A Hodge-Podge of His Goodness by Julie Arduini

We’re entering our super busy season with a graduation and wedding in the works, so I thought I’d share a snippet of what’s going on with our family. My hope is that as you read this update, you see God’s goodness and that He is just as present for you!

Our Daughter: She graduates in June and is enjoying those senior “lasts.” One that really blessed us was she was chosen as one of twenty some students across our county for a scholarship based on academics and character. As I watched her name called and she was asked to accept her award and announce her plans, I thought about the team of professionals who sat me down when she was six months old. Because she had congenital hypothyroidism, she was behind in speech, and that triggered Early Intervention.

She also had several illnesses that set her back, including near death from doctor error. After that, that team prepared us that our daughter would be mentally retarded and never see a regular classroom. She graduates as a member of the National Honor Society and her peers chose her as “Most Christlike.”

Our Son; He completes his first school year as a teacher in the very school he was a student. He’s passionate about seeing the students soar past their potential because quite often he’s a rare voice in their lives rooting for them. He’s also getting married in July, and every plan for housing they have had so far has fallen through. It’s stressful.

Yet, as we talked about all that hasn’t happened, we’ve noted how God has spared them from disaster in the ones that didn’t pan out. I also mentioned that wherever their address is, Jesus is already there. He goes before us. As I pray, I can picture Him on a couch, stretched out, in complete peace. I love it. He’s already there. We just have to wait on His timing to reveal that address. Would you join us in prayer?

My Husband: He’s in a relatively new position that has him much busier than previous positions, but he shared it is way less stressful and he loves every aspect of it. He has support and encouragement. There will be changes in the next year, and already the powers that be have made it very clear they consider him an essential part of the changes and future. We both know there aren’t a lot of people who are paid to do what they love, and he does. God is good. So good.

Me: I’m starting to hear from readers about Anchored Hearts, and it touched them exactly as I prayed it would. I’m not about bestseller lists, I’m passionate about readers finding freedom in Christ through surrender. Yes, I write romance, and I love that God uses that to change lives. He’s the ultimate Author, and yes, He loves romance! Isn’t His Son the greatest love story?

It is busy and I know there are going to be moments I feel overwhelmed. I pray they are just moments and that my focus is on the praises. Because there are many. How about you? Do you see God’s hand at work?

***

Anchored Hearts will be FREE for Kindle Friday, May 27-Sunday, May 29. (Check price before purchase. Sale starts Friday at 3am Eastern.)

Can two go-getters surrender their need to control and find a happily-ever-after?

Jordyn Bell Hart succeeds in everything she does. Her promotion to morning show co-anchor blossoms her career in the same way her mother’s work had. Jordyn keeps tabs on her family and enjoys helping them grow. When life around her starts to change, can she surrender her desire to control?

Spencer Collins knows how to balance a busy life. He has his work as a reporter, his time caregiving for his grieving father, and looking out for his little brother. When he learns he’s the new co-anchor of a morning show with Jordyn Hart, can he handle working with a celebrity who brings a lot of challenges to life on and off the set?

What Others are Saying:

“Anchored Hearts (Surrendering Hearts Book 1) is wonderful, it catches you from page one. This author’s writing is amazing. I’m a huge fan of Julie Arduini, and Anchored Hearts tops my favorite book list for 2022! Do yourself a favor and read this one. It is definitely Julie at her very best! I’m looking forward to reading the other stories in the Surrendering Hearts series.” Dr. Rita Garcia, author, The Serenity Cove series

“Julie Arduini fans will be delighted to read her newly released Anchored Hearts, book 1 in her series, Surrendering Hearts. With well-developed characters and action-packed scenes, readers won’t want to put the book down.” BJ Bassett, author, Sweet Charity

“The Anchored Hearts plot is full of twists and turns that makes for a wonderful read as you follow Jordyn, and her siblings, through difficult and happy times. Arduini has a wonderful writing style and a knack for storytelling that promises a great word.”  Marie Bast,  Publishers Weekly bestselling author of The Amish Baker’s Rival

“Anchored Hearts is a wonderful story of surrendering control, something I have a hard time with. The struggle is real with the main characters, but Julie skillfully takes the reader on their journey. When the control issues are dealt with, they’re free to live and love. I highly recommend this book.” Linda Hoover, author, Heart’s Desire.

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The Place of Apostles by James R. Coggins

The Gospel of Mark reports that “Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted…He appointed twelve that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:13-15). Why did Jesus do this? What were the implications?

In a practical sense, the appointing of the apostles must be looked at in the context of the massive crowds that were following Jesus, seeking healing and deliverance (Mark 1:45, 3:7-12). By giving the apostles authority to cast out demons and to preach, Jesus dispersed the crowds and increased the number of people who could be reached.

