Friday, December 8, 2017

Book Review: Martin Luther

Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World

This book tells the story of a man who changed the course of history by simply standing for what he believed. Martin Luther was a dedicated scholar who earned a master’s degree in liberal arts and rather than begin work on a law degree as his father hoped, he became a theologian and preacher. But he was a man consumed by his sinfulness. He suffered from depression and spent hours bemoaning his sins, until parish priests tired of hearing him.

According to author Eric Metaxas, much we believe about Luther is myth. For instance, Metaxas says it’s unlikely Luther nailed his 95 theses (a listing of what he saw as abuses within the Catholic church) on the Wittenberg church door, for that would have been damaging property.

By creating his listing, Luther assumed he was simply helping the church understand where leaders were going wrong. He never would have imagined that a new way of worship would spring from his observations. He would have been discomforted to think he kicked off what became known as the Protestant Reformation.

Luther took issue with indulgences, payments taken by the church with the hope that relatives and friends would be released from purgatory. According to Luther, nothing in scripture offered a basis for such a practice. He also asserted that, according to scripture, common folk should be allowed to take bread and wine for communion; in that day only priests were allowed the wine. Although Luther repeatedly challenged church leaders to point out in scripture where he was wrong, they simply condemned him and insisted the church and the Pope had the final authority in all things. Period.

It’s a challenging read because the situation divided Christendom as then known. Some sided with Luther, but later some of his allies disagreed on points of doctrine and turned into enemies. It’s hard to keep the names straight. In time, when the church condemned Luther’s stance and threatened retribution on any who aided him, Luther’s supporters “kidnapped” him and he spent a year hidden away from church leaders, disguised as a knight. But he used time away from the public eye to write scripture in the vernacular of the common man, so that people could read for themselves the basis of what he preached.

Luther’s personal life is fascinating, for he married Katherine von Bora, a nun who had escaped from a nunnery, although Metaxas insists she did not escape in a herring barrel as many biographers claimed. Luther would not take any reimbursement for his prolific writing, so after his death his wife and children were left without resources.

According to Metaxas: “In the end, what Luther did was not merely to open a door in which people were free to rebel against their leaders but to open a door in which people were obliged by God to take responsibility for themselves and free to help those around them who could not help themselves.”

Copious notes, a bibliography, index and photograph credits complete the 480 page tome. A great book to give as a Christmas gift to a serious reader.

It’s a fascinating read because most if not all Protestant denominations were influenced by Luther’s stance. And the Catholic church in time addressed some of the issues he raised.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Wish Book . . . and the Bible

Dear Friends, 

A Montgomery Ward catalog stirred memories: When I was a girl, it was a Big Day when a catalog arrived in the mail. And these catalogs were nothing like the skinny 84-page one I just received. They were mammoth books, 2.5 to 3 inches thick. Living in the country with little access to shops, the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs came Spring and Fall and showed me the latest little girl dresses and coats.

My sisters drooled over the latest fashions. My mother longed for nifty appliances. My brothers and father? I don’t remember them ever noticing the books. But the women of the family poured over the pages, yearning and dreaming. We called these catalogs “wish books.”

Then at the end of November or the beginning of December (Christmas shopping started later in those days) came the toy catalog. Now I really got excited. I loved dolls. Every year I wanted a new doll. And my favorites were the baby dolls. “Oh, please, Santa, bring me a doll that drinks and wets. I will be such a good mother.”

Catalogs today are a dime a dozen. I send many to recycling without ever cracking the cover. Prices have gone up, and I’ve found the best way to avoid temptation is simply not to look. Besides that, I need much less. Clothes don’t wear out. My home doesn’t need one more doo-dad. Catalogs just don’t ooze magic for me like they once did.

I hope I never feel that jaded about opening the Bible. I remember how fascinating the Bible was to me when as a young adult I dedicated my life to Christ. I went to my pastor time after time asking about this passage and that passage. I wanted to understand how it all fit together. Instead of looking for the latest fashions, I wanted to find how passages applied to my latest life, the life that included a husband and kids, the life that included changes and challenges.

Of course, I still read my Bible. Every day. Without fail. But am I as excited? Am I as curious? Since I dedicated my life to Christ sitting by the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree, contemplating if my life was really honoring the Lord, the season holds special memories for me. But much as I love the lights and the Christmas shows, I want to revel in the real meaning of Christmas, the fact that Christ left heaven to come to earth where he would face earthy, sinful people, people who think far more about things we see in shops and catalogs than about Him. And then He died--so we could go to heaven. It boggles my mind.

