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Faith

Favorite Faith Resources from My Personal Journey

The following post is a reflection of my personal journey and is not meant to make anyone feel defensive about their own beliefs.  Please know that I share these faith resources with great respect for every person and their personal journey with God.   By publishing this, I hope to provide resource suggestions for Christians who find themselves asking similar questions to myself.  I am not trying to influence people or change their minds with this post.

First, a little bit of background:  I was raised in an Evangelical Christian home and have never really waivered from my faith in God, Jesus, and the Bible.  In fact, theology and faith have always been of utmost importance to me.  Throughout my 20’s and 30’s, I pursued the development of my theology through reading and discussion.  Admittedly, I enjoy challenging my own thoughts and exploring various opinons on matters of faith.

Last year I began to research women’s issues through the lens of the bible.  Do wives have to submit to their husbands or should our marriage be more of a mutual submission?  Why do we (many evangelical and conservatives) support careers for women in all areas except in the area of church leadership?  As I began to read The Bible, I observed that the verses about submission in marriage were found in the same section as verses about slaves obeying their masters in the books of Ephesians, Colossians and I Peter.  Why?  How are these ideas connected in the bible and why do we only “obey” one of them in modern times?  

I began to find answers (this one in particular) that made sense to me and then I began ask more questions about women’s issues, violence in the old testament, and many more.  Thus began my current stage in my journey with God which continues to this day as I ask questions, seek answers, and then ask more questions.

Of course, my new conclusions are quite a change from my original stances.  My faith has evolved over many months to this new place and I struggled through this change immensely. It was difficult mentally and socially to feel very alone in my faith circles. I wasn’t sure who to talk with and how to process my new interpretations without making someone defend theirs.  It was not my intent to change someone else’s mind, but I felt passionate about my new conclusions and wanted to talk through them with others who were considering the same ideas.

Thankfully, my parents and 2 very close friends were walking through many of the exact same questions so we could enjoy exploratory conversation.  I also formed  a small group of women online who were researching similar issues in theology.  We were able to discuss our thoughts freely without judgement.  I feel very fortunate to have had people alongside me in this journey.

In addition to the people in my life that I could talk with, I found many authors who walked alongside me. They share their personal journeys of faith, their questions and their theological conclusions through their books.

Today I’d like to share some of the book titles and podcasts that encouraged me in hopes that might be a source of encouragement for others who are travelling a similar path.  

Resources from my personal journey of faith.

{This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for your support of Not Before 7.}

The following faith resources either challenged my way of thinking, encouraged my soul, or both. Of course, my recommendations don’t mean that I agree with all of the author’s conclusions, but that I did enjoy reading and considering the material. Be sure to do some research and draw your own conclusions about which titles might be beneficial to you versus a source of frustration.

1.  I spoke about the book, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar, in detail on my blog previously.

This book came at a perfect time and was very instrumental in helping me sort through the feelings I experienced during this dramatic shift in my beliefs.

2.  Malestrom: Manhood swept into the Currents of a Changing World by Carolyn Custis James.  (Christianity Today Award Winning Title)

I came across this title as I was googling information about submission in marriage as taught in the Bible.  Years ago I had read Carolyn Custis James’ book, When Life and Beliefs Collide, and I enjoyed it immensely so I was eager to start this one.

This book takes a very straightforward approach to scripture and explores a biblical view of manhood, which also engages a view of womanhood as well.  She argues for an end to the patriarchal influences in the church because they were never God’s intention for his people.  This book would be a great read for anyone in my personal opinion.  It was the winner of the 2016 Hermeneutics Award from Christianity Today and there is a great summary on their site.

Carolyn Custis James writes often about the roles of women as well as various issues important to women.  She has many books and she also writes on a personal blog.  Her thoughts were very valuable to me as I began my research.

3.  Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans.  (Christianity Today Award Winning Title)

Since we are talking about winners of the 2016 Hermeneutics Award from Christianity Today, I will mention this gem which received the Award of Merit in the Hermeneutics category.

I have to admit that I never thought I would be a fan of Rachel Held Evans because I used to disagree with so many of her conclusions.  But as my faith was evolving, I found her experiences and thoughts to echo so many of my own.   I enjoyed the organization of this book as she organizes her personal stories, thoughts, and reflections around the sacraments of the church.

4.  Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans.

Since we are already talking about Rachel Held Evans, I’ll take the opportunity to add this title to the list.   She had me at the title on this one!  I WAS the girl with all of the answers and I suddenly was asking all of the questions.

