Author Archives: Pat Sikora

Life is Full of Detours

Hagar: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Me by Shadia Hrichi

Hagar: Rediscovering the God Who Sees Me by Shadia Hrichi

Do you ever wonder what God is doing in your life? You head in one direction and end up taking a detour to somewhere else. That’s sure been my story for the past year. More about that in another post…

My friend, Shadia Hrichi, is publishing a Bible study on Hagar that looks wonderful. (BTW, have you ever seen a Bible study on Hagar? Shadia is working on a series on the often-overlooked people in the Bible. I love that concept!)

Today on her blog she revealed a portion of the first chapter, titled “Life is Full of Detours.” I loved this paragraph:

After Abraham and Sarah left Egypt, taking hordes of animals and slaves with them, they traveled right back to where they started. Could it be that God was watching over Hagar and that He decided to remove her from Egypt and its pagan gods? Might He have orchestrated this little detour into Egypt  — not because God needed to send Abraham and Sarah in  — but because God desired to bring Hagar out?

Wow! She calls this “God at work behind the seen.” I love it. It makes me wonder what God is doing “behind the seen” in my life. And yours.

 

Fiction Friday! Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes (The Isaiah Cadre) by Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus

How do you maintain your faith in times of unexpected trouble or trauma? Especially when it hits you out of nowhere. And what if the trauma has long-lasting effects—perhaps for the rest of your life? Would you still be able to trust God?

Beauty For Ashes: Isaiah Cadre, Book 1 (Isaiah Cadre Series) is the first of a series by my friend, Alyce-Kay Ruckelshaus. It chronicles the story of Kelly, a student at Westmont College in Santa Barbara in 1981. She is an MK (missionary kid) and in love with Matt, a PK (preacher’s kid). She is also part of the Isaiah Cadre, a group of dorm mates who have committed themselves to God and one another.

The book starts off a little slowly, but sets the stage well for an idyllic college experience, deep friendships, and young romance. It gives context that will be important later. And then the unthinkable happens and in a moment, Kelly’s world is shattered. Her faith is tested. Her love is tested. Even her friendships are tested.

The book offers a realistic portrayal of the way many people handle sudden trauma. It especially demonstrates how trauma affects a normally logical person, and how shame can distort one’s thinking.

I highly recommend this book. I loved it even though it’s not  my demographic. It’s well written, fast moving, and thoughtful. The author offers discussion questions for personal use or better yet, for a book group. Or even for a cadre. And best of all, it’s free on Kindle!

 

Do You Want to be Transformed?

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber

Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life       by Christy Wimber

For those of us who are serious about our faith, the idea of becoming transformed is always a priority. We’re always looking for the next step in our metamorphosis into Christlikeness. That’s why I was excited for the opportunity to review Transformed: Challenging Myths About the Power-Filled Life by Christy Wimber (Kregal). I was eager to learn what John Wimber’s daughter-in-law would add to my Christian walk. Her chapter topics increased my enthusiasm: what Jesus said yes to, mercy, renewing the mind, identity, grace, and calling. She identifies transformation as a journey, not a destination and focuses on deliberate, sacrificial choices as vehicles for transformation. All good ideas.

Unfortunately, the book fell short of my expectations. I think there were some good ideas in it, but they were often lost in a rambling narrative that would have benefited from a strong editor. Her writing was not tight and she often didn’t choose the best words or phrases to make her arguments. Her points were weakened by redundancy and rambling. Callout boxes didn’t reinforce or repeat important concepts. They were simply the next sentence, with little reason for being set apart. There were few stories or examples – just narrative. And while she offered some good theories, there was little in the way of practical “how to.” The result was a book I was not eager to return to and few memorable points.

I would love to see this book rewritten and re-edited. It’s clearly a concept needed by today’s Christians. But sadly, this edition doesn’t cut it.

Brave is the New Beautiful

Brave is the New Beautiful:

Brave is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You by Lee Wolfe Blum

Life is hard. It seldom goes like we planned. Bad things happen to good people. Life comes crashing in — or oozing in. And we’re expected to be brave?

As Americans, we want easy answers, quick resolutions. As Christians, we want Jesus to wave his magic wand and make it better. The reality is, answers are seldom quick or easy or perfect. The big question is then, what do we do? How do we react or respond? How do we find hope in the midst of the hopeless?

Lee Wolfe Blum is brave. And beautiful. As a therapist in an addiction and eating disorders program, she explores what it means to be brave, facing her own demons and telling the stories of other women who have faced theirs. In the process, she makes it clear that while there are no easy answers, there is Jesus. But not just the “right answer” Jesus. No, the real, gritty Jesus who meets us in the mess.

Blum weaves her own story of burnout and her resultant quest for wholeness with the stories of other women in a gracious and gentle way. But this is not the typical namby-pamby “isn’t Jesus sweet?” book that I so often review. Blum tells raw, authentic stories of vulnerability laced with faith. Her writing is beautifully crafted, but not every story has a happy ending. Some don’t even have an ending. Just like in real life.

