The humility of wisdom

When’s the last time you heard anyone say they needed wisdom? About the only time I hear anyone mention wisdom is in regard to a particular situation. “I need wisdom about this job decision.” I’m praying for wisdom for dealing with Johnny’s continued disobedience.”

But when is the last time we thought about our need for wisdom just to live our everyday lives for God’s honor and glory? We often pray that He will guide us, provide for us, forgive us. But do we pray for wisdom? Do we value wisdom as the Bible does?

Or do we plunge ahead with our day and our plans, thinking we know everything we need to and can make our own choices?

Our church has been reading through Proverbs together the last few weeks. If you’re familiar at all with Proverbs, you know it is all about wisdom. I don’t think there is a chapter that doesn’t mention it. And since we’ve been camped out there, the need for and value of wisdom have been emphasized repeatedly and in varying ways.

A full-scale study of wisdom would take more space than a blog post allows. But what struck me most during this reading is the humility of wisdom.

It takes humility to understand that we need wisdom, that to go our own way often leads us astray.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
 Proverbs 14:12

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10

It takes humility to search for wisdom, to acknowledged that I don’t have it, and no matter how much I have, I need more.

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding;  yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5

It takes humility to receive and instruction, and even more to receive rebuke. I was familiar with one or two verses about it being wise to receive reproof,  but I’ve noted 19 so far! Here are a few:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.
Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom, and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:31-33

By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.
 Proverbs 13:10

If someone tries to correct us, is our first response, “I better take heed: I might gain some wisdom from this?” No, our first response is anger with thoughts of “Who do you think you are?” and “Don’t judge me!” But the Bible says the wise person listens and learns. By contrast, “A scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Proverbs 13:1) and “He who hates reproof is stupid” (Proverbs 12:1).

It’s scary to think of the personal consequences of rejecting reproof: it’s even more scary to realize that my lack of listening to instruction can negatively affect others. “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray” (Proverbs 10:17).

I wonder if this lack of realization of our need for wisdom is behind our subtle ageism, even in the church. Once when visiting a new church, someone was showing us where the various classes were, and as we passed one door, our guide said, “Oh, you don’t want that one. That’s where the older folks are.” One younger lady told me she didn’t come to our ladies’ meetings because she thought only older ladies attended – even though at that time most of the attendees were just in their forties. Instead of deeming older people as worthy of our time and drawing on their wisdom, we label them out of touch, too slow, not “with it.” Proverbs honors older saints and the value of listening to authorities.

Of course, the need for wisdom runs throughout the Bible, not just Proverbs. One notable passage says:

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. Colossians 2:1-4.

May we continually seek Him and His wisdom through His Word.

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(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story. Links do not imply complete endorsement)

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Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Here are a few of my favorite things from the last week:

1. Lunch with a friend. A joyous time of talking together and a wonderful lunch – an entree I had not tried before and loved. (So much, in fact, that I ordered it again yesterday when my son and I got take-out to bring home!)

2. A church potluck. Good stuff, good times. Added bonus: I’ll spare you the details, but I had to adjust what I was making from the recipe’s instructions to work around the time constraints, and I was concerned about it being not done enough or overdone. But it came out just right! Thank you, Lord!

3. Time with the grandson while his parents went out on a date. Among other things, he and his granddad made slime and put together and flew a balsa wood plane. His parents brought over frozen mini tacos and Mexican rice for an easy dinner (and one that he likes).

4. Getting some “extra” cleaning tasks done – those that are occasional rather than weekly or monthly.

5. Pill sorters. Sometimes it’s the little things. I used to keep a running list of what pill I was taking at what time, otherwise I could never remember. I used one of these containers that divides your medicine into different days of the week for a trip, and I have been using it ever since.

Bonus: The first day of spring! One of my favorite days of the year! Even though this winter was not as bad as previous ones, there were enough bone-chilling cold days and bleak landscapes to make me long for spring. I don’t have my spring decorations out just yet – hopefully this weekend.

Happy Friday!

Book Review: Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling

I’ve mentioned before that I sometimes struggle with the concept that Christian love, agape love, is said to be more about what we do than how we feel. Yet 1 Corinthians 13 warns that we can do notable, even sacrificial things without love, which sounds like clanging gongs and such. So if I go through the motions of, say, caregiving without feeling warm and loving about it, is that lacking in Christlikeness and therefore assigned to the gong department?

