A Phone Call with Jesus

Did you know that Jesus talks on the phone?

Lizzy and I were doing our daily quiet time, and she wasn’t being so quiet.  I was knee deep in my Bible Study Fellowship assignment for the day, trying to finish it before we needed to head out the door somewhere. So I was a little on edge.

I was sitting on the couch, Bible in lap, pencil furiously taking notes. Lizzy kept hopping on and off the couch, grabbing books and toys, asking for my attention (asking what I was “coloring”), and I’d had enough.  Didn’t she know it was time to sit and quietly read her Bible?

She had one of our old cell phones and was yammering loudly on it. I hadn’t bothered to listen to what she was saying, or I wouldn’t have done what follows.

In a loud voice and a tone I normally reserve for keeping her from running into the road, I told her to be quiet and stop talking into the phone.

But then it hit me.  She was having her time with Jesus.  It just looked a lot different from my time with him.

Here’s her phone conversation:

“Hey Jesus”

*Nodding head*

“How you?”

*Nodding head*

“Lizzy fine”

“Alright”

“Okay”

“Bye bye”

Repeat.

Once I realize what I’d interrupted I encouraged her to go back to calling Jesus on the phone.  She half-heartedly repeated it for my benefit and hasn’t done it again since.

Of course, I find this heart breaking.  How quick I am to rebuke and judge.  And how much power I have to discourage.

I was being a religious snob because I thought my way of spending time with Jesus was the best one, the only one.  And I was teaching my daughter that lesson.

I bet her time with Jesus was a lot more fruitful than mine.  It sounds like she heard a lot more from him than I did.

I think next time we sit on the couch to read the Bible, we’ll spend some of that time on our cell phones.

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Ever had God hit you over the head with a verse?

Every so often, I’ll hear the same verse, over and over again, until finally, I stop and pay attention. This probably tells you about what ends God needs to go to when getting my attention, how zoned out in my own world I can be. Thankfully, God is persistent, even when I am not.

I just finished reading the book of Revelation in my morning Bible reading, and I was struck by God’s word to the church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:15-16). But of course, I didn’t let it sink in very much at the time.

I recently learned the context for this verse, how it was very specific to the city of Laodicea, whose water source were hot springs from a distance. By the time the city got the water, it was lukewarm, not refreshing at all.

At the writers’ conference I attended last weekend, over and over again, every speaker kept quoting that verse. I wondered if I missed some conference theme. But of course, it was God, asking me to take note.

So I’m prayerfully considering what that verse means for me. I don’t have the answers yet, but I’m paying attention now.

I’m wondering in what areas of my life I’m being lukewarm, not on fire for Christ. Or, what calling has God given me that I’m not pursuing in the fullest, just content with the comfortable, easy way, instead of the challenging extremes? I’m sure it’s yes on both counts.

Triage

Dan taught me a very handy word several years ago, back in medical school, during his ER rotation: “triage.” He explained how the ER docs needed to triage all the patient’s problems to handle the most urgent first, then work down the line to the others. It’s partly about priorities, partly about doing the most beneficial work with your limited time. And that concept has come in very handy with having a baby. But it’s also showed me where my priorities lie.

When Lizzy wasn’t sleeping and was screaming her head off most of the time, colic style, I learned that the rare moments when she would fall asleep, I needed to take advantage of the baby free time to do stuff. By stuff, I’m not talking about reading a book for fun or blogging. No, it was more about what food I could stuff in my mouth to give me the most calories the fastest (yes, you can live off nuts and seeds, or so I learned), a quick trip to the bathroom, and maybe, if I was super lucky, a chance to change my spit up covered clothes.

So, for the first few months of her life, that’s about all I could get done. But, she slowly started napping, and I could add different things to the triage list. But I never knew when she was going to wake up, so I always had to start with the most important thing, which was always getting her next bottle ready to go. Then, I worked down the line to food, bathroom, etc.

