Monday, December 31, 2018

What I Was Reading in 2018

I've made it something of a habit at the end of a year and beginning of a new year to post a list of the books I read in the last year. One fun little tradition my dad and brother and I have is that we share our reading lists with each other at the end of the year, as well, and I always pick up interesting suggestions for future reads from their lists. Since I won't be finishing any books today, I can go ahead and post my 2018 list, and the book I'm currently reading will have to go on the list for 2019. This is a little unsatisfying to my sense of completeness since it is the third in a series and I would have liked it to go on this list with the first two from the series, but it is what it is. 😊  As always, just because it's on the list doesn't necessarily mean I might wholeheartedly endorse a book, so if anyone has a question, please feel free to ask. I didn't always write whether I liked a book or not, and, looking back, I kind of wish I had done that more often - I find that when I look back, I don't always remember all of them very well. Some of them stick with me quite a bit, while others are less memorable.  Anyway, for what it's worth, here is the list of books I read in 2018. 

January 2018

  • From the Resurrection to his Return: Living Faithfully in the Last Days - D.A. Carson (NF)
  • East of Eden - John Steinbeck (F)
  • A Specter of Justice - Mark De Castrique (F). My brother-in-law gave me an autographed copy of this book for Christmas, written by a friend of his. I enjoyed it very much and plan to look for more in the series.
  • Wonder - R.J. Palacio (F). Wow, this is such a great book. I cried so often while reading it - sad and happy tears. My daughter's cousin gave it to her for Christmas last year and she loved it and has talked and talked about it and wants to see the movie, and she begged me to read it, so I just finished it, and it is just so good. We're planning to go see the movie tomorrow. :-) The writing is so good and I love how the story is told from the perspective of several characters, and very believably. I love the message of not only choosing kindness, but going beyond and  choosing to be even kinder than necessary. Highly recommended.
  • Who is the Holy Spirit? (Crucial Questions Series) - R.C. Sproul (NF)
  • Foundation - Isaac Asimov (F)
February 2018
  • Can I Be Sure I'm Saved (Crucial Questions Series) - R. C. Sproul (NF)
  • Foundation and Empire - Isaac Asimov (F)
  • Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems - J. D. Greear (NF).  Recommended! I very much appreciated this book.
March 2018
  • Second Foundation - Isaac Asimov (F)
  • The Cold Dish: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 1) - Craig Johnson (F)
April 2018
  • Growing Up Christian - Karl Gaustein with Mark Jacobsen (NF). This is a great tool to use for discipling our children who are growing up as 'church kids' to help us to help them to recognize the blessings and dangers in growing up 'Christian.' It is very helpful at encouraging them to examine themselves to be sure they truly understand the gospel and are in the faith, rather than merely mimicking their parents' faith. Very much recommended.
  • Death Without Company: A Walt Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 2) - Craig Johnson (F).  I've found a new favorite series. Some language caution (a couple of characters can at times be a bit salty in their language). Interesting and believable characters, humor, intriguing stories.
  • Race and Economics - Walter E. Williams (NF). 
  • Christy - Catherine Marshall (F).  I loved this book!
  • Hillbilly Elegy: a Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis - J.D. Vance (NF).  This is such a good book, sad, poignant, but somewhat hopeful. I have so many thoughts I wish I could discuss with someone after reading this, I'm going to have to call my mom. I see many similarities, yet many differences to things she has told me about her family and grandparents and great-grandparents.  To some extent, the 'hillbillies' are my ancestors, too, though there are differences to mom's and dad's stories that are significant. One thing that made me angry while reading, though, is that the Christianity that is pictured is more cultural than Christian. While I know I'm reading through the author's lens and it's possible that in his youth and struggles he just missed the larger message, it seems that even when he went to church he was more inundated with outward things and changes rather than the actual gospel message. We all need the gospel, not mere separation from the world, but we need to know reconciliation with God through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. This is what changes us and grants us true hope. I agree with a lot of the cultural issues discussed and analyzed so well and insightfully in the book, they are real and need to be addressed, but I'm angry and saddened at the shallow Christianity presented in many churches that preach Americanism on one hand and focus on separating from the world but seem to miss the point ultimately in preaching true gospel salvation. Our identity needs to be in Christ, we need to be following HIM, we need Him and His righteousness to save us from ourselves. It isn't enough to have our own version of Christianity apart from any church but remaining in our deep-seated, individualistic, I'll-do-it-my-way pride,  nor is to legalistically change outward behavior and stop watching movies, listening to certain music,  and fill our minds reading Left Behind books and steeping ourselves in the evangelical subculture while seeing the devil behind everything else. That is not Christianity. Christianity is dying to ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Christ. It is to see Jesus as more precious and worthy than anything else in life. I have so much more I'm thinking, but this isn't the place to share it, and I need time to think. I really am glad I read this book. 
  • Kindness Goes Unpunished: A Walt Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 3) - Craig Johnson (F).
May 2018
  • Another Man's Moccasins: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 4) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • The Alice Network: A Novel - Kate Quinn (F).
  • The Dark Horse: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 5) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • None Like Him: 10 Ways God is Different From Us (and why that's a good thing) - Jen Wilkin (NF). Recommended!
  • Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology - Leah Remini (NF). 
  • Full Circle: Coming Home to the Faithfulness of God - Athena Dean Holtz (NF). 
  • Junkyard Dogs: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 6) - Craig Johnson (F).
June 2018
  • The Quest for Cosmic Justice - Thomas Sowell (NF). Wow.  I would love to see this as recommended reading for every high school senior.  Very well thought out and written. 
  • Hell is Empty: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 7) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Memory Man - David Baldacci (F).
July 2018
  • The Last Mile (Memory Man Series Book 2) - David Baldacci (F).
  • As the Crow Flies: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Book 8) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Believe Me - JP Delaney (F).
August 2018
  • Watchfulness - Brian G. Hedges (NF). Recommended! I took my time reading this short little book because it is packed with wisdom and I want to remember, not just read it, put it down, and move on to other things, but to take to heart what I've read. 
  • The Things You Find in Rockpools - Gregg Dunnett (F).
  • A Serpent's Tooth: A Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries Book 9) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Divorce Horse (Longmire Short Story) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Christmas in Absaroka County: Walt Longmire Christmas Stories - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Messenger: A Walt Longmire Story - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices - Thomas Brooks (NF).
September 2018
  • Pushing Brilliance (Kyle Achilles, Book 1) - Tim Tigner (F).
  • Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng (F). Having lived in Shaker Heights, OH for a year, I enjoyed this book. Definitely captures the feel of living in Shaker Heights.  Some things I liked, many I did not. 
  • The Storyteller's Secret - Sejal Badani (F). I loved this book. 
October 2018
  • Any Other Name (Walt Longmire Books Book 10) - Craig Johnson (F)
  • Gilead - Marilynne Robinson (F). Beautifully written, I loved this.
  • Wait for Signs:Twelve Longmire Stories - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Made For His Pleasure - Alistair Begg (NF). This is the book I will be recommending to anyone I can.  Such an encouraging book! How I want to love and serve Jesus more. 
November 2018
  • Them: Why We Hate Each Other - And How to Heal - Ben Sasse (NF). HIGHLY recommend.  How I long for more voices like Ben Sasse to speak into the current public discourse. Whether you agree with him on policy or not, what he says about regaining a sense of being fellow countrymen, good neighbors who invest in community, and recognizing and honoring the dignity of all people, even those with whom we disagree, is a refreshing and MUCH needed corrective to the current mess that we find ourselves in. 
  • Sing!: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church - Keith and Kristyn Getty (NF).
  • Black Rednecks and White Liberals - Thomas Sowell (NF). One of the premier thinkers of our day. He really ought to be required reading for those who want to talk about 'social justice.' 
  • Frankenstein - Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley (F). My high school senior was reading this for English and I realized I don't remember if I've actually read the original book or not, so now I have. Didn't really like it all that much. 
  • 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You - Tony Reinke (NF). This is probably one of the most useful and important books I've read this year. I would go so far as to say I HIGHLY recommend this to any Christian who has a smartphone or engages at all with social media. Truly well written and thought-provoking, on a topic that is vital that we think well and deeply about - how to use smartphones and social media wisely and to God's glory and not get lost in the trivial and idolatrous, examining carefully our habits and motivations in this area.  This is a warning and a message that is desperately needed today. I've been thinking a great deal for some time about how and why I use social media, and I found this a refreshing and much needed discussion. I'm going to put this in front of all three of my kids and insist that they read it thoughtfully.
December 2018
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society - Trenton Lee Stewart (F). I bought this for my daughter after a recommendation from several friends, and it's very good. I hope she will listen to me and try it - I think she will enjoy it.
  • Dry Bones: A Walt Longmire Mystery (Walt Longmire Mysteries, Book 11) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • An Obvious Fact: A Longmire Mystery - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Home - Marilynne Robinson (F). This is the second in the Gilead trilogy and I truly enjoy her writing. I love how she took the same characters and time period as Gilead and told it from different characters' perspective. Well-done.  I'm currently reading the third book in the trilogy, Lila, but it will have to go on the list for 2019 since I'm not finished with it yet. 
  • The Highwayman: A Longmire Mystery - Craig Johnson (F).

