Monday, February 05, 2018

Uncomfortable, by Brett McCracken

Where does one even begin? I don't feel remotely qualified to write a review of this book because it's on a topic that I struggle with myself. The subtitle of Uncomfortable is "The Awkward and Essential Challenge of Christian Community." Isn't that the truth!? Being a part of the Body of Christ is everything the title declares. There is no denying that joining one's self to a church is an absolutely mortifying thing sometimes. Yet, as Christians, we are called to be a part of it. That is also an unavoidable and undeniable truth. The church is something that Christians both long to be a part of and are simultaneously filled with dread about. There aren't many more things that I can think of as being a huge struggle in my Christian life than that being a church member. But I am one, I am one!

Uncomfortable is the sort of book that hits you between the eyes and challenges you to think outside of yourself and your personal preferences as to what any given church should look like. McCracken writes to challenge the Christian to think about their calling in Christ to be joined to the Body and to prepare to be uncomfortable with that calling. It's a book filled with scripture, history, quotes from Christian leaders, and tales of some of McCracken's personal experiences. He writes honestly, sharing his own struggles with the Body and how he has had to work to overcome various difficulties. He also writes with humor and sarcasm making him easy (for me) to read. He paints pictures of what the perfect church would look like to his way of thinking while acknowledging he isn't permitted to think of the church in terms of his preferences but in terms of God's design. There's a laugh and an "ouch" in this book and both are incredibly necessary.

I marinated in this book awhile. I read only a chapter or two a day at first, because I wanted to take it in slowly. I worked through the first half of the book at a reasonable pace and then, by the time I had arrived at Part II, I was struggling with my own feelings towards my own church home and family. You know how it feels when you are really focused on learning to be obedient unto the Lord and He's feeding you good things through some outlet and all of the sudden you start struggling with the very thing you are learning about? That was me and that was this book. For a few weeks I could barely read it because I felt I was in such a huge battle with my own beliefs. I hated Uncomfortable but I needed it, too.

The simple fact is that life within the church is not easy. Any way you slice it, it's imperfect. Yet miraculously it is Christ's bride (Ephesians 5: 25-27; Revelations 19:7-9)! I marked lots of passages within the pages of this book and I'll share some of them below, along with a few thoughts. I won't share everything I marked, because I marked quite a few spots as being impacting (to me, personally).

"If we always approach church through the lens of wishing that were different, or longing for a church that "gets me" or "meets me where I'm at," we'll never commit anywhere (or, Protestants that we are, we'll just start our own church). But church shouldn't be about being perfectly understood and met in our comfort zone; it should be about understanding God more, and meeting Him where He is. That is an uncomfortable but beautiful thing." (Introduction, page 24)

As you can see, that quote was in the Introduction and at that point I wasn't dealing with my own mental battles. I was just warming up to enjoy the ride.

"This book is about the comforting gospel of Jesus Christ that leads us to live uncomfortable lives for Him. It's about recovering a willingness to do hard things, to embrace hard truths, to do life with hard people for the sake and glory of the One who did the hardest thing." (Introduction, page 25-26)

That's a true thing, isn't it? Christ did the hardest thing and we think we have the hardest thing to do. "Yeah, but . . ." is such a stupid thing to say to God.  In the Garden of Gethsemane the Lord prayed that His people would be one just He and the Father are one. We are meant to be united. That's not an easy task. Show me the person who thinks its easy and I'm likely to think very little of that person's church experience. If being a part of the church is easy for you, then I'm inclined to think that something is seriously wrong within your particular church body or seriously wrong with you for not feeling the holy challenge. Being one with other Christians feels like the impossible dream sometimes. The hope is in knowing that all hard work is worth it because, in the end, we really will be one and the struggles we know now will be no more. Then we will worship the Lord in unity and in peace. Life on earth is a muddle. Eternity has already been sorted out and that's where the joy in the journey can be found right now.

