Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review: An Honest Faith

    Tyndale Publishing provided a complimentary of I Still Believe in an exchange for a review. Many Christians may be quite familiar with Jeremy Camp as an award-winning worship artist, now meet him as an author and a man with a deep faith. Jeremy Camp, along with David Thomas, recall his life that has seen its fair share of ups and downs, particularly the loss of his first wife, Melissa, to ovarian cancer. Rather than giving up on life Jeremy has allowed God to use his trials to build upon his spiritual life and minister to others. Even in the face of myriad adverse situations Jeremy has used his pain to convey his journey through music that has touched countless lives. In this account of poverty, heartache and healing Jeremy shares with the reader his passion and the redemption he has found in Christ.
     Most of his story hinges upon not only the loss of his first wife, but the faith she lived out while upon this earth. By the grace of God, Jeremy was blessed with another wife who with great empathy and compassion has helped him walk through the valley and ministers along side him. I always appreciated Camp's music, but after reading I Still Believe, I understand the depth of what he sings. Many who have lost a loved one would benefit from this book. Of course, even if someone close to you hasn't departed, anyone could benefit from the example of faith Jeremy expresses. He is sorely honest and courageous to share his walk. He even elects to share his messy times, the times when he questioned his walk and God's way. Just as King David expressed a plethora of emotions in the Psalms, Jeremy does as well. It is validating to know everyone goes through stages and questions life. He has taken time to sort through his questions and consequently, has moved closer to the Lord.
     I Still Believe didn't necessarily move along as I would have preferred in the beginning pages. After reading the attention-gripping prologue the next couple chapters disappointed in intensity. Although, that might be God's grace, people can only handle so many life-changing events. However, the story picks up. In fact, I could hardly put it down the last 150 or so pages. Considering it is barely over 200 pages, this book had me hooked.
     I walked away from my chair with a deep appreciation for the wisdom contained in I Still Believe. It isn't a monumental literary work, but it is a beautifully expressed portrait of what a life lived in God's presence can be. Nothing in Jeremy's life has proven too much for God to handle. He can handle every situation as long as we are willing to follow Jesus. And He will redeem every pain when we enter into the fullness of His glory. Until then, may we stand in faith and still believe.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Justifiably a Good Book

     On behalf of Thomas Nelson Publishing, BookSneeze provided a complimentary copy of Pursuing Justice: The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things in exchange for a book review. Pastor Ken Wytsma of Antioch Church along with D. R. Jacobsen are on a mission to encourage others to restore the peace God intended from the beginning. Since the fall of mankind, the earth has suffered from injustice of many kinds, from starvation to genocide, gender violence to school bullying. We, as the image bearers of Christ, are called to seek out the restoration of His peace and more precisely, shalom. It is a holistic perspective and approach that seeks justice and tend to the needs of the world.
     Short-term care and long-term solutions are incorporated to compassionately care for the widow, orphan and destitute. Out of a love for Christ believers should love what God loves, extending care, love and empathy along the way. Wytsma encourages the reader to ask themselves what are they willing to lay their lives down for and to begin where they are at. It is with empathy and passion justice can be restored. It is with an emotional disconnect and fear that people tend to let opportunities pass them by. We are given this life to make a differnce.  In Pursuing Justice, God's justice and our hand in it is not an option. It is a duty and privilege to care for His creation.
     Out of the hundreds of books I have read only a handful or so stand out in my mind with the passing of time as truly monumental volumes. Only some books have had pages that stick. I have a strong premonition that Pursuing Justice will be among those included in this elite group for the breadth and depth of it pierced my heart. The questions posed are not always easy to answer. Some answers I am still searching for. I was fully intrigued and engaged from the get-go. Between Mr. Wytsma's personal evolution and the accounts of others I closed this book knowing I must be a part of something bigger. Although we cannot fix the world by ourselves, we can change it for the good of some. God never called us to walk alone, but along side one another, holding the hands of the down-trodden and building up His kingdom.
     It is in the pursuit of justice the author has assured the reader they will find themselves. Joy will be the ends, while seeking justice is to be our means. I appreciated the fact I am not told exactly what I must do; that would tend to be Pharisaical and would simply add worldly weight. Seeking to restore justice looks as different as each individual, yet it is all for the common purpose of mankind. Even if our tasks vary, the common thread of justice will bind us together.
     Pursuing Justice is not a volume for the light-hearted. It is a read that will enlighten and possibly, guide you to greater things. In about 300 pages one can gain a sense of direction and a better understanding of God's justice. Often I hear believers say what a just God we have, but how many I wonder know well what that justice looks like. We were created "to live and die for greater things," may Pursuing Justice lead you there.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thou Shalt Not Complain, Nor Shall I

