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Archive for the ‘Praise’ Category

Sometimes you pray and pray and pray for something to come about, only to be led in a different direction. Or maybe that moment that seems so perfect for a dream, goal, or long-desired outcome to occur comes and goes. And were left wondering, why? When? We know intellectually that God’s ways are quite different from ours, but moving that knowledge to our hearts can be a different matter.

twitterToday Jessica Everingham, author of Open Your Eyes talks about all those questions that mill through even the most faithful of believers, bringing hope and peace to our chaotic hearts.

But first, let me announce the winner of last week’s book give-away! Heather Day Gilbert, congrats! You won a copy of Saving Yesterday by Jessica Keller! I’ll be contacting you soon to get that intriguing novel to you. :)

Trust, by Jessica Everingham

Me to God:

“I don’t believe Your timing is right.”

“I don’t believe You can accomplish Your purposes through my life and writing.”

“I don’t think You can reach the hearts that are ready for You.”

“I don’t think You can take care of my financial needs.”

Have you ever caught yourself saying this to God?

Probably not. Few people say these things out loud, or even in their heads. But the other day I realized that I was saying all that to God through my actions.

It started with a meeting of my local writers’ group. Our topic this week was offline marketing. We shared our ideas and experiences for about an hour, but as I drove home I felt more stressed than when I’d arrived. The whole marketing thing freaks me out—it’s just so hard.

Apart from grabbing someone by the ear and marching them into a bookstore, I don’t know how I’m going to create an effective marketing strategy. I picture my beautiful book, (once it gets published), languishing on the bottom shelf of a bookstore. The publishing industry is difficult, and it scares me that I can’t control my own success. Even some bookstore-2-359139-mawesome books just never quite break out.  And so I stress that I’m not writing fast enough, I’m not good at marketing, I’ll go broke,  and no one’s hearts will be drawn closer to God through my work.

When I got home from the meeting I flopped onto the lounge with my journal and thought about my fears. God’s been teaching me about trust lately, so I reflected on what my worries were saying about my belief in him. All those ‘’I don’t’s’’ are what I came up with.

When they were just fears floating around in the back of my head, they seemed so big and scary. But when I wrote them down I saw them for the silly lies they were.  I should know better than to believe them.  God’s timing is right—and always better than mine. He is certainly powerful enough to ensure that His purposes are fulfilled whether I have experience in marketing or not. He can reach all the souls He pleases. And if I’m “seeking first His kingdom and righteousness”, then my needs will be sorted. End of story. End of worry.

Stressing about things I can’t control has been a pattern throughout my life. But I’m sick of losing my peace of mind to worries that I can’t control. I don’t think God intended for us to live this way; in fact, I’m confident of that. Jesus came to give us “life, and life to the full”. I don’t think repeated freak-outs fit under that description.

So now I’m learning how to break that pattern of stress. God’s helping me grab the thoughts that aren’t from Him and throw them out the door, then replace them with His truth. He’s reminding me that He loves me, His purposes are greater than mine and I don’t have to rely on my own strength. And even though I slip up occasionally, I have more peace and joy than ever before

***

Jessica Everingham is a blogger, journalist, boarding school mistress, youth leader and aspiring author. She loves writing articles and stories that peel back our subconscious attitudes and reveal God’s truth.

Connect with her via Facebook at www.facebook.com/jessicaeveringhamwriting, Twitter (@JessEveringham) or her blog, Consumed By Him, at www.consumedbyhimblog.wordpress.com.

Official book cover image unavailable at this time

Official book cover image unavailable at this time

Open Your Eyes:

What if someone could see into your soul?

All your wounds. All your darkness. All your potential. All your beauty.
How would you react?

Nathan Scott’s eyes see more than most. Penetrating past flesh and bone, they slice down to the very soul.
So when he moves to the small Kansas town of Grangeville, Nathan sees that jealously, suspicion and fear are tearing the local church apart. What’s more, the minister’s intriguing niece seems determined to avoid him.
While the congregation knows about Nathan’s sight, no one is aware of his secret mission—to find his estranged father.
While tensions build and relationships grow more complicated, Nathan is faced with two of the greatest challenges of his life.
Can he love a father who has done nothing to deserve it? And can he unite his church before it self-destructs?

livingbygracepic.jpLet’s talk about this! Forgive the cliché’, but they say hindsight is twenty-twenty. This has certainly been true in my faith journey. So many times a situation that seemed hopeless or a prayer that seemed to go unanswered later turned into a beautiful blessing. The trick is reminding myself of all those times when the next hurdle or period of waiting comes. I’m sad to say, when chaos hits, I often spend more time what-iffing than remembering, and I suffer for it! But praise be to God, He is ever faithful to lovingly and gently call me back to Himself, reminding me He’s ever-watching, ever-helping, always sovereign.

What about you? Are you in a time of struggle or waiting? Pause to remember a time when you felt broken, fearful, or as if things were hopeless. How did God bring you through? What did the time-table look like? What did He do in your heart and the hearts of those around you while you waited?

Maybe  you’re in a period of blessings. Record them! Write down what God’s done and ways He’s revealed Himself to you, then when the struggles hit (which they will), you’ll have something to remind you of that firm foundation you have in Christ.

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Mankind can be insanely cruel. From political leaders who murder entire races to parents who abuse then abandon their children, it seems there is no limit to the atrocities inflicted upon man by man. And yet, humans can also be incredibly empathetic, looking deep  into the wounded heart of another, a heart that touches their own and moves them toward active compassion.

