Book Review: First Ask Why

“We are not here simply to take up space in the world,
but we are here to make a difference for eternity.”

These words from Shelly Wildman have stuck with me. Shelly’s new parenting book First Ask Why: Raising Kids to Love God Through Intentional Discipleship (Kregel, 2018) is being released TODAY, and I am thrilled to recommend it to you—not simply because Shelly is a friend, but because it is filled with truth and encouragment for the path of parenting.

I’m reminded through Shelly’s quote above that all of our lives have purpose. Because of this, our parenting requires intentionality. Read more

Radical Prayer by Manny Mill

If you are part of a family, you know that there can be times that are hard! It can be for a variety of different reasons – perhaps someone is in a bad mood or doesn’t want to listen to good advice. Perhaps someone feels unfairly treated or is being selfish. No need to even provide many examples because you can likely identify.

My family had one such Thursday in July. I can’t even remember now how things unraveled, but at day’s end, there was much discouragement.

As I went walking the next morning, wanting to pray about it, I grabbed some memory verse cards I’d made earlier in the year, but had not since reviewed. I came across an entry from April, and it said,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling” (Psalm 46:1-3).

This sounded very familiar to me! I remembered a text message I had received from Manny Mill the day before, seemingly out of the blue as I had not heard from him in months. I wondered if this was the psalm he had referenced in his text. I got home from walking and picked up my phone to see.

Yes, Manny’s text that Thursday morning had said he was radically praying for my family and had prepared his ministry message for that night with me in mind, that it was on Psalm 46, and that Barb (his wife) would be singing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Well, it was that very night that our family had this discouraging time. And after my walk the next day and reading Psalm 46 in my memory verses, I was reminded of Manny’s text that told me he was praying radically for my family before this had even happened.

God in His kindness was reassuring me through this. “Therefore we will not fear.” And when we next went to church as a family, the hymn that was sung that Sunday morning was “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

Manny Mill is a commissioned evangelist from our church. I have the blessing of working in the church and getting to know amazing people like Manny and Barbara whose lives are authentic and demonstrate that the relationship they have with God directs everything they do. They truly walk with God and live out what they believe.

Manny recently brought me a copy of his new book Radical PrayerI read it in a matter of days, anxious to learn from this prayer warrior what I have seen lived out in his life.

What do you believe about prayer? 

In 2010, Manny’s wife Barbara was in an automobile accident. This event caused him to ask, “How can I treat God like a paramedic, calling out to Him only when there’s an emergency?” God used this as the impetus to begin to transform Manny’s prayer life.

Through the years I’ve read various things on prayer, and this is one of my favorites. Perhaps it’s because I know Manny and see this lived out in his life, but it definitely challenged me in new ways.

I loved being reminded that prayer is about God’s glory before it’s about my needs, and how he developed praying for the hallowing of God’s name. He encouraged radical prayer and radical love and gave practical examples of what this looks like. There were points in the book where he just says to set the book down, take a radical timeout, open the Bible and pray. I found those to be powerful moments.

As I read Manny’s book, I loved seeing all God has done in his life to reveal Himself to Manny so that Manny can now reveal Him to others and make Him known. And I wonder, how can I do the same?

Whatever it is you think about prayer, this book will encourage you to know more and to pray persistently, radically, and in biblical ways. The 10 chapters would make a great 10-day devotional or be useful in a small group discussion over 10 weeks.

Note: All proceeds from the book will be donated to Koinonia House National Ministries. Their annual banquet is coming up October 29 at 6:00 p.m. in Lombard, IL. If you live in the Chicagoland area and are interested, click here for more information or to register.

