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.

Flee, Be Silent, Pray – Book Review

Book Review – Flee, Be Silent, Pray

When I read these words in the Introduction to Flee, Be Silent, Pray, I knew I had to read the rest of the book: “Evangelical Christianity in America is an anxiety factory.  As a life-long evangelical, I’ve absorbed the notion that I can never do enough for Jesus. Words like discipleship and obedience carry connotations of trying harder, doing more, and always bumping up the commitment another notch. Evangelicals affirm grace and ‘faith alone’ in theory, but we also worry that we can never pray enough, serve enough, evangelize enough, read the Bible enough, or ‘grow’ enough to satisfy God. Too many sermons revolve around an obligation to do more things or to try harder.”

Author and freelance writer Ed Cyzewski, who grew up Catholic and is now an Evangelical, draws on the Catholic and early Church traditions of contemplative prayer to write this informative and challenging primer on prayer and spiritual formation. He uses Henri Nouwen’s book The Way of the Heart as a guide. He points out that while most of us understand the importance of prayer, studying Scripture, and meditating on Scripture, we often miss the vital fact that it is God’s love that is the foundation of all Christian spirituality. Making space for daily contemplative prayer, he writes, helps us learn to rest in God’s Presence.

This is a switch for many of us – we’ve been programmed to do, do, do…serve, serve, serve…but this book calls us back to abide, abide, abide.

At nine chapters long, Flee, Be Silent, Pray is not a long read, but it is one that you will want to take your time working through. Cyzewski leads us through these important topics:

• Chapter 1- Praying with Scripture – learning to abide in Christ, using Scripture to focus ourselves.

• Chapter 2 – Cheating at Prayer – avoiding repetition while learning to treasure recited prayers.

• Chapter 3 – Mindfulness for Anxious Evangelicals – how to use Ignatius’ Examen to help yourself be mindful of God’s Presence throughout your day

• Chapter 4 – Fleeing to the Freedom of Solitude – why solitude matters, and why it is so hard for us as evangelicals

• Chapter 5 – Be Silent – finding freedom from distraction and learning that silence isn’t an accident.

• Chapter 6 – Repeating Silence – learning how to do “centering prayer.”

• Chapter 7 – Expectations for Prayer – learning to pray without condemning yourself or becoming discouraged and quitting.

• Chapter 8 – Evangelicals Don’t Have Dark Nights of the Soul – yes, we do. This chapter talks about what they look like and how they help us grow.

• Chapter 9 – Do Evangelicals Actually Have Hope? – yes, we do. But our hope is in Jesus, not in correct doctrine.

In Chapter 9, Cyzewski writes these words, which stunned and challenged me: “There is no escape from the darkness, doubts, and uncertainty of life. We cannot live in perpetual victory, forever advancing toward spiritual dominance where we’ll emerge as the sole guardians of truth and biblical knowledge. That quest is a fool’s errand that generations have failed at. I have seen one evangelical friend after another run empty as they realized that their faith largely rested on affirming doctrinal statements without a structure of spiritual practices that could keep them grounded before God. One evangelical generation after another earnestly studies the scriptures in search of Jesus, trying to get past the fact that Jesus said studying the scriptures is not the same thing as pursuing him.”

Wow!

If you aren’t afraid to have your thinking about prayer and about your relationship with Jesus challenged and stretched, then I highly recommend this book. I’m still mulling over some of the things I read in this book a month ago, and I will be re-reading it because I know there’s more still for me to mine from it.

You can purchase the Kindle edition here. At $2.99, it’s well worth it!

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.

Play The Man

Play The Man

In 2006, I read In A Pit With A Lion on A Snowy Day by Mark Batterson and I was hooked on his writing.

Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C.  He holds a Doctor of Ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 11 books, including Chase the Lion.

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Several weeks ago, I was surprised and delighted to discover that he had a new book out called Play The Man.  I instantly purchased it (I’m telling you, that Kindle app and One-Click Purchasing is a book lover’s dream and a budgeter’s nightmare!)  This is my first book review, so I’m doing on-the-job-training and would appreciate your patience!

Play the Man is a call to something greater for men, and for discipling the next generation of men.

In the first part of the book, Batterson helps us understand what it means to be a man of God by working through what he calls the “seven virtues of manhood:

  1. Tough Love – Using the examples of Charles Lindbergh, Jesus, and others, Batterson walks us through the idea that playing the man means “loving others when they least expect it and least deserve it” – a difficult task indeed, but one for which a man is created.
  2. Childlike Wonder – Teddy Roosevelt, who lived an incredible life, is Batterson’s example for this chapter.  I love the quoted description from Edmund Morris of Roosevelt’s nightly bedtime ritual – “The president would brush his teeth, jump into bed, put his revolver beside his pillow, and read a minimum of one book per night.  Then, there being nothing further to do…Theodore Roosevelt will energetically fall asleep.”  Roosevelt was a man’s man who squeezed everything he could out of every moment of life – and we can do the same.
  3. Will Power – Louie Zamperini, the subject of the book and movie Unbroken, serves as an example here.  A former US Olympian, Zamperini survived a World War II plane crash into the Pacific Ocean, 47 days adrift at sea, and then over 2 years of torture and debasement in a Japanese POW camp.  Batterson uses the examples of Zamperini and others to show how manhood means learning to say “no” to yourself in the short run so you can say “yes” to more important choices in the future.
  4. Raw Passion – Batterson describes this as “a lust for life that doesn’t settle for status or status quo. It’s an insatiable energy that motivates you to live each day like it’s the first day and the last day of your life.”  He points out that the Holy Spirit enables this passion within us.
  5. True Grit – Men need danger in their lives.  Men need adventure.  Men need to put ourselves into positions that will push us past our previous limits and we need to do hard things.  Batterson’s story of hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim gives an exciting taste of what this can look like, and how it can empower you!
  6. Clear Vision – General and President Andrew Jackson said that he “was born for the storm.”  So were all men – we were created to handle adversity and push through, standing on God’s Promises to achieve greatness for the Kingdom of God!
  7. Moral Courage – We were created to make difficult but right choices.  Batterson quotes something God gave him for his own journal that struck me as powerful – “Don’t wash your hands like Pilate.  Wash feet like Jesus.”  One thing that will make a sorely-needed difference in our world is godly men standing up for what is right, loving as Jesus loved, and doing hard things in the service of our King.

The second part of the book is much shorter – just three chapters.  In this section, Batterson outlines how to call out a boy into manhood.  He details how he, with the help of family and friends, created a rite of passage for each one of his children.  I thought the examples of how he did this with his sons were practical and inspiring.  I wish he had spent more time talking about how he and his wife called their daughter in womanhood, but granted, it’s a book about men.

I found Play The Man to be challenging, practical, and thought-provoking.  It helped me to examine my life and consider prayerfully areas where I still need to grow and to be transformed.  I highly recommend it for all men, and for all parents of boys.  Here’s a link to the Kindle version.