Monday, December 27, 2010

Book Review: Nelson's Biblical Cyclopedic Index

My copy of Nelson's Biblical Cyclopedic Index (BCI) bills itself as the "Best Bible Subject Index Ever".  I'm not sure I'm qualified to evaluate that claim, but I will say that this little volume came in mighty handy this evening as I prepared to write my weekly blog post at another site.  I needed verses to go with the theme of "changed lives" and while I did not find those exact terms, I did find plenty under "repent" and "repentance" with a pointer to "conversion". A search on "birth" led to "new birth" and "born again" and finally to the perfect verse in Titus to round out my column.

The BCI includes a collection of word studies from the Old and New Testaments: covenant, forgive, grace, etc. Most headings, unless a proper name or simple concept, contain a list of subheadings which make it useful for developing a Bible study or talk. For example: "Faith" is subdivided into topics such as "Nature of", "Obtained from", "Kinds of", "Described as", and "Examples of" in both the Old and New Testaments.   After each reference is a scripture reference that fits the topic.

Want to know all about the Moabites?  You'll find "History of", "Characteristics of", "Prophecies concerning their...."  Curious about the Jewish calendar?  There's a scriptural reference for every month.  Want some basics on the life of Paul?  You'll find 2 pages of references.

It's not perfect.  There's a really cool list of measurements not found under "measurement" but under "Jewish measures".  So you'll want to do some browsing, highlighting, and tabbing of interesting pages.  But I'm sure I'll use this reference as a go-to source for whatever topic I'm writing on each week.

The BCI is easy to use and small enough to slip into a tote bag and bring to Bible study (though I will need my glasses).  Highly recommended for personal use or as a gift for a Bible teacher or friend.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Ready for Christmas?

Suddenly it's December 21st and we're well into the 4th week of Advent and it feels as though the pressure is on.  How do I not lose Christ at Christmas?  Here's my latest post over at the Jesus Boat Blog.

**********************

Ready for Christmas


Are you ready for Christmas?

The question hangs in the air as you review an internal checklist: gifts purchased? cards sent? menu planned? travel plans confirmed?

While the house may be clean and decorated to celebrate with friends and family, how have you prepared your heart to celebrate the birth of our Savior?

Christmas Day is preceded by the season of Advent, or “coming”: four weeks of preparation and waiting marked by reminders of our need for a savior and punctuated by joy that God has indeed redeemed us through his son, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.

To read the rest, visit http://www.jesusboatmuseum.com/blog/?p=844

Shalom, y'all!
Karen

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waiting for Christmas

I've been blogging this year over at The Jesus Boat Blog (affiliated with the Jesus Boat Museum in Israel).  The Advent season has me struggling, as always, with keeping my focus on Christ at Christmastime.  Having 2 young children has made me long for the days when the only distractions were work and school.


Here's an except from my latest post.  I've found that writing during Advent is a wonderful way to keep my focus where it should be.

Waiting for Christmas
They never heard him give a sermon, never listened to him tell a parable, never saw him perform a miracle. Long before his words and deeds would bring many to revere him and others to condemn him, two witnesses proclaimed Jesus as the long awaited Messiah.


“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him.  It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” (Luke 2:25-26)


When the Sprit led Simeon to the infant Jesus, he found the fulfillment of God’s promise and peace filled his soul. For, to see Jesus was to behold salvation.  


To read the rest, visit http://www.jesusboatmuseum.com/blog/




Monday, November 15, 2010

Monday Manna: Live as Free People

Americans cherish our freedoms.  We can do anything we want.  Really.  There are so many choices right now in America that, given enough income, we can live almost any lifestyle we care to pursue.  As they say, "It's a free country."


Thursday morning's news broadcast included an outrageous story about a man who had published a sort of "self-help guide" aimed at pedophiles.  The book was temporarily available at Amazon for the Kindle platform until enough angry Amazon users insisted that it be removed from the inventory.  The author, when interviewed, was unapologetic.


The scary thing is that a surprising number of people would object to Amazon's actions as censorship.  I even know a few former colleagues who would probably agree.  Freedom of expression and the freedom to read trumps pretty much anything else in their minds.  For them, there is no such thing as evil, unless it is the suppression of freedom. 


Such is the lure of evil.


This is an extreme example, but believers can easily forget that freedom does not mean license.


There are no church authorities checking up on me every week. No lighting will strike me when I sin.  I'm fairly free to make choices regarding my time and my money without much fear of earthly consequences.  


