At My savior’s Feet: A Bible Study

I started this study on Monday, and when I am done with it six weeks from now, I may or may not offer a review. It is an exploration of the parables of Jesus.

You may notice that it is logged under the category, “My friend wrote this book!”. That is because a friend of mine, a flesh and blood friend, is indeed one of its authors. I am excited to dive into this and re-establish a steady morning routine that includes times of study. I read Scripture regularly of course, but it’s been a while since I committed to a sustained time of independent study. This is exciting on two levels for me.

The official start date was Monday, and there is a small fee for the full study. However, if you click on the link above you can get a free abbreviated version of the study’s daily verses.

Hello Mornings is an excellent site for mothers of many or any woman who likes tips and suggestions for fitting time in the word into your daily routine whether you have 5 minutes or 50 to do so.

Y’all know I plug my friends’ work, so… just go take a look, huh?

 

 

The Disciplined Life

disciplined-life

The Disciplined Life: The Mark of Christian Maturity, by Richard S. Taylor. Originally published in  1974. 108 pages.

I couldn’t think of a better book with which to start the new year than this one. Even though I read it three months ago, I am rereading it again so soon because it is 1) a much needed resource in my life at present, and 2) one of those books that you have to read more than once to soak in.

Rather than bother you with my thoughts, other than the grade I’ll add to the end of this review, I think the best advertisement for this book is a few excerpts to give you an appreciation for the spirit and tone of the book. Additionally, I hope these quotes will serve as inspiration until such time as you can acquire the book for yourself, because you should.

On the Western shift from a work ethic to a play ethic:

“When play… consumes a larger proportion of leisure time, money, conversation, and interest than is warranted by its cultural and recreative returns, then the play becomes the mark of a decadent age and the badge of softness rather than strength.”

“There was a time when intercollegiate debating drew big crowds.  Now the debates are held in side rooms, while the crowd cheers at the basketball game… the shift of excited popular interest from debates to basketball is a sign of cultural decline.”

“Apart from divine intervention, the nation which produces the most scientists and educators will dominate the world, not the nation that produces the best sportsmen.”

On kindness as an end to itself:

“Kindheartedness is a virtue when coupled with moral stability.  Without discipline kindheartedness becomes sentimental weakness.  No nation has survived which has become self-indulgent and flabby.”

“The undisciplined mind is always an easy prey for the demagogue and the charlatan.  Out of such intellectual dullness and inertia dictatorships are spawned.”

On discipline in matters great and small:

“The advantage that the disciplined person has over the undisciplined one shows up in many ordinary matters of daily life.

The disciplined person picks up his clothes; the undisciplined one lets them lie around.
One wipes clean the bathroom sink that he uses. The other leaves it dirty for someone else to clean.

One plans his work and works to his plan. The other works haphazardly.

One is always punctual in keeping his appointments. The other is notoriously late. One is always on time for the meetings of the church. The other is never on time.

The difference in all these cases is not one of character, but of habit.”

Was I the only one who felt a pang?

It’s a good book. Not perfect, as I had a quibble with one or two points, but the overall thrust is sound, the bad far outweighs any minor quibbles, and it is good inspiration to live life in a way which leads to a more productive life and a strong Christian witness.

Grade: A

 

 

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door

brainsatthedoor

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door, by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler. Originally published in 1992.

This book was marketed as a high school students’ apologetics book to help Christian teenagers more articulately express why they believe what they believe.

Unfortunately, a Christian teenager with any substance or firm foundation of faith in his life could check their brains at the door of this book and still understand the information presented just fine.

Don’t Check Your Brains At the Door contains 42 very short chapters divided into six sections:

  1. Myths About God
  2. Myths About Jesus
  3. Myths about the Bible
  4. Myths About the Resurrection
  5. Myths About Religion and Christianity
  6. Myths About Life and Happiness

Each chapter within the sections is devoted to debunking commonly heard myths and misconceptions about the Christian faith, The Bible, and Christians themselves.

By far, the best and most informative section, containing information many Christians have never been exposed to or considered, is the section Myths About the Bible, where McDowell and Hostetler do a decent job of supporting the authenticity and historical veracity of the Bible:

When you study Plato in school, does the teacher express skepticism about the reliability of The Republic?

