Thursday, July 16, 2009

"Yesterday, Today and Forever"--a book review

Maria von Trapp, made famous in the movie "The Sound of Music" which chronicled her escape from Nazism and her well-known musical family, shares a more spiritual side of her life in the book "Yesterday, Today and Forever." In it, von Trapp chronicles how she and her family grew closer to the Lord as they learned more about His background. In essence, she incorporates history with spirituality to come to a better understanding of Jesus.

With her family and close friends, von Trapp delves into the history of Jewish customs in Jesus' time and how the geographic region looked in that day to conjure up a probable picture of what life was like for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Like an experienced storyteller, von Trapp recounts what travelling may have been like for Mary and Joseph on that cold night when God humbled Himself and came into this world.

I can appreciate the use of Scripture within the text of "Yesterday, Today and Forever" and I wish von Trapp would have relied more heavily on Scripture than on the traditions of her faith as the basis for some of the premises of the book. For example, in the chapter titled "The Son of Man," von Trapp speculates on the death of Joseph. She mentions "how quiet" the house must have been for the widow Mary and clearly omits any indication that Mary and Joseph had other children, which is Biblically-sound (Matthew 13:53-58).

As a researcher with a background in history--and a love for Christ and the Bible--I can appreciate the fervor with which von Trapp and her family tried to recreate the "missing pieces" of Jesus' life. I also believe, however, that God purposely chose what He wanted us to know. Too much effort to reconstruct what we don't know takes our focus off of the truths of what we do know.

"The Hole in Our Gospel"--a book review

What does discipleship mean and how can we become disciples of Christ in the world around us? These questions are addressed in Richard Stearns' book "The Hole in Our Gospel." As President of World Vision U.S., Stearns has discipled and ministered to people in need throughout the world. He calls us to do the same, to fill the hole in our Gospel, too.

Stearns explains in great detail how he came to be President of World Vision U.S. and readily admits his reluctance at accepting the position. Time and again he tried to run from this calling, but he discovered that if God wants you in a certain place at a certain time, He will put you there! A terrific lesson that everyone should embrace.

The overall gist of this book is to spur Christians into action; to not just say we are Christians but to live the life a Christian is called to live. It's one thing to pity the poor; it's another thing to jump in and help the poor.

I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Stearns call to action--how he used poignant scripture references mixed with personal stories to illustrate his points--and it did inspire me to reconsider the areas of my life that lack true discipleship. The only minor fault I cite is the length of the book. Stearns' points could have been reached in 100 less pages.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dateline Jerusalem--a book review

Zola Levitt was a Jewish believer in Jesus Christ and remains an internationally-known and respected authority on the past, present and future of Israel and how Israel is closely tied into end times prophecy. In his book "Dateline Jerusalem," Levitt relies on scripture and experience to illustrate the importance of Israel and how God will fulfill His covenant with His chosen people in the Promised Land.

Zola Levitt writes in a conversational style that makes Dateline Jerusalem easy to understand and read in one sitting, time permitting. He does not sugar-coat his views on Muslims and the struggle between Israel and the Arab world in general. Likewise, Levitt calls out Christians who disregard Israel as playing a major role in end times prophecy; these kinds of Christians who believe that God will not fulfill the covenant He made with Israel in the beginning. Bible-believing Christians, however, understand that God keeps His promises; the covenant with Israel will surely be fulfilled.

This book is appropriate reading for any person who wants to know the truth about God's plan for Israel, Israel's relations with the Arabs and end time prophecy in general.

All men are fallible

We live in a mixed up society--and that is putting it mildly--a nation that mocks God while it places fallible, corrupt men on pedestals. The words of the prophet Isaiah ring as true today as they did when he preached them to the idol-worshipping, materialistic people of Judah:

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter.

Isaiah 5:20 (New International Version)

How is this society different from the materialistic idolaters of Judah?? We aren't. We worship stuff and bank accounts. Instead of worshipping our holy God--the Creator and sustainer, we adore fallible men. To illustrate this, consider the resolution--Resolution 600--that a congresswoman from Texas is trying to pass--a resolution that, according to Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, would honor Michael Jackson as "someone who will be honored forever and forever and forever and forever and forever."

