“Two Scoops of Ice Cream…Wait, I Mean ‘Grace’: a Book Review

In her book, “Two Scoops of Grace with Chuckles on Top,” Jeanette Levellie wants us to know right up front that God is a gracious God. He’s perfect, but not a perfectionist. He watches over us, but not with an abacus on hand, ready to count our failures. Her stories, told in devotion style, could be read one a day (so you can savor them slowly) or as many as you like at a time.

She’s an expert storyteller so it may be hard to put this one down.One thing I will say, Jeanette has a keen wit. It’s a gentle and kind wit. And it’s most often at her own expense because she’s learned to laugh at herself. She’s a mother of two children and a pastor’s wife. She has bright red hair which she claims can be as unruly as she is. That’s another thing about Jeanette, she’s honest about her failings as much as she is about her love for God. If I was a betting kind of gal, I’d bet she has oodles of friends who love being in her company.

In addition to the delicious fact that there’s ice cream on the cover, the book is full of stories to which we can relate. Even if we’re not a pastor’s wife or have children. Even if we’re brunettes or silver-haired beauties. I’m guessing the target audience is women.

But when you know men who occasionally wonder whether God is really there for them; whether His grace can forgive the messes they make; if the dreams they dreamed will ever come true; or the future holds any promise–Two Scoops of Grace is a book you might want to recommend.

Inside are 72 story devotions ranging from Drive-by Diapers, Culture Shock, A Pitiful Piece of Pie, and From Hair to Eternity. While the author insists we be gentle with ourselves and laugh a lot more, she also uses her stories and the Word of God to help us remember the path we’re called to walk. The devotions are comedic and convicting at the same time. And that can be refreshing.

The words ‘grace’ and ‘chuckles’ had to be in the title of this delightful book. Because, in this life, we desperately need them both.

With Graciousness and Kindness Toward All

Slowly, my mind is changing about judgement calls on people based on their looks, their words and actions, or their attitudes. For a long time I’ve believed it was okay to take notice and immediately place someone in a category. The categories were, of course, arbitrary, based on personal preferences, what I’d been taught was ‘correct,’ and a solid belief that I was probably always right.

What Changed? The Lord has shown me more of Himself. I see him interact with a variety of people in Bible stories and He never seems to judge the way I do. His judgements are true. Whether it’s a Samaritan woman sitting alone at a well, a group of Pharisees verbally abusing Him, a man sitting in a booth cheating his fellow Jews on their taxes, or a Centurion asking Jesus to heal his servant––the Lord sees what’s in their hearts.

I can’t see into hearts.

The best I can do, when I watch someone ‘acting out,’ as I usually describe it, is to pray for that person to find a better way of expressing themselves. Perhaps I will pray for them to find the Light of Jesus. Perhaps the person is already someone who claims to have a relationship with Him; yet they ‘act out.’

That could be me on any given day.

God’s word gives instructions for when we discover what we name as their wrongdoing.

“Don’t criticize, and then you won’t be criticized. For others will treat you as you treat them. And why worry about a speck in the eye of a brother when you have a board in your own?  Should you say, ‘Friend, let me help you get that speck out of your eye,’ when you can’t even see because of the board in your own?  Hypocrite! First get rid of the board. Then you can see to help your brother” (Matthew 7:1-5)

The Apostle Paul makes another distinction.

“What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside” (1 Corinthians 5:12).

In other words, how can we expect anyone who has not seen the Light, to behave as if they have.

Again…That could be me on any given day.

Nevertheless, as disciples of Jesus, we are given warnings and instructions about heeding the teachings and the fruit of those inside the Church.

“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33).

Ultimately, I can never know the motives of one’s heart. Only Jesus knows that. Since life experiences, ill health, daily stress, and any number of things can make me ‘act out’ even when I know it’s inappropriate, I long for the grace of Jesus.

And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I could offer that grace to others as well. To extend graciousness and kindness toward all. To pray for them as I would hope they would pray for me.

A Dangerous Place to Be

A friend of mine shared in a small group that she thought she probably would be safe from idols in an atmosphere alone with no distractions: no TV, no radio, all alone. She said people wouldn’t distract her from her spiritual life and worldly music or television programs wouldn’t do it either.

Listening to her, the concept sounded good. But at that time, my situation was pretty much what she described and I was still in danger of idolatry on a regular basis.

I have an active imagination. I have a good mind. And sometimes I believe they are sincerely out to get me.

