rock,” but the best way I can describe it is “perfect soundtrack music.” It’s almost entirely instrumental, emotionally evocative, and a perfect soundtrack for making whatever you’re doing seem more epic. My favorite EITS album is The Earth is Not A Cold, Dead Place, so if you want to check them out, start there. That’s the record I keep coming back to.

Five: THE CUBS, y’all. THE CUBS.
I may need to write an entire blog post to suss out exactly what I’m feeling right now about the fact that my Chicago Cubs, my “lovable losers,” the home of my boyhood baseball heroes, are in the World Series for the first time since Harry Truman was president.  As of this writing, they are tied at one game apiece, with Game 3 in legendary Wrigley Field scheduled for tonight. It still seems like a dream. I’m not even the most hardcore, Fever Pitch kind of fan, and I’m really excited about this. Which is why I love stories like this:  Cubs’ outfielder Kyle Schwarber collided with a teammate on April 7th (the 5th game of the 2016 season), and tore 2 ligaments in his knee. He didn’t play another inning on the Cubs’ professional squad for 6 months, as he rehabbed, worked out, and played in the Arizona fall league–that is, until Tuesday, when he started as the DH in Game 1 of the World Series. Since then, he has hit 3-for-7 in the first 2 games, with a run and 2 RBI. Awesome.

=====

Your Turn: Got any cool links, stories, or ideas? Share in the comments below!

Advertisements

Status: Unclear.

I’m not going to belabor the point, but I feel the need to unload a bit of this internal jumble out onto the internet, if you don’t terribly mind:

I’ve been feeling very scattered over the last couple of weeks. October seemed to be start well. I was hitting my daily Scripture reading goals more often than not, tracking my food well, and then my birthday came around and…well, it all sort of fell apart. I sort of fell apart in a handful of small ways.

I hasten to add: Nothing *happened* to cause this. I just…stopped. Stopped reading the Word regularly, stopped tracking my food, stopped exercising, stopped all of it. And I have to tell you, no big surprise here but I’m feeling very jumbled. Very off-center. Very “washing-machine-banging-around-until-you-even-out-the-load.”

Was it related to the birthday? I don’t think so. I’m not aware of any existential dread that arrived when I turned 36. I just shifted into neutral for some reason, and I’ve been coasting for about 2 weeks.

I share this to explain why I haven’t been posting much, and to give those of you who pray an idea of what you can be praying for, in my case.  I think what I really need is to recalibrate a bit. I need to slow down, get back to my core values, and start again.

I’ll check in later in the week. Have a good evening, all.

 

The4thDave Recommends: “Reviving New England” by Nate Pickowicz

rne

I’ve heard for years that New England, the cradle of American Christianity, is becoming or has largely become a spiritual wasteland, with little to no active Gospel witness. Because of this, New England is slowly becoming an area of focus for church planting organizations in the US. However, new churches and church plants are fragile things, and they can wither and die just as quickly as they sprout up.

So how can the Church break through the spiritually frigid New England ground? While there are stacks of “church planting” and “church strategy” books to which we could turn, it may be best to listen to men who are in the trenches, doing the work.

Nate Pickowicz is the pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, NH. He faithfully serves the church of Jesus Christ, doing the work of ministry in a challenging region, and his new book Reviving New England provides some first-hand insights and timely challenges for those considering doing ministry in the Northeast.

Pickowicz begins the book with a short history of the Protestant church in New England, from the founding of America through its recent decline. He then discusses the nature of true revival by recalling the characteristics of revival throughout church history.

Throughout the remainder of the book, Pickowicz details a strategy for preparing the spiritual ground in his region. I found this material to be incredibly valuable for 3 key reasons:

