I’m reading through the Bible again this year, only this time I’m doing it a bit differently. For years I used the Chronological Bible, and it helped me so much in seeing the whole picture of the Bible. I had never read the Bible from cover to cover until 2005. Now, I’d read parts of the Bible, but never took a whole year to read it from cover to cover.
In December of 2004, I was teaching abstinence in a small country school, and the teacher told me 2005 would begin her tenth year to read through the Bible. Then she challenged me to try it. I promised her I would, and she suggested using the Chronological Bible. A friend had given me one three years earlier, but I’d never opened it. January 1, 2005, that changed. And it changed my life.
Reading it daily in chronological order was like reading a story. Some of the characters were bigger than life—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon…then in the New Testament, I got to know Jesus better and the apostles, and Dr. Luke. Some days I was so excited, I read more than the daily goal.
I was really sad to leave David—he had such an interesting life. A man after God’s own heart, yet he sinned greatly. There was hope for me! It was even sadder to see the Israelites move away from God. But even that was a lesson—they sinned, God forgave, they sinned again….I learned God is so patient and loving and ready to forgive when we confess (turn from our sin)—and yes, Christians sin. Every day.
But it’s more than a story. I have such a deeper relationship with Jesus and God since I started reading through the Bible each year. You might wonder if it ever gets old…no, because each day I see something in the Scripture in a way I’ve never seen before. It truly is a living, breathing book.
I’m in my eighteenth year of reading through the Bible and have worn out three chronological Bibles with daily readings. A couple of years ago, I started reading Seasons of Reflection, 365 Daily Readings. This year I take the daily readings and read them along with a commentary. It’s always interesting to see what men like Spurgeon and Chambers have to say.
And now, I want to challenge you—if you’ve never read the Bible from cover to cover, try it. And I’d like to suggest you read it chronologically–there are many chronological Bibles set up to be read daily.
I know, I can hear you now—I don’t have time! And in this fast-paced world, it is difficult to find time to spend alone with God. It will take discipline, but it will make a difference in your life. I promise, you won’t regret it.
I recently came across an online discussion criticizing evangelicals for being focused only on preaching the gospel and winning converts. Instead, those involved in the discussion said that Christians should be focused on social justice issues, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, and providing housing for the poor.
This is one of those occasions when it might be helpful to ask what Jesus would do. Or, more precisely, to consider what Jesus actually did. Following is a quick summary of Matthew 8-10:
In Matthew 8:1-4, after coming down from delivering the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus healed a man with leprosy.
In Matthew 8:5-13, Jesus healed a centurion’s servant and then used this to teach that the kingdom of God is also open to gentiles.
In Matthew 8:14-17, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and many others.
In Matthew 8:18-22, in answer to a question, Jesus taught about the cost of following Him.
In Matthew 8:23-27, Jesus calmed a storm on the Sea of Galilee, demonstrating to his closest followers that He is God.
In Matthew 8:28-34, Jesus delivered two men from demons, impressing a gentile town.
In Matthew 9:1-8, Jesus healed and forgave a paralyzed man, demonstrating to a crowd of Jews that He is divine.
In Matthew 9:9-13, Jesus called the tax collector Matthew (an agent of the hated Roman government) to follow Him and used the occasion to teach the Jews that He came to rescue sinners.
In Matthew 9:14-17, in answer to a question about fasting, Jesus taught that He was setting up a new kingdom, not restoring the Jewish one.
In Matthew 9:18-26, Jesus raised a girl from the dead and healed a sick woman.
In Matthew 9:27-34, Jesus healed two blind man and delivered a man from demon possession.
In Matthew 9:35-37, Jesus taught and healed and talked about the shortage of workers.
In Matthew 10, Jesus sent the Twelve out to preach and heal and gave them instructions on what they would encounter and how they should react. In other words, He told them to go out and do the things He had been doing, in spite of facing the same kind of opposition He had been facing.
