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My Top 10 Reads in 2016

My Top 10 Reads in 2016

At the beginning of 2016, GoodReads.com challenged it’s users to set a reading goal for 2016.  Initially 26 books sounded like a reasonable goal – one book every two weeks – but after giving it a little more thought I decided to push myself and set my goal at 30 books. I didn’t make it, but I did hit the original goal of 26 and thoroughly enjoyed myself in the process. Setting such an ambitious goal pushed me to read more than I normally would and I’m very pleased with all that I’ve learned during my 2016 challenge.

My full list of all 26 books included a good mix of fiction and non-fiction, averaging about 300 pages per book.  I won’t include them all on this blog, but here’s a quick countdown of my Top Ten favorite reads from 2016 and a brief summary of each.


#10 – A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

ad30Step back in time to the year of our Lord…A.D. 30.  The outcast daughter of one of the most powerful Bedouin sheikhs in Arabia, Maviah is called on to protect the very people who rejected her. When their enemies launch a sudden attack, Maviah escapes with the help of her father’s warriors. But Maviah’s path leads her unexpectedly to another man. A teacher who speaks of a way that offers greater power than any kingdom. His name is Yeshua, and his words turn everything she knows on its head. Though following him may present even greater danger, it may be the only way for Maviah to save her people – and herself.

You won’t see any other Dekker books on this list becuase I’ve read so many of them in years past.  He’s a brilliant author and this novel is no exception to the rule.  This is a fictional story, of course, but it includes biblically accurate accounts of familiar characters such as Jesus, his disciples, Nicodemus, and Herod.  It brings the story of Jesus to life in a new and unexpected way from a completely different perspective.  Interestingly, all the words that Jesus speaks in this book are taken directly from Scripture.


#9 – Rooms by James L. Rubart

roomsCryptic letters from a long deceased uncle, a house with hidden rooms, a canvas that paints itself, memories from a life you didn’t live, angels, demons, and life lessons taken directly from God’s Word. Everything that made me want to keep reading until I’d turned the page on the last chapter. This is the kind of book that makes you examine your life and your relationship with God long after you’ve put it back on the shelf.

Honestly, I wanted to like this book even more than I already do. I desperately wanted to rank it higher on my list, but we’re left with a few unanswered questions at the end of the book, possibly a contradiction or two, and my analytical mind just can’t handle it if all the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit neatly into place. Granted, this is the author’s first offering, written over a six year period, and his subsequent books (which are further down this list) are much better.  Rubart has quickly become one of my favorite authors.


#8 – Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas

7_menI love biographies, and this book is really seven mini-biographies in one. I was at least familiar with all seven of these men, but knew very little about any of them. Reading about their lives, their struggles, and their character in the face of adversity was a great encouragement to me. I’ll be looking for more of Metaxas’ work in the future.

Each of the seven biographies represents the life of a man who experienced the struggles and challenges to be strong in the face of forces and circumstances that would have destroyed the resolve of lesser men. Each of the seven men profiled—George Washington, William Wilberforce, Eric Liddell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jackie Robinson, John Paul II, and Charles Colson—call the reader to a more elevated walk and lifestyle, one that embodies the gospel in the world around us.


#7 – Killing Jesus: A History by Bill O’Reilly & Martin Dugard

killing_jesusI know what the Bible says concerning Jesus’ life and death, but I thoroughly enjoyed learning about what was going on in the world during the time of Christ from other reliable historical sources. I didn’t realize many of the things involving the Roman Empire, the death of Julius Ceasar, his struggle for power, etc., that played such an integral part in Jesus’ death.

This book, understandably, omits many of the things that I believe as fact – such as Jesus’ miracles – since they can’t be proven “scientifically”, but the book doesn’t try to disprove them. It just omits them entirely. Overall, a very good read that presents many facts that I did not know.


#6 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

#5 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

hpx2Can I just group these two together and get them out of the way?  I loved reading the first Harry Potter book in 2015, so naturally I wanted to follow up by reading the next two books in the series.  Knowing what happens in the subsequent books (from watching the movies), means I probably won’t read past book 3.  To the die-hard fans that’s an outrage, but here is my reasoning: I read books to escape reality, I like happy endings, and the main characters should never, never die.  Some books are written to evoke emotions of sadness or grief to help us feel the full range of human emotion, but I happen to believe that life can be sad enough already.  I’m not going to read a book (or watch a movie) that helps me feel sad.  I’ll stop at Book 3, thank you very much.

