Book Review: 7

An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
by Jen Hatmaker
B&H Books, 2012

Sometimes a woman must make a drastic change to achieve her desired ends. Jesus didn’t advocate any less. When he saw the crowds following him, he sat down on the mountainside and taught them the differences between what they had heard and the soul-killing reality of their sinful situation. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell” (Matthew 5:27-30, ESV).

Paul offers a distant echo when he writes the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control,lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (9:24-27, ESV).

On our way to destruction, we assuage our consciences by telling ourselves that Jesus didn’t literally mean we should cut off our right hand if it causes us to sin, he didn’t literally mean that we should pluck out an eye if it causes us to sin. Oh, no, he simply means that we should take the dangers of sin and Hell seriously. All the while, he actually means that we must do something drastic. Or else.

I admire Jen Hatmaker’s willingness to do something drastic. She looked at her life and saw sinful excess and indulgence where she wanted to see conformity to the image of Christ. She saw areas in which Christ was not magnified, he was not supreme, he did not rule, and she wanted to repent. “7” is Hatmaker’s process to discipline herself for the purposes of godliness. Seven fasts in seven months to cut away excess and indulgence in the areas of food, clothing, possessions, media, waste, spending, and stress.

Written in a daily journal format, Jen shares what she learns about herself and how deep her love for possessions and comforts really goes. She also learns a lot about her husband, children, and closest friends. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious, Hatmaker is very easy to follow; she writes in an easy-going, honest, conversational style.

During the seven months, she often blamed “7” for the out-of-the-ordinary things she was doing. Nevertheless, by the seventh month, some of the out-of-the-ordinary became more common and she didn’t want life to go back to “normal.” God changed her desires. One of the most important skills Hatmaker learned through this seven-month experience is the ability to deny herself. As she concludes the book, she writes that fasting has become a more normal, welcome occurrence in her life.

I can recommend 7 without reservation, but I need to mention a couple of things. First, Hatmaker’s style is not particularly beautiful; she doesn’t have “a way with words.” Her style is more stripped down, not gritty or crude, but conversational. She is not too inspiring or preachy; rather, she is recording an experience. Some women love books like this, while others simply do not. Second, during the seventh month, Hatmaker fasted stress. To do so, she daily practiced the “Seven Sacred Pauses” and weekly observed the Sabbath. Some will see the daily pauses as a dangerous monastic practice. I disagree. Hatmaker simply stopped what she was doing during the day so that she could pray. Many times, the quiet bell reminder to pray interrupted a stressful moment and reminded her to cast her cares on Christ. She used various Psalms to guide her prayers as she prayed for people, situations, and the world. I see only benefit in disciplining oneself to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Finally, thanks to the US’ current political climate, some conservative evangelicals will take issue with Chapter Five: Waste. Actually, let me rephrase that: Some will undoubtedly take issue with the entire book because the term “social justice” and the color green have been maligned and stripped of every good meaning they ever enjoyed. We must redeem them because, in Jesus’ name, they are ours.

Read 7 if you’re ready for the challenge to cast off American excess.

[By the way, clicking the book’s cover will take you to Amazon. If you make a purchase after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small percentage of your purchase price…a few pennies really. But I greatly appreciate those pennies.]

Book Review: The Fitting Room

Putting on the Character of Christ
by Kelly Minter

[I agreed to review The Fitting Room as part of a blog tour scheduled for the first week of May. I started reading this book back in April, but then we had that awful tornado, and I didn’t pick up a book or write much of anything for a couple of months. I’m trying to resume reading and writing. I have quite a bit of catching up to do; I’ve missed two scheduled blog tours now.]

Kelly Minter may be a name you’ve not encountered much in the Christian musician, speaker, author, Bible study, conference circuit; I only heard her name for the first time about a year and a half ago. Lately, though, I’ve read mention of her on several blogs and listed as a featured speaker at various conferences for women. The author of three books, three Bible studies, and the songwriter and composer for four studio albums, Minter is prolific and passionate in her ministry to women.

In The Fitting Room, Minter shares her spiritual journey to imitate Christ. Though each chapter is titled for a specific virtue or Fruit of the Spirit, it is not a study of that virtue.  Minter does not provide detailed definitions nor word studies explaining each virtue; she isn’t all that interested in the theoretical or ideal manner in which one can apply scripture to life. Instead, she engages women in an honest conversation about the struggle to exhibit the virtues of Christ in the midst of daily life. She shares the details of her fight to treat others the way that God has treated her in the Gospel.

Deriving her theme from Colossians 3, Minter takes the reader to the spiritual fitting room where we “put off the old self” and “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (9-10).

