Book Review: Gospel Meditations for Christmas

GM4Xmas-product-cover-front-NEWGospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett is the latest in their “Gospel Meditations” series (some of you might know Chris Anderson as the author of hymns such as His Robes for Mine and My Jesus Fair). The booklet is divided into 31 pages, one a day through the month of December (or any time, really, since these truths are eternal). Each page lists a Bible passage to read and then delves into some facet of the passage for a handful of paragraphs. The primary focus of the book is the Incarnation, and different aspects of it that the book covers are Christ’s humility, holiness, human ancestry; His being our peace, our mediator, our shepherd,; prophecies and promises about him; various names applied to Him; His Deity and humanity; and more. Quite a lot for 31 pages!

The best way to give you a flavor of the book is to share a few quotes from it:

Only as man could He die as a substitute for other men. And only as God could He suffer infinitely, paying for the sins of all the redeemed. (Day 4)

Escaping judgment begins with acknowledging that you deserve it. (Day 5)

Matthew begins his account of the good news with a record of Jesus’ ancestry. This isn’t some boring list of personal details that Matthew came across in research and decided to include as space-filler. No, this genealogy is Matthew’s attention- grabbing introduction, and it’s jam-packed with significance. (Day 7)

Consider whether your mental picture of Jesus fits the picture that Micah paints. The King that was born in Bethlehem is no longer a cherubic Baby. He’s a strong Shepherd, a majestic King, and the greatest military Commander of history. Jesus is the returning King and Judge before Whom every human will give account. Jesus is no longer a small Baby evoking your tender sympathy; He’s the world Sovereign demanding your total submission before it’s too late (Acts 17:31) (Day 9)

Having a biblical view of Jesus shouldn’t only lead you to lifelong submission; it should also lead you to patient perseverance. Like Micah’s original audience, we may respond in faith, yet die, having never seen the promises fulfilled. We must let it sink in that Micah’s generation never saw God make good on these words. Like them, we may spend our entire lives in unfulfilled longing. But if this Christmas prophecy that Micah uttered makes any difference to us today, it should fuel our persevering hope in God’s promises. Christian, even though we’re almost three millennia removed from Micah’s prophetic messages, keep longing for the return of the Shepherd-King from Bethlehem. Don’t lose heart. (Day 9)

What is a word? Don’t overthink it. It’s basically a means of communication. It’s a message, spoken or written, from one person to another—a form of revelation…Jesus Christ is God’s best and final communication to mankind. The Bible is God’s inspired Word. But Jesus is God’s incarnate Word—God revealed in human flesh. One of Christ’s great purposes in coming to earth was to reveal the unseen God. The apostle John returns to this motif throughout his writings. (Day 13)

This experience was so deeply satisfying for Simeon that he could say: “Now I’m ready to die.” God doesn’t promise us (like He had promised Simeon) that we’ll get to physically see Jesus before we die. But God does promise everyone who follows King Jesus that we will see His face and live in His presence after we die, and forever! To know and love and see the Lord is what we were made for. So the only way we can die in peace is if we have embraced the gospel by faith and if we are confident that very soon we are going to see the King with our very eyes. (Day 27)

Christmas sentimentality doesn’t help in tough circumstances. As I look back over the past decade and remember what Decembers have looked like for me, I recall many happy memories, but a lot of hardships, too. At Christmastime I’ve visited halfway houses, nursing homes, and funeral homes. I’ve received news of birth defects and of strokes, of terrorism and of persecution. And I’ve spent much time with loved ones who still don’t see their need for Jesus. When such burdens weigh heavily in December, Christmas lights don’t help. But Christmas truth does! (Day 31)

This is an excellent resource to focus your hearts and minds on Jesus and what was involved in His coming as well as many ways His incarnation should affect us personally.

(Sharing with Woman to Woman Word-filled Wednesdays, Coffee for Your Heart, the Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carol’s Books You Loved)

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Literary Christmas Reading Challenge Wrap-up

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase has been hosting a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge the past few weeks which I have enjoyed participating in.

Here are my Christmasy reads this year:

Evergreen: A Christiansen Winter Novella by Susan May Warren
Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett (will finish this today or tomorrow)
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh
One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg
Sarah’s Song by Karen Kingsbury
The Shoe Box by Francine Rivers
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney

I think that’s more than ever before, but due mostly to most of them being shorter novellas.

