Monday, December 8, 2014

Trading Secrets by Melody Carlson

Melody Carlson writes Amish novels, but they are a bit different than most of those that you will read from someone like Beverly Lewis. Melody's novels give us a bit different look at the culture and the struggles and the desires of those involved in the Amish life.

In this story, Micah Knight became the pen pal of Zach Miller. That doesn't sound to daunting or troublesome, until you realize that Micah is a girl and that Zach is a boy. For the Amish it was difficult enough to allow their children to have an English pen pal, but if it came out that a boy and girl were corresponding that would be almost unforgivable. It wasn't that Micah was being deceitful, it's just that she didn't know that and well, Zach thought Micah was a boy.

When Micah realized that a girl and boy shouldn't correspond she didn't correct the issue, she continued to let Zach believe she was a boy. But when she is invited to visit the Miller farm in her late teenage years she realizes that the truth is going to have to come out.

Of course the Miller family is not excited to learn that Micah is a girl. Zach is angry. But Micah really wants to seek his forgiveness and spend time with him and the family. You see, Zach has been a very good sounding board for Micah as she grew up. He was there for her, via letters, when her mother died.

The story is well written and enjoyable. The characters take on a good quality and you feel as though you get to know them well. The surprising thing is that Melody doesn't write Amish characters that are all sweet, smily and accepting. She writes true feelings and some of the characters, such as Zach's mother, don't come off as kind, loving and hospitable. That is a bit of a shock to those who read Amish novels for fun.

Further, Zach really wants out of the Amish life. He was hoping that Micah would be helpful in getting him out, but to discover that Micah is a girl throws a wrench in his plans.

Will Zach ever forgive Micah? Will they ever re-build their relationship? Will Zach's parents ever accept Micah? Will Zach leave the Amish life?

Those are interesting questions and the story is well developed. I enjoyed every minute of it and believe you will as well.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ferguson Unrest, The Question from the Media and Politicians, "Where is the Clergy?"

It has been several days now since the Grand Jury posted it's decision to not return an indictment against Officer Darren Wilson. This decision after months of reviewing evidence and listening to witnesses was not the decision that many in the Public Arena wanted to hear. Many in our community felt that the only true Justice would be an indictment. I will not debate the pro's and con's of that topic here today.

But I was reading in the Book of Matthew this morning and I thought that I would post the words of Jesus in his first Sermon, what we call the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. This sermon is one that is needed to be heard today. If it was heard today and believed and followed I think we would have a different response to the lack of indictment. Mainly the reason I think the response would be different is because the focus would be taken off our Justice System and returned to our person response of whether we truly are seeking the Kingdom of God or our own materialistic kingdom.

Matthew 5: 2-16, English Standard Version, published by Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL
"Jesus opened his mouth and taught them, saying,
'Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand and it gives light to all in the house.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.'"

There are many truths here that we should take to heart. I will not expound on each of them at this time, but it amazes me that many of the needs of our community can be heard here and the truth of what needs to happen can happen by following Jesus teaching.

There has been criticism from the Press and some Politician's about the clergy. They are asking the question, "Where are the Clergy in all of this?" Well, let me tell you, the clergy who truly walk in a manner worthy of the Lord are right in the midst of the issue. They are there to comfort their flock, to preach the word of God and to organize and facilitate prayer meetings, clean up crews, counseling, and the voice of reason.

As I see it, the problem is not, Where is the Clergy? The problem is why has our society ignored the teachings of Jesus as given to us in Holy Scripture and preached by Godly men who are walking in the path of righteousness?

The Clergy are right where they have always been and will continue to be, they are in the pulpit preaching God's word, they are walking the streets of their community praying for peace, they are reaching out to their congregation and the neighbors of those congregation members and helping to answer their needs both spiritually, physically and emotionally.

The real problem is that the Press and the Politician's only want to hear from Clergy who are inflaming the anger and angst of the crowds rather than those who are preaching the Peace of Christ.

Just like in Jesus day we have Religious Leaders who have forgotten their calling and are leading the people astray. So, I ask our community to choose their Religious Leaders wisely and follow those who are walking in righteousness and truly seeking the Kingdom of Heaven.

Monday, November 24, 2014

John Wesley's Teachings, Volume 4, by Thomas Oden

In this the final volume of a work on the teachings of John Wesley we find that Thomas Oden gives us a good review of how John Wesley viewed Ethics and Society. The teaching is divided into the following sections;

Part One:  Social Ethics
Part Two:  Economic Ethics
Part Three:  Political Ethics
Part Four:  Theological Ethics

It is amazing to me that John Wesley's teachings are 200 plus years old but yet still relevant to our society today. It is much like The Bible where Holy Scripture can be thousands of years old but still hold relevant truths for today's culture and society. This just goes to show us that Biblical Truth and is taught with integrity to scripture will always be relevant.

Given the current cultural upheaval that my particular community is facing in regards to racial issues I was very intrigued by what Wesley had to say in regards to Slavery. His section on "Confronting the Moral Failures of Slavery" is so in tune with truth that it sheds a great light even today on what we face. In 1791 Wesley wrote to William Wilberforce to encourage him to continue to fight against slavery. He wrote about how the African's that he had visited in their native land were more inclined to be living productive fruitful lives more in line with Adam and Eve in the garden than those of the "cultured" elite living in England, Europe and America. He was appalled by the conditions that he saw the slaves relegated to and was calling all to cease in their activity.

