The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People by John Ortberg
review by Worth Lancaster
What is an authentic spiritual life? What is your definition of transformation in salvation? What do you consider living a full Christian life? What are you doing to stay out of Hell … or at least what you think will keep you out?
According to John Ortberg’s The Life You’ve Always Wanted: Spiritual Disciplines for Ordinary People, a fully-lived Christian life encompasses more than the forgiveness of our sins or our most feverish efforts to stay out of Hell. Ortberg provides contemporary perspectives on ten ancient spiritual disciplines, but his book is more than a rulebook for Christian living. It is a guide to daily authentic transformation even in the midst of our failures. Christianity is not about performance style or excessive concern with outer form. It is about internalizing Christ’s essence ever more deeply into our hearts, our minds, and our souls.
As imperfect human beings, we disappoint others and ourselves daily because of our imperfections. Yet, we are called to serve a perfect God. Indeed, we feel we live in the space between disappointment (imperfect) and hope (perfect), falling short of the lives that God has appointed us to live. However, the human condition is not just the story of universal disappointment; it is about inextinguishable hope. It is about a God (perfect) who does not compartmentalize (imperfect) and focus solely on the so-called “spiritual,” but who wants to transform our very existence. It is the understanding that God meets us in not only holy places (perfect) but also wherever we are (imperfect). Each moment of our lives holds the possibility of our living as the embodiment of Christ.
In ancient times, personal change accompanied salvation. The expectation in our modern salvation does not include on-going transformation. As Ortberg states, “we do not expect people to experience on-going transformation in salvation, therefore we are not led to question whether the prescriptions for spiritual growth being given in the church are truly adequate to lead people into a transformed way of life” (p. 30). He heralds a return to the vital force of Christianity: God’s power to transform and cultivate growth in each of us, through us to give to transform those around us and yet to come.
As with any endeavor requiring stamina, transformation does not come quickly or as the result of sporadic grand efforts. It is a slow, steady process and requires consistent training. For this reason, Ortberg offers exercises to nourish and to strengthen our endurance as we continue on our journey.
We can live a profound and more spiritual life on the ground where we stand.
– Worth Lancaster
The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne
review by Sandra Whittington
From being a Jesus freak to exemplifying the true authenticity of sharing God’s inclusive love with all his people, Shane’s life journeys, religious revelations, and social injustice crusades inspire us all to discover the true meaning of “whosoever” in the teachings of Jesus Christ. He taps into the heart of commercialized religion revealing the messiness of church politics and egotism in the name of Christianity.
Story after story, Shane walks us through the concepts of “giving up Christianity in order to follow Jesus”; being called to be faithful, not successful, and the idea that we can do no great things, just small things with great love. He causes us to ponder: How do we embrace the least, the last and the lost from the comfort of our church pew all in the name of Jesus? How do we feed the hungry one day a week knowing we have full stomachs every day? How do we relate to the homeless when every night we lay in warm beds of our own? He challenges us all to face the uncomfortable cross of our personal riches. We can not compromise the cost of discipleship in order to draw a larger crowd because when we do, the Christian identity is lost and cheapened. And we are cheapening the very grace that people need to experience! It is that “cheap grace” that some look to in order to buy their way into heaven; although true giving is of the heart and not the pocket. As Gandhi puts it so well, “There is enough for everyone’s need but there is not enough for everyone’s greed.”
The Irresistible Revolution is your personal journey to discovering inclusive love and the true meaning of the Great Commission through the eyes of the least, the last and the lost. It’s leaving the church’s religious, systematic ideas of ministering to all God’s people to embracing and living by the example Jesus set time and time again for us. It is carrying our uncomfortable cross of biased judgmental Christian beliefs and interpretations until we find the hope and faith to let it go and not die on our own crosses.
It is in those moments of truth and pain that we find the strength and the light of the “Son” to live as an ordinary radical every day.
– Sandra Whittington
11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without! by Leonard Sweet
review by Heather Malobisky
This month kicks off the Laugh OUT Loud quarter of 2010 focusing on the Fellowship Ministry. Fellowship is all about relationships both inside and outside of the church. In fellowship we should be strengthening our relationship with God while building relationships with each other. With this in mind the book of the quarter is 11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without! by Leonard Sweet. As Sweet states, “You need others to get the job done. And it’s also a lot more fun that way. That’s what this book is about – you need others to get where you’re going (Sweet, 15).”