In a larger sense, Jesus teaching the twelve apostles from the mountain is reminiscent of Moses on Mount Sinai giving the Word of God to the twelve tribes of Israel. It signaled that the followers of Jesus would be the new chosen people of God. The appointing of the twelve apostles is also reminiscent of Moses appointing assistants to help him guide the Israelites (Exodus 18:13-26). This looked like the first step in Jesus establishing the new Kingdom of God. Perhaps the apostles expected to see the Romans expelled from the Holy Land and a new political Kingdom of Israel established. Perhaps they were looking forward to having positions of power and prestige in that new Kingdom.

We might envy what Jesus gave the apostles and even want the same things for ourselves. At the very least, Jesus giving the apostles authority and miraculous powers might shield them from some of the earlier criticism they had received (in Mark 2:23-24, for instance, when they had been accused of unlawfully harvesting grain on the Sabbath). How could people now criticize those who obviously had divine power? But this was not the case, for Jesus or the twelve. When the opponents of Jesus saw Jesus’ miracles and heard His teaching, it did not mute their criticism of Him but intensified it¾it made them want to kill Him (Mark 3:1-6). The same thing happened with the twelve. Appointing the apostles and giving them power did not provide the apostles with divine protection. It put them on the firing line. We must remember that, in the end, many of the apostles were martyred.

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Day Trip by Tara Randel

As we do every year, my daughter and I went to EPCOT for the Flower and Garden Festival. We always have a lovely day at the park, strolling around the countries to look at the gardens and the amazing topiary. Since pictures can tell a story, I’ll share with you my favorite sights of the day.

I’m always so amazed at how creative these topiary are.

If only the hedges were taller and they let us in!

There are always unexpected visitors.

This is just a snapshot of the day. We were able to get in a concert featuring Mercy Me, a nice surprise. And the best laugh of the day? A T-shirt that read; Let’s wear matching shirts- Said No Man Ever. My hubby would be on board with that.

Hope you are having a lovely spring no matter where you live!

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, HIS SMALL TOWN DREAM, available August 2022. 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

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An Honest Look at Life in the Church by James R. Coggins

I will start at the rather ordinary beginning and assure you that the more extraordinary matter later on is worth waiting for.

I first met Dawn Miller by mail many years ago. I was an editor with a church denominational magazine called the Mennonite Brethren Herald. Dawn was a volunteer “church reporter” for her local church. Her role was to submit news from her local church to the magazine—birth and wedding announcements, obituaries, pictures of baptisms, etc. Never one to “color within the lines” or limit herself to her prescribed role, from time to time Dawn would also send in thoughtful reflections on church life and the Christian life. We received dozens of such submissions every week—from professional writers, theologians, seminary professors, and pastors—and also amateurs such as Dawn. We rejected about 99 percent of these submissions. There just wasn’t room in the magazine for all that we received. But Dawn’s submissions often made the cut. We published several of them over a number of years.

So, when Dawn contacted me about a year ago and asked if I would publish her autobiography through my Mill Lake Books imprint, I readily agreed.

What Dawn had in mind was a short memoir to pass on to her family and friends. But what she wrote was a thoughtful little book (110 pages) deserving of a much wider readership.

Dawn’s life has been intricately bound up with the church. Her grandfather was a Methodist preacher and her father a United Church minister, and she herself has served in a number of church roles from pianist to Sunday school superintendent and Bible study leader. She started out in the United Church but gravitated to a Mennonite Brethren congregation, in a sense returning to the evangelical roots of her grandfather (hence the title of her book, Granddaddy’s Granddaughter: My Life in the Church). Her life has been a spiritual journey of discovery.

Dawn’s book is not a traditional biography with the focus on herself. Instead, it is a recounting of her life through the lens of her interaction with the various Christian churches she attended. The book thus offers a fascinating look at the church—but not from the usual perspective of a theologian or pastor looking down on the church from above. Instead, it presents a view of the church from the bottom up, through the eyes of a little girl, a restless teenager, and an ordinary church member.

Therefore, Granddaddy’s Granddaughter presents a frank and realistic picture of the church, warts and all. And yet the book is in one sense a tribute to the church. In spite of their imperfections (and maybe even because of them), Dawn found the various churches to be purveyors of truth and meaning and purpose and sources of comfort, healing, encouragement, and community.

Beyond that and along the way, Dawn offers insightful comments on what churches have done right and how they can do better. This book can thus be a useful tool for church leaders to read and ponder. Among her insights are the following:

• “I will always be thankful to that church. Everyone there treated me as a valuable, lovable little person. They built me up.”

• “Children need more than entertainment and teaching. They need to feel loved. They need to feel useful and important. We must include children in the everyday work and mundane operation of the church. Programs and worship times are only a small portion of what the church family can offer children when they are young.”

