Churched: One Kid's Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess

Matthew Paul Turner tells his story of growing up in a fundamentalist church in his book Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess.  This story is not the typical anti-fundie, bitter rant, but rather, a light-hearted humorous story that will make you laugh without feeling disrespectful.  He shows how his upbringing helped him love Jesus despite the many foibles of the fundie culture.  I imagine that every church contains the types of characters that cross his path, and if you were conservatively “churched”, you may find you know these people too.  Somehow he manages to tell his story in a light but profound manner, humorous without sarcasm.  His giftedness with penning words to his journey is exceptional and his writing style is delightful.

My favorite part of this book was the surprise of the last chapter, his ‘benediction’, where he gives a too-brief summary of his journey of leaving fundamentalism, dabbling in Calvinism and non-denominational churches, a brief stint in Catholicism, and finally landing in a community church – one that is not perfect, but a group of people where he can fit as he grapples with being a different kind of Christian.  If he puts this part of his journey in a sequel, I’ll be the first in line to buy it!

I am now a new Matthew Turner fan.  Check out his blog at: www.matthewpaulturner.com for a sample of his diverse writing styles and some thought-provoking reading.

For additional information, check out the following websites:



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

The Sacred Year - Book Review

What can the spiritual practices of the ancients of 1500 years ago teach me that is relevant to my relationship with God and others in this post-modern age?  What purpose can these practices serve in this high-strung, hurried and superficial world where we seek to define ourselves and our significance through social media?  I am recently learning about how to walk the tightrope between contemplation and action, finding balance between them both while deepening my faith and being transformed.

In The Scared Year, Michael Yankoski shares the story of his existential crisis and then his journey prompted by the inner turmoil that sent him away from “the shallow, and fa├žade-obsessed existence” he was living and toward a pursuit of depth and intimacy with God manifested in his love for others. Through a conversational style, he connects with the reader through his insightful stories as he explores 18 spiritual practices that he divides into three categories: 1) Depth with self (e.g. practices of attentiveness, daily examen, simplicity); 2) Depth with God (e.g. confession, Sabbath, pilgrimage); and 3) depth with others (e.g. gratitude, justice, caring). 

His discussion of the spiritual practices are far from dry, and his book is aptly subtitled: “Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice – How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Life.” While he spent a sacred year diving into these practices, he emphasizes that it’s not enough to accomplish them and check them off a list at the end.  They require a lifetime to come into full maturity and to bring forth the intended fruit. 

I highly recommend this book for anyone who wants to increase their capacity for depth in life and to actually put a deeper spirituality into practice.  If we walk away inspired to incorporate even just one of these practices into our lifestyles, we will be changed.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart

Much of modern Christianity has been firmly built on “absolute truth” and conformity of beliefs.  Many Christians have begun to experience a shift in how to relate to God and the church.  We hit a barrier.  Things stop working in the ways we’re used to.  We notice inconsistencies in leadership and theology that never occurred to us before.  We start to experience spiritual vertigo.

Do you ever ask the questions like, “Why am I a Christian? Do I really believe in God? Is my whole life of faith a sham? Why have I given myself over to the church for years when it has consistently used me? How could I ever have believed some of the things I have been taught? Am I a blind sheep, following the herd from desperation to belong?” 

Do you ever feel like your faith is unraveling as you realize your list of “I don’t know’s” is growing?  Does the world no longer seem as black and white to you?  If not, or if you have no patience for people who ask these questions or feel these things, skip this post.  If so, keep reading!

Kathy Escobar (pastor, writer, advocate, speaker, and spiritual director in North Denver) defines the questioning of the systems to which we previously happily subscribed as a “faith shift”.  Some common experiences of faith shifters include:
  • A background in a faith system of very clear rules and expectations for participants,
  • A significant shift in your relationship with God and/or the church,
  • Uncertainty about whom to trust with your thoughts and emotions,
  • Discomfort in once-welcoming communities and groups,
  • Fear that maybe you are the problem, that you are wrong, sinful, or deceived.

In her book Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart, Escobar discusses her flexible model of the faith shifting process based on her observations of the stages that faith shifters tend to experience and shows that the shift is a progression. She explains the spiritual journey in terms of fusing, shifting, and unraveling. This can result in returning, severing, or rebuilding.  Everyone’s journey is different. 

Escobar insists that this book is not her memoir, a text book, or a self-help book with guaranteed results to squeeze out faith-challenging feelings and put you back in a spiritual box.    She is not giving easy answers or advice.  Rather, she acts as a facilitator, helping you put words to your experience, encouraging you to start the conversation with yourself, and re-assures by sharing stories of other’s experiences that can help you navigate your own unique faith shift.  She will help you process the shifting of your faith and show you that you can find your way to something more, something bigger and truer, without actually trying to tell you what it is.

