Sunday, 27 June 2010

From My Bookshelf

I like reading. That's good, seeing as I work in a bookstore. Believe it or not, I have three lists of books I want to read, which I'm constantly adding to, so I'm not even making a dent. It'll probably take me a couple years to read everything I have on my lists, the way things stand now. Even though it'll probably never happen, I'm giving it a go anyway.

If you look at the right side of my blog, you will see a list of some of the great books I've read and I'm constantly adding to it. So, if you need ideas, there's some there, and if you have a question about one or need the author's name, just drop a comment. But for now, just for fun, I'm going to tell you a bit about what I have been reading recently and some of my favourites.

This past month, I read The Scottish Chiefs by Jane Porter. I first heard about the book from Eric Ludy when I learned about Ellerslie (a school I really hope to go to someday), and I although it was a little outside of my regular reading, I really enjoyed it. It tells the story of Sir William Wallace, a man of honour who fights for the freedom of his country, Scotland, and refuses to compromise his convictions. Having been written 200 years ago, it was a little difficult to get into at first, but once you get used to the older English, I dove right into the story. This is a great book of character for men and women alike.

I also read my first two books by Frank. E. Peretti. First, The Wounded Spirit is a combination of biography and Christian living and tells of the damaging effects of bullying. The second was Tilly, which is a short novel that tells the story of a woman dealing with grief over a past abortion and her experience of healing, forgiveness, and a love for her daughter. I saw the short film awhile ago and I was impressed with the accuracy between the two.

Now, as for my list, I would recommend anything by Eric and Leslie Ludy, although I haven't read all of their stuff yet. That would include Authentic Beauty, Set-Apart Femininity, The Lost Art of True Beauty, When Dreams Come True, When God Writes Your Life Story, The Bravehearted Gospel, and Wrestling Prayer. I'm also highly in favour of Do Hard Things and Start Here by Alex and Brett Harris. Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian is a great read that tells about the dangers of the modern church's ideas of being culturally relevant. It's a refreshing reminder that we as Christians are called to be different and not blend in with the world. Real Christianity by William Wilberforce is also a must read.

Now, in terms of fiction, I have a bit of an interesting taste. I think one of my favourite fiction books was The Binding of the Blade series by L.B. Graham. It's a mixture of fantasy and allegory that takes you from Satan's rebellion and the fall of man to the redemption of man. Laced throughout are many lessons on things you can apply to your own life, which I really appreciated. I've also enjoyed The Seventh World Trilogy by Rachel Starr Thomson and I'm looking forward to her third book in the trilogy coming out later on this year. In His Steps is another novel that has lots of substance to apply to your own Christian life.

I'm going to have to stop soon or else this will get way too long. I don't read a whole lot of biographies, but if I were to name one right now, I would say Faith Like Potatoes by Anges Buchan.

In the near future, I'm planning on re-reading a few of my favourite books and then embarking on No Compromise, the biography of Keith Green. That is, if I don't get sidetracked.

I'm almost thinking I'll have to do a DVD list in the near future. I don't watch a lot of movies and I know it can be difficult to find good solid Christian films, but I do still have some favourites that I can easily watch more than once.

God bless your week and happy reading!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Circle of Influence

This past week, I was reminded again of this little circle I'm in possession of called influence. The scary thing is, that circle is bigger than I think. People are watching me. Uh-oh. That shouldn't surprise me since I watch other people all the time, but it does. All of a sudden one day you discover somebody is paying attention to your life and you have to take a step back.

It's a trend I've noticed coming up quite a bit. People will say something about me and I have no idea they took notice of such things. To be quite honest, there have been times where I have received compliments and said to myself, "If only it were that true."

I've realized how important it is that what people see in our lives is true, that our walk matches our talk. It's easy to say things that sound oh, so good, but at the same time, it's a far cry from the reality of your life. In that way, we are actually deceiving other people.

I want my readers to know that often the things I blog about are things I'm just beginning to learn. I share a lot of things that God is working out in my life, but some will take a long time to get where they ought to be. This is why it is important that we are understanding of other believers when they say or do something that doesn't quite match up. We're all being shaped into the image of Christ and it's something that doesn't happen overnight. If we were only to share about things after they were perfected in our lives, we would always be silent.

