Utmost Ongoing–Oswald Chambers’ Book Lives

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One of the things I learned quickly when I begin reading serious books about the Bible, theology, and Christian living was that the most popular authors and works were not to be trusted.  The Bible commentaries of William Barclay were found everywhere.  Barclay was a great story teller who filled his volumes with anecdotes, but he either waffled on or outright denied basic Christian truths.  What Would Jesus Do? remained a popular book, but it was sappy.  The Late Great Planet Earth and other bestsellers from Hal Lindsey were to be shunned at all costs.  There were other books filled with fluff, saccharine, and, let us say it, heresy, that were floating all around the Christian community.

But I was marching to a different drummer.  I had entered a world where names like Warfield, Boettner, Clark, Rushdoony,  Machen, and others were providing the gold standard for which authors to pursue, which books to read, and which theological topics to focus on.

Many times and in many places, I would see a book titled My Utmost for His Highest.  I did not know the book itself, the author, or the theological perspective it contained.  But it was popular.  I probably confused it with another book titled Hind’s Feet on High Places a few times, but avoided both books.

The theologians I read, the pastors I listened to, the cassette tape lectures I consumed (from Mount Olive Tape Library), and fellow believers of like-theological persuasions all provided me more than enough theological fodder for me to consume.

Then a funny thing happened on the way to spiritual perfection (and I wasn’t even close to arriving).  George Grant came to Texarkana to speak at our school and to the community.  In the Q&A sessions, he got the inevitable question asking how someone could possibly achieve any semblance of reading all they needed to read.  After all, in our circles (Reformed, classical education, Kuyperian, etc.), we love books and a wide range of books on theology, history, literature, and more.

Grant’s answer was that sometimes he was so busy and tired at night that he only had time for a snippet here and there from a book or two, a bit of Bible reading, and the daily selection from My Utmost for His Highest by Chambers.  I was taken aback.  Maybe Dr. Grant meant to say that he read a bit from Calvin’s Institutes, Luther’s Bondage of the Will, or Jonathan Edwards’ sermons.  But no, I had heard correctly.  George Grant reads and rereads Oswald Chambers’ long-time best-selling devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest.

Of course, I then made it my mission to buy a copy of the book.  Over the years, I have picked up several copies of it, along with a few other works by Chambers.  But, I confess this to my shame, I did not become a daily Utmost reader.

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Recently, I learned that a new book was out about Chambers’ book.  This book consists of 27 contributions by people in all walks of life who lives and Christian walk have been impacted by Chambers’ Utmost.  For many, the book was given to them early in their Christian walk.  Some found direction and help early on. But for others, it took time and many experiences for the devotional’s content to come back into their minds and bring change.

Former President George W. Bush is perhaps the best known example of someone who has used the book. (I wish he had contributed a chapter to this work.)  But Chambers’ book, largely put together by his wife Biddy after his death, has directed people in all sorts of work and many types of Christian ministries.

Most of the contributors were unknown to me.  There were two exceptions–Grant himself and Joni Eareckson Tada.  When I first got the book, I turned immediately to Grant’s article and read it.  As expected, he and Joni both had wonderful contributions.  But it was the others who made up 25/27ths of the book and whose articles impressed me as much or more.  I was made aware of so many Christian ministries, web-sites, and servants of Christ that I did not know existed.

In the past few months, we have lost at least three great and powerful Christian leaders:  R. C. Sproul, James Sire, and Billy Graham.  The number of people whose lives have been changed by these three men (any one of them or all three) is incalculable.  My Utmost for His Highest first came out in 1935.  It has been reprinted in a multitude of editions, including an updated “translation” into more modern language.  Each day, thousands of Christians begin their day with this book or work it into a break or some free minutes.  And it only takes a minute or two to read the snippet of a Bible verse and the three to five paragraphs that follow.

For faithful readers of Chambers, this collection of testimonies would be a great joy.  For those of us who fall short, this collection is a convincing exhortation to get the book and keep it close by and actually read from it–daily.

