Sunday, May 31, 2020

Book Review: Courage for the Unknown Season

Courage for the Unknown Season: Navigating What’s Next with Confidence and Hope:

Author Jan Silvious offers hope for the journey of life by focusing on the positive. In light of scripture, she helps you view aging—and any other unknown season of life—as an opportunity to learn and grow. After all, God is the God of all seasons.

Her chapter on resilience points out how others have survived hard times. A chapter on fear helps you identify pessimism to instead focus on gratitude. One chapter reminds you to find humor in life, and another motivates you to change the question “why?” to “why not?”

The author’s writing style is light and conversational. She’s a speaker, professional life coach and grandmother who has authored 11 books. Published by NavPress, the book’s back matter includes notes with resources to dig deeper into chapter topics. The book is endorsed by notables such as Mark Lowry, Anita Renfroe, Patsy Clairmont and Babbie Mason.

I bought this book because I felt overwhelmed by changes I detect on the horizon of a new decade. But whether you’re facing a major birthday or a major move or loss. Jan Silvious offers hope for the journey. I enjoyed the read and will refer back to it as needed.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Book Review: Relentless

Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves

Through the lens of biblical accounts, author Michele Cushatt shines light on how God is with us even in the most difficult places. She has encountered God Presence in her own life as she has survived physical pain and even disfigurement.

Besides undergoing difficult cancer treatments and surgeries, Michele has raised “children from hard places.” She knows the meaning of suffering, so this is not a book meant to entertain. By identifying marker events, “altar stones,” in our own lives, Michele points out how God is with us even when we may not realize His Presence.

I appreciated the many quotes and examples Michele included within the chapters. Her writing style is easy to read and understand. Chapter titles include: “A God Who Has Always Wanted to be With You,” “A God Whose Mercy Carries You” and “A God Who is With You When You Reach the End of Yourself.”

The book cover sports an endorsement from Philip Yancey: “To anyone who experiences, pain, depression, confusion, or simply a nagging sense of life’s unfairness, I recommend Michele Cushatt as a trustworthy guide.” Published by Zondervan in 2019, the book has eight more endorsers including Sheila Walsh and Liz Curtis Higgs

For anyone dealing with pain—either mental, emotional or physical—Relentless offers hope for the journey. And even if you’re not dealing with difficult life events, this book will help you recognize God at work in our lives. Back matter contains questions to discuss, so it’s a good pick for a book club or Bible study.

Friday, May 15, 2020

As You Wait, Be Faithful, Not Fretful

Kim laughed when I called a paper facsimile she had made of herself a “paper doll.” She digitally produced a “Flat Mrs. Messinger” to give students as a reminder she was with them during this COVID19 isolation.

When I was a child, paper dolls were a standard for little girls. You cut out paper doll figures dressed in underwear out of a book with stiff pages. You also cut out various items of clothing to “dress” your dolls. The pieces had little tabs to fasten the clothes onto shoulders, hips and legs. We played for hours, fashioning outfits and creating dialogue among paper dolls. Evidently paper dolls have been replaced by “flat” figures. 

When I was a child, you made margarine by massaging a plastic bag with an orange button in the midst of a thick white creamy substance. You popped the button with your fingers, and worked the color through the substance. Today you buy four sticks of margarine in a box.

As a young mother, I taught Bible stories using flannel-graph figures. Today, teachers play animated videos.

Get the picture? The methods change but the products remain the same.

One thing that doesn’t change is God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Have you noticed, the seasons never change? Spring, summer, fall, winter. We never doubt that seasons will continue. The hummingbirds just arrived in Millersburg--on schedule. Who established that process?

Have you noticed, the sun, moon and stars remain in orbit? Our ancient ancestors marveled at the same heavenly configurations we see. Night follows day. Full moons, blood moons, harvest moons, eclipses—all occur at expected times. Who created and governs the heavens?

Have you noticed, plant an acorn and up grows an oak. Unless a squirrel steals the acorn, of course. But you know what I mean. Who created such a process? A huge oak from a tiny seed. Amazing.

Since we know all that is true, we need not worry that God will be faithful through our current crisis. Yes, people are dying. Yes, people are in economic distress. But countries have survived plagues and epidemics. Societies have survived famines and depressions and recessions. God has a way to not only see us through but to bring good out of our turmoil. He is faithful.

A pastor friend of mine, William Niblette, posted a devotional on Psalms 88 and 89. Both are psalms written during Israel’s captivity in Babylon. In the first psalm, the writer moans about his troubles. In the second, the writer praises God for His faithfulness. And that should also be our focus. God is faithful, even when we are fretful.

Even though God from time to time turned his back on the Israelites, his chosen people, because they had turned away from Him, He always restored them, even from exile. God was faithful to His promises.

Back then, God sent prophets to remind people of who they were and Who He was. And God is not silent today. We have His Word, in plenty of translations—reminding us God is faithful. We have pastors preaching on social media not only Sundays but during the week—reminding us God is faithful.

