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My Christmas Stocking By Crystal Bowman

As a Pastor and Father I am always looking out for Christian themed books I can read to my two boys at bed time. This book is a 14 page “board book” (shaped like a stocking) is probably best suited for 2-6 year olds (in my opinion) but is a great resource to tell the story of “how” the Christmas tradition of using stockings over the fireplace began. In summary the book is about how the man who became Santa Claus gave presents wherever he went to young children.

Yes, it also has a very subtle nod also to God’s love and Jesus.

Crystal Bowman rhymes are sweet and the story is quick and to the point. Claudine Gevry pictures are beautiful and have a very “classic” feel to them.

This book would make a great gift for the holidays

Thanks to Zonderkidz for furnishing this complimentary book in exchange for an honest review.

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Good Night Manger by Laura Sassi & Jane Chapman

Goodnight Manger by Laura Sassi and (Author), Jane Chapman (illustrator) is the second collaboration since their first book; Good Night Ark (which I also reviewed). Like it’s predecessor it’s another story about a Bible character that can’t fall asleep and in this case it’s the baby Jesus.

This is a lovely Christmas story and a fun book to read to your children. As a Pastor with two young boys I am always looking for good books to read to my kids at bedtime. I got this to read to my two year old as Christmas is approaching and after a quick read – I know that he will love it.

I think the big bright hard back cover and the beautiful illustrations would draw anyone to pick this book up in a store, Jane Chapman is an amazing illustrator. Also this is a rhyming book and I loved how Laura Sassi weaves the story she is writing with the rhyme she has created.

Be confident that you’re kids will enjoy this book.

In preparation for writing my review, I did glance at what some other people thought, particularly those Christians who complained about the story Laura wrote – is the story the “Bible story?” No, it’s not. Rather, it’s a creative fun poem about the first Christmas. But then again, the song “Away in the Manger” isn’t a Biblical account either, it’s a song… but yet we all sing it and love it at Christmas time.

You have to take it for what it is – a cute story that uses the Bible characters to tell a rhyme your children will love.

Think of it as a children’s Christmas carol put to pictures.

This book was provided to me free of charge for my honest opinion by Zondervan Christian Publishing.

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Colossians: a life worthy of Christ

Well Christmas is almost upon us and so I wanted to squeeze in one more book of the Bible before we say goodbye to 2015.  This morning we begin a series of sermons on Colossians – a smaller New Testament book, you can easily read it in one sitting, and I hope you do. The book was written by Paul, who wrote about a third of our New Testament. And like all of Paul’s books, Colossians is really a letter.

Now this particular letter was one that Paul wrote while he was in prison, and he wrote it to a group of Christians he’d never met before. Paul had never been to Colosse, Christianity was brought to that city by a man named Epaphras, who was a native Colossian. Paul finds out about the church from Epaphras after a visit.

And so there is good news and bad news here -  the good news is that the people of that church have great faith and are working to spread the Gospel. The bad news is, people outside the church are trying to shape and influence the church with their own ideas.

Isn’t it nice to know that things have changed? That now the Church is safe and protected and no longer under attack from outside influence?

You see – back then – The world was telling the church that Christ could not be both God and human. The world was telling the church that people must be saved by works, not faith. The world was telling the church that angels should be worshiped because they were heavenly beings. And problems arose…. because the church was listening…. the church was listening to the voice of the world, rather than to the voice of God.

And true, you and I have progressed leaps and bounds since those dark days, but the landscape of faith is still evolving, and the message that comes from the world still creeps in … sometimes from our very own people.

Right now in 2015, the world is trying very hard to tell the church that it is arrogant for us to teach that Jesus is the only way to God. The world is telling us that the sexual ethics of the Bible are outdated. The world is embracing all sorts of faiths and philosophies and if you don’t embrace more – you’re thought of less. Convictions have been replaced with tolerance ….. and in many ways the church is listening.

What is happening today was happening back then in the city of Colosse.

So Epaphras visits Paul in prison and tells him about what is happening in the church – “the good news and the bad news.” And so Paul sits down and begins to dictate this letter.

Colossians 1:1-14
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,  To the saints and faithful brothers, in Christ at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Greek Letters in Paul’s day typically began with identifying the writer and then expressing feelings of Peace. But Paul typically added some extra “Christian elements” along with his own credentials and calling.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.  He is a faithful minister of Christ on your  behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

So like we said Epaphras started this church, Colossae is about 100 miles from Ephesus on the Lycus river (modern day Turkey) It’s river access made it a trading port for ideas and religions and Colossae had a very strong Jewish population.

v9  And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,   so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks  to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

In this, the opening verses of his letter, Paul hasn’t started dealing with the bad news that Epaphras has brought to his attention – that the church is struggling to keep its faith pure from outside influences. Instead, he starts off by praising the Colossians for the good that is in their church, and by encouraging them in verse 10 to “to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord

How does that sound? … walk in a manner worthy of the Lord – easy?