I highly recommend this book to those who are questioning the things they always believed, and especially those who are unraveling from an identity within fundamental/evangelical Christian churches.  She will help you process, understand, and help you not to feel alone. And I speak from experience – as if she had crept into my head and heard all my thoughts, and then gave me the tools to rebuild a much larger faith that doesn’t have to be black and white, but many colors of a prism with so much mystery, freedom, and diversity to explore.  This book is top on my list of favorites for this season of my life.  You can get a taste of her writing and the topics in the book on her blog at www.kathyescobar.com.  For more information about the book, go here.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from Convergent Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir

The pilgrim who seeks God never travels alone.  Not just because Jesus walks with us, the Holy Spirit is in us, and the Father is watching over us, as supreme as this is.  But we are also not alone because of the believers who travel along the path with us, even the ones that have passed on to the other side before us, and the great cloud of witnesses.  Never has this truth seemed so real to me until I read Colleen Campbell’s spiritual memoir My Sisters the Saints.  While I am not a Catholic, I am fascinated by the Christ followers who have lived in the centuries before me, especially the ones who have traveled close to Jesus and leave behind examples of how we can become more like Jesus and grow in holiness.

Colleen Carroll Campbell shares her 15-year quest through her 20’s and 30’s to understand the meaning of her feminine identity in light of her Christian faith and culture shaped by modern feminism.  She was dissatisfied with answers from both secular feminists and anti-feminists as she waded through decisions about career and marriage.  However, she found unexpected friendships with six women in history who offered her grace and inspiration:  Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, Faustina of Poland, Edith Stein of Germany, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and Mary of Nazareth.

Colleen weaves the story of her difficult life decisions on college, career, marriage, motherhood, and caring for her father with Alzheimer’s, with what each of these saints taught her along the way at the various seasons of her life.  Not only did I feel like Colleen was my own friend as I read her compelling story, I also felt like she acquainted me with these six women with whom I would also like to become friends and get to know even more.  I wish at the end of the book, she would have included a list of sources that she had used to become friends with these sister saints as well.

Any book that draws my heart closer to Jesus and inspires me to follow hard after Him is worth reading.  This book is definitely one of those.
 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Image Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Tables in the Wilderness - A Spiritual Memoir

Spiritual memoirs are my favorite genre right now, especially when I read snippets of the journeys of others that help me put words to my own.  Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost, and Found Again, is Preston Yancey’s  journey of a faith that fell apart and what he found through the loss as he fit pieces back together. 


Preston claims to be a lifelong Texan-raised Southern Baptist who fell in love with reading saints, crossing himself, and high church spirituality.  This resonated with me, and I was really looking forward to identifying with his journey, especially since I have recently wrestled with changes in the meaning and practice of my faith at mid-life.  I was a little disappointed to find out Preston is fresh out of college, still in his 20’s.  However, even though his spiritual struggle takes place during his college years at Baylor University, I could relate to the way he found the God who is bigger and more mysterious than he ever thought.  

Preston writes in a style that connects, feeling like a friend sharing his story, albeit a somewhat annoying friend that you tolerate when they get on their high horse or go through spells of feeling whiny or emotional.  He is real and raw.  I would be especially interested in reading how he would reinterpret his journey 25 years from now and where his faith carries him.

I would recommend this book to those who are interested in reading spiritual memoirs, who have wrestled with their own faith and are interested in seeing how others have wrestled and thrived.  I would not recommend this book for the person who feels lost and is looking for answers. 


I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review.

Beyond Grocery-List Prayers

Praying is the key discipline to spiritual growth and gradual transformation, but do you ever feel like your default prayer mode is like bringing a grocery list to God?  Sometimes we struggle with how to pray meaningfully.  I have found that written prayers are a springboard for deepening my prayer life, especially when they also inspire and intertwine with my own spontaneous prayers.  I found an excellent praying catalyst in Kurt Bjorklund’s prayer book Prayers for Today: A Yearlong Journey of Contemplative Prayer

In this book, each day of prayer begins with a Scripture to pray, guiding us to think and pray God’s thoughts after Him.  Following the Scriptural prayer, he provides a prayer written or recited from classical and contemporary sources, many of which I found resonated with me, giving expression to the longings of my heart and soul.  At the bottom of the page, he supplies a prayer for today that prompts spontaneous prayer and reflection, digging into your own personal life and thoughts and turning them over to God.

Each day/page includes a few different styles of prayer, but Bjorklund also categorizes the prayers so that within each day, we focus on a single, particular type of prayers - thanksgiving, confession, affirmation, petition, renewal, praise, guidance, surrender, etc.  I found myself praying new things that I had never prayed before.  If you are looking for a way to revitalize your prayer life, this book provides the means to connecting with God on the great themes of His Word so that you can get to His heart and so that your heart reflects His.


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

Loss and Love

As a parent, you try to do everything to protect your child to keep them safe, yet allowing them to spread their wings and practice moments of courage and bravery so that they can eventually leave the nest and soar.  When they are young, you teach them kindness, goodness, and integrity.  You protect them by locking up your cleaning supplies, teaching them not to take candy from strangers, and monitoring their internet usage.  You wonder if you are doing enough.  You feel like if you follow all the rules and do the right things, life should be good.

