Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Recommendation

It is freezing outside. This Florida girl is having a hard time staying warm. I'm talking, 10˚ and Antarctica-cold windchill freezing. I had to get gas in my car today, and it was SO cold waiting for the tank to fill my hands are still red and icy cold. I had to break open some Hot Hands yesterday even though I was doing all indoor activities, that's how hard a time I have warming up my cold fingers. Cold hands = warm heart, right? We've had several snow and cold days, and while that's a tad miserable for people like me who have a hard time staying warm, it does mean I've had more time for reading.

I often will have a fiction book and a nonfiction book that I read at the same time. Typically I'll read a chapter a day from the nonfiction book and considerably more of the fiction book. This time, however, I got so involved in the nonfiction book, I had to put the fiction book down for a day and half until I finished reading the nonfiction one.

The nonfiction book I'm talking about is Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue by Matthew C. Mitchell. I must recommend this book highly. I had bought it a few weeks ago for my Kindle and have put off starting it for a while because I was reading some other things, but I knew I needed (and kind of dreaded) to read this book. Gossip is such an insidious thing, and I really do want to put it to death in my life, and I was so interested when I saw Tim Challies' review of this book, that I bought it right away.

This is a book I need to pull out and read again several times a year. Very convicting, but full of hope and gospel-saturated truth. It got up under my skin and I found myself having to put it down often to examine my heart and cry and repent over what I found there. Quite challenging, but written in a pastoral and loving style that offers hope and encouragement in the best way. I found the section discussing sinful judging versus right judging very helpful and convicting and difficult. How deceitful my heart is! Sometimes it's just so easy to justify a sinfully judgmental heart attitude and gossipy speech, but when you think, really think, about the fact that God hates gossip, it is very important to think and act biblically about this topic. As the author points out, all speech is heart speech, meaning that out of the heart our mouths speak.

I've been thinking quite a bit today about how gossip doesn't just start when we're tempted to share something we shouldn't. It starts way back with what we allow our hearts and minds to dwell on and think about long before the temptation to gossip presents itself. It's a heart issue.

I am glad I read this book. I knew I needed to, but I didn't realize just how much. I prayed before reading it that I would honestly listen and look at my life and habits as I read it. Like I said, I think this is a book I will ponder for a long time and would do well to read more than once as time goes on.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

And When You Walk By the Way

Ephesians 6:4
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

Deuteronomy 6:5-7
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”

Obviously, reading in context, the command in Deuteronomy 6 was specifically given to Israel. That is clear. But in light of the New Testament, it is also clearly a principle to be followed by all of God’s people, including those of us on this side of the Cross in the New Covenant today - to train up our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. As Christian parents, we have a high calling, obligation, and privilege to teach the faith to our children. We must instruct them about who God is, and tell them of His Holy Law, and tell them that they have broken that Law and are sinners, as are we all, and tell them over and over and over about the great Good News that God sent His Son to redeem a people to Himself, that for those who repent and trust in Jesus, there is salvation, and in Jesus alone there is salvation. As parents, we are to make sure that our children know God’s Word and know that Jesus is precious, and that He alone can save and that He is mighty to save and that in Him there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who understand that they deserve God’s wrath, but who repent and place their trust in Jesus who is the great Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. And we are to teach our children what it is to live in that Light.

What has me thinking today, as it has often, is the part of the verse that says, ‘and when you walk by the way.’ As important as times of formal teaching are, and they are vitally important, because it is by hearing the word that faith comes. How are they to know if we do not tell them? But as important as formal teaching time is, I think equally important for our children is that they see us believing and living and talking about the faith day in and day out as we walk along the way of life. They need to know that this faith we teach them matters. And it matters deeply and profoundly in how we think and live and move and act. Our children learn by watching us every bit as much as they learn by hearing us. When we sin, and we will sin, do our children hear us confess and repent of sin? Do they hear us preaching the gospel to ourselves and to them as we go about living life? If someone were to ask our children what matters most to their mom or dad, would ‘Jesus’ be the answer? Do they see that in our daily lives? I’m not saying this as a guilt thing, heaping up laws to follow. I’m looking deeper. Does the gospel so matter to me that it is the warp and woof of my life, that other things, while important and a part of life, just aren’t as important in comparison? Do I talk about Jesus? Do I love Him so much that obeying Him is what I want to do out of gratitude, not legalism? Is the fruit of my lips gospel talk, not just on Sunday, not just during conscious Bible-teaching times, but as the overflow of life?

