Merry Christmas!

????????????????????????

Merry Christmas 2016! May you honor Christ this Christmas.

This song has been running through my head lately. It tells the story of Jesus’ birth to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” It’s part of my Christmas program “How Lovely Are Your Branches,” which uses Christmas ornaments to tell the Christmas story of Jesus.

 

On the Very First Christmas

by Deb Brammer

 

  1. (Use tune for the first day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of–a Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the second day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of…

Candy Cane, Gold Ball, Bell, Light: …two loving parents*…

All: …for the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the third day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us how…

Seth: …shepherds* leave their flocks, then* they rush away…

All: … (to) see the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the fourth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of …

Angela and Tree Angel: …lots* of angels singing*, to* the shepherds bringing*, news on that day,

All: of the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the fifth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us of…

Star: … (a) bright golden star, shining in the night, so very* bright, pointing out the way…

All: … to the Babe in a manger of hay.

 

  1. (Use tune for the sixth day of Christmas.)

All: On the very first Christmas the Bible tells us how…

Wesley: …wise men a‑travelling, give to the King, gifts to honor Him, and worship* Him. Then their gifts they lay,

All: at the feet of the Baby that day.

 

  1. (Use the tune for the twelfth day of Christmas.)

All: We can learn from the things that now decorate the tree.

Star and Wesley: (12) Wise men saw the star‑, (11) Then they travelled far‑,

Angela and Tree Angel: (10) Angels came from glory (9) to tell of the story.

Seth and Candy Cane: (8) Shepherds with their crook‑(7) came to have a look‑

Gold Ball: (6) Heaven’s streets I’m told are** (5) like** the ball of gold.

Bell: (4) Bells ring out the news.

Light: (3) You* and I* should choose* (2) to shine our light to day…

All: (1) for the Babe in the manger of hay.

 

Acting Christian at Christmas

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I felt disappointed and validated at the same time. This Christmas we dragged a manger scene out of our garage that we had made for a Christmas display in 2004. One neighbor said she liked it, but whoever lives in the second floor apartment across the street posted two signs in their windows. The hastily scrawled signs feataured upside-down crosses and the words, “Hail Satan.”

At least someone noticed.

The apartments in the building across the street from us are usually rented by people who need temporary housing. Often tenants have recently come to New Zealand from other countries like Korea, China and India.  My husband often meets the tenants while he cools down from running or works in the garden, but he doesn’t know the people in this particular apartment. They have as much right to display their “Hail Satan” sign as I do my manger scene; though I like to think our display brings more joy to the neighborhood than theirs.

I’m sad for these tenants to whom a Christmas display on private property can cause such animosity, but I’m glad it makes them think. We didn’t put our scene out to offend anyone, but we live in a free country and we don’t intend to quit displaying it before Christmas either.

In New Zealand we lack some of the antagonism toward Christmas that I’ve been reading about in the States. Our city posts a sign every year that reads, “Remember Christ at Christmas.” Though we have our share of people who don’t like Christian teaching, no one’s telling us not so say “Merry Christmas.” The YMCA hosts a large “Carols by Candlelight” program in the park each year with carols about both Santa and Jesus. Though it may not last many more years, many public schools still have teachers who come in and teach approved Bible lessons to all the students who don’t opt out. (I taught a class like this in 2014 and 2015.) But I fear we are not many years away from the same intolerance toward Christian observance that the US is currently facing.

Indonesians who attend our church tell us that, in Jakarta, the high Muslim population objects to any Christmas display, even Santa or a Christmas tree, on the grounds that Christmas is a religious holiday. Only in towns that have a high percentage of Christians are they allowed to put up Christmas decorations.

Today, even in countries like the US and New Zealand, Christians are forced to take a look at how they can celebrate Christmas in a way that honors Christ without deliberately causing offense. Perhaps you’ve seen the Christian movie, “Christmas with a Capital C.” It shows how Christians in a small Alaskan town react when their right to display a manger scene is challenged. First time through I was anxious to see how the movie treated the delicate subject. In the end I think the Christian characters got it about right.

When do we fight for our rights to display items related to the birth of Christ and when do we set aside our rights in order to be less offensive?