That's why Peter's challenge is particularly apt.  I have freedom, but with that freedom comes responsibility.  I am "God's special possession", a "foreigner and exile",  "called out of darkness."  My actions have consequences. When I do good, it exposes (and silences) the "ignorant talk of foolish people."  Good deeds, done in Christ's name, can cause even the pagans to praise God. (1 Peter 2)


It's a free country. I can do anything I want.  I choose to live as God's servant.


Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 
1 Peter 2:16 NIV

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review: On This Day in Christian History by Robert J. Morgan

On This Day in Christian History: 365 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs, and Heroes by Robert J. Morgan

Although subtitled "saints, martyrs, and heroes", Morgan's brief glimpses into the history of Christianity also include rogues, cheats, and scoundrels who used Christ's name for their own gain.  Morgan's daily stories include the full panoply (good and bad) of Christian history.  November's entries include: Dietrich Bonhoeffer (pastor and martyr), Augustus Toplady (author of Rock of Ages), the Council of Constance (which reunited a divided papacy),  John Bunyan (author of The Pilgrim's Progress) and James and Emily Gilmore (missionaries to China).

There's a story or profile for each day of the year, but Morgan does not present history sequentially, or even thematically.  Instead, each story has a link to a particular date:  June 17, the day Dwight Moody arrived in England for a fateful series of crusades;  April 9, the beginning of the Azusa Street Revival;  October 22, a day in 1844 when a large number of New Englanders believed the world would end.  You'll find stories about outrageously bad popes,  selfless missionaries, quarreling reformers, unlikely hymn writers, and ordinary people whose lives and witness influenced our history.

I admire Morgan's book for the breadth of history he attempts to cover.  Sometimes there's only enough of the story to pique the reader's interest, but for history lovers or even the mildly curious On This Day provides food for thought and an accompanying Bible verse for meditation.  Readers will definitely learn something new within these pages.

I recommend this book as a gift for Christian history lovers, pastors (sermon illustrations galore), or even yourself.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Book Review: God's Promises for Women of Faith

The latest book I received from Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze program certainly looked promising.  No pun intended.  The blurb promised that it would contain "promises of God specifically targeting women".  The verses are actually good for everyone..but the design and formatting definitely has a feminine flair.


This little book (196 pages) is divided into sections with titles such as "God's Plan for Women is to..." and "God Comforts Women as they Learn to...."  Each section contains several subsections supported by scripture. For example:


God Gives Freely to Women....
      Power to Defeat Fear
            "Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us...." Romans 8:37-39


The pages have a nice feel to them and the font face is easy on the eyes. This book is small enough to slip into a purse, backpack, or diaper bag, but has a sturdy and attractive hardcover.


This would make an excellent gift book for women of any age: friends, Bible study leaders,  church staff, neighbors, shut-ins, new moms.   It lends itself well to devotional or quiet time reading and provides inspiration for finding just the right scripture for a situation--for you or for a friend or loved one.  


And it's just right for helping you meditate on scripture during the day: car line, waiting for appointments, coffee break. Recommended.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

DVD Review: Who is in Charge Anyway?

"Who is in Charge Anyway?" is the latest in Max Lucado's Hermie and Friends series which follows the adventures of the insects who live in Max's garden.

When Freddie the Flea comes to fix the ladybugs' television set, he overhears little Hailey and Bailey ask their mother, "What's so special about fleas?" Freddie wonders the same thing and, in Hermie and Friends fashion,  talks to God about it.    Through a series of flashbacks into previous episodes, God reminds Freddie that each of the insects had to learn an important lesson before they found their special talents.

The moral of the story...and one that it not just for kids...is that God created each one of us for a purpose, and sometimes it takes awhile to find out what that purpose is.

The Hermie and Friends videos are quiet stories, suitable for preschool children and their families.  The humor is low key and subtle, with the comforting voices of Tim Conway,  Sam Mercurio, Vicki Lawrence,  Melissa Disney and others.  This episode is different from the other Hermie videos since it consists of a series of flashbacks. However, the message, based on Psalm 90:16*, is a powerful one for the entire family.  God has a plan for everyone, no matter how small.

*"Show your servants the wonderful things you do; show your greatness to their children. " Psalm 90:16 (from the DVD cover)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this DVD free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

Savings grace

What shall it profit a woman to save $1.50 and lose her soul?  


I've been following several couponing blogs recently and came upon an interesting discussion about whether or not it was ethical to "stack" two different types of coupons in order to save more money.  The combination in question is specifically a buy-one-get-one (B1G1) coupon and a 2nd manufacturer's coupon for money off the same item.


