Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction by Eugene Peterson

A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by [Peterson, Eugene H.]

In this work Peterson, who spent ten years creating the Message translation of the Bible, writes about the fifteen Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134) which the ancient Jewish people memorized and sang on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover. Of the impetus to write the book, Peterson says,
"I knew that following Jesus could never develop into a "long obedience" without a deepening life of prayer and that the Psalms had always been the primary means by which Christians learned to pray everything they lived, and live everything they prayed over the long haul."
Peterson uses Psalms 120-134 as a frame to show us what Christian discipleship is. Though the book I reviewed yesterday, Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders, is also about discipleship, there is a stark contrast between the two in what each author does in expounding the basic concept of discipleship.

If Sanders’s book reads like a cookbook, Peterson’s reads like philosophy and poetry.

And, indeed, Peterson draws from poetry to talk about discipleship. Of the Psalter, which I have heard some refer to as a mini-Bible within the Bible, he says,
"There is no literature in all the world that is more true to life and more honest than Psalms, for here we have warts-and-all religion. Every skeptical thought, every disappointing venture, every pain, every despair that we can face is lived through and integrated into a personal, saving relationship with God-a relationship that also has in it acts of praise, blessing, peace, security, trust and love."

Psalm by psalm from 120-134, Peterson goes deeply into the meaning of each one as it relates to discipleship. I loved that his is not a shallow treatment, as I've often seen  in books that talk about the entire book of the Psalms.

Dealing with only 10% of them gives him plenty of pages to bring out the meat of each one, especially in relation to our walk with Christ.

Highly recommended,

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders

Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer (Sanders Spiritual Growth Series) by [Sanders, J. Oswald]

Spiritual Discipleship: Principles of Following Christ for Every Believer by J. Oswald Sanders. 

  • Print Length: 206 pages
  • Publisher: Moody Publishers (January 1, 2009)

  • Originally published in 1990, Moody Publishers is reissuing this classic on discipleship. 

  • Sanders' contention is that many people have forgotten what it means to be a Christian. 

  • Being a Christian is not saying a magic prayer that gives us eternal salvation and then living life as usual. 

  • Christ did not commission his apostles to merely save people, but to make them disciples. There is a world of difference between the two. Unless there is a true change of heart, i.e. repentance and working toward the upward call in Christ, saying the magic prayer means absolutely nothing. Yes, we are saved by grace. But our works prove that our conversion was real.

  • The Christian needs to become more like Jesus day-by-day, and Sanders shows us how. Questions for reflection are included at the end of each chapter, which I found helpful for me, to think about and measure where I might be on the narrow path, and where I can do better. 

  • I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Artist's Rule by Christine Valters Paintner

The Artist's Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom by [Paintner, Christine Valters]

For creatives with a strong bent toward the spiritual and the contemplative, you will find treasure in this book. Written by a Benedictine oblate, Christine Valters Paintner presents a 12-week course for establishing a spiritual/creative practice by using some of the Rules of St. Benedict.

I enjoyed the book to a point. Though I consider myself more reflective than unreflective, I still found her exercises, in most cases, something I wouldn't waste my time on.

Well, maybe when I was younger, I would have.

That's not to say others wouldn't find it to be just what they need. Or to say that I got nothing from the book.

I especially enjoyed her descriptions about The Divine Hours, which are the sacred cycles of each day, and their connection to the creative process.

I also enjoyed learning about a Benedictine monk's commitments to Obedience, Stability, and Conversion, and how those commitments can support the growth of a spiritual/creative practice.

Obedience is "listening deeply to the ways God calls you in everyday life and how you respond." It's about being faithful to the call God has put upon your life and not spending your precious time on things that don't further that call.

Stability is not responding to restlessness of heart and mind by searching for new experiences, new relationships, new geographical locations, in order to escape your problems by avoiding them. It's about finding mystery in ordinary life, growing long-lasting, deep relationships, and getting to know the people in the communities you're involved in. It's about staying with your problems and solving them where you're at.

Conversion is stability's opposite. It's asking yourself, "What is worth living for in this place at this time?" Having asked, it's acting in accordance with the answers discerned.

Those were the ideas I liked best in this book, however I also liked some of her other ideas as well.

