three to read.

 

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Reframe: It isn’t often that I’m drawn into a book by the prologue regardless of how familiar I am with the author, but in his first pages, Brian Hardin struck me as a humble, kind man who wanted to share the life he’d found being a friend of God. When he said he prayed for me, I believed him. I liked him immediately. And I’m happy to report that I only liked him more as I read.

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Brian suggests that a “relationship with God” has become such a familiar term in Christian culture that it has little foundation in what relationships actually look like. He compares a friendship with the Lord to marriage several times throughout the book, with his point striking home. Merely knowing things about someone or “logging time” with them are not enough to mean a friendship. At one point he equates having a “prayer life” to having a “spouse life,” challenging the reader that time with the Lord might mean more if we thought of it in a more integrated way instead of just counting minutes towards him. It means more in relationships with other humans to share life together instead of clocking minutes. We don’t want to be in relationship with someone who merely sees it as a duty or a chore. We don’t want to be someone’s obligation. He reasons that the same is true with the Lord.

Brian does not deny that there is a great deal of baggage sometimes when coming to be in relationship with God. There is a lot to confuse and much doubt. Brian struck my heart with his challenge to give God the benefit of the doubt, to not simply believe the hearsay that others may circulate, but to believe what Scripture says and what I’ve experienced with him. How often do I paint God in the wrong light based on what someone else has said or how something feels in the moment?

“God has basically been framed as the very wealthy uncle who also happens to be the family drunk. We need to keep Him happy so that we can get what we want and need, but we need to steer clear of His rages–and He’s certainly not all that reliable. Staying on His good side gives us the generosity we want for our lives, and we’ll say whatever we think He wants to hear to get it. And what kind of relationship is that? The irony is that God didn’t eat the forbidden fruit or believe the lie. We did. So who is untrustworthy?” (51)

My copy is filled with underlinings of wisdom that resonated deeply with my heart and challenged me to consider how I engage with the Lord. I am deeply grateful for Brian’s candor and care as he communicates.

“We…have to acknowledge that believing the right things about God is not the same as being in a relationship with Him. I’m not suggesting that we destroy the model. I’m saying there is more. So much more that God would reveal of Himself if we’d stop confining Him in our lives to what we can control and manage.” (37)

“One of the most compelling things about the Bible is that it doesn’t shy away from messy things as if they will give God bad press, despite our human propensity toward mistrust and misunderstanding. It doesn’t avoid real life. Life can be beautiful and pathetic all on the same day. We find in the Bible that God is present in all of it. He’s not afraid of the messes we make. Lightning bolts are never His first reaction. He doesn’t prefer judgment. His first response is to redeem everything we allow Him to touch.” (53-54)

“From the book of Genesis through the book of Revelation, the Scriptures are the story of God with us. The interesting thing is that God doesn’t need this story written down so He won’t forget. We do.” (92)

“We try to arrange for life–to create on our own a sense of shalom–but it is impossible to do without God in the middle of it. The Scriptures demonstrate every conceivable attempt ot make life work, both as individuals and as societies, without God involved. It reveals where those pathways lead and their consequences. All the while it reveals a loving God who practically gets down on His knees and begs His people to listen and return to Him so that they can avoid the devastating storms they are headed into.” (95)

I recently read the story of Lot and his daughters (the awkward, disturbing story of his daughters getting him drunk and sleeping with him to preserve their line) and felt unnerved. Why was this story here? In the midst of trying to approach the Bible without an agenda, this story struck me as strange in a different way than the quick breeze-by I’d given it before. It seemed providential that this was the story that Brian chose to use as an example of a difficult story from Scripture that seems pretty challenging to make sense of. In the midst of this troubling tale, Brian challenges the reader to not bring assumptions or misconceptions about God’s character to taint our view. I love his take on this confusing story of incest:

“It’s easy to get sucked into a story like this. We put ourselves in their position and leap to judgment. But if we review the text, there a couple of fascinating absences. First, we don’t find a place where God instructed this, condoned it, or required it. He didn’t. And second, we never see Lot or his daughters consider the God whom their family left its homeland to follow. We read a passage like this and for some reason blame God, even though God had nothing to do with it. God rescued Lot and his daughters from the judgment falling on an unspeakably cruel, perverted, and merciless city. His role was that of Redeemer. What came next was a result of the systematic choices of the people involved.

Who is untrustworthy in this story? God? No. He saved Lot and his family from certain destruction. Lot’s daughters chose to take matters into their own hands, believing they were on their own and no one was coming to rescue them, even after God had sent angels they could see with their own eyes to get them out of the city.” (59-60)

Brian uses the phrase “it’s all about you” several times throughout the book. Initially, this rubbed me the wrong way, especially after years in the church hearing “It’s all about Jesus; it’s not about you.” But once I got past my initial reaction, I could see the point Brian is trying to make. The responsibility of what happens next does lie with me. God has already done his part to make a relationship with me work. What happens next is my move. Brian also talks about the Bible being written for me. He jokes that if it were written for the Lord’s benefit, it would be a tremendous volume that would be beyond our comprehension. Instead, it is written in story form for us to find our place in history, seeing who God is and who we are.

