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Sunday, July 15, 2018

Fiction Review: Candle in the Darkness

Candle in the Darkness by Lynn Austin is Book 1 of her Refiner's Fire Series. It is probably the best book I've read in a couple of years. It's strongly Christian yet not preachy. This is historical fiction but not pedantic. It is amazingly written and researched. It moved me to tears—not my usual reaction to a book and not exactly because it was tragic. It's amazing!

The setting is in the time of the U.S. Civil War in Richmond, Virginia, where I grew up. I could easily imagine the scenes of this book. When I was a child, I often played with my brother on the earthworks at Drewry's Bluff at Fort Darling. I know Richmond, the James River, and so on. But, even if you aren't acquainted with the setting, this book will delight you—whichever side of the Civil War you identify with. This is by far the best Civil War story I've ever read.

Caroline Fletcher is a lovely young woman who lives on a plantation in Richmond. Her parents are delighted to be having a new baby, but sadly, the baby boy dies shortly after birth. Her father doesn't understand his daughter and has a difficult time communicating with her, though he loves her dearly. Caroline's closest friends are her mammy, Tessie, who's about fifteen years older than she is, servant Eli, her father's manservant Gilbert, and Grady, Tessie's little boy.

As a young teen, Caroline gets acquainted with her cousins. A visit to Hilltop, her aunt and uncle's plantation, is an eye-opener for her. These people treat slaves as if they were animals. Caroline gets busy helping sick slave children and ends up sick herself.

Caroline's mother is expecting again. After a long labor, the baby is stillborn, and shortly afterwards, Caroline's mother takes her own life. Caroline's father is desolate. Her Aunt Martha comes for the funeral and invites Caroline to go back to Philadelphia with her. There, Caroline meets the Reverend Nathaniel Greene, who heads up an anti-slavery group in the north. They become friends. In the meantime, she seeks comfort and friendship from her cousin Robert, who adores her. He's her savior at social events.

After some time, Caroline returns home and meets a most infuriating man with blue eyes—and one of the handsomest faces she ever saw. Oh, how he makes her mad. She never wants to see him again. Of course, she does, and they argue every time they're thrown together. Soon, she realizes he is Sally's brother, a member of the notable St. John family. She can hardly believe it, and her feelings for this man are beginning to change.

Caroline is also growing in her faith. Her convictions are the same, but she is learning to follow God—no matter what dangers she faces. Her spiritual mentor is Eli, the pastor of the slave church.

In order not to spoil the story, I'll let you read Candle in the Darkness for yourself. Whether you are black or white, whether your ancestors fought on one side or the other, you will love this book. I only wish all historical fiction was this good!

I must read the next book in this series. Candle in the Darkness easily gets five stars.

Candle in the Darkness contains one "white lie" that's not corrected, non-graphic descriptions of war casualties, a storyline about master-slave sexual abuse and implied adulterous relationships. There are no explicit scenes or details. I would recommend this book to older teens and adults.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The True Story that Beggars Belief

Writing is a scary thing. Putting words on paper is more than merely typing. It's finding the words and forming them into coherent form. Writing means baring one's soul to others. It makes us vulnerable. So, why write? Because it's important to share.

What have you experienced? How did you confront your circumstances? What happened next? Tell a story. Are you stumped? If I tell one of my stories, you might remember one of yours.

This one's true. You couldn't make it up. (The names of people and place have been changed for anonymity.)

My husband and I arrived at the church in the late morning of a weekday. We noticed quite a few dirty, troubled people in the hallway. They were waiting for something—a meal, perhaps? We passed through these men and proceeded to Pastor Martin's office.

Entering his study, we scanned the jam-packed room. The pastor made space for us to sit down. He was friendly, but his surroundings were … odd. A leopard pelt covered his high-backed desk chair, and here and there I noticed stuffed animals. Crammed with mementos, the office appeared colorful, almost gaudy, like a carnival. My husband continued speaking, "Would you allow us to present our work in your church?" he asked the pastor. We were surprised to hear "yes" but pleased, since each meeting was important to reaching our goal.