Regardless of how much you try to control, you find out you really have very little it.  In a moment, it can all slip away, leaving you questioning if you did it all wrong, if you did enough, if you should have done it differently.  You learn that you love the child you have been given, not the child you thought you would have.  You love, but as time passes, you learn to love well.

Anna Whiston-Donaldson, mother, writer, and blogger, experienced one of a mother’s worst nightmares.  She followed all the rules to protecting her children without smothering.  It was a warm day at the end of summer, and she let her children play with the neighborhood children in the rain. 

Anna tells her story in Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love.  Her 12-year-old son, who was cautious and always followed the rules, was swept away in a raging creek, a creek that she had never warned her children about, a creek that was usually dry and had never given an inkling of a threat, a creek that grew into a monstrous raging river that day during a 150-year rain event.      

Anna’s story is also a journey of her faith in Christ – not a fluffy, shallow story about how He carried her through and gave her all the strength she needed, though He did.  She tells a story sharing her raw grief, emotions, and changes over the next year as their family dynamics were forever altered on this side of heaven.  She writes with heart and poise, gifted with words to evoke the reader to share the journey with her.  In the middle of her grief, she also shares her glimpses of hope, love, encouragement.

I found this book to be utterly heart-wrenching as well as enlightening.  I hope never to experience such depths of despair, but I do hope to be able to learn from others without having to endure it myself.  She helped me to understand what others may need in their times of grief, to know what is ‘normal’ as one grieves, and proves that after the darkness can come the dawn. (I received a complimentary copy of this book from Convergent Books in exchange for my honest review.)

The Gift of the Midlife Crisis

The midlife breakdown happens like clockwork.  A systemic collapse. So they say.  I never thought it would really happen to me.  My faith in Christ was rock solid, could never be shaken.  I knew the Bible inside and out, and felt like I knew God the same way.  I had been face-to-face with grief, suffering, and evil.  I had been disappointed, treated unjustly, and peed on  by people whose acceptance and affirmation I craved.  I thought I understood why God allows suffering and evil and how he transforms us into a Christ-like image of Him. 

And then one day, five months ago, the impossible happened.  My belief left me. I had believed in some invisible world and a God who watched over me – and I went along with all this nonsense that turned out to be a hoax.  The things I learned (and taught) in Sunday school were stupid.  My whole life had been built on lies.  It was like looking in the mirror and seeing a silly costume on me and asking, “who picked this out for me?”

Without Jesus, my faith, and my religion, I had no idea who I was because He had been my everything, or so I thought.  I filed spiritual bankruptcy, and for five long months, I struggled.  The operating system that I had been equipped with from birth malfunctioned with a fatal virus, and I had no idea how to fix it. Or if I needed to replace it. 



Psychologists say our ‘operating systems’ are programmed to reach our peak power, and then to crash.  If this spiritual breakdown happens to ‘everyone’ in mid-life, I’d like to meet them.  Just one person.  Since I know no one personally who has experienced this, I have been reading spiritual memoir books like crazy to understand the experiences of others in hopes to understand myself.  About the fourth month into my spiritual/identity crisis, I picked up David Anderson’s book Losing Your Faith, Finding Your Soul: The Passage to New Life When Old Beliefs Die, and he helped me to begin to make sense of all this.  It resonated with my current feelings. 

In the early stage of faith, it’s all about our achievement through religious or spiritual performance. In our early adulthood, we spend most of our time attending to the outer shells of our lives, according to Anderson, an Episcopal minister and graduate of Yale Divinity School.  He explains that we are defined by our family, our jobs, our parenthood, our churches and how we serve, our neighborhoods, our inherited political parties. The world tells us how we are doing in both subtle and blatant ways.  We know our status and how we are doing, but it is difficult to get a read on our souls.  After we have played the game for 30-40 years, we come to the point where we decide ‘No more!’.

The gift of the midlife crisis, according to Anderson, is that it dethrones the pretender self and welcomes the ascent of the real self.   As we start to separate from the worn-out system, we discover we can take charge of our own lives, let go of the “you should’s”.   We step out, stand apart, and plant our flag, uncovering what is inside and not creating something externally anymore.

The strangest rule of spiritual growth is that it begins against your will. You undergo the stripping, and when you’ve endured the pain without resorting to your usual escape routes, you find a new kind of joy. It’s the kind that comes from nothing.  It’s a happiness that is not contingent on any thing; it just is.  You didn’t gain it, and you can’t lose it.  This happiness has nothing to do with your circumstances. (page 153)

Anderson explains that as we do the early work of separation, firming up the core of our being, we find we are no longer dependent on other people to change so that we can be free.  We no longer depend on other people to be less depressing or judgmental so that we can be happy.  We no longer depend on them to act like mature adults so we can too.