Stephanie, the blogger at Couponing101.com, gave the two sides of the issue and took the stand that, no, it wasn't right to combine the two and that she would no longer provide instructions combining those particular coupons in her blog.  Then she quoted Titus 2:7 "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity."  


There's been quite a bit of debate among commenters, but I admire her decision to let her faith influence her practice.   It doesn't matter that we tell ourselves we're saving money for our family, or to be able to give more to the church or charity.  If the Spirit moves our hearts to say, "this is wrong", then no amount of justifying can make an action acceptable.


The temptation is out there to grab all you can,  if the register rings it up (and you get away with it), it's OK.  After all, the manufacturers and stores overcharge us all anyway, right?


I pray that, as I stretch my budget further this summer, I'm not tempted to cheat a little just to save a few pennies. If Jesus is Lord of my life, then I need to act as a child of His Kingdom, even when it comes to little slips of paper in the store.


Shalom y'all.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Book Review: God's Promises for Boys

Jack Countryman and Amy Parker present a small volume of verses in one of the latest entries in the "God's Promises" series: God's Promises for Boys.


The formula is simple: create a list of scenarios that a boy might encounter, add relevant Bible verses, sprinkle with whimsical illustrations to attract the eye and speak to the heart. The result is a charming book that makes a nice gift for an older preschool or young elementary-aged boy.


Each 2-page spread focuses on a different topic. For example:


God's promises when you are happy, when you are worried, when you are angry


God's promises about the man you'll grow up to be, about being a good brother, about being a better friend


I shared this book with my own preschool-aged boys, who looked at the pictures while I read selected verses that I thought they might grasp. Whether they understood or not,  they sat thoughtfully looking at the pictures as we talked about God's promises when you're afraid and when you need to be a good sport.  I like that this book celebrates and uplifts boys (God Needs Boys, Stay Strong, Wear His Armor) while teaching Biblical truths that apply as much to parents as to children.


I plan to leave this on their bookshelf: to pick up when we need a discussion starter or an encouraging verse to help them navigate the sometimes rough seas of childhood.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, May 08, 2010

My experience with Examiner.com...so far

My blog has been a bit empty lately, except for book reviews, for one reason.  I started writing a column (now 2) at Examiner.com.  I'm now the "St. Petersburg Frugal Family Examiner" and the "St. Petersburg Frugal Living Examiner."


I have no plans to get rich doing this.  The pay is roughly $1 per article, if the article has a local focus (not too difficult to do).  Examiner is a little vague about how all the page usage translates into payment, but it appears that it's roughly a penny a page view (assuming the viewer lingers on the page long enough to read part of it, and isn't just passing through).


I'm enjoying the writing aspect of this: figuring out the best way to communicate to a web audience, crafting headlines that are search engine friendly, planning what stories to cover and when.  It keeps me in the discipline of writing, which has made writing articles for submission to other publications easier.  I love the research aspect: finding press releases, clipping items from the newspaper, rediscovering all the places where information is posted on the web.  I feel like I'm back at the reference desk.


But the most rewarding aspect has been saving my family money--which is why I picked the "frugal" topics over the others.  I've discovered new ways to stretch our budget.  I've visited some new resale shops in our town.  I've enjoyed talking with local shop owners, bankers, clerks, and other moms.  I'm doing what we moms do anyway--figure out how to get the best deal on anything. Only now I'm sharing it with the world. Well, my little Internet corner of the world.


How's it going? So far so good.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Book Review: Divannomics

The subtitle of this latest book by Michelle McKinney Hammond is "How to Still be Fabulous When You're Broke" and she is pretty fabulous.  But girlfriend, I have mixed feelings about this book.


Michelle McKinney Hammond has written an overview of how to live large on a small budget.  She gives some sound advice: shop at discount stores, separate your wants from your needs, clip coupons, don't buy more than you can afford.  She encourages women to focus on their relationship with God over their relationship with credit cards. 


More autobiography than advice, some of her tips are definitely big city, single gal: make dinner out of cocktail hour snacks in hotel lobbies.  This won't work for the mom schlepping it out in the suburbs.  Never having had the lifestyle Ms. Hammond once enjoyed, I found my self thinking "I already knew that" through most of the book.


However, she has an incredibly warm and engaging style that makes me want to read more of her writing or hear her speak at a conference.  I'd recommend this book for Divas whose fortunes have fallen with the stock market.  For the rest of us middle class folks, I say "Girlfriend, we're way ahead of you."


