Saturday, December 26, 2015

Best Books Read in 2015

Here are reviews of my top 7 books read in 2015. I start off with one true story. Also included are three books on death and dying which I discovered in a very helpful class at church on this subject. All seven of these books were thought provoking, informative, helpful, and/or inspiring. Enjoy!

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
By Laura Hillenbrand

Unbroken is an incredible, beautifully written, and thoroughly researched book about Louis Zamperini, an Olympic hero and a World War II prisoner of war in Japan. His story is gripping and harrowing. It’s difficult to imagine surviving the starvation, tedium and terrors of being adrift at sea with two others when his airplane went down. Yet his trials had just begun as he also spent much time being abused, starved, and injured as a POW. I had not realized how brutal the Japanese were to the prisoners of war. I recalled more vividly the horror of Hitler and his concentration camps. The Japs were even more sadistic and depraved. How can anyone doubt the depravity of man?

Zamperini survives these many years of degradation and is then besieged by post traumatic stress which he handles by drinking. His marriage is troubled as a result but he is transformed after hearing Billy Graham. This ending is left out of the movie. In addition, I’m sure the book gives much more detail than could be included in a movie. So read the book even if you have seen the movie. You won’t be able to put it down.

Openness Unhindered: Further Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert On Sexual Identity and Union with Christ
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Openness Unhindered is a sequel to Rosaria Butterfield’s book Confessions of an Unlikely Convert in which she details her conversion to faith in Christ after being deeply into the lesbian, feminist life style as a tenured English professor at a university. This book is different from her first book in that Butterfield goes deeper into the philosophical and theological roots of sexual identity versus the truth about a Christian’s identity in Christ. This is a book that must be read slowly to grasp the deep Biblical truths all Christians need to recognize, learn and digest.

Butterfield has profound chapters on Conversion, Identity and Repentance followed by two equally profound chapters on Sexual Orientation (Freud’s Mistake) and What Does it Mean to be Gay? Essentially she shows that our identity comes from God not from what we do.

This book will inform anyone looking for a biblical, reasoned discussion of the issues of gay sex and the church. It will help those struggling with sexual sin or guilt-ridden about the past. It will enlighten run of the mill Christians about the fact that we are all sinners. We need to repent daily and cling to our identity in Christ. Butterfield writes with warmth, wit and wisdom.

Mark: The Gospel of Passion
By Michael Card

Mark: The Gospel of Passion is an excellent and unusual commentary on the gospel of Mark. Many will recognize the author as a marvelous musician whoe music they have loved. I recall a devotional given by Card at a Gaither Praise gathering some years ago. It revealed his deep faith and knowledge. Reading Card’s book has further impressed me. He is a diligent and creative student of scripture and offers many valuable insights about the gospel of Mark.

An introduction tells us who Mark is followed by a chapter on the themes in the gospel of Mark. The rest of the book presents each chapter of Mark and Card’s commentary. This 200 page book is easy to read and insightful. I learned that Mark received his information from Peter and is simply writing everything he remembers; he doesn’t have an agenda, he just tells the story. Card gives evidence verifying the relationship between Peter and Mark. He also comments on the location of various events. For example he suggests that the Last Supper was held in Mark’s house.

In every chapter Card gives the reader a clear understanding of how Mark arranged the chapter and why. It surprised me to realize that Jesus is quite passionate in Mark’s gospel, hence the subtitle. Card documents the emotional words of Jesus. He notes also that Mark generally does not record the teachings of Jesus but rather his actions.

I like the fact that Card includes the Scripture within the book so the reader can grasp the text before he comments and without stopping to look it up. This is a book that can be read and studied over and over again.

When is it Right to Die? Suicide, Euthanasia, Suffering, Mercy
By Joni Eareckson Tada

When is it Right to Die? This book can be very helpful to parents with a handicapped child. Joni Eareckson Tada, well known author and speaker, suffered a permanent spinal injury in a diving accident when she was in her teens. This book, written more than two decades later, addresses the difficult topics of suicide and euthanasia, suffering and mercy. The book is divided into three sections. Part 1. A Time to Live, Part 2. A Time to Choose, and Part 3. A Time to Die. Joni’s story and experiences run through out the book along with stories about others who are handicapped or dying. She offers practical and specific information and help for those who are depressed, considering suicide; those who want to die.

She speaks from her Christian faith with a strong belief in God and notes that there is “an intelligence behind moral evil.” He’s the devil. He was called the tempter by Jesus. There is no truth in him and his goal is death. Pg.97. The devil tells us all kinds of lies – “No one cares.” “There’s nothing more to expect from life.” “I can’t live with this depression.” And the biggest lie of all, “Nothing awaits me after death.”

This book published in 1992 continues to help people with handicaps, people with depression and those who are nearing death. There is excellent information in here from a Christian perspective. Joni’s life is a testimony in itself to the fact that every life has a God given purpose.

Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Artificial Feeding, Comfort Care,and the Patient with a Life Threatening Illness
By Hank Dunn

Hard Choices - a short (75 pages), informative book by Hank Dunn, a healthcare chaplain - presents clear and concise answers to the families of those nearing death. He notes that prior generations did not have feeding tubes, ventilators or CPR – so they were not faced with the choices facing many today as they age. He describes the issues in using these, pro and con, and offers clear steps to choosing the best route in a particular situation. The final chapter The Journey to Letting Be (23 pages) is the most valuable. This can be helpful to families as well as the person who is dying. He notes, “We will die whether we give up, let go or let be.” He hopes dying patients will have “a sense of being upheld by a loving God.”

Finishing Well to the Glory of God: Strategies from a Christian Physician
By John Dunlop, MD

Finishing Well to the Glory of God is a wonderful, beautiful, outstanding book. Dr. Dunlop offers nine strategies for finishing well beginning with #1 Live Well and #2 Let Go Graciously to #8 Switching Gears from Cure to Comfort Care and #9 Rest in Jesus. Every chapter (strategy) is thought provoking and instructive. Biblical teaching runs throughout helping the reader understand the Christian perspective on each subject. Each chapter ends with a beautiful prayer and meditation. Strategy #7 Make Appropriate Use of Technology details the medical choices we face today. In addition appendix 2 offers Examples of Technology. The biblical teaching on God’s love, suffering, life and death defines the heart and soul of the Christian faith and will deepen the walk of every reader who digests these teachings. This is a valuable book to be studied, thought about, discussed, read and reread. Finishing Well is a unique and excellent guide that will help Christians live well and finish well to the glory of God.

Restoring All Things: God’s Audacious Plan to Change the World through Everyday People
By Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet

Restoring All Things is an outstanding and audacious book. Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet demonstrate through many true stories that God is actively at work redeeming, reconciling, renewing and restoring the world using the Church and resolute everyday people to do so.

The authors explain that helping must:
  1. Challenge and equip people to participate actively in permanently solving their own problems.
  2. Must recognize that poverty is not just a financial problem but also a spiritual problem. Compassion will address the root of the symptom.
  3. Help must be personal and recognize the dignity of the person. (pg 40 paraphrase)

Using stories of everyday Christians the authors vividly demonstrate that “little is much when God is in it.” The stories are about creating jobs, capitalism for good, valuing life, women’s issues, education, justice, racial reconciliation, homosexuality, disability and euthanasia, suffering, children, and creativity. The chapter on creativity describes artists in various parts of the United States who are painting murals in public places depicting Jesus with scenes from Scripture. In addition there are stories of two men who are redeeming nihilistic rap music with Christian lyrics. Redemptive stories in films are also noted.

The book challenges Christians to notice needs they can meet right where they are. They urge readers to grapple with four questions:
  1. What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect and celebrate?
  2. What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute?
  3. What is evil in our culture that we can stop?
  4. What is broken in our culture that we can restore? Pg. 25-26 and Pg.197

This is a book that can inspired and motivate many to “go and do likewise.” Happy reading to all in 2016!

“I trust in you, O Lord, I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands.” Psalm 31:14-15

Blessings, Dottie

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Changes at Christmas

Ten ago our church worship morphed from blended traditional to out right contemporary music and worship. We adapted as best we could most of the time. We sang the choruses, listened to the praise team, focused on the repetitive words, praising God. And an occasional hymn or hymn phrase fed our souls. "Amazing Grace..."

At Christmas we were further challenged. Contemporary worship at Christmas left even more to be desired. We experienced two Christmas seasons with no traditional Christmas carols and no classical Christmas music. Instead we were "entertained" by contemporary music.  

Adapting to seekers is a common strategy in today's churches. This seems misguided at Christmas. Many seekers grew up in church. Most everyone holds these Christmas songs, music and Scripture secreted in the inner recesses of their heart, mind and soul. These songs, music and Scripture tell the amazing story of the birth of Christ. They tell the Reason for the Season. God came to earth as a babe in a manger. He came down to us to show us who He is and to redeem us. God intersected history in person. Why are churches deleting Christmas carols that tell about this marvelous event?     
"O Come, All Ye Faithful . . ." O Little Town of Bethlehem. . ." "Silent Night, Holy Night. . ." Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. . ." "Joy to the World. . ." All missing!

We were unbelievers for years, but we enjoyed Christmas carols playing in stores as we shopped or on the radio as we traveled. We also watched Christmas TV programs, especially Charlie Brown's Christmas. In this well known story Charlie Brown is depressed. He visits Lucy's psychiatric booth and she recommends he get involved in a nativity play. Twists and turns in the plot include Snoopy's elaborate decoration of his dog house (commercialization of Christmas by a dog) and the other children attempting to modernize the play (messing with tradition). 

Charlie Brown searches for a Christmas tree determined to focus on the traditional side of the story. The children laugh at the scrawny tree he finds, throwing Charlie Brown back into despair about discovering the real meaning of Christmas. Linus then takes center stage and quotes the second chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, verses 8 through 14 from the King James Version.

"'And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and goodwill towards men.'"

Pastors and Churches: Take a lesson from Charlie Brown. Keep the Christmas worship traditional. Sing the carols. Read the Christmas scripture. As Linus said,

That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."
Christmas Blessings, Dottie

Thursday, December 17, 2015

How Deep is the Love of Christ?

