New Beginnings

Part of me hates making New Year’s Resolutions. There’s so much pressure to get it right this time and not to mess up. How many have you broken this year so far? I made mine very open-ended this year, which gives me a better chance of keeping them (or at least, I hope so).

But the part about making resolutions that I like is that they are a new beginning. Instead of continuing on the same way you’ve been going, you get a chance to do something in a new way, or do something completely different.

We don’t need New Year’s Day to come around for us to be able to do something different in our lives. Throughout 2014 (and for many years before that), I made many changes in my life at different times. Last January, I decided to change some things about my appearance in anticipation of my 40th birthday. If I couldn’t stop time from passing, I reasoned, I could at least make time look like it wasn’t leaving its mark on me. Some of these changes led to a different way of eating which has impacted my life in a positive way.

I also became a published author during 2014 and started working for a writing company. Now I feel like a “real” writer, even though I have been writing in a significant way for many years, sometimes more and sometimes less.

And (you knew it was coming) there are always new chances when God is in the picture. Many of the changes that I mentioned above came about as results of much prayer and many times when God worked in my heart and mind in ways that I could never have expected.

Every day is a new experience when the Holy Spirit is involved in my life. Having a living relationship with my Creator is not something I take lightly. Just like any significant relationship, distance and a lack of time spent together have negative effects. The hope that comes with the knowledge that change is always possible has had a great effect on my life.

In a way, this post represents a new beginning, since I have not posted on this blog in some time. I look forward to a renewed focus on sharing insights about faith with you. Let’s take our faith to the next level in 2015 together! Your comments are always appreciated.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m taking a mental vacation to this place as often in 2015 as possible!

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A Prayer for September 11th

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God of Heaven,

We bring to You today our sorrow and grief for the tragedy that took place 13 years ago on September 11th, 2001. We continue to grieve for the families that lost loved ones on that terrible day, and also all those who lost police officers and firefighters to the aftereffects of smoke and debris.

We thank You for your protection from many threats before and since. We praise You for being a God who brings good out of even the most horrific happenings. Out of the terrible tragedy of September 11th grew so many good things: unity, compassion, love and support. Even as we grieve, we are thankful for these blessings. We ask for your continued healing  for our country.

We again face threats from a group of people who hate us and want to hurt us.  We feel fear and we wonder whether we will be attacked again like we were on September 11th. Please, Lord, protect us from those who have declared themselves our enemies. We ask You, Lord, to guide our nation in its words and deeds, that we would show the world that our strength is in You.

We pray for our leaders to have wisdom in making decisions for our country. We pray that they will turn to You for wisdom, guidance and hope. Make it clear to them the path that leads to You. Thank you for this great nation of freedom and liberty.

We confess that we have sinned against You in many ways, both as individuals and as a nation. We turn from those ways and ask You to forgive us. Thank you for your mercy toward us that we could never deserve.

In Jesus’ name,

Amen

 

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Praying and Fasting for September 11th

Ground Zero Cross

It is 13 years this week since the illusion that Americans were safe from terrorism was shattered by the attacks on September 11, 2001. With new threats looming and conflicts in the Middle East continuing, I frequently think about (and yes, worry about) what the future will bring to our country and to the world as a whole.

I feel powerless to do anything about the world situation. I am but one person without any power on a national or global scale. I have had many grieving moments since those attacks, as with each passing year, the world seems to slide closer and closer to the brink of chaos and destruction.

What usually keeps me from descending into depression is remembering that God is in control. Join me in praying and fasting tomorrow, September 10th, and/or Thursday, September 11th. I plan to fast and pray parts of both days.

Why do I want to fast and pray?

Because I fear for my country and the world. I’m taking that fear to God, the only one who can save us from the evil around us and from ourselves. I want to set aside special time for God alone, to talk with Him and ask for His help and protection.

I will pray for God to give wisdom to our leaders here and in the world. I will pray for God’s protection from evil people who want to hurt us. I will pray for cold hearts to turn back to God, who loves us as no one else can.

There are many examples of fasting and prayer in the Bible. From the glory days of the nation of Israel to Jesus and His followers after Him, believers pray and fast when they need to set themselves apart for God’s purposes, when they are oppressed and begging for relief, when they are afraid and know that God’s intervention is their only hope.

I don’t know God’s plan and purpose for the world or what the future may bring. I just don’t think things are the way God wants them to be, in so many different ways. Poverty, violence, and depravity seem so prevalent in the world today, and America has its share of all these things, too. We need God to intervene in the hearts of people all around the world.

I pray that faithful people will call on God over the next two days. I think it’s a very fitting time to dedicate ourselves to prayer and examine our hearts before God.

