Thursday, March 31, 2011

In Need of Some Revisions?


Revise Us Again
A call to revisit and return to
God’s original script for living

Every person follows a script for living, a life-guide that offers cues for our behavior and direction for our choices. As believers, the Word of God gives us a script for experiencing life as God intended. Yet our scripts are often distorted by our environment, our culture, and our religious traditions. As a result, all of us are in constant need of revising the scripts by which we live, and we want those lines of script that are incompatible with the teachings of Jesus revised and re-visioned to match the heart and mind of Christ.

Revising is a process, and best-selling author Frank Viola’s latest book, Revise Us Again: Living from a Renewed Christian Script, encourages believers to take an honest look at their relationship with the Lord. This process begins by opening our hearts and minds to the possibility that the script we have been given in life is not perfect. We must further recognize that our lives as believers stand in need of regular evaluation and reevaluation. Viola states that his purpose for this intuitive and challenging book is “… to see more integrity and depth returned to the Christian faith.” His hope is that the Holy Spirit of God, who writes not on tablets of stone but on the tablets of our hearts, will use this book to help edit those religious habits that do not map to the heart of God and, in turn, begin rescripting believers into the glorious image of Christ.

In Revise Us Again, Viola clearly explains the need to revisit and revise what it means to live the Christian life. Drawing from his rich background in ministry, he shares how believers can benefit from rescripting their lives in ten key areas:

• Revising the Lord’s Voice
• Revising Christianeze
• Revising Christian Code Language
• Revising Our Semantics
• Revising Our Message
• Revising Our Awareness of the Divine
• Revising Our Attitudes
• Revising Our Spiritual Expectations
• Revising the Holy Spirit’s Ministry
• Revising Our Chief Pursuit

Written in a conversational tone and filled with practical insights, Revise Us Again is ideal for any reader who longs to follow God’s original script for living. That script is the glorious gospel of grace—the gospel of Jesus Christ—and it has the capacity to bring believers into the freedom that is ours in Christ. The end of that gospel is the ageless purpose for which our Lord burns.


About the Author: Frank Viola is a frequent conference speaker and author of numerous books on the deeper Christian life and church renewal, including Jesus Manifesto, co-authored with Leonard Sweet, Reimagining Church, the best-selling From Eternity to Here, and Finding Organic Church. Frank and his family live in Gainesville, Florida.

Revise Us Again: Living from a Renewed Christian Script
by Frank Viola
David C Cook/April 2011
ISBN 978-1-4347-6865-0/175 pages/hardcover/$16.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104
 
To request a blog review copy, click here.
If you have already signed up, your book is on the way, so please do not re-submit your request.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Getting the Word out in public high schools

The Life Book Movement nears the half-million mark in books distributed

Are we trading in our right to free speech, especially our freedom of religion, in exchange for being non-offensive and politically correct? Separation of church and state may restrict public prayers in schools, but there is still an avenue for high school students to rightfully distribute God’s Word in their schools.

Founded by The Gideons International, The Life Book Movement is an innovative strategy to reach high school students with the Word of God. The movement is a Christian mission centered on The Life Book, a unique presentation of Scripture designed to engage high school students with the truth of God’s Word, created by Carl Blunt, president and CEO of The Life Book Movement. The Life Book presents a brief overview of the Old Testament and the Book of John using an interactive format with honest student comments and real-life questions in the margins. Readers are drawn into the only story that can change their lives forever.

The Life Book Movement works with churches throughout the country by providing free copies of The Life Book for students to give as gifts to their friends and classmates during school. Blunt’s organization brilliantly takes advantage of a student’s freedom to distribute religious literature by getting The Life Book into the hands of Christian high school students and having them pass the books out to classmates at school—a practice that is acceptable, as long as the books are not distributed by school staff or other adults.

Blunt says, “In mission-speak, it’s like we’re helping students get God’s Word into a closed country (public high schools) to reach an unreached people group because studies show that only 4% of today’s teenagers are Bible-believing Christians.” The goal is to ensure that every student in every high school in the United States has an opportunity to receive the gift of The Life Book. This approach presents a phenomenal opportunity to impact a generation with the good news of Jesus Christ.


Local churches contact The Life Book Movement to schedule saturations, described to students as a short-term mission trip to their local high school. Local church youth ministries work together in targeted areas to ensure The Life Book is offered to students in each chosen high school. The churches receive the books at no cost from The Life Book Movement and provide the books, along with some evangelism training, to the students in their youth groups. The students then spend a week or two passing them out to their friends and classmates at school.

In less than a year and a half, almost 320,000 copies of The Life Book have been distributed. That number is expected to increase by 200,000 by the end of May 2011. This year alone, saturations have occurred in over 80 locations in 26 states. According to Blunt, 1.2 million copies are being printed for distribution in the 2011-2012 school year.


For interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Denise Hunter explores whether the truth can really set us free

Lassoed by a Cowboy’s Love


Do the secrets from our past affect who we become in the future? Can the hurts we’ve experienced really prevent us from finding true fulfillment? In her newest novel, A Cowboy’s Touch, award-winning author Denise Hunter will explore these questions, and readers will discover that “the truth really can set us free.”

Abigail Jones has a secret—a secret from her childhood. This secret has shaped who she has grown to be—an investigative reporter known as “the Truthseeker” at Viewpointe Magazine in Chicago. With her blood pressure out of control, the editor, who happens to be her mother, sends her on a three-month sabbatical to check on her great aunt in Moose Creek, Montana.

Wade Ryan may have been voted as the “Sexiest Man Alive,” but he has sworn off women forever. Four years earlier, the rodeo celebrity gave up his identity to protect his daughter Maddy. Now he is safely settled on a ranch in Big Sky Country, living in obscurity with his heart guarded by a high, thick fence. But when Wade’s summer nanny quits without notice, he agrees to let his neighbor’s visiting niece help care for his daughter. As he begins to feel an attraction to his new hire, Wade starts to question his wisdom in hiring her. Can he really trust himself with another woman and learn to love again?

Abigail was bored anyway, so no harm in helping out a neighbor. But her new charge is growing on her, to say nothing of her ruggedly handsome boss. Abigail may be mesmerized by Wade’s denim blue eyes, but can she really trust him? She is the truthseeker, after all, so shouldn’t she be able to stay objective and discover the truth about Wade? But what if she is missing the truth altogether? What if her past mistakes prevent her from finding the love of her future? Or, perhaps her relationship with Christ could give her the answers she is seeking. But “instead of pursuing Him, she’d been pursuing her career. Chasing story after story as if finding the next truth would somehow scratch an itch that never went away,” she thought.

Hunter’s latest novel will hold you breathless. As the first book in the Big Sky Romance series, A Cowboy’s Touch is the story about a truthseeker who ends up discovering the real truth and a cowboy who learns to let go of his past. Hunter shines as she draws her readers into an intriguing world of boots, chaps and cowboy hats. This heartwarming romance is a story of love, pain and forgiveness. It has also been named a Women of Faith novel for 2011.

A Cowboy’s Touch by Denise Hunter
Thomas Nelson/March 29, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59554-801-6/320 pages/paperback/$14.99

For review copy and interview information, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104
 
To request a blog review copy, click here.
If you have already signed up, your book is on the way, so please do not re-submit your request.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Liz Johnson's Code of Justice

God Bless regular bloggers. Especially ones that review books. Each day, I work with many, many of them. I have no idea how they read so many books in the midst of every day life.

Sure, I've posted PRs and book tours about books I'm working on, but I don't really know the last time I posted a book review of a book I read just for the fun of it. I've had a sticky note on my desk here at home for months listing out books that I have read that I should post books about. Judging by the note, it must have been around Christmas when I wrote it. I need to update it because it lists a couple of books that I took on vacation last October. (Which reminds me, I really need to finish that scrapbook on Shutterfly from that vacation.)

There are a couple of additions to make from the past few months. I would love to just sit down and read for a while, but I think I'd fall asleep if I tried that tonight. I seriously have 19 books across the room on shelves that I plan to read at some point, but have not. I have a number of upcoming releases on my desk at work that I need to read. As much trouble as we have had with the internet at the office in the past week, I should have been able to get some considerable reading done, if it weren't for the fact that the down time was so spastic.

