Monday, April 30, 2018

Separation of Church and State

How much would you say you know about American history? Would you consider yourself a history buff? I'm suspecting you don't know half of the content in this post. Starting with this: Who first coined the phrase "separation of church and state"?
A) Richard Hooker
B) The Constitution
C) Thomas Jefferson
D) Benjamin Rush
E) Justice Hugo Black

How many of these names do you even recognize? You might find it interesting that each of these historical figures has impacted the way the phrase "separation of church and state" has been interpreted over the centuries. First termed in the late 1500s by Richard Hooker, ordained minister of the Church of England during the Reformation, the intended meaning was to keep the state from interfering in the affairs of men's religious freedom. From then until 1962, this phrase consistently referred to protecting religious liberties from government intervention.

Commonly attributed to the United State Constitution's First Amendment, the first recorded instance of a prominent American using the phrase was none other than the deist Founding Father and president, Thomas Jefferson. While most consider the "separation of church and state" to be a provision of the Constitution, nowhere is it found, nor in any other founding document. Surprising, isn't it? In fact, out of the ninety men present at the discussion of what to include in the First Amendment, not once was the "separation of church and state" even mentioned. Surely, if the Founding Fathers desired to make this a part of American law, they would have at least discussed it.

Nearly everyone today is under the impression that "separation of church and state" implies preventing religious expression from public institutions. It has become a drive and backing to claim that religion must stay out of political matters in order to remain true to the Constitution and original intent of the Founding Fathers. If they know Jefferson wrote it, they believe he did so to affirm such an idea, thus "proving" that our Founding Fathers were opposed to religion being involved in the government. However, few are aware of Jefferson's true context in writing this.

Responding to a group of concerned Baptists who feared the ratification of the Constitution gave the government too much power to control religion, Jefferson assured them this would never happen. He explained that there was a separation between the church and the state so that the government would stay out of religionNOT the other way around! Yes, one of the few deist Founding Fathers was convinced that the government would not, and should not, interfere with religion. Religious people involved in politics, government institutions, and public organizations were perfectly acceptable. If you wish, you can read Jefferson's letter for yourself by clicking HERE. It's interesting to note that Jefferson wrote this letter on a Friday . . . and attended a church service that Sunday in the United States Capitol building. He also founded a Bible Society and made a Bible translation known as the Jefferson Bible for the express purpose of creating a missionary tool for the Indians.

Today, we are being taught that the Founding Fathers were deists, the church should stay out of government, and that we have a godless Constitution. To the contrary, 95% of the Founding Father's were religious, the "separation of church and state" is in no founding documents, and the Constitution was founded on Biblical principles by Christian men.

Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence and a little known Founding Father yet one of the three most influential, wrote a dozen reasons that the Bible must never be taken out of schools, started the first Bible society in America, and said "I do not believe that the Constitution was the offspring of inspiration, but I am as perfectly satisfied that the Union of the United States in its form and adoption is as much the work of a Divine Providence as any of the miracles recorded in the Old and New Testament." In 1806 he also wrote:
"Let the following sentence be inscribed in letters of gold over the doors of every State and Court house in the United States. 'THE SON OF MAN CAME INTO THE WORLD, NOT TO DESTROY MEN'S LIVES, BUT TO SAVE THEM.' " Does that sound like a deist to you?

How about Fisher Ames, who is largely responsible for the language of the First Amendment? He also insisted that the Bible cannot get pushed to the back of public schools. Does that sound like a deist to you?

James Wilson, signer of the Declaration of Independence, teacher of law, and one of the six original Supreme Court justices, helped write the Constitution. In his books on law, he taught that human laws should be based on "Divine" law and that they need to go together. Does that sound like a deist to you?

George Washington's farewell address says that religion and morality were important for our government. John Adams wrote with Benjamin Rush about the Holy Spirit and claimed that the primary people who affected the Constitution were reverends. John Hancock wrote a proclamation to Massachusetts to have a day of prayer and fasting for people to come to know Christ. Do these famous Founding Fathers sound like deists to you?

The United States of America has drifted far from its original roots. No longer is the checks and balances system truly functioning. Courts have neglected to make decisions based on the original intent of the Constitution. The government is currently a far cry from anything the Founding Fathers had desired and planned. How did this occur? People have taken the founders intentions and perverted them to match their own agendas. Such as with the "separation of church and state."

