Posted in Book Reviews

Bible Review: NKJV Cultural Background Study Bible

163CONTEXT CHANGES EVERYTHING

You’ve heard many Bible stories hundreds of times, but how many behind-the-scenes details are you missing? Sometimes a little context is all you need to discover the rich meaning behind the stories of Scripture.

That’s what the NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides. Every page is packed with expert insight into the customs, culture, and literature of Bible times. These fascinating explanations will serve to clarify your study of the Scriptures, reinforcing your confidence and bringing difficult passages of Scripture into sharp focus.

Discover new dimensions of insight to even the most familiar Bible passages as you take a behind-the-scenes tour into the ancient world.

The Bible was originally written to an ancient people removed from us by thousands of years and thousands of miles. The Scriptures include subtle culturally based nuances, undertones, and references to ancient events, literature and customs that were intuitively understood by those who first heard the Scriptures read. For us to hear the Scriptures as they did, we need a window into their world.

The NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, with notes from Dr. John H. Walton (Wheaton College) in the Old Testament and Dr. Craig S. Keener (Asbury Theological Seminary) in the New Testament, brings to life the ancient world of Scripture for modern readers. 

Features:

  • The full text of the NKJV
  • Targeted book introductions explain the context in which each book of the Bible was written
  • Insightful and informative verse-by-verse study notes reveal new dimensions of insight to even the most familiar passages
  • Key Old Testament (Hebrew) and New Testament terms are explained and expanded upon in two helpful reference features
  • Over 300 in-depth articles on key contextual topics
  • 375 full-color photos, illustrations, and images from around the world
  • Dozens of charts, maps, and diagrams in vivid color
  • Words of Jesus in red

Additional study Bible tools: cross references, a concordance, indexes and other helps

Basics: As mentioned in their description, this is a fully loaded study Bible. The colored pages and illustrations were a treat. However I found the pages grainy, and as odd as it sounds, that really bugged me.

My Thoughts: I have mixed feelings about this study Bible. While there are certainly lots of helpful information here, I also found areas that I felt were needless or unbalanced. I understand the purpose in studying the cultural backdrop is to understand more about the setting in which the Bible was written. Some of the areas I read over seemed to focus more, and needlessly so, on pagan gods to the point where I began to feel like this study Bible loses sight of the fact that God is doing something different.
In my honest opinion, I feel like this study Bible can be a helpful tool for those who are coming for a specific reason, for pastors, and even Biblical fiction authors. There really is a LOT of information here that will help you fill in the cultural setting. But I also feel that there is too much information into things that we don’t need to know. I think for most Bible students, there are better commentaries out there that will teach you enough of the cultural backdrop to understand what God meant when He said something that this particular Bible could be either harmful or just unnecessary.
Here’s an example: (Commentary note associated with Exodus 13:21 “The Lord went…in a pillar of cloud.”) And I quote, “There are similarities between the poetic language and specific imagery given here and a vanguard motif in various ancient Near Eastern texts. In the Assyrian Tukulti-Ninurta Epic, Assur leads the vanguard with devouring flame. The gods Enlil and Adad . . .” And they continue in this manner for 3 whole paragraphs, listing a total of 9 pagan gods and how they were associated with light or how they led their people before finally closing with, “This powerful imagery assured the Israelites of God’s guidance and presence, as it also served to exalt Yahweh.” My complaint here, as with several other passages that I had read, was that they spent more time discussing what the pagans believed about their gods (recap, gods that are not even real and couldn’t have possibly done these things) than they discussed what the ONE TRUE GOD was ACTUALLY doing here in this text.
And again, I read their commentary on Joseph’s dreams. But the authors went further than simply explaining the significance of dreams in that day by giving a full explanation of a story about a pagan king and the dream his false god gave him. Again, and again, I keep coming to the conclusion that while cultral study is a commendable thing, I think the authors of this particular study have the wrong focus.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving it 2 stars and advising you to proceed with caution. I don’t believe this is all bad, but I don’t believe it’s all good, either. I don’t recommend it for all Christians equally.

~I received a copy from Book Look Bloggers. I was not compensated for this review. All thoughts are my own.

Posted in Christian

The Silent Servant

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There are two things I want to do in this blog today. I want to talk to you about the overlooked areas of service. And then I want to open up and share something from my personal writing journey that most readers wouldn’t know about. I hope you’ll walk away feeling encouraged about your own place of service and enlightened about the life of a common author.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that each individual is gifted, crafted, and designed to perform a different task. Are some jobs worth more than others? Is a doctor’s efforts worth more than a janitor’s? Is the teacher’s job more important than the factory worker’s? Is the police officer’s service more meaningful than the mailman’s?

That all depends on who it is you’re working for.

The Bible tells us that we are to work not unto man but unto God. Everything we do, we’re to do it for Him. For His glory. For His purposes. For His kingdom.
You see, it’s not our work or society’s ideals that determine the value of our labor. It’s unto Who we’re doing it for. Anything done for the Lord is important and of GREAT value.

I love the book of Nehemiah and the image of service God offers through it. The people were rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. This was no small task! Worse than that, they were threatened by their enemies. So much so that half of the men worked while the other half stood guard. What an image! We need people working with us and also people standing behind us, covering our backs with prayers.
But there’s more. The people were assigned a specific section of the wall to rebuild. I hope you noted that word, specific. They didn’t rebuild their favorite sections. They didn’t get bored with their section and work on someone else’s. They worked on the section assigned to them. AND their work was recorded. NONE of it went unnoticed. Not only do we have a record of it preserved in our Bible but God, Himself, has noted everything done in His name and is waiting to reward His faithful servants.

