For a few very hard years this word was my mantra.
The word means
-undismayed; not discouraged; not forced to abandon purpose or effort
-undiminished in courage or valor; not giving way to fear
But the truth is, I was often dismayed by everything that had taken place, and I did battle discouragement. I battled fear and doubts. I hurt and was angry, and sometimes "undaunted" sounded more like a mockery than a mantra, and I was determined to be real about all of it in these posts, thus the name, Undaunted Reality. More than that, though, I was determined to live undaunted, not because I'm so great or strong, but because my God is, and no matter what this world looks like, He is the only reality that matters.
I pray I live the reality of Him beautifully undaunted.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

To Climb the Tree or To Not Climb the Tree. When that is the Question...

I told you earlier this week that we studied Zacchaeus in RCIA class' lectio divina. I can't really explain what lectio divina is. I thought it was like when Protestants read a passage, pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth the Lord wants that specific person to hear, and the person meditates on that passage until the Lord speaks. However, I was told I was wrong, so no clue what it really is in the Catholic realm, but, I did the Protestant thing.

Anyway, in class we had a good discussion. Okay, it was pretty predictable, actually. It was about judgment of others, Zacchaeus' willing to look stupid to see Christ, salvation, Jesus knowing Zacchaeus' name when He walked up to the tree. Pretty predictable. At least it was until I shared my part.

Like I shared with you earlier this week, the Lord spoke to me about how people only find their value in Him, and once they realize their value in Him, the things that used to be their definers aren't important anymore.

But for me there was something else.

A question.

Every time I read this passage and prayed for the Lord to speak, I heard simply,
"Would you have climbed the tree?"

In case you don't know, the religiously correct answer is, "Yes, I would have definitely climbed that tree to see Jesus." I am rarely, if ever, accused of being religiously correct, and I answered honestly.

"No, I would not have climbed the tree. Not today. Because today, it feels like it doesn't matter if I climb a tree or not. If you want to find me, you'll find me. If you don't, you won't. Being in a tree or not being in a tree won't matter."

In fact, on that particular day, nothing seemed to matter.

Now, I realize none of the rest of you ever, EVER feel that way.
None of you ever feel like the desires of your heart don't matter.
None of you ever feel like your prayers haven't made a difference up till now and they won't make a difference now.
None of the rest of you have ever looked at the altar at the front of your church or the prayer ministers waiting to pray with you or heard someone ask how they can pray for you and thought, "It doesn't matter. Climbing that tree won't make a difference, so why bother."

But just in case one of you might have possibly known someone who could have had that thought once, let me share some things I'm doing that is helping me win the war of the tree.

First, I confessed. I confessed to God that I was mad at Him. I know. You are probably mortified and thinking I have no right to be mad at God. No. I don't, but I was. I was mad that He has made promises that He has confirmed repeatedly, promises that I want so badly, that have not come to pass. Years have passed, and they haven't come to pass, and I was angry.

Second, I quit comparing myself to Abraham. Seriously. Yes, Abraham waited a long time for Isaac, but in the meantime, he had Ishmael. I used to look at that and wonder how in the world someone who had a clear word from God could be so stupid. I now know. He wasn't stupid. He was empty. He and Sarah both were empty, and they found a road to fulfillment that could rationalize and ran hard and fast down it. The Bible never says that Abraham was mad at God, and we know he believed God and God credited that to him as righteousness, but Abraham got tired. When he got tired, the empty pulled him in. None of us are perfect.

Third, I have been praying specifically for strength in my mind, heart, soul, and body to climb the tree. We are told to serve the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. Obviously I'm missing at least one of those, so I confessed that, too, and asked the Lord to meet me in my weakness and be strong in and through me. I pray this every morning.

Fourth, I pray for the Lord to tell me what "tree" I need to climb to see Him. Here is what I mean. Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he couldn't see Jesus from where he was. I have been praying for God to show me exactly what I need to do to get from where I am where I don't or can's see Jesus to the point where I can see Jesus. Believe it or not, the answer is primarily prayer time. The very thing I told God seemed to make no difference in whether I see Jesus is making a huge difference in how I feel about climbing the tree.

Fifth, I pulled out my prayer cards again. I have maybe 100 prayer cards with verses that I pray and meditate on. Not all of them in one sitting, but right now, I have 30 or so cards I read every morning and pray from the scripture on them. For instance, one of the cards is about Blind Barnabus who was on the side of the road and Jesus went by. When Barnabus heard it was Christ, he started yelling, "Son of David, have mercy on me." Jesus called him to Him, and Barnabus threw off his cloak and went to Jesus. When Jesus asked what he wanted, Barnabus asked for his sight, and Jesus gave it to him. When that card comes up, I pray that:
  • The Lord would show me places I am blind to Him and the way I could help others.
  • I would throw off any thing, like a beggar's robe, that might keep me where I am instead of being healed from anything He desires to change in me for His glory
  • I would never be embarrassed to call on Him even when everyone was looking, pointing fingers, and thinking I was totally unworthy of His gifts, blessings, and kindness
  • I would be bold in calling out to Him what I need.
Why the prayer cards? Because I have covenanted with God to pray them everyday no matter how I feel. That does not make them a ritual. Only a hard, cold heart makes prayer a ritual. They are my discipline. Discipline means to train someone for the purpose of becoming something. This prayer routine trains me to pray with faith despite emotion or circumstance. It is training my mind to think in faith, not in what my human eyes see.

Finally, well, it's more what God does than what I do, but when I get frustrated and say, "It doesn't matter," He responds with, "How can you ever say you don't matter to me?" And honestly, His tone is not all compassion and warm fuzzies, and it shouldn't be. He has a right to be offended by the accusation that I don't matter to Him, that He has a heart of stone toward me, that He could ever not find me important. That really is what that statement is saying. "I don't matter to you. Our relationship doesn't matter to you. You keeping your word and being faithful to your word doesn't matter to you. My empty place that aches doesn't matter...because you are a bad Father." Let's be real here. When we tell God we don't matter, we are telling Him He is a bad Father. Only a heartless, bad father doesn't care about His children. Only a self-centered father doesn't think his children are important. That is not our God.

So when He corrects me and asks, "How can you ever say you don't matter to me?", I stop and say, "Of course I matter. Of course I am important to you." I don't say these things in lip service. I say them with conviction, and I meditate on the truth of them. I let them soak deep into me. I let my mind be transformed and my thinking changed. I start thinking like He does. I'm important. I matter.

Is all of that making a difference?

This morning I had a few things for which I had prayed for specific outcomes, and the exact opposite occurred. So I got my coffee and a blanket, went outside to the rocking chair on the deck and said, "I choose to climb the ladder anyway. Lord, show me how."

The most wildly beautiful part in all this: I told God it didn't matter if I climbed the ladder or not. If He wanted to find me, He would...and He did...because I really do matter.

May you find Him...when you climb the tree...and especially when you are so weary that you can't climb the tree, may He find you.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Valuable Enough to be Found

In our Bible study class this week we are looking at the story of Zacchaeus.

Here is the story for those who don't know it.

Luke 19
Then Jesus entered and passed through Jericho. Now behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus who was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. And he sought to see who Jesus was, but could not because of the crowd, for he was of short stature. So he ran ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was going to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and saw him,[a] and said to him, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.”
Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

I've read this story since I was a little kid. I can still sing the song. I know this story. It's not complicated. Jesus, who has become THE celebrity is coming into town, and this short tax collector who is shunned by everyone and hated because he is a tax collector climbs a tree to see Jesus. Jesus walks right up to the tree and tells Zacchaeus to come down because He plans to have dinner with him that night. The short legal thief does what he is told. Jesus goes home with him, and Zacchaeus proclaims that he is giving away a bunch of money as a result. Jesus declares salvation to Zacchaeus as a result.

Simple story. Except it is so simple it gets tripped over.

I was taught that Zaccharus gets granted salvation because he proved his sincerity to Christ. No. If Jesus only declared Zacchaeus saved because he gave away money to prove his sincerity, then that would be earning his salvation. That isn't how Christ works. And honestly, that kind of sensationalism isn't going to last because that is based on the euphoria of the moment. Jesus would have known Zacchaeus' heart and would never have declared salvation to a dram king. So something else had to have happened.