Thank you, Tarissa! It was fun!

Two Short Christmas Reviews

In The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren, Marianne Wallace is an avid football fan, but none of her sons have been interested in playing – until her youngest son’s senior year. She becomes the Big Lake Trouts’ biggest fan. But is she a big enough fan to don the trout costume when the mascot is out for the season? Especially when her husband, thinking she needs some spice in her life, volunteers her to head the hospitality committee with its upcoming Christmas Tea (note to husbands: don’t do this!) and she’s trying to create the perfect Christmas for her family.

The Christmas Tea is a challenge as the older pillar-of-the-church ladies want to keep the tea the same as it has been for eons, but the younger women want to change it up. And as her grown children one by one cancel their plans to come for Christmas, this holiday season is shaping up to be one of the most disappointing and stressful ever.

The story is written in a humorous vein but it still manages to tackles key issues, for instance: is showing another person your love best done the way you think conveys it, or are the unusual and perhaps unorthodox opportunities that arise, that seem like hindrances, actually new opportunities to show love? Another: what’s the nature and focus of traditions and hospitality?

Loved this novella!

The second one also happens to be by Susan May Warren: Evergreen: A Christiansen Winter Novella. The Christiansens are facing their first Christmas with an empty nest. John is excited, planning a surprise trip to Paris to renew their vows at the top of the Eiffel tower. But Ingrid agrees for them to head up the church’s live Nativity, their dog has a major illness, wiping out the savings for the trip and needing their time and attention, and Ingrid’s sister, who is going into rehab after being arrested, asks them to take in her son, a nephew they haven’t seen in years. Their disagreements over these things dredge up past unresolved hurts, driving a wedge between them.

Some quotes from this one:

Even Mary had to let her child go…You have to wonder, as Mary watched Jesus on the cross, did she look back and ask herself if she had made a mistake? God had told her she would be the mother of the Savior. You can’t get more devastated than Mary, watching her Son—the Savior—die…But Jesus’ path wasn’t for Mary to determine. Her greatest ability as a mother was to be His mother. To love Him, nurture Him, care for Him. She embraced her destiny, then let Him go to embrace His. You have to let your children embrace theirs.

She didn’t want to hear it. To see his love in a thousand small ways. Because then she’d have to loose her hold on the ember of bitterness, let God heal her heart.

I should have leaned into God for courage, instead of reacting in fear.

Along with the nature of love and the best ways to show it, this one also discusses protection and fear. Protecting each other is something we’re supposed to do, yet sometimes it can stifle the other.

This was a different tone from the first one, but poignant and quite good. Evidently Susan has a whole series involving the Christiansens.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: One Enchanted Christmas: A Novella

Enchanted ChristmasIn One Enchanted Christmas by Melissa Tagg, Maren Grant had one of the best nights of her life one December evening. Her book was about ready to be published, and as she developed a serious crush on Colin Renwycke, the model posing for the cover of her book, he actually asked her out. They had a wonderful, “enchanted” evening going to dinner and then a carriage ride around the city, ending with his issuing an open invitation to come visit his family’s farm, even to stay there and write for a while.

A year later, even though Maren only heard from Colin once, via a postcard reminding her about his open invitation, and at the urging of her best friend, she decided to take Colin up on his offer. She had begun to think of him as her story’s hero, and was stuck in her next novel. She decided seeing Colin’s home and town might provide her with inspiration. She couldn’t reach him, so she decided to just show up. He had told her where to find the key if the family was away, and as she tried to retrieve it, who should arrive but – not Colin, but his brother, Drew, mystified as to why this woman was trying to break into his house.

After much explanation and the fortunate recognition of her by Drew’s niece, Winnie, who had read Maren’s first book, Drew invites her into the home he shares with his sister and niece. He had inherited the family farm and was trying to make a go of it as a haven for his siblings and himself, helping out with their problems the best way he knew how. He and Colin had argued over the inheritance, and Drew had not see his brother since. He begins to entertain the hope that this author might draw Colin back to the farm.

But as Drew shows Maren around town and as she unavoidably gets pulled into some of the family issues, they find they mesh well, her playfulness a complement to his seriousness. He may not want Colin to rediscover Maren after all.