But where he says we start of find our own authority and our own power – this is where I digress.  Only in my complete nakedness was able to realize what was lacking.  I didn’t want to rely on my own authority and my own power.  I truly wanted to give it to Jesus. While my belief had left me, my faith never did.  While I rambled down roads of atheism and then agnosticism, then universalism, in the end, my faith in Jesus was what I chose, even after I questioned it.  It is because of Jesus that I found my true identity. 

I’m not at the same place I was at the beginning, though.  I’m still in the process of gradual transformation, but it no longer feels like a crisis.  I no longer feel like I have God figured out or that I have the answers, and I am embracing the mystery of it all.  I am letting go of criticism and judgment.  I didn’t even know it was possible because it was part of the ‘old’ me.  In letting them go, my heart opens wider as I simply let life have its say, let God have His say in whatever form He wants, and let people be who they are.


If your faith has failed you at some point in life, if you used to believe, or if you are pretending to believe and going through the motions, if you feel like your faith has been snuffed out by evil or suffering after a life surrendered to God, then I would recommend David Anderson’s book.  He will not lead you to evangelical or even Christian conclusions.  Like me, you may not agree with everything he says.  But he will help you articulate the journey, make sense of it, and lead you through the stages of doubt and re-discovery, pointing you toward where you are headed.  He will help you change your crisis into a journey.  (Thank you Blogging for Books and Convergent Publishing for providing me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.)

Streams in the Desert Devotional Bible - Book Review

When I picked up Streams in the Desert, by L.B. Cowman at a library book sale a few years ago, I had never heard of it.  After after I fell in love with what I thought was an obscure little devotional book, I discovered it was actually a best seller.  L.B. Cowman was a missionary with her husband overseas until his health declined. Then they returned to the United States where she took care of him for six years until he died.  She collected the writings that satisfied her thirst in those dry, desolate days.  Those writings were compiled into a book and first published in 1925.

Zondervan has just released the Streams in the Desert devotional Bible in the NIV translation.  The daily devotional readings are placed within the Bible, each near the Scripture verse or passage that is key to the subject of the day.  The editor, Jim Reimann, added some features such as references to every Scripture quote, which enable the reader to easily look it up in this Bible within its context.  At the bottom of the page of each reading, he provides the page number to find the next devotional reading.  In the back of the book, he provides a subject index for finding a daily devotion in the topic of interest.

At first I thought it was easier just to have the devotional book separate from the Bible, but the further along I traveled through the Bible, the more I appreciated having it compiled in one book.  I could use the devotional readings to pace my way through the Bible, incorporating Bible reading with it.  This is not a study Bible, just a devotional Bible, so no historical or exegetical explanations are provided.  However, I did enjoy being able to see the devotional’s Scripture references within its biblical context.  

I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for my honest review. 


Challenging Your Assumptions: Advice for a College Freshman and the Life-Long Learner

Historical geology, evolutionary biology, ancient history with its Mesopotamian and Babylonian creation and flood stories, sociology of religion….my children are both hearing and learning things they have never been exposed to before. What will they do with the apparent contradictions to their faith? Have they learned how to analyze and evaluate?  How will they integrate the new information with their beliefs?

It may sound dangerous, but my first advice is to challenge our assumptions, including our assumptions about what we believe the Bible says before automatically dismissing  new ideas as contradictory or dismissing the Bible as myth without fully examining both sides.  Clinging to our assumptions prevents growth, stunts loving God with all our minds, and inhibits insights.

We get stuck when we fixate on false assumptions.  For example, consider the mind puzzle with the 9 dots.  Can you connect all the dots with no more than four straight lines without lifting your pencil from the paper? 


In preschool, we learned about connecting dots and coloring within the lines.  Based on these experiences, we might assume that 1) we have to stay within the borders, and 2) each turn is supposed to pivot on a dot.  Sticking to these assumptions prevents us from solving the puzzle.



Another way we get stuck in our assumptions is the lack of challenge to our assumptions as illustrated by ‘the internet bubble’.  Search engines like Google and Bing learn our preferences and show matches that are likely to satisfy us based on our previous selections.  They will eventually screen out contrary information or information from other parts of the spectrum. Because we never see what gets filtered out, we wrap ourselves in a cocoon of our own beliefs. Similarly, when we tend to read books, blogs, and news media that agree with our points of view and we hang out with people who think like us, we may fail to see assumptions that need to be challenged.

For those of us raised in the church, and even those of us who were not, we need to recognize our assumptions about how we interpret the Bible as we attempt to reconcile its apparent contradictions to history/science and our experiences.

