Psalms Alive! (review)

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Psalms Alive!Psalms Alive! by David Kitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Psalms Alive! author, pastor, and dramatist David Kitz takes us on a journey through thirteen selected psalms. In the Preface Kitz explains why he wrote the book:

“For the past number of years I have been bringing the Psalms to life for audiences through the medium of live drama. Here now in book form, from a dramatist’s perspective I provide a glimpse into the prayers and praise of the psalmists” 18.

Each of the book’s 26 chapters begins with the quoted scripture passage under discussion. This is followed by Kitz expanding on it in a variety of ways that include personal stories, explanations of biblical customs and settings, devotional inspiration, and challenges to apply the scripture’s advice to life. Each chapter ends with a “Bringing Life to the Psalms” section consisting of three to four discussion and personal application questions.

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Bible art journal on Psalm 19:14 using a quote from Psalms Alive! (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

Kitz’s writing is lively, picturesque, and wise. He expands liberally on the ideas presented in the Bible passage. He doesn’t leaves us in the theoretical clouds though, but makes sure his conclusions connect to everyday living. My book is full of underlined sections. Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

From the Preface: “When we handle the Word of God, we are handling life. When we take hold of the Word of God, it takes hold of us” – 17.

From a chapter on Psalm 19: “Your heavenly Father does not need a stethoscope to check on the condition of your heart; he needs only to listen to the words coming out of your mouth” – 43.

From a chapter on Psalm 103: “Relationship is always the wellspring of all revelation. It is while we are in God’s presence that we discover the mind of Christ” – 149.

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Bible art journal detail (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

I used this book, along with others in an online creative Bible study and found much inspiration in it for Bible art journaling. It has deepened and broadened my appreciation of the psalms discussed. It would make an excellent textbook (along with the Bible, of course) for men’s or women’s Bible studies.

I received this book as a gift from the author for the purpose of writing a review and participating in the study.

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Psalm 23 — a lifetime in my Bible margin #BibleJournaling

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I’ve read Psalm 23 many times (perhaps you have too). And so when I saw that David Kitz gave it two chapters in his book Psalms Alive,* I was curious what he’d all find to say about these six familiar verses.

After reading it, my chapters now have many red underlines. Several of those quotes figure in the doodle I call a lifetime in the margin of my Bible.

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Bible art journal entry for Psalm 23 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

The words I printed on the path are a compilation of a couple of sentences from p. 49 which is so true of the Christian life. Working up from the bottom to the top: “Surrendering the leadership role in my life to the Good Shepherd is a daily conscious decision to follow where He leads.”

The many challenges to that daily conscious decision to follow His lead are depicted by the highways (to Ease, Wealth, Pleasure, Fame, Popularity—and I could have added many more) branching off from the narrow road.

Near the top of the path (near the skull depicting the “valley of the shadow of death”) is this bit that I find most comforting: “During our darkest hour He holds us closest” – p. 54.

And finally at the very top, when we’ve reached our Welcome Home banquet and the golden city: “A good life extends through all eternity”– p. 59. (Hallelujah!)

Singer Audrey Assad sings a lovely song based on the memorable phrase “I shall not want” from this psalm. Enjoy!

*The book of Psalms in the Bible and Psalms Alive by David Kitz are the books some friends and I are reading and responding to creatively in a several-week study.

Surrounded by songs #BibleJournaling

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I’ve found several Bible verses to go along with my 2017 word LISTEN. One is Zephaniah 3:17:

“The LORD your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

Isn’t that beautiful? I had to make an entry for it in my journaling Bible.

The image that comes to mind when I hear that verse is a mother singing to her baby. I decided to try doing a baby sketch, but in a tree. A google image search pulled up a graphic that I somewhat copied.

I found simple bird sketches in The Complete Guide to Bible Journaling and penciled them in freehand, then inked over all the pencil lines with Pigma Micron pens (I have three: .01, .03, .05). I used pencil crayons to do the coloring.

