Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines 2: Meditation

This series began with an introduction and study of why it's important to study the spiritual disciplines, which I recommend reading before you continue this post. It is crucial that you understand why you should even desire to learn about these before you commit to life changing patterns. If your heart is simply to read a blog post about God and not truly get to know Him better, this series is not for you. If you would like, you can read my introductory post by clicking HERE. Let's start with the Discipline of Meditation.


In his book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney recognizes meditation as a sub-category of "Bible Intake." He lists it among Bible Reading, Hearing God's Word, Studying the Bible, Memorizing Scripture, and Application. Think of meditation in this context.

What is Meditation?
What is the difference between Christian meditation and other religions' meditation? I discussed this in the context of Psalm 1 about a year ago (read HERE). In the Bible, meditation means focusing your mind on God, His Word, and things true and pure as commanded in Philippians 4:8. New Spirituality (aka New Age) has stolen the word out of the Biblical context, thus giving it a bad reputation among modern Christians. However, in a Biblical sense, "meditation" is very different from the meditation promoted by New Spiritualists. Whereas New Spiritualists encourage emptying the mind, Christians are aiming to fill it with God's truths. When New Spiritualists try to achieve mental passivity, Christians are using constructive mental activity (Whitney). Also, New Spiritualists attempt to visualize their own reality, but Christians focus on things that are real and true. In Foster's Celebration of Discipline, he says the clearest difference between Eastern forms of meditation and Christian meditation is the focus on obedience and faithfulness present in Biblical meditation. From here on, meditation will mean Biblically-based meditation.

Whitney defines meditation as "deep thinking on the truths and spiritual realities revealed in Scripture for the purposes of understanding, application, and prayer." Foster says it is "the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word." Though at first glance these seem different, they're really saying the same thing. Hearing God's word is thinking on it, and obeying is the same as applying it. Together, these definitions give a good picture of meditation. It could be rephrased: "Meditation is hearing God's voice through thinking on the truths in Scripture and understanding them, obeying their implications, and praying about them."

A wonderful analogy my small group leader shared is also found in Whitney's book. Think of a cup of hot water. When you drop in a tea bag and immediately remove it, the water will have some flavor, but not much. This is like simply reading the Bible. However, if you leave the tea bag in the water, the flavor grows stronger—like meditation. Meditation is not the same as reading or studying the Bible. Meditation is concentrating on a specific portion of Scripture, listening for what the Holy Spirit reveals, void of outside sources. The longer you focus on a certain part of God's Word, the better your understanding will be, and the more it will affect your life.

Note: There are different forms of Christian meditation, such as examining nature, but this post concentrates on meditating on God's Word.

Why Meditate?
For starters, meditation is a command. In the NIV, Joshua 1:8 reads: "Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." This verse shows us that not only is meditation commanded, but there is a purpose and a promise connected with it. The purpose of meditation is to obey God's statutes, and the promise is for success. Please note, this "success" is success in God's eyes, not necessarily our own. Another promise related to when we meditate is found in Psalm 1. "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." The Psalm goes on to compare this man who loves God's word to a healthy, fruitful tree that prospers. Isaiah 26:3 promises: "You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." Do you want your soul to be prosperous, successful, blessed, and peaceful? Meditate.

However, the true heart that meditates should be focused solely on knowing God better and seeking to honor Him. Foster says that when we make a practice of meditating on God, we enter into a very intimate place with Him, where anything that is not of Him becomes distasteful to us.
Everything that is foreign to [H]is way we will have to let go. No, not "have to" but "want to," for our desires and aspirations will be more and more conformed to [H]is way. Increasingly, everything within us will swing like a needle to the polestar of the Spirit.
We cannot help but change when experiencing the presence of God. The "Divine Fire will consume everything that is impure." The more we meditate, the closer we become to God. "Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you . . . " (James 4:8). This should be the desire of the heart that makes meditation a habit.

Therefore, why meditate? To grow into a deep closeness with God, change our lives to be more in line with His heart, spiritually prosper, and be blessed.

Examples
  • Genesis 24:63 "And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening."
  • Likely either David or Ezra wrote Psalm 119:15-16, 97-99, 148. "I will meditate on Your precepts and fix my eyes on Your ways. I will delight in Your statutes; I will not forget Your word . . . . Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation . . . . My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise."
  • David in Psalm 19:14 "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer."
  • While the Bible doesn't specifically say, "Then Jesus went and meditated," we know that He did, because He frequently left the crowds to go pray. We know that He knew the Scriptures well, because he quoted them often. Luke 2:52 says that Jesus grew in wisdom and favor with God. As we've seen this is the result of meditation.