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Footnote:  A few years back, I was part of an email discussion group. One contributor once raised what he saw as a concern.  It was that people in Reformed congregations were, in all too many cases, reading Oswald Chambers.  I think I was the only responder who did not share the concern.  At the time, I was pastoring a Reformed congregation.  Too much Chambers would have been welcomed on my behalf.  Yes, I would want to see the Reformed folk reading Kuyper, Warfield, Calvin, Sproul, and a lot of guys with Dutch names.  Yes, Chambers’ books focus on a narrow part of the whole Christian life.  But that central core–the heart–needs a daily dose of, if not Chambers, those who share his love and devotion to Christ.

 

I’ll Be a History Teacher Someday

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Learning history once seemed so easy.  I would go to college for four years.  I would teach history for a few years.  Then I would go to college some more.  Then I would teach some more.  Somewhere around age 30, I would know history.

Nothing like that happened.  Well, I did go to college for four years, and I did go back to college at nights and in the summers and add on graduate hours.  But I have never reached the point where I know history.   I am still laboring to learn, re-learn, and un-learn history.  I feel like I am almost ready to begin–if I could begin over.  But beginning might mean beginning my teaching career over.  Or it might mean beginning college over. Or it might mean beginning elementary school over (but that only if I could be socially and physically less awkward).

Here I am facing yet another stack of history books.  I will share with you some readings that I am finishing or anxious to start.

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When I heard about this book last fall, it was an immediate “I must have it or I will perish.”  That was no exaggeration.  It was critical for me to get the book.  I should finish it today.  I has been a long, hard slog to get through it, but it has been worth it.  This is not a beginners’ story of the war or a narrative highlighting the drama and personalities of World War II.  It is a detailed analysis of the Allied and Axis powers in terms of weapons, manpower, effectiveness of tactics, and leadership.  Great book.  Watch for my upcoming review.

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Two events conspired to cause me to want the book Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River 1961-1865.  First, it is a history book and not just any history book, but a book about The War and not just any book about The War, but a book about a part of The War that gets overlooked–the Trans-Mississippi theater.  Second, I met the author.  Now, I would like to say that I met him in some scholarly setting where we were exchanging ideas about history, but that is not the case.  I met him in a store where I was buying a light for our bathroom (that has not yet been installed).

Last month, I read the introduction to this book and was hyped to get it started.  I should be diving in this next week.  Watch for a review soon.

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Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War that Changed American History is by the duo history authors Brian Kilmead and Don Yeager.  Their books are best sellers and are popular histories.  I have yet to read them to be able to give my take.  I should have read this book before last week when I talked about the Tripolitan War in class.  This book looks good and is a short read.  I will be reading it this next week.

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John Witherspoon’s American Revolution is by Gideon Mailer.  I suspect this book is going to be a challenge, meaning this is not an easy read for the midnight hour.  That is fine, for I have plenty of midnight reads and usually fall asleep before that time.  But John Witherspoon is, after all, John Witherspoon.  Sometimes called “the Forgotten Founding Father,” he is the man most dear to the heart of Calvinists who love history.  I desire anything and everything I can find and read about him.

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Another book I should have read prior to my recent classroom lectures is Thomas Jefferson: Revolutionary: A Radical’s Struggle to Remake America by Kevin R. C. Gutzman.  This book was published some time back, but just came out in paperback.  Jefferson is a pivotal and key figure in understanding American history.  He is one of the few U. S. Presidents who would still be a major figure even if he had never served as the Chief Executive.  Last year I read Confounding Father: Thomas Jefferson’s Image in His Own Time by Robert M. S. McDonald.  That was a surprising and delightful book. It seems like there is no end to fascinating studies on Jefferson.

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Another book that is not quite so urgent is Sons of the Father: George Washington and His Proteges, edited by Robert M. S. McDonald.  This book consists of essays about some of the key figures in Washington’s life and career, including the military men, like Nathaniel Greene and Henry Knox, and the political men, like Jefferson and Hamilton (who was also a military man)  Being a collection of essays, this book lends itself to being read in part based on which figure one wishes to study.

