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  • Jeff Somers 5:00 am on 2016/10/11 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Religion   

    Joel Osteen’s New Book is a Blast of Positivity 

    Pastor Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas, is one of the most recognizable—and popular—religious figures in the country today. His “megachurch” in Lakewood attracts more than 50,000 worshippers every weekend, the televised services have audiences of more than 20 million worldwide, and he has already written eight bestselling books. For nearly 20 years, Osteen has forged a unique identity as a Protestant preacher who focuses on optimism and positivity. As Osteen himself put it, “Most people are beaten down enough by life. They already feel guilty enough….So I want them to come to Lakewood or our meetings and be lifted up.”

    That positive message is reinforced in Osteen’s new book, Think Better, Live Better. Osteen offers not just platitudes about our purpose and seeing the bright side of things, but a spiritual roadmap that even those who aren’t particularly religious can use. The most surprising aspect of Osteen’s new book, in fact, is how practical it is. Whether you’re familiar with his preaching style and message or not, whether you consider yourself religious or not, Think Better, Live Better has a simple and effective lesson that’s both refreshing and useful.

    Our Mind is Like a Computer
    The concept of the power of positive thinking isn’t new, and Osteen doesn’t pretend it is. What’s new in his book is the concise way he boils it down. The first line of the book lays it out: “Our mind is like a computer.” Osteen makes the argument that our minds are like software. And just as software can be infected with a virus and “contaminated,” so can our thoughts. We come to accept things like our limitations or our failures, and these negative concepts about ourselves spread until every part of us is bogged down, running slow, crashing.

    Delete the Negatives
    Osteen’s advice here seems simple: delete those negative thoughts—literally, when you find yourself thinking something negative, stop and assert the opposite to yourself. If someone applies a negative label to you, don’t accept it—remove it, mentally, and replace it with something more positive. While Osteen roots all of his advice and insight in scripture, this deceptively simple advice goes beyond religion. What he’s saying, basically, is that we often allow other people to control our “program.” We let what they say about us and do to us affect us far beyond the immediate effect. He cites the example of bullied kids who experience negative effects well into middle age, pointing out that something said to them when they were children still holds them back decades later—when in reality they were just words from other people.

    A Guide
    Osteen doesn’t, however, pretend breaking these patterns and removing these labels and negative thoughts is simple or easy. Part of the appeal and power of his message is the acknowledgement that work must be done. Unlike preachers who tell their followers all they must do is pray, Osteen writes that God has given everyone the “right software,” but it’s up to us to use it properly. The bulk of this book is a guide to deleting these negatives and replacing them with positives, mainly through a series of positive assertions about yourself. Over the course of the book Osteen offers various techniques; for example, he suggests that everything we take in is a seed—some of these seeds will take root and grow into destructive weeds, others into wonderful opportunities. It’s up to us, he says, to choose which ones to water and which to rip out. It’s a simple concept with potentially powerful effects.

    The Cheerleader
    One thing about Joel Osteen that has fueled his success is that he’s not simply blindly cheerful; he uses positivity with skill and purpose. Reading this book could have been like listening to a lecture, a series of admonitions that you’re “doing it wrong.” Osteen avoids this by filling his book with powerful statements of faith—in you. His overall message is that you are amazing, you have all the tools you need to succeed, and you have a great life ahead of you, if only you can get to work deleting negatives and seeing the positives all around you. These bumps of energy encourage you to keep reading, keep working, and keep moving toward your goal.

    The Personal Touch
    Osteen references God and the scripture frequently, but you don’t need to share his faith or specific beliefs to benefit from this book. That’s because he also draws on his own life, and his own failings. Often in the book he’ll illustrate a point by reflecting on an earlier time in his own life and how he could only move past a blockage or a problem when he removed negatives, or realized he already had what he needed to move forward. This gives the book an intimate aspect that anyone, from any background, can identify with.

    The bottom line: Think Better, Live Better is a blast of positivity anyone who finds themselves struggling will benefit from. It not only offers a moment of comfort in the midst of the storm, it also outlines a way forward—and that’s something everyone needs from time to time.

