“Authentic Living” by Exley

Book Review: Authentic Living

Have you ever wanted, no, needed something, but you just couldn’t put your finger on it until you received it? It’s like there was an emptiness or a longing in your soul, but you couldn’t explain it until the moment you could.

That just happened to me.

Intrigued by the title, I requested a review copy of a brand-new daily devotional by Richard Exley entitled Authentic Living: 365 Devotions for Deliberate Faith. It was the word “authentic” that caught my eye.Though “authenticity” is a popular buzzword these days, it’s also a word which has been foundational to my own personal transformation over the past few years.

The intentional practice of authenticity is the exact opposite of my default setting. Brené Brown, in her book The Gifts of Imperfection, defines authenticity as follows:

Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.

One might assume the Christian life is automatically an authentic life, but that would be incorrect. There is a huge difference between being adopted as a child of God (salvation) and actually embracing the fact that God created you for His pleasure. And His pleasure is that you live authentically.

The fact is, as a pastor’s daughter and the oldest of four children in my family, authenticity wasn’t really an option. I was raised both to be an “example” to my younger siblings (and, really, every other child in the church), and a “people pleaser” to everyone else. I lived as perfect a life as I possibly could trying to set an impeccable example for everyone—doing the best I could possibly do in school, on my job, as a wife, as a mom. Over the years, my sense of self became so distorted that I forgot who I was on the inside. I was saved, yet lost.

The wonderful news is that God never gave up on me! He continued working His plan for my life, redeeming every situation (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to transform me into the strong, compassionate, authentic woman He created me to be. Thank you, LORD!

Over the past few years, I’ve worked very hard to stop all the people pleasing and embrace authenticity as a lifestyle. It’s not been easy, and it’s not been pain-free. All of my closest relationships have experienced major shifts, and yet, somehow, they are better. Better because they are real. Authentic. Not based on my being someone they want me to be, but rather my being my true self—who I am at the core. I have boundaries now, and I can say “no” without guilt or shame.

So, when I picked up Richard Exley’s new book Authentic Living: 365 Devotions for Deliberate Faith, I was hopeful his words would inspire me to continue my quest for authenticity and not shove me back into some dinky, depressing people-pleasing pillbox. I was not disappointed!

Authentic LivingThis book is, well, how can I say it?

This book is EXACTLY what I need in my life right now as I launch into 2017.

And the best part? It’s NOT “fluff-n-stuff” for my mind; it’s steak and potatoes (or, if that’s offensive to you, imagine tofu)—comfort food for my soul. Yum!

Lately, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Christian writing: the words are inspirational, but they are like cotton candy: spun sweetness, devoid of any nutritional value. Unfortunately, when I read that stuff, I want to puke.

Popular, romanticized Christianity—based more on myths and traditions than facts and archaeology—does not cut it anymore. Truth seekers like me are starving for solid sustenance. We cry out, “Don’t dumb it down! Make me think! Be my private trainer, and give my brain a workout! Make it hurt, and then ask me to read 10 more pages!” Yes, Friend, that is what we need!!! Books that make us think deeply about spiritual things and then adjust our lives accordingly. We are not sheeple!

I’m happy to say that Richard Exley has heard our cries and answered us with a rare treasure that can be read again and again, year after year. In his introduction, Exley clearly sets for this purpose for this book:

“The goal of Authentic Living is to provide daily devotions that renew the mind even as they transform the way we live. The spiritual life is lived in tension between the intellectual and the practical. The intellectual dimension of the spiritual life focuses on understanding the core tenets of the Christian faith…The practical dimension of the spiritual life focuses on living out those core beliefs in our daily life. Authentic Living addresses both dimensions and will help you become the person God has called you to be.”

Wow. That is a huge goal, and I have to say that Exley delivers what he promises! The devotions are concise and poignant. Deep and practical. Each day’s reading features Exley’s words, the Word, and a brief prayer asking for God’s help becoming who He has called us to be.

