Tuesday, August 18, 2009

GodStories

God Stories
Explorations in the Gospel of God

by

Andrew Wilson

My Thoughts:
This book takes the sometimes heavy, theological concepts of the Bible and breaks the key points the meaningful stories we can easily remember. Instead of the typical lessons we learned in children's Sunday School, however, Andrew Wilson takes those stories a step further to ensure that we recognize the true drama of God's glory from creation to resurrection through revelation along the way.

The book is broken into easily digestible chunks that can be used as devotional material, as discussion group thought provokers, or it can be read more like a novel. There is plenty of meat yet you feel as if you are sitting with Andrew chomping on pizza and talking about God! He provides a whole new way of looking at the stories that allow us a glimpse into the character of Christ.

I highly recommend this book for new believers, for those who want to have a deeper relationship with Christ, and for those who are feeling somewhat stagnated in their studies.

You can purchase this book at the David C. Cook Website or at Amazon

About the Book:
Sometimes our gospel is just too small. If we're not careful, we can take a story about Jesus rescuing creation and reduce it into a story about ourselves. We can turn stories into statements, and poems into punchlines. We can miss the sweeping, triumphant, heartbreaking and glorious stories that make up the gospel of God.

But the Biblical gospel, the real one, is a stunning mosaic of GodStories. It's about sins forgiven, shame removed, beauty restored, and meaning reinstated. It's about God's kingdom, his mission, his temple, and his victory. It's an epic love story that starts with betrayal and ends with a wedding, but it's also a thriller where the hero fights to save the world against impossible odds. It's massive. It's a sweeping drama of GodStories from start to finish.

Welcome to the gospel of God.

About the Author:

Andrew Wilson holds degrees in theology from Cambridge University and London School of Theology. His passion is to communicate the extraordinary truths of God. Andrew teaches internationally and is an elder at Kings Church Eastbourne in the UK, where he leads training and development. He is also the author of Incomparable: Explorations in the Character of God and lives with his wife, Rachel, and their newborn baby, Ezekiel, in the UK.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Christianish -- What if we're not really following Jesus at all?

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Christianish

David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already. Mark and his wife, Kaysie, reside in Oklahoma with their three greatest productions Morgan, Jackson, and Charlie.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (August 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766926
ISBN-13: 978-1434766922

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


scandalous


Nineteen months are all that separate my two older sons, Jackson and Charlie. In practically every way, one is the antithesis of the other. They both have their strengths and weaknesses, but smash them together and they fill out the other’s weak spots, becoming one practically perfect human being. Of course, the scattered remains that are left would be a bit messy. In other words, they complete one another, either as a right example or as a wrong one—their choice.


Charlie is currently seven and Jackson just turned nine, which means their choices— at least for the time being—might skew a bit ornery. A few months ago, I walked upstairs to turn off our daughter Morgan’s light for bedtime. It was later than usual and a good hour after the boys had been put to sleep (which means something different for children than it does for pets). They had been told to go right to bed. Unconsciousness isn’t really something that can be demanded of a child, but I—like millions of parents before me— made the attempt anyway. As I opened Morgan’s door to check on her, I caught the two boys in her room. They ceased mid-play, frozen, and stared at me—deer in the headlights. They were standing in the middle of her bedroom, a clump of Lego’s squeezed in each fist. They gaped with wide-eyed guilt on their faces for about three solid seconds. And then they ran like mad wildfire through the adjoining bathroom. I heard the scurry of feet on linoleum, followed by the bounce of springs and the flip-flop of covers as they scrambled into bed.


Reasoning doesn’t enter into the equation all that much at the ages of seven and nine. For some reason, not only was the rationale to sprint away and dive into bed considered a good idea, but the identical urge to flee the scene hit both brothers at the same time.


I sauntered through the hall to their bedroom (the longer path than the bathroom route by about eleven inches) and creaked open the door. They were each in their bunk, feigning sleep. And so, the cover-up began.


Boys?


They attempted to rouse themselves from their faux slumber, “What? Huh?”


Were you out of bed and playing in Morgan’s room?


A beat. A moment of pause. And then—both—simultaneously…


No.


Certainly I sympathize with the gut instinct of the cover-up. It is the defensive urge of the male, not to mention the mischievous pre-puberty male. In later stages of life, it will be replaced in-turn by hormones, rage at injustice, and unnecessary snacking. Throughout my own young journey, I was on the punishment end of the cover-up multiple times.


It felt ironic to finally be on the other side.


No? I responded, You were NOT in Morgan’s bedroom?


Sweat trickled down their tiny foreheads.


Nope. No. Nope.


Just now? Like, fifteen seconds ago, you were NOT holding Lego’s in Morgan’s room?


(Slightly more hesitant than before) Noooo.


I paused for dramatic effect: Well—I saw you.


Not since the Noahic Flood have the floodgates burst open so abruptly. The words “I’m sorry” rat-a-tat-tatted out of their mouths repeatedly in a fusillade of desperate penance.


I know you are sorry, but you lied. You know what the punishment is for lying.


I’m fairly certain there were a couple of “yes, sirs” uttered amid all the slobber and snot.


Go downstairs. You’re each going to get one spank.


Yes. My wife and I believe in spanking. Not “grab-your-knees-while-the-back-ofyour-eyeballs-rap-against-your-brain” spanking. But certainly a recognizable sting that serves as a tangible reminder of why the punishable incident was a bad idea. We want our kids to have a sensory reinforcement that sin is not such a preferable option. It always astounds me when parents don’t believe in appropriate spankings, because the world spanks people every day—especially the people who didn’t receive any as a child. Personally, I would rather feel a short-term sting than the sort the Internal Revenue Service doles out.


Of course, an appropriate spanking is exactly that. Just enough to sting—and definitely on the derriere. And, of course, the act is attached to teaching and forgiveness and a walking through of the issue so that it leads to reconciliation and change and love.