We don't like to think that way though, do we? Humans seem to have a desire to want to believe that if something is hard then it's bad. They willingly ignore the fact that the cross symbolizes death-to-life. We must die to live. We must fight to breathe. We must struggle and bleed and die ourselves so that God's glory can be made manifest within us and through us so that others can know the love of God. That means death to self before those in our church and also death to self before the world who loves to mock and cajole us for our beliefs.

"There is a reverse correlation between the comfortability of Christianity and its vibrancy. When the Christian church is comfortable and cultural, she tends to be weak. When she is uncomfortable and countercultural, she tends to be strong. I believe the latter is how she was meant to be." (Chapter 1, Embrace the Uncomfortable, page 32)

Right now there is a huge struggle even between Christians who are embarrassed by the Gospel for a myriad of reasons and who want to appear more "relevant" to the culture. Hang Scripture! How can Scripture be helpful if it hurts people to apply it to their lives!? We demand answers. We resent the embarrassment that the Bible demands that we endure with obedience. We're in a perpetual state of face palm when we hear people who claim to be Christians speak out loud. Really, the Christian life seems to be too much, too often.

"Reflecting the truism that "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Phil. 1:21), these martyrs lost their lives but also gained. And so it is for all people of the cross: visible loss for invisible gain, present suffering and future glory. This is the offense of the cross. Not only that a God would subject Himself to such weakness and death, but also that such a perceived folly would become the pride of His followers." (Chapter 2, The Uncomfortable Cross, page 46)

It's one thing to know in your head, with your mind, that we are to expect trials and tribulation on earth and count them only as "light momentary afflictions" (2 Cor. 4:17-18). It's an entirely different manner to actually be living with such affliction before a sneering public. The struggle is even harder when there are those within the Body itself who sneer with the world and chide you for being blind because you aren't following all of the political winds of the day. It's hard work to be a Christian and to remain committed to the church. This is to say nothing of staying committed to the cross. I've been spending more time on Twitter these days and the number of Christians who accept a watered down, more convenient truth could prove rather frighting. The masses are definitely running from the pews and they will continue to do so I am sure. The question is: will I stay in obedience to Scripture or will I run too? There would seem to be a lot of reasons to run. That doesn't excuse me to do so though. Scripture is clear about the fact that we are called to stay, even though we might not always identify with the church and/or struggle to fit in.

A charge delivered by non-Christians is one thing but it is infinitely more damaging and painful when a fellow Christian turns from the faith and the church and takes on the world's chatter. The common cry these days among just about everyone and for just about every reason is that the church and fellow believers are not to be trusted because they are hypocrites. McCracken addresses this issue as well and a stand out passage for me was this:

McCracken quotes Erik Thoennes, a professor at Biola University and elder at Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, California.

"There's this idea that to live out of conformity with how I feel is hypocrisy; but that's a wrong definition of hypocrisy. To live out of conformity to what I believe is hypocrisy. To live in conformity with what I believe, in spite of what I feel, isn't hypocrisy; it's integrity."

Sticking with the church, showing up week after week when you just don't feel like it feels like a waste of time. It doesn't feel like we're going to get a lot out of the experience more often than not. But the idea that McCracken is promoting with this book is not that we seek out preferred experiences but that we join with a church to learn to be more like Christ. The way that we do that is to join to the Body and practice service, generosity, commitment and sacrificial love. It's not going to be easy and any honest person will testify to that. But anyone who believes that God means what He says in scripture about the church being His bride will continue on, believing that there's a hidden purpose and a good end in store.

Uncomfortable is a book that offers hard encouragement. There is no wiggle room for escape from the church within these pages so don't be looking for it. Our life with the church is a story of commitment, even when times get hard and, yes, even when it feels somewhat foolish to be a part of things.

