Content from this blog has moved to www.michellerayburn.com.

12.20.2011

Fresh Coffee From Burundi Africa

I just have to share the yumminess I'm enjoying this afternoon.
 
These coffee beans were roasted in Africa just a week ago. Amazing!

On Sunday, I received a bag of freshly roasted coffee that arrived on a plane from Africa just days before with Ben and Kristy from Long Miles Coffee Project. This couple is working to help the people of Burundi get a fair price for their coffee. They have sacrificed the things we take for granted her in America to show love to the people in Africa. While they are in the US, Ben and Kristy have to stock up on things they can't get in Burundi. Things like chocolate, soap, toothpaste and hugs from family...things I get every day here. I'm moved every time I read more of their adventure in Africa and their heart for the people.

This is delicious coffee.
Getting a whiff of my favorite smell.

Ready for brewing in the espresso machine.
Waiting for it to cool down. I like my espresso iced.
I make my blended espresso with 60 calorie almond milk, shaved ice, and a shot of sugar free flavoring.
60 calories of delight.

Thanks Ben and Kristy for making my coffee extra special today!

Check out Long Miles Coffee Project for more about Ben and Kristy's adventure in Africa.



Why Men Hate Going to Church - A Review


Why are there more women than men in the pews? What are the real reasons—not the excuses—for why numbers of men in mainstream churches is dropping more each year?

David Murrow has studied the subject for years and he has updated this book from the first edition he released. He’s kept only 30% of the content from the first edition and done a major overhaul in his book Why Men Hate Going to Church

Murrow proposes that men see church as a feminine activity because of what we do there. I’ll state some of Murrows arguments and also include my impression of his statements. Keep in mind, I'm filtering my impressions through my female perspective, but I did ask my husband his thoughts on some of the concepts too.


First, he says the décor of churches looks very feminine from the moment men walk in the door. Many churches are decorated in mauves, feminine shades, lace doilies and feminine stencils, flowers on the altar and scattered around the building.

Second, he says we use feminine language at church when we talk about relationships, sharing, personal relationship with Jesus, and intimacy with God. Murrow says these terms appeal more to women and effeminate men. I have to agree with some of what he says, but he implies that only effeminate men are at church (enforcing the stereotype) and I know that there are many masculine men in churches. His ideas may apply to some men, but not all masculine men are turned off by these terms.

Third, Murrow says we do too much hand-holding and hugging and encourage expression of emotion that makes men uncomfortable. He includes the dress code in this argument stating that women usually care more about their appearance and enjoy getting dolled up more than men do (p. 103). The fact that he uses the term “dolled up” to refer to wearing classy clothing is odd, since men dress up in suits for the office and business and no one labels that as getting dolled up.


The author makes a great argument in that many church activities and ministry centers around female leadership and planning. He’s persuasive in showing the ways churches can take a different approach that would appeal to men more. He says men want to think in terms of warriors and kingdoms and see God as a mighty conqueror where women think of the family of God and how he loves and holds them close. He gives ideas for how churches could be more deliberate about appealing to me in how they present God and in the songs they sing.

Murrow’s major argument for the songs we sing is that they are too intimate for men. In fact, he goes as far as saying men see it as gross (p. 99) when they sing or speak of an intimate relationship with another guy (Jesus, God the Father). He says this is a barrier for heterosexual males. However, I think he’s made a massive stereotype with that application. I asked my husband’s thoughts and he said singing a song about loving your father is way different than singing a song about loving another guy. So, Murrow’s argument might be true for some men, but others may not feel that way at all.

There are a couple of places where Murrow contradicts himself. He says the problem with more women in church than men came about in the 70’s when we starting singing more intimate praise songs instead of hymns. He says, “With hymns, God is out there. He’s big. Powerful. Dangerous. He’s a leader. With P&W [praise and worship], God is at my side. He’s close, Intimate. Safe. He’s a lover” (. 74).  Seems like a persuasive argument, until later in the book, we read that the battle to reengage men began in 1844 with the industrial revolution, when large numbers of men began disappearing from local congregations ( p. 127). This was more than 100 years before praise and worship music started replacing hymns in the church, proving the problem runs deeper than the music we sing.

Overall, this is a helpful book for the reader who can read objectively. Some nuggets will revolutionize churches. Other information may not hold up under further analysis. Either way, it will help pastors and leaders think carefully about what they do.

This statement from the author ought to wake up many church leaders: “Eventually the church is no longer fishing for men. Instead, it’s creating a comfortable aquarium for the saints. Members no longer go to church anticipating a life-altering encounter with God. Instead, they come to see friends and to participate in a comforting ritual that’s changed little since childhood” (p. 109).