That’s the pretty version.


The boys weren’t seeing the benefits just yet.


Jackson and Charlie have a very different approach to the news of an impending spanking. Charlie just stares. Wide-eyed. His brain immediately begins clicking and whirring. Within fifty seconds, he orchestrates a mental plan of how best to charm his way through the incident with minimal pain. By a sheer act of will and a reasoning through percentages, he determines swiftly that playing the situation down will cause it to end with only a slight portion of hurt to his person.


Jackson destroys everything within his wake.


Not literally. He doesn’t throw things or flail. But within a small eight-inch radius, the planet implodes. Jackson takes the news that he will receive one spank the way most react in a house fire. He hugs his favorite belongings close to his body while screaming and rolling on the floor.


I greeted Jackson into the spanking chamber (our bedroom) first as I knew that the twenty-two solid minutes it would take to actually deliver the one spank would be an epic purgatorial wait (and hence, bonus lesson) for Charlie.


The reason a Jackson spanking can take so long is because we don’t believe in wrestling our kids into the spanking. There has to be the moment of surrender. Charlie can fake surrender like the best of them—but Jackson? Not so much.


Lean over, son.


I CAN’T! I NEED A GLASS OF WATER FIRST!


You can have a glass of water after your spank. It will take ten seconds.


I MUST HAVE A GLASS OF WATER FIRST! I’M THIIIIIRSTY!


You cannot have a glass of water until after your spank.


No one tells a father he is going to be put in a position to say these sorts of irrational things.


You’re stalling. Let’s just get the punishment over with.


NOW I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!


What?


YOU CAN’T SPANK ME BECAUSE I’LL PEE! I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM FIRST!


You can go to the bathroom after I spank you. We would be finished already…


YOU’LL WHACK THE PEE OUT OF ME!


I promise I won’t whack the pee out of you.


See. Irrational things. Of course, this is when Jackson moves from delay tactics and transitions into physical blockers. As I lean him over and pull back the spank stick, all sorts of appendages start

flailing about spastically like Muppet tails, blocking the punishment trajectory. I’ve never seen the kid move so fast as he does when he strategizes a spank block.


ARM HAND ARCH BACK!!


ARM, FOOT, FOOT, HAND FINGERS


PUSHING AWAY ARM HAND, DOUBLE-HAND, FOOT HEAD


BOTH FEET (wow)!


ARM, HANDARCH!


The kid is Mister Miyagi-ing me, suddenly Jean-Claude Van Damme, blocking every attempt to close the deal. He won’t play football, but this he can do. I finally settle Jackson down.


Jackson, I’m not going to fight you. You have to decide that you’re going to accept the consequences for what you’ve done. You’ve fought me so long, that now you’re going to get—


(Wait for it.)


—two spanks.


Son. Of. A.Gun.


I had no idea what the kid had in him. He began to writhe and weep and gnash his teeth. I’d never seen gnashing—but it’s actually very impressive. I believe he may have even utilized sackcloth. The boy just flat-out wailed like he was being branded with a hot iron. To the neighbors, it must have sounded like I was stunning him with a police taser.


And then, Jackson moved away from delaying and blocking—to step three: blame.


IT’S MORGAN! SHE’S THE LIAR!! SHE LIES ALL THE TIME!


Who are you and what have you done with my child?


MORGAN LIES! SHE LIIIIIIIIIIIIES! MOOHAHA!


All right, son. For that, you’re now going to receive—


Somewhere, between the bedrock layers of our planet, a mushroom cloud was forming its power, readying itself for a self-imploding FOOM! Tension built, and a roar and a rumble began to build just beneath the crust of the earth.


—three spanks.


And that is when Jackson vomited.


Seriously.


He barfed.


He wasn’t sick to his stomach or coming down with a virus.


The boy got so worked up over three spankings that he literally upchucked everywhere. He blew chunks all over the proceedings. As a father, you can’t help but debate your own discipline tactics at this point. I helped him wash up and then cooled him down with a cloth. He began to settle.


After a few moments, I addressed him.


You okay?


I told you I needed to go to the bathroom.


Against all of Jackson’s hopes and dreams, the regurgitation session did not replace any of the punishment, and I forged ahead with the three spanks anyway. The beauty of Jackson is, though he fights you all the way, you know where he stands. When the punishment is over, Jackson is quick to reconcile, huddled and sobbing in my arms. At that moment, after the pain, he is truly repentant. And he always comes out the other side changed.


Amid all of this excitement, Charlie sat waiting in the hall.


For twenty solid minutes. Hearing the sounds of torrential screams and human wretching. He sat, stone. Eyes like nickels on a plate of fine china.


Needless to say, Charlie walked in, bent over, and received his one spank in about six seconds flat.


Immensely accommodating.


But alas, not nearly as life-changing as Jackson.


It’s harder to tell whether or not Charlie truly changes because Charlie knows how to charm. During that same spanking, he sat near Kaysie and spoke to her as Jackson’s sobs and moans were muffled behind the bedroom door.


I’m not gonna do anyfing Jackson is doing when I go get MY spanking.


You’re not, huh.


Nope. I’m gonna walk wight in and jus’ get spanked.


That’s a good idea, Charlie.


I do not wike it when Daddy spanks me.


I’ll bet you don’t.


I wike it when you spank me. This piqued Kaysie’s interest and she hesitated before asking nonchalantly–


Oh really? Why?


Because when Daddy spanks me, it hurts—but when you spank me, it does not— Charlie’s gaze finally met Kaysie’s. The realization of the privileged information spilling out of his mouth occurred to him. He stared.


I pwobably should not have told you dat. Kaysie smiled pleasantly.


Tell you what, son. From now on, we’ll let Daddy do all your spankings.


Charlie sighed.


Yep. I definitewy should not have told you dat.


