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Wed, 02 Oct 2013 16:56:00 +0000It's been awhile since I blogged regularly, but I've been feeling nudged to begin again and what better way to do that then to share a couple of favorites from my recent reading with my Gentle Readers.Faithful Unto Death and Safe From Harm are two new mysteries featuring a minister sleuth set in my own town of Sugar Land, Texas. "Everything is perfect in Sugar Land, except it's not" is the theme of this new series.Walker "Bear" Wells is the head pastor of the mega-size Church of Christ in this upscale suburban master-planned community. A former University of Texas football player, he lives with his wife Annie Laurie, his rebellious younger daughter Jo, and his Newfoundland dog and texts regularly to his college age daughter Merrie away at Texas Tech. Rounding out the continuing cast of characters is the church secretary Rebecca and her two badly behaved porcine pugs, and local Detective James Wanderley who Bear clashes with frequently.Stephanie Jaye Evans is the daughter of a Church of Christ minister and a long-time resident of Sugar Land. In fact, she lived down the street from one of my best friends. She wrote the first book, Faithful Unto Death, as the capstone project for her masters degree in liberal studies at Rice University and it won the 2010 William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. No, I never heard of that award before either, but I'm not surprised because both of these mysteries establish that Evans has serious literary chops as well as being a master story-teller.My RevGals who enjoy mysteries featuring clergy amateur sleuths will really love these two books. Bear, his faith, his family, his neighbors and his church are portrayed realistically and not sentimentally. Trust a PK (preacher's kid) to understand the humanity beneath the collar. Texans, Houstonians and Sugar Landers will particularly enjoy the familiar places, people and attitudes they will find in the books.There is a clear progression and development of characters from Faithful Unto Death to Safe From Harm that I expect to see continue with the next book. The mysteries have unexpected twists and turns and the conclusions have some ambiguity--just like real life.I can't wait for the third book in this series![...]
Wed, 19 Dec 2012 16:17:00 +0000
Wed, 12 Dec 2012 18:18:00 +0000In answer to the question, "where are the Christian women bloggers?", the author of the blog Slacktivist at the patheos.com website put together a list of 1,001 blogs by Christian women you should know.
Fri, 07 Dec 2012 00:10:00 +0000
|Reading Paul's letters in an ekklesia.|
Tue, 27 Nov 2012 21:07:00 +0000This week our BSD groups begin studying Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth--which we learned in the lesson is the fourth known letter to these early Christians, with the first and third having been lost to us. We can better understand Paul's message if we put on those "three-dimensional" glasses to see what the city of Corinth and the church were like in Paul's day.
Tue, 13 Nov 2012 20:05:00 +0000What if Nehemiah had a Twitter account to tweet the events we are studying this week in chapters 11, 12 and 13? Might it look something like this....Nehemiah@NehemiahGovShout out to everyone moving into Jerusalem today! Bessings on you! #Benjamin #Judah Nehemiah@NehemiahGovBusy organizing wall dedication for tomorrow. Need more singers and harpists. @musiciansunionNehemiah@NehemiahGov.Where are the supplies for sacrifices?Need offerings before nightfall brought to the temple.#priestsNehemiah@NehemiahGovWhat a wonderful day at the dedication! Thanks to the Levites, priests, temple servants for a job well done. #praisetoYWHWNehemiah@NehemiahGovMy work is done here. The King has recalled me to the capital. People, keep your covenant!#priests #levitesNehemiah@NehemiahGovOn the road again back to Persia. Looking forward to reunion with friends and some great food! #nooasisinsight #arewethereyetNehemiah@NehemiahGovWhat's up, Jerusalem? Back in Persia and miss you all. #emailme #friendmeNehemiah@NehemiahGovHaven't heard from you Jews for several years. Keeping the covenant? #letmeknowNehemiah@NehemiahGovGod calls me back to Jerusalem and the King agrees. See y'all soon! #hatedeserttravel #saddlesoresNehemiah@NehemiahGovOH NO!!! #fail #EPICFAIL #covenantbreakersNehemiah@NehemiahGov@Eliashib: What the blazes are you doing? #covenantbreaker #YWHWisnotmockedNehemiah@NehemiahGov@Tobiah: Get Lost! #andyourstufftoo #anddon'tcomebackNehemiah@NehemiahGovJerusalem's gates now closed on the Sabbath from sundown to sunrise effective immediately--no more trading on the Sabbath. #covenantbreakers #cutitout #YWHWsaidsoNehemiah@NehemiahGovNot apologizing for losing my temper with those of you who married foreign women.#covenant breakers #getawigNehemiah@NehemiahGovGrateful for Shelemiah, Zadok, Pedaiah and Hanan's honest oversight of future distributions to the Levites. #YWHWwillblessyou #standfirmNehemiah@NehemiahGovDuty calls me back to the King. Remember me with favor, O my God, for my faithful work in Jerusalem. #earnestprayers [...]
