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Thanksgiving

Guest post Dr. Peter Lundell

Peter is a writer, pastor, and teacher who helps people connect with God and live by God’s Word and Spirit. With life experience all over the world, he brings new perspectives to what most people overlook. He has authored numerous nonfiction and fiction books on Christian spirituality. Peter is also a collaborative writer, and a developmental and substantive editor. www.PeterLundell.com

If we as believers desire to influence the world we live in, we must make a basic decision. Will we think and act primarily in terms of seeking political change? Or will we think and act primarily in terms of living the Kingdom of God with its political ramifications?

Jesus and the apostles of the New Testament call believers to think, speak, and act as people of the Kingdom of God—rather than get caught up in putting their hope, passion, and focus on politics. They both taught and exemplified this. This didn’t mean taking an easy way out. Quite the opposite. Their actions had huge political consequences and over time generated massive social and political change.

Americans who consider themselves Christian are increasingly reflecting the crowd that stood before Pilate, who to appease the Jews each Passover, would release a prisoner to them. He gave them a choice. They could have Jesus, the Messiah, whose kingdom was “not of this world.” Or they could have Barabbas, who was a freedom fighter and had killed someone, possibly a Roman soldier, during an insurrection against Rome. They did not choose the redeemer of their souls. They wanted more immediate change in a more human and political hope. Barabbas was their man.

When believers look to politics and politicians for their hope, they are little-to-no different from the crowd who rejected Jesus in favor of the guy who represented the political hope they desired. I understand that. It’s natural and normal to be that way. The crowd was influenced by the Pharisees—and we now have news and social media for that—and the crowd was also likely influenced by the devil. But the people in the crowd weren’t evil; they were normal. Like us. And they were swayed.

The North American church faces a crisis in the fact that, increasingly, congregations get more upset about a person’s politics than about heresy. If you doubt that, ask a pastor. Looking at 2000 years of history, as well as the church across the world, I see the lesson that a healthy, impactful church carefully and steadfastly lives above what goes on in the world. That is how they bring the best long-term change to the world.

What does that mean in practical terms? Everything we think and do is rooted in our assumptions, beliefs, and values—whether good or bad, wise or foolish, helpful or unhelpful, godly or ungodly. What are our core assumptions, beliefs, and values—not the “correct” answers but the real ones?

That foundation is singularly important. When we think and act primarily as people of God, whose kingdom, or spiritual reign, is on earth yet is above the things on this earth, we keep our identity and life intact.

But if we drift into prioritizing concerns of this world, we become like the crowd that said, “Give us Barabbas!” We are fooling ourselves, if like them, we think politics is the answer.

Yet following Christ will invariably get political. If our Christ-identity drives us—which does not equal conservatism; it equals the Bible; they’re two different things—our political involvement will be the trailer in proper order of “seek first the Kingdom of Heaven,” and everything else follows. If our politics drive us, then everything gets out of alignment, and Jesus rides in the trailer of our political priorities.

This is not theoretical. The choice is being made in massive numbers across our nation today. We don’t have to answer to politicians, but we will all have to answer to the Master. What will your choice be?

You believe God has called you to write, but how do you find time for everything today’s writers need to do in order to reach their readers?

A growing platform is essential if you hope to interest a traditional publisher. For those who choose to self-publish, it’s just as critical. Your book isn’t going to sell if you are not effectively marketing it through social media, blogs, vlogs, email newsletters, podcasts … You also need a professional website. 

Are you overwhelmed and frustrated by the time you need to invest in marketing – time you could be writing? 

The Internet didn’t exist when my first books were published. I had more time to write. Reaching my audience meant focusing on their needs not on sales techniques. I can’t help but wonder if today we’re focused more on selling than on the needs of our readers.

I wrote the following chapter 24 years ago for the second edition of my book, Write His Answer – A Bible Study for Christian Writers. It’s available on Amazon as a print and ebook or at a discount at https://writehisanswer.com/writehisanswerbiblestudybook. I hope you’ll join us Monday evening, October 10, 8:30 pm ET (7:30 CT, 6:30 MT, 5:30 PT) as we focus on how to reach our readers.

