The Grave Robber

GraveRobberThe Grave Robber (Baker Books, 2014)

Mark Batterson’s most recent book is titled The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible.  The book is based on seven miracles of Jesus reported in the gospel of John.  Each miracle represents a different dimension of Jesus’ power.  The prerequisite for a miracle is a problem, which then provides the perfect opportunity for God to reveal His glory.  The miracles in the gospel of John don’t just reveal what Jesus did, but what He wants to do in your life.  One of the truest tests of spiritual maturity is seeing miracles in the monotonous.  Pastor Batterson states that we would crack the joy code if we’d recognize the moment-by-moment miracles that surround us.

Whatever situation we’re in, God has us exactly where He wants us, even if that situation is not where we’d choose to be.  Mark notes that there are no accidents, only divine appointments.  Miracles and divine appointments happen at God Speed.  They never are early or late, but always right on time.  Only one assumption is true: God is able.  We need to keep taking steps of faith, what Eugene Peterson refers to as “obedience in the right direction.”  Rather than doing things differently, we need to see things differently- for God can take a little and make a lot.

God wants to stretch our faith so that someday our biggest dreams will seem incredibly small.  Paradoxically, the more we give, the more we enjoy what we keep.  While God’s blessings amplify joy, miracles fortify our faith.  Miracles are found on the other side of fear.  At some point in our life journey, we need to take a radical step of faith.  That moment will define every moment that follows.  No mater what we might think, when Jesus gets involved it’s never too little, never too late.

The ultimate goal of any miracle is not the miracle itself, but the glory of God.  Jesus is calling us out of our tomb, to resurrect what has died.  As Pastor Batterson concludes:

“He will give you your smile back.

He will give you your laugh back.

He will give you your life back.

Do you believe this?

If you do, He will make the impossible possible.”

 

 

Waiting on God

WaitingonGod2Waiting on God (Howard Books, 2015)

Waiting on God: Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow is the latest book from Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA since 1971.  He opens his book with the assertion that the word never can stir the deepest fear in the human heart.  Thus, the challenge of waiting on God is “the ability to keep hoping when the nevers of life bombard us.”  Dr. Stanley’s definition of waiting on the Lord provides the basic outline for this book.  Waiting on the Lord manifests an “expectant endurance that is demonstrated by a directed, purposeful, active, and courageous attitude of prayer.”

Our focus must be directed toward God, our Provider, rather than the object of our desire.  We need to center our thoughts less on our questions and more on the Father’s ability to answer them.  Even though we are tempted to figure out God’s plan and speed it along, we are to demonstrate confident trust that God is committed to seeing us through every trial we face and is raising up an answer to our prayers.

The second characteristic of godly prayer in waiting is being purposeful in pursuing the Lord’s plan.  When our main objective is a personal and intimate relationship with God, everything else will fall into place as the Holy Spirit directs us- bringing out the very best of who we were created to be.  God’s Word, prayer, and godly counsel are an integral part of this process.

Dr. Stanley notes that waiting passively is not what the Lord intended for us as believers.  While we are to be still in allowing the Father to work through our circumstances, we must be active in growing spiritually.  Perseverance is the key to receiving the very best God has planned for us and helping us endure the delay.

The fourth characteristic of waiting on the Lord, being courageous, is stretched and refined during our darkest times.  Yet, it is when we feel most unworthy and defeated that the Father is closest to us.  We are in a spiritual battle with Satan.  Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit- God’s Word.  The Father is “moving us toward the light on the most efficient and effective route possible.”  Confidently wait on the Lord, for the best is yet to come . . . always.

 

 

How Can I Possibly Forgive?

PossiblyForgiveHow Can I Possibly Forgive? (Harvest House, 2014)

How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret is that latest book by Sara Horn.  Sara begins by stating that in order for us to appreciate the unconditional love God gives us and in turn asks us o give others, we need a better understanding of forgiveness.  To achieve that understanding we need to identify  the white noise in our life drowning out that the Lord wants us to hear.  As Sara notes, “what distracts our hearts distracts our souls.”  When we only see our pain, we cannot see God’s plan.  Focusing on our pain leads to bitterness.  We quickly can move from sadness to resentment and from denial to anger.

Bitterness, though, is not easy to hide.  Eventually we expose ourselves and our soul feelings come out.  Although we have big hurts, we have a bigger God.  People and situations fail us, but God never fails us.  Healing is a process, and forgiveness aids in that process.  Forgiveness involves dealing with the really hard stuff that is more difficult to forgive, let go, or even think about and discuss.  However, we are not left alone to figure out what to do- we have the Holy Spirit.  With God’s help and grace, we can see His righteousness in our hearts and lives.

