Thursday, September 13, 2018

Saving A Pew Or Saving A Heart?

If a whore walked into your church would you move over to give her a seat? If a known heroin user entered the doors would you stare in disbelief? If a gay couple joined your Sunday morning service would you share your pew with them? What about the couple in town that lives together unmarried with three children? 

Those questions kind of sting, don't they? We don't like to think we make a difference in people, but we do. Somehow we are accepting of those we love and admire, but as for strangers, not so much and if they are different in some way other than what we are comfortable with everything changes. 

"But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in each other." Galatians 6:4 

We point out sins that we seem to think are much worse than others. But see, sin is sin. All sin is ugly.  We are sinners in need of grace. What I've learned is that most sins are not seen on the outside but they live inside hidden from others who share our pew. May this be the day, the beginning, where we realize we are ALL sinners in need of God's grace. And oh, what a mighty grace He has. 

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector." Luke 18:11

We see the outward sins of people in their actions, their way of life, their choices, their speech. But what about the inside, down deep, under the skin that no one else can see, maybe except for a few in our circle in which we share the same sins? Lies and gossip. Betrayal and lust. Pride and arrogance. Hatred and condemnation. Jealousy and judgement. Silent sin is still sin. In so many ways we are like the Pharisees, aren't we? We see the sins of others, but don't realize our sins because they in some way just don't seem bad enough. 

"When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, "Hear and understand: Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man." Matthew 15:10-11

The church house isn't for just some, but for all. We have differing skin tones that separate our worship house. What happens when ink covered skin enters the door? Do we look at them with tainted eyes and thinking of how much they need Jesus? Friends, we all need Jesus. What about those who live on the outskirts of town and enter the doors? Better yet, what about those who live uptown and have more than us? How often do we look at them with upturned noses? People all around us are searching for more. They are searching for something. 

The day happens where they pass by a church and the Spirit moves and calls them inside. They finally have the courage to enter. They take a seat near the back row. They just want to sit and listen. Feel everything out. Do they fit? What is they see? Are they welcomed with love and grace or are they met with differing eyes? You know that look, right? That, {bless their heart} look we give people when we think they need Jesus more than we do. There isn't one of us who doesn't need Jesus and need Him the most. 

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13

I am in no way saying we should accept sin of any kind. We must preach the gospel of Christ and stay true to His Word, never wavering from it. But we must live with grace and love towards all men. We are to love without discrimination. Jesus accepts us as we are, but somehow we place a standard on who we accept. We are to love people. Simple as that. When we love with grace we give Christ the room to change the heart. There isn't a timetable on what God can do. When we exclude people we limit God. We are to be in the people business and allow God to be in the heart business. 

The world is watching. Just what are we showing them about the love of Christ? Too many are walking out the doors of church and never returning. If we are loving like we should our churches would be packed full of people wanting nothing more than to worship the Jesus we so love. It isn't about people measuring up to us. It's about using God's Word as our measurement for life. 

He meets us where we are and on that Damascus Road everything changes. But the sweetest thing is God's grace and how He walks with us. Everything in His perfect timing. Our loving another today could change their life years from now. We don't always get to see the benefit of loving others. So often that love isn't reciprocated, but one day, in God's perfect timing it will all fit together for His benefit and glory. 

"What profit has the worker from that in which he labors? I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end." Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

We grow in faith through prayer and seeing what God does to the heart of man. He changes us. There are none of us in the same exact spot with Jesus right this moment. He convicts the heart and in obedience we listen and follow. We all had to begin somewhere, right? We all started out as sinners and even after accepting and receiving Jesus as Savior we are still sinners. Forgiven and saved by the grace of God, but still sinners. We cannot forget that we too our sinners and look upon the world as if we are better. We aren't better. We are all created in God's image and He desires for ALL to be saved. 

"So God created man His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." Genesis 1:27

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time." 1 Timothy 2:1-6

"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but in longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." 2 Peter 3:9

We go to Friday night football games and Saturday night movies, placing our sweaters in seats to save them for who we wish to sit by us. We love feeling comfortable. We like cozy. We love being surrounded by family and friends. There's not a thing wrong with that until we stop making room for others. This seat is taken isn't words that should come from us when we are to be light-bearers to the world. We should be making room for all. There was one who chose to make room for me. 

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. But this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." John 13:34-35

We want church to be comfy cozy. We don't want to be uncomfortable, but you know what? It's when we are uncomfortable that God does this amazing thing. He shows Himself to us in ways we never expected. Maybe we just need to start expecting the unexpected. God's glory comes in all sizes and shapes. Take a chance on someone. Scoot your sweater over and make room. You just may witness God do something spectacular!

