Thursday, November 24, 2016

What Is God's Will - Sea To Shining Sea

When I was maybe 11 years old (My mom and I have been working to try to figure out the exact year, this is our best guess), my Mom started reading a book aloud to my siblings and I. Then, for whatever reason (It might have been becoming too in-depth for the younger ones), my parents let me take it with me to camp to finish on my own! It was the first adult book I ever read! And pretty soon, I saved up my money and book #2 was the first book I ever bought myself! I don’t have specific memories of the rest of the series – except #4. It came in one of those clothing boxes like you get from Younkers or JC Pennys as a Christmas gift along with a Precious Moments pendent on a lavender ribbon. Whenever the other came though, I was hooked. Each book fascinated me. I proudly displayed the entire series on the top shelf of my one bookshelf for years. It was one of the first things moved to the new house when my family moved when I was 14. I always appreciated them, but not until growing up, did I see the real value in them. 
I have recommended them before due to their impressive spiritual content. I don’t always agree with the author’s theology, but every point of theology I DO agree on, I am impressed with how he handles – and there’s a lot more I agree with than I disagree with! As I re-read the series recently, I found myself fascinated all over again. 
But one conversation between the main character and her stepmother particularly caught my attention. It’s an issue I have somewhat wrestled with myself lately – how can I know what God wants of me? What does walking in His will look like? How do I follow His direction? This is the question Corrie is wrestling with in Sea To Shining Sea, book #5. She has been asked to write more articles for the newspaper about the election, specifically working to help get Abraham Lincoln elected. She’s also been asked to start doing speech making for the cause. Not everyone around her believes in the cause though. Some are strongly opposed. What is right? What does God want of her? Here is the conversation she has with her stepmother about it:

“You see, that’s what I am getting at. Both my heavenly Father and Mr. Parrish together contributed to that remaking process in me. But eventually I did change. Eventually I learned the new ways. And now, after all these years I am truly an altogether new and changed person. I have matured in many ways. As a Christian, as a daughter of God, although He is still with me always – inside my heart and right beside me – I no longer require the same kind of training I did back then. I am God’s daughter, I am also a grown woman. I think God treats me in many cases like an adult rather than a child. Whereas, as first He had to show me everything and had to take my hand and literally g

uide me through every step of life, He doesn’t have to do that anymore. He has trained me and in the same way that a parent gradually releases a child to walk on his own, I think God begins to release us – not to walk independently of Him, but to walk beside Him as He has shown us without His having to direct every single move we make. In obedience to Him, we walk along the path He has given us to walk without having to stop to consider every step. Does that make sense?”
“I think so,” I said.
“It’s very difficult to explain what I mean,” Amelda went on. “I don’t mean to sound as though I think I want to walk independently, or that God isn’t there with every step I take. I do try to bring Him into all aspects of my life, even more than I did at the beginning. But the more we mature as Christians, the more of our decisions He leaves in our hands – knowing that we are walking along the road He has placed us in, and according to the ways and habits and attitudes that  He has trained into us.”
“In other words,” I said, “He might be leaving part of the decision of what I should do in my hands?”
“Exactly. If He didn’t want you to write, I am confident He would let you know it very clearly, and I am equally confident you would obey His voice. But since He has led you into writing in the past, I think He will very often let you make the decision yourself as to what specific things you write about. He may give you a stronger sense of leading at some times than others. But there will also be times when He will trust you to go either way when you’re facing a particular decision, and He will make either one work out for the best”
“Hmmm…that is a new way to look at it.”
“God is our Father of course. We must look to  Him for everything. We can’t breathe a single breath without Him. We can’t take a step without Him. Yet it is one of the many paradoxes of the Christian life that He also entrusts us to a sort of partnership with Him. As we walk along with Him, keeping our hand tightly in His, it is as if He says to us, ‘My son, my daughter, I have trained you and taught you and placed my life and spirit inside you. Now go… walk in the confidence of your sonship. I will always be at your side; if you err or misstep, my hand will be right there to help you up and guide you back into the middle of the path. But until then, walk on with the boldness that comes from having my Spirit inside you.”
“Do you think that applies to big decisions too?” I asked. “Things like whether or not I should get involved in this election?”
“I think we always have to pray and ask the Father for His specific guidance,” replied Amelda. “Then the time comes when we must make a decision.”
“And if we don’t seem to hear a definite answer?”
She thought a minute, the answered. “There are two ways, it seems to me, in which God can answer our prayers and direct us. He can open doors, or He can close doors. If we’re standing still, facing a fork in the road, facing a decision to be made, He can either open a door going in one direction or close the door going in the other. Or, if we don’t happen to see the fork, or don’t see any possibilities clearly, it has always seemed best to me to keep moving and praying until He either opens or closes a door. I’ve even prayed something like this sometimes: ‘Lord, I don’t know for sure if this is the way You want me to go. It seems to be best right now, and I think this is what You want, so I’m going to keep moving cautiously ahead until You say otherwise. Please Lord, if this is not what You want me to do, slam the door shut in my face.’”
“Is that what you did before the election four years ago?” I asked.
“I suppose it was something like that, although there was, as I now look back on it, an ample supply of my own wishful thinking involved in what I thought was God’s leading. Yes, I thought I was going in the right directions, so I moved ahead. But then when God made some things clear in my thinking about my relationship with your father, I knew He was closing the door.”
“And so maybe Cal Burton’s coming like he has is the Lord’s way of opening the door to what I’ve been in doubt about all this time.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me a bit,” said Amelda
“I’ve been thinking about Davy Crockett’s saying, ‘Be sure you’re right, then go ahead.’ Maybe I’ve been expecting the Lord to be more direct than He wants to be.”
“There’s wisdom in that motto,” said Amelda. “Yet, on the other hand, we don’t always have the luxury of being absolutely sure before we have to go ahead. In the absence of any possible leading by God, sometimes we have to launch out according to what circumstances seem to be saying, and prayerfully trust God to open and close doors as we go along.”

