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Monday, February 29, 2016

Fiction Review: Running Home

Photo courtesy of: Apolonia, Free Digital Photos

Running Home, by Barbara Ellen Brink is Book 1 of her Second Chances Series. I loved the plot and all the possibilities. I liked some of her plot twists. But, this book was extremely predictable from the start, soft on research, and too sappily romantic for my taste. I read it on the plane and while jet lagged the next two days, so it was a welcome, entertaining read, though it wouldn’t be my cup of tea for serious diversion.

The story begins one morning when Ivy answers the phone and talks to her husband Todd, a man she no longer knows nor understands. He wasn’t home again last night. It’s his son’s birthday, and he promises to show up for his party.

Todd, though, is plotting his get-away. He needs to get lost and fast. But first, he shows up at his son’s party—late, but at least he makes it. He gifts his son a bike and a little bit of his time before he walks out of their lives forever.

Todd meets his lover, and the plane takes off.

When Ivy Winter realizes her husband has left her, she moves back to Nebraska where her family lives. She gets a call from her husband’s company. They’re looking for him, and they say it’s serious.

They’re not the only ones looking for Todd. So is the FBI, and they send Samson Sinclair and another man on the case. Samson is immediately attracted to Ivy, and she's suspicious.

The phone rings again, and someone asks Ivy for the disc. She has no idea what they’re talking about and even less with whom she’s speaking.

Samson ends up being her next apartment neighbor. Ivy thinks something smells fishy. Samson is telling Ivy half-truths and worse, but it’s part of being a detective. He has to deceive.

As I knew, Ivy and Samson become closer, the husband has deep problems, and the story continues. There is a good twist at the end, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you. If you enjoy Grace Livingstone Hill or Janette Oke kinds of books, you'll enjoy this one.

This is a clean story. It has a few kissing scenes but nothing “too warm.”

For me, Running Home was too predictable and too trite. The FBI agents didn’t ring true at all, and they gave up their cover much too soon. It also bothered me that the romance began while Ivy was married. There are a few spelling errors, more than a few thumping hearts, sighs, electric touches, and overused clichés. When Ivy “smooths her slacks” and “fluffs her hair,” I can hardly stand it.

But, this book is entertaining, and it was perfect to read jet lagged and groggy. I’d give it three stars out of five.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Having the Mind of Christ

The Apostle Paul writes:

For who hath known the mind of the Lord, 
that he may instruct him?
But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

How can a mortal man possess the mind of Christ? It’s helpful to read the context of this verse: But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

The mind of Christ is discerned when we have the Spirit of God—the Holy Spirit—living and working in us. Without Him, we couldn’t receive nor discern God’s thinking. I love verse 12 (above) where it says, we have received . . . the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. God actually wants us to know how He thinks!

Look how many times this passage speaks about people’s minds and Jesus’ mind: Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:2-7).

God says, For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

So, how can we do this? How can we begin to understand how God thinks?

1. Receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, and He will give you the Holy Spirit.
  • Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
  • In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise (Ephesians 1:13).

2. Walk in the Spirit.
  • This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). This means following the Holy Spirit’s guidance daily. Instead of going after pleasures (the flesh), we desire to please God.
  • For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication (1 Thessalonians 4:3).

3. Know the Word of God, the Bible.
  • All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
  • Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).
  • The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple (Psalm 119:130).
  • And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth (Acts 22:14).

4. Depend on God for understanding.
  • David gave this advice to Solomon: Only the LORD give thee wisdom and understanding, and give thee charge concerning Israel, that thou mayest keep the law of the LORD thy God (1 Chronicles 22:12).
  • For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding (Proverbs 2:6). 
  • The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).
  • And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:27).
  • Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things (2 Timothy 2:7).

5. Pray for understanding.
  • For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding (Colossians 1:9).
  • If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).

6. Stay away from the world’s value system, and let God transform your mind.
  • And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God (Romans 12:2).
  • That ye put off concerning the former conversation (lifestyle) the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
  • Seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds; And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him (Colossians 3:9b-10).

