A resolution for 2018 #BibleJournaling

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Are you all set for 2018… new calendars up, dreams and goals written down, diet started? Just kidding! It’s early days, I know. Still, it’s not too soon to start thinking about what we want the year ahead to look like.

One resolution that hits my list every year is to get more of God’s word into me in the coming 12 months. David Kitz writes about that in Chapter 22 of Psalms Alive, a chapter that delves into the “Beth” section of Psalm 119 (Psalm 119:9-11).

My Bible journaling response was to verse 11 of that chapter.

“Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against you.”

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I was particularly challenged by Kitz’s drilling down into what it means to hide God’s word in our hearts:

“How do I hide God’s Word in my heart? The answers may seem obvious. Hear it. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it. Apply it to life. Commit it to memory.

Most often understanding springs out of application, not out of hearing. I can hear a particular truth a thousand times but it isn’t really mine until I apply it to my own life. Applied truth bears fruit. It yields results” – Psalms Alive p. 200 (emphasis added).

To do my journal response I made a heart out of parchment paper, attached it, with Washi tape, to the outside edge of the page as a tip-out, then doodled on the heart and behind it some ideas of how to hide God’s word in my heart. (Other materials used: colored pencils, Pigma Micron pens)

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May we spend time in 2018 hiding God’s word in our hearts—in all the ways we can!

Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? (review)

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Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention?Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? by John Murray Cpd

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After he had written a memoir about his childhood, John Murray’s wife asked him, “When are you going to write about your experiences in Eastern Europe?” Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? is that book.

In it Murray tells many fascinating stories from his twenty-year stint as the Executive Director of Euroevangelism Canada and supplements these anecdotes with Bible teaching.

The telling is organized in eight chapters, each titled with a question: “Does God Care?”, “Does God Answer Prayer?”, “Does God Heal?” etc. Within the chapters he relates incidents that happened to him and others that speak to the chapter’s question. He also explores what the Bible says, sharing rich insights developed over a lifetime of pastoral and missionary work. Each chapter ends with a “Guide for Group Study” section that includes a Bible reading and discussion questions.

I loved this book for its inspiring stories, like the one Murray tells in the chapter “Does God Protect?”:

Some Christians in Budapest had bought a derelict restaurant to renovate into a church. Due to low funds members of the congregation were doing most of the work. Every week the place was busy with volunteers.

Regularly on Friday mornings the church leadership had a prayer meeting to pray especially for the renovations. During one of these prayer meetings a deacon said he felt they should pray about the roof, though he didn’t know what to pray for specifically.

On a Saturday morning not long after, when forty people were working on the building, a man working in the rafters caught his hammer on something made of metal. The movement dislodged the object, it fell, and banged hard onto the concrete floor below.

The object turned out to be an unexploded WWII bomb which, the army bomb squad later told them, was live. The army men couldn’t figure out why it hadn’t exploded on impact (pp. 101-103).

I also loved this book for its teaching, like this bit from the chapter: “Does God Intervene?”:

“Whether we are looking for healing, for guidance, for comfort, or any other aspect of God’s intervention in our lives, we are encouraged to look in the right place. we have been given the Word of God so that God can speak through it. We have been given the privileged channel of prayer by which we can share with Him our devotion, our worship, our thanksgiving, and our supplications. We have been given the ministry of God’s Spirit within our lives to guide us in all areas. The Spirit of God is also the one who plants the gift of faith within us, so that we might look expectantly for God to work. We ask, and then we wait. The waiting is the most difficult part” p. 142.

The amazing stories and wise insights in John Murray’s Miracles: Coincidence or Divine Intervention? will help grow your faith high and deep. I recommend it.

This book is part of my own collection.

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Openness Unhindered – review

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Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with ChristOpenness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert on Sexual Identity and Union with Christ by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first came across Openness Unhindered’s author Rosaria Butterfield on a video where she told her story of coming to Christ out of a lesbian lifestyle. I loved the fact that my favorite book, the Bible, was instrumental in her conversion. Openness Unhindered testifies to how she has continued to engage with it at a deep and thoughtful level.

