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515d3fl4iNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Just finished reading The Curious Christian: How discovering wonder enriches every part of life by Barnabas Piper. The book was provided to me in return for an honest review.

Piper makes the point in this book that all great discoveries didn’t just happen – they came about through research and trial and error. “Creativity is discovery put to good use in a fresh way. We cannot discover unless we ask and search; that is curiosity!”
Piper addresses the fact that we need to be constantly questioning and seeking new depths, new revelations, and new ways of expressing our faith. It’s so easy to become complacent about our Christian walk – not necessarily moving away from our beliefs, but certainly not moving closer to God through what we believe. As the author points out, curiosity is a valuable tool in any are of our life if we want what we invest our time and intellect in is to be vibrant and challenging.

The book is an easy, quick read and while I didn’t find it a “page turner” I did find it interesting and a worthwhile read. Curiosity that comes so easily to children is often quenched and buried in adults. But opening our minds to asking and seeking can take us back to the excitement of discovery we once experienced. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs practical advice on stepping up their game whether it be in Christian ministry, their personal Christian walk or any other area of their life.

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Best book I’ve read on what God’s mission for His people is and how we are to respond.

In the very first chapter the authors make clear what the mission of God is by Israel’s mission in the Testament, “to live its life in such a manner that people would want to be saved by their God”; the mission of Jesus, atonement certainly, but to show us a life to imitate in order to lead others to God; and our mission, “God intends for His people to make disciples of every nation including our own.”

The book is concise and to the point. It is broken down into small chapters that cover where I am called to go with my church, my neighborhood, the nations, my job and anywhere else.

I loved this statement in chapter one, “Our mission is upward, inward, backward, forward, and outward.”  Capturing people for God through His word along with gospel-motivated and gospel-centered actions is the basic theme. And each chapter ends with a fill in the blanks Call To Action.

I found the chapter on the church to be profound in it’s clarification of what church is and how to find a “real” church. And this:  “Today on planet Earth King Jesus is the head of a body that the Bible calls the church. It is truly an incredible organism animated and empowered by his Spirit. It has a mind that can think his thoughts and have his perspective. It has eyes that can see the needs of neighbors. It has ears that can hear the cries of the nations. It has a mouth that can proclaim the good news of the gospel. It has legs that can walk to the hurting. It has arms that can embrace those in pain. It has hands that can serve those in need. It has feet that can be blistered and backs that can be whipped, all for the sake of a King who did all of this for us and so much more. This body called the church makes Jesus Christ real to this world.”

I could go on and on with the thoughts and the quotes. But I will just say this – every church needs to order some of these and make them required reading for  at least the Board and the ministry leaders.

NOTE:  This book was received free of charge from B&H Publishing in return for an honest review.

 

 

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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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51m3BdLgQJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Just finished reading Churchfails – 100 Blunders in Church History (& what we can learn from them), David Stabnow, General Editor. This book was provided to me through B&H Bloggers for the purpose of this review. The thoughts and opinions are purely my own. I am not a dedicated history buff and this is not my general choice of reading material. But I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

What a fun and informative book. Written in a most palliative and quick read style, and certainly anything but dry. The churchfails outlined begin as early as 35 AD and continue through to modern times outlining how seemingly intelligent and sane people twist theology and wander off in surprisingly ridiculous tangents.

Each short article gives a one or two line synopsis, a biography of the offshoot leader, defines the main theme of the churchfail, and then gives application for today.  Humor is incorporated in a way that makes us laugh not just at the wrong thinking of the leader but at ourselves and how easily we are led down the meandering path, away from solid theology if we aren’t careful.

Some of my favorites:

Marcion of Sinope who rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament, keeping only what supported his beliefs. He was the first to bring together certain Christian books and call them the writings of the church. Unfortunately, he selected only portions he agreed with and eliminated anything he didn’t like. As a result he was excommunicated, branded as a heretic and Marcionism died out.  The application for today: many modern day churches do the same – pick and choose what they want from the Bible and ignore the rest. The author points out that “no book, no miracle, and no nation should be left out of our message; the whole plan of God should be preached (Acts 20:27).”

Hippolytus of Rome who “never met a pope he didn’t agree with” and who also became the first in history to work out the exact date of Christ’s return. He met five popes in his lifetime and had issues with each which he was quick to verbalize. The application for today is the warning to avoid being known only for what you disagree with. And of course, for attempting to do what the Bible says is impossible – predict the exact day of the second coming.