My husband, son, and I will be sharing this book. Reading it every day as part of a spiritual discipline of meditation and spiritual growth, and a reminder to choose authenticity over people pleasing every. single. time.

I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Authentic Living: 365 Devotionals for Deliberate Faith by Richard Exley


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“First Words of Jesus” by Epperson

Book Review

Stu Epperson’s new book First Words of Jesus is mashup of Scripture, song lyrics, and sermonizing. Each chapter focuses on the first words of various characters in the nativity story including Jesus, Mary, the Shepherds, Herod, the Wise Men, etc. Throughout each chapter, Epperson skillfully compares and contrasts a variety of characters and circumstances (it’s like reading a Venn Diagram of the Nativity) while weaving in relevant lyrics from a number of beloved Christmas Carols.

This book would make a great gift for a person of peace or a pastor. A person of peace is someone who is open to learning more about the Christian faith and who Jesus is. The stories and songs are meshed in such a way that a person who is unfamiliar with the Scriptures will both gain understanding and have an opportunity to choose a relationship with the One who changed the world. Pastors will also enjoy owning this book as a reference, as it contains many comparison lists which could prove beneficial during sermon preparation.

book coverWith that said, I must admit that I have truly struggled with writing this book review. How can I not wholeheartedly recommend a book entitled First Words of Jesus with a foreword written by Dr. David Jeremiah?! How could I have any issues with a book that takes us “from the Cradle to the Cross”? I love Jesus and Christmas! His sacrifice and His presence. But here it is: I do not personally care for this book.

I have three major concerns with First Words of Jesus. Not only does the author favor popular tradition over facts, he also sacrifices proper Scriptural interpretation on the altar of reader inspiration. His desire to motivate readers in their daily lives has led to his reading into Scripture concepts which are not actually mentioned. Finally, Epperson exaggerates the magnitude of certain events in order to make his point dramatically profound. Each of these is a legitimate concern for any serious student of the Scriptures.

Concern #1: Tradition Trumps Truth

First of all, the cover (and the first page of every chapter) features an image montage of a rustic wooden manger filled with and surrounded by hay with the silhouette of a perfectly proportional cross behind it. I find it interesting that this image is used throughout the book when the second footnote of the “Introduction” states,

Though the facts are not conclusive, many scholars believe the manger may have been made of stone, possibly carved into the wall of the building.

Yes, that is true. Most scholars DO believe the manger was made of stone and carved into a wall. Why? Mangers were often part of first century homes, and the inside manger both matches Scripture and has been documented archaeologically. Tim Chaffey, in his article, “Born in a Barn (Stable): Clearing up Misconceptions” explains:

The Bible states that there was no room for them in the kataluma, which would be better translated as “guest room”… Archaeologists have excavated first century homes from the Judean hill country. They have discovered that the upper level served as a guest chamber while the lower level served as the living and dining rooms…

Chaffey goes on to explain that families would often bring smaller animals in at night for their protection, and he offers Biblical support for this practice. Chaffey concludes,

Mary likely gave birth to Jesus in the lower level of a crowded house, in which some of the animals had been brought in for the night.

So, why continue with the image of a stand-alone, straw-filled, wooden manger? Because it makes a nice comparison/contrast with the wooden cross. This point alone illustrates one of the major issues I have with this book: It promulgates the “popular” traditions of Christmas rather than sticking straight to the Scriptural story of the birth of Christ. Epperson ignores the modern consensus in favor of wood, because it helps complete an analogy that is important to Him. But this is extremely unnecessary. Jesus’ sacrifice was monumental and special whether or not the physical materials at His birth and death both came from trees.

