Laudable Linkage

I’m still catching up with blog reads from the last few weeks, but here are a few good ones I came across.

A Friend Just Lost an Unbelieving Loved One to Death: What Do I Say, Think, and Do? HT to Challies. “How on earth is anyone supposed to be perfectly ‘balanced’ as they traverse this seemingly impossible canyon? With God’s help, it is possible to be faithful to His Word and your friend simultaneously, but this ability does not equate to ease or an absence of deep distress.”

You Can Understand the Bible, HT to Knowable Word. “I’ve battled to get through the census records in Numbers. I’ve labored through the kidneys, livers, and “entrails” of the Levitical laws. I’ve grown weary of the repetitive failures of Israel in 1–2 Kings. I’ve sometimes struggled to see what Hebrews sees in the Old Testament. Much of the imagery of Revelation is still a mystery to me. And so, I regularly find these clear and accessible words from Paul all the more meaningful and encouraging: ‘Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything’ (2 Timothy 2:7).”

Why I Stayed in the Church. “So when I offer these reasons for why we stayed in the church, I do so as a woman who has wrestled with the church’s messiness–and my own. In the end, they may not answer your questions fully, but at least they’ll be a place to start:”

Hedgerows and Big Yellow Trucks, HT to Challies. I loved this. “A hard rain was falling that afternoon, and I was eager to get home. After a long day of doctor appointments in the city for my son Ben, I loaded up the car with groceries and headed up the twisting road to our home in the mountains. Only a few miles up, however, a large yellow County Roads Department truck suddenly pulled out in front of me, making me hit the brakes in frustration. I stewed and fumed as the big truck ground upwards at 20 mph instead of my usual 45.”

Risks and Benefits of Age-Specific Ministry. HT to Challies. “Reflecting on that season of ministry, I’m freshly reminded of the two sides of the age-specific ministry coin. On one hand, the junior high and senior high ministries were incredibly fruitful in their own right (not to mention other age-segregated ministries in between). The ability to hone in on age-specific needs and opportunities served everyone in a personal and powerful way. On the other hand, the combined events were reminders that there are many riches to be discovered with cross-generational ministry. There is a massive benefit to an integrated ministry approach that unleashes the saints to do the work of ministry with everyone in the church, rather than a small segment of it. We all have much to learn from—and much to offer—brothers and sisters who are in different seasons of life.”

An Encouragement to Young Husbands, HT to Challies. “I wanted to do this Christian marriage thing right. As a couple who felt called to missions among the unreached, I wanted us to discipline and focus everything about our lifestyle toward that end. I desired for us to be an example of a sacrificial, Jesus-centered marriage. These desires were not bad. In fact, I would say they were God-given. However, they were also paired with a rushed time-line, anxiety, and pressure. During this newlywed period I was missing what should have been a major emphasis of that time – helping my new bride to simply rest securely in my love for her.”

4 Biblical Truths to Help You Use Time Wisely. “Like Frosty, I saw time melting away, and I wondered if I’d done anything worthwhile with my life. What if I’d wasted weeks and months chasing after worthless things? What if I’d fretted away my days with endless worries over inconsequential things? Had I misspent my minutes, pondering and procrastinating, but never progressing? Had I missed the things that matter?”

A Certain Kind of Evangelical Christian, HT to Challies. This is a Twitter thread that starts: “There once was a certain kind of evangelical Christian I felt free to make fun of. I was pastoring a fast growing church in an urban environment, and a spirit of elitism had infected us. No one would correct me on it because they made fun of them too.”

The Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards, HT to Challies. These are always fun.

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday once again, time to pause with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story to remind ourselves of and thank God for His gifts of the week.

1. A family outing. We went with Jason, Mittu, and Timothy last Saturday to a car show. I’m not so much into looking at old cars, but Timothy asked. 🙂 And it was fun to do something together. A bonus was finding some pink cars!

I thought this British one was cute as well:

You probably can’t make it out in that picture, but on top was a tribute to Queen Elizabeth.

Afterwards, we went out to a new-to-us Mexican food restaurant. I love Mexican food and hadn’t had any in a restaurant in a long time. After we ate, someone (maybe the owner or manager) came over and told us about their desserts, then brought us a free sample of white chocolate raspberry cheesecake to share.

2. Churros. These get their own listing. 🙂 At the restaurant, we ordered some churros to go. It was only the second time I had ever had them, and the first time to have them freshly made. Oh my. So good.

