Spend Yourself

I’ve heard it said that if you want to find out what is really important to a person, take a look at their checkbook.  How do they spend their money?  This is certainly an indicator.  Are you a shop ’til you drop sort of person?  Or do your regular expeditures reflect an attitude of love toward God and your neighbor?

Surrendering to God, however, requires more that writing checks to the church and other worthy causes.  Financial generosity may be your gift, but we are asked to be generous with our time and talents as well.  Read through this verse from the book of Romans:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” Romans 12;1

We are to spend not only our money, but our very selves on God.  This is an acceptable way to worship Him — not with some money dropped in the collection plate, not just for one day a week, but every day, with everything we have and are. Wow!  That’s a difficult commitment to make.  I can hear your thoughts (along with mine) clicking …. uh… but what about my job?  My husband?  The kids?  All of my daily chores?  How do I even begin to spend my life on God?

The answer of course is in the Bible:

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17

As you go about your daily activities, remember God.  Give thanks for your job, your children, your husband and friends, because God has given them to you.  Serve them sacrificially as if you were serving Christ.  Pray as you go about your day.  Ask for help.  Ask for guidance.  Show the love of Jesus to others.  Regard your work as a holy vocation, given to you by God.  Martin Luther once said:

” “God is milking the cows through the vocation of the milkmaid.”

So when it comes to the things of God, don’t just give your money.  Spend yourself.  Surrender.

The Night Lake by Liz Tichenor–Book Review

Liz Tichenor, a young Episcopal priest, lost her infant son to an undetected congenital abnormality when he was only forty days old.  Less than a year before this tragic event, her alcoholic mother committed suicide.  This is the story of her navigation through grief, pain, guilt, and surrender to God, and it is ruthlessly honest.

Your grief may not be the same, and your way of coping may not be the same, but anyone who has lived through the death of loved ones will be able to identify with Liz in her struggle to understand and accept.  She managed through physical activity, the support of friends, meaningful rituals and walking through the church year.  The book ends during Lent and Easter, and Liz is able to connect her suffering with the suffering of Christ and His mother, Mary, who lost her son, too.

You’ll learn a lot about what not to say when talking to grieving friends.  Many well-intentoned responses  — “your child is now an angel in heaven” or “lucky you are young, you can have more children” simply caused Liz more pain and even anger.  There is no pat answer that comforts when a dearly loved family member dies.  The best we can say is, “this is terrible, and I’m here for you.”

One thing that bothered me about the book was the language of Liz and some of her friends.  Yes, I’m a pastor’s wife so I know we are people, too, and sometimes in the heat of the moment we say things that we shouldn’t.  However, to hear a priest use words that are crude and in some cases take God’s name in vain is unacceptable to me, particularly in a book.  This could have been easily edited out.  Am I hopelessly old-fashioned?  Maybe so.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  Other than the occasional bad language, it was a read that captured and kept my attention, and those who are grieving will find it both realistic and hopeful.

Open Hands

Earlier this month I reviewed Laura Story’s book I Give Up (  I Give Up by Laura Story–Book Review ).  Laura is a musician and songwriter, and she mentioned a song she wrote about her surrender to God.  It’s called Open Hands and I think you’ll find it moving.

Laura Story – Open Hands (Lyric Video) ft. Mac Powell – YouTube

For another song by Laura Story see:



The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald G. May –Book Review

What is the dark night of the soul?  According to psychiatrist and spiritual counselor Gerald May it is not necessarily a time of great suffering, and it isn’t synonymous with depression.  The dark night is instead, a time of transisition and liberation from our attachments — a term that might be better understood as addictions, or idols.  The idea of darkness refers to things seeming uclear or obscured.  The spiritual disciplines that have formerly comforted us and been comfortable to us, lack meaning.  We may find that our spiritual life has become dry or unsatisfying.  However, instead of longing to have our old feelings back, we yearn for something different, something more.

Drawing heavily upon the writings of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila, May discusses the differences between meditation and contemplation, and the signs that one is experiencing a dark night.  Both John and Teresa emphasize that the deepest constants of the spiritual life are the same for everyone.  It’s always a process of letting go  attachments, growing freedom to love God and others, and self-knowledge or awareness of our true identity in God.  In relating to this month’s theme, you could say it is surrendering more and more to God. As we mature, we move from self determination to a willingness to be led.

Dark night times come and go.  This is not a once in a lifetime experience.  It may be dramatic, but more often it is quiet and inner.  Gradually hope dawns, things become clearer.  In the midst of feeling things are going terribly wrong, we see that something is going just right.  God is at work, transforming and changing us.