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson publishers for review purposes.

What do you think? Why do you think more women attend church than men? Do Murrows arguments make sense to you? Leave your comments below.

12.06.2011

Living Close to God When You're Not Good At It - A Book Review

Have you ever opened the Bible and read something but felt nothing? No response. No real connection. Does your mind wander when you pray? Gene Edwards can relate. He calls himself spiritually handicapped because he didn’t feel the same things other people described when they spoke of their relationship with Christ. He couldn’t imagine himself spending an hour in prayer every day, even though he as a very successful speaker and author in the Christian realm.

Gene Edwards has written his quest for closeness with God in Living Close to God (When You're Not Good at It: A Spiritual Life That Takes You Deeper Than Daily Devotions. Edwards started out by researching the life stories of great Christians and read many books about prayer. He had a desire to have a consistent closer walk with Christ, but couldn’t make the connection needed to make it happen. His first breakthrough came when he realized that he could break out of the traditional way others defined their spiritual walk and come up with creative ways to read God’s word and pray.

When he decided to memorize Psalm 23, it changed everything. That progressed to walking and talking with the Lord and from there, his spiritual life changed to the point where he now would describe a vibrant Christian life. His journey involved slowing down and listening to God.

This book describes Edwards’ process of learning to fellowship with God all day long and he says it’s the key to stop feeling like a failure at daily devotions and start walking with God. The book is a great reminder for the busy person and the one who struggles with establishing time with God. This is a fairly quick read, with about 130 pages plus about 45 more for discussion and end notes.

The one negative about this book is that I think he draws it out to make it book length, when much of Edwards’ discovery could be easily communicated in an article. After a while, it seemed repetitive. However the study guide in the back is helpful for discussion with a group, with a friend, or for deeper personal reflection.

Kindle Edition for $9.99
Nook Edition for $9.99

I received a copy of this book from Waterbook Multnomah for review purposes.

Freezer Meals - I'm Lovin' It

At the beginning of November, I knew I had a lot of writing projects and other responsibilities. And I knew that I wouldn't have time to make meals from scratch every night. So, I decided to try making meals ahead of time and freezing them. Turns out, I love it! Every night, I knew what was for dinner and I just checked the menu in the morning to make sure I thawed what needed thawing.

When I started out, I chose to make simple meals, not meals that needed recipes. I knew that if I made it too complicated, I wouldn't stick with it. My November menu included things like tacos, lasagna, chicken enchiladas, stirfry, and meat loaf. If the meal involved meat that needed browning, I browned and seasoned it and then froze it in meal-sized containers. I made two meatloafs and froze them in the loaf pans. I baked a bunch of chicken breasts and cubed them  up for stir fry and shredded some for enchiladas. I browned steaks and cubed them for chili and beef stew. At the end of the day, I had at least 25 meals worth in the freezer. 

In planning my menu, I just printed a blank monthly calendar off the internet and then had my day planner with me as I scheduled meals. That way, if we had a meal somewhere else, I could pencil that in and didn't need to cook. Or if there was a night I'd be away from home, I wrote frozen pizza on so my guys would have a quick meal (I also froze several homemade pizzas).

Once I had the menu planned, then I thought through each item to see which ingredients needed to be added to the shopping list. I do one big monthly shopping since we get paid once a month. On the first Saturday of the month, I had a cooking day.

Last month, I found that I swapped meals around a few times based on our schedule changes. And that worked great! 

This month, I'm keeping it simple again. Maybe next month I'll try a few recipes that involve more complicated cooking. I can only wonder why I didn't try this a long time ago!

We don't eat out very often, so we're home most evenings. Believe it or not, my grocery bill for an entire month for a family of four is around $250 (avg $75 per week) and I don't use many coupons. Between Sam's Club bulk stuff and Aldi, I can get most of our food. I get a few things at Wal-Mart and a few things at a local grocery store and I often shop for what's on special. For the most part, it's cooking from scratch versus boxed meals that saves the money. I also find that making one big trip to the grocery store is cheaper than weekly stops when I'm likely to pick up things we don't need.

There are some helpful websites that have tips for getting started on freezer meals. I'm still discovering more of them. Here are a few:
There are many other sites out there with ideas, but this will get you started if you're thinking of making meals ahead. Be sure to come back and comment to let me know how it worked out for you and if you have great ideas to share, I know we'll all want to hear them.

If you're already a make-ahead meal person, we'd love to hear your favorite dishes that freeze well.

