Monday, March 30, 2015

Tracie Peterson's Steadfast Heart~

Steadfast Heart (Brides of Seattle, #1)

Tracie Peterson writes historical novels that combine detail with grand scope. 
In this case, the details surround two young ladies- Lenore and Abrianna- and the grand scope is the matrimonial environment of the late 1880's. 

If you've read her books before, you've probably been eagerly anticipating a new series. A Steadfast Heart starts off the Brides of Seattle saga. 

This story contrasts the wealth and opulence of Seattle's Upper Crust with the poverty of the alleys and docks. Lenore must decide whether to live a blind life of privilege, or a whether to move through the world with clear-eyes and out-stretched hands. 

Of course, the man she marries with have much to do with the shape of her future. Will Lenore sacrifice her principles and marry an economically and socially "suitable match," or will she keep a steadfast heart and look first for a man of quality?

I must say that Abrianna was my favorite character- solidly commonsense and extremely dedicated to her humanitarian work. However, we readers can tell that she's shutting herself off from love, and I hope the next book will show her opening her heart. 

I'm going to be passing my copy along to a friend who adores Tracie's books... I'm sure she'll have found a new favorite. 

I thank Bethany House for providing me with a review copy. 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Why Easter & Why Christmas?

Why Easter?

Oh, this small Easter Bible study will lead children to some big truth! If you follow the prompts, you'll discuss concepts such as:
Why was Jesus a man of sorrows?
What does it mean that death has lost its sting?
Pilate seemed to be in control, how was Jesus the real victor?
What does it mean to boast in Christ and the power of His Resurrection?

This book provides a devotion for each day in the four weeks preceding Easter.
You read aloud the verses selected, and then Barbara Reaoch has written three or four paragraphs that help expound upon or explain the meanings. And then you talk it all over with the kids!

Each week also focuses on one of the great hymns, such as "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," drawing insights out of the verses. Sing-along theology. What could be better?

I would pair this book, with all its clear Biblical teaching, with Plough Publishing's Easter Stories.
Then children would have truth in study time and in story time. Both books together would expand the reader's understanding of Easter and fill us with Resurrection hope.

I thank Cross Focused Reviews for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Why Christmas?

As with the complementary volume "Why Easter?" this Christmas devotional introduces children to grand truth. There are Bible verses to read, and then a short meditation to ponder on.
And then you discuss it!
"Angels appeared to shepherds. Why lowly shepherds? Nobody cared about them. But God did. Because they were poor in heart, and we can be too."

There's so much to talk about here....
How does the very name Jesus show that He is our promised Savior?
What does it mean that Jesus was the Word long before He was born in a manger?
Where does the book of Micah tell us that He will be born in Bethlehem?
What does it mean in Isaiah when He is called Immanual, God-with-us?

There are four carols/hymns in this book as well, and we explore some of there verses.
Why does Silent Night tell us that He is "Jesus, Lord at Thy birth," and how is He the Everlasting Light that shone in Bethlehem?

If you approach Bible study in a gentle, affectionate, inquiring way, I think any child could enjoy it.
So open your Bibles together, and let's find out Why Christmas?

I thank Cross Focused Reviews for my copy of this book.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Oxford Inklings~

The Oxford Inklings: Their Lives, Writings, Ideas, and Influence

"The Oxford Inklings" by Colin Duriez is a manageable collection of mini-autobiographies of the renowned men who made up the Inklings. 
These men were C. S. Lewis, JRR Tolkien, Charles Williams, and others of academic and literary fame. 
Collectively, these men soldiered, authored many books from theology to poetry, and instructed at some prestigious British and American Universities. 

They were friends first, and critics of each other's work when relevant, and they all were believers of Christ or came to be.
Ravi Zacharias' question "Can man live without God?" could have been answered by any of these fellows. 

If you're a fan of C. S. Lewis, I can recommend this book. Eric Metaxas, a modern philosopher and theologian, holds educational forums under the name "Socrates in the City" where brilliant minds gather to inform regarding various topics. These gatherings are a chance to question and dialogue. 
I can't help but think that's a lot like the Inklings, who gathered to eat, drink, and think. 

