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READ: 12 Pearls of Christmas, Day 4: The Nativity by Lynn Austin

A note from Marti: From now until Christmas, I plan to share a few posts from the Pearl Girls’  fourth annual “12 Pearls of Christmas” blog series from some favorite authors. I do so partly because I’m on deadline with an exciting new book I hope to tell you about soon, and partly because I appreciate the writing and ministry of Pearl Girls. Enjoy, and don’t forget to check out the contest at the bottom of the post to learn how you can win a pearl necklace. That reminds me: Peggy Harris is the winner of last week’s contest for the copy of  The 30-Day Praise Challenge by author Becky Harling. Congratulations, Peggy (and Peggy’s mom, too).  Welcome to the 12 Pearls of Christmas blog series! Merry Christmas from Pearl Girls™! We hope you enjoy these Christmas “Pearls of Wisdom” from the authors who were so kind to donate their time and talents! If you miss a few posts, you’ll be able go back through and read them on this blog throughout the next few days. We’re giving away a pearl necklace in celebration of the holidays, as well as some items from the contributors! Enter now below. The winner will be announced on January 2, 2014, at the Pearl Girls blog. If you are unfamiliar with Pearl Girls™, please visit www.pearlgirls.info and see what we’re all about. In short, we exist to support the work of charities that help women and children in the US and around the globe. Consider purchasing a copy of Mother of Pearl, Pearl Girls: Encountering Grit, Experiencing Grace, or one of the Pearl Girls products (all GREAT gifts!) to help support Pearl Girls. *** The Nativity by Lynn Austin The first time I visited Bethlehem more than twenty-five years ago, I expected to feel a sense of the beauty and simplicity of the much-loved Christmas story: a crude stable, the holy family, shepherds, wise men, and the Son of God in the manger. I was sadly disappointed. The traditional site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem is inside the Church of the Nativity—a truly ancient church built in 565 AD. It has survived enemy invasions, the Crusaders, restorations, renovations, a fire, and an earthquake, but it looks like . . . well, a church. A beautifully decorated and ornamented church, with all the sacred clutter that has accumulated throughout the centuries, but it bore no resemblance to my image of what Jesus’ birthplace was like. But wait—the real site was down a set of stairs and inside a natural cave that has been venerated as the place of His birth since 160 AD. But even this simple cave was so gilded and bedecked with artwork and...

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WRITE: Words with Friends: Becky Harling

Because I work as an author, collaborative writer, and editor, I have many friends in the publishing industry. That’s why I no longer publish reviews on bookseller sites. Here on my own blog, however, I can review the books I choose and then share my personal connection with their authors. That’s how my “Words with Friends” blog feature began. Today, I’m interviewing author, pastor’s wife, and speaker Becky Harling, author of The 30-Day Praise Challenge. I know Becky because we’ve communicated often via email by virtue of our membership in two professional organizations: AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association) and CAN (Christian Authors Network). The two of us have never met in person, but we hope to connect at an AWSA Convention sometime soon!  Let’s get going with today’s interview. Becky, I know that your own journey into praise began in an unusual way. Can you tell us about it? This greatest adventure of my life began thirteen years ago, hours after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Scared and stressed at the thought of a double mastectomy; worried about my kids and whether I would be alive to finish raising them; anxious and paralyzed over the thought of a year full of treatments; I decided to fast, pray, and beg God for healing. But when I told my mentor about my plan, she had another idea. She challenged me to, “Try spending 20 minutes praising God for five days.” At the time I thought, “What a bizarre idea! I have just been diagnosed with cancer. The last thing I feel like doing is praising God. Shouldn’t I fast, pray and beg God for healing? Wouldn’t it be hypocritical to praise God when I don’t feel thankful?” I’m sure many of us understand how hard it can be to praise God when the circumstances seem less than praiseworthy. Did you accept your friend’s challenge? After wrestling with my doubts, I decided to give praise a shot. After all, what did I have to lose? The first day, I got down on my knees early in the morning and turned on praise music. I remember praying, “God, I’m here to praise you for 20 minutes. Don’t know how I’m gonna do that, but if you’ll help me I’ll try.” The Holy Spirit was more than willing to help. He began to prompt my thinking with reasons to praise God. I praised God the Father for being almighty and faithful. I praised Jesus Christ for loving me and being my victor. After my first day of praise, I decided to continue. Some mornings, I praised my way through the alphabet, worshipping God for all His different characteristics. Some mornings, I let...