Remember that I mentioned how the "separation of church and state" meant keeping the government out of religion from the 1500s to 1962? What made the meaning change? It was a court case, Engel v. Vitale. The question of the case was "Does the reading of a nondenominational prayer at the start of the school day violate the 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment?" ( The prayer in question was a twenty two word prayer that read: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessing upon us, our parent, our teachers, and our Country." Notice only once does it mention "God," the same number of times the Pledge of Allegiance does, and 1/4 the times the Declaration of Independence! Yet Justice Hugo Black delivered the court's 6-1 opinion to suddenly take the "separation of church and state" and turn it 180 degrees without citing any precedents. The court even acknowledged that at the time, only 3% of the nation's population was not religious.
Nevermind the 97% who were.
. . . or the Founding Fathers that were.
. . . or the 1982 court case, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, that cited 80 precedents allowing prayer in public institutions.
. . . or the church services held in the Capitol.
. . . or the chaplains and prayers in the early governing bodies.
. . . or the 800+ court cases that cite the Ten Commandments as their final source of authority.
. . . or the fact that the Bible is the number one source of quotes from the Founding Fathers.
. . . or the numerous verses mentioned in the Constitution as reasons for the laws and provisions.
. . . or the knowledge that ministers wrote the books the nation was founded on.
. . . or that the Bible was the source of the sermons that the founding documents were based on.
. . . or that everything in the Declaration of Independence had been first taught from the pulpit.
No, instead of all the evidence proving that the "separation of church and state" was intended to protect religious institutions from the government, the court suddenly and without any valid reasoning completely altered the intended meaning of the phrase. Now, most all Americans believe that the church should stay out of politics. Little do they realize this is in complete conflict with the original meaning.

I pray that now you are more equipped to share this fascinating information with those who don't understand true American history. I, personally, find these topics and tidbits both intriguing and shocking. If you are interested in learning more about these types of things, I have many sources to recommend. Much of the information for this post was from renown historian, David Barton's American Heritage DVD series. You can visit his website at

Now that your mind is spinning (like mine), go share this with your friends and family! Tell them how history is being altered from the Founding Father's original intent. Let's bring America back to being the Christian nation it once was.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Defending the Faith 2: How Do We Defend Christianity?

Here's a word to add to your Christian vocabulary: Apologetics—The branch of theology that defends and proves the truth of Christian doctrines. Yes, there is an entire study devoted to just defending the Christian faith.

Previously, we discussed why we should learn to defend the Christian faith. I showed how 1 Peter 3:15 instructs us to be ready to give a reason for our beliefs. The next step is understanding how we are called to defend our faith.

Recently I've been learning more regarding this topic. I've heard about many extreme approaches to defending one's beliefs, from yelling and calling people fools to softly and carefully treading so as not to offend and possibly turn someone away. I, personally, would fall somewhere in the middle, but what does the Bible say about this?

The first step is recognizing that the battle Christians are in is a spiritual war. Second Corinthians 10:3-5 makes this point clear. "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." [ESV] A lot is packed into these verses. Some key points I'd like to make for this topic are:
  • Spiritual warfare is a very real battle every single Christian is engaged in, whether they realize it or not! The enemy is constantly seeking to devour Christians, and he succeeds far too often. Many people (Christians included) do not understand or choose to believe in the spiritual realm of angels and demons, but they are just as real as the sun shining or you breathing. Christians need to always be on guard against the attacks of the devil.
  • In understanding this, it is also crucial for Christians to realize they aren't fighting earthly battles when defending their faith, but they are coming against the powers of darkness in the name of Jesus. Christians possess spiritual weapons designed to "destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God." Christians shouldn't try to make a "scholarly" case for Christianity without allowing God to lead them and give them the words to speak.
The verse we examined in my last post and the following verse also give some insight as to how we should defend Christianity. First Peter 3:15-16 instructs Christians "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." [ESV]
  • The first bit we can glean from this is that Christians must honor Christ. One of the best ways to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with others is to be the example so that the unsaved look at you and ask what makes you different from everyone else. Realize that you are serving a holy God, and give Him all the honor He is due.
  • Additionally, when Christians are responding to people, they should behave gently and respectfully. This rules out the radical, yelling-at-people approach. Consider how receptive you'd be to an idea if the person attempting to convince you is screaming in your face. Behave in a manner you know is worthy of the King you serve. You are His ambassador.
Another verse with important tie-ins to defending Christianity is 1 Peter 2:15 "For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people." [ESV]
  • One of the biggest points non-Christians make that they seem to think undermines any Christian's stand is pointing out that Christians aren't perfect. They often point to the crusades and say that Christians are hypocritical for preaching one thing and living another. And they would be right in some cases. Sometimes, this causes Christians to doubt if they should be teaching and sharing their beliefs. They wonder if they are being hypocritical and if so, then they think they have no place criticizing others. Hypocritical Christians need to examine themselves and make sure that they are living in a God-honoring way that reflects Christ.
  • However, no one is perfect, and all Christians will mess up. The world interprets this as a piece of evidence that Christians are just a bunch of hypocrites. The difference is for Christians who recognize their faults, and praise Jesus for saving them from their sin. Something I've noticed that seems to cool the steam of hostile unbelievers when they accuse Christians of being judgmental hypocrites is having the Christian readily admit they themselves are flawed as well. This often catches unbelievers off guard and destroys their accusations of judgment on the part of the Christian. When a Christian says, "Yes, I mess up. Yes, I'm sometimes a hypocrite. Yes, I'm a sinner. And yes, I've been saved and forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ" suddenly the unbeliever can't call the Christians judgmental. The Christian has knocked down a barrier and worked in the gospel message all in one.
  • Coming back to the verse, Christians should do good, simply because God tells them to, but also because it is a wonderful witness. But when they mess up, even that can be used to bring people to Christ.
Here's yet another passage that shows Christians how to act and defend their faith. Colossians 2:6-8 "Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ." [ESV] Once again, there are multiple points in this passage.
  •  The three major pieces of instruction offered first all direct the behavior of Christians. They are to walk in Christ, and be established firmly in the faith. You can't defend your faith if you aren't convinced of it yourself. Know what you believe and why.
  • Don't allow anyone of the world to cause you to doubt God. Many intellectuals and scientists have what may seem like good and compelling arguments, but don't allow their empty deceit to fool you. If someone brings up a seeming "contradiction" in your faith, then ask a strong fellow Christian and reestablish your convictions. Don't be afraid to ask questions and seek answers, just don't fall prey to the "logic" of the world. 
Notice that in all these verses, the instructions are for responding. First Peter 3 says to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. First Peter 2 doesn't even include speaking. Rather, it merely commands you how to behave. Of course, the Bible also instructs Christians to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . ." (Matthew 28:19-20). However, I do find it interesting that all three of these passages are about responding and answering. The definition of defend is to: resist an attack made on (someone or something). That's what I'm discussing in this particular post, not how to go out and preach the gospel. That's a topic for another time. :)