Here is my advice in challenging assumptions to my college freshman, who is quick to see the world as black and white:

  1. Listen and understand before you automatically judge something to be wrong. Put yourself in their shoes and understand why they believe that way.
  2.  Remember that all truth is God’s truth.  Know what your Bible says and the various ways of interpretation, both literal, non-literal, and figurative. You may have always assumed it said something it did not, or you may have always interpreted a passage in a way that it was never meant to be interpreted.
  3.  Engage others in conversation about challenges to assumptions.  Examine all avenues and different perspectives.
  4. Know that it is not all diabolical – not all black and white, good or evil.  It’s more than various shades of gray – think of it more like a rainbow of glorious colors to discover in a lifetime of learning, new ways of seeing, perceiving, understanding that enrich your life. God, the world, and you do not fit in a neatly defined box.
  5. Avoid the ‘internet bubble’, but don’t try so hard to avoid it that you build a bubble at the other end of the spectrum.  Keep surrounded by Jesus followers, all kinds, and look for things you have in common.  Be willing to challenge each other’s assumptions while remaining united in your core beliefs.  Grow spiritually by continuing to worship with a group of believers and hanging with them.    

Resources for Understanding the Bible

When studying the Bible, before we ask the question, “What is God saying to me personally today”, it is essential that we first ask the question, “What message was both the divine and human author intending to convey to the audience?”  Each of the 66 books of the Bible was inspired through human authors steeped in their culture, in many different cultural settings over a span of 1500 years.  Without some understanding of the author and setting to determine the message they intended to convey, we are prone to misinterpretation.

My absolute, most favorite resource is How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart, recommended by my hermeneutics professor in seminary.  This book is essential for everyone to read who teaches the Bible, facilitates Bible studies, or just wants to seriously study and understand the message of each type of genre in the Bible and applying it to life today.  The authors conversationally point out the interpretation problems that come with not understanding the author's intent and setting and provide guidelines for application. It's not an easy book to just sit down and read lightly and leisurely, but it is insightfully rich and worth every effort.





While I have a stack of books and study Bibles that give quick summaries on each biblical book, my favorite book to go to is How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour, by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.  They provide specific advice on how to read the message of each book.  However, they assume the readers are familiar with theological jargon, so it is not a book I would hand to a friend who is reading the Bible for the first time.






A better basic selection would be William Marty and Boyd Seevers’ book The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible.  The authors are also professors who have dedicated their lives to studying and teaching the Bible, but they set aside the theological jargon without dumbing down their summaries.  For each book of the Bible they provide the setting in which it was written, a brief summary, and its significance by pointing out what is important for each book.  In the section on the book’s significance, they also share insights on how the message of the book may be applied today.  If you have a study Bible that provides introductions to each book, this book doesn’t offer a whole lot more, but it is an excellent brief summary which lives up to its title as a “Quick-Start Guide”.  Whether you are reading the Bible for the first time or you need a quick refresher before diving into study, I highly recommend this concise and easy-to-read guide.  (I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.)

Still, I cannot speak highly enough of How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth when looking for understanding and keys for interpretation.  I wish there was a more concise summary of this book readily available for those who want just a brief summary in the style of The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible, but with more substance.  Maybe I will write one.  

An Anxious Age - Book Review


Despite the changes in technology, we still die.  We still love. We still feel ourselves incomplete in the universe. We still suffer, and we still do sometimes right and often wrong.  Whether or not we imagine that spiritual questions should be present in culture, they are present. In every age, including our own, they form and channel our anxieties, even when we know it least.  (p. xxii).

Joseph Bottom, a widely published and influential essayist with a PhD in medical philosophy, claims that the manic spiritual anxiety of our age in America was caused by the collapse of the mainline Protestant Churches, which were originally a source of consensus and unity.  As Protestantism splintered apart with its narrow sectarian debates, it has “dwindled to a trickle over the past thirty years, and the Great Church of America has come to an end” (page 85).  In his book An Anxious Age, he analyzes our modern culture and the strange combination of arrogance and anxiety from a national-religion perspective.    

Honestly, I had difficulty concentrating on this book.  The subject fascinates me, but Joseph Bottom is writing from a framework of presuppositions that I am not familiar with and cannot wrap my brain around, even though recently I have read a little bit of Max Weber’s writing in my daughter’s college sociology class.  This book is intended to be an update of Max Weber’s sociologic classic The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  Perhaps I would do well to start there and then tackle this book again.


 I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.

Framing Faith - Book Review

Have you ever experienced that moment when something strikes you, figuratively, causing everything around you to fade and noises to muffle as you focus on the moment?  Matt Knisely calls them “chasing sunsets” – the moments we experience something so powerful, so intense, so beautiful, that our soul snaps an internal picture, forever engraving in our memory what it was that suddenly grabbed our hearts and made us think.  He chases those moments as an award-winning photojournalist, seeking to capture the emotion of the moment through an image that tells a story.  Sometimes it just happens, but sometimes you have to keep your eyes wide open and searching, stopping long enough to make the observation.

When I experience moments like that, I want to draw someone else into it, to experience it the way I did, even if that person is standing right there next to me.  Are they seeing the way I see it? Or are they seeing something that I don't?  Sometimes it seems there are no words to describe the moment, the story taking shape right in front of us that can be easily overlooked.  

