The Best Resolutions

Are you planning to make resolutions this New Year’s?

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Why not base them on some of the declarations that are recorded in Scripture?

Check out these biblical resolutions.

Resolve to inquire of the Lord. King Jehoshaphat was told that a vast army was coming to make war against him and his country of Judah. But before he ever rallied his troops or formulated a battle plan, “Jehoshaphat resolved to inquire of the Lord, and he proclaimed a fast for all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). The people gathered together and Jehoshaphat prayed earnestly before the entire group. He ended his prayer by declaring to the Lord, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

Undoubtedly the year ahead will, for many of us, bring about situations for which we have no answers. Regardless of what struggles lay ahead, we can take comfort in the fact that our God sees our need (Genesis 16:13), hears our cries (1 John 5:14), and knows us intimately (Psalm 139:1). He is never caught by surprise or left without a plan. When we don’t know what to do or where to step, we can resolve to inquire of the Lord and fix our eyes upon him as Jehoshaphat did.

Resolve to guard my mouth from sin. This second resolution is a challenging one. In Psalm 17:3, King David resolved that his mouth would not sin. Can you think of any words that you said this past year that you wish you could take back? Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” It’s a lofty goal, but even if we fail from time to time, just imagine the impact we can have on the people around us if we’ll choose to say only those words that build or benefit others.

Resolve to guard my purity. The Old Testament prophet Daniel resolved to keep himself pure. When Daniel made that resolution, he was surrounded by a culture that was replete with idol worship and completely opposed to the standards of the God of Israel. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

Sadly, our society is growing more and more opposed to the standards outlined in God’s Word. We’re bombarded by images on our televisions or movie screens that threaten to desensitize us to evil, immorality, and violence. But Paul warned us in Romans 12:2 not to “conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We’re to be distinctive and committed to purity. We can’t always control our culture, but like Daniel, we don’t have to allow our culture to control us.

Resolve to keep Jesus as my primary focus. The final resolution is my favorite. The Apostle Paul resolved to keep his focus on Jesus. As Paul reflected upon his ministry in the city of Corinth, he said, “For I resolve to know nothing (to be acquainted with nothing, to make a display of the knowledge of nothing, and to be conscious of nothing) among you except Jesus Christ (the Messiah) and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 AMP). It was Paul’s passion to wholeheartedly keep his focus on being acquainted with, displaying the knowledge of, and being conscious of our glorious Savior. What greater resolution could there be?

So I challenge you to join me in making these four New Year’s resolutions. Display them where you will see them often. Pray daily and confess when you fail. It is my prayer that you have a blessed and resolute new year.

First Appeared in Today’s Christian Woman: http://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2010/january/thebestnewyearsresolutions.html

And Proverbs 31 Ministries Every Day Life: http://p31everydaylife.blogspot.com/2010/01/biblical-resolutions.html

Inspiring After-Effects

“[Moses] persevered because he saw Him who is invisible.”
Hebrews 11:27 (NIV)

Have you ever been exasperated and felt ready to quit? That’s how Moses felt when he found out the Israelites had been worshiping a golden calf while he was on a mountain, talking with God. The legendary leader was so angry, he threw the stone tablets upon which were written the Ten Commandments, smashing them to pieces at the base of Mount Sinai.

Moses was exhausted and frustrated by the burden of leading God’s people and he was hungry for a deeper understanding of God’s power and goodness. In Exodus 33:18, Moses boldly asked the Lord, “Now show me your glory.” In other words, Moses desired to know God more fully. He wanted to experience more of God’s presence than he had ever encountered before. God graciously granted His passionate servant’s request. He said,

”There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back, but my face must not been seen” (Exodus 33:21-23).

Yucca Life

I’d like to suggest that God’s phrasing actually illustrates the way we see His active presence manifested today. We don’t see God’s glorious presence revealed before He acts. Just as Moses only was allowed to see God’s back, we only see the after-effects of His glory.

You don’t see Him thundering down from heaven before you get the cancer diagnosis. You see the after-effects of His glory when you come through the treatments and hear the words “cancer free.” You don’t see the light of His presence shining in your daughter’s dorm room as you fearfully pray for God to somehow supply the funds for her college education. You see the after-effects of His glory as she walks across a stage sporting her cap and gown and receives her diploma.

