“I Know You!”

The phone rang first thing in the morning and I didn’t want to answer it. I was still stumbling around with my coffee and hadn’t yet revved myself up for the day. I picked up the receiver and said, “Hello.”

The woman on the other end of the line introduced herself and explained why she’d called. She read a devotion I’d written and wanted to let me know she enjoyed it. Since the city in which I live was noted at the end of the devotion, she looked me up in her phone book. I knew exactly who she was; I had caller ID, after all.

She kept talking and I decided to let her. Her words were encouraging, and it was obvious from what she said that she’d been blessed by what she read. I was glad to hear it, especially from her, a woman I respected.

I decided I better introduce myself and let her know we weren’t strangers. We’d been going to the same church for almost twenty years. I knew she knew me because for a short time we’d both worked in children’s ministry.

Finally, I said, “I’m glad you liked the devotion, Carol. That means a lot to me. But I’m surprised you didn’t recognize my name.” Then I told her that on the previous Sunday, she and her husband had been sitting next to me in church.

People say all the time, “What a small world.” To some extent, I disagree. I’ve discovered that, with Christ is in my life, he’s opened it up and made it larger in ways I would never have conceived.

“You have heard of this hope before in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God” (Colossians 1:5-6).

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Beloved, Hear My Heart: Book Review

  • Beloved, Hear My Heart: A Deep Sense of Righteous Urgency!
  • By Lawrence Sankar
  • Published by Vision Tomorrow Today
  • 2015, 166 pages

In this book by Lawrence Sankar, thirty-one essays present the author’s “deep sense of righteous urgency,” hence, the subtitle. However, on one of the inside covers, is a different subtitle describing the book’s content, which is “a collection of inspirational messages.” This is only one of several writing issues that confused me in Mr. Sankar’s work.

To his credit, Sankar is most certainly fluent in scripture, and uses it in the essays themselves to explain them. He’s able to make good application of the scripture he uses and the reader can relate to life much of what he says.
While reading the essays and notes following them, I noticed Sankar referred to many of these writings as parables. Some were written as parables; others could not be called parables because the form wasn’t there. This made it difficult for me to trust the theme. I became confused by this as well.

When I tried to find Sankar’s theme for the book–after all, any book should have a one–I finally found something close on page 69. “Believers must become the messenger of change in their family and the catalyst of change in their communities and the wider society.” At any rate, this is what I’m guessing is his central theme. Since each titled entry has a different form (parable, essay, ‘poetic discourse,’ ‘revelation,’ etc.), it took some re-reading of some of them to discover the message he was trying to convey. Often, it was found in his “notes.”

Sankar is passionate about revival and in the essay, “A Timeless Reflection,” he states, “But rather, I have decided to balance my discouragement with a sense of hopeful optimism.” This is evident throughout the book. I’m sad to say this is one of the few consistencies.

“Beloved” would have benefited from professional editing. Perhaps he could have divided the book into sections containing the parables, the essays, the so-called ‘revelations,’ and the rest. Some of his notes seemed to be essays in themselves as if he had more to say.

I don’t disagree with most of what the author says, but his method and having to explain everything to me was somewhat frustrating. The author seems to have a prophetic voice, speaking truth into our lives. However, one with such a voice must exercise grace. Truth and grace is how Jesus came into our lives (John 1:14).

For someone who wants to hear what the Bible says about revival and becoming an agent for change in the world, this book could help. I would suggest the reader dive in with his or her Bible on hand. Be like the Bereans (Acts 17:10-12). Be wise and study for yourself along with this author.

Reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program, which requires an honest, though not necessarily positive, review. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

Sweet Tea and a Distasteful Flavor

“There’s a Fly in my Tea! The Importance of Maintaining a Christian Testimony;                By Crystal L. Ratcliff;  CrossLink Publishing 2016

A Book Review

Crystal Ratcliff, has presented a metaphor we can probably all relate to whether we drink our tea sweet or otherwise. Flies are pesky and dirty. We don’t want them crawling on the rim of our glass. The metaphor fits perfectly for the subject of this 11-session Bible study about our witness for Jesus. The cover design adds beautifully to the “ewwww” factor.

Maintaining a sweet, pure Christian testimony, says Ratcliff, means doing many things she believes we can learn from the life of the Apostle Peter. Her first lesson, however, gets someone off on the right foot before the study begins. She challenges her readers to examine their lives in light of their personal salvation and person relationship with the Lord. Since the book is meant to be studied with others, discussing these answers honestly can only be of benefit to each member and to the group itself.

Ratcliff’s style is relaxed and her tone is friendly. She expects the audience is women and that they share their stories within a group. However, the study could be done independently, if necessary.

