Life is Better at the Beach

Book Review: Life is Better at the Beach by Christina Vinson

Life is Better at the Beach

Life is Better at the Beach

I chose to review this new volume from Christina Vinson and Thomas Nelson Publishers for two reasons. First, my mother is a huge fan of the beach. She truly believes—as the title of the book suggests—that life is better at the beach. Second, we live at the beach.

This is a beautifully done volume. Superb photos, easy to read fonts, and the beach. The author takes us on a vacation of sorts. She connects life at the beach with lessons drawn from scripture. The book is a series of short devotional-type articles centered around particular “Beach Rules”. These rules range from “Wake up Smiling” to “Nap Often” and “Make Memories”.

I read this volume while our family was on vacation. While we weren’t at the beach, it is easy to see how this would be a great companion to a porch overlooking the crashing waves. The devotionals are easy-to-read, yet are full of deep wisdom. The photos are appealing to the eyes.

Take this volume with you on your next vacation!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I review for BookLook Bloggers

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Book Review: Jesus Called by Ray Johnston

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back

Jesus Called: He Wants His Church Back is the latest volume from author Ray Johnston. In this book, Johnston outlines for us the state of the American church, and prophetically urges us to think  and act differently as modern-day followers of Jesus. He begins with one of the better overviews of the various worldviews that are impacting the church today. He also presents us with the counter-cultural view that Jesus taught.

The primary argument that Johnston makes in the book is that Christians are willing to follow Jesus up until the point of it changing their worldviews. He says:

One of the main problems undermining American Christianity is this: people become Christians, join the church, put Christian bumper stickers on their cars–but stop short of letting Jesus make a fundamental change in their foundational beliefs, their worldviews. Their lives don’t reflect the values taught and lived by the Jesus they claim to follow. — Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 58).

This is an important point. Until we are willing to relinquish our worldview and embrace the Kingdom Worldview that Jesus taught, we will never be able to follow Jesus with “all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind.”

The remainder of the book is a call for the American Christian to release those things that have become a part of our faith that are more American than Christian. Johnston calls us to examine the church, and realign it with the call of Jesus to “Follow Him.” He does a great job at presenting the reality that Jesus’ call to us is not an easy one to follow. That there is great sacrifice required from us.

Finally, he presents us with ways to walk out the call of Christ. He gives us practical ways to reject the cultural demands around us, and accept the counter-cultural life to which Jesus calls us. Near the end of the book, Johnston talks about sharing our faith with others. Good news is never meant to be kept to oneself. It is intended to be shared.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). He didn’t say, “You will be my prosecuting attorney.” “You will be my defender.” “You will be my slick salesperson.” He simply said, “You get to be a witness of really great news.” – Ray Johnston in Jesus Called (page 313)


 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Emily

Letter from a TCK

Hi. My name is Emily and my family is a cross-cultural worker family. Worker in the Matthew 9:38 sense of “send out workers into his harvest field.” I realize that my family’s very lifestyle puts all kinds of preconceived notions into different people’s heads, and so with every relationship I have, I am already working against stereotypes in order to try to get you to see the real me.

One of my largest struggles is loneliness, but I try to be strong and not let it show. In my home country, the friends whom I consider my dearest and closest friends consider me as just a casual friend who pops in and out of their lives once a year. If I come across to them as clingy, or when I’ve sent ten texts to their one response, understand that I am just so hopeful that someone from my home country will accept me, receive me, understand me—that I won’t be forgotten. I still want to matter to you. My fears are not related to the safety and danger aspects of my host country, but rather my fears are being forgotten from my loved ones in my home country, as they learn to do life without me and no longer leave room for me in their lives. I know I’m not physically there all the time, but I still need to be considered part of your lives. I need to still belong.

All that to say, I still consider my host country to be one of my homes, and I feel at home there a lot of the time, despite the cultural and language barriers. I get out and talk with people and make friends and live life, and I love my life. But in the same way that I have to struggle against stereotypes and preconceived notions in my home country, I have the same struggle in my host country with suspicion and misunderstanding and culture stress thrown in. But this is the life I have and the life I know, and I am trying to adapt, to blend in, to make myself fit in to this new culture.

