Books, Books, Books!

So I’ve been reading a lot lately.  Some people assume that I always read a lot.  Not true.  I wish it was true.  Just like some people think some really nice things about me that also are not true…and that I wish were true.  But lately I’m reading a lot. 

I read Heaven is for Real – I know, I’m a late bloomer.  I also know that people love this book.  For me, it was ok.  The thing that impacted me the most wasn’t Colton’s experience in heaven.  The thing that rocked my world (well, that’s overstating it—this book wasn’t a rock-my-world kind of reading experience, it was more of a fluffy-beach-read kind of experience, but whatev’s) was that God responded to Todd’s (Colton’s Dad’s) prayers.  Even when Todd was angry at God, and blaming God…still God responded in love and still he answered Todd’s prayers.

The power of prayer.   That’s the thing that most impacted me about this book, even though it wasn’t the book’s focus.  But that’s just because God seems to really doing something in my heart about prayer, so it’s what stands out to me in EVERY thing I read.

It really started when I read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire.  Now THAT was a rock-my-world kind of book that I read about two years ago and haven’t stopped talking about.  In fact, I re-read a little of it just yesterday and realized, I need to re-read all of it…like NOW…because it was THAT good.  I can’t encourage you enough to read that one—but that doesn’t mean I won’t try!  But that book was SO good it will get its own post…or probably, more likely, posts.  So I’ll cajole you to read that one later, separately, repeatedly…  You have been warned!

Then I read Karen Kingsbury’s A Treasury of Miracles for Women:  True Stories of God’s Presence Today.  Again, I have to say…meh.  It was another beach-read…or, more honestly I should call this a bathroom reader – because that’s where I tend to read these short story collection books, if I’m being honest—and because I live in the mountains and am nowhere near a beach.  I read it because I saw that my local library had it in e-format and because I’m in a “true story” phase, where I like to read true stories about what God is doing.  (And that, too, requires a post all its own, but in a nutshell, I think God pretty much clearly mandates that we keep before us the true stories of what He has done….so lately I’ve been intentional about reading books that tell true stories of what God’s done, and is doing…because God says to, and because it’s good for me.)

Anyway, my experience with this book was pretty much the same as my experience with Heaven is for Real.  Nice enough stories, and she has a knack for pulling on your emotional strings while she tells them, so that despite myself I got a little choked up from time to time reading them.  But if I’m honest, while I was emotional, I personally was not so deeply impacted.  (For perspective, when I read Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, I was less emotional, but far, far, FAR more impacted.)  I’ve already forgotten most of the stories, but what remained was again the overwhelming conviction that God really does listen to prayer. And so, if you’re looking for a book to encourage you, a book to give you confidence to face hard times, knowing God is in control—it’s probably worth reading—especially if you are in need of comfort.

Personally, at least right now, I am more drawn to books that really challenge me.  I’m looking for a kick in the pants, an electric shock, not a warm blanket.  Or, if I’m honest, I could also really go for something just plain funny.

Which leads me to the book I started this morning.  I’m in love.  And I’m just a few paragraphs in.  So maybe the recommendation comes a little premature, but I don’t think so.  Jen Hatmaker’s 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess is funny and witty right from the start, but it’s also challenging, right from the start.  She writes:

…We were happy-go-lucky; Brandon was a pastor a big ol’ church making excellent scratch, and we spent our money however we wanted (on ourselves).  We were climbing the ladder, baby.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to worry with the poor because we were paid pros serving the saved. We spent so much time blessing blessed people, there was nothing left over.  Besides, that wasn’t really “our thing.”

Then, let’s see, a bunch of stuff happened, the Holy Spirit leveled us and laid our motives bare, we turned into crazy people, yada yada yada…

Taking a cue from Francis Chan, [who wrote Crazy love – also worth reading, though I, Stacey-not Jen, this is my aside, thus the brackets, liked Radical better, which was like Crazy Love on steroids…but why choose just one?  Read both!] we take the Scripture “love your neighbor as yourself” seriously, and we give away half of all we receive.  We won’t spend more on ourselves than our poor neighbor.  [emphasis added]

That’s just in the first page.  I can’t wait to see where it goes.  I’m hungry for more.  Not just more of her writing…although I am pretty pumped for that!…but more of God, and more of real ministry—which is a horrible thing to say!  Who says that helping people grow closer to Christ isn’t “real” ministry just because they are already Christians?  Jesus continued to disciple his disciples; He didn’t only reach the lost.   But I guess the point is that Jesus was involved in the lives of BOTH Christians and non-Christians.  He had the joy of seeing ministry and growth with ALL kinds of people.

