Book Review of The Pleasure of His Company by Dutch Sheets

“Pleasure is not only determined by the things we do, but by the company we keep.”

Some say that Almighty God wants us to have a close relationship with him, and enjoys spending time with us. One part of this idea naturally appeals to me, but another part resists it. It seems a little too good to be true, and besides, he has a universe to run, and billions of suffering people to attend to, so how would he have time to chat? And how do we spend time with someone we cannot see or audibly hear? So, with these divergent feelings, I was excited at the opportunity to read this book by Dutch Sheets, hoping to find some clarity through the perspective of a well-known author who has a good knowledge of scripture.

The Pleasure of His Company is a cheerful book! It consists of thirty chapters of about eight pages each, which can be read as an inspirational book or as a devotional. I used it as both. At the end of the chapters are prayers based on scriptures. Each chapter focuses on a different angle of drawing near to God, and leads us to consider an easy shift in our routine that can help us leave the noise and busyness behind, and find peace in God’s presence.

The first chapter, “The Person”, set the tone. The author muses about the definition of pleasure, relating some humorous personal thoughts and family personalities. Then, rather than theologically listing God’s attributes, he describes him as one would describe a loved one; a loved one whose way of life on this earth attracted the most extraordinary people, whose divinity brought about one-of-a-kind events, and who set in motion global spiritual transformation. Someone, in other words, far surpassing anyone you’ll ever meet in character and fame, yet, as the author asks, “What if I told you this man requests the pleasure of your company…He created us, mere humans, because he wanted a family, not distant servants.” My reaction to the question was, “I don’t know if I believe that, but keep talking! Keep trying to convince me!”

The Pleasure of His Company 9781441261113I oppose overly-chummy—almost disrespectful—approaches toward our holy God, but I cannot deny that Jesus taught us to call God “Abba”, which means “Dad”. I appreciate that Dutch Sheets gives the scripture context that I require to ensure that, far from being a recent spiritual fad, this is what was intended all along since the creation of the human race. He has read between the lines of scripture, and noticed what is said, what is not said, from many different angles.

The author’s voice is welcoming and friendly, speaking from the heart about his own desire to draw near to God. He is trying to lead us (as Jesus was when he met the woman at the well) “out of the blinding fog of non-relational religion”. The pages are packed with exactly the kind of encouragement we need to seriously consider making more time and space in our lives to better know our Creator, with thoughts and emotions that are so basic to humanity that anyone can relate. They show a life of following Christ as something joyful, spent with Someone who delights in us; not our religious activities, not how much money we give to charities, not how morally good we are, but—as parents understand—us, his treasured children.

More than any other inspirational book, this one encourages me to believe that our Father in heaven takes immense pleasure in our company—not only as groups, communities or nations—but as individuals.

[I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany House book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review; the opinions I have expressed are my own.]

Revolution in World Missions

I kept running into a book entitled Revolution in World Missions: One Man’s Journey to Change a Generation by K.P. Yohannan. This book seemed to follow me from one bookstore to the next and insist that I bring it home, and I’m glad I ultimately did.

From the title I assumed it was one man’s journey to change a generation of people who had never heard the gospel of Christianity, and that assumption was partly correct. I’ve read biographies of missionaries and found them inspiring, but already had some biographies at home I hadn’t read yet, so I wasn’t going to buy another one. But when about twenty copies of this book were stacked near the cash register of a book store and offered for free, I took one, intending to give it away or donate it somewhere.

Before donating Revolution in World Missions, however, I decided to read a bit. But after reading the first few chapters describing K.P. Yohannan’s drive to share his faith among his people, and his culture shock at experiencing Western values and churches, I was hooked and couldn’t put it down.

I now know that this book is also about one man’s journey to change a generation of Christians who have been numbed into inactivity by their own ignorance and their wealthy, comfortable culture. Hopefully, it will lead us out of our often purposeless and restless lives back to our commission to share the gospel.

In the first part of the book, the author describes seeing Americans taking wealth for granted, and being alarmed at how misplaced the spiritual values of believers were. He immediately sensed the awesome judgment that was hanging over this country (my beloved native land!), at the same time as he marveled at the supply of fresh water, electrical power, telephones and paved roads.

He was surprised at how Americans seemed to need noise and to be entertained, and how important eating and drinking and large church buildings were. After being given an offering at a church, he was horrified to see that the food and fellowship that followed cost more than the money that had just been donated to missions. His perspective was similar to my own growing discomfort with this disparity, and I felt a kindred spirit.

Yohannan went on to note that religion is a multi-billion dollar business in the U.S. and his experience with American churches and Christian media showed him how much time and money are spent on activities unrelated to Christianity. He quotes statistics that 80% of the world’s people have never owned a Bible, while Americans have an average of four in every household, and that only a tiny 0.1% of all Christian radio and television programming is directed toward the unevangelized world. Most religious media, he says, is “entertainment for the saints.” He found a church in spiritual decline, yet knows that God wants His Church to recover its moral mandate and sense of mission.

