Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bound By Guilt by C.J. Darlington

TitleTrakk.com Blog Tours Presents: Bound by Guilt by C.J. Darlington Published by Tyndale House
Shuttled between foster homes, Roxi Gold will do anything to fit in. Soon she’s traveling the country stealing rare books from unsuspecting bookstores. Police officer Abby Dawson has seen the worst of society—and not just at work. One fateful night, both their lives are changed forever. One searches for justice, the other finds herself on the run. Will the power of forgiveness set them free? Great job! You kept me turning the pages. --Francine Rivers, Internationally best selling author C.J. is a wonderful, talented writer . . . extraordinary . . . --Bodie Thoene, best-selling author of the A.D. Chronicles This one engages your senses and reaches your heart. --Jerry B. Jenkins, NY Times best-selling author & owner of The Christian Writers Guild
Watch the book trailer:



About the Author: C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with her first novel, Thicker Than Blood. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over twelve years, scouting for stores similar to the ones described in her novels before cofounding her own online bookstore. In 2006 C. J. started the Christian entertainment Web site http://www.titletrakk.com/ with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website http://www.cjdarlington.com/ QUICK LINKS:
Here is my review of this amazing novel: First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to C.J. Darlington and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Bound By Guilt" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this generosity. I really appreciate the time, effort and expense it takes to make a reviewer copy available to me. Roxi Gold is no stranger to disappointment. In and out of several foster homes after losing her mother as a child, she finally found a manner of “home” with her mother’s cousin. Now she is one of a pair of juvenile delinquents traveling the country in an RV. Anyone else would be living it up. Instead, sixteen-year-old Roxi and her cousin Diego are stealing rare books with the help of Diego’s mom. Abby Dawson’s brother’s murder during the robbery of his rare book store draws these two aching hearts together in desperation. “Bound by Guilt” by C.J. Darlington is loaded with strong characters, imaginative writing and a solid plot! This story combines several elements that I adore: suspense, books and the central message of the gift of forgiveness that has the power to change a life. This is a masterful sophomore novel that leaves the reader satisfied, entertained and knowing God’s grace on a deeper level.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bible Study: Coming Out Of Bondage - Exodus - Chapter 23


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Exodus. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Exodus Chapter 23. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…




23:1-9 – Laws of justice and mercy.

23:10-13 – Sabbath laws.

23:14-19 – Festivals.

23:19 – the Canaanites used to cook young goats in their mothers’ milk.

23:20-33 – an Angel (preincarnate appearance of Christ) prepares the way to the promised land.

What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Sand to Pearls written by Heidi McLaughlin

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Sand to Pearls

Deep River (January 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Arielle Roper, Media Relations, Bring it On! Communications for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Through her ministry Heart Connection, Christian speaker and author Heidi McLaughlin embraces women with love and inspires them to walk in the knowledge that they are one of God’s most glorious creations. Her powerful, life-changing messages, whether written or spoken, draw women into a place of intimate connection with each other and with God. Her messages are rich with humor, passion and truth, and liberally sprinkled with personal stories.

Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Illusions of success and instant pleasure can seduce us into making poor choices. We long for fulfillment but are haggard from life’s trials and overwhelmed by what the future holds. Broken, we feel unworthy to ask God to intervene in our lives. Blinded by it all, we often overlook that God has the potential to use everything in our lives--whether good or bad.

It's time to S.T.O.P. and let God help us make bold choices to enrich our lives with freedom, fulfillment and incredible beauty!


Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 238 pages
Publisher: Deep River (January 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1935265431
ISBN-13: 978-1935265436

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Introduction


As I drive to work in the mornings, I gaze at people’s face and observe their fatigued, lifeless expressions as they navigate through traffic to confront another demanding day. Often I sit across a cup of coffee with another woman and I hear her sighs of feeling lonely and overwhelmed with too many obligations and choices. Life is tough these days and many people feel trapped. We grind through our days doing the same thing again and again and hope for different results. That could be described as the roadway to insanity. We don’t know how to stop. We are on a relentless quest to know that we are loved, to know that we have value, and to feel pleasure. We will do almost anything to feel better.


We may have the illusion that:


• If I had a better career and worked harder, I would feel more fulfilled.


• When I have more money, life will be easier and I will feel more content.


• If I had a husband/boyfriend that treated me better, I would be a happier person.


• If I had had a better upbringing, I would have achieved greater success.


• My parents were overweight, poor and lazy; therefore, I will probably be like my parents.


• If I put my children into a lot of activities, I will feel like I am a good mother.


• If I had more time to myself, I would not be so tired.


And so we grab for the first thing that we think will make us happier; go and buy something we can’t afford, pursue a different relationship, take another drink, open the fridge, watch some pornography, take a trip or sit on the couch and watch endless, boring television. You and I are our own worst enemy, but we feel helpless to change. We need more than our human endeavors and wisdom to help us make choices to navigate this complicated maze of life. The Bible tells us that we have been given the mind of Christ, a supernatural authority, to unleash all the wisdom and discernment needed to make bold and good choices. Every single day God gives you and me the amazing privilege and power to choose a glorious course for our life. We can’t even begin to imagine all the blessings God wants us to have and enjoy. “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him—but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:9-10, NIV).


I am a perfect example of how God can take our worst decisions and biggest mistakes, and turn them into a magnificent new beginning. My spiritual journey did not start until I was thirty-two. I had been a rebellious, self-centered young woman determined to show my family and the world that I was capable of making my own wise choices. But my insecurities and selfishness propelled me to make choices that forged the pathway to a pit of depression, despair, tumultuous disappointments and “almost divorce.” God, in His kindness, gently taught me how to begin to live a new life evoked by choices through the power of His Holy Spirit living in me. Few things in life create more worry, stress and anxiety than the uncertainty of our future. While you are reading this book, it doesn’t matter what stage of life you are at. God has the potential to use everything in your life, the good and bad, and turn it into beauty. It’s time to choose and live your dream; but what tomorrow holds is up to you.


I would like you to imagine sitting across from me, sharing a delicious, hot steaming drink, being honest and making ourselves vulnerable. You need to know you are not alone in your daily toil. By being authentic we can soften our hearts and enable God to connect with us so that we can hear Him speak His truth and wisdom to us. Every chapter in this book begins with my own struggles, mistakes and challenges, and then gives insight as to why and how we make our destructive choices. Of course I don’t leave you hanging and bleeding; I give you a dozen or so practical steps to empower you to make wise, bold choices that will enrich and transform your life in more beautiful ways than you can imagine. Then I end with a time of reflection and prayer. This is the place where you can allow the Holy Spirit, through the mind of Christ in you, to change your life from irritating sand into gorgeous, timeless pure pearls:


Stop and As k God To Help You Change Sand to Pearls


Begin by asking: Ask God a question.


S: Scripture verse. A verse will be available here for reflection.


T: Thanksgiving. Thank God for what He has the power to accomplish.


O: Observation. What wisdom is God unleashing for you in this verse?


P: Prayer. Ask Him. I will end each chapter praying with you because I am passionate about God transforming everything in your life into what He created you to be. I may never have met you, but I have encountered women like you for the past twenty-five years and I have witnessed God’s transforming power, changing struggles to joy—sand to pearls. I know He can because He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, Creator of all life—including yours. It’s time to make choices that will forge the pathway God has planned for you. It’s time to live your dream.



C h a p t e r 1


Obligation or Invigoration


Is That a “Should” on Your Shoulder?

Our obligation is to give meaning to life and

in doing so to overcome the passive, indifferent life.

—Elie Wiesel, American Novelist


My fingers were slippery and sweaty, yet felt ice cold and numb. It was impossible to find the right chords on my guitar. My heart was pounding so loudly that I couldn’t hear my own voice as I tried to sing the first verse of Moses and Miriam’s victory song: that festive, praise-filled epic poem about the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. I took a deep breath, took a sip of water and tried again: “I will sing to the Lord for he is highly exalted, the horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea” (Exod. 15:1, NIV).