If you're a fan of Kathleen Norris, you will be a fan of Christine Valters Paintner. 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cling: Choosing a Lifestyle of Intimacy with God by Kim Cash Tate

Cling: Choosing a Lifestyle of Intimacy with God by [Cash Tate, Kim]

Cling by Kim Cash Tate

  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Discovery House (February 28, 2017)

I'm always excited to read hot-off-the-press Christian nonfiction. Kim Cash Tate, who's written Christian fiction, has branched out into Christian nonfiction with this new book. In it, she highlights scriptures that command believers to cling to God: 

Deut. 10:20
Deut. 13:4

She then goes through familiar territory, writing about how we were created to cling, but separated ourselves from Him through the fall. She talks about Christ's mission to redeem us. 

Around 25% into the book, she finally launches into what it means to cling to God, choosing a lifestyle of intimacy with Him. 

Weaving personal stories, current events and especially Bible stories, she shows us people who have successfully clung to God. She uses many good illustrations (particularly the Biblical ones!), but I confess that after having read so much of the best of Christian nonfiction over the past couple of years, I didn't find much in this book that shed new light on scripture, or made me look at something differently. 

It was written well enough, but I didn't detect any flashes of sheer brilliance that made me sit back and think for a while about what she'd said. 

The only chapter that presented an idea that I hadn't come across in all my reading was the chapter entitled Healing from Immoral Clinging. 

It's a chapter on varieties of sexual sin, including premarital sex between believers. 

She then gives the reader reassurance that if we confess our sins (and walk away from them), God will, of course, forgive them.

The book came with a study guide at the end. I suspect that it will be used and enjoyed by home groups. It will deliver enough of what the group needs in order to make a good class, if not an astoundingly thought provoking one. And that's probably just fine. 

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Prayer--10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard Foster

Prayer - 10th Anniversary Edition: Finding the Heart's True Home by [Foster, Richard J.]

Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home

Having not paid much attention to developments in the practice of Christianity in America for many years, I am only now discovering important books that some of you have probably known about for a very long time.

Case in point is Richard Foster's classic book on prayer. Even its 10-year anniversary release was over a decade ago.

Foster is part of the Renovare movement, which focuses on Spiritual Formation. This book is one of its many truly wonderful resources.

Weighing in at 473 pages, in it Foster (a Quaker) writes a chapter on each of the many unique types of prayer.

Can you name them? Prior to reading many books on prayer, in addition to this one, I would've thought there might be a half-dozen distinctive types of prayer.

But no. There are 22 styles of prayer, which Foster writes about in this book. Each one comes straight out of the Bible, which he supports with numerous biblical references.

Over the millennia, various Christian traditions have focused more on some types of prayer than others. For example, Catholics have practiced Ignatian and Benedictine prayer, which Protestants, in general, have not--to their great loss.

All types of prayer are good, to bring us closer to God. Here are the 22 types of prayer, about which Richard Foster writes.
  1. Simple prayer
  2. Prayer of the forsaken 
  3. Prayer of complaint (lamentations)
  4. Prayer of Examen (Ignatian Prayer)
  5. Prayer of tears
  6. Prayer of relinquishment
  7. Formation prayer: This one is Benedictine Prayer. Here's a snippet of what Foster says about it: 
“Prayer changes things,” people say. It also changes us. The latter goal is the more imperative. The primary purpose of prayer is to bring us into such a life of communion with the Father that, by the power of the Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to the image of the Son. This process of transformation is the sole focus of Formation Prayer." 
He goes into some of the Rules of St. Benedict, or the twelve steps, which include humility; The Little Way; The Communion of Solitude; Peering into the Abyss.

      8. Covenant Prayer.  A profound interior heart call to a God-intoxicated life.
      9.The Prayer of Adoration
    10. The Prayer of Rest
    11. Sacramental Prayer, (Liturgical prayer)
    12. Unceasing Prayer
    13. The Prayer of the Heart
    14. Meditative Prayer
    15. Contemplative Prayer
    16. Praying the Ordinary:

"The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find him at all."
    17. Petitionary Prayer
    18. Intercessory Prayer
    19, Healing Prayer
    20. The Prayer of Suffering
    21. Authoritative Prayer
    22. Radical Prayer:
"Radical Prayer refuses to let us stay on the fringes of life’s great issues. It dares to believe that things can be different. Its aim is the total transformation of persons, institutions, and societies. Radical Prayer, you see, is prophetic." 