And I do fit in. My home country corners get rubbed off of my square shape the more I live in my host country, and I lose some of my square shape. Yet I really don’t know that I will ever take on the circle shape of my host country. So I live, sometimes blindly even, in my state of a roundish square or a lumpy circle.  You may notice this shape changing more than I do. For when I come into my home country and greet you with hugs and kisses and want to hold your hand or hold onto your arm, I forget that you may not be comfortable with that closeness. That’s simply how we show friendship in my host country. So I have to remind myself to take a step back and shake your hand and be content to just walk or sit beside you.

As I speak with you, I’m not trying to be awkward on purpose. I don’t throw in random foreign words into our conversation to make you feel like an outsider. And I don’t forget my first language to be cute or eccentric. I have two languages running inside my head every day, and sometimes the wrong language comes out at the wrong time. And sometimes the only word that comes to mind is my other language. I have words in one language that don’t even translate into the other language. My mind is constantly navigating which words to use in which contexts. If I take a little longer to greet you or to respond to you, I’m just trying to figure out the right language and customs to use. I’ll get there as quickly as I can.

When it comes time to say goodbye to you, I can’t predict how I’m going to handle it. I may stare blankly into nothingness, too numb to feel. My tears may stream out of my eyes from deep within my core, and I may lose the control to pull myself back together. Goodbyes are so hard, and they never get any easier.  I feel the loss of each goodbye intensely. I’ve heard it said that children in my situation experience more loss by the age of twenty than a mono-culture person does in a lifetime. Thank you for being patient with me as I process yet another goodbye, another loss.

I hope this helps you understand me better. Please reach out to me. Please let me fill a place in your life. Notice me. Accept me. I want you in my life more than you know.

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

Following Jesus: 153

“After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn.”

John 21:1-11 ESV

“I’m going fishing,” Peter said.

This was more than a statement about a weekend getaway. This was Peter-code for “I’m done.”

What do you do when your plans and dreams and hopes die?

This is the question that Peter and the others are confronted with. Even though Jesus had been raised. Even though hope was alive again. Even though he had already seen Jesus in the Upper Room. Peter goes fishing.

And, truth be told, I totally understand where he’s coming from. When things aren’t lining up the way that I think they should, I often want to escape into what I knew before. Like Peter, there are days where I feel out of my element. I know business. I don’t know cross-cultural living. I know Project Management. I don’t know how to handle getting only one-thing-per-day accomplished.

The disciples aren’t yet sure what to think about this whole death and resurrection thing. They don’t know how to process that. They just know that the ideas that they had about Jesus’ Kingdom weren’t lining up with their plans.

Jesus’ plan for His Kingdom wasn’t lining up with the disciples plan for His Kingdom.

And, so, Peter responds in the only way that makes sense to him. “I’m going fishing,” he said. The underlying message in this statement is “I don’t know what to do with this, so I’m going back to what I know–fishing

How do you respond when Jesus’ plans for His Kingdom doesn’t line up with your plan?

In my mind, the Kingdom should come rapidly. Immediate fixes to the world’s problems. Rapid results. Yet, Jesus doesn’t work that way. He healed the blind beggar, and probably passed five others along the way. He raised Lazarus, but probably walked past ten tombs to get to Lazarus’. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand the now but not yet of the Kingdom of Heaven. And, frankly, sometimes that bothers me.

My plans for His Kingdom doesn’t always line up with His plan for His Kingdom.

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

A fishing boat in Kuşadası

And, I just want to go “fishing”.

Thankfully, Jesus understood Peter’s fishing trip. And, Jesus understands our fishing trips.

Jesus’ response was to meet Peter where he was. Jesus shows up on the shore after a night of unsuccessful fishing (Peter must be really disappointed at this point), and asks what is probably the hardest question that Peter ever had to answer: “How’d the fishing go?”

This question is much harder than the three questions that follow later in this chapter. This is the moment where Peter must decide if he is a fisherman or a fisher of men. For Peter to admit that the nets were in fact empty is to admit defeat. It is to relinquish his pride.

It is to let go of his kingdom in hopes of embracing a new one.