Mon, 12 Nov 2012 20:52:00 +0000I'm tardy posting the link to my lecture last Thursday on Lesson 8 which covers chapters 9 and 10 of Nehemiah. Sorry about that!
Tue, 06 Nov 2012 18:08:00 +0000I'm doing the lecture this week on chapters 9 and 10 of Nehemiah and while preparing the lecture I got to thinking about Sabbath and Sabbath-keeping--or the lack of it--today.
Tue, 30 Oct 2012 18:30:00 +0000
|Modern-day Samaritans celebrating Shauvoth on Mount Gezirim|
Thu, 25 Oct 2012 18:25:00 +0000I meant to post about Lesson 6 which covers chapter 5 of Nehemiah but life got in the way as I was preparing this lecture!
Wed, 17 Oct 2012 13:23:00 +0000Now that I am close to my goal I'm having the most fun ever buying a new wardrobe--from the inside out. I have lost 3 sizes and now happily shop in the regular women's section rather than the plus size department. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that because I'm not used to it.It started about midway through the summer when my daughters started fussing at me for continuing to wear clothes that were by then two sizes too large. I eventually took the hint and began donating the largest clothes to charity and buying a few new things in a smaller size.Then recently Daughter Babs took me in hand and marched me into stores I haven't shopped in for years. It was like having my own personal Stacy London without the notoriety of having to appear on What Not to Wear. She made me try on styles I never would have chosen in the past and to my surprise--they worked. Really well! Things like slim leg pants and jeans, pencil skirts, form-fitting blouses and tops, short sweaters, and even some heels are now in my closet. It does take a lot of mental adjustment to adjust to a new body size. Some old habits kept cropping up, though. Because it was hard to find clothes that fit when I was heavier--especially since I am so tall--I had a habit of buying the same item in several colors or patterns if I liked it. It's been a revelation to realize that I have far more choice now than I did before. I don't need to keep buying duplicates or shopping exclusively online. I have more choices than I can deal with most of the time. Amazing!When I started wearing the new duds, I was almost embarrassed by the attention and compliments I got from family, friends and acquaintances. It really made a difference to have clothes that fit.My advice for fellow travelers on this weight loss journey is to ruthlessly donate those "fat" clothes and replace them with items that fit. The first time you may want to limit the number of purchases and their cost if you anticipate losing another 20 pounds or more. (This may vary according to your size. With my height it takes a lot of weight to make a difference in sizing while it would take less for someone who is petite.) I didn't buy "good" items until I got close to goal. But it is important not not to keep those larger sizes on hand "just in case." You don't want to allow yourself that option!And thus endeth this series and the lesson. Next month will mark my the one year anniversary of my new way of eating. I pledge to update my status 6 months from then--in May--as a way of keeping myself accountable. Best of luck to the rest of you and let me know how you are doing![...]
Tue, 16 Oct 2012 12:30:00 +0000(image) This week we are reading chapters 4 and 6 of the book of Nehemiah. It may strike you as odd to skip over chapter 5, but the themes of chapter 4 and chapter 6 are similar: threats against the community of builders in chapter 4 and personal threats against their leader Nehemiah in chapter 6. We'll study chapter 5 next week which recounts Nehemiah's fiscal reforms that addressed an economic crisis that also threatened the rebuilding effort.
