Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Inaccessible (or The Day That Got Away or The Day I Was Not Saved)

"Inaccessible" -   

in·ac·ces·si·ble  defined as not accessible, unable to be reached or understood..... I came across a passage in the book of Matthew 13:11-16 that made me think of this particular word.  For those readers who are interested, go ahead and read it- and also read the parable that precedes it. 

 After reading that particular passage in Matthew, an image from my past came to mind.  For whatever reason, I was transported back in time- almost thirty years ago- with a  brief and insignificant memory that lay dormant.  I was a  grade schooler either 10 or 11 years old.  I remember being alone and grabbing a book down from a bookshelf as I often did when no one was around watching.  I guess it was a pastime- if I was not busy eating all the treats I could find in the pantry, I was exploring the books -as soon as I had an opportunity to be alone.  These were not my books, but rather my parents.  I remember tiptoeing and pulling down from the top shelf- a larger sized volume- the bible.  Curious, I opened the book and randomly read.  I was quite surprised at how easy to understand the words were- despite my mere sixth grade reading level abilities at the time. ( I did certainly enjoy reading and read whatever books and novels I could find: self help books, health books, encyclopedias- whatever I found I read.  I remember secretly reading my  mom's bathroom stash of reading material- strangely enough there was a copy of the biography on the "Elephant Man"  with a black and white photo insert which she kept hidden near the toilet bowl.  No book was safe with me around.   I learned so many things from reading! )

But,  this book was different- it was The Bible.  Contrary to the commonly held stereotypes that the bible is too difficult to read and  irrelevant in modern society and largely inaccessible to the majority of the population- the words were clear, easy to grasp and eye opening.  I wondered to myself as to why this book was apparently hidden in the bookshelf, squeezed between other books and out of my reach. I wondered why no one told me about this book, and why no one shared the teachings it contained.  I could not help but think it was withheld from me and I did not know why.  Sure we attended church a few times as did so many others,  yet I did not understand what was said at the services.  It was inaccessible.  And though I did not understand this at the time, the bible foretold this and explains this in Matthew 13:11-16.  It is incredible how many people, how many households have a copy of this life changing book, yet it simply collects dust on a book shelf unread.  It is amazing how many church going families and religious parents, that are out there, who never have personally shared the life giving message of the bible with their own children.  It is difficult to comprehend the countless numbers of men, women, children.... moms and dads, brothers and sisters, who sit in a pew every sunday listening to a sermon or message yet cannot understand what is said.  Their hearts are hardened, and their ears cannot hear- just like the listeners whose closed ears and closed hearts could not understand the parables of Jesus.  On that day, looking back, I compare myself to the seed, that fell upon the footpath in Matthew 13:4.  The message was lost to me.

That day, I was not saved. That day,  I did not receive the Good News. That was the day that got away.  I did not learn about eternal life or God's love and grace.   The seeds were quickly snatched away, like the seeds on the hard, barren footpath.   I slowly closed the bible in despair- placing it carefully back on the shelf, feeling dejected.... dismissing it as yet another book filled with fables and fairy tales, returning to my life as usual saying to myself, thinking that if it were true, then certainly someone would have told me about it. 

Well that was not my day of salvation.  It was not to come for a number of years.  So many share their testimony of how they were saved, but how many people share the day the were not saved.  I believe this shows how important it is to share the good news of the bible with everyone- including children and family.  No one should be overlooked- everyone needs to hear about God's message.  This is the story of the day that salvation escaped..... but I do remember the day I was saved.

Needless to say, I admit I ended up swiping that bible, and taking it for my own use years later.  And I still have it to this day. 

Now for the story of the day I was saved.....