Only God should be honored forever and forever and forever and forever and forever.

She wants a resolution to be passed in our government that would bestow honor on Michael Jackson forever--while this same government has repeatedly tried to remove God from all facets of our society. This resolution should sicken and appal anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.

I urge you to contact your state representatives to encourage a rejection of this resolution.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Giving God our scraps

I've been guilty of treating my personal time with God like a receptionist who makes appointments. Okay, first I have to get the kids fed and dressed, go to the gym, run to the store and make lunch. Then I'll squeeze in some time to work on Bible Study lessons and then it's off to the library....

We all do it. We squeeze God in like He's a burden. How horrible a notion to write down here in this blog, let alone live on a daily basis. We have stacks of devotionals that we read at certain times of the day and we tell ourselves that those short, happy little readings count as our Bible time for the day. And I have nothing against devotionals (at least most of them!) because they do offer reflections on scripture that we might not conceive on our own.

But what happened to just picking up the Bible and reading it?? I've found that when I make special time for God in my day and just read His Word, it's like food for my soul. So nourishing that I think to myself "why don't I do this everyday?? That was great!!"

Why do we give God our scraps of time when He deserves our very best time?? Because we have our favorite shows to watch, best sellers to read, chores to do and hobbies to entertain. Of course, we'll make time when we want or need something. Instead of watching our favorite shows that night, we can just dvr them...

My ultimate point is this: make a concerted effort to give God your very best time of day to praise and worship Him!! For me, it's the morning. Once a cup or two of coffee is in me, I'm ready to go!

Consider this, too. God didn't give us His scraps when he offered Jesus as payment of our sin debt--He gave the world His very best. He deserves our very best, too.

I fear the Lord!

I've learned a great deal lately from a weekly Bible study in which I participate. The study's focus is on fear of the Lord--not to fear God like you'd fear the Bogey man, but to fear facing His wrath if your life is sin-centered. God is not the soft teddy bear that many Christians make Him out to be; he is love but also just. Sin cannot go unpunished to those who fail to repent. He'll bring glory to those who trust in Christ and repent and wrath to those who choose to fester in wickedness. That's the first thing I learned.

I've also been made dramatically aware of how flippant I can be when I enter the presence of my Lord in prayer. How prideful I can be when I ask for blessings--and fully expect to receive them on *my* terms. Makes me want to crawl under a rock in shame! Our God has not changed. He's the same Lord as He was in the Old Testament. We can't put Him into a nice neat package to fit our needs. He is a holy God--and sin won't be tolerated.

These convictions I've had since this Bible study prove that there is hope--not just in my life, but in the lives of all believers in Christ who have discovered how a completely casual relationship with God can be dangerous. The hope is twofold. First, because I am so completely convicted, I know for sure that the Holy Spirit is working in my life. This is a comfort! Second, now that I understand how to fear the Lord and what this means as a believer, I can put this into practice in my life and model proper fear of the Lord to those around me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tish Rabe's "The I Believe Bunny"

"The I Believe Bunny" is the the first book in a series by Tish Rabe that introduces faith-in-action scenarios to young readers. Rabe uses a sing-song rhyming technique that made the story flow wonderfully while maintaining the attention of my young sons. Illustrated by Frank Endersby, the characters in "The I Believe Bunny" are beautifully drawn.

The I Believe Bunny--who stars in the book series--has a strong faith in God. As the I Believe Bunny is enjoying a stroll in the woods during a rain shower, he hears a cry for help. A little mouse had fallen in the river and needed help fast. I Believe Bunny knows he needs to help the mouse but doesn't know how. What does he do first? He tries to rescue the mouse to no avail. And then he wises up and he prays. He prays to God for help. A moment after his heartfelt prayer, friends arrive who help I Believe Bunny save the little mouse.

Tish Rabe does a wonderful job teaching how to put faith into action--to pray to God for the strength to act. This book is written for children, but adults can benefit from its simple yet powerful lesson, too.