Posted in Book Review

Southernmost: Controversial

There are some books that become more than just leisure reads because they open internal dialogue as well as create space for external dialogue. Silas House’s newest novel Southernmost does just that. The novel centers around a country preacher whose estranged brother is openly gay. After a huge flood covers his community, religious people in the community begin to think there is a connection between the legalization of gay marriage and the flood. There is great turmoil within the main character’s church when he speaks out openly in favor of loving the gay couple who have begun attending their church.

As always, House’s writing style is incredible. He creates scenes that are crystal clear by vividly describing the scenario. The plot is developed in such a way that the reader can feel the turmoil within and around the characters, much the way the opening paragraphs describe the flood waters rising. Hints to the culture arise through references to songs, poems, and news create a multi-sensory reading experience. For its literary quality alone, it’s a good book.

The parts that created the most turmoil in me were the beliefs expressed within the book. Now I am a reader who is okay with reading viewpoints that contradict my own, but when a writer expresses clearly controversial topics, it is good to create a space for dialogue. This book obviously expresses the belief that the gay lifestyle is acceptable and a couple of methods that churches tend to use to respond. While I do not think the gay lifestyle is pleasing to God, I can see some valid points in the book about how the church should respond to people living this lifestyle. In the book, the preacher remembers the experience his brother had coming out to his family, which eventually led to the estrangement of his brother from the family. When a gay couple comes to their house during the flood seeking shelter, he feels a conviction to help them while his wife feels strongly that sheltering them would equate with condoning their lifestyle. In this instance, I would lean more toward the preacher’s perspective. There are ways to show love to people who are living with sin, whether it be homosexuality or lying, that don’t require us to condone the sin. The church in this novel wants to throw the men out and shun them, but to me that doesn’t show the love of Christ. Jesus mingled with sinners in order to show them the forgiveness and redemption of God. As a church, we don’t have to condone their sin nor do we have to judge them; our job is to love all people in order to point them to God, the ultimate judge of souls. If we love sinners (because we must admit that we still sin even after being redeemed by Christ), we can point them toward God who can work in their hearts to bring them to righteousness better than our condemning words could ever do. For more on this topic see the book Messy Grace and my accompanying post about the book.

Another more troubling aspect of this book are the spiritual aspects presented through the character of the preacher’s son. There are several chapters entitled The Everything that show the turmoil about the son’s beliefs concerning God. At one point the boy says “Dad I believe in God, but I don’t believe in church.” At another point the book narrates, “The ocean is a mystery and so is God. They are both so big we cannot see all of them at the same time but we can catch pieces of them her and there. Justin believes God is big like the ocean. Even bigger. But lots of people don’t. They think he’s small enough to fit in a church house or an offering plate or an ancient book. He’s not, and his mind is even bigger than him.” At this point it just seems like the boy is trying to figure out who God is in relation to the religious fanatics in his church who turn away his dad for preaching a message they don’t like. At this point, I was standing okay with his turmoil, but then about halfway through the book, the boy begins to think along the lines of what I understand to be pantheism. The most telling quote that demonstrates this belief is “This is the kind of talk that would horrify his mother, but he believes God is in everything and everybody. Pieces of him. He doesn’t just mean the spirit, he means the actual chunks of God… The ocean is God but so are we all.” While God’s nature is expressed in nature and God is omnipresent, the equation does not go the other way. Nature and humans are not God. That leads to worship of things other than God, which is idolatry. For more on this, check out this very short and to the point article.

Finally, there is a part of me that wonders if there is a small commentary on the effect of broken homes. The boy only begins questioning his faith when his parents have such trouble that causes them to split. The young child watches his father question his faith and his mother cling harder to hers and tries to make sense of what he should believe. No one thinks to talk with him about what is really happening in his world, so naturally he starts to try to figure it out on his own. I’m not saying that divorce always leads to losing faith in God, but divorce definitely affects children in all different ways. In this instance, it seems to have led this small child down a path of spiritual ambiguity. If there had been someone to guide him through this process, he might have known the truth about God’s nature rather than the conclusions he came to on his own.

