Marginalia

I WAS BEYOND GRUMPY when I began reading Sloane Crosley’s third collection of essays, Look Alive Out There — which, it turns out, was exactly the right frame of mind in which to pick it up: within moments, Crosley had charmed me out of my bad humor. But pretty much any mood would’ve been conducive to appreciating Crosley’s work here. In personal essays that range from the short and pithy to the long and involved, Crosley mines the absurdities of life in her 30s in New York City for both humor and deep human feeling. The pieces sometimes employ light reporting, as with an interview with the man who buys her expired website in order to extort money from her (“Wolf”), and another (“Relative Stranger”) with her first cousin once removed, a porn star named Johnny Seeman (yes, that’s his real name). But they are all firmly rooted in Crosley’s experience and perspective, which is just what we want.

At a certain point, around page 31, I started worrying that the feeling taking hold of me — that I wanted to you-should-read-this to all my like-minded friends — would obscure my ability to say anything intelligent about the book, as is required in a book review. “This is great!” does not a critique make. So I started taking margin notes when I laughed aloud, which, it turned out, happened extremely often, as in dozens of times. I noted where I was when I laughed, taking in my surroundings in what I began to see as a Crosley-inflected gaze: more sharply attuned than usual, with a dose of her particular brand of gently self-deprecating humor.

Uptown bus, Upper West Side, across from two children in sparkly green St. Patrick’s Day top hats.

C train to Brooklyn, across from an attractive gentleman in pink pants (more salmon-colored, actually). I notice I have been unconsciously mimicking his gestures in an attempt to “connect.” I now cease to do this.

Friend’s couch in Park Slope, her tiny black cat purring between us.

Crosley’s jokes are simultaneously sharp and warm: the sharpness is directed at her surroundings, while the warmth is toward us, the reader. She invites us in. Take, for example, this bit, from an essay called “A Dog Named Humphrey,” about Crosley’s cameo in an episode of Gossip Girl. On set, she becomes increasingly hungry, and asks one of the actresses where she can find food. “‘You’re hungry?’ she asked, mulling the word over. ‘Huh. I’m not.’ This is the kind of digestive narcissism that makes people hate actresses.”

But a third of the way through the book, I hit a snag. “Up the Down Volcano,” about a hike in Ecuador shortly after arriving in the country, which details her altitude sickness and her guide’s complete lack of empathy or assistance, broke the spell, at least temporarily. It’s maybe the most Essay-Worthy Story in the book — and yet. Perhaps it’s the structure — it starts with a hazy and slightly confusing passage about packing; or perhaps it’s the fact that the piece centers on an obviously ill-advised decision (to make the trek in the first place); or perhaps it really is just the far-flung nature of the subject matter that makes this essay less successful to my mind. In contrast, closer to home, consider this passage, from “The Grape Man,” about her relationship with her sixtysomething downstairs neighbor Don, whose delicious grapes grow up past her window:

To thank Don, I hung a bottle of red wine in a paper bag around his doorknob, along with a note that I’m sorry to report included the phrase “grapes of bath.” Before long, we became engaged in a game of Obvious Santa. Don really amped things up. In return for the wine, he left me a bag of freshly picked tomatoes tied with red ribbons. In return for the tomatoes, I left him a beer koozie with dancing rainbow bears printed on the side. He left me a flower vase. I left him flower food. He left me a bottle of organic laundry detergent. I left him hand balm. He left me a yoga mat. I left him the same yoga mat with a package of hostess cupcakes tied to it.

This is Crosley at her best, keenly observant, pointing out the absurdity in the day to day — particularly in New York, where we’re in each other’s business all the time — and never above making jokes at her own expense.

