Monday, October 22, 2018

A Grateful Heart Stirs Up A Fervent Faith


What stirs a heart to give thanks to God, and why is it so profoundly important to do so?

I read a quote this morning in my daily devotional book, The Way of ABUNDANCE by Ann Voskamp, which said,

"...if our thanksgiving is fickle, then it turns out that our faith is fickle."

Whoa... jump back Jack! I do not want to be labeled as one having fickle faith. Do you?

Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6 NIV).

Watching our world in a tail spin from recent events of catastrophic weather, political pressure, and a culture bombarded with all sorts of addictions, it would appear there isn't room for a grateful heart. But that's not true. To experience the abundant life Christ offers, we must be thankful in all things.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus (I Thes. 5:18 NIV).

A grateful heart is not about giving thanks only when things are going the way we think they should go. A grateful heart offers up thanks even in the midst of the worst of circumstances. Faith was designed, and given to us to sync perfectly into our lives, whether we're feeling overjoyed or overwhelmed. Therefore, we are to overwhelm God, the Creator of all things, with our heartfelt words of thanksgiving and praise, no matter what.

fickle faith has a frustrating effect on our spiritual life. An on-again-off-again faith cultivates a life of chaos, not peace.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take ( Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT).

An uncommitted faith flows from an uncommitted heart. Our faith stifles when we refuse to give thanks to the Author and Finisher of our faith. 

This past weekend could have been discouraging to some who attended the Living Real Magazine/ Lighthouse for Life event. Not because the conference didn't meet their expectations, but because the numbers of those in attendance were low. I'll be the first to admit I was a bit discouraged. But throughout the day prior to and the day of, as volunteers showed up in full force to work and prepare for the conference, my faith was stirred up. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that our obedience is not about what the world deems successful, but it's all about what the Lord deems as having eternal value.

I'm grateful for servant hearts. The volunteers were engaged, excited, and enthusiastic. Each person stepped in to work wherever they were needed. Some even worked both the prep day and the day of the event. And they all did it with smiles on their faces!

I'm grateful for those who did attend. Everyone spoke of how encouraged they were by the messages they heard, and how the faith of others spurred them on to living out their faith.

I'm grateful the day was a loud testament to God's faithfulness, especially when we say, "Yes," to His call on our lives. My heart was "Re-JOY-venated"  as Steven James so brilliantly taught about.

A fervent faith stems from a frequent offering of thanksgiving. 

As we enter this "season" of thanksgiving, why not invigorate your faith by jotting down three things you're grateful for every day between now and Thanksgiving Day. Why not use the calendar season to help you develop a perpetual season of thankfulness. Your faith will never be the same! Trust me.

Stir my faith, Lord, 'til my soul begins to sing.
Stir my faith, Lord, to rise above the lesser things.
Pour into me Your Word, the sweetest ever heard;
Let the passion stirred within me offer the praise that You deserve.

Stir my heart, Lord, with the joy of my salvation 
Stir my heart, Lord, until it beats with adoration
Wrap me in Your comfort, even when the days are hard
May my ever-growing trust in You give me strength to guard my heart. 
                                                                                                          Melanie Shull, October 22, 2018

My Pleasure,
Melanie


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Hey! You're Not the Boss of Me!

It dawned on me this morning as I read a journaling prompt for today that all of us try really hard to keep our hearts safe.

Safe from what?

Hurt?
Suffering?
Loneliness?
Rejection?

Yes, we are to guard our hearts as Proverbs 4:23 tells us, but it's not referring to protecting our hearts from suffering, but rather it's referring to not succumbing to the grip of sin in the midst of life's heartaches and pain. 

And as God's children, we have the power within us to say, "No!" to sin.


Have you ever said or heard someone else say, "You're not the boss of me!"?

I have. I've actually said it myself, even as a grown-up. (I know. Don't judge me.)

There is one, though, to whom we can actually say, "You're not the boss of me!" and say it with bombastic authority.

Yep! Satan! The number one enemy of our souls.

I've spent a lot of time in 1 Peter chapter 1 this year, and verses 3-9 have grabbed my heart and have not let go.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Because of His great mercy, He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being guarded by God's power through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith - more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire - may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him, and you rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (HCSB -emphasis and capitalization of God pronouns are mine).

