From the Storms....

God is not chaotic or random.  Satan does not hold the keys to death, and he is not sovereign.  The underlying theology of the Bible is that God ordains everything according to His purposes. 

Difficulties, suffering, death....God doesn't just sit back and watch and say "oops, satan got away with that again!" 

God is ultimately good and God is always at work.  When we suffer, He suffers too, but it is never by accident that we suffer.

"If God is God and if God is a God of providence and if God is sovereign, then nothing ever happens that is senseless in the final analysis." -- R.C. Sproul, Surprised by Suffering

What satan intends for evil, God will use for good.
 The beauty of the waterfall originates in the tragedy of the storms.

photo by Dave Forrer

Secrets of the Vine for Women - Book Review

Do you want to live beyond yourself, letting go of your agenda and your control so that you can receive what God has for you?  Secrets of the Vine for Women, by Darlene Wilkinson, is full of encouragement and advice on how to live fruitfully for God.

In six short chapters, the author provides three secrets of the vine that result in greater fruitfulness, service, and impact of your life for God.  Each chapter begins with a brief fictional scene about a young woman returning to her childhood home where she rejoices with her papa at the abundance of grapes from his vineyard.  Based on John 15, she portrays followers of Christ as the branches of the vine and God as the passionate, attentive vinedresser, who has a goal in mind as we face every circumstance in lives.  Even more, God cares about our fruitfulness and wants to take us to the next level.  This little book shows us how God carries us to the next level and gives practical advice on how to abide with Him.  A short study guide in the back provides topics for reflection and application of the concepts in the book, which would also offer thought-provoking sharing in small group discussion.

I found this simple book to be uplifting and inspiring.  The author did not make me feel guilty for not doing enough or for not achieving success through measurable outcomes.  She re-aligned my perspective, showing me that we bear fruit NOT by doing more or serving more, but by pursuing intimacy with God.  She states that "our opportunities don't very often require a platform, an extraordinary talent, or an unusual opportunity."  All that is required is a heart that abides and a heart that is ready.

I want to abide every day, every moment, so that everything else I do daily is just something I'm doing while I am abiding. I want to be attuned to Jesus and His purposes for me.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbook Multnomah Publishing Group in exchange for a review.  The opinions expressed herein are my own.

Conforming

Twelve years ago, I remember asking an older friend who was mature in faith if becoming more like Jesus meant we all become more and more alike, losing our individual personalities.  I wasn’t sure what it meant to look like Jesus in my current milieu and culture; I couldn’t imagine Jesus in blue jeans. There were plenty of Christians that I didn’t want to be like back then – fake, plastic, and boring.  But I didn’t like who I was either, and I wasn’t sure who I wanted to become. 
In the passing years, God has shown me that the calling to become more Christ-like is not a call to conformity.  We keep our personalities and uniqueness, but the Spirit works on our inner being.  When Paul states in Romans 8:29 that we are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus, we are conforming not merely outwardly, but inwardly.  It’s not about putting on a good act and having people admire your strength in adversity. It’s about being real as you abide in Jesus.
Whatever is inside is going to seep out through the cracks.  My internal struggles involve a critical spirit, negative thinking patterns, and fear.  I may think they are hidden, but they ooze out in my words and actions.  For a while, I was certain they were just a part of my melancholic personality and wasn’t sure if I wanted to let go of them.  Would I still have something to write about? Talk about? Would I still be able to analyze and evaluate effectively? I see now that the answer is a resounding yes – I can actually do those things even better if I fight them.  And not just fight them but replace them with encouragement, positive self-talk, and dependence on Christ for strength. Another force in me, whether it be my flesh or satan, is opposing the changes, so the progress is gradual.
I see a little more clearly than I did twelve years ago.  There are many beautiful women in my church today that I would love to be more like – each with different  personalities and that reflect various Christ-like characteristics, manifested in different ways.  They are each in the process of becoming who they are destined to be, and they are real enough to let me see it. Christ is much more multi-faceted than we could ever imagine!

The Gospel for Real Life – Book Review

Do you ever find yourself feeling complacent when you hear the Gospel and wish you could restore the freshness of its meaning?  Or maybe you are a new believer trying to grasp the significance of the cross?  Whether you are a new believer or an experienced one, in The Gospel for Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Cross…Every Day, Jerry Bridges explains how the Gospel applies to your life every single day. 