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Reaching Our Readers

But the wisdom that comes from heaven
is first of all pure and full of quiet gentleness. . . .
It is wholehearted and straightforward and sincere.
JAMES 3:17

Bill Hybels, in a chapter titled “Preaching to Seekers” in Communicate with Power (edited by Michael Duduit, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996, p. 74), says, “Much of what we have to do is attempt to speak to people’s brokenness, their addictions, their wounds, their victimizations.” The same holds true for Christian writers. We must show our readers how the Gospel is relevant to these very real needs if God is to use our words to make a difference in their lives. How can we do this effectively both in writing and talking to needy people? Here are a number of ways:

Avoid pat, simplistic answers to complex and serious problems. People who are hurting need more than spiritual Band-Aid™ bandages. We must not demean them and their problems by offering quick fix-its. Instead, we need to give them the gift of encouragement and one or two realistic steps they can begin to take in their journeys to wholeness.

Guard against a critical, judgmental attitudeParaphrasing an old Native American proverb, we should not judge anyone before we have walked a mile in his moccasins. Far too often, we pass judgment without having been there first. We write from the top of our heads instead of the depth of our hearts. Always ready to point out the shortcomings in others, we fail to extend the same grace and mercy God extends to us. 

     Perhaps subconsciously we feel our own sins are minimized when we judge others. Yet Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matt. 7:1, NIV). The Message says, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment.”

     Harsh, judgmental words not only hurt, they push people away from the Savior rather than draw them to him.

Don’t lay guilt trips on your readers. We need to recognize that it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict readers of sin, not ours. When I compiled My Turn to Care—Affirmations for Caregivers of Aging Parents (Nashville: Nelson, 1994), I knew that many caregivers were already beating themselves up for not doing more for their aging parents and for not being more patient, loving, kind, etc. They didn’t need more guilt trips; they needed encouragement. Blanket statements and such words as “should,” “must,” and “you” in submissions were immediate red flags that almost always resulted in the return of the manuscript.

Be sensitive to needs and feelings. I remember the time a lay witness mission visited my church. Joyfully and exuberantly, they spoke of God’s healing of loved ones in response to their prayers. I wanted to rejoice with them, but my focus was drawn to a dear friend who had recently lost her husband. I winced as I thought of how their well-meaning witness was affecting her and the others. In the hushed silence, I could almost hear their anguish and unspoken questions: Why, Lord? Why didn’t you answer my prayers? Didn’t I have enough faith? Don’t you love me as much as you love these others?

     Jesus’ promise is not to save us from life’s difficulties but to be with us in them and to work good through them (Rom. 8:28, 35-39). Although miraculous answers to prayer are a powerful witness, remember that some readers may still be waiting for answers to their requests. Be sensitive to this fact and consider whether an example of God’s sustaining power may offer more encouragement. When we share how God enables us to cope with and rise above the painful realities of life, we are a witness to his awesome keeping power.

Be passionate but guard against being opinionated. There are many differing viewpoints and interpretations of Scripture among Christians. I have no doubt that when we meet the Lord face to face we’re all going to find how much we didn’t clearly understand (1 Cor. 13:12). Wise Christians do not present their opinions as the Gospel. We are not God.

Refuse to get drawn into foolish arguments. When our daughter was growing up, we were convinced she was going to be a lawyer. No matter what the subject, she’d always take the opposing view. Now that she’s an adult (and about ready to graduate from medical school), she has put away—at least most of the time—her need to assert her independence by arguing with us about everything.

    Some people never outgrow the need to pick and win arguments. The apostle Paul counseled Timothy: “Don’t get involved in foolish arguments which only upset people and make them angry. God’s people must not be quarrelsome; they must be gentle, patient teachers of those who are wrong. Be humble when you are trying to teach those who are mixed up concerning the truth. For if you talk meekly and courteously to them they are more likely, with God’s help, to turn away from their wrong ideas and believe what is true” (2 Tim. 2:23-25).

