Howard Shirley

The Easter season is a time for pondering life’s promise and seeking new direction for the path ahead. It is also a time of love, for the love of Christ is at the heart of the Christian experience. This Easter, five new books offer inspiring journeys of change, hope, amazement, empowerment and love.

“You are one decision away from changing your life forever,” writes Craig Groeschel, bestselling author (Soul Detox) and founding pastor of Life.Church in Edmond, Oklahoma. Unfortunately, we don’t always recognize that decision when it comes along or make the best choice. But like the proverbial domino, each decision knocks into the next, and soon we find ourselves in circumstances, for good or ill, that we never imagined and never intended.

Recognizing those moments of decision and following God’s guidance is the focus of Groeschel’s latest book, Divine Direction: 7 Decisions That Will Change Your Life. The seven decisions are characterized by the actions that define each circumstance: Start. Stop. Stay. Go. Serve. Connect. Trust. Using life moments, humor and biblical examples, Groeschel explores how these decisions arise in our lives and how God’s word offers wisdom and encouragement in every circumstance. Divine Direction is an engaging read, with both challenges and insight, pointing the reader toward making conscious, deliberate, life-changing decisions with confidence in God’s plan. If you are struggling with challenges, whether overcoming past pain or seeking a better future, Divine Direction will be a welcome guide.

JOURNEY TO THE CROSS
North Carolina pastor Steven Furtick explores God’s love through Christ’s words on the cross in Seven-Mile Miracle: Journey into the Presence of God Through the Last Words of Jesus. Furtick weaves the story of the seven-mile walk to Emmaus, where the resurrected Jesus revealed His place in Scripture to two of his followers, with the seven sentences Christ uttered on the cross. Imagining these statements as mileposts along the way to Emmaus, Seven-Mile Miracle examines not only how each of Christ’s words fulfilled prophecies about Him, but also how each sentence matches our own experiences and struggles in life—and offers us hope, through Christ, in this world and the next. Furtick’s writing is approachable and accessible, but also offers deep insight into Scriptural truths. Whether you’re looking for a compelling Easter read or want to grow richer in your faith at any time, the Seven-Mile Miracle is a journey worth taking.

THE POWER OF GOD
Another journey winds its way through James Robison’s Living Amazed: How Divine Encounters Can Change Your Life. Through autobiography and personal testimony, the renowned evangelist and minister traces the moments of amazement he has found—and continues to find—in his walk with Christ. From miraculous answers to prayer, to unexpected direction and even unwanted (yet needed) spiritual correction, Robison reveals how the Holy Spirit has worked in his life and in the lives of others he has encountered. Filled with interesting anecdotes and firm conviction, but also an uplifting openness towards others, Living Amazed encourages the reader to seek a deeper relationship with Christ and to trust Him in all things. Amid these insights and Scriptural teachings runs Robison’s call for unity in the Christian faith, and a challenge to overcome denominational disagreements and embrace every believer as part of the body of Christ, working together to serve Christ’s purpose. Robison’s life story is remarkable, and his challenge to personally embrace the limitless power of God is compelling. Robison has lived a life of amazement, and Living Amazed calls everyone to do the same.

WOMEN AND THE BIBLE
The rise of feminist thought has brought a swell of challenges against the Bible and its treatment of women. From the admonition that wives should “submit” to their husbands to Paul’s instruction that women should “remain silent” in church, the Bible faces questions and outright rejection by many activists. Wendy Alsup counters those arguments through in-depth analysis in Is the Bible Good for Women? Using the Christian principle that the Bible’s purpose is to point to Christ, Alsup argues that even the most troubling passages of Scripture reveal God’s love for women and their status as equal heirs of Christ. Throughout the book, she reveals the historical and cultural realities behind laws, stories and restrictions that are troubling today, placing these strictures in context both in their time and in our biblical understanding. In the end, Alsup argues, the Bible is not only good for women today, but also at the heart of a truly empowering identity for all God’s daughters.