Ours was on a Wednesday evening. The yawning church building contained only around twenty people, mostly women. Pastor Martin strode across the platform in a shiny black suit, dazzling diamond rings on his fingers, and a mic in his hand. He introduced us in a showbiz voice, "And nooww … the Keisers." I could've died. It sounded like we should perform. What had we gotten ourselves into?

My husband calmly gave our presentation, complete with slides. The audience applauded, and then it was prayer time. Pastor Martin asked everyone to come to the front and join hands in a circle. I forget what happened next, but I left that meeting with disquiet in my soul. What was wrong? I couldn't put a finger on it. My husband said, "Look how few people were there in that huge church. Surely, they can't take us on."

But, they did. A few weeks later, we got our first support check from Pastor Martin's church.

Some months afterwards, we were talking with another pastor, who asked us which churches we'd visited in the area. My husband's list included Pastor Martin's church. The young pastor was Pastor Martin's relative, and he asked if we knew about Martin's moral failings, which he briefly described.

What were we supposed to do now? My husband felt we should ask the pastor of the practically empty church if the accusations were true, confront him with what we'd heard, and not just believe one person's account outright. So, my husband wrote a letter to the flashy pastor. He didn't get any reply. After several months, he wrote to Pastor Martin a second time and asked the church to discontinue our support.

At least a year later, we were packing to move to Spain, and the telephone rang. "Hello," I answered.

"This is the Jonesville City Police, Detective Steven Montgomery. Is Mr. Keiser there? I'd like to ask him some questions." I handed the phone to my husband and listened to our end of the conversation.

"Yes. Yes, I did. Well, it was of a delicate nature…. You see, we had heard he had had some moral failings, and we wanted to give the pastor an opportunity to reply. Well, yes. Let me explain. We are missionaries, and we want to be supported by churches that don't have these problems. Since I didn't hear back from him, I wrote him again."

After a pause, "No, I hadn't heard. No, it was only because of the moral problem. Thank you. Good bye."

I was all ears, curious to find out the remaining details. My husband told me that the huge church in Jonesville had burned down. The police suspected arson. One of the few papers surviving the fire was my husband's letter stating, "Since you have not responded, we have to believe that these accusations are true. Please cancel our support immediately."

Later, Pastor Martin was found guilty of burning down his own church in order to collect the insurance money.

I told you it's a story that beggars belief.

As you read my story, what incident from your life came to mind? Write it down. Share your experience. You are enough. And, your life can be shared. Just write.


Note: My contest entry ends at the above line. 

Now, for some lessons learned from our incredibly unique experience:
  • Don't outright accept everything you hear about others. My husband was correct to give the pastor an opportunity to respond. Jesus said, Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment (John 7:24).
  • When God calls, He provides. He has always met our needs over the thirty-four years we've served in Spain.
  • Be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23b). Sad, but true.
What's your story?

Thursday, July 5, 2018

The Summer Versus Winter Survey Results

I asked my friends to complete this simple ten-question survey, and they came through. Ninety-three participants gave their opinions. A huge thank you to all who took the time to answer my questions. Most of my friends would call themselves born again Christians, but not all, and of course, there's always a difference of opinion in any survey. I wanted honest answers, and I got them. So, let's see how my friends answered.

Q In your opinion, is it okay to show thighs in the summertime?
A Yes. 17%
      No. 82%

Q Do you think it's okay to show thighs in the winter?
A Yes. 16%
      No. 84%

Q In your opinion, is it ever proper to show one's midriff or belly button in summer?
A Yes. 6%
      No. 94%
Q Do you think it's proper to show one's midriff or navel in the wintertime?
A Yes. 4%
      No. 96%

Q Is it okay to wear clothing that shows even a little cleavage in the summertime?
A Yes. 9%
      No. 91%

Q Do you think it's okay to show even a little cleavage in the winter?
A Yes. 8%
      No. 92%

Q Do you personally ever wear shorts?
A Yes, but only long ones—to the knee/over the knee. 40%
      Yes, but never shorter than mid-thigh. 15%
      Yes, any length of shorts. 3%
      No. 42%

