Have you ever read a book that did not really grab your attention initially, only to pick it up later and have an entirely different perspective of the book?  That was my experience with Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning.  I actually read this book several years ago.  I enjoyed it, but it was not one of my favorites by Manning.  (Abba’s Child was perhaps one of the books that have had the greatest influence on me!)  But recent circumstances prompted me to read it again and it turned out to be exactly what my soul needed to hear.images

Manning calls the act of trusting in the love of God the second conversion.  Many may accept God’s gift of grace, but then live out their Christian lives never fully understanding what it means to trust God with their whole being.  One reason for this is a loss of God’s transcendence:

The loss of a sense of transcendence among today’s believers has caused incalculable harm to Christian spirituality and to the interior life of individual Christians.

Busyness, stress, fear, and image management all contribute to this loss of transcendence.

On a personal level, the last six months have brought much change, stress, and transition to my life.  From buying a house to moving to a new city to unexpected expenses to unplanned life events, I found myself just trying to keep my head above water and get through all the transition.  But I also discovered just how little I trusted God.  Trust is easy when life is going well; difficult times will reveal just how much we actually believe that God loves us, hears our prayers, and is shaping us through our circumstances for our betterment.

Hence, the prompting for me to re-read this book.

Through short, easy-to-read chapters, Manning describes the many-faceted aspects of trust.  Some of the more poignant aspects that I needed to be reminded of included:

  • “The foremost quality of a trusting disciple is gratefulness.”  Gratitude is accepting the invitation to celebrate life one day at a time.  This includes all that life throws at us, whether good or bad.  When we live in a state of stress and anxiety over our circumstances, we will certainly experience a loss of gratitude.
  • “Trust cannot be self-generated.”  We cannot determine within ourselves to trust God more with additional effort.  The paradox is that the harder I try to trust, the more I am actually relying on myself and less on God.  Trust develops when I allow myself to be loved by God completely, releasing the need to be in control of my circumstances.
  • To be fully present to whoever or whatever is immediately before us is an act of radical trust.  Worrying about the present and past, endless self-analysis, and constant planning of our future all rob us of the ability to be fully present in each moment.

These, and many more points, served as timely reminders of what I had evidently lost sight of.  Trusting God is an act of surrender – surrendering control of outcomes, future plans, agendas, and expectations.  It is a daily act that allows us to meet God in each and every circumstance, knowing that no matter what the outcome, we are loved and valued by the Creator.

Last week, I posted a screenshot of books I read during 2013.  Today, as a means of reviewing the past year, I will take a look at some of the topics and events that prompted me to write over the last twelve months.  You may have already read some of these, but if not, the links will take you to each story.

Connected-thumb

2013 began just as it has for me for the past several years, with a spiritual review of the year by studying the Fruit of the Spirit.  I have built upon this idea for the past couple of years, and this past January/February I wrote further on each individual piece of fruit.  It has been a great way to begin the new year and I am embarking on this same exercise even now.  For a full index of the Fruit of the Spirit, go to Top Posts and review all the entries on this topic.
Better yet, go here and download the complete guide!  Yes, 2013 marked the release of the short study, Connected To The Vine, inspired by this topic and your feedback.  Thanks to those who have read it, provided feedback, and even used it as a group study guide.

Corinth

In March, my brother and I took a trip visiting many biblical sites throughout the Mediterranean region.  Our journey began at Athens, and continued to Corinth, over to Ephesus in Turkey, then to the Cappadocia region of Turkey, and finally concluded in Istanbul.  It was an amazing trip that continues to impact and shape the way I read scripture.  I shared just some of my observations from each stop through this space.

2013 had its sad moments as well.  Personally, I experienced the loss of a couple of loved ones.  Death seemed to be a theme in the late summer/fall.  More broadly speaking, two authors whose writings impacted me deeply, also passed.  Brennan Manning and Dallas Willard always challenged me and their spiritual insights will be missed.  I was fortunate to meet Brennan Manning in person and he was a great example of spiritual strength in brokenness.

I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to post this past fall – primarily due to the previously mentioned loss of loved ones.  But I did have a moment sitting in an airport that reminded me how easily relationships can be pushed aside by electronic distractions if we are not careful.  We can be so engrossed in our on-line world that we are not present for those actually along our path.

Finally, I completed this interview for my book site, where I share some of the events that led to my writing, as well as provide a glimpse of my upcoming project.  God willing, 2014 will see the completion of A Journey Through Ephesus, a project I am very excited about!

Thanks for your support and encouragement; follow this blog to stay up-to-date on my observations and projects, and blessings in 2014!

I recently had an opportunity to complete a brief interview for my author page on Smashwords.  I thought I would share it here as well.