EleanorGustafsonAs I read today’s post by Eleanor Gustafson, author of Dynamo and The Stones, I thought back to the movie she referenced. I only saw portions of the Elephant Man, but even short blips were enough to break my heart as I imagined what it must have felt like to be that man. Alone. Isolated by the repulsion of others. Nothing stings quite like rejection. To be accepted, warts, deformities, and all. More than that; to be loved. Isn’t that what we all want?

Today, Eleanor discusses a scene from this poignant, though-provoking movie, bringing it home on a deeper level. As you read her post, pause to honestly, prayerfully evaluate your human condition, scabs and all. Then, consider God’s grace. I believe God’s mercy will appear all the more beautiful. :)

Note: Eleanor is giving away a copy of her latest release, Dynamo. Winner will be selected randomly from the comments left on this post or at Living by Grace on Facebook

 

Elephant Man and Communion by Eleanor Gustafson

Some time ago, I happened on a TV rerun of The Elephant Man.  Just the thing to set a person up for Communion the following Sunday.

In the Apostles’ Creed, which our church recites on Communion Sundays, is a phrase, “I believe in . . . the communioncommunion of saints.”  As the Communion elements drifted among the pews, I mentally looked around the congregation (head bowed, eyes closed, of course).  Saints?  Mostly sinners here, the whole lot of us, from the pulpit on down.  Yes, of course I know the phrase doesn’t intend what I’m making it out to mean.  I know it refers to the fellowship of believers made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  But at that introspective moment it seemed that “communion of sinners” might be more appropriate.

My thoughts eased onto “The Elephant Man”.  The film is based on the account of a real person who lived in England around the turn of the 20th century.  His physical deformity led to years of exploitation as a miserable, autistic, sideshow freak.  A doctor, initially motivated by scientific curiosity, befriended him, moving him to a hospital and caring for him physically.  In the process of trying to help him, the doctor encouraged the man to talk and discovered an amazing intellectual capacity.

The doctor began introducing his patient to friends, showing off this great scientific find.  He dressed him as a gentleman, took him to his home and to other social gatherings, with gratifying response from this cultured audience.  (Never mind that his protégé had become a freak of a different order.)

The drama turns on a scene in which the Elephant Man, in the privacy of his room, begins to indulge in posturing pretension, rehearsing erudite phrases and poses.  At last, he feels, his innate gifts, so long-buried, have gained him social acceptance.

In this moment of pride, a disgruntled “sideshow” huckster, hungry for the fast buck, breaks into the room with his clientele of bar patrons and whores.  Their “fun” lies in observing the shock effect of this monstrosity on women.  In an ultimate act of cruelty, the entrepreneur holds a mirror for the Elephant Man to see his face for the first time. This act totally destroys him, and shortly after, he lies down to die.

mirrorfreflectionCommunion is a mirror.  It reminds us from whence we have come, of our wretched state under that robe of righteousness.  No room for posturing here; we are brought face to face with the enormity of sin.

“Communion of sinners” does seem more appropriate here than “communion of saints.”  We must not forget this dimension of our human condition.  But it’s not the entire picture.  There’s more to the creed than that one phrase.  The whole thing is set to rights at the end with the breathtaking declaration that “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” grants us “. . . the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.  Amen.”

Here indeed is grace and hope for all us elephant people.

 

Dynamo:

dynamoCOVER_FB2Jeth Cavanaugh is searching for a new life along one of Pennsylvania’s mountain ridges when he stumbles upon a stable of show jumpers owned by Rob and Katie Chilton. Throw in a volatile gaited stallion named Dynamo, and Jeth will do anything to work there. Jeth earns his living by training and showing Rob’s jumpers, but Dynamo is his primary passion.

Everything changes when God enters his life—in the unconventional form of a hard slap by an old girlfriend—and ignites a new, greater passion within Jeth. But along with fervor comes fear at the undeniable evidence of God’s hand on his life. Inexplicable events, both good and bad, make him moan plaintively, “Why does God do this to me? I get the feeling I’m being set up for something.”

He is, indeed. Jeth’s life is anything but predictable, much like the God he serves. The real Dynamo and his ultimate trainer emerge out of an excruciating mix of disaster and brokenness, which are never beyond the reach of redemption.

This story is God in your face: Who is He really? What does He ask of us?

Eleanor K. Gustafson began thinking up stories when she was five or six. When she started to read, God drew her to Himself with, yes, a story. Her fascination with story continued, but after reading early written attempts, friends and even her mother told her straight-out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978. Dynamo is her fifth novel and builds off her lifelong love of horses. Her previous title with Whitaker House is The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David.

A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Eleanor has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.

Readers can find out more about Eleanor on her Web site, www.eleanorgustafson.com.

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Let’s talk about this! Grace is amazing, and it’s important we live in LivingbyGracepicgrace, forgetting what is past and moving toward that which lies ahead. And yet, I also think it’s important that we remember where we came from–who we were when Christ grabbed hold of us and where we’d be without His grace. This is humility–recognizing our utter need for God. This, my friends, is what brings us to and keeps us on our knees.

With my book, Beyond I Do’s release approaching, I’ve been preparing for interviews and such, and in so doing, I’ve been contemplating my past–where I was and all God’s done. It can be painful to remember the pit I’d gotten myself into, and yet, it’s also immensely beautiful because it reminds me afresh of God’s radical love, power, and grace. (You can read more about my grace-saturated journey here.)

