Friday, August 19, 2016

Miracles from Heaven - Worthwhile Movie #14

Christian movies tend to be as hokey as Christian novels, so I never thought I'd be recommending one of them here. But last weekend we watched Miracles from Heaven with Jennifer Garner and Martin Henderson and I have to admit it is better than most films in the genre.

Christy and Kevin Beam and their three daughters are a traditional church-going family. Suddenly ten-year old Anna is diagnosed with a disease requiring complex medicines and frequent doctor's visits. The family's faith is put to the test as they learn that there is more than one kind of miracle.

The acting is terrific. Jennifer Garner (Christy Beam) and Kylie Rogers (her sick daughter, Anna) are superb in their roles. The movie shows Christians in a realistic light. Some with deep faith, some with little faith, and some who are just nasty.

The humor is not dorky, unless you count the doctor who acts silly to make his patients laugh. (I thought he was wonderful.) Many Christian films tend to shy away from using the name of Jesus, and this one is no exception. There was lots of talk of the importance of faith, though. And one of the characters wears a cross necklace which is one of the plot points.

I loved the ending of the film followed by the extra clips of the actual Beam family. A heart-warming worthwhile film.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Simplify Your Life by Marcia Ramsland

As we grow older, we (hopefully) grow wiser. One of my favorite post-parenting lessons has been to learn to cut back on the busy activities that drain me and to increase the tasks and ministries that bring me joy. That's why I appreciated both of Marcia Ramsland's books Simplify Your Life and Simplify Your Time.

In Simplify Your Life, Ramsland encourages list makers (like me) to live horizontally rather than vertically. A vertical person looks at a long "to do" list from top to bottom and becomes overwhelmed. A horizontal person looks at a calendar ("the big picture") and sees where active days have to followed up with lighter ones. I started doing this even before reading about it in her book. Programming quiet and alone time after days of heavy social interaction has been revolutionary for me.

An overcommitted calendar is the quickest way to drain all the enthusiasm and momentum from your life, as well as the lives of your spouse and children. (p. 23)

She gives many suggestions for time management, but for me her best tip is to plan something into every day that gives you a deep sense of satisfaction. This would be different for everyone, but some of the things that I do are: Bible journaling, killer sudoku puzzles, read a good book, or bake bread. Or drink a cup of tea in a beautiful tea cup.

The second book, Simplify Your Time, centers more on reaching your goals. Denise Waitley says, "A goal is a dream with a date attached." Without attention to your personal goals, you will never find the time to do the things you really want to do. This is another practice that I've begun in the last few years that has made a big difference. With personal deadlines written into my calendar, an overwhelming project became do-able. And dreams that are always on the back burner start to happen.

Lastly, she deals with stress. The surest way to beat it, says Ramsland, is to take C.A.R.E of oneself. "C" is for care of spiritual and bodily health. "A" is for activities that energize and satisfy. "R" is for rest. Naps, massages, and weekend get-aways are some of her suggestions for rest. "E" is for exiting or leaving. Get off your computer and work on a hobby. Turn off the TV and go for a walk. Excuse yourself from a stressful encounter. etc.

None of this is rocket science, but every year I read at least one book on time management to make sure that I'm on track. Both of these books were helpful.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Guarded by Angela Correll

Annie is a world-traveller who loses her job and has to move back to a small town in Kentucky to live with her grandmother. She meets up with an old friend and their relationship quickly turns into something more. While renovating an old house, old letters are found beneath the floor boards. Guarded is the story of secrets and hidden fears that come to the forefront.

Frankly, my expectations were low because most Christian fiction is hard to swallow. But Correll's book was a nice surprise. Unlike most Christian novels, the writing was good, with nary an awkward sentence to make my scratch my head and wonder where her editors were.

People have Bibles, go to church, and pray, but faith is never forced or awkward. There is romance, but it isn't the only focus of the story. The lost/found letters lead to an adventure for Annie and her grandmother that brings healing to old hurts, which makes this light read very satisfying.

The story was engaging and the characters likable. I have to admit at floundering a few times with knowing who was who. It might have been helpful to have read the first book, Grounded, but it was not essential.

This is a nice deal: 99 cents on Kindle.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Be Satisfied by Warren Wiersbe

Whenever the book of Ecclesiastes comes up in my Bible reading cycle, I take a deep breath and prepare myself for a dismal few days at the hands of an embittered king. Now, thanks to Warren Wiersbe's commentary, Be Satisfied, I love Ecclesiastes.