3. Popcorn experiments. Some time ago, Jason and Mittu had given Jim a set of different types of popcorn. We made some the night they brought it, but had not done much with it since. But lately, Jim’s has gotten out the air popper and tried several different flavorings. My favorite so far was kettle corn mixed with honey roasted peanuts. But we just found white cheddar flavoring yesterday, so I look forward to trying that. And to his credit, whenever Jim experiments in the kitchen, he always cleans up afterward.

4. A fun outing. I had a dentist appointment yesterday afternoon–not fun, especially when she couldn’t do the planned filling because the damage was too extensive. The affected tooth is under a bridge, and I’m going to need either a root canal or an implant. While I try to gather more information to make a decision, I have to take antibiotics because there is a little infection in the tooth.

I had planned to run some errands and get my hair cut after the appointment, but thunderstorms started about an hour before I needed to leave (two of my least favorite things at the same time: dental work and driving in storms!) I almost decided to just go back home after seeing the dentist. But the rain let up, so I went on. Then the rain stopped completely. One of my stops was at a new Michael’s craft store recently opened nearby. The only other Michael’s was 30 minutes away, so I rarely got out there. I had some gift cards for them, and it was almost like a second Christmas being able to use them. Plus, craft stores are some of my favorite places, and it had been a long time since I had just wandered around one just for fun. One of my new treasures is this:

5. A fantastic cookie. Jason had once brought me a cookie from a new Crumbl Cookies shop. I wanted to stop in there and see what else they had, but hadn’t made it yet. I finally did on my outing yesterday. This is their Reese’s peanut butter cookie. Oh. my. word. So soft and so good! It’s too much to eat in one sitting, but I’ve enjoyed parts of it and have some left for today.

So it’s been a “sweet” week in more ways than one. 🙂 I hope you’ve had some sweet moments as well.

Seasons of Sorrow

One November day in 2020, Tim and Aileen Challies learned the stunning news that their 20-year-old son, Nick, had suddenly died. He had not been ill. There were no known congenital health issues. He was playing a game with his sister and their friends at college when he suddenly collapsed. Efforts to revive him failed.

Though grief never goes completely away, it is probably at its most intense the first year. Like many of us who write, Tim processed what he was thinking and feeling by writing. Some of what he wrote was published on his blog. But much was not. He gathered his writings from the year into a book titled Seasons of Sorrow: The Pain of Loss and the Comfort of God. The book is laid out across seasons, beginning with fall, when Nick died, through winter, spring, summer, and then fall again on the first anniversary of Nick’s passing.

Nick was a young man training for gospel ministry. This is not the first time I have wondered why would God take someone with so much potential to heaven instead of allowing them to do His work here. We don’t know all the answers. But we do know our times are in His hands. Anyone’s death, but especially that of one so young, reminds us that we’re not guaranteed a certain number of years. By all accounts, Nick used his time here well. May God give us grace to do with same, with a heart fixed on eternity.

Even though the book deals with the recent loss of an adult child, much of it can be applied to any loss. I found help and comfort in dealing with the seventeen year loss of my mom, who died seemingly (to us) too early at 68.

One of the things I appreciated most about Tim’s testimony was his desire to honor God in the midst of his grief. There is nothing wrong with grief and tears. Jesus wept with his friends at the loss of Lazarus, even while knowing He was about to raise him from the dead. We don’t go off on a season of grieving and then come back to faith in and peace with God. Tim demonstrates that we can trust Him through and in the midst of grief.

Tim wrestles honestly with what he knows of the goodness of God in circumstances that don’t seem good.

One aftermath of loss is fearing more loss.

I, whose son collapsed and died, cannot fall asleep in the evening until I have received assurance that both my daughters are still alive and cannot be content in the morning until I am sure both have made it through the night. Nick’s death has made us face mortality and human fragility in a whole new way. My children may as well be made of glass. I’m just so afraid that if Providence directed I lose one, it may direct that I lose another. If it has determined I face this sorrow, why not many more?

How, then, can I let go of such anxiety? How can I continue to live my life? The only antidote I know is this: deliberately submitting myself to the will of God, for comfort is closely related to submission. As long as I fight the will of God, as long as I battle God’s right to rule his world in his way, peace remains distant and furtive. But when I surrender, when I bow the knee, then peace flows like a river and attends my way. For when I do so, I remind myself that the will of God is inseparable from the character of God. I remind myself that the will of God is always good because God is always good. Hence I pray a prayer of faith, not fatalism: “Your will be done. Not as I will, but as you will”  (p. 76).