It’s sometimes hard to focus on the real meaning of Christmas. We show Christ’s love for others as we shop, so we shop. We show God’s hospitality as we welcome families around the table, so we cook. It’s all good. But let’s remember to show our love for God by worshipping with other Christians, by donating to God’s people in need and by examining our hearts to see if we’ve really forgiven and forgotten. Those are the greatest gifts of all. And they aren’t found in catalogs.

Have a Blessed Christmas!


Upcoming engagements for Friends of the Heart:

December 2. 10 a.m. - Women's Christmas Brunch, New Buffalo, CMA, "Mary: Ordinary or Extraordinary."

February 1, 6 p.m. - David's Community Bible Church, Millersburg, "An Evening with Mary, Martha and Their Psychologist."

Monday, November 13, 2017

Book Review: The Smear: How Shady Political Operative and Fake News Control What You See, What You Think, and How You Vote

A sobering read, for sure. Author Sharyl Attkisson defines a smear as an effort to manipulate opinion by spreading an overblown, scandalous and damaging narrative. She opens our eyes to little known details. For instance, when we read a letter to the editor by an unknown name, it may actually have been ghostwritten by a paid agent who “rent” the use of someone’s signature.

Citing from history, Attkisson tells how both the precursor to the CIA and the Nazis spread propaganda during World War II, going so far as to influence people through songs played on the radio. Citing incidents relating to Don Imus and Glenn Beck, she tells how smear artists grasp onto a “sprinkle of truth” and blow it out of proportion until it destroys a reputation.

And there’s big money behind such efforts. Attkisson researched the connections of David Brock, head of a “media watchdog” called Media Matters. She lists 15 organizations at the same high-rise address in Washington, D. C., all with Brock connections. With names such as “Political Correction Project,” “Correct the Record” and “True Blue Media LLC, one would think these were organizations dedicated to truth. Rather, through opposition research, negative ads and other media tools, they are dedicated to causing the ruin of anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideology. Brock’s known compensation from his network totals millions of dollars annually. 

Sharyl Attkisson is a bestselling author and host of Sinclair’s national investigative television program Full Measure with Sharyl Attkisson. She has covered controversies through the administrations of four presidents and received the Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative reporting. Attkisson has reported nationally for CBS News, PBS and CNN. This imprint of HarperCollins, 2017, is not an easy read, but it will inform the way you watch the news and read your daily paper.

The book's closing line: “For now, one thing you can count on is that most every image that crosses your path has been put there for a reason. Nothing happens by accident. What you need to ask yourself isn’t so much Is it true, but Who wants me to believe it—and why?

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Sand Traps of Life

 Dear Friends,

As I watched a televised golf tournament, the rough terrain reminded me of my journey through life. From an aerial view, the fairway wound like a green ribbon by sand traps, some dropping sharply off the edge of the fairway. Landing a ball in such bunkers called for wisdom and skill on the part of golfers to get their balls back on track. At times the fairway curved at a dogleg angle; that posed a different kind of challenge.
Isn’t that just like life? We may be swinging along, having a good time, when all of a sudden our ball lands in a bunker. We face a loss, an unexpected illness, a financial setback. We experience pain, heartache, disappointment. Sometimes, like a dogleg angle, our lives curve into unexpected directions, places we do not want to go. Now what?
Those are times we can trust our creative God to act on our behalf. His ways are much different from ours. We may just want happiness for the moment, but he wants to give us joy in him for a lifetime. Our part is to submit to circumstances we cannot change and wait for God to use them for his purposes.
"This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles." Psalm 34:6 (NIV) May that be our cry.
Prayer: O God, walk with us today as circumstances stretch our faith. Remind us that you have helped us in the past and we can trust you for the future. 
Have a blessed month filled with thankfulness for God's daily blessings.



December 2, 10 a.m. - Friends of the Heart at Christmas Brunch at New Buffalo CMA Church, "Mary: Ordinary or Extraordinary?"

Book Review: War Room

                If you’ve seen the movie “The War Room” you may think you don’t need to read the book. I beg to differ. While you’ll know the end of the story, you glean so much inspiration from the book. While watching a movie, insightful comments slip right by as you’re carried into the next scene. But when you read the book, you can pause and let words sink in and inform your faith.

                The War Room is the fictional story of a real estate agent whose marriage is in trouble when she meets a client who believes in the power of prayer. That’s all I’ll say about the story, because I don’t want to spoil your reading. But this is truly inspirational reading since there is so much truth written on the pages of this novel.

                And if you’ve already read the book but not seen the movie, I encourage you to watch it. Priscilla Shirer (a Bible teacher and daughter of Tony Evans, a Christian pastor, speaker and author) plays the role of Elizabeth, the real estate agent, and does a marvelous job of it.

                I don’t read many novels, but this one packs a powerful wallop and reminds you that prayer is a powerful weapon. You’ll certainly be inspired to pray and to pray more specifically. Give it a read.