A Christmastide Feast: 2020 Reads List

A feast indeed. Time to belly up to some books.

I am grateful for all the friends in the Kingdom – some known and personal friends and some unknown literary friends who shared books, articles, journals and podcast with me this year.

Attached is my 2020 reads/listen list. If you have problems downloading it, drop me a note.

Please do share some of what you have read or listened to this past year!

Joyous Christmas Season

Scott Shaum

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Advent Reflection: Journey in the Valleys

The Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23)

The Valley of Achor (Hosea 2)

The Valley of Baca (Psalm 84)

Three valleys in the journey of life named:

“Shadow of Death”

“Bitterness”

“Trouble”

How did we get here?

Psalm 23 The Shepherd Leads Us

Psalm 23 is the great comforting Psalm of the Lord as our Shepherd. We are assured He will lead us, guide us, provide for us, and protect us.

He leads me in the right paths for His names sake (3).” Jesus is the Way and He knows the Way well.

Suddenly, we are down in a valley called the “Shadow of Death (4).” Has our Shepherd left us?

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me…”

For His names sake; in wisdom that is greater than ours; to ever tune our ears to his particular voice; to show us yet once again that he is always present, always caring, always leading: The Good Shepherd leads us on the “right path” which sometimes heads down into the valley called the “Shadow of Death.” There, on this “right path,” He is with us.

Psalm 84 The Pilgrimage Toward God

This Psalm resonates with heart yearnings for God’s presence, the soul’s thirst, the ache for beauty, the necessity and goodness of worshiping the Living God, the desire to build one’s nest and just stay there with Him (V. 1-4).

We are all on pilgrimage toward God. Sanctification, formation, maturation, discipleship – synonyms of Jesus teaching us and shaping us.

The way forward?

A Beatitude: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you.” The Lord is not only at the finish line waiting for us to show up. He is with us, strengthening us, guiding us. We need God to move toward God in relationship and maturity.

A Valley: “As they go through the Valley of Baca (Bitterness), they make it a place of springs…”

Each path has stretches of Bitterness. That is certain. It is norm for all in a fallen world. Every one suffers.

A Larger-than-Ourselves Purpose: The one’s walking with God are the one’s who leave a transformative effect in the valley of Bitterness. The place of bitter waters, is the very place the Spirit overflows with streams of living water through his people.

Hosea 2 The God who Allures

The Lord ever allures his people, He speaks tenderly to her, graces her with gifts.

What catches us by surprise is that to show us His tender love he will on occasion lead is into the wilderness valley of Trouble.

In this troubled time, He is awakening his people to his love – a love that is greater than all the other loves in this world. He knows we are seduced by the false-comforts of this life, so he leads us into a barren place. Do you hear Him?

Now that he has our ear, our desperation, he lavishes us with tender words and vineyards. And again there is redemption beyond our own lives – the Troubled valley becomes a door to hope – for us and for others.

The Valley Named Advent

Advent is a season of longing, for waiting for the Lord who has come and will come again.

In between the heights of Jesus’ two Advents, we watch and walk in life’s valleys.

Valleys are not detours, they are on the Way.

They are not mistakes, they are Wisdom from the Father.

Though they may be harsh, valleys are landscapes of love, redemption and intimacy.

God’s people don’t skirt the valleys, they follow the Lord into those shadowed, bitter, troubled places. There are Kingdom opportunities larger than our own lives. It is through His church that He redeems a world overwhelmed with fear, want and false comforts.

Advent Reflections

What is the name of the valley you are in? Name it specifically.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in and with His people. Where do you see Him? Hear Him? Where is there silence? Mystery? Wonder?

How is He overflowing your life into this dry and weary valleys with living water and words of hope for those in your midst?

The Father delights to tend to His own. Remember that He has a Wisdom and Love greater than ours. Follow Him where He leads.

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Summer Reads

Here are some of the books I’ve been enjoying these summer months, that I highly recommend!

What have you been reading? Thanks!

