Tuesday, April 28, 2015

A Rare Benedictine, by Ellis Peters

My books are still packed up (it is a source of grief to me, in case you hadn't noticed) and my reading time has been slim lately (much truncated by the wonderful, if jerkily cinematic adaptation of Bleak House).

In spite of that, I did manage to finish A Rare Benedictine, by Ellis Peters. Cadfael novels are my favorite mystery fiction. They combine everything I love--a detective with keen perception, biblical, unformulaic justice, sweet love stories, and the overarching back-drop of Benedictine monastery life. Throw in the politics of the time and a mix of Welsh and English names, and what better combination could you have?

The Story
This book is a collection of three short stories. While the first one deals with Cadfael's entry into the monastery, the other two don't give much indication of when they take place.

A Light on the Road to Woodstock--Cadfael promises to serve his master until he settles a dispute over abbey lands with the king. But when Cadfael discovers that his master has a disloyal wife, not to mention that his claim to the land is far from just, his promise of loyalty may not be as simple as it appears.

The Price of Right--Rough Sir FitzHammon has a lot to atone for. So when he brings a pair of silver candlesticks to the abbey, the gift, although doing no good to the starving poor, might do some good to his sorry soul. Then the candlesticks are stolen, and Cadfael has to turn his eye to the man's wife and servants.

Eyewitness--A blackguard may have failed in his attempt to murder Master William, but he didn't fail in stealing the year's rents for the abbey. Cadfael has a double challenge--how to find the money, and how to prevent another murder from occurring. But could the deed have been committed from one of the abbey men themselves?

My Thoughts 
If you're new to Cadfael, I would recommend choosing a more full-blooded mystery before reading these short stories. They're like Tolkien's ad infinitum appendices: most appreciated by those who love the characters and can't get enough.

A Light on the Road to Woodstock--This is interesting in that it gives us a glimpse of Cadfael before he becomes a monk: but the first mystery he solves is lackluster as a whole. It didn't give me anything I didn't know about Cadfael, nor did it explain (as the back claimed it would) why he became a monk. He simply told the prior he was coming to the abbey, and that was it. What the light on the road was I'm sure Cadfael knew, but I didn't. The mystery was easy to guess.

The Price of Right--This was my favorite. With a few deft pen strokes, Ellis Peters painted a self-centered female main character in an absolutely charming shell, including a varied and fascinating cast of drunkard husband, doughty manservants, and self-effacing maidservant. I expected it to be a tale of freedom-from-husband-and-marries-her-true-love--but oh, no. It was quite different, and  Lady FitzHammon and Elfgiva were both female characters worthy of their salt. (Not virtuous, mind, but proverbially saltish.) I would read that mystery again.

Eyewitness--Eyewitness has the great virtue of offering several prime suspects, all of which are hard to single out. Just before the final climax I forced myself to pick one, and by sheer mad luck I was right. The character development was fairly nonexistent, but it was fun to have a challenge in figuring out the twists and turns.

It was the perfect book to read during a chaotic week. My favorite part, however, was the introduction, in which Ellis Peters says "So here he is, not a convert, for this is not a conversion...Cadfael has always been an unquestioning believer. What happens to him on the road to Woodstock is simply the acceptance of a revelation from within that...he is confronted by a new need and a different challenge." Sometimes authors feel such a weighty burden to have their character's behavior match his beliefs that they don't allow them to believe until they are good. For her to simply accept that Cadfael was a believer, with all his faults and virtues, was refreshing. Peters also explains the origin of Cadfael's name (which I love, because I pick out character names just the same way) and how unexpected to her his popularity was.

If you're new to Cadfael, and looking for a good place to start, I've reviewed several more Ellis Peters' novels, including The Hermit of Eyton Forest and The Rose Rent, The Holy Thief, and The Pilgrim of Hate.

I've watched a handful of the BBC Cadfael movies from the library, my favorite so far being One Corpse Too Many, which you can watch for free on Amazon. Please be aware that there is language worth muting, and several scenes after a battle that I fast-forward through.  It is not for young viewers, and even though it is portrayed fairly tastefully, it is honest in its dramatization of the times. Previewing by a responsible adult is advised.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Best of Brothers and Sisters

In 2014 I did a whole collection of Best Of posts, culling my favorite characters from various books I've read. But we ran out of time before finishing, and I have three more categories that I want to tackle before shelving the series completely. Today's post is Best of Brothers and Sisters. Get ready to pull out your favorites! This list will be by no means exhaustive, and I want to hear your entries as well!