Never A Stranger Does He Meet

Jericho was about to have Jesus come and walk among the people. The gossip was a buzz. Could it really be? The streets began to crowd with people. Some with anticipation others with curiosity. Zacchaeus hears of this news and wants to see who this Jesus is. 

Do we wait in anticipation for Jesus? Do we wake expecting to see His glory? Zacchaeus is curious and pondering this Jesus. Wait, is He approaching? He can't see. Oh, if only the people would give room for him to witness this King of kings. He doesn't want to miss out. Could Zacchaeus be expecting Jesus to be all he has heard about? He surely isn't giving up on getting a glimpse of Him. He runs ahead and with his short legs climbs a sycamore tree. 

Zacchaeus sees Jesus, but did he expect Jesus to see him atop that tree? Jesus looks up. Their eyes meet and Jesus calls to him.  Can you imagine this moment? Did Zacchaeus look around puzzled as if to say, "Me? Are you speaking to me?" He was just wanting to see Jesus, but here Jesus looks up to him and calls him by name. Oh, my friends, a stranger has Jesus never met. It stirs my heart to ponder all that Zacchaeus must be feeling. This time was planned in advance by a Savior who all along was preparing the heart of  Zacchaeus.

"Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him, and said to him, "Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house." So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. but when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:1-10

I love how Scripture shares with us that Jesus knew his name. It makes their meeting intimate even in the midst of a crowd. Zacchaeus climbs down from the tree and there is Jesus waiting. What a glorious sight to ponder. Not a chance meeting at all, but one that was planned for this sinner to meet his Savior face to face.

Zacchaeus had everything monetary. He was a wealthy man. Even though he had everything, was there something missing? I love that Zacchaeus was curious and wanting to see the Savior. He wasn't worried about what others thought. I mean as he climbed the tree what were others thinking of him? Zacchaeus was about to find out those around him would judge and point fingers, but he was in the presence of the One who would change his life forever. No one else mattered at the moment. The Savior was calling. Zacchaeus answered the call.

Can you imagine Jesus wanting to come to your house and stay the night? Zacchaeus was a tax collector. A schemer who deceived others to make his wealth. A sinner in need of forgiveness and grace. A home that needed the presence of Jesus. It mattered not to Jesus that Zacchaeus was a sinner. Jesus was welcomed and Zacchaeus was hospitable.

A short man in a tall tree. What does this say to me? Jesus always makes a way. He provides a vision. He prepares the way. Nothing can keep us from our Savior when He is calling. There is no distance He will not cross. The crowd too deep. Jesus makes way for a tree top. He will always give room for us to see if only we are willing.

But get this. Zacchaeus wasn't the only tax collector who he asked to follow Him. In Scripture we also meet Matthew. As Jesus was walking He passed by the tax collector's office. Again, not a chance meeting. Jesus sees Matthew through the window and calls him out. He speaks and says, "Follow Me" {Matthew 9:9-13}. Jesus goes to the home of Matthew and sits with many tax collectors and sinners. Once again the people didn't understand why Jesus and His disciples would be within their company. Jesus explains, but just today many didn't care to understand at all, but those with willing hearts were ready to accept. Don't you just love how Jesus steps out and makes way for us? Don't you love that Jesus isn't afraid of sinners?

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:17

People didn't understand why Jesus would dine with a sinner. I believe many of us today wonder the same. How often do we dine with sinners? How often to do we invite them into our home? When was the last time we invited the Savior in to dine with us? We tend to leave Jesus out and we cast aside the sinners. I'm just being real here. In church I was taught to surround myself with only Christians. We were taught to not have relationships with sinners, with those not saved. I look back and see that my life was empty of people who didn't know Jesus as their Savior. How was I to share Jesus with the world if the world wasn't invited into my life to witness Him in my own?

Like Zacchaeus and Matthew there's a world out there filled with people searching for more. For something to fill the emptiness. Jesus provides a sycamore for every sinner. Just like Zacchaeus, Jesus made a way for me. He had set in motion long ago our meeting. He planned and then hoped in patience for when that day came I would be anticipating His call. I came as a sinner. He met me as my Savior.

"For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God has passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." {Romans 3:23-26}

Saturday, September 1, 2018

White as Silence Red as Song by Alessandro D'Avenia

There are some reviews that are more difficult to write than others. I'm going to do my best in sharing about this novel without giving away too much. I really don't like reviews where the reviewer shares everything, front to back, about the novel. It pretty much stops me from wanting to read the book even if it looks promising. So, here we go. 

Why did I choose this novel? The cover captivated me. The title intrigued me. The author, from Italy, it being his first novel, well, that just really cool. 

I have to say I had really high expectations for this novel. I am trying to choose wisely when it is Thomas Nelson. Many are weaved in faith and most are beautiful reads, but there are others where faith is missing altogether or as in this novel written in such a way that if you were not already a Believer I'm not sure you would read between the lines. 

