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Saturday, April 25, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: A.D The Bible Continues

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With the popularity of the TV series by the same name, "A.D. The Bible Continues: The Revolution That Changed the World," is a perfect read. Following Paul, Peter, and other early notable biblical figures through the first 11 chapters of Acts, Dr. David Jeremiah uses a narrative style to show us details we may never have seen before. For instance, a good example is how he shows us, in-depth, the points Stephen made in his speech prior to being stoned--and how the Jewish leaders would have understood it from their point of view. It's easy to see how incensed they became by the arguments he made against them. Dr. Jeremiah does this for each of the chapters he narrates, giving us a fresh look at familiar territory.

Two other features of this book are quite enamoring. First, the insets throughout that illustrate key people, places, and terms allow the reader to glean some "behind the scenes" information. Second, each chapter, after narrating the text, includes application of biblical concepts to the believer's life. For instance, the chapter on Stephen's martyrdom then takes us through the greatness, challenge, and reward of serving.

This book would be easy for someone who is not a believer to read and understand. In fact, because it is so biblically sound, I could see someone who is not familiar with the Bible finding this a great introduction to the Word of God. On the other hand, for seasoned believers, this provides a new look and some deeper "nuggets" about stories they know and love. A win for everyone!

Dr. Jeremiah's site offers more information, as well as clips from the show.

I received this book free of charge from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for a fair review.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Car alarms and the zombie apocalypse

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Jesus might come back tonight. 

Or, He might come back in 5 months and 3 days. 

Or 12 years and 8 months. 

You get the point. We are told we will not know the day or the hour of His return...but we are told He definitely WILL return. 

God told Daniel that "knowledge will increase" at the time of the end. 

Paul told the believers in Thessalonica, 

'But you, brothers and sisters, are not in the darkness for the day to overtake you like a thief would. For you all are sons of the light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of the darkness. So then we must not sleep as the rest, but must stay alert and sober.'  1 Thessalonians 5:4-6, NET

Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 24 some of the signs that would precede the end. 

And the book of Revelation clearly outlines the events that will occur as this world draws to a close. 

These snapshots, and many others in God's Word, seem to indicate that though we cannot predict Jesus' return, we can have a good sense of when it is near. We are seeing many of these events unroll right in our headlines today. Almost every day. And we're supposed to pay attention. 

I heard a car alarm go off the other day as I was in my car at a stoplight. It sent a shot of adrenaline through me as I recognized that it is meant to indicate a dramatic problem--someone is breaking into your car. (This was a car under repair at an auto shop, however, so there wasn't really a threat). The alarm kept going. And going. And pretty soon I just wanted it to stop. All of a sudden, this thought came into my head: 

Things meant to ALARM us, 
and make us pay ATTENTION,
often just ANNOY us
and lead to AVOIDANCE. 

(For the record, I really used to dislike alliterative messages. However, God seems to give me a lot of words this way. Pretty sure He thinks that's funny). 

I thought of how many alarms are going off in our headlines these days--alarms straight up from the pages of the Bible. They're supposed to make us pay attention, because they point to something dramatic about to happen--something that will find millions of people unprepared. 

Remember this song? How about this video (which is fairly cheesy, but gets the point across) (and should probably be updated to include video footage of terrorist attacks in just the past year)?

As I type this, young people at a university in another country under siege by terrorists are being asked if they are Christians or not. Those answering yes are being shot. 

But instead of paying attention, much of the world is just annoyed at the persistency of the alarms. Be quiet. Stop shouting. Don't bother me. New episodes of (fill in the blank) are now on Netflix. What colors do you see when you look at that dress? We're not ALARMed. We're not paying ATTENTION. We're ANNOYed. We AVOID. 

Tonight commemorates the night Jesus poured out His prayers for me and for you in the garden. So intense was His passion for our salvation that He sweat blood. He pleaded with His Father: is there any other way to atone for their sin? No. There is no other way. So He got up and went to the cross, beaten, bloodied, spit on, cursed, crucified. Spent three days in hell. Rose in power--ALIVE. ASCENDED to heaven to wait for that moment, known only to the Father, when He will come back for those who choose to ACCEPT the "get out of hell free" card He purchased with His blood. 

