One of my childhood neighbors died this week. Faye was only 47 years old. She had been battling a brain tumor for the past three years.
I don’t like these things.
Why does one person get cancer and another doesn’t?
Why is one person born into wealth and another into poverty?
Why does a car accident destroy one life but another person walks away?
I wish bad things didn’t happen to anybody.
I listened yesterday to Pope Francis’s TED Talk (yes, Pope Francis did a TED talk!). He addresses the “why them and not me” question.
“As I meet, or lend an ear to those who are sick, to the migrants who face terrible hardships in search of a brighter future, to prison inmates who carry a hell of pain inside their hearts, and to those, many of them young, who cannot find a job, I often find myself wondering: ‘Why them and not me?’
I, myself, was born in a family of migrants; my father, my grandparents, like many other Italians, left for Argentina and met the fate of those who are left with nothing. I could have very well ended up among today’s “discarded” people.
And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: “Why them and not me?”
He says these questions remind us that we all need other people. No one goes alone. Everything is connected.
Each person matters.
“Let us help each other, all together, to remember that the other is not a statistic or a number. The other has a face. The ‘you’ is always a real presence, a person to take care of.”
Despite sickness and heartaches and disasters, our presence in each other’s lives gives us reason to hope and move forward.
Faye was a real presence. Her light will be missed, especially by her son and her parents and her sister and her nieces.
But Faye will never be forgotten.
“Each and every one of us is irreplaceable in the eyes of God. Through the darkness of today’s conflicts, each and every one of us can become a bright candle, a reminder that light will overcome darkness, and never the other way around.”
Here are seven books I recommend from what I finished reading in April. Each month we share what we’ve been reading at Jennifer’s.
7 Books I Recommend
1. Deep Work Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
by Cal Newport
Can you focus for long periods of time without getting distracted? If not, Deep Work might be a book for you. The author stresses that we’re losing our prolonged abilities to concentrate, and the world is suffering by that lack.
It’s not the most ground-breaking book I’ve read, but because it gives many tips and steps, it’s worth reading.
2. Grace Behind Bars An Unexpected Path to True Freedom
by Dudley Mitchell
An inspiring real life story. This excellently-told narrative is by Bo Mitchell, businessman and chaplain for the Denver Nuggets, who ends up in federal prison for a white collar crime he was unaware he committed. His wife, Gari, also shares her perspective sprinkled throughout the book.
The book will encourage you in your Christian faith, and also make you more appreciative of your freedom. I first heard Bo and Gary on a Focus on the Family podcast here. I recommend both the book and the podcast, in either order.
3. Democracy in Black How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul
by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
This book will enlighten you on both the history and the present of black lives and politics in America. Author Eddie Glaude made me think of things I hadn’t considered, and challenged me to go forward in more productive ways.
4. Invisible Influence The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior
by Jonah Berger
A very intriguing and well-written book. If we think we make only rational, independent decisions about our lives, we’re wrong.
We’re influenced by more factors than we’re conscious of (and it’s more than just which news channel we watch). This book reveals many of these influences. Awareness is powerful.
5. Disrupted My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble
by Dan Lyons
I started this book because it was funny. I laughed out loud over and over at this true story. Dan Lyons was a top writer in his early fifties when he was suddenly laid off from Newsweek. The next job he can get is at the tech start-up, HubSpot. (If you saw The Intern with Robert De Niro,you realize how funny this scenario can be, an older man working with all younger people.) Except this time it’s not fiction.
As the story progresses, it turns a little dark. But it provides interesting insights on both age discrimination and young companies.
6. Practicing the Power Welcoming the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Your Life
by Sam Storms
Are the gifts of the Spirit still active today? Sam Storms says yes. He uses this book to show how the Spirit can work in a church and other settings. Another thought-provoking book. And one to pray about for action.
7. The Naked Now Learning to See as the Mystics See
by Richard Rohr
I already know I need to read this again. It’s too much to get in one reading. Rohr explores what it means to live in the present and to let go of dualistic thinking.
2 Novels I Don’t Recommend
The Good Father
by Noah Hawley
The premise is good: a father’s son is accused of assassinating a presidential candidate, and the father goes on a quest to acquit him. But it didn’t progress enough for me. It’s okay, but I like Hawley’s novel Before the Fall much better.
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
The topic of teen suicide definitely needs to be talked about. But I didn’t like the “let’s-blame-everybody-else” approach that the main character uses in this book, especially blaming other teenagers who are struggling, too. The tone of the book just rubbed me wrong. I’ll skip the Netflix series since I didn’t like the book (and since I don’t have Netflix).
