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Lifeway provided me with this picture book, The Marvelous Mud House by April Granley, for an honest review.

All I can say is Yes! This is the perfect time of year for gifting this book to a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or any other child who needs a Mud Housemessage on abundance.  Beautifully written, it is the story of the hungry household where there is a constant want for more and the contented family in the marvelous mud house. It’s about discovery and joy and looking beyond yourself to see a greater need.

Not only is the story well done, but I was captivated by the illustrations – rich colors and appealing designs.  Children will love discovering all of the interesting things on each page that point to the different cultures. And the song the mother and her son in Kenya sing declaring their great wealth (though they have little compared to the hungry household) is beautiful.

The ending is perfect.  “Two houses that night rang with laughter and dance, one marvelous mud house on a mountain, and one happy house on a ranch!” 

What a beautiful story to teach the value of fullness and joy.  I highly recommend this book be placed under every Christmas tree, in every church nursery and on every grandparent’s bookshelf.  It is sure to become a classic read.

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As a worship leader this book spoke to me. The reinforcement given that singing is a vital part of the Christian life, the church and the soul was refreshing. Keith and Kristyn Getty have so thoroughly defined the premise behind why we sing our praises. It’s broken down into chapters that discuss how we are created, commanded and compelled to sing. That singing is personal but also a spiritual gift for bonding the family and for unifying the church. As you read through the book you realize why you are spurred to singing in the shower and at the top of your lungs in the car. Even the one who thinks they can’t carry a tune in a bucket will be inspired by this book and will be willing to step out and let their voice be heard. I’ve shared so many snippets from the book with my congregation and I would recommend it to every pastor and worship team as required reading.

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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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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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51m3BdLgQJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_[1]Just finished reading Churchfails – 100 Blunders in Church History (& what we can learn from them), David Stabnow, General Editor. This book was provided to me through B&H Bloggers for the purpose of this review. The thoughts and opinions are purely my own. I am not a dedicated history buff and this is not my general choice of reading material. But I thoroughly enjoyed every page.

What a fun and informative book. Written in a most palliative and quick read style, and certainly anything but dry. The churchfails outlined begin as early as 35 AD and continue through to modern times outlining how seemingly intelligent and sane people twist theology and wander off in surprisingly ridiculous tangents.

Each short article gives a one or two line synopsis, a biography of the offshoot leader, defines the main theme of the churchfail, and then gives application for today.  Humor is incorporated in a way that makes us laugh not just at the wrong thinking of the leader but at ourselves and how easily we are led down the meandering path, away from solid theology if we aren’t careful.

Some of my favorites:

Marcion of Sinope who rejected all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament, keeping only what supported his beliefs. He was the first to bring together certain Christian books and call them the writings of the church. Unfortunately, he selected only portions he agreed with and eliminated anything he didn’t like. As a result he was excommunicated, branded as a heretic and Marcionism died out.  The application for today: many modern day churches do the same – pick and choose what they want from the Bible and ignore the rest. The author points out that “no book, no miracle, and no nation should be left out of our message; the whole plan of God should be preached (Acts 20:27).”

Hippolytus of Rome who “never met a pope he didn’t agree with” and who also became the first in history to work out the exact date of Christ’s return. He met five popes in his lifetime and had issues with each which he was quick to verbalize. The application for today is the warning to avoid being known only for what you disagree with. And of course, for attempting to do what the Bible says is impossible – predict the exact day of the second coming.

Matthew Caffyn who was highly intelligent and decided if his brilliant mind couldn’t fully comprehend such things as how God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit could be one and the same then it must not be true. He disregarded the biblical teaching of centuries and came to the conclusion that he was wiser than the scholars before him. As the writer points out in the application for today, even Solomon, who was considered the wisest man on earth, had 700 wives and 300 concubines! How smart was that when with those wives came 700 mother-in-laws! In the case of Caffyn we are reminded “haughty arrogance regarding ones own abilities leads to one’s downfall.”