So I come to you today to remind you to do your work cheerfully, not despising the small stuff, because when it’s done for Christ it has great value.

And now I want to tear down that wall between author and reader and allow you to peek inside and take notice of something that you may not have known.

As an author, I’m expected to do one thing: Publish books. And yet I wasn’t able to publish anything in 2016. It wasn’t from a lack of wanting to, or from a lack of story, or any other such thing. I didn’t publish anything in 2016 because the Lord wouldn’t allow it. For reasons only known to Him I was delayed, sick, overwhelmed, and just unable to do all that my little heart desired to do. And yet…I’ve been busy. Much busier than even I knew. While I continued to work on my own manuscript, God enabled me to keep up with a different sort of work on the side. The work of a silent servant. Publication is one of those rare moments when you’re ushered into the limelight. But this work kept me hidden away, which was perfectly fine with me. Despite what this may sound like, I’m not sharing this with you so I can step back into the limelight. I really think it’ll bless your heart to know that there’s so much more going on behind the scenes of your favorite books.

While I didn’t publish anything in 2016, I spent countless hours with other authors. I spent time encouraging them, fellowshipping with them in ways that only another author can do, and even helping them.
My fans are wondering where my next book is, but did you know that I’ve had my hands in FIVE different publications in 2016 alone? I joined critique teams for other authors and offered them sound advice and loving encouragement for their work. While their stories are uniquely their own and their writing styles differ from mine, the same me-ness that marks my pages reached out and touched a few others.
I love to help another author strengthen their work. I love to come along side them as they sweat through the writing process and offer them a cool drink of water and a pat on the back.

As I reflected on my writing year, I was surprised to see that while I didn’t put out anything with my name on it in 2016, the fruit of my labors had gone out. These books are challenging and encouraging readers as we speak. I’m grateful to the Lord and the beloved authors for allowing me to take part in it. And may my experience remind you that the small things we do behind the scenes really do count. You may not be the doctor who saved a life today, but he’s grateful to the one who fixed his breakfast and helped him to get his day started. You may not be the general, but a general is nothing without a regiment of privates. You may not be the pastor, but your prayers are working in his life.

So while you’re waiting for my next release, may I encourage you to pick up something else that I’ve had my hands in? 🙂
Journey of a Letter and Befriending the Beast by Amanda Tero
Hello, Forever and Until Then by Krista Noorman (You’ll want to read this series in order, so start with Goodbye, Magnolia. I was a part of the critique team for that one too. 😉 )
A Love to Come Home to by Alicia Ruggieri (This is another series that you’ll want to read in order. I had the pleasure of helping with books 2 and 3).

 

 

Posted in Christian

God Doesn’t Hand Out Crutches

3.jpgWhat is a spiritual crutch?

A spiritual crutch is anything you turn to for comfort, for peace, or for security.

Looking at that basic definition, we may not be quick to say that we use spiritual crutches. By that definition, these crutches sound an awful lot like a false god and we know better than to worship lifeless idols. Don’t we?  But let’s look a little deeper at what they are and see if we don’t have a pair of worn out crutches sitting in our room.

Do you ever turn on the tv in order to find something to distract you from your troubles? The tv has become a spiritual crutch.

Do you ever grab a book to read in order to hide from issues surrounding you?
A book has become a spiritual crutch.

Do you ever create art: paint, draw, knit, color, etc. to escape and unwind?
Art has become a spiritual crutch.

Do you exercise to deal with the things you can’t handle in life?
Exercise has become a spiritual crutch.

Do you eat in order to better handle a bad day?
Eating has become a spiritual crutch.

Clearly, we could go on and on for days but I think you get the point, and maybe by now you even have your finger on the spiritual crutch or crutches in your life.

Why are spiritual crutches wrong?
Spiritual crutches are a problem for the Christian because we are trusting in something to woo us back into our happy places instead of relying on the Living God to do what He said He would do.

Have you noticed that spiritual crutches look an awful lot like hobbies? So…are hobbies sinful? Are we to give up the things that give us pleasure?
Hobbies are not sinful. I believe the Lord gives us desires and talents and allows us to enjoy them. And why wouldn’t He? He gave us taste buds to enjoy food. He gave us the sense of smell to enjoy the wonders around us. He gave us sensual pleasures to enjoy the duty of procreation.
He often showers us with delightful add-ons just because He can and it pleases Him to do so. So what’s the problem with these hobbies-turned-crutches?

The problem is when you turn to your pleasures instead of God when you’re going through difficult times. The problem is when you reach for your “fix” instead of your God.
How often do we say something like, “I’m having a terrible day but a good cup of coffee will make it all better.” Or we might turn up the radio and drown out the sorrows. Let the base rock the tension out of our shoulders.

The problem is not in the things. It’s in our placement of these things. Here’s a good example:
I’m around readers through several social platforms, and I’ve heard this dozens of times. They’ll say something like, “I can’t concentrate on this book I’m reading. It’s a great book, but I have so much going on at home (dog died, sister is in the hospital, child ran away, and they lost their job). I just want to get into a book and get lost. But I can’t and I’m frustrated.”
Of course, they’re frustrated!! Why wouldn’t they be? They’re trying to cover the gaping hole in their heart with a Looney Tunes band-aid! It doesn’t work that way. We don’t work that way. We weren’t created for this at all.

