The Doc File

The online journal of Luke Dockery

Category: Christian Living (page 1 of 20)

Reading in 2019

Regular readers of The Doc File know that I keep track of what I read each year, and that I enjoy chronicling that here on the blog and offering some reflections about my favorite reads from the previous year.

Without further ado, here is my list from 2019:

  1. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs
  2. The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament World, by Bruce W. Longenecker
  3. Enter the Water, Come to the Table: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper in Scripture’s Story of New Creation, by John Mark Hicks
  4. Success Sparklers: A Treasury of Quips, Quotes and Sparkling Sayings for the Positive Person, compiled by Ivy Conner
  5. The Honorary Consul, by Graham Greene
  6. Small Group Strategies: Ideas & Activities for Developing Spiritual Growth in your Students, by Laurie Polich and Charley Scandlyn
  7. Walking Away From Idolatry, by Wes McAdams
  8. The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
  9. Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, by Eric Metaxas
  10. The Hidden Harbor Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  11. Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
  12. My Brother Sam is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier and Christopher Collier
  13. The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander
  14. Selected Stories of O. Henry, Introduction and Notes by Victoria Blake*
  15. The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah
  16. Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross, by N.T. Wright, Gregory Boyd, and Ruth Padilla DeBorst
  17. The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter
  18. God, Guys, and Girls, by Derry Prenkert
  19. Sabbath Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, by Walter Brueggemann
  20. Christians in the Age of Outrage: How to Bring our Best When the World is at Its Worst, by Ed Stetzer
  21. How To Lose a Kingdom in 400 Years, by Michael Whitworth
  22. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  23. The Cross & the Prodigal: Luke 15 Through the Eyes of Middle Eastern Peasants, by Kenneth E. Bailey
  24. Rich Dad Poor Dad, by Robert Kiyosaki
  25. I Am A Church Member, by Thom S. Rainer
  26. The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
  27. That’s Why We Sing: Reclaiming the Wonder of Congregational Singing, by Darryl Tippens
  28. Fire Upon the Earth: The Story of the Christian Church, by Norman F. Langford
  29. The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, by Wes Moore
  30. Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney
  31. The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan
  32. The Yellow Feather Mystery, by Franklin W. Dixon
  33. The Clue in the Embers, by Franklin W. Dixon
  34. Murder at Wrigley Field, by Troy Soos
  35. Visions of Restoration: The History of Churches of Christ, by John Young
  36. New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young
  37. Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith
  38. The Greenest Island, by Paul Theroux
  39. Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Change, by Chris Field
  40. The Secret Agent on Flight 101, by Franklin W. Dixon
  41. Jesus for President, by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw
  42. Discipeshift: Five Steps That Help Your Church to Make Disciples Who Make Disciples, by Jim Putnam & Bobby Harrington with Robert Coleman
  43. Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans
  44. Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matter, by David Fraze
  45. 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson
  46. The Fourfold Gospel, by J.W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton
  47. Prayer, In Practice, by J.L. Gerhardt
  48. It’s All Too Much: An Easy Plan for Living a Richer Life with Less Stuff, by Peter Walsh
  49. Learning to Speak God from Scratch: Why Sacred Words Are Vanishing—and How We Can Revive Them, by Jonathan Merritt
  50. D2: Becoming A Devoted Follower of Christ, by Phil McKinney II
  51. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander
  52. One Loaf and One Cup: A Scriptural and Historical Survey, by Clinton De France

A few observations before I talk about my favorite books of the year:

  • My reading total decreased from 54 books in 2018 to 52 in 2019. I was pleased with this number considering that we moved in the middle of the year, my life was crazy busy preparing for that move and adjusting to it, and my reading time was (probably) somewhat less.
  • For the last several years, I have been between 48-54 books per year. This really seems to be my sweet spot.
  • This was my first full year removed from grad school, so I wondered how that would affect my reading. I still read a lot, with a decent amount of reading still geared toward faith, ministry, discipleship, biblical studies, etc.
  • I enjoyed my reading this past year. There were some books I didn’t love, but really, no major disappointments.