"We've become so bored with our story, or just ignorant of it, and so naturally others have too. We're a bride who forgets why she fell in love in the first place. We're a bride who often takes off her wedding ring in public. We've lost eyes to see the loveliness of the covenant we are in because we're too preoccupied with how skeptical onlookers see us. We assume the only way hipsters and seekers and anyone else might like us if we offer a "safe place" Christianity, one with endless caveats, asterisks, apologies, and trigger warnings (and fair-trade coffee).
Yet seeker-friendly and hipster Christianity failed to invigorate contemporary Christianity because they've been too embarrassed to lead with the admittedly uncomfortable truth that a Christianity with no teeth, no offensiveness, no cost, and no discomfort is not really Christianity at all. It attracts the masses to something vaguely moralistic and therapeutic, but mostly just affirms their "eat whatever fruit you want" freedom and status quo comfort." (Chapter 14, Countercultural Comfort, page 187)

If you're feeling tempted to walk away from the church, will you read this book? If you're committed to a local church, will you read this book? There is something in this for everyone and mostly it's to affirm an undeniable truth: being part of your local church won't always be fun. Being a part of the church will be one of the single most stretching experiences of your Christian life, but through it and by it you will become more like Christ as you learn to die to self-preferences for the glory of something - Someone - greater than you. That is an uncomfortable fact we must live, but live it we must. To the pain. To the death.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge Conclusion (2018)

L. M. Montgomery Reading Challenge

And so we once again reach the end of another Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge. If you managed to read/watch anything relating to L.M.M.'s life or work, let us know in the comment section below! This is the time to leave links to reviews and further thoughts, sharing with people the stories you enjoyed and the things you learned.

I hope you had a good reading month. Go ahead and mark your calendars for next year's reading challenge. Next year we'll celebrate the Lucy Maud Montgomery Reading Challenge's TENTH anniversary and I'll make it good!

Hope you enjoyed!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit

Once upon a time our family traveled to England for a month. While we were there we took in the stage production of The Railway Children which is performed in a specially designed theater connected to King's Cross Station. I meant to read the book before we saw the play but that didn't happen but it really was alright. Our kids were younger then and if I had read the story to them any earlier, I fear they wouldn't remember it. The play they remember in part and the book they now stand a better chance of remember in full.  (That's what we call a "win/win" right?)

As noted, we finally corrected our gaffe and read the book and it was a charming delight from beginning to end. In case you are unfamiliar with the plot line, I shall briefly fill you in:

Three children - Roberta ("Bobbie"), Peter and Phyillis - have their life turned upside a bit when their father is very suddenly and abruptly "called away" and their mother must move with them to the countryside. The children aren't sure as to why their father isn't around, but, being children, they quickly adapt to their new circumstances. Mother, who has always had time for play before, must now spend her time writing stories to make a little money. The children are largely left to their own devices and make a few choice friends down at the local railway station. Most of the story surrounds various incidents which occur around the railway line but we also get to know them through the eyes of other locals from the village. Running throughout the story are questions about where their father might have gone and when he might return. The book concludes happily alright but the family does undergo a fair amount of challenge and suffering before we're done getting to know them. Told in Nesbit's lovely style, this is a story our family is sure to remember for a long while.

I found The Railway Children well-suited for a read aloud. The chapters are a bit long so we only read one a day (we usually aim for two). Our kids are ages three to eleven and it was certainly our oldest three that got the most out of the story, laughing at all the right parts, etc. I would say if you only want to read this book once, then wait until your kids are at least six or seven before taking time out for this. However, I hardly think this is a "one and done" sort of read. I could easily see us devouring this book several times over. But that's Nesbit for you; her works are generally re-readable.

