Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Book Review: The Soul of Shame - Retelling the Stories We Believe About Ourselves

            We walk into the present dragging our past behind us. And the shame we’ve experienced in the past weighs us down and prevents us from enjoying life. Author Curt Thompson is a psychiatrist who peppers his writing with stories of patients wounded by shame.

            According to Thompson, shame often enters our lives through criticism from a parent, a coach or unkind remarks from a peer. As feelings of shame develop, they disrupt the way the mind works. And as we dwell on the shame, patterns of thinking become entrenched. We remember emotional events, and the more we do, the more we become what we remember—shame-filled.

            Through biblical narrative, Thompson explores shame beginning with Adam and Eve, who in original creation were naked and not ashamed. But then sin entered the world and disrupted paradise.

            As humans, we tend to bury painful memories and that exacerbates the problem. Thompson quotes C. S. Lewis as saying: “I sometimes think that shame . . . does as much toward preventing good acts and . . . happiness as any of our vices do.”

            Since hiding is a natural response to shame, Thompson urges vulnerability and openness in sharing with a trusted confidant. We need to be reminded to listen to God’s voice, telling us we are loved and He is pleased with us, rather than a voice from the past that has insulted our humanity. The support of community is important in overcoming shame, reminding you of who you are.

            Thompson looks at how environments might contribute to feelings of shame. For instance, we may hide our feelings in the family of God for fear of being shamed, not feeling good enough. Educational endeavors may lead to feelings of shame if learners are praised only for outcome rather than for effort.

            This is a thoughtful read, published in 2015 by IVP Press I would have liked more about how to combat feelings of shame, but Thompson leaves it in generalities. The book includes discussion questions, so it would be a great study for small groups. He also includes notes and a bibliography.

            I liked the way he wove real-life stories into the chapters. They add color and break up the scholarly tone of the book. A good read.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Why Read About Frogs and Fussy Old Prophets?

Dear Friends:

            Many people consider the Old Testament irrelevant. What can we gain by reading about gory battles, plagues of frogs and problems the Israelites faced in the wilderness? What does Gideon’s fleece have to do with people who make decisions according to what they hear on social media?

            I am here to tell you . . . plenty! We might start by considering why we read the Bible in the first place. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. Scripture offers information we need to understand God. And He can only be understood if we start reading in Genesis.

            There we have the first hint of the Person of God, the Trinity. God says “Let us make man in our image.”

There we find the Promise of God for a Savior to deal with the seed of sin sown by Eve and Adam (Genesis 3:15).

            In Genesis we learn of God’s Presence with us in all circumstances, as Hagar in her distress calls Him “the One who sees me.” (Genesis 16:13)

            In the Old Testament we see God’s Plan unfolding as he provides a redeemer for Ruth, as he offers Protection to the Jews through Esther’s intervention with the king.

            Through Psalms and the prayers of Old Testament saints we learn to Praise our God.

            The prophets tell us of God’s Patience with his people as He calls them again and again to repentance.

            The amazing thing about scripture is that although it was written by many people over a 2000-year period, the message is consistent. There is a God. He is active in our world, and He cares about us as individuals. He loves us so much He sent His Son to die on the cross to take the punishment we deserve for our sins.

            The Old Testament gives us God’s law, and while there are many who say that’s irrelevant, I disagree. The law shows us God’s values. And while we no longer are judged by the law, it points us to right and wrong.

            The Old Testament shows us the reality of sin in our lives. David, a man after God’s own heart, sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and then murdering her husband (2 Samuel 11). Elijah despaired so that he wanted to die, in spite of the fact that God had just done a major miracle through him (1 Kings 19:4). Such examples offer hope that we, too, may be restored after our failures.

            The Old Testament shows us the attributes of God. We learn of His omnipotence as He parted the Red Sea and sent plagues upon Egypt. He learn of His compassion as He provided for a widow through Elisha. We learn of His love for His people, the people of Israel, and how His heart grieves for them when they push Him away. And we also learn of the consequences of sin, the heartache it causes God.

            Recently I read a devotional in Our Daily Bread by Elisa Morgan, who mentioned a children’s book titled: The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. I like that. It reminds me that the thread of salvation through Christ that began in Genesis is echoed through the history, the poetry and the messages of the prophets that we read in the Old Testament. It’s true. Every story whispers his name.

            So find a readable translation. (Right now I’m using the Contemporary English Version with notes by Don Wilkerson.) Dig in. Spend 15 minutes a day reading, and you’ll read through the Bible in a year. It won’t be long until you too will be a fan of the Old Testament.    


Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Book Review: True Feelings

True Feelings: God’s Gracious and Glorious Purpose for our Emotions

Emotions. We all have them. Suppressing them fosters negative consequences, but expressing them sometimes gets us in trouble. So how can we express emotions in a godly manner? Authors Carolyn Mahaney and Nicole Whitacre, a mother and daughter, help us understand how to deal with our feelings.

Emotions are a good gift from God. At creation, Adam and Eve felt pleasurable emotions—until they ate the forbidden fruit. Then they became ashamed. Coming from the root word that in Latin means “to move,” emotions need to be controlled so they don’t take control and ruin our lives.