I want to share my Top 10 books for the year, but before I do so, I wanted to offer some brief thoughts on a few books that didn’t make my Top 10, but I still wanted to comment on:

  • The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, by Lawrence S. Ritter: this was a great book of memories of baseball players from the early 1900s. As a huge fan of Ken Burns’ documentary Baseball, I was delighted to recognize that this book was a major primary source for many of the quotations for that series.
  • Family Worship, by Donald S. Whitney: This was a very short, yet very convicting, read. Christan parents, we really don’t have a good excuse for not having regular worship or devotional time at home with our families. If you want motivation, guidance, or conviction related to this, read this book.
  • The Shepherd’s Ring, by Whit Jordan: This was a novel for children written by a friend, and I loved it. It is currently unpublished, and I read an early draft. I can’t wait to hold the real thing in my hands and tell you about it.
  • Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith: This is one of my all-time favorite books. I read it frequently. It doesn’t make my Top 10 list because that feels like cheating. Otherwise, it would be there almost every year.
  • Faith Unraveled: How A Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions, by Rachel Held Evans: RHE was just a couple years older than me, and tragically died from an illness earlier in 2019. I am not really the audience for this book, but I listened to the audio version (read by the author) and am so glad I did. I disagree with Evans on a variety of issues, but she is incredibly likable and it is clear that she genuinely loved God and other people, and wanted to remove barriers that prevented people from knowing the God she loved so much. It was good for me to read.

My favorite books from 2019.

Regarding my Top 10 books for the year, here are some brief thoughts on those (presented in order of when I read them, not ranked 1-10):

  • The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, by Jeff Hobbs: This was a fascinating and tragic true story of a man who grew up in the rough neighborhoods of Newark but managed to find his way out and graduate with honors from Yale, only to end up back in his former neighborhood where he ultimately was murdered in a drug-related crime. This story was well-written and gripping, and also filled with impending dread, as you knew from the title that it would not end well. Memoirs are not the best way to analyze complex social issues, but this book did provide for thoughtful reflection on racial issues (which, between this book, The Other Wes Moore, and The New Jim Crow {described below}, was a repeated focus for me in 2019).
  • The Lost Letters of Pergamum: A Story From the New Testament Worldby Bruce W. Longenecker: Longenecker, a well-known biblical scholar who specializes in the origins of Christianity, writes this epistolary novel that consists of a series of letters between several characters, including Luke the Evangelist. What results is a moving story that helps to illuminate the New Testament world including aspects such as honor-shame culture, patronage, the nature of letter writing, and Roman persecution. It took a little bit for me to get into it, but by the end, I absolutely loved it.
  • The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expeditionby Caroline Alexander: This was a fascinating account of Shackleton’s Antarctic Expedition complete with penetrating character studies and amazing photographs. This is simply an incredible, unbelievable tale. I really didn’t know what to expect going in, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  • The Nightingaleby Kristin Hannah: I have discovered that I love reading fiction set in WWII, and this is a good example of this. This novel tells the story of two sisters living in Nazi-occupied France, and the very different ways they seek to survive and resist during a very difficult time.
  • The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentaryby Robert Alter: Alter is a world-renowned expert on the Hebrew Bible who gives special attention to its literary features. This is his own translation along with commentary, which I used for my daily Bible reading early in the year. I don’t know Hebrew well enough to evaluate how great his translation is, but it was certainly readable, and I found his commentary to be frequently insightful.
  • New Day: Restoring the Revolutionary Mission of Christ’s Church, by David M. Young: I mentioned this book, and Young, in my recap of this past year’s Harding Lectureship, where I heard him speak three times. The short version of the book is that Churches of Christ (and really, churches across the spectrum) are declining in the United States, and the solution to this problem is to get serious about prayer, making disciples, and planting churches. If you have come to suspect that church should be about more than a social gathering, worship wars, and a consumeristic buffet of programs catering to the whims of members, this book is for you (wow, that was a little preachy!).
  • Disrupting for Good: Using Passion and Persistence to Create Lasting Changeby Chris Field: I did not have high expectations for this book, but I really liked it. Basically, it is a book about how to bring about culture change: you have to find a problem that really bothers you, and then attack it with creativity and perseverance. Most of the book is a series of inspiring vignettes of people who did exactly that. This was a really encouraging book for me.
  • Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths That Matterby David Fraze: I already reviewed this book here on the blog, so I don’t feel the need to say much here, other than the fact that this is now one of my favorite youth ministry books (I read a lot of them), and I plan on using it from now on with all of my youth ministry interns.
  • 12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaosby Jordan B. Peterson: Although I have friends who are big fans of Peterson, I was not a fan, and actually began to read this book with a great deal of skepticism. Peterson’s breadth of knowledge is so vast that I found it difficult to evaluate at times (Is this brilliant? Is this nonsense?). At other times, when he crossed into areas I could better evaluate, I was blown away: his handling of the biblical text, especially the Book of Genesis, was very impressive (he is a little shakier on the teachings of Jesus—on a very deep level, I don’t think Peterson knows what to do with Him). Ultimately, what I would say is that each of Peterson’s rules range from helpful to profound, even if I don’t fully agree with all of the reasoning he uses to arrive at them. I “read” this book in audio format, and will likely reread it, soon.
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindnessby Michelle Alexander: This is not a fun read. On the contrary, it was devastating. Alexander has two basic arguments in the book: (1) the American criminal justice system disproportionately punishes people of color (specifically through the War on Drugs), relegating a large chunk of African American society to being residents of an “undercaste”, and (2) this has been done intentionally. Although I don’t believe she established her second argument (to be fair, I don’t want to believe it), her first point seems absolutely clear to me. For those who do not understand (or worse, deny) the reality of systemic racism, this is a great book to read.