Evidently this question has been on my mind for a long time, because I got this book, Love Is Not a Special Way of Feeling, way back in college. Yet, somehow, I never got around to reading it. I just rediscovered it recently and determined to get it read this year.

First of all, I do not know much about the author, Charles G. Finney. I had heard him quoted favorably in my first few years as a Christian (which probably was a factor in my picking up this book). In more recent years I’ve heard him referred to negatively as somewhat manipulative in his revivalist methods. His Wikipedia page says he was an advocate of Christian perfectionism, which I do not believe in (not until heaven, anyway). So I especially prayed for discernment while reading this book.

As it turns out, the text of this 1963 book is taken from a section of Finney’s 1846 Lectures on Systematic Theology titled “Attributes of Love.” The latter is much more accurate. The back of the 1963 books admits the new title was an attention-getting device.

After a chapter on “What is Implied in Obedience to the Moral Law?” Finney discusses three to four attributes per chapter. Some you would expect: kindness, impartiality, holiness, truth, justice, sincerity, self-denial. Some were a surprise and took a bit of reading to discern how he meant them in regard to love: economy, efficiency, severity, complacency, and others. Some words have changed since the book was originally written. Finney supports some of these attributes with Scripture; others seem based on conjecture.

The language was very difficult to work through: the back of the book and the foreword concede that. But if I am reading him correctly, he seems to be saying that emotions are in themselves neutral. They are only good or bad depending on one’s will or intention. Anger can be a sin or not, depending on what one is angry about. There’s a righteous anger against wrong-doing, like slavery, human trafficking, abuse, etc. But there’s an anger the Bible warns against, especially in Proverbs, Colossians, and Ephesians. I don’t think I’d agree entirely with the thought that emotions are totally neutral, because some of them spring from my sinful nature before I even have time to think about will and intent.

On the other hand, faith is not based of feelings: it is based on facts. He remarks rightly, I believe, that too many Christians, when asked about their spiritual life, will reply with how they feel.

They judge their religious state not by the end for which they live–that is, by their choice or intention–but by their emotions. If they find themselves strongly exercised with emotions of love to God, they look upon themselves as in a state well-pleasing to God. But if their feelings or emotions of love are not active, they of course judge themselves to have little or no religion (p. 31).

I agree that our spirituality is not just a matter of our feelings. But I disagree “that feeling and outward action are only results of ultimate intention and in themselves neither virtue or vice” (p. 125).

Some of Finney’s statements were helpful. Some I strongly disagreed with.

The biggest takeaway from the book for me was that a thought or feeling can sometimes be just a temptation and not a sin in itself. I’m sure I knew this to a degree, but these pages brought it home to me in a new way.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will, tends to patience as a phenomenon of the sensibility. That is, the quality of fixedness and steadfastness in the intention naturally tends to keep down and allay impatience of temper. As, however, the states of the sensibility are not directly under the control of the will, there may be irritable or impatient feelings, when the heart remains steadfast. Facts or falsehoods may be suggested to the mind which may, in despite of the will, produce a ruffling of the sensibility, even when the heart remains patient. The only way in which a temptation, for it is only a temptation while the will abides firm to its purpose, I say, the only way in which a temptation of this kind can be disposed of, is by diverting the attention from that view of the subject that creates the disturbance in the sensibility. I should have said before, that although the will controls the feelings by a law of necessity, yet, as it does not do so directly, but indirectly, it may and does often happen, that feelings corresponding to the state of the will do not exist in the sensibility. Nay, for a time, a state of the sensibility may exist which is the opposite of the state of the will. From this source arise many, and indeed most, of our temptations (pp. 66-67).

