Tag Archives: Mark Buchanan

What I Brought Home from Write Canada 2014

I love going to Write Canada because it’s like three events in one: professional development, a getaway with friends, and a spiritual renewal.

Here are some of the highlights:

The Word Awards Gala: Heaven’s Prey was a finalist in the suspense category, and while it didn’t win, being chosen as a finalist is good affirmation. And I got to cheer for a number of my friends when their work won. (Winners’ list here)

Writing: R.J. Anderson gave me a broader understanding of the ways my individual roots and experiences give a unique flavour to what I write. I’m looking forward to more intentionally discovering my “singular storytelling voice.”

Marketing: Sherry Stahl and a round-table discussion led by Lisa Hall-Wilson gave me some specific tips to help more readers of Christian suspense discover Heaven’s Prey and the rest of the Redemption’s Edge series as those novels are released. Definite homework here.

Friends: It was so good to reunite with old friends and to meet new ones. Some faces were conspicuously absent, since life does interrupt us, and they were missed.

Spiritual: Or is it writing? Or life? Mark Buchanan and Ted Dekker are widely different individuals whose messages overlapped in some key areas. I feel liberated to more fully embrace the gift and calling of writing, to write from a deeper sense of who I am (and Whose), and yet to not tie my identity to writing or to any other aspect of my life.

This and that: I also came home with Aimee Reid‘s new picture book, Mama’s Day with Little Gray (autographed “To Janet’s grandchildren” – not that I’m rushing that event!), a knitting pattern for the little sleeves you put around cups of take-out tea, a little teapot with knitted cozy, and two jars of rhubarb chutney from a friend of a friend.

I am blessed, indeed. For more snippets from the conference, check out my friends’ blogs below. And, in case you’re wondering, a sheep did make an appearance on the final day. Eowyn joined me for a photo-op.

Janet and Eowyn the sheep at Write Canada

Janet with Eowyn the sheep. Photo credit: Susan Stewart.

What other Write Canada attendees are saying:

My Surreal Life Continues

Strawberries and Sandcastles

When is Tension a Good Thing?

The 10 Best Things About Write Canada 2014

Rediscovering the Joy of Writing

Following Up: Victory on the Road to Recovery


A Glimpse Into the Writers’ Life

Memories of My Involvement with Write Canada… 

Radical Gratitude

And the Light shines on in the darkness, for the darkness has never overpowered it [put it out or absorbed it or appropriated it, and is unreceptive to it].
John 1:5, AMP*

This is the verse that strengthened me after the terrorist attacks of 9-11. It’s the same verse that’s echoed in my spirit these past few Christmas seasons, each one leaving me more aware of the darkness in our communities and our world.

We think Christmas is supposed to be a happy time of year. But the darkness is why Jesus came. Israel of 2,000 years past was a pretty dark place, I’m sure, much like today.

His presence—Immanuel, God with us—still makes the difference.

As I’ve prayed for the people and situations nearest to my heart this season, at first the darkness was too much. This young girl—that young family—this elderly woman and her family… where they’re walking is unbearable. They’ve been heavy on my heart, and weighing down my spirit as I prayed. Reciting John’s words about Light in the darkness wasn’t helping.

A few days before Christmas God blew away the fog and let me see: I hadn’t been demanding why of God—that never ends well—but my discontent about what He had allowed said I didn’t think very highly of His management.

Judging God also doesn’t end well. And discontent is poison. Confession, forgiveness, and a fresh start work wonders, though.

Now I’m praying the same verse, but looking at the Light, practicing what Mark Buchanan calls “radical gratitude.”

Thanking God for what He will do in these people’s lives, instead of being dragged down by where they’ve been. Trusting that whatever His plans are, they’re for good. Not just praying for things to get better but for people to be made new and others to see the difference He makes.

Sovereign and holy God, who doesn’t tend to fix things, I praise You for how instead You re-create or make new. And the new is better. Stronger. Useful in Your hand. You waste nothing. Help us trust You. Show us how to pray in radical gratitude and praise, confident in our trust in You. Shine brighter in our darkness, until all will see Your glory.

