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Book Review: The Christmas Candle

Books!It only took me one afternoon to read The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado—ten short chapters with a thought-provoking message about Whom we put our trust in when we pray. I liked this story.

Set mostly in 1864, it’s the story of a town with a legacy. Every 25 years, on the fourth Sunday of Advent, an angel visits their candle maker and touches one candle. This candle brings a blessing to one chosen person. 1864 is the year of the next visit.

But this town also has a new minister who is a bit skeptical, refusing to cooperate with the traditions that have grown up around the angel’s visit. Discussions about this leave both townspeople and minister confused. To complicate matters, everyone wants the blessing of the candle this year and the candle maker has no son to carry on the legacy in 1889. The Christmas candle has brought everyone so much to fret about.

I recommend The Christmas Candle by Max Lucado to those who enjoy Christmas novellas with hopeful messages. The Victorian England setting, the way the characters communicated with each other even when they disagreed, the pace of the book, and the outcome were all just right. I enjoyed reading this book.

I received a complimentary eCopy of The Christmas Candle in exchange for this honest review.

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Thanksgiving Prayer Thoughts

“Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.” –1 Chronicles 29:13

If ever we could think of nothing else to thank God for, we could thank Him for His Presence. He is with us always—wherever we are, whatever our circumstances.

That said, let’s be sure to thank God for His Presence today!

To do so, watch for an opportunity to slip away from the chaos and spend some time thanking God for Who He is. Make a list of every attribute and biblical name for Him you can think of. Reflect on what each means to you personally.

Next, thank Him for what He’s done. Think back over your life journey, and look for God’s fingerprints all over it. Thank Him for His work in and through your life.

Thank Him also for what He will do. This is an act of faith—anticipating His work in this world, in your life, and in the lives of your loved ones. We don’t know what this will look like when God’s finished, but we know we’ll be amazed when the work is done! Thank Him for this hope.

Finally, if the weather allows, take a walk outside. Thank God for everything you see that reminds you He is there.

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” –Psalm 19:1

Thank God for revealing Himself to You through His creation and for drawing your attention to it this day, that you won’t take it for granted, but will hear the rocks cry out that God is here, that God is great beyond comprehension, that God is in control of everything.

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” –Psalm 11:4b

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith says, “It is a fact that we see what we look at, and cannot see what we look away from; and we cannot look unto Jesus while we are looking at ourselves.”

It’s good to thank God for our blessings. Let’s continue to do that, especially today. But let’s start by thanking God for being God. Let’s take our eyes off of that which cannot last and thank God for the Presence we’ll enjoy through eternity!

Happy Thanksgiving! Bless God today!

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Book Review: Stones for Bread

Books!I just love stories about broken and lonely people gathering together to form community. Stones for Bread is this. It’s the story of Liesl, owner of the Wild Rise bake house. Still overcoming the shock of her mother’s suicide and of finding the body at the age of just twelve, Liesl holds people at arm’s length. Yet she loves to bake bread and takes her role as keeper of the bread seriously, preserving a family legacy.

Throughout the book, God brings new people into Liesl’s life and reveals secrets about the people she already knows. Liesl must learn to adapt to changing needs, to open her heart and her life to people she cares about, and to listen for—and trust—God’s Voice.

Because it’s a book about a growing community of broken people, suicide isn’t the only circumstance that people must work through that’s touched on in the book. Others include depression, self-harm, alcoholism, adoption, cancer, dyslexia, abandonment, divorce, death, and corporate greed. The story doesn’t dwell on these, however—just acknowledges they exist. The focus of the story is on Liesl and her loved ones learning to get along and care for one another. They’re learning how to live.

Stones for Bread is a leisurely read for a reflective day. I enjoyed my time with it. I probably won’t try any of the bread recipes scattered throughout the book, but I found the history and mechanics of bread baking to be interesting. Thomas Nelson Publishers sent a complimentary copy of this book for this honest review. I recommend it to you.

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Hebrews 12:28 on My Mind

NewOMM“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” –Hebrews 12:28

This week, this whole month, I’ve been seeing so many Thanksgiving lists posted all over the place. Thanks to Thanksgiving, we’re all taking time to stop and reflect on what God’s given us, on what He means to us, on what He’s done for us, on all the big and little things we most appreciate.