Matthew Caffyn who was highly intelligent and decided if his brilliant mind couldn’t fully comprehend such things as how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could be one and the same then it must not be true. He disregarded the biblical teaching of centuries and came to the conclusion that he was wiser than the scholars before him. As the writer points out in the application for today, even Solomon, who was considered the wisest man on earth, had 700 wives and 300 concubines! How smart was that when with those wives came 700 mother-in-laws! In the case of Caffyn we are reminded “haughty arrogance regarding ones own abilities leads to one’s downfall.”

Throughout the book we are reminded how foolish it is to veer from scripture and assume we have a new answer or a new theology. There’s a reason the Gospel of Christ has endured – it is true and pure and life giving.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants glimpses into the history of churchfails and a few laughs along the way.

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images7SXM6CQUI recently returned from a 12 day motorcycle trip that encompassed over 4,500 miles and a full range of sights and weather. Since it was in the upper 90’s when we left Yakima, I almost considered leaving my electric jacket home. But – praise the Lord, I changed my mind.

We hit rain as soon as we hit Montana. Our plan was to spend three or four days in that state but, after two solid days of drizzly, chilly rain we changed our plans and headed south. I’ve never seen the Utah National Parks and have always wanted to. My brother-in-law was riding with us and he is a great travel companion as well as a wonderful tour guide. He’s spent a lot of time in Zion, Bryce, Arches and the rest of that area so I knew it would be a great experience.

I also counted on better weather. After all it was the desert. Warm and dry had to happen, right? Wrong. We spent three days touring the parks and those three days racked up record rainfall for that part of the country. Just my luck.
Instead of looking like a cute biker chick, I looked like the Pillsbury doughboy in my multi-layered attire (undershirt, long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, vest, electric jacket, leather jacket and rain gear).

Not that we didn’t see some beautiful sights. There were sun breaks now and then but very little clear sky and plenty of storm clouds moving in and moving out. On our third day we were in Moab, Utah and we woke to an absolute downpour. Water was running in rivers down the street and the sky was very dark with no sign of clearing any time soon.

I was not happy. I had been praying for better weather and I’d even elicited the prayers of friends back home. But God hadn’t answered – at least not in the way I wanted Him to. I was more than a little disappointed in His response In fact, I caught myself being a little ‘gritchy’ with Him, reminding Him I only get one real vacation in a year and I needed it to fill my expectations which were relaxing and staying warm and dry. Was that too much to ask?

We had to rebook the hotel for one more night because it was too dangerous to travel on a bike. By mid-afternoon we were tired of sitting around and my brother-in-law consulted his trusty weather app, noting that a clearing was forecast for a few hours before another storm moved in. We decided to leather up, throw in the rain gear and take our chances. The weather did improve and we actually had sunshine by the time we reached Arches National Park. We pulled into a viewpoint, pulled off our coats because the temperature was rising rapidly, and began to explore.

That rainbow of reds and golds is truly beautiful in the sunlight and we were met with breathtaking sights at every turn. There’s something thrilling about climbing around on those huge sandstone rocks and peering into crevices and arches. I was itching to follow a trail of rock cairns and talked my brother-in-law into accompanying me. He kept reminding me that the farther down into the hole we climbed the more difficult the trip back would be. But I couldn’t stop. Those markers just drew me.

Thank goodness they did because after about 15 minutes of hiking we rounded a corner and were met with a most astounding sight – a waterfall. Now how rare is that – finding a waterfall in the desert? And it wasn’t just a waterfall. Evidently it was an area that collects any kind of moisture that comes along because it was a real life oasis with a tree and some grass and some blooming plants. Surrounded by dry sandstone for as far as you could see, it stood out in brilliant shades of green and just took your breath away.

I had to sit down on a rock and admire the miracle. The thought came to me that a waterfall in the desert doesn’t happen without rainfall in the desert. In fact, I never would have experienced such an amazing sight had I not suffered through three days of wet riding!

And isn’t that just like God to answer your prayer in a completely unexpected, refreshing, soul stirring way with a not so subtle reminder that He always comes through, the storm always passes, the sun always comes out and the reward of staying the course is worth the painful journey.

My desert encounter made me thankful for God’s wisdom and for the way He plans surprises for me around every turn. It touched me so much that I almost didn’t complain a bit when the last two mornings on our trip the temperature registered only 20 degrees as we hit the road. (Even an electric jacket has a hard time counter balancing that!)

I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. Isaiah 41:18:

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MB900422771[1]With this being the 40th anniversary of Roe versus wade, the news has been filled with commentary from both sides. You can read the pro life side and you can read the pro choice side and both have parts and pieces of logic.

I firmly believe the reason we can’t come to an agreement on the issue is because we have never had the right to even have a choice in the matter. Only God has the knowledge and foresight and vision to know whether a life is valid. And since He is the one who creates that life in the first place, He is wise enough not to create something of no value.

