Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fear of Rejection

I've been out of my teens now for many years. But I admit there are still days when I feel like the proverbial teenager buckling under peer pressure. Sometimes I find myself shying away from controversial topics - remaining silent when given the opportunity to speak. Why?


Remember Pilate? In Jesus' day, Pilate was the Roman governor of Judaea and Samaria. A prestigious position. One he wanted to keep. Of Pilate's many responsibilities, one was to maintain peace in his region. Imagine his uneasiness when a crowd of Jewish leaders approached him with a major concern. They had a problem with Jesus, "We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to give tribute to Caesar, saying that himself is Christ a King," (Luke 23:2; KJV).

After an initial questioning, Pilate returned his verdict, "...I find no fault in this man," (Luke 23:4b). The Jews rejected his judgment, fiercely stating that Jesus was purposely causing dissent among the people with His teachings.

Since Jesus was from Galilee, Pilate saw an opportunity to pass the decision-making responsibility on to Herod - the ruler of that region. Pilate's judgment would no longer matter, the Jews would be appeased, and Herod would serve as the scapegoat. Brilliant plan! But it didn't work.

Following the trial with Herod, the chief priests and rulers of the people once again stood before Pilate. His response? "Ye have brought this man unto me, as one that perverteth the people: and, behold, I, having examined him before you, have found no fault in this man touching those things whereof ye accuse him: No, nor yet Herod: for I sent you to him; and, lo, nothing worthy of death is done unto him. I will therefore chastise him, and release him," (Luke 23:14-16).

The Jews wouldn't listen to Pilate's decree, and insisted he release Barabbas, a man who had led a rebellion and was a murderer, instead. What was going on? Pilate tried to get them to see reason - to no avail. By now, the Jews were furious. They demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, but something the Jews had said made his blood run cold, "If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar," (John 19:12).

If reports of an uprising in Pilate's region made it to Caesar, not only would he lose his job, he may even lose his life. The cries for Jesus' crucifixion intensified. Pilate gave in to the crowd. Jesus was led away to be crucified.

I can relate to Pilate. Oftentimes I give in to peer pressure in order to protect myself - and end up making poor choices. It's important to remember that God is my ultimate Protector, and  the power of the Holy Spirit can help me stand for the truth.

Are you affected by peer pressure? What step will you take today to speak up for the truth?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I struggle with the fear of rejection. When I'm faced with peer pressure, help me to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to speak up for the truth. In Jesus' name, Amen.  

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Interview with Author, Keli Gwyn

I remember her friendly email, "Thanks for subscribing to my blog. I hope you find my posts enjoyable. From time to time I like to surprise a blog visitor with a little package of goodies. I'd like to send you one..." From our first interaction, she struck me as a talented writer, and a woman with the gift of encouragement.

Who is this inspiring lady? Grab some iced tea and join me in welcoming - Keli Gwyn!

Maria: Tell us a bit about yourself:

Keli: I’m a native Californian. My teacher husband and I live in the majestic Sierra Nevada Foothills just seven miles from Coloma, where James Marshall discovered the shiny nuggets that started the Gold Rush. I’m smitten with the Victorian Era, the period in which my stories are set.

While writing is my passion, I do possess some others skills. I play a fierce game of Whack-a-Mole, can still recite the first two paragraphs of the Gettysburg Address I memorized back in seventh grade, and can put away an impressive amount of my husband’s homemade shortbread in one sitting.

Maria: Wow! Remind me NOT to challenge you when you have a mallet in your hand! All joking aside, give us a sneak peek into your debut novel, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California.

Keli: Widow Elenora Watkins is determined to provide for herself and her daughter without relying on anyone else. Can she run a successful business after falling for the competition? Miles Rutledge finds himself willing to do anything to keep Elenora in town. But can he win her heart while putting her out of business?

Maria: Just enough information to get us hooked! Which character in your book can you most easily identify with? And why?

Keli: I identify with the heroine, Elenora. Like me, she’s the mother of a bright, talkative daughter. Ellie tends to be a bit overprotective at times, and I was, too, when our college daughter was younger. I can’t cook very well, and neither can Ellie. She’s a hardworking, determined woman, and I am, too. Like Ellie, when I set a goal, I put my all into achieving it.

Maria: As I read your book, I imagined you to be like Elenora - loved her spunk and determination. What do you hope your readers glean from your novel?

Keli: I hope they enjoy the story and their trip back in time.

On a deeper level, I hope they learn that we are valued not so much for what we do as for who we are. Ellie is out to prove herself on several fronts, but she doesn’t need to. People like her the way she is.

I’d also like readers to understand that the Lord is there for us—even when we don’t sense His presence. When the story begins, Ellie doesn’t believe the Lord hears her prayers or cares about her concerns, but as things progress, she experiences growth in this area.

