Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

Dwelling Places: Words to Live in Every Season

Dwelling Places: Words to Live in Every Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Dwelling Places: Words to Live in Every Season by Lucinda Secrest McDowell

I was excited to be invited to review this book by Lucinda Secrest McDowell. I usually like her writing and I was ready for a new devotional. This book takes an interesting approach. First, it is organized by season, with a theme for each – dwell for fall, shine for advent, renew for Lent, and grow for summer. Then within each section, each day focuses on one word, finding the word in a Scripture verse. Interesting approach. Good potential. The layout is typical devotional: bible verse, narrative, prayer. The narrative usually offers a brief story or anecdote,  followed by some discussion of that theme.

Sadly, the book disappointed at every level. First, it’s unreadable and looks self-published even though it’s published by Abingdon. I know their goal – small format with each devotional contained on two facing pages. So the book measures 5” x 7” – a nice, portable size. But to accomplish the goal, they used what looks like about an 8-point font with 3/8 inch margins. Definitely not a book for anyone over 40! The paper is common newsprint.

Reviewers were asked to select a season to review. I chose Summer (grow). I love summer – gardens, vacations, family, leisure… Some of the words chosen fit the summer theme, but several were a reach. With few exceptions, I also found the narratives to be ho-humm. Not bad, but not underlinable.

All in all, this book was a disappointment. Look elsewhere for your new devotional.

Lucinda is sponsoring a drawing for some really fine prizes. Enter at https://promosimple.com/ps/9d4a by July 5. Winners drawn July 6.

Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart

Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart by Steve Brown

Hidden Agenda: Dropping the Masks That Keep Us Apart by Steve Brown

You wear a mask. I wear a mask. We all wear masks. But it should not be so. And Steve Brown is determined that we know every possible way we adopt hidden agendas.

No one can argue with his premise. It’s human nature to hide our true selves. We fear authenticity. We may abhor phonies, but when it comes right down to it, we’re all about as phony as they come. And then we pretend no one notices.

Brown’s style pulls no punches. He’s clear, concise, and in your face. He writes with the humor of an excellent speaker, punctuating truth with a dash of absurdity. The book reads like a spoken sermon, laced with phrases cleverly turned and fingers pointed.

As well written as the book is, I found it rather tedious. It seemed that he made his point well in the first couple of chapters. Then he made it again and again and again. It reminded me of the speakers’ mantra: “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them.” Except that he put several more “tell them’s” in the middle.  And yet, perhaps this is a new concept to some readers. Perhaps some are blinded to their hidden agendas and need them pointed out in several different ways before they get it.

Brown redeemed himself in the last couple of chapters when brought it home and applied the concepts to the church where he advocates “a new kind of family.” The book includes discussion questions at the end of each chapter, making the book useful for small groups or personal journaling.

Ministry Team Training

Bay Area people, would you like to receive training to serve on a ministry team? I’ll be conducting training for The Collide ministry team on Saturday, June 18 from 1-5 pm at Neighborhood Church, 1290 Pomeroy Ave., Santa Clara, CA. and Pastor Del has opened it to my contacts as well. The training is free, but you must register at Register at www.thecollide.com/ministrytraining. Space is limited.

This class is for people of all ages, and denominational background. It’s a simple hands on training to teach us how to discern what the Holy Spirit is doing in a ministry moment, and how to partner with the Holy Spirit to help bring people into a breakthrough moment with the Lord.
*Please note that FREE lunch is provided, beginning at 12pm, however no childcare will be provided during this time*
This first training class will include some of the following subjects:
  • The Collide Mission and Vision
  • Goals for Ministry at The Collide
  • Basic Altar Etiquette
  • Theology of Healing
  • Diagnosing the Spiritual Need
  • Basic Deliverance
  • and so much more…

 

Hunting Hope

When I receive a book for review, I can usually tell within a few pages if it’s one I want to keep or pass on. If it’s one I’ll tell clients about or one I’ll shelve and forget. Hunting Hope: Dig Through the Darkness to Find the Light by Nika Maples is not only a book I’ll keep and recommend, but also one I’m ordering for my ministry’s bookstore. I began underlining on page 2 (page one was very short) and I have tabs throughout. My indication of a good book.

So what’s so great about this book? Other than everything?

Authentic Voice:

First, Maples speaks with an authentic voice. She is a survivor of systemic lupus and a massive brainstem stroke that left her a quadriplegic at age 20. She fought her way back and became a public school teacher in her native Texas. She still struggles with the lupus and with falls. But she has learned how to mine God’s character and conform hers. She doesn’t sugarcoat her points, but rather shares from the depths of her discipleship.

Excellent Writing:

Not only does Maples make good points. She makes them well. She has the ability to turn a phrase, and then illustrates her points with great stories—most of them aimed at herself. Hunting Hope is a good read, a compelling read.

Transformational Points:

Maples has been tested in the fire. She had to learn to trust God or die. Her writing isn’t theoretical. It’s real. And transformational. If readers will pay attention, she offers hope for those trapped in situations that don’t seem fair. She shows God to be faithful. She says, “when we have nothing left to lean on, we learn to lean on God.”

