Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Best Books Read in 2016

In 2016 I read a total of fifty-three books. Forty were new to me and thirteen were books I reread. I’ve selected the best of the books I first read in 2016:
1. A novel about the plight of Christians in China.
2. A biography about a doctor’s help to poverty stricken people in Haiti.
3. A book by a black woman about the negative effects of government help to the poor. 
4. A book on hearing God speak to us.

Each book is well written and each is packed with information and wisdom. Enjoy!

Safely Home by Randy Alcorn

Safely Home is a profound and brilliant novel about the plight of Christians in the house churches in China. The story revolves around an American executive and his Chinese college roommate – twenty years after they have graduated from Harvard. Woven throughout are delightful Chinese proverbs, intense meaningful conversations between the two roommates, the truth of the Bible, and many trials and adventures. The book gives insights into various Chinese eras and subjects including Buddhism, the Dali Lama, Mao, the Boxer rebellion, and Tiananmen Square. The corruption of people in power and the blind collusion of big business are vividly shown. Safely Home beautifully depicts the humble acceptance of suffering for Christ by the Chinese house churches. The ending gives a thrilling view of the doorway to heaven.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World

By Tracy Kidder

This is an amazing book about an amazing man. Dr. Paul Farmer is a unique and fascinating person; he is brilliant, kind, funny and tireless in his pursuit of health care for the poor people of the world. The book gives excellent detail about Farmer’s life and work. His unusual childhood and family of origin set the stage for his adaptability to living with poverty stricken people and truly connecting with them.

Paul Farmer is a Harvard professor, infectious disease expert and an anthropologist. He lives and works in a remote town in Haiti and develops a health center there lifting the health of the region and saving many lives, though utter poverty continues. As an infectious disease specialist he and his organization, Partners in Health, create many changes worldwide in the policies for treating TB and Aids. The struggles around this are detailed.

Farmer seems to thrive in all environments and to have unlimited energy – sleeping little and working always to serve the poor. He hikes for seven hours to see two patients. If anyone questions this he says, “You’re saying that their lives matter less than some others, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.” Pg 294

Mountains Beyond Mountains takes you through Farmer’s experiences in Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia. Though not a professing Christian he lives out a life of service given with love and respect. He has been called a saint and I would say he is close to this yet more fun than you would expect a saint to be! This book will change your views and may unsettle you.

Uncle Sam’s Plantation:
How Big Government Enslaves America’s Poor and What to Do About It
By Star Parker

Uncle Sam’s Plantation is a very important and comprehensive book about the negative effects government help has on the poor. Star Parker gives historical background on Roosevelt’s New Deal, President Johnson’s War on Poverty and about current government programs. She offers facts and figures that clearly show government programs do not help. In fact, they are keeping the poor from freedom and personal responsibility and wasting tax dollars.

Parker writes “In multiple studies for the Heritage Foundation, means-tested welfare spending in America exceeds $400 billion annually. That’s a whopping 14 percent of the federal budget. That’s more than a billion tax dollars per day being spent on various poverty programs yet…the data shows that less than twenty cents of each dollar actually gets into the hands of the people society is trying to help. Eighty percent is bureaucracy.” Pg 5

The author, Star Parker, has been there herself. She tells of her rebellious youth in which she stole, did drugs, had random sex, four abortions and didn’t care about life. She lived on welfare and knew how to work the system. Parker turned her life around and is now helping others do this. She is a champion for changing the system.

Toward the end of the book she writes about protecting freedom. Regarding education she says: “Our country needs to be free but not value-free. I don’t want to force my views on my neighbor. What I do want, and what is essential for the future of our country, is the freedom for my neighbor and me to choose where to send our children to school, and for our children to learn there is such a thing as right and wrong.” Pg. 233 This book shows us how to restore freedom with responsibility to our way of life.

Hearing God in Conversation: How to Recognize His Voice Everywhere

By Samuel C. Williamson

Samuel Williamson in his book Hearing God in Conversation affirms the primary importance of hearing from God via Scripture but goes on to encourage believers to cultivate an ear for hearing from God and having conversations with God in a variety of ways. His parents taught him how to hear God and he assumed everyone expected to hear from God directly.

This is an excellent book, true to the Word and also citing the fact that God wants a personal relationship with us. This means we can converse with him daily; we can dialog with God, not just share our thoughts but “hear” (in our minds) from him as well. The author’s convincing unfolding of this idea is inspiring. He weaves his own life stories thorough out as well as citing many biblical examples.

