My Top Books of 2015

At the start of each year I set out to read, on average, one book per fortnight. By the end of the year I’ve usually achieved this goal. What can I say? I enjoy reading. There’s usually a mix of fiction (40%) and non-fiction (60%), this year is no different. The list of books I read don’t include those I simply dip into here and there. These are the ones I read right through. If you’d like to see every book I’ve read this year then head here. Otherwise, below is a list of the top books I read. These all achieved 5-stars in my subjective rating system. šŸ™‚

old books

Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Few books I read significantly shape me. The last would’ve been around a decade ago. Yet, in January one more was added to that elite list, this biographical account of the life of Adoniram Judson. Perhaps it was the timing, just before our miscarriage and a rather painful time for us as a family. It was helpful for that period but also for deeper reflection in what it means to live a life following Jesus and makingĀ him known to others.

The book was so good I had to review it. The review gives you a better outline and idea of the book thanĀ I can give here. I also quoted him a little in some previous posts. It’s a great read and was significant to me at the time and as I’ve continued to reflect on it.

In brief Judson was the first American Baptist missionary sent out, ever. He had a great impact on current day Burma/Myanmar, fruit which continues to be seen today. He endured so much personal and ministerial hardship, including the deaths of many of his children and two of three wives. He seems like an amazing man and very much worth the read.

Michael Jordan: The Life by Ronald Lazenby

Michael Jordan was the most iconic sportsman while I was growing up. Probably still is. He’d certainly be the best basketballer the world has ever seen. This biography is a comprehensive outline of his life and family. Lazenby begins generations before MJ was born and makes his way through the family tree before spending much of the 720 pages talking about his career. The Life outlines Jordan’s relationship with his father, family, coaches and team mates. It is a great read and even more so if you remember the glory days of Jordan and his Bulls.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

Another biography makes the list here too. Can you tell the stories of others interest me?

Bonhoeffer was a pastor during the time of Hitler-led Germany and into World War II. He was one of few who saw Hitler for what he was and went against the traditional German church at the time. This leads him to be a main player in seeking to assassinate Hitler during the war, which he is consequently imprisoned for. Metaxas is a great writer and givesĀ a detailed account of Bonhoeffer’s life. It took longer than I would’ve liked reading this on Kindle but it was still worth the 5-stars.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert

As part of my role with Global Interaction I have had the privilege ofĀ facilitating and leadingĀ short-term mission or exposure teams. This involves preparing people to engage in missions in another culture and with other religions. At the same time questions are often raised as to the validity and method of these trips, quite often seen as a waste of money with little help to others. I have my own thoughts on this of course but this book helps put many of these things in perspective.

ThisĀ is a good primer on poverty and dealing with people who are impoverished. It also has some good chapters on what non-profits can do to safe guard themselves in dealing with the poor, whether that be processes or programs or finances etc. I was particularly interested in how they approached short-term teams and there is a whole chapter dedicated to that. Consequently they have elaborated that chapter into and entire book now too. In any case, this one was excellent and gave me a real insight into dealing with things regarding the poor and social justice.

Leading from the Second Chair: Serving Your Church, Fulfilling Your Role, and Realizing Your Dreams by Mike Bonem and Roger Patterson

So in January I become an Associate Pastor. I thought it worthwhile to read up on what some of this may entail. This book was rightly recommended to me and very much worth the read. It is written by two guys with much experience in associate roles and delves into three particular tensions those who lead from the second chair may face. It gives a good picture of the realities of this role, whether it be in a church or other place of work.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer

Knowing God is a Christian classic and remains so today. This is a re-read for me but it had been 10 years since I last picked it up. Packer outlines the Christian faith and the central aspects of it. As the title suggests, it helps us in getting to know God, who he is and what he is like. As I read this it reminded me of how ‘lite’ the Christian Living books are today. If you’d like something of substance to read this coming year then give this one a go.

This time of year often produces ‘best of’ type lists on various websites. I mainly stick with books and you can read 2014’s listĀ too if you like.

Book Review: Adoniram Judson by Jason G. Duesing

Judson bookThe last book I can remember reading that had such an impact on me was in my later university years. I read a young adult version of the biography of Jim Elliot, a missionary martyr to Ecuador. His life and faith were an inspiration as I worked out my faith during my university years and spurred me into the world of missions.

That was over 10 years ago now.

So it seems very few books I read spur me into greater action and reflection. Most books invite me into the story and may give good information about a particular person or period. But I can’t think of more than a handful of books I’ve read that spur me into action and greater obedience to God.

But the book Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesing, is one of those books.

This book isn’t written by one author. We could say it’s a collection of essays combinedĀ to give an excellent picture of Judson’s life and ministry. The book goes deep into his early life, his Christian life, his missionary life, his married life, and the influential life he led.

