Thursday, July 19, 2018

Galatians and Ephesians: faith, freedom and life in Christ

This month’s study was on the books of Galatians and Ephesians. In Paul’s letter to the Galatian church, he writes to refute the claims of some teachers, who taught that Gentile believers had to follow Jewish law in order to be saved. As well as to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Paul writes to strengthen the believers in Ephesus in their Christian faith by explaining the nature and purpose of the church, the body of Christ. I will focus on his instructions to wives and husbands as well as his imagery of the full armor of God in order to fight of spiritual battles.

In Galatians 3:1-14, Paul writes about the importance of faith over the Law. The Galatians were being influenced by teachers called Judiazers who claimed that the Law still had to be followed. Paul stresses that believers received the Spirit through faith not by observance of the Law. In verses 2 and 5, he repeats the same question, did the believers receive the Spirit by observance of the law or by believing the message that they heard? By asking these questions, Paul wanted to remind them, and us, that faith is founded in Christ, not the law. We grow spiritually because of God’s work in us by his Spirit, not by following special rules. The reasons that the Galatians felt they still needed to follow the law is the same way people today still believe there needs to be special rules to follow. Receiving God’s Spirit and blessings by faith alone is too simple, too easy. While studying the Bible, prayer and service in the church helps us grow, they do not take the place of the Holy Spirit which we all receive at the moment of acceptance. Paul even brings up Abraham who many agreed kept the law and therefore received salvation. However, Abraham was a man of faith and preceded the law by generations. So how can Abraham be a man of the law when the law hadn’t been written yet? (verses 6-9). Christ died to rid the curse of the law as breaking even one commandment condemned someone (Deuteronomy 27:26). Paul continues his argument that if righteousness and salvation were achieved by observance of the law, then Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21). Would God send his only Son to die for us if his death was meaningless? Therefore, the law is importance to know as it helps be moral compass; however, it is not the source of our salvation. Faith and faith alone in Christ is.

In Galatians 5:19-26, Paul lists acts of a sinful nature and tells readers that those who live in these acts will not inherit the kingdom of God. He says these acts are obvious (i.e. sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, jealousy, etc.) (verse 19-21). He then terms his attention to the Fruit of the Spirit, by products, acts as one lives for God. These acts are just as obvious: love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (verse 22). These acts are characteristics found in the nature of Christ. We obtain these traits by imitating him, loving him and knowing him. As a result, we fulfill the intended purpose of the law: to love God and our neighbors. A person who exhibits these fruits fulfills the law far better than a person who observes the rituals but has little love in his heart for God or others. Paul warns us in verses 24 and 25 that we have crucified our sinful natures with Christ; however, we still have the capacity to sin which is why we need to stay in step with the Spirit and commit daily (emphasis mine) to rid ourselves of our sinful natures. Daily crucify our sinful natures and draw on the Spirit’s power to overcome them. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25). His final words are: “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other” (verse 26). After speaking about the fruit of the Spirit and committing ourselves to walking with the Spirit, why would Paul end with a statement like that? As humans, we are social creatures and we often seek approval of others. And when we seek the approval of others, rather than God’s approval, we become conceited and envious. Keep your eyes on God and you won’t need the approval of others. I also want to mention that there are some Christians who become so confident in their relationship with God that they become conceited and forget that they too were once a broken person who reached out for God for salvation. Remember where and who you were when you accepted Christ’s gift of salvation as you deal with others who need him too.

In Ephesians 5:22-33, Paul turns his attention to wives and husbands and gives instructions on how they should act with each other. First, he addresses the wives. He tells them to submit to their husbands (verse 22). The dreaded word “submit.” It has been misinterpreted and misused throughout history and even in today’s modern times. Submitting to one’s husband does not mean being a doormat or a slave. For a wife to submit to her husband means to be willing to follow her husband’s leadership. A husband is the spiritual leader of the family just as Christ is the spiritual leader of the church (verse 24). A wise and Christ honoring husband does not take advantage of his leadership role and a wise and Christ honoring wife will not try to undermine her husband’s leadership. While Paul instructs wives in two verses, he has much more to say to husbands. He instructs husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church (verse 25). He is to love his wife as he loves himself (verse 28) and unite with her to become one flesh (verse 31). Uniting as one flesh isn’t just through sex, it also includes being of one mind and discuss any disagreements. For example, with my husband and I, we discuss everything together: money, budget, our children’s education and discipline, etc. My husband listens to and considers my position and opinions, while I accept that as the head of our family, he has the final say in any decision and we usually come to an equal agreement on many topics; however, sometimes, as the leader, he may decide something different. Going back to verses 25 and 28, how should a husband love his wife? First, he should be willing to sacrifice everything for her as Christ did for the church (verse 25). Second, he should make her well-being a priority as Christ did for the disciples (verses 26-27). Third, a husband should care for her as he cares for his own body (verse 28-29). With a husband who does these three things as Christ as his example, no wife needs to fear submitting to her husband’s leadership.

In Ephesians 6:10-18, near the end of his letter, Paul discusses the armor of God for protection against the devil’s schemes (verse 11). These schemes could come in the form of unseen forces or as the attacks from nonbelievers. First, the belt of truth (verse 14) helps us remember God’s truth and defeat Satan’s lies. Second, the breastplate of righteousness (verse 14) to protect our hearts which safeguards our emotions, self-worth and trust. The breastplate reminds us that God loves us and sent his Son to die for us. Third, the footgear of the gospel of peace (verse 15) is the motivation and readiness to spread the Good News of Christ and the peace found with him. Fourth, the shield of faith (verse 16) to protect ourselves from Satan’s attacks. These attacks come in the form of insults, setbacks and temptations. The shield of faith reminds us of God’s promise of love and salvation. Fifth, the helmet of salvation (verse 17) protects our minds from doubts about God, Jesus and our salvation. Lastly, the sword of the Spirit (verse 17), as the only weapon of offense in the armor of God, it is the Word of God. Our best weapon against spiritual attacks and helps the other pieces of armor do their part to protect us. Along with putting on the full armor of God, we are to pray on all occasion and with all prayers and requests. We are to be alert and pray for all the saint (other believers the ones we know as well as those around the world) (verse 18). The image of the full armor of God reminds me of a song by Twila Paris called The Warrior is a Child. In the song, the narrator discusses being a child who runs to God when the battles become too much to fight. We came to the Father for rest, comfort and encouragement as we go through life fighting battles for God.