How do we do that? How do we live – or walk – in a manner that is worthy of the Lord?

Tell me something – How is your walk with the Lord? Have you ever heard that question before? Or have you ever started a sentence with “My walk with the Lord is very…” What is that? Your walk with the Lord – and is it important? Where should you be… on your walk? Are there progress points? Indicators? Signs? Rest stops?

Because let me tell you something. This is very important. Our Christian Walk will preach louder to the world, than anything we will ever say verbally. What do they always say? ‘Actions speak louder than words?’ Don’t we say that – because it’s true?

So what have we been ‘saying’ by the way we walk as a Christian?

Would somebody describe you as a person who has a walk with Christ? Because there should be a difference shouldn’t there? Side by side – you and your non-Christian friends what’s the difference? Because if the only difference is you go to church….. is that good enough?

What does Paul say? “… walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Worthy. Worthy. What does worthy mean? Worthy means deserving effort, attention, or respect. Worthy is the Greek word AXIOS which means to have weight or value.

Paul says “worthy means a man died for you. A man died so that you could live. A man gave his life so that you could have a life. Your life should be a testimony, it should be a story that is worthy… of what Jesus did.”

No, we don’t earn our salvation, no – we don’t work for our grace, but Paul makes it clear that our walk should be worthy.

Tell me something how is your walk?  Well, if you take a look at how one literally walks, we do it with two legs — at least, if we are born healthy or keep our health.

And Paul tells us that we live worthy, or walk worthy, by using two spiritual legs.

Take a look at what he says in his letter, in verse 10: “….so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Two legs – One leg is bearing good fruit and the other is knowledge of God.
One leg is education, the other is action.

Think about education for a minute. Time and again, the Bible affirms the value of knowledge and understanding.

Psalm 119:66 says, “Teach me knowledge and good judgment.¨

Proverbs 1:7, says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.¨

Our knowledge is our input, it’s the way in which we are influenced. Do you think that the data that goes into you is important in how you live your walk? There are only two possible ways we can be influenced. Either we are influenced with Godly influence, or with ungodly influence. Right? So we need to review the input. What is the data going in?

Ask the question: “How are we being influenced?” We are surrounded by all kinds of influence. What are we allowing to influence us? To shape us? To mold us?

One of the things that has always been a part of the Church is that we have valued education, knowledge and understanding. Does anyone know how we coined the phrase ‘Sunday School?’

The Industrial Revolution had resulted in many children spending all week long working in factories. But certain Christians wanted to free these children from a life of illiteracy. And by the 19th century, working hours were far too long. The first modest legislative restrictions came in 1802. This resulted in limiting the number of hours a child could work per day to 12!

Only 213 years ago, our nation’s children worked a 12 hour day.

This limit was not lowered again until 1844. And you didn’t get weekends off, Saturday was part of the regular work week. So Sunday, was the only available time for these children to gain some education. The Church of course only has one textbook, so the Bible was used for learning how to read. And, many children learned to write by copying passages from the Bible. Today, we still call it Sunday School but the church has always valued education. Several churches in our area have a school or a daycare attached as part of it’s ministry, some of you might have even attended a Church school growing up.

Paul writes to his young student Timothy – 2 Timothy 2:15

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

How do you know if you are living or walking in a manner worthy of Christ? Well, how do you use your mind? Are you studying, are you learning? Are you growing in knowledge and understanding?

At our church we make resources available to you; Sunday morning Bible Study, Small Groups, Discovery Classes – those are tools to help you in your knowledge – those are tools to help you in your walk – yes it will take precious time away from Television and Facebook and possibly sports – but ask yourself what’s more important? Nothing.

Learn all you can about God’s world, and God’s Word.

Ok, so you’ve got one leg going…. but that’s not walking. That’s hopping. You ever tried to hop on one leg? It’s very uncomfortable and you won’t get far.  Paul says that it takes more than knowledge to walk in a manner worthy of Christ. It takes more than input there has to be output.

John 15:5 (What does Jesus say?)

Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Even Jesus say your walk is two fold (Abide in me = this is your knowledge your intimacy with God) and “bear fruit” (in other words action)

The other leg we need for our spiritual walk is “action¨ — taking what you learn from God and putting it into the actions of your day to day living.

Paul calls says,  “…..bearing fruit in every good work.

My Mother in law is taking a master gardeners class, and so I lean all sorts of fun words from her, one word is: annual. She gave us tomato plants and apparently they are an annual plant. Which means that they have a short life cycle, they live from germination to production of fruit and then they die.

Their purpose is to grow tomatoes and once they fulfill that obligation, their life is over. But I don’t know that, so I am out there watering them every day, trying my best to keep them alive.

