Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Giving Thanks Always

Ten voices shouting with pleas for mercy, for a touch from the miracle worker.  All of them outcasts and allowed no human contact other than among themselves.  A band of brothers, united by disease. Race, enemy boundaries and class were dissolved as basic needs for survival and support melded them together. Now they dared hope that this Jesus prophet would take up their cause.

Jesus hears them, and calls out to them to go to the priest.  Knowing the law required a priest's examination to be pronounced healed, they go with flickering hope in their hearts.  On the way, each one senses the wounds sealing up, the disfigurements smoothing into normalcy and the joy welling up from a reservoir they thought would never fill again.  Laughter and tears filled the priest's office that day as he struggled to finish the exams in the midst of the uproar.

After the ten were free to go, I wonder if they hurried to family or worried about where to go next.  Did they feel any loyalty to try and stay in touch with each other? What former forbidden activity would they engage in first?

Only one thought to return to Jesus and offer thanks.  He was the foreigner, the one who knew rejection because of origin, not just the shunning from an unclean body. He had reason to be grateful. And when he knelt there at the feet of the healer, he received the blessing of knowing his faith had brought salvation.  He was restored not just in body, but soul as well.

I like this quote by commentator, Matthew Henry.
-“Temporal mercies are then doubled and sweetened to us when they are fetched in by the prayers of faith, and returned by the praises of faith.”

As Jesus highlights the importance of thanksgiving, I'm reminded to live in greater gratitude for his amazing gifts to me- salvation, mercy and goodness that follows me, the Holy Spirit to comfort and guide me, His presence living in me... Expressing that appreciation doesn't always come naturally; I make it intentional in listening to worship music or recounting the blessings in each day as I lay my head down at night. 

A story is told of Matthew Henry when his wallet was stolen.  That night he wrote in his diary what
he was thankful for:
-that he had never been robbed before
-that his life had been spared in the robbery
-that his wallet didn’t have much money in it
-and that he was the one robbed and not the one robbing!

Sharing Christ's goodness with others pays the thanks forward. I am more aware of ways to thank others for their gifts to me.  Handwritten cards cheer any mailbox contents. How about this idea I read recently?

A man gave his wife a journal for Christmas.  She was chagrined as she didn’t like to journal and knew she would never make use of it. Then she noticed that the journal was dated for the previous year and the entries where already filled in.  Her husband had written 365 things he had noticed or observed about his wife, one for each day of the year, that he was thankful for or appreciated about her. 

Anyone want to join me in this way of saying thanks to a spouse?  Shh...It's the surprise factor that makes this gift special.

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. I Thes. 5:18.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Book Review-The Centurion

"Then these words, these very seditious words, stole past his lips. 'Surely this was the son of God.'"

The Centurion from the Biblical account who uttered these words at Jesus' crucifixion is our main character in this book by Ken Gire. Gire writes the story from a Roman view point, creating Lucius Alexander Titus as a courageous leader in the Roman army who aspires for higher service to the emperor and the glory of Rome. The unusual circumstances of the crucifixion drives him to know more about Jesus and his followers.  He also sees a woman there whom he once met before, Mary Magdala. When he discovers the group of believers he apologizes for his part in Jesus' death and spends time mingling from them and learning to know them and more about their God.  When he makes his feelings of love known to Mary, she acknowledges her mutual feelings but refuses to allow a relationship between them. Jesus is her first love, she is committed to working in the Kingdom of God, she doesn't have time for a love affair because Jesus will be returning soon and Lucius' love would be a distraction.

Lucius is crushed and angry.  Duty calls him to another region and, except for letters Lucius sends her, he and Mary have no further contact,until later in the story.  There are ongoing glimpses of Mary's life and her sadness in missing Lucius, but she has chosen to stay true to her cause. 

Much of the story tells of Lucius' battle forays and his eventual disillusionment with the Roman empire.  There are many scenes of violence portrayed rather graphically.  While Lucius doesn't hold allegiance to the gods of Rome, like most of his fellow soldiers, neither does he ever have a defining experience of becoming a Christ follower.  He makes a difficult choice in the end of the story that could possibly be interpreted as a conversion, but I wasn't convinced.  The last scene in the book is very moving, so don't read the end of the book first if you want to experience the unexpected ending.

While the book held my interest, I would have liked more character development and less battle descriptions.  The author shows his word skills well in describing his settings. If tempted to skim these details, I was always rewarded by noticing closely,  the interesting word structures chosen to describe the imagery.

