Starting Over

Starting over is never easy. Whether it’s a career, a move, the end of a relationship, a church breakup, an unexpected tragedy — it’s never easy.  I thought the drama of life would be over at my age, but that’s not what I see in so many of my friends.  Some have lost houses, some have lost retirement savings, some have lost health, some have lost marriages, some of lost children.

It just makes you ask yourself why life has to be so hard?

Know this.  No one gets a “get out of jail free” card.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  The question remains, will you learn from it?  Will you grow?  I hope my answer is always yes.  I may not be able to see God’s reasons for the setbacks, but I know He is present and He is hurting for us more than we can imagine.

As I start my career up again at ahem, a ripe old age, I’m excited I get the opportunity to do so.  As we head into 2020 — I pray it’s a year of focus for you and that you can focus on the journey God gave you and complete it to the best of your ability.

My word for 2020 is ONWARD.  Because I’m not looking backward.  I’m going forward onto the path He set before me.  I may not like the view, but I’m determined to make the best of it.  What about you?  Will you leave the past in the past?  Or drag it along with you into this New Year?

My new book is set in Little Italy, San Diego.  I took this pic while doing research there.  Oddly enough, my son and his new bride moved into this neighborhood this week.  In 2020, may we all be filled with the hope that a new place and a new life together brings.IMG_0352

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Being a Cow of Bashan by Nancy J. Farrier

“Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your [masters], “Bring wine, let us drink!” Amos 4:1 NKJV

I grew up on a small farm in Indiana. My dad had a full-time job but also raised cattle on a small scale. One of my jobs was to bring the cattle to the field behind the barn every evening and count them to make sure they were all there. I learned a few lessons about counting and patience when trying to tally up a constantly moving herd of cattle.

Most of the time the cows were docile and easy to manage, but there were always those days when they decided to ignore fences—or rather push through them—and get out. The worst times were when they got into the neighbor’s corn field. Trying to find a cow in amidst corn taller than you or the cow wasn’t fun. The corn leaves were sharp and would cut my arms if I wasn’t careful. But, we had to get the cows out. What they saw as a wonderful adventure, actually meant sickness if they were left there or worse, their death.

I have been pondering the scripture from Amos 4:1 in light of what I learned as a child and where I am today. In the past few weeks, I’ve realized I’m not in a good place and need to make changes in my life. So, what do the cows of Bashan have to do with the cows of Indiana or with me and my need to change?

The cows of Bashan lived in a fertile area. They were large and known for pushing their way out of the hedges around the field that protected them. This caused problems for the cows and their owners. Just as the cows in my childhood got into trouble when they got into fields where they shouldn’t be. Just as I am when I am out of God’s will and floundering to try to get back on course. That’s the way I felt at the end of the year—as if I’d taken a wrong turn and was lost in the midst of a corn field and couldn’t see the way back.

You might think getting back on course is easy. Just call on God. He will answer, tell me where to go and what to do and voilà, I’m all set. I only wish it were that easy. 

You see, when you get in the corn field at night, you are walking blind because of the dark. You can’t hear properly because of the obstacles – corn stalks breaking, cows lowing, other people calling, etc. Sounds are distorted and finding the correct voice to listen to becomes very complicated. Even if you are familiar with their voice, you can have trouble telling where they are and which direction to walk.

A cow in the corn field is one demanding her rights. She has no concern for the poor or needy. She wants that tasty corn and her freedom, not considering the dangers around her and that the hedge had been in place for her safety and protection. She is self-focused, although she may have followed others of her kind to that destination.

As I ponder this, I see that many of my actions have been self-focused. I don’t intend that to happen. I want to always consider others before myself, but somehow self always creeps back in without me noticing. Instead of considering Jesus words in Matthew 25 where He asks us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and visit those in prison and by doing so, we are doing this to Him, I am the cow demanding things for myself. 

Don’t get me wrong. I do not want to do this, and most days I am thinking of others, but this attitude has crept into my home life and needs to be addressed. The subtlety of the change is distressing. Only in looking back and being honest do I see how far I am from where I should be.

So, what do I do? For this coming year, I am not choosing a word to meditate on, but instead choosing a hedge to crawl through and a field of safety to graze in. I want to be so centered in the will of God that I won’t long for corn fields and night time escapades of self, but will think only of Jesus and the others He brings in my life. I want to only do what makes Him happy, not considering what will please me. 

For 2020, I will consider the poor and needy first, hard though that may be. I will lay down my pride, and my demands couched in pretty words, and ask every day, “Jesus, what would You have me do?” I want to be the cow in His hedge of safety. I hope you want that for your life too. 

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Hidden Motive by Hannah Alexander

Can Dr. Sable Chamberlin and mystery man Paul Murphy stop a killer and fall in love at the same time? Christy Award winner Hannah Alexander’s novel, Hidden Motive, takes us into a world of wonder beneath the ice-covered surface of the Ozarks as Valentine’s Day draws near.
#RomanticSuspense #christianfiction
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07ML4DK58

 

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One Word for the Year

Happy New Year! I can’t believe it is 2020. I always love starting a new year. It feels like a clean slate, a blank page, a fresh start. I believe this is a great opportunity to make changes in our lives and paint a beautiful future for ourselves.

