Tag Archives: Books

Mere Christianity – A Stack Poem

Stack Poem

Mere Christianity
Who Really Has the Answer?
I’m Glad You Asked

Six Hours One Friday
The Day Christ Died
God Came Near

From Resurrection to Pentecost
It’s Not About Me
At Jesus’ Feet
Won by Love

Grace
What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Peace Like a River
A Love Worth Giving
The Light and the Glory

Walking with God Day by Day
Streams in the Desert
A Life God Rewards
In the Footsteps of Jesus

* * * * *

This is a “stack poem,” a type of found poem that Samuel Peralta wrote about on dVerse Poets Pub today.

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True Regret Leads to Victory

The other day I was thinking about why Christians sometimes continue to struggle with sinful behavior when Jesus has given us the power to overcome by His Holy Spirit living in us. I pondered writing a blog post about this topic, but wasn’t really sure what to write or what the solution was.

Then I was reading book two of The Chronicles of Brothers by Wendy Alec and came across a statement by Jether, one of the twenty-four elders of heaven (see Revelation 4:4), in response to a question from Gabriel the archangel:

“Michael . . .” [Gabriel] raised his face up to the abandoned west wing, his eyes filled with intense sorrow. “Do you think Lucifer has regret?”

“No,” a soft voice echoed.

Gabriel turned. Jether the Just, imperial angelic monarch and ruler of the twenty-four ancient kings of Yehovah, stood on the gilded steps above them, his silvered hair and beard blowing in the soft zephyrs off the sea. . . .

“If he has regret, Gabriel . . .” Jether walked toward them across the sands, the pearls covering his lime green jeweled slippers as he walked. “. . . it is regret for himself, as he realizes the consequences of his choice . . . of his fall. But true regret . . .” Jether stared upward, north of the two trees of Eden, to the colossal golden, ruby-encrusted door . . . the entrance to the throne room.

True regret is based on repentance—grieving for the sin, not the consequence of sin. The two are quite contradictory. Completely opposed.” Jether’s pale blue eyes blazed with an uncharacteristic fervor. “And they must never be confused.”
Messiah—The First Judgment, pg. 49-50 (emphasis added).

So often I think we do confuse the two. When we regret the consequences of our sin and change our behavior as a result, we think we have repented. But the change in behavior doesn’t stick and we eventually return to our old habits and behavior.

For example, we are gluttonous and overeat, never thinking of those who have little or nothing to eat. As a consequence of our overeating, we gain weight and our clothes don’t fit. We don’t really regret the sin of gluttony, but we regret that our favorite pants won’t button.

So we go on a diet and for a while we change our eating habits. But once we lose weight and get back into those favorite clothes, we go right back to our gluttonous behavior.

It is only when we truly repent and regret the sin of gluttony itself, confessing our sin to God and asking His help to overcome, that permanent change occurs.

There are a number of other examples I could give, and it’s easy to think of the sins of others and how they struggle. It’s harder to look inward and examine whether I have true regret for my own sin. There are definitely sins in my life that God has helped me completely overcome because I have had true regret based on repentance.

Victory over sin is within the Christian’s grasp. True regret and reliance on the Holy Spirit are the answer.

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New Books, a New Word, and a Lesson on Humility from Jeremiah

For my birthday, my in-laws sent me $20, so I decided to get some new books. Not that I need any new books, mind you, because I have quite a few that I haven’t read yet. But I was at the Cedar Hills Mall with my son last weekend because he wanted to go to Game Trader, and there is a Powell’s Books right next door. I just couldn’t resist. I want to share what wonderful books I found, in reverse order (because I want to write more about the first one I found).

The last book that I found was “Man In White” by Johnny Cash. I went to the music section looking for another biography of Johnny Cash and was pleasantly surprised to find that he had written a novel I did not know about. This book is Cash’s novelization of the life of the apostle Paul. I’ve only started the Introduction, but I will be posting a review when I finish this book. I think it’s going to be a good one!

