On the bookshelf: Love Does by Bob Goff

True confession? Two aspects of my personality have always been at war with each other. One, which gets expressed now and then on the blog, is the free-spirited, neo-hippie girl who would love to ditch the 8-4 and write all day. The other – the one that wins the battle most days – is the one that goes to work (aka a job with steady, if minimal pay) and pays the bills.

To use a sentence formulation similar to those that start each chapter from Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World:

I used to think that being responsible meant there was no room for whimsy in my life, now I know that it’s irresponsible not to follow God into the whimsy.

Whimsical invitations come to us everyday. While reading Love Does, I was pretty sure those invitations came to Bob Goff more than they ever come to me. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe God is providing me with opportunities every day to love extravagantly. Maybe I just need to develop the sense to identify them and seize upon them. Maybe I actually need to do something rather than be trapped by the “ought to” and “should” syndrome.

Each chapter uses stories from Goff’s colorful life to illustrate how his thinking changed by following turning love into action. Goff’s one of those delightfully filterless people who thinks nothing of telling his children to go ahead and write to various heads of state – and take the children to meet those heads of state. Or do this with the books he received from the publisher, hot off the press:

Though it’s easy to rush through and read these inspirational stories in one sitting, it’s probably better to take them one, sweet bite at a time and savor them. Don’t miss the “I used to … but now … ” sentences that start each chapter. Use them as a way to frame your perspective on the day.

And let a little whimsy come your way.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.

The courage to say good-bye

Pennsylvania Turnpike

Pennsylvania Turnpike (Photo credit: Rhys Asplundh)

This is another Five-Minute Friday post. The Gypsy Mama gives us a prompt and bloggers write for five minutes without editing or revising. This week’s prompt is “new.” Click over here to see what others have written.

I don’t have the courage to say goodbye. I can’t gather the sheer unaduterated audacity to get in my car one morning and to just keep going instead of making that turn into work, bidding farewell to the time clock and the routine.

I’d keep heading west, meeting up with another highway, finding myself climbing the mountains of western Pennsylvania. Hours later, I’d call home.

“I’m in Pittsburgh,” I’d say. “I thought I’d have a Primanti’s sandwich before I head home.”

The family would be surprised.

“What about work?,” they would ask.

“It doesn’t matter,” I’d say. “I’ve said goodbye.”

“What will you do?” they’d ask.

“I don’t know,” I’d say.

But, I’d be strengthened and exhilarated and ready to take on all challenges.

Yet I haven’t the courage to say goodbye.

A Song for {Resurrection} Sunday: Jesus Son of God … live from Passion 2012

But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.”

– Matthew 28:5-7

Because he is risen …

For the next 40 days, the risen Savior again walked with his disciples. He served them breakfast on the shores of Galilee. He talked with them as he had before the darkness of Calvary split their world and time itself in two.

Then, finally they came to the Mount of Olives – the place where the final journey began weeks ago when Jesus prepared to enter Jerusalem to shouts of hosanna. Now, a much smaller group gathered around anxiously. Their questions lingered in the air as Jesus ascended into the clouds. Was it finally the time? Would Jesus now establish the kingdom of God on earth?

And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:10-11 (ESV)

More than two thousand years later, the disciples’ question still lingers.

When?

It screams above the roar of the hurricane.

It rumbles through the vibrations of the earthquake.

It flashes through the flames of the fire.

It crashes through the waves of the tsunami and howls above the wind of the tornado.

It whispers in the stillness of the intensive care unit and weeps at the graveside.

It waits in the darkness for the prodigal child.

When?

Only the Father knows, and he has given this promise first to the disciples and now to us …

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 (ESV)

And, there’s the hope of a greater promise to come. No matter what happens in the fallen world there will be a day of no more tears, no more death, no more crying and no more pain. There will be a day when God is with us and we are with him. Because he has risen, we will rise.

In that day, those who once were heartbroken, the ones who were lame, the ones who were washed away in the tsunami’s flood and crushed in the earthquake’s rumble will gather around the throne of the Creator. Countless voices will sing in countless languages to the one who brought healing from pain, life from death and peace from discord. Their voices will rise like the voices of angels to their deliverer, redeemer. Immanuel. God with us. Us with God. The lamb who was slain. The eternal one who stepped into time.

On that great mornin’

The story did not end there. Praise God the story does not with the nails being removed and his Body being laid in the grave. It doesn’t end with the disciples hiding in fear or the Jewish high council gloating over its apparent victory. It ends with a startling discovery made by women on their way to the tomb to attend to the body of their Lord.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you,while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 
– Luke 24:1-8 

On that great morning, the stone was rolled away. The Lord left the grave clothes behind. Death itself was overwhelmed in victory. Jesus had risen from the dead!

