November 22, 2015

5 Christmas Books I'd Like to Read This Season

Painting by Thomas Kinkade

                                                                 God's Blessings of Christmas

This is a little devotional booklet that looks like it is packed with a lot of good Christmas cheer! Things like, excerpts from Billy and Ruth Graham's bestseller, This Christmas Night: Reflections from our Home to your Home, Scriptural accounts of Christ's birth, and the beautiful words of Christmas carols from the past.
Amazon says of it:  

"Explore the blessings of hope, joy, love, and peace that believers can experience as they keep their eyes on Jesus."

                                                                              Star of Wonder

This is a novella I won online and I'm excited to get started on it! It is the first in a trilogy. Tracy writes so beautifully, and has become one of my favorite Christian fiction authors.  Her historical fiction stories are intertwined with spiritual warfare and the gospel message, and always keep my attention!

Goodreads says here of it:

"An epic quest across the sands of Arabia

In the exotic land of the east, a group of scholars studies the night sky for generations, until finally a star bursts onto the scene, signaling the birth of a new world leader. 

But when an ancient document surfaces, whispering of an artifact of immense power, the temptation to seek out its power infiltrates their caravan. 

The soldier, the mage and the Egyptian princess each has a secret to protect. But if they are going to survive the dark forces battling for their prize, they must learn to trust each other—in what will surely be the journey of a lifetime."

                                                       52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol

The 1951 classic version of 'A Christmas Carol' was always watched at our house growing up. And it's always been a favorite. I was reluctant to read the book because I loved the movie so much (Movie makers seem to often change the story).

I finally read the book a few years ago and found out the 1951 version was nearly identical to the Charles Dickens novel. I was very happy about that. : )

This book, '52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol,' extracts 52 Bible-based lessons we can learn from the story of  'A Christmas Carol.'

The publisher says of it here:

"The lessons and stories from the beloved novel A Christmas Carol point to bedrock values we all share. Award-winning author Bob Welch takes readers deeper into the nuances of this classic by Charles Dickens. 

From the miserliness of Scrooge to the innocence of Tiny Tim, 52 Little Lessons from A Christmas Carol will inspire readers to live for what really matters, not only at Christmas, but all year long."

                                                                             Christmas Bells 

I'm super excited to read this novel!

I love Longfellow's poem  "Christmas Bells" which was made into a beautiful Christmas carol we still sing today.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day/ Their old familiar carols play/ And wild and sweet/ The words repeat/Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

This novel shares Longfellow's story, alongside a present day storyline, set during a Christmas concert rehearsal at a church.

Goodreads says here:

"In 1860, the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow family celebrated Christmas at Craigie House, their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The publication of Longfellow’s classic Revolutionary War poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” was less than a month hence, and the country’s grave political unrest weighed heavily on his mind. Yet with his beloved wife, Fanny, and their five adored children at his side, the delights of the season prevailed.

In present-day Boston, a dedicated teacher in the Watertown public school system is stunned by somber holiday tidings. Sophia’s music program has been sacrificed to budget cuts, and she worries not only about her impending unemployment but also about the consequences to her underprivileged students. At the church where she volunteers as music director, Sophia tries to forget her cares as she leads the children’s choir in rehearsal for a Christmas Eve concert. Inspired to honor a local artist, Sophia has chosen a carol set to a poem by Longfellow, moved by the glorious words he penned one Christmas Day long ago, even as he suffered great loss.

Christmas Bells chronicles the events of 1863, when the peace and contentment of Longfellow’s family circle was suddenly, tragically broken, cutting even deeper than the privations of wartime. Through the pain of profound loss and hardship, Longfellow’s patriotism never failed, nor did the power of his language. “Christmas Bells,” the poem he wrote that holiday, lives on, spoken as verse and sung as a hymn."

                                                             The Dawning of Indestructible Joy 

John Piper has a way of expressing the joy of the Lord that is rare in our world today. I always come away from his books with a deeper view of God and the true joy He freely gives. This book is a daily devotional, written for advent.

The Desiring God website describes it here:

"Advent is for adoring Jesus.

The Christmas season is one of the busiest times of the year. But it is also a season of reflection and preparation for that special day when we mark Immanuel’s coming—the arrival of our eternal God in our own frail humanity.

This is the greatest of history’s many wonders, something too stupendous to celebrate just on one day. Advent is a way of lengthening and intensifying the joy of Christmas.

These 25 brief devotional readings from John Piper begin on December 1 and carry us to Christmas Day. Our hope is that God would use these meditations to deepen and sweeten your adoration of Jesus and help you keep him at the center of your Christmas season."

You can see a short video and the table of contents HERE

Here is one of my favorite Christmas carols, performed by the Piano Guys, to enjoy the start of this season.

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Wisdom from on high,
Who ordered all things mightily;
To us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, oh, come, our Lord of might,
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times gave holy law,
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come O Rod of Jesse's stem,
From ev'ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow'r to save;
Bring them in vict'ry through the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, O Key of David, come,
And open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, our Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by your drawing nigh,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us." Matthew 1:23

November 16, 2015

Is Interracial Marriage of God?