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Entry for Zephaniah 3:17 (Photo © 2017 by V. Nesdoly)

A little sequel:
Last week was my birthday. The morning after, as I lay in bed, the thought came to me: I forgot to spend some birthday time with the Lord yesterday.

As I breathed my “So sorry Lord” prayer, it was like He said to me, “That’s okay. I still have a present for you. It’s the music that I sing over you.”

About an hour later, hubby and I were in church at our early morning prayer meeting. We start that time with worship and this morning our leader, Joel, began with the beautiful song “No Longer Slaves” (Bethel Music). It starts:

“You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance, from my enemies
All my fears are gone…”

{{Shivers}} What a birthday present! Thank you Lord!!

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If (review)

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If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God's What If PossibilitiesIf: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities by Mark Batterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In his newest book If, author Mark Batterson uses Romans 8 and the powerful little word “if” to challenge readers to live the Christian life with more obedience, faith, and abandonment.

Section headings “If only,” “As if,” “What if?” and “No ifs ands or buts” focus on four sides of the idea. In the “If only” section Batterson challenges us to live without regrets. In the “As if” part, the gauntlet is to live as if the unseen and invisible were true. The “What if?” parts are about dreams coming true, about the bigger-than-we-expected results of giving ourselves to God and the working of the Holy Spirit. In the “No ifs, ands or buts” Batterson gives us his bottom line—the things about which he feels there are no ifs, ands, or buts, and challenges us to name and live by our own.

Batterson explores these facets of “if” through a slice-and-dice of Romans 8 and stories (taken from history, his early life, and his experiences as a pastor of the multi-campus National Community Church of Washington DC). Each of If’s 30 chapters begins with a verse or part of a verse from Romans 8 and he also draws our attention to the prominent themes and “if” phrases of this chapter.

The writing is lively with a chummy tone that lends itself to cliché and trendy expressions. In other words, it doesn’t read like a textbook or theology tome.

The exegetical feature does make the book feel a bit rabbit-trailish as far as idea flow is concerned. Perhaps that was by design, for Batterson says in the Introduction: “If is not a systematic theology … If is not a commentary; it’s more of an impressionist painting … a landscape of faith, hope and love with right brain brush strokes” – Kindle Location (KL) 246.

I enjoyed the stories and illustration though numerous times here too I found myself puzzling over exactly how the story I was reading related to the idea or principle being discussed.

Batterson excels, though, at inventing catchy phrases and sayings. My ebook is full of highlighted passages. Here are a few:

“God has blessings for us in categories we don’t even know exist” – KL 2798.

“Our destiny has far less to do with what we do than who we become” – KL 3292.

“For better or for worse, your deepest held beliefs will define who you become” – KL 4142.

“Convictions are lessons learned from experiences we’d never want to go through again, but we wouldn’t trade for anything in the world” – KL 4161.

Full of energy, enthusiasm, faith, and challenge, If is recommended for Christians in the 20-40 crowd—or those finding themselves at a life crossroad or stuck in a backwater.

I received an ebook version of If as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Happy Birthday Canada!

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Canadian flags line walk

Canadian flags line the walk of the Arboretum – Langley, B.C.

Today we Canadians celebrate Canada’s 147th birthday!

I love Canada and am proud to be Canadian. However, some things in our culture cause me concern. The rise of political correctness and the marginalization of people who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs is one.

In our Sunday church service we spent some time commemorating Canada. A moving part of the program was the recitation, by about eight children (7-10 years-ish) of the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Rights, together with a list of our fundamental freedoms (though they did the latter part in words that simplified the legalese).

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Preamble: Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.   Read entire…

In this day and age when some of these freedoms are appearing more and more like a fiction (e.g. a conference simulcast is denied use of a public building in Nanaimo B.C. because its arms-length affiliation with sponsor Chik-Fil-A was deemed offensive to the LGBT community, and Christians who are against abortion are not allowed to run for the federal Liberal party as new candidates, existing candidates are not allowed to vote their conscience on abortion), it’s nice to be reminded that the rights of conscience, religion, thought, belief, opinion, expression, and peaceful assembly are still officially and legally and rightfully ours as Canadian citizens.