Sweet’s book is a journey through 11 relationships or types of people each of us should have in our lives. The book also asks the reader, what relationship role do you fulfill for others? Each chapter focuses on a different relationship and also provides an excellent interactive that can be used by an individual for reflection or by a group to hold a book study.
The relationship attributes are each tied to an individual in the Bible including: Nathan, your editor. Your Nathan lifts the veil of your own voice. Your Jonathan is a true friend who is willing to sacrifice him/herself to save you. Peter/Paul is your Yoda, a person willing to be a mentor and ask you questions and encourage you to do the same.
Sweet calls each of these people in your life part of your “withness.” Withness is simply being with someone. Being part of a withness with someone is the first step in becoming a witness for Christ. Sweet points out that no one stands alone. “Without the involvement of others in your future, you have no future (Sweet, 21).”
“We need multileveled relationships with many different kinds of people to be healthy and whole (Sweet, 23).” This book is a great way to explore some of those potential relationships that can make your life rich and whole.
11 Indispensable Relationships You Can’t Be Without! by Leonard Sweet is available in hardback and is printed by David Cook. It can be found at www.davidccook.com or through any major bookseller.
– Heather Malobisky
The Dangerous Act of Worship: Living God’s Call to Justice by Mark Labberton
review by Shaun Harr
From the opening paragraph of The Dangerous Act of Worship, it is obvious that Mr. Labberton is not going to be discussing the importance of music and liturgy to our Living OUT Loud in our worship of God. Rather he endeavors to show that true worship is exemplified by our living out Micah 6:8: “…what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
For Labberton, this true worship frees us from ourselves and “draws us into the heart of God and sends us out to embody it, especially toward the poor, the forgotten, and the oppressed” (11). We can no longer say that we truly worship God when all that we do for God is attend a church service and the occasional Bible Study. “Our worship should lead us to greater mercy. Our worship should lead us to costly acts of justice, especially for those who are the least seen, the least remembered, the least desired” (38).
He calls us to worship God with our entire lives, to willingly engage in actions on our faith journey for God which will make us uncomfortable and out of control and most of all with our eyes wide open to God’s purpose in the world: “wanting to see what truly is, whether or not it is appealing, attractive, desirable or comfortable” (174). The Dangerous Act of Worship is our call to action, to stop warming our pews, go into the world and impact the lives of those whom the rest of society neglects and ignores. The Pharisees would probably call that eating with tax collectors and sinners … at St. John’s MCC we prefer to call it “Living OUT Loud in our Worship.”
– Shaun Harr
Also see: “St. John’s MCC Book of the Quarter” and “Are You Ready to “Read” OUT Loud in 2010?”
Discipleship is excited to present our “OUT Loud Reading” book of the quarter recommendations for YOU!
Each quarter the discipleship ministry will select a book for your reading pleasure to guide you in modeling our 2010 St. John’s mission/vision.
We invite you to engage more of your faith journey with us through exploring reading opportunities to Live, Laugh, Love, and Learn OUT Loud this year. If you would like to share this wonderful opportunity with your friends, handouts are available in the church parlor.
If you have a book you feel would be a great contribution to our reading, please do not hesitate to contact one or all of the Discipleship ministry leaders!
We are excited you are here! Sit back and enjoy your reading journey….
Also see: “The Dangerous Act of Worship” and “St. John’s MCC Book of the Quarter”
Have you read a good, spiritually uplifting book recently? We are looking for the best books that seem to bring new life to people who are searching for answers. We’d like to share those resources with everyone.
We invite you to share your thoughts and impressions of your favorite spiritual books. In particular, we’d like to know why they meant so much to you and how you think others could benefit from them.
When you have your review/reflection written, send it to Sandra Whittington or Shaun Harr. Please be sure to note in your message if we can put your name with the review on our website.
To see several Saints’ favorites that are already on our site, be sure to visit the On Our Shelf section.
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity by Wm. Paul Young
In The Shack, Paul Young’s ability to bring human flesh and life to the most powerful spiritual beings of our trinity is amazing. He summons your deepest questions surrounding the Trinity, religious paradigms, personal guilt, and finding forgiveness for one’s self with authority as he adds a touch of an eloquent lesson in faith. Mackenzie, like most of us, tries to make sense out of the senseless blaming God who he felt could take it all away. He reminds us all how we have sat in our own Shack waiting for “Papa” to free us, when all along, God’s gift of free will to us will never force us to be healed. Young’s focus on absorbing God’s love and working on our relationship with our creator, rather than conforming to religious dictation and interpretation will anger some, cause conflict with others and truly free the rest of us. His mixture of laughter and tears will keep you wanting to read just one more chapter.
