b-blog

Which Lion to Follow?

We think of temptation as a blinding neon light, a shout through a bullhorn, a shocking aroma—blatant and easily avoided. More often temptation comes as a fleeting glimpse, a gentle whisper, a pleasing whiff. As we become more spiritually mature, temptation becomes more subtle and less easy to distinguish. Our tempter is crafty and knows when neon no longer appeals to us.

When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, he didn’t offer glitzy sleaze—he offered good things. Feed Yourself. Prove God’s power before the people. Take the kingdom the Father promised You. Subtle, and he even used Scripture. But Jesus saw the truth. What Satan offered wasn’t God’s will for Jesus at that time, in that way, or by those means.

To discern if that gentle whisper is from the Lord, self, or Satan, we must be so familiar with God’s Word and God’s ways that we can tell truth from lies.

“Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” 1 Peter 5:8-9.

How can you avoid the prowling lion and turn to the Lion of Judah?

What’s Holding You Back?

“I’m not ready for that yet. Maybe in a few years.”

What is That Thing in your life? The one thing you long to do that you don’t feel ready for yet? You need to be older, wiser, better prepared, have more time, pass some milestone first—and then you’ll do it.

At the age of twelve, Jesus went to His Father’s house. According to Jewish tradition, He wouldn’t be part of the religious community for another year. He wouldn’t start His ministry for another eighteen years. But He wanted to be about His Father’s business, and He wouldn’t let His age stop Him.

1 Timothy 4:12 says, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Look carefully at whatever is keeping you from doing That Thing now. Pray about it. Is it truly God’s will for you to wait, or is it your fear, insecurity, laziness, or perception that holds you back?

If it truly is God’s will to wait, then follow Jesus’ example and prepare to do That Thing in the future by asking questions and listening and learning.

Do you have a “That Thing” in your life you don’t feel ready for yet? What’s holding you back?

In the Pits?

In today’s world, many people live in a pit. Unemployment, foreclosures, divorce, illness, and instability disrupt lives and plunge many into despair.

Joseph lived in a pit too. Literally. Although he followed God’s will and lived a life of integrity, he was betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and imprisoned.

Then at age twenty-eight, dreams interrupted the life of this dreamer. He correctly interpreted the cupbearer’s and baker’s dreams, and hope filled his heart as the cupbearer promised to remember him to Pharaoh. The promise was broken.

Two more years passed in prison. Joseph had endured thirteen years of misery, a cruel reward for a godly life. He had every reason to despair.

Yet, he didn’t.

When Pharaoh’s two dreams jiggled the cupbearer’s memory, Joseph was brought to the king and asked if he could interpret. “‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires’” (Genesis 41:16). His faith in God shone in every word he spoke, so that Pharaoh said, “‘Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?’” (Gen. 41:38).

Faith kept Joseph strong in the pit. Instead of giving in to bitterness and despair, Joseph leaned on the Lord. He trusted God to be with him, whether or not he was pulled out of that pit. Because of that faith, when he was pulled out, he saw God’s hand in everything that had happened to him. Faith allowed him to tell his brothers, “‘It was not you who sent me here, but God’” (Gen. 45:8).

In those dark pits, remember the Lord has a purpose and a plan, and lean hard on Him.

Book Beat – Against the Wind by Bodie and Brock Thoene

Living in England in the summer of 1940 was frightful, especially for parents. As the Blitz intensified, the German Luftwaffe raided London and other large cities, killing thousands. Parents longed for safety for their little ones. Britain established the Children’s Overseas Reception Board to evacuate British children to safety in Canada. However, on September 17, 1940, U-boats sank the Children’s Overseas Reception Board ship SS City of Benares, and 77 children were killed. Six days later the HMS Anthony rescued 48 survivors, including six boys. Britain began evacuating children to the English countryside instead and suspended the Board on October 3, 1940.

Against the Wind by Bodie and Brock Thoene covers this period of time, as Elisa Lindheim Murphy, a concert violinist, sends her own children overseas and then accompanies a group of British evacuees and Jewish refugees to the US. When a torpedo shudders through the ship, Elisa rushes to rescue her young charges.

The Thoenes are famous for their historically accurate fiction, and Against the Wind does not disappoint. All the period details are just right, the reader feels the plight of the British in the Blitz, and the sea adventure is harrowing and gripping, I enjoyed the characters, and the Thoenes do a great job sketching children who are charming but never cloying.

However, the diary format of the story left me feeling strangely detached, and a twist on the last page – while a joyful relief – was left unexplained and I still can’t figure out how it happened. Also, sensitive readers who can’t bear to read of children in peril should definitely not pick up this book.

Overall, this is an enjoyable book with great characters and superb historical detail, and I recommend it.

That Space Was Mine

That parking space was mine. I’d waited for it. Then that big red SUV zipped in and took it. Grr.

