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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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“Unglued” Chapter 11: Pause and Reflect

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,then you will find your joy in the Lord” – Isaiah 58:13-14.

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This is my last chapter-post, and what a great way to end – with a post about God’s Sabbath-rest.  What does the word Sabbath mean to you?  Depending on your upbringing, it may simply be a day with lots of rules attached.  Or a day of rest, only to find you have double the work the following day.  I went through a phase about 6 or 7 years ago where I decided not to do work on a Sunday.  Dishes piled up, to the point where if visitors came unexpectedly towards the end of the afternoon, I’d shut the kitchen-door in embarrassment, and it was daft; I wouldn’t do my own dishes, but if someone else asked for my help with theirs, that was ok because that was serving!  I wouldn’t have dared admit it to you then, but I didn’t find that a delight.  Sticking rigidly to those sort of rules can become legalistic, not freeing, but that was a very necessary time for me – a time when I looked at lots of different areas of my life, to see if they aligned with what God wanted for me.  It showed me what I could do without and what I was obsessing too much about, so it really has freed me.  I suppose in a way, the whole of that time was a Sabbath.

 

Because I like how Lysa describes her Sabbath – a time to hit the pause button, and to reflect on her Christian journey.  She looks at the Bible-passage quoted above, and asks herself 3 questions:  Are there areas in her life where she’s going her own way, not God’s?  In what ways is she pleasing herself?  And what idle words need to be reined in?  She noticed that when she took care once a week to pause and reflect on her life, she felt more emotionally stable the rest of the time.  When I do the same, when I pause and reflect and spend time with God, that’s always something I find a delight.  It helps; strengthens; refreshes me.  I can’t think of a single time I’ve regretted it.

 

“Keep My Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us” – Ezekiel 20:20.  A sign of what?

 

“He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” – Colossians 2:15-17.  The Sabbath was pointing to a future reality that would be found in Christ.  When we think of our relationship with Jesus as our Sabbath-rest, we see it doesn’t have to be on a Sunday.

 

As Lysa says, “There are private conversations we need to have with God”.  When you next have some free time, will you spend it with Him?  Maybe it’ll mean leaving your dishes in the sink for a bit … or maybe it won’t, but I hope you’ll find it’s a delight.

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Thank you, Faith Without Borders people, for reading “Unglued” with us.  I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts, and chatting to you on Facebook.  Stay tuned for Jess’s post on the last chapter, and the group will still be there for a while if you want to keep in-touch with us.

 

Have you enjoyed it?  Would you like to see more book-studies on this blog in 2013?

“Unglued” Chapter 9: A Love Beyond Compare

I read chapter 9 (about comparison), and I’ll be honest; that has been a struggle for me, even though 2 Corinthians 10:12 tells us that:  “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.”  I didn’t want to write a great long post about the people I’ve sometimes compared myself to, so I sat down and thought how I could do it differently.  This is what came:

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Shall I look at someone greater, and so believe the lie

That what I have to give is not enough?

Shall I look at someone lesser, with an eye for all their faults –

Is that the only way to see my good?

 

Father, You’re so great; You sit in heavenly splendour,

And looking down at me, what do You see?

Your eyes see first the One who sits at Your right hand;

Fervent in His love, He pleads my case –

He’s more than enough.

 

And Father, when You look at me, do You list my faults –

The thoughts; the words; the misdeeds; the unspoken?

Your eyes see first His scarred hands and feet –

A love that hung on a cross to die –

A nail for each of these.

 

Father, I compare myself to no one,

Because You look at me through Him.

“Unglued” Chapter 7: A Power Beyond our Own

In chapter 7, Lysa gives us the 5 Rs – what she calls her ‘Biblical Procedures Manual’, which she uses to handle difficult situations.  She’s based it on a part of King Jehoshaphat’s life.  In 2 Chronicles 20, several nations come together to attack God’s people, and Jehoshaphat decides to ask for His help.  Jehoshaphat knew that he and the people of Judah were outnumbered and didn’t have the strength to face such a large crowd (verse 12), so he looked to God for a plan!  Of course God had one.  He basically said:  “The battle’s not yours; it’s Mine.  You won’t have to fight this battle.  The LORD will be with you”.  The thought of their God with them was enough to start an impromptu time of praise, and the next day, they approached their enemies.