Anyway, both of these books are very entertaining, introducing us to some wonderfully memorable characters – Dobby the house elf, Gilderoy Lockhart, Ginny Weasley, Moaning Myrtle, Sirius Black, and Professor Lupin.  They keep getting better, but let’s be honest, the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best book in the entire series.

SIDE NOTE:  I know some people in Christian circles don’t approve of the Harry Potter series.  My wife and I had a discussion just this week with a parent who wanted to know our opinion of the books becuase her 17-year-old daughter wanted to read them for the first time.  For a full review I’ll refer you to Andrew Peterson’s blog on the subject, which expresses my feelings more eloquently than I ever could.  Patterson points out clearly that “this story isn’t inspired, at least not in the sense that Scripture is inspired; but because I believe that all truth is God’s truth… I have the freedom to rejoice in the Harry Potter story, because even there, Christ is King. Wherever we see beauty, light, truth, and goodness, we see Christ.”  

He’s there and this is a good series.


#4 – Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

silentplanetDr Ransom, a Cambridge professor, is abducted and taken on a spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra, which he knows as Mars. His captors are plotting to plunder the planet’s treasures and plan to offer Ransom as a sacrifice to the creatures who live there. Ransom discovers he has come from the ‘silent planet’ – Earth – whose tragic story is known throughout the universe…

From the creator of Narnia comes a lesser known allegory that is so well constructed that I am now compelled to read the following two books in this trilogy, even though I understand that each book can stand alone. I’m glad that I chose to listen to this one on audiobook, as the names and the made-up Malacandrian language would have been difficult to pronounce correctly if I were reading a paperback. (The pfifltriggi saw the hman, who was a hnau, eating the honodraskrud from the handra). Yikes.

Not only does Lewis have a wonderful way of writing allegory, but he is able to make the reader believe that the fictional story could have really happened. He does this with the wardrobe in Narnia, transporting the children from that world to this. In this novel, Lewis uses the prologue to persuade the reader to believe that this was a factual account, only presented as a fictional work because people wouldn’t believe the truth even if they heard it. Well done.


#3 – The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

great_divorceThe narrator boards a bus on a drizzly English afternoon and embarks on an incredible voyage through Heaven and Hell. He meets a host of supernatural beings far removed from his expectations, and comes to some significant realizations about the nature of good and evil.

I can’t believe I haven’t read this book before now – especially considering how much I love C.S. Lewis’ other works. One passage in particular, when a ghost with a lizard on his shoulder approaches an angel, was incredibly moving. Their discussion will stay with me always. I’ve read it over and over, contemplating it’s meaning. Lewis was a master of allegory and metaphorical writing. Such a beautiful, wonderful novel that I will revisit again and again.


#2 – The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

jakepalmerCorporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.  When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.  Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.

I told you he would show up later on my list. This is Rubart at his best and this is, incidentally, his latest novel.  The writing, the depth of insight in his characters and his ability to weave the spiritual and natural together is simply outstanding.  He even makes several references to C.S. Lewis and The Silver Chair, one of the Chronicles of Narnia.  I loved this novel.  You can’t read this and not be impacted by the themes of healing, discovery of identify, where we place our significance and the absolute desire our Creator has for us to know Him more.


#1 – The Five Times I Met Myself

5timesBrock Matthews’ once promising life is unraveling. His coffee company. His marriage. So when he discovers his vivid dreams – where he encounters his younger self – might let him change his past mistakes, he jumps at the chance. The results are astonishing, but also disturbing. Because getting what Brock wants most in the world will force him to give up the one thing he doesn’t know how to let go… and his greatest fear is that it’s already too late.

It’s rare for me to read a book from cover to cover so rapidly, but this page turner was hard to put down. I’ve always been fascinated by time travel (Back to the Future is one of my favorite movie trilogies) so the prospect of visiting your younger self and changing past events was intriguing from the start. I also loved the spiritual aspects of the book – touching on prayer, missions, and God orchestrating events through dreams.

