It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.
Again this week my friend and pastoral colleague Suzanne Burden has shared in her 30 days of Thanksgiving series something she is thankful for and it is something for which I am also very thankful!
And to express thanksgiving for books she has asked her readers and a few of us on Twitter, to share some favorite quotes from the books we have read. “Well,” I said in reply to her on Twitter, “that may take a while!”
So here are quotes from three books which have stuck with me over the years.
“The minute I found myself in the privacy of the car, a wave of intense emotion came over me. It was like a dam had broken, a flood of pent-up pressure released behind it in the form of sobbing and hysterical crying. Somewhere in the midst of all this, the pain in my chest lifted and there I was – generally a model of rigid self-control and modern accomplishment- crying ugly and repeating over and over again, “It is all true, all of it, it is all true.” In that moment I knew I was not having a heart attack. Instead, despite lifelong skepticism and outright animosity toward traditional religion, without asking or seeking, this skeptical atheist turned churchgoing agnostic had somehow been struck Christian.”
Joan Ball, Flirting With Faith
Biographies and memoirs are popular genres for me in my reading. When I got to know Joan Ball a few years ago through social media, she asked me to read a galley copy of this book. I was moved by what I read. Since then, I was able to read a published copy and this particular segment of her coming to faith, especially the line “…It is all true, all of it, it is all true.,” has stayed with me since I first read it.
First, prayer is, by nature, more than conversation. To limit its concept to dialogue is to allow some of the most important expressions of prayer to escape our notice. Second, our “conversation” may, in practice, be less a dialogue than a monologue that borders on talking at God. Some of our prayers resemble, “a spiritual shopping list, launched heavenward on the wings of pious words.” But God is not, as one author wryly notes, our “cosmic bellhop…” Communication is a two-way street… One of the key things we must consider, then, is how we listen to God.”
Marjorie J. Thompson, Soul Feast
I recently read the newly revised version of this wonderful book on the Christian Spiritual Disciplines and I was again struck by the insights Thompson has on the “two-wayness” of prayer. (The quote is from the first edition and she quotes, John Mogabgab and Richard J. Foster, respectively.) Her thoughts on prayer remind me that I am still learning to pray.
“That’s the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn’t really expect to find it, either.”
Marilynne Robinson Gilead
I think those anticipating the ministry; those who are in seminary; those who are in ministry, need to read Gilead and Home. (I am planning to get Lila as soon as possible.) Robinson has well captured the souls of pastors in these two novels. This quote is representative of these two wonderful and awarding winning novels and how she captures the dynamic of ministry in a wonderfully narrative way.
Thanks Suzanne for the prompt!
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (NIV)
My last two sermons have been based out of some observations in Psalm 86 that I made several years ago as I read through the Psalms and Proverbs. In my sermon on the 16th (this past Sunday) I pointed out Psalm 86:3
Be merciful to me, O Lord,
for I am calling on you constantly
I noted in my sermon that mercy was one of the first qualities Jesus noted to the twelve as noted in Matthew 5:7
God blesses those who are merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
and I pointed out that in the question and answer session which followed Jesus’ telling of the Good Samaritan that mercy was the point He wanted to make with the smug (as I see him) questioner who asked, “Who is my neighbor?”
“Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?” Jesus asked. The man replied, “The one who showed him mercy.” Then Jesus said, “Yes, now go and do the same.”
I am grateful for the mercy of God and that is why the lead off verse in this post from Hebrews 4 is one of my valued scripture verses. When I think of mercy, I think of being passed by two math teachers in back to back school years even though I passed very few tests.
The first time is was out of the sheer goodness… and mercy… of her heart. The second time in a different class and teacher, it was from a “mercy rule” of “all homework submitted keeps you from flunking.”
How often I have I flippantly disregarded God’s grace and mercy through my intentional disobedience and a spiteful spirit. And yet He has continued to show me grace and mercy even though I have not deserved it.
