Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pray with Me

Our Bible Study ended for this season. After completing studies in Daniel, Ruth, Esther and Deuteronomy, I am finding many of the themes we focused on to be relevant to current situations.  Concern for our nation and the upcoming elections has progressed from a mild "wait and see"to an acute "where are you, God?"!  Feeling helpless, I invited some great prayer warrior friends together every Friday afternoon for an hour of petition.  It is something I can do when it looks like our nation is begging for change, no matter at what cost.

Daniel becomes my example of praying for a nation in captivity. He starts with confession of sins and crying out for mercy.  Daniel understood the time he was in according to prophetic word and God's promise of restoration, and he fervently prayed for God's will to be done. Here is an excerpt of a prayer of Daniel's from Daniel 9:
17 “O our God, hear your servant’s prayer! Listen as I plead. For your own sake, Lord, smile again on your desolate sanctuary.
18 “O my God, lean down and listen to me. Open your eyes and see our despair. See how your city—the city that bears your name—lies in ruins. We make this plea, not because we deserve help, but because of your mercy.
19 “O Lord, hear. O Lord, forgive. O Lord, listen and act! For your own sake, do not delay, O my God, for your people and your city bear your name.”

Esther shows me a woman, brave and courageous, in a time when God's people are facing threat of life.  Her God-given assignment sends her to the king's presence where she may or may not be welcomed, to plead for the life of her people. Some of us may have life and death assignments in such a time as this or in whatever lies ahead. Lord, keep me close and my ear fine-tuned to your voice so I don't miss my part in your Kingdom's advancement here on earth.

The entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses' last address to a people about to enter into their inheritance.  He reiterates, almost to boredom degree, that they need to obey the Lord their God, refuse to follow the gods and idols of the nations they will live among and hold fast to all they have been taught. Based on their past history, Moses had little confidence in their ability to do this, but he lays out very clearly the blessings that will be theirs if they will listen and the curses that are just as certain to overtake them if they disobey.  What a sobering study for us as we recognize our own idol pursuing tendencies and the prone-to-wonder-from-our-God inclinations in a time of comfort and conveniences.

As we began our prayer sessions we focused on specific results we wanted to see---a God-fearing leader for this nation, preservation of freedoms we hold dear, revival in the land...I've sensed a turn in our emphasis lately, God-inspired, I believe, to confessing our own sins and praying for the church in our nation to be faithful, saturated with God's Word, teaching our youth how to be Kingdom focused, and asking for God to bring revival in the church and country.  We aren't promised an earthly God-fearing government.  But our heavenly Kingdom is secure and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Prayer changes things, definitely, and maybe the change most needed is in our hearts. 

I will continue to pray for God's will to be done in our nation as it's done in heaven.   Why God doesn't seem to be answering my specific requests, when in fact, the opposite is happening and godlessness is rampant, I don't know.  But my heart is confident in His sovereignty and I can speak of His goodness every day.  We serve a faithful God who has a plan for you, for me and for all nations of the world.  Will you join me today in prayer and making the following verses our practice?

14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. Phil. 2:14-16.

Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.  Daniel 12:3

More to come on Deuteronomy...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Feast for Thieves-A Book Review

The year is 1946, and former Private Rowdy Slater, a war veteran with a dishonorable discharge and time done in military prison, is drifting. No job and past debt to a jail cellmate, makes him easy prey to Crazy Ake, the cellmate, who tracks him down.  Crazy Ake plans to get his money back, using Rowdy to assist him in a bank robbery. In the ensuing skirmish with authorities in Cut Eye, Texas, the two separate and escape.  Rowdy ends up with the booty, encounters God in the local mission and decides to turn in the money to the local sheriff. Rather than going to jail, the sheriff offers Rowdy the choice to be town preacher for a year.  He will take over the struggling congregation which has been temporarily under the charge of the sheriff's daughter who has future plans to be a missionary.

The scene is set for the bumpy ride of proving himself to parishioners, meeting needs in the community, winning over the ill-reputed who frequent the local bar, and wondering if the interim preacher and Rowdy will have a future together. With Crazy Ake still on the loose and not about ready to give up on his money, there is bound to be trouble ahead. The narrative is told first person and Rowdy's speaking is written in the dialect and attitude of a Texan native of that day.

