Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully (book review)

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Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is, in my mind, a grand slam! It features one of my favorite poets (George Herbert), possibly the most prolific evangelist of history (George Whitefield), my all-time favorite author (C.S. Lewis), all tied together by my go-to theologian (John Piper). Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is part 6 in Piper’s series called “The Swans Are Not Silent.” 

George Herbert was a pastor of a small country church and a prolific poet who wrote almost all of his poems uniquely. “Of the 167 poems in The Temple, 116 are written with meters that are not repeated,” which even modern poets find astounding. George Whitefield spent more hours of his life preaching than he did sleeping, and he spoke with such a captivating style that he was quite possibly the first celebrity of the American colonies. C.S. Lewis wrote everything from history to fantasy, autobiography to poetry, theology to children’s novels. Peter Kreeft says of him, he “was not a man: he was a world.” 

John Piper finds in all three of these men a common thread: They all were able to not only see the beauty of God in everything, but they were able to express it in a beautiful way that drew in others to see the beauty of God for themselves. Pastor John calls this “poetic effort.” 

Pastor John also wrestles with how the profound creativity and eloquence of his three subjects meshes with the apostle Paul’s admonition that human eloquence could drain the Cross of Jesus of its power (see 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5). He concludes that poetic effort for the sake of exalting the speaker or poet does turn people’s eyes to man and away from God. But that poet, evangelist, or author that uses the beauty in God’s creation to point people to the Creator is doing so in a way in which God is supremely exalted. This, Pastor John says, is exactly what Herbert, Whitefield, and Lewis have done, and done so well that their poetic efforts are still fruitful and God-glorifying long after their deaths. 

Seeing Beauty And Saying Beautifully is a wonderful book for those who enjoy biographies, theology, or the craft of skilled artisans. If you don’t know about the poems of George Herbert, the preaching of George Whitefield, or the vast library of literature of C.S. Lewis, let this book be your doorway to a rich new world of discovery, enjoyment, and God-glorification. 

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John Adams (book review)

Listen to the podcast of this post by clicking on the player below, and you can also subscribe on Apple or Spotify.

I find David McCullough to be one of the most thorough, impartial, comprehensive, and engaging historians that I have read. These attributes—and many others—are on full display in his biography of our second president John Adams. 

Many have rightly called Thomas Jefferson the pen of the Declaration of Independence and John Adams the voice of the Declaration. But it’s not just this historic document for which Adams should be remembered, but the very form of government which we enjoy right now is a living tribute to his forceful and persuasive genius. 

This biography is brilliantly told by McCullough through the first-person accounts of Adams’ vast quantity of letters, as well as the letters written to and about him, and the contemporary newspapers of the day. McCullough takes us back to Adams’ boyhood home to give us a good understanding of the upbringing and family heritage that fueled his quest for learning and leading. From his first elected office, through his time in Europe advocating for the newly created United States of America, into his presidency, and then through his long retirement, Adams was tireless in his efforts to make this country the best it could be. 

For students of history or leadership, this is a remarkably insightful look into a man that was at the heart of so much of what characterizes our great nation today. I have other books about John Adams in my library, but David McCullough’s lengthy work is, in my opinion, the definitive source. 

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Book Reviews From 2020

Five Presidents (book review)

Some of my favorite books to read are in the categories of history and leadership. Five Presidents by Clint Hill is a treasure-trove of both history and leadership, giving us a front-row seat to the leadership styles of five United States presidents. 

Mr. Hill was on the presidential protection detail for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford. During his time, America experienced several “firsts” and Mr. Hill was right there to see them firsthand. During this time in our country’s history, only one of these presidents was elected, reelected, and finished both of his terms as president: Dwight Eisenhower. President Kennedy was assassinated, President Johnson finished JFK’s term but withdrew from running for reelection, President Nixon resigned during his second term, and President Ford became the only president to serve as both president and vice president without being elected to either office and then was defeated in his reelection bid. 

Five Presidents is not only an eye-opening, behind-the-scenes look at key historical events during the 1960s and ’70s, but it is also an informative study on the different leadership styles of these five unique men. Eisenhower ran the executive branch like a general, Kennedy was an idealist, Johnson used brute force, Nixon started off well and allowed his own insecurities to derail him, and Ford served as the “ordinary man” trying to clean up the mess left by his predecessor. 

Mr. Hill also documents the changes in the operations of the Secret Service. When he began his assignment, there were no bullet-proof presidential vehicles, no protection for presidential candidates (only elected officials), no permanent residence for the vice president, and no Air Force Two. By the time he retired, all of these things—and many more—had been implemented. 

Whether you enjoy history, leadership, or presidential biographies, Five Presidents will be a highly enjoyable and informative book for you. 

The Daring Heart Of David Livingstone (book review)

I’ll be honest: I only knew one small story about David Livingstone prior to reading The Daring Heart Of David Livingstone by Jay Milbrandt, and now I’m kicking myself that I didn’t learn more about this amazing man much earlier! 

Dr. Livingstone was a missionary, a world-renown explorer, and an avid abolitionist. Very rarely have I come across a biography that reads like a novel, but this book is just that! Milbrandt is a brilliant storyteller, and he makes the biography of Livingstone so intriguing that I could scarcely put it down. I love how many of Livingstone’s personal letters and diary entries are included in this book, as it almost makes it feel more like a memoir or autobiography. 