It’s a beautiful thing: everyone offering hearts full of gratitude and praise to God. Let’s keep it up! Let’s try to keep it up all year.

I say try, though, because sometimes it’s hard. As life ebbs and flows, we sometimes find ourselves in dark places where it’s hard to find much to be thankful for. At these times, I’m so thankful we have ultimate gifts to be thankful for. Thanks to Jesus, we are receiving a Kingdom that cannot be shaken. God is preparing us for that Kingdom and that Kingdom for us right now. We’re growing together as Jesus gets ready to return. In Him, we have great hope!

No matter what’s going on in our lives, God’s eternal Kingdom will stand firm—and, if we’ve received Christ as our Savior, we’re a part of it. So let’s be sure to add our reflections on that to our Thanksgiving lists this week. Then God will be faithful to bring these thoughts back to our minds when we most need them.

I’m thankful for that, too!

Father, thank You for the ultimate gifts: salvation, life in Your Presence now, life in Your eternal Kingdom forever, hope in all circumstances, Your faithful love and care. I thank You now as I celebrate Thanksgiving. Help me thank You always. Amen.

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No More Taxes!

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“Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” -Psalm 95:2, NIV

The popcorn tax was first to be recognized as such. Then pizza. Bananas. Apples. Anything I use a spatula to cook.

That last one was put into effect when I accidentally flipped some stir fry out of the pan and onto the floor where the DRS discovered it and decided he wanted more . . . and more . . . and more.

That formidable DRS: Dog Revenue Service. Whenever we eat, he plants himself down in front of us and stares, patiently demanding his portion. Sometimes those eyes say, “Aren’t I so adorable you feel compelled to share with me?” or “Don’t you feel guilty enjoying that while I sit here all hungry-like and watch?” More often, they say, “I’m entitled to my portion of your food. Hand it over now.”

I blame my grandmother. Windsor was content to eat dog food until she came to visit us in the Netherlands during his puppyhood. We told her he could only have dog food. Vet’s orders, we said. She quietly slipped him some mashed potatoes under the table anyway. We caught her in the act, but irreparable damage was already done. Ever since, our doggie has demanded his due.

“But he likes it,” she said. I’m still rolling my eyes.

Now Windsor has discovered green beans and broccoli. It’s time for this taxation without representation to stop! Windsor is the dog. He lives in our house by invitation, not obligation. We choose to feed him and care for him because we want to. Windsor needs a change of attitude: Thanksgiving for all we choose to share in place of stubborn demands for what he wants.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Black Friday falls the day after Thanksgiving (and now seems to be usurping that holiday). Our ancestors set one day of the year aside for thanking God for all He’s given. Satan would rather our hearts be full of greed. So now we spend Thanksgiving Day planning how we’ll get more stuff.

Maybe that last paragraph was a little harsh. I know we’re not all like that. It’s more of a societal generalization. But I long to see this trend turn around. If everything we have is a gift from God, we should celebrate Thanksgiving every single day! (–without over-stuffing our guts.)

God doesn’t owe us anything.

We’re not entitled to a portion of what’s His.

He graciously provides all we need and more just because He wants to. He simply adores us.

Stop.

Let that last sentence sink in: He simply adores us.

We don’t need anything more.

Father, please forgive me when I take my eyes off You and turn my focus to wants. You are all I need. Help me to trust that the gifts You offer are more than enough for me. Help me to thankfully enjoy what You bring into my life and not to fret over what’s not there. I may ask for things, but I’ll try not to sit and stare, insisting You meet my demands. You are God, the Creator, and You chose to make me! Thank You, loving Father. Amen.

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Book Review: Christmas in Apple Ridge

Books!Christmas in Apple Ridge by Cindy Woodsmall is a collection of three Amish love stories all set in Apple Ridge, Pennsylvania. The books were released individually in 2011, 2012, and 2013, but I loved reading them all together in one package. Though each story is self-contained, characters from previous stories make appearances in the newer ones, so readers get a glimpse into their happily-ever-afters. Woodsmall even worked characters from another novella, The Scent of Cherry Blossoms, into the mix. I liked that.