To make the strides and accomplishments that Rev'rund Slater makes in a years time seemed a bit unrealistic, and the story has more pages of telling about events than it does of drawing the reader into action. After the exciting start of the bank robbery, I had to read quite a few chapters before I found my critiquing giving way to 'getting lost' in the story.  However, the story is well written and made for a good, enjoyable read. The author upholds good moral standards throughout the book. The plot is not a common fiction theme, and I liked that it was hard to predict how things would turn out. I now have interest in reading more of Marcus Brotherton's writing.

After the epilogue, the author adds a note about his extensive study of World War II heroes, and in particular the Band of Brothers who jumped as paratroopers into Normandy and fought their way across Europe. The book is based on the little known information about one of these men.  Also, included in the last pages of the book, is a history and examples of the dialects the author drew from.
I would suggest reading these areas before starting the first chapter. It gave me a perspective that I think would have helped me engage with and appreciate the story much sooner.

I received this book from Moody Press in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Book Review-They Say We Are Infidels

Journalist Mindy Beltz shows us a snapshot of life in parts of the Middle East over the last 10 years. Partnering with local natives, she travels into war zones and places of devastation to give us a realistic picture of the suffering of a people displaced and longing to live in freedom, politically and religiously.  We see behind the scenes of our media driven depictions of Saddam Hussein being toppled, U.S promises to build a democracy in a new Iraq and the decision to withdraw U.S. troops.

The book begins in 2003 as Mindy is entering Iraq with Insaf, an Iraqi eager to return to her country after having lived in Canada since fleeing the Iran/Iraq war in the late 80s.  She, along with many others returning, are filled with high hopes that things are better and that a bright future looms on the horizon. Yet American government was backing groups like the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who were seeking a theocratic government, directly against what President Bush was promising and U.S. troops were trying to protect. As America withdrew its presence before establishing a secure government and military, Islamic militants began to infiltrate the void.

Much of Mindy's travels focus on Christians who continued to be harassed after Saddam's fall. Militants were targeting Christian communities. Some estimated 40,000 Christians left Iraq in 2006 because of violent attacks and threats of death. Saddam's execution only increased hatred and desire for vengeance among the sectarian divides. Mindy followed the plight of displaced families seeking to learn how they live and what the future looks like for them. She literally put her life in the hands of the network of Christians who helped her, building goodwill among them and growing her own faith. 

As the violence focused on Mosul in 2008, Mindy accompanies Eveline, a member of a provincial council over the area, into Mosul to try and understand what made the Christians keep going in the face of so much violence. Eventually, millions of Iraqis would flee to Syria, Christians making up 30 percent of the refugees. Some Christians would stay.  One bishop felt his presence gave historical context to the region and he was doing his duty in being a witness.

America seemed reluctant to get involved with any part of the Iraqi conflict, downplaying its severity, wanting to bring a quick end to the war, and failing to act when terrorists crossed the red line of violations the US had set.  ISIS would become bolder. June 2014, ISIS seized Mosul. President Obama's response two days later not only said we would take our time to do things right, but never stated any support for Iraqi Christians. By late July, 45 churches including some historic Christian landmarks had been destroyed.

The book includes touching stories of brave attempts to fight back.  An American soldier sent home who goes back to Iraq with weapons bought with his own savings. Or Gill Rosenberg, a Canadian-born Israeli citizen who declared that fighting ISIS was worth any personal risk, that this was not a regular war, but something beyond anything she had previously witnessed.  And like Father Najeeb, a Dominican friar born in Mosul who was determined to preserve ancient manuscripts.  He loaded material into a car every evening and had them transported to a safer town, twice, preserving 55,000 volumes of Scripture and dated works on science and medicine.

Mindy closes the book with appreciation for all she has learned from Christians who have and continue to suffer much. Christianity's "people took mustard seeds and with them moved mountains....Destruction brought comfort, in the words of the prophet Nahum; impossible hardships became possible to endure, and death became life-giving. Augustine said it well: 'For God judged it better to bring good out of evil than not to permit any evil to exist.'" p. 296.

I found the book enlightening, and I now have a better understanding of the happenings in Iraq in the last decade. This is not an easy book to read.  The contents describe disturbing atrocities.  It was challenging to follow the timeline of events, remember all the unfamiliar names of characters and cities when they were repeatedly mentioned, and absorb all the details that are packed into the 10 years the book spans.  A helpful timeline of events is included in the back of the book, as well as a few pages of photographs inserted into the middle.

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