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Showers of Blessing

I am taking a blog break for Lent, but I thought I’d share some of my old posts from years gone by. I’ve been blogging at Semicolon since October, 2003, more than eleven years. This post is copied and edited from February 18, 2005:

It was supposed to rain this afternoon here in Houston. No rain, however, and no one is disappointed. We can always count on having rain sometime soon, probably more rain than we want. It rains frequently in Houston.
In San Angelo where I grew up, it was a different story. We appreciated rain. Not far from the house where I grew up, there was a huge billboard with this year-round message: “Pray for rain.” There may have been a Scripture reference, too. The one I always heard in church when we were asked to pray for rain was 2 Chronicles 7:14:

.

. . 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.

Sometimes we had so little rain that water was rationed. You could only water your yard on certain days of the week, and after a while, all the yards started to turn brown in the scorching summer heat. Droughts always seemed to come in the spring or the summer for some reason. A few people had wells, and they put signs in their yards so that no one would think they were cheating with their green grass: “Well Water Used Here.”

So we’d pray for rain, and the city would spend money to hire an airplane to go up and seed the clouds, if there were any clouds. But as often as not, the clouds that San Angelo paid to have seeded would move on to Big Spring or Midland or Abilene and pour down all that rain on one of those undeserving towns instead of raining on our parched lawns. The ranchers would start talking about how they were having to bring in feed for their sheep or cattle so they’d have enough to eat. Then we’d have a day of special prayer for rain, or maybe even a week of prayer meetings, asking God for those showers we knew we needed.

And when it did rain, we knew that our prayers had been answered. We knew that we were dependent on the grace of God and His provision, day in and day out. One rain wouldn’t last forever; we’d need God to provide over and over again, every year.

In Houston, we take the rain for granted. It rains all the time. We complain because it rains too much, and it messes up our soccer game or spoils the picnic we had planned. We need the rain here, too, but we don’t know it. God provides in abundance, but we don’t appreciate it.

Maybe everybody ought to live in West Texas for a while. I’ve been in Houston for almost thirty years, but I still love the rain. I like to go walk in the rain and soak it into my skin. I like to watch the rain come down in my backyard and see the drops bounce off puddles and plants. The showers are still a blessing.

Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia by Dennis Covington.

Does a journalist need to participate in his subject’s life and culture in order to write with insight and understanding about those subjects? For instance does one have to handle snakes in order to write about snake handlers, Pentecostal Christians who believe that they are showing the world their faith in Christ when they drink poison and handle snakes, taking their cue from Christ’s words?

“And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues. They will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” Mark 16:17-18
Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Luke 10:19

Or is a journalist who participates in such rituals not only a little crazy, but also devoid of journalistic objectivity? I would say the latter, but this book did make me think. It didn’t make me want to handle snakes, nor did it convince me that those who do so are anything other than thrill-seeking cultists. (There are other issues with the Jesus-only, legalistic, spiritual gift-seeking doctrine and practice of these snake handling churches.) What it did make me think about is the lines we draw between emotion and spiritual experience and reason, the way try to keep ourselves so safe that we wall out the Holy Spirit himself and become bored with our safe, unemotional, non-experiential Christianity. There’s a balance somewhere, and even though I see the kind of presumptuous testing of God that the snake handlers do as dangerous and somewhat prideful, I also see that we lose something precious when we say that God cannot and will not ever perform the kinds of miracles and signs that were common in the New Testament.

This book is about more than just snakes. The author reaches back into his own past and into his family heritage to try to understand just where the snake-handling preachers and testifiers have come from and what they really are experiencing when they “handle”. Mr. Covington also muses on the essence of a good story and how the ending is surprising but somehow inevitable. The book would fascinate fans of Flannery O’Connor’s stories, and in fact Covington begins his story with a quote from O’Connor:

“The descent into himself will, at the same time, be a descent into his region. It will be a descent through the darkness of the familiar into a world where, like the blind man cried in the gospels, he sees men as if they were trees, but walking.” ~Flannery O’Connor, Mystery and Manners.