Many people like making New Year’s resolutions. Resolutions can be a great tool to help us make lasting changes. Unfortunately, though, many resolutions fizzle out before we reach February. Sometimes this is due to the fact that we are trying to make too many big changes all at once. I think many people can stick with smaller changes for longer periods of time. So, this might be something you might want to consider when you pick your resolutions.

Or there is another route you can take altogether. And that is picking one word to be your theme for the year. Many people pick one word which pertains to something they would like to focus on for the year. And they keep this word in the forefront of their mind each and every day. This adjustment in our focus can produce lasting changes in our lives. Some example words are: Peace, Strength, Healing, Brave, Love, Jesus, etc.

Picking a word for the year is something I have enjoyed doing myself many times. And I can tell you that it does help catapult change. Last year I chose the word “seek” because I wanted to seek God more. And focusing on this word helped me to do just that. Keeping the word “seek” in mind every day helped me to deepen my relationship with the Lord. It helped me to spend more time reading my Bible, in prayer, and listening for His voice. It also helped me to make better choices in my life. For example, at times I found that instead of reaching for my phone to get on social media, I would instead reach for Him.

I can tell you from my own experience that choosing a word for the year really does help us grow. In fact, this might sound crazy, but I was actually sad to say goodbye to the word “seek.” That’s how big of an impact it made on me in 2019.

Needless to say, this year I am choosing to pick a word once again. My word for 2020 is “grace.” Why did I choose the word “grace?” Well there are many things I would like to change this year. And I felt that the word “grace” was an all-encompassing way to tackle some of those things. For starters, I would like to gain a deeper understanding of the grace of God. I know that Christians have been saved by grace, but I am not so sure that I always feel that grace deep inside. I want to grab hold of this grace and allow it to make me stronger in my walk with the Lord.

I also chose the word “grace” because I feel this will be a reminder to myself to extend grace towards others. Since God has given each of us so much grace, isn’t only fair that we extend grace to those around us as well?

Also, I hope to extend more grace towards myself. Many of you can relate when I say that I am my own worst critic. I am quick to put myself down and point out my own flaws. It is good to want to change, if that change is in the will of God. However, I don’t think God wants us to berate ourselves. That kind of thinking comes from the enemy.

So, I would like to encourage you to think of one word that you would like to focus on this year. Take some time today to sit quietly with God and ask Him if there is a word that He has in mind for you. Once you come up with a word, you can make sticky notes with the word on it, and put them where you will see them each day. Some great places might be your bathroom mirror, your computer screen, your coffee pot, your steering wheel, etc. I would love to hear from you, so please share in the comments what word you picked for this year!

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Who Were the Wise Men, and Why Did They Go to Bethlehem?

Matthew 2:1-12 tells the familiar story of the “wise men” coming to worship the baby Jesus. The story forms part of Christmas celebrations every year all over the world. In fact, in traditional church calendars, the wise men have their own special day, Epiphany on January 6. But do we ever think about the significance of the story? Who were these men, and why did they come? The Christmas carol calls them “kings” and focuses on the expensive presents they brought. But the Bible does not call them kings. It calls them “wise men” or “magi,” from which we derive our word “magician.” They were probably astrologers, people who thought they could interpret and predict world events by studying the movements of the stars. And they came from “the east” to Palestine to worship Jesus.

So, we know who these men were, but why would they come to worship the one who was “born king of the Jews” (Matthew 2:2, NIV)? Judah was not even an independent nation then. One might undertake a journey of several months to see the future Roman emperor perhaps, but why the king of an obscure people like the Jews? And why bring expensive presents? These men weren’t Jewish, so why would a Jewish king matter to them? They obviously had some knowledge that convinced them that the birth of Jesus was important to them. What could it be? They didn’t know the Old Testament prophecy of Micah (5:2-4, quoted in Matthew 2:6) that had foretold that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem or they wouldn’t have had to stop in Jerusalem to ask for directions (Matthew 2:2).

The answer to that question may lie in the Old Testament book of Daniel.

In 605 BC, Daniel and a number of other young Jews were sent into exile in the Babylonian Empire. There they were taught “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Daniel 1:4), trained to serve in the Babylonian civil service. Fundamental to Babylonian knowledge were the secret arts of “the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers” (Daniel 2:2), the rituals and tricks which these practitioners could use to manipulate and coerce the gods into doing what human beings wanted.

Daniel 2 tells the story of a dream that the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, had. He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers to interpret the dream. When they could not do so (claiming that that this was impossible because such a task could only be performed by gods “and they do not live among humans”), Nebuchadnezzar decided to execute all of “the wise men” (Daniel 2:11-12). That is, he decided to execute essentially the entire civil service, including Daniel and his fellow Jews. Daniel, however, was able to save all of the wise men because “the God of heaven” (that is, the true God who had revealed Himself to the Jews) gave him the proper interpretation of the dream.

