Book Review Friday: Forgive and Forget

As you may be able to tell by now, I’m not necessarily reviewing your latest NY Times bestsellers. I like books that challenge, that make me think, that change my life–those I find myself referring back to throughout my day. The power of words is transformative, which is why I will mainly be sharing those titles that have affected me the deepest. However, there will be the ocassional light reads, ’cause who doesn’t like a little Twilight every now and then?

Today’s book is Forgive and Forget by Lewis B. Smedes, which first came out in 1984. It is a small book, not even 200 pages, but the ideas are powerful. Whether you are suffering hurts large or small, intentional or unintentional, this will revolutionize your thinking and provide so much release.
The subtitle speaks for itself: healing the hurts we don’t deserve. All of our wounds are different, some involve human atrocities, some betrayal of trust, some abandonment but all are unfair. We know that every human deserves to be treated with honor and respect and we all fall short of that, every minute of the day.
In his introduction is this thought: “Forgiveness is God’s invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people are unfair to each other and hurt each other deeply. He began by forgiving us. And he invites us all to forgive each other.”
I do want to share how the book is set up to know what you’re getting into. It’s divided into three parts:
Part I: The Four Stages of Forgiving
Part II: Forgiving People Who are Hard to Forgive
Part III: How People Forgive
Relief spreads across my face when I reread his table of contents and under Part III, the title of the first chapter is “Slowly”. Isn’t it good to know that there isn’t a little pill can take to instantly cause us to see past the hurt, the pain the heartache and know that the time we need to process it and to heal is ok? No matter how long it takes, the point the author strives to drive home: we must forgive, because, in the end, it’s best for everyone.
A few other titles by Smedes you may want to check out:

  • A Pretty Good Person What it Takes to Live with Courage, Gratitude, & Integrity or When Pretty Good Is as Good as You Can Be, Harper, 1990
  • Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World
  • How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong?
  • All Things Made New
  • Love Within Limits
  • Sex for Christians
  • Mere Morality: What God Expects From Ordinary People
  • A Life of Distinction
  • The Art of Forgiving
  • Shame and Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve
  • Keeping Hope Alive

When Things Don’t Make Sense

I’ll be putting our house up for sale in the next few weeks. I knew this moment would come eventually, but not quite this soon, so it’s bittersweet. After spending a good deal of time in prayer over it, I knew that God was confirming it, which was why I contacted my agent last week to get the ball rolling. I was in the car the other night, getting a little teary-eyed over the idea when God asked, “Do you want my best?” That was all it took, a confirmation, that yes, Rachel, this is hard, it’s not something you necessarily will want to do right now, but it’s the right thing.

For months now I’ve been going back to Proverbs 3: 5, 6 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

Even so, there’s a few favorite things I’ll miss:

1) the quiet
2) the beautiful trees (but not necessarily the year-round raking)
3) the Tony Danza (think 80’s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?”) swinging door between the kitchen and the dining room
4) the back deck

How about you? What things have you given up in the past and you later realized that God had an even bigger plan?

Broken Vessels: Part 3 of 3

Gideon and his one hundred men approached the edge of the Midianite camp just as they were changing guards, still under the cover of night. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars, the rest of the men followed suite. “Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, ‘A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!’” (7:20) The men stood firm in their positions around camp and all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled. At the sound of the trumpets the enemy army became so confused that they turned on one another with their swords and the others ran. The Israelites chased them and Gideon called in reinforcements from other tribes, capturing two of the Midianite leaders and killing them. The Lord brought stunning, overwhelming victory.

Through my own tragedy and heartbreak I had to overcome these last two years: watching what I thought to be a happy family disintegrate before my eyes, I realized that there was a beauty and a strength in my brokeness. My circumstances, my trials weren’t making any sense initially. My thoughts of despair and the feeling of loneliness had surrounded me as thick as locusts, and I was asking the “Why?”, but like it or not, God was answering the “What?”. I came to see that being rocked by horrible circumstances what initially remains is the broken vessel–what God is going to use for His glory. What God is working out right now, His story in me, is going to shine through that vessel and that trumpet sound, my declaration, is how God delivered me. I cling to that and I am confident in it.

Absolutely nothing is impossible with God.

Book Review Friday: Don’t Make Me Count to Three!

