Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Strength according to biblical standards

Quietness, trust & joy
As I spend many hours working behind a desk, I enjoy a good work out. It takes me half an hour on my bicycle to get to work and when the weather permits it, I go for a power walk during lunch time. But nothing beats a spinning lesson at my local gym! The exercise strengthens and excites me and quite often I feel much better afterwards.

Still reading through Isaiah I came upon a verse that talks about biblical strength, In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength (Isaiah 30:15). Now, that's a total different story. Although I am all for physical exercise and building up some muscles, I also realize that our real strength is not physical. It is not intellectual or mental either. The Bible teaches that our strength  is in quietness and trust. I really had to think that over because it goes so much against the standard the world has set. Real strength cannot be measured according to the worldly standards. It cannot be found in exercise, education, status or importance. Real strength is in God and in godly attributes like quietness, trust and joy (Nehemiah 8:10). It is with the psalmist that we can cry out to God: Strengthen me according to your word (Psalm 119:28)

When I can stay quiet during arguments or difficult times, when I can trust God when all goes wrong... then I am showing strength. Again, this is where the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit will come in. Without His help we will fail, all the time. The apostle Paul's prayer for the believers is this: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16). What a great prayer! The Holy Spirit will strengthen us with power in our inner being.

That brings me to the subject of one of our workshops: the power of God. I will post a short version about the power of God in my next post! Until then: may you be be strengthened in your daily walk!

Friday, July 22, 2011

A steadfast mind

Are you being tossed back and forth?
Reading the Bible means interaction between God and me. I read, think, and ponder and ask Him questions. This is certainly so when I stumble upon a verse that jumps off the page. It happened to me the other day when I was struggling through the woe's in Isaiah, looking for a gem. There it was: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you (Isaiah 26:3).

I had to read that verse over and over again and came to the conclusion that if, for some reason, I do not experience perfect peace, my mind must not be steadfast. My mind must be wavering, maybe being tossed back and forth by the waves... the waves of every day life and events.  David recognized this 'state of mind' and asked God: Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind (Psalm 26:2). Thinking about the state of our mind in relation to faith I realized faith is more than a matter of the heart, more than a spiritual exercise. It is also a matter of cultivating a steadfast mind.

The greatest commandment as stated by Jesus is, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). We must make up our mind where we stand with God and where we stand in our faith. That means finding the right balance in our love for God; in heart, soul and mind! Trying to do that in our own strength can be a frustrating exercise. That is why we need the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we submit the condition of our heart, soul and mind to Him, He can bring about the peace the prophet Isaiah spoke about. Romans 8:6 confirms this: The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.

Wow! When we let go of wanting to be in control all the time and hand the reigns over to the Holy Spirit, in other words: when we put our trust in God, the Spirit of the living God will bring perfect peace!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Blogging buzz....

Thanking, thinking, pondering
It's Wednesday, my day to work at home. The sun didn't come out, so slept in (a little), which basically means I lay there thinking and pondering... My most brilliant ideas don't come early in the morning :), but today however I decided to post another blogging buzz. There simply is too much fun stuff going around that needs to be shared. here we go:
  • First of all, a big thank you to all who took the time to read the interview with Susan Reinhardt. We are thankful for all your sweet comments!
  • I know some of you bloggers are active on Goodreads as well. As of last year I am the moderator of the Christian Non-Fiction Books Group on Goodreads. It's growing and we have some very interesting topics in our active discussions. "Amidst the romance, thrillers, Sci-fi and YA this group offers room for discussion on faith & spiritual growth topics. After all, life is more than entertainment..." There is room for recommendations, we are looking for good devotionals and small group study books and as of yesterday you can add your blog! You don't need to be a member to see the topics, but you will have to open a Goodreads account if you want to join the group; which is really not a bad idea if you are an avid reader and/or writer.
  • I love international blogging contacts. This week I stumbled upon an excellent blog, all the way in South Africa. Feel free to check out Tracy's blog, My daily walk in His Grace.
  • If you are on Twitter and enjoy inspirational quotes from a Christian perspective, try CSLewisDaily for some healthy writing.
  • Saturday July 23rd I'll be picking a winner in the book give-away at Toni Nelson's blog Press On. She asked me 5 thought provoking questions :) and posted the interview on her blog. If you would like to win a free copy of Grace of Giving, hop over and leave a comment!
Happy blogging!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Voice of God

