Sunday, August 22, 2010

Review: "Jerusalem's Hope" (Guest Post by Valentina)

This summer, my daughter read several of Brock and Bodie Thoene's historical fiction books, and wrote a review of "Jerusalem's Hope" (#6 in the Zion Legacy series) for her 8th grade English class. The Theones have written series set in New Testament-era Israel; the Irish Potato Famine; the Wild West; and the Holocaust and post-WWII Europe.

Back in the days when I had time to read fiction, I also enjoyed the authors' series - especially the biblical fiction ones Big surprise there, huh? The A.D. Chronicles, which followed the Zion Legacy, were the most enjoyable. I thought Valentina's review was quite well-written for a 13-year-old, and decided to post it here for any Christian fiction aficionados who are looking for a good read. She certainly gives the reader enough information about the book, and gives an idea of the action's pace. So, without further ado....

"Jerusalem's Hope"

by Valentina

This summer, I read the book, “Jerusalem’s Hope”, by Bodie and Brock Thoene. This book was Biblical fiction, because it combined real characters, settings, and events from the Bible along with fictional things, such as three orphan boys who were trying to reach Jerusalem for Passover. To me, the interesting parts of the book were the parts that involved the three little boys, Yeshua, and Zadok, the shepherd.

First off, the story begins when the three boys, Avel, Ha-or Tov, and Emet, were with Yeshua, or Jesus, in Galilee. Yeshua healed Ha-or Tov of blindness, and he also healed Emet of deafness. Yeshua also taught them about creation, stars, heaven, and faith. After a while, Yeshua told the boys to travel south and across Jordan, until they reached Migdal Eder, in Beth-lehem. There they would have to deliver a message to Zadok, the shepherd there. So, the three boys went, being careful of danger, including Kittem and bar Abba, who were rebel groups.

Finally, the boys reached Beth-lehem, and they met Zadok and told him the message from Yeshua. The message was: “Mourners are blessed, for they will be comforted.” (Yeshua wanted to tell Zadok that because Zadok’s wife and kids died). Zadok decided to let the boys live in his house. He taught them how to be shepherds, and how to take care of sheep. He also taught them about the Torah, God, and Jewish holidays, including Passover. He made sure they knew the alphabet too. In time, the boys grew closer to Zadok. There were still problems in Migdal Eder though. Roman centurions decided to build a aqueduct. This upset people who lived near where they were building it, including Zadok. The sheep kept getting stolen, and of course, the Jews blamed it on the Roman workers.

Meanwhile, Emet (who was only a five year old) had an encounter with Asher, who was a rebel. He overheard Asher talking about a plot to destroy the water tower. Asher caught Emet while he was listening, and he threatened to kill Emet if he told anyone about his plan. So naturally, Emut kept his mouth shut and the day came when the tower collapsed on top of most of the workers. (The tower collapsing actually did happen-*Luke 13:4*) The Romans blamed the Jews for that, and the Jews got angry, so they started to fight. Lev, one of the shepherds, killed Amos, a stone cutter. Then, Ben, another worker, killed Jehu, who was a Jew. Marcus Longinus, the only Centurion there who had any respect for the Jews, was fair and decided to crucify both Lev and Ben as an example-because they both committed murder.

Because Emet did not want Lev to be crucified, he had to give up something precious to take the place of the crucifixion. In his case, it was a black lamb named Bear who Emet loved. The lamb was slaughtered, and Marcus spared both men from their crucifixion. Emet later tells Marcus the whole story-that bar Abba knocked the tower down-and Emet asked for forgiveness for not telling anyone that this was going to happen. Zadok also teaches the boys a similar story. He told he boys about the coming of the Messiah and how He would die on the cross, even though He didn’t do anything wrong. A few days later, all four of them traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. Unfortunately, there was a lot of fighting and violence there, and Zadok and Avel almost got killed. Marcus saved them in the last second. When they arrive home again, they have a feast, and to Zadok’s surprise, Yeshua visits them. All five of them feast for the night and at the end of the book everybody is happy.

There are some confusing parts in the book, such as when the book shifted from the boys and Zadok to the arguments and politics of Rome, the Jews, and the rebels. For some reason, most of the time when the book talked about those things, it just bored me. Some of the parts were easy to understand because it was history that I’ve heard before. Other parts were difficult. Some of the centurions talked about “cohorts”, “delegates”, and “squadrons”, which I didn’t understand at all. It reminded me of those war movies that I used to watch when I was little despite actually knowing what was going on…and it just lost my interest.

