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The Roots of Endurance

“Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” –Hebrews 12:3

William Wilberforce spent 20 years of his political career trying to abolish the African slave trade in England and the next 26 trying to end slavery itself.  Along with this tireless pursuit, he was also involved in over 60 different acts of legislation, from ending animal cruelty to opening up the doors to evangelism in India.  Both his friends and adversaries spoke highly of his tireless, enthusiastic service of his country despite ongoing, almost interminable resistance.  But how did he endure?  What was the source of his perseverance?  This is the subject of John Piper’s excellent book The Roots of Endurance, part 3 in the “Swans Are Not Silent” series of biographies.  This volume focuses on the lives of three men:  John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Wilberforce.  All three were contemporaries, all knew each other, and had some contact, and all faced incredible opposition which required amazing endurance.  I had heard of Wilberforce and Newton (the former slave ship captain turned preacher and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”), but had never heard of Simeon.  Charles Simeon was the vicar at Trinity Church in Cambridge for over 60 years.  In over 30 years of that time, he faced opposition from the “pew holders” in his congregation who would lock their pews so no one else could sit in them because they did not want this young preacher.  Despite this, Simeon continued to preach God’s word, dedicate himself to the poor and needy, and focus on his role as peacemaker.  The ability of all of these men to endure is Piper’s prime objective, and a look at their lives reminds us of the great cloud of witnesses that surround us and spurs us on toward love and good works.  I thoroughly enjoyed this biography and am newly convinced that our posh form of 21st century Christianity has resulted in a mediocrity worse than what Wilberforce accused his contemporaries of.  His book, The Fatal Habit of Nominal Christians blamed the lack of morals of his society on the lack of focus on doctrine.  It was doctrine and specifically the doctrine of the cross of Christ that enabled him to endure struggles in politics, in personal relationships, and his ongoing bouts with colitis and other chronic illness.  It was Simeon’s focus on doctrine that enabled him to endure persecution and to count himself as nothing, and everyone else as worthy of his service and esteem.  And it was this same doctrine that gave Newton a love of people and a hatred of his own sin, and caused him to write a hymn that will go down in history as one of the greatest in all Christendom.  If you watched the movie “Amazing Grace”, I challenge you to take a look at the real story and see what truly shaped the lives of these men.  Their lives remind us that trials, though difficult, are able to mold and shape us into vessels truly fit for service of the One who endured such hardship as is impossible to grasp.  Read it again and again, share it with your children around the living room, and let it be one of your “roots of your endurance”.

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If you haven’t heard from me in awhile, it’s not  because I’ve stopped reading, it’s just because there are a few more important things to do at my house.  The first one is, of course, a new baby.  The second is that I am homeschooling full time now.  In case you didn’t know it, I was a part-time homeschooler before, which is another story, for another time.  And finally, I am writing monthly articles for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, which has taken up any brain capacity I have left for creative endeavors.  This morning, however, I thought, “Enough is enough!  I have several posts rattling around in my brain that I must get out, be they ever so sloppy.”  So, here we go.

This morning I had the bright idea of doing some spring cleaning.  I asked my husband to drag the shop vac out of the garage for me so I could clean out the fire place which was filled with ash amounting to around 6 inches in height, evidence of chilly evenings filled with hot cocoa and conversation.  I turned the machine on and began happily sucking up the mess of black and grey when I heard my husbands voice over the fan, “Stop!  Stop!”  I looked back to see what the commotion was.  Had I sucked up a child?  A puppy?  Then to my dismay, I saw the black cloud of dust shooting out from the back of my machine and floating toward my kitchen, my hallway, and covering my living room furniture.  “Oh well,” I thought.  “I wanted to give everything a thorough cleaning anyway, so now I’m just forced to do it.”  

Later, as I was dutifully vacuuming (with my Sears Kenmore canister vacuum), my husband came up behind me laughing.  “You know, you’re just like that maid in the kids’ storybook.”