• “Future life storms would rock my life. However, [that church] helped me build inner strength and purpose so I would never completely disintegrate in times of strife.”

• “Often, some children come into Sunday school or church activities and present various problems to the leaders. I am convinced that churches must genuinely seek to adjust their programs to suit the needs of each child and family.…The main thing that churches need is not fancy media, but individual love and concern.”

• “I’d later learn that not all ministers were as willing or as gifted as Dad, to be able to involve themselves with other people’s struggles. His passion for people made me see that it was important for everyone within a congregation to carefully watch for people who are suffering hurt, confusion, or pain.”

• “Many people have been hurt in various ways by church people. However, within that same church, others can offer compassion and healing.”

• “Churches are not perfect. However, it is even educational for our young people to see Christian people wrestle with problems together. In time, churches resolve many human errors.”

• “A strong connection to the church is essential in maintaining and strengthening a personal connection with God.”

Granddaddy’s Granddaughter is distributed by Ingram and is available via online retailers and local bookstores.

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Quiet Your Mind

Do you ever feel as if you’re running in a dozen different directions and not accomplishing anything? I’ve felt this way a lot lately. With numerous writing deadlines approaching, it’s hard to stay focused on what is my most urgent priority.

We all have times in our lives where it feels as if we’re a hamster on a wheel and we can’t slow it down enough to get off.

When you feel yourself getting stressed out with work overload try this:

Take time to rest.

No matter how busy your day is, taking breaks to rest is critical. If you are too frazzled to think, you are probably not going to finish the tasks you need to complete.

Psalm 37:7 says, Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him.

Find time alone to pray and let God speak to you through His word:

Jesus often went off by Himself to pray and speak to the Father. We need to do the same. Find time each day to pray and read God’s word. There is comfort and strength to be found in both.

1 Chronicles 16:11, Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.

Reach out to others:

When you reach out to friends, even if it’s only for a little while, it takes you out of your own problems. Sometimes focusing on someone else’s needs gives you the space necessary to clear your head and prepare to go back to work again.

We are to strengthen each other. By helping others, we actually help ourselves.  

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  

So, no matter what your facing, remember, you’re human and you need to find the time to recharge with the One who is able to not only strengthen you, but who will also guide you through whatever you are facing.

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

Among the Innocent – Coming June 2022

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Why Am I Struggling So Much? by Bridget A. Thomas

What is wrong with me? I asked myself this question recently. I was feeling irritated, frustrated, depressed, and angry. On the surface, there seemed to be no good reason for the turmoil of emotions. It went on for days and I was miserable. I hated feeling this way. I felt as though I was in a wrestling match.

God, please help me, I begged. 

Thankfully, the Lord is faithful and He answered me. He gave me what I like to call “God nudges.”  Through advice from a friend, God encouraged me to dig deeper. Not everything can be seen on the surface. When a seed is planted deep within the soil, on the surface we only see a lot of dirt. But inches below the ground there is a struggle going on. It takes time before we see a plant breaking through the soil.

Similarly, I was struggling too. On the surface, it looked like a lot of dirt. But deep down, there was something else going on. I was facing some things in my life that I felt incompetent to handle. God showed me that what I was dealing with in my life was causing my tumultuous emotions. Just like a seed has soil pressing in, I had pressure all around me. And like a plant fighting to push up and out of the soil, I was fighting to break free from the difficulties in my life.

But God is God. Couldn’t He just remove the hard things from my life? Oh how we wish it would work that way, but it rarely does. God revealed something else to me about this situation. My pain had a purpose. Through another nudge, I realized that God was pruning me through this process. I have often asked God to change me and to help me be more like Jesus. But I suppose I thought He would just snap His fingers. I didn’t want or expect to walk through a trial as an answer to prayer.

But this is how it works many times. In our yards, we pull weeds, we remove the dead plants and branches, and we sometimes even have to cut away living growth as well. All of this is done to help our plants flourish, to bring more growth, and to produce fruit. In the same way, God will pull weeds from our lives. He will remove things that aren’t benefiting us. And He will sometimes even cut away good things in our lives, if they don’t fit our purpose.

James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Sometimes we might cringe when we hear these verses. Consider it pure joy when we face a trial? Really? Our flesh definitely does not enjoy going through anything difficult.

But from a spiritual perspective, especially if the the difficulty is part of a pruning process, imagine the result if we humbly seek the Lord and open our hearts to whatever it is He is trying to teach us.

I have found that some of the richest times of my life have also been when I was walking through something hard.

This is because when we are broken we tend to run to the Lord and seek Him more than ever. We cling to Him like never before. He lovingly guides and cares for us through our crisis, if we allow Him to.

