Friday, February 27, 2015

Jesus Outside the Lines~

Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides

A powerful, practical little volume! 

I requested Jesus Outside the Lines because of the subtitle. 
Who isn't tired of taking sides? 
I can turn on the radio these days and my head starts spinning. 
So many issues, so many debates, so many hot topics.... 
How do we pick our battles? 
And is that even an analogy we should use? 
Are these confrontations to win or opportunities to engage? 

This book claims to point to a way forward. 
Does it deliver? 
Yes. For me it did. 

Scott Sauls has arranged this book around ten contemporary areas of division, in our politics, piety, fiscal policy, and posture towards others.

Red State or Blue State? 
For the Unborn or for the Poor? 
Personal Faith or Institutional Church?
Money Guilt or Money Greed?
Affirmation or Critique?
Accountability or Compassion? 
Hypocrite or Work in Progress?
Sexual Freedom or Chastity? 
Hope Or Realism?
Self Esteem or God-Esteem? 

These chapters are not in-depth sermons about each issue that tell you what to say and think/
Instead, this book calls us back to foundational Gospel truths, allowing us to think about what that means for these issues. 

Sometimes I wish he'd had more room to explore the nuances of things, most particularly in the chapter on organized church. 
As always, we have to define the church first, as a family, not a building or program. 
And once we've said that, then people will ask why the family has to gather weekly on Sunday, in a stuffy/drafty/formal/unaesthetic building. 
"If you're hooking up with fellow Christians, challenging, counseling, and communing with each other, isn't that church?"
We all want a solid, committed, stable Christian experience, in church or out... and then we're right back where we started, re-inventing the wheel..... 

Even in places where you do disagree with him- on something big or small- I think you'll find him sincere and gentle. 
If he speaks and lives the way he writes (and people are saying that he does) then he's enfleshing his convictions with compassion, and always attempting to behold the Image Bearer in the middle of the issue. 

His chapter on sexual purity strikes some critically important notes. 
As long as fulfillment, intimacy, and satisfying relationships are linked so tightly to sex, then we can't realistically ask anyone to be chaste or celibate.
So should we fling away chastity? Heavens no. Instead, he asks to provide companionship, human touch, and emotional support for each other in "friendships as deep and lasting as marriage and as meaningful as sex." 
Wouldn't that help everyone out- no matter why you're single or for how long? 

Each chapter had a few gems that I heavily underlined.
In the chapter on Christianity and politics he says  "Public faith enriches the world not by grasping for earthly power, but through self-donation."  

Later, in Affirmation or Critique? he says "If people are going to get upset with us, let's at least make sure they are the same type of people who got upset with Jesus. The lepers and the crooks and the drunks and the gluttons and the sexually promiscuous people and the sinners and the nonchurchgoers, to be clear, did not get upset with Jesus....These people were drawn to him." 

Jesus Outside the Lines is worth a read, sooner rather than later. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

#ThursdayThoughts Feb. 26th 2015


“You cannot conceive, nor can I, of the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God.” ~Graham Greene 

The Poet's Calendar, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I am lustration, and the sea is mine!
I wash the sands and headlands with my tide;
My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
Before my chariot wheels the fishes glide.
By me all things unclean are purified;
By me the souls of men washed white again;
E'en the unlovely tombs of those who died
Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.  

“The strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.”  ― John Piper, Battling Unbelief: Defeating Sin with Superior Pleasure // Read more at

"But in all things- and threatened by all things- we see the glory of God 
and are effectively and finally comforted in all of these threats. 
And this state of being comforted by the glory of God is true contentment. 
For this is the very glory of God: that God does not keep the fullness of his divine being for himself, but communicates and demonstrates that he wants to find his own contentment 
in being our Shepherd. 
When that is seen and heard, the answer can only be: 'I shall not want!'
Any want could only consist in our closing ourselves off from the glory of God and thus in our resistance to the shepherding of God.  For the glory of God is the love of God. 
Why is it that here we are resistant and rebellious? 
As certainly as the Lord is my shepherd, I shall want for nothing, and that means that I have no need to be resistant and rebellious. " 
~Karl Barth, in the delightful little book Insights. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Moonlighters Series- Terri Blackstock

Twisted Innocence (Moonlighters, #3)

I really enjoyed this book.

Twisted Innocence is not a mystery, not in the sense that you're reading to find out who did it.
(You know who did it, if you've read the previous Moonlighters books. It's Leonard Miller.)
And it's not a mystery in the sense that you find out *how* they did it.
(Leonard Miller's activities are fairly incomprehensible.)

