God of All Creation - Book Review

I have a secret, and it seems almost blasphemous to put it in words and say it out loud, but my schnauzers help me understand a little bit of God’s character.  Not that we are God’s pets, but their devotion, obedience (and disobedience), dependence (and fleeing out the door for independence) give me insight into how God must love and receive pleasure from us.  James Robison showed me that there truly is an acceptable way to see the parallels of Truth in those treasured moments with my schnauzers when he quotes his friend, “If you can’t see God in everything, you won’t see God in anything.” 

In his book God of All Creation: Life Lessons from Pets and Wildlife, Robison shares poignant stories of his little Princess, a devoted dachshund who is always reminding him of eternal truths and giving illustration to the clear revelation of God’s love for us.  He sprinkles in other stories of wildlife to show how God would have us relate with each other and give us perspective as we live out each day to its fullness for His glory. 

The devotional-style book contains 28 short chapters of light reading with easy-to-grasp theological truths expressed in a simple manner.  While Robison’s writing style tends to lean toward being a bit preachy in parts, this book is a delightful read.

For more info, check out the website: WaterbrookMultnomah
Read: Chapter 1
Author Bio: James Robison

Disclaimer:  I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Press in exchange for my honest review.

10 Transforming Bible Chapters to Read and Memorize

Are you wondering which chapters or passages in the Bible would be the best ones to memorize or study?  If I could pick ten, the list below are chapters that I believe are the most transforming and life altering in the spiritual growth for every follower of Christ.  

With the effort to study them or memorize them, you will broaden the language of the Holy Spirit speaking into the circumstances of your life.  Even as you go about your daily business, the words and phrases will bounce around in your head to remind you of how God is transforming your heart, soul, and mind. 
1.    Romans 12 – How to live, love, and relate with all types of people.
2.   James 1 – Perspective on trials and temptations; how to live your faith.
3.   1 Peter 1 – The value of trials, faith, living in holiness – why and how.
4.   1 Corinthians 13 – How to love and what it looks like in everyday life.
5.   1 John 1 – Walking in the Word and in the Light.
6.   Philippians 2:1-18 – Imitating Jesus – what He did and what we should do.
7.   Philippians 3:7-20 – Christ as our everything and our future hope.
8.   Ephesians 4 – How to live in unity with other believers and how we should live in relation with the rest of the world.
9.   Ephesians 6:1-18 – Why and how to submit in relationships; how to stand against evil.
10.  Galatians 6:1-10 – How to live life together, help each other, and encourage each other.

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10 Tips for Memorizing Scripture

There are a plenty of tips out there on memorizing Scripture, but here are a few of my favorites that I use:

1.     Choose a passage that speaks into your life. Don’t just learn isolated verses here and there, but bite off whole chunks.   Alternating easy verses or passages with harder ones will help keep you from becoming discouraged.

2.    Establish a routine of a few minutes per day at a certain time, but be careful not to turn it into something mechanical.  Remind yourself of the reasons to memorize Scripture when you lose your motivation (see post: Why Memorize Scripture?).

3.    Memorize up to 3 verses a week.  More than that might tend to get confusing and recall may not be as simple.  Of course, this varies from person to person, so be sure to gauge how much overwhelms you and then back off if you are tackling too much.

4.    On the first day, read the verse you are memorizing 10 times to yourself (John Piper’s great idea).  Read aloud ten times, mentally picturing it in your mind. Hearing helps cement the words in your head.  Look at the words only when necessary.  

5.    On the following days, read the verse several times.  Break the passage into natural phrases.  Move on to the next phrase when you can say it several times without looking. See how many you can join together.  Peak for hints when you need to.  Keep doing this for several days because repetition and review is the key.

6.    Learn a little bit very well instead of a whole bunch poorly.  Writing it down helps you to think about each word.  Re-write sections you keep missing.

7.    Recite it out loud or listen to someone recite it out loud – not in monotone or as if reading aloud, but in a conversational style, thinking how it would sound if someone were just saying it for the first time.  I heard Beth Moore do this in reciting the book of James (Mercy Triumphs) and I still hear the words she emphasizes and the slow deliberate speaking style that sticks especially difficult verses in my mind.

8.    Speak it into your life and find ways to live it. Use it in conversation, journaling teaching, counseling, daily situations, and the self-talk in your head.

9.    Frequently review verses you have already learned.  Tim LaHaye recommends reviewing the new verses daily for 7 weeks, then reviewing them once per week for 7 months, then reviewing once per month for 7 months. 

10. Take advantage of downtime.  When you are waiting, driving, washing dishes or mowing the lawn, review what you know or repeat something new you are working on.

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Exploring the Unexplained - Book Review

Have you ever wondered about the man with 6 fingers or other peculiar people, places, or things in the Bible? Exploring the Unexplained, by Trent Butler, claims to help you gain deeper understanding for the Bible in understanding confusing stories in an easy-to-read format.
In the format of a dictionary, the people, places, and things are listed in alphabetical order. Each word includes a passage in the Bible where it is mentioned and a definition or explanation of how it is used.  An “issue” question is then provided for further thought or discussion that makes it relevant to life.
This book includes some ideas in the introduction how to use this book for Bible games and activities and would be fun and useful for Sunday School teachers or small discussion leaders.  But don’t expect it to answer all your questions about the unusual, hard-to-explain, and difficult-to-understand stories in the Bible as it claims it will do on the back cover.  No answers beyond the simple definitions are provided, and the issue questions might leave you even more confused than when you started. 
 Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for my honest review.

