Grateful for Today

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A month of gratitude! Let’s focus on gratitude throughout the month of November. I challenge you to look around and be more aware of the blessings in your life. And each day write down at least five things you are thankful for.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. – 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (NIV)

Most of us have dreams, goals, desires, and wishes. It could be something significant, such wanting to get married. Or it could be something smaller, like the desire for extra sleep. These things could be long-term, such as the goal of achieving a master’s degree. Or they could be more immediate, like wanting a steak for dinner. All of these things are something we want. Whether we want it now or later, we still want them.

It is good to have goals for the future and it is good to know what you want in this moment – if those things align with God’s will. We get ourselves into trouble when we can’t have what we want or when things don’t go as desired, and then we allow this to bring us down or to alter our perspective.

A while back I applied for a job that I really wanted. According to the job description, I knew the work well and wouldn’t need much training to get up to speed. And I knew some of the team members already from prior work experience. But the main thing that I loved about this job was that I would be able to work from home. Once this opening became available, a friend of mine on the team put in a good word for me. I just knew this job was mine. I had no doubts.

When I went into the interview, things changed. I was asked about a couple of different software programs which I never heard of before. And these tasks that I was asked about did not align with the job description. I was honest and I told the manager interviewing me that I was not familiar with the software, but I was sure I could learn whatever was needed. In the end, another candidate got the job. I was devastated because of my initial confidence that this job was mine. (Perhaps pride was an issue here?)

Later on I learned some things about the job that made me realize this job was not in my best interest. God closed this door for a reason. But one important thing that came out of this was a stronger sense of gratitude. I was grateful that God did not give me what I wanted, because it was not the best path. But, ultimately, this also taught me to be grateful for today and grateful for what I have now.

The picture below was shared on Facebook recently by Maria Haxton Ministries International. https://www.facebook.com/326496561475589/photos/a.345248092933769/531526474305929/?type=3&theater)

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Too often, we take the things we have for granted. And as the picture above illustrates, someone out there might be wishing for the very thing that we overlook each day. When we walk in gratitude, we embrace the here and now. We embrace the day-to-day. We embrace the small stuff. Because the majority of life is in the small stuff. If we don’t take time to look around and enjoy where we are today and what we have today, we will miss out on a multitude of blessings. If you don’t appreciate what you have now, then chances are you won’t appreciate the things you are hoping for, once you get them. If you don’t appreciate today, then chances are you won’t appreciate tomorrow, once it arrives.

I was texting my friend Lorraine the other day, and she put it this way, “I am working on my patience and enjoying the moment. Yesterday is dead. Tomorrow is yet to be born. But right now is mine and yours.” Such wise words! If only we could keep this perspective all the time. When we are waiting to be seen at a doctor’s office, when we are stuck in traffic, when our homes aren’t as clean as we would like, when we have too many tasks in front of us, or when we don’t get what we want, I pray we can remember to still find contentment in this moment.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:18, Scripture says to give thanks in ALL circumstances. The word “all” is key in this verse. Whether we get what we want or not. Whether things are going as planned or not. The Bible still instructs us to be thankful.

God showers us with so many blessings, each and every day. We just have to take the time to look around and notice them. As you go about your day today, I hope you can keep this in mind, and be grateful for today. Remember that every day is a gift from God!

(I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts here each Thursday of this month. So be sure to visit again. And on the first four Saturdays of this month, I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts on my author website. If you want to read last Saturday’s post, click here.)

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Away from the Puck

He is a young, professional hockey player, highly valued for his ability to score goals. For this reason, he has the potential to have a long and successful career as a professional athlete. He can be a star. But this season the coach has been constantly pressuring him to put more focus on how he plays when he is “away from the puck.” He does not think this is very important. His strength is scoring goals, he can only do that when he has the puck, and he wants to concentrate on his area of strength because that is where his future success will lie.

After a recent game, the coach took him aside for a talk. The player had played about 16 minutes in the game, and the coach asked him how long he thought he had possession of the puck. He said about two minutes. He had actually had the puck for 29 seconds. This means that he was playing without the puck about 97 percent of the time. This is why the coach has been hounding him. Since the player does not have the puck most of the time, it is that time that will ultimately determine his success or failure.

There is a life lesson for all of us here. Most of life is lived out of the spotlight, when no one is watching, as we go about our daily tasks, as we do our work, as we fulfill or do not fulfill our responsibilities, as we act wisely and properly or unwisely and improperly, as we harbor love or hatred, justice or injustice, deep in the recesses of our hearts. It is how we act when no one is watching, what we do in secret, that will determine our ultimate success.

We may think there is no one watching. But just as the coach is watching, recording, and judging everything the hockey player does, so there is someone watching us. That someone is God.

Jesus Christ said, “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3 NIV) and “Your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:4, 18 NIV).

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Rocky Road (by Hannah Alexander)

As you can see, this is one rocky road! What, you thought I was talking about the ice cream? I wish! I love Rocky Road ice cream. But hiking this rocky road is better for my health than ice cream–unless, of course, I break an ankle or leg on the trail.