It is a wonder as to why I hadn’t previously read a book about Judson. He is highly esteemed, particularly by those in AmericaĀ and the missions world. He is recognised as the father of American missions. The little I previously knew was from John Piper’s biographical message on the man from 2003. Yet in this written volume, with references to his and his wives’ journals and letters, there is a terrific account of this “mighty man”.

Three main areas I saw highlighted in the book were Judson’s faith inĀ the sovereignty of God, endurance through suffering, and commitment to long-term missions service.

Sovereignty
The faith Judson and his wives’ had in God is simply an inspiration.

I say wives because Judson ended up having three. Ann and Sarah, his first two, died during his lifetime and Emily passed away only a few years after Judson himself died. I feel this needs to be clarified so there is no miscommunication. šŸ™‚

But all four individuals were wholeheartedly followers of Jesus Christ and sought to be obedient to His call, wherever that led. This begins with the conversion of Adoniram Judson soon after hearing one of his good friends from university die in the room next to him. He literally heard this man passing away during the night and upon finding out who it was the next morning was thrown into turmoil about his own soul.

Judson sees the light and the graciousness of God through his Son and clings toĀ the cross for forgiveness and salvation. He realises that it is only the cross that can bring true salvation. The trust he has in God at this early stage is evident. The way God’s hand guided him from being the son of a Congregationalist minister into atheism through university and then into a living, vibrant, and heartfelt faith when he was 20 years old is clearly seen. God’s sovereignty is at work.

With this as the banner of his life he pursues a life that will count. He seeks to see others come to know God through his Son, so that they too may see salvation through the cross.

He trusts God in his studies, as he heads to theological collegeĀ without an active faith. Over the course of his studies he converts and has an unrivaled desire to be a missionary is Asia. He trusts God as he seeks a wife and proposes to Ann Hasseltine, loving her and trusting she will be willing to come with him to Burma and the East. In a letter to her parents, seeking to begin a relationship with her, he very early on describes his intentions for life and what that will mean for them and their daughter. In July, 1810, he writes,

I have now to ask, whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next Spring, to see her no more in this world; whether you can consent to her departure, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of missionary life; whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death. Can you consent to all this, for the sake of him who left his heavenly home and died for fer and for you; for the sake of perishing immortal souls; for the sake of Zion, and the glory of God?

As they travel he trusts God’s plans as they make the controversial but convicted decision to become Baptists after studying the scriptures. In the four months from leaving the American shores he and his wife Ann see the truth in Believer’s Baptism and are baptised themselves by colleagues of William Carey in India.

In his first marriage with Ann, and consequently the ones following, the sovereignty of God is central to their faith and obedience.

Suffering
Judson and his wives’ suffered immensely. He saw the death of two wives, the death of over five children, and the death of colleagues in the mission work. He was imprisoned for nearly two years by the brutal regime in Burma at the time. When he lost his firstborn son he wrote:

Our little Roger died last Saturday morning. We looked at him through the day, and on the approach of night we laid him in the grave. This is the fourth day, and we just begin [sic] to think, What can we do for the heathen? But yet it seems hard to forget little Roger so soon, to force off our thoughts from the attractive, painful subject, and to return to our usual employments. O may we not suffer in vain! May this bereavement be sanctified to our souls! and for this I hope we have your prayers. (p88)

Ann experienced the same difficulty. In a letter to her parents, she expressed her confidence in God’s sovereign goodness, even in the death of her child:

We do not feel a disposition to murmur, or inquire of our Sovereign why he has done this. We wish rather to sit down submissively under the rod and bear the smart, till the end for which the affliction was sent shall be accomplished. Our hearts were bound up in this child; we felt he was our earthly all, our only source of innocent recreation in this heathen land. But God saw it was necessary to remind us of our error and strip us of our little all. Oh may it not be in vain that he has done it. May we so improve that he will stay his hand and say, ‘It is enough’. (p88)

What inspiration and trust in the Lord!

Added to this is the ridicule he receivedĀ from the local Burmese. It took seven years into the work before the Judson’s saw a convert. The constant health issues and lack of ‘success’ in the conversion of the people he sought to reach, and the death and disease he saw drove him to leave the main town he was living in and live by himself, in the jungle, sitting and staring into a shallow grave he had dug.

Thankfully it was the years after this that Judson saw the fruit of his work but the suffering had an effect, as one could expect.

Service
The commitment of Judson and his wives’ have had a lasting impact on the lives and ministry of those who have gone after him. Their service of nearly 40 years, with one furlough back to America, is something to behold in the modern day. I understand that this was a different era, but the long lasting commitment of Judson and his wives attest to the fruit fromĀ long-term service.