  • It’s not that ground-breaking. This may sound like a slight, but I assure you it’s not. Pickowicz is not interested in novelty here. Instead, he carefully exposits and applies Scriptural teaching on how a healthy church is to function. You won’t find shiny new strategies for filling the pews with gimmicks and spectacle. And that is a very good thing.
  • It’s based on a Scriptural understanding of what revival is. From the very beginning, it’s evident that Pastor Nate understands revival is first and foremost a work of the Holy Spirit. It’s not something that can be scheduled, manufactured, or advertised in advance. What Pastor Nate lays out is a blueprint for preparing our churches and individual hearts for the work of God, but everything Pickowicz prescribes relies wholly on the Holy Spirit to move as He wills.
  • It’s not just about New England. It is certainly focused primarily on the state of the Church and the spiritual landscape in that region, but there is nothing in Pickowicz’s book that cannot and should not be applied to every church in the US and around the world. That’s why this book should be read by every pastor in every context. The reality is that the spiritual famine that is currently associated with New England is slowly spreading throughout the American church. While some of the details are different, the prescription is the same: faithful Biblical teaching; a commitment to proper church structure, leadership, and membership; and consistent discipleship.

Reviving New England is a concise treatise on what faithful believers and churches can do to try to break through the spiritual malaise and apathy of their communities. It would be edifying to lay readers, as a call to renewed spiritual devotion. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in church or ministry leadership. But I would most especially recommend it for pastors in difficult ministry contexts, as an encouragement and reminder of God’s faithfulness.

You can pick up a copy of Reviving New England here. And you should.

=====

Please note: I was provided an electronic copy of the book by the author, in exchange for an honest review. The preceding thoughts are wholly my own.

 

Somebody’s wrong on the Internet.

Truth be told, I have had a LOT to talk about lately, but I just don’t know how to get it all out in words. So that’s part of the reason for the sporadic posting.

…Also, I just deleted the rant that was about to follow that first sentence. So self-censorship may also be part of the reason I haven’t been posting much.

That said, please allow me to share the following less-frustrated-sounding bulleted list:

  • Friends, there are people online who have strong feelings about important topics (like politics), and sometimes those strong feelings and opinions contradict yours.
  • When you see that someone is expressing an idea or feeling you disagree with–and they are not actually directing their comments at you–rather than starting an argument with them, you have the option simply to ignore it and keep on scrollin’ down the road.
  • It’s not your job to fix other people’s opinions.
  • It’s silly to provoke fights with others on social media, and then complain that you are offended by seeing their opinions.

In summary: Be a grown-up. Don’t pick fights with others. Move on with your day. Thanks.

 

[Or write about it on your personal blog, so that the people to which your comments are actually directed won’t even see them. I’m sure that’s healthy, too.]

Have mercy.

“And as [Jesus and His disciples] went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.”

(Matthew 20:29-34 ESV)

A quick thought this afternoon:

In this brief story, Jesus, His disciples, and the crowd following Him passed two blind beggars on the roadside. When these two men heard Who was coming, they knew they had one chance to ask Him for help.

Notice three things about what they said:

  • “Lord” – This word indicates submission. They recognized Jesus was a figure of authority and power, and they approached Him with respect.
  • “Have mercy on us” – This phrase showed they knew they needed help. They realized they needed not just Jesus’ assistance, but His mercy. They appealed to His compassion, because they recognized their position of need.
  • “Son of David” – More than an indication of mere lineage, this phrase is fraught with meaning to a Jew in the 1st century. It may well be that these men, physically blind as they were, had been given spiritual understanding of who Jesus *was*– the promised Messiah, the descendant of David, who would bring about the Kingdom of God.

Though others tried to silence their cry for help, they called out to the one person whom they believed could cure them. When Jesus responds, they make a bold request: “Let our eyes be opened.” They asked Jesus for miraculous healing because they knew He could do it. Jesus takes pity on them, touches them (an unnecessary step but an intentional one), and heals them. They respond by immediately following Him.

=====

Something to think about today: Sometimes, the best prayer we can pray is one of submission to the lordship of Jesus, recognition of our need, and belief in who Jesus is, as revealed by the Scriptures. It doesn’t have to be eloquent, well-thought-out, or wordy. The desperate prayer of honest need and simple faith is enough to get the attention of our compassionate Savior and ardent Intercessor. No matter your need, He does not tire of hearing His beloved friends call out to Him, nor of responding to their prayers with His perfect grace and mercy.

2016 Reading Challenge: September Update!

Time for another update on my Challies 2016 Reading Challenge progress!