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

One Perfect Life by John MacArthur

One Perfect Life by John MacArthur is more than just a harmony of the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  In many study bibles an outline of the gospel harmony can be found apart from the actual biblical text.  In chronological study bibles, the text of the gospels is grouped chronologically- in which certain events are included multiple times from the different gospels.  This book is the harmony of Jesus' life including the full text of the New King James version of the bible.  In other words, it is not only an outline where the reader must piece together the texts himself.  Nor is it like a chronological study bible where you can read each individual account or multiple accounts of the same event as retold be the gospels, side by side or one after the other.  MacArthur seams the gospel accounts into one all encompassing account.  Matthew is used as the base text with regards to events that are retold in multiple accounts for one cohesive story of events.  Additionally, the author goes beyond the gospels but also includes biblical material from the old testament as well as other bible  books in the new testament as well.  This is done to give a very complete picture of Jesus' life in which prophetic old testament material is also included.  John MacArthur has done a lot of work into creating this book which takes all the material of the bible pertaining to Jesus and presents it to the reader.  Unlike bible commentaries or summaries of Jesus' life, this is not simply the author's words but the actual bible text.  Therefore this handy reference can also be used for study and memorization as well.  Also included are explanatory notes on the verses- similar to the extensive study notes that may be found in a study bible.  These notes are included in small font at the bottom of the page so as not to be confused with the actual bible text.  For those who wish to commit the life of Jesus to memory without having to flip around the pages of four different gospels this is the perfect resource.  As a blogger I received this book from Thomas Nelson for the purpose of writing this review. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Girls With Swords By Lisa Bevere

The title of the book- Girls With Swords By Lisa Bevere, sounds more like a low budget karate action film rather than an empowering spiritual book.  Nevertheless, this book teaches the reader how to wield God's word, the bible, in order to grow closer to God.  This unique book, with its unique theme will appeal firstly to the extroverted, powerful, career woman or younger female reader.  Yet , it is applicable to all women as well.  No one needs to wonder about the connection between swords and spirituality because God's word is likened to a sword like the biblical verse Hebrews 4:12 states: For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow.  With that in mind- the title and the theme for this book is perfectly suited.  

The sword theme is followed throughout the book and the concepts of the sport of fencing are used as a springboard for Bevere to introduce the reader on how to apply spiritual and biblical concepts to one's own life.  In the beginning is an illustration of a sword and an explanation of basic fencing terminology.  Throughout the book are fencing facts- highlighted in shaded, bold circle graphics.  Fencing and sword clip art is featured throughout adding visual appeal and to break up the text.

The book is easy to follow, read and apply.  Discussed is the problem at hand- how the reader is a target of Satan.  Once that is established the significance of the sword- God's word- is covered.  To compliment the theme, the reader is taught how she can become a hero- literally.  The different senses of the sword are discussed and explained.  Issues of forgiveness and restoration are covered.  Her writing is very lively and her faith in the word of God is clear.  Her words are empowering and help to make bible principles clear with appealing analogies.  This is a good book to read and reread. 

Lisa Bevere has written several books that minister to women.  She has a good understanding and gift she uses to empower her readers.  In this day and age, women are sometimes perceived as weaker or second class- ironically, the author uses biblical principles to empower women.   As a blogger I received this book published by Water Brook for the purpose of writing this review. 

A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes

A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes is an inspirational new book written for women who are seeking to start or strengthen their relationship with God.  This book is for any reader who wants more out of life.  While this book does not address the needs of those readers experiencing a major crisis, grief or extreme hardship, this book, nevertheless will inspire those readers who simply want more out of their ordinary, mundane comfortable lives.  This book urges women to "cease striving" based on Psalm 46:10.  In otherwords, the author tells the reader to focus less on doing more and accomplishments and to spend more time focusing on prayer and a relationship with God.  Contrary to the demands of fast paced modern society, the author tells the reader it is okay to slow down and relax and that this may be required in order to strengthen one's own spirituality. At times this may be self serving for those readers already inclined towards a passive attitude and sloth.  But that is not the author's purpose.  This advise is directed toward the overworked, overly tired woman who neglects her spiritual life and relationship with God.