While I respect the writing and opinions of this book, it is not a book I would openly suggest to anyone. If you choose to read it, appreciate the literary value but be cautious of the theological impacts. Be sure to keep your eyes fixed on God while reading. It’s a good book for creating dialogue, but, if you are a believer of God, take caution in your dialogue so as to demonstrate love to those who disagree and maintain your own beliefs.

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Posted in Devotion

God’s Creations

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Psalm 19:1-2

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God’s creations are so magnificent and breathtaking during every season. Psalm 19 says they reveal the glory of God and his workmanship. It’s definitely amazing to consider all of the tiny little details  that God put into his creation. For example, consider four leaf clovers. Most of the clovers only have three leaves, but God decided to put in a few with four leaves just to keep us looking closely at his creation. All of these little details should lead us to marvel in the glory of God. It’s easy to complain about weather or nature-related allergies, but it’s more satisfying to compliment God’s creations.

 

Posted in Devotion

Not Good but God

Most of my life I have been labeled the “good girl”. Teachers always liked me in school. I followed and still mostly follow the rules. I do what people want, even if it causes me stress or pain sometimes. I won awards at school. I went to college and kept good grades.

On the outside I usually appear to be good, but one of my deepest fears is that people will one day discover the bad inside of me. They’ll see my hateful thoughts and insincere motives. To avoid that I just keep striving to maintain the image in their eyes and my own.

Then I remember… I am no good without God.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” Psalm 16:1

God sees all that I am, clean and dirty. There is no hiding or masking with him. Gratefully I fall at his feet because Jesus’ blood is strong enough to cover all of the things I don’t want to be exposed. Without the sacrifice of Jesus, the worst exposure of all would happen at the close of my earthly life. It is bad enough when I fail and disappoint people, but to fail and disappoint God with my life would be torture. Thankfully, because of Jesus, I am made righteous.

As the psalmist says, “the Lord is my chosen portion and my cup” (Psalm 16:5) because why would I follow any other gods? They can’t satisfy me in the same way. They didn’t sacrifice their lives, so I could have a relationship with them. They just don’t measure up to my God.

Therefore…

I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices. Psalm 16:8

Posted in Book Review, Devotion

Identity

“The truth is you have been made perfect and are wholly loved. Chosen simply because you breathe, because you exist, because of who created you. I know this world has led you to believe that your worth is measurable. Life has always told you that lie–that you have to work for love or change to be accepted. But the truth is different.” The Choosing by Rachelle Dekker

This novel contains a life-giving message about our identity in Christ. Told through the perspective of a rejected young girl in a society where women’s sole purpose is to be chosen by a man and then to be his wife, The Choosing teaches that while God did lay out certain gender roles he did not mean for those to be our identity as humans. Let me explain by getting a bit more personal.

I’m almost 26, and I’ve only dated a handful of times. I’m not married, and it’s not as if I have guys knocking at my door wanting to get to know me. Sometimes I look at myself and wonder, “what’s wrong with me that guys don’t want to get to know me?” I can imagine I’m not the only girl or woman to ask that question. In fact, Stasi Eldredge describes it as the “am I enough?” question asked by every girl or woman (see Captivating if you’re interested in this question more). Her idea is that women are designed with that question inside; hopefully their father answers the question at a young age by loving and valuing the girl. She admits though that often the question is not fully answered, leaving many woman wondering why they’re not enough. Ultimately, it’s God who must answer that question for women. God says to me and all women, “yes, you are enough. There is nothing wrong with you because I created you just the way you are. My Son’s blood covered all of your sins and guilt. You are beautiful, chosen, and loved, my dear child.” Hmm…take a moment to drink that in.

