For the Love! And a Little Fun…

Way back in March, five whole months ago I applied to be on the launch team for Jen Hatmaker’s new book, and somehow I made it into the 10% who actually made it onto the team. I’m sure it was through no charisma or anything that I did or am, just pure happenstance – or could it have been providence? Well, I don’t know, but let me tell you that this experience – being on a team with about 500 other people who are passionate about Jesus and love people to death – has been amazing! This group has lived out in real time the entire message of Jen’s new book, For the Love.

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The subtitle really puts it well: “Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.” I think we’ve all experienced feeling like we’re not enough and that no matter how hard we try, there is something somewhere that we’ve failed at or not met someone’s expectations, be it other people’s or even our own expectations. Yes really, sometimes we’re the ones putting unreasonable expectations on ourselves. And Jen wants you to know that you can take yourself and others “off the hook.” She goes on to explain that

“maybe we can lay down our fear and criticism, self-directed and otherwise. Maybe if we let ourselves off the hook, we can let others off too… We don’t have to be saviors and critics for each other; we’re probably better as loved people beside each other. We aren’t good gods, but we can be good humans.”

Jen is superb at telling the truth with grace, and that’s exactly what she does in this book. She is so gracious with her words, so encouraging and uplifting, that when she hits you upside the head with something that’s a real thing in your own life, you can take it. Because you know she loves everyone with her whole heart – even the difficult ones, for the Love! – and she’ll give you the truth, but she’ll be gentle in the process. And this is something I want to learn from her. She does this so well, and all I can figure is that Jesus is so big in her life that she has learned from Him how to do this really well, so probably I need more of Jesus. Anyway, this is the insight she has about truth-telling: “When you tell me the truth about yourself, I no longer hide from you. Your vulnerability makes a path for my own.” And this, “We are watching the light win truth by truth, and when enough bright places are created, the dark has nowhere else to hide.”

“Show up. Be seen. Tell the truth. Be free.

She tells her truth in this book and invites us to tell ours. Together, we can be free.

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In the mix are messages to our children, to our marriages, to the church, to women, and to Christians. And her Thank-You Notes, oh goodness, you do not want to miss those. In true Jen Hatmaker fashion, this book will have you rolling with laughter one minute and crying the next. To me, that is one of the marks of a terrific book and she does it every.single.time.

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Jen invites us into something sacred, something holy. She is practically prophetic in her closing words when she calls forth the image-bearer in all of us as she sees what is and can be: “I see you, cheering each other on and calling forth the best in one another, and it slays me. This is the stuff. This is what we were made for. This is how to live well. If we prefer each other as Jesus told us to, there is nothing our community… cannot handle. …we strengthen each other to love our families and neighbors and cities and world. We point each other to God and call out our blessedness. It is so incredibly powerful.” And this, this is exactly what Jen has done with this book. She does this and shows us what is possible.

And this awesome community that is the launch team, has lived out this book in the most beautiful ways ever, giving me hope and a longing that this can be lived out in our real-life communities all around the world, wherever we are, with our people. We all long for this – maybe we need to quit waiting around for it to happen and be the catalyst in creating it right where we are with the people God has put in front of us.

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And now for some fun – who wants a free book? You COULD go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble or anywhere this awesome book is sold and order one, BUT if you’d like a chance at winning one, leave a comment down below, here on the blog, and you’ll be entered to win one of two copies I’d like to give to two of you amazing people who so faithfully read my sporadic and disjointed words.

So leave a comment, and tell us about someone who has encouraged you, cheered you on, and lifted you up on your journey. Honor those people in your life here, and then do it for someone else. Pass it on!!! Together, we can keep this ball rolling until it gets so big it overtakes our communities and our world. I will draw two names tonight, August 18, 2015 at 11 pm EST, because I want to get these out to you tomorrow. I can’t wait for you guys to start reading this book and sharing your highlights with us, so get your name in quick.

All the best!

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In Honor of National Book Lover’s Day

National Book Lover’s Day was observed this past Sunday, August 9, 2015. As usual, I was not aware of this auspicious day until it had arrived, so I’m writing this a few days after the fact. Nevertheless, I thought this presented a good opportunity to mention a few books that I have especially loved this year. I’ve not been reading as much as I would like (do book lovers ever read as much as they would like to?), but one of my goals this year was to stay clear of mediocre books. Why read mediocre when there is so much better out there? Because better is out there – sometimes it’s hard to find. And it is quite difficult for me to not finish a book I start, because maybe it will get better, maybe I haven’t gotten to the good part yet, but I must stay strong and say no to mediocrity, even if it means I can’t list a half-read book on my running tab of all I’ve read. But I digress.