This is where I found myself recently when I was walking through this pruning process. Pruning can be painful, especially if we don’t realize what is going on. This is how my situation started. I fought the pruning process, kicking and screaming. But now that I am aware of what’s going on, I am more at peace. But one key factor that I learned in all this is that I need to cling to Jesus. If I hold tightly to Him during this process, I will be guaranteed to flourish and produce lasting fruit.

Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”

How beautiful and amazing that our Heavenly Father loves us that much to prune us and to help us grow. That is true love. If He didn’t love us, He would turn away from us, rather than help us. But He loves us enough to teach us and mold us.

If you are going through something difficult, I encourage you to look below the dirt to see what might be going on under the surface. Is there more than meets the eye? Pray about it and ask God if He is trying to teach you something or mold you in some way? 

If you feel what you’re going through is a pruning process, I know it’s painful. But remember that this is also a sign of the Lord’s love. And remember to cling to The Vine – Jesus. In the end, you will see beautiful growth in your life.

Photo from Pexels

This first appeared as a guest post on peacefulwife.com.

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In His Time by Julie Arduini

Authors often refer to their work as their “book babies.” I marvel at my peers who can crank out multiple releases a year. Me? Anchored Hearts released yesterday, and that pregnancy lasted nearly five years.

When the idea first came to mind, definitely God’s hand at work, I had a question that created the entire series: What if a family with a unique birth story stayed in the national spotlight due to tragedy? My sister has a passion for donor families and we talked about creating that. I didn’t feel I was ready to tackle that, so I thought about multiples. As in sextuplets.

Each sibling will have their own book and surrender story. With Jordyn as the oldest, I knew because of her tragic background, she was going to struggle to let go. Control is her problem.

Apparently, it is mine as well.

If the process had gone my way, Anchored Hearts would have released three years ago. Why didn’t it? First, a Christmas collaboration came together and that was a bucket list goal. From what experience came Restoring Christmas. Then, my daughter went through a tough season where out of it she had a message to encourage girls to not believe the lies about themselves. That message was a three book series, Surrendering Stinkin’ Thinkin’. As much fun as it was to write You’re Beautiful, You’re Amazing, and You’re Brilliant, that meant Anchored Hearts sat aside, no viable life as far as I could see.

I finally thought during the pandemic I’d be able to get back to it. I still had You’re Brilliant to write, and then my mom became ill. When she didn’t fight me to drive 300 miles to help her out for a few days while she recovered, I knew she was sick. Turns out, she was within hours of passing.

And I stayed two months.

Even after returning home, the transition was traumatic and my family was struggling. I was struggling. Nothing of those months were things I’d planned, and I was in an emotional tailspin. I still made trips back to take mom to specialists. During the holidays, she improved. By New Year’s, she was back to her old self, shopping, driving, getting a haircut. She was a force!

And then she was gone.

That shock numbed every part of me—mind, body, soul. There was quite a lot of her business to attend to and many, many trips back and forth. Writing was the last thing on my mind and the last thing I could have done. I had zero creative juices. I was barely upright.

When things sort of calmed down I thought now I can get back to Jordyn and Spencer. Still, the words would not come. I wanted them to. I felt like a fraud calling myself an author when I had not had a romance release in a couple years.

Yet, as those days blended into weeks, and then a few months, I started to heal. The trauma of how sick she had been, how great she had improved, and how fast she left this earth was a complete shock to my system. My body needed healing. My faith needed healing. And I had to completely surrender everything to Jesus.

My health. My family. My writing. Everything.

When I opened the file to start writing, something had changed. The words not only came, they flowed. I knew Jordyn in a way I had not, and telling her story was pure joy. The surrender issue was one I could intimately share through Jordyn and Spencer because I had lived it.

—Julie Arduini

Although I consider myself a slow writer, I went from 11k to just under 80k in about nine weeks.

One of my favorite songs is a Southern Gospel one called “Four Days Late”. My husband has sung this before and I love it because I can feel the heartbreak Mary and Martha must have had when Jesus “finally” shows up. Their brother is dead. This is a done deal and He, in their eyes, couldn’t bother to have shown up and healed Lazarus.

But we know the story. Jesus came not just to heal, but resurrect. And with a command, Lazarus bust out of the tomb and stinky grave clothes very much alive. Something had Jesus shown up when Mary and Martha wanted Him to, would not have happened.

The chorus says to the effect, “You were four days late but You were right on time.”

I don’t understand everything about why it took years to get Anchored Hearts to you. But I know this, what I considered late, I now see as right on time.

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I’d love for you to check out Anchored Hearts. If you enjoy it, please leave a review at Amazon/BookBub/Goodreads. The more reviews a book receive, the more visible it is with Amazon. Thank you!

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Pharisees and Teachers by James R. Coggins

While the crowds ran after Jesus, almost from the beginning the Pharisees and teachers of the law (sometimes called scribes) opposed Him. Why?