11.29.2011

Advent Calendar Idea

As we begin unpacking the boxes of Christmas decorations and getting ready for the holidays. I found a sweet project for an magnetic Advent calendar that you might want to try with your family. It uses decorative papers and little candy favor tins (found at most craft stores in the cake decorations). The idea I found online at Makoodle has a free download for the number papers as well as instructions. It also has a download for papers for little activities to have inside the tins.

If you don't have the metal 12 by 12 sheet the tutorial mentions, an old cookie sheet or a metal serving tray can easily be spray painted and it will work great!

11.22.2011

Muppet Movie Celebration - Fun Everyday Ideas

Tomorrow, the latest Muppet Movie hits theaters and our family has always liked the Muppets. I was born the year Sesame Street started, and I grew up watching that and the Muppet Show. I can't wait to see the new movie! I couldn't resist sharing this practical and fun idea for a muppet party. 

Aren't these cakes and cookies from Amy at Living Locurto adorable?
The post from Amy includes free printables, decoration ideas, lots more snack ideas, and lots of fun. See the full post for tutorials.

11.09.2011

Author Interview and Free Chapter from Davis Bunn

About Book of Dreams   
For Dr. Elena Burroughs, life is divided into two chapters—before and after the death of her husband. Today marks the point that her span of being a wife is equal to her span of being a widow. Even her success as a psychologist and her worldwide acclaim for a book on the interpretation of dreams is dimmed by an unspoken “If only.”
Then a new patient arrives, one so private only her first name is given. Impeccably dressed and escorted by two bodyguards, Sandra recounts a frightening series of recurrent nightmares. Elena agrees to consider her case more carefully, convinced that something ominous may be at work here.
Elena's interpretation of Sandra’s dreams confirms that, indeed, the new patient and her family confront a powerful global network of dangerous forces. As the story unfolds, they face a key question of the Christian life: How do you understand and fulfill the will of God?

Read the first chapter of the book online for FREE: Chapter 1

About the Author 
Davis Bunn did his undergraduate studies at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, where he earned honors degrees in both economics and psychology. He then travelled to London, where he continued this dual approach, earning a Master of Science degree in both industrial psychology and international economics. After teaching at a Swiss university for a year, he entered into a business career that took him to more than 40 countries in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
Davis came to faith at age 28, and began writing two weeks later. Before that point, he had never written anything longer than a business report. He wrote for nine years and completed seven novels before the first was accepted for publication. That book was The Presence, released by Bethany House in 1991. Davis and his wife, Isabella, make their home in Florida for some of each year, and spend the rest near Oxford, England, where they each teach and write. Visit Davis at www.davisbunn.com

Q & A with Davis Bunn
Your novels usually have a very strong sense of place, and Book of Dreams is no exception. Why did you set this story in Oxford? 

When it became possible for us to live from the writing, Isabella and I moved to Oxford. She had been offered a position to do her doctorate here in Christian ethics and law.
I did not particularly want to come, but she was so instrumental in making my own dreams of becoming a writer take wing and fly. Her dream for years had been to obtain her PhD and teach. That’s just the kind of mind she has.
The city and the university have become a true gift to us both, with amazing opportunities for service and personal growth. I have wanted to place a story here for a long time.

In Book of Dreams, you revisit a theme from one of your earlier books, The Warning. Why did you write about the crisis in the banking industry?

The Warning, published in 2003, focused on the then-current financial crisis. It was about a man who felt called by God to warn people that financial upheaval was coming, and the difficulties he had in getting his message across. That book was in the top five on the CBA (Christian Booksellers Association) best-seller list for 14 months.
 The week I started writing Book of Dreams, the news broke that not one single banker responsible for the mortgage crisis and bank crisis had been convicted of a crime. The banking industry came out of this crisis relatively unscathed while 3 million American families lost their homes — that’s almost 15 percent of all homeowners in America. That, to me, is just not right.
The banking industry is all about self-interest and making money. The American banking industry spends $1 million a day lobbying Congress, while the international banking industry spends another million per day lobbying the American political system. With that much money on the table, there’s a potential for huge profits – the banking industry wouldn’t invest that much money for any other reason.
The question became: “What could happen that would stymie this self-absorbed lobbying?”
The answer: An independent commission that would oversee these transactions so there’d be nowhere for these people to hide. I built Book of Dreams around that premise.

Book of Dreams explores the question: “Where does the human psyche end and God begin?” Why did you choose that question as the framework for your story?