Concern #2: Inspiration Induces Eisegesis

Secondly, in the chapter expounding the first words of the shepherds, Epperson writes, “Luke tells us that they spread the good news widely to the marvel of everyone (Luke 2:20).” He goes on to refer to them as “divine ambassadors” and “first missionaries of Jesus Christ.” He describes the shepherds as “fully committed to His mission.” He continues,

Illiterate and with no theological training, Jesus’s first missionaries were changed by His glory…When they found Jesus, they found peace and a whole new purpose—His mission…Their life took on a whole new meaning, because of the life they encountered in the stable. (pp.43-44)

Um…really? I did not recall this from Scripture, so I pulled out my Bible to re-read this part of the story for myself. Here is what Luke 2:17 and 20 says:

And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child… And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

How exactly were the shepherds “fully committed to His mission”? This is such a stretch, I can’t imagine what the author is thinking here (except that it is very inspirational and uplifting). Luke tells us that they “made known abroad” what the angels said and that they were “glorifying and praising God” for this experience. He mentions nothing about their “finding peace” or “a whole new purpose.” Neither does he state how their lives took on “a whole new meaning.” Ascribing this experience as life-altering for the shepherds is an example of irresponsible Bible scholarship called “eisegesis.”

Eisegesis [the polar opposite of exegesis] is when a person interprets and reads information into the text that is not there. (CARM Online Dictionary)

The fact is, we know nothing about who these shepherds were prior to this experience. Were they devout Jews? Were they children, as some scholars speculate? Were they raising sheep for the Temple sacrifices? We honestly don’t know. Scripture is SILENT on this, and it’s a major stretch to extrapolate these inspirational conclusions from the two verses in Luke that record the shepherds’ experience. The fact is that we never see or hear from those shepherds again in ANY of the Gospels.

Concern #3: Dramatization Diminishes Dependability

Finally, one of the most difficult topics within the birth narrative of Jesus is the Slaughter of the Innocents. Matthew 2:16 says that Herod ordered the murder of all male children under the age of two in Bethlehem thereby fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy about Rachel weeping for her children. What the Scripture does not record, however, is the number of children who were murdered.

** This is not meant in any way to minimize a madman’s murderous massacre or the tragic loss of life experienced in Bethlehem under his reign; it is simply intended to place it into a more Scripturally accurate setting. **

On page 82, Epperson asks the reader, “Can you imagine what it must have been like for the little town of Bethlehem, and its surrounding districts, devastated by all of this bloodshed?” He continues his description of this “horrendous” event painting the picture of “young mothers having their sons ripped from their arms” and “savagely slain by Herod’s soldiers.” He continues painting the picture of horror by mentioning the Holocaust, the killing fields of Cambodia, and alluding to the terror attacks of 9/11—as if Herod’s rampage in Bethlehem was anywhere near the scale of those events. Once again, this is Hollywood dramatization taking precedence over the silence of Scripture and thereby diminishes the dependability of the facts presented in the book.

Josephus, the famous and widely-read historian from the first century, has no record of this event in any of his writings. In fact, there are no records outside the Bible attesting to this massacre. While some purport this lack of record in external sources means it is more myth than truth, it is clearly recorded in Matthew’s Gospel as the fulfillment of a prophecy, and we have no reason to doubt its validity. What we must question, though, is the scale of the event as commonly portrayed in media and books like the one I am reviewing.

Anyone can google what the population of Bethlehem was at the time of Christ and come up with the following answer: 300-1000 people. To make the case that the population was swollen due to the census would be short-sighted, because by the time the wise men arrived, it had been an estimated two years since Jesus’ birth (and the accompanying census). So, if we take the high estimate of one thousand residents of Bethlehem (and that is a very generous estimate), how many male children ages two and under would have been killed? I am not a statistician, and we have no numerical reference. What we can be pretty sure of, though, is that it was way less than one thousand. Probably less than 300. Possibly less than 100. Maybe even less than ten. We. Do. Not. Know. What we do know, however, is that it was not significant enough to be recorded in extra-biblical sources. (Herod had a reputation of murder, and this was not out of character for him at all—especially if he felt his powerful position were in peril.)

