God First

They sweep past like the wind
and are gone.
But they are deeply guilty,
for their own strength is their god.
Habakkuk 1:11, NLT*

This prophecy describes the Babylonians, whom God says He will “raise up” (verse 6) to conquer everything in sight.

He calls them “a cruel and violent people” (verse 6) yet it seems their worse offense isn’t wicked behaviour – it’s the attitude of their hearts. It’s what they worship.

Today’s verse reminds us that, as important as our conduct is, of greater importance is the orientation of our hearts. Even outward righteousness wouldn’t be acceptable to Him if it came from a wrongly-focused heart.

God requires our obedience, but even deeper, He requires our worship. Not because His ego needs it, but because we were designed to worship Him. We are only complete when our spirits are lined up with His. When He is our Source, our focus. Our God.

Holy and all-powerful God, You alone are worthy of worship. If we fixate on anything else, we’re missing the fullness of life that You have for us – and we’re offending You by exalting something of lesser value above You. Forgive us for how easily we get distracted. Capture our hearts with Your goodness, and draw us to worship You alone. Only You are worthy, and only in You we find life.

Let this song from Lauren Daigle remind us to keep God “First”.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Raise Your Gaze, by Peter A. Black

Raise Your Gaze, by Peter A. BlackRaise Your Gaze, by Peter A. Black (Angel Hope Publishing, 2014)

Subtitled “Mindful Musings of a Grateful Heart: Fifty-Two Articles and Words to Bless,” this is an encouraging collection of some of the author’s inspirational columns as published over the years, plus a selection of brief verses of blessing.

The content is arranged to follow the calendar year, beginning in the winter of a new year and moving through the seasons to Christmas. As such, it’s suitable for a weekly reading plan, or of course to be enjoyed in a shorter span of time.

Articles range from slice of life and personal experience to nature-inspired lessons and profiles of worthy but often unsung heroes. Many pieces end with a portion of Scripture which ties into the day’s thought.

Peter A. Black is a Canadian-based writer and former pastor, and the author of Parables from the Pond. He is now on his 21st year of writing his weekly column for The Watford Guide-Advocate, and considers it “a door of opportunity to present a Christian perspective and an inspirational moment for those who care to read it.” He’s also a contributing blogger and regular commenter at The Word Guild blog.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Tested Trust

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13, NLT*

This level of trust isn’t a casual belief, nor is it taking something for granted. It’s an active, deliberate choice to trust God, regardless of the circumstances – or the consequences.

Trust like this seems risky at first, like sitting in a chair that looks rickety. You might lower yourself gingerly onto the seat, listening for creaks, leg muscles tensed to spring up if the chair collapses.

Gradually, you relax and let the chair take your full weight. It holds you well.

The next time you may still be cautious, but not as much so. Each time you experience the chair’s solidity increases your ability to trust it. The chair has been strong – trustworthy – all along.

With God, we have many proofs of His faithfulness, from His Word and from experience – others’ and our own.

It’s still up to us to choose to place our trust in Him in each situation. That choice locks out the enemy’s mind games and focuses us on our true Help. It’s a choice that sometimes we’ll need to make minute by minute.

The more we rely on God, and the more fully we do so, instead of keeping our options open, the more we will prove His faithfulness. This is when we discover the hope and confidence He gives.

God our Rock and our Salvation, our Help and our Sustainer, be our Source of hope. Give us the faith to actively trust You so we’ll be open to your infilling of joy, peace, and confident hope – for our own sakes and for the sake of those who need to see that You’re real.

Our song today is “In Christ Alone,” sung here by Geoff Moore and Adrienne Liesching.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Frayed, by Kerry Nietz

Frayed, by Kerry NietzFrayed, by Kerry Nietz (Freeheads, 2016)

Fans of the DarkTrench saga will be pleased to return to that same, dystopian future Earth. New to these books and not sure what to think? The book that started it all, A Star Curiously Singing, is free on most ebook platforms.