A More Beautiful Question The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas
by Warren Berger
When Everything Changed The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present
by Gail Collins
The New Jim Crow Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
by Michelle Alexander
Author and Princeton professor Eddie S. Glaude puts it like this,
“Overly racist acts [like calling an innocent child a n*****] are increasingly rare in this country; after all, it is decidedly out of fashion these days to be a racist.”
Maybe things are better. But we’re not there yet.
Just because racism may be more subtle in some ways (while in other ways, it’s still blatant), it still exists.
And just become some may tire of hearing it, racism won’t go away just because we don’t want to talk about it.
Or just as bad: if we refuse to believe it even exists.
“Our segregated lives and our deep fears keep the problems of black folk from coming into full view. And even while hidden, the devastation spreads like cancer. This is the way we deal with race matters in this country: willful blindness. Any other approach threatens our national sense of morality.”
How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul is the subtitle of Glaude’s new book, Democracy in Black.
It’s a hard-hitter. It’s not a feel-good book. But it’s an important book if we’re serious about wanting to change.
Are whites valued more than blacks? Glaude proposes that this “value gap” still exists in America, saying that our racial habits reveal a belief that white people are valued more than others.
“Inequality comes from the habits we exercise daily—habits that aren’t revealed in racial slurs or blatant acts of discrimination, but in the choices we make and the lives we live, even when those choices and lives seem to have little to do with race.”
And even if not overtly, these soul-shattering habits still operate, often from leftover systems still in place from 50 or more years ago.
“These assumptions about black people and homeownership, about black folk and work, about crime, sex, education, health, and politics, are all rooted in an ugly racist history that we like to believe we’ve put behind us.”
What can we do about it?
Changes need to occur at broad levels: governments and institutions and businesses and schools.
But while we work on that, we can do things right where we are, in our own communities.
“Some issue, concrete and right in front of us, should be our focus.”
As always, listening is a great place to start. Have face-to-face conversations. Read widely from those outside our circles. Work for change in our local districts. Suspend our current beliefs to open up to more accurate ones.
And stop fearing young black men. One statistic quoted from Daily Kos contradicts the idea that white people are in danger from black people:
“The odds of a black person killing a white person are about 0.0000212. With those numbers, ‘[y]ou really have far more reason to be scared of say, getting on a ladder, than you do of getting murdered by the hoodie wearing teenager you see on the street. The fear is irrational.’”
As Glaude says, “White fear is the danger. Not black people.”
White people not only can change how they see black people (which, too often, is as failing). But white people can also change how they see white people, too.
I hope it goes both ways when I call Joe my friend. He is one of the residents in the apartments where Kay and I deliver meals on Wednesday.
I don’t know much of Joe’s back story. Maybe one day we’ll talk it out.
But I do know that Joe cares about his neighbors.
And in the past two weeks, neighbors on both sides of him have died: Walter (you met him here; he taught me so much) and Amy.
Both Walter and Amy were precious to me, too. Walter loved singing about God more than anyone I knew (hear him here, 30 seconds). And Amy is one of the residents who would ask how she could be praying for me. I can’t imagine not seeing either of them here again.
We often think we don’t have time to know our neighbors. Jeff and I rarely see ours. We think our lives are too scattered, too busy, too full as it is.
But Joe knew his neighbors.
Joe tells us each week if someone in the hospital. He often has an extra dog he’s keeping while another neighbor is in rehab. He keeps his hands and heart open for those around him.
Joe is living out a purpose.
And that purpose is loving people.
When we forget that life is all about people instead of projects, when we see others as distractions to our calling instead of the calling itself, when we think we lack the time or resources or confidence to touch others, we’re robbing both ourselves and others.
God plants a piece of himself in each person. When we see other people, we’re seeing another side of Christ.
People are what brings us joy.
People got us here.
And people will always be with us until we’re gone.
When we honor the piece of God in others, we are honoring the God of all of us.
I don’t know who the people are in your season and circle of life right now. But I know they are there for a reason. Just like the people in my life are.
We each are strategically and uniquely placed where we are and with the people we need to be with for a God-reason.
May we each reach deeper into our circles this week. Listen to each closer. Linger with each longer.
If we hear a need we can fill, let’s fill it.
If we see a heart we can touch, let’s touch it.
If we meet a friend to pray with, let’s pray with them.
I thank God that Walter and Amy had Joe in their lives while they were here.
And I thank God that I have Joe in my life right now.
