Saturday, December 25, 2010

My home during the Christmas season

 Today's photo shoot, in keeping with the season is a little tour around my house to give you a glimpse of how we celebrate and decorate for Christmas.

 Christmas Eve was as beautiful experience as ever.  At 3pm I played organ for a little country church.  (Karl came with me).  6pm Karl, Derek and I attended our own church for their Christmas Eve service.  Then, because Karl likes going to a midnight Christmas Eve service we attended a beautiful church in downtown Kilgore that played wonderful traditional carols with pipe organ music and a re telling of the Christmas story from the gospels of Luke and Matthew.  This church had huge banners painted in Medieval fasthion of the Christmas story lining either side of the church, eight banners in all.
     After driving around my nieghborhood to see all the light displays, we came in for hot chocolate and reading of our favorite Christmas stories.  Derek has outgrown these stories but we love to read them every year.

   The first is The Christmas Miracle of Johnathon Toomey by Susan Ojciechowski. It's a poignent story of a carpenter who hasn't stopped grieving for the loss of his wife and child but whose faith is renewed when shown the unconditional love of a widow and her son when they request  him to build a creche for Christmas.

    The second is called The Candle in the Window by Grace Johnson and it's a retelling of an old folk tale.  Leo Tolstoy wrote the same story called, Where Love is God is, only his protagonist is a monk. A shoesmith doesn't want to celebrate Christmas since he lost his wife and son ( you see a pattern here?) On Christmas Eve he is visited by some mysterious guests who tell him he is going to be visited by Jesus that night.  While he excitedly waits, he is visited by a frail, old woman, a poor, jobless man and an orphan.  You'll have to read the book to know how it all pans out.


The following photo story shows how I decorate my house.  Some people collect Santas, some collect Snowmen.  Call me crazy, but I collect nativity scenes:

This one is from Ecuador.

The one below is also from Ecuador

This glass nativity scene is the very first one I ever bought, about twenty years ago.

We like to celebrate Christmas morning with an abundance of chocolate.

We always make a gingerbread house.  This year, with Karl and his daughter Grace's help we made a gingerbread village.

For some reason I have an inordinate amount of angel ornaments, mostly gifts from students from when I taught school.

An ornament to commemorate where I live.

And the piece de resistance.
May you and yours have a very blessed Christmas and New Year!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book review of Gray Matter by David Levy, MD

I received an advance reader, unedited copy of Gray Matter by David Levy from Tyndale House Publishers.  The rest of you will have to wait until March when it actually goes on sale. I feel sorry for you. That you have to wait so long, that is.

This book is a fascinating and well-written account of a neurosurgeon's spiritual journey from believing that he had to present himself as “god” to his patients to choosing to risk looking less than perfect or even weak to his patients and colleagues by asking each patient if he can pray for them before operating.

Levy honestly recounts the egotism involved in being a highly specialized surgeon.  Unlike most other surgesons, Levy reaches a point in his Christian walk where he admits the need to acknowledge God's personal involvement and power in every aspect of his life. His first challenge was breaking down his barriers of fear. The fear of exposing himself to others. He mentally lists all the reasons why he shouldn't or doesn't need to pray with patients. When he finally convicts himself (or God convicts him, I should say) that, in fact, he does need to pray for them he has to overcome the fear of asking them.

Through all my questions and doubts I felt an inner voice saying to me, 'If you are worried about being misunderstood, I can promise you that you will be. Jesus was. But you still need to do the right thing.'

Wow. Something we all need to remember. When he finally comes over the fear of asking his patients if he can pray for them, he finds that he doesn't want to pray in front of his colleagues. Eventually he knocks down these barriers to where he prays in front of nurses, technicians, and finally fellow doctors. It's not easy. The first response of others range from quizzical to shocked, uncomfortable silence.  Then, after the initial jolt, Levy is surprised at how many people react positively. Nurses request that he not pray without them. Technicians pray along while holding hands with each other, the patient, family members etc.. The doctors, well, the doctors for the most part tolerate it.

The biggest response is from the patients. Scared, angry, belligerent people who claimed not to believe in God lose their anxiety and receive peace. Many turn or return to God.

The next step Levy takes is when he realizes that some medical conditions are brought on by a person's inability to forgive others who have hurt them. So not only does Dr. Levy pray with these patients before surgery but walks them through steps of forgiveness afterward. Forgiveness for their own sins and the sins committed against them. The results are astounding and not just spiritual. He sees amazing physical transformations in many patients as they let go of the bitterness and anger against neglectful parents, abusive spouses and so on.

Levy allows the reader to connect with his world by recounting  many personal stories, including his own. His own testimony of starting out as an irreligious Jew to cultural Jew to Christian Jew is inspiring, not to mention his journey from anti-education mechanic to medical student to Neurosurgeon. His description of his patients and their personal trials and backgrounds shows a deep compassion and interest in each person he treats. Their stories draw you into their experience. Be sure to have tissues handy.