Any good book, no matter what the subject should challenge us personally and this is just what Ginger Plowman’s book, “Don’t Make Me Count to Three!” accomplished for me. I came away from the book with a personal conviction that if I am to practice the central concept of her teaching, quoting scripture to my child as reasoning for good behavior, i.e., “Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right.” I had to make sure that the way I was “living out” complied with scripture in the best way I knew how.

From the same publishers that brought you Tedd Tripp’s “Shepherding a Child’s Heart”, comes Plowman’s work, which draws on similar themes of carefully, circumspectly guiding your child in right behavior. What does a child’s disobedience spring from? The heart. Her message is clear “the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart”. Getting to the core of a child’s disobedience: whether it is jealousy, hatred or envy, we must ask ourselves “Why?” She wants us to encourage our children to grow in wisdom and see God’s viewpoint on all situations.

I appreciate the author’s tone. This is a mom of two who has gone through the daily struggle of raising children well, of getting to the heart of instruction, obedience and Godly guidance. Plowman sprinkles her writing with personal, often humorous stories of how she has tried and oftentimes failed, and emphasizes the need for personal humility, for when you see glimmers of “the fruit of your labor”, your children will most certainly bring you back to reality.

I would say that a good portion of this book is most applicable to children who have begun to reason for themselves (around 5 and up), because at the core at her behavioral correction technique is verbally reminding your child of scripture. For instance, “Love does not delight in evil” (we would need to assume those words have definitions in our child’s vocabulary). However, I should emphasize that her concepts would not be lost on the new mom. She encourages us to reinforce our words of correction with role playing–that once you have corrected wrong behavior, it is the parent’s job to instruct them in right conduct and this will help in the learning process. “When we correct our children for wrong behavior but fail to train them in righteous behavior, this provokes them to anger.”

God’s design for discipline drives out foolishness and replaces it with wisdom. She admonishes us to never use the rod without reproof and expounds on this even more later in her book, giving some awesome guidelines for parents who spank: telling the reader when the rod is necessary and guidelines for administering biblical chastisement. Just as the rod should not be used in the heat of the moment, neither should scripture with a “This is why you’re being naughty” statement. Instead, it is important that we teach our children what the Bible says regarding the particular struggle they are going through and to instruct them in accordance with the child’s need to learn. However, she also spends time on the concept of teaching in the context of the moment–which is something as a parent we must do over and over, and then gradually, this will become like second nature. She likens this process to a master craftsman/apprentice relationship. She encourages us to use God’s word in a conversational manner, to teach our children from our hearts.

Plowman also offers tips on how we can identify young and old manipulators and how to respond accordingly.

For me, one of the toughest to process yet the most important to hear pieces of advice would have to be that of:

1) Pray through your motives before you administer any form of discipline

2) Examine your life: Ask yourself “Am I exasperating my child?”

3) Choose the right time and place for discipline.

4) Use biblical terminology when you can i.e. foolish vs. stubborn, “lie” vs. “fib”.

I also appreciated her personal “Standard of Obedience”: “All the way, right away and with a happy heart.” I find this “right away” concept to be so applicable in my own life with the concept that delayed obedience is disobedience.

Over and over again, the author reassures the reader of her fallibility and reinforces it in her statement, “Actually, if you could visit my home and see my failures you probably would not have purchased this book.” Under this underlies the importance of the parent’s role in walking the talk.

As with any skill, good parenting takes practice, the ability to accept yours and your child’s failures and the determination to seek God’s guidance while doing it. Plowmen reassures the frustrated, sometimes despondent parent with the verse in Galatians 6:9 “We will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.” Keep going, you will see that fruit some day.

Broken Vessels: Part 2 of 3

Alright, let’s reconvene on the scene.

As we get further into the story of Gideon, we see how God selectively dwindled down his forces from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men. First, those men who were visibly frightened, he told to go back: twenty-two thousand down. Second test: he took the men down to the water to drink, those who lapped like dogs vs. those who used their hands (three hundred)–he kept those. This was exactly what the Lord wanted. He wanted this to be a humanly impossible battle, so that Israel’s God would get the credit, and here God promises Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands.” (7:7) Again, it is practical suicide but followed by a promise from God nonetheless.

We see God’s hand even in the instruments chosen to defeat this enemy described as being as thick as locusts, their camels too numerous to count. And what weapons do you think Gideon placed in his soldiers’ hands? An empty jar, a torch inside that jar and a trumpet. Hmmm. I know God was in control here, but as one of those three hundred soldiers, I would have been seriously doubting Gideon’s sanity as well as my own at this point. Faith Test #2: Pass.