The author, Sharon Jaynes explains that it is common and natural to feel a void in one's life.  It may feel like something is missing yet it is not obvious as to what may be lacking.  While our most obvious and basic needs- and then some- are met, we still feel a vacuum.  Jaynes calls this a "glory ache" in which we long for something greater; something spiritual- as in a greater purpose determined and directed by God.  She explains this is a God planted ache for a greater purpose or glory.  The author uses personal anecdotes from her own life.  She compares her lack of direction and spiritual dryness to the wandering in the wilderness in the book of Exodus.  While personal anecdotes gives a touch of authenticity and a personal connection, for those readers whose lives and circumstances vastly differ and are less than ideal- the personal stories might serve to alienate.  Using personal anecdotes involves a trade off- in some cases it fosters a closer bond with the reader while in other- a rift is created.

The author uses plenty of bible scripture which is good as it increases the reliability factor of this work.  There are two pages of lined journal space near the end of the book- a nice touch, but not enough to be actually useful.  Perhaps it is there to serve as a suggestion or hint for the reader to keep her own- separate- journal.  The beautiful butterfly clip art accents make the text more inviting. Also included is a helpful thorough study guide that readers can use to get the most out of the material presented.  It is perfect for serious readers who actually want to follow through with their spiritual growth.  This is a good book for anyone who wished to live a more purposeful life in the spirit.  As a blogger I received this book published by Water Brook Multnomah publishers for the purpose of writing this review.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Dream So Big -Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger by Steve Peifer with Gregg Lewis

A Dream So Big -Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger by Steve Peifer with Gregg Lewis chronicles the missionary adventure of the Peifer family in Kenya.   After losing a  child to a fatal trisomy shortly after birth, Nancy Peifer's husband, Steve decided to make his wife's lifelong childhood dream of becomming a missionary for Africa- come true.  Redirecting the crippling grief of their loss, they in turn went on to help countless suffering, impverished children.

This book is an autobiographical account that begins with Nancy and Steve's youth- from their courtship, marriage and events leading up to their decision to become missionaries to Kenyan children. On the outside it would seem unlikely for an ordinary church going couple with 2 kids to pick up and go to Africa.   A chance encounter, with perfect timing, with a couple of longtime friends- who themselves were in the midst of fundraising for a trip to Africa became the catalyst.   A simple,  yet hesitant invitation the friends - asked of the Peifer's on page 49, "You don't want to watch this video about the school where we work in Kenya,  do you?"- was enough to transform the lives of the grieving couple as well as countless children.  They didn't need much prodding after that.  The one year mission as dorm parents turned into a lifelong international mission.

They lived with this theme in mind- "that rare gift of being able to help someone without wounding their dignity. " page 56.  Their mission may not have been to save the entire world but to make a difference with one life at a time.  Interestingly, this is illustrated with the wellknown modern parable of the llittle boy on thr beach saving one starfish at a time.  Likewise, by helping one child at a time- one school at a time- one by one a child is saved from hunger.

Throughout the book, thr author chronicles every step of the missionary journey.   No detail is considered too mundane as the reader is given a play by play account of the financial details of funding their trip including fundraisers and other housekeeping related details.   Facts and statistics as well as planning details are included making this account like a step by step guide to planning and carrying out mission work. The author shares the cultural experiences of life in Kenya.   Despite the extensive day to day detail,  the book is fast paced and the author's humor is certain to keep the reader engaged.  For example on page 211 the author goes into detail about the fact that he "had enough funky-tasting moo juice since we came to Kenya."  In fact he explains that it was common practice for the cafeteria to disguise the taste of the old sour milk with chocolate syrup.   Nevertheless, Peifer goes on to remark that he doubted there was enough chocolate "in the world to disguise the distinctive flavor" of the old milk.  The writing style is memorable.

