Costly Grace by Rob Schenck–Book Review

Rob Schneck has the gift of leadership.  Growing up in the 70’s he converted from nominal Judaism to evangelical Christianity.  His faith journey took him through a variety of roles:  van driver and lay preacher at a shelter for heroin addicts;  Assembly of God pastor; activist in the anti-abortion movement;  supporter and leader of the religious right; minister to a number of top government officials and now founding president of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute.

Rob’s memoir is an honest account of one man’s struggle to fulfill his God-given calling.  He freely admits his failures (lack of attention to his family, being influenced by pride and prestige, being judgmental, etc.)  I think most Christians who are seeking to grow in faith will identify with Schneck as he wrestles with God, allowing himself to be changed and molded in the process.

Verdict:  I couldn’t put this one down.  It’s a new release so you should be able to borrow or request it from your local library.

 

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It’s Your Choice

“This is what the LORD says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” Jeremiah 6:16

We Lutherans believe that we do not choose salvation;  God chooses us.  However, we can choose how and whether we’re going to progress in our Christian walk.  We can stay at a very basic, elementary level in our understanding and faith;  or we can grow into a greater knowledge and understanding of God’s ways and His will for us.  The way is marked out for us — we have the Holy Scriptures and we have the example of Jesus Christ.  We can study and learn, attend worship regularly and pray;  or we can be content to just coast along.  According to the prophet, Jeremiah, in the verse above, the “good way,”  the way God desires for us will bring rest for our souls.  Too often, though, we refuse to walk in it.  We’re busy.  We want worldly success.  We want to use our free time to amuse ourselves.  This is the easier way, but it doesn’t lead to maturity or bring true peace.

 

The unknown author of Hebrews chides his readers this way:

“For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God.  You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:12-14

The choice is yours —  will it be milk or meat?

 

Group Spiritual Direction

Those who participate in a Via de Cristo retreat weekend are encouraged to continue growing in faith by forming “reunion groups.”  You may be more familiar with the term “accountability” group.  I’ve been a member of small groups like this on and off for over 25 years.

The group I am in right now meets once a month, at our church.  We begin with prayer.  Each member takes a turn talking about how they are doing in the areas of piety (prayer, worship, confession and other spiritual disciplines), study and action … in other words, how are things between me and God?  Practical suggestions and help are sometimes offered by members of the group, but the intent is not to solve problems.  Instead it is a safe place to share burdens, request prayer support and be held accountable.  We each leave the session with a plan to help us persevere and deepen our faith until we next meet.

Over the years, groups change or end, but the friendships made there last forever.  My reunion group sisters have encouraged me and given me the confidence to do things I would never have attempted on my own (for example, this blog). They have been the voice of Christ to me many, many times.

If you’re not in such a group, start one!  It’s really not rocket science.  Just find a couple of Christian friends who truly want to grow in their faith and knowledge of God;  commit to meeting on a regular basis;  share with one another;  pray together– then sit back and see what God can do!  You won’t be disappointed.

Stewardship of My Reading

“All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful.  All things are lawful, but not all things build up.”  1 Corinthians 10:23

Anyone who reads our blog regularly knows that I am an avid reader.  I read all sorts of things:  suspense novels, historical fiction, novels that address ethical questions, legal thrillers, nonfiction books about the brain, mental illness and other medical issues, spiritual autobiographies, books on prayer and other aspects of Christian living, the Bible (of, course) and more.  None of these books are “unlawful” and sometimes I use my reading time to just relax and take my mind off my responsibilities and the stress of everyday life.  Of course, we learn something even when we read books that seem merely escapist — we increase our vocabulary, travel to foreign cultures, grow in understanding people very different from ourselves, etc….I’m sure you could add to the list.  However, it is also true that some books are more edifying than others.

