Category Archives: Church

Book review: “The Jesus You Can’t Ignore,” by John MacArthur

This book helped me identify the line drawn between the loving God and the disciplinarian. Some people focus too narrowly on the God of love and tolerate just about any behavior under the sun under the true (but misguided) premise that we should be less aggressive, less preachy, and more tolerant. Others focus on the God who harshly calls out people whose behavior is less-than-godly. MacArthur deftly takes us through Scripture to understand the not-so-meek and mild Jesus who candidly declared truth without apology. We learn when it’s wrong to be “nice,”and when we should fight the good and right fight.

MacArthur also makes it clear that not every conversation is an occasion for open combat. He gives us many Bible verses to help us back up our own boldness as we step out and “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3).

Five stars. For sure.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.

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Book review: ‘Cast of Characters’

We tend to skim over familiar Bible stories, or see the characters as two-dimensional because the Bible lacks details like we find in novels. We know what they did, but the depth of the anguish that was behind their action or decision is not obvious. We don’t spend the mental effort exploring what these characters might have been thinking.

Max Lucado does that in “Cast of Characters.” He does an exceptional job taking you into the minds of these characters, where you feel their depth of emotion, the anguish, the joy, and the pain. The Biblical principle is the main point of each chapter. In some cases, resetting the story is a tool Lucado uses to make it easier to see and apply the principles to our own lives.

Lucado’s writing style tends to be more reflective and inspirational than the practical “how to” books to which I’m drawn. If you don’t like his writing style or want a historically-accurate perspective on these characters, read something else. But I found three or four chapters that really resonated with my own life, and now I have a model to bring other Biblical characters to life.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.

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One By One, It Will Get Done

“Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise. ” Prov. 6:6

Tessa has always been organizationally challenged. That’s a tactful way to say that her room is in a constant state of chaos. (Do I dare say she gets it from her mom?)

Periodically I send her to her room and yell, “Don’t come out until it’s clean!” Two hours later she’s out, but what does she have to show for all that time? Nothing. Still a disaster.

Tessa has been busy all that time, but she keeps getting distracted. She unearths and works on a craft project, writes a few paragraphs when she runs into her journal, dresses her American Girl doll with the outfit she finds under her bed. But her room is still not clean.

I doubt the momma ant has any problem with a kid’s messy room. Have you ever watched ants? It took just a few bites to the backs of my legs to look closely before I sit on the ground when gardening. Ant hills are remarkable. Those tiny little creatures are able to create huge colonies. And they do it by moving one grain of sand at a time.

The “ant” method worked to help Tessa clean her room. When I help her focus on one thing at a time, miraculously she is able to get the room clean. It goes like this: “Pick up all your dirty clothes. Now pick up all the books. Done? Now put all the American Girl stuff into its storage container. Done? Now put all hair bands in the drawer.” And so on. What was once an overwhelming, unachievable task is conquered by focusing on and finishing one thing at a time.

I have several projects in the works, including a book, several articles, this blog, and a “conversation starter” game/activity. Each project has value. At the heart of each one is relief for parents who feel unequipped to initiate spiritual leadership in their homes. Each gives moms the tools and confidence to saturate their children in the truth of the Bible.

Like Tessa, I’m struggling with getting any of it done. I get distracted. I flit from project to project. Do a little on this project, then a little on that project. And none of the projects are getting done.

One thing at a time. One project at a time. Like the ant, one grain of sand, then another. A page here, a sentence there. Before I know it, I’ll be done. Just like the ant.

What are you working on? Do you have a bunch of unfinished projects in the works?

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‘Plan B,’ by Pete Wilson

 

What do you do when your life isn’t turning out the way you thought?
What happens when life comes crashing down on you?

Whether a failed relationship, an unmet dream or a tragic circumstance that is no fault of your own, we all find ourselves in a “Plan B” situation at some point in our lives. In “Plan B,” Pete’s intent is not to debate whether God purposely allows tragedy in our lives, or whether God uses our life situations, to bring about true spiritual transformation.

Pete liberally uses stories from the Bible, and from his own and other life stories to help readers see that God truly is with you both when life is going well, and when it’s not. He also does a great job convincing us that our faith must rest on God’s identity, not necessarily his activity. And perhaps the most important point in Pete’s book is that Plan Bs can be instrumental in mak us into the person God had in mind when we were created, if we give God permission.

I loved this book—it was both easy to read, yet tackled deep, complex concepts at the same time. It gives me reassurance that the next time I find myself in the midst of a “Plan B,” that I can emerge on the other side of the pain with a heart that’s been expanded and molded to reflect God’s heart.

However, if you’re in the midst of your own a Plan B, you may be seeking more definitive answers and a specific course of action, neither of which are readily available in this book. Pete admits there is no “bow” to neatly tie up this package; no tidy conclusion where everything wraps up and all your questions are answered.

But that’s okay. For me, this book expanded my understanding of God’s character. So, the next time I find myself in a Plan B (and I certainly will), then I will be more apt to see God’s presence in the midst of the pain. Perhaps I’ll be equipped to navigate that delicate balance between a loving God and the heartbreak and pain.

 *I received an advance, free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Teen Tests Parents’ Faith

“So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”  Galatians 6:9

I hesitantly logged in to the school’s online gradebook. One click later, tears welled up in my eyes. It was worse than I had feared. Just six weeks before the end of the school year, and my 14-year old son’s grades had plummeted again. This time they had hit bottom.

I know I’m not alone–parents have survived their teens for centuries. But it’s so easy to guilt ourselves into the “If only…” trap. If only I had checked his grades earlier, if only I had intervened more aggressively back in 5th grade, if only he hadn’t fallen out of the shopping cart and landed on his head as a toddler… just kidding. But sometimes I question every word I have spoken, every battle I have ignored, every action, every reaction, every aspect of my parenting.

