Thanksgiving Repentance

Senator James Harlan of Iowa, whose daughter later married President Lincoln’s son Robert, introduced a resolution in the Senate on March 2, 1863. The resolution asked President Lincoln to proclaim a national day of prayer and fasting. The resolution was adopted on March 3rd, and signed by Lincoln on March 30th, one month before the fast day was observed:

“We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven. We have been preserved these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us.

We have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and pray for clemency and forgiveness.” ~Abraham Lincoln, 1863.

When I see and hear a politician call the nation to repentance in the same kind of plain and confrontational words that this resolution uses, when I see that politician commit himself personally to repentance and prayer, then I will vote for that man or that woman with a clear conscience, Democrat or Republican or any other party. I am so tired of crooked, hypocritical, predator politicians who cover their own sins and ask us to join them in prayer that God will bless America. And I am tired of the people who make excuses and cover up sin and ridicule the prayers of broken and hurting people and tell us that “nobody is perfect” when the phrase suits their agenda, but point judgmental fingers at the sins of those who don’t agree with their particular political slant.

We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our only hope is the mercy and grace of God that is mediated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And the sooner we get on our knees and pray for God’s mercy on this nation and on this world, the sooner we will be truly blessed and forgiven and preserved as a light and a “city on a hill” and a broken but redeemed blessing to others.

It’s not our health care system or our tax structure or our education system that is broken, although all of these may need repair. It’s we the people of the United States who have grown, as Lincoln said, “in numbers wealth and power”, but have forgotten grace, and humility and prayer. It’s me; I am more broken than the schools or the hospitals or the taxing authorities or anything else in this country. We are a broken people, and we see and experience things that are evil and we call them good so that we won’t feel badly about ourselves.

This Thanksgiving, Lord, have mercy on us. Give us clemency and forgiveness. Forgive us for treating the sojourner (the immigrant) as an enemy and an alien instead of extending hospitality and kindness. Forgive us for making excuses for those who would prey on children and on defenseless women and make them the objects of their sexual appetites and lust for power. Forgive us for believing lies when those lies suit our political ends and for disbelieving truth for the same reasons. Forgive us for murdering our own children in the womb before they even have an opportunity to breathe. Forgive us for watching violence and sexual perversion on screens as if it is acceptable as long as it is just pretend and done in the name of entertainment. Forgive us for taking Your holy name in vain, for ridiculing prayer and worship, and for thinking we are little gods ourselves, strong enough and wise enough and righteous enough to put the world to rights and make this nation “great again.”

God is Great. God is Good.
Let us thank Him for our food.

I learned that prayer about sixty years ago, and God help me if I have grown too wise in my own eyes to pray the same humble prayer now.

God, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Holy Spirit, forgive us and make us whole.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

So, I’m usually a day late and a dollar short when it comes to talking and writing about the “buzz books”—the ones everyone seems to be discussing at any given time. And since I was on a blog break for Lent, that makes me even later in my entry to the discussion. Nevertheless, I did read both The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher and Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance while I was “lenting”, and both are books which shed some light on current events and trends and decisions yet to be made.

I agree with many other writers about Mr. Dreher’s book. Holly Ordway writes, “I would say that Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option has some strengths and a number of weaknesses, but one thing I am sure of: it’s great that it’s prompting discussion about Christian cultural engagement!” Her contribution to the discussion is worth the read, even though she seems to say (rather oddly) that the real Benedict Option should not reference Benedict so much nor is it possible for anyone other than Catholics and maybe Orthodox believers. I say oddly because Ms. Ordway teaches in the apologetics program at Houston Baptist University. Maybe she has learned more about evangelicals and their ability to create sustainable communities in her interactions with HBU and all those Baptists than I know from my fifty plus years of being an evangelical Christian. But I really think it is possible to have the Holy Spirit work in us and through us to create Christian community without Catholic liturgy and without believing in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I’ve seen it done, albeit imperfectly, in many churches and para-church groups.

