Sunday, October 25, 2015

12 Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. 13 Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, 14 I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

 Carrying on from last time, and the idea of being released from a performance mindset ... the next part of this well-known passage in Philippians seems at first glance to be all about performance, but really ... it’s the opposite.

Because we’re told here not to consider what we’ve already done. Not the failures, not even the successes. Because regardless, until we’re finished here, we aren’t finished.

We are all works in progress, regardless of who we are, and what we’ve done.

You know that verse about Elijah having a nature like ours? Well, the reading at church a couple of weeks ago was the passage of him running off to hide from Jezebel right after the victory on Mount Carmel ... and I was struck by Elijah’s words, “I am not better than my fathers.”

Right after this amazing event where God Himself answered Elijah’s prayers with fire from heaven.

Fire, y’all. So hot it burned up not only the sacrifice but the water and dust and very stones.

And Elijah’s response to being hunted by a pagan queen? I am not better than my fathers.

I remembered the night after taking my mom back to the hospital in September, feeling like such a failure for not being able to keep taking care of her at home, feeling indeed like every endeavor I’ve set my hand to in the course of my life has either been unfinished or just ... fizzled. Weeping before the Lord because in nearly half a century on this earth, I’d wanted more. I’d expected more, not of life but of myself.

Was so tired of handing God only messes and half-finished projects.

I am not better than my fathers.

Elijah really was just like us.

For all the times I’ve seen fire fall from heaven, seen God work out details and do, oh, amazing things ... I am disappointed to learn I’m still the same fallen flesh and blood as my parents and grandparents. The ones who wanted to follow God but somehow never accomplished what they wanted to for Him. The ones who abused or neglected those in their care. The ones who let their impulses and sin rule them.

And yet ... I cannot cling to the past. Yes, I can look back and see where I’ve come from, see what God has done for me and how unworthy I am of His grace, but I have to turn and keep walking.

Keep running.

Don’t look back. Don’t be distracted by who I think might be gaining on me. Don’t wish this part of the path was like the one before.

What’s that SEAL motto? “The only easy day was yesterday”?

Keep pressing on!

15 Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal even this to you. 16 Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. (Philippians 3, NKJV)

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Lynne Gentry
Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications and is a professional acting coach, theater director and playwright with several full-length musicals and a Chicago children’s theater curriculum to her credit. She likes to write stories that launch modern women into ancient adventures, such as The Carthage Chronicles series (Healer of Carthage, Return to Exile and Valley of Decision). Gentry is also an inspirational speaker and dramatic performer who loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog. 

If you felt the Holy Spirit urging you to quit writing, would you do it? 

I confess that I regularly fight the urge to quit writing. These desires usually intensify whenever life becomes overwhelming. After much prayer, I’ve decided these urgings are not from the Holy Spirit. I feel my writing abilities are God-given gifts. The interruptions and distractions are not from the Lord. Therefore, my challenge is to push aside those urges to quit and to keep on writing. Only through prayer will I be victorious. 

When working on a manuscript, what do you do when you get stuck? 

I write by the seat of my pants. While this approach allows me a great deal of freedom, I can also write myself into some very tight corners. The best thing for me to do when I’m stuck is to READ. I have my go-to books (favorite novels) on a nearby shelf. Actually, I keep stacks of books everywhere. All I have to do is flip one open and start reading. A few minutes of reading time fires options in my head. 

Do you ever read your dialog aloud to see how it sounds? 

Absolutely. Since I’m stage-trained, for me it is often in the hearing of the words that I can detect breaks in thoughts or weaknesses in the dialogue. Do I read in front of anyone? Only my dear, sweet critique group. 

What aspect of being a writer is the most challenging for you? Why is this difficult, and what steps have you taken to overcome this hurdle? 

Writing is a solitary sport. For this extrovert sitting chained to a computer for days at a time can be sheer torture. I knew I was in trouble when my imaginary characters started to become my best friends. I was going to lose it if I didn’t out of the house more. I set up more speaking engagements. I volunteer at our church. I rescued a dog from the shelter and trained him as a medical therapy dog. The time Roman and I spend working the hospitals is a great way for me to get my “people fix.”

Do you read your reviews? Have you ever replied to one? Do you find they influence your writing when you work on subsequent books? 

