Book Review: Discovering Jesus and His Love

Discovering Jesus and His Love by Scott Leone is a short book (115 pages) about a family who comes to know the Lord through the influence of their neighbor. The author notes that the story is fictional, yet reflects on the types of experiences many Christians have as they believe on Christ for salvation and walk with Him through life.

The story opens with a brother and sister taking a walk and meeting their neighbor, Mr. Lion, who invites them into the yard for a cold drink and a visit. Mr. Lion uses every opportunity to speak to the children about the Lord. They have not been to church and their family isn’t religious, so what Mr. Lion tells them is mostly new to them.

The children accompany Mr. Lion to church, and over time believe that Jesus is God’s Son and died for their sins. Then Mr. Lion tries to teach them more about the faith as they continue to interact. The changes in the children’s lives affect their parents, who each have their own issues which cause resistance to the gospel.

In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. Lion face struggles of their own as they grow older and their health declines.

The book reads very much like the Sunday School papers for all ages that my husband’s church used to give to attendees: brief stories illustrating a spiritual truth or lesson.

It also reminds me a bit of a book I was given as a teenager which told about salvation and the first steps of discipleship, except that book was nonfiction.

I can see this book being used to introduce someone to the gospel or encourage a new Christian in their walk. Mr. Lion’s eagerness to share Christ is convicting.

Thanks to Scott and his wife, Sara, for sending me a copy of the book. Sara has been a longtime email friend I “met” through this blog.

Book Review: A Very Bookish Thanksgiving

Three factors intrigued me when I saw A Very Bookish Thanksgiving mentioned at Tarissa’s. First, I can generally trust what Tarissa recommends. Second, I don’t think I have ever seen a series of stories based on Thanksgiving before. Third, each of the five stories ties in with a classic book. I was unfamiliar with all of the authors but interested enough to give the book a try.

A Promise of Acorns by Kelsey Bryant is inspired by Jane Eyre. Erin Moore is hired as a nanny to two children cared for by a reserved grandfather. Dr. Manchester has an unusual request: he has not celebrated Thanksgiving in years because it was his deceased wife’s favorite holiday, and it’s too much for him. He wonders if Erin would take on the responsibility of teaching the children about Thanksgiving. He doesn’t know that Erin has her own difficulties with the day, but she agrees to his request.

As Long as I Belong by Sarah Holman is inspired by Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. Annalise Marshell comes from a bickering family headed by a father who can’t keep a job. They’ve been offered a place at a Christian retreat center, headed by the Clark family. Mrs. Clark helps Annalise feel welcome and a part of the team, but Annalise feels like she’s in-between her family and the Clarks, belonging fully to neither.

The Windles and the Lost Boy by Rebekah Jones is inspired by Peter Pan. Patrick Quill takes in stray boys in a secret location. Some are running from abusive situations, and he gives them a safe place until they are ready to launch on their own. Arabella Windle and her brothers unexpectedly discover one such boy needing help. They’ve heard stories about Patrick. Is he real, and can they find him?

Grand Intentions by J. Grace Pennington is based on Dickens’ Great Expectations. Pippa Charles’ dream is to write a novel, but helping her mother take care of her brothers doesn’t leave much time. Then she receives a grand opportunity: her grandmother is going away for a few months and asks Pippa to stay at her house and take care of her dog. Pippa relishes the time alone, but then she gets distracted by the new friends she makes. Will this experience bring out the best or worst in her?

A Fine Day Tomorrow by Amanda Tero is based on Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Essie March suffered from serious illness during her childhood. But she survived and now wants to be a nurse. She feels the need all the more as the Spanish flu rages through the country. But a series of misfortunes stop her in her tracks and make her wonder if she’ll ever be good for anything again.

The stories aren’t a point-for-point retelling of their respective books, but the main characters and some of the details mirror them. The books themselves are almost characters in the stories as they are referred to during the plot.

Each of the stories has a strong and well-woven faith element as well.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Bookshelves told you more about a person or a family than anything else in a house.