Honestly, a lot of my lack of reading has a lot to do with the fact that I'm always letting people know about books in my workaholic way instead of reading. Between my book purchases and books I bring home, I don't ask for a lot of  books to do book tours. I'm one of those people who hate to be confined by a schedule and always end up running late. I also realize I don't have a lot of time, so I don't commit to a lot.

And like a group of bloggers that I sent posting reminders to last week, an author needed to send me a kindly reminder over the weekend that March was almost over, and I had hopefully received her book 6 weeks ago.

Yeah. I'm a bad blogger. I have good intentions though. Week after next, I'm on vacation for a week and going no where. I plan to sleep and read. And finish that scrapbook on Shutterfly from my last vacation. And, if I'm lucky, I'll get some book reviews posted.


About the book:

"Follow the drugs.”

Her sister’s last words shake FBI agent Heather Sloan to the core. They also convince her that the helicopter crash only Heather survived wasn’t an accident. Sheriff’s deputy Jeremy Latham is assigned the case—he’s the one who can help Heather find the person responsible. Once she convinces him they should work together. As they dig for the truth, they learn to trust and care for each other. Will they lose it all when the killer targets Heather? She’s willing to risk her life to find her sister’s killer—but her code of justice could cost her the chance to win Jeremy’s love.

About the Author:

After graduating from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff with a degree in public relations, Liz Johnson set out to work in the Christian publishing industry, which was her lifelong dream. In 2006 she got her wish when she accepted a publicity position at a major trade book publisher. While working as a publicist in the industry, she decided to pursue her other dream-being an author. Along the way to having her novel published, she wrote articles for several magazines and worked as a freelance editorial consultant.

Liz makes her home in Nashville, TN, where she enjoys exploring her new home, theater, and making frequent trips to Arizona to dote on her nephew and three nieces. She loves stories of true love with happy endings.

My take:

I've had people tell me that I should write a book. Why would I want to do a thing like that? I'm not one of those publicists like Liz who has great aspirations like that. No, that's not part of my review. I just felt the need to say that.

Even though I've said it before, I'll say it again. Liz Johnson's are the only romance/love inspired books I will read. They aren't far-fetched unbelievable romance stories with too much oogey-gooey lovey-doveyness. She writes about handsome, strong, smart FBI agents. I want a handsome, strong, smart FBI agent. No, seriously, I really do.

I was reading a post on Liz's blog earlier regarding a bad review. (That's one reason I don't want to be an author, I can't handle the criticism.) In response to this, I would like to say:
  • I really didn't know who the villian was until  it was revealed.
  • It's part of the Love Inspired series. Of course, you knew that the two main characters were going to fall in love. And if you are reading this review, and that spoiled it for you, well, I'm only stating the obvious.
  • I forgot what else I was going to say. I think I'm losing my mind because that happens to me a lot.
I do think she could have built up more on the sisters bond. Like memories of when they were kids and things they did together to really get the feeling that Heather had to bring justice to her sister's killer. Not having a sister, maybe I just didn't "feel the love" automatically. (Not to say I wouldn't fight for my brother if I needed to.)

Truly though, I really did like it. And yes, I sound delirious because it is only 8:21, and I need to go to sleep. A quick post on Amazon, and I'm going to sleep on the couch while attempting to watch Pawn Stars or Harry's Law.

Click here to read the first chapter!
 
 
I received a copy of Code of Justice for review purposes from the author, who I actually really know.
God bless all publicists in this world! We should have a sisterhood, but I don't want to be the president.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The feeling is mutual

For those of you that thought it was interesting and exciting that was actually talking to a member of the opposite sex, I am back to my ever boring self.

Fu Ming (no, that's not his real name since he isn't actually Chinese) and I have mutually decided that yeah, we're not into it. We haven't actually had that conversation though. We've mutually talked to his sister.

It's kind of comical really. Even his sister thought so. There were things he said that made me think that he was more interested me than I was in him. I even started screening phone calls quite honestly. That was because I really wanted to watch the finale of The Bachelor.

Last Friday night, I was logged into Skype, and Fu Ming called. I was too tired to think coherently and carry on much of a conversation. I ended up suggesting that we call in his dear sister for a conference call so that I didn't have to carry on a conversation. From start to finish, the whole conversation was awkward, including the fact that he admitted his laugh with me was his awkward laugh. This admission after saying he was laughing quite differently with his sister.

Afterwards, us two girls had a chat. She revealed she found it funny that her brother thought I was more interested in him that he was in me. Funny indeed. She's talked to him since, and evidently we are on the same page. I'm so glad we talked to her!

Today, my three months of paid membership on the singles site went out. In fact, I just got the official notification via email that I am expired. Today, on the last day, I was "winked" at meaning someone found my profile interesting. I didn't wink back. And I'm not renewing at this time.

And so it goes.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Would you like to have Randy Singer visit your book club?

If you would like to have Randy Singer in person or via Skype at an upcoming book club meeting to discuss False Witness, we have a contest for you!

The first 10 groups that sign up will have the opportunity to have Randy appear either live or via Skype for a 1-hour discussion with the group. (In order to qualify, groups must have at least 20 members and have the ability to use Skype.)

The first 50 groups that sign up will receive a special book club package that includes a DVD, a reading group guide, and an assortment of Randy’s backlist titles from Tyndale House Publishers.
 
(False Witness releases May 1)



About False Witness :   Clark Shealy is a bail bondsman with the ultimate bounty on the line: his wife's life. He has forty-eight hours to find an Indian professor in possession of the Abacus Algorithm—an equation so powerful it could crack all Internet encryption.   Four years later, law student Jamie Brock is working in legal aid when a routine case takes a vicious twist: she and two colleagues learn that their clients, members of the witness protection program, are accused of defrauding the government and have the encrypted algorithm in their possession. After a life-changing trip to the professor's church in India, the couple also has the key to decode it.   Now they're on the run from federal agents and the Chinese mafia, who will do anything to get the algorithm. Caught in the middle, Jamie and her friends must protect their clients if they want to survive long enough to graduate.   An adrenaline-laced thrill ride, this retelling of one of Randy Singer's most critically acclaimed novels takes readers from the streets of Las Vegas to the halls of the American justice system and the inner sanctum of the growing church in India with all the trademark twists, turns, and the legal intrigue his fans have come to expect. 

About Randy Singer:   Randy Singer is a critically acclaimed author and veteran trial attorney. He has penned 10 legal thrillers, including his award-winning debut novel, Directed Verdict. Randy runs his own law practice and has been named to Virginia Business magazine's select list of "Legal Elite" litigation attorneys. In addition to his law practice and writing, Randy serves as teaching pastor for Trinity Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He calls it his "Jekyll and Hyde thing"—part lawyer, part pastor. He also teaches classes in advocacy and civil litigation at Regent Law School and, through his church, is involved with ministry opportunities in India. He and his wife, Rhonda, live in Virginia Beach. They have two grown children. Visit his website at http://www.randysinger.net/.


For all other review copy and interview requests, contact:
Audra Jennings - 800-927-0517 x104

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A little bit of Luck(y) - check out the first chapter of Glenn Packiam's latest


Thanks to everyone who participated in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Glenn Packiam is an executive pastor at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he oversees spiritual formation and serves as the teaching pastor for New Life Sunday Night. As one of the founding leaders and songwriters for the Desperation Band, Glenn has also been featured on several Desperation Band and New Life Worship albums and recently released his debut solo album, Rumors and Revelations, also with Integrity Music. Glenn has written a few well-loved worship songs like “Your Name,” “Everyone (Praises),” and “My Savior Lives.” Glenn is also the author of Butterfly in Brazil: How Your Life Can Make a World of Difference and Secondhand Jesus: Trading Rumors of God for a Firsthand Faith. Glenn, his wife, Holly, their two daughters, Sophia and Norah, and their son, Jonas, are enjoying life in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People, Glenn Packiam uncovers how the poor, hungry, mourning, and persecuted are lucky because the kingdom of heaven, its fullness, comfort, and reward, is theirs despite their condition. Packiam redefines the word lucky by studying the word’s context as used in Christ’s beatitudes in Luke’s gospel.


