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Last year I read “A Year’s Journey with God” by Jennifer Rees Larcombe, and had the privilege of meeting her while I was in the middle of it! I’m currently reading Ann Spangler’s “Praying the Names of Jesus”, which lasts for 6 months and includes 26 of the different names for Jesus – Friend, Lord etc. I like the Monday-to-Friday format – explaining the name, praying you through it, and showing where it’s recorded in the Bible. It’s not date-specific, so you can break for a week here and there, or catch up at the weekend on the days you’ve missed. Next year, I want to read its companion – “Praying the Names of God”. If you started in January, you could buy both and let them take you through the year.

I hoped to finish the devotional I was on by the beginning of December, but it doesn’t look like I will now. There were a couple of Advent books I fancied trying – “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift”, for one. This is the family-friendly alternative to Ann Voskamp’s “The Greatest Gift”. I know she’s quite a flowery writer, so I thought the family version might make the same points as the adult book, but in a less longwinded way! This year though, I was going with “Make Him Room” by Kirsten S Oliphant. I loved her Lent devotional (“Consider the Cross”) and wanted to give the Advent one a try, but two dailies plus my regular Bible-reading might be a bit much.

So, I may not read anything special to mark Advent this year. “Advent: A Gentle Journey to the Prince of Peace” could be good if it was on Kindle. Written by a busy single mum and illustrated by her sisters, this book teaches about the history of Advent and includes one devotional for each of its four weeks. Now that, I could do.

These are by no means all the devotionals you can get. ChristianityWorks do an eDevotional, and Bible Gateway publish several that you can subscribe to free of charge. Theirs can be seasonal or topical, such as devotions on marriage you can read as a couple. I like the sound of the Gary Thomas two-week one and may just sign up for it anyway, even though I’m not married!

And if you’ve read this blog for some time, you might remember I partnered with Jess to take you through “Unglued”, chapter by chapter. Well, Lysa has published a companion to the book – “Unglued Devotional: 60 Days of Imperfect Progress”. Quite a few Christians do this – write a book and then publish a devotional to go with it. My very favourite author has just done exactly the same, and Holley makes the point that all of hers is new content. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

Is there a particularly good devotional you’ve read? One I’ve missed out that you think I should recommend? Please tell me in the comments.

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Insecurity

A friend was talking on her latest radio-show about someone daunted by their new job, who really needed peace. If anything’s unusual or doesn’t go the way we think it should, it can cause panic, can’t it? Because we don’t know what a future employer, a spouse, or whoever, might be thinking.

I remember another friend telling me about her husband’s funeral – how people said such lovely things, and she wished he had known what he meant to them. That’s why I try to point out the good in people. It does no harm to give encouragement, and better now than when it’s too late, but not everyone expresses themselves in words. If you haven’t read it, I’d really recommend Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love-Languages” for ideas on various ways people can show their feelings. They might buy you a gift, or do something extremely kind. If I expect a certain response from someone, eventually, they’re going to let me down. That’s not their fault; it’s just that nobody’s perfect, and (thankfully) nobody’s exactly like me.

My lovely friend Becky from New York is a reader of this blog. After her husband proposed, he wrote her a poem. It’s really beautiful and I’ll just share a little of it here:
When you feel your feet slipping down into the deep and you’re looking for something to stand on,
My love will never be enough …
When you are determined to rely on God and not give up,
Then my love will be enough
.”

Can we take a leaf out of Becky and Dave’s book? If we feel the weight of insecurity, let’s give whatever’s troubling us over to God. “In Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). That means if I haven’t been the person I’d like to be or if I feel let-down, God can help us with our shortcomings. It’s only through Him that real transformation is possible.

If this has brought to mind a situation in your family, or the family of someone you know, why not pray about it? “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).

Envy

Many people are drawn to become Christians because they’ve heard “God so loved the world” or some other, reassuring Bible-verse. Not me. I was changed when I heard Proverbs 14:30: “Envy rots the bones.” I knew I was envious of my sister (who was having driving lessons at the time), and I knew if that was true, my bones must have well and truly rotted away. The preacher asked if we knew where we were going, and I didn’t. I couldn’t say for certain that if I died I would go to heaven, so as everybody else sang the last song, I sat and talked to God. I told Him I didn’t want to come to Him just out of fear of going to hell; that seemed weak to me, and I clearly felt Him say in my heart: “Come because I love you.” That happened in 1999, and my life’s never been the same since. I didn’t go home thinking I had to strive to stop being envious. There was just a conviction deep inside that it was wrong, and whenever I’m tempted to envy, I think back to that verse.