Baptist Pastor Wiersbe has been pastoring, speaking and writing for sixty-five years and is best known for his "BE" series on every book of the Bible; he has the gift of being literate and theologically sound while at the same time being clear and accessible.

I appreciated how he treated the book in the context of the whole Bible. He combines Solomon's perspective from the book of Proverbs with his "changed" perspective in Ecclesiastes, along with a rich dose of New Testament passages to help readers grapple with how to find satisfaction in a world of troubles and discontentment.

The famous phrase, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is nowhere in Ecclesiastes unless you interpret the book (as I used to) as a diatribe against life. Wiersbe points out that the "Eat, drink, and be merry" phrase is actually, "Eat, drink and be merry, for every good thing comes from God's hand." (Some form of that phrase appears six times in the book.) He asserts that Solomon found no lasting pleasure in his power, riches and wives, but learned that true enjoyment came from accepting life's simple joys as gifts of a loving Father. Wiersbe concludes, We will be satisfied to the extent that we see everything we have as a gift from God.

It is not enough to possess things; we must also possess the kind of character that enables us to use things wisely and to enjoy them properly. (p 46)

In addition to biblical insights, I loved all the literary allusions and the explanations of certain Hebrew words (including puns that are not evident in the English.) Sometimes I felt that he forced an applications onto the text, but I have been guilty of that myself on occasion.

With world news the way it's been lately, it was interesting to read these Bible passages about a man who found that life "under the sun" didn't seem worth living. It's too easy for me to become discouraged with disastrous events, the loss of freedoms that American Christians are facing, etc. How can we find hope and joy in the midst of it all? Not only was I encouraged by the book of Ecclesiastes, but I also appreciated this post by Joy Clarkson called "Sensible and Human Things."

Whenever Wiersbe's books are free, I post a link on my Worthwhile Books Facebook page, so be sure to check there for upcoming deals.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Cozy Mystery Challenge

I didn't hear about this Cozy Mystery reading challenge till today, so I'm 7 months behind. Still, I am pretty sure I can reach level two by the end of the year because I've already read a few mysteries this year and have a few more on my TBR shelf.

You can sign up for "Cruisin' through the Cozies" here:

Here are the rules...

1. Choose the level you wish to participate:

Level 1 - Snoop - Read at least 6 books
Level 2 - Investigator - Read 7-12 books
Level 3 - Super Sleuth - Read 13-20 books
Level 4 - Sleuth Extraordinaire - Read 21 or more books

2. The challenge runs from January 1, 2016 and ends December 31, 2016.

3. You don't have to choose your books in advance. If you do, you can change your list at any time during the year. Books can overlap with other challenges.

4. Books can be in any format - paper, audio, all counts!

5. You don't have to post a review, but I'm sure others would love to know about the books you are reading and may even want to add it to their reading lists.

NOTE: If you don't have a blog and want to participate, that's fine. You don't have to have a blog, just post in the comments section as you finish books. If you belong to a site like Goodreads and review the books there, that's fine too. Just leave us the link.  I also have a group for this challenge on Goodreads and you can sign up by clicking here.
Have fun! Yvonne

(There are two separate places to add links on Yvonne's web page. First comes the link to your intended book list, and below that a link to each book review.)

 I plan to read at least 8 of these titles in 2016:

They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer (free for Kindle unlimited)
The Corpse of St. James's by J.M. Damms
The Thirty-Nine Steps by Buchan (free on Kindle)
Without a Trace by Colleen Coble
The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey
Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey                                                
The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart (free on Kindle)
Sidney Chambers and the Peril of the Night by Runcie    
Picture Miss Seeton by Heron Carvic (99 cents for Kindle)
The Christie Curse by Victoria Abbott
Murder Underground by Hay (free on Kindle unlimited)

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

A novel that keeps being made into a movie clearly has captured popular imagination. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan was filmed in 1935, 1959, 1978, and 2008. And according to IMDb it's scheduled for another remake in 2018.

This first book in the Richard Hannay series was published in 1915 and recounts the adventures of 37-year old Hannay on the eve of WWI. It has implausible twists, yet the hero is so endearing and earnest that you root for him from start to finish.