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1434766381
ISBN-13: 978-1434766380

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


FEELING LUCKY?

Bud had had a run of bad luck. When he was eight years old, his mother died. His father, unable or unwilling to raise him, later sent Bud to an orphanage. When he got out, he struggled to adapt to society and earn a decent living. He spent most of his adult life puttering on different jobs, from spray painting pipelines to being a cook and truck driver for circuses and carnivals. He had never owned a home or a car. Money had been hard to come by. Things had gotten so bad that he had even served a twenty-eight-day jail sentence for writing too many bad checks.

Then one day, Bud decided to buy a lottery ticket. At the time, he was on disability and had a grand total of $2.46 in his bank account. He had nothing to lose and over sixteen million dollars to win.

It happened. William “Bud” Post III won $16.2 million dollars in the Pennsylvania lottery in 1988. Luck, it seemed, was smiling on him.

Who do you think is lucky? Who, in your estimation, has it made?

Is it the person with lots of money and Hollywood good looks? Is it the one who spends afternoons on the golf course or at the five-star health spa? Maybe it’s the one with the perfect job and ideal marriage and dutiful children who make the von Trapps look like vagabonds. Whoever it is, you may say, it’s not me.

When we think of a lucky person, we think of someone like Bud Post, an average guy who grew up like we did, with challenges and adversity, who somehow happened to buy the winning lottery ticket. There’s just enough about them that makes you believe they are just like you. They may have had modest talent, sure, and a solid work ethic, yes. But they had a few big breaks you didn’t have. They got lucky. They were born into the right family, at the right time, in the right city. They grew up with the right connections and were given the right opportunities. And that’s how they got where they are.

We’re not far off. We were this close, you say. But then … The divorce. The kid who got your son to try that drug that left him addicted. The cancer that came like a thief in the night and stole your wife’s health and vandalized your finances. The downturn in the economy that turned into a recession. The investment you leveraged everything to make that was just a few months too late. The bubble that burst and left you mired in debt instead of swimming in wealth. You’re Bud Post pre-1988, with a losing lottery ticket and no stunning reversal of fortunes.

Successful people, people who have made something of their lives, usually try to deflect any association with luck. Gary Player, the South African golfer who won nine Majors, famously shrugged off an accusation of being lucky on the golf course by saying, “Well, the more I practice, the luckier I get.” People on the outside looking in believe in luck—because they are sure that’s all that separates them from the successful and because they hope that their fortunes will one day be reversed. People on the inside prefer to credit talent and hard work.

Malcolm Gladwell is known for offering a paradigm-shattering, contrarian view of social trends and behavioral norms we take for granted. In his book Outliers, Gladwell tackles the subject of the extraordinarily successful. The conventional view is that, if you add talent to hard work, you’ll get a fairly predictable outcome: success. And because this is true for the moderately successful, we assume it’s also true for the outrageously successful—the outliers like professional athletes or world-renowned violinists or Bill Gates.

Gladwell, however, demonstrates that, while all outliers have a base of talent and a history of hard work, that’s only enough to get them to a certain point. What pushes them over the edge are things we may not have thought to consider, like date of birth, country of birth, access to education or technology, a family with disposable income to afford road trips and other creative-learning environments. His book is stocked with stories that make the point. Talent and hard work may get you some success, but to be an outlier, to be extraordinarily successful, you also need a little luck.

Gladwell’s theory only reinforces what we’ve always suspected deep down: Others have it made, but not me. A deep divide runs between the glamorous, wealthy, successful people out there and the ordinary, average, unspectacular you and me. We’re always on the outside looking in. And those others, well, they may not admit it, but they’re just plain lucky.

They bought the winning lottery ticket.

If only we could be so lucky.


But that sort of luck isn’t what it seems.

Bud Post chose to get his winnings in twenty-six annual payments of roughly half a million dollars. Within two weeks of collecting his first installment, he had spent over three hundred thousand of it. Three months later, he was half a million dollars in debt—thanks to, among other things, a restaurant in Florida he had leased for his sister and brother, a used-car lot complete with a fleet of cars he had bought for another brother, and a twin-engine plane he had bought for himself even though he didn’t have a pilot’s license.

A year later, debt wasn’t his only problem. He became estranged from his siblings, and a county court ordered him to stay away from his sixth wife after he allegedly fired a rifle at her vehicle. Bud Post was Dale Carnegie in reverse: a millionaire losing friends and alienating people while accruing a mountain of debt. When his former landlady sued him for a portion of the winnings to pay off old debts, Bud was finished. The judge ruled that she was entitled to a third of his lottery winnings, and when Bud couldn’t pay it, the judge ordered that all further payments of his winnings be frozen until the dispute was resolved.

Desperate for cash, Bud sold his Pennsylvania mansion in 1996 for a miserable sixty-five thousand dollars and auctioned off the remaining payments of his winnings. With a little over two and a half million dollars remaining, Bud hoped that people would finally leave him alone. But the person who created the most trouble was the one he could never escape: himself. He squandered it on two homes, a truck, three cars, two Harleys, a couple of big-screen TVs, a boat, a camper, and a few computers. By 1998, ten years after winning $16.2 million dollars, Bud Post was once again living on disability payments.

“I was much happier when I was broke,” he lamented.

William “Bud” Post III died at age sixty-six of a respiratory failure, broke and alone.



An Unexpected Word

We think of luck as simply a positive reversal of fortune or chance occurrence that worked out in our favor. Like winning the lottery. Jesus sees it as far more. He knows it takes more than changing your conditions and surroundings to make you lucky. It takes more than money or comfort or success. It takes the arrival of the kingdom of God. And that is no chance occurrence.

When Jesus raised His eyes to address the crowd that had gathered that day, He must have seen some interesting people. These were not the important big-city types. Those would come later when Paul joined the team and traveled to various cities. No, these first followers were country folks. Simple, well-meaning, kindhearted peasants. Luke, the gospel writer, doesn’t mention a name we might know or even a grouping—like Pharisee or Sadducee or scribe or lawyer—we might recognize other than “the disciples.” This is simply a crowd. A crowd of ordinary, unspectacular people. Sure, the twelve He had chosen were there, but they may not have looked like the most promising bunch either.

So when Jesus began to speak, it’s important to remember who He was looking at. He wasn’t sermonizing, delivering a prepared oratory masterpiece to a mass generic audience. It wasn’t a canned speech He had taken on the circuit. Jesus, full of compassion, sat on the plain and spoke. To them. To the unlucky, to the outcast and insignificant, to the overlooked and undervalued.

To them.

And He began with this word: “Blessed.”

Except it wasn’t quite that word.

Both Luke and Matthew chose the Greek word makarios to capture our Lord’s opening word in the Beatitudes.2 Makarios simply means “fortunate, happy.” In secular Greek literature, it is used to describe the blissful state of the gods. It is not an inherently religious word.3 The Greek word more like our words “blessed” or “blessing” is eulogia. Eulogia is often used to invite or invoke God’s blessing and also to bless God. That word was, of course, available to Jesus—and Luke and Matthew. But He—they—chose makarios instead.

In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament—the version of the Scriptures many in Jesus’ day would have used—makarios is the word used most often to translate the Hebrew word asar. But asar is not the word for a “God-blessed” person or thing or action. In fact it is rarely used of God blessing anything or anyone.4 Asar is simply “happy, favored, prosperous” and has the connotation of one whose paths are straight, which is a way of saying someone for whom things always unfold neatly and nicely.

The psalmist in Psalm 1 uses asar to say, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” It’s also the word the queen of Sheba used when she exclaimed, “How happy your men must be!” as a way of praising Solomon (1 Kings 10:8). Even though asar has the implication, by the context of its use, that God is the true source or reason for the person’s blessedness, it is not inherently a religious word. It’s a marketplace word, used to simply say that a person is fortunate, that he “has it good.”

If we were to use a word today for makarios, we would choose the word lucky. Not lucky as in the result of randomness. Not lucky as in the reward for properly acknowledging a superstition or a charm. It is neither the product of erratic chance nor the result of currying favor with some capricious god. It is simply lucky as we use it conversationally: You lucky dog, you get to take a vacation next week! Or, Lucky you! You just got a promotion in the middle of a recession! Makarios, as one New Testament commentator suggested, is akin to the Aussie slang, “Good on ya, mate,” which is rather like the American, “Good for you!” Which are both like saying, “Lucky you!”