The Midianite camp was situated below Gideon’s people in the valley. The night before Gideon was to take his three hundred men in to battle, the Lord instructed him to sneak into the enemy camp with one of his servants to listen to what the men in the camp were saying. God said that what he would hear would encourage Gideon once he got into battle. So Gideon and his servant snuck down into the enemy camp and overheard the following: two men were talking, one explaining a dream that he had: “A round loaf of barley came tumbling into the Midianite camp, the loaf struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.” (7:13) His friend kindly interpreted: “This must mean that our camp will be defeated by Gideon and his men.” When Gideon overheard this, he could do nothing but worship God. He returned to his own camp, woke up his troops and divided his army into three parts. He instructed his men, “Follow my lead. When I get to the edge of the camp, do exactly as I do. When I and all who are with me blow our trumpets, then from all around the camp blow yours and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’” (7:17)

The Story of Broken Vessels: Part 1 of 3

It is interesting to note that many times in Scripture when a person, chosen by God, to accomplish an often-times daunting task asks the question, “Why?” God simply answers the what. We can see this illustrated in Judges 6-8 in the life of Gideon.

When the angel of the Lord visits Gideon on the threshing room floor and begins to explain the mission that God has for him, Gideon immediately questions the angel, “But why have we not seen God’s deliverance, [here we have been enslaved and oppressed for 40 years], why have we not seen God’s mighty works that our forefathers spoke of?” The angel doesn’t skip a beat, he’s on a mission and doesn’t hesitate to let Gideon know the plan. Gideon was going to be the one to lead the Israelites into battle to defeat the Midianites, to further the job of driving the enemy out of Israel’s promised land, a territory that belonged to them but had been seized by an enemy tribe.

It should be noted that the oppression of the Midianites had become so severe that the Israelites made shelters for themselves in mountain clefts and caves–they were scared. The oppression abolished not just their rights and freedoms, but the Bible says that wherever Israelites planted their crops, the Midianites, Amalekites and other eastern peoples invaded the country. They camped on their land, ruined their crops and didn’t even spare their lifestock, they “came up…like swarms of locusts.” So much so it was impossible to count. They were defeated, surrounded and weary. And, the Lord appears to Gideon while he is threshing wheat in the winepress in order to protect his hard-earned commodity, away from the greedy enemy.

It is no coincidence that when God called Gideon to deliver Israel, He asked him first to tear down the altar built to Baal and the Asherah pole next to it and sacrifice his father’s 7-year-old bull on a new altar built to the Lord. Gideon did as he was told, but he was afraid–afraid of the men of his town and of what his family would do, while accomplishing this task. How do we know this? He did at night. Yet, that first step, that act of obedience was critical to proving that His God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was stronger than Baal. Gideon was willing to take this first, basic step in faith.

Just as expected, the next morning, when the people of the town discovered that their altar had been destroyed, they “carefully investigated” (Judges 6:29). They wanted to be sure that they had the right guy. They demanded his life for the altar. Yet, here is where it get heart-wrenchingly real: when these townspeople come to his father’s door, his father defends him. Remember, Gideon had no idea how this would go down and expected to see a strong reaction even out of the members of his own family. But his father becomes his defender in this and says, “If Baal really is a god, he can defend himself when someone breaks down his altar.” I can only imagine the palpable gasp from these accusers. Test of Faith #1: Pass.

Book Review Friday: Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity

We have only to watch t.v. for five minutes, stand in the grocery store check out line or glance at a billboard on our evening commute to be confronted by sexual images and in most cases, the unreal, to know sex sells. That, and this being the Month of Love was one reason that I wanted to review this book first. In her book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity, Lauren Winner approaches the subject of abstention from sex outside of marriage with reverence, experience and frankness. And she makes no bones about it, she is examining chastity through the lens of Scripture.

I became acquainted with Winner’s writing upon reading her first novel, Girl Meets God: A Memoir a few years ago, which is a story of her personal journey from Judaism to Christianity in the her last years of undergraduate studies into graduate school. It wasn’t until I reread it recently, that I fell in love with this author’s academic and spiritual depth, which in turn led me to this book.

The thing that I appreciate most about Winner’s writing is that it is honest to a fault, she talks about her past sexual experiences, so she is not approaching the subject hermetically, this is a warm-blooded, living, breathing woman in her late 20’s, early 30’s who has been there, done that, and can defend her stance that chastity is a good thing.