Frayed is the start of the DarkTrench Shadow Series, with new characters. Chronologically it overlaps the last part of A Star Curiously Singing. (Now I want to go back and read that one for a refresher to what happened off-screen in this book.)

The protagonist, ThreadBare, is a debugger (human, implanted with a computer chip that lets him wirelessly interact with all the machines so he can fix them). Debuggers are essentially slaves. In this society built on a form of Islamic law, their one bonus is they’re guaranteed entry to paradise because their chips block them from sinning – and from any other behaviour their masters forbid.

Debuggers are gifted at asking questions, solving problems. But the questions ThreadBare starts asking could land him in serious pain.

Frayed is written in the first person, present tense, and that works for these books. It’s like ThreadBare is talking to you, the reader, streaming to you a real-time account of what’s happening. At least once he’ll even speak to you directly, calling you a freehead (because you have no implant).

As well as the DarkTrench books, Kerry Nietz has also written Amish Vampires in Space and Amish Zombies in Space. I haven’t read the zombie one, but the vampire one is a serious novel, not a joke like the titles imply. For more about the author and his books, visit nietz.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Set Apart

And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.
Acts 20:32, NLT*

God has set us apart for Himself. Not because of anything we’ve done to earn it, but because of His great mercy and grace.

Set apart for God…

  • for His glory, in our conduct and in the transformation others will see in us
  • for His service, as and where He leads and empowers
  • for personal relationship with Him, because He has adopted us
  • for our rescue and resuscitation, and to build us up
  • for an inheritance in eternity

Because He chose us, while we were still dead in our sins. (Romans 5:8)

God our Rescuer and Redeemer, You have given us new life and hope, not just for ourselves but that we may live set apart for You. Help us fully embrace Your rule in our lives so we can be filled with Your Holy Spirit and live lives that please You. Shine through us to draw others who are still in the darkness.

Another Matt Maher song this week: “Deliverer.”

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Thicker than Blood, by C.J. Darlington

Thicker than Blood, by C.J. DarlingtonThicker than Blood, by C.J. Darlington (Mountainview Books edition, 2015)

Christy’s life is a mess, and she has nowhere to turn. She walked out on her younger sister, May, after their parents died. That was years ago, and she couldn’t bear for May to see her now.

May still carries the grief of abandonment, and wonders what she did wrong. She thinks she’s forgiven Christy – until her wayward sister stumbles back into her life.

The story alternates between the two sisters’ points of view. Christy sees May offering unbelievable love and patience, while May reveals to her friends just how hard it is to give consistent acceptance to someone who seems so ungrateful.

There’s more to the story than that, of course. Christy’s job is on the line and she has an abusive ex. May’s about to lose her beloved farm to foreclosure. But it’s the relationships and the characters that drive the story.

I found this an honest look at the cost – and benefit – of unconditional love.

Thicker than Blood was originally published after winning the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest. It’s book 1 in the “Thicker than Blood” series, and it’s free as an ebook on most platforms. For more about author C.J. Darlington and her books, visit cjdarlington.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Without Proof Photo Album

I’ve shared photos before of things my characters might have seen in Secrets and Lies, and today I have a few images from Without Proof. If you’ve read the novel, you’ll know that Amy’s estranged father wants to be part of her life, but there’s a lot of hurt for her to get past first. When he visits Nova Scotia, once she agrees to meet him, they spend part of a day prowling some of the local tourist sites to avoid the awkwardness of sitting and making conversation.

A natural spot for them to visit is Peggy’s Cove, which is not too far from where Amy lives and which is the home of perhaps the most photographed lighthouse in Canada. Here’s a brief tour:

Wooden bench on the rocks at Peggy's Cove

Amy and Neal may have sat on this bench when they shared a brief heart-to-heart.

View from the bench: plenty of ocean, with the rock-lined edge of a roadway in the foreground.

Looking straight ahead, this is what they might have seen, if the wind was calm that day.

The iconic Peggy's Cove lighthouse, surrounded by tourists.

