Friday, June 28, 2013

The Power of Tongue (James 3:1-4)

- James warns his fellow believers that they should not be so eager to become teachers because of the responsibility involved. Because a teacher constantly uses words, there's a particular danger in this area for him/her. Those who teach will be judged more strictly since their words are used to instruct, influence, and guide others. We know how much damage false teachers can cause with their mouths. They misguide hearers and lead them astray.
- We all stumble in many things but think about all the troubles our tongue gets us into. Obvious fact: no one is perfect. Can anyone truly say that they successfully control their tongue all the time (never at fault in what they say)? I think not :).
- The analogies indicate that we must not underestimate the power of our tongue.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Faith Without Deeds Is Dead (James 2:26)

- This conclusion shows that the relationship between faith and works is as close as the relationship between the body and the spirit. When the two elements are separated, death results.
- "False faith is virtually a corpse." ~Hort
- "Faith and works are as necessary to our spiritual life as Christians, as soul and body are to our life as men." ~Colton

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Put Faith in Action (James 2:24-25)

- Again, James tries to make the same point: dead faith (faith that's devoid of action; faith that doesn't change your life) cannot save your soul. True saving faith will demonstrate itself in works. We are not saved by works; we are saved by grace through faith for works. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:8-10
- I appreciate James' two very different examples for the same lesson: Abraham and Rahab. Both were declared righteous by faith evidenced through their actions. But Rahab was a woman, a Gentile, and a prostitute. God doesn't care what kind of pasts you had; He cares about your heart. Rahab heard about God and put her faith in Him. She said in Joshua 2:11b, "For the Lord your God is God in Heaven above and on the earth below." Her action (risking her own life to save the two spies) proved that she believed in and trusted the One True God. "By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient (or unbelieving)." Hebrews 11:31

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Faith Requires Actions (James 2:20-23)

- Faith that does nothing is worth nothing...it's useless/ unproductive/dead.
- Abraham's act of obedience exemplified that faith and works must accompany each other. Works brought faith to completion.
- Our actions should be a result of our faith. Works without faith are meaningless.

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Epic Fail by Gordon Dabbs

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Leafwood Publishers (May 1, 2013)

***Special thanks to Ryan Self for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Gordon Dabbs currently pastors a large congregation in Dallas, Texas. He holds a PhD in philosophy, advanced degrees in theology and ethics, and has ten years of experience as a church planter in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where he hosted a weekly television program.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Why would our loving God choose to forever record the stories of men and women whose lives collapsed in sin and shame? Why share biographies of people like Jezebel and Judas, whose lives didn’t have happy endings? Perhaps the Lord recognized that their stories could powerfully inform and shape us. Their loss can become our gain. Epic Fail: Gaining Wisdom from Failures of Biblical Proportion is God’s invitation to learn and grow from the great collapses of the Bible.

Product Details:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 208 pages
Publisher: Leafwood Publishers (May 1, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 089112232X
ISBN-13: 978-0891122326

My Review:
We can gain wisdom about something without having to experience it. While experience is a good teacher, other people's experience is even better. We all know that we should learn from our mistakes. But wouldn't it be wiser to learn from other people's mistakes and thus avoid making those mistakes ourselves :)? The subtitle of Epic Fail is "Gaining Wisdom from Failures of Biblical Proportion". There are several epic failures in the Bible such as Pharoah, Nabal, Rehoboam, Ahab and Jezebel, and Judas Iscariot. So many valuable lessons can be learned from these stories. Pride vs. humility, fear of God, peace-making, leadership, grace, mercy, courage, compassion, surrender, generosity, gratitude, forgiveness, and more. The author wants readers to realize that failures can be used to help us see the importance of choices, consequences, and perseverance. Each chapter ends with thought-provoking questions to ponder. It's a great book for small-group Bible study and discussions. I really like the author's conversational style. Epic Fail is an enjoyable, humorous, and insightful read! Learn and grow from this Biblically sound, Christ-centered, and epic-filled book!

"If you are going to have a balance and well-informed view of your potential and limitations, then you have to be awake and alert to your own spiritual brokenness, grateful and awestruck in the shadow of the Cross, and acutely aware of the greatness of God Almighty." (p. 32)

"For believers, it is the story of Jesus that predominates in their lives and communities, not those of individual success and failure. Just to be clear, stepping into the cross is not just about getting your ticket to Heaven punched. It is about reversing the curse. It means joining your story with His epic of redemption and grace." (p. 199)

"The implications of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus are so epic we can't begin to fathom all that is entailed. What we know with absolute certainty is we must now be moved to go out into the world and share the love of God." (p. 200)



AND NOW...THE SECOND CHAPTER:

Pharaoh
A Problem with Pride


A short time back, my wife and I visited the home of some good friends who are parenting two spirited young boys. Upon our arrival, the oldest boy proceeded to show us the mountain of trophies and medals he had won in Taekwondo tournaments. I made a mental note to stay on this kid’s good side. After their sons had gone back to their room to play, the mother whispered to me, “Don’t be too impressed. At these competitions, all the kids get a trophy regardless of how they perform. They just want all the boys and girls to feel good about themselves.” She rolled her eyes and shook her head.


In America, whatever we’re doing to make us feel better about ourselves seems to be working. A recent survey of high school students revealed seventy percent of them believe they have above-average leadership skills. Only two percent believe they are below average. Back in the 1950s, twelve percent of high school seniors regarded themselves as a “very important person.” Recently, that percentage has risen to eighty percent.