Psychology has always fascinated me; so much so that it almost became my profession. One question I love to explore is why so many psychologists are vehemently opposed to the idea of a personal faith.
Those in the camp opposed to faith and religion say that psychology is about wrestling with and identifying personal issues, emotions, and things from the past that block one from being happy. Opponents believe that when you insert faith into the situation, it serves as an excuse for not looking at the past, not being honest about one’s emotions, and not taking control of one’s life.
On the other side, there is a deepening within a group of psychologists and psychiatrists who are strong in their faith. Rather than trying to convince the larger group about the value of faith, their goal is to look at things honestly, with God and prayer as components of the healing process.
In my story, the main character, Elena Burroughs, is the world’s foremost authority on dreams. A psychologist who is deeply involved in current trends in human psychology, Elena is also a devoted believer. She is in the process of discovering that the barrier between God and the human psyche does not exist.

Your story explores how God uses dreams and visions to communicate with people. What inspired that idea?

My wife and I did a wonderful Bible study on the book of Daniel, in which we explored how dreams were one component of Daniel’s gift of prophecy.
When I wrote the book, I tried to build in two key components about communicating with God through dreams or visions. The first is humility. Rather than using a vision or dream for one’s own aggrandizement, I believe that the less the person is involved, the more God can shine through.
The second component is, “How does this vision tie in to the scriptures?” When I was in the Middle East, I saw beautiful cryptograms of the Lord’s Prayer. It was so telling to see the Lord’s Prayer in terms of artwork. This inspired the idea of a book written in Aramaic – the language Jesus spoke – with each verse of Lord’s Prayer on one page of the book.
As I drafted the story, I looked at the Lord’s Prayer one verse at a time and that became my prayer time. It took three months to write the book and I did not finish the Lord’s Prayer in three months. It was a beautiful experience for me.

When the character of Elena follows God’s lead, her life takes a different path than the one she planned or expected. Davis, in what ways does your own dependence on God’s leading take you in surprising directions? 


It’s remarkable how this question comes up now, because it seems like this entire year has been one of being open to God’s OTHER direction. This has been true both in my creative work and in my walk of service.
Obviously I had no idea what was in store for us when I wrote the Book of Dreams (remember, the story is completed between nine and twelve months before its publication). But this really has been a reflection of what the story has tried to reveal – that sometimes the most important gift is what at first is what we fear.
Change often feels threatening, but so long as we struggle, we can’t see the true divine intention. To arrive at this point, where our prayer becomes one of genuinely seeking God’s call and His illumination, we must first embrace the change that is there in front of us.
 
Is a sequel for Book of Dreams planned? If so, when can we expect it?

I am this very moment completing the sequel, which is entitled Hidden in Dreams. Howard/Simon and Schuster have this slated for release in July 2012.

How can readers find you on the Internet?

My website, blog, and interactive discussion group are at www.davisbunn.com
I update my blog at least three times per week. To subscribe to my latest posts via your feed reader or via email, click http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Davis-Bunn-author/134762129885578
Twitter: @davisbunn - http://twitter.com/davisbunn

11.08.2011

Book Review - Book of Dreams by Davis Bunn

Have you ever had a recurring dream? Imagine if you shared a dream with another person whom you had never met? The world of dreams is mysterious and difficult to comprehend, but there are some who attempt to interpret dreams.

In Book of Dreams, Dr. Elena Burroughs, a young widow who is a psychologist at Oxford University, was known as a foremost authority on dreams. Her best-selling book titled The Book of Dreams had sold millions of copies and she made numerous speaking appearances at sold-out events until she lost her husband.


Elena hides in the mundane work of clinical appointments until she receives a referral for a high profile client with an unusual recurring dream. Around the same time, she received a set of copies of a book that is hundreds of years old. The instruction with the books—study one page until it speaks to you. The gilded vellum pages of the books, or plates, contained the words of the Lords Prayer in Aramaic. 

Through the divine power revealed in the ancient book, Elena begins an exciting journey that puts her at the center of an international conspiracy. When she begins to share the dream of several others, their worlds collide in such a way to bring them together for the sake of a cause that will forever bond them.

Davis Bunn has once again created an action-packed fantasy that weaves together scriptural principles with the art of fiction to create a moving story of God’s power. It’s the story of emotional healing for a women consumed by grief as well as a demonstration of how God can work all things out for his glory. At the cost of losing it all, one American Ambassador and a financial advisor to Rome hold fast to their integrity. And they nearly do lose it all. I like how this book can inspire leaders and politicians to take risks to stand up for what is right. It inspires with the message that God is still in control, even when it seems like all is lost.

Some readers might have a difficult time with the fantasy aspects of the book. As with many authors in this genre, Davis Bunn has a fantastic imagination and he takes the reader on an adventure of the mind. It’s important to remember that it’s fiction. If there is any lesson to be learned from the book, it isn’t about any theology related to these supernatural events. It’s from the idea that readers, like Elena, can discover that a life fully surrendered to the will of God is a life worth living.

