Not a Self-Improvement Course (with a Book Review of More Than Ordinary)

The transformation process is not about self-improvement or the pursuit of good character qualities so we can have a better life. It is about experiencing God in a moment-by-moment connection with Him and processing all of life with Him through His Word. Walking with God does not happen merely by obtaining biblical knowledge or having a daily morning quiet time or attending church regularly.  It is simpler than that, AND much harder than that, according to Doug Sherman in his book More Than Ordinary: Enjoying Life with God. In his book, he expands on the two main steps of your walking feet: 1) Seeing God more clearly and 2) Responding to Him accordingly.

I already know that I will not reach perfection on this side of heaven. Still, sometimes when I mess up, I picture God heaving a big sigh and shaking His head in dismay.  Doug Sherman reminded me that we will make daily mistakes as long as we keep on growing up, but that doesn’t mean God gets disgusted with us.  Not only can we approach each day with a clean slate through repentance, but God actually wants us to walk with Him through all the wilderness of our daily lives.  Besides, speed is not as important as endurance.

Doug Sherman goes on to say that walking with God is the hardest thing you will ever do, and if anyone told you it was easy, they were wrong.  Your loyalty and love for God will be tested as well as your determination and confidence in His leadership. However, you will avoid a lot of self-inflicted pain that people suffer when they go their own way. Life is simpler when only one thing really matters to you, and you can live above your circumstances by relying on His strength and power.

Don’t judge the book by its ordinary title or simple cover.  More than Ordinary is full of biblical truth on who God is, what it means to walk with Him, and how to truly practice experiencing His presence through a moment-by-moment walk with Him.  It is easy to read yet profound. It is not just theological, but practical too.  I wrote six pages of notes of truths that I want to remember and practice from this life-changing book to help me walk more closely with God.  This book really spoke to my heart because it is the theme of my blog.  I want to share it with everyone I know!  Here is the link to a sample chapter:

I received a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

A Froggy Transformation

My transformation seems to be much more like a weird half-frog from a tadpole than a beautiful butterfly from a caterpillar.  I upset a dear friend last week to the point of anger.  When she had reached her saturation point of tolerance for this character flaw that I had been unaware of, she exploded in anger.  I cried for hours that I had hurt her so badly, repeatedly, without even knowing, and I begged for her forgiveness.  Then I cried out to God to change me, to show me how flawed I was in all my relationships and to transform me so that I could pour out love and grace in my actions.  I could think and feel it in my heart and speak it with my words, but if my actions don’t show it, then what’s the point? Am I really being transformed?
I found some encouraging words for my gradual transformation at the blog post titled “Letter to an Incomplete, Insecure Teenager” on the Desiring God Blog at  John Piper encouraged me to not be surprised at the weirdness and slowness of the process.  God did not intend for our metamorphosis to be easy, just certain.  As we learn the thousands of lessons that He teaches us in life, we can be amazed to realize that nothing is ever wasted.
While I could continue examining myself and how I should be different and more like Jesus, I must instead focus my eyes upward and not waste too much emotional energy on introspection.    John Piper encouraged me to then shift my introspection to amazement at God – seeing the unseen, seeing God in everything.  He says to look. Look. Look Look.  When we behold the glory of God, then we are being changed.
Another metamorphosis is awaiting us, one that is so complete and so amazing…but for now, I will be amazed at the process of becoming a frog.

