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           Each devotion in Godcast begins with a verse and ends with a prayer.  In between will be thoughts and anecdotes with a point, usually related to church or Christian living.  The articles are not deep, or set on expositing Scripture.  Its strength is application.  Generally this is a good book, though lighter than my preference.  And there were some frequent points that made me frustrated. 
 
          This book could be summed up with the following oft-repeated statements:
 

God has given us all the resources: physical, mental, spiritual, monetary to do
what He wants us to. 
 
The only critic who matters is the One
with nail prints in his hands. 
 
You must tithe. 
 
Get involved in missions: if you can’t go overseas, then pray and
pay for people to go overseas.

  
 
            The first statement is the real value of this book.  My favorite of the one-page chapters all dealt with the bigness of God, freeing me to depend on His grace. 

            But the third and fourth statements, which I’m not kidding, show up word for word about every fifteen pages, bother me.  I know that there is a large segment of Christianity that believes tithing is still God’s plan.  But it just isn’t in the Bible.  The Old Testament is filled with descriptions of the tithe, and rules about tithing.  Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, written to the Jews.  It calls the people thieves for not bringing God’s tithe into the storehouse.  Malachi wrote for Jews, under the law, with 400 plus years to go before the law was fulfilled and the new wine of the covenant was poured into new wineskins.  The author of Godcast claims that the church is the New Testament equivalent to the “storehouse,” because from thence we get spiritual nourishment.  He goes so far as to say that donations to other ministries cannot be counted as a tithe.  (He’s a pastor of a huge church with lots of staff and a multi-million dollar building.)  Each prayer on these chapters is unobjectionable, asking for a spirit of faith and giving and that God would give us wisdom to use His resources for His purposes.  I am all for giving, and was both blessed and challenged by his admonitions to a lifestyle embracing sacrifice. 
            Associated with this emphasis on regular, budgeted tithing to a single local church are some typical mega-church priorities with which I disagree: large congregations (in the thousands), expensive buildings, seeker conformed methods (A disturbing chapter is on needing bait as fishers of men, but the bait isn’t Jesus and life and salvation; it’s coffee!), professional staff, overly-planned and programmed worship services.  In a denomination like Assemblies of God, with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit, it is strange to me that they want to keep so much out of His control and fitted into a mold of traditional church structure.  On a positive note, the priority of his ministries seems to be people more than things or organizations. 
            Missions is obviously something to which every Christian is called, but we are not necessarily called to the easy task of being a missionary of supply.  Mr. Betzer is from the Assemblies of God, and I’ve been raised more or less in the Baptist tradition, but where I come from, we’re not given the excuse of saying that we send missionaries, but don’t have to preach the gospel ourselves.  There is just as much a mission field here in America as there is internationally, and so if you are not called to go overseas, you have a huge work here in your own city.  I believe that Mr. Betzer lives this way, though his lingo is misleading.  
             One other large concern to me is the focus on works and human responsibility.  If we do not preach the gospel to our friend, God is unable to save him.  If we fail to take our children to Sunday school, their lives will not be set on a godly course, and they will miss their calling.  Such are a few of the points made in this book.  
            To end on a better note, one of the chapters (#213) I read on election day was about Abraham Lincoln, and encouraged us to pray for our government, whether we agree with it or not.  How appropriate.  You can never pray too much, nor trust God too much. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn
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I am fascinated having read chapter 197 of Godcast.  In it Dan Betzer makes a point from silence (not the best foundation for doctrine, but making for an interesting story).  Where the Bible is silent, we see a point being made.  Michael Card writes that when John is silent on events of Jesus’ life that the other gospel-recorders included, we should pay special attention.  John was substituting something else, a living parable.  In John 8 as John records Jesus’ encounter with the convicted adulteress, it mentions Jesus silently stooping to the ground before requesting that those without sin cast the first stone against the sinful woman.  What impact in his silence! 

 

So this Assemblies of God pastor communicates the impact of the silence covering 33 years of Abraham’s life after Sarah’s death.  Though they had their rough patches, during Sarah’s life Abraham was the faith father, involved in all sorts of actions, journeys, acquisitions, encounters, prayers, promises, and fulfillments.  Immediately after her death Abraham sends the head of his household (not just any old servant) to great distances to find a wife for Isaac.  This was very important to Abraham.  Why?  Maybe because his wife was very important to him.  He wanted Isaac to be blessed by a woman whose worth was far above rubies. 

 

And after that, we have a paragraph recording the last fifth of Abraham’s long life.  He married again and had more children.  But as far as we know he was the spiritual giant during his marriage to Sarah.  I caution again putting too much credence in this narrative factor. 