All of the arguments aside, I got a practical lesson on the whole issue this week. It was a beautiful illustration of life value and I wish I could pass it on to every pro-choicer out there.

The real story began over 60 years ago when a baby boy was born to the parents of one of my best friends. He was severely handicapped from the start, his body twisted and useless. And though normal communication was not possible, it soon became apparent that his mind was sharp and comprehension of the world around him keen. His fierce determination to fight for life earned him the nickname of Tuffy.

For 60 years his family has faithfully loved and cared for him. They were his advocates when the long term care facility was giving less than adequate care. They went out of their way to make sure he spent holidays with the family. They visited regularly – almost every day – for 60 years to make sure he knew he was loved. They managed to understand his method of communication and did everything they could to address his needs.

I have seen them kiss him and hug him, shave him and joke with him. I have watched them turn his chair for the best view out the window, readjust his pillows to assure comfort, get in the faces of medical staff to get them to listen, and nurse him through fevers and infections.

My precious friend has her own serious health problems, has a very challenging marriage, lost a daughter in her twenties to cancer and fights every day to keep her head above water. Never once have I heard anger, bitterness, regret or impatience over the demands of keeping Tuffy safe and secure. While from the outside this did not look like a regular, gather around the dinner table every night kind of family, it was no less a family because of Tuffy. In fact, the extra effort needed to hold them together probably made it more of a well bonded family than most.

Several times, especially in the last few years, Tuffy became critically ill. Never did my friend wish for it to be over. Her prayers were always for comfort and healing. She never asked that her life be easier, only Tuffy’s. 

Tuffy passed away this past week and my friend along with her family have deeply grieved.

To my friend he was never a burden, he was a brother. His life served a purpose regardless of his ability to walk and talk in a “normal” manner. I believe Tuffy’s life made her kinder, more thoughtful, more compassionate, more tolerant and more thankful than life without him would have.

Was their life easy with a child like Tuffy? Not in the furthest sense of the word. Was their life better because of Tuffy? You bet it was. He brought a light and a love, a focus and family closeness, and  lessons beyond measure.

Tuffy was different but no less dear to his family than any other son or sibling. I rejoice that he is free of his twisted body and running around heaven shouting and singing today. And I thank God for my friend and the life lesson she passed on by embracing what others might have called a life of little value.

If we could all let God handle life and death and just tend to the things He gives us control over, events like Roe versus Wade would not exist. Instead, love and compassion would take their place.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:13-16 

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Our autumn rides hold a special place in my heart.  While the air is crisp, requiring an extra layer of clothing, the view from the back seat is glorious.  Here in Yakima and the surrounding countryside the trees are fighting each other for attention, flashing their shades of gold and green, russet and rose.  Along the river the sumac is dressed in red while the birch trees have chosen bright yellow gowns.  I can smell the fall and it’s moist and earthy.

The autumn season is short and I always feel like we have to hurry and enjoy it before it’s gone.  There is such a contrast in the blinding sunlight and the cool air, almost like a warning.  If you’re inside looking out, it appears to be warm.  But step out the door without a jacket and you’ll shiver immediately.

Huddled on the back of our Harley with my leather clad arms wrapped around my guy my thoughts are bittersweet. I wouldn’t trade the beauty of autumn for anything but I’m sad for the signs that our riding season is almost over.  There’s always that distant thought of what will next year bring? 

Having recently experienced the sudden and unexpected loss of a good friend, it’s hard not to reflect on the uncertainty of life and the certainty of death.  The trees know truth – our life is for a season.  Autumn comes and the best thing they can do is go out in a blaze of glory. The most beautiful, eye catching time of their existence is the beginning of their death – not forever but for a time.

What a lesson for us.  We won’t be green and full of energy forever.  We must take all we can from the joy of our branches dancing in the breeze, birds singing us a morning song, friends relaxing in our cool shade.  At the same time, we must make plans to go out in a blaze of glory.

Is your house in order?  Have you served in such a way that people remark on your golden generosity?  Are you touching lives and sharing some of your rich red life lessons, your russet blessings, and your bright yellow joy of a life well lived? 

We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring but we can certainly take measure of what impact we had yesterday.  I want someone to reflect on their ride though the canyon of life and I want a memory to flash back of me beside the river reaching out with beauty and thoughtfulness, making their day a little richer.  I want them to hear the roar of a Harley and smile because it brings to mind a picture of Christ shining like the autumn sun from my face.  

And when my glorious colors fade, please remember I have died not forever but only for a time.  My resurrection colors will make the autumn season look like a black and white movie!  Praise God for that promise.

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.  Isaiah 55:12

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