Gracious Uncertainty: Faith in the Second Half of LifeMost of the time I am reading two books at once:  one that is just for fun, and one that builds me up in some way.  I read my serious book for a bit first thing in the morning (when I’m fresher) and the other one throughout the day and before bed. Right now my morning book is called, Gracious Uncertainty: Faith In The Second Half of Life by Jane Sigloh.  In the forward, Jane is described as a “wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, poet, vintner, cook, gardener, and story keeper.”  The book is a serious of short essays, starting with a memory about her spiritual life, many from her childhood and youth.  It has inspired me to look back on my own spiritual journey and consider writing some of those memories down for my children and grandchildren.

I also try to do my Bible study early in the day.  I’ve been reading through the book of Acts (that’s what we’re studying in our Tuesday morning class at church) and parts of 1 Kings (our Sunday School unit this quarter is called ‘Kings and Prophets–we’ve been using material from Concordia Publishing, if anyone is interested).

My point in all this is simply:  if you’re a reader, like I am, be a good steward.  Read to relax, but also try to also spent time with things that are truly worthwhile.  Don’t have much time?  Pick a book like the one I mentioned or a devotional that has short chapters or essays and read one a day.  Read through the gospels in small bites.  Read a Psalm each day.  Then think about what you’ve read.  Write down quotes or verses that strike you.  Talk to others about what you’ve been reading. Build yourself up.

P.S.  The Lutheran Ladies recently signed up to be B&H/Lifeway Bloggers, and review new books.  Look for our book reviews on our blog and B&H Publishing website.  Hopefully our reviews will point you toward some edifying reading!

Learning – About Who We Are

About eighteen years ago my husband, Joe, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and my world dropped out from under me. At the time, I was working and Joe was going to college to get an Associates Degree. I was supporting the family and that wasn’t unusual since my husband could only get jobs that were low paying. I had already done my school time and had gotten my Associates, so it was his turn now. But Joe never completed school. He never worked again. He did live for another sixteen years and I became the touchstone that held the family together. Our boys were 16 and 20 years old and this greatly impacted their world.

When you become a caregiver, everything that you want is set aside. The world revolves around the one that you are caring for. And that’s the way it should be. But in that shoving aside the wants and needs that you have as a person tends to make a person disappear. Hobbies go away because you don’t have time, in fact, just to take small bits of time for yourself is a logistical nightmare.

I managed to go to counseling during that time and I still continue to go. I didn’t want to lose myself but I could feel parts of me drifting away. It’s hard to explain to someone who has never been through a crisis situation. When it’s all done and over, if you didn’t have a good sense of self to begin with, you find that all you’ve gained is gone. You feel like you live in a shell and the person that was in the shell is gone for good. It’s empty and scary.

Fast forward eighteen years through all the surgeries and medical decisions and hardship and tears. I look back now and see all the changes that I had to make to my life, some good, some bad. Decisions I made, some good, some bad. The life I lived, some of it good, some of it bad. The point is this: It’s done, it’s over. I will probably still make good and bad decisions. Bad things will still happen in my life.

The one constant that I had during this time was my faith, it actually got stronger. I learned to lean on Christ, who always gave me strength to go on. Now I’m learning to live again, who I am. I’m not going to be the same person that I was eighteen years ago, and now that I think more about it, I don’t want to be that person again. I’m a new, improved version. Yes, I’m a bit ragged around the edges and I still have my bouts with depression and sadness. I have a goal now. To be the best me I can be.

Being the music person I am, I have to post a song. This song touches me and the tears start flowing when I hear it. It so strikes my heart because this is what it’s about. Coming out of the shell and being the person God wants us to be. Thank you, Danny Gokey, you’ve really hit the mark on this one. What follows is the lyrics and a link to the song:

“Tell Your Heart To Beat Again” by Danny Gokey

You’re shattered
Like you’ve never been before
The life you knew
In a thousand pieces on the floor
And words fall short in times like these
When this world drives you to your knees
You think you’re never gonna get back
To the you that used to be

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Beginning
Just let that word wash over you
It’s alright now
Love’s healing hands have pulled you through
So get back up, take step one
Leave the darkness, feel the sun
Cause your story’s far from over
And your journey’s just begun

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again

Let every heartbreak
And every scar
Be a picture that reminds you
Who has carried you this far
‘Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven’s working
Everything for your good