The fact that Crystal takes the student right into scripture helps them to see how it relates to other scriptures. The lessons include just enough related verses to help the reader understand the lesson and how the lesson should be applied. An aspect of the study I appreciated was her openness regarding her own failings. Done in a safe environment, sharing what keeps us coming back to Jesus for help aids in discussion.

Subjects covered over the eleven-session study are trusting God totally; keeping my focus on God; walking in the Spirit in relation to how we spend our time; and believing who Jesus says he is versus the world’s view of him.

Ratcliff also mentions the tendency Christians have to witness about their church rather than being a sweet and pure witness for Christ alone. In her own way she says we would do better to point people to Jesus rather than a specific church body or denomination.

No church is perfect, she says, because no people are perfect. We all need to learn to pray more faithfully, forgive more quickly, and serve in love. But “our goal in studying this,” she says, “should be to protect ourselves from being an ‘offender.’”

To some readers, “There’s a Fly in my Tea” will seem like a course in Bible 101. If that’s the case, let me suggest you become the person Jesus commanded you to be and disciple others by leading them through this short study. Those new to the Christian faith will certainly get some of their questions answered. Recruit a couple of your more mature Christian friends to join in and they will help teach the younger women, which is a biblical principle taught by Paul.

The narrative sections are refreshing to anyone who even remotely understands the importance of a relationship with Jesus. The lists of questions at the end of each chapter (never more than 6-8) are just challenging enough to keep us teachable.

 

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookCrash.com book review program. The opinions expressed are those of the reviewer.

 

The Red Letter Life: A Book Review

Hello, Media Monday, when we talk about books, movies or music. Today’s offering: “The Red Letter Life: 17 Words From Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical and Purposeful Living” by Bob Hostetler.

The adjectives in the subtitle of this book, The Red Letter Life give us a hint into Bob Hostetler’s message for living as a disciple of Jesus. Hostetler writes with purpose; his message is practical; and his writing is simple so anyone can understand it.the-red-letter-life-872316900

Hostetler has delivered his message in a ‘pure’ way: truth, grace, simplicity and clarity of thought are all in place. Sure, he uses his knowledge of Greek to explain things. But he only does it to enhance the message. I never got the feeling I was being talked down to because these explanations are not overdone.

The seventeen words chosen are excellent choices and indicate the author’s careful study of Jesus’ message and mission. From “Come” to “Go,” every word inspires us to deeper relationship with Christ and a call to carry out His mission as commanded. Often, we get to see Jesus, his disciples and the people He encountered with fresh eyes. Expect some “Aha” moments.

Hostetler has a way of telling stories which not only lend themselves to giving meaning to his message, they often are entertaining and sublime. That’s the way Jesus Himself told parables. Overall, his heart and personality shine through. He makes being a Christian sound challenging and enjoyable at the same time. After reading The Red Letter Life, I would enjoy sitting down with the author, simply talking about our respective spiritual journeys.

While not your typical Bible study text (with questions for participants to explore), the book could certainly be used as such because Bob offers a challenge at the end of each chapter. At any rate, the book begs to be discussed. Lately, I read less Christian non-fiction than I used to, choosing more often to study the Bible. While there is no substitute for God’s Word, there are certainly excellent supplements. This one happens to be one of them.

You can find Bob–a speaker, blogger and pastor, in addition to being an author–in “Stuff I Read.” He’s the One Prayer Daily fellow.

One Size Fits All

When it comes to God’s grace, don’t worry about whether you qualify.

Don’t worry about whether or not the things you regret doing disqualify you.

God’s grace is immeasurable and one size fits all.

grace changes everythingHow can I be so sure? Where do I come off telling anyone they can count on God? Believe me, I understand how someone would have doubts. I did.

In fact, I remember the day when I was having a telephone conversation with a friend and a light bulb went on, so to speak. You could say the light of Jesus shined into my life and I became aware of the darkness I’d been living in. I realized how many were the sins I’d committed. That was hard to admit and I wasn’t sure I even wanted to use the word “sin.”

But there I was, crying about it. And I felt dirty. I knew I needed forgiveness, but wasn’t sure God could forgive all the things I’d done. Or failed to do.

Furthermore, it sometimes seems God isn’t doing much to make this world a better place. How can so many terrible things be happening around us if God is in control like Christians claim he is? How can we trust a God who seems absent?

I wish I had an answer to that. The best I can do is point to history. Look at how people have been behaving–or not behaving–since the beginning of time. Things aren’t worse even though it may seem that way. People have been hating, terrorizing, killing, stealing, lying, gossiping and just plain acting out for several millennia. Do you feel betrayed right now? Alienated? Misunderstood? Left alone? Jesus experienced the same. He understands every trouble we can ever know.