I thought for a moment.  “Oh, you mean Amelia Bedelia?” 

“Yeah, that’s the one.  You were ‘dusting the living room’.”

That I was.

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Profiles in Humility

I am looking forward to reading William Bennett’s new book The American Patriot’s Almanac.  You will remember Bill Bennett from The Book of Virtues where Mr. Bennett used stories from history, mythology and folklore to teach character and valuable life lessons to both children and adults.  He has done something similar in this new book, by condensing American History into 365 easy to read, yet not simplistic, stories that will inspire both old and young Americans by showing us the true heroism and patriotism that make this country one of the greatest on earth. Another reason I was excited about Mr. Bennett’s book is because of a long-standing desire that I have had to compile stories (365 in fact) that reflect one particular character trait, put them in book format, and read them to my children every night of the year.  What is that one trait?  The one that exemplifies “true greatness”, of course.  The wisest man who ever lived, who was in fact God, Jesus Christ, said that “the greatest among you will be the servant of all”.  He also set the highest standard of “humility” and “servanthood” for us by leaving his throne of grace where thousands upon thousand of angels worshipped him day and night to be born in frail humanity, in a stable with animals, to be laid in a feeding trough, suffering every need that was common to man, and then finalizing this “great condescension by an ugly, painful, pagan death on (yes, Jehovah’s witnesses) a Roman cross.  This is the truth I needed reminding of daily as a teenager.  Jesus was the epitomy of humility where I, on the other hand, followed closely in my former master’s footsteps by committing the oldest and gravest of sins–pride.  While the King of the Universe put on vile humanity, Satan and all his children (of which I was one) were ever trying to elevate themselves.  (See Genesis 3:4-6 for the beginning of this human quest for importance).  

There have been many stories I have heard about humble men and women over the years, but I have yet to write down a single one.  Well, that is about to change.  I have a request from all of my millions of readers (tongue in cheek).  Please post in your comments your favorite stories from history or personal experience of those “great ones” among you.  Kennedy had his Profiles in Courage, but I want my  children to aspire to something different:  laying down their lives daily for their fellow man in little ways.  Seeking the “lowest place” (Luke 14:10) is the way to be truly great in God’s kingdom, and that’s the only kingdom I want them to seek.  That’s the only one I want to seek as well.  

So, tell your friends.  Send them links.  I need enough stories that I can have 365.  If you have a verifiable source, send that to me as well.  Thank you in advance for your help in this.

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376My pastor came up to me yesterday, having just begun a series on the book of Daniel, and commented that he had thought about me this week as he was preparing this message.  Of course, several thoughts crossed my mind, “How did he know that I had been studying Daniel?”  “Does he think I’m like Daniel in some way?”  (Prideful thinking of course.)  No, he was thinking back to ten years ago, and an article I had written addressing church people’s reluctance to make healthy dietary changes, show wisdom in food choices, and specifically become vegetarians, citing all kinds of scripture in defense of their habits.  My response in the article was that they didn’t want to give up their “sacred cows”–church picnics, barbecues, pot roast, etc.  I had talked to so many people at that time who were suffering from chronic degenerative diseases, including cancer, whose response was “I’m just a meat and potatoes kind of guy.”  Never mind that there is more evidence that cancer can be cured through dietary change than through chemotherapy, the thought of enduring several rounds of chemo and radiation with bouts of nausea and loss of hair was definitely more appealing than giving up coffee, sugar, or dare I say it “steak”!  My pastor said, “Yeah, as I was thinking about broccoli and water, I was thinking about you.”  