So, there is an inherent difference in the way Jackson deals with disappointment and in the way Charlie deals with it. Yes, Jackson goes off the deep end, revealing his scars and putting his emotions in front of a microphone—but at least we know where Jackson stands when the consequence is said and done. Jackson wrestles his flesh to the ground— and he does so in public. That’s how we know the transformation is real. I know that his repentance is true because I witness his internal journey from resistance to acceptance firsthand.


Charlie? Well, you don’t always know with Charlie. Charlie is good at seeming fine. He keeps his deepest feelings close to his chest. And the rough stuff? You could go a very long time without Charlie allowing anyone to see the rough stuff. The result is an engaging and personable child—everyone’s best friend—though you don’t always know what’s really going on inside there.


And yet, we as a Christian culture seem to think that it is this same positioning and decorating of ourselves that ministers most. In an effort to put our best foot forward, we disguise the ugly, bury the past, and soak the dirty laundry in perfume. We have an emotional need to seem holier than all the “thou’s we encounter while fitting in to the perfect flawless world of those who side-hug us on the way to the sanctuary.


We delay. We block. We blame.


We cover-up.


And we somehow believe that it delivers a better impression of what it means to serve Christ. We believe that seeming the Stepford Wife makes us some sort of demented recruitment tool. But the truth is, we have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.


SCANDALOUS HISTORY


Many cite Matthew 5: 48 “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” but that verse doesn’t have anything to do with fakery. It is a call, instead, to spiritual maturity. And maturity owns up to the truth. Others refer to Jesus and how it was His holiness that truly ministered. This, of course, is true. But we too quickly forget that His holiness ministered most powerful as it stood side-by-side with His humanness. And, never was His humanness more on display than in His birth.


Jesus revealed the rough stuff with the very way He first came into the world.


It seems to me that the first sentence in the first telling of the Son of God entering into this world would be glorious and filled with holy hyperbole. Not so. Instead, we get a few pragmatic words: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ.” This is merely a preamble to the names that follow—names that expose Christ’s lineage. The first chapter of Matthew fires the names off bam, bam, bam: so-and-so was the father of whatcha-macall-him—never taking the smallest breath, diving headlong into historic minutia until ZING! Verse seven delivers the whopper—the first specific detail mankind received about the family Jesus comes from:


“David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.”


Uriah? Wasn’t he the guy David had killed? Murdered so that David could sleep with his wife? That guy? Why on earth, out of all the admirable people in Jesus lineage—and for that matter, all the honorable traits of David—why is this bucket of family dirt given the first and greatest mark of attention? A golden opportunity missed. Here the ultimate history book had the option of paving a red carpet and paparazzi before Jesus, publicizing the elitist line He came from and urging the public down to its knees in awe. This was the proof: that Jesus came from the lineage of the favorite King, the man after God’s own heart—David. But instead of applauding this fact, chapter one in Matthew pauses to remind the reading audience that this great King David whose line led to the Savior—this beloved ancestor of Jesus Christ—was a man of great failure and greater scandal.


Matthew started his history book with tabloid fodder. Why?


Because just like you and me, Jesus came from a scandalous history. But unlike you and me, Jesus was not afraid for the world to know and remember that scandal. As a matter of fact, He welcomed it.


We all come from something scandalous. Perhaps those who came before us, perhaps the life we lived before we lived for Christ, perhaps some aspect of our current life. But in modern Christianity, we have somehow deluded ourselves into believing that priority one is to eradicate this reality.


We bury. We pretend. We deny to others and ourselves.


And, even worse—when the opportunity arises to actually come clean with the soiled spots of our life history—we instead make believe everything is, and always has been, a series of either perfect, fine, or no big deal. And in so doing, we make ourselves into the very fakers we detest. We somehow convince ourselves that this is what Jesus would want: a wiped-clean fa├žade. A steam-pressed, white cotton, buttoned-down church shirt.


We live the rough stuff, but we keep it silent. We believe it to be a lapse in faith to actually comment on the rough stuff or give it reference. We assume that exhaling the rough stuff somehow gives it more power, so we smile and wave and praise the Lord that everything good is permanent and everything not-so-good had zero effect on us. We have a terrible habit of skipping the rough stuff.


I don’t understand why I do this. I look at the way Jesus entered this world and I see very quickly why it was important for Him to make mention of his scandalous history. It softened the blow for the shame and disgrace that would accompany Him into the world. It was as if Jesus said, I know the manner in which I am born is going to start the rumor-mill flowing, so I might as well give it a head-start. And, what rough stuff it was:

a mother pregnant before even engaged

a father who almost broke off the engagement

parents who make their decisions based on angel dreams

a cousin born of the elderly

a birth in an animal barn

adoration from astrologers

a birth that prompts the murder of hundreds of other infants


Let’s just say that if you brought all these needs up during a prayer meeting, the family would be ostracized forever before the first syllable of amen.


The truth is this: Jesus experienced the rough stuff before the age of five in ways you and I could never imagine. We consider Christ’s sufferings and we picture Him at the age of thirty-three, but the beatings go all the way back to the birth canal.


THE ROUGH STUFF


How did we take this life picture and somehow misconstrue it to mean that if we just believed in Jesus, our lives would be wealthy, prosperous, and happy? Jesus doesn’t promise that. Jesus says that many great things will come to those who follow Him, but He also promises a whole lot of lousy.


And, here’s the key: the lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy.


Because lousy is life.


And lousy is important.


It is in the rough stuff where we truly become more and more like Christ, because it is amid the lousy where we experience life on a deeper level. With intense pain comes the opportunity to love more richly. With disappointment comes the push towards selflessness. Neither of those come with pleasant because pleasant breeds boredom. And boredom is a moist towel where the mung beans of sin sprout. Life following Christ is not supposed to be a ride. It’s supposed to be a fight because there is a very specific villain—and if we don’t fight, he wins. If our Christianity aims only for pretty and pleasant and happy and rich, the enemy becomes the victor.