LOVE IN ORDINARY DAYS
I can think of no more empowering book for either God’s daughters or sons than Maria Goff’s inspirational Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want. In beautiful, touching and often amusing stories, Goff, wife of bestselling author Bob Goff (Love Does), offers wisdom gleaned from her life as a mother, neighbor and wife. And a life of love it is. From imaginary lava flows down staircase steps to actual dangers in war-torn Iraq, she shares a life both ordinary and extraordinary, and through that life the love God has for us all. This is not a book you gobble up in a reading rush. Rather, Love Lives Here is like a home-cooked meal with cherished friends, full of moments to be savored, each chapter a delightful morsel for the soul. It is a night around the table—laughing, talking, sharing, full of smiles and sometimes tears. Love lives in Love Lives Here, and Goff’s words will linger in your heart.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

The Easter season is a time for pondering life’s promise and seeking new direction for the path ahead. It is also a time of love, for the love of Christ is at the heart of the Christian experience. This Easter, five new books offer inspiring journeys of change, hope, amazement, empowerment and love.

An early Easter brings the hope of spring and the promise of seasons to come as winter’s shadow slowly recedes. It’s a time of faith, a time to remember and renew, a time to reflect on the promise of Christ.

EMBRACING CHANGE
The cycle of life and the wonder of nature rest at the heart of Christie Purifoy’s Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons. When Purifoy and her family left Florida for Maplehurst, a 19th-century farmhouse in Pennsylvania, they dreamed of experiencing the full spectrum of changing seasons. From the August day they opened the old front door to a year later and a new August day, Purifoy found not only the beauty of the seasons, but also a growing appreciation for God’s gifts, asked for and received, looked for and unexpected—a year of faith as well as a year of nature’s bounty. Roots and Sky is Purifoy’s memoir of striving to make a home and face the ins and outs of life as it moves from one moment to the next. Throughout the year, she sees how God is speaking to her, touching and teaching in every event〞a faith lived in the metaphors of life. 

Purifoy refers to her experience as “a pilgrimage in one place,” which perfectly captures this beautifully written book. Her memoir celebrates ordinary life, but does so with the depth and power of a river, flowing ever onward.

EMBRACING POSSIBILITY
Finding God in everyday life, or despite everyday life, is Logan Wolfram’s mission in Curious Faith: Rediscovering Hope in the God of Possibility. Like Purifoy, she ponders the seasons of life, which offer opportunities for growth and understanding. Every moment lived with God is a moment to discover something new, Wolfram suggests; it’s not a route to a destination, but a path of constant discovery that never ends. In these discoveries, we can find peace from our worries, strength for our trials, celebrations of our triumphs and comfort in our tragedies. Wolfram shares her personal stories of pain and fear, including a time when she suffered several miscarriages, and reveals how she learned to embrace the discovery God has for her.

Insightful and challenging, but filled with encouragement, Curious Faith reaches into the reader’s life, calling for a renewed faith in a God who is trustworthy, faithful and good, the leader on a journey worth the risk and a life worth the search.

CLOSE TO HOME
Renovate: Changing Who You Are by Loving Where You Are is both a challenge and a call to full involvement in faith and community. For Léonce B. Crump Jr., this call came personally, as he and his wife left a ministry in Tennessee to move to a depressed, neglected neighborhood in downtown Atlanta. Bemoaning the process of gentrification, Crump set out not to change the neighborhood, but instead to honor and uplift the community that was already there. Passionate and uncompromising, Crump doesn’t hold back in either his criticisms or his call to action. His challenge isn’t always comfortable to read, nor may the reader agree with every point, but since when were challenges comfortable, or passion perfect? The point is to be involved where you are, with whomever surrounds you, to be a servant of God not after a drive across town, but right next door.