The last 55 pages of the book are in a section called "Sources".  The author includes these notes, full of other resources and information,  to give the reader more background on the history of the era and the lives of the characters.  He also hopes to give encouragement to writers by sharing some of his creative processes and how he arrived at some of his decisions in writing the story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Book Review-A Patch on the Peak of Ararat

by Gary Bower ( a Faith that God Built book)

This is a book that is fun to read.

This is the Nana who read to her grand kids, who turned every page and said every word
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read.

These are the children some big and some small, who looked at the pictures while
the Nana who read to her grand kids, who turned every page and said every word,
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read.

There were words like virtuous, carpentry, Ararat and proceeded,  for explaining to these children some big and some small, who looked at the pictures while the Nana who read to her grand kids, who turned every page and said every word,
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read.

These are the signs of wear beginning to show, of repeating the lines, of voice out of breath and tongue tripping speech, for there were words  like virtuous, carpentry, Ararat and proceeded, for explaining to the children some big and some small, who looked at the pictures while the Nana who read to her grand kids, who turned every page and said every word,
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read.

This is the time when the book words were ended for the signs of wear beginning to show, of repeating the lines, of voice out of breath and tongue tripping speech, for there were words  like virtuous, carpentry, Ararat and proceeded, for explaining to the children some big and some small, who looked at the pictures while the Nana who read to her grand kids, who turned every page and said every word,
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read.

And the children all smiled, the Nana did too, they said the book's like a poem, like a song, it's Noah's ark story revised, but yet true, for this is the time when the book words were ended for the signs of wear beginning to show, of repeating the lines, of voice out of breath and tongue tripping speech, for there were words  like virtuous, carpentry, Ararat and proceeded, for explaining to the children some big and some small who looked at the pictures while the Nana who read to her grand kids , who turned every page and said every word,
And thought, this is a book that is fun to read!

The book is written in a House That Jack Built style, with a few words to explain, with repetition that can tongue tie your mouth and make the reader take deeper breaths and sigh in relief when done.  Even then a very enjoyable book that must be read aloud.  It's an abbreviated version of the story and yet has the basic progression from building the ark to the dove, the rainbow and the promise in the end.  The last page directs the reader to the whole account in Genesis 6-9.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Texting While Driving-Who Does That?

Texting while driving is dangerous for your life, for others lives.  I don't believe I should do this.  I'd tell you not to do this. It is against the law, BTW. Yet, just yesterday I left work and had an important message to relay to someone. Sure, I used my helpful phone voice companion, but as the other party texted back, I read what they had to say. Everything was fine until an emoticon smiled at me and I wanted to smile back.  It was easier to thumb "Lol" then voice the words "laugh out loud" and so there you have it, I confess, I performed an action I don't believe in.

Our Bible study lesson last week from Luke was on Jesus' sharp words of rebuke to the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  Hypocrisy defined is pretending to be a certain way but acting and believing the total opposite. Illustrations of hypocrites abound.  Ted Haggard, leader of a church of 14,000, preached passionately against homosexuality and then confessed to having a gay relationship. Or Congressman Mark Foley who decried child pornography and fought for laws to prosecute child exploiters, and was found messaging sexual images to underage congressional pages. Rush Limbaugh spoke against drug abusers when he himself was addicted to prescription drugs.

If we are so prone to pretense and putting on fronts, how do we overcome these natural tendencies and live a life of integrity and authenticity? As Jesus speaks woes to the Pharisees and scribes he also explains where they went wrong. What can we learn from Luke 11:37-12:1-11?

The Woes
1.  In demanding obedience to the letter of the law and priding themselves on keeping every last minuscule detail Jesus said they had lost their love for God and justice.

2.They cared more about the tithe you'd pay on that creeper of mint you grow in your garden than about giving gifts to the poor.

3. People were being corrupted by their influence and getting wrong ideas of what God is really like.

4. Not only were they overbearing on others to keep the details, they wouldn't lift a finger to help them and found loopholes to bypass inconveniences  to themselves.
Take this example from Barclay's commentary–One of the forbidden works on the Sabbath was the tying of knots-sailors knots, knots in ropes, etc. But a woman might tie the knot in her girdle.  Therefore if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well a rope couldn’t be knotted to it, but a woman’s girdle could, and it could be raised by that!

5.They loved the limelight and made ostentatious presentations of honor to past prophets, when they wouldn't recognize John the Baptist and Jesus, the greatest of God's messengers who were living among them. 

6. Guardians of the scriptures, they painted God as a judge waiting to condemn offenders, and hid the key to discovering his true nature of love, grace and justice.

Following these denouncements I can see the leaders lash back with sinister snarls, clenched fists and spitting words of hate. Luke says they were "waiting to catch Jesus in something he would say". One commentary points out that the word catch is the same word used for hunting wild animals.