But there is another just-as-important reason that we should embrace the rough stuff. Not only because Jesus did. And not merely because it is important.


We must embrace the rough stuff because, for far too long, Christians have skipped the rough stuff. We have pretended it does not exist in order to speak into existence a more promising present. But there is a massive dilemma when the Christianish skip the rough stuff.


Real life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.


And those who do not yet follow Jesus know this. Their lives don’t skip the rough stuff and they know good and well that your life doesn’t skip it either.


So while we as a microcosm of faith have been busy naming-and-claiming, yearning for a better bank account and more pleasant pastures, ignoring the fact that lousy exists— the world watches.

And when they watch, they see the truth:

Life doesn’t skip the rough stuff.

We say that our lives do skip the rough stuff.

Therefore, we are liars.

Or—at absolute best—we don’t understand real life at all.


The world is looking for Jesus, but they don’t know they are looking for Jesus because they believe they are looking for truth. You and I know that truth is Jesus. But they? They do not know that truth is Jesus because you and I are supposed to be Jesus— and you and I couldn’t look less like the truth.


For decades, our focus has been completely skewed. In the eighties, our passion was prosperity, never noticing that the only wealth that is important to Jesus is a wealth of love and compassion for those around us. In the nineties, we were branded by righteous indignation, and Christianity became a political term that meant we were anti more things than we were pro. In the new millennium, the postmodern set poured out bitterness and disappointment on the church of their parents, disregarding everything the previous generation built only to construct the same thing with hipper color palettes and larger video screens. We still worship what we want our lives to feel like more than we worship Jesus. We still major on the minors, debating whether the book of Job is literal or parable when we should be out there pulling people out of the rough stuff. We still spend more money on self-help books than we give money to help others. We have become a club—a clique. A group that is supposed to be a perfect picture of the Father—but instead just acts like a bunch of bastards.


And we wonder why no one wants to be a Christian.


We’ve got to do some serious redefining of what that word means.


I am in the same boat. I am guilty as charged for all these crimes. I look back on my life and I see more times than not that I wish someone did not know I was a Christian. Why? Because my unkind words and bad behavior probably did more damage than good to the reputation of Jesus. Yes, this is spilled milk—but the longer we resist cleaning it up, the more sour it will smell.


The root, of course, comes down to the why.


Why do we as Christians strive for extremely temporal things and call them Jesus? As a people group, we are currently defined by the modern world as unloving and unwilling to gain a better understanding of any individual who is not already a Christian. These characteristics have absolutely nothing to do with Jesus. They are petty and selfish. They are Christianish. And yet, they are our very own bad habits. Why? Don’t we mean well? Don’t we want to live for Christ—to share His love with those around us? Don’t our mistakes stem from our frustration with the state of society? With what we perceive as the rebellion of modern mankind against the ideology of God?


Actually—that is the core of the problem. The world is broken. Completely broken. What we neglect to accept is that we are broken also.


We each come from damaged goods and scandalous histories and then pretend those negatives have no effect on us. The result equals a sea of followers of Jesus who can’t properly see or hear Him beyond the chaos of our own lives. So, instead of following Him, we say we are following Him while actually following a combination of Him and our own chaos. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but most of the time it is a mixture of the two. Just enough of God to make a difference. Just enough of ourselves to leave a questionable aftertaste.


So, the world sees that God is real—but at the same time, something doesn’t quite set well with them about Him. What is the negative common denominator?


The navel-gazing.


We are supposed to act as if everything is perfect, but deep down, we know nothing quite is. So, our silent desperate prayer is also a stare. A constant internal eyeball on the broken shards of ourselves. Deep down, most of us feel unglued—in pieces—longing for our Christian zealousness to turn to superglue. We feel that if we just do enough, act out the right formula, all the pieces will melt and coagulate like Robert Patrick in Terminator 2. That we will not only become whole, but indestructible. So, we wall up our compassion and act shatter-proof to a world at large while inside we are falling to pieces.


And we believe this reveals Jesus.


The great news is that Jesus looks down on us with the same tender compassion that He has for the rest of the world. He sees our pain. He sees our scandal. He knows what we are desperately trying to do, and He wants us to succeed.


But there is a realization that we must first accept.

We will never become indestructible by staring at our pieces.

We are not supposed to become indestructible. Untouchable. Safe.

And we aren’t supposed to be staring at our own pieces at all.


Because when we stare at our own pieces, we cannot see the solution.


We only find the solution when we stare instead into the eyes of Christ—and in those eyes, see the reflection of the hurting world.


We know this, but every gut instinct tells us to shout out, “I CAN’T! How can I help a hurting world, when I can’t even figure out how to glue back the broken pieces that make up my life?!” This is when Jesus changes our perspective. This is when He says softly…

You are not pieces.

You are my piece.


The Christianish approach is to see our lives as irreparable shards—always striving for the glue. But that pursuit is fruitless. Because God did not put your glue in you. He did, however, make you the glue for someone else.


Our lives are not shattered pieces. This whole world is a broken puzzle—and each of us fits next to those around us.


YOU ARE THE GLUE


My favorite television show is ABC’s Lost. The masterminds of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have constructed a vast mythology where none of the bamboo strands make any sense until the day they eventually become a basket. Yes, I adore the convoluted structure and the peel-back-the-layers mystery of it all, but more importantly, I appreciate the fact that the strands in that basket --are people.


The beauty of Lost is that these characters were marooned on an island with no foreknowledge of any of the others. They each carry their own bruises, scandal, and broken pieces onto this island. What they do not know is that each is the glue for someone else’s piece. Sawyer has the information Jack needs from his dead father. Locke knows where Sayid’s long-lost love lives. Eko knows that Claire’s psychic was a phony. Each one is the ghostbuster to what haunts the other—but some never discover this. Some in this story are never healed. Why? Because the answers do not exist? No.


Because the characters neglect to connect.