The answer to this question isn’t going to be the same for everyone. Circumstances and the leading of the Lord will mean we each need to blaze our own trail of response to these challenges. Whatever we do, I believe we need to be motivated by a sincere concern for unbelievers rather than a desire to push Christ in their faces and win arguments.  I believe we represent Christ best when we react with genuine love, kindness and goodwill toward people who are offended by Christ.

At the same time, maybe we need to work harder to exercise the freedom we have while we have it. The tiny bit of opposition we’ve had to our manger scene this year makes me think it’s worthwhile dragging it out of the garage every year.  A few might not like it, but to others who pass by, it’s a reminder of what Christmas is all about. Opposition speaks with a booming voice, but we should not let it silence our voice for Christ.

Unbelievers may put constraints on some of our Christmas celebrations, but they can’t steal our joy unless we let them. May your Christmas this year be filled with joy and kindness as you celebrate Christ’s birth with friends and family.

 

 

Christian Fiction for Christmas

Good Christian fiction provides hours of pleasure and feeds the soul at the same time. E-reader versions make great last minute gifts because you can select them at home and deliver them to the recipient immediately and postage-free, even if they live halfway around the world.  Today I’m following the advice of another writer and promoting books by other Christian authors.

I’m always especially interested in fiction by conservative Christians. In my opinion, much of Christian fiction today treats romance in an unwise way. Also, sometimes Christian characters take shortcuts on integrity and get by with it. I like to read fiction written from a similar perspective to mine, which is fairly conservative. Unfortunately, I don’t know many truly conservative writers who write novels. So I’m going to begin with adult fiction by three conservative authors.

The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry

 

author-barry-the-methuselah-project-low-res-2 author-rick-barry1-2

I started reading Rick Barry’s work when his articles appeared in the same publications as mine. In recent years I’ve communicated a bit with him. This year he has published an intriguing new novel which my husband and I both read and enjoyed. This is a great read for the man in your life, but women can enjoy it too.

Find out more about Rick here: www.rickcbarry.com/

The Methuselah Project

Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.
Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the German Luftwaffe in World War II is everything he always dreamed–until the day he’s shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy. There he becomes an unwilling guinea pig in a hush-hush experiment intended to outlast the war. An old Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger’s sanity and his soul. When Katherine Mueller offers to help him, can he trust her when she works for the very organization he’s trying to flee?
Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

You can order The Methuselah Project here:  https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=methuselah+project+rick+barry

River Rest by Susan Page Davis

author-davis-river-rest-orchard-final

author-susan-page-davis

Susan Davis is the prolific writer of over fifty Christian fiction books including romance, mystery, romantic suspense, historical and children’s fiction. I’ve met Susan by email in the last couple of years. She considers herself conservative, and always uses high standards of conduct in her romance. (Sorry, in my original blog I identified her as a graduate of Bob Jones University. This is incorrect. My mistake.)

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than sixty published novels. Her newest books include Seven Brides for Seven Texans, Mountain Christmas Brides, and River Rest. She’s a two-time winner of the Inspirational Readers’ Choice Award, and also a winner of the Carol Award and the Will Rogers Medallion, and a finalist in the WILLA Literary Awards and the More Than Magic Contest. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky with her husband Jim.

Find out more about Susan here: http://susanpagedavis.com/

River Rest

This year Susan has released River Rest,  an historical novel which is inspired by her great aunt’s journal.

1918, Rural Maine. Judith Chadbourne gave up her teaching job after her mother’s death to help her father with her five siblings. But when her brother Joel is drafted, the household chores and farm work may overwhelm her. Their neighbor, Ben Thayer, seems rich and mysterious, but his heart aches from his own loss. Judith accidentally breaks the antique ornament her mother loved. The splintering star echoes her family’s shattering. Joel falls ill at the army camp, and Ben’s concern may bring the beginnings of trust. Can love take Judith beyond the frozen Maine winter?

You can order it here: https://www.amazon.com/River-Rest-Susan-Page-Davis/dp/0997230835

Déjà Who? by Deb Brammer

Of course, I’ve released book two in my Keyhole Mysteries this year.

Déjà Who?

