Monday, 27 December 2010

Pursuit of Discernment

The year before last I read through the entire Bible in a year for the first time in my life. Which was really rather pathetic considering I've been a Christian as long as I can remember.

Last year in December I posted about how I was feeling convicted to dig deeper in the Bible and to pursue discernment. Yes, I had read through the Bible, but many days it was simply to be able to say that I had done it. And I wanted to change that. So I started a new blog called The Bible in a Year...and Beyond! because the title captured my vision perfectly - reading through the Bible, yes, but going beyond simply reading it, to studying it, to questioning, to researching, to digging deeper, to pursuing discernment.

I was joined by several other ladies who had felt similarly convicted and together we experienced a year of tremendous growth and insight unlike any year previously. This also was a year where I needed discernment in order to walk through a dark valley alongside a very close friend. Coincidence? I think not!

Because this was such a rich and rewarding experience, and because our need for accountability and motivation has not waned (still human, after all!), we are starting up again and are inviting you to join us!

Last year we did the One Year Chronological Reading Plan. Some parts of the plan I really enjoyed: I loved reading the Psalms as they coincided with the lives of King David and the other Psalmists; it helped to understand some of the books of prophecy better as well to have things in their proper historical perspective. The part of the plan I did not like as much was that it was extremely chronological to the point of flipping between several different books numerous times on certain days.

This year we have decided to do a Chronological plan again. But this one has very little jumping around, and starts in both the Old Testament and the New Testament at the same time - which can be a big pro for those who have found the OT hard to get through. This past year was the first time I, and some other blog participants, have really appreciated the OT and found that we learned so incredibly much - I am very interested to see what new insights we glean this year as we do it again!

So, we decided on this Chronological OT/NT plan. Unfortunately, it still had the 2010 dates it in, so I created a PDF file with the corrected dates and uploaded it to the internet - you can access it here. It contains all the links to the Bible passages, and is printable if you download the file to your computer.

One thing I'd like to mention...
So often we (especially first-borns, perfectionists, etc) tend to have an all or nothing mentality. If I can't do it perfectly, if I can't succeed 100%, if I can't be the best, then I'm just not going to even try. Ladies (or any men that read this!), that's not from the Lord. If you didn't have a regular Bible reading/devotional habit before - then any commitment is better than nothing. You have to start somewhere, and who cares if you start small? So long as you start! Your efforts will be rewarded. You will draw closer to Him. You will reflect Him to those around you. And you will be able to be more discerning. There is no downside here!

So, if you choose to read along with us (or choose a different plan to follow on your own, or whatever you decide to do), and if you fall behind - do not quit! You have a few options: you can read a ton to catch up; you can circle the passages you missed and skip them for now and catch up throughout the year as you have time; you can circle the passages you missed and catch up on them after the year is over; or you can simply miss them; or you can pick a different reading plan that goes through the Bible more slowly. Any of those options are entirely acceptable, the only option that is not a good one is quitting entirely. Do not quit!!

So, why read through the Bible in a year?

Well, it doesn't have to be in a year. But the need to be in the Word daily as a Christian, is really not something that we should consider to be optional.

This website answers the question so much better than I ever could.

Why Is It So Important to Do Devotions Every Day?

What would the people in your church look like if they snacked on meager food morsels during the week and ate only one good meal on the weekend? You know the answer, don't you? You'd find yourself surrounded by emaciated, gaunt people in desperate need of nutrition.

And how would these undernourished believers fare against a demonic adversary? Can you imagine how this army would look? You'd see threadbare skeletons with hollow cheeks and sunken eye-sockets, lined up like phantoms. Weakened by famine, that shriveled militia could barely stand at attention; each would struggle to find the strength to keep his or her bony frame upright.

Could this "army" conquer an opposing force?

No way. No earthly general would send them out to fight.

Well, then, how about the army of the Lord? What of those who gather on Sunday mornings? Are they spiritually nourished to fight the battles ahead? Considering what most members of God's army subsist on—an occasional tidy snack from a devotional book and perhaps an average-sized meal on Sundays to satiate conscience—you'd have to conclude that God's fighting force has some serious training to do.