When Jesus came to this earth, He was bold about His own scandalous history and He was born under tabloid circumstances. Why? Simple.


Because He knew that His rough stuff was the answer to someone else’s—and He did not want to keep it quiet. He knew that the only path to healing was to connect His glue to someone else’s pieces.


In God’s great plan, He created us each the same way. We each have our own brokenness and we each have a God-given strength. However, we continue to sit in confusion because we feel like a life following Jesus should feel less disjointed and make more—well, sense.


And that is exactly the problem.


Our lives don’t make sense because our lives were not intended to stand alone.


Our lives were each made by God as pieces. Pieces of the eternal puzzle.


We are made to fit our lives into one another’s. Our entire lives.


The good. The bad. The strength. And the rough stuff.


As hopeful as we are that our strength will heal someone else, it is far more likely that our rough stuff will. Because, not only does our rough stuff hit another life where it most matters—the acknowledgement of our own rough stuff communicates that we understand this life we live and this world we live it in. Embracing the reality of our rough stuff communicates truth. Truth that the world is able to identify. Truth that will become the glue to their pieces.


This is the profound orchestration of how God intended to use imperfect people to represent a perfect God. It is not in each of us faking our way to an appearance of flawlessness. It is in each of us being true and vulnerable in our pursuit of Christ and taking the glue of His power (even amidst the frailty of our humanness) and connecting with the broken around us. It is this weave—this interlocked puzzle—this merging of shrapnel and adhesive into a beautiful picture—it is this that reveals the real truth of Jesus Christ. If we are ever to escape the Christianish and truly become little Christs, it will only be in this merging—acknowledging that our strengths are from God and not our own, while allowing that strength to mend the broken. But it does not stop there. We also have to be willing to reveal our pieces so that others’ strengths can heal our own pain.


This is the perfect earthly picture of Christ. It requires a new sort of church culture: a culture that no longer positions itself at the prettiest angle, but rather gets down to the scandalous histories for the sake of revealing to a world at large that Christ not only understands, but can transform our pieces through the power of other broken people.


Just like the rest of the world, my sons Jackson and Charlie fit together. They are simultaneously each other’s antithesis and each other’s antidote. Each other’s miracle or each other’s foil. It all depends upon whether or not they are each willing to fit together and allow the collision of their rough stuff and strength—their scandals and successes— to make the sum of both entirely complete.



scandalous


Can you relate to the flawed thinking that positioning and decorating ourselves— pretending the rough stuff doesn’t exist—ministers most?


Do you come from something scandalous? Do you experience the rough stuff? Have you hidden from this? Is that hiding drawing you closer to Christ or driving a wedge between you? Is it drawing you closer to others?


Consider the statement: “We have done more damage to the world’s impression of Jesus by feigning inaccurate perfection than we could ever cause by allowing those who don’t follow Christ to see us wrestling our sins and flaws to the ground.” Do you agree or disagree? What are the detriments to hiding our struggle? What are the benefits of allowing it to be seen?


Do you agree or disagree with the statement: “The lousy isn’t rotten. The lousy isn’t sin. The focus of your life is not supposed to be dodging lousy. Because lousy is life. And lousy is important.” Why or why not?


Have you considered your life “in pieces?” Have you attempted to put yourself together on your own?


What do you think of the philosophy that you are actually a “piece”—that the solution to your life lies in the way you fit together with the other people who make up the community of this world?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Don't Miss Your Life!

a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_cESuxv-WNX8/SAad94Trj7I/AAAAAAAAArA/Yn05_E4V0fY/s1600-h/wild+card.jpg">It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Don't Miss Your Life!: An Uncommon Guide to Living with Freedom, Laughter, and Grace

Howard Books (June 2, 2009)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:





Charlene Ann Baumbich is an award-winning journalist, author of the Dearest Dorothy series of novels, author of the nonfiction titles The Book of DUH! and How To Eat Humble Pie and Not Get Indigestion, and a motivational speaker who makes frequent media appearances across the country.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Howard Books (June 2, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1416562990
ISBN-13: 978-1416562993

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Don’t Miss Your Life!

It’s Better Than You Think

By Charlene Ann Baumbich

CHAPTER ONE – REMEMBER WHEN?

What We Already Know


MEMORY PORTFOLIO (MP): Your invisible, utterly personal, wholly

accessible, always readied for new entries, combination diary and scrapbook of

sensory loaded captured moments. Properly honored, added to, mined, evaluated,

sifted and sometimes even edited, gentle examination of said captured moments

can become the key—the very path—to your success in not missing your life.


When I was a child, I loved playing spaceship and building worm forts with the

Cook brothers. They lived just up the path through the weeds—the path we’d

created by endlessly running through them. (Cook brothers, if you’re out there, please contact me! My maiden name was Brown.) We once left this earth (for real)

on an abandoned hot water heater rigged with a control panel made of half-melted

camera flash cubes and pieces of wood which we wired and taped to its side. Of

course this was back in the pre-Wii days when our only option was to engage in

real-life hands-on play, like sifting through the remnants of the garbage our folks

burned in a rusty barrel out back. Where else could we discover a once common

flash cube transformed by fire into a crystal launch button?


During our space explorations, I was always Flash Gordon1. I mean to tell

you I was Flash Gordon, neither a pretend Flash nor one of those froo-froo tight clothed girls in the old black-and-white television show of my youth. Nope, I was

Flash, who was also tight clothed, but not in “that" way. As for the worm forts,

they were exquisite—although I do not recommend putting a swimming pool in

your complex. Don’t ask me how I know.


