Thursday, January 23, 2020

Books, Books, and More Books!

I am always reading a couple of books and listening to another. If I were smart, I would remember all I've read, but I feel like I come away with a "feeling" of what the book was about rather than a lot of facts and knowledge. This is important to me when we travel. I like to read books about or that take place in the places we will go for our ministry with Emmaus Worldwide so that I know a little something. As I read I absorb a bit of culture, history, and local conventional wisdom, or at least that's the goal.

That's what brought me to my first book this year (actually started
in December of last year): Apples are from Kazakhstan: The Land that Disappeared by Christopher Robbins. First of all, I had a laugh about the author's name because, you know, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, too. For three weeks in January and February my husband and I will be on a ministry trip to Central Asia. One of the countries we will be visiting is Kazakhstan where we have friends who moved there last year to start a business.

Some of the things I learned are that Kazakhstan was never a country prior to 1991. Never. It had been invaded from East, West, North, and South. The people are related in genes and language to other Turkic peoples (like in Turkistan and, yes, Turkey), but because of the Mongols invading they look more east Asian. The first Russian rockets were launched from the "autonomous" region of Kazakhstan and nuclear bombs were tested in an area called Semipalatinsk which is more radioactive than Chernobyl. Alexander Solzhenitsyn was exiled there for a few years, but later fought against Kazakhstan becoming an independent country. And finally, after independence they had only one president for 30 years and he just retired. And apples probably do come from Kazakhstan where one can still find apple trees growing in the wild. So, apparently, I did learn some things!

I also love reading the stories of real people and the things they do. So often as I read and try to put myself in their shoes, I think about
how I could never do the things they have done. Sometimes, when I read about Christians persecuted for their faith, I pray, "Lord, never let me deny You. You know what I can handle. Never give me more than that." On my list of books to read is a book we gave to my father-in-law for Christmas: God's Hostage: A True Story of Persecution, Imprisonment, and Perseverance by Andrew Brunson, the pastor who was imprisoned in Turkey for 735 days. My father-in-law read it in two days. Although I snuck a preview of the first chapter, I'm saving it for when we get back from our trip to Central Asia.

In the category of both our trip and biography, I have the book Benazir Bhutto by Brooke Allen I just started this, and so far it is interesting and not just a syncophantic book about a fearless woman in a difficult position. This is one of the books I got from Amazon Kindle Unlimited. For Christmas, I gave my mother six months of Kindle Unlimited. Since we share the same Kindle account, I benefit from this too. Actually, as I have perused the books available, I have been somewhat disappointed. The kind of books I enjoy are not readily available, but my mom's Christian fiction is, so she's enjoying it. 

In addition to reading, I love listening to books when doing mundane housework or driving the car. I have been able to listen to
some enjoyable books from the Kindle Unlimited selection: Where the Desert Meets the Sea: A Novel by Werner Sonne about the founding of the nation of Israel. From my point of view it was very even handed showing the hardships that time held for both the Jews and the Palestinians. I'd recommend it. Another was Last Train to Istanbul by Ayse Kulin. This is a novel based on a true event of the Turkish Ambassador or Consul to France during WWII providing a train for Turkish citizens to get back to Turkey safely. The thing
was, there were Turkish Jews and non-Turkish Jews in that train. The latter group had been given false passports to save their lives. It was only one overloaded train carriage of people, but some were saved. I had never heard of that and found it very interesting. 

I also listened to the true story of Masaji Ishikawa (apparently a pen name)--A River in Darkness: One Man's Escape from North Korea. It is a sad story. Interestingly he talks about the many times
he has been "born again"--either started an entirely new life or was rescued from death--but sadly, he has not been born again into faith in Jesus Christ. As I finished the book I found myself praying that he would come to Christ for salvation.

Through my library I've also listened recently to the Yada Yada series by by Neta Jackson and the Mitford Series by Jan Karon (which I had read when they first came out in the 90s). Although I'm not normally a fan of Christian fiction, I found these books encouraging to my prayer life.

