Be The People (book review)

If Carol M. Swain’s book, Be The People, sounds like the opening words of the Constitution of the United States of America, it was fully intended that way.

Be The People is a clarion call for American citizens to return to our roots. And Dr. Swain makes no attempt to hide the fact that our country’s roots are firmly grounded in biblical truth. The first section of the book is three chapters long and is called “Broken Vows: Forsaking What We Once Knew.” In language that is sometimes scholarly, sometimes biblical, but always straightforward, Dr. Swain systematically lays out where we’ve come from, and how we’ve abandoned God’s ways to get to this point in our country’s history.

The second section — which makes up the remainder of the chapters — lays out what we can do to reclaim our Judeo-Christian heritage. Leaving nothing to the imagination, Dr. Swain lists several action points at the end of each chapter. She also includes the Ten Commandments, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution at the back of the book. There are no excuses for her readers not to be fully informed of the stark divide between our Founding Fathers’ original intent, and the beliefs and practices of those currently in political power.

Parts of this book surprised me; parts disgusted me; still other parts gave me a greater appreciation for our heritage. But the entirety of this book called me to action. After reading Be The People I feel more prepared to defend what I believe about our great country, and more motivated to get involved.

If you are upset with the current highly-politicized, Scripture-eschewing, heritage-denying atmosphere among the current office-holders in the USA, Be The People is just the book for you.

I am a Thomas Nelson book reviewer.

Thursdays With Oswald—The Agonizing Grip Of God’s Hand

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

The Agonizing Grip Of God’s Hand

     Never choose to be a worker; but when once God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or to the left. We are not here to work for God because we have chosen to do so, but because God has apprehended us. There is never any thought of, ‘Oh, well, I am not fitted for this.’ What you are to preach is determined by God, not by your own natural inclinations. Keep your soul steadfastly related to God, and remember that you are called not to bear testimony only, but to preach the gospel. Every Christian must testify, but when it comes to the call to preach, there must be the agonizing grip of God’s hand on you, your life is in the grip of God for that one thing.

From My Utmost For His Highest

The agonizing grip of God’s hand: so empowering and at the same moment so humbling.

Home And Away (book review)

I just finished reading Home And Away, by David & Nancy French, and I have tears in my eyes. I readily admit that I’m a “patriotic crier” whenever the red, white and blue is involved, and this book hit me right in that patriotic soft spot.

A real quick summary of the book goes like this: David & Nancy French have an ideal life in America (family, home, career, etc.), but David feels compelled to serve his country in the armed forces in Iraq. So David enlists in the reserves and is stationed away in Iraq for a year, and Nancy tries to adjust to life home without her husband. The book alternates chapters, with both Nancy and David writing about the war from their perspective.

But what was invaluable to me was the insight into the emotional life of this couple. Both of them explain so clearly all of the feelings that are swirling around inside of them. You can feel the frustration as they try to explain their feelings to others, who don’t quite seem to get it. Even David has trouble grasping all that Nancy is experiencing, as Nancy tries to come to grips with what David is going through. In the end, I have a much greater appreciation for both our soldiers away in harm’s way, and their families who attempt to carry on at home without them.

If you want to know how to better support and pray for our armed forces and their families, I highly recommend Home And Away to you.

I am a Hachette Group book reviewer.

Engaging Culture

There has been a debate in religious circles for a long, long time about how involved Christians should be in culture.

  • Get close to outsiders. But how close is too close?
  • Be friendly with your neighbors. But how friendly is too friendly?

The debate usually has two extremes: Either get immersed in your world, or don’t even touch a thing of this world. I hate either-or’s!

Instead I think there is a both-and balance that is very biblical. We need to ENGAGE our culture. Engaging culture means that we understand it and can relate to it, but we don’t give in to it nor compromise with it.

We Must Be In It But Not Of It

I’ll be addressing this topic in a new series at Calvary Assembly of God. I hope you’ll be able to join me to learn about the biblical ways we should be engaging our culture.

The Pastor And The Holy Spirit

I’m sure I’m not the only pastor that feels occasionally (all right: frequently) overwhelmed by the heavy responsibility of sharing God’s Word with others. After all, the Apostle James said it pretty clearly: Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).

“Judged more strictly”? Yikes!

But I take great consolation in knowing that if God called me, He will equip me. Just as He did with Jeremiah—The Lord reached out His hand, then He touched my mouth and said, “I am giving you the words to say” (Jeremiah 1:8)—I know He will do for me.

I also draw great confidence in knowing the Holy Spirit is helping me. Check out these words from Francois Fénelon:

“Of what efficacy would be the exterior word of pastors, or even the Scriptures themselves, if we had not within the word of the Holy Spirit giving to others all their vitality? The outward word, even of the Gospel, without the fecundating, vivifying, interior word would be but an empty sound. It is the letter that alone kills (2 Corinthians 3:6), and the Spirit alone can give us life.”

Then A.B. Simpson shares this encouraging story of the Holy Spirit’s help:

“They that possess this power will not always be popular preachers, but they will always be effectual workers. Sometimes the hearer will almost think that they are personal, and that someone has disclosed to them his secret sins. Speaking of such a sermon, one of our most honored evangelists said that he felt so indignant with the preacher under whom he was converted that he waited for some time near the door for the purpose of giving him a trashing for daring to expose him in the way he had done, thinking that someone had informed on him. Let us covet this power. It is the very stamp and seal of the Holy Spirit on a faithful minister.”