A BIBLICAL JOURNEY
In Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve, journalist and fiction writer Tom Bissell chronicles his journeys to the tomb sites of Christ and his Apostles. Bissell’s eye for detail shines as he recounts his explorations in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. From a Greek Orthodox priest who communicates with broken English and expressive gestures to the startling contrasts of India, Bissell’s memoir is a modern-day pilgrim’s tale of Old World churches and historic sites. Throughout, Bissell presents the history and cultural traditions behind the sites and the Apostles themselves, both in Christian teaching and secular scholarship. Although he grew up Catholic, Bissell reveals in an author’s note that he experienced a “sudden and decisive” loss of faith as a teenager. The book is framed by that perspective, but it’s a fascinating read for believer and nonbeliever alike. Bissell’s sense of place is evocative, vividly casting images in the reader’s mind of the catacombs, ruins and cathedrals he sees, as well as the variety of faith he encounters.

THE GOSPEL TRUTH
A search through the history of Christianity is also the focus of The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ. In the view of skeptics, the Gospels are unreliable tales, altered by numerous hands to suit a constantly changing early theology. These theories hold that the authors of the Gospels are unknown, that the works were written nearly 100 years after the events and that they are not intended to be accurate records of Jesus’ teachings and actions. With skill, logic and exceptional research, Brant Pitre, professor of sacred scripture at Notre Dame Seminary, argues that such theories are based not on scholarship, but on assumption and speculation〞and a lack of understanding of 1st-century Jewish thought. To affirm the Gospels as truthful biographies, not tall tales, Pitre establishes the credibility of the claimed authorships, dates the time the Gospels were written to within 30 years of Jesus’ life and asserts that the four Gospels fundamentally agree on the divinity of Christ. Reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ famous works, The Case for Jesus brings sound historical authority to any discussion on the nature of New Testament scripture and the beliefs of early Christianity.

 

This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

An early Easter brings the hope of spring and the promise of seasons to come as winter’s shadow slowly recedes. It’s a time of faith, a time to remember and renew, a time to reflect on the promise of Christ.

Easter is a time for self-discovery and reflection on relationships, faith and the soul. Five new books offer fresh perspectives to help readers find God, themselves and each other, and renew their hearts for another year.

Rediscovering the meaning of the gospel is the soul of N.T. Wright’s Simply Good News: Why the Gospel Is News and What Makes It Good. Wright has a gift for cutting through religious dross to the essence of faith, and this book is no exception. Challenging conventional views of what is meant by “gospel,” Wright calls for an understanding of the Good News as just that: good and news. Like an ancient herald declaring “There is a new king—everything has changed,” so too is the gospel, and that change is as immediate and world-shaking today as it was on that first Easter morning.

Wright’s book is a call to stop defining Jesus by what fits our culture, but as the world-changing king He is, with believers as active participants in His kingdom, building it now, brick by brick. Fascinating and uplifting, Simply Good News is the must-read book of the year for every Christian. It will surprise you, it will challenge you, and it will make you see the world and your faith with fresh eyes—good news, indeed.

WORLDS APART
Discovering God’s kingdom is the theme of Chad Gibbs’ Jesus Without Borders: What Planes, Trains, and Rickshaws Taught Me About Jesus. A native of Alabama—“the buckle of the Bible Belt”—Gibbs grew up surrounded by the culture of the Christian South. While on a European vacation, he observed churches very different from those at home, prompting him to think about how Christianity itself must differ around the world. For more than two years, Gibbs hopped around the globe on a quest to see these differences for himself, calling on contacts everywhere from Africa to Australia. In all, Gibbs visited 12 countries, worshiping with Christians of all cultures and hearing their experiences of faith—often in lands where that faith was in the minority. The result is more than just a travelogue of sites and curiosities; it’s an insightful examination of the assumptions made by American Christians and a look at how much we can learn from other views of the faith. Gibbs has a gift for humor—Jesus Without Borders is a very funny book—but also a greater gift for exploring profound questions about how culture alters faith, and how what we think it means to be Christian is at least partially the result of the society in which we live. Enjoyable and eye-opening, Jesus Without Borders will take you on a journey you did not expect and change you for the better along the way.

