Be Still Series – Reflect Update

I’m excited to say the fifth book in our Be Still series is finished, the proof copy ordered and received, edits finished, and my author copies ordered.

While I’ve worked on Reflect, I’ve also reviewed and update the other four books. Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) was once Amazon Create Space, which is where I uploaded the first two books. However, during the development of the third, the migration to KDP took place. With it, the cover creator tool changed. During that time I also purchased a new publishing program for myself. Both have made a big difference.

Wanting consistency and continuity across the Be Still series, I formatted all five book covers and back cover descriptions to have a similar feel. I also made a few changes to some of the font in the older books, for readability and consistency.

I’m excited to think that by the time this blog posts, I the order for the first copies of Reflect will be on the way and will be eagerly awaiting their arrival. I’m also ordering additional copies of the other books for our church’s annual Artisan Fair and our neighborhood’s Craft Fair. For those who do not live in the local area, the first four books are live with their changes and available to order on Amazon. Reflect will be available in November.

Details for each book can be found on my Be Still blog page and details and ordering are available on my Amazon author page.

Grace and Peace.

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Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas Revisited

I first posted this review in September of 2014. Since then I’ve taught two classes on Sacred Pathways and am coteaching a third. It’s a great book and a great study and now there’s also a video with five sessions and a study guide. I have seen many find freedom in their own time spent with our Heavenly Father and grace for others. It’s a book worth posting again.

 In my journey of following Jesus, I have met many who have been fairly certain their way of worshipping and praying is the right “way” to worship or pray and that other ways are wrong.   I have also met many, myself included, who have been frustrated as they struggled with the concept of the right “way” to pray, struggled with connecting with God, or have felt out of touch with certain forms of worship.  Why, for some, does connecting with God seem so easy, but for others, it is not?

Then I found Gary Thomas’ book Sacred Pathways. The ideas Thomas presents in his book were introduced to me at a prayer retreat. They intrigued me. As soon as I returned home, I ordered the book. I further explored Thomas’ concept of Sacred Pathways and discovered that 1. I am not alone in my frustration; and 2. our frustration may stem from the misconception there is a right “way” and a wrong “way” to worship and pray.

For my struggling, frustrated, journeying friends, this book is for us.  It can also be for the other group, but they may have to lay down some preconceptions and approach it with an open mind.

Gary Thomas presents the idea that God has created each of us uniquely and in doing so, we each have a unique way of loving Him. He identifies nine different spiritual temperaments, nine pathways of connecting with God.  Each of these temperaments contribute to the body of Christ and each of these temperaments, I think, teach us about the beauty and complexity of God’s heart.

As I eagerly read Thomas’ book, I quickly identified my dominate temperament. I also found that I had one or two other temperaments that were somewhat strong as well. Thomas encourages us to find comfort and confidence in worshipping God in the unique way in which He has designed us. He provides ideas to further explore worshipping God in our temperament and offers examples of others who share the temperament. Additionally, he provides cautions for the temperaments, where worship might become something destructive, lead to where our Heavenly Father did not intend. He also exhorts us to explore the other temperaments as a means to enrich our own faith journey and to better understand those whose temperaments are different from our own.

The Nine Pathways are:

Naturalists – loving God out of doors
Sensates – loving God with the senses
Traditionalists – loving God through ritual and symbol
Ascetics – loving God in solitude and simplicity
Activists – loving God through confrontation
Caregivers – loving God by loving others
Enthusiasts – loving God with mystery and celebration
Contemplatives – loving God through adoration
Intellectuals – loving God with the mind

Personal note: While Thomas combines creativity with the Enthusiasts, I would break out a tenth temperament:

Creativist – loving God through creating.

Whether music, art, dance, sewing, woodworking, writing, gardening, baking, or any other form of creating, I think we join with our Creator in the creation process and that it, in and of itself, is another form of worship, another temperament or pathway.

