All that hath life and breath come now with praises before Him.

The November Book Talk: Where Reading Friends Give Thanks

I’ve added a hymnal to the pile of books I tote between laundry room and dining room table on the daily. Starting at page one, I’ve been working my way through the familiar and the unfamiliar and then recording a line that stands out to me in my journal. Playing hymnal roulette is not even close to being an inspired practice, but I’ve been amazed at the relevance of old hymns to my new day:

All that hath life and breath, come now with praises before Him.”

(That’s me! And I hear the birds outside doing the same!)

Lord, how Thy wonders are displayed wheree’er I turn my eye…”

(Even the bleakness of late fall has its own unique wonder!)

As warriors, through the darkness toil till dawns the golden day.”

(Don’t give up! The normal Christian life is one of striving and “toil!” Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably selling something.)

This month, I’m sharing five books, two of which are designed to prepare your heart for a celebration of Jesus’s birthday. Let’s get started:

The Way Up Is Down

Some writers speak for justice from the outside of a circle. Their heart is in the right place, but their story is far afield from the lives of those they hope to represent and for whom they aspire to advocate.

Born into a poor family, Marlena Graves knows about poverty’s embarrassment and the claustrophobia that comes with limited access to opportunity. The Way Up Is Down employs the rich stories of Christianity’s historical saints alongside Graves’s compelling witness that those who see and walk Jesus’s way know a fullness borne out of emptiness.

Jesus also “lived at the bottom of society’s barrel and grew up on the wrong side of the tracks.” (17) Despised and rejected, he comforts the lowly and empowers us, his followers, to disregard public opinion as we allow God to reshape and reorder our categories.

Graves stands five feet and three inches tall in her small Puerto Rican body, but her voice is large and fiery as she calls the church to repentance of our indifference, of our selfish and apathetic response to the needs of the world. I was challenged particularly to ponder God’s goodness as it is demonstrated in his open-handed generosity. All he has given to us is ours to enjoy–and to share! “Modest living” in its truest sense flows from humility as we follow our giving God into lives of obedient sacrifice.

Biblical Minimalism

One of my favorite old hymns includes the line, “I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face,” and whenever I have sung it, I’ve sensed a dissonance in my spirit that has nothing to do with the music. The truth is, I ask God for all kinds of sunshine, and I imagine you do as well. Here in North America, we accept stable employment, safe and comfortable living conditions, ample sustenance, and adequate (and even stylish!) clothing as our due, and we then go on to acquire any number of possessions that, eventually may come to possess us.

Cheryl Smith stood one day in her dream house and heard the Lord speak startling words to her spirit: “You are allowing this house and this yard to hold you prisoner.” God was calling her and her family to unload their home, most of their possessions, and to embark upon a life of simplicity which she now describes as Biblical Minimalism.

As Smith followed Jesus from “a life of abundance to a more abundant life,” she realized that what she owned truly owned her. She tells her family’s story, describing the freedom she experienced — but not prescriptively, for her path will not be everyone’s assignment. Her words are an anthem to what God has done in one woman’s heart and a challenge for every single one of us to beware of the bondage to our “things.” She concludes with practical advice learned along the way that may come to you just in time to align your own heart more faithfully with an uncluttered discipleship.

Strangely Bright

In this follow up to his first book, The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts, Joe Rigney perseveres with a question that bubbles to the surface for every believer at one time or another: Can I love God and still enjoy this world? With the precision of a theologian and the enthusiasm of a fresh raspberry eating, summer baseball playing young dad, Rigney places the question before readers once again, this time with a lighter touch.

Strangely Bright explores biblical passages to reconcile the tension there and in our own hearts as to how “a single-minded pursuit of the glory of God fits with a real and deep enjoyment of created things.” Perhaps the experience of loss is where we feel this most when we sense the subtle pressure to suppress our grief so as not to dishonor God or to be found loving something more than him.

Is it possible that Scripture contradicts itself?
“Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
(Psalm 73:25)
Everything is rubbish compared to Christ! But listen:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving…” (1 Timothy 4:4)
This is permission to enter into the goodness of all God has made!