The Lord is our safety net. He is our perfectly sized, never falls off, medicated band-aid. The truth is, you don’t need anything else. You don’t need a backup plan. You don’t need God and that cup of coffee. You don’t need the smell of paints and a little Scripture.

You need to put your focus on Christ and only Christ.
Recite scripture to yourself and see how quickly your day turns around. No need to spend $3.99 for yummy calories.
Sing praises and hymns and watch your mood shift from night to day. You won’t even have to use a bookmark or recharge your kindle.
Read the Bible and notice how clarity floods your soul. You won’t even have to pull out your art supplies.
Pray to the God who is always listening and see how quickly peace enters in. There’s no need to hit the gym again on your way home.

It’s not that hobbies are bad. It’s that we often accept them in place of something so much greater. I’m not suggesting that you stop enjoying things you love. But I am saying that the next time life overwhelms you, turn to God first. Let Him heal you in a way that only He can. THEN enjoy all the extra stuff. You can’t empty your mind by numbing your mind and that’s what these crutches offer. Instead, empty your mind by handing over everything that is bugging you. Hand it over in prayer and turn those prayer requests to praises.

How can I be so sure that God can heal me, mend me, and turn my attitude and my perspective around? Here is just a sampling of what God says in His Word:

Psalm 121: 1,2
“I lift up my eyes to the mountains-where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 120: 1
“I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.”

Psalm 71:1, 5, 14, 23, 24
“In You, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame…For You have been my hope, Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth…As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise You more and more…My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to You-I whom You have delivered. My tongue will tell of Your righteous acts all day long for those who wanted to harm me have been put to shame and confusion.”

Psalm 62:5-8
“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 54:1, 2, 4
“Save me, O God, by Your name; vindicate me by Your might. Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth…Surely God is my help; the Lord is the One who sustains me.”

Psalm 42:5
“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.”

Psalm 28:6, 7
“Praise be to the Lord, for He has heard my cry for mercy. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him.”

In the face of such evidence, how can we continue to turn to a donut for comfort? All we ever have need of is hidden in Christ. Let us remember this the next time we reach for a crutch. After we have been healed and our hearts are whole, we can enjoy our hobbies. But as believers, we have to stop letting our hobbies become the crutch that allows us to hobble through our day. We were never meant to hobble.

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Devotions for Easter

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Prepare your heart and mind to celebrate the risen Savior.

It’s time for fresh spring blossoms, colored eggs, special recipes, and family gatherings. This year, with each tradition, small celebration, and new story, take the time to stop and discover the ways Jesus is showing His love for you. In remembering His Easter story—the greatest story ever told—your own will become that much sweeter.

The perfect companion for Lent, Devotions for Easter invites you to find the messages of hope and mercy God places in even the smallest moments of the season. Forty days of warm, inviting readings, prayers, scriptures, and beautiful images will take you through Christ’s journey toward the cross and the miracle of His resurrection. As new life emerges all around you, let your heart be filled with joyful worship of Christ and the renewal He brings.

What I Loved: This is a compact devotional. It’s broken up into 40 days and meant to be used in the days leading up to Easter to assist you in focusing your mind and heart on Christ during this special time of the year. I felt that it did everything it promised to do. I’m still currently working through it and have so far found it to be edifying, rebuking, and uplifting. Each lesson is a short read but I found that the author could dig deep even with small amounts of time. Aside from the heart-focusing lessons are the stunning pictures used throughout the book. It’s a beauty inside and out and would make a wonderful tool for personal use as well as a gift for someone else.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Devotions for Easter 5 stars and recommending it to any Christian looking for a simple devotion with deep impact or a beautiful gift.

~ I received a copy from Book Look Bloggers. I was not compensated for this review or required to give a favorable one. All thoughts are my own. 

Posted in Christian

The Trouble with a Hallmark Christmas

15I shamelessly confess that I LOVE to binge watch Hallmark Christmas movies. Is anyone else raising their hands right now? 🙂 Welcome, friend! 

What this post isn’t: a call to boycott Hallmark Christmas movies.
What this post is: An encouragement from one believer to another based on a trend that I noticed during one of my movie marathons.

While I appreciate Hallmark for staying clean and family-friendly, the company isn’t expressively Christian. Therefore there will be times when their views won’t line up with ours like the one I want to talk about today: Losing the Christmas Spirit.

Without Christ at the center of Christmas, then Christmas is just another holiday. And we can take or leave it.

But Christmas is so much more than what we’ve let it become.

I cannot count on my fingers and toes the number of movies Hallmark has churned out with the theme of at least one prominent character losing their Christmas Spirit. Every one of these characters attributed this loss to something traumatic like the loss of a loved one of the betrayal of someone they held dear during the Christmas season. And as I watched movie after movie where someone struggles to gain the Christmas Spirit, aka the joy of traditions and lights, the more it weighed on my heart.

How many Christians live this way every year?

How many born again believers have fallen into the mindset of finding no joy in the things associated with Christmas?

I think it’s worthwhile to stop and ask ourselves what Christmas really is.

If Christmas is only long-held traditions, lights, trees, gifts, food, and merriment then people will be apt to losing the Christmas Spirit when their Christmas memories become tainted or when the joy has left their world.

