Monday, April 25, 2016

A Good Book Can Change Your Life

Once upon a time I was not a reader. I could read but I didn't choose to read outside out of what was necessary for basic daily survival. I think I liked to read as a kid. I know I gobbled up all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series with fervor and I must have read Charlotte's Web thirty times if I read it once. But it didn't follow me into adulthood.

Until I was exposed to people who read. Not just because they have to. No, for pleasure. They seemed so smart to me. They knew things they could only know by reading. Reading all sorts of things. Not just the newspaper. Not just a random magazine. Books! These people are interesting and can talk with some authority on many subjects. They could recommend books to anyone about almost anything. I was amazed and decided I wanted to be like them.

As usual, desires like this are not realized without effort. I told one friend in particular who I admired for his strength in this area that I wanted to become a reader too and asked what he recommended to get me started. He gave me three book titles.

I vividly remember one of them to this day. In The Grip of Grace by Max Lucado. Max is easy to read, enjoyable, entertaining and educating. I devoured the book. Before long Terry checked up on me and asked how I was doing with the reading. I had so identified with one of the stories from the book and knowing he would be familiar, I wailed, "I'm the rock stacker!" In gentleness but I am certain with a grin, he said, "Yes darlin', you are."

I won't get into what that means here because it's not a flattering admission. You can read the book yourself for context, but it's not the point really. I don't think at that stage in my life (at least 18 years ago), I had ever experienced a book (besides the Bible) pointing a finger at me and saying, "I'm talking to you here". It changed my life. I liked it and hungered for more.

I read the other two titles, learning more about myself, others, and life. I went to him for for more. He was the one who told me he always has a book on prayer going because you can never stop improving your prayer life. Good advice. We don't talk as often as I'd like these days, but when we do one of my first questions is, "What are you reading?". Then I almost always get my hands on those titles.

Now all these years later, I still hunger for a great read, one that will challenge me to readjust for the better. I love books. All different kinds (except sci-fi and fantasy. I just can't go there.). I love words and am forever amazed at how different authors can arrange words on a page evoking all manner of emotions. It is powerful and I'm addicted.

Because I'm basically obnoxious, I want everyone to read. I've led book clubs. I required my fellow women's ministry team leaders to read certain selections. I give books as gifts.

I try to encourage my kids to read. Ok, I nag. I mention it, well, all the time. I buy them books for Christmas. I tell them what I'm reading. When they were younger, I had my own required reading list for their summers, always including one missionary biography. Even though I'm still waiting for the day they thank me, I believe it was to their benefit. Of course while in college, they are required to read volumes so I tone it down some and cut them some slack. I admit though, when Drew graduated from college, one of the first things I said was, "Now you can read for pleasure!" I don't recall a verbal response. It was all in the eyes.

I don't think I'll ever embrace the electronic book craze because part of the pleasure of reading is holding the pages in my hand. The smell of brand new books. Highlighting and writing in them, learning. I have library cards in my wallet for the last three cities we have lived in. Yeah, I know. Nerd. I don't mind you thinking that. In the immortal words of Arthur, the tv cartoon, "Having fun isn't hard if you've got a library card".

Another favorite thing is recommending great books to someone else. It's what I do. Go ahead, just ask. I dare you.

One thing Scott and I like to do on our dates is to wander around Barnes and Noble and browse. For those I don't "need" but look interesting, I usually take pictures and later check them out of the public library. A few weeks ago, we stole away for an overnight. We found this cute locally owned bookstore and looked around for at least an hour. What I loved was that on every single shelf were post-it note recommendations from staff members who had read the books. Genius! Naturally, I selected some titles and after a few days headed to the Lake Pleasant library.
This is one of them. I don't read a lot of fiction books, but picked it because it promised to "make you laugh and make you cry" and that it was "charming". Say no more.

It was a cold rainy day when I started it and truly was delighted by both style and story. I snapchatted sections to my kids and a few girls I thought would appreciate the prose. I know, aren't I so hip? One of my sons even screenshotted it. Glory Hallelujah that's success! I mean, just read this little snippet....
Now that's good writing, people! Quite unexpectedly, before I knew it, I was learning about things I know very little about but would benefit from discovering. It was jarring actually, because it applies to a difficult, unresolved area in my life.