Books on My Shelf

From time to time, I like to capture the books I’m reading and enjoying.

mosesWe are studying the Book of Exodus this year in Women’s Bible Study at church. The last time I studied Exodus was on my own in early 2006, and at that time, I loved reading F.B. Meyer’s Devotional Commentary on Exodus. This time, I’m reading F.B. Meyer’s The Life of Moses. It is excellent! It is enriching the study so much. F.B. Meyer is a gifted writer. He offers thoughts I would never think of, and I feel as though I’m transported back to that time as I think about Moses and what his life was like. This is a great accompaniment to a study of Exodus, or even by itself. I highly recommend it.

manny I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer the last several weeks, as seen in my last couple of posts, so this book came at a good time. Previously I’ve found classic books on prayer so helpful, such as Andrew Murray’s With Christ in the School of Prayer. I love this book, though, because it’s a present day book by someone whose life models the truths he shares and presents. I know Manny Mill is “the real deal,” and I learned a lot as I read through this book, truths that I am trying to put into practice.

self forgetfulness

The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Tim Keller is a book I should read quarterly! It only take 30 minutes or so to quickly go through it again, but it’s worth it every time I read it! One of Keller’s quotes from the book that I often see on Twitter is “… the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.” That cuts straight to the heart! It reminds me of a quote from a sermon my father-in-law gave when I was in high school. He said, “Self is the single greatest obstacle to effective ministry.” I’ve always remembered that, probably because I wrote it right down on the page of my Bible.

I won’t spoil it, but the best part is toward the end. Keller writes on issues of Christian identity and why we don’t need to prove ourselves. I love remembering the truths he lays out so well in this short book.

best yes

I didn’t expect to really like or need this next book, The Best Yes by Lisa Terkeurst. I don’t feel in a season of “endless demands” but rather in a more balanced time, but yet, I ended up with this book and started to read it. And I liked it! I’ve underlined and been impacted by a lot that was perfectly timed for my life, even when I didn’t think this subject mattered to me. Lisa is president of Proverbs 31 Ministries, and I’ve been impressed by many of the things they offer, including the new First 5 app, developed to help women study the Bible daily.

fierceOne of my all-time favorite books was Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas, and so his recommendation for Fierce Convictions by Karen Swallow Prior was all I needed to pick this one up. Though I’m just getting started, I’m enjoying it so far. It’s about the life of Hannah More, a contemporary of William Wilberforce. These reformers and abolitionists of the late 18th century were inspiration for the classical school my children attended, and so it’s always been of special interest to learn more about their lives and how through their faith they were able to stand against wrongs in their culture for the good of others. I find these sorts of books give inspiration for how we might do the same.

age

This is another book that’s worth picking up time and again to be encouraged in the task of parenting. Paul Tripp always draws you back to gospel truths and heart issues, helping you see this time of parenting teens as truly an “age of opportunity” instead of a season to be dreaded! I am thankful each time I browse through this book for the encouragement it offers.

So that’s most of what I’ve been reading at the present time. I probably need to read a larger variety, include some fiction, but I’m grateful for the strong truths and words of encouragement to be found in many books like the ones above.

What are you reading? I’d love to hear what’s on your bookshelf.

The War Room

The new film The War Room is out. Have you seen it?

I just finished a Priscilla Shirer Bible study this summer, so I was excited to see her in this movie.

Though the movie at times seems to preach a little in the dialogue, and though there are things I have since read that people are critical of in the movie, I left with a full heart desiring more prayer in my life.

I was encouraged not only to pray, which was the major theme, but to tell the next generation what we believe, just as this older woman was passing along to the younger woman what God had shown her during her life.

I realize things don’t always wrap up as quickly and neatly in life as they did in the movie, and sometimes it takes years to see a major breakthrough on something we’ve prayed for. But when we are in prayer — intentional, focused, deliberate prayer, praying Scripture and believing God for His promises to us that we see in the Bible — even if the answer isn’t what we hope or is long in coming, we see Him involved along the path as we wait with hope for Him to act. Our hope isn’t in the outcomes, but in the God who knows all things and is sovereign over all and powerful to deliver.

We don’t always start praying and see instant results. It’s not something magical if we utter right words. But my heart still resonated with the overall message of the movie. We don’t want to be quick to dismiss the film as some might because it didn’t develop everything as fully as they would like (who can build a full theology of prayer in two hours?) or perfectly explain every aspect (some asked how he made that much money, or complained that many people don’t have an extra closet to make a war room, etc.). Catch the overall themes and go find your war room, be it a bedroom or small corner of the house.