The ways in which the collection might be called “uneven” manifest on both the macro and the micro level: incisive passages are sometimes followed by ones that are harder to follow, and zingy observations are occasionally undermined by jokes that don’t work quite as well. Consider these perfect one-liners, just a small sampling from a vast list:

I only cared about the celebrities the way all New Yorkers care about celebrities: I ignored them or, if they were especially famous, congratulated myself for ignoring them. (“Outside Voices”)

I wanted to start the process of being thankful for my health so that I could go back to taking it for granted like a normal person. (“Cinema of the Confined”)

Everyone knows WebMD is a Choose Your Own Adventure book in which all roads lead to death. (“Cinema of the Confined”)

In comparison, this passage, from an essay titled “If You Take the Canoe Out,” is a bit on the corny side:

Beneath the bridge that stretched over the river, someone had spray-painted: if it is right, it happens. the main thing is not to hurry. nothing good gets away. –john steinbeck. I stood with my hands on my hips, inhaling through my nostrils, letting the words sink in — though I was not so far gone to California that I didn’t imagine how frustrating it would be to run through an airport with John Steinbeck.

Big picture-wise, essays like “Up the Down Volcano” and some of the very short pieces, which on the whole I found a bit too anecdotal, abut essays that are paragons of the form. One of these, “Outside Voices,” details Crosley’s unwanted affiliation with her neighbor, Jared, whose teenage-boy-level noise she withstands for five years since all her windows face his family’s townhouse. “Jared was quick to laugh, which would have been his best quality were it not for the laugh’s resemblance to a hyena being choked to death by bubble wrap,” she writes. “His cackle was like one of those purposefully ugly sculptures, the kind of art that considers your irritation an accomplishment. Really, I can’t say enough bad things about it.” She becomes obsessed with Jared, forgoing work to detail his every movement, finding herself unable to think or talk about anything else. Yet the hilarity with which Crosley describes her uniquely urban plight is undergirded by pathos. She writes of Jared and his friends, “I felt the pulse of their lives steadily behind me. Not just physically behind me, but in time.” She continues:

Their very existence highlighted my own aging in a way that jarred me. Before Jared, only events in my own life — a friend’s marriage, a sick parent, the 20th anniversary of a seminal movie — had triggered ruminations on the passage of time. […] But after Jared, my own mortality could smack me in the face at random.

This is what the humorous personal essay was born to do: to lure us in with cleverness, then sit us down for meaning.

Right after the essay about volcano-climbing in Ecuador, I settled back into Crosley’s rhythm and resumed laughing aloud in public (and taking notes). From the interview with her cousin, the porn star:

“So how long did you stay in therapy?”

“I stopped a couple of months ago. My therapist was older than I am, which is hard to find at my age.”

“Oh,” I say, “I’m sorry.”

“He’s not dead,” Johnny corrects me. “He just thought I was cured.”

“Of what?”

“Of my problems,” he says, smiling coyly. 

Waiting room, gynecologist’s office. “Teaching outfit” — slacks from Ann Taylor Loft, gray cardigan — on less-than-proud display; the slacks are not that nice.

From “Immediate Family,” about the elderly people Crosley gets to know in her building since she works from home: “She was feisty — a word my peers employ when describing people who curse after the age of 80.”

Gelato place on University and 11th. Despite being firmly in my 30s, I still get a thrill from eating ice cream for dinner. The gelato is good.

From a section of “Wolf,” about the vulture who bought her domain name so he could sell it back to her for thousands, in which Crosley details her best trick for dealing with customer service:

These people don’t know you or how far you’ll go. They have no measure of your crazy. No one needs to know you have a full life with almost no cats.

That sound you hear is the sound of your name being omitted from a group e-mail that reads: “You want to take this one, Nancy?”

Downtown 1 train, core of an apple I have consumed in a napkin in my lap. I was crying this morning, but now I am laughing.

The essays in Look Alive Out There embrace the reader, putting a lens on the world that is just slightly brighter while also accessing a place of deep emotional truth. The work is not as precise, nor as cutting in its humor, as in a Nora Ephron or David Sedaris collection. But so much of the pleasure of this read is in its casual ease. It doesn’t read as if it has been edited within an inch of its life, zipped tight and ready for takeoff. But does it need to? Does every joke need to slash and burn? Doing so here might undercut the sense that we’ve picked up right in the middle of an actual conversation with Crosley.

The book closes on the essay with the most emotional depth, “The Doctor Is a Woman,” on Crosley’s ambivalence about the prospect of motherhood and her decision to freeze her eggs. As a single 32-year-old, this material had particular resonance for me, but I don’t think it’s the “relatability” of the subject matter that makes it soar. Crosley’s humor — here employed in the noble task of guiding the reader through frightening terrain (impending infertility) — is undergirded by honesty, vulnerability, and profound human feeling. At 36, she visits a fertility center and, via ultrasound, is confronted with an image of her empty womb: “The technician left me in the dark as I got dressed. I felt a hollow ball of grief expand in my body, but I couldn’t say what for. I couldn’t even say if it was real. Should I cry at the frozen tundra of my insides?”