God’s involvement in your writing journey may not be evident to you for years. There may be times your efforts seem fruitless. But you recognize the after-effects of God’s active presence, guiding you and stretching you and providing for you, as you open a box filled with the author copies of your first published book. You don’t see God’s active presence heading in your direction; you see “His back,” the after-effects of our Lord’s extraordinary glory.

When you feel frustrated and want to quit, ask God to show you His glory, as Moses did. Ask Him to make His active presence more real to you. Then be sure to share the after-effects of His glory with fellow followers of Christ. It is glimpses of His awe-inspiring glory that enable us to persevere as Moses did and fulfill our God-given purposes during our time on this earth.

Let’s encourage one another to persevere through whatever struggles we are facing today. What after-effects of our Lord’s active presence are evident in your life?

Adapted from Mindy Ferguson’s new study: Eyewitness to Glory: Moses, Discerning God’s Active Presence (Chattanooga, TN; AMG Publishers, 2014),129.

WordServe News: August 2014

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

Marcus Brotherton released his first novel with River North, Feast for Thieves. Marcus also released, with Alec Rowlands, a collaboration project titled The Presence in 9781414387246_p0_v1_s260x420association with Tyndale Momentum. 9780802412133_p0_v2_s260x420

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Jim Burns and Doug Fields released Getting Ready for Marriage with David C. Cook 9781434708113_p0_v1_s260x420publishers.

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Mindy Ferguson released Moses with AMG Publishers. 9780899579108_p0_v2_s260x420

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Rick Johnson released, with Revell publishers, Becoming the Dad Your Da9780800723354_p0_v2_s260x420ughter Needs.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jeremy Jones, collaborator with Kyle Idleman, released Praying for Your Prodigal with 9781434707710_p0_v1_s260x420David C. Cook publishers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jennifer Strickland, with Harvest House Publishers, released More Beautiful Than You Know. 9780736956321_p0_v4_s260x420

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Sarah Varland released a new romantic suspense with Love Inspired, Tundra Threat.9780373446285_p0_v1_s260x420

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Contracts

Jeremy Jones signed a work for hire agreement with David C. Cook for 40 Days to Lasting Change: A Devotional (tentative title). Greg Johnson, agent of record.

Jonathan McKee signed a contract with Group Publishing for Foundations–Volunteers (tentative title). Greg Johnson, agent of record.

What We’re Celebrating!!

Krista Phillips released her first self-published novella, A Side of Faith! Get your copy here.

Laurie Short was interviewed on The Harvest Show. Watch the clip here!

Barbara Stoefen’s memoir,  A Very Fine House, got an awesome review in Publisher’s Weekly. Read it here!

The Value of Advisors

The role advisors have in our writing, our ministries, and our spiritual growth is invaluable.

Proverbs 15:22 tells us: Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers, they succeed. (NIV)

We set ourselves up for success when we surround ourselves with wise people who have our best interests at heart, cheer us on in worthwhile pursuits, and are willing to tell us what we need to hear. But we have to be open to critical input as well as encouragement if we truly want to develop our writing, be effective in ministry, and experience long term spiritual health.

Writing
Are you open to input or do you become defensive when your editor asks you to make changes to your manuscript? Just this past week I talked with my editor about my newest Bible study, Eyewitness to Glory: Moses, scheduled to be released this summer. We have a great working relationship. He said the writing was clean and the content was good. I was thrilled. But he also mentioned one particular lesson that he thought could be worded better and explained his concern about how it might be misinterpreted. I was grateful for his candor and told him I would look at his comments and re-work the lesson. In addition, he also mentioned a punctuation error I consistently made throughout the manuscript. How embarrassing! This will be my forth published book and I should know better. I am anxious to get the edited manuscript to see my error so I don’t make the same mistake next time. I also plan to run my manuscript by another writer next time, prior to turning it in to my publisher.

We are all growing and when we remain open to input from experienced writers and editors, our manuscripts will be richer and we will become better at our craft.

Business Discussion

Ministry
As Christian writers, we are all in ministry. In Michael D. Miller’s Bible study, Keeping Your Heart for Ministry, Miller says:

“You are on dangerous ground when you construct barriers to prevent others from confronting you with truth. The leader who desires to keep his or her heart for ministry will be open to question or challenge, realizing that ‘iron sharpens iron’. God graciously provides good counsel to help us continue growing through our Christian experience.” (Keeping Your Heart for Ministry, Lifeway Press, 2001)

In order to broaden your perspective and reach more people through your ministry, consider creating a group of advisors. It is easy to develop blind spots along your ministry journey. By choosing wise, spiritually mature advisors who are available for questions (and will give you honest answers), you will enhance the effectiveness of your ministry.