As a hiker, I love a straight trail with perfect temperature, no rocks, no climbs, good shade from the sun. No rain, snow, sleet…you know, stuff like that. Missouri, where I lived for many decades, has the KATY Trail, which was a railroad line turned into a long hiking/biking trail, no motor vehicles allowed. It stretches across the state from Clinton in the west to St. Charles in the east, and it makes for some beautiful and easy hiking. There are lodges dotted along the trail where hikers and bikers can stay for the night and get a good breakfast in the morning. There is plenty of shade and very little elevation change because it was a railroad track before it was a trail. I love that trail. Of course, I’ve never hiked it in bad weather.

The thing is, I could get spoiled hiking the KATY Trail every day, and my muscles would get soft. When a trail is all easy hiking, one can get lulled into a false sense of ease. It’s easy to forget that not all good trails are so simple. Not all the beautiful scenery can be reached by an gentle trail. In fact, if the trail doesn’t have some challenges, where is the accomplishment? Where is the muscle workout? The emotional testing? The high one gets from conquering a difficult trail?

Like anyone, I love an easy trail, but I need something to conquer. Take life, for instance. Sure, God could let us coast along with ease and contentment, giving our spiritual muscles a break from the challenges, but in my experience, that doesn’t last long. Sometimes we think the challenges we face are simply too much for us. Maybe they are.

There is no way I could tackle the challenges I’ve faced without knowing God sees all and is there for me no matter what–that He is ultimately the One in control, who allows the challenges. I don’t know how anyone can live through the hardships of this life with all the burden of a good outcome on their own shoulders.

I’ve found that the worst hardships in my life, like the most difficult trails, have driven me closer to Him than any easy jaunt. I believe that’s why we are told in the Bible to count it all joy when we suffer for Him. Because it’s the hardships in life, the rocky roads, that develop us into what God wants us to be.

May you find the strength to face your challenges with some joy, knowing that He is molding within you the beautiful person He wants you to become.

 

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PARTING GIFTS by Vicki Hinze

A few years ago I thought I had a life-threatening illness. It turned out to be a paperwork mistake, but there were about six weeks when I didn’t yet know that.

I thought my time here was nearly done, and I did what I imagine most do on learning that kind of news. Prayed a lot, thought a lot, and looked back at what I’d done in this life. I made peace with what wouldn’t be done, unfinished business, and my bottom line ended up . . . well, we’ll get there. I should start at the beginning.

I’ve lost a lot of people in my life. Brothers first. The day my brother Kenny died, my dad had had heart surgery. My poor mother was in shock. I had to step up and handle the funeral, Kenny’s burial. I was thirteen. There’s nothing to be said about that except the lesson in it: No matter who you are (or what age you are), when you have to do what you have to do, you do it.

That was the first of many deaths that would touch my life over the next years. Friends from school, extended family members, and distant relatives, then much closer ones. My father and mother, my in-laws, and dear lifelong friends. More and more people I love. Because, as we age, our circle narrows. That’s just a fact of life and it must be accepted.

The point is that early on, I became acutely aware of those departing and their concerns and regrets. What I discovered was this:

If the person who passes is a person of faith, it’s easier on them and on those who love them. Both know who they are and whose they are. They aren’t leaving home, they’re going home. Those left behind will miss them in daily life, but know they will see them again. There is immeasurable solace in that. Comfort and reassurance, too. When grieving, we welcome all solace, comfort and reassurance.

If the person who passes is not a person of faith and we are, it’s harder. They too will be missed and the sadness in them and for them is also immeasurable.

I discovered in the faithful passing, each one of them (there have been no exceptions), their common concern was that they weren’t as good as they should have been in life. They worried that they hadn’t been “good enough” to get into to Heaven.

We’re taught that we enter Heaven by grace, and they knew that, yet they still expressed doubt and concern that they wouldn’t measure up. I guess from this that when we know our every flaw, we’re more prone to fault and less prone to forgive ourselves.

In earlier years, I was at a loss as to what to say to them. But as I grew and learned, I began reminding them that nothing about them surprised God. He created them, made them unique as He saw fit, and He loved them unconditionally. Eventually, they recalled it’s not about works but about grace.

They speak of loving and being loved. Of gratitude to those who were good to them. Of people and pets who brought them joy. Of people they loved who had passed before them. Of making a difference in the lives of others. Of what being loved meant to them.

Not one. Not a single one talked about the things being left behind. Not homes or jewels, not possessions or things. Not one of them.

The lesson in that is enormous. The wisdom in that is enormous, and I am learning from it.

I’m learning to live life deliberately. To let others know I love and appreciate them. To accept that I can’t change anyone else and to stop beating my head against brick walls (those who do not appreciate, those who deliberately and repeatedly steal joy, tear others down to build themselves up).

I’m learning to openly express my gratitude and joy and to reach out to others in compassion not in judgment. When someone makes a difference in my life, I tell them. When I feel loved, I express what it means to me. I appreciate. I am grateful. I am blessed.

