Adventures In Book Sorting

I’ve been sorting through my book collection and trying to get rid of things I don’t need.  I can hear you laughing — Marissa getting rid of books. But it’s true; I actually let about four large bags leave. Most were either duplicates, or in bad shape, or ones that I’d read and hadn’t liked but hung onto anyway. There were quite a few that were really nice copies, but I just didn’t need them on my shelves.

Unfortunately, I didn’t plan out the way these books are leaving my house very well. Some went to a trading book store, which was fine, but I took others to Half Price Books yesterday and only got $4.00 for three bags of books. They don’t pay much as a general rule, but that seemed really low so I asked and she said, “Well, most weren’t in good shape and we have trouble selling ex-library books.” I’d had a stressful day already so I just signed the paper and left, but in hindsight I wish I’d refused to sell them. Only one of the bags was ex-library and I had some really nice classics and academic anthologies in the other bags that I know they’ll be trying to sell for at least $12 each. *sigh* I really need to work on being more comfortable with standing up for myself rather than avoiding minor conflicts.

Setting those bookish trials aside, in keeping with my new responsible book keeper persona I’m also starting to read all those books on my shelf that I picked up to read “someday.” I started with Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe. I’d picked it up because pirates and time travel has to be fun, right? (Spoiler warning: it was.) I really enjoyed that one, and the last paragraph made me rethink the whole story (in a good way). I’ll definitely be reading more by that author.

Which brings me to the first time I almost fell off the wagon. Though committed to reading books I already owned, I was so very close to checking Wolfe’s book Peace out of the library. And then I found out that a three-book series I loved and thought I just finished is actually six books long (it’s the Study series by Maria V. Snyder). I was online ordering book four into the library before I caught myself and canceled the hold. With a heavy sigh, I redirected myself to checking a book out of the library on my own shelves.

I stopped reading the next book from my shelf after one chapter. I feel bad about it since The Last Light Of The Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay has such high ratings on Goodreads, but nothing in chapter one made me want to keep going. Mostly because of the sex scene. I’m not such a discerningly prudish reader (or writer) that I think sex should be left out of a book, but dubiously consensual scenes that are more graphic than the plot calls for turn me off. I also didn’t love the writing style, so why put up with that for the next 500 pages?

Now I’m reading Slave of the Huns by Géza Gárdonyi. And I’m thinking I might abandon that one, too, which is sad since I was really looking forward to reading a Hungarian classic. With this one, my problem is that I think the main character is an idiot. The plot is being moved forward by the incredibly stupid decisions Zeta makes to spend time with a hot Hunnish girl. He even admits he’s obsessed with her body and not her mind since they’ve never actually had a conversation.

As if that wasn’t enough (spoiler warning) Zeta becomes the titular “slave of the Huns” by choice. A free Greek, he poses as a slave and forges a letter from his master giving himself to the girl’s father. He means to only do this for the last 6 months of his fictional slave contract, but then the Romans plot to kill Attila and Zeta’s stuck in the repercussions of that (Attila decrees Roman and Greek slaves can no longer be freed or ransomed). Like I said, he’s an idiot.

But then again, we’re all idiots sometimes. Like when I gave away books (some of which I originally spent $15+ each on) to Half Price Books at $4 for three bags. So maybe I’ll keep reading and give Zeta a chance to grow and change. After all, I wouldn’t want someone to give up on me because of a stupid thing I did in my late teens/early 20s to impress an attractive member of the opposite sex.

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Watching Your Spiritual Condition

We’re each getting closer to the time when we’ll stand face-to-face with God. At that time, “each of us shall give account of himself to God” for the way we lived our lives, including “every idle word” spoken (Rom. 14:12; Matt. 12:36-37). How we conduct ourselves now matters to God.

If we’re in His family, then our time of judgement has already begun (1 Pet. 4:17). God is determining right now who will end up in His family by calling whom He wills, choosing those who respond, and then watching to see who remains faithful (Rev. 17:14). His mercy is unfailing and God is ever ready to forgive those who repent, but the simple truth is that He won’t have the sort of people in his family who chose to reject His teachings on how to live our lives. When God tells us how to live, it actually matters to Him that we listen.

