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A quick pre-cursor to this post: my husband and I are recovering from a serious motorcycle accident. I am not quite ready to post about it yet but we are praising God for our life. I am typing one handed and under the influence of pain meds so bear with me. This post was started before the accident and is still pertinent so here goes.

The school shooting in Texas has consumed the news and social media. A horrible tragedy initially that is re-run and re-run until our minds are consumed by it. It causes us to concentrate on the moment of evil and blocks out anything God would offer to help process through the incident.

It’s easy to see evil and turn angry eyes to God for blame. It takes great faith to see evil and turn pleading eyes to Him for healing. The first reaction leaves satan an innocent bystander. The second reaction puts satan right where he deserves to be – the guilty party – giving God an opportunity to be the compassionate, loving and powerful Being He is.

Satan may have the power to hurt and destroy. But he will never have the power to bring people together in love and mercy toward each other. Only God can do that.

Evil exists. Horrible things happen because we live in a broken, sin-filled, dysfunctional world. Society has created a disregard for human life when it cries out for things outside of God’s design, like the right to abort babies or genocide or any number of things being pushed by the world today that stir up hatred and rage. Disregard for human life leaves a troubled heart open to evil influence. And a school shooting happens. Road rage happens. Domestic violence happens.

Our best response after we recover from the shock of an evil event is to pray God into the midst of the tragedy. Let Him do His part. Our part is to love more, respect people more, reach out more. We need to become more aware of the hurting and damaged hearts around us. As hard as satan is working to hurt and destroy, we need to work that much harder to heal and build up.

Every Christian knows this world will be troubled (John 16:33). And every Christian also knows we are the solution, spreading the fragrance of Jesus in a smelly world. (Eph 5:1-2)

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in Hs wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.

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So much bad news it’s hard to even pick up a paper or turn on the TV or radio! It’s almost like the media has one goal and one goal only – create a nation of discouraged and depressed people.

However, the news I picked up and read this morning came from my Bible. “Many are the plans in the mind of man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand.” Proverbs 19:21

It may be true that we are in for a rough ride but God is in the boat keeping us afloat. Our most important task is to be the encourager in a discouraging world. Keep on praying, keep on witnessing and keep on clinging to the One is truly in control.

God is honest enough to warn us there will be trouble (John 16:33) but kind enough to remind us He will be our guard and guide through it. (Psalm 119:105) He is wise enough to know our situation before it happens (Psalm 139) and merciful enough to carry us through the hard parts. (Isaiah 46:4)

So get up, show up and stand up. Take that motion sickness pill and strap on the life jacket. You are going to get wet. You are going to get cold. You are going to get shaken about for a while. The political and social battles going on today guarantee it.

But never forget – “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (Mark 4:39-41

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Easter Sunday is quickly approaching. This was the week Jesus completed the work He came to do. I can’t help but reflect on the path I will walk my last week on earth.

Will I willingly choose to go into a place where I know I will suffer but where I also know I can have great impact? Jesus did. He entered Jerusalem fully knowing the crowd that welcomed Him would soon turn against Him. Hatred would soon permeate the air, and in the midst of that Jesus would perform the greatest act of love in history.

Will I take to time to stand up for what is right, for what matters? Jesus did. He entered the Temple and saw unrighteousness happening in that holy place. He took a stand that was unpopular and added more reason for the religious leaders to despise Him. He did it anyway because the honor of His Father was greater than any consequence.

Will I continue to witness and minister even when if I’m scorned and accused and questioned about my authority? Jesus did. He went back to the leaders who refused to accept Him and continued to teach them about the Messiah who was standing in their midst. He taught about love to those who hated. He warned about hypocrisy to the hypocrites. He cautioned, He predicted, He urged understanding. He used every minute He had left to make sure they understood His Father’s plan.

Will I make time for those most precious to me? Jesus did. He shared the Passover meal with His disciples and made memories they would need to carry on.

