Monday, May 14, 2012

7 Hours: “Rearview” by Mike Dellosso

Professor Dan Blakely has it all . . . until a false accusation leaves him in financial ruin with nothing to fall back on and little hope.

In a moment of desperation, he decides to do the unthinkable. But when he loses control of his SUV and careens down the side of a mountain, his plans take another turn.

Trapped beneath the frame of his mangled vehicle, Dan is visited by a mysterious stranger who offers him three choices. Filled with regret, Dan makes a decision . . . but little does he know that his troubles have only just begun.

The clock is ticking. What will you do with the time you have left?

Buy a copy now:
Currently $1.99

Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Mike Dellosso now lives in Hanover, Pennsylvania, with his wife, Jen, and their three daughters. In addition to his novels of supernatural suspense he writes a bi-weekly column for his local newspaper and is an adjunct professor of writing at Lancaster Bible College. He received his BA degree in sports exercise and medicine from Messiah College and his MBS degree in theology from Master’s Graduate School of Divinity.

In the meantime, check out the . . .
Video Book Trailer
7 Hours Landing Page

In each installment of 7 Hours, a character is visited by the enigmatic Thomas Constant, who makes a heart-stopping statement:
“You are about to die.”
“But you may choose from one of three options:  Live seven more hours, travel back in time and relive seven hours, or accept the inevitable and die now.”

My Review:
Dan Blakely is at the peak of his world.  He’s a professor at Boone College Campus teaching English Literature.  He’s ready to receive an additional PhD and a promotion, which includes a higher salary.  In fact, in anticipation, he’s already bought a new car and house.

The higher status and salary evaporate when he is accused of sexual assault and subsequently fired from his job.  He’s desperate and makes a poor choice in how to handle the financial mess he’s in.  Ultimately, he finds himself under the mangled mess of his car on the side of the mountain.  The choice Dan made may seem ‘reasonable’ considering the fact that he is far away from the Lord, yet not so because of his professionalism and the fact that his family relationships were close and were of great importance, though he had some regrets there.

While trapped, a mysterious stranger, Thomas Constant, offers him three choices.  Frantically, Dan makes his choice, but it’s a choice that will cost him dearly.

This was such a haunting ride of a book.  Mike has you guessing whether he’s dreaming, hallucinating, or is actually going through the experiences he is going through.  It didn’t matter how I looked at the book at the end, Mike still had we wondering how much was real and how much was too mysterious to comprehend.

I was intrigued by the analogies that mirrored Dan Blakely’s life.  Here are just a few:
  • Lead glass windows distorted the view of campus–like the upcoming meeting
  • Dark sky hung dark and foreboding–like his life after his firing
  • Breaking car tumbling down the mountain–like his life tossed in a tumbler
  • Minutes and hours ticking away–like his life fading as an ebb tide
Dan’s life, like all of our lives, is made up of choices.  Some lead to great rewards, others lead to regrets.  Dan had regrets.  How about your own life?  Who or what is more important?  This is something that you will be contemplating throughout Rearview.  A lifetime won’t make up for time squandered, leaving you with regrets. Make your life count, but make sure it also counts with the Lord.

In Rearview, I found a side of Mike I was familiar with.  He’s a great storyteller that just never quits!  This book is no different.  Like his previous books, this one will also have you on the edge of your seat!  Buckle up for a superb ride!

This PDF copy was provided by the author in exchange for my honest review.  No monetary compensation was exchanged.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

“Spirit Wars” by Kris Vallotton (A Bethany House Tour)