If you have been experiencing a dryness in your time with God, or if you have longed to have the rich spiritual walk you see others experiencing, then this book is for you. Be assured that our Heavenly Father is inviting you to experience Him in the unique way in which He has created you. Come, pray and worship, delight in the Father who delights in you.

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Shock Value

I’ve been reading through the Bible this year with an amazing group of women. Currently we’re in Ezekiel and it’s been quite the ride.

Ezekiel is filled with a considerable amount of imagery and some of it quite shocking.  In fact, Ezekiel is very much a demonstrative prophet, acting out warnings and judgments through performance in front of the people. I haven’t heard much preaching on some of Ezekiel’s actions, especially chapter 16.

As we read through the Bible, I listen to various podcasts and teaching on the books as we go. One such episode on the prophets mentioned how the messages the prophets gave were meant to shock, disturb and upset the hearers. I can’t imagine them very popular or accepted then or today.

The Lord was more than weary of the detestable actions of his people. They had lost their story, followed other gods, built their own empire, trusted in their own wealth, strength and military might. They oppressed the impoverished, the needy, the foreigner, the widows and orphans. They did not take care or look after the least of these. They only sought their own comfort, interests, and power.  

The Lord was more than done with their behavior and his prophets minced no words in warning the people. They used graphic, explicit, and even disgusting descriptions and comparisons of what Israel had done and what their judgment would be.

As Christians, we can be a bit puritanical and censorious in what we think is acceptable. Especially in the arts. Taking the book of Ezekiel into consideration, I’m not sure why.

Not long ago my oldest son streamed an animated video on his television. It was set to an amazing instrumental composition. However, the imagery and the lyrics were shocking and graphic. As the artist meant them to be. 

I’ve always been naturally hypersensitive and often easily offended and I’d simply and obviously back it up with Christian morals and piety. As I read the prophets and their warnings, I had to reconsider this particular artist’s interpretation of the ramifications and consequences of a society not unlike Israel. The creator of the video, like the prophets, used the graphic and explicit imagery to make a point, to even give warning to where it all leads.

I’m still sensitive to these things and probably won’t seek to ingest this kind of content. However, I won’t be so quick to judge, but rather pause and consider. What is the artist trying to say? What experiences is the artist trying to communicate? What is going on in our community, our society, our culture that the artist is addressing? Quite possibly the artist is protesting the problems, the corruption, the harm that has been so long ignored. A strong message is being sent. And maybe instead of judging and censoring, we should take notice, listen, and take action. Like the Israelites should have done with the message of the prophets.

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Be Still Series – Reflect, the next Be Still book

The next Be Still book is currently a work in progress.

As conflict, chaos, change, and challenges continue into 2021, I’m thankful for the consistency of God. And I’m humbled by his inspiration and provision when I’m coming up empty.

The year opened with him giving me another word: listen. Which the husband and I tried to do with some planned camping retreats. We had plans to reflect on, pray about, and discuss what the Holy Spirit might have for the Be Still book on Psalm 23. However, green pastures and quiet waters weren’t meant to be during the first weekend retreat. Unfortunately we had connectivity where we camped and the world crashed in on us. First, nationally with alerts on the storming of the capitol building, and second, locally with another frustrating issue arising at church and needing our attention.

We then had to cancel the second planned camping retreat before it even arrived, as forecasts called for extremely cold temperatures across Texas, including snow in our area (and if you know anything about the Texas Hill Country, that rarely happens). It was cold. Below freezing for a week. And it snowed. We experienced what we now call the snowpocalypse. And we, like many all over the state, were without power or water for a period of time.

Again, the months rolled by and I wondered what this year’s Be Still book could be or if it would be.

Again, my Tuesday morning Bible study came through. Somewhere in the discussion on the book of Colossians, the idea for a devotional on R words came to me. This wasn’t a new idea, because in 2019 I did a blog series I called Let’s Re. Let’s be Re. The concept of R words came, of course, during one of the Tuesday morning Bible studies. It started with D words and I decided that most of them are negative, especially those starting with Dis. Like discourage, discontent, discord, disable, disagree, disadvantage, you get the idea.