Finally, other books I have going are The Story of the King: Kingdom Without End by Paul Bramson. This is the first book in the Mile Marker Series by Emmaus Worldwide. It is so well written and simple yet deep! My prayer for this year is that I will be able to go through this with a non-Christian. And I am slowly going through an old book, Abide in Christ by Andrew Murray, originally published in 1864. My copy of this book has an inscription to my mother-in-law:

To Helena 
Christmas 1950
with love, 
May you enjoy this as much as I have

The book is divided up into thirty-one daily readings to learn about and how to put into practice what it means to abide in Christ, one of the goals of my life. I don't have time to read one everyday during my devotions, but I want to go through it meditatively. 

These are nineteen or more books (counting each book in the two series) I can recommend to get you started reading this year! I hope you enjoy reading as much as I do and I would love to hear your recommendations to put on my list of future reading!
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As always, I think reading to your kids from good books is a great connection builder, values teacher, and education stimulater. Of these books I would definitely think you could read to your middle aged kids (8-15) the story of Andrew Brunson. What a great way to teach them about their faith and how to stand up for Christ no matter the cost! The Story of the King would work wonderfully as devotions with children as young as 5 on up. Just do a couple of paragraphs a night and use the questions at the end of the chapter to spark discussion. Some of the others might be good, too, but read them first so you can filter any scenes you might not want to expose young children to.

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For more of my book suggestions click here.

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Thursday, January 16, 2020

Why Kids Need to be Taught Right

Years ago I was subbing as a para-professional in a middle school when the student I was helping flew into a temper tantrum when we arrived at a class he didn't like. As a sub, I was asked to step away and they called in a counselor to deal with him. Eventually the rest of the students were moved into the hallway so the counselor and one misbehaving student could have privacy. Not knowing exactly what was expected of me, I watched the scene (and it was a scene!) through the classroom window. That’s when another regular para came up beside me and whispered, "His parents have never made him do anything he didn't want to. They have never taught him what is right." 

I have to admit that I was thinking the same thing, but I was surprised she would voice it in a public school. I pondered what "teaching what is right" had to do with "doing things you don't want to do.”  Then it struck me, we often have to do something we don't want to do -  whether it is homework, taking out the garbage, cleaning up after someone's vomit, or saying, "I'm sorry.”  But these things are the “right thing” to do.

Why should we do what is right? And why should we want to do what is right? The short answer is, because of God. We are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). We are exhorted by Paul in Ephesians 4:24,  “put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (NIV) God placed in us a knowledge of right, or righteousness, to do what is right because we are made in His image, in His likeness. But the knowledge He placed there has been corrupted by sin in the world and in our lives, so doing what is right now has to be learned; it is no longer our natural bent.

How can we get back to the foundation for knowing what is right? Again, the short, and definitive, answer is God. Of course we can't measure up completely to the holiness and righteousness of God, but we can use it as our measuring stick. One definition of the Greek word often translated "righteous" in our English Bibles is "straight." This gives me the mental picture of God being an absolutely straight line against which I need to measure my behavior. He is our unbending standard.

There is an absolute right, just as there are things that are absolutely wrong. We need to teach this to our children so that they will do what is right. But the reason they should want to do what is right is because God is righteous. God wants us to imitate Him. He has made us in His image and wants us to emulate His character. This means more to Him than any possible sacrifice we could make for Him. "To do righteousness and justice is desired by the Lord more than sacrifice." (Proverbs 21:3)

If you think about it, sometimes doing what is right is a huge sacrifice to our own desires and pride, even if it is as simple as picking up the paper that missed the trash can. Our children need to be taught "right" because God is righteous. If they learn about God, then they are learning what is right. Sometimes they miss the God lesson and we do need to "make them do it even if they don't want to,” because it is right.  If we teach them this, then when they are older, they will know the right thing to do and the reason for doing it, and hopefully they will choose to do right as well.

Our children are watching us to see if we have learned to live out God’s right. If they see it in us, they are more likely to make the right choices when we aren’t telling them to. I remember my dad often giving extra change back to cashiers when he had calculated faster and more accurately than they. He exemplified right by not taking what was not his. Once as a teenager I made plans with an acquaintance when a good friend called. She offered me an extra concert ticket to see my favorite Christian artist. I was tempted to dump my first commitment and go. But then I remembered that she who walks in integrity and righteousness “swears to their own hurt and does not change.” (Psalm 15:4) I missed the concert, but was learning the lesson.

