Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Recommended Read - The Coming Shift by Larry Randolph

The Coming Shift
by Larry Randolph
MorningStar Publications, 2006
Non-Fiction, 170 pages

Change is an operative word in today’s culture. And change or transition is the subject of Larry Randolph’s book titled The Coming Shift. Using the story of Christ’s appearance on the shore after His resurrection (John 21), Randolph makes fourteen points about what he believes will soon affect both individual Christians and Christian groups.

In his Opening Thoughts, Randolph cites historic changes of the past. He explains how he feels God spoke to him in 1987, telling him that a time of transition is ahead for the Christians. He also says of himself, every time I think I have figured out my future, the Lord seems to rearrange my tomorrow. Perhaps this is why his emphasis is on internal responses to change rather than on concrete prophetic statements.

Chapter headings include Direction Shift, Lifestyle Shift, Performance Shift, Gift Shift—you get the idea. Each of these changes comes directly from the Biblical text.

I found the early chapters insightful and interesting. The middle less so—perhaps because content seems somewhat obvious.

This changes again by chapter 10. And chapter 11 takes off. Titled Significance Shift, the focus is John 21:7 which reads in part, So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he…threw himself into the sea. The long subtitle reads, You Know You Are Fishing From the Right Side of the Boat When You Are Willing to Give up Ownership of What Is Rightfully Yours. From my perspective, releasing what is rightfully mine is always challenging and worthy of attention.

At this point Randolph begins to obviously write toward a conclusion. Chapter 12 focuses on leadership—and the emphasis is teamwork and diversity. Chapter 13 looks at the foundation for cooperation.

Finally, Chapter 14 focuses on preparation. There’s the business of accepting changes when they happen—to realign us with our initial destiny… This will require we embrace the discomfort of change . . . repent of hopelessness . . . learn proper stewardship . . . repent of performance mentality . . . let go of the past . . . develop new vision . . . practice obedience . . . relieve for a resource shift. . . walk in humility . . . embrace the centrality of Christ . . . prepare, prepare, prepare . . . and more.

Would I recommend this book? Yes. If you are not acquainted with this genre, it is a good introduction. It's also meaningful because, eventually, what had seemed a surface treatment becomes an intense, meaningful challenge.

I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Recommended Read - World War II Liberator Series by Tricia Goyer

Recommended Reads - World War II Liberator Series
by Tricia Goyer
From Dust and Ashes, 463 pages
Night Song, 512 pages
Dawn of a Thousand Nights, 509 pages
Arms of Deliverance, 313 pages
Moody Publishers, 2003 through 2005

Because we’re out of town, I thought this would be a good time to repost recommended reads from one of my earlier blog sites.

Tricia Goyer was unknown to me, but after stumbling onto her blog—which I read for several months—I decided to take a chance on her historical novels. Since these books were published, Goyer has added to her body of work, but today I’m going to look at her first series. They're a group of four novels with unrelated story lines—yet connected because all take place during World War II.

While this post doesn’t actually provide reviews—I’m covering too much territory for that—I definitely recommend them. As historical novels set in an important time frame, they're intense and enjoyable.

From Dust and Ashes: A Story of Liberation begins as American troops discover the horrors of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria. Central character is the abandoned wife of a corrupt SS officer. Other characters include the young woman’s father who actively participated in the resistance, an American GI, and a concentration camp survivor who returns to Poland after her release to minister the gospel of Jesus.

Night Song: A Story of Sacrifice features a young Jewish violin prodigy—and his violin—interred in Mauthausen. Other important characters include a beautiful member of the Austrian resistance, an American GI, and an obsessed Nazi officer. Only one character overlaps the two books.

Dawn of a Thousand Nights: A Story of Honor takes place primarily in the Pacific arena. Scenes from the Bataan Death March are riveting, and some pilots are moved to work camps within Japan before the war is over. But the subplot is interesting, too. Did you know a select few female pilots flew troops to various destinations within the US during the war? The protagonists open the story in Hawaii and close it when they come together in the Pacific Northwest.

Finally, Arms of Deliverance: a Story of Promise is primarily about two American reporters with competing interests—but who become key supporters for each other in the clutch. It also features an American GI. And there’s the beautiful Czech Jewess who passes for Aryan, dates a Nazi, becomes pregnant and is sent to a Nazi breeding camp.

Goyer’s strength is her attention to historic detail. When details intrigued me, I looked them up and the facts were accurate. On her site, I learned she researched by interviewing GI’s who experienced the specific events.

I can't say I enjoyed reading passages focused on an evil Nazi in Night Song, This was also true of her description of life in the death camp before and after liberation as well as the death march and life in a Japanese prison. But I knew these aspects of the story were essential for understanding. It’s not fun to read about ugly.

And you've probably guessed by the presence of the beautiful young women and the American GIs that these books are also romantic novels. Goyer's story lines are seamless; she brings history into the lives of believeable people. While her characters are not her strong point, they are more than adequate. Anything more might have distracted.

Goyer expanded my understanding of specific aspects of the Great War, and she gave me appreciation for how the pressures of living in fear and horror will bend and tear at the human soul. The Christian message comes through loud and clear through the lives of the characters. She lets God do His thing—nothing feels contrived or preachy in order to appeal to a Christian audience.

I have not received compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements in Advertising."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Recommended Read - The Boat of Longing by O. E. Rolvaag

Recommended Read – The Boat of Longing
by O. E. Rolvaag
translated by Nora Solum
Norwegian publication, 1923; English publication by Harper and Brothers, 1933; republished by Minnesota Historical Society, 1985
Fiction, 303 pages

While roaming the stacks of our local library, I chanced on the works of O. E. Rolvaag (1876–1931). Rolvaag the writer was an icon in my home as a child, and I was pleased that this library established by people of Norwegian and German descent offered his work. What surprised me, however, was a titled I’d never encountered: The Boat of Longing.