Okay, let me say this, I have definitely toned down my approach to people, and even become lax in my own eating habits; however, my ideology has not changed.  I am still a rank and file vegan to the core.  I don’t protest chicken factories (although I think they’re terrible), I don’t throw paint on people with fur (although I believe faux fur is just as nice); but I do think it is a healthier lifestyle, if you are a well-rounded dieter.  Let me say that in a different way.  I have spoken to extremely sick vegans who subsist on cooked starches and tofu; and rarely get a raw veggie in their body.  I do not think these people are any healthier than those who eat meat with every meal.  And, I am not saying don’t eat meat at all, unless of course you have cancer, in which case, know that protein does make tumors grow, just like they make muscles grow.  Am I going to preach a message from scripture telling you all not to eat these things?  No, but I will say a few words about wisdom.  “Above all things, get it!”

So, I say “Hallelujah!  I love vegetables!”  “Hallelujah!  I love good food!”  Do I prefer vegetables to meat?  Absolutely!  Is it harder for me now that my husband and children have decided that they don’t want to be completely vegetarian?  Yes!  Do I still make them eat a predominantly vegan diet?  Yes, because I love them!  And because they have their splurge days, and get the occasional candy bar or icecream, and because my husband gets to make his chicken wings on weekends or a ribeye every now and again, they appreciate my food even more.  However, since their diet has changed, their tastebuds have changed.  They don’t appreciate the simplicity of things as much as they used to.  I have to be creative, and I have a number of resources that help me do this.  In fact, what prompted this post, apart from my pastor’s comments, was the breakfast I made this morning.  Perfect for people with allergies to wheat and eggs, as well as vegans, it is “Rice/Millet Pancakes” from Julie Wandling’s book Hallelujah Kids.  A thick, hearty pancake, sweetened with a whole apple and honey.  It’s just the thing to fill their bellies before heading off to school.  My husband likes these so much, he even sat down and joined them for breakfast–something he never does.  The desserts, smoothies, soups, pastas, and breads in this cookbook were all designed with kids in mind.  It is completely vegan, but so much more.  All of the recipes are designed with no sugar, no white flour, no artificial chemicals of any kind, and are simply delicious.  Most of them are kid tested, and some, like the “Chocolate Granola” were submitted by children.

I have some other favorite cookbooks, or in this case, un-cookbooks.  Think you can’t get your kids to eat raw vegetables?  Well, try a “Raw Pizza” from Julianno’s un-cookbook, simply named raw.  My kids love the crust (made in a dehydrator on a low setting), the sauce, and the cashew cheese.  I am simply wild about the spaghetti with noodles made from zucchini and a saladacco.  My other favorite un-cookbook is How We All Went Raw by Charles, Coralanne, and George Nungesser.  These siblings stopped cooking their food as a result of a commitment to try it for one year.  If it didn’t work, they would go back to the traditional S.A.D. diet.  What happened was a cessation of all their physical ailments, including:  severe food allergies and asthma.  There was no going back for them, but in their quest to find new and interesting foods for their changing palates they came up with some incredible recipes like:  “Peanut Butter Chocolate Pie”  (this has avocadoes in it) and “Philly Cheese Steak” (i.e. portabella mushrooms).

I know that many of you are rolling your eyes and are contemplating that Big Mac you want for lunch, and that’s fine, my mouth is watering too.  Only, I am trying to decide whether I want to make “Purple Mystic” salad or Hummous and tabouleh sandwiches.