Dr. Livingstone first went to Africa as a missionary but then gained fame as an explorer, becoming the first man to traversing Africa on foot—from the Atlantic coast to the Indian Ocean. He wrote a book about these travels (including the people he met, the animal and plant life he observed, and the stories of the dangers he faced), which gave him celebrity status in England. So much so that when he wanted to return to Africa, both the London Missionary Society and the Royal Geographical Society wanted to be his sending agency. 

Livingstone desperately wanted to see the end of slavery on the African continent, and returned to Africa with that sole focus burning in his heart. Along the way, he met with massive struggles—some self-imposed and some unavoidable in the harsh environment of interior Africa. Yet through all of these hardships, Livingstone repulsed at the idea that anything he ever went through could be called a sacrifice, stating emphatically: “I never made a sacrifice!” 

Milbrandt writes, “Livingstone died perhaps believing he had failed in every aspect. Yet, in the few short years after his death, everything Livingstone had worked for had come to fruition.” Including the complete eradication of the foul slave trade across the African continent. 

What an amazing example for leaders to aspire to follow today! 

(Tomorrow I will share some quotes from David Livingstone that you won’t want to miss!) 

Book Reviews From 2019

The Essential Jonathan Edwards (book review)

Some have called Jonathan Edwards the greatest American theologian, and I think it would be very hard to dispute that. Not only was he a brilliant thinker, but Edwards was also a prolific speaker and writer. So Owen Strachan and Douglas Sweeney have taken on a monumental challenge in attempting to give us an accurate glimpse of this important man in their book The Essential Jonathan Edwards. 

The first part of the book is a short biography of Edwards’ life. The biography is told alternating between the biography of Strachan and Sweeney and the words Edwards recounted in his sermons and memoirs. 

The remainder of the book attempts to give the reader a sense of Edwards’ thoughts on topics such as the beauty of God’s creation, the joy of experiencing God’s pleasure, the essential nature of the Christian life, and the after-life. These topics are covered in the same way as the biographical portion—alternating between the actual words of Jonathan Edwards and the summation of Strachan and Sweeney. 

I found this book a bit frustrating. I would have preferred a more traditional biography of this great man or a collection of Edwards’ sermons verbatim. But the alternation between Edwards’ words and Strachan and Sweeney’s thoughts didn’t flow very well for me. 

My recommendation would be to either read George Marsden’s full or shortened biographies of Edwards, or simply read a collection of Edwards’ sermons. 

I am a Moody Press book reviewer.

8 Prayers From “Dangerous Prayers”

Dangerous Prayers give a brief biography of 50 culture-shifting people, and the world-changing prayers they prayed. Check out my full book review by clicking here, and then enjoy just a few of the prayers from this excellent book. 

“Listen to my supplication, Master, so that my soul doesn’t stagger under Your instruction, so that I don’t stumble in testifying to Your mercies, by which You tore me away from all my ruinous pathways. Thus You’ll grow sweet to me beyond all that led me wrong, in my willingness to follow it. Thus I’ll love You most mightily, and grasp Your hand with all the strength of my inmost being. Thus You’ll tear me away from every trial, clear to the end.” —Augustine 

“Restore me to liberty, and enable me so to live now that I may answer before Thee and before the world. Lord, whatever this day may bring, may Thy name be praised. Amen.” —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while awaiting execution in a Nazi concentration camp 

“Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us—the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty—all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we may say: ‘I will go unto the king and if I perish, I perish.’” —W.E.B. DuBois 

“Because we have need continually to crave many things at Your hands, we humbly beg You, O heavenly Father, to grant us Your Holy Spirit to direct our petitions, that they may proceed from such a fervent mind as may be agreeable to Your holy will.” —John Knox 

“O keep us, we beseech Thee, Lord, for without Thy keeping we cannot keep ourselves.” —Charles Spurgeon 

“Oh Jesus, You who suffer, grant that today and every day I may be able to see You in the person of Your sick ones and that, by offering them my care, I may serve You. Grant that, even if You are hidden under the unattractive disguise of anger, of crime, or of madness, I may recognize You and say, ‘Jesus, You who suffer, how sweet it is to serve You.’” —Mother Teresa 

“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have you, and the State over which you preside, in His holy protection, that He would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow Citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that He would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble invitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.” —George Washington 

“God give me a deep humility, a well-guided zeal, a burning love, and a single eye, and then let men or devils do their worst.” —George Whitefield 

Dangerous Prayers (book review)

Prayer changes things. That makes prayer dangerous and the pray-ers themselves a danger to anything that opposes the kingdom of God. Dangerous Prayers is a collection of powerful prayers and a brief biography of those who prayed them. 

Growing up, a constant refrain rang in my ears from my parents whenever I faced a problem: “Have you prayed about it?” I’m not sure why we make prayer our last resort instead of our first response, but it often seems that some of the most heartfelt, passionate prayers are offered up in the darkest of times. 

Dangerous Prayers offers a short biography of some world-changing people who changed the world in large part because of their desperate dependence on God’s help, as seen in the frequent and bold prayers they prayed. Many of these prayers were prayed in dark places—prisons, before the executioner, in the midst of war, in unimaginable poverty, or staring down the evils of slavery. These men and women repeatedly turned to God, and God repeatedly strengthened them to accomplish amazing things. Some of the answers to prayer came in their lifetimes, and some prayers were only answered long after they had died. 

Dangerous Prayers is an excellent coffee table book. By that, I mean it’s a great book to leave out in the open as a conversation-starter. Parents could read these short biographies and prayers with their children, and friends could use them as a bridge from past history to current events. But more than anything, keep Dangerous Prayers close at hand will—I sincerely hope—cause you to turn to prayer frequently and boldly. 

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer. 

Book Reviews From 2018

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