Maria: Those are important lessons. How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your writing?

Keli: My faith is an important part of who I am. I delight in adding the spiritual element to my stories. As my characters learn valuable lessons about who God is and how He works in our lives, I learn right along with them.

Maria: What goals do you have for the future?

Keli: I look forward to writing many more historical romances and to my continued interactions with readers as well as other writers.

Maria: Sounds like you'll stay busy! Share some lessons you've learned on your journey as a writer:

·        * Have realistic expectations.
·         *Take time to study craft.
·        * Don't become a slave to the rules.
·        * Accept feedback graciously.
·        * Enjoy the journey.

Maria: Great advice! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Keli:  My one word of wisdom would be: persevere. I’ve interviewed over 100 debut authors, and this trait is one that has come up again and again as being of the utmost importance. Our dreams won’t come true unless we keep on writing and submitting, hoping and praying. Perseverance can lead to rejoicing.

Thank you so much for having me as your guest, Maria. Spending time with you and your blog’s readers is a treat. I’d like to end with a question for all of you.

I really am good at Whack-a-Mole. I once had a crowd gather around to watch me bop those critters as they popped their heads up. What’s one of your little known skills that has impressed others?

Maria: It's been a pleasure Keli! And someday I hope to watch you whack those moles on the head with that rubber mallet! God bless you as you continue to write books that point others to Him.

Good news! Keli has graciously offered to give away a copy of her book, A Bride Opens Shop in El Dorado, California:

*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, Tuesday, July 31, 2012. Winner to be announced in Thursday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

Award-winning novelist Keli Gwyn writes inspirational historical romance. A California native, she lives in the Gold Rush-era town of Placerville in the Sierra Foothills with her husband and two skittish kitties.

Connect with Keli: 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What's On the Inside?

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

An Interview With Author, Stephanie Reed

Welcome to the launch of Thursday Interviews featuring fellow writers, missionaries, photographers, and other ordinary people who have a passion to use their talents for Christ. It's such an honor to introduce my first guest: Stephanie Reed. She's an author of two published books, with several more in the works - and she also happens to be an amazing sister-in-law! Join me in welcoming Stephanie.

Maria: Thanks for joining me today! Tell us a bit about yourself:

Stephanie: I’m a follower of Jesus Christ, married thirty-one years, mother of a son, daughter-in-law, and daughter, and sister-in-law of this sweet blogger. I love to read and I think I’m a good cook but am actually only average. I know a bit about flowers and birds, I like history, and I’d much rather visit a park or a historical site than go shopping.

Maria: I can attest to the fact that you're a good cook, so you don't need to be so modest. What sparked your interest in the Underground Railroad? Give us a brief description of your books, Across the Wide River and The Light Across the River:

Stephanie: I’ve always liked the idea of everyday people helping others because it was the right thing to do. When I found a family who helped others because God encouraged them to do so, I was hooked.  In Across the Wide River, which is based on a true story, Lowry Rankin is the eldest son of the Reverend John Rankin of Ripley, Ohio. Everyone knows Lowry will be a minister like his father one day—everyone but Lowry. He’s always helped with his family’s station of the Underground Railroad, but it’s not until he’s confronted with the horrors of slavery that his mission becomes personal. In the second book, The Light Across the River, Lowry’s younger brother Johnny has his own struggles with the Underground Railroad, namely keeping the wonderful work his family does a secret. Will he be able to help the real Eliza of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame rescue the family she came back to deliver to the land of freedom?

Maria: Sounds like we can all learn some valuable lessons from your books. How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your writing?

Stephanie: Writing is very humbling. I quickly came to realize that what I write comes from Jesus Christ and must be given back to Him, successful or not. I wish I could say writing has gotten easier as time goes by, but it’s getting harder! I don’t want to know what it would be like to write without the Lord’s help.

Maria: I love your dependence on the Lord! What are you currently working on?

Stephanie: I am working (and working and working) on my first book for women. I call it Amish historical fiction because it’s set in the 1970s. My name for the three-book series is Plain City Peace. The name of the first book is The Bargain. The publication date is dependent on my edits, which are ongoing. Let’s say late next year? My one-sentence summary for this book is: An Amish girl helps an English boy, a shattered survivor of the Kent State Massacre, find real peace in the summer of 1971. I loved writing about the 70s! My publisher is Kregel; shout out to Steve Barclift, managing editor. I am very grateful for his encouraging support.

Maria: I see some must-reads in my near future! As an established author, what do you do to keep your writing fresh?

Stephanie: Don’t neglect to read widely! Lately I’ve downloaded a few free Christian novels on my Kindle because they’re very different from what I usually read. I try to learn something from each author. I don’t mean analyze a book; that makes reading a chore instead of a pleasure. Using this method, I’ve learned that one way to make a character more likeable is to show that the other characters in the book like him/her.