7. Focus your mind on what God wants you to.
  • Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things (Philippians 4:8).

8. Cultivate a thankful heart.
  • Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 5:20).
  • In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

9. Choose joy.
  • Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice (Philippians 4:4).

Let’s learn the mind of Christ!

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:5).

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

"It Can't Be Wrong When It Feels So Right"

The song, “You Light Up My Life”* proclaims, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.” Or, can it?

We can apply this philosophy to many areas of our lives.
        What feels good?
        What do we emotionally want?
        What sensation feels necessary?
        What gives us pleasure?
        What just feels right?

Let’s apply this to the physical world:
        Eating comfort food, junk food, lots of food
        Drinking coffee, tea, alcohol
        Taking long baths in scented water, candles lit around the tub
        A walk in nature
        Partying with friends

While the above list isn’t all bad, some of these pleasures can be used in the wrong way—even while they feel good:
        Unhealthy eating and drinking
        Sex outside of marriage, adultery
        Substance abuse
        Wild partying

Even when it feels good, it might be wrong. 
It might not please God.

Let’s address the realm of sexuality. I recently read the book, Out of a Far Country, by Angela Yuan and her son Christopher. (You can access my review here.) While both mom and son write the book in alternating chapters, in this post, I’m quoting only Christopher. He was a gay man, and now he is a Christian. Read his thoughts about sexuality (emphasis mine):
            I had learned that I could live without sex, but what about my sexuality? If I was abandoning homosexuality as the core of who I was, did I have an identity apart from my sexual orientation? I really struggled with this, especially during my first year in prison. For the longest time, I really believed that God had created me this way—gay. I had told myself over and over, I am gay. I was born this way. This is who I am. I never chose to have these feelings. But now, as I searched the Scriptures for the way I should live, I began to ask myself a different question: Who am I apart from my sexuality? I didn’t have an answer.
            As I continued to read the Bible, I realized that my identity shouldn’t be defined by my sexuality. Paul said in Acts 17:28, “For in him we live and move and have our being.” Christ should be everything—my all in all. My sexual orientation didn’t have to be defined by my feelings or sexual attractions. My identity was not “gay” or “homosexual,” or even “heterosexual,” for that matter. But my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone.
            God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” I had always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality. But actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. God never said, “Be heterosexual, for I am heterosexual.” He said “Be holy, for I am holy.”
            For the longest time, I could never see myself becoming straight. It was a burden, because I felt I had to somehow become straight to please God. So when I realized that heterosexuality should not be my goal, it was so freeing. The thing was, if I did become straight, I would still deal with lust. Therefore, I knew that I shouldn’t focus on homosexuality or even heterosexuality, but on the one thing that God calls everyone to: holy sexuality. Holy sexuality is not focused on orientation change—becoming straight—but on obedience. And I realized that obedience means, no matter what my situation, no matter what my feelings—gay or straight—I must obey and be faithful to God. (pages 186-187)

Christopher goes on to say,
            Holy sexuality means one of two scenarios. The first scenario is marriage. If a man is married, he must devote himself to complete faithfulness to his wife. And if a woman is married, she must devote herself to complete faithfulness to her husband. . . . The second scenario of holy sexuality is singleness. Single people must devote themselves to complete faithfulness to the Lord through celibacy. This is clearly taught through Scripture, and abstinence is not something unfair or unreasonable for God to ask of his people. Singleness is not a curse. Singleness is not a burden. As heirs of the new covenant, we know that the emphasis is not on procreation but regeneration. But singleness need not be permanent. It merely means being content in our present situation while being open to marriage—and yet not consumed by the pursuit of marriage.
            Holy sexuality doesn’t mean that I no longer have any sexual feelings or attractions. Nor is it the obliteration of my sexuality either. God created us as sexual beings with the natural desire for intimacy. And everyone is created to desire intimate, God-honoring, nonsexual relationships with the same gender. But because of the effects of original sin, this normal feeling has been distorted. I believe homosexuality (and any other sin, such as jealousy, pride, and gluttony) stems from a legitimate need fulfilled in an illegitimate way.
             . . . Change is not the absence of struggles; change is the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles. I realized that the ultimate issue has to be that I yearn after God in total surrender and complete obedience.” (pages 187-189)

I share Christopher’s thoughts to help you. No matter what our background might be, the call to holiness is God’s expectation of us as Christians.