I thank Lion Hudson for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 
This book will be joining Mr. Duriez's other book "An A to Z of C.S Lewis" as well as a whole host of other Lewis-themed titles, on my shelf.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Shifting Sand~

On Shifting Sand

The afternoon that I began reading this book, my town received its first genuine spring rain- cool, sweet, persistent. 
The noise of falling water made a strange counterpoint to the scenes I was imagining as I read. 

The Oklahoma Dustbowl- a world without rain, where the sky darkens with flying sand and grit filters through every sheltering wall. 
That is Nola's world when this story begins. She is a thirsty woman living in a parched place. 
The earth doesn't seem to produce life here- instead it chokes it out, sweeping across the plain and suffocating everything in its path.

If you read the plot summary, you saw that into this shifting land comes a stranger. He's a friend of Nola's husband, a drifter named Jim. 
Stated baldly, Jim and Nola have an affair. 
Now, I'm guessing there's going to be two reader reactions. One is "I can't read that. Adultery? I don't want that kind of story. It's not Christian." 
Reaction two is "I won't read that- Christian fiction can't possibly handle that realistically and gently."

Let me tell you, Nola's story is complicated. She's impossible to figure out, and I think that's why some reviewers aren't "liking" her. 

She had a hard childhood, ruled by a suspicious and dominating father and her Half-Breed Indian mother dying early.
She's married to a man of sterling kindness and integrity- a preacher none the less. 
She's surrounded by a church family, but she is truly a loner. 
Her children are deeply loved, but sometimes she's scared of their pure affection. 

She's the shamed girl seen as sinner by her father, she's the beloved bride of a man so decent she feels undeserving, she's trapped in a situation she can't redeem, and sometimes it seems she's the jailer to her own prison. She's all of these and more. 

When she finally encounters Jim Brace, and takes the steps that bring her to him, she isn't even sure why she does it. And neither are we, the readers.
That's part of why she felt so real. 

Maybe, like St. Augustine hinted, we really do look at ourselves from the back. Maybe all our motives are so tangled with fears and desires that only God can cut them apart. Maybe we really can't face ourselves. 

Let's shoot straight here- infidelity is ugly. And yet... isn't that me to the core? An infidel? 
Perhaps not I'm transgressing bodily in a marriage, but I'm as faithless as Nola is. I'm unfaithful to my God and I'm forgetful of what He has made me. 
I trade in His living water for cracked cisterns of my own shaping. Considering the whole counsel of Scripture, I think the wasting-away Denola Merrill is a perfect canvas on which to paint a vision of radical Grace. And that's what Allison Pittman has done. 

So read this book to take you back to a period in history that I do not want to ever live through. 
And read it to take you inside a woman who doesn't understand herself, and who realizes that restoration and cleansing must come from Outside and Above. 

I thank Tyndale House Publishers for my review copy.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sand in my Sandwich~

Sand in My Sandwich: And Other Motherhood Messes I'm Learning to Love

Sarah Parshall Perry begins this book by saying that she's part of a "culture of confession"- a group of people who believe that telling the truth about themselves is part of finding the Truth that will renew the world. 

These men and women are writing a lot of books these days, and I'm benefitting from reading them. 
Their writing walks the line between memoir and meditation, expressing authentic faith amidst musing, struggling, and wondering. 
(Peter Chin's Blindsided by God, Sara Hagerty's Every Bitter Thing is Sweet, Amy Julia Becker's Small Talk, Naomi Zacharias' The Scent of Water, and Andrea Raynor's Incognito, for example.) 
I think it's a good sign. We must learn to be real with ourselves and our lives, because how else can we offer a real God to the world? 

So... Sand in My Sandwich. Looking at the cover, you might assume this is a fluffy, funny book about preschoolers and how difficult it is to take them to the beach. (That's what I thought, anyway.) 
Nope. The first few pages place you right there in the Perry's home, a home bursting with energy and potential and laughter and lessons to learn and rivalry and harmony. It's a home with skinned knees and difficult moments, and grace given and love expressed. And you feel this pouring off the pages.    

Sarah and Matt have three children- Noah, Grace, and Jesse- with both sons on the autism spectrum. 
{They also have every pet animal possible, from dogs to hermit crabs to guinea pigs to horses.} 
All of that adds up to life spilling over- sometimes lovely, sometimes messy, often both at once. 