Just as enemies fought Joshua in the Promised Land, and Nehemiah faced opposition as he rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem, our enemy will fight us as we approach the spiritual terrain God has promised us. Most Christians retreat at the first sign of conflict because they fail to recognize the true nature of the battle. But you can prevail in freedom and joy.
Sharing his deeply personal story of demonic bondage, torment and ultimate deliverance, pastor and bestselling author Kris Vallotton turns the idea of spiritual warfare as we know it on its head. He reveals the diabolical lies and strategies of the enemy–attacks and traps so subtle and deceptive that we may find our souls and hearts imprisoned without even knowing it.
No more! Now you can win the invisible battle against sin and the enemy. Victory is within your grasp. Will you take hold?
BIO:  Kris Vallotton is the author of several books including two brand new books entitled Heavy Rain and a book I co-authored with my son, Jason, entitled The Supernatural Power of Forgiveness. Check out the Amazon reviews on all our books. I think you will really enjoy what we have written.
I’m the co-founder and leader of a full-time ministry school called Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. The school has more than 1600 full-time students enrolled from more than 30 nations. My life’s mission and the purpose of the school is to see every nation in the world positively impacted by the Kingdom of God. This school began 13 years ago with just 37 students. It is experiencing explosive growth.
I am also the founder and CEO of an organization called Moral Revolution. The Mission of Moral Revolution is to inspire a revolution that redefines the post-modern mindsets of the global masses resulting in a culture that favorably views virginity, the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, moral purity, and values the dignity of women, men and children. You can learn more about the revolution at
I travel all over the world speaking at conferences on leadership, supernatural living, cultural transformation and sex. I have discovered that people everywhere are tired of religion, but they are hungry for true spiritual encounters. The occult has capitalized on this intense desire, which has led many people into a spiritual cesspool. I believe that Christians owe the world a real encounter with the living God. This has become my personal obsession, mission and mandate.
I have been married for 36 years to my childhood sweetheart, Kathy. We have 4 grown children and 8 grandchildren. For more information about us check out our website at and/or follow us on our KV Ministries Facebook page.
My Review:
We live in the realm of two different worlds, the visible one we see with our earthly eyes and the invisible spiritual one that isn’t always visible, the one we sometimes see with our spiritual eyes.  God created both worlds, and He has omnipotent power over both!  Whether one believes in the invisible world or not, it still exists.  It’s the evil entity of the invisible world that we war against in the power of the Holy Spirit. (Read the 6th chapter of Ephesians for a better understanding.)
Kris tells us his life story of bondage and torment to exemplify the two worlds clashing, and how the battle was won.   It’s a story that is believable and horrific.  It’s also believable in how his life was changed.   He goes into detail about the lies, tactics and traps the devil uses, ones that everyone will go through at one time or another in their lives.  His book is pertinent and relevant.  Each chapter is vital to understand the battle we are in, and Kris is thorough in his teachings in each area.
Winning the invisible wars that haunt people is addressed in these chapters:
  • Fighting for Peace
  • Are You Living in a Haunted House?
  • Rules of Engagement
  • The Wilderness
  • The Flesh is Weak
  • Treat Yourself Kindly
  • Serious Joy
  • The Armor of God
  • Casting Out Demons
  • Generational Curses
  • On-the-Job Training
  • For the Love of God
Kris Volloton’s book, Spirit Wars, is the first book I’ve read about Spiritual Warfare on this level since the teachings I received about seventeen years ago.  I can easily say I agree with 99.99% of what is in Kris’s book!  It’s Scriptural, forthright, and necessary for everyone’s spiritual life if they want to win the invisible war and bask in God’s joy, love and abundant life.
I would recommend this book for a Bible study group, a Sunday School class or personal study.  Whichever way you decide, please decide to read it!
This book was provided by Jim Hart of Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group, in exchange for my honest review.  No monetary compensation was exchanged for my review.

Thursday, May 17, 2012~~Bible Study Expo presented by Sandy Ralya

On Thursday, May 17, 2012, Kregel author, Sandy Ralya, will kick off the 2012 Bible Study Expo.
Sandy will reveal the story behind her book The Beautiful Wife and share how the book became a full-time marriage mentoring ministry, Beautiful Womanhood. Sandy’s testimony will be shared at 1:00pm (CST). Shortly thereafter, listeners will have a chance to hear and interact with other authors and speakers, including Pam Farrel, Sheila Walsh, Babbie Mason, Cindy Jacobs, and more.  Visit for more information and to attend the event!
Hosted by Marnie Swedberg, the mentor to thousands of ministry leaders from over 30 countries, the expo is completely free and completely online. Visit for more information and to attend the event! 
There was a time when author Sandy Ralya’s marriage was in trouble. She needed help but she was afraid to ask for it. At the time, she didn’t know that hundreds of other wives were struggling with the same issues she was. Though Sandy eventually sought guidance from godly mentors and Christian counselors, other women remain silent. Many churches lack ministries and resources to reach out and help these women.
Sandy Ralya founded Beautiful Womanhood in 2003 to provide the same nurturing and mentoring that changed her life and her marriage and began to speak to hundreds of women each year. Hearing the stories of women like herself, Sandy realized the need for resources based on practical teaching, sound research, and real-life experiences. The Beautiful Wife uses these inspiring stories along with biblical principles to guide and encourage any wife looking for God’s best in her marriage. The Beautiful Wife answers serious questions women have about their roles as wives. Discussing everything from romance and money to beauty, communication, and sex, Sandy challenges women to open up and share their journeys so that together they can see God’s plan for their marriages. “It is my passion to help women discover God’s heart for their marriage, just as other women helped me,” writes Sandy. “When women share with each other the details of their journeys with God as wives, it’s a beautiful thing indeed.”
Information provided by Kregel Publications.