Man, the A words are just flooding the page today.

Also tonight is the 3rd of the "blood moon" tetrad of 2014/15. These blood moons occurred on Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles last year, and are set to do the same this year. Historically, significant events have occurred in Israel coincident with these moons. It's possible something significant could occur tonight. Or tomorrow. Or in October, at the 4th blood moon. Or not. 

But here's the deal: the alarms are going off. We're supposed to pay attention. I don't want to tune out the blaring sounds and ignore them. I don't want to be annoyed or to avoid. And I don't want anyone else to either. I want my life lined up and ready because I listened to the alarms and paid attention. 

Here's a link to Matthew 24 if you want to read Jesus' words yourself. He had a lot to say about being ready. 

"I wish we'd all been ready..." 

Oh, and there's no zombie apocalypse. I realized some of you who are reading this are waiting to see when I'm going to get to that. I'm not. 


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Wake yourself up!

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What sound does your alarm make when it goes off in the morning? No matter what pleasant tone I choose for mine, it always sounds pretty loud and rude to me. I am always convinced it went off in error, that for some reason I set it for the middle of the night. But no...it really is time to get up. I want to hit the snooze button. Sometimes I do. Sometimes more than once. And I know you do too.

While getting up late might result in some minor inconveniences or make my morning more stressful than it has to be, it probably won't be life-changing. But I've been praying really hard lately for a particular segment of the body of Christ: those who are content with hitting the snooze button on their faith.

I read these verses the other day and they burned in my heart:

"Wake up, wake up! Put on the strength of the LORD's power. Wake up as in days past...wake yourself, wake yourself up! Stand up, Jerusalem!...put on your strength, Zion!...Stand up, shake the dust off yourself!...You have forgotten the LORD your Maker." (Isaiah 51:9-17, 52:1-2, selected, HCSB)

See, we can hit the snooze button on our faith by just going through the motions. Church on Sunday. Life for six days. Repeat.

But God made each of us for a unique purpose here on earth. Our lives, our walks of faith, mean something in eternity. We were made to be part of the "us" that is the community of believers down here on earth. We were made for intimate, personal, daily relationship with our Creator through His Son Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. We were made to know and walk with Him every day.

I refuse to be ordinary or normal in my walk of faith. Yes, I spiritualize everything, which causes no end of groaning from my sons (and ask one of my future daughters in law what angle I took when I overshot Siri's directions on the way to a baby shower). Yes, I get up in the dark every morning and read and pray through the dawn. Yes, I really do set my cell alarms with hourly prayer reminders on busy days. But I want to leave this earth walking in all that God made me to do and be while I'm here for this breath called life. 

"But Moses entered the thick darkness where God was"--Exodus 20:21

Do I have it all together? A firm and quick no. My family will tell you that I fail every single day in any number of areas. And I'm often shy in front of others and have a hard time speaking what God speaks in my head and heart--which is why He made me a writer, I guess. I yell at my kids, get grumpy with my husband, and am often blindsided by fears or doubts. 

But that's just the point---I'm no different from anyone else. 

I don't want anyone to walk away from church on Sunday and go through a busy week and then come back next week for a fill up. God wants to be our everything. He wants to walk and talk with us and fill us in all the ups and downs of our days. To imprint His Word on us when we open it every day. To hear our prayers, whether they're for a parking space or a dying loved one.

Don't leave Him in church on Sunday morning, hit the spiritual snooze button, and "forget the LORD your Maker" till you walk back in next week. 

You, too, can have a heart that burns for---whatever God made your heart to burn for. You too can fall in love with His Word, worship for real, connect with Him, hear His voice.

Want more than you've got in your walk right now? Ask for it! Get down on your knees and ask Jesus to fill your mind, heart, soul, and strength with oomph for what He put you on this earth to do. Ask Him to give you the Holy Spirit to sanctify you and teach you. Then

  • Read your Bible every day--even if it means getting up in the dark or spending lunch at your desk. 
  • Pray for your family--set alarms on your cell if you need to! 
  • Worship Him--put on praise music at your desk or in your home or through your headphones. 

