Tag Archives: Ann Voskamp

Christian Living in 2015

Can our daily choices actually be spiritual warfare? Read The Battle of 2015 at Other Food: daily devos.

Our choices include what (and if) we believe. I love the opening 2015 post at Beech Croft Tales: Rock Solid.

For more on the challenge to live with the mindset of Christ, read “God’s Word for 2015” at Practical Faith.

And for encouragement that yes, we can make changes in our lives, read Ann Voskamp’s Google+ post.

Janice Dick is starting a new blog series on some of Brother Lawrence’s insights. The first post is Satisfied by God, and I’m looking forward to what she’ll share. Brother Lawrence was a monk in the 1600s, and his words on practicing the presence of God are simple but profound.

As always, you can find spiritual encouragement weekly at Hearing the Heartbeat.

"Nothing binds me to my Lord like a strong belief in His changeless love." ~Charles Spurgeon

Review: The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp

The Greatest Gift, by Ann VoskampThe Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp (Tyndale House, 2013)

What better antidote to the stress and hurry-hurry of December than a few quiet minutes, every day, to re-orient our thinking and ponder the true meaning of Christmas?

The Greatest Gift, subtitled “Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas,” is a collection of Advent devotional readings tracing the promise of a Saviour – “the love story that’s been coming for you since the beginning” (p. x).

Each day’s reading begins with a page of Scripture and a brief look at how this is part of the Advent story and how it’s relevant to us today, whatever our circumstances. It ends with a practical suggestion for applying the day’s thought and with three questions for further exploration.

Ann Voskamp is known for her lyrical prose and for her call to recognize God’s grace – and find gratitude – in both the happy and the difficult days. These daily Advent reflections speak to wherever we may find ourselves, and they offer hope, peace and perspective.

My favourite lines:

The Light never comes how you expect it. It comes as the unlikely and unexpected – straight into Bethlehem unlikely and the feed trough hopeless, and Christmas whispers there is always hope. (p. 139)

The secret of joy is always a matter of focus: a resolute focusing on the Father, not on the fears. All fear is but the notion that God’s love ends. When does He ever end?” (p. 189)

I found these daily moments of reflection helped me to more fully appreciate the days leading up to Christmas. The Greatest Gift is a lovely gift book for yourself or a loved one, and it’s rich enough in content to read again in future years.

The author’s website offers downloadable paper ornaments which readers are encouraged to place daily on a simple “Jesse Tree” (instructions included). This could be a personal or a family act. For those interested in a family Advent devotional, there’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas.

Ann Voskamp is the bestselling author of One Thousand Gifts. She blogs daily at A Holy Experience. The Greatest Gift is a 2014 “Christian Retailing’s Best” award winner.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Intentional. Present. Contented.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance.
Psalm 16:6, NIV*

I usually think of this verse in the context of counting my blessings, but it came back to me this weekend as I sifted through my gleanings from the 2014 LIFT retreat.

Before leaving home, I had opened two email devotionals that spoke about rest. The retreat theme was “Run YOUR Race,” yet those devotionals tuned me into God’s message for me.

Our retreat speakers shared many things, and these are the tidbits that spoke most directly to me:

  • own your journey; accept/embrace who God has created you to be and what He wants to do in/through your life
  • how we journey is as important as the arrival
  • listen
  • discern the things you’re called to do, and the things you’re called to put away
  • intentional living: what does God have for today?
  • fully trust God to show up

Speaker Amanda Andrus compared “today” to one square in a waffle. It’s surrounded by many other squares, but this is the only one I’m in. How does God want to fill this day? What might He want to do with this square of time?

Somehow this spoke to me about being present in the moment—instead of always pushing forward, straining to get into the next measure of time. There’s so much to do, but we can’t do it all anyway. How much better to be faithful in the moments we’re given? How much more contented will we be when we’re not pushing the boundaries God has set?

Yes, this is about living a Christian life, and yes, it’s active, but do you sense a soul rest here? Tie it in with this tweet I saw from Ann Voskamp the next day:

God our Creator, You made each of us unique and gave us a place in Your plans. Quiet our spirits to know Your leading, and help us to follow, day by day, in Your strength. Let us not miss the opportunities of today because we’re itching for tomorrow. Find us faithful, in the little things as well as in the big. Help us be contented in the now.

Here’s the song that blessed me most in my time at the retreat: “Oceans,” from Hillsong United.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Robin Williams and Suicide: 3 links and a song

On Saturday I finished reading Jan Wong‘s bestselling memoir, Out of the Blue, subtitled “A memoir of workplace depression, recover, redemption, and, yes, happiness.” The author didn’t attempt to take her own life, but in exploring depression and its effects the book does talk about suicide.

