Book Notes | Jesus is Better than you Imagined

bookEvery Saturday I share some notes from a book I just read. To see some past ones, click here. This week’s book is Jesus Is Better than You Imagined by Jonathan Merritt. I read this book in a day, I could not put it down.

Here’s what it covers:

Is the God who created us better than the God we’ve created?

After following Jesus for nearly two decades, Jonathan Merritt decides to confront the emptiness of a faith that has become dry, predictable, and rote. In a moment of desperation, he cries out for God to show up and surprise him, and over the next year, God doesn’t disappoint.

In JESUS IS BETTER THAN YOU IMAGINED, Jonathan shares vulnerable, never-before-shared stories of how he learned to encounter Jesus in unexpected ways. Through a 60-hour vow of silence in a desert monastery, he experiences Jesus in silence. When a friend dies of a rare disease, he sees Jesus in tragedy. Through confronting childhood sexual abuse, Jonathan discovers Jesus in honesty. In an anti-Christian-themed bar, he finds Jesus in sacrilege. And when he’s almost kidnapped in Haiti by armed bandits, he experiences Jesus in the impossible.

Though Merritt finds himself in places he never dreamed of, he doesn’t lose his way. Instead, these experiences force him back to the Bible, where he repeatedly offers fresh, sometimes provocative, interpretations of familiar passages. Along the way, he throws back the covers on the sleepy faith of many Christians, urging them to search for the Holy in their midst.

Pointed and poignant by turns, Jonathan helps readers open their hearts to a mysterious God and a faith that sustains, guides, and most importantly, surprises. His fearlessly honest story invites us all to discover the messy mercy and crazy grace of a sometimes startling Savior.

The book is part faith journey, memoir, theology and questioning all in one. I found myself not being able to put it down and being able to relate to so many of the questions, doubts, hurts and celebrations that Merritt had in his journey. In many ways, it felt like an updated version of Blue Like Jazz.

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Giving It All I Have

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Ever feel like the life you want is just out of your reach? You know what it looks like, you can feel it, but you can’t get to it.

This week, as we continue our series All In we will look be looking at Luke 10:25 – 37, at a very familiar story for many people and seeing what Jesus says about the life we long to live and how to get there.

In one conversation, Jesus answers the question of how someone finds life. Not just answering the question about eternal life, but how does one find a life worth getting up for in the morning? How do we find a life that is full of adventure, passion and risk? One that at the end of our life, we will know that it mattered.

Think for a minute, what if you could live the life God has called you to live? Imagine being able to be the kind of person others wanted to have around, a person others were thankful to know because of the way you impacted those around you.

If you or someone you know feels aimless in their life, struggles to see how God could use their one and only life, this is a great week to bring them to Revolution.

Remember, we meet at 10am on Sunday mornings at 8300 E Speedway Blvd.

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How to Help Your Kids Fail

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Sunday I talked about how to fail forward as adults and how many people live their lives like they are using a whiffle ball bat, where they take away every possibility of failure. If you missed it, you can listen to it here.

Sadly, many parents parent this way. They stack the deck to make sure their kids never experience a setback or failure. Here are a few examples:

  • Your child announces at 8pm they have a project due tomorrow that they’ve known about for a week or two. What do you do? The whiffle ball bat parent jumps into action and gets it done, probably even finishing it after the child goes to bed.
  • Your child gets a trophy for every single sports team they are on or competition they are part of.
  • Your child never tries anything new, so the only activities they do are things they are good at (this is common among adults).

Think back to the parent and the 8pm project, what would happen if you didn’t finish the project and your child got an incomplete or F for that assignment? Would their life end? Probably not. A valuable lesson would be learned.

Because we as adults hate failure (and who doesn’t), we try to ensure that our kids don’t experience failure. The problem with that is failure is the best way to learn about something (besides learning from the failure of others). If we don’t allow our kids to experience failure of some kind, we don’t teach them how to bounce back from something, how to pick themselves up, how to react in a healthy way to life not turning out how they want (because that will happen as an adult).

In the end, we send them out of the house ill-prepared for life.

Sadly, I’ll hear from countless parents whose kids walk away from the church and one of the reasons has to do with failure and faith.

When it comes to faith, we don’t challenge and encourage our kids to have a God-sized faith. We don’t challenge them to pray impossible prayers, the ones that God will have to move for something to happen. In the end, they grow up seeing a God they don’t need, a God who seems less powerful than they are and they wonder, “Why have faith? Why have anything to do with God?” If you have a son, he sees the church as boring, not worth giving his life to and will find a mission that will drive his passion, but the world won’t be changed.

The dominos can be enormous.

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Links I Like

Links I Like is a collection of blogs, articles and books I’ve come across recently and thought they were worth sharing. Click here for past Links I Like.

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Carl Lafterton on 6 ways to look godly without really growing.

This time last year, I mentioned six ways to look godly while not growing in your faith — and then spent 2013 battling them, falling for them, and finding several other ways, too. So here, for 2014, are six more ways to look great while doing little…

Kevin DeYoung on The 10 commandments of twitter.

And the Lord of Twitter spoke all these words saying, I am the Lord your God, who gave thee computers and tablets and smartphones, the Holy One of all social media who foreknew the internet before the foundation of the earth, yea even when the world of handles and hashtags was without form and void.

5 ways to fight entitlement in your kids.

On the one hand, you want to provide your child with every advantage. On the other hand, sometimes it feels like when you do that, you’re feeding an incredibly unhealthy characteristic in our culture.

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The Reminder’s God Gives Us

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I read this the other day:

So Abram went up from Egypt, he and his wife and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the Negeb. Now Abram was very rich in livestock, in silver, and in gold. And he journeyed on from the Negeb as far as Bethel to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first. And there Abram called upon the name of the Lord. -Genesis 13:1 – 4

Abram returned to where he built his first altar.