“Unashamed to Bear His Name” by R.T. Kendall (A Bethany House Tour)

Embracing the Stigma of Being a Christian Today
In our increasingly secular society, being a Christian carries a cost. Whether through public criticism or the quiet loss of respect, it is hard–and becoming harder–to be known as a Christian. Even as believers try to follow the will of God, they are often misunderstood and left to deal with the awkward, sometimes painful results of feeling disconnected from their fellow man–or even stigmatized.
Beloved Bible teacher R. T. Kendall offers hope. Turning the idea of stigma on its head, he shares his own story of rejection and embarrassment in the name of Christ–and how it became the source of unimaginable blessing. With warmth and understanding, he urges readers to embrace the offense that comes from their commitment to Jesus Christ, showing that when they do, the Lord will unleash into their lives incalculable blessing.
Bio: Born and raised in the USA, Dr. R. T. Kendall has recently retired as Minister at Westminster Chapel, London, where he served for 25 eventful years. Still in huge demand as a writer and speaker around the world. He is one of the best-known and respected Christian leaders and teachers in the UK.
He and his wife, Louise, have two children – son Robert Tillman II (TR), married to Annette, a baby on the way (first grandson); daughter Melissa Louise.
He has degrees in A.B.  Trevecca Nazarene University of Nashville, Tennessee,
M.Div. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky, M.A.  University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, D. Phil.  Oxford University 1977,
D.D., Trevecca Nazarene University, Senior Minister, Westminster Chapel, February 1, 1977 to February 1, 2002, and has authored fifty books.

“A book that every serious Christian must read.” — Mr. Michael Youssef, founding pastor, Church of the Apostles, Atlanta, Georgia; founder, Leading the Way
“Dr. R. T. Kendall’s insightful teaching and writing have had a significant impact on my own thinking.  I respect Dr. Kendall greatly and am honored to call him my friends.”  –Dr. James Dobson, founder, Focus on the Family
“Sobering words you will thank God for.” — Colin Dye, senior minister, Kensington Temple, London, England
My Review:
As one hears from some of the news media and reports from missionaries from around the world, as well as watching the decline of our own country, R. T. Kendall, in his book, Unashamed to Bear His Name, deliberates on the stigmas of being a Christian in today’s world.  There are persecutions, beatings, death, ridicule, and offense from sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Dr. Kendall shares his own life history as a Christian that include the rebuffs and name-calling he himself has endured.
When one comes to Christ, we are to ‘count the cost.’  From reading Dr. Kendall’s book, that includes the choice to embrace:
  • the shame of the Name of Jesus
  • being called names
  • being an offense to other people
  • standing up for the truths of the Bible despite rejection from others
  • enduring the ‘narrow-minded stigma’ for believing Jesus to be the only way to heaven
  • belittling for our beliefs in the one true God and Creator
  • the ridicule of the Holy Spirit’s move in one’s life
  • public/private criticism
  • quiet loss of respect
  • plus several other issues
Dr. Kendall insists that these issues and stigmas are not anything to back away from.  In fact, we are to embrace these issues to the glory of God without grumbling and complaining.  He does stress the issue, however, that we shouldn’t be the cause of unnecessary scandal by our lifestyle, thus suffering for the wrong reasons.
Dr. Kendall gives you multiple, insightful teachings to chew on in regards to the above issues mentioned in his book and how we are to embrace them.  Though I don’t agree with all his doctrine and some of his church-bashing, I found his book to be a great reminder of ‘counting the cost’ and the glory we will receive if we hold fast to the truth.  We are to live in joy despite the trials we face.
As in the words of Colin Dye, Dr. Kendall’s book presents ”Sobering words you will thank God for.” And then Dr. Michael Youssef’s comment, “A book that every serious Christian must read.”
This book was provided by Jim Hart of Bethany House in exchange for my honest opinion.  No monetary compensation was received for my opinion.

My Review and a Giveaway Party: “Beyond Hope’s Valley” by Tricia Goyer (A Litfuse Blog Tour)

Win A Custom Amish Prize Pack at ‘All Things Amish Party’ 5/21/2012!~~”Beyond Hope’s Valley” by Tricia Goyer