 

Photo by Tina Lawson @ Flickr Creative Commons 2.0

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Where Have I Been?

Do you get curious about bloggers you read? What their “real lives” are like? Why they haven’t posted anything for 27 days?

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just want to read the content and don’t care about the bloggers’ personal lives. Personally, I get insanely curious about the lives of the bloggers whose blogs I read. It thrills me when Crystal Paine of Money Saving Mom(R) posts about her routines or her kids or her shopping trips. I love when Brandy Simper of Prudent Homemaker posts about how she saved money this week and all the frugal things she did. I guess I live a simple life and it doesn’t take much to thrill me.

Anyway, this blog is a lot smaller than the ones I mentioned, and you may not care where I’ve been for the last 27 days. Or you may be insanely curious. After all, I published an ebook about 27 days ago. Then I seemed to disappear. What happened?

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I have the above picture taped to my storage cabinet at school. I apologize if it is copyrighted, I could find no attribution or way to credit it anywhere. This last month has been full of obstacles to writing. Family activities, paid writing assignments and preparing to go back to school all diverted me from my best laid plans for frequent blog posts and e-book marketing all over the web.

In the last 27 days, I have completed about that many paid writing assignments. I picked 100 pounds of peaches from my mother-in-law’s tree and made pies, bars, bread, muffins and canned jars of peaches. I baked for the football team multiple times and helped serve lunch at 4 of their 7 double practices, plus a team dinner after the second scrimmage. I wrote curriculum and scope and sequence in preparation for the new year. I almost expanded my day to teaching full time rather than part time, but thankfully, that did not happen. I took several day trips. It was quite a month.

School started today! I enjoyed the expectant faces, helping students open lockers, and explaining the procedures of middle school to the brand new fifth graders. I am looking forward to the year, but all along I smiled inside because I knew what was coming.

I only teach mornings, so at noon I helped the stragglers once again open those difficult lockers before lunch, then headed home to an afternoon of writing. How I have missed this quiet time of reflection and thoughtfulness! How I look forward to 180 days of blog posts, studying scripture, marketing, and anything else God sees fit to put in front of me!

Last September, I came reluctantly to writing. My enthusiasm waxed and waned* depending on the day. I wasn’t sure what God was asking me to do and how I would possibly do it. God has really grown me in a year’s time. I spent more time writing this summer than I have ever spent in a summer, and it has only made me want to do it even more.

I encourage you to look back and see how God has grown you in the last year. It’s quite the eye-opener to consider how you have changed. If you haven’t changed as much as you would like, I encourage you to pray that God will grow and change you as time goes on. I have prayed that very prayer, and God has never failed to answer it.

So that’s where I’ve been. Where have you been?

By the way, I never realized that the link to the e-book was not working all these 27 days. It is fixed now, and I will put it here as well in case you want to see it.

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7 Days to a Closer Relationship With God

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Confession–More Than Good For the Soul

Sometime last night, my e-book, 7 Days to a Closer Relationship With God, became available for sale on Amazon. Here is a link to it if you are interested:*

7 Days to a Closer Relationship With God

It took me a very long time to turn this into a reality. I’m quite sure I procrastinated and made excuses at least 3 or 4 times as much as I actually worked on it.

As great as it feels to have the e-book in print, I know that it’s only because of God’s work in my life that the book is a reality today. He has assured me in our private moments that He has a purpose for this book, this blog, my writing. I’m glad to be used by Him in what ever way He purposes.

The topic of this blog, however, is confession. My church’s weekly prayer meeting was held last night. We just restarted our prayer meetings after not meeting consistently for a year or two, and it has been such a blessing to me. We want to bless the church and cover it in prayer, and that is the purpose of our meetings. We also pray for individual members, each other, and world concerns (of which there are many right now).

Last night, the topic turned to confession. More than once, the leaders of our group have mentioned that we need to get rid of the sin in our life that may be getting in the way of God’s work in our lives and our church. That made me a little bit uncomfortable, because I don’t think God has a hard and fast rule that He won’t do anything for us if we haven’t confessed all our sins and repented. I know God has met me right where I am, in the middle of my pride and unaware of my own sin, many times. Praise Him for being so gracious to me!

That being said, I do think confession is important. I do think our sins can keep us from being as close to God as we would like to be, sometimes. It’s difficult to be aware of God speaking to our hearts when we are full of anger toward someone or consumed by fears about our lives. It’s nearly impossible to respond to God’s call to help others when we are in “what about me?” mode, focused like a laser on our own needs and desires.