That detour aside, the call for community and community-building in Mr. Dreher’s book is a topic dear to my own heart, and I am glad to see it treated with the serious consideration and wide-ranging discusion that it deserves. I wish Mr. Dreher’s book could have been longer and more specific about exactly how to build, maintain, and repair communities, but he spends most of his 272 pages writing about the need for Christian community and writing about some examples of burgeoning attempts at community both in the United States and in Europe, Italy in particular. Some of the communities Mr. Dreher references are monastic, but most are loosely organized communities, either ecumenical in nature or built around a specific church or denominational entity. Most include families and singles and people of all ages.

I think most helpful in Mr. Dreher’s book is a call to build, not monastic or cultic communities, but rather institutions that encourage and sustain Christian faith and community in the face of a secular onslaught of God-denial. He writes about home schooling and private schools as community building institutions. He also writes about discussion groups and communities built around daily worship and activities at a nearby, local church. And about hospitality and the wise use of technology and social media.

Dreher’s book has been widely lauded, but also widely criticized for what it leaves out. He doesn’t write about how the black church has preserved the faith and its own existence through community building. He doesn’t write about Anabaptist traditions and communities. Nor does he interview or write about Christians who have lived through real persecution under Communism or other non-Christian governments and cultures. How did these and other Christian communities survive cultural marginalization and political powerlessness? Dreher also doesn’t really speak to or about poor people or non-Westerners or Hispanics or you name it. He’s writing from a white, middle class, Western perspective, and that’s OK by me, partly because he makes an effort to include Catholics and Protestants as well as Christians from his own (Eastern Orthodox) tradition and partly because many of those other categories include me. If you want the “Benedict Option” (or whatever you want to call serious Christian commitment to community and faith preservation and evangelization) to be applied to people in poverty or African Americans or Native Americans or Cambodians or Pacific Islanders, write your own book and show how and why it should be done.

Which brings me to the second book that I was going to write about in this post, Hillbilly Elegy. However, I think I’ll finish up with some links to other thoughts about The Benedict Option and write about Hillbilly Elegy another day.

Top Christian Thinkers Reflect on The Benedict Option.

If Politics Can’t Save Us, What Will by Collin Hansen.

Sparking Renewal by Gerald Russell.

What Would Jeremiah Do? by Samuel Goldman.

Cleophas and Elizabeth Visit Easter Sunrise Service

We have a tradition in our church of having Biblical characters visit our Easter sunrise service in the park. This year Cleophas and his wife, Elizabeth, from Emmaus told us about their encounter with the resurrected Christ.

First Person Drama, written by Pastor Bob DeGray and performed by John Bauer and Zion Early. Based on the story of the meeting with Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35.

Now Thank We All Our God

'Thanksgiving Postcards 1' photo (c) 2010, Minnesota Historical Society - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/” I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.” ~Abraham Lincoln, October 1863.

We are not in an actual civil war, but we Americans certainly are in need on this Thanksgiving Day, 2016, of the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of this nation and to restore it to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and Union. Amen and may it be so.

Some hae meat and canna eat, –
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
~Robert Burns

“For, after all, put it as we may to ourselves, we are all of us from birth to death guests at a table which we did not spread. The sun, the earth, love, friends, our very breath are parts of the banquet…. Shall we think of the day as a chance to come nearer to our Host, and to find out something of Him who has fed us so long?” ~Rebecca Harding Davis

“I am grateful for what I am and have. My thanksgiving is perpetual. O how I laugh when I think of my vague indefinite riches. No run on my bank can drain it, for my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.” ~Henry David Thoreau

In everything give thanks for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. I Thessalonians 5:18

Psalm 150

Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

An Open Letter to Fellow Christians Who Plan to Vote for Donald Trump

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

First of all, as I have made clear on this blog and on Facebook, I will not be voting for Hillary Clinton or for Donald Trump. Neither candidate is even minimally qualified to be President of the United States of America, a country I love and pray for in spite of our collective descent into gross indecency and rationalization of sin.

I will not vote for a woman who advocates for abortion under any circumstances and up until the baby is full term. I cannot vote for someone who has committed crimes by playing fast and loose with classified information that might have endangered American lives and interests. She believes that she is above the law, and voters act recklessly by placing her in a position of power. Nonetheless, I also will not vote for a man who disrespects, degrades, and dishonors women, Muslims, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and yes, even Christians, all citizens of the very country he is supposed to represent and serve. I know about his negative opinions in regard to all of these groups of people. What is his position on doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God? He has no understanding of any of these basic Christian virtues.

