Monday, July 31, 2017

Online Bible Study?


   Recently I heard about a ministry called Love God Greatly and their Bible Study groups, many of which are online.  To be honest, the thought didn't appeal to me at first.  I've been a part of and have led women's bible studies before, and there's just something special about physically showing up!  You can read each other's facial expressions and understand so much from tone of voice and body language.  You can give hugs and welcoming smiles.  And let's not forget coffee and snacks!  Relationships are built easily when we make time to get together.

  But...I haven't been in a women's bible study for years.  Why?  Because it's too difficult to find a group of women who want to commit to a study AND align schedules to make it happen!  I'm in a season of life where my kids activities and therefore my schedule are always changing.  Evenings that we do have free I usually try to reserve as family time.  So you take multiple women with varying schedules, and it's hard to meet consistently.  Maybe this online bible study thing is worth a try!  Women can plan their time with God whenever is convenient in their schedule that day, and then post insights and encourage others in a private online group setting.  The best part - you can do it in your pajamas!

So you've probably guessed by now that I'm in for a trial run.  And more than that...I feel like God wants me to facilitate a group. It forces me to put the time and effort in.  As with anything, the more you put into it, the more you get out of it!   I have a month to prepare, because the next study with Love God Greatly (LGG) begins on August 28th and is over 1 & 2 Timothy.  If this interests you too, read on for more info!

Who can join the group? Women only, please

How long does it last?  It begins on August 28th and continues for 6 weeks.

What do you have to do? LGG publishes a journal that can be ordered through Amazon or downloaded for free.  It provides daily Scripture readings, room to journal using a SOAP format, and other helpful tips.  LGG also has a blog that posts related devotions 3 times per week.  After journaling, simply participate in conversation in a private Facebook group.

What is SOAP?  This is a method of journaling.  SOAP stands for Scripture, Observation, Application, and Prayer.  Click here for more info.

What will we be studying?  1 &2 Timothy.  Click here for a description of the study or to order the study journal from Amazon.com.  You can also get a kids version of the journal here so they can study along with you!

How do I join?  Just let me know you are interested and I will send you an invitation to join the group Facebook page once I have it ready to go!  Also, you may go ahead and order your journal (see above).  There will be a PDF version available for free download at a later date if money is an issue.  However, buying the $12 journal through Amazon helps to support the ministry and offers a nicer presentation of the material.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.  Who wants to try this out with me?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Known by Dick and Ruth Foth

Known: Finding Deep Friendships in a Shallow World.  Don't we all want that?  In this digital age of texting and Facebook, something seems to have been lost, or at least harder to grasp than it once was.  I was hoping this book would have some insight into how to navigate these challenges and create more opportunities for deep relationships to flourish.  While the book did well at describing the components of deep friendship, it did not address the struggle, and therefore lacked personal connection for me.

Using Scripture and story, the authors paint a picture of what deep friendships look like.  Friends share stories, spend time together, and affirm each other.  They are authentic, honest, and trusting.  They pursue, invite, sacrifice, and remain.

"Friendship - true, deep friendship - is found in a desire to know and the willingness to be known.  It is choosing to walk with another person through whatever comes.  A lasting friend knows you and still likes you.  And a lasting friend, at the end of the day, is quite simply there."

This book is written mostly by Dick Foth, with some comments added at the end of certain chapters by his wife, Ruth.  When I read Ruth's comments following the introduction, I thought this book was for me.  She was going to add in an introvert's perspective...just what I needed!  But instead, her thoughts were mostly poems or stories that didn't address an introvert's struggle.  

Overall, this is a nice book about friendship...defining what it is and sharing some good stories as examples.  It provides wisdom on how to be a better friend.  But it may leave you right where you started...longing for a deep friendship and not knowing how to take the first step to find one.  Just not quite what I had expected.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

This Life I Live by Rory Feek

You may be interested in this book because this couple is famous.  I, however, had not even heard their names before picking it up.  I like to hear people's stories...learn about the lessons and insights their experiences have taught them.  That alone sparked my interest in this book, and I'm glad I took the time to read it.