I try to have a spirit that is open to correction from God. I try to have an ear toward hearing Him tell me where I’m falling short, and where I need to turn around and go a different way. I try to be teachable, to learn the daily lessons God has for me, to make me just a little tiny bit more like Him.

Last night He brought to my awareness the times I have a bad attitude toward different situations in my life. He showed me that I was slipping into a previous pattern of pushing away the people to whom I am usually close, rather than making an effort to connect with them, sometimes. It didn’t feel like God was scolding me about these things or telling me how wrong I am. God’s corrections, at least to me, are gentle and loving. I was able to agree with God that these parts of me exist, and to ask for His help in doing better. Then I was able to feel the joy of His forgiveness.

In 1 John 1:8 and 9, it says this:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. [But] if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

I need God’s guidance about the ways I’m straying from His will. Sometimes my pride gets in the way, and I think I’m doing fine even when I’m not. It isn’t easy at first, but I have learned that God’s corrections lead to better things in my life: better relationships, better understanding of life and myself, and more closeness with Him. It’s so worth it to make confession a part of my life.

This video talks about God’s response when we come to Him in our sins. I absolutely love the line in the song that says, “Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal.” When we can come to God with our sins, we find healing.

 

Crowder, “Come as You Are”

*affiliate link

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Going Organic

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Right now you’re saying to yourself . . . what? I thought this blog was about getting closer to God and taking your faith to the next level, not about eating healthy!

Before you start to worry that I’m shifting topics or that I’ve just gone a little loopy (jury’s still out on that one), my title isn’t referring to eating organic food. It’s about an organic approach to our relationship with God. Let me explain what I mean.

For my new writing job (that I actually get paid for, unlike this blog, which is a labor of love), I have learned some things about SEO and writing content for the Internet. Some of it I already knew, like keeping paragraphs short and using certain keywords. I do that on this blog, in case you haven’t noticed.

However, I also learned that many popular articles have some sort of hook or a particular focus. They may be in the form of lists, such as “5 Foods You Should Never Eat,” or they may instruct you about “The Top 10 Things a Husband Should Do For His Wife.” The most often-shared articles of recent months have been quizzes, like “What Frozen character are you?”

I think some of these articles are great, and they do get me to read them when they seem to cover a topic that I’m interested in. I will confess that recently I read an article about the 10 most horrible celebrity couples or something like that, just out of curiosity. I’m a little embarrassed about that one, but hey, it’s true.

You will notice, though, that this blog is not filled with articles telling you “The 5 Best Ways to Pray” or “The 10 Things You Never Want to Say to God.” I don’t think you will ever find a quiz on my site asking you, “Which of the Seven Deadly Sins Are You Guilty Of?” Besides the bad grammar in that title, it’s just not my thing.

I can write articles like that in my sleep. Sometimes I think I was born to give advice, and most of my posts are gently how-to in nature, as well as my upcoming e-book, which will be published in the next week. I think goal-setting isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential to life. I do it, and I admire people who do it far better than I do (like my husband).

In my times of prayer and devotion and deep thought, however, I don’t sense God telling me to be more goal-oriented or to take that “get down to business” tone in my writing. When I’m really paying attention, God keeps on drawing my focus to the process rather than the goal itself. He’s helped me slow down and tell the story of the things going on around me. He’s helped me connect with Him and with the people around me.

That’s what I mean by going organic. So many times we are focused on getting things done to the detriment of paying attention to how they get done, and what we are learning along the way. We will miss so much of what God wants to show us about ourselves and life if we don’t learn to stop and dig into the dirt for a little while, at least figuratively.

Organic is messy. It’s dirty. Sometimes the bugs or the bunnies eat the fruit of your labors. Sometimes the weeds try to take over. But organic is also unpolluted by chemicals and other unnatural things. I’ve started to eat more foods that are organic, and I’ve also started to embrace an organic relationship with God. My life does not need to be in neat little chemically-treated rows that I control. I can let everything grow and just reach toward the sun and know that God’s got it under control much better than I ever could.

I was looking for a picture of a garden to put in this article, and I found the perfect one on Flickr. The photographer wasn’t allowing downloads though, so I decided just to link to it here. I hope you click through and look at it. It’s so colorful, yet a little bit messy and imperfect. I think it’s beautiful in its imperfection.

So I doubt whether this blog will ever get to the top of Google search rankings, and I’m okay with that. I’m more concerned with staying in touch with the still, small voice of God than I am about using the right keywords or giving you some list or quiz. I’m just trusting that God will use what I write to reach the people He intends it to reach. And along the way, I’m learning and growing right along with my readers.