These verses just barely scratch the surface of the Biblical instruction for how to defend the Christian faith. I've found countless others rich with teachings on this topic. I encourage you to see how many others you can find until I share a few more in part two of "How Do We Defend Christianity?"

Have you ever been placed in a position where you've had to defend your beliefs? How did you handle the situation?
 P.S. I changed my blog layout in anticipation of spring! Let me know what you think. :) 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Defending the Faith: Why Learn to Defend Christianity?

Allow me to paint a scenario. Assume you are at school, or work, or chatting with your friends, or just talking to an acquaintance.  Suddenly, your faith is placed in question when a teacher explains that the Big Bang resulted in the world and evolution took it from there, or that aliens brought life to earth. Your coworker adamantly proclaims that science disproves God's existence. A friend asks how you know that Jesus is the Son of God and that the Bible is trustworthy. The acquaintance laughs at the notion that Jesus rose from the dead. How would you respond?

So why should we learn to defend our faith? You'll find the answer to that question in a single verse, 1 Peter 3:15, "but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect."

Put quite simply, we need to be able to stand up for and explain our Christian beliefs because the Bible commands us to do so. Similar to being "God's Billboard," we should know what we believe and why so that when asked, we are prepared to give a solid answer. By knowing scripture and studying, not only are we as Christians prepared to give a reason for our faith when put on the spot, but we are preparing our own minds to fend off any falsehood others will claim is fact. Instead of being placed in a situation where your faith is put on trial and you find yourself without an answer, be ready. Prepare now. Don't wait until a suicidal friend gives you five minutes to convince her that her life has true meaning before searching for the answers.

An example I believe demonstrates this well is that of a fireman, policeman, or soldier. They prepare so that when they are deployed, they will know what to do. They pour their time and energy into knowing everything possible about their field of work so that when the time comes, they're ready to put out the fire, handle dangerous situations, and fight the enemy. In order to defend our faith, Christians must learn how to do it, and know what their answers will be when the opportunity arises. Don't be caught unaware. There's abundant evidence for the truth of the Bible in astronomy, geology, biology, physics, archeology, and all aspects of science. If you aren't sure where to find these evidences, ask strong Christians who hold your own beliefs, locate Biblical institutions that interpret the Bible literally and offer clear evidences. Most of all, study your Bible to know truth for yourself—don't simply accept what you are taught, even from pastors and people you trust. Base your own beliefs on doctrines you can Biblically support.

Friday, January 26, 2018

2017 Book and Music Recap

Since my wrap-up post for 2017 was already extremely long, I decided my reading of 2017 and a list of my favorite songs could comprise a second post. To read my year's summary, you can click HERE. Now, on with the post.

I'm generally not a big music-person, but as I've found better and better songs, I've come to look forward to putting on my music and praising the Lord. I generally only listen to Christian contemporary, so that's what all these are. Over the last few months, I've been listening quite often to K-Love, a Christian radio station. I've enjoyed almost every song they've played. The lyrics are absolutely incredible. To mention a few I'd recommend:
"When We Pray" Tauren Wells
"O Lord" Lauren Daigle
"Control" Tenth Avenue North
"Point to You" We Are Messengers
"Lions" Skillet
"Miracle" Unspoken
"Different" Micah Tyler
"Jesus I Believe" Big Daddy Weave
"Miracles" Audio Adrenaline

I've also enjoyed several songs by King and Country, the Newsboys, Jordan Feliz ("The River"), and Hawk Nelson ("Diamonds," "Words," "Drops in the Ocean"). "Courageous" by Casting Crowns is powerful. A Christmas song that really spoke to me this winter was "The Night Before Christmas" by Brandon Heath.

I could list a hundred more, but these will suffice for now. :) I'm eager to discover more great songs this year. I've already found a few!