I don’t handle rejection well. This meme sums it up for me:

So I find it strange that I love to read my reviews. After the initial sting of a bad review, I consider what was said. If I feel the reader has made a valid point, I make an effort to correct that in my next work. However, I’ve also been known to flip over to the negative reviews of some bestsellers just to encourage myself. 

Does your best writing flow? Or are you most satisfied with the work that you’ve labored over, sweating and groaning? 

My best story lines just flow, but I’m more satisfied with the writing when each word has been carefully chosen.

Do you prefer writing the initial draft, or do you enjoy the revision process more? Do you revise as you write, or do you first produce a big mess that you later have to fix? If your first draft is rough, do you usually have to cut out a lot of dead wood, or add flesh to the bare bones? 

I’ve learned a lot at the feet of some fantastic editors. I like both parts of the process, drafting and editing. Since I revise as I write, my first draft is not usually a mess. There are holes and timeline issues, but those are easily fixed.

To keep up with Lynne Gentry, visit, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry) and Pinterest (lynnegentry7). And don't forget to check out her latest book, Valley of Decision!

The Carthage Chronicles, Book #3: Thirteen years ago, Lisbeth made an impossible decision—leave third-century Carthage and her husband Cyprian behind for good. She knew it was to protect her daughter Maggie, so Lisbeth gathered the strength to move on with her life. 

All these years, Lisbeth has thrown herself into her work and raising her headstrong daughter, all to live up to the promise she made to Cyprian. But Maggie is sick of being protected. In an act of teenage rebellion Maggie decides to do what her mother can’t—secretly returning to the third century on a quest to bring her father back, leaving Lisbeth no choice but to follow. 

With Maggie’s surprise arrival in Carthage, chaos ensues. She finds her grandmother on trial for murder and attempts to save her, but instead the diversion sparks a riot that nearly destroys the plagued city. Only one thing will appease the wrath of the new proconsul of Carthage: the death of the instigator. 

Will Lisbeth arrive in time to save her daughter from the clutches of Rome? How can God possibly redeem such a slew of unwise decisions and deep regrets? Filled with heart-wrenching twists and riveting action, Valley of Decision brings the romantic adventure epic, The Carthage Chronicles, to an electrifying conclusion. BUY HERE.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

by Lynne Gentry

I held my breath as my toddler grandson wavered between the couch and the coffee table. One of his chubby hands clutched the supple leather while the other reached for the toy on the table. He stretched as far as he could, but the distance was too great. He tried again and failed. Eventually he sighed and returned both hands to the couch, but he kept looking over his shoulder at the table. To get where he wanted to go he’d have to let go, but he was too afraid to let go. 

In many ways, I’m like my grandson. I cling to what I know with all my might…all the while longing for something just out of reach. In my case, I longed for freedom. Freedom from the ugly regret gnawing at my insides. 

I don’t think anyone makes it through this life without wishing they could have a do-over, a chance to go back in time and tell their younger, immature self to make a different decision. Counselors say regrets are usually exacerbated by times of severe loss or unexpected life changes. 

A very abrupt and disappointing life change left me wide open for a whole range of feelings, but the one that surprised me most was regret. Even more surprising was regret’s ability to cripple me. Unhappy as I was in my old life, I was determined to hang on to what I knew. I was afraid to let go.

Then a very unexpected thing happened. The opportunity to sell our house and move closer to our children became a real possibility. I’d always wanted to live close enough to be involved in my grandchildren’s lives, but to make the move, I had to let go. 

Let go of the neighborhood I knew. The friends I knew. Even the dream I’d had for our life in that place.

I wavered between what I had and what I wanted.

In the end, we put our house on the market and it sold in 24 hours.

Now I had to let go.

And when I did, it was freedom like I’d never experienced before.

Holding out my empty hands, the Lord replaced my regret with joy, peace, and hope.

The other day I re-read the last page of The Carthage Chronicles series (Valley of Decision). Throughout this story Dr. Lisbeth Hastings has been dealing with regret. In the end, she makes the stunning discovery that every decision she’d ever made was like a thread in her life. The good decisions were the light, vibrant colors. The bad decisions were dark shadows. When she stood back and looked at the whole picture, that’s when she knew there would have been no depth in the picture of her life without the bad decisions. She didn’t want to pull a single thread. 

And neither do I.

Overcoming regret can only be done by letting go of the past and grabbing the future.

