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REVIEW: New books help readers dig deeper into their faith

Many books are written for new Christians — books on the fundamentals of the faith, the milk of the Gospel, growing in Christ.  
It’s more difficult to find challenging books for the spiritually mature — those of us who have grown up in the church, heard thousands of sermons, read through the Bible repeatedly and studied individual books in depth. We need “meat,” books that help us relate to God and to our fellow beings in a radical, abandoned, fully trusting manner.  
Four new books have come out this year that help us do that, in varied ways.
John Stott, 88, reflects on the church and Christians today in “The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling.” He calls us to follow, submit to and be like Jesus.  
Stott warns against buckling under to the pressures of pluralism, materialism, ethical relativism and narcissism, encouraging us to withstand them with truth, simplicity, obedience and love.  
“If only the blindfold could be taken away from our eyes!” he writes. “If only we could see Jesus in the fullness of who he is and what he has done! Why then surely we would see how worthy he is of our wholehearted allegiance, and faith, love and obedience would be drawn out from us and we would grow into maturity. Nothing is more important for mature Christian discipleship than a fresh, clear, true vision of the authentic Jesus.”
Summarizing much of Christianity in the world today as “growth without depth,” Stott urges us to expand our view of Christ as the Lord of creation and of the church. He challenges us to emulate Christ in humility, service, love, patient endurance and mission, recognizing that Christ-likeness leads to suffering, evangelism and the indwelling Spirit.
He calls us to cooperate with God in caring for his creation for the common good. He champions simple living and sacrificial giving. And he challenges us to radical dependence on Christ, seeing death as the only way to life.  
The next two books describe specific ways to become radical disciples.
Radio personality Linda Evans Shepherd, in “When You Don’t Know What to Pray: How to Talk to God about Anything,” urges us to abandon ourselves to radical trust and submission to God in our prayer lives. One aspect of spiritual immaturity is a superficial understanding of prayer as a way to get God to give us what we want. True Christian maturity recognizes which of us is God in the relationship.
Shepherd, whose daughter was severely handicapped as the result of an auto accident, urges us to pray in all circumstances, from the most serious to the most mundane.  
“If you’ve been tempted to fret about unanswered prayer,” Shepherd writes, “perhaps it’s not that God has rejected you, but rather that you’re suffering from ‘feelings of rejection’ because God has not come through the way you’ve insisted. Perhaps a change of perspective is in order.”
Shepherd points out that God is big enough to handle our anger, that he loves and cares for us and that prayer helps us realize his presence, bear our burdens and grow. Shepherd encourages us to pray with submission, trust and gratitude, surrendering bitterness and hopelessness to live triumphant lives of praise.
In “The Compassion Revolution: How God Can Use You to Meet the World’s Greatest Needs,” Dave Donaldson, co-founder of Convoy of Hope, challenges us to radical service to the poor, orphans, the hungry, thirsty and homeless. Another aspect of spiritual immaturity is the idea that greed is good and that fulfilling our every desire is God’s will. True Christian maturity ministers to those in need as Jesus did.
Donaldson reminds us that selfishness and self-absorption blind us to the needs of those around us, as well as to biblical teaching on the subject. The topic of injustice and the poor “doesn’t just pop up in a random discussion here and there,” he writes. “It is a prevalent theme you can trace through the entirety of Scripture.”
Donaldson supplements his examples and teachings with lists of action items, Scriptures and recommended compassion organizations.  
Referring to Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000, he points out, “You were not created to live an ordinary existence.  God has something more for you — a life of experiencing the joy and adventure of making a difference in people’s lives. An extraordinary God placed you on this planet to accomplish extraordinary things. So heed the call and join the compassion revolution! Even if you have only limited resources and gifts — just some bread and fish — God can do something amazing with your life!”
Stephanie Saldana’s “The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith” is the memoir of a 27-year-old’s growth in maturity from self-obsession to love for God and other people during a year of study in Damascus. 
One key is gratitude for the smallest blessing. “Like everyone here,” Saldana writes from the context of Middle Eastern violence and suffering, “I have spent many hours trying to understand why some of us are taken and others of us are left to live. I’ve made my uncomfortable peace, in part because I don’t think that the dead would want us to spend our time left walking on earth absorbed in such questions. But they would want us to notice. To at least give thanks. For the simple miracle of that childhood prayer, ‘Give us this day, our daily bread,’ has been answered.”
Each of these books teaches us to grow in Christian maturity so we can face the blessings and challenges of life with an open mind and heart, trusting God to care for us and loving and serving our fellow beings
BILLIE SILVEY has been a Christian for more than half a century. The author, editor and former director of the Culver Palms Life Skills Lab works and worships with the Culver Palms Church of Christ in Los Angeles.
John Stott. The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 2010, 144 pages. $15.
Linda Evans Shepherd. When You Don’t Know What to Pray: How to Talk to God about Anything. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Revell, 2010. 192 pages. $12.99.
Dave Donaldson. The Compassion Revolution: How God Can Use You to Meet the World’s Greatest Needs. Eugene, Ore.:  Harvest House, 2010. 198 pages. $13.99.
Stephanie Saldana. The Bread of Angels: A Journey to Love and Faith. New York: Doubleday, 2010. 303 pages. $24.95.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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