A bit of background: Rolvaag was born on an island in the Nordland or Northland of Norway, approximately five miles south of the Arctic Circle. He emigrated from Norway to America in 1896 and initially worked as a farm hand in South Dakota. After completing his education, he became a professor of Norwegian literature at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota.

Rolvaag’s novels explore the experience of Norwegian-American immigrants in America. Written in the Norwegian language, they were initially published in Norway. After being translated into English, second- and third-generation Norwegian-Americans became Rolvaag’s second audience.

Most discussions on Rolvaag focus on his trilogy, Giants in the Earth, Peder Victorious, and Their Father’s God. I recommend them, too—especially Giants in the Earth.

But The Boat of Longing is unique. It’s tragic, painful, poignant, beautiful. And poetic.

The story opens in Nordland with the ever-present ocean: a world of both the midnight sun and total darkness, a world of folklore including a strange boat that is often seen by people as a harbinger of impending death, and a world where a strange but beautiful young woman is washed ashore one day and taken into the family because she has nowhere else to go.

Nils, the only child of Jo and Anna is enchanted by the girl. When her identity is discovered and she returns to her family, he is lost. Over time, his idealism and undefined longings, along with the encouragement of a neighbor, play on his imaginations until he leaves for fabled America.

In the second and third sections, after a long ride on a boat of longing in the form of a ship, Nils is unsettled by his life in urban Minneapolis. It’s a city of confusion where people speak many languages and he’s assaulted on every side. Not wanting to disappoint his parents, he gives accounts of only good things when he writes home.

Life improves somewhat when he meets a Norwegian-American widow who lives in a meager dwelling under the Washington Avenue Bridge. She bequeaths her husband’s violin to Nils—her only beloved possession—because he captures the homeland when he makes music with it.

When Nils loses the violin in a train depot, he can no longer express himself. That loss and another tragic event overwhelm him. Feeling like a failure, he becomes a vagabond, and he stops writing to Jo and Anna altogether.

The fourth section returns to Norway to focus on the hurting parents who worry about their son. Again, the poetry is breath-taking, a stark contrast to the American city. His father Jo eventually makes a trip to America in another ship to find his son—but is rejected by immigration officials. As he stares at the Atlantic coast, unable to deal with his loss, he imagines what could be true.

When Jo arrives home, he tells Anna tales of wonders in America: And in that marble palace you and I are to live with him . . . But I’ll have to explain that to you some other day, for now I want to go out on the sea!

In his familiar boat on the familiar sea, he spies the fabled, dancing boat of longing. Going after it he rows and rows and rows. His boat is never found.

Even with this synopsis, you will not be disappointed if you’re fortunate enough to get your hands on a copy of this book. Details are stunning. Long out of print, it’s only available in libraries or through a channel offering used books. I checked, and it can be purchased through Amazon.

I have not received compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products,or services that I have mentioned or pictured. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Recommended Read - The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God
by Timothy Keller
The Penguin Group, 2008
Non-Fiction, 133 pages

As suggested by the title, Keller’s Scripture base for The Prodigal God is the story of the Prodigal Son. But I thought prodigal meant someone who was wayward—someone who didn’t show proper respect or love. The title confused me.

It turns out, prodigal means rashly or wastefully extravagant. And according to Keller, this describes our God who, in a rashly and wastefully extravagant manner, loves His children.

Keller identifies the two sons as representatives of the two types of people in our world—both lost. And he points out that the story is pointed not toward the younger son who rashly and wastefully spends his inheritance but on the elder son. Jesus’ parable condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms. (p. 10)

What? Condemns a moralistic life?

Yes. Step by step Keller explores motives in the section titled Redefining Lostness. The elder brother’s motives are revealed by his response when the younger brother comes home. As a type, he represents people who do good not out of delight in the deeds themselves or for the love of people or the pleasure of God. [When they do good works] they are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves. (p. 62)

This section is actually quite frightening because it exposes the anger, bitterness, and prejudice that pervades elder brothers. Keller's experience in ministry has led him to believe many people break ties with churches because the elder brother's problem is the radical insecurity that comes from basing his self-image on achievement and performance, so he must endlessly prop uyp his sense of righteousness by putting others down and finding fault. (pg. 77)

With our human duplicity exposed, Keller offers an alternative—the person missing from the story: Jesus Himself. In the section titled The True Elder Brother, we have a presentation of the gospel of grace that cost the father and elder brother everything. Looking at the customs of the time, he informs, The younger brother’s restoration was free to him, but it came at enormous cost to the elder brother. (pg. 84)

The problem is pervasive. Keller says, We will never stop being younger brothers or elder brothers until we acknowledge our need, rest by faith, and gaze in wonder at the work of our true elder brother, Jesus Christ. (pg. 89)

Then Keller suggests that regardless of our position as elder brothers, all contain within themselves an element of the younger brother—a longing for home. This leads into Keller’s understanding of the father’s feast at the close of the parable.

The feast is not glossed over lightly. It depicts the life we have when united to the true elder brother—an experiential life that impacts human interaction with the world at every level.

In many ways the book is an easy read. It's not long, and the text on the page is not dense. Also, Keller writes so well—presents things so clearly. A person could race through the book, identify its value, and move on. Don’t. This is a book worth thinking about and praying through.

I have not received compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned or pictured. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”