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.

 

Grace

Grace Grace (Thomas Nelson, 2012)

The full title of this book by Max Lucado is Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine.  Pastor Lucado begins with the assertion that God answers the messes of life with one word: grace.  He then defines grace as “the voice that calls us to change and then gives us the power to pull it off.”  Jesus not only stoops to meet us where we are, but He also rises to our defense in defiance of Satan.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to trust our Advocate, not our Accuser.  Furthermore, we personally must appropriate the cross as God’s gift to us, not simply as His gift to the world.

Jesus, through His death and resurrection, welcomes us to the Land of No More- no more battle fatigue from taking on our own burdens.  We can rest from our struggles in the arms of Jesus.  While retaliation may be appealing, its shallowness pales in comparison to the truth: Jesus has the answer.  Although others may see us as marginalized and discarded- a view we may well affirm- God sees us as a masterpiece about to happen.  As God applies grace to our wounds with His probing and healing touch, our honest confession enables reliance on God’s grace and trust in His goodness.

Max concludes that “to accept grace is to accept the vow to give it.”  Cascading grace occurs as God’s grace overflows to us and we, in response, extend His grace to others.  Through grace we trust God’s hold on us more than our hold on God.  God is forever faithful even though we often fall far short.  Although life’s wounds mute God’s song of hope and life, as we again hear and heed His voice something in us will awaken.  We will begin to sing again.  Pastor Lucado ends with this description of grace:

“More verb than noun.  More present tense than past tense.  Grace didn’t just happen.  It happens.”

Wounded by God’s People

Wounded

Wounded by God’s People (Zondervan, 2013)

Author Anne Graham Lotz speaks from numerous personal experiences when she affirms that the wounds inflicted by God’s people are painful and devastating.  Even so, we can’t allow ourselves to reject the God of those who rejected us.  Basing her book on the Old Testament story of Hagar, Anne states that as the ones who have been devastated, we are the ones God is calling.

The author notes that the first step of our healing journey is to acknowledge our pain.  How we handle our rejection and wounding is critical.  If we respond to our wounding by becoming wounders, we will perpetuate our sense of being on the outside of God’s inner circle.  Regardless of how God has been represented by others, we need to commit to living out our life for Him.  The solution is to pray rather than retaliate.

Our woundedness can cause us to become believers in exile.  Yet as hard as we might try, we can never outrun God.  The lack of peace and the absence of joy in our lives are indicators that God is trying to get our attention so that He can bless us.  It takes courage and time commitment to allow the light of God’s truth to penetrate the deep recess of our hearts.  Embracing the wounds of divine pruning enables us to bear much fruit to the glory of God.

Although we’re anxious to get out of the darkness and the wilderness in which we find ourselves, we cannot allow our despair to blind us.  Instead of imploding from within, by calling on Jesus the prison cell of our spiritual self-imposed exile will be unlocked.  Our valley can become our place of vision as we bear witness to God’s grace in our lives.  As Anne summarizes: “Sometimes the most valuable lessons are caught, not taught.”  We can come home to the Father.

 

 

Satisfied

SatisfiedSatisfied (Zondervan, 2013)

Satisfied: Discovering Contentment in a World of Consumption is the second book by Jeff Manion, senior teaching pastor at Ada Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  His first book, The Land Between, used the Israelite’s journey through the Sinai Desert as a metaphor for being in an undesired, yet potentially transformational, time of transition.  During unexpected and undesired transition times like our ministry downsizing or vocation loss, contentment is a difficult, yet greatly desired, state of being.  Pastor Manion offers his definition:

“Contentment is the cultivation of a satisfied heart.  It is the discipline of being fully alive to God and to others whatever our material circumstances.”

Contentment, the author emphasizes, combats the downward drift of the heart.  However, there are two major challenges to contentment.  The first challenge is waiting for our situation to change.  Gritting our teeth and attempting to endure is counterproductive.  Contentment only comes as we embrace our situation with joy and thankfulness.