The lady with the full shopping cart who cuts in front of you in the grocery line. The boss who takes credit for your hard work. The soccer coach who sidelines your child for more than her fair share of the game.
Life presents lots of situations when we lose what’s rightfully ours. The human instinct is to fight for what we’ve lost. But what does God want us to do?
Several thousand years ago, Isaac built a well in the desert. His neighbors took it. He moved away and built another. His neighbors took that one too. He had every right to be upset and fight for that well.
He didn’t. Isaac moved away and built another well.
This time no one took it. This time the leader of the enemy acknowledged, “‘We saw clearly that the Lord was with you’” (Gen. 26:28), and he begged for a peace treaty.
Ironically, by backing down, Isaac won. By refusing to fight, Isaac gained peace. By trusting God to provide, Isaac allowed God’s glory to shine through.
Perhaps Jesus knew what He was talking about when He said, “‘Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also’” Matthew 6:39.
Of course, this is much easier to say than to do. How can you implement this concept today?

Favorite Books of 2011

Nothing says New Year’s like a list! Here are my favorite fiction reads from 2011 in alphabetical order. It’s hard enough to pick only ten, much less rank them. Sadly, many lovely novels taunt me from my to-be-read pile.

Broken Wings by Carla Stewart: Beautifully written with great voice, Broken Wings tells the story of a touching friendship between a young woman trying to escape an abusive relationship and an elderly woman who was a jazz singing sensation. This book handles tough subjects with honesty and sensitivity, and still manages to warm your heart.

The Colonel’s Lady by Laura Frantz: There’s a reason this novel appears on so many Top Ten lists this year – gorgeous prose, the danger of the Kentucky frontier during the Revolutionary War, and compelling characters. Plus, the most beautiful book cover of the year, in my opinion.

A Great Catch by Lorna Seilstad: A grand slam! In a story as refreshing and invigorating as lemonade, Seilstad raises deep questions about a woman’s relationship with God, her dreams, and the people in her life – while making me laugh so hard my kids came running to get in on the joke.

Head in the Clouds by Karen Witemeyer: When I saw the cover of this novel, I knew I had to read it. I was not disappointed. Adelaide Proctor is a funny and lovable heroine, Gideon Westcott is both dashing and flawed, their romance drew me in, and the suspenseful second half of the novel made me neglect my household duties.

A Lancaster County Christmas by Suzanne Woods Fisher: A holiday story with depth. Mattie and Jaime are hampered by fears and insecurities many women can relate to. Their friendship and personal growth is as natural and unforced as it is unlikely. This story not only gives you the heart-warming story you expect from the cover, but it also gives you plenty to think about.

Love Finds You in Homestead, Iowa by Melanie Dobson: More than just another “bonnet book” – this story features endearing but realistically flawed characters, a captivating romance, and a hint of mystery. Add Dobson’s detailed research into the little-known Amana colonies, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Mine Is the Night by Liz Curtis Higgs: A completely satisfying conclusion to Here Burns My Candle. The rich character growth, Scottish setting, impeccable research, and not just one romance – but three! Higgs writes historical fiction of the highest quality, and I can’t recommend her books enough.

Remembering Christmas by Dan Walsh: Walsh writes this story with humor and a fun bit of attitude – and still writes a heartwarming tale. The story delighted me, and one twist completely surprised me. Realistic and lovable characters – even shallow Rick – and the refreshing Florida beach town setting make this a memorable Christmas story.

When Crickets Cry by Charles Martin: Beautifully written, as are all of Martin’s novels. The characters are real and intriguing, and the story was engaging.

While We’re Far Apart by Lynn Austin: A beautifully told World War II Home Front story with interesting characters. I appreciated the truthful and sensitive acknowledgement of anti-Semitism in wartime America.

What were your favorite novels from 2011?

The Advent Wreath – What Child Is This?

One of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions is the Advent wreath. On each of the four Sundays in Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), our family gathers around the wreath with cookies and eggnog and hot chocolate. Not only is this cozy family time, but it focuses us with joyful anticipation on the birth of Jesus.

On Christmas Day we light the final candle – the Christ Candle. If you’d like to join the Sundin family in this tradition, here are some family friendly, kid-tested ideas. Adjust these to the ages of any children present to create a meaningful time for your family.

Christmas Day – The Christ Candle

Candles:

Light all three purple candles (the Prophets’ Candle, the Bethlehem Candle, and the Angels’ Candle), the pink candle (the Shepherd’s Candle). Lastly, light the white candle in the center, showing how Jesus is the Light of the World.

Story:

Explain how the shepherds watched their flocks, heard the news that the Messiah had born, and went to see the Baby Jesus in the manger – and how they reacted with great joy.

