I Joined a Bible Study on Spiritual Disciplines

I joined a women’s Bible study on spiritual disciplines at my church.  Jumping into a women’s Bible study isn’t easy for me. I am an introvert who does not enjoy small talk and am energized through solitude with God instead of corporate fellowship, but I know that I must have both.

While it’s been a couple years since I have been part of a women’s Bible study, this is the first one at this church, which I have been a part of for almost three years.  The overwhelming largeness and growth of this church makes it hard for this introvert to get plugged in. 

And now I wish it hadn’t taken me so long because I’m thrilled to find out the depth of the women’s ministry; it’s not fluffy or shallow or dependent on popular speakers on DVD. They encourage digging deep, not living off the crumbs of other’s findings but finding true nourishment in the Word and God speaking into your life and applying it in your relationships and circumstances.

In our study this week, it is just an introduction to the disciplines.  We are using Donald  Whitney’s Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life: A Study Guide – and just the study guide only, not his actual book on which it is based, so we are encouraged to dig into the scriptures instead of Whitney’s teachings.  We are told that we might disagree with some of his points, and that’s okay, but to glean from it and dig and grow.

One of the points that Whitney emphasized is that growth in relationship with God is completed only in fellowship with His children, not in isolation.  As tempting as it is for me to close myself in my library and study what I want to study and read what I want to read, it is through the Church and fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ that keeps me from diverging down the path of error or putting too much emphasis on lesser things. 

Check back on Mondays for more on the spiritual disciplines and this chapter of my story….

Contemplating Death and Life

In 2005, doctors told me that I likely had ten years until I started experiencing symptoms of liver failure due to a rare disease where the bile ducts develop scar tissue and become blocked (primary sclerosing cholangitis).  Over the last year or two, I have had short seasons of symptoms that set me back from ‘normal’ life, but most of the time, I don’t think about it much because I feel well.  God knows the number of my days, not the doctors.

At the anniversary of my grandfather’s passing on to the other side, I am thinking of what he is doing, how long or short it will be when I will join him there, and what the end of this journey of my own life here will look like.  I think of the brevity of life and how my story fits into the longer story of eternity.  This reminds me of the beautiful closing paragraph from the Chronicles of Narnia:

But the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.

The process of death can be morbidly ugly on the outside. But on the inside, for those who enter through the narrow gate through faith in Jesus Christ, it is part of the journey to get past the introduction and into Chapter One of the Great Story.  There’s a purpose to this introduction to the Great Story. God promises He will accomplish it.  I pray that my transition from the introduction to Chapter One will be a beautiful transition that prepares me for what is to come.

The Pleasure of His Company - Book Review

If you are longing for a deeper, intimate relationship with God, digging into His Word, applying it to your life, and praying on a regular basis are key practices, along with worship and fellowship with other Christ followers.  But I also enjoy the treasure of a good book that helps me to cultivate my relationship with God.  Dutch Sheets, author, teacher, and conference speaker, has written such a book – The Pleasure of His Company: A Journey to Intimate Friendship with God.

This book has 30 short chapters and could be read as either a book or a devotional. Each chapter is based on an aspect of growing nearer to God, using Scripture while incorporating illustrations from his life journey, and ends with a prayer.  He brings insight into passages by referring to the original language of significant words, opens up understanding with the cultural information of the time in how we are meant to understand, and through these provides new ways to perceive what might be overly familiar.

This book is a wonderful tool for both the new and the seasoned Christ follower.  I was bored with the first half of the book, but found the second half to be more enlightening and thought-provoking.  I think this is because the book is progressive – starting off on the beginning of the basics of growing in intimacy with God and then taking the journey deeper.  If you have a hard time enjoying being in God’s presence, this is an excellent book to awaken your passion for His presence in your life.  If you already enjoy His presence, this book will remind you how amazing it is that He wants friendship with us.

For more information about this book, author, and to read an excerpt, click here.

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

"If You Can't Say Anything Nice..." - The Problem with the Thumperian Principle

"If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all."

My mother used to tell me that.

I tell my kids that.

But this Principle does not always apply.  In fact, it could actually cause you to sin when dealing with the emotion of anger.

Being angry is not a sin.  How you express your anger can lead to sin.  It's obvious that exploding your anger all over someone can be damaging.  But not expressing your anger can lead to sin as well.