      Monday, December 24, 2018

      God's Promise Fulfilled

      “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” 
      John 1:1-5

      “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
       John 1:12-14

      I’ve been thinking this year as I enjoy the lights and shiny Christmas ornaments on our tree about just how incredibly meaningful Christmas should be when we strip away the distractions of the shallow, schmaltzy way the world attempts to celebrate it. I hear people bemoan how difficult this season of the year is when they focus on disappointments of Christmases past and allow that to spoil the vision of that perfect Hallmark Christmas. And I do understand that because of the way our world idealizes the sentimental and secular version of the holiday where having all our loved ones around us and having everything just perfect does make it a hard time for many. But the thing is, our world puts so much emphasis on their secularized way of celebrating the holiday, that what is actually true and what we should be thinking about gets completely, and I do mean completely, lost. 

      What I’ve been pondering is that, instead of wallowing in our disappointments in the made-up traditions and obligations and distractions, what if we focused on the truth? Christmas begins way back in Genesis with two shattered people whose eyes were suddenly opened to the devastation they had brought upon themselves and mankind when sin entered the world. But God, in His mercy, in the midst of telling them of the consequences of that sin, in pronouncing the Curse, also gave them the greatest of promises – that there would be a Savior, that ultimately things were going to be made right. Adam, in naming his wife Eve because she was the mother of all living, demonstrated his trust in God’s promise. When devastation once again crashed upon them as Cain killed Abel, once again, faith in God’s promise was demonstrated as Eve gave birth to Seth and said, “God has appointed for me another offspring instead of Abel, for Cain killed him.” Then through the ages, as we read the Scripture, we have the record of God setting apart a people and bringing into the world His Messiah, the Savior of the world. We watch the unfolding of further revelation as God keeps His promise. 

      When the shepherds heard the message of the angels, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased," and when Simeon in the Temple held the Child in his arms and blessed God, and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel,” and when the Magi from the East saw His star, journeyed to worship Him and rejoiced with great joy, in all this we see that God keeps His promise. Then Jesus grew, lived a perfect and sinless life, died on the cross and experienced the wrath of God that our sin has earned for us. He did that on our behalf, and then after He died, He rose again, and the Temple veil was torn from top to bottom; the way is now open for sinners to be reconciled to a Holy God. God keeps His promise! 