 
The author first starts with the bad news.  If you thought you weren’t that bad of a sinner or that you don’t sin every single day, the author is quick to prove you wrong.  It is against the backdrop of understanding the depth of your sin and then the awareness of the vast contrast with the holiness of God that you can fully understand the meaning and significance of the cross.    The author illuminated this point in such a way to cause me to question myself – I knew my good deeds would not save me, but am I now trusting in them somehow to make myself more acceptable?

Then the author delivers the good news.  The Gospel DOES result in forgiveness and eternal life, but it also includes the inheritance you can currently grasp right here on earth.  God wants you to enjoy His “unsearchable riches,” in the middle of life and all its difficulties.  The benefits of the Gospel are available not just in your initial salvation but in your day-to-day acceptance of it throughout life.

Intimidating theological terms (propitiation, expiation, progressive sanctification, etc.) are explained without feeling like a systematic theology primer.  He uses common life illustrations to help the reader grasp the full meaning.  He goes further to display the importance of the concepts of these terms and how they are about living out your faith, not just knowledge you hold in your head.  The book concludes with how you become the person you are becoming and your calling to share the Gospel with others. The study guide at the back would be great for either personal Bible study or small groups with much opportunity for discussion and application.    

I loved this book immensely! It enriched the meaning of the cross for me and pushed me to think hard about my faith and the Holy Spirit’s work in me.  Even more, I learned how I have failed to grasp all that I am entitled to through Christ and am opening my eyes to what it means to become partakers and beneficiaries of all He did in both His life and death. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

My Top 5 Favorite Reasons







At this very moment, here are my top five favorite reasons
why Jesus Christ suffered and died:


1.     To show that the worst evil is meant by God for good.
2.     To take away our condemnation.
3.     To enable us to live for Christ and not ourselves.
4.     To show the wealth of God's love and grace for sinners.
5.     To free us from bondage and fear of death.

As I contemplate the depth of the meaning of the cross and reflect on its significance in my life, I am certain my top five will change! For 45 other reasons, check out John Piper's book The Passion of Jesus Christ: 50 Reasons Why He Came to Die.  (Read it for free at: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/fifty-reasons-why-jesus-came-to-die). 

Joyful Pain or Painful Joy

Having suffered the birth pangs of labor (bearing two precious children) as well as the severe pain of appendicitis and kidney stones (bearing nothing precious at all), pain is not a stranger to me.   In fact, dull and annoying pain is my unwelcome companion more days than not, and I attempt to cope by complaining.  Every couple months or so, my companion of pain will suddenly attack for a 3-5 hour episode that leaves me rolling on the floor and begging for mercy. 

Only in the times of the worst pain do I find myself desperately crying out to God.  Recently, I found that one way of coping is to take my eyes off my pain and focus on bringing the hurt of others before His throne.  Friends who are experiencing grief because of loss or facing difficult times come to mind.  The momentary mental diversion serves as a reminder to me that the world is bigger than me at that moment, and while my pain is temporary, others suffer more for much longer.  And it does not EVEN begin to compare to the physical suffering Jesus endured on the cross, not to mention the spiritual and emotional suffering He had to endure simultaneously.

According to Romans 8:23-24, “all of creation groans as in the pains of childbirth” and “we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”  I am never alone in my pain, and while I await the redemption of my body, I can redeem the time of pain as a time of prayer. 

R.C. Sproul claims that “the cumulative pain of every disease was laid on Him. He bore in His body that the ravages of every evil, every sickness, and every pain known to the human race” (Surprised by Suffering, p. 14).  I wonder if pain would be more bearable if we really believed it was not senseless, but had a meaningful purpose.  Perhaps it is a way I can participate in His suffering.  There IS a beauty in finding fellowship with Him in pain.  Recent memories of severe episodes of pain are framed with the sweetness of God’s presence and comfort.
 

The Benefits of Sin?