May I interrupt this story and interject one little thought? God can use anything He wants to speak to us if our radar is up and we are open to His Spirit. We mustn't limit Him. Christian, I'm talking to you here, it doesn't have to be a Christian author or a Christian subject for it to be valuable.

Toward the end, I couldn't put it down. While Scott drove I said, "Well, I've chuckled to myself and laughed out loud, but I haven't cried yet." Sometimes he just lets me blather on, withholding his response. I plodded on, within minutes, tears were rolling down my face. He noticed and shook his head. Then I was laughing. Then more crying. Then I put the book down and looked out the window. Then I picked it up again. Then I cried more. Then I laughed. Then I searched the glove compartment for tissues.

"Why are you crying?" he asked.
"This book."
"I thought you were reading it for pleasure."
"This is pleasure! I love every word!"

Another way men don't understand women.

I went to work the next day and was telling one of the young'ns about it. Christa is a reader. I said something like I wish I knew someone who read the book because I need to discuss it and have help figuring some of it out. She said, "I'll read it for you."

She was going home to her parents house for the weekend and texted me later that night (with a picture, of course) saying she was starting it right then.

I was so touched by that sweet gesture. Is that not the most wonderful gift? Her time and interest.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this extremely long post, I want to know what others are reading too. I keep a list in my purse of what my favorite authors recommend. Hey, you never know when you might need it.

While I tend to inquire of those who are a little further down the road in experience and maturity, I also have come to value the opinion of the next generation too. This whole mentoring thing is a two way street, you know. The younger learn from the older and the older should be humble enough to learn from those coming up behind.

In our new jobs, Scott and I are surrounded by twenty somethings. Because they are the same ages as our kids, I know it's wise for me to lean in and seek to understand how they process life. So when they get excited about what they are learning, I want to hear about it.

Recently, one brought me this and said, "I think you'll like this book, Mama Ang." Yes, that's what they call me.
When I saw the title I thought, "I could have used this last year, and the year before and the year before." Quite honestly, I didn't want to revisit the topic. Too soon. But to honor Abby, I picked it up.

It seemed like a slow read at first because it was jam packed with good stuff I wanted to simmer and take root in my brain. But I hit a certain spot and didn't move until I savored the last page. This is hands down my favorite book of 2016 so far. That's a little spoiler for some of you who may be receiving a gift from me in the future. I may or may not have several copies in my Amazon shopping cart already.

The moral of my story today is that I probably would not have chosen that book myself, but because someone else thought enough of me to put it in my hands, I read it and I'm better for it. We need to help each other grow. Be someone who seeks the input of others and open yourself up to learning. Its such a gift!

And books.
And learning.

This is the good stuff of life.

So tell me, what are you reading?

Monday, April 11, 2016

Love Church

Today I'm enjoying the last day of a three day weekend off work. It's a rainy day and as much as I love Karen Carpenter, I'm not going to let her Monday theology get me down. You young'ns won't likely get that reference. Perhaps you can google it?

What a really beautiful weekend. Scott took me down into civilization overnight to celebrate my birthday early. It was a "whatever you want to do" trip. He gets me. Of course, this basically just translates into us eating ridiculous amounts of amazing food (pancakes, Chinese, Italian and the very best and largest scone I ever saw - oh my!) using as many gift cards as possible (which we did), staying in our favorite hotel which has the most comfortable beds, soft sheets and pillows (loved it), him letting me browse my favorite stores for as long as it takes (even letting me buy a piece of jewelry or six), and visiting a church we've never been to.

I loved every minute. So many times over two days we reaped the blessing of being in the yoke together for almost twenty six years now. We are very different people, but we enjoy many of the same things. Not the least of which is history. Before you go thinking we discussed world history, I meant the history of us. You know -  songs that are no longer played on the radio, jokes that only he and I get the punchline to, and memories. The most painful and the most joyous. If you are married, do whatever it takes to stay together. The good stuff comes with years. The more the better.

Every minute I get to spend with Scott Burtis is to my benefit. It was good just being alone with him, and don't say anything, but I didn't miss the kids one bit!

I mentioned church. We are church people. It wouldn't occur to us to skip church just because we are away.  We love it too much. We need it. There's so much value in seeing what God is doing out in the world in other places through and with other people, even if it's just an hour or two down the road.

