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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas All Year Long - Repost

Sometimes things just don't work out the way we plan, do they?  Jason and I have been sick for over a week now.  That means we were sick during our church's Christmas program.  We were sick at the family's Christmas Eve gathering.  We were sick for Christmas day and the celebrations that took place that day.  And we were sick for Jason's two days of vacation time.  Instead of joy and peace, we experienced aches and pains.  Our ho-ho-ho's were replaced with hack-hack-hack's.  The time we had looked forward to spending with family and catching up on some things that needed to be done (hiking with the dogs, splitting firewood, etc.) was spent in bed trying to recover from these horrible head colds.  I don't know what's going around this year, but it's nasty, and it does not want to let go.

Today is the first day that I feel somewhat normal.  My head is still a bit stuffy and my body is a lot achy, but overall, I feel much better than I did.  At least, I did feel better until I started looking around and taking stock of how far behind I am.  I discovered writing projects that are overdue, a house that looks like it has been hit by a hurricane, an overflowing laundry basket and Christmas decorations that are ready to be stored.  Just a quick look around had me searching for a place to sit down and rest.  I was overwhelmed by the tasks awaiting me.

Deciding to pace myself, I determined to tackle the laundry and the putting away of Christmas presents.  Sadly, all of our gifts sat in bags on the dining room table where they had been since we brought them home Christmas day.  As I went through the bags this morning, I was amazed at how many gifts I had forgotten about.  I heard myself making comments like, "Oh yeah, I forgot about that sweater." and "I didn't realize he got a knife set."  I guess I had felt worse than I realized because I had forgotten about one third of my gifts.  In that respect, this morning was almost like Christmas morning all over again.  For the first time, I really got to open and examine my gifts.

As I look back at the re-opening of my gifts, I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible passages, Lamentations 3:22-23:   It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.  When it comes to the Lord's goodness, love and mercy, every day is like Christmas morning.  We awake from our slumber and are privileged to unwrap God's gift of another day.  A day filled with His grace.  A day filled with His peace.  A day filled with His unending love.  His ongoing gift to us.  And to be honest, some days I see that mercy, love and grace in all new ways.  I find the same awe as I did looking back through my gifts this morning.  "Oh yeah, I had forgotten about that."  And yet, God is faithful to give me another day of blessings, another gift of life.

Because of sickness, I may have missed out on this year's Christmas celebrations, but nothing can hinder me from experiencing that "Christmas morning" feeling all year long.  Yes, great is God's faithfulness!

(I hope you don't mind that I pulled this post out from last year.  Fortunately, Jason and I were both healthy this Christmas, and this post was a powerful reminder to me of how much I have for which to be thankful.)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Adriana's Secrets by Cheryl Colwell

A contemporary suspense novel, Adriana's Secrets, Book Two in The Secrets of the Montebellis Series, travels back to Lisa Richardson's great-grandmother's time and fills in the exciting stories alluded to in Book One.

Tragedy strikes the mountain town of Mont Castello, the home of Adriana Montebelli. Orphaned in 1888, Adriana's life is swept along at the whim of forceful men who decide where she will live and who she will marry. Instead of breaking her, their cruel deceptions toughen her resolve to take control. Though she rises to manage the vast Van Buren estate, she wonders if her broken heart will have the strength to love again.

Follow Adriana in this historical novel as she navigates the challenges of woman's suffrage, union violence, and the tragic hardships of love and loss, while managing to cling to her faith.

My Review:

I truly enjoyed the first book in this series, but I believe I enjoyed the second book even more.  From the very beginning, I was pulled into the story, present through all the joys and heartache encountered by Adriana, the main character.  Though parts of the story were quite predictable (especially toward the end), I still found myself unable to put the book down.  The story was well-written, and the plot was well thought-out.  The characters were intriguing and so very life-like.  To be honest, there were a few characters to whom I desired to deliver a few well-deserved slaps, and of course, there were those who were lovable beyond belief.

