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)

Thursday, September 24, 2015

This fall, David C Cook is launching a new series for toddlers and preschoolers that combines word and song to help young children memorize scripture. The first book in the HeartSmart series, Let's Learn about the Lord's Prayer (September 1, 2015/ISBN: 9780781412698/$10.99) by bestselling author Catherine DeVries, not only introduces children to Bible memory, but teaches them about how to pray.
Q: Your new book, Let's Learn about the Lord's Prayer, is the first installment in the new HeartSmart series for children. Can you tell us a little bit about the series?
HeartSmart is a Scripture memory series designed to create opportunities for children to fill their hearts with God's Word. HeartSmart combines key scriptures with songs, giving parents a spiritual formation path for building a strong foundation of faith.
Q: Why did you decide to use the Lord's Prayer as the first passage of scripture in the series?
I was thinking about what Scripture is generally memorized by children - not just one verse but a complete thought. That led me to the Lord's Prayer. Not only is it the model Jesus gave us for how to pray, but it also invites us all to talk with God through prayer. God wants to have a relationship with us, and it is important to express that to children early in their faith development. The Lord's Prayer is often said around the dinner table, so I also wanted to equip parents and grandparents with a natural way to invite children to participate in this tradition at home. Many churches still say the Lord's Prayer during the service, maybe not every week, but at least a few times during the year. By knowing the Lord's Prayer, children are also invited to participate in community worship.
Q: Emma, the narrator of your story, could be compared to another little girl popular among pre-schoolers, Dora the Explorer. In what ways are they similar, and what makes Emma unique?
This part of the series is geared toward preschoolers, so I want to offer readers an opportunity to interact with the story and even to be part of the story. When I have observed children, including my own, watching Dora the Explorer, I love how engaged they are with her. They actually do talk to her through the screen and answer her questions. It's all part of their beautiful, creative imaginations at work. To them, talking to a screen is natural. My hope is that talking to a book also feels natural. Every time parents sit down with their child and this book, the reading experience will be slightly different, depending on the child's response to Emma's questions. This interactive nature of the text is true for all the board books in the series, and children will get to meet a different child in each book.
Q: Why did you choose to have Emma teach the Lord's Prayer to her toy bear, Blueberry, instead of Emma learning it herself?
Preschool children learn through play and, more specifically, play scripts. Have you ever heard a child speaking to her stuffed animals and dolls or to his dinosaurs and legos? These times are not only fun, but they are times when children process information. They "try on" various things they have heard and start to synthesize what they are learning. It seemed natural that Emma would involve her teddy bear and want to teach it something important to her. Again, fostering that emotional connection to the Lord through relationship is so important. That's why Emma says that Blueberry reminds her of another friend she has: Jesus.
Q: At the end of the book there is a code to download a song that accompanies the book. Please tell us more about the song.
This song is the exact wording of the Lord's Prayer that readers will see in the book. It is a custom song created by talented musicians and sung by a mother and young child. The music is simple to follow and is a beautiful expression of this prayer. If you go to the HeartSmart website at, you will be able to download the song that goes along with each book in the series. You'll also find updates about the series and what I've been up to as the author.
Q: How do songs help children learn scripture?
Songs engage the audio part of a child's brain. Rather than just hearing the words, children will remember them better when the words are put to song. As an example, whenever my children needed to learn a new phone number or new house address, I created a simple song to help them remember it. Then we could have fun practicing it together. Thinking back to my childhood, I still remember many Bible-based songs from church: "Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he!" "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine." "Jesus loves me, this I know." I could go on for a while! Not only do I still know these songs, but I also have a positive, emotional connection to them. I believe we want the same for our children.
