From the Bookshelf


06.21.2017

From the Bedside Stack: Summer Reading Picks

My bedside table always has a stack of books by a fairly diverse collection of authors.

P.G. Wodehouse (think Downton Abbey, only funnier and more redemptive), C.S. Lewis (just finished Prince Caspian, again), and John Grisham (always a fun beach read, plus he’s a U.Va. fan) have all been in the mix this summer.

You might notice, based on the photo, that one of my own books is there, too. I keep a copy of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children close at hand since, quite honestly, I need it. I might not re-read all the stories, but if one of my kids needs something like wisdom, protection, or even a sense of purpose or direction in life, I love having a collection of prayer verses at the ready. I’ll never forget the night, years ago, when a teenaged Virginia burst into our bedroom and, seeing me sitting up in bed with my book, stopped short. “You are reading your own book?” she asked. “Oh Mom. That is just so sad.”

(What is NOT so sad is that, from now until June 30, you can download the digital version of Praying the Scriptures for Your Children for just 99 cents. Click here to order…and please pass the word!)

Another book I am LOVING was a gift from my eloquent friend, Michelle:

“Shakespeare,” author Mark Forsyth begins, “was not a genius.” He was a great writer who “started out badly” and only got better because he “learnt techniques and tricks.” The Elements of Eloquence is full of such tricks, all artfully articulated (which would be an example, of course, of alliteration). Whether you’re looking to snag a Pulitzer or just step up your thank you note game, this book is a winner.

And finally, I am finding myself longing for more of the Holy Spirit. Happily for me, the gals in our church are doing a summer study on Catherine Marshall’s The Helperan oldie-and-goodie that covers who the Holy Spirit is, what he does, and a whole lot more in 40 bite-sized readings.

Not only that, but I’ve recently discovered a two-book series about the Holy Spirit by Susan Rohrer. Voted “Most Sensible” in high school (a designation she considered an indictment, rather than a compliment), Susan hardly seems the type to delve into things like supernatural gifts. But she does so – with exquisite grace and with a relentless attachment to Scripture, whether she’s talking about “out there” stuff like gifts of healing and prophecy, or the more socially acceptable graces (things like teaching, encouragement, hospitality, and even exceptional creative or technical abilities).

I realize that the Holy Spirit (and particularly his activity in contemporary times) can be a touchy subject in some churches. And I also know (because I’ve seen it happen) that his gifts can be misunderstood or misused. But The Bible in One Year reading plan has us in Acts right now, and when I read Acts 13:52 this week (And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit), I was like, “Yeah. I want THAT.”

If you do, too, check out The Helper or Susan’s books.

And if that’s not where you are (or where you want to go), then just stick with Mark Forsyth. Because, as far as I know, literary tricks like anadiplosis (which I may blog about next week, so start getting excited!!) have never sparked any controversies.

Happy reading!


From the Bookshelf


01.10.2017

Lists to Love By

Okay so maybe you haven’t even started the Rick Warren Bible Study book I told you about last month, but if you are married, I’ve got something else you just HAVE to read. Seriously. (And besides. The College FBS Bowl Games are over and season 2 of The Crown doesn’t come out until sometime next fall, so what else are you gonna do?)

Get a jump on Valentine’s Day and check out Mark and Susan Merrill’s brand new books, Lists to Love By.

img_9016

There’s a volume for “Busy Husbands” and another one for “Busy Wives.” I love them both.

Why?

For starters, Mark and Susan are refreshingly honest. Susan is a high-energy, creative, can-do gal who figured that the “game” of marriage would be easy. “I thought the hard part would be finding a husband,” she confesses, “not living happily ever after.” And Mark (a highly organized, very disciplined guy) admits that he had his own expectations dashed, early on. He thought that most of the bumps that came along in their marriage could be solved if only Susan would “think and act more like me.” Right.

They also know their stuff. Mark and Susan have spent the past 20 years delivering books and radio shows and blogs and podcasts all designed to help people love their families well. They have research and experience and things like Google Analytics coming out of their ears, and they know what works. And what doesn’t.

And finally, Mark and Susan make it all very do-able. Each book offers 30 lists, along with step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Couples are challenged to examine their expectations about marriage (see above), evaluate how they are doing (you’ll find handy quizzes and thought-provoking questions), and make improvements that will lead to a more intimate and fulfilling relationship.