These days we attend the same church as our sons and their families and I’m proud to see them faithfully bringing their families to church, midweek meetings too, and watching them train up their children in what is right in a better way than my husband and I parented them.

God is righteous. We bring Him glory by behaving in His image, by doing right. Our example will prompt others to seek to be more like Him as well. 

That’s right!

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Thursday, January 9, 2020

Why Kids Need to Be Taught Wrong

"I don't see what good it is sitting on a chair for two minutes. My dad just talked to me until I realized something was 'stupid.' Then I didn't do it any more,"  said a young father I was talking with about how he thought he should raise his daughter. I had suggested that wrong actions should have consequences, and he didn’t agree. Do you? I watched as he followed his father's example of using hundreds of words, where I thought a simple explanation and some action (such as a time-out) would have far more effect in the short term and, especially, in the long run. 

I mentally reacted negatively to his plan, but at first I didn't realize why. Then I started thinking about it.

“Stupid” means showing a great lack of intelligence or common sense, such as: When someone acts without any self control, like flying off the handle and hitting a store clerk over a simple mistake. Or acting confident in their own ignorance, like cheating on a test and copying wrong answers as well as correct ones. Or just absentmindedly driving away from a gas pump without taking the nozzle out of their tank opening. These are things people consider "stupid". But are they only stupid? Or is there wrong, and even sin, in some of these actions?  

Photo Credit

A short definition of “wrong” is unjust, immoral, or dishonest. I think it might be easier to give examples of what doesn't make something “right or wrong.” What if the majority of people think something is right? Is that the deciding factor? Is that what makes it right? There are remote societies where cannibalism is still accepted. Is it right or wrong? How about if something is legal? In some countries it is legal for a husband to beat his wife. Right or wrong? A person might argue that they didn't know their action was wrong. Is a person who drives at 50 mph in a 25 mph zone, but didn't know the speed limit, wrong? What about changing values? It was considered wrong, even illegal, for a man or woman to sleep with someone who was not their spouse throughout history until about 50 years ago. As we have been exposed more and more to this behavior, it has not only come to be accepted, but even considered "right". A person who remains a virgin until marriage is considered "sexually immature." Most of you reading this post will agree with me that these behaviors are wrong, and not just stupid.

Why do I argue in favor of teaching a child what is wrong?  Because after thinking it through for a while, I realized that "stupid" and "wrong" are very different. Some things, some actions are wrong. The Bible differentiates right from wrong. God has a moral code and has given us precepts of right and wrong. In fact, God has instilled in humans a self-awareness of right and wrong. The Bible calls it conscience. The same young man I was talking to does not believe in abortion. “Why not?” I asked him. “Because it is not right. I have no right to take the life of another.” Good answer. But it just put him in my camp!

If we don't teach our children that sometimes what they are doing is wrong, how will they learn about sin? And if they don't understand sin and its consequences, why would they ever need a Savior? Simultaneously, teaching them what is “right” reveals to them the nature of God who gives us the ability to imitate Him - be right - or become the “righteousness of God” if you want to delve into theology, 2 Cor.5:21. Teaching a child “right” and “wrong” from a young age and the respective positive and negative results will prepare the child for a wonderful life. 

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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Those Precious Baby Feet

How lovely on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news, who announces peace and brings good news of happiness, who announces salvation, and says to Zion, "Your God reigns." Isaiah 52:7

Those precious little baby feet of Jesus
that kicked his mother from inside the womb,
that she must have tickled and kissed
became the feet that walked a hundred dusty miles, 
that carried Him to a mountain to pray, 
to a woman by a well, 
to a widow whose son had just died, 
to lepers, 
     the lame, 
          the blind, 
to crowds hungry for food 
     and for teaching, 
across the top of an angry sea, 
to a woman who washed them with her tears of repentance 
     and love, 
to Jerusalem, 
     to Gethsemane,  
          to Calvary. 