Divanomics: How to still be fabulous when you're broke, by Michelle McKinney Hammond, Tyndale House Publishers, 2010.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Book Review: If I Could Ask God Anything

What is heaven like?

How do we know the Bible is true?

If God loves people, why do bad things happen?

Kathryn Slattery’s book, If I Could Ask God Anything: Awesome Bible Answers for Curious Kids, does not try to come up with the definitive answer to these (and other) questions, but attempts to be a resource guide for parents and Sunday School teachers.  She divided the questions into categories: God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, Christianity, Prayer, the Church, Christian seasons & holidays, Christian life--and afterlife, and “the Big Questions.”

Since this book is geared toward elementary aged children the answers are brief and uncomplicated. This won’t satisfy teens or adults, but is a good starting point for kids.  A few of the questions were probably gleaned from Slattery’s years as a teacher and parent, “What did Jesus look like?” and “What do I do when the church service is boring?”  A few are softballs: “Is it OK for me to invite a friend to visit my church?”  and “What’s a good bedtime prayer?” However some questions invite thoughtful dialogue and encourage children (and adults) to delve further into their Bibles: “How does the Holy Spirit help me?” and “Does God stop loving me when I sin?”

Because the author created this book to be non-denominational, some parents and kids may want to read this together and talk about how their particular church observes baptism and communion. However, the book is orthodox all the way, funny at times, and  a good addition to a home library if you do not already have a similar title.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Line Between Frugal and Cheap

As we walked the aisles of our local grocery store yesterday, my 3-year-old happily chirped “Buy one, get one free.”   It appears I’ve passed my spending habits on to my sons.  

I like to think of myself as frugal.  I combine BOGO deals with coupons.  I squeeze every last drop out of a toothpaste tube.  When a local department store went out of business, I bought so much discounted shampoo and conditioner that I didn’t have to purchase any more for a year.

But I struggle with cheap.  There’s a fine line between frugal and cheap.

Sometimes my husband or children will want something, and it’s a reasonable request.  My first reaction is “No.”  No reason. Just no, I don’t want to spend money.  I can really be a party pooper.

I did a little research: What is the difference between frugal and cheap?

According to my online dictionary frugal means “economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing; not wasteful”   

I like that.

Cheap means “costing very little; relatively low in price; inexpensive”  That sounded good until I read a little farther:  “of little account; of small value; mean; shoddy:  stingy; miserly”

So the Cratchits are frugal; Scrooge is cheap.  Got it.

It appears that the difference between frugal and cheap comes down to a matter of the heart.  Frugal people care about others while saving money and resources. Cheap people care only about money, even at the expense of others.

We’re cautioned against loving money: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” (1 Tim. 6:10 NIV)  We’re counseled toward generosity: “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD,  and he will reward him for what he has done.” (Prov. 19:17)

I’ll never give up my penny pinching ways, but I hope that I’ll have enough sense to save generously.

Shalom y’all.

For more “frugal vs. cheap”:

"Crossing the Line: When Does Frugal Become Cheap" at BeingFrugal.net
"Frugal vs. Cheap" at Bluntmoney.com
"What is Frugality and Are We Frugal?" at GatherLittleByLittle.com

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Pretty Sorry Lot

“If all we get out of Christ is a little inspiration for a few short years, we're a pretty sorry lot.”  1 Cor. 14:19 The Message

What do you do when you’re a pastor who no longer believes in God?  Tufts University’s Center for Cognitive Studies confidentially interviewed five ministers who no longer believe in God.  An article, featuring the results of two interviews, appeared in our local newspaper last Sunday.

When I read the first interview, I thought, “Mister, you need to resign. Quit posing and quit the pulpit.”

I sought out researcher Daniel C. Dennett’s website and read the rest of the study.  Each interviewee was able to perform great feats of mental gymnastics that allow him to feel that he is a “believer,” although he doesn’t believe in anything but himself.

I’m not shocked, just saddened, and outraged.  Years ago, while attending a conference, I encountered this sort comfortable pluralism in a pastor my age.  I was surprised at how quickly he abandoned the truth of the gospel once a minor celebrity at the conference scoffed at the notion of a God who will, one day, pronounce judgement. [Yep, Jesus was pretty clear in Matthew 25]  I saw, that day, the infant “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” (Eph. 4:14)

I was stunned then.  I’m not stunned anymore.