Maria: Great tips. What goals do you have for the future?

Stephanie: When I get to Heaven, I want to turn a perfect cartwheel. In regard to writing, I want each book to be better than the last.

Maria: I can just see you turning that perfect cartwheel! Love your sense of humor, Stephanie! Share some lessons you’ve learned on your journey as a writer:

1        * If you have a critique partner, be helpful, kind, and encouraging. Do not slash and burn (guilty).

2        * It is far better to have an agent on your team pre-publication, if you can manage it (I went it alone for the first two books, so I know). Thanks, Barbara Scott! She greatly encourages me
3     * Think of editing as a second (third, fourth) chance. Before I was published, I thought editing was polishing, sharpening, and refining my own work, at my whim. Now, the editor says, “This doesn’t work; change it.” Editors may offer general suggestions, but it’s up to you to achieve the desired effect, at least until the next editorial letter. You’ve heard, “Don’t try this at home,” but I say, “Don’t try this without God, and even then, it won’t be easy.”

      * Platform is important, but if you write fiction, focus on your writing. If you blog, write in your own voice. Make friends through your blogging and social media outlets. Bestow sincere compliments on individuals—life’s hard, and we could all use the encouragement. The day I stopped trying to get people to follow me on Twitter and gave it up to the Lord is the day I began a steady increase from 400 to over 800 followers. Roughly 1,000 followers is the springboard for a platform. But what good is a platform if you don’t write a good book? J

Maria: Thanks for passing on these valuable lessons! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Stephanie: In terms of sales, my first book has been reprinted twice (small initial and follow-up print runs) but has sold extremely modestly. You would probably gasp at the miniscule amount of the yearly royalty checks—of the “Pizza’s on me!” variety. The second book, which is much better in my humble opinion, has not sold well. In terms of eternal value, however, I’ve heard some very nice comments from individuals. In the end, God determines what constitutes success, so if God has given you a story to tell, tell it.
Thanks for having me, Maria! Your prayer support and humor are much appreciated. I’m so glad you’re part of my family and I look forward to many successful books from you.

Maria: Appreciate your honesty and your dedication to God and using the gift He's given you to be a blessing to others. Thank you for your sweet words of encouragement, and for always being there to guide me along the writer's pathway. And a BIG thank you for the marvelous interview!

*Connect with Stephanie, and purchase her books:


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Teachable Moments

When I received the friend request, I knew the name sounded familiar. I repeated the name several times, and it dawned on me. The young lady had been a member of a teen Bible study I had co-taught several years earlier. It was so good to reconnect and find out that she was doing well. Now in high school, she continues to grow in Christ through an outreach on campus.

Knowing that I have the opportunity to impact lives for Jesus Christ is truly humbling. Beginning in my own family, each day offers me the chance to teach the principles of God's Word from ordinary experiences. The words of Moses reiterate this fact, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up," (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; KJV). Basically, it should be natural to speak of the Lord and His ways. And to speak of Him often. Every time an occasion presents itself, whether to family or a new acquaintance.

Life is full of difficulties. From sibling rivalries to unfair treatment, what better time to introduce the caring, compassionate Savior, who invites us into His presence? "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (Hebrews 4:16). No matter what the difficulty, He wants us to leave our burden with Him, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you," (1 Peter 5:7). As prayers are lifted, and answers are received, faith in a mighty God begins to grow.

Good times can also present challenges. There is a delicate balance between enjoying a victory, and becoming prideful in its wake. Being reminded of the One who gave the victory goes a long way in cultivating the right attitude. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17a). Reviewing God's many blessings keeps us focused on His goodness, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever," (Psalm 107:1).

Numerous opportunities to share Christ's principles present themselves every day. I only need to keep my eyes open for the teachable moments. Each day we get the chance to make a mark on those who are in the sphere of our influence. Are we diligently teaching the ways of the Master? Pointing others to the Truth?

As you consider those on whom you have an impact, pray that the Lord would equip you to make much of Him! May we have the excitement of Peter and John, who boldly proclaimed, "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard," (Acts 4:20).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunities You give me to influence others for You. Equip me with the ability to share Your principles naturally with those You bring across my path. Help me to keep my eyes open for teachable moments, and communicate Your ways so others may grow in their faith. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Exciting Changes

Hard to believe I began my blogging journey three years ago. In that timeframe, the look and layout of my blog have changed very little. Time to shake things up a bit! Some exciting changes will be taking place over the next several weeks, one of which I'll be rolling out next Thursday.