I don’t know what God’s doing in me, but I think He’s up to something, because I’m just so hungry.  Maybe it’s not so much that I need “real” ministry as that I am hungry for more ministry, and I’m hungry for something different.  I always knew God made me different.  I never dreamed of the suburban life.  I was drawn more to the extremes, like, for example, if I was going to going into the medical practice, I would want to be in the E.R., not in the family practice.  I was kind of that way with everything.  I liked working with kids, but I loved working with at-risk and inner-city and orphan kids.  Maybe I’m just drawn to drama, but I like it when all the fluff disappears and what really matters is front and center.

Jen’s book is about going to some extremes to get rid of the fluff.  I mean come on – who takes “love your neighbor as yourself” that seriously???  Who gives half – HALF, did you catch that? – half of all they own to the poor because they actually believe that verse should be taken seriously?!  Wow.  I’m going to like this book.  I think this one may be a rock-my-world kind of book…because she’s living a radical Christian life, and living to tell about it!  (I already said it, but Radical was a great book, too!  Fits right in with some of the themes Jen Hatmaker is talking about.  Read it!  Let it challenge you.)

While I’m at it, let me mention two other books I’ve read lately because I randomly discovered them in e-format at my local library (I told you, I’ve been reading a lot!).  The first, Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other and the World was a true story/memoir by a mother/daughter team.  Their first book, Come Back dealt with the daughter’s, Mia’s, drug addiction.  You get to hear her perspective AND her mother’s as she was missing for a period of time, hooked on drugs, in rehab, and finally reconciled with her mother.  I haven’t read that one, but it sounds fascinating.  This sequel again shows both their perspectives and voices as they learn to relate to each other under new circumstances and terms, as women, as adults, as friends…redefining their roles in each other’s lives.  It is a little bit Eat, Pray, Love, (read that one years ago, and summarized it here) and a little bit Under the Tuscan Sun (at least the movie, I haven’t read the book) as they travel the world together…with maybe a little bit of Same Kind of Different as Me thrown in.  (Now THAT was a great, great, great book!!!  Read THAT one!)

The other book I was reading (sadly, my library loan expired and I wasn’t quite done, so now I’m waiting for it to become available so I can finish it…ugh!) and thoroughly fascinated by was Shakespeare Saved My Life:  Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard.  Another true story, this time about a Shakespeare expert / professor who went into Supermax prisons and taught Shakespeare to inmates who were in solitary confinement.  It’s inspirational and true and radical…what’s not to like?!  And it clips along…the writer keeps things moving, not prone to long, ponderous indulgence (which was a nice change after reading Have Mother Will Travel).

Would you believe that not long after I started reading this book, I ended up being in touch with the Chaplain of our local jail…and now we are meeting about how I (and my church) can get involved?!  It wasn’t because of the book that he and I ended up in contact, but it was because of the book that I was all the more passionate about the possibilities.  Then, today in Jen Hatmaker’s book (still page 1), I read about how she really started getting to know the poor and the homeless, about how at one point she would have found it uncomfortable, but how, now, “God…grafted genuine love for the least into my heart.  I looked forward to every encounter…I became  girl who loved the marginalized.  I couldn’t get enough of them in my personal space.”  I want to be like that.  Shakespeare Saved My Life inspired me to be like that (I can’t wait to finish it!), and even though it wasn’t written by a Christian, didn’t have anything to do with sharing Jesus with anyone, it was about seeing the marginalized as people, as my brother, my fellow man.  Jen’s book seems to have that same perspective, but brings Christ into the picture.

I encourage you to take some time to read.  Let it stir your soul.  Let it challenge you.  Read true stories.  Read about people’s struggles.  Read about people who think differently than you do.  Read about people who are further along in some area of life than you are, and be inspired to follow them.  More than anything though, I challenge you to read stories about who God is and what He’s doing and take courage knowing that HE IS GOD!

I’m including the video promo for Jen Hatmaker’s book.  Anyone want to read it with me?!  Then we can talk about what we want to do about it…together.  I could use some good accountability.  The Kindle edition is just $3!!  Bueller?

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