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From preliminary reviews, I expected this book (by George Weigel, a writer whose works and articles are must reading for me) to be a series of vignettes which highlighted stories the author witnessed (or heard about from others) during his eyewitness times with Pope John Paul II.  I also expected there to be lessons, if you will, in the hope that resulted from these stories as well as insights into John Paul’s character — what he valued, what “made him tick.”

This book, however, did not meet these expectations.  That does not mean I didn’t enjoy the book, but if you are desiring a book that does what the first paragraph above outlines, this book is not for you.

What Mr. Weigel does do is offer, really, his own “mini-autobiography” as it relates to how he came to know Pope John Paul II and how he ended up writing his biographies of the Pope (“Witness to Hope” and “The End and the Beginning”).  In this sense, he offers “autobiographical sketches” which show a fascinating and well-lived life.

The author assumes his readership is very familiar with Catholicism, Catholic history and the Catholic church which can make some of the reading something of a slog for Protestants such as myself.  However, ultimately, I gained a deeper understanding of the Catholic Church’s roots, its formation in the likeness of a nation, its bureaucratic shortcomings and, most enlightening, the contents of some historically important papal encyclicals.

Of the greatest importance, however, the book offers a penetrating look into what many Catholic Church leaders thought of the pope and the inner workings of the church itself, particularly since Vatican II.  It offers insights into John Paul’s thoughts on the relation of the gospel and religion to culture (it is foundational and without it culture decays and devolves) and the importance of objective truth (it is a necessary condition and understanding it/living by it essential to liberty), as well as what he viewed as challenges to be faced in the 21st century and how Christianity should prepare and offer answers.  We also see a John Paul who continually sought God, whose relationship to God formed the core of his being and informed his purpose and peace in this life and resulted in a historically impacting pontificate.

The engaged and perceptive reader will find insights, truths and wisdom on the importance and potential impact of the gospel in history — both epochally (with the fall of Communism being the prime example) and in individual lives.  And in finding these truths and their impacts, one finds indeed, a rich store of Lessons in Hope.

 

 

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A few weeks ago, I finished “Love Does” by Bob Goff.  I know … I’m late to the party as this was a “must read” in Christian circles like 5 years ago.  However, I was hesitant to read the book because, to listen to others gush about it, it sounded more kitsch and cant than substantive.  Now, having read the book, I’d say that some of that hesitancy was justified, BUT….

At its best, and that is often, the author provides motivation to “put legs” on their faith. It is, in this sense, a series of modern day parables (though they differ in that they are based on his and other’s life experiences) that emphasize what the book of James emphasizes — namely “What use is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.”

At its “less than best,” there are places in which the book comes across as a Tony Robbins/Robert Kiyosaki “you can do it” motivational book with religious (though Mr Goff would not want anyone associating his book with “religion”) bromides and bumper sticker theology substituting for deep seeking of God. Example: “…[God] doesn’t pass us messages, instead He passes us each other.” “…our understanding will always have gaps and gaps are good because they leave room for God to fill in the spaces.”
In addition, there is a persistent “religion is bad” undercurrent. True religion, as Scripture points out (James 1:27) does the very things Mr Goff advocates and encourages. While I understand Mr Goff actually means “empty religion” (that which is buoyed by legalistic rules, righteous cliques and gatekeepers more interested in their own power), the continual bashing of religion and claiming Jesus wasn’t religious is somewhat wearisome. To quote a MiddleTree blog review, “[The author sometimes] seems to forget the world, and the Church, needs the folks he subtly calls out: black & white thinkers, the ones who study theology, the ones who call out sin; in other words, the ones who are very different from him. These folks, subject to borderline derision in a few spots in “Love Does”, have their place, and play an important role in the world. If everyone was like them, it would be a disaster. But Goff seems to dismiss them altogether, or at least to minimize their importance.”

Thankfully, those kinds of things are not the emphasis of the book. The last few chapters, in particular, are spot on in calling the reader to put faith and love into action. So, despite the qualms, Love Does is a light, fun read in which the author uses his own experiences to tell great stories to highlight that following Jesus isn’t just a matter of “knowing the right things.” It is a matter of loving as Jesus loves, being His hands and feet — going and doing. And in so doing, we experience abundant life and we “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Bob Goff is one of those rare people who doesn’t just tell good stories; he lives them. And Love Does inspires you to follow his lead. It accomplished its main aim — getting me (the reader) to think about how to more actively love the people around me and who intersect in my life as well as to think about what my story can/should be in light of the gifts and passions God has instilled in me. And that makes this a worthwhile read and certainly commends the author.