Monday evening we heard the news of Robin Williams’ death. I’m sad. Not from a sense of personal loss, but sad for a life tragically cut short. That’s a cliche, but you know what? A cliche is something that’s been over-used. Suicide happens too often. There’s too much pain.

I don’t know the reason Mr. Williams died, and it’s not my place to analyze. My heart breaks for the individuals holding this much pain and often wearing smiles to hide it–be they adult, teens or children.

On Tuesday, this was my prayer:

"Robin Williams. Christ, have mercy. Rest his soul. Hold his family. Thank You for his gifts. Let him 'fly, be free'."

Not surprisingly, everyone seems to have something to say about the news. Here are some posts that touched my heart–and a mainstream song that I hear echoing Jesus’ longing to reach the wounded.

At Steph’s Eclectic Interests, Steph Beth Nickel reminds us that while we can’t do anything about global or celebrity suffering, we can do something. See “What Can I Do?

At The Daily Dad, Thomas Froese shares what he’d like to say to Robin Williams: “Grieving Robin Williams. His Bus Goes Home.”

At A Holy Experience, Ann Voskamp reveals “What the Church & Christians Need to Know About Suicide & Mental Health.”

And for our song: Nickelback‘s Lullaby (Yes, this song has made me cry in public, and no, I don’t agree that suicide is “the easy way out.” Read Ann Voskamp’s post, if you didn’t already. Suicide happens when strong people, who have already fought longer and harder than outsiders know, succumb to the lie that this is their best option. We know who the Liar is, and he will get what’s coming to him.)

Continual Praise

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
Psalm 100:4, NLT*

The psalms we most often hear in church, and many of our Christian hymns and worship songs, ring with praise and gratitude to God. It’s a big part of how we respond to Him, and rightly so.

That’s how I usually interpret verses like the one above, but this time it reminded me of something else as well. When the Israelites went to the Temple, they brought sacrifices: animals, birds, grain, oil, wine.

They were giving back to God through a variety of offerings. We bring our financial gifts and sometimes ministry gifts. We bring our hearts. But our thanksgiving to God, our praise of His character and His deeds, are acceptable sacrifices as well.

Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. (Hebrews 13:15, NLT)

A continual sacrifice… not just when we go to church.

Just like the animal sacrifices were to be pure and without blemish, we need to offer God our best praise, our best thanksgiving. That means spending time with Him in prayer, reading the Bible and keeping our eyes open to spot the good things He does in our lives.

It means offering the sacrifice when life is easy, and when life is hard. Not that we pretend everything’s rosy, but that we’re honest about the pain while continuing to declare God’s unchanging nature and His unfailing love.

David did this, in many of his psalms. It’s a “required” sacrifice, but not to stoke God’s ego. It’s required for our sakes—as an antidote to how quickly we let the blessings or trials block our sight of the One who loves us. Praise and thanksgiving ground us, restore our focus and our perspective.

Jennifer Slattery offers some excellent suggestions in her blog post, Cultivating a Thankful Heart. And if you haven’t yet read Ann Voskamp’s excellent book, One Thousand Gifts, it’s an excellent jump-start in the spiritual practice of gratitude to God.

God our Creator, Saviour and Sustainer, we could never thank You enough for all You’ve done, and there aren’t enough words to tell how great You are. Please move our hearts to praise and gratitude as part of our worship. Remind us this isn’t optional, and we thank You for the benefits we’ll receive in our spirits as we draw nearer to You in obedience.

Matt Redman‘s song, “Blessed Be Your Name,” is a great anthem for praise and worship in all circumstances. This version is sung by Robin Mark.

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Thankfulness as a Sacrifice?

Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God,
and keep the vows you made to the Most High.
Psalm 50:14, NLT*

Usually our thanks is a spontaneous response to something that delights us. It’s sincere and heart-felt. It costs us nothing.

But is there more? In Bible times, the people of Israel had a regular schedule of sacrifices and offerings. You didn’t just sacrifice when you felt like it, although you could bring extra if you were especially thankful.

I keep a gratitude journal, but I don’t write in it every day. Not a very regular sacrifice, and it’s not that God isn’t active on those days. It’s that I forget to take notes, or more often that I forget to take note. I don’t see what He’s doing. I’ve forgotten to look.

There’s another aspect to this sacrifice: the Apostle Paul tells us to give thanks in all things. Even in the ones we don’t like and wish we’d never experienced. Ann Voskamp calls this the “hard eucharisteo” and her book, One Thousand Gifts, shows how important this intentional, teeth-gritted or tear-streaked thanksgiving is.

We may not be able to thank God for the pain, but we can always thank Him for His presence with us in it and for His power to make it count for something.