What about you? Pause to reflect your sin in light of God’s grace. What kind of responses does it evoke? Have you had an “elephant man in the mirror” experience? If so, tell us about it. Not just that moment of self-revelation, but whatever grace God showed you after. Do you believe your experience of that grace was deepened by the revelation of your depravity? How so?

Join the conversation here, in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

 

 

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At my first major writers’ conference, the worship band played a particularly stirring song, one that has stuck with me ever since. It’s called “Waiting,” by John Waller. The song struck me as odd at first. I wondered, are we ever really waiting? Or are we to use every moment, every thought, every day to serve our Risen Savior?

But then I had to laugh, for that’s exactly what the song is saying.

That was in 2009, when I “officially” answered the call to write. Oh, I’d written before–on “assignment.” VBS curriculums, dramas for church outreach events, short stories for children’s ministry events, parent newsletters. But writing had always been a means to an end–a way to enhance my ministry.

Then one day, it clicked. God wanted me to be a writer–like full time, not merely to enhance ministry, but as a ministry in itself.

Then the waiting came, because the publishing industry is anything but quick. :) That was four years ago. Four years of praying, of listening … of surrender.

A lot happened in the waiting–a lot of ministry, of friendship building, and growth.

Me and JodyDuring the waiting, I met and developed close relationships with other writers passionate about sharing God’s love through fiction.

I met one of my most cherished critique partners, a woman who quickly became a prayer partner and very dear friend.

Sweet Diana!

CTTWladies

I began writing for an international ministry passionate about sharing God’s love and truth through drama, and I got to meet some of these sweet writers in person. I got to pray with them not via texts, emails, or over the phone, but in the flesh! (Yes, that was a highlight!) I got to celebrate with these ladies when their debut novels released.

WomensministryI spoke at women’s events

went on missions.

ElSalvadorwatched our daughter grab hold of God’s passion for missions–for the nations–and work tirelessly with a sweet friend to earn her way to Jamaica. jamaica

I learned answering the call to go is sooooo much easier than surrendering your child to the call. The act of which brought me to a whole new level of trust–and praise, when I saw the post-mission-trip results.

I watched God change lives, heal wounds, draw His children ever-closer to Himself, often allowing me to be a part of His outpouring of grace.

Looking back, God’s timing was perfect, and I cherish each moment I “waited”.

Friday, I received and signed a contract from New Hope Publishers, a publishing house God connected me with three years ago, one I admire greatly.  My dream publisher, really–a house that is passionate about reaching out to the lost, ending human trafficking, caring for the orphan–of being instruments of truth and grace in a world in desperate need of a Savior. To be honest, I’m still kind of soaking it all in. And in another period of waiting, this time for the novel to be released …

Knowing my Savior, a lot more will happen in the waiting. :)

I’ll tell you more about this novel later. So yeah, I guess you’re in a period of waiting, too. ;)

In the meantime, don’t forget about the daily act of kindness challenge! Today, a friend I met in ministry shares a touching story of how God moved him to show grace and kindness to a man in desperate need of a friend.

Each day, God invites us to be part of His outpouring of love and grace. Last week, Jason Sizemore answered that call.http://www.takinittothestreetsomaha.org/blogs/with-open-arms/

Are you in a period of waiting? What might God want you to be doing while you wait?

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SweetFreedomCover

All Affra wanted was to find love–real love, but her desperation led her into the arms of an angry, lust-filled man, a man who, like all the others she’d known, used her for his pleasure than tossed her aside. But one afternoon, she met another man–one unlike any she’d known before. Could this man love her, truly love her? And would she let him, or would her past wounds keep her heart barricaded?

He grew up in a God-fearing, loving home. So how did he end up on the streets of California addicted to heroine, not caring if he lived or died?

Not long after learning of her pregnancy, Kelly Liberto’s doctor delivered terrifying news. She had cancer. While pregnant. How could cancer turn into a blessing? When it leads to a deeper unveiling and an even deeper healing–healing of wounds she wasn’t even aware she had!

A night in the hospital plunged Jodie Bailey, author of Freefall, into deep emotional bondage, a bondage that not only trapped her heart, but kept her physically trapped in the four walls of her home. Friends couldn’t help. Psychiatrists were at a loss. What would it take to help her break free of “these” four walls?

Marriage. True love … tainted by an ugly addiction–one that threatened to destroy Joanne Joy Underwood and her precious sons. What would it take for her to break free of her husband’s toxic addiction?

Gail Pallotta, author of Stopped Cold shares a beautiful fictional story of a grandmother who appears to have lost all hope, all drive for living. How can simple slivers of fabric reignite the flame within?

Melissa Finnegan tells a beautiful story of one woman, abandoned by her husband, who needs to learn to love again. But can she release her pain and unveil her shrouded heart in order to do so? (Currently on her blog, Melissa talks about how God led her to write her story, Burned. You can read about that here.)

Tanya Eavanson, author of Unconditional, talks about the freedom found in surrendering our wounds to Christ and trusting in Him and Him alone for our healing. (Tanya will be on television Monday. I imagine you can find out more by visiting her blog and leaving her a comment asking about it.)

Beth Farley’s beautiful poems stir our hearts afresh with love for our gentle, gracious, all-powerful Savior.

