A Pretty Important Book

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Every so often I take on a few books to read and review for various sites and publishers, and this was a book that caught my attention.  Within just the first few pages, I couldn’t put it down.  In fact, I put aside many other things on my to do list and pretty much consumed this book.  There is a lot that I like about this book, but even more that I loved.  It spoke right to my heart about things I already believed, and challenged my thinking on other aspects of the church.  And… it struck a cord and convicted me too.

I think there are important books being written for the church & ministries.  Word-filled Women’s Ministry, for example, I think is an incredibly important book for Women’s Ministry.  But, as I read through Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back, I may be so bold to say that this may be one of the most important books that I have read.  Right off the bat, author Ray Johnston comes out swinging with some big points.

Jesus is still popular in America.  We currently have better resources, than ever.  Our buildings are world class buildings, corporate level leadership, mega churches scattered about, and better communications thanks to the explosion of technology.  With all of the resources we have available, we should be seeing exponential growth in the church.  However the prevailing question that Johnston asks (and answers throughout this book) is:

Why is it that nobody wants to go to church anymore?

To find his answer, Ray Johnston had to go to Africa.

What an introduction, right?  Readers, all of this and I hadn’t even gotten into the first chapter yet!  I was invested in riding this through, put my highlighter to the test, and I’m blown away.  Ray Johnston was able to put his finger on the pulse of the church, detecting that slowing rhythm, and then puts himself to task to understand what is happening in the American church and how to fix it.

By the time you finish with Chapter Two, a quick journey spanning seven decades of decay in the American Culture is outlined right before you.  It seems so obvious, as you read decade to decade.  However, when you look at the cumulative of seven decades of loss… you almost have wonder:

Why aren’t we losing even more people from the church?

The good news is that everything we have lost can be found in Jesus, and there are those of us in the church who know this.  However, we are doing a poor job in ensuring that everyone walking through our church doors know this to be true.  We are doing a worse job making sure the world is pointed to the answer, the Truth.

As the book continues, Ray Johnston tells it like it is.  We are starting off with cracked foundations that are being influenced by the world around us.  Christians are taking the initials steps of seeking Christ, and saying the prayers for salvation… but coming up short of real trans-formative change.  If we want to really have an affect on the exodus of people from the church, we must repair these foundations.

If you know me personally, Bible Literacy is a big topic for me.  I’ve written about it before on the blog, talk about it more often, and even teach small groups on how to study the bible.  I’m pleased by how often throughout these pages Johnston points us toward Bible literacy in order to shape our biblical worldview.

After addressing the cracks in our personal foundations, we need to look at the church as it sits today with very honest and open eyes.  Johnston helps us to gain the perspective of those who are leaving (or not coming in the first place) and you can’t get through these passages without a sting of conviction.  Sure, some will feel a stronger sting than others… but I don’t think any of our churches are immune from these thoughts. Johnston doesn’t stop there has he also calls attention to the lukewarm churches who may have numbers but lack substance.

It is at this juncture in the book, we begin a new course.  The overall problems are identified and now it’s time for the solutions.  What holds us back, how do we get beyond them, and why is this so important?

How do we give Jesus back His church?

As I said, I think this is one of the most important books written for the church.  I would highly recommend this book for not only your Pastor Staff, but any leader in the church who is part of that vision cast.  Church Planters should start here, and even our ministry leaders need to ask how this applies to their ministry.

Jesus called, and He wants His women’s ministry back…

…and His youth group, children’s ministry, MOPS group, worship band, and every other part of it.

The book Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back was provided to me via BookLook Bloggers program for the purpose of reviewing, all thoughts on this book are my own and not influenced by the organization.
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BOOK REVIEW: BEFORE AMEN (Max Lucado)

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I am a huge fan of Max Lucado.  In fact, one of the very first books I read when I became a Christian was “He Chose the Nails”.  As a parent, I would introduce my kids to Max Lucado through “Hermie & Friends”.  I was also very excited to see Max Lucado speak at my local Women of Faith event, several years back.

When Family Christian gave me the opportunity to read “Before Amen”, I jumped at the opportunity.  I admit it, I am biased.  I new I’d love it, because I have always found Max Lucado’s writing credible, honest, easy to read & understand, and poignant to season in my life I am reading it.  Now that I have finished the book, I totally understand why it was chosen Book of the Year.

I’m going to let you in on a secret, that I have hidden from my kids, I write in books.  Yes, the very thing I tell them not to do… I do it.  Endlessly.  Without shame.

My bible…

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My books….

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As I was reading through “Before Amen”, my pen was being put to serious use.  In fact, I am pretty sure if the book had been about 10 pages longer, I’d have run out of ink.

A new Christian may find themselves in that awkward moment, where they want to talk to God… they know they should pray.  However, they don’t know how.   How do I begin?  What do I say?  How do I end?  How long should it be?  And, truthfully, if you google prayer formats, you can find quite a few suggestions.  Start with this, follow with this, etc.  Yet they are still confusing to a new believer.   For example, the A.C.T.S.  format (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication) … a new believer will have no clue what “supplication” means.  They find themselves needing a dictionary just to understand how to pray.

