Tag Archives: Book Review

Battling Enemies – A Book Review

A couple of months ago our pastor did a sermon series based on Deep & Wide by Andy Stanley. He encouraged the whole congregation to read the book along with the sermon series. I resisted buying it because I knew if I went to Amazon to buy it I would end up with one or more other books in my cart so that I could get the free super saver shipping that comes with spending more than $25.

Then one evening my husband found a towel rack for our kitchen on Amazon and since I have an Amazon account he asked if I could get it for us. Well, of course I had to add something else to the cart for that super saver shipping. So I decided to get Deep & Wide. But once I added it to my cart I still was below $25, which prompted me to look around for another book to buy. I ended up with another Andy Stanley book called Enemies of the Heart.

I have yet to crack the spine on Deep & Wide, but I read Enemies of the Heart cover to cover in less than a week. I found in this small book some truths that I knew but needed to hear again in a new way.

The great thing about Andy Stanley is that his writing style is so readable. The concepts he shares are deep, but he doesn’t use big words and convoluted arguments to convey them. The message of Enemies of the Heart is simple: there are four emotions that if left unchecked will control our lives in a negative way, but God has provided a way to deal with each of these toxic emotions. The four emotions are guilt, anger, greed, and jealousy.

I’m going to share Stanley’s insights in a nutshell, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole book because it is the anecdotes and the scripture references he uses to flesh out these insights that have really helped me to hold onto their truth. So here’s the nutshell version:

  1. Guilt says, “I owe you.” This emotion stems from actions we have taken that have hurt others. The solution is confession, not just to God but to the person we have hurt.
  2. Anger says, “You owe me.” This emotion stems from actions others have taken that have hurt us and the debt we feel they owe us. To solution is forgiveness, which requires that we figure out what the other person has taken from us, and then to make the conscious decision to cancel that debt.
  3. Greed says, “I owe me.” This emotion stems from a fear that we will lose what we have, that our future is uncertain, and a tendency to hang onto our possessions matter what. The solution is generous giving, which ultimately leads to a trust in God to provide our needs.
  4. Jealousy says, “God owes me.” This emotion stems from a belief that if God could provide a nice car, a big house, a great job, etc. for my neighbor, then He could have done the same for me. Jealousy is not a problem with the person who has what we want, it is a problem with God, who has not provided us with what we want. The solution is to celebrate the blessings of others.

All of these enemies of the heart involve debt—and debt must either be repaid or cancelled, or it will always cloud relationships. Sometimes we don’t even realize a debt is owed, so often just identifying the enemy is the first step. Stanley does a great job in this book of getting to the heart of the matter and helping the reader to identify the emotional enemies that are holding them back from enjoying loving and vibrant relationships with family, friends, and God. I would give this book a definite 5 out of 5 stars.

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The Things People Will Believe

I am always amazed at the things people will believe and repost on Facebook. Here are just a few examples:

  • Once again the “fact” that the coming month has 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays, and that this won’t happen again for 823 years, has been going around. The shared post usually says that if you pass it on you will have good luck or come into some money. It’s fairly easy to debunk this claim by looking an online perpetual calendar, which will reveal that any 31 day month that starts on a Friday will have this 5 Friday, 5 Saturday, and 5 Sunday pattern. And yet people keep falling for this.
  • A well-meaning warning has been circulating again of a new “trick” of car-jackers. The story is that the car-jackers put a piece of paper on the back window of a car in a mall parking lot and then lay in wait for the owner. When the owner gets in and starts the car, they notice the piece of paper in their back window, and jump out with the car running to see what it is. The would-be car-jacker then jumps in the car and drives off. There are apparently no reported cases of this actually happening in all the years it has been circulating via email and now on Facebook.
  • During the recent election season a post about how members of Congress do not pay into Social Security and all draw salaries equal to their salaries in office for the rest of their lives regardless of how long they were in Congress. A simple search on www.snopes.com will reveal the truth about the retirement options of members of Congress. And yet people continue to repost this, calling for change.
  • Since it is the Christmas season, the post attributing a long monologue to Ben Stein has been going around. The first few paragraphs are part of a commentary Stein gave on TV several years ago. But then tacked on the end are some blurbs about Madeleine O’Hare, prayer in schools, and several other topics about how our government is anti-Christian, all of which have been circulating in some form or another for years, and are not in any way attributable to Stein. The mere fact that these things have circulated forever should be enough to make anyone be skeptical. And yet people keep reposting it.

