Friday, October 29, 2010

Ups and Downs

My life seems to be a series of ups and downs.  Sometimes it's day to day and sometimes moment to moment depending on what's going on with my husband and kids.  Sometimes it's very easy to fall into those downs of the ones around you who you love.  It's hard to resist and you get worn down.  Over the past few years, I've become very jaded about pithy self-help books that talk about encouragement as if you can take a pill and feel better.  The weariness in my heart is deep.  Post partum depression doesn't simply end.  When you've had children back to back and not a night's sleep that wasn't interrupted in seven years, there is a point that one comes to where we are at the end of ourselves.  Somehow, we keep going.  God keeps us going even when we don't want to.

I wish I knew how to dispel the weariness in my soul.  I read a Christmas fiction book this afternoon and for a brief hour, heart breathed easily and freely forgetting all the cares of this world.  I rejoiced when the main character is proven innocent and her life is returned to her.  I rejoiced, too, as she extended grace to those who tried to assault her verbally.  If the character were real, it would be like rejoicing in the strength that God gave her.

Perhaps, that is the answer for me today.  That I must rejoice in the strength that God has given me, for all the times I do have patience (by God's grace) and don't get frustrated with my kids, and for God's physical sustenance of my body.  I am tempted to feel sorry for myself and feel self-pity.  I remember Joyce Meyer writing a book called Battlefield of the Mind several years ago.  I never read the book, but truly it is an apt title.  Our mind is a Battlefield--where we can win or lose.  And the consequences of losing are grave.  So, we must fight.  We must fight knowing that God loves us and preach the Gospel to ourselves moment by moment.  So, that is my answer as to how I can dispel the weariness, or perhaps it is the weariness that is a constant reminder that I need God and can't do it on my own.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Bible Lessons

One of the challenges for both parents and Sunday schools is making sure that what they teach children is biblical.  My mother in law has been teaching Sunday school for several years and has made her own lessons and curriculum, because she really wanted to point the kids to God and she didn't find a curriculum that was what she was looking for.  But, when you decide to do all the lesson planning on your own, it is a lot of work.

If you've decided to teach your kids straight from the Bible or make your own lessons, I've found a book that would be very helpful.  Kim and John Walton have written The Bible Story Handbook.  In their book, the Waltons have written a long introduction about why we need to be careful to focus on God in the Bible and not the details that aren't there.  For a long time, I've believed that God put the details that He wanted in the Bible and that the point of the Bible is God, not the people in it.  So often we want more details about the people.  Many Bible storybooks fill in these details for kids--but these details aren't in the Bible and they can often focus children's attention more on the people in the Bible than on God.  This is exactly what the Waltons have been concerned about and the reason for them writing this book.

I thought this was a very good quote from p. 25:
"If we present something as God's Word when it is not, we are misusing God's name.  Students of the Bible expect their teachers to present the authoritative teaching of God's Word as given by the inspired authors.  If we substitute this teaching for some idea we think is important, students don't know the difference.  We are then violating the third commandment because we have attributed God's authority to what is really only our own idea."

After the introduction, they outline important facets of 175 stories from the Bible.  For each story, lesson focus, lesson application, biblical context, interpretational issues in the story, some background information, and mistakes to avoid are identified.  All of this information is aimed at helping us "focus on how each one helps us to understand God and his plan better." p. 30

I think that the Waltons sum it up well
"Realtionship is the goal, salvation is the means, and eternity is the scope." p. 30

If you are reading through the Bible with your children or, like my mother in law, writing your own lessons, this book would be a wonderful resource.  It isn't a book that you will read straight through, but rather one that you will pick up like a Bible handbook, a Cliff notes summary.

On Amazon, you can read an excerpt of the book.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of the book for review from Crossway Books.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A book that will pluck your heartstrings

On the first page of Almost Heaven, by Chris Fabry, I read this paragraph...