The Railway Children held a few surprises for me, in particular, at the end. Nesbit's theology shines through during a particular conversation between her characters. Peter and his mother are having a little heart-to-heart on account of the fact that Peter is missing his father's presence. He doesn't know the reasons why his father isn't at home with the family and proposes that sometimes books are better than real-life. He suggests to his mother that if their life were a story, Mother could just write it out so that Father would come home. The following interaction takes place:

Peter's mother put her arm round him suddenly, and hugged him in silence for a minute.
Then she said:
'Don't you think it's rather nice to think that we're in a book that God's writing? If I were writing a book, I might make mistakes. But God knows how to make the story end just right - in the way that's best for us.'
'Do you really believe that, Mother?' Peter asked quietly.
'Yes,' she said, 'I do believe it - almost always - except when I'm so sad that I can't believe anything. But even when I can't believe it, I know it is true - and I try to believe it. You don't know how I try, Peter.'

What a gem of a passage! There are many times over the course of my life that I've wished the story was going a little differently. It's tremendously easy to believe that I know best and that I'd write the story of my life out much better. In my Chronological Study Bible I've reached the story of Job where he too questions God's plan. I absolutely love the passage in Job 38 - 41 where God thunders out His reply in a manner which causes Job to stand still and believe.

Then Job answered the Lord and said: “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” Job 40:3-5

There is so much that we can't know about our own lives so long as we're here on earth. There is so much that we will dream of having happen to us or through us on their earth that will never be. We will always live with questions. We will always be surrounded by mystery. This will never change. Our sole duty and responsibility is to believe. Believe that the Lord is Who He says that He is. Believe that His ways are higher, more perfect, and more holy than our imagination can comprehend. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for that is how we will be saved. (Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6)

Nesbit, through her character of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis's mother, got it right. If we were in charge of writing our own stories and proclaiming our own destinies, we'd be at a risk getting things wrong and making mistakes. But God knows how to make each of our stories end just right - in the way that is best for us.

It's worth reading the entirety of The Railway Children for this one passage if for no other reason. I loved it in every particular and I'm so glad that we took the time to get to know this book.

Of course, now that we've read the book we are permitted to watch the Masterpiece Theater version which we will do so as promptly as is humanely possible. My own children are already at me to see it. I must confess I'm just as impatient to get to it as they are!

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Tangled Web, by Lucy Maud Montgomery

I mentioned that I wouldn't be delving into too many Montgomery books this month due to reading a good bit of her work last year. I did, however, want to re-read A Tangled Web, especially as I had apparently not read it since 2009! Suffice it to say, I had thoroughly forgotten the majority of the plot line, making this a delightful read all over again. (Sometimes it's good to have such a poor memory.)

If you haven't read A Tangled Web before, you should know that Montgomery wrote this book for adult readers. It's not really a children's book at all, but deals with adults, adult themes and adult trials of life. Originally published in 1931 the affairs of the day were tame by comparison with 2018 but, nevertheless, you experience some messes!

The plot of this book revolves around an old family heirloom. Aunt Becky is the owner and possessor of a cracked brown jug which has been passed down through a few generations and which everyone in the Dark and Penhallow clan wants to own upon Aunt Becky's death. The Darks and Penhallows have been intermarrying for 60 years and every single member of the clan feels that they have some claim to this brown jug. Aunt Bekcy however, known for being an obstinate and rather mean woman, doesn't seem in any hurry to name an inheritor. At the opening of the story, Aunt Becky calls a family conclave to announce who will receive the jug and the terms by which they will do so. The rest of the book is a mystery with the reader guessing at who might eventually own the jug. As it is a mystery, I won't spoil anything by telling you. You'll have to read it for yourself.

A Tangled Web is aptly titled as it investigates the lives, romances, deaths, and dramas of a variety of characters. Romances blossom and also die in these pages. Characters find both happy endings and mildly unsatisfying ones. It's a very different style and format from Montgomery's other stories which makes this book an intriguing read. She rather breaks away from her typical formulaic style of story telling, choosing to weave in and out of a family clan instead of focusing on one particular character. As a curious fact, there are 225 characters mentioned in this book! But don't let that fact stress you out or keep you away from it. It's a very interesting read and keeps you on your toes as you follow along. Further interesting to note, this book was not very well-received by the public when it was released. I would say that this title shows a bit of the darker side of Montgomery and perhaps that played a part in low sales. It was also published after the stock market crash and that could account for poor sales as well. Whatever the reason, I'm happy to say that it is once again in print and able to purchase. (Although seriously with the cover art - ! Ack!)

