What I’m Reading

The Old Testament Story Not to Be Missed

A friend sent me this book, The Gift of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels by Thomas Cahill. It’s not a new book, having been initially published in 1998, but this is the first I’d heard of it. To be honest, I wasn’t excited to read a historian’s perspective of the Old Testament but was I ever wrong. I started this book on vacation, and I could not put it down.

This is the best overview of the Old Testament story from a historical perspective that I’ve ever read, and I don’t say that lightly. While I didn’t agree with every conclusion he makes, he tells the most compelling story of how God revealed himself to desert nomads and how, in doing so, he transformed the course of human history. None of these changes would have happened through normal evolutionary processes, which only makes it more evident that God intervened to reveal himself and his purpose to them.

Unfortunately, many people have given up reading the Bible because it has been laced with such guilt and condemnation by legalistic religious leaders, and others never dare to look in the Old Testament except to read a Psalm or two. Both groups are missing a fantastic narrative of how God began to reveal himself in the world, first to a person, then to a family, then a tribe, and finally to a nation. No, they didn’t always understand him and often misinterpreted his intentions. But over the centuries, they were confronted with the presence of a God who loved them, and who invited them to move beyond caring about their own survival, to create a culture with a generous heart for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the foreigner in their own land.

Many of the conclusions he draws you will also find in The Jesus Lens, over nine hours of video teaching about how to read Scripture through the lens of Jesus’ life and teaching. In doing so, we see the progressive revelation of God that grew over thousands of years for a more complete picture of who God is and why he acts in our world. This book and that series would make a great companion.

Here are some excerpts from his closing chapter. I hope they create enough curiosity for many of you to pick up this book. You won’t regret it.

“Where are the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Assyrians today? And though we recognize Egypt and Greece as still belonging to our world, the cultures and ethnic stocks of those countries have little continuity with their ancient namesakes. But however miraculous Jewish survival may be, the greater miracle is surely that the Jews developed a whole new way of experiencing reality, the only alternative to all ancient worldviews and all ancient religions. If one is ever to find the finger of God in human affairs, one must find it here.”

“To me at least, the most satisfying way to read the Bible is to see it as a collection of varied documents, each showing us the same revelation at different stages of development but capable of bringing us at last to a processive, personalist faith in a completely mysterious God.”

“We are the undeserving recipients of this history of the Jews, this long, excessive miraculous development of ethical monotheism without which our ideas of equality and personalism are unlikely ever to have come into being and surely would never have matured the way they have.”

It leans a bit on the academic side, but the content will add a rich foundation to understanding how God went about making himself known in the world.

 

Two Books You Might Enjoy

As summer winds down, let me commend two books to you, both by people I’ve come to know its they were writing their books. So I got to read them both before they were published.

The first is Alter Girl, by Andrea Syverson. I met when we were both on a speaker’s panel at the FUTURE OF THE CHURCH convention in Colorado last year. I immediately found her story engaging and had the opportunity to have lunch with her and her husband. Alter Girl is the story of a young woman raised Catholic, whose hunger and questions took her away from religion and into the reality of a more vibrant faith. Many readers of this blog will find her story engaging, even if you don’t share her Catholic past. With humor and profound insight Andrea takes us on her journey from a girl who faithfully followed the rules to one who found a moe authentic journey of relating to God and the church Jesus is shaping in the world.  I always enjoy a book more when the life behind it resonates deeply with what’s on the pages. This one does and it’s a compelling read you’ll enjoy.  (230 pages, paperback)

 Both Eugene Peterson and I have quotes on the book.

“ALTER GIRL is a tour de force of learning how to abandon preconceptions of the life of faith and embrace what is so generously given.  Beautifully and wonderfully written.”

Eugene Peterson

“You hold in your hands an epic tale through religious disillusionment into a discovery of a more personal and vibrant faith. With refreshing wit and candor Andrea invites you inside her Catholic upbringing, her marriage outside that faith and the struggle her and her husband faced seeking a community of believers full of reality and encouragement. Not everyone finds their way through this journey with their faith intact.  She does and what she discovered along the way can be of real help to you.”

Wayne Jacobsen

 

The second book is Incarnate: The Incredible Journey of Edward Mayus, by Robert Blizzard. This is a fictional story that asks the question, “If you had a chance to implant into yourself the DNA of Jesus Christ, would you?”  Edward Mayus did.  An agnostic medical researcher takes up that challenge from his murdered brother and the changes that happen in him upend his entire world.  This is a wild ride from the heart of the Vatican to the streets of New York that contemplates the power of transformation in the human heart and the conflict it brings him into with the powers of religion.

