Saturday, December 26, 2020

My Annual Book List


For the past several years, I've made it a habit to share my list of books I read for the year.  Once again, I'll add the caveat that just because it's on this list, doesn't necessarily mean I recommend it, just that I read it. For many I jotted down some impressions, but not for all. Now that we have only five days left in the year, and the next book I'm about to start is a long one, I'm pretty sure I won't finish anymore for this year's list. So, if by some chance I do finish it, I'll add it to this post, otherwise, here is the list for 2020, and I say, welcome to 2021…...

 And this is Jags, who was a fairly constant reading buddy this year.  There is something so comforting about a cat who snuggles in your lap while you read a good book.  



January 2020

  • In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life - Sinclair B. Ferguson (NF).
  • Land of Wolves (Walt Longmire) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Long Before Luther: Tracing the Heart of the Gospel From Christ to the Reformation - Nathan Busenitz (NF).  On Sunday evenings, our pastor will often recommend books to us, and this is one of them. In discussions with Catholics about the Reformation you often hear it said that the reformers were teaching something new when they insisted upon the doctrine of justification by faith alone.  Busenitz does an excellent job of tracing the doctine all the way from Christ to the writings of early church fathers and on to thinkers in the medieval church. Where those thinkers were basing their writing in scripture, this doctrine was clearly not an innovation at the time of Martin Luther. My favorite part of the book is the appendix where he shares "100 selected quotes from church history highlighting salvation by grace alone and the truth that believers are justified solely  through faith in Christ, apart from works."
  • The Falcon and the Snowman: A True Story of Friendship and Espionage - Robert Lindsey (NF).
  • The Cyber Effect: An Expert in Cyberpsychology Explains How Technology Is Shaping Our Children, Our Behavior, and Our Values - and What We Can Do About it - Mary Aiken (NF). I have to admit, this one disturbed me a bit.  The author highlights some very necessary conversations we, as a society, need to be having about technology. I found myself feeling a bit overwhelmed and kind of discouraged at the magnitude of the unregulated social experiment we are effectively performing with all our smartphones and internet saturation. I'd say this is an important read for anyone who spends any time at all navigating social media and cyberspace, and especially for those of us raising children in this new and sometimes terrifying environment.  Sometimes I find myself wishing we could turn back time and go offline, but that's unrealistic - the ship has sailed and now we need to take some long and hard looks at how to navigate this world we're in and protect our kids and arm them with wisdom as best we can.  Cyber technology IS affecting us, whether we want to admit it or not. 
  • Wish You Well - David Baldacci (F).  I loved this one.
  • The Names of the Dead - Kevin Wignall (F).
February 2020
  • The Pact - Robert Patrick Lewis (F).  I borrowed this for free with my Amazon Prime account because my Kindle kept offering it as a suggestion and it had reviews that made it sound exciting. I didn't finish or even get real far with this one.  I didn't hate it, per se, I just wasn't ever drawn in enough to care much about the people or what was about to happen to them. For such an exciting premise, the writing was kind of bland. It's pretty obviously a self-published sort of thing and really could have benefited from a good editor. Annoying grammatical errors and plot devices and such that a good editor would have helped the author to tighten up.  Characters were flat and unrealistic scenarios (like why did he just drive off and leave the nanny who obviously understood his need for preparedness and took care of his kids and the supplies and was worried herself, never to be mentioned again? Why not take her with them? Did he not care about her? Besides, then she would have been there to help watch the young kids who he kind of just leaves alone in their room for extended periods of time. Sure. Where is the ex-wife, why are they divorced, how did he get custody of these young children, does he care nothing about the mother of his children that she's not mentioned as a fleshed-out person, and he just leaves the nanny and apparently the ex-wife behind to face the horrors that are coming? How in the world did he get out of Los Angeles with no traffic, no mass panic ensuing if internet and phones are out and they're under mysterious attack?) Maybe it would have gotten better if I had kept on, but after about 20% into the book, I just didn't buy into it, got tired of all the "brother, bro" special forces blah, blah, blah telling, telling, telling about family and brotherhood ("show, don't tell!"), and while it has the makings of an interesting story, it just isn't written in a compelling enough way for me to want to spend the time reading it. 
  • The Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges (NF).
  • Last Man Standing - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis (F).  I've read this more times than I can remember, but I love the series.  My daughter and I are reading them together in the evenings.  I love that she still enjoys spending time together to read aloud - you never get too old to enjoy sharing stories together like that.  
  • Death of Kings (The Saxon Stories, #6) - Bernard Cornwell (F).
  • Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI - David Grann (NF).  This was very interesting and, like most stories about our country's history with the Native American tribes, tragic, parts just downright evil, sad, and hard to read.  But, though hard to read, I think it's important that these stories be told and not forgotten. 
  • Stepping Heavenward - Elizabeth Prentiss (F).  This is one of my very favorite books, I don't know how many times I've read it, but I love it more each time.  I read it again every so often just because I like it so much.
  • Unveiling Grace: The Story of How We Found Our Way Out of the Mormon Church - Lynn K. Wilder (NF).
March 2020
  • Split Second - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Turn of the Key - Ruth Ware (F).  Intense.  I couldn't put it down. 
  • The Faith of America's Presidents - Daniel J. Mount (NF).