Rory Feek writes in a blog with the same title: This Life I Live. Many people have heard about his wife, Joey, and followed their music career and her battle with cancer.  This book focuses more on Rory's life before fame and fortune...how God got his attention and prepared him to be a good husband.  Like most of us, there are some parts of his story that Rory is not proud of, but he recognizes that those things still have value and need to be told.  He writes, "I've learned that most of the time, the things that you're most ashamed of and don't want to tell anyone are the things that can become a new beginning for you.  And, in time, God has a way of making those moments the first things you want to talk about because it's from there that He was able to work in your life.  To really change you.  From the inside out."  It is with this spirit of authenticity that Rory writes, and I found it both engaging and easy to relate to.

This book has the same feel that a blog has - short chapters that either tell a story or focus on a theme.  While the book as a whole does flow from start to finish, the individual chapters don't always come in chronological order.  Jumping around in time was mildly confusing at times, but I could follow it.

Every family has a story to tell and lessons to share.  I'm glad I got a glimpse into this one...

And if you like to listen to audio-books: Rory recorded this book himself!  I think it would be really cool to listen to an author reading his own story.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Drawn In Bible Study Review

Adult coloring books have been increasing in popularity.  While I personally have not found the time to enjoy this new hobby, I know many people do! Drawn In Bible Studies are unique in that they combine scripture/study with coloring.  There are studies on Mary, Esther, and Ruth.
The books are roughly 5" x 8".

Bible Study: There are four main sessions that include scripture from The Message Bible, devotional thoughts by Eugene Peterson, questions for discussion, and a prayer.  Coloring pages are woven throughout the session.  There are also notes at the end of the book to guide someone in how to effectively lead the study.

Why include coloring pages?  The author says "the act of coloring will help your orienting response, the brain function that allows you to filter out background distractions and attend to the matter at hand...By coloring as you engage in this Bible study, you'll be more attentive to what the Scriptures have to teach you."  It gives your hands something to do while your mind is meditating on the Word.

What to color with? You could use colored pencils, but only if they are very sharp.  Many designs have very tight spaces. (Some examples are shown below).  I tried using gel pens, and they work well.  The pages are thick enough that the ink does not bleed through the paper.  However, if the ink is still wet when you turn the page, it can transfer to the following page.  This could create a problem if you are coloring bits of multiple pages in a short amount of time.




If you like coloring, this type of Bible Study is a new and interesting option!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Quick Tips for Busy Families by Jay Payleitner

Parenting advice from one family to another.  Sometimes it's nice to get ideas from other families about what child-rearing strategies have worked for them and then decide which might also work for you.  That's what this book is....quick tips-ranging from games to chore responsibilities to spiritual guidance.  I think the idea behind the book was good, but the organization left a little to be desired.

The title even indicates that this book is for BUSY families.  If you're busy, you want to find the information relevant to you quickly.  The main drawback to this book is that there are ideas for all age-ranges of children that are scattered in no particular order.  My youngest is 10 years old, so there are many "tips" that no longer apply to my family.  It would have saved time to be able to go to a section specifically for my age-range of interest.  Instead I had to skim and browse to find what was relevant to me.  There is a topical index at the back of the book, but not for age.

As with any parenting advice books, there will be strategies you agree with and ones you don't.  For example, I don't think that if your child starts to pout in the grocery store that you should leave a cart full of groceries and walk out.  I think it's rude to give all that extra work of re-stocking your items to the store employees.  But there are other tips that I did like.  Turning work into a competition.  Using a Job Jar as punishment for bad attitudes and including "grace" as an option.  Teaching good stewardship on field trips by giving your child a certain amount of money and telling them they can keep what they don't spend.  There were definitely some good ideas on these pages, but nothing that struck me as really new and exciting.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Under the Cover of Light by Carole Engle Avriett

     Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a prisoner of war?  In this memoir, USAF Col Thomas "Jerry" Curtis shares the story of his 7 1/2 year imprisonment in North Vietnam.  Despite the horrific circumstances, Jerry recalls those moments that kept the prisoner's spirits alive - lights in the darkness.  Whether you read this story to gain understanding or to be inspired, you won't be disappointed!