What happens when we hide our anger?  It can boil up and stew inside, bubbling over in subtle but destructive ways -- avoidance, silence, curtness, sulking, pouting, impatience.  If we suppress our anger, it can cause us to blow up over unrelated, little incidents.  Or it might even result in seeking revenge.

Sometimes, it may be sinful not to express your anger.  Expressing feelings constructively lets others know how you feel so that changes can be made.  

Sometimes we don't know if we should turn the other cheek or if we should overturn the temple tables.  A situation may call for us to keep our mouth shut, while another situation demands a forceful response.  

I just finished reading Speaking the Truth in Love: How to Be an Assertive Christian, by Ruth Koch & Kenneth Haugk.  It's been around for a while but I found it useful for both family and work relationships. The authors show how to handle anger and criticism and how to practically relate to others with honesty, compassion, and respect in difficult relational situations in a manner consistent with how Jesus wants us to live.  I'm going to keep this one in my library for future reference.

Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption - Book Review

We live in a consumer-driven, debt-ridden, advertisement-saturated culture.  We know that our self-worth does not equate with our net-worth, but do we live like we believe that?  Jeff Manion, pastor, says it is a tragedy that we are rich and utterly unaware of it here in the U.S.A., but the biggest scandal is not how much we have, but how little we think we have, and thus, how much more we expect and demand. 

In his book Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption, Jeff Manion strives to provide biblical direction for living a deep spiritual life in a shallow, materialistic culture. He draws on six Scripture passages, examining how the original audience received them, and then shows how that message can transform how we view our stuff.  He attempts to explore why we hunger for material possessions and how to live the counter cultural lifestyle of contented satisfaction.  Each of the six parts of the book include a few reflection questions and a challenge project for the week.  

This book is incredibly practical, but I would have loved to have seen the author take this topic a little deeper.  He touched on the hunger for material possessions being rooted in healing wounds of the past or filling an empty hole inside, but he didn't flesh it out.  He uses realistic illustrations to make his points, but I don't know if they are hypothetical stories or actual testimonies.  His answers to discovering contentment seemed like common sense to me -- be grateful, don't compare, don't go in debt, save your money, be generous, get rid of stuff, trust God.  But overall, I think it is an excellent book for those who aren't familiar with the message.  

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

My Reading List for 2014

When people see my personal library, the first question they ask is if I have read all the books.  I wish!  I never intended my personal library to be like a seashell collection, but each book represents something I wish I had read or knew about. 

I usually read about 80 books a year but I'm hoping to slow down and read more carefully and thoughtfully this year.  I combed my library and picked 20 books that I would like to read in 2014 (in addition to book reviews for publishers):

·        Imitation of Christ, by Thomas a Kempis
·        Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland H. Bainton
·        The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, by Hannah Whitall Smith
·        The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence
·        The Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux
·        Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Fancois Fenelon, by Winn Collier
·        Abandonment to Divine Providence, by Jean-Pierre De Caussade

About the Bible:
·        Between Two Worlds, by John Stott
·        Hard Sayings of Jesus, by F.F. Bruce
·        Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, by Marcus J. Borg
·        The Grace and Truth Paradox: Responding with Christlike Balance, by Randy Alcorn

Simplicity and Spiritual Renewal:
·        Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life, by Thomas Moore
·        The Dangerous Duty of Delight, by John Piper
·        The Story We Find Ourselves In: Further Adventures of a New Kind of Christian, by Brian D. McLaren
·        The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence, by Henri J.M. Nouwen
·        Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World: Linda Breen Pierce
·        God & Your Stuff: The Vital Link Between Your Possessions and Your Soul, by Wesley K. Willmer

Becoming More Like Jesus:
·        A Heart Like Jesus, by Max Lucado
·        Speaking the Truth in Love, by Ruth N. Koch & Kenneth C. Haugk
·        Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears, by Ronald Rolheiser
·        I Told the Mountain to Move: A Determined Struggle to Learn How to Pray; A Triumphant Lesson in Learning to Love, by Patricia Raybon

Have you read any of these? Are there any that I should cross off my list as a waste of time, or any I should make a top priority?

2013 - A Desert Adventure

In 2013, I felt like life is passing me by.  No fun, no adventure, just the daily grind. I wistfully recall  previous years of tropical beach excursions, mountain vacations, and family camping trips with our RV when we lived in Texas and our kids were young. And I even think fondly of all the pool parties and tween kids in our backyard when we moved to Kansas, the dinner parties with friends, planned and unplanned. 