As mentioned, they didn’t see a convert for seven years. They experienced great suffering in their own lives and also saw it among the people they served. Yet, they continued to work in building relationships and translating the Bible into the native tongue of the Burmese. To this end Judson had a commitment to being contextual in everything and learn the culture well.

The Judson’s immediately set about learning the Burmese language. Understanding Burmese was crucial for personal evangelism and Bible translation, both of which were necessary if the gospel was to gain a foothold in Burma. It was not enough to learn the language; the Judsons also had to learn how to live and minister in a Burmese context. Phyllis Rodgerson PleasantsĀ describesĀ theĀ centralityĀ of this learning for the Judsons’ mission:

“The Judsons recognised that they had to be learners before they would be able to teach anything. They were persistent in learning from the Burmese [sic], their entire lives in order to communicate the gospel authentically in ways natural to the Burmese instead of trying to make the Burmese American so they could understand the gospel. More than learning the language from their teachers, the Judsons learned what it meant to be Burmese.”

Learning the Burmese language and being immersed in Burman culture were critical components in providing a contextuallyĀ appropriateĀ Christian witness. The Judsons eventually excelled at both. (p81)

This led Judson to be a communicator in word and deed. Alongside the work of translation was the contextual approach to being a witness for Christ.

We agree in the opinion that our sole object on earth is to introduce the Religion of Jesus Christ into the empire of Burmah; and that the means by which we hope to effect this are translating, printing, and distributing the Holy Scriptures, preaching the Gospel, circulating religious tracts, and promoting the instruction of native children.

Cross-cultural communication of the gospel was the Judsons’ heartbeat.

Jusdon understood that translation work could commence more quickly in Burma that in some settings because, as Wayland surmised from Judson’s letters, “The Burmans are reading people. They have their religious books, and possess the teachings of Gaudama in their own language.’ However, Judson prioritised proclamation, “The press can never supplant the pulpit’.

Language acquisition came gradually with parallel cultural knowledge, giving them the ability to interpret nuanced Burmese meanings, and worldview complexes of belief and practice. One of Judson’s first forays in adapting his technique to the culture was to stop building a zayat, a speaking point at the end of his house where passersby would stop to inquire this foreigner and his teaching. Eventually it became a place to hold public worship. Even though he borrowed the zayat idea from Buddhist priests, he clearly distinguished his zayat from theirs. His diary described the design and function of the building and recorded that it ‘is whitewashed, to distinguish it from the other zayats around us’. (p139)

Conclusion

Much more could be said. The book is well worth a read and some days spent in reflection of it. It was an inspiring read and one that made me think about my commitment to Christ and the way in which missions is currently done.

Judson’s Missionary Advice

ijudson001p1In 1832 Adoniram Judson wrote to the Foreign Missionary Association of the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, NY. In the letter he gives 10 points of advice to missionary candidates. They are as follows:

In commencing my remarks, I take you as you are. You are contemplating a missionary life.

First, then, let it be a missionary life; that is, come out for life, and not for a limited term. Do not fancy that you have a true missionary spirit, while you are intending all along to leave the heathen soon after acquiring their language. Leave them! for what? To spend the rest of your days in enjoying the ease and plenty of your native land?

Secondly. In choosing a companion for life, have particular regard to a good constitution, and not wantonly, or without good cause, bring a burden on yourselves and the mission.

Thirdly. Be not ravenous to do good on board ship. Missionaries have frequently done more hurt than good, by injudicious zeal, during their passage out.

Fourthly. Take care that the attention you receive at home, the unfavorable circumstances in which you will be placed on board ship, and the unmissionary examples you may possibly meet with at some missionary stations, do not transform you from living missionaries to mere skeletons before you reach the place of your destination. It may be profitable to bear in mind, that a large proportion of those who come out on a mission to the East die within five years after leaving their native land. Walk softly, therefore; death is narrowly watching your steps.

Fifthly. Beware of the reaction which will take place soon after reaching your field of labor. There you will perhaps find native Christians, of whose merits or demerits you can not judge correctly without some familiar acquaintance with their language. Some appearances will combine to disappoint and disgust you. You will meet with disappointments and discouragements, of which it is impossible to form a correct idea from written accounts, and which will lead you, at first, almost to regret that you have embarked in the cause. You will see men and women whom you have been accustomed to view through a telescope some thousands of miles long. Such an instrument is apt to magnify. Beware, therefore, of the reaction you will experience from a combination of all these causes, lest you become disheartened at commencing your work, or take up a prejudice against some persons and places, which will embitter all your future lives.

