Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fig Trees

On Monday, when we read the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree (Mark 11:12-25) Ben's response was, "that's weird!". His reaction was much like mine has been in the past. I've heard the explanation of the symbolism before: the fig tree is a representation of Israel and Jesus is condemning the nation for not bearing fruit. I get it, but still, the story has always seemed odd to me - cursing a fig tree when it wasn't even the season for it to bear fruit. Ben was right, it IS weird.
So, we did a little research, and if I understand correctly, the fig tree actually CAN have fruit out of season. The trees will grow green figs that are so bitter that only the hungriest travelers would eat them. Those figs fall to the ground to rot and then the tree produces the good fruit. If a tree doesn't have those first green, bitter figs that is a sign that it will not produce good fruit in season.
Perhaps Jesus was preparing his followers to understand the next event recorded in Mark 11 when he clears the temple area by driving out the money changers. Maybe he was giving them a visual lesson on the lack of fruit in the lives of those he would soon be driving out of the temple?
I have to admit that I did a poor job on trying to explain the story to Benjamin. Finally tonight I came up with what I SHOULD have told him. Maybe Jesus cursed the fig tree out of season to show us that He wants to see the signs that we will be bearing fruit for Him and that He wants us to bear fruit in ALL seasons, not just when it's easy and convenient!
I can't deny feeling relieved that Jesus didn't curse a tree for something it couldn't do! :-)

Hunter's Moon by Don Hoesel

With his grandfather dying, author C.J. Baxter heads back to a place he hasn't been in over 17 years - home. The power hungry Baxter family and their home have been sitting atop Franklin County’s highest point for over 200 years. Their goal to become as powerful as the renowned Irish-American Kennedy clan only succeeds as far as the town of Adelia. Even though he has become something of a hometown celebrity, C.J. isn't welcomed by his own family. However, once he is there, Adelia, N.Y. seems like a good place to escape from a failing marriage, bad book reviews, a probable lawsuit and possible arrest. After being attacked by his older brother, Graham, C.J. decides he can be as ruthless as his family and determines to reveal the deep, dark family secrets. Risking much, he begins to write an expose'. Graham Baxter is running for Senate and in his grab for power the last thing he wants is for C.J. to write about his transgressions. Graham, his father, and his campaign manager struggle to keep C.J. quiet in order to save the run for election.

Hunter's Moon is the second novel of Don Hoesel. I completely enjoyed reading this captivating mystery! The suspense in the novel kept me reading late into the night, and the outcome was completely unexpected. The Library Journal is quoted on the cover saying, "This intelligent drama will appeal to readers who enjoy stories about...the faith that guides one through life." With that, I disagree. There was very little faith mentioned in the book - C.J. is a new Christian struggling to forgive but you really don't see his character seeking God to direct his many decisions. However, the book is a great read and I look forward to reading more from Don Hoesel.
Thank you to Bethany House for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday

Can you imagine what it was like that first Palm Sunday? The Jews had been anticipating the King's coming for hundreds of years. They had been taught from birth to watch for His coming, wishing for someone to rescue them from the Roman oppression. With palm branches waving and voices raised in praise, they must have been envisioning a spectacular extravaganza! (Mark told me that the palm branches were actually used as a covert sign of rebellion and disdain toward the Romans.) Surely this great King would come clothed in royal robes surrounded by an impressive escort, riding a noble steed! They watched with bated breath, tip-toeing to see him enter the city, perhaps pushing their way to the front of the crowd so that their children could see this great, new king. Yet, Jesus came gently, weeping, and riding on a donkey. If the people were shocked, or disappointed at His appearance, the Bible doesn't mention it, but certainly some were surprised. Jesus didn't give the people what they WANTED - a great earthly king to save them from tyranny. He gave them what they NEEDED - freedom from sin. He was bringing them a new life.

Matt. 21:8 tells us "A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road." I wonder, what is it that Jesus wants those of us today to lay down in front of Him to declare His Lordship? Bad attitudes, personal agendas and plans, desires, unworthy thoughts....?
Then Matthew 21:0 says "The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,
"Hosanna to the Son of David!"
"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!"
"Hosanna in the highest!"

I've always heard that some of the same people were the ones at the end of the week crying "Crucify Him!" I wonder, how many of them were just disillusioned because they didn't get what they wanted? Are we that fickle and ungrateful today? How often do we secretly wave palm branches of rebellion and disdain at things that have been ordained to enter our lives in order to make us grow- looking for the easy way out of a situation just as the Jews were? Do our voices lifted in praise, our coats laid down to carpet His way become fists raised in anger when we face pain and disappointment? Or, perhaps even worse, does our excitement and anticipation become apathy and lack of interest? Does God want to vomit our lukewarmness out of His mouth? We need to remain hot: trusting, faithful and see that God is giving us what we really, and truly need. He is NOT an over-indulgent Father who causes harm by giving in to our every whim.

Palm Sunday is still a day of expectations. Mark 13:35 - 37 tells us to be on the alert - "If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!" Everyday should be a day of looking ahead; anticipating His second coming, and on that day you can count on the fact that He won't be riding on a donkey!!