  • The Black Echo - Michael Connelly (F). 
  • The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck (F).
  • Prince Caspian - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • Mrs. Sherlock Holmes: The True Story of New York City's Greatest Female Detective and the 1917 Missing Girl Case That Captivated a Nation - Brad Ricca (NF).
  • The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek - Kim Michele Richardson (F). This was really good. Made me cry several times. Very interesting, historical fiction, and well-written - I cared very much about the characters.
April 2020
  • Code Talker: The first and only memoir by one of the original Navajo code talkers of WWII - Chester Nez, Judith Schiess Avila (NF).
  • The Dutch House - Ann Patchett (F).  
  • The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • Need to Know: Your Guide to the Christian Life - Gary Millar (NF).
  • Hour Game - David Baldacci (F). 
  • The Silver Chair - C. S. Lewis (F). I'm reading these out loud to my daughter, and it's been so much fun.  There have been several times I had to stop reading for the tears.  I just love these books so much. 
  • The Letter for the King - Tonke Dragt (F). This was a serendipitous find. We were introduced to it when we stumbled across the Netflix Original series loosely based on it. We liked the series ok except for the obligatory plot device Netflix seems to always throw in that we don't care for, but when we saw it was based on a book we'd never heard of, we were intrigued.  It turns out that this book was originally published in the Netherlands in 1962 and translated from the Dutch into English in 2013. The Netflix story line veers pretty significantly from the book - basically it turns into a different story.  They basically used the very first part of the book, kept the names and places the same and changed the story fairly significantly. The book is delightful - definitely written as an older children's book, though as an adult I was able to enjoy it very much (which, according to a C. S. Lewis quote I love would make it a very good children's book indeed), and as a translation sometimes the language is a little stilted, but overall it is a good, clean story of chivalry, knights, honor, adventure, and friendship.  I enjoyed it enough I went ahead and bought the sequel to read also.  And, another serendipity is that now I've been introduced to Pushkin Children's Books, which has this on its About page on its website: "Pushkin Press was founded in 1997, and publishes novels, essays, memoirs, children's books - everything from timeless classics to the urgent and contemporary. Our books represent exciting, high-quality writing from around the world: we publish some of the twentieth century’s most widely acclaimed, brilliant authors such as Stefan Zweig, Marcel Aymé, Teffi, Antal Szerb, Gaito Gazdanov and Yasushi Inoue, as well as compelling and award-winning contemporary writers, including Andrés Neuman, Edith Pearlman, Eka Kurniawan and Ayelet Gundar-Goshen. Pushkin Press publishes the world's best stories, to be read and read again." That sounds interesting enough to investigate, I think. 
  • Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ - Russ Ramsey (NF).  I liked this very much, and I'm keeping it to read again in the future.
  • The Horse and His Boy - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • The Camel Club - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Magician's Nephew - C. S. Lewis (F).
May 2020
  • All Things For Good - Thomas Watson (NF).
  • The Last Battle - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • The Guardians - John Grisham (F).
  • Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: How the Church Needs to Rediscover Her Purpose - Aimee Byrd (NF).
  • The Eye of the World (The Wheel of Time series, #1) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The Secrets of the Wild Wood - Tonke Dragt (F).
  • The Magician's Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society - edited by John G. West (NF). This was very good.  Some was a bit philosophical and a little hard for me to follow, but overall very interesting. I especially appreciated the last section on society, and I found the last chapter eye-opening, helping me to grasp why there seems to be such a polarization and disconnect with people today and why it is almost impossible to have a rational, calm discussion when we have differing views.  We truly are dealing with a vast difference in how we view the world, and it's rather frightening.  
  • An Unequal Defense - Chad Zunker (F).
June 2020
  • The Collectors (The Camel Club, Book #2) - David Baldacci (F).
  • Where the Crawdads Sing - Delia Owens (F).  I enjoyed this one. It's rare these days that I find a book I have a hard time putting down.  This was so well-written.
  • The Great Hunt (The Wheel of Time Series, #2) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Out of the Silent Planet - C. S. Lewis (F).
July 2020
  • Mere Christianity - C. S. Lewis (NF).
  • Perelandra - C. S Lewis (F).
  • Just Mercy:A Story Justice and Redemption - Bryan Stevenson (NF). Recommended.
  • The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • Beartown - Fredrik Backman (F).
  • The Nickel Boys - Colson Whitehead (F).  This was heart-wrenching to read, and so well-written, one of those books that will stick with me for a long time.  Recommended. 
  • That Hideous Strength - C. S. Lewis (F).
  • The Holiness of God - R.C. Sproul (NF). Highly recommended. 
  • Us Against You - Fredrik Backman (F).
August 2020
  • The Bark of the Bog Owl (The Wilderking Trilogy, Book 1) - Jonathan Rogers (F).  I loved this! I can't wait to share it with my daughter.  I know she will love it too. I found this when our pastor wrote about it on the Cripplegate blog. You can read his recommendation here
  • 1984 - George Orwell (F).
  • God, Greed, and the (Prosperity) Gospel: How Truth Overwhelms a Life Built on Lies - Costi W. Hinn (NF). This was good.
  • Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom - David W. Blight (NF)
  • Ann Judson: A Missionary Life for Burma: A Biography, Including Selections From Her memoir and Letters - Sharon James (NF).  This was a beautiful account of a remarkable woman and a life well lived for the glory of Christ.  
  • The Secret of the Swamp King (The Wilderking Trilogy, Book 2) - Jonathan Rogers (F).
  • The Way of the Wilderking (The Wilderking Trilogy, Book 3) - Jonathan Rogers (F).
September 2020

  • Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng (F).
  • The Song of Seven - Tonke Dragt (F).
  • Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters - Abigail Shrier (NF).
  • You're Not Enough (And That's Okay): Escaping the Toxic Culture of Self-Love - Allie Beth Stuckey (NF).
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness  (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 1) - Andrew Peterson (F). This was so good! I love Andrew Peterson's music, and some time ago I learned that he had written these books for middle school aged kids, and I wanted to try them.  A few years ago, I bought the first one for my daughter for Christmas, but she didn't really get into it at the time and I got busy with other things and forgot about it. Then I saw that he was announcing that he had republished the series with new, beautiful illustrations and I remembered that I had wanted to read them, and I ordered the new version of the first book.  My daughter snatched it up first and LOVED it, so I ordered the second book and books three and four are also preordered for when they release in October.  I very much enjoyed this first book and can't wait to read the second one when my daughter finishes it. I love it when we find books we can read together and enjoy together like this.  
  • Blackout: How Black America Can Make Its Second Escape From the Democrat Plantation - Candace Owens (NF).
  • Ichthus: Jesus Christ, God's Son, the Saviour - Sinclair B. Ferguson and Derek W. H. Thomas (NF).
  • North! Or Be Eaten (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 2) - Andrew Peterson (F).
October 2020
  • The Monster in the Hollows (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 3) - Andrew Peterson (F).
  • The Warden and the Wolf King (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 4) - Andrew Peterson (F).  Wow.  This series was so good.
  • The Juvenilization of American Christianity - Thomas Bergler (NF). 
November 2020
  • The Dragon Reborn (The Wheel of Time Series, #3) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The Beekeeper's Promise - Fiona Valpy (F).
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon (F).
  • Brave New World - Aldous Huxley (F).
  • Show Me Your Glory: Understanding the Majestic Splendor of God - Steven J. Lawson (NF).
December 2020
  • The Shadow Rising (The Wheel of Time Series, #4) - Robert Jordan (F). 
  • Echo Island - Jared C. Wilson (F).
  • The Christmas Train - David Baldacci (F).
  • Live Not By Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents - Rod Dreher (NF).  This was quite sobering and eye-opening, and I recommend it. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Words Have Meaning

 I do not often post about politics, and, in fact, just today I shared two blog posts discussing why Christians should be hesitant to post much about politics on social media.  However, once in a while something disturbs me enough I need to hash out some thoughts here, and this is one of those times.  First of all, before I get to my point, this post isn’t about one party or another, and whenever this interminable election is finally certified I will accept the results and whoever has won this thing will be my president, even if I don’t like it.  To be honest, I didn’t really like either choice this time around, but one had policies I can endorse and one clearly did not, so I made my choice. Also, for the record, I think there is benefit to bipartisan government.  It’s a good thing to have different voices at the table and to compromise and check each other civilly in government.  

That said, there is some rumbling going on among the most leftward of the crowd that I find disturbing in the extreme.  This article reports about how certain loud voices are saying they want to blacklist anyone who supported or worked for President Trump and to give them no place in polite society, as one of them said. They are saying that anyone who supported or worked for Trump should basically be denied a job and punished for daring to think differently than they do politically.  I'm not just taking this one article's word, and I'm aware it's hard to find unbiased news sources these days and we need to take everything we read from them with with a healthy sense of skepticism, but I have seen the tweets from the actual people, and I've seen this reported on from several sources, so I feel pretty confident it's worth taking seriously. 