Now for the best section of my 2017 recap. :) It's been a wonderful year as far as finding some fabulous authors. This marks my third year keeping meticulous track of the books I read. Often, I can tell my mood from each month simply by which books I read. Here are my reading stats:
15,600+ total pages
53 books
1300 average pages/month
294 average pages/book
4.4 average books/month
Best month: March (9 books; 2,633 pages)
Worst month: October (2 books; 749 pages)
Longest book: 486 pages (Exiles, Jaye L. Knight)
Shortest book: 108 pages (Befriending the Beast, Amanda Tero)
Number of rereads: only 3 (When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy; Dare, Tricia Mingerink; Deny, Tricia Mingerink)
Number of authors: 33
Fiction books: 50
Nonfiction books: 3

Here is the complete list of books I read.

January (1,894 pages total)
  1. Red Rock Mysteries: Hollywood Holdup, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (208 pages)
  2. Out From Egypt: Shadow of the Storm, Connilyn Cossette (346 pages)
  3. The Blades of Acktar: Destroy, Tricia Mingerink (165 pages)
  4. Adventures of the Northwoods: The Vanishing Footprints, Lois W. Johnson (156 pages)
  5. Dragons in Our Midst: Tears of a Dragon, Bryan Davis (363 pages)
  6. The Staff and the Sword: A Cast of Stones, Patrick W. Carr (428 pages)
  7. Red Rock Mysteries: Wind Chill, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (228 pages)

February (1,135 pages total)
  1. Land of Shining Water: The Icecutter's Daughter, Tracie Peterson (331 pages)
  2. Chiveis Trilogy: The Gift, Bryan M. Litfin (407 pages)
  3. Ilyon Chronicles: The King's Scrolls, Jaye L. Knight (397 pages)

March (2,633 pages total)
  1. Out of Time: A Time to Die, Nadine Brandes (389 pages)
  2. Circle C Milestones: Courageous Love, Susan K. Marlow (186 pages)
  3. A Seven Wonders Novel: Shadow of Colossus, T. L. Higley (384 pages)
  4. Left to Die, Ivy Rose (116 pages)
  5. Martin Generations: Martin Hospitality, Abigayle Claire (386 pages)
  6. Circle C Adventures: Andrea Carter and the Long Ride Home (expanded edition), Susan K. Marlow (195 pages)
  7. Ranger's Apprentice: The Ruins of Gorlan, John Flanagan (249 pages)
  8. Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge, John Flanagan (262 pages)
  9. Ilyon Chronicles: Samara's Peril, Jaye L. Knight (464 pages)

April (1,283 pages total)
  1. Ranger's Apprentice: The Icebound Land, John Flanagan (266 pages)
  2. Red Rock Mysteries: Hidden Riches, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (249 pages)
  3. Red Rock Mysteries: Dead End, Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry (235 pages)
  4. The Blades of Acktar: Deliver, Tricia Mingerink (239 pages)
  5. Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia, John Flanagan (294 pages)

May (1,164 pages total + Romeo and Juliet)
  1. Ranger's Apprentice: The Sorcerer of the North, John Flanagan (295 pages)
  2. When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy (265 pages)
  3. Ranger's Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw, John Flanagan (293 pages)
  4. The Omega Trilogy: Unbound, J. B. Simmons (311 pages)
  5. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare

June (947 pages total)
  1. Steadfast Love: The Sound of Diamonds, Rachelle Rea (276 pages)
  2. Dandelion Dust, Faith Potts (178 pages)
  3. Outrageous Courage, Kris and Jason Vallotton (154 pages)
  4. Out From Egypt: Wings of the Wind, Connilyn Cossette (339 pages)

July (1,471 pages total)
  1. The Staff and the Sword: The Hero's Lot, Patrick W. Carr (437 pages)
  2. The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers (372 pages)
  3. The Homelanders: The Last Thing I Remember, Andrew Klavan (336 pages)
  4. Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25, Richard Paul Evans (326 pages)

August (835 pages total)
  1. Michael Vey: The Rise of the Elgen, Richard Paul Evans (335 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: The Battle of the Ampere, Richard Paul Evans (320 pages)
  3. Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin (180 pages)

September (1,469 pages total)
  1. DragonKeeper Chronicles: DragonKnight, Donita K. Paul (393 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: Hunt for Jade Dragon, Richard Paul Evans (319 pages)
  3. Ilyon Chronicles: Exiles, Jaye L. Knight (486 pages)
  4. Michael Vey: Storm of Lightning, Richard Paul Evans (271 pages)

October (749 pages total)
  1. The Blades of Acktar: Dare, Tricia Mingerink (334 pages)
  2. The Last of the Mohicans, James Fenimore Cooper (415 pages)

November (1,080 pages total)
  1. The Blades of Acktar: Deny, Tricia Mingerink (328 pages)
  2. Michael Vey: Fall of Hades, Richard Paul Evans (328 pages)
  3. Michael Vey: The Final Spark, Richard Paul Evans (316 pages)
  4. Tales of Faith: Befriending the Beast, Amanda Tero (108 pages)

December (949 pages total)
  1. Heroes of Quantico: Against All Odds, Irene Hannon (332 pages)
  2. Alaskan Courage: Submerged, Dani Pettrey (310 pages)
  3. The Beautiful Pretender, Melanie Dickerson (307 pages)

If asked to choose a favorite book from the year, it'd be a difficult decision. The nominees are:

The Atonement Child, Francine Rivers
This is an extremely powerful, and well-written story. Rivers is among my favorite authors, and I'd highly recommend this book to all mature readers.