I wish now, then, to state distinctly what I should have said before, that the state or choice of the will does not necessarily so control the feelings, desires, or emotions, that these may never be strongly excited by Satan or by circumstances, in opposition to the will, and thus become powerful temptations to seek their gratification, instead of seeking the highest good of being. Feelings, the gratification of which would be opposed to every attribute of benevolence, may at times co-exist with benevolence, and be a temptation to selfishness; but opposing acts of will cannot co-exist with benevolence. All that can be truly said is, that as the will has an indirect control of the feelings, desires, appetites, passions, etc., it can suppress any class of feelings when they arise, by diverting the attention from their causes, or by taking into consideration such views and facts as will calm or change the state of the sensibility. Irritable feelings, or what is commonly called impatience, may be directly caused by ill health, irritable nerves, and by many things over which the will has no direct control. But this is not impatience in the sense of sin. If these feelings are not suffered to influence the will; if the will abides in patience; if such feelings are not cherished, and are not suffered to shake the integrity of the will; they are not sin. That is, the will does not consent to them, but the contrary. They are only temptations. If they are allowed to control the will, to break forth in words and actions, then there is sin; but the sin does not consist in the feelings, but in the consent of the will, to gratify them. Thus, the apostle says, “Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” That is, if anger arise in the feelings and sensibility, do not sin by suffering it to control your will. Do not cherish the feeling, and let not the sun go down upon it. For this cherishing it is sin. When it is cherished, the will consents and broods over the cause of it; this is sin. But if it be not cherished, it is not sin (pp. 67-68).

The example from which Finney posits this truth is Christ in Gethsemane.

Patience as a phenomenon of the will must strengthen and gird itself under such circumstances, so that patience of will may be, and if it exist at all, must be, in exact proportion to the impatience of the sensibility. The more impatience of sensibility there is, the more patience of will there must be, or virtue will cease altogether. So that it is not always true, that virtue is strongest when the sensibility is most calm, placid, and patient. When Christ passed through his greatest conflicts, his virtue as a man was undoubtedly most intense. When in his agony in the garden, so great was the anguish of his sensibility, that he sweat as it were great drops of blood. This, he says, was the hour of the prince of darkness. This was his great trial. But did he sin? No, indeed. But why? Was he calm and placid as a summer’s evening? As far from it as possible.

Patience, then, as an attribute of benevolence, consists, not in placid feeling, but in perseverance under trials and states of the sensibility that tend to selfishness. This is only benevolence viewed in a certain aspect. It is benevolence under circumstances of discouragement, of trial, or temptation. “This is the patience of the saints.” (pp. 69-70).

In conclusion, at the very least I can say that I have finally read this book. I gained perhaps a bit more insight into my original question of faith vs. feeling, but not a definitive answer.

As I have thought through this repeatedly over the years, I agree that love sometimes means doing the right thing despite feelings. A weary mom awakened by her baby for a 2 a.m. feeding probably doesn’t feel warm and loving at first. She probably feels groggy and maybe even grumpy at having to get up in the middle of the night. But those warm, loving feelings kick in later. I don’t necessarily feel the joy of ministering to my family as I make dinner: sometimes I am frustrated at not being able to finish whatever I was doing. I don’t feel kind and loving when I’m interrupted at the computer just when I’m on a roll in my writing. And some of those irritations at being interrupted are selfish. But the kind and loving thing to do is to give my attention to my loved one and hope that the brilliant ( 🙂 ) thoughts come back to me later. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17, KJV). But, hopefully, as I grow in the Lord, my feelings as well as my actions will line up more and more with a true expression of godly love.

Book Review: Saving Amelie

AmelieIn the novel Saving Amelie by Cathy Gohlke, American Rachel Kramer’s dreams for her life do not match her father’s, so she is eager to get away and start her own life. But she agrees to accompany him for one last trip together to Germany in 1939.

Her father, Dr. Kramer, has done extensive work in the field of genetics, specifically eugenics. Motivated by a desire to eradicate tuberculosis, he argues for sterilization of those who might spread the disease. He shares his work with German scientists who want to apply eugenics much more broadly.

While in Germany, Rachel plans to meet with an old friend, Kristine. But instead of a joyful reunion, Rachel is alarmed at the changes. Kristine is cowed by her controlling husband, SS officer Gerhardt Schlick. Furthermore, Kristine is afraid for the life of her daughter, Amelie, who is deaf and thereby a blight on Gerhardt’s Aryan bloodline. Kristine begs Rachel to take Amelie away before something terrible happens to her. But Rachel has her own plans. She’s not good with children and doesn’t know how she would ever get her out, much less what to do with her afterward.