In conclusion, the letters to the Galatian and Ephesian churches are filled with importance lessons. I just touched on a few. Our salvation does not depend on the observance of the law but rather with faith in Christ. A true believer and follower of Christ can be identified by the fruit of the Spirit he displays in his life. Wives are to submit to their husbands, while husbands are to love his wife as Christ loved the church. Believers are called to put on the full armor of God in order to defend ourselves against the attacks against spiritual forces as well as fight battles against those who fight against God.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

1 and 2 Corinthians: lessons about gifts, love, giving and false teachers

This month’s study is on 1 and 2 Corinthians. Paul wrote letters to the church in Corinth, a major cosmopolitan city, seaport and trade center of Achaia. The purpose of the first letter is to identify the problems in the Corinthian church, to offer solutions and to teach the believers how to live for Christ in a corrupt society. The second letter’s purpose is to affirm Paul’s ministry, defend his authority as an apostle and refute the false teachers in Corinth. I will discuss four points in these letters. Spiritual gifts, what are they and what purpose to they serve in the Body of Christ? What love is and isn’t. I will discuss what it means to generously give and what to look out for when dealing with false teachers.

First, spiritual gifts are often a controversial topic in churches even today because so many denominations define them differently. First, let’s look at what Paul says about the gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:1-11. He tells us that each gift is given by the same Spirit (verse 4), the Spirit of God. It is also something he repeats several times. Each gift is given for the common good. There is the gift of wisdom, the gift of knowledge, the gift of faith, gift of healing, the gift of miraculous powers, the gift of prophesy, the gift of distinguishing between spirits, gift of tongues, the gift of interpreting tongues (verses 8-10). Each believer is given a gift which he is to use for the good of the Body of Christ (i.e. the church). The problem in the Corinthian church is they were treating some of the gifts as superior to others and thus elevating that person as better or higher than someone else simply because they have a certain gift. Paul says this is not right. Since all the gifts are given by the same Spirit, the gifts are equal. They may serve different purposes but each one is special and needed. Paul goes on to say in 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 that each gift is given to certain believers to serve a function in the Body of Christ. “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (verse 27). Some are teachers, some are musicians to lead worship, some are missionaries, some are fundraisers, some are prayer warriors, the list can go on and on. No one is more important than the other just because they serve a different purpose. The individual who helps clean the church building is just as important as the pastor who teaches from the pulpit.

Second, Paul discusses what love is and isn’t and it is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. Just 13 verses long, it speaks volumes about what true love looks like. People today are confused about what love truly is just as they were in the Corinthian church. In verses 1-3, Paul talks about how he could have all these wonderful gifts but without love, it is nothing. With all the spiritual gifts that people are given, if they do not use them with love, then the gifts are useless. Love is: patient and kind (verse 4), always protects, always trusts, always hopes and always perseveres (verse 7). Love is not envious, is not boastful, or proud (verse 4). It is not rude, self-seeking, or easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs (verse 5). “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (verse 6). Love is one of the greatest human qualities and it is one of God’s attributes (1 John 4:8). Love involves unselfish service to others. To show love gives evidence to others that you care. Unfortunately, many people today use love as a bargaining chip. “To do this for me and I will love you” but love should be given without conditions, without a price and without thought of what one gets in return. Yes, sometimes we all act without love. We are still human and sometimes other emotions get the best of us. When we are hurt and angry, we lash out without love. One of the most quoted verses is verse 13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Faith is the foundation and content of God’s message. Hope is the attitude and focus and love is the action. Without love, you cannot have faith or hope. If you need an example of love, look to Christ.

Third, in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, Paul speaks about giving generously. However, this isn’t about the amount one gives but the attitude in which one gives. God doesn’t look at the person who gives $1,000 dollars and says “wow” and looks down at the person who only gave $100. He looks at the attitude and the spirit in which in was given. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly, or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Generously giving isn’t just about money but our time as well. When one serves with their time in the church, he or she should do so cheerfully as God will increase that gift with rewards but when the spirit of service isn’t there, the rewards will be small. If you feel like you do not have the spirit of service, do not be afraid to say “no, I can’t right now.” Sometimes when the spirit of service is small, it could mean that you need to reenergize yourself. It’s okay to have “me time.” No one can give 100% of themselves, 100% of the time. And if you ask someone to service and they say no, do not think badly of them or think that they are backsliding in their faith, it may be because God is telling them to rest and when they are ready to serve again, they will. Give where and how you can give. If you can give money, then help provide the funds that the church can use to serve the people. If you can’t give money, but can give of your time, then serve in a ministry whether it be in the teaching a Sunday school class or rocking the babies to sleep in the nursery, so the parents can fellowship. This is just a few examples of how someone can generously give to the church.

Lastly, false apostles or false teachers was a big problem in the church of Corinth just as it is now. In 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, Paul speaks about false teachers. He warns the church to be mindful of what teachers are teaching. If they are teaching something other than what Christ taught be careful be to be led astray (verse 3-4). Paul says not to judge a teacher by how much money he demands to teach (verses 7-8). A great teacher isn’t determined by their fee. Paul says “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve” (verses 13-15). False teachers deceive others by appearing to be good and moral. Many unsuspecting believers have fallen into the trap of a smooth-talking, Bible quoting teacher, but we are warned to look beyond their outward appearances. To ask ourselves questions. For example, do the teachings confirm Scriptures as stated in Acts 17:11? Acts 17:11 states that the Berean church examined the Scriptures every day and very careful to see if what Paul said was true. If a pastor or teacher says something about God or Scripture, go into the Scriptures. Do not take the pastor’s word for it, simply because he is a pastor. Another question could be: Does the teacher affirm and proclaim that Jesus Christ is God who came into the world as a man to save people from their sins (1 John 4:1-3)? Is the teacher’s lifestyle consistent with Biblical morality (Matthew 12:33-37)? If the answer to these questions, or any questions you may have, gives you pause, then it is time to consider if this individual is a false teacher.

In conclusion, there are many lessons in the letters to the Corinthian church. First, we are all special and unique to God and we are all called to a special purpose within the church. Look to God and ask Him how you can use your gifts for his glory. Second, love is often misunderstood. Do not look to the world’s definition of love with all its conditions. Remember that love is the action in which faith and hope is built on. Third, attitude is more important when it comes to the giving of our time and money, much more important than the amount we give. Lastly, be very discerning with pastors and church leaders. Look to the Bible and use it to verify what is being taught.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

How to Walk Away: a beautiful story of how to leave one life behind and begin a new one

How to Walk Away by Katherine Center is the story of one woman’s journey from one life to another. Margaret’s life had been plagued with the fear to fly. Her boyfriend, Chip, had earned his pilot license and to celebrate, much to Margaret’s dismay, he decides to take her for a flight. During the flight, Chip proposes, she accepts, then tragedy happens. The plane crashes and Margaret is left horrible injured. As Margaret spends months in the hospital recovery, her estranged sister, Kitty, reenters her life to support her. During her stay, Margaret learns of deep secrets which were kept from her and threatens to tear apart her family. Meanwhile, she is assigned to a surly physical therapist, named Ian, who’s sour demeanor hides a a deep hurt. Will Margaret fully recover? How will she accept the information she learns about her family’s past? And how will she look to the future?