I can see young adults enjoying this novel. It is a romantic read told by the perspective of a sixteen year old boy. He is a mix of emotions and is trying to find his dream. He can be likeable one minute and the next he is a character you don't really enjoy, but isn't that pretty much a sixteen year old? 

Leo is super smart. He and his friends enjoy literature. He ponders everything. One minute he is wise beyond his years and the next he pretty much seems like he's more eleven than sixteen. Yes, Leo himself is a rollercoaster of everything. There too is a sweetness to him. His friend, Niko, is the buddy he does video games with and hangs out eating burgers. Their friendship is believable. They share about life, the things that they enjoy and dislike, but Leo keeps his boundaries. 

There is one that Leo shares everything with. This is the character, Silvia. She is the girl he shares his soul with. They talk about everything under the sun and to the moon and back. This is the relationship so many have in high school. They count on one another. When something happens they are the first to share with each other. They have a sweet relationship. 

And there is Beatrice. Leo's love. She has no idea he exists. They share classes together. He sees her everywhere, but he is simply a wallflower. He sees her as his wife. Head over heals in love is what Leo is. I think we can all relate to this. To him she is far above his level, but he continues to try to gain her attention. Only Silvia knows of this great love and together as friends, she joins him in trying to get them to meet. After all, Silvia knows Beatrice. All Leo wants to do is devote his life to this red haired beauty. It's as if he believes if they can be together all of life will make sense and life will finally be happy. 

Beatrice gets sick. Leukemia. She is in and out of the hospital. What I love? Leo gives blood for his fair beauty. She has no idea. He has an accident and ends up in the same hospital. It is here we see him ache over what he fears will happen to Beatrice before he can ever share with her that he loves her. 

Leo has an up and down relationship with his parents. Another portrait on the life of a teenager. So many things in this novel made such clear sense to me. There are times in our lives when in just a few short months it seems we have grown to understand much about life. This is what happens with Leo. 

All during this story there is one character who stands out to me. He is the substitute teacher. The one that Leo calls the Dreamer. He is that teacher every child deserves. He's that teacher who reaches out and goes far beyond what is expected. He and Leo form a bond and it is this Dreamer who helps Leo come to understand. I love this relationship. 

Another aspect that I enjoyed was the relationship with Leo and Silvia. They come to understand what love is and what love is not. They grow. We see through their lives what teenagers live. It's what we all forget as we grow in age. Every day is a rollercoaster of emotion as they are simply trying to figure out who they are in this world and what their purpose is. 

In the end Beatrice and Leo have their time together. Although is a short time spent for Leo it is a lifetime lesson. 

"Love doesn't exist to make us happy but to show us how strong our capacity to bear pain is." Words from the Dreamer.

"The pain forces me to close my eyelids, to hide my eyes. I always thought that I would devour the world with my eyes, that like bees they would rest on things and distill their beauty. But my illness is forcing me to close my eyes: because of the pain, because of the exhaustion. Only little by little did I realize that with my eyes closed I could see more, that from beneath my closed eyelids I could see all the beauty of the world, and that beauty is you, God. If only you are making me close my eyes it is so that I pay more attention when I reopen them." Words from Beatrice's journal.

"Love is this too: making room for each other when there isn't enough." Words from Leo.

This was an afternoon read for me. Would I chose it again? I must be honest and say that I wouldn't. But there were parts of this novel that sparked something in my heart. Even closing the last page the thought of simply living each moment. Not allowing fear to keep me from sharing. To share my love with others. To not expect from others what I myself am not willing to give. 

You may pick up this book and see God all through it. I was able to see young people struggling with a God they didn't understand. Why would such things happen if there was a God? Those questions were not just left unanswered. The Dreamer and Beatrice shared. It was a sweet romantic teenager read. Death is scary. Pain is deep. These young people are trying to find themselves in a world that swallows up the weak. 

It was mostly the writing style that I struggled with in this novel. For me if it is considered a faith-based read, I want to see that. Not read it between the lines, but experience God moving in the pages. Yes, to an extent I was able to witness Him moving. But much was missing. Maybe in the translation something was lost. 


This book was a gift from Thomas Nelson for sharing my review with you.

Alessandro D'Avenia teaches ancient Greek, Latin, and Italian literature at a high school in Milan and is a regular contributor to the newspaper Corriere della Sera, writing on the subjects of literature and education. White as Silence, Red as Song, his first novel, was published in Italy in 2010 as Bianca come il latte, rossa come il sangue. It sold over a million copies in Italy, has been translated into over twenty languages, and was released as a film in 2013. Alessandro has since published four more books, the latest of which, Every Story Is a Love Story, was published in October 2017.


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