When the Council at Jerusalem met, one thing they concluded is that we shouldn’t make faith difficult for new believers.  (ACTS 15:19)

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New believers, they need a simple prayer.

Perhaps though, you are a seasoned believer.  You have been praying all your life, but you find yourself in a moment of crisis, disaster, and you can’t find the words.  Your heart, your soul, LONGS to pray… but the words escape you.  Pain & confusion fill your mind, and your sorrow falls with your tears onto your pillow.  Others have the words to encourage you, the scriptures you should cling to.  Yet, you are unable to speak them or read them.  The tears fall, a silent prayer, when words escape us.

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Seasoned believers, need a simple prayer.

That is what “Before Amen” helps us all, new and seasoned believers, to find.  That simple prayer, when we don’t know what to say, or how to say it.  A prayer that acknowledges our God as our father, who loves us.  A prayer that says “Daddy, I need you”.  A prayer that say, “They need you”.  A prayer that says “Thank you” even when we are in our moments of doubt, lack of understanding, and pain.  A prayer that calls on the authority of the Heavens, on our behalf.

It is here, in my car, I have my conversations with God.

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They don’t always start out with “Dear God” and don’t always end with “In Jesus Name”, but they are moments where I pour out my heart to God about things I can’t grapple with.  This isn’t my formal prayer time, but it is sacred time to me.  It’s an uninterrupted time to wrap my head around the things going on around me.  I know God is there with me, but surely He’d prefer me to be quiet more, and listen more.  This conversation, that may last 15 minutes or 1 hour, isn’t enough.  It isn’t a simple prayer.

It is here, in this corner, where I was broken… beyond words…. crying out to God.   Tears staining my cheek, fingers wrenched around my cardigan, words escaped me.  But, I needed God

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I needed a simple prayer.

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In moments like these, even words like those above elude us.  The good news is that in “Before Amen”, Max Lucado points us not only toward a simple prayer, that has an enormous amount of power, but teaches us the importance of each sentence.  It’s a prayer we can write down on a card to display in our bathrooms, tuck into our purse to access throughout the day, or to share with our friends and loved ones.  A simple prayer that acknowledges our Father, and calls on the authority of Jesus.

In the scriptures, Max Lucado points out, the only thing that the disciples actually asked for a tutorial on… is how to pray.  That is how important prayer is; not only did they want to know how, but that Jesus took the time to teach them.   He set the best example on prayer life.  How, when and where.

“Before Amen” introduces us to this simple prayer, and the chapters that follow expand on each sentence of the prayer.  Why is this portion important?  How do we do it?  How does it help us?  Others?  Everything pivoting on our personal relationship with our Father God, it is a pure and sincere prayer that isn’t congested with fancy words, platitudes, illustrations and ideas.

We get an opportunity to explore how God answers prayers, and how to work through those prayers that are seemingly unanswered.  All of our prayers are important and answered by Him, but in His timing; our prayers for healing, forgiveness, safety, understanding, peace… the joyous and the tear stained.

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Within the final chapters of “Before Amen”, we are left with a very special gift….  A STUDY GUIDE!   Whether for your own purposes, for use in a small group, with friends or even with your spouse; these pages contain practical application questions, scripture reading promptings and guidance to help you span the gap between prayer in theory & prayer in practice.

The study guide in “Before Amen”, is well written and can be explored in a few sittings or spread out over time; to allow you to really reflect on the questions & suggestions.  It also helps us to identify our strengths in prayer, directs us to Bible Prayer Heroes that we can relate to, and gives us suggestions on how to strengthen in other areas of prayer.

Some great quotes, from the book “Before Amen”:

“When we invite God into our world, he walks in.  He brings a host of gifts:  joy, patience, resilience.  Anxieties come, but they don’t stick.  Fears surface and then depart.  Regrets land on the windshield, but then comes the wiper of prayer.  The devil hands me stones of guilt, but I turn and give them to Christ.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

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“Travel to the Wailing Wall if you want.  But prayers at your backyard fence is just as effective.  The One who hears your prayers is your Daddy.  You needn’t woo him with location.”   (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

“Prayer changes things because prayer appeals to the top power in the universe… It is the yes to God’s invitation to invoke his name.”  (Max Lucado, Before Amen)

We are all running the good race, together.  We may find ourselves in those last few yard praying… Daddy, you are good to me.  I know you can.  So please, help me.  Help them.  Thank you. In Jesus name, AMEN.  

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And then we fall into his arms, because He was running with us the whole time. 

If you are looking for a good book to pick up, to start 2015 out right, I highly recommend “Before Amen”Too many books give us a complicated how to, that seem bigger than we can handle.  “Before Amen”  keeps it simple, to the point; it offers tangible and realistic steps that will transform your prayer life, and in doing so will transform you & the world around you.

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