I was so moved by these lines that all I could muster in the margin was a series of checkmarks. Who cares where I was when I read them? Or where I was when, at the end of the essay — having decided to go through with the procedure after all — Crosley managed to lift me to a place of vast and wild hope? All I know is that after I read the last line, I teared up. I needed that as much as I’d needed to laugh. Look Alive Out There let me do both.

¤

Jessica Gross is a writer based in New York City. She has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review Daily, and Longreads, among other places.

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Philippians 4:10-13

Thanks for Their Gifts

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

NIV Listen

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On Sheila Heti and (Not) Motherhood

A friend texted me a few months ago to tell me her period was late. We spent five minutes going back and forth on the specifics, but I was about to teach a class and she was getting on a train. Remember, I said, just before I put my phone away, the abstract idea of the thing is always scarier than the thing itself. This is a sentence I wanted to whisper to Sheila Heti’s main character throughout the reading of her book Motherhood. This is a thought exercise, I wanted to tell her, but it has very little relation to the actual thing.

coverOf course, Sheila Heti knows this. Her character—who, like her similarly Sheila Heti-like character in her previous novel, How Should a Person Be? is to be understood as both a stand-in for Heti and sufficiently Heti-adjacent that scenes might, in moments, have been altered for effect—acknowledges and plays with motherhood as abstract idea throughout the book. Heti’s character knows the abstraction’s relation to the thing itself is limited, but it is perhaps her knowledge of this that is one of the forces keeping her decidedly unwilling to become a mom.

She likes ideas of things. She revels in abstractions. She seems less sure of what to do with actual life.

But just as that autopsied body revealed a startling lack of something to my mother’s eyes, so in the moment of marrying I felt deceived: marriage was nothing more than a simple human act that I would never be up to fulfilling…so I fear will be the first moments in the delivery room, after having the baby laid on my chest, when it will hit me in a similar way as to how those moments dawned: there’s nothing magical here either, just plain old life as I know it and fear it to be.

I recognize this feeling so completely. I felt it when I got married. When we had kids. The feeling that this Big Life Event was so shockingly like the rest of life, the fact that magic maybe only ever existed in my head. Or maybe that magic only existed fleetingly. I love the man I married. I love our marriage. I love motherhood, but most of it is exactly like the rest of life: confusing and exhausting, messy, complicated, never like I planned. This is also, of course, the relief of all these major life decisions: there is just more—sometimes more crowded, more exhausting, sometimes more joyful—life on the other side.

When I told a friend I was about to start reading Sheila Heti’s book she looked at me and smiled. We’d spent part of the lunch we’d just had together ogling a baby at a nearby table. We’d spent some of the rest of lunch watching a video of my three- and five-year-old on my phone. I liked it, she said. It was 150 pages too long, but I liked it. My friend doesn’t have children, but she’s thinking of it. She’s at the beginning of her 30s, still with a broad enough swathe of time in front of her, that she can be thinking about it, for a while still, without the stakes feeling too high. It was like 450 pages, my friend said. It should have been 300 pages, but I liked it. When I got the galley in the mail a week later, the first thing I did was check the page count: 278.

I bring this up because I also felt like the book was too long, but on purpose, as if Heti is performing for us what it felt like for this woman, thinking the same thing over and over again, having the same types of dreams, the same types of fights with her partner, the same kind of conciliatory sex. This feels like part of her project. If this is a book about (not) motherhood, it is also, a book about the female body and its limits and its strength. It is also an intense, sometimes maddening, performance of female ambivalence.

Heti uses a recurring act of her main character asking an i ching coin yes or no questions throughout the book as a sort of exercise in external surety. The character acknowledges that it’s random; we watch as she asks enough yes or no questions so as to make them further her larger project.