    The post Joel Osteen’s New Book is a Blast of Positivity appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 2:12 am on 2016/01/07 Permalink
    Tags: faith and inspiration, pope francis, Religion, the name of god is mercy   

    An Inspiring New Book from Pope Francis 

    Over the course of centuries, the popes of the Catholic Church have varied in personality and impact; some quickly forgotten, some remembered forever, some even declared saints. Few are as beloved and universally admired as the current pope, Pope Francis, whose modern, compassionate message of tolerance, love, and forgiveness has inspired millions, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.

    That message has been distilled into his new book, The Name of God is Mercy, sure to be read around the world. Pope Francis has proved himself to be quite the wordsmith already, providing people of all faiths and ethnicities with inspiring and comforting messages. To celebrate his new book and his persistently inspiring work, we’ve collected here some of the most inspiring messages he has shared—just a taste of what you’ll find in the book.

    “Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests.”
    Popes are generally not known for their progressive views, but Pope Francis has proved again and again to be forward-thinking. While it’s doubtful women will be allowed to become priests any time soon, his forceful acknowledgement of the role and power of women in the church is inspiring.

    “I see the church as a field hospital after battle.”
    Francis is often portrayed as a gentle, genial man, but he also brings a message of action and service, summed up in this wonderful quote that paints the modern church not as a stuffy enclave of disapproval, but a place of healing and—most importantly—refuge.

    “Grandparents are like the wisdom of the family, they are the wisdom of a people.”
    Pope Francis is able to perfectly balance his dual roles as political and spiritual leader, moving effortlessly from the world stage to the living room. This simple advice is a powerful reminder that the way we treat our elders reflects the way we see our society.

    “In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities.”
    The modern world seems like a frightening, unhappy place, and it’s very easy to allow fear to rule our decisions. Pope Francis gently reminds us that the only way to truly be safe is to remember our principles, our morals, and our core values—and act accordingly.

    “Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home. Faith grows when it is lived and shaped by love. That is why our families, our homes, are true domestic churches.”
    Pope Francis recognizes where faith resides—it’s inside us at all times, not in a specific building or at a specific time. This quote captures one reason people from all faiths have embraced Francis: he does not see a “Catholic” world, but rather a world of human beings all seeking the same fundamentals: hope, mercy, salvation.

    “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
    This quote sent shockwaves through the Catholic community. While it doesn’t mean Pope Francis is endorsing homosexuality, its core message of empathy and mercy represents the best aspects of any faith.

    “No one can grow if he does not accept his smallness.”
    Pope Francis has brought a new humility to his office that has energized people of all faiths. This quote is the perfect reminder that no matter who you are, or what you have accomplished, there is always more in this universe to discover.

    “To be faithful, to be creative, we need to be able to change. To change!”
    Change has not been a strong suit of the world’s religions, which are typically traditional—but one aspect of Pope Francis that is particularly attractive to his younger parishioners is his willingness to see change as not simply necessary, but exciting and hopeful.

    “The Lord never tires of forgiving. It is we who tire of asking for forgiveness.”
    This simple line is dense with meaning and wisdom, offering a glimpse into the frailty of human thought—and the incredible power of forgiveness as both a concept and an action.

    “We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
    This isn’t the most T-shirt-ready slogan in the world, but it’s powerful to contemplate: faith is not solely for our comfort, and shouldn’t be used to justify our worst tendencies (fear, intolerance, anger). It should instead be a source of strength as we sally forth to make the world a better place.

    Pope Francis has quickly charmed the whole world with his unflagging energy and messages of hope, many of them collected in this volume, a tome filled with ideas and lessons for people of all backgrounds.

