Monday, February 28, 2011

‘The Life Ready Woman: Thriving in a Do-It-All World’ by Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis – Book Review and Giveaway

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Life offers so many choices that it can be confusing when navigating through this world. In ‘The Life Ready Woman: Thriving in a Do-It-All World’ by Shaunti Feldhahn and Robert Lewis provide a blueprint to help women make decisions that will be pleasing to the Lord.

Here is the synopsis of this interesting and practical book:

This is a great day to be a woman…even when you’re trying to balance it all! We have amazing choices and opportunities could never have been imagined. Yet we also encounter a whole new host of challenges.
Every woman knows the feeling of struggling to juggle everything, wishing there were more hours in the day. And every woman has also enjoyed the wonderful opportunities God provides that simply didn’t exist a few generations ago. The trick is knowing how to manage this crazy, modern life. For those of us who follow Jesus, the challenge is even greater. How can we live a modern life from a biblical perspective?
 The great news is: there’s a way to do this! There is a way to be “ready” for life that leads to peace and enjoyment rather than stress and regret. Within the ancient words of the Bible we can find a road map that applies directly to our lives as contemporary women: an encouraging , life-giving blueprint you can look to for clarity about the unique design, callings, balance, choices, relationships, and direction that God has for you.
Becoming “Life Ready” involves thinking purposefully about subjects you may never have thought through before. It involves courageous steps of faith at some points, and waiting for open doors in others. But the end result will be that you not only survive but thrive in our do-it-all world. Being a “Life Ready” woman means you are clear about your life, bold in your faith, and able to find God’s best for you. No matter where you are – younger, older; single, married, divorced, remarried; stay-at-home mom or busy executive; no matter your ethnic background or even your personal faith beliefs or questions – you can start today to reach for it. The Life Ready Woman will guide you there!

Here are the biographies of these authors:

Shaunti Feldhahn is a former Wall Street analyst, best-selling author (For Women Only, For Men Only, For Couples Only, The Male Factor), national speaker, and regular commentator in the media. She and her husband live with their two children in Atlanta, Georgia.

Robert Lewis is the visionary leader behind the Life Ready series of video studies. He is a pastor, best-selling author (Rocking the Roles: Building a Win-Win Marriage), and the founder of the popular Men’s Fraternity Bible study movement. He and his wife have four grown children and live in Little Rock, Arkansas.

In the Introduction, entitled ‘Being Life Ready,’ the authors explain the situation women find themselves in these days:

It is a great day to be a woman. The choices and opportunities available to women in the twenty-first century are amazing – opportunities that could never have been imagined one hundred years ago. Yet we also encounter challenges that our great-grandmothers could never have fathomed.
Every woman knows the feeling of struggling to juggle and balance everything and watching our friends and loved ones do the same. Every woman has looked at the clock and lamented that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. And every woman has also enjoyed the wonderful opportunities God provides us that simply didn’t exist just a few generations ago. The trick is to know how to manage this crazy, modern life. And for those of us who are followers of Jesus, to know how to manage our modern life from a biblical perspective rather than an ever-changing cultural one.
The good news is: there is a way to do this! There is a way to be “ready” for today’s modern life in a way that leads to peace and enjoyment rather than stress and regret. There is a way to help other women do so, too. No matter how crazy your life is, there is a solid, encouraging, and empowering guide that we can find in the ancient words of the Bible that applies directly to our life today as contemporary women. (p. 3)

Shaunti shares how she has struggled to balance her life as an author, researcher, traveling speaker, wife, and mother to two small children:

And privately, for years, I have been town by how to balance it all, how to keep all the plate spinning. With this biblical blueprint, I finally feel like I have a clear and realistic model that I can look up to and respect as a modern Christian woman, something that can help me make the decisions that will lead to relief, delight, and fulfillment instead of regret.
That doesn’t mean those decisions are easy. For me it has meant a willingness to reexamine some professional opportunities in light of personal ones. For others it may mean examining whether you are fully using your unique God-given gifts for the impact He intends you to have. But once you make these decisions, they will fit. You will feel like you are finally functioning in the ways for which you were designed.
Be willing to be challenged, sister! The end result will be worth it. (p. 8)

Sounds good to me!

The first part of the book outlines God’s plan and purpose for all of us. He wants us to live the life He created us to live:

So how do you discover God’s best for you? Where is the help that can cut through the fog to help you decide how to live smart and well? I think all of us would agree that God wants us to find His best for us. He wants us to be what the Life Ready theme summarizes: women who are clear about our lives, bold in our faith, and able to find God’s best for us! But the question is how we do it.
Unfortunately, today there is a lack of discipline and “life coaching”(the kind mentioned in Titus 2) that offers trustworthy navigational guidelines to assist women in discerning which choices are best and which, however alluring, might be empty promises or tragic dead ends. All of this leaves women asking, “How do I know on the front end which choices deliver the most out of life? And how do I avoid major mistakes and lifetime disappointments? Such are the questions constantly circling around our lives today, especially whenever big life choices have to be made. (p. 16)

One chapter that I found really interesting is the one that defines womanhood, marriage and family from a biblical perspective. The authors also describe the biblical definition of a Godly man, embodied by both Adam and Jesus:

1.   A will to obey
2.   Work to do
3.   A woman to live and care for (p. 53)

Clearly, Adam did not live up to these responsibilities; Jesus clearly did.