Here’s what I wrote of the cover of Robert’s book:

RJ Blizzard has crafted an exceptional story that contemplates the best mysteries of the universe, where faith and truth find their way into the human heart. It’s a wild ride with engaging characters through conflict, discovery and unforeseen twists that will have you scratching your head until the end. If you’re looking for a a compelling read of human transformation where religion is not always the best friend of faith, you’ll find it here.
Both of these books are about transformation, the power of Jesus to transform our lives through a growing relationship with him.  Whether you enjoy a real-life story, or a fictional tale, I’m sure one, if not both of these books will be a blessing to you and an encouragement to your own journey.

Free Book: Living Beyond the Borders

Living Beyond the Borders, a new book by a friend of mine, John Langford in the UK. It is a feast for any hungry heart looking for the boundless joy of living in the Father’s reality. Too often we live hemmed in by manmade borders that reduce our freedom in Christ to a set of empty rituals. This book will help you set your sights beyond those borders and embrace the mystery and joy of a journey of growing intimacy and friendship with Jesus. This strikes to the very heart of salvation—access to him and a growing relationship that makes every day an adventure. Simply, powerfully, and honestly written.

Since it’s horribly expensive to ship this book overseas, John has made it available as a FREE PDF download until August 15, 2017. This is the first book in a trilogy John is writing about knowing God’s love and life in limitless ways.  Just go here and click on the image of the front cover. If you find the book valuable and you want to share a contribution to help them with the work God’s called them to do, please feel free.

I’ve known John and Jenny Langford for well over a decade, visiting them in their home in England and crossing paths with them at gatherings with other friends in Ireland and France. John even shared a bit of his story with me on a GodJourney podcast, What’s In Your Heart?  John and Jenny are native South Africans but moved to the UK many years ago. He is a businessman with a heart to help other people connect with Jesus and help them grow.  He posts his thoughts and other resources on a website called His Life. John and Jenny are some of the true elders of the faith that I’ve met in my travels. I’m excited to see him make some of his thoughts available in book form, and making their lives more available to help others find the life in Christ they have discovered.  I’m so glad I can share this book with readers here at Lifestream. You’ll find it a great encouragement with practical insight and heart. He really lives the things he writes about.

You can read more comments about the book HERE.  John would also love your thoughts about the book if you’d like to send them.  

Now available in Kindle.

Enjoy!

Until You Learn Powerlessness

 Anyone who has not gone on journeys of powerlessness will invariably abuse power.

A good friend sent me a recent devotional from Richard Rohr, thinking I would love it!  I did!  In fact I share it with Brad on tomorrow’s podcast at The God Journey, but I wanted to highlight some of it here and give you a chance to read it before.  I love the whole thing and how most ancient initiation rites led men into feelings of powerlessness so that he would not abuse that power, especially in male-dominated societies.

He goes on (emphases mine):

Jesus clearly taught the twelve disciples about surrender, the necessity of suffering, humility, servant leadership, and nonviolence. They resisted him every time, and so he finally had to make the journey himself and tell them, “Follow me!” But Christians have preferred to hear something Jesus never said: “Worship me.” Worship of Jesus is rather harmless and risk-free; following Jesus changes everything.

… I have often thought that this “non-preaching” of the Gospel was like a secret social contract between clergy and laity, as we shake hands across the sanctuary. We agree not to tell you anything that would make you uncomfortable, and you will keep coming to our services. It is a nice deal, because once the Gospel is preached, I doubt if the churches would be filled. Rather, we might be out on the streets living the message. The discernment and the call to a life of service, to a life that gives itself away instead of simply protecting and procuring for itself in the name of Jesus, is what church should be about. Right now, so much church is the clergy teaching the people how to be co-dependent with them. It becomes job security instead of true spiritual empowerment. Remember, anyone—male or female—who has not gone on journeys of powerlessness will invariably abuse power.

You can read the whole thing here.  Maybe you’ll love it too.  It may be more difficult for women to read, especially those that have been harmed by the abuse of power in our male-entrenched cultures, but the message is so powerful for all of us.

Jesus’ Invitation: Follow Me
By Richard Rohr   •  Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Leaving the Amish for Freedom in Christ

I was handed this book by its authors during my recent trip to Canada. They came from Montana to join me in Calgary and I had time to hear part of their story of moving out of the Amish culture and finding greater freedom in Christ. I was amazed at the progress they had made in four short years of finding their way out of that system of religious obligation and discovering how much God loved them.

As our conversation ended they handed me a copy of their book:  Plain Faith: A Story of Tragedy, Loss, and Leaving the Amish by Irene and Ora Jay Eash with Tricia Goyer, is  a fascinating read about truth awakening in the human heart and that putting them in conflict with the religious tradition they grew up in. To be honest, I rarely make through all the books people give me when I travel.  I do look them over and try to discern if the Spirit is nudging me to spend more time them.  As I looked over this one I was drawn into a compelling story of a family first going through the darkest of tragedies, and then risking everything they knew to follow the Spirt as he awakened them to a different reality than one they had been raised in. I had no idea what they had really been through until I read it and I came away all the more amazed at how God draws people to himself despite the tremendous odds against it.