I guess September is the beginning of harvest time, so it makes sense for me to finally finish several books, including a few I had been working on, on and off, for a few months! It seems I had a lot to say about a few of these books, so this post is almost 2-3 posts in one!

So here’s a list of what I was able to finish in September:

A Book of Less than 100 Pages: A Guide to Adoption and Orphan Care, by SBTS Press (Russell Moore, ed.). This short booklet was produced by Southern Seminary, and is really just a collection of short essays (long blog posts?) from the Southern faculty about adoption and orphan care. The first group of essays addresses personal/family issues related to adoption, while the last few essays touch on how to begin or support orphan care ministry in the church setting. This is a hugely important topic, and while this book doesn’t go into any real depth, it may be a great starting point for beginning to think about how you can take part in and support orphan care. It certainly helped me begin thinking about this issue for my own family.

A Book by Jane Austen: Persuasion, by Jane Austen. I am a growing fan of Jane Austen stories–I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and I’ve seen the filmed productions of those two as well as Emma and Mansfield Park. I appreciate her style of writing, and her ability to describe a character in an incisive yet still sympathetic way. Austen’s stories have some stock character types that get mixed and matched in different ways: noble, long-suffering characters in a family of self-centered jerks; rogueish young men who are up to no good (a.k.a. the “all that glitters” character); silly aristocrats and bitter commoners. In Persuasion, the main character is the noble, long-suffering youngest sister in a family of silly aristocrats who is trying to find love with a dashing young captain whom she regrettably spurned in her younger days. (Truth be told, she reminded me of Edith from “Downton Abbey” early on in the story.) And about 2/3 of the way through the story, I was enjoying it immensely, on par with the top-shelf Austen stories. However, the ending seems to fall apart, and Austen seems to tie it up abruptly, almost arbitrarily. Nothing in the resolution felt really earned. On the whole, some interesting character moments, and Austen’s writing style shines through as well as ever, but the plot sags in the third act, leaving a disappointing conclusion (certainly no “Mr. Darcy walking through the morning fog” moment, that’s for sure).

A Play By William Shakespeare: The Winter’s Tale, by…well, Shakespeare. Okay, bad-English-major / slacker-lit-geek confession: I haven’t read all of Shakespeare’s plays. Many–more than half–but not all. And one I hadn’t read before is The Winter’s Tale, one of Shakespeare’s pastoral plays that he wrote in the waning years of his career. Now, I will argue passionately for the quality and value of his major works (and it drives me bonkers that they are being taught less frequently in schools), but this one?  Meh. Here are the highlights: accusations of royal infidelity, court intrigue, the hubris of a ruler not listening to wise counsel, loss and regret…and then a half-baked attempt at pastoral humor and a love-story resolution. Oh, and there’s a bear attack and a statue that comes to life, because…reasons. So, yeah. The first half feels like a mix of Othello and Hamlet, the second half like a half-baked Much Ado.  Not his best work.

A Book More than 100 Years Old: The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton (1911). My original selection for this category was Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, which quickly showed to be tough sledding, and I wanted something a bit lighter. [I’ll get back to that one eventually.] I later realized that this collection of Father Brown stories would fit the bill. My previous exposure to Chesterton’s fiction was the novel The Man Who Was Thursday, which I enjoyed greatly. I was dimly aware of Father Brown, mainly that the character was a clergyman of some kind (Catholic priest, as it turns out) who solved mysteries. I began the collection expecting something of a religiously-tinged Sherlock Holmes. In that regard, I was mildly disappointed, since there wasn’t the consistent “big reveal” moment at the end of each story, as you’d get with the Baker Street detective. If there was ever a big reveal, it was understated almost to the point of denoument. In all of the stories, Father Brown (usually accompanied by French-master-thief-turned-detective Flambeau) stumbles his way into intrigue, or is invited to provide perspective. While he does do a bit of “detecting” of the classic sort, Father Brown’s skill set arises more organically from his understanding and experience dealing with the human soul. In fact, the best parts of these stories are Father Brown’s (and thus, Chesterton’s) ruminations on why people behave the way they do. Outside of one or two unfortunate racial slurs in one of the stories (a relic of its era), these stories are actually quite charming, and as such are worth seeking out.