We need to discover God’s design and calling for our lives. There are three types, which go from macro to micro:

·         Our Core Callings: our callings and design as human beings made in God’s image
·         Our Feminine Callings: our callings and design as women
·         Our Personal Callings: our callings and designs as unique individuals (p. 69)

Once we learn of those items, we need to take action:

You have seen how we need a biblical guide that will help us to be “Life Ready” and not only live but thrive in this crazy, modern world. When we prioritize and arrange our life around our biblical design and calling as people made in God’s image (the Core Callings), as women (Feminine Callings) and as individuals (Personal Callings), we essentially build that individual compass or road map that will lead us to God’s best for our lives. And then, of course, comes the most important part: we actually have to follow it. Not just think about it, not just agree with it – but actually take the steps that will allow us to thrive. (p. 85)

The second half of the book outlines how to get to God’s best for us. We need to learn how to live and react from the inside out – in other words, to be influenced and directed by the Holy Spirit, as opposed to the things of this world. The book goes on to explain how we are to accomplish that in the various seasons of life: among them – single, single adult, married with grade-schoolers, married empty nester, late-in-life widow, and glorified saint.
Mary, Jesus’ mother, is the great example for women:

Two thousand years ago, Mary stared at the angel, took a deep breath, and said something that changes everything: “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said” (Luke 1:38 NIV).
Ladies, it is time for us to take these steps of faith. We need to be clear about our lives, bold in our faith, and able to find God’s best. We all want to thrive in this do-it-all world and reach the end of this earthly life with satisfaction instead of regrets. We want a family that loves and honors us. We want to be used by God to make an impact on our family and our world and pass down something precious from generation to generation. We want to be God’s servant.
Mary was like that. And we can be too. “Lord, may it be to me as you have said.” (p. 219)

I really liked this book – so much so that I was not able to finish this book as quickly as I needed to (my apologies, Amy!). I wanted to savor and digest it, and make it practical to my own life – and it requires time to work through and digest the content, and to allow the Lord to work in and through you. This book can be useful to women in all stages of life, and I heartily recommend it to all women (and to men to give to the important women in their lives!). I pray that this book will change the lives of many women – to help them to live up to their God-given potential.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by B&H Publishing Group and provided by them for the LitFuse Publicity Group blog tour for review and giveaway purposes. I am happy to be participating in the tour with these other bloggers.

I have one copy of this book to give along; many thanks to B&H Publishing Group for generously providing the copy! 

There are several ways to gain entry:           

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, sharing your thoughts on how this book would be a helpful resource to you or to another. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com. 

2) Follow me on Twitter; if you are already a follower, that counts, too!  Please leave a separate comment to that effect.

4) Tweet the following on Twitter:

Enter to win ‘Life Ready Woman’ by @ShauntiFeldhahn and @BHpub from @andrealschultz. #giveaway Please RT!

Please leave a comment with the link to your tweet. You can tweet up to once per day. Please add a new comment for each tweet.

5) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too! Please leave a separate comment to that effect.

6) Become my Facebook friend. Please leave a separate comment to that effect.

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So there are numerous chances to enter and therefore win! Please limit one entry per option (except for the Twitter option), and don’t forget to include your email address, or, sad to say, the Random Number Generator will have to choose a different winner.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Monday, March 14, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. One winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Tuesday, March 15, 2011 and will be contacted via email. The best to all of you!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

‘The God Hater’ by Bill Myers – Book Review

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I enjoy being transported to a different time and place when I read a novel. I was transported to a real and a ‘virtual’ place in ‘The God Hater’ by Bill Myers.

Here is the synopsis of this riveting novel:

A cranky, atheistic philosophy professor loves to shred the faith of incoming freshmen. He is chosen by a group of scientists to create a philosophy for a computer-generated world exactly like ours. Much to his frustration every model he introduces—from Darwinism, to Existentialism, to Relativism, to Buddhism—fails. The only way to preserve the computer world is to introduce laws from outside their system through a Law Giver. Of course this goes against everything he's ever believed, and he hates it. But even that doesn't completely work because the citizens of that world become legalists and completely miss the spirit behind the Law. The only way to save them is to create a computer character like himself to personally live and explain it. He does. So now there are two of him—the one in our world and the one in the computer world. Unfortunately a rival has introduced a virus into the computer world. Things grow worse until our computer-world professor sees the only way to save his world is to personally absorb the virus and the penalty for breaking the Law. Of course, it's clear to all, including our real-world professor, that this act of selfless love has become a reenactment of the Gospel. It is the only possible choice to save their computer world and, as he finally understands, our own.