This is a wonderful resource on types of prayer that each of us can practice, every day. The goal is not, of course, to check off the list and boast about having done them all.

However in trying them all, we will find some draw us closer to God than others. It's those prayers that will become the most useful to us in our daily walk.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice by Mark Virkler

4 Keys to Hearing God's Voice by [Virkler, Mark]

There are so many books on the subject of hearing God, which is something that I imagine every Christian would like to be able to do, or to do better.

I know I sure would like to improve my hearing in that regard. I am endeavoring to do that through prayer, being in the Word, being more aware of God speaking to me through others, through things that happen in my life, and so on. Our antennas need to be up at all times!

In addition, I have read several books for tips. Mark and Patti Virkler have written numerous books on the subject, and are the founders of Communion with God Ministries, which trains people to have intimacy with the Holy Spirit.

In this book Vickler says, "Hearing God’s voice is as simple as quieting yourself down, fixing your eyes on Jesus, tuning to spontaneity, and writing." He takes 310 pages to say this--which is not a criticism. I'm glad he was so thorough! But in a nutshell, that is what he wrote about. 

With my first try, I had great hope for the results, especially since I am by nature a writer. I was hoping for something like automatic writing ...  

However, I ran into a couple of problems. The first fell under the task of quieting myself down. Living with a spouse, an adult daughter and her infant son, I am bombarded with a constant merry-go-round of talking faces, or in the baby's case, reaching hands (which are so sweet and precious).

And then there's the phone ringing (soliciters, mostly), the "ding!" that alerts me to text messages coming in.

But that's easily solvable: Do this when everyone else is asleep. Do this during those 3:00 am awakenings that are so ripe for communion with God. Those hours when you love nothing more than to fall on your knees and pray, and bask in the sunlit warmth of God's presence. To God be the glory.

My second problem was not as easily solved. Alone, quieted, I fixed my eyes on Jesus, turned to spontaneity, and waited, pen in one hand, journal in the other.

I waited to hear and write what God said to me--and came up against total (but very nice, peaceful) silence. Though there were no words to write, I felt a sense of God's deep, abiding presence.

I've read numerous books by authors who promote contemplative prayer, Thomas Keating being the chief proponent of it, so I was not overly discouraged by this lack of hearing God's voice.

Even in silence, God speaks to us.

Since that first effort at hearing God's voice through spiritual journaling, I have become more aware of the spontaneous thoughts that are from God. It generally happens after prayer. Although I seldom have pen and paper in hand, I make every effort to remember what I heard, although sometimes I forget, and I can only ask God to be merciful toward me, this baby Christian.

Some people, myself included, might be tempted to brush these thoughts away, thinking they were manufactured by my own brain. But I have detected a subtle difference. There is spontaneity to these thoughts, and they are not in my own voice. So yes, I believe I am hearing from God, and to God be the glory.

Having said all that, I am at this moment being reminded of one of my favorite contemporary Christian songs. Is this the Holy Spirit speaking to me? Certainly. It's God's job to make us aware of Him, so that we can give him the glory.

I will include the song here: Worthy of it All, sung by David Brymer.

Day and Night, Night and Day, Let Incense Arise ...

Have a blessed day with God. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A. W. Tozer

How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit by [Tozer, A. Z.]

How to be Filled with the Holy Spirit by A. W. Tozer. Despite Francis Chan's contention that the Holy Spirit is the forgotten God, I haven't had any trouble finding many books on the Holy Spirit, including this by one of my favorite authors, the late and great A. W. Tozer. 

