At about nine p.m. last night, I picked up 'Against the Tide' by Elizabeth Camden, intending to read a few chapters and get a feel for the story. At a little after midnight, I closed the last page regretfully, as saying goodbye to Lydia, Bane, Admiral Fontaine, and the rest was difficult.
Set in the late 1800s, this novel focused on a period that is usually given a paragraph, at best, in a history textbook: the time of peace when the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence freely gathered information about the navies of other countries, and freely gave the same information about U.S. conditions. This was also the time when unsuspecting people were becoming addicted to opium through the wonders of such over the counter medicines as "Mrs. Winslow's Soothing Syrup", which was being marketed for infants and toddlers. It was a long battle for the reformers who saw the evil of opium.
It is in this world that Lydia lives. Lydia is a woman whose circumstances (and language skills!) could hardly be more different than mine, and yet who quickly entered my heart as a woman I both cared for and identified with in many ways. She was real, she was broken, she looked for answers and fulfillment in the wrong places, yet she possessed tenderness, ready wit, and a steely courage that won the admiration and eventually the heart of Alexander Banebridge.
And speaking of Banebridge, he was a genuinely satisfying hero. Not a one dimensional hero with a cape who comes in and saves the day, he is instead this amazing blend of a man who earns the nickname 'Adonis', and yet turns his back on what he could have had in the high society world and dalliances with the hundreds of women who would fall under his charms. This is a man who has found Christ, or to be more accurate, a man whom Christ has found, who yet battles every day with the demons of his past. A man with murky depths of secrets, and a usually suppressed longing for a normal life and someone to share it with. A man who puts the woman he loves into extreme danger, yet loves her passionately and truly through her worst days. He has those hard to define qualities that are in the makeup of every good man, in literature or in real life. (A few of his characteristics strongly reminded me of Sir Percy from The Scarlet Pimpernel)
This novel wasn't perfect. There were a few jarring sentences that could have been tightened up with some editing, and I wasn't completely satisfied with the way the spiritual journey of Lydia was handled. I also found it interesting how Bane had two reasons throughout the book for not marrying Lydia- first, his circumstances, and secondly, something to do with her. But that something to do with her was not that she wasn't a Christian. That didn't ring true for me. It would be one thing if he wrestled with that and pursued her anyway (plenty of Christians fail in this area, and it would have fit in the novel just fine) Instead, we have what almost appears a tacit approval of Bane's opinion that she was searching for God without knowing it, and she would eventually come to Him. That was the weakest point of the novel.
However, I still loved the book, and gave it five stars on Amazon. It pulled me in, the characters (even the secondary ones who are only given a few paragraphs) are well developed, and the story is still stirring in my head and heart today.
I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction -particularly some that is NOT from the oversaturated periods of the Civil War or America West-, inspirational fiction, and romance. It's well worth the read.
~Against the Tide was given to me for review by Bethany House Publishers. This is a fair and unbiased review; the opinions are my own~
May our 'to-do' list always be kept in second place to the much more important 'to-BE' list, given to us by God.
Today's verse: "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony." (Col. 3:14) When asked, Jesus summed up the entire Law as loving the Lord and loving your neighbor. It's pretty amazing when you think about it- you don't need a long list of things to remember; all you need to ask yourself in any situation is 'am I living in love to God and to man?' Love is sort of like the master conductor of life's symphony. If the conductor has total control, then the music is glorious. If he doesn't... then everything falls apart.
God's Word fits together so well that, sometimes, we can read right over a verse and not notice the connections with other parts of the Bible. This is what had happened to me every time I read these verses in Colossians- until, that is, the slow study of a few verses at a time forced me to think through what the words were actually saying.
The parallels to Genesis were so neat to discover! I knew that Jesus was the New Adam, and that understanding the early accounts of Genesis is critical to a correct understanding of why Jesus had to come at all, why there is suffering in the world, and ultimately, redemption as a whole. But this was new to me. It's so much fun to find new little gems in Scripture!
"Renewed in knowledge" - the lie of the serpent in the garden of Eden was that by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that they would become like God. Here we have a true promise from God Himself that He is renewing our new man in... knowledge!
"after the image of its creator" We were created in God's image, and even though that image is marred by sin now, by God's grace, he is restoring the new self to be like Christ (read the first few chapters of Colossians and see how many times the phrase 'in Christ' shows up. It's amazing!)
"put off"; "put on" In the very beginning of mankind's history with sin, what happened? Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves. And the holy God was merciful in an amazing way and made clothes for them... out of skins. (The first death in a previously perfect world) We ruin everything when we try to take it for ourselves- whether 'it' is knowledge or covering for sin. But GOD, our holy and infinite and just, yet merciful and loving Father, freely gives it to us in a perfect way. Our 'new self' is a gift from Him.