I enjoyed How to Walk Away a lot more than I thought I would. I requested to read this book based on the brief description which I can say didn’t do the story justice. It was so much more than the description gives it credit. It was deeply emotional, dramatic, inspirational and proof that sometimes life has to give you a tragedy to open your eyes to its beauty and a life so much more than you had planned. I highly recommend How to Walk Away.

How to Walk Away
is available in hardcover and eBook

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The book of Romans: the power of grace

Romans is an illustration of how people have turned from God and God’s response and his offer of salvation through faith and grace. Pastor and author Max Lucado has a great book on the book of Romans. In the Grip of Grace (1996) begins with the Parable of the River which helps describes how people have turned from God. Briefly, the parable is about five brothers who disobey their father by getting too close to a powerful river. They are caught in the currents and swept away, fair from home. They began their long journey home and one by one, a brother stops the journey and turning away from the hope of seeing their father and home again. Leaving two, the oldest and youngest brothers, to continue the journey. I will use this book and the parable as I discuss different aspects of Romans.

The first brother is an illustration of an individual who turns from God and seeks his own pleasure in life. Hedonists are people who believe that the most important thing in life is pleasure. Their goal is to satisfy themselves, their passions with a disregard to God. They believe that no one is guilty of sin and what each person does is their own business. Paul describes this person as having no excuse for the things he does. In Romans 1:20, Paul says that men have no excuse “since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what being made.” Therefore, nature itself is a testimony, evidence to the existence of God and his role as the Creator. But because they choose to ignore God and claim he doesn’t exist, Paul tells us that God gave them over to sinful desires (Romans 1:24). Hedonists believe that since they haven’t seen God, therefore there is no life beyond what we life, there’s no ultimate truth beyond this world and there’s no purpose in life beyond one’s own pleasure. He has no concern for the eternal and refuses to acknowledge a Creator (Lucado, 26). Hedonism has made its way into Christianity through the prosperity gospel. Prosperity Gospel is a belief among some Christians that financial blessings and physical well-being are always the will of God for them and that faith, positive speech and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. However, many Christians criticize this idea as contrary to Scripture as God never promised a wealthy life here on earth.

The second brother is an illustration of an individual who becomes the fault finding judgmentalist. This person compares himself to others as “Well, I’m not as bad as they are!” He is the finger pointer, the “record keeper” of others’ wrongs for God. This person is often bitter and proclaims himself the watchdog for God. Paul tells this “watchdog” that he has no authority to judge (Romans 2:1) and cannot escape God’s judgment based on others’ wrongdoings. Romans 2:3 says “So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” The judgmentalist doesn’t realize that the wrath he is storing up against others will be used against himself at his own judgment (Romans 2:5). Paul tells us that God doesn’t show favoritism. Those who do evil will face trouble and distress and those who do good will receive glory, honor and peace (Romans 2:9-11). We do not need to keep tally of the wrongdoings of others, God already sees and already knows. Focus on your own wrongdoings as you alone will stand before God and your list of others’ transgressions will not help your defense. It is one thing to have an opinion about one’s actions but its entirely another thing to pass a verdict. Romans 2:1-2 is a prohibition of standing in judgement of other people and failing to condemn ourselves (Stott, 82). There are two reasons we are not in a position to judge: we aren’t good enough and we don’t know enough. 
Therefore, leave the judgment to God and focus on your own wrongdoings and rightness with God.

The third brother to leave the journey is an illustration of a legalist who believe that works will save him. This individual will write a list of accomplishments that he hopes will settle his debt with God. He acknowledges that he is bad, but he will make it up to God by doing `good works on earth. Paul tells us in Romans 4:5 that man doesn’t have to work to be saved, he only needs to trust in God who justifies him through his faith and credits him with righteousness. The legalists are the ones who usually become stuck up and think they are the only ones who will make it because he has done many works and looks down on others who haven’t. These people are the ones who criticizes other Christians who may not go to church every Sunday while they faithfully sit in the same pew every week. They go to every weekly Bible study and volunteer for every activity the church may organize. The problem is the motivation behind it. They are doing so in order to win brownie points with God rather than the heart behind the act to show God’s love to others. They may give their ten percent tithe every month and not feel the pinch and yet they will scuff at the individual who puts in a few dollars not realizing that it’s the last dollars that person has until payday. This reminds me of the story of the poor widow who gave all she had to the temple while others gave large amounts. Jesus proclaims that the woman had put in more than the wealthy did because she gave out of her poverty and others gave out of their wealth (Mark 12:41-44). The difference? The value of the gift isn’t in the amount but the spirit in which it was given. Therefore, when you give of your time or money, make sure you are doing so in the right spirit.

This leads us to the Grace-driven Christian. The brother who stayed on the journey, leaning on the strength of the older brother. This person actively seeks God, who acknowledges that he is bad but knows he is forgiven though his faith in Jesus Christ. You may ask what is grace? Simply, grace is unearned and undeserved favor from God. We receive grace through our faith (complete trust) in Jesus Christ. Through grace and faith, we can stand before God as not guilty as Jesus took our guilt upon himself on the cross. Romans 10:10 says “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” Faith comes from our hearts and we are saved through grace as we confess our sins. We are made right with God through faith alone, not through obeying the law (Romans 3:28), not by the works we do or passing judgment on others. Grace gives us peace with God (Romans 5:1). Grace gives us a place with God and a share in his glory (Romans 5:2). We are saved dispute our struggles. Even after becoming a Christian, an individual still struggles with sin. Sin just doesn’t disappear from our world and our lives. However, God still claims us as His child and he still guides us through his word. “The same One who saved us first is there to save us still’ (Lucado, 148). This statement reminds me of the Avalon song Always Have, Always Will. In the song, the narrator reflects on his sinful nature as he struggles to follow Christ and follow his own selfish desires. “I always have, I always will. You saved me once you save me still.” The fact is we do not need to be perfect for God, as long as we have faith in Jesus and look to his Word for guidance, his grace and forgiveness will always be given to us.

In conclusion, as we go through life, we can sometimes find ourselves acting like the three brothers who left the journey. We become the hedonist who focuses on our own desires. We become the judgmentalist who criticizes others and ignores our own wrongs. We become the legalist who looks at our list of accomplishments and forget the heart and spirit of the service we can called to do. But we refocus on God and the gift he has given us in his son, we realize that we all have fallen short. We are not called to be perfect. We are simply called to love him, to trust in him and he will help us with our human struggles. Every other approach to God is a bartering system: If I do this…(works). If I feel this...(emotions). If I know this…(knowledge). Christianity has no negotiation. Every person is made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-24). That’s it.