Matthew 4:23 offers a summary of Jesus’ ministry: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.” The question of whether Jesus’ followers should focus on preaching or on doing good works is a false one. Jesus did both, and so should His followers. The works often provided opportunities for teaching, and the teaching helped prepare the way for the works. Before healing, Jesus spoke words such as, “Shall I come and heal?” (8:7), “Why are you afraid?” (Matthew 8:26), “Your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2), “Follow me” (Matthew 8:22, 9:9), and “Do you believe?” (Matthew 9:28).
The Old Testament prophets condemned the people of Israel for oppressing the poor and for being unfaithful to the one true God, often in the same sentence. Jesus both proclaimed the good news and healed the sick. The early church made a deep impact on the people of the Roman Empire both by preaching the gospel and by meeting a variety of practical needs. Early evangelicals were known both for their preaching of the gospel and for engaging in a host of social action projects, from abolishing slavery and improving working conditions to improving the treatment of animals. We should do the same.
My favorite book party, circus themed for The Language of Silence, complete with clown and red noses, stuffed animals, and candy for the children.
Mark Twain said, “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Winston Churchill said, “To build may be to be the slow and laborious task of years. To destroy can be the thoughtless act of a single day.” My hero—my daddy—always said, “Be kind.”
My birthday is this month. In the many years I’ve lived, I have learned this true thing: It’s easy to be thoughtful when I feel good and prosperous and unhurried, but it’s much harder when I’m worried, rushed, sick or depressed. And yet, the Bible instructs me to practice thoughtfulness, no matter what my condition. To think before I act or speak.
The wise are cautious and turn away from evil, but the fool throws off restraint and is careless.”
Have you ever been celebrating something wonderful, the best news you’ve had in a long time, and a careless, negative remark by someone you know and trust throws a cloud over the whole day? Because I’m a musician as well as a writer, I always think of those thoughtless remarks as raining on my parade (“Don’t Rain on my Parade” from the musical Funny Girl).
Words have impact. They have lasting consequences. The spoken word cannot be unspoken. It’s carved forever in the memory of the one who hears it.
As adults we learn how to cope with troublesome situations and careless remarks. But little children don’t have those skills. They are vulnerable. Unformed. Innocents who trust the adults around them to teach them by good example and to lift them up with encouraging words.
I know. I teach the Littles at Sunday school in my small country church. Two-to-six-year-olds. Adorables. Babies who hug me around the knees and thank God for peanut butter and raccoons. I am ever-vigilant of what I say to them. Even if I’m tired or cranky, I walk into that Sunday school room with a smile on my face and a song on my lips. “Jesus loves me,” we sing. “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.” “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Positive songs to fill the children up with love and confidence. To make them believe in themselves and in God who loves them unconditionally. To give them hope and fill them with joy.
This the reason I teach little children. This is the reason I write novels and play awesome arrangements of great hymns and spirituals on my piano. This is the reason I write this blog. To remind all of us to be thoughtful in all we say and do…and to spread hope.
At first glance, Proverbs 4 is about listening to your earthly father and learning wisdom from him. Another layer, though, refers to our Heavenly Father. This duality gives more depth to the Proverb and encourages us to look for lessons we’ve learned from both sources.
Wisdom can be gleaned from both, and some lessons we learn may have been engineered by our Heavenly Father to further our knowledge and understanding.
An interesting lesson I learned from my earthly father relates to how most people want to be kind and helpful. Obviously not everyone is like this, but the majority are in my experience.
My Dad was an exceptionally good salesman. He was friendly, outgoing, fun loving and very likable. I tried to pick up as much from him as I could, and, fortunately for me, he was generous with his advice. This included how he used to sell things door-to-door. He would ask people if they would please do him a kindness. When they asked how, he’d ask them to please let him tell them about the product (he was trying to sell). What intrigued me was that even if they weren’t interested in what he was selling, they would almost always hear him out. His appeal for a kindness from them created a bond.
I believe then, and still do now, that most people, when asked, want to be kind. They want to help.
Whether you’re selling something, or are in need of serious help, an appeal is often successful. This is why we so often see people begging from medians or street corners. It makes us feel good when and if we are able to provide assistance.