I had a glimpse of grace the other day. I brought home the music for Sunday so I could pull out the keyboard and try to plunk out the alto part in an attempt to be ready for Sunday morning. One of the songs I was working on was “There is a Fountain,” one of my very favorite hymns. As I was plodding through the alto line, my 12-year-old son, my middle child, looked up and said something along the lines of, “I really like that one. It’s one of my favorites.” I smiled, and immediately remembered why that song might be special for him, whether he knows it or not.

I was taken right back to the days of new motherhood, hours and hours and hours of rocking a crying, sleepless baby, desperate for sleep myself, crying out to God for the grace and patience to get through the sleepless nights with a baby who just did not want to sleep, and the song that I sang, through tears sometimes, but over and over and over, because sometimes it was just the only song that would come to my sleep-deprived mind, was “There is a Fountain.” I sang that thing to our oldest, our middle, and finally our youngest, wearing out the rocking chair, turning sleep deprivation and sometimes despair to praise and worship in the quiet of the nightlit nursery room to the strains of that cherished hymn, which often was the only prayer I knew to whisper when a colicky baby needed comfort. 

So it’s no surprise to me that my boy, now 12, no longer a baby, would look up and recognize and love that song. It’s been a part of the warp and woof of his life as long as he can remember. And I am so thankful to God for the grace that allowed my mind to turn to Jesus in the midst of those oh-so-short-in-hindsight sleepless nights. That is a gift that He supplied to turn my heart to Him. And I also pray that as these children are older now, that I would be faithful in teaching them the gospel, both formally and informally as we walk along the way. May they know that Jesus is precious and that I believe what I’m teaching them with all that I am, these are not just words to me, they are life. When I fail, and I do fail, I do sin so often, please, Lord guard their hearts and their minds and help them to see that Your Word is true, and that You will never fail, and help them to learn the power of the gospel to forgive our sin. Help them to know that we are accepted in Christ, not on the basis of anything we could ever do, but solely for the sake of Christ, on the basis of what He has done on the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is the Light of the world. He is the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. By His blood, we lose our guilty stains and rejoice to have our sins washed away. He is Lord. He is worthy. Please, Lord, let me live a life and use the words that tell that to not only my children, but please let the overflow of Your grace tune my heart to sing Your praise and to tell others about You, about their need for the Savior. Help me to share it first to my children, yes, but outside the walls of our home as well. Loose my tongue, and let us be gospel people who are quick to share it.

I think this is a small part of the ‘as you walk along the way’ that we live. Turning our eyes to Jesus, and sharing Him with the people in our lives, making the music of our home be the gospel, most of all. 

There is a Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins; 
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.
Washed all my sins away, washed all my sins away;
And there have I, though vile as he, washed all my sins away.

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more.
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more.

E’er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die;
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die.

Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy power to save,
When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.
Lies silent in the grave, lies silent in the grave;

When this poor lisping, stammering tongue lies silent in the grave.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

I Read, Therefore I Share

I don't always write a post about every book I read, though I do keep up with them in the book list up top, as I've said before. However, the first several books I've read this year have all been very good or thought-provoking for me in various ways, so I thought maybe a blog post was worth sharing. Maybe I'm finding my new bent in this blog to be more bookish these days, who knows?

