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Recommendations for Reading

Suggested Reading: Food for the soul, good to the taste, healthy for the mind . . .

Bible Read this first, and read it most.

(I have found it helpful to read thru Psalms & Proverbs annually. There are 181 (chapters), total. That means if you read one Psalm or one chapter in Proverbs per day, you can read through the whole collection twice in a year – that would be awesome for you!)

Biographies:

His Excellency (G. Washington) Joseph Ellis
Passionate Sage (J. Adams) Joseph Ellis
American Sphinx (T. Jefferson) Joseph Ellis
(Short biographies; very well written; focusing on particular periods or situations)

Let the Trumpet Sound (M. L. King) Stephen Oates

John Piper has also written several short biographies in series called: The Swans Are Not Silent
(These are based on great heroes of the faith)

Devotional books:

The Attributes of God Arthur Pink
The Knowledge of the Holy A.W. Tozer
My Utmost for His Highest Oswald Chambers
(this one is my favorite; going through it for the third time in 08; a recognized classic)
50 Reasons why Jesus Came to Die John Piper

Men’s growth

Point Man Steve Farrar
The Measure of a Man Gene Getz
(the source book for our current men’s Bible study)

For Men Only Jeff and Shaunti Feldhahn
(excellent, short, easy-to-read resource for men to learn how women are different from men)

Quiet Strength (biography) Tony Dungy
(a rare and genuine sports celebrity who publically & unapologetically lives out his faith)

Women’s growth:

For Women Only Shaunti Feldhahn
(companion book to “For Men Only”; easy-to-read & short)
The Legacy of Biblical Womanhood Susan Hunt & Barbara Thompson
Politically Incorrect Wife Nancy Cobb/Connie Grigsby

General Spiritual Growth:

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life Donald Whitney
(primer on developing godly disciplines & godly habits)

Anything John Piper writes will be a fountain of nourishment for your spirit
Some Notables: Desiring God; Future Grace; Pleasures of God
(I think there are “short” versions of each of these – go to: desiringgod.org)

One more from Piper: Don’t Waste Your Life
(written for “everyman” & “everywoman”, alerting readers to seek God’s greater riches)

Fiction:

I don’t read a lot of fiction, though Debbie and I do choose some fiction to read to each other. My best word to you in this area is to stick to Christian fiction, and the classics.

As your pastor, I cherish this opportunity to encourage and equip you in your walk with God. As I started to write down some suggestions, I was quickly overwhelmed with the number of books that God has used to bless my life. The challenge is to keep the list manageable (and not intimidating), so I limited this edition to about 20 titles. It is a start. I admit that it reflects my preferences and my interests in reading material, so there won’t be much in the way of fiction or what I might describe as lighter reading (though I do read some of that and enjoy it). I have read each of the books on the list, and some of them more than once.

I have broken the list down into some general, topical areas. I hope this list will be useful as you seek wisdom in choosing books that will be good for you. I join you in wanting to choose reading that will nourish my soul, and equip me in my walk with God. There is some tremendous stuff out there (both sacred and secular) – more than any reader could consume in a lifetime of reading. So, my prayer is that you will be discerning.

If you are already a reader, you might want to choose two or three “topics” and one book from each. If you are not currently a reader, I pray this may be a catalyst to help you pursue this useful discipline. I recommend you start slowly and patiently, seeking to find a consistent time and place where you can nourish your mind and soul with the joy of GOOD reading – 15 minutes a day is an excellent goal at the start. For some of you, cost might be an issue. Sadly, many of these books are not available at a local library. (Perhaps we will explore purchasing some of them for our church library.) In the meantime, though my resources are not extensive, I am happy to help you in any way I can – and it would be my joy to do so.

So, check out the list, and make a plan to get started. I would love to hear how you’re doing, and what you think about the books you are reading (even if they are not on the attached list, or even if you don’t like one I have suggested J). To the extent that I can, I am also glad to give you my opinion about the “theological safety” and/or “worthiness quotient” of any book you in which you might be interested. I rejoice that God has given the gift of writing to men and women, and has given us minds to benefit from their gift. As in all things, our objective in reading ought to be to “grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3.18)

More Recommended Reading

Recently finished reading two very good books. On the historical front, (along with Debbie) I read, “We are Lincoln Men” by David Herbert Donald; a short work about Lincoln as seen through his close relationship with several friends and colleagues. It is an easy and enjoyable read, and very informative for those might want to be introduced to this great American President. (For those who would want meatier reading, Donald wrote a major, prize-winning biography on Lincoln back in the 90’s, titled “Lincoln”. It is excellent, but much longer and much weightier going.)