But as Christians, we know that Christmas is more than that. We cannot lose our light because Christmas is a celebration of the Light coming down. While we celebrate with the aid of traditions, the holiday is a reminder of something so much bigger than ourselves and our feelings. Christmas is joy. Joy that the Holy One became Emmanuel: God With Us. Joy that the sole purpose for the manger was the cross.

I’m not suggesting that missing loved ones no longer pain you. But I am suggesting that we have something so much more to celebrate than the rest of the world. If you know Christ, then you can say with conviction that He came for you. And in that humbling thought, you’ll find your Christmas joy.

True Christmas Spirit isn’t an appreciation of trees and lights. It’s an appreciation of Christ and all that He did on your behalf.

For any believer that has fallen into the mindset of depression where Christmas is concerned, I encourage you to view Christmas in a new light. In a holy light.
I encourage you to spend the rest of the season praising God and then turn around and give to others. Where you might be feeling loneliness, I encourage you to pour your time into someone else who is lonely. Seek out a friend without family. Make a new friend. The nursing homes are filled with lonely souls. So are the streets and the homeless shelters. So are our workplaces, schools, churches, and neighborhoods.
Help out the single mother. Assist the new mother. Or the young couple staying far away from their family.

Offer yourself as a gift to others this year just as Christ offered Himself. And know that God will bless it. The joy you give to others will be poured back on you.

And I picked out some Christmas songs that I felt like put all the focus of the holiday back on Christ. Of course, these aren’t the only songs that do. But give them a listen and let your heart meditate on the truth they bring.

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Posted in About the Book, Christian

The Hands and Feet of Christmas, A Christmas Short Story

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This isn’t the first time I have shared The Hands and Feet of Christmas. But it wouldn’t be Christmas without dusting off the Prider family and their heart-touching story. Whether it’s an old favorite for you by now or if you’re sitting down to enjoy it for the first time, I pray that it blesses your heart and helps you to focus on what’s most important during the Christmas season.

The Hands and Feet of Christmas

December 25, 1862; Maple Grove, Tennessee

Luke Prider bounded off his bed, too excited to feel even the cold wood against his bare feet. It was Christmas morning. His sister, Sue Ellen, had said that Santa wouldn’t visit them. Even his momma had tried to convince him that the Union blockade held a tight line and wouldn’t allow Santa to visit those in the South. But what did they know? They were only girls. They couldn’t possibly understand the power of a man on a mission.

His daddy was out there, even now, dealing with those Yanks. Sue Ellen may not have faith. His momma might have given up, but not Luke. He believed in Santa, just like he believed in his daddy. Santa came last night. He just knew it.

His feet pounded on the rough wooden floor as he ran to the tree. But the tree sat alone. Dark without the aid of the candles, the short cedar tree stood in the shadows in the corner of the room. Without his daddy to bring in a nice tall tree, they had to make due with whatever his momma and sister could manage alone. His little chest heaved as he took in the sight of the lone tree. Brushing a lock of blond hair away from his eyes, he turned to the fireplace. He had insisted they each hang a stocking above the fireplace, but they too were empty. There had to be something. Somewhere.

Dropping to his knees, he scurried under the tree, his hands patting the floor in front of him. Nothing. Backing away from the tree, he pulled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on top. What happened to Santa? Luke tried his hardest to be good. He just knew he was better this year than last year. Santa came all those years before, so he couldn’t have put him on the naughty list this year.

Did he decide not to show because of Sue Ellen’s attitude? Luke’s frown deepened into a scowl. His sister would ruin something as important as this. But what if it wasn’t her? What if his daddy was hurt and couldn’t help Santa? What if those awful Yanks shot down Santa for trying to help the kids in the South?