Q Do you wear tank tops of any kind (by themselves)?
A Of course. 20%
      No, never. 80%

Q Do you believe God has a specific standard for modesty?
A Yes. 88%
      No. 12%

Q Do you think there is a different standard of modesty for summer than for winter? 
A Hmmm ... I never have thought about that. 6%
      I believe modesty is relative to the seasons. One can wear less in the summertime, since 
            others are wearing less clothing. 3%
      No, they should be the same in winter and summer. 90%

Wasn't this survey interesting? I thought so. I'm sorry to those who found the questions about "thigh" and a "specific standard" confusing. I believe, though, that the survey results seem to be consistent all across the questions, so my participants must've figured out what I was asking. Thank you so much for answering. Let's delve deeper into this subject.

When we decide how to dress, it depends entirely upon our beliefs. Do we believe the Bible has a concrete standard for dress, or is biblical teaching more like vague principles for consideration, or is dress completely relative to culture and times? Do we even think about modesty, or is the whole concept irrelevant to our lifestyle?

When I was young, my role models were so varied that I wasn't sure there were any biblical standards for dress. Our youth pastor's wife wore short skirts, but our pastor's wife did not. I thought dress standards were a matter of age and preference. No one ever taught me what the Bible says about clothing. And, the passages I heard didn't make sense to me; gold and pearls and costly array hardly applied to a teenage girl. I missed the point entirely.

So, does the Bible actually say something about summer clothes versus winter clothes? No. Does it say anything about uncovering certain parts of the body? Yes, a few times. Are there biblical principles for women's dress? Of course. Can they be interpreted in different ways and adapted for different cultures? I think so. Let's have a sane discussion after reading what the Bible actually says. Okay?

Here are the key verses that talk about women's dress:
  1. The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman's garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the LORD thy God (Deuteronomy 22:5).
  2. This is an allegory about God's judgment on the Chaldeans, personifying the nation as a woman. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen (Isaiah 47:2-3a).
  3. About the Virtuous Woman: She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple. Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come (Proverbs 31:22, 25).
  4. In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
  5. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price (1 Peter 3:3-5).

What can we learn from these verses? (We'll discuss them in the same order as above.)
  1. I personally believe the first verse is about transvestitism, as this would be consistent with the term "abomination" which is used for sexual impurity. (See Romans 1:26-27; Leviticus 20:13.) But, even if it's not, this verse makes it clear there's a distinction between men's and women's clothing.
  2. The uncovered thigh is equated with nakedness. The Hebrew word for thigh in this verse is used in the Scriptures to express "shoulder, hip, legs, thigh."1 How much uncovered thigh does it take to be naked or shameful? I'll leave that for you to decide, with the Lord's help. Pray about what God would have you do. (There is no specific Bible verse about exposed belly buttons. We can assume it was a non-issue at the time.)
  3. The Virtuous Woman wears beautiful fabrics, but her character is every bit as important as the cloth.
  4. This is perhaps the clearest passage directed to women's dress in the whole Bible. God says He wants women to dress modestly (decorous, proper, seemly, decent, in good taste) with shamefacedness (not bold, showing reverence for God) and sobriety (soundness of mind, self control). Christian women's models for clothing and actions are to be godly women.
  5. This similar passage makes the parallel between a woman's clothing and her heart. It says her spirit is more important than what she wears.
Let's consider another passage that doesn't address clothing per se. It's for every area of a Christian's life. For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God. Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way (Romans 14:7, 12-13). We need to keep others in mind. How will our dress affect those around us: men, women, and children? Will our clothes detract or distract, or will they attract others towards God?