It seems that just because something is posted in a nicely formatted box or comes with a picture of a celebrity people are willing to believe and repost without checking the source of the information. People can be so gullible about the stupidest things.

And yet these same people will often refuse to believe the miracles of God. Even though we have eye-witness accounts of many of these miracles—from the shepherds telling of the angels announcing the birth of Jesus to the post-crucifixion appearance of the resurrected Christ to over 500—people refuse to believe. It is unfathomable that the One who created the world and all that is in it would come to us as the child of a virgin, would live His relatively short life mostly in obscurity, then would die a horrible and brutal death, and be raised from the dead to walk again among the living. It is unfathomable—unless one is willing to believe in the miracle of love and grace.

The apostle John summed up the eye-witness accounts of the authors of the New Testament when he wrote: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”

Some argue that the eye-witness testimony of the New Testament is not reliable because we can’t really know if the Bible as we currently know it is an accurate representation of what was originally written. However, both the quantity and quality of available early manuscripts of the New Testament books, as well as the short time span between the available manuscripts and the events they cover, all point to the reliability of the New Testament. As compared to other accepted writings of ancient philosophers, the New Testament is unparalleled in its reliability. Here is part of a chart from I’m Glad You Asked by Ken Boa and Larry Moody, pg. 93, comparing the New Testament to other writings:

Author Date Written Earliest Copy Time Span Number of Copies Accuracy
Homer ca. 850 B.C. —— —— 643 95%
Plato ca. 380 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 1,300 years 7 Not enough copies to reconstruct original
Aristotle ca. 350 B.C. ca. A.D. 1100 1,400 years 5
Caesar ca. 60 B.C. ca. A.D. 900 950 years 10
Tacitus ca. A.D. 100 ca. A.D. 1100 1,000 years 20
New Testament ca. A.D. 60 ca. A.D. 130 100 years 14,000 99.5%

The Bible makes some incredible claims about Jesus and the means of salvation. But when you check the source of this information, the reliability of its eye-witness accounts, and the internal consistency of the promises of God contained in this wonderful book, it doesn’t require gullibility to believe. It only requires an open mind to believe in miracles.

If you are interested in exploring the reliability of this Good News further, I highly recommend Boa and Moody’s book.

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Be Careful You Don’t Fall

This weekend I was out camping, and one of my favorite things about camping is that it affords me a great deal of reading time. I started a book last week and was able to finish it before we headed home from the camping trip. It is a book I have read before and is the first in a fictional series call The Chronicles of Brothers by Wendy Alec. The first time I read it was many years ago before books two and three of the series were released. I recently purchased books two and three, and am anticipating the release of book four later this year, so I decided it would be a good idea to re-read book one.

The first book in the series is called The Fall of Lucifer. It is the story of how Lucifer, the light-bearer and chief archangel of heaven, God’s first and most beautiful creation, was overcome with jealousy and pride resulting in his expulsion from the presence of almighty God and the heavenly realms. The series title—The Chronicles of Brothers—is based on the three main archangels mentioned in the Bible: Lucifer, Michael, and Gabriel.

There is definitely a Biblical basis to this book, though the author does use a great deal of creativity and imagination in describing the terrain of the First Heaven and the relationships among the various angelic hosts of heaven. The Bible does not tell us of how much Lucifer adored and worshipped Yehovah before his fall and banishment, but such adoration and worship is what the light-bearer was created for. And so Alec’s description of Lucifer’s relationship with God, with the Christ, is well within the realm of Biblical truth.

As I read this book, I kept thinking of a verse from one of Paul’s epistles: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10:12 (NIV).

There is a great lesson to be learned from The Fall of Lucifer. He was the highest of the angels of heaven, second only to God himself. He walked in the very presence of God, communed with God, and was privy to the wonders and majesty of all of heaven. He had everything to live for and everything to lose.

And yet Lucifer allowed pride and jealousy over God’s love for man, the creation in God’s own image, to lead to his fall. He allowed iniquity to dwell in his heart and refused to repent. As Alec portrays the story, there were opportunities for Lucifer to repent and God, in His mercy, would have blotted out his iniquity. The prophet Ezekiel recorded God’s description of him:

You were the anointed cherub who covers;
I established you;
You were on the holy mountain of God;
You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.
You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created,
Till iniquity was found in you.
Ezekiel 28:14-15 (NKJV).