Americans are more self-confident than ever. In a culture that magnifies self and injects children with daily doses of pride, it’s no wonder we’ve been labeled a generation of praise addicts.6 In this climate, we would do well to heed the warning of an ancient proverb, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom” (Prov. 11:2 niv).


Growing Up as a God


What would it be like to grow up believing you were the center of the universe, or to be told by adults you should be worshipped as a god? What kind of a person would be produced by this kind of upbringing? How easy it would be, for pride to overwhelm the heart of a person indoctrinated to believe in their own divinity.


Welcome to Pharaoh’s world. From the elaborate royal protocol that surrounded every meeting with him, to his ornate garments, to the magnificent palace that was his home, everything surrounding the young prince was orchestrated to convince onlookers he was no mere mortal. Those who had dealings with Pharaoh believed that he was special. His people understood that he was a descendent of the gods; yes, this god-man was exceptional. After all, he was the leader of the world’s technological, economic, religious, cultural, and military superpower.


To be sure, there were a lot of Pharaohs during Egypt’s proud history. One, however, came to be remembered as the Pharaoh. This one would gain a unique status because his rule would intersect with the life of a man named Moses, with the multitude of Hebrew slaves he represented, and with the God he worshipped.


Four hundred years earlier, the Hebrews had first migrated to Egypt to escape a massive famine. Since Joseph, one of their own, had risen to become the right-hand man to the Egyptian ruler, the Hebrews were originally viewed as partners and friends of Egypt. Over four centuries, however, their status changed dramatically. The Hebrews came to be viewed as a social underclass; they were drafted into service to build grandiose monuments in honor of the Pharaohs, and mistreated as the miserable slaves of the Egyptian social elite.


Along came Moses with his brother Aaron into the royal court of Pharaoh. Moses claimed to have been sent by a foreign God who demanded that his people, the Hebrews, be released from their bondage in Egypt. As absolute ruler, the decision of how to respond to this demand was entirely up to Pharaoh.


Hard Heart Syndrome


Why would Pharaoh give in to the demand that the Hebrews be released from their enslavement? Well, God, through Moses, made a pretty compelling case. It was a shock and awe display of divine power the likes of which Egypt (and the world) had never seen. One by one, the Hebrew God dueled Pharaoh and his pantheon of Egyptian deities who proved to be no match for his power.


After each devastating plague brought against Egypt by God, after each demonstration of Yahweh’s divine power, Pharaoh was asked to release the slaves. Time after time, the mulish king dug in his heels, closed his heart, and proudly refused to be pushed around by any man or any god. At moments like this, when an individual is convinced they are the center of the universe, all the ingredients for an impending catastrophe are present.


The Bible depicts Pharaoh’s heart as hard. Unchecked ego can strip a person of perspective and wisdom. A pride saturated heart morphs into a closed system that refuses to accept any circumstance or opinion that does not bow its knees to the god of self. The absence of checks and balances that come through humility handicaps a person’s capacity for self-reflection and wise judgment.


Something which troubles many when it comes to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was the role God played in the process. “. . . The Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron . . .” (Ex. 9:12 niv). Frankly, it seems wrong for God to do such a thing. Why would God hijack his free will? Shouldn’t Pharaoh be free to make his own choice?


A closer reading of the entire narrative reveals an important nuance of how Pharaoh’s will became closed. In reality, Pharaoh did a bang up job of hardening his own heart before God ever got involved.
The first time his stubbornness is mentioned, the Bible relates, “. . . he hardened his heart and would not listen . . .” (Ex. 8:15 niv). Repeatedly, during the first half of the plagues, Pharaoh hardened his own heart.


So, how exactly did God participate in making Pharaoh’s prideful heart inflexible? For starters, it was God who provided multiple opportunities for Pharaoh to release the Hebrews. Over and over again, God made the exact same request through Moses: “let my people go.” By providing these decision points, God gave Pharaoh opportunities to either humble or harden himself. Pharaoh chose the latter. Just as calluses are formed on the hands of a laborer through repetitive use, a heart becomes callused when the same prideful decision is reconfirmed over and over.


God also became a participant in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart because God ultimately decided to honor the king’s own choices. In his sovereign power, the Lord could have hijacked Pharaoh’s heart and mind and reprogrammed it to say yes instead of no to the demand of
Moses. Yet God, in his love and respect for human beings, preferred to honor Pharaoh’s freedom to make his own decisions. Only after the Egyptian leader had unilaterally chosen to ignore God’s demand, does the Bible say the Lord hardened his heart.


Pharaoh had transformed himself into a self-absorbed man, a closed system, a person unable to interpret the signs of his time and unwilling to listen to wise counsel. Even voices within his own inner circle could not break through his fortress of pride. “The magicians said to Pharaoh, ‘This is God’s doing.’ But Pharaoh was stubborn and wouldn’t listen” (Ex. 8:19 msg).


A wise person once said, “The only difference between a rut and a grave is six feet.” Every time Pharaoh chose to ignore the pleas of God, Moses, and his own counselors, he was digging a rut. That rut would become a grave for thousands of Egyptians, for his army, for his son, and for his legacy.


The Way of Humility


Hopefully, you were not raised in a home where you were allowed to be the ruler of the household or were worshipped as a god. But whatever our upbringing, a lot of us tend to struggle with pride. I certainly do.