Now that I have a child who naps regularly and fairly predictably, my triage isn’t so frantic. I have time to examine what makes the triage cut and what doesn’t, and I’m realizing that God wasn’t making the cut.

I’m not saying that I should have put devotions in front of getting Lizzy’s food ready, but prayer time wasn’t even figuring into the equation. I would fit it in whenever I remembered it, but mostly, I prayed when I was at the end of my rope, begging for help…which happened quite frequently. But of course, when I need it most, it was the thing that got literally put at the bottom of the triage list.

God was giving me some gentle nudges a couple weeks ago to get my act together, and to make sure he gets put at the top of my triage list. So, sleep got a little bump down, and I get up before Lizzy wakes up to eat some breakfast and read the Bible. It’s still behind getting Lizzy’s food and medicine ready, but that’s probably not going to change for awhile.

I’m still no expert in how to put God first when one has a demanding baby/schedule, but at least now, I’m making an effort. And no, I can’t say that my quiet time is fabulous, but it’s something, and I’m conscientiously taking the time to connect with him. If anything, it’s at least symbolic of my priorities improving.

So what about you? If you have so many minutes of each day, how do you prioritize them? If you only had a few minutes to yourself each day, how would you use them?

Confessions of a Bible Glosser

magnificatLast Sunday, I got convicted of a bad reading habit. 

I admit, when I found out that in our study of Luke, we’d be spending an entire sermon on Mary’s Magnificat, I was a little unenthused. I’ve read that thing a million times, and it’s a nice little song and all, but seriously, a whole sermon on it?

Prepared to be bored, I got out my iTouch and readied it for multi-tasking.  I read my Bible on it during church, so it’s pretty easy to surreptitiously switch over to another program without anyone noticing.  Bad habit, I know.

But our pastor proceeded to give a great sermon, explaining just why this little portion of scripture was worthy of our attention. For example, did you know that young Mary expounds on 17 attributes of God in her song?  There’s an entire theology wrapped up in those nine verses (Luke 1:46-55).  She also demonstrates the right attitude to present when facing trials, something especially handy these days. 

And here I was, guilty of glossing over this section, time and time again.  It made me wonder if I’ve ever really tried to understand it.  I’d simply took it at face value, as a cute song of thanks, and moved onto more interesting things (in this case, John the Baptist’s birth). 

I’m recognizing that if I’m to believe that the Bible is God’s word, I’ve got to realize that means all of it, even Leviticus (which has worked in the past for me as an excellent insomnia cure).  By glossing over some parts and picking others as more worthy, my reading habits indicate that I’m not devoted to the whole of it. 

So what’s a Bible glosser to do?  I haven’t quite figured this part out.  But I think it’s going to require a serious effort to study all of it, not just my favorite bits.  Perhaps it will involve heavy use of my footnotes, which help clue me into why boring parts shouldn’t be so boring.  I’ve got a great version with excellent footnotes, the ESV Study Bible, and I need to be taking advantage of the additional information it provides. 

But most importantly, I think it’s a matter of attitude and of thirst.  If I’m easily quenched by the obvious, surface stuff, I’m missing out on another level of teaching, reproof, correction, training in righteousness, and equipping (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

And I want more. I want the full Word and all its power to pierce the division of my soul and spirit and discern the thoughts and intentions of my heart (Hebrews 4:12).

I won’t settle for less.

Book Review: A Perfect Mess

perfect messI love the title for Lisa Harper’s new devotional study, A Perfect Mess: Why You Don’t Have to Worry About Being Good Enough for GodThis speaks directly to an issue that has been on my heart for the past several years. 

When I decided to start blogging, I prayed a lot about how I was going to focus the thing.  Of course, I wanted to talk about the things most important to me, God, the Bible, and books.  But I also wanted to talk about my own life, so the blog was personal and relatable. And I felt God impressing upon me the need to be very transparent, open and honest about the messes in my life, not just the ways that I’ve done things right.  He called me to be real, instead of polished (well, not in the grammar sense, of course!). 