Some people may find his detailed description of aneurysms and his surgical procedures a little involved but I found them enthralling.

In conclusion, this book simply had everything for me. Medical science told on a layman's level, personal stories, the triumph of a godly man standing up for what he believes in, a step by step process of forgiving others (something that I needed and have already put into practice) and a powerful testimony of the power of God that is manifested through prayer.

Do I recommend this book? Absolutely.

Book Review for Voices of the Faithful Book 2

Voices of the Faithful - Book 2: Inspiring Stories of Courage from Christians Serving Around the World

The latest book I received from Booksneeze in exchange for a review is Voices of the Faithful book 2. The reason I requested a copy of this book is because I had already read the first book and believed that this book would be more of the same encouraging, informative stories submitted by missionaries around the world.

I was not disappointed. This book is in a daily devotional format. Each month starts with a theme. For instance January's theme is Prayer, the Priority. February's is God, Our Loving Father. March- Divine Appointments and so on. Before the devotionals is a short introduction by the compiler Kim P. Davis. These introductions include her personal experiences as a missionary as well as thoughts on each months theme.

Each day starts with a scripture verse followed by a short essay by a missionary, concluding with a prayer by Beth Moore who is the series creator.

What I like about the testimonies of the missionaries is that you are drawn in, for a brief moment, into their world. Each story gives a you glimpse of the country they are living in, the people they are working with and the challenges they face.

Some of these stories are powerful, like the one from a Tamara, missionary in central Asia who, by several promptings of the Holy Spirit, reluctantly turned around to help an old, limping woman transport her groceries home. When the elderly lady got into the car Tamara noticed that the woman was not holding groceries but rotten food she had picked out from the local dump. The woman's hands were black and slimy.

Upon arrival at her stop, I asked if I could pray for her. She said, “No, I will pray for you!” Placing her sticky hands on my head, she prayed a powerful prayer that God would fill me with peace and hope, and bless my family. She then gathered her bags and exited the car.


These missionaries honestly describe their homesickness and discouragement when, at times, they feel they just aren't making any difference. Then there are the triumphs, as when missionaries at a hospital tell an African woman dying of Aids that even though the blood transfusion she just received would only last a few days, there was One called Jesus who has offered His blood to her so she may live forever. This woman received His blood on her death bed.

There are many such inspiring stories in this book that records how God uses his people to bring His gospel to Middle Eastern Muslims, African and Latin American spiritists, or European skeptics. This book makes the reader cognizant of who they need to add to their daily prayers and be a part of the warriors who intercede on behalf of the anointed people whom God has sent out to “Preach His Gospel to every people.”

I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yearly Christmas letter

December 2010
Longview, TX

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light....

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace

Isaiah 9:2, 6

To all my dear friends and family,

Merry Christmas!! We have been studying the book of Isaiah in Bible Study Fellowship this year and I have had Handel's Messiah singing in my mind ever since. I cannot even read the passages of scripture the he used for his oratorio anymore, I can only sing them. Derek and I have been listening to this wonderful work as we drive around town in our car.

This will probably be a brief Christmas letter- not because I'm concerned with boring you, of course not. It's just that Derek and I have to go shopping after this so he can buy me my Christmas prezzie, hee, hee.

Let's see, how do I sum up the past year? Let's start with Derek. As usual, my son is the best blessing to me from God. He is a sophomore at New Life Christian School where he's been attending since the 6th grade. We've had our ups and downs, learning how to apply ourselves to our studies etc.. but overall things have gone well. He is still swimming with the USA swim team. He did very well at his first national swim meet in Little Rock, AR a couple of weeks ago. The other parents presented him with a swim bag in celebration of this special occasion. I must admit that choked me up.

Derek also went on his first mission trip to Colorado this past summer with the youth of our church. This was a great experience for Derek in a number of ways. Number one he had to earn through volunteering some of the funds to pay for the trip. Also, he learned invaluable leadership skills as he helped organize and lead “backyard” Bible studies and sports in a unchurched neighborhood for a week. Over a hundred kids attended.

He also volunteered at a local Missionary compound with a Missionary friend of ours. Derek helped him landscape the grounds.

We're both still volunteering at Windridge (a hippo therapeutic center). They've begun giving classes for the volunteers which I have found very interesting and informative about the upkeep of horses.

Derek has just been accepted into the People to People Ambassadorship program. He'll be joining a delegation of students from East Texas and traveling to the United Kingdom to represent America. Prior to that time he will be studying the culture and history of these countries as well as his own so he will be able to carry on informed conversations with the people he will meet in the UK.

Another exciting and wonderful event has happened for Derek. A wonderful caring man has entered into his life and has been spending almost every afternoon with him engaging him in projects around his house. So far they've built a chicken coop, a radio antennae, a dog run and a camera.