It was no use trying to sing a victorious song when I was the one feeling like I was being hurled into a sea of resistance. My face was burning with humiliation as I desperately tried to salvage this disaster, but I couldn’t find my voice. As I glanced at the circle of women around the room, I could tell by their faces that I had failed miserably. My song was only half-finished, but I knew it was over. As I walked out of the room, a younger woman walked beside me and sweetly chirped, “Maybe God is trying to teach you something about your pride.” Now I felt like I had been hit in the stomach by a sharp-edged rock. It took my breath away. I couldn’t even answer her and walked out of the church vowing I would never go back in there again. Just weeks before, some of my new church friends had approached me and said, “Heidi, I hear that you play the guitar and sing; we would love it if you would come to our next ladies event and bless us with your music.” I had agreed to sing for these ladies, even though I knew I wasn’t qualified. In spite of my misgivings, I still felt obligated to follow through on my commitment. People had spurred me on to do it. “You really should do it, you really should at least try,” they had said. While uncertain of my singing and guitar playing, my sense of inferiority overpowered me and I was too intimidated to say no. Yet I wanted to feel like I belonged to this group of Christian women that seemed so confident and gifted in many ways. This was in the early 1980s when I first became a Christian and desperately wanted to fit in—to be like one of them. With this harsh reality of being humiliated in front of my peers, I discovered that singing and playing the guitar was not one of the gifts God had given me.


When we feel overpowered by people or our circumstances, it provokes our feelings of inferiority. It unleashes confusion, frustration, and we shortcircuit the gifts, purpose and joy God has prepared for us. We wear ourselves out pleasing people instead of God, and by doing so we deny Christ’s power in our life because we are afraid of what people will think of us. When Jesus ascended from this earth, He left us the Holy Spirit; He gave us the “mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16, NIV), and passed on to us His authority. Instead we struggle through life reacting to all the “shoulds” that life heaps on us, and we end up with our shoulders hunched over looking like we are carrying the weight of the world. Trying to please everyone is very exhausting; it drains us of energy and unknowingly we succumb to the authority of other people instead of Christ. The faster we go and the harder we work at trying to juggle all our responsibilities, the emptier we feel. Marcus Buckingham, the author of Find Your Strongest Life, says this about the shoulds. “Because you neglect the specific moments that strengthen you, your life gradually becomes filled up with a grab bag of activities and responsibilities. You may have a good reason for taking on each of these responsibilities—everything from ‘If I don’t do this, no one else will’ to ‘A good mother should do this’ but the outcome is that a barrage of moments with which you’ve filled your life now blankets your senses. This barrage drowns out the signals from those few moments that truly strengthen you. You start to feel empty.”1


When we operate out of our weaknesses and lack of self-worth, the slightest demands have the power to intimidate us. The word “intimidate” is an active verb that has a very negative connotation. The thesaurus describes it this way: “threaten, badger, bait, bluster, bully, coerce, constrain, cow, dispirit, subdue,” and so on.2 When we submit to these destructive words, we refute all that we have been created for, and deny the gifts and power God wants to unleash in us. God never bullies us. Instead, He wants to take an active part in our life and is interested in everything we do and who we are. Look at how He values us: “What’s the price of two or three pet canaries? Some loose change, right? But God never overlooks a single one. And he pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries” (Luke 12:6-7, MSG). Don’t be intimidated by bully talk. It’s hard for women to get up each morning and try to compare their worth against a million canaries. When they look in the mirror they can’t imagine that anyone is interested in their hair. Dr. Dobson says that the biggest struggle for women is their low selfesteem, so it is much easier to try to listen and cave in to the bully talk and earn approval by simply giving in to other people’s expectations. We need to be able to separate the bully talk and guilt induced shoulds that we are caving into. Let’s look at some of the real obligations we do need to attend to every day. We should:


• Brush our teeth.


• Eat healthy foods.


• Pay our bills on time.


• Wash our clothes.


• Show up at work on time.


• Treat each other with love and respect.


• Work on our marriages and relationships.


• Forgive.


• Love the Lord our God with our all heart, soul and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves.


We should do all those things that promote our physical, emotional and spiritual health. How do we know when these have turned into obligations that stagnate our soul?


My friend, Beth Hanishewski, who is a life coach, describes it this way: “I have done many things out of obligations. The funny thing is, it does not matter if it was an invitation, a plan, a favor, gift, solicitation or a guilt trip attempt. All of these situations had one thing in common—a heavy energy. The energy of obligation feels constricting and it creates anxiety and fear. I try to override these emotions in order to please someone, or worse, to look good.”3


So how do we define what we should do?


What Is That “Should” on Your Shoulder?


While I am writing this book I am also facilitating a study called One Month to Live: Thirty Days to a No-Regrets Life, written by Kerry and Chris Shook. On our group’s first evening together, one of the questions was, “What is one thing you would stop in your life right now if you knew you only had thirty days to live?” After a lively discussion, one main theme began to come into focus; stopping the life-sucking “shoulds” out of our daily activities. They are the guilt-induced obligations that we do because we are afraid that people might not like us. The discussion got even livelier as we tried to determine the obligations that we needed to let go. How do we know the difference between what to hold and what to fold?


Here is what I ask myself: “If intimidation discourages me from using the gifts God has given me, makes me feel obligated to give in to people’s demands and robs me of energy; then what wakes me up and makes me feel alive, bold and passionate? How can I use my God-given gifts to make daily impacts in people’s lives?” Here is where I need to look at the source of my moment-by-moment power.


1. Self-Power Induces Obligation


The story of Ananias and Sapphira is a great example of how deceptive and sneaky we can become when we acquiesce and do things out of obligation and needing people’s approval. In the early church in the book of Acts, at a time when all believers were of one heart and mind, people were asked to sell their houses and land and give the money to the apostles to give to others in need. Ananias and Sapphira wanted to be a part of this great plan, probably to have people look favorably on them for their generosity. So they sold some property but deceived the church by holding back part of the money. They were caught and Peter confronted them. He said, “Ananias, why have you let Satan fill your heart? You lied to the Holy Spirit, and you kept some of the money for yourself. The property was yours to sell or not sell, as you wished. And after selling it, the money was also yours to give away. How could you do a thing like this? You weren’t lying to us but to God” (Acts 5:3-4, NLT).


We are especially weak when it comes to covering our hide and protecting our image. Who doesn’t want people to admire them, praise them for generosity or some noble deed? Sometimes we are afraid that if we don’t go along with the crowd, people won’t like us, we won’t fit it; and we concede to self-power. If we constantly operate out of our self-power, we will feel defeated by the constant demands of choices that we must make in our daily activities. A high percentage of women are finding it difficult to cope with the demands and choices they have to make in this exhausting twenty-first-century life, and cope by being on anti-depressants or other mind-altering drugs to give them the tenacity to carry on.


Marcus Buckingham in his book, Find Your Strongest Life, tells us that succumbing to busyness and doing more does not make us happy. “Over the last forty years women have secured for themselves greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence and more money. But over the same time period, they have become less happy, more anxious and more stressed; and in ever-increasing numbers they are medicating themselves for it.”4

To save our soul, you and I have to be brutally intentional about learning how to make choices by operating through God’s power.