I’ve been thumbing through the lists in my book, trying to pick one or two to share with you. Trouble is, I like almost all of them. Even the ones that make me squirm, like LIST 8, which lets me know (point #3) that my man “desires conciseness.”

(Which I understand, except when I think that what I have to say is fascinating.)

(Which is often.)

LIST 18: 7 Things You Should Stop Doing to Your Husband in Public.

LIST 26: 10 Questions to Ask Your Husband Every Year.

LIST 21: 8 Creative Ways to Flirt with Your Husband.

LIST 10: 8 Keys to Understanding What Your Husband is Really Saying. Because we all need a good translator, now and then. And pity the guys, who have a harder time. Their version of this list includes NINE Keys to Understanding what Your Wife is Really Saying. Like, “What are you doing today?” means I’ve got some things that I want you to do today.

(To which I would say, “Duh.” And Robbie would say, “Ahhh. Good to know.”)

And here’s the thing about lists. When I used to write financial planning books (which Robbie still considers a Red Sea-style miracle), I learned that simply tracking expenses (which is the first step in establishing a workable budget) actually makes people spend less. In other words, just listing stuff – just thinking about your spending habits – can make a positive difference.

I can’t help but believe it’s the same thing with marriage. Just thinking about things like misplaced expectations, or areas for improvement, can’t help but make things better. And with pros like Mark and Susan in your corner, offering tips without judgment (“Take small bites,” they advise), you start to feel like a better marriage – a good marriage, one that you like – really is possible.

My goal is to conquer all 30 lists in the book, but you know what? If I can nail even just one of them, it will be a win. We’ll have a better marriage than we did yesterday. And, encouraged by that success, I will be motivated to keep going.

And so will Robbie.

Or at least, that’s the plan. I haven’t yet given him his book of lists. But I am about to.

(But not while pursing my lips.)

(Because LIST 24: 5 Ways to Use Body Language to Connect.)

xoxo

img_9012

 


From the Bookshelf


12.29.2016

Something you want, something you need…

Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.

When I heard this little nugget of Christmas gift-giving wisdom from my friend Natalie (her mother-in-law likes to hit all four categories), I liked it. And I decided to use it as a bar against which I could measure the stocking stuffers I’d found for the men in my life.

Something you want? Golf balls and surf wax. Check.

Something you need? Razors and (because airport security has all of ours) pocket knives. Check.

Something to wear? Socks and boxer shorts. Because Christmas. Check.

Something to read? The Surfer’s Journal. And (because I am trying to drum up family interest in a visit to the Holy Land) a magazine featuring the spectacular vineyards of Israel. Check and check.

Having covered all the key bases, I was ready for Christmas morning. Still, though, something was missing. I hadn’t yet found the perfect “one-size-fits-all” gift, the annual follow-up to presents like The Posture Brace of 2013 (which was advertised as being “virtually invisible” under clothing but wasn’t, but which, looking back, had the unexpected upside of checking two boxes, since it was both something you wear and something you need).

I gave it some thought. And some prayer. And I finally came up with what I thought was a terrific gift idea:

img_8784

Rick Warren’s Bible Study MethodsRick Warren (the guy who gave us The Purpose Driven Life) knows that Bible study can be tricky. We don’t do it, he says, because we don’t really know how (nobody ever taught us), we’re not motivated (we haven’t yet experienced the joy of discovery), or maybe because we are just plain lazy (ouch). Warren’s goal is to get us over all three of these hurdles and help us find an approach to Bible reading that works – specifically and personally – for us. To that end, he offers 12 different methods we can try, along with step-by-step instructions for each.

Twelve different ways to study the Bible? I figured at least one of ’em would appeal to my guys.

Now before you go telling me that they would have rather had more golf balls, consider the categories. This gift was something that they could read. And need (because who among us couldn’t use a little professional help when it comes to Bible study?). They couldn’t wear the book, obviously, but since one of our favorite uncles starts most of his mornings by looking at his wife and saying, “Tell me what I want to do,” I figured that maybe I could tell Robbie, Geoff, Charlie, and Robbie Jr. what they really wanted in their stocking.

Read, need, and want. Three out of four. Brilliant.

And, just to be sure that the fellas appreciated what a good gift this was, I tweaked the wrapping. Any old Santa can give you a razor. But a book designed to help you grow in your understanding of Scripture?

img_8786

Anyhow.

Truth be told, God gave me the book, too. Which is to say, I bought a copy for myself. Because this is the time of year when I always do two things:

First, I stop eating the Christmas cookies. (They are mostly gone, anyway, but come December 30 I start making a somewhat focused effort not to eat them. At least not until lunch.)