I've always believed interracial marriage was a good thing. I know that many women of other races were graphed into God's family, through marriage, throughout the Old Testament. Women who put their faith in the One True God, like Ruth and Rahab. Ruth being from Moab and Rahab from Jericho.

John Piper in his book 'Bloodlines' devotes a whole chapter on this subject and it was very enlightening and beautiful to read. He has put thoughts to my feelings and I'd like to share his 4 Biblical observations on interracial marriage here.


1. All Races Have One Ancestor in the Image of God, and All Humans Are in God’s Image


This one is pretty straight forward. We all can trace our lineages back to Adam, our one ancestor made in God's image. After the flood Noah's three son's went different directions and multiplied. Races emerged from there. All made in God's image. Here is a little more depth into these truths...


John Piper quotes Scripture here and then comments: 


"So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:27.  


Again in Genesis 5:1-3:


"When God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. Male and female He created them, and He blessed them and named them Man when they were created. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image."


In other words, the magnificent image of God goes on from generation to generation." 



John Piper goes on to share this: 


"Then Paul makes the sweeping statement in Acts 17:26, “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth.” In other words, Adam, who was created in God’s image, is the father of all human beings in all ethnic groups. Therefore all of them are dignified above the animals in this absolutely unique and glorious way: humans are created in the image of God. With all the beautiful, God-designed ethnic and cultural diversity in the world, that truth is paramount. That truth is decisive in setting priorities for how we respect and relate to each other."


I feel this is a very important point from Acts 17:26 in the interracial conversation. That God made every nation from one man, Adam, to live on this earth. Every nation, that means every person, every race. To reject someone because of their race, would be to reject the God their image is made in.


Another point John Piper brings up, is as I mentioned earlier, is the story of Noah and his sons. After the flood his sons went out and multiplied. He says here:


 "The human lines that flowed from the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) have flowed into far more diversity than three ethnic types of human beings. There is no reason to think that diversification has stopped.  


Just one example: after the flood Noah's three sons (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) become the fathers of the human race. But look what happens to these racial fountainheads. Genesis 10:6 says, 'The sons of Ham are Cush, Egypt, Put, and Canaan.' The ethnic and 'racial' differences between Cananites and Cushites and Egyptians were physiologically pronounced. In other words, 'race' is a fluid concept with no clear boundaries. 


God seems to delight not just in three but in thousands of variations of human beings. In fact, many today would argue that the concept of race is unhelpful altogether because here are no clear lines that can be drawn, and the ones that are drawn are not genetically or morally significant. 


Moreover, the offspring of inter-ethnic marriages add to the diversity of human race rather than dilute it. The scope of the world's peoples is so huge that there is no serious possibility that intermarriage will reduce diversity of peoples. In fact, there is more likelihood that new ethnic types will emerge rather than that all will become the same-let alone 'mongrel.'"


What I think he is saying here is that God delights in the diversity of His creation. It was all meant to be. It was His plan. And that interracial marriage is a part of it. And this is good.



2. The Bible Forbids Intermarriage Between Unbeliever and Believer, But Not Between Races 


John Piper uses the story of Ruth to make his point that God is against marriage between believers and unbelievers, but not against interracial marriage.



Ruth was a Moabite. A race born out of incest. Gensis 19:36-37 says:


'Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. The firstborn bore a son and called his name Moab. He is the father of the Moabites to this day.' 


John Piper says here:


"But in spite of these serious divisions, Ruth was a lover of the true God and came under the wings of His covenant with Israel (Ruth 2:12). This faith and this marriage (to Boaz, who was the son of Salmon and Rahab) and the offspring that came from it were so remarkable that the New Testament Gospel of Matthew includes Ruth as one of the four women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt.1:5). (Rahab, Ruth's mother-in-law, is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus as well).


What the book of Ruth illustrates is that there was no absolute rule in God's Word forbidding marriage across racial and ethnic lines. What the Bible does forbid is the marriage of a believer and unbeliever. The apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:39, 'A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.' Whom she wishes, only in the Lord. The man she marries must be in the Lord. He must be a believer in Jesus Christ.


This is the main point of the Old Testament warnings about marrying those among the pagan nations. The point was not to protect racial purity. The point was to protect religious purity."



3. In Christ Our Oneness Is Profound and Transforms Racial and Social Differences from Barriers to Blessings

This is the beauty of being a Christian, the oneness we have in Christ.



John Piper says here:


"In Christ ethnic and social differences cease to be obstacles to deep, personal, intimate fellowship, including marriage." 


"...seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." Col. 3:9-11


Really think about this. Christ is all and in all to those who put off the old self and believe. The old self being the sinful nature. How profound and amazing it is. How amazing our God is. That He is all.


He says here of Col. 3:9-11:


"The point of Colossians 3:11 is not that cultural, ethnic, and racial differences have no significance; they do. The point is that they are no barrier to profound, personal, intimate fellowship.


My daughter brought a Japanese friend over and he bowed to us several times in respect. Another of her friends is Chinese and brought a gift for us when she came over. These are cultural traditions that are beautiful and respectful and different from our culture. They are example of the diversity and beauty in our world...


