Wait Prayerfully: A Guide to Prayer for Advent

Wait Prayerfully Cover Shot Print-Kindle  

Advent is a time when Christians all around the world practice waiting prayerfully on the Lord. We remember the prayerful waiting of God’s faithful people for the Messiah to come, and we remember the calls to be watchful as we wait for his reappearing. This guide will assist you in preparing your soul for Christmas this year by helping you to wait prayerfully.

Designed to be useful on its own or as a companion guide to Live Prayerfully: How Ordinary Lives Become Prayerful, this book leads the reader into ways of praying with other people’s words (based on prayers adapted from The Book of Common Prayer, praying without words, and praying with their own words, including scripture readings, hymns, and prayers which are particularly helpful during Advent.

Now available in print and Kindle editions.

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Book Review: How God Became King by N.T. Wright

Book Cover- How God Became King I will never read the gospels the same way again after reading How God Became King by N.T. Wright. I am not new to reading Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but this book helped me to see things in those four books which I have missed in all of my previous reading of them, even as they have been my constant companions for years. And the things it helped me to see are not just trivial matters, like trying to unlock some secret code hidden in these ancient documents, but rather, they are the essence of what all of the four gospels seek to communicate. I am not alone. As he says early in the book, "Despite centuries of intense and heavy industry expended on the study of all sorts of features of the gospels, we have often managed to miss the main thing that they, all four of them, are most eager to tell us."

A subject that runs throughout the book is how Christians manage to deal with the different emphases of the traditional Christian creeds and the content of the story of Jesus' life in the gospels. Other than Jesus' birth, death, resurrection, and ascension, the creeds have practically no mention of Jesus' life, and a straightforward reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John leaves no doubt that the things Jesus did in his life (particularly in between his baptism and Good Friday) really do matter. I know no one who denies that explicitly. Yet I know many (and have been one myself in the past) whose theology could skip straight from Christmas to Calvary and not miss anything. Wright's point is that such theology may be consistent with the creeds, isn't consistent with the gospels, and that the creeds and gospels do not have to be separated like that, but can and should compliment each other.

Wright's claim that Jesus becoming king is the point of the gospels may not sound all that shocking to readers upon first glance, though many might think that Matthew is "the kingdom gospel," while the others have their respective emphases. But Wright does a masterful job of showing how each of the gospels is thoroughly a gospel about God becoming king (of Jesus' ancient Israel, and of the world) through Jesus. In order to make sure his argument suffers no injustice, I won't try to summarize it here, but will simply urge anyone who has an inkling to do so to read this book.

I first read Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy in the summer of 2000. The way I live and what I believe has never been the same since. This book by Wright has been part of a Willard-esque revolution in my understanding of the gospel. Much of the point of Willard's message is that we have to evaluate whether the gospel we communicate naturally leads our hearers to become disciples of Jesus, or to become something else, and that if we are to be faithful to the scriptures, our gospel has to be filled with the message of God's kingdom. Even though that concept forever changed my approach to life and ministry, I have always struggled with how all the parts of the scriptures might form a kingdom-centered gospel which naturally leads people into discipleship. This book makes a huge stride in that direction.

Disclosure Statement: If you purchase resources linked to from this blog, I may receive an “affiliate commission.” I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” Regardless of whether I receive a commission, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Book Review: Pursuing God's Will Together by Ruth Haley Barton

This book, with the way of life and the way of leading churches and ministries that it commends, is radically good. I couldn't agree more with the first sentence of Robert Mulholland's endorsement: "This book needs a warning label: 'Content may be disruptive to your understanding of Christian life, leadership and community.'"

The book is designed to be a guide for groups involved together in leading Christian churches or organizations. Although it could easily take years for a committed group to come to the place of experiencing together some of the things Barton describes, any group with the courage to take on the task of going through this book and facing the issues it describes will quickly taste the goodness of the kind of spiritual leadership in community which it commends. Barton writes not only as a theorist who has worked hard to develop a sound approach to discernment, but also as a practitioner who has ingrained these principles and practices in her own organization and as a guide who has helped many others find their way through them.

Two-thirds of the book are dedicated to how individuals who make up a leadership group can become a community that is capable of knowing and doing the will of God together. As Barton emphasizes, it is futile to expect that discernment will genuinely happen in a community of undiscerning individuals, regardless of how sound the process may be. On the other hand, if a group is made up of discerning people, discernment will begin to happen even with very imperfect processes. The final third of the book is dedicated to a process that groups can go through as they face decisions which require discernment and what it would actually be like for them to experience doing God's will together after having discerned it in such intentional ways.

Having been involved in leading Christian ministries over the past sixteen years, and having had the privilege of working alongside many wonderful and godly people along the way, my honest reaction to reading this book is both a grieved realization that I have never experienced anything like what it describes (and neither have the large majority of my colleagues) and a deep longing to one day be part of a community dedicated to living together in the ways Barton discusses which would keep us open and available to God, so that when we come together around the common purpose of our shared ministry, we could seek to know and do God's will in such deep trust toward God and one another.

For anyone involved in leading any kind of Christian group (perhaps even right down to our families!), I cannot express sufficiently how highly I recommend Pursuing God's Will Together.

Dr. Victor Hamilton's Teaching on Genesis

We recently had the treat of hosting our favorite Bible professor from our days at Asbury University, Dr. Victor Hamilton, for a weekend of teaching in our church on the book of Genesis. It's very hard not to love this guy, and he's a remarkably gifted teacher, as you'll hear in these files.

Here are the files of his teaching sessions and sermon:

My First Attempt at Publishing: Understanding Infant Baptism

After a blog post from earlier this year which I wrote in preparation for my daughter's baptism, my pastor thought it would be helpful to folks in our church to have that material in published form. So, we self-published a booklet titled Understanding Infant Baptism, and it's now available through Amazon in both print ($4) and Kindle ($2.99) formats.