Then pray. Pray Scripture. Record God’s answered prayers and the ones where you can’t yet see the answer, but where you see Him working. That’s part of why I have this blog – to remember, to proclaim, to record what God has done. Yes, tell of God’s mighty works. Encourage one another. Pray for one another.

We can go to the Bible and study everything we find about prayer — how to pray, when to pray, where to pray, why to pray. We can develop what the movie didn’t have time to. We can pray for more faith as we pray (“increase our faith, Lord”). Ask God to teach us to pray, to show us how.

Let’s pray in full faith believing that God is who He says He is and God can do what He says He can do.* We can trust Him. He is powerful and strong. He is our Deliverer. Let’s become prayer warriors.

*Thank you to Beth Moore for showing me that in her Believing God study. Her brief appearance in The War Room was also fun to see!

Book Review: Teach Us to Want by Jen Pollock Michel

teach us to want

As a Christian woman living out God’s calling on my life, what do I do with ambition? Is it something to be mistrusted, considered selfish, and just dismissed? And what about desire? How does it fit in my life when I am called to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus (Matt. 16:24)? Could there be some godly desires and longings that God may have set in my heart in order to lead me to things he has for me? How do I discern what desires might be from God to be shaped and redeemed and used, and which ones truly are selfish and need to be set aside?

What do we make of a verse like Psalm 37:4? “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” As we delight in him, won’t we discover that HE is our ultimate desire and other things will fade in comparison as he satisfies the human heart. Yes, this is true. Could there though also be other desires that he fulfills, too?

These are some of the recent questions I have contemplated. After reading several books from the perspective of “calling” in the last year, I always walked away troubled by books with a lack of sound, biblical truth and a focus that was based almost solely on the authors’ experiences. They seemed misguided and elevated these desires as supreme, even when running counter to God’s Word or to other callings in life, such as family and children. That search for a significant calling, fulfilling desires, seemed to trump almost everything else and demanded sacrifice from everyone around. And how did it fit with following the example of Christ, who humbled himself to death on a cross (Phil. 2:3-8) to do his Father’s will (John 6:38) and bring us salvation?

Enter Jen Pollock Michel’s new book Teach Us to Want. I half expected the same as what I had been reading elsewhere, but this was different! It was hope-giving, inspiring, encouraging, grounded in biblical truth, gospel-centered, honest, and thoughtful. Teach Us to Want came from a different perspective by analyzing the more root issue of desire and ambition – not just the big picture of calling, but daily desires as well, something I had not considered, but which may be even more important. Teach Us to Want acknowledges that many of our desires are malformed and selfish, but that not all are. Teach Us to Want centers around the Word and prayer and led me into times of prayer before the Lord. Teach Us to Want centers around God and his glory, not around me. This is so refreshing, so needed in our culture.

Add to this that Jen Pollock Michel is a beautiful writer. She is adept with words, clearly well-read, interweaving with her story many biblical truths and valuable quotes along the way. Teach Us to Want is worth reading simply for its beauty with words!

Jen adds to the conversation that is going on among Christian women, but with a biblical approach and from an angle that is not as often considered. I hope Jen continues to write and that Teach Us to Want is just the first of many more things to come. I give it my enthusiastic recommendation!

Heaven is for Real

Over the last week or two, I’ve read several online articles from pastors that I esteem about the new movie Heaven is for Real. Each one seemed to be a warning of some sort about the movie and advising against seeing it.

I had read the book after its release a few years ago because a number of my daughter’s friends were reading it and she wanted to read it. I figured it was probably fairly benign — if it wasn’t accurate, it probably wasn’t harmful — but I did want to read it myself. It happened to be around the time of the death of a close friend of ours when I was also reading Heaven by Randy Alcorn and thinking about heaven more. 

While I realized the book was written quite simply and might not be true (though I found myself wanting to believe that a “pastor” is telling the truth, but also realizing that a not-quite 4 year old can be into make believe and perhaps there could be many other explanations), the book, combined with Randy Alcorn’s book which is far more biblical, did make me think bigger thoughts of heaven and wonder more about heaven in a way I had not before.

