Friday, September 26, 2014

Home to Chicory Lane, by Deborah Raney

Not a thriller, not a page burner, not a I can't put it down book. BUT, it is a wonderful story of the first year of marriage for a young couple who are trying to decide exactly what God wants them to do with their lives. They are faced with decisions on where to live, where to work, whether the Artist in Chase is going to be good enough to provide an income?

Along with that Landyn's parents are opening a bed and breakfast and every thing at home in Missouri is going to change. No longer will Landyn feel as though she has a place to call home and to rest her head when life gets tough. No longer will her parents be able to give her the undivided attention that she is use to. They now have a business that demands much of their time and effort.

Landyn and Chase have gotten married and moved to New York City. Those are two major adjustments for a young couple to make. The marriage is a tough one, but for two country small town kids to move to New York is a huge change. Not to mention that finances are extremely tight because of the Art profession that Chase is running after.

Will they succeed? Will they fail? Will their marriage be able to handle the pressure? These are all topics that will be played out in the novel. The topic of communication styles will also come to the surface. Not to mention the main topic of "God's Will."

Chase believes he is following God's will, Landyn not so much. This causes the main stress. But will prayer and communication (as well as their love for each other) be enough to rescue this young marriage.

The books is well written with good themes. It is a good first book for a new series. You can see where other issues will arise that will give a good chance for the new books in the series.

I'm sure you will enjoy this book from Deborah Raney, she has a good way of making you feel like home is where your heart will always be.

There is also a reading guide at the end of the book for book clubs to use for discussion time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Vanishing Grace, by Philip Yancey

First of all I want to thank Zondervan publishing for allowing me the chance to read an advance copy of this text. The book that I am reviewing will be released on October 21, 2014. You can pre-order it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble or your local Christian Book Store.

This new title from Philip Yancey is a follow-up book to his title, “What’s so Amazing about Grace?” which he released years ago. At that time the Christian Church read with great interest his premise and concerns regarding “Grace” and how we find it amazing that God would extend “Grace” to a sinful people.

In this book Yancey states that when he sat down to write it, “I began with a concern that the church is failing in its mission to dispense grace to a world thirsty for it. More and more, surveys show, outsiders view Christians as bearers of bad news, not good news.”

Yancey starts with a premise that the church today for the most part is preaching a gospel that expresses doom and gloom. He feels that preaching is focused more on the condemnation of sinners and the travails of hell rather than expounding on the life changing aspect of grace in the lives of sinners.

He points out that when surveyed most Americans will say that they feel the church is filled with condemnation, intolerance and a set of moral values that are in contradiction to “the good life.” While all those items can be found in scripture and expounded upon to help a society see where it is failing it also needs to come with the message of hope, mercy and grace.

As a general point of his text he wants the church to learn ways to express the love of God to our culture in ways that can effect change to our views of moral depravity. As he stated above, the world is thirsty for grace! I would go so far as to say the world is thirsty for mercy as well.

As a society we know we are evil. We know that morally we are not the best that we can be. We know that we are failing. We don’t need to be punished week after week with concepts that we are dirty rotten sinners and deserve nothing but hell. All to often that is where sermons or evangelism in some churches stop. They don’t go on to extend the concept of mercy and grace, the concept of the forgiveness of sins.

Yancey believes that the society is hearing more often, you are unacceptable to a loving God who has no other desire than to extend judgment and condemn you to hell. But when we come with a message of God loves you and desires to see a change in your life for the better and to extend forgiveness and grace and mercy then people will respond because we give them a drink of what they are thirsty for. It doesn’t mean that we don’t express their need to put aside sin.

Jesus when he was with people would address very directly their sin. But then He would just as quickly provide healing for their illness, or a miracle of huge importance to a sinner such as restoring sight, or making the lame to walk. But in each case Jesus would also say to the individual, “Go and sin no more!”

Maybe the best way to sum up this book is to quote Yancey when he writes, “Our challenge as Jesus’ followers is to align ourselves with the true gospel, and to reclaim the force it has released to a world in desperate need.”

If you are curious about what Yancey believes is the “True Gospel” then you are going to want to pick up a copy of this book and give it a careful read. I know that you won’t be disappointed.