I agreed with most of what the author had to say.  However, at the end of the book he seems to question God’s omnipotence:

“An alternative vision, one that I find repeatedly in contemplative literature, is that instead of God being unloving or arbitrary, God may not be so omnipotent.”

I believe that God is omnipotent (the bible clearly says this) and His plans are good.  However, we often are simply unable to fully understand His purposes or see how they are working out. We must simply trust and surrender.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  If you’re wondering about the dark night of the soul, this book is clear and will certainly help you understand the concept and distinguish it from depression.

For more on the dark night of the soul see:

Flee to the Scripture– A Quote by R.C. Sproul



Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren–Book Review

It may be dangerous for you to read this book.In it Kay Warren (wife of Pastor Rick Warren) tells the story of her conviction that God was calling her to advocate for people around the world affected by HIV-AIDS.  She found herself “deeply disturbed” and “gloriously ruined” as she was challenged to face her own self-centeredness and unfair opinions of others.

Here are some things Kay learned that should disturb anyone living in our country:

“….if you have food in your refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof overhead, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the people in this world!  If you have any money in the bank and some in your wallet and some spare change in a dish somewhere, you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy; …. If you can attend worship services without the fear of harrassment, arrest, torture, or death, you are more blessed than three billion people n the world.”

I was especially convicted by her chapter on “The Kingdom of Me.” Kay describes her reluctance to engage with the problem of HIV.  You will find the sorts of excuses we all make:

  • The problem is just too big
  • I have enough to do
  • The people I will need to associate with may damage my reputation
  • I may have to change

The ugly reality is what stands most in the way of our surrender to God’s plan for us, is simple:  we care more about ourselves than we do about the suffering of others.

Each chapter with a prayer of surrender and some questions to ponder alone or with a reading partner or small group.  There are further resources and more questions for each chapter at the end of the book.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This would be a great read for a small group study.

The Spirit Returns to God

I’ve come to the last chapter of Ecclesiastes and here’s what stands out for me:

“Remember also your Creator …. before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” Ecclesiastes 12:1a, 6-7

Many will find this morbid, but it’s comforting to me.  When life is over — and it will be, because the fatality rate is 100%–my spirit will return to the One who created me.  The One who is good and merciful, the One who loved me before I was born.  I’m reminded of the high priestly prayer of Jesus when He says this:

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23

All believers, at death will be given that oneness with God for which we have been yearning.  The writer of Ecclesiastes knew that something was missing from this life; in the end, nothing could not satisfy him.  All the things he chased after and achieved were meaningless.  They were idols.  The only thing that truly mattered was his relationship with God.  Chase after that, and in the end you’ll be content, resting in the arms of the Father who made you.

For more on the book of Ecclesiastes see:

A Time to Die

Another Blast from the Past

How Do You Hope to Die?



I Give Up by Laura Story–Book Review

Laura Story knows about surrendering to God.  Not long after they were married, her husband required surgery for a brain tumor, which left him alive, but with disabilities.  After experiencing the pain of infertility, she eventually gave birth to four children, including a pair of twins.  Her youngest son was born with a cleft palate.  Life took lots of twists and turns she didn’t expect.  Most of us may not have the same surprises, but we are sure to have some, and Laura’s book gives good advice on how to handle them.

She addresses a number of good questions including:

  • To whom do I surrender?
  • How do I surrender?
  • What happens when I surrender?

At the end of each chapter is a “white flag prayer” readers can use to speak to God about their own need to let go.

Laura’s story is full of important spiritual insights.  Here are just a few that struck me:

  • Receiving one thing new always requires letting go of something else
  • Surrender ia an ongoing process … a committment to a life style
  • When we surrender control of our lives to God, we’re choosing belief over doubt, belief over fear, belief over worry, confusion and despair
  • Marriage (and other close relationships) are great schools for practicing surrender
  • Surrender = worship

If you read her book, you can make a list of your own.

If you’re interested in music, you may know that Laura is also a talented songwriter and plays the bass.  Probably her most well known is the song, “Blessings.”  If you would like to listen to it, follow the link below:


At Eternity’s Gate by Kathleen Powers Erickson — Book Review

I checked this book out of the library because it was mentioned in a novel I enjoyed (Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review).  The author, Kathleen Powers Erickson, who holds a degree in the history of Christianity, takes exception to some of the widely held beliefs about Vincent van Gogh, and she presents a strong case for her opinions.

First she goes into considerable detail about the early religious training van Gogh imbibed from his father and uncle who were pastors.  If you’re a church history buff, you’ll enjoy this chapter.  They were not Calvinists, but adhered to Groningen theology which was Arminian.  (If you don’t know these terms, you’ll get an education about them!).

