Which of my women friends are courageous?
One of my friends was diagnosed with Cushing's Syndrome, a health issue that affects not only her physical wellness, but also her appearance, emotional stability, and ability to perform daily activities. She has had an increase in symptoms and questions that are not being answered by medical professionals. On top of her mounting fatigue and difficulty handling any stress (Cushing's syndrome directly and adversely affects hormones responsible for helping us manage stress), she's developed chronic hives that have allergists, dermatologists and endocrinologists all baffled. And yet she smiles. And yet she prays and praises. And yet she reaches out for opportunities to connect with others. She continues working with seniors even on days that she feels exhausted beyond normal and miserable in her own skin. She keeps pushing forward and talking with her is not attendance to a pity party. She blesses me with her quiet perseverance and servant's heart.
It takes courage not to allow your pain or your struggle
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect as I've never seen a product claiming to be a "prayer and praise coloring journal" before. I love it. Absolutely love it. It has a durable, beautiful cover that is thick and sturdy. It opens easily to spread the pages flat for writing and coloring and each page spread contains a short prayer, a related Bible verse in NLT, either lines for writing or a space for other artistic pursuits (like making a collage, writing with more freedom for size/space, sketching, etc. AND a beautiful variety of areas to color in yourself. They could've easily left the interior black and white since it's a coloring book, but they added color in just the right amounts to most pages. Some have just a splash of color, some have a full background with areas left black and white to color in, and some are indeed only black and white. I find this book to be very inviting, warm, and its creative beauty welcomes a reader to the devotional experience it allows without making you feel like you'd need to be on a schedule or need to hurry through a lot of text. I think combining the ability to both journal or color will really help me to slow down and dwell on the prayer and Scripture.
Also, I appreciate the thoughtfulness in the writing of these prayers. While the overall feeling of the journal is one of encouragement, love, and appreciation, there are prayers with sound doctrine that prompt us to consider our own sin, to be forgiving to others, and to look for opportunities to share the Gospel with others sprinkled throughout. It's not a pushy to-do list, it's a very gentle reminder and encouragement to live out the faith we've stated we commit our lives to. I would recommend this item to anyone and I think it would make a great gift item for those times you want to give something tangible but just aren't sure what. This could be given at baby showers, graduations, to someone needing a get-well encouragement, as well as birthdays, holidays, etc. Everyone needs gratitude. As the Veggie Tales say, "A thankful heart is a happy heart!"
*In the interest of full disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to give a positive review, my opinions are honest.
You can read my review of the new NLT Bible here.
This is book is written to a wide audience: pastors, lay leaders (unpaid individuals with leadership positions in the church or in its programs) and also church attendees and members. We all know that discipleship is at the heart of healthy Christianity. After all, Christianity is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, and allowing His grace to sanctify us and make us more like Him. Jesus took the ministry of discipleship very seriously and His disciples "turned the world upside down" announcing the coming of the Kingdom of God. How carefully have we thought about the definition of discipleship? How much thought have we put into how we should go about disclipling others? Do the programs and practices in our churches reflect the way Jesus discipled? Is it possible our churches could experience more growth if they began to look at some discipleship options from "outside" the box (or should I say "outside the churches walls)?
- Preston Sprinkle tackles some hard questions in his book, "Go," but he does so in a loving, respectful, investigative manner. He explores the results of recent Barna Group surveys finding that there can be quite a difference between how pastors, lay leaders and church attendees view discipleship and the programs the church has to offer. The author offers insights into why there may be discrepancies between these viewpoints, but he does not point a finger at one group or the other and offer a "shame on you" sermon or a "get with the program" pep talk. Reading this book is like having a conversation with a variety of humble, open minded, authentic members of the body of Christ who hold various positions and are not hung up on their differences.