Dare and Deny, Tricia Mingerink
If you've kept track of my blog and favorite books for any length of time, you'll know that Mingerink is my top favorite author, thus why Dare and Deny absolutely had to make the favorites list.

Exiles, Jaye L. Knight
Book four in the series, Exiles was a fast-paced, thrilling fantasy that kept me turning the pages. Knight is also one of my favorite authors.

When Dreams Come True, Eric and Leslie Ludy
Another reread, the few books I've read by the Ludy couple are very well done and appealing to the intended audience. This particular book is the story of their courtship.

Martin Hospitality, Abigayle Claire
As Claire's debut novel, you can't tell it's her first publication. The story line is deep but written with a tasteful sense of humor. I'm eager for book two.

Dandelion Dust, Faith Potts
Also a debut author, I've been following Faith for several years on her blog. I was thrilled for her book's release, and thoroughly enjoyed the tale. Heart-wrenching as it is, Faith succeeded in making me cry. Excellent characterization and plot.

Submerged, Dani Pettrey
A new author to me, Pettrey's first book in her Alaskan Courage series was thrilling. A suspenseful romance, it was also a story of redemption that kept me flipping pages.

In my winning envelope is a tie between Mingerink's Dare and River's The Atonement Child.

I didn't have too many disappointing reads this year, but there were still a few that didn't quite tickle my fancy. I'd really been looking forward to Nadine Brande's A Time to Die, but the style just wasn't what I'm used to, and I felt the characterization and plot left room for some improvement. I found the ending of Dead End, the fifteenth and final book in the Red Rock Mysteries series by Jenkins and Fabry, to be a personally disappointing close to a wonderful series. And finally, Cooper's Last of the Mohicans was just too difficult for me to read style-wise. I've never been a big fan of the "classics."

On the other hand, my top three favorite series of the year would have to be the Blades of Acktar by Tricia Mingerink, Ilyon Chronicles by Jaye L. Knight, and Michael Vey by Richard Paul Evans. I read all seven books of the Michael Vey series this year and they were fantastic! Although not a Christian series as all the other books I've specifically mentioned so far have been, the series was still clean and greatly entertaining.

In addition to my favorite authors already mentioned above, some authors new to me who are now on my list include Faith Potts, Abigayle Claire, Ivy Rose, Richard Paul Evans, Melanie Dickerson, and Dani Pettrey. Another new author I found enjoyable was John Flanagan.

Top 5 favorite book covers:

This year, several books left me thinking and had quite an impact on me. The first was (once again) Francine River's The Atonement Child, which addressed the abortion issue. A similar novel was Martin Hospitality. Then Ivy Rose's story, Left to Die, kept me considering situations missionaries face in foreign countries. A nonfiction book that challenged me was Outrageous Courage about missionary Tracy Evans. I found her incredible story powerful and entirely inspiring. It's a great reminder of God's power in present, day-to-day life.

A giant thank-you to everyone who recommended books for me to read this year, and who gave me books for Christmas or my birthday. (My parents, grandparents, the Martin family, Alex, Samuel—thank you all!) It's because of you that I can keep reading and discovering amazing books and authors! :)

Be sure to pick a few of my favorite books from the year to add to your 2018 TBR list, and check out some of the songs! Have you read any of these? Or listened to these song artists? Thanks for reading!

Saturday, January 20, 2018

A Year in Review: 2017

These last few months have been hectic, as I'm sure you can guess based on my absence from the blogging universe. Between Thanksgiving, Christmas shopping, taking trips, Christmas, school, friends, and my birthday, life has been quite the busy adventure. Am I the only one having trouble believing 2018 is already upon us? Please note, this post has a large amount of photos. :) What's a year recap without pictures?

I know it's already halfway through January, but allow me to recap my year, if for no other reason than for the sake of my own sanity to bring closure to 2017.

One of my favorite Princess Bride quotes. :)

In some ways, 2017 was a far better year than 2016, but in other areas it was just as hard—or harder. There have been some amazing highlights to my year, but also quite a bit of difficulties regarding the health of family members. I've made some fabulous friends, but also lost some other close friendships. I've received good grades in tough classes, but also struggled through certain areas of my schooling. I can think of several words to summarize 2017: challenging, surprising, full of change, but if I had only one word to describe it, I'd say it was a year of growth. Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I faced several new experiences, some good and some . . . not-so-good.