O.M.Goodness! I just want to shout every time I read this passage.

Only Jesus is the Boss of me.

Because of our faith, God is guarding our hearts with His power! He's not guarding us from pain, suffering, and anything else we think we aren't suppose to experience. He's guarding our hearts for safe-keeping because we belong to Him. Our suffering, pain, hurt, rejection, loneliness, etc... has divine purpose - the proven character of our faith. 

We are not above suffering. Our Savior left His rightful place in heaven to suffer the ultimate price for our souls. Suffering was what Christ came to do. His suffering led Him to the cross to die for you and for me so we might be saved from the entrapment of sin on earth and eternal separation from the Father. Now, when we experience trials and tribulations here on earth, He empowers us to endure, not to necessarily take it all away. Remember Job?

The Spirit's responsibility in the redemption of a believer's heart is not to guard it from pain, but to guard it from sin. The Holy Spirit living inside of you and me is constantly renewing, refining strengthening, and empowering us to overcome sin in the midst of whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Not-the-boss-of-me is seeking to destroy us by distracting us into thinking that the goal of our faith is to free us from suffering, when the real goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls. 

It's our perception of suffering that has us stuck and stagnant. 

Suffering is part of the salvation process. Suffering was written into our stories.

All suffering has purpose - to move us closer into the loving embrace of Jesus. Suffering will disappear when our salvation is complete - when our faith becomes sight.

In the meantime, we can live with abundant joy in our hearts because we belong to our Savior.


1. How is your suffering drawing you closer to Christ?

2. Are you trying to pray your suffering away, or are you praying for strength to endure and to not fall into sin while going through it?

3. How has God used your suffering for His glory?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

My Pleasure,
Melanie

Monday, July 30, 2018

The Pitching Season: encouragement for a writer's heart



'Tis the season for pitching book ideas, sending proposals, and meeting with publishers. Writer conferences are in full swing as aspiring authors are winding up for their best pitches. Book ideas are swirling toward home plates inside publisher ballparks all across America.

Is it even possible for us little, unknown writers, pounding away on our keyboards in our small corners of life to enter the major leagues and make a play? Yes, it's possible! Here's my story and the steps I continue to take.

Pray.

Before my writing journey even began, I was praying a prayer I was introduced to years ago - a little treasure tucked inside a slew of genealogy in 1 Chronicles 4. Jabez's prayer in verse 10 became a sincere pouring out of my heart before the Lord. However He wanted to use me to reach people for His glory with the story He was writing with my life, then that's what I wanted to do. 

And Jabez called upon the God of Israel saying,
"Oh that You would bless me and enlarge my border, 
and that Your hand might be with me, 
and that You would keep me from harm 
so that it might not bring me pain!"

My calling out to the Lord to direct my path, using His own words from His Word, was sincere with total surrender. Whatever ministry He had carved out for me, I was willing to walk that path. And just as He granted Jabez's request, He has been expanding my territory for Him ever since in ways I could never have imagined.

Listen.

I've been attending writing/speaking conferences since 2007. My first trip was not to pitch but to glean from the wisdom surrounding me, and to listen to the Spirit's voice as I asked Him what I was to do with this desire to write He had obviously placed inside me. It was definitely not my natural talent, but a craft He intended for me to learn.

So, I continued through the years to go and grow as I learned more and more about how to tell His story well.

My very first pitch was delivered in 2016 in the robust ballpark of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference.


Obey. 

Prepping to pitch is tedious work, especially for a still green-on-the-vine writer. Whittling down an entire book idea into a sentence or two is nothing short of a miracle. But I muddled through and pitched to at least five publishers. I pitched and then released the results into the hands of the One who had directed me to this point.

Four publishers asked for proposals.

I'm told that's highly unusual. I was completely overwhelmed that any of them caught my pitch and were interested in reading more!

 Okay Lord, You've walked me through to this point, but I don't know the first thing about how to write a proposal or even where to begin!

God never calls us to a task He doesn't equip us to complete. He would not leave me to figure this out alone. Just as He didn't leave me when His Spirit's whisper led me to begin Living Real magazine after my first conference (which I still call "the adventure of a lifetime"). I had no clue as to how to go about publishing a magazine. I had never published anything.