Those feet, 
bloody and wrapped, 
were carried into a tomb 
and three days later, 
still marked by the nail scars, 
broke out!
taking Him to his disciples in Jerusalem, 
     along the road to Emmaus, 
          in Galilee,  
                to the Mount of Olives, 
where they left the ground as He ascended into heaven. 

One day He will come back 
and we will all fall at His feet, 
     those precious pierced feet, 
and every knee will bow 
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, 
the Lord of all, 
came to give His life as a ransom for sinners 
when we were His enemies 
because of God's amazing Love!

And that is why we have Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

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Wednesday, December 11, 2019

At Least 17 Fun Family Ideas for December!

Every year I make a batch of caramel corn around Christmas time. One year when my kids were twelve, eight, days away from being eight, and three, I had it ready when we decorated the tree, so we all snacked on it. The next year the kids asked me if we could have caramel corn while we decorated the tree, so sure, I made some. The year after that they said, "We always have caramel corn when we decorate the Christmas tree!" And, lo, a tradition was born.

We have lots of fun family traditions surrounding the Christmas season. It's just such a good time for traditions and and other fun family times. I have some suggestions for fun for your family from our family and the families of friends of mine.

Marilyn, one friend told me that each quarter of the year they decided to do something as a family from each of these categories: spiritual, educational, physical, and fun. Spiritual could be a Christ-centered Christmas concert. Since they were near Moody Bible Institute they would go to the Candlelight Carols concert and get there early so they could sit in the front row, allowing their children to feel the "palpable blast of the orchestra music". Singing carols to shut ins could be another idea in the "spiritual" category. When our kids got bigger, we suggested that some write a short devotional to read on Christmas day from the point of view of one of the characters in the first Christmas. That turned out to be thought provoking.

Michelle and Emily have advent events. Emily's family does it with several other families and they rotate homes so each Sunday evening they are in someone else's house enjoying a meal, singing carols, listening to a devotion, having dessert, and focusing on Christ's coming, why He came, and His second coming in the future.

We always took baked goods to our neighbors and often included a tract or small booklet explaining the meaning of Christmas as a way to witness to them. Now we take our next door neighbors to a Christian Christmas concert every year and have them back to the house for dessert.

In the educational category, Marilyn said they would sometimes go to an art museum that had a special exhibition of Christmas related art through the ages to see how different artists interpreted the Nativity. Cassie, combines educational with spiritual by having a "Treat Jeopardy" game. She makes up twenty-four bags of treats for each child with a Christ-related question attached. Each night from December 1 to 24 each child can choose a bag, but has to answer the question to win the treat. If they don't know they answer they look it up in the Bible. She sounds like one creative and organized mom! 

I would count going to a performance of Handel's Messiah in this category. Or how about inviting a family with traditions from another culture over and ask them to bring one of their favorite Christmas foods and tell you about how Christmas is celebrated in their country.

Our kids grew up in Bogota, Colombia, so no snow, sledding, snow-shoeing, or any of those kinds of "healthy" activities. But one of our annual activities was a bike ride along paths in the city from a park to the airport--about five miles each way. When we got to the airport we found a place to lock up the bikes and went to the food court, which was outside security, and ordered a pizza (so much for healthy!) Sometimes we brought along a game to play while we waited. My husband and sons are especially interested in airplanes, so they loved watching planes take off and land before we headed home. Depending on where you live, you might not be able to do a bike ride, but any kind of outdoor activity you can do is fun and healthy!

Many friends said for fun they piled into the car (sometimes with hot chocolate) and drove around to see the Christmas lights. Sometimes the newspaper or a website will tell you where the best streets are in your area. In our town a charity puts up thousands of lights in one of the city parks. You pay an entrance fee to be able to drive through the wonderland of lights. Another neighborhood puts miles of luminaries along the roads on Christmas evening and we like to drive through taking it all in.

A variation of this is to check out the decorations in various stores and malls. This was one of our activities in South America. The malls actually had a competition for best decorations so it was fun to go around each one. It was also a chance to buy Christmas presents and, always, get some kind of special treat to eat.

There is often a Christmas movie that is worth taking the family to. One year we were walking through a town plaza and came across an outdoor screening of Elf. We bought some popcorn and sat and watched this movie we hadn't seen yet. I think it is one of my favorite movies because of the memory of watching it under the trees in that plaza with the whole family. 

