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Book Review: “How to Catch a Prince”

How to Catch a PrinceHow to Catch a Prince, the third book in Rachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series was a sweet combination of fairy tale romance and practical Christian thought. I was caught up in the unusual storyline right from the start and enjoyed it to the end. But I also loved watching American Heiress Corina del Rey, under the mentorship of two fun, yet mysterious strangers, explore the concept of loving well. As a wife, as a servant/ruler, as a daughter, as a friend, Corina strove to grasp it all.

How to Catch a Prince is the story of a secret discarded by tragedy, of Corina’s attempt to participate in life again after 5 1/2 years of mourning, and of eligible bachelor Prince Stephen of Brighton hiding from royal responsibility as a professional rugby star. When Prince Stephen’s brother uncovers the secret and confronts him, Prince Stephen fears other secrets, long buried, may also come into the light. Thankfully for him, and Corina, someone has determined that’s what needs to happen for healing to begin.

I enjoyed reading this book, meeting the new characters and seeing some from the former stories in action again. I appreciated Hauck’s subtle insights and the simple way she presented significant truths. I’m happy to recommend this book.

Zondervan sent me a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Gospel Formed”

Gospel Formed“The power that raised Jesus from the dead is also for everyday life.” In his book, Gospel Formed, J.A. Medders helps readers understand this truth and apply it to life. The book contains 27 short meditations full of Bible verses to consider, simple teachings to grasp, and a quirky bit of humor to entertain while clarifying the point. (Evidently, I am a member in good standing of Medders’s diet soda denomination. You’ll have to read the book to learn why.)

The book is divided into five sections that progressively take the reader deeper into the gospel-formed Christian life, from the starting block to worship, identity, community, and mission. The section on community was my personal favorite. Under the title of each section’s introduction page, Medders has placed two simple definitions of the term he’ll be exploring within. These were useful points of reference to return to as I encountered these terms in each chapter; they kept my thoughts on track.

I especially recommend this book to growing Christians, those who’ve experienced the thrill of salvation and are ready learn how to serve their great King. Medders helps readers discover the life part of the Christian life. I enjoyed reading his book and am passing it on to someone else whom I know will enjoy it, too. I thank Kregel Publications for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Living Our Belief

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”Romans 8:1-2

When I read these verses today, I stopped to wonder how many people actually believe them. I had to stop and search my heart to be sure that I truly believe them. I say I believe them. I believe I believe them. But do my actions prove I do?

DSC01706eAs I prayed about this, asking God, “Do I really believe that there is now no condemnation for me? Or am I still trying to earn Your grace, so I can be certain there’s no condemnation for me?” the parable of the unmerciful servant came to mind. (If you are unfamiliar with this story, click here to read the NIV version at BibleGateway.com.)

In this parable told by Jesus, a man owes the king so much money that he will never in his lifetime be able to repay it all. The king, wanting to settle accounts, declares that the man and his entire family be sold into slavery to pay the debt. But the man falls at the king’s feet and begs for mercy, promising to somehow find a way to pay the debt. The king, feeling great compassion for the man and his family, chooses to do more than the man asked; he cancels the entire debt and sets the man free.

But the man response is puzzling. He immediately goes out, finds someone who owes him money, and throws that man in jail until the debt can be paid. Naturally, witnesses are upset about this. They tell the king, who becomes angry with the man. The king tells the man that, out of gratitude for his own forgiveness, he should have shown mercy to the man he needed to forgive. Then the king throws the man in jail to be tortured until he can pay his impossible debt in full.

I’ve never understood why someone who was forgiven such a huge debt would go out and treat someone who owed them just a little bit that way. After today’s reflections, however, I’m pretty sure these actions have something to do with whether or not that someone truly believes Romans 8:1-2.

You see, if the servant had truly believed that his entire debt was forgiven, he would have, I think, forgiven the one who owed him. I don’t think he believed this, though. He had asked for time. He wanted to pay his debt. He wanted to prove to the king that he was worthy of forgiveness, that he was able to repay in full without anyone’s grace. And so, as soon as the king set him free, he went out to collect funds to repay the debt. There was no gratitude in his heart because, though the king had indeed forgiven him, his pride had kept him from forgiving himself and convinced him that the king hadn’t really forgiven him either. This pride made him a prisoner who longed to be set free. It wrongly told him that collecting funds from others with debts would open the door of his cell.

The Pharisees were a lot like this unmerciful servant, imposing impossible-to-keep rules and regulations on others. By enforcing the law, they thought themselves worthy of the Kingdom of God. In their minds, they were proving themselves to God.

But the Bible is clear that we can never do enough to prove ourselves worthy of God’s Kingdom. We can’t do enough righteous deeds. We can’t keep the Law perfectly. Like the unmerciful servant, we can only throw ourselves at the feet of our King and beg for His mercy. And thanks to Jesus Christ, we have it! Praise His name!