This is the father that Derek has missed for so many years in his life. This man has also commented that Derek is the son he has yearned for, for many years.

Oh yeah, can I let you in on a secret? He is the man I've yearned for, for many years as well. Karl and I backed into each other last February through a series of e mails that had nothing to do with dating or romance (they were about Derek joining Civil Air Patrol). One thing led to another and Karl ended up asking me out to lunch. One thing led to another and in March he wrote my parents asking permission to court me. Over the summer we visited my family in Florida and Mississippi and his family in Austin, Alabama and Philadelphia. One thing has still led to another and we have just had our last premarital counseling session with our pastor. That's where things stand,so far. I'll keep everybody posted as one thing leads to yet another.

All I can say is God is amazing, great, good and cares about us. If we wait on the Lord, He will give us the desires of our heart. I have waited a long time for Karl. He's been worth the wait.

Other than that, I've quit teaching public school and am now working as a musician at East Texas Baptist University. I play with the students and professors there. When I'm not rehearsing or practicing on the piano I'm writing. Many of you read my blog. I'm using it as a medium to practicing my writing skills as I also write a book about my experience teaching music in elementary school.

For those of you at Johnston McQueen, I think of you often. Feel free to call and we can get together and do lunch some time.

And for all of you, have a wonderful, joy filled Christmas and many, many blessings for the following year!


Sharon and Derek

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Review on "The Liturgical Year" by Joan Chittister

The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life - The Ancient Practices Series

I made a decision when I started this blog that I would not write any negative reviews. However, since I am writing reviews in exchange for complimentary copies of books from BookSneeze I find myself in a position of making an exception.

I requested the “The Liturgical Year” by Joan Chittester because I have a great interest in Church history and traditions and thought that this book would be an informative and enjoyable way to learn more about all the Holy Days, feasts and festivals that form “higher church” worship.

While Chittister does inform, I must confess there is much more fat than meat. By that I mean that there is bits and pieces of information regarding the origins of the church year, but it is inundated with flowery rhetoric of how all this beautiful mystery should increase our intimacy with Christ over and over again.

Now that in itself is a good thing. Anything that increases my intimacy with my Savior is something worth exploring. It's just that she never specifies how exactly it happens.  She never really describes each part of the church year or how it increases my intimacy with Christ. Furthermore, my intimacy with Jesus Christ is developed through the study of Scripture as well as worshipping with Christ's Bride, His church, something that is never brought up in the book, which leads me to my second complaint.

My second complaint is much more serious and why I won't recommend this book to anyone. According to the author, the purpose of so much focus, meditation and worship of the death and resurrection of Christ is so we can follow His example and be better people.

On page 7 Chittister states:
This an excursion into life from the Christian perspective, from the viewpoint of those who set out not only to follow Jesus but to live as Jesus lived, to think as Jesus thought, to become what Jesus had become by the end of His life.  (Emphasis mine)

Is she implying that Jesus wasn't complete when He came to earth?

On page 47:

To know our place in the universe is to recognize that God is God. We are not masters of the world. We can make no demands on it. All we can do is to try to live our place in it well.”

I'm not interested in knowing my place in the universe. I'm interested in knowing my place with God. This smacks of universalism.

And frankly, that is exactly what is asserted and reasserted throughout the book. According to Chittester, the point of observing the liturgical year is not to celebrate our salvation but to try to be better people. That sounds good but it's a very subtle heresy that says, "I can produce my own salvation."   That philosophy is no different from any other religion.  Buddhists try to be better people as do Hindus and Muslims.  As Christians we don't try to be better people.  We throw ourselves at the mercy of God and with the publican say, "Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner!" (Luke 18:13)

Then through Christ's transforming grace we are refined as he completes a good work in us.  (Phillipians 1:6)

In chapter 9, about Advent, page 62, Chittister declares, It is while waiting for the coming of the reign of God, Advent after Advent that we come to realize that its coming depends on us. More self-salvation.

In the very first chapter of the book:
The seasons and feasts, the fasts and solemnities...lead us deeper and deeper in to the self, beyond the pull of the present, higher and higher into the One who beckons us on through time to that moment when we will dissolve into God, set free from time to become one with the universe.

What? Are we talking about Christianity or some quasi Christian/Buddhism?

One thing that the book is void of is any mention of the Holy Spirit. In Chapter 10 page 65 Chittister claims three Advents: The Lord's birth, the coming of the presence of God recognized among us now in the Scripture, in the Eucharist, in the community itself. This coming makes Jesus present in our own lives, eternally enlivening, eternally with us.

She states the third coming as the second coming of Christ but she completely skips over the coming of the Holy Spirit. The closest she comes to is referring to the time of Pentecost as an “outpouring of the Advocate, and call to mind again the Second Coming at the end of time.”