Covington descends deep into himself and his region to try to explain the lives and actions of the people he comes to know and care for, such as:
Preacher Glendel Buford Summerford, accused of attempted murder of his wife by snakebite.
Darlene Summerford, the alleged victim, who keeps a photograph of her favorite snake in her purse.
Charles McGlocklin, end-time evangelist and snake handler.
Aline McGlocklin, his wife, also moved by the Spirit to handle on occasion.
Punkin Brown, legendary evangelist who would wipe the sweat off his brow with rattlesnakes.
Aunt Daisy, the prophetess.
Anna Pelfrey, who is said to have died twice and been revived by prayer.
Diane Pelfrey, her daughter, age 21 and a third-generation handler.

And others. Mr. Covington doesn’t make fun of these people and their beliefs, but rather he becomes a part of them, to an extent. Yet, it is the reservations he holds, the core of sanity and even dedication to something higher than mere ecstatic experience, that brings about an ending to the story of Dennis Covington and the snake handlers. It’s a good story and a good ending, and I learned something from the journey, although I’m not sure I can put it into words. If any of this rambling interests you, read the book. Then, come tell me what you learned.

Note: This book was published in 1995. Wikipedia says, “In 1998, snake-handling evangelist John Wayne “Punkin” Brown died after being bitten by a timber rattlesnake at the Rock House Holiness Church in rural northeastern Alabama.”

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Mission at Nuremberg by Tim Townsend

Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplain and the Trial of the Nazis by Tim Townsend.

Townsend, Formerly the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, is a veteran on the “God beat”, having written for several U.S. newspapers and other publications. In this book, he has given readers interested in World War II and its aftermath an insightful look at a quiet and unassuming hero, Lutheran pastor and chaplain Henry Gerecke. Pastor Gerecke was fifty years old when he enlisted in the Army Chaplain Corps in 1943. He was at the upper limit of the acceptable age range for the chaplaincy, but the army was in desperate need of more chaplains to meet the spiritual needs of the men in the U.S. Army who were fighting both in Europe and in the Pacific.

This book was especially poignant for me for a couple of reasons: one, my father-in-law, John Early, was an army chaplain during World War II. Although he served stateside for his entire war, he could easily have been sent to Europe and then to Germany to minister in some of the same circumstances that Gerecke served in. In fact, Gerecke’s personality, background, and ministry reminded me of my father-in-law quite a bit. Both men came from rural homes and ministered in small, lowly places before the war. Both men were humble evangelical preachers who longed to see men (and women) come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Both attended chaplain school at Harvard University, and both worked hard with the help of a much appreciated chaplain’s assistant to counsel, preach, lecture, file paperwork, write letters of condolence, and do many more services to the soldiers under their care. My father-in-law spoke often and fondly of his assistant, Donald.

The second reason that the book spoke to me had to do with Chaplain Gerecke’s particular assignment, after the surrender of Germany, to attend the trial at Nuremberg and minister to the high-ranking Nazis who were on trial there. According to the Geneva Conventions and U.S. army regulations, the United States was responsible to provide spiritual comfort to the Nazi prisoners. having a German chaplain did not seem advisable since the prisoners were being held in strict confinement and their captors were concerned that they might be the object of attempts to help them escape or commit suicide. Because he could speak German and because he was recommended by colleagues as a dedicated Lutheran minister, Gerecke was asked to extend his service in the army and come to Nuremberg to minister to such notorious criminals as Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s foreign minister, Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, and Hermann Goering, head of the German Air Force and Hitler’s designated successor. Gerecke found himself preaching and eventually administering communion to some of the world’s worst criminals, men who were responsible for the torture, rape, and death of millions. What an amazing story of courage, spiritual discernment, and grace!

There are aspects of this story that Townsend discusses thoroughly and then leaves as open questions. Should Gerecke have given communion, a sacrament in Lutheran theology, to men who may have only been “jailhouse converts”? On the other hand, should he have honored the request of one of the Nazis to commune, even though the man made it clear that he did not believe in or put his trust in Christ, but simply wanted to receive communion as a sort of insurance? (Gerecke refused communion to the man under those circumstances.) Can or should a Christian minister promise forgiveness to men who sinned against so many, a great number of whom were Jews whose understanding of forgiveness might be much different from a Christian understanding and who might very well resent the offering of forgiveness on their behalf without their consent? What was Gerecke’s role as a minister of the gospel in the face of such evil men? Does the gospel, the good news of God’s grace and forgiveness, extend to such perpetrators of such horrible crimes? I appreciated Townsend’s discussion of such thorny and difficult moral and theological dilemmas and his leaving it to the reader to decide for himself what the answers to those questions might be.