And second, I make a Bible reading plan. (I’ve written about this one before; click here to see last year’s ideas.) I figure that if I want to get to know God better (and I do), then I can’t just rely on my heart. I need to engage my head. I want to get to know God through the Bible, digging deep to unearth its riches – and letting them transform me. I want to get to the end of the year and say, “I grew. I got to know God better. I fell even more in love with him.

“I was changed.”

Do my guys want that too? I don’t know; I pray that they do.

I pray that all of us do. And if you’ve got your own favorite reading plans or study methods, I’d love to hear about them. Why not post a comment for others who might want to try what you like? There is not, obviously, any “right” way to read scripture; the key is mainly to grow in our faith, to fall deeper in love with our Heavenly Father, and to be equipped for whatever he has in store.

Because there’s a whole new year out there, just waiting for us to unwrap it.


From the Bookshelf


11.23.2016

Celebrate Everything

(Note:  This post is the last in a four-part series on praying, trusting, and waiting. Please know, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, how grateful I am for you. May you and your families be satisfied with the goodness of God.)

I marked another birthday last month, and my friend Annabelle gave me a sign:

img_8437

Annabelle’s always up for fun. I’m thinking she meant the message as a party prompt, like: “Let’s have cake because it’s Tuesday.” Which is not such a bad way to live.

To me, though, the sign felt like more than a sign. It felt like a Sign. As in, it brought me face to face with the question that’s dogged me throughout this entire blog series: Is there really such a thing as the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting? Put another way, when we feel like God’s answers are long in coming (or when we aren’t sure we’re on board with what he seems to be allowing, and maybe it even hurts) do we still have good reason to celebrate?

The answer, I think, is yes.

I’m not quite there yet, but I know some folks who are. Folks like Katherine Wolf, a stunning beauty who was just 26 years old when she suffered a massive stroke that left her unable to speak, swallow, walk, or care for her infant son. As Katherine relearned how to live, she and her husband Jay were forced to reexamine everything they believed about God. Was he truly good? Had he made a mistake? And would they still be able to look at their lives and thank God for what he had given, for what he had allowed to be taken away, and for what he had allowed to remain?

fullsizerender

If you’ve not yet read the Wolfs’ book, Hope Heals, treat yourself to an early Christmas present and buy it here. Or watch a trailer about their story here. I can’t begin to articulate how God led this precious couple through the gap between life’s expectations and its reality (and I would hate to even try, since they tell their tale with such raw and exquisite beauty), but I will tell you this: Katherine says that pain served as her teacher, bringing her closer to Christ in a way that went beyond anything she could have imagined. For that, she was unabashedly grateful. And Jay agrees: “The call to give thanks, not at the end, but in the midst, began to reverberate inside of us.”

Giving thanks in the midst. That’s where I want to be.

And that’s basically where Andrew Murray (whose book, Waiting on God, helped launch this blog series) winds up. We may think we are just waiting for the Lord to bless us (i.e., to meet our needs and grant our desires), but the way Murray sees it, God has a higher purpose in mind: We want the gifts, but “He, the Giver, longs to give us Himself and to satisfy the soul with His goodness.”

Heady stuff. And, for those who have not yet experienced that kind of satisfaction, potentially hard to accept.

And honestly? I might be tempted to think that this whole “satisfied with God” thing is reserved for extra-holy people (people like Katherine Wolf and Andrew Murray and a handful of other “varsity” Christians you sometimes read about) except for one thing. I spent much of 2016 interviewing parents for my upcoming book, Praying the Scriptures for Your Adult Children. These folks are “normal” Christians, people just like you and me. People who prayed for their kids, took them to church, and tried to do all the “right” things in the parenting books.

But life didn’t turn out like they expected. Instead of picket-fence perfect (or even picket-fence close), these parents found themselves praying for adult children struggling with everything from getting through college to getting a job…from finding a marriage partner to navigating their way through a divorce…from battling addictions and mental health issues to surviving health crises like Katherine Wolf did.

Would these folks say they were satisfied? Would they say they had a reason to “celebrate”?

Amazingly (and almost beyond belief), they would. While none of them would wish their stories on anyone, virtually all of them told me some version of the same thing: Their challenges forced them to take their eyes off of the outcomes, because the outcomes were not always there. But the yearning for something good – something that would satisfy their deepest longings – still was. And the more they pressed in, the more they realized that their desire was not for an outcome at all.

