I like Lilian Daniel's quote,
Longing for More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life Timothy Willard (Bethany) $16.99 First, I love Tim Willard. He co-wrote Veneer and proved himself a potent storyteller, with a keen eye of the holy in the mundane. Not only has he been in an indie rock band, he served for years for the Praxis Nonprofit Accelerator, a ministry somewhat affiliated with the glitzy Catalyst conference, which was an incubator for those starting social social initiatives. In this book, Willard offers daily reflections, with each week's writings ruminating around a different theme -- joy, love, newness, silence, work, trust, hope and the like. Every 12 weeks he offers a longer essay to ponder for the week, with appropriate reflection prompts. (He calls these "The Long Pause" which, again, is hoping to help one get into a broader rhythm and intention. The theme of all of these colorful, creative pieces is that our life should be alive and robust, with God in it all. If you are seeking the "spirituality of the ordinary" and wanting a devotional to invite you to be honest and real about your walk with God, this is interesting, often insightful, upbeat and contemporary. Willard is a young, hip, example of the newer generation of evangelical leaders, socially engaged, deeply contemplative, joyful and authentic. As his friend hard rocker Lacey Sturm of the band Flyleaf, (author of the moving The Reason: How I Discovered a Life Worth Living) writes,Relax, spiritual slackers. Somebody else has done all the reading. Now you have a book of poetic inspirations, Bible verses, current bestsellers and ancient thinkers, one for each day. Skip a day? No guilt. Don't understand? You'll catch up....
Saving Grace: Daily Devotions From Jack Miller C. John Miller (New Growth Press) $19.99 I love this small sized shape for a book, a heavy hardback that is small enough to fit in your hand. The pages are dated and designed nicely, with a Bible verse and a brief reading for each day. You may know Jack Miller who founded World Harvest Mission and the network of New Life Presbyterian churches, a Reformed pastor, missionary, preacher, scholar, and activist whose son (Paul Miller) has also written very popular books (such as the wonderful book on Jesus, Love Walked Among Us and the great and important.) This book brings to you what you might call a "gospel centered life" and a daily reminder that Jesus is your saving grace. Blurbs on the back are from thoughtful and wise leaders such as David Powlison of CCEF, Joni Eareckson Tada, and Key Life Radio dude Steve Brown. This is a power-house volume, able to help you see how the gospel can transform your life, grace upon grace, from the inside out. Solid.There are sacred moments when life catches you up in its beautiful mystery. Suddenly everything feels heavy and connected. You want to weep and cheer at the same time. You come away empowered, fully alive. Timothy sets you down in these moments. Get caught up in them and watch yourself come to life.
Anyway, Brian is a bit of a lightening rod, and for those that are more progressive, they will naturally love his creative call to be serious about engaging the Scriptures without being wooden or literalistic, learning contemplative spiritual practices, being in a small faith community with people from different views and experiences, to grapple together with the big story of the Bible, and to discern ways to be active in living out faith, especially for the common good, in the world. Social gospel-oriented folks have long wanted to be Biblical within that trajectory, and McLaren's well designed, year-long Bible study helps us live into that better than almost any such book I've seen!
As Phyllis Tickle proclaims, We Make the Road by Walking is "one of the most remarkable documents in recent Christian writings..." There is, in it, she says, "a sinewy, but orderly, and open presentation of the faith. The result is as startling as it is beautiful."
So, while these essays may at times inspire you, anger you, surprise and delight you, ultimately they have been written to push you beyond "the crowd" by enabling you to see with the Holy Spirit-filled eyes what faithfulness to God's Word might look like.
To have Professor Adams as a teacher was to be team-taught by the unlikely quartet of Dooyeweerd, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, and Dickens, all supervised by the teacher in Ecclesiastes. Neither technophile or technopobe, he was more than an engineer, he was an artisan of life.
Here is what I said: Leave it to Paraclete to once again give us a splendid, rich, wonderfully made small book of prayerful meditation, illustrated with good graphic design and full color photography and artwork. Hackenberg is a UCC pastor and the writer of the popular Writing to God, so you can expect a vivid, colorful, aesthetic experience. Here, she invites us to "reconsider and re-engage" with the words we typically use to describe our faith. As Bruce Epperly notes, "This book will awaken you to a sensational faith, encompassing all your senses and enabling you to experience the holiness of God in the quotidian adventures of life." Yes, this is inviting us to leave behind stagnant faith and tired expressions, but it is light-hearted and joyful, too. From grammar lessons to poetry, stuff on letters and helpfully playful definitions, this is upbeat, making you glad to be reading and pondering and doing such good stuff. She draws on Microstyle by Chris Johnson, Finally Comes the Poet by Walt Brueggemann, and so many more artists, poets, scholars, pray-ers. Handsome, unusual, nice. This nice hardback is over 215 pages, with 12 chapters, each with thoughtful questions, stuff to do and ponder, and I could easily see it being use over a period of weeks or months.
Wasted Prayer: Know When God Wants You to Stop Praying and Start Doing Greg Darkley (Nelson) $15.99 I was concerned when I announced this and promoted it a bit this fall, for fear of giving the impression that we don't value serious, dedication, zealous, long-term prayerfulness. Indeed, we do value exactly that, and have a huge selection of shelves and shelves about prayer. And yet, we all know that "faith without works is dead" and so might it also be said (as this author does) that prayer without action is wasted? He asks "what would your life look like if you stopped praying about God's will and just did it instead? How would your church look if it spent as much time serving as it spent praying about serving?"
It seems that the new year may be a perfect time to ponder this very question.
You certainly know that I believe in the value of books and think that study is a major, serious, urgently necessary call to us all, and that we cannot go half-cocked into Christian service without knowing the theological foundations for and the cultural exegesis of any arena of action, service, calling or vocation. We've got to pray, study, reflect. So, yes, we need to read, and we need to pray. But does praying about God's will substitute for stepping into it? Can a call to prayer and discernment actually be a smokescreen to avoid real faithfulness? Wasted Prayer uncovers the ways we use prayer to dodge responsibility for the work God has assigned us to do. I dare you to read this alongside another devotional, or alongside a more conventional call to prayer. As our friend Bob Goff says, after all, "love does." Yes!
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