Teachers of the law were essentially rabbis—experts in the Old Testament law who taught in the temple in Jerusalem and in local synagogues.

Pharisees, on the other hand, were people who held a particular belief. We might call them fundamentalists today, people who were very concerned with rigidly following the moral laws and applying moral standards to others.

Some teachers of the law were Pharisees, but others were more liberal in their interpretations, such as the Sadducees. As it is today, the liberals were more often found among the wealthy and powerful people.

But the teachers of the law, both liberal and fundamentalist, had this in common—most of them opposed Jesus. This fact, alone, should give us pause in pursuing our current theological debates. While we can rightly see that our opponents are wrong, that does not automatically mean that we are right. We should consider carefully where we, too, might be out of step with Jesus.

The first we see of the teachers of the law in Mark is in 1:22, where the teaching of the teachers of the law is unfavorably contrasted with the authority with which Jesus taught. It is not stated that the teachers themselves heard this criticism, but it is likely, and they may have noticed the contrast themselves. If so, it means that the teachers’ antagonism might spring not from theological issues but from jealousy.

When Jesus began healing, He told those healed to recognize the authority of the priests (Mark 1:43-44), but the priests were not the teachers.

When the teachers next encountered Jesus (they seem to have stayed in the cities and towns and not gone out into the countryside to hear Jesus), they thought Him guilty of blasphemy because He forgave sins (Mark 2:6-7). This would have been blasphemy if Jesus was not God, but Jesus then demonstrated His divinity by healing (Mark 2:8-12).

Some Pharisees who were also teachers of the law next criticized Jesus for eating with tax collectors and known sinners (Mark 2:15-16). When the Pharisees asked Jesus’ disciples why He was doing this, Jesus took time to explain his actions, saying that, just as a doctor spends time with the sick in order to heal them, so He had come to save those who were spiritually sick (Mark 2:17).

Some people then asked Jesus why the Pharisees and the disciples of John fasted but His disciples didn’t (Mark 2:18). The Pharisees may have had the same question. Jesus responded that it wasn’t the time for that yet, but that His followers would fast later (Mark 2:19-20). But Jesus also warned people against trying to fit Him into some previous system (Mark 2:21-22) since He was establishing a new Kingdom of God.

The Pharisees next criticized Jesus’ followers for breaking the sabbath law, not fundamentally but only on a technicality (Mark 2:23-24). The disciples were not working, just eating, snacking on some grain as they passed through a field. Jesus told them that the sabbath law was meant to help people, not bind them (Mark 2:25-26), and that He was God and He would decide the proper way to observe the laws governing the sabbath (Mark 2:27).

By this time, some of the Pharisees and teachers were already antagonistic to Jesus, looking for ways to criticize Him. They found an opportunity when Jesus healed (did work) on the sabbath (Mark 3:2). By this point, they had totally lost perspective. For them, a minor legal question overshadowed a miraculous healing and the presence of God. It is interesting that Jesus was both angry with them and grieved that they were rejecting God, pointing out that they were condemning themselves (Mark 3:5).

The Pharisees then started talking with the Herodians (not tax collectors who worked for the Roman government but largely secular people who wanted a secular and independent nation) about killing Jesus (Mark 3:6). After criticizing Jesus for eating with tax collectors, they made their own deal with questionable allies. It is interesting that the Pharisees had already made their minds up about Jesus, mostly on the basis of a few quibbles about minor provisions of the law. Through three more years of Jesus’ teaching and miracle-working, they seem never to have wavered from that first impression. In the end, the Pharisees and teachers of the law supported the deal made with the Romans (the people they criticized Jesus for befriending) to kill Jesus.

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Would Jesus Go to Church? by James R. Coggins

“If Jesus came to earth today, he would be spending his time on the streets, helping the poor and the marginalized, not in churches.” I encounter such sentiments frequently on social media.

This ties in with other attitudes in modern Western society. A recent survey found that significantly more Canadians think evangelical Christians are detrimental to society than think evangelical Christians are beneficial to society. In television dramas and comedies, devout Christians are usually portrayed as self-righteous, judgmental hypocrites, and pastors usually turn out to be serial killers, sexual abusers, and greedy fraudsters. (While these are fictional stories, they reflect what television producers think is true about Christians.)

Would Jesus really avoid modern churches? It is a false dichotomy. Jesus spent a lot of time being with and helping lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, the disabled, the demon-possessed, and other marginalized people. But the Gospels show that He went to the synagogue every Sabbath (Luke 4:16: “On the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom”), and He journeyed to the temple in Jerusalem to participate in major religious festivals.