      How about, instead of looking around us and how disappointing and empty our worldly Christmas celebrations ultimately must end up being, instead of wallowing in past disappointments, we look up and we strip away the distractions and the trappings that pull our attention down to the temporal things that cannot satisfy, and look up and behold Jesus, the Light of the world. THIS is Christmas. He came to reconcile broken and sinful people to Himself and to make all things right. This life is not the all there is. My sins are forgiven! I have been made right with God! I get to spend eternity with Jesus, eternal life, free from my wretched sin. I was once lost, now I'm found, I was blind, but now I see! No earthly disappointment must blind me to this - hope, joy, peace, forgiveness, JESUS - this is hope, this is Christmas, this is joy, even in the midst of sorrow. 

      As I was thinking about these things, I kept coming back to a sermon I heard back in May that has made a deep impact on me. You know, I hear a lot of sermons in a year, and while I’m listening I don’t always realize at the time that this one will be the one I keep on pondering and thinking over for months later.  Joshua Smith preached about finding joy in a fallen world back on a Sunday morning last May, and in it he talked about recognizing God’s portion for you and finding contentment. As I’ve been pondering the depression and lack of satisfaction many of us seem to struggle with so much at Christmas, I kept coming back to that – find joy in God’s portion for you, stop trying to make Christmas something it isn’t meant to be, and cannot ever measure up to be, stop buying the world’s lies and shallow outlook, and LOOK UP. Look to Jesus. Anymore, all I want is to strip away the lies the world is selling and to fix my eyes on Jesus, to enjoy what He deems is best to give me, and to learn to trust Him when my portion sometimes seems difficult.  I’ve linked the sermon at the end of this post, which I went back and listened to again this morning.  PLEASE take time to listen to it.  It will be well worth your time. 

      We do live in a fallen world. But praise God, He keeps His promises. The promise to send a Savior is fulfilled and is yes and amen in Jesus Christ. THIS is what we celebrate at Christmas, and THIS and only this can redeem even the most depressing of memories and allow us to find joy in the present Christmas. 

      Merry Christmas!

      Finding Joy in a Fallen World from Believers Fellowship on Vimeo.

      Thursday, December 06, 2018

      Trusting the One Who Does Right

      Proverbs 19:11
      “Good sense makes one slow to anger,
      and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”

      I’ve been thinking about how freeing it is to not have to be offended or outraged all the time about things that happen in life.  We live in a culture of the perpetually offended, don’t you think? Take a look at social media – or better yet, don’t if you would rather not swim in the stream of hasty words, what seems like almost purposeful misunderstanding, and hashtag activism – and you’ll see it played out in thread after thread. 

      What got me thinking recently was when my son came home from school telling me about the nasty behavior of a parent who was picking up their student when my son was trying to get out of the student parking lot. The details do not matter here, but anyway, as my son described it, I felt my mom outrage building and fighting thoughts of shaming on Nextdoor social media, until I realized something. I wasn’t there. I did not see the bad behavior. I trust my son’s account of the details was accurate, but he could be mistaken. No matter, it isn’t my job to judge hearts. It’s not my job to be offended or outraged about bad – even sinful – behavior in the school parking lot. All of a sudden I realized, I don’t have to be angry about this.  God saw the whole thing. He knows every detail of it. He knows the state of the hearts involved. I can trust Him to be the just Judge who sees and knows it all.

      This was just a minor little thing, but I did start thinking about how often when I feel that familiar sense of outrage or offense building in me, that it is often over something that I really have no business worrying about. Even when the offense is very real, I do not have to choose to hang on to it.  And, dear ones, being offended or outraged IS a choice. What did Jesus do? He suffered true injustice and what did He do? He did not revile in return when reviled and He continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23). This is to be our mindset. I can, and MUST, trust God to do what is right. Always.  Even when it seems difficult and circumstances don’t look like I want them to. He knows better than I ever can what is best for me. This thing I’m facing is from Him, in His Providence, so I must trust that He knows best what He will use to conform me to the image of Christ. In the midst of even great difficulty, I must trust that His grace is sufficient. Always.

      As I’ve been thinking about this, the idea that I don’t have to be offended or outraged by what other people do – or don’t do, for that matter -  I started thinking about it from another angle. If I’m to continue entrusting myself to the One who judges justly, continue trusting the Lord of Creation to do what is right, then that touches on all circumstances. I have NO right to be angry with God if there are things in my life I would rather are not there.  Life is hard. Difficulties abound. Things aren’t always fair, or what I would choose for myself or my loved ones, and some things are so hard we can find ourselves screaming at the darkness.   Sometimes we face things I really wish we wouldn’t have to. Sometimes we get hurt, or sick, or really truly difficult things come into our lives, or maybe we are treated unfairly or unjustly, Some days things just seem hard. Even then, what I must cling to is the conviction that God knows best what to bring into this life He has graciously given me. He knows best what will conform me to His image. If I complain, what I’m actually saying, whether I consciously think about it or not, is that I think I know better than God does what is best for all of us. That is not walking in faith. That is self-centered pride.

      These have been hard things I’ve been learning and pondering, but I believe it is right. And ultimately, when I give over my ‘right’ to be offended, or hurt, or angry, pick the emotion that fits, it is, ultimately, extremely freeing to trust in Jesus, to believe that in God’s Providence this thing I’m facing is my portion, and to surrender to the conviction that to trust Him in all things is best. I'm not saying we sit back with a sense of fatalism and do nothing, nor am I saying that we passively ignore or excuse away sin, nor that we never remove ourselves from dangerous situations.  I'm saying that as we go about addressing the hard things in life, doing what comes next, doing what we are called to do in being light in the midst of a dark world, weeping or even grieving when it's right to do so when that is our portion, too, in all things, that we do it with the conviction that God knows best and will do what is right, that His grace is sufficient for us in those things that seem so hard to bear, that we do all that we do with His glory for our aim and ever in front of us. 

