The Seven Whispers by Christina Baldwin–Book Review

My theme this month is teaching, and in my life, books have often been teachers. There is the Bible, of course, but also the spiritual experiences and insights of others. In this short but moving book, Christina Baldwin explores the spiritual practices that have become meaningful to her after years of listening to the Divine. They are:

  1. Maintain peace of mind
  2. Move at the peace of guidance
  3. Practice certainty of purpose
  4. Surrender to surprise
  5. Ask for what you need and offer what you can
  6. Love the folks in front of you
  7. Return to the world

This book is for anyone who is struggling with a busy life when the really important things often disappear in our preoccupation with doing what seems expedient. It’s about taking time to listen and to discover who we really are. It’s about finding a purpose in life and pursuing that purpose with our heart as well as our mind.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. I loved this book. There was much food for thought and ideas for journaling. However, be advised that the author speaks of her beliefs and practices as spiritual, not specifically Christian, so you may have to filter her suggestions through your own theological lens.

For another book by Christina Baldwin see:

Life’s Companion by Christina Baldwin–Book Review

For more books about spiritual disciplines see:

Spiritual Discipline For a Spiritual Life by Donald S. Witney –FTF Book Review

Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review

Shades of Light by Sharon Garlough Brown–Book Review

If you enjoyed Garlough’s Sensible Shoes series, you’ll love this book also.  It centers around Wren Crawford, a young woman suffering from anxiety, depression and panic attacks.  She lives in Kingsbury, about ten years after the events of Sensible Shoes.  You will once again meet Hannah, Mara, and Charissa and get some updates on their lives.  You will also learn the back story of their spiritual director, Katherine, who turns out to be Wren’s Aunt Kit.

If you or a loved one has suffered from mental illness, you will be able to emphasize with Wren and her family.  This is another story about surrendering to God — surrendering when life spirals out of control, or when we feel helpless to change the suffering and anguish experienced by someone else’s pain. How do we come alongside, yet still establish boundaries?  It’s also about unanswered questions and how to go forward in our lives when difficult circumstances lack closure.

Wren’s story is interwoven with excerpts from the letters, art and life of the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, as well as the biblical concept of Jesus as “the man of sorrows.”  It introduces the spiritual practice of visio divina –inviting God to speak to our heart as we contemplate an image.

I was disappointed that this book did not include any specific spiritual exercises or a study guide at the end.  There is a list of recommended resources with organizations that can help with mental illness as well as books on suicide, grief, the art of Vincent van Gogh and spiritual formation.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  This book spoke to me on so may levels.  I highly recommend it.

If you haven’t read the other books by Sharon Garlough Brown see these reviews:

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

 

 

 

Two Steps Forward by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

This book is the second in the Sensible Shoes (Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review ) by author Sharon Garlough Brown.  It continues the spiritual journeys of four friends who meet on a retreat — Hannah (single pastor on a long sabbatical), Charissa (perfectionist graduate student), Mara (mother of three boys in a difficult marriage) and Meg (widow and empty-nester).

As before, most people will find someone with a story that resonates with their own experiences.  These women fight common spiritual battles with anxiety, a desire to control, grief, difficulties in relationships, envy, and all the normal stresses and changes of daily life.

 

I had reserved this book from the local library, and it took quite a while for it to come in.  I told my reunion group sister that I was sure it would arrive at “the right time” and it did.  The plot takes place around the Christmas season and one of the themes is “making room for Jesus” in the mess and chaos of our lives.  Right before I read this book, I wrote a post on this very idea! ( see Make Room for Jesus).

If you’re in a book club or small group this would be a great read to study together.  There is a companion guide for prayer and conversation at the back.  It would be suitable to do either alone or with others.

VERDICT:  5 STARS.  It was hard to put down!  However, I would recommend reading the books in order, so start with Sensible Shoes.  