So I am grateful and thankful for God’s mercy. A mercy that is available to all who choose to accept Jesus’ offer of it.
Good afternoon Father
We are not in a good mood this Wednesday!!!!
We are angry…
with our work
with our schools
with our communities
with our families
with our world
We are angry…
because we are tired. We are tired of inaction, we are tired of slogans that are just that, we are tired of all the demands being squeezed out of us at work, in school, at home, even in our places of worship!
We are angry and tired…
because we are afraid. We are afraid of hearing “thank you for your work, your services are no longer needed;” we are afraid of hearing, “what’s wrong with you? Why can’t you do well in math like your sister did;” we are afraid of hearing, “you and your views don’t count because ________;” and as a result we are being discarded and disregarded
We are angry and tired and afraid…
because we have been going and going and going and our batteries are totally discharged.
We fear letting go of something – a volunteer position, a sport, chasing our kids all across the county for a sport they will never play professionally
We fear of being left behind -because we say ‘no’ in order to have some sanity – spiritual, emotional, mental, physical, and relational sanity
So Lord we are angry and tired and afraid…
We cannot keep it together at home, in the community, in the classroom,
We shout, hit, scream, withdraw
we are frayed, we are fraying, and we are getting more frayed in our souls, relationships, and lives
So we yell at you ….DO SOMETHING LORD!
But is even this the right prayer?
Or is it “Lord help us to do something?”
But what is that something Lord…
Is our fear of becoming insignificant because we are not staying up with the times driving us nuts?
My One Word for 2013 was empower.
I am still learning how to empower and to empower others. It is an ongoing practice and necessarily so.
My One Word for 2014 is/was listen.
As with my 2013 word, I am still learning how to listen. It too, is an ongoing and necessary practice.
But I have experienced, not just learned, but experienced a great deal by focusing on listening.
But there have been many moments, deep moments when the willingness of listening…
to my body (too much sugar, Jim; too much carb, Jim: uh Jim, you have a bad tooth (that was a recent one)
to my soul (you’re angry Jim, why?: why Jim are you so envious?; Jim you are too full of yourself, stop it!)
to people in pain – physical and otherwise
to God – “God will make a way, when there seems to be no way”
has been an experience of grace and peace
the peace, the serenity, the hope, the calm which listening has brought has been truly priceless.
In my listening I have
discovered ugly and black places in my heart and soul that the finger of God has been put on causing my ego and pride to scream out and resist until Grace comes in…
discovered the presence of God in a fresh affirming way as the song by Don Moen, God Will Make A Way has lodged in my mind as I have prayed about/for personal and family issues. He IS making a way and I am beginning to see that in some small, yet significant ways, which bring peace to me,
So I will continue to listen (and empower) because these words have been practices that I must continue to practice.
And I will also continue to listen because as I have prayed and reflected on My One Word for 2015 one has clearly been placed front and center in which the practices and of listen and empower are both a result of and embedded in this ancient spiritual practice.
I will write about this new word sometimes next month.
“So many words get lost. They leave the mouth and lose their courage, wandering aimlessly until they are swept into the gutter like dead leaves. On rainy days, you can hear their chorus rushing past: IwasabeautifulgirlPleasedon’tgoItoobelievemybodyismadeofglass-I’veneverlovedanyoneIthinkofmyselfasfunnyForgiveme…
There was a time when it wasn’t uncommon to use a piece of string to guide words that otherwise might falter on the way to their destinations…
When the world grew bigger, and there wasn’t enough string to keep the things people wanted to say from disappearing into the vastness, the telephone was invented.
Sometimes no length of string is long enough to say the thing that needs to be said. In such cases all the string can do, in whatever its form, is conduct a person’s silence.”
Nicole Strauss The History of Love
What comes to mind when you read or hear the phrase Spiritual Disciplines? Grace or legalism? Opportunities for deepening your faith or a checklist for a greater spiritual “performance?” If you read, and I hope that you will, Nathan Foster’s The Making of An Ordinary Saint (Baker Books), you will find that Spiritual Disciplines are for deepening your faith and finding God’s grace coursing through your daily life.
