Renovation of the Heart, by Dallas Willard

Let me start out by saying this is a tough read. John Ortberg once described Dallas’s writing as being “dense.” Well, this book is certainly “dense.” It took me just over a month to finish it, and I will read it again, even more slowly, right after I finish my re-reading of Practice Resurrection, by Eugene H. Peterson.

In this book, Willard introduces the concept of “spiritual formation,” and goes through all of the various parts of the human being that need to be renovated, or transformed: the mind, the will, the body, the soul, and even the social dimension of the person. He tackles each of these dimensions individually in one or two chapters each.

He finishes the work with talking about how we need to be children of light, and then goes into a final chapter about how this all should play out in the local congregation.

There are many moments in this book that caused me to stop and think about what he had written, most especially what he wrote concerning being and making disciples, from Matthew 28:18-20. I’ll end this with a quote from Ray Stedman, that Dallas quoted in the last chapter.

“God’s first concern is not what the church does, it is what the church is. Being must always precede doing, for what we do will be according to what we are. To understand the moral character of God’s people is a primary essential in understanding the nature of the church. As Christians we are to be a moral example to the world, reflecting the character of Jesus Christ.” (From Ray Stedman’s book, Body Life: The Church Comes Alive)

For anyone interested in spiritual formation, this is a must read.

TTFN, y’all!

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Practice Resurrection, by Eugene H. Peterson

I love the Church. I have loved the Church for decades. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and the gates of hell will not prevail against her. As far back as my college days, people tried to pull me away from the Church, saying that the Church is dying. I refused to acquiesce.

In my years, there have been many who criticize the church (small c church), and not without good reason. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it is imperfect. But it is still the Church, when taken in all together.

Eugene Peterson’s study in Ephesians in Practice Resurrection is stunning. He takes this little epistle and shows us how it applies to the Church and everything she does (or should be doing). At the same time, he shows us how God works, both in individual lives and in the life of the Church.

There is so much good knowledge in this book that I will most definitely read it again, more slowly, more studiously. On the first reading, though, the part that hit me the hardest was his discussion of Martin Buber’s book, I and Thou, as he discussed the role of the Christian in family and workplace.

Buber came up with three different types of relationships. I-It, Us-Them, and I-You. Most people deal with relationships in an “I-It” mindset. Other people are objects to be used to my advantage. There are far too many of us who are trapped in an “Us-Them” mindset, especially people who claim the name of Jesus in our current culture. The only proper relationship mindset is “I-You,” personalizing people, not objectifying them. We even tend to attempt to deal with God in an “I-It” mindset.

Obviously, I can’t even begin to do this justice. Eugene Peterson has such a beautiful way with words, that any attempt I make to paraphrase them would sell them short.

I’ll leave this review with my favorite quote (so far) from this book.

“The extensive commodification of worship in America has marginalized far too many churches as orienting centers for how to live a more effective life for God.”

I could not agree more.

TTFN, y’all!

Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks, by Dallas Willard, edited by Gary Black, Jr.

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads

It might seem strange that I would only give a Dallas Willard book three stars, as much as I love his work. However, this book is a compilation of, as it says, essays, interviews, and talks that were found as Gary Black and Dallas “rummaged through several boxes of other writings–as well as audiocassette tapes of sermons, lectures, and speaking engagements.” The variety of topics in this anthology is almost stunning.

The book begins with what most know Dallas for, spiritual transformation. As I began reading this work, I literally read the first essay four times before moving on. Not because I couldn’t understand it, but because it was so good!

The book moves on to interviews on various topics, articles on discipleship, writings on theology, and finally, on leadership.

Now for the reason I only rated it three stars. There were parts of this book that I loved, that I will, no doubt go back and read again. However, there were a number of articles, essays, speeches, and so on, that were much more philosophical than I care to get into. After all, Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern Cal. And, while those writings were quality writings, many of them just simply went over my head. I am not trained in philosophy. I think that I could, eventually, understand them, but that’s not the direction I am currently moving. I am more interested in discipleship and, especially, spiritual transformation.

I will, at some point, revisit some of those writings that deal with those two topics. And that’s one of the great things about this book. There are forty-one different writings, and most of them are short enough to be read in just a few minutes.

For anyone interested in spiritual formation and discipleship, I would recommend getting hold of this anthology. Some of the other works might surprise you, as well.

