Sunday, September 25, 2016

Character Matters

Anyone who knows me well knows that we are a ‘band’ family. Two of our boys march in the high school band, and this is not for wimps, mind you. If you are not aware of this, there is a whole subculture devoted to competitive marching band, and when I say ‘competitive,’ I mean it. Our high school band competes at the state level and in Bands of America competitions, and they do very well at them. I say all that to set up this post to share something that got me to thinking about something more important than band this morning.

Last night our boys and over 200 of their closest friends, their marching band, had their first competition of the year. They came off that field feeling great and we parents were so proud of their performance. For the uninitiated, let me just say there is something special about the camaraderie that develops over the hours and hours of hard work these kids put into learning a very difficult show, and the high that comes from a performance well done is incredible. There’s not much else quite like it. They had a terrific night last night.

However, while talking to one of my boys today, he told me about something that happened that has led me to thinking a bit. He said that in the restroom after competition while waiting for finals results, some of the members of the band that ended up winning the entire competition saw the school he and his friends were from and basically cursed them out with language and a rude gesture. Hmmm. My son didn't think anyone from his group had said anything to provoke it, and I sure hope that's true. When my other son heard that, he said that sometime during that same time period, he and his friends had seen some other members of that band and congratulated them on a job well done and he said they completely ignored him. Not cool. Our band members have been taught not to trash talk other bands and to be encouraging and congratulatory, no matter how disappointed they may personally feel. Our band members have been taught that when they have that uniform on, they represent the entire band program and their school, and they need to act in a way that honors that. I can only hope our kids act according to how they've been taught and do better than these kids did as reported by my sons.

We talked together this afternoon during lunch after church about how they really need to be careful not to respond in kind when treated that way, and certainly NEVER initiate that sort of interaction with someone from another band, especially when in uniform. They seem to have handled it ok last night, but I acknowledged how hard that is when all you’re feeling is you’d like to punch the guy in the nose, but that their actions reflect on the whole band’s, even the whole school’s, reputation. We talked about how they (and now I, too) now feel about (that school band). Unfortunately, though intellectually we know it was just dumb kids being dumb, the actions of a few taint how we feel about the whole, right? Don’t be that for your band. They may win, but no one will like them if that becomes their reputation. You want to be the band everyone likes. Character matters a lot more than winning stuff.

All of that got me thinking deeper, though. I started thinking about, and also talked with my sons about, the fact that we who are Christians wear the ‘uniform’ of Christ at all times, no matter where we are or what we ‘feel’ like. We are His ambassadors, always. We represent Him to a lost and dying world. We who love Jesus ought to be the kindest, most gracious of people. When we speak the truth, even hard truth, it should be obvious we speak from a heart that wants the best for people. Our words, our actions all reflect on people’s understanding and perception of Him, whether we realize it or not. We need to be careful that we fight for the right things, not the wrong ones. We need to be Kingdom minded. We need to guard our words and our language and our hearts and our actions. 

Because we are in the midst a very strange (and depressing) election season right now, my mind went this way, but I see some professing Christians online get all spun up about politics and some of the most hateful, desperate-sounding, unbiblical way of thinking stuff can be said. I hear people being Americans first rather than Christians first. I love my country, don’t get me wrong, but patriotism and Americanism ought not to be equated to and elevated above the same level as being a citizen of the Kingdom of God for those who follow Christ. In lots of situations, not just politics, I hear professing Christians use language that isn’t God-honoring. This ought not to be. We bow the knee to Christ alone.  His kingdom transcends all else. We need to remember that people see how we act and they see what we think is important. We need to make sure what they see is a life that makes Jesus precious. That is our number one aim. To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We need to guard how we represent our Lord with our words and actions and primary affections, not just in politics, that was just one example, but in everything we do. We need to make sure that what we say about Him - with our words and also with our actions -  is truthful, and that we represent Him well and truthfully, biblically. Once you’ve made a negative impression and garnered a negative reputation, that’s hard to recover.

So, as important as it is for my band kids to represent their school and band well while in uniform, and it is, even more we who belong to Christ need to set as the high priority to represent Him well.  People notice. Character matters.