When I look back at the churches I have attended regularly (about a dozen or so) over my lifetime, this is the reality:

• Several were strongly involved with halfway houses helping drug addicts and alcoholics get clean.

• Some have outreach programs to people in prison, bringing worship services, one-on-one friendship, and even meals.

• Several ran Divorce Care programs to help divorced people recover from the trauma.

• Several are involved with local public schools, offering everything from breakfasts for hungry children to after-school programs and volunteers to help run school events.

• At least one church supports an outreach to prostitutes, which offers friendship, basic necessities, and a residential program to help prostitutes get off the street.

• One ran a major program offering food, clothes, counseling, friendship, and even cars to single mothers. Other churches had similar but smaller programs.

• Several support outreaches to street youth.

• Most contribute heavily to food banks. The churches in one town banded together to guarantee that the local food bank would never run out of food.

• One church ran a “bread” program delivering donated bread to dozens of families and charities every week.

• Several sponsored refugee families to come to Canada. They provided travel money, financial support for at least a year, food, clothes, friendship, and help in finding accommodation, education, and jobs.

• Some offered English as a second language training to recent immigrants.

• At least two had attached congregations for ethnic groups who worshiped in another language. At the same time, the churches also encouraged interaction between the congregations.

• At least one helped build a Habitat for Humanity house for a needy family, and others have supported this organization in other ways.

• Most contributed dozens and even hundreds of shoeboxes full of basic necessities and Christmas gifts to children around the world every year.
• Most provided Christmas hampers of food and gifts to needy families in their neighborhood.

• All contributed (money and volunteer help) to flood victims, overseas orphanages, famine victims, war refugees, and a host of other needs.

• Some opened their church buildings as temporary shelters for the homeless and for those displaced by natural disasters.

• Most hosted AA programs, counseling programs, and other community social efforts.

• Most ran soccer camps, summer kids’ programs, clubs, and youth groups attended by children whose families did not attend the church as well as children whose families did.

• And, of course, every church had a “care fund” which provided food, rent money, and other support to needy individuals and families, both those in the church and those outside it.

These were just ordinary churches, and none would have claimed that they were doing anything remarkable. All would have admitted that they could have done more.

As well, although this is rarely mentioned in news coverage, many local and many major international charities were founded, supported, and run by Christians. Many are still run by Christians. On an individual basis, many churchgoers volunteer at Christian and mainstream charities. Many go out of their way to be good neighbors and befriend people who need friends. And, besides what they give to their churches, churchgoers apparently contribute to mainstream, “secular” charities at a higher rate than non-churchgoers.

Church is not a distraction or an alternative to caring for the poor and marginalized. It often provides the motivation and the organization to do so. What would Jesus be doing if He were to come to earth today? Likely what churches are doing (only more perfectly, of course).

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What’s Your Purpose?

Did you know that you were created for a purpose? It’s true. As Christians, God has a mission for each of us to fulfil. One that He specifically designed for us and only we can complete.

It doesn’t matter how unequipped you feel, God will prepare you for your mission. He will never send you out alone. He is always with you.

A few years back, Pastor Rick Warren wrote a book entitled, A Purpose Driven Life. In the book, Warren lists 5 purposes of The Purpose Driven Life.

Purpose #1: You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure (Christian Worship) Purpose #2: You Were Formed for God’s Family (Christian Church) Purpose #3: You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship) Purpose #4: You Were Shaped for Serving God (Christian Ministry)

But what happens if you aren’t certain what your God-purpose is? Well, there are many ways to help you discover your purpose.  

Pray. Ask God to show you what He wants you to do for Him. Communication with God is key to the Christian life and to finding out your purpose.  

Dig into His word. Psalm 119:105 says, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. The Bible is filled with answers.

Seek out Godly people to give you guidance. Proverbs 11:14 tells us, Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety. Choosing wise council to pray with us and give us advice is important.   

Sometimes, though, it is necessary to get alone with God and simply wait for His answer. God wants to guide us in every aspect of our lives, but sometimes all the noise surrounding us in our business lives makes it hard to hear His voice.

And when you have your answer? Trust God. He will put you where He wants you to be. Where you are needed. Where your purpose truly is.

All the best…

Mary Alford

www.maryalford.net

Among the Innocent – Coming June 2022

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Jeeps On the Beach by Tara Randel

Last weekend my husband and I drove over to Daytona Beach for Jeep Beach 2022. For those who aren’t into Jeeps, I can tell you that the weekend was all things Jeep!

We started our day at the Daytona International Speedway, a location we’ve visited frequently in the past when we attended NACSCAR races. On the day we visited there were no race cars in sight, just a sea of Jeeps, inside and outside the track. All different models and colors; some decorated with decals, some with crazy loud sound systems, many hoisting flags.