The irony of this word choice is heightened when we imagine Jesus looking at these ordinary, unspectacular people and exclaiming, “Lucky you!” He might as well have said, “Lucky are the unlucky!”5

Lucky are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

Lucky are you who hunger now,

for you will be satisfied.

Lucky are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Lucky are you when men hate you,

when they exclude you and insult you

and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.6

Why would Jesus say that? Why would He call these unlikely and unlucky people, lucky?



An Unlikely People

The Jews of Jesus’ day knew that they were the lucky ones. They were Abraham’s descendants. They were the insiders. They were God’s special covenant people.

Abraham’s family had been chosen to be God’s people—by grace! And because it was Abraham’s descendants who were enslaved in Egypt, God heard the cries of His people and sent Moses to rescue them—again, by grace! Then, after they had been chosen as God’s people, after they had been saved from Egypt, Moses gave them the law.

The law was not how they became the covenant people of God; the law was how they were to live as the covenant people of God. For the Jews of the first century, the Mosaic law itself was not seen as a means of becoming God’s people; rather it was a sort of badge of honor displaying that they were indeed God’s people. You might say that the law was a sign of their luckiness. And yet the law was also a clear reminder of how far they had fallen short. They were well aware of their transgressions against the law. Even worse, their history was stained by their covenant unfaithfulness. Still God’s steady faithfulness to Israel remained. And because of that, hope that Israel would be “lucky” again—that they would be delivered from their enemies, be freed from exile, and have their calling fulfilled—was alive in their hearts.

All that history and drama of privilege and failure and faithfulness and hope and expectation are the backdrop for Jesus’ most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5—7 and the condensed but parallel Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. The Sermon consists of quite possibly the most written-about passages of Scripture in church history.

One of the most common views is to see the Sermon as a new law. There are indeed striking parallels between the story of Moses and the story of Jesus. Moses came out of Egypt, went through the waters of the Red Sea and the wilderness on Sinai, and ascended the mountain and came down with the law; Jesus came out of Egypt (as a child), went through the waters of baptism and the wilderness of temptation, and ascended the hill7 to deliver this sermon. Matthew’s phrase “He opened His mouth and began to teach them” (5:2 NASB) is not filler. It’s a Hebrew idiom to denote one who speaks with divine authority, one who utters the very oracles of God. The view of the Sermon as a new kind of law can help us see something that was likely part of Jesus’ point: He means to say, to those who thought they were so good at keeping Moses’ law, that unless they kept it even in their hearts they would not enter the kingdom. This is certainly clear in Matthew 5:20 when He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” In the later sections of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus says, “You have heard … but I say unto you …,” it becomes clear that Jesus meant for them to internalize the law of Moses. The truth is, the law was always meant to be internalized, written on their hearts, and obeyed out of love for God and neighbor. Moses had said as much in his day, and later the prophets revisited the theme. Jesus, revealing the Father’s intent, was giving the final word. It’s not enough not to murder; you cannot hate. It’s not enough not to commit adultery; you cannot lust. And so on. For the first listeners, the Sermon would have led them to realize the futility of their efforts and to respond with some version of the question “Who can live like this?” And that would have been exactly the thing Jesus was after—to show that no one could truly fulfill the law alone.

This is where some of our modern teachers have made the mistake of throwing the whole thing out. “It’s all there just to frustrate us, to lead us to a Savior who will forgive and redeem us,” they say. But that is only half true. Jesus does mean for us to live in the way He describes in His Sermon: He wants us to be righteous from the inside out. In fact, if we draw a parallel between when and why the Mosaic law was given and this so-called “new law” of Christ, the point becomes clearer. Just as the Mosaic law was given to a people who had already been chosen by grace and saved by grace, so for those who are in Christ, this new, inside-out way of living is for those who have already become God’s people by grace. It would be impossible to treat it as simply good moral advice and discouraging to attempt to obey it as a means of “getting in.” Jesus meant for His Sermon to be viewed as the way to live as the people of God, not the way to become the people of God. The great teachers throughout church history, from Chrysostom and Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries to Luther and the Reformers in the sixteenth century, understood that the entire Sermon must be read from the perspective of one who has already been saved by grace through faith. Martin Luther said, “Christ is saying nothing in this sermon about how we become Christians, but only about the works and fruit that no one can do unless he already is a Christian and in a state of grace.”8

Because we are in Christ, we are now the covenant people of God regardless of our ethnicity and national identity. We are “in”—by grace! We are rescued—by grace! Feeling lucky? But wait. There’s more. We have received the Holy Spirit, which means that living this way—this way of inward righteousness—is not merely up to our own strength. We don’t simply say, “Thanks, God. I’ll take it from here.” It is God’s design that, once we are saved through Him, we receive the power, through His Spirit, to actually become the kind of person He is describing.

The Sermon, far from being a list of conditions for entry in the kingdom, is an elaborate description of how this new people of God, empowered by grace through the Holy Spirit, are to now live. Not only have we—outsiders and onlookers—been brought into the kingdom because of Jesus; now, because we are in the kingdom, because we are living under God’s rule, this is the kind of life that God the Spirit produces in us.

Feeling lucky, yet?


Unexpected Outcomes

This is all well and good for the bulk of the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon on the Plain, but what about the first few verses of each, the Beatitudes? Some have suggested that the Beatitudes are a “ladder of virtue,” an ascending list of qualities to be attained, a sort of growth chart for the Christian. But that would make persecution the final stage in our maturation, an idea that would have made perfect sense in one era and none in another. And it would create a sort of hierarchy, distinguishing between the “serious” followers of Christ who obey the full list and the “casual Christians” who choose not to.

Others have said it is a pronouncement of the way things are, an unveiling of the mystery of life. But this would be odd, for we know that not all who mourn are comforted. And the daily news is proof that the meek never inherit much of anything.

Many teachers have taken a more moderate path, shying away from calling them a ladder of virtue or a pronouncement of the way things are and seeing them, instead, as prescriptions on how to live. Should we pursue poverty and sorrow and persecution? To read the Beatitudes as blessings that are being given because of something these people have done requires a sort of spiritualizing of the text. We would have to take being “poor in spirit” as a way of saying “morally bankrupt” and make “mourning” synonymous with “repentance.” We would emphasize that to “hunger and thirst for righteousness” is to desire and long for the kind of inward “rightness of being” that only God can give us in Christ. This sort of reading of the Beatitudes has been emphasized through the centuries, from Augustine in the fourth century to the esteemed Dr. Martyn-Lloyd Jones in the twentieth century, and with good reason. It is hard to miss the progression from admitting our state of spiritual poverty to mourning in repentance to beginning to crave for an inward righteousness, and so on. Reading the Beatitudes as blessings on certain spiritual virtues would certainly be consistent with what the Scriptures teach us about growing in Christ.

But the bulk of writing and teaching on the Beatitudes has zeroed in on Matthew’s list rather than Luke’s. Luke’s list is half the size of Matthew’s (four instead of eight) and leaves no room for reading it as a list of spiritual virtues. Luke simply has Jesus announcing blessing on those who are “poor,” not those who are “poor in spirit”; those who “hunger now,” not those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness”; those who “weep now,” and who are hated, excluded, and insulted. Luke’s rendering is terse and dry. They resist spiritualization and require another way of hearing them—not a way that is in conflict with the much-written-about way, and not a way that was altogether absent in the historical expositions, just one that is not as heavily stressed. Often overshadowed by Matthew’s spiritual “Blesseds,” Luke’s shorter, sparser Beatitudes suggest another lens for Jesus’ words:

What if Jesus was announcing blessing on these people not because of their state but in spite of it?