Each of these stories focuses on one woman and one man who must overcome some tragedy from the past in order to find the strength to take a chance on falling in love. These characters are strong and determined and often quite stubborn, so there are lots of misunderstandings and issues for them to overcome as they find themselves drawn together. Their stories are sweet and fun to read; the Christmas setting in each adds an extra romantic touch.

If you enjoy simple stories with subtle messages and haven’t read any of Woodsmall’s Christmas novellas yet, I recommend this collection, Christmas in Apple Ridge, to you. Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers sent me a complimentary copy for this honest review.

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An Invitation to Join My Book Promotion Team

Home Is Where God Sends YouDear readers,

I need your help! God only blessed me with one voice—and it’s kind of quiet. I’m not complaining. I like being a quiet person. But I have a new book to promote.

Thankfully, God has also blessed me with friends and readers who have voices, too!

Do you see where I’m going with this?

I need a book promotion team!

Interested?

If so, and if you are a woman who is getting ready to move/has recently moved/moves often/finds life rather unsettling, here’s what you can do:

1. Send an e-mail with your name, address, moving status, and a list of ways you’d like to help me promote my book to Janet [at] WildflowerFaith [dot] com. (Choose at least three ideas from the list below or suggest ideas of your own.)

2. Receive a free, signed copy of Home Is Where God Sends You from me.

3. Read the book.

4. Post a review of the book on Amazon.com, preferably within four weeks of the day you receive it.

5. Tell others about the book using some of the ideas below or new ideas of your own. (I give out lots of points for creativity! Just ask my boys!)

I can’t wait to hear from you!

Janet Benlien Reeves

[Note: This offer is available until December 5, 2013 or until I run out of books. I reserve the right to choose the members of my book promotion team from the e-mails I receive. I will notify you by e-mail if I’ll be sending you a book. In order to comply with federal trade commission regulations, please mention in any review you post that you received a complimentary book in exchange for an honest review.]

Ideas for Helping Janet Promote Home Is Where God Sends You

1. Post a review on your blog. Include a link to Wildflower Faith’s Books page or to the book’s page on Amazon.

2. Post a review on BN.com.

3. Add the book to your Goodreads shelf and post your review there. (You can also follow Janet on Goodreads!)

4. Like Janet’s Facebook page and tell her about your review, so she can post a link there.

5. Post a link to your review or a book recommendation on Twitter. Use the hashtag #FridayReads to recommend the book to people who especially love to read.

6. While you’re reading the book, post quotes you like on social media sites such as Google+, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

7. Recommend the book to friends you know who are preparing for a move. Or, better yet, give a copy of the book to these friends as a farewell gift. Home Is Where God Sends You includes devotionals to encourage them from the day they get the news they’re moving until they finally feel all settled in.

8. Donate a copy of the book to your church library.

9. Recommend it as a farewell gift from your church to women who must move out of town.

10. Write a review for a newsletter or your local newspaper.

11. Invite the author to write a guest post on your blog.

12. Pin the book’s cover to one of your Pinterest boards from Wildflower Faith’s Books page.

13. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk! If you enjoy the book and tell your friends who are moving, they’ll want to read it, too.

Thank you! Thank you!

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Romans 1:20 on My Mind

NewOMM“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” –Romans 1:20

I love this verse. It’s actually one of the theme verses for this site. But I’ve never taken the time to memorize it word for word, reference and all. I think I should do that this week. I invite you to join me! Memorize or meditate—just let these words sink into your mind.

What I love about this verse is what it reveals about our loving God. Since the creation of the world, an event orchestrated by Him, He has been making His Presence known. His eternal power and divine nature can be seen just everywhere! Our God is not in hiding; He wants us to know Him.

We have to look for Him, though. We seek Him with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength as we read His Word, learn what He’s teaching others, and listen for His voice as we go about each day. There’s nothing mystical or mysterious about it. Our God makes sure that those who seek Him will find Him—anywhere!

(We just always have to make sure that what we believe He’s communicating to us about Who He Is and how He wants us to live always matches up with what He’s told us in His Word. If our thoughts run contrary to the clear teachings of the Bible, they are not of God.)

It works like this: the more we study God’s Word, the more clearly we’ll see Him in the world around us. The more we learn to see Him in the world around us, the more clearly we’ll understand His Word. Then, as we all talk about what we’re learning, God helps us to know even more. Bible study, worship, fellowship, and observation: all can work together to draw us closer to God.

