I Can Only Imagine – The Story Behind the Song

i can only imagineYou may be familiar with the hit song “I Can Only Imagine,” but you probably don’t know the history and background of the song and the story behind it. In “I Can Only Imagine” Bart Millard tells his story along with the story behind the song. Really, his story IS the story behind the song as Millard tells of the difficulties that he had growing up.

Throughout Millard’s recounting of his story, he describes some of the details of his early life and just how MercyMe became a band. Millard tells of his dual ankle injury while playing football that led to him quitting football and joining the choir. Eventually, he even starred as Curly in “Oklahoma.”

Much of Millard’s story focuses on his relationship with his father and the pain and abuse that he suffered at his father’s hand. After being hit by a car while directing traffic on a construction site led to a frontal lobe injury in his father’s brain, his father was never the same. His parents eventually divorced and Bart was left to live with his father. Even though Millard had an older brother, his father somehow seemed to have targeted him with the verbal and physical abuse that he doled out.

While in the 9th grade, Millard’s father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Knowing that it was terminal resulted in a dramatic change in his attitude and behavior. As his father faced his own mortality, he began to become more like the man that had existed before his accident. The abuse stopped and he began to really embrace the faith that he had only outwardly professed. This began a relationship and friendship between Bart and his father that had not existed before.

As his father’s health continued to deteriorate, their relationship grew deeper and stronger. When his father finally passed away, Millard talks of just how much God had done to restore the relationship that had been so frail and volatile.

Along the way, as Millard describes everything that happened between him and his father, he also tells of how he and his wife, who he’d known since they were young, kept coming back to each other. Eventually, they realized that there was a reason for that and they broke off the relationships that they had with other people to embrace what had been right in front of them all along.

Millard also tells of how he wrote “I Can Only Imagine” in a matter of minutes and how the music came to be at the end of a recording session which had all but been wrapped up. And in the miracle of this short span of time came about a song whose span and influence exceeded any other song before it.

The story of the song, the band, and this father-son relationship engrossed me. Having lost my own mother to pancreatic cancer, I was gripped from the very beginning. I could relate to Millard’s story in some ways and not in others, but his telling of the story was powerful and moving, drawing me in and keeping me reading page after page as the story unfolded.

“I Can Only Imagine” had always been such a powerful song to me, now having read the story behind the song and the songwriter, an already powerful song somehow became more so. Regardless of where you stand in terms of faith, it would be hard to read this account without being moved in some way. I urge you to pick up a copy of this book and dive into this story. You won’t be disappointed and it may just be an encouragement and a jolt to your faith to read of how God’s hand worked in the life of Bart Millard.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Love Thy Body – A Book Review

Love-thy-Body-Nancy-PearceyIn the introduction to “Love Thy Body,” Nancy Pearcey writes about her exposure to Francis Schaeffer’s books and the metaphor he used in them regarding truth. Schaeffer used the metaphor of the two stories of a building to compare our culture’s approach towards truth. Schaeffer’s metaphor went something like this, “In the lower story is empirical science, which is held to be objectively true and testable…The upper story is the realm of morality and theology, which are treated as private, subjective, and relative.” This two story approach is the framework for the rest of Pearcey’s book as she makes constant reference to it in the chapters that follow.

Tackling issues such as abortion, euthanasia, identity, and sexuality, Pearcey applies Schaeffer’s metaphor to show just how this approach towards truth and morality has influenced the worldview of everyone, including Christians. Pearcey claims that this body/person dichotomy denigrates the body and, “is the unspoken assumption driving secular views on euthanasia, sexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism, and a host of related ethical issues.”

Pearcey carries this dichotomy out to its logical ends to paint a fairly frightening picture of where we are going as a culture and society. When we change the definition of a person, we move towards removing the rights of people who still deserve rights, regardless of whether or not they can mentally make decisions for themselves. We also take away things that should be stable and make them flimsy social constructs.

