The Opposite of Certainty by Janine Urbaniak Reid– Book Review

Janine Reid is a self-described control freak — at least until her life begins to spiral out of control. Her son, Mason, is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although it is slow growing, he eventually needs surgery, and then months of rehab learning to talk and walk again. Even after his recovery, he continues to have problems with his short term memory. Later Janine requires cancer surgery of her own — a double mastectomy.

The Opposite of Certainty: Fear, Faith, and Life in Between by [Janine Urbaniak Reid, Anne Lamott]

These devastating health issues have an effect on the rest of the family, putting pressure on Janine’s marriage and relationships with her other two children. She slowly learns to let go of her expectation that she can be a perfect wife and mother, or that by being “good” she can guarantee the safety of her family members.

The book is well written and easy to read. Any parent will sympathize with Janine’s feelings and dilemmas. However, for me, at least, her spiritual struggles seem a bit distant. She sometimes refers to God as a “higher power” (probably because she is the child of an alcoholic) and there are few, if any references to Jesus or the Bible. She does speak about the mystery of God’s ways, and our inability to ever completely understand them — instead we must learn to accept and experience grace whenever it is offered. However, it’s more a book about navigating serious health issues than growing spiritually.

VERDICT: 3 STARS. It will resonate with anyone going through difficult health issues.

For other spiritual memoirs see these posts:

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey–Book Review

Suffer Strong by Katherine & Jay Wolf–Book Review

The Insanity of God by Nik Ripken–Book Review

Where the Light Fell by Philip Yancey–Book Review

I’ve read many books by Philip Yancey, and he is an excellent writer. This one also did not disappoint, but it is a little different. It’s Yancey’s personal memoir of his childhood, youth, and how he came to faith, and after reading it you will understand why so much of his writing is focused on the themes of suffering, pain and grace.

Philip and his brother were raised by their mother after their father died of polio. His parents had hoped to be missionaries, and his mother remained devout. She told her sons that she had “dedicated” them to God, just as Hannah in the Bible gave her child Samuel to the Lord. She wanted them to become missionaries, fulfilling the desire she had been unable to accomplish in her own life. As a consequence, when they failed to measure up to her expectations, she was disappointed and behaved in ways that left them feeling angry and rejected.

Although Philip attended a Bible college, he saw himself as a rebel and outsider. He could not embrace his mother’s extremely legalistic approach to God, and comes close to rejecting Christianity altogether. However, eventually, he has his own conversion experience and comes to know Christ in a whole new way. Even as he rejects his mother’s viewpoint, he tries to understand, forgive, and encourage her to reconcile with his brother.

VERDICT: 4 STARS. It bogged down in places, but overall is a very honest, vulnerable and well-written spiritual autobiography.

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CPR 255.

For more book reviews see

Duty of Delight (the Diaries of Dorothy Day) edited by Robert Ellsberg –Book Review

The Gravity of Joy by Angela Williams Gorrell–Book Review

Forgiving What You Can’t Forget by Lysa Terkeurst–Book Review

Jack by Marilynne Robinson– Book Review

If you’ve already read other books in Robinson’s Gilead series, you’ll find this one fleshes out one of the characters you’ve already met — Jack Ames Boughton, the son and godson of the two ministers in the original novel.  Jack is a prodigal, a petty thief and drinker, who seems unable to extricate himself from a life in which he suffers and causes suffering to others (but isn’t that all of us on some level?).  In this novel, we come to better understand Jack, as he struggles with his demons — are they impulses?  temptations?  irreparable character flaws?  He considers all these possibilities as he engages in an illegal (this is the 1950’s) interracial relationship with Della, a colored teacher.  Although the kind and wise thing seems to be to stop seeing one another, they are drawn together by a mutual attraction neither one can resist.  As Jack explains it,

“… once in a lifetime, maybe, you look at a stranger and you see a soul, a glorious presence out of place in the world.  And if you love God, every choice is made for you  There is no turning away  You’ve seen the mystery– you’ve seen what life is about.”

The two embark on a “marriage” which separates Della from her family, and even further isolates Jack from respectable society.  How will it end?  The novel leaves this unknown.  However, as a minister tells Jack earlier in the story:

“… if the Lord thinks you need punishing, you can trust Him to see to it.  He knows where to find you.  If He’s showing you a little grace in the meantime, He probably won’t mind if you enjoy it.”

In spite of the uncertain outcome, Jack and Della’s story leaves room for grace and hope.

VERDICT:  THREE STARS.  I would read the other books in the series, or at least Gilead first.  Also, be prepared for a style that can seem ponderous as times–the focus is on thoughts and ideas, not action.

For other reviews of Christian fiction see:

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

The Harbinger by Jonathan Cahn–Book Review

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown by Heather B. Moore–Book Review

 

 

 

 

What Is the Church?