It's good to be often reminded of this. We have an influence on the people around us, consciously or unconsciously, and it's often bigger than we think. As I've been thinking about this though, I think I may have caught a small glimpse of what God wants to do in and through my life. He wants to do a lot more with our lives than we often think. Let Him use you for His wonderful purposes and use the influence He has given you for His glory.

2 Corinthians 3:2
"Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:"

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Dear Singleness

Dear Singleness,

We have known each other for a really long time, about eighteen and a half years to be precise, and we have spent a lot of time together to say the least. You have always been there and stuck by me even when I wished I could get rid of you. If anybody claims to have never known a faithful friend, they sure haven't met you yet!

I have been thinking about you lately and the many years we've had together. We've shared so many memories, many filled with laughter, some with tears. We have spent time with family and friends, pushed through the dreary years of school and jumped into the real world of responsibility. We've grown up together, and now as I'm embarking on the journey of adulthood, whadda ya know, you're still with me.

You were there by my side as I sought the Lord and now continue to learn to love Him more. As I have grown spiritually and have now become a young woman, you were the one who always reminded me of my need to make Christ my first and only love and to seek my fulfillment in Him. You have done your job well.

As I grow older, I realize that our time together may be drawing to a close. Within a few years, it may be necessary for us to part and a new friend will take your place. I now it sounds like betrayal and abandonment, but it's not. You were created for such a time, and it is you who will make it all the more beautiful. I know I haven't always loved you the way I should have, and for that I am sorry, but I want you to know how much I appreciate you and all that you have taught me. God has used you to shape me into who I am and I know He will continue to do so until the day we say Good-bye.

In the meantime, Singleness, let's make the most of the remaining time we have. Let's love and serve the Lord together, pouring ourselves out for Him. The coming years will go by fast enough, so we must treasure every moment. Thank you for all you have ever been.

With all my love,

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Next Level: Part 2

Note: Read The Next Level: Part 1 first if you haven't already done so.

On Level Three, the people pride themselves in having a broader vision for the company. The General Manager explains their devotion to the "real CEO" (not the Director), a man they have never met, but know only through the "CEO's consultant." They are required to do many things to show their service and devotion to this "CEO", of which I will not go into details but just say that it sounds a lot like Islamic practices.

Each operation within the level has a different viewpoint concerning the company and each makes decisions based on that viewpoint. As the various managers explained their viewpoints to Logan, I continued to notice the trend of other religions being described. Various things they mentioned pointed to false ideas of becoming equal with God, universal harmony, nirvana, meditation, ultimate reality, karma, reincarnation, the four truths and how to eliminate suffering.

One of Logan's friends, Kyle from Level One, makes an interesting comment: "If employees lose touch with top management, I guess all sorts of conjecture starts floating around. And then people believe it and start organizing their work lives according to it." The same thing happens when we lose touch with God, if you will. We become susceptible to false teachings and ways of thinking. Not only that, but when people try by their own efforts to get to God, or reach some other state of bliss, they don't actually ever get anywhere and they never know if the things they have done are enough.

At this point, Logan has noticed the same problems on all of the first three levels: "None of them are taking directions from the top, all of them are doing their own thing, and none of them are actually contributing to the goals of the company."
Level Four on the other hand is a little more impressive at first sight, especially since they pride themselves in personally knowing the Director and Shareholder and always taking directions from them. On his tour, Logan is struck by the nice, upscale furniture and cafes that make the place more than comfortable. He also sees a "Manual review" in session, which the General Manager explains as follows: "We have a Manual written by the Director's very first direct reports. It governs everything we do, really. I don't mean the details--just the broad outlines. It sets our vision and reminds us of the heart of the Director and the Shareholder. We encourage employees to spend a lot of time getting to know it." Logan is also shown a vast auditorium for various large employee events, sessions and rallies complete with entertainment. Yep, sounds like a comfortable modern American church to me!

So there's always lots of hype and excitement on Level Four, and of course, they want to get as people as they can from the lower levels to come up to theirs. When Logan invites Kyle to come up to Level Four, he's actually turned off and can't help but notice the large amount of continuous "rededication" among employees. Although the focus is always on the Shareholder, sessions are usually based on success, self-improvement, and what the Director or Shareholder can do for you. Even with all this constant training and endless sessions, one employee has to admit that it isn't working for him and he isn't making any progress. Level Four just isn't what he expected.

