Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Baby is Born

She came into the world two days ago. A beautiful baby girl weighing in at 7 lbs. 3 oz. Ten tiny fingers, ten little toes, sweet delicate features all pointing to a marvelous Creator. We got the first picture of our niece only hours after she was born. Her eyes were closed as she slept peacefully, oblivious to the excitement her arrival had created. Swaddled in clean blankets, the hospital staff gave careful attention to every detail.

Another baby entered the world many years ago. Extended family members weren't there to usher in the birth of this boy. No hospital staff attended to the baby's needs. In fact, shocking conditions accompanied the birth of this little one. His birthplace was a stable. His bed, an animal's feeding trough. His mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph, were far from home. They had traveled a long distance to pay their taxes in the city of Bethlehem.

"And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," (Luke 2:6-7; KJV).
Why would the King of the universe come to the earth in such a humble fashion? Imagine baby Jesus wrapped in rags that were typically used to prepare a body for burial. Yet each detail had significance, pointing to the mission this God/man would fulfill. He came to earth to become the Savior of all mankind. He would live a sinless life. Giving His life as a sacrifice to pay the sin debt of the entire world.

All those years ago, kings and priests didn't welcome his birth. But lowly shepherds knew the importance of Jesus' birth and were presented with the opportunity to worship the newborn King.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-16).

As Christmas approaches, what will be the focus of your celebration? Getting gifts? Or the birthday of the King - Jesus Christ? Let the inspiring example of the shepherds draw you to the Savior's side in true worship! A very Merry Christmas from my house to yours!

Prayer: Blessed Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the precious gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I'm so grateful He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross - shedding His blood, that through Him, I might be saved. Help me to worship You in spirit and in truth this Christmas season. I love You Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gift Inside

The house is decorated. The gifts have been purchased. The baking is done. The only thing that remains is wrapping the presents. A quick inventory of supplies, reveals a myriad of gift wrap and bags to choose from. Colorful bows will add the finishing touch to each present.

Christmas is only a few days away. Our family will pass out gifts, one at a time, and watch as the recipient opens each present. Candid photos will record enthusiastic responses and surprised expressions for us to enjoy throughout the year. As the wrapping paper is torn from each box, it's the gift inside that will be treasured.

Travel back in time with me to a little town called Bethlehem. The marketplace is thronged with merchants selling their wares. The sound of voices fills the air as salesmen strike deals with customers. Townspeople stand in line, waiting to buy food and drink. Every inn is filled to capacity - some weary travelers are turned away.

Unbeknownst to the people of Bethlehem, a precious gift is born that very night. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," (Luke 2:7; KJV). This baby is God's gift to mankind. The Savior, who willingly left His throne in heaven, veiled Himself in flesh to live a sinless life and shed His blood on the cross to pay our sin debt. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

Gifts are supposed to be accepted and unwrapped by the recipient. The present that I leave unopened under my Christmas tree won't be of any use to me. The same is true regarding the gift of Jesus Christ. He was sent for your benefit. He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," (Philippians 2:7-8). His desire is to give each one of us eternal life: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23).

How can such an amazing gift be unwrapped? He provides the answer, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16). Believe in Him. Believe that you are a sinner. Believe that Jesus shed His blood and paid your sin debt on the cross of Calvary. Put your faith in Him, and receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ!

Have you left the most important gift unopened this season? Don't wait till Christmas. You can receive this gift today. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. And you'll spend an eternity rejoicing in heaven!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to be born as a babe in a manger all those years ago. I praise You that Jesus willingly went to the cross, shedding His blood in payment for my sins. Thank You for the gift of eternal life You give me when I believe in the finished work of Jesus. To God be the glory! Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Star with a Purpose

The app is incredible. Google SkyMap. I can point my phone up to the sky in any direction, and the application will tell me which stars I'm looking at. Pretty mind boggling. In Google's own words, "If there’s a specific constellation you’re looking for you can search through the application’s database, and SkyMap will help you find it in the sky, using an intuitive arrow system to tell you which direction to turn. When you get close, a circle will appear on the screen surrounding the stars that make up the constellation. It’s really a stargazer’s dream come true."

This amazing technology has made me more aware of a marvelous Creator! I'm convinced of the Psalmist's words, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork," (Psalm 19:1; KJV).

Imagine how handy this tool would have been 2000 years ago. I can picture the wise men holding up their smart phones, searching for the star that would lead them to the new-born King. But God's plan was infinitely better! An easily recognizable star, shining in the east, that would lead the men directly to the Savior.

Their journey was long. They came a considerable distance from the east to Jerusalem. Their excitement mounted as they made their way through the crowded streets to the palace. But no one knew anything about a baby. King Herod called the priests and scribes together to do a little research. Where would this baby be born? The scrolls contained an answer, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel," (Matthew 2:5-6).

