Category: Influential books

A Spiritual Adventure Story

GUEST POST

by Dr. Mike Parker

On Kitten Creek: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart is a remarkable, modern day adventure story about how one family, grounded in Christian love and guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, developed a Christ-honoring community. The power of these verses is fulfilled in her book and life:

In Psalm 71:18, we are encouraged to “declare God’s power to the next generation, His mighty acts to all who are to come.”

Psalm 90:12 tells us to “number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”

As I read Nancy’s story, I remembered my own family’s journey… When our first military assignment took us to Kansas, we were blessed with a life-long friendship with the Swihart family as well as our involvement with Wellspring Ministries. My three children, my wife, and I spent many a happy day frolicking on the Swihart farm, enjoying the uniqueness that only farm life can hold, as well as being impacted by the spiritual adventures that took place there on Kitten Creek. Of particular interest to my animal-loving children was the variety of animals found there, which the Swiharts wove into their ministry (and Nancy into her book) much like C.S. Lewis did in his Narnia stories!

This is a life-changing book as it points to self-introspection in regards to how our own lives might be used to further the Lord’s Kingdom here on this earth.

As a retired U.S. Army soldier and now a professor at the University of Alabama, I was impressed by the Wellspring team’s openness to so many college students… their willingness to simply be present, to listen, and to provide a relational community where young people could experience faith in action.

Nancy’s memoir guides her readers to our Savior and encourages a lifetime of focus on Him and the gospel. It reminds us that God provides, corrects, leads, and answers our prayers and needs as we continually seek His presence in our lives. The importance of remembrance is emphasized as the Lord incorporates our whole lives into the strength of our witness for Him, and the value of praying and thinking the Scriptures is encouraged.

In a personal application of this book, though us city folk do not inhabit a farm in Kansas, we do have a small cabin on a river in the Appalachian mountains in north Alabama. We are now inspired to place a Christ-focus in our times there for our family and friends.

On a professional note, I am part of research and ministry with aging congregations across the world. Our team plans to recommend Nancy’s inspirational book as an encouragement to older persons of faith to share their Christ-honoring stories with the next generation and to remind adult children to capture the stories of their parents and grandparents. Nancy provides insightful suggestions and resources about how to tailor and accomplish this. Her own book is a superb example of how one’s own family story can impact this world for the Lord and His life-saving mission.

–Dr. Mike Parker, Professor, University of Alabama, Associate Professor, UAB Medical School, Department of Geriatric Medicine, Non-Resident Scholar, Duke Center for Spirituality and Health


 

Exploring the Love of God

If you believe, as I do, that God’s essential nature is Love, then you would enjoy reading this book. Cladach didn’t publish it. But I contributed an essay to it entitled, “Opening to God Through Prayer.”

After reading the 80+ essays in the book, I’d like to share with you my review:

Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God is a treasure trove of diverse viewpoints looking at many aspects of life in light of God’s love being non-coercive. You may not agree with all of the essayists (I agree with most, not all). But they will stretch your thinking and challenge your heart. That’s part of the beauty of a collaborative project like this. Here are quotes from the contributors who especially spoke to me:

Will Albright: “I wonder if God isn’t instead this great music maker, teaching all creation to play and sing along to the melody of love.”

Rick Barr: “In a sense, to be is to be known and to be loved.”

Justin Heinzekehr: “The non-coercive God is not hovering over us with a specific set of directions but is encouraging us to tap into our own creativity without knowing where it will lead.”

Tim Reddish: “Prayer makes a difference, but so do the necessary regularity of the world and every free choice humans and angels make…. It is quite legitimate to say that the Christian and the Spirit are ‘co-praying’.”

Scott Nelson Foster: “It is when we respond to God’s call to love that God’s will is done.”

Sarah Lancaster: “One advantage of thinking about God as uncontrolling is that it allows and impels us to look for God in the regular events in our lives.”

Bob Luhn: “It is the non-coercive, others-empowering love of God that sets a person free to be fully human–capable of loving God with one’s whole being and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self.”

Simon Hall: “If we are spiritual beings, just as much as we are physical, then our prayers matter just as much as our actions. Prayers that attune us to the heart of God. Prayers that lend our voice to God’s voice…”

A BOOK TO READ SLOWLY AND SAVOR. Allow your thinking to be infused and inspired with the truth, beauty, and power of God’s uncontrolling love.