TTFN, y’all!

Soul Keeping: Caring For the Most Important Part of You, by John Ortberg

Soul Keeping is an interesting book. While it is largely about what the title suggests, it is also largely about John Ortberg’s evolving relationship with Dallas Willard. John talks as much about Dallas, I think, as he does about the soul. But it’s all relevant conversation, as Dallas Willard had much to say about the soul and its relationship with God.

I have to confess that I have not thought a lot about my soul. At least until I read this book. I find that I’m thinking more about it, now, even to the point of having conversations with my own soul.

Don’t call the men in the white coats, just yet.

One thing that is learned from this book is a definition of the soul. Most people believe that they have a soul, but few would be able to define or explain it, if you pressed them. I’m still not sure I could adequately do so, but, my understanding, after reading this, is that the soul is considered to be the “operating system” of the human being. It’s not the same thing as the spirit, nor is it the same as the heart (and I’m referring to the spiritual understanding of “heart,” not the physical one).

There is a wonderful story at the beginning of this book that illustrates the importance of the soul. It has to do with a mountain stream that provided clean, fresh water for a town. There was a man, who lived up in the mountains, close to that stream, who kept the stream clean. He was paid by the town. One day, the town decided that it could no longer afford to pay this man, whom they hardly ever saw, to do this job. So he stopped.

The stream began to get dirty. It began to get clogged by branches, leaves, and other forms of refuse. The town’s water got dirty. It wasn’t fresh any more and began to smell. People began to get sick. The town council got together again and decided that they could, in fact, find resources to pay the man again. So he started working on the stream again.

Eventually, the stream became clean again. The “keeper of the stream” did his job, and the town was revived.

The stream is your soul, and you are its keeper.

John Ortberg has a wonderful writing style that is unpretentious and even entertaining. Admittedly, he gets a little silly, at times, but I don’t mind. He is much easier to understand than Dallas Willard, and manages to communicate some of the same truths. His homage to Willard is moving, to the point that I was in tears as the book concluded. Which is bad, because I was driving. Remember? I was listening to it on Audible.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the condition/state of their soul, which could very well be the most important part of you.

TTFN, y’all!

The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

Written in first person from the perspectives of three different women, The Girl on the Train maintains intensity throughout the tale. I like the style in which it is written, jumping from Rachel to Megan, back to Rachel, and then, eventually, to Anna. It turns out that all three of the women have something in common.

Rachel’s part of the story takes place in current time, while Megan’s starts up about a year before. Rachel was once married to Tom, but they got divorced, partly because Rachel started drinking when she couldn’t get pregnant, and then Tom began having an affair with Anna, the woman to whom he is now married. Tom and Anna live in the same house that he and Rachel lived in.

Rachel lives with her “friend” Cathy. She is currently unemployed, although Cathy does not know this. She lost her job because of her drinking problem. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that she is a “black out” drinker.

Even though she has no job, Rachel continues to put up appearances by taking the train into town every morning. The train passes the house in which she used to live. It also passes Megan’s house, and Rachel watches Megan and her husband, Scott (although she doesn’t know their names and calls them “Jason and Jess” as she watches them), every day.

One day, she sees “Jess” intimately kissing a man who is not “Jason.” This upsets her terribly. So much so that, one night, after having too much to drink, she goes to that neighborhood, planning to confront the couple about this. But she blacks out. She wakes up, in her own bed, with blood everywhere and a nasty bump on her head. She remembers nothing of the night before.

Shortly after, the news hits. Megan Hipwell (Rachel’s “Jess”) is missing.

That’s all I will divulge in this review, as going any further would be considered spoiling. The rest of the story is a whirlwind of deceit, plot twists, and more, as Rachel gets way more involved in things than she should. It all comes to an intense finale when we finally find out what has happened.

I will say that I figured out who did it, but only shortly before that truth was revealed in the story. Paula Hawkins keeps us guessing all the way through this thriller.

I haven’t seen the movie, yet, but am looking forward to seeing how it compares to the book.

TTFN, y’all!

Day Shift, by Charlaine Harris

Day Shift is the second book in Charlaine Harris’s series about Midnight, Texas. And I have to say that it is every bit as good as the first book, Midnight Crossing.

