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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.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: The Underground Girls of Kabul

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Hidden in plain sight are the bacha posh of Afghanistan--young girls chosen by their families to be boys during their childhood years in order to improve the family's social standing. This is not a transgender experiment, some sort of odd sexual trend, but rather an adaptation to a culture which values boys and crushes girls. Jenny Nordberg, in The Underground Girls of Kabul, explores this fascinating phenomenon.

Threading through the book is her budding friendship with Azita, a woman who defies many of Afghanistan's edicts about women being hidden away in burkas behind the closed doors of their homes. Azita holds political office and is devoted to improving her country. However, because she has had no daughters, she and her husband have chosen to make their youngest daughter into a boy. Although others in the city know these boys are really girls, they choose to accept them as boys, allowing these families improved social standing: a family with no sons is frowned upon, and the wife is mocked. Yet Azita suffers many of the difficulties of Afghan women, including an arranged marriage to an abusive husband.

Nordberg profiles a number of bacha posh from a variety of circumstances, highlighting the perhaps heretofore unknown prevalence of this strange cultural dynamic. As she does, she remarks upon the phenomenon of bacha posh as, really, an underground revolt against the patriarchal system of Afghanistan.

I found this book very interesting for a number of reasons, not the least of which was simply learning more about the social climate of this area of the world. As someone with a graduate degree in psychology, I found the idea of bacha posh very curious and interesting. I doubt that anyone could read this book and not come away with a new compassion for the extreme hardships women face under these political, religious, and social edicts.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my review.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

REVIEW: Journey to Jesus DVD Curriculum

Journey to Jesus: Building Christ-centered Friendships with Muslims is a six episode DVD curriculum appropriate for small group teaching. Interspersed with teaching sessions that illustrate the faith of Islam and the different approaches we can take to sharing the gospel are three role play dramas. One mini-drama shows us a Christian woman befriending a Muslim woman, one shows a Christian and a Muslim man, the final one involves two male college students--you guessed it, one Christian and one Muslim.

I found the curriculum interesting. To me, the takeaway on the course is the importance of building relationships with Muslims, finding common life ground from which to begin an eventual sharing of the gospel. The teaching session about the similarities and differences between Christianity and Islam was most instructive to me, because now I know more about what Muslims believe about Jesus. The session that describes the different types of Islam and the way these types break down across the Muslim world was helpful as well.

Although as a woman I found the drama about the two women to be the best role play for me personally, the one between the two college students got my attention because of my involvement in youth ministry. The young Christian man was clearly unable to articulate his faith, a fact which made the Muslim student (who knew his Koran inside out and upside down) openly contemptuous. We are always praying that our youth will have sustainable, defendable faith when they enter college, and to that end I will share this curriculum with our youth pastor.

I think this curriculum would work well for churches seeking to better understand the Muslims in their communities and reach out to them in friendship, love, and the gospel of Jesus.

I received this curriculum for free from Tyndale Publishing in exchange for this review.