For reviews of other works of Christian Fiction see:

Jack by Marilynne Robinson– Book Review

The Beloved Daughter by Alana Terry — Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

 

 

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown — Book Review

I’m not often a fan of Christian fiction, but this book was just delightful.  It’s an easy read, and you’ll soon be caught up in the story of four women:  Hannah, a pastor on sabbatical;  Meg, a widow and empty nester;  Mara, caught in an unhappy marriage, and Charissa, an ambitious and high-achieving graduate student.  They meet during a weekly spiritual retreat and find themselves becoming friends. You’ll probably see a bit of yourself and your own spiritual struggles in each one.

You’ll also learn something about spiritual disciplines, as the author discusses walking the labyrinth, the daily examen, lectio divina, reading the Scripture with imagination, having a rule of life and spiritual direction.  Since I’ve done most of these things in the past, it was a good refresher course.  It brought back many good memories from my own spiritual journey and encouraged me to think deeply about the disciplines I’m currently practicing and what changes I might make.

Each character develops and changes through their interaction with one another and with God.  You’ll find yourself drawn into their lives, and pondering the landmarks of your personal faith journey.  There are discussion questions at the end, making it a good pick for a book club.

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  I’ve already requested the second book in the series from the local library!

For more book reviews of Christian fiction see these posts:

The Beloved Daughter by Alana Terry — Book Review

a long time comin’ by Robin W. Pearson — Book Review

white picket fences by Susan Meissner–Book Review

 

Everyday Faithfulness by Glenna Marshall — Book Review

Think like a farmer.  This is Glenna Marshall’s advice when it comes to persevering in spiritual disciplines.  Just as a farmer must plant the seeds, water, fertilize, weed and wait, our spiritual growth is a slow process.  It requires steady attention even when we’re not seeing or feeling the results.

What is everyday faithfulness?  It’s pretty basic.  Follow Christ through regular Bible reading, prayer and corporate worship.  That’s it.  It’s nothing fancy and complicated.  Nothing that, as Christians, we don’t already know we should be doing.

Why is it important?  Here’s what Glenna has to say:

“I know now that unless we all commit to regular, daily faithfulness to Christ, we’ll be confessing our prayerlessness and dusty Bible covers for years to come ….”

If we aren’t persistent in incorporating spiritual disciplines into our daily routines, we’ll never grow and mature in the faith.

There are nine chapters which explain how to live faithful lives during challenging times.  For example:

  • When it’s difficult to remain disciplined
  • When you’re busy
  • When you’re waiting
  • When you doubt
  • When you’re suffering
  • When your spiritual life feels dry
  • When you sin
  • When you grow old

At the end of each chapter, Ms. Marshall gives a brief description of a woman she has known who exemplifies perseverance in the particular season of life described.  It’s not always easy to find the time, energy or motivation to read the Bible, pray and attend worship and other church activities.  However, the rewards of continuing them even when we don’t feel like it are great.  Once we learn to “think like a farmer” we’ll reap a plentiful harvest of peace and righteousness.

The theology is spot-on.  Ms. Marshall is quick to point out that God not only plants our faith in us, His Holy Spirit encourages and assists us in sanctification.  She also quotes from a number of sources that will encourage further reading on the topic.

VERDICT 5 STARS:  I loved it!

For more on this topic:

Bulls Eye!

Developing Spiritual Habits

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

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

If you would like to purchase this book, follow the link below:

https://www.crossway.org/books/everyday-faithfulness-tpb/

 

Brave Enough by Nicole Unice–Book Review

Are you brave enough to extend and receive grace?  True grace, not fake grace?

Are you brave enough to commit to practicing the spiritual disciplines of worship, study, prayer and fellowship?

Are you brave enough to resolve conflicts and offer forgiveness, even to yourself?

Are you brave enough to discover and use your own spiritual gifts?

Are you brave enough to accept your personal situation and limits?

Are you brave enough to rely on God daily, whatever your circumstances?