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Like Washington and Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt was a man who dominated his times and extended his influence into our times.  Loved and hated by the left and the right wings of political folks, he had a personality and style that transcends mere political likes and dislike.  The book The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire by Stephen Kinzer explores the political differences between two titans–Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  Having the proverbial meal with famous people would not go well if your choice guests were TR and Mark Twain.  They would likely pick back up with an argument that set them at odds back in their times.  Can’t wait to start this one.

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Reading history is not all fun and games.  I am duty bound to labor over a weighty collection of essays titled What Is Classical Liberal History, edited by my friend Michael J. Douma and Phillip W. Magness.  I read Dr. Douma’s opening essay which warns me of the depth of water I will be swimming in.  I am not in the camp of classical liberal historians, but I think I am very sympathetic to them and their approach.  By the way, don’t confuse the term “classical liberal” with our current political discussions concerning folks we call liberals.

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Calllie the dog is a therapy dog who is trained to help me understand parts of books that are above and beyond me.

 

Intentional Christian by Daniel Ryan Day

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One should not complain about being a book reviewer.  Often books show up that both sound really good and turn out to be great reads.  But some books, like stray animals, show up that we never asked for and are not sure what to do with.  Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will be overwhelmed at the number of titles.  Many I skip right on past after assuming that the book is likely merely okay at best.  After all, on a given Sunday morning, there are thousands of Sunday school lessons and sermons being given across the land.  But how many are really worth going to extra trouble to hear? They are likely helpful for the congregation at hand, but not “keepers.”  (That is true of many of my sermons and lessons over the years.)

Discovery House (no relation to me) sent me a copy of Intentional Christian:  What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do by Daniel Ryan Day.  Here is a book to help a believer discover the will of God for their life.  At this point in time, perhaps due to age and other circumstances, I don’t think much about the will of God for my life. It is a more frequent concern for younger Christians.  And it is a topic full of dangerous, although well intentioned, advice.

Day discusses in this book his own concerns in his younger years (and he is still a young man).  An interest in Christian music and serving God left him often wondering what the will of God was calling him to do.  In this book, he weaves in lots of autobiographical and anecdotal stories to make his point.  Knowing lots of Christians who are young and facing life decisions and others who are confused about where they are, I was sympathetic but skeptical.

Then came the good part, the sudden shift in the book and topic, and the blinding-light moment of truth.  Neither the Bible nor signs or angelic appearances are going to tell you where to work and live, where and in what areas to educated, whom to marry, or any of those matters.  The will of God is “your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3a).  That passage makes the point even more pointed by adding this politically incorrect exhortation “That you abstain from sexual immorality.”

Then there is 1 Thessalonians 5:14-18:

 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15 See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing,18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

In other words, the Bible reveals lots of “secrets” about the will of God for our lives.  We are to be growing in grace, living in faithful community with fellow believers, forgiving, doing good, rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks.  Basic good old Christian living 101.  That, and not whether you get to record your Christian rock song, is what God’s will is for your life.

Day uses the term Common Calling to elaborate on this topic.  A chapter is devoted to worship, another to loving others, another to living intentionally, and yet another to overcoming fear and loving our enemies.  We have a calling, but that calling is common to all of us and revealed in the commands and exhortations of Scripture.

This book is short, easy to read, anecdotal, and useful for a morning devotional study or a group or family study.  I am thankful that I got past my initial apprehension and read the book.

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Sometime last year, I read a book on a similar topic titled Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will by Kevin DeYoung.  My interest in that book was simply because I have enjoyed and profited from everything I have read by DeYoung.  Notice the bit of sarcasm and wit in the sub-title:  How to make a decision without dreams, visions, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random Bible verses, casting lots, liver shivers, writing in the sky, etc.  

DeYoung’s book, which was published in 2009, gives a tighter Biblical case for using the Bible correctly and not mystically. It is a warning about many shaky and outright wrong ways Christian people go about deciding what to do.  This book is a great companion volume for the Daniel Ryan Day’s book.  The same topic generally with different approaches.  I believe the two authors would find each other in much accord.

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Young, restless, and Anglican, Daniel Ryan Day–author of a helpful book on finding the will of God.