Be a Growing Person

In his second letter, Peter talks about Christ’s approaching return and the day of judgement. He asks an important question: “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness”? (2 Pet. 3:11). Even in the question, we start to get an answer. The type of person we should be involves holy conduct patterned after God’s example. Peter goes on, counseling, “be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:14). Continue reading

Crash Course In Romans

We’re going to talk about all of Romans in one blog post. That looks like a crazy idea as I type it, but I think sometimes when we zero-in on just one section of Paul’s letters we miss the bigger picture of what he’s trying to say. Perhaps there’s merit in studying overall messages as well as minute details.

Romans is a confusing letter, especially when you read pieces out of context. To really get a sense of what Paul is trying to say in any given chapter or verse, we have to read the entire letter. That’s true of any book in the Bible, but I think it’s more true for Romans since Paul connects his arguments so closely. Especially in the first half of the letter, he frequently makes a statement that could lead readers to make an incorrect assumption, then he asks that assumption as a rhetorical question and refutes it.click to read article, "Crash Course In Romans" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Also, even though we’ll stay mostly in Romans, it’s important to remember Paul wasn’t writing in a void. Reading Romans (or any other book of the Bible) by itself can lead to misinterpretation. We must frame our understanding of this letter in light of the Old Testament (the only scriptures around for Paul to reference) and the teachings of Jesus (for Paul would never contradict our Lord’s words). Doing that well would take a book instead of a blog post, but last week’s post serves as an good introduction to this one.

Doing The Law

Romans opens with a discussion of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” which brings people under the judgment of God (Rom. 1:16-32). Paul then takes his readers to task not, as some assume, for keeping the Law but rather for teaching it and then acting in a way that dishonors God (Rom. 2:1-29).

After saying, “not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Paul shifts to explaining that even if you do keep the Law you’re still “under sin” because we’re not perfect. He also says it is righteous with God to judge the world, which is guilty before Him because the Law gives knowledge of sin and cannot justify us in God’s sight (Rom. 3:1-20).

Continue reading

Perseverance In Spiritual Growth

Hebrews 11 shows that it’s possible to live a life of faith by reminding us of people who’ve done just that. Abel, Enoch, Noah, Rahab, and scores of people there’s no time to name all walked by faith. They compass us about as a great “cloud of witnesses” inspiring us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” with our eyes fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-2).

I didn’t realize until attending church last Shabbat how well my post that week fit in with the season we find ourselves in now. We’re in the month leading up to God’s fall holy days. Traditionally, as the Rabbi in my Mesisanic group pointed out, this is a season of reflection, self-examination, and teshuva (repentance). We need a determination to pursue godliness if we’re to move forward in our walk with God. Along with that goes a perseverance to use our time on this earth wisely, as the minister in my afternoon church spoke on.

The gift of salvation is freely offered to those who take it. Accepting the gift bring us into a covenant relationship with God. One of the things we’re expected to do as “heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him” (Jam. 2:5) is grow toward spiritual maturity.

Leaving Sin Behind

We’re not meant to stagnate nor to continue in sin after receiving God’s grace. After opening his letter to the Romans with a discussion on the wickedness of man, Paul shifts his focus from those who’ve rejected God to those readers who think they’re right with God but aren’t. Continue reading

Where Do We Go From Here?

We just wrapped up a series of posts on foundational doctrines of Christianity (click here to start from the beginning). In Hebrews 6, the writer lists “repentance from dead works,” “faith toward God,” “the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment” as elementary principles of the doctrines of Christ.

Where Do We Go From Here? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

The writer of Hebrews led-in to this list by telling his readers it was time to move forward, so it seems fitting that we now ask ourselves, “Where do we go from here?” First, though, let’s take a look at the warning that comes right after the list of doctrines. Continue reading

Malachi’s Message

In most Bibles, Malachi is the last book in the Old Testament, leading directly into the Gospels. It’s an intensely personal book where the Lord challenges His people regarding the way they worship Him. This happened some time after the temple rebuilding described in Haggai and Zechariah — long enough for the spirit of revival to wear off and the people to grow lax in their worship.

Malachi’s call to return to God comes before the first coming of Christ, but it’s equally relevant as we wait for His second coming. Like Israel at this time, we could slip into lax, lukewarm worship that doesn’t honor God and won’t qualify us to live in His family.