Here is the biography of this author:

Bill Myers holds a degree in Theater Arts from the University of Washington and an honorary doctorate from the Theological Institute of Nimes, France, where he taught. As author/screenwriter/director his work has won over 50 national and international awards, including the C.S. Lewis Honor Award. His DVDs and books have sold 8 million copies. His children's DVD and book series, McGee and Me, has sold 4.5 million copies, has won 40 Gold and Platinum awards, and has been aired on ABC as well as in 80 countries. His My Life As… series has sold 2.1 million copies. He has written, directed, and done voice work for Focus on the Family's Adventures in Odyssey radio series and is the voice of Jesus in Zondervan's NIV Audio Bible. As an author, nearly all of his children's series have made the bestseller list, as well as 7 of his adult novels. He has been interviewed for Good Morning America and ABC Nightly News. Several of his novels are currently under option for motion pictures, including Blood of Heaven, Threshold, Eli, Fire of Heaven, When the Last Leaf Falls, and Forbidden Doors. The motion picture, The Wager, starring Randy Travis and based on Myers's novel by the same name, was released in 2009.

The Author’s Note prepares his readers for this story:
        The following is fiction.
I’ve tried to make the science and theology reasonably accurate. But just as I’m sure I’ve made scientific blunders in the writing, I’m equally positive I’ve stepped on theological land mines. Then there’s that whole pesky issue of allegories. They only capture pieces of truth, and are way too slippery to do much more. So, just as I would encourage you not to base your science upon this science, the same should go for your theology. As I said in my novel Eli, which in many ways is the flip side of this project, if something doesn’t sound right or sticks in your throat, don’t waste your time reading this. Go to the original Source and see what it says. (p. IX)

The main characters in this interesting novel are Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie, a philosophy professor at The University of California – Santa Barbara, and his colleague, Dr. Annie Brooks. Another main character is Dr. Mackenzie’s brother, Travis, who is a genius in the field of Computer Science.

Annie is a woman of faith; she has difficulty with the strident atheism of her colleague. Here are her thoughts on a debate that Dr. Mackenzie engaged in on a TV program called God Talk:

He’d done it again. Her colleague and friend – if Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie could be said to have any friends – had shredded another person of faith. This time a Christian, some megachurch pastor hawking his latest book. Next time it could just as easily be a Jew or Muslim or Buddhist. The point was that Nicholas hated religion. And heaven help anyone who tried to defend it. (p. 6)

That sounds like the description of many professors in our public universities.
Dr. Mackenzie shares the reason why he likes to appear on that program:

…Nicholas was a frequent guest on God Talk. Despite his reclusive lifestyle, not to mention his general disdain for people, he always accepted the producer’s invitation. Few things gave him more pleasure than exposing toxic nature of religion. Besides, these outings provided a nice change of pace. Instead of the usual stripping away of naïve college students’ faith in his classroom, the TV guests occasionally provided a challenge.
Occasionally. (p. 7)

We also get a glimpse into his world view:

He had abandoned society long ago. Or rather, it had abandoned him. Not that there was any love lost. Today’s culture was an intellectual wasteland - a world of prechewed ideas, politically correct causes, sound-bite news coverage, and novels that were nothing more than comic books. (He’d given up on movies and television long ago.) Why waste his time on such pabulum when he could surround himself with Sartre, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche – men whose work would provide more meaningful companionship in one evening than most people could in a lifetime? (p. 8)

Dr. Brooks, a biology professor, shared a revelation with her Molecular Biology 201 students that surprised them:

“Now, for nearly fifty years, origin-of-life experts have pretty much rejected the concept of life forming in our planet by random chance.”
She turned back to the class. Those who were awake frowned as if they’d misheard. Good, she’d finally gotten their attention. In fact, a young Asian near the center of the auditorium actually raised her hand.
“Yes?” Annie nodded.
“Is that true?”
“Absolutely. And it’s been true since the 1960s. Every origin-of-life expert worth his or her salt has rejected the concept that life formed by random chance.”
The girl’s frown deepened and Annie answered the unasked question.
“You didn’t learn this in your high school biology class because it’s an inconvenient truth.” With a smile she added, “One of our dirty little secrets. But if you plan to pursue biology and want to play with the big kids, it’s a paradox you’ll have to accept.” (p.22)

She then went on to share scientific evidence to explain and support her assertions.

