Books, books, books! (or, The Bookshelf Overfloweth…)

As a self-proclaimed bookworm, I love books. Some of my favorite memories growing up include trips to the public library on Sunday afternoons. I was allowed to check out only six books at a time on my library card so I would choose carefully after walking slowly up and down each aisle in the juvenile section. So much to choose from: Nancy Drew, Cherry Hames RN, Ramona and Beezus, I loved them all! Upon arriving home, I would quickly devour one book after the other until all six were read, and then could hardly wait until the next Sunday’s library visit.

I also loved getting the Scholastic book order form in school. I would peruse the titles available for purchase, nearly memorizing the flyer, count out my allowance that I had hoarded and place my order for as many books as I could afford.

I still love going to the library (altough I have to say it is more difficult to find books that edify, if you know what I mean). I love to get christianbook.com‘s catalog in the mail and I have to confess I nearly memorize it just like I did those Scholastic flyers! And I LOVE the bookstore! As much as I love the library, I love, love, LOVE to purchase books for my own! I don’t know if it’s because as a child I checked out way more books than I ever was able to buy, or perhaps there’s some other reason, but I just cannot resist, especially at discounted prices.

As a result of my book buying compulsion, our bookcase is overflowing. I have boxed books up, given books away (with no small amount of regret, unless, of course, it was just a really bad read) and still we are drowning in stacks of books.

I read with interest Dr. Albert Mohler’s blog on what our bookshelves say about us. Check it out here. I am curious what my library says about me. That I am a serious student of God’s Word? Easily swayed by the doctrines of men? All fluff, no substance? Or, as is most likely the case, a sucker for whatever title I can get for $4 or less off the book table at Mike’s Merchandise?

Fluff or no, here is what I am currently reading (a true book lover always has about three, four, or more, titles in the works):
The Autobiography of George Muller
The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton
Boundaries for Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. James Townsend
Taste and See by John Piper
Songbird by Lisa Samson (a girl’s gotta have some fiction!)

In my holding pattern (a true book lover also has way more books waiting to be read than she is actually reading!)
The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal
The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan
I Saw the Lord by Anne Graham Lotz
Three Treatises by Martin Luther
The Novelist by Angela Hunt (also fiction)

Speaking of fiction, the last three fiction titles I’ve read were excellent reads (not always the case with Christian fiction). Very, very different, but very good:
Quo Vadis
Winter Birds by Jamie Langston Turner
Waking Lazarus by TL Hines

I’ve no nice summary to make, except to say I am thankful for those whose words have been my companions in this journey with Christ. I have been encouraged and challenged and provoked and blessed.

P.S. I can’t figure out how to underline? The editor in me cannot stand to have the booktitles listed without the proper underlining! Can anyone help?

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The blessing

I know you’ve heard it before: “Do _________ and God will bless you.” Now, I want to say here at the outset that I have no doubt God blesses. Ours is a God who longs to bless His children and has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). He is certainly able to do more–immeasurably more!–than we can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20).

My problem with the above admonition is that it perpetuates the “what’s in it for me” attitude. It is really the same prosperity gospel we see in its extreme on some so-called Christian programming. “Send in one thousand dollars and God will heal you” or “God will make you CEO” or “God will give you cars and homes and every material blessing you could ever want.” He does, after all, want you to have your best life now.

That’s the extreme, for sure. But we hear the same promise of prosperity in more subtle ways: “Give your tithe and God will bless you.” Or even in reverse: “If you aren’t at church every time the doors open, you will miss God’s blessing.”

I want to say once again I do not doubt God blesses our obedience. It is not God’s blessing I am questioning, but rather the motivation behind such exhortations. We tend to equate blessing with ease, comfort, even material things, in short, getting what we want. I have to ask: do we want only His blessing? Are we only after what He can give us? In telling others to “do this so that God will bless”, are we not saying that it is His blessing that matters, not our obedience? And what about His glory? Is it our desire to make much of Him or just get something from Him?

Erwin McManus says the following in his book The Barabarian Way:

We…convinced ourselves that God’s optimal desire for our lives was to insulate us in a spiritual bubble where we risk nothing, sacrifice nothing, lose nothing, worry about nothing…

Is it possible that the transforming power of the church has been lost because we keep inviting people to step into the comfort, safety, and security of Jesus Christ? We’ve created a religious culture in which–even though we’re the most blessed society in the history of the planet–our best-selling literature still focuses on how we can be more blessed…

The original call of Jesus was so simple, so clean, so clear: “Follow Me.” He wants us to surrender our lives to Him and follow Him into the unknown. And if it means a life of suffering, hardship, and disappointment, it will be worth it because following Jesus is more powerful and more fulfilling that living with everything in the world minus Him. Have we forgotten this? Have we become so refined and so civilized that the benefits of our faith have become more precious and more valuable to us than the Benefactor of our faith?