This book makes clear how much the average person in a first world nation takes for granted.  Even seemingly simple things such as clean water, electricity, education and clothing are things Kenyan children lack yet so many readers take these things for granted.Many readers have no idea what missionary life is like The author shares not only his own experiences but those of others as well- including the sacrifices that they wilingly endure. For exampke it isnt unheard of for a missionary to use his own limited resources and use them to buy food for the poor. The author shares with the reader the most important lessons he has learned through his missionary experience: love, humility and sacrifice.  He illustrates how he became a changed person, living the gospel message of Jesus in real life. 

Despite this book's length, it is easy to read and engaging as well.  In the center are a number of photographs: family photos as well as missionary photos.  Unlike most photos, these photos focus on faces and personalities so that the reader can get to "know" the subjects.  The faces become real people, not simply faceless, nameless statistics.   The only thing about this book is that Nancy's voice is left out.  Except what we learn second hand from her husband, the reader is left knowing very little from her perspective.  This is especially ironic since the motivation for this book, and the missionary work, is based on his wife's lifelong dream. One might expect that this would be  written by both spouses as a team. Nevertheless, this perspective from the husband's point of view makes this book unique. I received this book published by zondervan publishers for the purpose of writing this review.

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott

The Interrogator's Notebook by Martin Ott is a new detective novel featuring an interrogator who must find a killer.  What makes this story unique is that instead of the typical detective hero, the sleuth is an interrogator/ teacher which offeres a new perspective in the crime novel genre.  What makes this piece of fiction even more intriguing is that the author Martin Ott is himself a former U.S. Army interrogator.  He draws on his real life experience in writing this detective novel- adding to its authenticity.  In fact it is established early on in the novel that this work is based on his personal experience as an interrogator.  On page 10 the main character, Norman- the interrogator makes a reference that if he were to write a memoir that it would have to be disguised as fiction.  Most likely this work is based on Ott's military experience as well.
Ott's writing is poetic as well as indepth.  Each chapter opens up with a personal entry from Norman's point of view as if from his own journal.  The reader can get a glimpse into the mind of an interrogator.  It is as if the psycholgy of the interrogator's mind is there right in the open to read,  The notebook is likened to a confessional where private secrets are shared; remorse is expressed. In contrast to many fiction novels, Ott creates indeph characters with well developed personalities- as if the characters are based on himself as well as his friends and associates. Norman often reflects on previous cases.  I wonder how much is based on Ott's own real life experiences. This gives the main character a new level of depth. The reader will find himself trying to gleen what he thinks may be authentic infomation on actual events. Some of the information presented in the context of Norman's classroom is educational in introducing the reader to introductory interrogation concepts. Its almost as if it could be a training manuel that some readers may find themselves wanting to learn more military "secrets".
Well developed characters, lively dialog, psychoanalysis and the insertion of authentic interrogator trade secrets keep the reader engaged until the end of the story rather then skipping to the end. As a blogger I received this book published by Story Merchant books for the purpose of writing this review.

The Night Horses by Anaka Jones

The Night Horses by Anaka Jones is a not a typical children's book about horses.  This picture book might start out like a traditional barnyard tale- but it doesn't end that way. Any child is certain to enjoy this story about horses that live ordinary horsey lives by day yet come out together inorder to celebrate and party all night. A story that begins as a tale of the ordinary lives of horses holds in store for the reader a suprise twist as it turns into a magical fantasy about what horses do after dark.  The author draws in the reader by introducing the horses by name.  In fact, Jones brings the horses to life- sharing their unique and indivdual personalities-such as their names, their daily habits, likes and dislikes. The reader is introduced to the horses' families.  Children will be able to relate to the fact that the horses form families, have children and friendship bonds as well.