How Do I Meditate?
As Foster says, "We learn to meditate by meditating." However, here are a few basic steps to get started.
  1. Find a location. This should be a fairly quiet place, and there should be minimal distractions. (no phones!) Also, it's good to use the same place each time so you don't waste time looking for a place.
  2. Devote a sizeable amount of time. Don't rush your meditation—it takes time to calm your mind from all the stresses of everyday life and reach the place where you can truly concentrate on Scripture. The longer the better.
  3. Find a passage to meditate on. This can be done in any number of ways. You could look up verses that apply to a certain situation you are going through, or you could choose a word, phrase, verse, or chapter that stands out to you during your Bible reading. Another option is to read a passage, discern its main point, and meditate on the meaning and application.
  4. Read your passage. Often, it is beneficial to do more than a cursory "reading" of your section of choice. You might read it over multiple times, rewrite it in your own words, repeat aloud a verse or phrase, emphasizing a different word each time, or pray through the passage and ask the Holy Spirit to grant you understanding. You could do all of these or just choose one or two.
  5. Find a way to apply what you've learned. Application is a discipline in itself, but since meditation is for the purpose of change, as you meditate, look for a way to apply it to your life—then do it.
In Conclusion . . .
Meditation is a key discipline. Every discipline is important, but meditation is one of the biggest for bringing you closer to the heart of God. As I quoted earlier, "We learn to meditate by meditating." Don't put this off. Start meditating today, and make it a habit. Don't give up when it gets hard. The fruit of your relationship with God and actions of your heart will be well worth it.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Spiritual Disciplines 1B: Introduction

Back in 2016, I posted a basic introduction to the spiritual disciplines with the intention of going into greater detail and turning it into a series. To date, I haven't been able to do this. However, the subject never truly left my heart or mind and, in recent weeks, God has brought it back to my attention through one of my small groups. I've decided to go deeper by reading one of the classic books on spiritual disciplines, Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster, and share what I feel God leading me to with you. This post will be a more detailed introduction than the one linked to above, and I'd highly encourage you to read this one as background for the posts that follow, and to see if you wish to devote time to this subject.


First and foremost, it is critical that you understand why you should practice the spiritual disciplines. Their purpose is to bring you to a place where you enter into intimacy with God. Romans 12:1-2 is one of the best passages that explains this:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
When we dedicate ourselves to God, give up our own desires in exchange for His, we are living for Him. The disciplines are part of what help us get to this place of closeness with Him. The more we practice them, the more our mind will be renewed and transformed to God's heart.

Before I can dive into discussing any one specific discipline, you have to understand why the disciplines in general are so important. I am not elevating them to a status higher than Biblical commands, because they all are Biblical commandments. Giving them the title of "spiritual disciplines" merely breaks them down into more manageable pieces and makes it easier to focus on each one individually. Below is a list I have compiled of the disciplines, though I am unsure how many I will cover in my series. It is not necessarily a complete list and, depending on who you talk to, you will find different names for some of them or perhaps two combined into one, but this is my own break-down combining ones I've come across through camp, small group, Celebration of Discipline, and various websites. As I post on a discipline listed here, I will link its title to that post. (I know there is a tendency to skim lengthy lists, but I suggest you slow down and truly read each.)
  • Accountability
  • Application
  • Bible Reading
  • Celebration
  • Chastity
  • Confession
  • Consistency
  • Contemplation
  • Contentment
  • Dedication
  • Encouragement
  • Evangelism
  • Fasting
  • Fellowship
  • Generosity
  • Gratitude/Thankfulness
  • Guidance
  • Hearing God's Word
  • Humility
  • Journaling
  • Learning
  • Love
  • Meditation
  • Memorizing Scripture
  • Obedience
  • Personal Reflection/Self-Examination
  • Prayer
  • Preaching
  • Resisting Temptation
  • Rest
  • Sabbath
  • Sacrifice
  • Secrecy
  • Service
  • Silence
  • Simplicity/Frugality
  • Solitude
  • Speaking
  • Stewardship
  • Study
  • Submission
  • Testimony
  • Waiting
  • Worship
That's a pretty daunting list, isn't it? Even if you just skimmed it, the sheer length is formidable. For me, merely listing all these overwhelmed me with a sense of failing before starting. Knowing that all these are Biblical requirements risks slipping into feeling inadequate and asking "Why try?" In truth, this is precisely where the journey must begin.

The goal of studying and practicing the disciplines is to experience a deep closeness with God, and the first step is realizing our own inability to achieve this. In his short book, Freedom from Sinful Thoughts, Heini Arnold writes, "As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever." When we try to accomplish the disciplines without relying on God, we may produce outward signs of success for a time, but will soon grow weary and our inner condition will ultimately be revealed. Before stepping into God's court, it is critical that we understand that without His help, we cannot make any progress toward intimacy with Him. In Celebration of Discipline, Foster explains:
When we despair of gaining inner transformation through human powers of will and determination, we are open to a wonderful new realization: inner righteousness is a gift from God to be graciously received. The needed change within us is God's work, not ours.
He goes on to cite Paul in the book of Romans, where Paul refers to the "free gift of righteousness." However, Foster also warns against then assuming that there is nothing we can do. There is a middle ground between doing our part in practicing the disciplines and relying on God's grace to work within us. The disciplines are a means of receiving God's grace. We cannot expect to do nothing and receive the results of the disciplines, Fruits of the Spirit, or intimacy with God.

Foster describes the journey of "disciplined grace" as a path between two cliffs. One cliff is human strivings for righteousness, and the other side is no human effort. The path is the disciplines. It leads to inner transformation, but it's a long and difficult path, and you must try not to slip to either side. "We must always remember that the path does not produce the change; it only places us where the change can occur." You need to make the decision to pursue this road with your eyes open to how much persistence and time it will take.