Other people I know who are seriously trying to change from lifestyles of addiction to being “clean,” tell me it’s important to change playmates, playthings and playgrounds. To live the life of obedience to Christ, I pretty much need to do the same thing. That doesn’t mean I sequester myself away from the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t engage with people who don’t believe what I believe about God and Jesus. Doing that is hiding my lamp under a bowl. And Jesus says I’m to let my light shine before men.

However, scripture does tell me it’s dangerous for me to wander the playground of my mind without Jesus. I must “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”

Not every thought I have is sinful, but some of them can lead to sin. My addictions are waiting in the sidelines if I fall prey to just one ugly thought. Or a twisted, selfish emotion. As a matter of fact, being alone can be a hindrance in my relationship with God if I let myself get lonely. I need my friends to help me, so I reach out.

A mind, they say, is a terrible thing to waste. Sometimes, it can be a dangerous place to be.

“Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin” (James 1:14,15).

God Calling

reading-the-bibleWhenever I have questions about what it is God is trying to say to me (in any situation), God’s word is where I first turn for answers. However, the quote below from Michael Molinos often comes to mind. These words are simple and clear, like scripture.

They also seem to come from someone who’s believed God. Someone who has experienced His love. A love that is faithful and sweet no matter what the situation is at present.

In all Your Journey as a Believer,
You will have two kinds of Spiritual Experiences.
One is tender, delightful, and loving.
The Other can be quite obscure,
dry, dark and desolate.
God gives us the First one to Gain us;
He gives us the Second to Purify us.

          ~ Michael Molinos, 17th Century Writer

How Sweet It Is

twain-forgive-violet-quoteSometimes, for me at least, the idea of forgiving someone leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Over the years, with help from God, forgiving others isn’t the drawn-out, dreaded process it used to be. Matter of fact, I forgive fairly quickly now. Wait. Perhaps I should insert “sometimes” in that sentence as well.

One thing I do know is when I’m in a situation where I need to forgive, I find a good starting point is remembering “I’m that person too. If I haven’t done that thing they did or said, I’m guilty of doing or saying things as bad or worse.”

That reminder is the jumping-off point for extending mercy to others. Just as God extended mercy to me. And how sweet that is.

15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

The Red Letter Life: A Book Review

Hello, Media Monday, when we talk about books, movies or music. Today’s offering: “The Red Letter Life: 17 Words From Jesus to Inspire Simple, Practical and Purposeful Living” by Bob Hostetler.

The adjectives in the subtitle of this book, The Red Letter Life give us a hint into Bob Hostetler’s message for living as a disciple of Jesus. Hostetler writes with purpose; his message is practical; and his writing is simple so anyone can understand it.the-red-letter-life-872316900

Hostetler has delivered his message in a ‘pure’ way: truth, grace, simplicity and clarity of thought are all in place. Sure, he uses his knowledge of Greek to explain things. But he only does it to enhance the message. I never got the feeling I was being talked down to because these explanations are not overdone.

The seventeen words chosen are excellent choices and indicate the author’s careful study of Jesus’ message and mission. From “Come” to “Go,” every word inspires us to deeper relationship with Christ and a call to carry out His mission as commanded. Often, we get to see Jesus, his disciples and the people He encountered with fresh eyes. Expect some “Aha” moments.

Hostetler has a way of telling stories which not only lend themselves to giving meaning to his message, they often are entertaining and sublime. That’s the way Jesus Himself told parables. Overall, his heart and personality shine through. He makes being a Christian sound challenging and enjoyable at the same time. After reading The Red Letter Life, I would enjoy sitting down with the author, simply talking about our respective spiritual journeys.

While not your typical Bible study text (with questions for participants to explore), the book could certainly be used as such because Bob offers a challenge at the end of each chapter. At any rate, the book begs to be discussed. Lately, I read less Christian non-fiction than I used to, choosing more often to study the Bible. While there is no substitute for God’s Word, there are certainly excellent supplements. This one happens to be one of them.

You can find Bob–a speaker, blogger and pastor, in addition to being an author–in “Stuff I Read.” He’s the One Prayer Daily fellow.

Know and Grow

For the past year, Dallas Theological Seminary has been kind enough to offer me some of their classes. I get the notifications in my email and I get to decide if I want to take the course by watching a series of videos.

The first course I took, a study of the gospel of John, was with Dr. Mark Bailey. Dr. Bailey is president of the seminary but likes to stay involved in classroom instruction. He’s a fine professor.