There were a few passages that had me nodding my head in agreement, longing for days when the church's light will shine brighter in this dark world. One of the simple quotes I enjoyed was early in the book, when the author was setting the foundation for later concepts. He stated, "When Jesus said, 'Come follow me,' he wasn't heading to Sunday school. He was on his way to heal the sick, befriend a tax collector, stand up for an adulteress, and proclaim Good News to the poor."
I felt like I had a good grasp on how discipleship "ought" to be done in the Biblical sense from reading the Bible and reading or talking about ministries which have proven to be very fruitful and have the contagious joy of the gospel, which seems to often be lacking from large group format programs. I was not sure whether reading this book would simply confirm the ideas I'd formed or expand on them, but it has certainly expanded them and been well worth my time to read. I have a half dozen pages marked with post-it notes and the book has sparked a couple good conversations with my spouse. The entire section devoted to why having a multi-enthic church congregation is so important was very well written and thought provoking.
Several different controversial topics are addressed with tact. I have heard of people disliking the phrase "accept Jesus into your heart" because it sounds so individualistic and self-centered. The emphasis is on what WE do rather than what Christ has done as the finished work on the cross. This book also asks us gently to examine the phrase "having a personal relationship with Jesus," not because it is inherently wrong, but because it can become a misconception that our relationship with Jesus is to be private. "Our relationship with Jesus is personal, but it's never just personal. It's also communal [we need to be in fellowship with others] and missional [we need to be involved with those outside our belief system to share the gospel]." (Comments in brackets are not quotes from the author, but my commentary for clarification.)
The author of this book quotes several other sources, aside from the Barna Group, and I think I'd enjoy reading some of these books he mentions. For example, he refers to a book called "Church Refugees" by sociologists Josh Packard and Ashleigh Hope. They interviewed 100 people who left the church (referred to as "dechurched" for some reason) and were very surprised by the results they found. Here's a quote from their book, "The dechurched are leaving to do more, not less. The church isn't asking too much of people; it's asking the wrong things of them . . . . Jesus commanded his followers to care for the poor, the sick, and the hungry,, [yet] the dechurched have experienced the church as an organization that cares primarily for itself and its own members."
The much discussed topic of why we have children leaving the church when they hit adulthood is also addressed briefly, suggesting that we may not be laying a large and deep enough foundation for our children by teaching them primarily about how they are to be saved and neglecting to teach them the calling Jesus had for those who are saved: to count the cost and follow Him. "Jesus didn't come preaching a gospel of individual salvation, nor did he come to take us to church. He came preaching 'the kingdom of God'-- the reign of God over all things. .... Jesus's kingdom is a whole new reality, a different way of living, a counter-cultural existence that can't be contained inside the four walls of a church building."
I would recommend this book to any Christian, middle school aged and above. I think it would provide a very thought-provoking study and conversation for leaders and laymen to go through this book together while examining the church's programs, resources, and available talents which are not being tapped into. I cannot picture that happening without conflict in many cases, but if Christ were the center and the fruit of the spirit was abounding, I think it could lead to a revival of serving in that community.
In the interest of full-disclosure, I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of reviewing. I was not required to give a positive review, my opinions are my own.
I remember thinking summer would be a relaxing, unstructured time for the 3 boys and I during the day while my husband is at work. I didn't set myself lofty goals with homeschooling, just some little ends to tie up. No pressure. Today I brought one child to a Sports Camp, acted as referee for the other two, prepared lunch, defrosted meat for dinner, taught a math lesson, made calls about bills, picked up my son from Sports Camp, came home for a quick snack. Then, my husband came with and we set out to run to 2 places but it turned into 5... I believe I may be starting to look forward to the structured days our school year will bring!
Despite the hectic world we live in, as confessing Christians, our lives should look different in some ways. I have been very intentional about praying, particularly for others since I felt God calling me to intercessory prayer a few years ago. I let my Bible reading slide and wasn't reading God's Word daily for the last few months, but I realized that is a pitfall I don't want to find myself stuck in. My faith was greatly kindled at a Voice of the Martyr (VOM) Advance Conference. I picked up my Bible again and I asked God to forgive me for not setting time aside to commune with Him and read His Word. I asked my husband to pray for me to have wisdom. God does answer prayers! Here's one thing He's revealing to me:
Don't focus on what you cannot do, watch for opportunities of what you can do.
Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood: A Down-to-Earth, Practical Devotional for the Hearts & Lives of Moms
I am not a huge devotional fan. I couldn't even count how many I have picked up, read samples from, and set aside. I have even gone so far as to purchase some and discontinue their use (despite my best efforts) a short way into the text. I usually don't get "hooked" by these books. There is something about having a designated amount and topic to read set to a structured schedule that just doesn't appeal to me. Far too many devotionals try to fill a single page by condensing a sermon or expanding a hallmark card encouraging quote.
Melissa B. Kruger wrote "Walking with God in the Season of Motherhood: An Eleven-Week Devotional Bible Study" differently. I find myself going back to this book, even when a bit of the writing has pricked my conscience and made me aware of an area of my life that needs sanctification. Even when I am off schedule because I completely forgot to pick up my devotional for a few days (or weeks). This devotional feels like a gentle conversation with a wise friend who has traveled a road similar to mine. I find it strangely comforting. Strange, because as I stated before, I don't really like devotional books.
This time of year can be hard to enjoy if you have anxiety. It is so close to school starting that anxiety about the change of season (whether or not there are any major differences from last year to this) can stand as an obstacle to enjoying the last couple weeks of summer vacation.
Are the kids ready to transition to more structured days? Am I? Shouldn't I be easing in more routine now?
Great questions!! Either way, time marches on. Some years we've tried to get the kids to reasonable bedtimes starting two weeks or even one week before school starts, some years we haven't. Some years we've started school slowly, adding in subjects one at a time to build up to a regular day, some years we just jump in with both feet. This is really just a variation of the question above. The question above was basically, how do I end summer? This question is, how do I start school? As long as you DO start, you'll get into the groove. Different approaches for different people, for different circumstances and different years. Don't compare your approach to others' approaches, just consider the situation and the options.
Did we get all the supplies we're going to need?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe you got too much, or haven't even started thinking about shopping yet. This is small stuff in the scheme of things really. Anything that can be remedied with less than an hour in Walmart is small stuff in the scheme of things. Keep that in mind and move on. You can always share/donate extras or make another run to a store for needs that pop up.
Are the decisions we made about curriculum and/or activities the wisest for the situation and children?
Did you pray about them?
Woah.... where did THAT come from? Isn't this an anxiety post that's supposed to be a feel-good read about how "I really CAN handle this time of year"??? This is a reality post about life. Decisions that shape the life of your child (or other people's children) should be prayed over. Do you know these kids' hearts? Their futures? God does. Consult Him. If you've made decisions already without consulting the Lord, that doesn't mean you need to scrap everything and start all over again. It means you need to have some quiet time and search your heart.
God, was I so busy and so anxious because I am trying to do this all on my own strength and by my own wisdom? Father, I am sorry; please, forgive me. I know that man can make plans, but You are the One who establishes and directs our paths (Proverbs 16:9). I should have consulted you first. No matter how good, or how off course my plans are, I desire that Your purpose prevails in my life (Proverbs 19:21). Please grant me wisdom, Lord, and a teachable spirit, that I will be willing to make adjustments according to Your leading. I desire to bring You glory with my decisions and I know that no matter how this fall and the following months turn out, You will be working all things for my good because I love You. (Romans 8:28).
In Jesus Name, Amen.
Will I look back at this time period and kick myself for doing something wrong or not doing enough?
Let's use looking back as an opportunity to be grateful for God's provision and protection, to praise Him for His sustaining grace and longsuffering lovingkindness. Let's not allow ourselves to use looking back to beat ourselves over not being perfect. We already know we're not perfect, no need to dwell there. If you need somewhere to dwell, I highly suggest the Word of God. Next time those anxious thoughts are starting to zip around your head with increasing speed and intensity, remember two things.