The key isn't what Zacchaeus did. It's why he did it.

See, there is this tax collector who has economic power. He can add fees to the taxes collected. He can be cruel in the ways he enforces tax collection. He can be as ruthless and heartless as they come, and for some people, that power defines them. It means they are valuable. They are valuable because of the power over people, and they are valuable because of the money they can make from it. This guy has position, power, and money...and no real life. The Romans don't care for him. He is only a pion. The Jews hate him. And where does that really leave him? Up in a tree...with only the hope of a glimpse of true celebrity because there is no way a religious celebrity was going to pay any attention to him.

Except He did.

Can you imagine being Zacchaeus up in that tree searching for just the head of the celebrity you are waiting for when you see this massive crowded moving in some way as those it is water crashing upon the bottom of the tree where you are, and suddenly, there at the base of the tree a face looks up at you. THE face looks up at you and says, "Hey, come down and let's go have dinner at your place."

In other words, "I've come to this point just to see you, and I know no one else would be caught dead in your presence or in your house unless they need something from you, but I've come because you need something from Me."

What Jesus was really saying, "You are valuable to me. In fact, you are so valuable to me, I'll risk being a celebrity and being on the front page of every gossip magazine just to be with you."

I don't think Zacchaeus responded by saying, "Lord, look! I'm so different that I'm going to do all this good stuff. Aren't you impressed?" I don't think it was a haughty man who spoke to Jesus. I think it was a humbled one who said, "Lord, Lord, I get it. I give half of everything I own to people who need it because they are valuable. I will make recompense for how I have cheated people because relationship is more important than gold. I get that I'm valuable, not because of what I own, but because of You. I'm valuable because You chose me."

And did you notice that Zacchaeus wasn't offended when Jesus said He had come to seek and save the lost? A proud person would look at themselves and be sorry they had to be found or saved, and honestly, I don't think they would be saved because they are not humble to receive the truth that they cannot fix themselves. However, when a person realizes their only value is in the value placed on them by Christ, they realize that being sought and found is a declaration of value. It is a clear demonstration of how loved they are.

God so loved--so valued--the world that He gave His only Son that whoever should believe in Him--not their own ability to be good or holy--should not perish but have everlasting life.

When Zacchaeus climbed that tree, maybe he was looking for a celebrity. Maybe he was looking for someone bigger than himself. What he found was just how important he was, and that had nothing to do with money and position, and everything to do with Jesus.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Truth

I don't know why I write this blog.

There. I said it.

The truth is I started writing again because one of the things we are told as writers is to write what we want to read, and frankly, I can't find much I want to read. I'm sick of being lectured on things. I'm sick of whining "conservatives" who just drone on and on about the presidential election and what a mess the politics in the United States are. I'm tired of the religious walls. I don't want to read anymore about any of it.

I read David Baldacci books.

And the worst part is I read them because I can relate to the characters.

His characters are warriors that have this numb or dead space either someone, life situations, or they have created that allow them to act in ways that the general populace doesn't like. These characters are detached, and while they realize they are not the norm and don't really have the emotional capability for happily ever after, they realize they are good at what they do, so they do jobs--in the trenches, ugly jobs--that the general populace would find too distasteful or immoral to do.

And I read those characters, and I see me.

Then I sit down at this computer and try to write about life and what is happening and give it some deep spiritual spin because I have this idea that surely someone else out there is looking for something not like everything else, but I have begun to doubt that.

I write things that are poetic and emotional, and people read those, but when I write things that could actually change someone's life, those pretty much get ignored. Honestly, it makes me think people want a place to commiserate but not a place to change their lives, and I seriously stink at the whole commiserating thing.

I quit writing for months and months. Part of that is because I really needed time to be silent, to hear God, to not have voices with opinions and advice. Part of it is because I felt like I was believing a lie that I made a difference, that lives were somehow better, that somehow people were finding God in what I wrote.

I started writing again because I thought I could present Truth in a way that drew people to God, that in understanding spiritual disciplines or how to develop intimacy or some other spiritual teaching someone might find a clearer path to Him or deeper intimacy with Him, but I have to be honest, I think I was wrong.

When I wrote during the first few years after Rob died and things changed, several people said my strength is that I write my heart. Well, here is the truth, I don't write my heart anymore. I have no desire to put it out on display for people to comment on and criticize or judge and not understand.

Sitting beside me on the floor is my brother's dog, Merida. She is with us for a few weeks while he does long hours of overtime for work. She looks up at me confused because she doesn't know why she is here, why things are so unfamiliar, and where my brother is. I reach down and pet her and tell her it's okay, I"m here because I totally relate.

Merida just gave a deep sigh and lay down on the rug by my bed. I guess she got tired of roaming the house looking for my brother and trying to figure things out. That is very much how I feel, and I don't have a deep spiritual lesson for you.

You know, spiritual teachers and leaders don't talk about being lost in the desert while they are in the desert. They talk about it after the fact, when they don't look crazy and flakey and when they have some deep faith lesson to tell us all.

Well, y'all, I'm in the desert, and I can tell you that I believe God is faithful, loving, and kind. I don't doubt Him or His character, but right now, I feel barren with nothing to offer, and there are two ways to go with this: letting His strength show through my weakness or like David's men, go back to camp until I am useful again. I guess we'll both have to wait until tomorrow to figure out which it'll be.


Friday, October 21, 2016


Today WonderBoy took one more step toward being WonderMan as he took his place as a licensed driver. I am so incredibly proud of him, and WonderGirl and I rejoiced with him and took him out for a celebratory lunch. It has been a wonderful day.

It's also been bittersweet.

Some days I wonder what their dad would say if he could see them now. The kids think about it. We talk about it. Both of them wonder if he would be proud of them, if he would enjoy their maturing quirkiness. Of course, I think the questions are pointless. How could he not totally love these amazing kids and be totally in awe of the young people they are and the adults they are becoming? But they wonder. I would wonder, too.

Of course, I am also aware that they are who they are because they survived the loss of their dad and have been raised by God and me the last 5 1/2 years. There is strength and optimism in them that would not have been there had they not been on this road, and there is an honesty about them that most adults avoid. It is a hard won honesty, and it is beautiful. But like them, I wonder what their dad would say to see these amazing young adults.

And days like today when everything is so amazing and joyous that echoing question seems to be loudest.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Remaining Faith, my comment

Yesterday I shared with you my John Perron's words on Luke 18:1-8 and his focus on the last sentence:

When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?

At the end of his teaching, he asked if there were questions or comments. I chose not to add my comments to yesterday's post because I really wanted what he said to stand on its own because it is that good. What I added in class was:

The word faith is not merely an intellectual knowledge of something. It is not the belief that something exists. Faith speaks to fidelity and faithfulness. It stands when nothing else does.

God is not Santa Clause, and our prayers should not be our wish list we expect Him to grant. Prayer is communication and conversation. It is building a relationship. Faith stands even when the relationship is hard and even when the answers are not what we want.

For me, the question, "When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on earth?" asks a simple question:

Are you faithful to a relationship with me, or do you simply want what I can give you,
and if you don't get what you want, will you walk away?

Because if you can just walk away, you don't have faith, and when the Son of Man comes, where does that leave you?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Remaining Faith

Last week my friend John Perron gave a really good lesson on Luke 18:1-8.

1 Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, saying: “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for a while; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’”
Then the Lord said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”

While everyone else in the class seemed to focus on the need to be persistent in asking, John looked at something out: persistent faith.

I asked him if I could share it here, and he kindly said yes.

"When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"
by John Perron 
So, here it is.  Not quite the way I said it last night as I was letting the Holy Spirit bring out what God wanted said and I took no notes as it happened.

 First, the judge in the parable was interested only in himself.  He only answered the widow's petition because her persistent requests for a decision were aggravating to him.  He agreed to deliver a decision for two reason: 1. to shut her up, and 2. to secure his own physical safety "...lest she finally come and strike me."