The dream was significant because it was a vision of a great statue in the shape of a man that would be destroyed and replaced by a rock that was cut out “but not by human hands.” Daniel explained that the statue, made of gold, silver, bronze, and iron/clay, represented four great human empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) that would follow in succession and then be replaced by a non-human kingdom, one not made by human hands, that is, the Kingdom of God. Since Daniel’s interpretation had saved the lives of “the wise men,” it would have made a great impression on them. It also made an impression on Nebuchadnezzar, who told Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods” (Daniel 2:47).

In Daniel 3, however, Nebuchadnezzar had a giant gold statue made in his image and demanded that all of his officials bow down and worship him in a massive public ceremony. Daniel was apparently not present on this occasion, but three of his Jewish friends were. The men we know as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down, and some “astrologers” denounced them to the king. Nebuchadnezzar had them thrown into a fiery furnace, probably the blast furnace used for smelting the gold. The three were unharmed by the flames and were joined by one who looked “like a son of the gods,” probably a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. The astrologers must have been astounded at the result, and Nebuchadnezzar issued a royal decree praising “the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego” (Daniel 3:28).

In Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar had another dream. Again he summoned his “wise men,” that is, “the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” (Daniel 4:6-7) to interpret his dream, and again they could not. So he sent for Daniel, whom he called “chief of the magicians” (Daniel 4:9), and Daniel’s God again proved able to interpret the dream. In fact, the dream was a message of God to Nebuchadnezzar, warning him that if he did not “acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign” and renounce his sins “by doing what is right and…by being kind to the oppressed” (Daniel 4:25,27), he would be deposed as king. Nebuchadnezzar did not repent, went mad, lost his kingdom, and wandered alone in the wilderness. When he finally acknowledged the sovereignty of the true God, his “advisers and nobles” restored him to the throne (Daniel 4:36). Nebuchadnezzar then issued a decree to his entire empire and to people beyond it, describing his experience and praising “the King of heaven” (Daniel 4:37). He had apparently become a follower of the true God.

The direct witnesses to all of these events were the Babylonian “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners.” It is certainly possible that some of them also became followers of “the King of heaven.” In any case, the story of the remarkable events that had occurred would have become part of the literature of Babylon and would have been passed down to future generations.

Furthermore, the book of Daniel is unique in the Old Testament. Except for a few verses, the rest of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, the language of the Jews. But the central part of the book of Daniel was written in Aramaic, the diplomatic language of the Babylonian Empire. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the book of Daniel, as well as Nebuchadnezzar’s royal proclamations, were probably still present in the Babylonian libraries and archives, in a language the Babylonians could read and understand. 

The obvious conclusion, then, is that the “wise men” of Matthew 2 were some of the successors of the “magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners” of Daniel’s time.

But that still does not explain why the wise men were convinced that the birth of Jesus, “the king of the Jews,” mattered to them. Yet the answer is obvious. Daniel 2 contains the prophecy of the four empires that were to be replaced by the Kingdom of God. Six hundred years later, the descendants of the wise men of Babylon would have been able to see that the prophecy had been absolutely correct in predicting the fate of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman Empires. They did not make the long journey to Bethlehem to acknowledge the new king of the Jews. They came to celebrate the arrival of the one who was “like a son of the gods” and who would establish the Kingdom of God that would supersede all other kingdoms. And they were not surprised to find the baby in humble circumstances, because their ancestors had seen the true God use four refugee boys to overawe the might of the Babylonian Empire.

Three decades later, when the church of Jesus Christ was inaugurated at Pentecost, there were present people from “every nation under heaven,” including “Parthians, Medes and Elamites” (Acts 2:5,9), people who lived near the center of the old Babylonian Empire, people from the “the east,” where “the wise men” had come from. Although it is not widely known now, the early Christian church expanded quite quickly into the area that had once been the center of the Babylonian Empire. Was the way prepared by the wise men, influenced by the remarkable events and accurate prophecies recorded in the book of Daniel?

This article is adapted from the book Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us by James R. Coggins (Mill Lake Books, 2019).

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A Fine Goodbye (by Hannah Alexander)

To Better Times

I have never been one to make New Years resolutions, at least not after the first few times when I was very young. To me, there is no magical flip of the wrist that makes all the realities of the past year disappear, erased for a new slate to begin. We still have the old slate, which can only be wiped away by the blood of the Cross.

That being said, by observing the year in retrospect, I find that there are quite a few things we did this year that I want to do again. We’ve enjoyed some great Bible study, we’ve helped our tiny house church until it outgrew the house.  We’ve seen more animals this year than we’ve ever seen before, like javelinas, wild burros, moose, baby pronghorn, and we had one very interesting encounter with a pack of wolves. We’ve done some exciting ATVing, we’ve made friends, and we’ve made plans for a family reunion next summer.

We have also discovered some moves we don’t plan to make again, such as trusting too quickly, jumping too soon, making promises we wish we hadn’t kept. In other words, we need to learn to count the cost. We have found in the past that it is so much better to wait on God to speak to our hearts before we leap into any situation, be it personal or professional. Though we are happy for the experiences we’ve had this year because of the growth we’ve experienced, there are certain ones we would rather not have again.