      May I continue to learn something I have not mastered yet, but long to have more and more become the character of my heart, as we read in Philippians 4:5-6, to not be anxious about ANYTHING, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with THANKSGIVING to make my requests to God – and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. 

      Tuesday, November 06, 2018

      Some Thoughts For Today

      So, there’s an election today, and there seems to be record turnout already, judging by the reports from early voting.  I took advantage of the opportunity to vote early, waited in line for an hour and 15 minutes during the first week to cast my ballot. Many people see this midterm election as an important one, and it is – they all are, really. BUT, may I offer a thought? As important as it may be in this time and place, it isn’t the most important thing, and a steady diet of political social media is toxic toward a more peaceful union these days. 

      It’s right to be a good citizen, an informed citizen, loving your neighbors by voting for what you believe will be best for the people, and voting as your conscience dictates. It’s also good to keep your politicking in perspective if you’re a Christian. You see, as Christians, our citizenship is really in Heaven. 

      Philippians 3:20-21
      20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 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.

      THIS is where our true hope lies and where we ought to be expending our most energy. As much as I want to be a good citizen of my earthly country, and I do, even more important is to represent my true citizenship well. Getting too spun up and bothered by who wins or loses a temporal election is not where I want my heart to beat. Whether this election turns out the way I hope or not, and I do have a definite opinion and will have real emotions on that, because there are important issues at stake, for sure,  I want my true, deep, overriding, and abiding passion to be for Christ and His gospel. 

      With that in mind, it is extremely helpful to remember Who is actually in control of the nations, Who builds them up….and Who brings them down, Who blesses them…..and Who judges them.  I’ve always loved Psalm 46 – and, PLEASE note, verse 10 has NOTHING to do with contemplative meditation as it’s so often used when taken out of context.  It has everything to do with understanding that even the raging of the nations against their Creator will one day be stilled and cease when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

      Psalm 46
      To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song.
      1 God is our refuge and strength,
                  a very present help in trouble.
      2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
                  though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
      3 though its waters roar and foam,
                  though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

      4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
                  the holy habitation of the Most High.
      5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
                  God will help her when morning dawns.
      6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
                  he utters his voice, the earth melts.
      7 The LORD of hosts is with us;
                  the God of Jacob is our fortress.

      8 Come, behold the works of the LORD,
                  how he has brought desolations on the earth.
      9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
                  he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
                  he burns the chariots with fire.
      10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
                  I will be exalted among the nations,
                  I will be exalted in the earth!”
      11 The LORD of hosts is with us;
                  the God of Jacob is our fortress.

      Psalm 47:8-9
      8 God reigns over the nations;
                  God sits on his holy throne.
      9 The princes of the peoples gather
                  as the people of the God of Abraham.
        For the shields of the earth belong to God;
                  he is highly exalted!

      Tonight when we begin to see the election results, let us be very, very careful not to too heartily rejoice or too deeply mourn, no matter the results, because ultimately we who belong to Christ trust Him to do what is right – He will bless or judge our nation, and all the nations, as He sees fit, but our mission remains the same. We are to be ambassadors for Christ, proclaiming the message of reconciliation to God, the forgiveness of sins, to anyone who will hear. 

      2 Corinthians 5:17-21
      17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

      So, please, be a good citizen and vote wisely.  Love your neighbors daily, even those with whom you disagree. But do not hang your hopes on earthly elections and do not find despair in them, either.  We are ambassadors of Christ, and we have a very focused mission – to, as we go, make disciples, adding more voices to join in the great Hallelujah chorus of Heaven.

      Friday, September 28, 2018

      Advice For My Teenage Sons and Daughter

      Over the past several days, watching national news on TV, these thoughts have been heavy on my heart, and I am going to use my blog space to work them out. These are things I most want my not-so-young-anymore children to hear often and hopefully grasp and take to heart. 

      Number one, and this is the absolutely most important thing I want to share with my children, if they hear nothing else, please let them hear this: Love Jesus. Know Him. Pursue Christ and His Kingdom first and foremost and most of all. Recognize your need for His salvation. We have all sinned, every single one of us, we have all gone astray, no one is righteous, no not one. (Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:23). Jesus is the ONE and only mediator between God and man. He is the only way to be reconciled, made right and restored to right fellowship with God. While we were yet sinners, rebels against our Creator, Christ died for us and He rose again, just as the Scriptures said. He lived a sinless life, fulfilled all of God’s law, and suffered the wrath of God that our sin deserves on the cross for us. Through repenting of our sin and trusting in His sacrificial death which satisfied God’s wrath against our sin and His resurrection to life, we have Jesus as our High Priest and we can go before God with confidence, forgiven and made a new creation, fit to live for Him.  And knowing this, know that He has demonstrated the greatest love for you! Learn to rest all your hope in that love! Learn to love Him and rejoice in Him, knowing that in Christ there is no longer any condemnation for those who have placed their trust in Him alone, and you have been set free from the power of sin.  (Hebrews 4:14-16, 1 Timothy 2:5-6, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Romans 5:8-11, Romans 8:1).