Since the fifth grade, the downward spiral of my son’s grades have become dangerous, and the discussions about his homework louder and more frequent. A modest effort yields As and Bs—he has proven that many times.

There’s the stigma of having a child with poor grades. I know the focus should not be on me, but rather on how to get my son through this season and successfully into adulthood with our relationship intact. I hope my sanity will also be intact.

And then I struggle with imposing my own values on my children. I put a high value on academics, so his lack of caring about anything intellectual is especially disturbing. My motto is, “What can I do to become better?” His seems to be “How can I get away with doing absolutely nothing?”

Let’s not forget about falling into the trap of comparing my son to other boys his age. I wince when other proud parents report that their children take some personal responsibility for getting their homework done, studying for tests and playing sports. But, unlike his friends, he’s satisfied just standing on the sidelines. It requires no work. While his friends are training, reading, studying, succeeding, he’s… not. By choice. Apparently he doesn’t want to do anything that requires any kind of effort.

The worst aspect, though, is the shattered dream. I had expectations, dreams, of what our family would look like when we got to this day. My dream didn’t include a white picket fence, but it did include a close, caring family. Parents and children who have faults, but who love each other, and laugh together. In my dreams, I saw our family interacting with respect, understanding and caring toward each other. My son used to be like that. Now? He doesn’t want to be within 50 feet of us. When did he start disliking us, and why?

When I entered parenthood, I anticipated that my son would begin pulling away from his parents when he reached the teen years. It’s normal and natural. But I thought that meant he would venture out on his own more frequently. Demonstrate independent thinking. Rely on his parents less and less. I thought we would start treating him more like an adult, and he would start behaving more like an adult. More decisions, more freedom. I didn’t anticipate that he would completely reject anything related to our family.

I’m just as upset at myself for my behavior (labeling, comparing, imposing my values and dreams), as I am at my son for his behavior.

But here’s the truth. When we don’t get what we asked for, when our dreams don’t come true, don’t we get upset? Don’t we feel that we’ve done something wrong? Something that’s keeping us from God’s blessing. Not getting what we want tends to rattle our faith.

And the opposite is true, too. We believe that when we are faithful, when we’re obedient, when we do the right thing, don’t we expect that life is going to turn around for us? That God is going to deliver his blessings? Our kids will turn around. Our marriage will get easier. We’ll land the “right” job.

We must look at the process, not the end result. Our faith must rest on God’s identity, not his activity.

God promised a harvest of blessings. I’ll keep doing what is good, and what is right, and I won’t give up. I will reap that promised harvest. I have surrendered the dream of what, exactly, that harvest will look like. I won’t ask when that harvest will be delivered. God promises that there will be a harvest that is pleasing to him, and that’s good enough for me.

It’s the process that’s important. So I’ll never give up.

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God, Is That You?

Key Verse: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it.” – Isaiah 30:21

My then four-year old daughter’s eyes sparkled; her laughter rang throughout the long hallway at the high school. “Look, Mommy! I’m walking backwards,” she laughed. As she veered recklessly out of control, I said, “I’ll tell you which way to go. Follow my voice.”

Instantly she looked over her shoulder and turned the wrong way, bumping into the lockers jutting out from the wall. She just laughed and kept on. With each near-miss, she veered off in another direction, bouncing around the hallway, out of control like a ball in a pinball machine.

I said, “Listen to my voice. I can see what’s ahead, and I’ll tell you which way to go.” Then she stopped looking over her shoulder, looked intently into my eyes and listened to my instructions. “Go right. Now go straight. Sharply to your left.” She did as she was told, and giggling all the way, safely walked backwards the rest of the way out of the building.

Like my daughter, many of us have a difficult time trusting anything other than our own instinct. It’s against our nature to take instructions without knowing what’s ahead of us, or why we’re being told to do something. We would rather stumble over a few obstacles on our own than to trust someone else’s instructions.

Most of the time God doesn’t speak to us audibly. But we know what God has to say. The Bible tells us what is true and right, and guides us in how we should live. If we don’t spend time reading God’s Word, how can we recognize his voice when he speaks?

What should you do when God speaks? Like Samuel, say, “Speak, Lord, I’m listening!” (1 Sam. 3:10) Then listen and trust God to direct you to the right or to the left. God knows the way, and will guide you through all the twists and turns of life.

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Hello world!

Someone kicked me through this door, I’m quite sure of that.  Firmly planted their foot on my backside and… pushed. Hard.

I wouldn’t have ventured into the unknown on my own. Not that I haven’t read blogs before–I subscribe to many. And not that I haven’t written or edited blog posts for someone else. I have. It’s much easier to write about what someone else tells you to write. And it’s even easier to edit what someone else has written.

My own blog. I’m solely responsible for filling the empty page with words. Should I be funny? Light-hearted? Should my thoughts be deep, inspiring? Convicting? Informative? Random? Or themed?

The unknown, then, is making my own decisions. Personal accountability. Being on my own. Ah, there it is.  The source of the discomfort.

But I’m not on my own. 

“I know I can do everything God asks me to do with the help of Christ who will give me the strength and power.” (Phil. 4:13)

I believe I’m a missionary. A “word” missionary. Taking God’s Word, through words, to others so that people will hear the life-saving message of Jesus Christ.

My life as a Christian writer hardly measures up against the talent and insight of other writers (who may or may not be great).  But I know to NOT write is to disobey God’s instruction to me. 

“Write my answer on a billboard, large and clear, so that anyone can read it at a glance and rush to tell the others .” (Habakkuk 2:2)

I’d say this is the modern-day billboard. And it was God’s foot on my backside. So here I go. 

What has God called you to do? Are you doing it?

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