How many times have I been awake at night and recited a chapter over and over to help me return to peaceful sleep? Or said the words in my mind while undergoing a medical procedure? Or prayed the words to myself or for a friend when other words seemed to fail?
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”
“I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living!”
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
I’m thankful that I don’t remember all the words I’ve learned in my past. There are many that I didn’t need to hear to begin with.
But the words from Jesus’s mouth or words about God’s everlasting love are words that I want to remember.
Time spent memorizing isn’t time wasted, but time invested.
If you’d like to join us in this no-pressure challenge, choose from two options:
(A) memorize all the verses in Colossians 3:1-17, one to two verses a week, or
(B) memorize five of the best verses in Colossians 3, one verse every two weeks.
We’ll begin May 1. You can sign up today. You’ll receive resources to print and short email reminders on Monday mornings.
I may never be able to quote things as well as Richard Rohr. But when I do quote, I want it to be good.
14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
“If little else of practical benefit comes to you who read this chapter, I pray that you will move forward in your Christian life and in whatever ministry God has given you with a newly found and biblically grounded confidence in the authority and power given to every believer in the name of Jesus.
Don’t live in fear of the devil and his minions. Stand firm.”
– Sam Storms
Stop or Go with Gifts?
Do you believe the Holy Spirit still works today in miraculous ways? Or instead do you believe he stopped moving supernaturally near the end of the first century?
Whichever view you hold, this book might interest you.
“I believe that one of the reasons why spiritual gifts are less frequent in certain seasons of church history than in others is due to the fact that people didn’t seek, pursue, or passionately and incessantly pray for these gifts. And often the reason they didn’t pray for them or ask for them is because they had a prior conviction or belief that they did not exist or were not available to them.
In other words, they had not because they asked not, and they asked not because they believed not!”
In other words: if you don’t think it will happen, it’s less likely to.
So chapter by chapter, gift by gift, Storms writes why he does believe that the Spirit still works through humans with special gifts.
I agree with him on many points, and disagree on others. My views are still in flux.
But whether you agree or not, you won’t feel pushed in this book. Storms writes with humility. He includes scriptures and personal experiences to back up his claims. The tone of the book is positive, not prideful for those who do believe or condemning for those who don’t.
Worship in the Spirit
I particularly enjoyed Chapter 12, “The Importance of Worship in the Spirit.” Storms doesn’t say worship itself is a gift of the Spirit. He does say worship can be awakened, sustained, and energized by the Spirit.
He differentiates between . . .
those whose greatest fear in worship is emotionalism and those whose greatest fear is intellectualism,
those who only sing about God and those who sing to God,
those who mostly cultivate fear and reverence and those who aim for joy and love.
I’ve worshiped in both types of churches. The differences are real. I have a preference. You likely have one, too. It’s not a right or wrong choice.
This happened yesterday at our church as part of Palm Sunday. I call this expression of worship a spiritual gift. It’s a gift I’ve not been given. But it’s one that moves me when others share it.
The book ends with two appendices, An Alternative Interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, and Are Miraculous Gifts for Today, derived from Storms’ previous writings.
The latter appendix includes this list: “Twelve Bad Reasons for Being a Cessationist” (one who believes certain gifts have ceased, stopped). One of the reasons is:
“If signs, wonders, and miracles were essential in the physical presence of the Son of God, how much more essential are they now in his absence?
. . . In other words, if the glorious presence of the Son of God himself did not preclude the need for miraculous phenomena, how can we suggest that our possession of the Bible does?”
Storms follows that list with another list: “Twelve Good Reasons for Being a Continuationist” (one who believes that all the gifts of the Spirit continue to be given by God today).
This list includes reasons like #3, the extensive New Testament evidence of miraculous gifts among Christians who are not apostles, and #5, the fundamental continuity or spiritually organic relationships between the church in Acts and the church in subsequent centuries.
Read them for yourself in Practicing the Power to form your own conclusions.
Here are a few quotes from selected chapters in Practicing the Power.
Chapter 1, Welcome the Spirit
Regarding embarrassing examples of faith healers on TV (or in person), Storms says, “I resolved in my heart that I would never justify my disobedience to God’s Word because of the abusive or embarrassing practices of others.”
“God is far more pleased with our obedience than he is with our success. Success is not something we ultimately control. I can’t guarantee that my prayers for the sick will result in healing. I can’t promise that my word to you will be spot-on accurate. But I can control whether or not I am willing to step out and take a risk. And the risk is worth it.”
Chapter 3, Praying
“When God wants to bless us with a miraculous answer to our prayer, he will take the initiative to cultivate and build into our hearts the fulfillment of the condition he requires.”
