Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tea & Read: The Anonyous Bride

Title: The Anonymous Bride
Author: Vickie McDonough
Rating: Two Cups of Tea

Check yourself into the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series by Vickie McDonough, where you’ll meet Luke Davis, marshal of Lookout, Texas, who flippantly tells his cousin he’d get married if the right woman ever came along. When three mail-order brides are delivered to Luke a month later, he’s in an uncomfortable predicament. How will he ever choose his mate? Rachel Hamilton’s long-time love for Luke is reignited with his return to town. So when three mail-order brides appear, she panics. Will she find the courage to tell Luke that she loves him? Or take an anonymous part in the contest for his hand?

This book was extremely cute. I’m a sucker for old West stories (blame my father for making me watch John Wayne movies instead of girly stuff). I’m also a sucker for novels with mail order brides. This book fit both of those loves perfectly.

The story is full of interesting characters. Luke the type a man I would want as the marshal of my town. Rachael and Jack also are well rounded and complicated, moving them beyond the stereotypical standard of women and children in the 1800’s. McDonough gives us an interesting look into the minds of the mail-order brides. Living in a time so far removed, it’s hard for me to fathom marrying someone I’d never met and my only idea of which they were came through letters.

The plot flowed easily and McDonough provides credible historical details. I enjoyed the theme of second chances that McDonough weaves into the novel, each character adjusting to starting over. This is a definitely a good summer read.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Meditations: Rededication

As a former altar worker, I’m normally on high alert when that time of the service comes, even when I’m in my seat. It’s a serious time (not that other times in the service aren’t important) and I am normally praying that God touches someone’s heart.
I’m also searching my own heart to see if the altar call applies to me.

The past two Sundays, the call for rededication has caught my attention, despite the fact that I’ve heard it made hundreds of times. I believe it’s often overlooked. I must admit that sometimes I’ve viewed it as either the Part B of the invitation to salvation or an attempt to get more people to respond to the altar call.

But recently, I actually stopped to think about the purpose of rededication. It’s normally worded like this: “If you have backslidden, come and rededicate your life to the Lord.” And most of us are like, “Nope that doesn’t apply to me.”

But does it?

Rededication is for people who’ve committed some huge sin, right? Or for people who haven’t been to church for a while. We may have been hanging on by the skin of our teeth, committing some of the lesser sins and coming to church every other Sunday, but we’re not so bad that we need to rededicate ourselves. That’s for the real sinners.

Truth is we should probably rededicate ourselves more often than we do. Rededication is a reaffirming of our salvation. When we received salvation, we confessed that Jesus was our Lord and Savior. But when we try and rule our own lives, we move away from Him. We should rededicate each time we "slide back" into our human nature and stop seeing Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

(I want to say a side night about Jesus being our Lord. Many people confess that He’s their Savior because they see Him only as some supernatural Santa to rescue us from our problems and give us stuff. Yes, His saving work in our lives did rescue us from the penalty of sin and death. But we can’t overlook the fact that He needs to be our Lord. Meaning, He rules over us. Once we are saved, we relinquish our right to be in charge of our lives. Jesus is our Lord.)

Am I saying go down to the altar each time the rededication invitation is made? No, you’d drive your pastors crazy. But each time the invitation is being made, search your heart. See if there are any areas that you’ve moved away from God, maybe taken too much responsibility for your life. And right at your seat, pray and rededicate yourself to God.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tea & Read: Blood Ransom

Title: Blood Ransom
Author: Lisa Harris
Rating: Two cups of tea

Natalie Sinclair is working to eradicate the diseases decimating whole villages in the Republic of Dhambizao when she meets Dr. Chad Talcott, a surgeon on sabbatical from a lucrative medical practice now volunteering at a small clinic.

Meanwhile, things are unraveling in Dhambizao. Joseph Komboli returns to his village to discover rebel soldiers abducting his family and friends. Those that were too old or weak to work lay motionless in the African soil. When Chad and Natalie decide to help Joseph expose this modern-day slave trade—and a high-ranking political figure involved in it—disaster nips at their heels.