Remember you are never alone and are cherished deeply by the Creator God of the Universe Who knows all things, is all-powerful, and is present everywhere.
Remember this verse, which is challenging to put into practice, but comforting like nothing else:
What is the Difference Between the Kingdom of God and the Church? A Book Review of "Kingdom Come" by Reggie McNeal
As Christians, we are adopted into God's family; we desire to follow Jesus and play a role in God's Kingdom. What exactly is that role? Many of us turn to our churches for answers, and while that isn't inherently wrong (my husband and I are active members of our local church), we may sometimes feel like we're missing something. Maybe we haven't found our niche yet, where serving is more of a joy than an effort. Maybe we have found our "place" in the church, grown roots, looked around and found ourselves wondering, "Is this really all it is supposed to be? I feel like there must be something different, or more... a feeling I cannot put my finger on."
If you can relate to the sentiments above, you're new to the Christian faith, or you've come to the realization that we, as individuals and families can get caught "keeping up with the Jones" as much in church as some do outside of church, this book would be an inspiring read for you.
Author, Reggie McNeal, has a tremendous amount of respect for the church as the body of Christ here on earth. That doesn't stop him from asking some pointed questions and making some undeniable (if we're being honest) assertions based on his observations of the current affairs of the church. This whole book isn't in the tone of "I figured out what's wrong with the church and you'd better listen to how it should change...." though. I've come across enough books that offer criticism and simplistic demands for change without offering depth regarding how things came to be the way they are, constructive conversation regarding potential challenges with the author's views, or relational advice about how others may respond to personal changes readers make. Here are a couple quotes:
"The missional church conversation of the past two decades has drawn attention to the bedrock Kingdom truth that mission is central to the Kingdom. This emphasis comes after centuries in which the church has focused primarily on getting the message right (which was a natural outgrowth of the doctrinal concerns that powered the Reformation.) Now the shift is underway to getting the mission right. (page 43) Living the truth, not just speaking the truth, is the acid test of authenticity. (page 44)"
I would like to warn readers that there was a brief time in chapter 3 that I contemplated McNeal was a soft-spoken social justice gospel preacher. Meaning, I had concerns that he placed such a high emphasis on serving others and attempting to improve the lives of those in need that it appeared to eclipse the foundational truth that our eyes are to be on Jesus as we serve Him through true religion. This quote spurred my contemplation, which is listed as a key point about the Kingdom narrative ("kingdom narrative" are the words the author uses to describe God's vision for the actions of the church on earth, as well as how His servants and beloved children fit into that plan as the Church): "People who do good by enhancing life contribute to the kingdom enterprise, even if they are unaware of it.(page 46)" If this chapter strikes doubt in your mind about whether the message of the book is for you or not, I'd urge you to continue reading. After all, some would argue C. S. Lewis held an inclusive gospel interpretation, believing one did not necessarily have to profess the name of Jesus in order to be saved and enter into Heaven. His writings are certainly worth reading with discernment.
Here is a list of topics found deeper in the book that provided an opportunity for reflection, prayer and conversation:
There is much more in this book than I've listed here, but I hope that sharing the points I found most intriguing and inspiring has been helpful to those reading reviews!
***For the sake of full disclosure: I received a copy of this book courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of review. The opinions expressed above are my own; I was not obligated to give a positive review.
We've had the hardest year as a family that I can remember. Maybe 2006 was a close second, but that was when our family was literally half the size it is now. I found myself praying a few weeks ago for God to show me beauty, to encourage me and remind me there is hope. I was in a valley and though my head and my heart know Christ is sufficient and our hope is found in Him, my gaze and my focus seemed to continuously shift to the pain and worries swallowing up our no-longer-normal-routine. It's not like we slipped into a rut and were in a dull drum place. The ground gave way beneath us and we found ourselves at the bottom of an abandoned well. Trauma. Tragedy. Deep questions without answers. Would God meet me where I was* and honor my selfish prayer for something beautiful?