Right after this, thousands press in closer to Jesus and his disciples, trampling on toes and making it hard to walk.  I'm thinking the disciples may be looking over their shoulders while their stomachs are fluttering with fear.  They've just turned their backs to powerful leaders angry-enough-to-kill and now face humanity so thick they can barely stand. I'd be looking for an escape route, quick!

Jesus gathers them closer for his next words.  Don't be hypocrites like the leaders you were always taught to respect. Their deceptive words and actions will all be exposed in the end.  Everything will come out in the open. And friends, don't be afraid of them.  How comforting to be called friends in this moment! They belong here with him. What other place is safer? There may be death ahead, but Jesus reminds them that the only one to fear is God, who holds their eternal destiny in his hands beyond what can happen to their bodies.  He reminds them that if their God cares for each sparrow, worthless to the point of throwing in an extra fifth one when four are paid for, how much more he cares for them. He knows how many hairs are on their head!

Furthermore, Jesus says that if they stand up for him and not disown him, he will show them off before the angels in heaven. You will be brought before accusers, but the Holy Spirit will be your teacher, to help you and to teach you what to say.  Don’t worry!

Can you hear the encouragement in these words?  Jesus isn’t denying the seriousness of the situation and what following him means for them in the future.  But God is big enough to take care of them.  No matter what happens it will end up good!

So how can we guard against hypocrisy?

-Keep generous hearts towards others, hearts that are moved to action by others struggles and hurts
-"Do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God" --Micah 6:8
-Love God with our whole being
-Bear each others burdens in our weaknesses and different levels of maturity, instead of judging and thinking I’m glad I’m better than that! 
-Keep a heart open to correction and repentance, even if it means embarrassment or being humiliated.  Even if God uses a hypocrite to uncover some pretense in us! "Reproofs of instruction are the way of life"-- Prov 6:23b
-Love God’s Word-
"The word of God is living and active, sharper than any double edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit,  joints and marrow and it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."-- Heb 4:12. Let’s handle God’s word carefully and correctly. Our lives are a living letter- are others seeing what God is like by watching us?
-Pray regularly-"Search me, God and know my heart, try me and know my thoughts and see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." Ps 139:24

We can be people of integrity, who live authentically and finish well! God has given us everything we need for life and Godliness-his love and friendship,the H.S. to convict us, teach us, give us words to speak, even when wrongly accused, forgiveness when we mess up.  God is able to keep us from falling and to bring us into his eternal presence with fullness of joy.  He cares for us so closely that he knows our hair count, we’re written on the palm of his hand, he collects our tears in a bottle. Serving our God is worth whatever suffering or persecution we may face.  Someday he will smile proudly, embrace us in a hug like none we’ve felt before, while whispering in our ear- "well done", and then turn with a proud smile to the angels and say, "This is my beloved child! Isn’t she something!"


Friday, January 6, 2017

Book Review-Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields

I am currently studying the Gospel of Luke and found this book a helpful companion resource to bring context to the stories about Jesus and his disciples. Leslie Fields opens to us her unique perspective on making a living on the sea in Alaska, where she moved from New Hampshire, when she married, Duncan, her Alaskan husband whom she met in college. There have been rocky family times, isolation from conveniences and close neighbors and now some of her 6 kids have just recently left home to pursue their own dreams and adventures, bringing a new season of life for the author.

Leslie's insights come through her wealth of experiences, many of them through her fishing occupation -storms, rugged land and weather, hard fisherman work, and the constant possibility of danger and tragedy.  Leslie says these circumstances give her a special connection to the fishermen who Jesus called, and they have grown her faith immensely.
Leslie also shares wisdom from her travels to Israel. We are with her on the Sea of Galilee, talking to local fishermen, or approaching a priest after a church service asking, "Why do you think Jesus chose so many fishermen?"  The trip afforded her a new journey through the gospels, which she shares with us.

Throughout the book, more questions trouble her.  "Does following Jesus mean we must all leave the material world of commerce to fish for men and women with the net of the gospel?" Or, "I believe he is with us in every storm...Yes, so many saved, but so many lost. (Leslie's mother-in-law died in a fire, a neighbor friend loses a son and father who drowned at sea) I know that 'take up their cross' means to be ready to die.  But who can do this?...If we who follow after him cannot even be sure he will save us, how can we trust him?" How does Jesus bring peace and understanding in spite of the questions?

I was deeply moved by Leslie's story and the spiritual lessons she shares so candidly. Leslie hopes the reader hears Jesus calling. Come follow me.  Do not be afraid. Following Jesus changes us. He never leaves us as we are.