Growth; Spiritually
I am confident this last year has grown me stronger in my walk with God. I've made many mistakes (thank you, Jesus, for your grace and mercy!), but each time I came out stronger. I found myself placed in situations where I had to make the choice to put God as more of a priority in my life. Throughout the year, God also placed me in circumstances where I could help and give advice to others. This gave me a chance to answer some questions for myself and learn how I can share with others. I've become more firm in my convictions, and closer to more fully trusting God. Each different environment I found myself in was an opportunity to shine more brightly for Christ. Every person I had contact with was a chance for me to act like "God's Billboard". All the situations I faced were ways to test me and my commitments to people and God. Not that I was ever ashamed of what I believe, but now I'm a little more willing to speak up about it and for what I know is right without cowering. As you can probably tell based on the added dimension of seriousness my posts have had, I've been viewing things in a deeper level, and I've found myself eager to share the things God points out to me. I'm still learning how to find and follow God's plans for my life, but through everything I experienced in 2017, I've come to trust God more and be more willing to be His hands and feet.

Growth; Mentally
My sophomore and junior years of high school have been tough. Really, really, difficult. By noon on some days, I can practically feel my mind expanding. :) Don't ever believe that all homeschoolers have it easy. ;) As my family and friends can attest to, I've had a heavy schedule and extremely challenging courses. For the first time, I tried having a double (i.e. college) schedule with a few of my subjects. Last semester I did a full year of Physics and PreCalculus, so that I don't have either science or math this semester and can double up on some other subjects. Some of my favorites of the past year are my Apologetics (defending the Christian faith), Worldviews and World Religions (studying six major worldviews of modern day), and Constitutional Literacy (learning the original intent of the Constitution in relation to where America stands today). All these classes have changed my outlook at the world and the people in it. Now I have a better understanding of why people view things the way they do, and I'm better equipped to talk with them. My other courses have also been readying me for adulthood. While the schedule has been challenging, I've truly enjoyed studying more about the world in which I live.

Growth; Emotionally
Between friends and family having some major health crisis and looking ahead thinking about my future, it's been a pretty emotional year. Unfortunately, it has become far too easy for my emotions to wear me down and lead toward depression. Thanks to my wonderful family, friends, and God, I made it through the year. I'm still drained emotionally, but trying to keep my focus on God rather than everything the world throws at me helps.

Life hasn't been easy, but God has been good. He's blessed me and my family beyond measure. I've found one of the keys that's guided me through 2017 has been a continuous gratitude. Thanking God for all the blessings, big and small. "Thank you, Lord, for the beautiful weather!" "Thanks for amazing friends!" "Thank you that I have food to eat and clean water to drink." "Thanks for allowing me to have another day on this earth!" "Thank you for helping me do well on this test/in my job." There are so many things to be grateful for. " Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above . . ." (James 1:17) Concentrating on the blessings rather than the difficulty has been a key step for me this year.

Now, for the lighthearted part of my 2017 journey.

~Blog Stats~
Total Blog Posts: 172 (including this post)
Number of 2017 Posts: 28
Most Popular Posts of 2017:
 Personal Post Favorites From 2017:
I'm up to 49 Google followers and 52 email subscribers. (Some of those are overlaps.) Nine email subscribers were added in 2017.
My blog has now had almost 33,600 pageviews over its history. Almost 20,000 of those are from the United States, but apparently I have nearly 9,000 views from Russia. There's also a substantial amount from France and Canada.
I only changed my blog layout twice.

~Writing Stats~
As seems to always be the case, I didn't do nearly as much writing this year as I'd hoped. But considering all my other varied experiences, I'm okay with that.
Words on Arkinland Chronicles (formerly Dragon Chronicles): 14,700+
Words on other projects: 13,000+
Grand Total: Almost 30K

~Reading Stats~
I'll wait on this and am planning a separate post for just my reading in 2017. Stay tuned!

Here are a few of my new experiences in 2017 with no particular order.
I spent an afternoon whitewater rafting on the Kern River! I've dreamed of river rafting for years, so to finally be able to was thrilling.
Early in the year, I got my amateur radio technician license! Having the option to use the radio for communication has been extremely freeing for my family.

I learned to play both the board games of Catan and Risk. Since playing them for the first time, they've become among my favorite games. (I'm currently the Catan champion in the family.)

In March, I had the excitement of watching myself on a big screen in Bakersfield for the Christian Youth Film Society's annual film festival. For those of you who recall from November 2016 when I participated in the film camp, the short film I acted in was entered into the Film Festival. It was extremely fun to hear the crowd laughing at all the humorous scenes. :)

Beginning of December, I volunteered at a Christmas party for foster children where I worked at a cookie decorating table.

My sister and I rode our horses over to a neighbor's property for the first time and were able to work in an arena.

I filmed a funny short movie (mostly) on my own, for a homeschool project on Newton's Laws of Motion.
A still from the film: a fig newton bar being chased by a star destroyer.
My sister and I performed a scene from the Princess Bride for the Life Camp talent show. (It was our first act together in the talent show.)

I acted in front of a green screen.

Flying a drone for the first time was exhilarating!

