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Saturday, 30 June 2018

Mountain Maker

There are a number of verses in the Bible which have always somewhat baffled me. They roll off the tongue, get quoted and made into everything from tapestries to songs, but confuse me more than they inspire. Maybe baffle is a bit too strong a word. It’s probably more that, with all of the other inspiring and inspirational verses in the Bible, I wonder why they picked that particular one. 

Psalm 121:1 is one of them. The first time I heard it – in the King James Version as its so frequently quoted – I really was confused. 

I lift up mine eyes to the hills from whence cometh my help.

Um, what? My help comes from the hills? How, uh, helpful…

And then, I read a bit more, grew a few more years of maturity, did a few more Bible studies and found it in the New International Version where, it turns out, it’s actually a question rather than a statement. A question which is answered in the next verse.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.     

Makes more sense. But still, with all the other psalms around it, talking about God’s strength and power and incredible might, it still confused me what the mountains had to do with anything. Why are we looking up at the mountains again? [Okay, side note for all those currently shouting at me that I’ve missed the point, I do know this is one of the Psalms of Ascents, hence the mountain reference. It’s more that it didn’t seem relevant to me today.] 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love mountains. They’re awe-inspiring. They tower above the rest of the world, and remind us of strength, power and might. They’re beautiful, terrifying, constant, unforgiving. They give us a world of metaphors. Conquering a mountain, a mountaintop experience, the importance of the valleys between mountains, give me this mountain, climb every mountain (ford every stream, follow every rainbow…) Sorry, getting distracted… now I’ve got that song in your heads, I’ll get back to the point J

I love mountains, but this verse didn’t resonate with me at all. 

Until I read it a couple of weeks ago in The Message (which, by the way, I’ve had and been reading for over a decade. How did I miss this???). 

I look up to the mountains; does my strength come from mountains? No, my strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains. 

Did you get that? My strength comes from the one who made the mountains. The greatest, most awe-inspiring landmarks in this world? God made them. With the same strength he gives me. When I look at mountains, marvelling at their beauty and strength and the way they never (fine, rarely) change, I remember the one who’s even greater than those mountains. The one who made those mountains. Because the maker of something is always greater than their creation. Greater, stronger, more powerful, more inspiring. The one who never changes. 

I don’t know about you but I’m pretty certain I’ll never look at mountains the same again. 

Where does my help and strength come from? Not the mountains, but the Mountain Maker. And, believe me, if he can make mountains, nothing in our lives is too hard for him. 

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Top 9 Influential Non-Fiction Books

Last fortnight I shared some of my favourite fiction books so I figured it’s only fair that I share some non-fiction ones too. I’ve learnt my lesson though and instead of calling them favourites this time, I’ll just stick with ‘influential’. So, again in no particular order, here are nine non-fiction books which have really influenced my life. 

God Works the Night Shift – Ron Mehl

We often think that only bad things can happen in the dark. Not true. The simple premise of this book is that God is working, even while we’re asleep. He never stops working in our lives and the lives of those around us to see his purposes through. Even when it’s dark, even when no one else is there, God is. 

Spoken For – Robin Jones Gunn & Alyssa Joy Bethke

It’s hard to put into words how much I loved this book and the message it has. And the effect it could have on the lives of teen girls. Bombarded relentlessly with negative images and the need to be in a relationship, it’s easy to be convinced that our worth lies in what others think of us rather than who we are to God. 

With chapters like, 'You are Loved', 'You are Chosen', 'You are Covered' and 'You are Spoken For', related through stories from the authors' lives, it was such a reminder to me of who I really am in Christ alongside the encouragement – and freedom – to be just that. I wasn’t even halfway through it before I was making a list of all the people I wanted to read it. Not surprising that there are three copies (at least?) in my family. 

Knit Together – Debbie Macomber

In essence, this is the biography of Debbie Macomber, New York Times Bestselling author with more than 100 million copies of her books in print. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a chapter by chapter encouragement to not give up on your dreams. It’s based around Psalm 139 and the fact that God created every single one of us with a purpose. One he wants to see us fulfil.