Author Nicole Unice leads her readers through these challenges of everyday life as a called woman of God.  Each section ends with a “brave enough pause” with ideas for reflection, prayer or journaling.  There is an appendix listing many Bible verses that will encourage each of us to be “brave enough.”.  The themes include:

  • God’s passion for us
  • God’s power and protection
  • God’s priorities
  • God’s promises
  • God’s provision

VERDICT:  5 Stars.  I enjoyed this book and would love to read it with a group of Christian friends.  The author really challenges women to understand and analyze themselves in the light of the Gospel message.  It was more than informative — it motivates and reminds us that everyone is “brave enough” to do what God asks.

For more on courage see these posts:

Women of Courage: a Forty-Day Devotional — Book Review

Afraid of all the Things by Scarlet Hiltibidal–Book Review

Here on Earth.

 

Sitting is the New Smoking

I’ve taken some health classes at the local senior center recently, and the title of this post seems to be the new mantra.  Evidently it’s been found that it is not only bad to do something clearly destructive to your health (smoking)– it’s just as bad to do nothing to improve it.

Recently it occurred to me that this is just as true of our spiritual life.  Sometimes Christians, especially we older Christians who consider ourselves fairly mature in the faith, start to feel that we have “arrived.”  Now, I don’t mean to imply we think we’re perfect — we know we’re not.  However, we have our particular routine for spiritual health, and we stick to it.  Maybe we go to church, Sunday School or Bible Study.  Maybe we have a quiet time, or read a devotional every day.  Maybe we have certain tasks we do around the church — we’re on the altar guild, or teach a class– and we’re comfortable with all that.  We don’t think we need to try anything new.

WRONG!!  To keep our brain healthy, we need to learn new and complex tasks now and then.  To keep our faith lively, we need to mix it up and step outside our comfort zones.  This is something I learned from our Fanning the Flame process.

I don’t know what that means for you, because I don’t know where you’re “sitting” right now.  I do know you can get up and walk around.  Read some new books and talk to your Pastor or another Christian about the ideas.  Join a small group.  Take a spiritual gift assessment, and try something new that corresponds to your gift mix.  Start following (or even writing) a Christian blog. Try a different way of praying.  Listen to some new music and sing it out loud!  There are a million different ideas out there, so there’s no excuse.  Stop sitting still!

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,  I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:12-14

A Disciplined Life

Many of you know that since May, I have been enrolled in a “Prevent Diabetes” class offered by the Department of Aging at the local Senior Center.  I thought I’d give this a try after lab results that showed my blood sugar levels were rising and I was very close to being classified prediabetic.  I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stick with the class or what results I would see, but having a diabetic sibling, I wanted to avoid the health complications that come with the disease, if I could.

Here’s what has happened.  I’ve lost weight;  my blood pressure (which was not a concern) has gone down;  I’ve added exercise to my routine, and my doctor says she’s very confident that my blood sugar levels will now be much lower!  I feel more energetic, and pleased with what I’ve accomplished.

Much of the work that has gone into these results has been tedious — counting calories, logging exercise minutes.  However, because I was working with a coach and a couple of other people with the same goal, it’s also been fun.  The changes happened bit by bit.  It’s been a process, but along the way, I’ve learned healthier habits.  Those disciplines have paid off, in some ways that are obvious, and others that are unseen.

It strikes me that the same kind of disciplines are needed to have a healthy spiritual life.  Here’s where the small groups we are forming at St. Paul’s come in.  Together we’ll be learning not just Biblical facts, but how to live a Biblical life.  We’ll have someone to coach us during our discussions;  we’ll encourage one another and hold each other accountable;  we’ll gradually develop healthier spiritual habits.  We won’t change overnight, but we will change.  I know it can work because I’ve already seen it happen in my physical body– I can’t wait to see what will happen in our spiritual body, the church, as we journey toward health together.

Workplace, Team, Business Meeting

Our first small group meeting is later this month.  This will be a “practice” round for new facilitators to get their feet wet, and for all of us to start developing our spiritual muscles.  I’ll keep you posted, as things move along.  Friends and readers, we need your prayers!