Annie had a precocious young son named Russell, nicknamed Rusty. We learn what brought her and Dr. Mackenzie together. We learn she became pregnant outside of marriage, and was abandoned by most:

And who helped her through those next months? Certainly not her friends, not from either side of the moral aisle. After all, she was a college professor, an advocate of the faith, a role model to young women. So, while her nonreligious friends secretly gloated, her religious ones subtly evaporated. It was only Dr. Nicholas Mackenzie, the curmudgeon she publicly debated on campus, who stayed at her side. Never once did he point out her hypocrisy. Never once did he do anything but offer help. A surprising paradox, for the crank that both faculty and students went out of their way to avoid. (p. 29)

This book is full of interesting computing and scientific data – but nothing that is too hard for the amateur to understand. Here is a fascinating section on how they created the virtual community that is based on our society:

        “What’s in here?” she [Annie] asked.
“Miniature robots,” Annie said, looking at the cylinder. “People have been hypothesizing about their use for years.”
“Yes. Each is the size of a single human blood cell. When injected into the circulatory system, they perform whatever task we design them for. They can track down and destroy disease, repair tissue---”
“But in the future,” Annie corrected. “Sometime in the future.”
Agapoff shook her head. “As early as 2003 a researcher from the University of Illinois designed a batch he injected into rats to cure their type one diabetes.” (p. 107)

They used that technology to create a virtual person in their new computer community.

In the virtual community, the individuals – who had free will, just as we do – fell victim to the same temptations found in our world, included unlimited knowledge for any and all takers, aka the Internet:

        Nicholas turned to Travis.“The rest of the community was drawn to this?”
        “Like moths to a flame.” 
He pushed up his glasses and scowled. “Our instructions weren’t good enough for them.”
Travis shook his head. “Now everybody wants to know why. Why they have to follow authority, why they have to treat each other as sacred, why not this way, why not that way. Now they all want to experiment on their own, to do it their own way.”
Annie softly quoted, “Each doing whatever is right in their own eyes.”
“Regardless of the long-term consequences?” Nicholas asked.
“That’s right.”
“So, we’ve come full circle.”
“Short-term gratification equals selfish ambition equals self-destruction,” Travis said. “Just like old times.” (pp. 136-137)

This book uses the life of Jesus Christ and many of its elements in an allegorical fashion. Included in different variations are the Sermon on the Mount, the woman caught in adultery, the Pharisees and Sadducees, Jesus’ trial before the Sanhedrin, spiritual warfare, sacrificial death and resurrection, etc...

To be honest, when I first read the title of this novel – ‘The God Hater’ – I was taken aback. How can a title like that be considered a Christian novel? After reading it, my opinion is that ‘you can’t judge a book by its title’! I think this presents the Gospel of Jesus Christ in an amazingly interesting way. It will reach believers and non-believers alike; it puts a spin on the Good News that will resonate with the scientifically/technically inclined. I was pleasantly surprised! This is the first novel I have read from Bill Myers, and it makes me want to read more from his creative and prolific mind. I give this book my highest recommendation.

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Howard Book and provided by the CSFF Blog Tour; I am happy to be participating with these other bloggers.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

‘Amy Inspired’ by Bethany Pierce – Book Review

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I always love reading a novel from an author whose work I had not previously read – and being knocked out in the process! Such is the case with ‘Amy Inspired’ by Bethany Pierce.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

With rejection letters piling up, she could use just a little INSPIRATION… Amy Gallagher, aspiring writer, has an unabashed obsession with words. She gave up a steady, albeit unexciting, job to pursue a life of writing. However, two years and one master’s degree later, she finds herself almost exactly right back where she started. Discouraged by the growing pile of rejections from publishers and afraid that she has settled, Amy knows something has to change.

Then she meets the mysterious, attractive, and unavailable Eli. Amy finds herself struggling to walk the fine line between friend and something more with Eli, even as she tries to cope with the feeling that her friends and family are moving on without her. When the unexpected begins pouring in, Amy doubts the love and fulfillment she seeks will ever come her way. Forced to take a close look at who she has become, the state of her faith, and her aspirations for her life, she must make a choice: play it safe yet again or finally find the courage to follow her dreams. 

Here is the biography of this author:

After creating a master’s in Creative Writing and working as a visiting instructor at Miami University in Ohio, Bethany Pierce now lives with her husband in Charlottesville, Virginia, where she is a member of the McGuffey Art Center and continues to write. Her first book, Feeling for Bones, was one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2007.

Here is Bethany talking about her first book, ‘Feeling for Bones.’ She alludes to this book in this video:

That book sounds fascinating as well. I went through a period of anorexia in my college years; it is a very interesting mindset.