The form breaks a few times and she’s smart and charming enough to call herself on it, to acknowledge this is just a way to force herself outside her own brain, “its useful, this, as a way of interrupting my habits of thought with a yes, or a no.” Of course, the coin only interrupts her briefly and she can easily outwit it. She asks enough questions, gets enough yeses, and her habits are quickly reestablished.

Once, when I was hugely pregnant the first time and walking around a small town where my husband had work and where I had come along, I walked into a bookstore off a crowded street and the woman behind the counter looked at me and said, that huge thing is never coming at of tiny little you. I had big babies and am not a big person. With both our girls, people pointed at me on the street in my final months. But it has to come out, I said to her, horrified. It has to come out, I said a second time; she looked at me and laughed. I walked another hour after that, shaken and crying. What if it was still possible to take it back? I had been so grateful to have decided. I had been so happy, for the first time maybe, to be so surely interrupted, to just let my body act.

This is the trick of the physical bodily world to which we must all succumb in some way. Heti’s character can outwit nearly every yes or no that’s offered to her, but the no she gets or lets herself believe when she turns 40 is the only thing that can actually, and finally, interrupt her habits. She will not have a baby, so it seems, all of a sudden, after years of back and forth, because her body says so. She doesn’t have to think in circles any more.

Heti’s character less decides not to have a child as decides to wait out her body’s ability to procreate. This is, of course, its own sort of decision. She’s a fiercely intelligent woman. She knows what time passing means. There is a scene in the book where she goes to see about freezing her eggs to prolong this timeline, but she opts against it. There is talk of money there, but it also seems that she needs this experience of deciding not to to be more wholly contained. It is a type of deciding that feels less like deciding than the vasectomy enacted by a man she meets at a party, less deciding than the IUD she gets then has removed. But still, it is the same decision insofar as there is no baby at the end of the book. It has the same physical consequences, contains the same absence in the end.

Containers were what I thought about the whole time I read Sheila Heti’s Motherhood. I thought about what words contain and how that is determined for us early, what books contain, and what bodies contain. I thought about the ways in which we are at the mercy of each of these containers, how our ability to acknowledge their limits and their capaciousness can determine so much of how we choose to live.

In a class I taught a few months ago, we read a handful of what I thought of as revolutionary female writers: Clarice Lispector, Jean Rhys, Rachel Cusk, Samantha Hunt. All of these women I think of as fierce consciousnesses, not beholden to the traditional expectations of the novel, not beholden to traditional expectations of the Female. In each of the books we read by these women there are pregnancies; there is an acute awareness of the female womb. One of these pregnancies ends in an abortion, one in a dead baby, but the womb as character, as part and parcel to the character’s status as Female, is present in each.

coverIn the Lispector, Passion According to GH, the book is largely about language. She is interested in absencing words, as we understand them, from their expected meaning; and she does this even with her “pregnancy.” The main character in the novel is “pregnant,” but she knows immediately that she will abort the baby, so then, “pregnant” as in filled with something that will one day turn into a baby, is not that, but something else. Of course, women have for centuries been pregnant and it has not resulted in a baby, but Lispector lets us see this clearly, that even the most seemingly certain word, an empirically provable fact of the body, does not have to be.

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Each of these women forces the words around the female body to become something other in their telling. Hunt, in her short story “A Love Story,” whose character is a mother, is asking her status as “mother” to also hold within it the word “sex,” to also contain words like want and need. Each of these books succumbs to the fact of the female as a specific type of body that is also a container, a vessel maybe for the womb and for procreation, each of these books seeks to explore what else “Female,” “Mother,” “Pregnant” might be.

Heti’s character seems both to want to explore this and also to be fighting against the fact of the limits of it, both in what her body might hold, but also in the words as they were delivered to her up until then. Close to the end of the book we spend some time with Heti’s character’s mother at her house close to the sea where she lives alone. We know already this is Heti’s character’s dream of old age as well. It is also one of the reasons she gives for not wanting to procreate. She wants to be old by herself and without obligations. It seems her mother has achieved this, though, of course, her mother also has her. Her mother is perhaps the most compelling character in the whole book. For obvious reasons, I guess, but, most of all because she seems to have managed to largely not mother, even as a mother herself.

