Monday, July 27, 2015

Reality Check: It's Not All About You

In my Bible study today there was a point made that I hope we're all aware of, but many of us tend to forget at times.

Church is not all about you.

I know. Gasp! Horrors! Blasphemy! Look, I get it. Most of us (myself included) are completely selfish people. We can't help it. It's our sinful nature coming out full force. I like it when stuff is made easier for me. I like it when things go my way. I like it when it's about me. Don't you, at times?

So I was really convicted, but pumped up, when I read my study today.

Ephesians 1:22 says that God has put all things under Jesus' feet, and God gave Jesus to this world to be the head over all things to the church.

Ephesians 1:12 says that we should be to the praise of God's glory. (We should exist for his glory.)

Not our glory. God's glory.

Colossians 1:18 says that Jesus Christ is the head of the body, the church, that in all things he might have preeminence. (Preeminence meaning that he holds the first place)


As humans, we all want to be happy. But what Paul teaches us here is that the church does not exist to make us happy. We exist to further the Lord's purpose.

I understand there are times you feel frustrated toward your church. They've changed the worship music again. They've repainted the classrooms a color you hate. They sing too much. They don't sing often enough. The music is too loud. You can't hear the music. People are too friendly and you want to be left alone. People aren't friendly enough and you feel ignored. The preacher says something that hits you right in the gut and you don't like that. They're too busy. They're not busy enough. They only read out of a version of the Bible that you don't like. The sermons are too long. The sermons are too short. They never have flavored creamer at their coffee bar.


Again. The church does not exist to make you happy.

If you are feeling frustrated about one of the things I've listed previously, I urge you to search yourself and pray about these things. Are they significant enough to make you leave your present church? Are these roadblocks on your spiritual journey? Or are they just... things... that Satan uses to distract us?

If your pastor consistently preaches from his own opinion instead of the word of God, I encourage you to either pray HARD for discernment, or maybe seek out a new church. If things are happening at the church that are obviously against God, please find a new church. If the members, the deacons, the elders, the pastor are leading the church instead of God, you may want to seek out a new church.

Let's stop being so petty. Let's quit making church about me. Make it about God. Keep your focus on God, and all that other stuff should just fade away. 

God's Mercy Revealed in Genesis

I think it's safe to say I have read my Bible a good 5 or 6 times in my life. I've definitely read Genesis a dozen times or more. But I'm starting a new study where I'm reading the Bible chronologically (which I've never done) so I find myself back at Genesis. Back at the beginning. I'm reading along, nodding my head at the familiar days of creation. I read the temptation and fall of Adam and Eve, a story with which I consider myself very familiar.

Tonight, as I read, though, I was struck by an act of mercy that I have never noticed before.

Right after God speaks his curse to the serpent, Adam, and Eve, Genesis 3:21-23 states, "Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and clothed them. And the Lord God said, 'Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden.'"

I'm pretty sure that every other time I read this scripture I was assuming the tree of life was the same thing as the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

See, back in Genesis 2:9, we read that God grew trees out of the ground to be pleasant to our sight, as well as to provide food. This included the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 2:16-17, God tells Adam that he can eat from any tree except the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Aha! Is the tree of life how God planned to extend the lives of Adam and Eve? Without getting too deep into theology that I don't know a lot about, I do believe that God intended for Adam and Eve (and mankind) to live forever in perfection. It would make sense that he would have this tree for them to eat from and it would have a sort of "life-giving" substance.

Now, after Adam and Eve have sinned, God has to punish them as a consequence of their actions. One consequence for Adam is that he is going to have to toil and work and labor, for the rest of his life (Genesis 3:17-19).

What would happen if Adam had that curse placed upon him, and then ate from the tree of life? Is it possible, perhaps, that his life would be extended - in which case so would his toiling? his laboring? his work load?

That's why I placed that word "therefore" from verse 23 in bold when I typed out the verses previously. God steps back and says (verse 22) that Adam now knows about good and evil, and it is a good possibility that he could reach out and eat also from the tree of life, and thus live forever. Therefore God sends him out of Eden. For his own sake. Out of love. Out of extreme mercy.

I'm so thankful for the grace and mercy of God. I'm like Adam and Eve. I take my beautiful life for granted. I waste time. I miss opportunities to witness. I'm impatient. I try to do things my own way. I try to go faster than God. But this passage serves as a reminder to me, that God is always watching over me. Trying to steer me back onto His path. Diverting me from temptations or decisions that aren't right.

I would love to hear any thoughts you have on this passage. Have you ever thought of this before when reading this particular scripture?

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Crazy Little Thing Called Love (Review)

This review is for the book "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Beth Vogt. I have read a couple of other books written by Vogt and I really like her writing style. She is very modern and I always enjoy her characters.

In this book, Vanessa is newly engaged to Ted and is planning a destination wedding to Destin, Florida. Not really her first choice of locations, since that's where she lived when she got married the first time. Anyway, what are the chances she'll run into her ex-husband while she's visiting Destin to plan the wedding?

Of course, they not only run into each other but have to take action together, helping a boy who almost drowns, helping hurricane victims, and that quickly spreads to spending time together "for old times sake".