Mahaney and Whitacre suggest reacting to emotions with self control and prayer, and then countering feelings by doing something positive. And they suggest analyzing your emotions to determine what triggers them. With plenty of references to God’s Word, the authors point out Jesus felt deeply and God’s emotions are expressed throughout scripture. So don’t think of emotions as something bad.

Too often we react to events based on faulty beliefs, and that’s what gets us into trouble. But emotions can definitely lead to good experiences. For instance, feelings of love drive us to acts of self sacrifice. Hatred of sin leads to repentance. So emotions are a good thing.

Published by Crossway in 2017, True Feelings back matter includes notes, a general index and a scripture index.

If you’re looking for a book to help you develop a godly response to your feelings, this is an easy read—just 140 pages—that just might offer enough tips for you to gain control rather than spin out of control and say or do things you’ll regret.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Book Review: Outer Order Inner Calm

Outer Order/Inner Calm: Declutter and Organize to Make More Room for Happiness
by Gretchen Rubin
            This is my favorite book on organizing, and I’ve read many. It’s short. It’s practical. And it’s motivational. Small in size, 5 by 7 ¼ inches, some pages include only a paragraph with a bit of art. But they pack a punch!

            Author Gretchen Rubin offers practical suggestions, such as unless you use a book every day, don’t keep it on your desk. She offers checklists and helps you look at yourself before picking a single direction to follow. Are you a marathoner or a sprinter? Are you an overbuyer or an underbuyer? You’ll “clutter” differently according to your personal makeup. And you’ll also attack clutter differently.

            As I read, I listed how I want to apply her points. So I wrote statements like “Be a tourist in your home” to observe with fresh eyes clutter you may have overlooked. I may take her suggestions to focus on a “flavor of the month” by picking books, clothes or some area to tackle for a month.

            The book has five parts: Make Choices, Create Order, Know Yourself—and Others, Cultivate Helpful Habits and Add Beauty. There’s subtle humor, such as: “Nothing is more exhausting than the task that’s never started.”

            The back of the book includes “Top Ten Tips for Creating Outer Order.” The premise of her book is that by creating outer order, you achieve inner calm. And I find that’s true. If you’re serious about gaining control over your belongings or even downsizing, you can’t beat the content of this book!

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Book Review: The Grammar of God

The Grammar of God: A Journey into the Words and Worlds of the Bible

This book is for the serious Bible student. The author, Aviya Kushner, grew up in a Jewish home where every night over dinner the family discussed the grammar and nuances of scripture as written in Hebrew. As an adult she took a graduate course in Bible and writes, “I was lost much of the time, and many times saddened at what had been misrepresented or obscured in moving the words from the Hebrew to the English, from the ancient to the more contemporary.”

At chapter beginnings, Kushner gives the literal translation of parts of scripture according to the Hebrew and then elaborates on liberties taken by English translators. For instance, where an English version might read “Let us deal wisely,” the Hebrew actually means, “Let us outsmart.” While some of her points seemed to be splitting hairs, I appreciated her insight.

Kushner was used to reading not only scripture but commentaries written by rabbis from around the world over many centuries. She was taught to consider other opinions, so she found it hard to accept English translations that came across as certain of their interpretation. She writes, “Conversation, then, is an integral part of law, even to Jews who believe the Bible is the word of God dictated to Moses.”

Noting the differences in vocabulary, grammar, culture and worldview, she writes, “While some changes are understandable, others are unbearably painful for a Hebrew reader to see.”

A pastor once told me that reading the Bible in its original languages is like seeing television in color rather than black and white. Kushner would agree. The Grammar of God is a challenging but insightful read.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Book Review: The God Dare

This book is for the Christian who wants to make a difference but is unsure how to go about it. At the end of each chapter, Kate Battistelli leads readers on their journey of faith by posing questions such as: What would your life look like if you took God at His word and believed you had world-changing potential? Do you believe there’s a God Dare designed just for you? What do you think it is?

Each chapter focuses on a Bible person, such as Ruth, Moses, the adulteress, the leper, who illustrates overcoming a challenge. Battistelli then applies that challenge to life today. She shares her own journey, which includes remorse and heartbreak along with wisdom she’s gained. Besides Discussion Questions, chapters conclude with “Scriptures to Think About” and “God Dare Secrets.”

Battistelli challenges readers with statements such as: “We have more than enough talent and brains to do much more than we are currently doing.” “Possess your possible.” “We forget (God) entrusts us with sorrow, with trials and difficult circumstances. He wants us to find the deeper joy of knowing Him, not just the surface happiness.”

            The value of The God Dare: Will You Choose to Believe the Impossible? lies in reading through it chapter-by-chapter and taking time to think through the answers to questions. The book offers much food for thought for personal contemplation, for small groups or even for two or three Christian friends to work through together.

            Battistelli is a speaker and former actress/singer and the mother of Grammy award-winning artist Francesca Battistelli. An excellent, challenging read.