One such struggle took place when I was finishing my master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. My course work was completed and all that was left was for me to take what were known as the General Exams. People around me, many of whom had already passed the exams and were working on their doctorates, told me I need not spend much time studying for the exams; they were really quite easy. The testing, I was told, was more of a rite of passage. Based on their opinions and experiences, and more than that, on an over-inflated estimation of my own knowledge and ability, I didn’t study. I was convinced the exams would be a piece of cake.


Unfortunately, I got a slice of humble pie.


A week after the testing, I received devastating news: I had failed. After all the course work, time, and money that had gone into my graduate studies, I was without a diploma. Suddenly my future plans seemed to be up in the air. My ego, however, came crashing down to earth. Thankfully, the merciful faculty allowed me to retake the exams and, after much study, I passed. Eventually, by the grace of
God, I was able to complete my doctorate in philosophy. To this day, I thank God for that painful and humbling lesson.


Whenever I start thinking too highly of myself, which is far more often than I’d like to admit, it seems God sends something or someone along to deflate my swollen head. One afternoon, I walked into a meeting and strode confidently to shake a fellow’s hand. As we greeted each other, he awkwardly observed I had a plastic toilet freshener suspended from the back of my belt. Ouch. Not cool. Sometimes, I’ve found, humility is pine scented.


A great measuring stick for how open a person is to growing in humility is to recognize how they tend to respond to losses. No one likes to lose, but being gracious in defeat, being able to laugh at yourself, and being open to learn from past mistakes prepares us to handle both future success and failure. Quite simply, Pharaoh didn’t know how to lose. He didn’t know how or when to accept defeat. Since we live in a “win at all cost” culture, this lesson may be difficult for us to learn, but learn it we must. Humility is needed.


While Pharaoh was a self-absorbed pride junkie, another leader in the Exodus story shows us a better way to live. In contrast with the Pharaoh, the Bible says, “Moses was a very humble man” (Num. 12:3 niv).


It is worth noting that, in all likelihood, Moses had been raised in the very same household as Pharaoh. They knew each other before Moses arrived in the palace to appeal for the liberation of the Hebrews. Moses had spent the early years of his life studying with the top teachers, enjoying the finest food and luxury accommodations, and reveling in all the perks and privileges of being a royal in Egypt’s court. Just like Pharaoh, Moses had been raised as a prince of Egypt, yet Moses was not an arrogant person.


When God appeared to him at a burning bush in the desert, inviting Moses to become the leader and liberator of the Hebrew people, Moses politely declined, citing his own inadequacies. “But why me? What makes you think that I could ever go to Pharaoh and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:11 msg)? Understanding his faults and past failures (which included homicide), Moses basically said, “Lord, surely you can do better than me!”


After the successful exodus from Egypt, Moses found himself overwhelmed with the constant demands of leading a nation of people. Jethro, his father-in-law, challenged him to think about a new leadership structure that delegated authority to other capable leaders: “Moses listened to his father-in-law and did everything he said” (Ex. 18:24 niv).


Humility is a vital element of successful and balanced living. Humility is so valuable and necessary that it is the very first quality Jesus listed when he gave his famous description of the blessed life during his Sermon on the Mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3 niv).


Cultivating Personal Humility


An important way that people move against their own pride is to admit their limitations, while remaining open to stretching those limitations by embracing new challenges. In Exodus 4, Moses offers to God his own self-appraisal, revealing he does not believe he possesses the requisite public speaking aptitude required to lead. He understood he was never going to dazzle crowds of people with the turn of a well-crafted phrase, or with stirring orations. He was a great leader, but he was keenly aware he was not a great orator.


The lesson for us is this—Moses did not allow his limitations to close his leadership horizons. God had called him to lead. God would equip him with whatever he needed. This calling from the Lord gave him a quiet confidence. The humility of Moses permitted him a balanced, realistic, and faith-oriented appreciation for what God could do with his life. As Gordon Smith writes, “Humility means recognizing both our limitations and our potential. . . . With sober judgment we simply accept who we are.”8 Enormous potential for growth and future accomplishment is unleashed when people tear up their selfadmiration society membership card.


Another way that humility is cultivated is by listening to the wise counsel of others, then making the necessary adjustments. When his father-in-law came with leadership advice in Exodus chapter 18, Moses didn’t scoff and say, “Look old man, I’m the chosen one here! God made me the leader of Israel, not you!” Instead, he humbly considered the counsel of this older, more seasoned man, and decided to tweak his leadership style accordingly.


What a contrast between Pharaoh and Moses. One arrogantly stuck to his guns and paid an incredible price for his hubris, the other listened and learned.


No one is saying that Moses was perfect. He had some failures on his résumé. For starters, most of us can say with confidence that we’ve never committed murder. Moses could not say this. At one point, he disobeyed the explicit instructions of God which were that he speak to a rock so that water would come forth from it to refresh the thirsty people of God. Instead of speaking to the rock, he stuck it with his staff. But even though his initial meeting with God revealed he was well aware of his weaknesses, and even though he had been forced to flee Egypt after committing a capital crime, he still made an impact on the world around him like few others ever had.


Giving a short overview of the life of Moses, a New Testament writer says, “He chose to share the oppression of God’s people instead of enjoying the fleeting pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:25 niv). One thing we learn about Moses is he embraced his identity as one of God’s people. He could have bought into all the pomp and pride of being part of the royal family, but he chose to identify with God and with God’s family.