We have His Spirit within us--inspiring hope. During Old Testament times, God’s Spirit came only on certain people at certain times. Now His Spirit lives within us, guiding us if we ask, teaching us if we listen, inspiring us as we open our minds to Him.

As my friend pointed out, we turn to God most earnestly during tough times. That alone is reason to be thankful. He has our attention. And we try much more earnestly to get His.

So do not despair. Do not give up hope. Do not dwell on statistics that weigh down your spirit. Like Flat Mrs. Messinger is with her students, God is with us. He is loving, kind and just. Read a psalm. Sing a hymn. Pray for the sick. Encourage the weary. God just may lead us to a better place. He is faithful.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Did You Know Passing on Your Faith is Like Baking Cookies?

When I was a child, nothing tasted better than a soft sugar cookie, warm from the oven. My mother’s cookies melted in my mouth and satisfied my need for something sweet after a day of school. Passing on our faith is like baking cookies. And just as gratifying to the soul. Here’s why I say that:

Baking cookies takes time. Ingredients must be mixed, dropped onto a cookie sheet and baked before the finished product is ready to eat. Passing on our faith also takes time. We serve as daily role models to family members so others see what the “finished product” looks like. We talk about faith and life in daily conversation with children and grandchildren: “Look at that beautiful flower.” “Feel that breeze.” “What a view!” We return excess change because honesty is not just the best policy, it’s what God expects. When we go through fiery trials and disappointments, such as our confinement during this coronavirus, we trust God to see us through and even bless us in the process. All the while, others watch and listen, learning from our example how to handle the vagaries of life with faith intact.

Baking cookies requires a variety of ingredients. Flour provides texture; sugar, sweetness; peanut butter, a distinctive taste. Salt enhances the flavor, and egg binds ingredients together. We, of course, must develop our own faith before we can pass it on, and faith development in our own lives also requires a variety of ingredients--that is, experiences. The daily discipline of Christian living include scripture reading to provide the texture of our faith; prayer, the sweetness. Our experiences create a unique, distinctive story to share, and worship enhances our lives. Like an egg, showing love demonstrates and binds all other aspects of our lives together

Baking cookies means following a recipe—and recipes differ. One calls for shortening; another, for butter. One suggests topping the cookie with chocolate candy; another, rolling the unbaked cookie in sugar. Likewise, the “recipe” of passing on a legacy of faith may differ according to individuals. We encourage someone who enjoys art to draw a picture of what they pray for. We take a prayer walk with a youth who has trouble sitting. For those in tune with music, we suggest they draw close to God as they listen, sing, or even play songs of worship on an instrument. God did not make us using one cookie-cutter. We all have personalities and preferences that affect how we learn, and we can best pass on our faith if we respect those aspects of human development.  

Baking cookies leaves a mess. No matter how careful we are, we spill sugar and flour on the counter or even drop an egg on the floor. And even though we follow the recipe, our cookies never look like the picture in the cookbook. So with sharing our faith. Sometimes we stumble over words. We sometimes say the “wrong” thing. And the person with whom we share, may not react as we expect. What we can count on is that God will use even our awkward attempts to work in people’s hearts.

Like nibbling on a cookie dipped in milk, the end result of sharing our faith is amazingly satisfying. Hearing a child pray warms my heart more than a warm cookie tickles my taste buds. Seeing a child stop to pick up someone who tripped, delights my spirit just as a perfectly baked cookie delights my eyes. I get excited when I hear that my grandchildren attend youth groups and go on mission trips. Proverbs 22:6 challenges parents to “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” We shape a life as we share our faith.

Are you feeding the faith of your family or just satisfying their appetites? Have a cup of coffee and a cookie as you pray about who might benefit from hearing your story of faith and seeing your faith in action.

#FriendsOfTheHeart #PassingFaithtoFamily
Photo by Jonathan Meyer from Pexels

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Book Review: Friend of God: The Legacy of Abraham, Man of Faith

Ray C. Stedman discusses the incidents of Abraham’s life to throw light on New Testament truths that are important for us to understand and apply to our own lives. I learned so much reading this book.

For instance, one chapter explains how the torch that passed between the pieces of Abraham’s sacrifice in Genesis 15 relates to the doctrinal themes of Romans 4 through 8. Another chapter explains the great significance of the name change from Sarai to Sarah and from Abram to Abraham.

I appreciated the author’s explanation of the original reason circumcision became part of God’s covenant with Abraham. And Stedman discusses how Abraham’s life illustrates the struggle we all face with our old nature and our new nature. There are 19 chapters with titles including: “Ishmael Must God,” “How Prayer Works,” “The Wasted Years” and “The Abundant Entrance.”

Stedman graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary and pastored Peninsula Bible Church in California for 40 years. He has written more than 20 books and is considered one of the centuries’ foremost Bible expositors. Stedman writes in a conversational manner, easy to understand. A great read and another book I want to reread because it had more to offer than I can absorb in one reading.