A Book You Own But Have Never Read: Orphan Justice, by Johnny Carr. I bought this book back when my wife and I were dating. Orphan care and adoption has been a passion for my wife for years, and I wanted to be a supportive boyfriend/husband, so I purchased this book but never actually read it, until now.  I have to admit, this one is a bit tough to read, because it challenges you with the realities that orphans face around the world. Carr looks not only at the orphan crisis itself but also the complex social issues that feed into it, like human trafficking, HIV, poverty, and abuse. Hard stuff. But God used this book to continue the process of awakening a concern for orphans in my own heart. I don’t have the same level of passion that my wife does, but I’m getting there. There is such need. These kids are suffering every day. And that’s…wrong. I mean, really wrong. The wrongness of it is so great that it’s getting harder for me to ignore. And this book really forced me to think about that, and to question some of my own assumptions and stereotypes. One great feature of this book is that Carr ends each chapter with a challenge to act, by pointing out things that everyone, some people, and a few people can do to make a difference in each area. By doing so, he keeps the book very practical. My main critique of the book is that the author pulls Scripture out of context frequently, which really bugs me. However, I committed not to let these issues distract me or close my ears to the bigger truths in the book. And you shouldn’t either.

A Book that Won an ECPA Christian Book Award: Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus, by Nabeel Qureshi. Qureshi is a Christian apologist whose focus is evangelizing Muslims. He was raised in Islam, and this book chronicles his critical exploration of both Christianity and Islam, as well as his eventual conversion to Christianity. Qureshi demonstrates through his own story his deep appreciation for his family and upbringing, as well as the difficulty of facing the truth about the faith he once believed. The book provided a glimpse into a world I’ve never known, and it helped me understand how a person can actually love Islam (or at least, some versions of it). The one reservation I had as I began this book was that I had heard the story involved Qureshi receiving “dreams and visions” from God. Theologically speaking, I consider myself about 93% cessationist, with only just enough doubt not to be adamant. In other words, when people talk about experience with sign gifts like prophecy and visions, I tend toward doubt until their testimony meets some thresholds of doctrinal testing. So I have to admit, I was a little leery. Well, I can tell you this much: the “dreams” Qureshi describes did not concern me from a doctrinal perspective. While he does drift into some “God spoke to my heart” direct revelation talk, it’s no more than the standard evangelical nomenclature (and nothing I haven’t said myself at one time or another).  All in all, this book was encouraging and edifying, and the description of Qureshi’s conversion brought tears to my eyes. I’m glad I read (technically, listened to the author read) this book.

A Book about Joy or Happiness: The Joy Project, by Tony Reinke. I wrote about this a little last week. The Joy Project is a sneaky book, in a way; while you think from the title and cover art that it’s a book about “joy,” you find out that it’s really a book about theology–specifically, the Calvinist “doctrines of grace.” However, as you read it, you recognize that Reinke wasn’t trying to pull a fast one. He was sincerely linking a Christian’s joy to their understanding of their salvation as a work of sovereign grace that rescues, redeems, and secures them. As I wrote earlier, this truth is something that I need to spend a LOT of time meditating upon, because in my years of being Calvinistic, I have only half-heartedly applied it to my own life. What I’m beginning to see is tha there is joy–so much joy!–in knowing that I am fully and completely secure in the Father’s hand. May I know it ever more and more.

=====

The end of September means we’re 3/4 of the way through the year. (That’s crazy to think about!) So how am I doing in regard to the 2016 Reading Challenge? Well, a 7-book month definitely helps things along!

I still don’t know if I will be able to hit the original goal of 52. Back in mid-July, I lowered by expectations and set a goal of reading at least 30 of the books on the list. Well, consider that “realistic” goal met! With the 7 books completed in September, my current total is 31/52 books read!

That leaves…21 for the next 3 months. Can I do 3 more 7-book months in a row? Considering the fact that those months include the holidays, which in our house is the busiest part of the year…probably not.

But if you know me at all, you know I’m sure gonna try! And as always, I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Thanks for reading.

Your Turn: Reading anything good lately? Post your recommendations in the comments below–because I’m definitely working on my list for next year!