In the book, the second one she has authored about her faith since she left her old life around 1999, she alludes briefly to her conversion story. Then she goes on to talk about how she has wrestled with her past and come to a place of equilibrium as a home school mother and pastor’s wife. Passages like the following tug at the heart:

“I am and always will be Rahab—a woman with a past. So, what does a person like me do with such a past? I have not forgotten. Body memories know my name. Details intrude into my world unpredictably, like when I am kneading the communion bread or homsechooling my children. I take each ancient token to the cross, for prayer, for more repentance, for thanksgiving that God is always right about matters of sin and repentance” – Kindle Location (KL) 631.

She stresses the importance of her new identity in Christ and of repentance. Even the title of the chapter on repentance testifies to how foundational it is to her: “Repentance: The Threshold to God and the Answer to Shame, Temptation and Sin.”

In chapters titled “Sexual Orientation—Freud’s Nineteenth Century Mistake” and “Self-representation—What Does it Mean to be Gay?” she unpacks the history of the gay rights movement and explains how “gay” has become a term of identity. In fact, she argues, gay doesn’t even belong, as an adjective, together with Christian. She says:

Gay is a word that carries stigma because of God’s moral prohibitions against homosexuality. … Because the Bible is clear on the point that homosexual practice is a sin, and because gay is a synonym for the implied desire for or practice of homosexuality, the stigma of this term is an act of God’s love, because God uses it to convict his children of their brokenness” –KL 2111.

Another powerful chapter is the one on Christian community. Here Butterfield describes how their family’s hospitality toward neighbors and church members became a closely woven safety net for all involved.

This was a great read! Though I did find the theological chapters a bit of a slog (Butterfield was a university professor in her former life and in plumbing these challenging topics comes across somewhat professorial), for the most part I enjoyed the book and learned a lot. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“When we are owned by God, we are ruined for the world. And this marring of us for the world is one of the birthmarks of conversion” – KL 595.

“Temptation comes in many forms, but it is always personal, uncannily tailor-made for our individual moral weakness, and it takes aim at God’s character, seeking to ransack our faith” – KL 1343.

“Desires for things God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” – Sam Allbery quoted on KL 2320.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is trying to understand where homosexual practice fits within the Christian life and the church. Openness Unhindered is a part of my own Kindle collection.

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Hiding in the Light (review)

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Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow JesusHiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus by Rifqa Bary

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A face marred by an accident at six, a strict Muslim upbringing, and cruel treatment by her parents fed a deep longing within Rifqa Bary for love and acceptance. It was her seventh grade school friend Angela who answered her questions about Jesus and invited her to church that led to her conversion—the most profound experience in her life to that point.

Though life as a secret Christian in a strict Muslim home in Ohio was anything but easy, it was after her baptism that things got dangerous. Fearing for her life and sanity, she finally fled her home in July of 2009, one month shy of her 17th birthday and still a minor for another year.

Hiding in the Light, Rifqa’s story told in first person, is a riveting read from start to finish. She is eventually on the run not only from her parents and their mosque but also from U.S. child welfare officials who, she fears, will send her back home unless they believe her life is actually in danger.

What impressed me about this memoir is Rifqa’s love and loyalty to Jesus and the price she was willing to pay to be identified as one of His. In her most trying moments she feels His tangible presence. Here, for example, is her account of what happened one day when she was being held in a juvenile detention center in Florida:

“ … while sitting alone again in my cell, I sensed what had become for me an almost absolute assurance of His presence: a gentle whisper that resonated in my spirit … Will you sing to Me, Rifqa?

Sing to You? Here? Are You crazy?… Okay God. Give me a song and I’ll sing it.

