Voice Of A Prophet (book review)

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I’ve always appreciated A.W. Tozer’s prophetic voice. By that I mean, his unabashed call for Christians to live up to the Christlike standard given to us in the Scriptures. But in Voice Of A Prophet, Tozer hits a little closer to home for me (and for all of us who are in ministry positions) as he specifically calls on pastors to live up to the prophetic standard given to us in the Bible. 

Sometimes people misunderstand the title “prophet” to be one who foretells future events. At times, that is the function of a prophet, but primarily the prophet is more of a forthteller than a foreteller. The prophet is called upon to boldly proclaim God’s truth and tell forth where godly people are falling short. Prophets are God’s messengers to God’s people, usually sent to reawaken His people to truths that they have forgotten or strayed from. 

Tozer calls modern-day pastors and preachers—those he calls “the sons of the prophets”—to look to the prophetic fathers of the Scripture. He calls us to live up to the God-fearing standard of the prophets like Elijah, Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Jesus. He forthtells how too many have succumbed to the voice of culture instead of adhering to the voice of their Lord, and how they have traded “Thus saith the Lord” for “Thus saith me.” 

The opening chapter of Voice Of A Prophet reprints a prayer that Tozer wrote out when he was ordained in 1920. Part of that prayer for himself should remain a prayer for all who are called by God to be pastors today: “Let me stand before the great or minister to the poor and lowly; that choice is not mine, and I would not influence it if I could. I am Thy servant to do Thy will, and that will is sweeter to me than position or riches or fame and I choose it above all things on earth or in heaven.”

Voice Of A Prophet is an important read for those in pastoral ministry. FAIR WARNING: You will be challenged and convicted by Tozer’s timeless words! But if you will heed those words, God will be pleased to bless your efforts. I would also recommend this book to anyone who would like to know how they can better support and pray for their pastor, as I think they will find valuable insights in this book. 

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Talking To GOATs (book review)

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I’m a student of leadership, so I love to learn about what makes leaders “tick,” how they overcome obstacles and deal with adversity, and watch how they prepare themselves to be the best they can be. Broadcaster Jim Gray has had a front-row seat (literally!) to some of the most outstanding athletes in recent history, and he unpacks his stories about these leaders in his book Talking To GOATs. 

For those of you wondering, GOAT stands for “greatest of all time.” We’re talking about people who stand out from their peers over a long period of time, those who set the standard for everyone else, those who have so excelled that their sport has had to change things up to try to accommodate them! Superstars like Muhammad Ali, Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Mike Tyson, Hank Aaron, and Michael Phelps. 

Jim Gray’s book is a behind-the-scenes look at not only the hard work he put in to produce and present interviews with these GOATs, but also insights rarely seen of the intense work these athletes put in to become the GOATs of their particular sport. Jim shows us how both he and these athletes deal with setbacks, criticism, the challenges that come with success, and their own internal drive to keep being the best. 

This book isn’t all about athletes, but it’s a bit of a memoir of Jim’s life too. I really enjoyed learning about the role that Jim’s parents, and especially his dad, played in helping Jim get into these “front row seats” to cover these amazing athletes. Jim is also very candid about how he has processed the inevitable criticism that comes from interviewing a certain athlete in a way that not every fan appreciated. It was a very enjoyable read. 

The sports fans in your life will almost certainly know who Jim Gray is, and they will love hearing what went into some of the more memorable moments in sports broadcasting. My son gave me this book as a gift and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so I know that the sports fans that you love will also give you kudos if you send Talking To GOATs their way.

The Art Of Writing And The Gift Of Writers (book review)

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I am eternally grateful to my high school English teachers who not only taught me the fundamentals of reading literature and writing in different styles, but who immensely sharpened my skills. But can you imagine having C.S. Lewis as a writing mentor? That’s what you are getting when you read The Art Of Writing And The Gift Of Writers. 

This book is compromised of essays and book reviews written by Lewis, interviews that Lewis gave, and even a transcript of an extemporaneous conversation with other authors who had congregated in Lewis’ rooms at Magdalen College. 