"I believe every life has hidden songs that hang by twin threads of music and memory.  I believe in the songs that have never been played for another soul.  I believe they run between the rocks and along the creekbeds of our lives.  These are songs that cannot be heard by anything but the soul.  They sometimes run dry or spill over the banks until we find ourselves wading through them. " p.3

It was a beautiful expression about music and life.  Music makes my husband's heart tick and so this quote resonated with me.  I've come to appreciate how much music is a part of people's souls.  It tells our stories and in it we are able to say things that we might otherwise not be able to say.  With music we cry out in grief and with music we cry out in joy.

Almost Heaven is Chris Fabry's third novel set in the town of Dogwood, West Virginia.  It is the story of Billy Allman and his quest to build a radio station in his home.  You know that from the beginning of the story.  But, really, the story is much more than that.  It is a story about the pain in a man's heart and his walk with the Lord through both the pain and the healing of that pain.  You do need to know that there is healing to that pain in the story.  It is the hope of knowing that which will help you read this story and not set the book down.

I do not want to share much of the plot of this story because it will give away much of the story.  I was able to give June Bug, Fabry's second novel, a positive review without any reservations.  With this novel, though, there is something I need to talk about.

I have often been surprised at the issues that I've had to think about as I've read many books over the past two years.  This book is making me contemplate something that I've shied away from in the past.  I've noticed over the past twenty years that much attention has been paid guardian angels.  Part this story is told from the perspective of the guardian angel that is to watch over Billy.  At one point, the angel doubts God.  He lets fear and anger steal into his heart.  I can't say that the picture Chris Fabry paints of angels is biblical.  I also can't say for certain that it isn't, but it doesn't sit with me and what I've read in the Bible.  The Bible is about God, though, not angels.  I wrote yesterday that I believe that what is in the Bible is what God wants in the Bible.  The point of the Bible is to point us to God and not to ourselves.  There is a great temptation to fill in the gaps about the things that we want to understand and yet don't fully--the mysteries of God and His creation.  It would be tempting to dwell on the parts of this book that are written from the perspective of the angel.  But, I think it would be wise not to, but to instead remember that this is a book of fiction.  It is a very good book and well told story, but it is not the Bible.  Just as the book The Shack is not the Bible either.  It is tempting to let what fiction books say to creep into our understanding of biblical doctrine and what we understand of God, but we need to be careful and take what we read and question back to the Word of God...

I did enjoy this book, but the parts written by the guardian angel unsettled my heart so greatly that I had to skip many of them.  And upon finishing the book, I had to dispel much of them from my mind because of the great detail about demons and imps.  If one is downtrodden, the way they are written about in this book may seem overwhelming as it did to me on Saturday.  I know spiritual warfare is real, but we need to be armed with God's Word, not fear.  Knowing all of this, I really leave it up to you as to whether this a book you'd like to read.

Chris Fabry is a strong believer--of this I have no doubt.  His website is  On his website, he is very humble and honest about the great struggles he and his family have been through the past few years.  He has written about his family's trials with mold in their old home and their move to Arizona from Colorado to detox their systems.  Reading his blog caused me great consternation that I struggled with Almost Heaven.  I do not think at all that he would want to malign the Word of God or to mislead anyone about what the Bible says.  But, I think he would say he wrote a work of fiction.  So, that is what I would encourage you to remember as you read this book.  It is a story of fiction.  After reading this book, if you find yourself with any questions about angels or God, I'd encourage you to speak with a pastor or Bible teacher and dig into the Bible.  I think that's just what I need to do.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Tyndale Publishing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hell, The Apostle's Creed, and Almost Heaven

Last week at the small group we attend, someone asked about the line in the Apostle's Creed that says

"He descended into hell. 
The third day He arose again from the dead"

In one of the books I reviewed last year, called Christianity in Crisis, Hank Hanegraff wrote his concern about Joyce Meyer's preaching about what happened during those three days.  I remember reading what he wrote and that he stated her preaching on this topic is unbiblical.  But, I didn't fully understand at the time why.  Now I do and I'd like to explain why it is unbiblical to make this claim.  Let me say first though that Joyce Meyers is not the only preacher to state such things.  