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A dark medeival forest.  An entourage of battle hardened knights surrounding a caravan of ox carts filled with the king’s gold.  The woods are filled with the sounds of forest creatures and the babble of a nearby brook.  Suddenly, a gut wrenching, otherworldly scream pierces the night.  The men are suddenly trapped by fallen oaks at their front and more blocking their escape.  They stand on guard, swords in hand, ready to face whatever man or beast would prevent them from their most urgent errand.  But as they peer into the gloaming, they see a hideous sight.  A creature, with the legs of a man, but with the wings of a raven and a long dark beak lets out another blood-curling scream, calling forth fire and a chaos which neither man nor beast can stand against.  No, this isn’t an 11th century tail of Batman, rather it is a retelling of the Robin Hood legend like you’ve never heard it before.  Stephen Lawhead’s Hood (the first book in the King Raven Series) takes the famous hero out of the English forests, out of the realm of King Richard and Prince John, and into the heart of Wales amidst the political intrigue and the fierce fighting of the Norman conquest of Britain.  Why he did this, is explained in detail, and I must add very convincingly, at the end of the novel.  The legend, says Lawhead, reaches much further back in time than we have been led to believe, thanks to movies with Errol Flynn, and who could forget, “Men in Tights”.  The actual ballads have a much older history, and the history of Wales and the fierce guerilla tactics and prowess with longbow of the Welsh people provide a more likely backdrop for the “true” story.  Whether there is any truth to the tale or no, Lawhead gives us a glimpse into the history of 11th century Britain, as well as Celtic mythology and superstition which was intermingled with the Christian faith during this time.  Although there is no mention of Robin Hood’s name, Bran ap Brychan is our hero, old favorites have not been left out.  Friar Tuck and Little John play important roles, and Merian (the paramour) is of course brought into the story.  The second book, which I have just begun, adds Will Scarlett to the band of thieves.  Notice I did not say merry men, because they are angry outlaws fighting for survival, for their homeland, for their people, and their very lives.  Part history and part fantasy, this book left me with a desire to read more.  If you like adventure, intrigue, with old world history and mythology thrown in, you will love King Raven.

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At 14, a visit to my grandparent’s meant lying in the guest bedroom, enjoying the sound of an LP featuring old-time radio favorites.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with an LP, that is not blogging lingo for “lollipops”; it stands for “long-playing” record–a vinyl disc with grooves in it which would produce sounds recorded in studios.  Think CD, only bigger and more archaic.  Anyway, I loved to be transported back to a time when comedy didn’t have to be bleeped out, but was simply hilarious:  Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen; and the drama, though devoid of any blood and gore was still suspensful and had you on edge.  I still remember the dark, foreboding voice:  “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  The Shadow knows. Ha ha ha ha….” The Shadow was an elusive crime fighter that lurked in the shadows. With the ability to levitate, knowledge of any language, and invisibility, he was the 1930’s equivalent of Batman without all of the fancy contraptions.

Though necessary for a crime fighter, I personally don’t want to know “what evil lurks in men’s hearts”. It is enough for me to guard against the blatant visible evil, then to contemplate or want to know the sordid thought life of someone else.

This is what left me cold while reading Charles Frazier’s Civil War drama Cold Mountain. Frazier’s descriptions of a place of raw beauty, a place his protagonist, Inman, can’t wait to get back to, seemed to me to be a stark contrast to the ugliness in men’s hearts. From the mountain people he met along his road home, to the infamous Home Guard itself, you can’t get away from the vile and revolting sentiments of the time. There is, however, love and survival; and this makes for a great story no matter how you spin it. The characters of Ada and Ruby trying to make a working farm out of one that is near ruin, Inman trying to get home on foot, injured, and evading the Home Guard, and Frazier’s descriptions of the beautiful Smoky Mountains almost had me fully embracing this book. As I read, I found myself cheering for Inman to get home safely, and that would still have been my hope, except for the thought, “Wait a minute. He’s a deserter.” He’s just abandoned the men he signed up with and promised to fight beside. Who cares if he has a “love” at home that he feels stronger about then he does about this war. Who cares if he thinks that his Commander and Chief made a mistake or that it is an “immoral war” (now where have we heard that before); he could have stayed home in the first place or fought for the other side. The justification for his desertion fell a little flat for me. Still, I thought Frazier did an outstanding job developing this story, and that from a true story about the thoughtless killing of some Scottish immigrants by the controversial Confederate Home Guard. If you don’t already know that “war is hell” then read this book and it will help you in your assessment. For those of us who already know that what goes on in men’s hearts is better left there, then best leave Cold Mountain and pickup your warm and fuzzy’s like Little Women and The Secret Garden. I might need a dose of those before I trek back up the mountain.

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City of Ember

City Of Ember: Official Movie Widget

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