She says, “Are they still growing tomatoes?” No, I say. “Then let it die” she said. Why? Because if a tomato plant isn’t growing tomatoes -it’s what? Worthless. It’s not even worth the water.

Listen, God expects us to produce some fruit in our life. No, we don’t earn God’s love or salvation that way – we earn that freely by God’s grace. But having experienced God’s love and salvation, we ought to respond by living, walking, and producing fruit in a life worthy of Christ — we ought to want to produce a life that “bears good fruit.¨

Are you producing fruit in your life? I wonder. Because it seems more and more that Christians have come to the conclusion that it is alright to be a Christian and to not bear fruit. It’s ok, to just grow and be a green plant that consumes water, but doesn’t do anything.

Mark 11:12-14

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, Jesus was hungry.  And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

What happened to the tree? Jesus killed it. Jesus healed blind people, he made the lame walk, fed the poor, hugged children and… he killed a tree. Why did he kill a tree? Because it wasn’t fulfilling a purpose. Who’s purpose? God’s. Right? God makes trees. Trees are supposed to have function. Jesus had a need – he was hungry, the job of the tree is to serve….

What’s our function? What’s our purpose? What is the fruit? Again, what does Paul say?

Galatians 5:22-23

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, self-control

That right there, that is your epitaph, this is what should be seen by others, when people speak of you, these are the things they should say. How are you different and separate from the world around you – this! THIS WAY!

Number one! LOVE. How do you know if you are living in a manner worthy of the Lord? You’re a lover. Do you show love to others? All others? Look, the reality is, until Christ returns, we are all God’s children. No matter what race or religion – and God’s desire is that every knee bow and every tongue confess and you will only win the world through love. That’s how Jesus did it, that’s how we are to do it.

Here are the opposites of that list….

Fear, Despair, Worry, Bitterness, Control, Hypocrisy, Opportunistic, Insecure and impulsive.

Those are the anti-fruits of the spirit and they are anti-Christ. People speculate about who the anti-Christ is of the book of Revelation – let me tell you a lot of people can be anti-Christ. All they have to do is produce anti-fruit.

The Bible has the solution. The Bible has the answer, be a people who are loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and who have self-control

Bearing fruit is in the day-to-day way you live your life. It’s in the simple things.

Now, sometimes, in our physical lives, we find we need some help in our walking. Two legs are not always enough. We need canes, walkers, wheelchairs, some of us knows how it feels to walk on crutches or even artificial legs and hips.

So Paul tells us in Colossians about three things that can assist us in our walk. There are many other aids to our spiritual walk, but Paul mentions these three in Colossians. They are three simple gifts God offers us that can enhance our spiritual walk and that help us to “live in a manner worthy of Christ.¨ Look at what he says,

Colossians 1:10-12

Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, 12 giving thanks  to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

Three gifts from God that will strengthen you in your walk with God: Endurance, patience, and joy.

1. Endurance most of us would prefer escape rather than endurance. Many times we find ourselves in situations that are uncomfortable, or even frightening; and we pray for escape. We want OUT. We want to move from being in a bad situation, to being in a good situation.

We want out of having cancer.  We want out of dealing with an elderly and sick
parent.  We want out of being in a difficult job.

But often times, God doesn’t offer escape. He offers endurance the ability to cope with the situation. In our Overwhelmed series, we talked about this very thing. The difference between praying for delivery and praying for endurance.

In his letter to the Philippians Paul said (Phil 4:11-12), “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.”

Now remember, he didn’t say this from his home, writing comfortably in his favorite chair. He wrote this while in prison, with chains around his feet and hands, and a death sentence written on his calendar.

I think all too often we say things like, “I can’t make it” or “I can’t do this,” but see one of the things that God offers you to assist you in your walk is the gift of endurance.

Romans 2:7

To those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.

The second gift is 2. Patience is the second gift to aid us in our walk. Patience and endurance – two things that are pretty close to being the same thing. 1 Corinthians 13 lists both patience and endurance in the LOVE CHAPTER, so we know they are not the same thing. So what is the difference?

Endurance is the trait that does not surrender to circumstances or give in under trial; it is the opposite of hopelessness.

But Patience is the trait of self-restraint in the face of frustration. Patience does not hastily retaliate or swiftly punish; it is the opposite of anger, and is associated with mercy.

Ephesians 4:2 says,

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

During our Overwhelmed series, some of you might have felt that patience was your flat tire. And you might say, “I’m not a patient person.” Well, guess what? God has plenty of it, and it’s his gift to you.

Paul says, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might..” Is that what you need this morning? For God to strengthen you with his patience?

Romans 12:12 says be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

Our gifts from the Lord, his strength and power is only a prayer away.

3. Joy is the third gift that helps us in our spiritual walk. While endurance is our response to hope and patience is our response to anger, joy is our response to God. Paul says,

“…May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy,  giving thanks  to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.