My thoughts:

I had never read Melissa Tagg before, and romances aren’t my favorite genre, but this was a delight. I loved how Maren and Drew interacted, and a quirky narrator popped up occasionally to summarize, give background information, etc. Though the story has something of a romantic comedy feel, there’s drama as well from the family issues and misunderstandings. It’s a little light on the faith element, but otherwise it’s quite an enjoyable Christmas read.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: The Shoe Box

Shoe BoxThe Shoe Box by Francine Rivers is a novella about a boy named Timmy who has had to be removed from his home and placed with foster parents. He carries a shoe box with him everywhere he goes, but doesn’t show or tell anyone what’s in it.

Though the situation with his family is hard, his foster parents care for him tenderly.

One day he’s motivated to give his greatest treasure to a special person.

And that’s about all I can say without giving away too much, because this is really more of a short story than a novella. I wish I had known that going in, because the surprise and distraction of being only 50% through the Kindle version yet getting to the end took away from the enjoyment of the story (the rest of the Kindle version was a preview for another book). But it’s a sweet, touching story with beautiful illustrations, interspersed with the author’s family traditions and recipes.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Book Review: Keeping Christmas

Keeping ChristmasIn Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh, Stan and Judith Winters are empty nesters. Stan enjoys having a little more freedom of schedule and quietness, but Judith’s life has always been wrapped up in her children, and she misses them. She’s sad that they can’t come for Thanksgiving, but when she learns that none of them can come for Christmas, she falls into a deeper depression than Stan has ever seen. She doesn’t even have the heart to decorate the Christmas tree. That was something they had always done together, and most of their ornaments are what Stan calls “ugly ornaments,” ones Judith made with the kids.

Judith’s best friend does her best to distract her, with minimal success at first. Judith doesn’t think her friend understands, since all of her children and grandchildren live in town. But her friend conveys that just because they’re all there doesn’t mean everything is idyllic and shares some of the family conflicts and quandaries.

Judith and Stan had developed different and separate traditions for their after-Thanksgiving activities, and not only had they hardly talked over their meal, but Stan had even left the TV on. But as he tries to help lift Judith’s spirits, he becomes more attentive. Finally he has an idea, one involving the box of “ugly ornaments” and some sacrifice, but it’s his last option.

My thoughts:

Though predictable, this was a sweet story, not just about helping an empty nester mom’s depression, but about a husband and wife learning to reconnect after all their kids are gone. I’d be a little concerned that moms in the same situation reading this might be even more down since the Hallmark-type happy ending in the book is not likely to happen in real life. But perhaps there’s enough in everything else the characters go through and learn to be beneficial even without that ideal ending. Overall a nice, heartwarming Christmas novel.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, and Carole’s Books You Loved)

Literary Christmas Reading Challenge

A Literary Christmas: 2017 Reading Challenge // inthebookcase.blogspot.com

Tarissa at In the Bookcase is hosting a Literary Christmas Reading Challenge, and, since I like to read Christmasy books in December, I decided to join in! More information on the challenge is here.

I have read or am planning to read the following (the ones I have already read and reviewed are linked back to my reviews):

Sarah’s Song by Karen Kingsbury
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney
Keeping Christmas by Dan Walsh
I’ll Be Home For Christmas, four novellas in one.
The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren
Gospel Meditations for Christmas by Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, and Michael Barrett

That will probably be more than enough, but I have a few others on hand or in my Kindle app if needed. 🙂

Book Review: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

Let Every HeartForgive me for spending the first week of the year catching up with Christmas reviews. As I said yesterday, I don’t usually have the computer time when I finish these to talk about them, and when I do I feel it’s probably too far past Christmas. But Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Daily Family Devotions for Advent by Nancy Guthrie is another that I’ve read several times now and want to share more about with you.

This book is written in a much different style than her compilation of essays in Come Thou Long Expected Jesus that I discussed yesterday. It’s written for use as a family devotional, so the language is in a simper style that I think very young children could comprehend, but I enjoyed it even as an adult reading for myself. Each chapter ends with a prayer, some discussion questions, and a few more Scriptures on the topic of the chapter. There are 31 readings: I like that it doesn’t stop at Christmas but extends through the month. (I know I said I liked that Come Thou Long Expected Jesus only had 22 readings, but those in this book are short enough that I don’t think it would be a problem to keep up with all month). The sizing of the book, too, is small enough that I think children would be comfortable holding it and taking a turn at the family reading.