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READ: Review, The 30-Day Praise Challenge by Becky Harling

You need to stay in praise. These words came in a still, small, but definite whisper from the Lord. December was about to begin, and I faced a huge challenge. I had to finish writing a book due to the publisher at the end of the month. And at that point, I’d completed less than half. I knew that the joy of the Lord is my strength and that worship always makes me stronger. I knew that the book’s topic left me open to attack. And I knew that praise makes a good prescription no matter what the situation. And then I remembered. Earlier this year, Becky Harling, a pastor’s wife and precious author friend, released The 30-Day Praise Challenge (David C. Cook, 2013). I’d seen much of the book in an early format. I knew it had great sales and that Becky had already written a second in the series. But I’d never read it myself. Wouldn’t thirty days of praise make a great way to attack one of the most challenging times of my life? One quick purchase and the challenge began. I’m only ten days in, but I’ve interrupted my planned blog schedule to share this book with you. December challenges people in so many ways. Christmas plans. Church activities. Family struggles. Financial problems. Stress and activities escalate. Peace declines. If any of this sounds like you, I strongly suggest that you check out The 30-Day Praise Challenge. Because it’s December and I know time is at a premium, let me give you a quick summary of what I love about this book: Relevance: The author touches us where we live. She gets it—and makes it easier for us to turn our problems toward praise. Tone: I feel as though Becky is talking to me but never preaching at me. Her words make me look forward to the next day’s reading because I know I’ll find encouragement there. Organization: Each day begins with the “Invitation,” words of encouragement and exhortation that always include Scriptures. A “Listen” section matches worship songs to the reading of the day. “Pray” and “Journal” give the reader specific ways to respond to God’s work through the message and worship of the day. Tech-friendliness: The author provides a link on her website to a YouTube playlist for rapid, easy access to all the songs. Tight: This is not the wordy, flowery devotional but a well-written, well-edited work that speaks the truth and moves on. The author also provides a good balance of interactive and reflective material. If this Christmas season has brought more tension than tinsel, or if your holiday packages seem more like burdens, you’ll want to buy at least two copies...

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READ: Review, Engaging Today’s Prodigal by Carol Barnier

My blog has been prodigal of late. Looming deadlines, a busy travel schedule, and a week without our home Internet server have all taken their toll. So I’m especially  glad to share with you a blog I tried to post some time ago. At one time or another, we’ve all lived as prodigals. And chances are, if we’re parents, we’ve parented one or more prodigals, too. In other words, most of us could benefit from reading Engaging Today’s Prodigal: Clear Thinking, New Approaches, and Reasons for Hope (Moody, 2012) by Carol Barnier. As the author points out in the book’s opening pages, prodigal doesn’t mean what most of think. We tend to view a prodigal as a wild, rebellious sinner. Instead, the word itself means extravagant or lavish. So Engaging Today’s Prodigal provides parents the hope and practical help parents need to deal with a child of any age who defines his life outside of faith-parameters. Such a lack of boundaries can lead to a variety of prodigal actions and wounds on both sides of the parent-child (or sibling-sibling) equation. The strength of this book lies in Carol’s clear, compassionate, and no-nonsense approach. She uses her own experience as a prodigal (a pastor’s daughter, she was a young adult atheist for 13 years) along with wisdom from both the Bible and her own parenting journey to inform, advise, and educate those who long to build rather than burn bridges. In the first section of the book, the author takes time to debunk several myths related to engaging prodigals. She places each myth alongside the truth of Scripture and gives plenty of practical application along the way. Next, she offers an entire section of Dos and Don’ts for those in relationship with prodigals, contrasting conventional wisdom with more biblical, practical advice. Most families of prodigals don’t want pat answers. They’re tired of hand-holding and meaningless platitudes. Carol offers none of these. And although her words often carry the sting of Holy Spirit conviction, they also provide the truth parents and others who love prodigals need to live in freedom no matter the stage or progression of their journey. NOTE: This isn’t a Christmas read per se. But it would make a great gift for someone you know who needs some straight talk, peace, and power. FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review. I was not asked or required to post a positive review.   Have you parented a prodigal? Have you been one yourself? Feel free to share your comments or, if you’ve read the book, any of your own thoughts. And watch for my Words with Friends interview with author...

