The Meaning of Hope

Lately, I have heard myself repeating the cliché words “don’t give up hope!”  I cringe because it sounds so generic and does not convey the meaning that I really intend.  Hope is not merely wishful thinking. It’s not just having a positive attitude. It’s not just a nice word on my coffee mug that gives me a warm fuzzy as I sip my coffee early in the morning.  In the last six months, God has been unveiling the meaning of hope in my life.  

When I say “don’t give up hope”, I really mean “God’s hand is still in this and He is not done. You can’t see right now what He is doing in this painful situation, but God IS doing something, even if we can’t see it on the stage of life.”  If we stop hoping, we might miss out on seeing what God will do.  When I hope, I feel God guiding me to fly above the difficulty instead of getting stuck in the middle of it.  By keeping on hoping, it pulls me up out of the muck and mire and helps me see a bird’s eye view of the situation, even if it is extremely foggy.

On the Desiring God blog for December 8, 2011, Sam Crabtree explains the meaning of hope: “Hope believes that God is not done. Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not the feeling we will have. That is, hope is the (up) feeling we have that the (down) feeling we have is not permanent. “  Hope sees the ultimate reality. Trusting is God is the only way to sustain hope.

Sam Crabtree also draws a link between gratitude and hope.  Gratitude looks backward and fuels the hope that looks forward with reasonable confidence and expectation.  He goes on to say that ungrateful people tend not to be hopeful.  I resolve to become a more grateful and hopeful person!

God was not done when Noah was in the boat, Sarah was barren, Joseph was in prison, Moses was on the run from Pharaoh, the children of Israel were pinned against the Red Sea, the walls of Jericho blocked possession of the promised land, Gideon was hiding from the Midianites, Samson was seduced by a woman and blinded, Ruth was widowed, David was mocked as a boy facing a giant, Job’s children were all killed, government officials persecuted Daniel, Jonah was in the belly of a fish, Paul couldn’t get rid of this thorn, and Jesus was put in the grave. God is not done!

Hope is becoming multi-dimensional for me this season of commemorating the time when God poured out His love to us by becoming man. When He was born as a baby, He was not done. When He died on the cross, He was finished with His sacrificial work but He was not done acting in the world.  When He was resurrected, the sacrifice for sin was complete, but sin still exists.  We wait for Jesus’s return with hopefulness while we still live in the realm of the already/not yet. 

Word Biblical Commentary Volume 18B, Job 38-42 - Book Review

I have often found the Book of Job to be somewhat disturbing and hard to figure out.  Not necessarily the part where God allows Satan to take away everything that Job has – health, wealth, and children in order to show that Job would still be faithful to Him even without all the material blessings. It’s the last few chapters that befuddle me. Job asks questions about justice and why the wicked people get away with their behavior while those who do right are rewarded with suffering.  God answers him, but not with a direct answer to his question. Instead of answering “why”, He illustrates His power as the designer of creation. Job backs down, almost in a way that seems he knows he better just shut up, but he doesn’t apologize for his behavior or attitude in asking. 
When the opportunity to review the Word Biblical Commentary Volume 18B, Job 38-42, I was thrilled to receive this precious resource.  This title is the third volume in the set on the Book of Job, covering the final five and best chapters.  The commentary divides Job 38-42 into 6 parts. Each part contains the following sections: a bibliography, translation, notes on the translation, form/structure, comment, and explanation sections.  But this is only one-third of this volume of the Word Commentary. The remainder contains chapter bibliographies to support all three volumes on the Book of Job. A general bibliography with an outline for topics is the main part of this book with over 250 pages devoted to citing everything ever written about Job from scholarly papers to music and literature. The commentary concludes with a classified index, index of Hebrew words, and an index of authors.
Scholars may find the extensive bibliography to be a thorough and complete resource for everything ever written about Job.  The comments and explanation sections were of particular interest to me and was where I focused my reading of this commentary.  Dr. David Cline performs a magnificent job of portraying the variety of opinions from various scholars on controversial issues throughout the Book of Job, from larger overarching themes down to interpretational issues of a single Hebrew word (which is not transliterated but actually written in Hebrew, something I really appreciate).   
Whether a seminarian, scholar, pastor, Bible teacher, or just a Bible reader trying to gain deeper understanding, there are sections of this commentary for every type of person seeking to understand Job.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Life Is Hard: Hype or Hope