Luke heard a soft, pitiful meow coming from outside. General, his kitten, must have left the barn and wandered up to the house in search of food. They were all searching for food these days. Momma kept making meals out of a little cornmeal and the remaining vegetables they kept from the meager crop this year. General wouldn’t find anything to eat, but he could at least come in out of the cold. Luke quickly rose from the floor and opened the door to let in the orange kitten. His momma would have a fit if she found out, but it was Christmas morning; somebody should receive something special today.

~~~

Santa came! Santa came!” Luke shouted, running through the house. Suanne Prider could barely open her eyes before her eight-year-old son leaped onto her bed, jumping and shouting all the more. “Santa came! Santa came! He really did; just like I said he would!”

Suanne rubbed her weary eyes and sat up. “Luke, what on earth are you talking about?”

He let out a deep sigh, and his shoulders slumped. Frowning at her, he answered, “Santa came.”

Suanne held a hand to her forehead and winced. He said that already. Several times actually, but it still failed to make any sense. She didn’t have anything to set out under the tree. She had tried her hardest to make the boy understand. They haven’t had meat on their table in over three months. Their savings had long since run dry, and Harry’s paychecks were becoming scarce. The Confederacy was running low on funds just as the rest of the South.

She wanted to get something for the kids this year to help make up for their father’s absence. With a heavy heart, Suanne had decided that any money found in their home would best be spent on clothes, shoes, or food. A simple gift would be too much to hope for.

Regardless of what she had said, the child went to bed last night holding out hope that Santa would indeed visit him. She didn’t look forward to a disappointing day, and it appeared as if Luke would make things even more difficult than necessary.

Her daughter, Sue Ellen, glided in next and carefully sat on the edge of the bed, her eyes showing her concern. Her fifteen years understood more than a young girl should. She remained silent and at least that was a comfort.

Taking a deep breath, she let it out in a rush. “Luke, honey, Santa couldn’t have come last night.” She prepared herself for his disappointment and for an onslaught of tears.

But he DID, Momma. Won’t ya listen to me. He DID come last night.”

She held a hand up, wearily, but the little boy rushed on. “I done been outside. I saw the presents he left us. He left them on the porch.”

Her brows turned down in confusion, and she met Sue Ellen’s worried glare. “What are you talking about?” she asked, throwing the covers off and sliding out of bed. She threw a thinning wrapper around her shoulders and tied it snugly around her waist before turning to the boy.

Luke leaped off the bed in the same way he got on. “Santa must’ve been in a hurry last night cause he didn’t come in and set the stuff down by the tree like normal. But I knew he’d come. I just knew it.”

Luke, please,” she said impatiently. “None of this is making any sense.”

Well, come on. You’ll see.”

Momma, I don’t know,” Sue Ellen said cautiously.

Luke rolled his eyes. Turning to his sister, he said, “You think you’re so smart, Sue, but you’re not. I know stuff too. I’m the man here now till Daddy gets back home. You should be showin’ me more respect.”

She huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s not gonna happen,” she muttered.

Children, please,” Suanne said before the fight could escalate. Thankfully, they were more concerned about the mysterious gifts so they dropped their argument without further prompting.

Lead the way, Luke,” she ordered. The boy eagerly left the room, scooping up General on his way to the door. “Luke,” she growled, “you know I don’t allow the animals in the house.”

He turned slowly to her with an impish little grin on his face. “It’s Christmas, Momma. Have a heart, would ya?”

Her frown deepened, but she said nothing more. When had she grown so hard? So joyless? Had Harry’s absence done this to her? The stress of struggling to raise two kids on no money? The worries and uncertainties of war? With a sigh, she whispered another prayer for peace and perseverance. It seemed like all she could do anymore was beg for the ability to continue.

Luke threw open the door and walked out, pointing excitedly. “See, I told ya! See! See!”

Suanne walked through the door and then stopped and stared where he pointed. A new stack of firewood rested on her porch. She held one hand over her quivering lips, her eyes burning with unshed tears. There would be enough wood here to keep them warm for at least a month.

Look at that on top, Momma.”

In a daze, Suanne moved closer to the bundles lying on top of the stack. She ran her hand over the two large folds of material. A tear slipped down her face as she glanced down at her children, knowing their ankles peeked out from under their clothes. She hadn’t the means for making anything new for them, or even for lengthening their current wardrobe. She swallowed the lump in her throat as she ran her hands across the cold jars of peaches and green beans. But it was the neatly wrapped, plucked chicken that opened the floodgates. She caressed the package with trembling hands.

See, I told ya. I knew Santa would come.”

No, son,” she whispered. “Someone much greater than Santa had been here last night.”

She felt his curious eyes on her. “Huh?”

It was Jesus. Only the hands and feet of Christ could have seen to our needs like this.” Swiping at the falling tears, she reached for the chicken with one hand and patted his boney shoulder with the other. “Come, we’ve got a Christmas chicken to cook.”

Together they gathered their precious gifts and returned inside, General trailing happily behind them.

 …and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” Matthew 1:23

~Read Where Can I Flee to find out who acted as the hands and feet of Christ for the Prider family.

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If you’re looking for Christ-focused historical fiction or Civil War Fiction then you’ll enjoy the Ancient Words Series. The first two books are available and the third is soon to follow and highly anticipated by the readers. You can pick up both in ebook or paperback on Amazon.
Where Can I Flee  In the Shadow of Thy Wings 

And if you’re smitten by my 1860s Christmas tree, you can read about how I put it together.
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Posted in Christian

My Testimony

44I’ve shared my testimony on the blog before, but I felt that God was leading me to do it again this month. We could tie in into a Thanksgiving theme and call it Thankful for Salvation or we’ll just call it was it is: Simple Obedience. 🙂 I pray that my personal story blesses you. Feel free to share it with anyone or contact me if you want to talk about your own journey.

I attended a church program when I was seventeen. At the end of that program, I believed that God was dealing with my heart so I walked down the aisle, spoke with someone, and prayed a prayer.

But that’s it.