I was on TikTok the other day and watched part of a Steve Harvey interview featuring Carol Burnett. She was wonderful as always. She briefly talked about Jimmy Stewart and what a good man he was. His twin daughters had sent her a T-shirt featuring the advice he gave them when they were headed off to college. It read, “Always remember, be nice to people.”
His advice very much reminds me of our instructions to love one another as ourselves and what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments in Mark 12:29-31.
For the last few years, along with many others, I have prayed often for our nation. It is easy to see that there is a hunger and a thirst for God in our lives. So many are lost, lonely, desperate, and hurting. His presence and touch on us all is sorely needed.
There are those who sense that presence or touch in a myriad of ways. But there are also those who do not. They are starving for connection, but they have no idea exactly what connection they are seeking or longing for. With many others, I pray for these people, too. And for all those who have no one to pray for them—the forgotten ones.
We know our mandate is to love one another—our loved ones and strangers, our friends and enemies. After all, it is easy to pray for those who think like us, behave like us, and want the same things we want. It is harder to pray for those who do not, and yet those are the people who most need our prayers. Not to make them like us or to fit into the box we think we they should fit in. But to connect and feel God’s presence and touch, to fit into the box He created them to fit in.
We are born with a purpose. All of us. And with our limited perspective (even the most informed among us have limited perspective to God’s ways and plans), we often have issues identifying our own purpose much less that of others. God’s perspective is absolute and perfect for everyone.
I know that sometimes it’s hard to love other people. Sometimes it’s all but impossible for us to love them with our limited view. But we can always pray for those people and ask God to touch them in their lives and guide them to the place He wants them to be, doing the things He wants them to do.
Not long ago, I was asked, “What is the most important thing anyone can do for themselves, their families, and their country?” My answer was swift and solid. Pray. We fall short, leaning to our own understanding, relying on our own judgment. We’re human. We don’t see or hear or know all. But God does. So, the best we can do for another is to lean on His understanding, His wisdom, His judgment, and His loving heart.
I am comfortable with this approach because He can be trusted to keep His word and experience teaches, He always has everyone’s best interests at heart. God can solve the problems and challenges and issues we cannot. But we must ask Him to do so.
God gifted us with free will. He will not violate that. I believe this is why before healing, Jesus asked those people what they wanted from Him. In other words, He was making sure that healing is what they wanted and not just what He wanted for them. He was asking them for their permission to heal them. So that He did not violate their free will.
When I pray, I declare, decree, and receive what I’m praying for. I praise God for it. Why do I pray this way?
To express my faith that my prayer will be uttered with no doubt of it being heard or addressed. Jesus told us to ask anything in His name without doubt and it would be done. The part it took me years to grasp was receiving.
When we receive, we are attesting to and affirming our free will choice. For years, I thought I was too blessed to bother God with my issues. He had more important things to do. But over long periods of studies and experiences, I learned that God wants this relationship with us, and when we seek Him, we are not bothering Him or keeping Him from more important work. He hungers for a connection and a relationship with us as much as we do for Him.
There’s a lot of bad news in the world right now. A lot of things that seem upside down or inside out and just plain wrong. We do what we can, but these problems are so big that they’re beyond us. But they are not beyond Him.
I often pray 2 Chronicles 7:14: And if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land.
Sometimes we all feel overwhelmed and as if nothing we do makes a difference. But prayer does make a difference. I daresay, the most difference.
Evidence of it is in Asbury right now. What started out as a simple prayer service on a college campus has just kept going and going. Generation Z is awakening to God, praising Him and seeking to draw near to Him. This service has grown to a revival and is well into its second week. There’s no agenda, no begging news teams to cover it. Just people gathering to minister to Jesus, to praise God. And the impact is profound. People are coming not just from all over the country, but from all over the world. There are thousands there and the revival is spreading to other campuses. One report said 20 other campuses so far, and it’s growing.
Watching the videos of what is happening there is powerful. Hopeful. It serves to remind us that God is everywhere, and with Him so too are miracles that restore our hope, feed our faith—and those who are starving and thirsting for God in their lives.