Have you ever wondered why marriages seemingly crumble overnight, and—out of the blue—Christians leaders fall to luring temptations?

The truth is, no marriage instantly disintegrates, and no one suddenly falls away from Christ. For that matter, no one dies from an eating disorder after missing a day or two of meals.

It could better be described as a slow decline—gradual spiritual starvation, barely even discernible to the outside observer. The malnourishment of God's sons and daughters happens over time, as they eat less and less. Then, in their weakness, they do something that shocks everyone, finally revealing what was really going on in their spiritual lives.

Did you know that more than 80 percent of those who call themselves Christians read their Bibles only once a week? And that's usually on Sundays, at church. They come to church to get their spiritual fill, and then snack on devotional tidbits for the rest of the week (if even that).

I wish for just one day God would change the way our eyes work, so we would see ourselves spiritually. We'd see most American churches filled with skeletal, hollow-eyed saints, looking as if a gust of wind would blow them away like tumbleweeds.

Which is why, when some new trend floods America and pushes our nation further away from God, further away from our spiritual roots, the church is unable to withstand the tide. We simply don't have the strength.

So what's the solution? ....

If we eat only once a week, it's no wonder the church is weak and struggling. But daily fresh bread can change all of that. Regularly dining on fresh bread makes for a stalwart, strong, developed army—the only kind of force that will always make a difference in this world.

So, will you join us? We already have several new people joining in, and all but one member is returning again this year. You can participate as much or as little as you are able to commit to. You can read along with us, read the daily posts and comment as you have time. Or you can commit to writing some of the posts as well. It's up to you!

It doesn't have to be my blog.

But choose something.

Choose a plan to get into the Word. Daily. And see what God will do!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Christmas Birth Story

What was the birth of Jesus like? Probably a lot like the birth of every other baby on the planet - messy, violent and with lots of blood everywhere. Definitely not the sanitized vision we have in our heads as we sing Silent Night.

Missy, from It's Almost Naptime, wrote a beautiful post describing the birth of our Saviour. Here is an excerpt from her post....

We have this image in our mind of what that first Christmas was like. Yours is perhaps similar to mine: under a great big twinkling star sits a stable. Silent Night tinkles in the background as snow softly falls. Inside are two or three calm, fragrant, and softly lowing animals. Mary, dressed in blue, reclines peacefully, smiling as though she had just received the most divine epidural. She grimaces slightly, and then, voila, a beautiful clean baby appears with a halo floating above his soft curls. Mary wraps Jesus in swaddling clothes, taking care not to muss the halo, and lies him in a manger.

This is the image that we receive from the snowglobes we're given in Sunday School. But we're grown up now, aren't we?

As a result of the sinful, violent world that we live in, because of the curse upon us since the beginning of time, there is pain - violence - in childbirth. Even the easiest childbirth is never easy, never without suffering. Mary fell under that curse as surely as I do. So I believe it is safe to assume that on the night that Jesus was born into this cursed world, she suffered.

The bible doesn't give many details about Jesus's actual delivery. I think the lack of details lends credence to the theory that Mary's labor and birth was ordinary for its time. Unremarkable in its similarity to every other woman's birth, then and even now. Drawing on my own four births, the births of my friends, and some ancient history, I can imagine our Savior's first birthday.

There was a young, frightened girl in a dirty, stinky cave in an overcrowded, noisy town, trying not to think of her friends and relatives who had died in childbirth. She was probably surrounded by women who had also made the trek to Bethlehem, some of whom she knew, some she might not have. Some who loved her, some who judged her and the suspicious circumstances of her pregnancy. Most who traded their own birth stories as her labor progressed and offered their advice. All of whom were witnessing her at her most vulnerable. But as her contractions came closer and closer together, the only thing Mary knew was that she had never experienced pain like this in all her life.

There was no whirlpool bath. There was no birthing ball. There was probably not even a birthing stool. There was probably a woman, perhaps even her mother, seated behind her to hold her still, rub her back, press on the top of her abdomen, and say repeatedly in her ear, "Miriam, you're doing great, good job, good girl, you're doing great."