When this woman describes going to visit her mother in medical school when she was a child, she says, “there seemed to be nothing so glamorous or romantic in the world as a mother who lived alone in an apartment with her colored pens and books.” Later, she explains that she had a friend ask her once (though she doesn’t say at what point in her life) if her mother was dead. Close to the end of the book, while staying with her (still living) mother in her house by the sea, there is the following scene,

Right before my mother left the room, she spoke, with some confusion, about women who say that raising kids is the most important thing in their life. I asked her if motherhood had been the most important thing in their life, and she blushed and said, No—at the very same moment that I interrupted her and said, You don’t have to answer. I was there.

Her mother, it seems, was able to be both Mother and Not Mother at the same time; a sort of extraordinary feat of female ambivalence; a resounding accomplishment of the abstract outpacing the physical fact. And, of course, this also isn’t true. She is a mother. She birthed this woman and her brother. She is just Mother in a different size and shape and with different preoccupations and interests than we might expect.

Both my mother and my sister are lawyers. They both have four kids. They’re both married to lawyers. My sister is a partner at my mother’s law firm and the only major difference between her life and the life my mom lived is that she works fewer hours, because she is a partner at the firm my parents built when we were kids. If you ask my sister what it is that bothers her about our mother she will tell you that it is the fact that, if someone at a party tells my mother that she looks familiar, she will mention she’s a lawyer, and not that she’s a mom. She’s a very successful lawyer. Her kids, my sister argues, are also a success. The fact that her first response is to trumpet her accomplishments infuriates my sister. It is one of the things about my mom I like the most.

My mother and I don’t speak much. On the surface, my life could not be less like hers. I run though, and she runs. I look like her. I love my kids fiercely, if not in the way of other mothers. I am obsessed with work. I am both a corrective to everything I see as how she wronged me, and more mother just like her than I might ever say out loud.

All of this to say, part of Heti’s project seems to be to push the limits of the Female, to upend the necessity of Mother, to suggest whole worlds that might exist beyond the making of other smaller versions of ourselves. But what her book also does is remind us of the limits, both of our bodies and our thoughts. For all her abstract acrobatics, this feels like a book about the complicated way Heti’s character both does and does not love her mother; it feels like an exploration of the ways our bodies hem us in.

Heti’s character doesn’t actually decide one day not to be a mother, the same way, when I found myself accidentally pregnant at 28, I more just decided to not get rid of it for a few months; she lets time run out and then watches as her body decides for her. We watch as her body, month after month, controls her thoughts and moods and feelings, even as she continues to be brilliant on the page. We’re reminded again and again that we are contained not just by our bodies, not just by time and the roles long since established by biology and culture, but by the way we’re taught to think about the words that are meant to define our bodies, contained by the specific, intransigent ways those words might mean in our own lives.

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Announcement: New Junior Reviewer

Meet Jessica Brown. She is a ten year old girl who LOVES writing stories, drawing and eating lollies. She has a big heart and a big imagination! The only thing bigger than these things is her appetite for sugar!

Jessica joins our KBR family as our newest Junior Reviewer. Along with her brother, Caelan Brown, and fellow reviewer, Jessica, Jess can’t wait to share some of her best-loved reads with us.

Jessica, likes to read books about how to annoy her big brother…but she really enjoys mystery books and books about cooking. Her hobbies include playing baseball, art, cooking, gaming, writing stories, going to school and playing with her friends. 

She LOVES travelling and eating Roti Canai for breakfast (an Indian flatbread). She has her own business called Gemlet Designs. It’s where she gets to makes wands using gems. 

When she gets older she would like to travel the world as a travel writer and food taster. She would also like to be a teacher. Before all that happens, we look forward to sharing her love of books with you all.

Discover more about our latest sweet addition from her 12 Curly Questions.

 
1.Tell us something hardly anyone knows about you.
I’m a girl who doesn’t like pink…. At all!

2. What is your nickname?
Jelly Boo

3. What is your greatest fear?
Having no lollies in the house!

4. Describe your writing style in ten words.
Creative, fun, mysterious and just a little bit insane/crazy

5. Tell us five positive words that describe you as a writer.
Driven, happy, willing, able and inventive.

6. What book character would you be, and why?
The pig from All My Kisses – to give love to everyone, everywhere.

7. If you could time travel, what year would you go to and why?
I would go back to 2014 and get lots of food from Malaysia.