Monday, September 22, 2014

ISIS -- Evil -- Other Countries -- A Martyr -- An one King's suggested response

Last night I watched the 60 Minutes segment on ISIS. I was appalled at the sheer hatred that these people have towards those who will not agree with their religion (if you can even call it that). I couldn’t believe the evil that was expressed by just one man (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) who has declared himself their leader and the leader of all Muslims around the world. I was amazed that even al Qaeda kicked him out of their organization.

To get kicked out of al Qaeda you must have some serious issues that are totally out of control.

The report had very disturbing pictures of ISIS exterminating those who disagree with them. Taking 300 plus men, having them lie on the ground, and then riddling their bodies with bullets. What kind of religion would bring that type of response to those who are not their adherents?

But ISIS is not the only evil in the world. There are many other countries where evil is on the rise and ungodly leaders are causing more harm than good. What about the civil war in Somalia? What about the intolerant regime in North Korea?

While reading a new book by Philip Yancy (Vanishing Grace – I’ll post a review tomorrow) I read the story of a young man from Chile who was killed for his views that didn’t coincide with the a group who had overthrown the government. Here is the quote from Yancy’s book;

“Victor Jara was a Chilean musician whose blend of folk music and political activism kindled the hopes of the poor. The day after a rightwing coup led by Augusto Pinochet, the general’s minions arrested Jara and broke the bones in his guitar-playing hands. As he lay on the ground they taunted him to play some of his songs about love and peace. This goad the new regime could not tolerate, and three days later soldiers riddled his body with forty-four bullets.”

In North Korea the atrocities have gone on for years. A book I read a few years back titled, “Eyes of the Tailless Animals,” the author Sun-Ok-Yi tells of her life in a political prisoner camp and her escape. The story tells of the harsh and cruel treatment that degrades people to the point that even tailless dogs get better treatment than the humans.

So, what can be done about this type of evil? What should we as Christians do? How can we respond?

I was very surprised at the end of the 60 minutes segment when the King of Jordan, King Abdullah II, went on camera and gave his assessment of what needs to happen. He called on the world to come together, for all religions to unite in the battle against evil. He declared that ISIS is such a horrific evil that the world should not ignore them, but instead come together to destroy this evil. Those are strong words and interesting words that a Middle Eastern Country would suggest that all countries drop their disagreements with each other for a time to unite to fight against and evil that is obviously out of control.

What was more unbelievable was the follow up story that President Obama was told two years ago by his top advisors that he should step up to the plate and take action against ISIS. Instead, he decided to do nothing and say nothing. Look how well that has worked out.

Please understand I do not desire to see us sending troops into harms way to just impart our way of life and our ideals. But there comes a time when all faiths need to unite and agree that evil has gone to far and needs to be stopped.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Light in the Wilderness, by Jane Kirkpatrick

This novel is based on a set of historical facts and does it’s best to follow the true story line. Jane Kirkpatrick does state that there are some composite character’s created (an Indian woman and her grandson) for sake of the flow of the story, but they represent a true presentation of the local Indian tribe in Oregon when settler’s arrived.

Our story is about Letitia, a black woman, who started out as a slave in Kentucky, but was given her freedom by her original owner. She then moved with that family to Missouri where she parted company with them and joined up with one Davey Carson, whom she could not legally marry because he was white and she was black.

Letitia is a true historical figure, she was born in 1818 and died in 1888. The story follows the true line of her life as it transpired and is retold by witnesses who spent time with her.

Letitia and Davey Carson had a marriage that was not legal but was consummated in vows taken before the Lord God Almighty. To them it was a true marriage. Not necessarily one born of love, but one that was born of convenience and out of a caring for each other.

Davey and Letitia leave Missouri with a wagon train headed for Oregon. The book details the life on the trail and the hardships that those travelers had to face and overcome to get through to Oregon. Not all who set out would make it.

Letitia is one of the first Free Black People to travel to Oregon and while on the trail gave birth to her and Davey’s first child, a daughter.

The story is hard to read knowing that it is true because Letitia will continually face hardship for the fact that she is black. She is never assured of having a protected life. There are two people in particular who seem to want to force her to loose everything and leave Oregon. One is Greenberry Smith who is a man who tracked down runaway slaves and sent them back to their owners. He tried to force Letitia to leave Missouri but was forced to leave her be when she produced the proper documents showing that she was a Free Woman.