In June, my family and I returned to Lone Pine for vacation and worked on a lavender farm for a few days. My sister and I also were able to help with the horses on the farm. This was the first time in months I'd had a chance to relax and read, both of which I did in some unusual places (like up in a tree over a river).
Reading in the middle of a high mountain meadow.

I finally was able to travel to the beach with a group of friends as part of high school Life Camp. We had a wonderful time, and even had "chapel" on the beach.
I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo for the first time. (It's a virtual writer's camp.)

During the solar eclipse, I watched it from the 70% zone.

This was my first full year as the church librarian. (That's still the best job out there when you love reading!)

I finally drove my dad's tractor for the first time as part of filming another family movie. :)

While on a trip to Hume Lake for my sister's birthday, we helped the staff build the set in the chapel for their summer camps. The castle design was extremely intricate!

I went on the ocean for a whale watching expedition!

~Other Highlights~
Counseling for the second time at Camp Good News for a week of the summer was a marvelous experience. My group of girls tested me but were all so sweet, and I loved being there to pour into their lives and teach them about Christ for a week.

Last winter was a record for rainfall with a total of 42"! Gratefully, the rain came over a long enough time period where we didn't have mudslides from the fire a few months previous.

My family and grandparents took our tenth annual family picture at a coffee shop in Carmel, CA. We're so blessed to have had those ten years of good health and great memories.
Over the course of the year, my family and I took trips to Pacific Grove and Monterey, Los Angeles, Kernville, Lone Pine, Shaver Lake (where we went skiing again!), Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park.
Skiing at Shaver Lake

Relaxing by the Kern River

Taking pictures of the Kern River

I had a doctor dig around in my finger because I accidentally stuck a pencil in it. Long story. Don't worry, I won't post pictures of that. :)

We filmed another short family movie over the summer and fall. It's best described as an Indiana Jones parody with lots of fossils included. :) We consider this to be the height of our production quality thus far, by expanding our limits to working with a green screen, "blowing things up" for the sake of the film (don't worry, not really), and creating a "behind the scenes."

This was our "explosion"

Even the horses got in the film!
My family and I started a hunt for all 50 license plates. So far we have 42.

I actually dressed up for my church's Light the Night festival. I didn't think I was going to but then I decided, "why not?" My outfit was technically Cleopatra, though I'd rather not be associated with her. Instead, I'm just saying that I was an Egyptian queen. :)

My family's Christmas picture this year expanded to include our horses, Dream and Baylie.

~Favorite Pictures I Took~
I've posted a few of these at some point during the year, but they're still my favorites. Enjoy!

Monterey Bay. Everyone says this could be a postcard photo.
I really like this one. :)
Ocean sunsets are among my favorite pictures to take.
This was on the whale watching trip.
This is probably my favorite from the whole year.

~Bible Verses and Quotes~
A Bible verse I often referred to during 2017 was my current "theme verse", 1 Timothy 4:12. "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity."

One of my favorite quotes I heard last year is: "Life isn't how many breaths you take, but it's the moments that take your breath away."

With that, I'll wrap up my 2017 recap. I hope you enjoyed getting a glimpse into my year! May 2018 be a blessed year for every one of you! Thank you for reading. :)

Note: All images used in this post are not to be duplicated or used in any format without express permission by the photographer.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Looking Into Psalms: Psalm 1

I can't believe how long it's been since I posted! Allow me to offer my most sincere apologies, and send out a hearty "thank you" to all you faithful who stick around. I wish you a very late Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year! :)

This morning, in reading over Psalm 1, which I've read and studied more times than I can count, something new jumped out at me. That's one of my favorite things about the Bible; God always reveals new things to us, even in passages we know by heart. If you read nothing else from this post, please make sure you read the key points in bold below. Throughout the post, all Bible verse references are links to the verse/passage, where you can read them yourself. Don't trust my interpretation; read the texts and do it yourself! The text of Psalm 1 is as follows in the ESV.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

My interpretation of verses one and two is: "God will bless those who avoid wrongdoing and keep their minds focused on God and His Word at all times—in all circumstances." [NOTE: meditate in the Bible means simply to focus on God, His Word, and things pure as commanded in Philippians 4:8. New Spirituality (aka New Age) has stolen the word from Biblical context and given it a poor connotation, but in a Biblical sense it is not the same type of "meditation" as New Spiritualists promote.] Lately, I've been attempting to meditate more on God, His promises, and His Word, like verse two instructs. Thus I found myself rereading Psalm 1 today as I've been doing the past few days. How do we meditate on God's law? Read the Bible, reread passages, pray about it, and ask God to reveal new things to you. He will.

The following verse is what stood out to me this morning. Isn't the metaphor beautiful? Who wouldn't want to be like a strong, thriving tree provided with everything it needs? Who brings glory to God and prospers? But how do we achieve this? Look back at verse two for the key. We must meditate on God's Word. Now that we have that knowledge, let's look at the third line of verse 3: "that yields its fruit in its season" This is the part where I found some new insight which inspired me to write this post.