Their desire, for themselves and for their children, was simply for Jesus.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ll be cooking a turkey and looking out at your picket-fence yard, where your picket-fence husband (or wife!) is playing football with your picket-fence kids.

Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll be looking at things like loneliness, disappointment, broken relationships, and shattered dreams. Maybe you’ll be wondering where God is, or why he’s taking so long to show up. Maybe you’ll be wondering what you have to be thankful for, or what on earth you can celebrate.

If that’s you (and I’ve been there, so I get it), then can I just encourage you to take a step back and ask yourself the same question I’ve asked myself, time and again: Are you trusting in an outcome, or are you trusting in the Lord? Do you want what God gives, or do you want him? Are you willing to celebrate…not because you have hard stuff, but because God is with you in the midst of it?

God never said he would keep us from experiencing pain, or from having to walk through hard places. Instead, he said he would walk through them with us. And when we face the death of a dream or the loss of something precious, we can do so with thanksgiving, knowing that God is in control and that he has the power to resurrect whatever it is that we have had to relinquish, making it wonderful and new in his time.

Ephesians 3:20 says that God can do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” This year, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s do so knowing that our Heavenly Father is at work and that, no matter what circumstances or relationships look like right now, we can trust him to do more than we ask. Let’s thank him because he loves us in our questions, he has gone before us in our pain, and he offers us the satisfying and immeasurable gift of his presence.

Let’s celebrate. In everything.


From the Bookshelf


11.09.2016

The Gifts or the Giver

(Note:  This post is part 2 of a 4-part series on praying, trusting, and discovering the “unbroken enjoyment” of waiting on God. If you missed last week’s post, click here.)

img_0983

When Robbie and I got married, we put Psalm 84:11 on the front of our wedding program: For the Lord God is a sun and shield: the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.

We loved that verse. We felt like God had blessed us with incredible favor already, and since we were technically “blameless” (the stain of our sin having been washed clean by the blood of Christ), we looked forward to a lifetime of more “good things” from our Heavenly Father.

That was 30-plus years ago.

In the past three decades, we’ve seen more good things than we could ever have imagined. But we’ve also seen more heartache, disappointment, and prayers that didn’t get answered (at least not in the way we would have liked). Given the perspective of time, some of these losses are easy to understand (e.g., my failed audition as a radio DJ), but some of them are much harder. Why, for instance, did God “withhold” the miracle we prayed for, when my sweet father was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 60?

Why didn’t we get the house we so desperately wanted to buy? Why did my dear friend’s marriage fall apart? Why didn’t God protect us from making that bad investment? Why didn’t my child get into that school…make that team…get invited to that birthday party? Why do I sometimes feel (like it says at the end of Psalm 88) like “darkness is my closest friend”?

I know you share those questions. We all have them. And when we ask God for something that we know is a really good thing – like the salvation of a loved one, or freedom from a crippling addiction – and he stays silent, that can be confusing. Frustrating. Faith-shaking, even.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers. But in my own journey (which has been shaped and supported by authors whose brains are much bigger than mine), I’ve found a few anchors that have helped to keep my faith in place. Maybe one of these mooring hooks will help you, too:

img_8085

Andrew Murray (whose classic, Waiting on God, served as the backdrop to last week’s post) says that in “every true prayer, there are two hearts in exercise. The one is your heart, with its little, dark, human thoughts of what you need and God can do. The other is God’s great heart, with its infinite, its divine purposes of blessing.”

I get the two-hearts thing. I know God has the power to move any mountain he wants to, so when I don’t get what I want in prayer (either for myself or for a loved one), I figure the problem can be traced to one of two things: Either I was wrong (in that what I wanted was not, actually, a good thing at that time), or God was (because it was good, and he didn’t deliver). Given those two choices – the desires of my little, dark, human heart, or those of God’s great, divine, purposes-of-blessing heart – I know which one I’d better pick.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean builds on this theme in her study, Live a Praying Life (which, incidentally, is hands-down my favorite Bible study on prayer):

img_8213

She says that God wants us to grow in things like tenacity and perseverance, and that when it looks like God is moving slowly (or not at all), he is “putting pieces together that you had not thought of.”

