Love What You Do

20120203-114152.jpg

Every year at this time I become completely obsessed with an event called the Winter X Games. This is a competition where snowboarders, skiers, snowmobilers and mono-skiers show off their amazing speed and skill in the snow. This year was incredible as I watched a guy flip a 450 pound snowmobile forward in a front somersault for the first time in competition, as well as seeing Shaun White receive a perfect 100 in the snowboarders superpipe. It was awesome and as I sat glued to my TV for the 4 day event I could not help but admire these crazy athletes that were pushing the boundaries of sports in creative and daring ways.
The whole event was unfortunately overshadowed by the sudden death of Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke who had won 4 gold medals in previous years at the Winter X Games. Sarah also successfully lobbied the Olympic Committee to include superpipe skiing in the 2014 games in Russia. In an old interview, Sarah expressed the fact that she wasn’t competing to get the most medals or money but rather that she just loved to ski.
What an amazing impact we can make with our lives when we find the thing that God has wired us to love to do and we do it with all our heart. We as Christians must be challenged to find what we are passionate about and then do it for God’s glory. People build an incredible legacy, not by striving to build a legacy but by surrendering our will to the sovereign hand of God and allowing Him to use us in whatever way He wants. I am a striver by nature; I always want to do more, to think more and to be more. It is a struggle for me to surrender my will to God’s way. We see this battle in the life of Jeroboam- the first king of Israel.
Jeroboam was a man who received this prophecy from God:

As for you, I will take you and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. If you do whatever I command you and walk in obedience to me and do what is right in my eyes by obeying my decrees and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 1 Kings 11:37-38 (emphasis added)

Here is a man who should be as famous as David in the Bible; someone to whom God promised an amazing legacy. Yet instead we discover that Jeroboam actually started a legacy of mistrust. It was in the newly formed Northern kingdom of Israel that Jeroboam began his rootless monarchy. Starting with Jeroboam, in the 240 years that Israel remained a nation before captivity there were 19 kings; 7 were assassinated, 5 were killed by God and 1 committed suicide. That means that in approximately the same amount of time that the Unted States has been a nation nearly 70% of the leadership met a tragic end. Can you imagine the instability of such a country? How did Jeroboam move from a promise of incredible legacy to point of despair and destruction? The story is unfortunately one of striving, but not for God. Jeroboam adopts the world’s mentality from his time in Egypt; he builds up his defenses and then creates his own religion. Read the story and it becomes easy to see how Jeroboam lost the legacy that God planned for Him. He began to do things with the mentality of fear that he would lose it all unless he continued striving. His striving destroyed him, when surrendering would have saved him and maybe all of Israel.

So what is the thing that you are striving for which God has called you to surrender? If we don’t choose to surrender, you risk losing all God has promised you. Find what you love to do: crafts, sports, giving, music, studying, fill-in-the-blank, and do it for God. As christians we have the most fun, joyful aspects of this life and the next to celebrate, so find God’s joy in evything you do. I am enthralled with the Winter X Games because the joy and excitement of people like Sarah Burke is infectious. Her legacy is based on what she loved to do, not merely on the medals that came as a result of her passion. I hope my cry is never “Let me be glorified through what I do for you,” but always, “Be glorified in me, God.”

Spiritual Depth

20111226-210650.jpg

When I think of spiritual depth I am more and more convinced that it has more to do with your personal relationship with Jesus and less to do with leadership- yours or anyone else’s! In a world innundated with leadership books, we have precious few examples of real character in leadership. This is why I was initially excited to read Going Deep. The book re-visits Pastor Gordon MacDonald’s fictional congregation in his book, Who Stole My Church. While I have not read that book, I was excited by the following thought: “The future of the Christian faith will not be determined by the number of people who fill the pews but by the spiritual depth of those people.”

Going Deep offers a detailed plan of helping churches cultivate people of spiritual depth… A VERY detailed plan. To say I found this book to be extremely slow-moving would be an understatement. Gordon MacDonald writes the book like a journal of a fictional church that is going through a major change in their discipleship process. I am very detailed but this book was sinking into a detailed muck. Unfortunately, I feel that most of the good principles were lost in pragmatics. The concepts themselves were great but the presentation was baffling to me. While the setting was fictional the book is written as reality which makes for a very confusing read. For me, this book was so extremely slow that it became a chore to read.

To the authors credit, I do think this book could be helpful for pastors and church leaders making some intense discipleship changes. Also, true change as it is described in the book would take a long time, just as the pressures of deep sea diving must be slowly acquired and adjusted to at each depth. I think a church using this book could read it and do the meeting described at the same time and finish fairly close together.

I received this book as a part of Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for the book.

Has God Spoken?

20111024-160117.jpg

Has God Spoken is a detailed review of the evidence supporting the authenticity of the Bible. Hank Hanegraaff skillfully presents differing types of evidence to expound upon the accuracy of scripture. The book is laid out in a simple structure comprised of 4 acronyms: Manuscript COPIES, Archeological SPADES, Prophetic STARS and Scriptural LIGHTS. Using this accessible format, Hanegraaff makes sense of what could otherwise be an overload of information. The topics range from copyist practices to Assyrian archeology and from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the typological prophesies of the Old Testament.

Hanegraaff’s presentation of this historical evidence is anything but dry! Indeed he seems to make the Bible come alive with background information that breathes new revelation into age old stories. While I honestly admit to being a Christian, I found the information in this book compelling and thoroughly researched with plenty of endnotes for further study.