Another section that particularly spoke to me was when Tim found his longings for heaven mixed up with seeing Nick again as much, and sometimes more, than seeing Jesus. He confessed this to a friend, ending with the thought that he must sound like a pagan. The friend replied, “No, you sound like a grieving father” (p. 122).

And I’m content to leave it there. It was God who called me to himself and God who put a great love for himself in my heart. It was God who gave me my son, God who gave me such love for him, and God who took him away from me. The Lord knows I love the Lord, and the Lord knows I love my boy. I’ll leave it to him to sort out the details (p. 122).

Ecclesiastes 7:2 tells us, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.” God doesn’t condemn feasting and gladness: He incorporated such into Israel’s calendar year and tells us the joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). But we do tend to learn deeper lessons through mourning. I appreciate Tim’s sharing what he experienced and learned with us.

(I often link up with some of these bloggers.)

Wrapping Up Two Christmas Reads

I just finished my last two Christmas novels and thought I’d review them together.

In Hope for Christmas: A Small Town Christmas Romance Novella by Malissa Chapin, Merry Noel (who insists her last name is pronounced Knoll, not No-el) is trying to close one last deal before Christmas Day. If she can’t get everything together for it, the client will call the deal off. But her office is in the midst of a Christmas party and she can’t get anyone to make copies or do the things needed to close the deal.

Even without the pressure of this last deal, though, Merry hated Christmas and wouldn’t be celebrating.

After a disastrous series of events, Merry ends up losing her job. She didn’t want to go home to Wisconsin, but she has nowhere else to turn.

Having gotten used to city life in Atlanta, Merry chafes at going back to the farm. And how crazy was it to come back when the whole town was in the throes of their annual community Christmas celebration.

But her mother’s new neighbor, time with her mother, a blizzard, and an unexpected visitor in need all help Merry face her issues.

When I first started reading this, I thought it was going to be a modern retelling of A Christmas Carol. A couple of Merry’s coworkers even call her Ms. Scrooge. But Merry’s motivations aren’t related to business or finance.

I very much enjoyed Merry’s journey and this story, which were both heart-warming and faith-filled.

Malissa is the author of a book I read and loved last year, The Road Home (linked to my review). She also wrote Murder Goes Solo: A Piper Haydn Piano Mystery, which I have not read yet. Cozy mysteries are not my favorite fare, but I do read them sometimes, so I probably will check this out at some point.

I had not heard of Beth Moran before. But I had finished my audiobook a few days before Christmas and wouldn’t get another Audible credit until the end of the month. So I looked around Audible’s “free with a subscription” selection, and Beth’s Christmas Every Day caught my eye. I’m wary of modern secular fiction because usually it has bad language or bedroom scenes. But I figured this was low risk–if I came across something objectionable, I could just delete it from my library.

Jenny is another Christmas-hater, but for different reasons. Since her parents’ divorce, she usually spent holidays alone. But in light of her impending engagement, she has every hope that she’ll spend Christmas in a lovely place with a real family this year.

But then her boss/secret boyfriend announces an engagement not with Jenny, but with her beautiful, popular twin sister.

Jenny leaves for an old cottage in Sherwood Forest that she inherited from her grandmother, who passed away six years earlier. She expected the place to need a little clean-up. But she hadn’t known her grandmother had become a hoarder or that the house would need so much.

She gets off on the wrong foot with her curmudgeonly neighbor, Mack. But slowly, she begins to form friendships with other people in the village and gets a job.

Then she’s invited to an unusual book club. A couple of the participants are so cantankerous that they can’t agree on what books to read. So the group decides to shift focus and work on a personal challenge for the coming year, reporting on their progress at the monthly meetings instead of books. A private investigator wants to learn to bake. A dying older woman has a list of daring feats she wants to accomplish. A single mom wants to find a good man with whom she can have a real relationship. A super-fan wants to find the location of a reclusive author said to live in their area and invite her to the book club.

As Jenny deals with the house, her new job of minding a lively family of five children, her neighbor, and her new friends, she finally learns what belonging and family are all about.

This story is funny in places and heart-warming in others. Jenny’s series of comedic disasters got a little old at one point—but I guess I got used to them, or maybe they just toned down a bit. They kept happening but didn’t seem so outlandish as at first.

