“The Ancient Path” by John Michael Talbot

talbot bookLet me start off by saying I have always been a huge fan of John Michael Talbot’s music and have loved his other books. He had an impact on my life when I was in college and seminary. His music is incredibly worshipful.

Therefore, I really wanted to like this book. I had a certain mindset of how this book would be like from his previous writings, This was different. What made his other books work for me was the sharing of his life and some of this thought. This book was heavy into his theology and just a little of his life. Most people are usually drawn to him and want to know more of his story. This book had some of that, but not enough for me. I think the average person will become lost in his discussion of the Early Father’s writings and theology.

You can tell he is a “thinker” and does not take his relationship with God lightly, and I appreciate that. There are parts that make you stop and rethink some things in your own life. I always like it when an author has that kind of impact. Overall this book was an interesting read, but it helps to have some knowledge of theology. I am not sure the average person looking to remember John Michael Talbot will read all of the book. I think they will skip to the parts of his actual life and make this a quick read.

This book was given to me by logo

for a review

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The Art of Receiving

This past week I had a friend who gave me a vintage Esterbrook fountain pen. I have a deep love for fountain pens, both old and new. What made the gift even more special is that he had painstakingly restored it himself. I knew how much time and effort he had put in. The pen had a beautiful blue luster when he had finished with it. Blue is my favorite color and especially on fountain pens. I offered to pay him for the pen, but he quickly refused. It was a gift. To treat it any differently would have offended him.

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I learned something about myself. My personality coupled with my calling as a Minister is to serve. I am happiest when I am doing something for others. However, I learned that I struggle when someone does something for me. I am not complaining, but I am usually not on the receiving end of gifts. I realized that I have a hard time with this. It is a lot easier for me to give someone a gift or do something for someone than to receive. I always feel like I should somehow compensate them. There is a real art to receiving a gift and being grateful. I need to work on that.  I think we all feel this way at times.

This got me to thinking about salvation. We have a hard time receiving God’s gift as well. I see people all of the time trying to do things so they can deserve their salvation. They are constantly truing to win God’s love by doing things they think He wants them to do. The greater the value of the gift the more we want to try and compensate for it. Our salvation is a gift. There is nothing we can do that would ever be enough to compensate for what Jesus did for us on the cross. When my friend gave me the pen; I had to stop trying to pay him back and just receive the gift. It is the same with our salvation. I have to let go and receive the gift.

Every time I use this pen I will think of my friend and how special it was to get a gift like this. What reminds you of the free gift of salvation that God gave you? There are markers in my spiritual life and the ordnance of the Lord’s Supper is one of them. It is a great time for remembering.  How closely related is learning to receive a gift connected to salvation?

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Learning To Trust The Artist

Living in the Memphis, Tn area I enjoy going to the Dixon Art Museum. During the summer months they have “Food Truck Fridays” and nothing is better! My favorite section in the museum is the area where they display the Impressionist paintings. By definition Impressionist art is a style in which the artist captures the image of an object as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it. They paint the pictures with a lot of color and most of their pictures are outdoor scenes. Their pictures are very bright and vibrant. The artists like to capture their images without detail but with bold colors. They use short, fat strokes.  What does this really mean? For me, I love the fact that when I am close to the painting it is fuzzy and unclear, but the further back I move the clearer the painting gets and you can almost see the waves in the water move. It is magical to me. I do not know how they accomplish their art.

monetI was thinking the other day about life. Some times we are in seasons when everything seems blurry. I can see the basic shape and some color, but the true beauty of the picture is not there. Life happens to us, people disappoint us, and we hear the word cancer. Another stroke of the brush on our canvas. I sat today with a lady whose sister is on hospice; another stroke of the brush. We look for clarity, but we cannot find it. All we can see are the blobs of paint. Nothing makes sense. There are usually some bright colors mixed in during these times, but we have a hard time focusing on them. A splash of color comes by an unexpected lunch with a friend, warmth of family, and people praying for us that we do not even know.

We all have seasons like this. I find that when this happens for me I have to go away and spend some extended time in prayer. I have a special place I go to where I can spend the whole day in prayer. I always come away with a better perspective. I can see better, but not perfect. I wish that I could tell you this is where I always start when these seasons come, but I do try to end up there.