Brian concludes with a sobering call to action. He does not deny the suffering and hardships that may be coming from choosing a life that is devoted to sharing life with God. He acknowledges the messy nature of following a noble cause that is bigger than us, one that will be uncomfortable and difficult at times. But he’s convinced it is completely worth it.

“This relationship is not just the act of opening your heart to knowing God more fully. It is the act of completely and irreversibly opening your heart to God and giving yourself wholly back to Him-to known and be known. It is an all-or-nothing proposition that is before you. it won’t work any other way. It won’t work any more than a partial marriage would work. If you’re not going to give everything you are to this relationship, it’s not going to work-not now or ever. But if you give everything to your relationship with God, that decision has eternal implications…What you do next will affect generations of your descendants…You have the baton in your hand at this moment, but one day it will be passed to a new generation. What you do matters.” (149-150)

“A life wholly devoted to God and ruined for anything else is completely worth it. It’s almost absurd to say that because the exchange is so heavily lopsided in our favor, but whatever would tether us to anything less will need to be laid down or it will get burned up.” (154)

This book has been a true gift to my heart. It has helped me to see some of the ways I haven’t been treating Jesus like a friend. It has helped me to come to Scripture with a heart that is eager to learn and is working hard to set aside preconceived ideas or assumptions. It has helped me to see prayer as a way of life instead of a box to check. I’m amazed at how much of what Brian said was familiar to me, but his heartfelt, direct way of sharing struck straight to my heart and made me hungry for Jesus to saturate me. I’m tremendously grateful for his writing and highly recommend this book. It was a privilege to read it and to learn from such a kind, humble Jesus-follower.

*Tyndale Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

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On This Foundation:

I’m working on reading the whole Bible. I’ve given myself until my birthday in June to do it, so as to not turn it into a task, like I’m prone to do. My intention isn’t just to be able to say I’ve read the whole Bible. I can already say that. I’m looking to go back, without an agenda, and to see the story God is telling about himself and about his people. I know some of these stories are almost too familiar to me. I’ve heard them time and time again, in Sunday school, in sermons, in books. I’m trying to pay attention in ways I haven’t before.

On This Foundation takes the reader back to the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, painting a vivid picture of life for both wealthy and poor Jews while giving new perspective to the story of Nehemiah. I’ve read the story of Nehemiah before and heard about the wall being built. I knew about the opposition he faced, but never deeply connected with this piece of history. Until now.

I’ve always enjoyed Lynn Austin’s writing. I’ve found her to be an author who tells a compelling story, deepening the characters with her knowledge of the time and place they find themselves in. She does her homework. I have always learned something about a different period because of her writing, whether it be the Civil War, the Depression or ancient Israel. On This Foundation was no exception.

Three different storylines weave into each other, as each character shows an unique vantage point to the drama, opposition and development of the wall around Jerusalem being rebuilt. Lynn did an exceptional job of weaving in the truth of Scripture to flow like the dialogue it was. This book was not only a better look at Biblical history, but a well told story with developed characters. I walked away from this book eager to revisit Nehemiah and with a deeper appreciation for God’s faithfulness to his people. Highly recommend. 

(As a side note, this is the third book in the series, but could easily stand alone.)

*Bethany House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

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Vendetta: I can’t handle watching really scary movies. Anything involving a serial killer or abductions can really get into my head and has been known to give me nightmares for quite a while. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s happened enough that it just doesn’t feel worth it.

Vendetta starts off with a two friends, Nikki and Tyler, spending the day together, keeping each other company on the anniversary of the death of someone they both loved. But in a matter of pages, the story quickly takes off to be much more involved. Nikki, the reader learns quickly, is part of the Tennessee Missing Persons Task Force and found her way there because of a tragic abduction in her own family. A missing person’s case brings up a whole slew of emotion for Nikki as she deals with her own past, the case at hand, and the pressure to not fail when much is at risk.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book by Lisa Harris. I appreciated the realistic feel of the impact of grief on the characters. These people weren’t perfect and put together, but figuring out the mess of what it looks like to still call themselves Christians after tragedy strikes. There was a bit of romance, but even that felt believable and didn’t progress too quickly. As much as I avoid scary movies, intense stories in book form are another matter. When my imagination and the storyteller’s voice are all I’ve got, no special effects or agonizing music, it feels easier to be present and enjoy the narrative unfolding. Instead of thriller to pop in the DVD player on my Friday, I picked Vendetta to read and wasn’t sorry I did. It was a fun diversion that didn’t leave my imagination worse for wear.

*Revel Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255

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