“The Greatest Gift”, Ann Voskamp

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Photo courtesy of Tyndale Publishers

I studied a few Advent devotionals this year and this was certainly the most unique. If you’ve read any of Ann’s writings you’ll know she has a marvellous lyrical voice that is so powerfully evocative enabling the reader to join her in the scene she is describing.

There are 25 devotionals starting with 1 December and finishing on Christmas Day. Most of them reflect on a passage of the Old Testament drawing us to parallels with people of the OT and Jesus. It’s really only in the last few days when Ann swoops into the NT. Each day includes Ann’s reflections, three questions for self-analysis and a recommendation to practice a key aspect of the day’s teaching.

The devotional for Christmas Eve was simply magnificent in it’s lyrical fluidity and power as Ann reflects on the birth and she describes us as follows:

“Tonight there are only the manger tramps, who tramp in with all our poverty of spirit … so there can be an abundance of God.” (p247).

A manger tramp – I love that image.

The book is worth it’s price for this chapter alone.

This is another great production of Ann’s as it helps point us to Jesus each and every day. There was a home video Ann produced for each of the 4 weeks of Advent where she shared particular reflections relating to the Advent candles. These videos were a great accompaniment to the book.

This book could easily be read at any time of the year and I recommend it highly.

Whose plan: ours or God’s?

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Photo courtesy of Dan/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

He planned to divorce her quietly. What a good guy. He’s been told his fiancé, Mary, is pregnant. But he’s not the father. But the law provides him with an out. But rather than publicly humiliating Mary, Joseph decides to break it off quietly.

Based on my various readings, most men, at the time, would have called the engagement off. The only question was how best to do it.

His plan was sound. He felt humiliated and didn’t quite understand the miraculous nature of the situation. I take it Joseph wasn’t fully aware of his lineage or the significant part he was to play in being the second last in the line that began with Abraham (Matthew 1:17)

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Guest post: Christmas in Alaska

Jen Creek smallI’d love to introduce Jen Cudmore who lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

We bumped into each other on another blog we both frequent. I was delighted in her suggestion to do a blog post swap. (add my post here) As Christmas is just around the corner, I asked Jen to share a little about the season in Alaska.

Without further ado, please give Jen a hearty welcome.

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Reflections on Advent

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Photo credit: Unity Church Albany, New York

Advent means “coming”. It is a season many Christians practice for the four weeks prior to Christmas. According to Wikipedia it is “a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas. The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for His Second Coming.”

I observed Advent for the first time last year. Perhaps a better way of describing what I did was I studied it. I didn’t light a candle or do anything else symbolic. I read a few devotionals and spent more time each day just reflecting on Jesus.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience last year so am doing it again. Like last year I’m working through some devotionals to help stimulate my meditations and prayer time.

Once again I’m blown away by Jesus’ humble arrival. The Israelites were expecting a grand entrance by a king. But who turned up? A baby. Born in a barn.

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“The Tournament,” Matthew Reilly

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Photo Courtesy of Pan Macmillan Publishers

This is a very different Matthew Reilly novel. There’s no Scarecrow, nor Jack West. There is also no hero saving the world with moments to spare from some global calamity.

But don’t let that stop you from reading it as this is Matthew Reilly at his story telling best.

We meet Bess, the young 13 year old daughter of Anne Boleyn & Henry VIII, who goes to Constantinople with her teacher, Roger Ascham, to witness the inaugural World Chess Tournament hosted by the Sultan. Soon after arriving, a prominent Cardinal from the Catholic entourage is found murdered. The Sultan engages Ascham to investigate the murder. In the process of the investigation, conducted in the background to the tournament, further murders are perpetrated to add to the intrigue.

Meanwhile, Bess’s friendly older companion Elsie seeks to win herself a Prince, the son of the Sultan. She spends her nights on various nocturnal exploits which she regales in full detail to Bess the following morning. Yes, this novel features sex, which to his credit, Reilly points out at in his “Author Note” at the beginning of the book stating it to be for mature readers only.

The tournament, the investigation and Elsie’s ambition are all drawn together at the end. There was a degree of predictability which is not typical in a Reilly novel, however, the power of the novel is in Bess’s coming of age story line.

Bess, of course, matures into Elizabeth I, and one of the wonderful aspects of the novel was the fictionalising elements of real people. Fundamentally, this is a story about Bess, and Reilly courageously explores how the experiences in her youth (namely this fictional one) helped mould her into becoming one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. Not to mention that she never married.

Told from Bess’s first person voice, this is a rollicking tale that will delight Reilly’s passionate reader-base as well as introduce new readers to the great story teller that he is.

“The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brene Brown

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Photo courtesy of Hazelden Publishing

Wholehearted living. Aha, yep heard of it, but not sure what it means nor whether you’re living it?

Brene’s book goes a long way to helping you discover the what and the how of living a wholehearted life.