But that won’t stop him when he gets to Oregon. Letitia has lost her papers on the trail and Greenberry Smith will go all out to see her stripped of all her belongings and those of the life she has made with Davey Carson.

The other person trying to send Letitia and her children out of Oregon is the son of Davey Carson. He is prejudiced against colored people and feels that Letitia took advantage of his father. How wrong he is, but others don’t seem to care.
This story is so full of injustices that you will just want to scream at the top of your lungs about how poorly people could be treated. It will cause you anger to the point of wanting to take vengeance on people like Greenberry Smith, who by the way, joined a group that was basically the Northern Oregon association of the KKK.

But what is fascinating is that Letitia Carson will be the first Free Black Woman to bring a lawsuit against a “White” man. That supposedly is against the law. But a new lawyer, Mr. Thayer, from New York has come to Oregon and he agrees to take on Letitia’s case.

The outcome is one that is not certain. The laws are all against Letitia. Will justice actually be served? If it is it will be against the laws of the land and start new laws to have to be put into place.

This story will take you on a roller coaster of emotions from joy and excitement to pain, agony, grief over the loss of loved ones and pure anguish over how poorly white people could and did treat people of color back in the 1800’s.

There are so many lessons to learn from this story. I for one never knew about Letitia Carson until I read this book. I now realize that some of our history books of American History need to be re-written to include stories of brave people like Letitia Carson.

Enjoy the read!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Why Does Religion seem to Foster Violence and Bloodshed?

In a very exhaustive text Karen Armstrong chronicles Religion and the History of Violence that seems to be associated and or attracted to it. This is not just a text about The Jewish History or the Christian History, but it chronicles many other faiths and how violence seems to be attracted to religion.

She starts out with the Bible and talks about the Jewish Scapegoat system where they started sacrifices but also put the "sins" of the nation on an unblemished goat and sent it off into the wilderness to take away the sins of the people. But the other goats/bulls/doves/rams/sheep were sacrificed on the altar and their blood acted as the atonement for the sins of the people.

Also throughout the Bible you find other religions also practicing the act of sacrifice believing that blood letting was the only way to appease the Gods.

But then the violence starts to come between people/nations. One nation feels it needs to purge the earth of another nation to "cleanse" the earth of the evil of that nation and blood is spilled. God also informs the Jews that they need to purge the promised land of other cultures, thus another round of violence.

You find that many religions felt that they were the only true religion so they thought the best thing they could do was exterminate others. You find this when Kings wanted to be worshiped and they destroyed (killed) other nations that refused to worship them. Or if one culture degrades the "god" of another culture you find that they go to war to prove which god is most powerful.

Armstrong will break down the violence/history of religion and war into three main categories. As has been pointed out in other reviews she starts with the Hunter/Gatherer mindset which is the earliest human mindset. Then as cultures progressed they seemed to move into an "emotional" phase where the emotions of the people took control and brought about the violence. Finally she finds us in the third stage where man has moved into a more philosophical phase where logic and reason are trying to control how we view others. But even in this logical phase we find that logic fails us as religions feel the need to purge others off the face of the earth.

This is not a quick easy read. It is an exhaustive look at the topic and it is evident that lots of time and research went into the collecting of data and then putting it in an order that tries to bring a good treatment of the topic.

I found myself captivated by some sections and bothered by others, not because of the writing, but because of how humans can have such faulty thinking at times. It you pick this book up you are going to find that it offers lots of thought provoking insights that you will either totally agree with or maybe find you disagree and wonder how Armstrong made that evaluation of the topic.

I guarantee you that this will cause you to stop and think and give you plenty of information to talk to others about.


To Everything a Season, by Lauraine Snelling

The small town of Blessing, North Dakota, is the kind of small town most anyone would want to live in. The people are gentle, kind and caring. The work is tough, but rewarding (mostly farming). The land is rich and gives back good crops and wonderful produce.

As we enter into this small town we discover that mostly Norwegian immigrants who have come to forge a new life for their families populate it. They have left Norway behind because the cost of land was out of reach for most of them. They have found that North Dakota will offer a new chance at a good life.

