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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.

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Called to Pray Fervently

Red Lantana“Then once again I fell prostrate before the LORD for forty days and forty nights; I ate no bread and drank no water, because of all the sin you had committed, doing what was evil in the LORD’s sight and so arousing his anger. I feared the anger and wrath of the LORD, for he was angry enough with you to destroy you. But again the LORD listened to me . . . I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights because the LORD had said he would destroy you.” –Deuteronomy 9:18-19, 25

God’s Word touched my heart this morning when I read these words written by Moses himself. In this passage, Moses is speaking to the people he’d been leading for more than forty years. These people, without Moses, are finally getting ready to enter the Promised Land. Though they are the same people, God’s chosen people—the Israelites, they are a different people, a new generation, most of whom have no memory of actually living in and being rescued from Egypt.

They also have no memory of the above event, yet Moses speaks to them as if they were the ones who committed this grave sin: worshiping a golden calf instead of their one, true God.

Why? I kind of think Moses wanted these people at this time to know just how much he cared about them and just how much he wanted them to succeed, even though he wouldn’t be going with them into the Promised Land.

Just think about it: Moses had just spent 40 days and 40 nights on a mountaintop with God, receiving the Ten Commandments and the rest of the Law. During this time, Moses didn’t eat or drink an-y-thing. He comes down from the mountain only to find that his people have already turned away from God to worship an idol they made from gold. God is ready to destroy the people once and for all, but Moses prays for them.

Does he say, “Lord, please don’t destroy these people. Thank You. Amen.”

No.

He throws himself face down on the ground, I mean nose-in-the-dirt, and begs for their lives for 40 days and 40 nights—again, or maybe still, without eating or drinking.

Now that’s commitment.

I don’t know that I could ever pray that intensely, and I believe Moses needed God’s help to do so. But I do know there are times when God calls us to pray for our people with all the fervency and determination that we can muster—and He will help us, too.

I have a few ideas to share about this, but this post is long enough. I’ll continue over the next few days with thoughts on when and how to pray for others with urgency. I invite you to stayed tuned!

Father, thank You for Moses’ example—and thank You for hearing him. We know You hear us, too. Please teach us how to pray. Amen.

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Book Review: The Cutting Edge

Books!The Cutting Edge by Ace Collins is the story of a popular supermodel who has just received the offer of a lifetime, a dream contract that will make her career. Unfortunately, accepting this offer will require that she compromise moral standards she’s mostly managed to cling to in spite of pressure from her industry. Leslie decides to head home to talk with her parents before making any decision. Before she can get there, though, she’s brutally assaulted in a dark alley. Her attacker leaves her for dead, yet hopes that she’ll live, knowing he stole something that probably meant more to her than life: her beautiful face.

As you’ve probably already figured out, the rest of the book is about Leslie and her family learning to cope with this loss and Leslie discovering the source of true beauty.

The story has potential, but fell a bit short of reaching it. To be fair, I’m writing this review from an unedited ARC (advanced reading copy) that I received from the publisher (Abingdon Press) in exchange for this honest review. The final version may shine. We’ll see what a great editor can do!

The sequence of events leading up to the climax and the final resolution were good. Through the rest of the book, though, characters didn’t always act believably. For example, though Leslie was from and in a small town, she’d been living alone in New York City. She would have known better than to leave the lighted area of a mostly abandoned airport in the middle of the night and to approach a strange vehicle pulling up to the curb. Even though she had called a taxi, those vehicles are clearly marked. A single woman who’d been living in New York City would have known to be cautious. It would have been instinctual. Further, Collins implies that Leslie had no choice but to live with her parents after her attack because she had nowhere else to go. I didn’t understand this. She lost her job because of the attack, but she wouldn’t have lost her bank account. She’d been a successful supermodel. Where did all her money go? Elements like this made it hard for me to engage with this story.

I did appreciate the opportunity to read it, though. And, as it’s the second in a series, I’m curious to read Leslie’s cousin’s story, Darkness Before Dawn. Meg, the cousin, encourages Leslie throughout The Cutting Edge.

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Book Review: How to Talk to a Skeptic

If you’ve ever found yourself challenged by a skeptic, you know it can be a daunting experience. If the skeptic simply wants to share ideas in a mutually respectful manner, the conversation can be beneficial for both of you. Sometimes, however, the discussion can take a nasty turn, so that suddenly, you find the skeptic no longer presenting ideas and trying to understand yours but determinedly trying to destroy all your beliefs. Even if you’re standing on rock solid ground regarding your understanding and practice of faith, this situation can be more than intimidating.

Dr. Donald J. Johnson’s book can help prepare you for this. His goal is to help you, when discussing the Christian faith with skeptics, to keep the conversation on pleasant and mutually respectful ground. I gave my highlighter a workout as I read this book.