Win a Custom Amish Prize Pack from @TriciaGoyer in her Beyond Hope’s Valley Giveaway! RSVP (Below) for All Things Amish Party {5/21}!
Celebrate with Tricia and enter to win a custom-made Amish Wall hanging in the colors of your choice … and much more!
One fortunate winner will receive: 
  •  Custom Amish Wall Hanging {You choose the colors!} 
  • An Amish Doll {Sweet.} 
  • Amish-made basket {It’s picnic season!} 
  • Doilies, potholder and an Amish cookbook {All items form Bird-in-Hand, PA!} 
  • Three book Big Sky Amish series {Be swept away by this captivating series.} 
Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on May 20th. Winner will be announced at “All Things Amish” Author Chat Facebook Party on 5/21. Tricia will be hosting an author chat (on Facebook and Live from her website) and giving away books, gift certificates and more!
So grab your copy of Beyond Hope’s Valley and join Tricia on the evening of the May 21st for a fun chat, trivia contest (How much do you know about the Amish?) and lots of giveaways. (If you haven’t read the book – don’t let that stop you from coming!)
Enter via E-mail Enter via Facebook Enter via Twitter
Don’t miss a moment of the fun. RSVP today and tell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 21st!
About the Book: After an extended stay in Montana, where Amish traditions are different from  her home state, Marianna Sommer returns to Indiana for two reasons, first to help her brother and his girlfriend prepare for a baby and their wedding. Second, to plan her own wedding to Aaron Zook — a marriage she’s been dreaming about ever since childhood. And yet, although she had missed the idyllic farms and families of her upbringing, Marianna is surprised that Indiana is somehow making her long now for Montana.As months pass, secrets that were hidden in winter’s frozen grasp thaw and take on a life of their own. The truths about a child, about a past relationship, and about God’s plans are being revealed. Walking through a valley of questions, Marianna must hold on to hope as she decides where and with whom her heart truly belongs.
My Review:
Get ready for a heart-pounding rush of emotions as Marianna returns to Pennsylvania with the love of her life, Aaron Zook.  Her mother had invited him to Montana to steer her away from Ben Stone, an Englisch man from the area. Upon arrival, Aaron was in a car accident, and ended up recuperating at the home of Marianna’s parents.
After spending time with Aaron there, Marianna chooses to marry Aaron, her childhood love.  They hope for a quick wedding once her brother Levi and Naomi are wed. What they find is Naomi pregnant before marriage.  Marianna and Aaron’s hopes of a quick marriage come to a halt, at least until Naomi’s baby is born, and Levi and Naomi are allowed to marry.
As Marianna is courted by Aaron, strange behaviors and attitudes shoot forth from Aaron, something Marianna hasn’t ever seen before.  Surely it’s because they have been apart for so long. Right?
As secrets and rumors are exposed, a whole new dilemma occurs, sending Marianna into upheaval.  The return of her parents for Levi and Naomi’s wedding stirs up additional rumors and innuendos, as Ben is with them with a large trailer.
Trisha’s characters are real, deep and complex, and the emotional roller coaster rides in Beyond Hope’s Valley are real, difficult and exhaustive.  Trisha really digs into the meat of the issues and they are presented in a way that she truly masters.  Twists and turns keep you wondering how anything can work out. Love is tested.  Suspicions reign. The storyline keeps the pages turning!
Having given her heart to the Lord in Montana, Trisha has Marianna traveling the fine line of Pennsylvania Amish life and truly following the Lord.  Her exuberance in sharing her newfound joy isn’t always accepted, though the Amish ways are delicately woven in her life. With this rejection, Trisha brings out the travesties of Marianna’s friends back in Pennsylvania.
You will want to read Beside Still Waters and Along Wooded Paths to get a better feeling for the angst in Beyond Hope’s Valley.  Trisha has written books in several genres, and I’ve loved them all.  These included.  You won’t be disappointed with her Montana Big Sky Amish series!
This book was provided by Amy Lathrop of Litfuse Group in exchange for my honest review.  No monetary compensation was received.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Loving Well by William P. Smith