If you are enjoying reading this blog, you may (or may not) be excited to know that I will publish my first e-book any day now. I am certainly excited to publish it! It will be called 7 Days to a Closer Relationship With GodI will provide a link when it is uploaded to Kindle in a few days. This will be a great resource for anyone who wants to get closer to God, and a great resource to share with friends who believe in God but don’t know where to go from there. I am excited to see how God will use this book to change people’s lives. I know that writing it certainly changed my life in many ways.

To celebrate publishing the book, I am also going to start 2 new blog series of articles, one called Practical Faith and one that provides short reviews of Christian books that have been particularly inspiring to my own faith walk. Stick around, there’s some good stuff coming!

Above photo copyright (c) 2009 by Marian Byrne, used as part of Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

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Praying Together

What a week this has been! My daughter was at drama (day) camp, which she loves, and that gave me the first good chunk of time for writing that I have had since school ended 4 weeks ago. I am happy to report that I figured out some technical things with the blog (notice the new header image), added a page, finished my e-book manuscript and lined up some advance readers (more about that soon!), and wrote a test article for a company that I hope will lead to ongoing, paid writing assignments. Compared to the way I’ve been limping along with my writing for the last several months, I feel like I accomplished a lot!

But that’s not the point of this post, I just had to share it because it’s exciting. This week, my church restarted its weekly prayer meetings. On Wednesday night, 10 of us met in our church’s parlor to seek God’s face together and intercede for our church, its members, and whatever else was brought up for prayer. We had previously had weekly prayer meetings, but for whatever reason, they had stopped.

Jesus says in Matthew that where two or three are gathered in His name, He is with them (18:20). This is said in the context of asking God in Heaven for something, as we do when we pray. It underscores the importance of praying together.

I don’t know what your experience with prayer has been, but there is something special about praying with others when it is sincere and heartfelt. I have had some great prayer times, praying alone to God. No prayer time is bad or wasted, even if my mind wanders or I fall asleep. But prayer with others can be an energizing time that can bring us into the presence of God like nothing else.

When we pray together, we get to share our experience of God and to share in the experience of others as well. It feeds something deep within me to hear others share their stories, their needs and their answers to prayer. It is so exciting to see how God works through the prayers of His people! Having experienced the presence of God and joined our hearts together in prayer, it adds a dimension to the relationships within the church.

Jim Cymbala, the pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, speaks often about the importance of a prayer meeting within the church. His church has seen firsthand the power of prayer in everything from the growth of the church from 20 people to 10,000 people (not including numerous church plants and outreaches) to healings and other miraculous events, even some that took place halfway around the world. Here is a video clip where he talks about the importance of congregational prayer:

 

I hope it is as exciting and inspiring to you to hear about the power of prayer and to imagine what God will do in my church as we continue to pray to Him. If your church has a weekly prayer meeting, I encourage you to go. The church needs you to join your prayers with others. God works through people, and praying together is a big part of that.

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Appreciating Freedom

It’s July 4th, and before I go eat lots of food and watch fireworks, I’m taking a little time to think about the reason we celebrate July 4th.

Independence Day.

Because some men decided 238 years ago that British control wasn’t working for them and they wanted to go a different direction, I get to be part of a country that has always valued its freedom more than life itself. Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence either lost their considerable fortunes, were imprisoned, or lost their lives for what they did. Many more died fighting to make the United States of America a reality.

Our country’s commitment to freedom is a large part of the reason we as a country have enjoyed prosperity like most of the world has never known. I’m not sure people understand or appreciate that as much as we used to. I’m pretty sure our current government doesn’t (and that includes both parties).

From what I know, the origin of the principles of freedom that this country was built on were meant to mirror God’s design for the world. I haven’t read all the writings of the founding fathers, but from what I have studied, it seems that they valued free will in much the same way God does. As a country, we would do well to respect free will. Most attempts by humanity to stop people from exercising their free will have not turned out well. People are not perfect; God is. When we try to take control of other people, whether on a personal level or globally, it just doesn’t work out well. It seems to me we have spent all of world history relearning this lesson generation by generation. I know that on a personal level, I need to relearn it myself every once in a while.

So I hope that today, we all take a few minutes to thank God for the part He had in making this great country of ours. And then I hope we take a few more minutes to think about what we can do to make sure that it stays that way.

As my 8-year-old said to me way too early this morning, Happy 4th of July! (She’s now singing the national anthem and decorating her room red, white and blue)

 

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Smile, God Loves You

The adult women’s Sunday School class I teach is doing a session on prayer. And I tell you that it is a session on prayer rather than a study on prayer because we decided to just do a short devotion and spend most of the class time actually praying for people’s requests and the prayer needs of the church. We are trying to be a part of the deepening of the prayer life of our church, a need that has recently been identified through some things that have happened in the general life of the church.