2. God’s Power-Passion Invigorates


I get passionate and excited when I see men and women who are bold, relentless and wide awake to pursue the passions, gifts and abilities God has given them. Kerry and Chris Shook tell us in their book, One Month to Live: “We’re created as spiritual beings, and to develop spiritual energy, we have to cultivate a healthy connection to our Creator. The Bible consistently reveals that humans are created in God’s image and that we have an eternal part of us, our spirits. The most important part of our lives is our spiritual dimension, our souls… we’re created to be connected to a larger power source.”5


How do we know we are living an invigorated, passionate life that is connected to a larger power? Look at the luscious fruit. I love living in the beautiful Okanagan Valley, the heart of British Columbia. I never get tired of looking out of our kitchen window and watching the activity in the vineyards. For the past thirteen years I have been walking through these vineyards at least twice a week. In the last month I watched the vineyard workers carefully cut the lush, sweet grapes from the vines. Today my husband and I noticed that all the grapes are gone, and most of the vines have had their leaves stripped by the recent autumn winds. I also know that after the winter season is done, there will be more workers in the fields with their pruning shears trimming the vine branches back to almost nothing. Even after all these years I am amazed how the pruners remove all but the two best side shoots that grow from the stem. Over the next few months I watch how these harshly pruned branches begin to produce lush, sweet grapes. If you and I are going to bear gorgeous fruit in our lives, we have to be connected to the source of that growth. I love the way these verses explain this process: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1-5, NIV).


To make this power work in our life we have to pay attention to four things:


i. We have to stay attached to the vine, because it is the life source for growing the fruit. We need to be saturated by the word of God because that is the source of all our wisdom and strength, and it speaks to the mind of Christ that is within us.


ii. Without being attached to the vine, “we can do nothing.” Sure, we can be involved in a lot of activities and succumb to all the “shoulds”; but what are we accomplishing that will have eternal value?


iii. We need to be pruned regularly of our criticism, self-righteousness and immoral life so that we can continue to grow to be kinder, more compassionate, extending forgiveness and becoming more like Christ.


iv. God cuts off any branch that does not bear fruit. Ouch! I don’t really want to know what that means.


When we choose to tap into the power of God’s truth about who we are and what He can accomplish through us, it will illuminate our strengths and evoke passion. Soon a great transition begins to take place in our lives.


We move from “I should” to “I get to.” When we are passionate about something, watch out: ridiculous things begin to happen.


Change the “Shoulds” to “Ridiculous Risks”


Operating out of our God-given strengths makes us confident, passionate and bold enough to say no to the world’s screaming demands and to say yes to take some ridiculous Kingdom risks. Here is how John Bevere in his book, Breaking Intimidation, describes boldness: “Boldness comes from the virtues of power, love and soundness of mind. Boldness is not a virtue in itself. We have all known people who were brazen and bold. True boldness comes from God and is fueled by godly virtue. Boldness that is fueled by God’s character awakens the gifts in our lives.”6 Two of my favorite stories that encourage me in ridiculous boldness are of a soon-to-be king and a queen.


1. When we think of David the shepherd boy, we think of king, but also of giant killer. King Saul tried to caution David about killing a giant. “‘Don’t be ridiculous!’ Saul replied. ‘There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win. You’re only a boy’” (1 Sam. 17:33, NLT). But the size of the giant was not enough to block the view of God for this young boy when he took out his five smooth stones. He had ridiculous courage because he knew, “And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!” (1 Sam. 17:47, NLT). David’s source of ridiculous power was in knowing that God ultimately fights all our battles.


2. Esther, the beautiful young Jewish woman that stole a king’s heart, is the stunning main character in one of those “sitting on the edge of your seat” intrigue and romance stories that should be made into a Steven Spielberg movie. It’s what fairy tales are made of—until a sinister plot is discovered. Queen Esther’s cousin Mordecai discovered that there was an evil man named Haman who had drawn up a letter that decreed all the Jews to be killed in that land. The dispatches said, “to destroy, kill and annihilate all of the Jews—young and old, women and little children—on a single day” (Esther 3:13, NIV). Queen Esther was also a Jewess, but how could she help? Even though she was a queen she could not approach the king without being summoned; she could be put to death. Next come three powerful factors that fuel invigoration.


i. Her cousin Mordecai reminded Queen Esther of her destiny. These people that were going to be killed were her people, her family. He reminded her how God uses us to accomplish His Kingdom work on earth when he said, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14, NIV, italics mine). This powerful reminder shows us that we need to be crystal clear about our purpose and set our priorities, so that we can take action and move boldly ahead.


ii. Even though Esther was a queen and shared the king’s wealth and power, she still needed God’s power. It is foolish to think that human wealth or position can make us impervious to danger. Queen Esther then replied to Mordecai, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day” (Esther 4:15-16, NIV). By calling for a fast, Queen Esther was demonstrating that she knew she needed God’s power to be ridiculously bold on this dangerous mission.


iii. The world’s motto is “save your skin and look out for number one,” but we need to decide what God wants us to accomplish on this earth and trust Him for the boldness to do it. Queen Esther knew she was laying her life on the line for this treacherous mission. Her words, “And if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16, NIV) send a shiver through my spine. Queen Esther felt passionate about her purpose and mission, completely trusting God for the outcome that saved the lives of all the Jews in that country.


When I am reminded of my destiny; that I am a child of the Creator and He sent His Son to die for me and that He has a purpose for my life on this earth, at this time and place of all eternity, I can be ridiculously bold at times. Not Queen Esther style, but Heidi style:


• Traveling to Poland to teach on spiritual transformation. Only God could give me the boldness to do this.


• Speaking in Yellowknife, Yukon, and experiencing no washrooms or daylight for twenty-two hours of the day.


• Submitting manuscripts for publication. This required risk and trusting God would help me get them published.


• Asking my boss if I could reduce my work hours.


• Forgiving someone that hurt me deeply.


In order to find our own style of ridiculous boldness, we have to be clear about our purpose and priorities.


What To Keep and What To Throw Away


The Christmas season is one of the worst “should” occasions for women. For years I entered into this time of year with a love/hate relationship. The ambience in our home is enchanting when it is decorated with fresh evergreen, the room is filled with flickering candles and hundreds of white mini lights are strung on the tree and around the hearth. My family is my greatest external joy on this earth, and I cherish our times lingering by the fireplace, sipping a fragrant cider and listening to soft Christmas music. But there are parts of the Christmas season that feel torturous and I approach them with disdain. For years I had a recurring nightmare wherein the stores were closing in one hour and I still hadn’t started my Christmas shopping. Each time I woke up in a sweaty panic and realized how much there was still to do to finalize our family’s Christmas preparations. Year after year it got more expensive and complicated, and by the time the Holy Christmas Eve arrived I was grumpy, exhausted and sometimes even sick.


Years ago I started to rebel against Christmas expectations and our family has truly been diligent about working with me to simplify the season’s demands. We are all progressing; albeit slowly. In 2007, I chose to escalate the progress—significantly. I was so worn out with all the nonsensical “shoulds” of the season—all the expenses, the exhaustive decorating, shopping and wrapping—that Jack and I decided to cancel Christmas in our home that year. It was the perfect year to experiment with it because we were going to spend Christmas at my daughter’s home in Alberta. I was shocked at how liberating it was not to decorate our home, send out cards or bake. I felt like a little kid that had just been let loose in a candy shop. Christmas demands, rituals and expectations were no longer going to make me feel obligated; and it absolutely invigorated me.


I shared my delightful discovery with many women and each time I told my story their eyes got big; then a smile broke out on their face and they laughed and cheered me on. Christmas 2009, we did it again. We celebrated Christmas at our daughter’s home in Sacramento, where we spent our time walking, playing games, laughing and scouting out a great Christmas Eve service. The anticipation of being free from the Christmas expectations of outlandish spending, overeating and absurd money spent on wrapping paper and bows that end up in the garbage leaves me giddy with joy.