A friend of mine hates Christianity because it is a ‘guilt-ridden’ religion.  But it is completely the opposite!  However, in my worst week of the month, my sin is always before me. If I don’t take my thoughts captive, they will beat me to a pulp.  I know this is not the Holy Spirit’s intention in convicting me! 
Strangely, I AM grateful for the times that I am aware of my sinfulness.  Why? 4 reasons:
1)       Greater awareness of our sinfulness is actually a sign of spiritual growth.  As we become more aware of God’s goodness, holiness, and perfectness, the things that are wrong in our lives grow uglier by contrast.  The Spirit slowly reveals our sins when He believes we are ready to deal with them.  Even if I feel like I sin more than I did 20 years ago, if I had a sinfulness meter, surely I sin less now than I did then?  Because of grace, I have no need for a sinfulness meter or to allow my sin to burden me.
2)       My sin is a continual reminder to me that I am always in need of the cross.  Jesus lived a perfect life for my righteousness and died a perfect death for my sins.  When I hear the gospel, it is for me, right now -- not just for unbelievers or those who have just stepped through the door to begin their journey as a Christ follower.  The gospel is for me, today, 34 years after I first received it. It is as powerful in my life now as when I first became His child.
3)       I am reminded of His amazing grace and the freedom I experience as a result. The Father sees Jesus in me and He sees me as perfect.  He is transforming me so that someday on the other side of this life, I WILL be perfect.  There is no amount of striving I can do to make myself more acceptable to Him.  Yet because of the grace, freedom, and love that come from Him, I want to follow His ways and love Him with my whole being.
4)       When other people make mistakes, cause accidents, or upset me, I realize that I am not faultless either.  In fact, only by the grace of God I stand, and I can offer others mercy and forgiveness because I have already received it in the fullest measure.
I will get to enjoy these benefits of my sinfulness on this side of heaven, but on the other side I will be perfected and enjoy all the benefits without it!

"Max on Life" - Book Review

My teenage daughter has asked questions like “why would a loving God send people to hell?” and “is it awful that I don’t look forward to Jesus coming back until I get married and have children?”  I was delighted to find simple yet satisfying answers that my children and friends ask about God’s ways and how we should live in Max Lucado’s book  Max on Life.  
This book is a compilation of 172 questions asked of the author throughout his life in his pastoral and writing ministry, encompassing a wide range of topics from general and light-hearted to specific and thought-provoking. Questions are divided into seven categories that include topics such as God’s character and ways, pain and suffering, spiritual growth, relationships, parenting, finances, and the afterlife.  A topical index is included in the back of the book for quick reference.  The author’s answers fill one page or less, yet are specific, succinct, and easily understandable through his use of illustrations.  His responses, supported by Scripture, are permeated with acceptance and love and are never harsh or judgmental. 
I read this book from cover to cover, but I recommend thumbing through it and using it more as a reference book.  It is not scholarly or deeply theological but presents the truth with plenty of Scriptural support.  Whether you are a Max Lucado fan or not, this book is different than his other writings (fewer fragmented sentences) while retaining his voice and personality.  I recommend this enjoyable and useful book to parents, teachers, people with inquisitive minds, or people who know people who have inquisitive minds about God’s ways and want to be able to give loving and concise answers. 
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

"Unleashed" - Book Review

Rather than living a long life, are you willing to live a life worth living?  Are you willing to lose everything on God’s behalf to gain everything He desires for you?  Erwin Raphael McManus presents these and other thought-provoking questions in his book Unleashed: Release the Untamed Faith Within.  Using the biblical examples of John the Baptist and Peter, and the ultimate example of Jesus, he shows what it means to live the barbarian life.  He sprinkles the book with illustrations about his daughter Mariah, who is a full-fledged barbarian of beauty (displayed on the cover of the book exhibiting the essence of the title).
The author, a first-generation Christian who wasn’t raised according to all the ‘rules’, fights the Christian cliché “the safest place to be is in the center of God’s will.”  Instead, he argues that it is a dangerous and costly place to be.  God’s will for us is not about our comfort.  Nor is it a cattle call for us to live the same kind of life as everyone else.  His desire is not to conform us but transform us, not to make us compliant but to make us creative, and not to domesticate us but to liberate us.
The “civilized” faith is ritualistic, safe, reasonable, routine, stable, follows requirements, keeps people in line, focuses on being a good citizen, and follows the letter of the law.  The barbarian life is courageous, sacrificial, visionary, intimate, passionate, loving, challenging, mysterious, risky, listens to the voice of the Spirit, experiences God, focuses on a mission, and lives the spirit of the law.  All that we are meant to do is through the outward flowing of faith, hope and love.
For me, this book was refreshing, revitalizing, and inspiring! It is thought-provoking as well as entertaining and easy to read in a sitting or two.  After reading this book, I found it easier to embrace my quirky self and to stop trying to be what everyone else wants or expects me to be.  Instead my focus is to be guided by the footprints of Jesus. We are supposed to do whatever Jesus calls us to do the moment it is clear to us. I want to be a barbarian!
To comply with regulations by the Federal Trade Commission 16 CFR Part 255, I am disclosing that BookSneeze® provided me a complimentary copy of this book.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions I have expressed are my own.

