Monday, December 16, 2013

What I've Been Reading This Year

When I first began blogging some years ago, one of the things that I liked about it was finding good books as I read what other bloggers I followed read. I was always glad to see when a favorite blogger would either post a list of books they were reading or had enjoyed or when they would write about books along the way.  In that spirit, I started keeping a list on my blog of books I read during the year, plus it's fun for me to look back over the year and remember what I've read, too. So, even though I have a dedicated page for my reading list, I thought I'd do a post here as the year is winding down and share what I've been reading. I did not add the Bible in my reading list, but I could have, since it's a convinced habit of mine to read it daily, so I didn't add it in my list of 'other' books, but of course it would be the one I recommend most highly of all. Read it first, then any other book, especially in the theological/devotional category. When someone asks how to discern what's good or not in the multitude of books out there in the Christian bookstores, my advice is, "Read the Bible first! Know it well and by it discern all the other stuff. The better you know the Bible, the better you'll be able to discern if any other theological or devotional book is biblical or not."Speaking of reading the Bible, before I move on to my list, I read this post just today about daily Bible reading, and the part where he discusses things that can sidetrack our actual reading of the Bible was excellent.

As to the list now, feel free to share any books you've read that you've enjoyed recently, too! I'm always looking for good books.

January 2013:
  • Les Miserables (F) - Victor Hugo. I'm obviously reading a translation of this book since I don't know French, and I'm reading it on my Nook (actually started in December, but I'm so early in the book, I'll count it with January's reading). Really liking it so far. I've heard such good things about this being a great story about law vs. grace and about redemption, that I'm greatly looking forward to reading this. Drew and I went to see the movie and really liked it. It IS a great story about redemption and law vs. grace. Now I want to see the musical live sometime. I have a feeling I won't be updating this list for a while. It's a LONG book. 
Februrary 2013:
  • Still reading Les Miserables
  • The Gospel According to Jesus (NF) - John MacArthur. 
  • Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You are Saved (NF) - J.D. Greear. Highly recommended!
March 2013:
  • Still reading Les Miserables, about 75% finished as March begins.
April 2013:
  • The Inner Circle (F) - Brad Melzer
  • Kinsey and Me Stories (F) - Sue Grafton
  • Crucifying Morality (NF) - RW Glenn. Recommended!
  • The Forgotten (F) - David Baldacci. One of my favorite authors, did not disappoint.
May 2013:

  • The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel (F) - Diane Setterfield. I really enjoyed this. It's reminiscent of the Jane Eyre type of gothic novel.
  • The Gospel is For Christians (NF) - Mitchell Chase. RECOMMENDED
June 2013
  • The Woman in White (F) - Wilkie Collins. I discovered this as a free book on Kindle and it's the first I've read by this 19th century author. It won't be the last - I enjoyed it.
  • The Misremembered Man (F) - Christina McKenna. I discovered this through the Kindle Daily Deal one day, and I very much enjoyed the book. It's one of those that had a perfect ending and it left me crying and satisfied at the end, a story that I'll remember.
  • What Does it Mean to Be Born Again? (NF) - RC Sproul. From the Critical Questions series. 
July 2013
  • What is Faith? (NF) -  RC Sproul. From the Critical Questions series.
  • The Moonstone (F) - Wilkie Collins
August 2013
  • All of Grace (NF) - Charles Spurgeon. Highly recommend!
  • A is for Alibi (F) - Sue Grafton.
September 2013
  • Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit (NF) - Francis Chan
  • The Testament (F) - John Grisham. I loved this book. 
  • When You Reach Me (F) - Rebecca Stead. I really liked this one, too. 
October 2013
  • B is for Burglar (F) - Sue Grafton.
  • The Giver (F) - Lois Lowry.  My son had to read this for school, and I decided to read it, too, to know what they were discussing. It lead to good discussions at home, and we enjoyed it. We also discovered the other three books in the series and I devoured them all.
  • Gathering Blue (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Messenger (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Son (F) - Lois Lowry.
  • Tower of Babel (NF) - Bodie Hodge. This was very interesting, though at times a bit technical, overall, I found it fascinating.
November 2013
  • Face of Betrayal (A Triple Threat Novel) (F) - Lis Wiehl with April Henry. I enjoyed this one, and will probably look for more in the series.
  • In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (NF) - Sinclair Ferguson. Recommended. This was not a fast read, because I read nonfiction differently than I do fiction. I am very much appreciating authors and preachers who are helping me to think through and apply a gospel-centered understanding of life. So encouraging.
  • Risked (The Missing series) (F) - Margaret Peterson Haddix. This is a series my 7th grade son and I are both enjoying reading, and we are anxiously awaiting the next installment, which hasn't been published yet.
December 2013
  • The Gravity of Birds (F) - Tracy Guzeman. I really liked this book. One of the side benefits from my Kindle is the daily and monthly deals. I've found several books I've enjoyed that I never would have stumbled across had I not clicked on the deals once in a while. This was one, and I very much enjoyed not only the story but the writing as well. It's a gift to be able to write a story well. A good story coupled with good writing is a treasure to read. 
  • Strange Fire (NF) - John MacArthur. Necessary discussion that is causing quite a stir, but I'm thankful for it.
  • Crucifying Morality (NF) - RW Glenn. This was a reread, since a small group of friends met together with me to read and discuss this book over about 2 months or so. I recommend reading this and really thinking about the premise that Jesus IS the Beatitudes. Best read not as rules for living, but rather a picture of what a life that has understood the gospel of grace will increasingly look like as you are conformed to the image of Christ. I cannot tell you how freeing it is to finally begin to understand grace and grace-centered, gospel-centered living and thinking, and this author (in this book as well as the sermons I'm listening to as I've subscribed to his Sunday sermons from the church where he pastors) has been instrumental in helping me learn to think biblically about the gospel-centered life.
  • The Darkest Path (F) - Jeff Hirsch. I just started this one, but I'm adding it to the list for 2013 because most likely I'll finish it before December is out. I'm reading this because my 7th grade son read it and wants to discuss it with me, so he begged me to read it. 
  • 11/22/63 (F) - Stephen King. I am not a Stephen King reader, normally. In fact, I don't know that I've ever read any of his books. I tend to stay away from things that I know would encourage nightmares, since I am very prone to them, and his brand of thriller is something I think would probably be that for me. But I found this through the Kindle daily deals and the premise looked so interesting and from what I read it seems different from the scarier books, so I'm giving it a try. It's another one I've only just started but will probably finish, so I've added it to the 2013 list, too. 