Life is hard. The world says if you don't like something, change it. If your marriage isn’t happy, try again with someone else. If you don’t like your job, find a new one. If your church doesn’t meet your needs, shop for one that does. To be happy is to be successful, and people know you are successful by what you possess or how important you are. You need all the information and communication in the palm of your hand. But it’s all hype. Life is still hard.
Even Christians offer hype as the answer to the hardness of life – just accept Jesus and all your life’s problems will be solved.  God wants to bless you with wealth and health.  Live by the formula in His Word – obey, serve, pray, claim His promises – and you will be victorious, happy, and successful in this world.  It’s all hype.
God says life is hard.  He knew it would be ever since Adam and Eve left the garden.  We fight the frustrations of living and work that seems futile.  Yes, marriage may feel less than beautiful, the job (or the job of searching for a job) may seem meaningless, and troubles may be closing in. As Christians, we don’t need to deny the difficulties or explain them away or hide them. We don’t need the hype.  We can admit them straight-on. But we don’t stop there.
Because God offers hope – hope, not hype.  The sweetness of hope comes when we kneel at the cross, (or in my case lately, when desperately grasping the foot of the cross).  He offers to supernaturally sustain us as we endure life’s adversities. When we are misunderstood, or when we fail, endurance may be wavering, but we have hope that the misunderstanding or failure will not be wasted, that God will use it. Meanwhile, He wants us to trust Him, to trust in His goodness, even when it seems obscured.
When life is hard, He wants us to hope in Him. Through the difficult things, He wants to illustrate facets of His character through our experience so that we can really identify with Him. Even in the darkness, He enables us to capture glimpses of an incident from His perspective and in an enlightening context.  Suddenly we can distinguish something shining and precious in the blackness.  In the midst of suffering, even if we still feel blind, we have the hope that someday we will be able to distinguish the beauty through the darkness, when we are enabled to glance backward through His eyes after we have reached the end. Then it will all be worth it to explode with joy unexplainable.  
Light is brighter next to darkness.  Though it is night, joy comes in the morning. Until then, I will skip the hype and choose hope.

As Silver Refined, by Kay Arthur - Book Review

If you are weary of the deceiver taking your thoughts captive, or if you often allow your thought process to send you into a spiral of defeat, Kay Arthur’s magnificent book As Silver Refined: Answers to Life’s Disappointments, can help you break the cycle.  The core of this book centers on the truth that life’s disappointments are actually God’s appointments to make us more like Christ.

Kay Arthur explains that you must know how to handle disappointment head on, in the battlefield of the mind, before you find yourself slipping and spiraling downward into the deadly D’s – discouragement, dejection, depression, and  despair. It is essential to blast out  disappointment with biblical truth, and she provides insights that will change your perspective and help you practice taking every thought captive before it grows into a stronghold. 

She addresses the issues of failure, regret, stress, physical pain, emotional anguish, etc.  While thoroughly explaining the sovereignty of God and His character, she also provides tools for overcoming strongholds, learning victory over dejection and despair, and practicing the secrets to everyday endurance.  In 15 chapters, she applies Bible verses abundantly and sprinkles brief stories of her own humbling experiences that felt like failures at the time but were actually used by God to transform her character to be more like His. 

A study guide in the last third of the book would be a great resource for either a women’s Bible study or for personal use to examine Scripture and process the truth in relation to past, present, and future. The questions are thought-provoking and present great opportunity for lively discussion.

During the duration of time spent reading this book, I was repeatedly pummeled by disappointing circumstances beyond my control.  I clung to the thesis of this book and absorbed every word, which brought me comfort beyond measure.  This is among one of my most favorite books that I have ever read, perhaps because it was so timely. I want to soak up every single word and saturate myself so fully with trust in God’s sovereignty so that I transform my thinking of disappointments into His appointments.  I will be reading this book again and again.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review.

A Woman's Guide to Fasting, by Lisa E. Nelson - Book Review

The spiritual discipline of fasting has always fascinated me, but in actual practice, all it had left me with is crankiness, weakness, and irritability.   Until recently.  Lisa Nelson’s book A Woman’s Guide to Fasting is the best material I have ever read on why and how to fast as a spiritual discipline. She explains that the point of fasting as a spiritual discipline is not necessarily giving up food. The purpose is to give up something good and acceptable because you want more of God.  When you take the legalistic aspect out of fasting and replace it with the heart, the spiritual discipline of fasting becomes a tool that God uses to transform you. 

Lisa Nelson explains that fasting is not a transaction, nor a way to work a deal with God. It’s not acting like a spoiled kid refusing to eat until we get what we want. It’s not a reward system where we try to earn the answers to our prayers.  Rather, fasting is declaring God is more important. It is the pathway to humility before Him. It’s about letting Him work on our hearts as we seek hard after Him.  She provides the following reasons to fast:
·         To help us grow spiritually and overcome sin
·         To empower our intercession and petitioning
·         To prepares us for spiritual warfare
·         As an expression of obedience to God’s call
·         As a response to a crisis in our lives.

In this practical book, Lisa Nelson explains the purposes of a fast and the types of fasts. You may have medical reasons or other reasons to not do a water-only fast, but there are lots of other effective options.   She repeatedly explains that it’s all about the heart, not the letter of the law. 