Like Moses, people also cultivate humility when they prepare themselves for spotlight moments by living their daily life understanding who, and whose, they are. In choosing Moses, the Lord chose to work through a person who was willing to serve a community and a cause greater than himself. Pharaoh’s ego left no room for any agenda but his own.


In an ancient sixth century Christian text, Gregory the Great wrote, “No one can learn humility in a high position unless he ceases to be proud when in a lowly position. No one who learned to long for praise when it was missing knows how to flee from praise when it abounds.”10 Once I humbly accept who I am, and that my value comes from the God I bow my knees to, then I am ready to open my eyes to a new reality. Then I find myself in a world shaped by an acute awareness of the constant movement of God in and around my life.


What about Moses? The Bible reveals that, “He kept right on going because he kept his eyes on the one who is invisible” (Heb. 11:27 nlt). Whatever obstacle he came up against, he kept right on going.
What about you? An awareness of God’s presence in your life and in your world allows you to have the spiritual and emotional traction needed to pull through difficult and painful seasons of life. Whether in victory or loss, joy or sorrow, Moses kept on going. Why? Because he kept his eyes on the Lord.


This means the cultivation of humility is aided by recognizing the presence of Almighty God in day to day life. Consider this helpful insight of C. S. Lewis: “In God you come up against something, which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself…. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.” If you are going to have a balanced and well-informed view of your potential and limitations, then you have to be awake and alert to your own spiritual brokenness, grateful and awestruck in the shadow of the Cross, and acutely aware of the greatness of God Almighty. Truly, if your eyes don’t turn upward to God, you will never have a clear-headed view of your own place in the world.


The more a person grows in the way of humility, the more room they give for God to operate in them and through them. Tender mercies and great strength are unlocked in the life of the humble believer.
“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:5–6 niv).


So, where is your source of perspective? Where are you grounding your identity? Where does your sense of worth come from? Are you a praise addict, clinging to the shiny medals and trinkets of a self-magnifying culture? Or, do you look upward? May God make you secure in his love so you can humble yourself, believing that only then, his grace will be released, and his mighty right hand will lift you up.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Show Your Faith by Your Deeds (James 2:18-19)

- Genuine living, active faith produces fruit. Belief alone is not enough.
- James is saying that he can prove his faith by his deeds. Good deeds (the way you live your life according to God's Word) are the evidence of genuine saving faith.
- You believe in the one true God? So what? Even the demons believe (intellectual belief) and they even fear God (shudder--emotional belief). Look at what they do; they're not saved!
- Knowing the Truth (Jesus) is important, but more importantly, how do we respond to the Truth? Does our life (our words, attitude, and actions) show that Christ is in us and we're in Christ?

Friday, June 21, 2013

Friday's Fave Five #84

It's time for another Friday's Fave Five (hosted by Susanne at Living to Tell the Story).

My Fave Five this week:-
1. As usual, we all had a blast at our annual Father's Day Cookout at my father-in-law's place.
Eric (my husband) and Isaiah (my 11 yo son) remained the croquet winning team for 2 years in a row. Beautiful day, great food, wonderful company and conversation, and many...many rounds of croquet.



2.
It was fun for all five of us to watch Monsters University 3D at the theater on Monday (free advance screening for review). We had not been to the movie theater for a while. 


3. I got a new pair of eyeglasses. I like its purple rim :).

4. I enjoyed Dairy Queen's ice cream cake at the graduation party for a Chinese student last night. The cake was cute, too :).



5. Check out A.C.T.S. Summer of Service and enter to win The Imagination Station Books #1-3 at http://fivesavedbygrace.blogspot.com/2013/06/acts-part-ii-imagine.html .

Dead Faith (James 2:14-17)

- Fake faith/false faith that does not demonstrate in works is not a saving faith. A faith that does not care about the needs of others isn't faith at all. Anyone can claim to have "faith"/claim to be a "Christian" but that doesn't mean he/she is saved, born again, and follow Christ.
- Works (deeds, action) do not and cannot save us, but works demonstrate that we are saved (good works should be manifested in our lives because we are saved).
- James is not contradicting Paul's teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone. Paul confronted those who wanted salvation by something they did while James confronted those who wanted salvation without doing anything.
- Faith without fruit is dead, useless, and unacceptable. Authentic, saving, living faith bears good fruit. Belief that doesn't transform your life is "dead" faith; a transformed life results in good works.
- Your faith and your words are worth nothing if you do nothing to help those in need. Saying is not doing. Walk the talk! Behave what you believe!
- James gives us a test here to evaluate ourselves: Are we genuinely saved? and Are we living like we are saved (is our faith accompanied by action)? You may have heard this before but I think it's a great reminder: "If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mercy Triumphs over Judgment (James 2:12-13)

- Partiality/prejudice/favoritism/discrimination = sin of judgment
- Believers are to speak and act as those who shall be judged by the law of liberty...the law that gives freedom from sin and death. "You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat." (Romans 14:10) "For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." (2 Corinthians 5:10)
- Those who are merciless will face judgment without mercy. We must show mercy to others, or God will not show mercy toward us when He judges us (the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35 came to mind).
- Mercy triumphs/prevails/wins over judgment! I believe the sin of judgment can be overcome by mercy (God's mercy to us and our mercy to others). The antidote to favoritism is mercy (showing love, kindness, compassion, forbearance, forgiveness, and humility).