It occurs to me that we all must heed the lesson of Lucifer’s fall and the admonition of Paul. We may think we stand firm in the truth and grace of Christ, but we must always be careful that we do not let iniquity dwell in our hearts and cause us to fall. None of us is immune from temptation.

But after his admonishment, Paul provided this encouragement:

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
1 Corinthians 10:13 (NIV).

Now it’s on to book two in the series: Messiah – The First Judgment.

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Finding the Right Herb for Recipe Friday

I don’t have a recipe for today. Instead, I want to share some information about selecting herbs and spices from an old cookbook I have titled How to Cook with Herbs, Spices & Flavorings by Doris Townsend. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually made one of the recipes in this cookbook, but there is a chart in the front that tells what herbs and spices go best with various foods that I refer to a lot.

This chart includes columns for appetizers, soups and chowders, salads, fish and shellfish, poultry and game, meats, sauces, eggs and cheese, and vegetables. My favorite, and most used, column is the vegetable column. This is the one I want to share today.

I hope this information helps you in your side-dish cooking as much as it helps me.

Basil

Beans
Eggplant
Onions
Peas
Squash
Tomatoes

Bay Leaf

Beets
Carrots
Potatoes
Stewed Tomatoes

Chervil

Beets
Eggplant
Peas
Potatoes
Spinach
Tomatoes

Dillweed

Beans
Beets
Cabbage
Celery
Parsnips
Potatoes

Marjoram

Brussels sprouts
Carrots
Onions
Peas
Spinach
Zucchini

Oregano

Broccoli
Cabbage
Lentils
Mushrooms
Onions
Tomatoes

Parsley

Carrots
Potatoes
Tomatoes

Peppermint

Carrots
Peas
Potatoes
Spinach
Zucchini

Rosemary

Cauliflower
Cucumbers
Mushrooms
Peas
Potatoes
Spinach

Saffron

Vegetables & rice
Squash
Zucchini

Sage

Carrots
Eggplant
Lima beans
Onions
Peas
Tomatoes

Savory

Artichokes
Asparagus
Beans
Lentils
Rice
Sauerkraut

Tarragon

Cauliflower
Celery root
Mushrooms
Potatoes
Spinach
Tomatoes

Thyme

Asparagus
Beans
Beets
Carrots
Onions
Zucchini

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Jesus Is the Reason, and Not Just for the Season

I’m reading a great book called Jesus Manifesto by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola. I bought it probably eight or nine months ago, and it just sat on my bookshelf with all my other not-yet-read books for a long time. Then about a month ago I decided to finally read it. It seemed appropriate for reading during the Advent season because it is all about the supremacy of Christ.

As I read this book, I thought of the apostle John’s warning to the church that the antichrist would deny that Jesus Christ came in the flesh. 1 John 4:1-3 (NIV). In the first century of the church, many people found it hard to believe in the incarnate God. They had no trouble believing in God, but they did have trouble believing in the humanity of Christ.

Today we have the opposite problem. People have no trouble believing that Jesus lived as a human being and walked this earth, but they do have trouble believing that He was God incarnate. The virgin birth is seen as a scientific impossibility, and the possibility of a miracle is discounted. Jesus has become for many just a good example to follow; and they seek to follow Him in their own power.

The problem with this view is that is strips the Christian faith of its real power, which lies solely in the incarnate Christ who died and rose again – literally. The Christian faith at its core is simply and wonderfully Jesus and the power of His Holy Spirit, which He imparts to those who believe.

In Jesus Manifesto, Sweet and Viola successfully argue that it is essential that the church return to a Christ-only mentality. Christ is the center of all things in heaven and earth. Jesus is the reason we believe, and not just for the season of Christmas but for every minute of every day. Jesus asked the question of Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” Matthew 16:15 (NIV). Sweet and Viola argue that this is the question that every generation must answer.

Every revival and restoration in the church has been a rediscovery of some aspect of Christ in the process of answering this critical question. In fact, three features are present in every awakening in the history of the Christian church: (1) rediscovery of the “living Word,” or the Scriptures and its authority; (2) a rediscovery of the living Christ and His supremacy; and (3) a rediscovery of the living Spirit and the Spirit’s gifts and power to manifest Christ in the context of that culture. God has a history of taking seriously people who take the eternal Word seriously. (Jesus Manifesto, pg. xvii).

