December 26, 2012

My Top 10 books From 2012

End of year lists seem a popular thing to make. Movies, music, books, video games, sports moments, news stories, nothing seems left untouched by such lists. After reading a few of these, I decided it might be kind of fun to go over my top 10 reads from 2012. Keep in mind, these sort of lists are ridiculously subjective, but isn't that what makes it fun? Bear in mind, unlike many such lists, mine is not of books published in 2012, but of books I personally read this past year.

1. The Man Who Was Thursday- G.K. Chesterton
This book tops my list for one reason-it was simply the most enjoyable read I have ever enjoyed enjoying; and I don't care if that's redundant. I was glued to the pages, which is an affect fiction generally does not have on me. Good story, a gripping style of writing.

2. Radical- David Platt
I had put off reading this book. Not for any reason other than it was very popular, and I am rather leery of the popular. I have never highlighted and underlined a book so thoroughly. My copy looks like a little kid got ahold of it. Platt's call to authentic (or rather, Radical) discipleship was refreshing, and is needed.

3. A Sweet and Bitter Providence- John Piper
The first of three Piper books, and the only re-read on the list. This was the first Piper book I ever read, and it had me hooked from the first time I picked it up in 2009. Glad I read it again.

4. Future Grace- John Piper
The hardest book on this list for me to read. Also the most deeply helpful book on the list. This book showed me more of God than any other, even though reading it at times felt like I was in a mental and spiritual slug-fest. The relation of faith and works, faith and assurance  faith and living as a Christian are but among many of the issues Piper tackles in this weighty classic.

5. Preaching and Preachers- Dr. Martin Llyod-Jones
My first exposure to Llyod-Jones; I went back and forth between laughing hysterically and being deeply convicted by his pointed style. Probably not something the average reader will find interesting, but a good and enjoyable read for anyone in vocational ministry.

6. Basic Christianity- John Stott
One of the most important Christian books of the 20th Century (named Christianity Today's "Book of the Century"), Stott's work is an excellent one. It also is exceedingly clear and simple to understand. A good read for those curious about Christianity, new to the faith, or who need a refresher course - as I did.

7. Heretics- G.K. Chesterton
The precursor to Chesterton's better known "Orthodoxy," this book was an absolute blast for me to read. And even though many of the people he addresses are long-forgotten, the issues which he tackles remain, for the most part, timely and relevant.

8. A Grief Observed- C.S. Lewis
Written after the death of his wife, this book is raw emotion. Things we all feel, but put into words in a way few but Lewis could.

9.Date Your Wife- Justin Buzzard
Like a self-help book for men, except his whole point is that you can't help yourself. You need Jesus. Buzzard does a good job of pointing men to Jesus, not simply to tell them to conform to a religious pattern, but rather to fall down in worship and cry out for help.

10. Brothers, We Are Not Professionals- John Piper
Rounding out the list is another classic from Piper. A call for a radically God-dependent ministry, rather than one dependent on so-called "professionalism".

December 19, 2012

Broken hearts and black rifles

First things first. Before I make any remotely political statements I want to first say that my heart breaks for those families in Connecticut. As should that of anyone with a pulse. The fact that people on both sides of the isle started screaming about gun control before the day was out on Friday is profoundly disturbing to me. You don't blame murders on tools. You also don't question the sincerity of a father (who happens to hold our highest elected office) who is moved to tears by such a tragedy.

This is part of why I hate the 24 hour news cycle. This is, first and foremost, a tragedy. It is not a news story. And yet all day Friday all we heard were reports (often conflicting) of this "breaking news." The only thing that ought to have broken that day was our hearts. I digress.

The issue at hand is that of gun control. I intend to be rather brief. Many are calling for a reinstatement of the so called "assault weapons ban" of 1994-2004. While I am all for the open debate of ideas to help reduce crime, I want to make a few observations.

1) The "assault weapons ban" did not reduce crime. Why do you think it was allowed to lapse in 2004? Because it didn't do anything besides restrict what sort of gun one could manufacture or purchase based, primarily, on cosmetic features such as whether there were pistol grips of whether the stock folds. You might have accurately called it a "scary looking guns" ban. Notably, the Columbine shootings occured while this ban was in effect.

2) A constant refrain we are hearing is "we have to figure out something"; the obvious implication being that tragedies such as this one can be prevented. While I believe this view stems from a very flawed understanding of human nature (that man is basically good), I will address it nonetheless. If we take any mass scale action, be it through gun control, institutionalizing more mental patients, or whatever our President's gun violence commission comes up with, it is going to come with trade-offs. For the government to make anyone safer it must, of necessity, grow. And as the government grows, as the power of the collective grows, there is a simultaneous reduction in the power and freedom of the individual. I have not the space here to consider the pros and cons of that trade-off, but it is one we must as Americans be aware of. Just know that no matter how well-intentioned any new law, regulation, or procedure, it will reduce freedom. Laws are, by definition, restrictive. And what they restrict is freedom. That is not always a bad thing, but we must be careful to have weighed that out ahead of time.

3) To all the "pro-gun" people who "support the 2nd Amendment" and then turn around and say you are okay with hunting rifles, but not black rifles: you drive me nuts. Your logic is non-existent. The 2nd Amendment says that the reason the people's right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed is so that there may be a well regulated militia in order to protect our free state (nation). It is not so that we may enjoy bird hunting. Or target shooting. In simple language, the founders said we should have guns so that when bad guys try to kill us or harm our state, we had not only the desire, but also the means with which to fight back. Hunting and recreational shooting are great. I enjoy both. But that is not what the 2nd Amendment is about. It's about being able to defend myself and others from those who would bring harm.

Finally -this is so obvious that I won't dignify it by giving it it's own point- we need realize that criminals don't obey laws. Gangs won't be affected by gun control. Drug cartels will not be affected by gun control. Madmen who kill children won't be affected by gun control.