I do not care where you fall on the political spectrum, if it is true that elected officials and people of influence are spouting this kind of rhetoric, this should concern you, whether you’re on the left, right, or center. And it should scare us no matter which direction it's coming from, whether it is someone on the left or right advocating for this. This is not the American way. Have we learned nothing from the history of the 20th century? 


I thought “Hate has no home here,” and “In this house we believe kindness is everything.” I mean, I’ve been walking past the yard signs virtue signaling this for months, so……do the words mean anything at all? Does this sound like kindness? Does this sound like not hate? Or are those sentiments only for those with whom you agree? Kindness is easy when someone agrees with you.  It’s a whole lot harder, and just as important, and even more meaningful, when it’s someone who differs. 


We get the word tolerance thrown around at us all the time.  I don’t think it means what a lot of people want it to mean.  The very nature of tolerance is being able to get along with people who have different beliefs, opinions, thoughts than yours. The very idea that we need tolerance implies that we have differences. Tolerance does not mean we have to accept and affirm and celebrate any and every thing, it means we can agree to disagree and even allow for differences. Kindness means we don’t bully others for disagreeing, but we allow for disagreement in a civil way.  Kindness means we can love and respect each other even when we don't agree about everything, sometimes even agreeing to disagree, and sometimes that might even mean agreeing not to talk about some things with each other to spare the relationship, if necessary. Kindness also can mean learning to 'read the room' and know when it's worthwhile to die on a hill, and when it's worthwhile to be quiet. Just because your feelings get hurt, doesn’t mean the other person was actually being unkind or intolerant.  You can choose to take offense or not.  If the other person is truly hurtful in how they express differences, then, sure, they bear some blame, but simply that someone disagrees, it does not mean that person is being unkind or intolerant.  We simply see things differently, and we need to grow up and embrace the diversity that makes for a truly interesting society.  That’s another word that gets thrown around but which is used incorrectly. It is not unkind to disagree. It is not intolerant to hold a differing opinion. True diversity goes beyond what people look like. It is also richly displayed in allowing people to come to their own conclusions and opinions based on how they see the world. 


How we voice or act on our disagreement can be unkind or intolerant at times, surely, but that we disagree is not, in itself, an unkindness or intolerance. It is unkind and intolerant to insist that everyone think exactly like I do and to blacklist anyone who does not. We seem to have come to a point in our society where words have come to mean the exact opposite of what they actually mean.  


I have grown so tired of being called all kinds of unfair and untrue things just because I do not buy into the leftist agenda and mindset.  As I see calls on Twitter for lists and retribution against people solely based on their political beliefs, remind me again who you think the fascists are? Have you ever read 1984


And I don’t think the queasiness I feel over this kind of rhetoric is unfounded.  Have you been watching the growth of cancel culture over the past several years? 


But, in spite of the queasiness and unease I feel over this, I do know that God is sovereign, even over this kind of frightening rhetoric.  I am not despairing.  I do find it concerning, but I also, ultimately, can rest, knowing that I belong to Christ, and whatever happens in this country, ultimately, as my pastor in Texas used to say, “No matter what, I’m going to Heaven.”  I pray for my country, I pray for cooler heads to prevail, and whoever is elected to government office, I pray for them to lead with honesty and integrity, and no matter what the final outcome of this election is determined to be, I will pray and be the best citizen I can be, and I will moderate my speech and try to live by the true definitions of kindness and tolerance and place my focus on what is true and beautiful and holy. 


Monday, September 21, 2020

Hymns and Transcendence

 I’m thankful we get to worship in person at our church again. The months we couldn’t were hard, I’ve already written about that elsewhere. Our pastor preached yesterday morning from Ephesians and he talked about what a privilege we have to meet corporately for worship and how incredibly special that is.  I agree wholeheartedly.  I shared in my last post a good bit about how much I appreciate being able to meet together with my church family and how much richer, deeper, and more intense our worship is when we multiply it together.

 

What I wanted to focus on in this post though, is the sermon our pastor preached last night. Yes, we get to have Sunday evening services again! I have missed those so much! Last night our pastor preached on Why We Sing Hymns, and I’ll link the message here:

 

 



I deeply appreciated what he said about the transcendence of what we do when we gather together to worship and how important it is that we sing songs that are true, songs that are thoughtful, songs that are teaching and increasing our understanding of theology, and sing different songs.  What we do in the church transcends culture and transcends preferences and leads us to the throne of God. Music helps us in this when it is true.  As Pastor Jesse said, “God is only truly worshiped when we sing true things about Him.” This resonated with me – I have been bothered for years by worship music that contains error, and I’m thankful for careful worship leaders who choose the songs we sing thoughtfully and purposefully. 