She also explains both physically and spiritually what to do while fasting, how to prepare for a fast, how to end a fast, and the effects of a fast.  In addition, she also explains the physical and spiritual aspects that happen during a fast -- what to expect, how to cope, and how to listen to God through His Word.  Whether you have health issues to consider, are a busy mom, or have an active schedule, Lisa Nelson offers realistic advice on how to work an effective fast into your life.

After reading this book, I started incorporating fasting into my life as a regular discipline and I am finding that my prayers are more focused and my heart is more submissive to God’s will. God is using it as a tool in my life to strengthen and empower me.

Except for the pretty cover, I see no reason why this book should be a guide for women only.  If you never thought of trying to fast as a spiritual discipline, this book will inspire you and give you ideas on how to make yourself available to God for a more intimate walk with Him.  If you ever tried fasting and felt like it failed or was meaningless, this book will give you all the information and encouragement you need to try it again.

Bethany House provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

God's Plan

"God has a plan for your life," I told my daughter nearly every night ever since she was a baby. I wanted her to know that God had a purpose in her existence and to feel her sense of worth. 

One night when she was four years old and I was tucking her in bed, she asked, "Where is my plant?"

"Your plant?" I questioned, furrowing my forehead in confusion.

"Yes, my plant!" she insisted. "You keep telling me God has a plant for my life and I keep wondering when He's going to give it to me."

She is 15 years old now, and whether God has a plant or a plan, she still wants it now.  She wants to see the blueprint of her life all mapped out - college, career, husband, family, etc.  At least she is firmly convinced that God has something in mind for her.

Or is that such a good thing? She is so firmly certain that God has a plan for her life, that her choices that she makes now will not necessarily impact that. In fact, she says that maybe God wants her to make specific mistakes so she can be more usable.

This thinking is totally foreign to me.  When I was a teenager, I never really felt for certain God had a plan for my life, and if He did, I was pretty certain I kept messing it up. I figured He gave up on me. I know better than that now. This is why it seemed so important for me to let my children know that they were significant to God and He had a plan and purpose for their existence.

It's hard trying to teach the balance between God's sovereignty and our responsibility.  Just because God has a plan doesn't mean it will be fulfilled when we deliberately choose our own way instead of His. Maybe it would have been better if I had said that God had a "dream" for her life.

God has a dream for how He wants us to live and how we become a greater reflection of Him. But sometimes we resist. Sometimes we can choose sin. Sometimes we think our own way is easier or we'll miss out on something if we go His way. Sometimes we can turn our back on Him and the dream might never be realized. Then we miss it.

But I also think that when we've missed it and we turn back to Him, he weaves our mistakes into the plan, His dream, and can change them into something beautiful. The biggest key is in our turning back to Him.  Still, the road might be more difficult as a result of our choices.  But for God, nothing is wasted.

Just when Satan thinks he's winning, God graciously takes the defeat and turns it into a magnificent victory.  Just like the cross.  Except in the cross, there were never any "mistakes".  Jesus was obedient to the very end. God knew before He created the world that there would have to be the cross.

So how do we live God's plan for our lives? I think that no matter what is thrown our way, He wants us to lean hard on Him, depend on Him, follow His ways. He wants us to know Him and His ways more by studying the Scripture and listening to the assurances He places on our hearts. He wants us to talk to Him and to listen so that we can see from His perspective. He wants us to believe Him, trust Him, and to obey Him.  He wants us to love others and to show them His greatness. 

If we are doing these things, then we are living His plan, no matter where the road takes us--even if it doesn't fit the neat little map we have pictured in our minds, even if it's through the valleys of the shadow of death.  It's always worth it to obey the Father and trust Him - just like Jesus.  If we do, in the end our joy will be full and complete.

Nearing Home: Life, Faith, & Finishing Well - Book Review

“I had been taught all of my life how to die, but no one had ever taught me how to grow old,” said Billy Graham several years ago in an interview by Newsweek.  That started him thinking about writing on the topic of aging.  In Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well, the 93-year-old evangelist offers his lessons learned, advice, and encouragement for preparing for and dealing with the difficulties of illness, retirement and aging.  While aging is full of challenges, it is also a time that can be full of effectiveness and meaningfulness in living out God’s plan for your life, because God has a plan for you as long as you are living.  The best way to meet the challenges of old age is to prepare before they arrive. When we plant our roots deep in the Word of God, our faith is strengthened and He gives us strength to prepare us for whatever life has in store.
Whether you are 29 or 99, there is much to ponder in these ten short chapters on how you are living out the days of your life and how to be hopeful for the years ahead. But most of all, the words in this book will fill you with a sense of hope, no matter which season of life you are living. If you are fearful of the change of seasons or uncertain of what the upcoming season will bring, Billy Graham’s spiritual and practical advice will fill you with courage and prepare you to face it with victory. I have underlined and highlighted many words of wisdom from this encouraging and useful book. It holds a permanent place in my personal library and I plan to open it frequently in the years to come.
BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Jesus Experiment - Book Review

“WWJD” (What Would Jesus Do?) is a simple question with a not-so-simple answer. Yet it almost seems cliché to ask the question. But before we DO something, we are thinking something, and feeling something, both of which potentially impact how we do something.    When I’m in a specific situation where I have a choice to make, I have rarely stopped to ask myself “what would Jesus THINK?” or “what would Jesus FEEL?”