As much as I miss hearing Scott preach every Sunday, I do love standing beside him while we worship and sitting close while we listen to the preaching of God's Word.

After the service, when we got into our car and buckled up he asked the question I was waiting for, "So, what did you think?"  

"We've been to four different churches in the last month and this is the one I thought feels the most like us, like we could fit in here."

"Me too. Exactly." High five!

Did I mention how much we love church? A great church experience for me isn't in the friendliness of the people (though I love that) and it isn't always about the style of worship (though I do enjoy upbeat, Spirit-lifting music). The sermon really is the main event.

A few kids at work the other day asked me about church. My response went something like this, "I believe the Bible, God's very words to us, is alive and exciting. It needs to be presented in a contagious, enthusiastic way that invokes a response. When It comes across boring or humdrum, I am annoyed and find it insulting, sinful even."

I can't remember the last time I took notes as feverishly as I did yesterday. Glorious! It was like God was whispering things in my ear that the Pastor wasn't even saying. A wise woman once told me that's a pretty good indicator that the Holy Spirit is speaking.

Sensing the impact and feeling like I was coming alive, I wrote:

The effect of going to church - it either inspires and energizes me, causing an eagerness to get out into my world to tell others how great God is and how He changes lives, starting with mine. 


It uninspires me. Makes me tired, eager to get home, take a nap and hibernate as much as possible until I (have to) go back next week.

I've experienced both. Christians, this should not be.

I want to come out of church having learned something about our Amazing God that changes my life. That challenges and forces me to adjust my comfort zone tendencies to what I've learned. Whether it be confession and repentance of sin or a call to obey a difficult principle or that I am so encouraged by a blessing He has promised that I can't keep my mouth shut about it - any of it.

Sermons are important. One of yesterday's outline points was the command to 'love God with all your mind' (Mark 12:30) and how to do it. The preacher said, "When you became a follower of Christ, God didn't ask you to check your mind and follow Him without thinking. He wants to engage your intellect.

Every time you read Scripture, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you memorize a verse, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you grapple with a difficult passage, eager to learn it's meaning, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you read a Christian book, you are loving God with your mind.
Every time you listen to a sermon, you are loving God with your mind."

Well, there you go. Did you catch the last one?

He also said, "Drifting from the faith and your passion to follow Christ starts in the mind which is why you must know God's Word and have a firm Biblical worldview."

Now that's what I'm talking about! I practically bounced out of there when the final Amen was said.

Taught. Challenged. Encouraged. Yes! That service fit beautifully into a perfect weekend away.

I hope you have a church to not only attend, but be a part of that feeds your Spirit, uses God's Word and man's love to bandage you up after a hard week then send you out into your world again with fresh resolve to get back in the game and make a difference for God's glory.

Because that's the point.

Those coming behind us will take our cues. Let's love church for ourselves - and for them.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What's Your Wish?

It's birthday season in the Burtis household. One a month for the first six months of the year. Not to mention friends and co-workers. Birthdays are fun. Its another time of year to stop and evaluate your life, make necessary changes or adjustments, and start fresh.

Recently I read this passage:

35 As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him.
And when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” 43 And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. *

What an amazing question for Jesus to ask, "What do you want me to do for you?"

I've considered this scenario off and on through my life and for sure my answer has changed with the seasons. So many answers come to mind. Some preventative. Some grandiose. Some other-focused. Some downright selfish. 

But this time as I read it, I see the last sentence as if for the first time: "And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God." Well, that sort of changes things.

The (new) question(s) written in the margin of my Bible:

What would I request?
and would the result cause other people to give praise to God?

Mmmmm. Now I'm thinking. Perhaps the purest of desires should include how others are affected. I mean, when we join God's family through faith in Jesus' life, death, resurrection and offer for eternal life, we gain a whole lot of community. What we do and what happens to us affects others. It's no longer just about us.

When I'm spending time with the Lord early in the morning in my living room, I sometimes imagine Jesus sitting on the other end of the couch with me. I picture Him asking me the above question. My answer doesn't come quickly. Probably because I have a rub my lamp and get three wishes mentality thanks to Disney indoctrination. Continuing the scenario, in our twisted thinking, most of us probably only hope for one wish. So we've got to make it good.

What would you ask the Most High God, who has all power and knowledge, to do for you?
And would the answer cause other people to give thanks?