 

As I listened to the sermon, I was thinking about how  amazed and humbled I am when I look back over my life at how God has constantly spared me and rescued me from error and shallow thinking that permeates much of the evangelical subculture. He has kept me through the years when confronted with things that just didn’t sound right, even when I didn’t have the maturity yet to quite know why. He instilled in me a love for His word, and from early days, a love for hymns.  

 

When I was young my family had a Baptist Hymnal on the piano, and that was a well-worn “go-to” for me when I was depressed, sad, lonely, bored, etc.  I would pull out the hymnal and play though them and my mood would lift as my heart was drawn to the truths I was singing. I spent much time leafing through that hymnal, and even now many of those songs are a source of deep comfort for me.  

 

What I realized last night is that God graciously used those hours spent singing through the hymnal to drill truth deep into my heart, when I didn’t even realize it.   He used that heart level truth to preserve me when things that weren’t quite right were preached or told me by Christian friends or when I stumbled across them in the evangelical subculture. The reason things seemed off was because they didn’t mesh with the truths I’d hidden in my heart through the doctrines I’d spent my lifetime singing.  It gave me a longing for more than shallow sentimentality in my Christian thought life, and taught me a deep longing for the transcendent.  These songs are rich because they bond believers together with shared experience and language.  We resonate with them because they are true, and true for all believers together. I’m grateful for that heritage.  

 

This allows me to love the old hymns and to also love newer hymns that are still being written today – those that sing the transcendent truths of the gospel and God’s word, the doctrines that join together all believers and transcends cultures and languages.  We long for rich, deep theology in our songs, not shallow sentimentality. We need songs and hymns that teach us to look outward from ourselves and look up to our Savior. We need the deeper truths driven into our hearts that satisfy us and join us together in ways that a steady diet of only shallow repeated choruses just cannot do. 


Happy Monday, still thinking on the joys of Sunday today.

 

 

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Holy Space and Holy Time: A Few Thoughts After Reading "The Holiness of God"

I just finished reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. This is not the first time I’ve read it, but it is one I find it is beneficial to revisit every so often, and it’s a book I highly recommend.  As he says in the book, “People in awe never complain that church is boring.” Neither will they find taking time to think deeply about God’s holiness boring. 


I am not going to write a full review, but I did have some thoughts I wanted to share that I pondered as I was reading the last chapter today, which is titled, “Holy Space and Holy Time.”  First, some quotes from that last chapter: 


“The consecration of sacred space does not end with the close of the Old Testament. It is rooted and grounded in the act of creation itself, and something profoundly important to the human spirit is lost when it is neglected.”


“Each Sabbath day, believers observe sacred time in the context of worship. It is the keeping holy of the Sabbath day that marks the regular sacred time for the Christian. The worship service is a marking of a special liturgical time.”


“In sacred space and sacred time Christians find the presence of the holy. The bars that seek to shut out the transcendent are shattered, and the present time becomes defined by the intrusion of the holy. When we erect barriers to these intrusions, dikes to keep them from flooding our souls, we exchange the holy for the profane and rob both God of His glory and ourselves of His grace.”


Here’s what I got to thinking about. During the time when our church could not meet because of the COVID restrictions, we were blessed to be able to have the option to stream the service online.  I am so thankful for the technology that allowed us to do this and for the care of our pastors, elders, and teachers who did their best to stay connected with the church family during that time. It wasn’t ideal, but it was the best we could do at the time. I understand the necessity for that time, and I completely understand the necessity for those who are at greater risk to continue to use that option now that we are able to cautiously and in a socially distanced way begin to meet together again physically. So, please don’t take what I’m about to say wrongly. Also, PLEASE do not come at me with the argument, “the church is not the building.” Seriously, that is NOT what I’m about to say, so don’t hear that, and don’t come at me with it. I got SO, SO tired of reading that on social media.  It MISSES THE POINT of what those of us who were sad about not meeting together were trying to express. 


During the time when we only had the online version of worship services, our family did our best to make that time special.  We got up on time, got dressed, and set that time aside to watch and engage as best we could with the service on screen.   But there was just something missing.  It is just not the same. I couldn’t adequately describe what made it so very different, exactly, but this last chapter of The Holiness of God and the discussion of sacred space spoke to me deeply in light of what we’ve just gone through. That is what is missing. There is something profound  and indescribably powerful about physically meeting together with the church that is deeper than merely keeping the elements of the service but watching on a disembodied screen. No, the church is not the building, it’s not that the bricks and mortar of the building itself are inherently sacred, but it is what we do when we gather there that makes it sacred space. And of course, even worshipping by screen when that’s the only option we have can be sacred, too, but the church is the people - specifically the people gathered together. And yes, when we neglect that setting aside of sacred time to worship together, there IS something profoundly important to the human spirit that is lost. Though I understand and support why we had to forego the gathering for a time, we DID miss something profound. The first Sunday we got to go back, even with masks and social distancing and much fewer people in the building, it was like a breath of fresh air and that profound something that we have when we gather together in that set apart, sacred time and space was rich. The holy just felt nearer.


