Children of Jihad (book review)

The library is my friend. These days it’s because of the audio books available there-“there” meaning the Manatee Central Library just blocks from the church office.

My routine so far this year has been to get an audio book, listen to it while driving around town, return it as soon as I’m done and immediately get a new one. In selecting a new one, I am content to take the first one that grabs my attention. 

The last one to grab my attention was entitled Children of Jihad. I’m guessing it got my attention because of my recent travels to the Middle East. This writer, Jared Cohen, had travelled there-much more deeply than I had or probably will and for completely different reasons. The cd jacket cover said Cohen’s reason was to try to understand the spread of radical Islamic violence by researching Muslim youth. Attention grabbed.

Published in 2007, this book recounts Cohen’s travels for a few years starting in 2004. Cohen was 23, a Rhodes scholar wanting to learn about global affairs by witnessing them firsthand. His travels took him through Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. He visited villages, cities, universities, and even unknowingly drove through the heart of an insurgency war zone landing him in Mosul.

His tales are mind blowing, mind shifting, and even mind altering. He reveals a perspective that only comes from firsthand encounters and perspectives. He challenges, like any good journalist, both sides of the story. In this case, the one side of the story includes the locals he met while the other side includes those back at Oxford and in his home state of Connecticut. 

Again, I haven’t travelled like Cohen. My encounters in the Arab community have been in the bubble of ministry here in the States and in one country where Cohen didn’t include his research. But I agree with his assessment. We don’t have all the story if all we know is what we see on American news. We are not being respectful to the citizens of the Middle East and their relatives around the world when we lump them all under the same profile. We should lower ourselves and engage them to really appreciate their personal story and to respect them as we respect ourselves.

This book will cause you to pause. To rethink. To revisit. Maybe even to confess. If you care to do such developmental work, Children of Jihad can be a tool for you.

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Safe People (book review)

I finished another great read from Henry Cloud and John Townsend.

One of the marks of a truly safe person: they are confrontable.

Safe people know that they are subject to change. They want to mature and grow over time.

Safe relationships are not just about trust, support, and sharing. They are also about truth, righteousness, and honesty.

To best deal with unsafe people, we first need to understand what causes us to be unsafe.

And that’s just from chapters two and three.

I came across this book while searching for a resource for developing a coaching program about relationships. Pretty sure this book is worthy. Here’s why:

  • Clear definitions, illustrations, and suggested tools for implementation.
  • Complete and thorough look on the subject.
  • You are not given the idea that you are perfect and others aren’t. It’s a look at yourself, if you choose to accept the opportunity.

Anyone would find this book helpful. Keep your ears open for a group coaching program on this subject, most likely coming this fall.

Fear is a Liar

Exodus 3-4:16
Fear steals your curiosity. 3:1-4
Fear steals your “yes.” 3:11,13; 4:1,10,13
Fear steals your awe of God. 3:5-6,14-15;4:11

Daniel 3
Fear will tell you to bow to other gods. Vs. 1-6
Fear will tell you to give your allegiance to what you can see. Vs. 7-12
Fear will tell you to resist God’s plan. Vs. 13-18
Fear will tell you that God cannot be trusted. Vs. 19-30

Measure of a Man (book review)

This may be the best audio book I’ll ever hear. If there aren’t plans for it to become a movie, it’s just a matter of time. Someone alert Steven Spielberg or Martin Scorsese.

The quality of an audio book can be determined by the reader. Within minutes you understand why this reader, Stefan Rudnicki, has won Grammys. 

Yet, even though the quality of the production is fantastic, the mesmerizing aspect of this book is the life story it covers. Mr. Greenfield’s story includes the horror of the holocaust, his transitioning to America, his providential start in the tailoring business, and his fortuitous connections to politicians and celebrities. Despite his success, he maintains the importance of loyalty to his family, his faith, and his workers. He gives all the credit to God for how his life illustrates the measure of a man.

Read this book if you…

  • …like biographies.
  • …enjoy history.
  • …are an immigrant.
  • …love America.
  • …are inspired by other’s success.
  • …believe God deserves all the credit.

Missing God’s Gift (Something Misplaced?)

Yesterday a friend told me how different he is from who he was just 18 months ago. Earlier this week a group discussed how a coaching program has altered their life’s rhythms in just 7 weeks. These people were expressing how receiving a gift from God, such as leaving a successful corporate job to start all over or exiting the routine of life to enjoy Sabbath, has changed who they are. And they want more.