Mon, 15 Oct 2012 12:30:00 +0000I chose to do Weight Watchers online instead of attending meetings and it worked really well for me. Years ago I did attend WW meetings, but I have this besetting sin of impatience with meetings I'm not in charge of. This time I decided that with the WW apps for the phone and IPad, which include the tracker as well as a scanner that reads the barcodes in the grocery store and tells you the points for the item and a cooking app that has tons of recipe suggestions, I could just do it electronically. I love seeing the graph that appears as you track your weight loss on the app!For months I was very faithful recording the points and then got more lax as I repeated the same meals and got closer to my goal. But anytime I start to slip I begin tracking again. For me, the new WW points plus plan that allows you to eat all the fresh fruit you want without counting it made a big difference. If you aren't a fan of fruit, then it won't help you. I also found I had fewer cravings when I kept my carbs low and protein high. Your experience may vary. My new best friends are Greek Yogurt, apples, packaged broccoli slaw (for extra fiber in sandwich wraps and salads) and hummus.Mary Beth asked me in a comment what Dream Dinners is. It is a national franchise that provides frozen entrees. You make an appointment for a session together with your order then go in and assemble them yourself fresh or for a small fee they will put them together for you and you pick them up. You can make adjustments to fit special dietary needs. The orders come in either 3 or 6 serving sizes. I found most of the 3 size portions worked for us so El Jefe ate 2/3 and I ate 1/3. Nutritional information is available online so I work out the WW points and that guides my orders. The food is pretty healthy on the whole so I find enough suitable items for my diet each month. I spend much less at the grocery store because I'm not buying as much meat when I shop and the DD prices are quite reasonable. I'm very lucky to have a DD store very close to where we live. This is a HUGE help for me because I use the dinners two to three times a week and that frees me from having to plan meals and think about food every night. Portion control is the key to diet success and the DD portions for the WW-friendly items are perfect. I do enjoy cooking but find I am more tempted to stray from the diet path when I have to think about it constantly. And, for me, it is important not to eat out frequently although over the last 11 months I have gained more control over the impulse to indulge when we're at a restaurant.Shedding those pounds also means shedding the old "fat" clothes, which is a great motivation to stay on the plan. More about that in the next installment.[...]
Wed, 10 Oct 2012 12:30:00 +0000The Eastern Gate of JerusalemA number of years ago I took a course in Biblical Interpretation through the Austin Seminary extension program in Houston. The course covered different approaches to the interpretation of the Bible that students would encounter as they consult commentaries and interpretive works of different Christian authors.One of the approaches is allegorical interpretation which seeks to find deeper spiritual truths by identifying symbolic meanings in the Biblical texts. It is an ancient method that began with the early church theologian and write Origen of Alexandria. An example of this is interpreting Aaron, the first High Priest in the Old Testament, as a symbol of Jesus Christ, the spiritual High Priest. The Bible does contain allegories that are clearly identified in context (see Paul's interpretation of Hagar and Sarah in Gal. 4: 21-24). The allegorical method of interpretation can be controversial when it stretches a bit too far and/or when it ignores the context of the verses in the larger text. Which brings me to the symbolic meaning of the names of the gates of Jerusalem as described in Nehemiah 2: 11-20. There are as many interpretations as there are people who have offered them as you will see if you look for this on google! The gate names all have literal meanings of course. The sheep gate is where the shepherds brought the sheep into the city for market; the fish gate is where the fishermen from the Sea of Galilee brought their catch of the day for sale; the Horse gate admitted the horses; the Dung Gate was where the city's refuse was dumped and so forth. Some common allegorical meanings often ascribed to the gates are:Sheep Gate =Jesus Christ the Good ShepherdFish Gate ="fishing" for menFountain Gate and the Water Gate =the fountain of Living Water (the Holy Spirit)Horse Gate=spiritual warfare (horses were used in warfare)East Gate = place where the Messiah will return (taken from Zec. 14: 4 which says the Messiah will return on the Mount of Olives east of Jerusalem)Dung Gate = sin which smells bad and causes decaySome interpreters also find in the order in which the gates were repaired an allegory of the life of faith in Christ and the shape of the wall and the gates is compared to a heart or a footprint both of which allude to Christ's presence.Generally I favor the "plain meaning of the text" school of Biblical interpretation, but sometimes looking for allegorical meanings can deepen the power of the Word and our understanding of it. [...]