I get that, too. God rarely does things in the way, or on the timetable, that I would. That should come as no surprise, given verses like Isaiah 55:8 (which says that God’s ways are not our ways), but I spend more time than I care to admit trying to figure out what he’s up to. I know his plans are good, and I know he loves me…but sometimes, the stuff he does looks an awful lot like a whoopsie.

Dean has been there. But, in looking at the lives of folks who’ve gone through more than a few of those tricky places (guys like Joseph, who thought he was supposed to be a ruler but wound up being sold as a slave), she warns us not to mistake God’s will for his ways, or confuse what he is doing with how he is doing it. We only see part of the picture. And, she writes, “We cannot control God or tell him how to accomplish his plan.” That one may seem obvious, but trust me: When you have as many good ideas for God as I think I do, it can be hard to just sit back and wait. It can be tough to pipe down. And during those seasons when you spend the whole night weeping, it can be a stretch to believe the Psalm 30:5 promise that joy comes in the morning.

Because morning can seem like a long way off.

So what do we do? Where do we turn, when we feel like God has left us hanging, or that whatever he is doing is so mysterious, or is taking so long, that he might as well be doing nothing? How do the unexpected outcomes and disappointments of our lives (as well as God’s apparent silence in the face of these things) square with the promise on our wedding program, that “no good thing will he withhold”?

Again, I don’t have all the answers. But, more than 30 years after Robbie and I walked down that aisle, I finally noticed that our wedding psalm doesn’t end with verse 11. There’s more. Psalm 84:12 (the last verse in the psalm) says this: “Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And that, I think, is the key.

It’s not “Blessed is the one who trusts in the good things you give.” Or, “Blessed is the one who trusts in your favor.” It’s “Blessed is the one who trusts in you.”

And what I am finding out is that, when I pray, I often get it backwards. My trust is in the wrong place. Instead of trusting in God, I am trusting in an outcome. Instead of looking for him, I am looking for the blessings he provides. Instead of desiring the Giver, I am consumed with desire for the gift.

And when I don’t get what I want, I am sad.

I’ll deal with that next week – with what we do with the grief and anger that sometimes accompany unexpected or unwanted outcomes – but since this post is already too long, I’ll just leave you with some of the questions I am pondering this week:

If all we have is Jesus, is that enough?

Are we willing to explore the blessedness (the “unbroken enjoyment of waiting”) that comes with putting our trust in God?

And, at the end of the day, are we willing to settle for the gifts…or do we want to press in and behold the Giver?

untitled-design-5

 


From the Bookshelf


11.01.2016

The “Unbroken Enjoyment” of Waiting

In his classic work, Waiting on God, Andrew Murray says that waiting “gives a higher value and a new power to our prayer and worship” because it links us to God and gives us the “unbroken enjoyment” of his goodness.

img_8085

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would ever put “waiting” in the same sentence as “unbroken enjoyment.” Not even on the same page. But thanks to one of those cosmic collisions that happens between life and learning, I am starting to believe that Murray might be on to something.

The “life” part of the collision is an unsettling mix of unmet longings and disappointing circumstances, the things I see and experience in the lives of those I hold dear. The dating relationship that was “supposed” to lead to marriage but didn’t. The promotion at work that never materialized. The deal that has not yet closed. The “deferred” notice on the med school application. The gap between homesick and happy for college students. The desire to have a baby (and the heartache that grows with each negative pregnancy test).

Those are the unexpected outcomes – and the unanswered prayers – that can make a person wonder about verses like Isaiah 49:23, which is where God says, “Those who hope in me will not be disappointed.” 

The “learning” part is the light that is piercing the darkness. Thanks to resources like Murray’s book, as well as a Bible study I am doing right now on the Psalms (click here to see the teachings offered through Galilee Church), I’m cobbling together an understanding of verses like Proverbs 13:12 (“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”), and I want to invite you to join me.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to write about what happens when hope is deferred:

What are we supposed to do when our prayers are not answered in the way that we expect – or when they seem to be not answered at all?

How can we handle the grief, or the anger, that can slip in through the door of disillusionment and wrap itself around our hearts?

Is the “unbroken enjoyment of God’s goodness” really an option for believers today? And if so, how do we get there?

Waiting is hard. Murray says that the word patience is actually derived from the Latin word for suffering. That, unfortunately, makes sense. And it might explain why the Bible offers this little pump-up nugget:  “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage” (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

“Be strong and take courage” are words you might expect to hear at the outset of some adventure, some challenging or difficult enterprise that will tap (and maybe even exhaust) your deepest reserves. And if you don’t want to slog through that mire with me, I get it. Just check back in December, when I promise to post something more fun (an update, perhaps, to the Posture Brace or maybe even the Christmas Sweater).