See? That’s why I recommend this book, this series, this author! If you want to be made to THINK deeply, to be challenged, pick up a Michael Phillips book! 

What Will You Do To Get The Best - The Braxtons of Miracle Springs

What will you do to get the best?
I read a book tonight – historical fiction, set in 1867. The characters, a former minister, his wife, her two siblings and a friend – all Christians, some very very very strong Christians, are visiting San Francisco. A friend recommends a place to eat, saying it is absolutely the best food in town. Everyone knows it. It’s so good, that not just anyone can get in. So the friend gets them an invitation and the group of six young people go out to the boarding house/restaurant. They are instantly uncomfortable. Here’s how it is described: 

“It was dark despite the candles on all the tables, and the d├ęcor was too gaudy for my taste with red and black flocked wallpaper, big gold light fixtures, and two or three paintings of women on the walls those expressions I didn’t much care for. The sorts of men scattered about at the tables didn’t look or sound like the kind you’d want to spend much time with. It wasn’t what you’d call a family restaurant, and I knew from his face that Christopher felt a little uneasy too. “

The characters concluded it felt more like a tavern or a bordello than a restaurant and regretted going there. They felt they were being a bad witness to the younger ones in the group and felt ashamed of being there.

That brought to mind a question from the Ethics class my husband took in college, taught by the president of the Bible college we attended. The question was, “Would it be unethical for the president of the Bible college to eat at the buffet in the casinos in the next town over?” (FYI – this was in a state that did not allow casinos, but was right next to a state that did.) The reputation was that the casinos had the best food in the area. If you wanted a good buffet, you should go there. That’s what the word on the street was.

Some would say it’s an easy question. Of course you should go there. If it has the best food, you should do it. Especially nowadays when most dine-in restaurants serve alcohol. The line between “restaurant” and “bar” is very blurred. So what’s a casino? If it has good food, go for it, right?

So that brought to mind the question of how far we should go to get the best.
Our culture would say “as far as it takes” because we “deserve” the best. We should fight for the best, do whatever it takes to get the best. The best food, the best clothes, the best electronics, the best education, the best media, the best service from places we visit, etc. We should want the best, expect the best, fight for the best, demand the best, pursue the best.

Matthew 16:24 – Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

When I read the discussion between the characters, at first I was put off by it. Christopher was making such a big deal out of nothing! Nothing happened, no one did anything wrong or was even tempted to do wrong as a result of being there. And the characters admitted that the food was possibly the best they’d ever had. Yet the characters, especially Christopher and Corrie, felt it was wrong of them to be there.
But maybe they were right. Maybe the only “best” we should want, expect, fight for, demand, and pursue is God’s best. And I’m pretty sure His best has nothing to do with making sure food and possessions are highest quality. So maybe that’s my challenge for this week. In the midst of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping, I can think about God’s best – denying myself and following Him instead of expecting to only have the highest quality food. (Which would be Carlos O’Kellys enchiladas – that’s what’s on the menu for tomorrow!)