Laddie and Little Sister (Laddie: A True Blue Story)
My all-time favorite pair.
"Have I got a little sister anywhere in this house?" Laddie inquired at the door.
"Yes sir," I answered, dropping the trousers I was making for Hezekiah, my pet blue jay, and running as fast as I could. There was no telling what minute May might take it into her head that she was his little sister and get there first.

Matthew and Marilla (Anne of Green Gables)
They get along quite well, even if they do have to stick their oars in once in a while.

Jane and Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
One sweet and innocent, one witty and discerning. Both very fond of each other.

Fanny and William Price (Mansfield Park)
"My Dear William"--their correspondence throughout the years of William being at sea was very sweet.

Henry and Eleanor Tilney (Northanger Abbey) 
What brother could not be awesome who is a good judge of white muslin? Add to that reading Gothic romances with his sister, and you have the epitome of excellence (spoken facetiously, of course).

Godwin and Wulf (The Brethren) 
Two brothers, both in love with the same girl. Both fully resolved to stay true to each other at the same time. How's that for shaking up the cliche?

Bree and Devin (Viking Quest)
OK. So I fangirled over Devin. He's nice.

Angus and Duncan (Crown and Covenant Trilogy)
I liked when they teamed up at Aird's Moss. And the puddock swap in book 1 was too cute.

Scarlet and Cliff (Chasing Jupiter)
Heart-wrenching pair--an autistic little boy who wants to go to Jupiter, and his big sister trying to make his dreams come true.

Ruth and Tom Pinch (Martin Chuzzlewit)
They were so cute keeping house together, especially with the famous pudding-that-wasn't.

John of Bedford and Henry V
While I have no book to recommend on this pair (Someone Needs to Take Note), I have a deep love and high respect for the hard work John of Bedford accomplished in advancing Henry's kingdom in France. Even after Henry's death, John kept his memory very dear, and literally worked himself to death to honor him.

Richard III and Edward IV
Reading Paul Murray Kendall's Richard the Third has only served to drive the point home: Edward was Richard's hero. At eighteen, Richard was already managing troops and fighting battles to keep his brother on the throne. I love them both.

Marguerite and Armand (The Scarlet Pimpernel)
While the two of them certainly kept the Scarlet Pimpernel on the constant edge of death, one can hardly blame their fidelity to one another. It was a hard either-or.

Fili and Kili (The Hobbit) 
Ahem. Familiar, those two. And no, I hate that line about "I-must-stay-with-my-brother" in the movie. Please don't hate me for hating it.

Boromir and Faramir (The Lord of the Rings) 
"Remember this day, little brother. Today, life is good."

Margaret and Fredrick Hale (North and South)
It occurred to me that John Thornton is slightly hypocritical for his displeasure at Margaret kissing Fredrick in the train station. After all, he seemed to do it himself with very few qualms of conscience. But we'll forgive the man.

Melangell and Rhun (The Pilgrim of Hate)
Cadfael meets quite a few hassled young people, and The Pilgrim of Hate is no exception. But while Melangell and Rhun didn't have a legendary bond between the two of them, they did seem to love each other. Besides--it's my favorite mystery.

Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy (Little Women)
Can't forget these dear girlies.

Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy (The Chronicles of Narnia)
And what list would be complete without this immortal four? (Though I admit, I had to be reminded.)

Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes)
Two of the most anti-social and politically-influential gentlemen of the 19th century.

Judah Ben-Hur and Tirzah (Ben-Hur) 
While I only know them from the Focus on the Family audio drama, they were endearing with their banter.
"Very pretty, my Tirzah."
"Now I know you are sick. You're teasing me!"

Nat and Lizza--Carry on Mr. Bowditch
:'( While I am not big on good-luck charms, it was sweet of them to jingle the silver together to try to help their parents out. And they were a beloved sharer of each other's joys and sorrows.

The Boxcar Children
None of the later mysteries ever matched my love for the first book in the series. What a delightful foursome. I can't wait to introduce my own children to them someday.