Scriptures:

Luke 2:1-20 (the birth of Jesus and the visit of the shepherds)
Matthew 2:1-12 (the visit of the Magi)
John 1:1-14 (Jesus coming in the flesh as the light of the world who brings life)

Songs:

“Joy to the World”
“O Come, All Ye Faithful”
“What Child Is This?”
“O Holy Night”
And all your family’s favorites!

May the peace and joy of our Lord and Messiah, Jesus Christ, fill you with His light this Christmas.

Christmas in World War II – The Home Front

Although World War II did not take a holiday, Americans at home and abroad did their best to celebrate Christmas. Wartime separations and deprivations made festivities poignant and bittersweet. This post looks at Christmas on the US Home Front. See also: Christmas for American servicemen and women.

Families on the US Home Front dealt with painful separations as sons and daughters, husbands and fathers were away from home in the service. The holiday season highlighted this pain. Those left at home wanted to make Christmas festive, especially for the children.

Gifts

Gift giving presented unique challenges during World War II. While wartime income was high in the USA, few products were available on the shelves. Many consumer items weren’t manufactured due to shortages of raw materials and conversions of factories for military use. Clothing wasn’t rationed in the United States, but restrictions did apply and people were encouraged to make do with less. By 1944, a severe paper shortage even reduced the supply of books.

 

Hardest of all were the scarcities of toys for the children. Toys with metal or rubber parts weren’t available. Manufacturers switched to wood and cardboard and to the new plastics that were coming out. Popular wartime toys included dolls, wooden jeeps and airplanes, and “Bild-A-Sets,” which allowed children to construct cardboard play-sets, often with military themes.

The US government provided a solution to the gift dilemma and encouraged the purchase of war bonds for Christmas presents.

 

Food

Christmas dinners weren’t quite as elaborate as before the war. Rationing of sugar and butter meant fewer sweets. Meat, including ham, was rationed. Although turkey wasn’t rationed, the armed services worked hard to provide turkey dinners to the servicemen overseas, which meant fewer turkeys on the Home Front.

Travel

The holiday tradition of traveling to visit family and friends had to be curtailed during the war. Gasoline was rationed, and civilians were discouraged from train travel to free the rail system for movement of troops and supplies.

 

Decorations

Outdoor Christmas lights were one of the first wartime casualties. In Antioch, California, for example, outdoor Christmas lights were turned off on December 11, 1941, and the tradition of lighting the community Christmas tree was postponed for the duration. Blackout conditions on the West Coast, dim-outs on the East Coast, and later a nationwide dim-out to conserve fuel meant Christmas might be merry—but not quite as bright.

Christmas trees were harder to obtain due to labor shortages and shipping priorities, but were still available in many communities.

V-disc with Bing Crosby recordings of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” 1945 (public domain via Wikipedia)

V-disc with Bing Crosby recordings of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” 1945 (public domain via Wikipedia)

Music

Christmas in World War II left a lasting musical legacy. Bing Crosby’s recording of “White Christmas” topped the charts in December 1942 and has since sold over 50 million copies, making it one of the biggest hits of all time. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was the hit for Christmas 1943, and Judy Garland’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” was in the Top Ten in 1944. These songs share a soft melancholy, a nostalgia for home, a wistfulness for tradition, and an optimistic hope for the future that resonated in wartime and still resonates today.

Celebrating Christmas in World War II required ingenuity and flexibility, but Americans at home and abroad set aside their troubles to commemorate Christ’s birth.

The Advent Wreath – Hark! the Herald Angels Sing

One of my family’s favorite Christmas traditions is the Advent wreath. On each of the four Sundays in Advent (the four weeks before Christmas), our family gathers around the wreath with cookies and eggnog and hot chocolate. Not only is this cozy family time, but it focuses us with joyful anticipation on the birth of Jesus.

This Sunday, December 18, is the fourth Sunday in Advent, but it’s never too late to participate. If you’d like to join the Sundin family in this tradition, here are some family friendly, kid-tested ideas. Adjust these to the ages of any children present to create a meaningful time for your family.

Advent Week Four – The Angels’ Candle

Candles:

Light two purple candles (the Prophets’ Candle and the Bethlehem Candle), the pink candle (the Shepherd’s Candle), and the last purple candle (the Angels’ Candle). The purple symbolizes penance. Traditionally, the father lights the candles.

Story:

Explain how God sent His angels as messengers to tell Mary she would give birth to the Messiah, to reassure Joseph, to announce the birth to the shepherds, and to warn Joseph of Herod’s plot.

Scriptures:

Luke 1:26-38 (how an angel told Mary she would give birth to the Messiah)
Matthew 1:18-25 (how an angel told Joseph that Jesus was the Messiah)
Luke 2:8-14 (how a host of angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds)
Matthew 2:13-15 (how an angel warned Joseph of Herod’s plot and told him to escape to Egypt)
Matthew 2:19-21 (how an angel told Joseph when it was safe to return to Israel)

Songs:

“Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”
“Angels We Have Heard on High”
“It Came upon a Midnight Clear”
“Angels from the Realms of Glory”

Let’s all bring glory to the newborn king this Christmas!