The other book is by Dr. David Dockery, the President of Union University (the college that was severely damaged in the February tornado). Dockery’s book is titled: “Southern Baptist, Consensus and Renewal”, published by Broadman & Holman. For those who are lovers of the Southern Baptist Convention, and/or those who would like to learn some historical background about the Convention, this is an excellent resource. Dockery provides a marvelous primer on key parts of SBC history (and pre-SBC, Baptist history); he includes some excellent background on SBC doctrinal beliefs, and where they came from; and he offers some very pastoral counsel about future directions. It is an excellent book, about 225 pages, and will be good for your spiritual development. (Dockery’s book contains a comprehensive, yet very understandable portrait of the gospel in chapter 2 – the book is worth its price for that chapter alone. Even if you did not read the rest of the book, you would be blessed and equipped by reading Chapter 2.)

January 2009 - Isaiah 41:10

10 fear not, for I am with you;
    be not dismayed, for I am your God;
    I will strengthen you, I will help you,
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

February 2009 - Psalm 135:5-6 a

5 For I know that the Lord is great,
   and that our Lord is above all gods.
6 Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,

Learning from Lent, Looking to Easter, Loving God

Hi brothers and sisters at Harrison Hills,
Ash Wednesday was Feb 25. Those who have some affiliation or experience with the Roman Catholic faith will recognize that term. Ash Wednesday signals the start of Lent. What’s Lent? Here’s the official Wikipedia definition: Lent, in some Christian denominations, is the forty-day-long liturgical season of fasting and prayer before Easter. Holman Bible Dictionary defines Lent as “the penitential period preceding Easter; early Christians felt that the magnitude of the Easter celebration called for special preparation.” Yochum application: the season leading up to Easter is a very useful time for us to contemplate where we are in our personal spiritual development. That contemplation will be enhanced by fasting and prayer; and by thinking intently about the cross.

