Wednesday, February 20, 2013

My First Ash Wednesday Service

"Is Lent Biblical?"  The question came from a college student's mouth.  My mouth.  Never mind the fact I had spent three years in Christian school, I seriously didn't know anything about Lent.  In my previous churches, it has been written of as a "Catholic thing", and as we all were taught Catholics were idolaters, because they worshiped Mary and the saints.  (I later learned this not to be true as I started studying more about their ways of worship)

My pastor looked at me when I voiced my inquiry about Lent, his mouth literally dropping open, and I think he lost some more hair.   (I had one pastor who when we asked something that floored him, I always felt he lost hair, another one I always thought I could see hair turn gray.  Pastors can take it hard when you ask a question about something they hold dear when it shows your ignorance on the subject.)

After learning that Lent was, indeed, Biblical, that's all I took away from the conversation.  After all, I grew up learning it was a "Catholic thing".  Just like the Madonna and Child stamps issued at Christmastime.  They look "too Catholic" to be mailed on Protestant greeting cards, but I just rolled my eyes.  After all,  I just saw a postage stamp as something to get my letter from point A to point B and I have even bought Eid stamps (which, contrary to urban legend is NOT the Muslim Christmas, but it a Muslim holiday totally different from Christmas.)

In fact, I have been more aware or Ramadan and Eid than I have Lent and Ash Wednesday.  After two years at a Christian college, I transferred to a large state university.  The boy who was in the dorm room next time mine was Muslim, and during Ramadan, we made a point of waiting until sundown to eat dinner so he could join us.  In appreciation to his conservative Christian friends, he brought back a spread of food from his family's Eid meal and invited all of us who ate dinner with him to try each of these exotic dishes.  So I knew more about Eid than I did Ash Wednesday.

I first was exposed to a small bit of Catholicism in college when my Christian club rented a Catholic retreat center for a weekend.  I walked around the chapel, looking at the plaques signifying the Stations of the Cross.  The chapel was sparse, but I still wondered what was so wrong with Catholics, after all, I just realized that the Stations of the Cross were Biblical, not to mention my favorite Christian artist said (and I paraphrase) "What if it's not a case of Catholics honoring Mary too much, but of Protestants honoring Mary too little?"  (paraphrased from something I heard Rich Mullins say on a video I watched years ago and can no longer remember the name.)  Mary statues come out at Protestant Churches in December and are quietly tucked away until the next year.  Yes, statues.  Can we not admit that the plastic light up nativity we erect on the front lawn during Christmas is a statue?  Because it is.

I started studying Catholicism more about 2001, and in the days following 9/11, I held a rosary (where I got it I don't know), and prayed a prayer for peace I found on a Catholic website.  If anyone from my Pentecostal Church I was attending at the time knew what I was doing, I probably would have been shunned (which I later felt I was for different reasons.) 

I had the privilege to actually walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem.   Some were difficult to find as some just had a small marker with a Roman Numeral in it.  As my friends and I tried to find each plaque commemorating the suffering of Jesus,  we didn't see it as a solemn occasion.  We stopped to buy a soda from a street vendor.  We couldn't find the Church or the Holy Sepulcher.  As the number of Nuns increased, we knew were were closer.  Approaching one is a baby blue habit, I said, "Excuse me, Sister," and we were pointed in the right direction.  I've knelt at Jesus's grave both in Protestant and Catholic tradition. (Protestants commemorate Jesus's burial at the Garden Tomb, while Catholics believe the site to be inside what is now a church.)  I've been to the Church of the Nativity.  I love the beauty of the Catholic Church buildings.  When I visited Russia a few years back I was in more churches than any tourist attraction.  In 2009 I visited my first service, a Byzantine one which I felt the beauty and the simplicity of worship were so inviting.

 The 5th Station of the Cross in Jerusalem.  Where Jesus let Simon of Cyrene carry His cross.  You can read a devotional for the station by clicking here.

Last week when a friend invited me to an Ash Wednesday service, I decided I could go with her and still make the ash-less service at the Pentecostal Church I've been attending off and on the last three years.  I told my friend's son I'd never been to a Roman Catholic service before and I'd need his help in what to do.  As we entered the church he whispered to me, "Don't forget the holy water."   I smiled at him, and wondered WHAT do I do?  I watched this child, and followed his actions, sort of, I only made one sign of the cross, not three.  An e-mail to my friend later cleared up what Holy Water is, and why it is used.  I like the idea.  Remembering.  Isn't that what faith is to be based on?  We remember those who have gone before us, and we remember our journey?