Probably my favorite thing about this book is that it was clean.  I didn't have to skip around curse words or dance around inappropriate scenes.  In fact, I say that this book serves as proof that a good story does not need all that filth to make it a good story.  A truly good book can stand on its own, and Cheryl's novel certainly qualifies.

I also enjoyed the accounts of Adriana's faith in God.  Despite her difficult circumstances, she knew that God was faithful and just, and she never lost faith in Him, even when she felt she had no other hope to which to cling.  She is a true role model for every believer and a reminder that God never forsakes His children, even when it may seem like He has.

If you enjoy romance, action, adventure and mystery, you'll love this book!  So curl up by the fire, grab a cup of hot chocolate and get your copy of Cheryl Colwell's new book, Adriana's Secrets.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Walking in a Winner's Wonderland

I John 5:4 says, For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

If we have accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, we have already won the war. What war? The one that Satan is leading. He is trying to destroy our lives and our souls, but because of our faith, we are already victors.

However, there are battles that we must fight daily, and the outcome of those is dependent on our Christian walk. Tired of fighting a losing battle? Read on.

First of all, we must walk in God's Word. The Bible is "quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword." It is the weapon Jesus chose to fight with when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. It gives us joy, hope, peace, guidance, comfort, and much more. Without God's Word, we don't stand a chance of winning our daily battles. We must spend more time in the Scriptures. We need to read the Bible and memorize verses that we can use to send the devil fleeing from us.

Second, we need to walk in God's will. If we follow our own will instead of God's, we're fighting the battle alone, and we're destined to fail. Yes, God is always with us, and He is our helper. However, if we're walking in our own will, we're acting in our own strength and not in the Lord's. It isn't that God left us. It's that we left Him. Often times, we do this without even realizing it. We see something we want, and we go for it without even taking the time to see if it is God's will for us to have it. We often forget that God sees the "Big Picture" of our lives and not just our current circumstances. He knows what is best for us, and He will lead us in the right direction. It's up to us to follow.

Third, we need to walk in God's world. Let's face it. We live in dark times. War and violence are everywhere. Sin has run rampant. Goodness is seen as weakness and often taken advantage of. It is tempting to turn our backs on this wicked world and just live our lives the best we can. But, is that what God wants us to do? No! It is our job, until the return of Christ, to try to reach out to this lost and dying world. It is our responsibility to see people as God sees them: souls in need of salvation. We must be witnesses, not out of duty, but out of love and compassion. By reaching out, not only can we win some of our battles, but we can help others to win theirs as well.

If you feel like you're fighting a losing battle or like you're simply spinning your wheels in life, the first thing to check is your Christian walk. Only by keeping ourselves in God's Word, in His will, and in His world can we walk in a winner's wonderland. It's not easy, but there is joy in the journey when we do!

*****Excerpt from Random Ramblings of a Raving Redhead by Dana Rongione*****

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Who's Paying For This Trip?

Now the word of the Lord came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me. But Jonah rose up to flee unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord, and went down to Joppa; and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereof, and went down into it, to go with them unto Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. - Jonah 1:1-3

The Bible doesn't state where Jonah was when God called him to go to Ninevah, but it does specify that he went down to Joppa in order to catch a boat to Tarshish.  So, according to all the maps I've seen, Jonah must have been somewhere between Joppa and Ninevah.  In other words, Joppa was definitely in the opposite direction.  Also, from that information, we can glean that Ninevah was not that long of a trip.  And we all know that where God guides, He provides.  Just ask the missionaries on the mission field or the pastor of the small church or the young woman who left her full-time, paid position to pursue a ministry in writing.  Somehow, someway, God always provides.

Now, notice with me what it says in verse three of the above passage:  and he found a ship going to Tarshish: so he paid the fare thereofHmm, interesting.  I have no doubt that God would have made whatever provision Jonah needed to make his trip to Ninevah.  Food, shelter, transportation--whatever he needed would have been taken care of.  I've seen too many accounts of God providing for His children to believe that Jonah would have gone without.  But because Jonah decided to go his own way, which was in the opposite direction of God's will, He had to pay the price.  