But as Rachel checks further into her father’s research, she finds that eugenics goes far beyond the prevention of disease, and the German scientists are running experiments on a wide variety people whom they deem imperfect in some way. She’s further stunned to find that she herself has been an object of experimentation, and she has a family she never knew of.

American journalist Jason Young’s reports have been censored by the authorities before leaving the country. But even though his reporting has been hampered, he’s aware of much more than he lets on. At first he thinks Rachel is a part of the Nazi regime and scientific community, then realizes she doesn’t know the full extent of it. Once she does, they join together to save Amelie and others, even crossing paths with theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Rachel herself has to go into hiding, with Gerhardt Schlick determined to find her.
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This is the first book I’ve read by Cathy Gohlke, but it won’t be the last. Not only was the story was riveting, but Cathy deftly showed how some of the policies of that day are making inroads in modern times, with some less than perfect children deemed unworthy of life. I love how she wove the philosophical discussion in without weighing down the action of the story. The secondary characters are just as well-drawn as the main ones. Highly recommended.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Press on toward the goal

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There is a tension in life between satisfaction with where we are and the need to grow in various areas. Coaches encourage and applaud athletes’ efforts and milestones while still pressing them to do more and do better. Parents celebrate and reward good grades and bolster their students for the next test or project. Performance reviews acknowledge an employee’s strengths and successes, but they also note areas where the employee needs to grow and improve. A wise coach, parent, teacher, supervisor, or mentor has to constantly seek balance, avoiding the stance of a slave-driving task-master who is never satisfied with anything less than perfection on one hand and that of the indulgent grandmother who never sees a fault on the other hand. And we need to seek that same balance with ourselves.

I see some of this same tension in the Bible, particularly Paul’s epistles.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10, Paul writes, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more.”

Paul prays that the Philippians’ “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment” (Philippians 1:9).

In Colossians, Paul proclaims: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (1:27-29). Christ is in those of us who believe in Him, yet there is a sense in which we grow in maturity in Him.

In Philippians 3, Paul acknowledges that he’s still in a state of growth and hasn’t reached perfection yet. We often use his statement in verse 13, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” as an encouragement to forget the sins and failures of the past. But what Paul is setting aside in that passage is his past laurels (verses 4-11).

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11, ESV).

Our righteousness comes by faith in Christ, not our efforts. Our own efforts could never measure up. Yet there is still a “straining forward” toward growth in maturity.

Sometimes perfectionists can be thoroughly discouraged that no matter how much progress we’ve made, we’ll never get to the point where we don’t have something to work on. But we won’t be perfect until we reach heaven. Part of Paul’s prayer in Philippians 1:11 is that we may “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” That fruit comes from God. But fruit also conveys the idea of growth. And growth takes time.

On the other hand, some of us are prone to inertia. “Good enough” is sufficient for some ares of life. I once heard of someone who boasted that when she made the bed, the sheets were stretched so firm and tight that a quarter could bounce off them. And I thought, “Whatever for?” I’m all for a neatly made bed, but a good-enough made bed falls far below quarter-bouncing standards for me. But “good enough” isn’t sufficient for spiritual growth.  We need that prodding to keep pressing on.

In recent years it’s become common to read of our “mess” in an effort to be transparent and authentic. We’re not perfect and we shouldn’t try to put forth a false perfect image, so we need to pull back the curtain and let people see our flaws and failures. And there’s truth in those thoughts. We can more readily identify with someone who doesn’t seem to have it all together all the time. Yet it’s easy to go so far as to glory in our “mess” instead of progressing.

Or we can feel that the progress we’re making in most areas offsets the areas we’re struggling with. We all have our besetting sins, after all. One son once got upset that I pointed out the one area of his report card that needed attention instead of being satisfied with the rest of commendable grades. While I needed to remember to acknowledge the good grades, I couldn’t overlook the bad one.

While fruit in our lives comes from God, He also calls us to pursue wisdom (Proverbs), love (1 Corinthians 14:1), righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11), peace (2 Timothy 2:22, 1 Peter 3:11).

Hebrews 10:14 says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” We’re made perfect in Christ when we believe on Him for salvation. But while we live here on earth, we still have our old nature, which fights against the new one we received at salvation (Galatians 5:16-17). That process of growth toward Christlikeness is called sanctification. Romans 12:2 tells us we’re transformed by the renewing of our minds, and one way we do that is by changing our thinking, lining it up with what God’s Word says, putting specific Scriptures in our minds that the Holy Spirit can then use to remind us.

