Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day 2015

We’ve reached Memorial Day weekend for 2015. While Memorial Day has only been a holiday for about half the history of this country, looking back we’ve had men and women dying for our freedom for 240 years at this point. (Lexington and Concord were in April, 1775.)

What is Memorial Day about? It is, quite frankly, about the dead. Not about the living—those who served and returned are our focus on Veteran’s Day. Those who are serving are the focus of Armed Forces Day.

Today is about those who never returned. The genesis of Memorial Day truly connects to that, as it started with Decoration Day in the cemeteries of the war dead after the Civil War. The graves of both sides were respected (in most cases) and this gave rise to a day honoring those who died for the freedoms of this nation.

The resulting day has also become symbolic of many other things, but we should keep sight of this reality:

We are not free in this country by accident nor simply by luck. Neither are we free from future threats to our liberty.

We are free because men and women have given their lives to establish and defend that freedom. We are free because there are families, parents and spouses, children and grandchildren, who have lost their loved ones for us.

We owe a debt that we should remain very mindful of.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A few thoughts on James 5

Last night for our Wednesday Bible Study at Almyra Baptist, we looked at James 5:16-18 and talked a bit about prayer and how our relationships affect our prayer lives. Here are some thoughts from that discussion:

First, James speaks of our need to "confess our sins to one another." For us to do this within the body of Christ, the Church, we need to address issues about confession.

  1. We need to be confession accepting. What does that mean? It means that we are willing to listen and a trustworthy receptacle for confessions. How do you respond when someone presents you with their struggles?
    1. Do you take it seriously? Just because it is not your load does not make it a lightweight issue. If we shame one another over sharing struggles and sins, then we are not really strengthening the family of faith through confession.
    2. That is NOT a call to gloss over sin, though. Sin is sin, and confession of sin together should involve spurring each other to repentance. 
    3. Do you take confession in confidence? Barring what should be obvious--the need to report child abuse and the need to address imminent danger to human life--a confession shared with you should go no further. That includes the gossip-prayer request ring that too often operates in our churches. No, you don't need to tell others "how to pray" for someone else as they struggle with their sins. Keep your curiosity to yourself.
    4. This should not need repeated, but here: there are, or at least ought to be, two exceptions to your "keep it confident" viewpoint. The first is child abuse of all forms (physical, sexual, verbal). Report that according to your legal jurisdiction's requirements. Your first call is that number. ABSOLUTELY. And never to the accused to investigate it or warn them of it. The second is a little harder to give hard what-to-do, though 911 might be your best option. If there is an imminent threat to the life of another human being, you need to act. That includes reasonable threats of suicide.
  2. We need to be confession entrusting. That requires us to entrust ourselves to others. You might feel that you cannot confess to those immediately around you because of leadership issues--if there is any validity to that concern, you must find someone else to confess with, and it should run both directions. Do not expect others to trust their vulnerable issues with you if you won't share yours with them.
  3. As a side note, there are two major areas where we grow in our fellowship with one another:
    1. Working together. People who labor together for a common cause strengthen their bond. Find good things to do and do them as a church, as a family, as a group. 
    2. Sharing weaknesses together. That also draws us together, as we see that we need each other. Rarely are we drawn together by group bragging, but cooperatively overcoming weakness brings us together. 
  4. From our relationships with each other, we are better able to pray for each other.
    1. First, because our relationship with each other strengthens our relationship to God by being with his people. We are able to be honest.
    2. As we focus on the body growing together, we draw nearer to understand the purpose God has called us to.
Now, there's one more thought on prayer I think we need to consider, and it comes from Elijah and his prayer that led to no rain. Consider this: here's a man so concerned for the eternal effects of Israel being in rebellion to God that he prays for no rain. It's an agricultural society, and yet Elijah prays that God be glorified in drought. 

The result? 3 and a half years of drought. Crop failures, hunger, struggle. Elijah has to flee. The people hate him. The king wants him dead. James, though, holds forth that the rain fled and returned by the power of God at the request of Elijah. 

Elijah chose instead to live with the consequences of his prayers. He accepted the problems that he would face as he prayed for God's will to be done. He recognized that Israel would drift from God if he faltered.

What of us? Do we break off praying when it gets a little harder to be us rather than when God's purposes are accomplished?


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Books: The Knight of Eldaran Series

You may recall that I review a book called The Traitor’s Heir. You may not. It’s here if you’re interested.

I commented in that review that I looked forward to finishing the series, as The Traitor’s Heir was the first book of a trilogy. Further, in knowing that she was writing a trilogy, author Anna Thayer did not feel a compulsion to wrap up any loose ends in concluding the first book. It just left you hanging…

And so I waited patiently for books two and three. These are titled The King’s Hand and The Broken Blade, respectively. Worth noting is that these books absolutely depend on each other. Think “trilogy” like Lord of the Rings, not Star Wars. You can catch up if you just jump into The Empire Strikes Back, but you’re dead lost if you start off on The Two Towers.

Likewise here, don’t start on The King’s Hand unless you want to take a fantasy series and make it a mystery as well. I will address the collection and not each volume. Why? Because if you enjoy the first, you’ll want to read the second, then the third.

First, a recap: our hero is Eamon Goodman of the River Realm. It is a place where there is magic and wonder, worthy of being created by someone who is a scholar of Tolkien and Lewis. The River Realm sees people with mystical powers and a ruler who fights against rebels out to see him fall.

The first book established who the good guys and bad guys are, and gave us the convincing picture of Eamon Goodman as a conflicted individual. He is sworn to the King but works for the Master—and that willingly!

The second book begins to show the consequences of divided loyalties and playing both ends against the middle. The third finalizes the situation, showing the character of the King, the results for Eamon and the Master, and who finds true love in it all.

Overall, the plot is not overly complicated. Thayer has given it enough twists that you cannot help but wonder if it will work out properly, but you know in the back of your mind it has to! There is never really a point that you believe any individual is safe from death, and figuring which batches of true love will turn out is not a simple task.

Further, the characters are multi-dimensional. While the bad guys are clearly the bad guys, there is more to them than just “evil for fun.” You don’t root for them, but you do see their perspective. I just don’t like them. They are bad guys, after all.

The good guys are good but flawed, very much like ordinary folks caught in the midst of crisis. Their plans are not perfect, the results not always as desired. It’s a world where good wins out over evil, but not without cost.

All in all, a great batch of reads. Thayer explains her world well and makes you glad to visit it. I gladly recommend the entire Knight of Eldaran series.