Unexpected discoveries also lie at the heart of Called: My Journey to C.S. Lewis’s House and Back Again, by Ryan J. Pemberton. A successful young marketing writer, Pemberton had his life spun completely off track when he was jolted by a profound certainty that God wanted him to leave his comfortable, well-paying job in Oregon and travel around the world to study theology at Oxford. Facing obstacles of financing and finding living space for himself and his wife, and of course the rigors of the most prestigious academic setting in the world, Pemberton found himself in an unexpected place, where he could only rely on faith to carry him through. Called is his account of those challenges, and of the surprises God had in store for him throughout—including the opportunity to live in C.S. Lewis’ Oxford home. Told in vignettes both simple and sublime, Called is a record of faith and revelation, and a reminder that life with Jesus will shake up all our expectations—but that upheaval will be worthwhile.

LOOKING INWARD
Sometimes discovery must come not only for ourselves, but also for others in our lives. Donald Miller, the best-selling author of Blue Like Jazz and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, confronts this reality in his latest memoir, Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy. In his typically straightforward, revealing manner, Miller shares his difficulties with finding and keeping an intimate relationship, culminating in a year-long quest to change himself from an actor playing at love into a human being able to trust another with his heart. As with all his books, Miller’s faith lies at the center, guiding him through this journey of self-discovery. As Miller prayerfully lays bare his own habits of manipulation and deception, he exposes these same tendencies in the rest of us, pointing the reader and himself toward the openness and honesty that God intends for us to share with those we love.

Discovering the self is also at the heart of Jessica N. Turner’s The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You. “Fringe hours” is Turner’s phrase for moments of unused time that pass unnoticed on the edges of a busy day, moments that can be redeemed to restore the spirit and pursue passions. Since Turner’s work is aimed at the busy American woman, I recruited the perspective of one I know well—my wife, Betsy. Reading the book with me, she offered her thoughts: “The Fringe Hours gives a lot of suggestions for ways to find and do what you love when you are limited by time, finances, job and family constraints. As a woman who measures herself against peers, this book helps me get excited about my passions (what makes me tick) and pursue what I need (rest and quiet time) without feeling guilty about what I’m not doing or being. Turner’s transparency about her life, as well as the survey comments from other women in the book, are refreshingly candid and compassionate. Her book extends grace, hope and inspiration to the reader. After reading this, I actually feel excited about my own fringe hours.” The book features short segments and brief questions, making it easy to glean inspiration and insight, even if the reader only has a few “fringe moments” to spend. If you’re feeling a bit lost in the whirlwind of daily pressures, The Fringe Hours can help you find yourself again.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Easter is a time for self-discovery and reflection on relationships, faith and the soul. Five new books offer fresh perspectives to help readers find God, themselves and each other, and renew their hearts for another year.

In time for the Easter season, six new books offer guidance for living a more spiritual life. Some are inspirational, some inspirationally practical. All offer wisdom for those seeking a stronger connection with God and a more fulfilling life.

The meaning of an abundant life in Christ is the central theme of Jonathan Merritt’s Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined. In this deeply personal and highly evocative book, Merritt takes the reader on a search for God through times of intimate communion and soul-searing doubt, sharing the highs and lows of his faith. Whether it’s in the silence of a desert monastery or the brash environs of a bar filled with sacrilegious art, Merritt discovers unexpected truths about Christ and about himself, and realizes that what Christ offers is more than anyone expects and far more than anyone even imagines. Written with soul-stirring simplicity and soul-baring honesty, Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined is both a balm to the wounded believer and the scarred skeptic, as well as a challenge to the committed traditionalist. Merritt calls for a personal encounter that’s not a list of dos and don’ts or pros and cons, but rather an invitation to a lifelong, one-to-one intimacy with a God who knows and loves us, regardless of who, what or where we are.