Celebrating Thanksgiving was not just about blood family but about creating family among those you celebrated with. I couldn’t be with my parents on this earth anymore, but there were other people for me to love and to love me back.

My favorite thing about any Dickens book was how you could always get something new out of it at each reading, no matter how many times you revisited it.
 
I enjoyed each of these stories—so much so, that I ordered A Very Bookish Christmas based on the same premise by some of the same authors.
 

The Sacrifice of Praise

Some days it’s easy to thank and praise God. A prayer is answered just the way we wanted, an unexpected gift arrives, a loved one recovers from an illness. When God does something obvious for us, we respond in praise to Him.

But other times, praise is hard. The prayer is answered “No.” A loved one does not recover. Needs and hardships abound with no relief in sight.

Psalm 116:17 speaks of offering “the sacrifice of thanksgiving.” After speaking of the sacrifice Jesus made of His own blood so that we could be saved. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.”

Why would it be called a sacrifice to praise God?

Sacrifices cost something. They acknowledge the worthiness of the one sacrificed to. They encourage faith even as they express faith.

Why does God want our praise? Everyone appreciates a “thank you.” But God doesn’t need praise from us. He is totally self-sufficient. He asks for our praise because we need it. He lifts our chin upwards so our gaze rests on Him. When times are hard, looking to Him reminds us that He is sovereign, wise, powerful, loving, kind. When we praise Him, we acknowledge His greatness for our own hearts as well as others. We remind ourselves that all our answers and provisions come from Him. We don’t ignore the pain or heartache, but we acknowledge God in them.

As Nancy Guthrie shares in Hoping for Something Better: Refusing to Settle for Life as Usual:

When we choose to praise God for His goodness, despite His allowing what we would nor describe as good into our lives, that is a sacrifice of praise. When we praise Him for His sovereignty, even though we don’t understand the whys of His plans, that is a sacrifice of praise (p. 177).

In On Asking God Why, Elisabeth Elliot wrote of finding help to praise when she wasn’t feeling particularly thankful:

When I stumble out of bed in the morning, put on a robe, and go into my study, words do not spring spontaneously to my lips–other than words like, “Lord, here I am again to talk to you. It’s cold. I’m not feeling terribly spiritual….” Who can go on and on like that morning after morning, and who can bear to listen to it day after day?

I need help in order to worship God. Nothing helps me more than the Psalms. Here we find human cries–of praise, adoration, anguish, complaint, petition. There is an immediacy, an authenticity, about those cries. They speak for me to God–that is, they say what I often want to say, but for which I cannot find words.

Surely the Holy Spirit preserved those Psalms in order that we might have paradigms of prayer and of our individual dealings with God. It is immensely comforting to find that even David, the great king, wailed about his loneliness, his enemies, his pains, his sorrows, and his fears. But then he turned from them to God in paeans of praise.

He found expression for praise far beyond my poor powers, so I use his and am lifted out of myself, up into heights of adoration, even though I’m still the same ordinary woman alone in the same little room.

She goes on to tell how hymns also help her find words with which to praise:

By putting into words things on earth for which we thank him, we are training ourselves to be ever more aware of such things as we live our lives. It is easy otherwise to be oblivious of the thousand evidences of his care.

This year has been full of various hardships. Thanksgiving may not hold its usual luster. In fact, it might be hard to find something to thank God for. But I have found those times when I have to search for God’s blessings to be especially meaningful. He always leaves evidence of His care, and sometimes we miss them unless we’ve especially tuned our hearts to see them. 

One hymn which helps me praise is “O God, Beyond All Praising” by Michael Perry. A few lines express the truths discussed here:

And whether our tomorrows
Be filled with good or ill,
We’II triumph through our sorrows
And rise to bless you still:
To marvel at your beauty
And glory in your ways,
And make a joyful duty
Our sacrifice of praise.

(Sharing with Hearth and Soul, Selah, Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday,
Senior Salon, Remember Me Monday, Tell His Story, InstaEncouragement,
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Friday’s Fave Five and Writer’s Conference News

On Fridays I like to pause for a few moments with Susanne and friends
to reflect on some of the blessings of the week.