Winner’s book is divided into two halves, the first half of the book is a study of how we think about sex and chastity, the biblical view of sex, the messages we get from culture about it, and how we evaluate those views in a biblical context. From the start of the book, Winner states, “God made us with bodies; that is how we begin to know that he cares how we order our sexual lives.” He made us, and yes, he does know how hard it can be to control those urges, He was tempted in every way we are yet without sin. We don’t have a Savior who is ignorant of our struggles. She acknowledges that yes, God made us with bodies, but it is how we conform them and it’s desires that we can begin to grasp his purposes for their use.

She also examines our role as fellow Christians in the practice of accountability, urging Christians to speak “courageously and transparently” about the their struggles in marriage, pointing out that speaking to one another about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian experience.

“To acknowledge that premarital sex–or any other sinful act–might feel good is not to say that premarital sex is good. It is rather to say that our feelings are not always trustworthy. Our emotions and our hearts were distorted in the fall, which is one reason we need the community of the church and an articulated Christian ethics in the first place.”

“That people have sex outside marriage is understandable; we fornicate for the same reason we practice idolatry. Idolatry carries in it the seed of a good impulse–the impulse to worship our Maker. Idolatry is that good impulse wrongly directed to disastrous ends. Like idolatry, fornication is a wrong reflection of a right creational impulse. We were made for sex. And so premarital sex tells a partial truth; that’s why it resonates with something. But partial truths are destructive. They push us to created goods wrongly lived. To borrow a phrase from Thomas Cranmer again: they are ultimately destructive to our selves, our souls and our bodies.”

In the second half of her book, Winner offers some ideas on how, as individual Christians and as a community we can be chaste. Winner also introduces chastity as a spiritual discipline. She explains, “chastity is something you do, it is something you practice. It is not only a state–the state of being chaste–but a disciplined, active undertaking the we do as part of the Body. It is not the mere absence of sex but the active conforming of one’s body to the arc of the gospel.” She also clearly states, “having sex with your husband or wife is a discipline”, even the marrieds don’t get off easy. It isn’t always magic, candy hearts and roses. She reminds us that chastity as a discipline has it’s basis in another spiritual discipline: prayer–spending time, asking God to reshape your heart and desires so that we want the things he wants for us. She points out that the unmarried Christian who practices chastity refrains from sex in order to remember that God desires your person, your body, more than any man or woman ever will.

This isn’t an easy book to read, mostly because the practice of chastity isn’t easy. The book analyzes, it probes and it gets personal, but I believe it’s a very important work on a subject that the Church doesn’t give a lot of time and attention to. I think it’s ignorant to put “Christian singles” in a room and assume that they automatically know how to act. I believe this book, used as a thoughtful teaching tool could be one of the first steps in the right direction.

The Concept of Home

God intends for us to look for something greater, just like Scripture says that nature groans, so we look for what is to come. In Romans 8: 22-23, we see that the “whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. So we too, groan inwardly as we await our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” We shouldn’t be comfortable here, we should yearn for more–more intimacy with our Creator, and an end to this suffering.

My 3 1/2 year-old daughter does something interesting every time I punish her for disobedience whether that be time-out or the occasional spanking. She yells out in the most pitiful voice, “I wanna go home”. She’s been in our house since she was about 20 months, and based my limited knowledge of childhood cognition/memory, this should be the only home she’s ever known, yet she’s crying out for something different, something, she believes will deliver her from this temporary suffering, something that may offer comfort and this is the only way that she can put it into words. The other day, after putting her in time out for sassing back, I heard the phrase again. Sometimes I wonder if that’s how we should be crying out. I want to go home. I want to be delivered, I want things to be better, different, complete. I want to say that this is what God means by the groaning. The cry for wanting deliverance, wanting to be held, wanting to feel secure again in our Maker.

Wanting reconciliation.

The psalmist understood this concept of home too: “My soul yearns, even faints for the courts of the Lord…until we appear before God in Zion.”

My friend and I discussed how we get the most amazing night’s sleep every time we come back to our parent’s house. Our only way to explain it was that it probably had something to do with someone else being in charge. We know innately that there will be someone to check the locks, make sure the temperature is set comfortably for the collective good. We have the assurance that there is someone else to wake up and check on the strange noises outside. In other words, worry has been taken out of the equation.

I think much of that just comes back to knowing that our fathers are there.

How about you, what does home mean to you?