I think both men and women will enjoy this book, and I can totally see it as a movie.

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes from the publicist.

Watch for Q&A with the author plus a free sample chapter from the book on tomorrow's post.

11.04.2011

Surpassing the Kardashians - Hot Topics Friday

My husband's grandparents have been married for 74 years. Kim Kardashian was married for 72 days.

I've never watched the show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" but the family is featured on the news a lot. Mom of the crew, Kris Kardashian-Jenner is married to former Olympian Bruce Jenner. Yeah, the guy who used to be on the Wheaties box when I was in third grade. I looked at him in his moment of victory every morning.

The Kardashian/ Jenner family tree is complicated. Kris has 4 children with her late first husband. Jenner has 4 children from two previous marriages. And together, they have two children. Whew! That's a lot to keep up with.

This week, the news headlines have gone crazy over Kris Jenner's daughter Kim Kardashian. Are you thinking, who cares? Well I do. Because if I'm supposed to keep up with these Kardashians, I want to know where they're headed. 

You know I'm not serious about keeping up, right? It's Hollywood, even if it's called reality TV, there's nothing real about it. But we can learn something from the news headlines.  After 72 days of marriage, Kim Kardashian announced this week that she is divorcing famous husband, Kris Humphries, a player for the NBA's New Jersey Nets.

I want to challenge people all over America, not to keep up with the Kardashians, but to surpass them. 

The Challenge
  • For the married, commit to your marriage and take that commitment seriously. Marriage is a complicated thing and it takes work.
  • For the unmarried, remember that a million dollar wedding can't fix a cheap relationship. There's no way a relationship goes sour in only 72 days. The problem had to have been there on the day they said their vows.
  • For the young girls, and women who watch the show, forget about keeping up. Set the bar higher and aspire to a relationship with someone who respects you and treats you like a princess daughter of Jesus. Anything less is a waste of your time.
  • For the men who care about the Kardashian story, remember a woman's beauty doesn't come from fashion, hair or fake eyelashes. It comes from a pure heart that loves the Lord.
Forget about reality TV. Let's make our reality something that surpasses the Kardashians.

10.27.2011

Book Review - God Makes Lemonade

Sometimes, life throws a lot of stuff at us. Issues with health, loss of loved ones, broken relationships, financial struggles…and on it goes. Don Jacobson says, “It’s true that in life ‘stuff’ happens, but I’ve found that Lemonade HappensTM too!”
Don Jacobson has put together a book of stories from people who have discovered unexpected sweetness in the middle of sour situations. God Makes Lemonade: True Stories That Sweeten and Inspire is a collection of stories from over 70 contributors and Don has interspersed comments throughout the book that he calls “Lemon Drops”. In many cases, he has followed up with the authors to add a little postscript to the story. In other cases, he comments on his reaction to a story. This book is the first in a series.

What I liked: The stories are heartwarming and inspirational. It makes a great gift book, especially for someone who needs hope. The book is attractive with a really warm feel. It’s very peaceful with light blue accents on the pages and simple graphics added on the titles. It makes it an attractive gift book.

What I didn’t like: This will be nit-picky because I think like a writer and editor more than a reader sometimes. One of the pitfalls in a compilation of stories is that there are great stories, but they aren’t written as well as they could be. As the compiler and editor of the project, Don could have done a little better with removing clichés, taking out excessive uses of passive voice, and tightening up in a few places. The book is formatted in business format with left and right justified margins and a space between paragraphs. This makes it harder to read than standard left justified paragraphs with the first line of each paragraph indented.

I received a free copy of this book from Glass Road Public Relations in exchange for my honest and unbiased review.

From the Publisher - About the Book
I bet you could use a little good news right about now. We have just the book for you! In God Makes Lemonade™ you'll read stories from everyday folks
who discover unexpected sweetness in the midst of sour circumstances.

Some of these real-life stories are laugh-out-loud funny, others are sobering, and more than a few will have you reaching for a tissue. We sure did!

But these true stories all have one thing in common: hope.
There's no question that life gives us "lemons," like issues with health, employment, and relationships-truly sour circumstances we wouldn't wish on anyone. But when those lemons become lemonade, it's as refreshing as an ice-cold drink on a hot summer day.
About Don Jacobson

Don Jacobson's twenty-five years in publishing included serving as the president and owner of Multnomah Publishers, where he oversaw the production of more than 1000 titles, including the five-million-plus-selling series Stories for the Heart. He's had the pleasure of working with such best-selling authors as Randy Alcorn, Joni Eareckson Tada, Henry Blackaby, Robin Jones Gunn, Karen Kingsbury, Andy Stanley, and Bruce Wilkinson. Don's wife, Brenda, has been mentoring mothers for more than a decade.