The second book that I found was “Edge of Eternity” by Randy Alcorn. This book is a Christian novel. I’ve read some of Alcorn’s other books and really enjoyed them, so I am looking forward to getting a chance to delve into this one. With all the other books on my list, this one might be a while. I never seem to find as much time to read as I would like.

The first book I found was “What the Bible is all about: Bible Handbook NIV Edition” by Dr. Henrietta C. Mears. It looks like it will be a great resource for my Bible study. I’ve already learned some new things about the book of Jeremiah, which I am in the middle of reading. Although this isn’t the type of book you would read from cover to cover, it will be a great help to read the chapter on each book of the Bible as I begin reading it. This might slow down my already-behind-schedule Bible reading schedule, but if I get more out of my scripture reading that’s okay.

The discussion of Jeremiah begins this way, putting the whole book into perspective:

Here is the story of a diffident, sensitive lad who was called from the obscurity of his native town to assume, at a critical hour in the nation’s life, the overwhelming responsibilities of a prophet. (Mears, pg. 237)

I must confess that when I read this section of Mears’ book, I didn’t know what the word “diffident” meant, so I had to look it up. According to Dictionary.com, diffident means “lacking confidence in one’s own ability, worth, or fitness; timid; shy; restrained or reserved in manner, conduct, etc.” This definition is consistent with how I saw Jeremiah as I read what he wrote, and yet Mears’ concise manner of summarizing who Jeremiah was helped to solidify my mental image of him. And it is always good to learn a new word!

The diffident Jeremiah provides a perfect lesson on humility. Jeremiah did not think he was qualified to be God’s prophet. He thought he was too young, among other things. And according to Mears, in Jewish society most others would have thought him too young as well. But those who think they are unqualified, and sometimes those we think are unqualified, are often just the type of people God chooses to use for His glory. These are the humble ones who know they must rely on God for everything. Absolutely everything.

I think that as a follower of Christ, this is an important lesson to grasp. One of the gifts God has given me is the gift of encouragement. This lesson on how God uses the humble is important to me in two respects. First, I must remember that even when I do not think I am qualified for the task of encouraging someone, if He has called me to do it, He will give me the strength and wisdom necessary to accomplish it. Second, I must remember to use my gift of encouragement to spur on and embolden others who may not seem qualified, but whom God has called for some task. When a fellow Christian says, in Jeremiah fashion, “I’m too young” or “I can’t do that” or “I don’t speak eloquently enough,” I need to remind them what the Lord said to Jeremiah: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you”. Jeremiah 1:8 (NIV).

I’ve heard a saying that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of others more. But as I read Jeremiah and thought about what he has to teach us about humility, I realized that a better saying is that humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of God more. God made us in His image and made us to be in relationship with Him. We were never meant to live this life on our own, but to live dependent on our ultimate source of strength and wisdom, the Lord Jesus Christ.

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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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Are You Good Enough?

I love to read, though I don’t get to spend as much time reading as I would like. I love to read non-fiction and fiction, and have bookcases filled with books in my house. So I’ve decided that one of the things I want to do more of on my blog is share book reviews of books I have read and loved.

Many years ago I stumbled across a small book by Andy Stanley called Since Nobody’s perfect . . . How Good is good enough? As noted by the author in the first chapter, this little book takes no more than two hours to read, but it has probably the most important information each of us needs to know before we die.

Stanley starts out by identifying the most common belief regarding what happens when we die, a belief that spans most major religions. That is the belief that good people go to heaven, or to whatever better place a particular religion teaches we go to after we die. In some cases, that is reincarnation to a better position in the world. Each religion provides a set of rules and regulations to follow; things a person must do and must not do, to be considered good.

But, Stanley argues (and quite convincingly), the “good people go” belief is not at all logical.

     You see, as good as you are—and you are pretty good—you aren’t really sure if you have been good enough. You hope so. And you are certainly better than . . . well . . . than certain people you know.
     But how good is good enough?
     Where’s the line? Who is the standard? Where do you currently stand? Do you have enough time left to stash away enough good deeds to counterbalance your bad ones? Stanley, pg. 13.

Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and even many Christians subscribe to the “good people go” system. But Stanley methodically shows not only why this system makes no sense and provides the believer with no assurance; he also shows, using scripture, that it is the opposite of what Jesus taught. The alternative system is what true Christianity, from the very words of Christ, teaches. That system is that “forgiven people go.”

Stanley also addresses the argument that Christianity is intolerant and unfair because it holds that only Christians go to heaven. He actually agrees that Christianity isn’t fair, but in the sense that it gives all the opportunity to gain that which our deeds do not deserve. Stanley writes:

Is Christianity fair? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. I’ve come to the conclusion that it is beyond fair. What could be fairer than this?

  • Everybody is welcome.
  • Everybody gets in the same way.
  • Everybody can meet the requirement.

All three of these statements are supported by one of the most often quoted verses in the New Testament:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.

“Whoever” includes everyone who is willing. Believing in him is the only requirement. Believing means placing one’s trust in the fact that Jesus is who he claimed to be and that his death accomplished what he claimed it accomplished. Stanley pg. 90-91.

Throughout this book, Stanley uses stories and examples from his own life to make each point, each building block of his argument for why it makes no sense to believe that good people go to heaven. If you aren’t sure you are good enough now, when you are done with this book you will realize that no one is. But being good enough is not the standard; recognizing that you are not good enough, but that God is merciful and forgiving if you ask, is.

A couple of years ago, I was getting my hair done and having a great conversation with my hair dresser about God, religion, and heaven. She is one who believes that forgiven people go to heaven, but she was concerned because her son and his wife had begun attending a very legalistic church that taught that they had to follow all the rules to get to heaven. In other words, this “Christian” church taught that only good people go to heaven and that they had the skinny on exactly what it took to be good enough.

It had been several years since I had first read Since Nobody’s perfect . . . How Good is good enough? But not long before that I had come across some paperback editions for only $1 each and had bought all they had. On my way home from the hair dresser I had this prompting from the Holy Spirit to take her one of those copies. Since I had to drive right past her salon to take my son to a party later that day, I followed through on that prompting. She thanked me and I left.

Several months later when I went back for a hair cut, she was so excited to see me when I arrived. She said she loved the book and had given copies to at least 10 people that she knew that she wasn’t sure really knew Jesus and the blessing of being forgiven. One of the women she had given it to came back and thanked her because she had been trying so hard for years to be good enough but never had any peace. This was a wonderful blessing to me because the first time I gave someone a copy of this book, right after I had first read it, she didn’t read it. In fact, she told me she had left it on a table in a doctor’s waiting room because she was sure she already knew what it was going to say. So to have the copy I gave away have such a ripple effect filled me with joy.

If you are wondering if you are good enough to go to heaven, and still think that being good enough is how you will get there, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of this book. Or if you know someone who would benefit from the blessing of knowing there is an alternative, I suggest you give them a copy. You won’t regret it.

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The Relationship Plan, Part 4

Yesterday was our last official adult education class on Robert Coleman’s book The Master Plan of Evangelism. I summarized our last class here, with links to my blog posts on the first two classes. Next week we are going to do a Bible study of Barnabas who one of our pastors says was the earliest recorded evangelist (besides the original 11 disciples) to implement Jesus’ plan.

So far throughout Coleman’s book the emphasis has been on relationship. Evangelism happens best in one-on-one relationships and small groups. Jesus carefully selected His disciples, spent time with them, set them apart for God’s work, imparted to them His wisdom and ultimately His Holy Spirit, demonstrated the behavior they needed to employ for evangelism, and delegated to them the work of His Father. The next two principles, the final principles, that we learned from Coleman’s book was that Jesus supervised his disciples and He called them to be fruitful.

Jesus’ supervision of His disciples involved a rotation between instruction and assignments. When they returned from a trip He had delegated to them, He would listen to what they had done. If they had been successful, He would rejoice with them and give them praise. If they had failed in some measure or had clearly misinterpreted His prior teaching, He would correct them and admonish them to do better. If they had done quite well, He would move on to more advanced teaching for the next assignment, building on what they already knew but giving them even greater responsibility.