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:
New Growth Press (February 1, 2012)
***Special thanks to Rick Roberson, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***
William P. Smith, M.Div., Ph.D., is the director of counseling at Chelten Baptist Church, Dresher, Pa., the author of the book Caught Off Guard: Encounters with the Unexpected God; and the minibooks How Do I Stop Losing It with My Children?; How to Love Difficult People?; Should We Get Married?; Starting Over; When Bad Things Happen; and Who Should I Date?. Bill is regularly invited to speak at other churches and lead weekend retreats. He and his wife, Sally, are the parents of three very active children.
Visit the author’s website.
Distance. Resentment. Avoidance. You want to love your family, your neighbors, and your coworkers well. But something goes wrong when you reach out to them, and you find yourself tearing down the relationships you wanted to build. Are you doomed to repeat this cycle forever?
For most of us, certain unhealthy reactions feel natural and even inevitable. Unconsciously, we cling to what 1 Peter 1:18 calls the “empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.”
But you are not doomed to repeat this cycle, according to William P. Smith, since Jesus came to redeem his people from such things. The destructive relationship patterns you learned before you met Christ no longer need to control how you live and interact with others. Instead, you can exchange the empty ways for new ones that promote deep unity and peacefulness—patterns that create satisfying and God-honoring relationships. A rich, practical relationship with Jesus enables you to develop rich, practical relationships with others in spite of your brokenness and theirs. Through Christ, you no longer have to do what you have always done. In short, you can learn to love well.
“Loving Well”/List Price: $15.99/Paperback/304 pages/New Growth Press (February 1, 2012)/English/ISBN-10: 1936768291/ISBN-13:978-1936768295
My Review:
What a powerful book, teaching us how to love like Jesus and the Father do even if we haven’t been! The author, William P. Smith gives a comprehensive review of love in his book, Loving Well: Even If You Haven’t Been.
As people, we try hard to love our neighbors, family, co-workers, and church family.  Depending on how love was dysfunctionally demonstrated to you growing up, you more than likely will model the same type of love in your relationships–distance, resentment, silent treatment, avoidance, outburst of anger, etc.
The author brings us hope from God the Father through Jesus Christ.    A relationship with Jesus Christ can help you overcome your destructive methods of relating by seeing in Scripture how God loves us.  It also allows Him to help us love others like He loves us.
The book is divided into three parts:
  1. Love That Responds to a Broken World–Comforting, Sympathetic, Struggling, Forgiving, and Long-suffering Love
  2. Love That Reaches Out to Build Others Up–Partnering, Pursuing, Communicating, Serving, and Providing Love
  3. Love That Enjoys Heaven on Earth–Welcoming, Humble, Celebrating, Peaceful, and Hospitable Love
I am overwhelmed (in a good way) for all the different lessons about and methods of loving that the author expounds on and what they look like.  He is straightforward in each chapter, giving multiple examples to show you the destructive way versus the constructive way to demonstrate love.
This is a great resource book to keep on hand as a good reminder when one is stuck in a relationship.  I’d recommend this book to every person living here on earth.  It’s helpful to ascertain the different situations and how assimilate what you have learned.