You can find the book on Amazon.

Opening to Adventures in Prayer

bee on hawthorn flowers

My husband and I have a bee hive in our backyard, and I have planted many nectar-producing flowers for the bees. We also grow vegetable and berry gardens. Since we welcomed bees into our gardens; the flowers, berries, and herbs have flourished noticeably more. I’m sure the salvia flower stalks and peppermint blossoms bloom longer than they used to before so many bees were relishing closeness with them. The flowers seem to respond and love the bees as much as the bees delight in the flowers and the nectar they produce. Of course we, also, enjoy seeing the well-being of our gardens and eating the honey that results!

Similarly, I believe our relational God longs to commune with us, to create well-being within us, and to influence the course of the future together with us, as we pray.

Our view of God and his providence affects how we pray. If the future is open to God, our prayers and petitions to him can also be open and answered by him in more possible and creative ways than we can begin to imagine. In The Uncontrolling Love of God, Thomas Jay Oord asserts that God has given creatures genuine free will to make choices and to respond to him in ways that affect the future. For that reason, though the future is not pre-determined and known conclusively by God, “the future is full of possibilities, and, being omniscient, God knows them all.” We can live and pray in hope and expectancy. The believer’s life of prayer can be a life of adventure.

This prayer relationship with God reminds me of the relationship I observe in my garden between the flowers and the bees. Deep calls to deep as God calls us to intimate prayer and contemplation with him. As we respond and allow him access, he searches our inner being and comes to know us more and more thoroughly. I believe that to be known by God is to be transformed.

If God is Spirit and omnipresent in every moment of time—all the time everywhere—we can and should pray in the spirit everywhere and all the time.

Because “God lovingly invites creatures and creation to cooperate to enact a future in which well-being is established in surprising and positive ways,” we can and should cooperate with him in faith: praying, trusting, and working toward goodness and his will and kingdom to come. We can be looking for shalom to blossom and grow.

If God’s essence is uncontrolling love, we can and should pray uncontrolling, loving prayers. According to scripture, God actually shares his nature with us. If this nature is essentially kenotic, “self-giving, others-empowering love,” we can pray self-giving, others-empowering prayers.

God is far beyond the comfortable boundaries we have set for him in the past. It’s overwhelming and unsettling at first to consider this, but God is so much bigger than we have believed. How can he also be personal, hearing our prayers, far bigger and far closer than we have imagined? God’s essential being is love and he relates to each of us intimately.

Our open and relational God is calling us to:

  • Praise him.
  • Confess to him our lack of faith, trust, hope, and loving action.
  • Give thanks to him for enlarging our hearts and vision.
  • Bring supplications to him, interceding on behalf of the people and places we see that are far from the well-being of shalom.
  • Listen to and commune with him. Receive and respond.
  • Be prayerful in the spirit always.
  • Say “yes” to what he is calling forth in and through us.

As we watch and pray that God will call forth cooperation from—and give shalom to—his people and all of creation, the prayers of a righteous person avail much! We are co-creators of the future with him! He delights in this.

It is much like the bees that seem to draw out more blooms and fruit from my garden. Through prayer we can work with God to see his kingdom grow. Each one who truly cooperates in prayer and action with the Spirit of God increases his kingdom, his will, his working for good and overcoming evil in this world.

“We know the whole creation has been groaning,” kind of like a garden longing to open its petals to sunshine and bees. Perhaps the world is waiting for us to respond to our almighty and ever-present God in open, obedient, watching-for-possibilities prayer. Perhaps the more people respond positively to him, the more grace is available, like a well-pollinated garden. We have been too passive-aggressive, lazily saying “But God is in control,” on one hand, while on the other hand complaining and becoming angry at the way the world is going. God calls us to be active in faith and prayer and love toward him and toward his needy world. I don’t think it’s irreverent to say he hovers over us like a buzzing bee seeking access to our hearts, waiting for them to open their closed petals to him, to give of the nectar of our lives to increase goodness and to sweeten the future.