Could it be that Jesus is not saying, “Blessed are you because you are poor,” but rather, “Blessed are you in spite of being poor, for the kingdom has come to even such as you”? Reading it this way begins to make more sense. In this light, those who are mourning are now blessed because they will—in God’s kingdom that Jesus is bringing—be comforted. They are not considered lucky because of their mourning; they are lucky because they are receiving—and will receive in fullness—the unexpected good fortune of God’s comfort in spite of their mourning now. The focus of the blessing—especially in Luke’s gospel—is on the latter portion of each Beatitude, not on the opening phrase. Luck is not in their initial conditions—of poverty and hunger and mourning and persecution—but rather in their unexpected outcomes: The kingdom of heaven in its fullness, comfort, and reward is theirs.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who paid a great price for living out his convictions and opposing an immoral military regime in World War II, wrote a landmark book called The Cost of Discipleship. Experiencing the high cost of following Jesus and His teachings in his own life, Bonhoeffer has us read these words of blessing in the shadow of the cross. Referring to Luke 6, he wrote:

Therefore Jesus calls His disciples blessed. He spoke to men who had already responded to the power of his call, and it is that call that made them poor, afflicted and hungry. He calls them blessed, not because of their privation, or the renunciation they have made, for these are not blessed themselves. Only the call and the promise … can justify the beatitudes.9

Only the call and the promise can justify the beatitudes. Not their condition but Christ’s call; not their poverty but God’s promise. Perhaps Bonhoeffer was echoing his German theological forefather Martin Luther, who also would not narrow his reading of the Beatitudes as merely a list of virtues. In Luther’s lectures on the


Sermon on the Mount, he pointed out that the people—even the crowd in Matthew’s gospel and not only the disciples in Luke’s—are not being praised for being poor or for mourning. Those are not virtues in and of themselves. They are being called blessed because the kingdom of God has come even to such as these.

The Beatitudes are chiefly an announcement, a proclamation that now, because of Jesus, everything will be different. Indeed it is already becoming different. If we can use our modern conversational expressions, we might sum up Jesus’ message like this: “Lucky you, for the kingdom of God has come to the unlikely and the unlucky.”

And yet.

There is something about being the unlikely and unlucky, the marginalized and the overlooked, that sets us up perfectly to receive what God is offering. By paying attention to what that is, we can gain the right posture of heart even if our earthly circumstances are grand and prosperous. It does, to an extent, like the rest of the Sermon (whether in Matthew or Luke), paint a picture of the type of person we become when the kingdom comes to us, the type of life God’s reign will produce in us. That is how we make sense of the blessing in Matthew’s Beatitudes on the pure in heart or the peacemakers.

To keep this book within my scope, I will not attempt to add to the already rich and historic writing on Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Instead I will constrain our conversations to the four Beatitudes found in Luke’s gospel. This will help our focus to be on how the unlikely have become lucky because of what Jesus has done and is doing in us. As we talk, in the chapters that follow, about each of the four Beatitudes in Luke 6, we will unpack two dimensions: how these particular people are lucky in spite of their conditions, and how their precise conditions prepare them to surrender to God’s reign. Woven through our conversation will also be a recovery of the call that comes with the blessing: Since we’ve become the lucky ones, we must become carriers of this blessing to others who are unlikely and unlucky in our day.

For now it is enough to see that these people, the unlikely and the unlucky, are suddenly lifted to the level of admiration—how happy for you!—because the kingdom of God has come to them. This is Christ’s announcement: The kingdom has come to unlikely, unexpected people. And for that, they are lucky indeed. Lucky with a capital L.


The Message

When Eugene Peterson, known now as the translator of the well-known and well-loved The Message Bible, pastored in the Baltimore area, there was a woman who came in a bit late, sat at the back, and sneaked out before the service was over. She had never been to church before. She was in her forties, and she dressed like a hippie whose time had past, but the joy on her face was new. Her husband was an alcoholic, her son a drug addict, and her friends relentless in persuading her to come to church. Week after week, she repeated this pattern of being fashionably late in arriving and serendipitously early in leaving.

Then Peterson taught a series on the life of David. One week in the midst of it, she decided to stay. The benediction was spoken, and there she was, still in her seat. When Peterson stood at the doors to greet people on their way out, she came to him with a look of astonishment. “Pastor, thank you. I’ve never heard that story before. I just feel so lucky,” she said. Week after week, this became her new tradition: to greet the pastor on her way out and say, surprised by the hope, the forgiveness, the redemption she had learned were hers, “I feel so lucky.”

It was that experience that made Peterson want to use the word lucky as the opening word of each Beatitude in his new translation. But he was not particularly well-known then, and the publishers were already taking an enormous risk allowing for such a modern colloquial translation. The editors got nervous and suggested he stick to the conventional word blessed even though the Greek makarios, as I’ve already noted and as Peterson insists, is not a “religious” word. It is a street-language word, not one reserved for hymns and prayers and blessings from God.

Either new editors came along or Peterson earned a little more latitude. When The Message translation of the Old Testament Wisdom Books (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs) rolled out five years later, the word lucky showed up eight times. Then the rest of the Old Testament was finished, and it showed up eleven more times.

No passage to me is more beautiful than this:

I dare to believe that the luckless will get lucky someday in you. (Ps. 10:14 MSG)



Lucky You

If Jesus were sitting across the table from you and said to you that you are blessed, that He counts you as lucky, what would you think?

That’s crazy. No, I’m not, you would insist. I’m ordinary, unspectacular. And besides, I’m too messed up; I’ve made too many mistakes. I’m the person on the fringes, the margins, the outskirts. I’m not admired or applauded, respected or rewarded. I’m just … me. And whatever that is, it’s not lucky.

Or you would be tempted to think—as so many TV preachers do—that what this means is that everything you touch will turn to gold. You are blessed, and from here on out, everything is going to work out right. You’ll never get sick, never be broke, never be troubled again. You’ll live a charmed life. Things are going to get better and better until you fly away to glory. That’s what it means to be lucky.

Both responses would be wrong.

Jesus took an inherently nonreligious word, a word from normal everyday conversations, and filled it with divine implications. It turns out the ones we ought to call lucky are the ones God is blessing with the arrival of His kingdom. In doing this, Jesus redefined who the lucky ones are. They are not the ones culture lauds as successful, not the ones we secretly aspire to be. He turned our appraisal of the good life on its head. There is a great reversal coming; indeed it has already begun. And the ones who are receiving and participating in the kingdom of God are the ones who are truly lucky, deeply blessed.

Just like the people Jesus addressed, you are called lucky not because of your poverty or your hunger or your mourning or the persecution you’re enduring. You are lucky because in spite of it, you have been invited into the kingdom. It may not mean that your circumstances will immediately change. Many who heard Jesus’ words didn’t go off and all of a sudden “discover their purpose” and become influential world changers. Many, if not most, of them kept farming. And fishing. And raising their kids and going about their lives.

And yet everything had changed. They had seen a glimpse of God at work. Their hope was now rooted in the belief that Messiah had come. All that was wrong was beginning to be undone.

So it is for you. God has come to you in the midst of your mess and mistakes. He is announcing His arrival into your ordinary unspectacular life and inviting you to follow, to surrender, to live in a different way. God is rescuing and redeeming the world, and you—unlikely you!—have somehow gotten in on it. The trajectory of your life has been altered. You now have a part in the future that God is bringing. Like Abraham, you have been blessed to carry blessing, to live as a luck-bearer to the unlikely and the unlucky. You are receiving and participating in the kingdom of God.

And for that you are lucky. So lucky!

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Who do you consider to be lucky? Who is living a charmed life? Why do you think that?

2. How does this chapter reshape your picture of the person who is to be admired?

3. How is this exposition of Luke’s Beatitudes different from the way you’ve read it in the past?

4. In what ways are you Lucky with a capital L?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Not meant to meet a Picker

Last October when we went Iowa, one of my dad's must sees was stopping in LeClaire, home to Antique Archaeology. that is the home base and shop of the American Pickers from the History Channel.


When we arrived in town, we found the small shop that used to be a gas station. If you go around the block, signs say "Keep Out - We aren't the Pickers." I guess lots of people come visit. Well, there were several cars along the narrow road out front the day we were there from several states. And it was a random Thursday in late October.

That day, there was a sign out front, leaning against their van "Closed for taping." My dad was crushed and we spent about four hours in that town in the hopes they would reopen. We went to the visitor's center and came back.We went to lunch and came back. Alas, Dad did not get to see Danielle and all her tattoo glory.