Colossians 3:17
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Friday, January 01, 2016

Favorite Books From my 2015 Reading List

Well, here we are at the first day of 2016. I hope to make time to blog more in the near future, but I've said this before, so we shall see. For today, though, I think I'll go with what should become a small tradition on the blog and I'll mention some of my favorite books that I read during 2015. If you are interested in seeing the complete list of what I read during 2015, good, bad, and indifferent, I've put the 2015 list on the page at the top with the previous years' reading lists and cleaned up the current reading list page to prepare for what 2016 may hold. One of my criteria for which books I leave on this list for this particular post versus deleting a book but leaving it on the master list up in pages is that if I remember the book at the end of the year and remember enjoying it or gaining something  from it, it stays, but if I don't really remember the book or remember it as kind of so-so, but not remarkable or really didn't like it, I delete it from this list. So, if anyone is still interested, these are the books I liked best from my 2015 reading list, in the order in which they were read, not necessarily in the order of most beloved, with my original comments or lack thereof still attached, and additional comments added today in italics:

  • Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me - Kevin DeYoung (NF). Very good book.
  • Listening Woman (Navajo Mysteries, Book 3) - Tony Hillerman (F). Enjoying this series. This series held my attention all year. I really enjoyed the Navajo Mystery books.
  • Name Above All Names - Alistair Begg and Sinclair B. Ferguson (NF). This was excellent. So much I'm still thinking about and I am very glad I read this one. On Sunday as I worshiped at church I was brought to tears thinking about what I'd just read about Jesus standing with His people when we worship and offering our worship, making it acceptable to the Father. That has changed how I sing and worship when we gather together in a profound way, causing me to think much more carefully and richly and deeply about worship. I'm planning to reread this book in January 2016 after seeing this and remembering how much I liked it.
  • Risky Undertaking - Mark de Castrique (F). My brother-in-law happens to know this author and gave me a signed copy of this book for Christmas, which is a very thoughtful gift knowing how much I love to read. I enjoyed this one and will look for more by this author. 
  • Standing Strong: How to Resist the Enemy of Your Soul - John MacArthur (NF).
  • People of Darkness (Navajo Mysteries, Book 4) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Dark Wind (Navajo Mysteries, Book 5) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Ghostway (Navajo Mysteries, Book 6) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Law & Liberty: A Biblical Look at Legalism - General Editor Dr. Don Kistler. This was very good.
  • The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God's Word is Misunderstood - Eric J. Bargerhuff (NF). 
  • Skinwalkers (Navajo Mysteries, Book 7) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Maze Runner - James Dashner (F). One of the benefits of being mom to teenage boys is reading books I probably wouldn't have even known about otherwise. I read this one because one of my boys is reading the series and I try to keep tabs on what they're reading. As I told a friend who asked if I liked it, I think 'like' is too strong a word for how I feel about this one. It was interesting, but frustrating and pretty violent. I'm starting the second one, but not really enjoying it very much so far, and it won't be making onto any lists of favorites for me, I don't think.  I see that I said this wouldn't probably make it onto a list of favorites, but seeing as how it stuck with me, and the boys and I still talk about it, I guess I was wrong in that assessment, after reading the whole series. It's probably not the best series I've ever read, but overall we liked it ok, enough so that it remained on this list.
  • The Scorch Trials - James Dashner (F).
  • The Death Cure - James Dashner (F).
  • A Thief of Time (Navajo Mysteries, Book 8) - Tony Hillerman (F)
  • The Kill Order - James Dashner (F). 
  • Alas, Babylon - Pat Frank (F). I debated about leaving this one on the list. It was ok, but I don't care to read it again. It's kind of on the edge. Saying it's a favorite may be a stretch, but I guess it can stay on the list.
  • The Biography of Robert Murray M'Cheyne - Andrew Bonar (NF). This was excellent. I was in tears at the end, such an encouraging and convicting life. May I strive to love Jesus and long for holiness even half as much. I loved this. I'm enjoying exploring biographies, and this was great.