An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating, by Andy Braner

“What would you say if I told you I had sex?” asked my daughter when she had just turned 14 years old as we were sunning on the swimming pool deck.  My thoughts exploded fearfully in a zillion directions. Was this just a hypothetical question? What if it wasn’t? What is the right answer? How can I answer this and keep her desiring to be open and honest with me? And shouldn’t she first be asking the question “When am I old enough to date?”??
I am sure I am partly bias, but she is a blond-haired, blue-eyed beauty that turns heads, appearing much more like a college freshman than a high school freshman.  While I have tried to construct a biblical foundation of sexuality, including books and programs with biblical principles such as The Princess and the Kiss as a third grader, purity retreats as a pre-teen,  True Love Waits, I Kissed Dating Good-Bye and Every Young Woman’s Battle as a teenager, I feel like I am fighting a losing battle in our sex-saturated culture.  Now every time I bring up another book or try to talk to her about God’s way, she groans and says I don’t understand and that I can’t relate to all the pressure that she faces.    
Until I found this book.  The perfect book.  It took me so long to review it because she kept sneaking it out of my room to read it.  She said finally, the author of this book actually understands.   An Expose on Teen Sex and Dating, by Andy Braner, has opened up a panorama of topics for us to discuss about current teen culture, hooking up, and dating.  While she acknowledges that our small town in Kansas is not as ‘bad’ about ‘hooking up’ as he portrays, she says for the most part he is right on target. Andy Braner hits the nail on the head when he says the problem lies in the ability teenagers have to compartmentalize every area of their lives. That is why the programs for purity don’t necessarily work.
A youth minister and speaker who has spent many years talking with and listening to teens,  Andy Braner presents a biblical view of dating, why dating is good, how to date, how parents should handle dating, and how to handle it with dating relationships go wrong.   He believes that God ordained certain relationships to happen in His timing and backs it up with Scripture. Dating is an exercise in helping teens understand who they are compatible with and how to grow in a relationship.
I learned that my job is to simply and clearly show God’s mercy even as she wants to run away from His perfect plan.  The most powerful way to influence is to live life with her, to show her love in the midst of poor choices and to help her find Christ’s healing when brokenness happens. “The pain and suffering endured by a life in recognition of sin can often be the exact road God wants us to go down. The beauty is that God is there to make the way straight again, anytime we ask” (p. 173).
The writing style in this book was conversational and natural – it drew me in as well as my daughter not only in the topics covered but in the fluid writing style.  I very highly recommend this book to any parent of teens or those in youth ministry.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Relationships Versus Lists

I’m a list-maker by design.  Something in my blood compels me to create lists for my sanity.  Formulating lists organizes the jumbled thoughts in my head and yields a sense of order to my life.  Checking off a list induces feelings of accomplishment.  Lists keep me focused on a goal and grant me the illusion of control.
I love to list things to do, read, or study that will deepen me spiritually.  But God keeps showing me it doesn’t work that way.  Yet, I am still enticed by my old ways, like a magnet on the refrigerator that displays those lists. 
Relationships with the people in my life don’t work through lists either.  Whether it is my relationship with God, or relationships with my family or friends or co-workers, I can’t just make a list of how to make the relationships better and then check it off a list. 
Or can I?  Maybe there IS a way that relationships and my list-making urges can be meshed together.
I have an assortment of new relationships that invaded my life and are under my roof.  Suddenly reading, studying, and writing, the places where I find restoration and fulfillment, have taken a back seat.  Even as I write this, a child is looking over my shoulder and chatting with me. And I must pause to listen….
I know the others will be awake soon, ages 8, 10, 11, 12, and 15, all an assortment of my own children plus nieces and a nephew who will live here for a yet-to-be-determined length of time, and I’m loving every minute of it!  Someday my nest will be empty, but reading and writing will still be there and perhaps then I can indulge.  In the meantime, I know God is telling me to not just amend my agenda but to lay it aside on a daily basis and yield to His by being instead of doing.
Yet, I still must make lists!  So I am changing the kind of lists that I write.  My new lists focus on who I want to be instead of what I want to accomplish.  Being instead of doing. 
Here is a short list of who I want to be with the relationships of the people who are living under my roof in this season of my life, a list of things I resolve to be: 
·         Be a good listener by holding my tongue and asking questions instead of giving answers. 
·         Seek understanding instead of giving advice.
·         Do not be irritated or complain about petty things but have a heart of thankfulness.
·         Pray on my knees and seek God’s counsel before addressing any conflict.
·         Practice mercy, grace, patience, and forgiveness.
·         Find the blessings in every day.
God is showing me new things to add to the list on a regular basis. And instead of checking it off and seeing my failures and successes at the end of every day, I am trying to look over the list at the start of each new day to remind myself of how I am supposed to BE.  Then God will show me what to do.

Secure Daughters Confident Sons - Book Review

Some people think there are no differences between boys and girls when they are born except for “plumbing”.  Others are extreme in thinking a boy must be “Macho Joe” or a girl must be a sweet “Pretty in Pink”.  The book Secure Daughters Confident Sons by Glenn T. Stanton claims to explore the vast terrain somewhere between the two different views in order to “help you teach your child to navigate between the two extreme views of identity in our culture today.”

The author failed to live up to his claim.  Using more references to movies and pop culture than the Bible, the author draws broad, sweeping generalizations about the differences between boys and girls.  Based more on stereotype than scientific research, he stated his opinions in a factual and authoritative manner. While my experiences and observations tend to be in agreement with many of his, I found myself continually arguing with him in my head and thinking up exceptions to his points.  I tend to want to rebel when people put me in a box.

But I did find some value in the book, such as understanding that mothers parent differently than fathers and that we balance each other as God intended.  The book affirmed how gender differences affect marriage.  That’s all the book did for me though – it reaffirmed what I already knew in my experience to be true.

