Friday, September 29, 2006

Israel: Crossroads of the World

This morning I am staggered by a realization. I browse absent-mindedly over a world map on the wall in my classroom just after all the students have left. My eyes come to rest on the location of Israel.

Look at this world map. Notice where Israel is, in the little tip of land right between the African continent and Europe/Asia.

This map shows it well. You will have to scroll up and down and to the right. You can see, looking back and forth at the maps, that this relatively tiny little finger of land is the only place where that entire half of the world connects. Those continents are not tied together by land anywhere else.

In effect, this 1581 German (?) map shows the true relationship between Israel and the rest of that half of the world, although it isn’t, of course, an accurate representation of the land masses.

The thing that boggles my mind is how perfect God’s planning was in sending the ancient Hebrews to their promised land. It was truly the crossroads of the world. Anyone traveling from Egypt, or anywhere else in Africa, to anywhere north had to go through Israel. That made it the perfect headquarters for the sending of his Word to the world.

I know and fully believe that God is all powerful. Then why does it amaze me so when I become aware of something he has done?

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thirteen Things, Yes

Yes, I know, I jumped the gun on this Thursday Thirteen thing. I was thinking it was Wednesday night when I posted it. It was actually Tuesday night—so I messed it up from the beginning. Ah, well!

After I posted it , I thought, “I don’t have time to do this.” I know there are thirteen reasons why I don’t. At least five of them are the courses I teach. And every evening, I fix dinner for my mother, my husband, and myself; I take Mother’s to her house and sit with her while she eats. That counts as three: cooking, visiting Mother, and cleaning up. A total of eight, so far. Then I usually wash at least one load of clothes—two more. I do some exercises with my exercise ball so my back won’t hurt—there’s another. I usually e-mail a couple of close friends and one or two of my kids and read a couple of blogs. That takes care of the thirteen!

Then, I thought, “Wait a minute." Maybe I do have time. I will try to use the thirteen meme creatively. I could even use it to proclaim Christ, rather than just posting meaningless things for the sake of posting thirteen things. Okay, I will accept this challenge.

I’ve already done this week’s—a list of fairly meaningless things. Maybe a bit of time wasted. I will pledge myself to create a list with more significant content next week!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thirteen Greatest Movies of All Time

This list of thirteen somethings is part of Thursday Thirteen, a meme hosted by Lauren of "To God Be the Glory."

After due consideration and agonizing, I have decided upon the thirteen greatest movies of all time. Here they are, not necessarily in order of greatness; I tried to put them in order, but it was just too much. So they are scrambled.

1. The Mission
In fact, I talked about this movie in connection with burdens of guilt in two related entries in April--"Release" and "Release, Part 2."

2. The Prince of Egypt

3. Tootsie

4. Les Miserables

This is a wonderful story of forgiveness and redemption!

5. O Brother, Where Art Thou?

6. To Kill a Mockingbird

7. The Passion of the Christ
This movie was the subject of much controversy. I think we as a society
don't want to think about Christ's suffering.

8. A River Runs Through It

9. The Apostle

10. Cinderella Man

11. Hamlet
The best Hamlet of all time is Mel Gibson, hands down, no doubt
about it.

12. Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

13. East of Eden
This is a great story, one of James Dean's few movies. It is based on John Steinbeck's novel by the same name.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Testimonies of Faith

Lauren, of “Created for His Glory,” writes that she is hosting a tour of testimonies of faith, beginning on October 1.

I believe this is something that could be very big—if lots of Christians share their stories of faith, the witness could be tremendous. This kind of thing is what we are called to do on the Internet. Reverberations from it could magnify into endless numbers. Lives could be changed. We are called to be ready to give reasons for our faith. And we are to go out and make disciples. Let’s do it!

Here’s how it will work. On Sunday, October 1, Lauren will post the story of how she came to have faith in Christ. All Christians who want to join in are invited to post their own salvation story and link it to hers.

At the link above, you can find the code for this graphic. I couldn’t make it work, but maybe you can! I myself am cybernetically challenged. If you have any suggestions for me, I'll be happy to try them.