There were a few personal preference objections I had to the way the author wrote the book. First, the author seems wholly too sold on the power of alliteration for my liking. Take this example from page 16:

In short, the contention that careless, capricious copyists created cartloads of clearly contaminated copies simply does not correspond to reality.

Secondly, Hanegraaff appears to be writing much of this book in response to research by Bart Ehrman, an obvious decrier of scriptural truth. While I obviously do not support Ehrman’s views, I am not sure I’m comfortable with how openly Hanegraaff criticizes his assertions. However, if you can read the critiques in the light of passion for his cause, Has God Spoken is a truly interesting and educational read for any faith level.

With

20110916-100145.jpg

In With, Skye Jethani explores the five different positions we take in our relationship with God. “Life under God sees the world as governed by the capricious will of God. Life over God places immutable natural laws at the center. Life from God assumes the world orbits around the self and it’s desires. And life for God sees a divine mission at the core of all things” (p. 100). Jethani notes how each of these positions, though seemingly good, place something else at the center of our lives thereby disrupting our relationship with God. He asserts that the only conclusion is to live in a position of life with God.
This book is not written describing unbelievers but rather believers who have a skewed relationship with God. Jethani spares no feelings for the passive Christian who merely wants to go on believing that their life is exactly as God would have it. The book is direct and challenging to anyone who has an open mind and is willing to examine their own heart. Being a Christian for decades now I was shocked at how my mentality of God closely resembled several of the detrimental positions. Taking cultural considerations into account when describing the five positions, Jenthani’s With is both enlightening and thought provoking. He concludes with thoughts on living life with faith, hope and love. A fabulous book for any faith level! I received this book for free from Booksneeze.com

Library Fines

20110807-122709.jpg

I went to our town library to open up an account. The librarian was surprised that I didn’t already have an account and when I admitted that it had been years since I’d checked out a book she insisted on looking me up by my maiden name. Sure enough, my old account from high school was still in the system… And I had fines! I was sure someone had identity thefted me since I barely set foot in the library but the record showed the last book check out… It was from 1998! That’s right, 13 years prior to my current visit. When I asked the librarian how they had kept track of the fines for all these years she responded, “Oh we’re serious about getting our money!” Needless to say, I wrote out a check.

If I am honest with myself, I often see God like the library. I know He has incredible resources that He wants to share with me, and yet I think He is keeping track of all my fines, my irresponsibilities from times gone by. I feel like He will withhold His amazing resources from me until I settle my dues. While I know this is not true in my head, my heart has trouble accepting that he will just love me as I am. This verse in Hosea has helped me see God’s heart:

“I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the LORD. (KJV 2:19-20)

Whether I am in righteousness (right standing with God) or in judgment (when He must exercise discipline in my life) God loves me and betroths himself to me! When I understand His love and when I am in need of His mercy… Even then His love is constant. In the faithfulness of the day to day, He teaches me who He is. He vows a covenant with us that is so much more than, “til death do us part” because Death is swallowed up in His presence.

I still have trouble wrapping my mind around this unconditional love. But God just keeps telling me, “Amber, put the checkbook away… I already payed your fines. Not because I had to, but because I love you.” My objection brings out the librarian in God as He quiets my protests with a simple, “Shhh”.

Blind Faith

20110802-122537.jpg

To me the idea of blind faith is disconcerting. I want my life to have something solid to stand on and there is something unnerving about that word: blind. While this is not a dissertation for the historical or archeological merits of the Christian faith, I do think the term is worth a thought…

Paul was struck blind when God wanted to change his life and while my own experience with blindness has been far less severe (but much longer lasting) I thought I might share a few things I have learned from being blind. (For those who don’t know, I am legally blind in my right eye and getting there in my left.)

My blindness often compels me to rely on on two essential things:
Voices and Hands.

It is often that I cannot see the simplest of things like a new worship song or announcement on the screen at church. It is then that I depend on my husband to lean over and whisper the words into my ear. Again when I cannot see signs or room numbers, it is Adam’s confident hand that grips mine and leads me where I need to go.

This is what encourages me to embrace “blind” faith. “We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). Blindness forces us to listen to the word of God because “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). Blinds also forces us to grab God’s hand for we cannot run from His Spirit; whether on the highest mountain or in the depths of despair, “his right hand leads me and holds me” (Psalm 139:10).

I am not randomly jumping off a spiritual cliff or crashing into walls. Rather I am listening to His voice and letting His hand guide me. Would I rather do it on my own? Sometimes, but my physical condition has taught me that it is usually not a good idea!

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger

20110722-010503.jpg

I have been a Christian for a long time, so when I saw this book I was enthused to read something that posed difficult theological questions. What I found was a book that discusses the reasons Christianity is the one true religion. While the book became somewhat more intriguing as the dinner continued, the main character, Nick, spends most of the book unwilling to believe that he is actually having dinner with Jesus. For me, this was the most insightful lesson; that humanity often doubts that God would actually want to come and be a part of our everyday lives.

While the books subject matter was nothing new for me, anyone who is searching for answers about religion may find the conversations intriguing. The main topics seemed to come from a mix of several authors including Bill Hybels, C.S. Lewis and Josh McDowell. The advantage this book did have was that the fictional setting made the facts much more palatable and intriguing than other books which state the same information in a strictly informational way.

Despite the book not meeting my expectations, it was an easy read that sparked many more questions in my mind. I began to wonder what expectations I had for an author who was attempting to describe an encounter with the divine. Did I really expect him to attempt to answer all the questions of the universe? If he had, I think I would have been far more disappointed!
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.