I’m currently reading a book on Christian leadership written by Paul Tripp, and I’ll be reviewing it later this month.  However, I came across this quote about the church that I would like to share:

“What is the church?  It’s a chosen gathering of unfinished people, still grappling with the selfishness of sin and the seduction of temptation, living in a fallen world, where there is deception and dysfunction all around.  There is nothing comfortable or easy in this plan.  The church is intended to be messy and chaotic, because this mess is intended to yank us out of our self-sufficiency and self-obsession to become people who really do love God and our neighbors.  God puts broken people next to broken people (including leaders), not so they would be comfortable with one another but so they would function as agents of transformation in the lives on one another.    You simply won’t have joy in being part of this plan unless you find joy in living a lifestyle of self-denial and willing servanthood.”

This makes me realize how often we all have inflated expectations of what church and our fellow members should be like.  But think about the first disciples — James and John were prideful, wanting to sit on the right and left hand of Christ;  Judas betrayed Him;  Peter denied Him;  Thomas doubted.  They were far from perfect.  We’re no different.  It’s easier to criticize than encourage;  to grumble rather than pitch in;  to desire recognition instead of serving humbly.  There is only one solution, only one way a church full of sinners can survive –Grace.  Just like the hymn by Julia Johnston:

“Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within;
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin!”

Be willing to give it, because you have received it.

” For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God”  Ephesians 2:8

For more about the church see these posts:

We (the Laity) Are the Church

The Church Needs You!

The Church: The Bride of Christ

 

An Introduction to John Owen by Crawford Gribben–Book Review

John Owen(1616-1683) is considered one of the leading English Protestant theologians.  He lived through Civil War, regicide, the change from republic to restoration, the Great Fire of London and the plague.  He was prodigious in output writing eighty titles over the course of forty years.  His works spanned a variety of genres including poetry, political commentary, New Testament exegesis and theology.  He endured personal tragedy, losing his first wife and all ten of his children.  Over the course of a tumultuous life, his opinions on issues such as baptism and the nature of church/state relationships evolved and changed considerably.

The author of this book on Owen describes it as a work of “biographical theology.”  Rather than focusing on Owen’s responses to major debates in the Reformed tradition, it highlights the kind of Christian life Owen sought to promote.  Owen was greatly influenced by Henry Scudder’s The Christian’s Daily Walk (1627) one of the best selling Puritan devotionals of the day.  He believed that an emotional and volitional response to the gospel was extremely important and the greatest threat to true faith was a scholastic Calvinism that engaged the mind but not the heart and will.

The book includes a time line, maps, and an introduction about Owen’s life and work.  There are sections on childhood, youth, middle age and death in which Owen’s views of the spiritual formation of each life stage are examined. There is also an appendix with Owen’s Prayers For Children, The Primer (1652). He saw the Christian life as growth in grace.  Every Christian needed to know God, walk with God and understand themselves.

I selected this book because my husband (a pastor) has developed an interest in the Puritans, and frankly I found it tough going.  Although it isn’t long, it is fairly academic and assumes a good bit of knowledge about English history of the time as well as Reformed theology.  It wouldn’t be a good choice for the average layperson.

VERDICT:  3 STARS

For more information or to purchase this book follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/an-introduction-to-john-owen-tpb/

The Lutheran Ladies received a free e-book in exchange for a fair and honest review. . Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR part 255

For more on the Puritans, go to this post:

Beyond Stateliest Marble by Douglas Wilson — Book Review

 

One Thing is Perfectly Clear

In a previous post, I spoke about how there will always be things about the Christian life that are not completely clear.  However, there is one thing that is very clear (at least to Lutherans) — we can’t save ourselves, or even contribute to our salvation by any action or choice that we make on our own.  We are saved by grace alone.  Just in case you didn’t know, this is the reason that many church doors are red.  We are able enter God’s presence, His holy house, only through the blood of Christ.  The red door is a symbol.  Thinking about these things last night led me to remember this hymn, Whiter Than Snow.

Written by a layman, James Nicholson (1828-1876), it is based on this verse from Psalm 51:

    “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7)

Think of it as a musical prayer, and pray it with me this morning.

For another post about this hymn follow the link below:

More on Psalm 51

 

The Answer by Randy Pope — Book Review

I was asked to review this book for our Fanning the Flame team.  Here are my conclusions.

In his book, The Answer, Pastor Randy Pope attacks the question that most concerns all humans – “How can I find lasting satisfaction?”

According to Pastor Pope, the answer can be found by unpacking the meaning of three small words: glory, grace and truth.