The author does a great job of telling the present-day story and mixing it with the past without being confusing. I hate books that run together without consistency. I felt like this book was modern, I liked the characters, and I really enjoyed reading it. Apparently this is going to be a whole series about destination weddings so I can't wait to pick up the next one.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Beyond the Ashes (Review)

This review is for the book "Beyond the Ashes" by Karen Barnett. This book is the second of The Golden Gate Chronicles series. This book can easily be read as a standalone if you do not read the rest of the series.

In this historical romance novel, set in the early 1900s, readers meet Ruby Marshall. Ruby is a young widow who moves to San Francisco to assist her brother with his cancer research. The city is going through a lot of changes due to a recent earthquake. There is disease rampant, which Ruby helps with due to her nursing skills, as well as helping her brother with his cancer research. Meanwhile, she just so happens to fall in love. Unfortunately, her love is as stake as her beau Dr. Larkspur watches his body begin to go through some terrifying changes. He puts off an examination as long as possible because the symptoms are just like so many others he's seen in his cancer research. The two of them have to learn to rely on God and put their futures in His hands, rather than trying to make plans on their own.

I enjoyed the characters in this book and the storyline. It was easy to keep my attention and the cancer research was very interesting to me as well. If you enjoy historical romance fiction you will definitely enjoy this book.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

I Take You (Review)

This review is for the book "I Take You" by Eliza Kennedy.

I usually love British novels, especially "chick" novels. They are usually the type of book I cannot put down or stop laughing. This one, for me though, was a bit too much.

In this novel, Lily Wilder has accepted the proposal of her boyfriend, Will. He's a brilliant archaelogist, and she has everything going for her as well - job at a law firm, great friends, and a hilarious but incredible family. The problem is that Lily can't seem to bring herself to stop sleeping with every handsome guy she lays her eyes on. This book begins only one week before the wedding and in the first chapter she is already sleeping with one of her coworkers. Her family and friends know her reputation and actually spend most of the book trying to get her to break off the wedding. Her future in-laws even hear about her reputation and try to blackmail her into walking away. In the end, there are lots of secrets that come forth between Lily and Will. I won't give away the ending, but the book definitely did have me wondering what the big secret was going to be.

I think I'm just too old-fashioned for books like this. Ten or fifteen years ago I probably would have loved this book. But now I look at it as ridiculing the sanctity of marriage and laughing in the face of monogamy. It just wasn't up my alley. But I do think the author had a great writing style. I would try to read another of her books in the future.

Thank you to Waterbrook Multonah for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible (Review)

This review is for the book "The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible" by Dr. William H. Marty and Dr. Boyd Seevers. I have to say, after reading this book, I think that everybody needs a copy of this book on their bookshelf. Dr. Seever begins the book by going through each book in the Old Testament and tells the setting, a summary, a bit of history, and the significance for us today. Dr. Marty goes through each book in the New Testament and uses the same outline of setting, summary and significance to explain the book.

I absolutely loved this book. The authors definitely hit the high spots of each book in the Bible. Having some historical content added really helped me understand the background of some of these books and stories that I have heard for decades. This is a book that is absolutely being added to my bookshelf. I plan on using it with my kids and our youth group at church, to help gain a background knowledge of the authors and books, and learn more about the time in which the books were written. Very valuable resource.

Thank you to Bethany House for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor (Review)

This review is for the book "Shadows of Ladenbrooke Manor", written by Melanie Dobson.

This book attempts to intertwine the past and present. Heather Toulson returns to her parents' cottage in the English countryside, and comes across secrets, family history that has been hidden for a long time, and even discovers the truth about a murder that happened sixty years ago.

The book begins in the 1950's, telling Maggie's story. Then it begins to go back and forth between Maggie's story and Heather's story. To be honest, I was loving Maggie's story, and finding myself pretty bored with Heather's story. I feel that I could have done without Heather's story at all. You will see when you read this book that the two stories do go together, so I understand why Dobson puts them into the book together, but I just found that Maggie's story was much more intriguing. I couldn't wait to get to the next section about her and her family.

I do think this is a very interesting read, nothing like anything I have ever read before, so I do recommend it.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Among the Fair Magnolias (Review)

This review is for the book "Among the Fair Magnolias" which includes four short stories written by authors Tamera Alexander, Shelley Gray, Dorothy Love and Elizabeth Musser. The book is comprised of four stories, all set in the south in the 1800s.

In "A Heart so True", Abigail is pretty much being forced to marry her distant cousin Charles who is a complete scoundrel and totally disrespectful to her. She is really in love with Wade Bennett, and accepts his proposal of marriage before she finds out her father already has plans to announce her betrothal to Charles. In this book, Abigail has to figure out how to marry for love rather than out of duty.

In "To Mend a Dream", Savannah Darby is trying to find something her father left behind in her former family home. The new owner happens to hire her to redecorate the house, which gives her an excuse to get inside and search. It just so happens that as she decorates the house and searches, she is also falling in love with the new owner - who happens to be engaged and a Northerner. The book shows that love can transcend these hardships.