Jordan Axtell, a talented young artist, and Zophie Zobel, his girlfriend, move to Minneapolis to help with a ministry to international students. On their first outing, Jordan is confronted by a painting he’s sure is a forgery. Jordan does what he can to right this one wrong and move on, but his decision backfires when a stranger steals his identity. Zaxx, the ghost of Boise past, haunts him with a promise he cannot break.  Jordan’s ironclad promise makes him look guilty, and Jordan is forced to prove who he is or lose his reputation.

While Jordan is facing an identity crisis, Pastor Scott asks him to do the unthinkable. Z.Z., his Chinese host son, does the unforgivable. Zophie plots the inconceivable. And when things fall apart, everyone looks to Jordan for answers.

When the FBI brushes him off, will Jordan and his friends be able to figure out who the real fake is before it’s too late? Or will Jordan’s innocence become the victim of his good intentions?

You can order it here:  www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Deja+who+deb+brammer&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3ADeja+who+deb+brammer

Other Great Christian Fiction

In recent years I have grown increasingly thankful for Goodreads. All apart from sharing books and promoting my books, I find it very convenient to record the books I’ve read and what I think of them.  For my blog today I’ve scanned books I’ve read and chosen some I gave a 5-star rating to. I don’t give five stars to many books, so these are books I really enjoyed. I’m also including my personal review of the book.

Deception on Sable Hill by Shelley Gray

This book has a very interesting situation and shows people locked into their social class in Chicago in the late 1900’s. Rich girl Eloisa hates being in a position where class defines her and expectations dictate who she can marry. Class expectations sentence her to a life of triviality. On the other hand, Sean tries to rise above his poor background and become more than his circumstances dictate. He educates himself and becomes a cop. He dares to love Elisa and sees he can make her feel safe. He introduces her to Hope House, a place where she can make a positive contribution in spite of her class. I enjoyed this lightly Christian book for the insight given into limitations placed on people by their social class in this time period.

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Deception-Sable-Chicago-Worlds-Mystery-ebook/dp/B00N10ZHIQ/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970752&sr=1-1&keywords=Deception+on+Sable+Hill

Lonestar Sanctuary by Colleen Coble

This romance was well-written and had me wanting to keep reading. The thing that impressed me the most was the romance was not based mostly on physical attraction. I’m not sure that God would allow Christians to be forced into the kind of relationship they had, but given the circumstances, the author handled it very well. At first they loved more from choice than from emotion, and worked to make their relationship better. They admired and then loved each other because of strength of character, not because of the color of their eyes or sexual attraction.

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Lonestar-Sanctuary-Book-1-ebook/dp/B005LXZ4J8/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970796&sr=1-1&keywords=Lonestar+Sanctuary

Not in the Heart by Chris Fabry

Truman Wiley is a successful journalist, but a dismal failure as a dad. His son Aiden will die unless he gets a heart transplant and Aiden is offered the heart of a condemned prisoner on death row. The prisoner is innocent, but no one believes him and he decides, when he is executed, to donate his heart to Aiden. Truman has been hired to write the prisoner’s story, but the more he hears, the more he realizes the prisoner may be innocent. Truman has to choose between rescuing an innocent man from death row and losing his son.
This book is exceptionally well written. The plot is perfectly structured, suspenseful, and unpredictable. The writing is witty and transparent. It is distinctively Christian but the message comes through the viewpoint of a hostile protagonist which makes it all the more effective.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but it is also a great book for men. Highly recommended!

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Not-Heart-Chris-Fabry-ebook/dp/B00724BVPU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970848&sr=1-1&keywords=Not+in+the+Heart

Truth Stained Lies by Terri Blackstock

This is a well-written mystery about brothers and sisters who come together to find out who killed their sister-in-law. They need to clear their brother’s name and reunite him with a 5-year-old son he has lost in a custody battle. The stakes are high and the resolution is satisfying. It’s a great mystery in its own right, but I especially like it because it deals with forgiveness and serving others. It has a strong Christian message without being preachy.
Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Truth-Stained-Lies-Moonlighters-Book-ebook/dp/B008EGRFWI/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970906&sr=1-1&keywords=Truth+Stained+Lies

