To Love and Be Loved by Jim Towey–Book Review

Subtitled A Personal Portrait of Mother Teresa, this book is also the story of Jim Towey’s own spiritual journey. Towey met Mother Teresa in the 1980’s when he was working as a congressional staff member and a lawyer. Through her influence, he began volunteer at the Missionaries of Charity soup kitchen in Washington D.C. Over the years, he traveled with Mother Teresa, arranged meetings with politicians and donors, and provided pro bono legal work for her organization. Through his volunteer work as the Missionaries of Charity AIDS home, he met his future wife, Mary. The entire family considered Mother a family friend and trusted spiritual mentor.

When he first met Mother Teresa in the 1980’s Towey says:

“Nearly all my activities were dedicated to my professional and social advancement–those not dedicated to my own pleasure, of course…I looked around the chapel and saw people my age …who had come to India to serve others… and there I was, seated among them as a spectator. I was the gatherer incarnate.”

By the time Mother dies in 1997, he has changed:

“… I have become a better person, a better Christian, a better version of myself. I am a giver, not a gatherer,”

His association with Mother shaped his spiritual life in a profound way.

This book is, indeed, a personal glimpse of Teresa of Calcutta, not as a saint, but as a very human friend and mentor–something we can all aspire to be.

VERDICT: 5 STARS. An inspiring and enjoyable read!

For more spiritual autobiographies see these posts:

The Great Good Thing by Andrew Klavan — Book Review

In My Grandmother’s House by Yolanda Pierce–Book Review

Fish Out of Water by Eric Metaxas–Book Review

Life Together in Christ by Ruth Haley Barton–Book Review

Life Together in Christ provides a model for studying and experiencing community in a small group setting. Using the story of the Emmaus road as her format, author Ruth Barton leads her readers through 9 topics designed to further spiritual transformation. They are:

  1. Choosing to walk together
  2. Welcoming the stranger
  3. Choosing to listen
  4. Gathering on the basis of shared desire
  5. Men and Women in community
  6. The Spiritual journey
  7. Finding our story in His story
  8. Discerning the presence of Christ
  9. Being a witness

Sprinkled throughout are questions for personal reflection (good for journaling!) and at the end of each chapter are more questions and a prayer for group sharing. There are two appendices at the end which delve further into spiritual growth, community and the practice of stability. The author often relies on quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s well-known work, Life Together, to illustrate her points, so if you’re interested in Christian community, this is another well-respected book to read on that topic.

Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community (Transforming Resources) by [Ruth Haley Barton]

If you’re in a small group, or starting a small group, this would be an interesting choice to use. I agreed with most of what the author had to say, with the exception of her objection to single sex groups. There are certainly times and instances (in my opinion) when same sex groups are appropriate.


For other books that could be used in your small group see:

Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren–Book Review

When Words Matter Most by Cheryl Marshall & Caroline Newheiser–Book Review

Dangerous Surrender by Kay Warren–Book Review

What is a Church?

,My husband, who is our pastor, wrote this article for a recent church newsletter, and I thought it was worthy of sharing.

What is a church, or specifically a congregation? Have you ever thought seriously about this?

Well, the first thing we say, of course, is that it is a gathering of the people of God in a certain place. People may gather at schools or work places or gyms, or ball games, but none of these places can be a congregation because they lack the one defining requirement, the people gathered there must be people who follow Jesus.

Now we have to admit that not all people who have their names on the roll of a congregation are people of God. As the Lord points out in the parable of the wheat and the tares, some are not who they seem to be. They are not really part of the true congregation. At least, not yet.

As the people of God gathered together, a true living congregation seeks always to grow in grace and faith in the Messiah. I don’t care how big your gathering or what the name plate on the door says, a living congregation must be a spiritually growing congregation. No one achieves full sanctification in this life, but those who truly confess Jesus as their Lord strive to attain that goal.

A living congregation has living Christians at the core. And living Christians are those who grow in their faith lives through ever increasing understanding of what it means to confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord.

Congregations where there is no faith growth or signs of life are dead gatherings and the Holy Spirit is not at work among them.

Dead gatherings might survive for a time, but they will eventually fail, for if the Lord doesn’t bless those who call on His name there is no hope.

So the question for St. Paul’s, and for all congregations is this — will you be living or will you be dead?

Charles Stanley on Bearing Adversity

” Adversity is not simply a tool. It is God’s most effective tool for the advancement of our spiritual lives. The circumstances and events that we see as setbacks are oftentimes the very things that launch us into periods of intense spiritual growth. Once we begin to understand this, and accept it as a spiritual fact of life, adversity becomes easier to bear” Charles Stanley

For more quotes by Charles Stanley see:

:A Quote About Spiritual Gift

Free to the Max

Discernment by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen and Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review

This book is the third and final volume of Nouwen’s posthumous spiritual trilogy. I have already reviewed the first two, Spiritual Direction by Henri Nouwen with Michael J. Christensen & Rebecca J. Laird–Book Review and Spiritual Formation by Henri Nouwen–Book Review. It is concerned with reading the signs of God in everyday life through books, nature, people and events.

To Nouwen, discernment is both a spiritual gift, and a practice. He says:

Discernment is a spiritual understanding and an experiential knowledge of how God is active in daily life. Discernment is faithful living and listening to God’s love and direction so that we can fulfill our individual calling and shared mission.”

Nouwen does not give pat answers, but guides the reader through the process of discerning vocation, presence, identity and time. Throughout he uses both biblical texts and examples from his own life as illustrations. At the end of each chapter there are questions that could be used for journaling or group discussion.

Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life

At the end there are several appendices with essays by Nouwen that delve even deeper into the topics of discernment and spiritual friendship.