She wrote: “Oh, just think how awesome it will be to read how God worked in so many lives to draw people to Himself. . . . And when all is said and done, I pray… to God be the Glory!”

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Oops, Another Book to Add!

Okay, I knew I was being a little hasty in getting that book list together. I have found another one that I have been meaning to read: Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical by Shane Claiborne.

My good friend Carolyn tells me that it is the most exciting book she has read in a long time. It disturbs her, and she spends a good deal of time thinking about it. That kind of book is for me.

So it goes at the top of my list, well, actually to the third spot, after I finish Trail of Feathers and Don’t Waste Your Life!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Falling into the Book Challenge

Here is my list of books to read this fall, as part of Katrina’s Reading Challenge:

1. First, I will finish Trail of Feathers, by Robert Rivard. I lack about twenty pages.

2. Then I will finish Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. I was almost halfway through it, got sidetracked, and never went back to it.

3. One Writer’s Beginnings by Eudora Welty. I am teaching an online creative writing class this semester for the first time, and I am very interested in this kind of thing.

4. Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother by Carolyn Mahaney. This is a work based on Titus 2, Paul's New Testament book. I'm trying to be a nicer, kinder, more loving wife and mother, and maybe this will help me!

5. Jericho’s Road by Elmer Kelton. I've heard Kelton speak at several literary conferences, and this book is autographed by him. I have read several of his novels, which are Western stories.

6. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. This book has the reputation of being an "American classic" about tenant families in the deep South. It reportedly was the book that started the genre of "creative nonfiction." Ditto numbers 3 and 7.

7. On Writing by Stephen King. I have read snippets quoted from this book, and it intrigues me, for the same reason as Welty's book.

8. Can Man Live without God? By Ravi Zacharias. I'm interested in this book because the cover says the author "shows how affirming the reality of God's existence matters urgently in our everyday lives." I believe it does.

Okay, I’m a reasonable person. I know that’s too many books for me to try to read in just three months. But that is my stack of books that sit around clamoring for my attention. I hereby pledge myself to read as many of them as I can, while teaching English full time. Probably, I realistically can finish through number 4.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Excitement in Bookworm-Ville

Want a good book challenge? Do you, like me, have piles of books you have been meaning to read? Look at Katrina’s blog, “Callapidder Days,” and join her “Fall into Reading” campaign.

Tomorrow is the deadline. Sorry! I just discovered it today.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Who Is a Christian?

Carrie writes a blog called “Of Christian Women,” which is linked here. I tried to leave a comment on this entry, but I couldn’t because I have joined the Beta Blogger world, and Carrie has not done that yet. You can’t go back and forth between Blogger and Beta Blogger worlds, apparently.

This is part of the interesting entry that Carrie wrote today:

There were some commenters in my post on assurance who are still unconvinced of the permanence of salvation. I wonder how many verses it would take to convince them.

Unfortunately, no matter how many verses I post or how many arguments I make, there are simply people who do not “get it”. Up until now I think I assumed that people who don’t “get it” had never read the Bible, but clearly there are people who know their Bible and yet still miss the boat on the basic Gospel message. And these people come in all kinds of flavors. You will see the academic scholarly types on some Discovery Channel show who have a PhD in New Testament studies but clearly don’t understand the Gospel message.

How do I know this? Because they always have some weird theory to downplay the facts of the Bible. Some way to explain away God.

What I wanted to write to her in a comment was this:

I believe that much debating and arguing over doctrine is a basic distraction from our calling as Christians. I believe we are called to love each other and to be one body in Christ. In John 17:20-23, Jesus prayed that all his believers might be one, “Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” He prayed that we might come to complete unity in him.

Argument is popular today; it gives us an adrenalin rush and is intellectually stimulating. But I can testify that it is not possible to browbeat someone into accepting Christ. The Holy Spirit does it, through gentle prodding and leading. We are supposed to sow the seeds, and he waters them.

We are responsible to point out the truth in love. But we are not responsible for what people do with that truth.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

"Free" from Religion

A few days ago, I wrote . . .

