Kris Mares

Just a woman trying to love Jesus and others a little bit more…

Book Reviews: #HeadScratchers and #Solve May 11, 2016

One of the perks of ministry is having colleagues who write books. Since I LOVE books, reading the work of pastors around me is fun. And when I get personalized signed copies, or advance reading copies… well, let’s just say that this preacher girl spends a few hours in a happy place!

One of my colleagues and tweeps (you know, a Twitter peep) is Talbot Davis. He has several books out right now. I first “met” him in some interesting Twitter discussions. Then, at our annual conference last summer, I met him in person for the first time. You know what impressed me most? We’d never met in person, but he immediately recognized me and knew my name. He personalized the copy of Head Scratchers that I bought and since then we continue to interact on social media. Bonus: we both are English Majors turned preachers, so there has to be something good about him right?

Recently, Talbot has finished a new book – Solve. When he was looking for advance readers and reviews, I jumped on the chance! So he sent me a copy in exchange for my (hopefully) good review (brave and trusting guy). Below are my reviews of both Head Scratchers and Solve. Since Head Scratchers is signed (and I bought it), I’m keeping that one! I’ve giving away my copy of Solve though, so leave a comment at the end of the post and you’ll be entered into the random drawing! People who follow my blog via email will have a second entry into the drawing, so make sure you sign-up to follow via email AND comment below for two chances to win!

Head Scratchers looks at five odd, hard to understand and sometimes scandalous things that Jesus says. As a preacher, I have a hard time making sense of Jesus’ hard sayings sometimes, so it was helpful for me to hear what someone else had to say. For each saying, Talbot reminds us that “Context is Everything.” We can’t take one statement in isolation, but must back up and see it within the bigger picture. So what does it mean to hate your mother and father? What is the unforgivable sin? Why wasn’t the disciple supposed to bury his father? Each chapter was easy to read, gave some great “real life” stories and examples and ended with thought-provoking discussion questions for personal reflection or small group discussion. A couple of times, there seemed to be some rambling (we preachers do that sometimes), but it always came back around. For me, the last chapter was the most powerful (seriously thinking about that one for a while) and I hope you’ll join me in praying Talbot’s prayer:

Lord, let there be revival through hard words. Don’t fill us with false promises of prosperity, but enliven us through truth. Let new Life break out among your people and your churches not because of wine and roses but because of flood, sweat, and tears. (Head Scratchers, p103)

In Solve, Talbot takes a conversational approach to the person and work of Nehemiah. Another easy to read, filled with background study, Solve helps the reader think about how to move from being one who point out problems toward being a “solutionist.” I loved all the historical context Talbot gave and hoped for an additional footnote or two that might have pointed me toward additional reading on the subject (I’m a nerd like that and know that others might be too). Each chapter shared good stories/examples from the Talbot’s ministry at Good Shepherd UMC. The addition of some “non-church” examples or “other church” examples may have helped me connect even further with the main points. I do know some people who are really struggling with conflict in their life and Solve would be a good read and guide to help them reflect upon Nehemiah’s lessons for their own life. For me, it was again the last chapter (although the least exciting biblical read) that was meaningful and leaves me thinking about who bears my mark.

Overall, I recommend either book to people to read for specific times in their lives. Head Scratchers for those wanting to delve deep into Jesus and Solve for those in the midst of church or family or work or life conflict. Both are easy enough for a person unfamiliar with the Bible, but contain enough “meat” for those further along in their faith journey.

Remember, if you want to enter to win my read copy of Solve, please comment below and sign up to follow my blog via email! Drawing will be on May 15th!

(Note: The links above are affiliate links.)

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The Best Yes April 29, 2016

This year, I am on a journey of wellness. I’ve been reading and working on “inside stuff” in order to bring some healing and health to “outside stuff.” Inner work for outer health. I am learning to be healthy and whole, inside and out.

Part of that journey is learning how to make my yes mean yes and my no mean no. For a people pleasing, think I can do it all, caretaker, extrovert like me, that is harder than it may seem. Like my plate at the end of a buffet line, I often find my schedule and “to do” list overflowing with lots of good things, not enough room to really enjoy any of them and I am left feeling overstuffed, tired and not really satisfied.

So The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst got put in my “to read” pile. From her website:

Lysa TerKeurst is learning that there is a big difference between saying yes to everyone and saying yes to God. In The Best Yes she will help you:

  • Cure the disease to please with a biblical understanding of the command to love.
  • Escape the guilt of disappointing others by learning the secret of the small no.
  • Overcome the agony of hard choices by embracing a wisdom based decision-making process.
  • Rise above the rush of endless demands and discover your Best Yes today.

511tofxnmol-_sx326_bo1204203200_Some of what she said was not new to me, but it reminded me to constantly put God’s priorities for me first. I needed those reminders. The stories she told from her life reminded me that I am never alone in my struggle to say yes, no, not right now.

Best of all, I know that I don’t need to feel guilty when I say no. I don’t. No is a complete sentence. And while there are many things in life that are good things, that I may want to say yes to, I must consider if it is a “best yes” for me at this time, with the resources I currently have and the call that God has before me. Sometimes, a no now may be a yes later. If I want to live a life worthy of my callings, I have to give yeses that fit with those callings.

