More to Your Story

MoretoyourstoryMore to Your Story (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Max Lucado originally published More to Your Story: Discover Your Place in God’s Plan in 2011 under the title God’s Story, Your Story.  In his Introduction, Pastor Lucado states that the great promise of the Bible and the hope of this book center around this statement: “Your story indwells God’s.”  Therefore, we cling to the Christmas hope that God indwells the everydayness of our world.  As John 1:14 indicates, Jesus pitched his tent in the neighborhood.

However, Max emphasizes, we can’t understand God’s narrative unless we understand Satan’s strategy.  Specifically, God uses Satan’s temptations to train, purify, and strengthen us.  Furthermore, God created you with a heavenly guidance system.  Although you don’t know what the future holds, you are not alone.  Jesus Christ invites you to open your eyes and lift up your gaze (emphasis author’s).  The voice of Jesus guides us home.  In addition, God’s story redeems our story.  Hence, our names are written in the Book of the Lamb with blood that cannot be removed.

Yet, when we battle adversity our convictions wrinkle, and our resolve melts.  Therefore, we need to be drenched in the Holy Spirit’s power.  As a result, the Holy Spirit indwells the hearts of God’s children.  Consequently, as God’s story becomes our story, we must be intentional in learning to wait, maintaining silence, cherishing stillness, and listening for the Spirit’s voice.  Thus, trust becomes the key to the Spirit-led life, not panic.

In conclusion, when panic serves as our default mode, we view closed doors as interruptions of our plan.  The truth- closed doors become indicators of God’s plan.  In addition, even though nothing may be wrong with your plans, God’s plans are better.  Trust God and align your plans to His. Finally, remember that God works in all things– not through a few things, good things, best things, or easy things.  God instilled, and continues to instill, within you all you need to fulfill His plan in your life.  Always see you challenge in the scope of God’s story.  Ultimately, Max states, “we shall graduate from this version of life into his likeness.”

Waiting on God

WaitingonGodWaiting on God (Baker Books, 2015)

Waiting on God: What to do when God does nothing is written by Wayne Stiles (DMin, Dallas Theological Seminary).  Dr. Stiles currently serves as an executive vice president at Insight for Living Ministries.  The Old Testament account of Joseph provides the framework for Wayne’s discussion of the most difficult kind of waiting- waiting on God.  Like Joseph, our confidence must be in God, not in God’s plan.  Therefore, God hides His plan so that we will trust Him- and wait on Him.

God arranges the gaps- where we wait on Him- as well as the great days.  Most noteworthy, those gaps are too long for us to place our hope in seeing significant days.  As a result, we need a different goal- faithfulness rather than significance.  However, when life gets tough we tend to take matters into our own hands.  This misguided effort only intensifies our problem.  Furthermore, Dr. Stiles notes, “natural circumstances seem more compelling than God’s revelation.”

In order to effectively wait on God, we must love Him supremely.  While waiting on God, He prepares us for our ultimate purpose by taking us on a journey we’d prefer to avoid.  Therefore, what we see as a hindrance to our progress truly becomes an essential part of our development.  In contrast, a ‘safe’ life that never gets us hurt seldom recognizes God’s hand.  Thus, we presume God’s goal for leading primarily involves taking us somewhere.  Instead, God’s main purpose is for us to follow.

By leading us, the Lord takes the initiative in our lives and waits for us to respond- a divine exchange.  In the process of this divine exchange, we grow.  Yet, Dr. Stiles observes, quite often the Lord allows painful tests to serve as a warning that something needs to change- usually us.  And during those moment of painful revelation, we experience God’s presence as He patiently waits on our response.  When in the midst of impossible situations, we need to trust God rather than figure out solutions.  Depending on people as our foundation only makes us slaves of our circumstances.

Although the world fails and disappoints us, God never does.  Our response necessitates walking the path of obedience.  Because the path of obedience always follows the big picture God sees, it ultimately leads to the life we truly desire.  As we humble ourselves, stand alone, and face our fears, we express trust in the Lord- with all our heart.  Dr. Stiles concludes:

“The Bible doesn’t tell us everything.  It doesn’t need to.  It tells us all we need to know to live a life of faith.  The rest, we wait for.”

Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion

AngerChapmanAnger: Taming a Powerful Emotion( Moody Publishers, 2015)

Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion by Dr. Gary Chapman is a revised edition of The Other Side of Love, originally published in 1999.  To effectively and positively process anger, we must understand both the origin and purpose of anger.  Bringing anger under the lordship of Jesus helps heal our relationships. It also accomplishes God’s good purposes.

We think of anger as an emotion.  In reality, Dr. Chapman states, anger is “a cluster of emotions involving the body, the mind, and the will.”  Furthermore, anger derives from two aspects of God’s nature- His holiness and His love.  Consequently, postulates the following foundational thesis for Anger:

“I believe that human anger is designed by God to motivate us to take constructive action in the face of wrongdoing or when facing injustice.”