What about you? What are some of the good, fun, empowering things you did this past year that you’d like to repeat? Are there some decisions you’ve made over the year that you wish you’d given more thought before leaping? What have you learned this year that will make this day, New Years Eve, a learning experience, a fine goodbye?

I wish you all the best in the coming year. May all your choices be wise, and all your learning experiences be positive. And if not, then next year you can bid a fond farewell, a fine goodbye, and change directions for 2021.

 

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CONQUER YOUR BEAR THIS NEW YEAR’S EVE by Vicki Hinze

Vicki Hinze, Conquer your Bear this New Year's Eve, Vicki HInze, Christians Read

 

This year we’re celebrating New Year’s Eve with a group of people we dearly love.  That holds a reliable promise for a lot of fun and laughter.  Hubby and I are really looking forward to it.

But every year, that isn’t the case.  Some New Year’s Eves, we’ve chosen to spend the evening in quiet.  Sometimes due to health—hard to celebrate with strep throat—sometimes because we’d recently lost a loved one—grief and parties don’t typically mix well—and sometimes because we’ve just exhausted ourselves in the season and we need to be calm and still for a while.

We’re no different than any other couple.  We all have lives that impact us at a given time, and we need to respect where we are and what we need as well as what we might want.

For some, the trees are down, the gifts have been shared, we’ve been to the last social function of the season, and while we’re tired from all the hoopla, we’re also feeling a little blah because we’ve gone from lives that had propelled through frantic-speed and slowed back to normal. We’re now having a little issue with the transition.

But this rough transition is really an opportunity in disguise.  It means we have the chance to seize the moment and kick the blahs out on their foolish elbow, which is where they belong. Let me backtrack a little so I’m clear…

Last year, a dear friend was shocked at the way I’d accepted having a subdued New Year’s Eve celebration.  It was a quiet one. Very quiet.  Frankly, I was shocked that she was shocked. Many heralded in the New Year quietly.  Some were dealing with issues, some chose quiet because they preferred it, and some because they felt they had no choice.

For those who preferred it, they’re content.  For those dealing with issues, they might or might not have been okay with quietly ringing the new year, but regardless, they’re coping with what life’s put in their path.  We all know, the alternative is less appealing and feeling like roadkill isn’t a good mindset for starting out a new year.

Most of us consider the New Year a time for fresh starts and new beginnings—a season of hope for a future that makes us more content.  This group who exercised their preference for quiet knows we all endure trials and challenges in life—no one is given a pass—and it’s just our season to endure them.  Everyone has such seasons.  But the awareness of that fact does help to give us the strength to endure what we must with more dignity and grace.  So this group, too, is doing just fine.  Looking forward to stepping into the light at the end of tunnel of trials, but doing just fine.

It is the group that feels it has “no choice” that has the least opportunity for contentment.  That is, unless they develop the right attitude toward their current state and position.

That “no choice” outlook or perspective is also a choice and, if we see ourselves in that group, then we need to take steps to get ourselves out of it.  We can all do something.  Maybe not everything, but something, and that is the point.

If you see yourself in that no-choice group, look at your situation—the big picture—and then look for something to do that you will enjoy that will also feed your soul.

Big tip:  You will never feel content if your soul is starving.  Feeding your soul is the secret key to contentment.

So bearing that tip in mind, here are some prosperity ideas:

If you’re alone and don’t want to be:

  1. Invite a few friends or neighbors over who will be alone, too.  Play board games, cards, Twister—do something together.
  1. If your friends are away and the neighbors are busy, then volunteer somewhere so you’re around othersdoing something worth doing.  It’s fulfilling to do something kind for someone else.  It makes you feel good, and that takes the sting out of otherwise being alone when you’d rather not be, and that fosters contentment for the uplifting.
  1. If you’re feeling more reflective and not hungering for others’ company, then stay home alone but do something constructive.  Sit down and think back to where you’ve been in the past year and where you want to be at the end of next year.  Spend your time crafting a vision of how you want to change your life and then realistic, small steps you can take to get from where you are to what you want. It takes thought to know what you want, concrete actions to make it a reality.  Thought to action to manifestation = your envisioned life.

You know, if we just drift through life from year to year without ever pausing to think about what we want most, there will come a day when we meet our eyes in the mirror and regret that we didn’t put more thought into it and more effort into making it happen.  If we don’t like our lives, we have the power and ability to change them.  Having a plan gives us a great chance for making those changes.

So you’ve tried that before and failed.  Well, haven’t we all?  Who says this time you’ll fail?  You only fail if you stop trying, right?  So try again.  I doubt Franklin got electricity in one shot. Or Bell the phone, or Edison, or the guy next door. We all try and fail.

We try, we fail, we make progress, we see what didn’t work and try other things, and eventually we fail our way to success.  All because we don’t quit. We keep trying—and celebrating every gain.  So we didn’t create our dream life this time.  So what?  We got a little closer to it than we were before.  That’s worth celebrating.