Anyway, I found these books interesting, and I'll give a bit of why here. I suppose you could just read what I have on my book list page since I basically copied this from it, but I've enjoyed these books so much I thought I'd make a post here, too.

1.) 11/22/63 - Stephen King (F).

I enjoyed this story. Time travel stories are fascinating to me, and King address the 'Butterfly Effect throughout this interesting story, and I just find that interesting and mind-bending. It did get me thinking about the time travel genre in general, in terms of worldview implications. In general, time travel stories that I've read tend to have underlying assumptions that are either evolutionary or that we are guided by and impersonal, distant, unfeeling, uncaring force, universe, or fate. However, this is totally against what I believe as a Christian, knowing that God is not impersonal, distant, unfeeling or uncaring, and that He is absolutely sovereign over everything, and all creation and even time. He rules time, He is not bound by it, and nothing is outside His control. So, for that reason, though time travel may 'work' in fictional worlds, I read or watch those stories with care to remember it is only a fictional concept. I believe we are created to be in time, and we will never be able to travel through time the way people in some of the science fiction stories I enjoy (Dr. Who, for example, has a very evolutionary presuppositional base, and though my boys and I enjoy watching it, we often discuss the worldview underlying it). I can enjoy it with those caveats in place when we watch with our discernment on. Time happens just as God intends, and we would never be able to 'change' the past, but it does make for interesting reading to see how secular people wrestle through the implications of changing the past or even thinking about whether the past could be changed if we had the choice, and I find it fascinating that in every instance of time travel books/shows/movies I've experienced, most authors show severe consequences when people mess around with the past, and this book was no exception to that. The only time travel stories I've read where the author seems to present a belief in God and wrestle with it in light of what's happening in the books to any extent are the Margaret Peterson Haddix Missing books that I enjoy reading with caution and discussion with my boys, and they have led to good discussions. The key to reading time travel books is to totally understand you are reading fiction. I say all that because, as you'll see in a moment, the second book on this list has really got me thinking about worldview implications as I watch/read/engage with popular cultural texts, and think carefully as I do so.

Overall, I liked this book and would recommend it more highly except that in good conscience I have to note some language concerns and some subject matter concerns. I haven't read any other Stephen King novels because I am wary of the horror genre in general. I'm prone to pretty vivid nightmares, so I try to steer clear of things that feed that. However, as I read reviews on this, it seemed that it didn't fit the type of novel I've assumed he often writes in that respect, and that was correct. I didn't find this book scary in the horror sense or nightmare inducing. And the language and such and violence, for me, were not a major stumbling block as it wasn't as in-your-face as some books I've not been able to finish for those reasons. I don't tend to automatically dismiss a book for those things, but I am careful about them. Know your temptation weaknesses and limitations when choosing books/shows/movies/etc.

I think I'd recommend this book with caution, remembering that by recommending it doesn't mean I agree with everything in it, but I did enjoy it for the most part. Recommending fiction can be tricky sometimes because not everyone has the same tastes or sensitivites in fiction.

2.) Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective - Ted Turnau (NF).

Here's mostly what I said about this book on my Facebook page the day I finished it: I just finished a book that I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated. My brother and sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas, and I have to say it's one of the few nonfiction books I've read that I had as hard a time putting down as I would a fiction book while reading it. I LOVE this book and highly recommend it. I resonated with it because his approach is very much how I already look at popular culture and it helped me further to think through and deepen my understanding of how to engage with books I read, movies I watch, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of popular culture with an intentional, thoughtful, gospel-centered, biblical mindset, thinking it through biblically, and with an eye for witnessing and sharing Christianity with friends and neighbors by recognizing the grace and idolatry within the popular culture texts that we are steeped in, especially as we recognize idols and try to knock them down by recognizing how the gospel applies in all situations.