Jesus Christ is worthy of any sacrifice we make, any check we write, any hardship we go through. He is worthy, and He is worth it. May we no longer seek what He can do for us. May we instead seek Him, surrendering our lives to Him and following Him wherever He may lead, no matter the cost. He is our very great reward (Gen. 15:1). He Himself is the blessing.

Do what you love; love what you do

I am currently in the middle of a painting project. Last fall we had some renovation and addition work done to our house. To save on the cost of the project we decided to do the painting ourselves. I have completed most of the work, but am just now tackling the playroom. (Can you say procrastination?)

I normally enjoy painting. A twenty five dollar can of paint, a couple of days, and you’ve instantly transformed the whole look of a room. This particular paint project, however, has given me no such joy. In fact, I dread it. I whine about it. I procrastinate (obviously). I have little or no motivation. I look for excuses. I get mad at my husband for wanting to save money. I don’t want to do it, not at all.

I recently began reading Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. Note I said “began reading” instead of “currently reading” as I tend to begin parenting books but rarely finish them. Generally speaking, I dislike parenting books. I have enough guilt on my own, thank you very much. But, Boundaries came as a recommendation from a friend of mine who shares my same guilt trip tendencies, so I thought I’d give it a try. Which I did, and the part I read, I liked, so maybe I will pick it up again soon.

Anyway, in the book the authors make the point that kids need to understand that “It’s hard” doesn’t mean “I can’t”:

Being unable differs from being uncomfortable…what [kids] don’t enjoy, they think they can’t do…Thinking that he can’t do what he doesn’t enjoy impedes a child’s learning that life and problems are his responsibility, not someone else’s. He will either give up difficult things because they are too hard, charm someone else into doing them for him, or find shortcuts like cheating on exams… Children will take every opportunity they can to shirk their responsibilities until we make taking owenership an expected lifestyle.

I see this in my own kids. Invariably, any request I make concerning chores or any other responsibility outside the realm of “fun” is met with argument and whining and protest. “I don’t WANT to do that!” is a common refrain around here, to which I usually answer “I don’t remember asking if you WANTED to!”

But it’s not just our kids that need to learn this particular boundary. We see it everywhere. Marriage, work, even church, if we don’t enjoy it, we think we can’t do it, that we need to move on or move out or quit altogether. How many times have you and I heard the phrase “I’m just not getting anything out of ________”(fill in the blank: worship, the preaching, staying home with the kids, my job, etc.). Ours is a culture consumed with the pursuit of pleasing ourselves. Instead of “do what you love” we’ve adopted the creed “do only what you love.” And when it gets difficult and seems hard, we are like children: refusing responsibility and giving up.

Same thing with painting my playroom. I want to give up; I can’t tell you how tempted I am to quit, just close the door and ignore the work needing to be done. I mean, I’ve managed to avoid the work for ten months or so already! Besides, there are other things I would certainly enjoy more: sitting on my back porch with a good book and a cup of coffee for instance.

I certainly do not intend to give the impression that there should be no joy in our work. Nor that doing things because we enjoy them is somehow wrong. I am only making the point that we (me) have a tendency toward laziness and avoidance of responsibility. Our God has called us to do the work He has set before us and find joy in the privilege of serving Him.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Col. 3:23-24

The Way We Were

My twenty year high school reunion is next weekend. Twenty years! That’s three years longer than the age I was when I graduated. While my high school years seem like they happened to another person in another time (well, actually it was another time…two decades ago), at the same time it seems inconceivable that it’s been so long.

As part of the reunion planning, the committee in charge of said planning put together a website where alumni (or is it alumnus? Don’t know my Latin!) can register for the reunion, submit their pertinent info, see who’s still “lost” and who’s been “found.” It even plays the school fight song. We the alum’s have been invited to send in pictures to be posted on a gallery page. Some have sent in current pictures, but most of the pictures are from our high school adventures, or misadventures as the case may be. I have to admit I didn’t even recognize a lot of the people in the pictures, partly due to the fact it’s been awhile, like twenty years, and partly because I just didn’t get out much. As you have probably suspected, I was something of a nerd. I am featured in a couple of pictures though. My husband, who did not know me in high school, remarked on how young I looked. I did, and I was.

