Catching Up – Some Reading Challenge Mini-Reviews

evangelism Book InformationEvangelism and the Sovereignty of God

Author – J. I. Packer

Publication Information – InterVarsity Press (2012 edition of 1961 original; $9.99 digital, $16.00 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book recommended by my pastor.

One of the pastors at the church where I grew up makes no secret of his love for this book as well as for J.I. Packer’s Knowing God. Even though I’ve read Knowing God several times over and really found it life-changing, somehow I’d missed this book.

One of the attacks often leveled at reformed theology is that we must not believe in evangelism since God has chosen His elect. In this short book, Packer very powerfully makes the case that God’s absolute sovereignty is what should drive our passion to evangelize. This book contains one of the best discussions of the reasons for evangelism that I have ever read and it is deservedly a classic. I intend to read it again so that I can think about it more deeply and it’s one of those books that I think belongs in any library. Rating: 5 stars

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benfranklinBook InformationBenjamin Franklin: An American Life

Author – Walter Isaacson

Publication Information – Simon & Schuster (2004, $12.13 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a biography.

Clocking in at nearly 600 pages, this is an impressive doorstopper of a book. Fortunately, it’s also fascinating reading so it didn’t feel terribly long at all.

Most relatively well-educated people will have at least a vague sense of Benjamin Franklin and his importance in American history. However, this book really digs deeply not just into the person but also the time in which he lived.  The result is a vivid portrait that made me appreciate Franklin more, despite his infamous shortcomings.

Isaacson starts with Franklin’s early life, which was somewhat difficult to put it mildly. The picture that emerges is one of a bright boy who develops into a clever, determined young man whose humor and wit take him far. Though obviously very gifted, his pride and temper seemed to make him his own worst enemy at times.

In some ways, Franklin with his Poor Richard’s Almanac and famous maxims has been made to personify the American spirit of thrift, striving and innovation.  These are definitely present in the story of his life. However, Isaacson does a marvelous job of marshaling the primary sources to show him as human as well. The Franklin that emerges here is a more complex (and sometimes less likable) figure than the one we see in textbooks or even his own autobiography. A good biography of a flawed but important figure. Rating: 4.5 stars

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howardsendBook InformationHowards End

Author – E. M. Forster

Publication Information – Dover Thrift Editions (2010 reissue of 1910 publication, $0.99 digital, $4.50 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book more than 100 years old.

My first introduction to E. M. Forster came through the lush Merchant and Ivory films that were popular when I was a child.  At the time, I think I was too young to really grasp some of the themes of the novels but I could enjoy the gorgeous cinematography.

Now, as an adult, I can better appreciate the complexity of Forster’s books.  This novel, originally published in 1910, illustrates the tensions between the more traditional segments of English society as represented by the Wilcox family who own Howards End and the more modern (and decidedly secular) patterns of the Schlegel family.  In this tale of a friendship and other interactions between members of the unorthodox Schlegel clan and the Wilcoxes, we see the tensions again and again.  For instance, Margaret Schlegel and Mrs. Wilcox become very close friends but the worldly and “modern” Margaret just cannot understand the importance family holds for Mrs. Wilcox.

In addition to the push and pull of emotions and tangled relations between Schlegel and Wilcox, a chance meeting between the Schlegels and a young working class man named Leonard Bast set in motion a series of events that eventually unfolds with tragic consequences.  The result is both an interesting if sometimes disquieting portrait of the early 20th century as well as a thoughtful consideration of the meaning of life. Written from what appears to be a decidedly non-Christian perspective(Forster was an athiest), I don’t agree with some of the places that Forster’s pondering takes him but this subtle, well-written book is worth reading and thinking through nevertheless. Rating: 4 stars

When Nothing Comes Easy

frustration I had to laugh when I saw this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt. For the past couple of weeks, nothing has really felt easy.

You know those kind of weeks, right? The ones where we feel pulled in way too many directions and just can’t seem to find our center? That’s exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I work from home part-time and I’ve had some tricky matters to deal with there, I’m up against a deadline on a volunteer committee I serve on, I have a two-year-old who is going through a difficult phase and really needs his mommy.

And oh yes, I’m also pregnant and exhausted. Soooo exhausted. I remember being tired with my first little one, but not this bone crushingly fatigued.

So, how have I been living life? Well, it feels like I’ve been plodding through jello – or maybe a vat of molasses – the entire way. And I’ll admit that part of me feels a little entitled. With so many things making life more difficult, it’s easy to slip into feeling like I deserve to have something go my way.