Nouwen is a Catholic, and I did have a few theological issues with this work. However, for the most part, I found it both engaging and helpful.


For more about Henri Nouwen see:

Henri Nouwen on the Blessing of Poverty

Henri Nouwen on Traveling

Are You a Spiritual Person?

What makes a person spiritual?  Too often these days “spirituality” is associated with New Age or Eastern beliefs, and some even insist that “I am spiritual, but not religious.”  For Christians the true meaning of spirituality is inexorably linked to the Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers.  In our most recent class on the Holy Spirit we learned how the Spirit works in the lives of individual Christians.  The Spirit convicts us of our sin, brings us into fellowship with God and others, and works through our sanctification to make us more Christlike.

According to the Bible, there are three types of people:

  1. The natural person — this is how we are born
  2. “People of the flesh”– people who know Christ, but are still living as spiritual infants
  3. Spiritual people– those who are led by the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:11-12); who are spiritually minded

Every believer receives spiritual gifts for the building up of the church (1 Peter  4:10-11) as well as spiritual blessings (Ephesians 1:3).  Believers are meant to be spiritual stones, built into a spiritual house where they dedicate their lives fully to God. (1 Peter 2:5).

Herbert Lockyer, (1886–1984) a minister and best-selling author of more than 50 books, lists these characteristics that identify a truly spiritual person:

  • They are misunderstood by most people
  • They show signs of development in their faith life (spiritual growth)
  • They accept the truth of Scripture
  • They are discerning, able to correctly understand spiritual truth
  • They are compassionate, putting their faith into action
  • They live a life that is confident in the knowledge of victory in Christ

Take a close look and evaluate yourself.  Are you a spiritual person?

For more about spirituality see these posts:

Streams of Living Water by Richard J. Foster–Book Review

Developing Spiritual Habits

What Damages our Spiritual Life? (according to Hannah Whitall Smith)




The Other Half of Church by Jim Wilder & Michel Hendricks–Book Review

Is something missing in your journey toward spiritual maturity?  According to the authors, it could be because the usual discipleship model is only utilizing half of your brain — namely the left half.  Left brain discipleship focuses on beliefs, doctrines, willpower and spiritual disciplines.  The idea is that if we understand the truth and think correctly, we will make wiser choices and grow spiritually.  Although this is certainly part of the equation, it ignores right brain skills such as loving attachments, joy, emotional development and identity.  Often the result is Christians who know what is right, but often don’t behave that way.

The remedy, according to Wilder and Hendricks is to practice and improve the “neglected soil” that most of us are growing in.  By adding joy, relational attachments, and a healthy group identity to our Christian communities, they will be able to correct members in a way that leads to growth in Christlike character.

There are group discussion questions at the end of each chapter, which would make this book a good choice for a small group to study together.  At the end are a number of appendices including:

  • Soil Assessment Questions (for evaluating your group or church)
  • Joy on Demand Exercises (to help reset your default emotional state)
  • Pseudo-Joy Checklist (things you may be substituting for true joy)
  • Enemy Mode Checklist (to identify how your “relational circuits” are working}
  • Maturity Stages (a list of the needs and tasks of each maturity level)

This book appealed to me because I’m very interested in brain science.  It’s definitely food for thought.  Are we putting the cart before the horse in training disciples?  Should we be working on the culture and climate of our communities at least as hard as we work at educating our members?  The answer is probably yes.  The difficulty will be in persuading Christians to change old habits and ways of pursuing spiritual growth.

VERDICT:  4 Stars.  I liked it and would enjoy reading more about this topic.

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

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.


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:


Do This Every Day

Edward Meyrick Goulburn (1818-1897) was an English churchman and writer.  He offers some good advice for all of us in the quote below:

“As, on rising we should hear Him saying to us ‘Take this yoke upon thee, my child to-day,’ ‘Bear this burden for me and with me to-day,’ so before retiring to rest, and collecting our mind for our evening prayer, it were well to put these questions to our conscience, ‘Have I, in a single instance this day denied myself either in temper or appetite, and so submitted myself to the Saviour’s yoke?’  And again, “Have I, in a single instance, shown sympathy or considerateness for others, borne with their faults or infirmities of character, given time or take trouble to help them, or be of use to them?’  If so, I have gained ground;  I have made an advance in the mind of Christ to-day, if it be only a single step.  Let me thank God and take courage.  A single step is so much clear gain.”

Love Or Charity?

I came across this quote I wrote down in my journal a while back.  It’s from The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry:

“Spiritual growth is a lifelong process of loving God more and loving people more.”

I think sometimes we forget that spiritual growth, like everything in the Christian life, is not all about us.  It’s about us and others.  Here’s where the charity part comes in.  In various versions of the Bible, the Greek word agape is translated sometimes as “love” and others as “charity.”  I think charity is actually a better choice.  For most of us today, love is a feeling.  It changes.  We may love something or someone one day, and take an aversion to it later.  Love is focused on us.  Charity, on the other hand is defined as kindness and tolerance in dealing with others.  Even if we don’t have that warm, fuzzy, “love”  feeling, we can behave charitably toward those around us.  That means trying to understand them, seeing their point of view, controlling our tongue, thinking the best of them.

The famous “love” verses in 1 Corinthians 13 have a lot to say about attitudes and actions, rather than feelings.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

So, test your spiritual growth.  Are you behaving more and more like this?  Are you loving and charitable to others? Are your decisions and actions leading you into a better relationship with God and with those around you? Do you understand the true meaning of agape? Or are you following momentary feelings?

True agape love expresses itself through charity.  This is the love that will remain and will enable us to see through the eyes of Christ — clearly!