In addition, there are lined pages where you can jot down anything you want to remember about the discussions aroused from the readings and a few pages of Christmas songs with their history.

The readings cover several topics that you would expect, but also a few you might not have thought of, such as this quote:

When you look at something through a magnifying glass, it looks much bigger than it actually is. Is that what Mary meant when she said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”? Was she trying to make God look bigger than He actually is?

 We can never make God bigger or greater than He is. The truth is, we can never fully take in or understand God’s greatness. But we can magnify Him. We magnify God not by making Him bigger than He truly is, but by making Him greater in our thoughts, in our affections, in our memories, and in our expectations. We magnify Him by having higher, larger, and truer thoughts of Him. We magnify Him by praising Him and telling others about His greatness so they can have bigger thoughts about Him, too.

 Sometimes we wonder why we aren’t happy, why we make sinful choices, why we feel distant from God. Often it’s because we have small thoughts about God and magnified thoughts of ourselves, our wants, our rights, our accomplishments. Mary, the one God chose to be the mother of His Son, could have easily allowed thoughts of herself to become larger, even prideful. But instead of magnifying herself, she magnified the Lord (p. 29).

And this:

Sometimes we are given a gift that we think is not really useful to us, and therefore we never take it out of the box. We stash it away in a closet or on a shelf somewhere in case we need it someday. Sadly, that’s what some people do in regard to Jesus. They want to keep him handy for when something comes along that they can’t handle on their own, but for now they have no interest in making him part of their day-to-day lives, and so they put him on the shelf. They simply don’t believe he is as good as the Bible says he is, and so they have no real or lasting joy in having received this great gift (p. 79).

Day 17’s reading on “Glory Revealed” is one that especially stood out to me.

I appreciate Nancy’s thoughtfulness and depth in these devotionals, even couched as they are in simple language.

I’ve used this book several times, once with Jesse when he was younger and then on my own. It’s one I am sure I will use again, and I am happy to recommend it to you.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

 

Book Review: Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Long Expected JesusI’ve read Come Thou Long Expected Jesus:Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, compiled by Nancy Guthrie, many times, but somehow I have never reviewed it. Probably because, like this year, I’ve finished it right in the busiest of the Christmas season, and by the time I had time to go over it, felt it was too far past Christmas to review. But I am not letting that happen this year. 🙂

In Nancy’s preface, she tells of Christmases where all the activities had been accomplished, but her heart wasn’t truly prepared. Then she tried to find a book of Christmas readings, but the ones she found did not minister to her. She wanted to find a “book with short readings on Advent themes from a number of different writers I trust and respect; that reflected a high view of Scripture; and that put the incarnation in the context of God’s unfolding plan of redemption” (p. 10). When she couldn’t find such a book, she set out to create one, reading and editing multitudes of sermons and writings from well-known theologians and Bible teachers.

There are 22 selections on various aspects of Advent, from Mary to conception by the Holy Ghost to Joseph to the shepherds to Jesus’s humility and others, from such teachers and preachers as Charles Spurgeon, Augustine, Martyn Lloyd-Jones to Tim Keller, John MacArthur, J. I. Packer, and Ray Ortland. I don’t know all of the authors, so I wouldn’t endorse everyone 100%, but I don’t think I read anything in this particular volume that I had a problem with, at least not that I noted or can recall.

In many ways it is hard to review a book like this, with so many authors and topics. But I’ll share just a few quotes that stood out to me:

Ligon Duncan III on Joseph: “God is calling Joseph to believe his word and to act in accordance with it. And Joseph does just that. He accepts God’s word and he trusts God’s word and he relies upon God’s word and he re-orients his life to conform to that word. What a tremendous act of faith on the part of Joseph and what an example of obedience to God’s word in spite of circumstance” (p. 53).

From “For Your Sakes He Became Poor” by J. I. Packer (originally from Knowing God): “We see now what it meant for the Son of God to empty himself and become poor. It meant a laying aside of glory; a voluntary restraint of power; an acceptance of hardship, isolation, ill-treatment, malice and misunderstanding; finally, a death that involved such agony–spiritual even more than physical–that his mind nearly broke under the prospect of it. It meant love to the uttermost for unlovely human beings, that they ‘through his poverty might become rich.’ The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus Christ became poor and was born in a stable so that thirty years later he might hang on a cross. It is the most wonderful message that the world has ever heard, or will hear.