Will I make peace with my enemies? Jesus did. He gently and carefully washed the feet of His betrayer, Judas. He forgave before there was anything to forgive.

Will I accept what comes my way even if it’s unfair and cruel? Will I stay as close to my God as I possibly can? Will I speak healing words even as I face death? Jesus did. He prayed. He shared His agony with His disciples and let them see Him lay it all at His Father’s feet. He healed the soldier injured in the fight to capture Him.

Will I make sure my last words are ones that change the world? Jesus did. “Father forgive them …” Every heart in the crowd that witnessed His crucifixion witnessed His grace. The one who delivered the most brutal blows, the one who shouted angry words the loudest, the one who spit on Him – each received the same message – forgiveness.

To say the last week of Jesus was as glorious and impactful as the week of His birth is an understatement. I pray that I can set my soul on the same goal. Let me go out in a blaze of glory – doing what God has called me to do no matter how hard, unrewarding or painful. I long to hear my Master’s words:

‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ Matthew 25:23

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As autumn sweeps over the valley I call home I can’t help but marvel at the beauty and wonder that in all actuality signals the death of summer and warns us that winter is just around the corner. I am a warm weather lover. I don’t shed my jacket until the air hits at least 75 degrees, 80 is better and 85 is perfect. I want to be out in it, inhaling sunshine. But as soon as that pre-winter chill hits, I’m the sit by the fire and read girl, a quilt over my legs and a hot beverage in my hand.

Still – autumn captures me. I love russet maples. I love the sight of trees that rain down gold and yellow. I love the sound of leaves crunching beneath my feet and I smile when one lands lightly on my hair or floats past close enough to brush my cheek. Logically I know they are dying. But spiritually, I sense them dancing.

They have accomplished their mission in life, to bud and unfurl and shine lush green, giving shelter to birds and squirrels and frisky house cats. They have dressed the branches in a vibrant veil of life and given the breeze something to tickle. They’ve provided shade for the summer lover, a cool spot to sit and watch bees and butterflies do their thing.

And now that their virile days are over, they don’t go out without making a statement. Oh no – nothing quiet about their golden age. They transform. They get out their catchiest outfits, they wear red, they laugh in rusty tones, they twirl and float and settle soft.
They know the secret. They know that while others might see their purpose at an end, they have much more to offer. Children will love to jump and play in them, friends will enjoy walking through them, couples will grasp hands for warmth and share special moments taking in the beauty they add to the landscape.

Winter will come, snow will cover them until the world forgets they were ever there. But they will still be doing their work, mulching the earth to provide nourishment for the new growth that comes with the spring.

Never forget that like the leaves, God has a purpose and a plan for us at every age. Our mission is to listen, follow His leading, and embrace our value in our current season. Don’t lament the fertile green we once wore when you can dress in a ball gown of autumn colors. Don’t regret the day you find you must rest at the root of the tree when you can treasure the memory of the journey that brought you there and the rich heritage you leave for the new growth that is nourished by it.

“And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, Until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come” . Psalm 71:18

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Lisa Harper’s book, The Sacrament of Happy, What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World, is aSacrifice fast but truly valuable read.

What I love about this book:  It’s not a textbook on how to be happy, it’s not a make-you-feel-guilty if you’re not happy book, and it’s not a super spiritual do this and you’ll be happy book. It’s practical, it’s amusing, it’s real. Sometimes life circumstances make us unhappy but happy isn’t about life circumstances. It’s about perspective.

I’m currently suffering through a few weeks of recovering from an injury that has me on crutches and – worst nightmare of all, unable to drive. This was the perfect book for me to review at this point in time.

Lisa opens with a chapter called Is Happy Even Holy? And – you’ll be happy to know it is. She points out that happy is “a covenant state of being for God’s people.” And then goes on to ask Is God Happy?