Unfortunately, in the heat of anger we forget about setting things right.  As a result, we make things worse.  In addition, one of Satan’s most powerful strategies serves to convince us that all of our anger is of equal value.  Thus, we conclude that we always have the right to feel angry.  To effectively process our anger, we need to differentiate between definitive (valid) and distorted (not valid) anger.  God only experiences definitive anger, because actual wrongdoing initiates valid anger.  In contrast, any number of things having nothing to do with moral transgression trigger distorted anger.

Hence, the first step in processing distorted anger involves sharing information.  Sharing information focuses on the event provoking one’s feelings rather than the person.  If you still can’t release your anger and accept what the other person has done, you need to negotiate understanding.  Negotiating understanding negates the destructive, sinful effects of implosive and explosive expressions of anger.

With the aid of the Holy Spirit, Christians stand ready to forgive, willing and desirous of forgiving as well as extending forgiveness.  Yet, in the face of tragedy, Christians often express anger toward God.  Like Cain, you can yield to your sinful impulses- or, like Elijah, fully share that anger with God and listen to His quiet whisper.  Forgiveness releases you from the bondage of past failures.  Forgiveness frees you to make the most of your future.  After all, unconditional love is what God does for us every day.

If: Trading Your If Only Regrets


If: Trading Your If Only Regrets (Baker Books, 2015)

If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities is the most recent book by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC.  Although there are 1,784 ifs in the Bible, most of those ifs function as “conditional conjunctions at the front end of God’s promises.”  One little if is all that stands between your current circumstances and your wildest dreams. God’s promises frame your reimagined future.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, you become the best version of yourself possible.  It is within this context that If unpacks the promises of Romans 8.

Mark unpacks Romans 8 by discussing four sequential ifs: If Only; As If; What If; and No Ifs, Ands, or Buts about It.  Focusing on our deepest regrets puts us in the solitary confinement of living back then and there.  Rather, we must live in the here and now.  “Grace,” Pastor Batterson states, “is the catalyst that turns guilt into gratitude.”  When regret comes around, make a beeline for the cross.  A nuanced appreciation of God’s mercy begins with a nuanced confession of sin.

We tap into the power of as if by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit as we pray, meditate, and memorize the Word of God.  However, to be a quick study, you have to go slow.  By going slow, the Word will have a longer-lasting effect on you and the quicker your reaction will be to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  In order to accomplish your God-sized goals, keep in lockstep with the Holy Spirit.  God strategically places you in the right place at the right time.

Faith is putting God’s promises between you and your circumstances.  A God-idea is a divine what if that is beyond your ability to pull it off.  But, it isn’t necessarily grand and glorious.  The Holy Spirit will open the door to what if opportunity if you open the door to your heart.  What if will take longer and be harder to accomplish that you imagined.  Yet “waiting for it” strengthens your patience muscle.  As a result, the process is made more fulfilling.

Because the battle isn’t yours to lose, you are more than a conqueror.  That is your identifier.  The battle belongs to Christ , who already has conquered- no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  With Christ’s salvation, we go from the guttermost to the uttermost.  As Pastor Batterson concludes, “no matter what has died at the hands of sin or Satan, Jesus has rolled away the stone.”


Moving Mountains

MovingMountainsMoving Mountains (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence, and Authority is the latest book by John Eldredge, director of Ransomed Heart.  Ransomed Heart is a ministry dedicated to restoring men and women in the love of God.  The foundation of this book is prayer that works.  In fact, the recurrent theme, or a suitable subtitle, would be: “There is a way things work.”

God understands where you are in your spiritual journey and is committed to growing you up.  Part of growing up is developing a mature- as opposed to naïve- view of prayer.  God wants to push you through to real, solid answers.  As Augustine once said: “Without God, we cannot, and without us, he will not.”  Until you learn to pray, you won’t know what breakthroughs are possible.  Because you come to the Lord as a partner in a shared mission, faith plays a critical role- maybe the critical role- in effective praying.

When we pray “In Jesus’ name” we are using His authority to enforce  the power of what we just have prayed.  Mr. Eldredge emphasizes that authority is one of the essential secrets to prayer that works.  Our greatest need is for God’s kingdom to invade our life and our world.  God is not a reluctant participant in our existence.  We must not go by the look of things, but by the reality behind the look.  Before praying, it is important for us to align ourselves with God, because it takes a whole heart to do effectual praying.

In order to be open to what God has to say as well as to seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, it is essential that we let go of our constant attempts to figure things out and agonize at the lack of response.  If you are not sure how to pray, ask Jesus what you should pray.  At the same time, be careful how you bring your emotion or experience to the task at hand.  John states that you should not ignore your emotion and experience, yet you cannot allow them to dictate what you are praying.  Oswald Chambers notes that “identification with God is the key to intercession.”  Praying the promises of Scripture gives you the assurance you are praying in the center of God’s will.