Truth Considered and Applied by Stewart Kelly

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There is a lot of book packed into the pages of this work.  Truth Considered & Applied: Examining Postmodernism, History, and Christian Faith is by Stewart E. Kelly, who is a philosophy professor at Minot State University (in North Dakota) and the author of several books.  This book is published by B&H Publishing Group.

The website says that it is for philosophy and theology students.  I agree, but would add that it is valuable for history teachers and students as well (referring to college level history majors).

Here is a bit of my experience with this book.  Back in the fall, I found a stack of copies of this book at a religious bookstore.  Most Christian bookstores don’t have too many titles that are brainy or philosophical books.  Just try this: Walk into your nice Christian bookstore and ask for books by Dooyeweerd, Kuyper, Van Til, Gordon Clark, Rushdoony, James K. A. Smith, or Christopher Dawson.  (Byron Borger’s Heart and Mind Books is an exception.  There are others.) But this store had this book on truth and postmodernism in abundance.

I went back to my office to look up this “new” title.  To my surprise, I learned that this book had been out since 2011.  And no customer reviews were posted on Amazon.  (I am changing that.)  I soon acquired the book, but it has taken a while to work my way through it.  The slow pace was due to the many books I am trying to read, as well as the challenging nature of this book.

For those who want an enjoyable and anecdotal survey of some modern ideas, look elsewhere.  This book has the feel of being a professor’s expanded outline notes.  It has a mountain of bibliographical and footnoted information.  It is a walk through the section of the library dealing with modern thought with glances through the writings of key thinkers.  It will overwhelm you (in a good way) with the books, terms, ideas, and names which have contributed to modern thought and postmodern thought.

The pastor counseling a couple with a few marriage problems or the history teacher with a classroom full of eighth graders will not find answers here.  But I really hope that pastors and history teachers have the time and inclination to get outside of their boxes and explore these issues.  There are connections between the ramblings of brilliant, but misdirected philosophers and the cultural and social problems that we face in everyday life.  As I once told Richard Weaver, “You know, Richard, that all of these ideas I am teaching you have consequences.” (Don’t fact check that story!)

For beginners and novices, like me, this book is a good survey or introduction to lots of issues.  Well chosen quotes begin each section.  The quotes alone are good glimpses of some of the ideas that have been bouncing back and forth between intellectuals, philosophers, theologians, and academics.   I would love to take a class, preferably with Dr. Kelly teaching it, where we were reading and discussing this book.

The first 152 pages of this book are on postmodernism itself.  It is titled “Friend or Foe: The Challenge of Postmodernism.”  The next section, titled “Truth and History,” is much more my area of interest.  In that part, Kelly covers the ways that historians have interpreted history over the past hundred years or so.  Sometimes we may wonder why a person would read four different books on the same topic or era of history.  Certainly, the facts don’t change.  But history books have never been and can never be about listing facts.  Even the encyclopedia is selective and interpretive about what facts to include.

Schools of thought and methods of interpretation change.  With two major world wars and the rise and fall of various ideologies, the histories of the twentieth century are going to reflect both the time they were written and the school of thought of the authors.  This may not change the way that I hope to finish my discussion of Gettysburg next Monday in history class, but it does affect my historical understanding at other levels.

There are people who like hamburgers.  That’s fine.  But some people have to go beyond the culinary delight of two all beef patties on a sesame seed bun to understanding the cattle industry, wheat production, vegetable harvests, and food distribution.  Likewise, some people like history.  May their tribes increase.  Whether it is good biographies, the History Channel, historical fiction, or touring Civil War battlefields, all such interest is good.  But some of us really need to understand the inner workings of the discipline.  This book will help.

In short, some of you really need to get this book and study it.  Pick up on the recurring names and ideas.  Let this book be a launching pad for deeper and further studies.

Post Script:  Dr. Kelly devotes about two pages of small print in an extended footnote listing authors and titles of history works that have influenced his understanding of “postmodern historiography and historical epistemology.”  As one who has been around the library and history block a few times, I am astounded at the range of books he calls attention to.  The journey never ends.

