World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our common Life by Marvin Olasky
In today’s contentious political environment where reason, sound inquiry, and critical thinking seem to have been overwhelmed by name-calling, shouting, and protests, Marvin Olasky offers a breath of fresh air in World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life.
Olasky, the former editor of World Magazine, offers 58 of his columns from 1997-2016 for our consideration. His reasoning and arguments remind me of the home school debate league our son participated in, where debaters were required to understand both sides of the issue. He suggests how we as Christians might understand and discuss current political issues, usually offering information or facts that were new to me.
A Variety of Topics
Through these columns, Olasky suggests a thoughtful Christian worldview, loosely organized into several broad categories including Basics, Changes, Institutions, Causes, and Conclusions. He covers such topics as abortion, the constitution, education, transgenderism, immigration, and more, and suggests how we might approach these issues. Some of his essays are twenty years, yet I was surprised how current his thinking was.
While this is an interesting read, it is probably more useful as a reference book. The Table of Contents is somewhat helpful, although many of his chapter titles don’t make clear the topic. But it is refreshing to read thoughtful commentaries on political and worldview topics.
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.
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: 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.
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.
“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!
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: 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)
Lessons on Living to 104
Being Cultivated or Pursuing?
The Power of Presence: A Love Story by Neil T. Anderson
Neil T. Anderson is well known in the Christian community for his ground-breaking books: The Bondage Breaker, Victory Over the Darkness, Freedom in Christ, and others. So I was intrigued when The Power of Presence: A Love Story was offered for review by Kregel. It was promoted as being a book about his care for his wife of 50 years, now gripped with agitated dementia.
My heart goes out to Dr. Anderson. He has served the community well, and is now serving his wife well. There are few things more draining than the dementia of a loved one, and he is devoting this part of his life to her. I wanted to hear more about that journey.
I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps something like Henry Nouwen’s later writings as he moved from being a professor to serving in a facility for the physically and mentally handicapped. His books from these years speak to and offer hope to those who have been sidetracked by God. As a person who has been involved in family caregiving for over a decade and “looking forward” to many more years, I hoped that Anderson would have words of wisdom for the weary and confused. I hoped that he would bring alive the ministry of presence—both God’s and the caregiver’s.
I was disappointed. While he used his and Joanne’s shared story as a common thread, the bulk of the book was theological. And I had a hard time finding the unifying theme or purpose of the book. I didn’t gain better ideas of how to be a better caregiver, and I often couldn’t draw the connection between the story of Joanne and the theological ramblings. I’m sure if I had had my theological hat on, I would have found the book interesting. But I had my caregiver hat on, and the book was promoted as a “luminous meditation.” I wasn’t meditating and I wasn’t illuminated…
When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently About God, Suffering, and Evil by John S. Feinberg
We’ve all heard the stories. Some of us live them. How do you reconcile the worst types of suffering in life with the notion of a good God?
John S. Feinberg is one who is living “the worst” of suffering. His wife, Pat, has suffered from Huntington’s Disease, an incurable, debilitating, genetic disorder, for over 25 years. For many years, she has been unable to walk, talk, or respond. In addition, his children are at risk because the disease is genetically transmitted. Pat’s mother probably suffered from Huntington’s and the information was in her medical record, but was not made available to them until years after her diagnosis. So Feinberg, a seminary professor, was hit with not one, but several, tragedies–each one raising theological and emotional questions.
In When There Are No Easy Answers: Thinking Differently About God, Suffering and Evil (Kregel Publications), Feinberg uses his theological training and life experience to grapple with the many questions that suffering raises. The result is a raw attempt to make sense of the nonsensical. He tackles the character of God and the stupidity of friends. He offers theological assessments and practical tips.
I was especially drawn to this book because my husband has Parkinson’s Disease, and while he is still quite functional, I know from friends in my support group what most likely lies ahead. I strongly recommend this book for anyone struggling with theodicy – the question why a good God permits the manifestation of evil, for anyone facing personal or health issues they don’t understand. It isn’t an easy book to read, although it is quite readable. It will make you think, pray, and discuss. It will help you become a woman of splendor. And hopefully, will give you answers to make the journey a little more tolerable.