The book The Jesus Experiment, by Bill Perkins, brought the mental aspect of being like Jesus to my attention.  Conforming my thoughts and feelings to those of what Jesus might think or feel impacts what I will say and do.   To get such a grip at the very front on my thoughts and feelings would truly be life-transforming and this book was just what I needed to begin moving my head in this direction. 

Bill Perkins states that the purpose of the book is to show how to have a real-time on-going connection with Christ so we can test His promise to give us abundant life. If we line up our feelings, thoughts, words, and deeds to be guided by Jesus, we will experience the abundant life He offers.  He dares us to try the experiment and see what happens.  But be aware that the abundant life is not based on a health/wealth prosperity-gospel life.  Rather, the abundant life (by his definition based on Scripture) consists of having our basic needs met, a life of power and purpose, a circle of close and trusted friends, and accomplishing God’s will. 

This practical book is divided into twelve weeks of looking at what Jesus did and thought in private, in public, and with people, with each chapter ending in reflection and Bible study.  Each chapter looks at some aspect of what Jesus would feel, think, say and do in the situation we are in and comparing it to what we are feeling, thinking, saying, and doing.  Does it line up? If not, how can we prepare for the next time we’re in a similar situation?

As Bill Perkin’s personably and honestly relayed his own weaknesses, he encouraged me to keep striving even as I lament how much unlike Jesus I am. I must note that I disagreed theologically with his interpretation of what Jesus laid aside when he came to earth as referenced in Philippians 2:5-8 (I think it was status, not divine attributes), but he is still able to make his point soundly with other Scripture passages that point to how Jesus depended completely on the Father.  I highly recommend this book and give it 5 out of 5 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. 

Doing "Whatever"

You might think no one notices, but they do.  You might think your hard work, your integrity, and choosing the right thing when no one is there to see are invisible before the world.  But maybe it’s not.

You might think only God notices when you do “whatever” for His glory – and that is good enough, but it would feel more fruitful if the “whatever” impacted the world for Him and produced visible fruit.  Maybe when you think you are invisible, you really aren’t.  

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting on the floor next to my closet in my bedroom, tying my tennis shoes for a hike in the woods.  My twelve-year-old nephew walked in unexpectantly from outside through the sliding glass door of my bedroom and was startled when he saw me.  He apologized profusely, over and over, and I kept telling him it was okay.  Still apologizing, I tried to re-assure him, checking to make sure I really was wearing pants or a shirt, that he hadn’t actually walked in on me half-naked. Not sure what he thought he saw, I finally informed him I was just putting on my shoes and it really wasn’t a big deal, to come on in.  Relief replaced the guilt on his face as he crossed the threshold and said, “Oh! Okay, I thought you were praying.” 

As I thought more about it later, he must have thought I was praying when I was actually putting on shoes because he had caught me down on the floor in my bedroom before, on my face in desperate submission before God, unaware I had been observed. I have been doing that a lot lately. 

One day this summer at work, I was overseeing a driller as he probed deep holes into the ground to evaluate the extent of contamination from an underground chemical.  While the sun cooked us at 110 degrees that afternoon, he continued to labor hard, all by himself on a two-man job, never once complaining.  Early into the evening at the last hole, we plopped on the grass with exhaustion, waiting for the results so we would know if the day’s work was finished or more holes were needed.  He smiled cheerfully and announced, “I’m really praying this one will be clean.” I was too!

I knew immediately his brightness and work ethic originated from the light of Jesus in him.  I will likely never see him again, but I will never forget he worked hard without a single gripe on a miserable day conducting mundane, tedious work that may have seemed senseless.   He may think it went unnoticed, but it impacted me.  I’m sure God was proud of him that day and all the angels were applauding because he was doing his “whatever” for the glory of God.

You might think what you do every day is insignificant. But He wants us to do “whatever” it is that we are doing for His glory (I Corinthians 10:31).

And who knows just what people see in us on a day-to-day basis? Whether checking out at the grocery store, typing a report, taking care of our homes, loving our husbands, or teaching our children –  our efforts will not go unnoticed. And even should you think they do, God and a whole realm of the unseen are watching you on the stage of your life and He and the angels are yelling “encore!!” while you are doing “whatever” for the glory of God.

