Review: How to be a Perfect Christian

Perfect

Gentle Reader,

And Jesus entered the voting booth and began to check all the boxes for Republican candidates. And seeing certain Jews entering the polling place and casting their votes for Democrats, He began to cry out, “I intended for my people to belong only to the GOP, but you have turned this nation into a bunch of bleeding-heart libbies!” And He began to flip over tables like a crazy person, screaming something about making Rome great again.

(This excerpt was taken out and covered up by the Catholic Illuminati. Read The Da Vinci Code for more riveting historical information).

– p. 171-172

If the above offends you, read this book. If you have a sense of humor, read this book. If you are a human being, read this book.

Satire is a literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule or scorn; trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly. It’s supposed to make the reader at least a little bit uncomfortable. This does not mean that satire is always mean-spirited, though it can be, but rather that satire has a way of peeling back the layers to expose our cherished ridiculousness for what it is. And let’s face it: Much of contemporary Christian subculture is ridiculous. (Read that sentence again. I did not write “Christianity is ridiculous,” “theology is ridiculous,” “the Bible is ridiculous” or “church is ridiculous”).

How to be a Perfect Christian is written by Adam Ford and Kyle Mann, the duo behind The Babylon Bee, a site willing to poke the sacred cows of church greeting times (the scourge of every introvert ever), worship leader fashion sense (work those skinny jeans!), Baptist potluck practices (casserole, casserole and more casserole) and a host of other topics. Ford and Mann are part of this world of fighting over carpet colors and attempting to figure out how to do as little as possible while still claiming to serve God, so their satire is very much an “in joke.” They make fun of the silly things we do because they love the church.

I have yet to be offended by anything The Bee puts out. Ford and Mann fall into the Calvinist camp, so you’d think that they would be roasting my fellow Arminians all day long, but everyone gets teased. The ribbing extends beyond that age-old argument and encompasses politics, Episcopalians, the danger of bass lines during worship and the recent royal wedding. There’s something for everyone to laugh at.

And we need that. We need to be able to admit that we’re silly sometimes. We need to own the fact that we love our routines and rituals just a little too much. We need these light-yet-barbed slaps upside the head every so often, to help us get our eyes back on Christ.

No matter what ministry you serve in, remember the golden rule: let everyone else do all the heavy lifting. We mean this literally. If the potluck is wrapping up and people are tearing down tables and chairs, stand off to the side and engage in spiritual conversation about the things of God. Should someone dare approach you and ask if you’d lend a hand, hit ’em with a zinger like, “Oh, sorry. I was just over here discussing the gospel-centered gospel with a brother in the Lord. I didn’t realize you didn’t care about Jesus at all.”

– p. 86

Hurts, because it’s true.

Read this book. Laugh at yourself.

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Review: Why Her?

Why Her

Gentle Reader,

Comparison. A trap that keeps us stuck in “less than” mode. A snare that hinders us from developing relationships. A prison that slams its doors faster than we can blink.

Such an ugly word. Such an ugly trait.

I first “met” Nicki Koziarz earlier this year through her study on the book of Ruth, 5 Habits of a Woman who Doesn’t Quit. She is a warm and witty writer, creating an atmosphere of coziness between herself and the reader. I could easily imagine curling up on a couch, cup of coffee in hand, as she and I had a quiet, unrushed conversation. For one such as myself who is admittedly not the best at navigating relationships (why can’t everyone just be logical?), I am very drawn to people like Koziarz who go out of their way to say (or write), “Hey. You’re safe here. We can be real.”

Why Her? is a very real book. Koziarz doesn’t sugar-coat her story and struggles, nor does she shy away from the sordid details of the biblical account of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, a classic case-study in comparison and jealousy if there ever was one. Two women forced to share a husband. One beloved by that husband, the other tolerated. Competition for babies. Drama. Bitterness.

It’s not pleasant.

In the first chapter, Koziarz writes,

When anything other than God becomes our everything, disappointment is soon to follow.