Honestly, I could switch these top two books and still be satisfied with my list.  They’re both just so good.  Highly recommended reading from James L. Rubart.


That’s it!  What do you think? Anything you’ve read? Anything you want to read?

As we begin 2017 I’ve already signed up for the GoodReads.com reading challenge and this year, I am going to hit that 30 book mark.

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Posted by on January 2, 2017 in Personal

 

May I Kill It?

C.S. Lewis had a wonderful gift of using allegory and metaphor in his powerful gospel-centered writings.  I just finished reading “The Great Divorce” and my wife and I have talked about several passages along the way as I’ve come to them.  Mandi even relayed one of the stories – the one below – in a discipling/counseling session last night with a friend.  I pray that it speaks to you as you read it and that God might use it in your own life.

58079111_eab37a1e49Before you read, let me give you some background.

“The Great Divorce” is a story about a group of “ghosts” from purgatory or hell who take a bus trip to the foothills of heaven where they meet the “spirits” of saints that have gone before them who urge them to journey upward to the mountains of Heaven.  The ghosts are all self-centered, fragile, “unsubstantial” creatures, and the spirits are all large, solid, unselfish, happy people.  What follows is a powerful scene where our narrator, a ghost, observes an awesome encounter between another ghost and an angel…..


I saw coming towards us a Ghost who carried something on his shoulder. Like all the Ghosts, he was unsubstantial, but they differed from one another as smokes differ. Some had been whitish; this one was dark and oily. What sat on his shoulder was a little red lizard, and it was twitching its tail like a whip and whispering things in his ear. As we caught sight of him he turned his head to the reptile with a snarl of impatience. “Shut up, I tell you!” he said. It wagged its tail and continued to whisper to him. He ceased snarling, and presently began to smile. Then he turned and started to limp westward, away from the mountains.

“Off so soon?” said a voice.

The speaker was more or less human in shape but larger than a man, and so bright that I could hardly look at him. His presence smote on my eyes and on my body too (for there was heat coming from him as well as light) like the morning sun at the beginning of a tyrannous summer day.

“Yes. I’m off,” said the Ghost. “Thanks for all your hospitality. But it’s no good, you see.  I told this little chap,” (here he indicated the lizard), “that he’d have to be quiet if he came – which he insisted on doing. Of course his stuff won’t do here: I realize that. But he won’t stop.  I shall just have to go home.”

“Would you like me to make him quiet?” said the flaming Spirit – an angel, as I now understood.

“Of course I would,” said the Ghost.

“Then I will kill him,” said the Angel, taking a step forward.

“Oh! Ah! Look out! You’re burning me! Keep away,” said the Ghost, retreating.

“Don’t you want him killed?”

“You didn’t say anything about killing him at first. I hardly meant to bother you with anything so drastic as that.”

“It’s the only way,” said the Angel, whose burning hands were now very close to the lizard.

“Shall I kill it?”

“Well, that’s a further question. I’m quite open to consider it, but it’s a new point, isn’t it? I mean, for the moment I was only thinking about silencing it because up here-well, it’s so damned embarrassing.”

“May I kill it?”

“Well, there’s time to discuss that later.”

“There is no time. May I kill it?”

“Please, I never meant to be such a nuisance. Please-really-don’t bother. Look! It’s gone to sleep of its own accord. I’m sure it’ll be all right now. Thanks ever so much.”

“May I kill it?”

“Honestly, I don’t think there’s the slightest necessity for that. I’m sure I shall be able to keep it in order now. I think the gradual process would be far better than killing it.”

“The gradual process is of no use at all.”

“Don’t you think so? Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”

“There is no other day. All days are present now.”

“Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.”

“It is not so.”

“Why, you’re hurting me now.”

“I never said it wouldn’t hurt you. I said it wouldn’t kill you.”

“Oh, I know. You think I’m a coward. But it isn’t that. Really it isn’t. I say! Let me run back by tonight’s bus and get an opinion from my own doctor. I’ll come again the first moment I can.”

“This moment contains all moments.”