Even though this is written from a secular standpoint, there was a really good section on forgiveness.

There was a smattering of bad words, but otherwise the story was very clean.

Helen Keely did a superb job narrating the audiobook. I had to slow down the narration just a tad, as the British accent spoken very quickly was hard to understand in places.

I liked this books so well that I am willing to try more from this author. And I hope Helen Keely narrates them all.

Everyday Hallelujahs

Last Sunday, as I set the table for breakfast, the music I was listening to on BBN Radio transitioned to the “Hallelujah chorus” from Handel’s magnificent oratorio, The Messiah.

Just a couple of weeks before, we had attended a Christmas concert in which the “Hallelujah chorus” was performed. The audience stood as one when the first notes were played, a tradition said to have begun with King George on his very first hearing of this tribute to the King of kings.

So in my kitchen, I almost felt like I should pause at attention while the chorus played. Was it disrespectful, even sacrilegious, to keep placing silverware and stirring eggs while such praise to God played in the background?

There will come a time when all other endeavors will cease and everyone will praise the King.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12).

I can only imagine what a glorious day that will be. We get a little foretaste of it now in church, when we lay aside our ordinary pursuits of the week to gather with God’s people and sing His praises together.

But worship isn’t just for Sundays or public gatherings. We don’t acknowledge God on Sundays and then go back to our regular work without giving Him any more thought.

We can worship Him in everything we do because He is with us and has given us all we have.

I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.

You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:8-9, 11).

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:1-2).

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).

God reigns over creation and nations. But He also reigns over homes and kitchens. We don’t have to wait til heaven or even Sunday to praise Him. We can raise our hallelujahs for everyday blessings as well as the major events of life, in joy as well as trouble and sorrow.

So I continued folding napkins, setting out condiments, flipping over the hash browns, and pulling out the crescent rolls while singing in my heart.

The Lord God omnipotent reigneth!

He shall reign for ever and ever!

Hallelujah!

Hallelujah!

Laudable Linkage

Happy first Saturday of January! As might be expected, a lot of posts I found this week dealt with getting ready for a new year.

His Feet, HT to Challies. “I was fourteen and small for my age, a reserved shy shadow of the man I might one day grow into. Others struck me for an unknown reason, some imagined offence I had committed. Verbal assault soon became physical, yet it wasn’t the impact of fist on face that hurt most. I felt alone. I felt small. I felt undone. But then his feet were there.”

Say It, HT to Challies. A short account of Charles Spurgeon’s conversion, which is always delightful to read, but with a few good points added.

Grant Me One Muslim Friend, HT to Challies. “The most strategic thing we could do to reach the Muslim world is for every Muslim to simply have a believing friend.”

Three Faith-Focused Strategies to Welcome the New Year. “Some of us deliberate over annual goals or resolutions while others invite God to give us a word for the New Year. As we invest time in these pursuits, let’s walk through the following four steps as we consider how He led us through last year and as we seek His guidance in the New Year.

How Can We Have Peace and Confidence in the New Year? “With all the turmoil and instability over the last few years, most of us want more peace, more joy, and more confidence in the future. Are we at the mercy of the government or the economy or the culture around us if we’re to have those things? Or is it possible that the right goals and habits can play a big part? If so, what kind of goals and habits?”

5 Tips to Reinforce Your Bible Study and Prayer Routine, HT to Knowable Word. Although aimed at church leaders, these are good for anyone trying to develop a “sustainable habit for personal Bible study and prayer.”

7 Reasons Winter Reminds Us to Hold on to Hope, HT to Challies. “Many people suffer from seasonal depression or feel down in the winter. The trees seem lifeless, we spend a lot more time inside, and it gets darker earlier and for longer stretches of the day. It can also mean we spend more time pondering upon the difficult seasons in our own lives.”

Assign It a Day and Time. A great time management principle!

8 Tips to Have a More Productive Year, HT to Lisa. “I am all about To Do lists and planners! However, that doesn’t always make me as productive I could be. There has to be some follow-through to be productive. I am going to share 8 tips on how to have a more productive year in whatever area you are working.”

Gladys Hunt on Little Golden Books, HT to the Story Warren. I loved the little Golden books as a child and read many of them to my own children. It was interesting to read the story behind them.

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s hard to believe we’re near the first week of January already. These Friday pauses with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story invite us to capture and be thankful for the blessings that come our way.