There is a study guide in the back of the book for those who want to dig deeper, individually, or in a group study.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Musings 2016

I like that Christmas brings not just decorations carefully hung, recipes newly chosen, and family's never-the-same dynamics, but also a new appreciation for the central story which birthed the celebration.  I share this year's new discoveries for me.

Our pastor used the Sundays in December to focus on characters in the story of Christmas. On Mary, he emphasized how Mary's obedience taught her sufficiency.  She gave up dreams of what marriage would be like and bore the judgment of those who would not understand. She and Joseph together would raise an unusual son whose early understanding of Scripture made him a "Bible nerd" in a way that his parents couldn't relate to.  Yet, this son, scripture says, grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man. In spite of Jesus' uniqueness, he becomes well-adjusted and well-rounded.

Jesus brings salvation not only so we can experience eternal life with him, but salvation now from fear, regret, shame and turmoil. He is sent to guide our steps in the way of peace.  In any darkness of soul, which we all have, he invites us to come and trust him to deal with it.  He makes everything beautiful in his time; he knows when to bring it to the surface and to his light. His gentleness makes us great.

Rebekah Freelan's book, His Advent, gave me a new perspective on Joseph, the husband of Mary. Joseph shows his Godliness by obeying God's instructions, respecting Mary and accepting the role of surrogate father to Jesus. Rather than resentment at this intruder, he becomes the father figure who brings training to God's son. Introducing him to the earthly way of gaining God-knowledge through synagogue attendance. Teaching him a career skill of carpentry.

Rather than pushing for his own recognition, Joseph accepted his role of being overshadowed by the real Father of Jesus.  He embraced the shadows; a life of uncertainty, a life never dreamed of or one he could have prepared for.  Jesus still brings surprises to lives that he claims. I want to allow this true Father to overshadow all that I am and do, so his brightness shines.

Our pastor pointed out Joseph's lineage to David was important because it gave Jesus a legal representation.  Jesus, through Mary, had a blood line to David yet that lineage would not have been legally recognized without Joseph's adoption.

The season invites us to gift each other as God gave us His indescribable gift of Jesus. Among my gifts was a book by the artist, Carolyn Blish. Great! Another coffee table beauty, for a furniture piece I don't own.  I have one of her prints, so my interest was half-way piqued. For bedtime skimming some night, I decided.

Pages of color and youthfulness awaited me. Admiration for the talent of brush stroke and crafted words grew as I turned all 150 pages that night. This women captured sunlight, beach sand and waves, and children's faces in a way that moved me to worship the God of creation, whom she loves and proclaims. One page spread seeped down into that place where emotions hover waiting to be stirred. I named the stirring, Nostalgia. As usual it played with me very briefly before slipping away.  On the left side was a full page painting of a small girl in a daisy field with a crown of the flowers encircling her head. The right side page had two small sketches-one a daisy, close-up and the other of a girl handing a bouquet to a woman. Emotion surrounds them. I remembered such gifts of drooping dandelion bouquets, school-made clothespin reindeer ornaments, and handmade cards with large crooked lettering bestowed on me by children now grown and receiving their own sweet endowments.

At the top of this page the author-artist shared a memory of presenting a daisy bouquet to her mother and in childlike excitement asking if they were liked.  Her mother said, "I love them because you picked them for me."

That's it!  I love my gifts, whether practical, questionable or spot on because they were each picked for me. There was joy in selecting the gifts I presented to others, too, because my choices reflects my relationship with them.

Thank you, Father, for showing us how to give by your generosity to us, those you know and love so well.  Thank you for coming for the least of us, lying in a manger as your first bed, and welcoming shepherds and animals as your first visitors. "To meek souls who receive him still, the dear Christ enters in."  Thank you, for a Christmas story that only becomes more precious as we gain greater understanding of your amazing love and amazing plan of salvation.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Gift of the book, Drawing Closer by Carolyn Blish

The cover falls open and
admiration bumps
curiosity aside.

The child stands
among daisies
and you make her
dance in a
wind-swept way.

Pages further, words
outline your
intentions and my
admiration slips
under a banner of worship.

You capture beauty
and gifts and wonder
and youth; my eyes lift
to your God.

I didn't expect this                                                                      
divine in your brush,
this blush in your Blish
But you capture it
by word and paint.

You show sea and
coast, I yearn
to be there. A child
bends to sand,
I feel that surface by heart.

A child offers a bouquet,
"Do you like it",
she asks. Mother words,
"I like them because you
picked them for me."

You picked words
and made images
for me and I
like them.  Thank you
for the gift enclosed
inside this cover and
now inside my being.