“Why are you torturing me? You are jeering at me. How can I let you tear me to pieces? If you wanted to help me, why didn’t you kill the damned thing without asking me-before I knew? It would be all over by now if you had.”

“I cannot kill it against your will. It is impossible. Have I your permission?”

The Angel’s hands were almost closed on the Lizard, but not quite. Then the Lizard began chattering to the Ghost so loud that even I could hear what it was saying.

“Be careful,” it said. “He can do what he says. He can kill me. One fatal word from you and he will! Then you’ll be without me for ever and ever. It’s not natural. How could you live? You’d be only a sort of ghost, not a real man as you are now. He doesn’t understand. He’s only a cold, bloodless abstract thing. It may be natural for him, but it isn’t for us. Yes, yes. I know there are no real pleasures now, only dreams. But aren’t they better than nothing? And I’ll be so good. I admit I’ve sometimes gone too far in the past, but I promise I won’t do it again. I’ll give you nothing but really nice dreams-all sweet and fresh and almost innocent. You might say, quite innocent____”

“Have I your permission?” said the Angel to the Ghost.

“I know it will kill me.”

“It won’t. But supposing it did?”

“You’re right. It would be better to be dead than to live with this creature.”

“Then I may?”

“Damn and blast you! Go on can’t you? Get it over. Do what you like,” bellowed the Ghost: but ended, whimpering, “God help me. God help me.”

Next moment the Ghost gave a scream of agony such as I never heard on Earth. The Burning One closed his crimson grip on the reptile: twisted it, while it bit and writhed, and then flung it, broken backed, on the turf.

“Ow! That’s done for me,” gasped the Ghost, reeling backwards.

For a moment I could make out nothing distinctly. Then I saw, between me and the nearest bush, unmistakably solid but growing every moment solider, the upper arm and the shoulder of a man. Then, brighter still and stronger, the legs and hands. The neck and golden head materialized while I watched, and if my attention had not wavered I should have seen the actual completing of a man-an immense man, naked, not much smaller than the Angel. What distracted me was the fact that at the same moment something seemed to be happening to the Lizard. At first I thought the operation had failed. So far from dying, the creature was still struggling and even growing bigger as it struggled. And as it grew it changed. Its hinder parts grew rounder. The tail, still flickering, became a tail of hair that flickered between huge and glossy buttocks. Suddenly I started back, rubbing my eyes. What stood before me was the greatest stallion I have ever seen, silvery white but with mane and tail of gold. It was smooth and shining, rippled with swells of flesh and muscle, whinnying and stamping with its hoofs. At each stamp the land shook and the trees dindled.

The new-made man turned and clapped the new horse’s neck. It nosed his bright body. Horse and master breathed each into the other’s nostrils. The man turned from it, flung himself at the feet of the Burning One, and embraced them. When he rose I thought his face shone with tears, but it may have been only the liquid love and brightness (one cannot distinguish them in that country) which flowed from him. I had not long to think about it. In joyous haste the young man leaped upon the horse’s back. Turning in his seat he waved a farewell, then nudged the stallion with his heels. They were off before I well knew what was happening. There was riding if you like! I came out as quickly as I could from among the bushes to follow them with my eyes; but already they were only like a shooting star far off on the green plain, and soon among the foothills of the mountains. Then, still like a star, I saw them winding up, scaling what seemed impossible steeps, and quicker every moment, till near the dim brow of the landscape, so high that I must strain my neck to see them, they vanished, bright themselves, into the rose-brightness of that everlasting morning.


Ah, the wonderful mercy of God.  We try to hold on to our pet sins.  We try to justify our actions by believing the lies whispered in our ear.  Meanwhile God is patiently waiting and speaking softly, yet boldly.  ”Shall I kill it?” He says to us.  And we will not move any further up the mountains in our walk with Christ until our answer is “Yes”.

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Posted by on September 19, 2016 in Personal

 

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An Enthusiastic Second Fiddle

SecondFiddleWhen asked which was the most difficult instrument to play, the great conductor Leonard Bernstein said, “Second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.”