1. Bowling and pizza. Our last Saturday when everyone was here, we went bowling in the afternoon. I don’t think we’ve done that since before the pandemic began. We went home to rest and met up again at Timothy’s favorite pizza place. The people working that night were exceptional in their service. When I got a chocolate chip cookie for dessert, they warmed it in the same oven where they warm their pizzas. It was so good.

2. A new iPad mini was one of my Christmas presents. My old one was acting clunky and running out of battery way too quickly. The new one has been a pleasure.

3. A leak in our bathroom seems to have been coming from the handle that turns off the water rather than from under the toilet, as we had feared. My husband’s fix seems to be holding.

4. New calendars are one of my favorite parts of January. Even though we all have calendars on our phones and tablets, I still like the big family calendar in the kitchen and one near my desk I can glance at. Plus I like turning the pages and seeing new photos or art work every month.

5. A quiet week was much needed after the holidays, though I loved the activities and family time. I had intended to take one whole day just to vegetate. That didn’t quite work out, but the week has been more relaxed. Plus we got take-out for dinner a few times and had leftovers one night, so it’s been a light cooking week.

Bonus: beautiful weather. After enduring 3 degrees during Christmas, afternoon highs in the 50s this week felt great. Plus we’ve had sunshine and blue skies toward the end of the week. Winter’s not done yet, I’m sure. But I am basking in the nice weather while we have it.

Bonus 2: Normalcy. I was struck this week that with the activities we went to over the holidays and even just going to the grocery store this week, it feels normal to do these things for the first time since the pandemic started. I guess it has felt that way for a while now and I just realized it. Covid is still out there, and we’re thinking it probably always will be. And we still have some supply issues. But it’s so nice not to have it all hanging over us like a dark cloud, as it did for so long.

What’s something good from your week?

Be Transformed

Warren Wiersbe divided his commentary on the gospel of John into two books. The first was Be Alive (John 1-12): Get to Know the Living Savior. The second is Be Transformed (John 13-21): Christ’s Triumph Means Your Transformation. The first twelve chapters of John “focus on our Lord’s public ministry, especially the signs (miracles) that Jesus performed and the messages that grew from them” (Location 150, Kindle version). Chapters 13-21 share more of the private ministry of Jesus with His closest disciples, “preparing them for their future service when the Holy Spirit would come and empower them” (Location 150). Chapter 13 opens with the Passover meal the night before Jesus was betrayed where He washes the disciples’ feet and institutes what we call the Lord’s supper (communion). The rest of John details Jesus private discourse with the disciples that night, His betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection.

John shares his purpose statement in John 20:31: “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” “The basic theme of John’s gospel is that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is the very Son of God, and all who believe in Him receive eternal life (20: 30–31). John’s subject is the deity of Christ. John’s object is to lead people into the life—eternal life, abundant life—that only Christ can give. John is both a theologian and an evangelist” (Location 150).

John attests to Jesus deity not only through His many signs, or miracles, but through other witnesses, through Jesus’ “I am” statements, through His fulfillment of the Old Testament festivals and prophecies about Himself.

John said throughout the first part of his book that Jesus’ “hour” had not yet come. Then in John 12:23, at this transition between public and private ministry and the week leading up to the cross, Jesus said, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” Jesus says a little later, in verse 27, ““Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.”

As I mentioned in Let Not Your Hearts Be Troubled, Wiersbe points out that Jesus comforted and reassured the disciples that though He was about to leave the earth, they had the Father’s love and care, the peace Jesus gave them, the comfort and ministry of the Holy Spirit within them, access in prayer, and a home in heaven to look forward to.

He then teaches them to abide in Him, as a branch abides in the vine (John 15). “The key word is abide; it is used eleven times in John 15: 1–11 (‘continue’ in John 15: 9 and ‘remain’ in John 15: 11). What does it mean to ‘abide’? It means to keep in fellowship with Christ so that His life can work in and through us to produce fruit. This certainly involves the Word of God and the confession of sin so that nothing hinders our communion with Him (John 15: 3). It also involves obeying Him because we love Him (John 15: 9–10)” (Location 777). “This abiding relationship is natural to the branch and the vine, but it must be cultivated in the Christian life. It is not automatic. Abiding in Christ demands worship, meditation on God’s Word, prayer, sacrifice, and service—but what a joyful experience it is!” (Locaion786).