Where is God in the chaos? Will Chad, Natalie, and Joseph win their race against time?

It’s not everyday that you find a CBA book about such difficult subject. The human slave trade is a real occurrence and so this book gets cool points simply for tackling such a horrific subject. Harris doesn’t give us the sugary, dressed-up version of the slave trade. She makes it realistic and I appreciate that.

The novel introduces us to Chad and Natalie, both doing humanitarian work in Dhambizao. Both struck me as authentic, God-fearing people. I like the way they struggled with their decisions to do humanitarian work, and their feelings of being overwhelmed with the needs they witnessed. But I did have a problem seeing them swept up into such a huge adventure like they had. I had to suspend my disbelief, but once I did, the story swept me away.

Harris does a wonderful job of drawing you into the setting of the story. I felt like I’d been transported to Africa. Harris’ descriptions of the landscape are incredible. She also does a great job of portraying the helplessness and fear of the citizens of Dhambizao. Their plight definitely tugged on my heart strings even though they are not real people.

The reason this book did not receive the top rating is that I lost track of the characters several times. I had a hard time remembering which person did what and often had to go back and reread sections of the book. I’m not sure how Harris could have clarified who did what, but that fact did slow down the reading a bit. Flow is very important to me as a reader, so I have a hard time enjoying novels that cause me to go backwards. But for those who don’t mind that fact, this novel is for you.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Monday Meditations: Life is Too Short

Life is too short.

How many times have we heard this saying? Personally, I’ve lost count. And I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve said this to others, often preceded by “let it go....” It is my go-to phrase when someone is obsessing on a petty issue in his or her life.

But did you know the concept of this thought is in the Bible? Psalms 90:12 reads, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” This psalm was written by Moses as prayer. I enjoy reading the prayers of Biblical characters. Those words can give great insight into their state of mind (just as our prayers reveal where our hearts really are. But that’s for another day).

We can sense the gravity of Moses’ words. God’s sense of time, he says, it very different than ours, a thousand years being like one day to him and as brief as a night watch. Moses also compares human life to new grass that grows in the morning but is withered by the evening.

That grass, according to Moses, is exactly how sinful people end up. Under the heat of God’s wrath, they wither. Even more sobering, Moses laments that, if our lives last to seventy years, eighty if we’re strong, most of that time is spent under God’s anger. After all this, Moses asks the Lord to teach us to number our days. In essence, life is too short to spend it under God’s wrath.

I’ve read Psalms 90 before and I can’t say that I fully grasped the truth of verse 12 before now. I never made the connection between wisdom and numbering our days even though it’s there, loud and clear. Most of us would think that considering the brevity of life is depressing, and that it’s not wise to spend our times thinking about it.

But there is wisdom in this practice. If we understand how short life is, then we will wisely decide what to spend our precious few days on. I don’t want to be like Moses, feel like the majority of the days are lived under sorrow because of my sin.

Who wants to spend their entire life withering under God’s wrath? That’s simply not wise. It is wise, however, to consider how our actions effect the few days that we have. Even more wise would be not to waste not one of those days.

Sin is a waste of time. Yes, God can use the sins we’ve repented from and allow us bless others with our testimonies, but who wants to intentionally live life that way? Think about all Moses witnessed. He watched a whole generation over the age of 40 die in the wilderness because of their rebellion and unbelief. What a waste.

It may be tempting to look at the Children of Israel and say, “They committed a big sin but not trusting God and believing the report of the spies. I’m not bad.” But what about unforgiveness? Talk about a colossal waste of time. And pride? Spending day after day thinking you’re better than everyone else, when in truth you’re just as bad, if not worse? Waste. And what about all the works of the flesh listed in Galatians 5:19? Sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, fractions, envy, and drunkenness? Is that the way you want to spend your seventy, maybe eighty, years?