[T]he spiritual concept of throwing off scratch wool for designer silk sounds simply effortless, but the real-life version is another matter altogether. Many of us who have attempted such a wardrobe overhaul have come up frustrated rather than inspired…Because most of us know we’re supposed to take off old things like bitterness and anger and full-on recklessness and put on the new self, which is full of qualities such as kindness and joy and self-control. But knowing this doesn’t automatically make it so…Our character clothes are frumpy, because we’ve never been groomed and fitted from the pages of Scripture.

The Fitting Room is both prescriptive and descriptive. It is prescriptive in that the Gospel is the remedy for us all. Minter begins with a compelling explanation of God’s gospel of grace shown to us in Jesus and invites her readers to believe today. To her readers who’ve been believing, she gently reminds us that we are free to be who we are: holy women of God.

It is descriptive in that it is Minter’s unique story of growth in grace. She provides personal anecdotes of how God worked, and is working, through His word to shape and fashion her into His image. I imagine it this way: picture a photo collage entitled, “The Gospel in Kelly Minter’s Life,” filled with before and after photos. In the “before” snapshots, Minter shares her realization that, according to God’s word, the old garment no longer fits her new life in Christ. She then explains how God worked in her heart and mind to renew her thinking and behavior so that they were in line with the gospel. The “after” snapshot features a “fitted” Kelly Minter within the frame of the Gospel. In the same way that an identical garment will look different on two women, likewise, the virtues will manifest differently in our lives. We “wear” them in various ways depending on our circumstances, but they flow from and are motivated by the same gospel and grace.  Minter writes,

Trying to clothe ourselves in the virtues outside of the fitting room of being chosen, holy, and loved will prove a maddening endeavor of dress-up. We may look the part in the moment, but inevitably the tight collars of moralism and crooked hems of behavior management will eventually give us away. There is no need for such striving when words like ‘I have also loved you’ have already been spoken. It’s this love of Christ that lets us out of the suffocating garments of do-goodism for approval, giving us the grace to obey God’s commands while we revel in His affection.

I enjoyed this book. Minter is a gifted writer, and I hope to read more from her pen. If a study of Christian virtues is what you’re looking for, then you may want to look elsewhere. If, however, encouragement and a little inspiration are what you need, then I gladly recommend The Fitting Room.

Tweets Only Book Review: Licensed to Kill

by Brian Hedges
Cruciform Press, July 2011

I thought I’d try something a little different and tweet while I read this book. The Cruciform Press books are the perfect length for it. I tried to summarize chapters, highlight my favorite parts, interact with the content a little, and provide some quotes. What follows is an ordered posting of my tweets about the book, which turned into my first tweeted book review.

Let me know what you think: Should I ever do this again?!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89385909421740032!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89387631808495617!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89465492628176897!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89477915032555520!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89479720084848640!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89482650624081921!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89492943039250432!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89499099753222144!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89503736879263744!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89508012393381888!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89508381827678210!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89508725513142272!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89510321856843776!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89517795603251201!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89519162422075392!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89522845067124737!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89527382347747328!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89532802424504320!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89533545189621760!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89890767698538497!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89891251738001408!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89891767884840960!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89892324900999169!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89893181881192449!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89893633343492096!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89893736645005312!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89894223666614272!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89895665869656065!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89896129503830016!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89900827195613184!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89902969016946688!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89903366804742144!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89903751636328448!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89904595186352128!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89905417395781632!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89905816932589568!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89906615888785408!/Leslie_Wiggins/status/89906930843267072

The problem with tweeting through a book…

is that sometimes 140 characters isn’t long enough for the quote I want to share.

I’m tweet-reviewing the latest book by Brian Hedges, Licensed to Kill (Cruciform Press).  I wanted to share this quote, but it was too long. SO…to the blog I come.

If you are disillusioned with the disciplines of meditation and prayer, the problem isn’t that this remedy does not work, but that you haven’t applied it with the appropriate intention and necessary intensity.

Follow me on Twitter: @Leslie_Wiggins

Book Review: Get Wisdom

23 Lessons for Children About Living for Jesus
by Ruth Younts
Another excellent book from Shepherd Press!

Do not let this book’s small profile fool you! Get Wisdom is an excellent, easy-to-use resource for parents, children’s ministers and teachers.

In addition to teaching children the gospel, Christian parents want to instill godly character and behavior. But a line exists between teaching the gospel of grace and teaching children to be good in order to please God. Exactly how does a parent balance teaching God’s grace with teaching children why it is good to “be good” without also encouraging a prideful desire to please man?

While Get Wisdom may not provide a thorough, definitive answer to that question, it will help parents begin important conversations with a school aged child.

Each colorful two-page spread includes a character trait, its definition, scripture memory, writing space, and a prayer.

The Teacher’s Guide, located in the second half of the book, includes a suggested activity, discussion questions, and a role playing game.

This resource is suggested for children ages K5 to Grade 4. With very little preparation (for the activities), a teacher or parent can be ready for a small group or family time. I highly recommend it!