The standard the Bible continually points to is Christ. We’ll never be Christ. But we don’t rest in self-satisfaction with how we’ve grown over the past ten years or how far we are compared to others: we grow towards His likeness. Yet we will stumble and fall, and we extend grace to ourselves while still making progress. II Corinthians 3:18 says, “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” As we behold Him in His Word, He changes us to become more like Him.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:12-14, ESV).

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Titus 2 Wise Woman, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Friday’s Fave Five

It’s Friday, time to look back over the blessings of the week with Susanne at Living to Tell the Story and other friends.

Let’s just jump right in to today’s faves:

1. A quiet week after a couple of busy ones. Though I enjoyed recent events, it was nice to have nothing on the calendar this week except lunch with a friend today.

2. Safe travels for family members. My husband had two business trips this week and my son and daughter-in-law traveled several states over to visit her parents. Everything went well for all of them.

3. Pi Day. Because pi is 3.14+, some of us nerdy types use that for an excuse to eat pie on 3/14. 🙂 We had hamburger pie for dinner and chocolate pretzel pie for dessert. I love fun little family celebrations like that.

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4. A husband who cleans up the kitchen on Sunday mornings. It started when his mom first moved in. We would never leave her alone with a new caregiver until we were comfortable with them. We had regular help during the week, but a succession of people on the weekends. So whenever we had a new person on Sundays, Jim would stay home from church. Since it takes me the longest to get ready and he didn’t have to get ready, he’d put away breakfast, load the dishwasher, run it if it was full, wipe off the table and stovetop. He has continued to do that on Sunday mornings ever since. I always appreciate help with cleanup, but especially on Sunday mornings. It’s so nice to come home after church, especially if we’ve gotten lunch out somewhere, to a clean kitchen and an afternoon of rest.

5. Meals brought in. Speaking of getting meals somewhere else . . . 🙂 Jim picked up hamburgers for dinner Saturday night and then we got McAlister’s Deli takeout for Sunday lunch. So I had the whole weekend off in the kitchen. 🙂

Happy Friday!

Book Reviews: If I Run Trilogy

If I RunTerri Blackstock’s If I Run trilogy follows Casey Cox on the run from the law. In the first book, also titled If I Run, Casey went to meet her friend, Brent, at his home only to discover his bloody, lifeless body. Horrified, she ran from the scene, leaving a trail of evidence and DNA between his house and hers. She threw a few things together and fled in disguise.

Dylan Roberts has been hired by Brent’s parents to find Casey. He and Brent grew up together, but Dylan had never met Casey. Dylan had been a criminal investigator while in military service, but his severe PSTD has prevented him from landing the police job he wanted. As Dylan searched for Casey, he can’t help but do a bit of his own investigating and profiling. Nothing pointed to Casey as a killer — except her DNA at the crime scene.

Dylan is a Christian and struggles with gaining victory over his PTSD. Casey is not a believer, but comes across a Christian lady in her new location.

As Casey starts life with a new look, name, and job, she discovers that a missing girl is being kept captive. If Casey helps her, she risks blowing her cover and being discovered. But how can she not?

The chapters go back and forth from Casey’s and Dylan’s viewpoints as more of the story unfolds. Casey’s reasons for running become clear.

If I'm FoundIn Book 2, If I’m Found, Casey is on the run again in a different town with a different look and name. Dylan believes her story and finds an untraced way to communicate with her. They agree that it’s too dangerous for Casey to come back: first they need to have a solid case against the people who killed Brent and are after her. Dylan has to be careful to make it seem like he is still searching for Casey while he’s actually seeking evidence to clear her.

Meanwhile Casey accidentally witnesses parents giving their daughter to a man who pays them for time with the girl to abuse her. By the time Casey realizes what is going on, it’s too late to stop the incident. But she can’t let this happen again and looks for ways to rescue the girl and bring the adults to justice.