 

Pastor Betzer titles this chapter “Do Women have a Place in Ministry?”  If you think about Sarah’s support of her husband as her place in ministry, or if you consider the impact that her presence had on her husband’s faith, you get a beautiful picture of what I believe is a woman’s place in ministry.  (Sarah is also held up as an example to other women, especially in the way she submitted to her own husband.  I believe that women have a more direct ministry to other women as “teachers of good things.” – Titus 2) 

 

I shouldn’t be surprised that the semi-charismatic denomination has produced a man who, rather than interpreting the significance of the Sarah factor in Abraham’s life in light of biblical directives to women to submit, nor to teach or have authority over men; takes this beautiful picture of helpers meet for their husbands and finishes with a praise of the female ‘ministers’ and ‘pastors’ who founded very large, spiritual and missions-minded churches.  These women, he says, have positively impacted him.  Though he often mentions his wife in other chapters, this author fails to mention here her help in his ministry, which would be a more honest and biblically sound application of the Sarah principle. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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Excellence is something that has been part of me for at least 15 years.  Of course, it came easy to me to be excellent in academics, or in Bible memorization.  In Awana as a third grader I joined my first Bible Quiz team.  At the time I was completely naïve, unaware of the competition or the tension or even of the possibility of winning.  The thought never crossed my mind.  After finishing both segments of the quiz, speed (like Jeopardy) and multiple choice (with paddles we raise into the air), my team sat clenching each others’ hands in nervous anticipation.  To our utter astonishment they called our team for first place.  The group of us screamed our way to the front to receive our medals and trophy.  And excellence in Bible quiz was my goal from then on.  

 

In a history of grace, God granted that I be on a winning Bible Quiz team for six years straight, unprecedented.  Everyone wanted either to be on my team or to finally beat me.  I didn’t stop working hard, because each year I desperately wanted to win.  There were no assumptions that I would win no matter what.  But I did think that if I kept giving it my all, I would be rewarded.  There was no second place, no third, no fourth – and certainly there was no place between fifth and fifteenth.  So when as a freshman I suffered my first defeat, it felt as though I had crashed into a lightless chasm.  It didn’t matter in the slightest that we had placed third.  The fact was I went to win, and I had failed. 

 

There’s more to the story, of the journey God continued leading me on through Bible Quiz until my senior year – and how I got to share the lessons as a coach.  But today I want to write about that concept of no place but first.  No success without the best.  This is a definition of excellence. 

 

I’m reading a book called Godcast (review coming soon of course), a collection of single-page devotionals written by an Assemblies of God pastor and radio/tv host.  In chapter 196, Dan Betzer writes about mediocrity in the house of God.  Now I’m no advocate of demanding perfection in the worship performance each Sunday, or of dazzling buildings on which no expense was spared.  Nor do I think that God always wants us to have a well-polished speech to deliver as Sunday school lessons, Bible studies, or sermons.  Sometimes He wants us to be the humble vessels through whom His message can be spoken.  And whether you know the words you’re going to say or not, every teacher should have properly studied, meditated, and prayed for what he is going to say. 

 

Yet the message is inspiring.  As a teacher, do I say, “Well, I read over the passage a couple times, and I have an illustration, so I’m all set”?    How many times have I as a blogger decided I didn’t feel like revising my post?  And what about as a Christian?  Do I consider myself good enough as long as I’m not really bad? 

 

Every Monday night I attend a Bible study.  Presently we are going through Galatians, and I’m wrestling with the implications of grace and Christian liberty.  What is legalism, and how should we reconcile Christian holiness with Christ-given grace?  One answer that seems clear at this point in my life is that legalism says “If I follow the rules, I am good.”  But isn’t that what Judaism proved impossible?  Grace is the other side, the side that so delights in the life bought through Jesus’ death and given through His resurrection that it delights to please God, not flirting with the line of trespass, but safe and free well inside the bounds of God’s righteousness. 

 

I can’t help but mention that this doctrine of Galatians meets a complementary parallel in Romans, wherein is found the association between faith, grace, life, and righteousness. 