And yet, as I fall into that thinking, I also read Scripture and see so many examples of God’s faithfulness. Things don’t always come easily for his people. In fact, we’re promised trials in this life. So what do we have? We have God with us. We do not walk alone.

This week, I have been reading in Psalms and I was especially struck as I came across the words, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”(Psalms 119:71-72) This runs so opposite to much of what we’re taught to think by the culture. And yet, God’s word holds true. I don’t often (read that, pretty much never) have the primary impulse to be thankful for trials in my life but in looking back, I can see that God has taught me through these trials. Most importantly, I can also see how God has been there with me, just as He promises us He will be.

So how does this change my thinking? Well, I know life isn’t always easy. But I also know we’re not alone.

This Little Light of Mine

lightofmine This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it shine…
I grew up singing this song and I’ve always enjoyed it. There’s long been a bit of a disconnect, though.

We sing about letting our little lights shine, but when it comes to sharing that good news, we clam up. We’re afraid to offend, afraid to be different from the world around us.

I know that I do it, and it’s something that happens to most of my friends as well.

The fact that we have been saved from death in sin by the grace of God is the most wonderful and amazing news in the world. It should be shared. Heck, we’ve been commanded to share it in Matthew 28, among other places in the Bible.

Now, I’m not saying that all Christians should start handing out tracts on street corners or haranguing passers-by. I’m not entirely sure I’d consider that sharing anyway; that’s more forcing oneself into the lives of strangers.

However, there are so many ways we can share God’s love with the world. Simply treating those around us with love is a start. Letting folks know that you’re praying for them in times of trouble helps, too. When questions about faith and life come up, it takes courage to speak up, but I find that simply mentioning that my faith is what gives me strength has opened the door to many good conversations with friends and acquaintances.

So many discussions of evangelism that I’ve seen take the form of training folks for full-time missionary work. If you are called to be a missionary as your primary vocation, this is great. However, I would love to see more helpful(i.e. practical) instruction for the rest of us on how to share the Gospel with people we encounter day to day. After all, you never know how God might be moving in someone else’s heart!

Start Spreading the News

news When I saw this week’s prompt of “News”, my first thought was “Extra, extra – read all about it!” Have you every heard those words uttered with anything other than excitement?

Excitement

That might be the quality sometimes missing in our news. Most of the news is my life is mundane family news – some joyful, some not. It’s the glue of daily life, though. I treasure it, but it doesn’t send me rocketing out of my chair and running down the block to share with all the neighbors.

And then there’s the national and world news. Much of this is dominated by the upcoming 2016 election. You will pardon me if I confess to you that I spend many of my days fighting the desire the build a blanket fort and hide there. This desire washes over me whenever I read election coverage. Prayer is my best way to combat it, but that’s a subject for another post.

And then there’s The News. The greatest news of all. The news that we are compelled to give voice to in Matthew 28 when Christ commands, “‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

That reads like some pretty clear instruction to me. Yet it’s so easy to either get lost in the mundane details of daily life or simply to be afraid of giving offense. And we stay silent. And yes, I just said “we.” I’m part of that silence way too often, too.

And what is this amazing news we are to spread? Well, John 3:16 gives a very good start: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Look at that again. How amazing is that? It’s a piece of important news that I simultaneously take too much for granted and yet it also is so huge it blows my mind. This is the news we should be bursting at the seams to share, and I find myself praying more and more that God would guide me in how and when to share.
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This was written for Five Minute Fridays. It’s a wonderful free-writing community, and you should join us here sometime.

Pulled in Way Too Many Directions?

manydirections “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” – Colossians 3:2

The Scriptural reminder from Colossians seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? Of course we should be placing the things of God above our earthly concerns.

However, as soon as we get out of bed, the mundane concerns intrude. What to do about a difficult situation with a friend, a child needing attention, pets to feed, yet another pile of clutter to tame, taxes to complete, errands to run,….the list goes on an on!

No matter what type of lifestyle we have, modern life pulls us all in way too many directions. It can be all too familiar to fall into living in survival mode, just putting out the fires as they arise and falling into bed exhausted at the end of the day.

Putting God, home and family, and all of the most important pieces of our lives first takes intention and real focus. I often have to pray for the ability to focus in my own life. And I’m learning that when I put my focus on God, the rest has a way of falling into place. It isn’t always easy, but He does make the way clear.

And so this year, I’ve returned to what used to be my discipline of spending a brief time with God before I ever even get out of bed. Focusing on Him focuses my whole day.
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This piece was written in five minutes with the wonderful folks in the Five Minute Fridays community. Come join us, and do visit here again. I love chatting with friends!