  • Jeff Somers 7:40 pm on 2015/07/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , destiny: step into your purpose, , , , Religion, , spirituality, T.D. Jakes   

    The Smart, Practical Advice of T.D. Jakes’ Destiny: Step into your Purpose 

    Bishop T.D. Jakes’ lively and inspiring new book, Destiny: Step into Your Purpose, is filled with lessons and insights that will appeal to readers across all denominations and faiths. While Jakes is a renowned preacher and religious leader (of a non-denominational church, The Potter’s House), and his life philosophies and advice stem from his understanding of God, Destiny isn’t a religious book so much as a book written by a religious man, which offers up a treasure trove of smart, sound advice.

    Destiny is where passion meets purpose
    The main purpose of Jakes’ book is to help people find their “destiny,” which is a disarmingly simple concept explained in very practical terms: Destiny, according to Jakes, is the combination of the “push” of your passion (the things you feel a drive to do combined with your natural talents), and the “pull” of purpose (applying those talents and that natural drive to a goal). This is a concept everyone will find relatable: we all have natural tendencies and capabilities, and sometimes the biggest challenge is in discovering how to use those talents in ways that bring us rewards both material and, yes, spiritual.

    The advice is good
    Good advice is good advice. This book isn’t about converting you to any particular religion, or even getting you to believe in a higher power—it’s all about seeing your own talents and passions clearly, and helping guide you toward what it is you should be doing with your life—which is not always the same thing as what your degree is in, what the family business is, or what your loved ones think you should be doing.

    Toward that end, the advice is eminently practical. In one section, Jakes talks about the three types of people you need to attain your goals: Confidantes, the very few people who understand you intimately and will support you in every way; Constituents, who support what you’re doing but not necessarily you personally; and Comrades, who aren’t for you or what you’re doing, but rather are against what you’re against, and will leave you behind the moment you win. This is a remarkably clear-eyed way of looking at the people in your life, and how they relate to your goals.

    Simple truths
    Jakes also sprinkles this book with fundamentals, eye-opening ways of looking at life expressed in Jakes’ spiritual style. In one particularly great example, he presents a scenario in which $86,400 is deposited into your bank account every morning, and whatever’s left at the end of the day is deleted at night. Then he asks what you would do with the money. Of course, the natural answer is to spend every penny. Then he points out that we all get 86,400 seconds in every day with which to achieve our goals—and it’s that sort of gut-punching revelation that makes this book valuable to anyone who has goals to achieve.

    The most universally helpful books aren’t specific to any belief system, lifestyle, or industry, but are built on a sturdy foundation of practical, useful advice that can help anybody. That’s what Destiny is—reading it may not solve all your problems immediately, but it will certainly give you a few things to ponder that might help you change your life in the long-term.

  • Jeff Somers 3:15 pm on 2015/07/16 Permalink
    Tags: , close reading, , , Religion, , ,   

    The Narnia Effect: Secret Religious Themes in Novels 

    By now just about everyone knows C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia has a lot of Christian themes; Lewis himself wasn’t exactly shy about his faith and its impact on his writing. Only people who read the books as kids, with no clue as to their background, are shocked to discover a magical lion who is the son of the “Emperor Over the Sea,” and who is killed in a ritual and then resurrected to set his kingdom right, is an allegory.

    However, what is often surprising is just how many other novels have secret (or at least infrequently discussed) religious themes. A novel, after all, is the product of someone’s imagination, and if that person is religious, or honestly interested in philosophical questions concerning existence, morality, and a higher power, those threads are going to weave themselves into their work. Here are five books that might surprise you with their secret (or not-so secret) religious themes.

    Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke
    On the one hand, much of the religious (chiefly Christian) imagery in Childhood’s End is very obvious—the Overlords, after all, resemble traditional devils and hail from a planet that is very hell-like. What some miss is that the whole story resembles the Christian concept of apocalypse: not only does the Antichrist swoop down to govern the world prior to the end of days, but the innocent and faithful (children) are then raised up and taken on to the next plane. The implication that these images and events have been broadcast backward in time somehow through our genetics means most of the world’s religions are based on future events—that sound you heard was your brain exploding.