Caroline and her siblings (Little House in Brookfield)
Caroline's books were my favorite of the Little House knock-offs, though I also loved Martha and Duncan as well (Little House in the Highlands). But Caroline and her siblings helped their single mother make a living, while also managing to have fun along the way. They were some of my best childhood friends.

Caddie Woodlawn and her siblings (Caddie Woodlawn)
The watermelons. Annabelle's buttons. Swimming across the river. I read that book so many times.

In making lists like these, I always forget some of the most obvious and best. Plus, all my books are packed, so I can't reference them right now. So help me out! Who would you add?

Thanks to this article, this article, and this article for jogging my memory. But I did not actually read through them, so proceed at your own risk. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Why I Love Anne of Green Gables

*Mild plot spoilers for the Anne series are included in this article. Heavy spoilers are marked.* 

To be honest, I had forgotten my promised post on Anne of Green Gables, until last week. On Saturday, I found out Jonathan Crombie (Gilbert Blythe) had passed away of a brain hemorrhage. While I never wanted to marry him, I loved everything he stood for in the Anne books--truth, love, faithfulness--one of those Jimmy Bean type heroes that never do anything stunning, but prove by their uprightness in family and community that providing for their hearth fire is the most worthy calling they could think of. I loved his grin, and his 'soary' and his teasing. I even sympathized with Anne laughed dreadfully at all the terrible writing advice he gave to her in the second movie.

So today, in memory of his splendid job as Gilbert Blythe, I want to explain why I love, endorse, and appreciate, the Anne of Green Gables series. 

Master Study in Personality Types 
When Anne arrives at Green Gables, it's easy to peg her as an over-talkative scarily-imaginative eleven-year-old and leave it at that. Either you like her or you hate her, the end. But it's a lot richer than that. Anne is the story of how the life of one person ripples and ripples and ripples to touch everyone. Think of yourself as the center of a web, and trace all the people you've managed to impact in the last year. Most of us would be in the several hundreds. People brushing against one another change lives for better or for worse. Anne's coming to Avonlea changed a lot of lives, simply by her personality intersecting with theirs. She brought love to Marilla, and Marilla brought her self-control. She brought new life to Matthew, and Matthew brought her the words of blessing she had never heard before. Anne didn't just need them. They needed her. The girls at school needed her, just like she needed some normal childhood companionship. She needed Diana's goodness, and Diana needed her spunk. They fed off each other's strengths and weaknesses. 

That's real life. Our sins take people down, and our virtues build them up. That's the heartbeat of Anne of Green Gables. Marilla's shriveled heart, Anne's over-sensitiveness, and Mrs. Lynde's gossip all play their part. So does Anne's zeal (which this sleepy, cliquish community needed) Marilla's dependability, and Mrs. Lynde's handy wisdom with child-rearing. It's a master portrait of how everyone works together to build a varied and beautiful community. 

As Marilla says simply in the movie, "He knew we needed her." 

Master Study of Female Maturing
Those who give up on Anne in book 1 miss the whole point of the series. Anne of Green Gables is not an end in itself, nor is Anne of Avonlea or Anne of the Island (three of the trickiest books theology-wise). Keep reading. Keep reading all eight books, and then you'll get the beauty of how Anne grows into a wise mother, a loving neighbor, and a mature woman. The little girl who puts liniment in the cake and doesn't care about praying grows up--just
like you've grown up--or your little sister--or your daughter.

For instance, in book 3, Anne hates 'normal' men and wants a dashing, romantic hero. She doesn't even want to get married--thinks Diana settled too soon for boring old Fred. But Anne doesn't always think that way. She grows up to love babies and love Gilbert, a very regular doctor who sometimes forgets their anniversary and doesn't spout poetry. And she finds fulfillment in these things. 

In a word, Anne struggles with a lot of things real girls struggle with. She's not a pattern, like Elsie Dinsmore was written to be--she's a portrait. It is so vital that in discerning reading we learn to separate the difference between patterns and portraits. Sometimes we condemn the latter and endorse the former, without realizing that we need both to have healthy minds and reading habits. 

In other words, I love Anne because I know she doesn't always think the way she does at sixteen. Neither do I. Nor at thirty will I think the way I do at twenty. But I love watching her grow into a gracious and well-rounded woman. 