Out of my very short list of books I’ve actually read this year, here are my top five, not necessarily ranked in any particular order, except for the first one of course.

1. For the Love by Jen Hatmaker (2015)

If you know very much about me at all, you’ll know I am a hopeless fan of Jen’s. She is grace and strength and humor, and maybe the two things I love most are her authenticity and her love for Jesus. She just wrote this bit of grace and it’s set to be released next week, next week ya’ll (maybe I’ve been hanging out with her crowd a bit the last while) and you should really get this book. Pre-order it and you’ll get it the second it’s released, like it should be on your doorstep on the 18th. Unless you order from Barnes and Noble, where it’s already on the shelves and in people’s mailboxes and on people’s actual doorsteps. That’s about all I can say about that right now, because I’m supposed to wait to talk about this till next week. But seriously, I’ve had some of the best experiences with about 500 women in the last four months I’ve ever had because well, I was somehow, someway privileged to be in on the launch team, and what a team it is. We will be friends for life, For the Love!

2. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2011)

This was a surprise book for me. My daughter was reading it and as it was laying around the house I picked it up one day on a whim. I was hooked from page one. Written as a free-verse narrative, the language is beautiful, rich and dense. A poignant read that tugs at the heart-strings, it is young girl’s perspective on fleeing the only home she has ever known and living as a refugee. While it is a book aimed at children in grades 4-8, it is literary in nature and will stand the test of time. An easy one-sitting read, it is one I will go back to again and again. It’s a great book to read with your children and has many opportunities for starting conversations around diverse and meaningful topics.

3. Malestrom by Carolyn Custis James (2015)

This newest book by James is timely and so important and needed in the world we live in. She addresses the challenges, and indeed the crisis, of manhood in our society and in our churches, calling all of us, both men and women, back to what God had in mind from the foundations of the world. I hear so often the sigh of resignation that that’s just the way things are because of the Fall and it will be this way until Jesus returns. James says no, and I concur. Jesus has already come and He has come to set things right to some measure, to upend the systems of the world, which includes the system of patriarchy. If you think patriarchy is okay, this book will make you very uncomfortable. Patriarchy was never God’s plan and James sets out to take us back to the heart and purpose of God for men and women together.

4. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore (2006)

The subtitle reads: The story of a modern-day slave, an international art dealer and the unlikely woman who bound them together. That pretty much sums it up, really. I had a bit of a time getting into this book but about half-way through, just when I was considering abandoning it, the story takes a turn. I cried through the second half like I haven’t for a long time reading a book. Such a great story, showing what the love of Christ has the power to do in the hearts of slaves and art dealers alike, hearts just like our own. This is a terrific book and would make an excellent selection for book clubs. It’s not a new book, I’m just late to the party.

5. Paul, Women and Wives by Craig Keener (1992) 

To be honest, I debated for a while (maybe five minutes?) about putting this book on this list, but I found it so insightful that if I’m honestly listing my top books, this will have to be included. It is scholarly, although not necessarily academic, so it is fairly heavy reading, with the bibliography almost as long if not longer, than the book. To some that might be tedious, but to me it shows the amount of research that went into this work, and that it’s not just one man’s opinions. Keener does an excellent job of showing both sides of some very controversial passages and then drawing his own conclusions from thorough research and study. He brings clarity to some issues that can easily divide, although he does not come down hard on either side for the most part. This makes it even more compelling, I think, because he doesn’t try to prove any given point. He addresses some of the more difficult passages in Paul’s writings with grace and humility. Again, this book may make some uncomfortable, but I would challenge all of us to read things we disagree with periodically, because if we only read things we agree with we will not grow. This one may stretch you, but isn’t that how anyone grows, by stretching?

And what am I reading at the moment?

I have started all of these or will in the near future for classes I’m enrolled in:

Astonished by Mike Erre

The Fringe Hours by Jessica N. Turner

The Social God and the Relational Self by Stanley J. Grenz

Invitations from God by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Brimstone by Hugh Halter

The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins

Christy by Catherine Marshall

Scripture and the Authority of God by N.T. Wright

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khalid Hosseini

A Compilation of Lectures Related to Spiritual Formation

Hmm, as you can well see, I’m not into fluffy reads, or even much fiction at all. I’m open to recommendations, but please not too much fluff – it’s got to have some¬†substance. What is your night stand or coffee table right now? I would love to know what you’re reading and how it is impacting your life. Leave a comment about a book you have read or are reading right now, you never know what might come of it – you might even be entered in a drawing for a copy of Jen’s new book, For the Love! You just never know… But you have to leave a comment. On the blog. Not on social media. But you can leave one there too if you want. All the best!