If I LiveI was a little afraid the plot would follow the same formula in Book 3, If I Live, with Casey risking her own safety to help an innocent victim. Thankfully, that was not the case. By this point in the story, Casey is getting weary. She and Dylan have not only met, but have come to care for each other. But they still need further evidence to bring a solid case against Casey’s pursuers. Dylan is having a harder time keeping up the ruse that he’s still looking for Casey, which puts his own life in danger. Meanwhile Casey is having an even harder time avoiding notice as the police have issued several pictures of her in different disguises taken from various business security cameras. Danger escalates on all sides as Brent’s killers get more desperate. In this book some of the chapters are from the killer’s point of view as well as Dylan’s and Casey’s. Dylan is gaining victory over his PTSD, but his parents’ misunderstanding makes it even harder.

Finally Dylan and Casey have what the evidence they need. But who can they give it to? They can’t trust anyone in the police department, because the killer has several of them under his thumb. As they concoct a plan, they draw closer to each other, closer to God, and the plot comes to an exciting conclusion.

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I read the first two books in this series in quick succession while traveling. Since I had the third one on hand, I decided to wait to review the series all togteher after reading the last book.

The story grabbed me from the very beginning. Each book was hard to put down. I was glad I had them all before I started so I could immediately go to the next one instead of waiting. I’ve loved Terri’s books since I first read her Newpointe 911 series decades ago and passed them on to my mom. I love that her characters are relatable. I enjoyed getting to know both Casey and Dylan and felt with them through their stresses and faith journeys.

Terri says in the afterword of the last book that this series was inspired by the old TV show, The Fugitive. That was one of my favorites shows as a kid, with the innocent man on the run from the relentless detective. I also didn’t realize until that afterword that the three covers go together to form a picture. Clever!

If I Run seriesAn excellent series all together. Highly recommended if you like suspense stories. Even though that’s not the genre I read most often, I enjoyed this series very much. As it happens, just now the first book is on sale for the Kindle app for $1.99.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

Book Review: Steal Away Home

Steal Away Steal Away Home: Charles Spurgeon and Thomas Johnson, Unlikely Friends on the Passage to Freedom by Matt Carter and Aaron Ivey is a fictional book based on facts. It parallels lifelines of two men growing up in very different circumstances and their eventual meeting and friendship.

The two men in question are Charles Haddon Spurgeon, famous and oft-quoted English preacher in the 1800s, and Thomas Johnson, a Southern slave who was freed after the Civil War, became a pastor, and eventually became a missionary to Africa. “In 1879, there were only two Christian missionaries in the entire country, and Thomas Johnson would be the very first African-American missionary to ever step foot on Cameroon soil as an ambassador for the Good News.”

It’s unlikely that two men from such different lives would cross paths. But a member of Johnson’s congregation knew Spurgeon, knew that Johnson lamented his lack of education, and knew there were funds for students who needed them to go to Spurgeon’s college, so he recommended Johnson to Spurgeon. The story has Johnson hearing of Spurgeon while still a slave, when slave owners were burning Spurgeon’s books and papers because of his stance against slavery. So meeting Spurgeon had special meaning for Johnson. They became friends after their first meeting, even to the point of Johnson traveling with Spurgeon for a retreat and being present at Spurgeon’s death.

Though this tells the story of both men, it’s not a full biography of either. It mainly tells their stories as they relate to each other.

And because the book is fictional, we don’t know what’s real and what’s made up. I would have preferred a realistic account.

I’ve read two biographies of Susannah, Charles’ wife, and several accounts of his life. I know he suffered from depression. Most accounts portray him as joyful with occasional bouts of depression: this book characterizes him as mostly depressed with occasional bouts of joy.  The truth is probably somewhere in-between. Probably depression affected him much more than anyone knew. I knew he had gout as well, but didn’t know just how extensive the pain from that could be. But the authors seemed to play up the negative physical and spiritual effects of both Susannah and Charles.

I did not know anything about Johnson, so of course I can’t compare what was said of him. I did learn that he wrote his autobiography, Twenty-Eight Years a Slave, or the Story of My Life in Three Continents. I would love to read that some time.