Jacobson and his wife are passionate about helping single mothers and their children, so the royalties from God Makes Lemonade will benefit these unsung heroes through the LemonAid Foundation. Find out more about Lemonade Books LLC.

A Laugh For You

Last week, at Women of Faith, we heard comedian John Branyan. He's great! His comedy act is clean and family friendly. Enjoy a laugh with John today.

10.25.2011

Wome of Faith Imagine - Recap

 Over the weekend, I attended Women of Faith Imagine in St. Paul, MN. It was a refreshing time with other women. I enjoyed the speakers and we laughed and cried together. I got to attend with complimentary tickets from Book Sneeze, Thomas Nelson publishing's review program, for whom I've reviewed books on this blog.

The Xcel Energy Center acoustics were great. No matter where you sit, you can hear and see well.
On Friday, we enjoyed Sheila Walsh and Dr. Henry Cloud during our sessions. 
Sheila Walsh
Guess I forgot to take a picture of Dr. Henry. His sense of humor and his wisdom were both a great part of the day.
 I just can't get the hang of self-portraits. Here's me on the right and my friend Terri on the left. As you can see, she's much more photogenic when it comes to self-portraits.

In the evening, we heard Mary Mary, a sister duo perform. Their "urban" sound was something outside of what I usually listen to, and it was a nice change from my usual.


Later, we got to hear Grammy winner Natalie Grant perform. What a big voice she has!
Natalie Grant
Natalie Grant
The Women of Faith worship team is awesome. I love the harmony and they have amazing voices. I liked that they mixed hymns in with the line-up.
For our Friday evening and all day Saturday seats, we had our own little balcony on the club level. I loved having the space to move around. And that floor had nice amenities.
The View from Our Balcony
A few thoughts about the weekend:

I'm so thankful I had the opportunity to attend this conference. I had attended years ago when the Friday daytime seminars were held at a local church instead of at the stadium. It was really nice to have everything all at one spot. Plus, I noticed the attendance for the day session was way higher than I remember. 

When I've attended in the past, the Friday session was much more of a note-taking in-depth sort of a seminar. This was different from the rest of the conference which was more inspirational, but not a deep theological study. However, this time, I noticed that the Friday session was more of an extension of the rest of the conference--an inspiring and biblically sound session, but not a deep study. And that's okay.

Women of Faith is different from other conferences such as Beth Moore studies in that it has a different purpose. It's a great place to bring a friend who needs encouraging, or a place to be uplifted and recharged yourself. But the goal isn't to provide women with a deep Bible study. Women will be moved by the stories of the speakers and as women laugh and cry together and they'll hear of God's faithfulness.

I was moved by Angie Smith's story of her little girl Audrey who lived less than a day. And by Sheila Walsh's testimony and frankness. Lisa Harper had an incredible story of God's grace, and Nicole Johnson got real about her life too. 

Luci Swindoll made us laugh and cry and she gave women the opportunity to pray to receive Christ. I thought the explanation could have been a little more thorough so the women understood the step they were taking. 

We even got a bonus performance when Nicole Johnson's little boy Elliot a.k.a. "Michael Jackson" got on stage and danced to "I'm Bad" for us. He's got a future in show business and I think Nicole has her hands full! That boy likes the spotlight.

The one thing I noticed about attending a conference like this now as compared to when I was much younger is I'm at a different place spiritually. I no longer need it for the hype or an emotional high. Instead, it was a shot in the arm of encouragement that has helped me get unstuck from a place of complacency and normalcy. I needed the rock solid reminders that I matter to God and his plan is good for me. I'm so glad I went!

10.20.2011

Like Dandelion Dust - the Movie

I can't imagine what it would be like to adopt a baby and find out when he was seven years old that the biological father's consent was forged on the adoption papers. And I can't imagine what it would be like if the courts ordered that I give my precious son over to his biological parents after the biological father is released from prison.

As a mother, my heart aches to think of what it would be like to let me little boy go visit people who live in a much different environment from our safe home. It would nearly kill me to know my boy was going into a potentially abusive environment.

In the movie Like Dandelion Dust, this is what happens to Jack and Molly Campbell. With the law on the side of the biological parents, they must decide what to do to save their family.

I was surprised that this movie was rated PG-13 since it was missing all of the tacky stuff that most PG-13 movies have. The movie description says the rating is for mature thematic material including domestic violence and alcohol abuse. I agree with the rating because the material would be scary for younger children and for once a movie got the rating right.