On the flip side, Romans 1:21, the very next verse in the passage, tells us what happens when we don’t seek God, looking for the evidence of His power and nature that surround us each day:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

When we seek Him, we’ll find Him. He’ll draw us closer to Himself each day. If we take Him for granted, though, and stop training our thoughts on Him, our thinking will become futile and our hearts dark. Either we’re aware of His Presence and seeking more of this or we are slowly drifting away. Let’s train ourselves to see and hear whatever God reveals.

Loving Father Who wants to be known, we want to know You. Make us faithful—to read Your Word, to hear Your Voice, to be more aware of You each day. Then help us to share what we’ve learned! Thank You for all that You choose to reveal. Help us see more clearly. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts today, visit Hear It on Sunday; Use It on Monday.

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Learning to Pray Fervently

Intense Purple FlowersFor the past two days, I’ve been writing about praying fervently for people and about circumstances that draw us to our knees. (Click here and here to read those posts.) It was Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 9:18-19 and 25 that prompted these thoughts. Today I’d like to consider a few methods of praying with determination and fortitude about whatever has deeply touched our hearts. After all, not all of us are capable of spending 40 days and 40 nights with no food or water and with our noses in the dirt. (Though, if God called us to it, He’d make us able to do this—and we’d probably thank Him for it in the end.)

I don’t know how you are, but when I have an urgent concern, everything around me will remind me of it. When I first noticed this about myself, I started training myself to use those random thoughts as reminders to pray. This is the concept behind the Parachute Prayers that I write about from time to time. When something reminds me of a prayer concern, I whisper a prayer right away.

But prayer should be more than whispers now and then. Just as, if my husband and I only ever said, “Hey, how are you doing?” from time to time, our marriage would fall apart. Sometimes we need to sit down and discuss the bigger issues of life. Like all married couples, we talk about work, kids, ministry, finances, hopes, dreams, projects, plans, what we’re learning, our house, and us. If one of us thinks of something we need to sit down and really talk, think together, and pray about, we may mention it in passing, but then we’ll find or even schedule a time to focus together on that one thing.

Sometimes Parachute Prayers are the mentioning-it-to-God part of the conversation. They’re the cue to schedule a time to really talk.

When a specific concern is on my mind like this, so that I start seeing reminders of it everywhere, I’ve found it helpful to start keeping a journal. I’ll write out Bible verses that apply to the situation, quotes from other books, song lyrics, personal thoughts—I’ve even printed out pictures or cartoons that have reminded me to pray. As I’m putting these things in my journal, I’m talking to God about the issue of concern. Later, when I’m ready to really sit down and pray, reconsidering the items in my journal can help me to focus and speak my mind clearly.

I don’t treat every prayer concern with this much intensity. But for an on-going heart concern such as a friend’s chronic illness, another’s troubled marriage, a child’s need, or simply the focus and direction of my work, journaling helps me pray more fervently.

Yet, not everyone prays in the same way. So please don’t feel I’m saying you must follow my lead. I’m only describing what I do in case you’ll find it helpful, not to pressure you.

According to Gary Thomas’s book, Sacred Pathways, we’re all wired to communicate with God a little bit differently. Just as we have different learning styles and different love languages, we also have different means of reaching out to God. Obviously, I pray with words, pens, paper, my keyboard and computer screen. My husband likes to disappear into the woods for a time whenever he needs to talk with God; he’s drawn to nature. My grandmother used to sit down at her piano or organ and play and play and pray; music helped her worship God. Words and Ideas. Nature. Music. Thomas identifies several more, but, if you stop and think about it, you probably already know what draws you to God. Stop right now and try to determine what this is. Ask God to make your prayer bent clear. Now use this information about yourself to help you when it’s time to pray fervently. When you really need to be with God, go where you’ve always found Him.

Father, thank You for drawing us to talk with You. Remind us pray often about all big and little things. We bring our concerns to You for comfort, for wisdom, for the assurance that You know about them and that You really care. We’ll entrust the outcome to You as we learn to focus on knowing and loving You. You’re worthy, Lord. Amen.