This was my favorite chapter because I’d never grasped before that a perfect God would have to be happy. And how that is proven in scripture when it says He takes great delight in us. A delighted God is a happy God.

Further on Lisa explains how we get happy, how we stay happy even in sad times, and how we regain happy when we’ve lost it. Some of her illustrations are eye opening, I never thought of that kinds of revelation. For instance, in her use of the Good Samaritan story in chapter four she points out that the priest, the very one who passed the injured Samaritan by, had probably been burning incense and offering sacrifices all week in pursuit of God’s guidance and favor.  Clearly God tells us how to be happy but so many times, like the priest, we walk right by the opportunity.

I loved her “momma, I lub your breasts” story and the reminder that God laughs (Ps 2:4a). I loved her emphasis on the outward expression of happy through dancing and arm waving.

Lisa ends this book with some great thoughts on cultivating happy by taking our thoughts captive and remembering it’s the pouring out of ourselves that bring the best return and builds the happiness that withstands the hard blows of life.

I highly recommend this book regardless of where you are on the happiness scale at the moment. If you are up, you’ll need the information contained between its pages to help you when you’re down.  And if you’re down, you will be inspired out of your dark place into a place of light where you can learn to laugh again.

I was provided a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

 

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515d3fl4iNL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Just finished reading The Curious Christian: How discovering wonder enriches every part of life by Barnabas Piper. The book was provided to me in return for an honest review.

Piper makes the point in this book that all great discoveries didn’t just happen – they came about through research and trial and error. “Creativity is discovery put to good use in a fresh way. We cannot discover unless we ask and search; that is curiosity!”
Piper addresses the fact that we need to be constantly questioning and seeking new depths, new revelations, and new ways of expressing our faith. It’s so easy to become complacent about our Christian walk – not necessarily moving away from our beliefs, but certainly not moving closer to God through what we believe. As the author points out, curiosity is a valuable tool in any are of our life if we want what we invest our time and intellect in is to be vibrant and challenging.

The book is an easy, quick read and while I didn’t find it a “page turner” I did find it interesting and a worthwhile read. Curiosity that comes so easily to children is often quenched and buried in adults. But opening our minds to asking and seeking can take us back to the excitement of discovery we once experienced. I would recommend this book to anyone who needs practical advice on stepping up their game whether it be in Christian ministry, their personal Christian walk or any other area of their life.

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Wouldn’t life be great if we started at point A and moved to point B in a straight line?  Well, as this book makes apparent, no it wouldn’t.  The path to our destiny requires detours to help us mature, strengthen and develop into the person who can handle the destiny when it’s reached.

In his typical way, Tony Evans has written a book that relates to anyone who picks it up and opens to page one. “Detours are a good thing that often feels bad.”

Using the life of Joseph as the thread that carries out the theme, this book clearly opens the door to seeing the turns and roadblocks in life as vital parts of God’s plan for us to realize the very specific, very unique destiny that is ours from the day He blew breath into our lungs.

In his book, the author defines destiny as “the customized life calling for which God has equipped and ordained us, in order to bring Him the greatest glory and the maximum expansion of His kingdom.”  He goes on to explain how God will use the good, the bad and the bitter to get us there.

I’m a highlighter and this book tested the ink in my pink pen! Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Your destiny is not just to go through the motions day-in and day-out. It is a God-designed stamp on your soul that involves the use of your time, talents, and treasures for His glory and other people’s good for the advancement of His kingdom.”

“…in order to arrive at an authentic hope in your spirit, accepting your detours is necessary.”

“God creates detours in order to perform some construction on the pathways of our soul. ….. And depending on how we respond to our detours, we may need to be roadblocked several times before we reach where we are supposed to go.”

And my very favorite:  “When you fill a sponge full of water and then you add pressure to the sponge, water is going to flow out because it is full of water. When you are going through a trial and you feel the pressure of life caving in around you, how much of God comes out?”