No matter how much we tried to make the online Sundays sacred, the profane was somehow just still so near. The distractions were many, and it was just not the same.  


There is something deep and profound that we gain when we are able to gather together and sense the energy of our church family all worshipping Jesus together.  There is something deeply sacred that points us to our holy God in a way that we lose when we are denied the opportunity to set aside time and space for the sacred.  We are embodied people and we experience this life with our physical bodies. There is just something other about setting aside time and space to focus our attention together on the Holy and sacred.  We are bombarded all week with the temporal and profane, we need that set apart space and time to put away those distractions and be reminded physically and through our senses with singing and praying and hearing the Word preached to focus our attention on our Savior. 


I’m not at all sure I adequately expressed what I’m pondering in this post. Boiled down, I am reminded to think carefully and prepare myself before I go to worship and remember that we are on holy ground because we are gathering to worship a holy God. I am greatly looking forward to getting to meet with my church family tomorrow morning, even if we have to wear masks and sit apart to make it happen. How thankful I am for the grace of God that sustained us during the months we had to be apart, and how very thankful I am now that we can meet together again. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Mysterious Power of Music

Every once in a while I’m reminded how mysteriously powerful music can be. Whether it’s hearing an instrumental piece of music that gives you chills and makes you just want to sit and submerse yourself in the music to enjoy a glorious music moment, or maybe it is a song that comes on and immediately transports you to another time in your life, complete with all the emotions and senses that go with those memories, music has a deep and rich power that is hard to describe.  I think God gave us a wonderful gift in music, and I think music must be special to Him, too. Think about it, the entire book of Psalms is a song book. There is music and singing throughout the Bible. There is even music and singing in Heaven, can you imagine how glorious it must be? (Revelation 5:9-10, for example) 

Yesterday I found myself alone in my car, for one very rare instance these days, and I had my playlist going. A song came on that brought me right back to the early ’80’s and a flood of emotions filled my car - the awkwardness of junior high, the expectation and hope of youth, the joys of driving to the beach with friends, the painfulness of feeling lonely and awkward and ignored, the joys of cherished friendships, and all kinds of other wordless emotions all wrapped up in a Chicago song. Followed by other songs, all with their own beautiful, jumbled, complex mix of memories and emotions. 

Then this morning, I was listening to another playlist and several songs in a row came on that brought back vividly that year in Ohio, especially the ray of light our membership at Parkside Church was in that otherwise dark and lonely year. Again, a flood of complex and varied memories and emotions filled me. Parkside introduced us to so much really good congregational worship music, and modeled for us such beautiful and rich prayers, and so much of my memory of that time is wrapped up in memories of the beautiful, scripture-saturated, corporate prayers we prayed from sources like The Valley of Vision, among others, and worship music that was rich and deep. One of my most profound memories comes from an evening service during that cold Ohio winter.  Our pastor had just preached a sermon on our hope in Christ, and the closing hymn was It is Well With My Soul. There is something deeply moving and encouraging about standing in a room of people who deeply and truly believe with all their heart what they are singing, and sensing the genuine hope and longing mingled up in the heartfelt voices being raised together to worship our Savior. I hope I never forget how profound that is, though words cannot adequately describe it.

That year we lived in Shaker Heights was a difficult one for our whole family.  I don’t think I’ve ever been as lonely or depressed as I was by the end of that winter. I was talking a while back with one of my sons about that year and he told me some things about how lonely that year in middle school was for him. I cried. I had known it was hard on the kids, but I had not known that he ate by himself almost every day at lunch that year. My older two children both told me they never really fit in with the kids at their schools that year. It broke my heart all over again to hear that they were as lonely as I was there. And the winter. Oh, the bitter, bitter cold of that winter. These, sadly, are some of the complex memories and emotions that music also dredges up.

This, too, is why it is important to expose ourselves to good music. Though we did not live there long enough for it to come even close to ever feeling like home or to really get to know anyone well at all, though we did meet wonderfully kind and caring brothers and sisters in Christ I wish we had had the time to get to know better, had we not had the light of that church, it would have been much darker that year. This morning several songs came on that, to this day, lift my soul and remind me that there is so much more to life than what my circumstances scream at me. It is songs that are rich and doctrinal that will stand the test of time, and they bring a deep comfort to me even today because of the deep comfort they brought me in one of the most difficult years we’ve had. Songs that point me beyond my selfish depression to my glorious Jesus, who has never left me and never forsaken me. For all the darkness and loneliness, God used that time (as He has used many other times) to grow us close as a family, to introduce me to the treasure that is The Valley of Vision, to allow us to sit under truly excellent teaching and preaching, to grow me in learning how to pray deeper and to sing better and to draw me nearer to Him.  I wouldn’t trade it. And, talking with my boys in the years since, they, too have grown and learned, and in time, the next years in Texas allowed us to develop friendships and a loving church family that mended much of the loneliness we left behind. God is so kind.