(This book was formerly titled, Evolving in Monkeytown: How a Girl Who Knew All the Questions Learned to Ask the Answers, and has been reprinted under the new title.)

This book is the story of Rachel’s personal faith journey as she began to ask some tough questions and seek the answers. It was extremely similar to my own journey and I felt like I had a friend to walk along the path with me. Of course, she grew up with a much more conservative faith and it was eye-opening for me to hear about life in a conservative town.

Personal stories are one of my favorite types of books and this book was no exception!

5.  Tattoos on the Hearth: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Gregory Boyle.

This book was a collection of personal stories by Gregory Boyle. He shares amazing and heartbreaking stories of his work with gang members in a ghetto of Los Angelos, CA. He is the founder of Homeboy Industries and shares his “hard earned wisdom” with the reader.

I highly recommend this beautiful book to everyone!

I did not read this book to research my theological questions. Instead, it was a title recommended to me in the last year during my journey as I was looking for stories of people living out their faith. Gregory Boyle is living out the love of Christ and had much to wisdom to share.

6.  Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey.

Sarah Bessey was a new name to me when I found discovered this book. In it she shares the story of her evolving faith in a gentle, humble and heart-felt way.

(Can you tell I enjoy personal stories?)

Sarah comes from a charismatic background with a husband who was in full-time ministry. While I didn’t relate as much to the specifics in her story, it brought me great peace to read about someone else clinging to God while their faith seemed to be “falling apart”.

In particular, Sarah shares how she handled coming to different conclusions than her husband in the area of their faith.  They were able to walk through the journey together, respecting the space each person needed for faith exploration as well as respecting their differing points of view. The beauty of their marriage and respect for one another was comforting to me as my husband did not share all of my changing viewpoints either.

Today I picked up another book by Sarah Bessey, The Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, and I can’t wait to finish it!  I’m already reminded of the gentle way that Sarah approaches topics.  I know I will enjoy this one.

7.  Carry On, Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life by Glennon Doyle Melton.

Even if I didn’t agree with her, I have always appreciated Glennon’s heart for loving God and loving people. Her thoughts challenge, encourage, and inspire me. This book was a collection of her blog posts over time and I loved it!

I am waiting on my signed copy of Love Warrior: A Memoir that should arrive next month.

8.  One of the books I read early on as my views were changing was, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It by Peter Enns.

Without a doubt, this was one of the more controversial authors I have learned to appreciate.  The first time through this book, I actually tossed it aside and debated if I was going to continue.

I did NOT agree with much of what I was reading and I wasn’t sure what to do with that.  But this was the book that my two very good friends were reading and I wanted to engage the discussion with them, so I continued.  I am forever grateful that I did.

In the end, he opened my eyes to a new way to read The Bible.  I may not agree with all of his conclusions, but his approach came at the right time in my life.  This book was written for the general public as opposed to his previous more academic titles.   It was very easy to read, but the casual tone occasionally had a snarky edge.

By the end, I was much more open to what Dr. Enns had to say.  In fact, I discovered that he was speaking at a college in the area and I contacted the college and attended his seminar there.  When I met Dr. Enns in person he was not snarky at all.  He acknowledged that some of his thoughts are in opposition to what many believe and he was very respectful of that.

I also read his book, The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn’t say about Human Orgins.  This book helps those who want to reconcile their belief in the Bible with their acceptance of evolution.   This book is not written in a casual tone and it is very academic.  It contains a very in-depth look at the interpretation of the Bible that Enns has come to accept.  He acknowledges some of the problems with his own conclusions, but encourages Christians to enter the discussion.

This was a great selection for someone  struggling to reconcile their acceptance of evolution with their belief in the Bible.  Evolution was not one of my recent questions, but I found the book very insightful.  Of course, it took many weeks for me to process through the heavy amount of information.

His most recent title, The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires our Trust more than our “Correct” Beliefs, is on its way to my house through Amazon Prime right now!

In addition to numerous book titles, I discovered the world of theological podcasts and devoured episode upon episode!  My two favorites are:

1. Rob Bell and his Robcast.  Full confession.  I read his book, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, the year it was released and I didn’t care for it.  I was open to his viewpoint, but I wasn’t convinced.  At all.  Fast forward to the present and I have discovered that Rob Bell is much better (IMO) at speaking than writing.  He discusses current events, theology, parenting, and conducts fantastic interviews.  If you are a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert, you can check out his interview with her!