Sharing stories connects us, forges relationships, and brings understanding.  Jesus used stories signs, metaphors, and symbols to communicate truth about God, and through these He reframed reality in a way that helped his listeners see things differently.  Sometimes we have to slow down to see it, slow down long enough to listen. When we do, we will want to share it in a way that others can feel as if they are experiencing it too.

Matt Knisely approaches faith as a photographer approaches its subject or an artistic approaches art in his book Framing Faith.  Through the concepts of photography he shows how to focus, capture, develop, and savor the moments of life that really matter. Focusing our faith involves discovery, attention, purpose, and listening.  Capturing our faith encompasses recognizing the moment, perspective, subject, and composition.  Developing our faith includes processing, seeing light and darkness.   Through these, he shows how to move faith toward God and better lift Christ up.

After reading the book, I realized that I want to be more focused and less distracted.  Matt Knisely inspired me see with different eyes and showed me how to frame it so that others can see it too.  This book isn't a feel-good book about faith.  It isn’t a book trying to explain faith by spiritualizing photographic concepts, nor is it full of photography jargon.  It’s a book about seeing…and then conveying what you see in a story that touches the heart of the listener.  Whether or not you know anything about photography, this book will help show you how to deepen your faith and then express it.


Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishing in exchange for my honest review. 

Morning Prayer

O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace, help me in all things to rely upon Your holy will.
 
In every hour of the day reveal Your will to me.  Bless my dealings will all who surround me.

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.

In all my deeds and words, guide my thoughts and feelings.

In unforeseen events, let me not forget that all are sent by You.

Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.

Give me strength to beat the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.

Direct my will, teach me to pray, and You, Yourself, pray in me.

Amen. 

Morning Prayer of Philaret of Moscow (1782-1867)

Praying Written Prayers

While my daughter Emily was in the hospital following a serious snow-skiing accident, a friend sent me beautiful, elegant prayers via text.  In the moments as I waited at her bedside to hear if she would walk again, in the horror of what had happened, I was unable to formulate my own words of prayer beyond "O Lord, heal her." But having the text-messaged prayers gave me a specific prayer with which I could join in praying along with my friend. It gave me words to express what my shocked emotions could not formulate.

I grew up in a denomination that had a sort of unwritten code that you should not pray other people’s prayers or read your prayers.  Reading prayers was considered too impersonal and might result in vain repetition, so better not to pray them at all.  Instead, it was better to say clumsy, stumbled words from the heart than to say something poetic and profound and potentially not mean it.

I recently read a book by Scot McKnight called Praying with the Church that showed me that reading prayers have the potential to re-shape the soul. They provide a way of engaging with God in a meaningful way.  Vain repetition comes from a heart not focused in prayer, not because of the prayer itself. 

These are some advantages that I have found to using written prayers:
  •  Improves prayer life.
  • Easier to pray on a routine basis.
  • Brings connection with God and greater intimacy with Him.
  • Gives a sense of unity with other Christ followers praying the same prayer.
  • Lifts the burden of being creative in my prayers and gives me the words to say in ways that express my thoughts better than I can by myself.
  • Leads me away from vain repetition.
  • Mentors me in how to pray. 

 Some sources of written prayers that I use:
  • Psalms: Psalm 51 for confession, Psalm 121 for protection, Psalm 139 for intimacy with God.
  • The Our Father/Lord’s Prayer: Jesus taught us to pray with this prayer. When I want to pray but don’t know what to say starting off, I use this one.
  • The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
  • The Common Book of Prayer - I have this as  one of several prayer apps on my phone.
 
Some resources that Scot McKnight recommends that I’d like to check out:
  • Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours
  • The Glenstal Book of Prayer
  • Celtic Daily Prayers
  • The Liturgy of the Hours
Written prayers involve reciting the intimate words of others and incorporating them as our own.  They help order our days, reminds of old truths, enlarge our hearts, and teach us how to pray. Using written prayers has helped to stimulate my prayer life.  


Transforming a Disappointing Prayer Life

Is it possible to pray unceasingly?  If praying unceasingly means thinking constantly about God or speaking continuously to Him throughout all of our waking moments, then probably not.  But if praying unceasingly means to think, speak, and live in the presence of God, then yes, it is. 

My prayer life has been disappointing to me for much of my life.  Scattered, dis-ordered, random, and when I try to order my prayers, it results in lists that eventually transform into vain repetitions.

