Wednesday Book Review – The Last Arrow

So far, I’ve posted only positive books reviews.  That’s partly because if a book doesn’t quickly capture my attention, I drop it.  There are just too many books to read, so why waste my time on something that doesn’t hold my interest, and why tell you about a book in which I’m not interested????

Once in a very great while, though, among all the great books I read, I come across a book that stands head and shoulders above the rest – a book that is just life-changing.  The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus is one of those books.

Erwin Raphael McManus describes himself as an author, futurist, filmmaker, and designer.  His author profile says that he is known as “an iconoclast, artist, and cultural thought leader who is recognized for his integration of creativity and spirituality.  He is the founder and Lead Pastor of Mosaic, a Los Angeles based church of faith recognized as one of America’s most influential and innovative churches.”

And he is an amazing inspirational author.

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The Last Arrow begins with a scene that unfolded in McManus’ life in December 2016 – sitting in a doctor’s office and hearing the dreaded words, “You have cancer.”  From there, the book touches on McManus’s journey, different events that are part of his life’s journey, and the testimonies of friends and acquaintances who have encountered Jesus and gone “all in” for the Kingdom of God.

The concept for the book comes from a story about Elisha near the end of his life.  King Jehoash of Israel wants Elisha’s blessing and direction.  He visits Elisha, who is on his deathbed.  Elisha orders him to shoot an arrow out of the window of the room, and then prophesies victory over the Arameans.  Next, Elisha commands him to strike the ground with the remaining arrows.  Jehoash complies, striking the ground three times, but Elisha becomes angry and tells him that he should have struck the ground five or six times – because then he would have completely defeated his enemies.  Instead, Elisha tells him, because he only struck the ground three times, he would only defeat his enemies three times.

What a bizarre story!  The king apparently didn’t know any better; but something in his actions showed a lack of faith and perseverance that were necessary to complete victory.

McManus uses this story, and others from the life of Elisha, to demonstrate the power of living our lives full-out for God – of spending every arrow we have in this life, leaving nothing for the next life.  Because, after all, we will not need arrows in heaven.  The victory will be won.

McManus focuses on some important themes in living our lives in such a way that we hold nothing back – his chapter titles demonstrate this.  They include:  Save Nothing for the Next Life; Choose the Future; Set Your Past on Fire; Act Like Your Life Depends on It; Stand Your Ground; Find Your People; and Know What You Want, among others.

The book is chock full of stories, testimonies, and challenges to get out of our comfort zones and to fully engage with both Jesus and our culture so that we can leave a legacy with our lives.  You’ll read, for example:

  • Erwin’s spur-of-the-moment trip to Brazil for the World Cup Final that resulted in him having an opportunity to share his faith with a Brazilian family;
  • How God was able to us 9/11 to increase Erwin’s opportunities to serve Him because Erwin chose to live in faith rather than in fear;
  • How God used Erwin’s wife and daughter to minister to a family who is helping free women from human trafficking; and
  • How God used a trip to Beirut to challenge Erwin out of his comfort zone.

But of everything he writes in the book, perhaps the dedication challenged me the most:

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. – Psalm 127:4

To my arrows: Aaron Christopher McManus, who has never backed down from a fight, and to Mariah McManus Goss, who is as fearless as she is fierce.

Long after I rest my bow and have struck my last arrow, there will still be arrows flying true: their names are Aaron and Mariah. The trajectories of their lives will take them far beyond the ground I have taken. If they were once my arrows, they are now my archers. I dedicate this book to them and the future they represent.

Aaron and Mariah: You are the tip of the spear. You are the future. This is your fight. I pulled the bow back as far as I could and gave you all the strength I had to send you into flight. Fly far and true. Cross enemy lines. Hit the mark. Set captives free. Keep striking until the battle’s won. —Dad”

I want to live my life like that.  I want to be a Dad like that.  If that stirs your passion, stop reading whatever you are reading now and pick up a copy of The Last Arrow by Erwin Raphael McManus.

Book Review – Mansions of the Heart

A few years ago, one of my closest friends gave me a hardback copy of the book Mansions of the Heart by R. Thomas Ashbrook.  He told me it was a life-changing book.  I looked at it, began it, and set it aside because I had so many other books stacked up to read.  A few months later, I was dealing with some life issues that led me to pick it back up again and to read it through.  My friend had been right – it was a life-changer that helped me understand my own life’s journey, my spiritual growth, and where I needed to head on my journey.  Just a few weeks ago, I finished reading through the book for the second time after deciding late this summer that I needed a refresher.

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R. Thomas Ashbrook, the author, who also wrote the novel Presence – What if Jesus Were Really Here?, is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Church Resource Ministries, and he leads Imago Dei, which is CRM’s international spiritual formation ministry.  A Lutheran pastor with twenty-six years of experience in ministry, Tom has degrees in aeronautical engineering, management systems, pastoral ministry, and spiritual formation.  He lives in Centennial, Colorado with his wife Charlotte.

Mansions of the Heart is patterned after St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, a picture of spiritual formation that has helped many followers of Jesus in the five plus centuries since she wrote it.  It’s a picture that helps us understand the journey that we are taking and the process that God uses to transform us throughout our lives.

The book begins by dealing with four of the dead-ends that believers have tried time and time again, to no avail – pursuing personal holiness; service to God; spiritual wholeness; and enlightened study and understanding.  Ashbrook points out that while all of these are good and important, they rely upon our effort rather than abiding in Christ, which is the only real way to experience personal transformation.  Ashbrook uses the seven interior rooms that Teresa described as a road map to help us understand our pasts, our journey with Christ, and how He takes us deeper in our walk with Him along our life’s journey.