      Number two: Never treat any sin lightly, but recognize it for the rebellion it is. “Boys will be boys,” or “Kids will be kids,” or “Aw, they’re just teenagers,” is NEVER an excuse for sin. First of all, sin is an offense against the God you were created to worship. Sin also has consequences, often long-reaching ones. If you ever laugh about sin, it will be that much harder to take it seriously. We are created to worship and glorify and enjoy God forever. When we have surrendered to Him as Lord, we are not our own. He is LORD. He has saved us from sin to live in a manner worthy of Him. Purpose in your heart to represent Him well and to repent quickly when you realize there is sin in your heart, thoughts, or actions. When you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will become a person who hates your own sin. You must put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh. When you do sin, be quick to confess it and repent, knowing that it is God who works in you to will and to work His good pleasure as you work out your salvation, and confident that He is faithful and just to forgive you from all unrighteousness. (Ephesians 2:4-10, Ephesians 4:1-3, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:12-13, Colossians 1:10-14, Romans 13:14, 1 John 1:9)

      Number three: Do not just “go to church.”  Be a faithful member of a Bible-teaching and believing, faithful, solid church. Go regularly, engage with and love the people, listen well to the teaching and apply it to your life as you search the Scriptures and embrace the Faith as your own, join in the mission of the Church to be a growing follower of Christ and to help others to become growing followers of Christ. (Philippians 1:27-2:4, Hebrews 1:24-25)

      Number four: Read and esteem God’s word. How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to God’s word. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. Set your mind on the things of the Lord and tune your thinking to accord with His word. Learn to discern truth from error and search the scriptures and measure all wisdom by the truth of His word and train yourself to love godly wisdom and discern the foolishness of worldly wisdom. Become very familiar with the book of Proverbs and hide God’s wisdom in your heart. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 119:9, Ecclesiastes 12:1, Proverbs 1:7, Colossians 1:6-8, Colossians 3:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:5-6)

      Number five: Treat other people with dignity and kindness, and live at peace with everyone as much as it is possible and as much as it depends upon you, not quarrelsome but a peacemaker, not seeking to hold a grudge or remember a wrong, but remembering how very much you have been forgiven and what mercy you have been shown by our Savior. The people you encounter are made in the image of God, and your character and how you treat them matters very much. God helping you, practice loving your neighbor as yourself and walk in humility, preferring others before yourself. Again, when you fail, run to your loving Savior quickly and repent, and be quick to apologize and to do what is right when you have wronged others. (Romans 12:18, 1 John 1:9, Ephesians 4:32, Philippians 2:1-11)

      Number six: Choose your friends carefully. You very often are like the people you hang around most. Be kind to everyone as much as you possibly can, but make sure your closest friends and those with whom you share your heart are the kind of people who will not lead you into sin or distract you from following closely after Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34, Ephesians 5:1-21 READ THIS!!)

      Number seven: Choose who you date even more carefully, and treat them with respect. Character matters. Godly faithfulness matters. A biblical understanding of the gospel matters. Sex and sexual behavior are for marriage only, one man and one woman in covenant for life. You want to marry someone who loves Jesus and is first committed to Him. (Hebrews 13:4)

      Number eight: Avoid all appearance of evil. Stay away from parties where drunkenness and sinful and undisciplined behavior are evident. If you find yourself in such a situation, leave! Sure, avoiding the parties may mean you aren’t hanging with the most popular kids. Being popular is not worth losing your reputation or your soul. I can’t help thinking that if the man in the news recently had not been known to frequent the types of parties where alcohol is present, then there would be no doubt cast upon his good name now. But he cannot say he never went to this type of party, only that he wasn’t at the one in question. And though this may not be a popular thing to say, same goes for girls. Protect yourself and stay away from these situations. Even as a teenager, live in such a way that your life is above reproach. What does it profit a man if he gain the whole world but lose his soul?  A good reputation is hard to recover once it is lost. Even more importantly, we are to be Kingdom minded people, sober minded, not wasting our lives frivolously. Cultivate the wisdom you want to be characterized by as an older adult by rejecting foolishness now in your youth and seeking wisdom. Getting drunk is not the character of a wise person. Flee youthful lusts and run toward wisdom. As I’ve watched the news this week, I couldn’t help being thankful for those lonely times when I didn’t fit in with the popular crowd that I thought at the time were a hard thing.  Living a life without that kind of regret is a thankful thing, and a life lived in integrity is a treasure and a testimony to the gracious God who has saved you. If you live from your youth in integrity, you do not have to fear false or other accusations that may surface in later years. (Genesis 39, Proverbs 22:1, Proverbs 20:7, 1 Thessalonians 5:22)

      Number nine: Be careful with your words, they reflect on your character, even thirty years later. You don’t have to immediately say whatever comes to mind, and venting is not a virtue. It is my opinion that social media and smart phones have been more of a negative influence than a positive one for many reasons. Be wise and careful how you use them. It is so easy to sin with our words - and that includes typed words. Once our words are out there, we can’t take them back. Once words are typed or put on social media, they may be out there for years and years. Be careful how you present yourself online. Your character matters, and just because online communication feels more disconnected, it’s still your words and your character you’re showing. It is not true that words don’t hurt, but at the same time, refuse to take easy offense at the words of others. More on that in the next point. Avoid crass or blasphemous language, even if everyone else you know talks that way. We are to be light in the midst of a dark world, and one very powerful way to do this is to refuse to be foolish and choose to edify with your speech - spoken and written. But here again, when you blow it, run to Jesus. He is your Savior and your friend and your High Priest. Be quick to repent and quick to apologize for harmful words. (James 1:26, James 3:1-12, Proverbs 29:20, Proverbs 29:11, Ephesians 4:29)

      Number ten: Be slow to take offense. Love is patient and kind and does not hold a grudge. You have been forgiven much, learn to be forgiving and treat others the way you would want them to treat you. Being offended is a choice. Assume the best for as long as you can, and put the best construction on what others say and do for as long as you can. Remember, as much as you are able, be at peace with others. Do not assume motives.  You cannot know what is in someone else’s heart. If you have an issue with someone, go to that person directly and seek either clarification or reconciliation, do not gossip to others. Learn not to think more highly of yourself than you ought to think and not to look down on other people.  Remember the parable of the prideful Pharisee and the humble tax collector - the tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner! - and he went down to his house justified. (1 Corinthians 13, Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 26.20)

      These are just a few morsels of wisdom I’ve been thinking over in light of the constant news coverage this past week. My husband and I were talking together about how much a good understanding and knowledge and application of the book of Proverbs could benefit a young person who determines to love the Lord wholeheartedly. In all these things, a healthy remembrance that we do not live this life in our own strength, but in surrender to the gracious love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit by faith in the redemption bought by the blood of Christ and the power of His resurrection. Hallelujah, what a Savior! 