– p. 18

That single sentence is a sermon all on its own. The rest of the book rests on coming to grips with the fact that God knows best. What other women possess or accomplish does not have to be threatening. Their successes do not have to prompt us to jealousy or self-loathing. If we can embrace God as our everything, trusting that He designed and gifted us in ways that bring Him glory and pleasure, we can break free of the comparison trap.

When our desires are front and center and we experience what feels like rejection, we can become so easily offended. Offended by God. Offended by others. Offended for ourselves. But I’ve learned something about all this. Being offended is not a condition inflicted on us. It’s a stance we choose.

– p. 139

Koziarz is right. While it’s natural and even normal to feel sorrow if someone else gets the opportunity we were hoping for, it’s not healthy for us to dwell in that sorrow. We get to choose how we handle the emotions attendant to disappointment and rejection. We get to decide if we will see the world through the lens of competition or the lens of collaboration.

I’m convinced one reason we struggle with a sense of lack in comparison with others stems from the lack of gratitude for what we’ve been given. Without gratitude, our gains in life don’t last very long. Those who sustain their ability to carry out God-assignments are those who walk quietly, humbly and with grateful confidence in what He’s given them.

– p. 157

Quietness, humility and gratefulness do not come easily to us. We have to ask the Holy Spirit for eyes to see the blessings that He has given us and for the ability to celebrate the blessings He gives others. Koziarz shares several practical tips throughout the book that help the reader in this quest. Additionally, she poses simple yet thought-provoking questions that will stay with the reader well beyond the last page.

The world is not kind to women. We are always too much or not enough. Sadly, we have learned to be unkind to ourselves, tearing down when we should be building up, competing when we should be celebrating. Why Her? calls us to embrace and empower each other as the sisters we are. This is God’s good plan for His daughters, the holy warrior-princesses who have no need for arrogance or self-loathing because they know who and Whose they are.

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Review: One Blood

One Blood

Gentle Reader,

The Bible says that God made all nations from one blood. This tells me that He intended that humankind would be a people that were spiritually connected despite their cosmetic variations. This speaks directly to the call in 2 Corinthians 5 for people to be reconnected (or reconciled) to both God and their fellow man. … We know just from looking at God’s creation that He delights in diversity, even as that diversity is rooted in common traits. Did you know, for example, that there are more than 31,000 species of fish? They make up endless varieties of colors, shapes and behaviors, yet they are all fish. There’s a reason why God did it this way. I believe He loves to showcase unity amid diversity.

– p. 46

I had never heard of John Perkins before receiving an email from Moody Publishers offering me an advance copy of this book in exchange for a review. As I read the synopsis, I knew that this would be an important read, and so accepted the offer without any hesitation. Over the last couple of years I have become more and more invested in the issue of racial reconciliation, despite (or perhaps because of) living in a relatively ethnically homogeneous area. I want to, somehow, do my part to foster peace, understanding and forward-movement, yet I’ve been at a loss as to how to contribute.

Perkins subtitled his book “parting words to the church on race.” The man is pushing 90, so he knows his time is short. Thus, there is an urgency to his words. There is no pandering to anyone. Perkins pleads with his readers, black, white and every other skin shade under the sun, to understand that racial barriers are false. Man-made. Slipped into the historical narrative as a way of justifying unjustifiable prejudice and hatred. We are all truly one people, one blood.

The church has failed to preach and practice this reality. We have, to our shame, turned away from working for social justice, derisively labeling that those who do engage in that work “cultural Marxists.” We have separated the message of the Gospel from the act of caring for our fellow people, which means that we aren’t following the example of Christ at all. In fact,

…too much of our energy and drive has been misdirected toward materialism, comfort and convenience. Many of us no longer keep our church buildings open to provide a safe harbor for our children after school. We are concerned that our buildings may be torn up. We have shut out the children in our communities who need the influence of God’s people and God’s Word on their lives. We have become inwardly focused and are not the healing agents we once were. This is part of our confession and we must be broken about it.