Chapter 4, Fasting
“Fasting is about spiritual indulgence! It is not a giving up of food (or some activity) for its own sake. It is about giving up food for Christ’s sake.
We are always driven to fast because we hunger for something more than food.”
Chapter 5, Healing
“The primary reason God healed through Jesus prior to Pentecost was because he is a merciful, compassionate God. And the primary reason God continues to heal after Pentecost is because he is a merciful, compassionate God. God is no less merciful, no less compassionate, no less caring when it comes to the physical condition of his people after Pentecost than he was before Pentecost.”
Chapter 9, Deliverance
“Don’t ever think of yourself as at one end of a rope and Satan at the other, both of you struggling to overpower the other. No! You are in Christ who is over all. Satan is beneath you, in Christ’s name.”
Chapter 11, Ministry
“We are to pray, ‘Come, Holy Spirit,’ and be confident that he will, whether or not manifestations follow. If they do, we should not prevent them from occurring. But neither should we take steps to artificially induce them.”
I recommend this book be read with an open mind. You may or may not change your mind on anything you believe, but in the challenge, you’ll still learn and grow.
We likely can all agree on this prayer offered by Storms in his conclusion:
“Pray yet again that God would increase your spiritual hunger pangs, that he would intensify your thirst for godly power, that he would never allow you to settle for the status quo.”
• You Probably Believe Some Learning Myths by Anya Kamanetz
Take this quiz from NPR to see how well you understand what good learning looks like. “Ulrich Boser says, probably not very well. His new research on learning shows that the public is largely ignorant of, well, research on learning.”
Great post by Betsy on using prayer mapping to liven up your prayer life.
“Last year, I asked God to show me seven Big Things I could ask Him for. I made a list: Greater Faith, Healing, Joy, Anointing, Provision, a Life that Honors God, and Passion for Christ. I mapped these out on paper and included scriptures, song quotes, written out prayers, and specific requests.”
Episode 65: Tunnel Vision
“When you’re hungry, it can be hard to think of anything other than food. Explore the psychological phenomenon of scarcity and how it can affect our ability to see the big picture and cope with problems in our lives.”
The Elite Advisor Blueprint
Episode 18: Ian Cron on The 9 Personality Types
Understandable information on the 9 Enneagram personality types, exploring why people think, feel and act the way they do.
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Things I Love
• My Bracket Won!
I usually lose. Jeff usually wins. I was dead last for most of NCAA March Madness this year, too. But thanks to Gonzaga’s continued wins and Kansas’ early loss, my basketball bracket won Saturday night in our group of 4 this year! So I get to choose where we all go out to eat, regardless of which team wins the championship Monday night.
• Vacation with the 4 Corners
We had a fun girls’ getaway in Gulf Shores. Laughing, crying, talking. We did a StoryCorp interview one night about our friendship. I’ll treasure that for years to come.
Kathy, Julie, Lisa, Alicia
• Spring Flowers
I don’t have much blooming yet, but this hardy tulip managed to come back again. It’s put in its time. The remaining tulips I planted years ago at my mailbox finally stopped returning. This lone survivor still stands.
• Freedom Group
I only knew one lady in this group before February (that’s Jenna). But now we all know so much about each other. I’m loving getting to grow in Christ and in freedom with this group of sisters.
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On the Blog
• Do a Reframe
I needed a reframe. When we can only see one side of something, it’s time to flip it around.
It was designed to walk us through areas of our lives that need a new perspective, see other people and events as spiritual teachers, and become less judgmental. Topics included:
It challenged us to make a list of things that needed reframing. Then encouraged us to set an intention, and actively find new meanings behind events.
So I decided to reframe my Thursday afternoon.
I took my Kindle, a snack, and a jacket to the balcony of our condo. I poured myself a Diet Coke and read and ate. I was no longer on the beach, but I could still see the ocean, still hear the waves.
And joy returned. Despite the wind. Despite the temperature.
Receive New Gifts
I realize that reframing our situations are rarely that easy. Especially when circumstances are out of our control.
Our stories don’t unfold like we expect.
But instead of fighting against the differences, maybe we can open our hands a little wider, and receive the new gifts that God is giving us instead.
Pray for reframed attitudes.
Invite the Spirit to give us new perspectives.
Claim hope for God’s grace in the moment and grace in things to come.
On Friday morning?
You wouldn’t have called me a beach fashionista, but wearing a warm sweatshirt, a cap cinched tight on my head, and a beach towel wrapped around my legs, I sat on the beach with my friends with thankfulness, laughter, and grace reframed.