Five fiction books you should read

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One of the things I’ve really come to love as I’ve re-embraced fiction has been its power: good fiction is disarming. It allows you to enter into a world either very similar to our own or completely unlike it, and experience the mundane and the marvellous in ways you may not have imagined previously. It allows us to explore the nature of humanity in ways that you can’t as effectively through non-fiction. Often, by the time you’re done reading a really good fiction book, you’re surprised by how much you have to consider.

And yet it seems like so few Christians (at least in the circles I run in) read really good fiction.[Worse, it seems like even fewer Christian authors write really good fiction (as evidenced by the plethora of Amish romance novels available at your local Christian bookstore). But that's an issue for another time.] I’d like to see that change (as would Justin Taylor, clearly). So, here’s a look at five fiction books Christians should consider reading. I do not promise profound picks—in fact, there’s a high degree of moral ambiguity represented in each—but I trust you’ll find them intriguing.


High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But what got me in this book in particular (aside from it being so ridiculously quotable), is how much I identified with its characters, especially as an angsty 20-something music snob. I knew the guys at Rob’s record store. Actually, I was one of them—socially awkward and pretentious in my musical taste. (How is it that I ever got married?) Hornby’s greatest skill—giving us characters who read as real people, as opposed to ideas presented as people, if you follow—is on full display in this book, and why he is among my favorite modern authors.


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Having read a few of his books, this remains my favorites (Wonder Boys is a close second). I grew up adoring comic books. I actually desperately wanted to work in the comic industry in my teens (and even in my 20s; don’t judge). Kavalier and Clay follows Jewish cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Klayman who find fame with their creation The Escapist in the golden age of comics (the late 1930s to early 1950s). This book deals with some pretty powerful themes—among them , the cost of fame, racism, sexual identity, and family—but refuses to sacrifice good storytelling for the sake of making a statement.


The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Is this a “safe” pick? Absolutely. Anything by C.S. Lewis tends to be in Christian circles since he’s one of us. But this one is different than the other books in the Narnia series (all of which I enjoyed). While it is not unceasingly grim, and, indeed, ends on the highest of notes, there is a weight to it that is lacking in some of the earlier volumes. One of my favorite elements? The ape who insists he’s a man (see why at the link).


Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I picked up this book randomly during my last year of high school. I can’t remember why exactly, though it may have been for an independent study project. After reading it (and then reading it again. And again. And…), I think I finally wore out my copy. It’s the richness of the characters that makes Great Expectations so compelling. As Dickens tells the tale of a lower-class boy who desires to become a gentleman, he gives us far more complicated and conflicted men and women than you find in any of his other works.


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

The bathroom was not large.

The walls were panelled in old oak linenfold which, given the age and nature of the building, was quite probably priceless, but otherwise the fittings were stark and institutional.

There was old, scuffed, black-and-white checked linoleum on the floor, a small basic bath, well cleaned but with very elderly stains and chips in the enamel, and also a small basic basin with a toothbrush and toothpaste next to the taps. Screwed into the probably priceless panelling above the basin was a tin mirror-fronted bathroom cabinet. It looked as if it had been repainted many times, and the mirror was stained round the edges with condensation. The lavatory had an old-fashioned cast-iron chain-pull cistern. There was an old cream-painted wooden cupboard standing in the corner, with an old brown bentwood chair next to it, on which lay some neatly folded but threadbare small towels. There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it. (69)

You could really choose any of his books and you’d do well; but I’ve long had a fondness for Dirk Gently (which I also happen to be re-reading at the time of this writing).


Those are a few fiction books I’d recommend checking out. What are some of your favorites?


Photo credit: EJP Photo via photopin cc

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Gay marriage and racial segregation

Adam Ford hits the nail on the head.

A Christian Film that Looks Inward

Wade Bearden:

As a whole, Believe Me is a combination of both satire and drama with a hint of Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like thrown in for good measure. To strip it down, the story is less a strict documentary of the Church than a satirical caricature of individuals you’ve probably met in Sunday school or at youth camp. If you’ve ever questioned the forces behind the machine of Christian culture, you’ll likely find Believe Me deftly funny. I caught a screening with a group of pastors and had trouble counting how many times I heard “That’s so true” coming from the seats.