More on Fear of Being Undignified

The Bible is always relevant and applicable to my needs, but I am awed when God places other books in my life and words from wise Christ followers that supplement what He is trying to show me.  

I just finished reading a book that connected with my previous posting "Fear of Being Undignified".  Erwin McManus explains how we resist love to avoid pain and squelch our dreams out of fear of failure.  When we turn our hearts toward God, all of our fears are consumed by one fear - the fear of God only.

He also says that what we fear is what we are subject to.  Our fears define our master.  Where there is no fear, there is no control.  When we fear God, we in essence begin to live a life where we are fearless. If we are to be like Jesus, we must always risk for love.  We are invited to follow Him with reckless abandon.

I would rather be undignified in expressing love than for my heart to grow cold and uncaring. I want to have only one fear.

Book review to follow soon! 

Fear of Being Undignified

Why do I often suppress the warm sentiments in my heart? Maybe I fear that I will be thought of as silly, or maybe the impression is far from mutual.  It’s easier and safer to stay inside my shell.

During my “best” week of the monthly hormonal cycle, I am more likely to shower people with appreciation and affection.  Sometimes I later feel ridiculous, ignored or rejected.  I started practicing holding back and letting the feelings wane. 

A few months ago, a new friend entered my life – or at least I thought of her as such. During my best week, I drafted an email expressing my appreciation for God bringing her into my life and the encouragement she offered as we raised teenage daughters.  However, I decided to sit on the draft for a couple days to see if I thought it was silly a couple days later.  Sure enough, my heart chilled and I did not want to take the risk of exposing myself. 

What did I miss? The following month, I sent a much milder form of appreciation along with a matter of business.  She sent me a gushing response that left me feeling incredibly blessed. 

This morning, I took an impulsive, tentative, yet tiny leap to express a thought on my heart to a fellow co-worker and my prayers for his family.  As a result, I learned how God is dramatically working in his and his wife’s life.  A rush of memories of a time in my life when God called me to radical change flooded my soul (the 4th echo this week – a subject for a separate posting!).  Hearing the passion to follow hard after Jesus re-ignited the fire in my heart, too.

By protecting myself inside the cocoon, what have I been missing? Pain? Blessing? Both? Is the risk worth it?

Michal chastised David for his indignity, and his response was “…I will celebrate before the Lord.  I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes.” (2 Samuel 6:21-22).  He exposed the affection of His heart in worship to God, and was ridiculed by his wife in return.  Yet, to him, it was worth the price.  And God was delighted.

How often have I chosen sensibility and dignity over expressing my heart? Is protecting my ego from rejection or humiliation worth the cost of missing out on being used by God and allowing His goodness to be displayed? 

How much pain am I willing to risk?  Fear is one of my worst enemies.

Oh, how I want to become even more undignified than this! 

Love Written in Stone - Book Review

What happens when God is not in His rightful place in my life?  The underlying theme in Philip Carlson’s book Love Written in Stone is to show that God has a purpose in every law He provided.  He desires to protect our relationships with Him and each other as well as protecting ourselves and preventing damage.  
The purpose of the book is to evaluate aspects of the best possible life using scientific discoveries to show God’s kindness in giving us instructions by which to live.  He explains the reason for addictions, loneliness, isolation, and guilt, and cites scientific evidence (for the not-too-scientifically minded) to demonstrate that God’s ways and obedience to Him are the most healthy and happy way to live.  The book divides God’s instructions into four categories: our relationship with Him, our relationships with others (sexuality, commitment, sense of belonging, parenting), caring for ourselves (wellness, effects of sin, importance of rest), and our relationship to creation. 
The author presents a fresh definition for me of the word “sin.”  Sin is “any departure from life as God intends it” and is “plunging over the guard rail God has erected to keep us from falling into great peril physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”  When we follow God’s commands, we are pushed out of an ego-centric life into loving others sacrificially and into things that really matter. 
Overall, this book was easy to read.  The book didn’t feel much like a scientific approach, likely because the author presumed his audience did not consist of scientists. The non-scientist does not need be intimidated by the ‘science’ of this book because it is not bogged down with citations, theories, data, or analyses. 
When I selected this book to read, I thought it would answer my questions on which of God’s laws are applicable to me today and the meaning behind the strange and obscure commands; however, these issues were not addressed.  I found mixed messages throughout the book, and at one point I was given the understanding that obeying God’s ways would lead to a happy and safe life, only to discover in later chapters that the author means the “best possible life”, even though discipleship is actually costly and the road is not easy. Despite my confusion,  presuppositions, and differing opinion on occasion, I found this book a delight to read.
The epilogue was my favorite chapter that wrapped up the entire message of the book.  Our purpose is to glorify God, become what He created us to be, and to engage in kingdom-building activity.  We find the greatest contentment, fullness, and joy when we know that we are doing what we were created to do.  Ultimately, the reader will see that God’s commands are not just means of God controlling us or keeping us from having fun, but ways He guides us to the best life and to see ourselves how God sees us. 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for a book review.

