Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Slave To Approval

         Of late, I've really been trying to refocus my attention back fully onto God. I realize and recognize that last summer (summer of 2010) I allowed myself to be drawn away from Him as I embarked on a seemingly profitable adventure, which ended up being a ridiculous fantasy that, if God had not intervened, would have wrecked catastrophic results on my life. For around three-quarters of a year or so after, I was extremely upset over the ending of this sugar-coated summer. However.

         I now, looking back, can see the mistakes I made, the compromises I allowed myself to slip into, and how I ultimately put God on the back burner of my life. Now I can see how miserable my life would have been if I had continued the way I was heading. And I thank God (in all sincerity) for pulling me out of that situation, despite the initial hurt it caused -- the hurt would have been far greater if He had let me flounder around.

         Anyway. Getting back to my original point, I'm currently striving to get my focus back where it should have always been -- God. In the meantime, I got this book titled Our Last Great Hope by Ronnie Floyd (to be reviewed soon) from Booksneeze with the agreement of I get a free book to read, in return for an honest review. Easy enough. I was reading it the other night, and the first chapter got me thinking. Am I a slave to approval?

         The book itself is about witnessing and sharing God's free gift of salvation with others. This particular chapter deals with your own heart, and what's holding you back from witnessing. Floyd points out how we are generally very concerned about what others think about us, even simply subconsciously. He then points out the problem with this tendency:
         "But we can become slaves to the approval of others....There's nothing wrong with that -- until approval becomes our defining reality."

         In other words, there's nothing wrong with wanting people to like you, think highly of you, have a good reputation -- until it gets between us and God, or between us and God's work. I like the verse Floyd quotes:
         "For am I now trying to win the favor of people, or God? Or am I striving to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a slave of Christ." - Galations 1:10

         At one point I know I was very much concerned with the opinion others held toward me -- one person in particular. But though that time in my life has passed, I ask myself, am I still a slave to the approval of others? Do I still care so much about what other people think about me, that I am unwilling to follow God's clear cut commandments? Am I still willing to step out of God's plan for my life for the sake of being "cool", for the sake of my earthly reputation? 

         "...if I can focus utterly and completely on pleasing God, suddenly life becomes very simple." -- Our Last Great Hope

         Are you a slave to approval?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Harvest of Grace by Cindy Woodsmall [Review]

          The Harvest of Grace is probably one of the best romances I've read in a long, long time. I was a bit surprised to find so many main characters, but each one distinct story, yet all woven together perfectly. I loved watching each couple grow together throughout the book, accomplishing their goals while overcoming their obstacles.

         At first, the Pennsylvanian Dutch words and phrases used - frequently - threw me for a spin and made it a little difficult for me in the first couple chapters. It was inconvenient to have to keep flipping to the back to look up a word or phrase in the glossary, but eventually I picked up on it and could remember what the words meant. Having never read a book with Amish characters, it took a little getting used to to understand the culture.

         I liked that Sylvia and Aaron (the major main characters) didn't immediately fall for each other, but slowly their unique relationship found it's way in that direction. There's not much more I can say about their relationship without spoiling the plot. I will say that I absolutely loved the last couple of chapters - an absolutely perfect ending to an amazing story!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

         A picture is worth a thousand words.

         True enough. Sometimes, a picture holds a story, an emotion, a feeling. It reaches deep inside us and begs to be spoken of, to be described. I've run into hundreds of such pictures, and consequently my list of future books has grown immensely.

         It rained today, only an hour or two before the sun set. It was raining pretty heavily even though it was just a passing shower, but the clouds weren't super dark, and the setting sun still shone through the rain. It was one of those really awesome moments that catch you by unexpected surprise, completely making your day. The golden sun hit the rain just right, and with the color-changing trees of the mountains in the background, it was just perfect.

         After a minute of simply watching the beauty before me, I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture it. Of course, I failed. Have you ever wanted to take a picture of something, but your camera stubbornly refuses to take it in the right light, to get to look just as you see it with the naked eye? Yeah. This was one of those moments.

         Sure, maybe if I had a better camera, or was a better photographer I might have been able to get a picture that did it justice. Or maybe it simply was one of those moments in life not meant to be captured, but rather enjoyed right there, right then, solely between you and God.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Hardest Thing To Do by Penelope Wilcock [Review]

         Over the last few days, I've found that one of the hardest things to do is put this book down. I love the characters' personalities and relatability as I watched them overcome the personal obstacles they faced within the confines of the St. Alcuin monastery. As I've read through the series, I've found that Penelope Wilcock has an excellent talent for pinning down the personal struggles we all face, despite the different time period the book is set in.
          I liked how the plot centered around the monks' clear rejection of Prior William, who has much to learn in the realm of compassion and mercy, and their journey toward forgiving past wrongs. The subject of rejecting those who have offended us in the past seems to be a common ground for just about everyone - at some point or another, I think most people have had trouble forgiving and moving on. This common ground provides the relatability we need to be able to connect to the characters and understand them and their point of view, even if the reader doesn't necessarily agree with the character's viewpoint.
          At the same time, I felt like I got a good look into Prior William's point of view, which varied vastly coming from the reject's view. The loneliness, fear, and vulnerability stood out to me as I realized how great a need we as people have to be forgiven and accepted. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend reading it - do note, this is an adult level book.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Long Fall by Penelope Wilcock [Review]