But Colossians 3:11 is talking about something deeper, about a relationship that is given over to Christ, where He becomes all. Where all believers become one in Christ and can have fellowship with each other through Him. This is profound and beautiful.



4. Criticizing One Interracial Marriage Was Severely Disciplined by God


Here John Piper uses Moses and his marriage to an Ethiopian as an example. How many times have I read the story of Moses and never saw he was married to an Ethiopian or how God approved this so dramatically! I was so excited when I read this. : )


*Note - This woman is thought to be, by some scholars, Moses's second wife after the death of Zipporah.

Painting by Jacob Jordaens - Netherlands (1650) - Moses and his Ethiopian Wife


In Numbers12:1 it says:


"Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman."


John Piper goes on to explain:

"Cushite' means a woman from Cush, a region south of Egypt, and a people known for their black skin. We know this because of Jeremiah 13:23" 'Can the Ethiopian (the very same Hebrew word translated Cushite in Num. 12:1) change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.' So attention is drawn to the difference of the skin of the Cushite people."
He later states this:

"What is most significant about this context is that God does not get angry at Moses; he gets angry at Miriam and Aaron for criticizing Moses. The criticism has to do with Moses's marriage and Moses's authority. The most explicit statement relates to the marriage: 'Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.' Typically commentators say that Miriam and Aaron's objections to Moses's marriage 'were only a smokescreen for their challenge to Moses's spiritual authority.' Perhaps. But what you use for a smoke screen reveals your heart. And God was not pleased.

What happened next is startling. God is furious. First, he defends his servant Moses from false charges, and then He strikes Miriam with a terrible disease that turns her skin white - white a snow."

Numbers 12:7-10 says here:

[God said concerning Moses that] "He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?' And the anger of the LORD was kindled against them, and He departed. When the cloud removed from over the tent, behold, Miriam was leprous, like snow. And Aaron turned toward Miriam, and behold, she was leprous."

Right away Aaron repents and asked forgiveness, Moses then cries out to God please, please heal her! But God in His sovereignty leaves the leprosy for 7 days. A lesson for their greater good.


This really moved me. God is serious when it comes to those He created. His love is extraordinary and extends to all races, all mankind, and calls us all to Himself. 


I'll leave you with these verses in Revelation to ponder. God is showing John a vision of the future of all believers and it includes all races, from every tribe, every language and every nation... 


"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10




There is so much more to this book, 'Bloodline', but what I've shared here is what really stood out for me. If you'd like to read more about this issue you can read John Piper's sermon HERE which includes some of what I've shared from his book.



Buy it HERE on Amazon


November 8, 2015

A Few Thoughts on the Spiritual Life

"We are not called to choose between a Christian life based on truth and doctrine or a life filled with spiritual power and experience. 

They go together. 

I was not being called to leave behind my theology and launch out to look for 'something more,' for experience. Rather, I was meant to ask the Holy Spirit to help me experience my theology."    Tim Keller

I love this quote. We shouldn't choose good works or doctrine over spiritual growth, and we can't choose spiritual maturity over knowledge of His Word... They go together.

We experience God through His Word.

In R.C. Sproul's book 'The Holiness of God' he quotes Jesus here:

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24

R.C. Sproul then says:

"Jesus rebuked the scribes and the Pharisees for neglecting weighty matters and overemphasizing minor matters. He saw this issue not as an either-or matter but a both-and matter."

In other words, Jesus wants us to both keep His Word (doctrine) and grow spiritually mature in our experience with Him. The Pharisees were focused on the doing and neglecting the growing in the fruit of the spirit, which are:

"the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23

R.C. Sproul later goes on to say:

"To be conformed to Jesus, we must first begin to think as Jesus did. We need the 'mind of Christ.' We need to value the things He values and despise the things He despises. We need to have the same priorities He has. We need to consider weighty the things that He considers weighty.

That cannot happen without a mastery of His Word. 

The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice.

That is the call to excellence we have received. We are not to be like the rest of the world, content to live our lives with a superficial understanding of God. We are to grow dissatisfied with spiritual milk and hunger after spiritual meat."

Now when he says 'christian education' I don't think he means we all need to go to Bible college, but rather that we need to dive deeper into God's Word.

If we long for Christ, we will long for His Word.

That is the key to growing in Christ. (in truth, doctrine, good works and spiritual power)

We need both doctrine and spiritual growth. They go together. As Tim Keller said, 'we need the Holy Spirit to help us experience our theology.'

The book of James has a great example of this.

It says here:

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." James 1:27

This teaches good works and holy living, that both are essential in the Christian life.

We should never pick and choose from God's Word. It is all to be learnt from and all to be experienced as we grow in Christ. 

"For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Hebrews 4:12

When Jesus came to the beloved disciple John, on the island of Patmos to dictate His letters to the 7 churches, what did John see?

He saw a two-edged sword coming from the mouth of Jesus. 

"He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength." Revelation 1:16

He is the Living Word of God.

Something to ponder.

*Note: Quote by Tim Keller from his book 'Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God'