But I’m still outraged. As I read through the study I was ready to reach for some sackcloth and ashes.  “Repent,” I thought, heartbroken for their souls,  “Or at least have the integrity to resign and do something else.”

Do they themselves have doubts about continuing in ministry. Yes, but why abandon the paycheck?  And why give up that good feeling you get when you’re helping others.

But helping others to what?

At least one man questioned his own motives early on, but quickly found his conscience soothed when he asked, “Am I posing? Am I being less than authentic; less than honest?”

Yes, you are posing.  You are not “caught in a trap, cunningly designed” as the study declared.  And you’re not “brave” as the study proclaimed you to be.  You're lost. Terribly lost.

Yet, there is still hope for the lost. I know.  I was once lost too.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Bye Bye Birdy?

The bird has flown.

For sometime now, I've had a bright, chirpy bird at the banner head of this blog.  I'd looked at several free template sites, but never found anything to convince me to update.   Every time I found an image I liked, the color contrast between text and background were poor.  That goes against everything I ever learned about web design.   Text must be readable.  No matter where I looked for templates, I never found anything I liked as well as my "bird".

Until today.

Blogger announced a new series of template designs and I just had to take a look. When I looked at the first design under "picture window", I fell in love. Here are all the elements I was looking for: a picture indicating travel,  excellent contrast between type and background, a nice font.  Well, I guess you can see all that for yourself.

So here I am, updated.  I hope you like it.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Spring. Time to Rake the Leaves

It happened last Saturday around 1:30 p.m.: the vernal equinox (or March equinox, if you will), the day when the Sun crosses directly over Earth's equator.  It's finally Spring.

My northern friends are beginning to wax poetic about snow melting and trees budding, daffodils blooming and birds chirping.

How do we know it's Spring in Florida?  The leaves finally fall off the trees.  No kidding.

I helped a neighbor rake a few leaves this past weekend.  I'm not that skilled in botany, but I'm assuming that our oaks have to shake off the rest of their dead leaves so that they can spout a full head of pollen. It's literally dripping from the trees right now, bringing on allergies and car washes.

Florida doesn't have seasonal changes in the same way that our northern neighbors do, but we sure know our own signs of Spring.  As the leaves fall gently into our yards and swimming pools, we look for these other heralds of the season:


Spring is here. Rake up the leaves and enjoy!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Did Jonah Have a Six-Pack?


I was browsing the children's department at my local Christian bookstore when I saw something that took me by surprise. It was Jonah, clearly visible through the plastic shield of a boxed set, which included both a big fish and a tiny boat.  But it wasn't Jonah that surprised me, it was the size of his bulging biceps.


That's not all.  I found Noah, looking all buff and very young.  David appeared clad in a purple jumpsuit that showed off his bulging muscles.  Moses sported an Egyptian headdress, sword and shield. Samson, with his mane of blond hair, looked like Thor, the Norse God of Thunder.  


"What's going on here?" I wondered.


Turns out, the "Almighty Heroes" are the brainchild of Don Levine, the creator of G. I. Joe.  He developed them a few years ago with the hope that children would develop an interest in the characters and message of scripture.  


I'm all for that.  It's admirable that this toy making legend would put so much work into a toy that brings scripture to life.  And little boys do like to play heroes. However, I'm bothered by the visual message that the muscles make the man.  Didn't our heroes, of all ages and (I assume) body types, draw their strength from the Lord?


Sure gives new meaning to Deuteronomy 6:5:  
Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.