  • If I Should Die Before I Wake: What's Beyond This Life? - K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson (NF). I very much liked this. It is biblical and well-written, and as our family is in the process of grieving the death of a young cousin and praying for her family daily as they walk this difficult road, I found this book quite encouraging and comforting. 
  • Talking God (Navajo Mysteries, Book 9) - Tony Hillerman (F). Another good one in this series that I'm continuing to read my way through.
  • The Transforming Power of the Gospel - Jerry Bridges (NF). 
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Iriving (F). This was a reread, and I'm glad I did. I liked it when I read it years ago, but I understood it much better and liked it better this time. It is very well-written and quite a story. I had to sit and cry for a bit when I finished it.
  • Coyote Waits (Navajo Mysteries, Book 10) - Tony Hillerman (F). I'm very much enjoying this series.
  • Trail of Broken Wings - Sajal Badani (F). This was good, but very sad.
  • The Lincoln Lawyer - Michael Connelly (F). Connelly is one of my favorite crime/detective fiction writers. Plus, he's a University of Florida graduate. Go Gators!
  • Sacred Clowns (Navajo Mysteries, Book 11) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Fallen Man (Navajo Mysteries, Book 12) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Who is Jesus (Crucial Questions Series) - R.C. Sproul (NF).
  • The First Eagle (Navajo Mysteries, Book 13) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • A Murder is Announced (A Miss Marple Mystery) - Agatha Christie (F). Agatha Christie - what more can I say?
  • Hunting Badger (Navajo Mysteries, Book 14) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Forgotten Trinity - James White (NF).
  • To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (F). This was a re-read (don't know how many times I've read this book!) because I thought I wanted to read the new sequel that's just been published, but after reading some reviews, I decided I don't want to read it after all. One of my all-time favorite books. I'm still not planning to read the new one, as I don't want to spoil this beloved book for myself, and I'm pretty sure Harper Lee didn't really want that new one out there. This book is an example of just how powerful a good editor can be in helping an author write well and making sure the right book gets published. I'm so committed to not reading the new book that I sold it to Half-Price Books unread, even though I'd foolishly bought it before reading the reviews.
  • Loving Jesus More - Phil Ryken (NF). This was very good. I found it through Truth for Life, and I very much recommend it.
  • Amazing Grace - Eric Metaxas (NF). William Wilberforce is one of my heroes, and this was a great biography.  I was in tears at the end. Another biography that I loved. 
  • The Wailing Wind (Navajo Mysteries, Book 15) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The New Pilgrim's Progress - John Bunyan, with notes updated text and notes by Judith E. Markham and Warren Wiersbe (F). This was a re-read of a favorite. 
  • The Sinister Pig (Navajo Mysteries, Book 16) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • Skeleton Man (Navajo Mysteries, Book 17) - Tony Hillerman (F).
  • The Shape Shifter (Navajo Mysteries, Book 18) - Tony Hillerman (F). I very much have enjoyed this series. This was the last book Mr. Hillerman wrote in the series before he died, and his daughter took up the series later.
  • Depression: Looking Up From the Stubborn Darkness - Edward T. Welch (NF). I very much needed this one. I found it extremely helpful, especially as I was surprised by a slip into what I think must be minor depression this year. I will be keeping this one on my shelf for future reference. It is biblical and wise and practical counsel.
  • Spider Woman's Daughter (Navajo Mysteries, Book 19) - Anne Hillerman (F). It will take a little getting used to Ms. Hillerman's different style of writing, but I think she did a nice job taking over this series.
  • Judge Not - Todd Friel (NF). This one I definitely recommend.
So there's the short list for 2015. Currently I am reading Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall (1783-1787) by Winston Graham (F). Since I haven't finished it yet, it will have to grace the 2016 list, but I wanted to give it an honorable mention here because I am enjoying this first book in the series so much. I decided to read it because I had recorded the miniseries on PBS and finally got around to watching it recently and liked it so well that I wanted to read the books it is based on. The books came first, and general rule is that the books are almost always better than the movie. I have to say that from what I've read so far, they did an outstanding job with the series keeping to the spirit of the books and I'm looking forward to the next season. I'm also looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the 12 book series, so I imagine they will be appearing regularly in the 2016 list.

Happy New Year, and happy reading!