But if you want to come along for the ride, I’ll leave you with the promise of good things to come:  A rescue, a firm footing, and a new song:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:1-3)

Ω

And PS, for those who might want their own copy of Waiting on God:  You can download the 1896 version for FREE by clicking here, or order the updated version ($5.99, and with language that is easier to follow but still needs maybe a 600 on the SAT Verbal) here.

 

 

 

 


From the Bookshelf


06.28.2016

Risky Faith, Exciting Trust

At some point during Virginia’s graduation weekend, her grandfather asked if she was excited to trust God for what’s next. Like so many new college grads, Virginia has a lot of irons in the fire, but the specifics (jobs, housing, learning to cope without acai bowls until she starts earning a paycheck) are all still swirling around in her blender, and post-college life can be daunting.

Which is why I love it that Papa John asked if she was excited.

On a good day, I might look at an uncertain future with a willingness to trust God, or maybe a resigned sort of readiness…but excitement? I don’t know. For me, trusting seasons – those times when the future (or even the present) is out of my control – are more often endured than enjoyed. Excitement rarely plays into the picture.

FullSizeRender

But my pal Susan Yates would have understood John’s question. Her new book, Risky Faithdoes not discount the fears and worries of our lives (both the real and the imagined ones), but she challenges us to reorient our perspective. Instead of letting our “issues” (things like children, jobs, health concerns, relationships) take up the whole screen and cloud our vision, Susan encourages us to stack these things up against the awesome power and love of our Almighty God.

With 46 years of marriage, 21 (or more?) grandchildren, and a lifetime’s worth of trusting God, Susan is quick to share her own failings. But she doesn’t wallow in them. Instead, she takes us through the hard places of pain, betrayal, and disappointment and leads us into a new reality marked by gratitude, growth, and a confidence that God is soooo much bigger than our problems. Because he is.

And at some point, whether we are a newly minted graduate or a seasoned grandmother, we are all going to have to trust God for what’s next. It might not be easy, but one thing’s for sure: When we live the “risky faith” way (taking our eyes off the circumstances we see and fixing them on Someone we don’t), trusting God becomes less of a muddle, and more of an adventure.

Some people might even say it’s exciting.

IMG_5797

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

(Jeremiah 17:7-8)


From the Bookshelf


05.18.2016

Summer’s Best Read

Untitled design (5)Looking for a good read this summer? Granted, this is not your typical beach book (no bodices get ripped, there are no steely-eyed men, and I’m pretty sure nothing gets hijacked or explodes), but The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life is a classic and, if you’ve not yet explored it, put it on your list.

Hannah Whitall Smith wrote the book in 1883. I own the new (1888) edition, which Smith begins by saying that what she has to say is “no new story.” Indeed. It isn’t new, but every chapter feels fresh because it is so chock-full of practical stuff for making the Christian life one that is both enjoyable and do-able, no matter how many curve balls come our way.

Here’s a sample:

Most Christians are like a man who was toiling along the road, bending under a heavy burden, when a wagon overtook him, and the driver kindly offered to help him on his journey. He joyfully accepted the offer but when seated in the wagon, continued to bend beneath his burden, which he still kept on his shoulders. “Why do you not lay down your burden?” asked the kind-hearted driver. “Oh!” replied the man, “I feel that it is almost too much to ask you to carry me, and I could not think of letting you carry my burden too.” 

Yeah. I get that. I say I trust God to take care of me, but I don’t really give him my burdens – at least not all the way. Or if I do, I take them back, thinking that I somehow have to “handle” my stuff. And so I go through a lot of life like some poor, unfortunate soul, “weary and heavy laden” under a load of inner worries (weaknesses, temptations, feelings) and external concerns (my kids, my house, my health, my reputation, my ministry, my job, my hair…you get the idea).

Smith tells the story of a friend who had a very heavy burden: The circumstances of her life she could not alter, but she took them to the Lord, and handed them over to His management; and then she believed He took it, and she left all the responsibility and the worry and anxiety to Him. As often as the anxieties returned, she took them back; and the result was, that, although the circumstances remained unchanged, her soul was kept in perfect peace in the midst of them. She felt that she had found out a practical secret; and from that time she sought never to carry her own burdens, nor to manage her own affairs, but to hand them over, as fast as they arose, to the Divine Burden-bearer.