“Those chaplains believed that God loves all human beings, including perpetrators, and so their decision was more about how to minister to the Nazis, not whether they should. The process of ministering to those who have committed evil involves returning the wrongdoer to goodness, a difficult challenge when faced with a leader of the Third Reich. For Gerecke and O’Connor (the Catholic chaplain at Nuremberg) that challenge meant using what they had learned about each defendant to spiritually lead him back from the place where he’d fallen to a place of restoration.
. . . A middle-aged American preacher . . . was attempting to bring what he believed was God’s light into a dark heart. The Nuremberg chaplains were not judging the members of their flocks, nor were they forgiving their crimes against humanity. They were trying to lead those Nazis who were willing to follow toward a deeper insight into what they had done. They were attempting to give Hitler’s henchmen new standing a human beings before their impending executions.”

Excellent thoughtful, challenging nonfiction about a humble but steadfast pastor who served God in the darkest of prisons.

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Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin


Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In: Lessons from an Extraordinary Life by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin.

“I survived the war, but then I had to survive myself coming home from the war. Despite the good times and all the attention, I was under a cloud that kept growing darker. I had nightmares about killing the Bird from which I woke up shouting and swearing. My running legs were gone and I couldn’t compete anymore, which broke my heart. I wanted to strike it rich, but lost money instead. I drank and fought. I knew I was on the wrong path—but didn’t know what to do about it.” ~Louis Zamperini

If the movie Unbroken, or even what you’ve heard about the movie or the book by Laura Hillenbrand, is your only acquaintance with Louis Zamperini, then you already know that he was an amazing man with an almost unbelievable life story. What you may not know is what Paul Harvey used to call The Rest of the Story.

I would suggest that anyone who was captivated by Mr. Zamperini’s story in the movie should immediately, without delay, beg, borrow, or steal a copy of Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. If you just aren’t a reader and can’t bring yourself to read that wonderful biography, then Don’t Give Up, Don’t Give In tells the rest of Louis Zamperini’s story in a much shorter format, 224 pages laid out in easy to read chunks or chapter of three or four pages each. If you’ve already read Unbroken, but can’t get your friends or family members to read it, give them a copy of this book. Louis Zamperini’s character, warmth, and wisdom shine through the pages here just as they did in the pages of Unbroken.

David Rensin, who had already worked with Mr. Zamperini on his autobiography Devil at My Heels, met with Zamperini again for about six months to complete this book because Louis said he still had stories he wanted to tell. The stories in the book, which was completed two days before Mr. Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, continue to illuminate the life of this man who not only was a hero, but also a very broken and vengeful man after his return from prison camp. In Unbroken Laura Hillenbrand tells what it was that made Louis Zamperini whole again, in her words. In this book Mr. Zamperini gets to tell us about his recovery in his own words.

“I had nothing left to lose.
That admission itself was the beginning of my recovery. I’d always known that I’d come home from the war with a problem, but I had never been willing to ask for help—from anyone.
But now I had, and my whole body and spirit felt different. Wonderful. Calm. Free.”

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50 Facts and Links for Psalm 119

We studied Psalm 119 in our homeschool last fall and attempted to memorize parts of it. I thought I would collect some of the links and facts I learned about the longest psalm here so that I can refer back to these things.

1. It takes about 15 minutes to read aloud or recite the entire 176 verses of Psalm 119.

2. The Psalms are numbered differently in the Catholic (Douay) translation of the Bible which was translated from the Septuagint and takes its numbering. In Douay, this psalm is Psalm 118.

3. There are 22 times 8, or 176 verses in Psalm 119.

4. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and Psalm 119 is divided into 22 sections or stanzas.

5. Some people think that 176 different people wrote one verse each to compile the Psalm during the exile about 450 B.C. Other people think that the priest/prophet Ezra wrote all of Psalm 119.

6. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph. Verses 1-8 all begin with aleph. Other than verse 115, the first three verses of the psalm are the only ones not spoken directly to God. They are the introduction.

7. Beth is the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verses 9-16 all begin with beth. Beth also means “house” in Hebrew. We can make our heart a home for God’s word.