The loss of one baby or toddler is enough to break the heart of any community, and this was definitely a tragic event no matter how many children were murdered. But to place yet another Hollywood image into readers’ minds making this appear much worse and more widespread than it was is irresponsible scholarship, and I take issue with that.

Conclusion

I am not going to continue providing examples, because if you’ve read this far, you get the point. This book is more concerned with romantic Christmas traditions than Scriptural accuracy in certain areas. I found this completely SHOCKING! Although it is stuffed with Bible verses and laced with lyrics to a wide variety of old and new Christmas carols, First Words of Jesus is hermeneutically irresponsible. I cannot recommend it.

I think my folks would love it, except for all the eisegesis. The book itself is an amalgamation of pontification, alliteration, contradiction, and composition. There was definitely a lot of effort put into incorporating lyrics of Christmas carols throughout the book, but we cannot—nor should we ever—base our theology or Christology on lyrics or trumped up analogies that stretch the Scripture to say something upon which it is otherwise silent. Our views about God and His plan must be filtered through Scripture properly exegeted.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“While My Child Is Away” by Melson

Book Review

My only son started high school this year—I’m still in shock over that—and the thought he will be leaving home soon is something I can barely think about without becoming verklempt. Lately, he’s started asking about Driver’s Ed and getting his license. He’s fourteen. I’m not ready!

As I imagine my son out on his own, I experience both euphoria and anxiety: I’m excited that he’s ready and confident enough to want more independence, but I’m also anxious about what this will mean when he’s away without parent-approved adult supervision—whether for an evening with friends or a semester at college. One thing I know for certain, when he is away, I will pray.

Book CoverAs parents, we are all keenly aware that we cannot be with our children at all times. This separation process begins early and continues, I think, for the rest of our lives. (I mean, do we ever really completely separate from our children?!) So, whether your daughter was just married, your son recently earned his driver’s license, or your twins started a new daycare, it’s important that we know how to pray for our children.

This week marks the release of Edie Melson’s new book While My Child Is Away: My Prayers for When We Are Apart. Not only is this a handy reference book full of inspired prayers we can say for our children, but it is also peppered with devotions and prayers specifically written for us parents and caregivers.

While My Child Is Away

The book itself is divided into nine chapters:

  1. The Triumph of Love
  2. Making Good Choices
  3. Peace Beyond Circumstances
  4. True Self-Confidence
  5. A Foundation of Faith
  6. A Core of Strength
  7. Companions Matter
  8. My God, My Defender
  9. Fully Present

Within each chapter, the reader will discover a number of prayers for the kiddos, a handful of prayers for the parents to pray for themselves (thank you!), a few devotionals, and a section entitled “Parenting Thoughts.” It’s basically four books in one! The organized, calming format invites us to relax into the discipline of prayer for our families. With the prayers divided into categories, it’s easy to find the right kind of prayer when you need it.

While the prayers for the children are a helpful tool filled with love from a mama’s heart, I personally find the prayers for parents and the devotionals to be something I need just as much (possibly more). The personal stories included in the devotionals drive home her point again and again:

“[God] has lessons for each of us—even our kids—and we don’t always need to be there to make sure they get the point” (p. 20).

Amen, sister! Amen.

bookcover

In addition to the fantastic content, I cannot conclude this book review without commenting about the physical formatting of the book itself. The book is a small paperback that fits nicely into my hands. Whoever designed the cover deserves an award, because not only is it an aesthetically pleasing and calming design, it also has flaps on each side which can be used to mark the spot of favorite prayers or devotionals. It’s obvious to me that a lot of thought went into this book from character-building content to charming page design. Each prayer page features the subject of the prayer in bold print, an inspirational quote, the prayer itself*, and a related Bible verse. The book is something I will treasure and refer to frequently for years to come.

This book is not only a wonderful reference for any parent, it would also make a great gift for anyone who wants to pray effectively for his or her children.