In a fictionalized story, naturally we expect there will be a few made-up scenes – conversations that did not happen yet reflect events or characteristics of the person’s life, etc. But according to this and this review, some scenes were revised, even the details in the account of Thomas’ conversion. If that’s true, I am very disappointed that the authors would make such revisions. The authors themselves say the book is “not a biography, and it’s not a history book, but a story, based on real events that occurred in history. Many passages in the book are word-for-word quotations from Spurgeon’s or Johnson’s own writing.” They were inspired by another historical book written as fiction that brought the characters and situations to life an wanted to do the same with this book. They admit that they “take literary license, and deviate slightly from the historical record,” but assert that “the overwhelming majority of the persons, places, dates, and even the dialogue of this book are based on real events.”

But aside from those quibbles, I did enjoy learning the relationship between these two men. I felt the hopelessness of Johnson’s situation as a slave, the palpable fear as the slaves met privately late at night to quietly worship together, the long road he had to face even after freedom was granted. I appreciated that Spurgeon was a leading voice against slavery and in treating people of all colors as equals. And though I think the authors over-emphasized Spurgeon’s suffering (they often portray him as incapacitated and don’t show much of the productive aspects of his life), I did appreciate the window into what his down times might have been like.

The title, Steal Away Home, comes from an old spiritual which is referred to often throughout the book. It’s sung here by Mahalia Jackson and Nat King Cole.

(Sharing with Literary Musing Monday)

When sleep won’t come

A few years ago I asked Facebook friends, “Why am I awake when I should be asleep and sleepy when I should be awake?” One responded, “Welcome to middle age.” I can be dragging and nodding off before getting into bed, and then wide awake after.

I usually keep everything conducive to sleeping: lights off, soft music playing. Reading usually keeps me even more awake. One friend responded to my Facebook query that sleeplessness is an excellent time to pray. True. Sometimes I do pray then. But I also get frustrated when I can’t seem to dig in and get much done in the daytime because I need a nap because I am so groggy. It just seems like it would be so much more efficient to sleep at night and work during the day.

Still, I know that stewing about it only makes it worse. I remind myself in the night that even if I am not asleep, I’m resting. I can enjoy the quietness and freedom to just relax without any demands on my time. I breathe deep and slow, sometime pray, sometimes think, until eventually I drift off. And I catch a nap in the day time if I need to, but I try to keep it short so as not to perpetuate nighttime wakefulness.

Several nights ago, though, was one of my worst nights ever. I don’t think I slept more than an hour the whole night. And what’s worse, I had a three-hour drive the next morning and meetings all afternoon and evening. I wasn’t feeling particularly nervous about the trip. Last year I had made the same journey for a writer’s conference, and I was much more on edge then because it was the first time I had traveled alone or attended anything like a conference in years. But God got me through that, and I knew a bit more what to expect this time. So I had a bit of apprehension, but nothing like the year before. Perhaps underlying nerves were the problem, even though I wasn’t consciously feeling nervous at the time. I tried all my usual tactics, to no avail.

Then I had to fight worry. How was I going to drive and stay awake in meetings for a conference my husband had paid good money for without sleep? Some of my health issues get worse without sleep. What if they flared up? I knew these thoughts and concerns would only drive sleep further away, so I tried to give them to the Lord and stay relaxed.

On top of everything else, I was intensely uncomfortable. Hot one minute, cold the next. The sheets irritated my skin. I got up and went to the couch in the living room, thinking a change of venue might help. It didn’t. Maybe I was coming down with something?

I went ahead and got up at 4:30 a.m. and took my shower. But I was sad and frustrated and even a bit hurt because God had not answered my prayer. He knew I needed sleep. He made me to need sleep. He knew everything on the schedule this day. Why had He let me go most of the night without sleep when I earnestly begged Him for it?

I didn’t know. I sent a quick text to a friend letting her know what was going on and asking her prayers. I decided to just keep getting ready for the trip and see what happened. I felt like I was moving through molasses or walking like a zombie (to mix metaphors). I couldn’t eat much and began to feel nauseous.

I couldn’t remember if I had actually prayed about whether to go to the conference. Was this God’s way of telling me no?

After I got everything ready to go, I knew I could not drive safely in the condition I was in. I decided to try to take a nap in my desk chair and see what happened. I asked God to direct me and help me know whether to go or stay. I asked Him, if He wanted me to go, to multiply whatever sleep I could get in my nap like the loaves and fishes and make it enough. And I fell blessedly asleep for maybe an hour.