Recently, I’ve tried praying in different ways and have a new enthusiasm for developing this discipline that draws me nearer to God.  Here are some different types of prayer that I am trying to include in my daily prayer life: 
  • Scheduled times of prayer: first thing in the morning, noon, and last thing at night.  When I know exactly when to intentionally pray and which kind of prayer I am going to pray, it helps me to be diligent.  If it means stopping at a certain time to pray the “Our Father”/“Lord’s Prayer” or a Psalm, I have connected with God more than I would have if I just skipped it altogether because I had nothing to say.
  • Spontaneous prayers: throughout the day for help and strength for myself and others, requests, and quiet words of praise when I feel the upwelling of thankfulness in my heart. These prayers include turning the thoughts in my head from a self-centered monologue into a conversation with God as I present my thoughts to Him in dialogue with Him.
  • Written prayers: praying the prayers of other believers lifts the burden of trying to find the words I want to pray and helps me to join hands with other Christ followers in the present as well as throughout the centuries.
  •  Psalm prayers: like written prayers, but praying the words of Scripture that express my feeling, my trust, and my faith, and God’s promises.
  •  Music prayers: hymns and other kinds of music sung as prayers and praise to God, much like the written/Psalm prayers with the emotion that rises from the beauty of music.
  • Silent listening:  letting God speak into my heart while listening and not speaking.  Sometimes I do this best by repeating a phrase over and over or by listening to a repetitive piece of music that helps me focus on Him instead of my mind wandering all over the place.  I like to listen to Misty Edwards when I do this type of listening, such as “Let It Rain”, forcing me to listen for 7 minutes until the music ends.  (Otherwise, I tend to forget what I’m doing and suddenly find myself in the kitchen.)


Variety in prayer has energized my prayer life. Written prayers and praying at fixed times of the day are new on my list.  (I will post more on these topics next time).

Sharing Christ with the Dying - Book Review

When we are face-to-face with mortality, we realize how frail we are.  No matter how strong and self-sufficient we may be, during a health crisis, there is no amount of competency or physical/mental prowess that will escape us from the reality. This can be terrifying.  Sometimes, this is how God works.  The work of the Holy Spirit can break through the barricades and strong fortress of pride.

The dying process is painful but can bring with it new levels of understanding and the time needed to contemplate one’s spiritual state.  It jumps the dying person onto the spiritual fast track.  When we have a loved one who is dying and we do not know if they are spiritually ready, we have entered a zone of life-changing significance.

Melody Rossi suffered a surgical mistake after a routine surgery, nearly losing her life.  Her long months of recovery equipped her with the compassion and patience to help those suffering during a health crisis, which hit her repeatedly in the following years.  She walked alongside each of her parents and her stepmother, none of whom knew Jesus until at the very end of life.  She put on her walking shoes and trusted that God would make her path clear through each of the relationships as she ministered to them in their suffering. Even in the most strained times, she discovered that the most powerful way to gain entrance into someone’s heart is to serve them.  The small, insignificant tasks opened up opportunities to share.

In her book Sharing Christ with the Dying, Melody Rossi tells her stories and gives practical advice to prepare us to walk the path with a loved one through the dying process.   While much of the book is spiritual, she also addresses the medical and legal issues as well as the physical changes that take place before a person dies.  She walks us through the procedures that must take place after death and offers advice.  She ends the book with a chapter on grieving well.

The author shows us that illness and death is not just an end, but a beginning, and that “as we offer a cup of cold water to them in the name of Jesus, the Lord can use it to quench even the deepest thirst”.  Whether your dying loved one is a believer or not, this book is practically useful as well as encouraging and shows how to offer both the physical and metaphorical cup of cold water. 

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for my honest review.

Why Know about the Christian Creeds & Councils?

I was raised in a Southern Baptist tradition that rejected creeds, catechisms, and councils.  Yet the denomination conducts denominational meetings much like a council that lays out the representation of its beliefs on a regular basis in a type of confession.  In a tradition of rejecting tradition, I was unfamiliar with the Apostle’s Creed and the Christian calendar until I went to seminary.  Courses in Christian history and systematic theology opened my eyes to the connection we can have with Christians over the centuries and the richness that can come from creeds and confessions. 

Here is a basic definition of each (as described by Justin Holcomb):
  • Creeds – Set forth the basic beliefs of the church, the faith entrusted to God’s holy people, drawn from Scriptures and connects all Christians in all places and time. 
  • Confessions – Distinguish orthodoxy from heresy and draw the boundary around what is Christian and what is not.  Confessions can also define a group’s beliefs on secondary issues, applying faith to the here and now.
  • Catechisms – Outline of teachings on the basic principles of Christianity in a question and answer format to make them easy to understand.
  •  Councils – Bring Christians together from all over the world to work out solutions to questions. 
 

Knowing about these four C’s can root us in the foundation of why we believe what we believe as Christians.  They can help us process the divisions and differences between Protestants and Catholics, why this big split in Christianity occurred, and whether or not it was right to split.  While we should not look for reasons to divide, we know that there are issues worth disagreeing about.  Overall, we must recognize that it is with humility that we must approach knowing God and that His ways are a mystery.