     I often hear my kids complain about not having the exact food they desire. This complaining is one of my ultimate pet peeves. After seeing an image of skinny, down-trodden children waiting in the rain for a bowl of porridge to fill their aching bellies, I have earnestly reminded my family how fortunate we are that the Lord has not only met our needs, but blessed us abundantly. We can have food at a moment’s notice as soon as we feel a hunger pang. Much to our mouth’s delight we have an array of flavors and textures to fancy our palate. And yet, all around us others are dying for they don’t have the means to obtain one bowl of food a day. That led me to ponder if I was setting an example of gratefulness and gladness that I would want my children to follow.
      I started to listen to my thoughts in recent days and have been utterly saddened by them. I have a home to clean and therefore a roof over my head. I have a floor to sweep and mop, therefore a smooth surface to walk upon. There is a stove to wipe down and therefore warm food to nourish our bodies. Every task I don’t feel like hopping up and going after is really a selfish laziness taking root. Discontent can creep into our hearts very subtly if we don’t stand guard.
     Today I realized how much I complain. I think of myself as rather optimistic, offering encouragement to friends and family alike. Yet, I caught the words coming out of my mouth. “Ugh, I don’t want to fold the laundry.” Excuse me, should I not be grateful I have clothes to wash and machines that do the work for me. Folding our garments should be a joy, a privilege, a delight. When I come to my senses convicted of the fallacy, chores become loving acts of service, a service that provides for my family. It is easier to serve with a smile when our hearts our full of love, joy and thanks.
      Philippians 2:13-15 (NIV1984) reads, “for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” Should we not be stars shining His light in our homes setting an example for our kids to see? The home is to be a place of refuge and joy, a place to run to and rest.
      My children will not see this home as a place of refuge if such tasks of housekeeping are seen to be mom’s discontent or whatever circumstance we allow to cause negative comments. Distress will replace rest. Frustration will take over joy. As a mother and wife my ministry is first and foremost to my family. Keeping my home joyfully is a duty and a privilege. My kids soon enough will see tasks as work to be avoided if I don‘t tame my tongue. But, the bigger problem lies in the rot and decay complaining causes. Discontent leads to bitterness and frustration leads to anger: hallmarks of a sad home.
      I can’t very well encourage the kids to receive their blessings with gladness and be grateful for the opportunities we have to be responsible family members if my heart is misaligned. We all contribute to our home and have an obligation to one another. I must find encouragement for my own heart and allow the Spirit to guide my words. Then and only then, can I encourage my children. So, I am challenging myself to meditate upon and apply 2 Corinthians 10:5 to my daily life. “…and every proud thing that raises itself against the knowledge of God. We capture every thought and make it give up and obey Christ.” May we all obey our Lord and Mighty Savior, so His light may shine through us and warm our homes.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Will to Accept with Time to Heal

     I have always wanted four kids. It is a nice, even number. However, wouldn't you know it, I married a man that wanted two children. I suppose that it is a nice, even number for some people. Well, we have three kids, two sons and a daughter. We compromised! Truth be known, ever since our third miracle was born, I held out hope for another blessing. I kept telling myself it was a long shot. Hope was still alive, though. I even began to pray for God to take away this desire for another or change my husband's mind.
     You know what, neither occurred. My heart still has a desire that I am beginning to accept that will never be fulfilled. For the longest time, I wondered if God was ever going to answer. He has in an unexpected manner. A lesson, at times a very difficult lesson to grasp, has been learned.  I love it when God uses our circumstances to teach a profound lesson, or two.
     Now, before I carry on, let me mention I do understand the basic principles of being a godly wife. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean I practice the principles well always. Submission to my husband hasn't been the easiest thing for me to pick up on in my walk. In fact, it has been the most difficult principle for me to train myself to do. I am sure he can attest that I have made significant progress. However, I am a sinner and fall very short of God's standards. I also thank God for the grace He supplies every day, for every day I slip up in one way or another.
      One day last fall it became very apparent my dream was dead. My husband is content with the three children. But, oh, I hurt. It was grief that I could  have avoided. Over the years I could have released my hope and shut out any thought of having another child. Instead, I allowed myself to get emotionally attached to something that had very little potential to come to fruition. Maybe, I should have accepted the facts and respected my husband's wishes more than my own. Talk about conviction. What it boils down to is RESPECT!!! I chose not to love my husband the way God calls wives to love. Proverbs 12:4 exhorts women, "An excellent wife is the crown of her husband, But she who causes shame is like rottenness in his bones." I certainly can confess I was not having a shining moment. I was tarnished.
     During the course of the last few months the Spirit has brought to my attention the need to find contentment in all circumstances. In many situations I am content for I see the Father's hand in our lives. However, this time I was choosing to listen to my emotions, rather than the Word. This situation I created still fell under the umbrella of  "all circumstances." 
     Further, I was asked was I going to permit my feelings to cloud my perception so that I missed out on the day at hand? God's glory surrounds us. What more do I need when I have him? When the birds are chirping and the kids are playing, discovering and learning about the world surrounding them I need to be right there beside them, guiding, nurturing and loving on them. The children I have been blessed with are growing up before my eyes. They are only under my care and direct influence for so long, am I willing to turn the other way and miss that window of opportunity?
     Finally, I know God heard every prayer I uttered, whispered and cried. They all reached his ears. Mental acceptance of circumstances that are not to our liking can come as soon as we will to do it.  Some people are quick to dismiss a woman's feelings and just tell her to obey her husband and that's that. Yes, women are to obey, but healing of the heart doesn't happen overnight. Dismissing our feelings only allows them to build up into a toxic combination of anger, bitterness and sometimes resentment. Take the overwhelming feelings to God. Ultimately, I did find comfort and solace in His arms many times.  Any time we lose something, whether it be a loved one, a dream or other thing we hold close, it takes time and God's grace to heal the heart. He never promised no pain or seemingly unbearable circumstances. He promises us His love, grace, mercy and patience to carry us through it all.