Comparison is the second major challenge to contentment.  Pastor Manion states that comparison shifts our hearts from deep gratitude to subtle resentment not because we’ve received less than we deserve, but that others have received more than we think they deserve.  We won’t follow a God we can’t trust- at least not for long.  The key is understanding that God is with us when we are emptied and that He is enough.

Our hearts are satisfied when we remember that our identity if not anchored in what belongs to us, but in who we belong to.  Since our identity is anchored in Christ, we don’t get our identity from our careers.  Rather, we bring our identity to our careers.  Knowing that we belong to Christ enables trust, not fear, to be the dominant force in our decision-making.  As we find our hope in God, we will hear His voice inviting us to enter into joy.  Jesus is knocking at our heart’s door.  All we need to do is open it.

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day

In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day (Multnomah Books, 2006)

The author of In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day, Mark Batterson, is the founding pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D. C.  Pastor Batterson bases the book on 2 Samuel 23:20-21, where Benaiah seizes opportunity by the mane and emerges victorious in the titled encounter.  Right from the onset, the author shares one of his core convictions: God is in the business of strategically placing us in the right place at the right time.  However, often we see things from a conflicting  viewpoint- that we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.  That’s because God-o0rdained opportunities often come disguised as man-eating lions.

When we react in fear, we interpret our problems as circumstantial rather that perceptual.  We subsequently reduce God to the size of our biggest problem.  Unlike human endeavors that are ranked by degrees of difficulty, nothing is too big or too small for God.  The greatest breakthroughs in life, Pastor Batterson emphasizes, come when we push through fear.  It is counterproductive to ask God to get us out of difficult circumstances, but highly profitable to ask Him what he wants us to get out of those circumstances.   In spite of our external circumstances, worship is praising God even when we don’t feel like it due to our anxiety.  Faith, then, doesn’t reduce uncertainty- faith embraces uncertainty!

God is in the business of having us cross paths with the right people at the right time.  These God-ordained opportunities, or providences, typically start out as mustard seed opportunities and may also come disguised as insurmountable problems.  If we cave into conformity with worldly expectations and standards, we inevitably settle for something less than God intended for us.  One indication or dimension of spiritual growth is coming to terms with who we are and who we aren’t.  For we have been created by a limitless God to have limitless dreams and imaginations.

 

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering

WalkingWalking with God through Pain and Suffering (Dutton, 2013)

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering is the latest book from Timothy Keller, founding and current pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.  The central theme of the book, which has three parts, is the image of suffering as a fiery furnace.  In the Introduction, Pastor Keller suggests that if the reader is in the midst of adversity, it might be better to read the second and third parts first.  Part One takes a cultural, historical, and philosophical look at suffering- thus it is more theoretical and abstract.

The author states that three powerful Christian teachings enrich our understanding of suffering and help us face adversity.  First, the doctrine of creation and the Fall brings the relief of humility- we’re all sinful and in need of a Savior.  The doctrine of the final judgment enables us to be gracious and forgiving, as evil ultimately will accomplish the opposite of what it intended.  Finally, through Jesus’ incarnation and atonement, He came down to this world and experienced ultimate darkness- God has wounds.

Furthermore, the Bible’s picture of suffering has two foundational balances: (1) suffering is both just and unjust and (2) God is both a sovereign and a suffering God.  This balance affords sufferers a wide range of resources and approaches for facing suffering, an individualized rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.  Suffering is at the heart of the Christian faith.  Through suffering we become like Jesus and experience His redemption.  Our walk with God is progressive, intentional, slow, and steady.  As we glorify God, we will find rest, satisfaction, and joy in Him.

The joy of the God happens inside our sorrow.  In that way our grief won’t sink us.  Pastor Keller emphasizes that God give us what we would have asked for if we had known everything He know.  Through the Holy Spirit, we can think, thank, and love ourselves into the peace of God- even while experiencing adverse circumstances.