     This book is very well-written with just enough detail to put things into context, but not so much that would confuse the average reader.  We are able to get a glimpse into a situation that many of us will never face.  I have gained a deeper appreciation for these brave men and what they endured for their country.  Some of the lessons the prisoners learned can be applied to our lives today.  For example - appreciating our freedom and not taking things, like access to God's Word, for granted.  Also the practice of being intentionally thankful.  If they can find things to be thankful for as POWs, what excuse do we have not to?

    While Jerry was asking the Lord, "Why me?" at one point during his imprisonment, he was given the opportunity to minister to a fellow inmate.  This experience "led Jerry to understand that wrapped up in any explanation as to why believers might experience horrific circumstances in their lives was opportunity - opportunity to fulfill a God-glorifying task...The tragedy either brought others across a believer's path who needed to receive God's light from the believer or who needed to see God's light through the believer...Jerry realized he had been a conduit for God's glory to an unknown and unseen prisoner, and an eternal truth surfaced in his mind: the deeper the darkness, the more brilliant the light."

     In an age when we tend to idolize celebrities and sports figures, we need books like this that tell stories of true heroes.  By hearing of their courage and perspective during captivity, we can be challenged to look for the light in our own dark circumstances.  I highly recommend this memoir.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Review of Invitation: Harbingers Cycle One

I was initially drawn to the uniqueness of the way that this book was written.  There are 4 different authors - friends who decided to try something new and write a book in the style of a TV series.  This first cycle contains four "episodes", each written by a different author and from a different character's point of view.  While there is an overarching storyline, each story revolves around its own mystery to solve.

Something intrigues me about characters with powers and how they might use them to help others.  The main characters in this story use their gifts to solve mysteries.  A harbinger is a person or thing that signals the approach of another.  Each episode in this book presents a mystery that foreshadows a supernatural darkness descending on the Earth.

So how did this new writing style work out?  In my opinion, it left a lot to be desired.  While the characters are likeable and the storyline holds some intrigue, there simply weren't enough pages to sufficiently develop each episode and bring it to completion.  With each of the stories I felt like it began well, caught my interest, and then came to a rushed conclusion.  The mysteries were never completely solved.

Another problem with writing in this style is the length of time between books in the series being written and published.  Would you watch a  TV series with only 4 episodes per season?  The storyline has come to a pause when its barely just begun.

If you like short stories and the supernatural, you may enjoy Invitation and the Harbingers series.  However, I think I will stick to full-length novels.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Grace Behind Bars by Bo & Gari Mitchell

Meet the Mitchells... A well-respected Christian couple who run in circles helping others and serving the community.  So how do they react when someone takes advantage of that kindness and it lands Bo Mitchell in prison?  That's what you will discover in this true story.

When we're too busy or distracted for God to get our attention, He has a way of slowing us down.  This could come in many forms - but for the Mitchells it came through an illness and imprisonment.  It was encouraging to hear about their perspective through these trials.  They took a bad situation and chose to trust God and learn everything they could from it.  This attitude ended up leading to a stronger marriage, character improvement, and deeper relationships with the Lord.  While we may not ever be in the same situations, learning to approach trials with their outlook would benefit anyone.

After being released from prison, Bo had a difficult transition back to "normal" life.  He felt weighed down by the pain of his experience.  One phrase he wrote really jumped out at me.  He said if he didn't take the lessons he learned and then move forward, "my mess would remain a mess rather than become my message."  Bo sets a wonderful example of how to use the "mess" you've created and turn it into a message to encourage others.

This story gives a glimpse into life behind bars - a place that many of us will never see.  It was interesting to read and easy to relate to.  Bo & Gari - thank you for sharing your story!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.




Friday, April 14, 2017

A Mother's Guilt


A few weeks ago we had a prayer time at our church and I sat down in front of a wooden cross.  I found myself thinking of Mary and what she must have been feeling, standing there watching her son be crucified.  Obviously she would have been heartbroken.  But did she also feel helpless?  Did she feel like a failure for not protecting her son as a mother should?  Did she wonder if she could have done something to prevent this series of events?