I’m not sure how well I’ve stuck to my original calling. In the past few weeks, I’ve been sticking mainly to book reviews, and I hope to get back to more personal essays in the future. I’m taking a little bit of time away from those.  But hopefully, I’ll get a recharge during my summer break and come back with lots of new inspiration.

Anyway, back to the book (I think my book reviews are turning into personal essays).  The title drew me in, but I also liked that it was a study of the Psalms.  Each chapter reflects on a particular psalm, dealing with such issues as “Tumbling Toward Approval” with Psalm 139 and “Leaping over Legalism with Psalm 62.  The Psalms offer a wealth of real life living, messes and all, and we can learn a lot from these imperfect people and their relationships with the perfect God.

Harper is gifted at telling stories.  I was a bit disappointed in her ability to stay focused on the Psalm.  She often got derailed and tangential with her very charming stories that didn’t quite line up with what the Psalm was saying.  However, they offered great discussion material for a women’s group and even some food for thought along the general lines of the topic. 

Don’t approach the book as an in-depth study of the Psalms. Instead, see it as a collection of personal stories, loosely organized under a theme that happens to coincide slightly with a particular psalm.  I’d advise getting out your own Bible and reading the Psalm at the beginning of each chapter to do your own personal reflection, to make your own connections.  It’s what I ended up doing because Harper uses switches between unusual translations of the Bible (one of my pet peeves) and jumps around a bit through the Psalm. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the book, visit the publisher’s website.

This is going to be my last book review for a month.  I’m going to take a little break from the reviews as Dan and I take some vacation time. It doesn’t mean I won’t be blogging, but it probably won’t be as frequent.  Of course, I’m going to keep reading though. I’ve got a book a week goal to meet!

Favorite Devotionals

There have been many times in my walk when I’ve used a Christian devotional book to help guide my quiet times with God. For those of you unfamiliar with this genre, a devotional is a text designed to draw a reader closer to the Lord, often in a series of daily readings. There are many devotionals on the market, and they differ wildly in purpose and content. I thought I’d share some of my favorites with you this week.

my-utmost-for-his-highest

1. My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers

Born in Scotland, Chambers preaching ministry eventually took him to many countries around the world, and his wife, Biddy, followed him, taking notes of his lectures. Apparently, she was an amazing stenographer who could record at 250 wpm. When Chambers died at an early age, Biddy published his lectures in this devotional, which has been in publication ever since 1927. Each entry includes a daily bible verse and a reflection on God or the Christian life. You can find several free online versions of the text, including this one, which shows you today’s reading.

devotional-classics

2. Devotional Classics, Edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

This book includes several readings from great Christian thinkers of the past including John Calvin, Thomas a Kempis, Teresa of Avila, and John Bunyan.  It introduced me to several authors that I wanted to pursue independently, and its material is thoughtfully arranged.

momentstogether

3. Moments Together for Couples by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

I’ve mentioned this one before, but it’s my favorite devotional for married folks to do together.  I’m a big fan of couples studying the bible and praying together, and this little book simply facilitates that.  I also like that there are discussion questions at the end of each reading to prompt you to talk about issues that you normally might not address.

womens-devotional-bible

4. NIV Women’s Devotional Bible, published by Zondervan

I have the shorter, New Testament and Psalms version of this, but I’d suggest getting the full Bible version.  The idea behind this book is to read your Bible but to have interspersed within those daily readings little meditations by over 100 women of faith.  It helps you keep your daily focus on the word but it has Godly women along with you for the journey.

our_daily_bread

5. Our Daily Bread

I have fond memories of this little book, which our church always had available.  It’s a free booklet, published quarterly, and it’s also available online with downloadable versions for your handheld devices as well.  The daily readings always include a bible verse and a very simple, practical reflection, often with a meaningful story.  This one is great to use at the dinner table with the family.

What are your favorite devotionals?