Sara emphasizes that full satisfaction cannot be reached when our goal ends in us.  “What about me?” needs to change to “What about Him?”.  While forgiveness is not easy for us,  forgiveness is possible with God.  When we forgive, we make room for what God wants to do.  Forgiveness means giving up our claim for justice and our need to be right.  And sometimes we must recognize that we have to move on. Through it all, it is essential for us to rely on God’s forgiveness, faithfulness, and favor.

Sara cautions us that it is futile to stay angry with God- nothing good comes of it.  Yet, when our little bit of faith intersects with God’s faithfulness, God can do amazing things in us and through us.  We struggle most with hurt when we seek love from other people rather than Jesus.  We can choose to let it go.  Sara concludes:

“There is no sweeter sound than the exhale of release.  Forgiveness is possible when we give it all to God.”

 

 

Soul Keeping

Soul KeepingSoul Keeping (Zondervan, 2014)

Soul Keeping: Caring for the Most Important Part of You by John Ortberg was published in April, 2014.  Based on John’s conversations with Dallas Willard, Soul Keeping expands our understanding of the human soul by discussing what the soul is, what the soul needs, and the soul restored.

The search for the would always begins with our great hurt.  We want to know that our soul is not alone, that our Father’s face is turned toward our soul.  Our soul’s health is important because the soul integrates our mind, body, and will into a single whole.  The presence of sin, however, causes the soul to malfunction, to dis-integrate.  Since sin breaks the connection with God, the basic human problem is at the soul level.  Yet we live in a world that does not teach us to pay attention to what matters.  Despite everything in our world being all wrong, the soul can be all right.

John’s definition of the spiritual life is “to place the soul each moment in the presence of God.”  Our soul needs to be with God in order to be well. As we walk with God, our soul thrives when we deliberately look for Him in the ordinary moments of everyday life.  Sustaining spiritual practices connect us to God’s grace, energy, and joy- filling us with grace for our life.  Ultimately, though, the soul craves rest.  John states: “The soul was made to rest in God the way a tree rests in soil.”

It is paradoxical to note that while the soul is incapable of satisfying itself, it also is incapable of living without satisfaction.  The only way for the soul to find satisfaction is in God.  Thus the fundamental mind-set of the soul is gratitude.  This gratitude will not come from acquiring more things or from our experiences.  Gratitude comes from an awareness of God’s presence and goodness.  Dallas Willard stresses that even the dark night of the soul is a “test of your joyful confidence in God.”  Since God is worthy, we can give our situation and feelings joyfully into His hands.  God is the anchor our soul needs.

 

 

 

Prayer: Experiencing Awe . . .

PrayerPrayer (Dutton, 2014)

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God is the latest book by Timothy Keller, founder and pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  Pastor Keller introduces the book by emphasizing that any book on the essentials of prayer must treat all three aspects: theological, experiential (devotional), and methodological.  Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God- one stimulates the other.  Developing a fuller knowledge of God is a more critical thing to receive than a change of circumstances.  We need, as Southern writer Flannery O’ Connor once stated, the constant soul reorientation of prayer.  Prayer is the only way we gain entryway into genuine self-knowledge and deep change, the reordering of our lives.

Pastor Keller asserts that the infallible test of spiritual integrity is our private prayer life.  Prayer, deeply mystical and richly prophetic- at once, is central to the Christian life.  The author defines prayer as a “personal, communicative response to the knowledge of God.”  The full range of biblical prayer only is possible if we respond in prayer according to who God is as revealed in Scripture, rather than championing our own personal agenda.  Prayer becomes answering God, a full conversation.  In prayer we address a triune God.  Our prayers are heard through the distinct work of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Prayer is a way to sense and appropriate access to God as His child.  God must become our happiness.  Pastor Keller specifically advocates studying and meditating on the Lord’s Prayer.  The Lord’s Prayer can (a) guide us in the specifics of how to pray and (b) rid us of distracting thoughts as we enter into prayer.  Meditation is spiritually tasting and digesting Scripture as well as drawing strength from God’s Word.  Meditation prepares us for prayer.  As we pray, we don’t need to be afraid we will ask for the wrong thing.  God “tempers” the outcome with His incomprehensible wisdom.

