Thursday, May 2, 2019

What We Say Matters

I grew up with the erroneous idea that what I said was not important.  I could tease my friends, make fun of other people, berate myself, and this was okay.  After all, I was just Rachel.  Nobody really took anything I said seriously.  I did not have the power to hurt anyone.

How I got to this point is rather a mystery to me, and perhaps one day I will explore that further and try to understand.  The point is, I truly believed that.  This was not a false modesty or an excuse to avoid consequences of my actions.  I honestly believed that what I said did not matter.  Obviously, I was completely wrong, and I had to be shown and told that numerous times before I actually believed it.

Rachel, age 18
I remember one Christmas, we were in the living room as a family, and I was teasing my mom about something.  Now, anyone who knows my mom knows her strength.  Her name means "whole", "entire", or "complete one", and it is absolutely fitting for her character.  She put up with a lot from me as a teenager, and I never thought she was hurt by any of it.  But this day, I was teasing her mercilessly about something.  She looked at me and said in complete frustration, "WHY are you so mean to me?"  I was shocked.  I headed to my room in tears, ashamed and embarrassed.  I had hurt my mom?  How did that happen?  My mother, my rock, the complete one, was hurt by something I had said?  It didn't make sense to me.

I think I remember that scene so vividly, because it was the beginning of a change in thinking for me.  If I could hurt my mom by what I said, maybe my words were important after all.  Maybe the exhortation to, "let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29) applied to me after all.

It seems the sins we struggle with in childhood are often the sins we struggle with in adulthood.  Even after all these years, I sometimes still find myself thinking that it doesn't really matter what I say.  I'm just Rachel.  Nobody really takes me seriously.  But oh, that could not be further from the truth.  I have seen countless times the results of letting my guard down and speaking unwisely and uncaringly to friends.  The words I say have the potential to do such damage.  As the book of James so poetically states, "...the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.  How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.... It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison."

May the God who made us out of dust, who grants us salvation, who sustains us, also grant us wisdom to watch our words.  May He help us see that what we say matters.  And may He help us speak lovingly, kindly, and humbly to those around us.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Book Review: Devotedly, the Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot

Devotedly, The Personal Letters and Love Story of Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, was an inspiring and encouraging book to read.  Written by their only  daughter, Valerie Elliot Shepard, this book ties together 5 years of journal entries and letters between Jim and Elisabeth.

I was surprised to learn the details of Jim and Elisabeth's love story.  I wrongly assumed they were like (seemingly) every other couple: finding attraction, dating, falling in love, and deciding to marry.  Their beautiful love story was nothing like this.

What I found so encouraging as I read, was their obvious love for the Lord and their longing to follow Him above all else.  When this meant keeping quiet about their love for each other, they did so.  When this meant staying in one place, while their hearts were in another, they did so.  Yet in all of this beautiful striving to follow God, Jim and Elisabeth were merely two faulted humans.  They struggled in their faithfulness.  They had their quarrels and said their share of regrettable things to each other.  I was so thankful that their daughter did not omit these details in an effort to make her parents look more righteous.  On the contrary, Shepard wrote, "Don't think of my parents as perfect.  They weren't.  Don't think of their relationship as perfect.  It wasn't.  See them as two people - a man and a woman - who willingly invited God to direct their lives His own way.  God is the One doing things perfectly here in their story, even amid disaster, even after many years of testing and waiting, of separation and struggle."

As I read, I was struck by the beautiful way both Jim and Elisabeth wrote.  They were both obviously intelligent people, who loved poetry and the act of writing.  I am so glad they kept journals and kept the letters they wrote to each other.  What a gift they had for the written word!

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading an encouraging love story.  Jim and Elisabeth faced many trials in their lives, but God was faithful, just as He is to all of us.  I trust this book will challenge you as it did for me.  As Shepard wrote concerning her parents, "May you take from their real lives the confidence and trust that God has designed you, too, for noble service in His kingdom, as you surrender to Him, obey Him, and daily learn to let Him lead where He alone is able to take you.  Lo, He is your God.  Wait on Him, devotedly."

Rachel's Rating:
★★★★★

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Review: The Tinderbox

Beverly Lewis' The Tinderbox is a story of a young Amish girl named Sylvia.  Sylvia shares a special bond with her father, but she learns a secret about his past that could change everything.

Sylvia faces the dilemma of whether to share her knowledge with her father or keep quiet.  Will her relationship with her father ever be the same?  How will others be affected if this secret is shared?

The book ends with more questions.  I look forward to reading the next book in the series when it is released in September, 2019.

*Thanks to NetGalley for making this book available for an honest review.

