[I highly recommend these books. Crabb’s book is on dealing with suffering, Lamb’s is about the difficulties we have with the Old Testament, and the ones by Cole are about how we do church and how we might do it better: Shattered Dreams… God Behaving Badly… Organic Church…]
Shattered Dreams– God’s Unexpected Pathway to Joy, by Larry Crabb
A friend of mine who joined the “Sufferers’ Club” earlier than I did gave me this book. I didn’t read it until I was personally inducted into the fraternity. During a three-year season I read a dozen or so books on suffering. Of them all this one had the most impact on me. Because I wanted to interact with others about what I was reading I organized an online discussion group comprised of other members of “the Club.” Crabb’s take on suffering is not only unique, but terribly convicting as well as intensely encouraging – especially to the sufferer.
Here’s a trailer of the things he says in the book:
- “One way God works is to allow our lower dreams to shatter. He lets us hurt and doesn’t make it better. We suffer and He stands by and does nothing to help, at least nothing that we’re aware we want Him to do. In fact, what he’s doing while we suffer is leading us into the depths of our being, into the center of our soul where we feel our stongest passions. it’s there that we discover our desire for God…”
- “When the capacity for soul-pleasure is lost, we become irresistibly attracted to lesser pleasures – either to courterfeits of soul-pleasure (like power, popularity, prowess…) or to substitutes for it (like addictive eating, drinking, and sexual fun).”
- “We want to USE God more than ENJOY him. He becomes a means to an end… not a lover to be enjoyed… Worship becomes utilitarian, part of a strategy to get what we want rather than a passionate abandonment to someone more worthy than us.”
- “Only broken people truly worship. Unbroken people – happy folks who enjoy their blessings more than the Blesser – say thanks to God the way a shopper thanks a clerk.”
- “It’s a great tragedy when Christian people make it through life without ever discovering that their happiness is no different from the happiness of circumstantially well off pagans.”
God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist?, by David Lamb
I loved this book for two reasons. First, he addresses a bunch of prickly issues that I have personally wrestled with for many years; and he does it intelligently and honestly. He’s a professor of Old Testament in some seminary and is a pretty smart guy. Secondly, his writing is simple and humorous. I think he does a great job unraveling some of the tough topics in the OT that cause us discomfort, at least they do me.
Here’s a preview of his approach:
- The Sinai covenant was like the wedding between Yahweh and Israel, in which they committed to be faithful to each other. But on the honeymoon the Israelites had sex with someone else.
- Yahweh made the man first and then the woman. To use a writing analogy, the man was the first draft and woman the second draft. Typically, the second draft of something is better than the first draft. … We might think that a draft analogy isn’t appropriate for the Bible, but … what is more important, the Old Testament or the New? Most would say, the New. The one that came later is superior.
- Goodness is such an integral part of Yahweh’s character that he can’t help himself; he has to do good. He is the quintessential do-gooder. In the best possible sense.
- We don’t like to be restricted by laws, but we are glad other people are. Laws are good.
Organic Church, Organic Leadership, and Church 3.0, by Neil Cole
If you’re ready to have your view of how we do church wrecked, then go ahead and read one or more of these books. I recommend the first one first. Please don’t just read these, but do what the Spirit says to you through them. And share them with your friends; especially if you have any church-planting friends.
Some of my favorite Cole quotes:
- We have to lower the bar of how church is done and raise the bar on what it means to be a disciple.
- When church is so complicated, its function is taken out of the hands of the common Christian and placed in the hands of a few talented professionals. This results in a passive church whose members come and act more like spectators than empowered agents of God’s Kingdom.
- We will never witness the sea part if we don’t take the road that dead-ends at the beach while the enemy’s forces are breathing down our necks.
- To keep the church simple we have to resist all sorts of dependency on money, programs, and paid professionals.
- We’ve created a vicious cycle of endless program upgrades, staff improvements, and building campaigns to feed the consumer monster. The monster is always hungry. Pastors are burned out. Member are marginalized. The lost community gets a corrupted caricature of the Kingdom of God.
- Christians in America are already educated beyond their obedience, and more education is not the solution.
- Why are we so busy planning events to attract people when relationships are actually far more effective?