Here was on-the-job training at its best. Jesus would let his followers have some experience or make some observation of their own, and then he would use this as a starting point to teach a lesson of discipleship. The fact that they tried to do his work, even though they may have failed at it, gave them greater awareness of their deficiencies, and hence they were more disposed to the Master’s correction. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 85-86.

As disciples of Christ, we must always be more disposed to the Master’s correction. Often that correction comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit. But practically speaking, teaching and correction more often come from more mature Christians with whom we have developed a relationship. We must endeavor to do His work, but we must also be willing to learn how to do it better from those who have learned greater lessons than we have. Sometimes we will be the more mature Christian in a given situation and must do what we can to teach and guide others. But sometimes, we must admit our own deficiencies and seek the guidance of those who know and understand more. In our churches, we must focus on creating relationships with just this type of teaching and learning in mind.

The final principle is that we must be fruitful. Often we think of being fruitful as exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Galatians 5:22-23. It is true that the fruit of the Spirit is important for the Christian walk. But this is not the fruitfulness that Christ called His disciples to exhibit when He gave the Great Commission following His resurrection. He said, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Matthew 28:19-20. There are four verbs in this Great Commission: go, make disciples, baptize, and teach. What Christ called His disciples to do was to make more disciples just like them, who would in turn make more disciples.

This mission is emphasized even more when the Greek text of the passage is studied, and it is seen that the words go, baptize, and teach are all participles which derive their force from one controlling verb “make disciples.” . . . to build people like themselves who were so constrained by the commission of Christ that they not only followed his way but led others to as well. Only as disciples were made could the other activities of the commission fulfill their purpose. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 93.

Jesus did not focus on huge numbers of converts. Rather, He staked all on these few disciples to share the gospel and reach the whole world, one relationship and one disciple at a time. Coleman concludes that the church today does not need new and better programs, “but better men and women who know their Redeemer from personal experience” and want nothing more than to help others experience Him as well. The Master Plan of Evangelism pg. 97.

Discipleship is not easy, but it is exciting! It is a life of passion for our Lord who gave everything for us. In this Christmas season, as I ponder Immanuel, God with us — that Jesus would His wonderous throne in Heaven to walk this earth to teach 12 young men of His purpose (knowing one of them would eventually betray Him), and then suffer death on a cross so that we might have a relationship with our Creator who loves and adores us — I wonder how can I do any less than to go and make disciples. How can I do any less?

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The True Light Shines in the Darkness

The days are getting shorter and the nights longer as we move towards winter. I really don’t like winter. Too much darkness and too much cold. With the time change two weeks ago it is now dark when I go home from work. Even now at 4:00 in the afternoon, with the clouds and rain, it is looks dark and ominous outside.

Sometimes the darkness gets to me, but then I am reminded that no matter how dark it gets, there is a light to show me the way. Speaking of Jesus as well as His witness John the Baptist, the apostle John wrote:

In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

 The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. John 1:4-9.

Jesus is light for all to see. But just as a flashlight that is not turned on or a lamp that is hidden in a closet does not help one see, if Jesus is not believed and trusted He cannot help one see. The darkness of men and women has not, and will never, overcome the light of Christ in the hearts of believers. But today darkness still remains because some people refuse to accept the light God has provided. After saying that He had come to save the world because of God’s love for mankind, Jesus said:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. John 3:19-21.

In the book I am reading, Tortured for Christ by Richard Wurmbrand, the darkness and evil of men who have been deceived by communism and atheism is evident. The communists in Romania, Russia, China, and other countries have tried not only to avoid the light of Christ, but to crush and destroy it. They have not succeeded. They clung to the atheistic belief that there is no God, and they imprisoned, beat, and tortured those who believed God exists and that He loves us, those who live in the light. And still the light was not extinguished.

Wurmbrand writes that the communists were content to allow the old people to cling to their belief in God, but that they violently opposed teaching the Christian faith to children and teenagers. In school, children were taught the communist party line that atheism is the truth. If the Christians tried to teach them otherwise, they were punished for their “crime.” Nonetheless, “Parents were also encouraged to give a Christian education to their children as an antidote against the atheism with which they were poisoned in the communist schools.” Tortured for Christ pg. 124. And parents who loved their children heeded this encouragement, and so the light shone on.