Knowing that it takes effort to achieve all this, consider why you, personally, would learn the disciplines. You must have a strong drive to continue practicing them, or you will soon give up. In order to succeed, the desire has to be stronger than the frustration of not seeing immediate results. As for me, I tend to start strong but my efforts quickly taper off when I don't make visible progress. Before long, I have stopped entirely. Foster sums up the issue simply:
Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.
Today's culture is busy and often results in shallow relationships. "How are you?" is a question asked without expecting more than a vague "good" in response, if that. It's even asked to a stranger we pass on the sidewalk. We don't expect deep answers from others, and this has seeped into our relationships' with God. The best way I see to avoid this is knowing how important a deep, close relationship with God is. The disciplines are designed to bring us closer to God, and yes, it takes time and persistence, but it will pay off. When it does, you will be tremendously blessed. Even before you realize you are reaping the benefits, you are. Little by little, you will see that instead of always struggling to be kind, forgiving, loving, etc. this becomes your natural state. In fact, it would be difficult to not be kind, forgiving, loving, etc. This change takes a long time of total commitment, but the reward will be great.

However, a word of caution should be given. Keep in mind that the disciplines are between you and God only. Be sure not to become like the Pharisees and boast of your works. The point of the disciplines is not to become a "better Christian," but more like Jesus—humble, loving, faithful. It's all about the heart behind it. It might be easy to fool others, but God cannot be tricked. He sees the heart, and He knows the reasons behind your efforts. Also remember that the disciplines should be regularly practiced not as another religious "duty" we must perform, but with a heart that desires only to grow closer to God. Don't allow the disciplines to become a set of laws that makes you proud when you follow and fearful when you don't. Keep your heart in the right place—purely longing for a deep closeness with God.

Now, perhaps this is what I should say at the end of every post in this series. Do not get caught up in the mechanics of the disciplines, and forget that it's all about the heart. God doesn't care if you don't do them "perfectly," and there is not necessarily any one "right" way to practice them. Your heart is the key. If you have a heart truly determined to do whatever it takes to grow nearer to God, He will honor that dedication and desire. Don't become concerned with exactly "how to" and never actually do it. Don't worry about if you're doing it "right," just start right away and practice it.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

True Love (as taught by The Princess Bride)

“This is true love—you think this happens every day?” (Westley—The Princess Bride)
Everybody longs for it. Even when people claim they're not looking for love, they are. They have a "love life," even when they aren't actively looking for a significant other. Everyone seeks love from different sources. For some, it might be the love between a husband and wife. For others, the love of parents, siblings, children, or friends. The desire to be loved is among the deepest feelings known to man. Valentine's Day (or "Singles Awareness Day") embodies this delight in being loved, or emphasizes the pain of lacking love. In this quest for true love, today's generations have lost the real definition of love. They have forgotten the source of perfect love. Instead of embracing the purest form of love, they have traded it for a substitute—the empty love of the world. All too often, people ignore the one true love they already have.

". . . true love is the greatest thing in the world. Except for a nice M.L.T., a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich . . ." (Miracle Max—The Princess Bride)
Of course, the truest form of love I'm referring to is the love of Jesus the Christ. The Bible tells us the magnitude of Jesus' love for us:
  • "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
  • "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).
  • And the famous: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." (John 3:16, NKJV).
These three verses alone summarize the depth of God's passion for mankind, His precious creation. First, the greatest kind of love is defined (sacrificing one's life for his friends); then we see that Jesus did this for us. The last verse further demonstrates the enormity of God's love as He gave His one and only Son to die so that man might be able to live with Him forever. There is no greater love than this. 

More so, what does God get from us? For what reason would He sacrifice so much? There is nothing we can offer God that is worthy of His awesome love. That's where the completely incredible part comes in. God doesn't need us. He wants us. Jesus wants us enough to be willing to die to save our lives, and we can't ever repay him. He loves us for the sake of loving us. Not for anything we do. He doesn't tell us to go and try to live perfectly. He doesn't ask that we all die martyrs' deaths for His sake. He only asks that we believe in Him and choose to enter into a relationship with Him. He desires for us to tell others about His love for them, and how He made a way for them to live in eternity with Him (Matthew 28:19-20). He wants us to bring glory to Him in all we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). This is pure grace and true love. Sacrificial. Loving not for what He can get out of the relationship, but simply because He cares about us.

Unfortunately, our standards of a "relationship" have been so diminished from what they should be, that we often forget that a commitment is a commitment.
We can't have many lovers.
We can't play the "dating game" with God, and have a different "love" every week.
"Why didn't you wait for me?" (Westley—The Princess Bride)
Our God is a jealous God, and He will not allow His bride (Christians) to have an affair. He will not compete for our hearts. Even so, He will not force us to love Him. It would not be true love if He did. Rather, He gives us a choice. We can choose Him, or we can choose the world. What will it be?

Too often, young Christians give up on the faith, unwilling to give up the comforts and pleasures of this world in exchange for the hard life of a Christian with a mind solely devoted to bringing glory to God. In a sense, they are saying:
"I loved once . . . It worked out badly." (Buttercup—The Princess Bride)
This is not true love. "Loving" only when it is easy or one benefits, is simply not love. It's self-seeking. It lacks purity. Christians who abandon God's true love for them are having an affair. They gave their heart to God, then took it back to give to the world. Sometimes, they hit a hard time in life, and go running back to God, claiming:
"I will never doubt again." (Buttercup—The Princess Bride)
Then, as soon as their life is back on track and things get better, they turn their backs on God again. 