Some people consider this one of Montgomery's best works. You can definitely see how she challenged herself to write differently than her norm. Challenges are always fun (sometimes only in retrospect though) so I can't help but wonder if she didn't enjoy writing this one out. I highly recommend the read if you can land a copy. It's worth the time and energy!

Interesting facts:

  • A Tangled Web was published in between Magic for Marigold (1929) and Pat of Silver Bush (1933).
  • As mentioned, it was published after the stock market crash and Montgomery's finances were affected by this event.
  • She lived in Norval, Ontario at the time she wrote this book.

I also found this rather, ahem, interesting video on Youtube about Montgomery which touches on her life in Norval. Enjoy it or not, as you choose.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Virtuous, by Nancy Wilson

Every now and again I pull up the Canon Press online catalog and see what's new. It had been awhile since I had done so and I noted two new titles by Nancy Wilson, wife of Douglas. One was on the subject of being a grandmother and the other was entitled Virtuous: A Study for Ladies of Every Age. While I'm certainly curious about what she has to say about being a grandmother, I figured Virtuous was likely a more suitable read for me now so I picked up a copy.

It arrived just about a week or so ago and I got to it rather promptly. On the heels of The Pursuit of Holiness (linked to review) I kinda wanted to just stay in the word and keep learning. I dove on into Virtuous and quickly discovered that Mrs. Wilson wrote this book with the idea of it being used in a small group study setting. Thus the chapters are very, very short and each is followed with a series of questions for contemplation and discussion. There is absolutely not a thing wrong with this format, but my friends and regular blog readers will know that this sort of book is typically "not for me." I tend to avoid devotional type books, or short studies. I couldn't really tell you why except that I just tend not to like them. When I pick up a book, I want to read a good chunk of the author's thoughts and arguments and devotional/study books feel short and stumpy to me. Again, it's a personal preference thing and no reflection on the author.

Personal preferences aside, I figured since I purchased the book I better go on and read it. As it is meant to be tasted in chunks, it made for an easy, breezy read. I split the book up into two "sittings" and it took me about 40 minutes each day to read through it. It's very brief but, nevertheless, it packs a punch.

Virtuous is a quick look at character traits which scriptures spell out as relating to the virtuous woman. For those who want to complain that the Bible isn't written just for women and that men aren't called to any lesser Biblical standard I say to you: peace, be still. At several points in the book Wilson likens some of the traits she is discussing with traits which are also to be exemplified in our male counterparts. However, this book wasn't written for a couple's study but for a women's study so go with the flow already please. Thank you.

Mrs. Wilson first begins by defining what she means in using the word 'virtuous'. "A virtuous woman," says she, "is a woman who exhibits godly character traits." She further explains that "virtue is about ethical behavior, and it's about our character." She by no means presents an exhaustive list of ethical considerations and biblical character traits and she freely admits this fact. Her goal is only to get the ball rolling to help women begin to think through what it means to be virtuous. Some of the topics she hits on include, but are not limited to: diligence, cheerfulness, wisdom, courage, kindness, loyalty, modesty and gratitude. Each chapter is roughly 4-5 pages long and there are about 5-6 questions to use as thought provoking follow-up.

Admittedly I read through this with a bare amount of interest because I was hoping for a deeper look at the topics and I just felt like I was bouncing around. I have to clarify yet again though that this was my fault for not checking into the format of the book and realizing it was meant to be used as a study. I think as a study it would probably produce some interesting conversation because Wilson doesn't mince or waste the words she chooses to use. She gets straight to the point with her readers and, in true Wilson fashion, (if you are familiar with the Wilson family), this can make people squirm. (I, on the other hand, tend to love it.)

