Friday, March 27, 2015

Lovers of Self

I'm reading a Junie B. Jones book with my daughter right now.  I'll read a page or two then she'll read a page or two.  Working together on this charming book is good for both of us: good for her as she stretches her ability to concentrate and good for me as I learn about being a "Shellfish."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

I Want to Know More About...

I want to know more about...

Have you ever thought that about some Biblical theme?  Maybe you had a discussion with a sister about giving, and she said something you never thought of before. Or perhaps you are teaching a class on the work women do in the church, and you need to study up on what the Bible says.  You aren't looking for a deep exhaustive study, just a general idea of the way the Bible addresses a specific theme.  I've been in similar situations countless times; if you have too, then this Bible study method is for you.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Easy Like Sunday Morning?


I just want to begin by saying that Lionel Richie has never spent Sunday morning at my house.  That "Easy like Sunday Morning" deal is a joke.  Not only is the routine entirely different from the normal Mon-Fri, but often Saturday's soccer game or late night Netflix binge bleeds over to leave everyone tired and cranky. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

After Acts: A Book Review

All of the apostles except John were martyred.  Peter was crucified upside down because he refused to be killed in the same way Christ was.  Paul went to Spain, and Matthew evangelized cannibals.  I've heard these statements all my life, and although I knew they weren't recorded in the Bible, I assumed that the stories were based on reliable historical fact.  When I read After Acts: Exploring the Lives and Legends of the Apostles, by Bryan Litfin, I was surprised to find out that "early church tradition" isn't as reliable (or as early!) as I had thought.  

Friday, March 20, 2015

We're Going to Write About Sin

We're going to write about sin

Why? Why would Helene and I, who have made a habit of staying positive here at Maidservants of Christ, decide to start writing about negative things?  Attitudes we shouldn't have and actions we shouldn't take seem like such a downer.  There are several reasons, really, all based on the studies we are currently doing in our own lives. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23

As I was looking around for a good book to read, last week my eye stumbled on A Shepherd looks at Psalm 23 by W. Phillip Keller.  It was lingering in my bookshelf because it had been a Christmas gift from a member at our church to my husband.  The book was instantly treasured simply for the words of blessing she had inscribed on the front cover, but I hadn't taken time to read it yet.

I was intrigued by the background of the author first. Raised in African sheep country, once a sheep rancher and then a minister, he had a uniquely appropriate background to explain the Psalm.  Not only that, but as a widower he had first-hand experience with the "valley of the shadow of death."  

I enjoyed the book for the light he shed on detail.  Did you know a shepherd's rod and staff are different?  The rod is a club used in the sheep's defense.  He talked about the skill with which African shepherds can hurl that rod at the animals that prey on the herd.  The staff on the other hand is used to guide the sheep.  This I knew having seen Asian shepherd nudge their flocks the right way using the long crooks.  What a comfort to have both God's protection as well as his guidance! 

Metaphor abounds in the Psalm, and Keller brings out every nuance. He spoke of the oil that shepherds use.  First they use oil to fight flies and other parasites.  A second more serious use is to prevent a highly contagious skin disease called "scab."  The sheep catch scab by rubbing heads.  Almost he said, the way that Christians rubbing minds with the world around us bring ruinous ideas and thoughts back to our churches and our families. Finally during mating time the oil is used with great effect on the fighting rams.  The rams would butt each other with their heads and horns, damaging not only the peace of the flock but the health of their brothers.  So the shepherd would smear axle grease all over their heads, so they sort of slid off each other.  I couldn't help but snicker as he described the "sheepish" look on their faces (some of us need to look more sheepish after trying to attack our brothers). He compares that oil and grease to the Spirit which helps all of us keep our minds clean and in love teaches us to smooth the way between brothers. (Galatians 5:22, Romans 5:5)

The book wasn't difficult, no tome of theology here.  Any child of 10 could have read and understood it.  Yet it lingers with me.  I've been teaching my preschoolers the story of the good Shepherd.  Over and again in the simplest language I can devise, I tell them Jesus loves them, that he is their shepherd, that he keeps them safe and helps them when they are lost and scared.  The truth of those simple facts has impressed itself upon me very deeply this week.  I'm glad W. Phillips Keller brought his shepherding to life!


Monday, March 16, 2015

The Care and Feeding of Trolls

You have trolls in your life, don't you?   Me, too.

Happily they don't gather in my own congregation, and I tend to stay away from places (real life or internet based) where they do.  But should I?

That's the question of the day. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

You and Me Forever: A Book Review

When was offering You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan as their monthly free offering, I was immediately on board.  His most famous book, Crazy Love, convicted me, called me out and crushed me. I expected nothing less from this foray into the common area of Christian advice on marriage. 

This isn't the first (or fifth for that matter) book on Christian marriage I've read.  Lots of them have good advice, sensible action plans and are immediately applicable to both the Christian and non-Christian wife.  A few of them have even convinced me that in some matter or the other I was not being the wife God called me to be. 

Chan's book wasn't like that.  He and his wife wrote nothing that could be considered as simple as "good advice" and little that was applicable to a non-Christian except the idea that if you aren't serving God, you're missing out.  The whole book can be summed up like this: "Stop being so obsessed with your marriage."

Surprised?  I was. 