All we have to do is believe. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! There’s nothing to earn. Nothing to prove. Nothing to demand or collect from our fellow servants. The King has set us free, and we are free indeed.

Once we truly believe this, our actions will show it. Instead of rushing out to throw our debtors in prison until they pay what they owe, we’ll tell them what the King did for us and point them toward freedom, too. Having freely received, we will want to freely give. We’ll live lives of grace and gratitude. We will love as the Spirit leads.

  • Do you believe?
  • What would help you to believe?
  • How must this belief impact your life?

Father, thank You for forgiveness, for freedom from condemnation. Thank You for new life in Christ. We believe! Help us live our belief. We love You, Lord. Amen.

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Only One Option Works

DSC00596e“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”John 14:6

I’ll confess. We’re a family of tortilla chip snobs. There is one brand we love. Eating any other kind equals reluctant settling.

Sadly, I’ve only been able to find one store in our area that carries this brand, and that store only keeps the chips in stock for holidays and sporting events that demand great amounts of tortilla chip consumage.

The last time that this store had our chips in stock, I grabbed four extra-large bags of them. (I would have purchased more, but they would have gone stale before we could have eaten them. There are limits to how much you can stock up on tortilla chips.) When I got to the check-out stand, the cashier said, “You must be throwing a big party.”

I said, “Oh, no. Your store doesn’t have these chips in stock very often, so I get a bunch whenever you do.”

“Are they that good?” she asked.

I assured her they were. On the way out the door, I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been great if she’d asked me about Jesus instead of tortilla chips?”

Jesus is the One I love. No other religion, person, or substance can satisfy my soul. Not only is He my Savior, the One Who gave His life to open the door to Heaven for me, but He’s also my best Friend. Jesus offers peace, joy (even in the midst of heartache), wisdom, patience, and compassion. He loves me like no one else can.

He wants to do and be all of this for you as well—and He’s the only One Who can. Anything else is settling and will never satisfy. Jesus is the way to Heaven, the Truth that sets you free of the pain that comes from believing this world’s lies, and the One Who gives us life: abundant life, eternal life, a life that’s worth living.

If you haven’t met Him yet, I recommend Him to you! Click here to read more about the life Jesus offers. There’s no sufficient way to put this relationship into words; Jesus is Someone you must experience. But I promise that if you reach out to Him by seeking to know Him through His Word, the Bible, by talking to Him like you would talk to a friend, and by telling Him you really want to experience Him like others do, He will be there for you. And You will be thankful—eternally.

Jesus, I love You! Please draw others to love You, too. You are the way, the truth, and the life, the One Who leads us to the Father and into the best relationship of all. I’m so thankful for all You’ve given to me, what You make available to all! I don’t want anyone to miss out. Please reach them, Lord. Amen.

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Psalm 91:4 on My Mind

NewOMM“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”Psalm 91:4, NIV

This week’s On My Mind verse is a good one to have in our heads during times of stress. Whenever we are feeling overwhelmed, we can take a deep breath, remember these words, and focus on God’s loving care. We can imagine ourselves snuggling deep into the feathers where God will keep us warm and safe and sheltered. Baby chicks are safer when tucked under their mother’s wings, yet she and they are still vulnerable. But in God’s care, we’re safe.

Psalm 91-4This verse reminds me of another. Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 both record Jesus saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” Our God longs to gather us into His shelter and refuge. But He won’t force us to seek this from Him. He’ll wait until we choose to duck under His wings.

This gives us another reason to learn Psalm 91:4. It will remind us of God’s offer—of what He promises to us. When we get busy and tired and feel panicked or threatened, we can choose what Jerusalem did not. We can seek the shield and rampart of our God.

Father, teach us to dwell in Your presence where You promise so much. We choose You today and always. Your care is more than enough for us. Amen.

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Book Review: “Palace of Darkness”

Palace of DarknessPalace of Darkness by Tracy Higley is an exceptional read on many levels. It is an historical Christian fiction novel set in Petra about 100 years after Christ. This is where Higley excels! She travels to the sites of her novels to research them thoroughly that she can make history real to her reader. I loved that one of her characters had met Paul before his death and was reading a letter Paul had written to the people of the church in Petra. That would have happened! In fact, it’s how so many of Paul’s letters eventually ended up in our modern day Bibles. It was fun to get a glimpse of the process as it could have been.

Higley also has a gift for the concept of “show, don’t tell.” I’ve read two self-help/Bible study-type books on one of the issues one of her characters struggles with. Though both were good, I felt they only defined the issue. I didn’t see resolution anywhere. Higley provided resolution as her character struggled to find it in her life, as she grew closer to Christ and learned how His sacrifice could impact her personally–and practically, too. Though a historical novel, Palace of Darkness is full of life application lessons for today, shown through the medium of a captivating story.