It’s not an easy process to decide which “shoulds” we keep and which ones we throw away. I love my friend Beth’s attitude and her method for determining her obligations:


“The first thing I do when I am asked to do anything is to check in with my body. How do I feel? Does this demand give me energy or deplete it? If, however, I am unsure and agree to this something, then I ask myself, ‘Do I regret saying yes?’ If that is the case, then there are only two choices left:


1. Go back and say no. (I may say something like this: ‘I changed my mind. Forgive me for agreeing before I gave myself the time to think it through.’)


2. Find a way to make it fun:


a. Add music. (Even house cleaning can be improved with the right music.)


b. Add intention. (What is the reward in this commitment?)


c. Add a friend. (It is amazing how even the most arduous or tedious tasks can become fun with the right company.)


While the energy of obligation is heavy and un-fun, the hallmark of invigoration is energy.”7


Steps to Finding Invigoration


Determining how to make our best choices each day is not determined by better time management or greater expertise in juggling our schedule. If you’ve ever watched a juggler, you will notice that his goal is to keep all the balls up in the air. That’s what we do when we have a loaded, frantic lifestyle that drains the life out of us; we will constantly feel obligated and not invigorated. We don’t give our best to anything; we do the least we can and then we’re on to the next thing. I believe there are a few other key factors in deciding what to do with the barrage of “shoulds”:


Know the source of your power.


Know your purpose for this season of your life.


Prepare a mission statement (See Jack’s and mine in Chapter 6).This is a very practical tool to determine what fits into your values and goals.


Ask very good questions.


a. Does it fit into my life “ for such a time as this”?

b. What is my motive for doing this?

c. What was my initial feeling when I was confronted with this task?

d. Do I have the time?

e. Will it take me away from valuable family commitments?

f. Can I afford it?

g. Is it in keeping with my strengths?

h. Does it advance my learning and keep me interested?

i. Does it energize me or deplete me?


5. Take the 10,000-foot view for some of the more complicated and challenging choices. We see things much clearer when we see life from a God angle.


a. Will this matter six months or a year from now?

b. Does it enhance my spiritual growth?

c. Is it in keeping with my values?

d. Is this part of God’s plan for my life for doing his Kingdom

work here on earth?

e. Is this wasted time or is it a gift that God is trying to give me?


The invitation to sing and play my guitar left me with a negative sense of obligation to perform. The disaster that ultimately occurred left me humiliated and depleted, but it made me realize that this was not what God had gifted me for. For the next number of years it was frustrating for me to try and discover what I had been created to do. Most days it seemed that I didn’t have a clue. Through this tumultuous journey of trying to stay true to who God created me to be, I stayed connected to God and kept asking Him, “God, what are the gifts you have given to me so that I can make a significant difference in people’s lives?” As God was preparing my bigger picture of being an author, speaker, teacher and mentor for women, I was content to do each day what God had prepared for me to do that day—love my family and love others. I learned that I needed the power of the Holy Spirit daily to give me the wisdom to separate my “shoulds” so that I could function not by feeling obligated, but by being invigorated.


Choices That Enrich Your Life


1. Realize that juggling your calendar or Blackberry is not the answer to an invigorated life. Choose to work out of values and priorities that strengthen and invigorate you.


2. Every day we have to make almost a hundred choices. Realize you can only do that day what God has prepared for that particular day. Choose to pray and give the day to God and let Him help you work it out.


3. Learn to discern between your people pleasing and God pleasing. Choose to dismiss the people pleasing and focus on what will bring value into your life and the people closest to you.


4. Sometimes we look at other people and think we will be happy and fulfilled when we do what they are doing. Choose to believe that God has made you unique and He has something different for you to do; your style, your way.


5. When you hear that you are worth more than a million canaries, do you believe how worthy you are to God? Choose to trust God that God is interested in every area of your life and that He will never take you any place where He will abandon you.


6. Have you been asked to do something ridiculous? Choose to see it through the 10,000-foot view instead of your immediate emotions.


7. You are at a time in your life where you think you should have figured out by now what God’s purpose is for you. Choose to believe

a) You may already be doing it and not even know it, or b) That

God is preparing you for it.


8. Discover those things in your life that give you energy. You may not see them as gifts God has given you because they seem so effortless. Choose to believe that God can use those gifts to have a profound impact on this world.


9. You think you are handling life successfully because you are multitasking and keeping all your events in order. Choose to believe the fact that when you multitask your IQ drops by ten points and you are giving everything a divided attention.


10. You think that having more education, a better job, and better pay will make you feel more fulfilled. Choose to believe that those are all very good things to strive for, but they will never fully complete you and make you ultimately happier.


11. You believe this is your “lot in life” and there is nothing you can do about it. Choose to believe that you can break out of any pattern by learning to do things differently. Ask God to help you be creative.


12. Interruptions are part of life. Choose to believe that what frustrates you about them is that there is no margin in your life for these interruptions that may be disguised divine opportunities.


13. Choose to live each day by seeing life as a gift, and choose to see the good in everything and everyone. Choose joy.


Stop and As k God To Help You Change Sand to Pearls


Begin by asking: God, what people-pleasing obligations deplete me?


S Scripture: “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that” (Prov. 29:25, MSG).


T Thanksgiving: God I am so thankful that you will protect me and help me overcome the constant demands that this

world places on me. Thank you that you have given me the wisdom and discernment through having the mind of Christ to know when I am caving in to obligations to please people instead of You.


O Observation: It is so important for me to feel loved and accepted. It is so true that I am afraid if I don’t give in to the demands people place on me, I won’t be accepted and liked.


P Prayer: God, I realize that You have given me twenty-four precious hours each day, and that each one of those is a gift to me. Help me to treat that gift with wisdom, love and a sound mind. I need to be reminded over and over again how much I am loved, how I have more worth than a million canaries, so that I can be empowered to make decisions out of a godly boldness. Help me each day to separate my “shoulds”—the ones that need to be done, and the ones that I need to throw away. Give me the wisdom to know the difference. Thank You for all the opportunities You give me to make a difference on this earth. Help me never to miss any of those moments that may seem like an annoyance or interruption, but are in fact a gift that You are trying to give me. Thank You that You are interested in all of me, and that You have a beautiful and powerful kingdom purpose for my life. God, please help me to see the world through eyes that are invigorated, not obligated.


Amen.

Here is my review of this encouraging book:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Heidi McLaughlin and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Sand to Pearls" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this generosity. I really appreciate the time, effort and expense it takes to make a reviewer copy available to me.

Heidi McLaughlin’s “Sand to Pearls” is an inspiring read that will encourage boldness in your behavior as it pertains to your Christian walk and other endeavors. The title reflects the process by which an oyster turns an irritating grain of sand into a beautiful and priceless pearl, this book’s chapters contrast 13 “irritants” – things that aren’t necessarily bad, but aren’t God’s best – with their “beautiful and priceless” counterparts.

This book contains no frills that beg its use in a women’s study group, like obvious discussion questions. Yet each chapter poses food for thought on a variety of topics. The book encourages prayer and looking to the Word of God. Based upon that, I would recommend it to be used in a reading or study group. This is a lovely book that will point to God’s Word to enrich the life of the reader.

Friday, March 18, 2011

REVIEW: Surrender the Night by MaryLu Tyndall

I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to MaryLu Tyndall and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Surrender the Night" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this generosity. I really appreciate the time, effort and expense it takes to make a copy available to me as a member of MaryLu's Motley Crew.

I have never been in the position to have my home raided during a time of war by enemy soldiers. However, the gifted writing of MaryLu Tyndall takes me to that terrifying place where British invaders challenge American freedom and engage in violent oppression during the War of 1812. “Surrender the Night” is the second novel in the Surrender to Destiny series, and paints a vivid picture of war-torn America fighting to confirm her independence from England.