Sarah has captured that quality of life, that the good and the hard often come as a packaged deal. 
And as she guides us through a few of her days, she reminds us that as challenging as it all is, it's worth it. 

She says she often asks her husband "Can you believe how good this all is?" 
And his answer is no, he has a hard time believing it and he never could have imagined it. But it's so good.

I thank Revell for providing me with a review copy.

Ps.... for those of you who think Parshall sounds like a familiar name, it is. Sarah's Mom is Janet Parshall, host of the radio show In the Market.
Janet's steady voice brings us the news of the Body worldwide, and keeps us up to date on the work of God's people to spread His love.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Between the Dark and the Daylight~

Between the Dark and the Daylight: Embracing the Contradictions of Life

Between the Dark and the Daylight lies the place of uncertainty, longing, loneliness, concern, and knowledge of our finitude. 

It's not a place we want to go on a sleepless night. But Sister Joan Chittister argues that it isn't a place to ignore or run away from. 
Instead, it's where we can find ourselves. When paradoxes are embraced and insight is found within the tension, a soul "grows, expands, centers, and becomes its most radiant self." 

Here are a few quotes from various chapters to give you a taste of this book. 

The Mirage of Security~
"Risk, the willingness to accept an unknown future with open hands and a happy heart, is the key to the adventures of the soul. 
Without risk we live in a world of small dreams and lost possibilities."

The Success of Failure~ 
"We are not born to be miserable. We are born to be fully alive, to be happy, to give our gifts to the world with the joy that comes from doing our best and having it mean something to someone else." 

The Energy that Comes from Exhaustion~
"The important choice in life then, is to choose our stresses carefully. The good ones enliven us and give life to those around us. The bad ones give nothing to anyone, least of all ourselves." 

The Struggle between Guilt and Growth~
"Holiness depends on choices that have been tested by opportunities."

Each chapter is a few pages in length, crafted with an economy of words. Pithy is a good description of them- powerful thoughts expressed concisely.
The ideas hit you, and force you to re-read sentences.
And along the way, as she lays bare her own meditations, she quotes other minds that have wrestled with the same basic life.

"Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone... 
And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."~ Paul Tillich

"Creativity means to push open the heavy, groaning doorway to life." ~ Daisaku Ikeda

I thank Image Books and Blogging for Books for providing me with a review copy. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Rasmus and the Vagabond~ a delight!

Rasmus and the Vagabond

Gather the children, open these pages and meet little Rasmus. 
At age nine, Rasmus wants so badly to be free of the orphanage.
The efficient Miss Hawk is a poor substitute for a mother's love, and prospective parents always adopt girls with curly hair.
What is a straight-haired boy to do?  

Run away, of course, to find "somebody who wants me."  
So Rasmus does, all alone on a summer night, with one coin and a zwieback in his pocket. 

Friends often appear in unlikely places, wearing unexpected faces. Rasmus never would have trusted a tramp... but Oscar promises that he doesn't eat children, calls himself God's Best Friend, and carries big ham sandwiches on rye bread. And he's perfectly at home on the open road. 
Beside him, Rasmus can journey safely to a new family. 

What a delightful book. 
There is adventure aplenty that would have enthralled me as a kid and still had the grown-up me turning pages fast. 
See, they don't simply wander around the countryside, marching along lanes, napping in sandhollows, visiting farms, and singing for their suppers.
No, Rasmus and Paradise Oscar run afoul of some robbers- a situation calling for bravery and ingenuity in the face of danger. 

Warm-heartedness is celebrated in every chapter as our two tramps grow quite attached to each other. 
Rasmus continues to imagine his ideal father as handsome, rich, and good, but Oscar is so kind and honest- why couldn't he have been a wealthy grocer? Then Rasmus could stay with him forever.

Honestly, I did not see the ending coming. I didn't. There's a plot twist in the last two chapters and at first I thought "Well, that's a bittersweet but satisfactory ending." And then I read a bit more and said "No, that's a wonderful ending." 
You'll see what I mean. :-) 

And the writing- oh, the writing. This is back in the days when children's books were loaded with subtle wit and humor. 