As I read this, I thought about the teaching in our own public schools here in the U.S. My son began this year in sophomore English with a lesson on creation myths, beginning with Genesis. I suspect that any suggestion by a student that the creation story of Genesis is not a myth would be discouraged because people of other faiths or no faith at all might be offended. In biology class, a large part of the curriculum for this year is on the Theory of Evolution. I suspect that any suggestion by a student that Evolution on the macro-level (meaning humans evolved over time starting with a single-celled organism) is not true and that the Theory of Intelligent Design makes more sense would be laughed at, and any test answers to that effect would certainly not result in a good grade.

It seems to me that in our current environment, parents should be encouraged to give a good Christian education to their children as an antidote to the subtle atheism and godlessness with which they are poisoned in our public schools. As darkness sets in, we must work to keep the light burning. We cannot sit back and hope the younger generation understands that faith in Christ is grounded in reason, that the scriptures we rely on have a firm foundation for accuracy, and that God is real and loves them with a love so divine it transcends all understanding. We must teach them these truths. We must show them the light.

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The Relationship Plan

We started a new adult education class at my church last week, with our first “real” class held yesterday. The class is based on a book called The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman. The book is the result of Coleman’s study of what Jesus did as revealed in the Gospels and what we can learn about His strategy of evangelism from His actions.

The first thing we learned was that Jesus carefully selected only a handful of disciples. Although many followed Him, out of the many He chose 12 as recorded in Luke: 

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles. Luke 6:12-13.

The second thing we learned was that Jesus spent a great deal of time with His 12 disciples teaching them what He wanted them to know. Although He did address the needs of large numbers of people, such as the feeding of the 5,000 and the many sick that He healed wherever He went, the majority of His time was spent with just a small group of disciples teaching them what they would then teach others. He acted like what today we would call a mentor to each of the 12 disciples, modeling behavior for them, teaching them who He was, and answering their questions so that He could be sure they understood.

Over the next five weeks we will be learning additional principles that define Jesus’ evangelism strategy. But it is clear already that His strategy was centered on relationship. His primary goal was to ensure that the disciples understood that He was the Son of God, that He was Immanuel, “God with us” — and that they understood that His mission was to die for their sins, for our sins, so that the relationship of mankind to our Creator could be restored.

As Christians, that should be our primary goal as well — to help people understand that Jesus was God incarnate and that He died for their sins. We are called to truly help others understand the depth of God’s love and mercy. The best way to do that is one-on-one. Blogs like this or big, fancy seminars are wonderful ways to share the truth, but true discipleship requires relationship. The best way to share how much God loves me and you is if we have a one-on-one relationship and talk about who God is and how He has changed our lives.

But sometimes we don’t even realize the depth of the relationships we have made and the impact we have had. At our introductory session for this class, the pastor asked if anyone had been discipled by another more mature Christian. I raised my hand and shared that the woman sitting behind me had been in a small discipleship group with me and that I had learned so much from her about trusting in the goodness of God and spending time with Him every day. The pastor said, “So she was the leader of the group.” I looked at her and smiled, we both shook our heads. She had not been the official leader of the group, but she had been (I believe) the spiritual leader for all of us in the group. Yesterday she confided in me that she had no idea she had been such a great influence in my life.

This got me wondering how many people I might have influenced over the years in various groups and Bible studies I have been in, without even knowing it. It was sobering to be reminded that others are watching and learning, and that it is important that the lessons my life teaches are the right ones! Does my life always convey the Divinity and Love of Christ Jesus our Lord?

I am looking forward to the rest of this class and putting the evangelism and discipleship principles of Jesus into practice in our church. I want to be more mindful of my own relationships and sharing the truth of the Gospel with those who can carry it on into their own relationships. This is how Jesus planned for the kingdom of God to grow within the hearts of His believers, and if it was Jesus’ plan it’s good enough for me.