       I close with this:
      2 Corinthians 5:17-21 “17Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 

      In light of all that, God helping you and in grateful joy, seek to live like who you are in Christ. 

      Saturday, July 07, 2018

      The Lord is My Salvation

      I have a new favorite song that I’ve been listening to on repeat lately, The Lord is My Salvation by Keith and Kristyn Getty. I was thinking that every once in a while I come across songs that make me think maybe I should compile of list of songs that I wouldn’t mind having played one day at my funeral.  I guess that sounds like a weird thing to think about, but given that we don’t know what tomorrow holds, but I do know Who holds tomorrow, and I know that some songs very eloquently express the kind of faith I have in Him, this is one of those songs that will go on my list if I ever write one. 

      As I’ve listened to this song recently, I’ve been thinking about the names of my children.  All three of our children have biblical names.  The first born’s name means, “YAHWEH is salvation,” the second means, “Who is like the LORD?” and the third means, “Ewe,” and we’ve always told her she is our little lamb. 

      I truly long for my children to know, really and truly know, that God is their salvation, JESUS is Lord and He delights to save sinners, to know that there is NO ONE like God, and to know that Jesus is the Great Good Shepherd, who loves His sheep, saving to the uttermost those who trust Him alone, that they can run to Him and cast all their burdens on Him and He is mighty to save. Jesus is the only name given among men by which we must be saved. 

      The Lord is my salvation. Yes, and amen!

      Thursday, July 05, 2018

      Honoring Our Father and Mother

      This past weekend my brother and I and our families had the privilege of gathering together to celebrate my parents and their 50th wedding anniversary. What a blessing this was!  This past year has been full of some rather significant physical challenges, and I am incredibly thankful the Lord allowed us to have this weekend to honor our parents and celebrate together. It was wonderful to have all of us together, as we don’t get to do that very often with my family living so far away from everyone else. 

      As we began thinking about what to do for this milestone occasion about a year or so ago, my brother told me of the project he wanted to do as a gift for them. Several years ago, my dad was teaching an adult Sunday School class at their church and working through the book of John, and he began sending his notes to my brother and me to share. My brother thought it would be a great thing to compile all those notes into a book format, and he worked for the better part of the year getting that accomplished.  What he produced was beautiful. We also wanted something to honor my mom’s art work, and we had the idea of taking some of her paintings and making a printed book of them for her. I think they were pleased with our gifts, and I’m so very thankful we got to spend the time with them that we did this weekend, celebrating God’s kindness and grace through 50 years of marriage. 

      My brother did me the kindness of asking me, as the oldest child, to write the forward for what became the three volume set of “Lessons on The Gospel According to John.” I thought I’d like to share what I wrote here on my blog, as it is a small token of gratitude for the legacy God has graciously given our family:

      The righteous who walks in his integrity - 
      blessed are his children after Him!
      Proverbs 20:7 

      When my brother, Tim, first suggested this project as we were discussing our parents’ upcoming 50th wedding anniversary and what we could do to honor them, it seemed like a great idea.  As I’ve thought about it, what could be more fitting a tribute to what has been a driving and most important theme throughout their marriage than to honor their love for learning and teaching God’s Word? Yes, this project is my dad’s notes from the many months (years!) he spent teaching through the book of John with his adult Sunday School class at Faith Presbyterian Church. We have these notes because of his love for my brother and me and his wanting to share the truths he was learning and teaching with us, but the legacy of my and my brother’s lives is to have grown up with TWO gifted Bible teachers for parents. 

      When my parents were a young married couple, they moved to the Space Coast of Florida as my dad began working at the Kennedy Space Center (my husband likes to tell people that his father-in-law is a real rocket scientist). Not only did that begin my dad’s professional career, but they quickly found First Baptist Church of Merritt Island, FL, where a dynamic preacher by the name of Adrian Rogers taught the Bible every week in a way my parents had never heard before. They loved it. They began growing spiritually and learning to study God’s Word and understand it better, and eventually to teach it. I remember my mom teaching children’s Sunday School and VBS for many years, and some of my earliest memories of that church were going over to the old Job building where my dad taught a couples class, and if I close my eyes, I can still smell that building and see some of those faces that I haven’t seen in years. My mom’s love for GA’s led her to teach it for a while when I was at the age to be in her group, and summer GA camp gave me some of my very first tastes of what it means to study the Bible and have my own quiet time in the Word. Later my mom went on to teach a women’s class, and even when I would come home on college breaks, I preferred going to her class than back to the youth and college class. I still remember her taking one lesson to diagram the first sentence of the book of Hebrews - ever the English teacher, as well.

      Growing up in our home, my brother and I knew how important the Bible was to my parents because they talked about what they were learning all the time. I used to like to say it was part of the warp and woof of our life. It’s not so much that we had tons of ‘formal’ Bible training times, but that as they learned and grew, they talked about it - either to each other and around us, or directly to us, but always we knew how precious the truths of God’s Word were to them. So much of what I know about the Bible was caught just by growing up in a home where these things were not just something we heard on Sunday then put up on a shelf until the next week, but they were life to my parents. And believe, me, children notice these things. For my mom and dad, the Christian faith is everything. They love Jesus and they love His word, and they talk about what matters. 