I paid most attention to the chapter on kindness because that's a topic of huge interest to me these days. Why? 'Cause Life. So much unkindness surrounds us all of our days and it's frequently hard to know how to be kind to others who just don't seem to want to be kind back! Following on the heels of my Bridges read, and thinking about the fact that I am not more righteous than God and therefore should not hold myself out as being more worthy of being offended when someone sins against me, (or I against them!), the chapter on kindness was a useful tool. It especially is helpful if you've come to realize and understand that all throughout your whole life you will go around being unkind to others and having them treat you unkindly in return! We're sinners all and it takes a great deal of effort to be kind. (I used to envy people to whom kindness seemed to come naturally. Then I got to know those people better and realized that, no, they weren't anything exceptionally special. They struggle with it just as much as I did and do....just in different ways! Pedestals smashed for the good of all!)

I made a few notes, including scriptures that Mrs. Wilson quoted from (Romans 5:8; Luke 6:35-36; and Matthew 5:45b). It's good to have verses in your "back pocket" sometimes for helping you to steady on. I appreciated the fact that she reminds us that it is only by and through the love of God that we have been transformed into people that He has made so that we might extend kindness to others. God doesn't leave us high and dry, demanding things of us that He will not help us to do. We must do and He will be there to give us the strength to do. Even when we don't want to be kind and/or it's not coming naturally. Mrs. Wilson also reminds the reader that we are to "put on" kindness by faith. (Colossians 3:12). Sometimes being kind takes deliberate effort and that's ok. We should not shy away from the challenge for challenges produces growth and life and holiness in Christ. Chances to grow in this area should not be avoided. (All of the time?!)  Again, it is through God's power working in us, with the help of His Holy Spirit, that He has made us to be people who are meant to show kindness. This is a good calling, although harder than it appears on its face.

Her musings on the topic of kindness - as well as the other areas of focus - weren't earth shattering but basic truth doesn't have to shatter earth all of the time. (At least, it shouldn't!) Sometimes simple reminders are exactly what you need and simple reminders are what I got out of this book. It was a good encouraging talk from an older woman to keep my eyes on the goal of knowing Christ and press on in the pursuit of holiness. Virtuous was encouragement for the journey and we all need a little of that from time to time, don't we?

Other Nancy Wilson books of note:

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Pursuit of Holiness, by Jerry Bridges

**I first drafted this post over a week ago. Since then there have been some explosive political news stories in the U.S. I'm thinking of one in particular. So I re-wrote my post just a little to include a very brief note on this subject matter.**

"The only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life."
- Jerry Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness

My yearly reading list is largely influenced by the previous year's reading list. When I look back over my reading lists, I am looking for holes. I'm looking for lack. I'm looking to see what I favored and what I largely ignored. When I look over my 2017 reading list I find myself sadly lacking in the Christian non-fiction department. Now, did I consistently attend church and listen faithfully to my pastor's sermons? Yes, I did. Did I read scripture consistently? Yes. But did I seek God out in other ways and forms to further education and/or encourage myself in my spiritual life? No. I did not. So this is an area of personal concern that I feel the need to rectify this year.

There is also a pressing need to spend time educating our children as to what it means to be a Christian as well. If we their parents don't do it, the world stands at the ready. The world is not the only one who begs for opportunity to influence though. Oh no! Other Christians do as well which is not always a bad thing but one thing I noticed about 2017 was how many Christians in my generation were more influenced by the political winds of the day than scripture. Sure it was a hot political year and there are many issues which are currently on fire in the political pit. Should we pay attention to the issues of our time? We'd be foolish not to. However, I've noticed that younger Christians feel like it's either God or politics but it can't be both. Babies are flying out of windows along with the proverbial bathwater. I have been completely amazed by the absolutely stubbornness of some in their declarations that if you stay in the church then you are sticking your head in the sand at best or are a war-like criminal at worst. The rhetoric of middle aged and younger Christians has gotten ridiculously out-of-hand. I know of some who have even left the church with loud declarations that politics are more important. They can't see or hear what they are doing. Sheer stubbornness and pride gets in the way of both ability to converse and the ability to pursue holiness together instead of apart.*

