Category: Authentic Faith

Holding and Writing What Gives You Life

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If only we could get away for a while to some quiet, sacred place and find rest, renewal, and transformation. Surely, then, our writing, as well as our lives, could be revolutionized.

But our lives are so daily. Made up of moments piled on moments, experiences both planned and unexpected. Perhaps, though, your daily routine includes habits that you don’t even view as being a “spiritual exercises” but that are gradually giving you the perspective you crave. That was the case for me.

To speak or write effectively to others, in a way that reaches hearts as well as minds, we must speak and write from our hearts. But first we must get in touch with our own hearts. I’m going to share with you a way I found to do that.

Jesus said “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” If you want the words that flow out of your mouth or pen to be purposeful, meaningful, life-giving … then first tend to your  heart. How do we as writers tend to our hearts? In his book, Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together, Ed Cyzewski describes his practice of daily self-reflection that “grew into an essential exercise that also revolutionized my writing.”

I have experienced something similar. A few years ago I felt overwhelmed and pulled in various directions by duties, desires, and demands, and I felt a need for focus and clarity, an unbroken sense of the Lord’s presence, and a new release of creativity. At bedtime I began the practice of thinking over my day, and I focused my mind on the best thing that happened that day: the time during that day when I felt the most joy and life. I saw those moments as gifts and drifted to sleep embracing the gift God had given me that day:

  • a child’s laughter
  • sunlight dancing on a pond
  • flowers blooming in my garden
  • a surprise visit from a friend
  • the way the Lord spoke to me in a scripture and came close to me in prayer
  • the way the phrases, rhythms, and rhymes of a poem came together.

These moments I treasured in my heart; they gave me hope and a sense of anticipation for the next day, to see what the next day’s moments would bring.

Then I found a charming little book by Linn and Linn, Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life, and I learned that what I was doing was a type of Christian spirituality taught by the Ignatians, called “the Examen.” You reflect prayerfully back on a day (or a week, a year) and ask, “What today gave me consolation and life?” You also may ask, “What took life from me, gave me a feeling of desolation?”

It is good for the soul to embrace and hold to the life-giving, consoling moments of our days. And over time, we can observe patterns and learn what we really should focus our energies on, because God indeed speaks to us through the experiences of our days; He wants us to experience His life and joy and consolation in a way that will flow out of us to others. By practicing the Examen you may even discover your unique gifts and calling.

As a Christian writer, this practice and the resulting insights indeed could revolutionize your writing. Rather than laboring to write something you think you ought to write, or that others seem to expect, write the form, subject, theme, and style that engages and expresses your heart as well as your mind, that fills you with consolation, hope, joy, help, and fulfillment. And most likely what you write will do the same for your readers.

(This post was first published two years ago.)

Importance of Readers/Reviews/Endorsements

Book reviewers and advance readers are one important element in the publishing process. It’s hard for the author and the editors to be objective about the book they’ve been immersed in for months, maybe years. Enter readers and reviewers who usually have little or no personal stake or emotional involvement in the book. We hope they are people who appreciate good literature, who want to share God-glorifying stories with their friends, who recognize authenticity in narrative that “rings true” and offers help and hope.

We are thankful for the advance readers who, in the midst of their busy schedules, have read a pre-publication copy of On Kitten Creek: Searching for the Sacred by Nancy Swihart and have sent us these endorsement/ reviews:

Ken Canfield PhD., Founder National Center for Fathering; President, National Association for Grandparenting says:

“Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek is an uplifting and thoughtful read. It’s a fresh reminder that we are each living an adventure. At times our adventurous lives, the meaning of certain events, relationships and living spaces are obscure; however when we take time and reflect, as Nancy has done, the richness in living bursts forth in her narrative like a warm sun. Reading On Kitten Creek will minister to your spirit and move you to give thanks for life’s simple gifts. I particularly enjoy the way Nancy inserts her breath of literature, practical wisdom and spiritual insights in each chapter. Her concluding and short review of the “markers” of life’s adventures is worth the price of the book alone. I know you will enjoy On Kitten Creek and hopefully it will cause you to reflect deeply about your life, as it has prompted me.”

Steven Garber, Principal of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; author of Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good says:

“’Lots of love, lots of tears, lots of growing.’ I could write on and on about the unusual richness of Nancy Swihart’s On Kitten Creek, but those few words of hers capture the life she has lived “in search of the sacred.” Always hospitable, always inviting, she is also artful and poetic, writing about her family’s life on a small farm in the Flint Hills of Kansas—the hours and days of hard work, the surprising commitment to a common life among neighbors, the celebrations and heartaches over the years. She graces us with eyes to see all of this as born of a longing for God to be present in her life and world. A quiet read for a quiet day or to be read aloud among friends, its gift is to draw us into the truest truths of the universe, sure that we have been looking over-the-shoulder and through-the-heart of someone with much to teach every one of us.”