One of the trends I've seen in many books I've read over the past 10 years is to read into what the Bible says--to attempt to fill in the blanks so as to more fully understand the Word of God.  John and Kim Walton explain in detail in The Bible Story Handbook that the Bible is God's self-revelation--the purpose of the Bible is to point to Him.  It is not our job to analyze in detail what isn't there and try and to fill in the missing details.  The details that God wants are there. As the Waltons say on p. 30 of their book, "Relationship is the goal, salvation is the means, and eternity is the scope...Our approach to the stories of the Bible ought to focus on how each one helps us to understand God and his plan better."

Which leads me to what Joyce Meyers said and what the Apostles Creed originally meant as well as what the Bible says about the matter.  Last night, our pastor shared with us selections from this article:   It is a very scholarly article, but I am going to attempt to sum it up.  There is no scripture that says Jesus went into hell for three days and was under the power of Satan.  The original Greek of the Apostles Creed actually stated that Jesus went Hades.  The word in Greek that is translated as Hades actually meant the grave.  The Apostles Creed basically means that Jesus was dead for three days and then he rose again from the dead.  They believed that the scriptures say this and I believe the Word of God does say just this.  

1 Corinthians 15:3-5 (English Standard Version)

 3For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

I think it's important to understand this and not believe that Jesus was under the power of Satan or that he was tortured by Satan.  God is in control of all things.  Satan has no power over God.  

We need to know what we believe and we need to know what the Bible says because it helps us understand that fiction that sounds truthful is fiction--it is not nonfiction.  Two years ago, there was quite a stir about The Shack.  Many people felt that The Shack opened their eyes to who God really is.  This is a very interesting thing to me because I have understood from many detailed reviews of the books and direct quotes that many things the books says are not scriptural.  The author supposedly wrote a fictional book--he was not trying to write a book of theology, yet many people have taken it to be such.  

This weekend I read a book that unsettled me greatly in a similar way, Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry.  It was a wonderful, beautifully written book.  It was heartbreaking and I cried several times as I made my way through the book.  Yet, I began to skip certain sections of the book.  The author put himself in the place of an angel watching over his charge.  He goes into great detail about why God does what he does, what God is capable of, and also into great detail about demons and imps.  It scared me half to death.  I have been willing myself to begin to discharge these ideas from my head.  

It is a book of fiction.  The Bible tells us very little about angels and I think it's dangerous for us to read into the Bible about them.  I've seen many fiction books address this and I wouldn't say to someone "You can't read that!" but I would give the caution to any reader of a book addressing angels and demons--remember that the book is fiction--it isn't the Bible.

Tomorrow I'm going to write and post a review of Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry.  It is the third book in a series of stand alone novels he's written about characters who live in Dogwood, West Virginia.  June Bug was one of my favorite books I read last year and Almost Heaven is wonderfully written.  I wish I could give it a wonderful review without any reservations, but I can't.  I will explain more tomorrow in my review.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Small Group Curriculum Books

This morning I ordered two books that I am very excited about.  I discovered that NavPress is now publishing four of Jerry Bridges books in a combined format--the study guide and book together (rather than separately).  The titles now available are:  Respectable Sins, The Practice of Godliness, Transforming Grace, and The Pursuit of Holiness.  I have read Respectable Sins and am now reading the Pursuit of Holiness, both of which I think are wonderful, encouraging, and challenging books.  These books are only available at the NavPress website.  You do have to pay shipping, but I believe it will still work out to be less than buying the book and study guide separately (which are $11 and $8 respectively on Amazon).  In comparison, the Small Group Curriculum book for Pursuit of Holiness on the NavPress website is only $7.45 plus tax and $3.99 UPS ground shipping.

Friday, October 15, 2010

God's Working on Me...