Lucado, Max (1996): In the Grip of Grace. Dallas, TX: Word Publishing
Stott, John (1994): Romans: God’s Good News for the World. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Sunday, May 13, 2018

White Houses: the story of two women's deep friendship

White Houses by Amy Bloom is a fictionalized look into the friendship, and possible love affair, between Lorena Alice “Hick” Hickcock and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The story opens in April 1945, soon after President Roosevelt has passed away and Hick is waiting for the arrival of Eleanor, whom she hasn’t seen in years. The story then takes us back to when the two women first met. Hick was a reporter and Eleanor was on the getting ready to set on the road for the White House as Franklin makes his bid for the presidency. Told in a series of memories from her childhood through the Great Depression and her life with the Roosevelts, the book takes a deeper look into these historical icons.

White Houses takes the reader into the characters and shows them as more than the media and history has recorded them. Real people with real issues, concerns and struggles as the United States headed to the depths of the Great Depression and war. I usually love historical fiction and don’t usually mind when a book features real people, but I found this book dragged a bit. If the two women were indeed lovers, the author didn’t display much emotion between them. It felt flat and so matter of fact. I still enjoyed the story and recommend White Houses to readers who like fictionalized stories of historical figures.

White Houses
is available in hardcover and ebook

Thursday, May 3, 2018

A general overview of the different religious groups in the gospels

As I read through the gospels over the last few months, I decided that I would go back on do more research on the groups which are discussed during Jesus’s ministry. The Pharisees, teachers of the law and the Sadducees are the three main groups who opposed Jesus and sought to end his influence over the people of Israel. These groups would make up the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, composed of 70 members with the high priest serving as a leader. It is this council in which Jesus would have his trials before being handed over to Roman officials. The Sanhedrin also judge the apostles and members of the early church as they spread the message of Jesus.

First, the Pharisees are often the most widely known and most often mentioned in the gospels. They were a strict group of religious Jews who advocated minute obedience to Jewish law and traditions. The origin of the group is shrouded in some obscurity, but it is believed to have been organized out of the Maccabean Revolt (165 BCE). The Pharisees had three distinct characteristics. First, they had deep respect for the Law. Second, they were more a fraternity than a sect. To be a member, one must have a strict adherence to the Law, oral or written. Third, the Pharisees despised those they did not consider to be equals and were arrogant as they believe to be the only interpreter of God and his Word. The Pharisees saw the Jewish faith as a religion of works rather than heart as they believed God’s grace came through the Law. The Pharisees believed in predestination, the teaching of special divine providence. They stressed so much on the immortality of the soul that they often clashed with the Sadducees over this belief. They believed the reward for good works and wicked souls were under the earth. Only the souls of the virtuous would rise again. They also believed heavily in the existence of angels and spirits. They accepted the Old Testament scriptures and fostered the messianic hope which they gave a material and nationalistic twist. The picture painted in the New Testament and by teachers of the Bible, is almost entirely negative; however, not everything about the Pharisees was bad. Not all of them were self-righteous and hypocritical. Some tried to promote true piety. Some joined the Christian movement in the beginning. Some of the great men in the New Testament were Pharisees. Nicodemus (John 3:1-21) who met with Jesus to discuss his miraculous signs. He would later boldly defend Jesus as a member of the Sanhedrin (John 7:50-51).

Second, teachers of the law were religious scholars and professional interpreters of the law who especially emphasized the traditions. They are often seen together with the Pharisees in the gospels. They were an important element of the Sanhedrin as they often served as judges. In the application of the Law, the oral teachings of these men were a greater authority than the written law itself. They were described as the most watchful and determined opponents of Jesus as they disagreed with association with tax collectors and other sinners (Mark 2:16, Luke 15:2). They agreed with Jesus on respect for the law and commitment to the obedience of the law. However, they disagreed with Jesus in respect as they denied his authority to interpret the law. They also rejected Jesus as the Messiah because he did not obey all their traditions. It is mentioned throughout the gospels on multiple occasions, they believed that Jesus forgiving sins was blasphemous (i.e. Matthew 9:3, Mark 2:16). But not all the teachers of the law were confrontational. In Matthew 8:19-20, a teacher of the law told Jesus he would follow him wherever he will go where Jesus teaches him the cost to follow him. Some teachers of the law even agreed with Jesus when he says that God is the God of the living when he was questioned about the resurrection (Luke 20:39).  

Lastly, the Sadducees were a wealthy, upper class Jewish priestly party, while many of the Sadducees were priests, not all priests were Sadducees. They often profited from business in the temple. The origin of this group is uncertain, but it is thought to be from the period of Jewish history between the restoration of the Jews to their own land (536 BCE) to the Christian era. They held to distinctive beliefs. First, they rejected the authority of the Bible beyond the five books of Moses and held only to the written law. They rejected all the traditions of the Pharisees. Second, they denied the existence of the resurrection of the body. They believed souls died with the body. Third, they denied the existence of angels and spirits according to Acts 23:8. Although the existence of angels and spirits was accepted in the Old Testament and especially in the five books of Moses, it is hard to understand why they would deny it. Scholars have thought of possible reasons as to general indifference to religion and their own rationalistic temper and the wild extravagances of the angelology and demonology of the Pharisees. Lastly, the Sadducees did not believe in predestination. There was no need for divine providence to order their lives and human beings were entirely masters of their own lives. Doing good or evil was a matter of free choice. With the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 BC, the Sadducees seem to disappear from history.

In conclusion, these three groups display the both the good and bad of knowledge. To be so sure of themselves in what they know, they rejected anything which didn’t fit in their box of understanding including God himself. In today’s church, the term, Pharisee, is often used as an insult for someone who focuses too much on rules and regulations than on grace and mercy. They are a lesson to be mindful how one’s acts and sees themselves in relation to their knowledge. We may be well read in the Bible; however, we must not forget we are dealing with children of God and a God who is more powerful than we can imagine.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The book of Acts: the beginnings of the church

The book of Acts, authored by Luke, details the events after Christ’s ascension into Heaven and the men and women who helped shape the early church. Peter who became a leader and continued spreading the gospel. Stephen who is traditionally thought to be the first martyr of Christianity. Philip who performed miracles in Samaria and baptizing an Ethiopian man. One man who helped the early church more than any other man, Saul of Tarsus, who became known as the Apostle Paul after one of the greatest conversions to be recorded in the Bible. Acts 7:58-28:31 detailed his life as Saul, his conversion and his mission trips to travel to every region he could, preaching the message of Christ and establishing churches. He continued to teach from inside a prison cell, letters to the churches he established and his companions which became the books Romans through Philemon.