Chapter One opens with these droll comments: I returned from the city about three o'clock on that May afternoon pretty well disgusted with life. I had been three months in the old country and was fed up. If anyone had told me a year ago that I would feel like that I should have laughed at him. But there was the fact. The weather made me liverish. The talk of the ordinary Englishman made me sick. I couldn't get enough exercise and the amusements of London seemed as flat as soda water that has been standing in the sun.

The suspense mixed with British understatements had me chuckling with glee throughout. When Hannay discovers a murdered man in his apartment, he says, I had seen men die violently before. Indeed, I had killed a few myself in the war. But this cold-blooded indoor business was different.

And from Chapter Five: His name was Marmaduke Joppley and he was an offense to creation. He was a sort of blood stock broker who did his business by toadying elder sons and rich young peers and foolish old ladies. Marmy was a familiar figure at balls and polo weeks in country houses. He was an adroit scandal monger and would crawl a mile on his belly to anything that had a title or a million. . . . The snobbery of the creature turned me sick. I asked a man afterwards why no one kicked him out and was told that "English men reverence the weaker sex."

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5, Britain's Secret Service, wrote a fine article on why Buchan's books retain their popularity. I've included a few of her key points below.

[His books] have been compared to the James Bond books, and they certainly include plenty of expensive cars and other magnificent machines. . . . But Bond is a paid killer and a womanizer; patriotism does not obviously feature in his make-up. Richard Hannay is, above all, a patriotic, public-spirited gentleman, and that fact is key to Buchan’s purpose in writing the books and reflects his own social and political philosophy.
Against those nightmarish possibilities [of anarchy, enemy invasion, etc.], Buchan champions the things he thinks best in British civilization – education, gentlemanly and ladylike conduct, honesty, an adventurous questing, a self-sacrificing spirit and plenty of fresh air, long walks and cold baths. Could it be that these unfashionable virtues are what accounts for his enduring appeal?

This is a rollicking good tale mixed with wonderful "unfashionable virtues" and a large dose of good humor. There are free e-copies all over the internet, but I particularly enjoyed the version by David Thorn for $4.95.

Of the movie adaptations, the best was done by Alfred Hitchcock (although it includes a female who is nowhere in the book.) This 1935 version is in the public domain and can be watched on YouTube.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The Blood of Christ by Andrew Murray

I read The Blood of Christ in preparation for Lent, but rather than being a morbid journey through Christ's pain, the book was a source of joy and unceasing delight as I pondered the precious gift of His blood.

As a teacher of the Old Testament I have understood the need for blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins but never gave much thought to the cleansing aspect of the law. I figured that the clean/unclean regulations were pretty much from "olden times" and had expired with the cross. But Murray's observations brought me up short. First, I never thought about the implications of someone touching a dead body and the fact that they would be unclean for seven days. I never stopped to think what that said about death. Murray writes, Death, as punishment for sin, made everyone who came in association with it unclean. Death was so repugnant to God, so outside of His plan, that someone could not even touch a corpse without becoming contaminated. Living in the post-cross era, I had forgotten how horrible death is. It was the chief result of sin.

Second, Murray talks about the need not just for forgiveness (the blood on the altar) a work done FOR us, but that there must be a work done IN us, which the cleansing laws clearly reveal. Clear statements such as this, God's objective is to abolish sin in our lives, were astounding. It should not be a distant hope but a present reality. The unbroken fellowship that God desires with each one of us is a real possibility because of Christ's work on the Cross. Sanctification was the great object of the suffering of Christ.

Another astonishing fact that Murray brings out is that Christ suffered the horrors of the cross because of his love for ME! Not just out of obedience, or love for the Father, but FOR ME! To think that Jesus loved ME so much that he gave himself willingly, has been a thought that has blessed me anew. The Cross is the full revelation of true love...The Cross tells us that He loved us so much that this love surmounted every difficulty - the curse of sin, the hostility of man, the wrath of God....What we need is a proper view of Jesus and of His all-conquering eternal love.

One final point that blessed me: Murray writes that with His blood Christ purchased every man from every tribe, language people and nation. Thus we must take Him to the nations because the power of the blood has far-reaching effects on the world. That blood gives us the courage we need to enter enemy territory and also the love needed to go and take the Good news to others.

This has been a life-changing book for me. It has renewed my faith, my heart and my love for the Savior who has done so much for me.

(Guest post from my sister, Grace Ensz, fellow missionary, Christ-follower and book lover.)