*When I say "meet me where I was" it is not in a literal sense. God is everywhere and knows everything already! I meant it in a personal, relational sense. Did I have to change to move closer to His will or would He swoop into my misery? The answer: Both.
Review of "Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out" by Brennan Manning
This book was so good that I ordered a paper copy before I had even finished reading the ebook. Yep. And as soon as I finished the ebook, I ordered another paper copy to give away as a gift to friends. This review is going to be short; not because I don't have a lot I could say about the book, but because I don't know how I could put it into words.
As I started off reading this book, I had a slight notion that this could be one of those "health, wealth, and prosperity" types of messages. I mean, how can you write an entire book devoted to the single topic of grace without seeming to neglect the fact that God is also a just God Who does not allow sin to go unpunished?
Give this book a chance and read the first 25 pages with a heart that is desiring to hear the author's message rather than a suspicious mind looking for flaws (that is where, I admit, my mind often starts out when reading a new book, especially one that deals with anything theological). I am not asking you to throw out discernment; I am asking you to give the author an adequate amount of reading so that you can really get a feel for where he is coming from.
I think you'll not only be pleasantly surprised at the number of hits-the-nail-on-the-head statements you'll find, such as:
As I listen to sermons with their pointed emphasis on personal effort- no pain, no gain- I get the impression that a do-it-yourself spirituality is the American fashion. [page 12]
I can be addicted to vodka or to being nice, to marijuana or being loved, to cocaine or being right, to gambling or relationships, to golf or gossiping. Perhaps my addiction is food, performance, money, popularity, power, revenge, reading, television, tobacco, weight, or winning. When we give anything more priority than we give to God, we commit idolatry. Thus we all commit idolatry countless times every day. [page 60]
Trust at the mercy of the response it receives is a bogus trust. [page 82]
But you'll also be invigorated by the encouraging truths that are renewed in our minds and hearts:
We must never allow the authority of books, institutions, or leaders to replace the authority of knowing Jesus Christ personally and directly. When the religious views of others interpose between us and the primary experience of Jesus as the Christ, we become unconvicted and unpersuasive travel agents handing out brochures to places we have never visited. [page 32]
The moment the focus of your life shifts from your badness to his goodness and the question becomes not "What have I done?" but "What can he do?" release from remorse can happen; miracle of miracles, you can forgive yourself because you are forgiven, accept yourself because you are accepted, and begin to start building up the very places you once tore down. [page 83]
The contagious joy of Jesus (only carriers can pass it on) infected and freed His followers. [page45]
This is not just a feel-good book to remind us of God's consuming love, nor is it a heresy naming-and-claiming select verses out of the Bible. I am glad I chose to read this book despite my initial impressions. My pastor of 15 years had recommended this book to me, saying, "Read it; it will resonate with you." He was absolutely right. God is good; I serve the Lord and desire to follow Jesus Christ, not to merely fulfill religious traditions or expectations nor to prove anything to the world. I desire to follow and obey Jesus out of my deep love for Him and am extremely grateful that He first loved me. (1 John 4:19)
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I am not much of a blog reader. There's only a couple I check on occasion:
Love this girl's writing... feels like she's a long distance friend. Well, her sister is my long-distance friend, so that probably helps. Either way, what an inspiration and encouragement- you just need to check out some of the places life has taken Leah and be strengthened and inspired by the love that oozes (yes, oooozes) from her heart for Jesus, His people and His creation!
If you like nummy recipes, or have special dietary needs (or both!) check it out. ALL of her recipes are Vegan, and many can be made gluten-free. I stumbled upon it when searching for dairy/egg free treats to make for my kiddo and have gotten hooked on several recipes. Okay, "hooked on" doesn't portray it well enough. How about "addicted to"? That's more fitting. Will definitely be going back for more!