At the time, I had only seen one episode, so I was not nearly as disappointed. Since that time, I have become a fan of the show.

Fast forward to last night. Mom calls after church and asks, "guess who was in town last night?" When my mother asks that question, it could seriously anyone in the world from a relative to Matt Damon. I gave up easily.

"The Pickers! Ruth Ann said her son saw it on Facebook."

Well, I don't think I would have guessed that quickly.

They were at an Italian restaurant a block from where I ate Saturday night. I did not look closely, but I don't think their van was there at the time.

When I went to try to track comments on Facebook, I did not find anything. I did find someone's blog saying they were at Old Mexican Inn, home of the famous orange dip at lunch Sunday. My parents may have passed the parking lot with their van parked in as they went to pick up some chicken.

Dad and I seriously went out looking at the parking lots at the hotels in town to see if they were still in town. Thinking about it, I was out at the movies near the most likely hotel Saturday night.

Guess we just weren't meant to meet a Picker. I bet we know some of the people they picked.

Someone probably talked them into getting some fruitcake at Collin Street Bakery. Speaking of Corsicana institutions, I saw a minivan from Iowa in front of Caleb's Diner Friday after work. I even took a picture and sent it to Paige as a part of our license plate game. I bet it was their advance scouting crew or the camera guys.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

And the award goes to...

Due to a series of events, I just really needed a night out. A chance to girl talk, eat out and see a movie. Have I mentioned that I love my Jenny?

And in a way that only girls do, we were trying to decide what movie to see based not on the storyline or previews but the guy factor.

And the nominees are...

Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau


Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate us? Matt Damon stars in the thriller The Adjustment Bureau as a man who glimpses the future Fate has planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he's ever loved across, under and through the streets of modern-day New York. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)-a woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realizes he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against the agents of Fate itself-the men of The Adjustment Bureau-who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from being together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept a predetermined path...or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her.

Bradley Cooper in Limitless


Aspiring author Eddie Morra is suffering from chronic writer's block, but his life changes instantly when an old friend introduces him to NZT, a revolutionary new pharmaceutical that allows him to tap his full potential. With every synapse crackling, Eddie can recall everything he has ever read, seen or heard, learn any language in a day, comprehend complex equations and beguile anyone he meets - as long as he keeps taking the untested drug. Soon Eddie takes Wall Street by storm, parlaying a small stake into millions. His accomplishments catch the eye of mega-mogul Carl Van Loon, who invites him to help broker the largest merger in corporate history. But they also bring Eddie to the attention of people willing to do anything to get their hands on his stash of NZT. With his life in jeopardy and the drug's brutal side effects taking their toll, Eddie dodges mysterious stalkers, a vicious gangster and an intense police investigation as he attempts to hang on to his dwindling supply long enough to outwit his enemies.

Matthew McConaughey in The Lincoln Lawyer


Mickey Haller is a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who operates out of the back of his Lincoln sedan. Haller has spent most of his career defending garden-variety criminals, until he lands the case of his career: defending Louis Roulet, a Beverly Hills playboy accused of rape and attempted murder. But the seemingly straightforward case suddenly develops into a deadly game of survival for Haller.

And the winner is...

Me. Because I got out of the house, had some Fiesta Grill and therapy with a friend before watching anyone of these movies.

I took a poll on Facebook asking who we should see. Matthew McC got the votes, but Jenny said he just didn't look that hot anymore.

I didn't think I could do the Limitless storyline. Matt Damon's the real favorite anyway. I saw previews of the other two in before The Adjustment Bureau started. The Lincoln Lawyer actually looked like the best story. And it seems to have gotten better reviews than the others. And I find out in the previews (though I only saw his name, not him) that Josh Lucas was in it. I love him. I love his blue eyes.

I did enjoy the movie despite the fact that I don't know what the writer was on when he came up with the plot. He might have been on whatever that guy took in Limitless. Matt Damon was good. And it was easier to actually follow than a Bourne movie can be. It was just bizarre. At least there weren't aliens though.

Friday, March 18, 2011

A Preview of Handle with Prayer


Thanks to everyone who participated in today's tour!

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

David C. Cook; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dr. Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and founder of In Touch Ministries, demonstrates a keen awareness of people’s needs by providing practical Biblical truths for everyday life. His In Touch teaching program is broadcast worldwide in more than 50 languages. Dr. Stanley is also a New York Times best-selling author who has written more than 35 books, including: In Step with God, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Living the Extraordinary Life, A Man’s Touch, Handle With Prayer, How to Listen to God, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?, The Gift of Forgiveness, How to Keep Your Kids on Your Team, The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, The Source of My Strength, How to Handle Adversity, The Blessing of Brokenness, Success God’s Way, The Handbook for Christian Living, Into His Presence, and When Tragedy Strikes.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Originally released in 2000, this book has already sold over 250,000 copies and now it features new artwork, an enhanced study guide, and updated content to connect with today’s readers. Using stories from his own life, Dr. Stanley engages readers with his insight and truthfulness. According to Dr. Stanley, “Jesus encourages us to pray. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. We ask for things, we seek understanding, and we knock on doors of opportunity that lie before us. The Lord is saying that in every area of life we can find what we are looking for by talking to the heavenly Father.”


Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781404460
ISBN-13: 978-0781404464

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Unveiling the Hidden


Moreover the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it; the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. —Jeremiah 33:1–3


As I was praying one afternoon in 1967, I began feeling as if God had something very specific to say to me. The more I prayed, the more the burden increased. I decided to take an early vacation and spend the time seeking God’s guidance. I went to the mountains of North Carolina for two weeks, intent on finding out what God was saying to me.


I spent the majority of the time fasting and praying. I waited, expecting God to follow up the burden with an answer. To my surprise, He pointed out areas in my life that needed correcting. The entire two weeks was a period of personal cleansing and preparation for what was to come.


I returned home excited, but still unsure. It was as if there were a veil that kept me from knowing the unknown. I felt that the answer was close, but it was still out of my grasp. Then one

afternoon soon afterward, I was on my face before the Lord, and the veil lifted. God wanted me to start a school. I hesitated to commit myself to such a task, but God made it clear to me that His instructions were to be obeyed, not just considered. He unveiled the hidden to me when I called on Him to do so, and He showed me the things I did not know. God was faithful—even to the point of preparing my heart for what He had to say.


God desires to make known the unknown to His children. He desires to unveil the hidden. Yet many times we are satisfied not knowing. Either we aren’t willing to take the time to wait, or

we aren’t sure God even wants us to know. But this command to Jeremiah speaks specifically to both of these problems. We are to call, we are to expect an answer, and we are to know the unknown. Let’s look at the background of this Scripture in Jeremiah (33:1–3).


The Babylonians are coming toward Jerusalem from the feast. They have already defeated the Assyrians, so the people off Jerusalem know they don’t stand much of a chance against their superior military strength. The leaders of Jerusalem believed they should align themselves with the Egyptians, which was the logical thing to do. But Jeremiah tells them, “God says you are going into captivity. What you really ought to do is go out there and surrender.” Well, this wasn’t at all what the leaders had in mind. They threw Jeremiah in prison and refused to listen to him.


Their reaction should not surprise us. What do you think the people in my congregation would do if I stood up next Sunday and said, “God says the Canadians are going to overthrow this nation. We might as well surrender now and save ourselves some trouble”? They would run me out of town! But this was exactly the situation Jeremiah found himself in. From his experience, he gives us a passage (33:1–3) that helps us understand how to talk with God.


Encouraged to Pray

We can obtain three prayer principles from Jeremiah 33:3 by listening to what God told Jeremiah. The first is that God encourages us to pray: “Call unto me.” Since Jeremiah was in prison, he had a long time to catch up on his prayer life. We may never be put behind bars, but God will put us in circumstances and situations in order to teach us how to talk with Him.


Most of the time we pray, “Get me out of here!” We want to avoid suffering and difficulty. When we do run into a trial or difficulty, we ask God to change our circumstances so we can serve Him better and love Him more.