I've often heard the phrase put this way, "Where God guides, God provides.  When you're out of God's will, you foot the bill."  Jonah seems to be proof of that.  God was not about to fund Jonah's trip to Tarshish.  That wasn't where He wanted Jonah, and as we know from the rest of the story, God set Jonah straight.  But my point is that, as long as we're in God's will, He will provide what we need. When we're out of His will, we will have to pay the price.

In Jonah's case, I would imagine that the ship fare from Joppa to Tarshish was pricey.  After all, he had to cross the entire Mediterranean Sea.  That couldn't have been cheap!  Similarly, our efforts to go our own way may often cost us a great deal.  The question is, are we willing to pay the price?  Jonah was, but after a few days in the belly of a whale, he had a change of heart (and probably wished desperately for a change of clothes).  Unfortunately, the price had already been paid, and there is no record in the Bible of Jonah getting a refund for his incomplete trip.  That's just not the way it works.

Who's paying?  Well, it depends on whether or not we're in the will of God.  If we are, He'll take care of it.  He'll provide as He always has.  If we're not in His will, however, we better be prepared to pay a great price for our disobedience.  Is it worth it?  Well, I'll let Jonah tell you in his own words.

 They that observe lying vanities forsake their own mercy. But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord. - Jonah 2:8-9

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Whatever You Do, Don't Let Go

Last Saturday, we were finally able to get our Christmas tree.  The rain poured heavily during the morning hours, and we feared we'd have to wait another week, but in the afternoon, the rain stopped for a little while.  So, we hurried out to our favorite tree farm and picked up a lovely Blue Ice tree.  In fact, I think it was the quickest we had ever decided on a tree, but we both agreed it was perfect.  Not only that, but setting it up at the house went as smoothly as I ever remember.  We were done in no time, but since we had other things to do that evening, we decided to wait until later to decorate.   I finally got around to it yesterday.

As usual, I started with the blue and white lights--a dazzling addition to a Blue Ice tree.  After that, I began with the ornaments, saving for last the box of fragile snowmen and Santa Claus ornaments that we had received as a gift many years ago.  Despite the two dogs' helping paws, things were going quite smoothly. . . until I dropped one of the fragile ornaments which crashed into a million pieces as it hit the hardwood floor.  Thankfully, it was a Santa Claus rather than a snowman. (I like snowmen a lot!)  But, still, I was upset by the minor catastrophe.

As I cleaned up the mess, I tried to figure out what happened.  Did it slip from my grasp?  Was I not holding it as tightly as I thought?  Did the hook come loose from the ornament?  Did I have another one of my arm spasms?  What in the world happened to cause me to drop that poor Santa?  I honestly don't know.  All I know is that he fell. . .and all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Santa back together again.  (I hope this doesn't mean that I'm getting coal in my stocking this year!)

Seriously, as I thought about my broken Santa, I was both saddened and so very thankful.  Saddened because I'd ruined a beautiful ornament and made a big mess in the process.  Thankful because I realized that I'll never share that poor Santa's fate, for the hands that hold me are strong and secure.  They will never let go.  I can never slip from my Savior's grasp.  I am held tight and never need fear falling and crashing into a million pieces.  I am safe in my Lord's hands.  Here are just a few verses that remind me that I'm in good hands:

For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the Lord upholdeth the righteous. - Psalm 37:17

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down: for the Lord upholdeth him with his hand. - Psalm 37:32-24

 My soul followeth hard after thee: thy right hand upholdeth me. - Psalm 63:8

 Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. - Isaiah 41:10

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. - John 10:28-29

No matter what you may be facing today or how fragile you may feel, take comfort in the fact that if you are one of God's children, you are safe and secure in His strong grasp.  He will not let you go.  He will not allow you to fall to pieces.  You are sheltered and cherished.  There is no doubt He is holding onto you.  The question is, are you holding on to Him?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Try These Shoes On For Size

As you may have noticed, there's been a bit of a black cloud hovering over our house for the past couple of weeks.  Nothing major.  No huge catastrophes.  Just a sense of frustration and fatigue over things that just don't seem to want to pull together.  You know, that feeling where you expect you should be further along or better off, yet that reality still seems so far out of reach.  And oddly enough, the disappointment hit Jason much harder than it hit me.  Unfortunately, I'm not very adept at pulling him out of the blues and, more often than not, I end up sinking in right behind him.  Such has been the case for the past few weeks.