Communication is more than uttering words
Based on the workshops we gave in Germany I have written posts about the will of God and the plan of God for our lives. We noticed that the will of God is not so much something we keep asking for, but rather something we should DO! His will is a general instruction for all believers. His plan, however, can be different for each individual because it depends on our personal situations. When we begin to walk and act in His will, the steps of His plan for our lives will be slowly revealed. The next question would be: how do we hear His voice?

When we think about the voice of God, we often think about an audible voice. The truth is, that most people will never hear God speak audibly to them, exceptions to the rule of course. Because we tend to focus on audible communication, we often miss it. Our idea of communication is often very limited! God speaks to us in many ways, but not necessarily through spoken words. In Hebrews 1:1-3 the Bible says that God has spoken to us through His Son, that is Jesus Christ.

Jesus is called the Living Word, He is God's Word, His voice if you like, because He only spoke what the Father had taught Him. One simple way to hear more from God is to read your Bible out loud, especially the words of Jesus. You will hear God's Word loud and clear, through your own voice. In John 10:3-5 Jesus speaks about the Good Shepherd and how the sheep will recognize his voice. In order to hear the voice of the shepherd, we need to know the shepherd. The more we read about Him, the more we study His words, the closer we get to know Him, the easier it will be to hear His voice, even if he doesn't use words. Right before Jesus goes back to be with the Father He explains to His followers what the Holy Spirit will do: He will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (John 14:26). All communication takes place through the Holy Spirit who is living in us and who knows all about God!

But let's go back to our limited view of communication. God speaks to us in many ways, first and most of all through his Word and through the Holy Spirit. But that is not all. The Bible clearly shows that we do not only hear His voice, but we can also read it, see it, sense it. Don't limit the way you listen! Here are just a few ways God can speak to us, through:
  • Unctions, the still small voice within, ideas that pop up, strong feelings
  • Servants, prophets, teachers, pastors, all other believers, even people that don't know you, but do know the Word
  • Dreams and visions, which we see nowadays quite often in the Moslim world
  • Miracles, a question or situation we have can be answered through something we see (John 10:25)
  • Angels, less common  nowadays, but certainly scriptural (Old and New Testament)
  • Music, art, we can experience God's presence or love or comfort
  • Nature, God communicates His glory often through nature, creation
The Bible is full of examples of God speaking to His people, we have to learn to listen with more than just our ears. We can hear His voice, but we can also read it, see it, and sense it. Don't limit this! John 6:63 says that Jesus'words are spirit and life. Those are perfect gauges to test if what we experience is really God speaking to us. Spirit: does it reveal God's character? Life: does it build me up, does it bring life? Remember that communication from God never contradicts His written Word!

Personally I find that the most practical way to hear from God is praying in the spirit (in tongues) and asking for a translation. That way God can speak very clearly and directly to us. If you have received that gift you will have to practice using it. 

It might be helpful to think about the following:
  1. How do you communicate with others if you cannot use words?
  2. Write down how God has communicated with you in the past
  3. Use your own words to describe the Holy Spirit's work in your life
  4. Ask God to communicate with you and be quiet for a while, just wait. What do you feel, sense, think or remember?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Interview with Susan Reinhardt

This week I am honored to present to you an interview with fellow blogger Susan Reinhardt, owner and author of the Christian Writer/Reader Connection. Faithfully she posts on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Personally I love her Friday Round-up posts, always something interesting, funny or helpful. I have been following Susan's blog for quite some time and I think she really deserves an honorable place in the Christian blogging world. Here we go, enjoy!
Please, introduce yourself…anything special we need to know about Susan J. Reinhardt? 
Thanks for having me on your blog, Marja. I’ve been writing for publication about 10 years. My late husband encouraged me to go to a writers’ conference in 2004. In August 2005, I wrote the first draft of my manuscript The Moses Conspiracy. While non-fiction is my first love, fiction has exercised writing muscles I never knew I had. Like natural muscles, they’re often sore from the workout. Now, I appreciate both writing avenues and understand how they complement each other. 