I have to trust and rely on the Artist. God is painting my life with His brush strokes and only He is able to see the picture from a distance. He knows how each stroke is going to produce a painting that I could not imagine. Trusting the Artist is not always easy. Like everyone else, I want to see everything perfectly. I want to see the reflections and the waves dancing. However, on this side of heaven we never get to see the final art. We see glimpses, but there will come a day when we get to step back and see the final product. We will look with amazement and say “Wow, I had no idea.” The short fat ugly strokes we see close up will make up a beautiful picture.

I do not know what is going on in your life, but trust the Artist.

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Connection Time

historical_museumMy daughter and I spent part of her Spring Break reconnecting with a couple of relatives and exploring a historic museum. She has done a lot of work in researching our family history and compiling pictures.  When I asked her what she wanted to do for her week off she said she wanted to meet a particular couple in our family and go to the Tippah County Historical Museum.  Not your average Spring Break trip, but then we are not your average family either.

We started the day with our family and had a great time reconnecting, getting pictures, and hearing some stories. We spent the night in Ripley, MS. and then the next day we went to the museum. It was a nice surprise. They had done an excellent job collecting items and setting up displays in the different rooms. My daughter was able to scan some pictures, swap some pictures with the people in the museum, and gather some time lines she needed.

She and I had a great time relaxing and hanging out with just the two of us. Love it when these times happen.

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“Jesus Continued” by J.D. Greear

UnknownThis was the first book I have read by this author. I found his writing style easy to read and I will look for additional books he has written.

Writing a book about the Holy Spirit is not an easy thing to do. Every denomination has there ideas of how the Holy Spirit is supposed to work. There are extremes in all of the view points. I think J.D. Greear provides a balanced and Biblical view of the Holy Spirit and how He works.

He divides the book into three main sections: Part 1 “The Missing Spirit,” Part 2 “Experiencing the Holy Spirit,” and Part 3 “Seeking the Holy Spirit”.  Most books written on this subject are hard to understand and use words that the average person will not know. J. D. Greear does a good job of explaining the basics of the Holy Spirit in a way most people will grasp what he is trying to convey. You may not agree with all of his view points, but I doubt there is any one writer whom everyone will agree with on this subject. I found myself underlining sections several times as I was reading. This is a great book to recommend to friends, people in your bible study class, and people who are wanting to know more about this subject without getting bogged down in a lot of what may be new vocabulary. If you are looking for a book that will give you a basic understanding of the Holy Spirit; then this is a great book for you.

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Why I Moved To An E-reader

imagesIn this day and age you may be wondering why anyone would still buy a dedicated e-reader. I had not given an e-reader much thought until the last couple of months. Let me explain.

This year as I was setting my goals I wanted something different and something that would engage me. I set a goal to read 1,000 books in ten years.  I am fifty-five and this would carry me close to my retirement age. I may write a blog post on the details of this goal and more of the why in the future. Today I want to write about the e-reader.

I love reading a physical book. However, carrying a physical book  with me all of time is not practical. Because of this goal I always want some form of a book with me. You will be surprised how much you can do with 5 minutes. I own a Mac, iPhone 6Plus, and a iPad. So why would I need to add something else to the mix? I soon found out my iPad would not keep up and stay charged. My iPad took what seemed forever to recharge and I did not want to drain my phone. Therefore, I began to look for other options.  After much researching I landed on the Kindle Voyage. Most of the books I get digitally are discounted or free, and they come from Amazon. Therefore, looking at the Kindle made sense.

The Voyage was delivered and I opened the package. It was much smaller than I expected. The actual size of the device was about 6 inches, but the screen size was around 4.5 inches. Since the Voyage was here I decided to put the e-reader through the paces. Here are my thoughts.

I grew to like the size of Voyage. It fits easy into one hand and is super thin and light. After a few minutes of using the Voyage I began to enjoy the size.  I found reading on the Voyage easier than on the iPhone due to the fact that the iPhone was long and thin. The Voyage mimics the size of a small paperback which I like. I was also interested in the E-ink. You would think the color on the iPad would be easier, but my eyes seemed to like the black and white experience. The research points out neither is bad for your eyes, but some people will prefer one over the other.