Master Study of Realistic Romance 
This is where Gilbert comes in. Unfortunately a lot of girls have immaturely made Gilbert into a hot item. That's not what he is, and that's not what he's meant to be. Gilbert is a good picture of what a regular, everyday husband should be: a man who cherishes his wife without making her a goddess, and works with his hands without owning a huge estate, and knows how to love in a deeply romantic way without diminishing his regular male patterned way of thinking. He and Anne are knitted together to become one. He makes fun of company behind their backs and (heavy spoiler) holds her tight when she loses her first baby (end of spoiler) and heals patients around Glen St. Mary and watches his sons go off to war. He is steady and stalwart, using his strengths to compliment Anne's weaknesses. Gilbert and Anne have always been on the list of couples I love for their everyday grace.

This series is jam-packed with things to learn about life and love and the way people interact with one another. Not always the way they should interact--simply the way they do interact. Sure, it's a jumbled up mix of heathens (Mr. Harrison and Davy come to mind) and mistaken theology (particularly in the death of Ruby Gillis) but it also teaches good things: that babies should be treasured, and friends are sweet gifts, and life needs a balance of self-control and imagination. It's a series of exploration: one young woman exploring life from age eleven all the way into her forties. It is sweet and truly written, with masterful description and syntax on Montgomery's part.

I love Anne so much. She is a young woman beautifully flawed and full of resilient grace.  She's not merely a talkative little girl in a quirky community of saints and sinners. She's a master portrait of living and loving, and one I hope to read about again and again. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

War of Loyalties April Snippets


          Ben debated on whether to be politic or truthful, and settled for politic.
          Starlin picked up his violin and placed it under his chin, testing the strings with his bow. "Cabernet Sauvignon is good. Besides, you'll be away, so you'll never know, will you?"
          "You can give nothing. And it was not because I cared."
           The door creaked as he entered the welcome hush of empty pews. White cloud light filtered through the stained glass, with dust particles dancing through the gleam. The dark woodwork from floor to ceiling settled a sleepy aura over the place. A grey-haired sexton wielding a broom observed him as he chose a place to sit. He folded his hands over his knees. All the need for talk and pretense was over. Now there was nothing left to do but pray, if the words would come, and wait for the time to pass that had never failed to pass before. 
A slight tremor went through the hand that was empty of its wedding band.
Jaeryn's eyes twinkled with merriment. "The fates are against us."
When he arrived, he found Terry and Starlin there, playing chess in the parlor. Pearlie sat next to Terry, watching over his shoulder as he moved the pieces about on the board, her cheeks pink with excitement.
"You are too polite for your own good."
I have something of consequence to tell you. Be at The Star Inn, eight o' clock sharp this evening, and secure a corner table. F. 
He led the way out of the dining room and down the hall, a mahogany walled passage with one or two pieces of statuary and several valuable paintings. The living room was furnished in muted browns and reds, not sumptuously, but containing every possible article to gratify his taste. There were curios from his travels ranged around shelves; articles of foreign make and little marble gods and goddesses; hangings of Indian manufacture, and books in several foreign languages. The only things lacking were any photographs or signs of family life. It was as comfortable as a club, and as devoid of personality.
Hot wrath rose in his throat. "I don't need his help."
"I didn't come for money."
"Then why did you?"
[He] tilted his head and fixed his gaze on the dark wooden floorboards. "Even a man such as myself can suffer the effects of--conscience."
The comforting aroma of coffee beans sent up a gentle steam from the pot to warm his face.
"Your steps are in a loose foothold, sir, and in spite of your--indifference--I do not want to see you fall." 
Terry held a black piece in his hand when Alisa beckoned for Jaeryn to come in. "Got your queen, lad."
Starlin shrugged. "So I'll win without it." 
"Success is poorly bought at the expense of truth. But I'm beginning to think you would do anything for success."
The chatter of fellow customers buzzed around them, wrapping them up in a small pocket of noiseless space. Every minute or so, a crack of thunder could be heard, and the answering shimmer of glass shaking from the noise.
"You're a close-mouthed fellow, and too secretive for your own good," he teased, "but I think you're not half bad for all that."
"No," Ben said firmly. "--Thank-you," he added as an afterthought.
Cheapjacks called out hot tea and chips in the bustling whirl of street traffic, and numerous vehicles clattered to and fro over the stony avenue.
Once when Jaeryn managed to tear his gaze from Starlin, he looked back and caught Terry squeezing Pearlie's hand in one of his big, rough ones. He cleared his throat pointedly. "Terry."
Terry winked. "You should be looking at the road to help the kid out, doc."
 "It was an act of the will. Love is, I have heard. I have also heard the feeling follows after, but I have yet to experience it."