Maybe you love your life but you don’t like the way you handle specific situations or events in your life.  Now is the time to think of how you’d change your actions and reactions.  Both matter.

Many will make the same resolutions this year that they’ve made last year and the year before, and perhaps the year before that.  And many won’t keep those resolutions this year any more than they have in years past.  Why?

Typically, because they make radical changes instead of incremental ones.  Big changes disrupt, and when they don’t get the results they want immediately, they quit.  They try to eat a whole bear in one sitting rather than in small meals. So, whatever your “bear” is, remember that.  Little bites, little bits at the time, many times.

Celebrate each bite.  Each move you make toward conquering your bear.  If you stay focused on the increments, you’ll find yourself getting closer and closer to conquering your bear and reaching your goal.  Whether that bear is to break a bad habit, to change a behavior of yours that doesn’t serve you well, or doing something constructive to help you personally or in your career—you can conquer the bear a bite at the time.

  1. Unleash the power of your mind.  This is a chance for a fresh start and a new beginning.  It’s a chance open to everyone.  But every single one has to choose to seize that chance.  The reason you choose to seize it or not to seize it is personal.  Understanding why it’s personal will reveal your motivation for doing it or not doing it.

Remember that for changes to take hold and become natural to you, the motivation must speak to you on three levels:  physical, emotional and spiritual.  That’s your three-legged stool, and if one leg is short, your stool’s on shaky ground.  It will wobble.  If any one leg is too short, your stool is going to tip over and dump you on your backside.  So for your best chance of success make sure you understand your motive for tackling the bear in all three: physical, emotional and spiritual.

Example:  You choose to lose weight. 

Physically, you know the benefits.  Stronger body, better health.

Emotionally, you know the benefits.  Stronger body creates a stronger mind.  More nimble and quick.  Better emotional health and a better attitude about yourself.  You look better, you feel better.

Spiritually, you know the benefits.  If your mind and body are in a better place and don’t require as much of your energy to be focused on them, you can spend that energy and time on your spiritual self.  Seeking balance in your life.  Being serene and tranquil and content.  What will take to get there from where you are now?  What are the advantages of being there?  What are the advantages of the journey to there?  Lots of perks in the journey, lots of incremental times and things to celebrate.  That puts the kibosh on the blahs.

All of these things speak to your motivation for wanting to lose weight.  All of these things provide insight into what you really think and want.  And they make you consciously aware of why you want them.  The benefits to you are specific on all three levels.

Armed with all that, you’ve greatly enhanced your odds for success.

Implement your plan of thought and action and you’re on your way to creating the you that you seek to become in the new year. One increment at a time, you seize your fresh start and celebrate it—and if you’re celebrating your contentment at accomplishing what you set out to do, that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the blahs.  As we all know, blahs love empty space and idleness.

Many associate chances with January first, and when it comes and goes, it’s gone.  But chances for seizing that which makes us content doesn’t just happen on January first.  Chances come all day and night every day and night.   At any moment in any day or night.  Chances come at any moment you spot a chance and decide to seize it and then act on it.  Dates on a calendar do not chances make!  You create them by making a decision to create a chance for yourself.

And if you backslide, don’t despair.  Start over with a new chance.  That’s the thing about chances you create.  There’s a lifetime, abundant supply, there for the seizing anytime you choose.

So, know you create chances whenever you like, and follow the winning recipe.  Create constructive chances, then seize and act on them.

Seizing a self-created chance and taking action will help the more content you so much you’ll be asking yourself, “Blahs?  What blahs?  I’m building a content life here.  I have no time for blahs!”

Conquer your bear.  One bit at a time.

And have a blessed and safe new year!

Blessings,

Vicki

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Nora’s Review of: Land of Silence by Tessa Afshar

Nora St Laurent, Tessa Afshar, Land of Silence, Christians Read

 

Land of Silence

By Tessa Afshar

Tyndale Publishers

ISBN#978-1-4964-0646-0

389 Pages

 

 

 

NORA’S REVIEW: This story grabbed my heart from the beginning, “When I think of the ruin my life has become, the slow wrecking of the dreams, the destruction of every love, I always return to the bee. That one tiny sting, which robbed my place of favor in my father’s heart and changed the course of my destiny.”

Oh, wow, I was hooked. This author pens a compelling thought-provoking novel that encouraged and touched my soul. I like the author notes to readers when she shares that nothing is known about the woman with the issue of blood; but what is known was this woman was called daughter. The author states, “This was, the only time Jesus addresses a woman as daughter.” She explains the situation around this woman’s healing and how Jesus doesn’t just throw around words. The novel builds up to the moment where Jesus stops everything he is doing to ask, “Who touched me?” The people he was traveling with and the disciples thought this was a bizarre question to ask since the crowd was pressing in on every side. But Jesus knew someone was healed physically and he wanted to give them more than they were seeking.