Permit me one last Christmas song of the year: catch the hope and the assurance in the words to “Joy to the World,” especially verses 3 and 4.

*Amplified Bible (AMP) Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation

Review: Spiritual Rhythm, by Mark Buchanan

Spiritual Rhythm, by Mark Buchanan (Zondervan, 2010)

If spiritual life is measured by fruit, seasons make a good metaphor. Winter, spring and summer are all needed to produce a good harvest in the fall.

Just as one year’s growth cycle leads into the next, Mark Buchanan suggests our own trip through the seasons will be ongoing. This has been my experience, and I’m glad I’m not alone. Mark, who’s farther ahead in his spiritual maturity than I, began this book in a hard, cruel winter.

I suspect that  many who feel themselves most in need of this book’s help will be in wintertime. Perhaps that’s why chapter one opens there.

Recognizing and accepting the season we’re in—whether we progressed naturally from the previous one or were thrust into it by circumstances beyond our control—frees us to begin tending our spiritual lives in ways most suited to the time.

The first half of Spiritual Rhythm looks at the four seasons of the heart and at what life might look like in each one. It offers suggested activities (and inactivities) to make the most of each one and to encourage a healthy progression into the next. And it points us to Jesus, the Man for all seasons.

“I seek two things: Christ’s presence in season and out, to know that even the darkness cannot hide him and that by his light I see light. And Christ’s wisdom in season and out, to know how best to meet him, how best to make the most out of each season and each moment.” (Spiritual Rhythm, pages 18-19)

In the second half the focus is spiritual rhythm, covering topics like balance, abiding, seeking the Kingdom, walking in the light, perseverance, gratitude, worship, the Bible, prayer and friendship.

The seasonal activities and spiritual practices are practical and down-to-earth. The book also includes 29 short selections called “Time-ins” which allow readers to explore specific areas where we might benefit.

These aren’t touchy-feely questions, nor are they abstract theorizations. They offer the chance to go deeper into topics that may help. With that many to choose from, there should be a few that will resonate with anyone. If you’re inclined, you can work them through in a journal. If that scares you, just think about them a bit. Or at least read them. They don’t bite.

The book can be read straight through, or readers may dive in where they most feel the need. There’s minor recapping of previous material in places, so that a reader beginning there won’t miss the benefit.

No review of a Mark Buchanan book is complete without mention of the author’s lyrical writing style. Spiritual Rhythm even includes some of his poetry: brief, evocative, and real. His books are refreshing because of their spiritually-nutritious content and their beauty of delivery.

Mark knows how to tell stories that connect with ordinary people. Stories of ordinary people and of those who’ve walked paths many of us will safely avoid. He shares his own stories with an engaging transparency, and never lingers on them long enough to sound self-absorbed.

Spiritual Rhythm may be my favourite Mark Buchanan book yet. I’m not ready to be finished reading; I need to go back and revisit sections that still have more to say to me.

Mark Buchanan is a Canadian pastor, speaker and award-winning author. His previous books are Your God is Too Safe, Things Unseen, The Holy Wild, The Rest of God and Hidden in Plain Sight. Keep an eye out for Your Church is too Safe: Turning the World Upside Down, coming out in 2012, and Mark’s first novel, David, in 2013.

You can find Mark at his website. His sermons are also available as podcasts from the New Life Community Baptist Church.

Spiritual Rhythm is available in hardcover and ebook formats, online or through your local bookstore. You will want a copy you can highlight or underline.

[A shorter version of this review first appeared in Faith Today, Nov-Dec 2011. Review copy from my personal library.]

A Sign Between Us

Say to the Israelites, ‘You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.’
Exodus 31:13, NIV*

For a people liberated from slavery, being commanded to observe a weekly day of rest would be a definite switch.

The Old Testament is filled with visual aids: markers and activities that remind the people who God is and what He has done for them. Exodus 31:13-18 twice calls the Sabbath “a sign between us”.