When the day ends the magical lives of the horses begin.  "When the people finish up their chores and go back to their house....The Night Horses get out their disco ball." Page 12 With stark contrast to their daytime routine, the horses dance, have manicures and even snacks until they tire and go to bed.  Not only will the subject of horses appeal to horse fans and younger children, the storyline will also appeal to elementary kids of all ages.  The horses and their manicures and disco ball will draw in the pre-teen girl readers.  In general Jones's original tale will appeal to a broad audience. I can imagine this being a perfect bedtime story for parents to read to their kids.  The writing style sounds natural and inviting and the illustrations compliment the story nicely.  Ironically the front and back cover perfectly depict the duality of this story- as the front cover depicts a traditional and serene nightime sillouette of horses.  The back cover depicts a fantasy circus-like poster styled image of a dancing horse.  As a blogger I recieved this book published by Create Space for the purpose of writing this review.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The small little organ in my neck

The concepts of depression and the feelings of despair are complicated.  The body and mind are connected, yet separate at the same time.  The mind and spirit are interconnected yet distinct.  Finding myself at a loss of how to begin, I resort to an old standby used by countless numbers of  uninspired writers-I decide to begin with a definition and  I drag out the hefty old volume from my bookshelf, dusty from disuse - The American Heritage Dic-tion-ar-y- obsolete in the days of free apps.  It is a heavy 2140 page book and the only one that I can think of that has more pages than a bible.  As I turn the thin yellowed pages to look up the word, I suspect in this modern day of instant gratification and Wikepedia, many people under the age of 30 probably do not even know how to use a dictionary. The dictionary accurately defines depression as "...the condition of feeling sad or despondent..." and also as "A psychotic or neurotic condition  characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, and feelings of extreme sadness, dejection and hopelessness."  Apparently since the average reader has the ability to conjure a mental image of a depressed man or woman  in his mind the contributors and editors of the dictionary did not feel the need to illustrate the word depression  with either  a drawing or photo.  Nevertheless I found the illustration of the derailleur especially useful.

Depression can have a variety of causes.  It can be a character flaw, or a clinical mood disorder.  Or it may even be attributed to an organic cause such as a brain malfunction, illness or imbalance.  Nevertheless depression is not always a bad thing.  It might serve a purpose and become the catalyst for change.   It is a fact that the Holy Spirit may convict our conscious for a purpose, and this may cause feelings of healthy depression which encourage us to seek out a solution.  Just read my testimony- an account I wrote about my younger years, (also on this blog site) The story on how I was saved, as proof that my depression in my youth, led me to my salvation and eternal life.  My depression was the product of the Holy Spirit convicting me and leading me to a new and changed life. 

Yet over this past summer, I experienced a new level of depression and lethargy.  Once again I had every symptom in the book (in this case - The American Heritage Dic-tion-ar-y).  On the surface it seemingly began as a normal reaction in response to grief. (That is another story!)  But as physical and emotional symptoms intensified it became apparent that not only was it an abnormal depression but that there was a medical cause.  I was diagnosed with a thyroid condition and immediately started on a medication to replace the thyroid hormone that my thyroid was no longer producing.  Within two days, literally, I felt like a changed person.  A wave of depression had been lifted.  I had renewed mental clarity and focus. For the first time I realized that my negative grim and gloomy attitude and short temper and lack of initiative was not a normal part of my personality or character. I figured that my depression was a spiritual problem  and that my short temper and laziness were character flaws that I had to work at to overcome on my own. And work, indeed, is what I did.  The years of  my tendency toward laziness and despair was not simply a  usual personality trait that I had grown accustomed to and had accepted.  Simple thyroid replacement medication- NOT antipsychotic drugs, NOT anxiety NOR depression medication- is what I needed.  My energy was renewed as well as my emotional health- unexpectedly to boot! That summer I was not even looking for help or a change- I was only looking to find out if I had contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite- that's all!  Imagine my surprise  when I learned that I had  autoimmune induced thyroid failure. How God used a tick......