That was my reading for 2019. For comparison’s sake if you are interested, you can see my reading lists from previous years:

As always, I have a bunch of books lined out to read in 2020, and can’t wait to get into them.

What are some of the best books you read this past year?

*Books that I did not read in their entirety, but read significant portions of.

Book Review: Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry

Recently, I was taking advantage of a sale from Leafwood Publishers when I happened upon David Fraze’s Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry: The Not-So-Simple Truths that Matter, and decided to buy it. I am so glad that I did! Simply put, this book was outstanding; it is the youth ministry book that I was planning to write one day, and now I don’t have to (which is good, because Practical Wisdom for Youth Ministry is better than what I would have produced!).

The book is split into 22 chapters of different concepts and aspects of youth ministry that matter. It is a diverse list, including topics ranging from The Bible, to Office Hours, to Sexual Purity, to Volunteers, and beyond. Each chapter is short, and contains three sections: “Why?”, “How?”, and “Now?” In the “Why?” section, Fraze discusses why a given topic matters, engaging the biblical text and providing theological justification for his point. In the “How?” section, he then offers practical tips to improve your ministry in that area, and in the “Now?” section, he offers first steps for improvement moving forward.

There were a lot of ideas in the book that I found to be very helpful, but here were some of my favorite quotations:

“Adult involvement is a key factor in measuring youth ministry success. In fact, adults are one of the main reasons students stay involved with the church after graduation.…To be most effective, youth ministers need to work to get the entire congregation involved in youth ministry.” (43-44)

“Marriage is intended to be a reflection of the intimate love, devotion, and sacrifice Christ has for the church. Therefore, a youth minister’s marriage is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, testimonies and tools he has to impact the lives of teenagers with the gospel of Jesus.” (80)

“Regarding Mondays after a weekend trip, most of the jobs your parents and adult volunteers work at expect that office hours be kept with excellence and responsibility. Regardless of whether they sponsored a weekend you retreat, they will be at work, on time, the next day. I expect the same type of office hours out of my employees. If it is not a day off, then get to work, on time.” (101-02)

“If your students and adults do what you do, would there be any outreach happening in your student ministry?” (121)

“While important, the events of youth ministry in and of themselves do not possess the life-changing power often bestowed on them by youth ministers. The events possess life-changing power to develop and support relationships with God’s people. The relationships are what matter.” (136)

It is really hard for me to overstate how much I enjoyed this book. While it does not offer an in-depth look at any of the topics included, it is an excellent introductory work for youth ministry. It would provide an invaluable resource to new youth ministers, but also is a helpful refresher for youth ministry veterans like myself, and also a way for me to reflect upon and improve in areas where I am weaker. I strongly recommend this book for anyone involved in youth ministry work (youth ministers, youth ministry students, youth deacons and elders, youth volunteers, etc.).