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guilty (James 2:8-11)

- The royal law is linked to James 2:5 ("Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?") The royal law is for the heirs of God's Kingdom. By showing partiality to the rich, they're not fulfilling the royal law of loving their neighbor as themselves.
- If we truly love others as ourselves...love them like Jesus...love them with God's unconditional love, we won't show favoritism which is sin.
- A person who follows all of God's law but fails to obey even one command is guilty of breaking all the commands in the law. Transgression of one is a breach of the whole. How grateful I am for God's grace! Even if we have kept all the 10 commandments, who among us can say that they have never failed or stumbled at the two greatest commandments ("Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength" and "Love your neighbor as yourself")?

Book Review: God's Not Dead: Evidence for God in an Age of Uncertainty by Rice Broocks

You and I know that God is not dead but how can we convince others of this fact? This book is a helpful apologetics tool and is pretty easy to read & understand (not too technical or heavy). The author presents 9 key concepts to show that God exists and to help readers answer questions received from unbelievers/ atheists/skeptics. Questions like "Why are we here?" "Why doesn't God remove evil from the world?" and "Who designed the Designer?" and more. Indeed, there's overwhelming evidence for the existence of God...from the incredible fine-tuning of the universe and the intricacies and complexity of life to the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the witness of Scripture. Sadly, regardless of the abundance of evidence pointing to God, some people are blind or stubborn (refuse to go where the evidence leads to God); they're willing to embrace any alternative...anything (no matter how absurd) but God. Scientifically, historically, archaeologically, philosophically, and logically, the evidence for God is clearly seen and undeniable!

I enjoyed reading this informative book and kept underlining as I read. Each chapter starts with two interesting quotes and ends with a concise summary. I found God's Not Dead useful and a great complement to what I learned from the Truth Project. I highly recommend this book for any seekers (you may find answers to your doubts), any believers (you will be able to use what you learn in the book to confidently articulate your faith to unbelievers), and any skeptics (you want truth? I hope you can handle the truth :)).

"There are real reasons why unbelievers don't want God to exist or at least seek to reduce Him to a blind impersonal force. No God--no accountability. No God--no real morals." (p. 8)

"The fact that certain functions of life are irreducibly complex, meaning that they can't function without all the parts present at once, points to the presence of an intelligent Designer." (p. 113)

"The living proof of God's existence is the continued testimony of His working in the lives of people around the world." (p. 235)



~I received a free copy of this book via Booksneeze in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Rich in Faith (James 2:5-7)

- God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of His kingdom which He has promised to those who love Him. We're never poor since we have riches/inheritance in Christ.
- James pointed out why they should not favor the rich. The rich were the ones who have persecuted the Christians (exploiting them, oppressing them and taking them to court) and blasphemed the name of Jesus Christ. Yikes!
- We must not dishonor the poor. We must show them the same respect that we show to the rich.
- "For God does not show favoritism." Romans 2:11
"I charge you, in the sight of God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels, to keep these instructions without partiality, and to do nothing out of favoritism." 1Timothy 5:21

Monday, June 17, 2013

FIRST Wild Card Tour: Secrets to a Happy Life by Bill Giovannetti

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:

Bethany House Publishers (June 15, 2013)

***Special thanks to Bill Giovannetti for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Dr. Bill Giovannetti teaches at the A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary and is the senior pastor of the fast-growing Neighborhood Church of Redding. An experienced speaker and author, Bill seeks to inform the mind in ways that touch the heart. Known for his humor and down to earth delivery, he loves seeing people find their joy in God. He has published several books and numerous articles.

Bill enjoys woodworking, bass fishing, and random spasms of fitness training surrounded by the pristine forests and snow-capped peaks of northern California. His wife Margi, an attorney, teaches Business Law at Simpson University. They are proud parents of two happy home-schooled kids.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Movie stars, athletes, and runway models prove every day that money can’t buy happiness. Neither can sex, power, or beauty. Deep satisfaction eludes most seekers – even sincere Christ-followers – like a butterfly eludes a toddler. Is there a sure way to lay hold of the rare jewel of Christian joy? A man who went through hell and back lights that way. His name was Joseph. Bill Giovannetti’s Secrets to a Happy Life maps his journey, leading readers to a happiness bankers can’t repossess and money can’t buy. Because, if you have no joy, there’s a leak in your Christianity somewhere.

Product Details:
List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers (June 15, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0764211242
ISBN-13: 978-0764211249

My Review:
Who doesn't want a happy life :)? First of all, I'm glad that the author distinguishes from the beginning the difference between "surface happiness" (which depends on circumstances) and "deep happiness" (joy and contentment no matter what). The latter is what this book is about. Bill Giovannetti shares 11 secrets to achieve that "deep happiness" while using the story of Joseph as a case study. I've always loved Joseph's steadfast devotion to God and his integrity. Some of the secrets include loyalty, endurance, trust, identity, wisdom, surrender, and love. The author's 5 Laws of Destiny and 5 rules When You Have to Wait are insightful. Each chapter ends with thought-provoking questions for reflection and discussion. I think it's wonderful that the author (a senior pastor) includes an altar call (p. 110). We learn from the roller-coaster story of Joseph that God's presence makes all the difference. Joseph was able to possess inner peace, joy, and contentment through all his ups and downs because he knew God was always with him and for him. Joseph was truly a poster child for Romans 8:28 :)! I highly recommend this encouraging book filled with Biblical wisdom, practical advice, and an eternal perspective! Happy are those whose God is the Lord! May your life be filled with the joy of the Lord...come what may!