People ask me how I will vote since I cannot bring myself to vote for either of the two major party candidates: I will vote for a third party or write-in candidate. I’m not sure which one, but it doesn’t really matter much. I am sure that my candidate will not win, and I am almost sure that Hillary Clinton will be the next president of this nation, even though she is a person of abhorrent personal and public morals and policy positions.

I understand that many of you have come to a different conclusion. You believe that you have only two choices and that you must vote for Donald Trump no matter what he says or does or has done in the past (because Hillary). I do not agree, but I can respect that decision. Many of you are voting for Mr. Trump privately and with grief in your hearts, and like me, you are waiting and hoping for this election to be done with and for us as a nation to return, if not to status quo or to normal, at least to a more decent and gracious public dialogue.

However, I am writing now to those of you who are Christian brothers and sisters of mine and who have been vocal supporters of Donald Trump. If your family and friends and those that you influence know that you are planning to vote for Donald Trump and if these most recent revelations about his actions and his character have not dissuaded you from that decision to vote for him, then I believe you owe an explanation, not to me, but to all of those people who look to you for guidance or encouragement. Your daughters and sons, your wives, your students, maybe even your parents are looking at you and perhaps asking themselves, “Why is this person, whom I love and respect, planning to vote for a man who said that he has attempted to assault women, attempted to coerce a married woman into committing adultery, and used his powerful status as a wealthy man to commit sex crimes?” If they are not asking that question, they should be. I am sorry that you have to address these issues, especially with your children and with young people who look up to you, but please, please, know that you do.

You may know that voting for Donald Trump does not mean that you endorse or agree with his words and his actions. But your children and other young people don’t necessarily understand that distinction. Please have the conversation with them. Please tell them that grabbing a girl’s or a woman’s private parts is not acceptable behavior, that talking about women as sexual objects is not okay, that adultery and sex outside of marriage are not right and are dishonoring to God and to the persons who are participants in that act. It may be awkward and embarrassing to talk about these things with your sons and other young men, and it may be even more uncomfortable for you to have to tell your daughters that you support and love them and would never allow anyone to denigrate and insult them the way Donald Trump did a woman in those infamous tapes. Do it anyway.

You need to tell them. You look them in the eyes and you explain to them why you are voting for Mr. Trump, but also tell them why his behavior is, at best, arrogant, boastful, and lewd and at worst, criminal and wicked. Tell your daughters especially that if anyone ever behaves to them in the way that Mr. Trump says he acted toward numerous women, to be precise if anyone ever touches them inappropriately or refuses to leave them alone physically and sexually or tries to seduce them, they need to tell you or someone else who can help them. Assure them that you will believe them and protect them and stand your ground in defending them. Clarify to the young women you know and love that it’s not just “locker room talk” and that they don’t have to put up with obscene, abusive words or acts. Tell them they should never listen to anyone who counsels them to just look the other way or to pretend it didn’t happen.

Tell your sons the same. Not all men talk the way Mr. Trump talks on those tapes. Christian men do not speak about or act toward women in the ways that Mr. Trump advocates and boasts about. If Donald Trump was just “talking big” and if he did not grab women and seduce women, then he bragged about doing something evil and vile. If he did do the things he talks about on that tape, he committed sexual assault, which is both a sinful act and a crime. Either way his talk and his actions were hurtful and harmful to the woman involved and to other women he may have assaulted. If he were a redeemed Christian man, he should be placed in no position of leadership either within or outside the church. He needs all of the time he has left on this earth to repent and to learn to walk in a way that honors Christ and honors other people, people that he has grievously harmed.

Beyond the election in November, beyond Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton, this disaster of a campaign season will have an effect on the moral perceptions and the worldview of a generation of young people. If we do not instruct them explicitly and clearly in the truth, they will draw their own conclusions. Maybe they will decide that the Bible and its instructions are just “church talk”, that real men, even those who call themselves Christians, expect and accept lecherous talk and contemptuous treatment of women, as long as you can get away with it. Maybe they will decide that Jesus was just speaking empty words when he said that impure thoughts lead to impure words which lead to violent and impure actions. (See Matthew 5:21-30) And no one really cares, anyway, certainly not a holy God. It’s just “locker room talk.”