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The Enemy Attacks Our Understanding of Who God Is

Who is the liar but he who denies Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.  1 John 2:22

In the previous post we were confronted by the Apostle John’s call to us to receive the Father’s love in simple faith and to walk in that reality by abiding in the Father who is love.

The enemy knows that this truth – that God, as our divine Father who loves us and sent his Son Jesus Christ to rescue us to himself, is core to all reality. It is core to who God is and thus core to who we are.

All of life is either ordered under this reality of the Triune God or is in disorder in denying it.

It makes sense then that the enemies of our God and soul (Satan, the world and our flesh) would seek to strike at the heart of these realities.

Let us consider our enemies’ tactics from 1 John 2:22.

Denies Jesus is the Christ

The world clearly still debates the reality of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God – in his salvific work and/or in its contemporary relevance. The enemy would seek to stoke this debate. Why?

“No one who denies the Son has the Father.” 1 John 2:23

When we deny the Son, we deny our own adoption. They who receive the Son are graced with the power to becomes children of the Father. John 1:12

“And this is the testimony, that God (the Father) has given us life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life, whoever does not have the Son does not have life.” 1 John 5:11-12

Say no to the Son, then say no life. Only death, both today and forever. 

The enemy knows this and seeks to undermine this fundamental reality. He seeks to deny Jesus’ identity and salvation. The enemy sows doubt and fear.

Yet, in God’s formative grace, many of us, upon hearing the gospel, are moved to faith by the Spirit and Word (Romans 10:10, Ephesians 2:1-10).

For those ones, once they trust in Jesus as the Christ and their Savior, the enemy goes on to another tactic.

Denies the Father

If the enemy has failed in undermining our faith in Jesus’ identity and saving work on our behalf, then he will go after our simple trust in the Father’s love.

Why? Why does the enemy strike here?

Our own stories answer this query.

What are the implications in our own lives for not knowing and doubting we are loved?

How many false and destructive ways do we seek to validate our own existence, our own worth?

How do we seek to control our life through our false self? In effect, believing the lie that we are on our own, its all up to us, and we know what’s best for ourselves.

The result? 

Our lives are rife with doubt and fear and angst. Yet, the Father offers love.

We strive and grasp. Even still, the Father delights to grant his kingdom to his children.

We exhaust ourselves seeking to prove our own worth. The Father calls us beloved and gifts us to serve in his eternal purposes. 

I am often astounded at how pervasive this dynamic pervades the church globally, so many Christ-followers continue to respond to God the Father as a Pharaoh. 

God is Father, not a Pharaoh

A pharaoh needs more and more slaves to build his kingdom for him. 

A Father loves children, calls them by name, and makes them his own. He does not need anything. He is all and has all. He leads his children into Sabbath rest and from that identity and rest he empowers them to walk with him into a world strewn with needs. 

Yes, the Father will call his children to lay their lives down for others. He did so with his own Son. This is the way of wisdom. It is the way of eternity. It is the way of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our God is not a needy God, He is a giving God. And so are all his children. Like Father, like daughter, like son….

But first things first. We rest in the Father’s love. Then we share that love with the world as it overflows from our lives.

How has the Enemy Deceived You?

What of your flesh has refused to relinquish control? Surrender that to the Father in Christ.

What old story lines are needing to be laid aside to receive a new story line from your Father in heaven? Name them. Who can you talk to to let these lies go?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that the Father has for us.  The Father is love, and whoever abides in love abides in the Father, and the Father abides in them. 1 John 4:16

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Do You Believe the Father’s Love?

Do you receive the Father’s love as his beloved child with the same simple faith that you believe that Jesus died for your forgiveness?

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 1 John 4:16

It is understood that in the New Testament, when the word “God” is used, in most all instances, the writer is referring to the Father.*

Thus we can see what John is writing here in a more personal and attention grabbing manner when we insert Father into this verse:

So we have come to know and to believe the love that the Father has for us. The Father is love, and whoever abides in love abides in the Father, and the Father abides in him.