The classic 1 Corinthians 13 passage explains true love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
God's love is perfect. Our love is far from perfect. Even on our best days, our love for God and those around us is imperfect. We are regularly quick-tempered, harsh, jealous, prideful, selfish, irritable, and resentful. We lack commitment. All of these are daily struggles, and they're all the opposite of love. Thank God He doesn't love us the same way we love Him.

On a human level, unfortunately, many tend to forget this true love. Since loving God is so hard, and not necessarily immediately gratifying, we turn to other substitutes, ignoring our True Love. We aren't willing to put the effort into loving God. Because of our poor attempts of love and failure to honor our commitments, we tend to settle for less than love and to act less than loving. We forget God's commands.
  • "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her" (Ephesians 5:25—italics mine).
  • "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:37-39).
  • "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).
Instead of following Christ's example of Biblical love, we have come to treat love as a fleeting feeling. It comes and goes. One day we might love someone, the next we don't. One day we might love Jesus, the next we don't. Again I say, this is not true love. Love doesn't come and go. It takes work. It endures all things and never ends. It loves our enemies.

This Valentine's Day, reevaluate your love life. Even if you claim you don't have a "love life," you do. There are people that you love and who love you, even when it's not shown well. Above all, God loves you, even when you don't love Him back. Take a look around you at your loves.
  • Is God your first love? Are you loving God as He has commanded? Are you remaining pure to Him, as His bride?
  • What about family and friends? Are you treating them with real love? Love that is patient, kind, putting them above yourself? Love that endures the arguments and bad days, weeks, or months? Love that persists even when it isn't returned?
  • Are you loving those around you by telling them the good news that they, too, have a True Love who is eager to embrace them?
  • Do you show God's love even to those who hate you?
Remember what true love is. Don't simply give someone a Valentine today, but tomorrow return to bickering. Love with God's perfect love, not on your own strength. Love others like God loves you. Unconditionally. And love God most of all. He is worthy. Don't settle for a substitute. It won't fulfill your longing for love. Only God's love will fill the void.

"This is true love—you think this happens every day?" No. It does not happen every day. Only those who choose to embrace God's perfect love will experience the beauty of true love. What a privilege to have access to the single biggest thing this world longs for!

A final bit of encouragement:
"Death cannot stop true love." (Westley—The Princess Bride)
This is the truest line I've quoted from The Princess Bride today. For a Christian, death only swirls you up into the arms of your True Love. Love blossoms to its fullest in the presence of the Lover. How much more so will the purest, truest of loves be in the presence of the Divine Lover?

Happy Valentine's Day! <3
Note: All Scripture is in the English Standard Version, unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Blog Tour: Decree Review

As promised, I'm back with a review of the fifth book in the Blades of Acktar series by Tricia Mingerink. Decree is a collection of short stories and novellas based on the characters in the previous books.

To read my reviews of Jaye L. Knight's books that released on the 14th, click HERE.


~ Decree ~

The Adventure Continues.

Discover more of The Blades of Acktar in this collection of novellas and short stories.

The Blades as They Should’ve Been

A test and the Gathering of Nobles will decide Leith and Martyn’s futures. Can they fight to become more than the Blades they were? Will Keevan accept the man who attempted to kill him as family?

The First Mission

When Martyn visits Surgis, his past seems determined to haunt him. Can he figure out how to forgive, especially when confronted with an enemy in need of his help?

To the Far Great Mountains

A death sends Leith and Martyn far beyond the borders of Acktar. Will they be able to arrest their quarry before they are caught themselves?

From the story of how Leith and Martyn met to Ranson’s search for a life outside of the Blades, these stories will answer plaguing questions and expand the world of Acktar.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads 

My Review:
As I mentioned in my review of Lacy, I'm not normally a huge fan of short stories and novellas, but Decree was well written and put together. While I enjoyed some of the stories more than others, the whole book was a fun read. Watching the various interactions between the characters left me smiling. Some stories were driven by action, while others were more about the characters. As in all the Acktar books, the characters truly shined. They have genuine personalities, fears, and dreams, that make readers fall in love with them and feel their same emotions. In the stories that were plot driven, the action was compelling. The setting contributed to the general plotlines, a subtle but well done aspect of the stories. The themes greatly added to the unique aspects of each story, both deep and real. Overall, I'd grant Decree four stars for the intriguing plots, believable (and loveable) characters, and important themes. I can definitely see rereading this at some point.

As a side note, Leith, the main character of the series, is the best assassin turned hero turned romantic I've ever seen. :) He's an incredible character. If for no other reason than Leith, you should read the series.

*I received a free ebook copy of this book for the purposes of the blog tour and in exchange for an honest review.

~ About the Author ~

Tricia Mingerink is a twenty-something, book-loving, horse-riding country girl. She lives in Michigan with her family and their pack of pets. When she isn't writing, she can be found pursuing backwoods adventures across the country.