This story is a powerful, gripping and emotional read I couldn’t put down.It reminded me of Redeeming Loveby Francine Rivers. Eilanna is like the female lead in Francine’s book. She is a woman beaten down by life’s blows and is left with nothing. Both of these women were strong, desperate for love and were willing to risk it all to get a touch of Jesus to heal their bodies and their souls.

Elianna (the woman with issue of blood) represents us and our journey in darkness, trying to make it on our own. This author brilliantly shows readers the many ways God reveals himself to us and desires to love us beyond our wildest dreams; it’s ours if we let him in our heart. He desires to heal us from the inside out. I enjoyed how this author brought scripture to life and included other bible characters into the mix to interact with Elianna. It was surprising to read about the “Jewish purity laws” and how they were in forced on daily basis. It could make a person crazy. Grin! I loved how this story naturally flowed and wasn’t preachy!

The author said that her story line revolved around a few questions I hadn’t given much thought to. The first was, “Why would Jesus delay an urgent procession to save the life of a little girl in order to find out who had touched him? The second was, “Why would he take time, they did not have to call a destitute woman daughter?” This writer pulls out all the stops as she delves into the answers to these questions and gives the reader a profound look at the heart of Jesus.

I was fascinated by the role women played in society back then. I grew to deeply care for Eilanna as she searched for answers. This young lady who was forever changed by a chain of events that were out of her control to fix. Heart sick and desperate to be healed of a sickness that plagued her body and shaped her life. What a remarkable journey!

There are twelve discussion questions to enhance your book club experience. This is the first novel I’ve read by this author, it won’t be the last. This is an amazing story that would be great for your book club. I highly recommend this novel to everyone. It’s a must read.

ABOUT AUTHOR: TESSA AFSHAR was voted “New Author of the Year” by the Family Fiction sponsored Reader’s Choice Awards 2011 for her novel Pearl in the Sand. Her book, Harvest of Rubies was nominated for the 2013 ECPA Book Award in the fiction category and World Magazine chose Harvest of Rubies as one of four notable books of the year. Her novel, Harvest of Gold was nominated for the 2014 Christy Award. Tessa was born in Iran to a nominally Muslim family and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She moved to England where she survived boarding school for girls and fell in love with Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte, before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDiv from Yale University where she served as co-chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last fifteen years in full-time Christian service in New England.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from The Book Club Network and Tyndale Publishers.  I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”

Nora St. Laurent

TBCN Where Book Fun Begins! www.bookfun.org

The Book Club Network blog www.psalm516.blogspot.com

Book Fun Catalogue front page www.bookfun.org

 

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Keeping the Christmas Spirit All Year Long

I know Christmas is over, but I don’t want to let go. It’s like this every year. It seems to come and go so quickly. Before you know it, it’s gone. I want to back up and savor those Christmas moments just a little longer. One thing is for sure, I will continue listening to Christmas music for weeks to come, in an attempt to keep the Christmas spirit alive.

But inevitably we all have to go back to our daily routines, paying bills, going to work, and so on. Life goes on. However, even though we have to go back to life as we knew it before December rolled around, isn’t there still a way to keep Christmas alive all year long? Yes there is a way and the answer is love.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus is love. He gave up all the riches of heaven to be with us. He gave up His divine privileges to save us. He gave up all His comforts to die on a cross for us. He loves us beyond belief. And in turn He wants us to love as well. Love is a command that Jesus has given us. And when we remember all that Jesus did for us, how can we not love?

“Truly He taught us to love one another. His law is love and His gospel is peace.” That is my favorite line within my favorite Christmas carol, O Holy Night. The words pretty much sum up everything we need to know about how to live the best life, how to navigate each day on this earth, and how to be a good and faithful servant of the Lord.

So in the weeks and months to come, will you join me on this mission? Will you make love a lasting habit in your life? Will you love the Lord with all your heart? Will you love your neighbor as yourself? Will you accept the love that the Lord wants to give you? Will you remember just how much Jesus loves us, considering all that He has done for us? Christmas is one day out of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. But on the remaining 364 days in the year, we still have Jesus, we can still worship our Savior, and we can still have love.

acorns balls blur candles

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

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The Christmas Griddle and You by Julie Arduini

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It is my joy and honor to be on rotation this Christmas Day. Whether you read this before dawn thanks to children up early, or after the traditional ham or turkey dinner, my prayer is your heart is full as you celebrate the birth of our Savior.

We’ve been on a cleaning binge to ready for visiting family, and recently I found myself inspecting and scrubbing the pull-out portion of our oven. For us, it’s where we store our cookie sheets and griddles. I pulled out a griddle that I knew to be a few years old and definitely well-loved and asked my husband what he thought should happen to it. I knew we had more than one, and definitely others were in better shape than the one I was holding.

“Oh, we have to keep it. Your mom got that for me for Christmas one year. It has value to me.”

I glanced at it once more. The front was blackened and scratched up. The look far from the sparkly unblemished griddle he pulled out of the box one Christmas morning. It sure appeared to be a lost cause, and in my practical mind, the many quilts mom has made over the years carried a lot more sentiment.