Christmas in World War II – The Military

Christmas in World War II - The US MilitaryAlthough World War II did not take a holiday, Americans at home and abroad did their best to celebrate Christmas. Wartime separations and deprivations made festivities poignant and bittersweet. This post looks at Christmas for American servicemen and women. See also: Christmas on the US Home Front.

Christmas during World War II found Americans on many fronts. In 1941, only a few weeks after the Pearl Harbor attack, American soldiers were putting up a fighting retreat in the Philippines. In 1942, soldiers fought on Guadalcanal and New Guinea, and in Tunisia. In 1943, US forces fought in the Southwest Pacific and in Italy. Christmas of 1944 found the Allies reeling from the Battle of the Bulge in Europe and also engaged in northern Italy and back in the Philippines. Throughout the war, sailors were on the watch at sea and airmen faced the enemy in the sky. In addition, many servicemen and women were stationed far from home even if not on the front lines.

 

Gifts

Nothing warmed the heart more than gifts from home. The Army and Fleet Post Offices did their best to distribute presents quickly, but the sheer volume of mail and the great distances created difficulties. Families were advised to mail Christmas packages from September 15 to October 15, and the Navy restricted packages to under five pounds. Still, many servicemen, especially sailors at sea, received packages several months later. While many gifts were cherished and useful (such as candy, cookies, and warm socks), some were perplexing, such as neckties and cologne.

US Army Pfc. W.J. Kessler, Pfc. J.L. Proffitt, Pvt. B. Narter, Cpl. T.J. Barnewski, and Pfc. J. Stoll with Christmas packages from home for their artillery unit, Germany, 26 Nov 1944 (US Army Signal Corps)

US Army Pfc. W.J. Kessler, Pfc. J.L. Proffitt, Pvt. B. Narter, Cpl. T.J. Barnewski, and Pfc. J. Stoll with Christmas packages from home for their artillery unit, Germany, 26 Nov 1944 (US Army Signal Corps)

Food

The armed services went out of their way to provide special holiday meals whenever possible. Those serving on ships or on fixed bases, either at home or abroad, had elaborate meals of turkey and ham with all the fixings. Even on the front lines, kitchens tried to provide turkey dinners. However, in 1942 on Guadalcanal, the troops were happy simply to receive an orange and a warm beer.

US troops eating Christmas dinner on a haystack, Italy, 25 December 1943 (US National Archives)

US troops eating Christmas dinner on a haystack, Italy, 25 December 1943 (US National Archives)

Decorations

Traditional decorations were scarce, but improvisation and creativity reigned. On the hospital wards overseas, nurses snipped tin from used plasma cans to make stars to string from the tent ceilings or to decorate little trees. Ration tins and foil wrappings were used for other makeshift decorations.

Troops of US 3rd Infantry Division (S/Sgt. John Suchanek, Pfc. Joseph Pierro, Sgt. Charles Myrich, Sgt. Leon Oben) open Christmas gifts from home, Pietramelara, Italy, 16 December 1943 (US Army Center of Military History)

Troops of US 3rd Infantry Division (S/Sgt. John Suchanek, Pfc. Joseph Pierro, Sgt. Charles Myrich, Sgt. Leon Oben) open Christmas gifts from home, Pietramelara, Italy, 16 December 1943 (US Army Center of Military History)

Celebrations

Many bases arranged Santa visits, concerts, and parties for the men. In addition, Americans often put together parties for local children. For example, the airmen of the 94th Bombardment Group stationed in Bury St. Edmunds threw a big party for British orphans.

Sgt. Hiram Prouty of US 175th Infantry Regiment dressed as Santa Claus, arriving on a M3 medium tank, Perham Down, England, 5 December 1942 (US Army Signal Corps)

Sgt. Hiram Prouty of US 175th Infantry Regiment dressed as Santa Claus, arriving on a M3 medium tank, Perham Down, England, 5 December 1942 (US Army Signal Corps)

Most of all, the perilous times reminded the serviceman and woman of the reason for Christmas, the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas services were held on all fronts, and the carols about “peace on earth, goodwill to men” were sung with special fervor.

Being separated from family and friends during the holidays made war that much more difficult for those in the military, but creativity and generosity made Christmas meaningful and memorable.

Pennsylvania soldiers in 10th Regiment in Camp Lee’s Quartermaster Replacement Center sing carols around the tree, Camp Lee, VA, December 1941 (US Army Center of Military History)

Pennsylvania soldiers in 10th Regiment in Camp Lee’s Quartermaster Replacement Center sing carols around the tree, Camp Lee, VA, December 1941 (US Army Center of Military History)