This is really, at its heart, a suspenseful story about people dealing with the troubles of life.
And the magic is that Terri Blackstock made me care about these people.

Holly, the youngest Cramer sister, is a pink-haired Private Eye.
And when she's not working as an investigator, she's driving a cab.
She's determined to make up for her wild child past and provide for her little baby.

If you want further plot summary, I'm not going to give it.
Check Goodreads or Amazon.

If you want an endorsement, here it is: Read this story for the hours of pleasure it will bring, as you duck and dodge and dive for cover with the Cramer family and their sidekicks. If you've read the other books, you'll know brothers Michael and Max, and you'll be delighted with how their stories work out. (I do kind of wish Max could have ended up with Holly....but Terri did a great job convincing me that Holly's choice is the right, redemptive one to make.)

I thank Booklook for my review copy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Place of Healing~

A Place of Healing: Wrestling with the Mysteries of Suffering, Pain, and God's Sovereignty

"Pain is a strange, dark companion, but a companion- if only because it has passed through God's inspecting hand. 
It's an unwelcome guest, but still a guest. I know that it drives me to a nearer, more intimate place of fellowship with Jesus, 
and so I take pain as though I were taking the left hand of God...." 
~Joni Tada, chapter one in A Place of Healing.   

In this book, written in 2010, Joni Tada shares how her life and ministry took a new turn. 
After forty years in a wheelchair, Joni lived each day by clinging to Jesus, sharing His joy and courage and gentleness through her singing, speaking, writing and artwork. 
Despite the very real hardships of quadriplegia, Joni will say that life was good.
And then pain arrived. 
Chronic, agonizing pain. 
And as far as they could tell, there was no clear cause and no easy solution. 

Joni says that it was a time of wrestling and praying that resembled the dark days after her injury, that had never been repeated in the last forty years. 
Pain came over her, and it brought urgency to all of her longings, all of her thoughts of healing and relief. 
And Joni chose to write from the battlefield, "while the shells were falling," describing her struggle and outlining her hopes. 

Reading something by Joni is like eating a nourishing meal, and that's because she always serves the Bread of Life as the main course. 
The rich theology of the hymns, fine thoughts gathered from across the ages, prayers and poems- she includes them all. 

And this book is much needed.
When somebody we love is in pain, we want to know what God is doing. 

There seem to be two attitudes about healing. 
One says, in resignation, "Healing doesn't happen today. It would be nice, but God doesn't do that anymore. Don't even expect it." 
This attitude, Joni explains, reduces all the New Testament miracles to mere audiovisual aids that confirmed the power of Jesus at the time. 
And that's a dim view of miracles. They were signs, yes, signs born out of Christ's compassion, and because His character is changeless, He cared then and cares today.

The other attitude says that healing is a right and privilege for every child of God, and your lack of faith is all that keeps you from it. 
The logical conclusion in this camp, when an earthly healing is withheld, is that you stood in your own way. 
And believing that will crush the faith that you had. 

Joni cuts through these less-than-redemptive views of suffering and healing, and helps us look up at God. 
He is, she reminds us, the One who is moved by our tears, who sees our afflictions. 
He is the One who can heal, and yet the One who may let the thorn remain for His purposes. 

The following chapters are head-clearing and soul-strengthening. 

"How can I go on like this?" 

Joni distills her wisdom down into four personal answers.
I Can Go On Because....
1. God moves through time with me. He is eternal, yet He knows what time means to us as it grinds along.
2. God can use broken instruments to make incomparable music. The music we make in the midst of our difficulties is music no one else can make.
3. Jesus is my Consolation. Joni quotes Spurgeon- "Jesus cheers us." She expounds on the beautiful ministry of the Holy Spirit: cheering and comforting.
4. Because Right Now Counts Forever. Each moment you live, you participate in the work of God. 

"How Do I Regain my Perspective?"

Here Joni speaks about fighting the vortex of fear that blooms around pain and disease, pointing us instead to faith, hope, and love.
She gives some practical advice that encouraged her, shared by a friend battling cancer: For every sentence you speak about your trial, speak ten about God's grace. 
Joni also points to the spirit-refreshing benefits of singing- "making melody in your heart to the Lord." 

"How can I bring Him Glory?"