Soon Logan begins to see past all the excitement, rallies, pep talks, happy faces and stuff. He notices that even with all this, the work they do is really no different from that on other levels. They claim to be happy, but they're really not. Everybody says and does all the right stuff, but what all boils down to is just a fake show.

When Logan discusses these things with the Director, he says something that I believe sums up what the problem is among so many believers today. "They want to work for the Shareholder, but by and large, work still revolves around them--what they want to do, what their goals are, whether they are getting what they want. . . . As long as they're the center, they're fooling themselves. The Shareholder's agenda is not really their own."
When Logan is given the option of working on Level Five, he makes some observations that don't really make sense to him. Each of the employees have jobs throughout the company, some of them which would be considered pretty menial tasks, others simply unusual. And yet, each one is happy in what they do. Their focus is to be a servant and to reflect the Shareholder in their work. You could say that they're the example of true Christianity in this book.

Logan can't exactly understand the concept of how Level Five operates until he meets with the Shareholder himself. The Shareholder explains it well. "In this company if you hold on to what you want for yourself, it produces loss. But if you give yourself up for the sake of the company--for myself and my son--then it produces huge profits. And you personally gain everything."

This book covered so much that it was hard to condense. It shows you what happens when people are self-focused, when they try to be good by their own efforts and rules, the problem with false teachings and religions, and the danger of a self-focused version of Christianity. It answers many tough questions and brings out some excellent points about life. I appreciate authors who write fiction like this that challenge the way we live as Christians.

Until next time, God bless!

Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Next Level: Part 1

When I started reading The Next Level: A Parable About Finding Your Place in Life by David Gregory, I was immediately intrigued and knew it would make a great blog post. I know this book could be interpreted in different ways, but I want to give you my take on it, although I know I won't be covering everything that could be covered. I decided to work through the whole book, so if it's something you want to read, you may want to do so before reading this. Also, due to the length I have divided it into two parts, the second of which I will be posting in a few days.

The Next Level tells the story of Logan Bell, who goes to apply for a job at Universal Systems Inc., a large prominent software company. He's surprised when the receptionist immediately sends him up to see the Director, the CEO of the company. On his way up, he takes notice of the size of the building, which consists of five levels. Once he reaches the Director's desk, he's given an informal interview and hired on the spot as an organizational development analyst (OD).

Logan's job is quite simple. He is required to begin working on the first level of the building and analyze what the major problem is on that level. Once he has completed this assignment, he will be moved up to the next level, and if he manages to complete the first four levels, he will have the option of joining the Director himself on the fifth floor.

On the first level Logan meets some interesting people to say the least. After several weeks of meetings and observations, he notes that employees are not working together towards common goals and they lack creativity. On one occasion, he goes around to each employee on the floor to find out what they are doing at that given moment. He discovers that each individual is doing something personal and are not actually doing anything work-related. They're all busy accomplishing nothing.

When Logan goes up to see the Director, he asks him why the owner just lets everyone go on doing their own thing when it results in great loss for the company. He explains that the Shareholder (the owner of the company, who you later discover to be the Director's father) chooses to give each individual the freedom to decide whether or not to work towards the goals and profit of the company. Logan is saddened by the lack of accomplishment and happiness among the people of Level One, to which the Director responds, "That's what happens when we become self-focused, isn't it? Life loses it's meaning."

When Logan reaches Level Two, it doesn't take him long to diagnose the problem when he's handed a Code of Conduct that might as well have been an encyclopaedia. On this level, the main focus is integrity and there are very specific rules and regulations about everything, including the kind and number of pieces of candy allowed and the brand of furniture polish permitted. Some of the specifications are rather amusing. All violations are carefully tracked and disciplinary measures are taken. Logan observes that in this level's efforts to be good, they aren't actually doing any good, with the exception of one department. He notices that they're so caught up in their rules and being people of integrity that they don't actually get anything done to benefit the company. In all reality, they're missing the whole point.

By the time Logan reaches Level Three, I started noticing an interesting trend. Each employee had the option of moving to a different level at any time, but nobody chose to. They each believed that their level's way of doing things was the best and they were quick to point out what was wrong with the methods of other levels. Sounds a lot like us Christians sometimes, doesn't it? We always believe that our way of doing things or set of beliefs is right and we're quick to criticize everybody else. And you know, sometimes we may be right but we don't always need to say so.