Palace of Darkness started slowly then drew me in–something I’ve come to expect and enjoy from this author. I recommend this book to everyone! Thank you Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Acts 10:43 on My Mind

NewOMM“He is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in him will have their sins forgiven through his name.”Acts 10:43, NLT

God had to get creative in order to help Peter learn this lesson. It started with a vision of forbidden-to-be-eaten animals that a voice from Heaven ordered Peter to eat. God presented the vision three times.

While Peter was still trying to figure out what the vision meant, a group of Gentiles came to his door, asking Peter to be Cornelius’ house guest. Cornelius was a Gentile, but he had met the one, true God. He needed someone to introduce him to Jesus Christ, though, to welcome him into the Christian faith, so to speak. God told Cornelius to seek Peter; God prepared Peter’s heart for Cornelius. (You can read the whole story here at BibleGateway.)

You see, eating in a Gentile’s house was just as forbidden as eating the animals in Peter’s vision would have been. But Cornelius’ men arrived at just the right time for Peter to understand God’s message: Jesus came for everyone who believes in him! Peter’s words to Cornelius found in Acts 10:43 suggest to me that once Peter understood his vision, he came to see the testimony of the prophets (found in our Old Testament) in a whole new light, recognizing God’s desire to reach all people, not only the Jews.

As we grow closer to Christ throughout our lives, if we study God’s Word regularly, God’s Spirit will shed new light on familiar verses granting us deeper understand of God’s will and His ways, too. We put the information into our brains; God’s Spirit, at just the right time, reveals more of its truth.

That gives us two reasons to commit this verse to memory this week! First, we learn the verse so we’ll remember that salvation is available to everyone who believes, but like Cornelius, they can’t believe unless they hear the message from someone, perhaps from someone who looks like us.

Second, we learn the verse so we’ll remember why we study God’s Word each day. God may not always grant us new insights, but we can trust that He’s preparing our hearts for whatever understanding we will need, understanding that will come at just the right time.

Father, thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die on the cross and rise again, so that everyone who believes can be saved. This is the best news ever! Please give us the opportunity and the courage to share it as often as we can. We do want everyone to know.

And help us to study Your Word faithfully, knowing that Your Spirit will grant us all the understanding we need, right when we need it to fulfill Your purposes. What an honor it is to be used to further Your goals. We love You, Lord. Amen

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Tell Them

DSC02051e“Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.”Jonah 1:14-16

I wonder if Jonah ever went back to tell his story to the sailors who threw him overboard—you know, after the whole begrudging-the-Ninevites-their-salvation thing. (See Jonah 4:1.) According to Jonah 1:14-16, those sailors were scared, grieved, distraught. Even after they had done all they could to get back to land without throwing Jonah overboard and knowing that this action alone would save their lives, they were sorry for resorting to that action. They probably could have used some serious counseling.

The Bible doesn’t tell us what became of Jonah after that little worm killed his shade plant. (See Jonah 4.) But I hope he came around, let God adjust his bitter attitude, and then paid a visit to the folks God used to set Jonah on the right course to begin with. Those sailors deserved to know that Jonah lived to tell his story.

Can you imagine the blessing of learning that God had used you, in spite of yourself, your beliefs, your desires, and your ideas of what was best, in order to set up a monster-sized fish miracle—and to save a whole nation of people to boot?! Those sailors may or may not have ever known the part they played in God’s plan. Likewise, we may or may not know until we reach Heaven some of the parts we’ve played in God’s plan. But, when we realize that God has used someone else to bring us or someone we love around to His way of thinking, if at all possible, I think, we should go back to let them know.

  • Who has God used in His efforts to get or keep your life on course?
  • What role did that person play in God’s plan?
  • How did that person influence or encourage you?
  • Where were you on your life journey at this point in time?
  • Where are you now?

Make plans to tell the story to a relevant participant as soon as you can. If this person is a Christian, he or she will be encouraged to continue serving faithfully. If this person isn’t a Christian, God may use your story to draw this person to Him!

Father, help us remember to encourage and thank others as they become part of Your plan for the development of our spiritual lives. And thank You for making us part of Your plan for others, too, whether we ever learn of our role or not. You work all things together for good: for the glory of Your Kingdom and the growth of each citizen. We love You, Lord. Amen.

Note: Jonah’s book of the Bible is only four chapters long. If you aren’t familiar with all the details, you can read them here at BibleGateway.com

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Born Again? Absolutely!

“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’”John 3:3, NIV

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an article listing phrases the author thought Christians should stop using and why this was his opinion for each. One of those phrases was born again. The author, a Christian himself, said Christians shouldn’t use that phrase because it confuses people.

DSC01954eI’ve been thinking about that.

You see, Jesus actually coined that phrase. Jesus! Our own, eternal Master, Savior, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, Son of God, Jesus said that people need to be born again.

