Tuesday, December 31, 2019

What I Was Reading in 2019

Here on the last day of the year is my list of books read in 2019. Some were good, some not so much, but here it is. I'm in the middle of two more books, but seeing as there are only a few more hours left in 2019, I probably won't finish them, so they'll have to start the new 2020 list. If I happen to finish either before the day is out, I'll add it at the bottom.

January 2019

  • Lila - Marilynne Robinson (F). Probably my least favorite of the three books in the Gilead trilogy, but I still liked it. 
  • Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng (F). I have come to enjoy this author, especially now that I know she grew up in Shaker Heights, OH, where we lived for a year.  I probably don't agree with her a whole lot politically, and that's ok, as I can see since I've followed her on Twitter, but she is, nonetheless, a great writer. If I only ever read authors I completely agreed with, my reading would be dull and my thinking shallow, and I have enjoyed both of her books and hope to see more from her in the future.
  • Jesus Wins: The Good News of the End Times - Dayton Hartman (NF). This was an encouraging little book. Tim Challies wrote a review and that's what sparked my interest. 
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving (F). This is a favorite and a re-read.
February 2019
  • Girls of Glass - Brianna Labuskes (F).
  • The Western Star ( A Longmire Mystery) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Gay Girl, Good God - Jackie Hill Perry (NF). Wow, this was good. God is so good, and what a testimony to His immense grace and love and goodness.  I found a rich deepening in my desire to fully believe in the power of God to save through His gospel, and save to the uttermost, even when things may seem impossible from my limited perspective, as I pray for others and for my own heart as I read this. 
March 2019
  • Depth of Winter (A Longmire Mystery) - Craig Johnson (F).
  • Danger in the Shadows (O'Malley Book 0) - Dee Henderson (F).  I'm not a huge fan of Christian fiction, as I've said, but this was ok.  I saw this listed by some friends as having liked the series and thought I'd try it.  I liked it ok, but I don't think I'll continue the series.  I have my qualms, still, but won't go into depth with my criticisms here, except that I was discouraged when I looked up the author's webpage to try to find out a little about her and she links to books  (nonfiction) by authors that I find very troubling (Bill Johnson, for one). I had been bothered by how shallow the discussions about 'God' and prayer were, though better than some Christian fiction I've read (Jesus is never mentioned, gospel belief is assumed, but sort of shallow in portrayal in my opinion, etc.), considering how much opportunity there was imbedded in the story itself to go much more in depth with that. And I guess I'm just not a huge fan of romance novels in general. Sorry, I don't mean to be critical.  I don't expect novels to be heavy on theology, but it just felt shallow to me, when, given the subject matter, it could have been richer. On her webpage she talks about more recent books having a deeper discussion of theological things, but after seeing who she links to as recommendations, I think I'm wary. 
  • 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You - Tony Reinke (NF). Because of something I'm working on, I read this again. I was reminded why I recommended it so strongly the first time.  I think maybe it's one I would benefit to revisit every year, to be honest. 
April 2019
  • Dune - Frank Herbert (F). A classic. I read it because my boys were reading it and, though I'm pretty sure I read it a long time ago, I couldn't remember much of it. I don't need to read the rest of the series.  It was ok, but, I'd rather move on and read something else. You can definitely see how much of Star Wars is taken from it, though. 
  • Respectable Sins - Jerry Bridges (NF). Our women's Bible study this year from September through April at church was based on this book, with a study guide written by our pastor's wife and the curriculum committee form our church. As we were working through the study, I began to realize a lot of the book sounded very familiar, and I checked my Kindle, and, sure enough, I had read it a few years ago. I got much more from it this time around, though, taking all these months to slowly work through it and through the homework, because I had to take the time to think and digest.  My biggest take away is how much I now recognize throughout the day as a sinful attitude or thought that I didn't before, and how very many of them I am still so prone to. But God's mercy is so great, and I am thankful! And the chapter on Ungodliness has stuck with me, because that just seems to be the pervasive sin underneath all the others.  Now that we've done this in depth study, I want to keep the book out and re-read it periodically.  I do not want to forget. 