That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing,
being fruitful in every good work,
and increasing in the knowledge of God.
(Colossians 1:10)

* “You Light Up My Life” by Joe Brooks

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Fiction Review: Random Acts of Murder

Random Acts of Murder by Christy Barritt is the first book of her Holly Anna Paladin Mystery Series.

Social worker Holly Paladin breaks into a client’s house to clean it—as a good will surprise. While in the house, with creepy and guilty feelings cropping up, she turns on a light and finds . . . a man, dead, with blood pooling around his chest. Holly panics and flees the scene, leaving behind her bucket and cleaning supplies.

Upon returning, the police are there, and she decides to forget the cleaning supplies—forever.

But, the murderer knows she was there, and the rest of the book is about Holly trying to figure out who would kill this man—and successive people—while she tries to hide the fact that she was at the scene of the crime from her family and the police. Who's killing her clients? And, why?

One complication is that she's been diagnosed with terminal cancer and believes she has only six months to live . . . and she hasn’t yet told her family.

I kept flipping pages to see what would happen next.

Christy Barritt tells this spooky story from Holly's perspective in Mrs. Barritt's trademark hilarious way. I was thoroughly entertained. Loved it! Loved it! Loved it!

This book is suitable for both teens and adults. It is clean (except for murder!), and there is zero sexual content or bad language.


(For other reviews of Christy Barritt’s books, you can access them here, here, and here.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Guys Who Built the Wall

In Nehemiah, chapter 3, we read about the rebuilding of the protective walls around Jerusalem. The workmen are listed along with a description of the sections that they rebuilt. It lists the sons of this man, the ruler of this part, another son, the Levites, brothers, and more. God even gives us the details of exactly where on the wall they worked—next to gates, doors, and particular parts of the wall—even behind named persons’ houses. For example, Baruch the son of Zabbai earnestly repaired the other piece, from the turning of the wall unto the door of the house of Eliashib the high priest (3:20).

Each worker is named. Each part of the wall is described.

The book of Nehemiah was probably written between 445 and 420 B.C., which is well over two thousand years ago. Yet, we read today of Urijah; the son of Koz (verse 4); the Tekoites (verses 5 and 27); Hashabiah, the ruler of the half part of Keilah (verse 17); Malchiah, the goldsmith’s son (verse 4); and many others.

Why does God make this detailed list of the laborers on the wall?

Here are a few of my thoughts:
  • Every person counts. When we are doing right and actively serving God, He notices! I think God might have listed these men by name because He wanted us to see that He notices each person’s work, and that each person is valuable to Him.
  • Even though most of these names in Nehemiah don’t feature anywhere else in Scripture, God put them in His eternal Word in recognition of their part in His work. God honors those who work for Him.
  • Each section of the wall was vitally important. The protection of Jerusalem depended on everyone doing his job well, so that the whole wall would be a cohesive whole. This whole project shows the value of teamwork in God’s projects.
  • Jerusalem is God’s city, central to both the Old Testament and the New. It is the eternal city, as the New Jerusalem will be God’s abode, along with all the saints of all time.

So, what does a long list of workers’ names in the book of Nehemiah have to do with us? Let’s get practical.
  1. God values every Christian and recognizes any service done for Him. Also unto thee, O Lord, belongeth mercy: for thou renderest to every man according to his work (Psalm 62:12)
  2. God’s work—even manual labor—is important. And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it (Psalm 90:17).
  3. Every Christian needs to take responsibility for his “part of the wall” and complete the task God has called him to do. Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward (1 Corinthians 3:13-14).
  4. God has an eternal plan for Jerusalem, and His Divine will will be done. We can trust Him. But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant (Hebrews 12:22-24a).