Shalom y'all.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

God Among the Dishes

Martha and Mary.  Mary listens; Martha is busy in the kitchen.  When Martha complains to him, Jesus tells her that Mary has chosen the better portion. [Luke 10:38-42]
My busy-mom mind plays a coda to this story.  
Martha settles down to listen to Jesus. She has completely forgotten about her preparations.  Sometime later, the disciples wander into the dining room, exclaiming, “Dinner’s not ready?”  Martha looks at Jesus and says, “See. I told you so.”
The Lenten season is a busy time in our household, but this season has been unusually hectic.  Take one round-the clock mom job, add the pleasures of potty training, mix in some soccer coaching, and a dash of part-time teaching and you have a recipe for chaos.  Lent is supposed to be a time for reflection and devotion, a time of meditation and listening to the Holy Spirit. Oh, that I could retreat to a quiet place and just sit at Jesus’ feet all day.
But who’s going to fix dinner?
A few years ago our women’s Bible study read The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence. This 17th century Carmelite lay brother was in charge of the monastery kitchen, working full time so that the monks would be free to study, pray, teach, and copy manuscripts. He spent his days endlessly cooking and cleaning. At first he detested his menial job. Who wouldn’t? Then he had a breakthrough.
Brother Lawrence discovered that he was spending too much time worrying about himself, that he needed to get back to loving God.  He found that he could do this just as well in the kitchen as in the chapel.  He began to seek--to practice--the presence of God in each of his duties.  He used his time in the kitchen to focus his thoughts on God. After all, somebody had to get dinner on the table.
The most excellent method of going to God is that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing people but purely for the love of God.  (Brother Lawrence)
We ought not to grow tired of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.  (Brother Lawrence)
Jesus didn’t chide Martha for preparing dinner or tell her to forgo her responsibilities.  Luke 10 is not a denunciation of housework any more than Mark 7 advises against hand washing.  Jesus reminded Martha (and us) not to get so worked up about what needs to be done, but to seek and listen to Him, not the worries of a distracted mind. 
Perhaps Martha looked back at her kitchen, thinking a cold buffet supper would be just fine and sat down to listen.  After all, Jesus was an expert at feeding crowds without much fuss and preparation.  Later, as she washed the dishes, she reflected on his words.  I’m guessing that no meal at her house was ever the same.
Lent is our time to practice the presence of God in order to carry on that practice throughout the year. I am challenged to do this. There’s a time to sit and listen, but the dishes won’t wash themselves.  God is everywhere. And when I seek Him, I will find Him, even among the dishes.

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)

Monday, March 08, 2010

Bibleman: Combating the Commandant of Confusion [Review]

When I first saw Bibleman, I wasn’t sure what to make of a purple and yellow superhero battling evil with a lightsaber. That was before I had boys.  My 5-year-old watched one of his friend’s videos and was hooked.  
We’re briefly introduced to Bibleman as young Josh Carpenter. After giving his life to Jesus and studying scripture Josh grew in Biblical knowledge and strength until he became Bibleman.  Accompanied by Biblegirl, Cypher, and Melody, Bibleman battles the evil forces that attack us.  (forces, not people, we're reminded) Their chief weapon? The word of God.
This video captures a live Bibleman show where our heroes battle the Commandant of Confusion and sidekick, Chaos who attempt to steal, and detonate, “the most powerful weapon known to man.”  The audience participates as members of the Bible Adventure Training Academy. By the end of the adventure we’ve learned that God is not a god of confusion, but of peace.
The production is a bit campy and the live action show format, with its entrances and exits offstage, was a little confusing for my son (“When is it going to start?”).  But it has all the Bibleman essentials: action, scripture cited with chapter and verse, prayer, and God as source of strength for our heroes to combat evil. Bonus features include a song about putting on the full armor of God and an explanation of some of the sword fighting techniques the actors use in the production.
So many Christian children’s books cast Biblical heroes in soft, rounded, even feminine forms.  Bibleman shows us that muscular guys can serve God too.
Appropriate for ages 5-10.  My 3-year-old found some of the swordplay a “little scary”.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com <http://BookSneeze.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, March 01, 2010

Palm Tree Epiphany




The palm tree is like an epiphany...
I wish I could remember where I first saw this analogy, wish I had noted the author, the text, anything.  Google search?  Nothing. Nada. Zip. But I like this analogy.
The palm tree is like an epiphany.  Its bare, brown trunk rises toward the sky, fairly plain of texture and pattern. Then, suddenly, it erupts with a flourish at the top.  A-ha!
I love palm trees.  They’re the predominant tree in our Florida yard.  The streets I drive to school and church are lined with palms of different sorts.  Each type seems to have its own personality.  Queens have long, languid fronds that wave elegantly.  Chinese fan palms look like dancers.  On a windy day, oaks and maples wave their branches at different levels, while palms are confined to waving their arms above their heads, so to speak.

Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,"Hosanna!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Mark 11:9 NIV


I first saw today’s verse right before I went to exercise at the Y.  As I warmed up on the treadmill I looked at the trees planted outside the fitness center: palms waving briskly in the morning breeze.  They’re trimmed so neatly that their rigid fronds seem to be shouting, “Hey! Look over here!”  I imagined long avenues of palms welcoming Jesus as he rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, their trunks and fronds aimed toward heaven.  I imagined the crowds cutting and gathering stately palm fronds to line the road leading into Jerusalem, while shouting “Hosanna!”
In a few weeks we’ll be celebrating Palm Sunday, when the people proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, shouting words that one was only supposed to use when announcing the Messiah:
 "Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"

 "Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!" 
  "Hosanna in the highest!"