 

God calls us to excellence, to the extraordinary experience of walking in the Spirit, turning aside neither to the right or to the left, each action born of faith and love and Christ alive in me. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

 

 

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Books Read in 2008
Persuasion by Jane Austen (ok, so I re-read it, but loved it more the third time. The tale of a good, intelligent woman on the verge of being forever an “old maid,” whose family ignores her but whom she helps all the same. There is a handsome man she loved before he was rich, and so turned down at the influence of her family and friends, and very much regrets. He comes back into her life and suddenly everyone realizes Anne Elliot is the girl they want to marry. I underlined every word that illustrated persuasion, steadfastness, or persuad-ability. There are a lot.)
The Preacher and the Presidents by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy (a modern history book looking at leadership, politics, and big decisions as associated with Billy Graham.)
A Walk With Jane Austen by Lori Smith (Single Christian girl in early thirties goes to England to trace Jane Austen’s life. She dreams of love, finds something special, and goes on to share her very human, very female thoughts about life, love, and God – often borrowing words from Jane Austen herself.)
The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare: I’d say the book is about making choices, and the freedom that comes from doing the right thing even when you don’t understand what’s going on. And it has to do with contentment and waiting and hard work. I see my friend, who recommended the book, in the pages. It’s the kind of thing she would like and live – and the kind of thing I would like and try to live.  Kit grew up in the free, warm Atlantic equatorial islands.  When her grandfather, who raised her, died, she decided to move in with her penpal aunt in New England.  The Puritan atmosphere doesn’t quite suit Kit, who looks for friends who share her sense of freedom.  Life doesn’t turn out quite how she imagines (through failure of imagination of consequences), but she means well.  Her influence gently softens the community, but eventually she is still tried as a witch.
I recently read GK Chesterton’s first novel, Napoleon of Notting Hill. It was a quick read, interesting and fast-paced. It follows the life and career of the most unique humorist of England, one Auberon Quin, who was elected by lottery the king of England according to the consummate democracy of his fictional future government. Auberon enjoys making people confounded and annoyed, by being himself completely ridiculous. I have a feeling that this would be an even less popular course in England than in America.
 Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen took a tour of the country to find out about this multi-rooted movement of ‘young Calvinists.’ He did a great job of filling pages with information about theology, denominations, organizations, authors, and what’s so exciting to us about God’s sovereignty. Grace, a consistent description of the world, a God worth worshiping – we have lots of answers, lots of paths that are bringing us to become part of the revival of Calvinism in the West. Why is God doing this? We wait to see.
Brave New Family by GK Chesterton is a compilation of many essays written about the Home and Family, about relationships between men and women and children.  It is excellent, but I read it so long ago that I can’t remember all that much about it.

The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton is a sort of allegorical tale about sovereignty and the war of the anarchists.  It is filled with character sketches.  The full impact of this book did not hit me until after I had read it and proceeded with life, when I began to encounter ideas and people frighteningly similar to those in this book.  I think Chesterton based some of them off real people whom he had met as well.  Hang in there for the end of the book.  It will blow your mind.

Ekklesia, edited and compiled by Steve Atkerson of the New Testament Reformation Fellowship, is an exposition of the New Testament’s descriptions of and instructions for the Church.  Apart from the business model, consumer structure of traditional church meetings, the authors argue from the Bible for a more personal and interactive gathering in homes.  There was very little in this book with which I could disagree.  Not only was it informational, reading Ekklesia was also challenging and encouraging.  The theology and exposition is spot on, well supported with biblical references.  In an age when God is working in many hearts to produce a desire to engage in community and God-powered ministry, this is a good book for direction.  An added bonus is that NTRF has not copyrighted Ekklesia, encouraging you to distribute portions to your friends or quote it in publications.

The Shack, by William Young, is a novel of a man dealing with the tragic death of his daughter and his feelings about God.  He ends up spending a weekend with God, dealing with classic issues of the problem of pain and our acceptance of God’s goodness despite what we feel.  God is incarnate in three persons, with whom he has many vivid interactions and conversations.  At the end of the story, he is left with more peace about God and the life he has experienced, but still does not have answers about what God expects of him.  The story is written in a way that tempts you to believe it is based on a true history.  At the end when I read the “making of” that told me it was only fiction, I was much relieved.  There is enough truth in the philosophy and theology that I could not believe the book represented demonic activity (producing the supernatural things described).  But there were also enough problematic elements (God as a girl wearing blue jeans) that I could not believe the events were truly from God.  Realizing that the author used fiction to introduce his own thoughts on theology must allow for him to be mistaken yet in some areas.  Most concerning are the indications that God would not send any of His creations to hell, because He loves ‘all His children’ – with an unbiblical definition of God’s children.  The semi-gnostic tendencies and references, including a conference with Sophia, the goddess of wisdom, provide insight into the background of Mr. Young.  The book is not keen on the Bible or church, either.  For a best seller, this book is a quick read and an interesting visit to theology.  But God gave us the Bible as His personal revelation; don’t substitute anything for it.