"do not lie to one another" What has been the hallmark of sin from the very beginning? The truth of God being exchanged for a lie. Sin came into the world through the father of lies, and we did not (and do not) stand against those lies. When God questioned Adam and Eve, it was time to shift the blame (even to the point of trying to blame God; attempting to defame His character is the biggest lie that can be given). Ever since then, mankind has been marked by a lying tongue and slanderous words- against one another, and against God.
The good news is that through Christ, we can reject that old self, with its horrifyingly sinful ways, and put on a new self that is being renewed to be like Christ.
God declares that we are Chosen. Holy. Beloved.
Now let's live like it.
Compassionate hearts. Kindness. Humility. Meekness. Patience.
Do these things characterize your life? This verse was very convicting for me this morning, and I would guess, if we were being honest, that it would be for all of us!
Yes, just when I was tempted to be very IMpatient, proud, and unkind, the Lord placed these verses right in front of my eyes. He has a way of bringing to remembrance His truth and principles for living- we just aren't always ready to listen. I'm taking the challenge of listening to Him and swallowing some pride today. How about you?
When it comes time to fill our tanks at the gas pump, most of us complain (at least a little) about the high cost. It's impossible to ignore the gas tank of our vehicles though, because as soon as they get empty, we can't go anywhere!
Paul is continuing on here on his theme from verse 8:
Being held captive by philosophy and deceit sounds worse than running out of gas in our car, but we often take more care of our cars than we do in making sure that we're in good condition spiritually (probably because the effects are more immediate and impossible to miss with our cars).
Christians are told that we have been (past tense) filled up with Christ. Imagine taking your car that was just filled up with the best quality gasoline, and pouring out a good deal of that gasoline on the ground and replacing it with water. That sounds crazy, but it's a good image of what we do when we replace some of the Spirit in us with something lesser from this world. Just like the car filled with water, we won't operate any better by being filled up with the empty philosophies of this world. Actually, we've made a rotten trade that will only destroy us in the end. It will hold us captive, and we will be more useless than a car with a tank full of water (or sawdust, or grape juice, or any other substance that isn't what it was made to be filled up with)
We were designed to be filled up with Christ, and He has freely given us that 'filling up', one that is more precious than any price per gallon of our natural gasoline. Are we using it? Or are we trying to replace His blessings with the empty deceits of this world?
Today, as I woke up and began day three of my experiment in mornings with the Lord,
I was tired and groggy. A cold has been making its way around the community, and I was the latest recipient of it and it's effects. My heart was heavy too, as I thought about the circumstances surrounding several of those I'm praying for. There are praises to be made, but it seems that the list of prayer requests is always longer instead of shorter. It took me awhile to let the words of God sink in to my mind and heart. I thought about the first part of these two verses from Colossians, and how the Christian life is a journey. I thought about thanksgiving, and asked myself the age old question: how is it possible to abound in the giving of thanks with so many hurts in this world?
No matter whether you know all the 'right' answers or whether you are just learning of God's grace through pain for the first time, each of us has to answer that question on an individual level, and more often than not, it's a question that has to be revisited many times. As C.S. Lewis said, "Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done."
Rooted and Built Up in Christ
The Apostle Paul writes "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him..." The Christian life is not a decision for Christ.
It is not a one-time stop in life's long series of options and twists and turns. It is a journey
, a turning over of your selfish self to the lordship of the Creator, and all of your life's decisions are made in Him. It is a daily taking up of your cross, denying yourself for the surpassing joy of being with the Lord, and acknowledging the sovereignty that He commands in your life. It is motion, not stagnation.
However, it is also important to remember that Paul is very clear in his next words that the motion of the Christian journey is not one of fluttering about and uncertainty. In the previous verses he talked about not getting caught up in persuasive sounding lies. How do we avoid that? By being rooted and built up in Christ, with an established faith.
Think of the motion of a fall leaf, being torn from the tree by a gust of wind and flowing wherever the wind takes it. That malleability is exactly what Paul does not want for believers in Christ. Originally, I was going to say that we were to be like the tree that the leaf comes from, but that analogy fell apart with the recollection that I had just talked about the journey of walking with Christ. With that in mind, I'm going to encourage you to think of being like the Ents in Tolkien's the Lord of the Rings, or the living trees from Lewis' Narnia stories, who moved, and yet stood firm. And if that doesn't make sense to you, forget the analogy, forgive the tired brain of this author, and just remember the actual truths of Scripture! Abounding in Thanksgiving
It can be easy to thank God when all is going well in your little part of the world. Maybe you've gotten exciting news, spent time with a friend, fallen in love, seen a beautiful part of creation, or just had an awestruck 'mountain high' moment praising God. But what about when it's not
all going well? What about the times when things are going horribly wrong, for you, for someone close to you, or maybe just when you get become generally overwhelmed by the pain of the whole world? The hard answer is, that those are the times when it is more important than ever to thank God.