Usually for Friday’s Fave Five, I make a list of at least five things I am thankful for from the previous week. I’m going to do something a little different this week, though.

One of my faves is that I attended an online writer’s conference this week! The Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writer’s Conference was supposed to be in May, but was postponed to November due to the pandemic. Since the virus still had not abated, they could not take as many people due to social-distancing recommendations. And some couldn’t come anyway due to travel restrictions. So they had a virtual option this year.

The conference started Sunday night. Then Monday through Wednesday, we had two online morning sessions, two afternoon sessions (75 minutes each), and one each evening (an hour and a half). Thursday morning we had two, then the conference ended at lunchtime.

One other favorite is that I had a manuscript critique via Zoom through the conference with a woman who owns a publishing house with her husband. I appreciated her expertise. I thought she was very balanced: she pointed out some mistakes and practices I need to work on but also what she thought were good features.

I got tons of good information and inspiration from the sessions this week. But as I write this on Thursday afternoon, my brain is fried! And since this was the primary focus of the week, I don’t have much else to share—unless I think of something between now and in the morning.

Just a few more thoughts about the conference: one thing you miss by not being there personally is the networking with others. A couple of ladies set up Zoom meetings for about ten people at a time, apparently with great success. I didn’t join in because they often took place when I was spending time with the family. Maybe, if they do it this way again, I’ll try to get in on at least one or two.

Also, when you go to a conference, it’s exhausting, but it’s also a break from routine. At home, you still have your everyday responsibilities. I didn’t do much besides meals, dishes, and laundry. But I wished I had planned some super-easy meals for this week. We did have frozen pizza one night, so that helped (and that’s my third fave!)

I am inspired but tired! So I’ll leave my faves there for now.

Hope you’ve had a good week as well!

Book Review: Be Authentic

Be Authentic (Genesis 25-50): Exhibiting Real Faith in the Real World closes Warren Wiersbe’s trilogy of commentaries on the book of Genesis.

These chapters in Genesis focus primarily on Jacob and his sons, especially Joseph.

Jacob and his twin brother, Esau, were very different personalities. They struggled with each other even in the womb (Genesis 25:22-23), and their parents’ favoritism only fueled the fire.

God had chosen the younger Jacob to be in the line of the family He would use to bless the world rather than Esau, the older. But Jacob and his mother, Rebekah, used that information to manipulate circumstances rather than trusting God to accomplish what He had proclaimed. That brought Jacob’s conflict with Esau to a head, resulting in Jacob fleeing to his mother’s relatives.

There he fell in love and got a taste of his own scheming medicine. The next twenty years were hard, but they helped develop his character. “Little by little, Jacob was learning to submit to God’s loving hand of discipline and was growing in faith and character.”

He had twelve sons, but favored Joseph. Jacob seemed not to have learned about the dangers of parental favoritism from his own situation. “The man who had grown up in a divided an competitive home (25:28) would himself create a divided and competitive family.” Joseph’s brothers, in jealousy and hatred, sold him into slavery, took his special coat that his father had made for him, spread animal’s blood over it, then let Jacob conclude that Joseph was dead.

Though a slave, Joseph seemed to have a talent for administration. But even his master saw that “The LORD was with him, and the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands” (Genesis 39:3). Joseph rose to prominence until he became second only to his master. But then he was lied about and sent to prison. He rose to prominence there as well, and aided two of Pharaoh’s servants. But the one who was restored to his portion forgot Joseph—until Pharaoh had a dream that troubled him, and the servant remembered Joseph had helped him with his dream. So Joseph was called for, interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, gave him sound advice, and once again rose to prominence as the second in the land.

And then one day his brothers showed up in Egypt. But they didn’t recognize him. These chapters are some of the most dramatic in the Bible, keeping me in anticipation even though I have read them before and knew how the story would turn out.

Wiesrbe’s title for this commentary comes from his conclusion that, “In short, they were authentic, real, believable, down-to-earth people. Flawed? Of course! Occasionally bad examples? Certainly! Blessed of God? Abundantly.” These people are an encouragement that God works with and accomplishes His will through flawed individuals.