This seems to be a suitable break-point to somewhat evenly divide my two sections and to make things flow properly, although the next portion is longer. Be sure to watch for Part 2 within the next few days to find out what Logan discovers on the next few levels. They're the most intriguing ones. God bless!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Emptied to be Filled

It was late one cold, dark night when a young woman came before the Lord. Her feet felt heavy as she approached His majestic throne. At first, she couldn't find the words to say, nor could she bring herself to look up into His face. But she felt His loving gaze upon her and He quietly prompted her to speak her heart. She struggled but for a moment before the floodgates of her heart had opened.

“How long, oh Lord, how long?” she pleaded. “When will I ever come out of this darkness, this place of restlessness? I thought you were a God of joy and peace?”

“I am, child, I am,” He gently replied.

“Then why can’t I feel it? God, my life is a mess and I just don’t know what to do anymore. Why won’t you help me?”

“I will help you, if you are willing to be helped,” He said.

“What do You mean, if I’m willing to be helped? Is that not what I asked You for?”

“Are you willing to let go and surrender everything I ask you to? Are you willing to submit to Me and be obedient, no matter what the cost? Are you ready to let me cleanse your life and make you like Myself? It will not be easy.”

What could He possibly ask her to do, she wondered? Was she not already living for Him? She wavered momentarily and then desperately said, “I think so. I will do anything; just help me out of this place!”

At once He began to show her things in her life that she had done to hurt Him and others. She saw acts of sin and selfishness, words spoken that cut and hurt. She saw chains of bondage called Fear, Guilt, Shame, Regret, and Insecurity. She remembered all the times God asked her to do something and said no out of fear of what may happen. She wondered that although she had repented of all these things and received His forgiveness, that she still felt guilt and shame? Where was the healing God always promised? Where was the freedom, joy and peace?

Knowing her thoughts, He looked at her and said, “Until you let go and submit and obey whatever I command you, you cannot know the fullness of these things, my freedom, joy and peace.”

She shook her head violently. “No,” she reasoned, “I can’t. Think of what will happen to me if I obey? I mean, I know I can trust You, but what about my reputation? What if what I do will not be accepted and I will only be hated and put to more shame? I can’t do it God. I can’t.”

“Oh, my child,” He said sadly, “unless you surrender your entire life, with all of your plans, hopes, dreams, your fears, guilt, shame, insecurities, unless you make My will your will, I cannot truly help you. I need your whole life, with nothing held back. Then I can make something beautiful out of it.”

“Beautiful?” The word almost sounded strange and foreign to her ears. “How can my life possibly be beautiful?”

“What you see is only a portion of the bigger picture. I’m painting a beautiful masterpiece with your life, but you will not see it clearly until I’m finished. It will take me many years yet to finish, but I promise you it will be beautiful.”

By now tears were streaming down her cheeks. “No. It’s way too painful. I can’t handle it. It hurts too much.”

He looked at her with tears in His eyes. “It hurt me too.” With that, He showed her His nail-pierced hands and pointed to the cross where He had hung, stripped and beaten, where blood had flowed from His wounds and crowds mocked and ridiculed Him to pay the price for her sin. The very Son of God, Creator of the universe, cared enough for her, a poor, wretched sinner to endure such agony and death. How could she do anything but submit to Him?

Slowly, she felt her heart soften as she let go of all the things that had enslaved her for so many years. She watched it all fall down at His feet. All of her hopes, dreams, plans, and deepest desires. All of her joys, tears, fears, guilt, shame. Several times she came across something that she felt she could not let go. “Anything but this,” she would say. It was too much. She looked up at His sad, compassionate eyes. “Everything?” she choked.

“Yes. Everything.”

He watched as slowly every last thing in her life slipped through my fingers. Then, she looked around her and despair seemingly flooded her soul. Again she looked up at her Lord as tears once again made their way down her cheeks and dropped to the ground. “It’s all gone. Every last piece of my life is gone. I’ve given it all to You. There’s nothing left.”

Slowly a smile spread across His face. “Oh, but you’re wrong, my child. Now that you’re empty, you are ready to experience the fullness of Myself, the fullness of joy and peace that I give and no one can take away. Now that you are empty and broken, you are ready to be made complete. You are ready to experience My best plans for you and a life so fresh and exciting beyond anything you could ever have imagined. Yes, hard times will still come, but you will experience my nearness like never before. Don’t you see it now, my child? You were emptied so you could finally be filled.”

She smiled, and in her heart, she knew that it was enough.