Afraid to Believe in Free Will - Book Review

I never thought about free will outside the realm of theology, so I was confused as I started reading the book Afraid to Believe in Free Will by Carl E. Begley.  Rather than an Arminian versus Calvinism argument, it is focused on free will in the discipline of psychology.
Since this was a new concept to me (the psychological aspect of free will versus determinism), I needed some definitions up front to know what the author was discussing.  Who really believes that we are predispositioned to turn out the way we are, that our choices are already determined? Free will upsets psychology, which is based on a system of fixed relations.
By the time I got to the second chapter, I was asking who was afraid of free will (as defined psychologically, not theologically)? What’s to be afraid of? Isn’t free will obvious? But he points out how much our culture and media are opposed to the idea of free will by searching out root causes for destructive behavior. A violent crime is committed because the perpetrator’s past as a victim of child abuse or an alcoholic – well, the explanation of whether or not an alcoholic has free will boggles my mind. The author says, “It would help if the media would stop affirming all the excuses and send the message that the person acting destructively is responsible for the bad consequences.”
He goes on to say that he estimates that 30 percent of our behavior is not free, but determined.  “We need to know when we are powerless and have to rely on outside help; we need to know when we have the power and responsibility to act on our own, without making excuses.”
Finally he approached the theological argument in the latter part of chapter 3. He claims that Jonathan Edwards and R.C. Sproul resist the importance of free will and rely so intently on emphasizing God’s sovereignty that they leave no place for human faculties.  When the creature is diminished, the Creator is more glorious. The author says, “Taking this to its logical conclusion, we have to say that it is more glorious of God to create a creature with little or no free will than to create a human with authentic free will.” This isn’t the logical conclusion for me!  He further accuses them of making so much of the irresistibility of grace that there is no place for free will.
This book is very academic and requires complete concentration.  It’s deep. I confess I skimmed the parts that didn’t interest me (a couple entire chapters). The biggest thought that I take away from this book is how often do I rely so much on the sovereignty of God that I fail to acknowledge my own responsibility or even take action? In a seminary or college setting, there is much material here for students to discuss and argue.
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Going Deep - Book Review

Don’t be intimidated by the title of this book.  When I selected to review the book Going Deep, by Gordon MacDonald, I had no idea that the book would shake me awake from my doze into the land of mediocrity.  Tomorrow’s church is headed for trouble without an abundance of “deep people,” according to the author, who bases the premise of his book around Richard Foster’s statement that there is a desperate need today “not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.”    Through a fictional account of a pastor and the people in his New England church, the author explains his points in an entertaining style.
The idea of what it means to cultivate deep people and how to accomplish it is illustrated through the dialog of a core group of people who have a dream of ensuring their church is sustainable in the years to come.  Deep people are people who have a reverence for Jesus, care for others, remain calm with certainty in the face of difficulty, make Christ and spiritual things real to others, and are someone people look to for inspiration, guidance, and assurance.  Deep people don’t just happen – they must be cultivated, nurtured, and trained.  The story continues in sharing the steps of how this church took action into growing deep people through a diverse group of people with differing personalities.
While this book was long, it was a joy to read.  The short chapters and writing style made it easy to pick up and read a few minutes here and there.  Besides, I always think it is fun to study and learn when you don’t even realize you are doing it – to get lost in a story of another life but find perspective and ideas to pull back into my own.  If you are looking for something to inspire you to be a better spiritual leader or searching for ideas on how to disciple people, I highly recommend this book.
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

When to Love, When to Hate

When my daughter was a pre-schooler, she asked me if it was okay to hate the devil.  I think I stumbled over the question, trying to say both yes and no, explaining that God loves everyone and had created Satan as the most beautiful angel ever. It was the actions, the sin that God hated. When I think of Satan, I think of the evil things he does and I hate them…it’s hard to separate his actions from his being. 

Try saying to your children, “I hope you grow up to be as good at hating as Jesus is.”  Such a provocative statement will grab their attention! It’s been easy for me to see that Jesus is loving and caring. But to think of Jesus as someone who hated is harder to swallow.  No, he never hated people. But he always hated sin and evil, actions that led the people he loves into bondage. 

I live in a small city that is occupied by a “Christian” hate group that stands on street corners with signs expressing God’s hate for certain types of people.  That’s not the kind of hate Jesus had. I hate their hate. Then there are those who protest the protesters by waving our country’s flag and proclaiming peace.  Instead of responding with returned hate, they try to point to what is good.

While sometimes it is hard to separate a person’s actions from their being, it is truly possible to completely hate the action of a person and still completely love him. When one of my children tells me a lie or shows disrespect, it brings me grief. I hate that lie with a passion and I hate the disrespect with a vengeance because it puts a strain in our relationship. Yet even in my frustration, I still love both my children immensely and nothing they do could ever change that. I want them to hate sin and to hate evil in their own lives so that they will not suffer that barrier that they place between themselves and God.