Tue, 09 Oct 2012 14:34:00 +0000I usually shy away from blogging about personal stuff, but I'm going to make an exception by special request. Robin Craig--you asked for it, so this is for you! And also for Julie Craig, who is now traveling this same path using a different approach that is working for her. Keep up the great work, Jules!As of today I am 60 pounds lighter than I was last November. That's when I joined Weight Watchers Online and began to cut myself down to size. I've done WW and similar programs before--in fact I lost 70 pounds after having my two daughters. As any of you who have also battled your weight know, the biggest challenge is not losing the weight but keeping it off. I've had a couple of epic FAILS in that area, so my challenge now is not to FAIL maintenance again.Looking back now, I can't explain exactly why it all finally "clicked" for me. I meant to loose the weight before our trip to Israel last year knowing that there would be a lot of walking which would be much easier for me (and my bum left knee) with less weight. But I didn't do it then and certainly regretted it!I owe my success to date to the unflagging support of my husband and family, Weight Watchers and Dream Dinners. El Jefe, who has never had a weight problem and loves dessert, never complained when I quit baking and instead gave him pies and cakes from the grocery bakery. He was always agreed to eat out where I could order food that fit my program, and encourages me to buy new clothes to fit my new figure! And sixty pounds later, that means a whole new wardrobe.Daughter Babs who gained weight in college then lost it and has kept it off was a consistent cheerleader who suggested recipes and tips for eating out that really helped, too. She took me shopping and made me try on styles I would never have considered before but love now. Daughter Portia was either losing pregnancy weight or pregnant again and so was a very supportive fellow traveler on the diet path. It would be much more difficult to stay on the program without this kind of helpful support and accountability. I'm not as forthcoming as Julie who announced her intentions on her blog at the beginning as a way of keeping herself accountable. Setting up an external check like this is a key to success, whether you do it privately with family and friends or publicly on Facebook and Blogger. Whenever I kept my resolution to diet to myself, I went off the program very quickly.Now that I've started blogging about this, I see it will take several posts since even interested Gentle Readers won't follow something too long. Stay tuned for more, if you're interested.But next--back to our regularly scheduled BSD Blogging.[...]
Fri, 05 Oct 2012 15:00:00 +0000
Wed, 03 Oct 2012 17:35:00 +0000This week's lesson covers Nehemiah 2:1-10. Since I'm giving the lecture tomorrow I don't want to repeat it here, so instead l'm going to hop down the bunny trail chasing some elusive red herrings, to share some background speculation developed in the course of my preparation for tomorrow.Nehemiah identifies himself at the end of chapter 1 as the cupbearer to the King. This position was given only to someone whose loyalty was unquestioned. Artaxerxes' father, Xerxes, had been murdered by the captain of his personal bodyguard so Artaxerxes was painfully aware of the potential for treachery in those who were closest to him.Interestingly, Nehemiah is not Persian but a descendant of Jewish exiles. On the principle "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" the Kings of Babylon and Persia placed members of prominent Jewish families in their court so they could keep an eye on them, insure their loyalty and take advantage of their skills. Four months passed between the events in chapter 1, which took place at Susa, and Nehemiah's conversation with King Artaxerxes in chapter 2. They were probably not in Susa, which was the winter palace. Courts moved around frequently to take advantage of better weather (too hot in Susa in the spring and summer!) and to reinforce their control over different parts of the empire. There may have been more than one cupbearer. If so, its possible that Nehemiah did not have a chance to serve the king personally until this encounter. On the other hand maybe he was in the king's presence consistently but sensed (a holy nudge?) that this was the time to invite the king to speak to him by showing sadness. Certainly you did not speak to the king unless spoken to so Nehemiah had to wait for the king to recognize him before he could make his request.Some commentators have noted that the queen was present at the time of this conversation and speculated that her presence was helpful to Nehemiah and showed that he had a trusted relationship with her as well which would make it a good time to have this discussion with the king. Persian queens had a good deal of influence so she could have been helpful, but scripture doesn't tell us that.In my research I found speculation that Nehemiah was a eunuch because extra-biblical sources indicate that was required for any male servant who had interaction with the wives and female relatives of the ruler. Nehemiah doesn't mention any family in his memoirs so that could be possible since it was almost unheard of for Jewish males not to marry. These are some interesting rabbit trails and possible red herrings. But tomorrow I'm going to focus on the two-fold call of God: to faith and service and to a particular task. See you then![...]
Mon, 01 Oct 2012 12:30:00 +0000Calling all Liturgical Mysteries fans!