Throughout the book, Sweet and Viola point out some ways in which the church today fails to take the eternal Word made flesh seriously. This book is not for the faint-hearted who are happy with the status quo. This is a book for those who are willing to be challenged in their concept of church and of Christ. It is for those who are willing to believe in the miraculous and to trust in Christ alone.

The apostles and the first century church taught Christ and Him crucified – nothing more and nothing less. The church today teaches:

  • how to live a good, clean life
  • church multiplication strategies
  • the mark of the beast and end times prophecy
  • the 613 laws of Moses, exhorting them to obey each one of them
  • how to build a movement
  • divine healing
  • how to live by faith
  • how to save the lost
  • Creation versus evolution
  • social justice
    (Jesus Manifesto, pg. 12-13)

The focus of the church today is how we can be like Jesus, how we can help the poor, living good lives, recognize and survive the end times, and defeat the powers of darkness. But often we are taught how to do all of these things without any mention of reliance on His Holy Spirit to do so. The literal indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of believers is relegated to a back burner, or not considered at all.

There is a pervasive theology of “likeness” — “O God, make me more Christlike” — that cheapens the gospel and depresses the spirit. Christlikeness is too small a dream, to shallow and ambition, for a Christian. The call to Christlikeness is also not “good news.”

* * * * *

Second, we want a “like-Christ” relationship with God on our terms. But a loving, living relationship with Christ begins on God’s terms. In other words, it begins with the cross, or more precisely, a “dying with Christ.” It begins with a “death” to all those parts of us that are damping and hampering the Spirit’s work and preventing us from being “liberated from the controlling powers of [the] world,”FN the destructive, dehumanizing, controlling forces, like addictions, selfism, consumerism, hedonism, and others.

Third, to be “like Christ” often implies that you don’t really need Christ, since you already have the ideas and teachings of Christ.

* * * * *

Fourth, as Martin Luther said, if you read the Law, you will see that you can never hope to keep it. Similarly, try to be like Christ, and you will quickly realize you don’t have a prayer of becoming like Him. (Jesus Manifesto, pg. 69-71).

Jesus is not just the “reason for the season.” He is the reason for everything. All things exist by Him, through Him, and for Him. He is the center of all and the only way for you and me to overcome this world. We must not strive to become like Christ. Rather, we must seek Christ dwelling in us and through us, surrendering our lives wholly over to Him who alone is worthy.

Although I still have two chapters to go to finish this book, I would highly recommend it. I also recommend keeping your Bible handy to allow for easy reference to the many Scriptures that the authors rely on to support their argument. I hope and pray that there will be a revival in the church today with a renewed focus on Christ alone as the source of our power to love and live a life pleasing to God.

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My Favorite Cookbook for Recipe Friday

It’s been a really busy week and I haven’t made anything new to post a recipe of. We had Texas Skillet Dinner over the weekend, which I’ve had as leftovers three times. On Monday I made Beef Stew that was leftovers for dinner the next two nights. Then last night I was at a meeting that someone else brought dinner to. All of which is why my regular recipe post was not up at 8:00 a.m. this morning.

As I thought about what to post for today, I thought of my favorite cookbook. I don’t use a cookbook too often because most of the things I make are old standards, some of which may have originated from a cookbook but which I have modified over time.

I have a whole shelf full of cookbooks, but most of them never come off the shelf. Except my favorite – my Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. I actually have two. One I’ve had almost as long as I’ve been married (25 years), and the other is a Limited Edition for breast cancer awareness that I got in 2005 at Costco.

My Shelf of Cookbooks

What I like about Better Homes and Gardens is that it has all the great basic recipes anyone would ever want. There aren’t a lot of ultra-fancy recipes, but if you want to make an apple pie, a meatloaf, or chocolate chip cookies, the recipe is in this cookbook. It is also full of tips for making basic sauces, roasting times and temperatures, vegetable cooking times, and much more. If you need to convert measurements, there’s a chart to help you in this cookbook. And every recipe includes nutrition information to help you make balanced meals. My older edition also has a whole chapter title “Special Helps” full of helpful tips. The Limited Edition has a special chapter of recipes that are helpful for preventing breast cancer.

Any edition of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook is worth the price. Several are available at Amazon.com. But you could probably find one of the great older editions at a thrift store if you looked. Although there is overlap in the basic recipes, I enjoy having two editions because each has a little something extra.