Tear away the mask

Jen Thorn:

There is a lot of talk about transparency these days. The need to “be real” and “do life together.” So we sit around and share about how we don’t clean our house the way we should, and are always behind on the laundry. We get coffee and chat about how we have been unkind with our kids and impatient with our spouse, or dissatisfied with our jobs. Maybe we share that we spend too much money or fail at reading our Bibles on a regular basis. We laugh and hug and say it’s ok. We may share a few Bible verses and some helpful practical tips, but this is not real transparency. It’s a spiritual opaqueness that lets only a little light through. This is superficial at best and deceptive at worst. It can be deceptive because we are pretending to be open and honest when really we are sharing what is easy while leaving out the very things we are suppose to lay before each other.

Sharing the Gospel is Inconvenient

Leon Brown:

As I was walking from the restaurant to my car, I had one gospel tract in my pocket. I had purposed to give it to someone in route to my vehicle. Literally, that was my plan. I wanted to place the tract in someone’s hand, continue walking, get in my truck, and leave. That did not happen. When I gave the tract to a man standing in my path, he asked, “What’s this?”

The Importance of Being a Pastor/Theologian

Nick Batzig:

I have a theory about why God seems to use pastor/theologians in the ways in which He does in the world. I have come to believe that God blesses the labors of pastor/theologians who give themselves to him and the work of the church in a way that He often does not do so with other believers actively engaged in helpful para-church ministries.

The Gospel Isn’t Meant To Be Strawberry Pie

Mike Leake:

Strawberry pie is the perfect cap to an awesome meal. It’s sugary sweet goodness on top of graham cracker crust never fails to make me smile. I’m always hungry for strawberry pie.

Gospel hunger isn’t strawberry pie hunger, though.

The courage to take a risk

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I spent the bulk of last week in Chicago for Story, a conference for those who are engaged in the creative world—storytellers, musicians, visual artists, and filmmakers, among others. I went to this event a couple years ago and found it… weird, but interesting, and a bit scattered in its message. This time around, it had its elements of pretension—the standard “You are creative and the world needs you!” type stuff—but it wasn’t all rah-rah this time. Instead, I noticed a pretty consistent theme come through all the speakers’ addresses: this idea of courageous creativity.

What do I mean by that? Being willing to take risks—real risks. Being willing to try something and fail.

This is something few of us are good at. In fact, it’s not something I’m entirely sure I know how to do. Working in the non-profit world, where we deal with money entrusted to us by donors, it sometimes feels as though we can’t afford to try something and have it fail. We can’t really take risks, which means we can’t really innovate.

Or so we think.

I wonder, though, how much would change for us if someone just said these five words: “You are free to fail”?

Would we be more willing to take risks? To experiment?

To maybe even have a little fun with our work?

And moving beyond creative work, consider how these words affect our relationship with God. Just as many of us who work in the non-profit world believe failure isn’t an option, many of us believe the same thing about following Jesus? That if we’re not “all-rise” in our approach to the Christian faith—always more baptisms, more bums in seats, more services—we’re blowing it?

Why do we keep forgetting that, although we will always progress on our march to holiness, it’s going to be of a stumbling, faltering sort? That there is a sense in which we are told in the gospel, we are free to fail? Not in a way that minimizes or blesses sin, but in the sense that it’s our failures more than our successes that we see our need for Christ—and God uses to shape us into the image of Christ?

This, too, requires courage. A kind of courage we too easily set aside for the sake of appearances. We want to be seen as godly, without actually wanting to take the risks associated with becoming godly. Confessing sin is a risk. Repenting of sin requires courage. But the reward—while it may never be fully seen in this world—makes the risk worth it, doesn’t it?

Links I like

eBook deals for Christian readers

Until October 12, Crossway is giving away a digital edition of Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor by D.A. Carson. To get it, all you’ve got to do is fill out a quick survey. Charis by Preston Sprinkle is free until the end of the day today from all the major resellers. Here’s where to find it on Amazon and iTunes. Also on sale:

And in case you missed these yesterday:

Same-sex marriage and the Supreme Court: what now for the Church?

Russell Moore:

The Supreme Court has declined to take up appeals from states in which the courts have found same-sex marriage to be a constitutional right. This paves the way for same-sex marriage in many, perhaps most, places in the United States. Many Christians may be unaware of how momentous this is, since the denial of cases doesn’t come with quite the shock and awe of a ruling handed down. The effect though is wide-ranging. So what should our response be as the church of Jesus Christ?