 Second, Jesus made it clear that God is not like the judge and doesn't answer prayer to shut us up.  God does not find our prayers aggravating. Instead, Jesus suggests that God will answer our prayers quickly and, to those of us who are persistent in prayer "...who call out to him day and night",  as the widow was persistent, God will answer even more quickly; as if that is even possible.  Faith and prayer are two sides of the same coin.  If you have faith, you go to God in prayer; when we pray, our faith increases, and so on, and so on.

 But the bottom line is that Jesus, in all his parables, challenges us.  In the final verse of this particular story, Jesus asks, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith?"  The challenge is for each of us, individually, to question the state of our faith; is it living or dead?  Will Jesus find, in each of us individually, someone who, when prayers "were not answered" chose to lose heart, patience and faith and simply give up on prayer; letting our faith begin to die?  Will he find someone who, regardless of God's answer to prayer, remained in persistent prayer to God and trusted in God completely; no matter what?
Something I meant to share last night and left out:  St Monica prayed for her son, persistently, for close to 30 years.  Praying that he would repent and come to faith in the church.  Had she not done so, the church would have never had one of its greatest theologians; Bishop St. Augustine of Hippo.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Don't Settle

It's tempting sometimes, when you want something really badly. When your heart is kind of miserable, and you just not feel so much like this.

Two weeks ago I was asked if I would consider running for the board of a volunteer group of which I am a member. I considered it. Great platform to work on some programs I really want to start and build. When I prayed about it, I simply heard, "Don't settle."

In other words, wait. Something you want more is coming.

Last week I was invited to a luncheon by the leader of the widows group of the church we just left. I'm not so much into groups for widows. It is hard to feel like I really fit, not because of them but because...well, that is another story. Still, when I explained that I live an hour from the main campus and where the group would meet, the sweet lady said she would keep me in the loop because they want to start a group at our campus. For quite a while I considered volunteering to start the group over here. I could do it. I love planning and organizing, and it would be...something that felt like I was giving back or using my gifts. But, that wouldn't fix the reasons we left, so...

Last night WonderBoy and I were at a local parking lot so he could practice his parallel parking for his driving test, and the pastor pulled up to find out what was going on. Funny how all you have to say to anyone with a license is "parallel parking", and they nod because they know. So Pastor Ed and I chatted a bit. They have a fall festival coming up, and he invited us. Invited us to Sunday School, Bible study, and services, too. Nice man. I enjoyed the chat. The church is close to home. When I came home I looked up the website to see what they believed. Fundamental beliefs. No real place for women to do much, maybe teach the kids' classes like usual, which I don't care to do. Certainly no place for my gifts to be utilized. But you know, when you just kind of what to belong somewhere and someone is nice to you maybe you can make this work? I read through some more, and finally, I just closed the screen and put my computer away and picked up my Bible.

Yesterday morning during my prayer time, the Lord took me to Psalm 68.

5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
    is God in his holy dwelling.
God sets the lonely in families,
    he leads out the prisoners with singing;
    but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

I opened my Bible back up to that passage and read it multiple times.

God sets the lonely in families...but the rebellious...those who settle, those who don't trust His faithfulness, those who do things that fill the hole right now instead of waiting for the real in a sun-scorched (or desolate) land.

They have to live with the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences are the hard things they deal with and sometimes those consequences are the loss of the blessings God had planned for them. Both are desolate...lacking Life...lacking the fullness of Him.

Praying for all those who are standing in the loneliness. May you not settle but wait for the fullness of our faithful God.

Monday, October 10, 2016

When I Don't Like Someone

So all last week I talked about dying to self, crawling on the altar, giving up our self-righteousness, and all things feel good. (or maybe not) It all started with a woman in our class saying there were people she didn't like, and she was fine with it. Some folks were stunned that she would say that in a church class, but honestly, where better to say things like that? If we cannot be honest about our sin in church, where can we be honest?

Really, I hate the culture of the church that says, "If you are not great, wonderful, highly favored, blessed, or fantastic, then you are failing, and I cannot believe you had the audacity to walk in the doors of this church and contaminate it with that attitude." Seriously. I hate that. It ostracizes people. It makes them put on the false holiness thing I've been talking about. Church is supposed to be a hospital for the sick, not a social club for the feel-better-than-you. Church is the exact place we should be able to go and say, "Hey, I'm struggling. This person has offended me and hurt me, and I just cannot let it go...but I want to."

And that is the real issue. I think God knows as humans we are going to get offended, get mad, and be tempted to get bitter, and honestly, I think there are some things we have a right to be mad about.

A few months ago I talked with a woman who had endured horrible forms of abuse from an uncle. She had told me about this a few years ago, and we had talked several times about it. She had talked about the acts, the physical pain, the nightmares. She had always talked in a very calm, matter of fact manner. Until this particular phone call, and this time when she called, she was livid. She unleashed on him, her parents who suspected, other family members who suspected. I won't give you the details of what she said she would do to the "son of a bleeeeeep" if he were still alive, but I can assure you, he would be less manly. When had finished unleashing, she said, "You probably think I'm a horrible human being and a lousy Christian because I'm supposed to forgive him so I can be forgiven, and I'm not supposed to use that kind of language. Isn't that what you are supposed to say as a pastor."

I told her first of all, I don't use the Bible to beat people into submission (which is why she talked to me in the first place). Second of all, I think son of a bleep might be a bit kind. Third, I asked a simple question. "Do you plan to stay angry?" I could almost hear her blink through the phone. Finally, she asked, "What?" I repeated my question. "Do you plan to stay angry? See anger is a normal emotion in the grieving process, and Lord knows you have a lot to grieve, so I think the anger is really a sign you are healing. The question, though, is whether you plan to stay here or not. Because part of healing is moving past the anger instead of letting it become the leash that son of a bleep still controls you with."

And that is the real question. Do you plan to stay here, or are you just passing through?

I grew up in a family that lived in offense. Seriously. I think our address was something like,
#1 And Don't You Forget It Lane
Hold a Grudge, (State of) Offense

I saw what being mad all the time did, and while I would love to tell you my choice not to live in offense is all about wanting to be righteous, it isn't. A bit part of my choice is not wanting the consequences of being mad all the time.

Being offended all the time destroys relationships. It destroys marriages. It destroys relationships with family members. It destroys relationships with neighbors. Even some wars all boil down to someone got offended by someone else. Want to see the consequence of someone choosing to be offended? It's called the Holocaust. Why in the world would I want to live in that kind of destructive mindset? Why would I want to teach my children to live in that mindset and curse them to live with broken lives and broken relationships? I am a better mom than that. I choose to be a better person than that.

So what do I do?

1. On a regular basis, I ask the Lord to show me anyone I have a grudge, bitterness, or offense toward.
2. I confess in a real sentence my sin. "Lord, I have not forgiven this person, and I am wrong." Something huge and mysterious happens in our spirits when we actually use the words "I am wrong."
3. I ask forgiveness.
4. I ask to be purified of this bitterness, anger, or offense (1 John 1:9).
5. I ask the Lord to give me His heart for that person and to enable me to love that person like He does.
6. I ask the Lord to help me see the person's strengths, not just what drives me nuts.
7. Sometimes I just flat have to confess I'm struggling and need God to put His love for them in my heart.
8. I ask how I can practically express love to them. Amazing how acting with love nurtures the feeling of love.
9. I pray for that person as I would hope for my very closest friend to pray for me.

And when that person continues to grate on my nerves, because sometimes they do, I remind myself that I choose to love that person, and sometimes at that very moment I am having the nails-on-chalkboard reaction, I'll start to pray, "Lord, help me love them. Help me to see them like you do. Is there something causing this grating behavior that I need to pray about for them? How can I be their friend? Father, I choose to like them. Not just love them, but like them. I choose this. I need your help, but I choose this."

It just occurred to me as I was finishing that last sentence that what I pray can be summed up in one sentence:
Lord, change my heart toward that person.

There you go. Change me.

So often we pray for God to change the other person, to move the other person, to move us so we don't have to deal with the other person. Sometimes He says yes to those, but I have found almost always He says no to those prayers. But the prayer He always says "yes" to is, "Lord, change me that I may love and like more."

Yes, Lord. Change me.