1. Breathe in His Presence.
2. Don't despise the discipline of the Lord.
3. Stay supercharged.
4. Keep a humble heart.
5. Maintain childlike wonder.
6. Serve wholeheartedly.
7. Pour out your all.
8. Don't hold back on life.

Our God touched lepers, took the hands of blind men and lead them to sight, opened the ears of the deaf with a whisper to heaven, and lifted the lame up onto suddenly strong legs.  
That God still lives. 
We know Him, we worship Him, He cradles us, He carries us. 

This book was written through the smoke and fire of chronic pain, and so it will be a particular comfort to fellow travelers on the road of suffering. 
Because Joni steeps her soul in Scripture and song and stories of God's goodness, this is an excellent read for everyone, to help you meditate on Christ's mercy and majesty.

I thank David C Cook for providing me with a copy of this book, for review. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

52 Weeks with Jesus

52 Weeks with Jesus

James Merritt's 52 Weeks with Jesus is a fine and meaty devotional. 

Although I would be inclined to complete this book in a month or less, it's arranged so that you can read it over a full year. 
There are five chosen scriptures and five meditations/readings per week, with this pattern repeated fifty-two times. 

As the old hymn says, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Look Full in His Wonderful Face."
That's what this book is all about: gazing at Jesus and being undone by His tradition-shaking goodness, his tenderness and courage, his sorrow and his joy. It's about knowing Him better and thereby knowing better how to live in the world. 

The aspects of Jesus's life and character that James Merritt explores include Jesus the Storyteller, Jesus the Miracle Worker, and Jesus the Overcomer. 
The Scriptures he chooses range widely through the Bible- from the Psalms to the Minor Prophets to Gospels to the Epistles. 
Biblical narratives (and modern illustrations) come together with pastoral commentary and application. 
James Merritt has one goal- pointing to Jesus, who is alive right now in the middle of everything. 

I have to say, this devotional has broad appeal. In my house, the book has already been appropriated by two different people. 
Neither one is a big fan of devotionals per se, but they're both enjoying working their way through this one. 

What better thing to do this year than spend some time beholding the One whose truth and beauty is transforming the world, one life at at a time?

I thank Harvest House Publishing for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Friday, February 20, 2015

#FridayThoughts Feb. 20th 2015

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the pow'r of Christ in me;
From life's first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No pow'r of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the pow'r of Christ I'll stand.

First and last stanzas of The Getty's In Christ Alone.

We need people to show us how to plant seeds- how to do the daily dirty work of life.
And we need people to show us how to hope for harvest once the seeds are in, 
to remind us to look up and see the beautiful end while the tiny greens grow. 

( "To live in this world / you must be able / to do three things: / to love what is mortal; / to hold it / against your bones knowing / your own life depends on it; / and, when the time comes to let it go, / to let it go." ) • In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver • • handwriting by ferula-

"To live in this world one must be able to do three things: 
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it;
and, when the times comes, to let it go, to let it go..."
~Mary Oliver

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Heartfelt- by Joneal Kirby

Heartfelt: Building Relationships Linking the Hearts of Women

This book will leave you longing for the kind of friendship it describes.

Heartfelt is a book all about Love, Relationships, Hospitality, and Home.
It is specifically about a certain, often neglected, relationship.... the one outlined in Titus 2.

That Bible passage implies a group of young women trying to stay afloat on the rough waters of life: work, faith and family in whatever forms those take. That's a common picture- who hasn't experienced it?
But the Scriptures add something- they show us mature, dedicated women, fabulously flawed and fully captivated by the Gospel, stepping up and guiding the younger ones.

Who hasn't read a book or blog post- by Gladys Hunt or Sally Clarkson or Ann Voskamp- and wished those ladies lived next door?
Why do we want that, because they're Pinterest Perfect godly gurus?
No- it's because we smell something we like when we read their writings.
They smell authentic. They smell like they know the power of grace.
And we know we need somebody like that around us.

Thankfully for us, there are many women who smell like grace just waiting to be discovered in our neighborhoods and churches.
This book makes a powerful case for getting a Titus 2 group going.

******Being Honest:
There is a part of me that doubts what I'm reading about here.
I doubt that women of widely different social classes could join together without Helen Homemaker silently resenting the Platinum Blonde across the sofa, without them comparing their cars and vacations and houses and husbands.
I doubt that they could gather to discuss growing as wives and mothers without battling over who parents properly.
"Well, let me just say... my toddler wasn't in diapers/throwing tantrums/biting ankles/cutting teeth at that age."
I doubt that the older women would be able to bear having young women need them so much.
I would be afraid that the mentors would run out of patience and energy, and dump me midway through my troubles.
I doubt that younger women would humbly take advice from the mentors, without digging in their heels and refusing to change.
"She says I should respect Bill, but she doesn't know what a donkey he is. This isn't the 1950's anymore...."