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Dwell on Christ

James 1:2-8
“2) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials, 3) for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4)And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. 5) If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 6) But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7)For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8) he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

There is a hashtag trending on Twitter recently that says “ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion”. If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, the best I’ve been able to tell about what hashtag trends are is that it’s a little like the old blog meme - you type your update and put the hashtag on it and it lets you join in the ‘fun’. I don’t do much with hashtags on Twitter, I don’t do much at all with Twitter beyond an occasional tweet, truth be told, but I was tempted to use this one. I had one all composed, then I decided that to post it without any commentary might not be wise. 

Here’s what I was thinking about posting as my unpopular opinion: “For a Christian, unhappiness often has less to do w/circumstances than w/refusal to let thoughts dwell on Christ.”

But, I’m too long-winded for Twitter, and I thought maybe I want to flesh out that thought before posting it, instead of just throwing it out there as a zinger, so here’s a little devotional thought for today based on James 1:2-8, and incorporating my unpopular opinion, if you will. If you would like a good resource on this topic, I’ve been listening to a very helpful two-part podcast from Alistair Begg that is part of a larger series he’s doing called, “My Times Are in His Hands.” Part 1 is here if you’re interested.

So, looking at verse 2, notice it doesn’t say to “FEEL it all happiness” when we encounter trials. No, it says to COUNT it all joy. This means it’s a choice of where to focus our thinking. I recently was struggling through a bout of the blues, and as I listened to that podcast this morning, I began thinking this through. Let me share with you two ways we can respond when a bout of the blues hits seemingly out of nowhere, at least, this is how it often goes for me, so see if you can relate. I find myself feeling that pit gaping, the blues threatening, feeling low, and honestly having little control over those very low feelings, so I start to think, “Now, what is making me feel this way?” And I begin to diagnose it, find a cause, think about some usually valid thing in my life that could be behind my blues, start dwelling my thinking on that thing that I have decided must be causing the blues, and then the spiral begins. OR when the blues hit, though I may recognize some potential cause, I choose to run to Jesus, rather than spin and spiral and mope and DWELL in the blues. My prayer may go something like this: “Lord, I can’t shake these blues. They are real, there’s this THING, You know what it is, Lord, I can’t do it, please help me to look to You and not to the thing that’s weighing me down. Turn my eyes to Your word, guard my heart from deception, and help me to see You in the midst of this thing, please grant me the wisdom to know You and to love You and to understand Your word and turn away from my sinful bent toward wallowing.” And I’ve learned when these things come that it is wise to cut out things, if possible, that lend themselves to my dwelling on the blues and take time to immerse myself in reading the Bible and praying through it. Daily Bible reading has been a huge blessing and means of grace in my life. 

Does that mean the blues lift automatically? Not usually. Sometimes it’s a drawn out and difficult and hard-won fight for joy. But what it does do is it helps me to stop wallowing and start focusing my thinking better, focus on Jesus and what He has done to save me from sin and from sinfully allowing my circumstances to take larger precedence than they ought. That’s why I say ‘often’ in that hashtag statement. Many times our unhappiness really isn’t rooted in the circumstances, but in how we are thinking about and handling and facing those circumstances. Do we believe that God is in control - of all things? Then when we wallow and complain about where He has us today, what does that say about our trust in His good plan? Is this easy to do? Not at all. But it is worth it, to find our joy in Christ in the midst of our THING, whatever that trial is.