But that’s not the only mention of palms in scripture.  Psalm 92 proclaims that “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree” (92:12).  Like the palm, the righteous grow strong and take root in the courts of God, proclaiming the goodness of the Lord.
As we approach Palm Sunday and Easter, be like a palm tree. Stand tall and upright, looking toward heaven, bearing witness to the righteousness of our Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer.
Shalom y’all. 

Friday, February 26, 2010

Book Review: The Vertical Self by Mark Sayers


Mark Sayers has written an engaging study of the way modern people struggle with the question of identity. And when I say “engaging, I mean I couldn’t put it down.  We live in the age of the “horizontal self”, pressured to create public personas based on the images around us.  We brand ourselves in order to become socially acceptable and relevant. We compartmentalize our lives to fit in with different groups. Our horizontal selves worry about what others think, about status, about achievement, about today.
Whether we realize it or not, we’ve lost our “vertical selves.” The vertical self is concerned with character, holiness, contribution, eternity.  Even believers and churches fall prey to the trap of the horizontal self: we want to be Christian and cool too. We’ve chosen self over soul.
What is the answer? Discipleship and accountability. We must rediscover what it means to be holy.
I found the history of how we arrived here fascinating: when did it become cool to be cool, how the definition of “sexy” has changed, how we’ve traded spiritual holiness for secular holiness.  I will never look at another advertisement, movie, or staged political event the same way.  I highly recommend this book for everyone, Christian or not, because Western society is playing us for fools. And we’re playing along.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Giving Up

“What are you giving up for Lent?” 
I haven’t heard that question as much this year as in years past.  The practice of giving something up, of fasting, is what most people associate with Lent.  It’s a practice that I grapple with each year.  Should I fast from something?  What would it mean spiritually?  Would I fast alone--since it’s not a communal practice in any of the churches I’ve attended?
I never want to fast for the sake of fasting.  To do that would put fasting into the same category as New Year’s resolutions: easily made, easily broken. I don’t want a fast to become just a Lenten diet--abstaining from sweets and hoping to lose a pound or two.  I don’t have a good background in the spiritual discipline of fasting, so I’m unsure of how to fast so that it helps me grow closer to God.
So I did a little research.
Fasting is grounded in the scriptures that are read during Lent.  In liturgical churches, the verses read on the first Sunday of Lent are all from the story of Christ’s temptation.  After his baptism, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights. (Matt 4:2) Jesus experienced deprivation, hunger, and temptation.  We identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting.
Food fasts are the most common type.  My Catholic friends don’t eat meat on Fridays and some parishes hold a “fish fry” fellowship on Friday nights.  Believers who fast from food--sweets, snacks, or entire meals--often donate the money they would have spent to charity.  
A second type of fast is to abstain from something that is done purely for pleasure, such as watching TV or clothes shopping.  Unlike food fasts there’s no physical reminder of the fast, which practitioners use to help them grow spiritually.  Therefore the choice of fast needs to have meaning.  Would I fast from TV to see if I could do it--to develop self-discipline?  Or would I just record the shows on my DVR to watch after Easter?  What’s tricky here is that Lent shouldn’t be something that causes Jesus to become the spoilsport or believers to grumble like a kid on 40-day restriction. The idea behind this type of fast is to eliminate some of the clutter from the schedule--to allow more space for the Sprit to move.
The most important component to fasting, and one that can be overlooked, is to find out what has power and authority in our lives, what causes us to sin.  A mom and local blogger has declared a fast from yelling at her kids.  Some bishops have advocated giving up texting, social networks, and online gaming--getting out of the virtual world and reconnecting with the self, with God, and with those physically present in our lives.  The concept here is to identify, confess, and root out sin in our lives so that the Lenten fast will continue past Easter and become part of our Christ-filled lives.
So what am I giving up for Lent?   I’m taking aim at one of my gluttonous habits.  I’m a habitual evening snacker, eating for no reason other than the pleasure of eating.  So I’m giving up my post-dinner handfuls of whatever I can root out of the pantry.  When I get the urge to chew I’m reminded to be thankful for ways that God has blessed me and conscious of those who have little to eat. I read my Bible.  I even write about fasting.  And hopefully, I won’t give up giving up when Lent is over.  The next step in this process is to decide how to turn my fast into a blessing for someone else, perhaps a donation to our local food pantry or Salvation Army.
So how about you? Are you ready to give up?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday Reflections