I started Becoming a Woman of Purpose this week (my own purchase) and I came across this quote this morning that I just wanted to share in hopes that it might encourage others the way it did me...

from p. 24

"...I'm not a real baby person!  I think that God looked at me and said, "If I am ever going to begin to get any fruit of the Spirit into this woman, she needs to have all these children at once!" What better way for me to learn patience, self-control, gentleness, kindness, love, joy, faithfulness, and goodness.  (Notice I didn't mention peace.)  It was in the midst of these child-raising years that I realized my great need to fully surrender my life to God and allow Him to begin to transform my life according to His plan.
     This is what God is after--as our Father, He wants us to have a strong family resemblance to Him.  He uses all sorts of ways to mold us and to bring us to dependence upon Him.  For some, this sanctifying process may involve not having children, not being married.  For others it is marriage, children, parents, and jobs that God will use to conform us to the image of Christ."

I love Cynthia Heald's honesty in her studies.  I thought this quote encapsulated sanctification and what it means. Later she says...  "In the process of sanctification, the Spirit of God will strip me down until there is nothing left but myslef, and that is the place of death...Am I willing and determined to hand over my simple naked self to God?" p. 24

As I honestly answered the question afterwards, I realize that I have been turning to the world--whether it be the computer or video to avoid the emptiness that I feel when I am absolutely worn out from caring for my family and those around me.  And yet, this is exactly where God wants me.  Stripped down and empty.  All I have left is Him.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dusty Books

Funny story

Autumn has decided to read History for Little Pilgrims on her own.  So, during her silent reading time yesterday afternoon she laid down on her bed and began reading.  She came out afterwards and began telling me about The Great Awakening and Jonathon Edwards.

I responded that he was an important man and that he preached and wrote many books that people still read today.

Autumn, in all seriousness, told me that those books must be very dusty books!

Yes, sweetheart, they would be!  chuckle, chuckle

Matters of the Heart

"The Puritan writer John Owen vigorously insisted that the fruit of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit and not of human origin.  These godly qualities are not something we can manufacture, take pride in, or lay claim to as self-generated.  Rather, they are the work of God, and their source is God alone.  However, we have a crucial role to play.  I call these character traits "garments of grace" because we must actively put them on.  As Owen eplained, we are responsible for acts of obedience by which this fruit is "preserved, increased, strengthened, and improved." from p. 9 of the preface of The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges

I wrote last week that I have been hesitant in the past to read a book about the fruits of the spirit.  My hesitancy laid in some of what I see in the culture we live in.  In our culture, the church often gets caught up doing what Sarah did when God didn't work as she wished.  We don't wait on Him and seek to do things His way.  We find ourselves in the land of self-help.

Setting all that aside, I decided to embark upon reading The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges.  This year I have read several other books by Bridges and so I was hopeful that this book would not fit into the mold of the self-help culture that we live in.  Thankfully, it didn't.

Later Bridges writes it this way, ..."the fruit of the Spirit, the result of His work within us.  This means not that we bear no responsibility for the development of Christian character but rather that we fulfill our responsibility under His direction and by His enablement." p. 13

He began with a discussion of godliness from which all of these stem.  He identifies on p. 29 that godliness is "the idea of a personal attitude toward God that results in actions that are pleasing to God."  The quote from pg. 13 explains Bridges's understanding of how these fruits develop in our lives.  He examines each of the fruits of the spirit: humility, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness and goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  The chapters on each of these held deep challenges for my heart that God threaded through my days as I read this book.

I fear that I cannot even begin to adequately describe how each individual chapter challenged me, so I will pick one.  Patience.  In this chapter, Bridges talks about the different faces of patience--longsuffering, responding to provocation, perseverance vs. endurance, and waiting on God.  Throughout the chapter, Bridges reminds the reader of God's patience for us that we might see the need for patience in our own lives towards others.  It helps us take our eyes off our temporary circumstances and put them back on God, on the the things that are eternal.

Bridges has a way of taking deep spiritual truths and conveying them in very understandable ways without simplifying them.  He is honest about his own struggles and weaknesses in his books as he shares his own stories and examples.  He writes with great humility of spirit and love for the Lord.

