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The Best Christmas Pageant Ever–a Christmas favorite

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

by Barbara Robinson

Most people enjoy a good Christmas story. For example, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is emblematic for many of the Christmas spirit of generosity that we would like to see year round. Barbara Robinson’s The Best Christmas Pageant Ever is another story that has captured the imagination of readers of all ages. A humorous children’s chapter book, the story tells of the year the Herdmans, “absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world,” decide they want to be a part of a church’s annual Christmas pageant.

The narrator’s mother directs the pageant for the first time, and we experience her determination, kindness, and patience as she explains the story of Jesus to the unchurched Herdmans. We are also treated to a new, unsanitized view of the nativity story. One of the Herdman clan indignantly wants to know why Joseph didn’t tell the innkeeper who Jesus is. Another finds it strange that they tie the baby up in wadded up clothes and put him in a food trough. The Herdmans plot revenge on the wicked Herod; the Angel of the Lord, as played by Gladys, the youngest Herdman, comes down from above like a superhero from a comic book.

Appealing to children and adults alike, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever might well become a Christmas tradition in your family. Parts of it are laugh out loud funny, and other parts will give you pause. It has been made into a movie and a play, but I can’t imagine anything better than cozying up with the family and sharing the book together.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction

Notes: Interest Level—all ages

Intended Reading Level—Grades 3-7; Ages 8-12 years

Publication:  1972—Scholastic Inc. (Harper Collins)

Memorable Lines:

Most of us spent all week in school being pounded and poked and pushed around by Herdmans, and we looked forward to Sunday as a real day of rest.

Mother said…“Why, it’s going to be the best Christmas pageant we’ve ever had!” Of all the lies she’d told so far, that was the biggest, but you had to admire her. It was like General Custer saying, “Bring on the Indians!”

“I don’t know what’s going to happen. It may be the first Christmas pageant in history where Joseph and the Wise Men get in a fight, and Mary runs away with the baby.”

Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places–taking the Good News around the world

Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places

by Kate McCord

If you have ever wondered what it is like to be a missionary or why people would answer the call of God to go live in a hostile environment, then read Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places. Author Kate McCord was a “business process consultant in global biopharmaceuticals.” She had a comfortable life and enjoyed her material blessings, friends, and church. In 2000, God started a process in her heart that led her four years later to Afghanistan to work for an NGO (nongovernmental organization). She became a project manager working to improve the lives of the people around her and share Jesus with her neighbors. She learned the language and the culture and relied on God through the Holy Spirit to help her negotiate the minefields of talking about Jesus in such a way that it would not result in her expulsion or execution. 

Chapter by chapter McCord helps us dive deeper and deeper into an understanding of God’s calling and how it affects the person feeling the pull to devote themselves and their talents solely to the work of God. She describes how these decisions also affect their friends, families, and churches. McCord explores the kinds of people who are called, the places where they minister, and the difficulties and stress of living in a different culture under uncomfortable living conditions along with spoken and implied threats of violence. She relates all of this through descriptions of her own experiences and testimonies of others living in various countries. She backs up her discussion with stories from the Bible and with Scriptural references to support her theological underpinnings.

It is one thing to write about the missionary life; it is another to live it. McCord has done both and is able to share the calling and journey in a way that draws the reader into her story. I recommend this book for Christians who want to explore the call of Jesus on them personally or those they care about. I also recommend it for non-Christians seeking to understand what it is about this Jesus that makes people want to follow Him through the good times and the bad, enjoying an abundant life on earth with the assurance of an eternal life with Him in heaven.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Publication:   September 1, 2015—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

We ask our question from the experiences of living in places of chronic stress, sporadic trauma, and brutal martyrdom. Both we who go, and those who love those who go, face the deep evil in the world and turn to God with all our human fragility. We ask the question: why does God call us to dangerous places?

Jesus calls us to dangerous places because He loves people who live in dangerous places. he loves the perpetrators of violence and the victims of violence. he loves the children and the old, the men and the women, the rich and the poor.