– p. 81

Perkins outlines three steps that we must take: lament, confession and forgiveness. Tears that fall as a response to the pain of others are never wasted. Admissions of guilt and sorrow, even through clenched-teeth, as they often are, are the first steps on the road to healing. Forgiveness – seeking it from God when we discover our prejudices, seeking it from those we have wronged, forgiving those who have wronged us – brings freedom. These steps, by the power and grace of God, enable us to remove the blinders from our eyes and the hardness from our hearts.

I am deeply sober as I write this review. I think of traveling to England nearly a decade ago and experiencing my first encounters with men and women who had emigrated from Middle Eastern countries. I was afraid. Afraid of people I didn’t even know because they were different from me. I grew irritated because their customs and ways of doing business were not was I was used to. Now, I realize that I missed out. I realize that I have contributed to the problem. Lord, forgive me.

When I saw you from afar, I thought you were a monster. When you got closer, I thought you were just an animal. When you got even closer, I saw that you were human, but when we were face-to-face, I realized that you were my brother.

– p. 164

I highly recommend One Blood. This is not a book of politics or picking sides or putting all the blame on one set of cultural shoulders. Perkins’ call is for everyone – step outside of our comfort zones, allow cherished notions to be challenged and demolished, learn to see the “other” as, really, “same.” You and me, people together, made by the awesome and creative hand of Almighty God.

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Review: A Light on the Hill

Light on the Hill

Gentle Reader,

Then the Lord spoke to Joshua, “Tell the Israelites: Select your cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that a person who kills someone unintentionally or accidentally may flee there. These will be your refuge from the avenger of blood. When someone flees to one of these cities, stands at the entrance of the city gate, and states his case before[a] the elders of that city, they are to bring him into the city and give him a place to live among them. And if the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not hand the one who committed manslaughter over to him, for he killed his neighbor accidentally and did not hate him beforehand. He is to stay in that city until he stands trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest serving at that time. Then the one who committed manslaughter may return home to his own city from which he fled.”

– Joshua 20:1-6 (CSB)

I like stories that make me think. A Light on the Hill, by Connilyn Cossette, is one such story. Set just prior to the death of Joshua, when the Conquest of the Promised Land was still happening, Cossette tells the story of Moriyah, a woman who experienced great trauma as a captive in the city of Jericho. (Note: The opening chapters contain bits that allude to a previous novel, Wings of the Wind, but it not necessary to have read that in order to follow the plot). This trauma has resulted in what we would recognize today as PTSD; Moriyah has flashbacks, triggered by certain sounds and smells, and does her best to keep out of everyone’s way.

Moriyah’s life begins to spin out of control one night when she dares to take part in a festival at Shiloh. All of the women present are veiled (a key part of her story), which empowers her bold act of joining in a dance. She catches the eye of a soldier named Darek. The attraction is mutual, though Moriyah has just learned that her father has arranged a marriage for her.

To our eyes, an arranged marriage seems horrific, but women did have some agency. Moriyah knows that she could object and that her father wouldn’t make her go through with it. Due to her time in Jericho, however, she believes that it’s best for her to, essentially, take what she can get. She knows that her father is seeking to protect and provide for her out of true kindness. Despite a (chaste) evening spent with this soldier, she chooses to square her shoulders and attempt to get the best out of the situation.

Then two boys die.

She is forced to run.

A Light on the Hill has all the elements of a conventional, gentle romance, but it’s so much more than that. I kept turning the pages because the story was so fascinating to me. Cossette obviously put a lot of time and effort into researching source material, both the Scriptures and scholarly tomes. The reader genuinely feels transported to another time and place, rich with foreign sounds and customs. It was especially interesting to me to learn that the language barrier between the Israelites and Canaanites was not insurmountable, an element that is integral to a good third of the novel.

This book occupies that wonderful space that all good historical novels fall into: a great story and the reader learns something. While the ending isn’t exactly a surprise, I didn’t mind that at all because I had such a good time getting there. Definitely recommend this one, particularly for fans of Mesu Andrews and Francine Rivers.

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