          The Long Fall, I believe, has just become my favorite book in the Hawk and the Dove trilogy. The book, much to my surprise, changes in the style of the first two books of the series. In the first two books, the book is relayed as a series of stories told to a young girl by her mother. In The Long Fall, the story is told simply as a straight story, with no story-telling from alternate characters. Despite my initial surprise at the change, I liked the style change, and hope to see the same new style repeated in the 4th book (The Hardest Thing To Do).
         This third book of the series centers mainly around the struggles of two main characters, Father Peregrine, who becomes severely ill throughout the book, and Brother Tom, who struggles with coping with his close friend's illness. Throughout the book, these two men strive to overcome their personal fears, shame, humiliation, pride, and grief, drawing from each other the courage, strength, and humility they need to get through their dark trials.
          I liked how The Long Fall capitalized on personal struggles we all face at some time or another. Although at times I didn't quite agree with the theology presented, the deep discussions held between Peregrine and Tom were thought provoking and interesting. This series is definitely aimed for the adult range. I  found it to be very enjoyable, emotional at times, and an excellent book in general. Now, go read it! :-)

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wounds of God by Penelope Wilcock [Review]

         Any apprehension I had about this book, and the series, (as I previously stated my skepticism in my review of book one) is thoroughly gone. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean I agree with every single practice exercised in this book, but as for the book as a whole, I enjoyed it greatly. What really hooked me in was the characters.
         The characters always seem so real to me. I won't go into great detail, to save from spoiling the story. But I always felt like each and every character was distinct, full of true, relatable emotions aroused from believable situations. Each character seemed to have their own struggles, struggles we all face in everyday life.
         I didn't find it to particularly heavy, or hard to understand, even when doctrinal/theological topics were brought up. While there are serious scenes and moments, I found a healthy mix of laughable sections, amusing quotes to lighten and balance it out. I found it to be an easy read, so much so I read it in a total of three days -- something I haven't done in years! All in all, I enjoyed this book immensely. Now, go read it :-)

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Hawk and the Dove by Penelope Wilcock [Review]

          Alright, I'll admit it. I was a bit skeptical when I agreed to read this book (as well as the series). I had never heard of the book before, I knew very, very little about it, and what little I did know made me wonder if maybe I shouldn't have committed myself to reading and review it. All I really knew was it was a book involving monks, a monastery (or Abbey, whichever term you prefer to use), and "who discovered in the daily rhythm of their work and worship that the whole of life is a love story about a tender and passionate God." The dark color scheme of the cover didn't add any reassurance to my apprehension (yes, I at times judge books by their covers, shame on me :P). However.
          Despite all, I am entirely glad I read this book. Being the grammar-nazi that I am, it took me a little bit to get used to the different style of grammar used, while acknowledging the fact that the rules have indeed changed since the time it was written, and will no doubt continue to do so. Once I was over that minuscule obstacle, I enjoyed each and every chapter right up to the end - to the point I had to read the last chapter even though it ended up forcing me to stay up longer than any human being ought to.
          The writing flows well, with plenty of refined description without overloading you with unimportant detail, and carrying over the characters emotions to the reader. Each character was real, with real emotions, real flaws, real obstacles in their lives, making the book connectable despite the historical time setting. All in all, I loved the book, would recommend reading it, and look forward to reading the rest of the series.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Coming Up And What To Expect...

          Hi, everyone :-). So I thought I'd take a minute to kinda semi-introduce myself for those of you who may not really know me or much about me, as well as give you guys an idea of what to expect in the near future of my blog. If you have any questions about anything, anywhere, at any time, feel free to leave a comment or shoot me a message through the "contact me" page.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis [Review]

          The Screwtape Letters is a fictional series of letters in which a senior devil, Screwtape, instructs his nephew, Wormwood, in how to tempt a man known only as "the patient". Despite the fact that we never see any of Wormwood's letters, Lewis expertly has Screwtape refer frequently to Wormwood's letters, therefore enlightening us to the general content of the junior devil's reports.
          While it is easy to read and understand, the reader must always keep in mind that since the letters are written from a devil's perspective, the opinions, motives, etc. portrayed as God's (referred to as "the Enemy") opinions, motives, etc. are not always -- rarely, actually, -- God's true opinions, motives, etc., but are rather twisted as a devil would perceive them to be.
          Throughout this book, Lewis uses these letters to point out tactics that Satan uses against both Christians and non-Christians; most of these tactics are subtle, and not ploys one would immediately associate with devil's work or even recognize as a device to draw people away from God. The subtly of these tactics only make them more dangerous, as the longer people are unaware of such distractions weaving their way into the background of their lives, the more time Satan has to tug us away from God and His will.
          I'd recommend this book to anyone and everyone. The writing and dialogue is easy to read and understand, while simultaneously bringing to our attention the wiles of the Devil.

-- Abby