Day Shift begins with some big trucks rumbling into Midnight. That, in itself, is not so odd. But, apparently, these trucks were bringing supplies and equipment into town to renovate the old Rio Roca Fria Hotel, at the intersection of the Davy Highway and Witch Light Road.

All of the residents come out to watch. Manfred, the local psychic, who only recently moved into Midnight; Fifi, the witch; Bobo Winthrop, the pawn shop owner; Teacher Reed, who is temporarily running the “Gas N Go” store (the people who ran that store had to make a hasty exit at the end of Midnight Crossing); Madonna Reed, cook and owner of “Home Cookin’,” holding their infant, Grady, in her arms; Joe Strong and Chuy Villegas, Antique Gallery and Nail Salon owners; and “the Rev,” a somewhat mysterious character who runs a pet cemetery behind his chapel.

Only Olivia and Lemuel are missing. Olivia’s out of town on a “job,” and Lemuel is out of town, doing research on some rare books that Manfred found in the last book.

Fast forward a few months, and Manfred is checking into a hotel in Dallas to have some personal sessions with some of his clients. He runs into Olivia in the same hotel, but they pretty much pretend not to notice each other, at least at first.

Then the couple Olivia with which Olivia was having dinner turns up dead, an apparent murder/suicide. Then Manfred’s client dies in the middle of their session. The world turns upside down for Manfred, at that point.

In Day Shift, we learn a lot more about Manfred, Olivia, and the Rev, who is part of a side plot that develops during the story. Not all that we learn is “good.” But, then, that’s to be expected from the residents of Midnight, Texas.

I enjoyed the various plots that threaded throughout this story, and I believe it came to a satisfactory ending. The character development is, in my opinion, rich, even though Lemuel remained pretty much out of the picture throughout this story. I’m hoping he is featured more in the next one, which is, not surprisingly, called Night Shift.

TTFN, y’all!

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

I absolutely loved this book!!

As Jacob Portman is growing up, his grandfather, Abraham, tells him stories; stories about a magical place on an island off the coast of Wales, where he allegedly grew up as a refugee from WWII. The house where he lived was Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

As time goes by, and Jacob becomes a teen, he begins to lose faith in the truthfulness of these stories. He is especially discouraged from believing them by his parents.

But one day, he gets a frantic call from his grandfather. As he and his friend drive to his grandfather’s house, they find the place completely torn apart, as if it had been ransacked. They find a trail, out the back door, into the woods. The follow the sounds that they hear, culminating in a scream. Eventually, they find his grandfather, bleeding and dying. When Jacob follows the noises he hears, he sees something unimaginable, something monstrous. The thing runs away. Abe dies.

Jacob is later inclined to believe the eventual police report that his grandfather was killed by wild dogs. But then he finds a letter, supposedly written to his grandfather by Miss Peregrine. It was postmarked from Cairnholm Island. But it was only fifteen years old. Abe had been at the home in 1939-1940. That would put Miss Peregrine in her nineties.

Dr. Golan, his psychiatrist, convinces Jacob’s parents to let him take a trip to Wales, and to this island, and when Jacob’s father finds out that the area is replete with bird wildlife (his dad is an aspiring ornithologist), he readily agrees to take him.

They book a room at the only pub on the island. On Jacob’s first trip to the old home, all he finds is a partially demolished shell of a building, with rooms containing old stuff that probably belonged to the children. He does find what he believes to be his grandfather’s room. But that’s all he finds. Nothing magical. Nothing mysterious.

He is not satisfied, however, and makes a return trip, inspired by a visit to his bedroom by a peregrine hawk! He finds an old trunk that turns out to be filled with photographs similar to the ones that his grandfather showed him. One thing I like about this book is that it includes this photographs, which are authentic photos found by the author at places like flea markets. Only a few of them have been retouched for the purposes of the book.

It is at this point that Jacob finally encounters some of the “peculiar children.” From this point on, the book takes a fantastic turn that is, indeed, magical and mysterious. Miss Peregrine and the children are in a manufactured time loop, so that they are always on, I believe, September 3, 1940. There are monsters that are after them, though, and one of these was what killed Jacob’s grandfather.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and am anxious to read the second book in the series. As for the movie, I saw it first, and enjoyed it, but they added so much that wasn’t in the book. For example that whole bit about the amusement park was nowhere in the book. The book, in my opinion, is infinitely better than the movie.

A truly fantastic read!

TTFN, y’all!