  • I Was Anastasia - Ariel Lawhon (F).  I liked this one.
  • The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis (F).
May 2019
  • Absolute Power - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Clockmaker's Daughter - Kate Morton (F). Kate Morton has become one of my favorite authors, and I've enjoyed everything I've read from her.  This book is no exception.  I loved it, and I loved the characters. Beautifully written, and sad, but in a satisfying sort of way. 
  • Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus - Nabeel Qureshi (NF). This is the best book I've read yet this year.  Such a powerful testimony. 
  • Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn (F).  Did not finish and cannot recommend.  The language and other stuff were awful, I did not like the characters (probably not supposed to), figured out the big mid-book plot twist before it was revealed, and just don't want to spend more time and mental energy filling my brain with the atrocious language and stuff. I did something I almost never do and found a plot summary to see if I even would have liked the ending. Doesn't look like it, so good call on not finishing. Just not my cup of tea.
  • Pray Big: Learn to Pray Like an Apostle - Alistair Begg (NF).  This was very good, one I will read more than once to keep it fresh in my mind. 
June 2019
  • Hinds Feet on High Places - Hannah Gurnard (F).
  • The Apostles' Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits - R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (NF).
  • The Last Kingdom (The Last Kingdom Series, #1) - Bernard Cornwell (F).  I really liked this one. Looking forward to reading the rest of this series.  
  • Total Control - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Pale Horseman (The Last Kingdom Series, #2) - Bernard Cornwell (F). 
July 2109
  • Secret Undertaking - Mark de Castrique (F).
  • Lords of the North (The Last Kingdom Series, #3) - Bernard Cornwell (F). Due to our move to Virginia, July was a slower than usual reading month, but I liked both of these books.
August 2019
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling (F).  Wanted to read these again, and while waiting for a library book I have on hold, I thought I'd start the series again. 
  • Spiritual Depression - D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (NF). I kept starting this and then putting it down for several weeks until I finally decided I needed to read it and quit waiting until I felt like reading it.  I'm so glad I did.  I very much needed this at this season of my life.  I'm keeping it on my Kindle for rereading as needed when that darkness looms again. It's a great discussion of right thinking about Christian living. I highly recommend it. 
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling (F).
  • Sword Song (The Last Kingdom Series, #4) - Bernard Cornwell (F).
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J.K. Rowling (F).
September 2019
  • Putting Amazing Back into Grace - Michael Horton (NF).  I very much liked this one. I could relate to so much of what he described growing up evangelical and struggling with assurance of salvation.  Having a biblical view of grace and salvation has been such a blessing. 
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J. K. Rowling (F).
  • The Hand of God: Finding His Care in All Circumstances - Alistair Begg (NF).
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J.K. Rowling (F).
  • The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini (F).  This was very good, well-written and moving. 
October 2019
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince  - J. K. Rowling (F).
  • Unlikely Converts: Improbable Stories of Faith and What They Teach Us About Evangelism - Randy Newman (NF).  This may be one of my favorite books I've read this year.  It is encouraging me to pray more passionately and I want to change - to be more open to opening my my heart and my mouth and really engaging with people. 
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling (F).
  • Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society - Rachel Green Miller (NF).
  • An Equal Justice - Chad Zunker (F).
November 2019
  • The Winner - David Baldacci (F).
  • The Burning Land (The Last Kingdom Series, #5) - Bernard Cornwell (F).
  • Empire Falls - Richard Russo (F).
  • What Angels Wish They Knew: The Basics of True Christianity - Alistair Begg (NF).