Still, my husband doesn’t ask to keep a lot of kitchenware, so while cleaning, I decided to see if the old griddle could be restored to her former glory. Thanks to Google, I learned if I took baking soda and a copper sponge, everything should come right off the griddle.

The results were miraculous.

Gazing at the brand-new looking griddle reminded me of the journey to a relationship with Jesus. For me, I was angry and on a fast track to addiction. I was insecure and selfish. Honestly, I was wounded, broken, and mad at the world. Like Song of Solomon 1:5, “I am dark but lovely.” My situation to the naked eye appeared hopeless.

But that’s where Jesus is a Master.

I can’t think of a better invitation to extend to you this Christmas than one that introduces you to a relationship with the One who first came as a babe in the manger and will return King of Kings. Because His life was spotless and He offered Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, we too can transform from the junky, used griddle to the clean, shiny one.

—Julie Arduini

Because we’re like sheep, it’s natural to wander around in search of what completes us. I can attest that no drink, no job, no food, no person, no house, no car, not even the best marriage can complete us.

Only Jesus can.

He is the way, the truth, and the life.

If you have not acknowledged Him as such, while admitting your sins, and hey, we all have them, today is the perfect day. We celebrate His birth because we know the journey takes Him to the cross, our rescue and only way to eternal life.

Would you like to start that relationship today?

While the angels celebrate in heaven, I’ll rejoice while partaking in Christmas brunch with our transformed griddle. Seriously, if you’ve asked Jesus into your life today, please leave a comment or contact me at juliearduini@juliearduini.com. I’d love to hear from you.

Merry CHRISTmas!

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Unto Us A Child Is Born by Tara Randel

Merry Christmas stars

Merry Christmas! I hope in this most beautiful, but hectic, time of year, you and your loved ones take time to remember the true spirit of the season.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.  Isaiah 9: 6-7

Let this Christmas touch our hearts and be filled with many wonderful memories.

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I’m looking forward to 2020 and what the future holds for each and every one of us. I pray that God’s blessings flow and this will be a very special and productive year. It’s always quite a journey to see what God has in store for us.

 

Coming in 2020

9781335889577

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, Always The One , available February 2020.  For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

 

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Joy to the World

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” – Luke 2:10-12

Joy. I’d like to have more joy in my life. How about you? Would you like more joy as well? I imagine most people would agree on this point.

Proverbs 17:22 (ESV) says that “a joyful heart is good medicine.” Joy is one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. Nehemiah 8:10 says that the joy of the Lord is our strength. Scripture talks a lot about joy. This tells me joy is important and something the Lord wants us to grab hold of.

The word “joy” is one we hear a lot more often during the Christmas season. As we sing “Joy to the World,” our hearts feel the joy deep within. In general, most people are more joyful in the month of December. Joy is more tangible as we bake Christmas cookies, watch Christmas movies, sing Christmas carols, and so on. How wonderful it would be if we could hold onto that joy all year long!

But how can we have joy when life is hard, when we get bad news, when we face obstacles, when we have endless doctors’ appointments, when we face severe pain, when we can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other?

I believe faith is a big part of the equation. In one Christmas song we sing the words, “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!” Interestingly enough, the words “faithful” and “joyful” are back-to-back. This recently struck me and I was in awe that this clue on how to live a joyful life was right there in front of me. A faithful life leads to a joyful life.

We can have joy in hard times because we have faith in hard times. We learn to rely on our God, knowing full well that God’s purpose cannot be thwarted (Job 42:2). Knowing that God acts on the behalf of those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4). And knowing that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

The verses above help increase our faith and faith increases our joy. When we have strong faith in the Lord, knowing that He is in full control, we can keep His joy in our hearts. Christmas is one day out of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior. But on the remaining 364 days in the year, we still have Jesus, we can still worship our Savior, and we can still have joy.

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Christmas Belief

It is the season when everyone in the movies and on television talks about believing—but what they really mean is pretending.

Belief is about committing yourself to someone or something. Pretending is about playing games and living in a fantasy world of make-believe.

Specifically, popular culture talks about believing in Santa Claus. Of course, nobody except little children really believes in Santa Claus. Yet we are supposed to all pretend to believe to keep children happy.

The idea goes back at least to an 8-year-old girl named Virginia who wrote to the New York Sun newspaper in 1897 to ask if there really was a Santa Claus, in the belief that if it was said in the newspaper, it must be true. The paper’s answer has become a Christmas classic, reprinted endlessly as a piece of immense wisdom.

The paper’s editorial response deftly avoided giving a direct answer to the question but implied that Santa Claus exists as surely as love, generosity, beauty, joy, childlike faith, poetry, romance, eternal light, and the “supernal beauty and glory” of “the unseen world” exist. Thus, Santa Claus became a pretend substitute for the Christian God, the source of all good things. It is interesting that the author of the Dear Virginia response was a man named Church.

And so that message has been repeated over and over again in popular literature. In the classic 1947 Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, a lawyer tried to prove in court that an old man was Santa Claus even though neither he nor anyone else really believed that Santa Claus was real. In the end, the judge ruled that the man was Santa Claus since the US Post Office delivered to him all the letters children had written to Santa Claus that year.