Imitating the Devil

Introduction

A central Christian teaching is that for those who are in Christ, our lives are spent in the process of sanctification—in conjunction with our own efforts and desires, God’s Spirit works in us to transform our lives into conformity with that of Jesus Christ. In short, we seek to imitate Christ, and the Spirit helps us to do that.

While this is the goal, the sobering reality is that if we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves imitating someone very different—the Devil. That perhaps seems like a sensationalistic claim—what Christians actually set out to imitate the Evil One? By intention, it may not happen, but by action, it happens all too frequently. Let me explain.

Titles, Not Names

It will be surprising to some to hear that the Evil One mentioned in Scripture is nowhere given a name; he is repeatedly given titles and descriptions: the dragon, the serpent, the devil, the father of lies, etc.—even Satan is not a name—in the original language, it is used with a definite article (“the Satan”).[1]

What I think is helpful about realizing that this murky character is only described with titles is that these titles tell us something about his character—a character that Christians can emulate if we are not careful.

The Father of Lies

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

(John 8.44)

This one is pretty obvious: the Evil One is a liar. We see it in his deception of Adam and Even in the Garden, and we see it on a regular basis as he whispers to us that the ways God has laid out for us aren’t really the best ways, or that we are too broken to be loved by our Creator and to be used by Him. He is a liar and the father of lies.

And here is the scary part: when we lie, not only do we fail to imitate Christ, but we are actively imitating the father of lies. Being people of integrity is such a fundamental characteristic of Jesus’ disciples that He specifically addressed it in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.33-37), but we easily resort to being people of evasion, partial truths, and outright dishonesty. When we do this, we may not be intentionally imitating the Devil, but in our lack of careful intention to be people of absolute integrity, we imitate him nonetheless.

The Devil

This one may be less obvious to us because we tend to associate devil with a red creature with horns and a pitchfork, but really, the Greek word that is translated devil is διαβολος (from which we get our word diabolical), which means “the slanderer.” Obviously, this term is also related to the notion of dishonesty, but slander is more specific. Slander is “the utterance of false charges or misrepresentations which defame and damage another’s reputation.”[2]

Interestingly, this same word is used in Scripture to describe people:

Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

1 Timothy 3.11

But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

2 Timothy 3.1-5

Depending on translation, this Greek word can be rendered as “slanderers” or “malicious gossips,” but the basic idea is clear enough: talking bad about people is diabolical. The Evil One is a slanderer. He is the Devil.

And here is the scary part: when we slander, when we talk badly or share untrue statements about people, we do not imitate Christ, but we are actively imitating the Devil. Being people who consistently speak in God-honoring ways is a huge challenge for followers of Jesus, and Scripture is full of admonitions regarding how we use our tongues and words (Ephesians 4.15; Colossians 4.6; James 3.6). This does not mean that we can never say anything negative about another person, but I do think it means that we should refrain from saying things about people that we wouldn’t say to them, that we should make sure that what we say is true, and that we should make sure that what we say is said in love. 

The Satan

This one may be the hardest of all for us to see initially, because we are so used to thinking of Satan as a name. But it is actually a title. Ha satan (הַשָּׂטָן) literally means “the adversary” or “the accuser”. It can be used in a general sense:

And the LORD raised up an adversary against Solomon, Hadad the Edomite.

(1 Kings 11.14a)

The Angel of Yahweh is referred to this way:

But God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the LORD took his stand in the way as his adversary.

(Numbers 22.22a)

But when the term is used with the definite article (“the”) before it, it specifically refers to the rebellious spiritual being who has set himself in opposition to the will of God. This is how he is described at the beginning of the Book of Job, as he brings the case of Job before God and stands as an adversary against Job, accusing him of possessing a love for God that is shallow and deficient. We see a similar characterization in the Book of Revelation, where the evil creature variously described as the great dragon, the ancient serpent, the devil and Satan hurls accusations against God’s people day and night (Revelation 12.9-10). The Evil One is an adversary of God’s people, who lobs accusations against them.