8. Psalm 119 may have been written as an acrostic poem so that it would be easier to memorize.

9. The Ortodox have a tradition that King David used this psalm to teach his young son Solomon the alphabet—–but not just the alphabet for writing letters: the alphabet of the spiritual life. They believe that Psalm 119 is a psalm written by David.

10. The name of God (Yahweh/Jehovah) appears twenty-four times in Psalm 119.

11. Psalm 119 is recited or read with special solemnity at Orthodox funeral services and on the various All-Souls Days occurring throughout the year, with “Alleluia” chanted between each verse.

12. In Orthodox monasteries Psalm 119 is read daily at the Midnight Office: “At midnight I arose to give thanks unto Thee for the judgments of Thy righteousness” (v. 62).

13. Eight Hebrew words are used to refer to God’s Word in Psalm 119.

14. The first word is promise or word, dabar in Hebrew, used 24 times: it means God’s spoken, revealed word.

15. The second word is saying, imrah in Hebrew, used 19 times: this is another way to say word, anything God has spoken, commanded or promised.

16. The third word is statutes, chuqqim, used 21 times: these are the rules that God gave to His people early in their history. It can be translated “laws”.

17. The fourth word is judgments, mishpatim, used 23 times: a later word for statutes, can be translated as judgements or rules or rulings.

18. The fifth word is law, torah, used 25 times: this means the first 5 books of the Bible. Later it included other books like Isaiah and Jeremiah. It is translated as “law” or “teaching” or even “revelation”.

19. The sixth word is commands, miswah/miswot, used 22 times: what someone with authority (God) tells you to do, orders.

20. The seventh word is precepts, piqqudim, used 21 times: these give us help when we want to know what to do. This word is sometimes translated as “guidelines” or “instructions” in Psalm 119.

21. The eighth word is testimonies, eduth, used 23 times: these are the things that God tells us to do. Related to the word “witness”, keeping His testimonies means being loyal to the covenant or promise that God has made with us.

22. Way and path both mean the same thing in the psalm. They mean: what we do in our lives. Our way can be good or bad. If we obey Psalm 119, our way will be good. Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6). If we obey Jesus, our way will be good. In Acts 9:2, “in the way” is another name for “being a Christian”.

23. Psalm 119:89 is a popular Nigerian praise song.

24. Psalm 119:105 was set to music by Christian songwriters Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith.

25. Psalm 119 is used in Jewish tradition to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year).

26. Psalm 119 is a prayer that includes many different elements, including prayers of praise (45-48), lament (81-88), vindication (132-134), obedience (57-64), and petitions for wisdom (33-40).

27. Charles Spurgeon liked this Psalm so much, he said, “we might do well to commit it to memory.”

28. “The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” ~C.S. Lewis

29. The actual author of Psalm 119 is unknown.

30. Verses 14, 72, 83, 119, 127, 162, and 176 contain similes comparing one thing to another like thing.

31. Some great people have memorized this whole Psalm and found great blessing in doing so: John Ruskin (19th century British writer), William Wilberforce (19th century British politician who led the movement to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire), Henry Martyn (19th century pioneer missionary to India), and David Livingstone (19th century pioneer missionary to Africa).

32. George Wishart was the Bishop of Edinburgh in the 17th century (not to be confused with another Scot by the same name who was martyred a century earlier). Wishart was condemned to death and would have been executed. But when he was on the scaffold he made use of a custom that allowed the condemned person to choose one psalm to be sung, and he chose Psalms 119:1-176. Before two-thirds of the psalm was sung, his pardon arrived and his life was spared.

33. He is the fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and it is used at the beginning of verbs to make them causative. So the prayers in this section (five) are stated, “Cause me to learn” and “Cause me to understand” and “Cause me to walk” and so forth.