Foster (whose father Richard J. Foster wrote Celebration of Discipline, a classic on the topic of spiritual disciplines) takes us on his own journey of attempting to incorporate the classic spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith: Submission, Fasting, Study, Solitude, Meditation, Confession, Simplicity, Service, Prayer, Guidance, Worship, and Celebration, into his life. The result is a wonderful and honest book about the power of these twelve practices in shaping one’s character so that God can transform it into one which honors and reflects Him. Nathan’s gritty self-honesty, not just about his present attempts at living for God through these disciplines, but also finding redemption of his past as he did so, is one that I identified with.
His thoughts on the importance of application in the chapter on the discipline of study rang true for me at this stage in my life. More knowledge is not the answer (though I agree with Foster when it comes to being a person still learning) but applying what one already knows is often the way grace gets through to us. And his reminder in the chapter on worship about it being a place of making space for God to work resonated with me as it is easy to be preoccupied with worship “performance.”
The Making of An Ordinary Saint is a wonderfully told story about how one person, as he shares both his failures and successes at learning to practice spiritual disciplines in the midst of daily life and not in a retreat center or monastery, makes the idea of practicing them more accessible to us. It is an inspirational and helpful book and one that will offer believers of all ages a guide as they attempt to practice them as well.
I rate The Making of An Ordinary Saint an “outstanding ” read.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher, Baker Books, in exchange for a review of it. I was not required to write a positive review.
I woke up a few months ago to a voice that clearly said, “Jim, you need to be more grateful.”
Where did that come from?
I have no doubt it was the Lord. This does not happen to me very often but when it has the sense I have within me is that it is God speaking to me.
As I processed what I heard, I also began to process what it meant and this caused me to conclude:
I had been so focused on dealing with my shortcomings and my inner life and turning them over to the Lord that I had failed to notice all the good things that were a part of my life.
I was literally with my nose (and soul!) to the grindstone.
Inner work is a key part of one’s faith development and maturity as a Christ follower, but finding things to be grateful for is vital to the feeding my soul as well.
So today, I am grateful for the work of the Holy Spirit to point things out to me that I need to address!
Pastoral colleague and friend Suzanne Burden issued an invitation on Twitter to several of us to join her for Thirty days of Thanksgiving.
I said “I’m in!” and I began to write a post that was to be published Monday. Well, here it is Thursday. Life took center stage.(I refuse to say interrupted because interruptions, in my opinion, are a part of life.)
My 90 year old mother and I spent an afternoon earlier this week at the emergency room to find the source of pain that was keeping her from being able to fully function. A potential problem was found but further diagnostic tests are needed… if she can handle them. That will be addressed next week.
So her situation, as well as that of my family and congregation, have been the focus of my attention for most of this week. But a post this morning on Facebook about thanksgiving reminded me of my ‘yes’ to Suzanne and so I have come back to this draft and updated it. What follows is what I wrote on Monday:
Suzanne’s prompt in her post is:
For what are you most grateful on this day?
Oh for a pastor to answer this question on a Monday morning! :)
Two things come to mind:
I am grateful for the source of all Thanksgiving – the wonderful grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.
In my communion meditation yesterday, I spoke of the value of saying YES to Jesus when it is easy and when it is hard as His YES in the Garden of Gethsemane led to His death and resurrection on our behalf.
I would not be where I am today without God’s great grace and mercy!
I am grateful for my family.
And by family I mean more than my wife of over 31 years and my two sons. Yes I am very grateful for them but there is my 90 year old mom whose faith has helped her through some challenging times in the past 18 months. And there is my extended family – first cousins, second cousins, even third cousins. What a great family I have.
Gratitude seems to be in short supply these days. It is easy to talk about all the wrong things in this world (and there are many) instead of looking for things to be thankful for as one way of dealing with the pain and suffering that is part of life as well.