Measuring Spiritual Growth

Spiritual growth is not easily measured.  New lessons must be learned, and old ones must be repeated in new situations in order for them to be applied firmly to the heart. Sometimes I wonder if there is any progress. For every line in the following poem that is true in my heart, I know I am growing leaps and bounds, even if it is taking a long time.

Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word;
Once His gifts I wanted,
Now the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
Now Himself alone.

Once it was busy planning,
Now it’s trustful prayer;
Once it was anxious caring,
Now He has the care;
Once it was what I wanted,
Now what Jesus says;
Once it was constant asking,
Now it is ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working,
His it hence shall be;
Once I tried to use Him,
Now He uses me;
Once the power I wanted,
Now the Mighty One;
Once for self I labored,
Now for Him alone.

All in all forever,
Jesus will I sing;
Everything in Jesus,
And Jesus everything.

A.B. Simpson

Then Sings My Soul - Book Review

My daddy is a worship leader at his church, and while we diverge on preferred music styles (he loves the organ and I love the drums and guitars), we both share a love for great hymns. He was on my mind when I decided to read the book Then Sings My Soul: The Story of Our Songs: Drawing Strength from the Great Hymns of Our Faith, Book 3 by Robert J. Morgan.  Not having read the prior two volumes in the series, I was delighted to find that this one is probably the best one.
Robert J. Morgan declares, “Hymns are distillations of the richest truths of God, versified, emotionalized, set to music, and released in the mind and from the mouth. They’re miniature Bible studies that lead us effortlessly to worship, testimony, exhortations, prayer, and praise…They clear our minds, soothe our nerves, verbalize our worship, summarize our faith.”  They are internal medicines that strengthen, heal, and lift us. They are vitamins for the soul, antidotes against emotional disease and distress.
This volume is not just a history of individual hymns.  Unlike the other volumes, in the first portion the author paints a panoramic overview that stretches back 4,000 years through the development of hymns in each of the ages through the present and extending forward to the very throne of God in heaven.   He divides hymnody into 7 segments: Biblical, Ancient, Medieval, German, English, Gospel & American, and Contemporary.  He urges us to be aware of the great cloud of witnesses who have preceded us and to know their victories and legacies that can enrich our faith today. And if there’s ever a generation of Christians who don’t write their own music, Christianity is dead.  Every generation needs to compose its own praise.  
In the second portion, the author discusses the history and stories behind individual hymns from each of the segments, and another section of 6 hymn stories that he loves to tell.  In a previous volume, he shared the story for “It Is Well with My Soul”, but in this volume he tells the author’s entire story, an ending that I had not heard (and probably with good reason because the outcome is rather disappointing).
In the third portion, my favorite, he shares the practical use of hymns in devotional time and everyday life.  We draw strength from songs and hymns which can serve as a sort of therapy. He encourages us to read the hymns, memorize them, meditate, play, pray, sing, and proclaim them. He insists that they are as powerful when quoted as when they are sung. We should start each day with them, lean on them, and pass them down to our children.
I have a renewed appreciation for my church homes of present and past that were able to weave hymns into worship every week, sometimes the old words with new melodies or twists that brought a new freshness of their meaning to my heart. When I sing the Doxology, I’m joining in an exercise of praise with my grandparents and ancestors, and when I sing the new hymns with a band, I’m joining voices with my children, and someday my grandchildren. After reading this book, I think I am in love with hymns even more and will start using a hymn book during my devotional time.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Jesus in Scrubs

She’ll never know, but her smile, gentleness, and calm voice were like the very presence of Jesus during the mammogram which followed the unsettling days after discovering a lump on my breast. Again. Last time, a little over a year ago, one pea-sized lump was surgically removed and biopsied, found to be benign, much to my relief. The 30-day process from discovery to removal was filled with nerve-wracking waiting.

I wanted this time to be different. Without words, the technician reminded me that it could be and would be, if I would just keep my eyes focused on Jesus. She didn’t have to say it. Her compassion, the way she tried hard to keep me comfortable and informed with everything she was doing and why, with a smile – it all kept my mind focused on the current moment instead of future possibilities. She was a tool in God’s hands, exhibiting the peace of Jesus.

But God wanted to give me more than peace. The mammogram results showed the need to move on for an ultrasound. While lying on the ultrasound table, alone, waiting for another technician to return with the radiologist’s findings, God showed me that He wanted something from me. He wanted me to surrender to Him. To surrender everything. Even my breasts. He wanted me to be able to trust Him even if I were to lose them and face the emotional challenge to my femininity. So I did. I knew that regardless of the outcome, He would somehow use it and grow me. Every pain or hurt placed in His hands would be used for great purpose so long as I give it to Him.

If not for the technician, who was like Jesus in scrubs, would I have been as open to hearing His message to me that day? Would I have known that He wanted me to surrender or would I have been too busy mulling over all the possibilities of the future?