Besides all of that, there were pros in the book too. A lot of the points in the book I understood-like when Zadok was teaching the kids about the coming of the Messiah and why they celebrate Passover. Those parts made the book more interesting. Also, the book talked a lot about the Hebrew culture which I liked because I enjoy learning about different cultures and religions.

Also, the book was suspenseful in some chapters. In one of the chapters, it said that when Emet lost Avel and Ha-or Tov while taking a walk, he heard a person in the woods. Before I figured out that it was Asher, I kept on trying to think of who it could be. I like suspense because it keeps my interest. I also like the characters’ personalities that the author wrote about. All of the boys were very intelligent and had common sense, Zadok was very caring and smart, and Marcus put others before himself.

I would recommend “Jerusalem’s Hope” to anyone who likes a lot of history, culture, and for peope who already have some knowledge about the Bible, considering that a lot of the book contains Bible stories, events, and lessons from there too.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Death Through a Child's Eyes

"...He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Mark 10:14b-15)

"God made the flowers" of my
daughter's first full sentences
Young children must have been so refreshing to the Lord Jesus during His earthly ministry. By no means angelic, kids at least come by their faults honestly (most of the time). I've taught VBS a time or two, and five-year-olds know exactly what sin is. They are completely without the guile and pride that clouds adult hearts.

Moreover, children have an implicit trust in what they cannot see - God's providence - that adults wrestle to explain away or comprehend on their own terms. When Christ exhorted His followers to receive eternal life "like a little child", He was telling them to put away their self-reliance, preconceived notions, and tendency to expect God to give an account. Just know that the Father is in control, and, I suppose, quit bickering about premillenialism versus amillenialism while you're at it.

Recently, I wrote about God's sovereignty in the face of tragedy. A sophisticated, adult mind (even a redeemed mind) tries to find a reason palatable to human thinking. Sometimes, children do the same thing - when faced with the death of a friend; the loss of a pet; the divorce of a parent. However, what I've observed is that among young children, even through their sadness, they have a deep trust in their Heavenly Father that endears them to Jesus. They don't have to explain away tragedy, because God ordained it. They have, by and large, the eternal perspective often lacking in adults.

Since I have four children, I've seen this at close range. My husband and I are careful not to put a "spin" on inexplicable events that would sugar-coat the loss; we simply tell them that God allows things to happen which, although we cannot understand or know His reasons until we meet Him in heaven, we know His plan is good.

"The Lullabyes in Heaven are so Much Sweeter..."

Yesterday, our church family buried a stillborn infant. The baby, Samuel, was diagnosed with Trisomy 18 in utero several months ago and his parents were told he would likely not make it to birth. Adding insult to injury is the fact that the mother was pressured to "terminate the pregnancy" by "inducing early labor" (euphemisms for abortion, of course) because the child was a lost cause. There was never any hope; they counseled, why not take the easy way out? His mother, of course, refused to do so - entrusting her son's little life to the One Who had given it. When God took him home last weekend, she stood strong through her own pain and was able to witness to those around her of the incredible grace of God.

Driving back from the family's house last week, I explained to my four-year-old daughter that the baby in the mommy's tummy had died. "Oh! That's sad," Natalia exclaimed. (I was five years old when my mother told me about the death of a dance classmate to Familial Dysautonomia. Children, even that young, grasp the permanency of death.) "But the baby's up in heaven now, right?" she quickly added. "Yes," I replied. (Scripture indicates that infants go to heaven, although biblical exposition of 2 Samuel 12 with a four-year-old would be overkill). "So God's taking care of him now?" "Yes." "Well, that's good," she added.

A little later, Natalia asked if the baby would be healed in heaven, and "not sick anymore". I explained that yes; there is no sickness or tears in heaven, and God heals the sick people when He brings them home. "Well, I bet his mommy misses him, but I bet Jesus is holding the baby like this," (rocking back and forth with her arms). She understood how sad his mommy, daddy, sisters and brother felt, and that it is okay to be sad and miss someone when he dies. I explained that we say "I'm sorry" in cases like this, which she did, at the funeral.

"Mommy, is the baby in that black box?" "Yes, his body is in the box, they will bury it." "Yeah, but the baby's up in heaven, right?" "Yes." "And he's gonna get a new body, right?" "Yes." (Being the youngest of four, she's picked up something about the resurrection of the dead.) Thoughtful throughout the afternoon, I could tell she was thinking about her friend's baby brother in heaven - the baby they'd see "someday when we get to go with Jesus". My seven year old son, upon hearing about the baby's passing, exclaimed, "That is the saddest thing I ever heard." All the kids agreed, but they kept coming back to one point: "But he gets to be with Jesus, so at least the baby's happy now!"