This past week I began another study with Dr. Howard Hendricks, “How to Read the Bible Like a Seminary Professor.” Dr. Hendricks passed away in 2013, but his teaching (so far as I’ve seen) is relevant and direly needed.

Dr. Bailey was quotable. His sense of humor and authenticity shined. He’s been around a long time and obviously lives what he teaches. Dr. Hendricks is no different. Here’s something he said, which I need to remember at all times:

“God’s Word was not written to make you a smarter sinner.”

In other words, reading and studying the Bible aren’t meant just for information, but for transformation, according to Dr. Hendricks. “You can’t grow without knowing,” he says, “but it’s possible to know and not grow.” (Read that sentence again if you need to; I did.)

After my decision to follow Christ, I ate the Word like a little kid devouring an ice cream cone. I enjoyed having Bible knowledge. Other people enjoyed it too; they often asked for information because I did know the Word. They weren’t always so quick to ask me about how to live the Word. That’s disturbing to me because it means I wasn’t allowing God to make that transformation a reality.

If you’re interested in getting started with this particular study, lesson 1 is posted on YouTube here. Once you bring that video up, you’ll see subsequent lessons on the right-hand side of the screen. They’re numbered and titled so you know where you are.

You can also find the course on the DTS site (as long as it’s listed there) to sign up and receive the first lesson immediately.

I hope you’ll enjoy studying with Dr. Hendricks. It’s a blessing to know DTS is willing to share the wisdom, experience and caring of its people.

Using Good Grammar

As my children were growing up I often corrected their grammar. Naturally, they were annoyed, but a good parent doesn’t want his child to someday jeopardize his or her chances in life using the wrong tenses or double negatives. I believed it was for their own good. Even though I often didn’t get no satisfaction. (That double negative is on purpose, folks.)

God, the perfect parent, for my own good, showed me some poor grammar I was using and let me know I was in the wrong. I repeatedly used the double positive “Yeah, right,” which automatically becomes a negative, canceling the meaning it’s meant to convey.

“Yeah, right” conveys disbelief. The phrase means “No” or “I disagree.” Or “Not true.” We often use it in a sarcastic manner.

At one time, I prided myself for the way I could come up with sarcastic remarks. Many of them were aimed at myself. Then I learned that the word sarcasm comes from a Greek verb, sarcazo, which means “to tear flesh.” Since then, I’m more aware of my sarcasm habit.

Sarcasm used against myself formerly had its place in my normal use of the language because it seemed to relieve me of part of the guilt I felt due to my lifestyle. Using it seemed to give me an out because I was admitting just how awful I was. That might sound like I was being honest, but–honestly–it was a weak self-defense.pleasing thoughts bubble

Self-putdowns now send up red flags. My use of them most often comes in the form of doubts about myself. Using put-downs, however, is a difficult habit to break.

Again, my perfect parent shows me how wrong I can be. When I sit in his presence and really listen to what he has to say, he speaks to me with unconditional love. Because he loves me, he will correct me. He shows me the difference between how I speak about myself and how he truly feels about me. He lets me know that “Yeah, right” leaves me with the wrong idea of who I am now that I belong to him.

God has a much higher opinion of me than I have of myself. When I remember that my identity is first of all related to being his child, the doubts go away. I’m certainly not perfect, but children usually want to please their parents. I’m sure “tearing flesh,” mine or that of someone else, doesn’t please him.

Do you always remember, when you’ve failed in some way, that he loves you with an everlasting love? Sometimes it can be difficult for us to accept, but we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Each of us is a treasure to him and he has ordained each day of our lives, expecting and enabling us to do great things.

Yes, that’s right. He does.

(Now that’s correct use of grammar and a fine affirmation.)

Father, thank you for always reminding me of my true identity. I count on you to show me how my negative thoughts can affect my words and my behavior. I pray that you will guide me into the truth every moment so that my actions will draw others to your truth as well.

Thinking About Spring and “Fruit”

apple-tree-blossoms-john-brink

I’m thinking “Spring” and remembering the beautiful flowers on the apple trees in the yard of my childhood home.

The pink and white blossoms smelled so sweet when you stood close to the tree. Then it seemed all at once, the driveway was covered in petals. First, they showed off their potential for the fall harvest. Then, we waited for those apples to emerge and ripen.

I’ve come to understand that we must all undergo challenges in life so that we may grow and bear fruit like those trees. Struggle. Obey God in the struggle. Then move forward in spiritual maturity.

For the fruit to grow, we must first lose the bloom.