8. What would your ten-year-old self say to you now?
I’m ten now…. So I would say, “Hello!”

9. Who is your greatest influence? My mum because she works so hard and and I wish to be like her someday.

10. What/who made you start writing?
My mum because she is an author.

11. What is your favourite word and why?
Marshmallow, because I think of a squishy cloud that is edible.

12. If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?  
The Hole by Kerry Brown.

Keep an eye out for all of the deliciously insightful reviews our Junior Reviewers dish up in the weeks to come!

 

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The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing | Choco De Jesus

The Next Big Thing When I was growing up, there was always a next big thing. As a poor kid raised in Chicago’s Humboldt Park, I usually got the next big thing long after it had already peaked. By the time I got my first hand-me-down bicycle, skateboards were in. Couple years later when I

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Hebrews 7:25

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”

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Promise #116 – Thursday April 26, 2018

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Luke 12:31 (WEB)

But seek God’s Kingdom,
and all these things will be added to you.
 

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April 26th One Year Bible Readings

Judges 6:1-40 ~ Luke 22:54-23:12 ~ Psalm 95:1-96:13 ~ Proverbs 14:5-6
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~ Listen to today’s Scripture on One Year Bible Online Audio, ESVBible.org: OT, NT, Psalms, Proverbs or DailyAudioBible.com (podcast) ~

Old Testament – Today in Judges chapter 6 verses 1 we read – “Again the Israelites did what was evil in the LORD’s sight.”  It is so interesting to see the back-and-forth relationship of the Israelites with God in the Old Testament.  The Israelites did evil.  They cried out to God.  God saved them.  Then… The Israelites did evil again…  And I wonder – are we so different from the Israelites today?   Should we be?  Could we be?  How?  I do believe that through a growing and loving relationship with Jesus, we can be spared of this back-and-forth relationship with God.  I believe this is the only Way.  Let us not have to spend our lives running back and forth to “caves” as we will see below…  Let us only run into the arms of the Jesus!

An image is below for verses 1 & 2: “So the LORD handed them over to the Midianites for seven years. The Midianites were so cruel that the Israelites fled to the mountains, where they made hiding places for themselves in caves and dens.”

Judges_6_2_the_children_of_israel_made_t

Today read about Gideon and the fleece. We also read about how the angel of the Lord comes to Gideon and tells Gideon he will save Israel out of Midian’s hands, because he is being sent by God. In verse 15 Gideon replies, “But Lord, how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” You’ll notice how this reply of Gideon’s is reminiscent of Moses’ reaction to God’s call to serve in Exodus chapters 3 & 4 – “Why me? How can I?” etc. etc. And I think it is very useful for each of us to note that God often calls the seemingly lowly – like Moses and Gideon – rather than the seemingly mighty to act for him. This should be encouraging to us! I wonder if you and I are sometimes like Gideon and Moses? I wonder if perhaps we are being called to do something incredible for God in our lives, and we are making excuses like Gideon and Moses made excuses? Should we instead act in obedience to God’s call and trust that he will lead us? If God has called us to something, shouldn’t we have enough faith to believe he will give us the strength and wisdom needed for the journey? What is God calling you to do in your life that you are not doing? Are you making excuses like Gideon and Moses did? Will you instead move forward in faith and obedience to God in this holy calling in your life?

Judges_6_2_and_there_came_an_angel_of_th

New Testament – Luke chapter 22 verse 70 is powerful – “They all shouted, “Then you claim you are the Son of God?” And Jesus replied, “You are right in saying that I am.””  Check out those last two words of Jesus’ – I am.  Sound familiar?  Remember from Exodus 3:14 when Moses asks the burning bush who he should say sent him to free the Israelites from Egypt.  And what did God reply?  “I am.  Tell them that I am is sending you.”  And here we see Jesus use this same terminology that God used – I am. Below is a powerful image of Jesus before Pilate:

Luke_23_9_but_he_answered_him_nothing

In Luke chapter 23 verses 8 & 9 today we read: “Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle. He asked Jesus question after question, but Jesus refused to answer.”  Herod wanted a miracle “performed.”  And Jesus simply stayed silent.  Beautiful…  I wonder if there are moments in our life when we would do well to model Jesus here – to stay silent in the face of a ridiculous request – or in the face of a ridiculous attack on our faith.  Silence may be the perfect thing in the face of ridiculousness…  Below is “Jesus before Herod Antipas” by the artist Duccio from the year 1308:

Luke_23_9_but_he_answered_him_nothing

Bible.org’s commentary on Luke chapter 22 titled “The Rejection of Israel’s Messiah – Part I” is at this link and Part II is at this link.