We all are, and each day—every single one of them, no matter how strife or stress-filled for whatever reason—is a gift to be cherished.

Those are valuable lessons to learn at any time. But truly it is wisdom that the departing have shared. It is offered and we choose whether or not to embrace, retain and pass it on. If we do, then that wisdom shared is not lost. Ever.

It’s humbling really, to realize that when we set out to comfort, we receive a parting gift from them that is a treasure. When we step into someone’s life to give, we discover we have stepped into their circle of wisdom, and because we have, before departing, they expand our circle of wisdom. And their wisdom lives on…*

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Grateful for the Lord

A month of gratitude! Let’s focus on gratitude throughout the month of November. I challenge you to look around and be more aware of the blessings in your life. And each day write down at least five things you are thankful for.

Maybe this one seems obvious. But I feel at times we forget to be thankful for God. I don’t want to take Him for granted. But I fear I do some days. I know He is always there for me. I know He is watching over me. I know He sends blessings my way. But do I stop and praise Him? Do I take the time to thank Him? Not always. And when I think about it, it makes me sad. I want to change that. I want to appreciate our heavenly Father more. Not just for all He does, but because of who He is.

I believe if we were consistent about praising the Lord and His Holy Name, this alone would remove many of the complaints and worries in our lives. What is there to complain about, when we fully realize just how much God blesses us each and every day? What is there to worry about, when we know our Father is the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords, and He is watching over us? Fully immersing ourselves in the knowledge of just how awesome He is will change our perspective.

Let’s take a look closer look at some of God’s characteristics:

  • God is love (1 John 4:8)
  • The Lord is our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1)
  • He is our rock, our fortress, and our savior (Psalm 18:2)
  • God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31)
  • The Lord is our strength (Psalm 28:7)
  • He is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9)
  • God is our light and our salvation (Psalm 27:1)
  • The Lord is good (Psalm 34:8)
  • He is our refuge (Psalm 46:1)
  • God is righteous (Psalm 11:7)
  • The Lord is forgiving (Psalm 86:5)
  • Great is God’s faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23)
  • The Lord is great and there is no one like Him (2 Samuel 7:22)
  • He does not change (Malachi 3:6)
  • God’s steadfast love endures forever (Psalm 106:1)

When I look over this list and see just how amazing our God is, it leaves me in awe. It makes me want to praise Him and glorify Him. And perhaps you feel the same way? So take some time today to praise God for His goodness and mercy and love. I will leave you with Psalm 100. This one is near and dear to my heart because it is one of the Psalms that my grandmother had memorized before she went to be with the Lord. But it is also a wonderful Psalm to read if you want to grow in gratitude.

Psalm 100 (NIV)
A psalm. For giving grateful praise.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations.

(I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts here each Thursday of this month. So be sure to visit again. And on the first four Saturdays of this month, I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts on my author website. If you want to read last Saturday’s post, click here.)

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My Jonah Journey by Julie Arduini

Have you ever asked people to describe you? It can be humbling. I remember a friend remarking that I was the type of person that would lend her my pants one day but if she asked the next day, I’d tell her to get a job and buy her own pants.

Yeah, I’m kind of guilty of that.

I also have a close-knit group of friends that I have known and loved for decades. We also are prayer partners. During a recent visit one of them revealed that they were taken aback when I told them the truth in love, and not what they wanted to hear.

Yeah, I’m kind of guilty of that, too.

So it’s not a surprise that I’ve been going to the Lord asking for His help and insight as a praying person. As my confessions above show, I’m not an enabler. I grew up around addiction, so I err more on the side of tough love.

But as a follower of Christ, I want to be full of compassion and love. Oh, how I fall short. We all do.

-Julie Arduini

As I’ve prayed, I realized there’s someone in the Bible who totally lived a similar situation. Jonah. God called him to go to Ninevah and warn the people to change their ways or face God’s wrath, but Jonah instead gets on a boat headed for Tarshish.

For years I thought Jonah disobeyed because he was scared. What I later learned was he didn’t think the people of Ninevah deserved a warning or a second chance.

Knowing I’m not the only harsh judge in history is a little comforting, but knowing how the rest of Jonah’s story plays out isn’t. I don’t want to cause trouble for others to the point that I have to jump ship. I definitely don’t want to get swallowed by a whale. And there’s no way I want to exit that situation by being vomited out. I shudder to think how my attitude would disappoint God, cause me to lose possible blessings, and make things rough for those around me.

I don’t know about you, but the Christian life is hard. There are times I truly don’t want to pray. If someone is in a loop that they don’t want to get off from, I don’t want a bandaid on the situation. I want them set free, but that wasn’t the prayer request. I struggle with that. Do I not pray at all? Pray for the basic thing that was asked, or the big thing I want to pray for? There are more times than I want to admit that I quickly process a prayer request and measure the worth. Is it a good prayer request? What if there’s someone coming almost hourly with requests? Is it right to think, as I sometimes do, that there should be a limit as to how many times someone comes to me?