There were many helpful and instructive things to observe in these chapters. I was blessed to see the changes in some people—Jacob over time, and his son, Judah, especially. But a few things in Joseph’s story particularly stood out to me this time. Because Joseph so often comes out on top even when he’s thrown into dire circumstances, I think we sometimes downplay his suffering. But when he named his sons in reference to his afflictions, it really spoke to my heart:

Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (Genesis 41:51-52).

Wiersbe pointed out that Joseph could have become bitter, but instead he maintained his faith in God and kept a tender heart, showing compassion towards others. “Joseph’s sensitive heart was a miracle of God’s grace. For years dead Egyptian idols and the futile worship given to them had surrounded Joseph, yet he had maintained his faith in God and a heart tender toward his own people. He could have hardened his heart by nursing grudges, but he preferred to forgive and leave the past with God (41: 50–52).”

Then, as often as I have pored over the Scriptures about suffering and reconciled myself to the fact that it’s a tool God uses in wisdom and love, I find myself still asking “Why?” sometimes. I wondered why Joseph had to go through all he did when he was one of the “good guys.” But Wiesrbe pointed out that if Joseph had remained at home as the favored son, he might have grown up into a very different kind of person.

A few more quotes from the book:

Being a victorious Christian doesn’t mean escaping the difficulties of life and enjoying only carefree days. Rather, it means walking with God by faith, knowing that He is with us and trusting Him to help us for our good and His glory no matter what difficulties He permits to come our way. The maturing Christian doesn’t pray, “How can I get out of this?” but “What can I get out of this?”

In the life of a trusting Christian, there are no accidents, only appointments.

When God wants to move us, He occasionally makes us uncomfortable and “stirs up the nest” (Deut. 32:11 NIV).

A good beginning doesn’t guarantee a good ending. That’s one of the repeated lessons taught in Scripture, and it’s tragically confirmed in the lives of people like Lot, Gideon, Samson, King Saul, King Solomon, Demas, and a host of others. Let’s add Isaac to that list.

If we obey the Lord only for what we get out of it, and not because He is worthy of our love and obedience, then our hearts and motives are wrong.

With all their weaknesses and faults, the sons of Jacob will carry on the work of God on earth and fulfill the covenant promises God made to Abraham.

Years later, Jacob would lament, “All these things are against me” (v. 36), when actually all these things were working for him (Rom. 8:28).

God’s delays are not God’s denials.

Too many Christian believers today think that God can use only His own people in places of authority, but He can work His will even through unbelieving leaders like Pharaoh, Cyrus (Ezra 1: 1ff.; Isa. 44: 28), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25: 9; 27: 6), and Augustus Caesar (Luke 2: 1ff.). 

The only people God can forgive are those who know they’re sinners, who admit it and confess that they can’t do anything to merit or earn God’s forgiveness. Whether it’s the woman at the well (John 4), the tax collector in the tree (Luke 19: 1–10), or the thief on the cross (23: 39–43), all sinners have to admit their guilt, abandon their proud efforts to earn salvation, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Lord.

According to Hebrews 11:13–16, the patriarchs confessed that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” A vagabond has no home; a fugitive is running from home; a stranger is away from home; but a pilgrim is heading home. They had their eyes on the future, the glorious city that God was preparing for them, and they passed that heavenly vision along to their descendants.

One of the major differences between a church and a cult is that cults turn out cookie-cutter followers on an assembly line, while churches model a variety of individual saints on a potter’s wheel.

Martin Luther said it best: This life, therefore, is not righteousness but growth in righteousness; not health but healing; not being but becoming; not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it. The process is not yet finished, but it is going on. This is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified. (Edwald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says, vol. 1 (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), 234–35).

The book of Genesis provides for a rich study. I enjoyed Dr. Wiersbe’s aid on this trek through the book.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragment, Grace and Truth, Faith and Worship Christian Weekend)

Do We Have to Choose Between Nice and Right?

I often see little memes extolling the virtues of being nice rather than right. And I wonder why we set up such a false dichotomy. Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t it be both/and?