So I doubt it.... But That Is Only Because I Have Never Seen It Done- Not At All Because It Cannot Be Done.

Because it Can Be Done- By Grace.

Joneal Kirby uses multiple testimonies of real women- some of them desperate and lost when they encountered their mentor, now flourishing in a place of grace.
And she includes so many words from the mentors, with them describing how much joy these relationships brought them, how much they came to love their "girls."
And it is a truly beautiful thing to think about.

But the only way it would work is if everyone genuinely- stumblingly, falteringly, but genuinely- wanted to put on the character of Christ.
You'd have to treasure these relationships, and be willing to fight for them.... fight yourself and your fallen tendencies, if necessary.
Otherwise, it would all buckle under the weight of pettiness, resentment, comparison, and pride.

So if you're looking for some guidance about finding or being a mentor, and you need some strong encouragement as you try to share your heart and home, then this is where to go. Go into friendship with your eyes open- not to better see out other's flaws, but to look long at Jesus and let him shape it all.

I thank Worthy Publishing for my review copy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Blindsided by God~ Peter Chin

Blindsided by God: Disappointment, Suffering, and the Untamable Goodness of God

  "Faith is not a breathing exercise to make us marginally more at peace in the midst of modern distraction. It is stern stuff that allows a person to stare into the darkest void and walk straight in. Faith was made for hardship, suffering, fear, sickness, and nights like this...
Faith shows its true power and full worth in such moments."

That's Pastor Peter Chin speaking.
The night he's speaking of was a night where he came to the end of all his reserves.
His beautiful young wife had aggressive breast cancer, coming close on the heels of the miscarriage of her third pregnancy. Their two daughters were under five years of age.
They had just moved to a new city, into a neighborhood infested with crime, for the purpose of planting a church.

Nothing that defined Peter before this point could help him now.
The fact that he was a pastor couldn't carry him.
The fact that he was her husband couldn't fight Carol's disease.
The fact that he was their father couldn't shield his daughters from fear.
Only a living God, One who is present with His people, could meet these needs.

In this new book, Peter takes us step by step through these dark, difficult, valley-of-the-shadow months.

The Chin's personal story is riveting. (The author may object to that, but it was.)
The trials they encountered came so hard and fast that it's no wonder Peter felt betrayal and despair when he thought of them all.
The wonder is that he can now point to providence, care, redemption, and grace as sustaining his family during it all.

In the beginning of the book, he tells us that he's not writing a theological treatise on suffering, he's relating his personal experience.
Without crossing the line into academic analysis, he brings forth some incredible insights.
 When you get your copy, pay attention to these chapters- "The Mulberry and the Wisteria" and "A Minor Miracle."

How he keeps his sense of humor I don't know, but this is also one of the funniest books I've read in a while. (I started laughing out loud when he made this certain comment about the hospital elevator.)

Short review: This book will wrench your heart as you think about a family trying to deal with all of this, and it will move you to praise God as you see His presence in their lives.

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy. It's going on my keeper shelf.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Ancient Path

The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today

I requested this book for review based on the title- The Ancient Path: Old Lessons from the Church Fathers for a New Life Today.

For some reason, the name John Michael Talbot seemed slightly familiar. A quick Youtube search resolved my questions.
This song-writer and recording artist wrote he lyrics to "Be Not Afraid" which I knew from my grandmother's funeral this past May.
Knowing that connection, I wanted this book even more.

Over 202 pages, John Michael and his co-author Mike Aquilina lead us along a pathway that they themselves strive to walk faithfully.
It's an ancient path indeed, one carved for us in the first few centuries after Christ's resurrection, when the church was just being established.
It's the path of the Church Fathers. If you're not Catholic, you'll know these fellows still.
Origen, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Tertullian, and Athanasius.

If you're like me, you'll know them by their quotes, not their whole bodies of work.
As a young musician seeking God in the 60's and 70's, John Michael Talbot dug deep into the original texts these men left behind.
The purity of the Gospel they proclaimed, their single-minded devotion to Christ, they all impressed him so deeply that his entire adult life has been guided by their insights. And now he's sharing them with the world.