Elizabeth Veldboom had every right to be angry, but would feeding her anger and bitterness lead to emotional bondage?

I know many of you have already received the free PDF version of Sweet Freedom. You should be able to read this on your ereader, however, if you’d prefer to download the Kindle version, you can now do so for free! (Through July 7th.) Feel free to share the below link with anyone you believe might be blessed by this compilation. Our desire is that each story will stir your hearts afresh with a deep thirst for Jesus Christ and His freeing Spirit. He died to set you free. That’s how much He loves you and longs for you to walk in His freedom.

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TeresaPollardCroppedWatching your daughter fight for life must be unbearable. Hearing her gut-honest questions–questions that appear to have no answers this side of heaven–is unfathomable. So how did Teresa Pollard answer the heart-wrenching question–why do bad things happen to good people? Not with words, but with love. Today, after her daughter’s death, she addresses the question again. Not with anger or bitterness nor a raised fist at God, but instead, with the answer that can only come from surrendered faith.

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

By Teresa Pollard

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character, and proven character, hope.      Romans 5:3-4

There are several important themes in our novel Not Guilty, but possibly the main one is:  why does it seem sometimes that bad things rain on good people like monstrous thunderstorms, while (at least for a time) bad people keep getting away with their malicious and evil deeds?  Candi Pullen and I both lost our daughters at very young ages, so it’s a theme that’s become extremely important to us even though the novel was actually written before either death occurred.

When my daughter, Kara, lay dying of cervical cancer, 1100587_hospital_handthis was the question she kept asking me.  She wanted to know what she had done to deserve such an early death.  She knew she was saved and had a home in heaven, but she had a young son who needed his mommy, and she didn’t want to leave him.

I didn’t really have an answer for her.

All I could do was tell her I loved her, and that I knew that God loved her too.

I think one of the first songs I ever learned as a small child was Jesus loves me.  When Kara was born, her daddy sang it to her in the delivery room while the doctors worked on me.  She believed that Jesus loved her, but she didn’t really understand why a loving God would let cancer happen to her.  I’ve spent a lot of time over the last six years pondering the same question.

The Apostle Paul pondered it too.  He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, hungry, thirsty, in danger from all directions, and in great emotional distress.  Was he some kind of a super Christian who could endure things that just aren’t possible for us normal folks?  No.  He was a man just like we are.  He admitted weakness.  In fact, he said if he had to boast about anything, it would be his weakness, because he knew that it is in our weakness that we find God’s strength.

In the thirteen months between the diagnosis and Kara’s actual death, I shed countless tears.  I ranted at God, and I prayed and begged Him to spare her life.  He said “no.”  I was helpless.  I would have given anything to be able to save my daughter’s life, but all I could do was entrust her to the Lord’s keeping.  And that’s where I found strength.  That’s the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian.   We have hope.

This earthly life isn’t the end or even a large part of our existence.  It’s a tiny speck of time.  But it’s the speck that determines where we will spend 248782_carnations_pink_2eternity.  Not only that, but it also determines our rewards in that eternity. One of Kara’s last deeds before she became too ill to go anywhere was to take 300 carnations with messages of hope to patients in the hospital where she had spent so many of her days.   The Bible tells us that God even rewards a cup of cold water given in His name.  I wonder what the reward is for 300 carnations given by a dying mother to bring hope to patients in great need of that hope.

In Psalm 73:3, Asaph said, “I was envious of the arrogant as I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  Then God gave him a vision of how the wicked will end—an eternity of destruction.  On the other hand, I know I will see Kara again someday, and we will spend eternity together in heaven.  If you haven’t read Randy Alcorn’s Bible study on heaven, I highly recommend it.

Why do bad things happen to good people?  God isn’t finished with me yet, and I still don’t have all the answers.  I know we live in a fallen world.  I’m still not to the point where, like Paul, I can “exult” in tribulation, but I do know God promises in Romans 8:28 that “all things,” both the good and the bad, “work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”   I can understand that somehow they’re for my good and for the good of others.  What we don’t really understand when we’re in the middle of things is that it’s not really about us at all.  It’s about Him.  It’s about the kingdom.  If even one person spends eternity in heaven instead of hell because of our suffering, isn’t it worth it?  Suppose that one person were your son or daughter?  Wouldn’t it be worth it then?

NotGuiltyFrontCover3x4-5Not Guilty by Teresa Pollard and Candi Pullen:

It’s 1974 and Carrie Shepherd, daughter of the minister at Windspree Community Church, is a college senior with plans to be a missionary in Africa. Raped by a masked assailant, Carrie is so traumatized she tells no one until she realizes she’s pregnant. Refusing to have an abortion, she must find the courage to face her family, her fiancé, her friends and a gossiping, angry congregation, which may include her attacker.  Can Carrie find the strength to cope with the secrets, silence, and shame?  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1938708067

Teresa Pollard is from Richmond, Virginia, and was saved at a young age. She has a Masters degree in English and Creative Writing from Hollins College, and has served as a Sunday School teacher and children’s worker for most of the last forty years. Married for forty years, she was devastated by divorce and the death of her youngest daughter, but God has blessed her with a new home and another grandson, and she now resides in Dacula, Georgia.

  ***

I love the song, Blessings, by Laura Story.