God’s gifts come to us in various formations. Sometimes they are clearly seen as coming straight from God. Other times, we are a little more challenged to determine if an opportunity or unforeseen blessing are indeed gifts from God. That is, unless we live from the viewpoint that God works at all times and through all things in our lives. Until we reach that viewpoint, it’s likely we will often miss God’s gifts.

Why don’t we automatically have this viewpoint? What keeps us from it? How can we move toward it? In talking with these people, I’d say they would say they had some things misplaced.

Misplaced Contentment-Yes, it’s possible to be so content that you miss noticing an offer from God. Our contentment can often lead us to settling, stubbornness, and even pride. So a God-given opportunity can appear unsettling, unnecessary, maybe even unworthy. Think rich, young ruler.

Misplaced Fear-In this case, fear of just about anything (loss of job/income, ability, identity, power/influence, health, security) or anyone (family, peers, leaders, employer, yourself) has been given higher rank than God. Think Moses’ initial bush response.

Misplaced Stewardship-Stewardship covers more in our lives than just finances. Stewarding your family, your talents, your choices, your time, your emotions, your mind, your body, for example. Think about most kings in the Old Testament.

Misplaced Allegiance-Satan is committed to leading us to misplace our allegiances. We can become more allegiant to so many earthly kingdoms that we miss God’s leading us toward his heavenly kingdom. Think about the Pharisees and Paul’s warnings about false teachers in the church.

Misplaced Commitment-Commitments lead to routines, obligations, and expectations-some short term, others long term. These can become idols causing us to be completely blind to something more aligned with God’s plans for us. Think Eli, Saul, or Martha.

We often miss God’s gifts to us because our misplacements lead us to consider way too many “what ifs.” So consider a few reverse thinking “what if” results when God’s gifts are missed:

  • What if you miss God’s gift because you ignore a burning bush?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you run toward Joppa instead of Nineveh?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you always look backward rather than forward?
  • What if you miss God’s gift because you follow the crowd and declare, “Crucify him!”
  • What if you miss God’s gift because your faith is so small that your reply to God’s offer is, “No thanks.”

Road trip with Michael J. Fox

I picked Michael J. Fox up at the Central library, then we took a quick road trip to Georgia this weekend. He did all the talking. He said a lot of interesting things; some I expected, others I didn’t.

I expected him to talk about showbiz, New York, Parkinson’s disease (Muhammad Ali), and family.

I didn’t expect him to talk about Oral Roberts, Jehovah’s Witnesses, ballet, and raising his kids Jewish.

This one-sided conversation was worthwhile. I learned a lot. He’ll be back at the library this week if you’d like to let him chat you up.

The Closer (book review)

If you keep telling people about thoughts and stories from your current read, it must be worth sharing. Such was the case for me with Mariano Rivera’s book, The Closer.

Unless you’ve been an avid follower of his throughout his career, it’s likely you don’t know much about his upbringing in Panama, that a career in baseball wasn’t his childhood dream, and even crazier, that he wasn’t groomed as a pitcher (he loved the outfield).

He certainly gives the baseball nut much to ingest, but there’s something for any reader in this book. Like he married his childhood sweetheart. Oh, and that after baseball they renovated an abandoned Presbyterian church in New Rochelle, New York, to open a new church, Refuge of Hope.

An audio find in my local library, this was worth the listen. I had to get accustomed to the reader; but once I did, I was all in. Even shed a tear or two.

Baseball. God. Passion. Love. You’ll find that and more in The Closer. Add it to your next up list.

Three Ways to Let God Out of Your Box

(Third and final entry for this post)

The first two entries talked about two ways to let God out of your box: don’t give up and stop believing lies. Read Nick’s quote again to see the third way.

Too often we tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough or attractive enough or talented enough to pursue our dreams. We buy into what others say about us, or we put restrictions on ourselves. What’s worse is that when we consider ourselves unworthy, we are putting limits on how God can work through us! When you give up on your dreams, you put God in a box.

As a long-distance runner, I often hear people say something like this after they hear about some race I’ve done or I’m preparing for: “I could never do that. You’re amazing.” If I were to bluntly respond what I’m thinking when they say that, it would be something like this: “That’s ridiculous. Of course you could. And by the way, amazing I am not.” This is a simple example of what we often do to God as well. We tell him what’s possible…so in the box he goes. The third way to let him out of your box is to do the opposite.

Resist Putting Limits

Nick said we put limits on how God can work through us. And this can have tragic consequences. Case in point: the Israelite spies in Canaan (read Exodus 13-14). Twelve went in to check it out. Ten said, “No go.” Two said, “We should go.” Forty years later, the ten got want they wanted and so did the two. God showed up for the two who resisted putting limits on him. They experienced what God can do through those who allow him to work through them (read Joshua 6,14).