But we cannot fool God or bribe Him with our promises. Jeremiah didn’t even ask God to get him out of prison. Rather, he waited to see what God would say to him. And what was God’s

reply? “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3). What God did for Jeremiah had a far greater impact than simply getting him out of prison.


But most of us aren’t that patient. We’re more intent on getting out of our circumstances than we are on finding out what great things God wants to show us. But the Father never allows

difficulty just for the sake of difficulty—there is always a higher purpose involved. The problem is we cannot always identify God’s higher purpose in the midst of our trials. That’s when we must exercise our faith by waiting on His word to us.


A good friend of mine who was a real estate broker experienced a seven-year period of financial failure. The loss of his security devastated him. It became the constant focus of his thoughts and prayers. “Why doesn’t God do something?” he would ask me. For a while, we were both puzzled.


But after some intense soul searching, he realized that he had substituted financial security for God in his life. The Father wanted to be recognized as the Source of all things in my friend’s life. As he began renewing his mind spiritually and yielding his rights to the Lord, my friend gained a new freedom in his attitude toward finances. He started a new career and found greater financial blessing than ever before.


God had a great and mighty lesson to teach my friend—a lesson more important than keeping him comfortable. And God kept him uncomfortable until he took his eyes off his circumstances and sought God’s mind in the matter.


Waiting is not easy. We often turn away from seeking God’s counsel and seek guidance from friends and loved ones. We read books, attend seminars, and talk with others, trying to find out what God has to say to us. Usually, after we’ve exhausted all other possibilities, we turn back to the Lord and wait on Him. By doing this, it’s as if we are saying to God, “Now that I’ve tried everything else and failed, I’ve decided I need You after all.”


But God wants us to come to Him first. He wants us to stand in His counsel and wait for His word. He longs for us to come to Him as a son would to his father. But instead, we go to Him last, as if we don’t trust Him or consider His word of much value. Yet He is the only trustworthy Source of counsel we have. He is our most available and accessible Friend. He will never give us a busy signal—even if He frequently gets busy signals when He tries talking to us.


God entreats us to pray because He knows we are often caught in prisons of our own making; not prisons with bars and locks, but intellectual prisons, emotional prisons, and relational prisons. We must remember that the shortest distance between our problems and their solutions is the distance between our knees and the floor.


Answer Promised

Second, God told Jeremiah, “I will answer thee.” Sometimes we make commitments that we cannot keep. Though we may do this unintentionally, there are times when we disappoint those who are counting on us. But God never disappoints—when He says He will do something, it will be done.


God promises He will not only hear our prayers, but He will answer them. This brings up two interesting questions: Does God always answer our prayers? Or does He respond to certain kinds of prayer? Think about the requests you have made of God recently. Are they being answered? Do you really believe they will be? You see, the question is not Does God answer prayer? The real question is How does God answer prayer? Sometimes He answers yes. This is usually the only answer we hear. If God says, “Yes,” then we believe He answered. If He says, “No,” we think He ignored our request.


God’s Answers

When God answers our prayers, He either answers with yes, no, or wait. When He answers yes, we are prone to shout, “Praise the Lord!” We tell everyone what a great thing God has done for us.


But when God says no, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him. We look for the sin in our lives that kept Him from granting our requests, because surely if we had been living right He would have given us what we asked. But not one shred of scriptural evidence shows that God will say yes to all of our prayers just because we’re living right. God is sovereign. He has the right to say no according to His infinite wisdom, regardless of our goodness.


We try to manipulate God by our humanistic “if then” philosophy. If we live good, clean lives, then God must (we believe) grant our hearts’ desires. But such attempts to manipulate God defeat the whole purpose of Christianity, which is to glorify Him through our submissive obedience to His desires. Besides, if our goodness was the only factor God considered, where would His grace fit in? Many times His grace is what motivates Him to say no.


God only says no and wait when it is best for us (Rom. 8:28). He does it many times for our protection. Sometimes God wants to answer our prayers, but the timing is not right. For example, in the past, many couples wanting to marry came to me for counseling. Sometimes I would advise them to wait. Some would heed my advice, while others sought counsel from those who told them what they wanted to hear. You and I have the same choice over and over again. Will we wait on God for His perfect timing, or will we rush ahead?


We don’t like waiting around. Especially when it looks like a unique opportunity might slip away. We don’t like to hear God say, “No,” especially when everything in us says, “Yes, yes, yes!” We often try to find a Scripture verse and claim it while we continue our prayer, hoping somehow to change God’s mind. What we’re really saying is, “God, I didn’t like that answer. How about reconsidering my point of view?”


But deep in our hearts we really want God’s perfect will for our lives. And we must remember that God’s answer is always His ultimate best for us. Claiming Scripture will not change God’s mind because His Word cannot contradict His will. If He says no, then the answer is no. If He says wait, then we should wait. God is more interested in our character, our future, and our sanctification than He is in our momentary satisfaction. His answers are always an act of grace, motivated by His love.


Our Response

Our response to God’s answers reveals one of two things about us. It will reveal either a rebellious spirit or a submissive spirit. By accepting God’s answer, despite the fact that we may not understand, we express a submissive spirit. But by refusing His first answer and trying to get our way by manipulation, we express a rebellious spirit.


If we refuse God’s answers when they don’t fit in with our plans, then we are trying to use God for our purposes. But if we graciously accept His answers—no matter what they are—He will use us for His glory.


The Hidden Revealed

The third principle we can obtain from this verse comes from “I will … show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” All of us face decisions that leave us baffled. We are constantly bombarded with relational decisions, business decisions, household decisions, and financial decisions—and these all need immediate attention. In this verse, God promises to reveal the answer to all of life’s decisions. Yet many of God’s people spend their entire lives making decisions based on their knowledge, their understanding, and their experience—not realizing that some decisions must be based on divine wisdom and illumination from God.


Almost any preacher can prepare a sermon. He can write an outline, gather a few stories, and away he goes. But a preacher cannot get God’s message for a people until he waits in the Lord’s counsel, until he seeks God’s face, and until God gives him a word from heaven (Jer. 23:21–22).


This same principle applies to every Christian. We can pay the price required to find God’s mind on an issue, or we can make a decision based on what we think is right. Either way, a decision will eventually be made. But while one decision may have the approval of man, the other will have the eternal approval of God.


Sometimes we flip a coin (spiritually speaking) and say, “Lord, this is what I’m going to do. If it is of You, then bless it. If I’m wrong, then better luck next time.” Instead of waiting, we jump ahead and hope we have done the right thing. The point is this: As Christians, we never have to guess—we can know for sure what to do. God wants us to know His will about things, even more than we want to know it. But He cannot—and will not—bless anything we do that is not of Him.


So what does He mean when He says, “I will … show thee great and mighty things”? Every time we pray to God, seeking His will, there are two things He wants to show us: He wants to show us Himself (Phil. 3:7–8), and He wants to show us what He is able to do (John 15:16). Is there anything greater than seeking God and knowing His power?


We Are to Seek His Face

Because God wants to reveal Himself to us, and because our goal as Christians is to know Him, we should begin our time in prayer saying, “Lord, thank You that You are omnipotent. Thank You that You are omniscient and know everything I am about to tell You. Thank You that You are omnipresent, and You are not separated from me. As I come into Your presence, I humble myself before Your throne to thank You for Your holiness, Your forgiveness, and Your mercy. I acknowledge You as the great Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of mankind. Father, I am coming to You, recognizing Your greatness and Your holiness. I bow before You as Your child, knowing that You are more than sufficient to meet my needs.”


This is the spirit in which we should come into God’s presence. But instead, we come first with our needs and usually don’t have enough time for anything else. We never stop long enough to recognize that God wants to show us Himself when we pray.


He Shows Us His Power

God also wants to show us what He is able and willing to do for us. He does this through His Word. He reminds us of what He has done in the past. He gives us example after example in Scripture of how He met people’s needs and how He protected them. And the Father is willing to do the same thing for us, if we will only ask.


The word mighty in this passage means hidden things, things that are fenced in. This word is used when referring to fortified cities. God is showing us that as we pray, He will unveil insights for us that have previously been a mystery.