The Father is love. He has demonstrated that by sending his Son. Jesus embodied the love of the Father before us (John 14:7). Jesus on the cross, as the atoning sacrifice, is the greatest, clearest, most stunning display of the Father’s love.

Have you “come to know and believe the Father’s love” for you, personally?

In his first letter John clearly writes that this is a hallmark of matured elders in the faith – they know the Father (2:13, 14) and in knowing the Father they know the Father’s love for them.

An Odd Dichotomy in our Faith

We have come to know and believe that Jesus has died for our sins; that if we confess our sins, he will readily forgive us and cleanse us (1 John 1:9).

This is a hallmark of orthodox Christianity – to confess Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. We have come to expect that of any one who names Jesus.

And yet….

When invited to identify ourselves as the Father’s beloved, we often pause….We believe Jesus died for us, yet doubt, or maybe hesitate to believe the Father’s particularized love for us….

Jesus’ death did not win the Father over toward us. It was an act of the love that the Father sent Jesus. The Father has loved us from eternity. He sent his Son to seek out and save lost children. To those who receive, the Father now calls his adopted children (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1).

Jesus did not die so God could be turned from an frumpy judge to a gracious Father. It is was an act of grace from our Father that the Son was sent to die on our behalf.

This is the gospel message.

Coming to Know and Believe

Love is not a substance, love is a Person. God is love – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.

We have been given of the Father’s Spirit (1 John 4:13).

Paul writes that the Spirit pours out within us the Father’s love (Romans 5:5).

The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are no longer slaves but children. He beckons us to respond by crying, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:4-6)

The Father’s love for us is the same love he has for Jesus (John 17:26).

The witness of both the Holy Spirit and the Written Word is that we are beloved. Be encouraged. Simply receive His love for you. Confess this transformative truth.

When Faith Struggles

When I struggle to “know and believe,” I am reminded I cannot just try harder and well up within myself change of attitude.

I do ask the Spirit to remind me and to grant that I may be increasingly aware of the Father’s love which is a well-spring within me – ever flowing in me. The Spirit has been sent to guide us into all truth.

This is what a weary world yearns to drink, the overflow of the Father’s love in us to others.

How does this resonate with your faith journey with the Father? How is the Spirit beckoning you to respond by simple receptivity to the Father’s love to you?

Next: We will look at how the enemy seeks to deny us this reality.

* See this article that addresses why the Triune God and Trinitarian language is so crucial to our faith.

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A Global Uninvited Companion

None of us sought out this unprecedented uninvited companion to rock our worlds like it has. Yet here we are. What are the lasting effects in your personal journey from this global pandemic?

What is God Up to in These Days of Uncertainty?
God is up to good. He always is. He redeems the worst that a fallen world throws at us. As we allow him to show us how to respond well to him and life’s circumstances during seasons of adversity, he draws us deeper into his love, life and wisdom. In his wise hands, our sufferings have deep, transformative impact on us. We become carriers of God’s loving presence to others in their adversities.

I wrote The Uninvited Companion: God Shaping Us in His Love through Life’s Adversities  to guide one in reflecting on God’s loving, redemptive activity in season’s of prolonged hardship. Wilderness experiences – those times of isolation, uncertainty, and loss – are laced with formative presence of the Spirit.

Print

For a short time, the book’s price has been reduced on Amazon, both in print and Kindle form.

Print $13.50 now $9.99

Kindle $8.50 now $4.99

Each chapter has reflective questions that guide the reader in attentiveness to God’s loving activity.

Please feel free to pass this on to others.

May the Lord continue to grace you with awareness of his presence and care in these days of our global uninvited companion.

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What do I do with all this “stuff” I feel inside?

A Helpful Resource
Several in my circles have found this article on “That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief” very helpful.

Generally, the Western world is one that does not permit grief well or know what to do with it. We hold grief at arms length. We tell ourselves to buck up and get on with life. Alas, this open-ended uncertainty we are living with compounded by the speed and complexity at which it came at us has been profoundly jarring.