In the remote chance a chocolate birthday cake smeared in a ridiculous layer of white buttercream frosting topped with __ lit candles is placed in front of me sometime this month, I'll be considering those questions.
Because while I don't really put much stock in birthday wishes, I do believe Jesus could, like the blind beggar, ask me what I would like Him to do for me and I want it to be something that causes others to unmistakably see God for how good He is. That all who saw would be so amazed the only appropriate response would be to thank Him right along with me!

*Luke 18:35-43

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Beach - 10 Years Later

Once upon a time there was a young family. Through the years, these parents took their three kids on an annual vacation to the beach. Myrtle Beach, to be precise. Twelve consecutive years of memories made. Eventually other events took priority and the kids grew up. 

Lo and behold, ten years pass with no beach vacations, when the parents have a brilliant idea. "Even though they are grown, two in college and one married, maybe they might still want to spend a week with their parents and each other in the South. In March."

Much to the parents' surprise and delight, the answer was yes! Some very generous and kind friends offered us their beach house. We hit the road a few weeks ago and this is what it looked like.
backseat shenanigans - brothers will always pester younger sisters

After a 14 hour drive, it took us approximately 15 minutes to empty the car and get ourselves outside.
It seems we had enough to satisfy our sweet tooths (teeth?)
Something on Drew, Ben and Ally's to-do list was to visit one of the many souvenir shops they frequented as children. And take a picture.

Which led me to dig this out. Turns out it was taken on our last trip. Did I mention it was 10 years ago?
God gave us day after day of abundant sunshine and warm temps.

This is pretty much what we did all day.

This guy here got some new sunglasses.

For a whole day I kept looking at him and wondering who he reminded me of. I couldn't rest until I figured it out.

Do you see it too?  Any guesses?

Ahhhhhhh yes......Dr. Nefario from Despicable Me.....of course!

Because Brittany is officially a Burtis now and certainly fits in with the family nonsense - she made her father-in-law a friend.

Do you see it now? Imagine the white lab coat.

You should really pray for this patient man. He doesn't deserve us.

Yay for beach toys!

We got in trouble for leaving this hole (which was much deeper than shown here). Apparently a deer was euthanized just the week earlier after falling in a similar hole. They are illegal on the beach. It's an official ordinance. Who knew?
PS..turtles can fall in too - which is also frowned upon.

                   Gorgeous sunrises...for those who got up early enough to see them.

Some, who will remain unnamed, even after years of experience with sunburns still prefer to learn the hard way, even though they are gently reminded (not nagged) to use sunscreen.
Natural consequences

Chocolates do not make that mistake and can stay in the sun longer. Mocking their mother's hat, however, is completely unnecessary.

This is what we did one day to keep the vanillas occupied.
I asked for one picture here under the pier - just one - and this is what I got. If you know these people, you probably know which one (think blue shirt, black shorts) started this shenanigan.

Every night we played games, all sorts. So much fun. Endless ridiculous humor.

But the best part of the week - the very best thing of all - also happened around this table.

Before we arrived, Scott gave us an assignment. We were to take turns giving a family devotion. One night per person. Can I just tell you what a gift this was?

We sat around that table for almost an hour each evening after dinner, everyone with their own Bible, discussing and commenting on the content chosen by the speaker. So many important things said. Weaknesses were confessed, struggles shared, while hope in God and His Word was declared as the ultimate goal.

Night after night God gave us a glimpse into the work He is doing in each of the hearts and lives of our children. Amazing.

Fellow moms who want to raise awesome kids, may I encourage you to make dinner a priority in your home? No electronics. No tv. Just full on eye contact and important topics intentionally brought to the table with the expectation that everyone participates. 

Insist on it. This is where the fruit we are hoping will appear in their adult lives begins growing.

Hard times will come to all, but a firm foundation has been laid that will give them something to always stand on if it is chosen.

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in the truth. 3 John 4
                       (and that they still want to go on vacation with their parents)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Maybe It's Not That Hard

Lots of negative things going on these days. Bad things happening in the news.  Endless political bickering. Worrisome future government. One could get discouraged. One might wonder what God would want His children to do.

Lots of theories flying around. Seems like everyone has an opinion on what the right thing to do is. I've been reading and listening to all of them, probably like you. One thing is for sure, there aren't many unified thoughts. 