 

Jehoshaphat encouraged them to believe God, and sent singers in front of the troops, praising the LORD.  As they praised, God set ambushes for their enemies!  Can you picture it?  People from all these different countries, trying unsuccessfully to fight with heavenly beings sent to ambush them.  Wow!  And then they start fighting each other.  The people of Judah didn’t need to use their weapons:  God had won the victory, with a power beyond their own.

 

And that’s what Lysa refers to in my favourite part of the chapter, when she tells the story of a woman at one of her conferences, who’s suddenly confronted with the news that her young grandchildren have died in a fire.  The woman was sobbing so hard, she could barely breathe; but as someone prayed for her, Lysa noticed that each time she said the name of Jesus, the woman’s crying slowed and her body relaxed a little.  So when it was Lysa’s turn to pray, she repeated His name, over and over … until the woman was calm.  The name of Jesus brought peace – a power beyond her own.  I found it encouraging to be reminded that our human souls are trained to recognise and come under the authority of Jesus.

 

If I had my own Biblical procedures manual, it might look something like this:

1.  Adore God in my difficulty.  As Lysa says, we can’t authentically praise Him for what’s wrong, but we can shift our focus to what’s right and praise Him for that.

2.  Admit (like Jehoshaphat) that I don’t have the strength.

3.  Allow room for Jesus – the power beyond my own.

 

What would your Biblical procedures manual look like?  Have you ever experienced a power beyond your own?

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This is a “Faith Without Borders” post.  Why not join and share your thoughts with us on Facebook, or leave them here in the comments?  We’d love to hear from you, and remember to go to Jess’s blog on Tuesday for her post on chapter 8.

“Unglued” Chapter 5: The Key’s in the Cake

There’s a lot in this chapter, so I’ll just concentrate on the main things that stood out to me.  First, a verse I’d heard before – Proverbs 29:18:  “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” or:  “Where there is no vision, the people perish”.  Because I’d always connected this verse with vision, I thought it meant:  “If you don’t have a clear idea of where you’re going, you’ll cast off restraint”, and that would make sense, but Lysa said the Hebrew word for revelation actually means ‘Divine communication’.  Yes!  Without divine communication, without that inner dialog between me and God in a difficult situation, I’ll cast off restraint, whether I want to or not.  I can’t do life without Him.

 

I wrote about the fruit of the Holy Spirit in my post on chapter 3, and I was pleased to see self-control mentioned here, but is it enough just to know that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is self-control?  I remember the first time God highlighted this verse to me after a bad reaction.  For a while, I hoped that having a strategy would be the key to complete change, but sadly, just knowing the verse hasn’t stopped me reacting badly to things sometimes.  So what is the key?  I think it’s here in this chapter … and it has to do with cake!  This sounds a familiar story.  Maybe it happens a lot to parents of young children – you know the one where they take the cake out too soon, and for a few minutes it looks great, then the outside caves in because the centre wasn’t properly cooked?  That’s just like me.  What goes on inside affects what people see on the outside.  I would say 100% of the time, bad reactions happen when something’s not right in my heart.  Maybe I spent too much time on negative thoughts like:  “I’m not good enough”, or maybe I believed the lie that God values me for my achievements instead of for who I am.  People might think this a very bold statement, but I’m going to make it anyway:  If I always really believed what the Bible said God thought about me, I’d never have another bad reaction.  I’d feel so secure, so satisfied in His love, that what would anything else matter?

 

So my one piece of advice from this chapter?  Seek God.  It was third on Lysa’s list of things to do in the quiet:  Give your thoughts to Jesus.  Let His truth shout down the lies that corrupt your centre.  Do you feel not good enough?  God’s chosen you and not rejected you (Isaiah 41:9).  Do you think your significance depends on what you can achieve?  Well, God announced from heaven that He was pleased with Jesus at Jesus’ baptism, before He’d even started His ministry; and the way God loves Jesus?  He feels that exact same love for us.

 

How about you?  Are there any favourite verses that help when you’re feeling unglued, and would you like to share them in the comments?

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This is a “Faith Without Borders” post.  It’s not too late to join and share your thoughts with us on Facebook, or you could just leave them here.  We’d love to hear from you, and remember to go to Jess’s blog on Tuesday for her post on chapter 6.