I loved the Prologue of 'Amy Inspired':

“Find something you love to do,” my father told me, “and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Optimistic advice from a man who spent fifteen years selling insurance, a job he detested for fourteen. Eventually, my father did follow his passions, out of insurance and into the arms of a local attorney who loved him, presumably better than my mother, and made six figures.
If my parents had anything in common, it was the shared belief that life was good. When Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl left me in a rage, my mother recommended that I read something nice; it was best not to think about things I couldn’t change. She believed in marriage, despite her divorce. She had no pain in childbirth.
In our home, glasses were half full; when God shuts doors He opened windows; and you could be anything you wanted to be when you grew up, even – and especially – the president of the United States. (p. 7)

The first chapter gives us an early glimpse into the optimism and quirky worldview of the main character, Amy Gallagher; the book is written from her point of view:

That he showed up to our first date wearing a pink-collared shirt and that he looked prettier in pink than I did should have told me everything I needed to know about Adam Palmer had I been paying attention.
“I just think if you consider all the factors at play here, it seems time we consider where exactly we’re going with the relationship,” he said now, less than three months later.
Outside the window to our left, students spilled onto campus, flooding the sidewalks. It was the turn of the hour: Adam had a class to teach in ten minutes. I realize he’d timed our break-up to allow himself quick escape. (p. 13)

Amy has a very interesting roommate named Zoë. Here is Amy talking about her good friend:

Zoë was my saving grace. We met while working the Thanksgiving food pantry at a small local church. It was my first semester of teaching. I’d been a more or less faithful member of Copenhagen [Ohio] Baptist since arriving in town, drawn to the little church by its charismatic leader, Pastor Maddock, a minister whose dual degrees in theology and literature colored his sermons with a writer’s love of metaphor and subtlety.
Zoë had lived in Copenhagen longer than I had, but had been systematically trying out every church within a fifty-mile radius since arriving. With her petite figure and colorful wardrobe, she could have passed for a high school student; I was shocked to find out that she had just graduated from the university. The church secretary used our shared love of writing to introduce us. Within ten minutes we were fighting about C.S. Lewis.
“Overrated,” she claimed.
“You’re kidding,” I said. “He takes spiritual concepts hackneyed out of all its originality and makes them new again. You have to at least give him credit as a storyteller – what about the Narnia books?”
“Overrated,” she repeated. “You ask any Christian writer who their favorite author is, and I’ll bet they’ll say C.S. Lewis. He’ll be at least in the top five.”
“He’s popular because he’s good,” I countered. (pp. 29-30)

And on it went – an inauspicious beginning to their friendship!

Amy brought her worldview to her teaching of her Creative Writing class:

We discussed the many audiences we saw in our minds when we wrote: editors in offices in great cities, professors with their red pens, peer reviewers, family, friends.
Sometimes these people can hinder our voice,” I said. “How many times when you are writing do you hold back for fear of what your mom would say if she read it? Or for fear of what a professor will say about your style? In today’s reading, Lamott points out that you have to free your mind from the burden of that critical audience. To write what it is you want to write about.”
Lillian, Finnelley, a varsity cheerleader whom I suspected of taking the class for an easy A, raised her hand. “Who’s our audience then?”
“Yourself. God. Someone kind and forgiving.” (p. 46)

As I am writing a lot more than I used to these days, I could really relate to that section of the book.

Zoë brought in a friend to share their apartment. Here is Amy’s description of Eli:
Arguably, Eli is attractive, with a face that belonged to some younger than his thirty-two. Dressed more conservatively, his long hair trimmed and pulled back, you might notice the defined structure of his cheekbones; in the right circles, his narrow face and his deep-set eyes might be considered vogue, even beautiful. But you didn’t immediately notice beauty. Too many other superficialities demanded your attention. His clothes were secondhand, well-matched but often stained with paint or plaster. He wore heavy jewelry, silver rings on his fingers and frayed hemp on his wrists and neck. Most distinct of all was the tattoo, a Celtic circular pattern that wound from shoulder to just below his elbow in dark green ink. (p. 58)

Eli ended up staying longer than Amy had anticipated. Amy describes his artistic bent and his popularity:

He had a creative energy that would have been medicated with Ritalin in someone half his age. His hands trembled when he drew, from excitement or from caffeine. He drew on his jeans or his hands if he couldn’t find paper. He didn’t eat at home if he could find someone who would go out, and just about anyone would do; He handed out his friendship indiscriminately.
The Volkswagen was partly to blame for his notoriety. The van looked innocent and playful crowded between the bullying SUVs the student favored that year, a clown car infiltrating military camp. It bounced through Copenhagen’s narrow old streets like Mr. Rogers’ cheerful trolley. People honked and waved.
His new and many friendships, however, were a direct result of his job at the coffee shop. He hosted poetry night, introducing each artist with one-minute bios he’d drafted from brief interviews conducted beforehand. The menu marker board featured quirky Morretti illustrations. Before Jimmy, The Brewery’s owner, had created Eli’s position, assigning him to shifts that did not need a third barista, Eli was essentially paid to sit at The Brewery six hours a day hopped up on espresso and practicing Foam Art; the delicate making of patterns in people’s lattes. He could make a branch of delicate leaves, a wobbly star, and – most endearing with the women – a floating heart. (p. 115)

Eli and Amy had a discussion about the artistry behind writing:
        …”There’s no magic to books, Amy!”
 “But there is! I love the idea that someone else could for a moment live in a world I created, make it their own.  I might have a mental picture of a character, but everyone else who reads the book will see that character a little different. If I invent and then publish an Annie Smith, I’ve created a hundred or a thousand Amy Smiths, each different from the others imagined, but all of them as real as a real person to the reader who falls in love with the story. How many people talk about Mr. Darcy or Scout or Jo March as real people they’ve known? And isn’t that magic? To make something real out of thin air?” (p. 184)

It is magic indeed!