Hidden Sin

It seems that the closer I walk and abide with Jesus, the more I recognize my weaknesses and deficiencies. 

For the last two weeks, I have been investigating the cause of groundwater pollution originating at a grain elevator facility and determining the extent of damage.  I was struck by the parallels between the deterioration of our natural resources as a result of a hidden leak from a tank, and the impact that hidden sin in our hearts can have on our sense of being and on others around us.   

“Pollution takes place when we do things our way, refuse God’s lordship, and see ourselves as the ones in control,” says Philip Carlson in Love Written in Stone.  I agree, but as an environmental scientist, I have witnessed that many causes of pollution occur due to neglect or inattentiveness rather than out-right rebellion.  In this case, the tank and associated piping had unknowingly leaked slowly over a long period of time.  Now, over 25 years after its removal, the effects have become evident and far-reaching.

Some pollution in the heart is immediately evident – explosive anger or the need to control things. But there are the slow leaks that are not so obvious – the critical thoughts or the negative self- talk. Perhaps the pollution occurs as a result of neglect (not consciously abiding in Him), inattentiveness (too busy to notice), or not taking preventative measures (taking every thought captive for Christ).  

The impact may not be immediately noticeable but could have long-term far-reaching effects.    I may not realize that these things impact anyone besides me, but over years of practice, they will affect my relationships and how I project myself. 

When the Holy Spirit reveals the hidden sin in my heart with its invisible leaks, I am learning to lean on His grace instead of wallowing in guilt, allowing the leaks to become an opportunity for transformation.  Every discovery reminds me that I am always in need of the cross and enables me to cherish the cross even more.

90 Days to God's Goodness - Book Review

Why would God create a world where people suffer so much? But how remarkable that no one will ever suffer as much as He did!  “Evil and suffering formed the crucible in which God demonstrated his love to humankind,” explains Randy Alcorn in his book 90 Days of God’s Goodness.  God understands our pain and suffering, and none of it takes Him by surprise or by accident.
This devotional-style book tackles the issue of how God can be considered good when he allows pain and suffering to exist in our lives.  Each of the 90 days begins with a passage from the Bible – not just a verse or two, but enough of the passage to get a clue of the context.  The author follows up with application of the passage through illustrations drawn from people who have experienced God’s goodness in deep suffering. The end of each day includes a brief prayer that ties together the theme by expressing gratitude and dependence on God.
While this book is not a systematic theology on the providence of God or a treatise on the meaning of evil and suffering, it offers comfort and encouragement for those wandering through the dark valley of pain.  At the beginning of the book, I felt like it was most applicable for those who have suffered loss through the death of a child.  However, the further I got into this book, the more I found it can apply to all types of painful situations – chronic pain, depression, job loss, unfair lawsuits, diagnosis of a terminal illness.    I highly recommend this book to anyone going through the dark valley of the shadow of death who is searching to find meaning in suffering and draw closer to God.  Through the truths in this book, God will minister to your heart and bring healing and hope.
Take a look at the first chapter to see if this is the book for you!
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Thoughts on Evil and Suffering

A tragic car accident stealing the life of a child, loss of a husband to cancer, discovery of a baby’s disability, difficult marriages, miscarriage, church homes that lose their unity and split, children who wander away from the faith, being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, depression, rape, violent crime, job loss, unfair lawsuits…..I have girlfriends who have experienced these things.  I can claim a couple of the painful situations for myself.  Here are some thoughts on the meaning of evil and suffering that I noted from reading 90 Days of God’s Goodness, by Randy Alcorn:
·         A world of freedom must have cause and effect, and freedom must include consequential choices.

