Budding with new life, spring marks a time of beginnings and growth. For Christians who want to reflect on their own spiritual development, the spring publishing season offers several new books to provide inspiration and enlightenment.
Unexpected Wisdom: Major Insight from the Minor Prophets (Baker Book House, $12.99, 174 pages, ISBN 0801063795) by Dan Schmidt uncovers truths from the 12 "little guys" tucked into the back of the Old Testament. Their names including Habakkuk, Malachi and Nahum don't receive the billboard coverage of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but hidden within their brief testimonies are nuggets of wisdom and insight that still carry weight thousands of years later.
Using easy-to-read prose, Schmidt mines the writings of these often overlooked fellows to uncover spiritually time-tested truths. The message of grace both extended and received is found in the life of Jonah and his encounter with a large fish on the way to Ninevah. The dangers of pride are unearthed in the short writing of Obadiah. A reminder of the appropriate use of power is drawn from Micah. Throughout the book, Schmidt reflects on themes, including fear, wisdom, courage, integrity and hope. After finishing this book, you'll be reminded that good things still come in small packages. Another wonderful surprise is The Unexpected Teachings of Jesus: Encountering the Gospels All Over Again (Jossey-Bass, $18.95, 256 pages, ISBN 0787959839) by John Coleman. Like Schmidt, Coleman has an eye for detail and a talent for uncovering that which seemed already naked. Mining the Gospels, Coleman's work reads more like a devotional than an in-depth study. Each small section begins with Scripture, then follows with a reflection on the passage. A short list of probing questions follow.
Sometimes the author reflects on the overall portrait of Christ's actions or words while at other times he relies on a mere phrase from the reading. In the process, Coleman reveals that the teachings of Christ are sometimes very different than what we thought or understood. They usually go against our natural instincts or desires. The book is both challenging and fresh. The humanity of Christ, including the fact that He was a criminal, is placed before readers to consider and reflect upon. Whether you believe Christ was a man or a savior, there's much to learn from The Unexpected Teachings of Jesus.Digging a bit deeper, Authentic Faith: The Power of a Fire-Tested Life by Gary L. Thomas explores spiritual disciplines that many Christians don't want to talk about. They're the ones that make us a bit uncomfortable, but also those which deserve a deeper examination. Chapter by chapter, the book explores the disciplines of selflessness, waiting, suffering, persecution, social mercy, forgiveness, mourning, contentment, sacrifice, fear and hope. Like an oyster developing a pearl, Thomas shows how the things in life that make us the most uncomfortable can produce the most beautiful character in our lives. The book is loaded with fascinating and revealing stories from Thomas' own life, but what makes the book truly unique are Thomas' references to classic Christian writers including Augustine, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Jeanne Guyon, John Calvin and John Wesley. From these and others, he shows the timelessness of faith principles and sets a benchmark for how lives can be lived with reckless abandon to faith. This is a standout title. The newly redesigned edition of The Cross (Multnomah, $12.99, 64 pages, ISBN 1576739201) by Max Lucado is an excellent gift selection. This small-sized hardback is filled with dramatic color photos of crosses. Whether it's a cross found atop a church steeple or one naturally etched in nature by the junction of two branches, this book celebrates the ancient symbol. The artwork is accompanied by inspirational thoughts drawn from Lucado's best-selling books, including And the Angels Were Silent, God Came Near, No Wonder They Call Him the Savior and Six Hours One Friday.Margaret Feinberg is a freelance writer based in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She is the co-author, with S.J. Hill, of Enjoying God: Experiencing Intimacy With the Heavenly Father (Relevant Books).