Whenever we do that, with earnestness before God and openness to the influence of His Holy Spirit (that’s where fasting and prayer come in), we will be brought to a place of repentance as we recognize the depth of our sin, our powerlessness to overcome it, and the reality of what that meant to God and His Christ. We are powerless to rescue ourselves from the bondage of sin, and because of grace, we don’t have to – we are not saved by self-rescue. God did that for us in Christ – “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 Jn 4.10) That big word (propitiation) means that what Jesus did on the Cross “turned away God’s wrath” from all who place their trust in that great work of grace. (Jn 1.12) Settled, pardoned, forgiven, acquitted, redeemed, reconciled, justified. Done! Propitiation of God’s wrath is the glorious promise of the Cross, and victory over death is the glorious message of Easter. Death is the last enemy for man, but death is not the last word for believers. Jesus conquered death, and all who trust in Him will do likewise. (1 Cor 15.50-57; 1 Thes 4.13-18)
So, if all that’s true, what can we learn from Lent? Most Protestant faiths don’t follow a particular practice for Lent, but taking time to reflect on one’s life before God is always helpful. It is common practice for Roman Catholics to give something up for Lent (to fast from meat (or chocolate!) or cut out television or something like that). Denying ourselves of something that we enjoy and/or take for granted can have a useful end if we understand the objective. Self-denial is not so much about seeing if we can really stick it out, like going on a diet, it is more about understanding what Christ did for us: “although He existed in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, [instead He] emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant and being made in the likeness of men.” (Phil 2.6-7) And, “No one has taken [my life] away from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative.” (Jn 10.18). Jesus “denied Himself” so that every sinner might have the hope of Easter. We “deny ourselves” to be committed followers of Christ – “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” (Lk 9.23) Though we may not practice the patterns of Lent, we can learn from the principles that Lent espouses. Even if it’s not during the Easter season, I encourage you to consider intentional times of self-denial, so that you might draw closer to God.
Our efforts to draw closer to God is one way that we prove our love and desire for Him. I have found the Easter season particularly useful for that. As I look toward Easter my heart is compelled to look more intently and purposefully toward God. Here’s what James has to say about that in James 4.8-10 (warning: it is misery before it is encouragement; it is going down to get up – much of the gospel is) – “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” This “no holds barred” N.T. author shows us that drawing near to God will require a willingness to confront our sin (through repentance and prayer and obedience). He goes on – “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” (Here, James speaks of the guilt that attaches to the believer when he/she sins; and that we should not apply make-up to the blemishes and scars of sin through temporal pursuits and pleasures.) “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Harsh counsel? At first glance it may appear so, but Peter adds a slightly softer landing: first, Peter’s similar instruction: “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time”. Then, Peter’s softer landing: “casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
Here’s how I might summarize those two passages for my own encouragement. God loves me, and wants me to walk in careful, obedient fellowship with Him – that is how I prove my love for God (Jn 14.15), and how I experience the fullness of joy that Jesus longs for me to have. (Jn 15.11) My experience of joy is bound up in how I think and feel and act about God. James says I must come to the end of myself before I will consider that accurately. James goes on to say I must see the misery and grief and tragedy of my own sin, and renounce it completely and consistently, before God will exalt me to the fullness of joy and assurance and peace that He desires for me to have. James says: I must humble myself before a mighty and fearsome God, before He will exalt me – if that is His will. Peter assures me “being exalted” is God’s will “because He cares for me”. God loves me (and you!). As we look to Easter, let us be reminded that we experience that love by humbling ourselves through obedience and surrender to His will; and we draw closer to Jesus as we take up the cross in self-denial.
Affectionately learning, loving, and looking with you,
Pastor Gary
p.s. As always, I welcome any comments or feed back or questions, etc. Should you decide to send me something, please send it to pastorgary@harrisonhills.org. If you send a direct reply to this email, it stays in a viewing area that is accessible to others.
Two book recommendations to help you reflect on Easter:
1) John Piper’s “50 Reasons Why Jesus Had to Die” contains 50, 2-page explanations about the reasons and the results of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is meant to be read in a devotional fashion: reading slow and reflecting long. I am reading and reflecting on one “reason” per day as I look toward Easter. As with all of Piper’s writings, it is full of scriptural meat, experienced and pastoral insight, and a contagious passion for God’s glory. It is a great Easter-preparation book, but it will bless you any time you would choose to read it. It would also be a marvelous tool to give to one who is genuinely seeking to know if Christianity is real. (I have 2 or 3 copies of this. If you’d like one I’ll be happy to give it to you. No email requests, please. J)
2) Arthur W. Pink’s “The Seven Sayings of our Savior on the Cross” is another great “looking toward Easter” book. Everything Pink wrote was done from a pastor’s perspective – sound in Scripture, extensive in encouragement, and weighed down with wisdom. This short book is no different. It is also full of careful exposition for not only the “seven sayings” passages, but many other supporting texts. It is a great tool for learning and for being greatly encouraged about our Sovereign Savior.

March 2009 - Psalm 1:1-2

1 Blessed is the man
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
   nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
   and on his law he meditates day and night.

April 2009 - Colossians 1:18-20

18 And He is the head of the body, the church.
    He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
    that in everything He might be preeminent.
19 For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
20 and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things,
    whether on earth or in heaven,
    making peace by the blood of His cross.

Reflecting on grace, musing about prayer, and identifying some suggested resources

Beloved Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

God has been very gracious to us in recent weeks. I hear frequent comments about how individuals and groups at HHBC are being blessed, through fellowship, through relationships, through instruction in God’s word in various settings. This past Sunday, we had thirty hearty souls join together at 8:00 am for an Easter devotion on the resurrection, followed by a fellowship breakfast. At 10:30, we had our largest worship service attendance in nearly two years. Over the last few months, God has added a number of families to our membership rolls. He is great and greatly to be praised. I pray that you are turning to Him often in celebrations of praise and thanksgiving for His mercy and His kindness to us.

Though we recognize that God “does whatever He pleases” (Ps 135.6a), and He is not bound by anything or anyone, it is useful to ponder how we can invite God’s continuing favor? Much preaching is given to answering that question, and I pray that is bearing fruit for each of you. Actually, there are many answers . . . chief among them is a steadfast faithfulness in obedience and surrender (manifested in lives of joy and genuine satisfaction with God). Another key to seeking God’s favor is to have a vibrant prayer life – both as a body of believers and as individuals.