All of this reflection and remembering has prompted some of the strangest emotions in me. As I began to realize how little I really was a part of the “in” crowd, it began to bother me, now twenty years later. Isnt’ that silly? I mean, I knew I was more of a wall flower, certainly not the belle of any ball. Don’t get me wrong, I had friends and a boyfriend. I was happy. I just didn’t belong. And seeing it in living color so many years later was a surprise.

A friend from high school emailed me a few weeks ago. I haven’t heard from him nor “laid eyes on him” since the night we tossed our mortarboards in the air. We exchanged the usual “what have you been up to” kind of conversation that one would typically have with someone they haven’t heard from in ages. As I typed the words “I’ve been at home for twelve years” (nearly thirteen actually), I thought to myself, can it have been twelve years? (You can see I am having great trouble understanding time and its inevitable passage.) Twenty years have passed, and my accomplishments include getting my college degree, marrying a wonderful man, birthing four children, changing mounds of diapers and now fixing lunches and doing laundry and scrubbing toilets (only occasionally) and transporting children.

I know that I know that I know that THIS is God’s call on my life. Many of you will say to me “it’s the most important job you can do” and you are absolutely right. But, can I say that sometimes I feel the pressure of our culture that tells us our significance is found in our accomplishment? How easily we buy into the lie! As I reflected on the past twenty years, I admit I wondered if I was a waste of potential. I wondered if…maybe…perhaps…

As I peer into the eyes of the former me posted on the photo gallery, it feels sometimes like I am looking into the eyes of a stranger, or perhaps someone I used to know, but now the acquaintance has faded. I think of the hopes and dreams of that girl and wonder if she knew that this is how it turned out, would she be excited? Disappointed?

I do know this. Whether the high school me would be glad about becoming the current me or not, the current me would do it all over again exactly the same way. Actually that’s not entirely true. I don’t want to do it all over again. I want to be here in the now of my life. I know my God now in an intimacy I would have never known possible twenty years ago. I can say with Paul that by God’s grace I am what I am. Thus far the Lord has brought me. He has blessed me so, and I am grateful.

On writer’s block

Today has been an exercise in frustration. I will not tell you how long I have been sitting before this computer screen attempting to write something, anything. If I were to confess to you the number of minutes I’ve spent here, you would no doubt think that surely I have something else to do, something way more constructive, and you would be right.

Writer’s block would be an apt description of my current state. (or would it be Blogger’s block?) The more I strive, the more I begin to wonder, is this–all of this–just an exercise in futility? As words elude me, I ask myself if I really have something to say after all. Echoes of my first post, for those of you paying attention. Perhaps I am wasting my time, I tell myself. Isn’t this struggle a sign of the self-serving nature of blogging? If I can’t write something profound, a post well thought and carefully constructed, why write at all?

I heard a Bible teacher say that we often hesitate to say yes to God and His plan for our life because we lack the persistence to follow His call. We think that God’s way means the easy way and when it is not, we decide that must be a “closed door.” Not that blogging is necessarily a call from God, but I see in me that desire for the easy route. Today blogging is hard. Today the words don’t come. Today I wonder if anyone would even notice. And today I wonder why blog at all.

I do that in other areas of my life as well. There are days my prayers seem to fall on deaf ears. God seems far away and His Word dry and irrelevant. My heart is cold and loving others nearly impossible. There are times I wonder why pray at all. Why read the Word at all. Why serve others.

Saying yes to Christ demands persistence, a pressing on and striving forward (Philip. 3:13-14). Persistence is not persistence when all is easy and comfortable. Persistence by definition requires facing some degree of difficulty and pushing through. There will be times when following Jesus is hard work, plain and simple.

I think of the promise of Isaiah 40:31,

those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I am reminded of something I read by Mark Buchanan where he speaks of the exhilaration of soaring like eagles and running without weariness. Yet most of us find ourselves in the tedium of walking, one foot in front of the other. Persistently, sometimes slowly, going forward, even when it’s hard. Relying on His strength when the words are few and the prayers are dry.

Press on…He will be faithful to us…

Blogging Tutorial

So many have remarked to me that they have no idea what a blog is…hence, a short tutorial. In the interest of full disclosure, I have only a rudimentary knowledge of blogging myself, but what I have, I hereby give to you.