There you have it, folks. :) This will be the last War of Loyalties snippets post throughout the summer. I will likely resume in fall, but for now I am moving on to other writing projects, and would like to share those with you! Look out for new stories next month, as the snippets feature continues. :) Thank-you all so, so much for your interest and encouraging comments. You can't imagine how much it means to me to have you love these characters too. I hope sometime in future a physical book will be available so you can meet them in more detail!

Coming Up Next Month 

Homeschool Diaries: An angel is given a unique assignment--to chronicle the lives of five homeschoolers and give advice to their guardian angels on the best way to guide and protect them. But he's never met a family like this before.
I think most of the difference is that homeschoolers can let their hair down and they don't have to get out of their pajamas or leave the house. That's all I can find, anyway....

Thank goodness Mrs. Van Alstyne can't read this, or she would slay me in the spirit with malicious intent beforehand. Especially as she wouldn't want the Parkers to hear it come Judgment Day.

~Homeschool Diaries, by Schuyler M.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Dear friends and fellow bibliophiles,
It is so good to be here with you all again! I love our little community of conversations, and can't wait to get back into the book reviews. Since this is a busy week, I covet your grace while I arrange regular life into some semblance of normalcy. Today I have a few tidbits of what I've been occupied with on break, and on Friday we will have a War of Loyalties snippets post. I hope to resume customary articles and book reviews next week! Enjoy. :)

reading// A massive tome on the life and times of Richard III. Simply entitled, Richard the III, by
Paul Murray Kendall. Reading Kendall's biography of Warwick really set me up well for understanding his book on Richard.

playing// Dutch Blitz. We rediscovered the joys. It is not beneficial either to my heart or my temper, but I held my own.

watching// Wives and Daughters (1999 adaptation)--with Junior B! You gotta love it when Roger gives Molly books and Osborne kisses her hand, both as attempts at comfort. Junior B: "You'd probably want the books instead of the kiss. Or maybe not--you're a sucker for romance underneath." Well. 

trying// To update the Articles and Book Reviews pages. Coming soon, and thank-you for your patience.

cooking// Nothing much, since our complete flooring is being replaced. It is Armageddon this week at the Bibliophile House.

eating// Donuts. Five people eating one donut at a time don't get through 3 dozen very fast, but we are heartily enjoying them.

drinking// Water. Because that's healthier, and I don't need more sugar.

calling// Nobody this week. 'Tis sad, but true. Maybe something will pop up spur-of-the-moment.

texting// Dear friends who will text me about book sales. Ain't I lucky?

pinning// Writing articles, unicorns, pancake squares, and quotes. Take a look.

tweeting// You can see for yourself. Follow me on Twitter?

crafting// Nothing right now but desktop wallpapers. Here's my latest:

doing// Lots of packing for our ongoing carpet replacement this week.

going// To hear Nancy Leigh DeMoss live-record radio sessions this week. So excited!

loving// The authentic, life-filled community at our local Bible Study Fellowship group. I have learned how important community is to the life of the soul, and more importantly, how deeply, soul-satisfying God's love is. It moves me to tears again and again.

discovering// Adult coloring books. So cool. I'm already looking at my paychecks to see how I can finagle one.

enjoying// Warmer weather! Hooray for short-sleeved shirts!

thinking// About Hannah's prayer life (from 1st Samuel) for the Bible study lesson for the group I lead. Hannah is an inspiring and precious woman of God. I love her confidence and humility before the Lord. (Caveat: I should be thinking about this. I have every intention of doing so. It just hasn't...happened yet.)

feeling// Tired. Starting out the week on a sleepless Sunday night is not a good idea. But Bible reading about 4:40am was wonderful.