All I know is what I’ve found to be true because of what God tells me is true in the Bible. He says his grace is there no matter who we are and no matter the size of our sin. Believe it or not, I also count on having personally experienced grace. Ask anyone who’s been walking faithfully with God for a while and they’ll tell you his goodness and grace never fail.

Not long after that disturbing telephone conversation, I made a decision to recommit my life to following Jesus. I read and re-read the Bible and became familiar with the gospel. Not just the Gospels, as in books of the Bible, but what the message of Jesus’ birth, life of ministry, death and resurrection meant. I joined a small group of women who met regularly to pray, study scriptures and talk about living life according to God’s plans.one-size-fits-all-T-Shirts

I then understood grace. With that understanding and the peace and hope I’ve experienced, I’m sure. God’s grace is big enough to cover my sin and the sin of anyone, no matter what it is.

Go ahead and put it on today. Come under the cover of God’s free gift of grace. You may not feel like it fits yet. But God will even appeal to your logic, telling you it’s all you need if you’re willing to believe him.

“Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18)

Goin’ Fishing

“Everybody has to believe in something. I believe I’ll go fishing.”

Last week “Whatever” spoke to the importance of sharing with others our story of coming to faith in Jesus Christ. This week, I’m offering a book review dealing with the same subject: evangelism.

Purple Fish
By Mark O. Wilson

The topic is evangelism. Or is it fishing? In Mark O. Wilson’s book, Purple Fish, both activities become his topic. The book is peppered with stories of Jesus–and everyday people–“fishing for men.” You’ll also find stories about fishing for…well…fish.

The title comes from a Greek word, kalchaino, meaning “to search for the purple fish.” The purple fish referred to is highly treasured because of the deep purple dye found in this particular shellfish. Therefore, the treasured purple fish became the metaphor for Mark’s book.

fish-cover-2The purple fish secret, according to Wilson, is “more about attitude and perspective than technique.” And that’s why he doesn’t use “techniques.” Naturally, Wilson has advice for going forward with evangelism efforts. At the top of the list is prayer. If he has any kind of technique, it comes from his acrostic for finding connecting points with people.

Discussing Family, Interests, Situations, and Hurts with people, he says, helps us to find our common humanity and opens the door to telling the Good News of Christ. Wilson contends, like many, that evangelism is a process. He also spends time encouraging those with ichthyophobia (fears associated with sharing the gospel.)

Purple Fish is a book with simple ideas for evangelism, patterned after Christ’s model of meeting people where they are and approaching in love. Jesus didn’t follow the same method with each encounter and Wilson says this is the key to being the “second witness” in witnessing. The first witness of course, he says, is the Holy Spirit.

With thirty-three chapters, the book might seem daunting, but each is a quick read with no chapter longer than seven pages. If you’re the type that gets caught up in a book and says, “I just have to get through this next chapter,” this book is a cinch for you.

Because the book is written so simply and can be downright entertaining at times, Purple Fish will work well with small groups as well as an adjunct to a sermon series. Rather than being a text book-style reading on how to win people to Jesus, the book seriously and cheerfully mixes stories of fishing for fish and fishing for…well…people.

Mark Wilson is a seasoned pastor when it comes to evangelism, having taught nontraditional ministerial students through the Wesleyan FLAME program. He’s developed and put into practice methods that take people into the mission field of their own cities and neighborhoods. From the examples–he calls them ‘treasure hunts’–noted in this book, if his charges aren’t convinced before they begin of God’s power to draw people to Himself, they are convinced at the end of the day.

“Whatever”

A friend of mine once said that she didn’t believe her testimony would mean much to anyone because she’d been raised in the church and gave her life to Christ when she was quite young. She said there wasn’t any really “exciting” stuff to tell. I’ve also heard numerous stories of people who’ve come to faith in Christ when they’re older, having lived a pretty wild lifestyle.

One might say that my friend was saved ‘from’ a pattern of sin and the second person was saved ‘out of’ a pattern of sin.

Whatever.

Please don’t think I take my brothers’ and sisters’ salvation lightly. By saying “whatever” I mean that, although God is pleased that we are now his children, no salvation story is better than another. I say this for two reasons.

The first reason is that both people–the one saved ‘from’ and the one saved ‘out of’–were saved by the same grace and power of the very same God. His love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the basis for them both.

The other reason I say this is that both salvation stories can have impact and both glorify God.

I have friends who’ve seen family members come out of a wild lifestyle to become Christ followers and it convinced them of the truth of the Gospel. But I’m also familiar with a story of a man who wasn’t convinced even after hearing those testimonies. What convinced him was the power of God to enable a person to have no desire to ever enter into a wild lifestyle.

We all have a story to tell. Each one is unique and with value. We need to tell it.