Be careful, and prayerful, to build up rather than tear down. Sadly, we Christians have earned the reputation of “shooting our wounded.” At the very time when those who have fallen need grace and mercy, we all too frequently forget Jesus’ words: “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone” (John 8:7, NIV). Gordon MacDonald, a pastor who fell and has been restored and who now preaches the gospel of the “second chance,” said in a sermon, “We have come to love the subject of grace because along with repentance it changes lives and refuses to permit Satan the ultimate victory.”

Don’t compromise the truth, but also don’t force it on others. “Let your conversation be gracious as well as sensible,” Paul says in Colossians 4:6. Peter says that if anybody asks us why we believe as we do, we need to “be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Pet. 3:15).

     Often we Christians are viewed as attacking anyone and anything we do not agree with rather than calmly and clearly, graciously and sensibly, presenting biblical truth. We need to be respectful (1 Tim. 5:1), speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), and be winsome rather than obnoxious.

Always remember the need for love and compassion. God loved the world so much that he sent his Son, not “to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17, NIV). Jesus had compassion on the weary and heavy-laden, the sick and the poor, the outcast, and the sinner. We can do no less if we hope to show them how God has called us, and is calling them, out of the darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9).

RESPONDING TO GOD’S CALL TO WRITE

Read Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17:16-34. List below the needs he perceived his listeners had and how he addressed and sought to meet them.

I’ve always been a super-achiever, or at least I’ve tried to be.

I earned more badges as a Girl Scout than fit on the front of my sash that I proudly wore. But I failed at one thing I was expected to do every year. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sell those cookies! Eventually the frustration and shame I felt caused me to quit Girl Scouts.

Some people have the gift of being able to sell anything. They never lack for ideas and even have fun implementing them. I’m NOT one of them! But I’ve learned and am continuing to learn how to sell what I believe in.

Today being a good writer isn’t enough. Writers need to be equally good at marketing. Without that “platform” that causes most writers to cringe, landing a traditional publisher is likely not to happen. We can choose to go indie, but without a platform the sales record of far too many indie authors is dismal. Sadly, the message God has entrusted to them does not reach the audience that needs to read their book.

But there is hope!

Do you need proven methods to make your next book launch more successful? Then I want to tell you about a webinar I’m co-hosting with marketing guru, Thomas Umstattd Jr. In the webinar, you’ll learn proven principles and methods to help your next book launch go off with a bang. Then, at the end of the webinar, Thomas Umstattd Jr. and I will answer your book launch questions. 

Webinar Details

Topic: Book Launch Secrets

Hosted By: Marlene Bagnull and Thomas Umstattd Jr. 

When: Monday, March 28, 5 pm ET (4 CT, 3 MT, 2 PT)

Registration Link: Click here

Cost: Free!

Replay? Yes, but only if you register. 

I’ve known Thomas for many years and have been blessed to have him serve on the faculty of the Colorado Christian Writers Conference. Thomas has helped authors successfully launch books for over a decade. He hosts Novel Marketing, the longest-running book marketing podcast in the world.

I want to encourage you not to miss the March 28 seminar. If you can’t make it to the live seminar, you can watch the replay but, again, only if you register.

Father, thank You for Thomas. Thank You for gifting him to teach us the skills we need to effectively launch the books You have called us to write.

Book Launch Secrets with Thomas Umstaddt Jr.
March 28, 5 pm ET, 4 CT, 3 MT, 2 PT

And check out 
Book Launch Blueprint – 28 Days to a Custom Book Launch Plan.
Registration closes April 8 for this course that is offered only once a year.
Amanda Tero says, “My sales rose 542% after taking the course.”

If my high school graduating class had an award for “The Most Likely NOT to Succeed,” for many years I believed I would have received it. Sadly, my family reinforced that belief.