Wake yourself up! And if you do, message me and tell me what happened. I'm praying for you!


Monday, March 16, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Stay

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I loved this book.

I'm pretty busy, so sometimes it takes me a while to get through a book, even a really good one. However, when a book really, really grabs me I am known to shove everything else away so I can climb into it...and that's what happened when I began reading Stay, by Dave Burchett. Stay is an easygoing, conversational recounting of the spiritual lessons Burchett learned through his two dogs, Hannah and Maggie.

This actually makes such superior sense. Why hasn't there been a book like this before? I've often thought, as the owner of four (yes, four--though one actually belongs to my son and his fiancee) dogs, that there are spiritual lessons in the relationships among us. Burchett grabbed his pen and journal and put them down on paper to share with us.

The first lesson is perhaps the most significant. As Burchett's wife Joni battled cancer, Hannah was steady, sure, and never condescending. She was a precious, visible reminder of God's closeness to their family as they traveled through the valley of the shadow of death.

There are other lessons. For instance, watching Hannah shake excess water off her body one day when she emerged from the water, Burchett spiritualizes us to "shake off the lies." The enemy of our soul assails us, drenches us if you will, with lies. We have to learn to shake them off, remembering to "step back, be still, and listen for the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit."

Burchett learned another critical lesson from Maggie. On the first day of her obedience training (and she needed obedience training!), the instructor said something that truly preaches: "First of all, you have to teach her to sit and stay. When she is sitting, she can't jump and misbehave." Yup. Application? "..when I abide (the biblical version of "sitting") in Christ, I am empowered to resist sin." Amen!

If you love God and you love dogs, read this book. It is sweet and delightful as it speaks so loudly about our walks of faith. You can visit Burchett's blog here.

I received this book for free from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for a fair review.


Monday, January 19, 2015

BOOK REVIEW: Always on my Mind

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One of my favorite series has a new installment! Always on my Mind, by Susan May Warren, is Book #4 in the Christiansen Family series. Highlighting Casper Christiansen this time around, this book brings us back to Deep Haven and places Casper and his older brother Darek together at the resort.

We find Casper returning to wintry Minnesota after a failed attempt at treasure-hunting. Casper's restless attempts to escape the conflict that triangulated his brother Owen, beautiful Raina Beaumont, and him are unsuccessful as he finds himself face to face with her...in her 9th month of pregnancy with Owen's baby. Although Owen's whereabouts have been unknown since Book #3, his presence is very much felt right in the middle of Casper and Raina, who gives the baby up for adoption. A decades-old mystery captivates them, however, just as a new flame threatens to prevent them from ever acknowledging how right they are for each other.

As always, Warren creates believable characters and weaves them into solid plot-lines. For instance, against the central story of Casper and Raina we find Darek and Ivy negotiating conflict of their own as Ivy nears term with their second baby. John and Ingrid Christiansen, the pillars of the family, return from Europe (with daughter Amelia hiding a sad secret) just in time to offer sage advice and assistance to their adult sons. The final few moments of the book leave us on a cliffhanger, anticipating Book #5. And like every book in the series, God's love and perfect direction for each family member's life thread through the pages.

Here is a delightful letter from Warren about the book series. Enjoy!

I received this book for free, in exchange for my review, from Tyndale Publishing.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Unplanned

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This book is not what you might think. It is not a holier-than-thou rant at the abortion industry, or a right wing field day against abortionists. It is one woman's story, and a woman pivotal to Planned Parenthood at that. It is sensitively told, with great humility and honesty. 

Abby Johnson grew up in a Christian home, but, as happens so often with young people, wasn't able to defend her beliefs when she came face to face with a Planned Parenthood recruiter at a college job fair. Within a few minutes her mindset shifted enough to apply to be a volunteer, escorting women to and from their cars at the Bryan, Texas clinic. Gradually embracing Planned Parenthood's official mission to reduce abortions by providing access to birth control, she eventually became so passionate about the organization that she was offered the position of clinic director.  And between college and the end of her career with Planned Parenthood, she had two abortions of her own. 