Here is a brief summary of each mansion (or room) – each stage of our process:

  • The First Mansion – a new beginning.  This is salvation – the place where we recognize our need for salvation, believe on Jesus, and place our trust in Him and in His work on the cross for our eternal life.
  • The Second Mansion – between a rock and hard place.  This is a place where our faith is deepening, and yet we struggle with temptation and are still engaged somewhat in earthly pursuits.  There is tension between what we want and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us as we grow.
  • The Third Mansion – following Jesus.  It may take us years to get to this place, but this is the place where we are living consistent lives as disciples.  Scripture, prayer, church attendance, fellowship, a desire to please God – these are all consistent parts of our life at this place.
  • The Fourth Mansion – discovering the love of Jesus – a place of new depth in our walk with Jesus, where we experience a growing intimacy with Him.
  • The Fifth Mansion – longing for oneness with God.  Ashbrook describes it this way:  “The fifth mansion is a time of transition where our focus moves even further from doing to being, from serving to loving. God is calling us to begin to live according to the High Priestly Prayer of Jesus in John 17, the call to union with God. Our one desire is for God, Himself.”
  • The Sixth Mansion – the passion of God’s love.  This is where we have fully “fallen in love” with God, and are experiencing deep times in God’s Presence.  When it seems that God is absent, it is deeply painful.  This is where we are learning what it means to truly and fully live “in Christ.”
  • The Seventh Mansion – a life of love in the Trinity.  Ashbrook writes, “The seventh mansion represents the ultimate degree of intimacy with God that one can experience in this life: spiritual union with the Trinity. As is true with each of the prior mansions, this is still a season of our journey, not a milestone or destination. But in this season, we come to experience a complete integration of mind, body, and spirit in the life of Christ. At its fullest, it is the realization of the apostle Paul’s statement, ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (cf. Gal. 2:20).”

Ashbrook also devotes a chapter to the experience that John of the Cross called “The Dark Night of the Soul” – a season of loss, of dryness, of feeling that God is absent and that His voice cannot be heard.  That chapter alone is powerful and helpful.

For each mansion/season, the author walks through several important issues for that season, including our heart’s desire, key activities, what ministry will look like to us, how our prayer lives will change, how the enemy will most often attack us, and finally, keys for growth in that time.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here.  If you are serious about spiritual formation and about your journey with Jesus, this book is a great addition to your library.

Book Review – The Story of With

The Story of With:  A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create

Have you ever had a dream for your life but been told it was impractical, that you “can’t make a living that way” and that you need to stop dreaming and just go to work and deal with the fact that life is never what you dream it will be?

That’s the story of Allen Arnold, author of this modern-day parable.  Allen has always loved a good story. The one he’s living is his favorite. He cut his teeth in the advertising world (think the HBO series Mad Men on steroids) and then spent twenty years in the publishing industry. As the founding Publisher for Thomas Nelson Fiction, he led in the development of more than five hundred novels. He now oversees content for Ransomed Heart ministries (founded by John Eldredge).

And it’s the story of Mia, his protagonist.  She dreams of being a chef, of creating masterful dishes and unique blends of tastes.  But instead, she finds herself waitressing, struggling to make ends meet, and out of desperation, tries to land a job with large food corporation.  In the interview process, she quickly discovers that there’s no room for creativity or her own uniqueness in that setting.

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The Story of With:  A Better Way to Live, Love, and Create is an entertaining tale of Mia’s journey to discover herself, to re-discover her passion for life, and to ultimately pursue her dreams.  It’s an allegory for what your journey and my journey could be…if we are willing to take the necessary risks.

When we meet Mia, she is finishing up a grueling interview process at Strava Food Group’s headquarters, hoping to find a position that will allow her to pursue her culinary dreams.  But it quickly becomes apparent that Strava is not interested in her creativity, and as she begins to realize this won’t be a solution for her, she also receives a phone call and ends up losing her job as a waitress.

Discouraged and feeling hopeless, she heads back to her apartment, only to find herself trapped in a huge traffic jam.  A decision to leave the interstate while almost of gas results in her being stranded out in the middle of nowhere.

It also presents her an opportunity to face her nightmares and to decide if it is worth the risk to move forward and pursue larger dreams rather than retreating into fear.

Each chapter of the allegory is followed by a short summary of the challenge Mia has faced, along with the author’s insights into how we, like Mia, can begin a journey to reclaiming our dreams and our identity.

As Mia journeys through this story, she learns some valuable lessons that equip her to pursue her dreams – lessons that author summarizes for us at the end of the story.  These truths can help each one of us to live above mediocrity, to dream big and pursue all that God has for us, and in the process, to help others rediscover their dreams!

Here’s a brief summary of what Mia learns:

  • When we discover and acknowledge that we cannot control life, it releases us to live in the freedom that Jesus offers us.
  • When we learn to be expectant, we begin to watch for opportunities that God brings across our paths.
  • When we allow God’s Spirit to awaken our hearts to our true identity, we can pursue our dreams out of the simple joy of the journey, rather than the need to please someone else or to earn affirmation.
  • When we discover that God can redeem our sins, mistakes, and failures, we begin to see our wounds as beautiful pictures of God’s healing grace in our lives.
  • And finally, when we hear our Father’s voice of affirmation, we realize that we are not taking this journey alone.  We are on this journey together with Him!

At the end of the story, the author summarizes the above and gives some practical suggestions for ways to live out these truths in the reader’s life.  The bottom line, he concludes, is this:  “God didn’t primarily create us so we would do things for Him.  Or even to learn about Him.  His primary reason for creating us is so we can be with Him.”

This book is a great read – entertaining, but also serious, challenging, and life-giving.  If you want to fill your “hope” tank, I highly recommend this book.  You can purchase the Kindle edition here.