Before I found Goodreads

When I found Goodreads I rated some books I remember enjoying, but because I read them before Goodreads, I didn’t review them. This doesn’t mean I agree with absolutely everything in them, but these are ones I enjoyed:

Healing Touch Series by Hannah Alexander

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Second-Opinion-Book-Healing-Touch-ebook/dp/B018YCCVYS/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970976&sr=1-4&keywords=Healing+Touch+Hannah+Alexander

Sins of the Father by James Scott Bell

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Sins-Fathers-James-Scott-Bell-ebook/dp/B000SHBLKS/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971046&sr=1-1&keywords=Sins+of+the+Father+james+scott+bell

Presumed Guilty by James Scott Bell

Buy hre: https://www.amazon.com/Presumed-Guilty-James-Scott-Bell-ebook/dp/B000SF3KFO/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971092&sr=1-1&keywords=presumed+guilty+james+scott+bell

Cape Refuge Series by Terri Blackstock

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Refuge-Book-ebook/dp/B000FC2NXK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971137&sr=1-1&keywords=cape+refuge+series+by+terri+blackstock

Southern Storm Series by Terri Blackstock

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Cape-Refuge-Book-ebook/dp/B000FC2NXK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971325&sr=1-1&keywords=cape+refuge+by+terri+blackstock+book+1

The Bug Man Collection, especially Less Than Dead by Tim Downs

(very funny, but not very Christian)

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Less-than-Dead-Bug-Novel-ebook/dp/B007V91ANY/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1480970655&sr=1-1&keywords=Less+than+dead+tim+downs

 

Ghost Writer by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Ghost-Writer-Rene-Gutteridge-ebook/dp/B008B719X6/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971373&sr=1-1&keywords=ghost+writer+rene

Occupational Hazards Series by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Scoop-Occupational-Hazards-Rene-Gutteridge-ebook/dp/B003FCVDTW/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971588&sr=1-2&keywords=occupational+hazards+rene+gutteridge

Storm Series by Rene Gutteridge

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=splitting+storm+rene+gutteridge

Fairlawn Series by Angela Elwell Hunt

Buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Doesnt-She-Look-Natural-Fairlawn/dp/141432605X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1480971706&sr=1-1&keywords=doesn%27t+she+look+natural+fairlawn+angela+elwell+hunt

 

 

Craft Night Outreaches for Ladies

dsc04071-a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If your church is like ours, you struggle to reach people who don’t want to go to church and feel uneasy around “religious” people. Last year we started having craft nights for ladies to bridge this gap. Many ladies will consider coming to a craft night that would not want to come to a regular church service.

We try to make our craft nights fun and informal. We do have a devotional, and we state this on the invitation so they don’t feel we are sneaking something past them. I try to keep my devotional short and light hearted. I present the gospel and offer to talk to anyone who is interested, but am careful not to pressure them and make them regret coming. I think of this night as an introduction for them to church things, hoping that they’ll be comfortable enough to come back and learn more.

Our craft night gives our ladies and opportunity to invite their friends and neighbors.  Perhaps they’ve already invited them to church, but this gives them an excuse to invite them again to something special.

Last year we had two craft nights. The first one featured gingerbread men crafts. I used “Shaped by His Love” as a topic. You can find the crafts, devotional notes, and Power Point slides here and my Pintrest pins here.

Later in the year we made Christmas star crafts and I talked about the wise men.

We’ve just finished another craft night, “Hang In There” with clothes pin crafts. My devotional tells how God helps us hang in there and hold together in times of crisis. You can find crafts, my devotional, and Power Point slides here and my Pintrest pins here.

If your church is looking for a way to reach out to unsaved ladies, you might find that a craft night would be a good way to bridge the gap and reach them for Christ.

God on the Great Barrier Reef

Recently we celebrated our fortieth anniversary early by snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef. We saw sea turtles, small sharks, dozens of kinds of tropical fish, and a fresh glimpse of God.

I’m not talking about visions or new revelations, but you know what happens. You’ve been saved for more than 50 years, you’ve read your Bible all your life, and all the superlatives about God become watered-down. You know that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere present, but you can’t top that, so God’s unique attributes becomes common place.