If you liked this, check out more of The Journals of Corrie Belle Hollister by Michael Phillips. This particular excerpt is from The Braxtons Of Miracle Springs

by Michael Phillips, Bethany House Publishers, 1996.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Book Blessings for Fall

Apple pies are being baked, leaves are falling, pumpkins are being picked and carved, kids are dressing in costumes and begging for candy, turkeys are being cooked – it must be Autumn!
Here’s a few fun books for the season. Most of these I have reviewed before, but the first one is a new treasure for you to add to your collection!

Book: Pumpkin PatchBlessings by Kim Washburn, illustrated by Jacqueline East, Zonderkidz, 2016
Genre: Picture Books
Target Audience: Kids 2-6
Subjects: God’s creation
Summary/Notes: This cute little board book tells of some of the things to be found at a pumpkin patch and puts it in terms of things to be thankful for.
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale: 4/5

Book: Thankful written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Archie Preston, Zonderkidz, 2015
Genre: Children's Picture Book
Target Audience: Boys and Girls 3-10
Subjects: Thankfulness
Summary/ Notes: Adorable! That’s the best word to describe the picture book Thankful written by Eileen Spinelli and illustrated by Archie Preston. The author takes the reader through a day in the life of a family, showing what they are thankful for. It’s not just an ordinary family though. The children have great imagination and pretend to be a number of different professions and we get to see what each profession would be thankful for. Archie Preston draws beautiful illustrations of the kids, showing exactly what they are imagining. One of the things I appreciate about this book is that the ideas are not overly simple. For example, one of the pages says “The dancer is thankful. She loves the beat that stirs her heart and hips and feet.” It has cute little rhymes for each idea expressed. I like how it conveys gratitude to God for more than objects.
This not-so-simple picture book is one I can definitely recommend to children and their parents!
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale: 5/5

Genre: Children’s Picture Book
Target Audience: Boys and Girls 3-10
Subjects: 4/5
Summary/Notes: It’s fall and the leaves are changing colors, pumpkins are growing and the land is beautiful. The bear family is thankful for all the beauty. To celebrate they attend the Harvest Festival at a local farm. Most of the book is focused on simple enjoyment of the activities of the festival and the beauty of the land. One section though shows Brother Bear saying that “mother nature is putting on a good show for us” and Mother Bear saying that “mother nature works for someone a bit higher up.” And Papa Bear tells them that harvest time is about more than enjoying the season, it is also a time to give thanks to God. On the inside of the back cover is family activities and discussion guides.
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale: 4/5

Book: The PumpkinPatch Parable (From Parable Treasury) by Liz Curtis Higgs, Illustrated by Nancy Munger, Thomas Nelson, 2015
Genre: Picture Book
Target Audience: Boys and Girls 3-10
Subjects: Parables, Holidays, God’s Love, Showing Love To Others
Summary: A rejected gift, a sunflower reaching for the sun, a pumpkin shining it’s light, a beautiful Christmas tree – they all have one thing in common: they can be used to illustrate Biblical truths. That’s exactly what Liz Curtis Higgs does in this collection of picture books. She takes each item and weaves a creative story around it, turning it into a parable just like the ones Jesus told. Each story is focused around The Farmer and his children who learn lessons from things the farmer grows. The one on pumpkins tells how the icky stuff is taken out and is then used to shine God’s light.
Notes: This a collection of stories written years ago, now reprinted into one volume parents can use each season of the year. It contains beautiful illustrations and each page also contains a Bible verse at the bottom of the page, further diving into the meaning behind the parables. The author manages to weave not just the one major point, but a small Biblical truth into each element of each story.  I highly recommend this book as a way for parents to teach children Biblical truths using common symbols of each season.
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale: 5/5

1 Thessalonians 5:18 – Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Wild Montana Skies

How easily Kacey slipped back into his life. As if she belonged. But the fact was, even after years in the music industry, he didn’t know where – or if- he belonged. Sure Benjamin King as his larger-than-life persona still had a foothold in Nashville, but the Ben King who just wanted a basket of fries and a brat off the grill, to take his girl down to the Gray Pony and sing her a song from the stage, to go stargazing from the back of his pickup afterward – that Ben he’d somehow lost along the way and didn’t know how to find him again.

