Choose + Choose Again

Jesus said, "Love one another...as I have loved you."  Yet, Jesus followers everywhere — even pastors and leaders — still feel empty and alone. We hear the words “God loves you” and yet we struggle to experience his love. The result? We try desperately to love others without knowing his love for ourselves. At the same time, we attempt to fill up the emptiness inside with anything and everything...until we finally hit bottom. Only then can we begin to hear the voice of the Father calling us to choose to allow him to heal us with his love and bring us all the way back home!

In "Choose and Choose Again," Kevin Butcher tells real and raw stories of deeply wounded people from all walks of life — prisoners, prostitutes, businessmen and pastors. Many of the stories are from a messy little fellowship of Jesus followers on Detroit's east side — who choose to lay down their fear, shame and pain and journey toward the arms of our pursuing Father. If you're tired of pretending, "I'm fine" but have no one to safely tell, "I'm dying inside," this book offers a safe community of brothers and sisters — like Dan and Sophia, Keith and Sue — as well as Kevin himself — to walk with you as you take next steps toward your loving Father, who is even now calling you home.


The Ragamuffin Gospel

In 1990, I was 36 years old, married to my best friend, and a dad to three beautiful little girls.  I had been successful at almost everything I had done in life – including pastoring.  But I was absolutely empty inside and wanted to die – because I didn’t know the love of God…for me.  After a near suicide attempt, I cried out to God and asked Him to show me the way – and soon a book ended up in my hands.  It was the Ragamuffin Gospel.  In reading this book, I had my very first experience of the love of God in my 31 years of being a believer in Jesus.  I wept all the way through. 

 


Abba’s Child

This book and Manning’s follow up volume, “Abba’s Child” – are full of stories.  Some are anecdotal from Manning’s life as a former priest, a recovering alcoholic and someone who struggled deeply with the love of God.  Some are Manning’s take on various stories from the life of Jesus and the rest of Scripture.  Some stories are from history.  In any case, these volumes aren’t difficult reading – but they will bring the love of the Father to your heart in ways you may never have experienced it before.  It isn’t too strong to say that God used Manning’s broken life and words about Jesus’ love…to save my life.  He just might use Manning to bring the love of Jesus to your life as well.


The Return of the Prodigal Son 

Focusing on Jesus’ Luke 15 parable – and Rembrandt’s famous painting of the prodigal son’s homecoming – Nouwen takes us on a journey toward the Father’s arms…for us.     

The choice for my own sonship is not an easy one.  The dark voices of my surrounding world try to persuade me that I am no good and that I can only become good by earning my goodness through ‘making it’ up the ladder of success.  These voices lead me quickly to forget the voice that calls me ‘my son, the Beloved’…they drag me into the periphery of my existence and make me doubt that there is a loving God waiting for me at the very center of my being.

It is a question of life or death.  Do we accept the rejection of the world that imprisons us, or do we claim the freedom of the children of God?  We must choose.

Outside of the Bible, this book has transformed my understanding of God’s love for me more than any other.  I’ve read it 6 times. 


Letters to Marc About Jesus

Nouwen corresponds with his nephew Marc about the essence of the “spiritual life”.  The result is seven rich and deeply profound “letters” about the person of Jesus – who he really is and what he shows us about God and about ourselves.  This book is a close second to “The Return of the Prodigal Son” in terms of helping me connect with the love of Jesus and what I’m really called to in following him.  For example, consider these words from Letter VI:

Jesus is the hidden God.  He became a human being among a small, oppressed people, under very difficult circumstances.  He was held in contempt by the rulers of that country and was eventually put to an ignominious death between two criminals.  [Even] his resurrection was a hidden event.  Only his disciples and a few of the women and men who had known him well before his death were allowed to see him as the risen Lord.  [In fact], the great Christians throughout history have always been lowly people who sought to be hidden.  It is very important for you to realize that perhaps the greater part of God’s work in this world may go unnoticed…. 

Wow.  As a pastor and man, words I’ve needed to read over and over – 6 times since 2004!

 

I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression

Don’t be put off by the word “depression”.  Real’s premise is that many of us as men, let alone those of us who are male pastors, live under a subtle but powerful cloud of “performance anxiety” and a corresponding “lack of identity” that leaves us disconnected from our emotional selves and struggling to connect deeply in relationship.  Dr. Real’s book was one of the first I read as I began to heal from years of living under the rubric of, “you’ll never, ever be enough” – and it helped me immensely, so much so that I’ve read it twice more since then!  Real doesn’t claim Christianity – but truth is truth and his words are wise, often told through story [including his own] and full of compassion.

 

Martyrs – Contemporary Writers on Modern Lives of Faith

This book is probably out of print but still available through on-line used book venues.  Did you know there were more martyrs for the Christian faith in the 20th century than in all the previous centuries combined?  In “Martyrs”, different authors tell the stories of the lives and martyrdom of Oscar Romero [El Salvador, 1980], Janani Luwum [Uganda, 1977], Martin Luther King Jr, [Tennessee, 1968], Dietrich Bonhoeffer [Germany, 1945], Edith Stein [Poland, 1942], Jim Elliot [Ecuador, 1956], Charles De Focauld [Algeria, 1916] and others who paid the ultimate price – not only for their faith in Jesus but especially because they loved him and knew they were loved by him!!  In her introduction, Susan Bergman tells the story of how she was first drawn to the stories of the martyrs when some missionaries from China came to her church and told

…the story of a small village girl, just my age, who refused to ‘trample the cross and live.’  For this offense Communist soldiers opened fire as she raised her hands to the sky and sang in her own language ‘Jesus Loves Me.’

No words.  Except this is why I have read this book over and over.  I want to be like my little sister from China who loved Jesus enough to die for him.  I want her life and the lives and deaths of the others to teach me how to live each moment abiding in Jesus’ great love, no matter what the cost.