With his personal story as the framework and background, we look into several core truths that the Church Fathers owned and elucidated for us.

Prefer Nothing to Christ~
St. Cyprian explains why: "Because He preferred nothing to us, and on our account preferred hard things to ease, poverty to riches, servitude to rule, and death to immortality."
This is the heart of all the Church Father's work and their teaching.
"The work of all these men was nothing more than a amen to Jesus..."- The Ancient Path

The Jesus Prayer~ There is an old saying- to sing is to pray twice. I love that, don't you?
This chapter is devoted to a single prayer, one that is "hard as a diamond and rises lightly as breath."
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Charity~ Here the authors discuss the difference between philanthropy and charity, and describe how the latter marked early Christians like a brand on their bodies. In the early Church, charity was seen as extending the very friendship of Christ.
"Let the widow and orphan be as revered as the altar..."

They also talk about Living Tradition, Fatherhood, Liturgy, and Community.

At the end of this book, the authors say this of the Church Fathers: "They shook up the old world and made it into a New City. May they shake up our world. And may they shake up you and yours..."

If reading The Ancient Path reminds you what a heritage we have as Christians, and inspires you to enflesh the same truth and take it to the world, then the authors have done their job.

Thank you to Image publishing for my review copy through Blogging for Books.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

I Choose You Today~

I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last

We choose our spouses. 
We choose to pursue them, respond to them, and delight in them. 
We choose to be faithful and honest with them, to remain open and true. 
Then we marry them.
And too often, we forget to choose them any more. 

{I ain't married, but I know this is true because I forget to intentionally love/choose my people too.}

Deb DeArmond makes the case that Love is nourished, protected, and preserved by choosing the same spouse over and over again, daily. 

In this book, she sketches 31 areas of choice, each one connected to the others. 
I choose you, and so I choose to.... love, bless, honor, and trust you. 
To support, forgive, serve, and celebrate you. 
To adapt with you, laugh with you, and commit to you. 
To pray for you, comfort you, and share your burdens. 

Deb describes each choice, its significance in shaping a marriage, and then practical ways to make that choice. 
She shares many vignettes from her nearly forty years of marriage, and includes a whole selection of good quotes. 

We need reminder far more than we need new revelation, and this book is a gentle and plain-speaking reminder. 
All these concepts will feel too simple at first- "Don't you have anything more powerful?"- but if I want a strong and gracious relationship, these 31 choices seem like the necessary lifeblood to me. 

I'll be adding this to my "Marriage and Relationship" shelf. 

Thank you to Deb DeArmond and to Litfuse Publicity for my review copy. 

biopic 6

Deb is wife to her high school sweetheart, Ron, who showed her the path to become a Christ follower 38 years ago. Mom to three incredible sons. Gigi to five perfect grandboys. But Jesus is her favorite, and the guys have learned to live with it. She is a transplanted Californian who has been a proud Texan for 9 years and she loves the Lone Star state!
Deb is optimistically mid-life and excited to experience what comes next and what God has for her now. She longs to see women find their passion and place in the body of Christ, show up and finish strong. One of Deb’s favorite quotes comes from author Agatha Christie, who said, “I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find – at the age of 50, say – that a whole new life has opened before you.”

Friday, February 13, 2015

Bread and Wine~ Lent and Easter Readings

Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter

Bread and Wine is a collection of seventy-two readings spanning all the themes of Lent and Easter. 
There are poems, prayers, meditations, excerpts from sermons and essays and lengthy theological tomes. 

The authors come from all over the world, from all ages and times. 

There is Kahlil Gibran, an early 20th century Lebanese poet raised as a Maronite Catholic. 
There is George MacDonald, a Scottish fantasy author and minister in the 1800s. 
There is Ernesto Cardenal, a Nicaraguan poet and cultural activist.
There is Walter J. Ciszek, a Jesuit priest who served within the Soviet Union.
There is Edna Hong, a Kierkegaard scholar and translator as well as a novelist. 
There is Peter Kreeft, a contemporary philosophy professor at Boston College. 

The material is arranged under five main headings, and I'll give you a few examples from each one. 

This section calls us to Come near to the Cross, Hear His words, See Ourselves, Repent, and then Go Forth. 
    The first selection is a poem by Oscar Wilde, with that plaintive cry "How else but through a broken heart can the Lord Christ enter in?" 
    Walter Wangerin speaks about Christ as the perfect Mirror, the one that terrifies and startles with its clarity- and yet heals us too. 
    "This mirror is made of righteous flesh and of divinity- and this one loves me absolutely."
     Jean-Pierre de Caussade writes about surrender: "Everything is yours, everything is from you and for you. Mine is to be satisfied with your work..." 
    Edna Hong describes the way Lent strips the soul and then Christ supplies His fullness. 