Book: Wild Montana Skies by Susan May Warren, Revell Publishers, 2016
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Target Audience: Adult Women
Subjects: Identity, Forgiveness, Fear
Summary: Thirteen years ago lies changed three lives. Ben got told that the girl he loved was giving their baby up for adoption and wanted nothing more to do with him. So he left home and went to Nashville, becoming a big name in the music industry. He left behind the only thing that inspired him to write his own music though. Kacey got told a partial truth – the father of her child was in jail when she was giving birth and abandoned her. In her despair and uncertainty she joins the military, leaving Aubrey, her daughter, to be raised by grandparents instead of a father or mother. Now circumstances have forced both Ben and Kacey back home at the same time and working on the same search and rescue team. If truth is revealed can forgiveness be offered, can fear be overcome, can identity be discovered? Or will each continue living half lives in despair?
Notes: Wild Montana Skies is the first in the Montana Rescue Series about characters living in a small town running search and rescue operations. This spiritual issues the characters wrestle with in this book are identity, forgiveness and fear. Neither character is quite sure who are they and who God wants them to be. They have both resorted to attempting to find identity in their careers but they are both facing the possibility of losing their careers, so they have to reexamine who they are and who they should be. Forgiveness for the sins of thirteen years ago are an issue. And Kacey in particular is wrestling with fear. Some of the side characters also are wrestling with these issues. The series overall is themed around Amazing Grace – each book dealing with some of the themes of the song – being lost and found and finding grace.
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale: 5/5
Reviewer: J:-)mi

Psalm 23:6 – Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the ways of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Thank you to the publishers for providing me with a free review copy of this book! I greatly appreciate it! All opinions are my own. 

A Heart Most Certain

Some books get reviewed because I promised a publisher or author I would review it if they would give me a free copy. Some get reviewed because I’m trying to get a ton of reviews done and am going through a big series. But then there are books that get reviewed because they have to be reviewed. They are so good they require you to review them. That’s the case with A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears.

Book: A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jagears, Bethany House Publishers, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction
Target Audience: Adult Women
Subjects: Charity, Romance
She’s from a poor family. Her dad is the town drunk, her mom is ill and dying. She is trying to solve her problems by getting engaged to one of the most influential men in town – the mayor’s son. Getting involved with him and his family comes with expectations though. His mom, leader of the quilting group, puts the pressure on Lydia to be the one to solicit donations from the rich miser of the community. Lydia knows what’s at stake, so she sets out to be the one to succeed where everyone else has failed. One rejection, two rejections, three rejections, it doesn’t matter how many rejections she faces. She knows she has to succeed and is determined to do just that. The problem is Nicholas isn’t who she thinks he is. He isn’t who anyone thinks he is. He’s an extremely generous man, pouring himself out for the hurting of the community, but not in socially acceptable ways. Finally, he gives Lydia a challenge that requires them to reach out to the needy together and soon, each one is faced with some difficult choices that could uproot everything they thought they had been seeking.
I was so excited about this book! I had no idea what to expect, not having read much from the author before. I really liked the theme. It was all about what charity really means. Lydia and those in her circle think it means preaching in bars on the evil of alcohol or sewing a few beautiful quilts to help some poor people. Nicholas however, thinks that it means trying to help prostitutes find a way out of the lifestyle they are trapped in.  He thinks it means employing them as his maids. He thinks it means dressing as a poor person himself to deliver needed supplies to the poor. He thinks it means taking orphans into his home.
But along with the theme of what charity actually looks like, it also focuses on overcoming past mistakes and guilt. One character in the story is almost entirely motivated by guilt and has to find a way to overcome that past.

I highly, highly recommend this book! And now I want to find as many books as I can by this author! Anyone who dares to write a book challenging the mindset that the church’s job is to stay nice and clean and safe while doing charity instead of opening up their own homes and building relationships with those trapped in horrific sins is an author I want to read more of! 
Spiritual Content Recommendation Scale:5/5
Reviewer: J:-)mi