Later on, they talked about his craft; Amy had an unexpected revelation. Amy begins the conversation here:

“What’s it like in your head when you’re drawing? I’ve always wanted to 
know what it’s like to be able to draw.”
“I don’t know. I don’t really think about it. I just make something and keep making it until a pattern or a figure or something emerges. And it becomes pleasing to me.”
“You love it, don’t you?”
“I don’t work when it’s not enjoyable.”
This struck me as somehow profound. “Can you call it work then?”
A smile tugged at the corner of his lips.
I said, “I doubt there are very many things I hate more than writing.”
“Then why do you do it?”
I chewed on the end of my pen. “For that one moment of inspiration,” I decided. (p. 192)

Amy has a strong faith; she is inspired by her pastor, Pastor Maddock. One Sunday, he preached on one of my favorite books in the Bible, Ecclesiastes:

He braced his hands against either side of the pulpit: “That aching in your body that feels almost like a physical hurt. God has made it so. That passion to be known and loved not as a name or by an accomplishment or by a mistake – that desire to be known as you, yourself, in all your individual thoughts and dreams and worries and hopes and foibles – God has made it so. That need to wrap yourself around Time, to defeat death, to outlive this life – God has made it so. He has made it so that you will find recognition in Him.” (p. 233)

Amy had a spiritually deep conversation with one of her students, Ashley:

“This will seem off-topic, but I’ve always been fascinated by science – anatomy, quantum physics, space and time theory. I don’t understand these things, but the mystery is a part of what attracts me to them.
“That the world I live in now is complex beyond my understanding only encourages me to believe that there are wild possibilities in creation beyond even the things of this dimension of time and space. If this universe has alternate dimensions outside of our understanding, isn’t it possible that we might exist in a life beyond this one, in another kind of dimension that is fuller and more alive than the one we know?” (p. 250)

I loved the direction that the relationship between Amy and Eli took. I won’t divulge what happens, but I liked the way it was headed!

This book has some elements that may not appeal to all Christians. For instance, the female roommates allowed a male to move in with them. That will not sit well with all of the readers of this book. On the other hand, I think these various aspects will open up the book to a wider readership, which will in turn be exposed to the truths of Christ and the Scriptures. I can live with the imperfections in order to get the Gospel to people who may not otherwise be exposed.

This book kept calling my name and drawing me back when I was away from it; I wanted to know what was going to happen to these wonderfully multi-faceted characters. I think Bethany is a terrific writer, and I look forward to seeing what else she has in store. As usual, I also would like to see if there will be more to the story of Amy and Eli in the future; I look forward to it with great anticipation!

You can order this book here.

This book was published by Bethany House Publishers and provided by Wynn-Wynn Media for review purposes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

‘Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality’ by Wesley Hill – Book Review and Giveaway

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One of the issues in this world that will be debated until Jesus returns is homosexuality and its various subtopics. In his debut book, Wesley Hills shares his struggles as a homosexual Christian in ‘Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality’ and how he has chosen to live with this ‘thorn in the flesh.’

Here is the synopsis of this enlightening book:

How do the gospel, holiness, and indwelling sin play out in the life of a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction? And how do brothers and sisters in Christ show love to them? Wesley Hill offers wise counsel that is biblically faithful, theologically serious, and oriented to the life and practice of the church.
As a celibate gay Christian, Hill gives us a glimpse at what it looks like to wrestle first-hand with God’s “No” to same-sex relationships. What does it mean for gay Christians to be faithful to God while struggling with the challenge of their homosexuality> What is God’s will for believers who experience same-sex desires? Those who choose celibacy are often left to deal with loneliness and the hunger for relationships. How can gay Christians experience God’s favor and blessings in the midst of a struggle that for many brings a crippling sense of shame and guilt?
Weaving together reflections from his own life and the lives of other Christians, such as Henri Nouwen and Gerald Manley Hopkins, Hills offers a fresh perspective on these questions. He advocates neither unqualified “healing” for those who struggle nor accommodation to temptation, but rather faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.

Here is the biography of this author:

Wesley Hill graduated from Wheaton College and has an MA in Theology and Religion from Durham University, UK. He is currently working toward a PhD in New Testament at Durham and has written for Books & Culture and Ransom Fellowship’s magazine, Critique.