As we approach Christmas with all its preparations and celebrations, with all the hustle and bustle, let’s keep our minds focused on Jesus and on his incarnation – God in human flesh coming into our world. Let’s be amazed by the deep love of God in Christ Jesus. “God so loved the world he gave his only Son.” John 3:16 

Paul knew the deep love of God in Christ Jesus and wrote this beautiful prayer:

When I think of the wisdom and scope of God’s plan, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth.  I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will give you mighty inner strength through his Holy Spirit. And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love really is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is so great you will never fully understand it. Then you will be filled with the fullness of life and power that comes from God.” Ephesians 3:14-19 NLT

Paul refers to the wisdom and scope of God’s plan. We know the whole incredible story. Jesus, the Son of God, came into our world as a baby to live and grow up as a human being, to teach us, and show us God. He also came to plant his Church on earth. As a sinless God/Man he died to cover our iniquities. What deep love. He arose from the grave, appeared to many followers and gave us more teaching. He ascended to heaven, is seated with God and sent His Spirit to be with us and in us. And he’s coming back!

He showed us Life and he conquered death. He showed us Light and he over came the dark. Does the world make any sense without this knowledge? – yet so many are lost in darkness.

How deep is the love of Christ? Think of this, when we take one step toward him he runs to meet us. His love is deep. No matter how far away we’ve gone, no matter how much we have rebelled against him, he’s ready to forgive us and take us back. The God of the universe, Creator of all things, wants a close relationship with each of us. His love is deep.

Dear Father,
During this Christmas season help us gain a deeper understanding of You. Help us make Christ more and more at home in our hearts and in our homes. Help us know we are forgiven and that nothing can separate us from your love. We can’t reach the top or the bottom of Your love. We can’t reach the width or the length of Your love. Your love has no limits. Strengthen us with Your mighty power in our inner being. Let Your power work within us to be Your Body in the world for Your glory. In Christ’s name we pray.

Christmas Blessings, Dottie Parish

Friday, December 4, 2015


Q. The many problems in our world today have made me rethink my priorities in life. I’m upset by the world situation and the materialism and lack of faith today. As a Christian I want to make some changes in my life to make a difference in our world. How can one person change the world for the better? 

A. Christmas is a good time to think about how we can make “peace on earth good will to men” real in our lives. We may want to reorder our priorities and think about our purpose in life.  Are we living up to the best that we know? Are we putting first things first?  Scripture speaks in ways that are contrary to the voices of our culture. To reorder your priorities and know your purpose in life, consider the following:

1. Is the pursuit of material possessions a major goal in my life? We live in a culture that encourages and provides abundance. We need to feed and clothe our families but does our pursuit of money and things squeeze out time to be with our loved ones, time to help others, and willingness to contribute to charities? Scripture says “No one can serve God and money.” Matt. 6:24

2. Do I seek personal comfort and an easy life? Do I spend too much time in my recliner, too much time in front of the TV and little or no time helping others? Many organizations that serve the disadvantaged need volunteers. Children need mentors, the elderly and sick are lonely and need visitors. We can get out of our recliners and find a need and meet it. Our culture says, “Relax, enjoy life.” Scripture says “Love your neighbor.” Matt. 19:19

3. Am I living a truthful life? Our culture tells us don’t get involved, don’t rock the boat, ignore behavior that seems wrong. When we know about an abusive parent or a drug addicted employee do we take the path of least resistance and say nothing? Or do we take a risk and speak up? Do we “steal” supplies from our place of work, rationalizing it because “everyone’s doing it?” Are we willing to be truthful with ourselves and with others in a culture that tells us there is no such thing as Truth? Scripture says “The truth shall set you free.” John 8:32

4. Do I guard my mind?  Our culture feeds us vulgarity, violence, permissive sexuality, and negativity. The images we watch on TV and in movies can accumulate like trash in our minds. We can be selective about what we view and read. We can learn to reject unwanted thoughts; thoughts that harm us and bring us down. Scripture says, “As a man thinks in his heart so is he.” Proverbs 23:7

5. Do we have hearts full of love? The world teaches us to pursue power and control. Power makes us feel strong. Control makes us feel secure. But these are illusions. No one but God has absolute power or absolute control. Power and control are cheap substitutes for love. Love puts others needs ahead of self. Love is patient and kind. We need to let go of anger, bitterness, grudges and resentments or we will not have love in our hearts. Our culture says seek power and control. Scripture says “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32 NIV

Soren Kierkegaard once said that life is like a large store window in which pranksters have switched the price tags. The things of greatest value are priced as worthless trinkets, while cheap trash is made to appear valuable. Bertrand Russell, an atheist said, “Unless you assume a God, the question of purpose is meaningless.” Seek God and you will find purpose and much more.

Examine your own priorities through prayer, meditation, Bible study, and worship during this Holy season. Peace on earth begins with change in one heart at a time.

“For everything, absolutely everything above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels - everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him.” Colossians 1:16 The Message

Blessings, Dottie