Why Memorize Scripture? 9 Ways Memorizing Scripture Speeds up the Transformation Process

Whether you regularly memorize Scripture or need something to prod you to start, it helps to remember the purpose in order to keep going, as with any discipline such as healthy eating and exercising. 

Knowing that memorizing Scripture is one of many avenues that God uses to transform me to become more like Jesus, reminding myself of the following paybacks inspires me to keep pursuing it:
1.    It strengthens your prayer life and connection with God.
2.   It increases the vocabulary through which the Holy Spirit speaks into your life.
3.   It changes your perspective, outlook, and attitude.
4.   It helps you overcome worry and gives you victory over sin.
5.   It equips you for serving and ministering to others.
6.   It assists you in knowing and living God’s will for you.
7.   It solidifies your faith and enhances your confidence and assurance.
8.   It provides you with greater understanding in studying the Bible as you understand Scripture in light of other Scripture.
9.   It develops your mind so that it becomes more alert and observant.

What Matters Most - Book Review

Could the church lack credibility with our culture because Christians would rather be right than be in relationship with one another?  Why is it that many Christians are tempted to replace relationship with reason, ensuring our doctrine is correct, factual, precise, often at the expense of relationship? 
The life of faith is about following Jesus, forgiving, seeking, rejoicing, sharing; it is a life of relating to God, others, and creation.  “Disciples are not known by how well they defend orthodox propositions, but by how well they love one another”, writes Leonard Sweet in his book What Matters Most: How We Got the Point but Missed the Person.  Sweet challenges us to think about whether our convictions crowd out friendships and argues that relationship is pivotal to Christian theology. 
Sweet expands his theme in eight sections that address relationships with God, His Story, others – in and outside the faith, creation, symbols, art, technology, and the spiritual world.  Thought- provoking study questions at the back of the book are great for individual use.  For group use, the answers are not easy for off-the-cuff responses but could really lead into some deep conversations.
For me, the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” is a cliché, void of meaning, perhaps because I have heard it regularly my entire life.  Sweet opened my eyes to the significance from a completely different angle.   This book is not a self-help book nor stuffed with fluff, but rather, a relational theology of what it means to be in relationship with God and how that impacts every other aspect of life. 
When starting this book, I was tempted to make assumptions about what Sweet is trying to say.  Yes, he is emphasizing relationships, but ultimately he doesn’t throw doctrine and truth out the window.  Instead, without explicitly saying so, he shows how doctrine and relationship are intertwined and dependent on each other as shown through Jesus Christ. 
Sweet puts an untraditional spin on the story of Abraham and his potential sacrifice of his son Isaac, suggesting that Abraham didn’t quite get it right in his obedience to God’s command.  Whether or not you agree with his innovative interpretation that is based on where the Bible is silent, it is at least worth thinking about and worth continuing to read.
If you desire a fresh new slant on the familiar, want to engage more deeply with Scripture, or need to be motivated to live out your faith more passionately, Sweet will inspire you to live dynamically in every aspect of your life.  This book is in my top list of favorites and I plan to read it repeatedly for wisdom.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterbrookMultnomah Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Are You a Jesus Stalker?

While driving last week and listening to the radio, I heard a discussion on being a “Jesus stalker”.  It stopped my thoughts in their tracks - a Jesus stalker? If all you do is read the Bible or go to church or memorize Scripture, gathering information about Jesus but not actually talking to Him, then maybe you area Jesus stalker.  Collecting all the information you can without pursuing a relationship is stalkerish.
The analogy of the stalker falls apart, though.  Usually a stalker wants a relationship but for some reason feels like he can’t have it.  God is not like a stalker victim.  He is the one pursuing the relationship with us but leaves it up to us as to whether we respond, or even notice. But He’s not the stalker, either. He doesn’t harass us into a relationship with him.
The point of the failed analogy, though, is that without love and without being in relationship with God, all the studying, learning, and memorizing is cold.  Meaningless.  Opening your Bible in the morning to read before you begin the rest of your day, but just checking it off your list of things done may be a good start but God desires something a little different with us. He wants connection, interaction.
As an academic type, I love studying the Bible and memorizing passages, but time spent in prayer on a daily basis doesn’t come so easily for me – and I’m not talking about the shot-gun prayers on the run, but the intentional setting aside of time to connect with Him and have a two-way conversation with Him. Here are some things I am practicing to make my devotional time every morning more interactive:
·        Using Scripture memory as a tool for meditation, listening, and prayer ;
·        Praying Scripture that I’m reading/studying in the form of praise, thanksgiving, confession, and/or request;
·        Asking God to show me ways I can put a memorized verse or passage that I read into practice that day and then letting Him guide my thoughts and ideas;
·        Singing or meditating using music into my devotional time;
·        Listening to Misty Edwards, Jesus Culture, or other similar genre on YouTube and letting God speak to me through pictures or impressions on my heart as I sing along the simple (and repetitive  lyrics of praise to Him).
What are some ways you really connect with the Father in your quiet time?