Tue, 25 Sep 2012 17:34:00 +0000
Thu, 20 Sep 2012 12:30:00 +0000
Mon, 17 Sep 2012 12:30:00 +00001By the rivers of Babylon we sat and weptwhen we remembered Zion.2There on the poplarswe hung our harps,3for there our captors asked us for songs,our tormentors demanded songs of joy;they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”4How can we sing the songs of the Lordwhile in a foreign land?Psalm 137NOTE TO MY GENTLE READERS: This fall I am part of the Teaching Team for the Bible Study Discussion program at MDPC and plan to use this blog to share my thoughts as we go through our study of Nehemiah and 2 Corinthians. I encourage comments from BSD participants as well as my Gentle Readers.LESSON ONE: NEHEMIAH OVERVIEWAfter studying the overview of Nehemiah in Lesson One, I'm thinking about how the experience of exile shaped the faith of Nehemiah and the Jews in Babylon, preparing them for return to Jerusalem and the restoration of obedience to God. Last week Mary Fuller encouraged us to put on our 3-D glasses and immerse ourselves in the story of this book, so here are my 3-D reflections on our reading.I had a small taste of the experience of exile when I left my hometown of San Antonio for college in New York at the age of seventeen. Excited about the opportunity to attend Cornell University, I didn't realize how different the people and culture of the Northeast was from that of south Texas. My fellow students spoke with different accents. I couldn't find Tex-Mex, BBQ or Dr. Pepper anywhere on campus. Instead there were lots of bagels (donuts gone wrong); grinders (Italian hogie sandwiches) and codfish on Fridays (yuck).Within a few weeks the small group of expatriate Texans in the college banded together to put Texas flags in our dorm rooms, celebrateTexas Independence Day (March 2!) with tortilla chips and bean dip from parental care packages, and watch UT football games (when available). Being from Texas was not a good thing in the eyes of many of our peers who thought we were all cowboys, rode horses and were rednecks. Really. The experience made us aware of what set us apart as native Texans, and so after graduation it wasn't surprising that we all returned to Texas for work or graduate study.In contrast to my experience of being a Texan among Yankees, Nehemiah didn't have the experience of growing up in Jerusalem and relocating to Babylon. He was born in Babylon into a Jewish family of exiles. In fact his parents were probably also born in exile. Yet he and many of the other exiles treasured their Jewish heritage and maintained a strong connection with the Holy City. Although they could not worship in the temple and offer the Mosaic sacrifices, they could gather for prayer, praise and the reading of the books of Moses. Priests like Ezra provided teaching and continuity so that the people would remember God's word and His promise to restore them to Himself and to Jerusalem. . The experience of being isolated within a nation that was pagan made them identify strongly with their faith and heritage and set them apart from the people around them. As the psalmist said, they could not forget Jerusalem and longed to be restored to it and to their relationship with God.Nehemiah's strong emotional response to the news from his brother abou[...]
Sun, 22 Jul 2012 18:54:00 +0000This summer the pastors at our church are preaching a series on the Psalms. Each Sunday a church member has been asked to write and read an original psalm that before the sermon. Today's psalm was Psalm 138 and I was asked to participate. It is a psalm of praise, so that is the theme I took for my personal psalm and although I haven't been posting much lately, thought I would share in on the blog:
Tue, 01 May 2012 13:06:00 +0000Although the title sounds polemical, Ross Douthat's book is actually a thorough, thoughtful and scholarly study of the ways in which the orthodox tenets of Christianity are losing ground to the many popular heresies of the day and the ways in which this phenomenon affects the church and the social and political culture of the country.My IPad version of the book now is covered with yellow highlighting and notes. This is not a quick and easy read because it is so thought-provoking that I often put it away for a while in order to digest a new insight. Beginning with the fundamentalist-modernist conflicts of the early twentieth century in the mainline Protestant denomination, Douthat sets the stage for his thesis that "America's problem isn't too much religion or too little of it. It's bad religion: the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place."These pseudo-Christianities include accomodationism, the embrace of Gnosticism, solipsism, messianism, utopianism, apocalypticism, nationalism and the prosperity gospel. As Douthat trenchantly observes in the prologue, heresies have always sought to simplify and eliminate the paradoxical and difficult teachings of Jesus into something that better fits the spirit of the culture and the age. Historically, orthodox Christianity has been strengthened when it is forced to defining its beliefs against the popular heresies of the day. As Douthat says "Pushing Christianity to one extreme or another is what Americans have aways done. We've been making idols of our country, our pocketbooks and our sacred selves for hundreds of years. What's changed today, though, is the weakness of the orthodox response."As a Protestant I was unaware of the extent to which the cultural conflicts which roil the mainline denominations have also affected the Catholic church in America until I read this book. Douthat makes a persuasive case connecting the decline of orthodox belief in all denominations to the rise of the hyper-partisan gridlock in our government that threatens the future of the country.Douthat is even-handed in his criticism. Readers will nod in agreement over some passages and then squirm uncomfortably as their own presuppositions are questioned. The concluding chapter notes that Christianity through the ages has weathered other eras of decline and revived itself with reformation and offers four opportunities for its recovery in the present age which would make great discussion for study and book groups.Bad Religion is an excellent book. I highly recommend it to my Gentle Readers who are interested in the intersection of Christianity with American culture and politics. [...]