How and when did you start your blog?  Around the time I started attending writers’ conferences, I searched for Christian bloggers. Once I found a couple of them, I visited everyone on their blogrolls. Talk about being hooked! They educated me on many facets of writing and publishing. In late May 2008, I started Christian Writer/Reader Connection. In addition to building a platform for my writing, I wanted to meet and encourage other writers and readers.

What is your drive behind blogging? What do you hope to accomplish? 
The whole idea behind this blog is connecting and supporting Christian writers and readers. I wanted a place where both could relax and enjoy each other’s company. On Mondays, I post a short devotional/writing journey/life experience article, while Wednesdays are devoted to book reviews and author interviews. The Friday Round-Up offers a link I’ve discovered in my blog travels, which I think my friends will enjoy.

Your writings have appeared in several devotionals. Any work in progress in that field?
I’ve been blessed to be in two Cup of Comfort anthologies. My latest devotional will be in the Love Is A Verb Devotional book, which is a companion book to Gary Chapman’s Love Is A Verb. I also have a short article scheduled for Vista in the fall of 2011. At the moment, I’m preparing for a writers’ conference. Several devotional editors are on my list of possible appointments. Most of the assignments I’ve received have come as a result of attending these events. I highly recommend them.

Earlier this month you broke the news that you are working on a novel together with blogger Karen Lange. What have you learned from this project so far? 
Sharing the research/writing duties with another writer is both delightful and daunting. We’ve learned much about communication, expectations, and writing styles. Like a good marriage, we’ve turned our different approaches into something that adds unexpected spice to the writing stew. Both of us have the freedom to do our own thing within certain story parameters that we’ve discussed. Karen’s addition of an antagonistic character was a stroke of genius. We’ve had a lot of fun using her to create tension and emotional reactions. The other day, I mentioned the need to give this person some redeeming characteristics because I wanted to smack her! (As an effective villain, she makes the grade, but brings out some not-so-nice responses in me. It’s an area I have to work on.)

What role does your faith in God play in your daily life? 
I really can’t say my faith in God plays a role in my life. He IS my life. Beyond my morning devotions, we talk all day long. For every area, not just writing, I go to Him for wisdom, strength, and grace. Without His input, writing is a dead letter. Only He can breathe life into our words, so they minister to hurting hearts.

Top three on your “things-to-do list…  Oh, wow, only three? Since we’re talking about writing, I’ll say: 
  1. To write books that dispel confusion, foster a deeper relationship with the Lord, and go beyond entertainment value. 
  2. To encourage greater connection in the Body of Christ. 
  3. To also write non-fiction books and develop a corresponding speaking platform. 
If the whole world could see your bumper sticker, what would it say?
I have a modest collection of Noah’s Ark paraphernalia. One item I saw by an anonymous writer showed the ark with this caption, “God Keeps His Promises.” Instead of a bumper sticker, I’d like that as a sign I could hang up in my home. I hope that sentiment is apparent as I live my life.

Do you have any authors or specific books that have been an inspiration to you?
Many authors impacted my life and writing over the years. Francine Rivers and James L. Rubart are two that come to mind. If you want examples of deep point of view, their books are a great place to experience it firsthand.

Any words of encouragement to us bloggers?
Keeping our audience in mind is of paramount importance. As a devotional writer, I learned one of the major elements is the take-away. I share my stories, but always include something the reader can apply to their lives or writing. Another way to foster discussion is asking a question at the end of each post. It gives readers something to think about and comment on.
Thanks again, Marja. I enjoy your blog, and I appreciate the opportunity to share with your readers.

Thanks Susan, for sharing part of your writing journey with us.
Feel free to visit Susan's blog Christian Writer/Reader Connection and enjoy her writing!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The plan of God

Step by step
Two weeks ago I posted on the will of God for our lives and basically concluded that the will of God is not so much a thing we should ask for all the time, but something we should do! God's will is a general instruction for all believers, His plan is an individual destiny or purpose for you and me. Often God's will gets confused with His plan. The plan He has for us is a different story...