Nehemiah’s burden for his people back home and his putting into action a plan for protecting them is an inspiration to us today. And, so are the workers who—noble or poor—laid bricks and mortar to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.

May we be as faithful!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Nine Easy Tips for Making Your House Feel Like A Home

When someone walks into your house, how does he feel? Does he feel warm? At home? Scared stiff—fearing he might mess something up? Does he feel loved?

I enjoy looking at photos of home décor. Some is over-the-top, unreachable, and so very fancy—Victorian, French châteaux, etc.—and some is so pristine you’d be afraid to sit down.

As Christians, we want our home's atmosphere to say: loving, caring, approachable, warm. It’s amazing how little it takes to create an atmosphere that feels like that. Whether your style is modern, industrial, shabby chic, French country, or whatever you like, you can make your house feel like a home.

Let me share a few ideas I’ve learned over the years. Surely you’ll think of more:
  1. In your living areas (living, dining, and kitchen), use warm colors. This means painting the walls with a touch of yellow, orange, or red in the paint. How about cream, peach, ochre, warm gray, sage green, or sand? It doesn’t have to be a dark color or even intense; just a measure of warmth will do.
  2. Add one or two patterns. You could have a patterned rug, pillow(s), and/or curtains. Patterns convey homeyness. You can combine large patterns with small—in the same color range. (Make sure some of your surfaces and furniture are not patterned. A little bit of pattern goes a long way.)
  3. Choose a color scheme that extends from your entrance through your main living areas. This way, your home looks put together. You can have variations on that same (usually three colors) theme, but those same colors appear in each room: kitchen, dining room, and living room.
  4. When you’re picking out furniture and furnishings, don’t be too matchy-matchy. A room looks more homey if it doesn’t look like a furniture store showroom. Get a matching sofa and big chairs, but then change up the look with your end table(s), coffee table, and bookcases. In the dining room, consider one style of chairs at the head and foot of the table and different matching chairs down the sides. Mix and match dishes. Don’t arrange every decoration in perfect symmetry.
  5. Use texture. After you’ve decorated, toss a fuzzy, textured afghan over a chair or couch. Use a basket or a piece of handmade pottery to add another dimension. Look for ways to add interesting, contrasting textures to your decorating.
  6. Consider your lighting. Make sure lights are glowing and not too blue or "cool" in tone. "Daylight" is a good choice.
  7. Add plants! A touch of green literally makes a space come alive. (You don’t have to be a green thumb. You can use amazingly realistic fake plants—no watering!) Make sure every room in your house has at least one green plant in it.
  8. Add “history.” Old photos, a mirror with a fancy frame, collected things, a container of old silver spoons, an urn, a set of old books, signage, a piece of sculpture . . . even if it only looks old, it will give depth to your decorating.
  9. Don’t forget happy smells! When you know someone’s coming, light a scented candle. Even happier would be an apple pie in the oven, pizza, or a chicken casserole . . . . Nothing says “home” better than opening the door to pleasant smells.
So, we’ve decorated, added plants, and the apple pie is in the oven.

Now, enjoy those who share your home. Open your arms to your family and visitors. Smile, relax, and breathe deeply.

Oh yes, and don’t forget to get the pie out in exactly two minutes! Yummmm!

The Virtuous Woman looketh well to the ways of her household,
and eateth not the bread of idleness.
Her children arise up, and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praiseth her.
Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain:
but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
Give her of the fruit of her hands;
and let her own works praise her in the gates.
(Proverbs 31:27-31)

(For decorating ideas in many different styles, please check me out on Pinterest. I have boards called: bedroom décor, bathroom decoration ideas, furniture, home decorating, home decorating details, kitchen ideas, windows, and many more.)