I thought that sounded pretty good. But I wasn’t sure how, practically, to do that. I mean, it’s not like my anxiety or my to-do list is a sack of potatoes that I can just leave on God’s doorstep. I mulled that one over for awhile, and then kept reading.

Do you recollect the delicious sense of rest with which you have sometimes gone to bed at night, after a day of great exertion and weariness? How delightful was the sensation of relaxing every muscle…You trusted yourself to the bed in an absolute confidence, and it held you up, without effort, or strain, or even thought on your part. You rested!

Okay, so here comes the slightly awkward part. Because she had me at “bed.”

I am one of those people (and I truly hope there are others) who literally climbs under the covers at night and says, “Thank you, God, for my bed.” Seriously. I really like my bed, and I am really grateful for it. And so, most nights, I tell God that. (I am sure that Robbie thinks I am crazy, and that God already knows I like my bed cuz I just told him that last night. But sometimes you just can’t be too grateful.)

Anyhow, I thought about what it feels like to just relax at night, and I decided that when I go to bed tonight, if there is any burden I am carrying over from the day, I am going to give it to God. I am going to picture it transferred, like a sack of potatoes, into God’s capable hands. And I am going to go to sleep. (I figure this is an extra-good plan to try at night, since the Bible says that God “will neither slumber nor sleep,” so even a vigilante/controlling mama like me can rest easy, knowing that Somebody is on the job.)

And then, if I wake up tomorrow and find my burden waiting like one of the dogs, I am going to do just what Hannah Whitall Smith’s pal did. I am going to hand it over to God again.

I don’t know if this experiment will help you, but feel free to try it with me. Or, just skip the whole bed thing and simply believe what Smith says is part of the secret:

“Your part is simply to rest. His part is to sustain you; and He cannot fail.”


From the Bookshelf


02.02.2016

Happy Church

A lot of people like Christ. It’s the Christians who can sometimes be less…appealing.

Why is that? Well maybe, for starters, it’s because Christians are people. But according to author Tim McConnell, there’s more. In his view, one of the main reasons why folks aren’t all that attracted to Christians is that Christians (and Christian churches, especially) are just not all that happy.

I get that. When Robbie and I were newlyweds, we volunteered to teach Sunday School for a spirited group of fourth graders. Sometimes we’d play a version of Pictionary where the kids would draw things from that week’s lesson (Daniel’s lions, Jonah’s whale, ten scabby lepers) on the chalkboard. The contest always provoked a lot of giggling, and sometimes the cheering could get a little loud.

One Sunday, our door burst open. It was the teacher from the next class over, and she was clearly not happy. “What on EARTH is going on in here?” she scolded, stomping her feet. “STOP it! Don’t you know this is GOD’S house?!”

Eek. Robbie and I were barely out of college. We had no idea that God didn’t like Pictionary. Or laughter.

McConnell is all about laughter – and he says that God is, too. And hope. And joy, even in the midst of pain or suffering. Which is interesting, given McConnell’s pedigree. He’s a Presbyterian minister who is not, by his own admission, “naturally happy.” (He brought Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death along on his honeymoon.) But on the theory that our moods are often the product of our attentions and activities, McConnell has chosen to “embrace the practice of happiness.”

FullSizeRenderAnd, in his new book Happy Church, he invites us to do the same.

For some churches, that may require a shift in the way we approach some of our most familiar disciplines. For example, McConnell believes that Bible reading (a regular part of most churches’ liturgy, regardless of the overall worship style) should be a breeding ground for gladness. Churches that are pursuing what McConnell calls “radical joy” encourage listeners to try a verse on, to use and obey it in everyday life, take it out for a test drive, if you will. In happy churches, the Word is not just read. It works.

Likewise, McConnell says, the happy church sings. You might read that line and think, “Not me.” But if you do, you’re missing out. McConnell points to what he calls the “divine bounce” (God reveals glory; we return praise) and he has a boatload of research that points to both the rightness and the necessity of singing. It doesn’t matter whether the tunes are “psalms, hymns or spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), McConnell says that when God’s Spirit shows up, songs happen.

(And just as a sidebar here, I wish McConnell had interviewed me for his book. When it comes to singing – or doing much of anything – our family mottos is: If you lack talent, use enthusiasm.)