It's a short work, only 64 pages, with practical steps for cultivating a relationship with the Holy Spirit. Tozer begins by saying,
The Holy Spirit is often thought of as a beneficent wind that blows across the Church. If you think of the Holy Spirit as being literally a wind, a breath, then you think of Him as nonpersonal and nonindividual. But the Holy Spirit has will and intelligence and feeling and knowledge and sympathy and ability to love and see and think and hear and speak and desire the same as any person has. Many of us have grown up on the theology that accepts the Holy Spirit as a Person, and even as a divine Person, but for some reason it never did us any good. We are as empty as ever, we are as joyless as ever, we are as far from peace as ever, we are as weak as ever.
Throughout the remaining pages, Tozer does several things. Among them, he asks the believer if he truly wants to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Why might we not? Because if we want to live self-centered lives, rather than God-centered lives, there is no room in our hearts for the Holy Spirit. He says,
"He will not permit you to indulge self-confidence. Self-love, self-confidence, self-righteousness, self-admiration, self-aggrandizement and self-pity are under the interdiction of God Almighty, and He cannot send His mighty Spirit to possess the heart where these things are."
For those who still want to be filled with the Holy Spirit, Tozer then outlines six steps to help us to cultivate this holy, supernatural relationship.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Put Your Warrior Boots On: Walking Jesus Strong, Once and for All by Lisa Whittle

Put Your Warrior Boots On: Walking Jesus Strong, Once and for All by [Whittle, Lisa]
Put Your Warrior Boots On: Walking Jesus Strong, Once and for All by Lisa Whittle

  • Print Length: 242 pages

    • Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (May 30, 2017)

    Given the frightening state of the world, Lisa Whittle exhorts us to become spiritual warriors ready to stand firm in any and every challenge. Brimming with passion for God and the call for all Christians to stop being lukewarm in their faith, she tells us how.  

    And how do we put on our warrior boots and become, as she says, Jesus strong? We prepare ourselves, by knowing what we believe. In other words, we read the Word. Daily. That gives us the power to stand firm in our faith, even unto death. We prepare ourselves, by being ready to give our testimony to anyone and everyone. We prepare ourselves, by choosing God before all else. That means spending time with Him before family, church, careers, hobbies. We prepare ourselves, by following Him not just some days, but every day, forever. 

    I’ve read a number of books on discipleship over the years. Kyle Idleman’s Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus comes closest in execution. But Kyle’s book does not pack the same punch. If you read Lisa’s book, that is full of illustrations, declarations, and marching orders, be prepared to become a warrior for God. Onward, Christian soldiers. 

    I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

    Tuesday, June 13, 2017

    Adventures in Prayer: Praying your Way to a God You Can Trust by Sharon Connors

    Adventures in Prayer: Praying Your Way to a God You Can Trust by [Connors, Sharon]

    Adventures in Prayer ... When I bought this, I was put off at first about the subtitle: Praying Your Way to a God You Can Trust. But the truth is, our deep seated beliefs about God were formed when we were children. Often, our imaginations created God in the image of our parents or guardians. If these people could not be trusted, how could we extend the trust to God?

    I read recently that trust is one of the first things we are taught, and one of the last things we learn, and especially the ability to trust God. (Taken from God Hunger, by John Kirvan.) It is so true! 

    Worse than parents who can't be trusted is the image of a God who cannot be, which was often fostered by early experiences in church. 

    It's no secret that the faith of many people was destroyed by churches that presented God as angry and vengeful, ever-ready to punish and cast (most of the world) into an eternity of burning Hell. 

    In this book, Sharon Connors helps believers to believe in a bigger, kinder God who is the solution to our problems. She encourages people to create a prayer space in their homes and to pray regularly. She uses affirmations and releases, which feel a little too new-agey to me, but apart from that, she gives much sound advice about prayer and forging a closer relationship to God.  

    Thursday, June 08, 2017

    Finding the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel

    I was glad to find this book. After stumbling upon and naively reading a book written by someone associated with the Jesus Seminar (of which I had no prior knowledge), thankfully I found this book, which addresses and refutes the Seminar's claims. 

    Since reading Strobel's book, I have read the books of a good number of other pastors and scholars who also believe that the Jesus Seminar was way off base in its claims. 

    If you are unaware of the Jesus Seminar, it was a group of about 150 Biblical scholars and laymen who, during the 1980s and 1990s wrote books and papers on the historical Jesus. (Note: not the Jesus of faith and Christian theology.)

    When all was said and done, they refuted much of the gospels' claims about his life and sayings, reducing Jesus to basically a crackpot who was crucified, but definitely did not rise from the grave. Or that's what the book I read did. 