I had  a couple of  unexpected benefits with the e-reader as well. I was able to quickly get lost in the reading of the book. I am not sure why, but it was better. Maybe it was a color issue compared to the E-ink. I also found myself reading more. I do know why this was true for me. All you can do on this device is read. That is it. Nothing else.  With my iPad and or iPhone checking email or looking something up on the internet was too easy. Thirty minutes had passed before I realized I had not been reading. I know this is part discipline and part ADD, but it was a factor.

Are there any drawbacks? I found one this weekend. When I bought my e-reader I opted not to pay the extra $20 to turn off the advertising. Not a big deal. The advertising only shows up as a screen savor and never interfered with the reading. This past Sunday the book Amazon kept pushing was 50 Shades of Gray.  As a Minister I did not want this in my house for my family to see. I always carry my reader to work with me and most people would not realize this was an advertisement and would think I had downloaded the book instead.  I do not use a cover on my Voyage so you can see the screen at all times. It feels better in my hand without the cover. I emailed Amazon and expressed my feelings about the situation and how I could not carry it to work. They responded back in a couple of hours and told me how to go into my settings and remove the book from showing up. They also offered to take away the advertising on my device at their expense. I took them up on their offer. Kudos to Amazon for a quick response and for absorbing the cost to change my device.

Overall I am happy with my Kindle. I still prefer reading a paperback, but the Kindle offers a more pleasant reading experience than my iPad or iPhone. Your milage may vary as the saying goes. I chose the Voyage over the PaperWhite because of the higher resolution. I am not sure you could tell much difference between the two, but there is no way to compare them side by side. The box stores in my area only stock the PaperWhite. I knew I would be reading a lot so I decided to try the Voyage and I am happy with my choice.

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We Are All Torn Between Two Worlds

As I was reading the account leading up to the last Passover Jesus would spend with HIs disciples I noticed two opposite people in His world. The first was Mary the woman who came and worshiped Him, broke the alabaster of perfume and poured it on Him. She was a part of His inner circle and that would have placed her near Him all the time. Her life had been changed. She was a different person and all her heart could do was worship Him. She gave one of her most precious and expensive gifts to Jesus. Nothing was good enough to give Him. She “got it”.

Contrast that in the following verses with Judas who was conspiring to betray Jesus. Here was a man who was in the inner circle of Jesus also.  He saw all of the same and more of the miracles, the healings, and he listened to all of the teachings of Jesus. With all of this advantage over Mary; he did not “get it”. Nothing was more important than the pursuit of money. Greed encompasses more than just money. It affects every area of our life.  His character had not changed. No matter how much time he spent doing religious things he never made a decision to truly follow Jesus. The contrast between the two shows up in worship.

Before we pile on Judas we need to stop and evaluate where we are in life as well. Maybe we have made the decision to follow Jesus, but is it evidenced in our worship? We can attend church multiple times a week, sit in a Bible study, listen to a sermon and still not be right in our relationship with Jesus. We can have the Jesus here and now all around us and still miss out. The key is our daily walk with God. When I am not reading my Bible to hear personally from God and spending time praying and talking with God; then I am missing the important part of the relationship. Where does this show up? In my worship.

imagesRemember the first story? Nothing was enough for Mary to show her love for Jesus. She was not focused on anything other than Him. She gave sacrificially our of love for what had happened in her heart. Judas? Just the opposite. He was focused on everything but Jesus. Every Sunday across America ministers hear all of the trappings of unfocused worship. The music was too loud. I could not hear the music. I was too cold. I was too hot. The preacher went overtime. I don’t like that kind of music. The preacher is too evangelistic. The preacher was boring. You get the picture.

Yes, we all have preferences, but that is all they are, just preferences. A heart that is truly focused is not overly concerned about all of those things. What happens during the week comes out in our worship on Sunday morning. We need to make sure that we do not miss Jesus. There is more to worship than just showing up. There are days when we are torn between the two worlds.