Rasmus: "Didn't anyone ever offer you a job?" 
Oscar: "Yes, it has happened. But on the whole people are usually nice to me." 

And there's doses of gentle truth, too.
At one point Rasmus asks "Could I get to be one of those God's best friends anyway?" 
"Yes," Oscar reassures him, "They're not that fussy up there." 

This book is going on my shelf next to the Pippi Longstocking series. It should be a classic- right there with Eleanor Estes' Moffat books. 
Thank you to Plough Publishing House for my review copy, provided through HandleBar Media. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

All is Grace~

All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir

A poem closes this book, a poem that Brennan must have written in his later years, perhaps for this autobiography specifically. 
In it, he describes the changes that have taken place in him as he ages... and he whispers "Still, all is grace." 
He describes his wondering- does Jesus love me still? And he hears his Father say, full and plain, "All is grace." 

All is grace. 
Every poor choice and aching regret and disappointment that Brennan dealt with? It was all bathed in grace.
Every act of kindness and truthful word that he gave the world? It all sprang from grace. 

It's the grace he tried to trust at the same time he that tried to outrun it... and that pattern sounds like one that most of us know. 

Brennan Manning lived a varied and colorful life- he was ambushed by Jesus over and over again through so many people and so many places.
He invites us along with him, on a turning and tumbling journey of memories and images of mattered to him. 

We get glimpses of his childhood- his first moments of rejection and his first best friend. 
We see him young and happy in the priesthood- stationed in a desert village in Spain, he drove a mule wagon to fetch water.
We see him in love, and we see his wedding and his new family of a wife and two daughters. 
We see him overflow with the glory of God- encountering that Golden World, where Christ is so near to the heart.
We see him struggle- "the cheese falls off the cracker so many times," as he puts it. 
And we see him fall. The falls hurt him, and they hurt the people he loved. 
Yet as Rich Mullins sang "If I fall, let it be on the grace that first brought me to you." 
For all is grace. 
And he is Brennan Manning, the witness to that grace. 

Reading this book now, we know that Brennan is home with his Jesus. 
And we know that the words he spoke, the grace he clung to and dispensed, is face-to-face reality for him now. 
And that is a beautiful thing to think about. 
Every step he took in the "right" direction, every stop he made at the "wrong" place- it was all grace that brought him safe that far, and grace that led him home. 

Thank you David C Cook for providing me with a review copy. It's joining several other Brennan books in my library.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Day I Met Jesus~

The Day I Met Jesus: The Revealing Diaries of Five Women from the Gospels

"No man has ever spoken words like this man. His words feed life; they behold hope; they gush truth." ~ 
Thus speaks the Samaritan Woman whom tradition names Photine. 

Sometimes when I read the Gospel narratives, they seem distant and strange. It's hard to still my soul and hear His words in all their power. 
The woman at the well, the woman with the issue of blood, the woman caught in adultery, and Mary of Bethany- they heard Him. 
They sought Him, they were found by Him, and on the day they met Jesus, their world changed. 

Mary DeMuth and Frank Viola have given each woman- known by a few brief and timeless lines in Scripture- a fuller story. 
One that gives them back their humanity, providing them with hopes and fears and a past and a future. 
Otherwise, they're just black and white text to us.

The goal of this book is to help you "see" these women as they meet Him, and then to encounter Him for yourself. 
And along the way, they crafted a keeper of a Bible study- the kind that compels good reading.

The way Mary uses words is beautiful... listen to the thoughts of one woman set free by God.
"I ran to the outskirts of Nain under a full moon and twirled under it's shadow a free woman, so blessedly alive it nearly scared me to death."
Don't you love that visual? 
Don't you want to meet the joyous, good, gentle, mighty God who provokes such life in His people? 

Jesus is the one who "tells us our stories straight, and with that, changes the endings forever."
Thanks to Him, we can live "stolen lives, given to us by the Author of life." 

I have been blessed by Baker Publishing with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game

Skin in the Game: A personal investment- holding nothing back- laying yourself on the line. 