There was no background music of a children's choir singing Away in a Manger. Instead there were probably grunts, and tears, and desperate prayers, and terrified cries of "Get him out! Please get him out!" and "I can't do this!" while the women soothed, firmly, "Yes you can, sweetheart, you can. Push!"

And then there were a few minutes when Mary thought her body was on fire, and she closed her eyes, and she panted, and she moaned, perhaps she screamed, and then he was out. And the women said, "He's here! He's beautiful! Look at him, Miriam, look at your son!" And he cried. And Mary opened her eyes, and she cried, and tried to move her exhausted body to see her baby. He was red, he was wrinkly, he was screaming, he was covered in vernix, but he was alive, and, at least to his mother, he was beautiful.

And there was blood everywhere.

He came into this world in violence.

He lived a violent life. As an infant, he screamed from gas pains. As a toddler he was covered in bruises from learning to walk. He skinned his knees. He caught viruses. He experienced the pain of losing his earthly father. His brothers scoffed at him. He wept when his friend died too young. His best friend rejected him when he needed him most. He suffered, both physically and emotionally. He empathized with others on a level we will never know. He knew the pain of being a human. He knew what it was like to be us, to be well acquainted with sorrow and sin and curses.

And he died a most violent death. He was arrested, accused of a crime he did not commit. He was flogged with a whip until his body was unrecognizable from the cuts and the bruises and the swelling. His beard was probably ripped out. He was stripped naked, and then his body was tied to a cross. A crown of thorns was pressed into his already mutilated head. Nails were pounded into the flesh of his wrists and his ankles and he was raised up. And as he slowly suffocated to death, he watched the anguish and horror on the face of the woman who had bore him, all those years ago, in that stable in Bethlehem.

And there was blood everywhere.

And because his Father deemed his tortured, bleeding body to be a worthy sacrifice, you and I have access to the throne of Heaven. For by that very blood, we have been washed clean of the curse of death. By that blood we are made righteous, by that blood we are justified, by that blood we are redeemed. By that blood, the blood that was everywhere, we are each reborn a child not of the curse, but a child of the living, loving God!

O, holy night!

Here is a beautiful song portraying the same idea.....

Labor of Love by Andrew Peterson
It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Christmas isn't...

At Christmastime we celebrate by decorating the tree, putting up lights and giving gifts to those we love. But Christmas isn't just about being with our loved ones, enjoying the snow or singing Christmas carols.

As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas because it's the day we've set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus. But Christmas isn't just about the manger, the angels, the shepherds, the wise men or the star either.

Christmas is about the reason Jesus was born. It's about the reason He left the glory of heaven and exchanged it for 33 years on a planet full of people who had and still do reject Him. It's the reason He endured an agonizing death on the cross to pay the price that was mine to pay. What was the reason? You. Me. Love for you and me. He was the Rescuer sent by God to pay the penalty for my sin. He took on the full wrath of God in my place. In your place. Because He loves you that much! Someone needed to make a way back to God, and He was the only One who could do it. I can't do it, you can't do it. Only He can.

And so He came - born to die. But the story, thankfully, did not end there. Death did not defeat Him. God raised Him from the dead. And in the end, death will not defeat us either.

So celebrate Christmas - with one eye on the manger and the other on the cross and the empty grave! And remember the reason was love.

Note: If you're reading this and you're not a Christian, and you're wondering if you need this Rescuer, please click here to take a very simple test that will let you know (bet you didn't know such a quiz existed!). Of course, you may also feel free to ask me if you have any questions and I will do my best to answer them for you.

About The Cross by Go Fish

Verse 1:

It’s not just about the manger
Where the baby lay
It’s not all about the angels
Who sang for him that day

It’s not just about the shepherds
Or the bright and shining star
It’s not all about the wisemen
Who travelled from afar

It’s about the cross
It’s about my sin
It’s about how Jesus came to be born once
So that we could be born again

It’s about the stone
That was rolled away
So that you and I could have real life someday

It’s about the cross
It’s about the cross

Verse 2:

It’s not just about the presents
Underneath the tree
It’s not all about the feeling
That the season brings to me

It’s not just about coming home
To be with those you love
It’s not all about the beauty
In the snow I’m dreaming of