In it, she sings about some of our greatest blessings coming through pain and trials. I’ve never lost  a child and can’t imagine the pain those who have must feel on a daily basis, but I have experienced trials. And I’ve found, it is often during my moments of greatest pain that I sense God the most. And it is often following intense periods of struggle that I experience my greatest freedom. But more than that, when I look at our world with all it’s pain and suffering, I’m reminded, and grateful, that this is not my home. No, God has something much better planned for those who love Him and have been called according to His purpose. But while we are here, through trial and triumph, what He longs for most is that we point others to Him and His life-saving gospel. For this time is short, and often wrought with pain. But eternity? That will be glorious, my friend, if you know the Lord. For those who don’t? Well, there’s still time to send out invitations. :)

Let’s talk about this. Are you or a loved one going through a difficult time right now? How might your response to pain reveal the depth of your faith? And what might that say to a watching, hurting world? Pause to think of what Teresa’s daughter did, shortly before her death. She used every last possible moment not to grow bitter or isolate, but instead, to reach out with the love that had taken hold of her, to spread hope.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

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I wonder if one of the reasons we find rainbows so beautiful is because they are most often seen in the midst of a storm. How brightly their colors 745971_rainbow_in_the_clouds_2shine set  in a background of gray! Whether that gray comes from storm clouds or an extended absence of sun.

When our daughter was young, she loved searching for rainbows, and she often found them–streaming through clouds, hidden in puddles of oil, or created by sprinkler spray. It amused me the places she’d find bits of color. All because she chose to focus on the blessings rather than the spills and clouds.

Last spring, during a particularly stressful time, our family decided to spend the day at the Plaza in Kansas City. We were in the process of moving, which required hours of meeting with realtors, roofers, tilers, painters … And as my husband spent the work week in Omaha, where we planned to move, most of this fell on my slightly ill-equipped shoulders. (I even learned to spackle!)

Needless to say, by the time Saturday evening came, I was tired, hungry, and ready to go home. (Plus I had some writing deadlines to meet.) But God had other plans, plans that hit us dead on, moments before we were to merge on the freeway.

39917_tire_in_the_grassLooking back, it was quite comical–and maybe even a bit miraculous. As we were driving toward the freeway, a tire came flying straight at us. Yes, a tire! It hit us with enough force to crumple our front end and jerk our  car to the right. Then it ricocheted through the air, over the sidewalk, before landing in someone’s lawn. The car it flew off of sputtered, it’s now bald axis scraping against the pavement.

My husband pulled to the side of the road, stunned, and the young man without his front tire did the same.

I still marvel at what might have happened if the accident occurred on the freeway, as both of us merged in 70 mile per hour traffic. A hidden blessing. A life-saving miracle.

Long story short, but as we waited for the police to come, I grew increasingly impatient. (And no, I didn’t pause to think that God might have just saved our life and perhaps the lives of many others by preventing us and the loose-tire driver from entering the freeway.) It didn’t help that I had to use the restroom. But it was cold out, and the nearest possible restroom was down the road a ways.

And so, like any selfish, privileged brat, I began to feed my impatience until it grew to irritation. Our sweet daughter, also tired and hungry, noticed.

“Are you okay, Mom?”

I glanced behind me at her furrowed brow and slight frown, and it was like God shown a flashlight in my heart. By fuming, I was modeling the opposite of what I wanted to train in our daughter. And, if not careful, I could sour our evening, our weekend.

The choice was mine. Would I focus on the gloom or search for the hidden rainbow?

With God’s help, I chose the latter, and opted to head for that bathroom some distance away. It was at a fast food restaurant. I invited my daughter to join me. It was cold, and I was still hungry, but as we walked, giggles soon emerged. Silliness that can only come from the expression of a teenage heart.

What began as an inconvenience had turned into a chance to connect. And I almost missed it.

When my friend, Iris, was dying of brain cancer, we talked about miracles. Frustrated that God hadn’t healed her, I wondered aloud if God performed miracles as often today as He did in Bible times. Her response. “I believe He performs miracles all the time, but we’re so focused on seeing big miracles that we miss the little things He does every day, like showing us shooting stars.” (To understand her shooting star reference, read “When God Lights Up the Sky.”

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Making Lemonade

Each day, no matter how dreary our day or circumstances, I believe God sprinkles His blessings–His rainbows–around us, inviting us to grab hold of the blessing. The choice is ours. But let us never forget, others are watching, and our actions speak much louder than our words. They reveal the depths of our love, of our trust, of our surrender.

I’ll leave you with two verses:

Psalm 71:1 “My life is an example to many because You have been my strength and protection” (NLT).  (Can you say this? Notice, it’s not about your strength or determination, but your surrender–your reliance on God for strength and perfection. Kinda simplifies things, no?)

Matthew 3:8 “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God.” (This reminds me, my life is to “prove” the power of the gospel. How can I do that? By living a radically transformed life. And how can I live transformed? By drawing near to God, staying connected to Him, daily reading His Word, the Bible, and putting into practice what He shows me. How are you living a transformed, divinely-empowered life?)

Let’s talk about this:

Share a time when you’ve chosen to focus on God’s blessings despite an inconvenient or perhaps even painful circumstance. What was the result? Or, perhaps share the latter–a time when you allowed minor inconvenience steal your joy.

Share your thoughts and stories in the comments before or on Facebook at Living by Grace.