Shalom, y'all.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Prayer Meditations on Hard Days

As we all know, some days hit like a freight train, or enough days in a row with a hard hit each day, and it gets overwhelming. When we get overwhelmed, we have two responses: shutdown or go into default.

Default can be a blessing or a beast. It all depends on what we have fed within ourselves. Today, I'm battling the beast. See, the battle against the beast doesn't happen when we slam into default mode. The battle with the beast takes place when we choose who we will be when the road falls right out from under us and how we plan to respond. Today, I am choosing to be wholly dependent.

So today I am getting still and leaning on Truth.

The Lord is my shepherd,
and He gives me everything I need.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Ye though I was through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear evil of any kind
because He is with me.
His rod and His staff comfort me.
He prepares a table before me right in front of my enemies.
He anoints my head with oil
and my cup overflows.
Surely He will wrap me in goodness and mercy all the days of my life
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
Psalm 51
The Lord is my strength and song,
And He has become my salvation;
He is my God, and I will praise Him;
My father’s God, and I will exalt Him.
Exodus 15:2
10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.
James 4:10
In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:6
23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
24 Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His hand.
Psalm 37
Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous.
Do not be afraid.
Do not be discouraged.
For the Lord your God goes with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9
I will not be discouraged or afraid because I know that even if I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I need not fear evil for my Lord is with me. He goes before me. He prepares a table for me right in the middle of my enemies so they know Whose I am. He sustains me even in the hardest most intense battle. He leads me with this staff so I go the right direction. He protects me with His rod. Though I stumble and make mistakes, the Lord will not let them ruin me because He delights in me. Even right now when I am saying, "This feels really big," He delights in me. He delights in being strong for me. He delights in my coming to Him for help. In my weakness, He will show Himself to be strong. He is my strength and deliverer. He is my help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1).
Psalm 34:19
The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.
Doesn't mean they disappear in a wisp of smoke, but it means no matter how deep the valley or how dark the shadows, God is in.
Father, thank you for being in my valley, for being my strength, for being my wisdom in addressing all the needs, for being my encourager. Thank you for being my peace. Thank you for creating in me a pure heart that is not heavy with the weight of all this, but a heart that is alloyed with nothing but you, a heart that sees the possibilities and answers, a heart that is steadfast and allows you to bring new things into existence. Give me a steadfast spirit, Lord, that prepares my thinking for future events you want to unfold. Renew me to the joy of knowing you didn't just save my soul from hell but you are saving me everyday from things that discourage me. Sometimes you even save me from me. Thank you for being the rock I can always lean on. Thank you for being my faithful Shepherd.
Thank you.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Being on the Altar--What it Really Means

"Being on the altar" means I choose to sacrifice my rights (like I have any), my opinions, my will, my dreams, my expectations...anything that I hold onto, think, believe, I can become more like Him. I hate this process less and less because I see the fruits of it, but I won't paint Bull Nettle and call it a daisy. This is hard stuff at times. Sometimes I get angry. Sometimes I grieve. Sometimes I pray honestly, "I hate this. I HATE THIS! BUT, don't let me off this altar until we are done." That is the honest description of being on the altar.

Paul talks about it in Romans 7.

21 I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now, I've heard a lot of folks say this means when Paul has died and entered heaven, he will be delivered. Well, yeah, but this is also for here and now. Christ didn't just come so we could live the abundant life after we are dead. Kind of weird when you write that out, huh? Jesus came so we can have abundant life in Him--become like Him since He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6)--now. And as much as we may hate the reality, the way to abundant life in Christ in dying to ourselves, and we do that one the altar.

Yesterday I posted about dying to self, and in Pam's comment, she said, "When you die to will be more alive than you ever thought possible!!!" She is so completely right! But it isn't easy. Actually, I don't think you can die to yourself until you spend time on the altar.

But again, I am using theological words that are so wondrously Christian-ese, and that really doesn't help when you are trying to live it. So what does being on the altar in real life look like?

I have to tell you, as I write this, I am trying so hard to think of vague examples, and the Lord keeps saying, "Tell them what your living right now," and I don't want to. I don't want to talk about anything going on in my world right now. I don't want to talk about feeling overwhelmed with the demands on my time. I don't want to talk about the new and exciting emotions a recent situation dredged up. I don't want to talk about the emotions of any of it actually. Like AT ALL. The truth is I like my walls. I like not being vulnerable. I like my being on my side of the computer screen and you being on yours.

But, that isn't my strength as a writer. My strength isn't giving you head knowledge. My strength is writing from my heart, even when my heart feels...incredibly fragile. Even when I'm afraid someone will try to fix something and say something hurtful or someone will tell me how I need to be..."muchier".

So I have two options. I can either dig in my heels and refuse to lower the walls, or I can crawl on the altar, probably have a good cry, and let God use me as He wants because that is what the altar does.

The altar is where the offering that is really nothing special becomes the open door for God to invade earth.

It is the place where we face our deepest fears and place our deepest desires knowing the very thing we put on the altar may become only ash before our very eyes, where we choose to become ash if that is what glorifies God.

You see what we fear more than anything is to be nothing. What we fear is to be inconsequential, and when God sacrifices our comfort, our dreams, our desires to accomplish something in someone else' life or in a family legacy or in a company or a country, we can feel very inconsequential because why are they more important than we are? Jesus was sacrificed that way. And I don't think any of us would call Jesus inconsequential. I think we would call Him invaluable.

The truth is when we allow God to make us nothing to ourselves, we become invaluable to Him.

And I write that to you as someone who told God today that being on the altar is hard, and I am weary. It is exhausting, and it hurts, but it also beautiful and amazing. The intimacy with God is amazing, and seeing Him work in lives because you make yourself available is humbling in the most beautiful of ways.

So when the heavy moments come that feel bigger than me, I pray simply that He would give me strength to stay on the altar. I pray for Him to tolerate my whining and screaming because I'm going to whine and scream. I do it less and less, but the thing about being broken unto the Lord is that He takes you to a place where you break and all you have to hold you up is Him. And, yes, there is some complaining that happens there. But if that place is met with faith in God's character, there is also rejoicing, beauty, and gratitude. There is an incredible feeling of privilege that He chose you to know Him as you do. As Pam said, when you die, you feel more alive than you could ever imagine. It's crazy, but true.

And remember, when you do crawl up on that altar, you are not alone. When it gets hard, reach out your hand. I'm probably right beside you. More than that, you will find Him right with you in ways you never imagined.

Praying for you...

May God be your shalom.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

"Dying to Self"--What it Really Means

One of my issues with "spiritual" writing is the fact it is so often written on such a "spiritual level" that it doesn't hold much real world, right where I'm living, value. In other words, it's kind of useless after you walk out the church doors. I really don't want to be that kind of writer or teacher, so I want to take a post to explain a couple of concepts and give you real life application.

I use the phrases "on the altar" and "die to self" pretty often. They are great theological phrases, but unless you really know what they mean or look like, you won't know how to apply these life-changing (even legacy changing) concepts. Today, I want to talk about what it means to "die to self".

Dying to myself means I stop thinking about me all the time, how I want things, what I think is true, what I like, how I think something should look, how I think someone should act, how I think I should spend my time. It means I stop thinking like me and start thinking like Jesus. Let me give you a few real life examples.

Last week I had another conversation with an "older" mom about her broken relationships with her grown daughter. This is incredibly common. In fact, I've had these conversations with a lot of moms. Almost all of them tell me about the daughter's messy house, spending habits, how she has let herself go, and over-packed schedules. All of them say, "I raised her better than that," and all of them assure me their daughters are fully aware of how Mom feels. Honestly, the broken relationship is all because the daughter isn't making the effort. Well, I wouldn't make the effort either. From the outside, it is so obvious to me that Mom is so busy being offended because the daughter is not like her or how she thinks things should be that Mom is the problem. Mom's self-right(eousness) is crushing the relationship. And I asked Mom a simple question, "What does all that have to do with eternity?" Well, nothing, but that isn't the point. The point is those daughters know better. No. Actually, the point is whether they know Christ. If Mom wants to fix the relationship, she has to get on the altar and die to expectations that aren't met and aren't going to be met. She has to die to her own pride because she is ashamed that her daughter isn't living up to a standard Mom has. Mom has to die to her "right as mom" to use shame to discipline a grown woman. She has to die to how she sees herself in the relationship. It is a hard dying, but dying to self means those moms can put down the weight of trying to make those daughters something they aren't and love them for who they are. And, by the way, it is a lot easier to receive God as a heavenly Father when a person isn't having to heal from pain inflicted by an earthly parent.