If it were true that God sees one set future, determined since before time began, we would have a big God. But the open view of God describes a far bigger God! He sees every possibility. He sees how our ongoing, potential actions and choices in every instance may cause repercussions that affect those around us.


Note: I wrote this piece because I believe in prayer and I wanted to engage with Thomas Jay Oord’s teaching after reading his book, The Uncontrolling Love of God  (NavPress, 2015). This entire post first appeared at http://uncontrollinglove.com (and later at http://thomasjayoord.com ). I agree with some, but not all, opinions and philosophies expressed by the writers there, but I’m thankful to have an opportunity to participate in the conversation.

Better than Destruction and Despising

san-francisco-85652_1920

I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book, Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).

As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:


by John Buzzard:

I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.

I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.

“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.

Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”

My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.

Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.

 

This post is excerpted from the book, STORM TOSSED by Jake Porter (a pen name for author John Buzzard).

Books Showing Up in Every Corner of the World

Map-with-pins

As a publisher, I love to hear stories of how our titles have found their way into every corner of the world and into the hands of readers. I occasionally hear from authors with stories like the following.

From Judy Pex, author of Walk the Land : A Journey on Foot through Israel :

“Last night in the Shelter an ultra-orthodox [Jewish] man — with a long beard and dressed in black — about our age checked in and wanted to talk to John and me about the Israel Trail. He was not in the usual age category of hikers who stay at our shelter, and it is unusual to find an ultra-orthodox walking the Trail. He’s from England, and turns out he already read Walk The Land in English and even quoted bits of it. Now he plans to walk the Trail for a few days and had some specific questions about water, sleeping, etc. After talking for about 45 minutes, John asked him what he thought about the spiritual parts of the book. He answered diplomatically that we had our differences. But it was an interesting conversation and contact.”

From Susan Jenkins, author of Scandalon:

“An old friend back in high school found me on Facebook and we got together for coffee. She told me that she was attending a women’s conference in Texas a couple of years ago and Scandalon was offered as one of the books to buy. She bought it and then realized that it was me who wrote it. As it turns out, she told me that her parents didn’t allow her to attend church back in high school, but she came to my dad’s church once with her next-door neighbor. As a result of that service she became a Christian. A few years later, she married a pastor and has been a pastor’s wife for decades.

“The second story is from one of my former students in southern China, Muti. Muti wrote me recently and told me he was walking along a street in Hong Kong, and on a shelf outside a bookstore was Scandalon. He talked with the bookstore owner and she told him she liked the book because of the stories about China. So, of course, he bought a copy.”

Whether they find their way to Texas, Hong Kong, England, or Israel – What a joy and privilege to publish these books.

Ten Best Books I Read in 2015

books-on-shelves

Here’s an eclectic list of books, varied in subject, genre, and form. I like to find the best in popular books, old and new, and find hidden gems that are less-well known but sometimes even more worthy of being found on a “best-seller” list. Perhaps you’ll discover a new favorite among these:

(In no particular order)