The Answer: Putting an End to the Search for Life Satisfaction by [Pope, Randy]

Most people are familiar with the word glory when it refers to either the glory of God, or giving glory to God. However, glory also comes from God and is given to those who are prepared to receive it. The essence of this glory is satisfaction. Humankind was designed with full glory, fell from glory and now searches for glory in all the wrong places. The many objects we pursue (career success, popularity, the right spouse, material possessions, etc.) are counterfeits of the real glory and fail to satisfy. Satisfaction comes only when we begin to recognize and renounce these counterfeit glories and place our hope for satisfaction in God alone. On earth, life remains broken and we can never experience full glory. We can be satisfied with Christ, but we cannot be satisfied with life, in and of itself. In death, this changes. When Christ returns and raises us from the dead, we will experience glorification. This will be so wonderful, that as the apostle Paul writes,

The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to compare to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” Romans 8:18

 Glory becomes real to us through the second word– grace. Grace is the favor ascribed to us by what God has done for us. Pastor Pope calls this, “the great swap.” Jesus took upon Himself the sins of His people, and in exchange, gave them perfect righteousness. This doesn’t mean we will stop sinning, but it does mean that God sees us as forgiven. Many people distort the Gospel, creating a religion of performance. This creates the sense that there is something we need to do. The true Gospel teaches that the work is already done—completed with the death of Christ on the cross.

The final word is truth. We will only experience authentic glory to the degree that we embrace God’s absolute truth. Throughout history, Christians have held the belief that God has chosen to reveal His truth to us through His Word. However, today, most people believe that truth is relative. Only 22% of adults believe in absolute moral truth, and the percentage is even lower for those 36 and under. If truth is relative, and a matter of individual preference, there is no foundation for life, no markers to guide us. This leads to depression and a pattern of thinking that reflects a negative view of ourselves, God and the world. The good news is that when false reason encounters the truth, it doesn’t have a chance. Depression can be countered by “thinking on the truth” of God’s Word.

Pastor Pope concludes:

  1. Glory takes us to Christ
  2. Grace takes us to the Cross
  3. Truth takes us to the Word of God

 I think this book would be an excellent resource to explain the basics of the faith to young people and new believers. Pastor Pope includes many diagrams which would be helpful in a classroom setting.

P.S. You can get this as a Kindle book from Amazon for only $1.99!

GraceFull by Dorena Williamson — Book Review

This is the third in a series of books for children authored by Dorena Williamson.  Like its  predecessors, ColorFull  and ThoughtFull, it has bright illustrations and a solid Christian message.

Hope and her family (who attend an ethnically diverse congregation) volunteer to serve the residents of Chen House, a local residence for homeless families.  Hope’s mother explains that this is a way to show God’s grace to others.  She explains:

“God showers blessings on all of us.  When we truly understand that, we can’t help but share grace and lift others up. … When grace is full and overflowing, we are graceFull. “

Hope takes the lesson to heart and shares by giving her new friend Anna Habib, from Chen House, her new pair of rain boots.  The Habibs are eventually able to move into their own home.

GraceFull

Grace is a difficult concept to explain to young children, and Gracefull does not really attempt to define it,  Instead it presents a portrait of how grace can be shown in daily life.  A suggested memory verse, further Bible reading and thought questions are included at the end of the story.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as the first two, because the illustrations were not as engaging , and I found the story line predictable and unexceptional.  However, I give it 4 out of 5 stars.  It would be a worthwhile addition to a nursery library.

For more information or to order this book follow the link below:

https://www.bhpublishinggroup.com/products/gracefull/

I have a free copy of this book in return for an honest and fair review – Disclaimer pursuant to FTC 16 CFR Part 255

More Grace

I receive morning devotionals every morning from several sources.  One is from a pastor that I’ve known for years and he is the one that married my husband and I, and baptized both of our children.  I enjoy hearing from him every day.

The thought for today included this:

There is an infinite depth in our Lord that can never be exhausted. The excitement continues as the Lord draws us closer to Himself. Continue to read, think, and pray. There is always more grace, truth, and real excitement in walking day by day with Jesus Christ.

Wow, just wow.  This really hit me.  We cannot run out of His Grace, we can always receive more.  There is no “getting there”, we are always moving closer to our Lord.

As usual with me, when I think of things like this, a song came to mind.  Enjoy.

Extravagant Stewardship

Image result for images of she has done a beautiful thing for me“She has done a beautiful thing to me.  For you will always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them.  But you will not always have me.” Mark 14:7

In this passage of Scripture, an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with the costly ointment called nard.  Many of the people around him complain, finding this to be a waste of money.  After all, couldn’t the nard have been sold and the money given to those in real need?  Jesus rebukes them.  Evidently a grand gesture is sometimes appropriate.  Sometimes we’re called to give a gift simply to show our love for a particular person.  A gift like this is pure grace.

It doesn’t need to be monetary — it might be the gift of forgiving a friend or relative for a great wrong;  it might be giving time to take over a task that is burdening a neighbor;  it might be an act of kindness to a complete stranger.  The point is it’s good to sometimes give what’s unexpected, and  even unnecessary.  After all, doesn’t God give us gifts like this every day?  Don’t we get not just the things we need, but things that make life beautiful, interesting and fun?  God’s grace rains down on us, and we should spread that love and grace around!

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of Gods’ varied grace …” 1 Peter 4:10

What are some gifts of grace you’ve received?  I’d love to hear those stories.