Wesley’s Introduction is powerful:

By the time I started high school, two things had become clear to me. One was that I was a Christian. My parents had raised me to be a believer in Jesus, and as I moved toward independence from my family, I knew that I wanted to remain one – that I wanted to trust, love, and obey Christ, who had been crucified and raised from the dead “for us and for our salvation” as the creed puts it. The second thing was that I was gay. For as long as I could remember, I had been drawn, even as a child, to other males. In some vaguely confusing way, and after puberty, I had come to realize that I had a steady, strong, unremitting exclusive sexual attraction to persons of the same sex.
Since that time of self-discovery, I have struggled week in and week out to know how to live faithfully as a Christian who experience same-sex attraction. In the most difficult hours of that struggle, I have looked for articles or books to help me. I have searched for things written in the furnace, so to speak, by other gay Christians – book born out of intense personal wrestling with homosexuality, as well as the demands of the gospel - that I could look to for guidance. I have found dozens, maybe hundreds, of scholarly articles and monographs debating the passages in the Bible that deal with homosexuality… But I have never found a book I could resonate with that tries to put into words some of the struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ, with others, as a gay person. That is my attempt to write such a book. (pp. 13-14)

I think a book like this is long overdue.

Wesley shares with his readers the struggles he engages in on a repeated basis:

In my experience, the effort to live faithfully as a gay Christian has involved me in three main battles. First has been the struggle to understand what exactly the gospel demands of homosexual Christians; why it seems to require that I not act on my homosexual desires – and how the gospel enables me to actually fulfill this demand. Chapter 1 of this book, “A Story-Shaped Life,” is devoted to these questions.
Second, for me, being a Christian who experiences homoerotic desires has meant loneliness – feelings of isolation, fears that I will be alone all my life with my brokenness, that no one will be there for the long haul to walk this road with me. Most gay Christians who are convinced that gay sex isn’t an option will, I suspect, probably find celibacy to be the best or only alternative for living in a way that is faithful to the gospel’s call for purity. And because of that, most gay Christians will experience loneliness. So the question becomes: How do we live with this loneliness? Is there any relief for it? What comfort does the gospel offer? That is the focus of chapter 2, “The End of Loneliness.”
Finally, in my life and in the lives of many others, shame has been a constant struggle in the effort to live out the life of Christ and his Spirit in homosexual terms. Guilt over homosexual sin, a nagging, unshakable feeling of being “damaged good,” a sense of being broken beyond repair – and therefore of being regularly, unavoidably displeasing to God – these all seem endemic to much homosexual Christian experience. In chapter 3, “The Divine Accolade,” I address this struggle and try to express the conviction that has become the heartbeat of my life – that we homosexual Christians, in the words of C.S. Lewis, can actually be a “real ingredient in the divine happiness.” We can please God, can truly experience his pleasure in the midst of sexual brokenness, and in the end share his glory. (p. 20)

In addition to his personal story, he also shares the story of two other Christians:

Interspersed throughout these chapters are three mini-biographies or character sketches of homosexual Christians. The first is my own life story, and I have also included the stories of Henri Nouwen, the now-deceased Catholic writer on spirituality, and the nineteenth-century homoerotically inclined Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, in the hope that hearing about the travails and triumphs of three real-life homosexual Christians may help readers put hands and feet on the more theoretical material in the main chapters of the book.
It is my prayer that God may use the reflections in this book to help others live faithfully before him until the time when he makes all things new. Until then, we wait in hope (Romans 8:25), washed clean by his Son and Spirit (1 Corinthians. (p. 21)

One of the biggest arguments with regard to homosexuality is whether or not one is born with the inclination. Wesley shares his realization during ninth grade:

Birdlike, I was testing my wings, coming of age. But at the same time that I was learning to engage with God as a hungry growing young Christian, the realization dawned on me like a dead weight sinking in my stomach that no amount of spiritual growth seemed to have any effect on my sexual preference. The homoerotic attractions I had been conscious of since waking up to the strange new universe of sexuality remained so constant and unbroken that I came to realize I was experiencing what was usually called “homosexuality.” I had a homosexual orientation. I was gay.
For me, admitting this to myself – I have memories of lying in bed, staring at the ceiling in the dark, mulling it over, forming the word homosexuality silently on my lips – was like an awareness that steals up on you one day out of the blue. It was there all along, but you saw it just then. There was nothing, it felt, chosen or intentional about my being gay. It seemed more like noticing the blueness of my eyes than deciding I would take up skiing. There was never an option – “Do you want to be gay?” “Yes, I do, please.” It was a gradual coming to terms, not a conscious resolution. (pp. 28-29)

Those who are convinced that a homosexual ‘learns’ his same-sex attraction (nature vs. nurture) has no argument against this man’s own experience.