I n t r o d u c t i o n
Escaping an Empty Way of Life

I stood outside, shivering in the cold, “talking” to God. Venting would be the more honest description. I had just thrown down the papers I was working on and stalked out of the room after unloading on one of my children, who had been repeatedly interrupting me every few minutes. My parting words were, “I am so frustrated right now. It doesn’t matter what I say or do, you don’t get it. It doesn’t matter if I speak gently to you. It doesn’t matter if I ignore you. It doesn’t matter if I explode! You just keep coming. I don’t know what to do with you.”
I hate those times. I have no interest in verbally bashing my kids, making them feel like I’m never satisfied with them. And yet, I also don’t want them to grow up believing that the world is all about them. What I’d just done wasn’t terribly loving (I get that), but in that moment I didn’t have any idea what else to do, so I ended up doing something that broke down the relationship instead of building it.
Ever been there? That place where, despite the fact that you really do want to love the people around you, somehow it all goes south? Either you do something to shred the friendship or you face something you don’t know how to handle. You’ve tried everything you do know, and nothing seems to help. As a pastoral counselor, I have lots of friends who share those feelings.
Friends like Tasha and Maurice. Tasha is unhappy with her job and would really rather stay home with the baby, only they can’t afford to have her do that. So every time she comes home, she com- plains to Maurice about how bad work was.
Maurice, however, doesn’t know what to do with her complaints. His preferred role of being the funny, lighthearted guy just doesn’t seem to work like it used to with her. So he prefers to switch on the TV during dinner and watch it into the night, or play card games with her, or do some other activity that safely insulates him from an intimidating conversation.
She likes him, but feels alone and abandoned. So guess what she does about her loneliness? She complains about it, adding it to the complaints about her job. And when she complains, he feels more helpless and confused, so he finds new ways to ignore her. And ’round and ’round they go. You wouldn’t say he’s a bad man or she’s a miserable woman, but they don’t know how to engage each other in a helpful way.
Most of the time, my friends and I don’t set out trying to hurt anyone, especially those we really care about. We’re relational creatures, made in the image of the great communal, three-in-one God. We long for relationships. Intentionally undermining our closest relationships would be counterproductive to our whole nature and desire. And yet we do just that. We watch them slip through our fingers—or worse, we see ourselves actively poisoning them simply by doing what feels right in the moment.
Because you’ve picked up this book, you probably know what broken relationships feel like. You see yourself damaging your closest friendships or not knowing how to bring healing when someone else harms them. Sometimes these unhealthy patterns and reactions can feel so natural that you don’t even think about how they came about. You might not even realize how many of them you’ve adopted from other people. You may only be aware that, in the moment, the strategy seems to get you what you want.
Patrice pulls away from situations she doesn’t like by withdrawing from people and refusing to talk to them. Her reaction makes complete sense when you learn that for her whole life she witnessed her father controlling her mother with the silent treatment. You probably wouldn’t be too surprised to discover that this was the example he had while growing up in his home. Each generation learned how to relate to others from the generation before, even if those ways soured the closest relationships they had.
We are all fully responsible for the ways we mistreat each other, and we have all learned from the bad examples we’ve had. Nature (your own sinful inclinations) and nurture (the things you’ve experienced from others) join forces to undermine your relationships. They produce what the apostle Peter refers to as “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV).
Some people have more “empty way of life” quotient than others, but every person has embraced a legacy of emptiness—patterns of relating that seem right in the moment, but that ultimately tear friendships apart. These patterns are truly insane. What else can you call it when you repeatedly engage your children, spouse, parents, or friends in the same destructive ways even though you realize you’re driving them away?
For someone like Patrice, the empty ways she deals with are primarily identified by the ongoing presence of evil. People in those positions experienced an aggressive negative relational style and had to react to it. Some become comfortable adopting the model as their own by taking the junkyard dog approach. They relate to others with the belief that, “If what wins arguments and protects me in this family is being loud, sarcastic, or insulting, then I will be the loudest, meanest, most caustic person in the room!” Others who have no interest in competing at that level develop self-protective strategies that keep everyone else at arm’s length.
Empty ways of life, however, are not always defined by the active presence of evil. Just as often they are characterized by the absence of positive elements that would foster healthy relationships.
Nick’s wife noted that his parents essentially ignored him after providing for his physical needs. Robert’s family was more extreme. He didn’t know what a hug felt like growing up. No one touched in his family nor wanted to. They didn’t own a couch, only a collection of individual chairs. Walking through his living room daily reinforced the relational message “you are on your own in this life.” That lack of physical connection mirrored the lack of intimacy at all other levels. Little wonder that these men struggled to know how to connect with their wives and kids.
Other families are not as dramatic in their dysfunction but still leave out many crucial relational elements. Some people never heard a parent say “I’m sorry; please forgive me.” Others don’t know what it is to hear “I love you. I’m proud of you. I’m so glad to see you!” Still others didn’t experience someone pursuing them, inviting them back to relationship when they’d strayed, or simply affirming their feeling that life isn’t very nice sometimes.
Without experiencing a healthy way of relating in your life, it’s really hard to know it’s even missing, much less that it’s an essential element to give someone else. The absence of positive relational interactions gets passed on just as surely as the presence of negative patterns.
Spend just a little bit of time with God’s people and you’ll quickly learn that empty ways of life abound even in the middle of the redeemed community. Small home fellowship groups don’t know how to embrace the quirky single guy who comes for a few weeks, so he quietly drops off the radar. Warring factions break out in the congregation over what style of music we sing or how we decorate the building. Elders approach their congregation with a heavy hand or back way off with no hand. Leaders fail, like they have all the way back to Noah, and no one knows how to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