I love the church and that’s why I resigned

Big news from Jared Wilson:

I am not one to run. Especially since things have been going so well on the growth front. We have more than tripled in attendance the last five years, but even more importantly, we have seen an increase in souls saved by Christ and baptized, in young families and mature leaders moving to our area to join us on mission, and in forward-thinking vision, culminating largely in our efforts toplant a church in downtown Rutland, Vermont. So there’s nothing to run from, really. Nobody’s mad at me. There’s no conflict pushing me out or great sin disqualifying me. There’s just me. There’s just me realizing, “I don’t think I’m the right guy for what comes next.” It’s as if God has led me to the brink of the promised land and said, “You can’t go in.”

The Lost Virtue of Modesty

Kevin DeYoung:

It is one of the marks of the confusion of our age that so many teenagers and young adults are more ashamed to dress with modest reserve than to very nearly undress entirely. Even after we give full throat to the necessary caveats–being pretty (or handsome) is not a sin, working to improve your appearance does not have to be vanity, the line between modest and immodest is not always black and white–we are still left with the undeniable biblical fact that God considers modesty a virtue and its opposite a vice.

Here are five biblical reasons Christians should embrace modesty as a God-designed, God-desired good thing.

Husbands, Hold Your Wife’s Hand

R.C. Sproul Jr:

That is likely my deepest regret, that I did not hold her hand more.

It’s not, of course, that I never held her hand. It is likely, however, that I didn’t as often as she would have liked. Holding her hand communicates to her in a simple yet profound way that we are connected. Taking her hand tells her, “I am grateful that we are one flesh.” Taking her hand tells me, “This is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.” It is a liturgy, an ordinary habit of remembrance to see more clearly the extraordinary reality of two being made one. It would have, even in the midst of a disagreement, or moments of struggle, communicated, “We’re going to go through this together. I will not let go.”

Is your church worship more pagan than Christian?

Todd Pruitt:

There is a great misunderstanding in churches of the purpose of music in Christian worship. Churches routinely advertise their “life-changing” or “dynamic” worship that will “bring you closer to God” or “change your life.” Certain worship CD’s promise that the music will “enable you to enter the presence of God.” Even a flyer for a recent conference for worship leaders boasted:

“Join us for dynamic teaching to set you on the right path, and inspiring worship where you can meet God and receive the energy and love you need to be a mover and shaker in today’s world…Alongside our teaching program are worship events which put you in touch with the power and love of God.”

The problem with the flyer and with many church ads is that these kinds of promises reveal a significant theological error. Music is viewed as a means to facilitate an encounter with God; it will move us closer to God. In this schema, music becomes a means of mediation between God and man. But this idea is closer to ecstatic pagan practices than to Christian worship.

So what’s up with getting an education?

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Some time ago, I shared how I’ve been considering getting a formal education. This hasn’t been an easy road to consider since:

  • I’m in my mid-thirties and therefore can’t do full-time school; and
  • it costs a lot of money to do this (money which, at the moment at least, I do not have a lot of).

So… what have I been doing since I last shared about this and asked you all to pray with me?

In mid-August, I applied to a Master’s of Arts in Theological Studies program at a very reputable seminary. The program allows me the flexibility I need to maintain a healthy-ish schedule while getting a quality education. As of this week, the only thing that remains is for them to receive a copy of my transcript from the college I attended here in London. Once they have that, they will be able to make a decision on whether or not to accept me as a student. If so, I’ll potentially be starting school as early as January, 2015, which is kind of exciting.

There are other questions beyond acceptance that remain as I start planning for the possibility of becoming a student again:

  • How will I manage my time effectively?
  • What impact will this have on my blogging schedule?
  • How am I going to pay for my tuition?

There are a few options we’re considering, but I wanted to share a conviction that’s arisen about school: this is not something to which I’m willing to add another cent in debt. As you can imagine, this brings up more challenges. So I’m considering a few ideas that I’ll tell you more about should my application be accepted.

While there’s clearly not a lot to report, probably the best thing in the entire process to this point was taking the first step on the application—taking action on something I’d been hesitating on for a good long while. Whether I am accepted or rejected, I will at least know an answer. It won’t be another one of those “What if” things. And that is liberating.

So we’ll see what happens. I look forward to sharing more soon—and you wouldn’t mind praying for my acceptance, I’d certainly appreciate it.


Photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Also on sale:

The First Court of Controversy

Joey Cochran:

You never win in court unless you’re really not-guilty. And who in court is? Really, we’re all guilty of something. It just may not be what we’re actually on trial for. You’ll get what I’m getting at soon enough.

Mansfield’s a lot like Eden; it has all the makings of controversy: disagreement, differing perspectives, and someone wins. The black gown always wins. Though this was my first ticket, it wasn’t my first trial. Despite what you might think.

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Lore Ferguson:

It has been a strange dichotomy for me. Before 2010 I lived most of my life perpetually mistrustful of God, with a brooding anger at him. Since 2010, though, his goodness and prevailing trustworthiness has been steadfast and immovable. I have never known anything like it and still am in awe of what a constant God he is when not encumbered by the caricatures and Sunday School stories we make him out to be like. 2014, though, has been a year where I have seen my glaring disappointments and failures front and center. If there were places of pride in my life and heart, places I thought on the brink of full sanctification, this year has wrecked every one of them.

 

Saeed Abedini’s Letter to His Daughter on Her 8th Birthday

Trevin Wax shares a very moving letter.

Be Yourself in Prayer

Stephen Miller:

Sometimes it seems as if many believers feel the need to alter who they are when they come to God in prayer, particularly when others are around. As if God will not hear them if they are themselves, they play characters, hoping to be more acceptable to God and others.

I have personally struggled over the years with what to say and how to say it when I pray. I’m in good company. Even the apostles asked Jesus to teach them to pray. And with kind, compassionate patience in his voice, he taught them to pray simply, humbly, confidently, according to God’s word, and for God’s glory.

You could sum up Jesus’s teaching into a few guiding principles.

How To Listen To Sermons

Jeff Medders:

Many Christians on Sunday mornings are hearing sermons, but they aren’t listening to them.

Hearing and listening aren’t the same thing.

I can hear music playing in the background and not be listening to its message.

I learned the difference working at Starbucks while going to Bible college. I could hear blenders, customers, music, cars, and coffee being ground—but it was vital that I listened to the orders coming through my headset. I could hear all kinds of things, but I was listening for one thing.

Listen to sermons. Do more than hear them.

September’s top ten articles at Blogging Theologically

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Let’s take a trip back in time and check out the top ten posts in September:

  1. The day ISIS got a little closer to home (September 2014)
  2. God Won’t Give You More Than You Can Handle (July 2009)
  3. Four and a half books I shouldn’t have read as a new Christian (May 2014)
  4. Seven books I abandoned (September 2014)
  5. Is church growth all about the pastor? (January 2014)
  6. He Descended into… Hell? (January 2012)
  7. 15 signs your church is growing in the right way (January 2014)
  8. 5 books every new Christian should read (May 2014)
  9. Ministry Idolatry (January 2011/revamped September 2014)
  10. Seven books I’m reading this fall (September 2014)

And just for fun, here’s a look at the next ten:

  1. Invest by Sutton Turner (February 2014)
  2. Preaching and Pragmatism (July 2011)
  3. Church Buildings: They’re actually useful! (December 2009)
  4. God helps those who help themselves (July 2009)
  5. John Piper on Mark Driscoll & John MacArthur (May 2009)
  6. 3 reasons why some churches don’t grow (that you don’t usually hear) (January 2013)
  7. What we get wrong about church discipline (September 2014)
  8. New and noteworthy books (September 2014)
  9. Three lifestyle changes we are making (September 2014)
  10. Choosing a New Preaching Bible (November 2011)

If you haven’t had a chance to already, I hope you’ll take a few minutes today to check out a few of these articles.

The weird and the witty: Dumb Ways to Die, Dropbox and Bots

One of the things I really love are clever PSAs and promotional videos. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. In my day job, I’m doing a lot of work with video, learning what makes a great short piece that engages and compels viewers to action
  2. I genuinely enjoy the process of learning how these work (and writing them is a lot of fun, too!)
  3. The best ones always—always—make me laugh.

These are some of the best I’ve seen lately.

This is the best “Don’t be dumb around trains” PSA I’ve ever seen. And it’s dang catchy, too:

Meet Sincerely Truman:

This is a great piece from Solve Media:

Finally, this will absolutely make you want to work for Dropbox:

What are some of your favorite clever videos?