Asbury is praying for our nation. While not there, I pray in agreement with them. And I hope you are, too. Indeed, a sign that miracles are everywhere.
There’s still a consistent stream of Oh My at my house. While I do tend to overload my schedule, I’m blessed with ADHD and anxiety. Surprise. I have a medical excuse to fret. Right? Wrong. Still, I used to roll my eyes at the ‘Let Go and Let God’ phrase that I heard for the first at a doctor’s appointment. From the nurse practitioner.
What? A medical professional giving it up to God? Letting Jesus take the wheel?
That was my reaction then, but times have changed. God changes us. Letting go and letting God take care of His business is the best advice I’ve ever received. If you or someone you love loves God and desires to please Him, please release your worries. Cast anxiety into the burning flame of God’s love and have confidence that He knows what he’s doing.
Here’s some of what He has to say:
Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Matthew 6:27-34
Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:34
But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. Matthew 10:19
But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost. Mark 13:11
And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman. Ruth 3:11
I love Matthew 10:19 to prepare for awkward meetings. Sailing through encounters is possible if one prepares what really matters.
Bad stuff happens. Unexpected disasters. Bad weather. We forget things like keys or dates. Things spill off plates. The future holds all manner of surprises; some good and some hideous. But every encounter large or small is intended to shape the clay intended to be God’s masterpiece.
Remember the old rhyme? Jesus loves me, this I know because the bible tells me so. We take scripture to heart when it speaks of God’s love for us. That’s a comfort if ever there were and I trust His word. But if we’re to take the bible to heart and believe in all God’s word, we should reject worry outright. Worrying causes wrinkles, too, and not those joyful smile lines that are a sign of beauty whatever one’s age.
These are few of the things I tell myself. I wanted to share, since we ladies often bear burdens we shouldn’t. Because we can’t help it! That’s often the case. But:
And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, LORD, hast not forsaken them that seek thee. Psalms 9:10
Pray God, unbind my troubled heart. Grant me the grace to trust in you. Pluck worries from my mind and replace them with your holy will. Remember me. Say the word and I shall be healed. Jesus, I trust in YOU!
Daniel chapter 5 tells the story of Belshazzar, King of Babylon, hosting a drunken party in 539 BC. In a direct challenge to the true God, he drank toasts to the Babylonian gods using the sacred goblets taken from God’s temple in Jerusalem. In response, a disembodied hand appeared and wrote on the wall of his palace a prophecy of Babylon’s destruction (the famous “writing on the wall”). When the pagan Babylonian sorcerers could not interpret the writing, at the suggestion of the queen mother, God’s prophet Daniel was called in to interpret it, which he did. In accordance with the prophecy, the city of Babylon was captured by the Persians that same night, and Belshazzar was killed.
By the time of this story, Daniel must have been an old man. He had already been in exile about sixty-six years. He was quite possibly retired. He was no longer head of the wise men or of the Babylonian civil service, and the king didn’t even seem to know who he was. His many years of faithful, competent service and his miraculous interpretations of dreams seem to have been forgotten, at least by those now in power. All he had spent his life building up in the Babylonian Empire was about to be destroyed. His friend King Nebuchadnezzar was dead, and a new king was in power whose policies he despised. No mention is made of Daniel’s three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego), so it is possible that they also were dead. Perhaps worst of all, as an old man, Daniel knew that it was too late for him to ever return home to Jerusalem; he was too old to make that arduous journey and begin rebuilding a devastated city.
Is this how God rewards His faithful servants? Daniel could have been a bitter, lonely old man. He could have stopped serving God. He could have stopped telling people about a God they didn’t want to believe in. He could have simply given in to tiredness and despair. But the fact is that we find Daniel remaining as faithful to God at the end of his life as he was at the beginning. He was still exercising his gifts. He was still proclaiming the message of the one true God, whether anybody listened or not. His old friends had died, but he had developed friendships with other people, possibly including the queen mother. (We don’t know if they ever talked, but she knew he was alive and still active.)