But in 2013, there was very few of those things, if any.  A bare sandy pit lies where the pool used to be, like a symbol of the dry barren year we have had.  Significant events have happened this year, both joyful and burdensome life markers:

  • my Grandpa’s passing in January
  • my debilitating illness in February and March
  • my husband’s heart attack in April
  • my promotion in May
  • my daughter Emily’s first job
  • my daughter’s struggle with kidney stones
  • a teenage girl from Texas moving in with us (MarMar)
  • my son’s hard work in cross country and the Philharmonic Orchestra
  • the roller coaster of having 3 teenagers in the house
  • disappointing health reports in September
  • my Grandma L’s passing in December. 

The things that require the most effort, cause the most pain, or bring the greatest struggles are the canvas where my faith is displayed. It is when I truly live, when God is nearest, and when I most feel His presence.  Those things may not make a great Facebook status, but aren’t those the most interesting stories to tell?  

I do not know what significant events will happen in 2014, but because of 2013, I can face them courageously and boldly because I know that Jesus is with me, His Spirit is in me, and it WILL be an adventure.

Ten Days Without - Book Review

We live in a consumer culture built on two basic myths: newer and bigger are always better, and wealth equals happiness. Daniel Ryan Day explains that the best way to respond to myths is to rebel in his book Ten Days Without: Daring Adventures in Discomfort That Will Change Your World and You.  By sacrificing the small silly things, we are open to change in ways that we would never have been otherwise. 

Ten Days Without is based on the premise “feel the discomfort so that you can care and give more.” Daniel Day shows how to get out of the coffee shop and do something, even if we don’t have it all figured out.  We can move beyond good intentions and actually start trying to make a difference.  When we experience the physical or emotional  pain from going without, it helps us to think about things in a new light.  Daniel Day shares his experience in his experiments of ten days without:

  • Shoes – to address disease
  • Coat – to address homelessness
  • Media – to address distractions
  • Furniture – to address global poverty
  • Legs – to address our response to disabilities
  • Waste – to address the environment
  • Speech – to address modern-day slavery
  • Human touch – to address orphans, widows, prisoners, and other untouchables

Most of the ‘withouts’ are public displays to get people to ask questions, and thus promoting people to give to a cause or organization, a sort of marketing ploy.  You don’t just do it. You tell people about how difficult it is and why you are doing it. 

While this book seems to promote a marketing strategy rather than giving details of his experiences (probably available on his blog), I really enjoyed reading it.  It made me think about how I could take more action in the lives of others, and to actually care beyond my own little world.  I had not realized how dangerous it could be to not have shoes (and a very dangerous thing to practice for ten days), or how dependent I am on a comfortable bed or chairs.  My favorite “without” was going without media for ten days, which is more of personal effect that may have more broad-reaching results that impact the lives of the people around you as you become aware of all the distractions and time-wasters in your life.  

But being the kind of person who would rather be invisible than draw attention to myself, I would prefer to read the stories blogs of people who experience this and be moved by it than show off my experience. However, I am currently pondering ideas of things I may want to try going 10 days without in order to dispel my own apathy and feel passionate about needs of others.  This book made me think.

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

It's Not about Me, but it Kind of Is - Blogging

Blogging seems like a potentially narcissistic activity, as most social media is, and I didn’t think anyone really wanted to hear my story. I wanted my focus to be on God and His story.   

I started this blog to help others grow more in love with Jesus, to inspire deeper spiritual growth.  I haven't quite figured out how to do that.  With the passing of the last of my grandparents this year, I have learned a bit more of their life stories and wondered about them even more.  It is through their stories and how they are woven into God's story that I find some common ground.

We play a key role in His unfolding purpose. We each have our own joys and burdens to share and our own stories to tell.  We find common threads and patterns as we interpret our stories through God’s truth.  In fact, our stories are in a sense a reworking of His story in new ways for our day.

God is writing His story in us.  Faith in Jesus is the bridge of my story turning into God's story.  As we share our own stories of faith, we tell His Story as we weave ours into His.  By sharing our story in His story, we can encourage and revive each other’s hearts and show the world the good that comes from those who put their trust in Jesus Christ, in good or bland or horrid circumstances.

Looking back over the topics of the last three years of my blog, I have only alluded to significant events, but I missed out on deeply sharing some awesome stories on how God was working in my life and those around me. 

Beginning in 2014, this blog is going to include a little more of my story.  Maybe as you hear mine and I hear yours, we can learn to interpret together how God is weaving our stories into His as He writes His story in us.