Brene’s recommendations are all based on quality research that she has performed as well as other various experts she engages through the discovery process she outlines through the book.

This is a practical book. But what is so special about it is that it’s also Brene’s journey. She’s not speaking from the pulpit, rather from the trenches alongside us. She guides, tests ideas, empathises, shares her own failings as she explores the results of the research she’s conducted over many years.

Being able to say “I’m worthy” or “I am enough” can be very difficult for many of us. This masterful guide is a great place to start in learning how to do just that.

Cannot recommend this book, nor its author, enough.

 

Erin Healy discusses “Stranger Things”

erinhealybooks_1367526975_600Erin Healy’s latest supernatural thriller, Stranger Things, comes to stores on New Year’s Eve. Most of you will know I’m a big fan of Erin and when she asked for some bloggers to help promote Stranger Things I was delighted to get the opportunity to feature Erin once again.

*** There is also the opportunity to win one of 10 copies of Stranger Things by using the Rafflecopter link below. You can enter every day this week until Sunday 8 December by visiting the other bloggers during the week.***

Here goes. Let’s start with a brief blurb about Stranger Things.

Introducing Stranger Things

Library Journal says: “Serena Diaz’s teaching career came to an abrupt end when a student falsely accused her of sexual misconduct. Seeking solace in the woods, she discovers that a gang of sex traffickers has taken over a vacant house. Serena is almost captured by one of the criminals but is saved by an unknown man who has been shadowing her. He is shot, and Serena escapes with her life. But she is drawn to know more about this stranger who died for her. What follows is a suspenseful story of danger and pure evil. Whom can Serena trust in a world that seems intent on serving its own self-interests? VERDICT Healy (Afloat; coauthor with Ted Dekker, Burn and Kiss) has written an edgy, fast-paced spiritual thriller that will please Dekker fans.”

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“Sun Stand Still Devotional,” Steven Furtick

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Photo courtesy of WaterBrook Multnomah

Having being impressed with the book Sun Stand Still I was excited by the idea of a 40-day condensed devotional version of it.

Both books reflect on Joshua’s audacious prayer asking God to freeze time so he and his Israelite army have more time to vanquish the Amorites. And God answers by doing just that.

Furtick believes we all should be living lives of audacious faith where prayers such as Joshua’s are common practice and just as importantly we are stepping out in faith so that God can demonstrate His faithfulness to us.

This devotional is excellent. Each day’s message is short featuring a passage of Scripture that encourages us to be faithful. Yes, God can be trusted. What I particularly love about Furtick’s writing is that he is the master encourager (he’d be a great sports coach) to be able to motivate by demonstrating God’s faithfulness and then equip the reader with the tools to utilise to step out in faith.

He also uses a lot of great soundbites that are short, sharp and memorable, such as:

– The proof of faith is the action it produces.
– Faith not only prays. It also pursues.
– Live a life that is explainable only by the existence of a God who is infinitely great.

Furtick shares a number of stories of his own journey in starting his church (which is quite a remarkable story) and this devotional includes some updates which weren’t included in the book. Each day’s lesson then ends with an accompanying action to pray.

If you’re desiring something more for your life, I’d encourage you work through this devotional. You won’t be disappointed. I expect I’ll keep returning to it on a regular basis.

“All In,” Mark Batterson

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Photo courtesy of Zondervan

Batterson challenges us to be the person God wants us to be: completely committed to Him in everything, ie, to be All In.

He uses great stories and powerful Biblical passages to emphasise different aspects of our lives where we struggle to be fully committed. And of course, no Mark Batterson book would be without many wonderful soundbites that the reader can highlight, add to their journal, tweet and/or post on FB. But more importantly these help you remember key points of the message. One of my favourite ones is:

“If you want God to do something new, you cannot keep doing what you’ve always done.”

This is a challenging read as it’s very difficult to stay seated on the bench once you realise the Biblical truth that Batterson is sharing. Read it and get ready to be shaken up and stirred to jump off the bench with renewed vigour.

Finding joy in ordinary moments

IMG_0626One of my favourite moments of the week is to sit down at the breakfast table to read the Saturday papers with my morning coffee. I’ve done it most weeks of my adult life.

There’s something about the extras that come with the Saturday paper. It’s more than the sport, business and headlines. It’s the culture, the longer articles that you can lose yourself in or the reviews of the latest movie, book or show.

Last Saturday I sat back and soaked it in. Especially took note of this hour of quiet where it’s just the paper, my coffee and me. The family are still in bed. Oh, except for Beanie, our pup. She’s usually racing around outside and from time to time pops in to remind me she’s not far away.

Gee, I enjoyed it.

“Joy is not a constant. It comes to us in moments – often ordinary moments. Sometimes we miss out on the burst of joy because we’re too busy chasing down extraordinary moments. Other times we’re so afraid of the dark that we don’t dare let ourselves enjoy the light.”1

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