In "Love Beyond Limits", we find Emily, a young lady who finds herself in the middle of political battles because she believes in the freedom and rights of all people. She even finds herself entangled with the KKK on occasion. At one point she believes she is in love with a former slave from her family's plantation which brings up all kinds of feelings for her, especially because she has a best friend who is also vying for her attention. She has to sort through her feelings and find out where her love really lies.

In "An Outlaw's Heart", Russell returns to his hometown after seven years. He left after murdering his stepfather, and has the reputation of being an outlaw because he was in a gang all those years. When he comes home he finds his mother is ill and his ex-girlfriend is dating a sleazy man presenting himself as a pastor. Russell vows to take care of his mother and find out the truth of Nora's new beau, so he can finally be there for both the ladies like he should have been all those years ago.

If you enjoy historical Christian romance fiction, you will really enjoy these novellas. They are short, of course, but very well written by some of my favorite authors.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Thriving in Babylon (Review)

This review is for the book "Thriving in Babylon" by Larry Osborne. This book focuses on a man in the Bible, Daniel, who was forced to live (and thrive) in a godless society. Daniel was a man of God living in a time where society had really fallen away from spiritual things. He was forced to leave his home at a young age, and live in the midst of some of the most godless people around. He was forced to become a eunuch, change his name, learn about the Babylonian culture, and serve in the courts. But through all of that he never became faithless. He lived amongst those who believed differently from him, and he proved through it all that he could trust God's faithfulness.

This story serves us well, because so many Christians today are throwing their hands in the air and saying God has forgotten us - God is punishing our country - God is far away from us. Well, just because we may live in a godless society doesn't mean we're allowed to give up our hope in God. We are to live with those who do not serve God, respect the authorities in place, and thrive. Prove that God is greater than anything in this world.

I loved this book. It was a perspective I had not really heard much about, and it really made me think. It also encouraged me. I highly recommend this book.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Tattered and Mended (Review)

This review is for the book "Tattered and Mended" by Cynthia Ruchti. I have actually read three of Ruchti's fiction novels recently, so I was interested to read this nonfiction piece by her.

I enjoyed the perspective of this book. Ruchti focuses on things like antiques, quilts, and pieces of art that have historical meaning or a significance to someone's personal history. She talks about old crafts like journaling, keeping records, interviewing older family members, quilting, and so forth. These are somewhat of a lost art today. She speaks to these "old" things to show how easy it is for them to get broken or tattered. It is quite difficult to replace or repair these things usually. Finding a hole in a quilt that was made a hundred years ago can be devastating, but it can be repaired by an expert. She likens our hearts and souls to this. We have a God who is an expert healer. No matter the size of the hole inside of us, He can repair it over time.

I enjoyed this book and her stories. I think Ruchti is a great writer and if you are hurting, this is a good book for you to draw support from.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Refining Fire (Review)

This review is for the book "Refining Fire" by Tracie Peterson. This is the second book in her Brides of Seattle series, but I read this as a standalone novel and understood the plot and characters perfectly.

I am a fan of Tracie Peterson's novels, even the historical fiction she does, even though I really am not a very big fan of the historical romance genre generally. This novel had to be one of my favorites. This book is set in the late 1800's in Seattle, Washington, at a school created for ladies to learn how to become a proper wife. The story follows Militine Scott, who is in training but is resolved never to get married, and Abrianna Cunningham, who grew up at the school run by her aunts.

I have to say, Abrianna is one of the funniest characters I've ever "met" in a story. She is always getting into trouble, speaking her mind, and standing up for her beliefs. She is certainly unlike most women in the rest of the story and she will bring a few chuckles to the reader.

Honestly I felt that the story had a LOT of storylines to follow and there were a couple of things I wished were wrapped up that didn't get wrapped up - but I do realize this is part of a series, so that's probably why the author chose to finish the novel in this way. I still really enjoyed the book and would like to revisit these characters in the next book in the series.

Thank you to Bethany House for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

7 Family Ministry Essentials (Review)

This review is for the book "7 Ministry Essentials" by Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman. As a youth leader who waffles back and forth between excitement and disappointment, passion and frustration, stress and glee, I was very excited to read this book. I was not really prepared for all the great advice though.

This practical advice comes from two ladies who share their triumphs and struggles throughout their years of work in ministry. I found myself nodding along with several of the things they pointed out (we are teaching our children moral development instead of spiritual development, we need to empower our parents) and marveling at some of the ideas they brought up (acting out the Bible chronologically, teaching the children how to be still and listen to God).

At first, as I was reading, I was excitedly telling things to my husband, who was relaying these things to our pastor. By the third or fourth chapter, though, I just started dog-earing every page that I wanted them to look at. Needless to say, the latter half of the book has tons of pages folded down!

I realize not all of these ideas will work for your ministry. Our church is too small for several of these ideas. But others can be implemented no matter the size of the ministry. And several of the things these ladies pointed out made me just shake my head in the realization that there may have been times I've been misleading the youth without meaning to. This book is definitely going on my bookshelf and I can't wait to use it for many years.

Thank you to Litfuse Publicity for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.