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jude-urbanski-headshot-smallHebrews 4:12 tells us God’s Word is alive and active, penetrating deep to our soul. It has the capacity to speak to our very depths in an intimate and miraculously personal way, becoming a two-way conversation between the Holy Spirit and us. In the following devotion, multi-published author, Jude Urbanski, encourages us to attune our ears to God’s wisdom, to God’s heart, as we seek to learn and grow from His Word.

As a fun treat, Jude is giving away one of her books (winner’s choice) to a reader randomly selected from the blog comments.

The Babbling Brook of Wisdom by Jude Urbanski

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 18:4

         The words of a man’s mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a

         babbling brook.

Focus:

“Discernment versus foolishness”

        

The whole chapter of Proverbs 18 is one of contrasts. A chapter depicting wise versus contrasting, foolish actions. Yea, even a chapter pitting our purpose to choose our own follies against desiring a wise and discerning heart.

I related verse four, in which it speaks of the words of a man’s heart being deep waters and the fountain of wisdom being a babbling brook, to the words of my pen. Left to our own devices, our words may plunge to the deep and profound, which isn’t always bad, unless we drift to the obscure. When our writing muse (Spirit?) is at work, or words feel like the free flowing fountain of a babbling brook.

There are times I feel God’s word to be deep and obscure and I don’t understand. There are times God’s answer to my prayers is silence and I readingBiblewonder if He even heard. This is when I work, as verse 15 says, to persuade my heart to listen, to be discerning and to have wise ears seeking to acquire God’s knowledge.

I often wonder why God works this way, but the chapter ends by telling me there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). I’ve always equated God as this friend, which brings great comfort.

Proverbs 18 leaves a lot to ponder. Some of it is hard to understand. Some of it becomes special memory verses, but all of it admonishes me to let the words of my page be joyful explosions for God.

 

 

Jude Urbanski loves to be a wordsmith woman and to weave stories where strong characters, with God’s help, spin tragedy into triumph. While writing has been a passion all her life (and also for many others in her family), she is delighted to have been able to write seriously for the past seven years. She wears many hats in her family, church and community and is wife, mother and grandmother. She is published in both fiction and nonfiction by Desert Breeze and LangMarc Publishers.

 

JoyRestoredCoverArt72dpi_(1)Joy Restored:

Kate Davidson purrs along in her remodeled life, but inwardly wages war with God, whom she thinks snuffed out her husband’s life on that mountain curve. Not acceptable. Clayton may as well have died in the jungles of Vietnam as in a car accident on Wolf’s River Bridge.

Buy it here.

***

Let’s talk about this. This past fall, I went through a difficult time and felt the lowest I have felt in quite some time, if ever. But looking back, that was also a precious time as each morning when I curled into the corner of the couch with my Bible, God met me. He told me He loved me. He promised to care for me. He asked me to trust Him. And each morning built on the previous, as if He was revealing yet another layer of His loving character, as if He was peeling back yet another layer of my fear and covering it in His soothing love. Honestly, I can’t quite explain how incredibly beautiful that period was, how real God felt to me, and how deeply I felt His love.

I suspect we all have God moments to share–times when, when we needed it most, God showed up and spoke words of love to our very core. Regardless of how He answered our prayer. And in that moment, encountering God in our very being, we suddenly know, the peripheral no longer matters, because we have God Himself, and that is enough.

We’d love to hear from you. I know some of you are going through some very difficult times. You’re pouring your heart out to God, asking for aid, for a miracle. For comfort. In your deepest sorrow, how is God making Himself real to you?

And for those of you on the hilltop or perhaps strolling through the meadow, I know you’ve had trials and sorrow. Can you think back to a time when God met you during a time of difficulty? Let us gain comfort from your experience.

It’s important for us to share our God stories. When we do so, not only are we reminded of God’s faithfulness, but we invite others to rejoice with us as well–not in our circumstances which are often mired by a sinful world, but in the unchanging, never-failing, always loving nature of God.

You can share your “God-moments” in the comments below or join our online Bible study group:

 

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Click to join ProverbsStudy

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Please note, Lotis is giving away an electronic copy of her book, the Song of the Tree (see description below).

Today’s reading: Proverbs 9, Daniel 3,

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 9:10 Fear of the LORD is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment (NLT).

This week’s memory verse: This week, I encourage you to review the verses you’ve already memorized. Week one, we memorized Proverbs 2:7-8; week two we memorized Proverbs 3:9-10; and last week we memorized Proverbs 6:16-17

Wisdom and Fear by Lotis Key

lotishomepicProverbs 9: 1-12

“The fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom.” From this statement, I understand that wisdom, and the fear of the Lord, are inseparably linked.

Yet, in this world, it’s hard to find much recognizable as, “fear of the Lord”. Instead, if it were possible to condense all human fears, press them together into one small box, and slap a label on them, it would be this: I fear my needs will not be met.

We steal because we fear we won’t have enough. We lie because we fear the truth is costly. We murder with our tongues, because we fear competition will rob us. We commit adultery because we fear a shortage of pleasure. We worship other gods, because we fear our own, can’t, or won’t, satisfy our, “needs”.

Our every foolishness, our every crime, is based in fear, not of God, but of the world.

The Scriptures, repeatedly lift up, “the fear of the Lord”. Yet, what is it? How do we get it if, let’s say, we look over our life, and realize, that perhaps what we really need, is a little wisdom?