If you are unfamiliar with the four C’s and the history of Christianity, I highly recommend Justin Holcomb’s book Know the Creeds and Councils.  In the introduction, he explains the purpose of creeds and how they were used, the purpose of confessions, the usefulness of catechisms, and the councils that shaped Christianity.  His succinct summaries bring each of these to life as he shows how the essentials of the foundations of the faith were established and preserved, and their importance to Christian life.  Each chapter has a bibliography of references for further reading if you want to go deeper.  (I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan Publishing in exchange for my honest review).

How to Really Love Your Adult Child - Book Review

Raising children is rigorous and can be physically, emotionally, and financially draining.  Someone once said, “The choice to be a parent is the choice to have your heart walking around outside your body as long as you live”.  My oldest child has entered the world of adulthood.  Where she once stepped all over my feet, she now steps all over my heart. And I love her beyond what any words can express. The nature of our relationship is changing.  It is beautiful, and I’m loving every minute of it. But I am not without questions.

Today’s adult children that are just graduating and seeking employment are feeling the repercussions of the Great Recession of 2007-2009, and their struggles are unique compared to any other generation in history as they try to find their way of independence in the world.  Today, the nest does not empty as quickly, and sometimes after the nest has been empty for a while, they come back.  This can present conflicts that we must work through, such as differences in lifestyle issues and rules of the house. Hurdles to independence may need parental intervention.  Or not. 

Ross Campbell and Gary Chapman help us understand the nature of adult children today and show us how to build a healthy relationship in their book How to Really Love Your Adult Child.  Along with insight to understanding, they also address grand-parenting, becoming an in-law (not necessarily in that order), as well as how to continue to take care of yourself. They address forgiveness for hurts on both sides and how to handle conflicts and draw boundaries, whether or not your adult child is back in your nest.

Dr. Campbell and Dr. Chapman are qualified to give such advice on many levels – occupationally, educationally, and experientially, especially in a personal sense.  One complaint I have is that this book is dated. I’m a Gen-X parent, and the book is aimed at the baby boomer generation, as if the baby boomer authors do not realize that Gen-X parents are now entering this realm of adult children.  But they have experience with much of what they talk about and advise.  Some of their illustrations seem overly optimistic and fake, but they also sprinkle in illustrations with not-so-idyllic endings. So overall, they do a great job of being helpful while positive and inspirational.  I would recommend this book to any parent of adult children ages 17-40 who is seeking some uplifting advice and understanding of their adult children.



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

The Spiritual Discipline of Contemplation

Contemplation is not a commonly-discussed spiritual discipline for Christians, perhaps because it could easily lend itself to mysticism or reminds too much of the practice of other religions like Buddism.  However, when rooted on the Word of God and balanced with other disciplines like worship and prayer, contemplation can help us practice the presence of God and respond to His Word.

The practice of contemplation includes (taken from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's Spiritual Disciplines Handbook):

  • Practicing the presence of God and keeping company with Jesus all the time.
  • Taking time to truly see and gaze on life.
  • Sensitivity and obedience to God's revelation.
  • Savoring the symbolic nature of life and faith.
  • Being, not just doing.

Some of the fruits of contemplation include:
  • Freedom from preoccupation with self that keeps you from focusing on others.
  • Living the tensions of life reflectively.
  • Patience with life.
  • Seeing there is more to life than efficiency and productivity.
  • Knowing through faith, hope and love, not just the mind.
  • Opens us wide to life (not believing the lie that experiences alone open us to life)
  • Entering into the moment with a heart alive to whatever might happen.
  • Refusing the compulsion to go everywhere, see everything, and try everything new.
  • Seeking God and the meanings threaded through our days and years so that our experiences of being embedded in the triune life of God deepens and grows.



Home Behind the Sun - Book Review

Rather than waiting for the next big event or circumstance, I want to find significance in the daily slog, to discover the beauty, mystery, and thrill of life even in the mundane.  In the book Home Behind the  Sun: Connect with God in the Brilliance of the Everyday, by Timothy Willard and Jason Locy, the authors show how they see God’s brilliance in their daily lives and how it inspires them to live it out.  We can see the wonder of God’s glory through the kaleidoscope lens of belief rather than shuffling along with eyes to the ground, absorbed only with the things right in front of us. This book is a collection of essays in a journey to brilliance in the everyday in work, in parenting, in forgiving, etc. 

There are some truths that I will carry with me long after I put this book on the shelf.  Too often, when we grow older, our hearts shrink. Through their stories, they show how forgiveness is not a process, but a way of life.  Our faith ought to clarify the more we age, as God is shaping us and making His desires become ours. 

I found especially convicting that there should not be a dichotomy between the way we work and the way we leisure.  Do both with enjoyment and worship, tend toward discipline, detail, and perseverance (page 137).  We can extend the gospel of Christ into every facet of life, and then God’s brilliance overwhelms and compels us through the shadows. 

This book is beauty in itself with the words poetically woven and stretching my imagination.  It is uplifting, inspiring, and eye-opening – all the things I love to find in a book that helps me to see life a little bit differently.   



I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Books in exchange for my honest review.