Yes, it’s personal for me as like her, I’ve spent years working on getting my books published with still nothing to show for it, but it’s not just for writers. It’s an encouragement for everyone to hold on tightly to those dreams God places in our hearts, even – especially – the impossible ones. 

66 Ways God Loves You – Jennifer Rothschild

This one’s a devotional. It goes through each book of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, and pulls out a truth of how that book shows God’s love. Even Leviticus It’s so profound in its simplicity. 

Love and Respect – Emmerson Eggerichs

Based around Ephesians 5:33 this marriage book is so practical. I read this when I was newly married and it made such a difference in my thinking and how I thought about relationships. 

And the Angels were Silent/The Great House of God – Max Lucado

I could have made this whole list Max Lucado’s books. I love the way he writes, taking a verse, idea, even a single word and pulling out a whole chapter’s worth of wisdom. Really practical wisdom. These two are my favourites of his. 

And the Angels Were Silent is based around the week leading up to Easter. Probably the hardest week of Jesus’ life. I read it for the first time in my early teens and remember being so profoundly impacted by it. It was the first time I’d ever really comprehended (if one could even call my miniscule understanding that) what Jesus had really done for me. 

The Great House of God is based around the Lord’s Prayer, with Max relating each phrase of it to a different room in the house. Take a tour of God’s house as he takes a tour of your prayer life. 

Crash the Chatterbox – Steven Furtick

Anyone else have this voice in their head that just won’t shut up? You know, the one that keeps telling you you’ll never be good enough or that what you did was just plain stupid or that you’re crazy to believe you could ever be any more than you are today… Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera… This book is all about crashing that voice. Learning to listen to God’s voice instead. I’ll admit, I haven’t actually read all of it yet (working on it) but what I have is brilliant. Easy to read and so encouraging. 

The Emotionally Healthy Woman – Geri Scazzero

Honestly, I think every woman in any kind of ministry (including the home) needs to read this book. Written by a pastor’s wife who found herself totally burnt out to the point of quitting her own husband’s church, it’s about admitting that none of us can do it all. And neither does God ask us to. More than a self-help book, it’s an encouragement to women to quit the things that hold them back from truly serving God as he asks us to – quitting lying to ourselves, basing our worth on others’ expectations, living someone else’s life, etc. I found this book so freeing, to have someone say that it’s okay to let go of all those lies society – and yes, sometimes the church – place on us and just be.  

Taking Nothing for Granted – Alastair Lynch

When I was first diagnosed with arthritis, I thought my life was over. I was eighteen, just graduated from high school and on the cusp of my adult life only to have my plans crash around me. I spent a lot of time those first few months doing what most people do when given a diagnosis – researching the disease, what it meant and how other people dealt with it. Most of it was pretty depressing. After a while, whether it was because I’d read everything there was to read or just got sick of reading it, I started searching out stories of hope. People who’d been dealt tough hands and held on to their dreams. 

Alastair Lynch was one of my favourite players of AFL players at the time, someone I really respected. I watched him play for years having no idea he had chronic fatigue. It blew me away when I found out to think that a top sportsman like him could manage such a debilitating disease (with a lot of the same symptoms as mine) and still play at the level he did and as well as he did. It took time, balance and compromise, but it was possible. Reading this, his biography, really encouraged and inspired me. 

There are heaps of other books, of course. Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Judah Smith, Robin Jones Gunn, Katie Davis Majors, Christine Caine (just to list a few!) also have a bunch of books on my shelves. There are so many brilliant authors out there! What have you read that’s been encouraging or influential lately? Please share!

Here's links for all the books too if you're interested in finding out more about them :)

Monday, 4 June 2018

Some Favourite Fiction Books

My brain is fried. Part lack of sleep, part too much editing, part still stuck in the fantasy world of the book I just finished, it’s just not working for me this week. So, instead of writing any sort of inspirational blog post (like the five I’ve started and put aside because they’re not making any sense), I thought I’d share with you some of my all-time favourite fiction books. Because, well, I have books on my mind. 