Mark Buchanan (The Rest of God, Spiritual Rhythm) said recently that the Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commandments that Christians don’t seem to think we need to keep. Not that we’re perfect at the other nine, but at least we either try or feel guilty about failing.

Ignoring the taint that legalism has given the Sabbath, I see some benefits to this gift from God:

  • work without a break is not healthy
  • identifying ourselves by our work isn’t healthy either
  • allowing work to take first place—making it an idol—is dangerously unhealthy
  • abstaining from work lets us be still and know that God is God, and it lets us seek Him

I think this is where the Sabbath (for Christians, Sunday or whatever day our work schedules allow us to observe) is a sign between us and God. It’s a spiritual marker that celebrates our freedom from slavery to the world’s ways and praises the God who rescued us.

And it reminds us that our God is good.

Holy and Almighty God, who chose Israel to show Your glory to the world, thank You for Jesus’ blood that makes a way for all people to belong to You. Thank You for the gift of Sabbath rest and its benefits to us. In the bigger picture, it’s still about revealing Your glory to all who can see: You rescue. Your way is best. You are a good Master.

Brian Doerksen’s song, “Enter the Rest of God,” is a gift too. He’s talking about way more than Sabbath rest, but let it be a balm to your spirit today.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Following the Leader

In your unfailing love you will lead
the people you have redeemed.
In your strength you will guide them
to your holy dwelling.
Exodus 15:13, NIV*

This is part of the Israelites’ song after God brought them through the Red Sea on dry land and let the sea flow back to drown the enemies on their trail.

God rescued the people, and the word “redeemed” here reminds me that His work with Israel in the Old Testament was often a prophetic picture of His work to rescue and redeem us all through Jesus.

Today’s verse declares that the God who has shown Himself mighty to save is able to lead His people into the land He has promised. They didn’t make it easy for Him, and He had to keep reminding them to obey Him.

He led them out, but because of disobedience, that generation lost the chance to be led in to the Promised Land.

Believers in Christ face the same danger. He’s rescued us from bondage to sin’s destructive ways. Let’s not drop our guards now and get stuck in the wasteland, or what Mark Buchanan calls the “borderlands” in his book, Your God is Too Safe.

We need to trust and honour Jesus as Lord as well as Saviour. All the way into the deepening relationship He that promises, and that we won’t fully experience in this life. But let’s get further up and further in, as much as we can.

Our God and Shepherd, Strong Deliverer and Redeemer, thank You for saving us and promising us abundant life. Help us rely on Your unfailing love and live in trusting obedience to Your guidance. 

Our song is Carolyn Arends’ “Go With God.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Review: Sailing Between the Stars, by Steven James

Sailing Between the Stars: Musings on the Mysteries of Faith, by Steven James (Revell, 2006)

Sailing Between the Stars is the best book I’ve read in 2010. And I’m writing this in December, not January. I felt safe, understood, reading Steven James’ musings. Not that it’s comfortable reading, but that he talks honestly about many of the same questions I have. He affirms the value of asking the questions, of not trying to pretend we know all the answers correctly and absolutely.

I may have finished the book with more questions than when I started, but that’s okay. It means a lot to know I’m not the only one who has them, and I’ve learned that honest questions don’t cause us to vanish in a puff of confusion. If anything, they let us be more real. And they point us to the Source of all answers, the God who is bigger than our comprehension.

Steven James puts it this way:

“The questions, not the explanations, are what draw me deeper into the wonder of the dance.” p. 164

His writing is gentle and lyrical. If you like Mark Buchanan’s books, you’ll like this. It’s poignant at times, whimsical at others, and there are a few places that had me laughing out loud.

And while the topics aren’t easy to nail down with a “definitive” answer, there’s no philosophical mumbo-jumbo to exclude the average reader. There is one heavy-duty word, agathokakological (follow link for definition), but it’s introduced naturally through an anecdote about a child’s spelling bee and since it describes us, I think it makes the point that we’re more complex than we can understand.