We talk glibly of the ‘Christmas spirit,’ rarely meaning more by this than sentimental jollity on a family basis. But what we have said makes it clear that the phrase should in fact carry a tremendous weight of meaning. It ought to mean the reproducing in human lives of the temper of him who for our sakes became poor at the first Christmas. And the Christmas spirit itself ought to be the mark of every Christian all the year round.

…The Christmas spirit does not shine out in the Christian snob. For the Christmas spirit is the spirit of those who, like their Master, live their whole lives on the principle of making themselves poor — spending and being spent — to enrich their fellow men, giving time, trouble, care, and concern, to do good to others — and not just their own friends — in whatever way there seems need (pp. 70-72).

From “Good News of Great Joy” by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr.: “God is terrifying to guilty sinners, even though he is in himself gloriously beauitful. But God is pursuing us, even though we avoid him. He himself has taken the initiative to break through our terror” (p. 99).

From the same chapter: “Our good intentions are not strong enough to control our evil impulses. We need a Savior to rescue us from ourselves” (p. 100).

From “The Lessons of the Wise Men” by J. C. Ryle: “Let us beware of resting satisfied with head knowledge. It is an excellent thing when rightly used. But a person may have much of it, and still perish everlastingly. What is the state of our hearts? This is the great question. A little grace is better than many gifts. Gifts alone save no one; but grace leads on to glory” (p. 111).

There are so many others I’d love to share. Packard’s and Ortlund’s chapters impacted me the most this time, I think. There was a lot that was deep and thought-provoking in both, especially Ortlund’s on God’s glory.

Our family doesn’t celebrate Advent liturgically or ceremonially, with different candles on different days and all that, but I do like to, as Nancy wrote at the beginning, spend some time preparing for Christmas with some kind of Advent reading. This book, so far, has been the best book I have found for that. I like that it is 22 essays rather than 24 or 25 or 31: it gives one some leeway to begin early in December but not fall behind if a day or two is missed. Though the chapters are longer than the average devotional booklet, they’re not too long to read in a sitting, and I have found I do better at this stage of life with sustained thought on topics like this rather than “grab and go” devotionals. But most of all I like the richness and the depth. I had used it for several years, laid it aside for a few years, and rejoiced to read it again this year. I’m sure I will read it again many times.

(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)

Christmas Book Giveaway

I have accumulated a pile of Christmas books, and some of them I am not likely to read again. So I thought I’d offer them to you. 🙂

I will list what I have with a link back to my review, if I have one for it. If you are interested in any, let me know in the comments on this post (not the posts of the book reviews). If you have one in particular you’d like, mention that title, and if you are the only one who wants it, you will get it. If two or more people want a book, I will use random.org to draw a winner. If you want to list a first, second, and third choice, that’s fine: if you don’t care which one you get, that’s fine, too.

I will draw names the Friday after Thanksgiving and will send them at the cheapest rate, but they should still get there in time for some Christmas reading. I’m sorry, but I will have to restrict these to US addresses due to shipping prices.

So here are your choices:

Wreath of Snow

A Wreath of Snow by Liz Curtis Higgs

Christmas at Harrington‘s by Melody Carlson

Treasure of Christmas, a collection of three stories by Melody Carlson (The Christmas Bus, Gift of Christmas Present, and Angels in the Snow).

Snow Day by Billy Coffey. One reservation with this one, but otherwise it is good.

25 days

25 Ways, 26 Days to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins.

If I have linked everything correctly, clicking on the title should take you to my review (some of them are grouped together in shorter reviews), and clicking on the book image will take you to Amazon if you’d like to learn a little more about the books.

The giveaway and comments are now closed. And the winners are……

A Wreath of Snow: Brenda

 Christmas at Harrington’s: Kaycee

Treasure of Christmas: Abi

Snow Day: rcblibrary

26 Days: Michele

I am sending an email to notify each winner. If I do not hear back from them with their address by the end of the week, I will draw a new winner.

Thanks so much for entering!