Spiritual Health
As Christian writers, it is important to be connected to other believers and, in my opinion, there is no better (or more biblical) place to do so than in your local church. If you are a believer in Jesus, you are part of the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:27 says: Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (NIV)

It is in the context of a local church body that we find accountability to “spur us on to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). In our local church we learn to encourage one another, to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), practice forgiveness, and learn to love one another deeply, as our Lord loves us. Being connected to a church body is important for our long term spiritual health.

My writing friend, “I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul” (3 John 2 ESV).

Let’s ask God to give us teachable spirits and to help us be open to critical input as well as encouragement. Consider creating a group of advisors to give you honest feedback in your writing and your ministry. And if you aren’t currently involved in a local body of believers, ask God to lead you to the right church; a safe place where you can grow, serve, love, and be loved.

What advisors are you thankful for today?

Loving, Listening, and Writing

“The truth is that careful listening feels so much like love that most of us can hardly tell the difference.” –Dr. James Dobson

This quote was presented at a leadership meeting I attended last week and it has been on my mind ever since. February is known as the month of love. We Americans spend billions of dollars on flowers, candy, and jewelry every February 14th in an effort to communicate our love for our children, our spouses, or other significant people in our lives. Yet, according to Dr. Dobson, careful listening is one of the most loving gifts we can give to our friends and families.

My daughter Brianna communicated her need for my focused attention, even as a toddler.  If I attempted to do household chores or work on my computer while she was telling me a story, she would say, “Listen to me with your eyes, Mommy.”  She had a speech impediment at the time, so it sounded more like, “Lithen to me wiff your eyes, Mommy.” She was adorable. She was also correct in her assessment that her mother was not actually listening to what she was saying. Whenever possible, I would walk away from my computer or put down my dusting cloth, look her in the eyes, and give my storytelling toddler my full attention as she talked.

When asked what command in God’s Word is most important, Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence. This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39 MSG).

We all like to know our thoughts have been heard. Carefully listening to the thoughts, opinions, and feelings of others makes them feel validated and lets them know we value their ideas. It occurs to me that, as writers, careful listening will not only communicate love to the people we care about and enhance those relationships, but it will also improve our writing.

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Writing requires inspiration and inspiration requires input. Listening—really listening—to the people God places in our lives is a great way to spur fresh ideas. Children often have an amusing, unfiltered way of describing our world. Older adults, if we’ll take the time to listen, offer a wealth of knowledge and wisdom gained through their many life experiences. A husband brings perspective to an emotional topic. A wife enhances historical facts with empathy and compassion. Carefully listening to humanity—even strangers in a busy city park—can provide fresh ideas for a blog post or inspire a new twist in plot for a novel.

This February—the month when we talk a lot about love—let’s love like Jesus said we should. Let’s love our God with our passion and our prayers and with the intellect He has given us. Let’s love people by carefully listening to their thoughts and feelings. Keep a pen handy to jot down a quote or a blog post idea (after the conversation is over!), but be fully present as you interact with the people God has placed in your life. Listen to them with your eyes as well as with your ears.

Our relationships will be richer and we may even discover that our writing takes on new depth.

How has careful listening enhanced your relationships or your writing?

Living More Renewed in 2013

Did you make any resolutions for 2013?  Okay, now the convicting question, are you keeping them? Whether 2012 was a fruitful year for you, a dry, challenging season, or somewhere in between, the new year offers a fresh start—a new beginning filled with a renewed sense of hope for the future. However, our 2013 won’t look much different from past years unless we make some changes. Resolutions are often our way of acknowledging the aspects of our lives that need a little tweaking.

This year, I made a resolution to live life more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed through a greater commitment to prayer. Would you consider joining me in my quest to become stronger and more fully devoted to Jesus than ever before?

DaffodilsI must caution you that is just the kind of commitment the apostle Peter claimed to have before he denied His Lord three times.

Check out this adapted excerpt from my new Bible study on Peter—Eyewitness  to Majesty: Abandoning Self for Christ:

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them…”But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” –Mark 14:27-30

Peter was claiming greater allegiance to Jesus than that of all the other disciples. Just like many of us, Peter desperately wanted to be strong and fully devoted to Jesus. His spirit was willing, but his flesh was overwhelmingly weak.