So how can we resist our human nature and give God all the freedom in our lives he deserves?

  • Foster a mindset of submission to daily prompts from God-“Sure, I’d be happy to ask my neighbor how I can pray for them. What else?”
  • Keep your finger on the “yes” trigger when God comes with a big ask-“Yes, I’ll take a vacation week to go on a mission trip. And I’ll stay open to even moving my family to live there permanently.”
  • Seek counsel from those we believe live submitted lives-“Can we have coffee soon? I’m needing some guidance on something God has challenged me to do.”
  • Surround yourself with other “resisters”-“God, who should be in my corner? Holy Spirit, surround me with fellow resisters.”

In what area(s) of your life is God in your limit box? What could God do through you if you’d resist putting limits on him? Tell God, “I’m sorry for not giving you my ‘yes’ more quickly. I desire to experience what it’s like to give you full access. Show me what it’s like to let you out of my box.”

Three Ways to Let God Out of Your Box

(Continued from yesterday’s entry)

Too often we tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough or attractive enough or talented enough to pursue our dreams. We buy into what others say about us, or we put restrictions on ourselves. What’s worse is that when we consider ourselves unworthy, we are putting limits on how God can work through us! When you give up on your dreams, you put God in a box.

There are three phrases in Nick’s quote that explain how we put God in our box: we tell ourselves, we buy into, we consider ourselves. These actions aren’t generated by God. They are generated by ourselves and others, and they reveal the second way to let God out of our box.

Stop Believing Lies 

Have you noticed you are one of the biggest liars about you? Nick gave you some examples: “I’m not smart enough. I’m not talented enough. I’m not attractive enough.” Sure, maybe someone actually said those or similar things to you one time, but who keeps repeating them more than anyone else? You do. Stop telling yourselves lies that you end up believing. 

Yes, others say things that we have a choice to buy into. A choice. In middle school, my music teacher said I wasn’t good enough to get a college degree in music. I chose not to believe that and got that degree anyway. And in my ministry career others have said I wouldn’t be able to get hired by churches because my marital status is single. For over twenty years now God has chosen otherwise.

To stop believing ours and other’s lies, we must fill our hearts and minds with God’s truths. Instead of undermining what God wants to do in our lives by considering ourselves unworthy, we should believe scriptures like Zephaniah 3:17: “The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” Who in their right mind wants to believe lies and box up the God of that verse?

What lies do you need to stop believing? What God truths could replace those lies? Tell God, “I’m tired of the lies. I’m going to stop believing them and stand in your truths. Show me what it’s like to let you out of my box.”

(Blog completed tomorrow)

Three Ways to Let God Out of Your Box

You read that title right. You may not be almighty, but you are capable of stuffing God in a box of your making. It’s so easy that most of us do it without even knowing or thinking about it. And then we marvel at those who live what seem like extraordinary lives, not knowing that they have simply let God out of their box.

Case in point: Nick Vujicic. He was born without limbs-no arms or legs. Can you imagine the box he had as a child where he stuffed God? That box must have been filled with lots of whys, hows, whens, and seriouslys. And who could blame him? Sounds perfectly natural to think God had messed up-you might say he put himself in Nick’s box.

Somewhere along the way, Nick decided to let God out of that box. Nick is now 35 years old, married, travels the world speaking, and directs an organization that helps share the message of hope in the God he let out of his box. I started reading his devotional book, Limitless, this week where in the first day’s reading entitled Free from Limitations he wrote this:

Too often we tell ourselves we aren’t smart enough or attractive enough or talented enough to pursue our dreams. We buy into what others say about us, or we put restrictions on ourselves. What’s worse is that when we consider ourselves unworthy, we are putting limits on how God can work through us! When you give up on your dreams, you put God in a box.

From Nick’s quote, we can see three ways to let God out of any box where we’ve decided he belongs.

Don’t Give Up

Giving up is another one of those easy-to-do human things. What if we looked at giving up as putting God in a box? What if we stopped exercising our finite power in such a life-sucking way resulting in squelching the infinite power of God? For some other cases in point, consider the following people who didn’t give up:

  • Noah
  • Esther
  • Joshua
  • Daniel
  • Martin Luther
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Alexander Bell
  • Winston Churchill
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Jesus

How their lives and those impacted by their decisions would have been changed had God stayed in their box!

Are you considering giving up? On your marriage? On your education? On your faith? On your passion? Tell God, “It’s all yours. I’m not giving up. Show me what it’s like to let you out of my box.”

(Blog continued tomorrow)