Here’s the rub, and you know the answer as much as I do. If we can go to God unlimited times with the same issue, how can I deny someone else the same opportunity? And as selfish and superficial as I sound, there have been times God’s used my flawed self to pray for things where I witnessed some crazy, amazing, supernatural results for His glory. I obeyed and the experience was beyond description. The moments so incredible it’s a wonder I wouldn’t obey every time.

When I write, my vow was to always write what God wanted, when He wanted it. Many times when I blog, it’s because I’m on the other side of something and I want to encourage someone. This time? This Jonah thing? I’m still riding that wave. I still fight the urge to run like Jonah, or judge situation and whether prayer is deserved. Yet I know I don’t want the hard lesson Jonah learned. I don’t want to be remembered as harsh and disobedient. Sure, my friends know I’m tough and nurture isn’t natural for me, but they also know I take my faith seriously. I truly want to be like Christ. I believe prayer moves mountains and changes everything. I want to keep being a vessel God can use to further His Kingdom.

The good news? I don’t live near water, so I’m not near any whales.

The better news? I know I’m a flawed vessel and I’m on my knees daily asking for help.

The best news? Thanks to Jesus, my Father hears my daily prayer, sometimes hourly, often about the same thing. And He doesn’t get tired of my voice, my requests. He doesn’t get annoyed that I’m not living up to my potential. He’s not frustrated when I ask for a bandaid solution when He knows I need some spiritual surgery.

And if your struggle is like mine, this best news is for you, too.

***

I can’t believe we’re in the season for Christmas reads, but here it is! Restoring Christmas will get you in the festive mood and it’s .99 for Kindle for a limited time. It’s free for Kindle Unlimited. Also, are you following me or your other Christian Reads authors on Amazon, GoodReads, and BookBub? Doing so helps you stay in touch with our latest book news and helps you access easy ways to review. Thanks so much!

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The Rocks (by Hannah Alexander)

Last Saturday I was looking outside at the snow and seeing the effects of the wind, and just hanging out, kind of like the cats are here:

Cats Hanging Out in Bed

I hadn’t planned to get outside that day. At all. Didn’t feel the greatest, and wasn’t in the mood to make things happen. That’s not typical of me, but hey, I didn’t care.

Then Mel came home from yet another duty at work. “Sweetheart, we need to get out and hike somewhere.”

I opened my eyes and raised a brow. “Umph?” What was going on here? I’m the one who initiates hikes.

But he was determined to get me out of the house, and despite my dislike of cold and wind, and despite the fact that I wasn’t up to par, I was willing to consider…okay, let’s get real–any time I have a chance to get out in the wild I’ll jump to it unless I’m on my deathbed. I even took a shower and put on makeup..okay, chapstick. Yeah, I wanted to greet the wilderness with some polish.

I packed food and water while Mel got a weapon ready–we’ve learned it isn’t safe to hit the wilderness without protection, especially since mountain lions and bears and packs of wolves often roam the terrain we were planning to hike.

We hit the road and headed north toward the Green Mountains, but we just happened to stop for a bathroom break at a place I’ve always wanted to hike–it’s a humongous pile of boulders the size of cars–some the size of houses. The place is called Split-Rock, and it’s connected to an intriguing mountain range called the Granite Mountains, perpendicular to the Green Mountains with a valley in between. The whole range is made up of those boulders. It’s amazing.

Solid Rock

I noticed something startling and wonderful the moment we got out of the car at Split Rock–there was no wind. NONE! You know why that’s startling? Because we don’t have days without wind in our town. In fact, our county is building what is said to become the world’s largest wind farm. That’s because of the constant wind we have here. Sometimes it’s 30-40 mph, sometimes as low as 14 mph, sometimes we have gusts of 70-80 or more mph, which blow vehicles off the interstate. But there was no wind that day. Or at least we had driven an hour north and there was no wind there. It was a gift from God, and I was deeply touched.

I immediately found a trail at that boulder stop and followed it. Mel had planned to go elsewhere, but we looked at the Green Mountains south of us, and they were still covered in snow. The Granites were not. Mel followed me, and we began to climb some boulders. I was so excited I even forgot that I can get vertigo climbing a footstool.

Mel is as sure-footed as a mountain goat, so when I got a little dizzy, I found that if I touched his hand, or even grabbed the hem of his hiking vest, I was pulled out of the spin. I felt safe and strong. Even when we found the actual trail that led us far up to the top of the boulder pile, I discovered that just touching one of the boulders gave me the courage to keep climbing. If I’m clinging to something solid and trustworthy, I can feel that I’m safe. Remember the woman who touched the hem of Jesus’ garment and was healed? I can grasp that concept better now.

For me, it became a powerful word picture about how we can touch our Rock, Jesus, no matter what situation we’re going through in life, and He is there. Right there. It’s wonderful to have my husband close enough to touch if I feel dizzy, and it’s even better to know that my husband also keeps his grip on our Solid Rock. We’re in this climb together, but it’s never just the two of us.