34. “Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French philosopher and devout Christian, loved Psalm 119. He is another person who memorized it, and he called verse 59 ‘the turning point of man’s character and destiny.’ He meant that it is vital for every person to consider his or her ways, understand that our ways are destructive and will lead us to destruction, and then make an about-face and determine to go in God’s ways instead.” (Boice)

35. The yodh stanza (ten) represents the small Hebrew letter Jesus referred to as a “jot” in Matthew 5:18 : “Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”

36. “Kaph is a curved letter, similar to a half circle, and it was often thought of as a hand held out to receive some gift or blessing . . . He holds out his hand toward him [God] as a suppliant.” (Boice)

37. We are held up and supported by the word of God.
Uphold me according to Your word, that I may live. Psalm 119:116
“In the Middle Ages, under the monastic order of the Benedictines, when a novice’s period of preparation was ended and he was ready to become attached to the monastery for life, there was an induction ceremony in which, with outstretched arms, the novice recited Psalms 119:116 three times . . . The community repeated the words and then sang the Gloria Patri, which was a way of acknowledging that the commitments of the monastic life could only be sustained by God, to whom all glory belongs.” (Boice)

38. The Masorites said that the Word of God is mentioned in every verse except Psalm 119:122. Other people reckon differently (with disagreement about verses 84, 90, 121, and 132). But Scripture is mentioned in at least 171 of 176 verses.

39. There have been many lengthy works written on this Psalm, including one by Thomas Manton, a Puritan preacher and writer, who wrote a three-volume work on Psalm 119.

40. Persecution and suffering in the life of a follower of God’s law is a major theme of Psalm 119.

41. The psalm opens with beatitudes. “Blessed” are those whose ways are blameless, who live according to God’s law, who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.

42. John Calvin preached 22 sermons (one for each stanza) from Psalm 119.

43. Charles Spurgeon lists eight marks of true love for God’s Word: 1)reverence for the authority of God’s Word, 2)admiration for its holiness, 3)jealousy for its honor, 4)respect for all that it says, 5)diligence in the study of it, 6)eager desire to obey it, 7)readiness to praise it, 8)great desire to share it with others.

44. The average Bible reader spends less time in the word of God each day than he spends watching the commercials in a thirty minute television program.

45. Psalm 119 is approximately the same length as the books of Ruth, James or Philippians.

46. Psalm 119 is not the psalmist telling me how much I should love God’s word. Instead it’s the psalmist telling all of us how much he has come to love God’s word. It’s a prayer of praise for the sweetness, value, and delight of God’s word.

47. Hymns based on verses from Psalm 119 are Open My Eyes That I May See (Clara Scott), For the Beauty of the Earth (Folliott Sandford Pierpoint), Break Thou The Bread of Life (Mary Lathbury), Lord Keep Us Steadfast in Thy Word (Martin Luther/Catherine Winkworth), and Wonderful Words of Life (Philip Bliss).

48. “”I have hidden your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11. The Word, locked up in the heart—is a preservative against sin. As one would carry an antidote with him when he comes near an infected place—so David carried the Word in his heart as a sacred antidote to preserve him from the infection of sin.” ~Thomas Watson

49. “Beware of slighting, despising, or neglecting the Bible.
Read it daily,
pray over it incessantly, and
meditate on what it reveals continually!” ~James Smith, The Way of Salvation Set Forth
His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night! Psalm 1:2

50. The Gospel in Psalm 119 by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. “Making resolutions is not sufficient to meet the standard. . . His law is holy and good and righteous; it is pure, but we can’t keep it. Even when we make resolutions, we can’t keep it. We don’t keep it. We can’t. We’re not able to serve the Lord. We are failures, and that comes out in Psalm 119. . . . We need the divine enabling and power of Jesus. He is our righteousness; He is the only one who has fulfilled God’s law.”

Sources:
Psalm 119 Facts: Ten Things to Know About Psalm 119.
20 Quotes About the Book of Psalms
David Guzik Commentary on Psalm 119.
Grace Gems: The Scriptures.

Deuteronomy: A New Year’s Challenge and Reminder

I have a hard time with the book of Deuteronomy. It’s all about “obey and be blessed” or “disobey and be cursed.” And the problem is that I’ve already blown it, multiple times. But I can resonate with this take on the message of the book of Deuteronomy:

“[J]ust as the fingers of despair and guilt begin to tighten their grip, I remember a little verse in Deuteronomy 31 v.21 which astonished me when I first read it. It says ‘I know the intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore.’ What did he know? He knew that the inevitable would happen. That good intentions would become bad choices. That the fire of passion would be dulled by the daily grind of life and that someday they would look around and realize their story had not turned out the way they thought it would.