It seems that most writers are either all miracle—believe God will heal everything all the time. Or no miracle—just thank God in the suffering. Maples says, “We should always ask for a miracle, but while we wait, God’s calming presence in our lives is a miracle in itself.” She focuses on obedience: “God unfolds His plan after the person takes a step of obedience, not before.” She affirms that wounded warriors have a vital place in the church: “Our worst life experiences may be exactly what qualify us to lead with authority…. The darkest moments of our lives might be the beginning of our divine mission on earth. So many times, the battlefield is a training ground.” And she recognizes that trials are just an exercise. An opportunity to grow in godliness.

My Only Complaint:

I’m usually not a fan of discussion questions in books. They are usually trite. But this is one book I wished Maples had added discussion questions. Now I’m going to have to write them myself. I’m pretty sure I’ll be teaching this book.

So please, I don’t say this often, but BUY THIS BOOK.

Hunting Hope Nika Maples

Anointed … And Stupid

We see it in Scripture—and unfortunately, in real life—all the time.

A person is highly gifted. Anointed. Being used by the Lord. But then they get stupid and everyone is left scratching their head.

Samson's Final Vengeance

Samson’s Final Vengeance                                                     Photo Credit: Kurt Cope (BPECA)

Samson’s Final Vengeance

Take Samson. Called and chosen before conception. A Nazarite from birth. Called to judge Israel and save them from the Philistines. But his downfall was women. After living a pure, set apart life, he hits young adulthood and lusts after a Philistine woman (Judg. 14:3). He took her as his wife (in clear violation of Deuteronomy 7:3), and in his youthful arrogance, baited his 30 Philistine “companions” with a silly riddle. He then allowed his wife to manipulate him into divulging the answer to his riddle. So he seized the prize from 30 men of Askalon, a Philistine town 20 miles away. Scripture says the Spirit of the Lord came on him in power (Judg. 14:19) and he conquered these unsuspecting men.

Yes, he was anointed. He had the Spirit of God. But was he fulfilling God’s call on his life? Then adding injury to insult, he abandoned his wife in a huff. Her father gave her to one of the friends. When Samson decided he wanted her back but her father refused, he tied torches to the tails of 300 foxes and burned the grain of the Philistines. This, of course, caused even more ire among the Philistines, who threatened the Israelites. His response was neither wise nor politically correct. “I merely did to them what they did to me” (Judg. 15:11).

The Israelites tied him up to turn him over to the Philistines, but Scripture says that the “Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands” (Judg. 15:14). He grabbed the jawbone of a donkey and killed another 1000 Philistines (Judg. 15:16), violating the prohibition against touching anything dead (Lev. 11:39) and possibly compromising his Nazarite vow.

Did Samson learn his lesson? No way. He went to the Philistine seaport of Gaza and slept with a prostitute, again becoming a target the Philistines (Judg. 16:1-3).

Lesson learned? Surely, you say. Nope. “Sometime later” he fell in love with yet another woman – Delilah, who collaborated with the Philistines. And once again he was snared by her pleadings to learn the source of his strength. It took a while as they toyed with one another, but in the end, Samson caved to her wiles and divulged the source of his strength. He was captured, blinded, and imprisoned.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! It’s easy to criticize Samson. His weaknesses are so obvious. Maybe ours aren’t quite as glaring. Or are they? But how is it that we are so willing to test the grace of God by giving in to our individual weaknesses and expecting Him to work through us anyway? And why does God continue to honor the anointed when they (we) give in to sin? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but personally, I am committed to pursue splendor and try my best to avoid stupidity. How about you?

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain by Matt Bays

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain by Matt Bays

Is your life perfect in every way? Then you probably won’t like Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain.

Do you have absolute, unwavering, all-the-time, no matter what faith and confidence in the perfect plan of God? Then you probably won’t like Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain.

Do you prefer a perfectly linear book that moves systematically from start to destination, you definitely won’t like Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain.

But if you’ve ever wondered, “Where are you, God?”  or “Where were you, God?” you’ll appreciate Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain.

If you’ve ever wanted to shout, “God, you’re doing it all wrong!” you’ll love Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain.

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain by Matt Bays is a raw, gritty, irreverent, meandering look the experience of one man – and all of us – as we question God and his ways in the face of pain and doubt. Bays’ story is one of childhood emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, but he weaves into his story those of suicide, cancer, disability, and unanswered prayer. The story he shares with us is a long journey of authentic questioning. In fact, he took a hiatus from God, inviting him to prove himself. Or not. Bays says, “Unexpressed doubt can be toxic.” And so, he went on a quest to express, explore, and challenge his doubts, inviting God to show himself. Or not.