Others’ lives look very different to mine. Some have the ability to drive; some have jobs and their eyesight, but I’ve got things other people don’t have. Some single people living on their own don’t have any loved ones close by to spend time with, but I’ve got my parents living nearby, and Mum has become one of my best friends. I also have a church-family, and a few close friends I dearly love and respect.

There is an antidote to envy; it’s contentment. Have you met contented people? Do you enjoy being around them? These are the kind of people God wants us to be. We’ve looked at how God is three persons rolled into one: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We’ve also seen there’s a marriage between God and His people. As His bride, this verse in Song of Solomon applies to us: “I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment” (Song of Solomon 8:10).

Jesus, let me be one who brings You contentment, today and always.

When you Have to Give Up

On Sunday, we had a family service – one of those where the talk is shorter, and small children stay in church for the majority of the meeting. My pastor’s wife talked about Nick Vujicic – a man born with a rare genetic disorder that left him without arms and legs, and all the things he’d done with his life. Her message to us was “Never give up” and make use of the gifts and talents you’ve got, because you matter.

She said he had a hard time in childhood and was badly bullied, but his parents kept telling him, “Never give up” and when he was seventeen, he was inspired at his prayer group. In that sentence there, you can see two things he had that some people don’t: A supportive family, and a faith. Apparently he’s learnt to surf, and to drive. He’s graduated from university with a degree in financial planning. Of course I respect him for all this, but I also know of someone who went to university as the first-ever visually-impaired person to do a degree in mathematics. Her school almost stopped her doing the A level. She only managed it because her father agreed to learn mathematical Braille and come into her lessons, at no charge to the school, to give her the support she needed. If you have people who are willing to re-educate themselves and put their own lives on-hold to give you an extremely high level of support, of course you’ll have a higher chance of achieving. I may be wrong, but I don’t think this blind lady I mentioned could finish her degree. How demoralising that must have been to be beaten after all her hard work.

Apparently Nick Vujicic is now married, with two children. It doesn’t take too many brains to work out that in order to marry, the person you have feelings for needs to return those feelings. What I’m really saying is that in my experience, for the sake of your own sanity, there are certain things you have to give up on. Perhaps it’s more challenging sometimes to surrender those things, and yet still find contentment in the life you’ve been given. Nick Vujicic has founded a ministry he’s called “Life Without Limits”, but there are limits. Even in creation, God set a boundary for the waves of the sea (Job 38:11). My message to you reading this blog would be that even if you do reach a point where you have to give up, even if you can’t use your gifts and talents in the ways you’d like to use them, you still matter, and God’s plan for you is good. Don’t look at anyone else, or what they’ve achieved with their resources. Look at yourself; look at God, and make it your aim to be content with the life you’re living in Him.

Absolutely Stunning: “Forgiven” Book-Review

(Interrupting my Write31Days just briefly to tell you about this book. When I signed up to review it for Bethany House, I really hoped I’d be selected, and they obliged by giving me a free copy.)

Terri’s autobiographical account of how a tragic school shooting rocked her family is a compelling one. She has you right from the prologue, and more than once, she’ll use a chapter’s final sentence to give a teaser about the next one. Great writing.

“Forgiven” is an apt title. This is the best book on forgiveness I’ve ever read, and if you want to learn more about Terri’s family, you can find her daughter-in-law’s story in “One Light Still Shines”. While it’s impossible to imagine how I would respond in Terri’s situation, I feel honoured that she would take readers on her own journey. Terri says, “Survival is not the only word starting with S.” She writes about surrender, but I can think of a third one: Terri shone through the pages of her story. It was an inspiration to read.

31 Jesus-Benefits: Companionship

“I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

Day 6 of Write31Days and as a single person who lives by myself, I’m particularly grateful for:

His presence – for having Jesus to do life with.

There are times when I’m down or perhaps having a bad night’s sleep, and I just want to snuggle with someone. Although Jesus doesn’t give me a physical hug, He’s there to comfort me. He’s there as I wash the dishes, watch a YouTube video, read a book or talk to a friend on the phone.