Jesus may have hated, but he hated actions, not people. His love for people even in the midst of their sin is evident throughout the gospels. He loved them even while they were choosing sin. He offered the means for the barrier between them and God to be broken. Because He loved so much, through the cross He provided the way for the bridge to remove the gap.

I want my kids to hate – to hate sin – to hate it enough to turn away from filthy music, raunchy television shows, and immoral actions of peers. I want them to love goodness and light, to let Jesus shine through them so that others will be drawn to Him and away from the ways of the world that entice, trap, and enslave. I want them to be good at hating what Jesus hated, and to be good at loving what Jesus loved.

Rosebud Blooming: Hurting to Healing in His Timing - Book Review

Grab a cup of coffee or hot tea and sit down with Nancy Maggio in her book Rosebud Blooming: Hurting to Healing in His Timing. She writes with such complete honesty and vulnerability that you will feel like you have been chatting with your best friend.

Each chapter begins with Nancy Maggio’s own heart-felt poems followed by a vignette from a particular difficult season of her life that tested her faith. She weaves into her stories the amazing ways how God carried her and bloomed her into something better. Spanning from childhood to seniorhood, she divulges many very personal experiences including unwanted pregnancy, divorce, sexual addiction, inadequacies, health problems, physical pain and aging, to name a few. She portrays the way God has transformed her into a rosebud blooming through each of the painful journeys.

This was the first book I read on my Kindle, so I’m not sure if my view is tainted, but while reading the poems, I kept finding myself finding better words or trying to improve the rhythm. This may have been due to the layout on the Kindle itself.  The way poetic words are laid out on a page is an important part of conveying its meaning.

While I found this book intriguing and enjoyable to read, I would love to have seen her take the message of God’s hand at work and in transforming her another layer deeper.

Disclaimer: To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

For Women Only in the Workplace - Book Review

I began reporting to a new male supervisor the same day the mailman delivered the book For Women Only in the Workplace: What You Need to Know about How Men Think at Work, by Shaunti Feldhahn. My previous supervisor, a female, had a passion for Jesus and had become a close friend, so I felt devastated by her departure. The dynamics of my work environment were about to change drastically, and I was eager to get my hands on any tool to help me become mentally prepared.

Through stories and examples to back up her ideas, Shaunti Feldhahn explains how men and women operate and communicate differently at work.  She discusses mistakes that women make in the workplace, why respect is so important to men and unintentional ways women undermine it, how men’s ability to compartmentalize affects their methods, and many other interesting topics. 

Among the interesting ideas to consider, a couple seemed most applicable to me:
  • Get to the point. Men like to hear the conclusion up front, then the story of how you got there. Hearing the conclusion or bottom line up front helps them listen. Personally, I find this true for myself as well, so while I’m not convinced it’s strictly a male quality, it’s a good idea to keep in mind whether speaking with males or females.
  • Asking questions might be viewed as a sign of weakness. What women view as the quickest and most efficient route to the answer, men view as being unable to figure things out on your own. I’d like to argue with this because it sounds so stereotypical - like a man not wanting to ask for directions when he’s lost; however, I truly got nicked on an evaluation by a male supervisor once for asking questions. I was told to just fly by the seat of my pants instead.
While at times I felt like Shaunti Feldhahn was stereotyping and categorizing people in boxes by gender without consideration of personality types or other factors, there was valuable information to carry into my life – not just for the purpose of career success, either.  She presents the information in a way that we can honor God not only in the workplace but in every aspect of our lives. Integrating some of the insights into everyday life is a way to love our neighbors and look out for the interests of others.  

Even though I don’t agree with all the ideas in this book, I found it intriguing.  If you haven’t read many books on the differences between men and women and you spend time with men at work, I’d recommend this book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for this review. The opinions I have expressed herein are my own. 

Stepping Up

Is God leading you on a path – through a dark valley, over a mountain, or across a desert? Or do you feel stuck in the grassy plains that stretch from one horizon to the other, hopeless of change? Do you want to make progress as you go from here to there? Do you want to consistently take the high road in your circumstances instead of the tempting low road?
God is inviting us to go up, to draw our souls closer to Him through a spiritual pilgrimage. When we let Him lead, we never stay in the same place. He wants to take us to the next level, which is always out of our comfort of sameness. God wants us to make a daily practice of “going up” with Him.  The process of how we go there is part of getting there.
I’m beginning a journey through the Psalms of Ascent through Beth Moore’s Bible study Stepping Up, and over the next few weeks as I join a small group of beautiful ladies, I hope to summarize the words that the Spirit impresses on my heart.   Psalms 120-134 were sung by the Israelites during the Pilgrimage Feasts, so this part of Scripture will be the Biblical focus of my upward trek the next six weeks. 
I often lament that my emotions interfere with my walk.  But Beth Moore asks "What if those very emotions become avenues of worship rather than distraction?"  When your feelings need Biblical expression – overwhelming praise and gratitude or oppressing sorrow, fear or anger – the Psalms help us express them to God and turn our emotions into worship – and not just the happy thankful feelings but the not-so-pretty feelings too.  The Psalms show how we can bare our souls to integrate all our emotions into our relationship with Him. It's not like we can hide them from Him anyway since He knows us more intimately than we could ever know ourselves.
Beth Moore says that God has goals for us and a private agenda for each of us, but we can count on them being based on the following truths:
·         God desires to dramatically change our outlook on daily life.