The outcome was favorable and I can close this chapter of difficulty for the time being, but others swirl around me. As I continue to live surrendered, maybe I can be like the technician, who was like the presence of Jesus to me.  Maybe a smile, compassion, or truth spoken with just the right words at just the right time – maybe I also have been and can be like Jesus to those around me – Jesus in dress slacks, Jesus in blue jeans, Jesus in pajamas. 

Thank you to my blogging friends who encouraged me and prayed for me - like Jesus in cyberspace.

Fierce Beauty - Book Review

I thought this was going to be another book on the value of inner beauty, but I was delightfully wrong.  The premise of Fierce Beauty by Kim Meeder is much deeper than that.  We were not designed to be princesses of entitlement but warriors of encouragement.  Our calling is to let go of our crown of gems (our puny personal ambitions, desires, and agendas) in order to pursue our true identity: His crown of thorns (the will of our King). Only by doing so will we discover the value, joy, and fulfillment that He intends for us.
Kim Meeder is an amazing combination of athletic and poetic, adventuresome and artistic. She skillfully weaves the description of her adventures so that you feel like you are experiencing them yourself - tasting, smelling, feeling, and seeing her escapades from which she always grasps God’s goodness in  showing or teaching her something.  Through her explorations, whether in a kayak or climbing a mountain, she exhibits the quality of a true daughter of the King as well as a warrior – a sort of warrior princess.
She explains that a warrior is not distracted by the entanglements of this life.  She answers God’s call to fix her eyes and her energy on running hard to the end of the race. But as Christian women, we’re not competing against each other – we are running the race together and we need to help each other fight, hope, and love. 
When we are faced with challenges, we should ask: 1) How does God wish for me to grow through this? 2) Since God knows about this and allowed it in my life because I need to grow in a specific area, am I going to trust my King and obediently step forward in faith, knowing that His best plan is to give me a hope and a future?
My life may not be full of exciting adventures as Kim Meeder’s, but I find myself in circumstances that evoke similar feelings – lost, alone, panicked, or uncertain. God is in the midst of every moment of my life wanting to show me more of Him and to grow me, and Kim Meeder gave me multiple examples of inspiration to open my eyes to experience the pure joy in routine moments, difficult moments, and even good moments.  I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone who is ready to be inspired to lay down her crown and pick up her sword.  Check out the first chapter at
Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from WaterbookMultnomah Publishing in exchange for a review.

Victim or Warrior – Choosing Unshakable Faith

My eyes flew open in surprise at 1:25am last night during the middle of a peaceful sleep.  “I have a lump on my breast!” I exclaimed into the darkness before it even registered if I was still dreaming or not.  My husband must have been awake because he answered, “Why are you touching your breasts in your sleep?”  I laughed. I had no idea, maybe I had an itch, but there was no doubt that the pea-sized lump at the edge of my breast near my armpit was there.  After my husband verified its existence, we laid there in silence for a while. I wondered how we would fall back to sleep.
I thought about my previous post, how much I want to walk so close to God that I can see His hand in every thing, every day, and trust Him so much that nothing shakes me.  Was this a test? I knew this had the potential to rattle me and fill me with anxiety.  This was not an unfamiliar road.
God knew it was there. He knows when it formed. He knows whether or not it is benign. He knew that I would discover it when I did. He knows the path in front of me and will guide me through each step for my good (yes, MY good) and His glory.  His consolation delighted my soul, and he calmed the anxious thoughts that could have multiplied.  The heavy breathing of my husband also soothed me. He is my rock, too, and if he could find rest, then I could too. Peaceful sleep returned to me.
As with any illness, we have a choice how to react. When the circumstance is beyond our control, will we give into pity and ask the why questions that only stirs up anxious thinking? Will we feel play the victim? Or will we fight with anger that leads to bitterness and blame? Or will we trust God and stand strong?
I don’t want to be a victim, nor do I want to be an angry warrior lashing out.  But I do want to be a warrior – a strong one who knows who the commander is!
I can’t change the circumstances, but I can choose my thoughts and my actions.  My next action will be to make a doctor appointment Monday morning. My next thoughts are to walk as closely to my heavenly Father as I can so He can keep me from victim-thinking and grow me into something stronger and more beautiful.

What Kind of Blogger Do I Want to Be?