A Mother's Guilt.  It can start as early as pregnancy when deciding which foods and vitamins to eat to help our baby develop properly.  Then the baby comes home and the real worry begins.  Suddenly you are in charge of keeping an infant safe from harm, making sure he gets enough sleep and the right nutrition.  As the child grows, now you have to consider his cognitive and emotional development too!  There is an endless list of things we as mothers are responsible for.  Diet, exercise, safety, health, toilet training, education, character development, and of course documenting all of the important milestones.  We compare our mothering skills and children to others and then feel guilty when we don't seem to measure up.  I would bet that mothers of even the most successful children still struggle with feelings of regret and failure.

I know I'm not immune.  I lose my patience and yell at my kids.  I wonder if I'm spending enough "quality" time with them.  I worry about whether I'm making healthy enough meals and teaching them good eating habits.  I feel guilty that they aren't driven to grow spiritually and that I'm not doing enough at home to encourage that.  I see their character flaws and wonder if my actions contributed to them.  I see them get hurt and wonder if I could have prevented it.  I know I have many reasons to be proud of the way my boys are developing, but I still have a nagging fear that I'm failing them in some way.

So what do I take away from this picture of Mary at the foot of the cross?  I remind myself that just as God chose Mary to be Jesus's mother, he chose me to be the mother of my sons.  He knows my strengths and weaknesses, just as he knows yours.  I also remember to trust in God's plan and that He can use any situation for good.  It may grieve us to watch our children hurt and struggle, but God won't waste that pain.  Just as there was a reason for Jesus to die, so God can use our children's struggles to shape and mold them into the people he wants them to be or serve a greater purpose.  The things we perceive as "failures" may fall exactly into God's plan.

So Mommas - Do your best and then give yourself some grace.  You were chosen to be a mother. God loves your children.  Let's trust Him enough with their futures to let go of the unnecessary guilt.   Hopefully we can look back one day and see the ways in which God has uniquely shaped their lives and be proud of our part in it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Seven-Mile Miracle by Steven Furtick

When a person knows he is about to die, he chooses his last words carefully.  This book contemplates the last 7 phrases that Jesus spoke before his death on the cross.  These 7 words can serve as "mile markers" on our spiritual journey: forgiveness, salvation, relationship, abandonment, distress, triumph, and reunion.

Each chapter, or "mile", in the book has two sections.  The first explains what Jesus said and what was happening at the cross, and ends with questions for the reader to ponder.  The next section uses teaching and stories to help readers think about and apply the topic to their lives today.

In the weeks leading up to Easter, this is a nice tool to use to focus on what Jesus did for us on the cross and reflect on our relationship with him.  (There is even a 40 day bible reading guide to use during the Lenten season for those who want to delve deeper.)  Beyond that, I can't say that I came away with any new "eye-opening" information.  It was more of a reminder of things I had already heard.

My favorite part came in the last chapter.  I had heard Steven Furtick preach a sermon on the topic and it had stuck with me, so I was glad to see it in print!  Steven offers some insight into the interaction between the travelers to Emmaus and Jesus after his resurrection.  It involves the pattern that we see when Jesus shares a meal with his followers: Taken, Blessed, Broken, Given and how we can see that same pattern played out in the way God works in our lives.  Really good stuff to ponder.

Steven writes in a style that is easy to read and relate to.  I would recommend this book more to a seeker or a Christian young in his/her faith.  However, it is appropriate for anyone who wants to remember and focus on Jesus's final words before He gave His life on the cross.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.




Thursday, March 2, 2017

Cherish by Gary Thomas

The definition of cherish is to "protect and care for (someone) lovingly, to hold something dear".  When applied to marriage, this goes beyond merely committing to your spouse - it means making him/her feel special.

I've been married for almost 17 years and recognize the importance of renewing my mind when it comes to how I view my husband and our marriage.  I can't say there was any huge revelation that I took away from this book, but it did help me to focus on the truth and align my perspective with God's word.  I pray this will help me to cherish my husband more.