He quotes C.S. Lewis as saying, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this [hell]. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, ‘All will be saved’.” Yet the scriptures say otherwise, therefore, the author says, the Christian mandate to share the life- and world-changing gospel needs to be a priority over the “social gospel”—social work that meets only the physical needs of a culture.

Yohannan believes that God has called him to the West to bring awareness of the needs of his countrymen in India, and find “senders” to pray for and finance the nationals who carry the gospel to their own neighbors. Of all the author’s surprising statistics, this one had the most impact on me: it costs between $40,000 and $80,000 per year to support a Western missionary on the mission field. Yet in India, for only the cost of the flight from New York to Mumbai, a national missionary can work for years!

I admire the honesty and integrity of this man enough to put my money where my mouth is by contributing to the organization which he founded, Gospel for Asia, which sends 100% of donations to the work of the gospel. I recommend this book to anyone who recognizes the spiritual and physical needs of the many peoples in the world, and believes that the message of Jesus Christ is the answer to those needs.

If you want a free copy of this book, the GFA website offers Revolution in World Missions and also many other free resources and valuable information.  For the printed book, go here.  For the electronic book, go here.]

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson

This is not your standard book review. It’s more like a reaction…

Review of Gilead, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, by Marilynne Robinson ©2004

I’d heard of this book somewhere, then my mom said that she heard it mentioned on a radio show discussing excellent Christian literary fiction. Then the clincher was that two women in my writing group were talking about reading it as we were leaving our meeting. They are such lovely women, but they have never given me the impression that they are concerned with religion or spiritual things, so this really got my attention.

So I decided, okay, this book is worth reading, and reading NOW (not in a year or 2 when I’ll get it from the library or a used bookstore). So I bought it (used a gift card, of course) from Indigo, and decided I’d try to get right into it by sitting down (a comfy chair was available in the fiction section!) and reading the first chapter.

It was very easy to get into. The narrator, Reverend John Ames, is obviously a gentle, kind-hearted, godly man who cares deeply for his little son (7 years old, John is 76, I think) and his precious wife (who is about 36; she told John he should marry her). He talks about people and events from his past with his father (including an arduous trip with him at age 12), and grandfather (and the rift between his father and grandfather), and his best friend and the town’s preacher, Boughton.

Then he comes back to the present, and writes about the simple pleasures of watching his little son play, their kitten chasing bubbles, walking in the dark morning to church, and the guys at the gas station laughing, and you feel his great joy in living and his sorrow in leaving this earth.

There were times when I was confused about who some of the characters were (that he’d also mentioned many pages earlier), and some events were fuzzy in my mind as I read them, but it was still interesting. I’d read through about a third or half of the book when I began to get antsy to know what the point of the book was. Was anything going to actually happen, after all the introduction to all these characters? I skimmed a bit, but I didn’t have to wait long.

John increasingly becomes worried about Jack Boughton (the wayward, sly son of his friend) having a bad influence, or even harming, his wife and son, who are very enamored with Jack when he comes for a rare, unexplained visit. The Reverend admits his dread of Jack, someone he cannot understand, and could never trust. You feel miserable with him, because the Reverend is going to die soon, and the two most precious people may be devoured by this evil man after he is gone. And we already know that Jack in the past has preyed upon an very young innocent girl and left her with a child to raise in abject poverty (and the child died, and the mother’s life was ruined). It was such a sickening feeling to me; I had to rush ahead to find out what would happen. And you never know in these literary novels if there will be a happy ending, either.
Well, ….***SPOILER***…

Well, the most precious thing happens. Jack confides in the Reverend what he cannot confide in his own father, because it might kill his father to know the awful things he has done. But we see in Jack genuine repentance for his mistakes, and respect for his family, and the beginnings of attitudes of responsibility. Jack begs the Reverend to put in a good word for him with his dad after he leaves. The Reverend blesses him, puts his hand on his forehead and repeats the Old Testament blessing, and when he walks him to the bus, he tells him “We all love you, you know.” And Jack says, “You’re all saints.”

It brings tears to my eyes as I write it, how John Ames could truly hate this young man, and then listen to Jack’s troubles and feelings of shame and helplessness to change, and ultimately feel such compassion for him, that he loves him, and becomes his friend and ally. A true pastor; so precious. John fulfills his promise to speak about Jack to Boughton, Jack’s dad, and does so while he is in a deep sleep, knowing the news would leave him “alone in his confusions of grief, and I just did not have the strength to witness that.” (page 243, awesome)

The story made me drop off my own judgments and realize how much more holy–and reasonable–forgiveness and love are. I pray that this will continue and be a pattern of grace in my life.