The personhood theory that Pearcey outlines in “Love Thy Body” is a theory and philosophy that claims that people can disassociate their emotions from their bodies. This claim and theory influences a person’s viewpoint of themselves and allows them to disassociate feelings from body, the two story approach that Schaeffer put forth in his writings. Pearcey claims that this kind of disassociation leads to an embrace of many things such as same-sex identity and transgenderism. Pearcey writes, “The person who adopts a same-sex identity must disassociate their sexual feelings from their biological identity as male or female – implicitly accepting a two-story dualism that demeans the human body. Thus is has a fragmenting, self-alienating effect on the human personality.”

The two story approach divorces feelings from biological reality. Regarding transgenderism, Pearcey writes that transgender advocates, “deny that gender identity is rooted in biology. Their argument is that gender is completely independent of the body.” When we embrace this approach, we disconnect identity from the body.

The disconnection of mind from body leads to an embrace of the thinking of philosophers like Nietzsche who said, “There are no eternal facts as there are no absolute truths” and “Facts do not exist, only interpretations.” The irony of statements like these are that they contradict themselves as they themselves are absolutes and facts, based on what Nietzsche puts forth.

This two story approach also impacts sex. When we disconnect mind from body, we reduce sex to a physical urge to be fulfilled rather than a connection between two people representing a deeper spiritual and theological significance. Sex is about more than biological drives and needs, but also about the communion between persons.

While most people may not claim that they embrace this ideology, Pearcey writes that the, “most powerful worldviews are the ones we absorb without knowing it. They are the ideas nobody talks about – the assumptions we pick up almost by osmosis.” Unintentionally, we may be embracing these ideologies and allowing them to impact and influence our worldview. Pearcey goes on to say that a, “person’s morality is always derivative. It stems from his or her worldview. To be effective, we have to engage the underlying worldview.”

This division of mind and body, the two story approach as Schaeffer suggests, leads to biological facts being abandoned and disregarded as social constructs. Postmodernism leads to the disconnection of morality from nature, it grounds gender and other biological realities in our minds and feelings rather than in science.

With the condemnation of this type of thinking, Pearcey is quick to remind her readers that the church still has a tall responsibility. “Even as churches clearly communicate the moral truths of Scripture,” she writes, “they must also become places of refuge for victims of the sexual revolution who have been hurt by its lies.” Christians cannot simply judge and criticize without offering support for people who are struggling to make sense of this mind/body dualism. If grace is not offered throughout this wrestling, then the church is doing something wrong.

Regardless of whether or not you agree with Pearcey, “Love Thy Body” is an important read. Her careful analysis of science is much more grounded than other writings that have tended towards an emphasis on unstable feelings rather than biological realities. Pearcey’s voice is a breath of fresh air in tumultuous times. She never comes across as chastising or condemning, but genuinely offers concrete information to deconstructing the dualistic postmodern approach to truth and morality.

This book is rich in information. It’s not a book to read through quickly. The content needs to be ingested, wrestled with, and unpacked to get a deeper understanding of what Pearcey is saying but also to really begin to see some of the absurdity of where these theories end when they are brought to their natural conclusions and even how scary those conclusions are for everyone as those conclusions will most certainly lead to impacting everyone.

Christian or not, I believe this is an important book to be read with an open mind.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

What Are You Afraid Of?

I am afraid. I am full of fear.

I do not know what is going to happen. My fear wants to seize control (or at least give me the illusion that I’ve seized control). My fear wants me to have plan in place, so I’m looking, I’m grasping at any possible plan. I can make up plans with the best of them, so this is cake. Problem is, it’s not the right plan.

No, it doesn’t hurt to act. God wants us to act, but not to act in fear. How many times are we commanded in the Bible, “Do not be afraid?” Not urged or invited, but commanded.

Are my fears bigger than God? I’ve certainly been acting like they are. But we read, “Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world.” Trust in me, he tells us. Come to me, he tells us. My burden is light, he tells us. Cast your anxiety on me, he tells us.