    It was entitled, The Gospel Truth: On the Trail of the Historical Jesus by Russell Shorto. 

    Who wants a God like that? I sure don't. What would be the point of being a Christian? Shorto seemed to think that people could relate better to a fully human Jesus than they could to the God-Man that traditional Christianity believes in. 

    Well, that's sure not what I want from Jesus. I need him to be my redeemer, and I need to believe in the possibility of eternal life. Christ as fully God and fully man is our only hope.   

    Anyway, Lee Strobel, a journalist and former atheist, examines some of the claims about Jesus through the centuries, beginning with the Gnostics. He then goes on to present a powerful case for believing in the accuracy of the Bible. He then demonstrates that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophesies. He examines the historical Jesus, who truly lived and truly died on the cross. In the final chapter, he presents a very strong case for Christ's resurrection. 

    Wednesday, June 07, 2017

    Seed to Vision: How God-Inspired Ideas Become Reality by Steve Flynn

    Seed to Vision: How God-Inspired Ideas Become Reality by [Finn, Steve]

    Seed to Vision: How God-Inspired Ideas Become Reality by Steve Flynn. 

    Print Length: 192 pages
    • Publisher: New Hope Publishers (May 1, 2017)

    What the publisher says: 
    Seed to Vision is a must-read for anyone with a God-sized idea who is unsure what to do next. Peppered with personal stories, former metro-Atlanta police special unit gang officer turned boys’ home and school founder Steve Finn shares the eight key tools God uses to turn a seed of an idea into a vision and ultimately to a reality. Be inspired to see that with God nothing is impossible—the idea He gave you can become reality.
    My thoughts: 

    I so enjoyed learning about how God inspired Steve Flinn, who in 2016 was recognized as one of the top three leaders in the country by the John C. Maxwell Leadership Award committee. 

    A nearly impossible idea that began as a seed became, after many years, Chestnut Mountain Ranch, a 225-acre school and home for troubled boys that is located in one of the poorest and highest drug use areas of the U.S.   

    But the book is not solely about how Chestnut Mountain Ranch came to be. It's also an inspiring road map for any person of faith who feels he or she is being called to execute an idea, no matter how big or small, that can be accomplished only with God's oversight. And that's all of us, isn't it? 

    Each of the book's eight chapters focuses on a tool that Steve used. Tools include the need to refine the idea, to gather a team, to develop patience, discipline, perseverance, wisdom and persepective.  

    He gives examples about how each tool was used in scripture. Then he discusses how he applied the tool to the development of Chestnut Mountain Ranch. 

    In all, it was a very inspiring book. 

    I was given this book to read by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

    Friday, June 02, 2017

    Thursday, June 01, 2017

    Jesus: A Pilgrimmage by James Martin, S.J.

    Jesus: A Pilgrimage by [Martin, James]

    Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ. Near the beginning of 2017, there were nine books I wanted to read about Jesus. My goal was to finish them all before Easter. This book was among them, but with it weighing in at a hefty 533 pages, I was tempted to save its reading until next year, beginning on Ash Wednesday and completing it during the Lenten season. 

    Instead, I forged on with it as well as the other books. Though I finished the others first, it was mostly because they were shorter. This one had a unique charm that the others lacked in that Mr. Martin visited Israel and went everywhere that Jesus went. I loved "going along for the ride" to all of those places and learning so much about what is real about each one, and what is more than likely legend. 

    Spending two weeks in the Holy Land, Mr. Martin visited Bethlehem, Nazareth, the Jordan River; the Sea of Galilee,; Gennesaret, Capernaum, Bethesda, Jericho, Bethany, Jerusalem, Gethsemane and Golgotha, among other places. 

    Interspersed with the diary of his journey were teachings about Gospel passages that took place in the areas he visited. It opened the scriptures to me, enabling me to see Jesus' teachings in a way I wouldn't have, had I not read this lovely book. 

    I caught glimpses of the historical Jesus as well as the Christ of faith. Mr. Martin's thoughts on historical Jesus scholarship (which I find disturbing) were very reassuring to me. 

    So in every way, this was a wonderful book and definitely worth the extended time it took to read its 533 pages. 

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