The stage is set to the extent that the reader can smell the smoke of burning buildings. Baltimore in 1812 was a precarious place to be, and Rose McGuire is absolutely in a precarious place. Her parents are dead because of the British. She is fighting off the advances of an undesirable suitor. The fate of her family rests in her hands if her Uncle should be killed during the British raids on her land. When Alex Reed, the Second Lieutenant aboard a British ship, saves Rose from being ravished by his superior, the story twists even further. Injured in the altercation, Alex is at Rose’s mercy – and under her care.

You may remember Alex from the first novel in the series, “Surrender the Heart”. His gallant character and torn loyalties were evident in that wonderful book, and it makes his character pop off the page in this beautifully crafted romance. I eagerly await book three.

Bathsheba by Jill Eileen Smith




Can She Ever Find Redemption After One Night of Passion with the King?

“As the last word dried on the page, Bathsheba read the message through blurred vision. ‘I am with child’. She would not sign her name or address the message. He would know by the press of her husband’s seal on the wax...”


Bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith brings to life the Bible’s most famous story of passion, betrayal and redemption in the conclusion of The Wives of King David series, Bathsheba (ISBN: 978-0-8007-3322-3 $14.99, March 2011). Smith draws from Scripture, in-depth historical research and her vivid imagination to unveil the story of David’s most famous wife - Bathsheba. Bathsheba is told in rich detail and drama, creating a riveting page-turner that will keep readers engaged to the conclusion of the book.

Bathsheba is a woman longing for love. With her devout husband, Uriah, away fighting the king's wars for many months at a time, discontent and loneliness dog her steps--and make it frighteningly easy to succumb to King David's charms. Though she immediately regrets her involvement with the powerful king, the pieces are set in motion that will destroy everything she holds dear. Can she find forgiveness at the feet of the Almighty? Or has her sin separated her from God--and David--forever?

Bathsheba reveals the depth of God’s grace and forgiveness. You will never read the story of David and Bathsheba in the same way again.

“A rich tapestry of an era filled with love and longing that rings true across the centuries.” – Siri Mitchell, author of Love’s Pursuit
Jill Eileen Smith has more than twenty years of writing experience, and her writing has garnered acclaim in several competitions. Her research into the lives of David's wives has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Smith is the author of the bestselling Michal and Abigail and lives with her family in southeast Michigan.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, offers practical books that bring the Christian faith to everyday life. They publish resources from a variety of well-known brands and authors, including their partnership with MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) and Hungry Planet.

For more information, visit http://www.revellbooks.com/.

Available March 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group.




Here is my review of this wonderful novel:



First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Jill Eileen Smith and her publisher for sending me a copy of "Bathsheba" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this generosity. I really appreciate the time, effort and expense it takes to make a reviewer copy available to me.
“Bathsheba” is the third novel in Jill Eileen Smith’s The Wives of King David Series. It is a beautifully told embellishment of the Biblical story. You may already know how this story ends. But Smith crafts this tale of Biblical fiction with logic and creativity that showcases characters with skin and muscle and emotion. From the start of the novel which features an interaction between our title character and her husband, Uriah, my imagination was mesmerized. I know that I will never read the scriptures bearing their names with any form of nonchalance ever again.

It all began with a seemingly innocent bath on a rooftop. A wandering eye sealed the fate of two people: one a king, the other the wife of a soldier. The intricate plot that was born out of an attempt to conceal sin led to both tragedy and blessing for the individuals involved, the nation of Israel and the world. The novel “Bathsheba” is replete with blood, sweat and tears. The hand of God will be vividly evident to the reader throughout this book as they are reintroduced to characters that they thought they’ve loved since childhood.

Bible Study: Coming Out Of Bondage - Exodus - Chapter 22


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Exodus. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Exodus Chapter 22. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…


22:2-3 – Why does daylight make a difference? Perhaps because you should be able to identify and reason with a person you can see? And a thief would be less apt to behave in such a way in the daytime?

22:4 – pay back double – definitely an attempt to deter the offense since many who steal have nothing with which to make restitution.

22:7 – pay back double – see 22:4.

22:18 – sorcery is a capital offense.

22:19 – bestiality is a capital offense.

22:20 – worshiping other gods is a capital offense.

22:21-24 – mistreating widows and orphans is a capital offense.

What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Handle With Prayer by Charles Stanley

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!


Today's Wild Card author is:


and the book:


Handle with Prayer

David C. Cook; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karen Davis, Assistant Media Specialist, The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Dr. Charles F. Stanley, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta and founder of In Touch Ministries, demonstrates a keen awareness of people’s needs by providing practical Biblical truths for everyday life. His In Touch teaching program is broadcast worldwide in more than 50 languages. Dr. Stanley is also a New York Times best-selling author who has written more than 35 books, including: In Step with God, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Living the Extraordinary Life, A Man’s Touch, Handle With Prayer, How to Listen to God, Eternal Security: Can You Be Sure?, The Gift of Forgiveness, How to Keep Your Kids on Your Team, The Wonderful Spirit-Filled Life, The Source of My Strength, How to Handle Adversity, The Blessing of Brokenness, Success God’s Way, The Handbook for Christian Living, Into His Presence, and When Tragedy Strikes.


Visit the author's website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Originally released in 2000, this book has already sold over 250,000 copies and now it features new artwork, an enhanced study guide, and updated content to connect with today’s readers. Using stories from his own life, Dr. Stanley engages readers with his insight and truthfulness. According to Dr. Stanley, “Jesus encourages us to pray. He tells us to ask, seek, and knock. We ask for things, we seek understanding, and we knock on doors of opportunity that lie before us. The Lord is saying that in every area of life we can find what we are looking for by talking to the heavenly Father.”


Product Details:

List Price: $16.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; Reprint edition (March 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0781404460
ISBN-13: 978-0781404464

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


Unveiling the Hidden


Moreover the word of the LORD came unto Jeremiah the second time, while he was yet shut up in the court of the prison, saying, Thus saith the LORD the maker thereof, the LORD that formed it, to establish it; the LORD is his name; Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. —Jeremiah 33:1–3


As I was praying one afternoon in 1967, I began feeling as if God had something very specific to say to me. The more I prayed, the more the burden increased. I decided to take an early vacation and spend the time seeking God’s guidance. I went to the mountains of North Carolina for two weeks, intent on finding out what God was saying to me.


I spent the majority of the time fasting and praying. I waited, expecting God to follow up the burden with an answer. To my surprise, He pointed out areas in my life that needed correcting. The entire two weeks was a period of personal cleansing and preparation for what was to come.


I returned home excited, but still unsure. It was as if there were a veil that kept me from knowing the unknown. I felt that the answer was close, but it was still out of my grasp. Then one

afternoon soon afterward, I was on my face before the Lord, and the veil lifted. God wanted me to start a school. I hesitated to commit myself to such a task, but God made it clear to me that His instructions were to be obeyed, not just considered. He unveiled the hidden to me when I called on Him to do so, and He showed me the things I did not know. God was faithful—even to the point of preparing my heart for what He had to say.


God desires to make known the unknown to His children. He desires to unveil the hidden. Yet many times we are satisfied not knowing. Either we aren’t willing to take the time to wait, or

we aren’t sure God even wants us to know. But this command to Jeremiah speaks specifically to both of these problems. We are to call, we are to expect an answer, and we are to know the unknown. Let’s look at the background of this Scripture in Jeremiah (33:1–3).


The Babylonians are coming toward Jerusalem from the feast. They have already defeated the Assyrians, so the people off Jerusalem know they don’t stand much of a chance against their superior military strength. The leaders of Jerusalem believed they should align themselves with the Egyptians, which was the logical thing to do. But Jeremiah tells them, “God says you are going into captivity. What you really ought to do is go out there and surrender.” Well, this wasn’t at all what the leaders had in mind. They threw Jeremiah in prison and refused to listen to him.


