From the Shelf: Christian Living

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If you read any book on marriage, let it be this one.

Completely Christ centered, Gary Thomas doesn’t get caught up in the details. Without idolizing marriage, he is clear that it is a sacred commitment to another and the Lord. In each chapter he focuses on aspects of marriage like individual calling, creating a shared history, pursuing one another, sex, forgiveness, service, prayer and greater awareness of God’s presence.

The Biblical goal of marriage, he points out, is something much bigger than our happiness or comfort. It is a part of the calling we each have – to glorify, serve and grow Holy in the Lord. And when we focus on fulfillment in our Heavenly father, husband, friend, well… I’ll tell you in his words…

“…we will probably also have a happy marriage, but that will come as a blessed by-product of putting everything else in order.”

This is not a “how-to” style book, but it gives the big picture – which was convicting and refreshing to me at the same time.

 

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From the Shelf: Current Events

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The first book I read this year was Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson. A friend had sent it to me after Christmas, because the author lives and practices law in Alabama. In fact, one of his cases involved an accidental bombing in Dothan, 1977.

The main thread of this book explains the ultimate release of Walter McMillian, a man on death row for a murder he didn’t commit. As Bryan Stevenson works on this case, he uncovers many examples of a dysfunctional justice system. The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world and Alabama one of the highest in the country. This book outlines through many examples, some of the reasons why.

It was sobering to read the ways in which a zealous system misfires. Stevenson explains the role that politics play in election of judges, or even community pressure to lock someone, anybody, up for a crime. His stories talk about sloppy lawyers, unconcerned in defending the people who cannot pay and the resulting incarceration of innocent people. Stevenson tells stories of children prosecuted as adults receiving life sentences without parole, or those with severe mental disabilities who are imprisoned for life. He talks about all white juries in racially divided communities, perhaps not intentional but certainly unwise in the pursuit of justice. Prisons operating for profit, futile drug laws, the death penalty, the list goes on.

The question for me personally, is not so much if I should care, but how. I love my new home and state, but that doesn’t mean I have to blindly believe it’s the best at everything. Or that I can just assume every person on death row deserves to die. Loving is caring enough when things are terribly wrong and we should care when justice isn’t served. Or even when we should consider meeting justice with mercy.

I’m no opposer of the death penalty and those who pose a risk to society should certainly be restrained. Depravity is real and consequences of sin surround us. However, this book has made me think more deeply at least about my Christian response to the incarcerated, or those at risk to be. I want to be slower in talking about “those” people, the riff-raff, poor people, the ones who don’t look like me or make poor decisions. If I truly believe in the sanctity of life then there are no lines I can draw in the sand and I should certainly care about extending what Christ gives to me, ironically something like the title – just mercy.

*Bonus Read: Hillbilly Elegy*

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I added this to my list on the basis of its title alone.  It’s the memoir and opinion of J.D. Vance. Now a successful lawyer and author, Vance tells his story of growing up in Appalachian dysfunction. He writes in a deeply personal voice that explores the ‘why’ of white, working class poverty. The attitudes, the cycle of abuse and many other factors that contribute to generations of disadvantage.

This was the perfect book to read as counter point to Just Mercy. No one group has the market cornered on sad stories. Together these books have broadened my horizons and compassion for the mission field at home. I think the best way to sum things up is found in Hillbilly Elegy (pg.255). In writing about a boy named Brian who Vance mentors, he says;

“Any chance he has lies with the people around him – his family, me, my kin, the people like us and the broad community of hillbillies. And if that chance is to materialize, we must wake the hell up…I believe we hillbillies are the toughest g*%@ people on this earth. We take an electric saw to the hid of those who insult our mother…But are we tough enough to do what needs to be done to help a kid like Brian? Are we tough enough to build a church that forces kids like me to engage with the world rather than withdraw from it? Are we tough enough to look ourselves in the mirror and admit that our conduct harms our children?

Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us…These problems were not created by governments or corporations or anyone else. We created them, and only we can fix them.”

If nothing else, food for thought.

 

 

 

 

Making All Things a New Year

Hanging at the front of every end, is beginning.

In the death of pat answers, safety nets and preconceived notions, we have the start of something else.

It’s a plan beyond our best intentions, beauty from ashes, a fresh start in it is finished…we sing…

“the lamb who was for sinners slain, is making all things new”

Death opening to New Life. Shaking ground becomes sure.

Resolutions that might fade into memory by February, instead become mercies new every morning. Safe in the Saviour of every failing.

And despite each pain of this year, the Puritan says…

“Nothing hurts the godly…all things…shall cooperate for their good, that their crosses shall be turned into blessings.”

He is worthy and able to redeem 2017 – dead, buried and resurrected Jesus.

How much more can He benedict the days before us? The very Lord of hope and life.

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Restart and Repeat

He knows where we are. He knows who sins against us, and who we sin toward.

He knows our thoughts and failings and the very things that keep us awake at night.

And there is nothing that can shock or shake Him from relentless, sovereign mercy.

Our sins are many. Our hearts break.

And new every morn, His mercy is more. A shelter to the brokenhearted.

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Do we leave room in our lives to love each other extravagantly?

Do we have space to give above and beyond?

Do we believe that Jesus is enough and that we are free to utterly enjoy Him?

Do we reflect the generous nature of Grace in our lives…

                                        …and in the Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Saturday evenings,

thankfully, paint the world a bit brighter with His wonder?

 

 

 

 

 

He Tells Us

Brin’s favourite thing is to do her copy work sitting in my lap, while I read from my phone with one hand, and scratch her back with the other. If I stop at one chapter she urges me to another.And the other day, in the middle of that famous winter-time story I read this,

“and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

This is not the traditional Christmas reading of peace on earth. This is special. An intent of peace-making that declares Jesus the king of it.

And the next day I read another verse, a song of heavenly hosts to come,

“He brought me out into a broad place;

He rescued me, because he delighted in me.”

And in the amen those words pleased and delighted nearly scandalized me. Because I understand the fall, justice and at least the idea of substitution. I can wrap my mind around a crisp, legal agreement where we are at least happy to scrape through and stand in the back row of Heaven.

This delight is something new all together, though. God’s pleased face as He restores peace to the chaos is an idea that seems too good to be true. And His care because He not only sees me as righteous, but also as delightful, is so deeply humbling, gratitude for grace bubbles up again.

If we set our faces to this world as those assured of God’s delight in us and His mission to bring beauty out of the ashes, we might walk the hum-drum differently. Praise God for the joy to be more than conquerors this day, and tomorrow.

 

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From the Shelf: Psalm 84

                                                   this morning, a verse for immigration frustrations                                                                 to redefine home                                                                                                                                     and wait on the Lord                                                              

“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,

in whose heart are the highways to Zion….

For a day in your courts is better

than a thousand elsewhere…

(and) no good thing does he withhold

from those who walk uprightly..:”