 

I recently finished a book titled A Call to Spiritual Reformation by D. A. Carson (perhaps the most respected scholar on the evangelical landscape). It is a great book, and the title reveals the purpose of his writing. But, the subtitle points to the more specific subject matter: “Priorities from Paul and his Prayers”. Carson’s book is a book on prayer. As I glance at my bookshelves, I count ten books that deal specifically with prayer – all relatively short and fairly easy to read. Each one could be classified in one of three broad areas: How Come, How To, and How Well.

 

For instance, in the “how come” arena, one is moved by reading Jim Cymbala’s best-selling account of the revival of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, titled Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire. It tells the story of how a focus on prayer rescued a church that had shrunk to twenty members and (over the next 20 years) grew to over 6,000. In the “how to” realm, one can learn much from John Maxwell, longtime pastor and now international leadership guru, who penned a book called Partners in Prayer; a very good tutorial on how to pray for pastors and other church leaders. The most significant book for my personal prayer life falls in the “how to” basket: Peter Lord’s 2959 Plan, which lays out a careful, systematic, and biblically sound approach for praying. This format has guided my prayer life for over a decade, and it gives shape to our Wednesday night prayer gatherings. For those who might like to learn about prayer through a study-guide format, there is no better recognized teacher on prayer in the Southern Baptist stable than T.W. Hunt. His The Life-Changing Power of Prayer is a very helpful six-part study (published by Lifeway; for groups or individual use). Each of those would be helpful for building up your knowledge in “how come” we pray and “how to” pray.

 

Carson’s book doesn’t avoid the importance of those areas, but his focus is different, deeper. He assumes some working knowledge of why we pray and some level of experience in personal praying. His intention is to school his readers on the often-neglected component of “how well” we pray. Much could be said about whether or not one should focus on the quality of prayers, as long as one prays regularly and with faith. Fundamentally, it is important to pray, regularly, persistently, and with faith that God will answer prayers that honor His Character, and are consistent with His will (that is the broad-brush diagram of Jesus’ model prayer). The first question about prayer is not, “do you pray well”, but “do you pray – regularly, and with faith in God”. Carson would certainly concur, but he wouldn’t stop there, and neither should we as we seek to increase our passion for God and His glory. It is worthwhile to our faith and profitable for our spiritual maturity if we strive to become better “pray-ers”. Thus, the “how well” component is a very important one. God deserves our best in every area. As we increase in our knowledge of our great God, we should also strive to increase in our fellowship with Him. Richer, deeper, more God-oriented prayers, will help us grow in that effort.

 

God-centered prayers help us to be more intentional and careful to pray “Thy will be done”, even if that may not be what would make us happiest or what we might want for someone else. We would all agree that God’s will is always best, and all genuine believers would agree that we should pray for His will. Jesus did that, the apostles did that, every believer should earnestly strive to do that. Carson’s book is especially helpful in moving our understanding and practice in that direction. Using a select portion of Paul’s prayers as examples, and then instructing his readers in how Paul’s prayers focus on God’s purpose and plan in all things (without neglecting the power and promise of loving intercession for others), Carson broadens our knowledge about how to pray more effectively, and stimulates our desires to pray more carefully, more intentionally, and with increasing faith that God will answer the prayers of His saints. This is where Carson’s primary title comes in. Learning to pray in this way and putting that knowledge into practice will bring about spiritual reformation – for each of us, and for the church. It is a very good book; it is not very long, and it is very readable (that is, it is not written as a seminary textbook). I commend it to you.

 

We are in the planning and preparation stages for our summer season. We are working on Vacation Bible School, some prayer walks, summertime fellowships and other various ways to help us stay connected and committed throughout the summer. Summer is a time for family vacations, relaxing and restoring – and for that we are thankful. I encourage you to take advantage of those opportunities that bring your family together for fun times and fun trips. I also encourage you to stay fully invested in the life of the church. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they are specifically inclusive when we think about the central role the church should play in the life of our families. But, that’s a topic for a future email . . .

 

Partnering with you in pursuing the glory of God, and praying for your progress in all things related to that supreme goal,

 

Pastor Gary
 

May 2009 - Psalm 16:1-2

1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
2 I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
   I have no good apart from you."

June 2009 - Lamentations 3:21-24

21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 "The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
    "therefore I will hope in him."