We also sang O Canada, verses 1 and verse 4—another reminder of Canada’s faith foundation.

 

O Canada

1.
O Canada! Our home and native land!
True patriot love in all thy sons command.
With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
The True North strong and free!
From far and wide, O Canada,
We stand on guard for thee.
God keep our land, glorious and free!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee;
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.

All ” O Canada” lyrics including stanzas 2. & 3.

4.
Ruler supreme, who hearest humble prayer,
Hold our Dominion, in thy loving care.
Help us to find, O God, in thee,
A lasting rich reward.
As waiting for the better day,
We ever stand on guard.
God keep our land, glorious and free.
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee!

God In My Everything (review)

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God in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy GodGod in My Everything: How an Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God by Ken Shigematsu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It’s always a good sign when an author’s book comes from the requests of readers or hearers to learn more. That’s part of the tale of Ken Shigetmatsu’s book God In My Everything. I’m sure he never imagined, that Sunday morning he filled in for a no-show visiting speaker at his Vancouver church with the unrehearsed explanation of how he orders his life, a full-length self-help volume in the Christian Life / Personal Growth department would be the result.

His system of life rules began way before that, however, when he accompanied his friend and mentor Leighton Ford on a 10-day pilgrimage to Ireland. On that trip he visited the Glendalough Monastery and learned about the disciplines these early Christian monks practiced. Shigematsu was impressed with their practical faith that permeated every hour of the day and every task of life. He came away with the question:

“Is it possible to follow the monastic way, enjoying God in every area of my life while immersed in the busy routines of modern life?” (p. 17).

God In My Everything: How An Ancient Rhythm Helps Busy People Enjoy God answers that question with a resounding “Yes.”

Shigematsu begins by envisioning a spiritual ecosystem. He pictures it as a trellis. The three up-and-down slats (Roots) are Sabbath, Prayer, and Sacred Reading. They are our means of relating to God. The cross-pieces are three planks that address three aspects of our lives with each other. The Relate plank includes Friendship, Sexuality, and Family. The Restore plank addresses Body, Play, and Money. The Reach Out plank concerns itself with Work, Justice, and Wisdom. These trellis items then become the structure of the book.

In a total of fifteen chapters Shigematsu delves into each subject, laying out for us how the monks handled each aspect of life, describing how they challenge us as moderns, and explaining the life rule he has come to for himself. An appendix section at the book’s end lists his rules along with life rules of six other people, so we get a good idea of how this looks. A sampling:

Ken’s Rule
– Take a 24-hour Sabbath once a week.
– Begin each day with Scripture and prayer.
– Pray the Examen before going to sleep at night.
– Run 2-3x a week, swim 2x a week.
– Aim to be home by 5:15 p.m. each day, and to be home at least 4 evenings a week… etc.” p. 220.

Each chapter concludes with two items: a list of questions for discussion, and an empty page which readers are invited to use to create their own rule.

There’s much to learn and apply in this well-written and engaging book. Some things I especially appreciated were:

Shigematsu’s emphasis on creating bendable rules, i.e. rules that change as life situations change. He relates how his life rule in some departments changed when he got married and changed again when his son was born.

I liked the way this book addresses every aspect of life.

I really liked the chapter on sharing faith (Chapter 15 “Sharing the Presence”) with its helpful four-sided pyramid graphic made up of word, sign, life, and deed (adopted from Bryant Myers, a former president of World Vision International). Shigematsu explains:

“Depending on the context and leading of the Holy Spirit, you might choose a particular side of the gospel to lead with and, as opportunity allows, progress to sharing all ‘sides’ of the gospel. The ideal is to eventually share the gospel as an organic whole that encompasses life, deed, sign, and word” p. 204.

(Shigematsu explains “life” as character, “deed” as a specific act of kindness or help, “sign” as a miracle or unexplainable coincidence that God brings about; it could be one that you share from your life or one that the person you are talking to experiences, and “word” as the gospel message from the Bible.)