Jesus tells them more of the work the Holy Spirit will do in their lives (John 16) and then offers up His wonderful “high priestly prayer” to the Father for us (John 17).

Then John tells of Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, His encounter with Pilate, His crucifixion, burial, resurrection, appearances to Mary and the disciples..

A few other quotes from Wiersbe’s commentary:

To “keep” His commandments means to value them, treasure them, guard them, and do them. “I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23: 12) (Location 559).

Our English word comfort comes from two Latin words meaning “with strength.” We usually think of “comfort” as soothing someone, consoling him or her, and to some extent this is true. But true comfort strengthens us to face life bravely and keep on going. It does not rob us of responsibility or make it easy for us to give up. Some translations call the Holy Spirit “the Encourager,” and this is a good choice of words. Parakl ∑ tos is translated “Advocate” in 1 John 2: 1. An “advocate” is one who represents you at court and stands at your side to plead your case (Location 587).

Shalom—peace—is a precious word to the Jewish people. It means much more than just the absence of war or distress. Shalom means wholeness, completeness, health, security, even prosperity in the best sense. When you are enjoying God’s peace, there is joy and contentment. But God’s peace is not like the “peace” that the world offers (Location 662).

We do not study the Word of God in order to “argue religion” with people, or to show off our grasp of spiritual things. We study the Word to see Jesus Christ, to know God better, and to glorify Him in our lives (Location 1133).

“Be of good cheer!” is one of our Lord’s repeated statements of encouragement. Literally it means, “Cheer up!” There is the “good cheer” of His pardon (Matt. 9: 1–8), His power (Matt. 9: 18–22), and His presence (Matt. 14: 22–27). Here in John 16: 33, He announces the “good cheer” of His victory over the world. We are overcomers because He has first overcome for us (Location 1318).

Human history began in a garden (Gen. 2: 8ff.), and the first sin of man was committed in that garden. The first Adam disobeyed God and was cast out of the garden, but the Last Adam (1 Cor. 15: 45) was obedient as He went into the garden of Gethsemane. In a garden, the first Adam brought sin and death to mankind, but Jesus, by His obedience, brought righteousness and life to all who will trust Him. He was “obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2: 8). History will one day end in another garden, the heavenly city that John describes in Revelation 21 and 22. In that garden, there will be no more death and no more curse. The river of the water of life will flow ceaselessly, and the tree of life will produce bountiful fruit. Eden was the garden of disobedience and sin; Gethsemane was the garden of obedience and submission; and heaven shall be the eternal garden of delight and satisfaction, to the glory of God (Location 1629).

It is a sad thing when well-meaning but ignorant Christians take up the sword to “defend” the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter hurt Malchus [the high priest’s servant whose ear Peter cut off), something no believer should do. Peter hurt the testimony of Christ and gave the false impression that His disciples hate their enemies and try to destroy them. (Note our Lord’s reply to Pilate in John 18:36.) (Location 1713).

The cup He prepares will never contain anything that will harm us. We may suffer pain and heartbreak, but He will eventually transform that suffering into glory (Location 1737).

God does not reveal new truth to us if we fail to act on the truth we already know (Location 2005).

I enjoyed spending time in December thinking of Jesus birth in the context of the rest of His life and ministry and teaching in John. Dr. Wiersbe, as always, was a helpful companion.

Reading Plans for 2023

For most of my life, I’ve just read whatever was next in the stack or something I was in the mood for. Reading challenges have helped broaden my horizons and be more intentional in my reading. Plus it’s fun to share reading lists with the other participants. And some challenge hosts offer drawings for prizes!

I dropped one challenge I participated in last year. All of these are categories I already read anyway. Plus they leave me some room to still delve into something new and unexpected through the year.

I have not heard or seen anything from Karen at Books and Chocolate about whether she is hosting the Back to the Classics Challenge again this year–so that probably means she isn’t. That’s too bad, as this was one of my favorites. But I’m sure she has other priorities in her life right now.

I will still read classics, though. I’ve made it a mission to since I wasn’t exposed to many growing up. I’ve been trying to read through Dickens novels that I haven’t read yet. All I have left are Martin Chuzzlewit, Barnaby Rudge, Dombey and Son, and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, so I’ll read at least one of those. I also got the audiobooks for Pilgrim’s Regress by C. S. Lewis and Martyr of the Catacombs. I finished Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire series last year, so I’d like to explore some of his other works.