What do you need to let go?

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13

Lynne Gentry
Lynne Gentry has written for numerous publications and is a professional acting coach, theater director and playwright with several full-length musicals and a Chicago children’s theater curriculum to her credit. She likes to write stories that launch modern women into ancient adventures, such as The Carthage Chronicles series (Healer of Carthage, Return to Exile and Valley of Decision). Gentry is also an inspirational speaker and dramatic performer who loves spending time with her family and medical therapy dog. 

To keep up with Lynne, visit, become a fan on Facebook (Author-Lynne-Gentry) or follow her on Twitter (@Lynne_Gentry) and Pinterest (lynnegentry7).

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The king receives the news: “Your enemies are coming. There’s a huge army amassed and it’s on its way.”

He knew they didn’t have the military strength to defend their nation. Nor did he have time to summon their allies.

So what did he do? He hit his knees—then called for the entire nation to fast and pray with him.

“O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God ...  10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir ...12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

The whole nation gathered there, before the Lord at His temple, to show their desperation for God’s intervention.

The word they received was surprising. Don’t be afraid! This battle isn’t yours to fight. Go down to meet the invaders tomorrow—here’s where they’re sure to cross. You’ll find them at a particular place, but when you get there, just stand and watch God work.

Well, huh. Would that be the advice you’d expect God to give? I’m sure the king expected something more like, “Gather your best warriors and ...” Or did he think of the long-ago story of Gideon, who defeated an army with the noise and light from shofars and torches, and hope deep in his heart for a similar intervention?

Whatever it was, the king took it a step further—and not only did he order the army to march down to the appointed location, but he set the best of their musicians and singers to the front, and instructed them to “sing to the Lord,” while others were to praise “the beauty of holiness.”

Early the next morning they went.

And then what happened?

22 Now when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushes against the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; and they were defeated. 23 For the people of Ammon and Moab stood up against the inhabitants of Mount Seir to utterly kill and destroy them. And when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they helped to destroy one another.
24 So when Judah came to a place overlooking the wilderness, they looked toward the multitude; and there were their dead bodies, fallen on the earth. No one had escaped.

Could it be that worship was what triggered God’s power in this situation? Or at least that God wanted to make a point about the importance of praising Him?

In our own lives, events can blindside us and leave us feeling completely helpless. It seems a no-brainer that our reaction should be to go to God ... but turning our desperation into praise can feel completely alien. Yet almost without fail, every Psalm that begins with crying out to God ends with an expression of trust and worship.

We talk of God being worthy of praise, but it’s true—no one else is more worthy than He. Only He is God ... only He is holy and good, only He is all knowing and all powerful and all loving. Perhaps it’s more that focusing on who He is frees our hearts and minds from the grip of whatever struggle we’re engaged in, than enabling God to work. Whatever, praise is a powerful tool in those situations where we feel most trapped.

God may not deliver us the way He did Jehoshaphat, that king of old—or Gideon—but we never know. He just might.
26 And on the fourth day they assembled in the Valley of Berachah, for there they blessed the Lord; therefore the name of that place was called The Valley of Berachah until this day. 27 Then they returned, every man of Judah and Jerusalem, with Jehoshaphat in front of them, to go back to Jerusalem with joy, for the Lord had made them rejoice over their enemies. 28 So they came to Jerusalem, with stringed instruments and harps and trumpets, to the house of the Lord. 29 And the fear of God was on all the kingdoms of those countries when they heard that the Lord had fought against the enemies of Israel. 30 Then the realm of Jehoshaphat was quiet, for his God gave him rest all around. (2 Chronicles 20, NKJV)
(First appeared 5/26/13)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

M.K. Gilroy
Mark Gilroy has had a long, varied, and successful career in publishing, from his first paid creative assignment as a newspaper sports writer while in college, to serving as head of gift, specialty, and backlist publishing for Thomas Nelson, the world’s largest Christian publisher. Throughout his journey in the world of books he has worked with leading authors such as Max Lucado, Sarah Young, John Maxwell, Darlene Zschech, H. Jackson Brown, Donald Miller, Billy Graham, Newt Gingrich, Beth Moore, George Foreman, and many others. 