Around the second week of our session on prayer, I started to feel like a hypocrite. This feeling was not unusual, and I will deal with the fact that many outside of a faith community view all Christians as hypocrites in another post. But here I was in this instance, feeling like a hypocrite because I was teaching about prayer, but I had gotten out of the habit of having private prayer time on a regular basis.

Don’t get me wrong: I pray and talk to God intermittently (when I have immediate needs or praises), and I worship in church and sing praise songs in my car and in the shower and we pray every week in Sunday School. I realized, however, that some of my most intimate times with God were in those times when I studied at home and prayed, privately and alone before God. As part of growing in my prayer life, something I challenged my class members to do, I felt that I needed to be spending intentional time with God on a regular basis.

I recently worked out a summer schedule to give my days some structure. I did this mainly for the sake of my writing time. Pray for me, please, because summer with the kids home has historically not been conducive to the quiet, contemplative time I typically need to write. However, the kids are getting older, and I have planned something that I think could work reasonably well (my husband is on vacation right now so I haven’t actually started implementing it yet).

Anyway, part of my schedule is to have private time with God in the morning, and as part of that I usually like to read some scripture or a study-type book before I pray. So I started looking in my (sizable) unread stash of books for something to read to get me started. On my Kindle is a book called Deeply Loved by one of my favorite authors, Kerri Wyatt Kent.

Okay, I thought. But I already know I am deeply loved by God. Maybe I should focus on something I don’t know as well. I have many other books in my unread pile. I have Fresh Air by Chris Hodges, Jesus Rediscovered by Joshua Benjamin, and Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton on my Kindle as well. In iBooks I have Follow Me by David Platt and Gods of War by Kyle Idleman. If you haven’t read Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, by the way, I highly recommend it.

My thoughts went back to Deeply Loved and my initial reaction to it. Thinking about it more, I realized that I did indeed know that I was deeply loved by God. However. There is knowing on an intellectual level that I am loved by God, and there is knowing and sensing and feeling that I am deeply loved by God.

Is that deep kind of knowing that we are loved by God something that we can really say we have enough of in our lives? No, I don’t think it is. In fact, I think it’s the whole point of having a relationship with God to have that awareness on both an intellectual and an emotional level that we are deeply loved, and to let that awareness transform our lives day by day.

When I was a kid, I had a stamp that said, “Smile, God Loves You” with a smiley face on it. I knew on some level that God loved me, even as a child. But I can never be finished knowing that God loves me. If I know to the core of my being that I am deeply loved by God, I am going to respond by loving others deeply as well. I am going to seek to do God’s will in the world, to live compassionately and sacrificially as Jesus did when He was here on earth, showing us what God is like.

Who doesn’t need the truth of God’s deep love for us reinforced in their lives every single day?

And so, I will read Deeply Loved. Looking forward to the experience.

 

 


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Faith That Permeates

I was reflecting today on the fact that my faith, my love for God and His for me, permeates everything in my life. There’s a popular church song for kids that goes like this: “Deep and wide, deep and wide; There’s a fountain flowing deep and wide.” If you grew up in church like I did, you may know this song. And like many things in life, it seems that some of the simplest things contain profound truth.

I sometimes try very hard to separate the parts of my life. Somehow it just seems like it’s going to be easier to deal with that way. What does shopping have to do with God? Or eating? Or my daily, relentless schedule of cooking, cleaning, chauffeuring, teaching (not now, it’s summer), paying bills? Need I go on? I often think, if only I didn’t have so many things to do, I could really focus on my spiritual side. I could pray more, study more, spend more time with God.

In reality, I can’t separate my faith from any other part of my life. It’s all one, and God is omnipresent, always present everywhere. All I really need to do is realize it and act as though it were true. I can pray while I am doing the dishes. I can study while my youngest one plays on the floor next to me. I can sing praise while I drive my son to football practice. This one I’ve got down, even though it may cause my kids much embarrassment! I can live out my faith with kindness and patience in the grocery store, at the pool, and everywhere I go.

How deep, and how wide, has God’s love permeated your life? Do you, like me, try to separate out the spiritual from the so-called mundane? I’m going to be making a concerted effort from now on to recognize the reality that there is no separation between the God part of my life and every other part. I’m going to stop telling myself I just don’t have time for God on the really busy days, that I will pray and reflect on a less crazy day.

Here is a song that got me thinking in this direction:

Thanks to Richard Brooks at Flyte School blog for the tutorial that showed me how to embed a YouTube video into a blog post! http://www.takeflyte.com/flyte/2011/02/how-to-post-a-video-in-wordpress.html

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