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.