  1. STONE BY STONE: Tear Down the Wall Between God’s Heart and Yours by Jasona Brown (WhiteFire, 2015) – I’m part of a group of prayer ministers in my church. We spent several months this past year reading and discussing this book and praying together over personal issues that came up. Stone by Stone brings to light obstacles in our hearts that hinder us from freely and fully receiving God’s love and living in wholeness, in the joy of the Lord. Topics covered include:guilt, unforgiveness, lies believed, trauma, and unhealed memories. I enjoyed the conversational style of the author, the way she so transparently shared her own story, and the way her compassion for hurting people comes through.
  2. A GUIDE FOR LISTENING AND INNER HEALING PRAYER: Meeting God in the Broken Places by Rusty Rustenbach (NavPress, 2011)  –  As the title indicates, this is a comprehensive guide. It includes personal stories from the authors life and examples from other people’s lives as well. I recommend it to anyone desiring to remove barriers to intimacy with God and to be free of negative emotions that have plagued you for years, to experience release, freedom, and healing of emotional wounds. This book can lead individuals step-by-step in that healing process, and it can equip groups like the one I’m in, to facilitate a listening and inner-healing prayer ministry for the wounded people the Lord brings to us.
  3. THE LANGUAGE OF GOD: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief by Francis S. Collins (Free Press, 2007)  –  Science has not been my forte. But this is a fascinating book.  Like many Christians, I had some skepticism. Can you really believe both science and the Bible? Collins, a pioneering medical geneticist who headed the Human Genome Project presents a clear and sincere personal testimony of coming to faith in Jesus. He also discusses scientific discoveries in an easy-to-follow way that I actually enjoyed. He says we don’t have to choose between science and God. Especially helpful is Collins’ explanation of how and why a Bible-believing Christian may accept the theory of evolution.
  4. SHE WALKS IN BEAUTY: A Woman’s Journey through Poems selected and introduced by Caroline Kennedy (Grand Central, 2014) –  I love poetry and have a collection of poetry books. Some are antiques that belonged to my great-grandmother. Some are tomes I studied in college. I turn to poetry in times of deep emotion and it helps me walk through those times. Well, for my birthday last year I received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I decided I wanted a current volume of poetry. I remembered seeing a small “Poetry” section in our local B&N. When I went there, that section had disappeared, but a few poetry books were squeezed on half a shelf somewhere at the bottom of the “fiction” section. Sad. The pickings were slim. But She Walks in Beauty stood out to me. After scanning the topics (“Falling In Love” “Marriage” “Work” “Growing Up and Growing Old” “Friendship” “Silence and Solitude”) I bought the book. It didn’t disappoint. Ms. Kennedy included poems by some of my “old” favorites, such as Frost, Yeats, Browning and also introduced me to contemporary poets. She even included Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila and poetic passages from the Bible. The poems cover nearly every aspect of a woman’s life. To me the best parts, though, were Ms.Kennedy’s insightful, personal, and beautifully-expressed introductions to each subject group of poems.
  5. SOLDIER’S HEART: A Novel by Michele McKnight Baker (Heritage Beacon, 2015) – I read this Civil-War era novel in manuscript form. Many fiction manuscripts have crossed my desk through the years. But few have made as strong an impression on me as this one did. An agent sent me the manuscript. During 15 years of acquiring manuscripts for Cladach, only twice have I failed to win a contract for a book I really wanted to publish. Soldier’s Heart is one of those. The characters, the setting, the time period, the twists of plot, authentic conflicts, and the theme of generational sins and reconciliations make Soldier’s Heart an unforgettable read. What we now call PTSD, often diagnosed in military personnel returning from war, used to be called “soldier’s heart.” If you enjoy Christian historical fiction—read this novel.
  6. ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL by James Herriot (Bantam, 1974) –  One winter day I felt like reading something cozy and familiar; so I perused the well-worn volumes of my personal library and pulled some James Herriot books off the shelf. I first read his warm and wonderful series of Yorkshire-vet tales in the 1980s. The Chicago Tribune (according to the back cover) said this book was “bursting with love, laughter and the joy of life” and a “soul-satisfying autobiographical book. Human beings just naturally respond to a writer as lovable, wholesome, eloquent, humorous and well-stocked with anecdotes as James Herriot.”  I agree. Worth keeping for decades and reading over again.
  7. ALL WE LIKE SHEEP: Lessons from the Sheepfold by Marilyn Bay Wentz and Mildred Nelson Bay (Cladach, 2015) –  I read this book more closely than any other on this list, since I edited it! When Marilyn first sent her completed manuscript, which I had agreed to publish, I had just read a couple of James Herriot’s books. He describes so vividly his experiences with sheep and other farm animals. I looked forward to more such stories from a sheep farmer I knew, right here in Colorado. During the revision process, I asked authors Marilyn and Millie, “Do you enjoy your sheep? Do you love what you do— the farm, the outdoors, the mornings and evenings, the barn, the pastures, etc? Your choices of words, images, vignettes will help me experience the sheep farm vicariously. I want to smell the sweet hay, to hear the lambs bleat, to feel a newborn lamb, the bite of a chilly midnight during lambing season. I want to laugh and cry with you as you deal with rogue dogs and coyotes, search for a lost lamb, watch your flock come running as they recognize your voice.” Marilyn and Millie caught the vision of “creative nonfiction” and accomplished the feat of writing their shepherding experiences as stories with dialogue, sensory details, and emotion. In an entertaining way, the authors “show us” as well as teach us why the Bible says we are all like sheep.
  8. YOU CAN’T MAKE THIS STUFF UP: The Complete Guide to Writing Creative Nonfiction—from Memoir to Literary Journalism and Everything in Between  by Lee Gutkind (Da Capo Lifelong Books, 2012) Speaking of creative nonfiction (as I did in #6 and #7 above)—a style popular in journalism today, and the style I prefer for memoirs and other nonfiction—this is a definitive book on what it is and how to write it. I read this book in preparation for a workshop I presented at the Writers on the Rock conference. A secular, colorfully-written book, by the expert on the subject, that includes many examples and exercises. I read the Kindle version.
  9. THE UNCONTROLLING LOVE OF GOD: An Open and Relational Account of Providence  by Thomas Jay Oord (Intervarsity Press, 2015) –  I have some of my preacher father’s and some of my preacher grandfather’s theology books that were handed down to me. I’ve acquired and studied other, more recent theological books, mostly written from the Wesleyan-Arminian perspective, as well as broader Evangelical and even a few Reformed works. In recent years, have enjoyed books by N.T. Wright and Jurgen Moltmann. I heard about Thomas Jay Oord before I knew of his many books. Since we had mutual acquaintances, I responded to Mr. Oord’s request for readers to review his then-forthcoming book, The Uncontrolling Love of God. I read it in pdf form. This book provokes thought and lays out a convincing case concerning why evil happens even though “God is love.” You can read my Amazon review of the book here.
  10. LES MISERABLES by Victor Hugo (Penguin Audio, 2009) I own three video/DVD versions of Les Miserables — an old movie, a more recent movie, and a stage musical production. The story—with its timeless themes of justice, mercy, and redemption—always inspires and the music lifts me. I wanted to read the book, but haven’t yet tackled that thick volume. Instead, I started an Audible membership and downloaded this Audible/audio version of the great classic. My husband and I listened to it on a long road trip and enjoyed this abridged, well-narrated version of the book. An accessible way for tired or busy eyes to devour and relish great literature.