Chapter titles include: The First Time I Heard God’s Voice, Conversation is the Point, How to Recognize the Voice of God, What are Scriptures for?, Brainstorming with God, God Speaks in Our Detours, Hearing God in the Ordinary, God Shouts in His Silence and The God Who Guides and more. He also includes two excellent appendixes Answers to the Arguments and Questionable and Excessive Practices.

Williamson says that sometimes God will nudge us to make a phone call, sometimes we’ll hear a verbal message and sometimes we see a picture. He tells of his grandfather in 1915 seeing red capital letters which spelled the name of a province in China. He prayed and felt called to be a missionary. He lived in that very province for two decades and planted four China inland churches. Pg 31

Williamson notes that God guides us with his voice in conversation but he also carefully orchestrates our lives. There is much good information in this book that can teach us how to hear God in conversation and recognize and better know our mighty God.

“Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding.” Proverbs 3:13 NRSV

Blessings, Dottie

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A Charlie Brown Christmas

Changes at Christmas

About ten years 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

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Q. My husband died this past year after a brief illness. Until recently I thought my kids were handling their loss OK. Since Thanksgiving, however, each child has shown signs of grieving but none of them talk much about their Dad or about how they feel. 

Now I’m dreading the Holidays. How should I handle things so we won't be sad throughout December? What can I do to help the kids enjoy Christmas? I knew it would take time to recover and to grieve but when does it end?

A. Grieving is intensified during holidays, birthdays and anniversaries because of the memories from the past that involve the person we’ve lost. This is especially true the first Christmas after a loss. Christmas is a family time and a time when we enjoy being together. The absence of Dad accentuates the loss.
Grief is a process. It takes time to work through all the feelings involved in the loss of a primary relationship. We cannot just grieve for two weeks or even for six weeks. For most people it takes at least two years to grieve a major loss. 

This doesn’t mean you must be sad every day for two years. The sadness and depression of grief are cyclical. They come and go. It would be too painful to experience all the feelings at once. The stages of grieving - denial, anger, guilt, depression and acceptance allow us to work through our feelings little by little. We may move back and forth between these stages, each time resolving a bit more.
Your children are working through their grief each in their own way. This Christmas can be an important time for them to experience more of the depth of their loss and it can be a time to let go; to recognize that their father really is gone.
Talk with the children together and individually about Christmas. Listen carefully to how they’re feeling and what they would like to do both to remember and honor their Dad and to enjoy Christmas. Tell them it’s OK to enjoy Christmas; that their Dad would want them to do so. 
Don’t worry too much about avoiding grief or about making the day happy. While it’s OK to be happy in spite of your loss, it’s more important to allow yourself to feel your grief. It’s more important to be real than to pretend. You can model this to your children, letting them see some of your sadness while not overwhelming them with your feelings.
Plan one special time during the holidays in which you talk together about your loss.  Each of you might write a Christmas letter to your husband. Younger children could draw him a picture. Then share these with each other. A candle could be lit in his memory and all could share a favorite memory of him as you laugh and cry together.
You and the children don’t have to go through your grief alone. Take your children to a group for grieving children. There are a number of grief support groups available for children in various locations around the country. These grief support groups are child friendly, divided by age, with knowledgeable and caring leaders. Crafts and games encourage children to express their feelings about their loss. A concurrent parent’s group may also be available. A grief support group will help you and the children understand and express grief in a safe environment with the support of others. Then your future Christmases will be brighter.

If you and your family are Christians, your faith in life after death can also help you and the children work through your grief. As Christians you believe God had a good reason for taking him and you know you will see him again.

“I am the resurrection and the life, anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.” John 11:25

“God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

Blessings, Dottie

See also Be The Miracle http://deloresliesner.com/2016/12/09/after-losing-a-child-christmas-and-new-traditions/

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Christmas Story for Families

Q.  Our families will be with us on Christmas day including a number of children. My wife and I want to recognize the birth of Christ in addition to our usual gift exchange and feast. Any ideas?

A. The best idea I can think of is to read the Christmas Scripture. We have done this with our family, including the children in the reading. We assigned roles to a Narrator, Angels, the Prophet, Shepherds, the Magi, Priests and Teachers and Herod. Children enjoy this, learn from this and like being involved. Our NIV script is below.

The Birth of Christ as told in the Bible
Matthew 1:18-24
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,

ANGEL:  "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:
PROPHET: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."
 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Luke 2: 1-10                                                                                             
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them,

ANGEL: "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."          

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,                                                                           

ANGELS: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

SHEPHERDS: "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."
 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen which were just as they had been told.

Matthew 1:1- 12 
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked,
MAGI: "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born.

PRIESTS & TEACHERS: "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: " 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said,

HEROD: "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Christmas Blessings, Dottie