·         Suffering WILL come.  Trusting God does not mean evil and suffering will be held at bay. However, they do have a purpose and they do not happen by accident.

·         God has authority over Satan, who inflicts evil in the world.  Satan is not his opposite. If God were a heavy-weight champion, Satan would be like a whiney 3-year-old in comparison.

·         Good Friday is not Bad Friday because what was temporarily bad became what is eternally good.

·         The heart of the problem of evil and suffering was addressed in Christ’s redemptive work on the cross.

·         No affliction ever finds you without first being filtered through God’s hands.

·         God uses evil and suffering to accomplish immeasurable good.  Even when we can’t see any redemptive meaning in it on this side of heaven, we can trust that God CAN see it.

·         We must trust that we are just too small to see God’s big picture.

·         What Satan intends for evil to destroy our faith, God intends for good to invite us to draw nearer to Him.

·         God does not wait until we die to snap His fingers and transform us into what He wants us to be.  He begins transforming us now and uses suffering to help us grow into Christlikeness, preparing us for the next world.

·         “For Christians, this present life is the closest they will come to Hell. For unbelievers, it is the closest they will come to Heaven.” –Randy Alcorn

·         By God’s grace, we can have a happy ending no matter what, and that ending is not the end.

In Christ Alone - Book Review

Jesus did not come to make our lives more pleasant or to add something to life.  He came on a deliverance mission to save us and destroy the works of Satan.  In the book In Christ Alone, by Sinclair Ferguson, a theologian and pastor, I found a treasure that deepened my understanding of Jesus Christ as Savior, the meaning of the cross, and how this affects living out my faith in daily life.
While the book is divided into six parts, the 50 chapters essentially could be divided into two sections:  doctrinal and practical.  The doctrinal section is biblically sound, interesting and enlightening (not as dry as the word “doctrine” may sound).  The identity, revelation, fulfillment, and works of Jesus are explained in a way that will cause you to fall deeper in love with Him.  One of my favorite parts was the examination of how Christ is the key to understanding the Old Testament using the book of Hebrews.  The identity of the Holy Spirit is also well-described in His deliverance, power, and empowering.  He asks, “Does the indwelling of the Spirit seem a poor substitute for Jesus Himself?” (p. 119), and he answers this in such a way that your heart will soar at how blessed you are to be on this side of the cross.    
The second half of the book is richly practical.  The author addresses the privileges that are ours in Christ and the importance of studying His Word.  The life of faith is not in looking for the extraordinary and miraculous, but in being so nourished by the Word of God that you are energized in living in light of what it says.  Faith is more than understanding, but expressing the melody of the gospel in your lifestyle.  He explains how to deal with sin in your life, how to live in a holy and right manner, how enjoying our assurance of our salvation can lead to living to God’s glory and pleasure, how to tackle temptation and put sin to death in your life, how to live faithfully for Christ in a faithless world, and much more. 
I found a gold mine in this book and it is now my new all-time favorite book next to the Bible! This is the kind of book you can read over and over.  It is not for speed reading, but rather for mulling over one chapter at a time, savoring each bite before swallowing and taking the next one.  I only have a PDF copy to review and cannot wait to get the complete bound book in my hands so that I can read it again and highlight or underline all the things I want to remember for the rest of my life.  I give this book 10 stars out of 5!!
I received this book free from Reformation Trust in exchange for a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission.