We are tempted to drowse like the Apostles when we should be awake, to use force like Peter to move the Kingdom forward, to distance ourselves from the common sinners who crucified Christ, to deny our Lord with words and deeds. 
     Phillip Berrigan calls us to "Watch, learn, act- for formula for a faithful and sane life." 
     Fleming Rutledge calls us to find ourselves in the crowd at Good Friday, "... you will also come to know the depth of your own participation in sin. and at the very same moment (this is the glory of Good Friday) you will come to know the true reality, the true joy and gladness, of the the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ our Lord." 
     Kahlil Gibran shouts in a whisper- "He came to make the human heart a temple, and the soul an altar, and the mind a priest." 

     Jurgen Moltmann: "At the point where men and women lose hope, where they become powerless and can do nothing more, the lonely, assailed and forsaken Christ waits for them and gives them a share in His passion. He is like the brother of the friend to whom one can confide everything, because he knows everything and has suffered everything that can happen to us- and more." 
     Mother Theresa, writing from Christ's perspective: "Do you thirst to be cherished? I thirst for you. That is how precious you are to me. Come to me and fill your heart and heal your wounds." 

    Thomas Howard meditates on the Crucifix. "It focuses things. It may even come to our rescue if words fail: the corpus, bowed in agony but with arms stretched wide, says, not in sentences but in its very shape, 'Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you.' " 
     Paul Tillich says: "No longer is the universe subject to the law of death out of birth. It is subjected to a higher law, to the law of life out of death... Since this moment the universe is no longer what it was; nature has received another meaning; history is transformed and you and I are no more what we were before."

     C. S. Lewis addresses this as only he can: "Something new has happened in the Universe, something as new as the first coming of organic life. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?"
     Karl Barth: "Even in blooming and healthy life, there is a yawning chasm, a deep pit that cannot be filled by any art of power of man. Only one word is sufficient... 'Jesus is victor!'-that is, resurrection." 

New Life~ 
      This last section began with a delightful surprise for me- a John Masefield poem! "The Everlasting Mercy."
      Alfred Kazin describes encountering the New Testament as a young Jew: "I tasted the rightness of each word on my tongue. It was like heaping my own arms with gifts. Surely I had been waiting for him all my life, our own Yeshua..."
As with Plough's Advent/Christ collection "Watch for the Light," this is a great choice if you want to hear various voices all coming together around Christ.
Obviously, this devotional does not stay within the confines of contemporary Evangelicalism. It's not a paragraph a day by popular people.
You may even have reservations about some contributor's theology, but every selection in here will prompt you to reflect. 
And if you let it, "Bread and Wine" will provide sustenance on the road of repentance and Resurrection rejoicing. 

I thank Plough Publishing House for providing me with a review copy. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

#ThursdayThoughts Feb. 12th 2015

 If you're reading this, Valentine's Day is two days away.
And that means it's probably gotten a little too close for comfort. 

Frankly, the romantic/Pinterest version of Valentine's is a poke in the eye for 90% of people.

Let's reclaim this February day. 
Let's revel in all the different kinds of Love that are so present around us. 
The love of little cousins- for who loves more fiercely than a child?  

 The love of old widowed Grandfathers facing their first February 14th 
without a Valentine- since 1958. 

The love of all the people who are gone from us and yet are loving us now more than ever.

The love of- and our love for- those most familiar faces we see every day,
the ones whose love has no novelty and no fanfare, just a steadiness and grace. 

So if you have some special people to love today- and I bet you do- then do it boldly. 
Do it delightfully. 

Love is anterior to life,
Posterior to death,
Initial of creation, and
The exponent of breath.
~Emily Dickinson

Stop worrying about doing something GREAT. Focus on doing what is right in front of you - with GREAT LOVE. A quick read & a #freeprintable!