You can connect with Tricia on her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Haven’t discovered the The Blades of Acktar yet? Find out more at on the official Blades of Acktar page.

Be sure to enter the incredible giveaway they're having and visit a few of the other blogs on the tour!



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Blog Tour: Bitter Winter & Lacy Reviews

I've been waiting a year and a half to do this post! Since I read Exiles, the fourth book in Jaye L. Knight's Ilyon Chronicles series, I've been counting down the days to the release of her next Christian fantasy novel. When Knight posted the release date for Bitter Winter, I also discovered that on the same day she was publishing book 5.5, Lacy. I'm honored to be part of the blog tour releasing them into the world, and happy to announce they both exceeded my expectations (which were already high).

[As a side note before I post the books' information and reviews, I should mention that this blog tour is particularly special to me because Knight (one of my top favorite authors) is teaming up with Tricia Mingerink (one of my other top favorite authors) for a dual book release and blog tour. Knight's books, Bitter Winter and Lacy released yesterday, December 14th, and Mingerink's book, Decree, releases on the 18th. I'll review Decree here on the 20th.]

Without further ado, I present part one of the Knight and Mingerink—Ilyon and Acktar blog tour!

 
~ Bitter Winter ~

Already struggling with a harsh winter and the threat of food shortage, a catastrophic event leaves those in the Landale camps reeling. Just when things couldn’t get much worse, camp members fall ill with the same devastating sickness that’s sweeping across the country.

Determined to gain the cure, Jace sets off to Valcré. However, there are only two sources—the queen, or a powerful gang of smugglers who have made the dangerous city their home. When Jace gains audience with the gang leader, he finds the price of the cure is steeper than any of them imagined, forcing him to make an impossible choice—betray his conscience or let those he loves die.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads

My Review:
I had an eager-nervousness as I began reading Bitter Winter. Would it be as good as the previous books? Was it possible to love the characters any more than I already did? I soon learned the answers to my questions—yes and yes. Bitter Winter went far beyond my hopes for the book. It was a breathtaking read. I simply could not put it down! At times I was fighting tears nearly as much as the characters themselves. Other times my heart raced with the same adrenaline that urged the characters on. Still more times I hung on every word to find out the fate of the Resistance.

While Bitter Winter was a bit slower paced than the others in the series, that didn't lessen the intensity or sense of danger closing in on the characters. The plot remained gripping all the way through. Even though I enjoy the fast action of the previous books, I was appreciative of the break from the heaviness of the persecution the characters are facing. They still endured trials and tragedy, but I wasn't left feeling quite as heavy-hearted.

Concerning the setting, it remained detailed, realistic, and intriguing. As implied by the title, the setting took on a semi-major role in this novel, to the point of becoming one of two main villains. I thought it was excellently portrayed in this role.

Regarding the characters, Knight has always done a wonderful job of creating realistic subjects that are extremely relateable. They have depth and true personalities, complete with wonderful strengths and genuine weaknesses. I have only one minor complaint—I feel that there are too many characters starting relationships. Even though it may be realistic, considering all the characters have similar backgrounds of persecution for their faith and are dwelling in a small hideout together, it seems that in the first few books there was no or very little romance, while now half the characters have a significant other. Don't get me wrong—I adore sweet romances and wouldn't mind a few, but it does seem like there has been a huge increase in the number of characters in relationships all of a sudden.

All taken into account, I still grant Bitter Winter five stars. Though I felt some areas fell slightly short, others went far above and beyond my hopes so I believe it evens out. :) It kept me flipping pages and very connected with the characters. I'm already eager to reread it. :) Congratulations, Jaye, on another outstanding addition to the Ilyon Chronicles!

~ Lacy ~

The last thing Aaron ever envisioned was falling for a prostitute. Everything about it spells trouble. However, he can’t help noticing the way her smile lights up when she sees him and how much brokenness she hides behind it. Neither can he ignore how desperately she needs rescue and protection.

When Lacy shares a life or death secret with him, Aaron is willing to risk everything to help her and to show her Elôm’s love. Yet, such a choice could destroy his reputation and maybe even cost him his freedom.

An Ilyon Chronicles novella.

Available now on Amazon!

goodreads

My Review:
Lacy was a pleasant surprise for me. I hadn't been aware of its existence, and I'm normally not as much a fan of novellas as I am lengthy novels. However, Lacy swept me up and pulled me in. I was drawn toward the characters and their plight. The struggles they faced were not petty issues, but a topic that has always moved my own heart. Plot, setting, characters, themes, they were all beautiful in this story. Genuine and deep.

When I started to read, I anticipated Lacy would be a four star book, simply by the fact that it wasn't full length. Having finished, I've increased that to five stars for how it captivated me even in fewer pages than my usual preference. It's masterfully crafted—a true work of art. 

*I received free ebook copies of these books for the purposes of the blog tour and in exchange for an honest review.

~ About the Author ~
 
Jaye L. Knight is an award-winning author, homeschool graduate, and shameless tea addict with a passion for Christian fantasy. Armed with an active imagination and love for adventure, Jaye weaves stories of truth, faith, and courage with the message that even in the deepest darkness, God’s love shines as a light to offer hope. She has been penning stories since the age of eight and resides in the Northwoods of Wisconsin.

You can connect with Jaye on her website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Etsy.