hoping (for)// My new review book to come in the mail this week. (Everyday Grace, by Jessica Thompson/Elyse FitzPatrick)

listening (to)// The Incomparable Christ series, by Nancy Leigh Demoss. She aired these 1/2 hour radio shows during the Lent season, and we're almost through them. My favorite was The Soul-Anguish of Christ, but all of them have been excellent.

celebrating// Starting up my Gaelic and French studies on Duolingo again! I had to take a short break during the last weeks of editing, and I am overjoyed to resume. Dia duit, what? (And you would say "Dia is Muire duit!" :)

We also went hiking to see endangered snow trilliums.
smelling// The sweet scent of violets on our lawn. Also skunk cabbage on our Saturday hike, but that was not so sweet. 

considering// How to make a completely tragic story into something redemptive. I'm not sure whether just to tell the story and let the redemptive come, or have a plan in place before I start.

finishing// Memorizing Psalm 51! It's actually all memorized; I just have to firm up the last few verses.

starting// New writing projects! I'm going to whip up some magazine articles in the next few weeks, and workshop notes for our state homeschool convention. Join me there?

What has your week looked like? I'd love to know! :)

*This handy list was taken from this pin

Monday, April 6, 2015

Blogging Break Week

Cause it's CUTE. 

Dear Friends and Fellow Bibliophiles~
Late Saturday night, I finished the fourth rewrite/edit of my work in progress, War of Loyalties. In celebration of that fact, I am treating myself to a vacation. Chocolate. Reading books. Watching movies. Possibly making doughnuts in my new doughnut pan.

My Lady Bibliophile will return to regular posting on April 14th. Have a fantastic week, and I can't wait to see you all back again next Tuesday!


Friday, April 3, 2015

Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Jesus (Reprise)

In commemoration of Good Friday, I am reprising a post I wrote last year. I hope it blesses you today.  

Every year I take Good Friday to focus on the work of Jesus Christ here on the blog. The last couple of years I've posted an article called The Battle Won. But today I want to update. When I originally wrote that article, it was after seeing someone we knew walk away from the Lord. That hurt, and I haven't forgotten it. But in the last few months, things have changed--and the battle between good and evil has gotten a lot more intense.

For instance, just last month my state voted to allow homosexual unions. We're still fighting to the bloody end on it, but we know it's coming. Two significant Christian ministries just caved on the gay marriage issue. Other ministries have crumbled, and some of the very tools we used to fight against evil have now turned double-edged and disintegrated in our hands. I've watched good Christians pass away in the last couple of months, friends move, families hurt--it seems to be a time of the changing of the guard, both in Christian and secular circles.

And I think not just in my own family, but in the Church at large, faithful followers are feeling just a little overwhelmed at how fast things are progressing. We trust that God is sovereign, but still deep down we wonder what's going to happen, and what it all means for our future.

When I see darkness in the culture, I for one am tempted to hide from it--to push it down and lock it up, and make sure that it doesn't come back to my remembrance. Because, deep down, if I admitted it, I'm afraid of being swallowed by the darkness.

But that's not what Jesus did. And today we celebrate the fact that he faced the darkness and overcame it.  

And he withdrew from them about a stone's throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.
~Luke 22:41-44

He went out and faced the darkness in the full knowledge of what he was facing-and even though he pleaded that the cup might pass from him, he did not hide or quail--he offered himself up willingly. And he told us that we would face it someday as his followers.

 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy. A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world. So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. ~John 16:20-22

Jesus took on every bit of our human frailty, and was tempted in every way as we are, and even with that he conquered a greater darkness than we will ever face. But lately it's sure hard to admit that anyone but Jesus can finish the race victoriously. There are so many stories of compromise that are reaching the headlines, it's easy to focus on the people who stumbled in their race instead of so many stories of faithfulness that nobody ever hears about.

That finishing the race stuff? Surely that's just for the apostles. How can we fight the good fight, and win the prize in today's culture? How are we assured of the victory that Paul seems to promise so freely to those who love Christ?

Is it just by chance that some finish well and some don't?

It's when I'm wrestling with this question that I love to turn to Hebrews chapter 11. It's a most encouraging, yet mind-boggling chapter about the people that God holds up to be our example of faith. The men in there, they were all counted as victors, even though they bedded down with prostitutes and killed faithful followers, embezzled money and abdicated leadership to women. The people in the hall of faith couldn't lead their sons, and told God they were too weak, and sacrificed their daughters, and went about in public spectacles of disgrace and torture--but they were still counted.