What I often forget about Abram is that when he started walking and following God in Genesis 12, this was brand new to him. All of a sudden (it seems anyway) a voice told him to pack up and move. That’s it. And he did.

Following this God, took him to Egypt. Where Abram failed and lied.

Why?

Because he didn’t trust God.

So he leaves Egypt and returns to where he started. To where he first heard God. To where he first built an altar.

Often, after our failures and disappointments, God brings us back to where we started. He has a way when our faith is faltering to remind us of a place where our faith was strong. When struggle to trust him, he has a way of taking us to the place where we trusted him. When we find ourselves not on fire, but fizzling out, he has a way of bringing us to the place where we were on fire.

If you are in a place today, where it is hard to trust God, hard to follow God, hard to pray or listen or move forward. Return to where it began. Return to where you trusted, where you listened, prayed and followed.

Go back to where it all began.

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Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

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The ordinary idea which we all have is that…we have a natural self with various desires and interests…and we know something called “morality” or “decent behavior” has a claim on the self…. We are all hoping that when all the demands of morality and society have been met, the poor natural self will still have some chance, some time, to get on with its own life and do what it likes. In fact, we are very like an honest man paying his taxes. He pays them, but he does hope that there will be enough left over for him to live on. The Christian way is different—both harder and easier. Christ says, “Give me ALL. I don’t want just this much of your time and this much of your money and this much of your work—so that your natural self can have the rest. I want you. Not your things. I have come not to torture your natural self…I will give you a new self instead. Hand over the whole natural self—ALL the desires, not just the ones you think wicked but the ones you think innocent—the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. The almost impossibly hard thing is to hand over your whole self to Christ. But it is far easier than what we are all trying to do instead. For what we are trying to do is remain what we call “ourselves”—our personal happiness centered on money or pleasure or ambition—and hoping, despite this, to behave honestly and chastely and humbly. And that is exactly what Christ warned us you cannot do. If I am a grass field—all the cutting will keep the grass less but won’t produce wheat. If I want wheat…I must be plowed up and re-sown. -C.S. Lewis, Quoted in The Reason for God

Cheap Kindle Books [12.9.13]

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Here are some cheap kindle books. Not sure how long they’ll stay that way:

The Great Treasure of Suffering

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The sufferings, which appear so hard and objectionable to us in our lives are in reality full of the greatest treasures a Christian can find. They are like the shell in which a pearl rests. And what is the pearl, the end result of the sufferings? Hope. Suffering produces hope. And hope does not disappoint us. Where there is still hope, there is no defeat; there may be every kind of weakness, much clamor and complaining, much anxious shouting; nevertheless, because hope is present, the victory has already been won. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Quoted in In Search of Deep Faith

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Two Life Impacting Books

I love to read. Every week I review a book that I’ve read. I do this to help my readers find good books, know which books to avoid and to share what I’m learning. Most of the reviews are a way for me to remind myself of what I’ve learned in a book and help to think through it.

Recently, I read 2 books that were incredibly impactful that I wanted to highlight.

bookThe first one was A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World (kindle version) by Paul Miller.

Miller shares his insights and conclusions about how to connect the broken pieces of your life and allow prayer–even poorly delivered–to fill the gaps with meaning and substance. Miller’s down-to-earth approach and practical nature will help you see that your relationship with God can grow and your communication with Him can get better.  Parents will find Miller’s family-life experiences especially helpful.

What I found most helpful was the section on how to pray at the end, the use of prayer cards instead of using a prayer list. I’ve begun making prayer cards in evernote for the people and things I’m praying for.

Incredibly practical and helpful.

bookThe second book was In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness & Heart of Christianity (kindle version) by Jim Belcher.

Grappling with his own questions, Jim Belcher set out on a quest to see how the Christian faith faces the challenges of the modern world and answers the cries of the human soul. Seeking renewal after a draining season of life, he and his family spent a year traveling through Europe, exploring the faith that has shaped civilizations throughout the centuries. They rediscovered key figures, places and events in the history of Christianity, from C. S. Lewis’s life at Oxford to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s death in a concentration camp. Through the experiences of William Wilberforce, Vincent Van Gogh, Corrie ten Boom and others, Belcher saw glimpses of insight, beauty and courage that transcended human limitations. He found himself surprised by joy and compelled by faith.

Part history book, part biography of the great’s in history, part travel book, part parenting book. This book had it all. I could not stop reading this book and found myself stopping on every page to contemplate what I just read and how it touched me.

I can’t recommend these books highly enough. Put them on your Christmas list, read them over the holidays and allow them to make an impact on your life.

What Prayer Changes

Made for Glory

Have you ever prayed and wondered if it did any good?

It will go something like this: Something happens. Nothing horrible or maybe something earth shattering and you pray. A child walks away from God and makes poor choices, a friend is sick, a spouse is unresponsive, your longing to get married or have a child, school isn’t going your way, there is an addiction or negative emotion that you can’t stop doing or feeling. So, you pray about it. You pray some more and some more.

And then…

Nothing happens. 

In moments like these, it is easy to be cynical, to give up and wonder if prayer really works. We wonder if we did something wrong or if we prayed incorrectly. We wonder if we should pray and feel guilty for our lack of prayer or faith.

What if in those moments, pray is doing exactly what it is supposed to do?

This Sunday, we’ll continue our series Made for Glory as we look at John 17:6 – 26 and we will see that prayer always changes someone and prayer always does something. 

Don’t forget as well that we are started our Christmas offering last Sunday. Click here to get more information as to how we will be blessing others and moving the gospel forward here in Tucson.

Remember, we meet at 10am on Sunday mornings at 8300 E Speedway Blvd.