I was slightly confused (but not as much as the time I visited an Orthodox Jewish service all in Hebrew.)  I followed the best I could, and joined the others to receive ashes.  As the lady smudged them on my forehead, she said "Repent" -- a word I rarely hear in church unless there is a hellfire and brimstone sermon.  I watched as others received the Eucharist, and I left feeling like I had been in church.  The music was beautiful, the Scriptures were relevant to the sermon, not the sermon making Scripture "relevant", sometimes pulling Scripture out of context to prove a point.

I half considered washing the ashes off before I attended the Pentecostal service.  But my bangs fell over them, and I also wanted to see if anyone said anything to me about having been to an Ash Wednesday service.  I know people I had enountered in my past would have mentioned it and said I shouldn't have gone.  To their credit, no one mentioned it to me.  Just as it should be.

Some people have grown up in a tradition where Ash Wednesday is observed.  I have not.  I don't know I'll ever go to another Ash Wednesday service, but it was a worship service I greatly enjoyed the remembrance and the emphasis on the the time leading up to Easter being solemn.  I may not be Catholic, and may never be one, but I loved seeing how Ash Wednesday is observed as this Christian tradition was quite foreign to me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: June Bug

June BugJune Bug by Chris Fabry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Published: 2009
Publisher: Tyndale Fiction
Pages: 326

Imagine being nine years old and standing in Walmart and seeing your face on a missing child poster.  That's what happened to June Bug.  She and her father live in an RV rumbling about the country.  When their camper breaks down in Colorado, they befriend a Walmart worker who starts to put the pieces together after seeing a segment on the news about some new clues uncovered in a kidnapping in West Virginia.

This is the first book I've ever read by Chris Fabry.  The writing was fantastic, and one one point, too good.  As someone who has sat across from a classmate of the Marshall University football team, when I saw November 14, 1970 in the book, I groaned and though, "He isn't going to go there, is he?"  Of course, he did.  The carnage that Fabry described, to me, wasn't something out of the history books.  They were friends of a friend.  I know I had a stronger reaction to this than the average person, but it churned my stomach.  That said, the fact he wrote it so realistically does show his talent as a writer.

I was pleasantly surprised that even though this is a Christian book, the Christian message was toned down in it. There are few things I hate more than a book where there is a character who blatently preaches or shares the Gospel.  It always feels contrived to me, and I'm glad to say this book didn't go there.  It's a Christian book, but it's religious themes are muted to where you can enjoy the story without being clobbered by the author's beliefs, and in so doing makes it a much better story, and much more effective as a Christian book, in my opinion.

I loved this book and couldn't put it down. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading fiction especially anything set in West Virginia. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

My Fiction Picks of 2012

This is a little late in coming, but I wanted to get it posted! Like I stated in my post My Top Non-Fiction Picks for 2012 I didn't read as many books as I normally do last year.  Illness was a big part of that.  I did, however, read more fiction books than I normally do, and these were my favorites, listed in alphabetical order.

Butterfly is as much adventure as it is erotica, it chronicles the life of a young girl who is kicked out of her home and does whatever she needs to survive, but she is planning revenge.

Catching Fire was not as enjoyed by me as the first book in the trilogy, but it still made it to my top ten list.

Dear Canada: Turned Away is a chilling book about WWII and having family in Europe at that time.  It is from the Dear Canada series, which is like the Dear America series.

Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two of the Fifty Shades Trilogy was probably my least favorite book on this list, but still in the top ten of fiction books I read in 2012.

Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three of the Fifty Shades Trilogy was my favorite of the Fifty Shades series.  Not only was the writing better in it, but the story line kept my attention better than the previous books did.

The Homeschool Experiment was a humorous book written about the joys and trials of homeschooling.

The Hunger Games was probably my favorite book of the year.  Disturbing?  Yes, but amazingly well written and destined to become a classic even if it is pop culture now.  In fifty years I can see this being required reading in high schools.

Illusion -- Being a long time Frank Peretti fan, I knew I would enjoy this book before I even started reading it.  At 512 pages, I highly suggest buying it in digital format, or at the least paperback!

The Search Committee was a book that very much surprised me in how much I enjoyed it.  The story of  a church looking for a new pastor.  The character development was fantastic, and you really felt like you got to know everyone in the book.

The Wish Giver: Three Tales of Coven Tree is the second children's book to make the list.  An eerie tale of being careful what you wish for -- because you just might get it!

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Book Review: Get Lost: Your Guide to Finding True Love

Get Lost: Your Guide to Finding True LoveGet Lost: Your Guide to Finding True Love by Dannah K. Gresh

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m  no stranger to books by Dannah Gresh.  I’m a little older than her target audience, but I’m single, so no matter how old you are, if you are a single female, they are still appropriate.  This book, Get Lost:  Your Guide to Finding True Love, is a bit different than most young adult or teen purity books.  Instead of focusing on not having sex (which it does mention abstinence often) it’s focus is losing yourself in God and finding true love with Him.