Looking to the left, they’d have seen the iconic lighthouse, surrounded by tourists. Yes, this whole area is essentially a collection of huge rocks with a few plants growing wherever they can.

Peggy's Cove Fisherman's Monument, carved by William E. deGarthe

Amy pointed out the Fisherman’s Monument to Neal. The monument was carved by William E. deGarthe, and if you click the image, the link will take you to more information. As I said, the rocks are everywhere. So too are persistent plants. In the lower right-hand corner are wild rose bushes, and you can see grass and a few trees as well.

Wild rose growing in a crack of a granite boulder

Trivia point: the background image of my website is a huge chunk of Peggy’s Cove granite with a tenacious wild rose blooming in a crack. Here’s a smaller version of the image.

If you walked up to the restaurant and out onto the point, you’d see a greater expanse of boulders that project like hills into the sea. People love to clamber across the rocks, although, tragically, some venture onto the slippery black rocks where the water comes, and get swept into the ocean. I didn’t include that part of the locale in our photo tour, nor the restaurant and shops, because how many pictures do you really want to look at? And I didn’t include a shot of the gourmet ice cream sold on-site, because that would have just been cruel. 🙂

If you haven’t read the novel and want to know more (it’s Christian romantic suspense), check out the Without Proof book page.

[All photos on this page are my own, taken by me.]

Highly Valued

So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock – his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders.
Acts 20:28, NLT*

Let’s face it, church is a collection of sinners saved by Jesus’ blood, plus those still fumbling toward saving faith. Some are easy to love, but most of us have sharp edges, abrasive surfaces, or other sources of irritation.

We’re in the process of spiritual growth, and what God sees in us is not always visible to those looking through human eyes. But He’s building us into the Body of Christ, and into His Temple.

He sees value in us. Enough that Jesus died to redeem us.

He commands us to love one another. (John 13:34-35) He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done first, and He offers the Holy Spirit within us to produce that love for one another. We just need to choose to obey, even when it’s hard.

Is there someone in your church who’s impossible to love? Pray for him or her. Regularly. If you ask God to grow His love in you – and persistently choose to cooperate with Him – He’ll surprise you.

Most times it’s not that extreme, but may we remember to ask what He sees, instead of focusing on what we see. May we remember the high value He sets on us – as individuals and as His flock.

God our Shepherd and our Saviour, we dare not dismiss any soul You love. Please help us see what You see, and grow Your love in our hearts for each member of Your Body. Show us what You see in us, as well, and help us surrender fully to Your cleansing and growth.

Matt Maher’s song, “Instrument,” made a powerful difference in my life during a very difficult time in my own church life.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN

The Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RNThe Menopause Guide, by Danna Demetre, RN (Spire edition, 2009)

I picked this book up years ago from a sale bin ($3 well spent) for reference “someday.” The cover offers help to “manage hot flashes, increase your energy level, understand hormones, reduce mood swings, and live with new purpose.”

What it doesn’t say is that this is a book for Christian women. I was delighted to find, along with the practical physical information, advice that integrated the spiritual dimension of our lives.

Each chapter addresses a relevant topic with compassion, humour, and a sense that the author and/or the women she quotes have “been there” and survived. Chapters end with health tips and a quick checklist where readers can make a note of the one thing that impacted them most in the section. So often we finish a book like this and have already forgotten the things we meant to put into practice.

The book includes tips on vitamins and natural supplements that may help manage various symptoms, always with the caution to consult with a health-care professional before making any changes.

My favourite part of the book focuses on how we may need to change our thinking (and the way we talk to ourselves) – renewing our minds as Romans 12 instructs. New to me was the candid assessment of how long it takes to regularly practice a new thought pattern before it becomes habit. Most of us give up way too soon.

Prayer is also mentioned as an integral part of a healthy journey through menopause. My favourite line:

My personal prayer for this season is to have a heart of contentment and an attitude of surrender at all times. [page 72]

Women struggling with specific symptoms may find help in the nutritional, exercise and supplement information. They’ll definitely find encouragement, a laugh or two, and reassurance that they’re not alone. And that menopause is not a sickness – it’s a natural part of life.

