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Lisa Harper’s book, The Sacrament of Happy, What a Smiling God Brings to a Wounded World, is aSacrifice fast but truly valuable read.

What I love about this book:  It’s not a textbook on how to be happy, it’s not a make-you-feel-guilty if you’re not happy book, and it’s not a super spiritual do this and you’ll be happy book. It’s practical, it’s amusing, it’s real. Sometimes life circumstances make us unhappy but happy isn’t about life circumstances. It’s about perspective.

I’m currently suffering through a few weeks of recovering from an injury that has me on crutches and – worst nightmare of all, unable to drive. This was the perfect book for me to review at this point in time.

Lisa opens with a chapter called Is Happy Even Holy? And – you’ll be happy to know it is. She points out that happy is “a covenant state of being for God’s people.” And then goes on to ask Is God Happy?

This was my favorite chapter because I’d never grasped before that a perfect God would have to be happy. And how that is proven in scripture when it says He takes great delight in us. A delighted God is a happy God.

Further on Lisa explains how we get happy, how we stay happy even in sad times, and how we regain happy when we’ve lost it. Some of her illustrations are eye opening, I never thought of that kinds of revelation. For instance, in her use of the Good Samaritan story in chapter four she points out that the priest, the very one who passed the injured Samaritan by, had probably been burning incense and offering sacrifices all week in pursuit of God’s guidance and favor.  Clearly God tells us how to be happy but so many times, like the priest, we walk right by the opportunity.

I loved her “momma, I lub your breasts” story and the reminder that God laughs (Ps 2:4a). I loved her emphasis on the outward expression of happy through dancing and arm waving.

Lisa ends this book with some great thoughts on cultivating happy by taking our thoughts captive and remembering it’s the pouring out of ourselves that bring the best return and builds the happiness that withstands the hard blows of life.

I highly recommend this book regardless of where you are on the happiness scale at the moment. If you are up, you’ll need the information contained between its pages to help you when you’re down.  And if you’re down, you will be inspired out of your dark place into a place of light where you can learn to laugh again.

I was provided a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

 

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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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She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers

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The subtitle of this book, Holding Tight to Permanent in a World That’s Passing Away, truly describes the essence of the author’s theme. These two young women, Raechel Myers & Amanda Bible Williams, share some of their most challenging, tragic and discouraging experiences reaching all the way back to childhood and stretching to their present-day lives as wives and mothers.   They use these stories to emphasize our need to stay grounded in the solid truth of God’s Word if we are to survive the shaky, constantly changing reality of this world.

The book is easy to read and the life events are relatable. Life can be hard and we can lose hope if we don’t keep a firm grasp on the promises of God.

In one of the early chapters Amanda states “When I grip too tightly to the things I think I can control, I lose touch of the eternal truth that it is God who holds things together.” She beautifully illustrates this in the chapter with a personal story involving her daughter.

Later, Raechel talks about the false gospels and false truths we are handed daily and emphasizes why we read God’s Word “to find the Truth. We study and know and memorize God’s Word because we cannot waste any more of our precious time on this earth believing the lies. Even the lies that sound really good and entertaining and close enough.”

What touched me about the book is that these young women don’t profess to have all the answers, but they certainly have learned where to find all the answers.

I am passing this book on to a young friend who is early in her Christian walk because I believe she will fall in love with Raechel and Amanda and because I believe their stories will speak to her and help her find the solace and guidance in God’s Word that I wish for her.

I would highly recommend the book to anyone struggling to get into the Word on a regular basis, or to anyone who wants to bless a friend with some beautiful motivation to read the Word, study the Word, and memorize the Word.

I received this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

 

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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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4197o3w9xeL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_[1]I recently read After Easter by Jeremy R. Howard and Doug Powell and this is a review of the book.

This may seem a little late since Easter is long past, but truthfully you could read this book anytime and be amazed all over again by the miracle of the cross.

A new Christian will read this book and journey from the Garden to the Cross, gaining a good understanding of how the whole redemption story came to be. A seasoned Christian will read the book and be refreshed in remembering the significance of why the Son of God had to die. Both will be humbled again by the realization that He did it for us.

I like how this book gives scriptural and scientific evidence for the events that led to the empty tomb, and even gives clear details of how the early church began and took the mission of Christ seriously.

The book can be read in a short period time but that certainly doesn’t indicate it is shallow. Quite the opposite. The depth of detail contained in its 60 pages is amazing. I would highly recommend this book for anyone wanting to boost their witnessing ability. It would make a nice gift and should certainly be in every church library.

I am a Lifeway/B&H blogger and received a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

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tearsJust survived a very busy, emotional, tension packed weekend. I don’t usually breathe a sigh of relief when Monday comes. In fact, it’s often the other way around – the sigh of relief when Saturday comes. But this weekend started on Friday when my granddaughters headed off to WSU to try out for the Crimson Girls Dance Team.

First you need to know they have been dancing competitively since they were three and they are amazing. Bethany graduated last year and has one year of local college under her belt. Bailey graduates this year.

The competition for a place on the team began Friday afternoon and for the next three days there were performances and cuts, performances and cuts. My cell phone was popping with text messages as their mother kept me updated. With each successful round, the competition got tighter and the tension magnified and my prayers became more frequent and more fervent.

I didn’t pray that they would make the team. I prayed that God’s plan for them would win out. I wanted Him to be in charge of their destiny. What I did pray was that they would either both make the team or neither make the team. I knew a split would be very difficult to deal with.

On Sunday, it was down to the wire. As I kept up my busy pace of setting up for worship. leading the team through our practice, helping to prepare for the barbecue being held after the service and just touching base with my church family as they arrived, I kept the phone close and waited for that vibration signaling news.

And it came – Bethany was officially welcomed onto the team. Bailey was not. Excitement on the one side, devastation on the other. Tears of joy, tears of sadness. My heart swelling with pride for one and breaking for the other.

As I got in my car after the barbecue, still trying to understand the results, I saw my memory verse for the week on my console. Psalm 56:8-9 You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You record them in Your book. This I know, God is on my side.”

I thought I understood the verse but I realized God had just taken me deeper into His word. He does know every hurt and rejection we suffer, He feels every pain, He understands every grief. He hurts when we hurt. Our struggles are precious to Him. But in the end, in spite of how much we are going to suffer from the tragedies of this life – because He is on our side, He will not allow a result that leads us into danger or is not going to work for our ultimate good. Tears and disappointment today will keep us from the tragedy around the corner.

Someday we will meet Him and in His arms will be that precious jar of tears He collected. We will be enlightened and we will see that what seemed a muddy mess of hurt and weeping was truly one more step leading us down the path that got us closer and closer to our goal.

I’ve often wondered what He will do with that bottle of our tears when we finally reach heaven. I have this vision of Him dropping the jar and as it shatters, He and I will both be soaked with splashes of incredible joy. We will know the truth of His Word, “Consider it pure joy when you meet trials of various kinds…” James 1:2

For Bailey, the light won’t dawn today or tomorrow. But my most fervent prayer is that she will grow spiritually every day until she sees the beauty of every Word written between Genesis and Revelation; that His truth will come alive for her; that she will one day look back on this disappointment and be able to smile and say, “Thank you, God, for protecting me in that moment and lovingly moving me further down the path toward you.” In the meantime, not one of her tears will be wasted. The minute they are shed, He scoops them up and stores them close to His incredible heart.

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