Three books to read and a final encouragement on writing better

All this week, I’ve been writing on writing—specifically sharing what advice I can to help you grow as a writer. Today, I’d like to wrap up recommending a few books on writing that are well worth your time, as well as a final encouragement:

Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson. Wilson’s writing is not for everyone (I know some who downright hate reading him), but the advice he gives in this book is some of the best you’re going to get anywhere. Seriously.

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark. Clark’s advice is practical, helpful and geared to writing in an age of short-attention spans: “We need more good short writing—the kind that makes us stop, read, and think—in an accelerating world. A time-starved culture bloated with information hungers for the lean, clean, simple, and direct. Such is our appetite for short writing that not only do our long stories seem long, but our short stories feel too long as well.” Well worth checking out.

On Writing by Stephen King. There are few authors as prolific as King, and even fewer who’ve made the impact on popular culture he has. Although I’ve personally not been a fan of his work, On Writing is wonderfully helpful and full of tough love for aspiring authors.

Now, for the encouragement: The last bit of advice I’ve got for any aspiring writers is pretty simple: just write. 

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This isn’t mind-blowing by any means, but it’s so necessary. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. Don’t write for an audience “out there,” write for you. Write what you enjoy. Write what makes you smile. Write what makes you feel something. Be really comfortable with stinking for a good long while. Don’t worry about how to get published. Don’t worry about how many people are or aren’t reading your blog. But do write. And the more you write, the more you learn from your mistakes, the more you are willing to be coached, if you truly do have a gift for the craft, the better you will become.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Get Mark in today’s $5 Friday at Ligonier.org

Today you can get the ePub edition of Mark, from the St. Andrew’s commentary series by R.C. Sproul, for only $5 in today’s $5 Friday sale at Ligonier.org. Other items on sale:

  • Recovering the Beauty of the Arts teaching series by R.C. Sproul (audio and video download)
  • Contending for the Truth conference series (DVD)
  • By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson (ePub)

$5 Friday ends tonight at 11:59:59 PM Eastern.

Why Micromanaging is Ungodly

Barnabas Piper:

Nobody likes a micromanager, except maybe the one doing the managing. Even people who need close oversight hate it. Why? It’s annoying. It’s overbearing. We generally chalk it up to a “poor leadership style” or “ineffective management.” It’s more than that, though. Micromanagement among Christian leaders reflects poorly on our faith and the gospel. It doesn’t work, and that’s mainly because it’s not the way God designed things to work.

Here are five reasons why.

Sexual Sin and the Single

Lore Ferguson:

What if it is true that any sexual act outside of marriage is in some sense the physical embodiment of those other sins? I want what is not mine—envy; I want it now—impatience; I want pleasure—selfishness. I am committing what St. Augustine—the father of sexual ethics and self-professed great wrestler of them—called “disordered love,” placing any desire above God, which is sin.

The Best Things About the Boring Parts of the Bible

Nancy Guthrie:

Let’s admit it, there are certain parts of the Bible we skim because . . . well . . . because we think they’re boring. They’re repetitive, overly detailed, full of names and places we can’t pronounce. So why bother with them? There are many reasons — not the least of which is that even the parts of the Bible we deem to be boring are significant because they are God’s word to us. Here’s my top ten list of the best things about the boring parts of the Bible.

A Time To Dance: A Christian Defense of Pop Music

Steve McCoy:

I cannot get over my love for pop music.

This is a problem. Well, it’s a problem for me. You see, I pride myself on being an indie music snob. I like quirky, creative music from people you probably don’t know. Or, if you do know them, you’re probably an indie music snob too.

As you might guess, I closely identify with this label. My wife, for example, bought me a t-shirt I proudly wear, one whose enigmatic epigram draws many questions: “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet.”

Write more better: learn to play!

All this week, I’ve been sharing advice on how to improve as a writer. Among other things, writers need to embrace simplicity, be coachable, and read a lot. But one of the worst things a writer can do is play it safe. I don’t mean intentionally trying to be controversial or anything like that. I mean never try anything different. They stick to their strengths continually, and never attempt to develop in any areas of weakness.

Tip 4: learn to play.

Write more better tip 4

For a writer to grow, he or she needs to be willing to try new things. Here are a couple of key things I’d suggest:

Play with genres. If you write children’s stories, try writing a non-fiction article. If you write on theology, write a poem. These never have to see the light of day, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth trying. One of the best I know in this regard is Stephen Altrogge, who regularly releases short stories, collections of essays, and serial novels through Amazon. This is also why I’m glad my work requires me to write differently than I would here. I write fundraising material during the day (when I write anything). I write about theology and books here. You can’t think about these the same way. And this is a really good thing for me because it makes me a more nimble writer.