We had an amazing day hiking on and amongst those boulders, and I came back home with a better attitude. Even when life is difficult, we’re not alone in it. Ever.

How does your grip on the Solid Rock keep you feeling supported even in difficult times? I’d love to know.

 

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Hello From the Mountains by Tara Randel

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Greetings! As I write this, I’m enjoying vacation time with my family, seated in a cozy cabin while it is 26 degrees outside. Which is a vast improvement from high 80’s in Florida!

Every year we come to the mountains in north Georgia to get our fix of leaves changing colors, hiking in new locations and taking a breather from the every day grind. It’s almost like my body resets when I’m here. Story ideas flow freely and I can’t wait to get back to my current project. Ideas for books in a new series have been percolating in my head and being here has been a wonderful way to make those ideas more tangible

I’ve included a few pictures taken in just the last few days. I hope you enjoy the view! I believe this is why God created such a beautiful world we live in. I imagine any one of you reading this has a special place where you visit to experience the wonder of God’s creation. This is mine.

After this, I’m off to hike up a trail to my favorite waterfall in the area. My happy place!

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Have a great day!

Tara Randel is an award-winning, USA Today bestselling author. Family values, a bit of mystery and of course, love and romance, are her favorite themes, because she believes love is the greatest gift of all. Look for her next Harlequin Heartwarming romance, ALWAYS THE ONE, available February 2020.  For more information about her books, visit Tara at www.tararandel.com. Like her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TaraRandelBooks. Sign up for Tara’s Newsletter and receive a link to download a free digital book.

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Grateful for Music

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A month of gratitude! Let’s focus on gratitude throughout the month of November. I challenge you to look around and be more aware of the blessings in your life. And each day write down at least five things you are thankful for.

Since I am a writer, I like words. I have always been one who loved a good quote. When I see signs with words on them, I feel compelled to read them. When my husband and I visit the mountains, sometimes we will go in different gift shops. Like a magnet, I am drawn to the plaques with words on them. I have to know what they say, and my hope is the words will be meaningful.

One of the most commonly quoted Bible verses is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV) I was in the post office the other day and there was a man at the counter with a T-shirt which had words on it. I couldn’t read most of it because it was in Spanish. But I still knew it was this beloved Bible verse, because at the top of the shirt it said “Juan 3:16.”

Why do people love this verse so much? It sums up the love of God and what Jesus did for us. Words properly strung together can have a huge impact on us, just as this Bible verse does. Words can make people cry or laugh or both at the same time. Words can be beautiful and life-changing.

But let’s take this a step further by adding music to our words. A song with just the right lyrics and melody can leave us in awe. I have a T-shirt from my favorite radio station (The Joy FM) which states, “When words fail, music speaks.” The right song can unleash so much truth and emotion.

But I also believe that music, Christian music in particular, is an important piece of the puzzle when you are practicing gratitude. For one thing, the right music can be so uplifting! If you are feeling down, try turning on the radio for a boost. There are certain songs that just make us want to sing along, dance, and smile. Studies also show that music can having healing power. Music is even used in some hospitals to decrease a patient’s pain, improve their mood, lower their side effects, and make them less anxious. There is definitely power in music.

And when we sing songs to the Lord, our praise helps the feeling of gratitude bubble up inside of us. When we immerse ourselves into worshipping the Lord with good praise music, we can feel in our core what a wonderful, loving Father we have. And this, in turn, helps us to walk in gratitude and thanksgiving, because our eyes are opened to just how good God is to us.

And with that, I will leave you with a song which I have been enjoying recently. I hope you like it as much as I do! “Yes I Will” by Vertical Worship

Remember that every day is a gift from God!

(I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts here each Thursday of this month. So be sure to visit again. And on the first four Saturdays of this month, I will be sharing similar gratitude related posts on my author website. If you want to read last Saturday’s post, click here.)

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Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us

Do you ever feel confused or disappointed with what is going on in the world? Do you feel helpless before unwelcome trends in society? Do you feel pressured and isolated by what seems to be a pagan, God-defying culture all around you? Are you unsure of what you should do about it?

This is scarcely surprising. North American Christians are living in a society that is increasingly non-Christian and sometimes even anti-Christian. Accustomed to living in an at least nominally Christian society, many North American Christians are unprepared for the new reality. Where can they find a model for how to live for God in a God-defying culture?

My new book, Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us, argues that the early chapters of the Bible book called Daniel offer just such a model. Living at a time when the people of God had suffered a crushing and shocking defeat at the hands of the pagan Babylonians, Daniel and his friends were immersed in a society where the state, the education system, the culture and religion were all thoroughly pagan. In this situation, Daniel and his friends committed themselves to a course of action that North American Christians can use as a pattern to guide their own lives.

The book consists of an introduction and ten chapters. It concludes with study questions on each chapter and then a statement of commitment, which summarizes the teaching of the book and which the reader is invited to sign as an indication that he/she is committed to putting into practice the lessons of the book.