Kay Bascom, Author, Teacher, Missionary, and Conference Speaker says:

“Strangers driving past the big red barn and outbuildings on Kitten Creek’s gravel road could never guess the magnitude of what has happened on that property in the last thirty years! The open hearts and hands there on the farm have enabled countless revolving college students and community friends to bond, build, create, study, experiment, grow, enjoy, laugh, serve, and fan out over the world, blessed. Let Nancy give you glimpses of His handiwork among us. Be inspired to look for sacred connections and creative opportunities waiting to surprise you within what may seem mundane in your own life.”

Thank you, Ken, Steven, and Kay!

May we all experience “God’s kingdom come”—more and more—on earth, and His will being done (in our lives and influence) as it is in Heaven. And may many readers be blessed by this book you have been willing to endorse with your good name.


Top photo credits: Can Stock Photo / ©Aaronam, ©monkeybusiness

Free Pastor Andrew Brunson

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Have you seen this picture on social media? Pastor Andrew’s story has been published in Christianity Today, The Washington Times, broadcast on ABC News, etc. Pastor Andrew Brunson has been wrongly imprisoned in Turkey, accused of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” His family says he’s being persecuted for his Christian belief. The North Carolina man has given 23 years to Christian missionary work in Turkey—building churches and spreading the gospel.

It’s easy to scroll past such stories when we see them online. We become inured to them. But this man’s story got close to home for me when I realized his connection to Cladach Publishing.

Pastor Andrew’s mother, Pamela Brunson is the missionary (with World Witness) who first sent me the manuscript for Paper Poppies: A Memoir, which Cladach published in 2005. At the time, Pamela was serving in Russia and became acquainted with the author, Marianna Vekhova, a Russian Christian working with street children in Moscow, who has her own harrowing story as a suffering, spiritually-hungry orphan in atheistic Russia during WWII.

Pamela distributed Marianna Vekhova’s Russian memoir, Paper Poppies during her speaking engagements while on missionary furlough in the U.S. The last I heard, Pamela and her husband were transferring to ministry in Turkey. Recently I learned that their son, Andrew, is the missionary imprisoned in Turkey.

Please pray for Andrew’s release, and consider signing the petition asking the U.S. President to speak to the Turkish president and request that he order the release of this falsely accused and imprisoned man. The petition has been launched by the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination of which Andrew is a member.

On February 6 Pamela shared in a public post on Facebook:

We tend to expect God will bless and protect us. When something bad happens, say a child dies of cancer, we feel confused and disappointed in God. We rethink our concept of Him. Job 1-7, David in Psalms 1-40 and Jeremiah all struggled with this.

While some have faced the same trials as Andrew rejoicing, Andrew has been sifted as wheat by Satan: inability to sleep, terrible nightmares, considered by cellmates as an ‘unclean’ Christian, shock, fear of the future, immobility of confined spaces, feeling abandoned by God, weakness and without books or other input, confused. We just received a letter written on 11th January where he wrote:

“Even if You leave me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t help me, I will follow You
Even if You don’t show me goodness, love, care or compassion, I will follow You.
Even if when I call, You don’t answer but remain silent, I will follow You. This is my intention.”

When one member of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer. We are more closely connected than we sometimes realize.

“…so that there should be no division in the body, but that its members should have mutual concern for one another. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each of you is a member of it.…” (1 Corinthians 12:25-, NIV)

Both Wise and Innocent

Photo ©David Lawton

As the world seems to get smaller, do you feel more and more powerless? We continue to believe that each individual—and each group—makes a difference. What we do, how we think, our actions and prayers—along with the currents of God’s purposes and the showers of his love—cause ripples that can bring lasting change for well-being in our world.

“I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil….The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:19-20)

The Wounds and the Promise

“We are committed to describing the world not just as it should be, not just as it is, but as—by God’s grace alone!—one day it will be. And we should never forget that when Jesus rose from the dead, as the paradigm, first example, and generating power of the whole new creation, the marks of the nails were not just visible on his hands and his feet. They were the way he was to be identified. When art comes to terms with both the wounds of the world and the promise of resurrection and learns how to express and respond to both at once, we will be on the way to a fresh vision, a fresh mission.” –N.T. Wright in Surprised by Hope (Harper Collins, 2008, p.224).