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10

You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you. Song of Songs 4:7

Even though this novel has a futuristic dystopian setting, the world in which Carrington finds herself mirrors our world in many ways. In this future world after a disease wipes away much of the population, the Authority has set up rules for living according the Veritas, which is essentially the Old Testament.  At a certain age, girls participate in a Choosing ceremony in which they are either chosen by a young man to be his wife or sent to the Stacks to work manual labor. Families are assigned social status based upon where they live. Basically a person’s worth is determined by his or her social status, or a woman’s worth is determined by her ability to attract a male of higher social status than the one in which she was born.

The “truths” in this world match our world in that we are told our identity and worth are dependent upon what we do for a living, our social status, or sometimes even our marital status. Culture preaches that my life isn’t really started as an adult until I marry and start a family. As Carrington discovers in the novel, that’s not the truth. Our identity is not based upon any of these worldly aspects. Simply because I live and breathe, God sees value in me. He chose me as someone worthy of his love. He thinks I am beautiful and worth pursuing. Once we each accept his unearned love, we are free from the bonds of the world.

What if you could abandon all of the labels the world has placed on you? Who would you be then?

Sometimes we forget God’s truths though. We start to chase after a higher paying job, a more esteemed social status, or a relationship. We forget that God has already established our identity, and we do do not need any of these other factors. That’s when we must remember again. As the character called Aaron, who functions as the speaker of God’s truths, says,

Life is a journey of remembering and forgetting one’s true self.

Thankfully God is always there to welcome me back into his arms just like the prodigal son’s father welcomed him.

I am loved, chosen, pursued, and cherished by God.

Posted in Movies

I’ve got something Rory Gilmore doesn’t have.

If you know me, you know I enjoy the TV show Gilmore Girls. I’ve seen the original seasons 3 times, and I’m on my second viewing of the remake. Every time I relate just a little more with Rory, so it naturally follows that I wonder if I’ll face some of her same trials.

For the majority of her life, Rory Gilmore got what she wanted. At 32 years old Rory Gilmore has a breakdown because her life seems to be falling apart. She has no job, no home, no prospects, and no marriage. Her mother turns down her idea for a book, and the man she might love is engaged. Basically her life is in a deep rut, and she can’t see the sunlight.
For a brief moment I wondered if I might ever have that same point in life. Life has been pretty good to me so far, so it’s possible that some day everything could come crashing down. The world isn’t very nice at times.

Then I remembered God. Even if everything else around me falls apart, God is still on my side. There’s no need to panic. I can breathe easy because I have something Rory Gilmore doesn’t have.

*I do want to take a slight digression here. As I watch the series, there always come moments when I remember that the Gilmore paradigm is completely different than mine because they don’t have God in their lives. It saddens me if it’s possible to feel sad over the spiritual status of fictional characters. Many of their trials and worries could be overcome if they had a relationship with God. In fact, they might not have had many of the trials if they’d been following God’s will for their lives. The show probably wouldn’t have been as popular, but it would have been much more joyful.

Posted in Devotion, Holidays

Spiritual Hangover Remedy

I’ve never had a hangover, so this analogy will be based upon movies and hearsay. This week has been particularly busy for me with organized “church” events. I attended a church service Sunday that spoke to me, and then at school this week, we have special evening services for Spiritual Emphasis week. I’ve been preparing for a Bible study that I’ll attend this Thursday. Much like many others, I’ll attend Good Friday and Easter services and maybe some other services. I’m feeling very spiritually full; it’s as if I’ve sat down to a Thanksgiving feast this week when, if I’m honest, I’ve been metaphorically eating on the Atkins diet for the past few weeks.

Now I don’t know a whole lot about alcohol, but the general idea seems to be that when people imbibe a lot in a short period of time, there tends to be consequences the next day. Right now if I was comparing my intake of God’s Word with alcoholic intake, I would say that I’m imbibing the amount that could lead to a spiritual hangover.