What Others Say

“If you want to understand the times, culture, message, and life of Daniel, James R. Coggins’s Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Usis a must read. It is accessible (easy to read), informative (filled with history and explanatory notes) and applicable to our time. Looking at the early chapters of the book of Daniel, Coggins leads us into that world with an eye on how we, the people of God, can live in today’s pagan-bent world. This vital and important treatment of this critical moment in the ancient world will be helpful for study groups, pastoral preaching and personal reflection on the ways of God, then and today.”              

– Brian C. Stiller, Global Ambassador, The World Evangelical Alliance

“In his relatively concise look at the book of Daniel, James R. Coggins gives helpful insights into the background, meaning and application of this Old Testament prophet. While one will not find a detailed interpretation of the ‘prophetic’ elements of the book (this is not Coggins’s intent), this volume does provide the reader with a glimpse of the stories that run parallel to the prophecies and stimulates reflection on their meaning for life in the 21st century. Coggins does a good job of helping us understand the narratives and what we can learn from them. Recommended as an aid for Bible teachers and preachers who want to get some practical handles on an ancient text.”

– Ron Redekop, Senior Pastor, Richmond Alliance Church, Richmond, BC

Living for God in a Pagan Society: What Daniel Can Teach Us (ISBN: 978-0-9951983-8-8) is published by Mill Lake Books and is available through online retailers such as Amazon and through local bookstores.

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Ever Thankful…

I’m in the homestretch of what has been an epic era of garbage living.  Not that I didn’t have a lot to be grateful for in the midst of it, I did.  I had a company that hired me with little to no experience when I needed a job and a place to live.  They let my dog come live with me when she was without a home and finally, they treated me like family when I needed one.

In less than a month now, my son will be home from deployment — he’s been gone since the end of April and my family will reunite.  So I’m thrilled.  But before that happens, he has another month of pretty poor living conditions.  I have to move to my new state and get my obnoxious dog there on a flight (pray for me!) I have to arrange to have my son’s truck in San Diego when he gets home, then fly the volunteers home, etc., etc.,

It’s a dangerous place to live in the future.  When this happens, I will… I have always tried, in the midst of these trials to be grateful for all the blessings that God allowed me.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love to complain, but ultimately, I am the most grateful person on the planet.  My kids are healthy and successful — in that they are all doing what they want to do.  Is it the close family picture I wanted?  Well, no.  They’re scattered all over the west living their best lives.

In the next two weeks, I have to move, buy a new car, get settled, then get to San Diego for my son’s homecoming and it all feels so overwhelming for my ADD self.  That’s when I know that I have to stop.  To breathe.  And to be still and know…

There really is no better way to handle stress and loss than to be grateful.  Write down three things every day that you are grateful for — it’s so easy to get lost in what we don’t have, when in reality, God knows exactly what we need.  He’s giving us the lessons we need to make us better humans who are closer to Him. 41bFf1F0dQL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Gratitude Journal

If you’re struggling, I encourage you to be grateful.  I’ve had a difficult journey the last few years, but God was always present.  He used Christians, He used non-Christians, but never did He let me fall.

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Encouragement by Nancy J. Farrier

 

November is here. I consider this the start of the holiday season. We discuss plans and menus for Thanksgiving. We consider gifts for Christmas and start making lists. New tasks are added to an already busy schedule. 

For authors, November can add an extra challenge. This is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. This is the month where authors can sign up to write at least 50,000 words of a novel. The focus is getting words on the page, not editing as you go. 

For newer authors this can be a challenge. Writing isn’t easy. Putting the story you see in your head on to a page is daunting. Those words that sounded so good don’t look quite right when written down. But, writing takes practice, so participating in NaNoWriMo is good. Why? 

The encouragement.

Writing can be a lonely profession. An author spends hours alone – except for all those imaginary people – hunched over a keyboard. Type. Type. Type. Research. Type some more. Get coffee. Get some chocolate. But keep typing. Alone.

Writing is filled with doubts. No matter how much the author loves the story there is no guarantee anyone else will like it. All it takes to confirm this is to read reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Even popular books have some nasty reviews. Every author is hurt by those reviews and the looming possibility that people will be cruel can cause you to doubt your craft.

Writers need encouragement. Every writer can use a dose of affirmation. That can come from many places, but during November’s NaNoWriMo, encouragement is everywhere. There are online groups and in person groups that meet. They don’t care if your story and writing are stellar, they just encourage you to put words on the page and do what you are called to do.

I also believe this applies to many people in many professions. I think of my walk as a Christian. Hebrews 10:24, 25, says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some but exhorting one another…” What wonderful words as we consider the needs of fellow Christians.

Being Christian can be lonely. Whether at home or in the workplace, being a Christian can be a difficult and lonely place to be. Often, we are treated differently. Sometimes we are shunned over some preconceived notion of how we will think or act. 

Being Christian can be filled with doubts. Faith is just that—faith. Not a road map with the stops and actions laid out, but a walk on a path that is often clouded and hard to perceive. Harsh words from those around us, and even criticism within the Christian community, can be very discouraging. All we want is to please God. This sounds easy, but can be filled with uncertainty.