Gilroy and his wife Amy reside in Brentwood, Tennessee. Their six children are Lindsey, Merrick, Ashley, Caroline, Bo, and Zachary—the youngest has now headed off for college, so he and Amy are officially empty nesters. 

1) How long were you writing before your first publication? How many manuscripts had you written by that time? Have you published any of your early works since? Do you plan to? 

My start in writing fiction is quite a bit different than many authors. I had already published hundreds of articles and numerous books as a publisher and freelance writer. I got my start as a sports writer for a local newspaper while I was a junior in college. I’ve done many nonfiction books without my name on it. For example, the devotional, A Daybook of Grace, has been in Barnes & Noble for five years.

I think I enjoyed writing in the background and helping build projects. I think that’s what made me nervous about writing novels with my name on the cover. I couldn’t hide from the review process! 

2) Are you a morning person? A night owl? How do you arrange your schedule to allow the most efficient, productive time for writing? 

I’ve always been a morning person and used to be a night owl with about five-hours of sleep per night for most of my adult life. I thought you were supposed to need less sleep as you get older! Now I’m sleeping seven hours. I get up early, about six, to get a couple hours of writing in, before the phone starts ringing and emails start stacking up! 

3) When working on a manuscript, what do you do when you get stuck? 

Sometimes I promise myself a reward if I get a certain amount of writing done. That helps. Other times I head for the Y to workout or take a long bike ride. Occasionally, I just get away from the computer keyboard and write longhand – that always seems to help. 

4) Do you ever read your dialog aloud to see how it sounds? Have you ever performed an action you want one of your characters to carry out in order to help you visualize or describe it? Have you ever embarrassed yourself doing this? 

Dialog, I definitely speak out loud to test how it sounds. 

On action, I’ve been told my fight scenes are very realistic. That probably comes from having wrestled and putting on some boxing gloves with friends when I was a teen. I don’t get up and act the scenes out but I do visualize the mechanics and physics of Kristen Conner’s fight scenes very carefully. 

5) What aspect of being a writer is the most challenging for you? Why is this difficult, and what steps have you taken to overcome this hurdle? 

I’m probably typical in telling people I absolutely love to write – especially when I’m done! But two specific things that come up for me is first, my ideas come faster than my fingers type. If I don’t finish a scene, I don’t necessarily remember the idea as well later! Second, I have an uncanny ability to mess up the timetable on my storyline. My solution was to set up a Google calendar for each book to map scenes and events. 

August, 2015
6) Do you read your reviews? Have you ever replied to one? Do you find they influence your writing when you work on subsequent books? 

I read all my reader and professional reviews. I reply to all of them – but it’s always with a simple “thank you.”

Do they influence me? I’ve been blessed to get a ton of great reviews. I just looked at Amazon and Good Reads the other day and I have 135 five-stars and 77 four-stars on Cuts Like a Knife, my first book, alone. So my response to positive reviews is obviously encouragement. I do try to be very open minded to negative reviews. Sometimes I get some helps, other times it is just a matter of my genre or style not connecting with what a reader likes. My character is a wise-cracking introspective – not everyone’s cup of tea. In those cases, I don’t get upset, but realize I have a well-liked character that other people are waiting for. I buy into the philosophy that you can’t please everybody and shouldn’t try. That’s why the world of publishing is so huge. 

7) If you’re a plotter, have you ever tried pantsing it? If you’re a pantser, have you ever given plotting a try? Can you swing both ways, or are you a confirmed devotee of one of these methods? 

I plot two things – the basic murder and motivation for the murder is first. Second is a twist to keep readers guessing and really surprise them. Everything else is seat-of-the-pants. I just let her personality interact with the world around her! 

There are a few reoccurring elements that I know I will add to the story – Kristen Conner coaches her niece’s soccer team and is a workout warrior, she usually has a fight or two with her sister, and there is her love interest, so I know there will be certain kinds of scenes that will show up in the final product. 

8) Does your best writing flow? Or are you most satisfied with the work that you’ve labored over, sweating and groaning? 

I think overall my best writing flows. But then I have to edit and make sure elements of the story agree throughout the entire book. That is when I labor, sweat, and groan. Writing is “funner” than editing! But both are required. I have slowed down on writing the first draft somewhat so that the editing isn’t labor-by-design! My first three novels are all 100 thousand words and 400 pages – so anything I can do to keep from unnecessary editing is smart on my part. 