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A Year with God by R.P. Nettelhorst

I love books, so I thought I would try my hand at writing book reviews. A Year with God: Daily Readings and Reflections on God’s Own Words is a daily devotional with 365 entries. Each entry begins with an Old Testament passage followed by an application of that passage to the Christian today. The purpose of this book is to, over the course of a year, make His thoughts your thoughts.

The book is organized into sections intended to address various topics including: Hope and Fear, Love and Hate, Perseverance and Quitting, Faith and Doubt, Loyalty and Betrayal, Companionship and Isolation, Mercy and Judgment, Forgiveness and Anger, Joy and Sadness, Peace and Conflict.

Many Christians seldom read the Old Testament, though there is a wealth of knowledge about the character of God revealed in His Words there. A Year with God is an excellent book to help Christians understand who God is and what kind of relationship He wants to have with His people. The author has selected a wonderfully representative sample of passages from Genesis to Obadiah, and the devotional piece is generally clear and well-written.

I haven’t read the whole book, but did review a representative sampling under several topics. I enjoyed each devotional, but had a hard time figuring out how each one fit under its assigned topic. Although it appears to provide the book with structure, I’m not sure the breakdown by topic was truly helpful. I also think it would have benefited from a table of Bible passages and an index, but that might just be my preference for back matter in any non-fiction book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Envy Kills Contentment

Ever since we remodeled our house last year, I have been wanting a short bookcase for my bedroom. It needed to be the right height to fit under the shoulder-height window. Finally, today my wonderful husband found a three-shelf cherry wood bookcase at a garage sale for only $40! It fits perfectly in the space where I wanted to put it.

I love books, and usually am part way through several books at any one time. Most of the books I buy these days are Christian fiction, inspirational, or theological books. I started filling up the new bookcase before dinner, and I am not sure it is going to have enough shelf space for all the books I want to put on it. I may have to make some choices about what I put in it and what stays in the office bookcase.

Although I love my books, if someone told me I had to give up all of my books but one the choice would be easy. I would keep just my NIV Study Bible. The Bible is my favorite book, and this particular Bible was a gift from my husband when I was baptized. It has many of my favorite passages underlined. The Bible is one of the few books I could read over and over and find something new each time.

The many parables that Jesus told that are recorded in the Gospels provide great wisdom for us today. One of my favorites is the parable of the workers in the vineyard, recorded in Matthew 20:1-16. In this parable, the landowner hires workers throughout the day. We learn that he agrees to pay the first workers a denarius for a days work, the  proceeds to hire others right up until one hour before the end of the work day.

The owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

 The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

 But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

I like this parable because of its great practical application. So often we compare what we have to what others have. It’s easy to be envious or jealous of those who have more material possessions, especially if we feel like we have worked harder than they have. We somehow think we all should be treated the same. When someone else receives an advantage, we cry foul and complain that life is  not fair. But God did not ever promise we would all be treated equally. We came into this world with nothing and we are entitled to nothing. And yet God promises we will be given what we need, and that should be enough for us.

The men in this parable who came to work early in the morning thought that the payment of a denarius was fair at the time they were hired and they were content to work a full day for that pay. It was only when they compared their situation to that of the workers who started later in the day that they became disgruntled and unhappy. By comparing themselves to others, they essentially robbed themselves of one of the best gifts God has to offer – contentment and peace.

A new Johnny Cash CD was recently released, and it includes a great old song called “A Satisfied Mind.” The lyrics make this point perfectly:

How many times have
You heard someone say
If I had his money
I could do things my way

But little they know
That it’s so hard to find
One rich man in ten
With a satisfied mind

Money can’t buy back
Your youth when you’re old
Or a friend when you’re lonely
Or a love that’s grown cold

The wealthiest person
Is a pauper at times
Compared to the man
With a satisfied mind

Is there someone you are comparing yourself today and feeling like life is unfair? I suggest you take the other person’s situation out of the equation. Ask yourself if you have what you need. Has God treated you fairly and provided for your needs? Focus on what you have, not what others have that you don’t, and you will gain contentment and peace, and a satisfied mind.

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