I left there feeling excited over the choice I had made that night, but that excitement never carried over into the rest of my life. Over the next five years, I would continue living life my way. I made no efforts to attend church after that night and felt no need to be baptized. I continued life with my filthy mouth, wicked thoughts, and sexual sins. I knew these actions were wrong, but it didn’t bother me enough to quit. I can remember my aunt trying to talk some sense into me. She tried to tell me that a Christian couldn’t continue in their sin like I was doing, but I believed that I knew better. “You don’t know my heart,” is what I would tell her. And it’s true, she couldn’t see my heart, but she could see my fruit…or lack thereof.

Better still, God could see my heart and He knew all too well that I was continuing in a life of rebellion, all while claiming that I was saved.

Five years later, I noticed a great stirring in my heart. I longed for the things of God and in time, He would lead me to a church. I began faithfully attending this church, all while trying to hold tightly to my sins. I would attend almost every Sunday, but my life had yet to change.

My pastor was preaching through Romans during this time and it seemed like every single sermon held the same theme, “No Change = No Salvation.” I’m near positive that he said those same words in every sermon at some point, or at least that’s what the Holy Spirit was bringing to my attention.

During this time, I began to doubt my salvation. I remembered the feeling that I had that night when I was seventeen and I walked down the aisle and when I prayed. I remember the excitement. I remember the jitters. But I never remembered forsaking my sin and myself. I don’t recall a day after that when I would purposely choose God’s ways over my own. No change = no salvation. These words echoed through my mind so often. And it would be these words that would be the theme of my testimony. One night, while listening to the latest sermon from Romans, I finally admitted the truth: I had never changed, therefore I’m not saved and will go to hell. I had finally come to grips with the truth and would finally turn my whole life over to Him.

After this moment in my life, I could see a serious change taking place. It didn’t happen all at once, although there were some things that did fall off at the moment of conversion.  For the most part, I would be growing in stages. This is something the Bible calls, sanctification. Sanctification is a life long process. The thing about being saved is that you WILL go through sanctification. After only a few months, I could see a change taking place.  A few months later, even more change.  Every so often when I would stop and look back over my life, it wasn’t hard to find evidence of the changes that were taking place.

How could I change? Because Christ now lived in me, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My decrees and be careful to keep My laws.” It’s the strangest thing, but the things that I used to love, I was growing to hate, and the things that I had once hated, I was growing to love. It was impossible for me to hate my sin while I lived in darkness, just like it was impossible for me to have the Spirit of God living inside of me and not change into His image. Although I have come a long way in my walk, I feel that I must clarify that I do and can still sin. But when I do, I no longer love it. When I sin, it literally grieves the Spirit within me. To put it plainly, it feels dirty; it feels wrong. Remember, sanctification is a life-long process. No one will reach the end until they reach Heaven.

A few years later, the devil would attack my assurance. He would begin to plant doubts in my mind. You see, most Christians can tell you exactly when they were saved. Many know the date, time, place, and some can even remember what they wore. But I knew none of these things. There were several moments of brokenness and sincere prayer, so  I’m not sure which one was the “one.” For about two years, I would struggle and doubt. And I can tell you honestly that it was the most miserable time in my life.

One Sunday during the altar call, a member of our church came forward and announced that she needed to be saved. She had believed herself a Christian all this time but knew something was off. At that moment, I had the courage I needed to come forward and announce that I had doubts and I was ready to get this settled. I came forward and was counseled by two ladies from our church. They both did a wonderful job trying to help me see, but it was something that I would have to continue to wrestle with on my own. For the next 36 hours, there was a great battle raging inside of me.

I began by searching my life for fruit. What proof did I have of being saved? I searched long and hard. I knew that the most common ideas of Spiritual fruit were actually works. Things like church attendance, tithing, and service. I could claim all of those things and I believe the scriptures teach that each Christian should be growing in these areas, but I also knew that these works could be faked, so I didn’t dwell there. I searched deeper, looking at things like repentance, conviction, and growth in the areas that other people could not see.
When I had a sinful thought, did I feel conviction?
Was I willing to repent of the tough stuff, even when no one else would know that I was involved in such sins?
Did I grow in the deeper, more hidden areas of my life?
I walked away confused, because I had such strong doubts and yet as far as I could tell, I passed the test. I knew that if I were to plead my case to any person, I would be able to convince them that I was in fact saved. But I didn’t want to convince someone else, and I didn’t need another person to confirm me. I wanted God Himself to confirm once and for all that I was His. My prayer at the end of the night was simply this: Lord confirm me. I felt like Jacob in that hour, clinging to His robe crying out, “Either confirm that I’m Yours or save me! But I’m not leaving until You do one of them!” Jacob, too, refused to let go until God blessed him.

The next morning, I felt led to pick up a book that my pastor wrote titled, Genuine Conversion. In this simple booklet he breaks down what it means, or rather what it looks like, to be saved. He compares what the Scriptures actually teach with what common belief says. It’s a simple read which lists what conversion DOES NOT look like compared to what it DOES look like based on the Bible.  In the end, he included a quiz to help the reader understand what kinds of fruit are growing on the limbs of their trees. I went through this same book that morning and there were two things that seemed to be repeated on every page.

1: Matthew 7:17-20 A bad tree can not produce good fruit

2:1 John 2:3-6 I can KNOW once and for all that I’m saved and never doubt again.

First, the verse Matthew 7:17-20: “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” This verse appeared so often in the short book that it became all the more clear. Not only can you know if you are saved by the fruit on your tree, but a bad tree (which I assumed that I was, till proven saved) cannot produce good fruit, just like a good tree can not produce bad fruit. I searched and searched. I took the quiz.  I begged God to show me my own heart and I was finding ample proof from all around that I was saved.