Their reaction should not surprise us. What do you think the people in my congregation would do if I stood up next Sunday and said, “God says the Canadians are going to overthrow this nation. We might as well surrender now and save ourselves some trouble”? They would run me out of town! But this was exactly the situation Jeremiah found himself in. From his experience, he gives us a passage (33:1–3) that helps us understand how to talk with God.


Encouraged to Pray

We can obtain three prayer principles from Jeremiah 33:3 by listening to what God told Jeremiah. The first is that God encourages us to pray: “Call unto me.” Since Jeremiah was in prison, he had a long time to catch up on his prayer life. We may never be put behind bars, but God will put us in circumstances and situations in order to teach us how to talk with Him.


Most of the time we pray, “Get me out of here!” We want to avoid suffering and difficulty. When we do run into a trial or difficulty, we ask God to change our circumstances so we can serve Him better and love Him more.


But we cannot fool God or bribe Him with our promises. Jeremiah didn’t even ask God to get him out of prison. Rather, he waited to see what God would say to him. And what was God’s

reply? “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jer. 33:3). What God did for Jeremiah had a far greater impact than simply getting him out of prison.


But most of us aren’t that patient. We’re more intent on getting out of our circumstances than we are on finding out what great things God wants to show us. But the Father never allows

difficulty just for the sake of difficulty—there is always a higher purpose involved. The problem is we cannot always identify God’s higher purpose in the midst of our trials. That’s when we must exercise our faith by waiting on His word to us.


A good friend of mine who was a real estate broker experienced a seven-year period of financial failure. The loss of his security devastated him. It became the constant focus of his thoughts and prayers. “Why doesn’t God do something?” he would ask me. For a while, we were both puzzled.


But after some intense soul searching, he realized that he had substituted financial security for God in his life. The Father wanted to be recognized as the Source of all things in my friend’s life. As he began renewing his mind spiritually and yielding his rights to the Lord, my friend gained a new freedom in his attitude toward finances. He started a new career and found greater financial blessing than ever before.


God had a great and mighty lesson to teach my friend—a lesson more important than keeping him comfortable. And God kept him uncomfortable until he took his eyes off his circumstances and sought God’s mind in the matter.


Waiting is not easy. We often turn away from seeking God’s counsel and seek guidance from friends and loved ones. We read books, attend seminars, and talk with others, trying to find out what God has to say to us. Usually, after we’ve exhausted all other possibilities, we turn back to the Lord and wait on Him. By doing this, it’s as if we are saying to God, “Now that I’ve tried everything else and failed, I’ve decided I need You after all.”


But God wants us to come to Him first. He wants us to stand in His counsel and wait for His word. He longs for us to come to Him as a son would to his father. But instead, we go to Him last, as if we don’t trust Him or consider His word of much value. Yet He is the only trustworthy Source of counsel we have. He is our most available and accessible Friend. He will never give us a busy signal—even if He frequently gets busy signals when He tries talking to us.


God entreats us to pray because He knows we are often caught in prisons of our own making; not prisons with bars and locks, but intellectual prisons, emotional prisons, and relational prisons. We must remember that the shortest distance between our problems and their solutions is the distance between our knees and the floor.


Answer Promised

Second, God told Jeremiah, “I will answer thee.” Sometimes we make commitments that we cannot keep. Though we may do this unintentionally, there are times when we disappoint those who are counting on us. But God never disappoints—when He says He will do something, it will be done.


God promises He will not only hear our prayers, but He will answer them. This brings up two interesting questions: Does God always answer our prayers? Or does He respond to certain kinds of prayer? Think about the requests you have made of God recently. Are they being answered? Do you really believe they will be? You see, the question is not Does God answer prayer? The real question is How does God answer prayer? Sometimes He answers yes. This is usually the only answer we hear. If God says, “Yes,” then we believe He answered. If He says, “No,” we think He ignored our request.


God’s Answers

When God answers our prayers, He either answers with yes, no, or wait. When He answers yes, we are prone to shout, “Praise the Lord!” We tell everyone what a great thing God has done for us.


But when God says no, we have a hard time finding reasons to praise Him. We look for the sin in our lives that kept Him from granting our requests, because surely if we had been living right He would have given us what we asked. But not one shred of scriptural evidence shows that God will say yes to all of our prayers just because we’re living right. God is sovereign. He has the right to say no according to His infinite wisdom, regardless of our goodness.


We try to manipulate God by our humanistic “if then” philosophy. If we live good, clean lives, then God must (we believe) grant our hearts’ desires. But such attempts to manipulate God defeat the whole purpose of Christianity, which is to glorify Him through our submissive obedience to His desires. Besides, if our goodness was the only factor God considered, where would His grace fit in? Many times His grace is what motivates Him to say no.


God only says no and wait when it is best for us (Rom. 8:28). He does it many times for our protection. Sometimes God wants to answer our prayers, but the timing is not right. For example, in the past, many couples wanting to marry came to me for counseling. Sometimes I would advise them to wait. Some would heed my advice, while others sought counsel from those who told them what they wanted to hear. You and I have the same choice over and over again. Will we wait on God for His perfect timing, or will we rush ahead?


We don’t like waiting around. Especially when it looks like a unique opportunity might slip away. We don’t like to hear God say, “No,” especially when everything in us says, “Yes, yes, yes!” We often try to find a Scripture verse and claim it while we continue our prayer, hoping somehow to change God’s mind. What we’re really saying is, “God, I didn’t like that answer. How about reconsidering my point of view?”


But deep in our hearts we really want God’s perfect will for our lives. And we must remember that God’s answer is always His ultimate best for us. Claiming Scripture will not change God’s mind because His Word cannot contradict His will. If He says no, then the answer is no. If He says wait, then we should wait. God is more interested in our character, our future, and our sanctification than He is in our momentary satisfaction. His answers are always an act of grace, motivated by His love.


Our Response

Our response to God’s answers reveals one of two things about us. It will reveal either a rebellious spirit or a submissive spirit. By accepting God’s answer, despite the fact that we may not understand, we express a submissive spirit. But by refusing His first answer and trying to get our way by manipulation, we express a rebellious spirit.


If we refuse God’s answers when they don’t fit in with our plans, then we are trying to use God for our purposes. But if we graciously accept His answers—no matter what they are—He will use us for His glory.


The Hidden Revealed

The third principle we can obtain from this verse comes from “I will … show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” All of us face decisions that leave us baffled. We are constantly bombarded with relational decisions, business decisions, household decisions, and financial decisions—and these all need immediate attention. In this verse, God promises to reveal the answer to all of life’s decisions. Yet many of God’s people spend their entire lives making decisions based on their knowledge, their understanding, and their experience—not realizing that some decisions must be based on divine wisdom and illumination from God.


Almost any preacher can prepare a sermon. He can write an outline, gather a few stories, and away he goes. But a preacher cannot get God’s message for a people until he waits in the Lord’s counsel, until he seeks God’s face, and until God gives him a word from heaven (Jer. 23:21–22).


This same principle applies to every Christian. We can pay the price required to find God’s mind on an issue, or we can make a decision based on what we think is right. Either way, a decision will eventually be made. But while one decision may have the approval of man, the other will have the eternal approval of God.


Sometimes we flip a coin (spiritually speaking) and say, “Lord, this is what I’m going to do. If it is of You, then bless it. If I’m wrong, then better luck next time.” Instead of waiting, we jump ahead and hope we have done the right thing. The point is this: As Christians, we never have to guess—we can know for sure what to do. God wants us to know His will about things, even more than we want to know it. But He cannot—and will not—bless anything we do that is not of Him.


So what does He mean when He says, “I will … show thee great and mighty things”? Every time we pray to God, seeking His will, there are two things He wants to show us: He wants to show us Himself (Phil. 3:7–8), and He wants to show us what He is able to do (John 15:16). Is there anything greater than seeking God and knowing His power?