I softly rested the back of my head against the wall, exhaled a cleansing sigh, swallowed my last remnant of hindered self-conscious disobedience and began singing the opening lines to Matt Redman’s ‘The Heart of Worship’ “ Kindle Location 2231.

This book gave me a new appreciation for my Christian upbringing. It also opened my eyes to God’s tender care of His own in the way He provided help in the nick of time for Rifqa in many tense situations. A compelling read, I think Hiding in the Light would be a valuable resource for all who love and work with Muslims.

I received Hiding In The Light as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Consider the Sunflowers (review)

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Consider the Sunflowers - Elma SchemenauerTina Janz feels torn between her parents’ wishes that she marry an upstanding (but boring) Mennonite boy and her desire for the man she loves—Frank Warkentin, the son of a Mennonite father and Gypsy mother. But the tug-of-war in Elma Schemenauer’s novel Consider the Sunflowers is more than between just Tina and her parents. For handsome, dashing, funny Frank doesn’t share Tina’s Mennonite faith. She soon discovers he has a violent temper. And his farm is far from town—something that doesn’t suit Tina well at all.

Schemenauer takes us on a literary journey that spans the years from 1940-1947 in the lives of Tina and Frank. The place is Coyote, Saskatchewan—a fictional town near Outlook, populated by a Mennonite and non-Mennonite mix. Frank is attracted to other Mennonite outcasts like Dorrie Harms and hangs out with Scandinavian friends Thor and Leif while Tina feels torn between both worlds.

Schemenauer’s familiarity with the Mennonite lifestyle, ways of thinking, and speech mannerisms is evident throughout the book (she is of Mennonite extraction). Thus from the opening words I felt I was in an authentic world. All the Na yo’s (p. 28), sentences ending in yet (“In Saskatoon yet” – p. 128), already, and nicht (“We should have your wedding on Saturday nicht?” p. 153) rang true for me, as someone who grew up in the same people group.

The story, told through Tina and Frank’s points of view, follows the ups and downs of their relationship all the while exploring many themes: how we’re molded by early experiences, what comprises love, aspects of marriage including the importance of honesty and transparency, how choices we make have consequences, what it’s like to be a Mennonite, what it’s like to be a Mennonite on the fringes, how religion and faith differ, and the overarching importance of forgiveness and trust in God no matter what the fine points of one’s creed might be.

Tina’s realization of this comes after a long crisis of faith. Told in Schemenauer’s understated yet picturesque style, it is one of my favorite passages in the book:

“Can you hear me?” she asked.

A coyote howled in the pasture. A gust of wind ruffled Slim’s coat. As it lifted Tina’s hair off her forehead, Jesus seemed to speak to her. Not in words. More like flowers opening in her heart. I love you, he said. Do you believe that?

Her reaction after she senses her brief conversation with Jesus is over is similarly subtle but full of wisdom that resonates with truth:

“…she expected to feel something like holy fireworks in her heart. Instead she felt only a new orderliness, like her thoughts were sorting themselves into new file folders. She crossed the silent kitchen, climbed the stairs, and eased herself into bed” – p. 157.

“Consider the lilies…” Jesus said, as He pointed out the necessity of a simple day-to-day faith in God to counter the fears and anxieties of life. In Consider the Sunflowers Schemenauer draws our attention, through Tina and Frank, to the God who still longs to be trusted with the minutiae of ordinary existence.

The story is supplemented by a Mennonite timeline explaining the origin and migrations of this ethnic and religious minority. Study questions at the end of the book will be helpful for reading clubs and home school study.

Author Elma Schemenauer

Author Elma Schemenauer

Title: Consider the Sunflowers
Author: Elma Schemenauer
Publisher: Borealis Press, November 10, 2014, Paperback 299 pages
ISBN 978-0-88887-575-4,

 

AVAILABLE FROM THE PUBLISHER, Borealis Press – $19.95

Also available online at Chapters Indigo  by about November 15.

E-book coming in 2015.