Another way to watch a movie is at home with as many friends as you can gather. Ask everyone to bring snacks, dress comfortably and just enjoy the season together.

Whatever your December looks like, don't forget to make it fun and a memorable time for your family.

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Thursday, December 5, 2019

My Own Response to a Trial--The Last Two Ways to Pray, Part 5

Tim, a good friend, a former missionary, a PhD, a professor of Christian Leadership, is suffering in a way that directly affects who he is. His diagnosis is a rare and usually aggressive cancer called Richter’s Transformation, in which chronic lymphocytic leukemia transforms to lymphoma of the central nervous system (in his case, centered in his brain). As a result of the disease and the treatment he has gradually lost word access, some cognitive facility, partial ability to see in one eye, complete ability to read, and finally, at times, the ability even to put together intelligible sentences. 

Recently, his wife wrote on their Caring Bridge page, "Over this whole process, thought so very frustrating, I've watched a very tender part of his heart emerge, along with a willingness to submit to the process God is taking him through. Perhaps it was best expressed in a prayer he offered spontaneously last evening: 'Father, may Debbie and I be a strong testimony to your love. Help me to walk according to your will.'" 

My faith: An example
This is the 9th way to pray to prepare for trials and during trials or persecution: That in all circumstances we would be an example of faith. I'll admit that I have often thought that Paul was a bit arrogant to say, "Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Cor. 11:1) But we are called to be examples to our brothers and sisters in Christ. 

I remember a friend telling me about her cousin who had a very painful form of cancer of the mouth. She said, "She showed us how to live. Now she is showing us how to die." But I don't want to be that person and you probably don't either.

However, we have no idea how far our example of faith could reach. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, "having received the Word in much tribulation with joy of the Holy Spirit so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achai." (1:6-7) And we don't have to be examples in only huge problems. One of the young women my mom discipled was at her house for dinner when my mom's china platter shattered. The young woman told me "I was excited to learn how a godly woman handled that!" (My mom says she asked my dad, "Do you think we can replace it someday?")

My delight: God's power
Not too long ago I re-memorized 2 Corinthians 12:9. "And He has said to me, My grace is sufficient for you for power is perfected in weakness." I reveled in the strength of God through my weakness, because at times I feel so weak--physically, spiritually, or emotionally. I can't. But through the power of Christ dwelling in me, God can!

But as I ponder praying to prepare for trials, I don't like the next verse: Therefore, I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. 

Paul says he is "well content"--this word means more than putting up with. Paul is saying he takes delight in these trials, difficulties that are not delightful. And so we can be praying that we would delight in God's strength when we have tribulations. Madame Guyon, a French believer in the 17th century, who was persecuted for her faith by her husband, mother-in-law, and the official church, said, "Ah, if you knew what power there is in accepted sorrow." And beyond acceptance, delight in finding God working in and through us in ways we never could.

As I studied these ways to prepare for trials, I wondered if God was preparing me. Peter tells us to not be surprised by trials (1 Pet. 4:12). So I knew that I would experience them at times. I did not expect what came: a decision that crashed the long time plans, prayers, and dreams of someone very dear to us. I felt kicked in the stomach. I was angry. I was sad. I was frustrated. When I went to bed just a couple hours after learning of the decision, I took this list with me and prayed through it. Looking up the verses and asking, no begging, God to work these bits of faith into my life. Quite frankly, I'm still struggling. I asked my prayer partners to pray that I would respond to those who made the decision and the one hurt by it in a mature and godly way, because in my flesh, I don't want to. But God is working in me. He was preparing me to know how to pray and I believe that His power will be perfected in my weakness. 

                             * * *

To remind myself and my friends of these ten ways to pray to prepare for and in trials and persecution I have created this printable bookmark.

To print it out click here. I would like to say you probably don't need to be prepared, but, "In this world you will have tribulation, but take courage, I have overcome the world." -- Jesus

I found these ten ways to be praying, and that seemed like a nice round number. But I know there are others I could have included. I encourage you to pray for one of these qualities each day and to search the scriptures for more ways to be praying for yourself, those around you, and those who are going through trials.

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