It’s about the cross
It’s about my sin
It’s about how Jesus came to be born once
So that we could be born again

It’s about the stone
That was rolled away
So that you and I could have real life someday

It’s about the cross
It’s about the cross


The beginning of the story is wonderful and great
But it’s the ending that can save you and that’s why we celebrate

It’s about the cross
It’s about my sin
It’s about how Jesus came to be born once
So that we could be born again

It’s about God’s love
Nailed to a tree
It’s about every drop of blood that flowed from Him
when it should have been me

It’s about the stone
That was rolled away
So that you and I could have real life someday
So that you and I could have real life someday

It’s about the cross
It’s about the cross

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Our Jesse Tree

So, true to my previous post just a couple of days ago, I have our Jesse Tree supplies set up and ready to go! I printed out Ann Voskamp's free devotional booklet (complete with ornament pictures!) at her blog, A Holy Experience. I printed the ornaments on white card stock, then I measured them all and created a Word document with backgrounds sized to match each ornament (I can email it to you if you like), printed that on green card stock and mounted the pictures onto the green backgrounds with double sided tape with red ribbon in between.

And I even let Sophia & Olivia help me! Anyone who knows me knows that I generally have little no patience for crafts as I feel the perfectionist need to fix everything they do and freak out a little lot when things don't go as planned. And let's be honest here, do they ever go as planned with kidlets? I think not. Despite a few moments with one certain daughter which shall remain nameless the younger one, I managed to stop myself from freaking out and we had a very enjoyable time completing the project to my perfectionist standards! ;) Sophia cut the ribbon to the right length and Olivia wrecked helped me with the tape. They turned out great!
Emma was not impressed when she got home from school and found out we had done it without her, so I let her put on extra ornaments. ;)

I'm finding the devotionals a little bit of a stretch for our kids, so I got out our Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible to supplement the material.

Side note: if you do not yet have the Jesus Storybook Bible, go get it right now.
I will wait for you.
Got it? OK, good.
But seriously, you really need to get it. It's the best children's Bible I've read, and we have more than several! You can read my review on it
here. My only complaint is that I wish it had more stories. The girls are particularly disappointed that the Queen Esther story is not included.

Both the Jesus Storybook Bible and the Big Picture Storybook Bible (the former even more than the latter) excel at showing you how the OT events point to the coming of our Messiah. Which is exactly what the Jesse Tree is all about!

So, I went through both Bibles and wrote in the page #'s that coincided with the Jesse Tree devotionals. There were very few days that did not have at least one supplementary children's Bible passage to go with it. So, depending on how much time we have, we will read the same passage up to 3 times! Talk about getting it to sink in - repetition is key, right? ;)

Like I said in my previous post, we are starting late, so we will usually be doing two per day until we catch up. I'm so glad we started late. It's not too late for you to start too! In fact, if you start on the 12th, you could do 2 per day (one in the morning, one at night) and still get them all in for Christmas time!

This is definitely going to be a yearly tradition at our house from now on!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Book Review: Outlive Your Life by Max Lucado

About the Book: These are difficult days in our world's history. 1.75 billion people are desperately poor, natural disasters are gouging entire nations, and economic uncertainty still reigns across the globe. But you and I have been given an opportunity to make a big difference. What if we did? What if we rocked the world with hope? Infiltrated all corners with God's love and life? We are created by a great God to do great works. He invites us to outlive our lives, not just in heaven, but here on earth. Let's live our lives in such a way that the world will be glad we did.

My Thoughts: I have enjoyed all of Max Lucado's books and this one was no exception. In fact, I think it may be my favourite of them all.

It gives practical inspiration for how we can really live out lives to make a difference, especially as we strive to be like the One in whom we profess to believe. It is a call for us to truly and practically be a light in a fallen world, as we have been commanded to do in the Word.

Based on the first twelve chapters of the Book of Acts, this book inspires us to live out our lives the way the first believers did.

Here's a quote from the book....

When your grandchildren discover you lived during a day in which 1.75 billion people were poor and 1 billion were hungry, how will they judge your response?

What if we rocked the world with hope?