When Saul of Tarsus is first introduced by Luke, he is hated, persecuting the early Christians. The first mentioned of Saul of Tarsus is in Acts 7:58, 60 at the stoning death of Stephen. He gave his approval as Stephen died (Acts 7:60). Luke details Saul’s conversion in Acts 9: 1-19, Saul made murderous threats against the disciples and made his way to Damascus to gather men and women who belonged to the Way (early Christians) to arrest them (verse 2). While on the road, a flash of light from heaven surrounded him, as he fell to the ground, a great voice spoke “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (verses 3-4). It is Jesus who tells Saul to make his way into the city and wait there. When Saul gets up from the ground, he is unable to see. He, with the help of his companions, makes his way to Damascus. For three days, he was blind, unable to eat or drink (verses 8-9). In the city, Ananias, a disciple, was given a vision from Jesus to seek Saul to restore his sight (verses 10-12) but Ananias is hesitant because he has heard stories about Saul of Tarsus. But Jesus reassures him that Saul will be his instrument to spread his message to the Gentiles and the people of Israel (verses 15-16). Ananias obeys, finds Saul and restores his sight. Saul was baptized and began to regain his strength (verses 17-19). The lessons in Saul’s conversion is that people can be changed by Jesus, even today. Saul was convinced he was persecuting heretics when he was persecuting Jesus himself as believers are the body of Christ on earth. Despite his fears, Ananias obeys Jesus and finds Saul, greets him lovingly, calling his Brother Saul (Acts 9: 17). It is not always easy to show love to other, especially when we are afraid of them or doubt their motives. However, we must show lovingly acceptance to other believers, for even the hardest hearts can be softened by the power of Jesus Christ.

Soon after his conversion, Saul began to preach in the synagogues (Acts 9:20). He grew more and more powerful in his conviction. People were skeptical about Saul but soon were convinced as his changed life was evident (Acts 9:22). It is important to know what the Bible teaches and how to defend your faith, but your words need to be backed up with the actions in your life. This can be difficult to do. In the song, What if I stumble? by DC Talk (1995), a quote from American author, Brennan Manning (1934-2013) was used. He says “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Unfortunately, there are many Christians who acts as if they are perfect and judges of the world and become blind to their own faults that the world still sees. These are the Christians that the non-believers sees and says, “Well if that’s being Christian, then why bother?” Walking with Christ is not easy. We are still human with human weaknesses and we will stumble every now and then as our human side takes over. However, we need to strive to emulate Jesus as best we can. If we are humble, admit our mistakes, we can show non-Christians that being a follower of Christ isn’t about being perfect, that we aren’t the judges of the world. We are to show Jesus’s love and bring his message to the world. Saul is one of the great examples of how a life can be changed by Christ and being his message to the world. He admits his weaknesses and even delights in them as he writes in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 that his weaknesses keeps him humble and God’s power is displayed in our weaknesses. Strive to be humble and show the world that we can be strengthen by Jesus despite our weaknesses, despite our faults, and despite our failings.

By the time he begins his mission trips, Saul begins to use the name Paul. Some have thought that he changed his name to further signify his conversion. However, the names are interchangeable as he is Jewish as well as Roman through his father. The custom was two names to reflect both heritages. He seems to change to the name Paul as he travels around through Greece and what is today called Asia minor, preaching the message of Jesus to Gentiles. My thought is that he did so to be more approachable than going by his Jewish name would. The book of Acts details three mission trips. During his first mission trip, he travels with Barnabas where he encounters a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet called Bar-Jesus (Acts 13:1-7). They traveled throughout the area, boldly preaching the message of Jesus (Acts 13-14). During his second, Paul begins to traveling with Silas (Acts 15:40) where they traveled through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41). Timothy (Acts 16:1-5) and Luke (Acts 16:10 the change in pronouns) join Paul and Silas on their mission trip. During this trip, Paul and Silas were imprisoned for “advocating customs unlawful” for Romans to practice (Acts 16:21). During their imprisonment, there was a great earthquake which freed their shackles. It convinced the jailer of the power of God (Acts 16:25-30). After his third mission trip, while in Jerusalem, Paul is arrested by Roman troops (Acts 22) when a group of Jews stirred up the crowd and accused Paul of defiling the temple by inviting Gentiles in (Acts 21:28). Eventually he is sent to Rome, where he is placed under house arrest, allowed visitors and boldly preached the message of Jesus (Acts 28:30-31). Tradition holds that Paul was released after two years and sets off on a fourth mission trip. However, there is no Biblical account of this, only mentions by Paul in letters to the various churches. During his mission trips, Paul displayed a boldness and fierce intensity. He carried the mission to spread the gospel to the rest of the world as commanded by Jesus (Acts 1:8).  

In conclusion, while the book of Acts isn’t just an account of Paul but the early church, you can’t deny the impact he had on the early church as he helped spread the message beyond the Jewish communities. He has become known as the apostle to the Gentiles. Of the 27 books in the New Testament, Paul has been the attributed author to 14 of them although some scholars now question if he truly authored some of them. God used all parts of Paul, his background, his citizenship and even his mistakes to spread the gospel to all people. A man who once approved of the murder of one of God’s people became the loudest voice for him. If God can use a man like Paul, he can use anyone of us to further his message. All we need to do is be sensitive to his leading and direction.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Room on Rue Amelie: a beautiful story of strength of the human spirit

The Room on Rue Amelie by Krisitn Harmel is a story of the French Resistance in World War II. The story opens in March 2002 as a elderly woman is dying and her husband begins to recall when they met in occupied France. Flash back to December 1938, when American Ruby Henderson meets Marcel Benoit and falls in love. They marry and move to Paris to his apartment on Rue Amelie. It is a dangerous move as the rumbles of war are being to spread. By September 1939, Hitler invades Poland and World War II has begun. In their apartment building, Ruby befriends the Dacher family, a Jewish couple with an 11-year-old daughter, Charlotte. By October 1940, Hitler has occupied Paris and trouble for Ruby and the Dacher family. Soon Ruby and Charlotte are pulled in the French Resistance as part of the chain which helps lead fallen Allied pilots out of France. A choice that puts them all in danger. Despite the risks, they fearlessly help the pilots to the next stop along the escape line. Will they be discovered? Will they survive the war?

The Room on Rue Amelie is a beautiful story about the strength of the human spirit in times of great turmoil. While the book was marketed to fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and it does remind me of that story as the French Resistance is a major thread of both books, The Room on Rue Amelie tells another side of the French Resistance and focused more on the characters’ lives as they deal with the occupation of Paris and the harsh treatments of the Jewish. I enjoyed each character as they played their part in the struggle against the occupation. I cried with them when tragedy happened and I held my breath as they got closer to danger. I highly recommend The Room on Rue Amelie. If you have read The Nightingale, you will enjoy The Room on Rue Amelie.