Click here to listen to the music that followed this reading, On that Great, Great Mornin’ by Mary McDonald.

By his stripes …

The cup did not pass from him. The will of the Father was done. As the final “Amen” lingered in the air, the stillness of the night was broken by the clatter of shield against sword and the heavy footsteps of soldiers in motion. A question, a kiss and the Son of Man, who came to free the world, was placed in chains.

Every crack of the whip, every false accusation, every malicious taunt brought the prophecy of Isaiah to life as Jesus met them all with utter silence.

He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
– Isaiah 53:3-7 ESV

As the dawn broke, an illegally convened court turned Jesus over to a Roman leader all too willing to wash his hands of the whole affair. Pilate submitted to the will of the people and turned Jesus over to his soldiers to be crucified between two criminals.

In the early hours of a Judean spring morning, on a different hill, the One the people who had welcomed Jesus nearly a week ago was nailed to the cross. Our punishment became his to bear.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
–  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)

Click here to listen to Behold the Cross by Gina Boe and Marty Funderburk.

On the bookshelf: The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief

When a book about grace begins by describing a dinner with Christopher Hitchens, you know you’re in for a treat. Larry Alex Taunton’s The Grace Effect absolutely does not disappoint.

Taunton presents the idea that society needs “Christianity’s gentling, inspiring, and culturally transforming power.” Using the story of the adoption of his daughter from a corrupt Ukrainian system, Taunton paints a picture of a dark world in which life itself loses its value. Throughout the story, Taunton deftly weaves the religious, political and social history of Ukraine with the very real present-day challenges of adopting a child from a former Soviet bloc country.

The story is peppered with memorable scenes illustrating the effect that the suppression of Christianity during the Soviet era had on the country from the inescapable moment that Taunton is faced with the first official asking for a bribe to the utter disbelief from locals that he was there to adopt a child that they had all but forgotten.

Mixed in with these scenes is a simple scene much like one we encounter in the U.S. Taunton describes what happened when he and his teenage son took a walk around their Ukrainian neighborhood and decided to stop at McDonalds. Here, we wait in line and allow others who arrived before us to go ahead of us. There, customers brush each other to get to the counter when the cashier asks, “Can I help the next customer?”

It’s a simple moment, but it’s one that simply and brilliantly illustrates Taunton’s thesis … and leaves you thinking about the role of grace on the simple moments of your own life.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson’s Booksneeze program for providing me with a free copy of this book for review.

A night of sorrows …

The shouts of joy that echoed through Jerusalem’s stone streets on a Sunday morning fell deathly silent in the darkness of a Thursday night. The dark of the night matched the darkness of sin in the souls of man as the disciples joined Jesus in the upper room.

In these last precious hours of his time on earth, the Lord celebrated the ancient feast of the Jews with the men who had followed him for the past three years. He astounded them with his humility as he washed their feet and left them speechless with his simple, sudden pronouncement that one of them would betray him.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.  And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” – Matthew 26:20-22 (ESV)

Soon, they left the safety of the upper room – Judas to meet with his conspirators, the disciples to meet with their own shortcomings and Jesus to meet with his destiny. They crossed the valley to a place of prayer, a place where Jesus – God’s son, God himself – poured his heart out to the Father, begging not once, not twice, but three times that the cup of suffering would pass from him. Knowing what was coming in the next hours, he asked the Father to spare him. Knowing the perfection of the Father’s plan, he submitted to his will.

A welcome for a king …

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hope rose high on the Judean hillside that morning during a first-century spring. It was a hope desperately sought by a people oppressed. The dark hand of Rome gripped the Jewish people. It’s tax collectors were agents of extortion. Its soldiers instruments of destruction. Any threat to Rome was crushed mercilessly.

But into this darkness came a light – a Baby born in a manger. Few noticed the arrival of the Light. More encountered its power. For those who did, life was never the same. The blind gained sight. The deaf heard. Demons were driven out. The lame walked. The hungry were fed. The outcasts were welcomed as friends.

Yes, the baby in the manger, Jesus, showed that he was truly Immanuel, God with us.

And on this spring morning, the hopes of a nation rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Could this Jesus be their deliverer? A modern-day Moses to lead them from the tyranny of Rome? Could it be that the One they sought for centuries was riding into their midst just as the prophet foretold?

“Say to the daughter of Zion,
Behold, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’”

Click here to listen to Hosanna Processional by Joseph M. Martin.