After reading the above linked article, I’d encourage you to spend a little time reflecting on the various stages of grief as outline.d….

….With Some Caveats
God gave us the gift of grief. As such it is not meant to be navigated on our now. The article comes from the angle that we are to manage our grief and to keep trying harder if we get stuck.

IMG_0708

ART: Scott Erickson, scottericksonart.com

The Holy Week we have begun is in direct opposition to this philosophy. Our God is not a God who holds himself  aloof from our pain and suffering lobbing love bombs down from a safe distance once in a while to cheer us up.

 

Jesus deliberately walked directly into our confusion, pain, darkness, uncertainty and suffering. Here is an excellent sermon on this (actually a short homily for this virtual service). If you are not Anglican, please don’t let the pastor’s garb freak you out. The message is profoundly Biblical and comforting.

Some Principles on Gospel-Oriented Grief
First of all, God does not expect us to source compassion and wisdom on our own. He is the source of all we need. The article provides excellent emotional dynamics to be aware of and some helpful steps toward awareness. Begin by asking the Spirit to be present with you. Ask him to bring to your awareness what is going on inside you. 

Second, invite Jesus into what has been made aware to you. The opportunity is to have Jesus companion you not only through Holy Week but through this confounding pandemic. The goal is not to fix it. The opportunity is to grow in awareness of the “breadth, length, height and depth of His love (Ephesians 3).” We are all reluctant travelers. I’d be happy to avoid Holy Week let alone a global pandemic. The Spirit will grant us grace to walk with Jesus in these days.

Third, invite others in. All of us need someplace to process our story. All of us do. pastors, mentors, counselors, spiritual directors, older saints, and wise friends are God’s provision for community – even if virtual is as good as it gets for the time. Social Distancing is not meant to be isolating. Ask others if you can talk and process what you have been shown. If you are concerned at the level of anxiety you are experiencing or wondering about depression, then seek a recommended clinician to help assess.

Receive the Time Afforded
That time you would have spent commuting….use that for more time to pray and read the Word.

And rest! All this stress and uncertainty is exhausting.

Limit the amount of time you are on a screen of any type. But you already know this……

I’d love to know how you are being led and provided for by the Lord in these days of multi-layered loss and grief. 

May the Spirit grant you the grace to follow Jesus where he leads you in this Holy Week and the prolonged season of uncertainty beyond!

 

 

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When You Don’t Have Words to Pray

imagesHow does one pray for all the stories and concerns that flood our way in today’s environment? Sometimes, we just don’t know how. We run out of words….

Here are some beautiful prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (ACNA 2019) that you might find helpful. I find them remindful – of the gospel reality that Father, Son, and Spirit are always present and at work and that he invites us to receive of his love and goodness by crying out to him in times of need.

Here are a a few examples:

50. FOR THE MEDICAL PROFESSIONS

Almighty God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ went about doing good, and healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people: Continue in our hospitals his gracious work among us [especially in __________]; console and heal the sick; grant to the physicians, nurses, and assisting staff wisdom and skill, diligence and patience; prosper their work, O Lord, and send down your blessing upon all who serve the suffering; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

80. FOR TRUSTFULNESS IN TIMES OF WORRY AND ANXIETY

Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares for us. Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  1. FOR QUIET CONFIDENCE

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray to you, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  1. IN TIMES OF SUFFERING OR WEAKNESS

Dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: I hold up all my weakness to your strength, my failure to your faithfulness, my sinfulness to your perfection, my loneliness to your compassion, my little pains to your great agony on the Cross. I pray that you will cleanse me, strengthen me, guide me, so that in all ways my life may be lived as you would have it lived, without cowardice and for you alone. Show me how to live in true humility, true contrition, and true love. Amen.

I have attached a .pdf with a collection of such prayers for special occasions.

Occasional Prayers from the ACNA Book of Common Prayer 2019

You can download the entire BCP 2019 here for free.

May the Lord grant you peace and a deepening awareness of Him drawing all of your life into His love and care.

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