When your ancient history teacher has you read aloud from the poetry of Catullus or Julius Caesar’s account of The Gallic Wars, does she warn you that what you are reading my be unreliable?

Do your instructors dismiss the writings of the Greek historian Thucydides or the philosopher Aristotle or the tragedian Sophocles and Euripides as being unworthy of serious consideration because off textual problems and variant readings? p. 51-51

Probably not.

After taking the time to document the rigorous and meticulous process required when both the Old and New Testaments were being copied and verified, they point out the two factors commonly accepted as the most important in determining the reliability of an historical document:

Two factors are most important in determining the reliability of an historical document: the number of manuscript copies in existence and the time between when it was first written and the oldest existing copy.

When you compare the New Testament with other ancient works, it’s reliability is immediately obvious. Not other ancient document even comes close.p. 52

He includes a chart there with the comparison of the Bible to other ancient works and as I said earlier, this is by far the most informative portion of the book.

This isn’t to say that this book isn’t useful to a new convert, because it most definitely cold be. I just approached it looking for more depth and intellectual rigor than I found within its pages. Perhaps I have overestimated the capacity of today’s typical Christian teenager.

Grade C-/D+

 

 

 

I’m No Angel

im-no-angel-book

I’m No Angel: From Victoria’s Secret Model to Role Model, by Kylie Bisutti. Originally published in 2014. 304 pages.

Recent events, both public and not so public, set my mind to becoming curious about what books have been written on the subject of modesty. I don’t mean the kind of dogmatic, rigid approach that presupposes any bit of attractive femininity is sinful. I was looking to see what was written about the convergence of true modesty and feminine beauty in the context of a walk with Christ in the real world.

So I went to my local library’s website for the express purpose of checking out Wendy Shalit’s book, which I have read much about but never read. Somewhere along the way as I clicked, clicked and clicked some more, I ran across Kylie Bisutti’s book recounting her journey from child model to winner of the Victoria’s Secret Angel competition as a young bride of 19, to deciding less than a year later to walk away from it all as she began to realize how her career as a lingerie model dishonored both God and her husband.

I first encountered Mrs. Bisutti’s story in 2012, and even blogged about her at the time, so I was slightly familiar with it. I expected the book to be slog to get through,  but as I was embarking on a project of sorts, I was willing to tough it out even if it turned out to be horrible. Thankfully, it was not horrible and I read through it in three nights online via hoopla since our library system did not have access to a hard copy.

The book was surprisingly interesting. High brow it is not, and I was a little bugged by Kylie Bissuti’s dependence on the teaching’s of Joyce Meyer as she struggled emotionally through an industry that she both loved and felt increasingly out of sorts with.  Nevertheless, she told a compelling story.

The best parts of the book were without question, the behind the scenes glimpses of what life is really like in the modeling industry. After the release of her book, Victoria’s Secret fired back numerous accusations concerning the facts of her story, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from them.

I felt a bit of compassion for 17-year-old Kylie when at 5’9″, 1115 pounds, her agent called her a cow in front of an office full of people and demanded that she come back from her holiday break 8 pounds lighter. I found this particularly shocking, as she realized that her 36-inch hips was relegating her to the designation of curvy, and not it a complimentary way:

Not big hips, mind you- just hips. In the modeling industry, anything over 30 inches is considered curvy, and curvy does not play well on the runway- especially in high fashion, where being rail thin is considered the ideal. Horrifying as it may sound, some models even go so far as to have their hip bones surgically shaved down to reach that precious 30-inch mark. Others have their bottom ribs removed so that they look ultra thin. It just felt like part of the industry to me when I was starting out, but now it breaks my heart to think of girls and young women using surgery to deform the beautiful way that God created them.

With a recounting of her childhood, teenage years, and the very brief courtship she shared with her husband Mike, Kylie Bissuti makes a run at presenting a well rounded recounting of her life. Interwoven within all of it were the numerous moments of nagging doubt that she felt the urge to walk away and didn’t- starting with her HS boyfriend all the way up to the very uncomfortable party after winning the Victoria’s Secret modeling competition.