Second, First John 2:3-6: “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked.” This verse came in and helped me to see that I can know the truth about my salvation. That God actually wants me to know. It’s not His way for believers to doubt. I walked away that morning understanding that I was saved. But this would not be the end of Satan’s attack. He had one last ploy.

Now that I was certain of my salvation, Satan then tried to keep me quiet about it. By twisting Scripture, he reminded me that “pride goes before a fall” and it would be best for me to enjoy my salvation, but just don’t tell anyone else about it. His reasoning was that if I stood up and announced that I had security, what if these doubts resurfaced further down the road and I was proven wrong next time? How embarrassing would that be?! I had to admit, he had a point. And being my enemy, he knew my weakness was my pride. I didn’t want to tell everyone what I had discovered, only to be wrong and have to renounce it. I stood in my bathroom and prayed, “What if these doubts come back? What will prove me next time?” I felt the Spirit speaking to my heart saying, “The same thing that proved you today will prove you tomorrow.” And at that moment Satan’s hold on me was finally shattered.

I cannot tell you the amount of peace that flooded my heart from this moment on. I know I’m saved, not because I can remember the moment I prayed a prayer, but because I have ample proof of being sanctified every day since then. I don’t remember the day I was justified, but I have intimate memories of being sanctified, and, therefore, I can KNOW that I will one day be glorified. The devil doesn’t sanctify and God doesn’t change a person before He saves them. God proved my relationship with Him was real by reminding me of all the changes He had made in my life.  He doesn’t work out of order.  First he justifies, then He sanctifies, and later He will glorify! Satan’s attempts to keep me quiet about my testimony only showed me how powerful my testimony really was. I love to share it now!

If you have any questions or comments, you can email me privately or chat with me below.
If you are interested in getting a copy of the Genuine Conversion book that I read through (which I highly recommend), please don’t hesitate to ask. I would love to send you a copy free of charge!

Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: All is Bright, Devotional and Adult Coloring Book

7.jpgThe perfect gift for the creatives and coloring-book lovers in your life! Includes bonus activities and kid-friendly coloring pages for the whole family!

This Christmas season, celebrate the birth of our Savior through beautiful design and devotion. Grab your colored pencils, cozy up with your favorite blanket and a cup of tea, and settle in for a night of peace and wonder with All Is Bright. For lovers of the Secret Garden and Enchanted Forest coloring books, All Is Bright is the perfect way to transform the Advent and Christmas seasons for your whole family, re-centering the holidays on the miracle of Jesus’ birth. Combining 31 days of rich content by the beloved and inspirational Nancy Guthrie with intricate designs that will reconnect you with the heart of Christ, this coloring book devotional journey reminds us all of what the season really calls us to: worship.

My Thoughts: We always need something to help us slow down during the Christmas season and focus on what’s most important. All is Bright is a great tool!
There is a quick devotional for all 31 days of December that helps focus the heart and mind on Christ. I love that this wasn’t JUST a devotional but also a coloring book. But better still was that this devotional has the whole family in mind and included specially designed pages for children to color.
The bulk of the graphics didn’t suit my particular style, but I believe most will find them appealing. I would have liked to have had the children’s pages perforated or in a separate book so that sharing would be easier. But the concept behind All is Bright was unique and executed well.

The Basics: Pages are not perforated.
Markers are welcomed.
Images are printed on one side with a devotional on the other side.
Includes pages for children to color.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving All is Bright 5 stars and recommending it to anyone looking for a way to unwind and refocus during the Christmas season or those looking for a new family devotional for the Christmas season.

~I received a free copy from Tyndale House. All thoughts are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

For more adult coloring product, visit Tyndale’s Living Expressions page. 

Sample:

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Posted in Book Reviews

Book Review: Earth Psalms by Francine Rivers

5.jpgMillions of readers have been transformed and inspired by Francine Rivers bestselling novels Redeeming Love and A Voice in the Wind. Now, in this weekly devotional, the beloved author invites you to join her in seeking the Creator through the marvelous natural world we live in. Francine shares observations she s gathered over a lifetime of exploring abroad and in her own backyard and reflects on how they might apply to your daily life. What do the majestic redwoods, the persistent woodpecker, or a glorious sunrise reveal about our artistic and generous God? How could that change your outlook or the way you handle adversity? Stunning photography, Scripture excerpts, applications, and prayers accompany Francine s reflections, inspiring you to be encouraged. Be challenged. Be comforted. God’s power is immense; His attention to detail in precise; His love for you is vast and unfailing. The proof is all around you.

What I Loved: First of all the overall display is to be praised. This hardback book is stunning from the first page until the very last. Each devotional is four pages long with 2 breathtaking pictures to coincide with the theme of the devotion.
Francine Rivers has penned 52 thoughtful devotions that were inspired by different aspects of nature. It’s a quick, but thoughtful, read to add to your Bible study. I enjoyed the way each devotional is laid out and the details that make up each one.
Here’s a sample of what to expect in each devotional:
One full page picture and one smaller image.
At least 4 quotes that go along with the lesson. Most quotes are scripture but some are also hymns and others are quotes from various authors.
A personal backstory linking the devotional theme with the lesson.
Some devotionals have an amazing fact featuring the theme’s the animal or plant.
At the end of the devotionals’ main body, are 3 smaller sections to help you connect the lesson to  your life.
-Reflect helps you turn the lesson you’ve just read onto yourself.
-Apply gives you a suggestion to focus on for the week to keep the lesson front and centered in her mind and your heart. The suggestions are easy and applicable.
-Connect with God is a suggested prayer.
I’m not always a devotional fan but I loved the focus on God through His creation. And I especially loved the weekly Apply sections that offer great advice for allowing the lesson to impact your life.