I’ve struggled with knowing what to post lately or what kind of blogger I want to be. My last three posts have been strictly book reviews because of the forced accountability that comes from publishers who provide copies of new books with expectation of a review in a timely manner. 
A book review blogger is not who I want to be, though it is something I enjoy periodically.  A humorous or light-hearted writer is someone I’d love to be, but it’s not who I am.  A technical writer is more in line with my profession, but it’s not what I want to blog.  Devotional blogging just comes across too corny and shallow for me.
Yet something in me compels me to write, and blogging forces me to go beyond journaling.  The process of becoming a better writer is much too snail-like, but when I look back, the trail is truly visible. The trail in front of me is too foggy to see, but I know it exists. It’s a gradual transformation, just as my faith journey is gradual.
While I was in seminary, I was certain God had called me to write. My surroundings fade and time disappears when I am studying the Word and organizing information and ideas.  How God wants me to link my passion with writing or blogging is a mystery in progress. 
Gradual transformation, sanctification, growing in faith, becoming more like Jesus, walking so close to God that I can see His hand in everything everyday and trusting Him so much that nothing shakes me – this subject is my passion.  The books I review, the things that I study, and the words that I write revolve around this. This is the blogger I want to be.

The Daniel Fast - Book Review

A biblical fast, the restricting of food for a spiritual purpose, is a choice to turn down the noise of the world and focus on your relationship with your Father.  A fast doesn’t have to be a time of complete torture and misery. In fact, a partial fast is no less effective than a complete fast because the power of fasting has less to do with food than with setting yourself apart for a specific time to focus more on God for a specific purpose, according to Susan Gregory in her book The Daniel Fast.
The Daniel fast is similar to a vegan diet but somewhat more restrictive – eating fruits, vegetables, food originating from seeds and drinking only water.  All manmade chemicals, artificial flavorings and colorings, food additives and preservatives are eliminated.
Susan Gregory is known as the Daniel fast blogger and has compiled her research and writings on the partial fast fashioned on the experiences of the prophet Daniel.  The Daniel Fast is divided into three parts: 1) a description of the Daniel fast, the purpose of fasting, and the benefits of fasting for the body, soul, and spirit; 2) food lists, recipes, and menus for a Daniel fast; and 3) a 21-day devotional guide and frequently asked questions about Daniel fasting.
This book would be better titled The Daniel Diet than The Daniel Fast.  Why spend an extra 15 minutes making your own all-natural ketchup when the point of the fast is to spend more time drawing closer to God? Half of the book includes recipes that I would love to include in my daily meals, but if I tried to incorporate them into my fast, I would spend much more time than I normally would preparing food and taking pleasure in eating it more than I would be praying and focusing on God.  However, I feel this book is worthwhile to read if you are interested in a partial fast or even learning more about the purpose of a biblical fast, so long as you do not allow yourself to become consumed with the legalistic aspect of which foods are allowed and which foods are forbidden.   
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my review.

I Am a Follower - Book Review

At this season in my life when the desire to lead within my church has waned and efforts to move into a supervisory position in my career have been thwarted, I was excited to read Leonard Sweet’s book I Am a Follower, expecting that he would re-affirm the value of following in a culture that has been obsessed with the importance of leadership.  While I was delighted at his ability to turn popular thought upside down and help the reader think outside the box, I was a little disappointed.

Leonard introduces this writing with a beautiful illustration of a dancing man on a hill (with reference to a video clip on YouTube) and what it means to be a “first follower”. The book is then divided into three parts – what it means to follow Jesus in 1) the way, 2) the truth, and 3) the life. 

Leonard’s emphasis on the value of being a “first follower” instead of a leader just seems to be a matter of semantics. In my opinion, a first follower is essentially the same as a servant leader. Still there was value to what he had to say if you can overlook this point.  While he has a poetic way of illustrating what it means to follow Jesus Christ, this book was hard to read, very long, and difficult to finish.

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.

Man Alive - Book Review

God used one of Patrick Morley’s books over 15 years ago to awaken me spiritually, so I jumped at the opportunity to read his new book, even though men are the intended audience. In Man Alive, Patrick Morley shows what it means to be a man alive – to stop living lukewarm, stagnant, and defeated lives and to instead harness the raw, restless energy to propel yourself toward the life God planned for you to live. He fleshes out 7 primal needs of men and how to use those primal needs – not letting them drag you down but claiming them as God’s gifts so that you can live a powerful life transformed by Christ. He explores how it feels when life isn’t going right in various areas, what makes that so hard, and what to do about it.

While this book was short and easy to read, it was not just a feel-good book. Rooted in biblical principles, Patrick Morley explains that Christianity is heart transformation, not behavior modification. Our life purpose is discipleship, and we are called, equipped, and sent to live in Christ, for Christ, and like Christ.  A short discussion guide in the back can be used to assist men in a small group to discuss the topics in this book. (A DVD is also available, but it was not provided for my review.)

There are plenty of books out there on finding your purpose, calling, or dream, but I admire Patrick Morley’s approach.  Though I wish he had dug a little deeper, I would highly recommend this book for men – especially for those who don’t like to read much or are in the early stages of their faith walk.

Check out this link to the table of contents and the first chapter:

Disclaimer: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbook Multnomah Publishing in exchange for a review. The opinions expressed herein are my own.