So, what am I waiting for? What are you waiting for? What am I so afraid of?

More Than Just A Prayer to Recite…

“Our Father, who is in heaven, hallowed be your name….”

If you grew up in the church, the Lord’s Prayer has probably become familiar to you. You may have grown up reciting it to the point that it’s imbedded in your brain and you can recite it without much thought or contemplation.

The Prayer That Turns the World

In his latest book “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down,” Albert Mohler even says that, “many evangelicals can identify with…what it is to pray without really praying.” Although we may have memorized the words of this prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, we may have not given it much thought. But Mohlers suggests that this prayer and what is contained within it is actually revolutionary if we really take to heart what Jesus said.

Before venturing into an exposition of Jesus’ prayer, Mohler expounds on the idea that evangelicals have gotten good at praying without really praying. He challenges the reader saying that a lot can be told about our relationship with God based on how we pray and how we worship. Mohler defines what prayer is and what prayer isn’t.

Mohler walks through each of the key phrases in Jesus’ prayer, expositing each and pointing towards Jesus’ prayer not as something to simply recite, but as a guide and primer on just how we approach God in prayer. We pray not so that we can simply list off all of the things that we want or need, but to commune with God, to relate to God, and ultimately to be changed by him. As Mohler says, “There is no true intimacy with God without prayer.” Mohler points out that the intentional phrasing in the prayer points us away from our individualism and reminds us that we are part of a greater whole, the body of Christ.

The Lord’s Prayer is also a reminder to us that we are part of a kingdom that is not of this world and a king who far exceeds the political powers which make headlines on a daily basis. Our commission as followers of Christ is to make disciples of this king and citizens of his kingdom. As we pray that the Lord’s will be done, we are asking God to align our will with his, not asking that he make our heart’s desires come true. Our hearts desires in prayer should slowly begin to align to the heart’s desire of God.

We are reminded, through this book, that our prayer for our daily needs may not always be answered in the ways that we might think or even hope. God will provide for our needs but perhaps not the way that we might have imagined. We are taught to forgive as we are forgiven, not because we are forgiven. We receive forgiveness through Christ and because of what we receive, we extend forgiveness to others.

Mohler reminds the reader that Christians are not somehow immune to temptation. No temptation is brought on by God, but it is allowed and with that temptation, we are given the tools by which to triumph over it. The power to resist temptation isn’t something we muster up with enough gumption and energy, it is only something that we can accomplish through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The reader is reminded at the conclusion of the book that the last phrase that has been tacked on to the Lord’s Prayer was not found in the original manuscripts of the Bible. While that doesn’t make it wrong, it doesn’t make it God’s Word, Mohler writes. It may have been added in the decades and centuries following Jesus to act as a doxology.

Mohler concludes his discussion of the Lord’s Prayer by reminding his reader that, “This prayer is dangerous…This prayer is hopeful…This prayer is compassionate…This prayer is reverent…This prayer is good news.” Through the Lord’s Prayer, we not only understand what God asks of us when we come to him but also we begin to understand more of who he is as we unpack this prayer.

If, as Mohler says, you have ever felt like you, “can go through the motions, say all the right words, and even lead a congregation or group in prayer without remembering a single word…or even understanding what (was) prayer for,” you might consider reading “The Prayer That Turns the World Upside Down.” It’s a short enough read that you won’t feel like you are getting bogged down but it packs enough into those few pages that you will feel challenged in how you approach this important prayer the next time you recite it.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

The Gray of Growth

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Challenge and Change.jpg

For anyone who has spent any amount of time in the church, the idea and topic of spiritual formation has most likely come up at one time or another. As is the case with many words and phrases in Western Christianity, some words and phrases have been emptied of their meaning because of the frivolous ways we’ve used them. Spiritual Formation may have become a buzz word in some circles, but it’s an important concept for all of those who consider themselves to be followers of Christ and who desire to continue to grow.