For more information, please visit http://elmams.wix.com/sflwrs

Surprised by Oxford – review

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Surprised by OxfordSurprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In her beautifully written spiritual memoir Surprised by Oxford, Carolyn Weber makes us privy to three romances.

She takes us with her as she falls in love with Oxford—the city and the school.

We experience the ups and downs of her relationship with TDH (tall, dark and handsome) which begins when he patiently answers the many questions of this atheistic Canadian scholarship student. Along the way he poses a few questions of his own.

Finally, we follow “Caro’s” meandering journey toward Jesus, from sneaking into the back of a cathedral to read a pew Bible, to a public baptism in the Thames River.

Weber’s literary background makes this a book rich in quotes and allusions to literature classics like John Donne and George Herbert. But she’s no cultural recluse and so pop culture wisdom, like U2 lyrics, find a place as well.

Her keen intelligence combined with feminist leanings informs and directs the apologetic narrative as she grapples with questions she needs to have answered before she will put her faith in any dogma or deity.

Her authenticity and warm spirit shine through all over the place as she recounts memories of life in her Canadian home and Oxford dorm conversations, pub nights, and outings with fellow students and professors.

I found Surprised by Oxford an altogether enjoyable read and am thrilled that it won the Grace Irwin Prize as the best Canadian Christian book published in 2013.

Surprised by Oxford is part of my own Kindle collection

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Ex-Muslim (review)

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Ex-Muslim: How One Daring Prayer to Jesus Changed a Life ForeverEx-Muslim: How One Daring Prayer to Jesus Changed a Life Forever by Naeem Fazal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ex-Muslim: How One Daring Prayer to Jesus Changed a Life Forever is the memoir of Naeem Fazal (with co-writer Kitti Murray). In it Fazal tells the story of how he, an ethnic Pakistani from Kuwait, came to America as a devout Muslim intent on meeting beautiful blondes. Then one day, during a frightening encounter with evil, he met Jesus. Ex-Muslim also tells how his siblings converted to Christianity, how he met and wooed his wife Ashley, and how they planted Mosaic Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Fazal tells his story in first person. The writing style is casual. It’s almost as if he’s sitting across the table talking to you using everyday lingo and putting in asides. The sense of ego that comes across in places did irritate me a bit, though he does his share of admitting to and apologizing for episodes of immaturity and a tendency toward cockiness, especially in evidence during his younger days.

Besides telling his story he also explores, in some of the more lecture-type parts of the book, principles of how God works in general. Fazal finds lessons in the incidents of his own life and uses them as springboards to instruct others. His experience of coming to the States from the Middle East also gives us a refreshing look at western culture through an outsider’s eyes. These things work together to make for interesting and relatable teaching.

I found much to like and take away from this book. Describing his encounter with Jesus, Fazal writes:

“Jesus’ first words to me were not, ‘Whew! You’re safe now with me.’ No, he said, ‘I am Jesus Christ, your Lord. Your life is not your own’ ” Kindle Location 859.

When speaking of ministry to people of other cultures and faiths, especially Muslims, He says:

“Incarnational living, living among people and relating to them intimately, is of far more value than anything an evangelism or apologetics course can teach us. I’m not suggesting we don’t learn to understand our Muslim neighbors and friends and coworkers, but I am saying that it is our relationships that matter most. If people don’t see the teachings of Jesus lived out in us, they won’t want to listen to a word we have to say about him” K. L. 1814.

After seeing his coffee shop barista at Target and not recognizing her because she was out of context, he sensed Jesus asking him:

“Naeem, do you know what I look like out of context? You recognize me in the places you create for me, like worship services and Christian conferences but do you see me anywhere else?” KL 2503.

I would recommend Ex-Muslim to anyone who enjoys memoirs, especially stories of God at work in people’s lives. As well, it would be a valuable resource to those reaching out to Muslims with the gospel, to church planters, and to young people in or considering going into ministry.

I received Ex-Muslim from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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