However, that dark cloud was blown away last night when we heard the testimony of a missionary that was having some truly troubling circumstances.  Yes, I said a missionary.  You know, God's messenger.  A faithful servant.  One who is living out his life to further the reach of the Gospel.  Yet, his troubles were nearly unbelievable.  Job loss.  Financial disaster.  Destruction of property.  Ejected from his home.  The more he revealed, the more I squirmed.  Here I was bemoaning my current state in life while this man had lost nearly everything.  Suddenly, my sources of frustration and disappointment seemed insignificant.

Perspective.  Boy, it sure can make a difference!  For weeks now, Jason and I have been in that "poor pitiful me" frame of mind that led us to believe that our troubles were so much worse than anyone else's, especially among God's people.  But, yesterday, it was as if God whispered to me, "Here, Dana, try these shoes on for size."  And you know what?  I don't want to.  I have no desire to trade places with that poor missionary.  No, thank you!  I'd much rather stay right where I am.  After all, it's really not all that bad, especially when compared to what others are going through.

I have no idea what troubles you may be facing today, and I know better than to tell you that they're menial or insignificant.  After all, what seems like a molehill to one could seem like a mountain to another.  So, I understand that your troubles are big to you, really, I do.  But I urge you  to walk a few steps in the shoes of someone who is worse off than you.  You don't have to go far.  In fact, I'm pretty sure you won't want to.  But after those few steps, I guarantee you'll see your own problems from a completely different perspective and what once seemed like such a huge obstacle now doesn't seem quite so bad.

Perspective.  It can change one's outlook on life.  No doubt about it!  So I ask you, how do those shoes feel now?

And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. - I Timothy 6:8

Friday, December 5, 2014

When You Feel You've Waited Long Enough

I am a huge fan of both the Narnia books and movies.  I relish in the symbolism and the fantastical story lines.  If you haven't read the books or watched the movies, I urge you to do so.  You won't regret it.

As I drove to the grocery store yesterday, I was thinking on a particular moment in the movie, Prince Caspian.  To many of the Narnians, Aslan (who is symbolic of Christ) was nothing more than a myth.  The land was in turmoil, yet Aslan had not come to their rescue.  While there were still a few believers, most had turned away, embracing the philosophy that if they were going to be saved, they would have to save themselves.

When the Pevensie children arrived, they hardly recognized Narnia, for so much had changed since their last visit to the magical world.  When they heard of the trouble in the land and how Aslan had not made His presence known in some time, High King Peter (the oldest Pevensie) decided it was time to fight the battle themselves.  His youngest sister, Lucy, who had always shared a special bond with Aslan, tried to convince him to wait for the Great Lion, but Peter, with sword in hand, responded, "I think we've waited for Aslan long enough."

Have you ever felt that way?  Have you ever told yourself or someone else, "I think I've waited on God long enough"?  I know I have.  After all, God exists outside the bounds of time, so to him days, months and even years are insignificant.  To us, however, as we wait and wait and wait, that time seems like an eternity.  And many times, it simply seems too long, and so, like High King Peter, we take matters into our own hands.

What are you waiting for today?  The perfect job?  Mr. Right?  Financial freedom?  The opportunity to have more time to spend with your family?  Improved health?  Renewed hope?  Restored joy?  The salvation of a loved one?  We all have dreams, goals, ambitions and even expectations, and oftentimes, the waiting seems impossible.  In this day of fast food and express lane, we want the fulfillment of our dreams, and we want it right this minute!