I felt God calling me to become a missionary, but my parents scoffed when I told them I wanted to go to college. “What makes you think you’re college material?” they said. They refused to provide any financial support.

Wheaton College, my first choice school, did not accept me, but I kept applying other places. Finally, a Bible college in Georgia accepted me.

I had been dating a sailor I met at the USO, but when I thought he was ready to “pop the question,” he broke up with me instead. I was heartbroken, but I clung to a tiny shred of hope. I told the Lord I would go to college unless he brought Paul back into my life. He did! Choosing to marry Paul 58 years ago was the best decision I’ve ever made except for my decision to follow Christ.

For many years the call to full-time Christian ministry was forgotten as I focused on raising three children. When I was asked to assume a leadership role in my church, I was stunned. Who, me? Didn’t they know I wasn’t qualified?

Even after I was regularly selling manuscripts to Christian periodicals and my first two books were published, I still struggled with feeling inferior and inadequate because I lacked a college education. I felt ashamed that I was just a high school graduate.

I never did go to college, but in the spring of 1999 my son graduated from college, my daughter graduated from medical school, and I received an honorary Litt.D. Even better than the Litt.D. was how the Lord had set me free years earlier from the shame I had carried far too long for not having a college degree. (That’s another story!)

I still need to be on guard against the evil one’s accusations that I’m not smart enough – that my failure to go to college limits what I’m able to do. But as someone once told me, “I’ve been homeschooled by the Father, and only special kids are homeschooled.”

On those days when I feel overwhelmed and vulnerable, Father brings to mind Scriptures like the one below.
Whose voice do you listen to?

Have you cut the tapes of hurtful things
people said about you in the past?

What Scriptures have you buried in your heart
that encourage you to not give up?

Click here if you missed my mini-zoom workshop last night on the blueprint for our writing found in Habakkuk 2:2. At 16 minutes I encountered glitches. But keep watching and listening. Father is able to use all things to teach us more about Him. I think you’ll be encouraged to press on when you encounter obstacles and need to reach out to others for help.

“We don’t know what to do,
but we are looking to you.”

2 Chronicles 20:12 TLB

It’s an understatement to say we are living in perilous days. True, America has not been invaded by an army as the people of Ukraine are facing. But no one can know what is coming next.

The very real prospect of a cyberattack that would create chaos certainly exists. Supply chain issues could threaten our food supply. (Experts have been warning of a worldwide famine.) Even more terrifying is the threat of a nuclear attack or disaster. (Why has Russia attacked and taken control of the largest nuclear reactor in all of Europe?)

And then there is the deep division in our nation. The anger spills over not just onto our streets but into our churches and families. People are anxious, frustrated, overwhelmed, fearful . . .

So, yes, echoing the words of King Jehoshaphat centuries ago, “We don’t know what do.” Hearing the news that a vast army was approaching, he asked the people of Judah to “go without food for a time, in penitence and intercession before God” (2 Chron. 20:3 TLB). They gathered before him at the temple in Jerusalem as he prayed, “We don’t know what to do, but we are looking to you” (v 12).

As Christians God has called and gifted to write,

  • will you be part of the army of writers God will use to bring our nation back to Him?
  • While we still can, will you use social media and blogs to point people to His answer?
  • Will you seek His anointing to incorporate biblical truth in what you are writing whether it be a novel, nonfiction book, article, personal experience story, devotional, poem, song?

The May 11-14 Colorado Christian Writers Conference is going virtual. Not only will you save the cost of travel and lodging, you will have three months after the conference to watch over 100 hours of videos. Our faculty of 60 agents, authors, editors, and other professionals will provide more than a college course in writing at a fraction of the cost.

Friends, I’m praying you won’t miss what I know will be a life-changing conference. And Father, in the midst of the turmoil in our world help us to do what Jehosophat did. Help us to look to You and to write Your answer.