Christians need encouragement. Sometimes all it takes to get a Christian back on track is an affirmation that God loves them. Going to church on Sunday gives an opportunity to meet with others just like you, walking in faith, struggling with doubt. It’s a time to sing and praise, to worship God in the reading and hearing of His Word. A time to get refilled for the coming week.

I love the idea of encouragement and often try to smile at people or say something uplifting. Instead of focusing on criticism and negativity, I think those we come in contact with would benefit from some affirmation. Don’t you?

So, this November, as the holiday season begins, consider adding one more item to your to-do list. Encourage someone every day.

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Four Words That Will Solve All Your Problems

The story of Esther in the Old Testament is one that I always enjoy reading. The book of Esther starts out by telling us that a king by the name of King Xerxes was holding an elaborate banquet. He asked the queen, whose name was Queen Vashti, to come to the assembly so everyone could see how beautiful she was. However, the queen refused to go, and this angered the king. So, the king dismissed her and searched for a new queen. Many young ladies came to present themselves as a potential queen, including a young lady named Esther. Esther was orphaned at a young age due to the death of her parents. So, a cousin named Mordecai raised her and acted as father to her. Since Mordecai and Esther were Jewish, they were foreigners in this land. But Mordecai told Esther not to reveal her nationality. When the king saw Esther, she immediately won his favor because of her beauty. Therefore, she became queen.

But the story doesn’t end there. There was a man named Haman who King Xerxes honored by giving him a seat higher than any noble. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt before Haman to honor him. However, Mordecai would not kneel as the others did. This made Haman very angry. Somehow, he learned that Mordecai was a Jew and he plotted to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed. When Mordecai learned of this, he was greatly distressed. He went to the king’s gate in sackcloth. Esther heard that he was there and sent someone to ask him what was troubling him. He explained the whole story and asked that Esther plead with the king. Initially Esther did not agree to the request because no one was allowed to approach the king in the inner court without being summoned. The consequences could result in death, unless the king extended his gold scepter to them and spared their lives. Mordecai further persuaded Esther saying that perhaps she gained her royal position “for such a time as this.”

Esther decided she would do whatever she could, even if it meant death. She and her attendants, as well as Mordecai and the other Jews, fasted for three days. When Esther went to the inner court, the king was pleased to see her and extended his gold scepter. He asked her what it was that she wanted. In the end she requested that the lives of the Jews be spared and her request was granted.

(This is the abridged version. If you have never read the book of Esther in the Old Testament, I recommend it. It is a quick, yet entertaining, read.)

I think Esther knew the secret to life. I think she knew a key piece of knowledge that many of us miss out on. I think she knew the four words that will solve all our problems.

It’s not about me.

Nothing is about us. It’s all about God. The King of kings and the Lord of lords. The Great I Am. Esther becoming queen was not about her. It was not about her beauty. It was not a Cinderella story. It was about God and His glory. God orchestrated the whole thing in order to save His people.

Let’s remind ourselves of some biblical truths. We were created by God Almighty. God wanted a relationship with us. We were chosen by God long before we were born. Even when we turned against Him, He chased after us. God knew we would sin and He paved a way to save us. Jesus went to the cross for us. We have a purpose. We have been appointed. The Lord called us. All of this tells me that everything we do should be done for His glory.

I don’t know about you, but this makes me feel as though a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. When I am tempted to feel fearful, discouraged, irritated, angry, defeated, tired, or sad due to whatever I might be facing in life – the four words “it’s not about me” turn everything around. Suddenly I feel as though I can press forward. I have to ask myself, what right do I have to complain about anything? I don’t, because it’s not about me.

But we can rest assured that whatever is done for God’s glory, He will also work for our good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In the end, everything should be from the perspective of serving God and honoring God. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” No matter what mountain is in front of you, perhaps this helps change your perspective, and press forward with courage. Perhaps this gives you hope.

“I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever.” – Psalm 86:12

birds flying over body of water during golden hour

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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Fruit and Love by Julie Arduini

This fall I’ve been attending a small group that has been discussing principles gleaned from the movie, Overcomer. There has been so much great conversation there. The one main theme I’ve come away with is when it comes to our identity, if we know Jesus, it has to be rooted in Him. And everyone will know us by our love.

Or lack of.

Years ago I was asked to give an opinion on a conflict that was sadly playing out on social media. Basically I was questioned which side did I believe. On one hand there was someone in a leadership position who grew up in the church. On the other, there was a broken person who was far from making perfect choices, but man, the worship was real.

I answered that I can’t tell them what to think, but my measuring stick was fruit. I said, “Look for the fruit.” For me, an abundant crop for the cause of Christ came from an unexpected place—the wounded warrior who kept their focus on Him and making sure He got the glory.