God was stretching my faith, asking me to trust Him again. So, I prayed, as well as my prayer team, and released my anxious thoughts into His very capable hands.



Wait. 

The next two years would be a learning curve. I put the proposal thing on the back burner and continued to work on my craft, the magazine, and blogging. God had put people in place to work with me through this process, especially my Word Weaver partners. What a blessing to be surrounded by other writers who just want to tell God's story well with a craft He's entrusted us with. It's a TEAM effort. We pray for one another, critique each other's work, and cheer for one another along the way.

The real work began last summer. Preparing to go to ReNEW: A Retreat for New England Writers, I began to write the book I had pitched two years earlier. I took the plunge and paid for a professional critique of my first two chapters. I was committed to write.

In October of 2017, the ReNEW weekend arrived, and so did my friend, Jean (a fellow Word Weaver) and I. We were welcomed by such an encouraging bunch of people, all seeking to follow the Spirit's leading and to help each other to do the same. Carol Kent with Speak Up Ministries was assigned to critique my two chapters. Her enthusiasm for not only my subject matter, but even more for how well the chapters were constructed blew me out of the water! How could I, someone who is not a life-long writer have crafted something so well? This is the reason I love this journey! It's not me. It's all Him. God is doing His work through me, and I get to watch His craft and creativity flow through my simple obedience.

Carol invited me to her Speak Up Conference in Michigan the following June and told me to bring four proposals with me. Her reason was that she believed my story needed to be put in front of those who could expand my territory for God's glory. God was moving my border for real. God used Carol to push me to get those proposals written.


Six copies of the forty-six page proposal (including the first three chapters written in manuscript form) were packed in my carry-on bag and flying with me to Michigan. Alone. No traveling companion with me this time. Just Jesus and me; whatever will be.

I was assigned six meetings. Five with publishers and one with an agent. Every one asked for the proposal. Again, God goes before us preparing the way before we arrive. My pitches were caught, but the next step can be the hardest.

WAIT for the results.


Wait some more. 

Trust Me, God said. You've walked this far with Me, now trust Me to throw and make a good play. 

And I had. I can honestly say I wasn't nervous, just excited about this next step of obedience. God would make the throw in His time to make the best play for His glory. It's been a thrilling game so far, and I'm learning to relax, rest in Him, and just enjoy the moment.

With pitches caught and proposals received, it's not unusual to have to wait several months to hear back from publishers (some may not respond at all). So I returned home to wait and...

See.

Two weeks later, I had already heard from two of those I pitched to. The result of the play was in, and the glorious impossible had occurred again. Staring back at me in an email was an actual request to publish my book. My husband and I prayed and talked through the options over the next several days. We both arrived at the same decision, and with a calm spirit and oneness of heart, we chose to go with the one we believed God had thrown the ball to.


Most Christian writers understand we are not in competition with one another. We are on the same team, serving the same Savior, Jesus Christ. So, during this season of pitches, proposals, and publishers, take heart, sweet friend! Be encouraged! Cheer one another on! God will make His story known through you however He sees fit.

Enjoy the game!

My Pleasure,
Melanie

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Summertime Slowdown: Repent, Refresh, Repeat



One of the best days ever was a day Rick (my husband) and I went out for a spontaneous summer walk, and out of nowhere the sky let loose with a pouring down of refreshing rain. It was the most exhilerating feeling. We started laughing and running, but all the while enjoying the soaking.

This is what I pictured when I read Acts 3:19 this morning.

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, 
that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.

When we are practicing repentance, God sends the most breath-taking refreshment into our lives.

Repentance is not a one-and-done when we surrender our lives to Christ. Yes, we are fully forgiven of our sins through Jesus' death on the cross, but since we still live in bodies of flesh, we must learn the practice of repentance.

True repentance is the practice of confessing and turning away from sin so we can walk in His refreshment every day. Just because we've chosen Christ as Savior doesn't mean we always behave as perfect children.

Just as children learn the daily disciplines of brushing their teeth, washing their hands before meals and after going to the bathroom, taking baths, saying, Thank you and PleaseGod's children are learning the daily spiritual disciplines needed to live a life that brings Him glory. 

Confession is only a part of this daily spiritual discipline. We must ask for forgiveness for the things we know we've done (or not done) that hurt the Father's heart. But confession only is not enough. This spiritual discipline also includes repentance.