Engage in word play. There’s a reason I called this series “Write more better,” and it’s not because my grammar is terrible. It’s because it’s fun to play with words—pay attention to the rhythm of your writing, effectively wield irony, alliteration and other literary devices for the good all who read your work. Try to write something that makes you smile! When I can see an author’s love of words in what he or she writes, I get excited.

Don’t underestimate the value of “fun” as a writer. When you’re in a rut, it shows. When you play it safe, your readers know it. But when you experiment, you’re more creative and engaging (even if the only person who knows about your experiments is you).

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

There are a whole bunch of new 99¢ deals from Crossway:

I Turned My Phone Off, and No One Died

Craig Thompson:

While on vacation, she suggested (strongly suggested perhaps) that I take a vacation from my phone. She even circulated rumors among leadership in the church that the best way to reach me while on vacation would be to contact her and she would relay the message. She felt that this plan would at least cause people to think twice before they texted, called, or emailed me. She was right.

An interesting thing happened when I turned my phone off; no one died and the world did not stop turning.

When Sinners Preach to Sinners

Jeff Robinson:

How are God’s undershepherds to come to grips with this daunting reality? How do we reconcile the all-too obvious truth that we are sinners preaching to sinners? How do we get our congregations over the notion that we are not popes, we are not monastics who descend from the cloister each week where we’ve been holed up, busy dodging the world, the flesh, and the Devil? Sin even dwells in monasteries, because sinners live there. But many of the people to whom we are called to minister don’t really believe this about us, and when we sin, and we will, some of them write us off as phonies or Pharisees. In the early months of pastoral ministry, a man told me I wasn’t qualified to be a pastor because I sinned. He seemed a bit stunned when I admitted that, though I believed his case for ministerial perfectionism unbiblical, I acutely felt the tension of a my standing as a saved-by-grace-sinner calling other sinners to walk God’s inspired line.

Twenty-Two Problems with Multi-site Churches

Jonathan Leeman:

I love my gospel-loving friends in multi-site churches—both leaders and members! But as Christians we work continually to reform our churches in light of Scripture. So I trust a little push back on the multi-site structure serves everyone, assuming my concerns turn out to be valid. Below are 22 misgivings I have about the multi-site model. All of these apply to churches that use a video preacher. Over half apply to churches who employ a preacher on every campus. Some of these are grounded in biblical or theological principles; some are matters of prudence.

The Cross & the Sword: A Christian Response to Fictional Violence

Aaron Earls:

Why do American evangelicals embrace fictional of violence in our entertainment, while shunning depictions of other sins?

I believe there are some legitimate reasons, but we would do well to think through the issues and remember our own tendency to approve what we enjoy.

Two Searching Questions About Happiness

David Murray:

“Worldly people pretend to the joy they have not; but godly people conceal the joy they have.” Matthew Henry

Why do some unbelievers seem to be incredibly happy, while some believers seem to be incredibly sad? Matthew Henry’s explanation is that the unbelievers publicize pretend joy, whereas believers privatize real joy.

Write more better: read!

There are certain authors whose books are about as much fun for me to read as chewing glass. Some are written so poorly that, in my cynical moments, I wonder whether their authors are functionally illiterate or simply hate words. Most of these are written by pastors and academics, sadly.

There are several reasons for this: some, while being very well-spoken, lack writing skills (they’re only being published because they have a big church). But others either don’t read or read too much of the wrong types of books.

And so comes today’s tip for becoming a better writer:

Tip 3: Read. A lot!

Write more better tip 3

This advice is well-known, particularly to those familiar with Stephen King’s On Writing, or Douglas Wilson’s Wordsmithy. Both are strong advocates of writers being readers:

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot,” King writes. “There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of.”

“Go for total tonnage, and read like someone who will forget most of it … Most of what is shaping you in the course of your reading you will not be able to remember,” Wilson likewise encourages. “The fact that you can’t remember things doesn’t mean that you haven’t been shaped by them.”

Both advocate reading in terms of sheer volume, but another concern needs to be raised: variety.

