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Reading in the New Year

So, did you manage to catch many cosy hours over the Christmas break in front of the open fire, with a nice warm drink and a good book? Or, if you’re down under, lazily turning pages on the beach under a glorious sun? I certainly did – the former, that is – and needed a few quiet days, as December was an extraordinarily exciting month for us. (The band Eleven, involving two of my sons, won the Grote Prijs van Nederland, a national rock competition, and a few days later my wife Romkje was totally surprised by being named a Knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau by order of Queen Beatrix!)

You’ll remember I invited you to recommend books (to us or to Saddam) so we could compare notes in the first w e e k l y w o r d of the new year.

Some did, so here we go.

Bob Waymire. from the west coast of the US recommends A Tale of Three Kings, by Gene Edwards (Tyndale, 1980). Sounds indeed like a Christmas story appropriate for the first week in January, but this is not about Melchior and friends (actually, the Bible says nothing about ‘three’ kings or wise men – that comes from tradition). Now over twenty years old, this classic brief study in leadership authority, submission and brokenness forces us as readers to evaluate if we are a Saul, David or an Absalom in our relationship to authority. Worth reading and re-reading.

Cees Verharen from Holland read in the German magazine Der Spiegel an extensive article on Martin Luther and the Reformation, on the occasion of the movie now screeing in German cinema’s. “Sad that this movie is not being shown in The Netherlands,” wrote Cees: “A man, discovering the real meaning of a text in Romans, standing alone against all religious powers of his day, risking his life but changing this continent – and the world, knowing that he cannot compromise his faith.” Cees enjoys John Grisham’s novels, such as The King of Torts, “a strong lesson based on christian world views about a man being tempted by money, doing injustice to many and finally ending up with nothing but shame. Maybe something to recommend for a few relaxed hours.” My son Philip was discovering Grisham for himself this Christmas, catching up on past titles, The Summons and The Testament.

Tom Bloomer (Switzerland) and John Henry (U.S.) recommend a new book by David Aikmann (to whom I’m eternally indebted for his Hope, the heart’s great quest). Aikmann, former Beijing bureau chief for Time magazine, enthralled our YWAM Global Leadership Team meeting in Nanning, China, in 2002 with perspectives on growth of the church in China. He was spending three months with key Christian leaders there gathering the final information for a book now available under the title Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power (Regnery, 2003). This book contends that “Christianity will change the nature of China in many different ways over the next several decades, and in doing so, will change the world in which we live.” (292) (See more book notes at www.davidmays.org)

Tom Hallas (Australia) distributed several titles by C. Baxter Kruger during the YWAM leadership meetings in Singapore last September, one of which I picked up this Christmas for devotional inspiration, entitled The Great Dance – the Christian Vision Revisited (Perichoresis Press, 2000). The author shares his enthusiasm at discovering something of the mystery of the Trinity and the Incarnation, drawing on voices from the ancient church to make contemporary application of the relevance of this age-old Christian doctrine. The name of the publishing house draws from the Greek word for the kind of interactive dance the Father, Son and Spirit invite us to join in with. I found it a timely read in light of our upcoming consultation on Eastern Christianity in Greece, Feb 2-4. Here’s one helpful excerpt explaining the why the Incarnation implies Jesus was fully God and fully human:
“Think of a group trapped in a collapsed mine. And suppose that the rescue team only sets up shop on the surface and never actually goes down into the mine. What would be the point? There would be no rescue. The help would not reach the people trapped in the mine. But turn the thought around. Suppose that the rescue team does go down into the mine, but loses contact with the surface crew. In that case, they too would be lost.
“It is necessary that we hold on to both sides of the truth. If Jesus ceases to be himself, the Father’s beloved Son who lives in fellowship with the Father i the Spirit, then all is lost, for he has nothing to give us when he comes to us. If, on the other hand, he lives out his sonship with his Father but does not do so inside of Adam’s skin, then his sonship does not reach us; the dance of life of the Trinity flies over our heads.”