Tell your heart to beat again
Close your eyes and breathe it in
Let the shadows fall away
Step into the light of grace
Yesterday’s a closing door
You don’t live there anymore
Say goodbye to where you’ve been
And tell your heart to beat again
Your heart to beat again
Beat again

Oh, so tell your heart to beat again

Tell your heart to beat again by Danny Gokey

It Takes Time

There was a recent article in our local newspaper, featuring a couple who had been married 74 years!  Wow, what an accomplishment!  My husband and I have a long way to go to top that (we’re babies at 45 years of wedded bliss).  It made think about how unity grows over time.  Yes, there is probably an instant attraction and feeling of compatibility, but over time two people work together, learn how to complement each other, come to understand one another more and more, until finally the union becomes so complete that it’s hard to imagine life alone.  When my husband is gone for a few days, I start to feel uncomfortable.  My routines are disrupted;  there are things I want to share or ask.  Life just isn’t right.  When he’s teaching Bible Study, I’ll make a comment or ask a question and he’ll say …”You’re jumping ahead….I’m getting to that very topic …in a minute…”  We’ve trained our brains until we think along the same lines.  Of course, we’re don’t always agree.  He supplies the logic, I supply the feelings.  We complement one another, and have come to rely upon the other in areas where we are weak.  We’ve had to adjust who does what chore depending upon both personal preference, and time and job constraints.  We’ve balanced two careers, two children, and two large extended families as well as we could.  It’s been quite an journey and it’s not over yet.

I’m sure everyone won’t agree, but I think our union with Christ and His church grows, too.  There is often an original event — for many of us it is our baptism, but it can be one of those “aha” moments when we realize that God has taken hold of us, and we’re His for good.  Like our marriage, we start to do things together:  we pray, study His word, worship and sing.  We become active in the church, we use our gifts, we serve Him with others.  We learn what we’re good at, and where we need help.  We understand more and more until we can’t imagine life without Jesus and the family of God anymore than we can imagine life without our spouse.  In fact, as much as I love and depend upon my husband, I love and depend upon Jesus even more.  Lutherans call this journey sanctification, and it’s never complete in this life.

So readers, what do you think?  Does unity happen like a clap of thunder, or with a process of continuing cultivation?  Or both?  I’s like to hear your thoughts.

Remembering My Via De Cristo Weekend

As I write this post, a Women’s Lutheran Via de Cristo weekend is beginning.  The retreat starts on Thursday evening and ends on Sunday afternoon.  When you think “retreat” you may imagine lots of free time, reading the Bible and praying alone, maybe communing with nature.  Via de Cristo is not like that!  It is a weekend jam-packed with singing, fellowship, worship, talks by laypeople and clergy on spiritual topics, discussion and (what Lutherans love best of all) plenty of coffee and good food.

The weekend is designed for Christians who want to grow in their faith, and the amazing thing is, everyone experiences it differently.  For many it is a real mountaintop high;  for some a time to cast off burdens; others experience the love and presence of Christ in a special way;  still others find it a time of refreshment and renewal.  On a weekend, you will meet Christ where you are, and receive something special that He has planned just for you.

When I went on my weekend, over 25 years ago, I didn’t hear anything new or startling–but it put all the pieces together for me.  Suddenly I could see my faith journey as a whole and it has been a big help in keeping my focus in the right place.  On my weekend, I made friends, found a way to go closer to the Christian friends I already had at church, and learned to see myself as a leader in the Christian community.  It changed my life.  Not in a lightening flash, but gradually, over time, as the message of the weekend was absorbed and incorporated in my daily life (hmmm…reminds me of the leaven in the bread thought).

So readers, this weekend, please pray for the ladies on retreat, and consider going on a Via de Crist weekend yourself (by the way, you don’t have to be a Lutheran to do this and there are weekends for men as well).  If you would like to learn more, contact the Lutheran ladies for more information, we will be happy to help.

For those authors and readers who have made a weekend, I hope you will post and comment.  And remember, God loves you and so do I!