Most of us want to be right. No one wants to be misinformed or hold opinions that are known to be wrong or foolish. But most of us have at least enough humility to realize that we might unwittingly be wrong sometimes.

But we all know people who, no matter what topic you bring up, have a better idea or a superior way of doing things than what you just expressed. And there are some who have to have everything their own way because of course that’s the only right way. They can make everyone else miserable over the way the toilet paper is put on the roll or the way the toothpaste tube is squeezed. We each have our little idiosyncrasies and preferences for how certain things are done, but we need to learn to compromise and to be less self-centered.

However, in some cases, being wrong can be deadly. The wrong wire cut on the bomb. The wrong medical procedure or medicine. The wrong path to a broken bridge. The wrong opinion about who Jesus is or how one can know Him.

Unfortunately, people can sometimes use truth like a steamroller or bullhorn or club. Arrogance does not make the gospel winsome or inviting; harshness can turn people off to the truth. “The wisdom that is from above,” James says, “is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17).

There are scores, maybe hundreds of issues where Christians can give each other grace, where they don’t have to agree on every little factor. Unfortunately, we waste a lot of time arguing over those issues, hotly defending them, stirring up discord and strife. “One who sows discord among brothers” is in the list of things God hates in Proverbs 6:16-19. Paul lists among the works of the flesh “enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions” (Galatians 5:19-26).

It’s okay to talk about them, if we can do so without heat. It helps sometimes to probe others’ minds as we think through an issue. But sometimes it’s best to let them go. Romans 14 says especially of “one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions.” Paul then gives some classic guidelines for handling some of those issues: don’t despise or judge the person with a different opinion (verse 3); .be fully convinced in your own mind (verse 5); do whatever you do as unto the Lord (verses 6-9); remember the other person is your brother (verse 10); remember we will all give an account to God (verses 10-12); don’t “put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother”—walk in love (verses 13-15, 21); “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (verse 19); do whatever you do in faith (verses 22-23).

There are biblical issues, however, where a line is drawn in the sand and crossing it leads to heresy. Jesus corrected people’s grave errors in theology all the time. The apostles had to deal firmly and sharply with errors in the early churches in the epistles. Paul says at least three times (2 Thess. 3:6, 2 Thess. 3:14-15, 1 Cor. 5:9-11) that there are spiritual issues worth separating over. Paul tells the Corinthains to deliver one unrepentant member in serious sin (incest), “to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5). The end he wanted was not the man’s destruction, but his eventual salvation. To avoid showing someone where their beliefs don’t line up with Scripture, to the point that their soul is in danger, is not the nice or loving thing to do.

Also, Jesus rebuked the disciples for being fearful and not having faith in a situation where fear would seem like a natural response: being in a boat in a storm at sea. Through Old and New Testaments, God is longsuffering and patient. But at times He had to deal firmly—sometimes seemingly harshly—when His people had long instruction and opportunity to do right but kept clinging to their own stubborn way.

The apostles could also seem harsh in their warnings against false teachers, but the truth in question was so vital, and error in its regard so eternally deadly, that strong warnings were needed.

Likewise, human authorities aren’t being kind by avoiding correction that might help one of their charges.

Sometimes Jesus shared truth that the other person did not receive, and He let him walk away, like the “rich young ruler.” He didn’t call him back, soften the message, or backtrack so the relationship could continue. When God brings a person to confront their dearest idol, it’s a crisis, and He wants them to see it for what it is and repent. Thankfully in His grace He’ll often bring a person to that point a number of times (I’ve always hoped that that man came back to the Lord at another time). Chris Anderson makes the point that in our day, there is a rush to get such a person to the “sinner’s prayer” and gloss over their heart issues: “How many such men have been led in a sinner’s prayer that salved their consciences but didn’t save their souls? How many have thus been unwittingly inoculated against the truth? How many have left churches lost and relieved rather than lost and sorrowful?” We need to allow time for godly sorrow to do its work toward repentance unto salvation.