I’m thankful for God’s good gift of music - all kinds of music, and the way it has a language of its own that often goes deeper than mere words. That’s why band kids can tell you that each year there’s always at least one piece among all the others that they all agree that all of them just LOVE to play. Music stirs us in a way little else can.  But, even more glorious, when beautiful music is combined with rich and Christ-exalting words, it can drive rich truth deep into our very soul in a way that words alone may not.  Can you even imagine, if music here is so mysteriously powerful, what the music of Heaven will be like?





Thursday, June 18, 2020

Gazing Into a Palantír

This morning as I was reading my social media news feeds, I realized a couple of things:

 First - I MUST stop letting that be the first thing I do in the morning.  My habit for years has been to read my Bible and pray in the morning.  For a long time I tried to make sure I didn’t read anything else before I had read the Bible and prayed, but recently, because I use my phone as my alarm clock, I’ve found myself slipping into the habit of checking my phone after the alarm goes off, before I’ve even gotten completely awake, and I find myself checking news headlines and social media feeds to see what new devilry has happened overnight (I can’t help but think of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring whenever I look at my Twitter feed these days). I need to stop doing this.


This morning, I found myself scrolling through the news feeds and I realized I was feeling overwhelmingly discouraged over the fractured nature of our country, how quick to take offense many people on all sides of every issue seem to be, how quick many people on all sides of every issue seem to be willing to ‘cancel’ those who don’t hold to their exact view on any issue, how lacking in common civility and decency we are becoming and how hard it is to have a real and meaningful conversation and attempt at genuine understanding when differences of opinion are present, how unsettled and lacking in peace and hope things seem to be all around us, how even words don’t mean the same things anymore depending on who you’re listening to, how difficult it is becoming to believe anything you hear from any news source or so-called expert, and lots of other things, too. This bled over into my prayer time, as I admitted I don’t even know how to pray about some of the things we’re seeing. More on that in a minute.

Second - It occurred to me that too much poring over social media and a too steady diet of the 24/7 news media first thing in the morning and too much through out the day has just as poisonous an effect on my mind as looking into the Palantír did for Denethor, the Steward of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings

The Palantíri were crystal seeing stones in The Lord of the Rings world which allowed people to look into them and see real events and people - future or present wasn’t always clear. This from the Wikipedia article is helpful to describe them: “A major theme of Palantír usage is that while the stones show real objects or events, they are an unreliable guide to action, and it is often unclear whether events are past or future: what is not shown may be more important than what is selectively presented. Further, users with sufficient power can choose what to show and what to conceal: in The Lord of the Rings, all uses of Palantíri influence the action through deception or misreading of what is shown.” 

Stay with me, I think you’ll see the analogy I’m trying to paint. One of the big dangers with using the Palantíri by the time of the events in The Lord of the Rings is that not all of them were still accounted for - some had been lost, meaning you had no way of knowing who else was using one somewhere else and since they are connected, you had no way of knowing who else might be influencing what you were seeing. 

In the case of Denethor of Gondor, he had been looking into a Palantír and it had driven him a bit mad with despair.  He saw the evil that was encroaching as unavoidable and insurmountable. In a word, he felt they and their way of life were doomed.  Ultimately, as the Wikipedia quote suggests, this proves to be an unreliable guide to action as he makes very unwise decisions that not only affect him but many others as well. In the end, in his despair and madness he chooses suicide, very nearly taking his son Faramir with him, were it not for the heroic actions of Gandalf and Pippin who had not yet succumbed to the mind-numbing despair.

I see a parallel here with social media and news feeds.  Often what is in the news stories we read may be true, or at least contain facts that are true, but we don’t know what is being left out or how those facts are being selectively presented, and we don’t always know who, what, or even the why that is driving the narrative being presented. Very often, what is not being said may be as important, if not much more important, that what is being said. It is frighteningly easy to deceive people and twist the truth in a blog post, news story, social media post, speech, etc.  And another parallel is that we don’t always know what powerful person or entity may be behind the decisions to mislead or deceive by choosing what to include and what to conceal with the theory, post, news story, speech, or whatever that we’re reading, or what motives are driving them.  