We did not teach our children about faith when they were little. I thought the most important values in life were family love and moral goodness. I took them to church pretty often, mostly because it seemed like the right thing to do. But through the years, God planted seeds of faith in them and got them through the hard adolescent years without any permanent damage. Family love and moral goodness are good . . . but they are not enough.

I began to realize that those foundations were crumbling during our three children’s upper high school years. I could see emptiness in their eyes—hunger for something more. Once I admitted what I was seeing, I recognized it in myself, too. It was a lack of fulfillment, direction, true meaning.

When our kids were in college, my oldest son began dating a girl who was a Christian; her life was full of peace and joy, and he wanted to know how. Soon after that, he came home singing about Jesus. He had a new sparkle in his eyes, and he was a different person. The other kids and I wanted to know how, and soon we fell in love with Jesus, too. Our lives have never been the same since.

Parents are supposed to give secure foundations to their children. I read an article, “Raised without Religion,” in a 1999 Focus on the Family Magazine by a young man whose parents did not teach him faith in God, and I knew as I read it that it was true. (I didn’t record his name; I’ll let you know if I can find it.) I wrote this in my journal:

He said he is part of the generation of teens and young adults now, many of whom have been raised without religion by parents who “wanted to let them decide for themselves later.” A non-decision like this, he said, is in fact a decision for them not to know God.

He said that his growing up free from the dogma of religion “caused imprisonment to a life without meaning.”

He said we must teach children these things:

  • that a personal, loving God created them for relationship with him
  • that he gives a sense of purpose and meaning that goes beyond suffering
  • and a knowledge of timeless truth for making choices and facing obstacles
  • and “a profound hope, found only in Jesus Christ that can overshadow the deepest despair.”

I thank God that he taught our children these things in spite of us.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Drew and Jesus

A few years ago, my mother, my three-year-old grandson Drew, and I stopped at a Dairy Queen on our way home from a 45-mile trip to fetch Drew. We were going to eat hamburgers and ice cream cones; it was dinner time, a time when Dairy Queens are usually full of people.

After we ordered, we went to sit down in a large dining area. Only one other person was in that room. I said, “Look, Drew, we are almost alone in here.”

Drew said, “We aren’t ever really alone, Mom-oh. Jesus is always close to us.”

I was very touched by this little boy’s faith. As I thought about it, I was deeply gratified that my daughter and son-in-law had taught him to have faith in Christ, and that he could make the connection to what I said—even though, of course, I was more glad than disturbed about being alone in the Dairy Queen dining room. He knew that he didn’t have to worry or be afraid of being alone.

We did not teach our children about faith when they were little. I thought the most important values in life were family love and moral goodness. I took them to church pretty often, mostly because it seemed like the right thing to do. But through the years, God planted seeds of faith in them and got them through the hard adolescent years without any permanent damage. Family love and moral goodness are good . . . but they are not enough.

More to come….

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Olbermann--"This Hole in the Ground"

Keith Olbermann's closing words on September 11 were strong and emotional. This is a powerful example of 9/11 rhetoric.

The World Trade Center attack changed the life of our nation. It drove many of us to our knees in prayer, but too many of us jumped back up quickly, as soon as the dust cleared. As Olbermann said, it tore a hole in the fabric of our nation. It opened the way for bitterness, dissent, and divisiveness--the worst, maybe, that America has ever seen.

Extremists have become more extreme than ever. Tyrants have become more tyrannical. We started a war under untrue circumstances. We brag about killing and talk openly about assassinating.

I hate to see all this happening. Where is love? I pray that God won't give up on us. If we call out to him, sincerely sorry for all this sad situation, he will answer. Here is what God said after Solomon dedicated the new temple in Second Chronicles:

if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Are We Safer Since 9/11?

Are we safer since 9/11? That's a question we hear over and over. What is the answer?

Well . . . it’s hard to say. The Voice of America article linked here addresses the question. Some say yes, some say no.

The attacks of September 11, 2001, demolished some of Americans’ basic assumptions.

We used to assume that in America we were safe. Now we realize that when a country is based on freedom as much as ours is, people with intent to harm are also free to make their plans—and can accomplish them. It would be very difficult for us to protect every vulnerable spot, no matter how much money we spend.