Cold chills must have gripped the King as he contemplated this potential menace to the kingdom. He feigned kindness to his guests, telling them to find the baby and return to the palace, so he could go and worship the baby too. His unspoken plans played out in his mind. When the wise men returned, he would send his troops to do away with this threat to his throne.

The wise men continued their journey, destined for Bethlehem. They searched the sky. Sure enough, there it was: the star that had led them faithfully thus far. "...And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy," (Matthew 2:9-10). The star had been created for a purpose - to shine in such a way as to guide these men to the Savior. It did its job: "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh," (Matthew 2:11).

See the connection? You were created for a purpose too. Just like the star of Bethlehem, each of us is given the opportunity to shine for Jesus, pointing others to Him. Don't let the hustle and bustle of the season dim your light. Instead, choose to be like that brightly shining star of long ago, leading others to the truth of a loving Savior who was born to reconcile sinful man with a holy God.

When your light is shining brightly, it won't take a neat app to find you, you'll be clearly visible. Doing your part to make your Heavenly Father known!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to shine for You. During this busy Christmas season, help me to be still and know You are God. I humble myself in worship of You. Help me to shine brightly, pointing others to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And The Winner Is...

Congratulations to Diana Ferguson, winner of the autographed copy of Jody Hedlund's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride!! Be sure to visit Diana's creative blog sites: Pass Your Plate, To Everything a Season, and Texas-Blogging Gals!

A special thank you to all who participated in the giveaway! I appreciate your support!

Grab a cup of coffee and join me over at Eternity Cafe today, where you'll be challenged to 'let your light shine' this Christmas season! Stay warm and be blessed!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Interview and a Giveaway!

We've all heard the moving stories of famous preachers and missionaries from days gone by. William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, and countless others. Have you ever thought about the women behind these great men of faith? In her debut novel, The Preacher's Bride, historical romance novelist, Jody Hedlund helps us imagine what it would be like to live in the 1600's, married to a man who is intent on sharing the gospel no matter the cost.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author, Jody Hedlund!

Maria: Thanks for joining us today! Tell us a bit about your debut novel, The Preacher's Bride.

Jody: The Preacher’s Bride is a tale about finding true love amidst the intense discrimination and persecution that existed after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1650’s England.

This book is inspired by Elizabeth Bunyan, the second wife of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. I loved the brave way Elizabeth defended John during one of his trials when he was under arrest for his “unlicensed” preaching. Her strength to face a court of persecutors and her determination to faithfully support her husband touched me so deeply, that I decided her little-known story needed to be told to the world.

Maria: Which character in your book can you most easily identify with? And why?

Jody: My 92 year old grandmother recently finished reading my book. She wrote me a letter and said she kept seeing my name in place of Elizabeth’s, the heroine. Apparently my grandma was seeing my personality coming across in Elizabeth’s. I didn’t intentionally write Elizabeth to resemble me, but in hindsight, I can see that as a strong woman of faith she shares many of my characteristics.

Maria: Your book has done extremely well! Describe how you felt when you found out The Preacher's Bride was on the CBA best seller list.

Jody: Stunned to make the list. Excited to see a dream come true. Grateful to God for his goodness. Humbled that people are reading and enjoying my book.

Maria: Share some lessons you've learned on your journey from rough draft to publication.

Jody: Perseverance is KEY. There will always be discouraging times no matter where we’re at in the journey. For a while, I wondered if an agent would ever pick me up. And after hearing the dismal statistics about how few debut authors get picked up by publishers, I wondered if a publisher would ever take an interest in my books. But, I persevered and learned that if we continue to grow in our skills and work on our stories, industry professionals will eventually notice us.

Maria: How do you keep your writing fresh?

Jody: Currently I’m in the researching and plotting phase of my third contracted book. While in this phase, I’m reading a couple of fiction-writing “how-to” books. Reading them refreshes me, sparks new ideas, reminds me of techniques I need to practice, and pushes me to improve.

Maria: You're an extremely busy lady, and family is obviously very important to you, how do you prioritize your day? How many hours do you spend writing?

Jody: I struggle every day to balance the new demands of being a published author and the mother to five busy children. I try to set personal deadlines ahead of publisher ones so that I’m not running behind. I also keep myself on a fairly strict writing schedule. I block time into my day and stick to it. I give myself daily word count goals or number of chapters to edit, and I work hard to meet my goals. And then I try to be just as intentional with my family—especially setting aside regular family time together.

Maria: How has being a published author changed you?

Jody: Through the stresses and deadlines and increased workload, God has stretched me to grow. As I’ve juggled a writing career and other responsibilities, I’ve had to learn to let go of some of the things that aren’t important (like a dusted house or perfectly prepared meals) and instead cling to what matters most (like family time).

Maria: Any chance you might write a non-fiction book in the future? If so, what topic?

