Saturday, June 5, 2021

Book Review: The Common Rule


The Common Rule: Habits of Purpose for an Age of Distraction by Justin Whitmel Earley

 This book encourages you to live life intentionally. By developing four daily and four weekly habits, you can build consistency that leads to a more satisfying lifestyle. And not only does Earley explain this program of habits, but he offers variations to fit all walks of life and lifestyles.

 I enjoyed the author’s illustrations from his own life. A former missionary to China, he is now a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. Married with four sons, he knows the stresses and distractions of life in the 21st century: the busyness, the pressures, the technology, to mention just a few.

 The book includes very helpful end-of-chapter detailed summations of Earley’s suggestions. It also includes charts of various strategies to help you develop the habits as individuals or even as a congregation.

 Published by IVP Books, Earley reminds us what is important to live a balanced life. While I am familiar with and practice some of the habits, I found the book extremely interesting and quite practical. This is another book I highly recommend.




Friday, June 4, 2021

Grow Instead of Groan



             Watching a television commercial, I learned a better way to clean strawberries. I had always held the berry in my left hand and plucked off the green cap with a knife held in my right hand. But now I place the berry on a cutting board and just slice off the top. It’s faster and saves me from repeatedly cutting into my thumb.

             We need to be open to new ways of thinking. For instance, we may think of the fruit of the spirit in the same way we think of spiritual gifts—something “poured into us” from God. But fruit grows over a period of time. Take strawberries, for instance. Young plants must be spaced to allow room for “runners.” The ground must be fertilized and watered. The plants must be protected by mulch and even sprayed with water on frosty nights. Growing strawberries takes hard work.

             Growing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—also takes hard work. (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV).

             Take love, for instance. I’ve always been fascinated by cultures where parents choose spouses for their children. I’ve read that such marriages are quite successful, but how can that be? The young people haven’t “fallen in love.” But they evidently develop love as they act loving toward one another. Rather than following the desires of their sinful natures (Galatians 5:17), they love God and want to please God. And that “grows” the fruit of love.

 Joy develops as we choose to live on the sunny side of the street. We stop complaining and start looking for the good in situations. Yes, maybe that co-worker is cranky. Perhaps if I buy her a cup of coffee, I can chat with her, get to know her and better understand her. That will certainly give me joy. In the book of Philippians Paul referenced “joy” 16 times—and he grew that fruit of joy while chained in prison.

 Peace grows as I develop a deeper trust in God. And that trust develops only through trials that rattle me. So I need a strategy. For me, I read from GRACELACED, a book that never fails to settle my restless spirit. The readings and art remind me that God is in control, He is with me and He is for me. Those readings water the fruit of peace.

 Then there’s patience. Some translations use the word “long-suffering.” How would we even develop patience if we were not forced to wait in long checkout lines? My sister was once kept waiting for hours by her ophthalmologist. When the nurse stuck her head in the door and asked if she was all right, my sister said, “I’m cold and I’m hungry and I’m getting cranky.” They brought her a sandwich. She expressed herself without malice and received kindness in return. We work on developing patience, because God has been patient with us.

 You become a kinder person by showing kindness to others. Whether it’s paying for the car behind you at a fast food restaurant or taking strawberries you’ve picked to a neighbor, kindness nourishes more kindness. Invite someone to dinner, and they may invite you back. And if they don’t, that’s even better. You then develop unconditional kindness.

 Goodness means doing good to others as opportunity arises: Visit the sick. Send cards. Help a neighbor clean up a tree branch. Goodness springs from a heart that loves God and others.

 Faithfulness simply means being committed to God and to others. How about gentleness? “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Philippians 4:5 NIV). If we could just visualize Jesus standing near, would we use that tone of voice? Would we grumble and grouch at our spouses? I’m sure we’d be more gracious. It takes resolve, but we can train ourselves not to let that mean-spirited comment pop out of our mouths.

 And finally, there’s self-control. To me self-control is the fruit basket that contains the other fruits. Don’t love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and gentleness all demand self control?

 Like I found a new way to de-cap strawberries, change your thinking about the fruit of the Spirit. Next time you’re tempted to skip church, grow faithfulness. Next time you’re irritated, grow gentleness. Next time you’re forced to stand in a line, grow patience. And before you know it you’ll have fruit enough to give away.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Book Review: Becoming an Ordinary Mystic


Becoming an Ordinary Mystic: Spirituality for the Rest of Us

 If you want to refresh or deepen your spiritual life, this book is for you. Albert Haase’s suggestions will help you connect with God more naturally throughout your day. For instance, he suggests pausing now and then and reflecting on what you experience through your senses. And he then suggests ways to see that experience as a “portal” to connect with God.

 Haase suggests an examination of conscience in light of the 10 Commandments as well as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-12). We often ponder how to do the right thing when between a rock and a hard place, and this book helps you to develop “cardiac spirituality,” to respond in a way that balances justice with mercy and compassion.

 A chapter on transparency, invites you to “pray from the neck down,” spill your feelings to God when distressed. Haase calls negative emotions “nudgings from God.” He offers healthy comparisons for God—provider, shepherd, etc.—as revealed by Jesus.

 Throughout the pages, you’ll find helpful ways to evaluate where you are on your spiritual journey and you’ll learn very practical doable ways on moving forward. You’ll learn more about how God speaks to you and how to respond. Like the title says, the book is for ordinary people who just want to walk more closely with God.