Feeling Stuck

I’ve said it often, “Writing for the Lord isn’t easy!” Seriously, just because He has called you and given you a gift with words doesn’t mean your words will always flow quickly and easily. The same as other gifts (think athlete or woodworker, singer or actor) writing is a gift that needs to be developed and requires much practice.

The May 11-14 Colorado Christian Writers Conference offers labs and early bird workshops on Wednesday followed by three days of workshops and continuing sessions to help you grow your writing and marketing skills.

But CCWC doesn’t focus on just the practical, as important as that is. Through our six keynotes (including two by Liz Curtis Higgs) you can expect to be encouraged and inspired. And if you’re stuck, I highly recommend you invest five and a half hours with Ava Pennington in this continuing session that I know will be life-changing.


Your Writing Life
Dig Deep, Build High

Set a Solid Foundation and
Fan the Flames of Your Passion!

with Ava Pennington
Author, Bible Teacher
Writing Coach, Freelance Editor
www.AvaPennington.com
Ava has a heart for God’s Word and God’s people. She is passionate about encouraging writers to use their gifts for His glory. Ava began writing for publication after a 20+ year career as a corporate executive in NYC. As she transitioned to writing and teaching, she learned, first-hand, the importance of establishing a solid foundation as she pursued writing. Her publication credits include articles in numerous magazines as well as short stories in 30+ anthologies. Her one-year devotional, Daily Reflections on the Names of God, is being released by Revell Books this year in a gift book edition that includes content from the original devotional. For more information about Ava’s books, speaking, and writers’ services, visit her website.

The taller the building, the deeper the foundation. You may have just begun your writing journey. Or you may be multi-published, but you’re feeling stuck. Either way, what are you building on?

Learning the technical skills to write in our chosen genre is important. But we won’t finish well if we don’t have the foundation in place to fulfill God’s call on our life.

This continuing class will include:

* Nurturing your first love (or returning to it!) on a biblical foundation
* Finding God’s will for your writing
* Growing your writing prayer life
* Balancing “real” life with your writing life
* Guarding your heart against the enemy’s lies
* Overcoming obstacles and frustrations
* Persevering through dry times
* Time management vs. time stewardship
* Stepping out in faith to fulfill your calling
* Trusting God’s timing

Regardless of where you are in your writing journey, this class will serve as a mini-retreat for you to recharge, refocus, reconnect, and rejoice in what God is doing in and through you and your writing!
*~*~*

I’m praising God. All eight continuing sessions are now in place plus four learning labs on Wednesday, and four clinics. I’m still tweaking our 46 workshops. Be watching for more info coming soon.

Registration opens February 1. Plan to be among the first to register. You’ll save $50. And good news! There is no price increase from our 2019 conference for those who register through March 1.

"I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord.
"They are plans for good and not for evil,
to give you a future and a hope.
In those days when you pray, I will listen.
You will find me when you seek me,
if you look for me in earnest."
Jeremiah 29:11-13 TLB

Thank You, Father, for Your faithfulness. Last year wasn’t easy, but then You never promised us a problem-free life. What You have promised is always to be with us.


Last year was more than challenging for me and my husband. Yet despite scary health issues, the ministry of Write His Answer continued. Through going virtual (that was scary too!) the Greater Philly and Colorado Christian Writers Conference reached people who otherwise would not have been able to come. Thank You, Father, for the technology and for the team who made it work.

I confess there were days when I was tempted to give up – days when the evil one tried to convince me that I’m too old to keep on keeping on. The ongoing pandemic has made me fearful to begin planning to meet on the mountain for the May 11-14 Colorado Christian Writers Conference. (The August 4-6 Philly conference will be virtual.) The financial risk and workload is daunting. Yet now, more than ever, I know God is calling me to encourage and equip His people to “Write His Answer.”

And so, during last night’s House of Worship* with Marty and Jenny Goetz and Misha and her family, I again told the Lord, “Hineni, Here Am I.” I’m praying you will join me in saying “Hineni” in this new year. Click here for the link to the song.