Q: Why is it important for our spiritual life and communication with God to understand the Lord's Prayer?
We need to remember God wants to talk with us. He wants us to share what's going on in our lives with Him because He wants a relationship with us as His children, no matter what our age. The Lord's Prayer is structured in such a way to teach us to honor the Lord first, to thank Him for who He is. Once we have acknowledged that, we bring our requests to the Lord - providing for our needs and helping us steer clear from temptation. With thankful hearts, we once again honor the Lord by remembering He is all-powerful and we want to follow Him in all we do.
Q: In what ways have you emphasized prayer in your own home while raising your children?
We try to have meals together as much as possible. Before we eat, we take turns praying. One person prays for us all on that day. On Sundays, we always pray the Lord's Prayer together as a family. Brad and I have also encouraged our children to pray at night before bed. We started with, "Now I lay me, down to sleep," but then added on blessings to our friends and family members. When the kids were old enough, we invited them to talk to the Lord about the day. We also have a tradition of praying in the car before leaving on a big trip. We ask for the Lord's presence with us and that He will give us safe travels and protection. One other thing we do is pray whenever we see an ambulance or Life Alert helicopter. We live near a hospital, so this is a regular occurrence as we drive around town doing errands. I just love how my kids initiate it now when they see these visual reminders to pray for others.
Q: Do you think parents place enough emphasis on their children's spiritual formation?
I think parents aren't always sure where to begin or what to do. We can no longer assume parents have had a Christian upbringing in the church, have a good grasp of Scripture and the stories from the Bible or even feel comfortable praying. Yet we still get a strong sense they desire to give their child a spiritual foundation. The HeartSmart series is meant to come alongside parents or grandparents with encouragement and support. The beautiful thing about these types of books is the adults are learning right along with the children.
Q: We've all heard - and perhaps even chuckled - at the cute prayers of little children. Do you think God hears and answers their prayers?
I have learned so much about faith through the eyes of my children, as well as other children. Jesus talks about how strong the faith of a child is and how we all should seek that depth of faith (Isaiah 11:6; Matthew 19:4). Yes, I know in my heart that God hears every prayer. It is up to Him how He chooses to respond to prayers. He might not answer in the way we expect Him to, but we can rest in knowing He knows our heart, hears us and is with us every step of the way through life's journey. He wants what is best for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and we can trust in that.
Q: Did you read a lot with your parents when you were little? What do you remember about those moments?
My mother read to me, my older sister and younger brother. I remember "seeing" The Chronicles of Narnia unfold in my imagination and being on the Minnesota prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family on the frontier. It was a special time when we gathered together, pushed pause on life and got swept away to another place. The power of reading is amazing, and when we attach faith messages and learning to it, we are talking about a lifetime faith that begins to develop and grow in the lives of children,
Q: What upcoming releases in the HeartSmart series can readers look forward to?
We will have a book coming out every fall and spring for the foreseeable future:
  • Let's Learn about Psalm 23 (preschoolers have a playdate with Jackson at his grandparents' farm) will be out in spring 2016.
  • Let's Learn about the Armor of God (preschoolers have a playdate with twins Olivia and Jacob at the beach) follows in fall 2016
  • God's Blessings for Baby for new parents is scheduled for spring 2017.
  • The main HeartSmart Bible Storybook for children ages 4-8 will be coming out in the fall of 2017. It features all the characters from the board books, now a few years older, introducing each Bible story with a scenario from their own lives. They tell the story from their perspective, then join up with a parent, grandparent or mentor to tie it together with a memorable Scripture passage. There will be songs, too!
By the time the entire series is launched, we will have books and songs for parents of newborns and toddlers, preschoolers, all the way to children age 8.
For more information on the HeartSmart series, visit