But R words are not. Especially Re. They imply a new beginning, a restart, if you will. So I began jotting them down as I came across them. Throughout my notes and journals are short lists of R words. They reencouraged me every time. And as I recompiled them, I felt confirmation in my notes from a sweet lady’s testimony in February using the words remember, reflect, receive, and recognize. Then Dawn, in our group chat (a number of women are reading through the Bible with me this year) posted a comment about the book of Ezra using seven different R words.

I’m formatting the book a little differently than last year’s book. I still include Scripture of course, but devotional will be short (and good thing, too, because I’m still writing them). And I’ve included space for contemplation and reflection, answering questions, and writing prayer requests and answers. The other challenge is photos. The year is more than half over and I’m needing new photos from the husband to go along with the R words I’ve selected for this year’s Be Still devotional. I’m praying for God to once again show up and show off. And I’m hoping that somehow, someway, we might make publication in November.

Because it’s been a crazy two years. And we all need some time to reflect, refresh, and recharge.

When finished, the book can be purchased on Amazon. Keep watch and check out all the books in the Be Still series on my Amazon author page Jill English Johnston.

See all the books currently available by visiting my Be Still page.

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The Sin of Certainty by Peter Enns

So many opinions, positions, beliefs, and doctrines. In my faith journey I’d been taught how to “defend” my beliefs, how to “prove” truth, how to “argue” critical doctrines, and how support it all with scripture.

To be honest, I was never very good at it. Somehow I always had too many questions. But I always trusted God was bigger than them. I’ve also passionately loved his son, Jesus.

But as Peter Enns says so eloquently in his book, The Sin of Certainty, “you only have something to say if the world has a question in the first place.”

Indeed, I’ve found I can’t shut out the many questions I have about certain interpretations of Scripture, or turn a blind eye to all the various faith practices that claim to be “certain” that they’re the ones “doing it right” and everyone else is wrong. Nor can I easily dismiss the divisions and disunity the doctrines, creeds, and traditions create in the body of Christ.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen it first hand and have heard of it all too often. Lines drawn in the sand. Believers leaving over disagreements. Church splits. Building our own little kingdoms of faith rather than coming together, seeking the well-being of each other, and trusting the Holy Spirit to build his Kingdom.

As scripture says, there’s nothing new under the sun. Evangelist and church planter, Paul, had the same problem with some of the first gatherings of believers. He even wrote to one located in Galatia: “Brothers and sisters, you were called to freedom—only do not let your freedom become an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Torah can be summed up in a single saying: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not destroyed by one another.”

Apparently the Galatian church did not listen because from what I understand, there’s no further account of her in history. They destroyed themselves, the good news, and the body of believers there.

So. That takes me back to The Sin of Certainty and a couple of quotes from Peter Enns that jumped out at me as we listened to the book on audio.

  • If you get caught up in the rules, you lose the plot of the story.
  • Our roles as priests is to intercede on behalf of others. We ought to be a people who fight for everyone to have a place in the family, not explain why they’re not allowed.
  • Church is too often a risky place to be honest.
  • The Bible does not have a good track record for creating unity among those who read it.

Understanding what we believe and why believe it is important. But Enns challenges us to consider where our trust lies. Is it in what we believe, or is it in God? What happens when God doesn’t seem to do what we believe he should do? Can we press into the questions and seek out what God truly desires, which is our trust and intimacy?

If you’re content with the status quo, if you have secured yourself firmly to the interpretations of scripture passed down to you, if you don’t want to examine the ways you understand God to be, then this book is probably not for you.

But if you’re wrestling with the disunity you see, if you’ve actually read some of the crazy stories in the Bible and wonder why they’ve been included but never preached on, if you want your trust in God to grow in spite of and as a result of doubts and uncertainty, if you need a place to be honest, then The Sin of Certainty might be for you.

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