Rigney places these messages side by side and argues that we put supreme love for God on display when we enjoy his gifts. Tracing our enjoyment back to the Giver of all good things is one sure fire way to guard our hearts from idolatry and ingratitude as we make a spiritual practice of “enjoying God in everything and everything in God.” (LOC 699)

The Advent Narrative

Time bound and mired in the here and now, I can barely comprehend a God who functions outside of time. When Moses picked up his pen and wrote “In the beginning…” he was describing the creative work of Someone who had already been active, who Himself had no beginning.

Entering the constraints of time, it seems to me, would have been among Jesus’s greatest sacrifices in joining us here on Planet Earth with its fixed tides and its daily rhythms of daylight and darkness. Joining us, he ushered in a reason to celebrate, and in The Advent Narrative, Mary Geisen offers the gift of her own ponderings on the gift of Jesus’s coming.

Advent spreads a banner of hope over ordinary time as we accept God’s invitation to live in perpetual awareness of Jesus’s glorious second coming. Perhaps what you need as we all come careening into December of 2020 is a “call to posture yourself before God as you lean in to know him better.” (xviii)

As Advent people, we find in Jesus’s coming more than an occasion for empty traditions or a self-help program. Our hope is in the intersection of our own story with God’s story.

Imagine discovering that the wilderness wanderings you thought were wasted have actually been the doorway to a greater intimacy with God and others, for in the wilderness, we learn the depth of our own insufficiency, our own neediness.

I am receiving The Advent Narrative as a wake up call to the presence of God and year-round Kingdom living, for after the tree gets dragged to the burn pile and all the fudge has been mailed (or eaten), Emmanuel remains:
God with us in the waiting;
God with us in the growing;
God with us in our imperfect obedience;
God with us in the letting go;
God with us in the ongoing work of paying attention and being transformed into his likeness.

Hosanna in Excelsis

Did you ever stop to think about the hundreds of songs that have been written about the birth of Jesus? Every language and culture has made its contribution, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, but David and Barbara Leeman have collected the brightest and the best of them in a lovely volume that’s just right for the delightful combination of singing and pondering that have been part of my family’s Christmas tradition for a couple of decades.

Beginning on November 25, Hosanna in Excelsis: Hymns and Devotions for the Christmas Season offers forty three readings and Christmas hymns to take you through Advent, Christmastide, and into Epiphany and the New Year! Brief biographies of the authors and composers accompany each devotional reading, but the point is to get you and your family to sing your Christmas joy in the tradition of believers from the fourth century through today.

Perfect for gift giving or as an addition to your own Advent traditions, Hosanna in Excelsis will be a fresh infusion of joy to our first empty nest Christmas, and as Tucker the lazy St. Bernard adds his howling descant to our singing, we’ll nod in agreement with poet, Robert Herrick:

What sweeter music can we bring
Than a carol for to sing
The birth of this our heavenly King?

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
All that hath life and breath come now with praises before Him.

Now It’s Your Turn…

How is God showing up in your every day living?
Do you find yourself drawn to Jesus’s humility and a simpler way of life in the crazy season of acquisition that Christmas has become here in North America?
Do you have special books to enrich your Advent reading that you look forward to every year?
I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments below!

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press, Crossway, Moody Publishing, and the authors for providing copies of these books to facilitate my reviews, which, of course, are offered freely and with honesty.

Reading with Thanksgiving!

Michele Morin

The November email newsletter lands in subscribers’ inboxes tomorrow, and if you’ve enjoyed this month’s gratitude series on the blog, perhaps you’ll want to subscribe to the newsletter, where I’m offering my readers a free devotional booklet: Make Gratitude the Music of Your Life. It’s a PDF compilation of the seven devotionals I’ve shared for Thanksgiving 2020. It’s just right for starting on Friday and reading one each day until Thanksgiving Day arrives. Click here to find details for subscribing.

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees. If you should decide to purchase any of the books I’ve shared this month, simply click on the title or the image, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

And as always, you can also subscribe to Living Our Days blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox twice a week. I love encouraging readers with dispatches sent from the intersection of Truth and Life. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

53 thoughts on “The November Book Talk: Where Reading Friends Give Thanks”

  1. Thanks so much, Michele, for you wonderful book recommendations here! I have read, and reviewed, Biblical Minimalism and it’s a winner for sure. When anything gets in the way of fully loving our God, we must be ready to shed it and move on to a better life with Him.
    Blessings!