·         God wants to raise us to a higher plain of worship and service.

·         God wills to usher us to the next step in our personal journeys with Him even if we have to press through the thickest forest to get it. (page 12)
My deepest desire at this time of my life is to interpret my circumstances, situations, and relationships through His eyes, and then match my steps with the path and rhythm of His. I eagerly anticipate learning how my emotions can be a source that evokes praise and worship to my Almighty God and draws me closer to Him.  Time to take the first step...

"Remember Who You Are"

"Remember who you are."
My parents said those words repeatedly when I left the house to go places as  a teenager.  I don’t recall exactly what they meant, but I think it had something to do with properly representing the family name. 
Like the clichés “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about” or “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you”, it never occurred to me that I would ever repeat “remember who you are” to my own children. 
Yet, those simple words flew out of my mouth last Friday night as my daughter stepped out the door to go to a high school football game and dance.  A million things that I wanted to say went through my mind, but in the brief moment of opportunity to speak, those four words popped out of my mouth. I wonder what she thought I meant when she called out “I will” as she crossed the threshold into the world.
If I could think faster and had a few extra minutes, when I said “Remember who you are,” I really wanted to say:
     Remember that you have the light of Jesus in you. Remember not to conceal it but to find ways to let it shine.
     Remember you are a child of God and He is always by your side to give you courage and to show you how to demonstrate His love to others.
     Remember He is ready to give you courage to take the narrow path and to live in purity.
     Remember that in a moment, in a split-second decision, all of life can change, but if you follow God’s ways and seek His guidance in every step you take, you will be able to walk in confidence no matter what happens.
    Remember, you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You are supposed to be different.
   Remember the more you let your light shine, the darkness will retreat!
Become what you are becoming.  Be who you are!

Stained Glass Hearts - Book Review

I’ve heard great things about Patsy Clairmont’s humor and ability to apply the Bible to the lives of women, so I decided to read her book Stained Glass Hearts: Seeing Life from a Broken Perspective.  I must admit that I expected her witty writing to be shallow, but I was delighted to discover that I was wrong.
Through her personal life stories of brokenness and difficulty, Patsy Clairmont displays how God can take our broken pieces and mold them into stained glass beauty that brings Him glory.  Each chapter closes with a section called “Art Gallery” where she references works of art that you can peruse on the internet – art that stirred her heart and connects with the chapter’s themes  - paintings, puzzles, music, poems, museums, etc. She shows how we can reflect on God’s beauty through the artistic talent given to human hands in various cultures.
If you asked me how this book was organized or what it was about specifically, I would have to thumb through the pages to review it, and even then I might be stumped. It’s like an abstract piece of art, or more like a bunch of colorful globs of paint thrown randomly onto a canvas. While I found it delightful and easy to read, it seemed fragmented and consisted of very little sense of organization.  If you are already a Patsy Clairmont fan or if you are looking for something meaningful to pass by the time, then I would recommend this book.
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

Prickly Burs - Forgiving the Little Things

Sometimes hurtful words can roll right off my back and be quickly forgotten with no damaging effects. Other times, words can cut like a sword, slashing my heart, but the wound eventually heals, even if scars remain. Often though, words stick more like burs – the kind that hook onto my socks when I walk through the woods or an overgrown field. They are an irritant, and even when one is removed, there are often hundreds more clinging just under the surface.  
C.S. Lewis says, “It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life – to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son – how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand…” (The Weight of Glory).
How do I get rid of all those throny irritants attached to my pant leg? God tells us that we should forgive just as God in Christ forgave us, graciously, not begrudgingly (Ephesians 4:32).  How we forgive wrongs demonstrates the degree to which we treasure the cross of Christ. The burs that stick are an opportunity to express the mercy and grace of God, over and over and over again. 
Thomas Watson defines forgiveness as:
1.       Resisting revenge
2.       Not returning evil for evil
3.       Wishing them well
4.       Grieving at their calamities
5.       Praying for their welfare
6.       Seeking reconciliation so far as it depends on you
7.       Coming to their aid in distress
Every time I feel the prick from the bristles, if I choose to do at least #5, pray for their welfare, then the burs tend to lose their prickliness.  Sometimes they completely fall off.  I can bravely hike into the messy places armed wtih at least half of these on my list and not fear the potential harm from attack. They may actually roll off.
The most humbling thing is knowing that I am sometimes a bur-inflictor.  My own faults remind me to extend to others the same grace and mercy that I want extended back to me.