McConnell serves up plenty to chew on (and yes, there’s a chapter on eating), but my favorite section is the one on prayer. When the church prays, he says, “We are pulled out of our loneliness into active community, we are connected to God and feel his presence, and our prayers are fulfilled when we see the activity of God connected to our prayer life.”

I like that.

And I like the way the book wraps up, with a challenge to modern day churchgoers to stop squabbling about things like pews, worship styles, or other polarizing issues and start advocating for happiness. Because when it comes to being a beacon of gladness in a world that desperately needs a reason to rejoice, McConnell tips his hat to the Beastie Boys. It was true in 1986, and it’s still true today:

(You gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!).


From the Bookshelf


09.16.2015

The Good Wife

Well, it’s wedding week.

Not only is Hillary’s big day on Saturday (whoop!), but Robbie and I celebrated 30 years of our own bliss on Monday. I posted this shot on Instagram, both to mark our anniversary and because who needs pricey wedding calligraphy when your mom is such a whiz with yellow spray paint? Pinterest people, eat your heart out:

IMG_1097

In preparation for her impending nuptials, Hillary has been wending her way through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of MarriageIt’s a great read. And a sobering one; anyone who thinks marriage is all about finding happiness need look no further than the subtitle – Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God – to know that Keller isn’t peddling a fairy tale.

But Hillary isn’t the only Berndt brushing up on her marital literacy. I’ve been reading a how-to book of my own. It’s called The Good Wife Guide and, while this book may not be as widely read in evangelical circles, let me assure you that it is every bit as challenging as Keller’s work.

IMG_1029

The Good Wife Guide starts off with a no-nonsense observation:  “A man’s home is his castle and as such, he ought to be treated like a king.” Lest there be any doubt as to what, exactly, that means, there’s this:  “It’s every wife’s responsibility to dote upon her hard-working spouse, to show that he is truly appreciated!”

IMG_1033

That’s Rule #1.

And then, assuming that the reader is hooked (because who wouldn’t be?), the book features 18 more must-do’s for keeping a happy husband:

Rule #12:  Follow His Lead. (“If, instead of hanging on your every word, he mumbles one-word responses to your questions while perusing the newspaper…don’t take it personally.”)

Rule #16:  Sing His Praises. (“Tell him he cuts a fine figure…or marvel at his business acumen when he relays a story from the office.”)

And, my personal favorite, Rule # 6:  Greet him with a smile. (“With just one glance at your face, your husband should know that his very presence marks the pinnacle of your day.”)

IMG_1034

Shocking as it sounds, I will confess that it didn’t take me three decades to break every one of the Good Wife rules. It didn’t even take me three weeks. Heck, I’m not even sure I was a good wife for three days. Maybe. (But that was on our honeymoon, so I doubt if that part counts.)

The rules are hard. But you know what? I really like them! I think most of em make sense. I know I don’t have that exciting of a life, so maybe this isn’t saying much, but when Robbie comes home at night it really is the pinnacle of my day. So why do I show him where the dog dug up the grass, or ate the driveway rocks, or barfed on the sisal? Why don’t I smile?

I know The Good Wife was written as a retro-fun gag (its counsel comes straight out of the Ladies’ Homemaker Monthly, a popular magazine from the early 1900s). But, at least in terms of the sentiment that lies behind the rules, the marital advice could have been written way earlier.

Way earlier, as in the first century. As in, when Paul was writing his letter to the Philippians, which has a lot of terrific advice for relationships. Here are a few gems from that how-to:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Let your gentleness be evident to all.

Do everything without complaining or arguing.

If I were writing a marriage book, I think I’d just rip off Philippians. Follow Paul’s advice – like his secret to being content both when you have plenty and when you are in need, or his idea of taking your troubles to God instead of worrying about them – and presto! Problems solved, right?

Actually, I wouldn’t steal from Philippians. (I mean, that one’s a best-seller every year; why mess with perfection?) And even more actually, I wouldn’t write a book about marriage, because Keller already did that (with his wife, actually), and theirs is pretty darn good. But, based on the success of The Good Wife Guide, I’m thinking that some sort of manual for the guys might be in order.

The Good Man Guide. Maybe, since guys like to watch TV (it doesn’t seem to matter what’s on; I once found Robbie watching a test pattern), it should be a video series.  Rule #1 could be, “If I have a problem, don’t try to fix it.  Just listen.”

Because, as every gal would tell you (and if you’ve seen this one before, it’s worth a re-watch), it’s not about the nail.

 

 




Created with love by Yellow Leaf Marketing.