So many of God’s servants today don’t finish well. Many retire and stop serving in the church just as they have stopped working at their jobs, even though they have more time now. Some stop telling others about Jesus—they conclude that they did that when they were young and, as is the case with earning a boy scout badge, they don’t have to do it again. Or perhaps they have lost their enthusiasm for God. Tired from the battles of life, they have stopped fighting. Thinking they cannot change the downward spiral of a pagan society, they have stopped trying. Assuming they can no longer be tempted to sin, they have relaxed in their observation of the spiritual disciplines they have practiced for years. They have accepted the immorality of the young without protest. They may have become lonely and bitter and unpleasant. Some may have even deserted God altogether.
Satan does not take pity on the old and weak, or the young and foolish. We are immersed in the battle between good and evil all of our lives. There is no retirement. It is possible for us to lose our way in our last years. In a pagan society, this is the commitment all North American Christians need to make: I will remain faithful to God’s call, serving Him till the end of my life.
One of my favorite Christian contemporary groups is Casting Crowns. Their songs just resound with me, and I could listen to them all the time. It seems no matter what I’m struggling with in life, there’s a Casting Crowns song fitting for it.
And one of my all-time favorite Casting Crowns songs is The Well.
Here is part of the lyrics that have always touch me.
I have what you need
But you keep on searchin’
I’ve done all the work
But you keep on workin’
When you’re runnin’ on empty
And you can’t find the remedy
Just come to the well
What a reassuring song this one is and what an amazing promise we find in God’s promise to always be there with us, no matter what we face.
I know there have been many times when my well of strength has run dry, both physically and spiritually. When this happens, not even rest can restore my strength, but spending time with Jesus through prayer and reading His word certainly can.
Just like Jesus searched out the woman at the well deliberately, because He knew she was running on empty, He knows what our needs are even before we ask.
So, how’s your well these days? Is it running dry? If so, come to the source of living water that satisfies the thirst of your soul.
John 4: 13-15 says,
Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.
How’s your spiritual well doing these days? Are you running on empty? If so, you don’t have to be. Come to the well. He’s waiting just for you.
Last week my daughter and I went to EPCOT for the annual Festival of the Arts. It was a beautiful Florida day, sunny and warm. There are surprises everywhere, if you know where to look.
We strolled the park, viewing the displayed artwork. My favorite is the sidewalk chalk art. Here are a few.
I’m always in awe of people who can paint or sketch. Unlike me! We stumbled upon Animation Academy, which was a lot of fun. We were given a clipboard, paper and pencil. A Disney animator came out to give instructions on how to draw Jiminy Cricket. Sounds easy, right?
This is the finished product from the professional.
Here’s my interpretation.
So, does my guy look like Chip or Dale? We definitely got a chuckle from my picture. Guess I don’t follow directions well!
As always when my daughter and I get away for the day, I’m grateful that she still wants to hang out with me. We have plenty of laughs and usually eat too much, but it’s worth because the food is excellent. Next time, I’ll be ready to go head-to-head with the next animator and see if I can outdo the artist!
Until then, Her Surprise Hometown Match will be available on February 21. I’ll post more about the book, but in the meantime, visit www.tararandel for more information.
Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, HER SURPRISE HOMETWON MATCH, available February 2023.For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com.Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter.
I was scrolling through my Facebook feed last week when something caught my eye. Someone posted that a “simple” chapel service at Asbury University in Kentucky was still going on. It had started Wednesday.
It’s still going on.
Since then I heard the same thing is happening at Ohio Christian University.
People are worshiping, repenting, surrendering everything to Jesus. They are hungry for Him and His presence. They are ready to suspend their plans, hobbies, everything to be where God is.
There is no agenda, and that’s what makes it remarkable and God. The minute we start to plan, mimic, or duplicate it, then it’s a manufactured event and in my opinion, we’ve ruined it.
I keep thinking of what our lead pastor has shared time and time again, especially to our youth group. “Every move of God has young people involved.”
As a youth worker, I love this. I see their potential. I know many of their wounds, far deeper than what most of us have ever dealt with, and I’m decades older than them. Every person has value to Christ, but for revival to be breaking out among Gen Z? I’m excited. So excited.