Haven’t discovered the world of Ilyon yet? Find out more at the official Ilyon Chronicles website!

Be sure to enter the incredible giveaway they're having and visit a few of the other blogs on the tour!



Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Will You Stand?

Christians left, right, and center are compromising their beliefs—too afraid to take a firm stand. Peer pressure isn't something only youth face. From old to young, Christians are hesitant to stick up for their convictions. No one wants to be looked down upon, so it takes great courage to take a controversial stand. The "pressure" isn't even necessarily from peers—though it might be. It could also be a young adult desiring the respect of a grandparent, potential employer, or professor. Unfortunately, it is the rare Christian who is willing to risk everything to defend his beliefs.


Despite wanting to be liked or fit in, Christians should not fit into the world. Romans 12:2 tells Christians that they shouldn't conform to the world but rather have their minds transformed and renewed. Jesus explains the concept of being separated from the world in John 15.
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The first step to standing up for your beliefs is recognizing that even though you want to fit in with others, the reality is that by the very nature of being born again, you are not of this world. You are of the Kingdom of Heaven. You should be different.

Is losing favor with the world a sacrifice? Yes—and no. It is in the sense that since people want to be liked, they are choosing to give this up to honor God. However, in some aspects it isn't a sacrifice when considering the only reason Christians must be different from the world is because they are destined for eternity in heaven. They've chosen to make their home in another world, so it only makes sense that they would not fit in on this earth. "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come" (Hebrews 13:14). You wouldn't expect the Native Americans to understand the cultures of the Englishmen back in the 1600s? or the hobbits of Middle Earth to get along very well in the Star Wars galaxy, would you? Even the elves were different from all the other beings in Middle Earth, because they were destined for another place, separated from the rest of their present dwelling. So why hope that Christians could be friends with the world when they are different at the core of their beings?

However, in the sense that it is a sacrifice, is it worth it? I would have to say that it is. After all, our savior gave His life so that we could be different. The sacrifice of not being liked by the world is nothing compared to the sacrifice of His very life.

This is the conclusion that California college junior Isabella Chow came to when faced with supporting the LGBT agenda in late October. As a student senator at UC Berkeley, she was asked to vote pro-LGBT, but she refused, based on her Christian beliefs. She provided a five paragraph statement explaining her views, and clearly explained how she felt about people involved in the LGBT movement. “I have said, and will always say, that discrimination against or harassment of any person or people group is never, ever okay” (Lee). The onslaught of criticism Chow received for abstaining from the vote was tremendous. Sophia Lee, reporter for WORLD Magazine, describes it this way:
Heads turned when Chow walked across the campus, and her cell phone beeped with social media alerts. Disaffiliation notices piled into her email inbox. Online, people compared her to the KKK and called her “a terrible example of Christian hypocrisy.”
Despite the intense attacks from every direction she faced, thanks to the prayers and support of her fellow Christians, Chow remained steadfast in her conviction to not give in to the pressures. Her world was turned upside down, and she is still battling the results of her decision. Her sacrifice was great. Nevertheless, Chow refused to cave. She knew that she must stand for her beliefs, even if it meant losing her position in society.

Similarly, the American missionary, Andrew Brunson, who was recently released from 21 months in Turkish prisons, was willing to sacrifice everything—including his very life, to stand strong for Jesus. He was quoted as saying "Sometimes it's harder to live for God than to die for God. I would rather have been in heaven than in prison" (Belz). In fact, he considered himself a "living martyr" (Belz). While imprisoned, he remembered Richard Wurmbrand, who endured years of torture at the hands of the Romanian government, and later founded Voice of the Martyrs. Wurmbrand had praised God through his continued struggles, and Brunson imitated him by dancing before the Lord in his cell (Lee). Despite the extreme hardship he faced, he made the difficult choice to continue his stand for Christ.

Over the years, many Christians have chosen to defend what they know to be right and true, at great personal cost. But the majority of Christians often fail to honor their Lord in this manner. Their fear holds them back. Don't you think Jesus was afraid of the pain and separation from His father at the cross? Don't you appreciate His sacrifice made especially for you?

Maybe you're currently in a situation where you have to make that hard choice to stand for God or not. Maybe soon you'll find yourself in a place like that. Only you can decide what to do, but know this: there is no sacrifice you can make that even compares to Jesus' sacrifice for you. Christians are called to be a light in this world—to be different. The Christian life is anything but easy, but as Paul said in Romans 8:18, "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us." Sacrifice now to honor your God. Make that hard choice to do what you know is right. Just as Brunson was encouraged by Wurmbrand's example, so Christians everywhere can draw strength from the stand of Isabella Chow. Will you be one of the few who will step up to the plate, prepared to be a "living martyr?"

Will you stand?


Belz, Mindy. "'A Living Martyr.'" WORLD Magazine. 24 Nov. 2018: 37-42. Print.
Lee, Sophia. "Convictions and Consequences." WORLD Magazine. 20 Nov. 2018. WORLD Magazine Web. 3 Dec. 2018.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Remember the Bible?

Remember that thick book at the bottom of your TBR stack? The one you look away from whenever you see it, guilt plaguing your mind? I really should read it. I know I should . . . but I'm too busy. I have to update my social media status first. Then I'll read a bit.