Peter didn’t realize a test of his commitment was coming. Satan had asked to sift him like wheat. Grain is purified by sifting. In Jesus’ day, the grain was placed into large sieves that were shaken vigorously, allowing the grain to pass through. Undesirable pieces or weeds were left behind.  I believe a sifting by Satan occurs when everything in our lives is shaken to the point where we have nothing to cling to except our faith, but trials of any kind can bring about some level of spiritual sifting. We come through those circumstances stronger and some weeds, such as discontentment or pride, have often been sifted away.

Just before Jesus was arrested and then crucified on the cross, the Son of God knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to His Father in such agony that He was sweating blood.

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.” –Mark 14:37-38

Jesus was not just informing Peter of his weakness. Jesus Himself was being tempted to flee the cross. His spirit was willing, but His flesh was weak. Jesus gained the strength He needed to overcome His flesh through prayer. If Jesus needed to pray to overcome temptation, don’t you think we should do the same?

Jesus’ sorrow overwhelmed Him to the point of death. Yet He was able to pray, “Not what I will, but what You will.” He got up from that prayer time strong and in total submission to God’s will. In contrast, Peter slept and rested while Jesus prayed. He had emphatically proclaimed he would not fall away. He wasn’t prepared for the sifting about to take place in his life. Jesus had warned him, yet Peter wasn’t listening. His spirit truly was willing, but his flesh was tragically weak.  Copyright © 2013 AMG Publishers, All Rights Reserved.

If Jesus needed to pray to overcome His flesh, we cannot possibly overcome temptation without prayer. Like Peter, our spirits may be willing, but our flesh is tragically weak.

To make prayer a priority this year, I’m setting two alarms to make sure I get up early enough to have my prayer time each morning. I’m also posting a prayer on my author Facebook page every Monday morning for accountability and to pray regularly with other believers. And finally, I’m meeting with three other women once a month for a time of focused prayer.

If you’re making a greater commitment to prayer, what are you doing to make that pledge a reality? Let’s live 2013 more fully renewed and spiritually refreshed—together.

God’s Goodness in the Rearview Mirror

What a strange sticker, I thought to myself as I glanced at the rear window of a small car sitting in the lane next to me at a red light. At first glance, the sign was illegible because the words were backwards. The sticker had been applied on the inside of the window rather than the outside, as it was designed to be displayed. But as I focused more intently on the words and read in reverse, I realized the sign read, “God is Always Good.”

For a moment, I wondered why the petite, middle-aged woman driving the car would have applied the sticker improperly. Surely she recognized that other drivers would have a difficult time reading the awkwardly displayed sign. But as I gave the scenario more thought, I realized she hadn’t applied that sign to her window for other drivers. She had placed the sign there for herself. It was positioned slightly off center so it could be seen (and easily read) every time she glanced into her rearview mirror.

I felt an immediate sense of kinship with this unknown woman. I too have experienced seasons in my life when I needed visual reminders of God’s goodness. I taped “[God] works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) on the dashboard of my car when I received a letter from yet another publishing house saying, “Your study is well written, but we aren’t accepting new Bible study authors at this time.” I wrote “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8) on my bathroom mirror when my heart was broken over a tragic loss. I’ve even written Scripture passages on my hands when I was feeling particularly down or discouraged.  

As the traffic light changed from red to green and we drove in different directions, I lifted up a prayer for this mysterious woman who chooses to keep God’s goodness ever present in her rearview mirror. I would imagine her focus upon the goodness of our God will give her the strength she needs to make her way through whatever challenges she encounters on the road of life.

You may not want to paste a sign on the rear window of your car, but during seasons of disappointment or trial, I encourage you to write Scripture that testifies to God’s goodness and faithfulness in prominent places around your home, in your car, or at your workplace. You’ll find greater strength and courage for whatever lies ahead in your writing journey.

What passages of Scripture encourage you most when you are feeling discouraged?

Sitting and Receiving

How is your writing going?

I usually feel uncomfortable answering that question. However, I’ve discovered the answer is often linked to an even more intimidating question. How is your quiet time going?

Thankfully, I have people in my life who care enough to ask me that question. I must admit, there have been seasons when my quiet time wasn’t going well at all. There have even been periods of time when I yielded to the temptation to skip my time with the Lord all together.

At one point last year, after about a month of whispering arrow prayers to God as I rushed from one task to the next, I broke down in tears. I missed my connection with my Lord. I was exhausted and weary. I knew I desperately needed unstructured time with Him. I finally put my to-do list aside, opened my Bible, and just started reading. I longed to connect with God and sense His presence. I was hungry for His Word and thirsty for His Spirit. As I read in John chapter six, I came across the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand and noticed something unique about John’s description of the event.