I really appreciated the fact that he sees popular culture choices as more complex than simply pulling out and avoiding everything or counting numbers of cuss words or violent instances, but he's more interested in context. He uses a very thoughtful and gospel-honoring approach to how to think through the popular culture we live in, rather than mindlessly floating along with it on one hand, or knee-jerk rejecting all of it on the other. In fact, now that my boys are old enough to watch 'older' types of movies and books, this type of approach has been very helpful as we discuss themes and ideas woven throughout the books and movies, etc. that they encounter and even in navigating things they hear from friends and teachers and people in the world around them. We've had some great discussions, and this book is a wonderful tool for helping to hone that approach even more as we think through worldview implications in the pop culture with which we interact, with an eye for recognizing what may be good, but being discerning toward what is not good and learning to recognize hidden idolatries and deceptions in the underlying world views.

I very much appreciated his discussions in part 2 about unhelpful approaches to how to interact with our culture and especially his discussion of postmodernism in that section.

3.) "Another Jesus" Calling - Warren B. Smith (NF). The subtitle of this book tells you what it's about: "How False Christs Are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer." I bought this book for my Kindle because I had heard the author discussing it on the Janet Mefferd show, and I've been concerned about the book "Jesus Calling by Sarah Young for a long time now. So many people quote from that book uncritically and it is ALL over the Christian bookstores and catalogues in various forms, and I find it disturbing that something so questionable is just accepted and embraced so strongly as ok just because it's marketed heavily by the Christian bookstores. This author raises serious and thoughtful concerns about the book that I very much recommend at least hearing and making yourself aware of and thinking about them.

One thing that bothers me is how defensive people get if you even mention that caution might be wise about this (and other) popular books or teachers that are so prominently marketed just about everywhere. Why do we cling so hard to 'devotional' books that maybe do mention the Bible or use Christian sounding language or may use a Bible verse taken out of context to make us unquestioningly accept what is said in the devotional for the day as biblical, but we seem so unsatisfied with the actual Bible? Do you not realize what a treasure we have in our hands with the Bible? And I don't understand why so many people don't seem to care when serious concerns are raised, to not even at least think about why those concerns are being raised and why some of us think they are such a big deal.

These days I am extremely wary of 'devotional books.' In fact, truth be told, I'm wary of the Christian bookstore and pop-Christian culture and Christian books (ESPECIALLY 'Christian' fiction) in general. I hope that doesn't sound cynical. I really don't mean it that way. That's not to say ALL books in those genres are bad, but I'm just saying I'm very, very wary. Pretty much, if it's popular, I'm immediately wary and sense the need to check it out carefully. I think things that are 'Christian' but full of bad or questionable or murky, unclear, sentimentalized theology are actually more dangerous than secular books/movies/etc. that we know aren't written from a supposed 'Christian' perspective.  I think this because, with secular things we KNOW they won't be getting theology right, so we know to have our discernment meters on, and we don't expect to be taught Christian thinking from them (at least, I hope that's the case), but when it's 'Christian' we tend to seem to let our guard down and accept whatever it says as good - "It's all good!" seems to be the attitude. But bad theology baptized as 'good' is WAY more dangerous to my way of thinking.

We have been given the Word of God in the Bible - why are we not as defensive about steeping our thinking in it and guarding our hearts in knowing the truth from error as we are about defending our favorite devotional book or 'Bible teacher'? Why do we run to this author or that book to tell us what they think about the Bible faster than we run to the Bible to study the actual Bible for ourselves? Why are we not much more careful to transform our minds by actually reading the Bible rather than some person's supposed extra biblical words? EVERYTHING we read or experience, whether it claims to be a 'Christian' book or not, needs to be examined and tested through the lens of the Bible. THAT is the word God gave us. THAT is the book we must defend above all the others.

So, yes, I recommend this critique of what is a widely popular devotional book today. One thing it did for me was to open my eyes to certain words and phrases that are popping up all over the place that used to be hallmarks of the New Age movement, and if you know what New Agers mean by them it makes you more aware of them and a little more cautious when you hear them being used in the Christian subculture. We need to be careful and watchful and praying for wisdom against deception. The Bible is full of warnings about this. Please read it and at least consider the concerns he raises if you are someone who has read, is being encouraged to read, or know someone who likes the book "Jesus Calling."

