As I flip the calendar to December, this final month of the year, a number of thoughts run through my mind…
Wow…years go by faster as I get older…
And that makes me sound more like my dad.
I really need to start thinking about how I will bless my wife this Christmas.
She deserves it!
I have changed again this year.
I see Jesus more clearly this year than last, and I am thankful. I see Him as more beautiful, more kind, more mysterious, more gentle. I am learning and re-learning again this year that Jesus is worth following deeper into the depths of my own soul as He seeks to bring light, healing and transformation to the brokenness that lives there. And from that place of deeper clarity on who He is, and who I am, I am able to say that I love more deeply this year than last.
I haven’t changed without help. The Holy Spirit is active in my life for which I am very grateful! I have an amazing team who regularly challenges me and encourages me in my walk with the Lord as we journey together. My wife is a constant inspiration and mirror in my life – both spurring me on, and pointing out my need for growth in love.
There have also been 3 books, in addition to my Bible, that have helped me see Jesus more clearly, myself more honestly, and the world with more compassion.
The Imperfect Pastor: Discovering the joy in our limitations through a daily apprenticeship with Jesus, by Zach Eswine
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This has become one of my favourite books of all time. Written to people serving vocationally in ministry, but applicable to anyone seeking to live in that daily apprenticeship with Jesus, Zach writes honestly and helpfully about how often my view of Jesus is clouded and shrouded in my own limitations and expectations.
“I believe that Christian life and ministry are an apprenticeship with Jesus toward recovering our humanity, and through his Spirit, helping our neighbours do the same.” – Zach Eswine
I would recommend this book to anyone, although it will likely be most willingly received by those who have been in ministry for a few years. In a ministry like Power to Change that has a big vision, it is easy to start thinking that unless I do large things in famous ways as fast as I can for Jesus than I am unsuccessful. Zack helps me think through the unintended consequences of that pervasive way of thinking and points me to the fact that Jesus is the Saviour, not me.
In his chapter on Romantic Realism, he poetically talks about the tension of dreaming heroic dreams, and living ordinary lives in limitation.
“Death, grief, loss, recovery from addiction, as well as emotional or physical trauma, parenting special-needs kids, adjusting to chronic illness, depression, disability or disease – all of these desolations are handled poorly whent “efficiency” and “quantitative measures” are required of them. To the important pastor doing large and famous things speedily, the brokenness of people actually feels like an intrusion keeping us from getting our important work for God done.” -Zach Eswine
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri J. M. Nouwen
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This book moved me to action like few books before it have.
Nouwen, a Catholic Priest who lived his final days serving the profoundly disabled in a L’Arche community in Toronto, writes briefly but powerfully on the need for Christian leaders to be in love with Jesus. Perhaps you see a theme in my reading this year… I think this book is a must read for every Christian leader.
“What makes the temptation of power so seemingly irresistible? Maybe it is that power offers an easy substitute for the hard task of love. It seems easier to be God than to love God, easier to control people than to love people, easier to own life than to love life. Jesus asks, ‘Do you love me?’” – Henri J. M. Nouwen
Less than human: Why we demean, enslave, and exterminate others, by David Livingstone Smith
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This book is a both a historical and a philosophical review of how humans have systematically and pervasively dehumanized others in order to gain power, wealth and a clean conscience. It is not a Christian book, and Smith does not pull punches in showing how religion, including Christianity, is often a tool used to dehumanize those we are afraid of. The book forced me as a Christian to wrestle with how the Bible has and can be misused to bring destruction and death upon others, and it is sobering.
There are reasons why the western world considers Christianity a “bad guy” in our current culture. Smith’s books holds a mirror up to show how each of us is capable of and even guilty of dehumanizing those who are different than us.
The book offers more questions than answers, but is well worth a read for anyone who is keen on seeing and wrestling with humankind’s tendency towards cruelty.
This year has been marked by personal growth
Growth has come as my mind has been challenged to face brokenness, and my heart has been encouraged to love more deeply.
I am still exploring the question; “What it means to be human?”. Yet the more I do, the more thankful I am for Jesus who invites me to continue to journey with him. In my daily apprenticeship with Him, I have hope that in time he’ll unveil some answers. Smith’s book surfaced a lot of problems and questions, yet they are met with humble hope as I read the books written by Nouwen and Eswine. These three books have more shaped my thinking and heart than any others this year, and I would commend them all to you.