  • Confession is agreeing with the Father that we've stepped out of line with His Truth. 


  • Repentance is turning away from the sin and realigning of our steps with His. 


We cannot live the Christian life without implementing spiritual disciplines. Why not pause right now and ask the Lord to bring any out-of-line behavior that you need to confess, and do it? Confess. Agree with the Father that you've strayed from His Truth to seek pleasure for yourself, veering away from the Light. Then, with a sincere, broken heart, repent. Turn away from the dark path of destruction you've been headed in, and get back on the path of righteousness. Repentance brings sweet relief.

Let God "wipe out" your sins today and refresh your soul with a good, mercy soaking of His rain.

My Pleasure,
Melanie



Monday, June 25, 2018

Summertime Slowdown: Renew Your Mind


We left off searching our hearts in Psalm 51 in our first Summertime Slowdown. Did you slow down and really examine your heart? Did you come to a conclusion on what condition your heart is in?

If not, please continue to do so. If you missed the introduction week of Summertime Slowdown and my recipe for Southern Sweet Tea, look for the blog titled Summertime Slowdown, Southern Style.

This week we'll be marinating on Romans 12:1-2. (I use the word marinate, because it visualizes to me a slow soaking that will burst into full flavor!)

Therefore brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. 
Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

As we examine these verses, pay close attention to what we are to do, and not do:

In verse one, Paul begs us to express true worship before God, but he doesn't make us guess as to what that means:
  • What is true worship? 
True worship is presenting something before the Lord.
  • What are we to present? 
True worship is presenting our bodies, ourselves, everything we are.
  • How are we to present our bodies? 
We present them as living sacrifices.
  • What kind of sacrifices? 
Holy (set apart for God's purpose and glory only)  Pleasing (because this makes His heart smile)                               

 In verse 2, Paul gives us a do and a don't.
  • DO NOT be conformed to this age (world)
  • BE transformed (changed, transfigured). 

In the second part of verse two Paul tells us how to change...

  • by the renewing of your mind. 
In light of what Christ has done for us, we should be fashioned or shaped like Him, 
not fashioned or shaped like the world. If we look like the world, then we act like the world, 
we live like the world, and we identify with the world. 
If we look like Christ, then we think like Christ, and we live like Christ, 
thus we identify with Christ. Transformation begins with the mind.
(from Lesson 2, pg. 6 of Renew, Refresh, Refine bible study)

The best way I know to begin this process is by presenting myself before the Lord as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing, because this IS worship - a daily denying of my will before Him on the altar of sacrifice. As I lay it ALL there at His feet, today, I pray, "Your will Lord, not mine, be done." Then, I listen as I wash my mind with His own Words. I give them free reign to flow through my mind, transforming it as I walk by faith throughout the day. 


Worship.

Season the mind. 

Marinate

My Pleasure,
Melanie

(The Renew, Refresh, Refine Bible study is available on Amazon.com)


Summertime Slowdown Roasted Vegetables 
with Sausage (meat optional) 
Serves: 4-6

You'll need:

baking pan (cover bottom and sides with non-stick aluminum foil)
a large zip-lock bag
olive oil
garlic powder
salt
pepper
Tuscan seasoning
butter (for corn)
sugar (for corn)
White or Brown Rice (optional)

Vegetables: 8 small red potatoes (washed, and halved or quartered), 3 small yellow, 3 red, and 3 orange peppers (sliced and seeded), green beans (frozen or fresh), broccoli florets, and zuchinni (sliced), and 4 ears of fresh white or yellow corn

Meat (optional): Sausage link sliced into 3/4 round pieces.

Preheat Oven to 425 degrees.

Boil or *microwave fresh corn on the cob. Slice corn off the cob into a bowl. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and butter to taste. Put corn aside.

Place cut vegetables (excluding corn) in the large ziplock bag. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies. Sprinkle garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Tuscan seasoning over the veggies to taste.

Zip the bag all the way, and shake the vegetables until covered well with the seasonings.

Pour the vegetables onto the baking sheet and spread them out evenly.

Evenly distribute the sausage pieces over the vegetables.

Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes (or until potatoes are tender).