We used to assume that we were free to come and go as we pleased; we could hop on a plane and fly across the country. Now, we must wait in long lines for inspections before boarding planes. We don’t really mind doing that, but we grumble about its inconvenience because we were accustomed to passing right through those gates.

We used to assume that we didn’t have to be afraid. Now we are living with Fear, a nasty beast that peers with its black eyes over our shoulders at every turn. It poisons us.

We used to assume that we could, in general, trust people. Now we are less trusting, more suspicious, more condemning, more cynical and morose. We look everywhere for "the enemy." We are baffled by the idea that so many people are glad to commit suicide in order to kill others. We look for threats--suicide bombers, exploiters, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis.

I am concerned about us. We are too obsessed with this, too fearful. The public voice talks about it too much.

Many people ask, "Where was God? Why did he let this happen?" Anne Graham Lotz had some things to say about that in an interview with Jane Clayson; this interview has been misquoted often and attributed to Bryant Gumbel.

The interview took place on CBS's "The Early Show" on the Thursday morning after the terrorist attacks. Jane Clayson, not Bryant Gumbel, conducted the interview with Anne Graham Lotz. According to the transcript of the broadcast, Clayson asked, "I've heard people say, those who are religious, those who are not, if God is good, how could God let this happen? To that, you say . . . ?"

Lotz replied, "I say God is also angry when he sees something like this. I would say also for several years now Americans in a sense have shaken their fist at God and said, God, we want you out of our schools, our government, our business, we want you out of our marketplace. And God, who is a gentleman, has just quietly backed out of our national and political life, our public life. Removing his hand of blessing and protection. We need to turn to God first of all and say, God, we're sorry we have treated you this way and we invite you now to come into our national life. We put our trust in you. We have our trust in God on our coins, we need to practice it."

Amen, I say.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Source

A few years ago, we went hiking with our son to a “honey hole” (best fishing spot) between steep canyon walls on the Gallatin River in Montana. It is a wide, beautiful place, rushing, and wild in some places and deeply pooled with hungry trout in others. A red-headed duck family was paddling along among the rocks. Those big Montana rivers--the Madison, the Gallatin, the Big Hole—are teeming with life.

I am intrigued by the image of a river. At its source, it comes roaring up out of the ground somewhere. Oswald Chambers says that God is like the Source of a river.

As it flows, a huge boulder or rock formation is “a matter of indifference,” but the river just goes around it or dislodges it. In the same way, if I keep my eyes on God the Source, an obstacle in my life is not going to destroy me. The Spirit of God living in me just dislodges it and keeps on flowing around it, no matter how big it is.

This living water in the river of God gives rise to all kinds of living creatures—a stark contrast to the rising flood waters of New Orleans that brought death and destruction during Hurricane Katrina. Even if this year’s hurricanes prove to be just as terrible, the river of God will flow, rushing, life-giving, through us to others in “mighty torrents.” The river of his love will dislodge any difficulty in the life of a person who believes—and keep on flowing.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Steve Irwin: A Modern-Day Noah

Many people around the world today are mourning the death of Steve Irwin, "a modern-day Noah," as he was called by RSPCA, a Queensland, Australia, news agency. Among the mourners are three of our grandchildren, ages 9, 6, and 5.

They faithfully watched the Crocodile Hunter on Animal Planet, thrilled by Irwin's animal adventures. Irwin's attitude of love and respect for all animals was contagious. I'm sure he had a great deal to do with our oldest grandchild's love of animals . . . and all insects, as well.

She was horrified a couple of years ago to see me smack a moth and stomp a cricket. Now, when I find them in the house, I capture moths and crickets and help them safely outside (if she is here).

Because of the Crocodile Hunter's excitement over every kind of slithery beast, she carries around frogs and gives them names. She even loves slugs. She says she would love to be a veterinarian, except that she doesn't want to leave home ever to go to college. Of course, her mother said the same thing when she was about 9 years old--and she changed her mind eventually.

Irwin will be greatly missed, because he was greatly loved by many.