* The prayers are both inclusive and exclusive. Inclusive, because they alternate between “he” and “she.” Exclusive, because each prayer will focus either on a son or a daughter. The prayers are easily be adapted for your own child.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“The Light between Oceans” by Stedman

Book Review

Lately, I’ve been dipping my toes in the ever-flowing river of fictional novels. A few weeks ago, I viewed part of a trailer on Facebook for the upcoming feature film The Light Between Oceans. As my friends and family will tell you, I typically avoid watching trailers for movies I know I want to see. In fact, if I’m in a theater and can’t avoid it, I’ll close my eyes, plug my ears, and whisper “Lalalalalalala” until it’s over. However, since I had never heard of this movie before, the gorgeous scenery captured my attention. I immediately recognized the star of the movie, Michael Fassbender—known for his role as “Magneto” in X-Men (the prequels)—and became intrigued. Instead of finishing the trailer, I decided to search out the book, requesting it from my local library.

Book cover featuring a woman and a man standing forehead to forehead both with their eyes closed

A week later, when my phone rang with the robo-call alerting me to its arrival, I headed down to the library to pick up my diversion: I had no idea I’d be finished reading it in a few short days. I used to be such a slow reader! Well, I guess my reading rate depends on the quality and attention-grabbing-ability of the book itself. I put this book down only when it was absolutely necessary.

WOW!!! This is the first fictional novel that has deeply engaged my emotions. There were tears at least twice—don’t tell anyone, or it will ruin my image. (We INTJs are supposed to be robots with hearts of ice!) My emotional reaction was completely unexpected and totally NOT normal for me! The author captured my attention in the first chapter and held my close attention all the way through to the final end mark, at which point I told my husband, “We HAVE to go see this movie once it comes out!”

To be honest, there were a few predictable events which nearly resulted in my setting the book down permanently, but they were so well-written! I hoped the entire book would not be like that, and it wasn’t. The plot continued to thicken as the characters became more complex. I kept reading.

He Wasn’t Looking for Love

The story begins in a small coastal town in Australia whose citizens lost many a young man to the Great War—some physically, others mentally. Once the characters have been introduced, the scene shifts to a small island off Australia’s coast upon which stands a lighthouse: the sole protector of souls between two oceans.

The lighthouse is in desperate need of a replacement keeper, and Tom Sherbourne (Fassbender) is the perfect choice. Young, healthy, responsible, self-disciplined, trustworthy—Tom is all this and more. He’s a decorated, honorably discharged veteran of World War I. His biggest struggle in life is trying to make sense as to why he was allowed to live, keep his wits about him, retain all body parts and senses while multitudes of other honorable “blokes” lost everything. Tom’s survival—and sanity—appears to require solitude and serenity. It seems that he and the lighthouse were made for each other. Of course, he can’t stay out there alone the entire time, now, can he?

This brings me to my least favorite part of the book: the silly, sappy, somewhat predictable early romance which began very early in the novel. If you’re perceptive, you’ll know what’s coming by the end of chapter two. But this budding romance is key to the plot and his character development. It moves pretty quickly, so I’m hoping the movie version will be better than that of the book. In this case, I’m hoping a picture is worth a thousand words.

The Light between Oceans

Once the necessary coupling has been completed, the author moves the plot right along with excellent character development, stunning scenic descriptions, and plot twists aplenty. The main characters are developed so fully, you’ll feel like you know them inside and out. You will share in their joys, mourn their losses, and question what you would do as they question their own decisions when their world turns topsy-turvy and nothing is as it once was, nor will it ever be again.

The novel is extremely well-written with beautiful, descriptive language about lighthouses (parts and service included), the solitary life of lighthouse keepers, Australian geography and native animals, as well as historically accurate sociological insights into postwar trauma and bigotry. (I think that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much, because it reminded me of topics I taught in an eighth grade world history class years ago.)

If you like history, romance, and mystery, you’ll enjoy reading The Light between Oceans by M.L. Steadman. Should you read it, please comment with your thoughts and impressions.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“How Many Times…?” by Carman

Book Review

You Can’t Judge This Book by Its Cover!