Read more details about the movie on IMDB

I have never read the novel by Karen Kingsbury that this book is based on, so I have no way of comparing the two. However, I thought the move was excellent.

10.14.2011

Book Review - Why Church Matters

Joshua Harris says, “Church isn’t where we go. It’s who we are.” That’s backwards from how many Christians view church. Often, we see it as a place that is supposed to meet our needs, but we don’t think of our connection to a home church as part of our responsibility.


Why Church Matters addresses the issue of falling in love with the family of God. Harris calls people who go to church for what they can get, they are careful about getting too involved, and they are quick to find fault with everything.

Harris says we need the local church to encourage us, to help us apply God’s word to our lives, and to help us see our sin. But far too few people are willing to let the church carry out this role. He goes are far as saying that one of the 10 criteria for choosing a church is finding one that will kick you out if needed. This church discipline is part of the responsibility of holding Christians to their commitment  and the responsibility of loving people enough to do what is needed for the good of their soul.

One thing I liked about the author is that he isn’t afraid to stir up controversy and shake up people’s thinking. He places a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of the attendee and not fully on the church. For example, he says, “be careful how you hear.” He says listening is a form of worship and we are held accountable for what we have heard, regardless of whether it moves us emotionally. He says pastors should strive to make their sermons easy to understand and engaging. However, even if they do not meet that criteria, it’s still the responsibility of the people who hear the sermon to listen carefully, apply the truth they hear.

Harris’s approach is different from many and I liked his boldness. Even though I might disagree with a few things he says, most of it is spot on and just what churchgoers need to read to get a revival started. His fresh approach to the subject combined with solid scripture backing makes this an excellent resource tool for those who are seeking a church as well as those who church-hop frequently. I highly recommend that pastors read it as well.

I received this book from Waterbrook Multnomah for review purposes. I am not obligated to write a favorable review.

10.11.2011

Women of Faith - St. Paul MN is Coming Soon

I'm counting down! I mentioned Women of Faith in a post a few weeks ago, but in less than two weeks, I'll be there! I'll be blogging and posting pictures from Women of Faith in St. Paul, MN so be sure to watch for those posts. If you haven't ever been to one of these events, I encourage you to consider joining me in St. Paul, or attending an event in your area.

I have found that the excitement at a large group event is contagious, and even though I don't condone basing spiritual life on emotions, there are times when it's appropriate to catch the excitement and celebrate God. In my past experience, the Friday intensives have been a fabulous time of spiritual growth, so I'm looking forward to that.

Here's a clip from Women of Faith:
I'm excited about my seats. Women of Faith sent me complimentary tickets via the Book Sneeze review program, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to attend and bring a friend.

Have you ever attended Women of Faith? If so, what was your experience. I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

10.09.2011

Fresh Brewed Life - a Book Review


Is the daily grind getting you down? Nichole Johnson invites readers to wake up in Fresh-Brewed Life. This book is an updated version of the one she released ten years ago. Much has happened in Nicole’s life since her first book and she’s open and honest about her life. A popular Women of Faith speaker, she’s inspired many women.

In this book, Johnson covers an array of topics: friendships, relationships, beauty, sexuality, dreams, and more. Each topic is handled with a biblical perspective and there are discussion questions in the back for those who want to use the book as a small group study.

Chapters have attractive callout quotes throughout as well as activities called “fresh brewed adventures” for the reader to do. Example: Write a letter to God, confiding in Him your deepest longings. Each chapter also has a box with suggestions for “directed journaling”. Example: What is someone else doing that you wish you were doing?

One of the most effective chapters in Fresh-Brewed Life was the one on anger. Johnson is open about her own struggle and gets to the heart of why people get angry. The other chapter that I found significant was the one on changing your world. So many women are hindered by fear, overwhelmed by life, and unaware of their real passion. This book helps then reconnect with their dreams and let go of what holds them back.


At first I thought this would be a collections of devotions. It isn’t. It’s more of a workbook to help women do just what the title promises—to wake up their souls and live a richer, fuller, more flavorful life.

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for review purposes through their Book Sneeze program. 

10.05.2011

Could You Pack Up and Move to Africa? For Coffee?

When you sip your morning java, do  you ever wonder where the beans for that coffee came from? Do you ever wonder about the farmer? I didn't think much about it when I'd make my espresso and blend it up with some milk and ice...that is I didn't until I met someone who does care about the farmer. And he made me think differently about it.

Ben Carlson, a native of my little Wisconsin neighborhood has a passion for helping those farmers get paid what they deserve for their coffee beans. And he's in Africa helping those farmers. But such a passion comes with a price.