Rating and Recommendation: I’m giving Earth Psalms 5 stars. I recommend it to anyone looking for a new Christian Devotional. This will make a wonderful gift.

~I received a free copy from Tyndale House. All thoughts are my own. I was not compensated for this review.

Posted in About the Author, Christian

Standing Before the Burning Bush

Who are you trusting? Yourself or God?

How about when you’re challenged with a difficult task and you’re way in over your head? Are you trusting yourself or Christ?

Sometimes even the most dedicated Christians stumble here. Moses did. Let’s go back to the moment in history in Exodus and examine the scene:
Moses was minding his own business when he walked upon a bush that while on fire wasn’t consumed or being burnt. The angel of the Lord spoke to him from inside this bush. It was here, that Moses learned of his assignment: Go back to Egypt and bring the Israelites out. Out of bondage. Out of Egypt. Out to worship the One True God in a way they had never known before. This was no small task. The Pharaoh was powerful. The people were stubborn. It would have been risky enough to slip back into Egypt and rescue just one person in the cloak of night, but to rescue ALL right in front of the entire Egyptian army and the mighty Pharaoh? Who would dare to do such a thing?

A man called by God.

But in spite of this calling, in spite of the awesome signs God had shown him right there on the spot, in spite of the fact that the Lord, Himself, spoke to him through a burning bush, Moses made a list of reasons why he wasn’t qualified.

In that moment, he stopped seeing how great and mighty God was and could only see himself. He saw his own shortcomings. His failures. His inabilities. And Moses had them. These were not pretend ailments but real issues that anyone could see. In fact, God didn’t deny them. But what did He say?
“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

God told Moses that He would fill him with Himself. He would teach him. Sadly Moses continued to argue and God was angry. But He had mercy on Moses sent his brother Aaron to help him. But what about you? What about me? Have we ever stood before a burning bush and argued with God about how He intended to use us?

I have.

Four years ago, God laid it on my heart in a way that couldn’t be ignored to start writing for the public. I had already been writing privately but now I would allow others to read and criticize my work. And to make matters worse, the story on my heart included Civil War letters. I would actually be in charge of writing letters as if they came off the battlefield! How in the world a meek little woman, who had never so much as been in the army for an hour, write with authority? How would I make it sound real? I wasn’t capable of this task. And I knew it. Much like Moses, I made my list of reasons why I wasn’t qualified. I’m not smart enough. I don’t have the commanding personality to be in the public eye. I don’t know enough. I’m not talented enough. I wasn’t there in history’s past.

And like with Moses, God never denied my list. I never felt the Holy Spirit comfort my heart and remind me that I am good enough. That I am talented. That I am smarter than those around me. The God who created me knew He made me with some shortcomings. He also knew He was able to fill them.

He reminded me that He is the I Am. Everything I lacked would come from Him. He would teach me, guide me, and fill me. He would take my weaknesses and show off His strengths. Alone, Moses could do nothing. With Christ, Moses would storm Egypt and turn the world upside down. The showdown was so powerful and so mighty that we still talk about it today. My task would be much smaller, but I would still make the impact that God had ordained.

But what does this filling look like?

God didn’t fill me outside of my own efforts. That means that He didn’t zap me with His God-gun or insert powers into my body like the spider did when he bit Peter Parker. He didn’t come over me in a cloud. I didn’t fall into a trance at the computer and write a 400-page novel.

No. I sweated every word out. One word at a time. One line at a time.  And, yet, He was there.

Every time I studied, He was opening my mind. Every time I researched, He was bringing me closer to history. Every time I corrected my writing, He was giving me understanding. He brought others along side of me. He opened doors for me that had previously been closed.
I never worked alone. But I did work. And the same is said for repentance. God doesn’t zap us with a do-better ray. Instead, He changes us from the inside as we turn away from our old sinful behaviors. The more we turn from sin, the more we detest it. God is always working with us. But we’re always required to show up and do the work.

I once stood before a burning bush (figuratively, of course) and I argued my merits. I somehow thought that in spite of the great miracles I had read about in the Bible and in spite of the proof I had witnessed in my own life, God wouldn’t be able to use someone who had so little to offer and use them in such a powerful way.

And I was proven wrong.

God delights in using the simple and the weak. It’s not an ego boost to know it. But it is a comfort.

I stood before another burning bush two months ago. I made my list of failings but this time, I smiled and handed them over. God will use them. And I will get a front row seat. I can honestly say that I’m looking forward to seeing what’s in store. Are you curious to know what the new assignment is?

It’s a new adventure. A new series!

In spite of the fact that I’m in the middle of 5 books series. In spite of the fact that I’ve had mono for over 200 days now and counting. In spite of the fact that I’m also struggling with a Vitamin D deficiency. In spite of the fact that I’ve had to set aside the revisions of my third novel, falling months behind my personal schedule. In spite of everything, God pressed on my heart in a clear way that it was time to start a brand new series. I have begun writing the new novel and I intend to work on both series, side by side.
It’s true, I don’t have enough time or enough energy. Some days, I don’t get any writing done at all because my strength is zapped and my body is drained. But Jesus is the I Am. What I am not, He is. Where I lack, He fills. As I work, He’s working in me.
From where I stand, my progress looks like a snail’s crawl, but I trust my Master. My weakness will show off His strength and I’m looking forward to it.

Now, I might have sparked your curiosity. What is this new series? Fans of Christian Fiction, Christian Historical Fiction, and especially fans of Multi-generational series will love to learn more about my new series. I invite you to the Facebook party that I’ll be hosting where I reveal all the secrets concerning this new series. There’ll be games, giveaways, and good, clean fellowship. Set the date for Oct 1 at 10 am, central. I hope to see you there! But if you’re not able to make it, look for the blog post later that night where I reveal all the details for those that missed the party.

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