Learning how a gifted writer like Lewis crafted his own books was insightful, as well as how he interpreted the writing process of other authors. He even talked about how he choose to handle literary critics. But most energizing of all for me was the freedom he gave me to be myself in the writing process. He made it abundantly clear that other authors shouldn’t try to emulate his literary style—nor any other author’s style either—but to use their unique talents to write their unique works of literature. 

Since Lewis has been one of my favorite authors for most of my life, I found the journey into his mind to be absolutely fascinating. I would recommend this book for any author, aspiring author, or fellow fan of C.S. Lewis’ books and essays. 

The Pilgrim’s Progress (book review)

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Charles Spurgeon said of John Bunyan, “Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God.” Although this can be said of all Bunyan’s books and sermons, it is abundantly clear in The Pilgrim’s Progress. 

In my mind it’s easy to classify this book as “a classic” because of its enduring message. The journey through life for pilgrims like Christian, Hopeful, Faithful, Christiana, and you and me resonate with readers all over the world. In over the nearly 350 years since this book was first published, the pilgrimage has connected with Christians and seekers alike because it is the pilgrimage we are all on. 

In The Pilgrim’s Progress it’s not hard to identify the biblical messages because Bunyan literally names them for what they are, using names like Talkative, Mr. Worldly Wiseman, the Giant Despair, Mr. Great-heart, the Interpreter, and many more. Some biblical stories are portrayed in this book just as they are in the Bible, while others are fairly easily seen for all modern-day pilgrims to learn their lessons. 

As I’ve said before about this book, it’s an excellent one for parents to read aloud to their children. Then as their kiddos get a bit older, there is an easy-to-read version called Little Pilgrim’s Progress for them to read on their own. But I still highly recommend the original version of Bunyan’s classic in its 17th-century English. To me, the Old English in a story like this makes it feel like an epic adventure story, which, in fact, it is because it is every Christian’s story still to this day. 

I can’t urge you enough to make The Pilgrim’s Progress a friend that you visit often.

Miracles Out Of Somewhere (book review)

Fans of the band Kansas will recognize that the title of Kerry Livgren’s book is just a slight variation from one of the band’s well-known songs. Miracles Out Of Somewhere recognizes both the miracles and the Source of those miraculous encounters. 

For my listening enjoyment, I am always quick to pull up anything written by Kerry Livgren—his solo work, Kansas, AD, or Proto-Kaw are musical masterpieces and lyrically enriching. One of Kerry’s songs was entitled “Miracles out of nowhere,” in which we are surprised by the serendipitous occurrences that cross our paths. But in this book, Kerry makes it clear that he sees God at work in his life. 

Miracles Out Of Somewhere is a memoir spanning all of Kerry’s life. He takes us back to his boyhood home, to the pre-Kansas days, to the heyday of Kansas, and to his life since leaving the popular rock band. The book is not written in chronological order, but almost as if Kerry were sitting on the front porch and reminiscing with you. 

I have always found Kerry (and all his Kansas bandmates) to be very down-to-earth guys. They enjoyed their success without letting it go to their head. This book has that same accessible, guy-next-door feel to it, which makes it extremely engaging and enjoyable. Kerry simply shares his stories and lets the reader come to their own conclusion of what sort of miracle may (or may not) have happened. 

If you enjoy the music of Kerry Livgren, I think you will appreciate the messages in his songs even more after taking this behind-the-scenes tour with him. 

ADDED BONUS REVIEW: The band Kansas has a rockumentary about the band’s beginnings and its “miracles” that put them on top of Billboard’s greatest hits. This Miracles Out Of Nowhere DVD is very enjoyable and well worth the time of any Kansas fan. 

To The Work! (book review)

Dwight Moody wasn’t a trained theologian nor a polished orator. He was a former shoe salesman-turned-preacher who spoke the common language of his parishioners. To The Work: Exhortations to Christians perfectly captures his voice and style. 

The definition of exhortation means to persuade, inspire, or encourage, but it usually carries the idea that those things are being delivered with some urgency. Perhaps the one being exhorted is moving too slowly, or too recklessly, or too immaturely. The exhortation is intended to get their attention and get them back on track. 