I highly recommend this book.  I am thankful that God has brought his books into my life this year.  They have been deeply encouraging and challenging.  I can't shy away from the truth of God's love and grace for me.  I am confronted with it and reminded to keep it on my heart and mind all day long.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from NavPress.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The House on Malcolm Street

This is the second of two fun fiction books I've read recently.  It sounded interesting.  So many fiction books are about war or Victorian England.  This book is different.  It is about a young mom who has lost her husband and baby boy.  She and her little daughter are traveling to go stay with one of her husband's aunt.  The title is The House on Malcolm Street.  It was written by Leisha Kelly.

Storyline:  Leah and Eliza go to live with her husband's Aunt Marigold.  They arrive to find that another of her nephews is also living with her.  Both have deep pain in their hearts that they are struggling to live with.

Writing:  The writing is really very good and easy to read.  The characters were vivid to me as was their pain and feelings.  I loved the character of Aunt Marigold and her love for Leah and Josiah. 

Plot:  The plot is more the interweaving of Leah, Eliza, Aunt Marigold, and Mr. Abraham's lives.  I am trying to put my finger on how I would summarize the plot without giving anything away.  It's a story of healing and God's love amidst pain even when people try to shut Him out.

This book is another good one to curl up with this fall as the leaves fall and the temperature drops!  

Please note that I was given a complimentary copy of this book for review by Revell Publishing.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Fruitful Life

For many years, I have been reticent to read or study about the fruits of the spirit.  I haven't wanted to read about them because something made me feel like it was a formula for trying to fix myself.  A different way of looking at self-help, but self-help none the less.  I am reading The Fruitful Life by Jerry Bridges and like his other books, he has this amazing way of communicating that our choices are intertwined with God's will.  We are neither to take no action or to take all actions without regard for God.

Here are a few good quotes from the past two days...
From the chapter on Peace...
"But the more ordinary adversities of life rob us of peace because we have a tendency to try and deal with these events ourselves. We worry, fret, and scheme over distressing circumstances, and we envy or resent other people who appear to get a better deal in life or who mistreat us in some way." p. 91

"We cannot have peace within or with other people until we first have peace with God." p. 90

From the chapter on Patience...
"Only as we fear God will we submit to the trials He sends or allows.  And only as we deeply apprehend His love for us in Christ will we find the courage to bear up under them.  Trials always change our relationship with God.  Either they drive us to Him, or they drive us away from Him.  The extent of our fear of Him and our awareness of His love for us determines in which direction we will move." p. 115

There is so much more to these two chapters that I wish I could share, but I need to go fix my children some breakfast and make wise choices so that my day will not be too busy and I will find it easier to be patient =)

Monday, October 4, 2010


Yesterday our pastor spoke from Philippians on this passage:
 2I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. 3Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

He preached about seeking peace among our brothers and sisters in Christ--and about helping others do this.  
The applications I can remember were..
1) To seek peace with our brothers and sisters when we have a conflict and to know the scriptures so that we turn to God and that we can point others back to the Lord in the midst of conflict
2) Don't gossip.  It's easy to share something as Christians "out of concern" for others.  But, there is often a desire in our hearts to be "in the know".  I haven't fully pondered this point, but I think it is one that I will be praying about as I go through this week and consider what I talk to people about.
3) It isn't easy to do--to help people in conflict, but it is what God wants us to do.  Rather than taking sides, we are to seek reconciliation and peace.

I'm not sure how this connects.  But, this also came to my mind this morning.  About a month ago, my mom told me that a young woman I had gone to high school with was murdered by her husband who then took his own life afterwards. They had a 5 year old daughter.  The young woman had a page on Facebook and it helped me remember who she was.  She and her husband looked happy in the pictures they posted--their best foot forward.  And yet their lives ended in sadness.  Their little girl is now living with the young woman's sister.  I can't imagine how deeply her little heart hurts.  Her name is Hannah.  Please pray for her.

I suppose that is where this connects to our pastor's sermon.  He mentioned that so often there is conflict where all appears smooth.  But, we aren't to let that be.  We can put a face on it that all things are fine, but that doesn't always reflect the truth.  If we have a conflict with someone we are to go to that person and seek peace.