What we fail to realize is that there is a purpose to our waiting.  There is a reason why God has not allowed us to fulfill our dreams just yet.  While at times it seems cruel for such a loving God to hold us in what seems to be inescapable circumstances, we can trust that God is not unkind or "out to get us."  Instead, He is using this waiting time to teach us to be more like Him.  Just as it is for the seed planted in the ground, the waiting time is a time of growth and nourishment.  God is equipping us for the next stage in our spiritual walk, and that next stage may be the very thing for which we were waiting.

High King Peter didn't see Aslan at work, so he rushed ahead and led the Narnians into battle. As a result, many of them died at the hand of the enemy.  It was a high price to pay for one man's impatience.  So I ask you today, how much are you willing to pay for yours?  Is it worth it to rush ahead and try to help God out, or would it be better for all involved if you merely accepted God's timing and said along with Paul, I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Philippians 4:11)?

I don't think anyone likes waiting, but we do often love the results of the waiting.  Think about the hearty stew that simmers on the stove all day long.  The longer it cooks, the better it tastes.  It can't be rushed, but the results are well worth the wait (though perhaps not for the poor soul who has to smell it cooking all day).

Hang in there, friend.  God has not forgotten or forsaken you.  He knows your needs and your desires.  He is aware of your dreams and goals.  But keep in mind that He also knows what's best, and He will always act according to that knowledge.  Be patient!  Consider yourself on simmer, knowing that the longer you're over the fire, the better off you will be in the end.

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord. - Psalm 27:14

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Christian Books Make Great Christmas Gifts - A Guest Post by Lorilyn Roberts

One Christmas my parents didn't have any money. Actually, many Christmases they didn't have any money, but one Christmas in particular money was very scarce. 

I only wanted one gift. A guitar. I had been taking lessons for a year and had outgrown the beginner's guitar my parents gave me on a whim the previous Christmas. I didn't expect to receive a new guitar, but come Christmas morning, there it was under the tree. 

Forty-five years later, I still have that guitar. Recently I took it to a music store for some much-needed repair and the man admired it for an hour, claiming they didn't make guitars like that anymore. I walked out of the store feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, remembering how excited I was to receive it for Christmas decades earlier.

So what does that guitar have to do with books?  There was only one other gift under the tree for me that Christmas, and it was a book. I don't remember the name of the book now, it's been too many years, but I remember the story. 

It was a science fiction book and the plot was fascinating. The story began with an ordinary family living at about the time the book was written, back in the 1970's. The story ended about two or three hundred years in the future, where technology had taken over society and people were obsolete. I was fourteen at the time (okay, if you are trying to figure out my age, I will tell you, I'm 59). I wondered if that's how it would be in the future. 

Through the years, I have thought about that book and wished I could go back and read it again. Some books stay with you for life because they make you ponder ideas, ask questions, or think about something differently. Whether you read nonfiction for knowledge or fiction to be entertained, books have probably impacted society more than any other creative activity undertaken by man. Reading good books has broadened my perspective on many topics and enriched my life. 

Perhaps this Christmas you don't have a lot of money to spend on gifts. Have you considered giving books as Christmas presents? I'd be willing to bet they will outlast the latest iPhone or iMac computer. Ten years from now, those electronic gadgets will be in a landfill somewhere, long replaced by something bigger and faster. Stories last forever,  like that book my dad gave me for Christmas when he hardly had a dime to spare. When is the last time you read a really good book anyway? Probably too long.

The John 3:16 Marketing Network has put together a list of Christian books and compared them to many, well-known secular books readers will recognize. Take a few moments and peruse the forty-five -plus books linked below for ideas that you won't find anywhere else. 

Many hours went into putting these book comparisons together and most of the books have been deeply discounted.  Many are in both Kindle and print version. All of them are linked to Amazon for easy purchase.

And remember, Jesus is the reason for the season.