Sixthly. Beware of the greater reaction which will take place after you have acquired the language, and become fatigued and worn out with preaching the gospel to a disobedient and gainsaying people. You will sometimes long for a quiet retreat, where you can find a respite from the tug of toiling at native work — the incessant, intolerable friction of the missionary grindstone. And Satan will sympathize with you in this matter; and he will present some chapel of ease, in which to officiate in your native tongue, some government situation, some professorship or editorship, some literary or scientific pursuit, some supernumerary translation, or, at least, some system of schools; anything, in a word, that will help you, without much surrender of character, to slip out of real missionary work. Such a temptation will form the crisis of your disease. If your spiritual constitution can sustain it, you recover; if not, you die.

Seventhly. Beware of pride; not the pride of proud men, but the pride of humble men — that secret pride which is apt to grow out of the consciousness that we are esteemed by the great and good. This pride sometimes eats out the vitals of religion before its existence is suspected. In order to check its operations, it may be well to remember how we appear in the sight of God, and how we should appear in the sight of our fellow-men, if all were known. Endeavor to let all be known. Confess your faults freely, and as publicly as circumstances will require or admit. When you have done something of which you are ashamed, and by which, perhaps, some person has been injured (and what man is exempt?), be glad not only to make reparation, but improve the opportunity for subduing your pride.

Eighthly. Never lay up money for yourselves or your families. Trust in God from day to day, and verily you shall be fed.

Ninthly. Beware of that indolence which leads to a neglect of bodily exercise. The poor health and premature death of most Europeans in the East must be eminently ascribed to the most wanton neglect of bodily exercise.

Tenthly. Beware of genteel living. Maintain as little intercourse as possible with fashionable European society. The mode of living adopted by many missionaries in the East is quite inconsistent with that familiar intercourse with the natives which is essential to a missionary.

For the entire letter, see here.

Judson The Baptist

I’m currently reading through Adoniram Judson – A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary by Jason G. Duesling. It’s a terrific read, giving good historical context to Judson’s decision in becoming a missionary and outline of his work and family.

He began his faith as a Congregationalist, coming from the house of a Congregationalist minister. But after working through the intricacies of being the first missionary with theĀ denomination he became a Baptist while travelling from America to Burma. This certainly caused a bit of a stir at the time, as you could imagine.

In the 1913 issue of the Foreign Mission Journal there is mention of the presentation of the Judson Centennial fundraising movement at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. One statement recorded from the evening summarised the guidance Judson received from the Spirit and the Word.

The mighty significance of the Judson spirit is not the fact that when a missionary is left alone with his Bible he becomes a Baptist, but the significant thing is that when a Baptist is left alone with his Bible he becomes a missionary.

This is one of the great mission quotes, let alone one that inspires those who call themselves ‘Baptist’.

A DIY Discipleship Plan

We are in the fortunate position of living in a Christian resource-rich period of time. No other generation has had such access to the teaching of the Bible and other resources that come with it. Only a few years ago it was impossible to hear any sermon other than the one you heard while attending your local church. Now, I can listen to one sermon on the way to work and another on the way home. Thatā€™s crazy.

The amount of books, podcasts, music, articles and blog posts, devotionals, and different versions of the Bible give a plethora of options in helping us to understand and know God better. But, it can also cause a tremendous amount of confusion because there is so much choice.

discipleship

Therefore, I find it helpful to think about how Iā€™m going to grow in my understanding of God and develop as a follower of Jesus by having a plan. In previous years I’ve attempted to read the Bible through in a year. There are many good plans to help with this and I find committing to reading four chapters a day the most consistent method. Having said this, I havenā€™t been overly successful lately.

Because I enjoy learning, particularly through reading and listening, I’ve decided to approach my discipleship development in a different way for 2015. Rather than have broad goals of reading the Bible through in a year and praying regularly I’ve sought to make them a bit more specific.

In structuring this plan I’ve broken my development into four areas; biblical theology, historical theology, systematic theology, and practical theology. Within these four areas I then have specific resources Iā€™d like to read or listen to at different times throughout the year. See below as an example:

Biblical Theology

  • Read the book of Jeremiah 5 times
  • Read a commentary on Jeremiah
  • Reach the book of Hebrews 5 times
  • Read a commentary on Hebrews

Historical Theology

Systematic Theology

  • Read 3-4 books on the topic of ā€˜Salvationā€™ (Do you have anything to recommend in this area?)

Practical Theology

There are many resources to read, watch, and listen to. There are conferences to go to and church to attend. There are small groups to join and other community activities to be part of. There is no doubt that discipleship is communal. I donā€™t want to negate this. But on a personal level I also want to continue to grow in my knowledge of God through his Word, what Heā€™s done in history, through the teaching of others and then seek to apply it.

Itā€™s at least a plan, and I like plans, even if they donā€™t always get achieved the way I think they should be. So next year Iā€™m going in with a plan to develop as a disciple. What about you?