“Unglued” Update

“Faith Without Borders” people, have you noticed we’re a teeny bit behind schedule?  We haven’t abandoned ship; Jess’s chapter 4 post is up now if you want to take a look, but I just thought I’d write and say would you keep us in your prayers?  I don’t know how Jess finds the time to do all that she does.  We really want to be there for you all and study this book together, so would you pray there’ll be time in the busyness for that, and also for our rest and our journeys with God?  We need Him to refresh us before we can refresh others.

 

Thank you for your prayers and please stick with us.  The group’s open till 2 December, so plenty of time to get through the book.

“Unglued” Chapter 3: Still on the Journey

In this chapter, Lysa talked about the negative labels she gave herself.  To be honest, I struggle more with the labels other people put on me.  I’ll give you an example.  When I was 15, I had Severe Reactive Depression.  I couldn’t see a future for myself, so doing my G.C.S.E.s seemed pointless.  When I told this to one of my classmates, she said:  “You’re just a dropout”.  Ouch!  That hurt.  It hurt then, and I still think about it 16 years later; and because I don’t have a paid job, sometimes on a bad day, it can feel like she was right.

 

Another time, I struggled with something being said on a regular basis.  After several months, I felt I had to step away from the situation.  The response I got?  “Maybe you’re unteachable.”  That stuck too, even though I’m fairly sure it wasn’t true, but Lysa’s right:  They can only stick if you let them, so let’s unglue them.  What are these labels actually saying?  Dropout – no hope of ever making anything of your life.  Unteachable – no hope of ever learning.  Hopelessness.  Is that what God offers us?

 

Lysa admitted she spoke to herself in a way she’d never let anyone else speak to her!  She obviously has a filter somewhere in her head – telling her what’s acceptable and what’s not, and I filter what’s said to me, too.  My filter is:  Would Jesus say that?  Sometimes I think:  No He wouldn’t, and other times:  Well, maybe He would, but He’d say it more gently, and He’d always offer an opportunity for change.

 

A lot of the time, when we pin negative labels on ourselves or they’re forced on us by others, we lose sight of what Lysa alluded to at the end of the chapter:  We’re unfinished Masterpieces.  When we read about God sanctifying us through and through (1 Thessalonians 5:23), that literally means making us holy and blameless.  Why would we need to be made holy, if as soon as we became Christians we were there already?  The Christian life is a journey.  “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience” …  Fruit grows; it doesn’t appear overnight.

 

If you’ve read this chapter and struggled with negativity, that’s the thought I want to leave with you:  You’re still on the journey.  You’re unfinished pieces of art, being crafted by the Master, so don’t give up on yourself.  Be confident that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion” – Philippians 1:6.

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This is a “Faith Without Borders” post.  It’s not too late to join and share your thoughts with us on Facebook, or you can leave them here in the comments.  We’d love to hear from you, and remember to go to Jess’s blog on Friday for her post on chapter 4.

“Unglued” Chapter 1: Afraid to Make a Change?

In case you’re wondering, you don’t need a book to follow these posts and talk to us about them, but if you would like a taste of what we’re studying, you can download the first 2 chapters for free here.

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Chapter 1 is about how, through an incident in Lysa’s home, God brought to light her bad attitude to the people around her.  She looked at herself, and she knew she needed to change; she could see the consequences of not changing.  “God help me,” she says, “if I don’t get a handle on this.”

 

I found I could relate to Lysa in this chapter – firstly, that the bad reaction seemed to have been triggered by something so small.  I’ve reacted badly before, and later I’ve thought:  Why did I get annoyed so easily?  But there was a reason.  In Lysa’s case, it was that the same thing had happened over and over again, and this time was the last straw.  For me when I’ve reacted badly, there have been things in the past I’ve held onto, long after I should have let them go – feelings of jealousy or insecurity; things I thought I was over, until I flew off the handle and discovered otherwise.

 

When we’re faced with flaws in our characters, I think it’s good to examine ourselves and get to the root of them, but that brings me to the second way I can relate:  Regret.  I haven’t done any research on this, but I would think regret is much greater in Christians than in people who don’t believe.  We’re told in the Bible that we’re Christ’s ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).  That’s a very high calling, and it hurts my heart deeply to know someone just saw me at my worst when they should have seen Jesus in me, but God’s more interested in our futures than in our past failures.  How can any good come out of a situation if we stop at regret?