Key Point 1: I looked over the passage, half reading, half reciting from memory, and almost instantly, "in its season" jumped off the page at me. Oftentimes as Christians, we look around but fail to recognize any fruit of our faithfulness to God. First, make sure you are being "righteous" as we learn in verses one and two. If you realize you are obeying the commands in the first verses, then take a look at "in its season." We aren't always privileged to witness the fruit of our labors. When we are, it isn't usually right away. God decides the "season" for each person to yield their fruit. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8) It might be the next day, the next month, or not even in our lifetime. But Psalm 1 promises there will be fruit for those who fulfill the part of the righteous man depicted in the passage. Galatians 6:9 affirms this: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."

Key Point 2: My second revelation came from my new Study Bible's commentary. (Thanks, Dad and Mom!) Also from the third line of verse three, my commentary pointed out, "As a tree bears fruit not for itself but for others, so also, when the faithful person prospers, he brings benefit to others." As I considered this, I realized its truth. A tree doesn't eat its own fruit! Instead, others are blessed by it. This is the purpose of being a righteous man, to bring glory to God through our works. (See the post I wrote on bringing glory to God: God's Billboard.)

Moving on to verses four and five. In the end of time when Jesus returns or we die and meet our maker, God will segregate the wicked from the righteous. He, and He alone, knows who are the righteous, and who are not. No one can fool God. He will divide the goats from the sheep, the sinners from the saved, the wicked from the righteous. To the unrighteous, no matter how they plead and grovel, He will speak the dreaded words: "I never knew you; depart from me." (Matthew 7:22-23) For the righteous, however, he will welcome them with open arms into His kingdom, as His children come home.

Finally, verse six ends the Psalm on a happier note for the righteous. God looks with pleasure and joy upon the way of the righteous. He rewards them, if not here on earth, then in heaven.

I'm praying that some of this may have blessed you as it did me. Have a marvelous weekend, friends!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Five Fall Favorites Book Party

Hello, all! I wanted to drop in quickly today to make all my fellow book-lovers aware of an amazing book party multiple authors are hosting and welcome you to my second favorite season of the year. It's time to curl up as the air grows ever crisper and read your favorite books.

You can view the main site for the party, Read Another Page, by clicking on the blog title. For two more days ten readers are sharing their top five favorite books in a different genre each day. This is the second annual party; and I enjoyed the last one. So far, this one is fantastic too! Maybe I'll even end up sharing some of my favorite books as well. Additionally, there's a huge book giveaway with a grand prize awesome enough to make any reader covetous. :) So come—join in the fun! Let's get in the book-reading, fall spirit. Once again, click HERE to participate in the party! Three cheers for books!

P.S. Stay tuned for a new blog layout in honor of autumn's arrival!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

God's Plans

Yesterday morning, I felt God clearly place a verse on my mind that I hadn't thought of in awhile—one that I should have been clinging to, especially considering all the trials currently surrounding my family, friends, and community.

Isaiah 55:8 in the ESV reads "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord."

What an amazing verse to keep in mind in the midst of struggles. When our lives don't go according to our plans, keep this verse in mind. First of all, for Christians, "our" life isn't "ours" at all. It belongs to God. That's what it means to surrender completely to Him. To hand God the reigns and say "Okay, Lord, where do You want to go? What do You want to do?"

Secondly, there's also a problem with the other "our" in that sentence. We shouldn't be making our own plans! That's not our job; it's for God to do. I can tell you from plenty of experience that "our" plans mean NOTHING to God. He wildly shakes them up all the time.

"It's a funny thing, how much time we spend planning our lives. We so convince ourselves of what we want to do, that sometimes we don't see what we're meant to do."
-Susan Gregg Gilmore

Humans make plans and think that anything other than those plans are failure. This isn't true! Rather, whatever God leads you to do is what you should do, whether it follows your plans or not. Oftentimes, this trust is incredibly difficult to give. In fact, I myself love to plan. It helps me stay focused and have goals. I'm not saying that all planning is wrong—it just has to be aligned with God's plans for you, and if He decides to change them, then submit. Everything is harder if you don't submit to Him and His plans.

Even if it doesn't seem like it, God's plans are always far superior to our own. He knows the future; He knows what is best for us; He loves us. The God who made the universe, who made you, who made everything knows the number of hairs on your head—He can take care of you. (Luke 12:7) When our plans seem like the best way to go, remember Isaiah 55:8. God's thoughts aren't the same as ours, and we don't know His plans for us or others. No matter your circumstance, I promise you that God is with you. He'll never leave you and He does indeed have a plan for you, even when it doesn't seem clear or like the best route. Trust Him in all things, and let His plans guide you.
Update on my friend who was in the accident last Wednesday: Her surgery on Thursday went about as well as the doctors had hoped. Though she still has no feeling in her lower extremities, she does have feeling one inch lower than she did the previous day. She starts therapy soon and will be transferred to a hospital that specializes in spinal chord injuries. Keep praying for a miracle; it already is one that she is alive and has no apparent brain injuries! Thank you for your faithful prayers!