And these are from just the first 50 pages!  I could go on and on. But you’d be better off running to the store and grabbing this book off the shelf. Because you are going to want to get to this one:  “Friend, if you ever get providence – the subset of sovereignty – understood, you will begin to view all of life differently. You will begin to rest when you used to fret. You will begin to breathe easily when you used to worry. You will begin to give thanks when you used to be filled with bitterness or regret. To fully live out the victorious Christian life and experience the abundance Jesus Christ died to provide, you must live and look at the events of your life through the lens of providence.”

You will find Detours by Tony Evans an easy, rewarding read filled with great perspective and profound revelation in how God uses the detours in the road to our destiny.

I received this book at no charge so that I would provide an honest review. I would very highly recommend this book to anyone whose path in life has and is filled with curves and roadblocks.

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Best book I’ve read on what God’s mission for His people is and how we are to respond.

In the very first chapter the authors make clear what the mission of God is by Israel’s mission in the Testament, “to live its life in such a manner that people would want to be saved by their God”; the mission of Jesus, atonement certainly, but to show us a life to imitate in order to lead others to God; and our mission, “God intends for His people to make disciples of every nation including our own.”

The book is concise and to the point. It is broken down into small chapters that cover where I am called to go with my church, my neighborhood, the nations, my job and anywhere else.

I loved this statement in chapter one, “Our mission is upward, inward, backward, forward, and outward.”  Capturing people for God through His word along with gospel-motivated and gospel-centered actions is the basic theme. And each chapter ends with a fill in the blanks Call To Action.

I found the chapter on the church to be profound in it’s clarification of what church is and how to find a “real” church. And this:  “Today on planet Earth King Jesus is the head of a body that the Bible calls the church. It is truly an incredible organism animated and empowered by his Spirit. It has a mind that can think his thoughts and have his perspective. It has eyes that can see the needs of neighbors. It has ears that can hear the cries of the nations. It has a mouth that can proclaim the good news of the gospel. It has legs that can walk to the hurting. It has arms that can embrace those in pain. It has hands that can serve those in need. It has feet that can be blistered and backs that can be whipped, all for the sake of a King who did all of this for us and so much more. This body called the church makes Jesus Christ real to this world.”

I could go on and on with the thoughts and the quotes. But I will just say this – every church needs to order some of these and make them required reading for  at least the Board and the ministry leaders.

NOTE:  This book was received free of charge from B&H Publishing in return for an honest review.

 

 

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bth_MarywithBabyJesus[1]It’s 4:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve and I never expected to be so heavy on this day with the things that are weighing on my heart. I’m not the only one I know. So many are facing much greater burdens and much greater life challenges. This season of joy and love and peace doesn’t always live up to it’s reputation, does it?

Well – actually it does. The TV specials are sparkly and white and soft and beautiful. We are led to believe that for Christmas to be Christmas we need the perfect outfit, the perfectly decorated tree, the perfectly wrapped gifts and the perfect loving family around the table. But today I’m realizing again that although the birth of Christ was the climax of that Bethlehem night, there are so many subtle lessons surrounding the momentous event.

Stress, worry, pain, shock, disappointment, confusion – all the things we live with today were in existence then. I would guess that a few sharp words may have been exchanged between Mary and Joseph along their journey, brought on by exhaustion and the weight of responsibility. Stress does that to us – brings out the irritation in our voice, the too quick answer, the sharp word.

I suspect that as Mary and Joseph made their way through the streets of the city on their way to the stable they fought crowds that had flooded the city. You can’t tell me the merchants didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to expand their line of products and overflow their streetside stalls. To purchase a simple meal Joseph would have had to stand in a long line, with impatient shoppers,  wailing children, tired, cranky clerks. Been there?

And as gentle as Mary appears in scripture, there is no way she didn’t crinkle her nose and give Joseph that “You’ve got to be kidding me” look when they entered the barn. Eating isn’t the only thing animals do in a barn, people!