But.

But the volunteers with Coalition for Life who stood at the fence line of the clinic day in and day out over those eight years befriended and prayed for her. She came to believe that they truly did care for her. She also saw them care about the women who came to the clinic, much as she did from her side of the fence line. And on the day that, after several key life events, she knew she could no longer be involved in the abortion industry, it was to those friends on the other side of the fence line that she ran...igniting a media fire when Planned Parenthood took legal action against her for doing so. Within hours, she was a national news story. 

Unplanned is riveting. I read most of it in one sitting, because Abby's story is so compelling and so thoughtfully told. I believe what sets this book apart from other pro-life books is her insistence on showing readers the genuine, though biblically erroneous, belief of many Planned Parenthood employees that they are helping women in crisis. She points to many employees who are uncomfortable with the organization's priority of abortions to make money, and indeed with the issue of abortion itself. In fact, as of the writing of the book, 116 former Planned Parenthood workers have left the industry through the assistance of the non-profit organization founded by Abby and her husband Doug (And Then There Were None). Abby now speaks around the country about her experiences, a firm advocate for the unborn.

I won't give away the reveal of the final chapter but suffice to say--it's a huge God thing! 

You can read more about Abby Johnson here, and if you'd like to read the chilling first chapter of Unplanned, go here (caution: upsetting content, though not gratuitously so). 

I received this book for free for purposes of this review from Tyndale Publishers. 





Friday, November 21, 2014

When Trash Attacks



Ewww, really? That's the picture to accompany this post?

My kids groan and say I can spiritualize anything. True. This morning it was my wrestling match with the trash truck.

Lately I've felt like my life is pretty much up to my neck. Commitments and circumstances have made me feel pretty overwhelmed, and some recent health problems have topped it off. Part of trying to get things into balance again is taking back up the walking that I really love. It allows me to listen to worship music or a Bible study podcast. I can pray or think for 30 minutes out in the fresh air without any interruptions.

So. This brings me to the trash truck.

I'm walking along, thinking, enjoying the fresh air after a couple of brief sprinkles (sorry, Buffalo), when a trash truck pulls ahead of me. I've just begun a fresh block of sidewalk, and it's an extra long block. The trash truck is on the same side of the street as I am, and the driver is stopping every house to pick up cans and dump them overhead into the truck. I quickly realize I'm in trouble, because he and I are at the same pace. I get a few steps ahead when he pulls in front of me and, as the hydraulic arms put each can back down, a burst of foul garbage air belches into my immediate future.

Suddenly I laugh out loud. This is my LIFE!!  This objectifies my tug of war with my circumstances and commitments...just when I think I pull ahead, here come the challenges. It feels like I will never be able to escape them! Plus,it's just an awkward thing to keep pace with the garbage man, y'all.

I look ahead to the end of the block..and see another block to my usual route which is probably the truck's next destination on its route. I decide to walk much more quickly and see if I can pull ahead. We're neck and neck for a few houses, but then I break ahead. As I push myself to walk faster than I have in awhile because of my health problem, I realize I don't have the pain I thought I would. The truck falls farther and farther behind. My air is clear again and the noise fades. Finally, I make it to the end of the second block, cross the street, and the truck turns and disappears.

So. This brings me to the spiritual lesson.

 Job said to him had been appointed "months of futility" (Job 7:3). That meant that what God had allowed him to suffer would come to an end. He hadn't been appointed futility for the rest of his life, but for a certain season. We know that God restored Job's losses and blessed his future more than his latter. The trash truck fell behind. Job pulled ahead.

Paul said he counted all things as garbage (grin)  that he might win Christ. He said "forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" Philippians 3:13, 14. The trash truck fell behind. Paul pulled ahead.

When trash attacks, pull ahead. Doing so will push you to grow, and you may be surprised to find strength you didn't know you had. You may never had known it had you not been keeping pace in the garbage race. Pretty soon your air will be clean again, and your trash truck will fade from view.

I've now spiritualized the trash pick up. You're welcome.