And when life’s difficulties loom large, it’s good to know I can access God’s throne-room through prayer and He’ll sustain me. Jesus has these words for the one who puts their faith in Him and enters the kingdom of God:

“The person who enters through Me will be saved and will be able to come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9).

My Beautiful Week

The week started off well.  It was the first Monday of the school-term here in the UK, so I looked forward to ‘Opening the book’ again in the school assembly.  We acted out “Jonah the Groaner”!  I narrated and one of the team had made a big fish out of tubes with material draped over-top, so our Jonah could be sucked into the fish’s mouth.  The kids loved it!  They were laughing so much, I had to wait half a minute before carrying on with the story; I knew I wouldn’t be heard otherwise.  How special.  But do they know?  Do they know how precious their laughter is, how beautiful they are, and did the team know how much I valued working with them?

 

It’s not easy to talk about beauty.  Not easy to say to a friend as she stands with you at your front door:  “When I spend time with you, it reminds me to appreciate life.”  My friends and family are beautiful – the one I haven’t seen for ages who gives me a hug; the one who comes to my rescue when the power’s off and I’m too short to reach the trip switch; the ones who take time to phone or E-mail or talk face-to-face.  Sometimes I tell them, sometimes I don’t.

 

It’s not easy to talk about beauty, but did an encouraging word ever do anyone any harm?  This week’s “Coffee for Your Heart” prompt is to let someone know they’re beautiful just as they are.  I don’t expect everyone I’ve mentioned to be reading this, but to those who are, I hope you get the message.

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I don’t think Jill over at Compassion Family will be snoozing after her Christmas dinner; she’ll have eyes glued to her computer-screen, because she’s asked all of her readers to list the top 10 posts from our blogs for her to read over the holidays!  How do you choose?  In my case, I chose my favourite from each month (although to make it 10, we have to miss out a couple).

 

Very occasionally, something on the news grabs me and I get all political, like in January with my post about the European Court.

 

In March I was thinking about Easter, and the importance of not just hearing the Easter story but acting on it.

 

25 April every year is World Malaria Day.  2013 saw me advocating for Compassion and having some fun pretending to be a mosquito.

 

On 10 April, the Welsh Outpouring began in Cwmbran, and having wanted to get there for about a month, in May I went to one of the meetings.

 

In July, I thought back a few years to 2005.  I told you about George who inspired me and the album he’s released.

 

There was a moment in August, during the worship-time at church, when I was reminded that Jesus prays for me.

 

September was Compassion Blog Month.  I love to blog for Compassion, so Blog Month 2013 was a great privilege.  I think I enjoyed writing my ‘Story behind the child’ posts the most, but as I have to pick one, I’ll pick Allan (because that’s my dad’s name).

 

October was a busy month of blogging with my first-ever 31-Days series – 31 Days of Song.  I always really appreciate when you leave your comments to encourage me and others.  The song with the most was Steven Curtis Chapman’s “Fingerprints of God”.

 

Sue has been a wonderful asset to my blog with her new ideas, and she’s introduced me to the Daily Post.  In November I used one of their prompts to say what I’d cure and why.

 

And in the run-up to Christmas this month, I’ve focused on some of the characters in the Christmas story, like yesterday’s post about Joseph.

 

So there you have it:  My top 10.  I hope you enjoy them, either for the first time or all over again, and thank you for reading.  If you’re a blogger, what are your top 10 posts from this year?

31 Days of Song: “I Love Lovin’ Jesus”

It’s ‘Friend Friday’ again; shall we do some more hellos?  I think so, because I’ve met a few bloggers lately and I love connecting with you all.  Firstly, Robin is doing a series on the wonder of womanhood (wow) and I particularly liked this post.  Amy’s someone whose blog I hadn’t read before, and she’s had the most interesting idea I’ve come across so far:  “31 Reminders from Eden”; why not picture yourself in the garden of Eden before they ate that forbidden fruit and see what words come to mind?  Crystal’s giving some tips in her series “31 Days of Loving my Husband Intentionally”, so if you’re after ideas on how to show love (in a marriage or any relationship), that could be a good one for you, and Elisha is doing a series on introverts!  So, happy reading.