It was interesting to read about Wesley’s journey from denial and secrecy to finally revealing his feelings to some people in his life. He explains himself this way:

Washed and waiting. This is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do. That is what this book is about. (p. 50)

I love the conclusion he comes to about how he is able to live the celibate life:

And this means that our pain – the pain of having our deeply ingrained inclinations and desires blocked and confronted by God’s demand for purity in the gospel – far from being a sign of our failure to live the life God wants, may actually be the mark of our faithfulness. We groan in frustration because of our fidelity to the gospel’s call. And though we may miss out in the short run on lives of personal fulfillment and sexual satisfaction, in the long run the cruelest thing that God could do would be to leave us alone with our desires, to spare us the affliction of his refining care.
“Not only does God in Christ take people as they are: He takes them in order to transform them into what He wants them to be,” writes historian Andrew Walls. In light of this, is it any surprise that we homosexual Christians must experience such a transformation along with the rest of the community of faith? (p. 68)

It was also interesting to read about the stories of Henri Nouwen and Gerald Manley Hopkins. I have read works from Mr. Nouwen in the past; I had no idea he had those struggles. I was unfamiliar with Mr. Hopkins before being introduced to him in this book. Wesley looks forward to the day that he meets Mr. Nouwen:

Nearly two thousand years ago, Good Friday gave way to Easter Sunday, and at the end of history, when Jesus appears, death will give way to resurrection on a cosmic scale and the old creation will be freed from its bondage to decay as the new is ushered in. On that day there will be no more loneliness. The wounds will be healed. I expect to stand with Henri Nouwen at the resurrection and marvel that neither of us is homosexual anymore, that we both – together with every other homosexual Christian – are whole and complete in the fellowship of the redeemed, finally at home with the Father. (p. 93)

Mr. Hill closes out his book this way:

I am learning that my struggle to live faithfully before God in Christ with my homosexual orientation is pleasing to him. And I am waiting for the day when I will receive the divine accolade, when my labor of trust and hope and self-denial will be crowned with his praise. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the Lord Jesus will say. “Enter into the joy of your master.” (p. 150)

In the Afterword, Kathryn Green-McCreight makes this important observation:

We who are the body of Christ must show the love, joy, hope. and fellowship of the gospel to all who are part of the body. This is especially true in this day and age with regard to those who, for the sake of the narrow gate of the gospel, find their vocation in celibacy – even when it may include personal pain and isolation. (p. 153)

I have been a Christian long enough to remember the day when the prevailing opinion about homosexuality was that it is the most heinous of sins. It is a relief to see that that seems to be becoming a minority opinion in the Christian community. There is no love in that mindset – and God is love! That is sin just as much as is the act of sex between two men or two women.

Alternately, many people are going the other direction, saying the Bible is irrelevant today and that even Christians don’t have to follow the Biblical teachings about homosexuality. I think of the example of Jennifer Knapp, who came out in the last couple years. I wonder what she thinks of Wesley’s perspective on same-sex attraction and how to deal with it in a Godly manner.
With all that said, I admire Wesley a great deal for making the decision that the way God wants him to approach his homosexuality is to remain celibate. I have never understood why homosexual Christians think they are exempt from the biblical admonition to remain celibate unless you are married (above other groups such as heterosexual singles, for example).

I have read two books addressing homosexuality since I have been reviewing books: ‘Turning Controversy into Church Ministry: A Christ-Like Response to Homosexuality’ by W.P. Campbell (you can read my review here) and ‘Someone’s Son: A Woman’s Fight for Her Gay Son’ by Brenda Rhodes (you can read my review here). The first book looks at homosexuality from the perspective of a pastor; the second is the chronicle of a mother whose son died from AIDS; he was infected with HIV through homosexual encounters. Each book had a different view of the homosexual orientation. This is the first book I have read that is written by a person who has been dealing with same-sex attraction himself.

To be honest, I was expecting the shoe to drop every time I turned the page – thinking he would come up with reasons (excuses?) for seeking the pleasures of this world (the natural human response). Fortunately, Mr. Hill (soon to be Dr. Hill, as he is working on his PhD) has made the hard choice to forgo some potential happiness on this planet in exchange for obedience to His Heavenly Father and praise from Him on the other side. That is a hard decision for anyone to make – to follow the biblical mandates for certain things when our flesh wants us to go the other direction. I am glad Mr. Hill did not choose his own pleasures and renounce his faith. He is an exemplar for all saints, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual. I applaud him for his strength and courage, and I look forward to seeing how God uses him in the future.

If you are interested in studying counseling and how it pertains to
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You can order this book here.

This book was published by Zondervan and provided by them for review  and giveaway purposes.

I have one copy of this book to pass along; many thanks to Andrew at Zondervan for generously providing this copy! 

There are several ways to gain entry:           

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, giving me your thoughts about this book. Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com. 

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This giveaway is for U.S. residents only. The deadline for entry is Monday, March 7, 2011 at 11:59 p.m. EST. One winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Tuesday, March 8, 2011 and will be contacted via email. The best to all of you!

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