Ed Sherman (Holland) lent me his new copy of Sailing the Dark-Wine Sea (Doubleday, 2003) to read over the break, Thomas Cahill’s latest in his excellent Hinges of History series that started withHow the Irish Saved Civilization, followed by The Gifts of the Jews and Desire of the Everlasting Hills – the world before and after Jesus. Subtitled, ‘Why the Greeks Matter’, this is another timely book for our consultation on the eastern Churches, and offering a wealth of information on the Greek contribution to western culture. Cahill offers numerous relevant insights on past and present, such as the following comment on the present Bush Administration’s philosophy of war:
p.46: ‘These advisors (influential with George W. Bush, such as Dick Cheney) have signed on to the Greek view of war as “terrible but innate to civilization – and not always unjust or amoral if it is waged for good causes to destroy evil and save the innocent,” as (military historian Victor Davis) Hanson puts it in ‘An Autumn of War’. Robert D. Kaplan, another contemporary commentator lionized by American militarists, has even urged in ‘Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos’ that American foreign policy not allow itself to be constrained by Judeo-Christian morality and that ‘progress often comes from hurting others’. If we are to maintain our global preeminence, we must, in Kaplan’s view, return wholeheartedly and unashamedly to our pagan Greek roots.’ (wow!)

A month or so ago, I was in the Hermitage in St Petersburg, standing in front of Rembrandt’s famous painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son. I purchased prints for family members, one mounted on canvas and lacquered to look like an original. So on Christmas Day, off the shelf came Henri Nouwen’s book of the same title (Dartman, Longman and Todd, 1992), and we read insights from this former priest who himself spent four days in front of the two-by-two-and-a-half metre original, as we inspected our own canvas-mounted copy. “All of the gospel is there,” wrote Nouwen, and like the gospel, there’s always something new to discover. As soon as I saw the father’s face in the Hermitage, I was immediately taken by the totally embracing and affirming heart of a father for his children, longing to see the full potential of each off-spring developed. Not directly a Christmas story, perhaps – yet right at the heart of the Incarnation.

As a family, we also spent several very stimulating hours working through a profile questionnaire called Strengthsfinder available on the internet (www.strengthsfinder.com), linked with the book Now, discover your strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton, (Gallup 2001). All members of the YWAM GLT completed this profile last August, to identify personal strengths in preparation for group discussion in Singapore. The premise is that personal improvement comes not mainly from working on our weaknesses, but from focussing on our God-given strengths. Jesus implied in his parable
that we should multiply our
talents, the unique strengths God has given us. So what are they? How can we enhance these?
The books come with personalised passwords and code numbers in the back which unlock the profile questionnaire on the internet for your personal access. How to obtain the book? Through Amazon.com perhaps (buy new, not second-hand as the passwords can only be used by one person), or you can enquire via Caret, a consultancy agency run by former YWAMer, Oliver Nyumbu, based in Birmingham, UK: enquiries@caret.co.uk, or www.caret.co.uk.

Now two books addressing the growing spiritual hunger among those “who live in the borderlands of belief”, as described by Philip Yancey, author of Rumours of Another World (Zondervan, 2003). In matters of faith, many people occupy the borderlands. like the no-mans land between North and South Korea. While giving the church and Christians a wide berth, they nevertheless sense there must be a spiritual reality out there. Romkje, my wife the knight, and son Stefan vie for the one copy we have, a testimony to its appeal to young and old(er), an appeal based on Yancey’s honest and candid confessions: “I am at times a reluctant Christian, buffeted by doubts and ‘in recovery’ from bad church encounters. I have explored these experiences in others books, and so I determined not to mine my past yet again in this one. I am fully aware of all the reasons not to believe. So then, why do I believe? Read on.”
The other title in this category is Enter the Worship Circle (Relevant Books, 2001), the publishers of Steve Stockman’s analysis of U2, Walk On. Intriguingly written by Ben Pasley, the book artistically weaves together story-telling, prophecy and personal reflections, inviting the seeker on a spiritual journey, climaxing in life-changing encounter and discovery. See further: www.relevant-books.com

The Christmas mail also brought a book I had ordered a few weeks ago, called Caf√© Europa (Penguin, 1996), by a keenly articulate Croatian, Slavenka Drakulic. Subtitled, Life after communism, her book is full of pithy observations exposing hidden truths about both easterners and westerners, and particularly about the ideological and spiritual vacuum in which millions of post-communist Europeans are forced to live today. I picked up Wolfgang Jani’s copy when in Bulgaria in October, and found it a veritable handbook on life in post-communist Europe today. Must reading for those living and working in eastern Europe. We’ll return to this in a future w e e k l y w o r d.

OK, enough for now. Time to pack for a ski-retreat with the YWAM Wiler base, in Switzerland.

Till next week,

Jeff Fountain

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