The Midnight Dancers is Regina Doman’s fourth fairy tale novel.  I don’t know whether she was a rebel herself or consulted heavily with people who had been there, but all of her observations on motive and inner conflict resonated well with my observations, and actually explained things.  Her main character is very human, torn between desires to be responsible and to be appreciated as an adult, between her love of freedom and her love of people.  Midnight Dancers also shows the slippery slope of sacrificing even a little bit of discernment while justifying your freedom and pleasure.  Like all of Mrs. Doman’s books, I was entranced.  However this edition, similar to Waking Rose, got pretty graphic and even too intense for my spirit to remain healthy.  I skipped a few pages near the end.  Fairy tales are fairly predictable in their endings, and this is no surprise.  They all lived happily ever after.

Mark is a book that transports me immediately back in history.  Full of action with little explanation, it is a biography of acts more than teachings, of impact rather than influences.  Beginning with a scene straight from a screenplay, of a voice crying in the wilderness, climaxing with the compassionate passion of a good Man suffering in the place of others, and closing with a simple instruction to pass the story on, Mark is a book for the ages.  Even though Jesus is the main character, the other characters are just as active and many are vivid personalities.  Mark himself may even make a cameo in a humble role at Gethsemane.  First to last this gospel is glorious.

It never ceases to amaze me how many facts are tucked into Genesis.  Details of the lives and failings of men who lived so long ago surprise me with their human reality.  Places and people, kings and battles, ancestries and inventions cover the pages.  Of course Genesis begins with creation, establishing the understanding of matter, time, energy, life, marriage, science, music, farming, boats, rain, rainbows, government, justice, worship, sacrifice, truth, possession, family, and judgment.  The generations are also sprinkled with hints of redemption and unwarranted preservation and forgiveness, of the second man supplanting the first.  Read in light of the New Testament’s references to this first book, Genesis is remarkably alive with parables and theology.  My favorite part in this reading was the theme of changed lives.

Treason by Ann Coulter is a history book with a strong political bent.  She documents how the Democratic Party is always cheering for and or supporting America’s enemies.  In the very least they have a record of opposing any efforts Americans make to defend themselves against enemies.  She describes the myth of McCarthyism, pointing out that all those people whose lives McCarthy’s trials (and just his influence) supposedly ruined were either open Communists or eventually found out to be Communists.  And most of them enjoyed long, pleasant lives (not getting everything their way, but who does?).  McCarthy, on the other hand, died young, at age 48.  But Ann Coulter doesn’t stop with the post World War II McCarthy.  She goes on to discuss Vietnam, the Cold War, North Korea, and the War on Terrorism.  History is dirty, and she both addresses some mature issues and references them to make jibes.  But I appreciate the excessive documentation of the habit of Democrats to stand up on the side most opposed to America’s interests.  They used to call such blatant and effective acts “treason.”

Medieval Iceland: Society, Sagas and Power by Jesse L. Byock (see full review)
Sphere by Michael Crichton (see full review)
Alien Intrusion by Gary Bates (see full review)
Godcast: Transforming Encounters with God; Bylines by Media Journalist and Pastor Dan Betzer (see full review) 

Lady Susan by Jane Austen (To balance the post-election doldrums this week, I read Lady Susan, a complete short novel written by Jane Austen, the last on my list of her works to read.  Consisting entirely of letters except for the last two or three pages (which summarizes both why the story could not be continued in letters and the fates of all the main characters).  For my part I wish that the story had been developed more.  I want to know the young Miss Frederica, and the smart Mr. Reginald de Courcy.  Perhaps the value is in the art by which Miss Austen communicates so much leaving almost the whole unsaid.  One feels that there is a whole story and world of events that Jane Austen knew but wouldn’t share because she didn’t have to.  The worldview of the widow Lady Susan is summed up in her words from Letter 16, “Consideration and esteem as surely follow command of language, as admiration waits on beauty.”  She is a scandalous flirt and insufferable liar, scheming throughout the novel to acquire pleasure, money, and importance at the expense of all her relations, friends, and even her daughter.  Jane Austen tends to end with her villains unpunished.  They don’t go to prison, or suffer a life-long illness or poverty or death.  The world may scorn them, but generally they never cared what the world thought.  We the good readers may pity the partners with whom they finish the tales, but the villains themselves will not wallow, we think, in self-pity for long, rather getting something for which they have always aimed.  Lady Susan is a novel where, with the concise style, these patterns are readily exposed.  Read Lady Susan.  It’s a light, funny story with a background romance.  Characters are typically Jane Austen even if we see little of them.  And the style makes a good template for understanding the rest of Jane Austen’s beloved books.) 

Dead Heat by Joel Rosenberg (see full review)

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver (There wasn’t a lot of new Christian stuff in this book, but it was a good read and some challenging reminders.  This book covers topics ranging from worry to service to worship to personal devotions.  I love how the book draws everything together into the One Thing conclusion.  Joanna invites you to join her journey of seeking a Mary Heart in a Martha World.)

To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

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