The Many Faces of Quiet

1357323840929 When I think of quiet, perhaps I picture a deserted beach, hammock swaying lazily in the sun.

Or maybe an open field, full of light and possibilities.

Maybe it’s a soft, fluffy bed at the end of a productive day.

All very soft and soothing images. Yet sometimes the quiet is majestic. It is the mountains soaring up to meet the sky, as we stand and wonder. As we are reminded, “Be still and know that I am God.

The quiet majesty of God’s creation points me to the great, all-encompassing Father. And in that quiet, I remember His promises. Promises of hope and salvation, reminders to fear and reverence my Lord and Savior.

Sometimes it feels as though all eternity lives in the quiet. God’s power is so great that He has no need to shout. We can see Him in the many different kinds of quiet all around us.

First Days

sunrise Something about the early days of a new year just feels fresh and new. Those first sweet days hold promise.

Promise that we can begin again.

Promise that we can try new things.

Promise that we can fix what’s broken.

It’s sweet, but perhaps an illusion. After all, in Christ we always have a new beginning. And it’s not only at the first of the year. We are new creations whenever we are turned to Him, and through the work of the Spirit we are constantly being refined.

There are so many “first sweet days” and as time rolls on, they grow ever sweeter.

The truth is the sweetest thing of all, and I love to take these first days of the year as a reminder to treasure it. Let me never forget how fresh life has become since I sought to follow Him.

Ready for the Storm

readystorm

Are we ever truly ready for the storms in life?

This was my first thought when I saw today’s prompt.

My next thought was of “Ready for the Storm,” sung by the Celtic band Deanta. The song is sung from the prospective of a sailor who finds himself feeling quite small amidst the roar of the ocean. Yet, as the song goes on, it is clear that the one to whom the sailor sings is the one who comforts all his fears.

I’ve loved that song for years, and in my mind, I can picture this lonely sailor singing it to God. Given that I’ve heard this song sung at Christian events, I’m guessing that I’m not the only one who sees it that way.

I would love to be able to say that I have that simple, secure faith of the sailor eagerly chorusing that, “Yes, I am ready for the storm” even as he marvels that he has no reason to be frightened.

However, I do have fears. And I’m old enough to know that life brings storms. So, what is one to do? Praying that I can be ready to face my storms with courage and grace is where I am these days.


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Trusting Completely

trust “Trust, but verify.”

“Always go in with both eyes open.”

“Love many, trust few. Always paddle your own canoe.”

As we grow up, we are taught all manner of sayings about trust. And most of them taught me not to trust something that I couldn’t see with my own eyes or touch with my own hands.

In other words, life on earth starts at some point to harden our hearts against openness, against complete faith and trust. In following God, I learn to trust completely again. When I am taught to have childlike faith, the total trust in God is part of that.

As I work with my husband to raise a toddler, I see that open trust in us and more than anything, I don’t want to be the one to damage it. However, I also watch him and realize in a way that never struck me quite so deeply before, that I am meant to trust my heavenly Father just this completely. I may not always(or even often) understand His plan, but Scripture teaches that He has one and I can trust that it is good.

Again and again in the Psalms, particularly, we are given reminders to replace the ones the world gave us:

“When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” – Psalm 56:3

“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” – Psalm 143:8

“I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”” – Psalm 91:2

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” – Psalm 20:7

We are reminded to soften our hearts and trust in our unfailing God.
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This is written in 5 minutes for Five Minute Fridays, a wonderful community of writers.

Exploding With Possibilities

stars I recently had a conversation with an old friend that was just…wonderful. Somehow we start off talking about kids and chores and all the day to day stuff of life. Then it all falls away and somehow the discussion turns to life itself.

This friend and I have both had some hurtful experiences in the church, and at one point we were talking about how we both felt so fortunate that God has led us both to strong, solid churches. For too long, religion felt like fear or confinement to me, as God was hidden away from us by legalistic and ever-shifting rules on dress, behavior, deportment, and more.

Being brought into a church with solid biblical teaching has felt like daylight to me. Following God and seeking to grow closer to Him day by day shows me that more things are possible than I ever dreamed. And it makes sense. A God of infinite space has a greater plan that I can ever understand, and we were born to be taken places and to do things bu His will that we would never have imagined on our own.

I have seen sad and sorrowful things, but I have seen miracles happen as well. Anything is truly possible with God.
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Written in five minutes for #31Days

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