2.  The Liturgists.  I adore Science Mike and Michael Gungor.  My husband became a fan as well on our trip out west.  It has been a great experience to engage in deeper thoughts about modern science and theology with these two guys.  Episode 5 on Spiral Dynamics was so fascinating as we drove along the highway.  The beautiful integration of science and religion on this podcast is engaging and thought provoking.  These guys are fantastic!

If you are in a place where you find your beliefs shifting in a similar fashion, perhaps you can find support and encouragement in some of these sources.  

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)

Faith

Guidance During a Faith Shift

My faith in God has not been a topic of this blog since its inception.  This isn’t because I don’t have faith.  In God.  In Jesus.  In the Bible.

I do.

But this year, the particulars and details of my faith have undergone a dramatic change and it has been hard to put into words so I haven’t tried.

At this point my views are no longer quite what they were, but I am not sure quite what they are.

Make sense?

It might.  It might not.

Either way, I have to admit that this change has been difficult at times.   I have had moments of deep concern about myself, which feels weird.  I mean…concern about myself?  That’s a new feeling for me.

This journey has also been somewhat lonely and very confusing as I adapt to the feelings of uncertainty in areas where certainty used to be strong.

This new version of my faith is definitely defined by less answers and more by questions.

Lots and lots of questions.

But I am good with it.  Mostly.  Though it has taken awhile to get there.

Before I share any details of my own journey, which I may or may not do on this blog, I wanted to share a book that has been extremely helpful in processing my evolving faith.  I share this just in case there is someone out there who is going through a similar process and looking for some guidance alont the way.

{The following book recommendation contains affiliate links.  Thanks for supporting NotBefore7}

Faith Shift by Kathy Escobar.

This book has been an amazing tool in helping me process and understand the changes going on in my spiritual life.  It is an insightful and practical book to help a person rebuild their faith and their connection with God.

This book is NOT a theology book.  This book will not have answers about what to think or how to interpret the Bible.  This book won’t even try to point you in any one direction when it comes to your spirituality.

What it will do is give you a big picture look at the process of going through a major shift in your faith.  It will help walk you through each of the steps in your journey as you redefine what you believe.

By major shift, I do mean a changing of fundamental beliefs.  I don’t mean reconsidering believers vs. infant baptism.  The type of change that this book is designed to walk you through is one where you feel like the entire bottom may have dropped out.  Is there really a God?  Can everyone just go to heaven?  Did Jesus really have to die?  Is the Bible really inerrant?  If you are allowing yourself to explore previously dismissed answers and you find yourself considering them valid, then this book might help you through that shift.

Of course, this book is for folks who might be struggling a bit through that change.  Struggling to accept it and to understand how to respond.

The guidance in this book helped me understand my emotions and values during a time of deep uncertainty.  I felt so very relieved as soon as I began reading it.  Truly, it felt like someone FINALLY understood what I was going through.

NOTE:  While Kathy Escobar does not push for any one “end” in her book, she speaks about her faith that evolved within the Christian faith.  I think the 7 steps would be applicable to any spiritual shifting, but most of the stories contained in this book are specific to people shifting within (or leaving) the Christian faith.

With each step of the process, Kathy shares a bit about her own story as well as the stories of the many people she has encountered through her blog and her church.  These stories are not meant to reveal the correct path for you to follow, but are meant to keep you company along the way.

Kathy is not a “one solution fits all” kind of spiritual guide.  If a break from church is what you need, Kathy will encourage you to take one.  If reading your bible is making you angry, she’ll advise you to stop.  If you aren’t sure if there even is a God, she isn’t scared of that either.

But step by step, as you are ready to take them, she’ll help you take the next step.  She will ask probing questions to help you sort through the feelings you are experiencing along the way.  I appreciated so many of her suggestions as I processed the information in her book.

In additon to her book, Kathy’s blog contains a wealth of information, including a free .pdf describing the stages of a faith shift.  She describes the process of rebuilding after deconstructing in an informative post and elaborates on each step in individual posts.

After exploring around her blog a bit, I decided to order the book.  I wanted to have everything in front of me in chronological order.  I wanted to be able to highlight and respond.  I wanted to read and re-read and re-read again.

Hands down, it has been one of the most helpful resources I have had during my faith shift.  I highly recommend it to anyone who might be processing through big changes in their beliefs, specifically when it comes to their view of Christianity and the Bible.

(NotBefore7 is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com)

Faith

Word of the Year: 2016

It’s been 6 years since I picked a word for the year.

But this year, I felt inspired to do so again.

FAITH.

My word for 2016.