Now, I need to clarify here. I have never told these moms, and don't expect to tell any of these moms, that the daughter is all right. However, God will hold us accountable for our own behavior, and if we are manipulating, shaming, demeaning, or controlling to make someone what we think they should be, that is not God, and any damage done by our actions will be on ours hands.

The other thing I tell these moms is that "getting it right" doesn't guarantee they will get the result they want. We cannot control another person's response or reaction. We can only act in such a way as to make the door to relationship the most appealing it can be.

Another example of dying to self I love actually came from a dear friend of mine.

He told me at the first of the year he decided this was the year he was making a change. He was tired of being in a lousy marriage. He was tired of being unhappy. He was tired of his wife not respecting him. He was tired of not being treating like a husband deserves to be treated, and he was reaching an age where he knew he had to make hard choices if he ever planned to be happy, and he did. He told me he finally had the marriage he wanted, and it wasn't because he traded in his wife of 20+ years for a new model. It's because he finally died.

He said he grew up in a home where his mom scrubbed the house every week. Dinner was on the table when his dad got home. When my friend went to school, his mom always sent him off with a cooked breakfast. Sunday dinner was always a mini-feast around the perfectly set table. She always decorated for holidays inside the house and out.

He didn't have to tell me. I already knew. I know his wife, and his wife does not do that. His wife works 40 hours a week, makes it to their kids' school activities, and grabs take out on the run probably four times a week and probably grabbed pizza on the way home from church so they could eat it on the couch watching sports.

"I resented that about her. How she didn't take care of me. How she didn't keep my house clean. How she didn't make our family special."

This is what I can also tell you about his wife. She adores him. She budgets like crazy so they can afford a lawn company to do the yard so my friend doesn't have that to do on weekends but can rest. She puts aside money every month so they can take a nice family vacation and so she and her husband can have a few weekends alone a year. She has turned down promotions because they would require travel and extra hours, and she won't do that. She may not look like June Cleaver, but she is totally focused on her family. So what was the problem?

All he could see were his ideas of what a wife should be and how she didn't meet them. What changed? "God took me to the whipping shed and gave me an attitude adjustment." Turns out his whipping shed and my altar look a lot alike. He said he stopped focusing on what he expected a wife to be and thought about what he really wanted. He quit looking at what wasn't important and started realizing he had what was important. Food is food, whether it comes from a restaurant or three hours over a hot stove. The house wasn't spotless, but the kids feel loved. She wasn't making him breakfast, but she was making plans for time just for them, and that made for some special memories. They didn't talk around the table every night, but she listened to kids in the car on the way to this lesson or that game. He died to what he expected, to the rights he thought he had, to the bitterness he had for the way she wasn't fulfilling some "ideal wife" dream, and he learned to live in Christ and see a woman who adores him, loves her kids, works within the confines of a different culture than his mom to make a strong family, and juggles everything well. He looked at me with a big smile and said, "I have never been more in love in my whole life, and I have never been happier in my whole life. I think people at work are getting tired of me talking about how happy I am actually."

That is what dying will do.

Dying to self may include things like:
...getting up 30 minutes earlier to read your Bible and pray even though you like sleeping in.
...reading a story to your son or daughter instead of watching a TV show. your husband some time to work in the workshop or garage instead of expecting him to listen to the playground drama
...listening to your wife tell about the day with the kids...and being the bad cop because you are dad and you have a special kind of weight in the house
...going to see someone in the hospital or nursing home instead of going shopping, sitting at home, or having overpriced coffee
...making a meal for a family with a sick member
...coaching a kids' sport team instead of sitting in your recliner
...letting the kids paint or do crafts instead of being all consumed by a clean house
...putting the plans away and focusing on someone who needs your company whether that be a spouse, a child, a friend, or someone who needs a friend
...using a Saturday to help a widow, older person, or limited ability person with yard or house work

Dying to self isn't always complicated, but it is usually hard for the simple reason we like our comfort zone, we think we have a right to what makes us happy, and we want things our way. Except, Jesus came to serve and die for others, and when we profess to be Christians, we profess that His way is the right way and we choose to live according to His standards. The only way to do that is to live in Him and die to us.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Being the Self-Right(eous) Sacrifice So I Can Receive The Lord's Righteousness

Foundational facts:
Christ is the sacrifice for our sins so that we may obtain forgiveness for our sins (Ephesians 1:7-8),
live in Him both now and after our physical death (John 3:15 and John 10:10),
and by living a righteous life and dying for us, He is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30).

Jesus was the sacrificial lamb slaughtered on the cross as an offering for our sins.

A lot of folks LOVE this. I personally love this. I think anyone in their right mind who realizes they are a sinner loves this. But there is a crazy thing about offerings people don't love too much:

You can never receive the blessing of an offering sacrificed on the altar of God without offering something of yourself on the altar as well.

Go back and check any of the offerings in the Old Testament. To receive the blessing of the offering that is sacrificed, the person had to offer something on the altar.

Now you may argue that isn't the case with the goats on the Feast of Atonement because the priests presented those and the people didn't. Sort of. The people sacrificed land to the priests. They also gave part of their offerings for the priests to live off of. The people sacrificed something to make the sacrifice possible.

Honestly, this reality isn't popular in today's church culture. People don't like the idea of giving something up to get eternal life. But Paul is very clear in Romans 6

10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. 11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

This isn't some high and lofty theological concept. It's as plain and practical as it gets.

"Sin shall not have dominion over you." That is not addressing forgiveness of sins. It is saying quit living like hell.

"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.  13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God." In other words, quit holding onto that self-right(eous) mirage you've built and choose the righteousness of Christ instead.

Now THAT sounds high and lofty theology, so let's talk about how this might look in real life.

Let me give you an example from my book of "Wow. I'm really ugly at times, aren't I?"

A few weeks ago my family started attending RCIA classes. In short, these are introduction to Catholicism classes. I didn't want to go. I honestly saw no reason to go. I'm not Catholic. I'm a Protestant pastor. Why do I need to go to these classes?

First class the priests asks, "Why are you here?" I tried to answer with respect while still being clear that I am not Catholic. "Catholicism has spiritual disciplines Protestantism has lost, and I want to learn about them." Honest answer. The priest talked some, and whatever he said, I took it as, "Glad you finally got a clue."

Notice I didn't say he said that. I said I took it that way. Self-right(eousness) does that. It rewrites and misinterprets as needed so I am the one who is right and the other person is offensive. It is, after all, the only way to be right all the time.

That night when I lay in bed trying to sleep, I tried to pray my way through the emotional mayhem I felt. "God, why do I need to be in that class? I don't even believe like they do. I've researched their beliefs. I don't agree. I'm just going to be a distraction. This really isn't a good thing. Why am I there?"

As loud and clear as you can hear a shofar on Rosh Hashanah, I hard, "You are there to learn to love them. Right now, all you see are Catholics who aren't like you. I want you to see people with hearts that can ache as much as yours has. I want you to see people who seek truth, want answers, and don't understand. I want you to see people who are just like you, and I want you to love them."

I honestly wanted to vomit at that moment. Not because God wanted me to love a Catholic, but because until that moment, I had no idea how prejudice I was. I had no idea how arrogant I was. I had not idea how much mental and emotional distance I kept between the two of us.

I had no idea that I saw "Catholic" and not people.

So you know what I did?

I confessed my prejudice and arrogance. I confessed my lack of love.
I asked the Lord to forgive me.
I asked the Lord to show me anything else that needs to be confessed and forgiven.
And, I mentally pictured myself as I crawled up on that bronze altar, lay down, and said, "Don't let me up until every piece of this stony heart is gone and I love them like You do."