Hard but necessary. Difficult but true.

Again you have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago:Don’t make a false solemn pledge, but you should follow through on what you have pledged to the Lord. But I say to you that you must not pledge at all. You must not pledge by heaven, because it’s God’s throne. You must not pledge by the earth, because it’s God’s footstool. You must not pledge by Jerusalem, because it’s the city of the great king. And you must not pledge by your head, because you can’t turn one hair white or black. Let your yes mean yes, and your no mean no. Anything more than this comes from the evil one.                                                                                            -Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5:33-37, CEB

So, here’s to me following through on what I have pledged to God, letting my yes be a best yes and my no be understood by those who receive it.

Have you read The Best Yes? Comment below and tell me what you thought or share your struggle with letting your yes be yes and your no be no.

 

P.S. If you’d like to order The Best Yes, I highly recommend the read. Just click on any of the links above (they are affiliate links).

P.P.S. Remember, I’m starting a Make Over Your Mornings journey on Sunday! Please join me in the study and we can share what we’ve learned together!

 

Shelter for the Spirit August 21, 2015

When graduate school graduation began approaching, people started asking me “What are you going to do after graduation with all the free time you’ll have?” I usually answered “Get my house in order.”

You see, during four years of graduate school, my home had become a place of disarray. I crave organization and order and a good plan. My family functions better that way. Grad school wasn’t good for having an organized home.

This summer, I’ve had time to rest and begin the process of getting my home back in order. I’ve decluttered. I’ve sold. I’ve given away. I’ve thrown away.

And I’ve read.

I’ve just finished reading this precious book. It says what my heart feels about a house being a home. It’s helped me think through why I minimize and why I keep some things over others. It’s helped me think through how I want my family and guests to feel in our home. It helped me to be intentional about the atmosphere in my home.

Why is my home so important? It’s not just where I sleep and keep stuff. It’s not just home base.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lordyour God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, NRSV)

Home is where family first knows God at work. Home is where God’s love is known to those who live and visit here. Home is where people see the best and the worst of us, thereby allowing a powerful transformation of the heart and mind. “Home work is serious stuff. This is where we confront our shadow side, our loneliness, and the people who can see through us when we least want to be transparent. This is where our words and actions are truly consequential. Regardless of how incidental we may be to several billion other people, to those in our household, we mean the world. This is a major responsibility” (p. 176).

So this day, I vow to be more intentional about getting my home in order. Not so that it “happiness [is] based on how majestic something looks from the outside” (p. 177), but so that my family and guests are touched on the inside. So that being in my home means something special to people, so that it brings them just a little closer to Jesus.

What do you do to make your house a shelter for your spirit and that of your guests?

 

More than Happy August 18, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews,Motherhood — Kris @ 1:41 pm
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Even though I’ve been parenting for over 13 years, I still have lots to learn. During those 13 years, I’ve read many books and articles on parenting, some were good, some were really good and some I didn’t finish. I just finished, by far the best parenting book I have ever read.

What I loved about this book was that it didn’t give a list of “do this” or “don’t do that” kind of advice. It spoke more broadly about life concepts and principles that are important in the Amish way of life that have led to children feeling secure and loved, yet a small part of something bigger than themselves. I may not be Amish, but so much of their life philosophy is what I hope to be. The importance of family, community, discipline, work ethic, healthy use of technology and of course faith are vital to raising children who “grow up to be people of value” (p. 156).

The point is not so much that children are happy, but that they grow up to be adults with integrity and who place their own needs in perspective with the needs of the family and the community. Happiness is an emotion that can come and go based on circumstance. The values of family, community, discipline, work ethic and faith are values that last a lifetime, bond people together and create a life in which children know what to expect, know they are loved and know they have value to the greater good.

Together, Serena Miller and Paul Stutzman weave stories of Amish parenting and Amish life together with experiences of “Englisch” living. In showing how the “to dos” of parenting may look different in various family contexts, they show how the overarching principles that guide the Amish way of life can also guide other families. How they can guide my family.

While I was reading, I didn’t feel bad about my failures in mothering, only inspired to be more than we already are. I was encouraged to be more intentional about how I teach my children by modeling life. I thought about my own ways of mothering and how I can shift some of the functioning of our family to create a home where the children have important roles in our home, where we play more together and where we are more open and intentional about some of the “whys” of how we do things.

We’re headed in the right direction. Many families are and most want to be. I think the key is that we must all be more intentional about speaking and modeling and teaching the values that we want to instill in our children. And as the Amish term gelassenheit teaches us “We are not alone in this. God has a plan and He is in control” (p. 323).

 

Not Buying It! August 13, 2015

In my search for contentment and good stewardship, I’m always on the lookout for people who have pursued simplicity and less consumerism. When I was perusing the shelves of my local library (one way I can read voraciously without spending), I saw this book and picked it up on a whim.