And here is the scary part: when we oppose and accuse God’s people, we are not imitating Christ, but rather, are actively imitating the Satan. This is challenging for me. There are a lot of believers who are different than I am in various ways. Some of these differences are significant, and at times it is tempting for me to magnify the differences and question the hearts and motive of people with whom I disagree. But this is dangerous spiritual ground to occupy. I am sometimes humbled by the words of Jesus in Mark 9.40: “For the one who is not against us is for us.” I struggle at times to know how to apply these words, but I know that my perspective is often closer to that of the disciples than Jesus. And I know that I don’t want to be an accuser or adversary of God’s people. I don’t want to imitate the Satan.

Conclusion

This has not been an exhaustive post—there are other titles of the Evil One (like, for example, “Evil One”!) that we could look at, but I think the general point has been established. Rather than talking about an evil figure named Satan, Scripture uses lots of titles to describe this character. These descriptions let us know what he is like and what his motives are, and should also provide conviction for us that, if we are not careful, we can in a very real sense imitate the Father of Lies, the Devil, the Satan. For those of us who are instead called to be imitators of Christ, this obviously will not do.

Father of mercies,

Forgive us our sins and shortcomings.

May your Spirit,

Day by day,

Transform us into the image of your Son, Jesus Christ.

Amen.


[1] I don’t have issues with people using Satan as a name; I am just pointing out that this is not a name in Greek or Hebrew, and is not how biblical authors used it.

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/slander

Self-Denial in a Self-Discovery World

One of the advantages of being a youth minister is that I have the opportunity to read and hear a lot of good teaching from a variety of different sources. Some of these are basically available to anyone (books, sermons, podcasts), while others I gain access to by traveling to different youth events and hearing gifted and thoughtful speakers.

A while back, I was blessed to listen to my friend Shannon Cooper, who made the point that we live in a society that is obsessed with self-discovery: for many, the central goal of life is to “find out who we are” so we can “be true to ourselves.” Self-help books constitute a lucrative industry. Discussions related to sexual and gender identity become issues of the utmost importance. We seek to define ourselves by our hobbies, or the music we listen to, or our peer groups.

There is a problem with this, though: self-discovery leaves us with no point of reference beyond ourselves. Fundamentally, it is limited, subjective, and, ultimately…selfish.

It is also not Christian. A more Christian way of thinking about identity is not based on self-discovery, but on self-denial and the imitation of Jesus.

And whoever does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

(Matthew 10.38-39)

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

(Matthew 16.24)

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

(1 Corinthians 11.1)

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(Galatians 2.20)

As Christians, we cannot force our worldview on nonbelievers (nor should we try to), but we should certainly hold ourselves and one another to that worldview. And the way of Christ is not about finding purpose and meaning through discovering “who we really are,” which is another way of saying “doing what we want to do.” Rather, it is about denying the urge to do what we want to do and instead to prioritize what Jesus wants us to do in partnering in His work to reconcile the world to Himself. This is where purpose and meaning is found.

Unsettled (And Why That Is A Good Thing)

It has been just over three weeks ago that my family and I moved to begin a new youth ministry work at a different congregation in a new city. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming, and we are so excited to be where we are. We were in a great place before, working with a great church, but ultimately, we decided to move because we became convinced that it was God’s will that we do so, and that decision has been affirmed and reaffirmed in so many ways since our move.

Having said all that, it has been challenging as well. One question I keep getting over and over is, “How are you settling in?”, and the best answer is probably that I am still very much unsettled. I knew this before, but I have come to realize just how much I am a product of routine, and virtually all of those routines have been interrupted. The familiar faces have changed, I am not sure which keys unlock which doors, and I have swapped a host of activities and trips that I could plan and lead in my sleep for others I have not experienced before and know little about.

For a person who likes to be in control, it’s all a little unsettling.

I suspect that I am not alone in this—either my desire to be in control, or my feelings of discomfort when I realize that I am not.

But what a valuable reminder this season of life is providing me! God does not ask me to construct a façade of control around myself seeking to find comfort in routine. Rather, He asks that I give up the notion of control itself, and place my trust, and indeed, my life, in His capable hands.

The heart of man plans his way,
but the LORD establishes his steps.
(Proverbs 16.9)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”—yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4.13-15)

It is unsettling…but I think the life that Jesus asks of His followers is supposed to be exactly that.

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