We all know the power of first and last sentences in any great book. So as I complete the final three of my top twelve recommendations for this summer (I am off on a new journey of reading now), I want to do so by revealing the first and last sentences of each of the three. Then, I would like to reflect on why this might help you as a believer. If you are not a follower of Christ you should know that a Christian worldview requires that all things come under the Lordship of Christ that we may offer even the ordinary things of life to the glory and majesty of Christ Jesus our Lord, for He will have dominion over all things:
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV).
“To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:11 ESV);
“Whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11).
Therefore, from first to last, and to God’s glory, I give you my final three:
Winston’s War: Churchill 1940-1945 (Knopf, 2009) by Max Hastings: This extraordinary war time biography of a subject that many feel has been given his due, surpasses expectations. The first line is:
“Churchill was the greatest Englishman and one of the greatest human beings of the twentieth century, indeed of all time.”
The last line is,
“If his leadership through the Second World War was imperfect, it is certain that no other British ruler in history has matched his direction of the nation in peril, or, please God, is ever likely to find himself in circumstances to surpass it.”
And there is the power of this book. In between Maxwell’s opening estimation of Churchill, overly generous, perhaps, to some, lies the story of a unique man, who had been called a failure, washed-up, and unworthy of greatness, rising, out of the sheer God-gifted vision of freedom and a glorious and possibly idealistic understanding of Anglo-American place in history, to marshal a commanding force of good to overwhelm the most diabolical and potent expression of malevolence the world had known. Yet Maxwell’s closing helps the prospective reader to see that he was “imperfect.” The lesson I carry is that God uses imperfect people to accomplish great good in the world. I also re-discovered the epic story that I see in so many lives: the one who, today, may appear to be sidelined forever more, assumes, through Providence using human vision and will and the perfect convergence of circumstances, the one who leads tomorrow. This is a very hopeful note in history and a particularly encouraging one needed now. I highly recommend Winston’s War.
I move now, from biography, to a subject that caught my attention as I stood in line at Starbucks.
Onward: How Starbucks Fought for its Life without Losing its Soul (Rodale Books, 2011) by Howard Shultz with Joanne Gordon: Shultz, with the help of Joanne Gordon, has written an intriguing insider look at how a global corporation, whose name has become synonymous with coffee (not quite “Coke” yet, but getting very close), falls and then recovers. The book is written with a passion and force that is often missing in business books, or at least, to me, frequently comes across as getting really excited about something not that exciting after all. That is not present here. The book moves and you find yourself underlining, drawing on napkins, and pausing to think through your own challenges and how to recover the “first love” (actually “Love” is the title of his first chapter) in your life or ministry or business. If you are in leadership of an organization that is all about vision and mission, with the products being the expression of that vision and mission (and we all are) then this book may just inspire you to a time of positive reflection that could lead onward. Most business books don’t inspire me. This one did. It begins,
“Only weeks earlier, I had sat in my Seattle office holding back-to-back meetings about how to quickly fix myriad problems that were beginning to surface inside the company.”
While not the last line (I get to violate my own rules on this site), it is a line worth remembering:
“Starbucks is not a coffee company that serves people. It is a people company that serves coffee…”
This is the power of the book. From myriad problems to a fall and gimmicks that didn’t work to finally embracing the simple values that were lost beneath the corporate clutter, Shultz discovered the heart of his company. Maybe, better put, the company discovered the heart of their founder! Howard Shultz is a people person to be sure! So his words, his actions, and his expressions (one given to a straight Pike Place blend may not appreciate the exotic, syrupy, dark roasted Indonesian blend-like, love-fest-language of Shultz on every page) convey his core convictions. For me, the book was valuable to remind me that vision and mission are the nucleus of what we all do. As a servant to a seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, it caused me to think, not just strategically about the future ministry, but to think of our work as a living legacy, a movement, that has a heart and a soul that goes back to the founders on their knees praying for God to help them. It hearkens back to Reverend Sam Patterson going church to church to preach the Gospel and to raise up a new generation of pastors true to the Scriptures, the Great Commission, and the Reformed faith. As I applied the “common grace” aspects of this book, I began to think about how Christianity is not about an “idea of Jesus,” but about Jesus. The Great Commission is not an organizational movement only, it is, rather, a highly personal encounter, in imitation of the incarnational Christ. It may not do all of that for you. But maybe Onward will at least give you an insider’s view of the rise and fall and rise again of an organization that returned to the simple values of its founder. From there, I think good thinks might happen as you think about your life, your family, your faith, and, yes, maybe even the company or ministry you are involved with. For there should be excellence in all things and all things for Christ, as Dr. Jim Kennedy used to put it.
Finally, I offer my favorite devotional of the year:
Our Daily Walk (Christian Focus, 2010) by F.B. Meyer: Christian Focus Publications, that wonderful Scottish publishing company from Geanies House, Fearn, Ross-shire, whose output has become a staple of spiritual nourishment for any Bible-believing follower of the Lamb, excels in producing great devotional material. Indeed, our family is moving through their George Whitefield devotions (my son is actually leading us, as I am preparing him, Lord willing, to one day lead his own family [he is only seventeen and I am in no hurry to see that happen, but he is going off to university next year] in the evening, and I have been using Meyer’s wonderful devotional for personal times of meditation and prayer. I cannot commend it enough. Frederick Brotherton Meyer (1840-1929) was a great Baptist pastor whose robust evangelist ministry spanned two continents and two centuries. He was a church planter, a churchman, and a leading minister whose masterful Bible messages often formed a multiplication of books and tracts, this book being a prominent and very useful compilation of his meditations and fragments from his sermons. It is a treasure. In keeping with my opening lines and closing lines motif of these reflections, let me happily turn to this wonderful volume:
“As therefore ye received Christ Jesus, the Lord, so walk in Him” (Colossians 2:6 KJV); and
“We have to be taken into the dark, as sensitive paper, to receive impressions that will give pleasure and help to hundreds who could never pass through our experiences” (his reflections on Matthew 10:27, “What I tell you in darkness that speak ye in the light”).
As I close my summer reading list, I realize there is no end in the making of books. Yet, dear reader, you will do no better than to begin and end with reading the Bible, the Word of God, and then finding primary reading material, like F.B. Meyer’s Our Daily Walk, then, filling in with the fine offerings of other books. The latter will provide countless hours of curiosity, but the Word of God and those books which seek to explain and apply that Word will provide life, eternal life, and the mind of Christ which can discern truth from error, beauty from vanity, and soul-building nourishment from mind-numbing deprivation.
- David as Warrior – 1 Samuel 17: A Message Delivered to the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)
- The True Believer’s Declaration of Independence (michaelmilton.org)
- When God Calls: Genesis 12:1-2 (michaelmilton.org)
- You Were Made For Ministry: The Place of Good Works in the Life of God’s Grace (Ephesians 2.1-10) (michaelmilton.org)
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ Part Three: Jesus the Coming Judge and King (thirdmill.org)
- David as Shepherd – Psalm 23, A Message Delivered at the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)
- A Pentecost Message: I Believe in the Holy Spirit: John 14.15-21; 25-28 (michaelmilton.org)
- The Biblical Gospel (thirdmill.org)
- Nourish Every Grace (thirdmill.org)
- The Revelation of Jesus Christ: The Ever-Present-Help-in-Times-of-Trouble-King (thirdmill.org)
- Sermon on the Nativity of Jesus Christ (thirdmill.org)