When did you first start writing?

As a pastor, I wrote sermon outlines, but I always felt like there was so much more to explore in any given topic. There was one series I had taught a couple of time, and even after teaching through it more than once, I still had ideas bouncing around in my head on the topic. Then on a trip to Israel with a couple of good friends, one of these friends encouraged me to start writing. I came home and began writing my first book, Ten Essential Words, where I really took a comprehensive look at the Ten Commandments and their relevance for today’s world. I’ve been writing ever since.

Who are your favorite authors?

There are several authors that I love to read for different reasons. Brennan Manning, who recently passed away, has probably influenced me as much as anyone. His writing really reaches deep inside me and brings out emotions and insights that tend to get pushed aside. N.T. Wright and Dallas Willard bring an intellectual approach to the Bible and to faith that I really resonate with. Bruce Feiler‘s books on exploring the actual places and sites of the Old Testament hit close to one of my biggest passions: traveling to places rich with Biblical history.

What motivated you to become an indie author?

I had finally finished the manuscript to my first book. Like any unpublished author at the time, I sent several book proposals to publishers. I was investing time and money, getting no where. Meanwhile, I had this manuscript saved on my hard drive, not being read by anyone. I began reading a couple books about how the internet was opening channels up to people that have been traditionally controlled by a handful of big players – be it record labels, publishers, or mainstream media. I realized that I had a choice to continue to play the game of getting the attention of a publisher or to go the indie route and get my ideas out there available to people. It has been both challenging and rewarding.

When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?

Reading a good book at a coffee shop, most likely. But outside of work and writing, I always have a couple books I am reading my way through. I am always planning my next travel adventure. And when time permits, I enjoy cooking and trying new restaurants. I enjoy food that has been prepared with passion!

What are you working on next?

I am really excited to explore the New Testament letter of Ephesians from the context of the Greco-Roman world of the recipients. Most commentaries tend to either lack depth, avoiding any contextual discussion, or be so deep, dissecting the sentence structure of the original language to an extent that the larger narrative is lost. I wanted to take a letter like Ephesians and really tell the story: who where these people, how would they have heard Paul’s words, why did Paul write what he did, and what did it mean to be a Greek person in the Roman Empire trying to live out the message of Jesus. This past spring, I actually travelled to the archaeological site of Ephesus, so I am really excited to finish this project!

Wow, two of my biggest influences as authors have passed away in the last month.  I recently gave my thoughts on the passing of Brennan Manning, and now today, Dallas Willard has passed away after a battle with cancer at the age of 77.  Willard was a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California, but his books were known for their theological approach to spiritual growth.  Willard was characterized as being on a “quiet quest to subvert nominal Christianity.”

UnknownWillard’s classic work may have been The Spirit of the Disciplines, which examines the role of the disciplines in spiritual transformation.  The Divine Conspiracy is another book for which he is well-known.  I will forever associate this book with a personal retreat I took.  It was during that retreat that I wrestled with the question of how to integrated the kingdom of God with everyday living.  The Divine Conspiracy both prompted those questions and served as a guidebook through my retreat.  I just recently enjoyed flipping through it again and discussing it with my brother when he asked for a Dallas Willard book I would recommend.

51pZJhHm6pL._SL500_AA300_One of the first topics I wrote about here was on Willard’s book The Great Omission.  Willard did not hesitate to challenge the church where he saw gaps in theology.  He wanted the believer to always experience more in their relationship with God.  The other book I have read by Willard is Hearing God.

Willard’s spiritual, yet intellectual approach to faith will be missed!

I was saddened to read this past Saturday that Brennan Manning passed away.  He was one of my favorite authors.  His writings had a way of extending the grace of God to me in a way that I have needed to receive over and over again.  When I found myself in image management mode, Manning gave me permission to accept who I was and live in the grace and forgiveness of God.

Ragamuffin GospelAccording to his website, he was ordained to the Franciscan priesthood in 1963.  During his work with the poor, he traveled to Spain where for a time he became a solitary reflective, secluded in a remote cave for six months in the Zaragoza desert.  After returning to the states, he experienced a battle with alcoholism.  That battle prompted him to begin writing, encouraging people everywhere to accept and embrace the good news of God’s unconditional love in Jesus Christ.  Among his most popular books are The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, and The Signature of Jesus.

Abba's Child

Back in September of last year, I wrote about the Top 5 Books That Have Influenced Me, and Abba’s Child was among my top 5.  One of my favorite quotes from that book is,

Define yourself radically as one beloved by God.  This is the true self.  Every other identity is illusion.

The first part of that quote graced the wall in my office and a friend gave me a journal with that quote printed on the first page.  Is has become one of my life’s mottos.