In the center of the infield were two long rows of vendors. Anything you wanted to outfit a Jeep was represented here. Also located here were obstacle courses for any brave person who wanted to drive their Jeep through the dirt. Believe me, many tried and made it.

You can see the stadium stands in the background.

You can’t have a Florida Jeep event without a sand sculpture.

Yes, some Jeep owners like to show off.

Once we were finished at the first event, we went out to the beach. From the vantage point at our hotel, we watched a steady stream of Jeeps parade up and down the sand. I’ve been to Daytona Beach before and seen cars on the sand, but never anything like this. It was quite an adventure.

It was a beautiful day and would have been a great time to brave the waves, but the water was too cold. These Florida toes of mine were about the only part of me to touch the foamy surf on the beach. Others must have felt the same because there were very few people in the water.

We had a wonderful weekend and would recommend it to any Jeep enthusiast. If you’re planning a trip to Florida next spring and you’re intrigued, check out jeepbeach.com. There is plenty to see and do and you just might decide to get a Jeep after the visit.

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, His Small Town Dream, available September 2022. 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

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No Room at the Inn by Bridget A. Thomas

Recently I have been reading through the Gospels. When I came to the story of Jesus’ birth found in Luke 2, I was struck anew by the words found in verse 7. “And [Mary] brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

These words saddened me as I thought about Mary and Joseph being turned away. If the people had known that the Savior of the world was among them, would room have been made available to them?

But then I also thought about myself, and all of us in general. Do we make room for Jesus in our lives and in our hearts? Generally speaking, the society around us has continually pushed Jesus away. And the results are clearly seen in our deteriorating world.

But even among believers, do we always have time for Jesus in our day? Do we put Him first in our lives? Or are we distracted by our to do lists and devices? Do we seek other things that bring instant gratification or do we meet with the Only One who can truly fill us?

My one word for 2022 is Abide. My goal is learn to fully and wholeheartedly abide in Jesus. I have to wonder if my heart is often found abiding somewhere else – social media, work, my writing, books, television, etc.

Our flesh so quickly and easily seeks anything and everything that will please us for a time. But those things don’t last. And we find ourselves looking for something else to satisfy us.

I recently fasted from several things during lent, including social media. My aim was to lay aside anything that takes my attention from Jesus. Even good things in our lives can steal us away from the One who can truly keep us anchored.

Do we have room for Him in our lives and hearts? Or do we turn Him away because we are filling our lives and hearts with other things? Just like the people in the Inn so many years ago, will we miss out on beautiful miracles and time with the Savior because we don’t have room? I pray we all can learn to make room for Him, today and every day.

© 2022 Bridget A. Thomas

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I Forget to Breathe by Julie Arduini

Last month I received a gift my family and I determined wasn’t a want as much as a need.

An Apple watch.

When they first came on the scene I made fun of them because all I saw was people answering texts and calls as if they were VIP status, not regular folk most likely replying back to their parents. Last year, my opinion started to change. A young friend fainted and she was home alone with her pre-schooler and newborn. She had help in minutes. Why?

Her Apple watch had fall detection. The watch triggered her emergency contacts, and her husband was at her side in minutes.

Last November, I took a fall. I was on my way to the garage with packages taller than my line of vision. I figured I knew what I was doing, so I went by feel down the steps. Thing is, there is a railing I reach for, and I missed it. I grabbed air and down I went. Packages flew and of all the ways to land, I straddled our walking mower. Yeah.

That kind of spooked me, and working a decade next door to the Office for the Aging has not helped me. I remember the fall statistics. I have a bad knee. I do not want to fall, but I realize it could happen, and there are times I’m alone, or somewhere around the house the others wouldn’t notice my absence unless they got hungry, LOL.

Enter Apple watch.

It has really helped me with fitness goals, and of course, fall detection is activated.

The watch has also helped me in another area.

I don’t breathe.

There’s a prompt several times a day for me to stop and breathe. One minute is all it asks of me. Rarely do I oblige. I keep thinking I’ll get to it. But I don’t. Last year the stress and grief I was experiencing manifested in severe anxiety. One thing I learned, when I start to freak out, I hold my breath. Not only am I trying to unlearn that, I’m trying to practice deep breathing. When I actually employ that skill, it helps. But I struggle to breathe. How crazy is that?

Does anyone else struggle with breathing? Do you have a watch that reminds you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Just remember to breathe. 🙂

***

Anchored Hearts is available for pre-order!

This is the first book in the new Surrendering Hearts series about the Hart sextuplets and their desire to discover their own identities and find a love like the one their parents shared.

Can two go-getters surrender their need to control and find a happily-ever-after?

Jordyn Bell Hart succeeds in everything she does. Her promotion to morning show co-anchor blossoms her career in the same way her mother’s work had. Jordyn keeps tabs on her family and enjoys helping them grow. When life around her starts to change, can she surrender her desire to control?