When I woke up, my stomach still wasn’t feeling 100% well, but all grogginess was gone. I left for the conference. The night before I had made a sandwich for lunch so I didn’t have to look for a restaurant first thing when I got to town: since I was running late, I was able to eat a few bites on the way. I got to the conference just after the first introductory meeting ended. Though I would have liked to have gotten there in time for it, it wasn’t entirely critical. I had enough time to peruse the schedule to choose which of the workshops to attend that afternoon. I attended the rest of the conference and had a wonderful time. I had no trouble sleeping in the hotel room that night.

Still I pondered why God had not answered my prayer for sleep the night before. One of the truths that had sustained me on a recent family trip was “Your heavenly Father knows what things you have need of (Matthew 6:8). One by one He met each of my needs on that trip. Why did He seem to withhold one this time?

Perhaps one reason was to increase my dependence on Him. I thought I already was depending on Him for a number of issues relating to the conference and travel! But maybe He wanted to take me to a different level.

Philippians 4:11-13 came to mind: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” I can’t say I have totally learned that contentment, but I am in the process.

And then 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 came to my attention. “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.

God may have any of a number of reasons to allow us to suffer a need of some sort. He’s not being cruel or unkind: all of His Word and years of knowing Him testify to that. God told Israel that He let them suffer hunger in the wilderness to humble them, to test them, and to turn their focus from their physical need to the spiritual. Unanswered prayer can cause us to examine ourselves for any hindrances on our part. Sometimes He cuts off something we need to produce more growth, to bring us to maturity.

I still don’t know why God didn’t answer my prayer for sleep on a night when sleep was critically needed. But He did meet my need, even though not in the usual way. Even in the face of a sleepless night and a full day, “God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8).

See also:

When I Don’t Get What I Need
When the Solution I Want Isn’t What I Need
Let Patience Have Her Perfect Work
Reasons Why Prayers Aren’t Answered

(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Tell His Story, Let’s Have Coffee, Wise Woman, Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)

Laudable Linkage

It’s been a little while since I have shared good finds on the Web. Here’s my most recent batch. Maybe you’ll find some of these good reading as well.

Partially Hydrogenated Bible Study. “Much like junk food manufacturers, Christian writers have been known to appeal to our senses to garner popularity. But the stakes for dining on spiritual junk food are high.”

Falling in Love With God’s Word, HT to True Woman.

The Gift of a Friend’s Rebuke. “Because I had not willfully sinned against her in my heart, my conscience had not been awakened to shine the light on my oversight. But still, I had hurt my friend. So much so that she no longer looked forward to hanging out with me, which was how she knew she needed to address it. Because she valued our friendship and cared about me, she spoke up, even though it was highly uncomfortable for her.”

The Surprise Meaning of Judge Not Lest You Be Judged.

Are We Doing Church Wrong?

Avoiding Difficult People, HT to True Woman. Though “there are clear circumstances that call for avoidance, distance, or even permanent severance from a relationship,” the “cultural philosophy of avoiding difficult people has an underlying worldview that should alarm any Christian.”

How Does She Do It? The Making of an Atypical Woman. HT to True Woman. “Isn’t that the beauty of God’s work in our lives? He takes us — the un-super, regular, sometimes scraping-by women — and he works on us.”

Kitchen Table Discipleship, HT to Story Warren. “So often we think our greatest accomplishments will come from outside the four walls of our house, but the discipleship we do right at the ‘kitchen table’ has eternal impact as we raise little ones to love and follow Jesus.”

Our Culture of Contempt, HT to Challies. “People often say that our problem in America today is incivility or intolerance. This is incorrect. Motive attribution asymmetry leads to something far worse: contempt, which is a noxious brew of anger and disgust. And not just contempt for other people’s ideas, but also for other people.” “Contempt makes political compromise and progress impossible. It also makes us unhappy as people.” “What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”

Famous Christian Quotes . . . That Aren’t Real, HT to Challies.

Evangelicals Embracing (and Rejecting) Lent, HT to Challies. I really appreciate the balance here. “What is more important than the practices we take on is the heart attitude behind them. If there’s anything we should give up this time of year, it’s our sense of superiority either to those outside the church or those inside the church who do things differently than we do.”

A thought from Pinterest. I couldn’t find where it originally came from to credit the creator.

And don’t forget, it’s that time of year (seems way early to me!)