And, to make matters worse, this isn’t the first time that Peter has been asked this question. Some years earlier, when Jesus first called Peter to follow him, this same story happens. In this moment, Peter has to know that this is not just another Galilean standing on the shore.

Peter answers, “It was the worse night of fishing in my life.” And, maybe under his breath he adds “except for that one time, a few years ago.”

This interaction is instructive for us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we know to listen for him. He wants us to hear the message, and he isn’t going to hide the message. If we’re used to hearing Jesus in a certain way, He’s not going to suddenly change it up on us. Jesus speaks to us in ways that we will hear.

So, Peter follows Jesus’ suggestion. “Go deeper and try the other side.”

Just like before.

And, just like before, they catch more fish than they can handle. 153 to be exact.

When you relinquish your plan for His Kingdom, and embrace His Plan for His Kingdom, the fishing gets better. It still won’t all make sense, but it will be memorable.

John, now an old man, writes the story and remembers exactly the number of fish that were caught.

153.

 

Sailboat Race

Photo of the Week – 25 April

At the beach below our home this week, there was a sailboat race. These were small single man boats. It was fun watching them head out to sea and return again. One day, the race was on the sea in front of our house so we were able to watch them most all day.

We don’t know who won the race, or even who was competing. But, it was fun to watch.

While living cross-culturally is difficult, it’s things like sailboat races that help make it all a little bit easier.

Sailboat Race

Sailboat Race

Our Residency Cards

Photo of the Week – 11 April

In Lent of 2011, when we began to dream and scheme about what God was asking us to do for the Kingdom, He gave us a single scripture verse:

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out.” – Numbers 9:21b

The idea for us being that God was simply asking us to follow Him wherever He would lead, and stay for however long He asked us to stay. The passage continues:

“Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out. At the LORD’s command they encamped, and at the LORD’s command they set out.” – Numbers 9:22-23a

Up until this point, the “Cloud” has stayed for short periods of time over specific places (or people):

  • Azerbaijan for three months
  • Belize for one week
  • Estonia for ten days
  • Memphis for one week
  • Mexico for ten days
  • Turkey for two months, three months, three months, and one week (in that order)

So, when we began to plan for this trip, we were expecting a similar type of trip. Yet, as we dug further into the planning, and then arrived back in Turkey, we knew that the cloud was going to be here much longer.

Our heart is for the workers across Central Asia. In many of these countries, Turkish (or a related language) is spoken or understood. Airfare from Turkey to these nations is quite reasonable, and airfare for roundtrip tickets from here to the USA is about half the price as paying for roundtrip tickets from the USA to Turkey. Living in the land, speaking the language, and understanding the struggles and stresses of cross-cultural life are important to things for us to be accepted by other workers. And, until we’re accepted and trusted, our desire to serve them will not be as welcomed.

So, our photo of the week illustrates our commitment to setting up the camp for a longer period of time. After several weeks of gathering documents, having them translated and notarized, buying insurance, meeting with residency officials, and a visit from the immigration police, we are officially residents of this amazing country!

Our Residency Cards

Our Residency Cards

 

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpg

Following Jesus: Fear and Forgiveness

It was still the first day of the week. That evening, while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you don’t forgive them, they aren’t forgiven.”

— John 20:19-23 (CEB)

Easter night. By now, the Disciples have heard the stories of the women who had gone early that morning to the tomb a hundred times. The men who had seen Jesus on the road to Emmaus have returned to Jerusalem, and have told the others their stories.

“Jesus is risen,” was the resounding message.

Yet, fear was still the motivating factor for the disciples. They were locked in a room. Waiting for the Romans to come for them. Surely, they would be next.

There has to be a million questions running through the minds of the disciples at this point. Surely, this Jesus was more than just a man, but he was Messiah. And, Messiah meant the restoration of Israel. But, Rome is still in charge.

Jesus, they are not yet realizing, didn’t come to overthrow a political entity. It wasn’t about a land or even a particular type of people. Rather, Jesus had come to institute a new Kingdom. A Kingdom that wasn’t dependent on land or borders.

“Peace,” he proclaims to his followers. And, that is what he proclaims to us.