When I was single, my friends and I would attend Ash Wednesday services at church, then go out for something to eat.  [Clearly, I did not belong to a church that emphasized fasting.]  As we sat around the table at Village Inn, we’d remark that perhaps we shouldn’t be sitting here, with our ash-marked foreheads, eating pie. Ash Wednesday seemed to call for something more somber. But there we were, marked for Christ, yet celebrating.
But that is what Ash Wednesday is all about.
Ash Wednesday services are sobering.  The ashes remind us of both our mortality and our sin. Play time is over. It’s time to sit up and pay attention. We’re taken back to the Garden of Eden--to man’s fall.  “From dust you are and to dust you will return,” Genesis 3:19 reminds us. With bluntness, scripture tells us that our earthly life is finite. 
Ash Wednesday services are honest.  “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” cried John the Baptist in the wilderness of Judea. (Matt 3:2)  Jesus preached this very same message throughout his earthly ministry. (Matt 4:17)  The ashes we wear are an echo of the sackcloth and ashes worn in repentance. (Job 42:6, Matt 11:21) Ash Wednesday causes us to be honest with ourselves, to face our sinful nature and admit our need for a Savior.  With the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, we publicly proclaim this fact.
Ash Wednesday services are hopeful. In her book The Liturgical Year, Joan Chittister writes, “Clearly, the voice of Lent is not a dour one. It is a call to remember who we are and where we have come from and why.  The voice of Lent is the cry to become new again, to live on newly no matter what our life has been like until now and to live fully.”  While we have sinned, we are not without hope. As believers we are saved through Jesus, who forgives our sins and redeems us through his death and resurrection.  At the end of the service, everyone in the sanctuary bears the mark of hope, the ashen cross on our brows.  
Ash Wednesday services are joyful.  Because of Christ’s death on the cross, we have new life in Him. Scripture remind us that God remembers His people, that he will forgive our wickedness and remember our sins no more. (Heb 8:12)  Ash Wednesday causes us to confess, to turn away from sin.  We hear the good news. We wear the cross. Easter is coming.
We silently exit the sanctuary, foreheads cross-marked for Christ, hearts sweet with celebration.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent: Spring Training for the Soul


Lent--the very name conjures up images of self-denial, of giving up chocolate or television.  Perhaps it evokes memories of fish sticks served in the school cafeteria on Friday.  Perhaps it means nothing at all. 
What is Lent?  Who celebrates? Where did it originate?  And does it hold any relevance at all for Protestant Evangelicals?
Lent--the 40-weekday period preceding Easter--begins on Ash Wednesday. Catholics traditionally celebrate Lent as a time of penance and fasting, a time of self-examination and recommitment.  Protestants, on the other hand, are mixed in their observance of Lent. Some attend Ash Wednesday services and observe Maundy Thursday with communion.  For others, it’s merely a passing reference to the days before Easter.
There’s no scriptural command to observe Lent.  It developed from three traditions. Early Christians observed a brief fast in the days before Easter, a fast that lengthened over time to 40 days.  The second tradition included a period of intense preparation that new converts underwent before baptism on Easter Sunday.  The third tradition involved welcoming back penitent sinners who had fallen away and wished to rededicate themselves to Christ. Lent, therefore, became a time of dedication, of self-scrutiny,  and of bringing oneself under the Lordship of Jesus Christ once again.
Evangelicals are mixed in our feelings toward Lent.  Scripture tells us that we don’t need to observe special days or seasons. (Gal. 4:10)  Yet Paul allows that some may consider one day more sacred and regard that day as special to the Lord, while another considers each day alike, but still gives thanks to God. (Rom 14:5-7) There is room for the work of the Holy Spirit in each heart.
So why should we care about Lent?
Perhaps the best analogy I’ve heard this year is that Lent is a Christian’s “Spring Training.”    Each spring professional baseball players come together to practice as a team, to work out the problems of last season, and get themselves into shape. Everybody’s supposed to report-- eager, young rookies, seasoned players, out-of-shape nobodies and sleek superstars. Everyone needs to prepare for the regular season.
Likewise we can use Lent to get ourselves into spiritual shape.  We come together as a community of faith--from the weakest sinner to the prayer warrior. We examine ourselves and strengthen our souls through Bible study, prayer, and worship. We pray for the Holy Sprit’s guidance. We renew our commitment to Christ.
Lent commences on February 17, 2010 with Ash Wednesday.  Interestingly enough, this year it’s the same day that pitchers and catchers begin reporting for Spring Training.  
Are you ready to report?