Immediately, I was drawn to the idea of not buying things for a year. I would love to be able to do just that, so I was hoping that I would be inspired. What I found, was a woman journeying in life who shared an honest assessment of her struggle to not buy things, her deep desire to do good for the planet, for the poor worker, for the sustainability of the world, yet her desire to just have some nice things. I appreciated her honesty in the struggle to make do with what she had, find a way to spend time with friends that didn’t involve money, and at the same time, learn how to receive gifts from others. When you don’t have money to spend, it’s hard to simply receive.

Over the last several years, our family has drastically reduced our consumption. Partly because we had to and partly because I have a growing committment to my inner “tree-hugger” and living a more sustainable lifestyle. The vast majority of our clothes come from a local consignment store or are hand me downs from family and friends (with the exception of Racer’s work pants and all our tennis shoes) or are freebie t-shirts from events/promotions. We’ve been reducing the amount of stuff we bring in (even asking family to give “experiences” rather than things), reusing what we can in a variety of ways (vases, art projects, turned pants into shorts) and we take a bin of recycling every week.

But somehow, I still get a great longing to buy. To shop. To spend money on shiny objects that promise to make me slimmer, give a smile, and heal my soul in just 5 simple steps. Well, you get the idea. I still have this urge to shop.

Why? Well, I think the best gem of the book came in December. On Christmas Eve, Judith Levine and her significant other were walking and stopped into a religious service. Although she says they are atheists, I think she write something that speaks so loudly to faith: “But I do want something that religious offer in abundance; the permission to desire wildly, to want the biggest stuff – communion, transcendence, joy, and a freedom that has nothing to do with a choice of checking accounts or E-Z access to anything” (p. 261).

I think there is a void in all of us that is constantly searching for something more. Levine doesn’t think we need religion to find it. I think she’s right there. But we disagree in how we do fill that void, that desire for something bigger than ourselves. You see shopping can’t fill it. Friendship can’t fill it. Marriage can’t fill it. Children can’t fill it. Social activism can’t fill it. Even a life of being content with what you have can’t really fill it.

Only Jesus Christ can fill that void in our souls that we long to have filled.

That, my friends, doesn’t cost a thing.

We simply have to learn how to receive.

And that can be harder than not buying it.

 

If You Know Who You Are, You Will Know What to Do August 7, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews — Kris @ 9:14 am
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At some point in the last couple of years, I picked up this little book.

Generally, I’m a fast reader, but this one took me some time. I had to digest some parts more than others. It’s a book about integrity. While I consider myself a person with reasonably good integrity, there was something that challenged me here. Something that make me think and wonder and question.

Greer says that integrity is “being true to the lives to which we have been called” (p. xi). To be true to that, I have to first know what I have been called to. For me, I have several callings on my life. Wife, mother, pastor. Each of those callings happens within the relationship I have with God through Jesus Christ.

But how do I live a life worthy of the calling that I have received?

Well, that’s the integrity part. It’s being who God has called me to be, in the best way that I can, honoring God with all I have, all I am and all I try to be. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even when that doesn’t meet the expectations of others. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even when I’m afraid I don’t have enough courage. It’s being the me God has designed me to be, even though I’m not sure what the point is.

Lately, I feel God stirring something in my soul, but I’m not sure I have enough courage. Lately, I’ve been feeling something on the horizon, but I’m not sure I’m bold enough. I’m not sure I have enough patience or compassion or – please God let me have enough humility.

Perhaps, even though I’ve had this book on my shelf for some time, I’m reading it now “for such a time as this.”

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3, NRSV)

 

Enough August 6, 2015

Filed under: Book Reviews,Money — Kris @ 7:14 am
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I just finished reading Enough by Adam Hamilton. It’s a basic book about giving and living a financial life that pleases God.

I’ll admit, I read through it pretty fast. There are good points and important principles for managing finances in a way that aligns with biblical teaching. Each chapter has some great questions to help readers really think about their own spending habits, financial goals and how their bank statement may or may not reflect God’s purpose for them.

I particularly appreciated the section that Rev. Hamilton wrote about the problem of affluenza. You see, Racer and I have been on quite a financial journey over the last 8 years. Soon I will begin telling more of that story (watch the Money category here on the blog). But I still struggle with keeping up with the Joneses. Not so much with material things, but in other ways. I want my kids to have the awesome experiences that I see other families give their kids. I want the church I serve to have the cool ministries that my friends’ churches have. I want to be on the ground level of that cool justice initiative in the community. I want my husband to be sought after and important in his field. Although Rev. Hamilton focused on the acquisition of stuff, it hit home for me that I try to keep up with the Joneses in other ways.

So, for those who are feeling stuck financially and need help seeing the hope of better finances, Enough is a good start. For those who have their needs met, but still wonder “Where did our money go?” and want to have a greater impact in the Kingdom, Enough will help you rethink how you are allocating your dollars. For those that have had a significant biblical financial journey already and have a good foundation and plan for giving, saving and spending, then Enough won’t be quite what you need.

Overall, it’s a great “starter” book for those who are beginning a financial journey that aligns their budget with biblical principles. It’s an easy read, but with some practical principles and challenging questions.

 

 
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