Friday, August 24, 2007

The Grand Weaver - Ravi Zacharias

Zacharias shows us how to see and experience God’s hand in every situation.

The Grand Weaver: How God Shapes Us Through the Events of Our Lives
Author: Ravi Zacharias
Publisher: Zondervan
Pages: 200

Imagine each area of your life as a thread that God uses to fulfill the design he has in mind for you. "His design for your life pulls together every thread of your existence into a magnificent work of art. Every thread matters and has a specific purpose." Zacharias goes on to remind us that "God holds the threads; you hold the shuttle. Move it at God’s behest, and watch the making of something spectacular."

That’s the purpose of this book: to keep us moving from a threadbare existence to a tapestry that reflects the beauty and glory of God. Zacharias assures that this is God’s ultimate end. "We will be ‘re-created,’ and all the threads of our earthly life will come together for the design that we will experience in heaven. Every tribe, every language, every moment, every pain, every sorrow will come together in the consummate pattern of God’s design."

In each chapter Zacharias unravels specific threads vital to every Christian: uniqueness, disappointments, calling, morality, spirituality, will, worship and destiny. Regardless of the topic, the theme remains the same: "seeing the designing hand of God and his intervention in our lives in such a way that we know he has a specific purpose for each of us and that he will carry us through until we meet him face-to-face and know ourselves completely."

But he asks, "How can you see the divine intersection of all that shapes and marks your existence, whether it be the heart-wrenching tragedies that wound you or the ecstasy of a great delight that brings laughter to your soul? How can you meet God in all your appointments and your disappointments? How can you recognize that he has a purpose, even when all around seems senseless, if not hopeless?"

It begins when we "accept the wonder and marvel of one’s own personality, however flawed or ‘accidental,’ and place it in and trust it to the hands of the One who made it." Zacharias reckons that as one of the greatest achievements in life.

Chapter 2 focuses on three practical steps to make the pattern of God’s work more visible. The first step involves the heart. God looks for tender hearts that He can imprint. The second involves the mind. We must learn to trust that God is in control and believe that He has a purpose for our lives. Last but not least is the importance of the cross. It was said of F. W. Boreham, a man Zacharias considers a primary influence, that regardless of where he started, he made his way to the cross, and that is precisely what Zacharias does here. "How much more can we understand suffering when we see it through the eyes of the One who defines good and evil, comfort and suffering, and who went to the cross to deal with it? Is this not the only way we can understand and cope with our own suffering? We must see the world of pain through the eyes of Jesus, who best understands it not merely as pain but as brokenness and separation."

Though known for his defense of the Christian faith, this book is more devotional than theological. It’s not a doctrinal exposition of the sovereignty of God or a book about finding God’s will for your life. Rather, Zacharias covers the various areas of our life that may need adjustment so that we can see and experience more fully God’s hand fulfilling the unique destiny that He has in mind for us.

He expertly handles a subject that probably few have made so practical. Zacharias makes it personal by sharing stories and insights gained from years of experience. There’s a wealth of wisdom on every page. As is the case with writers like C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and Malcom Muggeridge (a few favorites of Zacharias), it may take more than one reading to apprehend all the treasures. Christian leaders looking for nourishment or some morsel to pass on to their hungry flocks will find plenty to satisfy themselves and others. Hope is communicated to all.

Zacharias covers so much ground that sometimes the threads of his writing seem to hang together loosely, but he weaves it all together by continually returning to his theme. Some parts are challenging. It’s often illuminating and always encouraging.

This is not Ravi Zacharias the apologist, defending the faith. It’s Ravi Zacharias, serving as a friend, beckoning us onward.

Zacharias is always worth reading, but this may be among his most important books because of the subject matter. What could be more valuable than seeing and experiencing God redeeming every aspect of our broken lives?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Far Country - Andrew Peterson

Andrew Peterson is one of my favorite artists. I think he's underrated, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because he started out with folk-leanings, but his last major release, The Far Country, featured more rock.

After hearing this recording for the first time, my sister commented how much Andrew reminds her of the late Rich Mullins. In the following review, which I wrote shortly after its release, I traced the parallels between Andrew and Rich.

I like the artwork on the album cover.

Andrew Peterson directs our attention from the far country to our home in heaven.

Andrew Peterson makes it easier to bear the loss of Rich Mullins. Since Rich left in a whirlwind and chariot of fire, Andrew may come closer than anyone to catching his mantle. The poetic and whimsical verse, the otherworldly view, the storytelling, and the acoustic rock sound are all here.

It’s what makes The Far Country worth repeated listens. For now we are in the far country, but heaven is our home, and we long for it. The life that awaits us more than makes up for death and loss. This is the theme that emerges.

One song that captures some of this is the "Queen of Iowa." The inspiration came from a woman that was a big fan of Andrew’s music, who was dying of a number of AIDS related illnesses. Her church was generous enough to fly Andrew and Ben Shive out to perform in her living room. Andrew sings of seeing her, "She was as pretty as a flower in a crystal vase that lights up the room as it withers away." Though dying she was more alive than those around her, and Andrew knew that he would never be the same. It’s a touching and beautiful song.

"Lay Me Down," is Andrew’s "Elijah," the song by Rich Mullins that so fittingly eulogized his life. Andrew sings, "When you lay me down to die, I’ll miss my boys, I’ll miss my girls / Lay me down and let me say goodbye to this world / You can lay me anywhere but just remember this, when you lay me down to die, you lay me down to live." It may be somewhat ironic for a song about one’s passing, but the music, which includes some stellar electric guitar, makes me feel more alive. It’s a song that makes you want to sing and dance on the inside if not outwardly.

"Little Boy Heart" has a Bruce Hornsby energy with its sound and piano work. It’s no accident since Andrew acknowledges his admiration for his work. The title conveys a little of the adventure in the lyrics. It’s enough to make one long for a revived sense of childlike exuberance and wonder.

"Mystery of Mercy" features beautiful hammer dulcimer work that would make Rich proud as Andrew asks a somewhat different question, "My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?"

As a single person who has struggled with relationships, when I read that "For the Love of God" was written for a dear friend, "who was terrible with relationships," it made me want to laugh. The honesty was refreshing. Andrew promised his friend that if he ever married, which seemed unlikely, he would write this song. He says, "What little I know about love between a man and a woman is in this song." It’s a great song that would be a meaningful addition to any wedding.

"More," written with critically-acclaimed folk artist Pierce Pettis, is about heaven and fittingly closes the recording. It’s a masterpiece of pure folk.

I liked the sparseness that I heard on Love and Thunder, Andrew’s previous release, but the slightly fuller sound on this recording is likely to appeal to more people. The music is more cohesive with less fluctuating between the extremes of sparseness and fullness. The electric guitar is a little more prominent, providing more of a rock edge to a few songs. The bluegrass heard on the last recording is absent. Most songs are a blend of mid-tempo folk, pop and rock. The production, musicianship and artistry are all top-notch.

Since I discovered him on his Clear to Venus recording, Andrew Peterson has been one of my favorite artists. If you are unfamiliar with his music, The Far Country is a great place to get to know him.

There will never be another Rich Mullins, but Andrew Peterson directs us toward home in a way that makes it a little easier to live in the far country. This is a look to heaven that alternates between hope, yearning and joy.

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