Yet they had heard those warnings, just as we, before we boarded airplanes to dangerous places, understood that we were walking into a darkness so deep it might someday overwhelm us. We counted the cost, at least as well as we could. We each said, “He’s worth it. Jesus is worth it.”

Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking

Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking

by Anjuli Paschall

A spiritual journey is such a personal adventure. Anjuli Paschall shares hers in the book Stay. She also reaches out to other women encouraging them to lean into God through the irritations of daily life and the times of actual trauma and to stay with the pain of hard places because you’ll find God there. She suggests that, instead of building up walls of protection and withdrawing from the fray or working harder to force things to happen, we need to stay with Jesus and “drink life-giving water.” With intriguing chapter titles like “The Guard Shack: An Invitation to Make Mistakes” and “Old Spaghetti Factory: An Invitation to Hold On,” this book is filled with anecdotes and Paschall’s descriptions of how God led her to grow spiritually.

Paschal is a good writer and very effective at drawing the reader into her frame of mind as she navigates the various circumstances in her life. I highlighted many passages and agreed with most of the things she said. I am amazed at the number of turns in her life journey. She is the mother of five, wife of a pastor, photographer, founder of a social media site that helps other moms in truly desperate straits, and a spiritual counselor. Now add writer to that list.

Realizing that I am isolating statements that come from a rich context, I feel I must point out what I perceive to be a major conflict. Towards the end of the book, the author states “My one and only purpose in life is to be loved by God.” I disagree with that and she does too as earlier in the book she states: “We all have one calling. One deep, right, true, foundational calling in life—to love God and to love others.” That philosophy is found in the Bible in Matthew 22 in the New Testament and in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19 in the Old Testament.  Although, I have a few points of disagreement, in general I find this book to be refreshing in the author’s honesty and transparency. She doesn’t try to appear to have it all together. She shares her fears and vulnerabilities as she also shares her hopes and dreams. She encourages women to abandon shame over never being enough and stay the course resting and trusting in Jesus.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bethany House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help

Notes: Discussion questions are included.

Publication:   March 31, 2020—Bethany House

Memorable Lines:

I’m learning to be okay with my mistakes. They don’t define me or determine my worth, but simply direct me to God.

I believe we all can be placeholders of heaven for others. We can create a seat at a table, offer a single cup of coffee, leave bread on a doorstep, or clear an hour in our schedule. God will continually bring us people who are desperately in need of home. If we can embrace each other’s differences, move toward the disabled, welcome the foreigner, laugh with a child, talk with the elderly, all kinds of heaven can burst open like a flower in bloom here on earth. Even the tiniest spaces can become a place for others to taste eternity.

No amount of getting, accomplishing, or achieving will ever satisfy the soul. The soul focused on gaining power, influence, and admiration will only grow hungrier.

In the Land of Blue Burqas–eye opening view of the women behind the blue veils

In the Land of Blue Burqas

by Kate McCord

What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution. 

Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.

Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.

In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture.  I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions

Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.

Publication:   May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing

Memorable Lines:

Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.

Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion. 

But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.

Ripple Effects–what you do affects others

Ripple Effects

by Pam Tebow

Ripple EffectsAuthor Pam Tebow is the mother of Tim Tebow, a football and baseball star. Tim uses his talents and fame as a platform to share God’s love and to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t help themselves through the many outreaches of the Tim Tebow foundation.

In Ripple Effects we learn how Tim Tebow and all of his brothers and sisters were affected by the Christian witness and guidance of their mom and dad. More importantly, Pam Tebow shares how what we do has ripple effects on those around us. When you take the time to help a neighbor or smile at a stranger, your actions can affect you, them, and the people they interact with.

Pam focuses on our relationship with Jesus, finding our purpose, mission and influence, reading the Bible, prayer, our mindset, and living with passion. She shows how all of these can and should be integrated into our lives. The book is full of anecdotes and examples demonstrating how she and her husband Bob learned to yield to God’s will as they followed His prompting to begin missions in the Philippines as well as speak and lead all over the world.