I have been a christian my whole life, but these last 6 months have been a sort of explosion when it comes to my journey of faith. candles-1169648-639x852 It’s been a bit of a seismic shift in thinking about God and my faith.

Now, I have had two other time periods of my life in which I felt shifts in my understanding of God.  The first was in college when I discovered reformed theology and John Calvin.  The second was sometime in 2008-2010 when I was reading through the entire bible and I also stumbled on the book, “Breathe” by Keri Wyatt Kent.  Together, during the course of those years,  I changed many of my life practices and philosophies.

My most recent shift started with a question: What does the bible really have to say about the role of women in marriage, the church, and life?  How have people come to their varying viewpoints on this topic?  I began my exploration by reading my bible, various bloggers, and talking to friends.  I quickly encountered various books, material, and people that have escorted me into all sorts of other religious topics and discussions. Suddenly, a seismic shift began to happen and I cautiously went with it.

Realizing quickly that this would require time and thought to process, I created a space for myself.  I gave myself time and freedom to explore some of my questions, to follow some of these alternate interpretations and ideas, and to learn from theologians in the past.

But at times, it feels shaky, unfamiliar and sometimes…it can even feel scary.

I told my husband that in many ways I feel like I am putting on “new skin” and it doesn’t quite fit yet.  But I have outgrown the old skin, so there is no going back.  So this year, I will continue to figure out this “new skin” when it comes to faith.

I haven’t recorded much of this journey on my blog as it has felt so unfamiliar and too personal.  Though I may blog some of it throughout the year.

But right now, I am giving myself freedom to move comfortably in the space I have created.  I’ll be spending time questioning, exploring, and considering the many, many thoughts I have about God and the Bible.

So this year: FAITH.

Blogging, Faith

Word of the Year (2010)

(Reprinted from my former blog in 2010 and recorded for my own records here.  I was inspired to select a word this year, 2016, which will be coming soon)

Two years ago, New Years 2008, God impressed a word on my heart that became my “word” for the year.

PURPOSE was the word. It helped to define the journey that I was on and I truly felt it was a hint of what was still to come in my understanding and walk with God.

I had it stamped on a necklace and have worn it almost daily ever since. A regular reminder that my day has already been planned.

My life has been purposed. My day has been purposed. In fact, this very moment has been purposed by God.

Am I giving it over to Him?

I assumed that in 2009, I would receive a new word for the year. But nothing came. I guess I figured it would be a one time thing.

But a few weeks ago, it became clear that God was impressing another word upon my heart.

REST

It is a seemingly strange word for a homeschooling mommy of four little ones. After all, rest is something I don’t get a whole lot of. At least not physical rest.

But this is the journey I am on. Finding REST. True REST. The kind of REST I believe Jesus was speaking about when he declared in Matthew 11,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (verses 28-30)

REST that comes when we follow Him.

It is not just a good nap, though sometimes one might be on His agenda for me.

It is not having a day with no plans, but some days you might REST in an agenda free day.

It is not laziness, ever. After all, He has purposed each moment.

It will never have to include anxiety, fear, worry, or stress. None of those emotions are restful. (Matthew 6:25-34)

So what exactly is it?

For me…

It IS taking our lives, our burdens, our anxieties, our goals, and our desires and turning them over to Him entirely! (I Peter 5:7)

It IS resting in the blessed assurance that He will take care of every detail, every need, and every aspect of our lives.

Practically speaking…

I can plan a day with nothing to do so that I can rest and enjoy my kids because I don’t have to strive to “achieve” some worldly goal everyday.

I don’t have to take on more tutoring jobs when our family schedule is already busy because I can rest in His provision.

I don’t have to spout off the resume of my 7 year old to other moms because I can rest in the knowledge that His hand is on her life. In fact, my 7 year old doesn’t even need a resume of activities and classes unless I feel God working something out for our family. We can focus on building her relationship with Him and let the rest unfold in His timing.

I don’t have to make choices out of fear. My 3 year old doesn’t have to be pushed ahead of his time into the right soccer team or into the right preschool because I am afraid there won’t be a spot for him once he is five. If I rest in God’s timing, then he’ll work out the details.

I don’t have to nag my husband because I can rest in God’s Holy Spirit prompting Him when He needs it. (yeah…working on that one…daily)

I don’t have to worry about homeschooling for high school or my children getting into college because I can rest in His plan for our family THIS year. Knowing that as we trust Him now, He will work out the future.

REST.

It may not include an afternoon nap today. But it includes an overwhelming peace everyday.