Don’t let the cute fonts and brightly-colored, busily-decorated cover fool you into thinking this is a shallow, feel-good-about-yourself parenting book filled with fluffy anecdotes and little depth. That’s NOT what this is. Rachael Carman’sHow Many Times Do I Have to Tell You? What God Wants Us to Hear When We Talk to Our Kids challenges the reader to pursue a more intimate relationship with the Lord by listening to the words coming out of his or her own mouth.

Rachael Carman’s premise is that God oftentimes speaks to us—His children—the same way (sometimes with the exact same words and phrases) we speak to our children. Throughout the book, the author demonstrates her thesis by sharing deep spiritual insights she’s gained through a wide variety of experiences she’s had as the mother of seven children.

Parenting 101

Whether we’re helping our son overcome lazy habits, teaching our daughter polite manners, or working with both children on sibling rivalry, Carman challenges us to prayerfully pay attention to what we say and listen for God’s voice in our own lives.

How Many Times Do I Have to Tell You? is a life-changing book. When you read it and take “the dare” mentioned in the introduction, you’ll see that what you think is for the benefit of your own child is often of as much, if not more, benefit to yourself. I definitely recommend this book.

HMT - Make room HMT - Look at me

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book in exchange for my honest, objective, and unbiased review. This is the first Rachael Carman book I’ve ever read, and I really did enjoy it. I gave it 4/5 stars on Amazon.com because I got the point early on, and I was ready to start listening to God in my own life rather than continue reading what God revealed to Rachael Carman about hers. However, that said, I gleaned a lot from what she shared, and I can see how it applies to me. I read it from cover to cover, and my spiritual life is forever changed. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

“The Power of the Other” by Cloud

Book Review

Have you ever wondered if your success in life is dependent on you alone? If your own grit, drive, and tenacity are the chief contributing factors to achieving your life’s dreams?
According to Dr. Henry Cloud, success in your career and your personal life will never be determined solely by what you do, regardless of your level of commitment or your work ethic. 

Why? Because, unless you are Mark Watney, alone on Mars, you live in community with others. And, believe it or not, your friendships are already

having a dramatic impact on how successful you will be at reaching your full potential and accomplishing your goals.

I just finished reading The Power of the Otherthe latest book by best-selling author and world-renowned psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud. In this enlightening book about “the startling effect other people have on you…and what to do about it,” Cloud draws a clear distinction between four different types of relationships—three dysfunctional, one healthy— placing each one in its own corner, extrapolating the ways they contribute to, hinder, or possibly halt our personal achievements and overall success in life.

 

Power of the OtherThe Power of the Other

Each “Corner” is defined according to the level of connection we have the person. These levels of connection are based on how we feel during and after interaction with the person (valued vs. diminished; condemned vs. accepted; authentic vs. fake; and so on) and how this person’s influence directly impacts our ability to move forward in life.

As we begin to sort our relationships into four corners, based on the objective criteria Cloud presents, we learn that the healthiest and most authentic relationships exist only in Corner Four where there is emotional support, wisdom, community, truth, reality-based feedback, and caring communication. Corner Four relationships are the key to our success and a significant part of the foundation of a fulfilled life.

What makes Corner Four relationships so powerful is that they don’t end even after they end. The lessons we learn, the phrases that motivate us, are ours to keep forever.

This is an excellent book filled with practical information to assist you in re-aligning your relationships (1) to invest in and benefit from the healthy ones while (2) setting boundaries with or ending dysfunctional ones. I highly recommend this book.

Click here to order your copy of: The Power of the Other * 
Available in the following formats: Hardback, Paperback, Audio CD, Kindle®, Audible®

* Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.” What I learned from this book has already had a tremendously positive impact on my life. I wrote the book review because I’m a learner, and it’s my mission in life to share what I learn with others. I hope you enjoyed the review. 🙂