Pam is very practical, explaining the importance of memorizing Bible verses. She made up tunes to go with the Scriptures to help herself and her children remember them. One example of the ripple effect is that her grandchildren can now sing these same Scriptures as they have been  passed on to a new generation. Bob and Pam used teachable moments in their daily lives to share Biblical truths through life experiences. They taught humility and giving God the glory with consistency in their teaching and lives and by always drawing their children’s attention back to God, the source of their talents and gifts.

Although a lot of the book focuses on raising children from a pioneering homeschooling mother’s perspective, the lessons of ripple effects are for everyone. People are watching you; what will they take away about you and your God?

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help

Publication:   May 7, 2019—Tyndale House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Put simply, faith is trusting God, even when we don’t have a clue how His plan will unfold.

The most effective way to influence people in our sphere to trust God is for them to watch us trust Him…Influence is not accidental; it results from making deliberate, determined, and repeated choices, beginning in the mind and then acted out day by day. Choices empowered by God and HIs Word.

Reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture has had an unmistakable impact on me, and it has served as one of my greatest opportunities to influence others—with ripple effects on my family, my friends, and the people I meet along the way.

Loving people is hard, but next to loving God, it should be our number one priority. You may have someone in your sphere who is not especially lovable…But when people are at their worst, they need love the most.

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You

The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You

by Shannan Martin

The Ministry of Ordinary PlacesWhere is a Christian’s mission field? You know, the ordinary person who has not been called to go to another country? Shannan Martin in The Ministry of Ordinary Places says it is wherever God has placed you. She doesn’t advocate passing out pamphlets, cornering people, or pushing invitations to come to church. Instead, we are to love people, listen to them, invite them into our homes, be available to them and to the opportunities to help them as God presents them to us.

As a rural introvert, Martin has had to change a lot in opening her heart, time, and home to her neighbors in a multicultural setting. She had to “choose the comfort of the past or the struggle of moving forward.” She learned that hospitality is not perfection in entertainment; it is extending invitations willy nilly, throwing together some tacos, and letting God take it from there. She has learned to receive kindness from others, understanding the cost of that kindness from someone who is down and out.

Martin’s story is engaging, and her writing style is excellent from the humorous “Go with God, good middle school bus driver. You are a rose among loud, hormonal, Hot-Cheetos-for-breakfast-eating, lanyard-flipping thorns” to sharp edged descriptions such as “She has known the desolate landscape of struggle. Hunger and wanting blow through her life like gale-force winds through a thin cotton jacket.” There is magic for the reader in words like these.

Martin does not believe in pushing Jesus down anyone’s throat; she makes her own heart accessible and invites others into her life where they not only see, but feel, the impact of Jesus on individual lives.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian

Publication:  October 9, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Only as we engage in the hidden practice of listening do we learn about the struggles of others, gaining empathy where we one cast judgement.

It’s so easy to tip into judgment when we view the world through an us-them dichotomy. Sitting face-to-face, the problems loom larger and we have to contend with the sticky fact that there is simply always more to the story.

…we are all longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes we get so hung up on doing something great, we forget the best thing is often the smallest.

This is the Day–a life changing book

This is the Day:

Reclaim Your Dream. Ignite Your Passion. Live Your Purpose.

by Tim Tebow

with A. J. Gregory

this is the dayThe wisdom, insights, and inspiration in Tim Tebow’s This is the Day are timeless, but I think it is particularly appropriate that it popped up in my reading queue at the first of the new year when peoples’ thoughts turn to renovating their lives. I knew little about Tim Tebow, but I now know that although he is an athletic star, his goal is to help others and humbly point  attention on Jesus.

This book will inspire you to be your best and find your path through the strength of Jesus. Tebow tries to walk out his life according to Biblical principles. He is all about following God, loving others, and doing his best. He is also realistic about life’s challenges.