Danna Demetre has a background in health care, personal training and fitness. Her stated mission on her website is “transforming lives: body, soul & spirit.” Visit dannademetre.com for more about the author and her books, and to explore the free content she offers to help women find balance in their lives.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Guest Post: How Busy is Too Busy?

How Busy is Too Busy?

Steph Beth Nickel

A few months ago I came across Jonny Diaz’s song “Breathe.” (If you haven’t heard it, I encourage you to check it out on YouTube.)

There’s a difference between hitting the ground running in the morning and go, go, going until you collapse into bed at night and having a full schedule.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Image Credit: Pixabay

How do you set a reasonable schedule and avoid becoming too busy?

Here are some questions to ask:

Do I get to the end of the day and experience a sense of accomplishment?

When bedtime rolls around and we’re focused more on what we weren’t able to accomplish than what we got done, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate our expectations. There’s only so much any one of us can do.

Do I schedule time for those activities that “recharge my batteries”?

Sometimes it isn’t about doing less but instead, doing those things that energize us. Taking a walk with my hubby after supper, even when I don’t feel like it, is usually a better option than watching “one more episode” of a TV program. And if I plop in front of “the tube” for hours, I feel drained. If I, however, pick up a book—or two or three—I feel as if I’ve accomplished something, even if said books are fiction.

And speaking of TV and books …

Can I read for leisure or watch my favourite TV program without nodding off?

It’s a pretty good indication that our days may be just a little too full—or that we need to add physical activity to our schedule—if we fall asleep during our downtime.

Am I too busy to exercise?

I know it may seem impossible to include exercise in our day, but it’s important to remember that regular physical activity usually makes it easier to think clearly and work more efficiently. Plus, it will likely help us sleep more soundly. Bonus!

And don’t forget that exercise doesn’t necessarily mean spending endless hours at the gym or running for miles every day. Find a physical activity you enjoy (swimming, biking, joining a recreational sports team) and keep at it, and watch the changes happen.

Do most of my meals come from the freezer or the drive-through at my local fast food restaurant?

I am definitely averting my eyes and humming as I share this thought. I have big dreams of planning the week’s menu and shopping for necessary ingredients on the weekend, but it just doesn’t happen. One day. One day.

Does my house look like a bomb fell most days?

My home will never, ever, ever get the Good Housekeeping seal of approval. However, I do want to do better. And for this to happen, I have to schedule “hometending,” as one of my friends calls it. In order to add sufficient time each day, something else has to go—but not necessarily downtime.

Do I consider time with family and friends just one more thing to scratch off my To Do list?

If we feel like spending time with the important people in our life is an inconvenience and keeps us from doing what we feel we should be doing—or what we truly want to do—it’s time to rework our schedule and possibly, take a closer look at our priorities.

Do those things I feel called to do (like writing a book for instance) keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list?

If there is a dream that just won’t go away, it’s quite possible the Lord has placed that dream in our heart. There will always be responsibilities that seem more important that divert us from pursuing the calling. We may think it isn’t realistic or that we could never actually do what it is, but I encourage you to set some time aside. Really pray about it and “get your feet wet.”

Do you feel as if you want to write a book? Read books on the writing craft. Attend a workshop or a conference. Connect with a Facebook group for writers. There are dozens, if not hundreds. But most of all, you’ll have to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), remembering that first drafts are often much different than the final version.

No matter what your calling, ask God to open the doors before you—and be willing to walk through each one.

Do I set aside time to study the Bible and prayer each day?

As Christians, this is the key question. If we are not studying God’s Word and praying regularly, our agenda will never fall in line. If we don’t have time to pursue our First Love, it’s a guarantee that we are too busy.

Scroll down to the comments form to share your thoughts.

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Let your priorities guide your schedule.

Don’t forget to schedule downtime.

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel
(Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.