Personally, I really struggle with this.  My love language is “words of affirmation”, my personality has this built-in desire to be liked, and if I’m not careful, my actions (and sometimes my words) scream “LOOK AT ME” like a melodramatic toddler.  It can be difficult for me to get motivated when no one is watching or when becomes apparent that I won’t get any credit for a job well done.

Everyone enjoys a pat on the back now and again, but I thrive on them.  My wife sent me an encouraging text message a few weeks ago and I took a screen shot, printed it out, and taped it to my computer.  I’m looking at it right now, extremely grateful that my wife speaks my love language and affirms me on a regular basis.

Knowing all of this – and knowing my bent toward pride and puffery – I have to guard my motives carefully.  What do I hope to gain?  Why am I doing this?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” -Galatians 1:10

I attended a meeting recently, for which I had done a considerable amount of behind-the-scenes work.  The organizer announced that he wanted to recognize several people who had made this event possible.  I adjusted my collar and made sure my hair was in place as he began calling out the names.  First were his business partners, followed by notable board members and then staff.  A quick assessment told me that he was going in order of importance and, in my pride, I assumed my name would be near the top of this list.  A few minutes later people stood all around the auditorium and I was still seated in my folding chair like a deflated balloon.  Even that fleeting thought – “he saved the best for la…,” was quickly dashed upon the rocks as everyone was seated to a round of applause.

My first thought was, “Well, that was a waste of my time.” followed quickly by, “I won’t do that again even if they ask me.”  But right away the Holy Spirit began to convict me.  “What’s your motive, Robert?  Did you do this in service to God and others?  Or just to be recognized.”  It was a humbling experience – a gut check – and now I praise God for it.

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  -Philippians 2:3

It’s easy to be enthusiastic about your job when it’s more prominent, but when you feel like your labor goes unnoticed and unappreciated it can begin to feel like a grind.  When you go to work each day you may feel like you’re in a “nothing job” that gives little satisfaction, but remember, you can glorify God by your attitude and your motives!  In Colossians the apostle Paul reminds us:

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  -Colossians 3:23, 24

Lord, help remind me every day that you are glorified when I work enthusiastically, knowing that my labor is for You and my reward comes from You, even if I’m playing second fiddle.

 

 
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Posted by on July 2, 2016 in Personal

 

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Wishing for Another World

HarryPotter_Dorothy_Narnia_PeterPan_and_Me

A few days ago I asked my Facebook friends to name books or movies in which the main characters travel, by any means, to another world.  And they did not dissapoint!!  The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Harry Potter, The Neverending Story, just to name a few!  Some of the most popular works of all time!  Technically speaking, I was only asking different worlds – alternate universes – but if you expand the list to include time travel in this world, the list grows even longer (see full list below).  I mean, how else could we get Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure on there?!

It’s fascinating to me that so many popular books and movies focus on this theme. The creator of Narnia, C.S. Lewis, once said,

“I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy;
the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

And the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.”  We were created with this longing that can only be satisfied by spending eternity in heaven with our Abba Father!  It’s in our very DNA (even if we don’t realize it) and it leaks out all over the place.  We were created for eternity, and bound by time… for now.

I sincerely believe ‘other-worldly travel’ is such a common theme in books and movies because writers and directors all experience this longing deep down inside.  It fills their dreams and fires their imagination.  Consequently, their created works become so popular because they strike a chord with every reader and every viewer.  We’re entertained by the thoughts of another world, because it reminds us in some small way that we were created for more than this.  There’s another world on the other side of death.  “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

Just something I’ve been thinking about…  By the way, did you realize that every human being will live for eternity?  That’s right.  Gandalf was correct when he said, “Death is just another journey. One that we all must take.”  There is life after death in another place, but the choices we make here on earth will determine which place that will be – Heaven or Hell.  If you haven’t already, place your faith in Jesus Christ.  He is the only way you can get to heaven when you walk through the wardrobe of death.  Before you read any of the other books listed here, pick up a Bible and read the book of John.  It’s a great place to start.


Here’s the full list from my Facebook friends:

Disclaimer: I’m not familiar with everything listed (not even half), so I can’t be sure that all of these works fall under our theme of other-worldly travel or time travel, but it gives me a great list of books and movies to check out in the near future!