His open letter to Ship Captains calling on them to cease the activity of the slave trade points to what I would say is a treatment much like Martin Luther's statement nailed to the Wittenberg door. Wesley knew his scripture and was calling Christians to abide by the truth of the scripture to Love their Neighbors as themselves.

Many other topics he brings to light will encourage you to take a broader more Biblical look at how we face Ethics today. How can we declare our war on illegal immigration, our push against entitlement to the poor and our crackdown on age and sex discrimination without comparing the topics to Scripture and God's teaching and truths.

I was highly encouraged by this work and thought that it was a great work for Thomas Oden to take on. He has given us a great reference tool to understand the mind and character of a great man of God.

I encourage you to buy and read this volume and then purchase the other three volumes and acquaint yourself with teachings that will encourage your heart.

Being the father of Methodist thought I am amazed that the Methodist church has taken the path they are on and have so abandoned the scriptural teachings of scripture. They instead have adopted a social gospel but left the truth of the entire gospel in the dust. I pray they would reacquaint themselves with Wesley's teaching and repent of their sins and return to the Gospel of truth.


Last Family Standing, by Jennifer Allee

I don't typically like reality shows, OK, that is an understatement. I have never watched a reality show, I think they are just a show that details how our society has become a bit to materialistic. People want to win and they don't typically care who they hurt in the process.

So, why did I even bother to order this book from the Vine Program? Well, I guess the short concise concept of a mother/daughter team who haven't ever been together except in the birthing room of the hospital got to me. I wanted to have a nice story of a mother and daughter meeting for the first time 25 years after the birth of said daughter.

What I didn't expect was to enjoy the book so much. I don't know why but the way that Jennifer Allee made the story come alive and the development of the characters really made a difference. You can't get to know a character on a tv show unless you watch multiple episodes, even then it is difficult.

But in the book you get the development of the main characters and you learn to real life struggle each of them has had in regards to not having lived their lives together. How hard is it for a mother to give up her child? How hard is it for a single mother to have the father walk out of her life and never contact her again, without even knowing he is a father? How many mothers get to meet their daughter for the first time on television in front of a huge audience?

Then the next thing that I enjoyed was the fact that faith comes in to play in some of the scenario's of the book. There is a pastor and daughter team and that helps to bring in the thought of a relationship with God. There is the couple who adopted Jessica, they are solid believers and their faith has helped them to raise a mature young woman who is amazing.

Then there is the love life of Monica, the mother, well, the lack of love life. She has not dated, not married, not been involved with anyone that we know of. But for whatever reason it appears that the host of the show is taken with her, how will that develop.

All of these things come together to make for a story that is fun to read and enjoyable to see that even in the midst of tragedy that good can come out of things.

I really hope you enjoy the book. Oh, and just an after thought, I still don't have any desire to watch a reality TV show.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Miriam's Secret, by Jerry Eicher

First of all I would like to thank Harvest House for allowing me to have an advance copy of this book to review. I appreciate their gift to me.

I have read lots of Amish Romance Novels and they all start to blend together after a while, but usually they are a fun read and a wholesome read, nothing too forward in them. So, with Jerry Eicher I was wondering what new twist he might put on an Amish novel. Well, he found a good one and I think that it comes from his having lived in the Amish community as a child. He understands their thoughts and ways and he found a subject that would weave Biblical truths as well as moral values together to help us understand a young woman's desire to serve others, follow God and not succumb to temptation.

The writing is well done and very captivating. I look forward to seeing the final product in print as then I will be able to see the discussion questions that are inserted at the end to help book clubs work through the story and the values that are expounded within.


Miriam Yoder is a fine young Amish woman who has a heart to serve others. She is also the oldest daughter in a family of 10 children, a poor family at that. Her father has a limp that makes working the farm hard, not impossible, but hard. As such he has never made a lot of money, the family lives on a very tight budget. Because of this Miriam feels that she needs to work outside the home. She finds a job doing housekeeping and care giving to an older English gentlemen, Mr. Bland. He has a large farm in their community and is very well taken care of financially.

He offers Miriam the job with a modest salary. As time goes on he gives her raises that are very nice and provides income for her family. She grows to care deeply for Mr. Bland and he cares for her as well. He and his wife never had children and his wife has passed, so all he has left is his sister Rose.

When Mr. Bland dies unexpectedly it is a blow to Miriam, not just because of the loss of a job, but because of a loss of a close friendship. He had come to think of Mr. Bland as a second father to her. His sister Rose is grateful for all she has done for her brother. He tells Miriam that he cared deeply for her and the service she provided was far above what they had hoped for.

Rose picks her up for the funeral. On the way there she tells Miriam that her brother has mentioned Miriam in his will. As such after the funeral Rose and Miriam have an appointment with Mr. Blands attorney. It turns out that Mr. Bland left Miriam his farm and all the land as well as a sum of money to maintain it hopefully forever.

