Category Archives: Reading

“From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel”

I don’t think I have ever highlighted a book as much as I did this one. There are so many books available that are helpful, interesting, or timely—and then there are books like this one. Written as if someone has been watching my every move. And reading my journal. And guessing my thoughts.

Don’t Forget Grace!

For Christine Hoover, life as a church planter’s wife came with a long to-do list and the guilt found in not completing it. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t live up to what she knew God must want from her. There was always another person needing something. Always another mess to clean up. Always another activity to add to her plate.

“This was my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian: If I do good things, then God is pleased. If I do things wrong, then he is angry. This is actually the basis of every religion on earth except Christianity, this idea of a scale where the good must outweigh the bad in order to be right with God. I had religion down pat, but the religion I practiced wasn’t true and biblical Christianity.”

It was a light-bulb moment: the grace we are given for salvation is also given for every day of our lives. Once we come to Christ for salvation, He doesn’t send us back out to face our daily lives alone and in our own strength. There’s grace for that. And this grace changes everything!

“Paul also made it clear that our response to the initial invitation is no different than our response once we’re at the table: “As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” (Col. 2:6). In other words, just as we received the invitation to the table by faith, we are to continue receiving from Christ each day by faith.”

Try as we might, we will never fully stretch our minds around this truth. We are accepted, loved, and welcomed—no matter what!

And so are the people around us.

Not Meant for That

It shouldn’t come as any surprise that when we live by the goodness gospel we live by others’ opinions. After all, if our worth is found in what we accomplish, those accomplishments must be recognized and applauded in order for us to feel validated. This aim-to-please-and-impress-and-outdo attitude stands in contrast to the true gospel, but the solution isn’t to avoid people altogether.

In the beginning, God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone. While the crux of that passage has to do with marriage, its implications reach into humanity as a whole and are echoed centuries later by Paul’s illustration of the church as a body. We need each other. God gives us relationships and community for our mutual good.

Not for judging each other. And not for judging ourselves based on each other.

“[We] assent with our mouths to being followers of God but in reality we are followers of man. We are people-pleasers. We are people-impressers. We are also people-judgers…I know, in fixing my eyes on others, that I am turning from the ocean of approval and belonging found in Christ to a puddle of imperfect love found in people. But sometimes the approval of others drives me, and it drives me right into anxiety, fear, and self-sufficiency.”

Living by popular opinion isn’t living. When we fully recognize the freedom we have through God’s grace, we won’t want to measure ourselves by anyone else’s standards ever again. We are freed from all of that—forever.

Free!

Read that last sentence again.

Can you believe it? Seriously! This story of free, unmerited grace is real. And it’s your story. My story. Sometimes we forget the wonder of grace in its daily-ness. But that daily-ness of grace doesn’t cheapen it; it strengthens our dependence on it and proves it’s always enough.

“Normally when I think of gaining freedom, I think of charging forward in battle or fighting to be released from ties that bind me. But this is a freedom that has already been won for us. We simply walk by faith out of the open jail cell and rest in what has been given.”

So, so much has been given to us. No need to worry about being good enough anymore. No need to return to our own weak efforts. We have abundant and unbelievable grace, and it will always be more than enough.

“So we rest in what’s been given. We receive what’s been given. We respond to what’s been given. We’ll never go back to our pitiful, man-made goodness gospel, thinking it can give us life. We know the truth: Christ is our life…This is the gospel: not that we are right with God because of what we do but that we are right with God because of what Christ did for us.”

My 7 Most Memorable Books of 2016

It’s that time of year. Resolutions, goals, recounting memories of joys and sorrows. It is a time for measuring and appraising the year that has passed and looking into the still-opening year that has come. For me, 2016 was a year of more reading and now seems like a good time to memorialize my favorite books from last year.

The books I share here may or may not have been written in 2016 – in fact, I think most of them were written earlier. I read them during 2016, however, so here is where I thought I’d share my 5 favorite books from the past year.

But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t narrow it down to 5.

So, should you care to know, here are my SEVEN favorite books of 2016. With a couple of runners-up at the end, because even seven was hard. Oh, and in alphabetical order, because order of significance would be really hard.

They were all significant. All engaging. And they all shared stories now impressed on my heart.

Bruchko: The Astonishing True Story of a 19-Year-Old American, His Capture by the Motilone Indians and His Adventures in Christianizing the Stone Age Tribe

Bruce Olson

How’s that for a title?

Most people who strike out on their own at 19 are a little reckless. If they do so in a foreign country with no job, connections, money, or language skills, they’re really crazy.

Bruce was really crazy. But the story that came from his total obedience in 1961 is unlike any other. Through the decades that followed, God guided his ministry and many people came to Christ through his work.