The Room on Rue Amelie
is available now in hardcover and eBook
Paperback will be available on October 23, 2018

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The Book of John: lessons in purpose, focusing on God, and prayer

We have finally come to the end of the gospels with the book of John. It was written by John, son of Zebedee, brother of James and it was written to new Christians and searching non-Christians as conclusive proof that Jesus is the Son of God and all who believe in him will have eternal life. I will discuss John the Baptist, even though he appears in all the gospels, John starts with John the Baptist as he declares his mission. We can learn from John the Baptist’s life and his commitment to his purpose. Second, I will discuss why physical aliments are not punishments for sins but possibilities for God to show his works in our lives. Lastly, there is no wrong way to pray. The importance of prayer is coming to God, not having the right words or the perfect length.

John first writes about John the Baptist, he is giving testimony when priests and Levites asked him who he was. First, they asked him if he was the Christ, to which John replied no (John 1:20). Then they asked if he was Elijah, again John replied no (John1:21). They finally asked him if he was The Prophet as foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15), John replied no (John 1:21). John tells them that he is “the voice of one calling in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord” (John 1:23) as foretold in Isaiah 40:3. John the Baptist was unique. He wore odd clothes, ate strange food and preached a message that the Jews hadn’t heard before. He has a specific role: to announce the coming of the Savior and he did so with all his strength and energy. John is an important figure in all four gospels. John was set apart for God’s service and he remained faithful to that calling until his death. He was a man with no power or position in Jewish society, yet he spoke with irresistible authority. There are three important lessons from John the Baptist’s life. First, God does not guarantee an easy or safe life to those who serve him. John was eventually imprisoned and executed because of his message. Many people believe that the Christian life is a cushy one; but it isn’t. Second, doing what God desires is the greatest possible life investment. Even though he lost his life, John the Baptist, his message never stopped. John had accomplished what God wanted him to do. Lastly, standing up for the truth is more important than life itself. Even when his life was threatened, John refused to back down. Although we may not face life threatening situations, we can still learn this important lesson from John the Baptist. It is better to stand up for the truth than being liked by others.

John writes about the healing of a blind man to illustrate Jesus’ lesson that physical ailments are not always punishments for sins. In John 9:1-12, a man who had been born blind passed by Jesus when the disciples asked Jesus whose sin caused the man’s blindness: the man’s or his parents? Jesus replies to his disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (verse 3).  It is still a common belief today that our troubles are caused by our sins. Sometimes they are, we suffer the consequences of our bad decisions. Like getting injured in a car accident because we decided to pick up the phone instead of watching the road. However, sometimes it is not our fault at all. God uses our misfortunes or disabilities to teach us and others to rely on him through our rough times as well as our times of comfort. Jesus makes a salve with dirt and his salvia, places it on it on the man’s eyes and sends him to the Pool of Siloam to wash it off. When he did, the man could see. What was the purpose of the man’s blindness? To demonstrate the healing powers of God. I have seen people receive devastating news of terminal cancer and yet their faith and focus on God never waivers. Through the treatments and the wasting of their bodies, the light of Jesus still shined in their eyes and it never dimmed even when their death was imminent. Even as they prayed for healing, they knew God heals in two ways: he may heal us physically or he may call us home to heaven. Regardless of the source of our misfortunes, God wants us to focus on him, rely on him and he will guide us on the right path.

As a new Christian, I was told to pray to the acronym JOY: Jesus, Others, Yourself. For many years, I struggled with this. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t until I studied the book of John and prayer in general in my college years that I understood why. When in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays. However, he prayed, first, for himself. John 17:1-5. He asked God the Father to glorify him now that the time has come to glorify him, so the Jesus can glorify the Father (verse 1). He then prays for his disciples. In John 17:6-19, he asks God the Father to protect them by the power of his name, to protect them from the evil one. He lastly prays for future believers. John 17:20-26, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message” (verse 20). When Jesus prayed for himself, the disciples, and future believers, he prayed for unity (verse 11), protection from the evil one (verse 15) and sanctity/holiness (verse 17). To me, there is no wrong way to pray. There is no right formula to bring your requests, concerns to God. A quick prayer for safety is okay. A detailed prayer for those in our lives is okay too. God listens whenever we call on him. The order or length isn’t what to focus on. The focus should be on coming before God with our prayers. Some people set a certain time each day to pray. That’s okay. Some people pray throughout the day as the need arises, that’s okay. As with every relationship, it’s different for everyone. Follow Jesus’ example and pray as you feel is necessary. Pray for yourself is that’s what on your mind. Pray for others if that’s what is laid on your heart. The order doesn’t matter. The length doesn’t matter. Heck, even the place doesn’t matter. It is coming to God that does.

In conclusion, the book of John is a book filled with great lessons in the life of Jesus and those around him. John the Baptist was a man with a mission. A man who never backed down when threatened. He stayed focused on God and his task until the end. He is an example that each of us is given a purpose in life. It may not be as extreme as John’s but a purpose for the glory of his kingdom. The blind man is a lesson that our ailments aren’t always punishments but a chance for God to show his power in our lives. We need just to focus on him in all times of our lives and he will heal us, lift us out of our calamity, as we demonstrate our faith in him. He will use it to his glory. Pray as your heart is led. God doesn’t care if the words are eloquent or lengthy. He cares that you are coming to him with your cares and concerns. He wants that time with you. All you need is to pray.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Ask me about my uterus: one woman's journey to seek answers for her pain

Ask Me about My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain by Abby Norman is her own journey through a painful past to deal with a painful medical condition which many doctors do not fully understand. As a young college student, Ms. Norman began to experience painful, stabbing cramps that would keep her bed ridden for days. She is finally diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition which isn’t fully understood even with today’s medical technology and knowledge. Ms. Norman discusses the journey of women’s medical knowledge through the ages and even in psychology as it was thought that women’s pains and conditions were caused by hysteria originating in the uterus. Does she ever get the answers she’s looking for? What can doctors learn by listening more closely to their female patients?

I originally chose this book because I know many women who suffer from conditions with no real explanations or solutions, who still struggle to find answers. I expected this book to be so much more than it was. I thought she would focus on her journey for answers and help other women reading her story to fight for their answers. However, she tended to focus more on her troubled and horrific childhood. There are a few statements Ms. Norman makes which I don’t agree with or question the age of such knowledge. At one point, she makes the claim that women are more likely to be given sedatives after surgery and men are given painkillers. I’m not sure where she got this information, as she doesn’t give any references that I saw, but this has not been my experience with surgery at all. However, it is a disturbing thought to think about if it is true for even one female patient in pain. I recommend Ask Me about My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain as a tool, inspiration to help women confront their doctors to listen more closely.