Just look at the nation of Israel--they couldn't keep to the law God gave them if their life depended on it. They spend more time in apostasy than they spend following the Lord, and yet He loved them and redeemed them again and again, even when they were sawing his prophets in two and stoning them to death, and putting up detestable man-made images. Our age of apostasy is starting to look more and more like theirs.

Why are these people even counted as victors at all?

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God,righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." ~1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Maybe our perception of 'winning the race' is a little different than God's.  Maybe we think that if we just run that race then we'll get the glory, just like Jesus Christ did. But in reality, every race is won when Jesus' name is exalted, not ours. Jesus Christ gets the glory that these people won in Hebrews 11, even though they were so faulty and broken. It wasn't so much that each of these men were perfect--though they overcame, true--but that God won through them. He was glorified through them. If we had lived in their time, we would have said they lost the race before they even started. But they won the race--because they desired to exalt their Lord rather than themselves.

It's only those who face Satan's darkness in their own strength and pride that fall. They have to. God will not abide anyone trying to take His glory. But those who go out in humility, not because they know they can do it (for oftentimes it seems they can't) but in the knowledge that they have been called, and they must obey one step after another, until the Lord calls them home--those who trust that God is working through them, and rely on His grace, and cling to His ability to see them through all perils--they are the ones that will stand firm in the day of Jesus Christ.

Because when God has someone finish a race, he wants Jesus Christ to get the glory, not the person running. And he can use faulty messengers to bring him glory, because of Jesus' redeeming blood. He looks on the Church, and sees a blood-bought bride for his son, and the sin that we are so frightened about already conquered by her Bridegroom.

Soli Christus. Soli Deo Gloria.

Maybe in the last few months as we've seen people fail, we're still looking to them just as much in our sadness as we were in our hero-worship when they were on top of the world. Despair turns inward. Manward. But hope--enduring, unconquerable hope--looks to Jesus, because today we celebrate the fact that by his death He crushed Satan with his heel.

The devil thought Jesus had lost the race, too, on that day. But praise God, He won, so that we too might be conquerors of sin and death.

 "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. Buttake heart; I have overcome the world.” ~John 16:33

Christ is victorious, and he shall be glorified in today's Church just as much as in the time when his physical body was here on earth. Jesus' victory over sin, even with the ministry closings and ministry compromises, has not diminished one jot since the moment he first achieved it. Jesus' victory over death is still just as true, just as effective, and just as relevant, and shall be forevermore. 

That's what we commemorate today. So today when you think of Good Friday, think not just of the God-man who died to cleanse your  individual sins, but the one who came that all sin might be conquered. Finished. Annihilated. We do not need to deny the darkness we see in our culture today. We can acknowledge it--as long as we lean deeper and deeper into the victory that was purchased, and know that our victory is in the Christ who died for us.

That being said, even though Christ won the victory, he's still given us a battle to fight. Because Satan hasn't acknowledged Jesus as victor yet, and he is attacking Christ's glory by seeking to crumble his Church.

Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
~Ephesians 6:11-13

So friends, arise and put on the armor of Christ. For we are fighting. And we'll be wounded, and we'll be facing darkness that is bigger than any one of us individually. Jesus had to bear wounds, too. Jesus had his dark night when he had to look into the face of utter terror. Jesus had his moment of despair when he cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What happened after that?

Well, what did happen?

If the One who bore every sin that we are seeing played out in our culture today, paid for them, and conquered them--all the gay marriage compromises and leader failures, and the consequences of death that invade our world--if he paid for them--then we his people look to our Lord who won the victory, and we do not quail in the present darkness.

Every darkness we face now was conquered 2,000 years ago. And though we still face them--though the world is breaking more and more, and we still have to bear the consequences and sadness of the effects of sin--yet we hope. We should not expect to escape the darkness Jesus faced, for if we share in the glory of our Lord, then we must also share in His sufferings.

We can expect to reach the light after the darkness. Because Jesus rose again, and in that security we press on. We do not give up. We do not lose heart. We do not break faith--because Jesus himself kept faith, and if we abide in him, then He will grant to us His abundant victory.
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