Sometimes nonfiction can be a slower read than fiction, but that is not the case with This is the Day. Tebow intertwines his own background and anecdotes from his life with Biblical truths. He never claims to be perfect, make all the right choices, or have an easy life. He also doesn’t claim to have all the right answers for everyone else’s life. He does, however, know how to come alongside people from all backgrounds and situations and pray with them. He knows how to point people to his best friend, Jesus.

This is the Day does not really fit any category other than nonfiction. Sports aficionados will love it. People, like me, who give a “deer in the headlights stare” when someone mentions the name of a sports team will love it. This book is for men, women, and teens. It is for Christians and those seeking God. It is for people at the top of their life game and for those suffering, struggling and wondering why life is the way it is. I recommend this book for everyone. I think you’ll be amazed and surprised at the wisdom and truths found in the inspirational This is the Day. It can be a life changer for you.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to WaterBrook (Penguin Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality

Notes: The memorable lines highlighted in This is the Day greatly exceeded the number I usually mark, so consider the ones mentioned below just a tiny taste of the inspiration to be found in this book.

Publication:   November 25, 2018—WaterBrook

Memorable Lines:

God gives us today as a gift. He wants us to pursue it, not just for selfish ambition but to do something meaningful with it. To use it to grow, to love others well, to help someone, to pursue a dream He’s put on our hearts.

…part of living this way means being confident that regardless of what happens in life or with our pursuits, God’s going to use it. He will use for the good our failures, our mistakes, our detours, and our U-turns, just like He will use our successes.

When you keep wondering what could have been or what you should have done differently, here’s what happens: you miss the present moment and cripple your potential in the future.

Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard

Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard

by Tracie Miles

Love Life AgainI can’t think of anyone who hasn’t encountered some difficult circumstance or season in their life. In Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life is Hard, Tracie Miles offers a different perspective on life for the person struggling. She walks the reader through many aspects of looking to enjoy the life you have even if it is not the life you hoped for. This is not a list of tips and tricks, although each chapter does end with a challenge, questions to reflect on, an action item, a prayer, and an invitation to smile.

Tracie comes alongside you as a friend, one who has experienced the depths of desperation herself. She encourages you to recognize Satan as the enemy and to fight back by drawing closer to God. She shares the importance of loving and valuing yourself and reaching out to help others. She advocates forgiving yourself, if needed, and forgiving those who have wronged you. As you work through the book, Tracie will help you focus on God and the people God puts in your path. She will show you how to turn complaining into praising and convert stressful thinking into thankfulness. Tracie Miles is not offering an instant remedy, but she is sharing a road to contentment through faith in Christ and by drawing close to his sheltering love.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: written primarily for women

Publication:   August 1, 2018—David C. Cooke

Memorable Lines:

Sweet friend, you don’t have to search for a different life in order to enjoy life; you simply have to embrace the one you have by putting Christ at the center and asking Him to help you enjoy life, despite life.

There came a time I had to accept that my life had not turned out the way I thought it would and no amount of wishing it were different was going to change it.

All too often we think our enemy is society, people, circumstances, or hardships. But the reality is that Satan is our enemy, not people or circumstances. While he is not in control of this world and what happens, he can wage war on our hearts and minds. He can convince us that we have a right to be grumpy and no reason to be joyful. He can feed us nagging lies to keep us discouraged, angry, unforgiving, or without hope.

Sacred Holidays–fun holidays with a Godly focus

Sacred Holidays

by Becky Kiser

Sacred HolidaysI’ll admit it: I have a love/hate relationship with the holidays. My efforts to achieve a Norman Rockwell holiday a la Pinterest are integrated into the midst of a mishmash of emotional chaos and wonderful childhood memories. Sacred Holidays caught my eye as I realized Becky Kiser had written a book dealing with some of the issues I and many others have with the holidays. She aptly subtitles her book Less Chaos, More Jesus. This is in many ways a reference book designed to be adapted to the reader’s choices about holidays. it should be written in and referred back to during the year and over the years.