We Are to Seek His Face

Because God wants to reveal Himself to us, and because our goal as Christians is to know Him, we should begin our time in prayer saying, “Lord, thank You that You are omnipotent. Thank You that You are omniscient and know everything I am about to tell You. Thank You that You are omnipresent, and You are not separated from me. As I come into Your presence, I humble myself before Your throne to thank You for Your holiness, Your forgiveness, and Your mercy. I acknowledge You as the great Creator, Sustainer, and Lover of mankind. Father, I am coming to You, recognizing Your greatness and Your holiness. I bow before You as Your child, knowing that You are more than sufficient to meet my needs.”


This is the spirit in which we should come into God’s presence. But instead, we come first with our needs and usually don’t have enough time for anything else. We never stop long enough to recognize that God wants to show us Himself when we pray.


He Shows Us His Power

God also wants to show us what He is able and willing to do for us. He does this through His Word. He reminds us of what He has done in the past. He gives us example after example in Scripture of how He met people’s needs and how He protected them. And the Father is willing to do the same thing for us, if we will only ask.


The word mighty in this passage means hidden things, things that are fenced in. This word is used when referring to fortified cities. God is showing us that as we pray, He will unveil insights for us that have previously been a mystery.


This also implies that some answers will be found only in prayer, not from other sources—not from books, friends, or counselors. Some things must come straight from God, who is the

Source of all wisdom. How many families would still be together today if they had sought God’s answers to their problems at home? How many sons and daughters would still be at home if their parents had taken their situation to the Lord? Too often we refuse to wait on God’s answers. We want quick solutions to our problems.


But God wants to do much more than just meet our needs and answer our questions. He wants our love. He wants our spirits— He wants our lives. Yes, He encourages us to bring our trials and our heartaches to Him in prayer, but only after we recognize who He is and what He can do. Only then do we believe He will answer our prayers. Only then are we seeking His face and not merely His hand.


As a pastor, many times I go to God for answers that can be found only in Him. Sometimes He shows me something for today, and sometimes He shows me something that will happen in the next week or month. But I’ve never been to God about anything that He did not willingly answer. He does not always answer my prayers according to my time schedule, but He always answers on time.


Back in 1969 when I was preaching a weeklong revival meeting in Virginia, I once again felt that God had something specific to say to me. Each night after the service I retired to my room early to pray. One evening, I pulled out a pad and drew a circle with five lines leading from it. At the end of each line, I wrote several things I thought God might desire to reveal to me. On the last line I drew a question mark, thinking maybe it was something I had not thought of.


The following night I came back to my room with the same burden. As I prayed and looked over the possibilities, God made it clear that He was going to move me. I asked Him when, and the month of September flashed into my mind. This happened in May of 1969, but I thought He meant September of 1970. A few months later, however, a pulpit committee from the First Baptist Church of Atlanta came to see me. On September 30, 1969, my family and I moved to Atlanta. God revealed this to me ahead of time in order to prepare my heart. He unveiled what was hidden when I called on Him to do so.


Regardless of what circumstances you are up against, there is no knowledge you will ever need that is not accessible before the throne of our living, loving, holy, righteous God. He has promised to show you the great, the hidden, and the unknown things that you will never be able to understand any other way. There are some things you will never be able to know (Deut. 29:29), but all the knowledge you will ever need is available to you if you ask God.


He desires to illuminate your mind and heart until you are conscious of Christ’s mind within you. He wants you to say no to the world on the basis of your faith in Him. It is then that you feel an extra sense of power when you share with others. You no longer depend entirely on circumstances for God to teach you lessons. Instead, you learn straight from Him through His Word. You have a new excitement in your relationship with God because you have learned to listen as He speaks to you.


Submission Required

You must be submissive to God to the point of absolute obedience— regardless of what He asks of you. Why? Because if our heavenly Father continues to answer our prayers, and we have certain conditions on which we obey, then He is nothing more than a giant Santa Claus. If He were to continue to bless us regardless of our rebellion, we would be using Him for our ends, not His. Submission is essential.


If you have been seeking God’s will for a long time and you seem to be getting nowhere, examine your heart. See if there is any area of your life that is not totally surrendered to Him. By settling this issue, you will put yourself in a position that will allow the Father to bless you. The quicker you move from your will to His will, the quicker God will show you what you need to know. Since God gives us His Word for obedience, not just consideration, He must be assured that you have submitted yourself completely before He will let you in on His secrets.


Are you facing a decision in your life that is too big for you to handle? Are you going through some difficulty that has left you confused and disheartened? God said, “Call unto me, and I will

answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” As you seek God’s face, understanding who He is and what He is willing and able to do, He will clear away all the mist that surrounds your circumstances. He will show you what to do. Are you willing to say yes to whatever He requires? If so, you have taken the first step in learning to talk with God.


Session 1

Unveiling the Hidden

Chapter 1


Session Goals

1. To assess our individual prayer lives to see if we really expect God to answer our prayers.

2. To take a long look at our ideas of what God is like, how He feels about people, and what He is willing to do for them.

3. To determine to say yes to whatever God requires of us.


Preparation

1. As you read Handle with Prayer, jot down the main kernels of truth in each chapter. Then study chapter 1.

2. Plan your session time carefully to include the Bible teaching about prayer, which should lead into the practicing of prayer in the session.

3. Assemble any teaching tools: whiteboard or chalkboard, markers or chalk.


Discussion

1. Help people get acquainted by asking each member to turn to the person next to him or her and to sum up his or her prayer philosophy in ten words or less. End with the question: “Do

you agree?” Partners respond with his or her own thinking on prayer. Don’t ask group members to aim for theological definitions, just responses from their personal experiences. Expect

negative as well as positive philosophies, since these sessions are expected to clear up misconceptions about prayer as well as give positive insights—all from the Word.


After this short exercise, point out that no matter what our present philosophies of prayer are, we all want to learn to pray effectively. But we won’t learn how unless we obey God’s instructions (as opposed to our own reactions, ideas, experiential knowledge) and respond to Him according to His will.


2. Ask the group to turn to Jeremiah 33:1–3. Explain: “The Babylonians were coming toward Jerusalem from the east. They had already defeated the Assyrians, so the people of Jerusalem

knew they didn’t stand much of a chance against such a superior military power. The leaders of Jerusalem believed they should align with the Egyptians. But Jeremiah told them, ‘God says you are going into captivity. What you really ought to do is believe God, go out, and surrender to the Babylonians.’”


The outraged leaders, thinking Jeremiah was a traitor, threw him in prison and refused to listen to his warning. Jeremiah probably wasn’t too surprised at the leaders’ reaction. But what would God say to him now? He had obeyed the Lord, and he

was in prison because of it—what next?


Why do you think God reaffirmed His identity to Jeremiah (v. 2)? What three prayer principles did He give Jeremiah (v. 3)?Discuss.


3. Explain that Jeremiah was in a real prison. We may be in figurative ones constructed out of circumstances or predicaments, but the bars are just as strong and the walls just as high.


When we are in our prisons, how do we usually pray? Discuss.


According to Scripture, Jeremiah didn’t ask God for anything. Rather, he waited to see what God had to say to him.


If we’re in our prisons because God needs to get our attention to teach us lessons, what is the quickest way to get out? Discuss.


Deliverance comes as we examine our hearts to find what God wants to teach us. When we learn our lessons, He will free us. Nothing is too hard for Him.


What should we do if we cannot identify God’s purpose in a particular trial? Why is waiting on God so difficult? Discuss.


4. Does God always answer our prayers? Discuss the three ways God answers: yes, no, or wait. Do you agree: “God will always answer yes, if we are living right”? God is sovereign. He answers depending on what He knows is best for us.


How do we sometimes try to manipulate Him into saying yes? Sometimes we think: If I do this, then God will do that. Or we plead a verse of Scripture that seems on target for our case and hope God will change His mind.