People are lured into church by hearing the language of intimacy, authenticity, and genuineness, but when they experience their absence, they are left feeling even more hurt than before. They had hoped finally to find a safe place where they could experience being loved, only to realize that Christians are not really all that good at it. Instead of being welcomed and embraced, often they can end up isolated and alone.
So they walk away discouraged and cynical— with good reason.
Does any of this resonate with your own experience? Over the past twenty-five years of professional and volunteer ministry, I have yet to meet the person who doesn’t struggle at some point in his or her relationships.
Maybe you find yourself undermining the relationships that are most important to you. Or maybe someone else is hurting you and you don’t know how to invite that person to something better. Or maybe you just find your relationships stagnate and don’t grow richer.
If that’s you, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to settle for these empty ways of life. You can exchange those patterns for others that promote deep unity and peacefulness—patterns that offer a satisfying and rich relationship to the people around you.
In short, you can learn to love well.
Jesus Loves us out of Emptiness
Peter draws our attention to the empty ways of life only in order to highlight that we have been redeemed from them by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18–19). God cares about the hold these destructive patterns have on you, and he made a way to free you from them. They don’t have to control how you live and react in your relationships.
Now you may expect me to fill the rest of this book with lists of helpful hints and biblical principles for maximizing the positive things and minimizing the negatives in your relationships. But escaping an empty way of life does not rely on principles—it relies on a person. And not just a person who comes and does things for you or is an example outside of you, but a person who comes and relates to you.
I’m afraid that too many times we hold up Jesus as though he were simply a model of brilliant living—one who would inspire us to live a holy life in the same way that we extol the virtues of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, and Mother Teresa. The problem with that thinking is that models alone are un- able to make you want to follow their example. They point out the way for you to go, but they don’t empower you to walk down that path. They might inspire you, but inspiration alone is not enough to actually move you.
Over the years I have heard a number of great stories of people who have done amazing things or overcome incredible obstacles—a father who enters marathons, pushing his wheelchair-bound son; a married couple who adopts 19 children with special needs over the course of their lifetime; or the concert musician who plays at Carnegie Hall because of the countless hours of practice she spent with her instrument. Those examples are stirring. Inwardly I cheer for those people and wish them the best.
Though I am inspired by their stories, however, my own lifestyle has not changed in the least. It takes far more than inspiration to escape an empty way of life. I’ve not yet been driven by these examples to take up jogging, adopt even one child, or pick up an instrument. They truly are praiseworthy examples, but they’re outside of me. Therefore, by themselves, they are insufficient to move me.
Jesus is different. His examples of loving and serving are not things that happen outside of me–things I dispassionately observe. Far from being an uninvolved spectator to his reconciling work, I’m a recipient of his gracious actions. He is my example, but he is also my experience. In experiencing him, I not only develop a personal sense of what he calls me to, but I also gain the power to live out that calling with others.
God understands that you don’t always know how to love people, so he does not insist you figure out how to bootstrap yourself into relationships. Instead, he makes sure you already know exactly what love is before he requires you to love others. As the apostle John put it, “In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that he loved us . . . if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10 –11, in larger context of vv. 7–21). It’s only after having been loved that you respond with love. You love him back, and you reach out to share with others a tiny portion of the love that you yourself have received.
In my relationship with God, what’s always been most important is the quality of his love for me, not the quality of my love for him. It’s only as the reality of his love becomes my present experience that I will be more concerned about expressing my love to others than insisting they express theirs for me.
Too often I get this order backward with my children, like when I blew up at my child earlier. Those are the days when I keep careful track of all the ways it seems they don’t care nearly enough about me. I become consumed with how they don’t consider the pressures of my schedule when they want me to chauffeur them to their next sports game or to the store. I grumble about how they don’t respect my property as they trample through the garden or slam the doorknob through the drywall. And I fume over how they’re more interested in my money than my friendship. I confess, I have a hard time being greeted at the door after a long, hard day with “Hi, Daddy—can I have my allowance?”
In those moments, I get caught believing that what most needs to change in my family is them. They need to be more considerate, more respectful, and more grateful. In other words, I wrongly believe that our relationship is dependent on the quality of their love for me.
That’s backward from the way I experience Jesus. The way he treats me, both historically and in the present, gives me the experience of being loved. And it is that experience that allows me to respond to him and extend myself to others, which is the real need of the people I live with. My family needs me to pursue them like Jesus pursues me. They need me to forgive them like Jesus forgives me. They need me to like them, engage with them, and share myself with them just as Jesus likes me, engages with me, and shares himself with me.
And that’s where there is a disconnect for many people. They don’t have a sense of the risen Christ relating to them in real time in a helpful, positive way. Whether I’m serving in my home church or traveling to others, I regularly interact with people who can explain historically what Jesus has done for them and who genuinely look forward to what he will do in eternity. But his present activities in their lives remain a cloudy mystery.
In turn, they struggle to communicate love to others in any tangible, recognizable form. This recognition forms the working thesis of this book: only through a present, rich, practical relationship with Jesus will you be able to develop rich, practical relationships with each other.
Your Human relationships Flow from the god You Worship