In scripture Jesus is called our advocate and the Holy Spirit is the intercessor so here she's misnaming the Trinity. (12John 2:1-6; Romans 8:26)

In her chapter on joy (chapter 11), her emphasis is once again on self-based salvation. Page 71 states:

Joy, the deep-down awareness of what it means to live well, to live productively, to live righteously, is made out of self-giving, simplicity, and other-centeredness

No, joy comes from knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ, not works, “lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9) My joy transcends my sinful, selfish human nature that I'm helpless to overcome. It comes from my salvation through Jesus Christ. When I accepted His punishment for my sin, the Holy Spirit came to indwell in me and transformed me into the likeness of Christ. Yes, now I can follow Christ and do His will, but only through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. Only after we have become new creatures through Christ can we  claim with James  that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:17)

In other words, salvation produces works; works do not produce salvation.

Frankly, salvation doesn't even seem to be a goal of Chittister, just some vague notion of being 'a good person here on earth'.
Sin separates us from God, our goal is to be rid of sin and be reconciled with God.

 Chittister never once credits God, Holy Spirit or otherwise, for enabling her to forsake her own selfish nature and to do the work of Christ. This is the main issue I have with this book and I cannot, consequently, recommend it.

For more information on Joan Chittister and liberal Catholicism there is an excellent 2 part series at:

Monday, December 6, 2010

Books Every American Should Read.

John Hancock, portrait (January 23, 1737 October 8, 1793): merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution - 16"x20" Photographic Print from the Library of Congress CollectionOn facebook someone had posted on my live feed a you tube blurb of Porky Pig citing the pledge of allegiance without saying, "One Nation Under God." The cartoon was made in the 1930's.  The point of the commentator was that no one was pledging to a nation under God until 1954 when, according to the blurb, radical right wingers, Christians and paranoid anti communists insisted it be added. I suppose their message was that we really weren't a nation founded by people who believed in God. As you may have guessed, I didn't take that one lying down (even if a relative whom I love did post it). My reply: Why is “In God we trust” on the dollar bill? Why does the Treaty of Paris, written in 1783 start, “In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity?”

I then did a little research and found out that President Eisenhower added “One nation under God” because of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address that concludes with:

That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.

Or how about the Emancipation Proclamation?

 Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord.....all persons held as slaves within any State ….shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free...

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgment of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God....

The Declaration of Independence:

  When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume, among the Powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them....

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.....

Then there's the reason that some of our oldest European ancestors came to this land:

The Mayflower Compact:

In the name of God, Amen, We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Kind, Defender of the Faith, c.

Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith....

I believe there is a renewed interest in what our founding fathers actually intended when beginning this country because there are an ever increasing amount of books being published that contain the historical documents that these great men wrote. One book that I suggest is called,  The Patriot's Library. This book contains our most important historical documents. In addition to the ones already mentioned, it includes The Articles of Confederation, The Constitution, and The Louisiana Purchase. It gives the meanings and origins of our Symbols of Independence such as our national anthem, the bald eagle, great seal flag as well as many others. It includes Thomas Paine's, Common Sense, Paul Reveres' Ride, as well as famous speeches from Patrick Henry, George Washington, Woodrow Wilson's War message and many of our presidents' inaugural addresses.

Now is a critical time in our country to be informed of what the purpose of our country is really about, what the vision of our founding fathers  was and what our rights as citizens are. We Americans are on the edge of a precipice. I for one don't want to live under a government state.

The Patriot's Library   

And speaking of Presidents...    

Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge wrote a wonderful little book entitled, Hero Tales. This book includes stories of some of our most famous Americans but also those who acted in heroic ways that are lessor known. For instance did you know about Francis Parkman who was one of the early explorers who went out west, and despite severe illness joined a tribe of Ogallalla Indians and learned about their culture?  He recorded his travels through the prairies, and mountains and life with the Indians in his journal, The Oregon Trail.   

Then there's Governor Morris, the American ambassador in France during their bloody revolution in 1792 who refused to leave Paris after all other foreign officials had and who, furthermore, refused to relinquish French dignitaries who took refuge in his house.

There's also the well known accounts of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, the Alamo, plus some not as well-known as they should be events such as the death of Stonewall Jackson and the charge of Gettysburg.

One particular favorite story of mine is  The Battle of New Orleans.  The children in my music class sang the old Johnny Horton song and we all enjoyed learning the history behind it.
       I've just been reading a book about the Chinese cultural revolution which I'll review later.  The primary thing Mao Tse Tung did-as many despots have done- was to attempt to erase the past.  Anything that was traditional was condemned.  The Chinese were made to feel ashamed of their culture and history.    We musn't voluntarily erase our past by refusing to read up on it.  I encourage every reader out there to read America's historical documents for themself.