You can read an excerpt of Sailing Between the Stars here.  Here’s a quote from the beginning of the book to set the tone:

“Imagination dwells at the heart of Christianity. It’s a worldview of wonder. …And it’s packed full of paradox…which makes many believers today uncomfortable.” p.19

If the mystery and paradox of faith threaten you, you’ll want to give the book a miss. I don’t know what I’d have thought if I’d read it in my younger days, when I “knew” more of the answers. Now that I’ve begun to be more sure of God and less sure of myself, I found a lot of truth in this book.

In prose and occasional poetry, the author ponders some deep topics: the good and evil in each of us, joy and pain, love and failing, humility, free will, doubt, unanswered prayer. In voicing our common weaknesses, he points to the mystery of Jesus, who alone lived life to the fullest and who came to point us to the Father.

None of these topics are addressed with an “I’ll tell you what to believe” agenda. He just explores them and leaves us to explore too… and to trust the God who actually sees the full picture.

Right now, Sailing Between the Stars is featured at Christianbook.com for $1.99 USD. It’s worth full cover price, but at this price why not buy in bulk for your spiritually-musing friends? It’s also available through amazon.ca. Amazon.com and chapters-indigo.ca are both sold out, and I can’t find it on the publisher’s site. So glad I found a copy when I did. This is a definite keeper and re-reader.

Steven James blogs occasionally on writing, faith or life, at Musings and Meanderings. His website showcases his intense thriller series, The Patrick Bowers Files. I’ve reviewed book one, The Pawn, and I’d love to know what happens next in Patrick Bowers’ life. Still working up my nerve….

[review copy from my personal library]

Review: Your God is too Safe, by Mark Buchanan

Your God is Too Safe, by Mark Buchanan (Multnomah, 2001)

In a day where many teachers either speak in “academic-ese” or dumb down their language, Mark Buchanan’s writing is a refreshing treat, comparable with Philip Yancey. What sets his books apart from other life-changing works is the beauty of the language. The images and descriptions are fresh, original and strong.

Your God is Too Safe is subtitled “Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control.” It opens with a candid look at life in “borderland”—that place where many of us get stuck, saved but slow of heart and unfruitful. The second half of the book calls us to life in the “holy wild.” Here Rev. Buchanan offers practical steps to take if we’re willing to risk walking with a God who is not safe but is good.

The book stresses the value of holy habits, often called spiritual disciplines. These are to be God-ward habits, not legalistic rules; practices that develop into new life patterns. Holy habits lead to practicing the presence of God through worship, expectancy, confession, solitude, fasting, reading Scripture, servanthood, prayer and celebration.

I appreciated the author’s honesty about real people’s struggles, his own included. We can all relate to the section on borderland, having been there. We can leave borderland for the holy wild, and Mark Buchanan’s words instil within us a longing to do so.

Mark Buchanan is a pastor in British Columbia, and one of my favourite Canadian authors. Your God is Too Safe was his first book, published in 2001. Since then he’s written Things Unseen: Living in the Light of Forever, The Holy Wild, The Rest of God, and Hidden in Plain Sight. Each one has blessed me as I’ve read it.

You can learn more about Mark Buchanan and his books at his website. Your God is Too Safe is available in trade paperback, audio or e-book from Chapters-Indigo, trade paperback and audio book from Christianbook.com, and trade paperback only from Amazon.ca and Amazon.com. You can also order it through your local bookstore.

— trade paperback and audio book

Review: Northern Lights: An Anthology

Northern Lights: an anthology

Northern Lights: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Writing in Canada, Byron Rempel-Burkholder, Dora Dueck, Doug Koop, eds.  (John Wiley & Sons, 2008)

What does it mean to be a Christian living in Canada? Does our national identity affect our spiritual one?

The Northern Lights anthology came together as an exploration of “the many faces of being Christian in Canada” (p. 1). In essays and poetry, the selections attempt to trace out our “spiritual geography.”

Northern Lights is filled with beautiful and often thought-provoking writing. When I picked it up, I was glad to see some authors whose work I always enjoy, like Mark Buchanan, Susan Fish, and Linda Hall, and to “meet” many new-to-me authors. The best-known contributors are Bruce Cockburn, Michael Coren, Preston Manning, and Rudy Wiebe.

