Thursday, January 12, 2017

My Top 5 Books of 2016

I love books. All kinds, old, new, short, long, fiction, and non-fiction. I confess that much of my reading derives from Christian spirituality and theology, so the list is bent in that direction. Some of these books I read for my doctoral classes, others I chose because of various factors. I read several meaningful books this year but these five books have been ones I have been drawn back to since reading them. Since five is a small number to list all of the great books, I added an honorable mention list. These aren't in any particular order either.

Tracks of a Fellow Struggler John Claypool
This brief book on grief is composed of four sermons Claypool preached as he wrestled with the diagnosis of Leukemia his daughter received. He recounts the emotions of diagnosis, treatment, remission, recurrence, and death. His honest doubting, searching, and questioning of God are the words of many people who have experienced the loss of someone dear to them. It is the best book on grief I have ever read!

Subversive Spirituality Eugene Peterson
Peterson always challenges the way I view myself, my calling, and my relationship with God. This book is a collection of shorter pieces: sermons, interviews, articles, poems. Some are better than others, but given the structure of the book the reader can skip around and read the ones most intriguing to him or her. His insight into pastoral ministry is especially helpful for anyone who is called to vocational ministry and missions.
Eugene Peterson

The Return of the Prodigal Son Henri Nouwen
Nouwen's insight into the parable is superb! His introspective writing invites the reader to place himself inside the mind of each character of the parable.

This Is Awkward Sammy Rhodes
I met Sammy when he was the RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) campus minister at Georgia Southern. He is now doing RUF work at USC (South Carolina). Reading this book is like having a conversation with Sammy at a coffee shop. Many people will connect with this book but especially those in the 30-40 age bracket. His witty take on faith and life leave you in stitches while realizing your own need of God's gracious work in your life.

The Death of Santini Pat Conroy
Southern novelists are some of the most keen observers of the human condition. They have a way of writing about the idiosyncrasies of the South while affirming the best parts of it. Conroy is a master storyteller. This book recounts his turbulent relationship with his father, USMC fighter pilot Don Conroy. At the end of Don's life and the end of the book there is redemption and reconciliation. Two powerful biblical themes that we need to be reminded of as often as possible.

Honorable Mentions:
Meditation Jim Downing
Daring to Speak for God Norfleete Day
Jesus Outside the Lines Scott Sauls
The Jesus Way Eugene Peterson
Grief Melissa Kelley
Turn My Mourning into Dancing Henri Nouwen
In the Heart of the World Mother Teresa
Sycamore Row John Grisham

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

2016: A Few Moments of Joy

The last several weeks have been filled with lists of books, movies, music, and events of 2016 nearly everywhere I turned. 2016 is a year that will certainly be remembered for decades to come. Memorable moments in sports, society, and politics. As I reflected on this past year, several things brought joy to my heart. Recently, I was reminded that joy is most often something we choose in spite of our circumstances. Indeed, joy is a spiritual discipline, rooted in the Old Testament and the concept of Jubilee, which celebrated a reverting back of land to original owners, release from bondage for those forced into slavery, and a resting of the land during harvest time. Finding joy in life is a holy habit of finding the sacred in the mundane. Finding joy helps us see God working in our lives in hidden ways that can easily become choked out by the darkness and sin of our world.

Here are a few moments of joy for me this year in no particular order. As I recount the jubilee of God may your heart be drawn to examine your year to find moments of joy...may they bring a smile and perhaps laughter or even tears as you recount God's goodness in your life.

1. Celebrating 16 years of marriage with my better half.
It seems cliche, but I never take one day for granted with her. She is my biggest supporter, always seeing good in me, when I find it hard to see it in myself. The depth of her spiritual wisdom and insight astounds me weekly. She is my favorite preacher/teacher because of her command of scripture and her transparency with her audience. The way she loves me and parents our kids brings joy to my heart...always.

2. Reaching the milestone of 10 years of ministry at FBC Statesboro.
One of the unfortunate aspects of vocational ministry is that the average tenure of pastors and ministers is about 3 years. I have been fortunate enough to get to do ministry in one place for 10 years. My roles and responsibilities have changed during the decade, but the relationships that are the core of ministry have been a blessing to me in so many ways. I have had the joy of walking with people through trials and blessings, periods of rebellion and growth, yet through it all, God has enriched my life through the scores of people I have rubbed shoulders with for these many years.

3. Conducting my Mamanon's funeral. 
I know what you are thinking, joy in preaching a funeral...but for the Christian, joy is perhaps the best response when the deceased is a believer in the hope and resurrection of Jesus! Mamanon certainly was a godly woman. She lived for over nine decades and touched thousands of lives. As I shared stories of her life at the service and throughout the year with friends and family, God has brought an increasing measure of joy knowing that she has "thoroughly enjoyed" being in the presence of her Savior and of course seeing loved ones like Papanon again. Every time I think about her, a smile breaks through to remind me of her legacy of faith, one I can only hope to measure half way up to her standard.

4. Little moments with my children.
These include moments of laughter in the car. Rocking out to a favorite song in the car. Doing things to slightly embarrass them in public. Moments of reflection as we read the Bible together or talk about spiritual matters. Quick dinners at Chick-fil-A in between school, dance, cheer, and church. Watching ELF 100 times during the holidays. Living through repairs to our house in which furniture is shoved everywhere except in the designated places. These are moments I look back on and find joy and a glimpse of God's grace, I pray that one day my children will do the same.

5. Living through Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath of the storm.
It's hard to really understand why I have found joy in Matthew destroying our yard and falling a tree on our house, unless you have experienced something similar. It would be easy to cry and bewail the reality that has befallen our family. I confess there have been moments of this as well, but ultimately joy percolates beneath the surface like the tree roots now exposed that once were hidden. Matthew has brought us closer together as a family. We learned to do without furniture to sit on while we eat supper. We rediscovered the joy of a good pallet to watch a movie on the floor in front of the fireplace. Don't get me wrong, Matthew has stretched us to our limits in some ways. At the end of the day, Matthew has taught us that delight in the Lord comes in plenty and want because it isn't based on our situation but on the sovereign Lord of the universe who has NOT forsaken us.