It is a known fact that excess drinking and mind altering drugs will have an effect on even the strongest of personalities. Even lesser drugs- prescription drugs for anxiety and hormones may have an impact on a person's emotional and mental state.   Personal fortitude and mental steadfastness is no match against mind altering chemicals- natural or unnatural.  To some degree the lack of thyroid hormone can impact my abilities and mood.  For example when one feels depressed, uninitiated, lethargic and short- tempered one minute and the next rejuvenated, energetic and at peace- or vice versa- it is obvious something external is going on.  I have noticed on some occasions my mood and energy level will decline.  This occurs for example, if I take my thyroid medication too late in the day.  But it also occurs if my thyroid goes into an acute state of  decline- a signal that means my thyroid medication needs to be changed. My thyroid condition is progressive.  If  I feel unusually tired, lethargic and depressed, it is not normal, and it means that my thyroid function needs to be addressed.

I have a unique insight.  Sometimes it seems as if I am on the outside looking in, observing my physical and emotional status from an objective viewpoint.  Fortunately  the declines  are infrequent, yet when they occur it feels like an overwhelming looming wave of despair and fatigue.  It is followed by attempts to refocus to fight it off.  The depression and lethargy seem out of place and makes no sense- it approaches as if out of the blue with little warning.  Yet redirecting my thoughts feels futile and I am completely aware as I feel myself losing my positive focus as I sink into senseless indifference and despair.  I know it isn't supposed to be like this and its so frustrating and crippling to feel this way, yet not have the emotional or physical strength to overcome.  

  It is humbling and ironic to think that a small little organ located in my neck has this much control.  Nevertheless, even if my thyroid is failing,  I am fortunate that medicine has provided the means by which to replace what is not working.  Yet even in the worst of times, in my weakness, I draw on God for my strength.  In my worst moments when my thyroid is failing and my emotions and body cannot keep up, I know my spirit is not failing.  My spirit is distinct from my body.  My spirit and soul are distinct from my emotional state and mood.  My personality, in part,  is a product of the chemical composition of my body- apparently- but my spirit is a product of the Holy Spirit.  Through the Holy Spirit I am a changed creature, a new creation regardless of my thyroid.  I cannot lose site of my salvation and eternal hope.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Days Like These by Kristian & Rachel Anderson

Days Like These- Even in the Darkest of Moments Light Can Shine Through by Kristian & Rachel Anderson chronicles the inspiring cancer journey and  the faith of a husband and father of two young boys.  Most importantly, this book will give readers the strength to face any hardship or tragedy "even when the miracle doesn't come".  In contrast to so many memoirs and autobiographies with happy fairy tale endings, this inspirational family held onto their faith despite adversity, despite terminal illness and even in the face of failing health and unsuccessful medical treatments.  Where most people would give up in despair, this book depicts happy content photos taken by Kristian Anderson weeks before his passing.  Despite learning the news that his chemo had failed to treat his cancer, and that the tumors would continue to grow, his faith in God remained strong.  His journey will empower other readers facing cancer, or any other terminal, acute or chronic illness.

This book is based on Kristian's blog entries over the course of two years from his diagnosis to shortly before his death.  The reader follows the journey in Kristian's own words- with some insertions and additions by his wife, Rachel.  Also included are Kristian's prayers and bible verses- a testament to his faith.  In fact I am sure the selected verses and bible excerpts that he selected for his blog not only offered him comfort in the midst of pain and emotional anguish but will also provide comfort to the reader in the face of tragedy and grief.  In fact, I read this book not only once but twice in order to absorb and meditate on the wealth of bible verses that Kristian carefully selected.  Clearly he as well as his wife, depended on God.

In addition to the spiritual side of the cancer journey there is significant medical information included.  In fact I found this book very educational in learning about the medical and scientific side of cancer and its treatment as well as the physical and emotional aspects of treatment.  While I recommend this book as inspiring for anyone especially those in the midst of tragedy I would be hesitant to give this book as a gift to anyone going through cancer because the end of the book coincides with Kristian's death.  Regardless of however inspirational this story is- for someone who is actually fighting to beat cancer and survive, the ending might be a bit disheartening.  As a blogger for Booksneeze, I received this book published by Zondervan publishers for the purpose of writing this review.