YES! I do covet this power of the Holy Spirit in my life. Without His help, I would be fearful to ever open my mouth to speak to others about the things of God.

Glorify God Where You Are

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I love this word from Charles Spurgeon—

“Some persons have the foolish notion that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, or Bible women. … Every lawful trade may be sanctified by the gospel to noblest ends. … Therefore be not discontented with your calling. Whatever God has made your position, or your work, abide in that, unless you are quite sure that He calls you to something else. Let your first care be to glorify God to the utmost of your power where you are.”

No matter what you are doing, if you’re doing it to glorify God, that is your ministry.

You don’t have to be a pastor/missionary to be a great minister!

My People

The prophet Jeremiah is often called “the weeping prophet.” Perhaps if we wept a bit more over the lost souls who are staggering toward Hell, we would be compelled to do more to rescue them.

What I love about Jeremiah is his identification with lost humanity. God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, so if anyone could have the opportunity to feel special or superior, it might be Jeremiah. But when the prophet heard about the approaching judgment, he called the residents of Jerusalem my people. Did you get that: MY people.

Not only did he call them my people, but his heart broke for them:

  • My heart is faint within me (Jeremiah 8:18)
  • I am crushed (8:21)
  • I mourn … horror grips me (8:21)
  • I weep day and night (9:1)
  • I weep and wail and take up a lament (9:10)

In Soul Work, Randy Harris has a passage that has been pounding on my heart—

Why don’t we cancel all those [church] meetings and make a field trip to the laundromat and the bars and the streets and listen to what makes sinners tick until we love them. I don’t mean try to convert anybody; I mean listen to them until we love them. Listen until we find ourselves in them. Listen to what they’re afraid of, listen to what they hope for, listen to what hurts, until we love them. And then we can try to be the church again. (emphasis added)

Or as C.T. Studd famously said:

“Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell;

I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of Hell.”

Soul Work (book review)

You probably think that being a monk is a full-time occupation, right? But what if you could learn from the most committed monks, without actually moving to a monastery? That’s exactly what Randy Harris shows us in Soul Work: Confessions of a Part-Time Monk.

I’ll admit that I was hooked more by the subtitle of this book. After all, whoever heard of a part-time monk. Randy Harris set out to find out more about the deep spiritual walk for which so many monks and hermits are renowned. In the beginning of the book, Randy states that there was something he disagreed with in almost every monastery or hermitage he visited. But he culled through all they had to offer, and presented the best practices in Soul Work.

In short, there is much to learn from the unhurried, quiet, peaceful, and deeply-abiding lives of those who separate themselves from general society. What a huge contrast with our frantic, noisy, stressful, superficial lives. Randy shares what he learned about…

  • Deeper intimacy with God
  • A more refreshed outlook on life
  • A life infused with hope
  • More meaningful prayer times
  • Greater levels of obedience
  • God-honoring humility
  • A more satisfying relationship with God

But we won’t pursue any of these things unless we are truly dissatisfied with our current spiritual level. As Randy wrote,

“We do not move in our spiritual lives until we experience some dissatisfaction with what we’ve got. … The first step toward living an intimate life with God is to realize our own desperation, and that desperation comes largely by developing some sense of God’s holiness.”

This is not a casual read. It’s a book that forced me to confront how much more of God I really wanted in my life, and if I was willing to make the necessary changes to achieve greater intimacy. I was challenged by Soul Work, and I think you will be too.

I am an ACU Press book reviewer.

My Blind Spot

Blind spots can be deadly. I simply don’t see what’s right there until—wham!—it crashes into me.

These blind spots have been called our “unconscious incompetence” zone. I’m not doing well in a certain area, but I just don’t know it yet until—wham!

Up to that point everything seems fine, but wise King Solomon said, “Smugness will destroy fools” (Proverbs 1:32).

It seems there are two ways I could deal with my unconscious incompetencies. (1) I could wait until I get blindsided by one of them; or (2) I could ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to me. Neither option seems very pleasant, but if I’m going to get hit—wham!—it seems like a better option to let Someone who loves me, and wants the best for me, to do it (see Hebrews 12:5-11).

David thought so too. He prayed—

Search me thoroughly, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any wicked or hurtful way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Or, how about Sir Francis Drake’s prayer:

Disturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show Your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

The wham! moments will come. The question is how do you want them to come?

Thursdays With Oswald—Your Theology May Be Wrong

This is a weekly series with things I’m reading and pondering from Oswald Chambers. You can read the original seed thought here, or type “Thursdays With Oswald” in the search box to read more entries.

Your Theology May Be Wrong

     Never be afraid if your circumstances dispute what you have been taught about God; be willing to examine what you have been taught, and never take the conception of a theologian as infallible; it is simply an attempt to state things. … Theology is the science of religion, an intellectual attempt to systematize the consciousness of God.

From Baffled To Fight Better

Far too many times I catch myself believing something just because someone else told me that was the right way to do things. I’m sure my teachers and pastors were well intentioned, but that doesn’t make them infallible.

Only the Word of God is infallible.

When someone asks you, “Why do you do that?” or “Why do you believe that?” the unacceptable response is, “Someone told me this was the way.” Get into God’s Word and find out for yourself. A theologian may start you off on a path, but allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate God’s infallible truth to you personally.

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