So, how does a woman who puts God first decide what to wear? I believe there are several clear biblical principles.
  • Make sure you look like a woman.
  • Cover your thighs. Nakedness isn't pleasing to God. Pray and ask Him what the word thigh means.
  • Work on your character, and it is quite okay to wear quality, beautiful clothing.
  • Be modest.
  • Dress appropriately.
  • Don't be showy.
  • Look to truly godly women for guidance.
  • Make sure your spirit is close to God. Pray and ask God, "Does this please You?" He'll let you know, and as you learn, you might need to change parts of your wardrobe.
  • Consider other people. What message does your clothing give? If you don't have any idea what to look for, do some reading. (I recommend For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn, based on an extensive survey of men. Some of these concepts, of course, can be applied to women, as well.) You can ask your husband, father, and other men in your life how they react to specific clothing styles. Do your own survey.
  • And, my personal helful hint: use a full-length mirror. It will become your best friend. See your clothing from every angle. As you examine your look, ask God if you are pleasing Him. If any part of your outfit emphasizes your body so that you look sexy instead of godly, you'll want to change that part of your attire. It's easy. Just please the Lord.

Remember modesty. And, may God bless your life!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Women Driving in Saudi Arabia: What Next?

For the first time, women in Saudi Arabia can get legal drivers licenses and drive cars. (I'm sincerely hoping they actually had some kind of training beforehand.) It's billed as a breakthrough for women, a first step towards liberation. I heard on the news it's the last country in the world to allow women to drive. Interesting.

I believe the next battleground for Saudi women will be clothing, but this is more difficult, as the law is tied to Sharia Law, and it isn't a preference privilege, like driving.  "It is the law in Saudi Arabia for expat women to wear an abaya when they are out in public. The abaya should cover their everyday clothing. EW (Expat Women) recommends that women wear respectable clothing under their abaya in the form of a long loose-fitting skirt or trousers and a top that covers the shoulders and midriff."1 The abaya is the long, black cloak that covers the entire shape of the body. For centuries, women in Saudi Arabia have not only worn the black abaya, but also head and face coverings. According to Sharia Law, the only parts of a woman that may be seen in public are her hands and eyes. In practice, some parts of Islamic countries vary in how much of a woman's face may be seen.

I think it is interesting how the rest of the world has adapted the traditional clothing. Some adhere strictly, and in other places, except for the hijab (head/neck covering), you would hardly notice the woman was Muslim at all. We see colors, wraps of different lengths, and even slacks paired with slightly longer tops. Others wear a coatlike garment with long sleeves. And, Muslim women seem happy to wear these clothes, which express their faith and modesty.

Will there be a revolt about clothing? I think it will come. It may begin with wearing colors besides black and then move to something different. It will probably be a trickle, but, like the driving debate, things will eventually change. Societal norms, like asking a male relative for permission to do things—or needing him to accompany—will be challenged as well.

Women always want to break free.

It began in the Garden of Eden, and it has continued down through the centuries since. My grandfather used to tell me about the suffragettes marching and their protests for the freedom to vote. Later, women marched for equal rights and equal pay for equal work, and the freedom to work at whatever they choose. They protested the Miss America pageant in the 1960s, and today, they're protesting sexual harrassment in the Me Too movement. Now, women all over the world march for the freedom to kill their own unborn children under the banner of "my choice." 

What is women's freedom, anyway?

God made a woman separate from man and different from him. She was made with a role—to help and complement, and yes, she was given to Adam as his wife and charged with the tasks of helping him rule over creation and given the privilege of motherhood. She became the first wife and mother, and she was equal in value with her husband—though their roles from the very beginning were different.

When Eve sinned, (we don't know how many days or years they lived in sinlessness), she encouraged her husband to sin with her, which he did. God held Adam responsible, as he was the head of the family. God also questioned Eve, who blamed the serpent. All of the course of history was changed because of sin.

So, what does this have to do with Saudi women driving?


It is so important in the day we're in to be for biblical freedoms and biblical roles.

Let's celebrate the fact that Saudi women can finally drive. There's nothing wrong with that at all.

And, Christian women everywhere need to examine our own actions and personal calls for freedom in the light of the Word of God.
  • Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created (Psalm 148:5).
  • Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him (Isaiah 43:7).
  • To women: Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price (1 Peter 3:3-4).
  • But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear (1 Peter 3:15).

What freedom does God give to Christian women? Freedom in Him. Freedom from sin. Freedom to know that God is our guide and that His Word can take us by the hand.

Seek Jesus.

Have real freedom.

Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him,
If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;
And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
(John 8:31-32)