    The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
    It’s interesting how many fans of Tolkien’s books are surprised to discover the fairly obvious Christian skeleton under the elvish skin of his classic epic; Tolkien himself wrote that “The Lord of the Rings is of course a fundamentally religious and Catholic work; unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision.” Tolkien wrote a work of immense complexity and depth, and avoided obvious symbols, but the Catholic values are there: from the way the meek and the humble (i.e., hobbits) are the one who must save the world while the proud and the powerful are doomed to fail, to the implication that worshipping false idols (the One Ring, Saruman’s technological foibles) leads to desolation, to the use of resurrection as a way of achieving salvation—the themes are there. Tolkien’s genius was evident in how he incorporated them without bogging down the story.

    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl
    The religious themes of this classic novel are obvious the moment you think about it: a powerful and mysterious figure who has grown unhappy with mankind and retreated inside his amazing factory invites several children and their families inside, where all are faced with various temptations that cause them to one by one break the rules and be punished in colorful and appropriate ways. The childrens’ sins are of the Seven Deadly variety (gluttony, pride, greed, etc.), but what really seals it is the fact that Charlie himself commits a sin (stealing) and is punished for it—until he demonstrates true remorse, at which point all is forgiven all and he’s named the winner of Wonka’s competition and (none too subtly) whisked up into the sky. While Dahl may not have intended this to be an overtly religious story (his struggles with his own faith after the death of his daughter are well documented), it fits the mould far too closely to be entirely accidental.

    The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
    Plenty of kids, having read this classic book for the first time, will be happy to tell you the titular garden is supposed to be the Garden of Eden—but while there is a link, that’s not the main religious theme hidden in the book. Few are aware that Burnett became a Christian Scientist in the early 1880s, and that these beliefs permeate the classic story of a hidden garden symbolizing the health and happiness of an entire family and estate. Not only does Mary Lennox begin to grow into a better and happier person when she begins setting the Secret Garden right after its decade of neglect, her cousin Colin is actually healed when his time in the garden drives out negative thoughts and fills him with strength—a very obvious theme considering Christian Scientists believe faith is the most powerful weapon in healing sickness or injury.

    The Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling
    At first the Christian motifs in the Harry Potter books seemed fairly obvious and common, the sort that pop up everywhere by a kind of cultural osmosis: the chosen one designated to save the world, the evil one, that sort of thing. Then J.K. Rowling more or less came out and said that while she herself struggles with her faith, the Potter books are in fact filled with religious themes on purpose—most notably, perhaps, the concept that people can be saved by a loving sacrifice, as Harry is saved several times via the loving sacrifice of his parents.

    Any other books we should know about that include obvious religious themes?

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  • Lauren Passell 8:42 pm on 2015/03/31 Permalink
    Tags: , before amen, , bread & wine, , jesus calling, judah smith, killing jesus, lee strobel, max lucado, reflections from pope francis, Religion, sarah young, shauna niequist, , susan stark, the case for grace, timothy keller   

    Christian Classics for Easter 

    Christmas is the holiday that gets all the glory on the American calendar, but for Christians, Easter is really the holiest day of the year. This year, celebrate Easter the book nerd way, with these Christian classics that will stretch your mind and lift your spirits.

    The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, by C.S. Lewis
    A book of C.S. Lewis essays belongs on the shelf of any Christian, philosopher, writer, or lit-nerd—and that’s basically all of us, isn’t it? In this collection, which includes Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Miracles, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, and The Abolition of Man, Lewis speaks of the soul and the human condition with insight and fluency no other writer has come close to achieving. Lewis talks about Jesus in the most heartfelt way, and his writing is rich with humor, intelligence, and honesty. There are so many reasons to love these essays, and if you think the Bible is the greatest book of all, The Complete C.S. Lewis deserves a spot especially close to your heart.

    Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes, by Shauna Niequist
    A little bit Anne Lamott, a little bit Barefoot Contessa, Bread & Wine is a funny, authentic tribute to spirituality and food and the connection between the two. Popular blogger Shauna Niequist opens up about her struggles with getting pregnant and writes honestly about balancing family, career, and friendship in essay form. Along with her writing you’ll find recipes for bacon-wrapped dates, dark chocolate sea-salted butter toffee, and more. As you read, you’ll nod in agreement. You might cry. Your mouth will definitely water. Niequist writes beautifully and from her heart, and her story is nourishment for the body and the soul.