I Am His - Book Review


Having just finished a profound book probing the identity and works of Jesus and the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, it was refreshing to pick up this simple book that focuses on the third person of the Trinity – the Father.  In I am His: Experiencing the Comfort of Abba’s Love, Rita J. Platt guides us through an eight-week devotional journal on our relationship to God as our comforting yet powerful Abba Father.  Each week is divided into five parts: an introductory illustration, pondering related Scripture verses, reflection, and response.
The author explains that even though our view of our earthly fathers impacts how we may think of our Heavenly Father, we can expand beyond the tangible examples in our lives to understand what a perfect Father is like, only found in God – our Abba.  He is more than all the strengths of our earthly fathers and has none of the weaknesses. 
This book is easy to read, personable, and is easily studied in possibly four weeks instead of eight, even if you reflect on and respond to every exercise she recommends for application, worship and prayer.  It helped me to think of God as my personal Abba, Father, in a concrete way when I meet with Him.  However, for me, this book lacked theological depth and pulls Scripture verses from all over the Bible to match the topic, not a practice that I favor.
I recommend this book especially for those who have a hard time thinking of God as Father, particularly because their earthly fathers were absent, disappointing, or abusive in some manner.  For those, like me, who think fondly of their earthly fathers who sought to follow hard after God, this book is still a good tool to opening ourselves to the fathering of God as Abba/Daddy. 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from NavPress Publishers in exchange for a book review. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Spiritual Amnesia

I experienced a case of spiritual amnesia during the busy work days this week.  Yesterday, at the end of the long hard day, I heard a song on the radio as I was driving home that proclaimed the glorious name of Jesus.  My heart sang with joy at hearing His name! Then it dawned on me, as all my memory came back, that I had gone through the entire work day most days this week without even thinking of His name consciously, let alone experiencing His continued presence with brief prayers of thanksgiving or intercession.  I had started my mornings in His Word, so what happened to me? Even more, how often has this happened to me and I never even noticed?
Busyness? Normally, I sit behind a desk and computer, writing or critiquing technical reports.  My thoughts easily turn to Him as I am surrounded by reminders like my memory verse flashcard or devotional emails in my inbox.  The quietness and peacefulness is also conducive to allowing my mind to wander toward Him. 
This week, I worked outside, overseeing a crew with a drill rig and mobile lab to delineate a contaminated groundwater plume.  My mind was continually spinning with new data and decisions throughout the days as we fought to work against violently gusty winds and rain.  One day, when the sun popped out for a few minutes and a bird flew overhead, my thoughts slowed down enough to notice and turn toward God, but only momentarily.
Subconsciously I know He was with me all day, but I had missed out on the sense of abiding in Him, the blessing of asking and allowing Him to guide my steps and decision.  Still, the sweetness of hearing His name reminded me He was continuing to pursue me and was always with me, whether I acknowledged it or not.  While I am ashamed that I experience spiritual amnesia from time to time, I know He forgives me and accepts me as I am through the righteousness of Jesus.  This week’s case of spiritual amnesia reminds me to ask Him to daily open my eyes to Him, to seek Him all day long, and to treasure the abiding relationship that He wants to have with me.   

The Reason Why - Book Review

What if all your days here on earth were merely preparation for the life that comes next, the REAL one? This is one of the first questions that Mark Mittelberg asks in The Reason Why Faith Makes Sense, his updated and expanded version of the original classic by Robert A. Laidlaw. In six short chapters, he addresses perplexing questions from “Is there a God” to “What am I supposed to do about it?” He uses everyday life illustrations that anyone can relate to in order to help them grasp the answers to some baffling questions.

Within each of the six major questions, other questions that you might not venture to ask out loud are also considered. Some of them are thought-provoking questions that my children have asked me recently, like “Why did Jesus have to die? Couldn’t God just forgive and forget without punishment, like He asks us to do?” Just the other day, my 9th grader asked, “Why didn’t God just make us so that we would all love Him and never sin?” Mark Mittelberg answers these questions simply without being simplistic.

The book is easy to read and tackles the answers with clarity and ease. I highly recommend it for anyone undecided about the existence of God or dealing with nagging doubts about their faith. I also recommend this book for those who are firm in their faith but want to be able to answer these questions for themselves or others in a clear and concise manner. I am going to add this book to my teenagers’ reading list this summer and recommend it to my agnostic friend.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission.

Fast Food or Gourmet Bible?