The Drop Box: How 500 Abandoned Babies, an Act of Compassion, and a Movie Changed My Life Forever

Brian Ivie

I wish everyone I know could read this book! A few years ago, I watched Brian Ivie’s documentary (also called The Drop Box) about a Korean pastor raising abandoned orphans with special needs as his own children. Now Brian tells the rest of the story—and there is so much more to it! In these pages that draw you in chapter after chapter, Brian tells more of Pastor Lee’s life, and how it impacted his own more than he ever expected.

See my review here.

Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn’t Give Up

Ian and Larissa Murphy

So…if I had to pick just one…this might be it. Maybe. So hard to choose…

Ian and Larissa’s story of love and commitment (and weakness and doubt) in the face of debilitating and permanent disability is not one to miss. Larissa’s revealing honesty and powerful writing style made an already fascinating story impossible for me to put down.

See my review here.

Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus

Rifqa Bary

I remember seeing the drama unfold on TV, as a Christian teenager fought in court for asylum from her Muslim parents. Her story of persecution while in her American home was shocking, and the jaw-dropping story of her escape shows God’s guidance more clearly than most of us ever see.

See my review here.

In My Father’s House: The Years Before “The Hiding Place”

Corrie ten Boom

It just wouldn’t be a list of my favorite books without a Corrie ten Boom title! Corrie wrote IMFH as a series of seemingly isolated stories from the years before World War II and The Hiding Place. But as she tells her stories, we find—at her guidance—that there is no stand-alone chapter in our lives. Everything we ever experience prepares us for the next twist in our stories.

See my review here.

Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction

Caleb Kaltenbach

Homosexuality has quickly become a hot button issue. We can’t ignore it. How do we respond? Caleb gives a loving and deeply personal account of honoring his gay parents while also remaining steadfast to biblical truth. It is possible. Caleb tells us how.

The Undoing of Saint Silvanus

Beth Moore

This one barely counted for this list, as I finished it just a few hours before the clock and the calendar heralded the arrival of 2017.  Beth Moore has written countless Bible studies and nonfiction books, but jumped into a fiction project for the first time with Silvanus. While the first several chapters seemed to move slowly to me, I am so glad I didn’t close the book. The rich characters and complicated, action-packed plot wouldn’t let me do anything else until I read the last page. Enjoying a story that gripping was fun. Knowing that it had deeper meaning and spiritual significance made it even better.

Runners-up: Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World (Michael Horton); The Accidental Feminist: Restoring Our Delight in God’s Good Design (Courtney Reissig; A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918 (Joseph Loconte); and The Stories We Tell: How TV and Movies Long for and Echo the Truth (Mike Cosper).

 

There you have it! My favorites from the last twelve months. What books made you glad you cracked their covers this past year? Please do share!

4 Steps to Reading Your Bible More

bible2With the onset of adulthood I have found I appreciate sleep more and more. It is harder to get out of bed than it was when I knew my early rising meant more time with Legos or Adventures in Odyssey before beginning the day. Under this new sleepiness my daily Bible study has been suffering.

Every night I intend to get up early the next morning, and I set an alarm to match. But invariably, when morning does come, I think about my day’s responsibilities or how I’ve been feeling under the weather lately, and I can always think of a rational reason to stay in bed as long as possible.

But I’ve also noticed that when I don’t read my Bible in the mornings, it doesn’t happen the rest of the day, either. And the lessening of depth and conviction that breeds in my own life isn’t something I want to continue.

The Bible is a gift. The God of the universe shared with us His thoughts and ways through a Book—have we lost that wonder?

“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).

These are the words of God. They are given to us, but we aren’t passive in this. We must take hold of His worlds and mold our lives around them.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

A Few Simple Suggestions

So in those hazy mornings when excuses seem louder than my responsibility, I am learning to just do it. And as I continue to rebuild a daily Bible study habit, here are some things that have helped me along the way. You might choose to read at another time of day, or have your own tactics to stay consistent. These are only my ideas for right now in my own life, so whether they are also helpful for you or not, please take them as simply such.

 

  1. Plan for success. Get your things—any notebook, highlighter, or coffee cup you may be looking for while you’re still half-asleep. Know where in the Bible you will be reading in tomorrow. Go to bed on time—or earlier, especially while still cementing the habit. Having a plan will not guarantee you will carry it out, but not having a plan pretty much ensures you won’t.

 

  1. Pray for strength over sleepiness. A wise older woman (and a giant in the area of Bible study and memorization, no less) once told me to get one leg out of bed and God will get the other one. Some days it’s the other way around. But without the sustaining hand of God we would not even be breathing right now, so why not ask for His assistance in rising early to spend time with Him? He wants to help us. He will.

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  1. Hold yourself to it. As teenagers, some friends of mine started an e-mail group they called The 6:00 Club, and every day they told each other what time they got up that morning. Find that measure of accountability that works for you, and pursue it. Tell a friend, write it down, join a Facebook community. Or tell the Internet about it.

 

  1. Remember grace. Jesus died to make us forever perfect in His Father’s eyes, not to give us the ability to act perfect this side of forever. You will miss a day, just like I have missed so many days. Don’t give up and don’t guilt yourself. Just keep going tomorrow.