Ask me about My Uterus:
A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believer in Woman’s Pain
is available in hardcover and eBook

Saturday, March 10, 2018

My name is Venus Black: a young adult story I could not finish

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd is the story of Venus Black, who at the age of 13, committed a crime which has her incarcerated until she’s 18. During her incarceration, her half-brother, Leo, goes missing. After 5 and half years, she’s released, and she slowly tries to rebuild her life, putting her past behind her and creating a new identity. As her old life begins to remerge in her new one, Venus must find a way to truly leave the past behind her in order to move forward. Will she be able to move past her crime? Will she be able to find her brother after so many years?

Unfortunately, My Name is Venus Black is a book I could not finish. With seven parts, 51 chapters and multiple points of view, it became way too long and too muddled that I found myself getting bored and not caring about Venus, her crime or her life after incarceration. The book is marketed as young adult book which I don’t like it’s why I couldn’t finish it as I’ve read a decent amount of young adult books and was entertained. I cannot recommend My Name is Venus Black. The book started with a great idea, but it didn’t live up to it.

My Name is Venus Black
is available in hardcover and eBook

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Luke: blessings, women's roles and a lesson in mercy

This month’s reading was on the book of Luke. Luke was a doctor, Greek and a Gentile Christian. He is the only known Gentile Christian to author a book for the Bible (he also wrote Acts which we will get to in a couple months). He was a close friend and companion with Paul. Luke’s purpose in writing this book was to present an accurate account of the life of Jesus. This book is the most comprehensive Gospel. The general vocabulary shows that Luke was educated and Luke stresses Jesus’s relationships with people, empathizes prayer, miracles and gives prominent place to women.

In Luke 6:20-23, Jesus gives the Beatitudes. In verses 20-23, he speaks of those who are blessed. The word, “beatitudes” is from the Latin for blessed. They describe what it means to be a follower of Christ, standards of conduct in contrast with the world values. Verse 20 states that “blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.” Poor in this verse doesn’t necessarily mean poor in money. Many commentaries state that it may mean poor in spirit. Someone who is thirsty for revival, for God’s presence to return to the people. In verse 21, he states “blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” This isn’t a just physical hunger, but for a hunger for God as well. In a time when riches were a sign of God’s favor, those who were poor, hungry and at the bottom of society, yearned for God’s favor. Jesus is telling us that riches are not a sign of God’s favor. God’s favor came to those who searched for him and followed his Word. Also, in verse 21, Jesus states “blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” A time of laughter and joy were coming. In verse 22, Jesus says “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” Jesus is saying that when we are hated, pushed aside, and rejected because of our belief in him and his words, we are blessed. Jesus is also trying to prepare his followers for the days when they will be persecuted because of their belief. This persecution still goes on today as many believers are ridicule in the media, in schools and by family and friends for their belief. Jesus tells us in verse 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.”

Luke speaks about the women who accompanied Jesus during his ministry. In Luke 8:1-3, a few are mentioned by name. “Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene), from who seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” Three women are named specifically. First, Mary Magdalene, who tradition often tells us that she was an immoral woman, which the Bible never says, and this verse specifically tells us that she was healed from a possession of seven demons. Many scholars believe that the story of her leading an immoral life is because her name is first mentioned right after the story of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus’s feet (Luke 7:36-50). There is no evidence the two women are the same. Second, Joanna, the wife of the manager of Herod’s household. The Bible doesn’t state what she was cured of, but she traveled with him throughout the rest of his ministry. Third, Susanna which no further information is given about who she is or how she came to follow Jesus. However, the most important information about these women is found in the last part of verse 3, I wrote it above and wonder if you caught it. Luke writes “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” These women had their own money and were using it to support Jesus’s ministry! Jesus lifted women from the agony of social degradation and servitude to the joy of fellowship and service. Women weren’t allowed to learn from the rabbis and Jesus shows that all are equal with God by allowed these women to learn from him. These short verses also give a glimpse into the behind the scenes of the ministry. Many times, the focus is on those in the forefront, but it is those who are working in the background who are the backbone of the ministry.

Lastly, everyone has heard of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-38). It is a lesson in who is our neighbor and how we should treat them. An expert of the law came to Jesus and asked how he could inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by reminding him of the law. “Love your God with all your heart and with all your sour and with all your strength and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” (verse 27). The expert further asks, “who is my neighbor?” (verse 29). Jesus tells the story of a man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho when he was robbed. The man was beaten and left for dead (verse 30). A priest passed him and didn’t offer help, a Levite passed him and didn’t offer help (verse 31). A Samaritan came upon the man, took pity on him, bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, took him to an inn and took care of him (verses 33-35). Jesus then asks, “which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” (verse 36). Here is the lesson, the expert answered, “the one who had mercy on him” (verse 37). Jesus tells him to go and do likewise. To love our neighbor is to show mercy. Our neighbors is everyone, even those we have a deep hatred for as the Jews and the Sarmatians had for each other. The Samaritan in this story probably had the most reason to leave the man on the road but he didn’t. He saw a man hurt and in need of help and took pity on him. When we are able to push our hatred aside to show mercy, we are loving our neighbor. I know it is easier said than done and we don’t often do it. That is when we need the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit to help us.

In conclusion, the book of Luke is filled with wonderful examples of how we can follow Jesus in our world today. The Beatitudes tells us that we will rewarded for our suffering and persecution today. Women who have been traditionally in the shadows of history and in the church are shown in Luke to have played a major and important role in Jesus’s ministry. And lastly, a lesson in loving your neighbor told through the classic story of the Good Samaritan. Although it is hard to follow or emulate these lessons in life; however, don’t forget we have the Word of God and the guidance of his Holy Spirit to show us, to correct us and guide us to continue on our path with God.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Mark: more lessons from the life of Jesus

Mark is the second book of the Gospels. Mark tells the stories of Jesus in a different from Matthew, he’s very cut to the chase kind of writer as this book is one of the shortest of the four books. He jumps straight into Jesus’s baptism, his ministry and his death and resurrection. I want to discuss three things that stood out to be as Mark recounted many of the many stories and lessons that Matthew did. Why does Jesus tell those he healed “not to tell” others about their healing? What exactly is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? What is the meaning behind the Parable of the Wicked Tenants?

First, Jesus gives strict orders for those he healed not to reveal who had healed them. In Mark 3:12, evil spirits saw him and proclaimed him the Son of God and he gave “strict orders not to tell who he was.” In Mark 8:30, he warned his disciples not to reveal who he was. These two verses are just a couple examples of Jesus telling someone to stay quiet about their healing. Why did Jesus tell them not to say anything? For the instance in Mark 3:12, Jesus did not want a false image of why he was here on earth to travel around. As many were looking for a military or religious leader to fight against Rome. This was not Jesus’s mission yet. He was here to offer salvation not come as a warrior, that role would come later. In Mark 8:30, he says not to reveal who he was because the disciples did not know the whole picture yet and still needed instructions about his death and resurrection to come before they can truly know who he is. What does this mean for us? It is an example of why we need more instructions, more knowledge of who Christ is before we can proclaim him to the world.