 Whether a new Christian or have already traveled a long road of spirituality, this book offers insight and challenges you. I borrowed it from the library, but I am going to buy it because I want to reread it and work through some of the exercises that I only scanned.

 Albert Haase is a chaplain and retreat team leader at Cedarbrake Catholic Retreat Center. If you want to deepen your walk with God (and who doesn’t), I highly recommend this book.



Friday, May 14, 2021

Three Gifts of Aging


Just before the pandemic of 2020 shut down the United States, my family celebrated my 80th birthday at a local restaurant. My gifts included a beautiful album that reviewed my years with photos and notes from my children and grandchildren.

            The next day two friends surprised me with a seafood dinner and a gift of 80 roses! Through the years, my husband and I have received other gifts as well. But they were intangible gifts—and perhaps not as welcome.

The Gift of Patience:

            When I tell my husband “Lunch is ready,” he asks, “What was that?” When I tell him who called on the phone, I get the same response. Even with hearing aids, he misses the first parts of sentences. To compound the problem, my voice has weakened.

But the good news is that we force each other to be patient. I know I’m going to have to repeat whatever I say. And he’s learning that he should take a moment to think before he responds. If he pauses, he often deciphers my words.

            Bill is five years my senior, and I can see the difference this makes. He takes longer to climb stairs. But I’m patient with him because I know I’m just a few steps behind him.

            As Christians, we pray to develop the fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Yet so often we chafe against the very things that water that fruit tree. While we may not enjoy the effort it takes to cultivate an orchard, we can delight in the fruit that develops. In this case—patience.

The Gift of Compassion:

            Anyone who has lived several decades has survived losses—losses of loved ones, losses of jobs, losses of relationships. Losses hurt. You grieve. How can the world go on as usual? People are pumping gas. Laughing at jokes. Shopping. But you feel numb. Time heals, but for some losses, it takes much time.

            Our youngest child, our only daughter, returned to her heavenly father just a few hours after her birth. In more recent years, my four siblings have died along with two of my husband’s three. And his third sibling, confined to a nursing home that allows no visitors, suffers from dementia.

            A person never really “gets over” the loss of loved ones. You just learn to go on. You survive. And as you survive, you feel greater compassion for others experiencing loss. You mourn with those who mourn because you know how much it hurts. You’ve received the gift of compassion. Now you pass it on.

The Gift of Perspective:

            Times are bad. We wonder if end times have arrived. And we’ve had a lot to ponder during the pandemic. But as you get older, you realize that things have been bad before. I’m sure Europeans and Asians felt the same way during the Black Plague. And we’ve had health scares before—scarlet fever, polio, tuberculosis. Diseases for which we lack inoculation wreak havoc.

But as you age, you find you’ve survived your share of challenges. You mellow. And you take more of a “this too shall pass” approach.

            Yes, things are bad, but God’s on His throne. We wait and pray and work for the good. We wash our hands, practice social distancing and accept the vaccine. And we trust. “For we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . . .” (Romans 8:28 NIV).

Wrap Up:

            Don’t be too proud to accept help along your journey. Wear those hearing aids. Audiologists tell me if a person does not wear hearing aids when they need them, they lose word discrimination. That means that even if a hearing aid provides the sounds of speech, the brain no longer interprets them. Conversation adds sparkle to life. Don’t miss out on it.

            Be patient with spouses and loved ones. After all, you’re on this journey together. So hold hands and walk on, adjusting to one another’s pace.

            Talk to others about your grief; accept their gestures of comfort. Let them sit with you and pray with you. Join a grief support group. Seek professional help if you feel you would benefit. Share your perspective with others by telling them how you’ve survived challenges by God’s grace.

            Unwrap those gifts of aging. They add beauty not only to your life but they bless the lives of others as you pass them on. Your family and friends will love you all the more for your patience and compassion. And your perspective offers hope to a generation challenged by the pandemic. Things may not be perfect, but they may be perfectly fine—if we embrace the gifts of aging.



Monday, May 3, 2021

Book Review: Becoming Elisabeth Elliot


Here was a woman who overcame many challenges. She loved fellow college student Jim Elliot, a man who felt celibacy was God’s highest calling in life. Fortunately, he finally recognized marriage as a high calling as well. Elisabeth’s notes on translating the language of the Waodani tribe were stolen. And the greatest tragedy was the death of her husband in Ecuador at the hands of the very tribesmen they tried to reach for Christ.

The book started slow, giving details of Elisabeth’s childhood, but I soon became engrossed in the life of this remarkable woman and the events that shaped her.

Elisabeth kept a detailed diary, and in Becoming Elisabeth Elliot, author Ellen Vaugh shares many of these details with us. Vaugh also interviewed people who knew Elisabeth, including her daughter Valerie. And Vaugh was given access to letters that show Elisabeth’s struggles and temptations, yet her determination to follow God’s call.

I liked the many quotes Vaugh included such as this one from missionary icon Hudson Taylor: “It is not what we set ourselves to do that really tells in blessings, so much as what He is doing through us when we least expect it, if only we are in abiding fellowship with him.” This proved true for Elisabeth Elliot, who often felt her work had no impact.

Although I’ve read Elliot’s books and even heard her speak, I never knew of the ongoing challenges she faced with missionary Rachel Saint.

The book was published by B & H Publishing in 2020 and includes pages of notes of documentation. It also includes photos that introduce you to Elisabeth’s life with the Waodani.

Any Christian facing challenges in carrying out his or her calling will feel blessed through reading this book, and all of us can benefit from the insight and wisdom on its pages.