He knew that they would take the gifts he gave them and twist and shape them into something they were never meant to be. He knew they would turn away and reject him, that those chosen to bear his image would instead deface it before a watching world.

He knew and yet he loved them.”
~The Inevitable Plot Line by Heidi Johnston

The message of Deuteronomy is not “you are already cursed, too bad for you” but rather “I know you and I love you. Choose life.”

Here are more treasures from Deuteronomy, written by one of my favorite preacher-bloggers, New Orleans retired pastor Joe McKeever:
The best things in Deuteronomy.
The next best things in Deuteronomy.
More of the best of Deuteronomy.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 4.
The best of Deuteronomy, part 5

Southern Baptists choose a book of the Bible to focus on each January for their “January Bible Study.” This year the study is entitled “Deuteronomy: A Challenge to a New Generation”.

Christmas at Brede Abbey, Sussex, England, c. 1955

“On the night of Christmas Eve the abbey was so still it might have been thought to be empty, or the nuns asleep, but when the bell sounded at ten o’clock, from all corners, especially from the church, silent figures made their way to their station in the long cloister, and Abbess Catherine led them into choir for Christmas Matins. The first nocturne from the book of Isaiah was sung by the four chief chantresses: ‘Comfort, comfort my people says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned. A voice says ‘Cry!’ and I said ‘What shall I cry?’ All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field. . . .’ Voice succeeded voice through two hours until the priests, vested in white and gold, with their servers, came in procession from the sacristy for the tenderness and triumph of the midnight Mass. Lauds of Christmas followed straight after, and at two o’clock the community went to the refectory for hot soup, always called ‘cock soup’ because it was the first taste of meat or chicken they had had since Advent began. The soup was served with rice–‘beautifully filling,’ said Hilary in content–and after it came two biscuits and four squares of chocolate. ‘Chocolate!’ ‘We need to keep our strength up,’ said Dame Ursula.

In the twenty-four hours of Christmas they would spend ten hours in choir, singing the Hours at their accustomed times, and the second ‘dawn’ or ‘aurora,’ Mass of the shepherds as well as the third Mass of Christmas, which came after terce. The wonder was that the nuns had time to eat their Christmas dinner, most of it contributed by friends.”

I picked up a beautiful paperback copy of In This House of Brede by Rumor Godden at Half-Price Books the other day. The blurb on the back calls the book “an extraordinarily sensitive and insightful portrait of religious life.” I have called it “an excellent story about the lives of women within a closed community of nuns. Not only does the reader get to satisfy his curiosity about how nuns live in a convent, but there’s also a a great plot related to contemporary issues such as abortion, the efficacy of prayer, and the morality of absolute obedience.”

I highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in the disciplines of the Christian life or the difficulties and possibilities inherent in attempting to live in Christian community.

Blog reviews for In This House of Brede:
Laura at Lines in Pleasant Places.
Heather at Lines from the Page.
Phyllis at Life on Windy Ridge.
Diane at A Circle of Quiet.
Julie at Happy Catholic.

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Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

A nameless girl dressed only in spiderwebs enters the Pennyroyal Academy, a place where girls are trained to become princesses who do battle with witches and boys are trained to become knights who fight dragons.

If that introduction intrigues you, Pennyroyal Academy is the book for you. If you got stuck, as I did, on imagining the girl dressed only in spiderwebs, then maybe you’ll get stuck again on some of the other rather odd aspects of this book. I just kept wondering how the the whole spiderwebs-as-clothing thing worked. Wouldn’t they be at least translucent, no matter how many spiderwebs you used. And wouldn’t the stickiness of the webs be nasty and uncomfortable? And how would you take them off? Yuck! There were other details that sidetracked me, too, but as these others are spoiler-ish, I’ll save them to discuss with those who have already read the book.

The princesses-in-training learn that to fight witches they must become courageous, compassionate, kind and disciplined. These are the four cardinal virtues of Pennyroyal Academy. Their commander tells them

“A Princess of the Shield is courageous. She is compassionate. She is kind and she is disciplined. Without these four core values, a girl may have all the crowns and castles she wants, but she will no more be a princess than she will a dragon.
You must prepare for battle as any soldier would, though yours are not the weapons of a soldier. Your weapons are pure hearts and steel spines. Your weapons are already inside you. And the only way to wield them is to know yourself. Which is precisely what we will teach you here.”

