Friday, March 14, 2014

Buffalo Stix for the Soul

I recently bought a quarter of a buffalo.  It's our third time buying one from Bob Jackson, whose skill and experience in raising bison results in some tasty, surprisingly inexpensive, and more importantly, truly natural meat.  But this time I did something different.  Bob offered me a chance to try some buffalo stix.  To be honest I didn't even know for sure what buffalo stix were.  Now that I've seen and tasted, I know they're precooked cylinders of buffalo meat, mixed with spices.  Because Bob and his team are perfectionists, his are not mixed with undesirable grades of meat or filler ingredients.  Think of them as Slim Jims that are good for you.  It's rare to find a food that is both convenient and truly nourishing.  These are.  (The downside is that they are expensive.)

Devotional books for Christians are plentiful, but unfortunately most of them are like Little Debbies.  Someone has said, "Sermonettes are for Christianettes" and a lot of devotionals are very light sermonettes.  But recently I came across two devotional books that are more like buffalo stix.  Their authors have struck that rare combination of depth and brevity. 

A Godward Heart by John Piper contains 50 such devotionals on a random assortment of topics and Scripture passages.  Piper's knack is identifying tensions in Scripture, how those tensions play out in our lives, and then carefully discovering how to live with balance.  For example: how Christians should respond to social media.  Piper explains the arguments for avoiding them altogether:
These media tend to shorten attention spans, weaken discursive reasoning, lure people away from Scripture and prayer, disembody relationships, feed the fires of narcissism, cater to the craving for attention, fill the world with drivel, shrink the soul’s capacity for greatness, and make us second-handers who comment on life when we ought to be living it. 
Piper acknowledges these problems, but still seeks ways to use them redemptively.  For example:

Now what about Twitter? I find Twitter to be a kind of taunt: “Okay, truth-lover, see what you can do with 140 characters! You say your mission is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things! Well, this is one of those ‘all things.’ Can you magnify Christ with this thimble-full of letters?”
To which I respond:
The sovereign Lord of the earth and sky
Puts camels through a needle’s eye.
And if his wisdom see it mete,
He will put worlds inside a tweet.
So pithy!  Here are a sampling of other deep issues he tackles with brief, but not superficial, answers.  Notice the precision with which he frames them:

  • How is God's passion for His glory not selfishness?
  • What is the place of confrontation in marriage?
  • How do you "give" God strength? (Psalm 96:7)
  • How shall we love our Muslim neighbor?
  • If you can be Godly and wrong, does truth matter?
  • When does God become 100% for us?  (Were the elect ever under His wrath?)
  • What makes an enjoyment idolatrous?
  • The rebellion of nudity and meaning of clothing
  • Why require unregenerate children to act like they're good?
  • If God wills disease, why should we try to eradicate it? 

The One Year Book of Psalms contains, as you might guess, a devotional for every day of the year, taking the reader not only through the book of Psalms but through several other key poetic passages of the Bible as well.  Many of the devotionals lead you to other parts of the Bible that relate to the Psalm you are studying.  But this book's greatest selling point is how it ties the Psalms in to post-biblical historical moments and figures who relied on those Psalms.  Sometimes we forget that we are not the first people to puzzle over, pray over, or praise over the psalter.  You'll learn why Alexander Duff preached from Psalm 107, why Psalm 50:16 smote Origen, why the church in Antioch sang Psalm 97, and which Psalm strengthened Spurgeon during a cholera epidemic. Each devotional also closes with a verse from a related hymn.

Compared with A Godward Heart, The One Year Book of Psalms has shorter, fluffier devotionals which require less thinking and make less impact.  But unlike A Godward Heart which deals with random topics, The One Year Book of Psalms takes you through an entire book of the Bible and illumines many other sections of the Bible.

When you are hungry for some spiritual meat but don't have the strength to read something long, you might add these two books to your menu.

I received both books for free from their publishers.  My reviews were not required to be positive.

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