The 1994 remake is perhaps more disturbing. In that movie, the judge ruled that since the US government asserts the existence of a mythical unseen being named God (since its currency states, “In God we trust”), then another unseen mythical being named Santa Claus could also exist. This movie thus reduces God to the status of a non-existent being that people only pretend to believe in.

This view may not be that far from the view of some modern liberal theologians who do not really believe in the God of the Bible but who only pretend to in order to preserve necessary virtues such as faith, goodness, and love.

The thing is that if goodness and love are dependent on a pretend character, then they are only pretend virtues and they don’t really exist. Santa Claus is a fun fictional character, and there is nothing wrong with telling stories about him, as long as we don’t try to invest him with unwarranted significance.

The harsh truth is that without the Christian God, there is no love or goodness or purpose. The myth of Santa Claus might inspire some present giving once a year but is a poor substitute for living a life of service to God and humanity.

In The Santa Claus movies, the character played by Tim Allen talked about the importance of “believing” and stated that without Santa Claus, there would be no Christmas. This is sentimental silliness and utter nonsense. It is not Santa Claus who delivers presents to children around the world who otherwise would not have any. It is people, many of them inspired by Christian faith, faith in a God who really exists. Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, an event of cosmic significance which was celebrated centuries before the invention of Santa Claus and which will be celebrated long after Santa Claus is forgotten.

In contrast to much other popular literature, the children’s author Dr. Seuss got it right. In his famous book How the Grinch Stole Christmas, an evil character stole all the cultural trappings of Christmas, the toys, presents, decorations, and food—everything that Santa Claus represents—and it made no difference at all since love and joy still existed. This is because love, joy, and peace do not depend on a recently invented mythical figure named Santa Claus. They depend on the reality of the eternal God who created the universe.

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One More Week! (by Hannah Alexander)

I know you don’t want to hear that you have one more shopping week until Christmas. So instead, I’m going to remind you that amidst all the rush and hurry and stress of Christmas shopping and planning and cooking and wrapping and…okay, really?

At Christmas, we can do the same thing we do at Thanksgiving. Thank God. Remember those things for which we can be thankful. The best gift we can give is a heart of thankfulness, and the best recipient of that thanks is our God.

Thank you, Lord, for our family, our friends, our lives. May we always be thankful to You first.

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A Gift Worth Giving by Nancy J. Farrier

I love the slogan that says, “Reading is my Superpower!” This is so true for me. If there is one area in my life where I excel, it is reading. I have several books going at once. One I’m reading for pleasure, one to learn the craft of my work, an audiobook I’m listening to alone and an audiobook I’m listening to with my husband. I also start my day reading my Bible and often reference the scripture during the day. And, I have books I’m reading for research on a variety of topics. Whew!

Where did this love of reading come from? Some of my earliest memories are of my mom and my dad reading books to me and to my sisters. Mom took us on weekly trips to the library when we were young. When I got old enough to walk there on my own, I loved spending hours in the library searching for new books. I would carry home an armful of books every week. 

Another favorite memory is my grandmother walking to our house and reading to me when I stayed home from school. I can’t recall why I was home, but I remember grandma walking down outrage lane and me snuggled against her as she read.

Reading is so important to me that I made sure to continue with my children. From the time they were born they would hear stories read to older siblings. Every time I sat down to nurse one child all the others came running to hear a story. When you have five kids finding enough lap room and arms to go around can be tricky. But, those times were so precious.

Yesterday, we met my daughter, son-in-law and grandsons who were in Phoenix, AZ for the day. We went to a bookstore and both boys (ages one and four) were so excited about the books. I sat on the floor with them to read and then we chose a book for them to take home. They were more excited about the books than the toys the store also carried.

What is it about reading to a child that helps them? Here are a few examples from studies that have been done.

  1. Reading to young children helps them succeed. They are learning skills from an early age that will give them an advantage in school.
  2. Reading helps develop language skills. As babies listen to you read, they learn pronunciation and how to use different words. Their vocabulary is building all the time.
  3. Reading exercises the child’s brain. Listening to stories enhances their brain activity and promotes early reading.
  4. Reading helps their concentration. Even though a baby or toddler wants to turn the page early and gets impatient, reading to them every day teaches patience and sitting still. They also learn to respect property and care for the books.
  5. Reading encourages a thirst for knowledge. As they learn new things from the books, they will desire to learn even more.
  6. Reading encourages diversity. Choosing a variety of topics, both in fiction and non-fiction can encourage a child to want to gather more information about people, cultures and the world.
  7. Reading develops imagination and creativity. So true. 
  8. Reading develops empathy. As the child sees what a character goes through, they learn to empathize with other people and see other’s needs.
  9. Reading is a form of entertainment. This type of entertainment is interactive in so many ways and stretches their thinking skills.
  10. Reading together creates a bond. Sitting with all my kids around me as I read did create a strong bond that is still there today.

If you want to give a gift worth giving, consider sitting down to read to a child. Give them a superpower that can be passed from one generation to the next.

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