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

Catching Up

Wow – it’s been a little while since I posted.  As some of my readers may know, I was pregnant for much of this year.  This pregnancy had its tough moments in the form of morning sickness and fatigue on a level I don’t think I’ve ever experienced.  Sooo….my reading and blogging plans got derailed a bit.

Even though I didn’t read as much as I normally do, I’ve still gotten some reading in and I journaled most of it.  So, I’ll be ending 2016 with some catch-up blog posts and book reviews and heading into what I hope will be a most promising 2017!

And best of all this year….we got to welcome a sweet baby boy into the family earlier this fall.  So very  thankful!

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Where Have I Been?

Yes, it’s been a little quiet here.  There’s been a couple of reasons for that.  First of all, I’m a judge for the INSPY awards this year and I’ve been having a wonderful spring reading 5 books that I’m not allowed to talk about online.  I’m passionate about good Christian fiction, so the cone of silence has been tough for me.  The INSPY award winners should be announced today, so keep an eye on their webpage!

In the meantime, while I can’t say anything about the books yet, I figure I can tell you that all of the books on the General Fiction shortlist are worth your time:

– A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner

– The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert

– Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

– Water from my Heart by Charles Martin

– The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay

So, between reading award contenders and having early pregnancy kick my behind in terms of energy, I’ve been a bit quiet lately. Not for long, though!

I’ve read a few other good books that I’ll be talking about on here soon, so stay tuned and let’s all keep reading.  If you’ve made any good book finds this spring, let me know in the comments. My reading pile could always use feeding. 🙂

 

 

Just Passing Through

road Sometimes I feel like it’s a long road I’m on.

Some days the road is smooth and level, and I can see so clearly in all directions. My steps are firm and I know my way. It’s as if I’m being led in just the right way.

Other days the road is bumpy, or it’s dark and I can’t see my way. I’ve never been so lost in my life. Getting lost makes the fear build in the pit of one’s stomach. The dread grows to terror and it’s hard to make one foot keep moving in front of the other. Sometimes you even just have to have faith that the road is still there under your feet. I don’t know what keeps me going, but someone leads my way or maybe even carries me through the worst.

And then there are the uphill days. I can see the light at the top of the steep hill, and that light pulls me forward. It’s a hard climb, but I can see the goal in sight and that will keep me going. Sometimes the difficulty of the terrain becomes all consuming.

It’s so easy to think that it is all just me and the road. Walking this road is all there is.

And then I remember. There really is a purpose, and there really is a Destination. On this earth, we’re just passing through.

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.

A Blast From the Past – Love Comes Softly

lovecomessoftly Book InformationLove Comes Softly

Author – Janette Oke

Publication Information – Bethany House (1979, $13.99 paperback, $8.72 digital)

Several posts back, I mentioned that I had been gifted with several boxes packed to the brim with Christian books read and loved by my grandmother and her sisters.  It’s a treasure trove of Christian reading that’s mostly from the 1980s/90s.

I wasn’t quite sure where to start with the stash of vintage books. And honestly, I’m still not sure how the ratio of long-lost treasures to cringeworthy reads will shake out.

I decided to start with a book that I read and reread as a young teen. It’s been a while since I last revisited Love Comes Softly and I wasn’t sure if it would stand up to my happy adolescent memories.

The good news?  It certainly does.  To someone who reads a lot of current inspirational fiction, this novel might seem a touch old-fashioned. However, I find it old-fashioned in a good, nostalgic way.  Oke has a way of carrying catchphrases and motifs through her story that make not just the story itself but the memory of how the book makes one feel linger in the mind. Continue reading

Favorite Homemaking References

homecomforts A few weeks ago, I posted my review of The Lifegiving Home. As I touched on in the review, this wonderful book does have tips on how to implement the Clarksons’ ideas, but at its core, this book is really about the heart issues and goals of homemaking rather than a practical how-to manual. If you’re looking for encouragements and inspiration, this book is a great place to start.

However, after writing this review, I found myself thinking about the practical homemaking helps I’ve encountered over the years. For cleaning, I use the Flylady method and I’ve found a few other helpful sites out there as well.  However, many of my favorite home guides are books and I find myself returning to them again and again.  Here are some that I’ve liked:

  1. Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping HouseWeighing in at nearly 900 pages, this colossal guide isn’t the sort of book that I’d sit down to read cover to cover, but it’s a wonderful resource to have on hand for answering all of those home-based questions. I’ve consulted it for figuring out how to remove just about every kind of stain known to man, for example. There’s helpful information in here not just on cleaning, but on many facets of home maintenance in general.  Whether you own or rent, this one is a true must-have.

Continue reading

He is Alive!

easterlily I hold a very specific picture of Easter services in my mind. So many memories of being seated with my family, light streaming into our church, and the congregation rising to sing one of the most joyous hymns of the faith:

Christ the Lord is risen today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heavens, and earth reply, Alleluia!

One can feel the excitement and wonder building in the congregation. Hands raise here and there, heads thrown back as if to see what lies above.

Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!

Even before the pastor begins to preach, even before the first passage of Scripture is read to the waiting worshippers, we celebrate one of the great miracles of our faith.

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

I love Christmas for its promise, but I love Easter for its radiant joy. Christ is indeed alive, and on Resurrection Sunday, it feels as though the very stones will cry out from the vastness of the wonder and celebration. Christ has resurrected from the dead, we who were dead in our sins can live!

Thee we greet triumphant now, Alleluia!

Triumphant indeed. Christ has conquered sin and death. We are alive. We are alive in Him. Now let us go forth and celebrate!
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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.

Review of The Lifegiving Home

lifegivinghome Book InformationThe Lifegiving Home: Creating a Place of Belonging & Becoming

Authors – Sally Clarkson and Sarah Clarkson

Publication Information – Tyndale Momentum (February 2016, $15.99 print, $8.57 digital)

Reading Challenge Book? No.

“As I do all of this, I am aware of the Kingdom coming. As I order and hope, fill and form, the Holy Spirit is renewing one more corner of the world. Here, in my room, the fallen stuff of broken earth is being formed back into love, into home.

There’s no place like it.”

– Sarah Clarkson, The Lifegiving Home

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It is no exaggeration to say that I have been longing to read this book since I first learned of its impending release. I stalked it on Netgalley to no avail, and finally pounced on release day.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one waiting. Our local Lifeway sold out the day the book was released.

So, was it worth it?  Well, the short answer is yes.  This book is exactly the sort of resource for homemaking (home culture, really) that I have wanted for many years. There are many good books on there that touch on how to keep an orderly home, a clean home, a well-planned home where your kids won’t run feral, and so on. However, books on the real heart of a Christian home are few and far between. Continue reading