Bev at My Reader’s Block hosts the Mount TBR Reading Challenge, which encourages us to get to those books we already own but have not read yet. That’s something I need to do every year, and I have enjoyed participating with Bev the last few years. She has the goals set out as a series of mountains, and we’re supposed to declare which one we’re aiming for. I think I’ll stay with Mt. Vancouver (36 books), even though I’ve reached the next level a couple of years. The sign-up and more information for this challenge are here.

Shelly Rae at Book’d Out hosts the Nonfiction Reader Challenge. This can be done one of two ways. Shelly has twelve books in different categories that we can aim for. Or we can be a “Nonfiction Grazer” and make our own goal. Although I might hit a few of her categories, I’ll go the grazer route. I normally read several nonfiction books (over 30 last year). This year, I’d like to hit these categories:

  • At least one biography, autobiography, or memoir.
  • One writing book
  • One book of humor
  • One Bible study book
  • One Christian living book
  • One book of letters or journals
  • One book by C. S. Lewis that I have not read yet
  • One book on organization or productivity
  • One book pertaining to a holiday (probably Christmas)
  • One book related to midlife or aging

Finally, The Intrepid Reader. hosts the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge. A good many of my fictional reads fit this category. I’m going to aim for the Medieval level at 15 books.

And that does it for this year, I think!

Do you participate in reading challenges? Which ones.

Heaven and Nature Sing

Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson was just released last fall. I’m so glad I heard of it in time to use for Advent.

“Heaven and nature sing” is a phrase from “Joy to the World,” written by Isaac Watts. Watts’ hymn looks forward to Jesus’ second coming more than His first, but it’s regularly used as a Christmas carol. Hannah took inspiration from this phrase and wrote 25 Advent devotions based on various aspects of nature connected with the birth of Christ. The Bible tells us creation groans from the effects of sin, waiting for redemption. We also groan or yearn for things to be set right. Hannah writes, “I want to offer you hope—not by ignoring the brokenness but by looking it squarely in the face, knowing your Redeemer has and will come” (p. 1).

One thing that struck me about these meditations was how much sheer thought must have been behind them, to weave so many threads together.

For instance, in the chapter “Family Tree,” Hannah writes of her husband’s discovering some old family genealogies which were written not in flow charts like we’re used to, but in concentric circles. Then she tells of a family visit to see the redwood trees in CA. One cross-section of a stump showed rings developed over the millennia the tree had been alive, and Hannah contemplates all the history the tree lived through. Then she brings up the records of Jesus’ human genealogy. His people were often faithless and disobedient, resulting in judgment by enemy armies taking over Israel and exiling its people. Isaiah compares this to God lopping boughs off a tree (Isaiah 10:33). But He promises “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. . . In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1-2, 10).

“The story of Christmas is this: the tree is not dead” (p. 20). And eventually, others were grafted into the family (Romans 11:17-24), “strangers and foreigners and all those who thought they’d never know family again, those who never dared to hope that life would run through them” (p. 20).

You and I are links in the chain of generations, called to steward the fragile hope we’ve received. The seventy or eighty years given to us on this earth pale in light of those who have come before us and those who follow after. . .

So whether his work happens over the course of a thousand years or one day, whether it is given to us to play a prominent role in it or simply to stand as a faithful witness to the promise, we will wait on him. And we will wait in hope.

The tree is not dead. The quiet, steady work that came before us will continue on after us. The quiet, steady work we do today—even if it’s as simple as celebrating the Promised Son during this season—will echo through the years (pp. 20-21).

And thus Hannah writes about winter, stars, serpents, holly, evergreens, swaddling bands, shepherds, stars, and more.

One of my favorite quotes is in the chapter “Among the Beasts.”

Yes, the manger signals something about this baby, but it is not simply his poverty. By being placed in the manger, he is revealed as both the rightful son of Adam charged with caring for his creation and also the eternal Son of God who created them and who provides for them. So instead of filling the manger with hay or corn, he fills it with himself (p. 80).

I spent many mornings after my reading in this book in tears or joy, touched and awed by the contemplation of the “old, familiar” Christmas story.

Each devotion is about five pages long and written in an easily readable style. The illustrations on the cover and between chapters were drawn by Hannah’s husband, Nathan.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I’m sure I’ll use it again in future Advent seasons. But since these truths are timeless, you could read it any time of year.

I have some of Hannah’s other books in my Kindle app, and I am eager to read them. The only trouble is deciding which one to start with!