The term “blog” is short for “web log” which as the name implies is an online log or journal. The term has been modified to include the verb “to blog” or “blogging” which is the writing of the aforementioned online journal.

In the blog, there is the opportunity to give feedback or contribute to the conversation. At the bottom of each blog entry, or post, there is a line that looks something like “(0) comments.” This is a link and should you click on it, a pop up window would appear and you could read the comments that have been posted to that particular entry, should there be any.

If you would like to post a comment (which, by the way, is ALWAYS welcome!) you may do so by clicking the same comment link. In the pop up window there is a space for you to type your comment. Since most of you reading this are not bloggers, you would identify yourself either as “anonymous” or “other” and then type in your name and follow the other directions. The user name and password request is for those with blogger accounts.

You may also email a particular blog post by clicking on the little envelope icon at the bottom of the entry, to the right of the comment link.

Blogging also offers the opportunity to link to other blogs. Clicking on the links to the right will take you to other blogs that I read fairly regularly. Same options there for commenting and emailing.

So, there you go!

To rescue the perishing

Several months ago while sitting in traffic headed to the elementary school, I witnessed a car wreck. Actually, to be clear, I witnessed the aftereffects of a car wreck. I did not actually see the two vehicles collide, but I did see a Jeep Cherokee go flying in the air, hit the ground on its nose and roll over, finally landing upright. It was amazing, like something straight off the track at a NASCAR race.

Immediately people pulled over, getting out of their cars, many dialing cell phones. One woman in particular caught my attention. She had parked her vehicle on the other side of the road from where the Jeep Cherokee had “landed.” She had gotten out of her car and was running–not jogging, not walking quickly, but running as fast and as hard as she could–across four lanes of traffic to get to the driver of the Jeep. I can only presume she was some sort of trained medical personnel, and with an urgency equated with a life or death situation, she ran to the rescue.

Now, from my vantage point, I could see the driver shaking his head and moving around. He was no doubt shaken up, but certainly not in grave danger. But the woman hurtling herself across four lanes of traffic could not know for sure. All she knew is he could be hurt and she could help. She could have easily reasoned away her motivation to be of use. “Let someone else go,” she could’ve said to herself. “Someone who knows more should go. An ambulance driver–he’s paid to save people. This isn’t exactly in my job description. Besides, I’m in a hurry and I might be late for work. I might get dirty.” Yet she went. It wasn’t convenient and it surely wasn’t her preference–I mean, who wants to be seen running across the highway at its busiest time of day? She could have used any number of excuses and no one would have ever known.

But instead, she ran.

What an example she is to me! Now, I could offer nothing in this present circumstance but throwing up in the case of blood or offering to dial 911. The latter had been taken care of and the former would be of little help. Yet spiritually, there are throes of people around me in very real life or death situations. It is the difference between eternal life or eternal hell. Am I prompted to rescue those who could be perishing? To run with urgency? Even if it means darting across traffic and other opposition and inconvenience? Or am I content to rationalize away my involvement with any number of excuses?

Lord, give me a sense of urgency, an eternal perspective, a compassion for the dying around me who are lost without You. Let me see with Your eyes!

One Smart Dead Guy (or, George Muller on Prayer and Meditation)

I have recently enrolled in Brad Williams School of Dead Theologians–not that he is one, a dead theologian that is. He is most definitely a theologian, yet one that is alive and kicking. Have no idea what I’m talking about? Click here.

Anyway, I have begun reading The Autobiography of George Muller, a fascinating account of one man’s faith and commitment to prayer and the Word…and God’s faithful provision. Consider the following excerpts on “Preaching, Studying and Growth”:

Rather than presuming to know what is best for the hearers, I ask the Lord to graciously teach me the subject I should speak about, or the portion of His Word I should explain…

A preacher cannot know the hearts of the individuals in the congregation or what they need to hear. But the Lord knows; and if the preacher renounces his own wisdom, he will be assisted by the Lord. But if he is determined to choose a subject in his own wisdom, he should not be surprised when he sees little fruit from his labors…

Neither eloquence or depth of thought makes a truly great preacher. Only a life of prayer and meditation will render him a vessel ready for the Master’s use and fit to be employed in the conversion of sinner and in the edification of the saints.

Now, lest any of you are getting worried, I do not consider myself a preacher of the Word, yet even the humblest teacher can gain from Muller’s insights. Just prior to reading the chapter excerpted above, I was mulling over in my mind possible topics and Scripture references for an upcoming teaching opportunity. Okay, let’s call it what it was: worry. I was worrying and fretting, trying to make my plans and ideas “work.” Not praying. Not asking God. Rather, presuming to know what is best, just as Muller described.