Do small things with great love. 
~Mother Theresa

When this cruel world tears us apart
Your love is like a river flowing from my heart
When sharpened words have left their scars
Your love is like a river flowing from my heart
And it's overflowing, and showing us all
How deep and how wide is Your love
It never stops, it rages on
Your love is like a river flowing from my heart

When I am tired and so afraid
Your love is like a fire that will light my way.
When darkness comes and my vision fades
Your love is like a fire that will light my way
And it's always burning, and stirring my soul
To know You and love You much more
It never stops or ever fades
Your love is like a fire that will light my way

When all my strength and hope is gone
Your love is like a rock that I am standing on

~Third Day's Your Love is Like a River

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Swapping dysfunction for the character of Christ~

Becoming a Spiritually Healthy Family: Avoiding the 6 Dysfunctional Parenting Styles

"How is Christ being formed in you, individually, and in us as a family?" 

That simple question shines like a beacon of light through of the fog of parenting philosophies. 

If asked, many people would say that parenting is harder today than ever before, and there are myriads of voices shouting "solutions" all around us. 
I've read a good selection of family-living books myself, and it's a rare one that grounds all its insights in the revelations of the Gospel. 
This one does. 

Now, as the cover states, this book begins by describing six dysfunctional parenting styles. 
This is not a book preoccupied with teaching you how to spot and stomp out dysfunction. 
Instead, Michelle Anthony says that when you choose anything less than God, you're choose dysfunction by default. 
And the way to break the patterns- of control or lack thereof, shame, fear, anger, manipulation- is to absorb and spread the truth, grace, and love of God.
The majority of this book actually focuses on the character of God, the way He works with us and in us, and what that means for the way we live with our family. 
Building a legacy, changing the atmosphere of our homes, swapping dysfunction for health, that can't be done in our own strength or with human ideas alone. God must teach us, lead us, equip us. 

My three favorite chapters were..... 

 "A Time to Bless." 
Openly recognizing God's work in your child, affirming their value as a person, and pointing to their vibrant future.... that has such power. 
All it requires are a simple words, spoken from a heart that tunes in to what your child needs to hear.

"Living a Meaningful Family Mission."
This chapter asks that we look to God, look at our world, look into our family, and decide how we want to live in the time we have together.
A mission statement, sincere and intentional, lived out in daily actions, would become a touchstone for the family's growth.

"Beyond Good Behavior."
Picture this: A haggard Mom with a rude toddler and a withdrawn seven year old. 
Now this: A quiet, respectful, obedient child with their clean and mannerly parents.
Now, about which one do you think "Good Christian home right there!"
There's a lot of pressure and prejudice when you children's behavior is under the magnifying glass. 
Yet if we focus only on behavior, on enforcing it and programming it, we'll raise squeaky-clean unregenerate church goers.
There comes a point in your child's walk with Christ when their attitudes and actions will reflect Him because He's transforming them. 
There will be mess, there will be poor choices, there will be raised eyebrows from onlookers.... but what the kids have will be real. 

Thank you Litfuse Publicity, David C Cook, and Michelle Anthony for my review copy.

The Beauty of Grace~

The Beauty of Grace: Stories of God's Love from Today's Most Popular Writers

The Beauty of Grace~ This title captures the essence of the whole book. 

This solid hardcover is a collection of 51 short stories, each one a "slice-of-life," providing an image for reflection. They're like the very best kind of blog post, or daily devotions. 

Each one is born from a moment of Grace- grace imperishable, grace indescribable, grace amazing, grace of God, grace that seems impossible yet there it is. 

These stories chronicle grace in times of loss, grace in times of fear, grace in times of need, grace in light after long darkness. 

They exalt Christ, showing Him to be the Sovereign over all troubles, the Wellspring of all mercies, the Glory that redeems us. 

Some of the stories will speak peace to you, some will speak affirmation, some speak encouragement. 
They call us to Hope, to Trust, to Rest, to Persevere, to receive and give Love. 

Who would I give this book to? Anybody. 
A high-school student or a grandmother... there's that many varied gems hidden inside it. 
No fluff, no prosperity-promises, no saccharine, just a lot of good reading. 

Thank you Revell for my review copy.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Resurrection in Your Life....

The Resurrection in Your Life

"I had hoped God would... but He didn't."

I don't know anyone who would want to claim that baldly stated sentence as their own.
When I saw it in chapter two of this book, I did a double take.
Because that thought had been rattling around in my own head.
I had hoped for something, asked for it, wanted it- yes, I even thought it would redeem a part of my life if I had it.

And graciously, it wasn't given.
So, confusion. Ache. Resignation.
"I had hoped God would, but He didn't."

Mike McKinley's book shouted into my mental fog- "Hey, wait a moment! You're feeling lack and disappointment because God didn't deliver this thing. But let's look at what He did deliver...."