This is an amazing story of a multitude of decisions made over years to follow Truth unfolding in their hearts or to keep falling in line with traditions to maintain their relationships with family and with friends they’d known their entire lives. If you want a good picture of what it takes to leave a system of religious obligation and to be judged and excluded for doing so and the story of triumph as they learned to live freely in a larger world with Jesus, this book is for you.  It also exposes how much damage well-intentioned people can cause when they are more true to their traditions than they are to the truth of Christ.  Legalism always turns love into a weapon that forces conformity or withdraws itself. It is a cruel taskmaster on both sides and shows how destructive even good intentions can be when they are based on ignorance of what is true.

And it’s not just the Amish. Every Christian tradition falls into the same trap.  You’ll find your own story here of chasing between a hope growing in your heart and the safer road of pleasing everyone’s expectations. This is a story of hope, stronger than the loss of children, family, and a way of life handed down through generations.

 

 

 

 

Spirituality and Sexuality

Recently Brad and I did a couple of podcasts on the issues of sexuality in our spiritual journeys, Let’s Talk Sex, and No Need to Hide, and discovered just how separated people keep their sexuality from their spirituality. That’s mostly due to the fact that religion attaches so much shame to our sexual appetites and brokenness. And yet many are longing to have that conversation in the gracious space where they no longer have to hide, or doubt, or condemn themselves.

We need more conversation in this area not less and most of that with the Father who loves us. Sexuality is his gift after all, and it is no surprise that the brokenness of this world and the work of the enemy would seek to destroy us by the very thing that touches the deepest part of our soul, our identity, and our connection with another human being. They turn it against us, warping it in ways that damages our souls and becomes a source of great pain and frustration, even inside of a marriage.

God does not think sex disgusting and only he can untwist the way our sexuality gets compromised and exploited by the world we live in. Like so much of the creation, we use it for our own amusements instead of his purposes and in the end get hurt more than we ever dreamed.

In that vain, I want to recommend a new book to you. It’s called unashamed, and yes the lack of caps is intentional. The subtitle is, “candid conversations about dating, love, nakedness and faith” and was written by Tracy Levinson and Anne-Marie Coffee. It takes a fresh look at dating for a new generation of young women.

I got a chance to read a prepublication copy of this book and wrote the following endorsement for the final version:

Unashamed is the conversation every parent wants to have with their daughter, but often finds it too difficult. Frankly and humorously, Tracy Levinson flips over all the rocks that young women would do well to explore to understand themselves, their sexuality, and the choices that will build a better future. Thoughtful, caring, and biblically sound, she walks a glorious line to uphold a young woman’s purity in God’s eyes even as they struggle with temptation and failure. You’ll want your daughter to read this book, and perhaps even join her.

Tracy hopes to encourage you as she shares her grace-infused insight, wisdom, laughter and liberating truth. It’s written for young women, and people in their lives who adore them which can include moms, dads, brothers, grandparents, boyfriends, and church leaders. Tracy candidly explores pivotal questions asked by this millennial generation and draws from her own journey and conversations with her daughters. Some of the questions she tackles include: What if I have already been involved sexually, how do I get a redo? What are the things that bug you about dating in the Christian culture? What does it mean to guard my heart and does it pertain to dating?

This is what Tracy says about her book, “My hope is to help as many women and girls as possible by empowering them to choose wisdom, love and peace, as opposed to making decisions from fear, shame or condemnation.” You may not come to all the same conclusions Tracy does, but your daughters will be all the stronger for you exploring this book with them.

You can order the book at Amazon.com, or from her web page TracyLevinson.com.

If you have daughters you care about and don’t know how to tackle this subject, this is the perfect book for you.  You will thank me.

Paradox Lost: Embracing the Mystery of God

I have waited to post this review for a long time. I’ve been aware of this book a number of years, first hearing about it in conversations with the author who was being deeply touched by the mystery of God.  Then through the writing process as he put those thoughts down and finally through the publication process.  Today it is finally being released by Zondervan and I can finally recommend it to you.

It’s called Paradox Lost: Rediscovering the Mystery of God.  I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about recommending this book to you, not because if it’s author (who’s a great friend of mine), or the great stories therein (which are many), or the writing style (which is fabulous), or because I suggested the title (which I did), but because the content of this book is so important at this time in Christian history.

For hundreds of years, we’ve sought to stuff God in a box. Academic approaches to Scripture have created systematic theologies that substitute ideas about God for actually knowing him, and popular teachers have given us endless formulas to get God to do what we think he should do. We have reduced God to a concept or to a set of principles and by that have diminished him in ways that have disillusioned so many people when he doesn’t do for them what they expect him to do.