In this context I offer the following free verse from my forthcoming book, Remembering Softly: A Life in Poems :

LIVING WOUNDS

Christ’s wounds—

holes, gaps, gashes?—

remain, continue there,

healed; no pain or festering.

But they remain

places on the body

of the God-Man,

remembering.

A mystery!

There,

in the wounded place

we are part of Christ.

The nails are gone,

the sword withdrawn,

the thorns pulled out.

But these wounds live,

efficacious.

When His followers also

stand gashed and riddled,

touching our wounds to His;

bearing scars from

our own sins and

those of others

but festering no more;

together we form

places of healing

in the body of Christ.

~Catherine Lawton

Why “God Bless America”?

Many political speakers—both Republican and Democratic—end their speeches with the words, “God bless America!” This brings questions to my mind:

  • What do they mean by those three words? Are some parroting words that to them are empty of meaning but perceived as politically expedient? Are some repeating a mantra that is to them essentially a superstition? I think when most people say “God bless” they are invoking prosperity, protection, guidance/wisdom, and well being on the recipient. I personally do want all those things for the country in which I was born, in which I have lived my life, the home of my children and grandchildren.
  • Whose blessing are they invoking? We can no longer take for granted that a person asking for the blessing of God, is thinking of the God of the Bible—both Old and New Testaments—the Creator, Father God whom Jesus came to reveal. Even Christians can find themselves idolizing a lesser “god” and loving the blessings (such as wealth and influence) more than the Blesser.
  • Why do we ask for God’s blessings? Even those who put their faith in an economic, humanistic, or social ideology may say these words for “good measure,” “just in case,” to win the following of a block of voters. Or, maybe they really believe God wants to bless America. Maybe some even feel we need God’s blessings. We pledge allegiance (many of us still do) to “one nation under God.” Doesn’t this show we acknowledge, want, and need the help of a Higher Power? We need more-than-human help to achieve aspirations, defeat evil, protect against enemies, educate and prepare and provide for future generations; steward natural resources and care for creation; we have a “charge to keep.”
  • How does God bless nations? It seems, according to the biblical record, that God blesses nations because he has a plan for them, because of the faith of their members, because of their humbling themselves and seeking his help and presence, and because of his love for all his creation. He sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. He gives manna, he calls out leaders, and he diverts disasters, saying to evil, “This far and no more.” He gave us Jesus who taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”
  • What does God’s blessing look like? Through his providence, his creation, his mercy, he gives to us not what we deserve, but what pleases him, what furthers his purposes and plans and increases his “kingdom.”
  • Why does God bless people and nations? According to the Bible, God’s blessings are meant to lead us to repentance, encouraging us to return to right relatedness to him, others, ourselves, and creation. God’s very nature is love. He is working with all things to empower us to live in goodness. He really cares about us, as he equally cares about all individuals and people groups and nations of this world he created. He blesses us so we can know his love and goodness. He blesses us so we can in turn bless others.
  • What responsibilities come with God’s blessings? First, we have the responsibility to seek his blessings. We are given the responsibility—the ability to respond—and receive/take the blessings bestowed. That may involve periods of waiting and watching. We have the responsibility to acknowledge God’s blessings, to give thanks for them. We are given the task of holding firmly but lightly God’s blessings, so we can share them with other Peoples and nations, so we can pass them on to the next generations. We are given the responsibility of being faithful stewards of the blessings of God, working together for the well-being of all.

As one whose family generations have lived in America since Revolutionary times, have joined the Westward expansion to seek opportunity and fulfill what they perceived as God’s call, I have been a recipient of the blessings God has bestowed on this great land and nation. I have lived near the mountains, on the prairie, and beside the ocean “white with foam.” I grew up saying, with my hand on my heart, “I pledge allegiance to … one nation under God” and singing at the top of my lungs, “God bless America.” When I said those words, I was acknowledging the Almighty God as the source of all good and hoping for his favor.

I believe, generally, when we say “God bless America,” we are still invoking the God of the Bible. I also believe we sometimes forget that the Bible says God’s blessings come with responsibilities and that we aren’t blessed to feel good. May we never get so “blessed” and comfortable that we aren’t touched by the plight of the poor and oppressed. May we never become so complacent with our great blessings that we quit feeling our need of continued help from above. May we never allow our blessings to become idols and find ourselves worshiping the gift instead of the Giver, that we don’t let our great blessings lead us to pride. We must remember that we are blessed to bless others.

God bless America!

 

 

Better than Destruction and Despising

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I’m starting a series of guest posts from authors. Today we hear from John Buzzard, whose first book, Storm Tossed, is a war memoir (of more than one kind of warfare).