The Resurrection in Your Life.

And that's what puts life in perspective.
When we meditate on the the Resurrection, we find our purpose again.
He's Alive. We're in Him. We have a secure hope.
We have unity through the Holy Spirit. We can have peaceful hearts. We can be courageous witnesses. The battles have been decisively won, so we can have joy now in the midst of the fights.
We're hidden in Him, so we can afford to trust His timing and live with gentleness.

As Rich Mullins sang "I did not make it, no, it is making me."

Absorbing the truth of what His resurrection has made us- that's a lifetime's work.
And it's a good one. I'm afraid this isn't the most scholarly review possible, but I'm going to keep it short and sweet. Reading The Resurrection in Your Life will help remind you of what He did, and will point you to the ways that He's making us.

I thank Cross Focuses Reviews for my review copy, and I also want to say that I read Mike McKinley's Passion (now titled The Cross in Your Life) last Lent.
Just like in Passion, he ends his chapters with old hymns, the glorious kind.
And as with Passion, those hymns were an excellent part of this book.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Always on my mind....

Always on My Mind (Christiansen Family, #4)

What a delight, to return to Evergreen Resort, the home of the Christiansen Clan! 

Of course, not all the Christiansens are home when this book begins. 

John and Ingrid are overseas for Valentines Day, visiting Amelia. 
Jace and Eden are living out their happy-ever-after.
Darek is pouring all his energy into the resort, and wondering if he has enough left to give his beloveds Ivy and Tiger.
Grace is cooking up a storm, and rooming with Raina, who has become a dear friend to her.
Owen is nowhere to be found, running from his troubles in far places.
And Casper? Well, he had run away too, but he's heading back home, because he longs to see Raina again.
He's thought it all through: It hurt him terribly that the girl he loves fell for his brother, but they can put all that behind them. 
Everything could be the way it was last summer, and it could even be better. 

Of course, Raina and Grace know something that Casper doesn't know.
And Raina has made a choice that Casper can't understand. 
So now there are two broken hearts hiding out in Deep Haven, his and hers. 

I had a feeling I'd really enjoy Casper's story, and I did. 

First, the Setting. 
Susan May transported me right to Northern Minnesota. I could see my own breath freeze in the -16* air. I could see the neat cabins that Darek, John and Casper had labored over. I could see the colors of the ice frozen on the shoreline. 

Then the Characters. The blue-eyed Christiansens are one of the finest literary families I know. Each person seems to grow more "real" as I read and re-read their stories. And I do re-read, because these books start off sounding simple and then plunge like a deep-sea diver into stuff that's very real. 

In this case, we're plumbing the depths of Casper's heart. Raina is truly always on his mind. He's torn between trying to get close to her and trying to live without her, and neither method is providing him with any peace. Slowly, oh-so-slowly, Casper learns to live redemptively within the tension. He must surrender Raina prayerfully, yet be a friend to her practically. This personal growth was the highlight of the story for me. 

I thank Susan May Warren and Fred and Nora St. Laurent of BookFun dot org for my review copy. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Aloof~ "God be with us, and with the World."

Book Review: Aloof by Tony Kriz (@tonykriz)

This is a book about... 
No, wait. 
The whole point of "Aloof" is that people's lives, stories, and faith aren't easily categorized, predicted, or defined. 

So, let's say this book is a collection of musings, by a guy named Tony Kriz. 
They're born out of a simple request: God, please be present with my suffering nephew as he battles cancer. 

As Tony thought about the core of his prayer- God, I want you to show up here- his brain took him many places. 
It took him to the only thing he's sure of- the ways God has shown up for him personally.

This is a book about the hiddenness of God. 
It's about the barrenness that God will let a soul experience. 
It's about One who is utterly trustworthy, and entirely mystery.

The stories are strange- "unusual or surprising in a way that is unsettling or hard to understand"- and bittersweet. 
They're his memories. And they're made of words that cleansed and words that shamed, friends who stayed and opportunities that were lost, moments when Glory came so close is stole his breath, and moments when despair seemed too light a word. 

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
~Frederick Buechner

That's what Tony has done. He's unfolded his memories and spread them out in the Sonlight. 

It's a read that will hook you and keep you. Along the way you'll be led to ponder things such as the concept of community within the Lord's prayer, the betrothal metaphor vs. the marriage metaphor, and the need for holy creativity as we speak about Jesus.

Thank you to BookLook, and Thomas Nelson for my review copy.