In the process of this meandering journey, Bays’ subplot is that of his journey toward healing. Again, he is in no hurry, exploring his memories, his feelings, and truth. One critical concept that is so often underestimated is that whatever happened to us can’t be undone. Only healed. Yet we all too often blame what happened and who did it to us, as if we could rewind our life and make it better. And since we can’t rewind, we decide we can never be healed. Bays says that while the offense can’t be undone, it can be rewritten from this point forward. That is the best we can expect, and it can be enough.

This is an uncomfortable book. It doesn’t tie up our faith into a neat bow. In fact, it doesn’t tie up much of anything. But it’s well worth the read and will become required reading for many of the women I mentor. Especially those who believe that they are forever beyond healing because of their past. And those who believe God doesn’t play fair.

 

 

 

Addiction: A Thought for the Church

In all likelihood you have someone in your life with an addiction. Maybe even yourself. Addiction issues came to the forefront during my high school years in the 1960s, with the Viet Nam war, the war on drugs, and the Summer of Love. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, eating disorders, gambling, internet, porn… the list has grown as we have become more aware.

Need a Hug?

Need a Hug?

But the common denominator, especially within the Church, has always been, “Addiction = weak person.” We look down on those who need a crutch to get by (because of course, we don’t need that crutch and let’s not talk about my crutch, ok?). We judge. We offer recovery programs to help those people. I know. I’ve been there…

So I was intrigued by an article entitled The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered, and It Is Not What You Think.  Author Johann Hari offers another explanation, backed up with some fascinating research on both rats and humans. It’s a long read, but well worth the time. Bottom line, he says that both rats and humans need love and a stimulating environment. That the chemical addiction (and I would argue, non-chemical addiction) is less compelling than the loneliness, the boredom, the lack of connection. OK, that might be simplistic. But is it?

I’ve seen people with serious addictions heal rapidly when they finally understand God’s love and see it demonstrated in the people around them. That’s what did it for me. I called it a miraculous healing, but was it or was it that I was finally safe? Finally loved? Finally seen?

Sure, sometimes people need prayer, accountability, and discipleship. I certainly did. But is it those factors that change them or the fact that someone finally sees them for who God created them to be. That someone is bold enough to debunk the lies they have believed, often since childhood or even infancy. That someone is willing to speak Truth to their wounded spirits. Over and over, as needed. Is that why “hire a friend” (aka therapy) often makes a difference?

So what does that mean for the Church? For you and me? Maybe we need to judge less and love more. Criticize less and speak Truth more. Shun less and hang out more. We have the words of life, and we can share them, even with those struggling with addictions.

What do you think?

 

 

 

I Want it All!

I Want It All! Exchanging Your average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact by Gwen Smith

I Want It All! Exchanging Your Average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact by Gwen Smith

Do you want ALL God has for you? Would you like to exchange your average life for deeper faith, greater power, and more impact? Then you’ll love I Want It All: Exchanging Your Average Life for Deeper Faith, Greater Power, and More Impact.

Did you know that there are certain kinds of greed that God applauds? I believe that he jumps for joy when we refuse to settle for less than ALL he has for us. When we pursue him with such fervor that we are willing to leave it all on the field, as they say in sports.

If you’re tired of ho-hum, mediocre Christianity, you’ll enjoy Gwen Smith’s spunky, conversational style as she challenges us to increase our faith, exercise our power, and increase our impact. Her girlfriend approach gets real and doesn’t hide behind perfection. Rather, she shares her story, warts and all, and engages us at all levels.

Smith’s writing voice is clear and fresh. She uses alliteration and poetic language skillfully. Her appeal will be primarily to the 30-40-year-old female audience. As an older woman, I didn’t find much new. But that is not to diminish the value for the Gen X and Millennial generations. The content is good and valuable. Would that we would all take it to heart. Would that each of us would cry out, “I Want It All!”

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus by Jennifer Kennedy Dean

Author Jennifer Kennedy Dean believes that the way to live synced to the heart of Jesus is to understand and base our lives on the model prayer Jesus gave us—the Lord’s Prayer. As a nationally respected writer, speaker, and executive on prayer and spiritual formation, she should know. And Synced: Living Connected to the Heart of Jesus is indeed a well-researched, easy-to-read book on this popular topic. Using the model prayer as an outline, she ventures far and wide with a combination of some good scholarship and some interesting stories.

And yet, as I read this book, I continued to feel uneasy. I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, and wondered if I’ve just read too many books on the Lord’s Prayer. Perhaps. I have read many. Unfortunately, this book didn’t rise to any level of significance. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the book; it’s just tired. I didn’t see much that was new, much that rose to a level that made me want to share the book. To quote the book. To teach the book. And most of the book focused on “what” rather than “how.” I didn’t come away with an increased ability to sync to Jesus.

In fairness, if the promotion on the book had indicated it was focused on the Lord’s Prayer, I probably would have passed on the blog tour because I recognize that the topic is so overdone that such books need to rise to a high level of excellence to stand out. So if you haven’t read a lot on the Lord’s Prayer, this book is well written. But if this is a topic you’re familiar with, you won’t learn much new in this book.