December 2019
  • The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation For Failure - Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt (NF).
  • The Simple Truth - David Baldacci (F).
  • Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation - Dennis E. Johnson (NF). This was very good.
  • Saving Faith - David Baldacci (F).

Monday, December 30, 2019

Out of the Heart the Mouth Speaks

Matthew 12:33-37
“33 Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.  34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil?  For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.  36 I tell you, on the day  of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

I read this the other day and was grieved as I took a moment to think back over how I’ve used my words just in the past few days. If out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, what have my words said about my heart? Is what I’ve said to or about people edifying or hurtful? It grieves me to think how often ‘edifying’ has not been the adjective to describe my words and thoughts, but hurtful or prideful is. It really makes me cringe to look back and realize how careless I am, and how unkind at times. This is a good reminder to check my heart attitudes, how I think about other people, do I put the best construction on things or am I arrogant, prideful, presumptuous, or sinful in what I’m letting my mind think?  And how intently do I purpose to follow and obey Christ, even in how I think? As I think, so will I speak. Our words can be a very effective glimpse at how well we are battling sin at the heart level. How thankful I am for the grace and mercy of God to bring that scripture in front of me when I need it, and how incredibly thankful I am for His grace in that even this sin was forgiven at the cross. 

I got to thinking about this yesterday, too, while we were watching a movie we had wanted to see in the theater. What was overall a funny and fairly clean movie, was spoiled by an overabundance of casual blasphemy that was totally unnecessary in the dialogue.  I’ve noticed that our culture is getting more and more desensitized to this, and as culture is…..so am I.  It seemed that there was just so much more in-your-face taking of God’s name in vain in a movie where you wouldn’t have expected it that my husband and I noticed and commented on how surprised we were by it and how much we don’t like it and how totally unnecessary it was. It grieves me, too, that I can hear God’s name used flippantly and even laugh at the joke made with that added on and not be more bothered by it than I am.  It should bother us. I’m bothered that the more we surround ourselves with casual blasphemous talk, the more desensitized we are.  I don't say this to be legalistic, but that if it is true that out of the heart the mouth speaks, we need to be careful about what we allow to influence our hearts. When you hear coarse language and flippant, casual blasphemy often, it gets in there and makes it harder not to have it pop into your mind where you really don’t want it.

So, I’m thankful for God’s word and the Providential timing of reading this passage this week and how the Holy Spirit uses His word to bring to light sin that needs to be brought to light. This is a good thing to meditate on here at the end of one year and into the beginning of the new year. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Not the Half Has Been Told

Hebrews 13:13-15 
“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.  For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to our God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

1 John 3:2-3 
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

1 Corinthians 2:9
But, as it is written,
‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him - ‘“

My daughter and I were sitting together yesterday in the living room and looking at the Christmas tree with the pretty presents around it. She mentioned that she agrees with the character in a book we’ve read and enjoyed together when he said that he likes Christmas Eve best, better than Christmas morning because on Christmas Eve there is a sense of wonder and anticipation, and everyone is singing and worshiping Jesus and focusing on the truth and reason we celebrate when we are together at the Christmas Eve church service, and looking forward to Christmas….so much so, that sometimes the actual Christmas morning can almost feel like it’s over too quickly. We got to talking as we sat there looking at the pretty presents, with me knowing what is in most of those presents and knowing that for many the anticipation is more exciting that what is actually in them and how quickly that anticipation ends once they’re all opened and we have the clean up to deal with next, and we got to thinking that that could almost be a parable for how unsatisfying all of our idols ultimately are. Anything in this life that we look to other than Christ Himself for satisfaction will ultimately disappoint. That’s one reason I can't stand the worldly sentimentality of most secular Christmas music and movies.  It builds up this impossible expectation of the perfect holiday, perfect family time, that nothing could possibly live up to, and it leads to increased depression and hopelessness at a time when we should be focusing on the greatest hope of all, because so much of how our culture celebrates Christmas is devoid of any contemplation of Jesus and why He came, but focused purely on earthly idols that cannot fully satisfy when we rest too much hope upon them. Not that family and the joy of being together isn’t a good thing in itself, it is, but it is not where our ultimate hope must rest. As I’ve seen quoted from Tim Keller, “Idols will always break your heart.” 

My daughter and I got to talking about how there is only one thing that we can anticipate and hope for that when what we’ve been looking forward to and anticipating is fully known, we will not be disappointed. When we see Jesus, we will not be disappointed.  When we see Him and know Him as we are known, when we are eternally freed to worship Him without the taint of our fallen nature, well, we can’t even imagine what that will be like. Everything else pales in comparison.  Do you remember that old song that New Song used to sing about ‘Not the Half Has Been Told’? I’ve been thinking about that a lot today, and finally had to go find it and listen to it. Jesus is where our focus needs to be at Christmas and always, so that we are free to love our neighbors and to sing our songs in such a way that it will be obvious that we know and belong to God, our Abba Father, our Savior, and so that no matter what temporal disappointments we face in the everyday of our lives, our hearts beat with the cry and our actions are motivated by the thought, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” 