These are stories to savour slowly, not to rush. Some you may want to chew on for a bit, maybe mull over and discuss with a friend. I liked the ones in the first section, “Dance to Creation,” best.

The anthology is more an exploration of the significance of ideas and events than a simple telling of tales. It feels to me like a literary journal, or perhaps a university-level discussion—not hard to follow, but treading some deep water in places.

It’s almost inevitable to compare Northern Lights with Hot Apple Cider, since both anthologies of Canadian Christian writing released in the same year. They’re both fine books, and I’m glad to see them raising awareness that, yes, there are plenty of talented Canadian Christians who write. I hope many people will read these books and discover new favourite authors.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine—everybody drinks water.” Northern Lights may be a fine wine. Hot Apple Cider may be more of an “everyman” drink. We need both.

Northern Lights is a book well worth reading, and you’ll probably want to look for more works by the authors you like best. You can get it through your local bookstore or online through John Wiley and Sons, Chapters-Indigo or Amazon.ca.

Seeing… and Responding

Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”
Luke 7:45, NIV*

Simon the Pharisee certainly does see the woman, and he’s offended that someone “of that sort” would invade his righteous household. But he doesn’t see her at all: drawn to Jesus, hoping, trusting, desperately needing a miracle.

I remember Mark Buchanan reading this story a few years ago at Write! Canada. “Do you see this woman?” He challenged us with this: do we see an individual’s heart, or just skim over the surface?

Do we see?

Are we free to make a difference, or do we hold back in fear? What if we’re rebuffed? What would the onlookers say?

The Gospel of Luke also tells how Jesus interrupts a mission to heal a dying child. Someone in the crowd has sneaked a healing by touching His robe. As the desperate father is nearing wits’ end, Jesus looks around and asks “Who touched Me?

He knows full well which of the many bumps and jostles made the difference, and He knows the woman’s story: the 12 years’ incurable bleeding, the physicians’ helplessness, the woman’s despair. Under the Jewish law, she would have been considered unclean for all this time, outcast, feeling defeated and unworthy.

Jesus could let her slip away, healed and filled with wondrous hope. But He stops the whole progression and singles her out. Not to chastise her as she might fear, but to acknowledge her worth. He’s not about to let her go whole in body but wounded in soul.

Who will we meet today who needs some kindness?

Lord, grant us to really see the people you bring our way.

We’ve had this song before, but I don’t think there’s a better one for this topic than Brandon Heath’s “Give me Your Eyes”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Waiting, Hoping… and Walking

…but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
Isaiah 40:31, NIV*

In one of his books, Mark Buchanan points out the progression in these verses: The eagle rides the wind currents, the runner has a limited distance expectation (even if it’s marathon length) but the walker might be expected to carry on for a long time.

He said it better than that, and it sounded more logical, but the idea is that the walking is both the least glamorous and perhaps the hardest because it’s such a long, slow slog.

I’m back in a quiet state again. It comes every so often, when I’m empty of the usual plans and enthusiasm. I used to try to psych myself back into action, but now I think it’s a necessary part of the rhythm of my life with God.

It’s not so much low energy as a holy hush. A call to wait. To hope in God.

Today I’m embracing the quiet. With my inner clamour stilled, I feel like I’m waiting… in hope… for God. There’s nothing big going on in my life right now, and I’m not expecting some great gust of Spirit wind to set me soaring, but a greater sense of His presence would definitely renew my strength for the next steps of the walk.

Maybe that’s why they call it “walking with God”?

Father God, thank You that You don’t set us on the road and leave us alone. Thank You for Your Holy Spirit, with us to comfort and to guide. Thank You that anytime, anywhere, we can quiet our own spirits and rest in You. Please help us learn to do this more and more, so we can grow strong in relationship with You and follow You without growing weary or fainting.

Our song this week is “You Raise Me Up,” performed here by the group Selah.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.