Jody: I’ve always tossed around the idea of writing non-fiction. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of ideas, particularly about parenting and marriage. I could even see myself delving into a writing how-to book. But for now, at this busy stage in my life, I’m sticking with fiction.

Maria: What goals have you set for your future? Writing and otherwise.

Jody: I’m actually taking the future one day at a time. I want to be obedient to God’s plans for my life. For now, he’s given me a three book contract. I intend to write the very best three books that I possibly can. Then after that, I’ll see where he leads me!

Maria: What final words of wisdom would you like to share with our readers?

Jody: God’s life lessons aren’t always clearly written out on a blackboard. Instead, it’s often when we’re in the middle of difficulties, stresses, and hardships that we slowly begin to see what God is trying to teach us. And ultimately the lesson is that he longs for our holiness more than our happiness.

Maria: Definitely words of wisdom we can all take to heart! Thank you so much for joining us today, Jody! Congratulations on your first successful novel! And God give you many more successes as you continue to write for His honor and glory!

Good news! If you're interested in winning an autographed copy of Jody's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride:

• Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot) maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.

• Receive an extra entry by becoming a follower, or by reminding me that you're already a follower.

• Receive a bonus entry by posting about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook and/or Twitter. Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.

• This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.

• Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, December 12, 2010. Winner to be announced in Monday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

Take a moment to read Jody's biography!

Jody Hedlund is a debut historical romance novelist who was a double finalist in the 2009 ACFW Genesis Contest. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.

She’s represented by agent Rachelle Gardner and her debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, released in Oct. 2010 and is available online and in most bookstores. Stop by her blog, Author, Jody Hedlund, where she chronicles her journey to publication and dispenses her two-cent writing wisdom.

Visit Jody at the following locations:


Monday, December 6, 2010

A 40 Day Adventure

As we move toward Christmas, I'd like to point you to my friend, Susan Panzica's blog, Eternity Cafe. Last year, the Lord burdened her to begin a project called 40 Days Focus on Christmas. Her goal is to, "incite personal revivals that will draw our readers closer to Jesus during a period of time that is traditionally harried and anxiety-ridden." In Susan's words, "It is one thing to say and even believe that 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season,' but to live it is something else."

I'm captivated by Susan's prayer, that her blog will provide a daily spark to keep Jesus and His incarnation the focus of every readers' thoughs, plans, actions and activities. Her mission statement is simple, "My desire is not that you get into the Christmas spirit....but that you be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Susan asked a number of bloggers to participate in writing posts for this 40 day adventure. I am privileged to be a part of this team, and encourage you to stop by Susan's blog today and every day between now and Christmas for a time of spiritual renewal!

What helps you focus on Christ during the Christmas season? Determine to give Him His rightful place today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for this Christmas season when we celebrate the birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for blogs devoted to pointing others to You. Although things may get hectic around me, help me to choose to be still and reflect on the reason for the season - it's all about You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Blessings of Friendship

England. A country that's been brought to mind often, with the recent news of the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. But I was thinking about the distant land for other reasons. A blogging friend of mine from England was in the states visiting her sister. She had contacted me to see if we could get together and meet. How exciting!

As we sat at Starbucks, sipping our hot beverages, I couldn't get over the fact that I was actually talking to Linda Meade in person. In this tech-savvy day and age, our writing and a love for the Lord had brought us together. More than followers of each other's blogs, we've now had an opportunity to meet face-to-face and begin a friendship.

It was fun to discuss our cultures. The similarities as well as the differences. Linda and her daughter, Laura, had shopped extensively while in the states, taking advantage of discounted prices. I realized that we have it pretty good in the United States in spite of the economic difficulties. But what really got my attention was Linda's passion for Christ. She shared some lessons she had learned, and how she desires to serve the Lord.

We talked about our churches and the importance of a close knit body of believers. How salvation is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and not in keeping a list of rules. It was such a privilege to share a time of praise. Two believers from different countries. I thought of the scores of believers all across the globe. A passage from Revelation came to mind, "After this I beheld, and , lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb," (Revelation 7:9-10; KJV). To think that heaven will be filled with believers from all nations, praising the God of heaven! Inspiring!

Before going our separate ways, Linda presented me with a beautiful box of stationary. On the inside of the box lid was printed Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Delighting in the Lord brought these two writers into a unique friendship!

Thank you, Linda, for being the embodiment of a friend. The book of Proverbs says, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly..." (Proverbs 18:24a). You certainly did this by reaching out and making time to meet with a blogger buddy! I appreciate you!

Visit Linda's blogs: Simple Blessings, and Days Touched by Grace. You'll be blessed!

For those of you who blog, have you been able to meet any of your blogger buddies in person? What characteristics do you look for in a friend? Will you reach out and be that friend to someone else?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for the friends you bring into my life. Allow each of these relationships to bring glory to You. Help me to be mindful of reaching out to others in true friendship. In Jesus' name, Amen.