The way I live out my relationships with people is one of the clearest indicators of how healthy my relationship with the Lord is. If I live knowing that God moves toward me all day long and invites me to move toward him, then I will engage people positively in their lives. But if I wait for others to give themselves to me first, then I show that I really don’t believe or regularly experience this God who is reconciling people to himself. Either way, I live out the truth that you become whatever you worship.
Sadly, there are so many bad gods waiting to take Jesus’ place. There’s the false notion of God as a deity who sits in heaven, vaguely interested in your life, but who keeps himself pretty detached and aloof. Or there’s the god who is only disengaged until you do something wrong. Then he springs into action, pulling out a long list of your failures and threatening you if you don’t shape up. Or worse, maybe you’ve found the god who smiles at you a lot, but is too weak to challenge you or help you when you need it. The hard reality is that if your god is distant, critical, scary, or impotent then you will mimic that quality about him in the ways you treat those around you.
Thank God he doesn’t leave you to those gods. Jesus came to redeem you from living out those empty ways of life handed down to you by your forefathers.
Throughout Scripture you see one overarching storyline: a good Father welcomes homeless orphans into his family by searching for them, rescuing them, embracing them, providing for them, and nurturing them. With that experience of life, you now have reason to hope for something different in the way you live with others. And hope is exactly what I need every day of my life.
My kids and I had a really rough week that felt like every inter- action turned into a half-hour argument that I didn’t handle very well. As the week wore on I became increasingly out of control, and I responded more harshly and critically each time. It was not a good week. Ironically, a few days later I was scheduled to give a radio interview for a booklet I had written entitled How Do I Stop Losing It with My Kids? I felt like such a hypocrite. I reread the booklet and kept thinking, Hmm, that’s a good idea. I wonder who wrote that? Or, Oh! Wish I had remembered to try that.
At the end of the program, the interviewer asked one final question. He said, “Okay, this has been helpful, but what about the person who has been losing it—maybe for years? Who has been failing over and over again? What hope does that person have?”
I replied, “Well, honestly, that’s me this morning. And my hope is that not only am I a parent in my family, but I’m also a child in a better family with a much better Father. And my Father is absolutely committed to being involved in my life, parenting me so that I can be the parent that he always meant me to be.”
I need that hope. And I need even more than hope. It’s easy to say we need to love others well, but that statement can feel pretty vague when I face a particular challenge with caring for a real, flesh-and- blood person in the smaller, practical moments of life. For instance, what does loving others well look like when I need to restore a relationship that I just damaged? At times like that, I need to know specifically what love looks like.
Dazzling Love
I find it helpful to think of love as a large jewel with many facets. Each facet gives you a glimpse into the jewel’s essence because each is part of the same jewel. But every viewpoint has a sparkle and radiance all its own.
Throughout this book we’re going to investigate fifteen facets of the love we experience from God because it is in these ways that he invites you to mature as you relate to other people with love. While there are many more that we could explore—and we will as eternity unwinds—these fifteen form a solid toolkit that, as you grow in them, will affect the quality of relationships you currently have.
You can love other people only out of your own experience of being loved. Or, to say it in reverse, you cannot pass along what you yourself have not received. Does that sound limiting to you or maybe even completely demoralizing? Like you’re fated never to rise above the inadequacies other people have passed down to you?
That’s where a relationship with Jesus is intensely practical. Because you are his, you are not beyond hope—nor are your relationships. Missing out on being loved well by other humans does not doom your present relationships. In your present, ongoing relationship with Jesus, you can receive from him all the love you need to give to others.
He can give you what you never received, and then you can pass it to those around you who need it.
We’ll approach our topic in three parts. In Part I, “Love That Responds to a Broken World,” we’ll look at those aspects of love that help you move toward your friend as she experiences sin or suffering so that she knows she is not alone.
Part II, “Love That Reaches Out to Build Others Up,” focuses on aspects of love that show someone else you’re more interested in helping him be all God ever meant him to be, than using him to make yourself feel good.
And in Part III, “Love That Enjoys Heaven Now,” we’ll look at the kinds of love that allow people to see and trust your heart for them so that you can enjoy being together now.
Let me offer one caveat before we dive in: please be careful not to fall into a mindset that looks for quick, immediate results when you reach out to love well. Learning these fifteen aspects will improve the overall tone of your relationships, but they are not part of a guaranteed formula that works like this: if you do ________, then everyone else will respond to you with ________. Rather, you can expect to receive these elements from Jesus, and as you practice them you will find yourself moving in harmony with the way he runs his world rather than against it. In that sense your life will be better, you will be more satisfied, and your relationships will change for the better.
As a friend, lay leader, counselor, seminary professor, conference speaker, and pastor I have seen many people turn away from destructive patterns and enter into the freedom of healthy relationships. That’s been quite a privilege. Beyond all those instances of seeing people love well, however, I’m most encouraged to believe you really can escape your empty ways of living because of the way relationships in my own home have grown healthier over the years.
Remember that I told you how hard my child and I worked to ruin our relationship? Sadly, there are still plenty of times when we collectively rip at the fabric of our relationship. That’s the product of real people in a really fallen world. But even more significant is what we do with those destructive moments. By God’s kindness, we continue to learn how to repair the rips we create and celebrate the greater number of times when we move closer without damaging our friendship.
That’s the product of being loved by a gracious God in a grace- infused world. If Jesus can help free me and my family from being stuck in bad patterns, and teach us to create beneficial ones, then I know he can help you too.
As you are introduced to each way he loves us, I think you’ll be surprised by how intimately involved God is with you. I know I have been surprised. After seeing and re-experiencing him in new ways, I suspect you’ll hardly be able to wait to give that experience to someone else!