Muscular Faith - Book Review

When the fierce storm winds blow, I want to be able to endure, standing deeply rooted. Not just stand but grow stronger. I want to build my faith muscles so that in any circumstance I can see God’s hand at work and remain completely faithful in my thoughts, words, and reactions.  Ben Patterson’s Muscular Faith: How to Strengthen Your Heart, Soul, and Mind for the Only Challenge that Matters, seemed like the perfect book for my faith workout. On the back cover in large print, it reads “become spiritually stronger than you ever knew you could be.”

Ben Patterson explains that muscular faith is vigorous and demanding, requiring us to stake our whole existence on God and trust in Him as our only hope. Faith is not a casual assent to truth, but something we must for which we must fight.

The book is divided into four parts: 1) The call to vigorous faith – fighting the good fight and finishing the race, 2) the case for vigorous faith – why Jesus speaks with severity and urgency, 3) The obstacle – our enemies of the flesh, the world, and the devil, 4) The essentials – how to fight the good fight.

Maybe I was hoping for some spiritual steroids, but this book was not as practical as I had hoped.  Nevertheless, I have written pages of notes of ideas that I want to remember.  Even though this is not a how-to book, Ben Patterson does discuss a few practical ways to grow your faith in the last part of the book.

For example, he explains that practicing the spiritual disciplines is like spreading a sail to position ourselves to receive the wind – to receive more of Jesus and all that He is ready to give.  He reminds us that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint, and when we fail, what counts is what we do when failure happens.  Enduring hardship and suffering is worth it if it means hearing and seeing Jesus more. Hope transforms disappointment.

This long book is full of nuggets of truth, but you have to dig through the piles of sand to find them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. 

Should I Forgive If They Aren't Sorry? Forgiveness, Part 2.

Someone hurt my child. Like a mama bear protecting her cub, I want to swing my vicious claws to protect her and keep it from happening again. If they back off and acknowledge they have done her wrong, I might be appeased. If they apologize too, then I can return to my cave with my cub and be at peace. But what if they only back off? What if they never admit it was wrong, let alone apologize? And if they repeatedly attack, am I supposed to keep on forgiving?

Forgiveness is the act of freeing someone from the obligation to pay back for the wrong done to you. Many Christians say that we must forgive for our own sakes in order to free ourselves from resentment and bitterness. Some say to tell the offender they are forgiven, even if they are not sorry. But is it Biblical to extend forgiveness to someone who won’t admit they’ve done wrong?

Being Ready to Forgive Vs. the Act of Forgiveness

In Mark 11:25, Jesus calls us to be forgiving. According to Tyler Kennedy, “Scripture requires us to distinguish between being forgiving, which is the virtue of always being ready and eager to forgive, and the act of forgiveness, which is the actual remission of sin done against us.”

The person who refuses to acknowledge their wrong cannot experience forgiveness in the full sense. We can let go of our resentment, give our anger to God, and we can pray goodness for that person, but forgiveness to its fullness cannot be extended without contrition.

Even when the offender is not sorry, we don’t sit around seething in bitterness, waiting for them to come to their senses. Jesus commands us to love our enemies, to pray for them, and to do good to them. We are to be eager and ready to forgive, to wait patiently to grant it. This means we can’t be harboring resentment or dwelling on the offense. We must release the expectation that they need to pay back what we feel is owed us for their offense.

The Necessity of Sorrow

In Matthew 18:21-22, when Peter asks how many times we should forgive someone, Jesus answers that we should forgive 70 times seven. Nothing about repentance of the offender is mentioned. But look at the context. In the following parable, a servant was forgiven for his large debt that he owed the king when he begged for mercy.  Then the servant searched out his fellow servants and demanded payment for what they owed him. When they begged for mercy, he was not willing to forgive.  Referring back to how often Jesus said we should forgive, it seems that repentance is assumed. When forgiveness is asked for, we should grant it, just as the Father did for us. But what if they don’t want forgiveness? What if they aren’t sorry?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance…absolution without personal confession” (Cost of Discipleship). God is always ready to forgive, but it is not extended until we ask for it. It is not extended until we agree with God that what we did was wrong and we are remorseful. Repentance is necessary.

If we tell people they are forgiven for an offense they refuse to acknowledge is wrong, we rob them of the incentive of the Gospel. We minimize the offensiveness of our own sin against God. We rob Jesus of the glory of His work on the cross, the depth of his sacrificial death. We cheapen the value of God’s grace.


Being ready to forgive enables us to release resentment and bitterness. Being ready to forgive sets us free, even if the apology never comes. The act of forgiveness should follow an expression of sorrow for wrong. But if sorrow never comes and we never get the opportunity to extend forgiveness to its fullest extent, being loving and willing to forgive transforms our character. It will beautifully change us so that we become more like Jesus.