This world has problems. Should we seek to prevent tragedies such as the one last Friday? Absolutely. But instead of making emotionally charged sweeping changes to law, let's look for things that will actually help.

December 13, 2012

A little note on fiscal foolishness

A poem dedicated to our dear government and our foolish spending habits.

Little man up on the moon
We shall all meet you soon
Yes we will see your face
As we invade your happy place

Cause NASA'a flying everywhere
Using our funds to get up there
Our governement finds it wise
Fiscal discretion to despise

So we shall soar on up to you
With wallets feeling rather blue
Our debts shall climb up ever on
And soon our money will be gone

Note: I love the idea of exploring space. I don't believe anyone lives on the moon. Or anywhere else in space. I realize we've already been to the moon. My point is this-our government is spending money on a lot of things that, while good, are not the proper function of government. And it will be the end of our nation, perhaps sooner rather than later.
So is space exploration good? Sure. Is feeding the poor and needy good, nay, vital? Absolutely. Do we want the economy to do well and businesses to succeed? Of course. However, is it the job of the federal government to care for the needy, or should I as an individual, and we collectively through churches and charities take on that responsibility? Should the government control the winners and losers in the business world, and inject (through taxation) our money into a business that obviously had not been supported enough for them to succeed? And is space exploration really as crucial as taking care of our mounting indebtedness to countries such as China and Russia? Worth pondering.
But our politicians won't ponder these things. Because serious and substantial cuts in federal spending are not on their radar. Why? Because the average joe is happy to borrow from their children and grandchildren to enjoy their current standard of living. We aren't willing to be responsible adults. It might be uncomfortable. Oh, America. The little man on the moon is probably shaking his head.

December 11, 2012

A Dangerous Chase

A young man went out into the world

It was greatness that he hoped to find
But as life’s pressures ‘round him swirled
Those dreams crumbled in his mind



Dejected by the “hand life dealt”
Our friend’s thoughts did begin to waver
And because great failure he had felt
He hoped that drugs would be his savior



“Just numb it all” he told himself
As the needle slipped inside his vein
He felt he fought the world itself
For all that remained was pain



He had lost both family and health
Whilst success had been his chief endeavor
But loss of job meant loss of wealth
And he was without all earthly treasure



He passed out one night beside the road
And did not awake again on earth
Could anyone have his end foretold?
What would that warning have been worth?



The tragic end of this man’s life
Should cause each man to pause
What do I value in my life?
What has been my greatest cause?



Will I come to the end and find
That all I’ve lived for is but naught?
To what has been my heart inclined?
What sort of treasure have I sought?



You see when all is said and done
Our temporal things won’t matter
But when our chiefest treasure is the Son
We have a wealth that will not shatter

December 06, 2012

Joy birthed of Pain

O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

These are two of the verses to the familiar Christmas Hymn "O come, O come, Emmanuel." It is my favorite Christmas song, for a rather simple reason. In this song there is an incredible tension between an anxious, almost dejected, sense of waiting on the one hand; and a confident hope on the other.   On Sunday Andie and I started working through Desiring God's advent devotional, "Good News of Great Joy" (available free to download at http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/good-news-of-great-joy-free-advent-ebook). And I have been struck by how little joy there is surrounding Christmas in general, and for Christians especially. Hype, yes. Anticipation of gifts to be given and recieved, perhaps. Dread of long shopping lines, probably. Stress over a million things that seem neccesary to "pull-off" the holiday, to be sure. But joy? I don't see much of it. And in the first few days going through this book, examining Scriptures related to the event we celebrate on December 25th-God becoming a man, in the form of an infant-I have noticed that I lack excitement. Think about it. Jesus, the One who created heaven and earth, who moulded the sun, set the stars, commands the tides, controls hurricanes and meteor showers-enters human history. Sets aside the rights of Divinity to becomes a child born to an unwed mother in a barn. Why? In order to live a life of perfection that would make Him a fit sacrifice. And in sacrificing Himself, He takes on my sin. The wrath of God is poured out on Him, and is satisfied by Him. He absorbs the wrath of God due to me. Jesus came and was born into a feed trough so that He could ultimately be killed in my place! That is mind blowing. Why am I not amazed? Why do I not leap with joy any time I think of a baby crying in a manger 2000 years ago? Why do I not sing along with His mother of His great mercy in esteeming my lowly estate?   I think part of it is the fact that it seems so distant. I mean, come on Will. We live in world of war, turmoil, where tornadoes rip up homes, and divorce rips up families. One where loved ones die and we get cancer. How can we be filled with joy? It's a completely legitimate question.

Yet I think this tension is what answers that question. Because all that pain which we refer to as life is what makes us capable of the longing for God we need. When everything is coasting, I don't feel a need for God. When the money is in the bank, and the kids are healthy, and everyone likes me, I sure don't think I need anyones help. But when the feces hit the fan, I know how weak I am. I realize that none of this is in my control. And all of a sudden I am feeling the reality of that "God shaped hole." I can feel the something of the ansxt with which Simeon must have waited for the consolation of Israel. Until there is pain and helplessness, I am too proud for my heart to cry "O come, O come, Emmanuel!" Joy can enter when my need is apparent, and with confidence I know that He will come. That he has come. That He cares. That he cares enough to come not only in a spiritual sense, but He cared enough to come down and get dirty. We have a High Priest who can sympathize with our weakness, the author of Hebrews tells us. Rejoice. Rejoice! Emmanuel has come to thee, O Israel. He has come. He is our joy.

About Me

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I love Jesus, my wife, and my kids. Writing and teaching are two things I have a passion for. Gardening and fishing are cool, too. I blog @ willdole.com, you can reach me @ contact@willdole.com