Why does God sometimes say no? Remind the group that the whole purpose of Christianity is to glorify God through our submissive obedience to His desires. He says no when it’s for

our best interest (Rom. 8:28). God is more interested in our character, future, and sanctification than in our momentary gratification.


When God says wait, what choice does He give us? What do our responses to God’s answers reveal about us?


5. What two things does God always want to show us when we seek to know His will? Refer to Philippians 3:7–8 and John 15:16. How does God show us what He is able and willing to

do? Answers might come through His Word, through our own experiences, and through the experiences of others.


What is the one condition God’s unveiling rests on? Why is submission necessary?


6. Explain: “If we hear these truths and don’t practice them, we become like the person who wants to learn to drive a car without ever sitting in the driver’s seat. The person reads the

training manual, learns all the rules of the road, but never actually sits behind the wheel.”


We want to move prayer into the reality of our present circumstances. During our times together, we will be using different prayer methods: silent prayers, group prayers, volunteer

prayers, written prayers, etc. Today because of the nature of the subject, we will use silent individual prayers.


7. If God has seemed silent to you about something you have prayed for a long time, examine your heart. Are you harboring unconfessed sin? If you will submit now, you will move quickly into the attitude in which God will unfold for you some of the things you need to know.


Are you facing a decision that is too big for you to handle? Have you gone through some difficulty that has left you confused and disheartened? Read Jeremiah 33:3 again. Seek God’s face, understand who He is, and believe He will clear away all the mist that surrounds your circumstances.


Are you willing to say yes to whatever He requires of you?


8. Spend time in silent prayer as individuals open up their hearts to God. Close with an appropriate prayer of submissive victory.

Here is my review of this incredible book:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Charles Stanley and his publisher for sending me a copy of "Handle With Prayer" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this generosity. I really appreciate the time, effort and expense it takes to make a reviewer copy available to me.

“Handle With Prayer” is a superb prayer resource. This book by Charles Stanley is not only a 13-session study on prayer with an amazing leader guide. It is not just a non-fiction book that will teach you some helpful tips about how to pray. It is a compilation of chapters that address 13 different aspects of prayer. With subjects ranging from prayer life assessment to who should we pray for to how to pray God’s will, this volume should be in the reference library of every praying man, woman and child. “Handle With Prayer” takes you back to the Bible to learn about prayer.

I confidently recommend this book to any Christian who wants to invigorate their own prayer life. I believe that it would be valuable to any group or personal study venue. “Handle With Prayer” is one book that I am proud to own and will read and refer to over-and-over again. It is also a book that I will suggest to others for years to come.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Bible Study: Coming Out Of Bondage - Exodus - Chapter 21


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Exodus. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Exodus Chapter 21. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…


21:1 – God gives Moses the civil code.

21:7 – A daughter would be sold to see that she is provided for. This wasn’t just a way for the father to make money. This would be done if he couldn’t afford a dowry or to give her a lifestyle above her own class.

21:2-11 – Laws regarding Hebrew servants.

21:12-32 – Personal injury laws.

21:33-22:15 – Property laws and laws regarding injury to animals.

notice that accidents and negligence require restitution only and acts of theft require restitution PLUS punitive damages.

What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

REVIEW: Digitalis by Ronie Kendig

Here is my review of this amazing novel:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Ronie Kendig and Barbour Publishing for sending me an electronic copy of "Digitalis" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this opportunity and their generosity.

Book two in the Discarded Heroes series by Ronie Kendig tells the story of Nightshade’s sniper: Colton “Cowboy” Neely, aptly code-named “Digitalis”. This tall, dark and handsome Marine has a heart condition. As a single father, he adores his daughter, Mickey. As a man, he doesn’t trust himself with women – okay, just one woman – because of a bad past relationship and a serious, and violent case of PTSD. But after meeting and getting to know Piper Blum, he thinks he has found “the one” he wants to spend his life with. Too bad he can’t bring himself to tell her his secrets.

Piper has secrets of her own. There are assassins on her trail because of who her father is and what he knows. She wishes she could tell her secrets to the tall, dark and handsome cowboy who loves his little girls so well that her heart clutches every time she sees him. But that would put them in danger.

Ronie Kendig knows how to weave an intelligent and action-packed plot. She also knows how to season such a tale with the perfect amount of romance. This is a completely enjoyable novel that will keep you up well past bedtime turning the pages of this incredible tale!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Bible Study: Coming Out Of Bondage - Exodus - Chapter 20


Please forgive this rough draft format, as these are my raw study notes on the book of Exodus. I felt a great sense of urgency to publish them rather than waiting until I had the time to pretty them up. Thank you and I pray that God blesses you through this material.

Stacey


Take a few minutes to savor Exodus Chapter 20. Then return here and ponder the thoughts, answer the questions, and be sure to leave comments about your own revelations…


20:1-17 – Compare with Deuteronomy 5:1-21.

Aaron was with Moses when he received the ten commandments.

God teaches us what He expects of us.

20:3 – Israel was coming out of a polytheistic culture. God was letting them know that this behavior is unacceptable!

20:4-6 – this commandment comes with a warning to the disobedient (punishment to the 4th generation) and a promise for the faithful (show love to 1000 generations). Notice the grace offered – God will punish only to the 4th generation, but lavish blessing to the 1000th generation. He could easily punish to the 1000th generation!

20:4-5 – You cannot worship an idol you don’t create. If you obey the command in verse 4, verse 5 is unnecessary. God knows us too well, doesn’t He?

20:6 – showing = asah = to construct or build.

20:7 – this commandment comes with a warning to the disobedient: God will hold them guilty.

20-8-11 – rest before restoration.

20:12 – this commandment comes with a promise of long life in the promised land. Deuteronomy 5:16 adds “and that it may go well with you.”

24:15-18 – Moses may have been gone, but God was still providing manna and quail. So why would the Israelites grumble and encourage Aaron to make a tangible idol in 32:1-4?

20:15 – What are some unconventional things that we can steal? How can we steal from God?

20:17 – Whatever you covet, STOP!

20:19 – the people trusted Moses enough to take direction from him.

20:20-21 – the people remained at a distance even after Moses told them not to be afraid. Granted, he didn’t tell them to approach, but did their own guilt keep them in spiritual bondage, making them stay away?

20:23 – God is unequaled.

20:24 – God causes us to worship His name!

20:26 – no undergarments? No. Later on, the priest is commanded to wear undergarments.


What attributes of God have you observed in your study today? How will this change your relationship with Him?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

REVIEW: Deep Trouble by Mary Connealy

Here is my review of this fantastic wild west novel:

First of all, I would like to extend a heartfelt “Thank you” to Mary Connealy and Barbour Publishing for sending me an electronic copy of "Deep Trouble" to review for them. I am truly grateful for this opportunity and their generosity.

When an author has a wonderful talent for storytelling and an incredible technique for building an entertaining novel, does there come a time when said author cannot surpass their previous work? In many cases, yes, and the reader must be satisfied with the status quo or move on to another author’s work. I have been a long-time fan of Mary Connealy’s work, and her latest novel, “Deep Trouble” does not demand that the reader accept what has become an expected standard for a Connealy novel. This book has indeed raised the bar. The adventure is more exciting. The comedy is heartier.

This novel opens in the heart of the action: a group of treasure-hunters stealing the map that leads to the gold from its rightful owner and leaving her to die. Shannon Dysart is determined to find the city of gold in the Grand Canyon and prove her father isn’t a fraud. Gabe Lasley happens upon Shannon at a time when she is desperately in need of rescue and he is in desperate need of an excuse to delay his visit to his older brother. The sparks begin to fly right away

This is uber-Connealy, and I have no doubt that this author’s talent is still growing and will continue to do so for many years to come.