When it comes right down to it, God says we have all sinned and fallen short of his glory. No matter what age we were or what we’d done or failed to do before we came to faith in Christ, we needed the grace he extended. So every testimony matters.

Are you sharing yours?

Cookie Cutter Christians

An acquaintance of mine said when she first began her walk with God that she didn’t seem to fit the same mold as the women at church. She was grateful that they were patient with her as she grew more spiritually mature, but still believed she would never be quite like them.

That’s probably a good thing. I’m quite sure that God planned ahead of time for that.

Her remarks got me thinking about my own ability to relate to other Christians. My thoughts turned to trying to figure out why we’re all so different. While a sincere heart change and character growth are what we’re after, I don’t believe God wants cookie cutter Christians.gingerbread-man-cookie

He wants us to be exactly who we are; what he created us to be. Naturally, if we come to him with severe character defects, his Spirit will work in us to change us into people who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22, 23).

But God created us with unique talents and personalities. His purpose for us in his redemptive plan means he’ll use those talents and personalities for his own purposes. He refines our personalities, but he doesn’t change them.

For example, the apostle Peter was obviously an impulsive sort of guy. He seemed to act and speak sometimes without thinking first. Jesus even rebuked him for it at one point.

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men'”(Matthew 16:23).

Yet Jesus knew the potential in Peter and chose him to be the “rock” on which the Church would be built. Peter’s impulsiveness was refined into a boldness which was used to preach the Gospel, winning many people to faith in Christ.

Being handpicked for a purpose is true of everyone who chooses to believe and follow Jesus.

Isn’t it great knowing that God can use even your personality to serve the kingdom?

My observations have seen God using people who are shy and people who are bubbly and enthusiastic conversationalists. I watch as both introverts and extroverts take on ministry and glorify God. Some of us are stoic; others more laid back.

I admit there are times when I meet someone whose personality seems to jive perfectly with mine. Still, there are plenty of differences in us to make our individual service unique and to keep the relationship we have refreshing.

God knows that we need the connections of those similarities. He also knows that our world would be boring if we were cut from cookie cutters or poured from the same mold.

That’s why God celebrates that there’s only one you. You can celebrate it as well.

What Do We Have To Sing About?

Praise and worship in the form of hymns and contemporary music are a long-honored tradition in Christian churches. Whatever style of singing a church offers, the purpose is always the same: to glorify God.

We worship him for who he is and praise him for what he does.all about him

Ever notice there are specific themes in the songs? Here are just a few.

Salvation The greatest gift of God is his Son, Jesus and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. God gave his Son to die for us and we praise him for giving with immeasurable love. Without salvation, we cannot approach God. Through our faith in Jesus, we have him as our go-between.

Dependence We wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything of value or eternal purpose without God. We are weak and tend to wander, but with God’s power and our willingness to surrender to him, all things are possible.

Evangelism Christ has given us a mission to make disciples. With so many who haven’t heard the gospel, it’s a big responsibility. It’s an individual responsibility. “I love to tell the story of Jesus and his love” is a great attitude to have. Even better to put it into a loving action.

Suffering We all go through trials, but God provides strength to get through them even if he doesn’t remove them. We don’t praise God for the trials. However, lifting up his name as our source of strength is good for us. It helps us to remember his faithfulness.

Holiness In John’s revelation, he describes a scene in which creatures sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” God is holy; we recognize this and worship as they did. Our own holiness is another topic of many songs. God said because he is holy, we must be as well. Again, we can do it only with his power working in us.

The Holy Spirit When we sing “open the eyes of my heart,” we’re asking the Holy Spirit to help us see spiritual truth. We humbly ask for his aid because we can block God’s word through various means. Even standing in church with the body of believers all around us, it can be difficult not to let our attention go elsewhere. The Holy Spirit desires our hearts be open to receiving God’s truth and bearing fruit.

Peace and Joy Two things Jesus said he gives to us which are not of this world. His peace. His joy. When we’re worshiping God for who he is, we can’t help feeling the peace and joy he gives. Acknowledging all of his attributes–from his holiness, justice and sovereignty to his mercy, love and forgiveness–we know we have a God and Savior who can bring peace and joy no matter what’s happening in our lives.

cat singing worshipLove We sing about God’s love for us and we sing about our love for him. The former is praise, the latter is worship.

Gratitude Being always thankful to God is another excellent way to worship him. Gratitude doesn’t have to be sung, but when voices are lifted up to praise God with our mouth saying, “Hallelujah!” God hears and is exalted.

We have many things to sing about when it comes to our Father in heaven. Don’t have a great singing voice in your own opinion? Be assured that God doesn’t see it that way. He gave you that voice.

So lift it up in worship.