Vincent tried to follow his relatives into the ministry, and for a time was supported in his efforts as a missionary to Belgan miners by an ecumenical Protestant organization.  After a few years his position was not renewed because he “lacked persuasiveness in the pulpit.”  At this point he did become disillusioned with the institutional church, as well as his father and uncle.  He considered them hypocritical, as in his view true Christianity was expressed in a life of poverty and self sacrifice.

Despite this, Erickson maintains that van Gogh did not turn away from his faith.  She discusses the traditional religious themes present in many of his works, especially his later paintings.  Other works although not presented in a traditional way, still used color and symbols to represent his beliefs.  He was drawn to both The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Imitation of Christ, seeing Christian life as full of difficulty, but ultimately leading to union with God.  He identified with the suffering of Christ.  She cites excerpts from Vincent’s letters in which he mentions that he is comforted and consoled by the knowledge that he would spend eternity with God.

Erickson also debunks the idea that Vincent was insane, or that he painted many of his most famous works while in a manic state.  She believes (as his doctors originally diagnosed) that he suffered from a type of epilepsy which affected the temporal lobe without causing seizures.  He did not work during these episodes, but worked diligently when he was well.  He also probably suffered periodically from depression, and this is why he committed suicide.

VERDICT:  4 STARS.  This book is a bit academic, and probably not for everyone.  However, if you’re interested in art, van Gogh, or church history, I recommend it.  It is interesting, well researched, and clear enough to understand even if you’re not an expert in the fields presented.

Remember Me by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

Remember Me is the sequel to Sharon Garlough Brown’s novel, Shades of Light (Shades of Light}.  It continues the story of Wren as she struggles to deal with anxiety, depression and grieves over the death of her closest friend, Casey.  Wren is helped in her journey by her Aunt Kit, a spiritual director, who has experienced similar issues in the her own past.  Together, thorough art, letters, and scripture, they walk in the steps of Jesus in the passion story and come to a better understanding of their own grief and mourning.

At the back of this novella, there are eight meditations along with artwork, so that you can move through the journey to the cross on your own.  They are perfect for meditation, prayer, and journaling, and could even be used with a small group. This would be an excellent Lenten discipline to undertake, alone or with a friend!

One idea I especially liked was the idea of writing an obituary to mark a loss in your life.  This might involve death, but there are many other ways we experience loss– a friend moves away, our children grow up and leave home, we lose a job.  It’s important to name and grieve these changes before we move on.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This is a great little book which will help and comfort anyone experiencing grief.  Highly recommended.

For other books by Sharon Garlough Brown see:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

A Book about Surrender

An Extra Mile by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review






Which Will Prosper?

Continuing my lectio divina study of Ecclesiastes, these verses stood out for me in Chapter 11:

“In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not withhold yor hand, for you do not know what will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.”  Ecclesiastes 11:6

In other words, we don’t know how some situation or decision will turn out.  This reminds me an ancient parable:

“A farmer’s horse, his most valuable possesion runs away.  The neighbors, hearing about this, visit his house, saying ‘What bad luck.’  The farmer replies, ‘Maybe.’


A few days later, the horse returns, bringing a herd of wild horses with him.  The neighbors again visit, saying ‘What good luck.’  The farmer replies, ‘Maybe.’


The farmer’s son breaks his leg while attempting to tame the wild horses.  He becomes quite ill with an infection.  The neighbors say ‘What bad luck.’  The farmer replies, ‘Maybe.’


At the same time, a war is going on.  The local warlord comes to the farmer’s house to conscript his son.  When he finds him feverish, delerious and useless, he leaves him there.  The neighbors once again say, ‘What good luck.’  The farmer replies, ‘Maybe.'”

What looks bad today may work out for the best — what looks wonderful can have unexpected and unfortunate consequences.  We’ve all experienced this.  We lose a job, and end up in a new position we like so much more.  We move to a new house in a beautiful subdivision, only to realize how much we miss our old neighborhood and friends.  Our favorite candidate wins the election, then reneges on all those promises he made.  We get a deadly disease — which causes us to grow closer to God.  You get the idea.

The solution?  Make the best decision you can and then surrender it to God. Detach yourself from expectations. Trust that He’s working it all out for good.  The writer of Ecclesiastes goes on to say:

“… you do not know the work of God who makes everything.”  Ecclesiastes 11:5b

So surrender, and leave the results to God.  It’s the way to peace.

For more on the book of Ecclesiastes see:

Another Blast from the Past

The Good Old Days?

Ecclesiastes Chapter 3–What Stands Out