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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review-Larger-Than-Life Lara

Larger-than-Lara is a quick read, but not a simple story or quickly forgotten.  The story is told from Laney Grafton’s point of view, a fourth grader who demurely accepts her impoverished life with a dad who drinks too much, three older brothers who have no respect for her and a mother who left the family and who Laney doesn’t remember.

Laney’s classroom enters major upheaval when a new student, Lara, joins the class. Lara is hugely overweight; she needs her own adult chair and desk, and her skin flaps when she walks.

Lara invites meanness and ridicule just by her looks. But how she responds to the hurtful comments and unkindness shows a character that never gets angry and is incredibly positive.  She responds with amazing kindness and often speaks back in poetic sentences.

Bullying escalates into disaster for Lara.  How the class is transformed by what happens next is touching and persuasive.

The author, Dandi Mackall does a brilliant job of portraying fourth grader’s actions and thinking.  At the same time, she tackles the subject of bullying, gives the reader some basic lessons on writing techniques and made an elementary reading level story hold my interest through every paragraph..

The book chapter titles disclose the writing techniques woven into Laney’s telling, as she tries to incorporate what she is learning about crafting a story; Character, Setting, Climax, Cliff-Hanger, etc. Very clever and informative.

I found Laney believable and likeable.  Navigating her difficult family dynamics has made her sensible and more mature than many of her classmates. We see wisdom in her assessment of events and people.  May those of us who have opportunity to work with youth take to heart the lessons and insights into this age group that Dandi Mackall has given us in this fascinating book. 

Most Tyndale books have a Christian theme or perspective. While this book upholds some Christian values, there is no reference to anything spiritual or religious

I received this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

He Makes Me Rest

Inside the white tent, our group crowded close to the dog sled and it's owner, Jason.  Rain pelted the canvas outside.  Glad to be sheltered, we listened intently to Jason describe the exhilaration and dangers of the Iditarod races he had completed. We peppered him with questions about endurance, supplies, and the dog booties strung along a line tied to one side of the tent. A shiver crossed my shoulders as I imagined the bitter winds and sub-zero temperatures.

Halfway through the fascinating lesson on Alaskan dog sledding, we became aware of a cacophony of barking outside. We had seen the field of hundreds of Huskies tethered to their individual dog houses when we arrived at the camp.  They had been quiet then, so what had set off the dog raucous now? Someone asked Jason. Part of our group excursion that day was to take a cart ride with a team of dogs pulling us. Jason said another group must have just boarded a cart and were pulling out, which caused all the hundreds of dogs left behind to express unrestrained eagerness to be in the action. These athletes were trained and ardently jealous to use their prowess.  He further explained that sometimes on the trail, during the race, a dog may find it difficult to take necessary rests and time out from the action. The musher may have to headlock the fidgety one in a tight squeeze until his body succumbs to rest.

"He makes me lie down in green pastures" slipped into my thoughts. I wonder why sheep need to be made to lie down.  Are there any similarities to this and the sled dogs' need for intervention? I went to my bookshelf in the bedroom.  There among my best loved books, books that I keep because I want to read them again, only a limited number make it to this shelf, I pulled out, A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23, by Phillip Keller. This author grew up surrounded by native sheep herders in East Africa and actually made a living for eight years as a sheep owner and rancher.  I treasure the insights I've gleaned from this book about how a shepherd tends his sheep and how we like sheep are cared for by the Good Shepherd.

Sheep require four necessities to be taken care of before they can be made to lie down:
-freedom from all fear
-no friction with others in the flock
-freedom from pests such as flies or parasites
-free of hunger

Only the presence of the shepherd will alleviate these anxieties.  He makes it possible for them to lie down. His closeness brings security and takes away the fear.

When there is rivalry and competition in the herd, they cannot rest; they must stand up and defend their rights against the challenger.  The shepherd defends the weak and brings a peacefulness that ends tensions. 

Sheep tormented by insects find it impossible to lie down.  They are up stamping legs, shaking heads and ready to rush to some place to find relief. The shepherd applies a repelling ointment to their heads; they relax, eat and lie down contentedly.

Sheep want to eat and fill up quickly so they can lie down quietly and ruminate. If food is scarce, the creature is ever on the move trying to fine the next mouthful.  The good shepherd works hard to clear  rough land so good crops can grow, crops that sheep thrive on.  Many countries where sheep are tended are dry climates, which aid sheep health but require much labor to make green pastures.

He makes me lie down in green pastures because he has provided for all my needs. 
-His presence takes away my fears; he has made me feel safe to lie down.
-When He is near I can trust him to protect me so I don't have to be on edge that someone may take advantage of me or that I have to defend myself when others are mean. He makes me lie down peacefully, because my enemies are his concern and he will always have my back.
-When I feel 'bugged' I can go to him and get the soothing oil of the Holy Spirit to keep the pests away that want to make me frustrated and too distracted to take in the right nourishment. He makes me lie down because I've been able to eat without interruption and my belly is full.
-I don't have to work hard at finding my provision; he has made it possible to trust that there will be enough to satisfy my hunger.  He makes me lie down because I've stopped trying to find my own way of provision in skimpy pastures and believe that his provision is just what I need to take in what is necessary for my growth and health.

He's a good, good Shepherd,
That's who he is
And I'm loved by him,
That's who I am.

Whether like the sled dog, I need to be held tight to be brought to rest, or like a sheep that needs the shepherd's presence to stop fretting, fighting, swatting and sweating for staples, I am thankful that I can lie down in green pastures no matter where he leads me.   

I yield to your discipline and care, Great Shepherd, Jesus.  You make me to lie down where abundance is promised. Forgive me for the times I think I know better how to meet my needs, for the times I substitute empty calories for good organic, free range, non GMO, hormone free food that you generously provide. May I increase in goodness and love as I feed in your pastures.