We need to have something firm to hold on to. 

I've been reading through the Bible these first months of the year and like a true type A book nerd, have also been taking note of themes (yes I am an underliner!) and repetitions because they are intentional and need to be noticed (and/or highlighted). In these first five books that may seem boring and irrelevant at first glance I'm finding what seems too simple to be true. A clear, uncomplicated proposition from Almighty God our Heavenly Father, to us, sinful man.

 God created man out of His enormous capacity to love. He wanted (and still wants) a people to call His own who will obey His Word and reflect His amazing character to everyone else.
See for yourself:

That's it - over and over again.

The privilege of this offer of relationship should be reward enough but God is the greatest most generous gift giver of all times (James 1), which means there is more. Reward! Blessing! If we do things God's way, we get all sorts of promises.  Check it out:
Earlier I wrote that when we are tempted to confusion, we need something firm to hold onto. The reason is that if we don't, we'll fall for anything. This is very dangerous when you live in a slick, slimy pop culture news media driven society.

I had an emotional conversation with a sweet friend the other day. Through tears she explained, "But a long time ago, many times, I asked God to tell me if what I was doing was wrong and I never got an answer. He was silent. And now I'm here and I still don't know what to do."

Because I've been around the block a few times and have come to understand what the Bible says about her issue, I know the answer she asked for. It's not complicated and it's not confusing. It's clear. In the Bible.

God isn't going to answer that kind of prayer in some new way. He already has. See, here's the thing - we'll know what to do if we read His Book.  God knew we would need help and instruction, so He took the time and effort to write it all down and preserve it for us and every generation to follow. What a gift!

That's the simplicity of it all. She was aching and crying because she is so much deeper into a situation that she as a Christ-follower never should have entered. Because she didn't "hear" an answer to her prayers, she just did what felt right.  Basically what her heart wanted to do in the first place.

My heart went out to her in her pain (because I've been there and done the same thing) and I gently responded, "God already given the answer in the Bible". Telling someone that there are times when prayer is unnecessary sounds kind of sacrilegious, doesn't it?   

But it's true.

If we spend time reading and understanding God's Word (often referred to as His love letter to us) we will find black and white instruction to countless areas we may in our ignorance, think are grey or not even mentioned. But they are!

Which brings me back to the current state of affairs in our world. How can one group of Christians be in one camp and another group diametrically opposed? What's a Christian to do and how is a Christian to vote? Will God tell us what to do? Or is He indifferent about it?

At the risk of sounding simple and uneducated, both of which I admittedly am, I suggest the following:
  • What if we spend more time reading our Bibles than reading editorials and popular opinion?
  • What if we vote according to which candidate's views and agenda is closest in line with the Biblical values we claim are important to us in every other area of life?
  • What if we choose a leader who is most similar to the character and integrity of true Biblical heroes/champions of our faith?
And that brings us right back to the Bible again.

Buried in these ancient pages we will find countless examples of strong, effective leadership that resulted in the positive physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being of its followers.  We will also find the very opposite characteristics and the horrible consequences suffered.

I fear some have been duped by culture and not realize it. Perhaps we've traded desires - Biblical values for earthly comfort and security.

Beth Moore, my favorite Bible teacher, once said, "If we aren't actively fighting the culture and making daily counter cultural choices based on our faith, then you can bet we've already been sucked in." I was raising pre-teens and teenagers at the time and took it to heart with a vengeance. She was referencing Romans 12:1, 2. I like the way the Message translates those verses:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

Believe God loves you and wants you to be part of the people He will call His own.
Be the people He longs to call His own by obeying His commandments out of love for Him.
Show that love to others.
Don't worry about your physical, earthly well-being. That's God's job and He's promised to take care of you to the end.
Fix your eyes on Him and do not fear.
Be diligent in displaying God's reflection and character in everything you do and say while aligning yourself with those endeavoring the same goal.

 Blessings or curses? The choice is ours. Just like all those Old Testament passages describe. (I think Deuteronomy is fast becoming my favorite one!)

Maybe we will find we don't even need to pray about some things very much, because the answers are right there in black and white.

We really are the keepers of Good News. We should be the most peaceful and confident people in every room. Let's act that way. 

There is a world of confused people who would benefit from following our lead.