      When my parents discovered the doctrines of grace as they studied the Bible and prepared to teach, it brought them, eventually, great peace. Though the journey eventually led them away from the church that had been home for so many years, God graciously brought them to a new home at Faith Presbyterian, where my brother and I have watched them bloom. As my mom said, finally the pieces fit and she had been given the key for which she had been looking. God is so kind to His people! 

      How thankful I am to have that legacy. The older I get, the more people I meet, the more thankful I am that God placed me in a home where my parents were real. They are not perfect people, there are no perfect families, but they are real and they love the Lord and His Word, and He has granted them both the gift to teach it well, and they have loved my brother and me through all of our ups and downs, and I’m so grateful God gave us these parents and this family. How thankful I am to have heard the gospel early and young and to have the example of two people who weren’t merely nominally interested, but invested in His Word. It is an immense blessing to a child to grow up in a home where Jesus is Lord and her parents are seeking to honor Him, where the faith is a part of who we are, not just an add on or something we do on Sundays. To this day, when I have biblical questions, I know I can go to my mom and dad and they will either be able to answer them or know how to search it out. They have modeled this since we were children, and their counsel and advice was biblical and practical.  For this I am grateful.

      With these volumes we get to share the notes my dad shared with my brother and me as he was teaching the rich book of John. John is the book we often counsel new believers to read first, as it is so rich and such a glorious portrait of the Deity and majesty of Christ. My dad was excited to share his notes with us since we were far away raising our own families and couldn’t sit in on his classes except for the rare times we got to visit, and now, my brother has labored in love to set them into a bound series of volumes that we can present as a gift to honor my parents as they celebrate 50 years of marriage. We also felt that a fitting tribute would be to print some of my mother’s paintings on the bindings of these volumes, and for that we chose three that seemed fitting for John, “The Word” with the Greek LOGOS, “The Last Trumpet,” and “Faith Station Church” from her series of church paintings. 

      Mom and Dad, from both Tim and me, thank you for loving us and always being ‘on our side,’ and for modeling faithfulness in marriage, and most importantly, thank you for pointing us to Jesus. That is the greatest gift any parent can give their children, and you have done it well, continuing on to your grandchildren, who share in this wonderful legacy.

      Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad, with much love. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for the blessing of a Christian home. I am more grateful than I can ever adequately express. 

      Saturday, April 14, 2018

      Thoughts I've Had While Listening to "The Sound of Silence"

      I have always liked the Simon & Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence.” Until recently, if you had asked my opinion, I would have said I don’t think anyone else could do it justice, but then I heard the version that the band Disturbed has recorded.  My teenage son assures me I would not like Disturbed’s other music, and I’ll just go ahead and take his word for it, since he knows about these things. :-) One other version I loved recently happened during a marching band performance from one of the high school bands at the one and only competition we went to this year. The band played some of “The Sound of Silence,” and then, with the echo and overtones of the last chord played ringing in the stadium, stood on the field in complete silence for several seconds before playing again.  It was musically and emotionally very powerful.  But I’m digressing far from my point.  I do like this version of “The Sound of Silence” that I’m posting under this paragraph very much,  as it captures well a sense of heart wrenching alienation as it begins softly and builds in intensity. Something about the pathos of his voice and the musical arrangement captures the angst of the alienation that I think we are seeing more and more in our culture.

      Paul Simon wrote this song in the 1960’s, capturing his own generation’s angst and alienation, but I think he was sort of a cultural prophet, too, because every time as I listen to the words and tone of the song, I can’t help but think of the whirlwind of alienation we are reaping upon ourselves with our smartphones/devices and social media. 

      Look at this stanza:

      “And in the naked light I saw
      Ten thousand people, maybe more
      People talking without speaking
      People hearing without listening
      People writing songs that voices never share
      No one dared
      Disturb the sound of silence.”

      Does that not describe what happens on Facebook and Twitter a hundred thousand times a day? We are more connected than ever in this generation, yet the depth of those connections is superficial at best in most cases. When I first joined Facebook almost nine years ago (I actually had to go check because I can’t believe it’s been that long), it was only after resisting for a long while and I only joined because people from my old high school were working on a reunion and looking for people and someone (my brother, I think) said someone had contacted him looking for me. So I joined, thinking it might be a neat way to keep up with people from the past, especially since we move so often. And that part has been pretty cool. But, one of the griefs of my life is that I’ve found, while it’s cool to stay in touch, the closeness of the friendship is just not the same when we aren’t able to be face-to-face friends anymore. People I was very close to when we were able to go to lunch together and spend time in each other’s homes, just aren’t able to seem as close and well-known once we move away, even though we all post on Facebook and like each others’ statuses. Something is lost.  And then when you factor in the ‘friends’ or people you follow on Twitter (or any social media platform) who you don’t actually know in real life and watch the way conversations tend to go on social media, you begin to see that there are an awful lot of people talking without speaking and hearing without listening, when you see how quickly such conversations can go sour. The silence that ensues from that kind of communication is the alienation of misunderstanding and talking past each other and the depression that can cause to descend, because the nature of the medium just does not lend itself to true conversation and understanding.  It just doesn’t.  And it is frustrating, because I believe we all long to be heard and understood and known and truly connected, not this false connection that social media fosters. It makes promises it just cannot deliver, like clouds that never bring rain. 

      But that’s not all. My thoughts as I listen to this song drift along in other directions, too.

      Take a look at this phrase:

      “And the people bowed and prayed
      To the neon god they made.”