Over time, I became a gypsy (inspired by the exotic Sophia Loren), Annie

Oakley2 (sharp shooter), Calamity Jane3 (rough and tumble), Crazy Googenheim (I

loved making my mother laugh while pretending to be that wonderful character

brought to life by Frank Fontaine on The Jackie Gleason Show) and Doris Day,

that quirky fanny-swinging dame of a movie star with whom men always fell in

love. A comparative cast for today’s youth—or, on a bad day at the office or with

the kids, perhaps you—might be made up of an actual astronaut (we didn’t yet

have them back in the fifties), Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore or, say, Jim Carrey. Although I wasn’t doing typical childhood writerly things like reading stacks

of books or writing, not even in a diary, I always had a story running in my head. I

was too busy “living” in another world, or paying attention to the fine, wondrous,

confounding and startling details of my own life to sit down and write about it. At

the time, little did I know that my natural childhood inclination to live in “otherly"

skin was setting the stage for my all-growed-up, as my Grandma used to say,

“accidental” fiction writing career. Never did I suspect that my youthful God-given

instinct to pay close attention to the physical and emotional nuances of my own

life, as well as the lives of those around me, was preparing me for one of the most

fulfilling and rewarding joys of my entire life: writing this book.


However, during an astute memory portfolio (MP) review, my writerly path and this burning message became as clear as a bell. When we give our MPs a chance to work for us, what obvious and meaningful threads we discover woven throughout them! Not only that, but what might the patterns of our frayed threads teach us—spare us from in the future—if we learned to recognize and heed their warning stitches? Turns out I am best fed, educated and ministered to by the magical, mystical power unleashed through stories, and hugely blessed by passing them along. I’m also often a complete doofus, a “qualification” God uses to make sure I don’t run out of fun and wholly relatable, so I’m told time and again, material. Thank you,God—I think. That is why I’m offering you this easy-going pluck-and-play opportunity to pluck what you want from this book of stories and play theirimplications and possibilities into your life as needed. Be advised that along with a full exploration of your MP, a strong Play! thread will weave its way throughout these pages. Doesn’t this approach add up to more fun than a scary “self-help” theme?


In the most relaxing, amusing, yet thought provoking ways possible, I want to remind you, (and me, too) of an incredible asset you’ve been given. I’m talking a mega asset that is so easy to forget. Ready? Here it is: your one and only,

true-self—not someone else’s version/vision—God-breathed life. I don’t know how we can forget such an easy-to-remember asset, but we do. So, if you feel like you’ve lost your way, or like you might need an emotional laxative for your fun-impaired, spiritually-constipated, fear-laden self, this message is just the painless ticket (well, mostly) to help you get your life back to YOUR LIFE!





Then the Lord God formed man of

dust from the ground, and

breathed into his nostrils the

breath of life; and man became a

living being.

Genesis 2:7 NASB


‘Tis my quest to help you learn the lively and releasing arts of listening to,

mining, and then sharing your own stories. Yes, even that story which you hoped

you’d never have to think about again, since maybe, just maybe, you can at long

last learn to laugh about it, or at least unknot the emotional ties that feed its lifenabbing virility.


If you explore your happiest childhood memories of times at play with your

friends, I believe you will discover they reveal the same keys that can infuse you

with satisfaction today. This is one of the best features of a MP, demonstrated by

the fact that when I say something like “explore your happiest childhood memories

. . . ,” you can. Your MP is already up and running and contains everything you

need. Although it might require an occasional reboot or memory tickler—and I’m

going to deliver tons of them—no new software is required. Just dive in! In fact, do

it right now! Shine a light around in the alcoves of your childhood when you were

playing with your favorite playmates.


You are searching, remembering, rediscovering, reawakening . . .

What did you find? Did you spend the majority of your youthful play time

with your imaginary friend? Well that counts. If you thought, perhaps still think,

that imaginary friends are completely weird and unheard of in your land of play,

well that counts, too. After all, it is your brain, your life.


But the universal truth is this: whether our true friends were born of our

imaginations or our childhoods, or we cultivated them as adults, they can serve as

mirrors and stabilizers, partners and butt-kickers, examples and lessons in our

lives. Those voices from the past, trusted friends in the present, and conversations

regarding our futures can often guide us back to our personal north-star course

which we might have long ago lost in the shuffle. Please consider me one of your

new friends, for that is the spirit I bring to this book.


Are you unhappy in your current vocation? Perhaps something as easy as

perusing your MP and pondering your natural gifts, attributes and leanings can

point you toward a new, more satisfying career, or at least flush out a fresh,

rejuvenating and fulfilling avocation or hobby. Later, I’m going to help you

examine the “way" you used to play before someone encouraged you to start

“applying" yourself, which often implied you should knuckle down and leave your

natural-bent “fun and frivolous"—HA!—inclinations behind. Your MP is a great

place to search for the gifts you’ve lost or set aside, to lift them to the light and

reignite them.


What if you don’t even know if you have any gifts? Suggestion: Listen,

mouth zipped, to the way your friends, both old and new, can lay out your

strengths. If you don’t believe me, ask them. It’s time you shore up and reclaim

your uniqueness, if, somewhere along the line, you handed it over to the blandness of other people’s expectations for you. It’s time to reignite the Godgiven hope you already harbor within.


Hope is perhaps the first key that can enable you to wake up, then open up, to your life. Without hope, we are left only with despair. As I heard—and forever remembered—Marilla Cuthbert say to Anne Shirley in the 1985 made-for-TV adaption of Anne of Green Gables, “To despair is to turn your back on God.” Now who’s gutsy enough to do

that?! Not I!

**

Maybe you derailed (hey, you picked up this book, so something must have

happened!) when you began assuming your life is worse than its actuality. Our

assumptions can get us into whole heaps of trouble, not to mention waste big

blocks of our valuable time here on this earth. How often have you stood in the line

you assumed to be the correct line, only to learn upon finally arriving at the clerk

that you’ve wasted your time in the wrong line? How many times have you

assumed something about your spouse, say that she’d like a can opener for her

birthday, or that he’d welcome a subscription to Communicating 101 as a good

change of pace, only to learn you were wrong—by a gazillion miles? And not only

that, you’re now in deep doo-doo, buck-o or buckette. How often do you set a

course for your career, project or parenting skills based on assumptions that one of

those well-known and respected gurus, including the ones on television, is actually

correct about your individual situation? And surely they wouldn’t let people have

their own TV shows if they didn’t know what they were talking about! Would they?