In no particular order, here are nine books/series I absolutely love:

1.    A Noble Masquerade – Kristi Ann Hunter
I laughed my whole way through this book, when I wasn’t being blown away by the spiritual truths written in it. I remember the first time I read it (okay, might have been the second too…), being so captivated by the prologue that it took me forever to get to the first chapter. This one is a historical romance about a very proper young woman who can’t quite manage to follow all the rules expected of her. She starts writing to her brother’s friend, a duke, as kind of a makeshift diary, never intending on him ever seeing the letters. Only he does one day – and not only finds them amusing but writes back. Tee hee. 

This one is my favourite by this author but all of hers are absolutely brilliant J

2.   Firebird – Kathy Tyers
Probably the first sci-fi book I ever read, I can’t even remember where I found this one but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read it. It’s the story of a young woman (Firebird) who’s spent the first eighteen years of her life being told (and believing) that her only worth lies in dying well in battle. But instead of dying, she’s captured by her enemy, a race of people with an ancient faith who believe her life is worth living. It’s a book full of epic space battles and royalty and telepaths but what keeps drawing me back is Firebird’s journey to faith, love and worth. 

3.    Divergent – Veronica Roth
Like Firebird, this is one I pull out fairly frequently, either to read the whole thing or just my favourite parts. Another coming of age story where Tris, the main character, finds not only who she is but something worth fighting for. I’ll admit, the love story is pretty sweet too. 

4.    A Matter of Trust – Susan May Warren
This one is book three of the author’s Montana Rescue series, all of which I loved, but this one is by far my favourite. They’re all based around a close-knit team of rescue workers (think mountain/snow/harsh terrain rescue teams), each book telling a different team member’s story. This one is Gage’s story – a one-time world-champion snowboarder who made a decision which cost someone’s life, and has regretted his fame ever since. 

He’s now joined the rescue team and is using his boarding skills to find a couple of lost snowboarders on a mountain. I loved the descriptions – totally made me feel like I was caught up in the snow right along with them, the wind whizzing past my ears – but also the challenges he has to work through as he figures out what is the guilt speaking and what is God. 

5.    The Merchant’s Daughter – Melanie Dickerson
Set in a medieval land, this is a stunning retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The descriptions are amazing but it was the honour and integrity of the main characters and how they seemed to come alive off the pages as they discovered the Bible for themselves and what it meant to truly live it that had me captivated. 

The Healer’s Apprentice (a retelling of Sleeping Beauty) is another one of my favourites by this author. 

6.    The Red Door Inn/Where Two Hearts Meet/On Love’s Gentle Shore – Liz Johnson
Okay, so I can’t quite choose which of this series is my favourite so I’ll just cheat and put them all. Set on Prince Edward Island (of the Anne of Green Gables variety), these are the stories of three women who find hope, healing and love at a BnB called the Red Door Inn. Which I totally want to go visit. Even if it’s not real. Absolutely beautiful stories which had me captivated from first page to the last and went way deeper than I ever expected. 

7.    Like Never Before/Keep Holding On – Melissa Tagg
Okay, I’m cheating again naming two books but really, I love every single book Melissa has written. Easily one of my top five (if not top three) favourite authors. All her books are hilariously funny, poignantly sweet, challenge my faith and view of the world, take me deeper in my relationship with God, remind me how much I love family and are just really, really beautiful. And, like the Red Door Inn, I really want to go visit the (sadly fictional) town of Maple Valley. 

8.    The Chronicles of Narnia – C S Lewis
Don’t need to say too much about these since I’m pretty sure everyone knows them. Yep, they’re in my favourite books list. I remember my mum reading them to my siblings and I when I was little, so they’ll always be special because of that, but they’re also just brilliant. I read them for the first time as an adult – all seven in a row in a week or so – and few years ago and struggled for a couple of days after to find my way back to reality. The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe would probably be my favourite because of its allegorical nature, but I love them all. 

9.    Harry Potter (series) – J K Rowling  
I’ll admit, this one is probably a little controversial but really, they’re brilliantly written and a lot of fun. That said, I won’t be giving them to my kids any time soon, certainly not the last four or so as they get very dark, but I do really enjoy reading them.