Richard Foster’s book Freedom of Simplicity was written more than 30 years ago. For a book that discusses money, materialism, and possessions, there is not much that needs to be updated.
What strikes me is that so much of what he touches on in this book – moderation, simplicity, and generosity – has not become mainstream 30 years later. Why haven’t Christians embraced a more simple existence? Why is materialism as rampant in the church as it is outside the church? Foster’s words remain timely.
Foster always manages to keep three elements in play when he writes – the biblical, the historical, and the practical. Every book I have ever read by him keeps this same pattern. It is strange to hear occasional critics of Foster describe him as operating outside of Biblical emphasis ; these people must not have read any of his books. In this one, he spends entire chapters on the Old Testament view of money and simplicity as well as the New Testament.
Additionally, I probably know more church history from reading Foster books than just about anything else . This book is full of examples of the Christian church’s effective approaches to money and possessions.
Finally, Foster shares practical steps to removing what is unneeded in our lives and ways to approach a life that is not wanting but is full of what truly matters – God and his kingdom.
One disturbing trend I have found in my long study of Spiritual Formation and discipleship is how quickly these ideas can be reduced to a listing of spiritual disciplines or a discussion on spirituality that seems very foreign and inaccessible.
Then someone like Ruth Haley Barton comes along and Spiritual Formation moves away from what normally gets presented. In its place is a life with Jesus that seems absolutely necessary for a truly Christian life. The practice of solitude and silence may be foreign to many people, but Barton explains why it is essential to her life and to every serious Christian.
I don’t know how she does it but her writing is always accessible, down to earth, and doable. She explains through personal experience and quality research, why solitude and silence are so needed. When you read this book, you are left with a glimpse into an inviting world of closeness with God. Solitude and silence may be awkward at first but Barton shows the reader why that awkwardness is worth it in the end.
If your exposure to Christian Spiritual Formation has left you feeling dry or guilty, give this book a try. You will be grateful you did.
The Power of God.
This was the phrase that was repeating in my head after I finished Deeper Experiences of Famous Christians by James G. Lawson. The author used this phrase over and over to describe great and miraculous things that happened through the work of well-known and slightly well-known Christians.
It has been several months since I have read this book but several of the bios featured in the book still come to mind – namely George Whitfield, Dwight Moody, and Charles Finney. Lawson definitely places a glossy sheen on many of these stories and his accounts of their lives gets pretty close to legend on a few occasions. But, I don’t think his myth making tendencies distract from the principles and lessons to be learned from each bio.
Beyond biography, many of these stories are about spiritual movements and how they came about. Again, these movements come down to the power of God breaking forth in a particular time and place. May this inspire our prayer for our particular time and place.
Lord, may your power come to us today.
Perhaps nothing is more mysterious in scripture than the story of the Magi who come to visit baby Jesus. Who were these people and where did they come from? Why make such a long journey? Couldn’t they have just been satisfied with the knowledge that they had received from the stars?
In The Story of the Other Wise Man, Henry Van Dyke attempts to answer these questions. With scholarship and style he makes a fascinating fictional case for what the wise men were up to. In Artaban, the “other wise man,” you have a true pilgrim whose pure heart and devotion to his calling is most admirable.
Apparently, Van Dyke’s short story is more than 100 years old and is a classic Christian writing. It has also inspired a feature film starring Martin Sheen. I had never heard of it until this past year. My only qualm with this story is that so much is spent at the beginning with the explanation for why the journey would be beneficial that the actual journey and subsequent results seem rushed. Still, Artaban’s life and service to others raises powerful questions about one’s response to Christ. I like wrestling with these questions because Christmas stories don’t have to be summed up by a Christmas card sentimentality.
Scot McKnight always has a way of deconstructing a difficult and sometimes foreign topic so that, at the very least, the reader is forced to think and discover answers for themselves. In Fasting: The Ancient Practices
, McKnight takes a spiritual practice as old as the Bible and removes some of the mystery surrounding it so that one knows the Biblical purpose behind the practice.
McKnight makes the case that the Biblical purpose of fasting was to be a “spiritual response to a sacred moment.” He details examples that show that where fasting is found in the Bible it is always surrounding a sacred moment. This was truly eye opening for me. You see, I run marathons and am familiar with the mind set of, “I would like to challenge myself to see if I can do this hard thing.” I think many people approach fasting in the same way. They want to show that they are serious about this religion thing and desire to hang their hat on being able to say I did this hard thing for Jesus. I admit that I have been guilty of this. But what McKnight shows us is that fasting is not a spiritual challenge to test our religious mettle but an opportunity for our body to participate in the stuff of the spiritual.
As I was reading this book, I was faced with several difficult challenges that left me burdened. I started to see these challenges as sacred moments where I needed God deeply. Fasting during this time was an obvious and beneficial practice that lightened my burdens and instilled a sense of God’s presence throughout the ordeal.