I’m not trying to oversimplify real suffering, not at all. I am not a word-faith/mind-over matter kind of teacher. Life is hard. It’s hard for ALL of us. I am not saying there is no room or place for grieving and tears, either. We all have some THING that we have to face in our lives. But how we face those things, how desperately we cling to Christ or choose to wallow determines much of what we are able to learn from those things and how we choose to glorify God or not in the midst of our things. Are we going to blow it up to large proportion and wallow in a woe-is-me, THIS is why I suffer attitude, or are we going to recognize the lie that our circumstances define us and cling all the more desperately to Jesus? I say all this because I have been there. I’ve wallowed. And it isn’t pretty when I do. But, oh, how much better when I learn to arrest those thoughts before they embitter me and learn to trust HIM.

One more thought, and this is the unpopular thought that will probably make people mad at me: Another thing I’m learning is that, as I mentioned last time, I’m not sure Facebook is good for us. It makes it WAY too easy to vent out every stray thought before we reign it in and share it with everyone out there in Facebook land. It makes it all too easy to wallow when we feel justified in venting every frustration with our circumstances for everyone to see. And, can I just be blunt? When we do that, vent our every frustration, it makes it really, really hard for our friends to not take offense or fall into the same trap. I know, I’ve been a venter. I NEVER feel good about it later, either. That is not to say we shouldn’t be honest or put on happy, happy, happy masks and only post rainbows and sunshine, either. That is problematic also. But how we go about being honest is important, and something else to consider is that it impacts our witness for Christ. Sharing our struggles privately with friends and asking for prayer or help is wise, venting everything publicly isn't always as wise.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about today, and thought I’d share it, for whatever it’s worth. May we seek holiness more than happiness, and may we find our greatest joy in knowing Christ. May the love of the Father, the peace of Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be our joy. 

Philippians 4:4-8
“4) Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5) Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6) do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7) And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8)Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Status Update - December 2013

Seeing as I've let the blog lapse somewhat this year, I think I'll do a little status update in bullet points here on this first day of December:

 - Sitting in the apartment, which we have affectionately named "The Cave" due to the fact that it is on the ground floor of the building kind of built into a hill with a wall behind us leading up to the sunny land, and though it has lots of windows, it is not very sunny inside. The apartment really isn't all that bad, and I'm EXTREMELY thankful our house sold quickly, more quickly than we expected, which is why we're in The Cave, so I'm not really complaining, but of the things I miss about our house, I miss the sunny windows and back deck most…..

 - Our church family got to witness a baptism this morning. I never, never get tired of that. Rejoice with those who rejoice. I'm thankful for Sundays and for salvation and for my church family.

 - Planning to drink some decaf coffee with peppermint mocha creamer once I get the youngest child to bed, and oldest kids can help me catch up on some shows we have on DVR.

- Decorated the house for Christmas this afternoon after church, probably the earliest we've EVER decorated for Christmas, but it was good to do it while my husband was home to help me get the decorations out of storage. Now that the Nativity set is up and our little Charlie Brown tree is decorated, I'm ready to play Christmas music.

- Speaking of Christmas music, I let my 15-year-old run the iPod in the car this evening on the way home from the airport, and we got to listen to about an hour's worth of Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas music REALLY loud in the car, which is probably the best way to properly appreciate the genius that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra Christmas music (well, the instrumental pieces, at least; not so much the ones with lyrics).

- Since we've mentioned the airport, I have to say that for a military family, airports are pretty much the happiest places on earth or the saddest, depending on if your Army guy is coming or going. Mine was going back to school today, so…..sad.

 - But not sad for too long this time. We get to be together at Christmas, and for that I'm thankful. Yet one more reason to play that Christmas music.

- Speaking of Christmas music, my daughter gets to be in a children's Christmas musical next Sunday. She is so excited. We will be listening to her music this week, for sure.

 - And since we're discussing Christmas music, I have two band concerts to look forward to in the next few weeks as well. Band mom!

 - Not to mention the adult choir Christmas presentation I get to sing with, too! Music!!

 - As to what I'm reading these days, though I haven't been blogging much, I have tried to keep up with my list of books read, if you're interested. Currently I'm reading "Strange Fire" by John MacArthur, and finding it weighty and important, and I really, really, really wish all those critics I've seen saying those of us who are concerned and seriously so should look at a more 'balanced' view of the Strange Fire Conference would actually listen to the talks and read the book and see what is being said there and see how serious this is instead of lecturing us on what they think was said or what they've only heard about was said from the blogs they've read. I'm also reading a fiction book I found through Amazon's Kindle deals called "The Gravity of Birds" byTracy Guzeman, which I am really liking. It's one of those I have a hard time putting down and am wanting to see how it will end. I have very much enjoyed my Kindle, and I've found several books through the daily/monthly deals that I've enjoyed but probably would not have found and read otherwise.

 - As I'm getting ready to read Isaiah 40:1-5 with my kids before bed in a few minutes for the first day of Advent, I can't help but hear Handel's Messiah in my head as I read it. "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God."

Happy December, everyone!