If I asked you to think of this phrase in connection with the Gospel, you may see Jesus in your mind's eye. Obviously, he put His skin in the game. In the immortal words "Being in very nature God, He humbled himself...." and He bared His Divinity in flesh, offering Himself to and for the world. 

Yes, Jesus has skin in the game. But Rick Lawrence says it doesn't stop there. Jesus is the reason we get to "play the game" at all, but we have to offer our skin, too. The life of faith, Rick insists, is a life of risk. 

Calculation, analysis, and circumspection all have their place... but they aren't ends unto themselves. There comes a time to step out and try. 
Rick walks us through seven Gospel encounters between Christ and a man or woman, and shows that each time Jesus pushed them to put their skin in the game. 

The woman at the well had to face her shame. 
The man at the pool in Bethesda had to own his deepest desires.
Peter had to confront his fear and move in illogical, water-walking trust. 
Mary and Martha had to bear a waiting period, with their beloved brother cold in the grave. 

Every story, when you look at it closely, involved a risk. On one side of their decision hung the weight of past- my brother died, my body is diseased, I've never stood on a wave before, I've ben rejected so many times there's nothing left of me- and on the other side was the promise of Christ's words. 

They chose right. 

Rick Lawrence makes me want to choose right too, to trust the One who understands me fully and who leads me risk-by-risk.
And every time we offer our skin in the game of life, we find ourselves in Him- awake and alive and reflecting Him a wee bit more.

I thank Kregel Publishers for providing me with a review copy.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Halo Found Hope

Halo Found Hope

 "I am a survivor who recognized the One who never left me- God. He blessed me with authentic courage, and I discovered where true hope is found. 
I want to encourage others to hold on, and never give up. When you stumble into feelings of defeat, do not stay there. Hold on to God." 
~ Helo {Halo} Matzelle. 

If you read this book, your natural reaction will be "What an amazing story- Helo and her family were so courageous and so resilient in the face of such a terrible diagnoses and all the complications that came with it." 
Halo, however, would correct you. "God is the amazing One," she would say. 

"Please make something beautiful out of this...." that was Helo's prayer the in days before she entered the hospital. 

This is a riveting personal story of one woman-wife, mother, and daughter- who faced an operation and recovery that drained her of all strength. 
When she would have given up, God sustained her. He carried her, restored her, gave her back to her family, and drew them together in new ways.
And ever since, He has placed people in her life who need to hear her story and see what He did for her, to believe that He cares about them too. 

"God makes beauty from ashes; trials build genuine faith. We can rise from struggles when we ask God to be the leader of our battles. This is strength and comfort at its finest. He breathes Heavenly hope into our hearts and holds us together." 

This is also an exquisite testimony to the work of God and the worth of Christ in our lives. 
Helo knows the power of grace to conquer fear, and she points to the ever-present Mercy in our times of need. 

Thank you Helo and Litfuse Publicity Group for my review copy. 

 This written account began as a simple diary, hidden in a drawer. A year and half later, it set the stage for her memoir, “Halo Found Hope,” launched in 2015. Helo chronicles her battle against a brain tumor with vivid details surrounding surgery, complications, an eight-week hospital stay, and twenty weeks of intense rehabilitation (learning how to walk, talk, eat, think and function again). But her memoir is not just about that brain tumor and giant challenge of regaining a “new normal.” Helo also illustrates, how God stayed by her side…turns doubt into trust, fear into courage, and defeat into determination. He equips us to be brave.
A portion of author proceeds will go to the National Brain Tumor Society, the largest non-profit organization dedicated to the brain tumor community in the United States.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Easter Stories~

Many families I know have several favorite Christmas stories, and the routine of reading them every year adds delight to the season.  
Nobody I asked, however, could have named a single Easter story except for the Gospel narratives.
This volume will happily change that. 

Plough Publishing has carried on in the tradition of their previous work "Home for Christmas." 
They've mined great literature from through the ages and across the globe, searching for stories that shout and whisper "He is Risen!" 

The stories range widely in style and genre.  
Some are what we call "Biblical Fiction," where humans use that holy imagination to give us a scene from the Gospel's themselves. 