What are you wasting your days on? What sin is eating away minutes from your life clock? Ask the Lord to teach you to number your days so you can learn how to wisely spend your time. Life is too short.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Tea & Read: Not a Sparrow Falls

Title: Not a Sparrow Falls
Author: Linda Nichols
Rating: Spend the Day Sleepy

In this powerful story of redemption and love, a prodigal young woman from the hills of Virginia flees the men who had lured her away from a godly upbringing into a life of desperation. Taking on a new identity, Mary Bridget Washburn escapes to the quaint city of Alexandria, Virginia, where her path crosses that of a widowed minister with three young children and daunting problems of his own. Can Mary Bridget and her tainted past stay hidden long enough for her to bring hope to a family falling apart?

I discovered Linda Nichols a few years ago when I read At the Scent of Water. It was at a time that I was desperately seeking books from Christian authors I’d never read before. The book impressed me, but I hadn’t read anything else by Nichols. But she wasn’t far from my mind because Janice Lowery, First Lady of National Church of God, had discovered Nichols and fell in love with her books, too. Mama Janice and I had a few conversations about At the Scent of Water. I was really excited when she told me she’d let me borrow In Search of Eden. Mama Janice was the first person I thought of when I received my copy of Not a Sparrow Falls.

Now, I must admit, I’m a bit critical about the “Christian” message in books, mainly because it’s often heavy-handed. Most of the “conversions” are contrived and the characters have to twist into some awkward positions in order to see Jesus. In this book, however, the theme of redemption is woven in each scene. Each character discovers God’s redemptive power in their own way. Also, Nichols has a way with finding a scripture and creating a moving story around it. She beautifully illustrates the promise of Matthew 10:29.

The pacing was great, also. I only found myself skimming twice, mainly at the end of chapters because I was eager to know what happened next. Some parts of the plot seemed predictable when I began the book, like Samantha’s life as troubled teen and Jonah’s situation. Nichols, however, takes these time-honored roles and made them interesting enough to keep me turning the pages.

Most of all, I think I enjoyed the book because it touches on the topic of ministerial burn-out. It is something that happens in church often but no one really seems to offer any solutions. The book, even thought it’s a fictional account, shows a pretty realistic picture of how ministers get trapped in doing the Lord’s work but not hearing from Him. I found myself going from rooting for Alistair to turn things around to being angry that he couldn’t see how far he’d gone from what God intending.

More than once while reading this book, I had to force myself to stop reading in go to bed. Only a great book will make me do that. And of course, Mama Janice will be getting this book from me soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Monday Meditations: Words for Water

A few Sundays ago, I found myself watching something that I never expected: a news program on Nickleodeon. It was geared towards kids, but the subject matter was quiet moving. The program, hosted by Linda Ellerbee, focused on the clean water crisis in the world. After that program was over, I was very thankful for clean water, which is easy to take for granted. The stories featured there horrified me. Children in India, Ethiopia and Honduras drinking the same water they bathed in.

As I watched the story, the Lord reminded me of something I’d done years ago. I’d vowed to the Lord that once I get a publishing contract, a part of that money would go to providing clean drinking water in a place were there was none. I don’t really have a specific place in mind, but I knew that’s what I want to do.

I did this to give my writing a purpose. I don’t want to just tell meaning stories, but I want to impact the world. That vow can out of a time when I felt challenged by the Lord to live out my faith in a meaningful way. I asked Him what He wanted to do with these words bottled up inside me. And almost immediately, the answer came from an interesting place: a book.

At the time I was reading The Hole in the Gospel by Richard Sterns, the president of World Vision. My heart broke as I read stories of children dying of diseases they would have never caught if they only had clean drinking water. I felt like it wasn’t much, but I could make that vow to God, and continue to let Him direct my words.

That vow has helped me more than I ever imagined. It keeps me focused. When I want to give up, I remember that someone in the world is waiting for my help. Someone in the world will rejoice when they get clean drinking water. And the Nickleodeon program spurred me on a little more. My words for water. That is the purpose for my writing.