Paradox Lost: Rediscovering the Mystery of God, invites to consider that God is so much greater than any box we might use to describe or build to contain him.  Author Richard Hansen gently makes that point showing us that what is unknowable about God is inviting rather than threatening and helps us see that what might appear to be contradictory in Scripture are simply complementary understandings of him that must be held in tension, not resolved. Recognizing that God is greater than any system we can attach to him isn’t a barrier to faith, but the place where faith begins.

Rich Hansen has been my friend for nearly 30 years, since we pastored in the same community together. Over the decades we have met regularly to pray, listen, and encourage each other through the best and worst of times. He also worked for many years as a missionary professor at Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I can say this about him, he lives what he writes, and a more genuine individual you will not meet.  And that comes through in his book

Here’s the endorsement I gave for its publication:

You’ll love this book as it explores the wonder of a living God who exceeds all your expectations.  PARADOX LOST is a compelling and timely reminder that God transcends all the boxes we build for him.

Order it here from Amazon.com.

Finding God’s Grace when Tragedy Strikes

It is so easy to find God in the midst of life’s joys. Finding him in the midst of our pain is another and perhaps no pain is deeper than the loss of a child. Two new books speak directly into this arena by people who know it all too well. These stories just don’t wallow in the tragedy but unpack for the reader how to triumph in the midst of loss, pain and disappointment. You will be touched by both of these and learn how to handle your own tragic circumstances inside the affection of a gracious Father.

hillsTo Be Continued by Allen and Tammy Hill
(Paperback, 295 pages, self-published)

Allen and Tammy’s only child was murdered in the Virginia Teach shootings nine years ago this month. This is the story of Rachel’s life, that horrific day, and living in its aftermath of her loss, learning to lean into God’s love and even forgive the perpetrator of her death. Both The Shack and He Loves Me play into this story in a critical way, through which I came to know the Hill’s and have been friends with them over the past eight years.  I can vouch for the fact that they genuinely live in the freedom and grace they write about in their story.

The subtitle of the book is, “The life of Rachel Hill, and God’s grace to our family in the Virginia Tech tragedy.” And what a story it is! Rachel was a freshman at Tech, a talented and passionate young woman who was life was cut short. She was also a passionate follower of Jesus and you’ll see how her journal encouraged their own journeys in dealing with the pain. In so many ways, and through so many people, God wrapped his arms around the Hills and have not only worked great healing in their hearts, but made them lights to others as well. This is a raw story of, honestly and lovingly told. You will be inspired by their words and touched by the magnificence of God’s grace at the depth of human pain.

They came to discover that their hopes and dreams did not die that day, but that life was “to be continued”. In time God helped them discover how to enjoy life again and not be ruled by tragedy and grief.

Click here for a compelling interview with excellent Allen that aired on ESPN 950 in Richmond, VA, which aired last week on the 9th anniversary of the tragedy.

You can order this book from Amazon, or get one free by sending your address to them by email.  Or if you’d like to order one by mail, or even help them with a gift so they can keep making these books available, you can write them at:

Allen and Tammy Hill
P.O. Box 1685
Glen Allen, VA 23060

 

 

wtsWhen Tragedy Strikes by Laura Diehl
(Paperback, 295 pages, Morgan James Publishing)

This book is not just a story of a parent’s loss; it also offers hope and instruction as to how we can find God in the midst of our most tragic circumstances and let him teach us how to live beyond them.  The book’s subtitle is, “Rebuilding your life with hope and healing after the death of your child.”

Laura and Dave lost their daughter, Becca, six months short of her 30th birthday to a heart condition. She was married with a nine-year-old daughter when complications set in and despite their prayers, Becca died. Shocked and broken, with pain that made her feel as if she couldn’t breath at times, Laura found that God was big enough for this, too.  This is the raw account of her journey from deep darkness back into light and life. Now she wants to extend a helping hand to others who find themselves in the midst of unanticipated tragedies as well.

Laura has lived all of this and doesn’t offer cheap cliche’s or pat answers, but honest and real encouragement and instruction as to how invite God into our deepest pain and find healing an life beyond it. If you’ve been through this kind of pain, or want to learn how to better help others going through it, this book will help you.

Here’s what I wrote for the jacket of her book:

If you have suffered great tragedy and struggle to connect with God in your grief and disappointment, When Tragedy Strikes was written for you. Laura Diehl knows the unfathomable pain of losing a child in tragic circumstances, and through the grief and pain finding her footing in the love of an affectionate Father. As she describes her own journey with honesty, compassion, and wisdom she will help you process your own journey and find a glorious hope beyond your darkest days.