Experiencing a few friends fall away from the church for the sake of taking "a good political stance" has had an effect on many people, myself included. If anything, it makes me to know that God will have to work on them and that I must also pray without ceasing that God will hold my family fast -- closer to Him than a political position. However, mark this: if you leave the church over politics then you are leaving the church to follow after a political god of your own making. Jesus Christ is quite, quite abundantly clear that the church is His bride and that He died to redeem her of her sins and that we ought never to think that we are more holy than Christ by leaving her.

To get to the point of The Pursuit of Holiness though, I picked it up because I read a lot of Bridges when I was a teen and I wanted to review it before handing it over to my own pre-teen. I have explained before that my memory with books is sketchy which leads to the need to re-read! Of course, I also read the book with myself in mind because of my 2017 reading failings. There was a dual purpose in this!

I launched in and read the entirety of this book, walking away with one chief thought that I had not expected. Bridges drives home the point at the very beginning of this book that it is not against ourselves that we sin, but against Christ. Therefore there is a driving need to always be pursuing holiness so that we can approach the throne of grace.

Bridges quotes David from the Psalms 51 who declares:

"Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment."

Bridges admonishes (in his friendly way!) that we should not make ourselves out to be more righteous than God by being upset over sins we perceive being committed against us and/or to berate ourselves for failing ourselves. We are not more holy than God. It is His holiness that cannot tolerate sin in the least. It is our humanity that loves to produce it.

To turn personal here as explanation, you should be aware of the fact that I have five young children. Working with them as a group and individually can prove very exhausting at times. I want them to grow up to be God-fearing, hard-working, exceptional souls, of course. However, the journey of getting there is a massive work in progress. And getting there means that I have to change and grow spiritually as well and I don't like it. Every morning I wake up and rehearse to myself how the day is going to go and how I'm going to be the world's most awesome mother that day. Within 5 minutes (more or less but usually less) I've failed and am internally kicking and chaffing against myself for my downfall. I say things like this to myself: "How could you?! You're ROTTEN as a parent! They are probably going to hate you when they grow up and I, for one, wouldn't blame them." Or this one: "I will never be a good parent." Oh woe is me. I have sinned against myself. I have 'let myself down.' I never bother to look up and say, "Against You and You only have I sinned. Forgive me." I haven't sinned against me and my best intentions. I've sinned against a Holy God. And this realization struck a chord with me and caused me to stop in my tracks and re-program the ol' brain a bit. The rest of the book was reprogramming.

Bridges counsels with scripture that we serve a Holy God who cannot abide sin in any form or fashion. Once this fact is established in the reader's mind, Bridges moves on to the importance of pursuing holiness so that we will not continue on in our sin but will pursue holiness so that we might be more like Christ. And the reason to be more like Christ? It is to please Christ and not anyone else. It is to please Christ and not anyone else. It is to please Christ and not anyone else. (No, that's not a typo. Say it again if you need to.) Take heart though because lots of people in your life will be more pleased when you are more like Christ so the win-win situation becomes quickly and readily apparent! (It's probably important to also note that lots of people will also be less pleased when you are more like Christ but that's not your problem to solve.)

There were several quotes I copied out of this book and I'll share them below but the crux of the argument I took away from this book is this:

I needed to hear and to know that I am not failing me. I am failing my Holy God. And therefore I have a job to do and that is to absolutely stay in scriptures so that I can learn to be more like my God. This in turn will affect the changes I am so desperate for - both for myself and also for my children.