As John shows here, we humans have a tendency to embrace “us and them” attitudes. We point fingers and condemn, when Jesus says to love and pray. Especially in these days of polarizing politics and issues, even Christians can find themselves in the position of using our energies protecting “our group” while, in essence, wishing that God would destroy the “other group.” John tells about a time he found himself in such a situation:


by John Buzzard:

I moved to Alameda, California, and got a job with a security company guarding the former Naval Air Station. Going from a police officer to a security guard was humbling, but I took it on faith God had something better in mind for me. My wife and the kids and I moved into a small, expensive apartment and started attending a local church.

I drove a white pickup truck around the base from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. When I got tired I’d park on the tarmac, pour myself a cup of coffee, listen to the radio and gaze at the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. I was shocked to hear radio talkers mocking God in the name of tolerance, promoting perverted lifestyles, and encouraging hatred towards Christians.

“Oh Lord, why do You allow that wicked city to mock You and fester in sin? Why not destroy it?” I prayed.

Immediately I sensed the Holy Spirit saying to me, “Your prayer is like that of Jonah. Just like the people of Nineveh, I do not wish for these people to perish, but to repent. What if I had pronounced judgment on the world when you were still in sin? Pray for the salvation of the city, rather than its destruction.”

My attitude changed. Instead of despising many of the people of San Francisco, I felt sorry for those enslaved to the power of Satan. My prayers changed. The radio stations I listened to also changed. I found a couple of good Christian stations that provided solid teaching. At the end of my eight-hour shift I’d feel invigorated.

Over time, I also felt the Lord was telling me not to be ashamed of my own past, because there are so many people trapped by sexual sin. If they only knew my story, they could see there is hope.

 

This post is excerpted from the book, STORM TOSSED by Jake Porter (a pen name for author John Buzzard).

Writing is good for spirit, soul, and mind

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Today I’m sharing a guest post written by a friend, a retired pastor who writes encouraging, daily meditations for his Facebook followers. This kind of writing takes discipline and a heart that is attuned both to the Lord and to people and their real needs.


Writing is good for spirit, soul, mind. I don’t mean texting or e-mailing. I mean paper, pencil, and eraser writing. Because it’s slow. You have to be thoughtful. There is time to choose words, create effective phrases, eliminate unnecessary words, refine thoughts, evaluate what you are saying.

Things written penetrate deeper, with more impact, and last longer. Proverbs 7:13 advises writing God’s wisdom and instruction deep within your heart. Hebrews 8:10 records God saying, “I will put my laws in their minds and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

I think it was my friend, Jim Copple, who said to write something every day. In writing, spirit, mind, and soul get to breathe deeply. A spark of thought grows into a flame, and I grow. Having lighted a candle, I may pass the little flame on to whomever may need or find it useful.

Write something every day. No, not a “to do list.” Write a prayer, a personal note, a journal entry, or even just random thoughts. Paper and pencil have advantages over lighted screens and keyboards. A writing, praying, thinking place in your home is also beneficial.

What could it hurt to give it a try?

~Larry Lewis

Larry Lewis and his wife, Frances

Eternal Snows and A Sacrifice of Love

A blizzard during Easter week (which we had here in Colorado) is a new experience for me. Pure white snow covered the ground when I wanted spring color to dot the landscape. But during this holy week, the pervasive, gleaming whiteness began taking on significance and speaking to my heart. The words of a familiar, Irish poem came to my mind:

“I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.”
                       ~Joseph Plunkett

As the storm passed and sun shone, the gleaming snow cover became for me a constant reminder of the body of Jesus—his very life—layed down, poured out, for us. As the ground, the trees, even the houses received the crystalline snow driven by the wind, so by faith we can receive Christ’s pure sacrifice, applied to our hearts by the grace of God. This complete, loving, redeeming sacrifice then covers our sins, bringing forgiveness, reconciliation, and the hope of eternal life.

The effects of this “eternal snow” go even farther, however. Today the snow on our yard, trees, and garden has melted and watered the greening grass and the perennials that are waking up for spring. Similarly, the gracious provision of Jesus not only covers us, but seeps into our beings, giving newness of life to our hearts and minds, nourishing our souls, imparting the very character of the One who poured out his life for us.

Now I’m viewing this snow during Easter week as a gift from God. Sometimes visual images and metaphors reach into our hearts more effectively than words of reason. Sometimes they help the words of truth get from our minds to our hearts. How thankful I am for these true words:

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

“I lay down my life…” (John 10:14)

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