We ache to be made whole again.  Only Jesus can do this for the heart and soul.  Mighty victory is staying true to God- where God means everything to you- in the midst of terrible affliction.  John concludes:

“For we are his sons and daughters, and he is maturing us to love all that he loves, to do all that he does.  To move mountains, and more.”

Finding God in the Ruins

FindingGodFinding God in the Ruins (David C. Cook, 2016)

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain is the first book by Matt Bays.  Matt Bays is a writer, speaker, and a musician “with a passion for calling people out of their hiding places.”  Pastor Bays believes suffering and doubt are necessary components- even the very essence- of faith.  We can increase our understanding of who God is by allowing ourselves to ask the difficult questions.  Unexpressed doubt can be toxic.  Therefore, Matt states, “redemption is not an escape but rather a journey. . . . redemption will always be most powerful when we can trace God’s hand along the way.”

Discipline is a critical prerequisite to our journey inward.  Fear, however, keeps us from committing to true and lasting change.  As we courageously ask God “Where were you?” we find an honest place with God.  Getting all of God is equally delicious and painful.  When we are in an honest place with God, the sharp edges of our pain begin to soften.  Receptiveness to God’s comfort means being open to that comfort when we least expect it.  Specifically, God often is found mixed into what many consider life’s greatest disappointments.  Pastor Bays observes: “God’s core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest.”

Is God calling you to and for something that He needs you to make right in the world?  If so, don’t be too eager to punctuate your pain with an exclamation point before the time is right.  While your pain may remain, God also will remain.  You will find God’s grace beautifully on display in your storytold.  Acknowledging the truth of who you are actually can set you free.  While you can rewrite your story and definitely change the ending, you can’t rewrite the beginning or change the author.

Telling our stories is how we authenticate who we are and is our healing gift to others.  We will find God in the ruins once we understand we are worthy of love and understanding.  More than answers to our questions, we need the love of God.  Bathed in God’s love, we can accept the burden of responsibility to share our stories so someone else can be set free.  Matt concludes:

“Each of us has a calling that comes from the core ache within us- a calling to write with our lives the beautiful stories of God’s redemption.”


How to Forgive

HowtoforgiveHow to Forgive (Harvest House, 2007)

June Hunt, founder and CEO of Hope For The Heart- a worldwide biblical counseling ministry- wrote How to Forgive . . . When You Don’t Feel Like It in 2007.  When June first became a Christian while in her teens, she discovered God had one standard or commandment: love one another and even love your enemies.  In other words, hate no one.  Ms. Hunt emphasizes that God does not set aside that standard based on any one person’s specific situation.  There are no exceptions.  Those who don’t grasp this true meaning of forgiveness live with embedded bitterness.  Forgiveness, then, is not something we can accomplish with our own strength.  Forgiveness is supernatural.  We need Christ’s strength.

June states that “learning to forgive is nothing short of learning to think like God.”  As we learn to think like God, we renew our minds.  Without a proper understanding of God’s unconditional forgiveness, Ms. Hunt believes, it is almost impossible to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us.  Although forgiveness begins with pain, June underscores the idea that “pain should never stand in the way of forgiveness.”  Therefore, it is unproductive and unwise to hold God responsible for our pain.  Blaming God looks back and places the focus on our pain.  Trusting God, in contrast, looks forward and focuses on His plan.

Within God’s will, suffering has a purpose.  June stresses that our understanding of forgiveness must being with this truth: “By God’s design, you are the master of your mind  (italics author’s).”  Thinking and acting like God are necessary to sustain you throughout the process of complete forgiveness.  The process of complete forgiveness consists of four stages: facing the offense, feeling the offense, forgiving the offense, and finding oneness.  Deep wounds must heal from the inside out.  Forgiveness, then, is not a single event.  Forgiveness is a way of life.

Forgiveness is a gift.  When you forgive, you are blessed in giving that gift- whether or not your offender or wounder is willing to receive it.  Ms. Hunt comes back to her central theme:

“The primary reason God wants us to forgive is because forgiveness sets us free to be all He designed us to be.”

Forgiveness is powerful, purposeful, and pervasive.  It produces a change of heart.  You get yourself back.


The Circle Maker

CircleMakerThe Circle Maker (Zondervan, 2011)

Mark Batterson, lead pastor at National Community Church in Washington, DC, wrote The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears in 2011.  Mark’s stated purpose in writing The Circle Maker is to “show you how to claim God-given promises, pursue God-ordained dreams, and seize God-ordained opportunities.”  Drawing circles begins with discerning God’s will, the goal being to glorify God.  As you discern what to circle in prayer and spell out your prayers with specificity, eventually it will spell God’s glory.  God will answer at some point, and His answers are not limited by your requests.  That means you can live with holy anticipation and pray with holy confidence.