Chan never hesitates to be countercultural, and the book begins with the premise that the purpose of marriage is to bring glory to God. Thus if our marriage is a success in every other way - happy, peaceful, prosperous and fruitful - yet we push God to the side, all we have done is set up an idol.  He states that we are likely to consider our families as coming in a "close second" to our love for God.  That too he says is a symptom of our idolatry of the family.  God should be first, loved far and away more than any good gift he gave us, including the gift of a loving spouse and wonderful children.  The chapter on parenting echoes this theme.  Chan says that it is no wonder that we lose our children to the world when our priorities make it clear that we love them more than Jesus.   Why shouldn't they place their own wants and needs above God as well?

Within this framework Francis and his wife Lisa make some powerful and convicting points, beginning with this stinging verse. 

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble." 1 Peter 5:5

Although the verse is not in context applied to families, the Chans point out that any time I set myself up in a proud way (say for example in an argument I insist I am right, or I get all caught up in what I do or don't deserve) that I have in fact set myself up as the opponent of God not my husband.  And guess what happens to the opponents of God?  They lose.  On the other hand, any time I can be humble in my home, God is prepared to show favor to me.  Chan gives no guarantee this this will automatically produce a blissful marriage; if only one spouse is humbly seeking God, marriage could still be a place of suffering. However, it is impossible to succeed with God as your opponent.

Lisa also tells the story of once asking her husband what one thing would make her a better wife. He said, she should rely more on God and less on him.  She goes on to explain that she was looking to him for comfort, for peace, for security and for joy. However, she should have BROUGHT all those things to her marriage from a rich life with God, not demanded them from her very human husband.

The point that spoke most to me was the chapter on the mission. Lots of marriage books point out that couples are happier when two things are true: they share dreams for the future, and they share hobbies or interests. In a twist, You and Me Forever says there is no dream worth dreaming except that we'd all make it to heaven, no hobby or interest that beats our desire to fulfill God's mission on earth.  Marriages that glorify God make that easier as people see peace and joy in our home. Self-focused and idolatrous marriages are too interested in soccer, vacations, and getting more STUFF to even notice that the world is literally going to Hell all around them. The years we were abroad were marked (as I hope these years in America will be) by a unity between us because, as the Chans put it, we were too BUSY serving God to obsess about our marriage.

This is not a book I'd recommend to non-Christians.  Unlike other titles on the Christian bookstores marriage shelves, it has little to aid a troubled marriage from a secular point of view.  Yet for a Christian it is the perfect wake-up call.  Challenging, convicting and crushing, it pointed me upward to God-his spirit and his work- instead of inward to my own hopes and hurts. 



Sometimes my brain explodes in Bible class.  I'll be reading along, listening to my sisters and brothers chat about the verses when all of sudden someone will say something I've never thought of quite that way before and the possibilities will blow up my brain.  It might be days before I can clear my brain of all the shrapnel and implications.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Mastering Life: A Book Review

Book Review: Mastering Life before its too late.  Robert J. Morgan
I'm not typically a fan of self-help books.  I find them to a mix of pseudo-science, directionless faith, and condescension with a measure of unrealistic expectations thrown in.  When I read them, I feel worse instead better, downtrodden instead of inspired.  So, naturally, I avoid them.  Until I got tricked into reading one. I heard an author speaking on the radio about a new book he had written, and I heard just enough to get his name, the name of the book, and that he talked about Jesus some.  I gave it a chance, and I'm glad I did because Mastering Life Before It's Too Late: 10 Biblical Strategies for a Lifetime of Purpose, by Robert J. Morgan is unlike any self-help book I have ever read. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Parable of the Trolls Explained

Actually, the story probably doesn't need much explaining. (Did you miss the original story?  Check it out HERE) The problem isn't recognizing trollish-ness, but in knowing what to do about it.  However, before we can address the trolls we see in our church pews, on the internet, or in our own hearts, we have to know what attitudes and misunderstandings cause troll-ish behavior in the first place. 

Friday, March 6, 2015

The Parable of the Trolls

Once there was a Holy City with a single shining gate. Leading up to the gate of the city was a series of bridges.  Across the bridges came those who wished to leave the injustice, poverty and violence of the outer cities for the peace and joy that the great King provided.  Unfortunately sometimes the residents of the city were lured away by the promise of adventure, wealth or fun and left by those self-same bridges. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Judah the Hammer

I teach a Ladies Bible class at least once a week.  It is a great pleasure to me.  Not only do I get out of my house to eat food someone else cooked, but I get to talk to these wonderful godly Christian ladies: SAHMs dream.  But if there was none of that, I would still love it for the joy of digging into the Word to find things I have either forgotten or never knew. Recently in my research for class I came across a reference to the Feast of Dedication. I vaguely recalled from a long ago bible class and more recently from one of my daughter's favorite library books that the story of Hanukkah was the story of the rededication of the temple but the details escaped me. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Modest Shopping

Our family is going on vacation this year.  That may not sound like big news, but the last time we had a real vacation was in 2007.  It's long overdue!  We decided to go to the beach, and I had to face the fact that my swim suit from the college years will not work after 15 years and 3 babies.  I felt daunted with the task of finding swimwear.  Most swimsuits that are touted as being modest still show more leg and chest than I would ever show at any other time.  Enter Simply Modest Swimwear.  I had heard about them a few years back, and now I needed their services.  I sent them my measurements and exactly how I wanted the two piece suit to look.  High round neck, short sleeves, capri length pants, and a skirt (attached to the bodice) that goes down to my knees.  It's perfect.  I can honestly say I will play at the beach with my kids without any self-consciousness.  (They also have ready-made swim suits to fit a wide range of modest tastes; not all suits are as full coverage as mine).