I have a college age daughter learning online through a private Christian college. She also attends a Chi Alpha ministry chapter at a local campus and let me tell you, the battle for young people and their souls is fierce. The agendas being pushed on these kids is sick. My son is a recent graduate and I can tell you he heard more from his professors about following alternative lifestyles than becoming an educator.
And we paid a lot of money for him to have to sit and hear that.
God’s heart is bigger than we can define. I don’t think He’s done showing up on a campus. Honestly? I think He’s just getting started. Folks of all ages are showing up at Asbury simply to sit and experience His presence and walk away transformed. They are traveling from other states. They are waiting in line. Yesterday I read three chapels at Asbury were full.
A friend who read my post two weeks ago asked a question that reminded me that I assume everyone understands what I call Christian Speak. He said, “What does “Delight yourself in the Lord” mean?”
It took me a minute, actually, all night, to come up with an explanation that wasn’t more Christian Speak. The next morning when we talked, the subject came up again, and this time I knew a better way of explaining than I had the night before.
“Delighting yourself in the Lord” means you know God intimately,” I said, quite pleased with myself.
“What do you mean by that?”
Maybe I hadn’t thought this through as well as I thought I had…”Well…” I chewed my bottom lip. “Why do I make you caramel cake?”
“Because you know that’s my favorite dessert.”
“And why don’t I cook you Brussels sprouts or broccoli?”
“Because you know I hate those things.”
“In other words, I know you so well that I know what you like and don’t like, and I delight in doing things that make you happy. It’s the same way with God. When we know God that well, our desires often change to match his, and that’s when he gives us the desires of our hearts.”
It was the second time someone had questioned me on a Scripture verse I quoted. That time, our family was going through a hard time, and I told my youngest daughter that I had been meditating on Isaiah 26:3. “He will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is stayed on Him because he trusts Him.”
“Tell me what that means,” she said.
Again it took me a minute to collect my thoughts because I thought it was self-explanatory. Then I remembered another verse and said, “For me, it goes hand in hand with Isaiah 43:1-2 ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;’ “
If God has called us by name and we are his, he’ll walk this hard road with us–he’ll give us strength to get through it.” And he did.
All this to say, be careful how you represent God in life and in your books. Make sure what you tell someone is plain and say it in words that even a third-grader can understand.
In my romantic suspense books, I want to show believers and nonbelievers that Christians have problems and how we solve them in God’s way rather than the world’s way. But I have to be careful not to preach to my readers or use Christian speak or platitudes like God helps those who help themselves or when God closes a door, he opens a window…neither are in the Bible, by the way, but they sure do sound good. And besides, sometimes he closes the door and the window.
When Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, God declared, “This is My Son” (Matthew 3:17 NIV). Then Satan quickly tempted Jesus, saying, “If you are the Son of God…” (Matthew 4:3,6). Satan was casting doubt, asking Jesus if He really believed He was the Son of God. And then Satan suggested that Jesus demand a miracle, proof of what God said. Demanding that God validate Himself is the opposite of faith.
And so it is with all of us who become children of God. In His Word, God has said:
• “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
• “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:38-39).
• “Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).
• “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
• “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Romans 8:14-17).
• “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).
• “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).
• “We know that we are children of God” (1 John 5:19).
After we have made a profession of faith and committed our lives to Jesus, after we have been baptized, after God has declared us to be His children, Satan immediately comes to sow doubt: Do you really believe you are a child of God? Can you trust what God said? Then we need to respond as Jesus did: “It is written…” (Matthew 4:4,7,10). If God said it, it must be true. It is true.
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”
I Corinthians 13:13
Walk into any store this time of years, and you’ll see hearts everywhere, from candy boxes to lockets to cellophane wrappers on flowers to banners hanging over displays of merchandise. We’ve been conditioned by our society to measure our love by the tangible gifts we give.
“Fill us with your love every morning. Then we will sing and rejoice all our lives.”
I love giving and receiving gifts, and enjoy the burst of pleasure in knowing someone cares enough to pamper me. But I clearly understand that the true test of love lies in the intangibles. A smile. A kind word. A thoughtful act. A compassionate and loving spirit. Steadfast goodness.