Throughout the book we are reminded how foolish it is to veer from scripture and assume we have a new answer or a new theology. There’s a reason the Gospel of Christ has endured – it is true and pure and life giving.

I recommend this book for anyone who wants glimpses into the history of churchfails and a few laughs along the way.

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images7SXM6CQUI recently returned from a 12 day motorcycle trip that encompassed over 4,500 miles and a full range of sights and weather. Since it was in the upper 90’s when we left Yakima, I almost considered leaving my electric jacket home. But – praise the Lord, I changed my mind.

We hit rain as soon as we hit Montana. Our plan was to spend three or four days in that state but, after two solid days of drizzly, chilly rain we changed our plans and headed south. I’ve never seen the Utah National Parks and have always wanted to. My brother-in-law was riding with us and he is a great travel companion as well as a wonderful tour guide. He’s spent a lot of time in Zion, Bryce, Arches and the rest of that area so I knew it would be a great experience.

I also counted on better weather. After all it was the desert. Warm and dry had to happen, right? Wrong. We spent three days touring the parks and those three days racked up record rainfall for that part of the country. Just my luck.
Instead of looking like a cute biker chick, I looked like the Pillsbury doughboy in my multi-layered attire (undershirt, long sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, vest, electric jacket, leather jacket and rain gear).

Not that we didn’t see some beautiful sights. There were sun breaks now and then but very little clear sky and plenty of storm clouds moving in and moving out. On our third day we were in Moab, Utah and we woke to an absolute downpour. Water was running in rivers down the street and the sky was very dark with no sign of clearing any time soon.

I was not happy. I had been praying for better weather and I’d even elicited the prayers of friends back home. But God hadn’t answered – at least not in the way I wanted Him to. I was more than a little disappointed in His response In fact, I caught myself being a little ‘gritchy’ with Him, reminding Him I only get one real vacation in a year and I needed it to fill my expectations which were relaxing and staying warm and dry. Was that too much to ask?

We had to rebook the hotel for one more night because it was too dangerous to travel on a bike. By mid-afternoon we were tired of sitting around and my brother-in-law consulted his trusty weather app, noting that a clearing was forecast for a few hours before another storm moved in. We decided to leather up, throw in the rain gear and take our chances. The weather did improve and we actually had sunshine by the time we reached Arches National Park. We pulled into a viewpoint, pulled off our coats because the temperature was rising rapidly, and began to explore.

That rainbow of reds and golds is truly beautiful in the sunlight and we were met with breathtaking sights at every turn. There’s something thrilling about climbing around on those huge sandstone rocks and peering into crevices and arches. I was itching to follow a trail of rock cairns and talked my brother-in-law into accompanying me. He kept reminding me that the farther down into the hole we climbed the more difficult the trip back would be. But I couldn’t stop. Those markers just drew me.

Thank goodness they did because after about 15 minutes of hiking we rounded a corner and were met with a most astounding sight – a waterfall. Now how rare is that – finding a waterfall in the desert? And it wasn’t just a waterfall. Evidently it was an area that collects any kind of moisture that comes along because it was a real life oasis with a tree and some grass and some blooming plants. Surrounded by dry sandstone for as far as you could see, it stood out in brilliant shades of green and just took your breath away.

I had to sit down on a rock and admire the miracle. The thought came to me that a waterfall in the desert doesn’t happen without rainfall in the desert. In fact, I never would have experienced such an amazing sight had I not suffered through three days of wet riding!

And isn’t that just like God to answer your prayer in a completely unexpected, refreshing, soul stirring way with a not so subtle reminder that He always comes through, the storm always passes, the sun always comes out and the reward of staying the course is worth the painful journey.

My desert encounter made me thankful for God’s wisdom and for the way He plans surprises for me around every turn. It touched me so much that I almost didn’t complain a bit when the last two mornings on our trip the temperature registered only 20 degrees as we hit the road. (Even an electric jacket has a hard time counter balancing that!)

I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. Isaiah 41:18:

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