So is it more important to be nice or to be right? It depends on the issue in question and the needs of the people involved. It’s best to be both if possible. The Bible speaks often of God’s kindness and admonishes us in many places to be kind. In interpersonal relationships, especially, we’re to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3: 12-13). When a right view is essential, we don’t need to convey or defend truth in an unnecessarily harsh, negative, gripy, or cynical way. But cutting corners on the truth in an effort to be nice is neither kind nor loving.

How we need God’s discernment and wisdom to know when to speak up, when to be silent, when to take a stand, when to let something go, when to rebuke or warn, when to cover someone’s foibles in love. How we need to soak our minds in Scripture to be guided His truth. How we need His discipline to deal with the logs in our own eyes before attempting to deal with the specks in others. How we need His love to look on others’ needs before our own. How we need His grace to speak the truth, yes, but in love.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Hearth and Home, Sunday Scripture Blessings, Selah,
Scripture and a Snapshot, Inspire Me Monday, Senior Salon,
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Laudable Linkage

A collection of good reading online

Just a short list today:

Should I Really Honor an Ungodly Politician? “If you chose one word to describe the most prominent attitude in today’s society, there is one I am sure you would not immediately select. The word is ‘honor.’ Nor is this a primary descriptor of many Christians in our day. Rather, on a variety of fronts, American Christians are divided, combative, and even angry.”

It Is a Weakness of Faith to Refuse to Mourn the Death of Loved Ones, HT to Challies. “I am often troubled when I attend a funeral, and the leader refuses to let the people mourn. Those in charge of funeral arrangements, and often the families themselves, put so much effort into making the occasion a celebration of life, a graduation to heaven, that those in attendance might feel like their faith is weak if they were to shed tears of sorrow, but the opposite is true.”

You Know You Trashed a Conversation When, HT to Challies. Ed Welch shares ways conversations can get derailed and hurtful.

This was amusing:

Happy Saturday!

Friday’s Fave Five

On Fridays I like to pause for a few moments with Susanne and friends
to reflect on some of the blessings of the week.

Here we are at another Friday already! And here are my five favorites from the week:

1. A Zoom call. A friend and I had our own Zoom meeting so we could catch up by seeing as well as hearing each other.

2. Haircuts. My dear daughter-in-law cut my and my husband’s hair for us again—second time for me since the pandemic started, third time for my husband. We so appreciate this! And then she fed us lunch afterward.

3. My husband’s head for business and finances. We recently refinanced our mortgage to take advantage of lower interest rates and to borrow a little extra to take care of paying off our solar panels, one of our sons’ school loans, etc. As my husband and the loan officer were discussing the papers we were signing, I was thankful he knew what questions to ask and what it all meant—not just for closing, but for the whole process.

4. An excellent customer service experience after a couple of bad ones. My husband had to deal with a situation with a company that involved several hours on the phone over two days, being on hold and transferred multiple times, then going to the store for three hours—and the issue is still not resolved. By contrast, we went to another business this week to take care of a few things. The two people we dealt with were knowledgeable, efficient, and friendly. So refreshing.

5. Attending a funeral virtually. The pastor of the church where I was saved as a teenager passed away at the age of 91. He was a kind, faithful, godly man, and his preaching and teaching gave me a good foundation for the rest of my Christian life. He conducted the funerals of both my parents even though I had moved away and no one from the family attended church there any more. Though sad for the loss, I was thankful the service was live-streamed and recorded so those of us who couldn’t be there could participate. It was a blessing to hear of his history, character, and personality (most of it I knew, but some was new to me). It was also fun to see people I knew from my time in Houston who participated in the service. “The memory of the just is blessed” (Proverbs 10:7a).

Bonus: We don’t have any particular rites or traditions to observe Veteran’s Day, but I like to take a moment to be thankful for the veterans in my own family and all those who are serving and have served. It’s amazing that anyone would sacrifice so much for others, and it’s much appreciated.

Happy Friday! What is something good from your week?

Book Review: Under a Cloudless Sky

In Chris Fabry’s novel, Under a Cloudless Sky, two girls from widely different circumstances become friends in 1933 West Virginia. Bean, short for Beatrice, is the daughter of a coal miner. Ruby’s father is one of the coal mine’s owners. The other owner, Mr. Coleman, employs some shady practices, and the conflict between him and Ruby’s father comes to a head.