Psalms – Psalm 95 verses 4 & 5 remind me of the Chris Tomlin song “Indescribable”: “He owns the depths of the earth, and even the mightiest mountains are his. The sea belongs to him, for he made it. His hands formed the dry land, too.” Have you heard this song by Chris? Very joyful modern day psalm! You can view the song’s lyrics here. Great tune… And great Psalms of praise in 95 & 95 today! Bible.org’s commentary on Psalm 95 titled “A Warning about Worship” is at this link.

Wow.. Psalm 96 today is amazing!  I love verse 1: “Sing a new song to the LORD! Let the whole earth sing to the LORD!” And I love the imagery in verse 12: “Let the fields and their crops burst forth with joy! Let the trees of the forest rustle with praise.”

Forest_1

Worship God: Today’s Psalm reminds me of Chris Tomlin’s song “Indescribable:”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6bfUf9S7wY

Can you describe God? Click here for His description!

Please join us in memorizing and meditating on a verse of Scripture today: “But from now on the Son of Man will be seated in the place of power at God’s right hand.” Luke 22:69 NIV

Prayer Point: Pray to Jesus today, who rules and reigns over all creation and sits at the right hand of the Father in honor and glory. Pray to your King, Jesus.

Comments from You & Questions of the Day:  Based on Psalm 96 verse 1 above is there a new song God is asking you to sing to him these days?  Will you sing this new song to God?  Also, what verses or insights stand out to you in today’s readings?  Please post up by clicking on the “Comments” link below!

God bless,
Mike

p.s. Download our monthly Small Group study notes for our One Year Bible readings at this link.

p.p.s. Download a schedule of our One Year Bible readings for the year in PDF format at this link.

p.p.p.s. I would greatly appreciate it if you would pray for this One Year Bible Blog ministry today. Thanks!

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There Is No Future in Frustration: Learning to Rejoice in Our Sufferings

There Is No Future in Frustration

On a trip to Australia, I met an Anglican bishop who had been mightily used in evangelism and church planting in three African nations. He was sometimes referred to as “the apostle to Tanzania.”

After he “retired” from his missionary work in Africa, he set up a seminary in the United States. But when I met him, his suffering from Parkinson’s disease was so advanced that he could no longer talk. He could communicate, just barely, by printing out block letters in wavering hand that was almost indecipherable. He often had to draw a word three or four times for me to understand him.

We “talked” about a number of matters close to his heart — at least, I did the “talking,” and tried to ask most of my questions in a form where he could signal merely yes or no. In the short time I spent with him, I sensed a man of unshaken faith, and I had the audacity to ask him how he was coping with his illness. After decades of immensely productive activity, how was he dealing with his own suffering, with the temptation to feel he was now useless and fruitless?

He penned his answer twice before I could make it out: There is no future in frustration.

Reconciled to God

In the Bible, the dominant form of suffering peculiar to God’s people is discipline.

In Romans 5, such discipline is tied both to what it means to be a Christian, and to the kind of character it produces. Paul begins to draw out some of the implications of the doctrine of justification by faith. Justification has a certain primacy in his thought — not that it is necessarily the key around which all other Christian teaching turns, but that it is the entrance point into Christian life and discipleship. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith” — that is the given — “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1, NIV).

Such peace with God is to be desired above all things. As Paul has taken pains to prove at the beginning of the book, we are all by nature and choice under the wrath of God, and the drama of the epistle to the Romans, like the drama of the Bible as a whole, is how rebels who attract only the wrath of God can be reconciled to him.