Lord, thank you for being my King! Help me to keep my eyes focused on You and what you desire for my life rather than on my selfish desires! Help me to see others as you see them, needing new life and forgiveness! Change me. Make my desires YOUR desires. Help me to lay my ALL down at Your feet, to honor and praise You in a way that pleases You, without concern for what others think! May my heart be forever grateful, not doubting even during pain and hardship. Draw me ever closer to You, help me to thirst after You and seek You with all my heart. Help me to remain "hot" in You! May my sacrifices be pleasing to You. Help me to stay awake, prepared, anticipating Your triumphant return. Lord, come quickly!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jane Austen

Thomas Nelson now has a new series of biographies called Christian Encounters. These compact books tell of the experiences, trials and adventures of people from different ages and areas of the Church. I chose to read the story of Jane Austen.
The author, Peter Leithart, begins by telling of world events that were occurring during Austen's life then proceeds to tell of her family and the importance of faith in Jane's life. The author obviously did a lot of research for this book and relied upon Austen family letters and other sources to tell of Jane's personality and experiences.
Jenny, as she was called by her family, began writing early in life. She loved to write simply for the entertainment of her family. Her books were written at a young age and then edited and rewritten many times before she was published.
It was hard to keep up with all the family members and friends discussed. There are, however appendixes in the back listing Austen's family, friends and neighbors and the characters from her novels. The book felt dry and a bit boring, but as I continued to read I appreciated learning more about this literary celebrity.
Since this is my blog and not on a more public book review site, I will take the liberty of saying this to my niece: Amy, I think I know why you enjoy Jane Austen novels. It's because you are so much alike! She was a P.K. (preacher's kid) and had lots of brothers. (5, if I remember correctly) She was a member of the Anglican Church, had a great sense of humor, and faith was an integral part of her life. I could definitely picture the two of you sitting together empathizing over the antics of brothers, laughing and having a good time!
*Thank you to Thomas Nelson for supplying this book for review through the Book Sneeze program! All opinions expressed are my own.


Deeanne Gist's romance writing combined with J. Mark Bertrand's suspense writing blend together into a mildly interesting tale.
Rylee is a sweet, overly naive orphan trying to support her grandmother. She finds herself a suspect in a ring of burglaries. The Robin Hood like thief steals and turns the items over to charities telling them to sell the items and use the money. Rylee's clients are the victims, missing items that hold sentimental value. In steps Logan Woods, a resourceful, energetic reporter who fears dogs. Together, the two begin to investigate.
I did find the main character of Rylee being a rollerblading dog walker a bit bizarre, yet her walks through Charleston did give me a good picture of what the city is like. Honestly, I did have the mystery figured out fairly quickly and the book felt a bit predictable to me. All in all, it did keep me entertained and distracted as I waited during my husband's surgery. An easy read.

*Thank you to Bethany House for supplying this book free of charge as part of their book review program.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Not a Sparrow Falls

I recently received the book Not a Sparrow Falls by Linda Nichols from Bethany House to review. In the story, Mary learns 100 Bible verses as a little girl that she begins to cling to for hope. She unsuccessfully tries to keep her family together after her mother's death. Soon after her brother and sisters are taken, Mary finds herself in a life of crime because of one bad decision after another. She runs, trying to escape from danger and the life she desperately wants out of, and lands in the town of Alexandria, Virginia. Mary assumes her mother's identity for protection and finds peace in the sanctuary of an old church.

Alasdair MacPherson's job and family seem to be crumbling. As pastor of the church, he has many responsibilities and never seems to be able to keep the congregation or his 3 sisters happy. His three children pay the cost as they are neglected by their distracted father. Samantha, his oldest daughter lays her written prayer, "Help me, God", down in the church. Mary sees the prayer and becomes involved trying to help Samantha. Mary uses the verses she learned as a child to help the children and their father heal. She is reminded of God's love and forgiveness and tells Samantha "It's running from things that gives them strength." Can Mary keep her past hidden and be able to help the family, or should she take her own advice and quit running? This story of forgiveness and redemption is one I recommend. I completely enjoyed reading this book and loved the characters. I would give it 5 out of 5 stars. Thank you to Bethany House for allowing me to review the book. All opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Never Say Never

"Home isn't a place, a structure you create from wood or bricks or mortar, building the walls high and strong, to keep out the storms of life. Home is in the things you carry with you, the treasures of the heart..... It is a dwelling place you share with the people who matter most, a refuge in which you are never alone. The Builder is always nearby, tearing down old walls and adding new rooms, repairing the damage of wind and weather, filling empty spaces with new gifts." What a great ending to a fun book!

In Never Say Never, Lisa Wingate tells the story of Kai Miller and her attempt to put down roots after living a childhood moving from place to place. Kai ends up in the small town of Daily, Texas after escaping from a hurricane near her home and discovers the never before experienced welcome of a small town. She met and saved Donetta Bradford during a risky evacuation during the storm and an unlikely friendship begins to develop. Donetta, having had a similar childhood, is able to aid Kai in ways she could not have imagined. The story is told from the perspective of both Kai and Donetta which makes small town Texas come alive. If you are looking for a lighthearted, entertaining book, then Never Say Never is a great choice! You can read an excerpt from the book here.

*Thank you to Bethany House for providing the book free of charge for review. All opinions expressed are my own.