Rachel's Rating
 ★★★★☆


Monday, April 15, 2019

Book Review: Grace Defined and Defended

Kevin DeYoung's Grace Defined and Defended is an in-depth study of the Synod of Dort.  Until I read this book, I had never even heard of the Synod of Dort.  The byline of the book title clarifies a bit:  What a 400-Year-Old Confession Teaches Us about Sin, Salvation, and the Sovereignty of God.
 
The Synod of Dort was held in Dordrecht, Netherlands from November, 1618 to May, 1619.  Leaders of the Reformed Church met 154 times between those dates, to settle controversies that had arisen due to the increasing belief in Arminianism.  During that time, they wrote The Canons of Dort, which included five main points.  The first concerned divine election and reprobation; the second, Christ's death and human redemption through it; the third and fourth, human corruption and how we convert to God; and the fifth, perseverance of the saints.
 
There is much value in reading this book and learning the nuances of Calvinism.  As DeYoung states, "We live in an age where passion is often considered an adequate substitute for precision."  The Canons of Dort are very specific, very detailed, and very clear in explanation.  DeYoung asserts the value in reading these confessions, and offers this thought:  "Many of us, even Christians, have little patience for rigorous thinking and little interest in careful definition.  We emote better than we reason, and we describe our feelings better than we define our words, which is one reason we need to study old confessions written by dead people....[Early theologians] were relentlessly passionate about doctrinal truth.  They cared about definitions.  And they cared about precision.  Praise God, they cared enough to be careful."

Written in a way that a layperson can understand, Grace Defined and Defended contains the articles written at the synod, with DeYoung's explanation following each.  Though theologically rich, this was not difficult to read. 

I would recommend this book to fellow believers.  There is much to learn and understand , both for those who are Reformed in their theology and those who are not. 

*Thanks to NetGalley for making this book available for an honest review.

Rachel's Rating:
★★★★★

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Book Review: It's Not Supposed to Be This Way

It's Not Supposed to be This Way.  What a great book title!  The Bible tells us that God created the world good.  Lamentably, with the first sin in the garden of Eden, everything changed.  The heartache, the disappointment, the trials that are now faced by every human in life?  This is not how God created things.  It's not supposed to be this way.

If we study the overarching theme of the Bible, we see that God uses all things to bring about good.  TerKeurst builds on this truth in her book and show how disappointments in life can hold so much potential for good.  She encourages her reader to "be grateful and positive" in the midst of disappointments without "pretending we don't get exhausted by our disappointments".  TerKeurst shares intimate details of her own struggles, connecting herself with the reader.

While TerKeurst's writing was relatable, I could not help but see the first few chapters as a combination of a biography, a pep talk, and a self-help book.  This was not the type of book I was expecting, nor was it one I was particularly interested in reading.

TerKeurst's worldview snuck through at times through her particular choice of words.  She wrote of how "God showed [her] a picture of how He wants [her] to be as [she does] life from here."  She states the she is "not really a 'see some sort of vision' kind of girl" and how "at first [she] thought it was just [her] imagination wandering off for a minute.  But then [she] felt an impression on [her] heart that this wasn't random; this really was from God."  TerKeurst then depicts this vision she was supposedly given, in great detail.  This phrasing and practice concerns me and caused me to be on guard as I continued reading. 

TerKeurst writes of how God has given His Word to guide through disappointments.  She goes on to encourage the reader to store up "fighting words" and make declarations over situations they are facing.  She states, "We all need to have some fighting words on hand so we can declare God's truth over our difficult situations".  Some "fighting words" she recommends are, "I am declaring right now that I will not be swept up into a storm of fear and wild emotions", "I will not be one of [Satan's] victims, nor will I be afraid", "I will not be a woman controlled by the lies of the enemy or by my own doubts and fears", "I will see the things that come my way as God's perfect plan to develop my character to match my calling", "I am declaring hope and truth over my life".

My heart bristles at this wording.  Our confidence it to be in God alone, not in our declarations.  Though each statement she makes is backed with a Bible verse, when phrased as "I declare", the focus is taken off of God as our strength and placed on our very declaration.  Declaring "I will not" does not make the declaration occur.  To expect it to be so, is to set oneself up for disappointment.  I would have loved to see these same statements made with a humble prayer, even begging God to let these things be true in our lives.  Let the source of our strength be God alone, and our declarations be ones of praise for who He is.  Let our "fighting words" be His Words, stored in our hearts and overflowing in our lives.

While the bulk of the content of TerKeurst's book was good, and she had some very relatable, quotable material, I was not a fan of her writing style or the things already mentioned above.  If I were to recommend a book regarding disappointments, I would be much more likely to recommend Elisabeth Elliot's Suffering is Never for Nothing.

Thanks to NetGalley for making this book available for an honest review.

Rachel's Rating
★★☆☆☆