This also implies that some answers will be found only in prayer, not from other sources—not from books, friends, or counselors. Some things must come straight from God, who is the

Source of all wisdom. How many families would still be together today if they had sought God’s answers to their problems at home? How many sons and daughters would still be at home if their parents had taken their situation to the Lord? Too often we refuse to wait on God’s answers. We want quick solutions to our problems.


But God wants to do much more than just meet our needs and answer our questions. He wants our love. He wants our spirits— He wants our lives. Yes, He encourages us to bring our trials and our heartaches to Him in prayer, but only after we recognize who He is and what He can do. Only then do we believe He will answer our prayers. Only then are we seeking His face and not merely His hand.


As a pastor, many times I go to God for answers that can be found only in Him. Sometimes He shows me something for today, and sometimes He shows me something that will happen in the next week or month. But I’ve never been to God about anything that He did not willingly answer. He does not always answer my prayers according to my time schedule, but He always answers on time.


Back in 1969 when I was preaching a weeklong revival meeting in Virginia, I once again felt that God had something specific to say to me. Each night after the service I retired to my room early to pray. One evening, I pulled out a pad and drew a circle with five lines leading from it. At the end of each line, I wrote several things I thought God might desire to reveal to me. On the last line I drew a question mark, thinking maybe it was something I had not thought of.


The following night I came back to my room with the same burden. As I prayed and looked over the possibilities, God made it clear that He was going to move me. I asked Him when, and the month of September flashed into my mind. This happened in May of 1969, but I thought He meant September of 1970. A few months later, however, a pulpit committee from the First Baptist Church of Atlanta came to see me. On September 30, 1969, my family and I moved to Atlanta. God revealed this to me ahead of time in order to prepare my heart. He unveiled what was hidden when I called on Him to do so.


Regardless of what circumstances you are up against, there is no knowledge you will ever need that is not accessible before the throne of our living, loving, holy, righteous God. He has promised to show you the great, the hidden, and the unknown things that you will never be able to understand any other way. There are some things you will never be able to know (Deut. 29:29), but all the knowledge you will ever need is available to you if you ask God.


He desires to illuminate your mind and heart until you are conscious of Christ’s mind within you. He wants you to say no to the world on the basis of your faith in Him. It is then that you feel an extra sense of power when you share with others. You no longer depend entirely on circumstances for God to teach you lessons. Instead, you learn straight from Him through His Word. You have a new excitement in your relationship with God because you have learned to listen as He speaks to you.


Submission Required

You must be submissive to God to the point of absolute obedience— regardless of what He asks of you. Why? Because if our heavenly Father continues to answer our prayers, and we have certain conditions on which we obey, then He is nothing more than a giant Santa Claus. If He were to continue to bless us regardless of our rebellion, we would be using Him for our ends, not His. Submission is essential.


If you have been seeking God’s will for a long time and you seem to be getting nowhere, examine your heart. See if there is any area of your life that is not totally surrendered to Him. By settling this issue, you will put yourself in a position that will allow the Father to bless you. The quicker you move from your will to His will, the quicker God will show you what you need to know. Since God gives us His Word for obedience, not just consideration, He must be assured that you have submitted yourself completely before He will let you in on His secrets.


Are you facing a decision in your life that is too big for you to handle? Are you going through some difficulty that has left you confused and disheartened? God said, “Call unto me, and I will

answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” As you seek God’s face, understanding who He is and what He is willing and able to do, He will clear away all the mist that surrounds your circumstances. He will show you what to do. Are you willing to say yes to whatever He requires? If so, you have taken the first step in learning to talk with God.


Session 1

Unveiling the Hidden

Chapter 1


Session Goals

1. To assess our individual prayer lives to see if we really expect God to answer our prayers.

2. To take a long look at our ideas of what God is like, how He feels about people, and what He is willing to do for them.

3. To determine to say yes to whatever God requires of us.


Preparation

1. As you read Handle with Prayer, jot down the main kernels of truth in each chapter. Then study chapter 1.

2. Plan your session time carefully to include the Bible teaching about prayer, which should lead into the practicing of prayer in the session.

3. Assemble any teaching tools: whiteboard or chalkboard, markers or chalk.


Discussion

1. Help people get acquainted by asking each member to turn to the person next to him or her and to sum up his or her prayer philosophy in ten words or less. End with the question: “Do

you agree?” Partners respond with his or her own thinking on prayer. Don’t ask group members to aim for theological definitions, just responses from their personal experiences. Expect

negative as well as positive philosophies, since these sessions are expected to clear up misconceptions about prayer as well as give positive insights—all from the Word.


After this short exercise, point out that no matter what our present philosophies of prayer are, we all want to learn to pray effectively. But we won’t learn how unless we obey God’s instructions (as opposed to our own reactions, ideas, experiential knowledge) and respond to Him according to His will.


2. Ask the group to turn to Jeremiah 33:1–3. Explain: “The Babylonians were coming toward Jerusalem from the east. They had already defeated the Assyrians, so the people of Jerusalem

knew they didn’t stand much of a chance against such a superior military power. The leaders of Jerusalem believed they should align with the Egyptians. But Jeremiah told them, ‘God says you are going into captivity. What you really ought to do is believe God, go out, and surrender to the Babylonians.’”


The outraged leaders, thinking Jeremiah was a traitor, threw him in prison and refused to listen to his warning. Jeremiah probably wasn’t too surprised at the leaders’ reaction. But what would God say to him now? He had obeyed the Lord, and he

was in prison because of it—what next?


Why do you think God reaffirmed His identity to Jeremiah (v. 2)? What three prayer principles did He give Jeremiah (v. 3)?Discuss.


3. Explain that Jeremiah was in a real prison. We may be in figurative ones constructed out of circumstances or predicaments, but the bars are just as strong and the walls just as high.


When we are in our prisons, how do we usually pray? Discuss.


According to Scripture, Jeremiah didn’t ask God for anything. Rather, he waited to see what God had to say to him.


If we’re in our prisons because God needs to get our attention to teach us lessons, what is the quickest way to get out? Discuss.


Deliverance comes as we examine our hearts to find what God wants to teach us. When we learn our lessons, He will free us. Nothing is too hard for Him.


What should we do if we cannot identify God’s purpose in a particular trial? Why is waiting on God so difficult? Discuss.


4. Does God always answer our prayers? Discuss the three ways God answers: yes, no, or wait. Do you agree: “God will always answer yes, if we are living right”? God is sovereign. He answers depending on what He knows is best for us.


How do we sometimes try to manipulate Him into saying yes? Sometimes we think: If I do this, then God will do that. Or we plead a verse of Scripture that seems on target for our case and hope God will change His mind.


Why does God sometimes say no? Remind the group that the whole purpose of Christianity is to glorify God through our submissive obedience to His desires. He says no when it’s for

our best interest (Rom. 8:28). God is more interested in our character, future, and sanctification than in our momentary gratification.


When God says wait, what choice does He give us? What do our responses to God’s answers reveal about us?


5. What two things does God always want to show us when we seek to know His will? Refer to Philippians 3:7–8 and John 15:16. How does God show us what He is able and willing to

do? Answers might come through His Word, through our own experiences, and through the experiences of others.


What is the one condition God’s unveiling rests on? Why is submission necessary?


6. Explain: “If we hear these truths and don’t practice them, we become like the person who wants to learn to drive a car without ever sitting in the driver’s seat. The person reads the

training manual, learns all the rules of the road, but never actually sits behind the wheel.”


We want to move prayer into the reality of our present circumstances. During our times together, we will be using different prayer methods: silent prayers, group prayers, volunteer

prayers, written prayers, etc. Today because of the nature of the subject, we will use silent individual prayers.


7. If God has seemed silent to you about something you have prayed for a long time, examine your heart. Are you harboring unconfessed sin? If you will submit now, you will move quickly into the attitude in which God will unfold for you some of the things you need to know.


Are you facing a decision that is too big for you to handle? Have you gone through some difficulty that has left you confused and disheartened? Read Jeremiah 33:3 again. Seek God’s face, understand who He is, and believe He will clear away all the mist that surrounds your circumstances.


Are you willing to say yes to whatever He requires of you?


8. Spend time in silent prayer as individuals open up their hearts to God. Close with an appropriate prayer of submissive victory.