I liked that little speech and the idea that the girls must be trained for battle with the witches of the kingdom. However, as a Christian, I would quibble with the ultimate source for courage, compassion, kindness, and discipline (self-control). Disney teaches us, “Know yourself, be yourself, and be true to your heart.” The Bible says that the qualities of a Warrior Princess are gifts of the Spirit of God. To battle real witches and dragons, we Christians must be trained in dependence on that same Holy Spirit. In fact, Pennyroyal Academy reminded me of this song:

Deep inside we are children, not strong, self-sufficient warriors. We only war in His might and in His strength.

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

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This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

A Hymn to God the Father by John Donne

WILT Thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin through which I run,
And do run still, though still I do deplore?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I have won
Others to sin, and made my sins their door?
Wilt Thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallow’d in a score?
When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;
For I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I’ve spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
But swear by Thyself that at my death Thy Son
Shall shine as He shines now and heretofore:
And having done that, Thou hast done;
I fear no more.

We were discussing this idea, along with Mary Magdalene, at church this morning. We have such need of a Savior every day. We all have such need of the gospel, the good news that Christ has paid the penalty for our sins and that we are redeemed in Him, every day. We have need of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit every day, every hour.

Jesus, I believe; help my unbelief.

Ezekiel

Repetitive. Hard. Weird. Seriously depressing. Ultimately hopeful?

The things I’m marking in the book of Ezekiel as I try to read and make sense of it are the phrases and ideas that Ezekiel repeats over and over:

Son of man: God’s nickname for Ezekiel. Almost every time God speaks to Ezekiel, the Lord calls his priest/messenger boy, “Son of man” or “Son of Adam.” Ezekiel’s actual name is only mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 1:3 and 24:24. The Hebrew expression “son of man” (בן–אדם, ben-‘adam) appears 107 times in the Hebrew Bible. The phrase is used mostly in Ezekiel (93 times). (Wikipedia)

I remember that Jesus called himself the “Son of man.” What does that mean? It means that Ezekiel and Jesus were both human, both sons of Adam. We forget the humanity of Christ sometimes, that God took on human flesh, that he humbled himself, that he was a “son of Adam” as well as son of God. This dual nature as the theologians call it is, of course, a mystery. But it is also an encouragement. God spoke to a son of man (Ezekiel), and God became the Son of Man (Jesus).

The glory of the Lord: My pastor preached about this phrase this morning. In Ezekiel chapter 11 the glory of the Lord departs from His temple and the glory doesn’t return until chapter 43. What is this glory?

John MacArthur, Grace to You: “The glory of the Lord is the expression of God’s person. It is any manifestation of God’s character, any manifestation of His attributes in the world, in the universe is His glory. In other words, the glory is to God what the brightness is to the sun. The glory is to God what wet is to water. The glory is what heat is to fire. In other words, it is the emanation, it is the effulgence, it is the brightness, it is the product of His presence, it is the revelation of Himself. Anytime God discloses Himself, it is the manifestation of His glory.”

And the Apostle John wrote, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
“The everlasting Logos, the Word of God, who was with God and who is God, has now inhabited the creation that He made.”

Thus saith the Lord, or the word of the Lord came to me or declares the Lord: Ezekiel indicates over and over again that God actually spoke to him, audibly and in visions. Again, the word came to Ezekiel, but that’s only a hint of the final Word that was and is to come, the Word become flesh and dwelling among us.

Then you will know (or they will know) that I am the Lord This phrase appears more than sixty times in the book of Ezekiel. God tells the people through Ezekiel that He is planning to bring great calamity and judgment upon them and that then they will know that I AM THAT I AM. Sin separates us from the life and the glory of God, but we will no longer ignore His word or His glory when He brings both judgment and mercy to bear upon our sin.

Then they will know that I AM THAT I AM.

He is there, and He is not silent. ~Francis Schaeffer

And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it. Exodus 7:5

The LORD is known by his acts of justice. Psalm 9:16

The true state, both of nations and of individuals, may be correctly estimated by this one rule, whether in their doings they remember or forget God. ~Matthew Henry

For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 4:9-11