If I recommend any books that you’d like to purchase, consider buying them through Amazon using the links on my site, so I get a percent of the purchase price back to buy more books to review!

Amy’s Marginalia: Tuesdays With Morrie

tuesdayswithmorrieI picked up this little book at a book sale recently, recognizing the author from The Five People You Meet In Heaven (a book I haven’t read yet but have been meaning to for awhile).  It seems that Tuesdays with Morrie is also fairly well known, so it warranted a read, especially since one of our local theaters is staging a production of a play based on it. 

The premise is very simple.  A beloved Sociology professor is dying from Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and a former student reunites with him in his final days for a series of lessons about life, love, and dying.  What sounds like a very morbid and depressing book is actually one of the more uplifting stories you can read because it embraces life.  The constant irony in the book is that only a dying man can teach us about living.

Morrie’s a great mentor for me as a teacher.  It sounds like he connected with his students in remarkable ways and taught them important lessons about life.  Students continued to seek him out long after graduation for his wisdom and companionship.  You can’t say that for many other professors. And teaching was his true vocation, one that he chose to pursue even with his dying breath. 

Faith is a complicated issue in this book.  Morrie is Jewish by heritage, and he attended synagogue while growing up and was buried by a rabbi.  But he claimed to be an agnostic for most of his adult life.  In the 10th anniversary edition, Albom includes an afterward which mentions Morrie’s potential conversion back to theism.  In his dying days, Morrie, when asked about death, says, “This is too harmonious, grand, and overwhelming a universe to believe that it’s all an accident” (196).

Most of Morrie’s lessons, which always take place on Tuesday, are very much in line with Judeo-Christian values.  But there are times he pulls from Buddhist thought as well.  Albom explains that “Morrie borrowed freely from all religions,” but thankfully, his advice ends up being rooted in his childhood faith foundation.

Morrie freely criticizes our culture for its excessive focus on materialism, its repetition of “more is good,” ad nauseum. He rightly calls this idolatry: “These were people so hungry for love that they were accepting substitutes.”

He discusses the importance of marriage and commitment to it.  He says that the most important value in marriage is “your belief in the importance of your marriage.” 

Morrie is right about a lot of things, but he’s missing the boat on the most important lesson of them all.  He doesn’t mention Jesus, the ultimate answer to all the questions.  His advice is filled with a lot of truth that falls in line with biblical practices, but without Jesus at the heart of it, it’s empty and self-seeking. 

Morrie is a wise teacher.  He offers a lot of insight learned from life.  But Jesus is the best Rabbi, who not only teaches you, but he transforms you into someone better, someone more like him.   He’s the one that satisfies our longings for false idols, giving us his true love that we seek.  And in our marriages, our greatest value is to love and serve him, and everything else will follow.

Five Books to Strengthen your Marriage

In honor of the very popular and highly convicting sermon series that Mars Hill Church has presented in the past two weeks on the topic of marriage (one for women, and one for men), I thought I’d list my top five marriage related books on this week’s book list.  Dan and I have been married for almost eight years, and these resources have been invaluable for us.

powerprayingwifepowerofaprayinghusband

1. The Power of a Praying Wife / The Power of a Praying Husband by Stormie Omartian

These little books are excellent guides for helping you know how to pray for your spouse. I use the chapter titles to guide me through praying for Dan, since it helps me consider areas of his life about which I’d typically forget to pray.

momentstogether

2. Moments Together for Couples by Dennis and Barbara Rainey

Our pastor gave this devotional to Dan and I as a wedding present, and it’s been our favorite couples devotional.  The Raineys have followed it with others, most notably Moments with You, their most recent one.  We love the short daily readings and the discussion questions at the end that get us talking about relationship issues that we normally wouldn’t address, left to our own devices. They also include a topic for prayer, to help lead into prayer time together.

lovelanguages

3. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

In my opinion, this should be required reading for every pre-marital class. Chapman teaches his readers how people give and receive love in different ways.  It helps you understand why she wants to cuddle so much or why he doesn’t seem to appreciate those long heart felt discussions as much as you do.

rescueyourlovelife

4. Rescue your Love Life: Changing those Dumb Attitudes and Behaviors that will Sink Your Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend.