Together, let’s trust Father’s promise in Jeremiah 29:11-13 and worship Him as Marty and Misha sing “The Plans I Have for You.” For the story behind the creation of this song click here.

*The House of Worship has been meeting since March 2020 most Tuesday’s and Friday’s at 8 pm EST on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
It’s been almost 40 years since the traumatic Christmas Eve I wrote about below. Thank You, Father, for bringing Your peace to these strained relationships and for the assurance that my mother and stepfather are now home with You. Please bring Your peace – Your shalom – to families in conflict. Restore estranged relationships and help us to love others as You love us.
~ * ~ * ~

How fast the year has flown, I reflected as I took the photographs off the mantle to decorate it for Christmas. A charred mark on the paneling behind one of the photos instantly reminded me of a Christmas when our home had been anything but peaceful.

My mother and stepfather were visiting. The relationship was strained, but we had been trying to keep the peace. On Christmas Eve the tension erupted into a bitter argument. The smell of burning wood stopped me from saying things I would have later regretted. A candle had tipped over on the mantle causing the paneling right near the thermostat to smolder. Trembling with fear of what might have been, I soaked the wall with water and later hid the damage with a photo. The damage in the relationship with my parents was not so easily hid.

Painful memories have a way of refusing to stay camouflaged. At Christmas we are forced to face the fact that all is not always “calm” and “bright” in our relationships with a brother or sister, a parent or child, an in-law or cousin. This season of joy can turn into one of misery as we have no choice but to spend time with people who go out of their way to avoid us the rest of the year.

When our homes are filled with conflict, what can we do to have “peace on earth, good will to men”?

1. Keep our eyes on the One whose birth we celebrate. The Gospel of John opens with the poignant words: “His life is the light that shines through the darkness–and the darkness can never extinguish it” (John l:5 TLB). The reality of that first Christmas was not just the angels’ song, but Herod’s decree that every baby boy two years old and under be slaughtered (see Matthew 2:16). The shadow of the cross was already hanging over the Holy Family as they fled to Egypt.

Jesus never promised us problem-free relationships, but He has promised to give us the wisdom to know how to love those who may be anything but lovable. Difficult relationships do not have to spoil the joy of Christmas if we follow Jesus’ example and respond with love and forgiveness.

2. Try not to put unrealistic demands on ourselves. Christmas Eve I typically am still racing to complete my “to-do” list. I end up too tired to enjoy Christmas much less to cope with difficult family members. We need to learn when to make a good night’s sleep a priority so that we’re able to handle added emotional pressures.

3. Avoid having unrealistic expectations of others. It is unlikely that people who have been less than pleasant throughout the year will suddenly become nice just because it is Christmas. Yes, I believe God works miracles, but it is just as great a miracle to learn not to set ourselves up to be hurt through our unrealistic expectations.

I cannot remove that charred area of paneling without replacing the entire wall, but it can serve as a reminder that if I want peace in my family, it must begin with me. Truly, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Cor. 5:19 NIV). Because Christ came, we can be reconciled to one another.
___________

The above article was first published in the December 1986 issue of Decision. It has been reprinted by Our Family, Messenger of St. Anthony, Christian Standard, Sunday Digest, Family Forum, The Gem, Live, and ASSISTnews.net.

We Thank You, O Lord

tg-bible

We Thank You, O Lord
To the tune “We Gather Together”

We thank You, O Lord, for Your mercy and blessings,
Your love that we never can merit or earn.
Our praises we’re bringing to You on this Thanksgiving.
We worship You, O Lord -, our hearts for You yearn.

We need You, O Lord, in our lives, in our nation.
Our land You will heal if Your people will pray.
If humbly we’ll seek You and turn away from evil,
There’s hope that our- nation will see brighter days.

And so, Lord, we give You our praise and thanksgiving,
Our worries and fears we surrender to You.
We choose to rejoice in Your promise, Your provision.
We will trust You, O Lord -, for Your Word is true.

 Marlene Bagnull