The author exhorts us not to “settle for an informed mind without an engaged heart.”  Praise is primary because it motivates the other types of prayer.  We must praise God or live in unreality and poverty.  Our prayers should evidence shameless assertiveness as well as restful submissiveness.  Citing John Owen, Pastor Keller concludes:

” . . . if the affections of the heart are not engaged in prayer, real character change and growth in Christ-likeness is impossible.  We cannot settle for less.”

 

AHA: Awakening. Honesty. Action.

AHAAHA (David C. Cook, 2014)

AHA: Awakening.  Honesty.  Action. is the latest book by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  Kyle bases this book on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).  Pastor Idleman emphasizes that AHA is the antithesis of a self-help book.  While we are aware that something is wrong in our lives and we need help, that help must come from God.   All of us are in a Distant Country in some area of our lives because we’re rejecting a god of our own creation.  God then rises up early (takes action) to sound the alarm.  The effectiveness of that alarm is in direct correlation to how much we don’t want to hear it.

AHA moments, the author notes, most often comes in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Desperate moments reveal our inherent dependence on the Father and are the number one contributor to spiritual growth.  After our awakening, we really must want to see our need for the power of the Holy Spirit.  In order to do this, we need a time of solitude and silence to turn down the interfering noise.  A trusted Christian friend may be necessary to lovingly speak God’s truth to us.  For there is no recognition without repentance.  Conviction must lead to confession.  Unless we are brutally honest with ourselves, we will get stuck in the pigpen of projection (blaming others).

Like the younger son in the parable, it’s time for us to get up and take action.  If we take a passive approach, minimizing not only our responsibility but also the repercussions of our decisions, we are honoring something else more than God.  Rather than procrastinate, we must take action here and now.  With Jesus, it is never too late. Our Father ‘s house is a house of mercy, not merit.  Pastor Idleman concludes:

” . . . through Jesus, He [God the Father] gives us love and grace when we don’t deserve it.  Ultimately, the story in Luke 15 isn’t about two sons who disobey.  It is about a Father who loves His children unconditionally.”

 

 

All In

All InAll In (Zondervan, 2013)

Prior to the September, 2014 publication of The Grave Robber, All In was Pastor Mark Batterson’s most recent book.  From the start, the author boldly asserts that “Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe.  He died to make us dangerous.”  In other words, we cannot live as if the purpose of life is to arrive safely at death.  We are called to consecrate ourselves to Jesus, to be all in.  When we’re full of ourselves, God can’t fill us with His Holy Spirit.  The essential question is: Are we following Jesus or is Jesus following us?

Our highest privilege, Pastor Batterson states, is to carry the cross of Jesus.  The key to true fulfillment is self-denial.  Without a test, there is no testimony.  It is when we exercise our faith that God reveals His faithfulness.  Yet, if we desire that God change our circumstances, we need to change as well.  We must press on and follow God beyond the point of inconvenience.  God will be found in uncomfortable places and at inconvenient times.  Although the first step always is the longest, hardest, and scariest, it is pivotal that we go all in and all out for God.  Either fear or faith will be our dictator.

Pastor Batterson explains the difference between fear and faith.  Fear is holding out on God, while faith is going all out for God.  Faith must be experiential and transformational.  Faith is acting as if God already has answered.  If we let go and let God, He’ll use our gifts beyond our wildest imagination.  God is looking for availability and teachability: “Here am I.”  We need to come to the realization that no other person can glorify God like us or for us.  Furthermore, when we truly understand the life-giving truth that we’re worth dying for, we become fearless even when we’re defenseless.  The author concludes:

“There never has been and never will be anyone like you, but that isn’t a testament to you.  It’s a testament to the God who created you. . . . You are absolutely irreplaceable in God’s grand scheme.”

Going all in and all out is the baseline.  God will settle for nothing less.

One Way Love

One Way LoveOne Way Love (David C. Cook, 2013)

The full title of Tullian Tchividjian’s latest book is One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.  Pastor Tchividjian emphasizes that in our performance-oriented society, the need for God’s inexhaustible grace has never been more urgent.  Real life is long on law and short on grace.  While the world operates on and demands two-way, conditional love, the Bible is the story of God’s one-way love (grace) to us.  The author defines God’s grace as “unconditional acceptance given to an undeserving person by an unobligated giver.”