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READ: Review, Breaking Invisible Chains by Susan Titus Osborn, Jeenie Gordon, and Karen Kosman

Don’t read this book if you prefer a light-hearted, amusing story. Don’t read this book if you refuse help for yourself or someone else in an unthinkable situation. And don’t read this book if you’ve decided to let abusers win. But do read this book if you or someone you love needs practical, personal accounts of abuse and its widespread effects. Do read this book if you could use wise counsel and practical tips that will help set you or others free from the cycle of abuse. And do read this book if you long to help break the awful, invisible chains that tie victims to their abusers. Breaking Invisible Chains: The Way to Freedom from Domestic Abuse by Susan Titus Osborne, Jeenie Gordon, and Karen Kosman is no easy read. In the same way an intervention confronts an addiction or other habitual problem, the authors of this book tackle the various aspects of abuse head-on. Written for women by women, each chapter contains true-life stories of abusive situations followed by professional advice from author Jeenie Gordon, a licensed marriage and family therapist. Many chapters include practical advice from a law enforcement officer as well. Through a combination of ideas, examples, Scripture, and straightforward advice, the book moves the reader from an awareness of various situations that constitute abuse to when, why, and how to confront and challenge it. For too many years, domestic abuse received approval by silence from the church. This book presents a positive, biblical response that includes encouragement for family members who have suffered its effects. It’s past time the church spoke up about this problem and offered more than criticism, condemnation, or powerless regret. Thanks to the authors and their publisher for this courageous new release. FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from New Hope Publishers. I was not asked to post a positive response. I realize that because of this book’s sensitive topic, readers may not wish to leave a visible comment. But I also want to offer Breaking Invisible Chains as a resource for someone who wishes to help others or who has (or has had) invisible chains of her own. Enter a drawing to win my review copy by leaving a blog comment OR by emailing me through the contact link at the top right by midnight Sunday, November 10. I’ll notify the winner via email, so please make sure to provide your email address. So that I can mail the book, I ask for US addresses only, please. And feel free to leave a comment below with any thoughts you would like to share. Find a local Christian bookstore Find this book on Amazon, Barnes &...

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READ: Review, Experiencing God’s Presence by Linda Evans Shepherd

How often have you longed for a spiritual mentor—someone to travel alongside you, encourage you, and teach you from both the Word and personal experience about your walk with God? Popular author and speaker Linda Evans Shepherd becomes that mentor in her new release, Experiencing God’s Presence: Learning to Listen While You Pray (Revell, 2013). Much more than a treatise on prayer, this book shares a treasure trove of information about developing a deep and intimate relationship with God. The author of everything from a popular novel series (The Potluck Club series, with coauthor Eva Marie Everson) to multiple books on spiritual growth, Linda shares personal illustrations, practical principles, and model prayers as she leads readers to know Him more. The book contains numerous special features that add to its value. “Behold Jesus in Prayer” and “Making it Personal” sections offer ready-made prayers for those who need someone else to offer the words they lack. Scripture lessons in story form provide a refreshing look at numerous aspects of ways God’s people through the years have navigated their spiritual journeys. Blanks that allow the reader to respond to Scripture by writing down thoughts and praying through them to discern if God is speaking give the book an interactive edge. I’ve spoken on the topic of listening prayer but, as I read this book, received some new and welcome insights. I’m glad to have the opportunity to have read this inspiring work from an author many of us consider both friend and mentor. Have you had an experience where you can say you heard from God? Feel free to share it in the comment area below. Just like Linda’s, your words may encourage someone else. Blessings, and be sure to watch for my Words with Friends interview with Linda Evans Shepherd later this week. CONTEST WINNER! Although she’s “not old yet,” Barbara C is the winner of I’m Too Young to Be This Old by Poppy Smith, featured in last week’s READ review, along with a bonus book. I’ll contact her so we can make arrangements for shipping. CONGRATULATIONS! (FTC Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book free from the publisher. I was not asked or expected to post a positive review.) Find a local Christian bookstore Find this book on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, or at Christian Book Distributors...

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