"God will never call you to violate your character, neglect your responsibilities, or exploit your relationships to fulfill your dreams."(p. 43)

"When your loyalty to God rises head and shoulders above every other loyalty--that's when you'll begin to find the happiness God designed you for." (p. 70)

"Happiness does not depend on the quality of your stuff; it depends on the condition of your heart. If your heart is right with God, you have all the ingredients you need for a truly happy life." (p. 72)

"True endurance is the ongoing choice to meet every trial with inward strength without giving up hope." (p. 83)

"In the end, heaven is God's ultimate, permanent, and most open secret to happiness." (p. 178)


AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:

I can't dance.

Whatever muscles are supposed to swivel my hips seized up decades ago. My sense of rhythm puts me in a league with tambourine-wielding pre-schoolers. And the closest thing I have to moves looks like the human equivalent of a cat hacking up fur balls.

In my mid-twenties, I sat at a wedding reception, hanging out with friends. A young woman approached me to dance. I didn't know her; I was sure my soon-to-be-ex-friends put her up to it. My ears turned blazing hot, my face turned red, and I said, "No thanks."

Miss Dance-a-lot didn't like that answer. She grabbed my arm, and started pulling me onto the dance floor.

I panicked.

"Um, no thanks," I said, voice quavering like a ten-year old.

"Come on! It'll be fun."

Music pounded. Lights flashed. Bodies moved. Sweat poured.

I refused. All I could think of was the humiliation of a crowd of people, watching me wiggle my body in ways it doesn't know how to wiggle, with a woman I didn't know.

I did the only thing I could.

I held onto my chair. The flirt dragged the chair, with me in it, about ten feet, digging a nice scratch into the shiny hardwood floor. My friends laughed so hard liquid spewed from their nostrils.

God will repay them.

I wanted to die. The disco lights hypnotized me. The girl clawed at me. I clamped a death grip onto my chair, figuring if we were going to dance, there were going to be four extra legs involved.

By the time we scraped our way twelve feet, my new main squeeze gave up and skulked away.

Thank God.

The floor remains scratched and my soul remains scarred.

I am sure plenty of dance instructors will read this and think you can work your magic on me. You can put some hip-hop into this dance-challenged geek, or woo me with your ballroom floor charts and do-si-dos.

Not going to happen.

Because, aside from the fact my body is physically incapable of the sultry moves on Dancing with the Stars, my deep-seated emotions long ago placed dancing on a permanent lockdown

I can't dance because I had it drummed into my head as a kid that dancing was a sin. God frowned on it as "a vertical expression of a horizontal desire."

That anti-dance brainwashing was part of a larger religious package. No movies, no drinking, no card-playing, no drums, no holding hands with the opposite sex, no… if you've seen Footloose you get the picture.

Excessive fun was taboo.

Why?

Because God was not to be trifled with, and he was most pleased when I was most unhappy. At the core of my young faith squatted the ogres of self-denial, self-abasement, and self-sacrifice. Too much happiness was a sin, and self-interest was the root of all evil.

My religious upbringing offered an odd combination of good and bad, love and condemnation, "the best of times and the worst of times." I'm grateful for it, but there was a lot of unlearning to do.

Especially in the happiness department.

I had to learn that in the plan of God, unhappiness was not a virtue. I'm sure some readers are already saying, "Duh." Bear with me, because a whole lot of people need to be delivered from the delusion that God is the Lord of Party Pooping.

God is happy. God is not miserable. He doesn't have bad days. Isn't moody.

Heaven is a party God throws for everyone who wants in on the action. Complete with dancing – Jesus said so (Luke 15:25).

God wants you to be happy. He designed you to seek happiness like a moth seeks light.

C.S. Lewis wrote, "If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion… is no part of the Christian faith."1

True.

God wants you happy, and, if you walk his path, you can be happy.

You can even bust a move.

An old time preacher named Billy Sunday said, "If you have no joy, there's a leak in your Christianity somewhere." That's what I'm talking about.

When I imagined God unhappy, life made me unhappy.

But when I began to see the joy of God and the pleasures of heaven, I found myself tapping into satisfying springs of happiness. I even found my toes tapping to God's music.

I confess I am a happy man.

So what if I still can't dance!

If you're ready for the life-changing secrets, just turn the page.

1 C.S. Lewis. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965) 1,2.

Favoritism Not Allowed (James 2:1-4)

- Believers in Jesus Christ must not show favoritism/partiality/ prejudice. All people are equal in God's eyes. We should never judge people by appearances and/or accomplishments. We should never favor the rich and powerful over the poor and weak. It is inconsistent to hold to the Christian faith and at the same time show partiality.
- Favoritism is sin, whether the distinction is made over economic, social, educational, physical, political, or national differences. It says in this verse that with evil thoughts, we are deciding that one person is more important than the other (the rich man receives special treatment).
- According to one commentary, "Have you not discriminated among yourselves?" means "Are you not divided?" This division is between profession and practice...between the profession of Christian equality and the deference to status and wealth. By such action, they reveal themselves to be unjust judges with evil thoughts.
- God wants us to love everyone and makes everyone feel welcome!
- Personally, I'm guilty of wanting to treat poor people better than rich people :). I guess that's favoritism, too.