Fast forward to 2004. The community wants to make the old coal mine’s company store a tourist attraction. They invite Ruby, now in her eighties, to be their special guest for the opening. But she had never returned and never planned to. There were too many painful memories and hidden secrets.

But Ruby’s grown children are pressuring her to give up her keys and her independence. So she decides she’ll go back to that little coal mining community on her own without telling her children where she’s going. Maybe that will teach them that she’s perfectly capable of handling herself.

Hollis Beasley is one of the last holdouts who refuses to sell his land to Coleman Coal and Energy. But with his neighbors succumbing to CCE one by one and his wife’s illness, he’s not sure if he’ll be able to keep the promise he made his parents to keep the land. “It was in a man to fight and it was in a woman to nest, and those desires competed and wore both down until they became one flesh.”

As the story goes back and forth between timelines, secrets come to light and provide unexpected connections between characters.

Chris Fabry’s stories always contain a lot of warmth and heart, and this one is no exception. He shares in his afterword the people and stories the book is based on. He skillfully brought them together in a compelling way.

Book Review: In His Image

There are some ways in which we will never be like God. Jen Wilkin dealt with most of those in her excellent book None Like Him:10 Ways God is Different From Us (and Why That’s a Good Thing) (linked to my review).

But there are ways we are supposed to be like God. We will never become deity and we’ll never exercise these in perfection, at least until heaven. But we’re supposed to grow in them now. Jen discusses ten of these in In His Image: 10 Ways God Calls Us to Reflect His Character.: holiness, love, goodness, justice, mercy, graciousness, faithfulness, patience, truthfulness, and wisdom.

Jesus held all these traits in perfection. We’re called “to be conformed to [His] image” (Romans 8:29).

Our inclination is to discern God’s will by asking, “What should I do?” But God’s will concerns itself primarily with who we are and only secondarily with what we do. By changing the question and asking, “Who should I be?” we see that God’s will is not concealed in his Word, but is plainly revealed.

The Bible plainly answers the question “Who should I be?” with “Be like Jesus Christ, who perfectty images God in human form.” God’s will for our lives is that we conform to the image of Christ, whose incarnation shows us humanity perfectly conformed to the image of God (pp. 20-21).

In each chapter, Jen discusses what these traits look like in God, and then explains how we can best put them to practice in our own lives. The chapters end with verses and discussion questions.

I have multiple places marked in the book. But here are a few quotes that convicted me:

If we focus on our actions without addressing our hearts, we may end up merely as better behaved lovers of self.

As with the Ten Commandments, the Great Commandment begins with the vertical relationship and moves to horizontal relationships. Unless we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will love ourselves and our neighbors inadequately. Right love of God is what enables right love of self and others (p. 38).

And what does right vertical relationship look like? It looks like the full deployment of our heart, soul, mind and strength—the totality of our being—in the active love of God (p. 39).

Right now, there is much that we witness or endure that is clearly not good. But under the sovereign governance of an eternally good God, we can trust that all that is not now good will ultimately be used for our good. Like Joseph we will one day, in this life or the next, look over our had pasts and acknowledge with him that what our enemies meant for evil God has used for good (Gen. 50:20) (p. 48).

Generosity is the hallmark of those who are determined to be lights in the darkness as children of their heavenly Father. It is the calling card of all who are recipients of the generous good news of salvation through Christ (p. 52).

We are familiar with the maxim that patience is a virtue, but it is a virtue rarely sought. The world’s solution to the problem of impatience is not to develop patience, but to eliminate as many situations that require it as possible (p. 110).

It is not coincidental that a lack of discernment and a neglected Bible are so often found in company (p. 144).

I wish there was a way to retain everything we read from books. Since there is not, I will have to revisit this and None Like Him again in the future. I appreciate Jen’s clear and skillful discussion of biblical concepts.

(Sharing with InstaEncouragement, Grace and Truth)