WORRY NOT
Part of Merritt’s point is that Christians are neither perfect people nor promised perfect lives, and that Christ promises to be there through every mess, mistake and miracle that comes along. This, too, is the central theme of Overwhelmed: Winning the War Against Worry by Perry Noble. Depression, anxiety and worry are not strange afflictions to which Christians should be immune, Noble writes. After all, Moses, Elijah and Paul all suffered through periods of deep depression, even to the point of wishing for death, while heroes like Joseph, Daniel and Christ himself dealt with sources of stress simply unimaginable to most people today. Noble points out that the promise of Christ is not that such struggles will not come, or that we will not feel overwhelmed, but rather that God will carry us through these struggles. With heart and humor, Noble shares details of his own personal battle with depression and stress, using the touchstone of Daniel and his compatriots (and even his kings) to reveal that God has a path through the worry and the fear, and a promise of Christ’s presence amid it all.

HAVING IT ALL
If the superheroes of the past weren’t immune to feeling overwhelmed, then certainly the superwomen of today aren’t, either. Holley Gerth’s You’re Going to Be Okay: Encouraging Truth Your Heart Needs to Hear, Especially on the Hard Days tackles stress, depression and anxiety from a woman’s perspective, for a woman’s life. Gerth brings her knowledge as a counselor and her own experiences with overwhelming worry to relieve the stressed-out and the harried. Filled with practical solutions, family stories and her trademark Southern wit, You’re Going to Be Okay is an intimate conversation with a friend who’s been there too and knows not only what you’re going through, but also that you can go through it—that you’re not alone, no matter what. If you’re a woman dealing with stress, anxiety or depression, or if you love a woman who is, then this is the book for you to seek out.

THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
One of the foremost leaders in the fight against apartheid, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa comforted countless victims of brutality, rape, torture and murder while facing death threats and virulent racism himself. Yet after apartheid ended, Nobel Peace Prize winner Tutu was among the loudest voices calling not for revenge, but for forgiveness. That commitment and his own personal experiences—as well as those of his daughter, Reverend Mpho Tutu—form the basis for The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. This is not a history of apartheid, though it informs the work, but rather an inspirational, practical and moving guide to finding and giving forgiveness, whether for a criminal action or a slight as ordinary as an insult. It is a path to peace, both internally and in community, offered with wisdom, honesty and beauty. Whether the pain you’ve received or given is great or small, The Book of Forgiving offers a roadmap to healing, from one who has followed it.

WISDOM FOR THE ASKING
In The God of Yes: How Faith Makes All Things New, Jud Wilhite points out that wisdom is neither mysterious nor unattainable—with God, it’s ours for the asking. Wilhite explores our lives today through the prism of Ecclesiastes and the eponymous Teacher’s attempts to discover the purpose and meaning of life. Anything but a dry Bible study, Wilhite’s book combines levity with modern-day reality to present an Ecclesiastes that is very much relevant to today’s reader, and an enjoyable read. By comparing our everyday experiences and cultural quirks and showing how there is “nothing new under the sun,” Wilhite offers insight into a God who offers the gifts we need for a fulfilling, meaningful life.

LIFE IS A CANVAS
Wisdom can be practical, but it can also be sublime—and the latter is the best word to describe Erwin Raphael McManus’ The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art. Beautiful, rich, philosophical and inspiring, The Artisan Soul argues that we are all “little creators,” and that human creativity, imagination and love are what make us “the image of God.” Though his own background and relationships are with artists and artistic people, McManus says that we all have “an artisan soul,” from a master painter to anyone who flunked finger painting. It’s not the activity that defines us, but our imaginations—and our canvas is life itself. God has given us the paintbrush and the paints, and like a gentle master guiding a pupil, He is there to help us see what art we make of it. Whether you’re an artist or an accountant, The Artisan Soul will inspire you to make your life the masterpiece God intends it to be.

In time for the Easter season, six new books offer guidance for living a more spiritual life. Some are inspirational, some inspirationally practical. All offer wisdom for those seeking a stronger connection with God and a more fulfilling life.