To be honest with you, since you're here on the blog reading this, there's really not much of any reason for you to purchase one, because you can read very close to the same thing in the original blog post along with its comments. But if you'd like to be able to point someone who's less likely to visit the blog post to something in another format, I hope that it's a helpful resource for clearing up some of the prevalent confusion around infant baptism.

Book Review: Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities by Wil Hernandez

I read several of Henri Nouwen's books early in my experiences in ministry, and they forever shaped the course I would follow. It's obvious in his writings and his life story that he was thoroughly committed both to Christ and to ministry in the church, and I'll never forget his words, "Sometimes there is nothing so dangerous to our intimacy with Christ as our ministry for Christ" (may not be an exact quote). I may currently be on my longest Nouwen-less reading stretch to date, but I am eager to dig in again after reading the treatment of the tensions in Nouwen's theology and life in Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension by my friend and spiritual director, Wil Hernandez.

From the moment that I read through the Table of Contents of the book, I was intrigued, because I could see that the aspects of Nouwen's life and thought that Wil would highlight were going to be a different twist on a theological characteristic that I've come to value deeply in my own Wesleyan heritage: the wisdom of finding a place for "both/and" where most people see "either/or". In Wesleyan categories, this surfaces on our emphases on both sides of apparent tensions such as faith/works, personal/social, scripture/sacrament, and others. (By the way, for a great book along the lines of understanding this aspect of Wesley's theology, see Paul Chilcote's Recapturing the Wesleys' Vision.)

Hernandez categorizes some of the tensions in Nouwen's life in three ways:

  • Inward/Psychological Tensions (True Self/False Self, Self-Owning and Self-Giving, and Woundedness/Healing)
  • Outward/Ministerial Tensions (Solitude/Community, Compassion/Confrontation, and Presence/Absence)
  • Upward/Theological Tensions (Suffering/Glory, Present/Future, and Life/Death)

The book provides a fascinating glimpse into the life and thought of one whom I, together with many others, have long regarded as one of the spiritual giants of our day. Hernandez shows that he was such a giant, but not- as I had assumed about him at some point- because God and the Christian life were much clearer to him than they are to most of us. Rather, his greatness and the lasting impact he has made on so many, is largely due to his courage to live within the polarities as they are presented to us in the life of faith, rather than taking what often appears to be an easier route and focus only on one side of a tension while ignoring or even dismissing the other.

The book is filled with wisdom and insight, both for those already well familiar with Nouwen and those who may be new to his writings. Dr. Hernandez is one of the most reliable guides we have for continuing to plumb the depths of Nouwen's life and teaching from the years since Nouwen's death and on into the future, and this book is a great example of how helpful doing so can be.

Disclosure Statement:

I received this book free as a gift from the author. I was not required to write a review, nor if I did so, for it to be positive.

If you purchase resources linked to from this blog, I may receive an “affiliate commission.” I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regardless of whether I receive a commission, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Book Review: Our Favorite Sins by Todd Hunter

You probably think you know what this book is about. You're probably wrong. In Our Favorite Sins: The Sins We Commit & How You Can Quit, Todd Hunter examines what new research by the Barna Group says are Americans' favorite sins and he offers a way out. The first surprise in the book is that the things most of us would think would show up front and center in a book like this (sins generally of the sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll variety) don't even make the list. Rather, the sins addressed hit much closer to home, so that practically every reader will read and think, "Yikes, that's me." In fact, the sins that show up at the top of Barna's research are each pretty socially acceptable- even in the strictest Christian circles. (In other words, your pastor could have an obvious struggle with any or all of them, and you might not think anything about it.) So what are they?: anxiety, procrastination, over-eating, media addiction, and laziness.

Thankfully, Hunter's goal in writing the book wasn't to incur guilt on a widespread audience by addressing things that apply to all of us, but he very much wants to help us leave these sins behind. This is where the second big surprise of the book comes in: his remedy has nothing to do with exerting all of the willpower we can muster up, then urging us to do it all over again when we fall off the wagon. Rather, the remedy hangs on the premise of the entire book: that something is tempting to us when an opportunity comes along that matches a disordered desire already in place within us, and that reordering our desires by cooperating with God's grace is the key to being freed from these sins.

The reason this is surprising is because we normally seek to beat a bad habit by tackling it head on, but if we'll admit it, we know ourselves well enough to know how ineffective this is. No one beats anxiety by demanding themselves to become an un-anxious person. Rather than this direct approach, Hunter's key is indirection. This is why he doesn't spend all that much time delving in to each of these top five sins in all of their nasty but common detail, but instead goes to quite an effort to point out what's common between them and every other temptation: our disordered desires. So, it doesn't matter if your besetting sin isn't even on the list, because Hunter's goal is to expose the common root of all kinds of sin and point us toward the well-tested and tried way out.

Rather than depending on willpower to free us from our sins, Hunter suggests that we make changes in the other parts of who we are (thoughts, feelings, body, and social context) and then our will/desires follow along. He gets very practical in suggesting ways to do so, primarily by intentionally putting habits into our lives that open us to God's grace and help to free us from "the tyranny of what we want" [in our disordered desires]. If you're unfamiliar with Hunter's story, these habits will likely be a third surprise of the book, as he suggests the practices of praying liturgical prayers, receiving the sacraments of baptism and holy communion, and reading the Scriptures following a lectionary.

Much in this book could be delved into more deeply, but Hunter does a terrific job of making a historic Christian approach to sin accessible to any reader today.

Disclosure of Material Connection:

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

If you purchase resources linked to from this blog, I may receive an “affiliate commission.” I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Regardless of whether I receive a commission, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.