In this particular sense, what if we understood “fear” to be “recognition”? To recognize, that He is the Creator and we, are merely the created. To recognize, that an all-powerful Creator, who made sacrifice, of His only begotten Son, for love of His creation, is a Creator worth trusting for our supply.

To embrace this recognition, results in the chain-breaking freedom of our first, baby steps into the realm of Wisdom: a Wisdom that brings gifts, and lays them at our feet.

Wisdom has built her house; she has set up its seven pillars.

(Wisdom provides shelter.)
She has prepared her meat and mixed her wine; she has also set her table.

(Wisdom provides sustenance.)
She has sent out her servants, and she calls from the highest point of the city,

“Let all who are simple come to my house!”

To those who have no sense she says,
“Come, eat my food and drink the wine I have mixed.

Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight.”

(Wisdom opens her door to all, offering entry into a life of ready supply.)

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults; whoever rebukes the wicked incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you.

(Wisdom gives understanding of, and insight into, the world around us.)
Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still; teach the righteous and they will add to their learning.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

(Wisdom guides, and instructs, our journey through this life.)

 For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life.

(Wisdom promises a future, and a hope.)
If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

(Wisdom does not force us to her will. She advises of the consequences, yet offers the freedom to accept, or reject, her.)

 

Oh, Lord, help me to put away my fears of the world. Help me to fear YOU instead, and in that fear, to find real peace, true love, and the satisfaction, of my every need.

Lotis Melisande Key (SAG/AFTRA/ACFW/MCWG) has lived a life of wide travel and curious variety. She’s raised horses in the Australian outback; skied the Alps; run tours through a tropical jungle; bought & sold antiquities. She’s been a restaurateur; a breeder of show cats; a third world church planter. She’s worked in an orphanage, and run a ministry that puts children through school.

After a professional theater début at the age of twelve, she subsequently starred in over seventy-five feature films for the Asian market. She’s also hosted numerous television and radio shows. Upon settling in the United States, she signed with Chicago, New York, and Minneapolis based talent agencies, expanding into American on-camera and voice over narration, industrial videos, trade shows, professional theater, television, and radio commercials.

Retiring from secular work, she founded MESSENGERS, a Christian theater arts group based at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. As artistic director, she toured the company throughout the US, Canada, and Asia.

Vice-president of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild, Lotis is a passionate storyteller. Her work focuses on the mystery of God, and His incomprehensible love for the unattractive, wayward parts, of His otherwise perfect, creation.

Lotis book,

The Song of the Tree:

hDespite promises of eternal joy given by the Tree of Life, a privileged young woman loses everything in a brutal war. Her husband disappears; her family is murdered; her home is burned to the ground.

Desperate, starving, and burdened with an unwanted child, she now despises and rejects the Tree she once worshiped. Ripped from her land and people, forced into survival immigration, she becomes a lowly refugee, a servant in the homes of the rich. Her unusually gifted child thrives, but is an ever-present reminder of ultimate loss and betrayal.

Two women: one broken, the other rooted in bitterness, continue to be drawn towards the song of a Tree that will not let them go. Along roads of degrading poverty and equally destructive wealth, each much wrestle with the siren call of perfect love, and its altar sacrifice of perfect trust.

The Song of the Tree is an intense, contemporary allegory that moves the God-seeker from fist shaking stance, down to knees before the throne.

(Buy it here!)

 ***

Let’s talk about this. No one likes to be afraid, nor do I believe God wants us to be afraid. In fact, throughout the Bible we read the words “Do not fear!” or “Do not be afraid!” numerous times.

And yet, I suspect we all have times when our fears and anxieties get the best of us. How might rerouting our thoughts help us when we feel afraid?742655_surrender

For me, it comes down to complete surrender. I need to get to the point, in whatever situation I find myself in, that I can say, “Not my will but thine be done, Lord.” Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I need to reach the point where I can say, “But even if He doesn’t (save me from the fire, heal me, answer this prayer, whatever), we want to make it clear to you, your majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” In other words, regardless of what God chooses, I will remain loyal and fully committed, fully surrendered, to Him. I’ve reached that point numerous times–for but a moment, and oh, what immense peace that brings! But somehow, I crawl off that altar soon after.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you believe peace comes in full surrender? Pause to consider the things that cause you angst. How might releasing your expectations provide freedom?

I’ve also noticed my peace dramatically increases when I spend more time with my Savior. Do you notice a similar correlation? I’ve mentioned before, the Bible tells us we’ve been given the mind of Christ, but I suspect to fully take hold of that mind, we need to stay connected with Christ.

Pause to think of a time when you’ve been exceptionally fearful. Do you remember your spiritual state at that time? Were you diligent about spending time with Christ or had life’s business gotten in the way?

What thoughts came to mind as you read today’s passage?

Let’s talk about this! You can share your thoughts in the comments below or join our Yahoo Bible study group by clicking the link below.


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Today’s reading: Proverbs 3; Micah 3:6-15

Today’s focal verse: Proverbs 3:9-10

Today’s focus: Giving God our best

1381091_time_is_moneyThis week’s memory verse: Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the Lord with your wealth
    and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
    and your vats will overflow with good wine (NLT).

Let’s face it, there’s only so much of us to go around. We’ve only got so much resources, so much time, so much energy. At any moment in your day, you’ve got to choose–who or what will you focus on and who will take a back seat? If you’re like me, you often feel like you’re running in circles chasing fires, always one too many steps behind.

So what do you do when your day spins out of control?