4.) Cutting for Stone - Abraham Verghese (F). I am only about 50 pages into this one, but I'm already hooked. My mom gave it to me for Christmas, saying she found it very good, and I'm wanting to read it so we can talk about it together once I've finished. It's very well-written and I'm already extremely interested in the story. I'm always thankful for the book suggestions my parents give me - I've read some good ones that way!

Friday, January 10, 2014

A Couple of Things I've Realized This Winter:

1.) After a few days of arctic temperatures (I’m talking about 0˚ and -20˚ windchill type of cold), It is amazing to me how much warmer 28˚ can feel on this side of that kind of arctic cold. I mean, when I walked my dog yesterday, I could still feel my legs and my face didn’t feel like it had frozen off after the first 5 minutes. That was a definite improvement from those arcticly cold days that kept us all indoors and out of school earlier this week. It’s all about perspective.

2.) I’ve also realized that I’ve become a bona fide germaphobe. I was always partially there, but over the Christmas break my husband inflicted the movie Contagion upon me, and I do not think I will ever recover from it. Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating to watch and think about how the various organizations go about defining and investigating and handling a disease epidemic. But for suggestible types like me, the discussion about how often people touch their faces with their hands and then touch other things, for instance, gave me the heebie jeebies and I will never get over it. It was a true study in how germs are spread, and let me just say, I am scarred, I tell you. I had to go to the post office today, and as I approached that door, the thought crossed my mind that no-telling how many people, and what unknown percentage of those might, just might, have been flu-or-worse infected at that, had touched that door, or worse, had wiped their nose and then touched that door. So, I did what any right-thinking germaphobe might and I pulled my jacket sleeve over my hand and pushed the door with my arm, carefully not putting my hand on the door. Then I promptly forgot as I walked back out and as soon as my hand hit that door, the thought came, “How many flu people might have touched that and now your hand has touched it. Infected! Ah, and now you touched your keys with that hand. AHHHHHHH!” So, the less crazy part of me was not worrying, while the part of me that will never, and I mean never, forget that stupid movie, remembered the Wet Wipes in the car, and proceeded to wipe down my hands and my keys and even the steering wheel for good measure. The rational side of my brain was sarcastically saying, “Won’t be long before you’re like Monk and yelling, ‘Wipe! Wipe!’ every time you feel that germy feeling,” while the crazier side of my brain was saying, “At least I had wipes to deal with this emergency!”

Clearly I have a problem.

Reading in the New Year

Here we are almost two weeks into the new year and I’m finally getting around to attempting a blog post. I remember when I first started blogging how addicting I found it and how I posted often and read a lot of other blogs and searched out blog forums and such. Fast forward to today, and I seldom write a blog post anymore and now that my Google Reader is gone, I find that I don’t read many blogs anymore, either. In fact, as I sit here typing this, I’m wondering how in the world I found the time and energy to interact with blogs as much as I did back then. I truly don’t have that kind of time right now, and certainly not the energy. I blame Facebook. Then again, for all two of you who may pity this poor blog and come back to read once in a while anymore, you already know about my love-hate relationship with Facebook, I guess. It’s an even bigger time waster and addiction than blogging was in the beginning for me. Though with this turn of the calendar page to 2014 (!!!) I find some of my attraction for it finally waning. Finally. 