We are exhausted because we’re more comfortable with conditionality, reward and punishment.  However, maintaining that sense of control is tiring.  Although law and judgment can tell us who we are as well as the right thing to do, law and judgment cannot inspire us.  Only grace breathes life into our weary, scared bones.  The point is not how we fall short of the law, but that we fall short.  The arrival of the law leads not to life, but to disobedience and death.  It is against the tumult of conditionality that God’s one-way love comes.  Jesus met all of God’s conditions so that our relationship with Him could be unconditional.

God’s grace is most transformative when we are at our lowest ebb.  One-way love begins where our pride ends.  While we celebrate grace when it’s directed toward us, we experience great consternation when grace is directed at our enemies.  When we begrudge God’s grace to others or are disobedient to God, it’s because we fail to grasp the depth of God’s one-way love.  This love cannot be mandated, it only can be experienced,  We truly experience the Gospel when we lay down our arms rather than standing up for ourselves and sticking to our guns.  Pastor Tchividjian boldly proclaims that if we haven’t been offended by grace, we probably haven’t encountered the real thing.  Everything we need we already possess in Christ.  As Robert Capon explains:

“The church . . . is here to bring the world the Good News that ‘while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly.’ ”

We don’t have to feel exhausted.  It is finished!

 

 

The Wall Around Your Heart

The WallThe Wall Around Your Heart (Nelson Books, 2013)

The framework of Mary Demuth’s latest book, The Wall Around Your Heart: How Jesus Heals You When Others Hurt You, camps around the eleven phrases of the Lord’s Prayer, prayed in the context of community.  The author comments: “Tucked within this prayer are secrets to understanding conflict, letting go of turmoil, and seeing God in His proper light.”

It is essential that we speak to God face-to-face, sharing our hearts and burdens, choosing to worship Him in the process.  Mary emphasizes that we need to respond well by asking ourselves- and being truthful in our answer- this most important question: “Who is Jesus?”  Our response determines the extent we allow Jesus into our pain.  Allowing Jesus into our pain enables us to cultivate open hearts to Jesus and His people- to have complete hearts.  To have complete hearts, we must begin from a place of healing and abundance.  For if we can’t trust God, we can’t trust anyone.  We must trust Jesus to enliven the kingdom from within us, growing toward the future He wants to give us.  We must seek from the Lord that His name be hallowed within us.

God designed us to be filled up by Him first and solely, as we walk in the Great Right Now.  Our past adversity can thrust us into Jesus’ arms or cause us to turn our backs on Him.  That’s why, the author asserts, we must create closure to our pain.  Jesus is calling us to moment-by-moment dependence on Him, to have a holy contentment for today.  We were not built to carry offense, and only Jesus can live up to our expectations.  God created us for joyful freedom.  Our problems shrink to proper size in the light of God’s greatness.

Jesus has charged us to live an openhearted life and burst us for adventurous impact.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, our weakness welcomes Jesus’ strength within us.  Our lives never will be the same.

Not a Fan

Not a Fan

Not a Fan (Zondervan, 2011)

Not a Fan: Becoming a Completely Committed Follower of Jesus is the first book by Pastor Kyle Idleman.  His second book, Gods at War, previously was annotated in Crown’s bibliography.  Pastor Idleman begins by observing that whenever Jesus spoke to a large crowd, most often the message He preached would cause the people to leave.  They were fans, not followers.  The author wants us to thoughtfully examine ourselves as we consider this question: “Are you a follower of Jesus?”  One way or another, in word or in deed, we will all answer that question.  It is important to understand, Pastor Idleman asserts, that following Jesus will interfere with our lives- it always costs something.

Following Jesus is a pursuit that requires everything we have, yet it is the best investment that we will ever make.  Belief and commitment are the “heart and lungs” of faith.  One cannot live without the other.  Jesus doesn’t want first place in our lives, He wants to be our one and only.  As the author notes, this requires knowledge as well as intimacy:

“Clearly, where there is intimacy there should be a growing knowledge, but too often there is knowledge without a growing intimacy.”

Obedience to God comes from the inside out.  We can’t follow Jesus without being filled daily with the Holy Spirit.  Attempting to go the self-empowered route makes us frustrated by our failures and exhausted by our efforts.  To be filled with the Holy Spirit, we must be emptied of ourselves.  As we become emptied, we can follow Jesus as authentic witnesses, our lives truly reflecting what we confess we believe.  Taking the path of following Jesus means that we are walking away from a different path.   As servants (slaves) of Jesus, we find ultimate freedom to willingly follow Jesus wherever.