 

 

Morning Reads of Late

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Years ago, I was a night owl.  A combination of age, jobs, children, and other factors changed me.  I love getting up in the morning and sitting down with some time for Bible reading, coffee, and a stack of books.  Some days, my mind is still too inert to grasp much on the page, but on other days, it is a sponge.  The key is perseverance.  Good days or bad days, busy days or leisurely days, in sickness and health, I get up and read.

Here are some of the recent reading experiences that I have either finished or am still working on.

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I cannot say that First John is my favorite book of the Bible, but it is the book that challenges me the most. The structure–the repeating patterns, the beauty, the brevity, and the depth of it always leave me wanting more to understand it.  This commentary–1, 2, & 3 John by Constantine R. Campbell–makes a fine daily study in the three short letters John wrote. It is part of a series called The Story of God Bible Commentary, published by Zondervan.

These commentaries have three portions in each chapter:  Listen to the Story, Explain the Story, and Live the Story.  The method is useful for morning studies, but would also be beneficial for sermon preparation, family devotions, or any other format.  Listening to the passage of Scripture is self explanatory, but it is also important not to forget.  I confess to having jumped into a passage when working to prepare a lesson or sermon without having spent enough time just looking and listening to the words of the Bible.

In the portion on explaining the story, Campbell weaves in the textual issues regarding Greek words, interpretive challenges, and different views held by other commentators.  I especially enjoyed some of the quotes Campbell included from Augustine.

Living the story is the application.  Here Campbell includes stories and anecdotes along with specific suggestions on how to practice what is being learned.  As a fan of Charles Spurgeon’s methods of using anecdotes and quips to enhance his sermons, I found this book full of plenty of encouraging and usable material.

Although the largest portion of this book was devoted to 1 John, I really found the chapters on 2 and 3 John quite enjoyable.  All too often, those books are raced through without being given much thought.

This book was enjoyable to read and would be enjoyable to read again either for morning devotions or for lesson preparation.

Praying the Bible

Praying the Bible by Donald S. Whitney is published by Crossway.  The Crossway website also has a video and additional helps for using this book.  Some of you are probably familiar with Mr. Whitney fine book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life.  If so, then you know that his writings are clear, practical, convicting, and Biblical.

This book is a short read of ten chapters and is less than 100 pages.  It is easy to read one or two chapters in the morning.  There are lots of good books on prayer that I have read.  What stands out about this book is that it is not written to convince or convict us to pray, but tells us how to pray.  Basically, Whitney focuses on using the Bible–as in the exact text we are reading–to formulate our daily prayers, weave in the various needs, expand upon the topics mentioned, and use the language of the Bible to pray.

Read it for yourself or share it with the family.

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After several occasions where I glanced at and scanned a few pages, I have finally begun seriously reading Speak the Truth: How to bring God back into every conversation by Carmen LaBerge.  Her website and more information about the topic (including a free read of the first chapter) can be found HERE.

After I received this book, I had a few doubts about reading it.  First of all, I was not familiar with the author.  Second, I found myself suspecting it might be a shallow read.  Several chapters in, I am better acquainted with the author, and this is a solid and in-depth, but very readable book.  It is not shallow or sappy.  Every time I suspect the author might give a weak or watered-down answer, she hits a home run (to mix metaphors).

I will share a few quotes I have particularly enjoyed.

“To conceal from others the truth and grace of God’s reality, His love and the hope He offers in life and in death may well be the greatest sin we ever commit.”  pages 10-11

“We treat life like Monopoly.  When we land on a square God ‘owns,’ we owe Him rent money.  He can have those certain properties, but as far as the rest of the board goes–we pursue it for all we’re worth.  Truth is, it all belongs to God….” page 15  (Reminds me of the Kuyper “every square inch” quote.)

“The Gospel is the solution to jihad in the Middle East and the Gospel is the answer to famine in Africa. The Gospel confronts human sex trafficking in Asia and resolves the lonelines of your single neighbor.” pages 17-18

“If we are not taking God’s viewpoint into the conversation at the bar or in the bleachers, then it is not the culture’s fault that God’s perspective goes unheard.  People can’t hear what no one is saying.”  pages 39-40