Never mind that he or she knows none of the details about your personal life. So

you follow their advice to the letter, only to receive a gut-punch to your psyche

when your leap of assumption dumps you and your loved ones down the proverbial

drain. Again.


But even if my examples of errant assumptions did feel like personal

excerpts out of your past year (doink!), be of good cheer since you, you smart

smart person, are reading this book. I’m going to deliver handles and stories that

can help you learn the vital art of questioning your assumptions.


[MOMENT OF TRUTH: You’re on your own with those store lines.] Together, we will tame a few shrewish thoughts and ignite more noble ones. And if that’s not already a deal for the price, I’m even going to help you question your questions! For instance, in your valiant attempts to find out why your life’s trolley has slipped off its happy track, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “Why can’t I be more like [fill in the blank]?”

BZZZZZZZZZZ! Wrong question! God and I are here to meet you exactly

where, how and who you are, which reminds me of a story logged in my MP that

well illustrates my point. See how this is going to work?

**

I love to attend stockcar races held on half-mile dirt tracks. My favorite part? The

glorious crescendo of rumbling thunder that comes rippin’ ‘round turn four when

the drivers see the track lights turn green. Previous to that moment, perhaps

they’ve had to circle the track once or twice, arranging and rearranging themselves

until they jostle into the track official’s liking, but then . . . GO! As opposed to the

“cleanliness” of NASCAR races, I adore the remarkable demonstration of energy

when, depending on track conditions, either dust or mud kicks out from behind the

tires as the metal-to-metal mass—or perhaps only two cars that have broken away

from the pack—makes its way past the roar of the crazed crowd. Heart pounding, I

sit in awe of each driver who dives into the turns (Man, I wish I was him!),

exploding the back end of his or her car into a wider skidding arc than that of the

curb hugging front end. Centrifugal poetry set to motion by wild childs! Oh, baby!


Although I feel badly for those who, on their own accord, spin out, I also secretly

revel in their courage, since it means they held nothing back. Full bore. Head on.

Havin’ at it! No put-puttin’for them! Isn’t that the way you want to go through life?

Years ago, the grand finale race at a track not too far from us held a “Run

What You Brung" event. (No doubt insurance eventually shut it down.) In other

words, if you’re revved up from watching the night’s action (Let me at it!) and

want to give it a whirl yourself, go ahead and line up your street car—the one you

drove to the races—for the “Run What You Brung." To be fair, you probably had

to prepare for this before the actual event since your car needed to be in the pits,

and there were no doubt indemnity waivers. But nonetheless, you “raced" your

street-drivin’ vehicle. [MOMENT OF TRUTH: Most nights for this event, the

word “race" was a gross exaggeration since gutsy racing appears easier than it is,

but buddy, by golly they were in it!]

So, too, all you need to begin this journey into not missing your life is to run

what you brung. You need no further preparation other than to show up, which

you’ve already done. If you’re happy and you know it, drive yer happy self right

on up to the starting line. If you’re lost and you show it, you, too, are on the right

track since you’re seeking a better way. So you see, you don’t need to be more like

somebody else; you just need to be whoever—and however—you are at this very

moment.


Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him

sing praises. James 5:13. Notice that doesn’t say snap out of it, shut up or go away.

Kinda sounds like God’s “Run what ya brung!" permission slip to me. Amen!

**

When I first started coming to grips with the fact that I’d “accidentally" (more on

this later) become a professional speaker, a professional writer (Stand back!

Professional words at work here!), I couldn’t for the life of me believe it.

[MOMENT OF TRUTH: To this day, only God can truly explain how I got so

“lucky!"] For years, every stumbling step of the writerly/speakerly way, I kept

thinking, “When are they going to discover I don’t know what I’m doing? When

will someone finally check my report cards and learn I received average grades in

all things English? How is it that editors at publishing houses, newspapers and

magazines have chosen to publish my articles and books instead of many others

written by people who’ve spent their lives doing all the right things to become

published writers, like write-write-writing stories from the time they were little,

keeping a diary or journaling every day, attending journalism school . . . none

which are in my history? How is it that kind folks pay me to come speak at their

events when I have no degrees in anything? Other than a couple miscellaneous

writing classes, an unending passion to share what I’ve learned, and more guts than

brains, I have no certifiable qualifications to do what I do. Oh, and that “mostly

Irish" thing, which not only honors Story, but believes in Story’s innate power to

transform.


But when I examine my childhood adventures with my friends, the writing

(hahahaha) was on the wall. Or rather it was lurking in the gifts God gave to me—

none which I earned or deserved—along with an unignorable lure to play with

them. (Ah, we’re back to the pluck-and-play mantra of this book. Nice!) Of course

when I was a child, I had no inkling about “gifts," nor did anyone pressure me to

use them. Thank you Mom, Dad! I had no drive to find a career path; my mom was

so happy in her homemaker role that all I wanted was to one day get married and

have kids too, which is what I did. My parents weren’t channeling all their energies

into pushing me down the “fast track" so I could attend the “right" college. Thank

you and bless you, Mom and Dad. (Don’t get me started on the topic of parental

pressuring!) Aside from school, household chores, horses to feed and stalls to

shovel, I had no demands. I simply had time to play at whatever floated my boat,

whispered to my creative brain, delighted my unstressed heart. I had leisure time

(which overbooked kids do not have—okay, I started anyway, but I promise that

I’m done now—I hope!) to explore my natural bents using the crude “tools" of

childhood that would one day help hone my happiness and ability to fully live.