 

Afflict the Comfortable?

Bullet holes in the front door of the Alexander’s home in Taipei. Two members of the family were used as human shields and shot in police crossfire. Yet the Alexanders forgave their terrorist captor and helped lead him to faith in Christ before he faced execution for his crimes.

The famous newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer is said to have had this motto:

“Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Do you think this is a good motto for a Christian writer? And maybe for a Christian reader?

Jesus gave comfort to the afflicted. He saw the real needs of individuals and responded in love and power. Today, the Lord works through his people to give comfort to those who are burdened, oppressed, and bereft; to build up others in love and faith to sustain them in the difficulties of life.

On the other hand, Jesus often unsettles us—afflicts us, if you will—with his words and actions. He criticized the religious and political establishments. He gave his time and attention to the weak, the sick, the unlovely, the powerless. He spoke directly to the heart.

Does the Lord want to use you as a writer to challenge and unsettle those who are insulated in ease? Perhaps the Lord wants to remind us of his call to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort those who mourn.

To be used this way, you may need to let him move you out of your “comfort zones” of shallow thinking, self-protection, and playing it safe. Read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Read the Acts of the Apostles. Read about the lives and deaths of the early-church martyrs. Read about Christian persecution and martyrdom in the world today.

Other suggestions for reading that will “afflict” us out of our false comfort and into a life of more compassion and faith:

John and Judy Pex’s story of their work in Eilat, Israel. Reading about the Pex’s 30 years of personal evangelism in Israel can fortify you with the desire to live out the life of Jesus, perhaps even opening your home, your arms, or your prayers and giving to reach others with God’s love.

Stories of Christian refugees fleeing the genocide in south Sudan will disturb your ease but may also give you perspective on the troubles you face.

Reading about the Alexander family’s hostage experience at the hands of a Taiwanese terrorist may afflict you when you realize what evil there is in the world and what sufferings God allows his people to go through; or the Alexander’s story may comfort you to see how they were able to show love and salvation to the very man who caused them great bodily injury and emotional harm.

Now a word to readers: Open your hearts to what our Lord, who himself comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable, may be saying to you. Don’t just read books that offer escape and make you feel good and even more comfortable. Read books that challenge you, maybe even afflict you with a desire to show compassion.

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