That's not a glib answer for me; I've lived out the difficulty of it. I've spent my share of time asking God why things have to be the way they are. Beyond the pain of certain situations, it can also be painful to admit that it is not always for us to understand now why some things happen the way they do.
But here's a truth: Thanksgiving does a refining work on our faith.
Taking up the discipline of thanksgiving, and making it a habit in your life, will bring you closer to the Lord. If you can't think of anything to thank Him for in your circumstances, start with thanking Him for always being with you. "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." He understands our hearts; He MADE our hearts. Therefore, every emotion is safe with Him. "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."
If the thought of abounding in thanksgiving is something you want to consider more, I highly recommend Ann Voskamp's book and blog
. Her encouraging words, combined with beautiful photography that emphasize the simple joys in life, are always a welcome sight in my inbox (and I have to like a blog quite a bit to subscribe to updates with my private email!)
My prayers are with you as we seek together to be like the Middle-Earth Ents or Narnian Trees (or, perhaps, simply a 'rooted and built up' Christian!) May God bless you in your journey with Him.
Even though I used the King James Version translation of the Bible but little (and that, ironically, when I was younger!) there are a few verses that I always think of in that poetic, old English style. "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Spurgeon was a wise man, and I believe what he says here is entirely accurate. Can you think of any single thought more comforting than the truth that our Lord will never leave us or forsake us? I surely cannot.
I pray that you all have a blessed weekend.
Each one of us has a different schedule. For some people, it simply isn't workable to spend half an hour in devotional time first thing in the morning. Others would feel totally lost without a cup of coffee, Bible, and notebook as the morning sun peeps through their windows. For the record, I am not one of those perky morning people. I feel very accomplished when I manage to wake myself up enough to read the Bible before starting the rest of my day.
The fact that I am not a morning person and prefer to have my devotional time in the mid-morning (or admittedly sometimes late in the evening!) is not a reason to be lazy in my morning habits. Have you ever noticed that the days that are rushed and frantic usually start out that way from the moment of getting up? At the end of them I sit in bed wondering where the day went. How we start our days is often how we spend our days.
Picture Credit: Biblical Homemaking. Used with permission.
For the next week, I am going to make it a point to wake up, grab my Bible, read my verses for the day, and pray before getting out of bed. It doesn't have to be for a long period of time; I'll catch up on my journaling and focused thought later in the day. But the very first few minutes of my morning are going to be focused on my Lord. I have an idea that it just might influence the rest of the day for the better.
The state of my mind has been alternating between total excitement for the Grace and Truth Project, and total anxiety. I feel ill equipped, nervous, and definitely like the wrong person for the job! That may be better than a prideful attitude of 'oh, I've got this', but still, sitting down to work with the nagging voice of doubt ever-present is quite difficult. All of these thoughts were swirling in my mind this morning, first with excitement winning out, then anxiety. Back and forth, rinse, repeat. Besides that turmoil, there are a few other projects and activities in my life that I was feeling some stress about. It wasn't with a quiet mind that I grabbed my Bible this morning; but I'm so very glad that I started the day off well, with God's Word.
As I read, this morning's verses jumped off the page at me: "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." (Colossians 1:28-29) I had a multitude of 'Aha!' moments as I wrote out this passage and began meditating on the words. It's an amazing thing to realize how faithful God is to speak to our hearts when we take the time to focus on Him!
1. It is Christ that we proclaim (the hope of glory, as it says in the previous verse). As Christians, if our message ever loses that center, then we have failed and gone in the wrong direction.
2. Warning and teaching everyone with all wisdom... warning [truth] teaching [grace]. It's the perfect combination, always.
3. That we may present everyone mature in Christ. To be mature in Christ should be the goal of every believer. As I read that verse, I was struck by the realization that THAT is my ultimate goal in putting together this website and blog, and developing the curriculum (and other writing projects that are in the works, in my head at least). Maturity in Christ is what so many Christians lack today.
'Maturity in Christ' is also the very reason why I am so anxious about this project. I don't feel as if I am mature in Christ to the point of putting together the Grace and Truth Project as a whole, and the curriculum in particular. The disconcerting thing is that the closer I get to Christ and the more I focus my heart on Him, the more aware I am of all of the sin in my life! And yet, I am also convinced that God is calling me to this, and has been shaping my interests and experiences in the direction He wants me to go.
4. For this I toil- to present everyone mature in Christ. Paul, one of the most recognizable leaders of New Testament times, talks about "toils" and "struggling." It isn't easy for him, and we shouldn't expect our callings from God to be easy either.
5. Struggling with all His energy that He powerfully works within me. God is 'powerfully working' HIS own energy inside of Paul, as Paul does the work that God has called him to do! First point: Just because God is working within Paul, that doesn't mean that the calling is easy. Secondly, the rest of us shouldn't expect any less than God working mightily inside of us, even through struggles and toil, when we are doing the work that He has designed us to do: work that brings the glory to Him, in every action and word.