As I type, my Facebook feed is full of comments on Kanye West’s new album and very public proclamation that he is born again and that Jesus is his Savior. There are two camps I’m seeing: those rejoicing, and those warning the first camp to beware of a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I don’t know where Kanye’s heart is, but I can say this: no one with a false agenda for the advancement of God’s Kingdom through Jesus would make Jesus the focus. In any cult or false testimony, whether immediate or in time, the real worship is on man and self. To hear that Kanye is proclaiming Jesus and that his mission is to point the world to HIM and not him, I gotta admit, I’m rooting for him.

No matter where he stands, the heat on him will be intense. His circle and fanbase have followed him for his brand of showcasing himself. And Christians? I fear a portion of those identifying as Christ followers will be criticizing his every move.

I’ve seen it time and time again. The modern Pharisees come in their perfect suits, perfect hair, and perfect attendance. But anything that looks less than perfect in the Body of Christ, they are rankled.

As the saying goes, just because you go to McDonald’s, it doesn’t make you a hamburger. Just because you go to church, it doesn’t make you a Christian.

You—and I—we will be known by our love and fruit.

—Julie Arduini

I’ve watched hungry hearts for Christ run into the world’s heartbreak because they came across those focused on religion point out their jeans while singing on the worship team. For awhile, those that sat with me joked it was a “tattoo safe pew” because they had been judged in other seats.

How dare we? Do we not remember Jesus wore a robe and sandals? That one of the most faithful messengers was a man who wore smelly clothes made out of camel hair and ate locusts and honey?

I’m far from an expert in anything Biblical or Christ-like. My faith is so simple and basic because I am not a complex thinker. I’m not that smart. But, I believe if we call ourselves followers of Christ, we need to be known by our love and our fruit.

God’s Word does not change. However, I believe the coming days are going to show a Holy Spirit infused movement where the imperfect, broken, smelly, weird, and downright shocking are going to rise up and proclaim their relationship with Christ. We’ve got to be ready to open our arms to an addict coming off a high walking into our church and sitting in “our” seat. There will be those in perfect suits walking to the altar because they are facing legal proceedings. So many things we can’t even predict will play out before us.

I told my friend who asked about the conflict that we better not be afraid to get close to those with a “Mess-timony.” They will have a witness, but it will make our jaws drop and our eyebrows raise.

The measuring stick we’re using on Kanye and Bieber, I have to use it on me. You need to do the same. How do people perceive you? They are looking to see how you love. They are looking for your fruit in how you treat others, serve, forgive.

Let’s rally around these new Christians, celebrity and not, and not spend our time waiting for them to fall, but pray they are safe, mentored, and able to go the distance to hear, as we all desire at the end of our time on earth, “Well done, faithful servant.”

***

My Christmas novella, Restoring Christmas, is available for Kindle pre-order. First featured in the 2018 boxed set A Christmas to Remember, Restoring Christmas features a mansion tourist attraction, two grieving family members, a special education teacher, and his class. Can Kevin and his students help Holly restore the Christmas Mansion before she leaves town? Again?

Only .99.

Print version coming soon.

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Retirement (by Hannah Alexander)

Kim Woodhouse, a friend of mine, loves snow. She lives in Montana, so that’s a good thing. I wish I shared her joy.

We’ve begun our snow season here in Wyoming–which lasts 7 months, and even longer in the mountains. It’s a time when the temperature never gets high enough to melt the snow. The roads are covered in ice, and the city doesn’t plow because there are so many double-parked cars on the streets that a plow cannot get through. Thus we have packed snow, which turns to ice, which causes wrecks all winter. And it’s still October!

Do I sound depressed? I’ll get over it. We just got our first two snowstorms in the past two days, plus a low of 15 below. And so I retreat to scenes of summer…and plans for retirement in a place where we can get away from the ice. I’ve done some research for retirement, and have discovered that my dream state–for winter–is Arizona. Mel wants to stay where it’s warm enough to heat a pool without needing a heater. We love Arizona. Recently, my cousin gifted us with a subscription to Arizona Highways Magazine.

Did you know that some states are set up better for retirement than others? If you’re planning to go to a southern state for retirement, I would strongly recommend you check out the tax set-up for each state before you make plans to move. That can make a huge difference in the quality of your retirement. Check out the ten most friendly tax states, and check more than one site, since I found some very erroneous information yesterday.

As a heads-up, Wyoming has the best summers I’ve ever seen, with low humidity, temps rarely in the 90s, and no state tax. We do, however, have grizzlies and lots of winter.

When I think of retirement I dream of hitting the road and leaving all cares and worries behind. That dream becomes more vivid the colder it gets. How lovely it would be to pull up to a beach and walk in the sand, collect seashells, bask in the sun. I’d love to make a checklist of the types of cactus on a hiking trail–as we did last time we were in the Phoenix area.

I also think of our true retirement. We have a heavenly retirement to consider, which deserves our priority. Saving money on this venture is not in our best interests. Investing financially in that future seems counterintuitive on a human level, but in all honesty, it is the most important thing we will ever do.

There are so many ways we can invest in that future. You choose your way, and bask in the joy of a quality investment.

 

 

 

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