Writers—especially Christian writers—desperately need to vary their reading. I’ve never really had a problem reading a lot, but I have frequently had issues varying the genres I read. It’s easy, especially when one writes a lot of contemporary theological issues or reviews books written with Christians in mind, to get stuck reading only books of that sort. This was me up until a couple of years ago when my friend and colleague, Amber, called me out on it and challenged me to start reading fiction again, which I’ve been doing increasingly ever since.

What’s been fun for me in reengaging fiction, beyond enjoying good storytelling, has been looking at how authors are using words–the emotions they’re trying to convey, the response they’re encouraging, what they’re doing to keep me following along and interested… This is really helpful from a practical standpoint (as well as being a lot of fun).

Some may read this and object, saying, “But I don’t like fiction.” Okay. My wife is right there with you. Try it anyway. But try the right stuff. Go to your public library, for goodness’ sake. Ask for recommendations on Facebook or Twitter. Heck, read the blog post I’ll write on this sometime next week! But even if you never want to write fiction, you should still read it. It’ll make your non-fiction work better.

To be fair, being a reader doesn’t make one a writer. Many people read a great deal yet still cannot string together a coherent sentence (without the help of a well-paid ghostwriter). Regardless, while not all readers are writers, exceptional writers are readers.

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A few new deals for you:

What not to get your pastor for pastor’s appreciation month

Eric Geiger:

…I am grateful for the few folks in every church who remember Pastor Appreciation Month, likely because the Christian radio station they listen to reminds them. Because I am no longer a “pastor” as my full-time job, I feel some freedom to speak a bit bluntly about some of the gifts our pastors, your pastors, may be in jeopardy of receiving this year. If you have given your pastor some of these gifts before, don’t feel bad. There is no condemnation here. Only grace. And your pastor really did know you cared, was honored you remembered him, and likely thought, “It is the thought that counts.” But I want to be helpful and encourage you NOT to get your pastor the following this year.

The Hound of Heaven (trailer)

This short film written and directed by N.D. Wilson looks fantastic:

How the News Makes Us Dumb

Kevin DeYoung:

Of course, not all news is pointless. There are long form essays, insightful commentaries, skilled journalistic exposes, striking documentaries–all of these can come under the category of “news” and all of them, when done excellently, can point people to the true, the good, and the beautiful. Sommerville’s not even against the here-today-gone-tomorrow bits of news. Neither am I. The Lord knows–and so does the internet–that I’ve written blog posts on current events before, and every Monday I post two or three minutes of silliness, for no reason except to laugh a little. The news doesn’t have to make us dumb, but if we don’t take the necessary mental and habitual precautions it almost certainly will.

Repenting of Our Lack of Sleep

Scott Slayton:

We often fail to think about what our daily habits say about our view of ourselves and our view of God. When we push ourselves morning to night seven days a week for days on end we demonstrate that we have a Messiah complex. We think the world will fall apart if we are not constantly doing something. We face a major dilemma though. We cannot keep going day in and day out without feeling terrible and lashing out at the people around us. We were not made to function on a lack of sleep. The Psalmist says in 121:4, “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” Only God does not need sleep. He is the one who made the world and who sustains the world. The world would fall apart if he took only a moment off, but we are not him.  Much to our chagrin, we find that the world continues to function quite well while we sleep. Sleep reminds us that God is God and we are not. John Piper said this as only he can, “Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day.”

Does Apologetics Convert People?

Clint Roberts:

If we ask the question, “How many people became Christians because they heard a good defense of something like the existence of God, the historicity of the Gospels, or the archeological verifications of biblical narratives?” the answer is probably “very few”.

But the question, “Does apologetics convert anyone?” is a poor question to begin with.

Social Media and the Sensation of Missing Out

Joey Cochran:

Social media is both a blessing and curse as we all know and have experienced. One curse is that it facilitates the sensation of missing out.

For example, have you ever gotten onto Instagram to see pictures from all your friends who are at the same event together? But you didn’t go. Your immediate response of dismay, envy, and justification for why you didn’t go or why you weren’t invited is how you manage that sensation of missing out. Or have you ever gotten on Twitter and discovered an unreal conversation that went on for swipe after swipe of your forefinger? Did you not feel those twinges of dismay and envy again? Did you feel a tractor-force beam pull to exhaust fifteen to thirty catching up on the conversation and then add a triumphal tweet of your own? This sensation of missing out is a beast to tame. It will own you until you own it. Here’s two things to remember about your sensation of missing out.