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Elizabeth Ludwig

I was privileged to attend the 2015 American Christian Fiction Writer’s Conference recently in Dallas, Texas. This is an event that I’ve attended before. In fact, I’ve only missed a couple of conferences since I started writing for publication back in 2002. The math on this one is pretty simple…that’s fourteen conferences over a span of an equal number of years (give or take a year when life got in the way). 

On paper, the conference hasn’t changed much. The focus has always been directed toward teaching aspiring authors the craft of writing and inducting them in the intricate, and often treacherous, world of publishing. To accomplish this, the staff at ACFW do quite a remarkable job of scheduling informative workshops and speakers with a heart for authors. They also put together an impressive list of industry professionals—editors, agents, book reviewers, and media—for authors to meet and talk to about their respective writing projects. 

At one time, this was a very valuable experience. In 2002, as an unpublished, un-agented author with a dozen different writing projects and no clear sense of direction, what ACFW provided was instruction and guidance. Several years later, with thirteen book titles to my name, including a Carol Award Finalist, an ECPA bestseller/SELAH Award Finalist, and a Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Finalist, I have to admit that the conference no longer holds the same allure. In addition, I honored to say that I am represented by one of the most respected agents in the business. 

ACFW 2015: Beth Adams, Elizabeth Ludwig, Susan Downs
So what is the takeaway for an author in my position? Why would I bother spending the money to go to a conference that I’ve attended at least twelve times before? 

If I’m honest, I struggled to answer that question before arriving in Dallas. I justified the expense with some inane excuses that sounded good but held very little validity. And then, I looked over my schedule. Along with the appointments I remembered, I had signed up to serve as an appointment monitor.

For two hours!

Two hours of doing nothing more than standing outside a door and holding up my hand to signal when the time on a fifteen-minute appointment expired (insert whine here). Two hours of pacing in bored stupor while the workshop I really wanted to attend went on without me and other people went in to speak with people I hoped to meet but now would not be able to…or so I thought. 

What really happened was that I stood outside the door and chatted with a representative from RT Book Reviews for almost all of those two hours. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by a representative from Library Journal who asked about my books, my career, and eventually my publishing history. Please understand…I have never, ever had the chance to rub elbows with such prestigious industry professionals for such an extended length of time. With my very best efforts, I could not have coordinated such an opportunity! 

In addition, I renewed old contacts as I walked editors and agents to their seats, introduced them to their respective appointments, and volunteered my services as timekeeper, hostess, and overall gopher. 

That, my friends, is the takeaway from a conference such as ACFW. It’s not always about the scheduled appointments. Sometimes, it’s about the chance meetings that only God can orchestrate. It’s about the friendships that happen over coffee, and the kinship that comes with shared prayers in crowded hallways. Finally, it’s about stepping out in faith, without an organized agenda but with a heart for service—even if that heart started out whining, and ended up being incredibly and unbelievably blessed. 

Elizabeth Ludwig is the award-winning author of No Safe Harbor and Dark Road Home, books one and two in the popular EDGE OF FREEDOM series. Book three in the series, Tide and Tempest, was recently named a finalist for the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence. Elizabeth was also named a finalist in the 2015 Selah Awards for her novella “One Holy Night”, part of the bestselling anthology collection, Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine. She is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas. To learn more, visit

Thursday, September 17, 2015

by Beth K. Vogt 

Don’t read book reviews. 

I’ve heard variations of this statement ever since I published my first novel, Wish You Were Here, in 2012.
I don’t read my book reviews (said by other authors).
Don’t read your book reviews (said by my mentors).
What are you doing reading your book reviews? I told you to stay away from [insert name of Amazon/GoodReads/review site here] (said by my mentors when I confess that I’ve ignored what they said and read my reviews).
Why don’t you read your book reviews? I like to read reviews of my books. I always learn something from the negative reviews (said by other authors who have a stronger emotional stability than I do – or are just lying).

My honest take on the subject: Book reviews make me crazy.

There are two fundamental reasons why book reviews push my crazy buttons:

I can put too much credence in positive reviews. It’s a bit like actress Sally Field exclaiming, “And I can’t deny the fact that you like me … right now, you like me!” when she won an Oscar for Places in the Heart. We all want to be liked, and every author wants their books to be liked too. But being liked “right now” becomes being liked “then.” We can’t go through life holding our breath, waiting for the next positive review.