What is history but the story of how we came to be? All our past—every tiniest tick of it—led to today, and every passing second casts us into tomorrow. We do things for reasons whose origins we barely remember, and the things we do set the pattern of the future, with our own choices no more assuredly understood than those of our ancestors. Ronald Reagan quipped that “status quo” was Latin for “the mess we’re in.” It might also mean “the mess we’ve been handed,” for all history is simply a mess handed forward, from which we are expected to sift out treasure, if we can but find it.

Thomas Cahill made a life of publishing others’ thoughts on history and religion before deciding to put forth his own examination of “the mess we’ve been handed.” His Hinges of History series, beginning with How the Irish Saved Civilization, offers his interpretation of pivotal moments, cultures and individuals who have contributed both treasure and trash to the mess we’re in. Heretics and Heroes, his latest addition, turns his glass upon the Renaissance, the era of grandiose art and even greater upheaval, as the culture of medieval Europe slammed headfirst into an onslaught of new ideas and new discoveries. Columbus found an astounding New World, the Italian artists pursued incomparable forms of expression and a priest in Wittenberg challenged the understanding of faith—and between them all, they brought forth political and religious changes that overturned the world.

Cahill’s book is not strictly a history, but rather a selection of gleanings from it—an interpretation of history, rather than history itself. As an interpretation, it very much arises from Cahill’s own world view, rather than an objective assessment. The book is not about what happened, but rather what happened as Cahill sees it—history salted heavily with opinion, ranging from art criticism to religious interpretation to political commentary. Yet even where the reader may disagree, Cahill’s insights remain thought-provoking, and his examination of the characters who altered their age and our own, for good or ill, is often quite fascinating. Though flawed as history, Heretics and Heroes still offers an interesting window into a time when muddle piled onto muddle, and does indeed manage to brush away that debris for bits of gold.

Howard Shirley is a writer living in Franklin, Tennessee.

What is history but the story of how we came to be? All our past—every tiniest tick of it—led to today, and every passing second casts us into tomorrow. We do things for reasons whose origins we barely remember, and the things we do set the pattern of the future, with our own choices no […]

In 1945, four things happened: We dropped a bomb (well, two), a sailor kissed a girl, a war ended and the world got back to making automobiles, airplanes and transistor radios. Or at least, that's how most recall that year, if we think of it at all.

But reality doesn't work that way, even when we try to make it. Year Zero: A History of 1945 is Ian Buruma's stark look at the final year of World War II, when most wanted to see the world start over so that life could get better. That it did not get better, and for many became much worse, even as leaders and politicians promised the opposite, forms a central element of Buruma's account. His own father was a Dutch "DP"—a "Displaced Person"—one of millions of refugees, slave workers and concentration camp survivors scattered around Europe (and Asia) by the war. He becomes the human link to Buruma's tale, the reminder that human faces underlie the big events, and that the machinations of diplomats and dictators, however cloaked in idealistic language, have results that in the end are highly personal, whether fortunate or tragic.

This is not a book in praise of heroes; there are few, and many who might be heroes in one light are tainted by gross abuses in another. Nor is it a book that lauds a generation or a nation or even an ideal; rather it is look at reality, or at least the reality that can be recalled. At times Year Zero is as harsh as the reality it exposes; one cannot read the litany of deaths, rapes and cruelties that continued after the war supposedly ended without feeling horror, however fascinating the account may be.

And it is fascinating, not just for the tragedy it contains, but also for the seeds of hope. For as much as the book is about human reality, it is also about our unreality—the ways people find to survive, even coming to believe that perhaps the world can indeed "start over" and be better than it was before. "What is history, but a myth agreed upon?" Napoleon allegedly observed. Year Zero is a reminder that sometimes we consciously make that myth, in hopes that this time it might come true.

Howard Shirley is a writer and history enthusiast living in Franklin, Tennessee.

In 1945, four things happened: We dropped a bomb (well, two), a sailor kissed a girl, a war ended and the world got back to making automobiles, airplanes and transistor radios. Or at least, that's how most recall that year, if we think of it at all. But reality doesn't work that way, even when […]

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