Malachi's Message | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Honoring God

God opens this book with the words, “I have loved you.” He’s writing a letter to Israel, and that’s the first thing He says. The very next thing is Israel’s question, “In what way have You loved us?” (Mal. 1:2). It’s a common, heart-breaking theme in the scriptures — God loves us, but we don’t love Him back and we won’t even admit the problem is ours.

“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am the Father, where is My honor? And if I am a Master, where is My reverence? says the Lord of hosts to you priests who despise My name. Yet you say, ‘In what way have we despised Your name?’ You offer defiled food on My altar, but say, ‘In what way have we defiled You?’ By saying, ‘The table of the Lord is contemptible.’ And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favorably?” says the Lord of hosts. (Mal 1:6-8)

When we offer God our time, money, and/or efforts on a level that wouldn’t be acceptable to other humans, we’re demonstrating contempt for God. If you rush through prayer in a way that would be rude if you called up your Dad on the phone, then you dishonor God. If you volunteer to help out with something at church and turn in a performance that wouldn’t be good enough for your boss at work, you dishonor God. He deserves our best, not our leftovers.

You also say, ‘Oh, what a weariness!’ and you sneer at it,” says the Lord of hosts. “And you bring the stolen, the lame, and the sick; thus you bring an offering! should I accept this from your hand?” says the Lord. “But cursed be the deceiver who has in his flock a male, and takes a vow, but sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished — for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “And My name is to be feared among the nations. (Mal. 1:13-14)

We know from the story of the widow’s mite that God respects sincere offerings, however small. But we also know from the story of Ananias and Sapphira that pretending to give God one thing and then trying to slip in something of lesser value is abhorrent to Him.

Warnings for Priests

I think about this when I see a minister stand up in front of his congregation and say he just pulled an old message out of his files for today. A message about one of your old messages, which you freely admit you just cycle through every once in a while, just doesn’t seem like giving God your best. It’s something we all have to beware of — any time we set things we’re doing for God at a lower priority we’ve fallen into a dangerous attitude.

“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to My name,” says the Lord of hosts, “I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart.” (Mal. 2:1-2)

These messages to priests can apply to all of us. After all, Peter tells use we’re a “priesthood” being built up to serve God (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). However, the warnings are more serious the more responsibility a person has in the household of God. “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required” (Luke 12:48).

“For the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have departed from the way; you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept My ways but have shown partiality in the law.” (Mal. 2:7-9)

God has little patience for leadership that fails His people, as evidenced by Jesus Christ’s reaction to the scribes and Pharisees. He even said if we can’t do better than the religious leaders of His day, then we will not enter God’s kingdom (Matt 5:20). These were people who memorized the Old Testament, tithed regularly, and were held in high regard for their religious learning, yet Jesus said that people like them won’t be part of His family because their attitudes were wrong.

Doing Better

So much of the minor prophets’ messages to ancient Israel put me in mind of our nation today. We started out with at least the intention of being a Godly country, but we don’t even a have that any more. In addition, many of the churches have become slack in keeping the law of God.

Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord of hosts. “But you said, ‘In what way shall we return?’ “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ in tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation.” (Matt. 3:7-9)

When we turn away and refuse to render “to God the things that are God’s” (Matt. 22:21), we bring a curse on ourselves. To do better and “return to God,” we have to turn completely away from sin and start serving God.

We live in a world that says evil is good (Mal. 2:17), that boasts of pride and wickedness (Mal. 3:15), oppresses the innocent, and regards not God (Mal. 3:5). Our lives as part of God’s church — His temple — must be a sharp contrast to this attitude.

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” says the Lord of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Mal. 3:1-3)

God’s not going to let His people stay polluted by the world. I believe this prophecy is being fulfilled now — that Jesus Christ, our High Priest, is in His temple right now purifying His servants. If we learn through this refining process to serve God in righteousness, we will be part of His family. We have to acknowledge our shame and guilt, turn around, and begin serving God as we never have before. We need to stop being scared and live boldly for Jesus, meeting together to encourage each other and built up the temple.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; so a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. (Mal. 3:16-18)