Join me July 19th, when my Thursday posts begin featuring interviews with fellow writers, missionaries, photographers, and other ordinary people who have a passion to use their talents for Christ. I can't wait for you to meet the inspirational individuals I have lined up, as I kick off this new element on my site.

In the meantime, I'd like to thank each of you for your support over the years. Your comments and encouragement mean a great deal, and it's been a pleasure meeting so many kindred spirits throughout the blogging community. Hurray for YOU!

Numbers 6:24-26 The Lord bless thee, and keep thee: The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee: The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.   

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Preconceived Ideas

Have you ever prayed about a situation with a preconceived idea of how God should answer? I have. When He doesn't answer my prayer the way I think He should, I have to admit I'm not thrilled. Flesh and spirit wrestle - engaged in a battle that has been fought throughout the ages.

Remember Naaman? He was the captain of the host of the king of Syria. He held this impressive position in spite of his physical condition - he was a leper. Several forms of leprosy were highly contagious and, for the most part, incurable. Naaman's prognosis was not good.

But there was hope. Naaman's wife had a young servant girl who knew someone who could help Naaman. The prophet, Elisha. Naaman wasted no time travelling to Elisha's house. I'm sure he knocked on the door in anticipation - eager to stand before the prophet and receive healing. But Elisha didn't open the door, a messenger stood in his place.

The messenger issued instructions for Naaman to go wash in the Jordan River seven times, and he would be cured of his leprosy. Naaman's response? "But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:11; KJV).

Pride got the best of Naaman. A man of his rank bathing in the Jordan River? Surely there was a better way! As he stalked back to his chariot in a rage, his servants tried to get him to see reason, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:13).

The instructions WERE simple. Dipping seven times in the Jordan River couldn't hurt. Maybe he WOULD give it a try. Each time he disappeared below the muddy waters, his hope grew. The seventh time he came up from the water, his eyes grew large with amazement - he was healed!

If Naaman had persisted in his pride, he would still be a leper without hope. Instead, he made the decision to humble himself, follow the simple instructions, and be cured of his disease. Most importantly, he put his faith in the God of Israel (2 Kings 5:15).  

I can be just like Naaman, thinking I know the best way for the God of heaven to answer my prayers. My pride can get the best of me. But when I recall that He is the Creator and I'm His creation, humility follows. I remember that His ways are higher than my ways and his thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:9).

Do you struggle with God's answers to your prayers? What step will you take today to walk in humility and not allow pride to get the best of you?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding me that your answers to my prayers are best. Forgive me when I respond in pride. Help me remember the story of Naaman and humble myself and truly seek your will for my life. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Are You Celebrating?

Every year we celebrate it – our independence. Wikipedia gives an accurate description of the importance of this celebration, “Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.”

Freedom is worth celebrating. I remember a group of people who endured over 400 years of slavery – the children of Israel. They were in bondage to Pharaoh, and were responsible for making bricks to construct buildings throughout Egypt.

Imagine their joy when Pharaoh finally let them go! It didn’t happen overnight, in fact, the Lord sent ten horrific plagues that affected land and people alike. It took the death of Pharaoh’s son to convince him that the God of the Israelites was indeed a God to be feared.

The people were free. No more making bricks, no more taskmasters, no more beatings. They were free to worship the Lord in the manner that He showed them. But freedom didn’t come easy. There was hard work involved – travelling hundreds of miles on foot, setting up and taking down tents, getting along with everyone else who was on this pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land.

On several occasions, the children of Israel became disenchanted with their freedom. When they came into the wilderness of Sin, they had reached their limit. Grumbling turned into complaints against Moses and Aaron, “Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth in to this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger,” (Exodus 16:3; KJV). In a matter of months, the Israelites had shifted from celebrating their freedom, to longing for the land where they had been enslaved.

What silly people! Yet don’t I do the same thing? I was set free from the slavery of sin when I put my faith in the completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross. What a reason to celebrate. But as I journey through life, difficulties trip me up and I forget the joy I originally experienced. Just like the children of Israel, I begin to take my freedom for granted and complaining soon follows. Once again I fall prey to the slavery of sin.

God’s Word provides the map I need to get back on course. He is gracious, “For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust,”  (Psalm 103:14). He reminds me I’m freed from sin and am able to serve Him, “But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life,” (Romans 6:22).

I have every reason to celebrate – I’m free from the grip of sin, and I live in a country where I am free to worship the God of heaven.

Have you experienced freedom from sin by accepting Christ as your Savior (Ephesians 2:8-9)? If so, are you living like the children of Israel, disenchanted with your freedom? What step will you take today to get back on course and celebrate your freedom?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the opportunity to celebrate true freedom – freedom from the slavery of sin. Help me to realize what a precious gift you’ve given me. Help me not to take it for granted. Thank you for America, a country where I can worship you freely. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!