Serve the vegetable and meat mixture over rice, and add a serving of corn on the top.

Suggested sides: a salad, and Hawaiian dinner rolls.

*Microwave ears of corn in the husks for 5 minutes on high. Turn them over and cook for another 5 minutes. Carefully remove corn from the microwave. Place on a cutting board. Slice the large end off of each ear (about an inch). Then squeeze down from the top of the ear until it slides out of the husk. If some silks remain, just pull them off. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Grace - Waves Crashing Over Me



Sitting in my chair of many colors at the ocean's edge, I think about how Grace is like a wave crashing over me. This amazing, undeserved gift of the Divine rushes in like the salty sea.

Sometimes it so overwhelms me, it knocks me to my knees.

Grace.

wave that never stops.

With every crash of the waves, I see God washing over me with His profound love, mercy, and  kindness. The continual movement of water is a clear reminder that His grace never ends.

Grace means... 


  •   when we're unfaithful, God is still faithful.



But I will not withdraw My faithful love from him or betray My faithfulness (Psalm 89:33).


  • when we're unloveable, God is still loving.

...because God is love (1 John 4:8b).


  • when we're weak, God is still strong.

         And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness."


When we think we just can't do anymore, God's grace says, "Cease striving."


Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, 
I will be exalted int he earth (Psalm 46:10, NASB).

Grace.

We can't live without it.

We can't achieve it.

The all sufficient gift given to all who come to the Grace-Giver.


What does Grace look like to you? 

How have you seen His grace rush into your life lately?


Oh God, 

     I'm so overwhelmed at times with Your grace gift that it fills my eyes with tears, and sends me to my knees. "Thank You" seems so trite, but it's all I've got. Thank You!!!! I love You deeply. Keep the waves coming!
~ Amen

My Pleasure,
Melanie




Thursday, June 7, 2018

Summertime Slowdown - Southern Style



Some of my fondest memories of growing up in the heart of the Palmetto State include long, lazy days in the sun, boating on Lake Murray, and inhaling the fragrant aroma swirling around the cove as my dad cooked breakfast outside on his green Coleman stove. Mmmm... I can smell it now. 

After hours of swimming, water skiing, fishing, and exploring, my sister and I would get into our pjs. From the screened in porch or from a late night ride on the pontoon, we'd gaze at the stars. Then we'd slip under the covers in our beds as the frogs serenaded us to sleep. Everything seemed perfect in the summer, and every day we squeezed out every ounce of fun we could.

This summer, I thought it might be fun to slow down and refuel together. By squeezing out every ounce of clutter from our hearts (those corners we've ignored), God can begin to clean 'em out and renew our spirits, all while we make summertime memories with our family and friends.

To assist us on this journey, I'll be pulling portions from a Bible study I wrote several years ago called Renew, Refresh, Refine - your heart, soul, and mind. This would be a great opportunity to invite a friend to take the plunge with you, and clean out together.

Along with each lesson, I'll also be sharing a a simple, southern recipe for your added pleasure.

During this first week, we must slow down and identify the real spiritual condition of our hearts. To do this we need to take some time to look in the mirror. What do you see? A tired, weary soul depleted from over extending during the year? Is your sparkle missing? Are you tempted to just sleep the summer away?

Throughout the week, read Psalm 51; several times if necessary. As you wash your mind with the Word, also pray.


Ask God for the desire and strength to submit to His search light just like David did.
Allow God the freedom to search deep into places of your heart that you 
have been guarding. The dark places need to be revealed, confessed, 
and dealt with, so He can continue to mold you into the woman He has designed 
you to be. Confession and repentance are crucial to renewing your 
relationship with Jesus and to restoring the joy of your salvation.
(from Lesson 1, Renew, pg. 4)

This is how we begin a much needed, summertime slow-down.  

You'll be amazingly rejuvenated! No spa treatment can do for the soul what the power of the Holy Spirit can. (But go ahead and make that spa appointment, it'll be an extra treat for your body.)

Remember, take your time. Don't rush through identifying your spiritual heart condition, because this will be the place where your refreshing begins. And please use the comment section below to share how God is helping you to identify the condition of your heart. Let's encourage one another!

Now, go pour yourself a glass of southern sweet tea, and let's get started!


My Pleasure,
Melanie