100 Cupboards – Book by N.D. Wilson
Alice in Wonderland
Aladdin (A Whole New World.. right?)
The Ancient One
Avatar (James Cameron’s… not the Last Airbender… although that may fit…)
Back to the Future
Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (party on, dudes!)
Bridge to Terabithia
Children of the Shaft by Richard Gunther
The Chronicles of Narnia (everybody has read this, right?)
The Circle Trilogy by Ted Dekker (if you don’t read anything else here, read this)
Deathgate Cycle
Doctor Who
Dragon Tales
Dune
Enders Game
The Expanse
Flowers in the Attic
Gulliver’s Travels
Harry Potter
Interstellar
John Carter
Jupiter Rising
Labyrinth
Land of the Giants
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles
The Magic Treehouse
Mary Poppins (a personal favorite in my Top 10 movies… maybe Top 5)
Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood (never would have thought of this one)
The Neverending Story
Neverwhere
Peter Pan
Outlander
Stardust
Star Trek 5
Star Wars (the force is strong with this one)
The Summer Tree
The Sword of Truth series
Tennis Shoe Among the Nephites
The Time Machine
Tomorrowland
Water Babies
Watchers in the Woods
Where the Wild Things Are
The Wizard of Oz
Wrinkle in Time
 
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Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Personal

 

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Christmas Carol Puzzles

I love puzzles of all kinds.  Jigsaw puzzles, word searches, crosswords, brain teasers, child-proof lids, etc.  I also love Christmas music!  So I’ve put together these fun Christmas Puzzles for your enjoyment during the holiday season.  They’re a great way to pass the time at your family Christmas party while you’re waiting on cousin Eddie to park his RV, or a fun group activity at this year’s church or business luncheon.  You can print them out as individual sheets, or print them front and back like we did this year and use both at the same time.

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The Christmas Carol PuzzleChristmas_Carol_Puzzle

This puzzle dates back to the 70’s and my version is a modification of the original.  You can find out more about the origin and history of this groovy puzzle here.

Christmas Carol Puzzle PDF – Questions

Christmas Carol Puzzle PDF – Answers

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Christmas Carol TriviaChristmas_Carol_Trivia

Here are 25 questions based on popular Christmas songs, both secular and sacred.  Have fun!!

Christmas Carol Trivia PDF – Questions

Christmas Carol Trivia PDF – Answers

 

 

 

 

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A Christmas QuizChristmas_Quiz

When she found out about my little collection, a good friend sent me this 20 question quiz that she had in her files.  Can you separate Christmas Fact from Christmas fiction?  Some good questions here!  Enjoy!!

Christmas Quiz PDF – Questions

Christmas Quiz PDF – Answers

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2015 in Personal

 

Living in Tension

He was forced to leave his home along with his parents because of civil unrest in his native country. The President had called for a genocide against his people and it just wasn’t safe for them any longer. His refugee family found shelter in Egypt for a few years, then returned to the Middle East after the President’s death. He worked in his dad’s shop before becoming a preacher at the age of 30. Shortly after his ministry began, he was sentenced to death by the government, even though he was completely and totally innocent.

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International Harvest Festival – World Relief, Nashville, Tennessee

I must admit that I am living in a tension between compassion for refugees and concern about terrorism. Knowing that Jesus himself was, at one time, a refugee, and having met several political refugees personally, it makes my heart swell with compassion… but knowing what we know about recent attacks around the world and this apparent “trojan horse” method of terrorism, it gives me pause.

I don’t have any answers. Just questions really. What is the Biblical response? To close all of our borders for good to everyone? To turn away thousands of widows and children who, through no fault of their own, have been victimized by war and violence? How do we obey a Biblical mandate to both welcome the stranger and protect our own families? This is hard.

I’ve heard the grape argument. “If one grape in the bunch was poisoned would you eat any of them?” But we’re not talking about grapes here. We’re talking about souls. Jesus looked at the whole bunch and knew ALL of them were poisoned, yet he still chose to drink of the cup and die for the love of them.