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A Life of Redemption and Grace

My favorite musical artist of all time is Johnny Cash. There are only a handful of his songs that I don’t like. Of course, I love all the gospel music he recorded. But I also love everything from Cry, Cry, Cry to Cocaine to T for Texas to Hung My Head to his rendition of Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt and Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus. His music covers the whole spectrum of real human existence. Many of his songs bring tears to my eyes every time I hear them.

But as great as his music is, the reason I love Johnny Cash has just as much to do with his life and his witness to the grace and redemptive power of Christ. I have read two of his biographies and several essays about him in a book of collected essays. I also have a graphic novel about his life that I recently purchased (though I haven’t read it yet), and have read the introduction to his novel The Man in White. He lived a fascinating and tumultuous life.

For anyone interested in the life of a legend who is nonetheless an incredibly “real” person with struggles and trials just like the rest of us, I recommend The Man Called Cash: The Life, Love, and Faith of an American Legend by Steve Turner. This book is a meticulously researched and well-written account from which even those who knew Johnny well would likely learn something about him that they didn’t know before. Starting almost at the end, with the death of June Carter, and then winding his way through the early years, the middle years, and everything in between, Turner reveals a man who knew God as only a sinner can.

This book includes two awesome sections of black and white photos from Johnny’s life, as well as the unedited text of an interview Turner conducted with Johnny in 1988, a chronology of June and Johnny’s lives, a complete discography, and an index. But these are all just icing on the cake of a story that will bring tears to your eyes and a smile to your heart.

One of my favorite stories of redemption is about the time Johnny crawled into Nickajack Cave, thirty miles from Chattanooga, with the plan to never come out.

He believed that if he crawled in far enough, he’d be unable to find his way out. When he starved to death it would look like a tragic accident.

In 1995 he [Johnny] told the writer Nick Tosches:

It just felt like I was at the end of the line. I was down there by myself and I got to feelin’ that I’d taken so many pills that I’d done it, that I was gonna blow up or something. I hadn’t eaten in days, I hadn’t slept in days, and my mind wasn’t workin’ too good anyway. I couldn’t stand myself anymore. I wanted to get away from me. And if that meant dyin’, then okay, I’m ready. I just had to get away from myself. I couldn’t stand it anymore, and I didn’t think there was any other way. I took a flashlight with me, and I said, I’m goin’ to walk and crawl and climb into this cave until the light goes out, and then I’m gonna lie down. So I crawled in there with that flashlight until it burned out and I lay down to die. I was a mile in that cave. At least a mile. But I felt this great comfortin’ presence sayin’, “No, you’re not dyin’.” I got things for you to do. So I got up, found my way out. Cliffs, ledges, drop-offs. I don’t know how I got out, ‘cept God got me out.

Turner, pg. 119.

And God did have things for Johnny to do. He had to show the world how even someone as strung out on drugs as he was could be redeemed by the grace of God. He had to show that despite our faults and weaknesses – or maybe because of them – God loves each and every one of us. He may have been a music legend, but he was never afraid to use his talent to glorify God and to share the gospel. His was a life of redemption and grace well worth reading about. If you think your life isn’t worth living or that God can’t possibly love you or redeem you, read about the life of one who was chief among sinners but who was saved by grace.

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Is a Little Faith Enough? – A Book Review

I love to read, but don’t always have time to read as much as I would like. I tend to be in the middle of multiple books at any given time, but don’t always finish them. When I go on vacation, though, I like to take one book along and try to finish it if I can.

On our vacation to the Redwoods last week I succeeded in that goal. I took with me “have a little faith” by Mitch Albom. I bought it several months ago because it was on the sale table at Powell’s Books and the title intrigued me. Also, I had previously read “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” by the same author and thought it was pretty good.

“have a little faith” is a relatively small book at only 259 pages, and it is billed as a true story. Oprah said it was the “Best Nonfiction Book of 2009.” It was definitely well written and engaging, but I’m not sure I would use the adjective “best” to describe it. There were a lot of nonfiction books in 2009, many of which contained a better underlying message.

I do have to get out of the way one of my stylistic problems with this book. Whenever there is dialogue, what is said by the other party is in quotation marks as it should be, but whatever is said by the author is not. I suppose the author could claim literary license here, and at least he was consistent with this style, but it kind of annoyed me.

“have a little faith” is definitely a feel good book. It starts with the author’s rabbi asking if he would do his eulogy when he dies, and proceeds with his recounting the many meetings he had with the rabbi to get to know him better. Interspersed is the story of how the author came to know a drug addict criminal turned evangelical pastor with a heart for the homeless and downtrodden. Throughout there is an awesome message of loving others and of faith in action.

