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    Tuesday
    Apr222014

    Book Review :: Soul Keeping by John Ortberg

    Living in a time of increased secularization has numerous byproducts, and among them is neglect of the soul. The immaterial or spiritual dimension of the human person has become a mystery, and while soul-language endures, questions such as "How is it with your soul?" are often met with perplexity and mystification. Our thinking concerning the soul is quite limited, and for those suffering from deepest distress at our spiritual core, we lack wisdom concerning where to turn.

    John Ortberg, in his latest book Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You ($5.99 on Kindle today), calls our attention to the soul, something he claims we acknowledge yet do not understand. We do live during a time when the soul is greatly neglected, even among Christian people.  Therefore, when a pastor or leader steps forward and offers us wisdom, we should evaluate their words first, and then, where found to be true, put them in to practice.

    I've read many John Ortberg books, and I think this is one of his best. It is personal and it is sophisticated. It is a readable work, one that I enjoyed. The book begins with a parable, with Ortberg telling us of a stream and its keeper. In the story there is a village, seated at the base of a mountain. High atop the trail, there is an elderly man who travels up and down the stream, keeping it free from debris or any substance that could pollute its waters. As long as the stream is well kept, the village prospers and enjoys the benefits. When the stream is neglected, all suffer. And Ortberg tells us the soul is like the stream, and we are like the keeper. We must do those things which lead to health. The first priority is reconciliation and a sustained relationship with the one for whom our souls are made--God himself. This is a vivid and practical image that is carried throughout the book.

    The book consists of a three-part construction. Ortberg explains what the soul is, and examines our lack of knowledge concerning this most fundamental part of the human person. He then explores what the soul needs--a keeper, a center, a future, fellowship with God, rest, freedom, blessing, sanctification, and gratitude. And finally, Ortberg explores the experience of desolation--known by many as the dark night. In complementary fashion, he also examines consolation, and the peace that comes when a soul is at rest, filled with joyous confidence in God.

    As someone who reads a great deal of literature on Christian spiritual formation and the care of the soul, I recommend this book. As I have said, it reads easy and contains engaging personal stories and helpful insight. For those who have read Dallas Willard, you will see how Ortberg points to and develops themes within his work. But you will also see Willard as a mortal, a fellow disciple of Jesus who loved God deeply and was transformed by grace, yet not without his flaws and struggles. Ortberg also does well with theological and biblical material that helps the reader to understand the soul, and to turn to Christ for healing.

    Other reviewers have noted that Ortberg often speaks of his mentor, the Christian philosopher Dallas Willard. Some found the frequency with which an anecdote, saying, quotation, or experience with Willard makes its way in to these pages an annoyance, and I can see how this might be the case. As I have grown familiar with Willard's work and even attended a few conferences where he spoke in his final years, one of the trends I observed was for his interlocutors to wonder at his brilliance during question and answer sessions, or to tell stories of conversations where Willard's profundity required restatement or simplification in order to be understood. Many of Ortberg's quotations of Willard fall in line with this trend. Many Willard quotes are followed by, "Huh?"

    I happen to agree that Dallas Willard is an incomparable mind, and an unconventional thinker. His approach to Christian spiritual formation and the life of discipleship has been revolutionary for my own thought and practice, as it has been for countless others. In my opinion, Ortberg would have done well to let Willard's brilliance speak for itself, without drawing attention to his own slowness to comprehend his offhanded remarks or carefully presented teachings. But that is a matter of taste, not a matter of substance or value concerning Ortberg's overall work. Any reviewer that would downgrade their evaluation of this book because of an annoyance arising from this aspect of the presentation must not have paid ample attention to the lessons Ortberg does in fact offers us, whether by way of Willard, or through his own pastoral experience and theological reflection.

    The wise reader will not finish this book and consider it as an end in itself, but will look beyond it to the God who created the soul, and has made available every resource in Jesus to bring about its restoration and healing.

    Thursday
    Apr102014

    Another Kindle Deal :: N. T. Wright's Scripture and the Authority of God

    Last Friday I shared that N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope is now $2.99 on Kindle (this deal is still active!).

    Yesterday, I discoverd another one of his works, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today, is also $2.99.

    N. T. Wright's approach to the authority of Scripture is unique, and worth discussion and debate. This book is a valuable read. Wright examines the "Word of God" as understood by the Apostolic Church, the reading and interpreting of Scripture through the first sixteen centuries, the effect of the Reformation, the challenge of the Enlightenment period, and our contemporary problems with the Bible. He also proposes a way forward.

    This book is refreshing to some and disturbing to others, regardless of theological outlook or persuasion. 

    Check it out.

    Thursday
    Apr102014

    Tim Keel on Rest

    Sleep, rest, and sabbath. We lack these things. We need these things.

    Tim Keel, in a series of sermons called "A Good Life" offers a compelling reason why we can and should rest. Rest has been made possible in and through Christ.

    I found this to be helpful medicine. Have a listen.

    Wednesday
    Apr092014

    A Blessing for the Home

    The Irish poet and priest John O'Donohue is best known for his work in popularizing Celtic spirituality. His writing is beautiful. Recently, I picked up To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, and found this worth sharing.

    For a New Home

    May this house shelter your life.
    When you come home here,
    May the weight of the world
    Fall from your shoulders.

    May your heart be tranquil here,
    Blessed by peace the world cannot give.

    May this home be a lucky place,
    Where the graces your life desires
    Always find the pathway to your door.

    May nothing destructive
    Ever cross your threshold.

    May this be a safe place
    Full of understanding and acceptance,
    Where you can be as you are,
    Without the need of any mask
    Of pretense or image.

    May this home be a place of discovery,
    Where the possibilities that sleep
    In the clay of your soul can emerge
    To deepen and refine your vision
    For all that is yet to come to birth.

    May it be a house of courage,
    Where healing and growth are loved;
    Where dignity and forgiveness prevail;
    A home where patience of spirit is prized,
    And the sight of the destination is never lost
    Though the journey be difficult and slow.
    May there be great delight around this hearth.
    May it be a house of welcome
    For the broken and diminished.

    May you have the eyes to see
    That no visitor arrives without a gift
    And no guest leaves without a blessing. 

    If you are a designer friend, I would love to see these words paired with a graphic or layout that would do it justice.

    I'd love to have this reminder on my walls.

    Friday
    Apr042014

    N.T. Wright's Surprised by Hope is $2.99 on Kindle

    This book challenged my thinking on the resurrection, and why it matters. And this is too good a deal not to pass along.

    Easter is drawing nigh. You would do well to focus your energy and attention on what N.T. Wright, arguably our era's most important New Testament historian, has to say. This book is full of challenges and fresh insight that stretched my own thinking, pushed me back to the biblical narrative, and encouraged me to work for peace and justice in the present as a disciple of Jesus.

    I'm not sure how long this deal will last. Even if your reading list at the moment is lenghty, this is a great title to put on the shelf.

    Surprised by Hope. Check it out.