God sent His Son in an ordinary way because He wanted ordinary people to be able to relate and accept this incredible gift. He wanted the poorest to know poverty doesn’t keep us from Him. He wanted the rich to know you must bow not buy your way to Him. He wanted the clean freaks to know even filth and unpleasant smells can’t keep Him away. He wanted the simple to know it’s not complicated, and the wise to know it doesn’t take a masters degree to find Him.

And the gifts – if you are anything like me, you have been wracking your brain, scouring the stores, scanning the internet trying to find the right one for each person on your list. I know Christmas isn’t about the gifts – but then again, it is. If I stopped shopping and tried to explain to my family from the 5 year old on up that I didn’t do gifts this year because Christmas is about the birth of Christ – I don’t think that would go over well. They know that but it doesn’t mean they are willing to give up gift giving.

So how can we take all of the not so wonderful things of Christmas and make them a part of the wonder, the miracle and the message? Here’s what I’m trying to do.

First, I’m taking my burdens, stress. irritations, frustrations and worry and I’m putting them in a gift box lined with prayer as tissue paper. I’m not skimping on the tissue paper either. I’m stuffing that box full until it pretty much overflows. Tissue paper is cheap. Prayer costs even less. 

Next, I’m putting the lid on that box because I know if I don’t I’ll be reaching in and taking those burdens out again and again to rearrange and ponder and carry them around for a while before putting them back. I’m taping the lid down so it won’t come off.

Then I’m pulling out the most beautiful wrapping paper I can find and covering that box with it because I want it to be visibly worthy of laying at the feet of Jesus. I want Him to know I’m serious about handing it over.

And the next thing I’m doing, after I walk away from the box, is pulling out every bit of kindness and gentleness and generosity I can find in my clothes closet and that’s the outfit I’m wearing today and tomorrow and hopefully beyond this weekend so I can bring the missing joy, peace and love to those around me.

Because I’m learning the lesson of Christmas.  God knows the pressure. He is aware of the demands on my time. He understands the things that make my heart heavy and my tears flow. But He set the Star of Bethlehem in the sky to show me the way to the Son of God in the manger and allow me to discover the truth of Christmas. 

It’s putting my trust in the Baby who became the Savior,

so I could travel from the Manger to the Cross,

and let Him come from Heaven to my Heart,

to make peace where there is none, to bring joy where there is sadness, and to give hope when things appear bleak. He gave Himself to me and I’m paying it forward.

Praying a beautiful Christmas for all of you.

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She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers

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The subtitle of this book, Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away, truly describes the essence of the author’s theme. These two young women, Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams, share some of their most challenging, tragic and discouraging experiences reaching all the way back to childhood and stretching to their present-day lives as wives and mothers.   They use these stories to emphasize our need to stay grounded in the solid truth of God’s Word if we are to survive the shaky, constantly changing reality of this world.

The book is easy to read and the life events are relatable. Life can be hard and we can lose hope if we don’t keep a firm grasp on the promises of God.

In one of the early chapters Amanda states “When I grip too tightly to the things I think I can control, I lose touch of the eternal truth that it is God who holds things together.” She beautifully illustrates this in the chapter with a personal story involving her daughter.

Later, Raechel talks about the false gospels and false truths we are handed daily and emphasizes why we read God’s Word “to find the Truth. We study and know and memorize God’s Word because we cannot waste any more of our precious time on this earth believing the lies. Even the lies that sound really good and entertaining and close enough.”

What touched me about the book is that these young women don’t profess to have all the answers, but they certainly have learned where to find all the answers.

I am passing this book on to a young friend who is early in her Christian walk because I believe she will fall in love with Raechel and Amanda and because I believe their stories will speak to her and help her find the solace and guidance in God’s Word that I wish for her.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone struggling to get into the Word on a regular basis, or to anyone who wants to bless a friend with some beautiful motivation to read the Word, study the Word, and memorize the Word.

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

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