I won't lie. It is hard. We see very differently on some things, but when we see differently, I ask the Lord to show me how they see Him and show me His heart for them.

Here is the thing. My theology may be right, but if my heart isn't, then I'm missing the heart of Jesus. How can I be righteous in Him if my heart toward others is wrong?

So I give up my right to think like I want and sacrifice it. I offer it to God, not because it makes me righteous. Nothing I do will ever make me righteous, but when I am willing to offer up my right to think and feel what I want, then I step into the sacrifice of Christ, take up His mind and His heart...and His righteousness.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The (Un)Burden of Being on the Atlar

In Saturday's post I told you I would share some things I've learned about self-righteousness as I have been camped out on the altar. Probably the biggest thing is I didn't realize the weight of needing to be right. Notice I did not say "the weight of being right". The truth is, the need to be right is crushing. It crushes us mental and stresses us out. It crushes us emotionally and kills relationships. It crushes us spiritually and retards or totally stops any growth in Christ. It crushes us physically as all the stresses take their toll and we experience migraines, muscle tension, high blood pressure, indigestion, and a myriad of other issues. The need to be right is a killer kind of weight.

At the root of self-righteousness is the need to be right. Except there is more to it. It means we also need others to know we are right and to act, think, believe, dress, look accordingly.

Now, we can debate the source of this until Jesus returns, but ultimately there is only one answer, which we will talk about in a bit. For now, let's talk about the weight of self-righteousness.

Self-righteousness is all about self. Seems pretty self-explanatory. Right? Let's really look at this. SELF-right(eousness) means it is all about me and my being right. So my job then is to make everyone see things the way I do. I have to argue a point to the very end, whether that be the end of my time allotment or more likely to the end of the relationship. Sometimes if a person just won't see how smart and enlightened I am, I have to shame or demean someone so they can see how stupid their thinking is. A lot of the time if someone won't see things my way and do things my way so I can stay in my comfort zone, I have to punish them by not speaking or not having anything to do with them until they realize their foolishness and align with what I want...because after all, I'm right. Oh, and I always have to talk first because then everyone knows the right way so no one else will be so foolish as to say the right thing. I always have to have the answer because if I don't, someone might question whether I'm right about other things, and we can't have that. And, if all those things don't work, I can always launch a public campaign, play the victim, and tell my side in such a way as the get the greatest degree of pity so the people I tell realize I am right. But if all that fails, and believe it or not, sometimes people just are determined not to see my superior thinking/opinions/etc., then I will simply show them and leave. No big deal for me because I will simply go somewhere else where people realize I am right. There.

It is indeed a heavy load, but some of us, like me, are forced to bear it.

I would say I hope you are laughing, except really, it isn't funny. Well, if you are watching from the outside as some self-right(eousness) person is throwing their tantrum, they can look funny because really, what adult acts like that? Well, me. Hopefully not to that extent...anymore. But, yeah, I know how this works because I have the crown, t-shirt, AND tie-tack.

So you may be wondering why people don't get it and get over it. Well, it is hard to see why you need to get over it when really, you're just the victim.

See, it's really all about character flaws and suffering rejection.

That is THEIR character flaws and MY suffering rejection.

Don't believe me? I'll show you I'm right.

See, if someone doesn't agree with me, they are rejecting me.
If they don't like my opinion, they a rejecting me.
 If they don't like my color choice for a room, they are rejecting me.
If they don't agree with my idea of modesty, they are rejecting me.
If they don't agree with my opinions on politics or beliefs in faith, they are rejecting me.

It is all personal. It is all about me, and anytime someone else doesn't see that, then they are obviously rejecting ME, not a color on a wall or a festival theme or a shirt style, BUT ME! And any time they reject me, I'm going to get offended, and, folks, offense is a heavy thing to carry.

Have you ever noticed how exhausting it is to be mad all the time? We aren't made to be mad all the time. We are made in God's image. We are made for relationship. We are made to love people and enjoy them. We are not made to find offense and hold onto bitterness. Holding onto those things is fighting the very core of who we are made to be, and that is exhausting.

When you get on the altar and sacrifice your right to always be right, you don't give up the chance to be right, you give up the weight of having to be right. You give up the responsibility of making everyone else right, and those are some heavy burdens. You also get to quit carrying the weights of bitterness and offense.

We think of sacrificing something as what we have to give, and we do give up our rights, but when we sacrifice something, we get so much more. We get Jesus. We get to let Him deal with things. We get to stop being something we aren't (always right) and be something we need of Jesus being right in us.

In Matthew 11, Jesus offers an invitation:

28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Let me reword this a bit for you.

Come to Me, all you labor to preserve your self-image because you are afraid people will see you weak, unimportant, or stupid if you don't know everything, and I will give you rest from all those false expectations people put on you and you put on others. Take My expectations upon you and learn what I call right, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest from the burden of false righteousness.

I'll tell you the truth. I never saw this verse this way until this morning when I was writing this, but now I'm copying it and printing it out to put on my wall so I see it and meditate on it everyday.

I hope you come back tomorrow so I can tell you how I've learned to offer my self-righteousness so I can receive His. Until then...

May the Lord grant you the courage to be wrong...and be okay with it.

Shalom y'all!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

ACFW October Book Releases

As some of you know, I am a member of ACFW--American Christian Fiction Writers. There are some incredible writers in ACFW, and their books are wonderful. Below you will find a list of new releases for October. Check them out and get blessed!

October 2016 New Releases
More in-depth descriptions of these books can be found on the ACFW Fiction Finder website.

Biblical Fiction: Providence: Hannah's Journey by Barbara M. Britton -- When the prophet of Israel refuses to heal her, Hannah flees Jerusalem and is captured by an enemy with a curse all his own. (Biblical from Harbourlight [Pelican])
  Shadow of the Storm by Connilyn Cossette -- In defiance of her mother, Shira pursues her heart's calling to become an apprentice midwife. When a delivery goes horribly wrong, Shira finds herself bound to a man who betrayed her, the caretaker of three young children, and the target of a vengeful woman whose husband was killed by Shira's people, the Levites. As contention between the Hebrew tribes and the foreigners fans the flames of another dangerous rebellion, Shira will come face-to-face with the heartbreak of her past that she has kept hidden for so long. How can she let go of all that has defined her to accept the love she's denied herself and embrace who she truly is? (Biblical from Bethany House [Baker])

Christmas Novella: Christmas Lights by Chautona Havig, Vikki Kestell, Cathe Swanson, and April Hayman -- From historical romance to contemporary cozy mysteries and Christmas wonder, these four "light" reads will warm your heart and ignite your Christmas spirit! (Christmas Novella, Mixed Genres, Independently Published)