I realized how often my prayer consists of “Bless this, Lord” as I continue on in the way that seems best to me. How often I have my own agenda (“there is a way that seems right to a man”), and I am seeking the Lord’s enabling to carry out the plans I have for me. Determined to persist in my own wisdom, and therefore seeing little fruit.

Contrast such willful presumption with the prayer and meditation Mulller describes. A life of prayer and meditation. He certainly practiced what he preached, often spending 6 hours or more in prayer, and sometimes praying all night long. No quick, “bless me and bless this” praying for him.

“if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” (Prov. 2:3-6)

Calling out, crying aloud, looking and searching, prayer and meditation. And the promise? Knowing God.

One more quote from George Muller, a poor preacher in England in the 1800’s:

“To live in constant communion with the Lord, and to be habitually and frequently in meditation over the truth is its own reward.”

May we all know such reward.

The heavens declare the glory of God

We are (finally) enjoying our first taste of fall, hands down my favorite time of the year. I’ve had the windows open and my “spiced cider” candle burning. The cooler breeze, the brilliant blue of the sky, the gorgeous pink of the sunrise we saw this morning as I drove my son to school–all prompt in me an excitement and anticipation which is difficult to explain.

My devotional reading this morning included Ps. 19:1-2,

The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands,
Day after day they pour forth speech,
night after night they display knowledge.

God is revealing His glory! We see Him in the beauty of His creation! Isaiah 6:3 reminds me “the whole earth is full of his glory.” I see His glory and I am compelled to worship! What beauty, what glory, what majesty are His! And to think, this is nothing compared to the glory to be revealed…

I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes–I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

In comparison…

The other day I was outside chatting with a couple of my neighbors, all of us stay at home moms. When stay at home moms get together, we tend to chat about one of two things: our kids or the lamentable state of our homes. On this occasion we discussed the latter. One friend spoke of washing her windows and her ceiling fans. In the same day. That very day we were standing in my backyard talking. The other friend confessed to being unable to stand dirty windows, and wished she could only get around to vacuuming out her van. Both neighbors agreed they planned to mow that day or the next.

I went inside.

I am no housekeeper, not in the least. I have tried to spiritualize my lack of domestic achievements by claiming I am fixing my eyes on what’s eternal (2 Cor. 4:18), and neither dust nor the rings in my toilet are eternal. (Are they?)

But I left the conversation with my neighbor friends terribly discouraged and absolutely convinced that I was the worst housekeeper ever, the worst mother ever, the most worthless, horrible excuse for a stay at home mom in the history of stay at home moms. I totally hated myself. I had compared myself to them, found myself different, and saw it as lack. We women do it all the time: I am insecure about myself, I compare myself to so-and-so, and end up despising myself.

Or, sometimes I compare myself to so-and-so-number-two, and instead of feeling worse about myself, decide that, next to her, I’m pretty good, and suddenly I’m all puffed up with my own self-righteousness.

Both are deadly. Whether I am consumed with how horrible I am, or consumed with how much better I am, I am still consumed with ME. There’s one word for that: PRIDE.

And it all began with comparison borne of insecurity.

I was insecure–wait, who am I kidding? I am insecure because I equate my significance with what I do: I don’t do windows and it never occurs to me to clean my ceiling fans nor vacuum my van, therefore I must be worthless and insignificant. While it certainly does matter that I maintain my home with some semblance of order (and please don’t get the wrong idea, it may be chaos, but it’s not unsanitary!)…my worth is not found in my housekeeping skills, nor my blogging skills, nor how well I taught Bible study last week.

God has called my neighbor friends to maintain their homes with a certain degree of excellence and I applaud that. He has called me, well, to something different, but not necessarily less. I am not significant because of what I do (or don’t do for that matter). My significance lies not in my self-worth nor my self-esteem. I am full enough of myself as it is. My significance is in God. As John Piper says in Taste and See:

“the preciousness of knowing God and mirroring him well enough by my delight in him that others can see his worth in me and join me in enjoying him. Now that would be real significance!”

As much as I may sometimes wish I were, I am not my friends. Perhaps one day some of their housekeeping skills will rub off on me. Whether I become a domestic diva or not, it matters little. What matters is that whatever He calls me to do, I “do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31), delighting in Him so that others can see His worth, not mine.