That’s what Donald Trump says. That’s what his supporters will be understood to be saying. If you are voting for the man, and if you don’t believe sexual assault is okay, you need to say so. Loudly, clearly, and repeatedly.

Sincerely,

A Concerned Evangelical Christian

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

With recent events across the nation, the deaths of several unarmed black men, the deaths of policemen, Just Mercy is an incredibly timely read. As I read, I came to a new understanding of just how the deck is stacked against poor criminals and poor criminal suspects in particular, even as I questioned the author’s perspective on the crimes he wrote about. Seemingly, according to Bryan Stevenson, there are no heinous crimes deserving of the death penalty, and there are only misunderstood and wrongly convicted persons on death row.

Notwithstanding the author’s preconceptions about the justice system and the death penalty, his book and the stories recounted therein are well worth reading. If you are a critic of the death penalty, you will find your views bolstered and supported. If you are a proponent of the death penalty as a just punishment in certain crimes, you will find your support for it challenged. And that’s a good thing. The imposition of execution in response to crimes of murder and rape should only be undertaken by a society and a justice system under very limited circumstances and after much consideration, if at all.

So, Bryan Stevenson tells in his book the stories of several clients of his Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama. The story of one client, Walter McMillan, a black man who is sentenced to death for a murder he insists he did not commit. The book tells the stories of other death row prisoners who were helped, or not, by Stevenson’s EJI, but the thread that runs through the entire book is Mr. McMillan’s story of injustice, eventual freedom, and continued brokenness and struggle even after his release from prison.

Some quotes from the book show Stevenson’s perspective on mercy and justice:

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. My work with the poor and the incarcerated has persuaded me that the opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice. Finally, I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

“We are all broken by something. We have all hurt someone and have been hurt. We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.”

“At the church meeting, I spoke mostly about Walter’s case, but I also reminded people that when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Jesus, he told the accusers who wanted to stone her to death, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ The woman’s accusers retreated, and Jesus forgave her and urged her to sin no more. But today, our self-righteousness, our fear, and our anger have caused even the Christians to hurl stones at the people who fall down, even when we know we should forgive or show compassion. I told the congregation that we can’t simply watch that happen. I told them we have to be stone catchers.”

Author John Grisham wrote about this book on Goodreads: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.”

The other scene in the book that impressed me was when the author, who also happens to be a black man, describes his own encounter with the Atlanta (I think) police. Because he was sitting in his own car outside his own apartment for an extended period of time, listening to music, the police stopped, ordered him out of the car, and searched and questioned him. That’s a scary experience, and apparently it’s one that happens repeatedly and disproportionally to people of color, especially black men. One more quote:

“Of course innocent mistakes occur but the accumulated insults and indignations caused by racial presumptions are destructive in ways that are hard to measure. Constantly being suspected, accused, watched, doubted, distrusted, presumed guilty, and even feared is a burden born by people of color that can’t be understood or confronted without a deeper conversation about our history of racial injustice.”

This book is a part of that deeper conversation, and it certainly made me think about some of my own presumptions and attitudes.

Dear John

I have a young friend to whom I would like to say some things. However, this friend, whom I love and esteem very much, doesn’t want to hear anything on the subject at hand, that is, Christianity. So, I thought I’d write “John” a letter here on my blog for three reasons:

1) John doesn’t read my blog, so I could write what I want to say and not offend.
2) I need an outlet for all the pent-up words that I want to say to John.
3) Maybe someone else would be helped or encouraged by what I have to say. (If you see yourself in the descriptions I give of my friend John, then I would imagine that someone who loves you would like to say these words or similar ones to you.)

Dear John,

You are a fine man. You have worked hard and learned much to become an outstanding student and an academic success. You are kind and fun to be around and a good friend. Because you have been given great gifts of intelligence and ability, and because you have put those gifts to good use, you have earned my respect and honor. You have long had my friendship and my love.