Peace. Not an absence of conflict, but rather a process where crooked is made straight, missing is found, and broken is repaired.

Fear had caused these followers to lock themselves into a room. Yet, Jesus comes in, proclaims peace, and then sends them out. Sends them out even though they were still afraid.

Fear is not sin. Fear is a natural human reaction when life is in danger. The problem arises when we decide to order our lives from the place of fear–when we decide that the right response is to lock ourselves in our rooms. However, Jesus doesn’t call us to lock ourselves in our rooms.

Or behind huge walls.

Or behind a giant military complex.

Or behind the doors of beautiful sanctuaries.

wpid-Photo-1-Şub-2013-0233.jpgNo, Jesus sends us out into the very world from which we try to insulate ourselves. He breathes on us the power of the Holy Spirit. A power that is to be used to forgive those who need forgiveness. To forgive even the Roman soldiers who hammered the nails. To forgive even the religious leaders who lodged false accusations.

The christian faith is not intended to be lived out on Sunday mornings in padded pews. Christian faith is lived out in the highways and the byways. It is lived out in the homeless shelters and the corporate offices. It is lived out in the “safety” of the west and the “risk” of the east.

To follow Jesus is to leave the locked room of safety behind. To follow Jesus is to go into every man’s world. It is to proclaim, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that our fear has been turned into forgiveness.

At the Park

Photo of the Week – 4 April

Our photo this week takes us to the park that is near our house. We are blessed to have a nice park about a block away from us. It’s heavily shaded, and has been a great spot for Emily and Caleb to play and meet new friends.

In addition to our formal language lessons, both kids are learning playground Turkish as only one of their friends speaks any English.

Stephanie has also benefited in her Turkish by watching the kids at the park. Just last Saturday they were invited by a mother of a young girl (not in the photo) to come to their home for tea. Stephanie was able to spend about an hour with her carrying the conversation completely in Turkish. She was also able to pray for healing for the lady’s back.

Please pray that as Emily and Caleb play with their friends they will have opportunities to share in both word and deed how much Jesus loves them.

At the Park

POTWEmily, Caleb, and their friends at the park.

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Photo of the Week – 28 March

This week, we introduce a new weekly feature on the blog–the photo of the week. We will be taking one picture from the previous week, and using it to tell a bit of our story.

We didn't take very many photos this week, but the one we selected for this week is one in a series of photos that Stephanie took of Caleb and Elizabeth goofing around after dinner. This little girl LOVES her big brother!

Caleb and Elizabeth goofing around after dinner.

Caleb and Elizabeth goofing around after dinner.

In Turkish culture, younger siblings don't call their older siblings by their names. Instead, they call their older sisters Abla and their older bothers Ağabey (pronounced abi). Incidentally, we use these same terms for fellow believers as well.

 

 

Waiting Here For You

Book Review: Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Waiting Here For You

Waiting Here For You by Louie Giglio

Well, it’s a bit past Advent, but moving halfway around the world will tend to make one a bit behind. Nevertheless, Louie Gigilio’s devotional Waiting Here For You: An Advent Journey of Hope is a great little volume to walk you through the season of Advent. The book is a collection of Scriptures, devotional thoughts, poetry, and prayers that guide the reader through the season of waiting. Woven throughout the book are beautiful black and white photographs that spark prayer and contemplation.

I added this volume to my normal daily reading and contemplation throughout the season of Advent. Unfortunately, preparations for and relocation to Turkey caused a much longer than anticipated delay in the publication of this review. Yet, it seems a bit appropriate. The season of Advent is one in which we wait for the coming Messiah. We wait for the fulfillment of promises. We wait with Hope—confident and joyful expectation in the goodness of God. And, in this previous Advent season, we found ourselves in that place of waiting.

This devotional helped me walk through the wait. It guided prayers and meditation on the coming fulfillment of the promise. The promise of a Messiah. The promise of the peace that can only be found from responding to the call of Jesus to “Follow.”

Throughout the book, Giglio weaves a story. A story of transitions. A story of gains and losses. And, for us that was what Advent was this year. A time to say goodbye to life as we had known it, and a hello to a new normal. Transitions.

—————

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”