However, I will tell you this. Before I ever read it, I knew heaven is for real because I have God’s Word, the Bible. I knew without a doubt where my friend Jeff was because he had trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation from his sins, had accepted God’s free gift of grace, and had followed Jesus. I also knew how we have access to heaven – through faith in Jesus Christ, His death on the cross and resurrection, not because of any works that we can do.

If you’ve been reading my blog lately, you know I’ve been studying Galatians which gives us the true gospel of God, the gospel of grace. There is no ambivalence about its truth. We see the apostle Paul writing to the Galatians because they are turning away from the gospel as others are trying to pervert it. Paul is bold to speak the truth because he recognizes his own salvation and apostleship and this gospel are all from God, not man, and Paul is therefore God’s “bondservant,” living to please God, not man.

In Galatians, we see Paul (formerly “Saul”) recount the story of his life and dramatic conversion. The one who had persecuted the Christians would become the one persecuted. This gospel truth was worth living and dying for, worth being bold to speak about and to warn against false gospels, gospels that add or take away from the one true gospel of Jesus Christ.

It was with all of these things in my mind as I considered seeing the movie Heaven is for Real. Because my daughter had the day off school yesterday, she wanted to do something fun together and suggested the movie. As before with the book, I didn’t expect it would be harmful — if this child’s account was not true, it might be encouraging in some way.

However, whatever truth the book may have held, it all seemed lost in this movie. I realize we can’t expect a movie to necessarily give a clear gospel presentation, but if you are going to tell about heaven, shouldn’t you tell the true way to get there? The fact that the movie gave another gospel is what was so distressing to me.

Church was about hearing a homily or some good thoughts from the pastor whose faith was unsure and uncertain. The pastor was shaken by the thought that his son might have gone to heaven as though the thought of heaven prior to that wasn’t even real to him! We see him reassuring a woman that her older son who had died would be in heaven because of love. Really? Was Jesus’ death on the cross unnecessary? Are we left wondering how we can get to heaven with no assurance more than love?

Toward the end of the movie, the church service becomes all about the story of the boy going to heaven. What is church? What is true worship of Jesus Christ? This movie did not give you glimpses of that. A holy God, a sinful people, a Savior – Jesus, Son of God, fully God, fully man – coming to die for our sins, His death and resurrection that we just celebrated this weekend. Salvation through faith in Jesus, and true worship of Him! All of it missing from this!

Suddenly, this all seemed completely unbelievable. I wanted to stand to my feet at the end of the movie and tell everyone not to believe it! There is a way to heaven, and it is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

We have the living Word of God to show us the way. We don’t need a young boy’s unreliable word from a near death (not even death) experience. It could nonetheless be encouraging perhaps if it could be confirmed as truth, but this movie does not match God’s Word, which is reliable and true.

Before seeing the movie, I wanted to think it would at least be an encouraging, uplifting kind of thing, if nothing else. But it wasn’t. Jesus was not exalted in this movie. As our pastor says in his book No Other Gospel, “God has designed things to exalt his Son at the cross. Any gospel that doesn’t center on the cross of Jesus Christ is not truly God-centered.” We didn’t see Christ exalted. How can heaven be considered without Christ?

Praise God this morning for pastors who preach the Bible and the true gospel of God, for churches that are gospel-centered and Christ-centered, for pastors willing to warn us and direct us by the Word of God! I left the movie realizing with sadness how many churches are lacking in this, giving warm thoughts, feel good thoughts, things humans might want to hear, but not teaching the Word. I was also sad thinking how easily people are led astray and turn aside to other things that sound good or to things that “tickle the ears.”

Millions of copies of this book sold. People eating it up. But what of the Word of God? Let that inform us, teach us, be the thing we measure other things against. Study it, know it, believe it. It is reliable and true. By faith in Jesus, through His finished work on the cross, His death and resurrection, we have life, both now and eternally. That’s a message that should excite us, bring us to our knees in worship, and one we want to share with others.