One of the most unique examples of this is "Stories from the Cotton Patch Gospel." 
Clarence Jordan brings the Gospel into Georgia. He envisions how the Passion may have taken place in the Deep South, with followers Rock, Jack and the Magdala girl and Jesus bringing the "God Movement." 
He shows us the betrayal, the agony in the garden, and the Sunday Rising in a new way.
{I'll be keeping an eye out for Mr. Jordan's entire book.}

St. Veronica's Kerchief is more traditional, but every bit as compelling. 
I can't say anything about it without spoiling the pleasure of your own reading, but it gives a story to the Sixth Station of the Cross. 

And then there's Elizabeth Goudge's "John." I hope to re-read this one every year. 
In just a few pages, she manages to give life and breath and soul to John, Peter, and Mary Magdalene, following them to the Tomb. 

Some are historical fiction, such as Tolstoy's tale of two old villagers who set out for Jerusalem. 
On the way they find God through an unexpected detour, and they learn the true meaning of pilgrimage.

Claire Huchet Bishop provides another historical, about a gang of children living in Nazi occupied Paris. 
The way these children provide an Easter gift for a sick friend makes a wonderful story. 

And Alan Paton, author of "Cry, The Beloved Country" takes us to South Africa in the pain and turmoil of Apartheid. 
His story, quiet and humble, shows us clearly why Jesus washed his disciples feet and said "Now do the same."

Other's are far more mythic, and all of them contain glimpses of Him and His Resurrection power.
He's in the King who "calls out with a lion's voice" and takes the lash upon his own back.
He is the Ragman in my second favorite story, who goes calling through the city, exchanging bandages for health and tear-stained handkerchiefs for gladness.
He's seen "through a glass darkly" in the fable of Danko, who tore out his burning heart to light the way through danger. 

And the best part is, the selections transcend all denominational categories. 
Turn your eyes and tune your ears to the everlasting mercy, and prepare to hear these tales echoing in your heart for a while to come. 

"For though every man's life must come to its end, God's spirit can never be quenched... thus Jesus wanders on, over steppes and through forests, into hearts and homes. He looks into the eyes of beggars; he blesses children. No spies can prevent him, no magistrates can arrest him, no prison can hold him fast. He can cross every frontier, and walk among us, too. Pray that he may, for we have long had need of him."
~ Karl Josef Friedrich, "The Case of Rachoff."  

 I am grateful to The Plough Publishing House for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

You're Loved No Matter What~

You're Loved No Matter What: Freeing Your Heart from the Need to Be Perfect

Our world is many things. 
It's big, beautiful, wild, wonderful, delightful, dizzying, sad, and scary. 

And in this world, when it gets overwhelming, we have two common responses. 
The first says "I'll handle this by being excellent, competent, and fully capable. I will manage the world through my efforts and performance."

Obviously, the first example screams "perfectionism!" 
That's become a bit of a buzzword lately, applied rightfully and wrongfully to a lot of people.
I've never been that Type A over achiever. I'm not driven or ambitious. 
In fact, I'm quite slow to move on anything. I tend to watch other people live and cheer quietly from the sidelines. 
I let opportunities come to me, and sometimes I let them pass right by.
So it would seem that I am not a perfectionist, and I resigned myself to reading a book that didn't apply to me. 

But then Holley listed a second example of how people cope with the world.
This belief says "I'll stand very still, and if I don't chase after anything or rock the boat, then I'll avoid any potential damage or danger. I may not make any friends, but I won't accidentally hurt anybody either. I may not step out of my comfort zone, but I won't inconvenience anyone either. I may not share my life too personally with anyone, but I won't upset them either."

That's me. And then Holley explained that this is perfection-based too. 
You're afraid to try because you're afraid to fail. 

The glorious thing is, Holley has a third option to tell us about.
Instead of trying too hard or running and hiding, we can live freely and fully. 

Now that's quite a promise to make, isn't it? 
But Holley has a sure thing backing up her promise- Jesus set us free, took away our sin, took on our humanity, and can dissolve our fears with His kindness. 

So this book tells us where we are- we're held close by the Shepherd, seen through his eyes of love.
We're not good enough, but He is all goodness, and so we don't need to be. 

And this book asks you to find out who you are- how did God make you? What do you have to give?
How do you work and learn and give and receive love? 
Because Holley is convinced that God calls us all to walk in His way, and that there's a unique way for each of us to do so. 