Rejoicing in God

The answer is in the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news of his coming, death, and resurrection. God sent him to die in our place, “so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, NIV). Because of what Christ has borne, those who trust him are “justified”: they are declared just by the holy God himself, not because they are, or because their sins do not matter, but because Christ has stood in their place. And the consequence of having been “justified through faith,” Paul writes, is that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

All of this is the work of God’s grace, the unmerited favor which, despite his wrath, he mercifully bestows on needy sinners like me. It is through Jesus, Paul goes on to say, that “we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:2, NIV). This, surely, is the cause for unbounded joy.

It means that we are not only reconciled to God here and now, but that one day we shall see him in his unshielded glory. That is what Paul means when he adds, “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2, NIV). The word “hope” does not here suggest mere possibility, but certain prospect: our boast is in the prospect of one day seeing the glory of God.

Provedness

So sweeping a vision changes all our priorities. Maximal comfort in this fallen world is now low on the agenda. The real question is how our current circumstances are tied to our faith in Jesus Christ, our peace with God, and our prospect of seeing him. So Paul insists that we rejoice not only in the hope of the glory of God, but “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3–4, NIV).

Here, then, is a philosophy of suffering, a perspective that ties it both to the salvation we now enjoy and to the consummation of that salvation when the glory of God is fully revealed. Like the discipline of physical training, suffering produces perseverance.

This is not a universal rule, for suffering can evoke muttering and unbelief. But when suffering is mingled with the faith of verses 1–2, and with delight in being reconciled to God, it then produces perseverance. The staying power of our faith is neither demonstrated nor developed until it is tested by suffering.

Felt Christianity

But as perseverance mushrooms, “character” is formed. The word character suggests “provedness,” the kind of maturity that is attained by being “proved” or “tested,” like a metal refined by fire. And as character or “provedness” is formed, hope blossoms: our anticipation of the glory of God (verse 2) is nurtured and strengthened.

This hope “does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5) — it is not illusory, and so it will never leave us in the lurch, ashamed of our foolish beliefs. Far from it! The object of this hope is certain, and already the hope is reinforced and proves satisfying “because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5, NIV).

The Holy Spirit is given to the believer as the down payment and guarantee of the full inheritance that will one day be ours. This Holy Spirit is the agent who pours God’s love into our hearts: this is felt Christianity, and Paul elsewhere shows that this experience of the richness of God’s love is an essential part of Christian maturity, something for which to pray (Ephesians 3:14–21, especially 17–19). Such experience of the love of God is not yet the perfection of the vision of God; but it is fully satisfying, and strengthens hope, and places our sufferings in a light where they make a certain existential “sense.”

Christ Grew Through Suffering

There is a certain kind of maturity that can be attained only through the discipline of suffering.

During the days of Jesus’s life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him. (Hebrews 5:7–9, NIV)

The idea is not that Jesus was disobedient before he suffered, but that in his incarnate state he too had to learn lessons of obedience, levels of obedience, that could only be attained through suffering. In this sense, he grew to “perfection”: not that he was morally imperfect before his sufferings, but that the fullness, the perfection of his identity with the human race and of his human, temporal obedience to his heavenly Father, could be attained only through the fires of suffering.

This “perfection” he achieved, not only with the result that “he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,” but also with the result that he is able “to empathize with our weaknesses” since he “has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15, NIV).

If even Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered,” what ghastly misapprehension is it — or arrogance! — that assumes we should be exempt?

Share in His Sufferings

Indeed, it is the set of values articulated in Romans 5 and the example of Jesus adumbrated in Hebrews 5 that accounts for the strong language of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3. He weighs up everything the world offers, sets it against all that he has in Christ Jesus, and concludes,

I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. (Philippians 3:8–9, NIV)

But this is not a static attainment; Paul is committed to growth in his knowledge of Christ Jesus. So he adds, “I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11, NIV). How we handle the suffering of testing and discipline, therefore, depends not a little on what we focus on.

That Anglican bishop, “the apostle to Tanzania,” was indeed right. He understood Romans 5 and Hebrews 5. There is no future in frustration — but what a future we do have in Christ.

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Sara and Pooka, by Russ Fugal | Dedicated Review

In Sara and the Pooka, author Russ Fugal introduces readers to young Sara, an intrepid adventurer on a mission. This first installment will leave young readers wanting to learn more of Sara and how she eventually finds her way home.

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