You are on the threshold of a new chapter in your life, and you are moving into the next phase of your career with confidence and with humility. All of your friends and family are so very proud of you and of all you have accomplished and of all you plan and dream of for the future.

And yet . . . this one thing you lack: you have left your first love, and your life is built on a foundation of sand. You once professed to follow Jesus Christ as a young adult. Then, later, you said you didn’t believe “any of that Christian stuff” anymore. As far as I know (you don’t like to talk about spiritual things), you now have a vague belief in God, maybe even in Jesus, but you don’t go to church and you avoid any discussion of spiritual truth. You’re a good man, but as far as anyone can see from the outside, you’re not a follower of Jesus. Jesus Christ is not the source of your life and of your direction in life.

Because I love and admire you, this lack makes me very sad. What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul? I daresay that you have the potential to go far in either business or academia or any other area of endeavor you choose. You are super smart, and you work hard. But what is it all for? I don’t understand what meaning a life apart from Christ can have. In fact, I don’t mean to make anyone depressed, but apart from Jesus and a life founded and anchored in his work of forgiveness and redemption, nothing really has much significance or meaning for me.

In addition to giving my life and my decisions and my relationships meaning, Jesus Christ is the only one who has the right and the authority to rule over me and over you. We can evade that authority, and I have tried, but either Jesus was and is Lord of all, “very God of God”, or He lied or was self-deluded (Lewis’s famous tri-lemma). And if He is God, if He died for our sins and was resurrected on the third day, if He reigns over heaven and earth, then our petty successes (or failures) don’t really mean too much in the light of His glory and the honor that is due Him. We owe Jesus our very lives and every minute of our time and every ounce of the talents and abilities He has given us. Conversely, the lordship of Jesus is the only thing that gives meaning to our actions and decisions here on this earth. If I am serving Jesus, then it’s all worthwhile. If not, then nothing is worth much.

So, because all of this “Christian stuff” is self-evident and obviously true in my eyes, I don’t understand why you won’t follow Him. Is it because Christians have disappointed you in the past? Are you really going to let someone else’s failure keep you from the One who redeems all of our faults and failures? Is it pride? Are you trapped in your past denial of faith in Him and too proud to admit that He is Lord? Do you still believe that your intelligence, your talent, and your ethical behavior are enough to please God and make a good life for yourself? If so, I believe that you eventually will come to the end of yourself and see that you are not enough, that you need God’s mercy, God’s grace, and the forgiveness to be found only in Christ just as much as the rest of us do.

I don’t mean to sound self-righteous or to give you the impression that I know everything while you are blind. In fact, I have been just as blind to the great mercy of Jesus as you seem to be now, and even today I ignore Him, take His grace for granted, and fail to be the follower that He calls me be. Daily, I must repent and return to my first love, Jesus. Please, someday when you see clearly your desperate need for a Savior and a Guide, come along with me and look to Jesus. And if you outrun me to the foot of the cross and if you prove to more faithful, more Spirit-filled, more loving and kind and Jesus-centered, than I have ever been enabled to become, that will be just fine. I’ll be happy to follow you and try to catch up as you follow Jesus.

I can’t wait for us to join together in running after Him.

Baker’s Dozen: 13 Nonfiction Books of Spiritual Encouragement to Read in 2016

I’d like to read the following books in 2016 as a part of my commitment to grow in my faith in God and my walk with Him:

1. Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More, Regret Less, Stare Down Your Greatest Fears by Margaret Feinberg. This is actually a Bible study workbook that goes along with a video series that we did at church this past fall. However, I wasn’t able to be there every week, nor was I able to actually complete the study in the workbook. So, I’m planning to borrow the DVD’s and make some time to do this study at home, maybe with some of my family.

2. Becoming a Woman of Grace: A Bible Study by Cynthia Heald. My Bible study group is studying this book starting in January, so I’ll be doing two Bible studies at once? And I hope to get an infusion from the Holy Spirit of both joy and grace.

3. Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel by Russell Moore. I am intrigued by Mr. Moore’s writing on the internet. He seems to be a man who is closely aligned with my views, both politically and theologically. Anyway, I’d like to learn how to “engage the culture without losing the gospel.”

4. Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God by Lauren Winner. I am not so sure that Ms. Winner and I would agree on all things, but her first book, Girl Meets God, was both challenging and engaging. I’m optimistic that this one would be also.

5. From Dependence to Dignity: How to Alleviate Poverty through Church-Centered Microfinance by Brian Fikkert. I’m interested in creative thoughts about alleviating or even ending poverty.

6. Christian. Muslim. Friend: Twelve Paths to Real Relationship by David W. Shenk. Seems timely.

7. George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father by Thomas S. Kidd. Also timely, even though Whitfield lived over 200 years ago. We need a fourth(?) great awakening/revival in this country.

8. 7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas.

9. The Woman Who Was Chesterton by Nancy Carpenter Brown. I love Chesterton and wonder who could have managed to live with him. Eccentric to the max.

10. The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus by Dallas Willard. I’ve seen accolades for this book everywhere. I wish I were gentle.

11. The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams by Philip and Carol Zaleski. I’m getting this book for Christmas (not here yet).

12. Restoring Beauty by Louis Markos. I started this book by one of Drama Daughter’s favorite professors at HBU, and then I got distracted by life. I want to go back and finish it.

13. The Reason for God by Timothy Keller. I’ve been meaning to read this one for a long time.

So there’s the plan. One book of spiritual encouragement per month, plus an extra. I can’t wait to get started.

Called for Life by Kent and Amber Brantly

Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly, with David Thomas.

I’ll start out by telling what I missed in this story by Ebola survivor Kent Brantly and his wife, Amber. There’s nothing in the book about how Mr. and Mrs. Brantly came to know the Lord, nothing about their childhood, or their growth as Christ-followers, except in relation to their missionary commitment. I would have liked to have read more about each one of the couple’s initial salvation experience as a sort of a background to their experiences in Liberia. However, this book is not the book for that.

What this book does do well is tell the story of how Kent and Amber Brantly ended up in Liberia on the frontline of the fight against the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014. And it tells in detail how Kent Brantly contracted Ebola himself and how he survived the virus that killed so many people in Liberia and in other West African countries. In the book, Brantly also gives God the credit for saving his life, while acknowledging that many people and circumstances came together to make it possible for him to receive expert medical care and treatment.

I was intrigued learn of the many factors that converged to make Mr. Brantley’s survival and healing possible and of the heroic actions of many missionary doctors and nurses and Liberian national doctors and healthcare workers in their team effort to combat the Ebola outbreak. It’s a good, inspiring story, and it made a good antidote to the darkness of the news story of death and destruction in Paris that dominated this past weekend’s newsfeed. I admire Kent Brantly and his fellow Ebola survivor, Nancy Writebol, even more than I did before reading this account of their faith in God and their tenacious fight against Ebola.

I recommend Called for Life. I needed some contemporary heroes to restore my hope, and I imagine you do, too.

Reading and Thinking on my Birthday

So, what have I been reading and thinking about on my birthday and the morning after?

I spent some time yesterday morning listening to Ravi Zacharias’ recent podcasts. That man is an inspirational speaker, preacher, and thinker. I enjoy listening to him speak much more than I enjoy his books, however, even though I like his books well enough.

Then, I read some in Walter Wangerin’s Paul: A Novel. It’s an interesting perspective, or rather multiple perspectives, on the life of the apostle Paul. The novel switches narrators every few pages from Luke to Timothy to Barnabas to James the brother of Jesus to Priscilla to Titus, maybe others. It’s rather disconcerting, but maybe not a bad idea.

Noel DeVries has a good post at Never Jam Today: we rest in Thee, and in Thy name we go.
Also this older post about the limitations of the “Charlotte Mason Method” of child training.

And this morning I read Julie at Happy Catholic on the feast day of St. Martha, and I was reminded to “choose the better part,” to choose Jesus.

I’m going to spend today working in my library, studying my Bible, praying, eating leftover birthday food (lots of leftover birthday food is here!), reading some more, paying bills, rejoicing in another day with Jesus. I wish you something similar for your day. I’ve learned to appreciate the mundane, event-less days as opportunities for joy and thankfulness.