Contemporary Romance: Risking Love by Brenda S. Anderson -- Can cautious bank employee Lissa Morgan risk falling in love with a former thrill-seeker, a widowed single dad, when she may have to foreclose on his house? (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)
A Mom for Christmas by Lorraine Beatty -- Noah's dream of a happy family and Beth's dream of a continuing ballet career are both dashed, but when they come together they discover that the Lord might have a new dream for both of them. (Contemporary Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])
Sleigh Bells Ring by Sandra D. Bricker, Barbara J. Scott, Lynette Sowell, and Lenora Worth -- Santa Claus is coming to town, and so are the Tucker sisters. The girls have inherited their father's run-down horse farm for Christmas. It needs some serious TLC in order to make it sell-ready. Joanna knows that by recruiting her sisters and one handsome ranch hand they can fix up the place and even celebrate one last Christmas while they're at it. However, to Isabella, returning to their home in Kentucky bluegrass country for Christmas seems like an impossible hurdle. Can her Chicago boyfriend make life merry and bright again? One thing's for sure: nothing is peace on earth for Sophia as a new beau brings up old wounds. And when the fate of the horse farm is put in jeopardy because Amy accidentally fraternizes with the enemy, tensions rise. But it's not like the land developer stole Christmas . . . just her heart. Can the Tucker sisters have themselves a merry little Christmas? (Contemporary Romance from Gilead Publishing)
Do You Hear What I Hear? by Margaret Brownley -- Stranded at the old Star Inn until the road back to his cabin reopens, lumber mill owner Rick Talbot suddenly comes face to face with the past. The only woman he's ever loved is standing in front of the inn's blazing fire trying to get warm. Both Rick and Sally regret what happened between them years ago, but his family lumberyard clashes with her tree-hugging ways and neither is willing to try again. It will take the storm of the century, one stage-struck young boy, a certain meddling "angel"--and even a cranky cat--to convince them that in matters of the heart, sometimes the second time around is best. (Contemporary Romance from St. Martin Press)
More Than a Tiara by Valerie Comer -- Marisa Hiller abandoned her modeling career to nurse a broken heart in Montana, far from the photographer who ruined everything. Her family farm is now part of a CSA program teaching gardening and cooking to single moms, but when the coordinator begs her to represent the program in the Miss Snowflake Pageant, Marisa balks. God has forgiven Jase Mackie but hasn't answered his prayer to bring Marisa back into his life… until Jase finds himself out West as the official photographer for a beauty pageant, face to face with the woman he's never forgotten. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)
Room at the Inn for Christmas by Mary Connealy -- Ambitious hotel executive Amanda Star's has got her sights set on the CEO job at the multi-national Halston hotel chain. But then she inherits the Star Inn, a place her father had always wanted her to run alongside him. With no time to be away from her job, she rushes home to put the inn up for sale. Once there, she's struggles against keen regret, sweet memories, and the longing to return, which grows stronger when she is reunited with an old classmate: Anthony Carter, a handyman with a guarded heart. (Contemporary Romance from St. Martin Press)
Can't Help Falling by Kara Isaac -- A funny, heartfelt romance about how an antique shop, a wardrobe, and a mysterious tea cup bring two C.S. Lewis fans together in a snowy and picturesque Oxford, England. (Contemporary Romance from Howard [Simon & Schuster])
A Christmas Homecoming by Kimberly Rose Johnson -- Interior design assistant Bailey Calderwood suspects the mysterious admirer sending her cards and flowers is none other than the son of her unpleasable, bed-ridden boss. When Stephen Belafonte's mom demands he fire Bailey, can he find a way to heal the rift in his family as well his own heart, or will he be forced to let Bailey go? (Contemporary Romance from Mountain Brook Ink)
Where Two Hearts Meet by Liz Johnson -- When Caden Holt's boss asks her to show off their own beautiful Prince Edward Island to impress a visiting travel writer and save the Red Door Inn, the reclusive executive chef is forced to face a world much bigger than her kitchen--and a man who makes her wish she was beautiful. (Contemporary Romance from Revell [A Division of Baker Publishing Group])
Trust My Heart by Carol J. Post -- Grant McAllister, a jaded big-city lawyer and small-town reporter Jami Carlisle have no hope for finding true love--except for a zany old matchmaker who won't give up. In the unspoiled beauty of the Smoky Mountains, there's healing and forgiveness to be found. And for Grant, this unplanned detour may be just what's needed to finally guide him home. (Contemporary Romance from Waterfall Press)
Insight by Deborah Raney -- She's having a baby. It's a blessing that brings comfort to newly widowed Olivia Cline. Yet with no insurance, no job and precious little money, how will Olivia care for herself and her child? The answer is a handsome and brooding artist seeking an assistant. Reed Vincent has recently regained his eyesight thanks to a donor. And through his eyes, Olivia begins to see all the possibilities before her. Before them. Until, in a flash of insight, she knows why his signature is so hauntingly familiar. (Contemporary Romance from Raney Day Press)
Silver Bells by Deborah Raney -- As Elvis croons from the radio and Christmas descends upon a small Kansas town, two people find the miracle of love. (Contemporary Romance from Raney Day Press)
A Family Under the Christmas Tree by Terri Reed -- In this heartwarming tale set during the Christmas season, a single father and a fashion photographer are brought together by a young boy and a mischievous Bernese mountain dog--but first they must learn to set aside their differences if they are willing to let their relationship bloom. (Contemporary Romance from Howard [Simon & Schuster])
Third Strand of the Cord by Catherine Richmond -- Caroline will do anything to keep her ex-husband from putting her son with Down syndrome in an institution--even enroll the boy in a class taught by a know-it-all karate instructor. Lee Marivaux is an expert at reading people. He knows his feisty new student will thrive with firm guidance - and he's right. He pegs the boy's mother as a clueless socialite who loafs at the country club - and he's never been so wrong. When Caroline's abusive ex shows up, demanding custody, Lee and Caroline must join forces to keep the boy safe. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)
Buying Love by Toni Shiloh -- Impatient for marriage, Nina Warrenton places an ad in the newspaper for a husband--attaching a monetary reward. But when she begins to fall for the small-town chef who answers her add, she realizes how much she wants him to love her and not her money. Dwight Williams needs fast cash to save the family restaurant, but can he let it go to prove his love for Nina? (Contemporary Romance from Celebrate Lit)
Moonlight Over Manahttan by Carrie Turansky -- Professional organizer Sarah Montgomery is hired to organize her elderly neighbor's cluttered apartment by Justin Latimer, her neighbor's grandson. Sarah believes free-spirited Justin is a lazy, unemployed poet who is taking advantage of his grandmother's generosity. Though attracted to him, she guards her heart against her growing feelings. As Sarah and Justin work together to help his grandmother and enjoy Christmas events in NYC, romantic sparks fly. When Sarah discovers who Justin really is, she must decide if she will continue to hide behind her protective wall or open her heart and embrace love. (Contemporary Romance, Independently Published)
Love Bears All Things by Beth Wiseman -- Charlotte Dolinsky needs time to recover after breaking up with her boyfriend, Ryan. But when a surprise visitor shows up on her doorstep in Texas, she's forced to put aside her own worries to help her Amish friends in Lancaster County. Daniel Byler struggles each day in his Amish community to heal from his fiancée's betrayal. When he discovers that a member of his family is in danger of being shunned, his pain turns to fear. His only way to help is by partnering with Charlotte, a woman he barely knows who has already deceived them all before. (Contemporary Romance from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)

General Contemporary (includes Women's Fiction): Paint The Storm by Dawn V. Cahill -- When Meg is challenged to love her lesbian daughter as Christ would, she struggles to live out God's command, and when her daughter goes missing, she finds herself joined with the unlikeliest of allies in her search for Linzee, and finally learns of God's unconditional grace for sinners. (Contemporary Women's Fiction from Spring Mountain Publishing)
Restoration Road by Elise Phillips -- Mallory Andrews's short trip back to Texas for her mother's funeral quickly becomes a move home to help her grieving father with his contracting business. When her old crush, Tres, hires them for a restoration project Mallory falls in love with the crumbling old house. And when feelings bloom between her and Tres, she finds herself on the road to a brand new, unexpected life filled with faith, sweet tea, and fresh paint. (General Contemporary from Desert Breeze Publishing)
Above All Things by Deborah Raney -- Expecting their first baby, Judd and Evette McGlin are thrilled to become parents. But the couple faces the ultimate test when Judd learns he already has a child: a six-year-old mixed-race girl born amid secrets and lies. Now, Evette must decide if she can accept the child. She thought she was open-minded--until hidden prejudices threaten the future of an innocent little girl, Evette's marriage and the very notion of who she thinks she is. (Contemporary Women's Fiction from Raney Day Press)
Restoring Christmas by Cynthia Ruchti -- Alexis set out to restore a fieldstone farmhouse in need of repair. She didn't expect to restore a life in the process. (General Contemporary from Worthy Inspired)
Strings of Faith by Terry Stafford -- Darcy is a classically trained violinist who dreams of playing bluegrass and winning The National Oldtime Fiddle Contest in Weiser, Idaho. When tragedy strikes, Darcy lays her gift aside for her family and faces unimaginable pain and loss, leading to dissension with her husband, disappointing judgment from her church, and anger with God Himself. Can her gift of music survive when her life is turned upside down? (General Contemporary, Independently Published)