But there is also a second item, he has left her two million dollars in cash. Miriam says she can't take it and it should go to Rose. But she is told that Rose was taken care of by her brother as he provided her with 1/3rd of his entire estate, what Miriam received was equivalent to another 1/3rd and a final 1/3rd was given to charity.

Well to say that this changes Miriam's life and future is an understatement. What is an Amish woman to do with such a gift? Who does she tell? Will the money corrupt her? Will men seek her hand in marriage because of the fortune? What was God thinking?

This makes for a great story. I won't give anymore away, but it will be a test of faith and character for Miriam that will encourage your heart as you see her resolve to deal honorably with the gift.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Every Valley; Advent with the Scriptures of Handel's Messiah

What a great devotional book to read through during the Advent Season. Jessica Kelley has edited this short compilation of devotions that are written in direct relationship to Handel's Messiah. Most of us hear Handel's Messiah (or more appropriately at least the Hallelujah Chorus) during the Easter season at our churches or by local symphonies and choral groups. We associate the material thus with Easter and rightly so as it brings us to the resurrection of Christ.

But the work really gives us a full picture of the birth, life, death and resurrection, it starts out with the task of viewing scriptures of the Old Testament that dealt with the prophecy of the Messiah coming to the rescue of the nation of Israel. This was God's promise to His people. So, as you will find as you work through the 40 devotional thoughts they have a great text for understanding the birth of Christ as well as the death, burial and resurrection of Christ.

The 40 devotions are meant to be read, one daily, during the advent season. They will address Handel's work from beginning to end. I would suggest that you get a copy of Handel's work and have it at hand to read through along with the devotional. You will be certain to find new inspiration and faith in the work as you process through this devotional.

As stated in the Forward of the devotional one of the contributors was astounded to discover that 75% of the text of Handel's Messiah comes from the Scriptures of the Prophets and the Psalms in the Old Testament. Thus with every movement of the work you are confronted with the truths of Scripture in a moving, artistic way through music and words that is phenomenal.

Our culture has taken the Christmas season to a height of consumerism that is unparalleled at any time in the history of the world. From the sales of Black Friday to the stocking of Christmas decorations in stores even before November 1st this year, we have seen that Christmas is a barometer of how our economy is doing. Really, is that what we want Christmas to be know for?

In the early days of Israel they were being overrun by the god's of the cultures surrounding them. They were being assaulted by one god after another that was trying to show them that their God was weak and unfavorable. How much more is that true today. Our gods of consumerism, tolerance, justice, love for everyone and a cheap grace that says everyone gets to heaven have so diluted what we believe of God and Jesus Christ that we lose sight of our true faith and worship of the Creator and Designer of this world and of us.

Take a deep breath this season and start each day of the advent season by reading a short devotional on the work of Handel's Messiah and be awed for either the first time or for the 100th time by the insights that Handel brings together from scripture to paint for us word and musical pictures of the One True God and His desire to restore our relationship with Him.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Who is Jesus, by Greg Gilbert - a Nine Marks Series book

First of all I would like to thank Crossway Publishing for allowing me to have an advance copy of this book for the purpose of a review. I would suggest that you go out to Amazon or CBD or wherever you buy books and Pre-Order yourself a copy of this title. I plan to purchase a case of them to have on hand to use as giveaways to people who I want to share Christ with.

In this short booklet we get a good treatment of the topic, “Who Is Jesus.” Greg Gilbert lays out a very clear and comprehensive discussion on the topic, it is geared towards those who have yet to decide who Jesus really is.

As he begins the book he asks the question, “Now of course you may not accept what Jesus says. You may reject it outright. But think about it: Wouldn’t it make sense not to do that too quickly? Wouldn’t it make sense to get to know this man a bit before you completely toss off what he says about you? Let me be bold and make a request, since you’ve been so kind to pick up this book and start reading it: Give Jesus a chance. It may be that as you learn more about him, you’ll realize that there are actually some very good reasons for believing what he said—about himself, about God, and about you.”

With that request made Gilbert then moves into a dialogue about Jesus and his teachings, his miracles, his actions and eventually his death on a Roman Cross. The outline for his work is very well thought out and very well articulated. He does not bludgeon you over the head with scripture, instead he gently lays out his argument for who he believes Jesus is.

This little booklet will become a great tool for all to have in their possession who want to share about Jesus with skeptic’s, non-believers, agnostics, atheists, etc. The only request that Gilbert makes is to give him a chance to lay out the case for Jesus and then they can make their own conclusion about Who Jesus Is.

There was an earlier book that did much to help people come to Christ, that was Lee Strobel’s book, “The Case for Christ.” That book is wonderful and a great tool as well. It is quite a bit longer than Gilbert’s book. So, the difference will be this, will your friend read a shorter treaty on Christ and be willing to dialogue about it? If so, use Gilbert’s book. Then after that move on to Strobel’s book as the second discussion starter with your friend.

I believe that Gilbert’s book will become a primer for many non-believers to come to address their decision about whether they believe Jesus is who he said he was or not. The Nine Marks Series of books are wonderful, but this newest one might be the best yet.