Even though I am raising a boy and a girl who fit the gender molds in this book, I was disappointed in that it merely reinforced the stereotypical extreme rather than exploring how to reinforce gender qualities in a world where it is more politically correct to ignore differences.  I did not come away with any practical application for parenting or any ideas for spiritually training my children.

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, obviously.

No More Sterile Gloves - Application of Biblical Truths

Seminary ruined me on applying the Bible to my life.  I gathered many new tools to dig deeper into Bible study, but my approach has involved the careful donning of sterile gloves before beginning the operation.  While it has been a number of years, some of the words of one particular professor still bounce around in my head. For example:
  • One of my favorite basic childhood memory verses: “God will supply all your needs…” Philippians 4:19.  The professor insisted that Paul spoke those words to a specific people at a specific time. We can only claim this promise if we are giving as generously as the Philippian people were giving.
  • One of my favorite verses that encourages me as a parent: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is grown, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6.  He said that Proverbs is just general sayings, not promises to claim.  I knew that already, but suddenly they seemed pointless – life doesn’t seem to follow the rules.
  • Verses that fill me with courage and hope -- you know those words in the Old Testament prophets about being strong and courageous and God having a plan and a purpose – “Do not be terrified, do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go,” in Joshua 1:9and “for I know the plans I have for you…” in Jeremiah.  The professor said those were for specific people at a specific time, and we have to be careful how we apply to ourselves. 
Suddenly, nothing in the Bible seemed to apply to me.

In an effort to avoid hermeneutical error, I immersed myself in all the rules of interpretation – assessing the original audience, culture, intent of the author’s words at that point in history and what God is trying to say to us today without wrongly applying it.  While focusing on the character and ways of God, I patted myself on the back for avoiding self-centeredness.  This was easy anyway – easier to fill my brain with facts than to reflect on them in my heart.   

Knowledge is not deeply understanding.  The truths and concepts that we understand with our minds must sink into our experiences in order for us to embrace the truth.  It’s acceptable and even good to draw connections to our own stories and to think about how we can demonstrate truth in our lives. I don’t want to just have a brain full of knowledge.  I want a transformed life, and God wants to use His Word in me to accomplish this.

My sterile, intellectual approach to God’s Word has truly slowed down my transformation process.  As of today, I’m peeling off the sterile gloves and putting away my sharpened dissecting scalpels that have left something lacking in my heart because I was so afraid of hermeneutical error.  I’m going to still use some valuable tools, but I won’t be afraid of making a mess.  It is better to err on the side of over-application instead of avoiding it altogether.

Seeing the Unseen - Book Review

The secret to building biblical faith is not something we achieve on our own.  It is the work of the Spirit imparting the awareness of Christ in us.  Faith means knowing who God is, knowing He will actually do what He says He will do, and that He will do what we ask.  But first, we must be praying the Word of God in our prayers and then seeking His will.  In Dr. Hunt’s book Seeing the Unseen, he shows how faith plays a vital role in opening our eyes to see the unseen, and he leads the reader down the biblical pathway to faith. 

Dr. Hunt explains that while our physical world is described by entropy (moving toward disorder), our spiritual selves are meant to be described by entelechy (moving toward perfection or making actual what is only potential).  Like a caterpillar becomes a butterfly and an acorn becomes an oak tree, a new believer is maturing to a disciple of Christ. Your faith is progressing toward something better – or should be.

I found some truths in this book that were transforming that I want to always remember.  For example, why does God tell us to pray without ceasing? It’s not for His benefit. It’s for ours.  Dr. Hunt describes not only what it means to pray 24/7, but the beneficial results he has experienced:
  • being more appreciative
  • feeling thankful for details that previously went unnoticed
  • continually on the look-out for God’s purposes in conversation
  • awareness of God hearing all that he says
  • electrifying singing and praise
  • the realization of precisely when the next bite will be sin before taking it. 

In my favorite chapter, Dr. Hunt draws out 7 factors of prayer that will provide a deepened sense of reality when you pray.  You  must have a strong sense or desire for:
·         progression upward and forward
·         pleasing the Father
·         the Holy Spirit’s mediation
·         commitment to pray in the mind of Christ
·         knowing that nothing is impossible with omnipotence
·         concentrating thoughts entirely on God
·         the will of God above personal whims

The pathway to faith produces maturity, and we are commanded to grow and to progress ever upward and forward.  Dr. Hunt provides scripturally-sound practices to live out your faith while using plenty of biblical references to back up his points,  

This book was short, concise, and easy to read. It was more meat and little fluff.  I wished he had used more illustrations to make his abstract points a little more concrete, but still a great book to propel me toward living a better life of faith and unceasing prayer.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.