Their community is one of faith. Their Lutheran roots have given them a faith in God that they cannot deny. They have discovered that through prayer, Bible reading and family traditions they have woven a bond that is strong and is not easily broken.

Something else is unusual in this small town. They have two doctors and a new hospital. That may not seem unusual until you discover that both of the doctors are women. This is somewhat unheard of in the early 1900’s. But a sister and sister-in-law are both doctors and are working together in the community they love to care for those who have medical needs.

In this first novel of the new series we are introduced to the Bjorklund and Knutson families. We will meet three generations of characters who will populate the story. Their ways are a bit different than most, and their language floats between English and Norwegian. But other than that they are families like in any other culture. The live, they love, they work and they die. The cycle of life remains the same.

In this town though there are several things happening. First a gang of bank robbers are captured and cause quite a bit of angst. One of them, just a twelve year old, will end up staying on because of an injury to his leg. He will find a family he has never really had before.

Then the hospital will have three new young nurses come from Chicago as part of a year long training program. These young women will also find a new home and a new type of family that they have not had before. One of them, Miriam, will also find Trygve Knutson, a fine young man, and she will have to decide what God intends for her and her future.

Lauraine Snelling gives us a simple story, simple characters and plenty of dialogue between characters. It is not flashy, nor is it nerve wracking or pulse stopping. It is life, and it is a simple of life.

But as you read you will find comfort, care and a longing in yourself for a simple life, one that is not complicated, but one that includes good friends, good family and a relationship with your Creator, your Lord and Savoir.

Enjoy the beginning of what you will find a simple and enduring series of books regarding a plain but wonderful town called, Blessing!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Shepherd is a healer and caregiver to his flock

One of the many tasks of a Shepherd is to provide for the medical needs of his flock. During the hot season when biting flies are a real problem the Shepherd will take each of his sheep and anoint them with an oil mixture. This mixture is to help ward off the flies that bother the sheep.

The mixture also helps to keep certain bugs from laying their eggs in the ears of the sheep and goats so that they will not have loss of hearing, or worst, infection that is so irritating that the animal will quit grazing.

Also if an animal gets injured the shepherd will clean the injury and apply ointment or gauze to it as necessary. Then also the Shepherd will make sure that the flock has a good clean water source as well as making sure they have plenty of grass to graze on.

Think now about Jesus and His ministry. He went about healing people of their sickness, or even healing blindness or paralysis, not to mention that he raised some from the dead. That shows the care and love of the Good Shepherd for His flock. His desire was to see them healthy and whole and able to serve the Kingdom well.

I especially think of the story of the woman with the bleeding disorder. She is like a sheep that knows her shepherds voice and also knows that the shepherd can bring the healing that she needs. So, she follows Christ and just works her way towards him so that she can touch his robe and thus be healed. She has faith in her Good Shepherd.

While in Kansas I had four goats on our farm. They needed to have care at times and one thing that I noticed was that they learn to trust me when I needed to care for them. They would actually stand willingly and allow me to apply ointment, or brush them, or clean their feet or ears. They learned that it was for their good. But we also learned that they didn’t let Karen do it. They liked me but not her. They knew me as their shepherd and not her.

Finally, it is interesting that my goats would at times get their heads stuck in fencing. When this happened you had to work gently with them to get their heads out. Some times they were cooperative, some times they weren’t. When they cooperated they got let loose quickly, when they fought it they got hurt and tangled even worse and learned a painful lesson.

These things remind me that as the flock that follows the Good Shepherd we need to learn His voice, learn that He cares for us physically as well as emotionally and mentally. We need to learn to follow Him because He will lead us to clean water and good grazing. We also need to learn that He will be the one who comes to rescue us when we are stuck in a bramble bush or when we are hurt.

Finally, let us also keep in mind that the Pastor is considered an under shepherd of the Good Shepherd. Thus your pastor should be the one who brings you plenty of care, healing, physical and emotional care, etc. Does your pastor know you well enough to provide for your care? Do you know your pastor well enough to trust him and allow him to care for you?

If those questions aren’t answered in the positive you need to seek ways to remedy that. Get to know your pastor better and allow him to minister to you in a way that allows you to have good growth.

(The picture is from Tim Laniak and his CD of Shepherd photos that I purchased at a Peacemaker's conference several years back)