There must be a balance. I do think it’s reasonable and prudent to pause immigration to review and revamp the process of screening applicants (and yes, I’m aware that in some countries a majority of the refugees are single young men… thus the enhanced screening process). It is not anti-refugee to enforce the strictest of security standards, to ensure that our country remains safe. But we cannot slam the door and wall ourselves in, ignoring “the least of these” who have very legitimate needs for shelter and security. We cannot be controlled by fear. To borrow from an article I read earlier today…

“Fear leads to hatred; courage leads to convictional compassion. And convictional compassion means differentiating between the radical Islamists who would destroy us and peaceful neighbors who stand with us in deploring such violence.

We are in a war. An unconventional war, of course, but a war nonetheless. Wars always bring out the best and worst in humanity. When future generations look back in time, let us hope they will see that we met these challenges with courage, not fear. In doing so, we obey the most frequent command in the Bible, ‘Do not be afraid.'”

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” -1 John 4:18

Join with me in praying for the families of the men and women who lost their lives this week in Paris. Praying for the refugees who have been driven out of their homeland, just like our Lord. Praying for the terrorist who believes Satan’s lies. And most of all praying that the Gospel will be shared and shown through the hands of those that reach out in love and compassion. Jesus is the only hope for this world and the people in it.

 
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Posted by on November 16, 2015 in Ministry, Personal

 

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Future Me’s Problem

Future Me’s Problem

Last night, while answering the routine ‘how-was-your-day’ questions, Evelyn (9) said, “I left my math homework at school, but I’m not worried about it right now. That’s Future Me’s problem and I can’t do anything about it. Future Me will just have to deal with it tomorrow.”

I’m still not sure if this is irresponsible or brilliant… or both! Certainly “Future Me” had to deal with some consequences today when the future collided with the present, and more consequences are pending if “Future Me” doesn’t maintain her math grades.  Still, I have to admire Evelyn’s carefree attitude when it comes to circumstances beyond her control.  She is an honor roll student, so please don’t get the impression that this is a common occurrence, but forgetfulness can happen to the best of us.  I must admit, I would probably lose sleep over what may or may not happen when I had to face my teacher the next day, but to Evie… that was Future Me’s problem.  She was just going to eat supper, play with her little brother, take a bath, and go to bed.  I think we can safely assume that Future Me won’t have to deal with any stomach ulcers down the road!

Anxious PenguinAdmittedly, I’ve been battling with anxiety in my own life recently.  Anxiety about the future, the economy, abortion, terrorism, growing threats here in the United States and abroad, the plight of Christians around the world, the fast growing moral decay that is eating away at the foundations of our society like a cancer and spiraling faster and faster out of control.  *hyperventilates into a paper bag… oo-ee-oo-ee-oo-ee*

I know 1 Peter 5:7 tells us, “cast all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.”  I know that, but it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with everything going on around us in the world and forget that God is indeed in control.  I’m (still) learning to calm my fears by spending time in prayer and in God’s Word.  God says “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  (Psalm 46:10)  The Hebrew word for be still in this passage doesn’t mean to sit still and be quiet; it means to “let go”.  Let go of the things that you can’t control and know that He is God, He is on the throne, and He is in control.

I’m reminded of a little wooden plaque that used to hang on the wall in our kitchen when I was a boy.  We moved from Henagar to Rainsville when I was 12-years-old and I don’t recall seeing it since, but I remember it’s words very well.  Written on this plaque was a prayer called The Serenity Prayer.  You’ve probably heard it before.  It’s been often used and quoted:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve prayed those three lines many times through the years.  That prayer, a memory from my childhood mingled together with memories of orange counter-tops and plaid wallpaper and my family sitting around a country kitchen.  It always takes me back every time I think about that little prayer.  But those three lines are actually a condensed version of a larger prayer; a wonderful, rich prayer authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1937.  Here is the prayer in it’s entirety:

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

May we live our lives with serenity, courage, and wisdom.  I will not be anxious (Matthew 6:31).  I will cast my cares on the Lord (1 Peter 5:7).  I will not be afraid because God is with me, giving me strength. (Isaiah 41:10)  The future may (or may not) be full of trouble and hardships, but I’m trying not to worry about it.  That’s just something that Future Me will have to deal with.

SerenityPrayer3

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2015 in Family, Personal

 

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