One of the best chapters, I thought, was the one about the will of God. If the will of God is that we be conformed to the Image of His Son, then that's a lifelong process. 
And we don't need to see everything up ahead, and all our efforts don't have to pan out, and we can even mess things up along the way. What matters, she insists, is that we start moving and trying and doing- He'll guide us through it all.

There's a compelling chapter about trading Guilt for Grace, with diagrams that accurately represent the two cycles- Grace begets obedience and intimacy, Guilt spawns shame and isolation.
Holley describes how she returns to these truths throughout her day, centering her heart with gratitude and trust. 

Obviously, when we begin to accept grace for ourselves, it will change our relationships with others. 
All of the the steps we take toward freedom and fullness will help us as we live with our people. 
There is a cycle to break, the cycle of Criticism and Condemnation. 
The good news is that we can replace those imposters with Encouragement and Correction.
One word, act, and prayer at a time, we can build life-affirming connections with friends and family.

Ultimately, it all comes down to this...
"We can carry less when we become convinced that we're cared for more than we can even imagine." ~Holley Gerth.

And I love that. So if you worry yourself sick about your performance, and you crave freedom and fullness, then "You're Loved No Matter What" will speak to you. Thank you to Revell Reads for my review copy.

Holley Gerth Bestselling author, follower of Jesus, friend to YOU

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Grand Paradox

The Grand Paradox: The Messiness of Life, the Mystery of God and the Necessity of Faith 

The first thing you read when you open this book is a quote from G. K Chesterton: 
"Paradox simply means a certain defiant joy which belongs to belief."

I like that- a defiant joy. 

And paradox {or tension, both concepts work} permeates everything. 

The world is exceedingly unstable, yet we declare that God is eternally trustworthy.
Human beings are fatally fragile, yet we dare to suggest that we're also immortal souls.
Everything is running down and burning out, but we hope for renewal. 

Paradox, all of it. Multiple truths, at loggerheads with each other, all describing nuances of reality. 

Ken Wytsma says that the life of faith in Christ is the Grand Paradox, and this book is a guide for us as we enter that life.

He gets off to a strong start in chapter one, "Jericho."
In a few pages, he takes us through the heavily fortified city, and shows us the walls crashing down. From where we are, the story is awesome. God brought down stonework with the blast of trumpets. 
Yet really, do you think this made any sense to the Israelites? Do you think they understood what God was doing, why He was demanding such a ridiculous thing from them? What terrible military strategy- "Don't invade, march around the outside making music."
Yet what God teaches us through this experience is that the battle is His. 
Pastor Wytsma makes this point over and over: He leads, we follow.

Sometimes in this book Ken stresses part one of the equation- God leads. Trust. Rest. Fear not. 
Sometimes he stresses part two- we follow. Live your faith. Obey. Act. 

And there's so much material for reflection here as he works on those themes.

When Ken talked about resignation, and how that isn't really wholesome submission to God, I saw myself. 
I'm so tempted to be that prisoner in chains he describes, following the jailer because he has no other choice. Ouch! 
That part made me want to find a way of being disappointed and yet not falling into resignation.

Looking at modern trends, he talks about the way we process information and share ideas today. 
We have plenty of conclusions on every possible issue, and yet those conclusions often lack nuanced understanding. 
His case for withdrawing from the information stream, reflecting deeply, slowing our conversations, and owning our convictions- it's a powerful one. 

His "Love is Never Wrong" chapter stole the show for me, for one reason. He says "... we can do this. Faith isn't beyond us." 
And on days when the world is wild and I'm failing my ideals left and right, and I can't keep up with all I need to learn- I need to know that It Can Be Simple. In this chapter, he says that we can stop worrying about never doing the very bad wrong things, and start pursuing the always available right thing- Love. 

He also takes on the question of "What is happiness?" and he addresses spiritual fatigue- burnt out on religion? 

The last paragraph of the book was a delightful surprise, too. Again, he's quoting, but I won't tell you who.
And when you read the book, don't skip to the end. Let me just say that I thought those were perfect words to close with.

Thank you Booklook and Ken Wytsma for my review copy.