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      1. Thank you for your reviews, always inspirational. I feel drawn to Biblical Minimalism and the appeal of a more simplistic lifestyle but whether the reality would live up to the ideal is another thing!

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  2. I think I need to get my hands on an old hymnal- and these books! Strangely Bright and The Advent Narrative really stand out to me. Your point that God with us remains is just I needed as we head into the holiday rush. Thanks, Michele!

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  3. Ahhhh, Michele. So many good books here! I gleaned so much from The Advent Narrative. It spoke to many places in my heart and life. The idea of reading through a hymnal and looking for a line that speaks to your heart is brilliant. I’m going to have to try that. Thank you for sharing all of these books and ideas!

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  4. Sounds like some interesting books you have there. Thanks so much for linking up at our party – #FaithAndWorshipChristianWeekend 10. Shared.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. These all sound like some great books to read! I’m going to have to check them out. I love the idea of reading a hymnal. I have an old one I keep in my bedroom that was my Granddaddy’s. I’ll have to actually read it. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  6. I’m going to write some of these down. The New year is a great time for reflection & connecting with God (you should every day, but we love a new beginning mark) I’m going to check some of these out.

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  7. The Advent Narrative interests me and I will have to check that one out. Christmas has become too much commercialism for me. So many expectations of spending, decor, etc…. I prefer simple living all of the time. Thanks for linking up and have a great weekend.

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  8. Love your idea of thoughtful reading through the old hymns, Michele, finding lines that resonate, and journaling the responses or insights that bubble to the surface. Might have to order a new journal for that purpose–oh boy! (The pleasure of choosing a fresh journal for a fresh project is quite delightful–right?!)

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  9. Thank you for the recommendations Michele. I’m going to check out Hosanna in Excelsis and The Advent Narrative. I also like the idea of journaling lines from songs and what they’re saying to us.

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  10. This was a great piece, Michele! The Biblical Minimalism really spoke to me. I am not a minimalist by any definition of that word, but I can totally relate to possessions owning us. I have known too many people like this and it has always troubled my heart. Thanks for sharing.

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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  11. ” Biblical Minimalism” sounds like a book I need to read. I am really feeling the need to simplify life these days. Thanks for linking up with us at the #FaithAndWorshipChristianWeekend 10

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  12. All these books sound great, but Strangely Bright seemed to stand out to me. I might have to check that one out. Have a blessed Thanksgiving, Michele! I’m your neighbor this week at #InspireMeMonday. What a pleasure to visit today!

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  13. As always you provide such a diverse group of reads. I’m thinking I am going to have more time for reading now that my book launch is over.

    Thank you for including my book among these other offerings. Happy Thanksgiving.

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  14. I’ve never thought about hauling a hymnal around and reading the songs! But that’s a great idea. You’ve given me food for thought with the first two books on your list. I often wonder if I use the abundance God gave me in the way he hopes I would. I think probably not.

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  15. Michele, I love your practice of reflecting on hymn lyrics and writing down a line every day. So many thought-provoking books, too … the Christmas song devotional especially stands out, and also Mary’s book, which is ordered but not here yet. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, my friend.

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  16. What a great and inspired thoughtful use of a hymnal! I may try it. My UM Hymnal has many songs I do not know, nor has any congregation I ever served, probably known half of them. So a great idea with unknown hymns as well as those familiar to us. And such a great selection of book titles. So many books, so little time. I love Advent too, it is my favorite season in the church year, but also the busiest, the season with the most competition. If anything calls to us for a simpler way of life, it is this season. Blessings to you, and graceful Thanksgiving, Michele Somerville (Beach Girl)

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    1. I’m using the hymnal our church uses for this round, but am hoping to use some older editions in a future trip. There’s so much good (and so much mediocre) between the covers of a hymnal. I’m enjoying the process.

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  17. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas despite having an empty nest, it is something I have gone through in recent years, it does get easier. Thanks for linking with #pocolo and hope to see you back again later this week

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  18. I have enjoyed finding the history of some of our greatest hymn. They have come from some very dark circumstances with only a glimmer of light left! The books you mention sound very uplifting.

    What a fantastic addition to ‘My Corner of the World’ this week!

    Liked by 1 person

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