Two hours later: Well, I guess it's too late now. I'm really tired and have to get up early tomorrow for work, and then there's that birthday party I'm going to afterward. I won't have time tomorrow, but I'll be at church Sunday so that's alright.


So often in today's American culture a family might own ten Bibles. The majority of them sit on a shelf collecting dust, and maybe one per family member rests on a bedside table to be used twice a week. Reading the Bible frequently seems like a chore. Something that should be done, but is more of a task to get over with than the privilege that it is. Compare this to the 1400s and early 1500s in England.

Each week people would attend church services spoken in a language they were unfamiliar with. The Bible would be read in Latin and interpreted by the church who changed the meaning to match its own agenda. Translating the Bible into English was forbidden. People didn't own a single Bible they could understand. They weren't able to study the Bible at leisure. If they were caught with an English Bible, their punishment would be death. In 1519, seven fathers were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Lord's Prayer in English (Piper). Stop and imagine that for a moment. Parents wanted their children to understand what they were praying, and they were murdered for this.

Why? Why would the church execute Christians, seeking to read the Bible and understand it? Wasn't the church supposed to want people to learn more about God? No. The church wanted people to hear specific things about God (some of these things altogether faulty), and think they knew God. The church was unwilling to lose the power it held over people by making them believe they were saved by good works.

Enter into the scene: William Tyndale.

As Pastor John Piper, founder of desiringGod.org, summarizes Tyndale's life, Tyndale was “always singing one note.” His single-minded focus in life was getting the Bible translated into the common tongue and the hands of every person in England. In Tyndale's famous declaration, he audaciously stated his ambition: “I defy the pope and all his laws . . . If God spare my life ere many years, I will cause a boy that driveth the plow, shall know more of the Scripture than thou dost.”

Tyndale recognized the importance of people reading the Bible for themselves. Mastering several languages, Tyndale devoted his life to translating the Scriptures to English, despite being wanted by the law and living in exile in Germany for it. Upon completing the Greek New Testament, Tyndale smuggled at least 3,000 copies into England. After studying Hebrew, he published a revised edition of the New Testament in 1534, as well as translating parts of the Old Testament. Piper explained that Tyndale's translations were so accurate, many of his exact translations have remained through today. He estimates that the English Standard Version of the Bible (the translation I primarily use) is over 70% of Tyndale's direct work. Tyndale's Bible was certainly the basis for both the King James Version and Geneva Bible.

While Tyndale dedicated every moment to translation and distribution of the Bibles, the church in England retaliated and burned as many of his Bibles as they could find. Because people had accessed the Scriptures and read them for themselves, more and more started standing against the church's contrary teachings and for the truths they found in the Bible. The number of martyrs grew—for doing nothing more than reading the very book you have three copies of sitting on your shelf, virtually unused. It's a shocking revelation to realize that simply owning only one of what you have multiple copies of would have made you a martyr a few hundred years ago.

Tyndale never was able to complete the Old Testament translation, because he was betrayed by Henry Philips, who Tyndale had thought was a good friend, and arrested in May of 1535 for heresy. The generally accepted date of his strangling and burning is October 6, 1536. While the exact year of his birth is contested, Tyndale was somewhere around the age of 40. He'd spent 12 years of his life in exile, and a long, hard twelve they were. Tyndale died so you could have the Bible in your own language. So that you could read and study it—not leave it lying somewhere unused. Allow George Mueller to remind you of the value of studying the Bible from his own life:
“I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God, and to meditation on it. . . . What is the food of the inner man? Not prayer, but the word of God; and . . . not the simple reading of the word of God, so that it only passes through our minds, just as water runs through a pipe, but considering what we read, pondering over it, and applying it to our hearts.”
The next time you see your Bible shoved in between the dictionary and the edge of the shelf, take some time to pull it down, dust it off, and read. Remember the sacrifices people made for the same privilege you have in abundance. America is still a free nation, and you still can access the Bible everywhere you turn. It's an honor. And a command. “Blessed is the man . . . [whose] delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1.1-2). Remember what a treasure the Bible is.

Note: Another post I wrote on a similar subject as reading your Bible is one of my favorites, Dear God, Where Have You Been?

Piper, John. “Always Singing One Note—A Vernacular Bible.” Desiring God Conference for Pastors. Desiring God. 31 January 2006. Conference Presentation.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Looking Into James: James 1:22-25

A few mornings ago as I read my Bible, a passage in James stood out to me. James 1:22-25 reads:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

I read this, then went back and read it a few times over, trying to understand the mirror analogy. Through personal reflection and discussion with my family, I noted two major takeaways from the passage. The first point I noticed lies in not forgetting. So often, even in my own experience, I go to church, youth group, a Christian camp, hear a message, and forget about it within an hour. If you asked me the following day what the sermon covered, it would take me a few minutes to remember, and after several days, I might not have any idea. In these cases, I am being "a hearer of the word and not a doer." What good is it to sit in church and listen to a teaching if you then neglect to apply it to your life and grow from what you heard? Sometimes, it's a challenge to pull a practical aspect out of a lesson, but I've found that the times I do this, the more I get out of it. When I take the effort to find a practical application and truly work to practice this in my own life, that's when I make progress in my spiritual walk. Growing closer to the Lord takes work, and that includes finding and applying spiritual lessons. For me, this may be hearing a teaching regarding self discipline, then asking myself what areas of self discipline I'm not good at, how to be better, and then doing so.