As a wife, I cannot imagine what it might be like if my husband's passion took us to the heart of Africa. To a place where the people don't speak my language, and where I'd fall asleep and wake up to gunfire, not peepers and crickets. I cannot fathom raising small children away from grandparents, cousins and friends. But this family is doing it.

I want you to see this stirring (pun not intended) video of Ben and his family. It moved me.


After watching that, I'm ashamed of my petty complaints about my minor discomforts and woes. I'm grateful for the safety of my rural neighborhood and the availability of doctors and clinics. And I'm saddened by the way farmers have been underpaid in Africa for a product that supplies our luxury in lattes and fancy brews.

Kristy and Ben blog about their life in Africa at Long Miles Coffee Project. I encourage you to check out their blog and Kristy's amazing photos and heartwarming posts. And remember, when you sip your next cup of coffee, to pray for Ben and Kristy and others who have given up their own comfort to help oppressed people in places like Burundi. Pray that their faith will remain strong and their hearts will be full of hope as they cope with the daily stresses of such a life.

10.04.2011

Practical Advice on How to Clean Your Stove Top

It's everyday Tuesday and I'd like to share a quick cleaning tip with you. If you've never taken  your stove top apart and cleaned it, I think it's about time! Many people don't realize that you can pull apart your traditional stove without damaging anything.

I just finished canning the last load of tomatoes for the season and canning can leave a lot of icky stains on the white stove top. When I put the canner away at the end of the summer, I like to give a stove a polish and shine. That's polish, not Polish, lest those of you who have an aversion to cleaning think I was being politically incorrect.

I won't show a before picture, I'm too ashamed of how bad it was.
Gather your tools for cleaning. Usually a soft cleanser or a powdered cleanser and a scrub pad.
 Lift up the burner and gently pull it from the socket. It's made with ends that unplug, really!
Then remove the drip pan. The drip pan can be washed in hot soapy water that has degreaser.
Remove the knobs from the control panel and wash those in hot soapy water too.
 
 Then, use the scrubber and hot soapy water or soft cleanser to scrub the back panel and all around the burner openings on the stove surface.
  
Did you know the stove top lifts up like the hood of a car? You can clean up all of the spills from things that boiled over because they collect in the big metal drip pan under the surface. Most stoves have little props on the side to hold the stove top up for cleaning.
Then, put everything back together and enjoy the beautiful clean stove. It's almost like getting a new one, only cheaper.

9.30.2011

Boys Will Always Find Mischief

My boys have subtle ways of making life interesting. Some time ago, they teamed up (always a recipe for trouble) and they decided to redecorate a little. They thought our family pictures displayed on the wall in the hallway lacked something, so they added a photo of their own.

Funny thing is, I didn't discover it until I was giving a guest a tour of our house. As we passed the family pictures in the hall, I did a double take.
This is how the display looks. But, what caught my eye was the little picture above the family group picture. I hadn't seen it before.
Turns out, they cropped my husband and me from another family picture, then used some sort of doodling program on the computer to edit the picture and give us more creative features than we normally have. They printed it out and borrowed one of my other frames (who knows who they covered up) and hung it up. 

When they were little, they got into the cookie jar, or scribbled crayon on the walls. They snuck out of their rooms during naps. As teens, the mischief broadens with the availability of technology.

Guess what? I left the picture there in the grouping. It says so much more about our family than the formal pictures do. It paints a vivid picture of life with my funny boys. My funny and very naughty boys.

9.29.2011

More Reflecting Him Resources from Carla McDougal

In an earlier post today, I featured a review of a Bible study by Carla McDougal. I'd like to tell you more about the resources she has available.

Q&A With Carla
  • What practical steps can believers take to be less self-focused and more God-focused?   
    • Life is not about me, but all about Him. This phrase changed my life. Prayer is the key to keeping your eyes on Jesus. The more we pray, the more God moves us to do His will and not our will! 
  • You say it’s important for believers to discover how to pray everyday prayers.  What does this mean? I heard a speaker say she would never bother God to help her find her lost keys or a good parking spot—how do you feel about that statement? 
    • I pray about everything! Jesus tells us in Luke 16:10, “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much.” We categorize prayers, God recognizes prayers. God wants us to bring everything to Him. Nothing is too small or too big for God! Prayer builds our faith and trust in Jesus!
  • What are some of the blessings of having an intimate life with Jesus, and how does one develop that intimacy?
    • Humbleness abounds as I realize there is nothing I can do to earn an intimate relationship with Jesus. I can only obtain it through His grace and mercy, which He gives so freely. Jesus is my all in all.

Discount Offered!
Go to Reflective Life Ministries Online Bookstore, and purchase the items mentioned here for a 10% discount. Simply use the promo code: RHBLOG1



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