Friday, June 14, 2013

True Religion (James 1:26-27)

- Those who consider themselves religious by going to church, praying, reading the Bible, fasting, etc. but fail to control their tongue in everyday life deceive themselves and their "religion" is futile.
- I find it interesting that James mentioned about deceiving ourselves three times in just one chapter :). Truly, we must be on guard against lies & deception (from the Enemy and the world) and pay close attention to God's truths.
- Tongue-control is very important. If we fail to control/stop gossiping, complaining, slandering, lying, using bad words (filthy language), etc., we're fooling ourselves if we think we're living a Christian life. Our profession of Christianity will thereby mean nothing. Our testimony will also be tainted or destroyed. What kind of witness would we be? Ineffective and pretty much useless.
- God calls caring for orphans and widows in their distress pure and faultless (undefiled). Orphans and widows are two of the most helpless groups in this world (no parents, no family, no spouse, no one taking care of them). They cannot repay you or do you any favor. What you do for them reflects pure love and kindness! This reminds me of Matthew 25:31-46 (The Sheep and the Goats).
- True religion is to live and love like Jesus does, to be more Christ-centered and other-focused, to live a life of love and kindness, free from attachment to earthly things. "Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God." (~Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision)
- In addition to helping those in need, maintaining personal purity is another way in which true religion expresses itself. "To keep oneself from being polluted by the world"--We must continually make a conscious effort to stay away and protect ourselves from worldly influences/ worldliness (which pollute/corrupt/harm us) "It is not the ship in the water but the water in the ship that sinks it. So it is not the Christian in the world but the world in the Christian that constitutes the danger. Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work difficult, is wrong for me, and I must, as a Christian, turn away from it." ~J. Wilbur Chapman

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Do What It Says (James 1:22-25)

- Be doers of the Word, not just hearers. When we only listen to God's teaching and do nothing, we're fooling ourselves. This reminds me of Matthew 7:24-27 (the wise and foolish builders).
- Obedience/fruit is the proof of transformed lives...the tangible evidence of our faith. "The best evidence of our having the truth is our walking in the truth." ~Matthew Henry
- Hearing without doing is useless. Doing without hearing is dangerous. Both are vital just like breathing in (spending time with God in prayer and in His Word) and breathing out (doing what God's Word says/putting what we know into practice).
- Just knowing God's Word is not enough. Even Satan knows God's Word. We must humbly accept His Word to transform our hearts, renew our minds, and guide our actions. We're to be kingdom-builders and world-changers.
- "The perfect law that gives freedom": the law was made perfect by Jesus Christ and through the Word, we've been set free from sin, self, and death. Jesus said in John 8:31-32, "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
- Blessed are they who continue to be in God's Word, remember what they learn, and do what it says/obey the Word.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Take Note of This! (James 1:19-20)

- This is a very important advice for Christian living. Be a good listener. Watch your tongue (think before you speak). Control your temper (do not become angry easily). Have nothing to do with filthiness and wickedness.
- To make it relevant to previous verses: Be quick to listen to the Word of God, be slow to speak/blame God for your trials and temptations, and don't get mad easily when things don't go your way/when you face trials. That's not the response God wants.
- When a Christian gives vent to wrath, he/she is incapable of acting righteously/exemplifying the right kind of living that God desires. Apparently, it doesn't please God. Do you think a Christian who seems to be angry or grumpy all the time will make an effective witness for the Lord...will draw people to Christ? Very unlikely.
- It doesn't do much good to hear God's Word, hold our tongue, and be patient then turn around and engage ourselves in all the world's filthy lusts and pleasures. We must get rid of all these evil desires and deeds. We need spiritual consistency in every area of our lives.
- Pull all the weeds out and let the seed of God's Word that's planted in your hearts blossom! Continue to receive God's teaching in humility/with meekness.
- Let's put James 1:19 into practice daily! Our family and friends will be very grateful and feel loved. Essentially, these are some ways we show our love: taking time to listen attentively without interrupting, carefully watching what and how we communicate orally (words can help, heal, or hurt), and not being easily angered/annoyed/frustrated/irritated.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Birth Through the Word (James 1:18)

- God chose to give us birth (new life, regeneration) through the word of truth (His Word, the proclamation of the gospel). "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God." 1 Peter 1:23
- It's God's desire/choice/will for us to be saved, born again, and have eternal life.
- The early Christians were called "firstfruits" because they were an indication that many more people would eventually be born again.
- This verse shows the ultimate "good and perfect gift" from God to us. We're reminded here that salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast." Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, June 10, 2013

Perfect Gift Giver (James 1:16-17)

- God, instead of being the source of temptation, is the Source of all good gifts/all blessings.
- God is a kind, loving, giving, creative, & all-powerful Father. He is the Creator of the universe yet He cares about us. What He gives to His children is only good and perfect. "When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" Psalm 8:3-4
- God is completely consistent; He never changes. One of His attributes is immutability. It's truly comforting to me to know that I can always trust Him no matter what. He and all His attributes are unchangeable! "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8


Friday, June 7, 2013

Tempted (James 1:13-15)