So what is our response to God’s gifts of endurance, patience and joy? Gratitude. Thankfulness. And I would offer…. if you want to know what your gauge is – for your walk with Christ – gratitude is that gauge.

There is no way you can live a life worthy of Christ if you don’t have gratitude in your hearts for what He has done. It’s like trying to keep a tomato plant alive long after it’s past its prime. If you want to know how your walk is doing, if you want to know if you’re living a life worthy of Christ, check your gratitude meter.

Listen, to the Christian I would urge you to make the most of your walk with the Lord! Don’t be a careless Christian who lives day by day with no thought of a deeper walk with Christ. Don’t settle for a “I know-nothing; I feel-nothing; I want-nothing; I desire-nothing” life.

In fact, I would seriously question my walk if I did not want to know more of Christ. I would seriously question my walk if I did not feel and sense God’s presence from time to time. No, it’s not a faith based on feelings, but I should have some sense of God at work in my life and that work would cause me to be thankful.

I would seriously question my walk if I did not want anything at all from the Lord. I would seriously question where I stand with God if I did not desire anything of the Lord and I would seriously question my walk if I weren’t thankful.

Think about it, a thankful person is loving to others, because they have experienced first hand the love of Christ. A thankful person is, joyful, A thankful person is peaceful, A thankful person is patient, A thankful person is kind, A thankful person is good, A thankful person is faithful, A thankful person is gentle, and a thankful person has self-control

How is your walk this morning? Are you worn down? Moving slow? Remember it takes two legs to walk – when you abide in Christ – you will bear fruit and if you need any endurance or any patience or any joy along the way…. God has plenty.

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Andi Unstoppable by Amanda Flower

In this third volume of the Andi Boggs series, Andi and her best friend Colin go on a bird watching expedition trying to find a Kirtland’s Warbler for a class project and everyone is trying to get a picture. Andi thinks it will be  fun trip, but part of their team is Ava Gomez, who has been Andi’s archenemy in the past.

Little do they know, Bird watching can be dangerous. Their campground is near the Shalley graveyard, where legend has it that the ghost of Dominika Shalley has been seen protecting the graves of her sons, that died in the Civil War.

Will Andi, Colin and Ava see the elusive bird and prove the existence of Dominika’s ghost at the same time? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

This book is a lot fun to read. I felt like I was a kid again reading a Hardy Boys book on my bunk bed in my old room. The mystery and adventure in this book are so exciting your son or daughter (8-12 years old) won’t want to put it down.

Amanda Flower writes with such humor that’s its difficult not to enjoy this book and the characters she’s created. This is a fast and fun read.

Thank you to Zonderkidz for providing this review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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#struggles by Craig Groeschel

If I were to ask you what struggles Christians have with social media, I’d probely get a whole host of answers. The fact that Christians use social media to proselytize and convict people of sin, or maybe it’s when we think social media is a good platform to discuss the rapture or dispensationalism. Or how about when we just get into heated debates with complete strangers and we just won’t back down?

Point is, we’re all novices at navigating this new ocean of social media; so naturally, mistakes will be made.

Did you know that right now studies say that, 49% of America has a smart phone, and by 2017 70% of us will have one. For 80% of America its the first thing we do; that means you’re not even out of bed yet. 30% of Americans pull it out when they are at a meal with someone else. 40% of you are using it on the toilet.

25% of you are still using it while you’re driving (shame on you). 9% use it in church and the other 91% are lying about it. I don’t want to say that Americans are “addicted” to their cell phones, but let’s just say that they love them a lot.

We think on the one hand that we’re making memories when we whip the camera out, but at the same time aren’t we missing memories? We think we’re using it to stay connected with others, but aren’t we also at the same time disconnecting ourselves? How much time do we spend on the phone and on social media?

Now, some would argue that intimacy and friendships are just evolving into something new, but as with any new invention, something is also sacrificed and I think there are those that still lament what we are losing.

In his new book, #struggles Pastor Craig Groeschel argues that one of the things we have lost is the old definition of “friend.” No longer does it mean an intimate acquaintance, now it simply means a person you interact with on social media. Today, some of our “friends” we’ve never even met face to face.

Other things like intimacy, authenticity, compassion and integrity are a few more of the things our society is losing…. or perhaps losing is the wrong word. Those subjects are… evolving.

So do we as Christians evolve with it? Do we become like everyone else? Should Christians use social media in the same way? And if we do, does it matter?

I think #struggles is a great book and certainly ripe for this generation. We do not yet fully understand what social media is doing, where it’s going or the impact it is having on our lives, so I think this analysis and these questions are important.

Craig Groeschel has written a very easy to read book about a subject that touches most of us. I think this is great for teenagers, and adults alike – pick this one up.

Thank you to Zondervan for providing this advanced copy for an honest review.

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