This book is a collection of addresses to folks in the church. Moody exhorts them to get to the work of telling others about Jesus. In address after address, he dismantles all the excuses folks have used through the years. Things like: I’m not skilled, I am afraid, I don’t know very many people, why would anyone listen to me, is my life even making a difference? Moody’s exhortation is consistent: You are empowered and commanded by Jesus to get to the work! 

This is an excellent book to use as a means of encouraging both yourself and fellow Christians to fully embrace the mandate that Jesus gave to all of us: Go into ALL the world and preach the Gospel! 

Book Reviews From 2020

The Valley Of Fear (book review)

I don’t often add fictional books into my reading rotation, but when I do I want something excellent. I’ve always been fond of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, but The Valley of Fear is a cut above! 

Doyle was a medical doctor. Probably because of my medical/science background, I’ve always found Dr. Doyle’s scientific observations through the eyes and brain of his first-rate detective to be quite intriguing. I also appreciate how Doyle gives his readers all of the same evidence that Sherlock Holmes observes so that the solution becomes an enlightening “Aha!” moment. 

The Valley Of Fear had an added dimension to it. The main part of the crime is solved fairly early in the story, but then one of the characters hands Dr. Watson a written narrative that turns out to be the backdrop to the commission of the crime. Dr. Watson then spends almost all of the remainder of the book telling the story that was given to him. So the crime is committed, the crime is solved, and then we read an in-depth account of what led to the crime. Just as with all of Doyle’s stories, all of the clues are readily available in this narrative, which makes the “Aha!” culmination of this behind-the-scenes narrative all the more satisfying. 

This book is a wonderful way to either start your Sherlock Holmes reading adventure or continue your enjoyment of these wonderfully-rich stories. 

The Screwtape Letters (book review)

Sun Tzu taught, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” With that maxim in mind, if you read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, you will gain insight into the enemy’s tactics, unlike perhaps any other source. 

Lewis said this book was an easy book for him to write, but it gave him no joy to write it. Exposing the dark strategies of satan and his ugly cohort is indeed a joyless business. But even the apostle Paul tells us that we shouldn’t be unaware of the devil’s schemes. 

If you are a Christian and you read this book, you need to reverse your thinking. This book is a series of letters from Screwtape, a more experienced demon, to his nephew Wormwood who has just been given his first “patient” to seduce into hell. Whereas Christians call God their Father, in this book Screwtape refers to satan as “our Father” and God as “the Enemy.” 

Perhaps the most insightful part to me of this amazing book is the subtlety of the temptations which are employed to trip up Christians and keep seekers away from the truth. In fact, at several points Screwtape warns Wormwood that he is trying too hard to use something huge to bring down his patient when only the smallest of things will do the trick. 

I would encourage newer Christians to wait a while to read this book. In the meantime, read the Bible as much as you can—get to know the Real before you read about the counterfeit. For more mature Christians, however, this is an important book to read. 

(As a brief aside, in reading The Screwtape Letters this time through, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Joss Ackland and he delivered a phenomenal performance!) 

In Such Good Company (book review)

I grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show. The interaction between Carol, her special guests, and regular cast members Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway, were always enjoyable. In In Such Good Company, Carol takes us behind the scenes to tell us how the magic happened. 

What goes into such a successful show that won 25 Emmy Awards over its 11-year run? Is it good fortune? Lots of talented people? Hard work? The answer is quite simply: Yes. Of course, those of us enjoying the show week after week were unaware of the hard work and good fortune that was at play. And although we saw several talented actors, musicians, and dancers on stage each week, there were dozens of unseen, talented people that were just as crucial to the show’s success. 

I choose the audiobook version, and I’m glad I did. Carol read her own book, adding a personal touch that I would have otherwise missed by reading it myself. In addition, the audiobook also includes interviews with some of the key personnel that made the show what it was. 

Carol and her team loved what they were doing. They were talented people who continued to work extremely hard to hone their craft. All of us who watched the show were beneficiaries of these talented people. I loved going behind all of the lights and cameras to hear from Carol herself how this all came together. 

If you enjoyed watching The Carol Burnett Show, I’ll bet you will find yourself appreciating it even more after you hear/read Carol’s recollections. 

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