His plan is not the same as His will. His will is a general instruction, but His plan is an individual destiny that fits our unique situation. Of course His plan is always part of His will for this world and mankind. The Lord will start to reveal His plan for you and me as soon as we walk in His will and act upon His will. Trying to discover and work out His plan while not being in His will is a very frustrating thing to do.

The plan of God involves various levels of life. For example, God has a plan with the universe, with this world, with Israel, with the church and with individual people. When we seriously think about that it is no more than logical that His plan for our life will always fit in the bigger plan of God. I do not know what His plan is for you, my dear reader, but I can share some characteristics of His plan:

  • For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). God spoke those words to the people of Israel in exile, and His words clearly indicate the character of His plans with men. They are good and hopeful and will not harm us. Please keep that in mind when you start discovering His plan.
  • But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations (Psalm 33:11). God's plan is set, it doesn't change all the time. It certainly does not bring confusion, it brings clarity. Please keep that in mind when you start discovering His plan.
  • About God it is said that He summons a bird of prey and from a far-off land a man to fulfill His purpose (Isaiah 46:11). God uses individual people to brings His plan to completion. The Bible is full of examples. We all play a role in His greater plan: the salvation of all people! Please keep that in mind when you start discovering His plan.
Now, the Lord will hardly ever reveal His plan all at once, simply because it would scare us and we would try to run away from it. He will reveal His plan step by step and we can recognize these steps by checking them with His Word (His will) as we have seen above in a few examples. Is the step we are about to take positive and good? Is the step certain and ordained? Is the step part of His greater plan?

So, how do we discover the first step of God's plan for our lives? First of al: PRAYER! Ask God to reveal His first step to you. Second, it might be helpful to write down what you already know and what God has already done in your life. The following acronym will help you to get started: STEP.

S = Strengths, write down your 5 main strengths, for example: I am a good listener
T = Talents, write down your 5 main talents, things that you are good at
E = experiences, write down 5 life experiences, for example: grew up without a father
P = Passion, write down the 5 things you like to do most or would like to do most

When you start doing that, a picture will be formed. A picture that you can take to the Lord in prayer, ask Him where and how He wants to use you. You will see that soon the first step will be revealed. It is then important to take that step! Let me know if this has been of any help to you.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Blogging buzz..

News items and miscellaneous thoughts
Well, it was one of those weeks again... I have a vague feeling that I misplaced a few sticky notes, forgot some appointments and missed several blog updates. As I am trying to bring order on my desk (and in my 'recent downloads' folder) I like to wrap this week up with a few news items and miscellaneous thoughts:

  • During this month of July, I am the featured author at fellow blogger Toni Nelson's blog Press On. She asked me for an interview and mailed me five (five only) questions. Well, she has a way of cutting right to the bone, because it took me forever to answer those questions. Feel free to visit her blog and see for yourself. She's hosting a book give-away too, all you have to do is leave a comment on her blog.
  • Nothing makes a writer happier than positive reviews, right?! My latest release Grace of Giving received another wonderful review, this time on Christian-Book-Review. They're hosting a give-away as well. Check it out if you like reading reviews.
  • For all you blogger fanatics, you don't want to miss Daily Blog Tips, even you pay them a visit once a week, you'll learn something new. Well, I do...
  • Fellow blogger Diane Estrella is forever hosting give-aways as well as book reviews, thoughts, photo's and lots more. Fun stuff!
  • I recently discovered Listopia (vote for your favorites) on Goodreads and placed Grace of Giving on some lists in order to be able to participate. If you're on Goodreads and you enjoyed reading Grace of Giving, please be so kind as to cast your vote HERE. Yes, I am asking for a favor :) but it's a holiday weekend and the 4th of July is our wedding anniversary...
  • The blogging news of this week was that Karen Lange and Susan Reinhardt are working together on a novel. I think that is a quite the adventure and who knows they will inspire others to start a similar adventure. I'll be hosting an interview with Susan this month. Make sure you don't miss it!
Have a great weekend everyone, happy blogging!