Those of you who have read and appreciated Cloud and Townsend’s famous Boundaries books will want to read this similar approach to the marriage relationship.  The practical counselors take their advice to the individual, to take responsibility for his or her own attitudes and actions, instead of placing blame on the partner.

godmarriageandfmaily

5. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation by Andrewas J. Kostenberger

I just read this book last Sunday after our pastor recommended it in his sermon.  I liked the solid biblical foundation and the complimentarian approach to marriage roles.  It’s the best book so far I’ve seen from this perspective.  Admittedly, it’s a bit of a dry read, but it’s an excellent resource for specific questions about what the Bible says about marriage (footnotes and scripture references galore).  I particularly liked how it used Old and New Testament marriage examples to demonstrate the principles.

If I recommend any books that you’d like to purchase, consider buying them through Amazon using the links on my site, so I get a percent of the purchase price back to buy more books to review!

Reading and Praying as Privileges

I’ve been reading an interesting little book on life during the Great Depression called Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish.  Kalish explains how she developed her love for reading while living on an Iowa farm.  Her mother and grandparents played a huge role in encouraging her love for reading through a very unique approach:

Without knowing it, the adults in our lives practiced a most productive kind of behavior modification.  After our chores and household duties were done we were given “permission” to read.  In other words, our elders positioned reading as a privilege-a much sought-after prize, granted only to those goodhardworkers (sic) who earned it.  How clever of them” (65).

I’m recognizing that anytime I make reading a requirement or a duty, it loses a little bit of its luster.  Take for instance my New Year’s resolution, to read 52 books this year, approximately one per week.  Because I’m trying to keep up a certain pace, I’m losing a little bit of the excitement over reading because I realize that I’m on a schedule.  It also makes me careful about the books I choose.  To be honest, right now, I’d probably be choosing a lot more Victorian novels because that’s my particular taste at the moment, but because I read those at a much slower pace (and they tend to be extremely long), I really can’t devote too much time to those.

I wonder how much this applies to our spiritual life as well.  When we make our daily devotions a duty, instead of a “much sought-after prize” and “privilege,” do they lost a little bit of their luster?

Partly, it’s a matter of perspective.  Just as Kalish’s elder’s recognized, anything could become a joy if you put it in the right perspective.  This is how Paul could delight in his sufferings, for the sake of Christ.  It’s how Jesus could endure the pain of the cross, for the goal of our salvation.

It’s also a matter of heart.  Positive thinking can only get us so far.  At some point, we’ve got to ask Jesus to change our heart, to alter our tainted perspectives to line up with his divine perspective.

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a PRIVILEGE to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Busted

A little bird told me that he didn’t notice any Christian books on my list so far this year (okay, so that not so little bird is my husband).  Now that my reading is out there for the world to see, I suppose I have a sort of built in accountability thing going, to make sure I’m reading edifying materials (here’s the link, for all you who are too lazy to visit my right hand margin).

Sure, I’m reading my Bible each day, which isn’t exactly represented on that list. I think you’d all call me a flat out liar if I posted the entire Bible on there next week, and while each “book” of the bible is technically named a “book,” I don’t think I’ll list those separately either (Can you sense the sour grapes here?).

So, I’m going to look through my Christian classics, my nonfiction growth an maturity books, and even some light weight Christian fiction (which typically sends me running for the hills).

Thanks honey. I was having fun reading any old thing, but your little voice of reason convicted me.

Don’t worry folks, my popular fiction isn’t going anywhere.

Any suggestions for edifying books that I need to consider next? Maybe I need to cleanse my palette with some C.S. Lewis? Please don’t say Piper. I’m on a Piper fast right now (too much last year).