- God is never the source of temptation or sin. Instead of blaming God, we must take personal responsibility for our sins. We must deal with our inner trials. It starts with a desire of the flesh/an evil desire in the mind. Temptation = enticement to sin. If pursued, that desire gives birth to sin in our life. That sin grows and brings forth death (spiritual death which is in contrast to the life God gives to those who love Him and faithfully persevere under trials/temptations in verse 12).
- As Christ’s followers, we’re in a constant battle between our sinful nature and our new nature. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can rise above the flesh.
- In Romans 7:15-24, we can see that Paul also had this inner struggle. I love the verses that follow: “Thanks be to God, Who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!...Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:25a, 8:1-2)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Crown of Life (James 1:12)

- There's a blessing/reward for those who love God and faithfully endure trials/temptation/suffering to the end. They will receive the crown of life. What a beautiful promise from the Lord!
- We're reminded of the Heavenly life to come. The hope of Heaven inspires us to persevere through hardship in this life.
- This world is not our home. This life is temporary. Our eternal reward is waiting for us. We're truly blessed for all eternity because we have an intimate relationship with God and we will be with Him forever.
- This verse in James made me think of 1 Peter 1:6-7, "In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trails. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith--of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire--may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." and Revelation 2:10, "Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer...Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will
give you the crown of life."

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Pass Away (James 1:9-11)

- God is no respecter of persons. Rich or poor, we all have to face the trials of this sin-cursed life. The poor glory in seeing that poverty doesn't make them less in God's eyes. Through trials, the rich realize that wealth doesn't make them immune to the curse, nor does it make them any better than the poor.
- Trials and sufferings are allowed (and used) by God to keep both the rich and the poor from being too enamored with this world...from being preoccupied with the cares of this life and the pursuit of material treasures.
- Neither wealth nor poverty gives us special status in God's eyes. Therefore, we must not let either determine how we view other people or how we treat them.
- We are reminded of how fleeting and temporary all of this is-- material possessions, achievements, status, earthly success, etc. They all will wither and disappear. Our status, not here, but in eternity should be our main concern.
- In Christ, believers in humble circumstances are to rejoice that they have been given true wealth. They're now heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.
- In Christ, the rich are to rejoice that they have been brought down to a level where the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for more and more things no longer have a hold on them.
- Trials/difficult times help remind us that our joy and contentment are not found in the riches of this world, but are found only in the riches of God's grace.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Wisdom (James 1:5-8)

- We can always use more wisdom, can't we :)? Indeed, we need God's wisdom to do God's will. This is not a one-time thing. God doesn't fill us up with His wisdom once to last our whole lifetime. We must come back to Him again and again. This helps us understand our dependence on Him and it also builds our relationship with our Heavenly Father.
- When we're facing trials, we need God's wisdom to know how to deal with them, how to endure, how we can have joy in the midst of them, and to see what God's purpose is in those trials.
- There are two conditions/requirements for receiving wisdom: 1. Ask God for it and 2. Believe/don't doubt.
- God could simply give us the wisdom but He requires us to ask for it so that we recognize our need for it and we understand & acknowledge where that wisdom is coming from.
- God is generous and He enjoys giving. He wants to give us wisdom because He is a loving Father desiring to see His children live a blessed life.
- "Without finding fault" = without reproach, without reminding us how we don't deserve it, not begrudgingly
- "Double-minded" = indecisive, wavering in mind, insincere, can't be trusted, uncertain, two-faced, divided in his loyalties
- "Unstable in all they do": Doubters are unsteady in all they do. Faith or lack of faith (doubt) will affect everything...our character, feelings, thoughts, actions, and prayers.
- God is a jealous God. He wants only our single-minded/undivided devotion. Doubt in our communication with God (our prayers) hinders our relationship with Him.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Faith Must Be Tested (James 1:1-4)

- Even though James was the brother of Jesus, he introduced himself as "a servant/bondservant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ". I love his humility. I want people to know me as a servant of God, too.
- We're encouraged to respond to trials as positive things...almost as if we should even welcome them .
- Most people don't enjoy tests but tests do serve some valuable purposes. They reveal strengths and weaknesses. They demonstrate what we know and what we do not know, and they teach us how to apply knowledge.
- Our faith is tested by how we respond to trials. It will show who we really are and what we really believe. It will show whether our faith is strong or weak, genuine or fake.
- Trials are unpleasant but they are great opportunities to witness how God works in our lives, for our lives, and through our lives. Testing highlights God's faithfulness in our lives and in the lives of others.
- A beautiful purpose of trials is to learn from them. God may use difficult situations to teach us about ourselves or about other people. Use them as stepping stones to grow in Christ. Growth through trials will help our character shine and bring glory to God.
- Perseverance/patience/endurance is the fruit proven by testing. This passage in James reminds me of Mark 4: 16-17, "Others, like seed sown on rocky places, hear the Word and at once receive it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the Word, they quickly fall away." True saving faith will endure to the end...come what may!
- "Count it all joy/consider it pure joy"! Why?
We have joy when we endure trials because they authenticate our faith, strengthen us/our faith, draw us closer to God/make us depend on God more, glorify God as He sustains us through our trials, help us learn lessons that we need to learn, and enable us to help encourage others who may experience similar trials.
- The result/reward for passing the testing of our faith and persevering: spiritual maturity, completion, not lacking anything = complete contentment/ wholesomeness
- One thing that helps me during trials is to focus on the Author and Finisher of our Faith. "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him Who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1b-3) Such a beautiful and powerful example to help us endure our trials! Did you notice the words we see in these verses that we also see in 
James: perseverance and joy ?

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