“I’m tired.” If we’re looking for an excuse, that’ll work as well as any. But it’s just an excuse—an attempt to justify ignoring our responsibility to know the words of our Father. A reason, on the other hand, is a firm and constant truth which stands whether we want it to or not. The God of the Universe wrote a Book and gave it to us. We can find an excuse for every day if the week, but can we seriously think of a solid reason to not study the Word of God on a consistent basis?

Why I Started Reading Again

 

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As a preteen I spent hours in other worlds. When Dad came home from work, he always knew where to find me. I devoured countless Boxcar Kids or Mandie adventures and read more than a few books from historical fiction series while I was totally oblivious to anything else going on in the house. I traveled the world with homeschooler Hope Brown and solved mysteries with the renowned (but unrelated) Encyclopedia Brown.

While in high school and college I read for schoolwork but less and less for my own interests. When I did choose a book for my personal reading, it was usually a book I thought I *should* read but didn’t necessarily enjoy, and eventually it was too obvious to deny: I had lost my love for reading.

Once I graduated, my lack of reading habits continued until I realized how much of my “reading” was done on social media. Which doesn’t really count, if you’re wondering.

So I started again. Slowly at first, but my habits have grown stronger and more entrenched. I have a couple of books going at the same time, and more than once recently I’ve stayed up late because the words on the page won out over sleep. Some books are still more educational and less thrilling than others, but that’s okay. Some books are like that.

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Why do we read? Why is it important to have an established pattern of reading? Books have been written on that. But I haven’t read them yet, so I can’t give you the official answers.

What I can do is tell you my reasons for reading again, and how books have persuaded me to spend time on them. Your reasons are probably different, and that’s okay, too. There are lots of reasons. Comment and tell me yours!

I need encouragement for the issues and struggles I face.

I know I have a problem with seeking after the approval of others. But I’m not the only one. So do Edward Welch (When People are Big and God is Small) and Lecrae (Unashamed). Maybe someone struggles with idolizing entertainment. So did Brian Ivie (The Drop Box). As humans, we will probably be able to identify with many different struggles and problems on different levels, and even if a particular story doesn’t mirror our own at all, we can still glean truth from it. And that truth will be ready and available when we need to apply it to our own lives or guide us in the way we relate to others who may have similar struggles.

I don’t have enough time.

Life is short. Our years go by so quickly and are full of responsibilities and tasks we can’t leave off, which means many things maybe we’d like to do have to go undone. I don’t have time to do it all, but I can live vicariously through others who have done things I haven’t, like Eric Alexander, who climbed Mt. Everest (The Summit).

I can sort through textbooks and college-level classes to form my own opinions on big issues, or I can read the book of someone who already did that and recorded their own experiences in a way I understand. Most political figures have written their memoirs, and many in other professions have as well. Excuse me while I go visit Laura Bush in Spoken from the Heart.

 

Okay, I’m back now. But seriously, life is too busy for me to do all the things I’d like to, and FOMO may be all the rage but it is frustrating, too.

I can’t do it all myself. I shouldn’t even try.

I have a limited perspective.

While there are some things I can’t do for lack of time, there are plenty more I literally can’t experience, because I wasn’t raised in Islam (Hiding in the Light, Rifqa Bary), confronted by Nazi soldiers (The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom), or born with a severe disability (Life Without Limits, Nic Vujicic). By reading others’ unique stories, I gain an insight into my own that I wouldn’t have had without their perspectives.

I have been given so much–and I forget to appreciate it.

I used to misunderstand fiction. I read in a biography (back when I was still reading the first time) about a missionary who disdained fiction because she didn’t want to tell children in her charge anything untrue. That resonated with me, and I held it as my unofficial position for years.

But do we really want to do away with stories? No more movies or those read-alouds I loved growing up? What about The Chronicles of Narnia?

There is power in stories. Good stories show us beauty and specialness in life, and bring us to a deeper understanding of ourselves by watching characters we love.

Again, fiction is powerful, and it can be negative just as easily as positive. Even easier, probably. I think we need more discernment in fiction books over nonfiction due to their power and the freedom authors have in creating their fictional worlds. But with that said, I have come back to loving stories again—both true and untrue. And one of these days I’m going to attempt LOTR.

So there you go. We are busy. We have much to do, and reading can be hard to fit into already overflowing schedules. But there’s one more thing I’ve learned about that.

Time can be found and redeemed.

We may be surprised how much time we spend doing not really anything at all, and reading can give greater return for that time than scrolling Facebook or even catching up on the headlines (really, there is some news that just doesn’t even deserve to be reported). How often are you simply waiting? Maybe you ride public transportation or rock kids to sleep or have a job with lots of “free” down time. Any time you find yourself on social media can typically be turned into time with books, especially through the new e-reader availability.

Reading isn’t everything. But as we choose our books tastefully and spend our time on it wisely, may we find greater returns than we ever expected.