Lent is right around the corner. In a few short days, we will gather for Ash Wednesday in churches, on sidewalks, and in coffee shops to confess that we have not been as faithful as we could be, and to begin this journey we call Lent toward the empty tomb of Easter.
Here are four books I’ve read recently that would be great resources for small groups, sermon series, or individual devotional time.
Finding Your Voice: What Every Woman Needs To Live Her God-Given Passions Out Loud, Natalie Grant, Zondervan, 2016.
Grammy nominated Christian artist Natalie Grant has been a force in Christian music since 1999. As she tells it in her new book, Finding Your Voice, she had what one could call a spiritual awakening during a trip to India. This “pivotal encounter with God,” she says, changed her career.
It was on that trip she came face-to-face with women and girls who were victims of human trafficking. It was this encounter of the image of God in the Other that Grant had her epiphany: She has a voice and her voice has power.
Down to Earth: The Hopes & Fears of All the Years Are Met in Thee Tonight, Mike Slaughter & Rachel Billups, Abingdon Press, 2016.
In this book for the Advent season, pastors Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups explore what it means for love, joy, peace, and hope to come down to Earth. The book accompanies a four-week Advent study that opens up Christmas to examine how one helpless baby changed everything.
What makes this a great read during Advent this year, is how relevant it is to current events. While it was written before we had two primary presidential candidates or even an election, reading it post-election is food for the soul. Slaughter and Billups acknowledge that we put too much attention on the wrong things. They write, “Or in arguing about things such as red cups, sexual identity issues, who we voted for, and where refugees should go, are we allowing these issues to create dividing lines between us?”
In a few short days, families will be gathered around tables full of food for Thanksgiving. Some, like Rev. Tom Berlin, have wondered what this year’s Thanksgiving would hold after a stressful and contentious election. You can read Tom’s thoughts here.
Last year, during the primary season, it felt just as contentious. Saturday Night Live‘s sketch “A Thanksgiving Miracle” explored this same wondering. What could unite a divided family? What could stop the arguments across the table? SNL‘s miracle worker was the popular singer Adele, whose latest album was released at the same time.
Jesus and the Beanstalk: Overcoming Your Giants and Living a Fruitful Life, Lori Stanley Roeleveld, Abingdon Press, 2016.
Open: Get Ready for an Adventure of a Lifetime, David Gregory, Tyndale, 2016.
David Gregory is the New York Times Bestseller author of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger. In that book, the main character receives an unusual invitation. It is unsigned and the inviter has invited himself to the character’s home for dinner.
The character prepares his home for a visit for an unknown stranger, wondering what person of great importance has chosen his home to visit.
The perfect stranger is revealed to be Jesus.
In Gregory’s new book, Open, a young woman named Emma receives a similar, unsigned invitation. Her invitation is not to dinner. The invitation reads, “For a real adventure with Jesus, go through the nearest open door.” Emma’s curiosity recalls for the reader young Lucy’s innocence in walking through the wardrobe into Narnia. Emma, a bit more broken than Lucy, is transported through time to Jesus’ day.
God’s Servant Job: A Poem with a Promise, Douglas Bond, P & R Publishing, 2015.
The story of Job in the Christian Old Testament is one of the most poetic pieces of literature in the world. At the same time, it is one of the least read books in the Bible because its difficultly to be understand. Douglas Bond, in his book God’s Servant Job: A Poem with a Promise, crafts the well-known story into verse form. Coupled with powerful illustrations from Todd Shaffer, the story of Job with all of its joy, anguish, and revelation, come to life in a new way.
Readers of all ages will appreciate this approach to the story. The use of rhyme is engaging and captures the essence of the plot. Job, a wealthy man, is tested by Satan, and his life is turned upside down. Satan’s bet is that Job will turn on God. Satan is proven wrong.
“Do not testify falsely against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16, Common English Bible)
In an episode titled “Greater Good,” from the first season of the drama-comedy Boston Legal, Alan Shore (James Spader) and Denny Crane (William Shatner) represent a large, drug company in a civil suit. The two lawyers disagree on a key ethical issue surrounding the lies about a clinical trial for a new drug.
The doctor who participated in the clinical trial is conflicted. Shore wants her to be truthful about the potential harm the new drug may have caused its patients. Crane, on the other hand, wants her to be quiet about it. Shore reminds the doctor that when she testifies in court, she will be under oath. Mr. Shore’s intention, of course, is to persuade the doctor to speak truth.
When I was a kid, in the cold of winter, we heated our home through a wood stove – a fireplace. One of our chores during those cold months was to bring firewood up to the house so that there would be wood near by in the cold of the night.
The firewood chores, however, started well before winter. Sometimes as early as the summer, but always during the fall. Any trees that had fallen during a summer storm, or that just needed to come down, were fair game. Dad would cut the trees with a chain saw, and then the splitting would happen with an ax. We would be responsible for hauling the split wood to the wood pile and stack it just right.
It was sometime in 2008, while working at Lebanon United Methodist, I got a phone call about firewood. There was someone in our community without firewood to heat their home in the cold winter days. In the county over there was a church who had a firewood ministry, and as such they had a stock pile. They allowed us to use their wood. I called the United Methodist Men‘s president, Claude, and we rode out to load up a trailer full of wood and deliver it to the home in need.
Our favorite spot in the new house is quickly becoming the sunroom. This enclosed porch with sliding doors all around, gives us a postcard perfect glimpse of our backyard. It is more perfect when birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other friendly critters occupy the space.
It is a peace-filled space.
The other day while eating lunch on the sunroom, Toddler J and I watched as a squirrel hopped through the yard. As the squirrel started climbing the tree, Toddler J’s eyes lit up and a broad smile spread across her little face. She pointed up as the squirrel climbed the tree. When the squirrel was long out of sight, she was still pointing with excitement and mumbling what I believe was her attempt at saying,”squirrel.”