What can you do this week to make sure you are ready for worship?

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“Ask It” by Andy Stanley

coverWhat I always like about Andy Stanley’s books are the fact that they are easy to read, but have very practical advice. I think this is what most people are looking for in this day and age.

He starts off with the statement “most of our problems in life happen are gradual.” Situations that are not wrong, but may not be the best. The “question” Andy refers to is found in the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers. Ephesians 5:15-17 states, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” Andy walks us through different life situations and shows us how to apply the “question”.

We have all been in situations where we do not know what to do next. The question gives us some insight of what we need to do. The problem is most of us will not slow down and use the question when we need to. Sure we think about what we should do when we are stuck in a problem. However, we do not think about it when we face temptations.

I think this is one of those books everybody should read, but especially youth and college students. This book could save them a lot of heartache and misery for the future.

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I was given a copy of this book by Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review.

Posted in Book Reviews, Religion | 1 Comment

Bible Reading Plan for the New Year

I love this time of year and the whole idea of starting over and the excitement of what lies ahead. Each year I always pick a new Bible reading plan to try out. I have done everything from chronological to reading the Bible completely through in 90 days. This year I am doing something different with my Bible reading plan. I saw this option and thought I would give it a try. You pick a book of the Bible and you read the entire book all the way through each day for 20 days straight. At the end of that time you pick out another book and do the same thing. They suggest starting with a short book and working your way up.  I have started with I Thessalonians since I am teaching that on Sunday mornings. I am looking forward to seeing how becoming immersed in a book like this will be. I am also journaling each day to see what new thing God shows me.  I will let you know how it goes, but I am excited about this.

What is your plan and why did you choose it?

Have a great year.

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The Sneakers – by Mark LaGrone

Exciting for me this is my first fictional short story that has been published! I was not sure what to write so I Googled “trigger words” and picked the word “sneakers”.   I hope you enjoy the story.

The Sneakers

by Mark LaGrone

 

Standing next to the trashcan, his hand hovered above the dark hole. How could he just nonchalantly drop them into the bucket like leftover coffee grounds? He looked intently at the shoes. He remembered the first time he pulled them from the box. They were bright and shiny and had that awakening smell of new leather. Now they looked more like a shoe version of the velveteen rabbit. Why was this so hard? They were just an ordinary pair of sneakers, nothing special. His mind drifted back to the day he first saw them.

He had seen them in the window. Nothing in particular made them stand out. They were dull by some standards. Yet, something triggered a feeling inside him. Maybe it was a throwback to his childhood or some form of subtle advertising that reached only his subconscious, he did not even remember. But oh, that feeling of oneness and comfort; it was like meeting someone for the first time, yet feeling like you’d known them all your life. He just knew he had to have them no matter what they cost.

Five years out of college and he still dressed like he was a sophomore: jeans, t-shirt and sneakers. Who needed more than that? Change and growing up was hard. Not wanting to conform, but still not wanting to stay the same. A lot of life had happened since the first day that the shoes came out of the box. Gradually his peers had transitioned their wardrobes. His best friend from high school, Toby, was not even recognizable. He always had longer hair, not quite ponytail length, but longer than the average man’s. He looked as if he should be on the cover of a Nashville music album, scruffy stubble on his thin muscular face, ripped jeans and shirt halfway tucked into his jeans. After graduation, Toby had landed a job in a law office, and suddenly he changed overnight. Toby became Tobias. The hair, corporate cut; face, clean-shaven; nails, manicured; clothing, Brooks Brothers and Hugo Boss. His friends were making changes and growing; why did he hate it so?

His sneakers were still new and could be worn to events, especially by a recent college graduate. Getting married seemed to be the only traditional thing he was doing in his life. The ceremony was a casual affair held in the park where they met. There were no creases in the leather, yet somehow it seemed appropriate to start their marriage relationship together wearing his sneakers. He looked at his bride and wondered how God had blessed him with such an unbelievable person. They had started dating his senior year in high school and continued their relationship through college. She was a vital part of everything on campus: cheerleader, Editor of the paper, and high-ranking member of some sorority whose Greek letters he could never remember. She was outgoing and the exact opposite of him. He preferred to stay in the shadows. He only had three real friends growing up, but they were closer than brothers were.