For couples who like to read together, each chapter ends with a summary of the main points and a series of discussion questions.  Gary Thomas points out that while he shares advice that works for most couples, each person is an individual.  Therefore, to get the most out of this book, you should discuss it with your spouse to see how he/she would feel most cherished.

While there are several things I underlined, I always like to share my biggest take-away in my reviews.  This one appeared in a chapter about being patient with your spouses's sins.  Gary writes, "A holy person isn't known by what he or she does or doesn't watch, by avoiding a few forbidden words, or by attending a frequent number of religious meetings, but by how he or she treats fellow sinners.  Our experiential holiness is defined in large part by our ability to gracefully bear the lack of holiness in others.  You know you are a spiritually strong person when you can live joyfully and gracefully around spiritually weak people."  I had to stop and digest that...We ALL sin and therefore all have spouses that sin.  It's how we respond that shows our true maturity.  He goes on to write, "There's another way to look at this: if God's attitude toward you in your sin mirrored exactly your attitude toward your spouse in his or her sin, where would you be with God?...Stop comparing your spiritual maturity with your spouse's; instead, start comparing your spiritual maturity with Ephesians 4:1-3.  If you do that, you will change the climate of your marriage."

This is only one of the many ways we can learn to cherish our spouses.  I challenge you to read this book and learn about the others.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.


                                                                               Ephesians 4:1-3  

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Kingdom Family Devotional Review

"If we're ever to see the salvation of our nation, we must first pursue the salvation of the family.  The strength or weakness of the family will ultimately determine whether our society stands or falls.  That's why we've written the Kingdom Family Devotional" - Tony and Jonathan Evans

Family devotional time has always been an area where my family has struggled to be consistent.  Trying to figure out a time when everyone can eat dinner together is challenging.  Then to find material that is engaging for all age groups?  Really tough.  I'm always keeping my eye out for good resources.  I picked up this book to see if it would be appropriate for my family with boys ages 9-14.  While some tweaking will be necessary, I believe this is worth a try!

The Kingdom Family Devotional is designed to last a full year, focusing on one topic per week, Monday through Friday.   Examples of topics: Love, Respect, Purity, Money, Forgiveness, Courteous Speech, Wisdom, Repentance, and Humility.   Each day is only one short page, beginning with a Scripture.  You will find short stories and illustrations, verses to memorize as a family, discussion questions, and suggestions for activities.  Wednesdays tend to focus more on Scripture (Wednesday in the Word), while "Fun Fridays" have an activity.

I found that I really like the content of this devotional.  The Scriptures and readings that have been selected are interesting and relevant.  I can see meaningful discussions taking place as a result.  The one area that will require the most adaptation is the activities.  Crafts? Not happening.  Family dance and song writing? Nope, that's probably out too.  Read ahead...If you see there's an activity coming that you know would not work for your family, simply omit it or tweak it to fit your style.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Meals From Mars by Ben Sciacca

Meals From Mars is a fictional story that is meant to fuel conversations about racial tension.  I found it to be an interesting, quick read that helped me to expand my perspective on the challenges facing segregated communities.

The story revolves around a white man from an affluent neighborhood who goes into "the other side of town" to deliver some groceries to a needy family.  He ends up getting carjacked and stranded with a young black man.  As the two strangers begin to open up to one another and share their stories, readers can be challenged to explore their own views and prejudices regarding race.

I was drawn to one observation that the author made about violent crime.  He writes "Some simply label things too quickly and try to connect violence to race rather than to circumstances or context.  The reality is that any community - regardless of race - that is facing...poverty, joblessness, and brokenness tends to use violence in equal measure.  In most cases, when violence emerges in a community, it has become the currency of negotiation for people who feel like they have no other option."  This story aims to provide understanding and get us thinking about how to fix the root problem and bring reconciliation, rather than just the quick fix.

This book is an engaging tool that can be used to get the conversation about racial tension started....there are even 20 discussion questions provided to get things rolling!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.