My biggest concern with this book comes in the Epilogue, where the author recounts “one last memory.” The author asks the rabbi what he would do if when he got to heaven he discovered he only had five minutes with God. True to what we have learned throughout the book about the rabbi, he says he would give three of his five minutes away to someone who was suffering and required God’s love. Then with his last minutes he says this:

“All right. In that final minute, I would say, ‘Look, Lord, I’ve done X amount of good stuff on earth. I have tried to follow your teachings and to pass them on. I have loved my family. I’ve been part of a community. And I have been, I think, fairly good to people.

“‘So, Heavenly Father, for all this, what is my reward?'”

And what do you think God will say?

He smiled.

“He’ll say, ‘Reward? What reward? That’s what you were supposed to do.'”

What I saw in this exchange was someone who tried to and thought he had earned his way to heaven. There was nothing in his answer to show what God had done; it was all about what he had done. He had a little faith, but it was faith more in himself, in community, and in religion than it was in God. I don’t know about you, but I cannot imagine, if I had only five minutes to spend with God, using even a second of it telling Him about what I had done. As the prophet Isaiah wrote: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6 (NIV).

If I had only five minutes with God, I would spend every second of it praising Him for His love, grace, and mercy. I would praise Him for His mighty creation, and I would thank Him for forgiving every transgression I had ever committed towards Him. That is, if I could even find the words to speak at all! “What is my reward?” Who could ask that of the Almighty? I deserve  no reward, and yet being in His presence (even for just five minutes) would be all the reward I could ever hope for.

As I pondered the title of the book – “have a little faith” – I wondered if a little faith in one’s religion is enough. As I read scripture, I don’t believe it is. I think it is necessary to have a great deal of faith in God Himself as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. And if one has only a little faith, it still needs to be faith in what God has done through the cross to atone for sin. I don’t want to have just a little faith. I want faith as big as Mt. Everest, as vast as the Pacific Ocean, as all-encompassing as the entire Universe. If faith is in people, perhaps it can only be a little faith. But when faith is in God alone, in Christ alone, then God will grant faith bigger than we can imagine.

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“Every Day Deserves a Chance” – A Book Review

I had planned to do more book reviews this year, because I have so many great Christian books in my collection that I would love to share with all of you. Since it’s been a while since I wrote a book review, I decided it was time to take a look at the old book shelves and see what to share today.

I decided on “Every Day Deserves a Chance” by Max Lucado. I selected this book for our church Women’s Retreat several years ago, and it was a big hit. I still have one of the rocks that one of our retreat volunteers made for this retreat sitting next to my computer monitor at work. On one side of the rock she wrote “GOD” and on the other side she wrote each attendee’s name in lower case letters (so mine says “linda”). The rock was designed to always remind us of what we learned from this study.

One of the great things about this book is that it does include a Discussion Guide in the back with questions that can be used in a small group setting. But the book can also be used for personal reading.

There are three main sections of the book, which correspond with the letters “G” for grace, “O” for oversight, and “D” for direction.

  • Saturate Your Day in His Grace
  • Entrust Your Day to His Oversight
  • Accept His Direction

One of my favorite chapters is titled “Gratitude for Ungrateful Days.” The chapter begins with an excerpt from the diary of a (very grateful) dog. Throughout the day, each entry in the dog’s diary says “Oh boy, the _______ — my favorite.” No matter what’s in the blank, whether it be the kids, a car ride, a nap, or dog food, the dog is grateful and excited. Following this is an excerpt from the diary of a (very ungrateful) cat:

Day 283 of my captivity. My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects. They dine lavishly on fresh meat while I’m forced to eat dry cereal. I’m sustained by the hope of escape and the mild satisfaction I derive from ruining a few pieces of furniture. Tomorrow I may eat another houseplant. Lucado pg. 23-24.

This complaining continues for another half a page and is quite amusing. But what’s the point, you might ask? The point comes in the next paragraph:

The day of a dog. The day of a cat. One content, the other conniving. One at peace, the other at war. One grateful, the other grumpy. Same house. Same circumstances. Same master. Yet two entirely different attitudes. Lucado pg. 24.

The lesson to be learned is that whether you have an attitude of gratitude for the life God has given you, or live grumpy, ungrateful, and at war with God, is up to you. We often can’t change our circumstances, but we can change our attitude about them. And God notices a grateful heart.

