I’m really fond of reading and encourage it for everyone. Here are three book reviews—as I finish November blogging. These are books I happily recommend. It’s not too late to put them on your Christmas shopping list, if you feel so inclined, or to add them to your reading list for 2022. Each goes along nicely with topics this blog has discussed in the past three months; I will link the relevant blogs throughout the text below.
The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions
Arthur Bennett, Editor
Banner of Truth, 1975
The first time I ever read a prayer from this book was when I was preparing a volunteer training course while I was a pregnancy center director. I came across “God’s Cause” in a curriculum I was considering using, and was amazed at its eloquence in biblically getting to the heart of spreading the Gospel. A few years later I was at a close-out sale for a Christian bookstore and found the book on a remarkable sale. I bought it and I have not been disappointed.
What fascinates me is that these prayers, compiled by Arthur Bennett, were prayed and written hundreds of years ago; yet despite the passage of time, despite vast cultural differences, they still capture what should be our hearts’ desires as we pray. I know of nothing comparable by contemporary Christian leaders.
“Thou Incomprehensible but prayer hearing God,
Known, but beyond knowledge,
revealed, but unrevealed…
possess me with thyself…
with a spirit of grace and supplication,
with a prayerful attitude of mind…” (from “God Enjoyed”).
Clearly, the authors of these prayers were well versed in scripture and knew deeply the God they prayed to. Their faith was a vital part of their everyday lives.
“…by means of Jesus
in whom mercy and truth meet together,
and righteousness and peace kiss each other.
In him the enslaved find redemption,
the guilty pardon,
the unholy renovation;
In him are everlasting strength for the weak,
unsearchable riches for the needy,
treasures of wisdom and knowledge for the ignorant,
fullness for the empty” (from “The Name of Jesus”).
I used excerpts from this book in my last blog. Some of these prayers were written in a similar time period, but were not actually the prayers prayed on the occasions I mentioned. However, I used them because the Pilgrim Separatists and the Puritans were so closely related in their beliefs. Not long after the Pilgrims arrived in New England, the Puritans followed and settled in the same area.
I use The Valley of Vision as a devotional, one prayer at a time. Every serious reader will find their hearts encouraged as they join and agree with these long ago pray-ers. No doubt Valley of Vision is a valuable asset to one’s Christian walk.
The Gospel Comes with a House Key: Practicing Radically Ordinary Hospitality in our Post-Christian World
By Rosaria Butterfield
The last two blogs of October were about serving God (https://www.livingletters.life/blog/post/the-issue-of-serving-god and https://www.livingletters.life/blog/post/the-action-of-serving-god). Author Rosaria Butterfield, suggests how believers may serve God by opening their homes to fellow believers, as well as unsaved neighbors, friends, and relatives. Actually, anyone in need.
Butterfield’s testimony includes coming to faith through the hospitality of a pastor, with whom she had expected to experience much hostility from. Instead, she found a loving and caring acceptance just as she was at that moment. He and his wife practiced hospitality in such a way that Butterfield heard the gospel they preached, even through their differing perspectives on life. That loving acceptance of individuals, the generous giving of ourselves especially in hospitality, allows unbelievers to see Christ’s love in action and to hear the gospel message we espouse.
But even as we invite unbelievers into our homes, it is important to see them and relate to them as Jesus did to those He served during His earthly ministry. Butterfield writes:
“It is vital to have the eyes to see what Jesus did.
“It is also vital to see what Jesus did not do.
“He did not tell the leper that God loved and approved of him just as he was. Jesus did not say that the problem of leprosy was a social construction rooted only in the mind of the beholder, and now that ‘grace’ had arrived, ‘the law’ was no longer binding. Jesus did not encourage the leper to develop greater self-esteem. Nor did Jesus rebuke the faith community for upholding irrational taboos against leprosy—leprophobia. No….
“When Jesus walked the earth, he wasn’t afraid to touch hurting people.
“He drew people in close.
“He met them empty and left them full.”
This is the gospel we preach. This is the gospel we should be modeling. Butterfield encourages us to open ourselves up to preaching it through transparent living in our homes—by sharing and caring for even the “lepers” or “unwanted” individuals of our society. The Gospel Comes with a Housekey gently admonishes the Church to fully live the gospel, encourages us to love as Jesus loves, and gives us practical ideas on how to take the first steps. It is well worth the read.
Called to Follow
By Paul McDonald
Westbow Press, 2016
Mission trips bring us out of our comfort zones and into the stark reality of the world others are familiar with. They lead us into places that we would not normally wish to go. Yet, there is the call of God on our lives—a call to proclaim Him to those who do not know Him. A call to serve them by loving them with the love of Christ that serves us so abundantly. This is the call that Jesus puts on every one of His followers. A call to follow Him.
Paul McDonald is Mike McDonald’s brother (https://www.livingletters.life/blog/post/heads-hearts-and-hands-medical-ministry-in-uganda). Paul’s story is about his first medical mission trip experience to Uganda. His initial call and his reluctance to heed it. How forging through with a commitment to go solidified his own walk with the Lord. He shares his spiritual struggles and the insights he has gained. His feelings of inadequacies to minister to the immense need he saw as well as amazing miracles he experienced on the trip. Most of all, how he came to see the necessity of living for Jesus no matter where it might lead, and the rewarding fulfillment produced by following. So much so, that mission trips have become a regular part of Paul’s life.
He writes: “I [went] to Uganda assuming I would make a difference through providing medical care. While I know our treatment changed lives, I believe the real reason God brought me here was to change me. I didn’t want to return the same person who arrived. I didn’t want to waste the experience.
“I learned to ask myself these questions as I walk through life. What does God want me to learn? What skill is He trying to develop? What is He preparing me to do next? God works through all situations. We just need to see it.”
Called to Follow could be the encouragement you need to prepare for mission work you might be considering or just for the next thing God calls you to do.