From The Ragamuffin Gospel, one of my favorite quotes is,

In Christ Jesus freedom from fear empowers us to let go of the desire to appear good, so that we can move freely in the mystery of who we really are.

Signature of JesusAnd from the Signature of Jesus,

The question is, do I worship God or do I worship my experience of God?  Do I worship God or do I worship my idea of him?

Aside from reading many of his books, I got to hear him speak a couple times and count myself fortunate to even have had lunch with him along with a couple other people on one occasion.  Whether through his writing, speaking, or sitting across a table from him he was always both challenging and refreshing to hear.  May he truly rest in the grace of God!

I recently happened upon a website called Goodreads, which allows you catalogue and rate books you have read, and gives you the ability to share your interests with others whom you have friended.  Predictably, this site only fueled my book addiction.  While compiling my library and rating my books, I began to wonder which books have impacted me the most – which books get a 5-star rating in terms of rocking my world?  I thought it would be an interesting list to share, so here they are in no particular order.

Walking The Bible by Bruce Feiler

  • Why It Impacted Me – I had just returned from a trip to Egypt and Israel in 2005 and this book absolutely fueled my desire to further experience these ancient places you read so much about in the scriptures.  Feiler sets out on a pilgrimage to many of the places mentioned in the five books of Moses, visiting the sites, talking with the people, and gaining an understanding of the cultural backdrop of the Hebrew Bible.  The television program of the same name is itself a spiritual journey.
  • Why You Should Read It – If you want to read familiar stories in the Bible in a new way, paying attention to oft overlooked details, this book is a great primer – written in narrative, non-academic language – in the importance of cultural context for a full understanding of scripture.

Jesus and the Victory of God by N.T. Wright

  • Why It Impacted Me – I read parts of this book in seminary, but then again, I read a lot of books in school and didn’t always have time to process what I was reading.  But I remember this was a book I wanted to pick up again.  So a couple years later I read through it again.  N.T. Wright is one of my favorite theologians/thinkers and this book really showed me how much there was in scripture to understand beyond the surface reading.  Much of the New Testament was written not just from the Hebrew worldview, but also the Greek and Roman worldview as well.  Stories and references begin to take on new meaning when processed through these multiple lenses.  Wright in many ways rekindled my love for scripture.
  • Why You Should Read It – Unless you reeeeeeally love the topic, this may not be a book you want to read – it is over 700 pages and it isn’t easy reading.  Fortunately, Wright’s popularity has grown and he has written a number of more accessible books for those wanting an introduction to his work.  Try After You Believe or Surprised by Hope.

Abba’s Child by Brennan Manning

  • Why It Impacted Me – At a time in my life when I was tired from maintaining an image of having it all together, I read Abba’s Child and Manning gave me permission to get real with myself.  To use Manning’s words, we all have inside of us a struggle between the impostor and the beloved.  When we have the courage to quit living as an impostor, we are freed up to truly be embraced by God.  It was a message that had me in tears more than once and I have returned to this book many times since.
  • Why You Should Read It – Manning has a way of giving you permission to be yourself and embrace the love of God.  If that isn’t something you need, then skip this book.  But if you ever struggle to live in the freedom of authenticity, this book will help you embrace the beloved inside.

Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross

  • Why It Impacted Me – There are times on your spiritual journey when God’s presence seems more distant than near.  And then there are those times when God’s presence feels completely absent.  I have encountered the latter on my own journey and it was very disconcerting.  Reading this book both gave me words to describe that experience and hope that it doesn’t last forever.  It helped me relate to God in new ways and in many ways normalized the entire experience.  For that I am thankful!
  • Why You Should Read It – For hundreds of years, this writing has encouraged people through dark times in their lives.  I would almost recommend not reading it if you are in a good place.  Rather, keep it in mind if you ever find yourself feeling distant from God.

No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

  • Why It Impacted Me – I have to confess that there isn’t any one thought that jumped out at me in this book.  I just know that I read it three times before I was able to put it down.  It is so full of small profound insights into navigating this life that I had to include it.  Merton, though not necessarily in this book, speaks quite a bit about contemplative prayer and the role that contemplation can play in your daily routine, and I have benefited much from a more contemplative life.
  • Why You Should Read It – Don’t let the title fool you.  Though this book uses the language of men, there is plenty for both men and women to take from it.  It is broken up into manageable chapters that make it easy to read a handful of pages and process that reading throughout the day.  It is a very insightful book into navigating the spiritual life on a daily basis.

So there you have it.  If I were compiling a list of the best written or the most interesting books, perhaps the list would look different.  But these are the books that have influenced me the most.  So what about you?  Have you read any of these and if so, what did you think?  What books would you include on your list of books that influenced you the most?