In the first section, Johnson helps readers understand that the Christian faith is not a product to be sold. It’s simply the Truth. Our job as believers is not to sell this Truth, but to present it. Those who listen will choose whether to accept it or not. God’s Spirit does the hard work of helping us present the Truth and in drawing others to believe. Johnson goes on to present ideas on how to go about doing your part effectively.

In the second section of the book, Johnson talks about some common misconceptions about what Christians actually believe. I recommend this section to every Christian since many, as Johnson points out, buy into these themselves. Johnson does a fantastic job of presenting Christian doctrine clearly and solidly, according to God’s Word.

In the third section, Johnson gives examples of how to talk with a skeptic by presenting a few possible conversations that might come up and how he would handle them. He makes it very clear at the beginning of this section that it is in no way comprehensive. He has just chosen a few familiar topics as illustrations for readers to consider and learn from. He closes this section with a deeper look into the mind of the skeptic, so readers can better understand what motivates this attitude and, therefore, handle it more compassionately or recognize when it’s time to walk away.

I appreciated the information in this book and enjoyed reading it, too. Bethany House Publishers sent me a complimentary copy for this honest review. It’s one I recommend.

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Revelation 22:17 on My Mind

NewOMM“The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” –Revelation 22:17

I think this must be one of the happiest verses in the Bible. Can’t you feel the excitement? The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” It’s a party invitation. And this party includes free water of life for all who are thirsty. Life. Joy. Everything we need.

A key part of this verse, though, can be found in the first few words. Look who’s doing the inviting: the Spirit and the bride. The Spirit, of course, is God’s Holy Spirit, the One Who draws people to Christ, the Source of the free gift of water in this verse. (See John 4:10-13.) The bride, though, is us! If we’ve received this living water and are on our way to the party (eternal life in Heaven with our Lord), we’re not to be silent about it. We’re to yell, “Come!” As we travel, we tell everyone we meet where we’re going and that they’re invited, too. Just picture yourself walking, or maybe even running, toward the great feast in God’s Kingdom that you’ve been invited to. As you go, you reach out toward everyone you see along the way, eagerly taking their hands, looking in their eyes, and urging them to come with you.

“Come!” you say.

“Come!” the Spirit says.

Those who recognize what they are thirsty for will be happy to go with you.

I’ve written this verse on an index card and placed it where I’ll see it often this week. I invite you to do the same. As we meditate on these words, perhaps even coming to memorize them, let’s remember where we’re going and ask God to help us invite thirsty people to come along. In our prayer time, our thoughts on this verse will help us remember to pray that God will cause all people to recognize their thirst and to realize the truth: Jesus is the living water Who can satisfy their needs for all eternity.

Father, thank You for these joyous words. Help us to think of them often this week. Remind us, as we face whatever comes our way, that we’re on our way to eternity with You. Show us how and when to invite other people to come along. We’re looking forward to that future, happy day. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Recognizing a Call to Worship

Parachute Prayer“Happy are those who hear the joyful call to worship, for they will walk in the light of your presence, LORD. They rejoice all day long in your wonderful reputation. They exult in your righteousness.” –Psalm 89:15-16, NLT

I don’t know what the weather’s like around your house right now, but it’s been kind of a gloomy day around here. I’ve opened all the windows to let the sunshine in, but there isn’t any to be found. Even the dog is sulking. He likes to lay in the sunny spot on the floor. I giggle whenever he has to move to stay in the sunshine as that spot moves over the course of a day.

There’s no sunny spot today.

But there is a gentle breeze. I can see it rustling the leaves of trees and bushes around our house. Sometimes it gets a little more aggressive, causing colorful leaves to dance, then fall. Pleasant to watch—even on a non-sunshiny day.

Reading Psalm 89:15-16 sent my thoughts down this path. I thought of walking in the light of God’s Presence. He’s with us all the time every day. But sometimes we forget.

The Psalmist says those who hear the joyful call to worship are happy, rejoicing all day long in God’s wonderful reputation, exulting in His righteousness. That call to worship is available to everyone! Yet, not everyone hears it. Why? It’s something have to want to hear. It’s something we have to train ourselves to recognize.

Thankfully, the God of All Creation has given something to help us with this. When you see the sunshine crawling across your floor or feel its warmth on your skin, let it remind you that God is there. He’s not in the sunshine, but He created it. Let it be your call to worship Him.

Likewise, when you see the leaves dancing and beginning to fall or feel the crisp, cool Autumn air, let these do the same. Recognize the sunshine and the breeze as gifts from their Creator to You, gifts that can call you to express your thanksgiving and praise.

Father, I want to walk in the light of Your Presence every day—and be aware of it as I do! Thank You for simple reminders that You are everywhere, that You created everything, that I can stop and talk to You anytime, about anything. I love You, Lord! Amen.