To learn more about Mark, visit him at:
Facebook: www.facebook/markgilroy
Twitter: @markgilroy

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh.

My mind often snags on the most insignificant details. In a passage discussing the surpassing value of knowing Christ in comparison to earthly accomplishments, the opening sentence leaves me puzzled. The words “evil workers” is clear enough, but what did Paul mean by dogs and the mutilation? I have to remind myself I’m writing a devotional and not a commentary.

Because the wider theme of this passage is too important to ignore, or to let myself sidetrack away from. Those of us who have been blessed (or not) with earthly status or talent, who might have even modestly impressive accomplishments stacked on our shelves, can find it hard to remember that true success in this life doesn’t depend upon who we are, or what we do. And a performance-based sense of worth is an insidious thing, creeping in and taking root even when we think we’re on guard against it

Certain things are valuable in life, true. Our family forms our most basic starting place in life, education gives us knowledge and skills to build upon that. Our life experience forms the tapestry woven between everything else, providing color and texture and substance. But ... is that the sum total of our worth? Who we are?

If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish ...

No, Paul tells us. He had quite the list of things he could have taken pride in, but he chose to let God strip those away—“indeed I ... count them as rubbish”—that they were nothing more than trash in comparison to Christ’s righteousness and the path God laid out for him.

What does this mean for us? We like talking about knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection ... but the fellowship of His sufferings and being conformed to His death? Not so much. Yet it’s an inescapable fact that the path of glory lies through hardship and, yes, even suffering.

And people can tell you that you’re doing a great job, that you have so much to your credit, but does any of that last? We’ll all someday come to the end our lives, and not one thing that we are, or have done, will keep us from facing the aging process or death in some form. All that prevails, all that will endure, is who we are in Jesus.

... that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; 10 that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3, NKJV)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

These last few months I’ve been immersed in full-time care of my mother. The first weeks were spent trying to establish a routine, figuring out her medicines and meals and what I could do to help her regain as much strength as possible. In the meantime, this passage of Philippians rattled around in my head, as I puzzled over the mention of a man who went to such lengths to aid Paul in his ministry that he endangered his own health.

I mean, who does that? And how on earth is it honoring to God to run ourselves into the ground while caring for others?

... as I battled first a three-day viral sore throat, and then later discovered I’d developed a bladder infection. But I pressed on through all the not-feeling-great, because my mother’s needs were more pressing, more immediate than mine.

Lord, this is not the way I want you to show me what this passage is about.

I’d already been thinking about Paul’s term likeminded and how he applies it, not to sameness of personal conviction, but sameness of care, of love.

Though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. (1 Corinthians 13)

Do we catch that? Likemindedness is not about mode of dress or style of music or how we choose to educate our children! It’s about how well we love. And Paul said he had no one like Timothy who genuinely cared about a particular group of people as he did.

Now, weeks after the heart attack and small strokes that made it necessary to find my mother rehab care, I’m still puzzling over it. We had some very tender moments—but then we had just as many that were decidedly NOT tender.

In fact, there were more tough moments than not.

I think again of Paul and the bigness of feeling that he must have held for the people to whom he was writing these words ... and then it occurs to me ... it isn’t about the feeling. It’s about the actions.

We hear that, all our lives, how love is not a feeling but an act of the will. And for the first time, I understand.

I served my Mom, tended her, put up with the difficulties, because ... it was the right thing to do. I love her, despite the frustrations and tears and having to watch the woman I knew and admired slowly fade. More importantly, I love God, and I was committed to doing what was necessary to honor her and thus Him. Though I know our commitment to God takes many forms, and the exact path looks different for all of us, I found it keenly ironic that I had no words for this particular section of Philippians until I walked through it on my own.

Funny how God's Word--and life--is often like that.

19 But I trust in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you shortly, that I also may be encouraged when I know your state. 20 For I have no one like-minded, who will sincerely care for your state. 21 For all seek their own, not the things which are of Christ Jesus. 22 But you know his proven character, that as a son with his father he served with me in the gospel. 23 Therefore I hope to send him at once, as soon as I see how it goes with me. 24 But I trust in the Lord that I myself shall also come shortly.

25 Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick. 27 For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. 28 Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. 29 Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; 30 because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life, to supply what was lacking in your service toward me. (Philippians 2:19-30, NKJV)

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