So, what I’ve been thinking about today is that I need to be careful about how much time I spend allowing myself to gaze into the Palantír of social media.  A steady diet of it isn’t wise or healthy for me.  A sure sign that I’ve gazed there too long is when that malaise and sense of despair and futility begin to descend over me.  

I need to be much more diligent to fill my mind with truth.  I need to be vigilant about news sources and do my homework and check out sources, yes. But even more importantly, I need to start my day and fill my mind with God’s word first.  I need to filter my thinking through the lens of His word, and make sure I’m spending much more time developing a godly worldview, a biblical worldview, than I am soaking up a worldly mindset and listening to voices that do not know Christ.  The more I know Christ, the more steeped I am in His word, the better able I am to discern truth from error when I do watch the news or read social media posts.  

And remember how I said sometimes I just don’t know how to pray about what I’m seeing happening in the world around me, that it just seems so broken? Well, that’s when I take great comfort in knowing that when I don’t know how to pray as I ought, the Holy Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groaning too deep for words. (Romans 8:26) I take great comfort in knowing that Jesus Himself is at the right hand of the Father ever interceding for His people and He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God in Him. (Hebrews 7:25). God is sovereign and He is working all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:29)  Nothing can separate His people from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord - not even the overwhelmingly discouraging and even frightening things we see happening in our fractured and divided country around us. (Romans 8:38-39)  I may not understand what’s happening, but I can trust that God knows and He is working all things for His glory and for our good, and He loves His people. It is in this light, in this understanding that I must decide how to respond and act in the world. 

This is where I need to put my focus and attention, where I need to spend the bulk of my mental and emotional energy, and I need to be very wary how I view the Palantír of social media and the daily news feeds and not let them deceive me or unduly influence how I view the world and how I live and act in it.  







Saturday, June 06, 2020

Politically Homeless

Psalm 118:8-9
“It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to trust in princes.”

I have been realizing more and more over the past few years that I am increasingly politically homeless in my country.  I truly don’t fit comfortably anywhere in that sphere, and thinking through how to vote has become more and more difficult. 

I am not sure this is truly a bad thing. 

For most of my time on social media, I’ve been pretty careful not to get too political or opinionated about things that are overly divisive which could obscure the main thing I want to be known for, and that is my love for Jesus and His gospel. I just don’t want to be known for my political opinions. It’s not that I don’t have them. It’s not that I don’t think they are important or worth wrestling through.  But I have chosen not to make that my main talking point on my social media feeds. 

I was listening to Todd Friel discussing what it is to live for God’s glory recently on the Wretched Radio podcast.  He was trying to articulate that we need to concentrate on Jesus, draw near to Him, know Him more, and then….live.  Not agonize over decisions, but live.  Repent when we need to, and recognize our solid security in Christ.  Find that sweet spot of loving Jesus and living in that light. He was getting at the concept of abiding in Christ. 

This is where I want to keep my focus.  

And if finding myself increasingly politically homeless means I place less of my hope in whoever does or does not get elected, I think I’m learning to be ok with that. I will think carefully, be as wise as I can, understand the issues as best I can, vote as best I can, and then let go of anxiety over it.  I won’t stress over the fact that no one in the running is what I wish I had as an option to vote for. 

And when elections are over, I will pray for whoever is elected.  I will pray for our elected officials to make wise decisions that are good for the people. I will pray for wisdom for the people to live peaceably and in order. And I will pray for Christian people to be bold in their witness, confident in God’s word, genuinely loving and caring for our neighbors and those in need, willing to stand for what is right even when it’s hard, and most of all willing to gently, reverently, and solidly give a defense for the hope that lives within us. 

And most importantly, I rest in the confidence that God is sovereign over the nations, including this one. God is always working all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose, and He is working all things for His glory, and in this we can lay our heads down and rest.  And in this confidence, we can fix our eyes on Jesus and we can live. 

I read Psalm 118 today, and those verses I quoted at the beginning of this stuck out to me. My hope and refuge are always in the LORD, whether I feel good about the politicians, or, like now, I feel so alienated from all of them. My refuge is Christ. And in Him, I will pray for my country, but I will not be anxious. 

After all, we are called to be in this world, yes, and I want to be a good citizen, good neighbor, good friend, etc. while in this world, but still, we are not to be of the world. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20-21).

So, while the things of this world are important and we want to live in such a way that our actions are informed and beautified by our faith, it is vastly important to keep them in perspective.  And it just may be that this season of political homelessness could be serving to knock down the idol of thinking that political security is where my security of life rests.  It doesn’t.  No matter what happens in that sphere, Jesus is where my hope rests. Looking to Him, I can live confidently, and I can refuse to let the headlines and other people’s anxiety and rhetoric and click bait spin me up and get me agitated.  

So, maybe being politically homeless isn’t such a bad thing after all.