Thank you to Booksneeze for providing me with my complimentary review copy of Max Lucado's Outlive Your Life.

Book Review: Immanuel's Veins by Ted Dekker

About the Book: In the 1700's a Russian soldier, Toma Nicolescu, is sent by the Queen of Russia to protect the Cantemir estate in Moldavia. While there, he and his partner are drawn into a battle of good vs evil. This books is for everyone, but not everyone is for this book.

My thoughts: I have to say that I was disappointed in this book. I have read several of Dekker's books and I have definitely liked some more than others. This was definitely my least favourite.

Part of it was probably the vampire storyline which rubbed me the wrong way as it just seemed to be a jumping on the Twilight phenomenon bandwagon move. Vampires are also not my favourite storyline to begin with.

I did not find the writing to be as good as his previous works. This felt redundant and frustrating to read.

For a Christian book, it is very sensual, and I would definitely not recommend it for younger readers.

That being said, there are numerous reviews out there by people that absolutely loved this book. In fact, my opinion seems to be in the minority. "This book is for everyone, but not everyone is for this book" probably sums it up very accurately.

Thank you to Booksneeze for providing me with my complimentary review copy of Ted Dekker's Immanuel's Veins.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Jesse Tree

If you're looking for a unique and meaningful way to celebrate advent and the reason for the season, you should consider making a Jesse Tree.

What is a Jesse Tree?

The Jesse Tree represents the family tree of Jesus and tells the entire story of God's salvation plan, beginning with creation and making it's way through the OT, showing how it all points to the coming of the Messiah.

Each day of Advent focuses on one story in the OT and a homemade ornament is added to the Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree can be a small Christmas tree, it could be any tree-type plant in your home, it could be branches sticking out of a pot, or it could even simply be a hand-drawn tree shape.

This year, I came across a beautiful Jesse Tree Advent Devotional Book that is being given away for free, by Ann Voskamp at her blog A Holy Experience.

According to her site, each day's journey includes...

  • The full Bible text of the day’s reading in either NCV or NIV (of course, feel free to read from your own Bible, if you’d prefer another translation.) Readings are selected to begin in Genesis and cover significant events throughout the Old Testament — each story pointing to the coming Messiah. It’s like an overview of the whole span of His Story — leading right up to the climax of the coming Christ!
  • A devotional that (humbly attempts!) to be a read-aloud for the whole family – engaging enough for young children and yet meaty enough for teens and adults. (Thank you for grace!) Each reflection endeavors to not only highlight an important scene from God’s epic in time, but to always unwrap more of Jesus, the gift hidden in every story.
  • a short, simple action point for the day — “Unwrapping more of His love in the World” — a way to do something together as a family that not only invites the coming Kingdom of God and Jesus’ love into your home and community, but is an opportunity to apply and live out the day’s devotional. It’s like an Advent Calendar that gives back – becoming more like the gift Himself!
  • a full color ornament, illustrated by Nancy Rodden and used with permission, to hang on your own Jesse Tree. The very last pages of the book include all of the ornaments in over several pages so you can easily cut each ornament out and creatively mount to your own preferences
You might be thinking that it's too late, because we're already part-way into advent. That would normally be my perfectionist excuse. But, apparently you can teach an old dog new tricks! I don't care that we're starting late, we're still doing it! I'm going to try to do 2 each day until we're caught up. If I find that too much, we'll just skip to the present and go from there. And, instead of trying to make the ornaments all fancy, as per my perfectionist tendencies, I'm printing them on cardstock, mounting them on red cardstock paper, punching holes in them and hanging them like that. Maybe next year I'll get more creative, but the kids won't care!

I think I'd like to do something like this - not much more complicated really, but I don't have any ribbon on hand!

I highly encourage you to take a look at Ann's book at this link. She includes sample pages so you can see what it's like - you won't be disappointed!

You can also buy ornaments to match the advent topics - check out this blog for some great inspiration.

And, of course, there are Jesse Tree books you can purchase such as Advent Jesse Tree Devotions which has separate devotions for children and adults so both parents and children can benefit from readings at their level, and The Jesse Tree which is in more of a storybook format. I'm tempted to get these both ;)

I think we've just found a new tradition!


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