You stop, give it to God, and determine to do things differently, placing Him and the things of Him at the top of your to do list.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says:

Honor the Lord with your wealth
and with the best part of everything you produce.
Then he will fill your barns with grain,
and your vats will overflow with good wine.

Although this verse is talking about our material wealth, I believe the principle applies to all of our resources, including our time, gifts, and talents.

It can be quite easy to write a check to a ministry. Serving in that same ministry or carving out devoted time for prayer can be another matter.

I’ve been involved in children’s ministry for almost 15 years now. That’s fifteen years, 780 weeks, 2,340 hours of craft prep, snotty-nose wiping, mess-cleaning, game-playing, and yes, there have been times when I’ve felt burned out, when my flesh wanted to take the easy way out, to absent-mindedly go through the motions without fully engaging. But then God’s spirit within me pricks my conscious and reminds me, no matter what ministry I’m doing, I’m serving Him, and He deserves my absolute best.

Pause to prayerfully consider this week’s memory verse. Think of your daily Bible reading and prayer time. Have you set aside a time for God when you are at your best, most alert? If not, when would be a good time to do that?

Think of the ministry you serve in. How might your service be an act of worship? And how might viewing it as such change you how approach it?

Think of your gifts and talents. Are you using them to glorify God or to glorify yourself? For example, I believe God has gifted me with a desire to write. This week and last, the Proverbs Bible study has taken a large chunk of my time. Time I could’ve spent working on articles or my current manuscript, and yes, there have been moments when my flesh fought for dominance, inviting me to join it’s pity, “what about me!” party, but I chose not to listen. I chose to obey what I believed God had called me to do–engage in the Proverbs study, giving it my absolute best, trusting Him to take care of the other stuff.

I don’t regret it, for every moment I follow wholeheartedly after Him, I feel His peace, His love, His presence.

Let’s talk about this. Share your thoughts in the comments below or join the discussion in our online study group.


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Let’s take a moment to consider our progress. Don’t try to answer or contemplate all the questions below as often, when we attempt to do too much, it can be easy to get overwhelmed and lose effectiveness. Instead, focus on the one area you really want to see growth in.

I know many of you are following along with our Proverbs reading and Bible study.

How are you doing with your Bible reading and verse memorization commitment? Have you established a routine, and if so, has it helped you to be more disciplined? (You might find it helpful to review January 1st’s devotional.)

As you continue to read through Proverbs and store God’s Word in your heart, are you noticing a difference in how you approach and view your day? Are you consulting with God more throughout the day, seeking His wisdom? (You might find it helpful to review January 2nd’s devotional.)

How are you doing with your Bible reading time? Are you taking the time to really digest it and dig for God’s meaning? Have you tried using a lexicon? Reading verses and/or passages in different translations? Any new discoveries? (You might find it helpful to review January 3rd’s devotion.)

How has your trust level grown? Are you choosing to think about and focus on God’s truth and unchanging nature? And if so, has that helped you experience increased peace? (You might find it helpful to focus on January 5th’s devotional.)  

What’s *one* thing you choose to focus on today?

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If what we say flows from the heart (Matthew 15:18), then, I propose, what’s in the heart flows from our minds–what we focus on, think about, believe to be true. Perhaps that is why God commands us to take our thoughts captive–to actively choose what we think about (2 Corinthians 10:5). Not an easy task, but possible, with God’s help.

946930_praying_for_you-1One afternoon, after a few days of feeling generally unwell, a Scripture in Proverbs captured my attention:

Proverbs 10:14 “Wise people treasure knowledge, but the babbling of a fool invites disaster.”

In a way that can only come from the God of creation speaking through His written Word, this verse struck me. Knowledge. Wisdom. Right thinking.

My thinking had been anything but “right.” In fact, I’d become quite preoccupied with myself–how I felt, how I wished I felt, prayers asking for better health.

Sadly, my preoccupation with self began to overshadow my life’s purpose–knowing God and making Him known. As I prayed over this verse, a verse that penetrated deep into my heart, God showed me not only the errors of my what-ifs and what-nots, but also how to center myself, once again, in His good, pleasing, and perfect will.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:8-9, emphasis mine).

Think on these things, put them into practice, or in other words, live them, and then God’s peace will come.

Friends, there is only One who is good, honorable, true, and worthy of praise, and that is God alone.

Right thinking comes when we avert our thoughts off ourselves–what we want or don’t want–and focus instead on God, His nature, and His will.

This is what I long to do–choose to do–in 2013, and I invite you to join me.

I’ll be going through Proverbs, the book of wisdom, focusing on one verse I plan to put into practice each day. I’ll also post, with the help of other writers, devotionals expanding on certain verses or passages further. Because like James 1:25 reminds us, But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it–he will be blessed in what he does.

The more we look at, soak up, and meditate on God’s perfect Word, the more He will bless us with right thinking, joy, contentment, and peace.

Let’s talk about this.

Join me at Living by Grace as we talk about living intentionally for our risen Savior.

I’ve shared my plans for 2013. Now it’s your turn. What are some changes you’d like to make in the coming year? What are your spiritual goals? What steps do you plan to take to reach those goals? Have you enlisted the help of an accountability partner?

Join myself and some of my writer friends in January as we take a leisurely yet intentional stroll through Proverbs!

If I wanted knowledge and wisdom–right thinking–I needed to think on those things that were lovely, right, pure admirable and worthy of praise.

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