Ever feel like that? I admit I do sometimes, but this trip to Northern Australia gave me a fresh perspective on the inadequate adjectives and nouns and verbs which can apply to none other than God.

On the reef we reveled at the tiny clown fish that darted in and out of the anemones, becoming invisible in seconds. Many of the dozens of varieties of butterfly fish alive today swam within an arm’s length of us. Some were as small as a coin; some as big as a dinner plate. I stared at one bi-color parrot fish after another, wondering at the different patterns in some of my favorite iridescent shades of blue and coral. Moorish idols, humuhumunukunukuapua’a, trumpet fish, and regal angelfish swam around the rainbow of coral, creating scenes fit for jigsaw puzzles. But how does God fit into this picture?

Wow! God is so far above and beyond, before and after, source and sustainer of everything we saw!

Tropical fish

I thought of it like this. A few years ago I painted a picture of an imperial angelfish. Studying a picture of a real one, I sketched a fish with a pencil. Then I found paints in the right colors, and in a couple of hours, produced a pretty fair, flat picture of one fish.

That’s me. Here’s God.

One day about six thousand years ago God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures,” and the seas moved with fish and sea creatures. In an instant those first fish appeared, began swimming and eating and breathing. Soon they began to reproduce. We don’t know how many varieties God made on that first day, but those first fish contained all the genetic material in them that would become the amazing varieties of fish we see today. God not only created them, but he feeds them and sustains them every day of their lives.

Remember my fish picture? I looked at the picture of a fish, and copied the outside, flat appearance using paper, pencil, and paint.

God created his fish from nothing. No matter or material; we know that. But he also had no pre-existing fish to look at when he created the first fish. All of our ideas spring from combinations of other ideas or experiences. But God started with no ideas outside himself, no colors, no dimensions, no models, no molecular structures. And he created living, breathing, reproducing, fish who are the parents of all fish today.

I can look at nature and fashion imaginary creatures that have similar qualities to real creatures. But what could I make or even imagine without prior experience with matter, color, dimensions, or life?

This made me wonder at God’s creative process. Did he take time, before the beginning of our time, to figure out and plan the universe, or did he always know exactly what he would do? Did he use a thought process to go from not knowing what he would do to planning the universe?

If I could create all the tropical fish in the sea, I’d want to linger over each one and plan out the colors, patterns, and traits of each one, but God’s thought process is probably far different to mine. I can’t imagine God discarding one idea for a better one when he always knows what is best. Some part of how we think comes from how God thinks, but we can’t even imagine how much greater his thoughts are than ours.

Tropical fishIn a moment of time, God created, not just one fish, but the parents of all the fish we see today. In a few moments of time, distributed throughout six days, he created everything in the universe.

Imagine what it means to be the source of all things. God not only created all things, he planned all the ideas for all matter, all living creatures, all language, all thoughts and emotions of animals and man. He inserted genetic material into living creatures that men could only begin to understand after thousands of years of study. He put into play all the forces of nature and mathematical concepts that people would use, thousands of years later, to invent and use the internet and smart phones. Before creation he knew all the scenarios of what could and would happen on earth. He had nothing to work with except himself. He planned free will, knowing the cost, along with redemption to heal consequences of man exercising his will against God. When he said, “Let there be …” nature began and responded in instant obedience.

God is the source of all things and he continues to reproduce his original design though a reproduction system that allows for huge variety within kinds, but also places boundaries beyond which no human can pass. He knows every living creature perfectly and every day he provides every requirement for life for every one of them. Though the fall of nature brought death and suffering, our world is still intricate beyond all understanding.

God didn’t strain his “muscles,” because he has all power. He didn’t strain his intelligence, because he knows everything and he knew what he would do. He simply spoke the world into existence and perfect order.

So when I remember a papa, mama, and baby clown fish darting into a tiny patch of fine green anemone, like living jewels on a velvet cloth, I remember this is a glimpse of God’s creation. The tiniest spot of creation helps me sense a small degree of God’s infinite wisdom, power, generosity, love, and joy.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”  (Isaiah 55:8-9, NKJV)

Tropical fish