In the end this turned out not to be a book about modesty as much as it was about one young woman’s struggle to do the right thing. I didn’t come away from it feeling as if it had been a total waste of four and a half hours of my life, so that’s something.

Grade: C

One Thousand Gifts

one-thousand-gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A dare to live fully right where you are, by Ann VosKamp. Originally published in 2011. 240 pages.

This is an updated and edited review from 2011. I took some time to re-read this book (re-skim is more accurate) since I find so often that my ways of viewing some things evolve as I grow older and, for lack of a better word, wiser.

Ann VosKamp’s grateful heart is evident on her blog which I  used to occasionally read. Because of that I decided to read her book when I usually run screaming from “Christian” books which make it onto the New York Times’ best seller list. I don’t do well with the most popular Christian works because the poor handling of Scripture makes me cringe.

However since this was a book about being thankful, one of my many weak areas, I gave it a go. I often struggled to be thankful, but have grown exponentially in this area since I first read this book 5 years ago.

 I’m not much of a poet, preferring to cut to the chase while skipping around in politically incorrect minefields despite my best efforts to be graceful when I write. I sometimes enjoy poetic language though, and Ann Voskamp  definitely has a poetic way of expressing her thoughts.  I admire her penchant for seeing the beauty in every little detail of her days.

Still, I questioned whether I could appreciate her flowery writing style in a book. Poetic language and extensive use of literary device is tolerable, even enjoyable in her blog posts broken up by pretty photographs, but I wasn’t sure I could do 200+ pages of it! With no pictures! If that wasn’t enough, before her book reached my doorstep I stumbled onto a controversy concerning the theology within it. I am thankful that I embarked on a reduction of Internet time just as I began to read it because I don’t know that I could have fully appreciated it if I was still sifting through the critiques it sparked. We’ll get to my thoughts on all that in a bit, because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some.

As I began to read the book,  I related to Mrs. VosKamp a bit. I, a city girl and fledgling gardener who kills more seedlings than I harvest every spring, who’s never even seen a snowflake, found that I liked this Canadian homeschooling mother and  farmer’s wife as I read One Thousand Gifts.

Throughout my life I have come to sense people who know what it is to experience a ripping away of the veil of innocence and beauty in life at an age too tender to absorb it, all while being taught that we are being cared for by a God who is infinitely good. There are times in my life, in my Christian walk, when I’ve wondered if this would be easier had I heard the name of Jesus for the first time as an adult, from the booming voice of some random street preacher. If I were more like my husband, whose faith has always been rooted in a certainty.

Would the Good News have been better received by me had it not been News I’d heard preach as far back as I can remember? Would the goodness of God seem more real if it wasn’t competing with the questions that inevitably rest in the heart of every child whose life is marked by the stinging pain of loss?   More importantly, I used to wonder if there was any other person who “gets” it. Ann Voskamp got it:

For years of mornings, I have woken wanting to die. Life itself twists into nightmares. For years, I have pulled the covers up over my head, dreading to begin another day I’d be bound to wreck. Years, I lie listening to the taunt of names ringing off my interior walls, ones from the past that never drifted far away: Loser. Mess. Failure. They are signs nailed overhead, nailed through me, naming me.

Funny, this. Yesterday morning, the morning before, all these mornings, I wake to the discontent of life in my skin. I wake to self-hatred. To the wrestle to get t all done, the relentless anxiety that I am failing. Always,  the failing. I yell at children, fester with bitterness, forget doctor appointments, lose library books, live selfishly, skip prayer, complain, go to bed too late, neglect cleaning the toilets. I lived tired. Afraid. Anxious. Weary. Years, I feel it in the veins, the pulsing of ruptured hopes. Would I ever be enough, do enough?   (Excerpted from pages 26-27 of One Thousand Gifts)

I could’ve written those words myself. Actually, I couldn’t have written those words because I don’t write that way, but they resonate. Living every day desperately grasping for the illusion of control produced in me the very symptoms Ann penned above. We type A’s don’t particularly fancy the idea that we have no control over what happens to us. Despite the flowery language which I did eventually weary of, I read on to see how Mrs. VosKamp went from that level of dysfunction onto the NYT Bestseller list for writing a book about joyfully giving God thanks every day.