All too often it seems that churches and Christians have these great revival times or mission moments where people feel full of God and excited, but the next day when they return to “normal life” the high starts to wear off. The excitement lessons, and then they start to feel guilty for losing the high. That’s a spiritual hangover, and I foresee the potential for such an event in my life simply because it’s happened before.

So what happens Monday when all of the Easter holiday is finished? I don’t want a spiritual hangover. I want my relationship and communication with God to remain just as alive and vibrant as it is now. So what do I do now to prevent such a fall?

What did Jesus do? I look to his last few days for answers. He had this awesome sweet time with his disciples at the Last Supper, telling them of things to come and encouraging them. After that, he went to the Garden and prayed. Even until the moments before his death, he was in communication with God the Father. Bam. There’s the answer. If I want to avoid the spiritual hangover, I keep imbibing the spiritual drink. Unlike alcohol, continuing to take in God-time and his Word won’t produce negative effects in my life. It’s okay to keep drinking in his Word, so after this weekend I’ll do my very best to fight against the temptation to slip back into the ordinary. I feel most alive when I’m in communication with God, so I’ll just stay in communication with him.

Happy Easter weekend, folks. Be sure to keep your eyes focused on the true reason for celebration and to keep drinking in the Word of God even after the celebrations die down.

Posted in Music

My Own Pocketful Of Sunshine

I don’t think Natasha Bedingfield meant her song “Pocketful of Sunshine” to be a song of praise to God, but I’m going to take it that way anyway.

The song begins by saying “I’ve got a pocket, a pocketful of sunshine”, and the overall message of the song is that one can escape her sorrows and stress by going to a hidden place. Well, I’ve got a pocketful of sunshine in my soul as well because I have a relationship with God. That hiding place she talks about? Well several Psalms talk about God being our hiding place.

You are my hiding place; you preserve me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Psalm 32:7

She says “I’ve got a love and I know that it’s all mine”. Oh yes! I do have a love from God and I know that nothing can take that love away from me. It’s a love that I still haven’t fully comprehended, but just to give you glimpse, it involved a completely innocent man dying because God knew I wouldn’t be able to have a relationship with him otherwise. This love surpasses anything I can do wrong or right, and it is completely free to me. It causes me to sing, dance, and smile. It urges me to love others just a bit more because I am so so thankful for the love God has given me.

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8: 35-39)

Bedingfield’s claim is that “you’re never gonna break me, sticks and stones are never gonna shake me”. As a Christian, I know that to be true because God has armed with a full armor of truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the sword of the spirit (Ephesians 6). With that kind of armor, mere sticks and stones don’t stand a chance. With God, I am stronger than any army.

I can do all things through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:13

To her enemies, she proclaims “wish that you could but you ain’t gonna own me, do anything you can to control me”. That’s what I yell at the Devil. When the devil tempts me and tries to control my mind or actions, I can rebuke him with scripture just like Jesus did in the garden. Because of God’s reign in my life, the Devil has no place in my life. God is bigger than the Devil.

Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 1 John 4:4

The bridge to the song says “There’s a place that I go that nobody knows, Where the rivers flow and I call it home, and there’s no more lies and the darkness is light and nobody cries; There’s only butterflies”. My place that I go? Into the arms of God. I can hide in his words and his comfort. In that place there are rivers of life (John 7:38), no lies (Numbers 23:19), and the darkness is made into light (John 8:12). There may not be butterflies, but the fact that Jesus is there is greater than anything. The presence of God is truly somewhere I can call home.

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

As I walked home this afternoon listening to this song, the line “the sun is on my side, I smile up to the sky, I know I’ll be alright” caught my ear (and led to this post). I’ll take a little liberty here and replace the word “sun” with “Son” referring to Jesus. That Son is on my side, so on rough days or good days I can look up toward heaven and know it will be alright because God has a great plan that ultimately ends in my eternity with him in heaven. Praise God!

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

So if you see me walking with my earbuds in bobbing along with a smile on my face, I just might be thinking about how I have a pocketful of sunshine. For me, this will be a song of worship.