As a young teenage girl, I was obsessed with horoscopes to guide my day, eagerly searching them out each morning in the newspaper.  A good friend pointed out that this daily practice was an offense to God (though she never really explained why).  In an effort to find an acceptable alternative, I copied my favorite verses from Proverbs onto tiny pieces of paper, rolled them up, tied them each with a colorful piece of yarn and placed them in a small glass jar.  When the jar was full, each morning I would pull one out at random to read and live by for the day instead of reading my horoscope. 
I wonder what God thought of my fortune cookie approach to His Word? Are one-verse devotional readings, promise books, and verse-a-day calendars the same thing – like spiritual fortune cookies? Ways we seek to get a faith fix?  What does God think when I use a fast food approach to His Word? 
I know a fast food diet is unhealthy, but it is readily available and quickly eaten.  A steady diet of fast food would wreak havoc on my heart and arteries. Maybe God wants me to approach the Bible more like a gourmet meal – savoring the flavor, chewing it slowly and enjoying it.
Perhaps a verse with a pithy devotional has its place – a few minutes in a busy day to focus my thoughts on God and to open my heart to hear Him speak.  But He also wants me to take the time to study His Word – the complete passages in context, that I may be able to think God’s thoughts after Him instead of imposing my own ideas on the meaning of a single sentence.
I yearn to be so nourished by His Word that it fills my mind, directs my feet, and gradually transforms me.   A burger and fries are alright sometimes, but I would rather have almond butter chicken and Caesar salad.

Book Review: A Deeper Kind of Calm, by Linda Dillow

Sometimes when I am in the valley of hardship, it is hard to pick up a book because my attention span is short and my mind is weary.   In those times, when extra doses of strength and encouragement are needed, Linda Dallow’s book A Deeper Kind of Calm is a perfect read.  She describes the "Valley of Weeping" as a place of experiencing illness, physical pain, prodigal children, relationship difficulties, or enemy attack (enemies may be a person, or it may be fear, anxiety, despair, or depression). 
The author draws from four Psalms to describe four biblical aspects of faith as a survival guide through the valley:
1.    Remembering – She provides practical ways to remember what God has done.  Intentionally meditating on how He has shown you His ways in the past transforms  a ‘pity party into a praise celebration’.

2.    Hiding – She uses real-world application on how to hide in God as our refuge and find the inner strength we need to face trials.

3.    Clinging – She gives concrete illustrations on what it means to cling to God, using four attitudes that caused David’s heart to cling based on his desperation and dependence on God.

4.    Journeying – She depicts the walk through the fog in the valley as a necessary journey in faith where we hold God’s hand.  Through the valley, we journey to the sacred place, experience the blessing of intimacy with God, and grow in character.
A key theme I draw from the book is that “the woman of strength dares to dig blessings out of hardships”, and she displays how this really works in the nitty-gritty of life.
The short sections and poignant illustrations will enable you to focus and draw strength in order to not only keep moving forward, but also to find the sweet blessings buried in the valley.  A four-week Bible study at the back of the book pulls you deeper into the Psalms with each of these aspects and assists in applying it to your life.  It is an easy read in a hospital waiting room or late at night when sleep won’t come.  I consider it a must-read-again when I travel through the dark places or want to help a friend through them. 
I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Was Jesus Emotional?

My husband sometimes describes me as a moody person.  At times, the tears come quickly or the laughter erupts more readily than others. Sometimes I feel gushy and express my love and appreciation at the smallest things, while other times my tongue is sharp and my patience slim.  Pulling the reigns on my emotions requires self-discipline to prevent them from negatively controlling my words and actions.

Since I want to follow the pattern of Jesus, I have to ask, how much were emotions a part of His life?  I have never imagined Jesus as an emotional person, yet I know He had emotions.  He experienced laughter, tears, compassion, and anger, but He did not sin.  

Sinclair Ferguson discusses the true, deep humanity of Jesus in his book In Christ Alone, saying “Jesus’s sinlessness should not be equated with emotionlessness.” In fact, it is quite the other extreme.  He cites the example of illness and death of Lazarus when Jesus wept (John 11:35), deeply affected by Satan’s reign in sin and death. 

Jesus could see human need with perfect clarity and feel it with ‘unparalleled intensity’ compared to our foggy awareness. “His holy humanity experienced heights and depths of emotion unknown by sinful humanity” (p. 70).  When He resurrected Lazarus from the dead with a single command, the ultimate miracle, I wonder what He felt then? 

Can you imagine experiencing all the emotions of womanhood without sinning?  To experience all the highs and lows without your thoughts going down paths they shouldn’t go?  To allow them to drive you to closer in intimacy with God? 

Whether I experience the high peaks of joy or the low depths of despair, I want my emotions to be ignited by the Holy Spirit within me.  I do not want my emotions to rule me, but sometimes they propel me into action that might otherwise lie dormant.  I resolve to cherish all the emotions that come with the gift of womanhood so that God may use them to transform my character.