To bring this all back around to my opening remarks, I think it's incredibly important as Christians that we do not make ourselves out to be more righteous than God as individuals or as global citizens. I think this is a super important point that modern Christians (especially those my age and younger) really need to grasp hold of. I certainly needed to come to a better understanding of this so feel free to lump me into that mix and keep reminding me that I am only holy because He is holy. My holiness follows His, it does not lead it. I must follow where He says He is and will be. I must believe who He says He is and who He will be forever. And if I should stumble (and I will) then someone please pick me back up and remind me that He is a great God who loves His children and will forgive them of their sins and heal their land.

Did I ultimately think that this is a book worth passing along to my pre-teen? Yes, mostly. I think Bridges is perfect from the age of 13 on. Our oldest is currently 11 and we decided against having him read the entirety of the book for the simple fact that Bridges goes into some subject matters that our 11 year old isn't quite ready for. In a few years he will be, but for now there's a couple of chapters we've asked him to read for the moment. Bridges is easy to understand but he doesn't lose the meat of his message. He might occasionally cut your meat for you, but it's still meat and it's a good starting point to learn the lesson that we serve a Holy God who invites us into His presence daily. So come. Believe. Believe like it's your job to believe. Because it is. (John 3:18; John 6:29; Acts 16:31; Hebrews 11:6)

"Frequent contemplation on the holiness of God and His consequent hatred of sin is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin." (Chapter 2)
"As we read and study the scriptures or hear them taught, we are captivated by the moral beauty of God's standard of holiness. Even though His standard may seem far beyond us, we recognize and respond to that which is "holy, righteous, and good" (Romans 7:12). Even though we fail so often, in our inner being we "delight in God's law" (Romans 7:22)." (Failed to write down the reference point on this one.)

"Faith enables us to obey when obedience is costly or seems unreasonable to the natural mind." (Chapter 15)

*Whether there is agreement on this point or not, it is my observation that people are leaving the church because they insist that Christians behave like Christians and that politicians behave like Christians. I agree that Christians must pursue holiness and that it is a process. It is a life process. It is a slow and steady commitment to pursue love justice, mercy and to pursue peace. I do not agree that we can hold politicians to a Christian standard because we are a nation that has collectively rejected God and His standards of holiness. When a leader acts in a manner which is less than Christ-like I find myself with very little to say because we have long "agreed" as a nation to shut God out. If I feel annoyance or anger about the political situation we are experiencing here in America, my sole motivation is to dig into scriptures and to teach my kids truth and to encourage my fellow believers to cling HARD to the Gospel of Christ. For if you are clinging to the Gospel and if you are fully focused on pursuing holiness then the Gospel shall be lived out in your life and you will be Christ to others, just as God designed. Just as He designed. The world will not like God. They will hate and despise Him. If you follow after Him, they will hate and despise you also. Do not be surprised by this. It should not come as a shock. The world's hatred of Christ and His standards should not incite panic. Stay the course. Run the race. Pursue holiness. Love justice. Be merciful. Walk humbly.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Prince Edward Island in Photos

Our family vacation in 2017 was to Eastern Canada where we spent some time on Nova Scotia and then, chiefly, Prince Edward Island. As mentioned, we spent a great deal of time as a family immersing ourselves in the world of Lucy Maud Montgomery leading up to the trip and it was an enjoyable and wonderful experience.

I probably won't read as much Montgomery this year, strictly because I'm rather saturated at the moment, but I will read some. Meanwhile, thought you all might enjoy seeing a few pictures that we took during our time on the Island. It was beautiful, it was wonderful, and yes, I want to go back!

For starts, this was our "back yard" during our stay.

One of life's chief happy thoughts for me is having red dirt on my boots! Heh...

We watched a lot of sunsets to the point where our children asked us why we "had" to watch so many sunsets. (We're mean that way.)

We hiked all over the place.

And we saw the things we wanted to see.

Over all it was a magical, wonderful time and we cherished every moment (except for the part where we got a tummy bug but nothing in life can ever be perfect).

It was a lovely visit. Hope you've enjoyed the pictures.
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