 

The third and final thing I relate to is her attitude to change.  Lysa would put off change because of the fear of not doing it perfectly; but, as she says, we need to draw lines again and again.  It’s just a case of making sure those lines are moving forwards, not backwards.  That helps me so much too – to think of where I’ve come from.  When I think of me 8 years ago, then 3 years ago, and then I think of myself now, I can see an improvement.  You might say:  “But people didn’t know me 3 years ago” – well, maybe not … but God did.  When you love someone, you always see the best in them, don’t you?  So, as God loves you more than any human being ever could, why wouldn’t God see the best in you?

 

Are you afraid to make a change?  Why, or why not?  Are you still struggling to get past the regret?

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This is a “Faith Without Borders” post.  It’s not too late to join and share your thoughts with us on Facebook, or you can leave them here in the comments.  We’d love to hear from you, and remember to go to Jess’s blog on Friday for her post on chapter 2.

“Unglued” Schedule and a Little About the Author

Do you remember the other day I told you about the group I was co-leading and the book we were studying?  Well, here’s a little update:  How exciting is this?  By the end of launch day, we had 20 members!  I really didn’t want the day to end.  Can I say a huge thank-you if you’ve joined us?  It’s been fun getting to know people, and a little overwhelming too (in a good way) to read some of your comments.  I’m glad you feel so at-home in our Facebook community.

 

If you’re starting to feel like you’re missing out on all the fun, you can come and join us here.  We now have 35 women, ready and waiting to start a study of “Unglued:  Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions” by Lysa TerKeurst.  Lysa is a bestselling author.  She helps everyday women (that’ll be me then, and the ones who’ve joined our group) to live out their faith, but she doesn’t just talk about it:  She puts her faith into action.  Lysa and her husband have adopted 2 boys from Liberia, inspiring their community to adopt 45 children from the same orphanage.

 

Have I lost anybody yet?  I’ll be honest.  If I was reading this written by someone else, I might be switching off now and wondering how someone like me could identify with someone like her who’s done so much.  But I’ve read the start of “Unglued”, and she actually comes across as very approachable – a woman with similar struggles to mine, and with the same passion – to glorify God in the way she reacts to them; to make wise choices, even when her raw emotions come to the surface.

 

If that’s wetted your appetite, here’s our plan for the next 2 months (you’ll find Jess’s posts here on her blog):

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9 Oct:   Chapter 1, Sarah.

12 Oct:  Chapter 2, Jess.

16 Oct:  Chapter 3, Sarah.

19 Oct:  Chapter 4, Jess.

23 Oct:  Recap posts from both of us.

 

26 Oct:  Chapter 5, Sarah.

30 Oct:  Chapter 6, Jess.

2 Nov:  Chapter 7, Sarah.

6 Nov:   Chapter 8, Jess.

9 Nov:   Recap posts from both of us.

 

13 Nov:  Chapter 9, Sarah.

16 Nov:  Chapter 10, Jess.

20 Nov:  Chapter 11, Sarah.

23 Nov:  Chapter 12, Jess.

27 Nov:  Closing posts from both of us.

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So that’s what your Tuesdays and Fridays might look like, and if you’re in the Facebook group, you can chat with us in between times too.  What do you think?

Today’s the Day!

Have I told you about my favourite website, www.incourage.me?  You’ll see a link to it on my profile.  It’s a place where women write posts on a daily basis to inspire courage in their readers.  Well, back in August, the owners of (In)Courage had an idea.  Their heart has always been to connect people with one another, and they wanted some of their readers to take a bigger part in that.  They’d call them InCouragers.

 

I applied, and I’m honoured to have been accepted.  As one of my friends would say, I’m ‘Super-excited’, and I’ve had to keep super-quiet about it … until today.  Today’s the day all the (In)Courage communities are launched.  Feel free to go to the (In)Couragers’ page and take a look.  There are lots of different topics to choose from – marriage, motherhood etc.

 

I’m partnering with Jess to lead a group on everyday faith.  We’re calling it “Faith Without Borders” because I’m one side of the Atlantic ocean, she’s the other … but we can (In)Courage wherever we are.  We’ll study a book and take turns posting about the chapters, so you can read along with us and share what you get out of it.  If you decide to join and you’re not on Facebook; that’s ok; just subscribe to our blogs and leave your thoughts in the comments.

 

Our book for this 2-months’ session is “Unglued:  Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions” by Lysa TerKeurst, so please come and join us.  We’d love to have you.