* * *

This is a song I heard at my friend’s parents’ house.  We’d just had Sunday lunch and were sitting in the conservatory with the radio on.  I wouldn’t normally have listened on a Sunday afternoon because it was a programme called “The Gospel Greats”, and as I’ve said before, I don’t usually like southern gospel; but we listened anyway and that particular week, they were featuring an album by The Crist Family (I’d never heard of them either).  This is one of the songs they played that really stuck out to me, and I’ve since bought it.  I just love how cheerful it is:

“I love lovin’ Jesus!

“I love praisin’ the Lord!”

“Anybody wanna say amen?”

Simple Things

Is it just me, or does the God we follow seem so different from the God of the Bible sometimes?  You try to do things for God, you pray for other people or yourself, and after years things still fall flat and situations aren’t changing?  But you know God does still completely heal people because you’ve heard of it happening – now.  In the last few months.  Not very far from where you live …

 

I don’t know whether this will help you, but some people just shared this lovely story and it helped me.  (Sorry if it’s copyright, but they’ve shared it, so I’m guessing I can too.)

A young man had been to Wednesday night Bible Study. The Pastor had shared about listening to God and obeying the Lord’s voice. The young man couldn’t help but wonder, “Does God still speak to people?” After service he went out with some friends for coffee and pie and they discussed the message. Several different ones talked about how God had led them in different ways. It was about ten o’clock when the young man started driving home. Sitting in his car, he just began to pray, “God…If you still speak to people speak to me. I will listen. I will do my best to obey.” As he drove down the main street of his town, he had the strangest thought to stop and buy a gallon of milk. He shook his head and said out loud, “God is that you?” He didn’t get a reply and started on toward home. But again, the thought, buy a gallon of milk. The young man thought about Samuel and how he didn’t recognize the voice of God, and how little Samuel ran to Eli. “Okay, God, in case that is you, I will buy the milk.” It didn’t seem like too hard a test of obedience. He could always use the milk. He stopped and purchased the gallon of milk and started off toward home. As he passed Seventh Street, he again felt the urge, “Turn Down that street.” This is crazy he thought and drove on past the intersection. Again, he felt that he should turn down Seventh Street. At the next intersection, he turned back and headed down Seventh. Half jokingly, he said out loud, “Okay, God, I will”.
He drove several blocks, when suddenly, he felt like he should stop. He pulled over to the curb and looked around. He was in semi commercial area of town. It wasn’t the best but it wasn’t the worst of neighborhoods either. The businesses were closed and most of the houses looked dark like the people were already in bed.
Again, he sensed something, “Go and give the milk to the people in the house across the street.” The young man looked at the house. It was dark and it looked like the people were either gone or they were already asleep. He started to open the door and then sat back in the car seat. “Lord, this is insane. Those people are asleep and if I wake them up, they are going to be mad and I will look stupid.” Again, he felt like he should go and give the milk. Finally, he opened the door, “Okay God, if this is you, I will go to the door and I will give them the milk. If you want me to look like a crazy person, okay. I want to be obedient. I guess that will count for something but if they don’t answer right away, I am out of here.” He walked across the street and rang the bell. He could hear some noise inside. A man’s voice yelled out, “Who is it? What do you want?” Then the door opened before the young man could get away.
The man was standing there in his jeans and T-shirt. He looked like he just got out of bed. He had a strange look on his face and he didn’t seem too happy to have some stranger standing on his doorstep. “What is it?” The young man thrust out the gallon of milk, “Here, I brought this to you.” The man took the milk and rushed down a hallway. Then from down the hall came a woman carrying the milk toward the kitchen. The man was following her holding a baby. The baby was crying. The man had tears streaming down his face.
The man began speaking and half crying, “We were just praying. We had some big bills this month and we ran out of money. We didn’t have any milk for our baby. I was just praying and asking God to show me how to get some milk.”
His wife in the kitchen yelled out, “I ask him to send an Angel with some. Are you an Angel?” The young man reached into his wallet and pulled out all the money he had on him and put in the man’s hand. He turned and walked back toward his car and the tears were streaming down his face. He knew that God still answers prayers. This is so true. Sometimes it’s the simplest things that God asks us to do that cause us, if we are obedient to what He’s asking, to be able to hear His voice more clear than ever. Please listen, and obey! It will bless you (and the world).

 

I do thank God for giving me big dreams.  I know I wouldn’t have them if I wasn’t a Christian, but it’s time to just do the simple things for a while.