For more devotional thoughts this weekend, visit Spiritual Sundays and Heart Reflected.

And if you haven’t found it yet, click here to visit my new Facebook author page.

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Fasting as We Pray Fervently

Fasting. It’s kind of a mysterious practice, yet maybe it’s not as mysterious as it seems. DaisiesMaybe, in trying to explain it as a spiritual discipline, with rules and regulations and how-to’s and such, some have over-complicated the concept a bit. As a result of being exposed to these, I used to be quite skeptical of the whole idea—which I knew wasn’t good because the Bible talks about fasting. Jesus talks about fasting! But the idea of giving up food in order to get God to answer a prayer always sounded a tad manipulative to me. And I have too much respect for God to believe that He allows, and even encourages, Himself to be maneuvered that way. I also have too much faith in His fatherly love to believe that He would refuse to answer my deepest, most sincere prayers unless I sacrificed a meal or two or three or 40-days’ worth of them like Moses did in the passage I wrote about yesterday.

But then I discovered a definition of fasting that makes complete sense to me. As I began to look at fasting from this new perspective, I realized it wasn’t fasting I was skeptical about, just some explanations of how to practice it.

In his book, Fasting, Scot McKnight says, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life” (p. xviii). What this means is that fasting is not a manipulative tool or a demanded sacrifice, as I’d heard before. Rather, fasting is simply a natural response to grief.

Let’s take a look at an example from the parent/child relationship to see, in very simple terms, how this works. Imagine sitting down to dinner with your family. You serve the food, but one of your children refuses to eat. You ask why and he tells you that because you refused to buy him the latest video game that all of his friends already have, he’s decided not to eat any more until you change your mind. If you are a wise parent, you call your child’s bluff—even if it means he chooses to skip a meal or two—because you know your child will eventually realize that he wants food more than he wants that video game. Your child’s “fast” isn’t going to get him anything because a) you, the parent, have decided it’s not something he needs and b) his attitude is just plain selfish. He’s refusing to consider the bigger picture or to trust that you are doing what you believe is best for him.

On the other hand, imagine that your child tells you he doesn’t feel like eating because he just learned that his best friend’s father was in a car accident and may not survive. His friend is devastated, so he is, too. Your response to this kind of information will be much different. You’ll pray with your child, comfort your child, take meals to the friend’s family, and do whatever else you can think of to help in this time of need. Your child is fasting because he cares deeply. In sharing his heart with you, he’s trusting you to join him in his concern and to help however you can. He’s desperate for relief.

That’s the power of fasting. God, our heavenly Father, is moved when something touches His children’s hearts so deeply that they just can’t eat.

I believe this is what happened to Moses in the passage we looked at yesterday. For the first forty days, he was sitting on a mountaintop in the very Presence of God. Can you even imagine that?! He was probably so enthralled by God’s majesty that eating was the furthest thing from his mind. And, evidently, being in God’s Presence made eating unnecessary.

For the second forty days, Moses was devastated by the actions of his people and afraid for their lives. God was ready and able to wipe them off the face of the earth. There was no time for a lunch break.

Fasting is a natural, physical response to anything that touches our hearts in a big way. When our deepest emotions become involved, we lose the desire and ability to eat.

Does this mean that we should never schedule a fast? I don’t think so. Sometimes we have to deal with on-going life situations that cause us continuous pain. Knowing that we (or a loved one) will need strength for endurance, we may choose to forego a specific meal or two each week in order to reflect deeply on what’s going on, to talk with God about the way the circumstance is progressing, to draw comfort and strength from His Presence, so we (or they) can keep on keeping on. In this case, we’re fasting because our need to absorb God is more important than our need to ingest food. Our time will be well spent.

There is so much more I’d like to say about this, but I’ve offered enough for today. I encourage you, however, as you consider the practice of fasting and come across passages in the Bible that mention it, to think of them in the light of this simple definition. When something touches us so deeply we lose all desire for food, it touches our Father’s heart, too.

Lord, thank You for caring about the people and events that matter most to us. Knowing we can bring our deepest feelings to You is comforting. As we talk these over with You, we thank You for what we know You will do. Beyond all we can imagine, Your actions are always perfect. We love You, Father. Amen.

In my next post, I’ll wrap up my thoughts on praying fervently.