“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”
While we mark special occasions on a calendar, we live from day to day. We cope with the problems that bombard us both personally and in the world around us. When life becomes too hard, we are blessed if we have family and friends we trust, the steadfast ones who advise without judgement and love unconditionally. We are blessed if we have God in our hearts, the source of all love.
“Lord, you are good. You are forgiving. You are full of love to all who call out to you.”
My prayer for all of us is that we love God as deeply as he loves us. I pray that His love will overflow our hearts and spread throughout our homes, our communities, our country, and our world.
A few weeks ago, in church, a woman sat in front of us for the service. I’ve met this woman and she is very nice. However, she must be a heavy smoker. The smell of cigarette smoke clung to her and permeated the air around us. There was no way to avoid the stench as we were worshiping and in such close proximity.
I have an allergy to a lot of scents and cigarette smoke is one of those. I get an immediate headache, my chest hurts, and I don’t feel good. The church was pretty full and moving after the service started, and I noticed the smell, seemed rude.
As I sat there, struggling with the aches, I couldn’t help thinking about being called to love everyone. Which then led to considering God’s unconditional love for us.
“But we are all like an unclean thing,And all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6a
Consider how we came before God, clothed in our filthy rags, stinking like someone who is very unclean. Like filthy used rags that no one wants to touch. Every one of us who are a child of God approached in this manner because none of us became clean until God cleansed us.
We smelled. We were repulsive. We were someone everyone else would turn away from in disgust.
What did God do? When we came to Him, broken and asking forgiveness, He opened His arms and welcomed us like the lost lamb that we were. He loves us so much, and all he asks is that we surrender all to Him. Even in our smelliest state, He’s there for us. No matter what we’ve done to become so foul, His arms are open.
As I pondered this, I considered all those who might make us uncomfortable—a homeless person, someone with a disability, a person with a mental issue—and the list can go on. There are people whose personalities clash with ours or those who are so quiet they are overlooked.
All of these people are easy to overlook or avoid as unlovable. Possibly because we don’t know how to approach them. Yet, God reaches out to each one just as Jesus did when He walked the earth. The leper. The tax collector. The fishermen.
In order to be Christlike, we must look for those opportunities to reach out to those we normally would avoid. We must extend the love of God to them, even when it is physically difficult. We must see them through God’s eyes.
My discomfort over the smell of smoke was temporary. A small trial worth the lesson from God. A reminder of how much He loves me despite those times when I carry an unpleasant aroma. And a reminder of how He sees me now.
“For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” 2 Corinthians 2:15 (NKJV)
BACK COVER: The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.
After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.
Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” (Publishers Weekly), and “gripping” (Tampa Bay Times).
NORA’S REVIEW: I’ve read many WWII books, but nothing remotely similar to this one. The beginning reminded me of a fairy tale story where an old woman does something that changes the course of a small child (like what happened to Sleeping Beauty, Hansel and Gretel) Then things change and young Yona is being educated by the older woman who lives under the stars. Yona does not mind being in the woods and is eager to learn anything the woman wants to teach her.
Then WWII happens and the Jews head into the woods. That is where Yona meets people for the first time. She is not sure what to do. The old woman said not to talk to anyone, help anyone because they will hurt her. The book is told in first person, which makes this tale a very up-close and personal adventure. I was captivated by Yona and how she has soaked up all the languages and survival skills the old woman taught her. She is a smart, courageous young lady learning to navigate the terrors of WWII and the desperate people fleeing into the woods. Yona faces the challenges ahead of her with determination and respect. I liked how the author had Yona examine her own feelings, thoughts, and motives as she navigates the world without the old woman by her side. This story has a strong sense of place as the woods come alive and make the story unique on many levels.
This is a wonderful read and one that would work well for your next book club pick. I enjoyed the author’s note to readers about her research and all that was true and what she changed to make the story work. This is the first novel I have read by this author; it won’t be the last. It is a book you won’t soon forget.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have received a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher through NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”