This wonderful little book is filled with anecdotes and stories such as this one that help to make a point. It is also filled with scripture to support his points and to help us be more grateful and forgiving, to help us have less anxiety and fear, to help us see God’s purpose and direction for our lives. This small book is only 157 pages, including the Discussion Guide, but it is packed with godly wisdom highlighted with wonderful stories (both contemporary and Biblical) that speak directly to the circumstances and heart of every person.

Whether you are planning a retreat or just need something to read to lift your spirit, I highly recommend this book.

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Filed under Blogging, Book Review, Faith, Family, Jesus, Life, postaday2011, Women

Practicality Obscures the Divine

During Lent I decided to reread a book that I first read 7 or 8 years ago called The Day Christ Died by Jim Bishop. I remember thinking it was a great book the first time I read it and wanted to see if I could discover anything new given the greater understanding I have of the Bible now. This book is an hour by hour account of the last supper through Christ’s crucifixion. It is based primarily on the Gospel accounts, but the author also draws on other historical information that is available to us. In addition to each chapter that covers an hour of time, there are three background chapters on “The Jewish World,” “Jesus,” and “The Roman World.” These background chapters are full of information that help bring the Gospel story to life for those of us so far removed from what life was like at that time. The author admits that he has taken some liberties with the narrative of the story, but has never written anything that contradicts the essential facts of the Gospels.

I was planning to read the whole book and then do a review, but I should know by now that never works for me. As I’m reading through a book, some part of it will get me thinking and inspire a blog post. That’s what happened with this book. I’m only a third of the way through and I already came across something I want to share my thoughts on.

The chapter that got me thinking was the one involving Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Jesus. I’ve often thought about Judas and wondered how he could spend so much time with Jesus and then betray Him. I know his betrayal of Jesus was necessary to fulfill prophecy, but I am still fascinated by how someone can witness all that Jesus did and hear all that He said, living with Him day and night for almost 3 years, and clearly not understand who He truly was.

Bishop sheds some light on the state of mind of Judas:

A man devoid of faith, like Judas, needs something to sustain him, to nourish his emotional life, and most men in his position boast of their practical side. Judas was practical. As one of the original twelve, he had subscribed to Jesus as the Messiah as long as there was a good living in it. And for the money-keeper of this fervent enterprise it was a good living indeed, because hundreds and then thousands came to believe that this man Jesus was indeed he whom it had been predicted Yahweh would send to Israel. This being the case, the rich recruits to the cause not only knelt before him and wept or begged for forgiveness or kissed the hem of his dusty garment, but they would not be satisfied until they had contributed their wealth to the furtherance of the Messiah.

At times, in the presence of miracles such as the recent one of raising Lazarus up after he had been in the tomb four days, Judas must have half believed in Jesus. But then his practical side told him that such things were in the nature of Egyptian magic, as everyone knew, and Judas believed that there was collusion between Jesus and Lazarus and Jesus and the other beneficiaries of miracles. It was a good scheme to be allied with, as long as it flourished. And Judas remained with it exactly that long. The Day Christ Died, pg. 65.

I think there are people like Judas in the Christian church even today. They don’t fully believe in the divinity of Christ. They may not end up being traitors like Judas, but they are really only in it for the practical benefit it provides. When the going gets tough, when they have to sacrifice something in order to hold onto their faith, they will find they have no faith in anything but themselves. When it is no longer practical to remain a Christian, they are going to walk away.

In the parable of the sower that Jesus told as recorded in Matthew 13:1-23, people like Judas are those who are like seeds that fall among the thorns. “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22 (NIV).

Judas missed out on the joy that the other disciples felt at the resurrection because his practical nature wouldn’t allow him to accept the divine nature of Christ. He simply couldn’t trust that Jesus was who He said He was and that the plan that was to unfold concerning His death was the best possible course for the sake of humanity.

Are you missing out on the joy of knowing Christ’s love because you can’t accept His divinity? Is practicality preventing you from trusting that He was who He said He was and that His sacrifice for your sins is the best thing that ever happened? The end of the story with Judas was that he felt the weight of the guilt of his betrayal without ever knowing the forgiveness that Christ freely offered, and he hanged himself to be lost forever. Don’t let practicality cause your story end without knowing Christ’s love and forgiveness.

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Filed under Book Review, Faith, Jesus, Life, postaday2011