That’s what the book is; at least that’s how I read it. It is a testimony, the story of one woman’s journey from a life marred by pain and loss to a life full of gratitude for all the gifts God graciously bestows upon her each day, starting with the precious gift of His Son’s precious blood as a sacrifice for our sins. It is not an exploration of doctrinal teaching, though the gospel is woven throughout it for those who dare to look.

It was not an attempt to convince any other person to see the world through the eyes of the author, although I was certainly challenged to open my eyes to the blessings I take for granted every day.  It is a testimony of Ann Voskamp’s struggle to live a life of gratitude in a world where we are constantly receiving invitations to discontent. I know I have to shrug off the whispers that invade my consciousness, tempting me to gaze at the greener grass on the other side. The other side always beckons us to neglect the abundant blessings God has given us today. This book did exactly what the subtitle says. It dared me to live fully right where I am by practicing the Scriptural command to give thanks in everything.

As for the controversy concerning a particular use of terminology near the end of One Thousand Gifts: I can appreciate the discomfort some bloggers have expressed with the phraseology.  Mrs. Voskamp appears to conflate our spiritual relationship to God into what can be interpreted as a sexual relationship with expressions such as “making love to God” , “intercourse of the soul”, and “climax of joy.”  I wouldn’t have put it that way, to be sure, seeing that my perception of God tends to revolve around my relationship to Him as a beloved daughter to a merciful Father and less from the perspective of the bride of Christ. That’s because I think of the bride of Christ as the church universal rather than a personal connection between myself and God alone.

Is the intimacy Ann Voskamp referred to Scripturally sound? I’ll let the critics continue  to hash that one out. I can only speak for myself and say that I never got the impression that Mrs. Voskamp was saying that she experienced intimacy with God in a carnal way. When I put the book down after reading the last page, the thing that stayed with me was the challenge to give thanks in everything, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us.I wasn’t so offended by the metaphors used in that particular chapter that I couldn’t appreciate the book’s central theme.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to see a bowl of cheese or bubbles in dishwater the way Ann does.  I am either too “grounded” or too fearful of a theology that appears flaky to allow myself to view laundry as something to get giddy about. Life is sometimes hard, tears are warranted, and sometimes even anger is warranted. I still feel a burden to use my small platform to speak about hard things and yes, rock the boat.

However, I have begun occasionally to write the things I am grateful for at the start and close of the day. I recently took notice of the pink wildflowers growing in the median of a 6-lane highway. I hate 6 lane highways. I’m usually too focused on where I’m going to notice things like that. I’m amazed at how little I desire as I focus on what I have. And for that I am thankful. Thankful that God used Ann Voskamp’s journey to remind me that no matter how badly I’ve been hurt or how much I’ve lost in my life, God has given me so much more.

Grade: B-

 

 

The Problem of Pain

problem of pain The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. Orignaly published in 1940.

It’s a question as old as time and religion themselves: How do we reconcile the truth that God is good with the counter truth that life is often filled with pain?

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.- p.26

With this statement at the beginning of the second chapter of his short book, C. S. Lewis begins to take his readers on a mental exercise in which we arrive at the ultimate conclusion that God is good, even when life doesn’t appear good. Good that is, from the context of what the human creature defines as good.

Lewis makes it clear that any acknowledgement of God as all knowing, all loving and all powerful must necessarily coexist with an acknowledgement that we can’t possibly be so arrogant as to assume our definitions of good, bad, right or wrong can ever perfectly match God’s. Selah.

Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that greater men and Biblical writers before him have reached, and anyone who reads here certainly knows the answer.

However, Lewis does -in contemporary language- offer many notable thoughts we can take with us as we round out our journey with him through the “problem” of pain. Pain serves a purpose and a loving one at that:

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.

He points out the inherent problem with assuming that God’s allowance of pain speaks to some limitation of His goodness or power:

If you choose to say, “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do  not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix them with the two other words “God can”.