Simplistic, maybe; but theologically correct. And with the focus where it belongs: on eternal life; not on this one. Kids really 'get' the bottom line....much better than many adults do, who said to the mother things such as "You're a good person; why would God allow such a thing to happen?"

Several years ago, friends of ours in Bulgaria lost their 13-month-old daughter to Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 1 (another genetic killer). Our older children, then 10 and 7, were very sad, as we had all been praying for a miracle. God could have healed Bilyana. He chose not to. We don't (and can't) comprehend the reasons why; the children accept that, and don't doubt God's goodness. "He had His reasons; He wanted Bilyana in heaven," the ever-diplomatic Miro explained. Adults lose their faith in a benevolent God over such tragedies; children feel the pain, but know God is not the source of it.

Their simple, unwavering, unquestioning faith in the unseen God Who loves them demands a humility Christ expects from His followers. To truly have an eternal perspective, we must trust God completely - even when the world seems like a very dark and unfair place.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

God Has No "Foster Children"

Last month I read a book called “Three Little Words”, a memoir of a girl’s horrific childhood in the foster care system. Eventually she was adopted, as a teen, by a loving family. (This wasn’t something I read for pleasure – it was on my daughter’s public school summer reading list, and I was screening it.) While the material was inappropriate for 13-year-olds, it was a painfully raw and all-too-accurate glimpse of what some foster children experience.

Being shuffled through countless homes of indifferent or abusive “foster parents” obviously scars children. They come to see themselves as unloved, and presumably unlovable. Even the fortunate ones, who are adopted, face problems – they cannot trust adults, believe that they are loved, or understand what a permanent place in a family means. Many adoptions are actually disrupted when youngsters lash out and display belligerent behavior. Growing up in foster care means existing in constant limbo. Natural parents who don’t come through and foster parents who aren’t “for keeps” breed a deep-seated insecurity. Foster children often expect to be rejected – even after adoption.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, the author of this particular memoir, describes an incident of teenage rebellion some time after her adoption had been finalized. When confronted by her parents, her first thought was that the adoption was over. She had long since steeled her heart against loving or being loved by anyone, and spent the first several years of her family life waiting for the proverbial shoe to drop. She anticipated another rejection and ultimate return to the group home. Against her expectations and previous life experience, her parents assured her that she was irrevocably their daughter, and that it was high time to drop the “poor orphan” act. (They then punished her for her infraction).

That was the turning point for Ashley. Finally, she was able to begin building trust in her mother and father, knowing that no matter how “bad” she was, there was nothing she could do to make them reject her.

An awful lot of Christians are walking around with a “foster child” mentality, it seems to me. This is a mindset I’ve encountered in counseling, and it’s something I have fallen prey to myself at times. What we need to internalize is this: we are adopted sons and daughters of God, co-heirs with Christ, and have a permanent place in the family (Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5; and John 8:35 respectively). Why is this so hard to believe? My answer, and it’s a fairly simplistic one, is because it takes humility to see this.

We did nothing to “earn” our status as His children; it was all of His grace…completely, freely, and lavishly bestowed on the unlovely delinquents we were when He found us. Pride wants to “earn our keep”; to do something that will merit God’s approval. This is the carnal nature that prompted the Prodigal Son's request to be made a hired servant. Humility, on the other hand, rejoices in the fact that we are fully known, completely loved, and sealed with the spirit of adoption (Romans 8:15). We can cry “Abba, Father” no matter how distant we may feel from God, because He has set His love on us for Christ’s sake (Romans 1:5) and called us His own (Isaiah 43:1; 1 John 3:2). In fact, He loves us even as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus (John 16:27).

By human standards, this is a difficult concept to grasp. Repeated rejection by human authority figures (and especially by parents) can pervert one’s view of a benevolent God. Nevertheless, the One Who has redeemed our unworthy selves loves us unconditionally, and has made our identity secure. Legal adoption is a binding covenant. John 1:12-13 illustrates this clearly:

"But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God."
We have assurance that God really is as good as He says He is. He will never reject any who come to Him (John 6:37).
"For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, " Abba! Father!" (Romans 8:15).
Foster children are literally slaves to fear. They live in constant anticipation of the next infraction – or whim of the legal system – to be the end of whatever tenuous family situation they are in. How does this sad mindset play itself out in a child of God?