**

In that last paragraph, you likely noticed that I tried not to get started on something

that launches me up on a soapbox—and not in a good way. (If you didn’t notice,

wake up, people! Thankfully, the next chapter is about wakefulness, but at least

flutter your eyes to let me know you’re still with me—and yourself.) Sadly, I failed

at my attempt to stifle myself since only three sentences later, I started! Is that kind

of lack-of-self-disciplined failure familiar to you? At least this time, even though I

sorrily started, I was able to quickly stop myself. [MOMENT OF TRUTH: I’m

getting better at catching myself. Just not always.] The encouraging part for all

of us is this: as opposed to the negativity of my soapbox , I also possess, and later

will share, many positive, productive antidotes and inspirations on the topic of

overbooked anyone, especially ourselves.


As with all of us, we possess our good sides, as well as our shadowy

soapboxy-y [or fill-in-the-blank] sides. Again, here’s where our MPs usher forth

yet another great incentive to explore them: I don’t want to one day open mine and

discover that every page is filled with me ranting. I feel assured you don’t want

that type of overriding vibe in your MP either. But here’s one of the truly great

things about life: right this moment, God is with us. Because God is with us and

holds us close, we therefore each possess the power—God’s power—to make our

new MP entries more positive. Wonderful! I’d much rather remember, and be

remembered for, my helpful attributes than my negative, harmful or sarcastic ones,

wouldn’t you?


So, even though we mess up, we’re here to run what we brung with the hope

that we can, and will, get better, especially if and when we let our MPs tutor us

while God holds our hands and hearts.


Summing it all up, friends [emphasis mine], I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and

meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the

worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what

you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes

everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Phillipians 4:8, 9 MES

We find what we look for, so let’s look for what’s right—including in ourselves.

How can we move forward in our lives if we’re using all of our energy pounding

ourselves and others downward?

**


Throughout these pages, I’m going to share many stories from my journey. They

will run the gambit between hysterical (both Ha-ha! and Oh, no!), pristine,

tormenting, profound, Duh! and beautiful. I have no doubt that within them, you

will connect with the good, bad and dubious shades of yourself. As you read,

pluck, and play along, you’ll be able to apply some order, meaning and a tad of

funk-tionality to your memory portfolio, and discover that your days are, or soon

can be, indeed better than you think.


God called his creation and everything in it—which includes us—good.

Even when we behave badly and fall short and say stupid stuff, we are loved by

God. Put that in your memory portfolio and bring it along. It will be the most

important thing you need to remember. But do yourself a favor: stop every few

pages and pray for your own stories, memories and joys to rise to the surface. Be

willing to put the book down when they do, close your eyes, and allow yourself to

sink into them. When you read about me second-thinking things or questioning an

assumption, you do the same. Sometimes those double-clutch discoveries are both

startling and illuminating. Perhaps they’ll even be life transforming.


In fact, let’s practice. Stop and pray right now. Pray that God illuminates

everything—all the lessons, options, goodness and choices—you need to extract,

then trust his grace to help you pray and play it into your life.

(You’re supposed to be praying!)

Amen.

The Friends We Keep and a Bible Study Series!

About The Friends We Keep

During a particularly painful time in her life, Sarah Zacharias Davis learned how delightful–and wounding–women can be in friendship. She saw how some friendships end badly, others die slow deaths, and how a chance acquaintance can become that enduring friend you need.

The Friends We Keep is Sarah’s thoughtful account of her own story and the stories of other women about navigating friendship. Her
revealing discoveries tackle the questions every woman asks:

• Why do we long so for women friends?
• Do we need friends like we need
air or food or water?
• What causes cattiness, competition, and co-dependency in too many friendships?
• Why do some friendships last forever and others only a season?

• How do I foster friendship?
• When is it time to let a friend go, and how do I do so?

With heartfelt, intelligent writing, Sarah explores these questions and
more with personal stories, cultural references and history, faith, and grace. In the process, she delivers wisdom for navigating the challenges, mysteries, and delights of friendship: why we need friendships with other women, what it means to be safe in relationship, and how to embrace what a friend has to offer, whether meager or generous.

Author Bio:

Sarah Zacharias Davis is a senior advancement officer at Pepperdine University , having joined the university after working as vice president of marketing and development for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and in strategic marketing for CNN. The daughter of best-selling writer Ravi Zacharias, Davis is the author of the critically-acclaimed Confessions from an Honest Wife and Transparent: Getting Honest About Who We are and Who We Want to Be. She graduated from Covenant College with a degree in education and lives in Los Angeles , California .

About 40 Minute Bible Studies

The 40 Minute Bible Study series from beloved Bible teacher Kay Arthur and the teaching staff of Precept Ministries tackles important issues in brief, easy-to-grasp lessons you can use personally or for small-group discussion. Each book in the series includes six 40-minute studies designed to draw you into God’s Word through basic inductive Bible study. There are 16 titles in the series, with topics ranging from fasting and forgiveness to prayer and worship. With no homework required, everyone in the group can work through the lesson together at the same time. Let these respected Bible teachers lead you in a study that will transform your thinking—and your life.

Titles Include:

•The Essentials of Effective Prayer •Being a Disciple: Counting the Cost

•Building a Marriage That Really Works •Discovering What the Future Holds

•Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of the Past •Having a Real Relationship with God

•How Do You Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk? •Living a Life of Real Worship

•How to Make Choices You Won’t Regret •Living Victoriously in Difficult Times

•Money & Possessions: The Quest for Contentment •Rising to the Call of Leadership

•How Do You Know God’s Your Father? •Key Principles of Biblical Fasting

•A Man’s Strategy for Conquering Temptation •What Does the Bible Say About Sex?

Author Bio:

Kay Arthur, executive vice president and cofounder of Precept Ministries International has worked with her teaching staff to create the powerful 40-Minute Bible Studies series. Kay is known around the world as a Bible teacher, author, conference speaker, and host of national radio and television programs.