Pastor Batterson emphasizes that prayer solving, rather than problem solving, wins the day.  Consistency and intensity are essential to praying.  And after you pray through, you need to praise through, even if God doesn’t answer the way you want or in the time you want.  Ultimately, the size of your prayer comes down to the size of your God.  Your impossible prayer is an easy answer for a mighty God.  Far greater than your capability to receive is God’s capacity to give.  God always provides just enough just in time.  Nothing is too big- or too small- for God.  Sometimes God gets in the way to show us the way.  Divine detours take us to the miracles we need, but don’t necessarily want.

When drawing prayer circles begins to feel long and boring,  because answers don’t seem to be forth coming, Mark encourages us to stop, draw, and pray.  Pray primes us, putting us in a spiritual frame of mind and sanctifying our expectations.  Staring the day in prayer is the best way to establish a daily rhythm in order to have a daily relationship with God.  To break the faith barrier, we need to press in and pray through.  Goal-setting is a great way of simultaneously praying hard, thinking long, and dreaming big.  Each prayer is precious to God and sealed by Him.  The end of a prayer is the beginning of a dream, the beginning of a miracle, the beginning of a promise.




Glory Days

GloryDaysGlory Days (Thomas Nelson, 2015)

Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now is the latest book by Max Lucado, teaching pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.  Max’s book is based on the Glory Days of Israel- seven glistening years sandwiched between the difficult days of Exodus and the dark days of the judges.  Canaan is a metaphor for the life we can have right now, a real state of the heart and mind, a spiritual reality.  Canaan is “a life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call.” God already has given us Canaan.  We have everything we need to be everything God desires.  In Canaan we don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory.

The most important tool in your spiritual growth is the Bible.  Pastor Lucado emphasizes that it is not enough for you to possess the Bible.  God wants the Bible to possess you.  In the Promised Land it is necessary to walk by faith, lean on grace, and hear God’s voice more.  Satan isn’t troubled at all by your wilderness days, but he steps up his attacks as you enter the Promised Land.  In order to see Jesus, your eyes cannot be on your Jericho and your lips cannot speak the language of impossibility.

Help comes when we lift our eyes to see Jesus and live out of our inheritance, not our circumstance.  In doing so, we move from false premises to God’s promises.  Although the blessing of God’s favor is no guarantee of an easy life, it is the assurance of God’s help.  It is essential to consult God in everything and call on God for great things.  As we apply this to God’s unique gifting for us, Max reminds us that God’s definition of a promotion isn’t a move up the corporate or educational ladder, but a move toward our call.

Promised Land people don’t naively deny the existence of problems.  They immerse their minds in God-thoughts.  Standing at the crossroads of faith and unbelief, Promised Land people choose faith and press into God’s promises.  God not only stays with you, He fights for you so you can live the Promised Land life He desires for you.  Max summarizes God’s goal for you:

“This is your inheritance: more victory than defeat, more joy than sadness, more hope than despair.  These days are Glory Days.”


The End of Me

endofme2The End of Me (David C. Cook, 2015)

The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins is the most recent book by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  In the first section, Kyle focuses on four specific beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount that lead us down the narrow path to real life.  The second section describes the great kingdom paradox- how we are in the best position to be used by God in significant ways when we get to the end of ourselves.

Jesus wants to go a little deeper, beyond the surface of life, to what’s inside us- what makes the surface the way it is.  This is a question of being broken , not a question of brokenness.  Pastor Idleman observes that the end of me often comes when our dreams come to an end.  Yet, it is possible to wake up from a nightmare to a dream, experiencing God’s presence as never before.  Because God looks at the heart as the true measure of who we are and nothing can be faked in His presence, there is no substitute for humbling ourselves before God.  This is a proactive, not passive process.

Kyle states that we struggle with authenticity- it’s a risk we don’t want to take.  Nevertheless, the author writes, “Jesus calls us to live one life and live it out in the open.”  Jesus’ name for that is purity of heart.  Our emptiness means God has us right where He wants us, for Jesus fills that emptiness with joy and abundance.  It is unnecessary to settle for the full life when we can pursue the filled life.  Jesus is our only hope.  All we need to do is bring Him our helplessness.  Jesus will meet us there at the end of ourselves.

God’s favorite time for this to happen is right now.  God simply asks for our faith and obedience.  Temporal pursuits will fade away.  Only God’s plan and will truly matter.  Contrary to limited finite thought, our “disqualifier” becomes God’s qualifier- and God doesn’t choose us without equipping us to carry out His unique mission for our life.  Human weakness creates the space God fill with His strength.