    Reflections from Pope Francis: An Invitation to Journaling, Prayer, and Action, by Susan Stark, and Daniel J. Pierson
    The homilies, speeches, and addresses of the radical new face of the Vatican, Pope Francis, are celebrated in this journal-style book that invites everyone to prayer, writing, and action. Pope Francis’s messages are peppered with space for readers to write down their own reflections, making this book a living and personal document. Along with his statements of matters close to Pope Francis’s heart—the poor, mercy, forgiveness, and brotherhood—you’ll find scriptural passages that pull everything together.

    Before Amen: The Power of a Simple Prayer, by Max Lucado
    “Hello, my name is Max. I’m a recovering prayer wimp. I doze off when I pray. My thoughts zig, then zag, then zig again.” This is how Max Lucado begins his quick and accessible how-to guide to praying—and if you can relate to his sentiment, you will feel like he’s written this book just for you.

    Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, by Anne Lamott
    Lamott’s collection of essays offers a welcoming approach to spirituality and an uplifting focus on finding light in dark times. Written honestly and from the heart, Small Victories tackles tough subjects with grace and optimism. With her irreverent sense of humor and frankness, Lamott has written the ultimate silver-lining finder.

    The Case for Grace: A Journalist Explores the Evidence of Transformed Lives, by Lee Strobel
    If you’re familiar with Lee Strobel’s fascinating Case series, you’ll be excited to pick up his latest. After exploring the scientific evidence for God in The Case for a Creator, the historical evidence for Jesus in The Case for Christ, objections to Christianity in The Case for Faith, and current challenges to the Bible and Christ in The Case for The Real Jesus, Strobel is turning his attention to God’s transforming work that we can see and experience every day in our own lives. This personal book takes you from Strobel’s atheism to his Christianity with a focus on racists, addicts, and murderers who have found redemption in the power of Christ. With this book, we can all find forgiveness—in others and ourselves.

    Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence, by Sarah Young
    If you enjoy devotionals, you’ll especially love Jesus Calling, a collection of 365 messages (one per day) that Sarah Young heard Jesus whisper to her when she decided to listen. It’s personal, introspective, and touching.The B&N exclusive edition features a leather-soft cover, larger print, and room to add notes. Read it each morning for a daily reminder of how to live a life with grace, humility, and all of the traits Christ embodied.

    Life Is ____.: God’s Illogical Love Will Change Your Existence, by Judah Smith
    How would you finish this sentence: Life is _____.? Judah Smith invites us to find love for ourselves and others, peace, and God in every moment. Incredibly humorous, personal, and entertaining, this book makes it clear that that empty space can contain an endless amount of things, and part of our responsibility as Christians is to make that space as full as possible.

    Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, by Timothy Keller
    All Christians understand that they should be making prayer a central part of their lives, but that is easier said than done. We could all use a helping hand when it comes to connecting with God in the most meaningful way. With specific prayers for dealing with grief, loss, love, and forgiveness, Timothy Keller makes prayer something accessible enough that we can all find time for it every day. With his help, prayer is more approachable, but also more meaningful. Any Christian who has been trying to prioritize prayer will finally find the help he needs in this engaging and lifting read.

    Killing Jesus, by Bill O’Reilly
    After Killing Kennedy and Killing Lincoln comes Killing Jesus, the gripping account of Jesus’s murder and the impact it has had on humanity for the past two thousand years. O’Reilly sheds light on Jesus’s story with the political and historical backgrounded needed to truly understand the scope of Christ. Whatever you believe, the inarguable fact that the life of Jesus of Nazareth has changed the world forever should drive you to wonder about the facts surrounding his acts and messages and the conflicts he has stirred among both Jewish and Christian political and religious leaders. This quick read by the smart television personality will have you hooked on the story you thought you already knew.

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