Second, Jesus speaks of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Mark 3:29 as the eternal sin. Many Christians have come to call this the unforgivable sin as Jesus says it “will never be forgiven.” What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is defined as the act or offense of speaking sacrilegiously about God or sacred things and the Holy Spirit is the aspect of God which actively interacts with believers. To blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is reveals a heart-attitude of unbelief and unrepentance. It is the deliberate, ongoing rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit and rejecting God himself. It is to deny the active work of God in one’s life or in the world. While all other sins and blasphemes are forgivable, ones against the Holy Spirit are not (verses 28-29). When Christ was speaking about this unforgivable sin, he was not directing it to his disciples or those who believed. He directed it to the religious leaders, teachers of the law who accused him of being possessed by Beelzebub (Satan). They had denied the reality of his miracles. They refused to believe that Jesus’s power came from God. It is people who will continue to deny Christ and God despite what they see before them.

Third, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants in Mark 12:1-12 is a lesson about people. The parable goes that a man plants a vineyard and he rents the vineyard to some farmers and takes a journey (verse 1). At harvest, he sends a servant to collect from of the fruit of the vineyard, the tenants beat the servant and send him away empty handed (verse 2-3). The man sends another servant and he too is treated shamefully (verses 4). He sends other servants, some are killed, and others beaten (verse 5). Finally, the man sends his son thinking he would be respected by the tenants (verse 6). The tenants decide to kill the son and take his inheritance for themselves (verses 7-8). What does the man do? He will come to kill the tenants and give the vineyard to others (verse 9). The man is God and the vineyard is Israel. The tenants are the religious leaders of Israel who rejected the prophets sent by God and who rejected Jesus. Jesus is the son who has been sent and he tells this parable to expose the religious leaders’ plot to kill him. He let them know he knew what they were plotting and warned them it would not go unpunished.

In conclusion, the book of Mark is a short and concise book of Jesus’ life, ministry and his death and resurrection. Jesus’s instruction to “not to tell other about him” is an illustration that we need further instruction. I know when I read God’s word and I have a moment of inspiration, I want to go and shout it to everyone: Look what I discovered! But often I found that I first need to ponder this revelation. What does it mean to me? What will it mean to others? Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit isn’t usually something a believer needs to worry about as it is the rejection of God. And Christians are taught to be weary of false teachers; however, those who are true believers will (or should I say “should”?) recognize the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the lives of others. Lastly, the Parable of the Wicked Tenants is a look into the type of people in the world: those who reject Christ and those who will inherit the vineyard when he returns.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The House on Foster Hill: a mystery bring past and present together

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright is a story about healing, facing the past and moving forward. It opens in Oakwood, Wisconsin in 1906 Ivy, the daughter of the local doctor and sometimes medical examiner, and her father are called to the scene where a young woman’s body has been found. Fast forward to present day Oakwood, as Kaine Prescott is arriving to start her new life after leaving a horrifying situation back home in San Diego, California. She has purchased the Foster Hill House in the hopes of restoring it and finding a new life in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, she learns that her troubles from home have seemed to follow her to Oakwood. The story is told from Ivy in the past and Kaine in the present, as the mystery of the young girl’s death and the events surrounding Kaine seem to be connected. Will Kaine find the truth and put the mystery of the house on Foster Hill to rest?

I enjoyed The House on Foster Hill. It was a fast read as it holds your attention and you eagerly read chapter after chapter for clues. It is a wonderful story with lots of twists and turns of a great mystery. I enjoyed all the characters as they had their part in the story which seems to fit. Even when the individual behind the strange happens around Kaine is revealed it is not the person you thought of and always a good sign of a great mystery. I would like to reread the story and see if the author gave any subtle clues to his or her identity that I didn’t pick up before. I highly recommend The House on Foster Hill.

The House on Foster Hill
is available in paperback and eBook

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Highland Sisters: a Edwardian Era love story

Highland Sister by Anne Douglas is the story of Rosa Malcolm whose life is turned upside down after her sister, Lorne, runs away with another man on her wedding day. Left with the aftermath, Rosa soon begins a friendship with Daniel MacNeil, Lorne’s jilted fiancĂ©. Their relationship soon turns into more as they are married and begin their lives together in Edinburgh. As they settle into their routines. Their happiness was shattered with times of mourning, surprise encounters and threats of war.

Highland Sisters is a title that is misleading as the main focus is on Rosa and not both sisters. I kept expecting to see some of the story from Lorne’s point of view, where did she run off to, etc. But no, Rosa is the main character and its her life the story follows. I also was a bit confused about the timeline. The story opens in April 1910 and more than halfway into the story and the author reveals that its only been a year. A year? It doesn’t seem possible. Then from 1911 to 1914 and the start of the Great War. A couple of chapters later, the war’s over. The book had 71 chapters in three parts and while the chapters were short, I feel this is way too many chapters. There were some chapters where absolutely nothing happens that adds to the story or the plot. I cannot recommend Highland Sisters.

Highland Sisters
will be available February 1, 2018

in hardcover and eBook

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Promise Between Us: a powerful story of life with a mental illness

The Promise between Us by Barbara Claypole White is the story of one family torn apart by mental illness and how they come back together for the well-being of another. The story opens with Katelynn McDonald as a young mother of 7 month old, Maisie, who has been having very intrusive thoughts about hurting her daughter. Fearing that she would actually hurt her, Katelynn runs and disappears from her daughter’s life. Fast forward 9 years later, Katelynn, now called Katie, has been dealing with OCD and a chance meeting puts her face to face with her daughter and she fears her daughter suffers from the same mental illness. Her ex-husband, Callum, refuses to listen to Katie’s fears until one day when he notices the same behaviors in Maisie as Katie used to do so long ago. Can they come together enough to help Maisie? Are there more secrets buried deep which need to surface before they can fully heal?

The Promise between Us is a beautiful and powerful story. It was difficult to read at times, not because the story lagged, but because Ms. Claypole White’s description of OCD. The mental anguish that the compulsions cause the individual as they try to fight the irrational thoughts. It is a powerful story of how healing can come from facing our deepest fears and how the people we love can be our best medicine. I enjoyed every character and the conflict and resolution fit very well. I enjoyed The Promise between Us as it gives an in-depth, no-holds-bar look into the lives and thoughts of those who suffer from OCD. I highly recommend it!

The Promise between Us

is available in paperback and eBook