I can let negative reviews ruin my day. On a normal day – if you’re inclined to believe writers have normal days – I’m resilient enough to a) not read reviews and b) not let reviews be more than someone else’s opinion. But when I’m on deadline and the story is snarled and I’m doubting my abilities as a writer…well then, negative reviews are the equivalent of pouring myself a glass of battery acid and then chugging it.

Howard Books, 2015
I wander over to Amazon or to a blogger’s website or to Goodreads, and I let someone tell me what they think about my book. And yes, I take it personally instead of being a professional and remembering some people will like my book and some people won’t. That’s the biz.

I made this mistake as I lasered in on my most recent deadline. At the same time I was working toward pushing SEND, but I was also keeping track of my just-released novel, Crazy Little Thing Called Love. Checking its Amazon ranking. Sneaking peeks at reviews. When they were good, I was good. When they were not good, I tanked.

I had no business trolling online and counting stars, looking for the positive and getting hamstringed by the negative. But I did it anyway – I invited the crazy right in.

How did I show “crazy” the door and get back on solid ground?

1. I went for the fun. One of my mentors, best-selling author Rachel Hauck, reminded me to have fun with my story. To do this, I had to forget what other people were saying about my just-released novel. No checking Amazon. No reading reviews. I needed to focus solely on the story I was writing, remember why I loved it, and enjoy writing again. 

2. I put up a boundary. I am blessed to have a virtual assistant (VA), who truly does help my life run more smoothly. Now, when I get sent a link that a review is up on Novel Rocket or when someone tweets that they posted a review, I send that info to my VA so she can read it. If she wants to tweet a positive quote, so be it.

3. I remember the truth. Several weeks ago, I had a custom ring made for myself with a partial quote by Charles H. Spurgeon. It says: “He is the only ground of confidence.” Every day – sometimes minute by minute – I need to remember that God is my source of confidence and the only one who can tell me who I am.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love is the first novel in my destination wedding series. There’s also a fungiveaway celebrating release of Autumn Brides, a trio of novellas by authors Katie Ganshert, Kathryn Springer, and me.

Beth K. Vogt
Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author who said she’d never write fiction, the wife of an Air Force physician who said she’d never marry anyone in the military and a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “never.” A 2015 RITA® Finalist and a 2015 and 2014 Carol Award finalist, her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, and their youngest daughter. 

For more information about Beth, visit her website, become a fan on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

by Beth K. Vogt 

I’ve always thought of myself as a healthy person. These days, I think of myself as a “trying to get healthy” person. 

In the past year, there have been a few times when I’ve been talking and the words “chronically ill” or “chronic pain” have slipped past my lips. I’ve paused, wanting to correct myself. 

That can’t be me.

But I don’t correct myself. Like it or not – and I do not like it – I have battled illness and pain for the past five years. And, by definition, chronic illness or pain lasts three months or more. 

Okay, then. Who am I to argue with the National Institutes of Health (NIH)?

I’ve tried varied approaches to living 24/7 with this non-healthy version of me. 

• Don’t Talk About It - I mean, what’s the point? I don’t want to be one of those people who talks, talks, talks all the time about their illnesses. There is more to life than my struggle with back pain or my frozen shoulder. 

• Find the Humor in It – I had vertigo for several years, and thought of it as having my own personal roller coaster in my brain. I was diagnosed with a frozen shoulder almost a year ago and named my shoulder “Olaf,” because “some people are worth melting for.” Thank you, Disney. 

• Ignore It – This is similar to the whole “rub some dirt in it” approach to falling down and getting hurt or a coach’s “just walk it off” advice to an athlete. Why not ignore the way the room still tilts sometimes two years after my last “real” bout of vertigo. Ignore the sleepless nights. Ignore the back pain. Ignore the fact that a snarling, barking dog came running out into the street aiming right for me while I was on a walk, and that in my attempt to escape the little brute, I fell hard on my still-recovering frozen shoulder. Yeah, forget that. 