Guilt over failure and indwelling sin drives the insecure Christian away from the Cross, rather than towards it. He or she cannot face a God Whom is still perceived as a righteous Judge, rather than a loving Father. God is both, of course; but what the fearful believer fails to grasp practically is that His righteous judgment has already been poured out on Christ, and there is no longer condemnation (Romans 8:1). She fails to realize that her sin was already foreseen by God, has been forgiven, and He is no longer holding it against her. As Jerry Bridges writes,

“…He is, as it were, coming alongside me saying, “We are going to work on that sin, but meanwhile I want you to know that I no longer count it against you.” God is no longer my Judge; He is now my Heavenly Father, who loves me with a self-generated, infinite love, even in the face of my sin.”

While on the surface shame and pride may seem at odds with each other, actually they work in tandem. When a Christian sees herself as a “foster child” of God, she will seek to avoid Him when plagued with guilt – at least until she can “get her act together” enough to approach Him. However, it is actually the height of arrogance to believe that there is ever a time when we are more acceptable to God than another. Putting merit in our own works-righteousness or penance actually demeans the centrality of the Cross. C. J. Mahaney writes,

“Paul called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). He wasn’t paralyzed by condemnation. He was exalting God’s grace by recognizing his own unworthiness and sin as he marveled at the mercy of God.”
Fear of Man and People-Pleasing.

A child of God who does not realize his true identity is constantly anxious about where he stands with God. Desperately trying to earn the favor of his Father, which he doesn’t realize he already has, he tries to impress others or appear more spiritual. (I had one bulimic counselee tell me she wanted to “redeem [herself] in God’s eyes by becoming a nutritionist, and hopefully help others”.)
I confess that I have fallen prey to this mindset myself, when I make idols out of goals or “splendid vices” (George Whitefield’s term for spiritual activity done with wrong motives). Getting my book “Redeemed from the Pit” published is very important to me, and now that it is becoming a reality I have been preoccupied with obtaining endorsements from well-known authors in the biblical counseling field. When they like my work, I somehow feel God approves of my endeavor. When they decline or suggest revisions, I despair – their opinion of my writing overshadows pleasing God. It becomes too easy to forget that my work is ultimately all for His glory, anyway. Although I would never say so out loud, being thought well of by “celebrity Christians” can eclipse the truth – that God neither thinks more nor less of me based on man’s opinions; and I have nothing whatsoever to commend my self to Him in the first place. He loves me with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) simply because I am His daughter.

This tendency to think God sees us as others do takes many different forms, but the root is the same – doubting the reality and immutability of God’s personal and tender love.

The Solution

Let’s think about this logically: an omniscient God knew from eternity past exactly what you would be like; He saw every sin and dark thought that would enter your mind. Yet He set His love on you anyway by electing you as His child. He called you out of darkness; then transferred you to the Kingdom of His beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). Jesus Himself is not ashamed to call you His brother or sister (Hebrews 2:11), so on what grounds would He decide to kick you out of His family? What, exactly, would you have to do to “disrupt” your heavenly adoption, and get sent back from whence you came?

It’s time, as the Courter parents so bluntly put it, to “drop the poor orphan act” and realize we’re God’s for good. And that’s Good News. Intimacy cannot grow apart from relationship, and the entire New Covenant proclaims that our relationship as children is irrevocable. We didn’t do anything to earn it in the first place – we were all broken and flawed when God called us – so what makes us think we can “lose” His parental bond? Fellowship may be broken, just as in human families – but God promises to forgive and restore each and every time we humble ourselves to seek Him (1 John 1:9). Craven fear and cringing supplication have no place in the life of a child of God. Repentance is a gift freely offered to all who will accept it and return to God on His running, hiding, and fear of the boon lowering any more. The writer of Hebrews poetically banished any possibility of seeing ourselves as “foster children” when he wrote:
“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Monday, August 2, 2010

Article Published in The Gabriel

One of my articles (originally appeared last spring on my other blog) was just published in The Gabriel, the quarterly magazine produced by Christians in Recovery. My piece, entitled "Lessons in Faith: Life After Bulimia" runs on pp. 14-16 of the publication (it takes a minute to download).

Be forewarned...I do not agree with everything printed in the magazine. CIR is admittedly an integrationist organization, which, although Christian, endorses 12-Step groups and other forms of psychology-based treatment for addictions (aka life-dominating sins). Differences aside, writing for them seems like a great way to share the truth that is in Christ, and encourage Christians who struggle with substance abuse. The editors seem to really like my stuff, and have asked me to be a regular, contributing it's all good. (They have already published several of my articles on their regular website).

I noticed that they have a link to Mark Shaw's book, "The Heart of Addiction" (Focus Publishing) there as well. Funny; he is currently reading my book for endorsement! Small world.