One thing that I’ve noticed in my own life and in our culture is that we really like “Color By Numbers” types of things. We like to have a script laid out before us, clear instructions that will give us a step by step approach towards completing the desired task. But rarely is the path of growth as linear, formulaic, and structured as we think it is.

If you’ve ever gone through any kind of training, you know that there comes a time when the muscles that you are trying to grow and train need to be tricked and challenged. While regular workouts with the same exercises can still be beneficial, in order to experience growth, changing things up becomes necessary to progress and not plateau.

The Apostle Paul understood the need to discipline the body in order to grow and be trained. There needs to be an order and a structure in what we are doing in our training and spiritual formation, but we may have found that we’ve done the same exercises for such a long time that we need to change things up in order to avoid the plateau of growth that can come when we continue to do the same thing over and over again.

As I get older and grow, I am seeing the benefit of growth not only on an individual basic, but on a communal basis. Like so much of life, we need to maintain some kind of balance. We may find ourselves emphasizing more individual growth rather than communal growth, or vice versa, but finding the balance can be a challenge. While the balance may wane and sway at times, we always need to be mindful of the multi-faceted aspect of growth that happens when we learn individually and corporately.

I sometimes wish that I could simply read a book that would give me all the steps that I need to be perfect in my growth, but that’s far too simplistic to think that it can be effective. While there are helpful methods and books that outline these methods, change is important in our growth and challenge will be part of that. Like the sign in my gym says, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

When Is It Right To Die? – A Book Review

when is it right to dieIt’s been fifty years since Joni Eareckson Tada became a quadriplegic after diving headfirst into the Chesapeake Bay in 1967. Over that time, she has risen above not only the challenges that came with her accident, but also from a stage 3 cancer diagnosis and countless other challenges that have come her way. She’s experienced the will to die, depression, and despair that so many others in similar situations to her own have experienced. Her ability to write “When Is It Right To Die?” is supported not only by the research that she has done over the years, but also by the vast experience that she has personally undergone. In short, her expertise it not simply theoretical, it’s experiential as well.

It’s been more than twenty-five years since the original edition of “When Is It Right To Die?” was released. Tada admits in the preface to this new edition that twenty-five years ago, her hope had been to provide a, “primer of sorts to readers whose only exposure to euthanasia was the occasional headline.” She goes on to say that much has taken place in the past twenty-five years to support the idea that people have the “right to die.” That change in the two and a half decades between editions was what led Tada to update her original book.

Tada writes in the introduction, “I am convinced that the principles that guided me and my family through the nightmarish maze of depression, suicidal thoughts, suffering, and death can help others. What we learned as a family can benefit other hurting families.” This is why she wrote and updated this book.

“When Is It Right To Die?” was a gut-wrenching read for me. So much of the conversation around end of life issues seems to hinge on so many factors. Financial. Spiritual. Emotional. Mental. There have been numerous high profile cases that have been highlighted in the media which have focused on these issues. Terri Schiavo. Brittany Maynard. Many of the names of those who were thrust into the spotlight of this important topic may stir in us a world of emotions. Those names will certainly stir up controversy in specific circles.

Tada writes from her own experience, her own research, and she writes with a candor and empathy that let her reader know that the end of life which seem to be reduced to purely mechanical and almost robotic decisions are actually far more complex than many, on both sides of the issue, have fully admitted. How do an individual’s decisions about their own end of life impact themselves, their families, God, and others? While the right of the individual seems to have gained the greatest focus, there is no denying that these decisions and their impact are far more impactful than just the individual.

But there are also a host of difficult questions that need to be wrestled with in order to have a better understanding of just how nuanced the conversation is around end of life issues. Have individuals who have wanted to avoid painful suffering in the end actually cut short their lives prematurely? What defines personhood? Have individuals who have been removed from life support without their consent really been in the perpetual vegetative state that others have claimed they have been in?