First, Kiser talks to the reader about her own journey at simplifying the holidays and putting the focus on Jesus. She stresses the need to change your mindset about the holidays before you begin, in the second part, to baby step your way through individual holidays and decisions about how and why you choose to celebrate the way you do. Lastly she addresses “common struggles” people face. She discusses how to have a Jesus focus without losing the whimsy that makes a holiday special for both children and adults. Other topics include grief during the holidays, realistic expectations, and budgets and generosity. She talks openly and honestly about the Santa Claus dilemma for Christians. Spoiler alert: there is no one right answer! It’s a decision you need to prayerfully make for your family. 

As a reader preparing to review the book, it seemed top-heavy with Scriptures, BUT if I were studying a particular holiday trying to ferret out the traditions I would most like to choose for my family, I think they would be valuable. What appeals to me most about this book is the emphasis on creativity. Readers bring to the table traditions they might want to continue, but they can also use suggestions from the book or create new traditions all on their own.  The place to start your planning is probably not the 50 pins you scored on Pinterest last night. Simplifying and being able to say “no” are key tools in making memories for your family’s holidays.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to B & H Publishing Group for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Crafts & Hobbies

Notes: This book is not just for families, but can be used by singles equally well. It is for those with and those without kids. 

Publication:   October 16, 2018—B & H Publishing Group

Memorable Lines:

Holidays can be especially tricky to navigate as a Christian—wanting to celebrate and focus on Christ yet being pulled into the chaos or whimsy of each holiday.

Let’s stop living life in survival mode, constantly on the defense, a victim of our schedules and the expectations of others. Instead, let’s live sacred—holy and set apart—with our holidays having less chaos, and more Jesus.

I am better for the choices I’m learning to make. I am doing exactly what I feel most called to do, and it’s because I am learning to say no to all the little good things that may not be my best things.

So let’s take our eyes off of what everyone else seems to be doing and focus more on what God says we should be doing.

The King Who Left His Kingdom/El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino

The King Who Left His Kingdom

El Rey Que Dejó Su Reino

written by Deanna Altman

illustrated by Lisa Mueller

The King Who Left His KingdomThe publisher provides this summary of The King Who Left His Kingdom: “This book is provided in English and Spanish under one cover. A story of love given by Jesus as he leaves his kingdom of light to show the way to people who are in darkness. A magnificent, simple and clear way to show children the real sacrifice God made by sending his son. This evangelistic tool can be used to show the gospel to children in a very simple, yet beautiful way making a contrast between God’s kingdom of light, and the darkness in our world.”

With this intent of the book in mind, I must say that it fell short of the mark. I really wanted to like it, but young children are very literal and I don’t think they would understand the symbolism provided by this book. It is more of an allegory than children of the intended ages can handle. For example, Jesus speaks of His Father’s kingdom and the people want to go there. Jesus tells them “ ‘No, you cannot go there without someone making a way. The darkness blocks your way. There is only one way; I must make a bridge,’ the Son-king said. He walked to Jerusalem and paid a price. He made a path with blood; with wood and nails he paved the way to make a bridge for His friends.” The illustration shows people walking across a chasm on a bridge (perhaps sprinkled with blood?) in the shape of a cross. As an adult and a Christian, I understand what the author is saying. This is an old evangelical depiction of sin separating us from God and the cross bridging the gap, but I wouldn’t have understood this when I was a child. I’m not sure there is even enough there for an unchurched adult to understand the sacrifice Jesus made to save people from their sins.

I think it is commendable to have the book in both English and Spanish, but no credit is given to the translator. Even if the author is the translator, that should have been noted. I appreciate author Deanna Altman’s efforts to share God’s incredible gift, but it is not something I would share with children ages 5-8 or grades K-3 as recommended.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to First Edition Design Publishing  for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5

Category: Children’s Nonfiction, Christian

Notes: Publisher’s Recommended Age Range: 5-8

Publisher’s Recommended Grade Level: K-3

Publication:  April 3, 2018—First Edition Design Publishing

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