Now he was standing across from her in his new pair of sneakers, jeans that were dark, and a starched shirt.  Wearing a white summer dress, she looked more beautiful than ever. They were starting their new life together. The minister finished the ceremony, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

Six weeks later when he was interviewing for a new job, he woke up that morning and laced up his sneakers. If his mom knew he was wearing sneakers to a job interview, she would have killed him. He did not care. It was a casual environment, and he thought if they wanted him, it needed to be based on what he could bring to the job, not what he looked like. Besides, when he dropped off his application, he had seen some guys around the office wearing Khakis with sneakers.

He always thought that was a weird look, but he thought he would give it a try since it was an interview. When he walked into the office he began to feel out of place, but it was too late now. Everyone had on a coat and tie. He gritted his teeth and walked into the interview. They glanced down at his shoes as they were making notes. Forty-five minutes later, he walked out with the job, shoes and all. It was a good feeling. After his marriage and the job interview, they had become his “lucky” shoes.

Three years later as he was walking down the hall of the hospital, his shoes squeaked and made light noises. He turned into the room where his wife was laying. There was a slight noise like the cooing of a dove. He looked down at his new, healthy, infant daughter. Thankfully, she looked more like her mother than him. They both looked beautiful as the baby snuggled next to his wife. They had been trying to have children for two years, and when he got the news, he was both nervous and excited. People asked, “Do you want a boy or a girl?” all the time. Truthfully, he did not care; he only wanted the baby to be healthy. Now in this moment, he realized that he did not know anything about girls. He was raised in a family of boys who wrestled and punched each other growing up. His thoughts were every parent’s first thoughts. “I hope I don’t screw her up.”  Yes, they were his lucky shoes.

The shoes ran out of luck two years later as he sat beside his dad in the hospital. Of course, even lucky shoes could not overcome bad eating habits, two packs a day, and no exercise. Still, hope lingered. His dad had been his mentor, advisor and friend. He was always vibrant and full of life. Now he lay here in the bed, pale and drifting in and out of consciousness. For the first time in his life, his dad looked helpless. The two of them had always been able to fix any situation and problem. This time there was no fixing. You just had to accept. All he could do was pray and trust God. He knew that one day he would see his dad again in heaven, but it still hurt to lose someone you loved and admired.

He thought about the day they buried his father. He endured the pain of the tight dress shoes that were appropriate with a coat and tie. Funny how he felt numb everywhere except his feet, they were in pain. How did people wear this kind of shoe every day? All he could think about was getting out of these shoes and back into his sneakers. Finally, after the last person left he made a quick exit. He laced up the shoes that, after five years, perfectly outlined his feet, imperfections and all. Together they raced out the door, running with no particular direction except only to escape. Twenty minutes, thirty, forty-five, he kept going. Tears streaming down his face and the cold wind blowing, he just wanted to keep going. When he could run no more, his lungs burning, out of breath, he bent over at the waist looking down at the shoes that had been his daily companion for so long. They were becoming worn and scuffed.

His wife said, “Things don’t last forever, you need to replace your shoes.” Yes, he knew that—just as he knew they had developed a “certain smell”, but still they had been through so much together. How could she suggest that he throw them away? Did she not know they were his lucky shoes? They had been together through their marriage, his job, and their child. All of that was due in part to his lucky shoes.

Looking down at the dark hole once again, he began to notice the fading whiteness, the numerous holes, and the paper-thin rubber soles of his shoes. Thump! The sound seemed so loud when the shoes hit the bottom of the trashcan. Maybe they were like a certain Velveteen Rabbit from a children’s story where they were worn down by being loved too much. Crazy to be an adult and miss a pair of shoes; yet, to him they were a friend and a constant companion.

There was a pair of leather Alden shoes that had caught his eye in a window yesterday. They cost more than four pair of his sneakers added together. Maybe it was time for the pendulum to swing the other way. Maybe, just maybe, it was time to grow up and change.

Posted in Personal, Uncategorized | 15 Comments