Spencer Collins knows how to balance a busy life. He has his work as a reporter, his time caregiving for his grieving father, and looking out for his little brother. When he learns he’s the new co-anchor of a morning show with Jordyn Hart, can he handle working with a celebrity who brings a lot of challenges to life on and off the set?

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Followers of Jesus by James R. Coggins

We sometimes think of the Twelve apostles as a group and suppose that Jesus called them all at once. This is not so.

According to Mark 1-2, Jesus first walked along the shore of the Sea of Galilee and called Peter, Andrew, James and John—four fishermen, a homogenous group.

Then, after settling in Capernaum and doing some ministry trips to the surrounding area, He reached out to a whole new group of people—Levi and a group of tax collectors. Now fishermen and tax collectors, faithful Jews and servants of the Roman oppressors would not be expected to get along. But Jesus brought them together.

Perhaps the fishermen (at least, Peter, James, and John) formed Jesus’ inner circle because they had seniority—they were called first.

Since Matthew was a tax collector (Matthew 9:9, 10:3), it is often assumed that Matthew and Levi were the same person. If so, then Levi also became one of the Twelve (Mark 3:18).

One of the other apostles was James, the son of Alphaeus (Mark 3:18). He was also called “James the Less” (Mark 15:40)—perhaps because he was shorter or younger or less prominent than James, the son of Zebedee. In Mark 15:40, this James is described as the son of Mary, another of Jesus’ followers from Galilee. But Levi was also called the “son of Alphaeus” (Mark 2:14). If Matthew was Levi, then Matthew and James could be brothers, sons of Alphaeus and Mary. This would be a third set of brothers among the Twelve (along with Peter and Andrew, James and John). If Levi was not the same person as Matthew, James could still have been the brother of Levi and might also have been a tax collector; at any rate, he could have been part of the tax collector crowd.

Philip and Nathanael, on the other hand, appear to have been friends (John 1:43-51), not brothers, and they were from Bethsaida, the same town as Peter and Andrew (John 1:44). They had Greek names and may form a third group among the Twelve, that is, Hellenized Jews (Jews influenced by Greek culture but not necessarily working for the Roman government).              

We sometimes think Jesus calls individuals, and He does. But those individuals come with their connections and baggage, their families and their friends. As it was with Jesus’ first followers, so it is today. When one person becomes a follower of Jesus, one result is that his friends and family members are often given an opportunity to become followers as well.

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Small Gifts by Nancy J. Farrier

When I go walking in the desert, I travel down a wash and over hills. There are so many rocks. I have to be careful not to trip or fall, because the rocks will shift under my feet. Thus, I don’t usually notice individual rocks because I have to concentrate on keeping my footing as I walk.

More than once I’ve fallen when something caught my eye or I glanced to the side and didn’t see a pitfall. I was out walking with my husband once, and he called me to look at something. I lifted my gaze to see what he wanted just as I was taking a step. I didn’t see the hole on the far side of the rock I was stepping over and ended up with a sprained ankle. Having to walk more than a mile back to the house reminded me how necessary it is to take care to watch my surroundings and avoid problems.

There have been times I’m so busy keeping an eye on where I’m going that I forget to take in the beauty of what is around me. I’m focused on getting through—going from point A to point B—and ignoring everything else along the way.

Isn’t that how we do things in life. Especially in our Christian walk. We get so focused on what God has given us to do that we forget to take those moments and enjoy the little gifts God has given us. In fact, we often miss the small things God does for us every day. 

We are not so different from those people recorded in the Bible. Think of the Israelites who complained to Moses about their thirst and hunger when God provided food and water when needed. Think of the crowds of people in Bethlehem on that crisp evening who didn’t notice when the heavens opened and angels sang of God’s glory and a son born to save mankind. Think of the men who accompanied Saul (Paul) on the road to Damascus and missed hearing the voice of God as He spoke to Paul and changed his life forever.

We all get caught up in what we are doing or need to do and forget to take a moment to see what God is doing for us and around us. It takes determination on our part and constant reminders to watch for His gifts. 

“Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)

Being pure in heart is a matter of keeping one’s focus on God. When we do that we often see what we would otherwise miss—the beauty and majesty of God’s gifts. Even the small ones that are easily ignored.

On my walk this past Easter Sunday morning, I glanced down as I headed home through that rocky wash. For the first time, I noticed the rock pictured below. That rock had been there all the other times I walked through the area, but I missed the beauty of the picture God painted on this rock. I had to smile at that small gift of beauty He’d given me, the butterfly a picture of new life. A reminder that he is with me wherever I go.

I urge you to look around you. What small gift of God’s are you overlooking? He has something incredible for you.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” James 1:17 (NKJV)

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