Growing up in a Pentecostal home church, the stigma of religious interpretation through the pastor’s eyes was alive and full of judgmental sermons preached throughout my childhood. I remember wondering what “I” had done when tragedy would come my way. He left me begging for forgiveness rather than rejoicing in God’s love for me.
Journeying with Mac in The Shack took me to some of the most joyous moments in my salvation and some of the saddest times in my life. My eyes were opened to how many times God has met me right where I was, however I was so stuck in what God was “supposed” to be, I missed Him and reminded how we all have harbored hurt that keeps us from healing, loving and being one with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. We have to learn how to live loved in order to understand just a glimpse of God’s love.
“If anything matters, then everything matters. You are important, everything you do is important. Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, my purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.”
– Sandra Whittington
Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity by Bruce Bawer
The word “betray” in the title of Bruce Bawer’s book, Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity, caught my attention first. As a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary a decade earlier and a married man, I had finally quit lying to the wonderful woman who was my wife and others and come out of the closet. I didn’t actually make that choice willingly. My secret had been “found out.”
So the word “betrayal” held a raw significance to me. Previously, I had used it to describe Judas’ actions in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter’s words in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin. Never once had I thought that I was guilty of the same thing.
When a member of St. John’s MCC called my attention to this book in 1997, I read it. My life has never been the same since.
In the book, Bawer documents the methodical way political conservative fundamentalists plotted to overthrow the Southern Baptist convention in the 1970s and 80s. From smoke-filled conference room to conventional hall floor, power-hungry politicians knew that a certain segment of the population – religious Christianity – was prone to manipulation, and they decided to go after us. They wanted our money and our personal allegiance in their quest to rule the world. Unlike my favorite spy dramas on television where the evil conspiracy is foiled in the end, this one worked.
I lived through the turmoil of the time and knew that I didn’t like what was happening, but had no idea how to stop it. I never realized that I was a part of the problem. I didn’t see the similarities in the tactics used by Jesus’ opponents in the Sanhedrin and those used by the conservative right.
But Bawer did. He also laid out a road map to get Christianity back on the track toward Jesus’ true message.
I recommend Stealing Jesus to any who might wonder, ‘how did I get into such a spiritual mess?’ Then, of course, there are more books to study in the quest of an authentic life as a Christ-follower.
– Jim Manchester
The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching Beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self by Bishop Carlton Pearson
I was in the middle of preparing to teach one of my favorite classes for the first time. The Sunday Morning Topics crowd wanted a study on the book of Revelation, and I did not want to disappoint them. I was standing in the hallway outside David’s office when Pastor Belva strode out of her study, looked me in the eye, and said, “You need to read this book!”
‘Wow! Was that a twinkle in Pastor’s eye as she said that?’ I thought. ‘I’ve heard her recommend books before, but I don’t ever remember seeing that!’
She continued, “Before you lead the study on Revelation, you, personally, need to read this book. It will transform the way you look at Jesus’ teachings in the Bible.”
After searching around a bit and borrowing Edward Smith’s copy, I dove in to The Gospel of Inclusion: Reaching beyond Religious Fundamentalism to the True Love of God and Self by Bishop Carlton Pearson. It did just as Pastor Belva promised.
In retrospect, I’m not sure that Carlton Pearson intended his book to be so transformative. His objective was to explain how he rid himself of the shackles of religious fundamentalism from his upbringing in Pentecostal conservatism. Like Bruce Bawer from a decade before, he indicted the motives of people who used religion as a tool to promote personal power and control over others. He carried Bower’s thinking one step further to reveal the way Pentecostal conservatives spin Jesus’ teaching into conforming to their Pharisaic views.
In doing so, Pearson showed what Jesus’ teachings really meant. And they made perfect sense to me. They explained why my personal life had taken such a terrible turn and why my professional ministry had been so misguided. Person showed me how God could love me in spite of all of that and that it had always been that way.
A compelling and sometimes tormenting read, I recommend The Gospel of Inclusion to every seeker of Christ’s way of life. For those who have been tortured by guilt and shame over past sin, you will find peace and forgiveness. For people who never experienced such injustice, you will understand why it matters in the spiritual journey of others. Regardless of your past, you WILL have serious questions and you WILL need the sympathetic help of others who are on the same journey. When you come upon a stumbling block in the book, ask someone. That is why the Body of Christ is here at St. John’s.
– Jim Manchester