      I bet you can guess where I’m going with this one, but what comes to mind every time I hear this is the generation of smartphone zombies we’ve cultivated. When was the last time you were in a room with random strangers when the majority weren’t lost in the glow of a personal screen? When was the last time you were sitting in a restaurant and you didn’t see people sitting at the same table together, but lost in their own little private worlds, looking at their phones, not talking to the person right at the table with them? Do you even remember a time when you could strike up a friendly conversation in a waiting room or grocery store line because people weren’t consumed with their own private little world? Do you remember people actually smiling at each other or just noticing someone else was even there in such cases? Have you ever been walking along in the grocery store and seen many someones oblivious to the fact that anyone else was there because they were so engrossed in their private little smartphone worlds? In moments when we have to wait, what’s our first inclination? Pull out that phone and start scrolling or texting, right? It’s unthinkable that we might take that time and let boredom steer our minds to actually have to think on our own, or, gasp, actually talk to someone else. 

      And then there is this: Want to try a scary little experiment? Take a walk down one of the busier streets in your neighborhood and count how many of the cars that drive by have a driver who is looking at a phone. I do this regularly and It’s quite terrifying. We’ve allowed ourselves to become addicted and enslaved to the dopamine hit of ever constant ‘new’ information. Only most of what we’re so enthralled with isn’t all that important, but we’re addicted, nonetheless.  Try leaving your phone at home sometime, or, hey, just leave it in the other room. See how long you can stand it.

      We’ve opened a Pandora’s box with our constant connectivity that I’m not sure we can close again. And I’m right there in the thick of it, too, I’m not pointing any fingers that aren’t coming squarely back at me. 

      I’ve seen studies that seem to point to a correlation in the rise in depression and suicide among our youth to the incidence of most people owning a smartphone. I think this bears some serious consideration. Is it possible, likely even, that with our constant connectivity we have sacrificed real, deep friendships for shallow ones, which means we are actually more alienated than ever? Is it possible that in the name of being more social, we’ve actually become much more consumed with ourselves, our image? We’ve become so consumed with taking the best selfies and posting the very best about ourselves and making sure our image is attractive that we aren’t really thinking about much of anything else, except maybe how offended we are about the current issue of the day and how we can best virtue signal how aware we are and how in tune we are with the current politically correct opinions. Are we more consumed with what we want to say than with how our words may affect other people? Are we more concerned with seeming to be in step with the culture than we are in thinking deeply about issues and searching the Bible to inform our thoughts rather than what the latest social issue people demand our thoughts should be? Don’t you see how quickly a social media thread can degenerate into unkind and unfair accusations and assumptions? Do you often walk away from reading social media feeling better about people? 

      Granted this is anecdotal, but I heard a story the other day that shocked me and made me very, very sad.  I was talking to a realtor who told me that when she shows houses, very often her clients would prefer to text her their questions rather than ask them in person. I looked at her funny, and said, “You mean when they are right there in the room with you?” She said, “Yes.” I don’t know how common this actually is, but it is something she has experienced often enough that she was telling the story, and that just seems heartbreaking to me. Are we truly raising a generation that has lost even the barest minimum of social skills necessary to carry on a real conversation? Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the ability to have face-to-face, true relationships? Are we truly raising a generation that can’t enjoy a special moment without posting it, without having to seek the affirmation of their thousands of social media ‘friends?’  Are we truly raising a generation that has lost the skill of making genuine, deep friendships that do not have to be validated and upheld by Snapchat? Are we becoming so lost in our own little private worlds that we are missing the in-the-flesh people and needs all around us?

       I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I think part of what we lost in the Fall is the ability to truly be transparent and real with each other. No longer can we be naked and unashamed, not even emotionally. And now instead of being God-focused and others-focused, we are consumed with ourselves. Yet, don’t we long for true community and real connectedness? Don’t we long to know and be known? Isn’t that the draw of social media, that we can feel that what we have to say matters to someone, anyone? Isn’t that why we overshare the mundane details of our lives all over social media? Getting real and personal here, but perhaps, isn’t that why I’m writing this blog? To share my thoughts with someone who might listen? 

      A few of us ladies were having a discussion recently about friendships among Christian women. One lady was lamenting the fact that it is hard to get past the surface where everyone seems so ‘perfect’ to where you can share what’s real with other women. That is part of what we, as the church, should be able to do better than anyone else. We are called to love one another. That involves getting to actually know one another. We have to let down some of those walls and actually speak and listen, even and especially when it’s uncomfortable. We need community. We long for it. We may not ever experience it perfectly this side of Heaven, but we who love Jesus should be striving for it among our brothers and sisters. Have you noticed how very often believers are described as family and as a Body together? Together.  I think we need to think long and hard about how important it is to put down our personal screens, spend less time cultivating our online pseudo community, look up, and expend the energy and even the sacrifices to get to know the few people we have in our real life circles, face-to-face. We are created for community. The second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves.

      One way I’ve found that is refreshing and beneficial in building this kind of face-to-face community is to sit with a few friends and share scripture together and pray together, sharing our deepest heart desires as we pray fervently. This builds deep, Christ-centered friendship in a way social media never can. Taking a meal together and sharing our hearts over coffee and biblical wisdom, phones carefully tucked away, leads to much richer connection than hours staring at a glowing screen ever can. Another way to build the kind of true connection we long for is to serve together, striving side by side for the sake of the gospel - the good news that Jesus came to save sinners and reconcile us to God. He lived a perfect life and fulfilled God’s law for us, He died on the cross and rose again. By His blood we can be declared righteous and freed from the penalty of our sin, freed from the curse, and freed to love God and love others. We need flesh and blood friendships. We don’t need hundreds or thousands of ‘likes’ on our social media posts to affirm us. We need to be looking out, away from ourselves to others, to serving and loving others well, as we talk face to face and share real life experiences together. 

      So, while I like that song, I don’t so much like the alienation masquerading as connectivity that so clearly marks this world my kids are growing up into. May I be one who seeks to look up and out and love well the people God has placed near me. May I be more concerned with loving others than I am with feeding my own pride. And that very well may mean posting and reading less and less on my social media platforms, and learning to be wise and teaching my children to be wise about how we use those platforms and not asking of them more than they can deliver. So be it.