He introduced the concept to Nicodemus, a religious leader who visited one night to ask Jesus questions about His teachings and miracles. True. The concept did confuse Nicodemus, who asked, “How can someone be born when they are old? Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” (John 3:4).

But that’s the point. Nicodemus’ confusion made him curious, and his curiosity gave Jesus the opportunity to explain. In fact, that conversation led to Jesus presenting the single, most important Truth that all people, everywhere, throughout all time need to know: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It seems to me that this one, little phrase has been used effectively ever since then to open doors, eyes, minds, and hearts to the good news that Jesus’ sacrifice makes it possible for people to be saved from sin and to enjoy eternal life in the presence of God.

After Jesus’ death and resurrection, His followers continued to use the term. Peter used it: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). James, Jesus’ own brother, also used the concept: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18). Instead of rejecting the phrase, these followers of Jesus listened to Him, absorbed the Truth, claimed it for themselves, and shared it with others.

We can do this, too!

If the concept perplexes you, and you fear you’ll only confuse people if you try to explain it, I encourage you to read, ponder, pray, and study it for yourself until you make it yours like Peter and James did. Until then, share God’s Truth with others in your own way as the Spirit leads. This Spirit has an infinite number of ways to lead people into God’s Kingdom. As opportunities arise, say what you feel led to say.

If, however, the Spirit prompts you to talk about being born again, please don’t hesitate, fearing this is wrong. If you’re using the words of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit leads, God will help you speak, and He’ll help those who listen to understand. The God Who loves the world is faithfully helping His born again children to deliver His Truth to whoever is ready to hear it, believe, confess, and be saved.

Father, thank You for the privilege of sharing this good news. Please give us opportunities to tell others about all that Jesus has done for them. Fill us with Your Spirit and give us just the right words to say. We love You, Lord, and we know You love Your creation. Please help us to share Your Word and to encourage each other as we do. Amen.

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God’s Grand Gift of Life

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV

My father-in-law sent me roses for Mother’s Day this year. He knows that without me, he’d have no grandkids. And that man loves those boys!Mother's Day Roses

The blooms on the roses lasted about a week. As they started to droop, I removed them from the vase, a few at a time, leaving the strongest roses for last. As I was getting ready to toss the final three roses, however, I noticed that their stems had developed new growth! Curious to see what they would do, I decided to leave them alone. By the next day, though, the new growth had expanded considerably. I wondered what would happen if we planted them in the yard.New Growth

My youngest son was home from college and my oldest and his wife were visiting at the time. They got excited about the experiment, too. (Once a homeschool family—always a homeschool family, I suppose.) I clipped the dead blooms from the stems. Seth planted them in the yard. Justin arranged shelters of landscaping pine needles to protect them from the heat. My husband used the experiment as a sermon illustration on hope.

PlantedYes. We were hoping new roses would grow. But we were skeptical. And the heat, up to 90 degrees that week, was discouraging. We’d moved the plants from a bowl of water in an air-conditioned house to dry ground under a hot sun.

And, technically, since they’d been removed from their original bush, weren’t they already dead?

A week later, two of three were gone. But one continues to grow! It’s even sprouted a new branchlet! My father-in-law may have sent me a rose bush for Mother’s Day. Thank you, Dad! This has been fun.

Now you have to understand, I do not have a talent for making things grow. My grandfather had the greenest thumb I’ve ever seen, but so far, as far as I know, none of his descendants have inherited his gift. I let other people grow flowers, then I take pictures of them and console myself with the joy of preserving their beauty that way.Growing

I didn’t make my roses grow either. I received the roses as a gift. I watched them sprout. I told my son, and he planted them. I watched, watered and pruned. Someday, hopefully, I’ll have a new picture of a home-grown flower to show.

This is how our spiritual lives grow!

  • We start out dead in our sins and cut off from God.
  • We open the door to receive God’s gift of salvation through Christ.
  • Our spirits take root in the soil of God’s love and begin to grow.
  • God’s Spirit nurtures them, allowing us to help through Spiritual disciplines such as Bible reading, prayer, worship, and fellowship.
  • Our lives begin to bear fruit, showing others what God can do which builds His Kingdom and glorifies His name!

If my family and I are having so much fun watching a little rose clipping grow, imagine the joy of our Savior as we grow in Him each day. His Spirit does all the work, but let’s nurture it as He directs and watch blooms develop, open, and show.

What we're hoping to find someday!

What we’re hoping to find someday!

Thank You, Lord, for bringing life from death, for salvation from sin and the opportunity to glorify and praise Your name. Keep nurturing these little plants as we stay firmly rooted in You. May our lives display Your work and bring honor to Your name. We love You, Lord! Amen.

I’m sharing today’s post with: Imparting Grace, Faith Filled Friday, Fellowship Fridays, Friendship Friday, and Essential Fridays.