Some readers may have concerns with the Catholic origins of Shigematsu’s system and may stumble over some of the practices he endorses (for example lectio divina – pp. 71, 72 and Examen – pp. 160, 220). I personally did not sense any slippage from Protestant orthodoxy in his teaching, only a search for and acceptance of helpful truth wherever it is to be found, in the spirit of the proverb “All truth is God’s truth.”

For a helpful book on how to order your life in a hectic age, keeping God at its center, Ken Shigematsus’s God In My Everything is an excellent choice.

I received this book from the publisher as a gift for the purpose of writing a review.

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Gods and Kings by Lynn Austin (review)

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Biblical fiction is a genre that helps the Bible come alive for many readers. A nice thing about books in this genre is that they’re virtually timeless.

Over the years I’ve read and reviewed quite a few stories based on the lives of Bible characters. In the days ahead I’ll be reprinting some of those reviews here along with other biblical novels reviewed here for the first time.

Today I’m resurrecting a review of Lynn Austin’s book Gods and Kings: Chronicles of the Kings #1. First released in February 2005, the KINDLE version of this book is currently  FREE!! (but I don’t know for how long, so don’t tarry if you want it).

Here’s my review, excerpted from a longer version on Blogcritics.org.

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Gods and Kings by Lynn AustinGods and Kings is Book 1 in the biblical fiction series Chronicles of the King  by Lynn Austin. It begins in the early years of Judah’s King Ahaz, just as Aram is about to lay siege to Jerusalem. It ends with the coronation of King Hezekiah.

The cast of characters follows the biblical account pretty closely. It includes King Ahaz, his wife Abijah, her father the priest Zechariah, the high priest Uriah, and prince Hezekiah. Minor appearances are made by Hezekiah’s wife Hephzibah, and the prophets Micah and Isaiah. Shebna, Hezekiah’s Egyptian teacher along with many other bit-players, are fictional.

Several elements worked together to make this book a worthwhile read for me.

One of them was in the area of plot, and Austin’s interpretation of how godly belief lines were preserved in ancient Israel. Often when reading the stories in Kings and Chronicles, I’ve been struck by how a God-fearing king is followed by one who is idolatrous. I’ve questioned how that could be. The fictionally-expanded events of this story illustrate that possibility in a compelling and believable way.

A theme element I really appreciated was the analysis of compromise in the character Uriah (Ahaz’s high priest). Promoted from priest to palace administrator, Uriah starts out with the intention of using his position to influence Ahaz away from idolatry. But a series of forces, including his own lust for power, greed, and international pressure, serve to make him, by the end, a promoter of idol worship instead of an opponent.

In the setting department, I felt this book succeeded in educating me about a different time and place—one of the reasons I enjoy reading historical fiction. The descriptions of the idol worship ceremonies were especially compelling, as was the description of the meeting of King Ahaz with the Assyrian King Tiglath-Pileser in the captured city of Damascus. Here is some of that section, to give you a flavor of the setting and Austin’s writing style:

“…they mounted his chariot riding in silence to the ruined city. Ahaz struggled to conceal his shock and horror as he saw evidence of the Assyrian’s atrocities. On either side of the road that led to the main gate, row after row of bodies hung from tall stakes.

“The emperor would like you to meet the chief elders of Damascus,” Jephia said. “They were impaled alive and left to die, watching the destruction of their city.”

Ahaz gazed straight ahead, holding a linen handkerchief over his mouth to keep from vomiting. A sign above the gate read: This is the fate of the enemies of Assyria….. (p. 141 – page numbers from the paperback edition)

I found Gods and Kings an engaging and worthwhile read. It left me with the sense of how God was capable of working in the life of a nation, and in the lives of individuals. Austin has left just enough loose ends at the end of the book to tempt readers to search out  Song of Redemption (Chronicles of the Kings #2).

Title: Gods and Kings
Author: Lynn Austin
Publisher: Bethany House, 324 pages, 2005
ASIN: B004X7B8QQ

(Disclosure: The Amazon links on this page are connected to my Amazon affiliate account. If you make a purchase through them a few pennies will be credited to my account. Thanks for your support, if you choose to make a purchase through them. )