On the nature of pain Lewis writes:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.
In the end we all have a choice to make whether to glorify God in the midst of this seeming paradox which is not. The conclusion of the matter remains the same regardless of our choice:
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
The Screwtape Letters has no been supplanted as my favorite C.C. Lewis work on the nature of the relationship between human frailty  and the Divine.
 I always appreciate the opportunity Lewis affords me to think about things from vantage points and in ways I hadn’t considered.* Even if I had considered them, Lewis expressed it so much more eloquently.
Grade: B+
* Speaking of eloquently expressed questions of life and faith, I will leave y’all  with the question my husband asked me today on the nature of pain and grief:
“How much more time would any one of us need with our  loved ones where we would say was ‘long enough’ before they leave us? How much more would we be satisfied with?”

 

 

 

13 Women You Should Never Marry

13 women you should13 Women You Should Never Marry: and How Every Man Can Recognize Them,  by Mary Colbert. Published in March, 2015.

I have read a lot of books written by Christians to Christians about marriage. It’s a curiosity of mine so when I saw this one, written from a proactive rather than reactive perspective (not to mention super cheap), I snapped it up.

Mary Colbert is a mother of two sons and six grandsons, which was the driver behind her desire to write 13 Women You Should Never Marry.

The book is short, concise and direct. She outlines 13 types of women men should watch out for. I recognized myself in most of them during different periods of my life- even as a wife, although not always in as extreme a measure as outlined in this book. The author acknowledged the same of herself as well. I was left wondering to myself as the disciples did after hearing what Christ had to say on the subject: “If this is the case, it is better not to marry!”

At this point I am sorely tempted to offer a marital philosophy but I won’t, and stick to giving you an idea what you’ll find in the book and my thoughts about it. First, a few examples of the women you will meet in 13 Women before I grade the book. This book, I believe, is an expansion of a column Mrs. Colbert wrote for Charisma magazine back in 2014, so a couple of the descriptions I’ll lift from there.

Blinded Brenda is chronically unable to view life through the lens of anyone’s view but her own. Every situation is judged by how it will affect her personally, whether for good or ill. Even when she has a husband and children, their needs and feelings take a back seat to her own.

Holy Holly was of particular interest to me as I know her intimately. More concerned with the appearance of righteousness than living a life of love and grace, she quotes Scripture constantly, hears God tell her what to do in every area of her life (right down to what color shoes to wear!). Sounds like a fun sister to be married to, no? You can just hear her saying, “God told me not tonight, honey. Gotta fast and pray.”

Addicted Debbie is usually looking in the rear view mirror of life. She sings the “somebody done me something wrong” song to everybody and anybody who will listen. She constantly hashes and rehashes the failures or losses of life. Many times this woman will battle addictions to numb her pain, whether it’s drugs, alcohol or food. Her pains will become your worst nightmare. Remember you are looking for a helpmate, not a mate to help.

Lazy Lucille. The only place the Lord talks about laziness is in conjunction with wickedness—“You wicked, lazy servant.” God sees laziness as wicked. You will know this woman. Her house is a filthy mess, and her car looks like a trash dump. She doesn’t take care of herself in any way. She doesn’t have a healthy love for herself and won’t be able to love you correctly until she does.

Broke-as-a-Joke Julie. This is a woman who has credit issues. She owes money to everybody, and she will have no sense of restraint when it comes to spending money. Just as it is important for a woman to know a man’s financial status, a man should know a woman’s. If she can’t budget her own money, she won’t have any trouble spending yours.

In an attempt to offer some balance the author follows up every exposition of a negative wife trait with examples of women (both in Scripture and in her real life encounters) who exhibit the opposite, more excellent character traits.

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that at the end of exploring each woman, Mrs. Colbert then offers a quick little “red flag”, “yellow flag”, “green flag” checklist to help men quickly identify if the woman they are considering is in fact the woman described in the chapter. It lacked the depth she intended for it to convey in my opinion, but it might be useful to some.

This book was a quick read, and given the time most of us give to reading books these days, that’s a good thing. She makes good points and she expresses them well enough. There were certainly a few things that I felt were worth addressing with my own young adult daughters and even though it was written with men in mind, I plan to have them read it. I’m not enamored with it, but it has value.

Grade: B-