Confession time here – I came to Five Stones: Conquering Your Giants set to dislike it. As I unpacked it, I thought, “Fine. Another book on how I’m supposed to solve my life by a formula devised by some ‘personal trainer’ who smears their face with tofu and is the expert on this kind of stuff. It will come wrapped in sappy stories and cosmetic Bible references to suck in Christian buyers.” Nothing flattens the tires of judgmental cynicism like actually opening the book and reading it; it’s bad form to hang someone without a trial.
First, Shane Stanford and Brad Martin’s pictures sit neatly folded inside the back flyleaf of the dust jacket and they do not look like “tofu on the mug” kind of guys. And they don’t sound like it either; they made me like their book. The book draws from the story of David and Goliath. The story serves as one example among many of Bible stories we’ve heard so often that we don’t hear them. Shane and Brad sustain the story not only very well but any reader will encounter something new to them as they unpack it very well. Probably unintentionally, they’ve provided some high quality grist for the preaching mills of a lot of pastors; a lot of this will find its way into sermons.
And about those sappy stories, they aren’t there but good ones do abound. One problem about using stories in writing and all other forms of communication, even a story that grabs the reader may not say anything beyond the story itself. When we come away remembering this great story but remain clueless as to the point, someone has dropped the ball. Since we love stories and don’t require them to make a point, the writer (or preacher) has to work hard to connect the story to their point and then to the reader. These guys do it well with an eye to speaking to everyday people who go off to work, come home exhausted to families who will drain off the last physical and mental energy and drag themselves off to bed feeling guilty they couldn’t do things better. There are no steroid pumped success spewing clones from TV infomercials. Some of these stories will end up in my sermon file. Thanks, guys!
These guys know change takes work. If we’re looking for a book that makes following Christ and/or changing our life easy, Five Stones isn’t it. They begin by telling the whole story of David and Goliath to get everyone on the same page and not assume that everyone knows it; it’s not a kid’s story. Then in five chapters, they lay out the framework for their pattern for change with each describing one of the “stones” God would us in our hands to slay our giants. I like their paying respect to giants. They’re real and playing with them or playing at change in facing them brings down serious business. The “stones” include having a God given picture of the outcome of our situation, the good use of tools (my second favorite chapter – some well thought out things here instead of the usual stuff), growing a plan (I’ve always believed that God steers people who are moving rather than sitting), training and finally, sheer nerve (my favorite).
These guys get pretty real, which won me over on the book. Brad went through a divorce and doesn’t pretty it up or spare himself. Battling the giant (whatever it is) is hard and sometimes just surviving is winning. They provide five weeks of material to get us started. Many books like this don’t give any structure, just throwing the reader in to swim for it as best they can. The book ends with a chapter strangely entitled “Surrender: When We Become Our Own Giant.” It talks frankly about sin, especially at the end of David’s life, when the giant that did David in was the giant on the inside. The deepest harm done to us comes not at the hand of others but through our own self-centered foolishness the Bible describes as sin.
This final note rings so true. What the Bible calls sin has nothing to with belief, shifting values, taste of culture. What you or I may think of sin if we think of it at all doesn’t matter. A number of people don’t think they have cancer. What difference does that make to the cancer? It just keeps doing what cancer does. And church should be the place where we come to beat this stuff (not hide, indulge, rationalize, deny, fertilize or feed or scapegoat for it) through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Shane and Brad underscore this by telling the rest of the David story – the Bathsheba part. Slaying one giant doesn’t make us immune from getting laid out by another and taking others we love with us. In showing how Christ’s love, forgiveness and cleansing gets worked into the deep crevices of our lives, Shane Stanford and Brad Martin have penned a gutsy little book that would be excellent for reading groups, small study groups and definitely for passing along to close friends being pounded on by their own giants.
For more conversation on Five Stones – including an interview with the authors – visit the Patheos Book Club here.
David Swartz pastors Bethel Baptist Church in Roseville, Michigan. He thinks that jazz is sacred music, that books are better company than most people, and that university towns rock. He blogs at geezeronthequad.com.