As a Christian, Tada sees the value of human life through a different lens than those with no faith background. She holds to the belief that we are created in the image of God and each of us is valuable, regardless of our abilities or inabilities. Taking a life prematurely, in her opinion, seems to contradict this belief.

Tada also mentions other options at the end of life. I was grateful for her mention of hospice as my own experience with my parents and hospice was incredibly positive, especially during a very difficult season of life. The resources and options that are available before the death process has begun may be more numerous than some would admit. She encourages her readers to do their own research and consult a host of counsel regarding advanced medical directives and living wills. Be informed in order to make informed decisions.

“When Is It Right To Die?” was made so much more poignant to me considering who Joni Eareckson Tada is and what he has experienced in her life. Half a century as a paraplegic in a wheelchair coupled with just what she has accomplished in those five decades has given her a stronger voice in this conversation. Her perspective is thoughtful and sensitive, but she is not afraid to express her opinions. Having explored end of life issues before, this book was incredibly helpful. I think that it could be equally beneficial for those who have been seeking a means by which to explore the subject. Even if you are coming from another perspective other than a Christian perspective, the insights that Tada shares can be helpful and I didn’t feel that she ever became preachy in how and what she shared.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Your God Is Too Glorious – A Book Review

Your God Is Too GloriousWhy is it that we seem to want to find God in all the glorious and magnificent places in the world? Have we forgotten how God came into the world, as a baby born to a teenage virgin? God put on the flesh of normality, became one of us, and accomplished the impossible through unlikely circumstances. In looking up to the sky and expecting flashes of lightning and rolls of thunder, we have a tendency to forget that it’s in the normalcy and the mundane of life that God works.

That’s the premise of Chad Bird’s latest book, “Your God Is Too Glorious.” We have taught ourselves to be astounded by the grandiose and extraordinary instead of finding the grandiose and extraordinary in the simplicities of life. Often God speaks to us in those small places through small people in the small details. As Bird writes, “…our ears grow so accustomed to these loud voices that we become deaf to the quiet voices whispering profound wisdom on the fringes.”

Story after story is shared by Bird within this book, person after person is named, emphasizing his exact point that God is speaking but we may not always be listening. We may set our sights high, even to the point of creating impossible expectations which we can never meet, but God wants us to be faithful where he has us, doing the ordinary and mundane because it is out of the ordinary and mundane that God can show just how extraordinary he is.

As Bird writes, it is not our calling for us to do great things for it is a great God whom we serve. When we accomplish great things, we can also have a tendency to think that we’ve done them on our own rather than giving the credit to God who accomplishes great things through his ordinary people.

Bird shares accounts of people in the Bible who prove this point as well. The pages of the Bible are lined with the names of people who were insignificant save for their obedience to what God called them to. He mentions characters who we may or may not have read about in the past, some of whom are not even named within the pages of the Bible, some whose mention didn’t even last more than a sentence or two. That did not make them any less significant to the work that God accomplished in them and through them.

This whole premise can seen so clearly when we look at the church in the 21st century. Bigger and better seems to be a tagline that many churches have embraced, but God can truly work in the small things. As we read in Zechariah 4:10, “Who dares despise the day of small things.” Bird writes, “When we’re always on the lookout for the next big thing that God is doing in the church, we grow blind to the old little things he’s been doing all along.” The church is not about seeing how much bigger and better we can make things, it’s about us gathering around the gifts of Jesus in order to realize just how great he is.

Reading “Your God Is Too Glorious” was very timely for me. It was a needed reminder to be faithful with the little things and to stop running after what seems to be more important. Even rest is important to the point that God called “holy” the one day set aside in creation to rest. I appreciated Bird’s reminder that what culture or “the world” may call insignificant is not insignificant to God. If you have struggled with always trying to outdo yourself and always feeling disappointed that you aren’t being used by God to do great things, this book may be an encouragement and helpful reminder to you as well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)