God our Shepherd, our Provider and Protector, forgive us for our ungrateful hearts and for the times we take Your gifts for granted. Open our eyes daily to see the many opportunities to give You thanks. Delight us with Your presence. And strengthen us to thank You in the hard times too.

Matt Redman’s “Blessed Be Your Name” reminds us to praise in the good times and the bad.

*New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Three Good Things

Today is gone, it was not fun. Tomorrow is another one. Every day from here to there, funny things are everywhere.” (With apologies to Dr. Seuss’ One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)

Certain Seuss-isms have lodged in my brain and pop out at times to bother my children. The good Doctor actually wrote “today was fun” and I tend to quote this one properly at the end of a good but tiring day. But the day in question had been stressful and I was glad to see the end of it.

Instead of his usual Seuss-induced eye roll, my 15-year-old stepped into my personal space, index finger outstretched, and challenged, “Name three good things that happened today. Fast.”

Umm.

There had been good things, not least being that although anxiety had hounded me all day I hadn’t crumpled. I was just tired of the repetitive battle.

He didn’t move. “Three good things.”

I don’t remember now which three I told him, but his moment of tough love is up there with the best things in that day.

How quickly we forget the good, or focus on the bad instead. And as Ann Voskamp says in One Thousand Gifts, even the bad can be a gift if we choose to recognize God there and continue giving thanks.

Gratitude has to be intentional. Deliberate. Radical.

For further reading:

At A Voice Crying Out into the Wilderness, Roger Tharpe reminds us of the importance of remembering the good.

At Other Food: daily devos, Violet Nesdoly affirms that gratitude is a choice.

And you’re bound to find something valuable about gratitude at Ann Voskamp’s A Holy Experience.

Picks from 2011

I’m borrowing this idea from Laura Davis at Interviews and Reviews, and picking my favourites from what I’ve reviewed in 2011:

Books

Most life-changing (tie, listed in order I read them):

Most fun:

Most laugh-inducing:

Best dramatic novel:

Most personally helpful writing how-to:

Music

Favourite album of the year (tie, listed in order I heard them):

Gratitude

Now the people complained about their hardships in the hearing of the LORD, and when he heard them his anger was aroused. Then fire from the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp. When the people cried out to Moses, he prayed to the LORD and the fire died down. So that place was called Taberah, because fire from the LORD had burned among them.

 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat!”
Numbers 11:1-4, NIV*

The people complained… the Israelites started wailing… Numbers 11:10 says every family was “wailing at the entrance to their tents.”

The people had hardships, real or perceived. But look at all the good things:

That’s a lot of good! What if they’d concentrated on the blessings instead of their hardships? What if they’d trusted God to do what He said?

Mighty and rescuing God, holy and faithful, forgive us for the times we concentrate on the negatives and complain. The Bible says we’re welcome to bring You our pain, because You are our refuge. But You don’t want us spreading dissension and discontent among our brothers and sisters. Open our eyes to the gifts You give. Help us not to take them for granted, and not to prefer our own ways. Create in us grateful hearts to worship and to wonder at all that You’re doing in our world.

Here’s a gratitude song I first heard live in concert, and I fell in love with it on the spot: Geoff Moore’s “Saying Grace.” This is a live recording, the sound isn’t great, but listen for the words… and watch the love on this Christian’s face as he sings his thanks.

For more on gratitude, consider joining Ann Voskamp’s gratitude community.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Scattered Thoughts

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:5b, NIV*

Take captive every thought…

Paul is calling Christians to live “in the world but not of the world” and not to judge by human standards but by God’s. He’s talking about spiritual warfare and tearing down everything that “sets itself up against the knowledge of God”.

There’s a fierceness to his tone even though he starts with “By the humility and graciousness of Christ I appeal to you.

For me, the idea of taking every thought captive has meant not allowing myself to dwell on negatives and other temptations, but choosing to think about good and positive things. In reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts I’ve come to apply the verse by choosing gratitude instead of ingratitude.

But what if there’s more?

Take captive every thought…

Sometimes when I’m tired, this means pulling my thoughts together and marshalling enough mental energy to carry on in His strength.

Far more frequently than that, it means not letting my thoughts skitter away in all directions. Some of them rabbit-trail, others try to get into the future ahead of me.

“Take captive” is a good picture of what’s needed: they can bolt like a herd of wild horses, and I need a firm hand to lasso them and get them back into the corral.

Father, I want to live in the present, grounded and aware, seeking You first. I can’t do this on my own. Help me bring every thought and focus in line with You. Help me take one thing at a time, walking with You, open to hear anything You might say.

Here’s Michael Card’s “In Stillness and Simplicity.”

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.