Reading/Blogging Thoughts: I’ve been doing some thinking today about why I even write blog posts or post on Facebook, and I don’t think I’m liking what I’ve been pondering today. Back up and let me tell you that I am in the midst of reading a fascinating book. It’s called Popologetics : Popular Culture in Christian Perspective by Ted Turnau, and my brother and sister-in-law gave it to me for Christmas. It is the rare nonfiction book that captivates my attention and imagination well enough for me to find it hard to put it down, and usually I have a nonfiction and fiction book I will be reading at the same time for that reason. I tend to read nonfiction differently than I do fiction, and I need the escape for a few moments that fiction gives my brain. But this book is so interesting I find myself wanting to keep reading and reading and reading. I’m only about halfway through, so I don’t want to actually review the book here, but I will say that this author seems to be speaking my language about worldview as he first defines worldview and examines how popular culture influences our worldview and presuppositions (whether we recognize it or not) and how we interact with popular culture. It’s really something I am quite interested in, and I’m finding it a very thoughtful book. I’m also finding it a tad disturbing in that what I’m coming away truly pondering is how we Christians should be the kind of people who don’t just float along in the stream of the culture, but actively think about our presuppositions and what’s informing them and making sure we think biblically about how we interact with the culture and our neighbors around us, not knee-jerk pulling out, but thoughtfully interacting and engaging with the culture. 

And as I’m thinking through this, it got me to thinking (again) about how and why I use social media, and, as I said, I’m not sure I like some of the things I’m realizing. I wonder how many bloggers are like me, kind of introverted, but much better about expressing ourselves in written word than in person, and wanting to be known, but kind of shy face-to-face? So, do I blog and Facebook because it helps me to crawl out of my shell, or is it more of a narcissistic, please-someone-notice-me impulse? Food for thought, and not all that comfortable thought, either. I mean, as I think about what I typically write here, when I do write, which isn’t nearly so often anymore, is it anything that would actually benefit someone else, or is it just an avenue for me to vent pent up thoughts. And if that’s all it is, an outlet for pent up thoughts, is that a bad thing? I don’t know. I’m working through that right now. I suppose it depends on what I want from this blog. Do I just want a place to let out those thoughts I need to work out, or do I want to write for people to read? 

More Reading Thoughts: One of the things I really liked about those early days of blogging and the now days of Facebook was getting reading ideas from what other bloggers wrote about books they were reading. For that reason, and also because it’s an easy way for me to remember what I’ve read, I started keeping a list of books I’m reading here at the blog. I’ve updated that list today - I moved the 2013 list to the archive tab and started a 2014 list, if anyone is interested. As I note on that page, just because a book is listed doesn’t necessarily mean I recommend it. It just means I read it. I usually try to note cautions I have with certain books or note books I especially liked,  though. 

A friend of ours that we met when we lived in St. Louis is hosting a reading group on FB challenging us to read 25 books this year. I’ve joined in, and at first that number seemed a bit daunting until I realized it’s really only about 2 books a month, and when I looked back at my yearly book lists here, even last year which was one of my slowest book reading years in a long time, including the three months I took to finish Les Miserables, I still managed to read a solid 32 books. So maybe not as difficult as it might seem at first.

Here’s a look at some of what is on my stack of in process or to be read in the near future, pushing me toward that 25 goal: 

My mom and dad gave me several books for Christmas and I’m itching to dig into each of them. Of course, I’ve got my Bible there, that’s the most necessary and daily of all my reading. All other reading needs to be filtered through a biblical lens and it is the ultimate and final arbiter of what is true and right and good and holy. On top of the list is my Kindle, and it occurs to me that pictures like this one are going to become rarer as more and more of our reading is done on e-readers. Some of the books I have in the wings on my Kindle are: 

Another Jesus Calling: How False Christs Are Entering the Church Through Contemplative Prayer (NF), by Warren B. Smith

Unintended Consequences (F), by Marti Green

Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue (NF), by Matthew C. Mitchell

Name Above All Names (NF), by Alistair Begg and Sinclair Ferguson

Ender’s Game (F), by Orson Scott Card

Just to name a few. 

I had more I wanted to say, but it will better suit another post, so I’ll end this for now.

Feel free to share what you’re reading these days! I’m always looking for good reading material.