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You will seek Me and fine Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
— Jeremiah 29:13 (NASB, italics/underline mine)

My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding— indeed, if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.
— Proverbs 2:1-5 (NIV, italics/underline mine)

If you find God with great ease, perhaps it is not God you have found.
— Thomas Merton

An impersonal God, well and good. A subjective God … inside our own heads, better still. A formless life-force surging through us, a vast power which we can tap, best of all. But God Himself, alive, pulling at the other end of the cord, … that is quite another matter. … There comes a moment when people who have been dabbling in religion (“Man’s search for God!”) suddenly draw back. Supposing we really found Him? We never meant it to come to THAT! Worse still, supposing He had found us?
— C.S. Lewis in “Miracles”

And yet, as Philip Yancey points out, the only thing more difficult than having a relationship with an invisible God is having no such relationship.

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The below is a repost of an article by Ken Wytsma which I thought worth sharing:

A friend … wondered if, at the end of the day, it’s possible to actually change the world. Doesn’t history show injustice and sin are intractable and constant?

I’ve faced this question many times. Many people believe the talk we hear about changing the world is simply triumphal and idealistic cheerleading designed to make us feel more important than we really are.

The truth is, those who believe we can’t change the world and those who believe we can are both pointing at deep truths in the nature of reality. One sees the fact that no matter what our efforts, we can’t permanently and fundamentally fix the world and eradicate evil from the human heart, while the other sees the fact that we can and do change the world every day in both small yet significant ways and, sometimes, in large and weighty matters. How are we to understand these two realities?

Back in grad school, studying philosophy, the whole exercise of clarifying an argument always hung on a distinction—separating out a conflated idea into two clear and distinct truths.

The distinction here is: Although we cannot fix the world, we can certainly change it.

My friend Keith Wright, International President of Food for the Hungry, has spent his life helping to grow healthy families and communities in the developing world. Recently, he shared with me a study by the World Bank that found extreme poverty, for the first time, has declined in every region of the developing world. Though that doesn’t mean we can fix every economic need in the world (after all, Jesus himself said we would always have the poor with us), it does mean, however, one significant and large element of the world is slowly changing for the better.

Another friend of mine is a very busy Urgent Care doctor in town. In spite of the demands of his career, Randy uses his own money and personal time to drive around a fully equipped medical van, ministering to homeless folks who have no other access to health services. Sometimes he treats frostbitten fingertips, and sometimes he literally saves a life.

Randy isn’t trying to fix every health need in town. He knows even the folks he helps will have more medical needs in the future, but he serves knowing, in that moment, what he does somehow fundamentally changes the world, if even in a small way.

Multiply these examples as more and more people heed the call to justice and love for fellow man and the amount of change that happens in the world can grow exponentially. This is why God commands us to do justice and why in the Old Testament he punished his people for neglecting justice, because what we do does make a significant difference for good or for bad in the world.

We don’t have to remake the world.

Just because we can’t control nature, eradicate all evil or ensure the hard-won gains of justice will last, does not mean we cannot bring about worthwhile positive change in the world. Change is fluid; cultures evolve and devolve.

Changing the world doesn’t guarantee our victories will be permanent. And that’s OK.

There are always those who will react to idealism and the ever-prevalent change-the-world language today by choosing to adopt a pessimistic outlook on the potential for deep and lasting change in the structures of the world.

We can be hopeful, without being triumphalistic, however, and we can be realistic, without being pessimistic.

Only God can fix the world; but as we fulfill our calling and carry God’s good news of salvation and healing and justice into the world, we become a very real part of changing it.

My friend Dave, who spends his life rescuing young girls from the sex trade, recently had a telling conversation along these lines while at the gym.

Dave was on the treadmill, and the guy beside him asked him what he did for a living.

“I save girls from the sex trade by ransoming them out of brothels and slavery.”

The man responded: “Isn’t that kind of futile? If you save one girl, won’t they just grab another one to replace her?”

Dave replied, “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.”

The man looked confused.

Dave continued, “I’m not qualified to say whether it really made a difference—you’d have to ask the girl I ransomed from the brothel if it made a difference to her.”

The world changes every day in both big and small ways. I want to watch where God is moving and join him there, recognizing changing the world is less about being heroic and more about being faithful.

The distinction is necessary: Just because we can’t fix the world, doesn’t mean we can’t—and don’t—change the world every day in significant ways.

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