Monday, December 16, 2019

A Very Musical Monday

Isaiah 9:2-7
“2 The people who walked in darkness
         have seen a great light:
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
        on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation;
       you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
       as with joy at the harvest,
       as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden,
       and the staff for his shoulder, 
       the rod of his oppressor,
       you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
       and every garment rolled in blood
       will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
       to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
       and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace 
      there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
      to establish it and go uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
       from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

Isaiah 9:2 is one of my favorite verses, when you take time to really think about what it is saying. A friend of mine shared this song on Facebook today. I had not heard it before, but I very much liked it. As I listened, these words struck me and brought me to tears of wonder: “He who is mighty has done a great thing, taken on flesh and conquered death’s sting, shattered the darkness and lifted our shame….holy is His name.” Shattered the darkness and lifted our shame….oh ponder the magnitude of this! We no longer have to walk in darkness and sin and shame! 

Often during the Advent and Christmas season I am reminded of a conversation I had years ago with a friend from work who was a Jehovah’s Witness. She asked me, “Why celebrate Christmas? He hadn’t even done anything yet.” I remember feeling a bit astonished and kind of looking at her funny and saying, “Oh, but He had done a great deal already!” And I also explained that what we celebrate at Christmas doesn’t stop with the birth of Jesus, but we’re celebrating the whole thing - redemption, from the promise in Genesis 3:15 of a Savior, to the Cross, to the Resurrection and that He is the risen King of Kings. Hadn’t done anything yet??? Whenever I think about how blind that question was, it almost takes my breath away, and makes me so sad for my friend. What about fulfilling centuries of prophecy, the Virgin birth, God With Us - God taking on human flesh to become truly God and truly Man? The promised Savior stepped into time to redeem His people. All of Creation and all the Temple sacrifices had been pointing toward this Jesus.  Hadn’t done anything yet? Just ask the angels who proclaimed to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). Hadn’t done anything yet? Just ask Simeon and Anna in the Temple when Joseph and Mary brought the Child about that. Simeon 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 peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)  

I agreed with my friend that day about Santa and all the stuff that gets all mixed up with the trappings of the holiday, and sadly takes precedence in the secular world at Christmas.  I can see how Christmas must be confusing to people who think The Polar Express is what we seem to think it’s all about (have I mentioned how much I hate that movie? And how much I can't stand sappy, overly sentimental shallow movies and songs? - sorry….), and that is truly unfortunate. What a shame to miss the depth and richness of what we actually celebrate at this time of year. I know, with that particular friend there was a world of difference in our understanding of who Jesus is, and Christmas was just one minor sticking point for her, but this time of year does remind me to pray for her, as I have for years, that someday she will know the real Jesus, know the true God, that the veil will be removed and she will be brought out of darkness into the light of knowing Jesus as the Savior, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace before whom every knee will one day bow. She told me that day she thought I was being a little intense. I guess I was. This matters

Today as I listened to that song, I was so moved by that line, I think, in part, because I’ve been reading through the book of Revelation and thinking about Jesus and His triumph. While listening to my playlist later on today, this song came on, and again, I listened to it while considering Revelation and what I’ve been studying about Jesus and His extreme worthiness and His deep love for His people, and I just had to sing out loud in my kitchen. 

Christmas is beautiful because our God is gloriously beautiful.  Let the beauty of the glitter and the lights and the shimmer of the shining decorations be but a pale reminder of the splendor and brilliance of the Savior.  The rich symbolic language in Revelation is full of such an abundance of light and color and brilliance, let the beauty of this season cause you to reflect on the majesty of our Creator. This Advent season, let yourself be reminded again just how worthy of worship our God is, be reminded how majestic His salvation is - the whole plan to redeem fallen mankind, to save a people unto Himself and show them such love and mercy, be reminded of the fact that Christmas isn’t just about the Baby in the manger, no…what we celebrate is the whole grand story of our God who is with us, our God who is for us, our Savior who died and rose again to set us free from the curse of sin and who is the reigning King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The veil was torn in two from top to bottom and we who trust in Christ alone are made righteous and granted access to our God. 

The last song I want to share in this musical Monday post also came on my playlist this afternoon, and again I heard it through the lens of what I’ve been studying in Revelation and had to lift my hands and sing. I hope you can enjoy it, too.