Crowds of people were gathered, and they needed to eat. When one of Jesus’ disciples identified a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, Jesus said,

“Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place and the men sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish (John 6:10-11 NIV).

Our Lord told the people to sit down, and about five thousand men sat on that grassy mountainside, anxious to receive what Jesus had for them. He distributed to those who were seated. As I read and re-read the words, “to those who were seated,” it occurred to me that some of the people on that mountainside chose not to sit down. If you are familiar with the account of that amazing event, you know those five loaves of bread and two fish miraculously fed everyone who was seated, with twelve baskets of leftovers to spare.

As I questioned why some of the people would choose not to sit down and receive the sustenance Jesus was offering them, God’s tender conviction washed over me.  I realized I had been just like the people who chose to remain standing. I had been so busy writing and checking off tasks from my to-do list, I hadn’t taken time to sit and receive the spiritual food Jesus had to sustain me and strengthen me and inspire me.

Are you taking time to sit and receive the sustenance Jesus has for you? I can relate to a hectic schedule and deadlines that make setting aside time with our Lord seem difficult. However, if your writing isn’t going well, perhaps you need to have a seat on a grassy mountainside with your Lord. Whether you need inspiration or direction, or simply a few words of encouragement, Jesus has more than enough to sustain you with baskets full to spare. Sometimes, we have to sit in order to receive.

So, my fellow writing friends, how is your quiet time going?

A Gracious “No” and a Greater Glory

Do you have difficulty telling people “no” and setting good, healthy boundaries in order to stick to your writing schedule? I have to admit, sometimes I do. But in order to meet my current writing deadline, I have to be more diligent about protecting my time. I am a morning person, so my designated writing time is from eight in the morning to noon, four days a week.

Just after determining my weekly word count for the year and setting goals to meet my December deadline, some friends I hadn’t seen in awhile invited me to join them for a long lunch at one of our favorite restaurants.  I needed to say no. I stammered. I paused . . .  I caved. I went to lunch and thoroughly enjoyed catching up. However, as a result, I got behind and ended up spending Saturday at the office, missing family time, in order to stay on schedule.

I would venture to say, most Christian writers do what we do from a deep sense of mission. We feel “called” to write, and we want to glorify God with our work.  Jesus glorified God on earth by completing the work He was given to do (John 17:4). In order to complete His mission, Jesus had to stay focused, and there were times He had to say “no” to what appeared to be great opportunities.

One time, after teaching and performing miracles in the synagogue at Capernaum, word spread, and by evening the entire town gathered at Simon Peter’s house where Jesus “healed many” and “drove out many demons” (Mark 1:34). What happened next serves as a great example for those of us who need to stay focused and struggle to say “no.”

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’  Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come” (Mark 1:35-38 NIV).

Jesus said “no” because he needed to remain focused on his mission. If we want to complete the work God has given us to do, we also have to be willing to say “no” to wonderful, yet distracting opportunities.

So, I’d like to share a few tips I’ve found helpful in my effort to graciously say “no” and remain focused on my writing mission:

  1. Pray. Spend focused time in a solitary place, talking with your Father. Prayerfully plan your schedule; seek His guidance for your writing and the way you spend your time.  It is easier to say “no” without feeling guilty when you’ve prayed over your writing schedule.
  2. Protect your writing time. Set aside a specific time to write and schedule it in your calendar (or your phone) just as you would record a doctor’s appointment. When someone asks you about your availability, you can avoid facing a perplexed stare or wrinkled brow as you apologetically explain why you need to spend the time writing. Instead, you can simply say you are booked at that time.
  3. Present alternatives.  When an invitation interferes with your writing schedule, offer alternative times when you are available, or make an effort to arrange something at a later date. It’s easier to say “no” now when you are offering to say “yes” later.
  4. Plan some flexibility. Some interruptions are inevitable and necessary. There will be days when the urgent gains our attention. So, prepare for interruptions when you set your writing goals. For instance, my daughter graduates this May, and she will be going off to college in the fall. I’ve incorporated gaps in my writing calendar during the months of May and August. Plan some flexibility. Get ahead when you can. Catch up when you get behind.

What additional tips can you offer to help all of us graciously say “no” so we can stay focused and complete the great works God has placed upon our hearts to write for His glory?