Sound cheesy?  Not really.  The author gives some great stories to inspire you.  Sure, you might not move to Uganda and adopt 14 children by the age of 22, but maybe the story about the girl who went to college and got involved reaching out to other female students may resonate with you.

I very much enjoyed the set up of this book.  There were a few chapters of introduction, then the body of the book is called “The Love Feast”.  In it, you are to take ten days (although it could be adapted easily to a teen girls’ Bible study and take ten weeks!) and focus on God -- not guys.  Then there are a few chapters of conclusion wrapping up what you have been studying.  In a day that many Christian books publish a separate study guide, I was glad to see this built right in because most teens and young adults don’t have the extra cash to purchase two books that could be combined into one, so I think this was a great decision on the part of the author and publisher.

Even though I’ve been reading books on dating, purity and living for God for longer than most of the target audience has been alive, I have to said Dannah Gresh did a fantastic job on this book.  I would highly recommend it to any Christian teen or young adult.  In fact, I’m not even sure who will receive my copy because I can think of a couple girls who would enjoy this book.  It’s rare I pass on a review copy of a book, but this one is too good to keep to myself.

Get Lost: Your Guide to Finding True Love hits bookstores on April 2nd, but you can pre-order it now. 

FTC disclosure:  I received an advance reader’s copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.  The opinions are my own.

Please rank my review here:

You can read a sneak peak here:

Friday, February 1, 2013

What does your giving say about you?

It's been all over the Internet today.  A (female) pastor in St. Louis wrote on a receipt at Applebee's "I give god 10%, why do you get 18"  You can read the story here.

I'm not going to talk about if Applebee's was in the wrong to fire the server.  I am, however going to talk about the actions of this woman who calls herself a pastor.

My very first thought was, "If this woman is the pastor, what do the people in her church act like?"  After all, this is the example they have, their leader, their spiritual mentor.  It makes me shudder to think about it!

I have a friend who returned from a discipleship training course a few years back.  He was at it for two years, and he has always impressed me with his tipping as well as his attitude towards wait staff in a restaurant.  One night the two of us were at Denny's for over an hour after the rest of the group left and because we were there so long, he left a tip equal to his order.  I'm sure the waitress didn't mind us there anyway as it wasn't busy.  He has always said, though, one things he learned at the discipleship training was, "People know why you are here.  They know you are Christians.  Tip generously."

I've heard so many complaints that the people who are the stingiest in tips is the groups from churches.  In fact, one man in my church said he quit going out to eat with the group because he was embarrassed at how few of the younger people left tips.  If you can't afford to leave a tip, you can't afford to go out and eat.

Luke 6:38 says:  Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back (NLT)

It sometimes feels like the rest of the world knows a concept that hasn't always penetrated the church:  GIVING HELPS US!  One of the best books I read in 2012 was  Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money by Rabbi Daniel Lapin.   In that book, he discusses how giving can actually help increase our ability to receive more money.  Not as in the "seed money" I often hear talked about in church (meaning 10% of the money you hope to receive back.  The concept is if you need $100 for car repairs, you put $10 extra in the offering as your "seed" to receive the $100.  I cannot find that supported Biblically, but it is practiced among some Christians.)  Instead what Rabbi Lapin discusses in this book is something that really should be common sense.  If you are a giving person, you will often make contacts who help you in the future.  

Many people know I enter contests and sweepstakes as a hobby.  When I went to the convention this past summer, I saw how sharing reaps more rewards.  I won an iPad because someone shared with me.  I tried to give the lady some money who shared with me, but she wouldn't take it.  But you can better believe if she ever asks me for a vote in a contest, she has mine!  I saw this principle at work in hanging out with a certain sweepstakes club because they were all winners, but all shared what they found with one another.  It didn't used to be uncommon if you won a big prize (say $1,000 or more) to send the person who shared that sweepstakes with a newsletter $50 or more -- just for sharing even though you did the work to win.  Most people share even more if someone actually helps.  Depending on the amount of help given, most share MUCH more, that's usually just for someone who has only told the other person about the contest. 

When you share, it's a win-win for everyone.  When you stay tight fisted, everyone loses.  It's true in sweepstakes, and it's true in life.

I believe Luke 6:38 isn't just for Christians, but for everyone.  If someone is generous with me, I feel like doing more for them.  The people I have been generous with are there to help when I need it.  Someone who I feel hasn't been generous?  Whatever I have to give can be given to someone else, and if I'm not generous with people, I can't expect them to be there when I need something. 

I believe in not being stingy, and not being resentful in giving or helping others.  In positive terms that means sharing freely and happily.  If you, like the pastor in the Applebee's case feel you shouldn't have to because you are a Christian, there is Scripture to back up giving freely and happily.