Despite this trio of coping mechanisms, what do you do when you become someone you don’t want to be? 

1. Some nights I crawl into bed and cry. I admit that I’m in pain. I admit I am beyond-tired of waking up in pain and going to bed in pain. Sometimes I cry loud enough for my husband to hear and sometimes I cry into my pillow. I just . . . let myself cry. 

2. I walk for several miles each day with a close friend. A lot of exercise becomes off limits when you have vertigo. Or back problems. Or a frozen shoulder. Or all three issues at the same time. But walking is always an option. Except when you fall, spread eagle, on your hair stylist’s floor and tear a ligament in your ankle. And yes, I did that too, but I got back to walking as soon as I could, because walking is good for me physically, emotionally, and spiritually. 

Howard Books, 2015
3. I maintain as normal a life as possible. To do that, I had to drop my stubborn “I will never have back surgery” stance and accept that surgery was my last and only option for pain-free walking. I had to lower my expectations of what I could do, but still look for good things every day. I joined Instagram and every day I look for “a little bit of pretty” to photograph while I am on my walks.

4. I know God hasn’t lost sight of me. God knows what is happening in my life. All of it. It’s not like He’s turned his back on me for a minute and all of this has happened … and in a moment He’ll turn around and say, “Ooops! Sorry about that. I lost track of you for a minute there, Beth.” No. Sickness cannot separate me from God. And so, I trust Him in all this. I don’t ask Him why. I ask Him how I am to live my life today … and tomorrow … and the next day.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love is the first novel in my destination wedding series. There’s also a fun giveaway celebrating release of Autumn Brides, a trio of novellas by authors Katie Ganshert, Kathryne Springer, and me.

Beth K. Vogt
Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author who said she’d never write fiction, the wife of an Air Force physician who said she’d never marry anyone in the military and a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. Vogt believes God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “never.” A 2015 RITA® Finalist and a 2015 and 2014 Carol Award finalist, her 2014 novel, Somebody Like You, was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of 2014. She lives in Colorado with her husband, Rob, and their youngest daughter. 

For more information about Beth, visit her website, become a fan on Facebook or follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

by Jennifer Slattery

Jennifer Slattery
I’m a planner, in writing and in life. I love to-do lists and those daily organizers broken down by the hour. Mine’s filled in, from 7am to 8pm, every day except Sunday.

Uncertainties and unexpected changes really throw me.

I think that’s the hardest part of writing—the uncertainty of it all. We write book-by-book, contract-by-contract, not knowing if each story is our last.

The other night, the uncertainty of this journey really bothered me, so I told God all about it. His response?

Surrender. Trust. Focus on what I’ve asked you to do now, do it with excellence, and leave your future to Me. 

As God’s words settled deep into my heart, peace flowed through me, stilling my plotting, planning thoughts. Reminding me I am not the one in control. I never have been. Plotting and planning might give me the illusion of control, but in truth, God is the one perfecting His plans for my life.

I first heard that truth at an ACFW conference. It was my first national conference, and I went into it pretty freaked out and insecure. I had no idea what to expect—there’s that need for control and predictability. Seems God’s been working on this weakness of mine for a while. Will I ever learn??

So anyway, here I was at this conference. I knew a lot of writers through ACFWs email loop, but in truth, I didn’t know anyone. And I had no idea what my weekend would look like, though I had a sense it would be emotionally exhausting. Stress and insecurity has a way of depleting one’s energy stores.

I think it was the first session, the opening night of the conference. Brandilyn Collins was the keynote. I don’t remember much of what she said, but I do remember the intense look in her eyes as she addressed the listening audience. “God will perfect that which concerns you,” she said.