Spiritual Discipline For a Spiritual Life by Donald S. Witney –FTF Book Review

This book review is excerpted from one done by a Fanning the Flame team member, Ted,  and used with his permission.

The Spiritual Disciplines are those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are both personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  When Christians read and study the Bible on their own, this is a personal spiritual discipline.  Other disciplines are congregational such as fellowship, hearing God’s word preached and participation on the Lord’s Supper.  These are interpersonal spiritual disciplines.  This book is only about personal spiritual disciplines, but the author states that they are not more important than the interpersonal disciplines.

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by [Whitney, Donald S.]Spiritual disciplines are activities, not attitudes.  They are practices, not character qualities or fruits of the spirit.  Disciplines are things you do.  The subject matter of the book is limited to those spiritual disciplines that are biblical, that is to say practices taught or modeled in the Bible.  Without this limitation, some might say that gardening, exercise, or some hobby is a valid spiritual discipline for them.

The following are the more prominent personal spiritual disciplines commended in the Scripture:  Bible intake, prayer, worship, evangelism, service, stewardship, fasting, silence and solitude, journaling and learning.  The purpose of practicing the disciplines is Godliness.  Donald Whitney defines Godliness as both closeness to Christ and conformity to Christ, a conformity that is both inward and outward, a growing conformity to both the heart of Christ and the life of Christ.

The book is certainly worth reading.  It reminds us of our responsibilities as a Christian.  The author validates what he is saying by quoting Scripture.

Fanning the Flame #16 Personal Spiritual Discipline

A few days ago my husband and I listed to a recording about personal spiritual discipline, given by Pastor Lynn Downing at an Embers to a Flame conference.  The sad thing I learned from this CD, is that according to a survey done by the Dobson organization, only 9% of professing Christians acknowledge that they are living their lives from a Christian worldview.  The vast majority of us are more influenced by the culture than by Scripture.

The only way to turn this trend around is to practice personal spiritual disciplines.  Although we in no way “earn” our salvation, it is Biblically reasonable that our growth in grace will be in direct proportion to how we use the disciplines of God’s grace which are available to us. These disciplines are a means (channel or process) through which God leads us into a deeper, richer, more intimate relationship with Him.* Here are the disciplines that Pastor Downing mentions:

  1. Scripture — the Supreme Court of decision making for every Christian
  2. Prayer — the most important subject in practical religion;  we should always respond to Scripture with prayer
  3. Fellowship — A get together where the Lord becomes the topic of our conversation
  4. Church Discipline of two types:  Formative (Discipling) and Corrective (sometimes we need another person to see the way we are living is detrimental to our family and the church)
  5. The Church — teaching, preaching and the sacraments

The big surprise and takeaway — personal spiritual discipline is not personal!  When we put our emphasis on the individual’s personal relationship with Christ, we are missing the point that we relate to our Lord as part of His body.  Many Christians are never told:

  • Salvation is more than individual — it is meant to further the growth of the Church and to demonstrate God’s righteousness for His name’s sake
  • Body (church) welfare trumps personal preference
  • True personal spiritual welfare results from serving the Body (church) in obedience to the Head (Christ)
  • To live exclusively is to compete against the Body (church)

This certainly ties into our theme of Spiritual Gifts.  I have always felt that God calls each of us to a congregation, just as He calls the Pastor.  We’re where we are because we have a gift that is needed in that time and place.  Yes, there may be times and reasons to change churches, but it should never be because of personality conflicts or a seeking after the personal programs that best suit or entertain us.  The big question in our church membership is:  Is this a place where I can work with others to serve God?

*Note to Lutherans:  Pastor Downing (a Presbyterian) categorizes all these things as means of grace;  according to the Lutheran definition there are only two items in this category:  God’s Word and the Sacraments.  This doesn’t mean they aren’t important ways to know and experience God.