My second note regarding this passage concerns self-examination and relates to the point I made above. My best understanding of the mirror analogy is this: When we study ourselves, and find areas that we need to improve upon (as we always will), we are foolish if we do not then go and work to fix those areas. Like I mentioned earlier, it does no good to hear a message or notice ways we should be better in our spiritual lives and not work to become better. The entire point is to notice things to improve in ourselves, and then find ways to do so. Otherwise, we are being lazy, and honestly very foolish. We're concentrating on our short-term, earthly lives, not on honoring the One who gave His own life for us. We're being focused on the temporary, not eternity-minded. Remember, even if we neglect to grow spiritually and examine ourselves, God knows. If you lack insight, ask Him and read your Bible. Hebrews 4:12-13 points out:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
So next time you are at church, youth group, or God reveals something to you, ask yourself how you can grow through it, and apply it to your life. God will honor your efforts and help you grow stronger in Him. "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13).

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Defending the Faith 5: Compromising Truth

In today's society, compromising truth has never been easier for Christians due to great societal pressures. Pastors sway under pressures from “science” and teach that Genesis is figurative. Churches agree not to discuss any potentially “divisive” doctrines. Christians neglect to speak out when the opportunity arises and cower instead, afraid to be called judgmental. Some Christian colleges insist on editing out news stories from school newspapers that don't follow their agenda.
 

According to WORLD Magazine's September 1, 2018 issue, this is the compromise in Liberty University's journalism department. Journalism students are taught to write accurate stories, but when it comes to practicing their skills in the school newspaper, the Liberty Champion, their informative articles are placed under extreme criticism. When they write about a topic the president of the university, Jerry Falwell Jr, doesn't wish to have made public about campus policies, he forces them to edit it out. Similarly, if they write accurate but unflattering information about the United States presidential candidate that Falwell was an advocate for, he either forces the students to remove it from the newspaper or also state which candidate they themselves are voting for. While it's not necessarily wrong to include warning readers of an author's potential bias, being forced to specifically state your choice of candidate is. Time and again, the article asserts, the students try to simply write truthful articles about topics they find fascinating, only to have them be struck down by a president who would rather hide and compromise the truth. Erin Covey, the Champion's news editor, states her frustration and confusion. “The level of oversight we have does make it difficult to pursue the accurate journalism that we're taught in classes.” When the students stand up for what they have been taught is right, the consequences are drastic. Former editor-in-chief, Jack Panyard, ultimately was fired from the position and lost the $3,000 scholarship each semester this job earned him. The president of the college that instructs the students to write truthful articles in class, teaches the students not to do this in a “real world” environment—and this is in a Christian setting. If this is true, then it's no wonder that so many lies circulate through our secular society today.

No longer are Christians as determined to uphold truth. Many have compromised on one of the most important aspects of life. As Randy Alcorn put it,
Suppose a professor or inspirational speaker says, 'What’s important isn’t finding the truth, it’s searching for it.' Try applying the same logic to your search for a life preserver when you’re drowning! Or, 'Truth is whatever you believe, as long as you’re sincere.' Certainly, you can step off a building sincerely believing you won’t fall. But gravity cares nothing about your sincerity. Even sincere people are often wrong, sometimes catastrophically so.
Finding truth and holding fast to it are key elements of living a life glorifying to God. As Christians, we shouldn't be compromising truth, we should be standing firm for it, and doing so with gentleness, grace, and love. C. S. Lewis makes an outstanding point. “The glory of God, and, as our only means to glorifying Him, the salvation of human souls, is the real business of life.” A Christian's job is to glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) We glorify Him through helping point people to Christ. How can we point them to Jesus if we are inconsistent and compromising in our other Christian beliefs?

If we hide some truths because we'd rather not think about them, and give in to secular pressures (or even pressures from other Christians), how can we honestly expect people to trust us when we say that we know the Truth? If we claim that Genesis is figurative because “science” disagrees with the Creation and Flood accounts, then what right have we to say that our Savior was born of a virgin, performed true miracles, battled demons, and resurrected? Science says those are impossible as well.

When we compromise on truth, we are compromising any reason we have for others to trust us and our beliefs. We are giving into worldly pressures to hide truths that might be a bit “messy,” uncomfortable, or embarrassing. Even if you do not recognize your own inconsistencies, others will point them out. If you say the gospels are true and accurate accounts of Jesus, then you cannot also claim other parts of the Bible are figurative.* You can believe that all of the Bible is true, or none of it, but you cannot compromise and believe both.

Don't give in to pressures from society and “science.” Stand for what you know is true. It won't be easy, and sometimes will be very uncomfortable, but it's worth it. Don't compromise truth. 

*I'm not saying some parts of the Bible are not figurative. Some certainly are, and are very clearly so. I'm specifically referring to Genesis, which contains plain, straightforward language and is put forth as a very literal book.


Crotts, Charissa. Rieth, Elizabeth. Johnson, Isaiah. "Papered Over." WORLD Magazine. 1 September 2018: 40-45. Print.