Brave Is the New Beautiful: Finding the Courage to Be the Real You reads smoothly, but I wouldn’t call it an easy read. It moves deeper with each chapter and offers hope without guarantees. Just like real life. It will be a resource in my ministry. My only complaint is that she wrote it for women only. I would love to give a book like this to many men who are also facing tough stuff. Who also need to be brave.

 

You’ve Got Power!

You've Got the Power!

The Very Same Explosive Power That Raised Jesus From the Dead Lives in You!

Do you ever feel like it’s Good Friday all the time? Like your life is a walking death, filled with pain and defeat? Like God forgot you and threw away the key? Frankly, that’s a common mindset among Bible-believing Christians. So many Christians I know exhibit more of a victim spirit than a victory spirit. And yes, sometimes I do too.

I get it. Life can be hard. Sometimes very hard. We hear every day of the unfairness, the hardships, even the atrocities that seem to plague the inhabitants of this little green planet. We feel as if nothing we do can or will make a difference.

But is that true?

I know. It seems like it. We seem to be helpless. We feel like the ten spies who returned to Moses with a message of defeat after discovering that the inhabitants of the Promised Land were giants. “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Do you ever feel like a grasshopper in the face of the giants in your life? Do you feel defeated before you begin? If so, then today is for you. Today is the day you can take back your power. The day you can begin to conquer your giants.

How so, you ask? Sure, Jesus’ resurrection bought our salvation. That’s all well and good for eternity, but what about today? What about the giants I face today? What about my depression? My fears? My debt?

Here’s what today means for you:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:18-23)

That’s God’s promise to you on this Resurrection Day. Whatever you are facing, however low you feel, the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to you! The word for power in verse 19 is dunamis, from which we get our word dynamite. And if that weren’t enough, Paul modifies dunamis with two other superlatives, incomparably and great, which basically mean “to surpass or exceed in greatness.” It’s as if he were reaching to find a phrase that would express the incredible magnitude of this power. And then he goes on to explain the impact of this power. Not only did that power place Jesus above everything, including your problem and the demons activating it. It also put everything, including your problem and the demons activating it, under his feet!

So the next time you feel discouraged, disheartened, or defeated, remember that power which raised Jesus from the dead and let it enlighten your heart with hope. Rise up and take your rightful place. Look your problem in the eye and put it under the feet of Jesus.

Have a blessed Resurrection Day!

Photo Credit: Brendan Sceroler

What an Open Heaven Means to You

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel

Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel by John E. Jonson

When reading the gospels, do you ever wonder what it’s all about? What it means to you? If those stories from so long ago really have any impact on your life today? I think if we’re honest, we all feel that at least on occasion.

John E. Johnson tackles these questions in his new book, Under an Open Heaven: A New Way of Life Revealed in John’s Gospel.  In a conversational, almost irreverent tone, he takes thirteen of Jesus’ conversations with others in the Gospel of John and explains how in each, Jesus is demonstrating what an open heaven looks like and what difference it made to His hearers and to us.

Contemporary and Scholarly

Johnson weaves his language between 1st century commentary and 21st century vernacular, reminding the reader that yes, this applies to you. He takes pages out of today’s headlines with mentions of elections, human needs, and the #NeverJesus crowd. And he inserts his reader into the narrative with, for example, Jesus asking the disciples “what food stores remain open” or the disciples recognizing that “even at thrift store prices, there is not that much money in the deacon fund to cover the need” of feeding five thousand adult males, not to mention the women and children. Blended into this very real, very contemporary narrative is excellent scholarship, many quotes, and precise documentation.

Applies to Real Life

So what does an open heaven mean to an ordinary person pursuing splendor? I found myself engaged with Jesus, the human, the one who faced common everyday needs and opportunities in his setting which strangely had a lot in common with my setting. This book took Jesus from “way back then” to right now, from “I wonder how this applies to me” to “Wow, that’s just like my life.” More than any commentary I’ve read, Under an Open Heaven gave me actionable concepts. In addition, application questions at the end of every chapter helped to extend the concept of an open heaven to my everyday life.

This book is readable and penetrating. Well worth your time.

BASS 2017

Ministering at BASS 2017

Ministering at BASS 2017

I just spent the weekend ministering at BASS 2017. What is BASS? It’s the Bay Area Sunday School Church Workers convention. Held in Castro Valley the first weekend in March every year. This year I had the privilege of keynoting in the counseling track. That meant doing five workshops over Friday and Saturday. It was exhausting at one level, but oh so invigorating at a much deeper level. I love ministering at BASS. It’s a wonderful picture of the church in the Bay Area, filled with hungry people eager to learn more about ministry.

This year I taught five workshops, all of which were well received:

  • Why Didn’t You Warn Me? How to Deal with Challenging People
  • Obstacles to Healing
  • How to Talk so Others will Listen and How to Listen so Others Will Talk
  • Survival Tips for the Wilderness Journey: When the Itinerary You’re on Isn’t the One You Signed Up For
  • How to Get Your Warrior Back

Can’t wait for next year!

Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control

"Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible" by Shannon Popkin

“Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of control from Seven Women in the Bible” by Shannon Popkin

What do Eve, Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Leah, Rachel, and Miriam have in common? According to Shannon Popkin, they are all “Control Girls.” And what is a “control girl?” It’s a girl (or woman) who, one way or another, believe that it is good, right, or necessary to take control. They take control over their husbands, their kids, their circumstances, and try hard to control God. Their motives and methods are different, but the result is always the same – tragedy.

In Control Girl: Lessons on Surrendering Your Burden of Control from Seven Women in the Bible, Popkin has taken a topic I’ve seen little written about and tackled it well. She is an excellent writer, skillfully blending solid biblical study with personal examples. She goes deep by lesson 2, which I appreciated. And every lesson was peppered with good strategies, penetrating application questions, and depth I seldom see in a women’s book. Great job for her first book. You’ll want this book for yourself, your women’s group, or for someone you love.

My only complaint about this book is that she aimed it squarely at and for women. Sure, we need it. But her points are equally pertinent to men, and I’m sure she could have found a half dozen men to write about. I would love to use a book like this for a co-ed Bible study or in ministry with male clients. But hey, let’s get the women in line and pray for the men!

 

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Angel

What a year this has been! I haven’t posted much since August when my mother passed away. I haven’t been hit with much grief, but oh so many responsibilities! I don’t think I’ve stopped for the entire four months, between memorial services and estate duties. And now we are in Texas celebrating not only the birth of our Savior, but also the birth of our first grandson. Jack joined his two sisters on Saturday. We were delighted that we arrived in time for the birth, and have been ever so busy taking care of the girls, ages four and two, while their mom recovers from an unexpected C-section. We are trying to maintain as many traditions as possible, but many are going by the wayside as we simply try to maintain some semblance of normal. That’s hard since we don’t know their routines or even where things are in the house.

I’m sitting here tonight with the cutest little boy lying next to me. I look at him and am in awe that this is how our Savior, the Light of the World, came to earth. We’ve heard it all before. He laid aside his glory and came as an infant. But for those of us not generally around infants, it’s all too easy to forget what that means.

Jack is utterly helpless. Utterly dependent on the adults around him. He eats, sleeps, and poops. He makes the most wonderful array of faces, but in the end, he’s awake or asleep. He controls nothing. He lights nothing. He lacks power, authority, or gravitas. Yet when Jesus was born, many recognized this infant as Messiah, or at least as someone very special. The wise men recognized a king. The shepherds recognized the savior, Christ (Messiah, anointed one) the Lord. Hefty titles for one who undoubtedly weighed under 10 pounds.

I am once again in awe that the Lord and king of the universe would come like our little Jack. That he would entrust himself, his life, to very young, first time parents in a primitive part of the world. That would whimper, cry, and expect to have his needs met. The God-man, making his debut as an infant. That’s Christmas.

May yours be blessed.

Waiting for Wonder

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God's Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline by Marlo Schalesky

Full disclosure: Marlo Schalesky is not only a friend, but also one of my favorite fiction authors. She and I attended the same seminary, although not at the same time. I’ve know her for many years and have watched her live out an amazing Christian life. But I must say, Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timeline is a giant leap forward in her writing. In this book, Marlo has combined her remarkable fiction skills with her academic prowess – a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. That may sound like an odd combination – and it is. But Marlo pulls it off with aplomb. The result is an engaging read, peppered with historical and theological facts. And then she tops it all off with personal application and challenging questions.

Waiting for Wonder: Learning to Live on God’s Timelineis the story of Sarah. I’ve heard many sermons and read a few books on Abraham, but few on Sarah. Who was she? What was her world like, and how did she navigate it? How did she respond to being essentially a pawn in Abraham’s drama? How did she manage the twenty-five year wait between the promise and the fulfillment?  And so what? Why do I care?

A Compelling and Scholarly Saga

Marlo weaves a compelling saga, laced with insights from scholarly authorities. Her theme is, of course, waiting – and finding God in the wait. Imagine being infertile and then in your old age, being promised a son. A son from your womb! Imagine the roller coaster of emotion as month follows month, year follows year with no son. Imagine the frustration of being a woman in that culture, a woman whose husband leaves home, family, and a good life behind and becomes a nomad to chase a promise from his God. His invisible God, by the way. Did Abram really hear God? Is this invisible God really able to pull off his promise? If so, what is taking so long?

Admit it. Sarah’s story is all too often our story. Sarah’s wait reflects our seemingly endless wait. Sarah’s flimsy faith and attempts to help God out – well, yeah…..

This book is well worth the read. It’s an excellent devotional and would also be a meaningful book for a small group.

Marlo Schalesky’s ‘Waiting for Wonder’ Giveaway (12/6-1/23)

Waiting for Wonder Marlo Schalesky

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