Historical: The Lost Generation by Erica Marie Hogan -- On August 5th 1914, the world changed forever. For John and Beth Young, it meant the happiness they finally achieved was snatched out from under them. For Emma Cote, it meant that her husband Jared would do his duty, despite her feelings. For Christy Simmons it meant an uncertain future with the boy she loved. The lives of six people, spread across the British Empire to America were changed forever. (Historical from Elk Lake Publishing Inc.)
Aboard Providence by Keely Brooke Keith -- When an accident forces Jonah Ashton to serve as a ship's physician, he boards the Providence with the plan to escort a group of families to their new settlement in South America and then return to Pennsylvania to finish medical school before rumors of Southern rebellion erupt into all-out war. What he doesn't count on is getting lost at sea... and Marian Foster. When the settlers finally reach land, Jonah makes a startling discovery that changes everything, but will it change his heart? (Historical from Crossriver Media Group)

Historical Romance: The Rails to Love Romance Collection by Diana Lesire Brandmeyer, Amanda Cabot, Lisa Carter, Ramona K. Cecil, Lynn A. Coleman, Susanne Dietze, Kim Vogel Sawyer, Connie Stevens, and Liz Tolsma -- Journey the Transcontinental Railroad along with nine unlikely couples who encounter all the dangers and disappointments of traveling the rails in the late 1800s. From sight-seeing excursions to transports toward new lives, from orphan trains to circus trains, can romances develop into blazing love in a world of cold, hard steel? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)
Cowboy Christmas Homecoming by Mary Connealy, Ruth Logan Herne, Julie Lessman, and Anna Schmidt -- For widow June Harper, another cold front is about to hit. Most call him Hugh. She'd call him Scrooge, except as the man ensures her needs are met, June can't help but wonder how to meet the needs of his heart. Netty Lewis can take care of herself, has for a while now. And even if Roy, her hired help for the holidays, does take care of her, that doesn't mean he cares for her or that he'll stay past Christmas. Pastor Colton McCabe is not sure he'll make it through the holidays with his new housekeeper. Grace can't seem to do anything right but love. Perhaps being a homekeeper will earn her a permanent residence in his heart. Connie Lancaster is determined to return to St. Louis, and no cowboy can change her mind. But if Isaac can change her heart, maybe Connie will see the homecoming she's been longing for isn't to a place but a person. (Historical Romance from Gilead Publishing)
The Captive Heart by Michelle Griep -- Stranded in a strange land, Eleanor Morgan faces starvation or marriage . . . but who wants to marry a murderer? (Historical Romance from Barbour Publishing)
The Rightful Heir by Angel Moore -- Cowboy Jared Ivy must work with stranger Mary Lou Ellison until a judge comes to town and determines which one of them is the rightful heir to his family's Texas newspaper. Intrepid reporter Mary Lou won't lose the Pine Haven Record--the legacy he left her--without a fight. But when she and Jared stop sparring long enough to investigate a story together, they become a force to be reckoned with. Will they let their battle over the Record get in the way of something even more newsworthy: true love? (Historical Romance from Love Inspired [Harlequin])
  Christmas at Stoney Creek by Martha Rogers -- When newspaper reporter Tom Whiteman befriends a homeless man named Joe, Tom decides to bring him home to Stoney Creek, Texas for Christmas. As Tom and his childhood friend Faith Delmont set out to learn the truth about the mysterious old man with the kind, sad eyes, they discover that God's love can turn tragedy and loss to triumph, and that true love comes to those who wait. (Historical Romance from Realms [Charisma Media])

Mystery: Another Day, Another Dali by Sandra Orchard -- In order to regain her grandmother's favor FBI Special Agent Serena Jones agrees to investigate a missing Salvador Dali painting. But when the evidence points to members of the owner's own household, it becomes clear that Serena won't be winning any popularity contests. Then Serena stumbles upon links to her grandfather's unsolved murder. (Mystery from Revell [A Division of Baker Publishing Group])

Romantic Suspense: Tangled Webs by Irene Hannon -- After a disastrous Middle East mission ends his six-year Army Ranger career, Finn McGregor needs some downtime in the woods. But when someone threatens his neighbor, publishing executive Dana Lewis, Finn and Dana must work together to discover who wants her to leave her lakeside cabin before it costs both their lives. (Romantic Suspense from Revell [A Division of Baker Publishing Group])
Identity Unknown by Terri Reed -- When a John Doe washes up on the shores of Calico Bay, no one knows who he is—including him. But one thing's instantly clear to deputy sheriff Audrey Martin: the man's marked for murder. And she's the only one who can protect him from the assassins who lurk at every turn. The arrival of a team of men claiming he's Canadian Border Services officer Nathanial Longhorn only further complicates the matter. As his memories slowly start drifting back, Nathanial and Audrey work to uncover who wants him dead and why. If they don't, this Christmas might be their last. (Romantic Suspense from Love Inspired [Harlequin])

Speculative: A Time to Rise by Nadine Brandes -- What more can you sacrifice than your life? Parvin Blackwater is dead. At least that's what the Council and the world thinks. But her sacrifice tore down part of the Wall long enough to stir up hope and rebellion in the people. Parvin and Solomon must uncover the mysterious clues that Jude left behind in order to destroy the projected Wall once and for all. Meanwhile, the Council schemes to new levels of technology in its attempts to keep the people contained. Can a one-handed Radical and a scarred ex-Enforcer really bring shalom to the world? (Speculative Young Adult from Enclave Publishing)
Unblemished by Sara Ella -- Eliyana can't bear to look at her own reflection. But what if that were only one Reflection—one world? What if another world exists where her blemish could become her strength? (Speculative Young Adult from HarperCollins Christian Publishing)
Beast by Chawna Schroeder -- For as long as Beast can remember, she has lived among her master's dogs. With them she sleeps. With them she eats. With them she fights and struggles to survive. But through hunger and cold she dreams of one day becoming her master's favorite, earning bones with meat and a place beside the fire. When her pack scatters after a surprise raid, Beast must defend herself against slavers, hunting down the loners. They are so strong, and she is only a beast . . . or is she? (Speculative Allegory from Enclave Publishing)
Accelerant by Ronie Kendig -- He'll destroy the world. But he must save it first. As the only able-bodied heir to the Fire Throne, Haegan, Prince of Seultrie must return to the Nine Kingdoms and fight for his people. But there are insidious forces at work. When reality itself falls into question, Haegan struggles to know where to fight, who to trust. Caught between duty to his country and duty to the world, Haegan must see clearly enough to choose the right path to save his devastated world. (Speculative High Fantasy from Enclave Publishing)

Thriller/Suspense: Death in the Mind's Eye by Rick Acker -- It knows what you're thinking. It knows when you're lying. Does it know how to kill? San Francisco attorney Mike Webster and Dr. Johanna Anderson, a brilliant and beautiful psychologist, must clear Jo's name of a malpractice case before the controversial, technologically-assisted Mind's Eye therapy is seized by a shadowy finance firm and used as a weapon. (Thriller/Suspense from Waterfall Press)
The Warrior's Seal by Ronie Kendig -- A Special Forces team is thrust into a war with the past to save the president after an artifact unleashes a deadly toxin. Special Forces operative Cole "Tox" Russell and his team are tasked in a search-and-rescue--the U.S. president has been kidnapped during a goodwill tour. The mission nosedives when an ancient biblical artifact and a deadly toxin wipe out villages. Tox must stop the terrorists and the toxin to save the president. This is a free e-novella prequel! (Thriller/Suspense from Bethany House [Baker])
Deadly Infiltration by W. Richard Lawrence -- Infiltrators inside the American government are betraying undercover agents while helping sneak weapons of mass destruction across our borders. To keep their work hidden, they are willing to murder anyone who gets in their way. Sara, a brilliant computer expert working for the FBI, finds herself caught in the middle. Sara's young faith in God is gravely tested when she is framed for the murder of an FBI agent, forcing her to go into hiding. Meanwhile, Sara's fiancé Derry lives up to a promise he made to her, and gives up his future to save her and hopefully the country. (Thriller/Suspense from Boarding House Publishing)

Western Historical: Refining Fire by Carol Cox -- Meet the Arizona Territory Brides. Four strong, independent women--each determined to stand on her own two feet, and not one of them looking for romance. But sometimes love shows up when you least expect it... (Western, Pioneer/Prairie, Independently Published)