When I got home, I looked that verse up. It comes from Psalm 138:8, and when I first heard it, I found it incredibly encouraging because it assured me God was always working on my behalf. In other words, it felt like assurance that His plans for me would come to pass. But as I consider this verse now, I’m stuck on the verb perfect. It reminds me of Hebrews 12:2, which says, “We do this [--this being running the race God has mapped out for us--] by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith” (NLT, insert mine).

This—thinking of Christ’s perfecting action as we pursue our calling—makes me think of James 1:2-4, which highlights the training we receive as God grows, equips, stretches, and perfects us.

Many times, that training is hard. Uncomfortable. Sometimes even incredibly painful. I’m not a huge fan of this perfecting process, but I am a fan of the results. Because of this, I’ll surrender my desire for control, following Christ in whatever direction He leads, knowing the One who loved me enough to die so I might live is the very One who’s calling me now to lay my life down—for Him and His glory.

What about you? Are you facing any uncertainties? Any chance God is using those uncertainties to train you? To perfect that which concerns you? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all encourage and learn from one another.

BIO: Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Visit with Jennifer online at and connect with her on Facebook at

New Hope Publishers, 2015
ABOUT THE BOOK: Abandoned by her husband for another woman, Tammy Kuhn, an organ procurement coordinator often finds herself in tense and bitter moments. After an altercation with a doctor, she is fighting to keep her job and her sanity when one late night she encounters her old flame Nick. She walks right into his moment of facing an unthinkable tragedy. Because they both have learned to find eternal purposes in every event and encounter, it doesn’t take long to discover that their lives are intertwined but the ICU is no place for romance….or is it? Could this be where life begins again?





Tuesday, September 8, 2015

by Jennifer Slattery

I’ve become quite accustomed to the writer’s lifestyle. I spend most of my time behind my computer, diving into a world of my own making. So, learning to lead—actual people—has become a challenge for me this year, in part because, well, I have a lot to learn about interpersonal skills.

Like sometimes you need to buffer conversations with chocolate and heavily flavored coffee. And people don’t always behave the way my fictional characters do, which is normal, and actually, beautiful. But sometimes it takes a bit of adapting to see the beauty. And most times, it takes a bit of tongue biting as well, because I’m learning my initial interpretations, and thus, reactions, are often wrong.

That’s been my greatest challenge this year—overcoming my ever-yapping mouth. And my desire to be right. And in control. And to know what’s coming next, whether that be in ministry or in conversations, because, well, I’m a plotter. That means, before I write scene one, I’ve pretty much got my entire novel planned out.

Wouldn’t it be nice if life worked that way? Then again, such interactions would greatly impede my growth. I suppose God knew that, which is why He’s placed me in numerous situations this year that have made me a wee bit uncomfortable. And uncertain. And relying heavily on Him.

So maybe that’s what I’ve most had to overcome—my almost innate desire for self-reliance. It seems just when I reach full surrender, something unexpected arises, and I long to sit back in plotting mode, working characters and scenes back into order.

But again, life doesn’t work that way. And I’m learning to appreciate that. To view all these unexpected situations, interactions, and diverse personalities through a glorious, grace-filled lens.

Although I think I still have a ways to go, which is why I’m so incredibly grateful that every ounce of grace God is encouraging me to give out is being equally lavished back on me.

Jennifer Slattery writes soul-stirring fiction for New Hope Publishers, a publishing house passionate about bringing God’s healing grace and truth to the hopeless. She also writes for, Internet Café Devotions, and the group blog, Faith-filled Friends. When not writing, Jennifer loves going on mall dates with her adult daughter and coffee dates with her hilariously fun husband.

Visit with Jennifer online at and connect with her on Facebook at

New Hope Publishers, 2015
Intertwined, part of New Hope Publisher’s contemporary fiction line, is a great reminder of how God can turn our greatest tragedies and failures into beautiful acts of love and grace. Readers will fall in love with the realistic characters and enjoy the combination of depth, heart-felt emotion and humor that makes Jennifer’s novels so appealing. Readers will be inspired to find God in every moment and encounter in their own lives! 

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