Monday, December 26, 2005

The Truth About Santa

When I was growing up as an immigrant kid, I thought Christmas was about a fat man in red suit who only brought presents to white kids. That might explain why I still had a bit of disdain for Santa even after I became a follower of Jesus. It helped me to browse the St. Nicholas Center site and discover the truth behind the myth — a brother in Christ who was dedicated to a Middle Eastern baby born 2000 years ago. Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus!

Friday, December 23, 2005

your mission, should you choose to accept it


Hello, 4:12Live readers. Today is December 23, which means tomorrow is Christmas Eve. (Yes. I know my powers of deduction are astounding.) This being such a special time of year--a time when we give gifts and spread good cheer and enjoy two weeks of sleeping late--I thought it appropriate to give you an assignment.

Don't worry. There's no advanced math or research involved. It's simple really. You're already sitting at your computer, so you can do it right now. Dust off your direction-following skills, and read on:

1. Log on to your e-mail account.
2. Select ten people from your address book.
3. Compose messages of gratitude, telling them why you appreciate them and how much you love them.
4. Send the messages.

For five points extra credit, make phone calls instead. And for a whopping 10 extra points, write actual letters or notes and send them through the mail.

That's it. Not too difficult. Doesn't cost you anything (except maybe a few stamps). And, no, this won't be on the test. But it will leave a lasting impression on your loved ones and brighten their lives. Perhaps they'll even follow your example and pass the blessing along. Let's reverse the greedy grab-fest me-me-me mentality, and heap some love on a few unsuspecting heads.

Oh! and one more thought for the day: You'd be surprised how much impact you have on other people. Don't underestimate your influence. Love lavishly.

This message will not self destruct. On the contrary, its repercussions may be felt all around the world. Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Concentration


I don't know who said it, but this quote is taped to the edge of my computer: “For him who has no concentration, there is no tranquility.”

Ever have those days where your brain’s scattered to the four winds? Last minute holiday rush can do it: getting the presents bought and wrapped, cards sent, parties and programs attended. But any overcrowded "to do" list can make it difficult to concentrate. My jobs list for any given day used to be crammed full from 5 a.m. till evening—sometimes late evening. I constantly watched the clock, making sure I didn’t give any particular project more time than I’d allotted. Couldn’t afford to get behind! Hurry, hurry!

As I worked, my gaze constantly rotated from the project on my desk, to the clock, then a glance toward the pile of work still waiting, then back to the current work in progress. I couldn’t focus on what was in front of me because I was too aware of all that had yet to be done. My scattered brain couldn’t concentrate—and there was definitely no tranquility.

Then one day a project went astray during its overnight express ride to me, and I realized I magically had three extra hours in my schedule that day. I resisted the urge to hurry and fill it up with projects in the queue. Instead, I deliberately slowed down. I took one thing at a time. I didn’t watch the clock. I didn’t look at what was next on my "to do" list. I just focused on the project at hand. It was heavenly. Yes, I took longer per project than normal, but (for a change) I had no headache or neck ache at the end of the day. I was also able to eat away from my desk (in my porch swing, no less) and did half an hour of guilt-free reading after lunch. I returned to work, still able to concentrate, and definitely feeling tranquil.

Do you have trouble concentrating? Are you unable to focus on school assignments or reading a leisure book? Do you rush through reading God's Word without meditating on it or applying it to your life? (Devotions done. Check.) Maybe you’ve over-scheduled yourself. Try cutting back. Remove the word "multi-tasking" from your vocabulary, and do one thing at a time at a sane pace. See if you don't gain both in concentration and a peaceful spirit.

I can't think of a nicer Christmas gift to give yourself this year.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

And faith will come

"Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."
Martin Luther King Jr.

My oldest daughter is six and one of her teachers at church tells me that she is the first to offer to lead worship during their children's church service. Yesterday, our worship leader called our house and asked if she could sing a short solo for the Christmas Eve service and my outgoing daughter dissolved into tears. She was terrified at the thought of singing in front of people.

It didn't matter that she had done it before. She didn't hear us as we pointed out that she loves to perform for us all the time and reminded her of leading worship in children's church.

"I can't. I just can't" she kept crying over and over.

Fear is not a new struggle for her. Over her short life we have seen fear get a strangle hold around her. When she was two, it was a gymnastics class, when she was four, it was a set of shots. My husband and I prayed for wisdom. We didn't really care whether she sang at the Christmas Eve service - what we cared about was not letting her be ruled by her fears. We talked with her, prayed with her and told her we would take it one step at a time and that we wanted her to at least learn the song.

She wasn't happy but she eventually calmed down last night.

Today as we walked into the church for her rehearsal, she again turned into a corner and began to weep saying that she didn't want to and that she couldn't do it. I prayed, talked to her and after much cajoling got her into the practice room. Eventually we got her to sing through her tearful hiccups. Before too long I was able to leave the room. Ten minutes later she was singing on the large stage with a mike in hand and right now she is downstairs praticing the song - over and over and over again.

She asked me if I was going to make her sing on stage. When I said "yes", she said "Yeah!"

And I was grateful. It's hard to know when to push, and when to let go. My parents never pushed me and there are times I wish they had. That fear my daughter struggles with - it's not from God. It is from someone who doesn't want her to try new things and have the chance to discover the gifts within her. I want her to know that we serve a God that pushes us beyond our limits so that we will learn to trust Him - not ourselves, not the results - but Him - that He will never leave us, that we can do ALL things through Him.

It's not an easy lesson, whether you're six, or sixteen or sixty and I think it's one we continually have to learn. Being brave is not the absence of fear, but a willingness to press on despite the fear and have faith in the One who sees the beginning from the end.

I know that every time I walk my daughter through the process of moving from fear to faith, she'll grow stronger and be more willing to trust in God's strength instead of her own. I wonder today what God might be asking you to do that scares you. I hope you will let God take your hand and walk you through it. And instead of looking at what you CAN'T do, try looking at what He CAN do.

Merry Christmas....

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A Christmas Story

"What's your story?" someone asked recently.

It's a common question, especially among adults. However, the stories I love to hear come from teens. Stories of life and family and relationships. Stories of faith. Many times those stories make me cry. Sometimes I want to "fix" the problems or challenges that teens face, but I realize that I can't. I can only encourage, pray, and walk with them as they live out their stories.

Our pastor is preaching a series on Christmas.

"Tell your story every day," he said. "Let this be your gift to Him."

My story? Your story?

How powerful is one person's story?

Very powerful. . .

Recently someone read my story on my website at http://realteenfaith.com. They lifted it and shared it in a newsletter. Now to most writers, that's called copyright infringment, but this is the scoop: My story is on the web so that others might be encouraged to know God.

I knew the story was circulating somewhere in cyberspace because emails started trickling in, and then the flood broke. I received stories from N. Africa and W. Africa and S. Africa, and then it hopped the ocean to circulate among another continent, and then it jumped back to the U.S. as two to three more newsletters picked it up and shared it.

Again, as a writer, if I were really focused on payment, I could have asked people to stop taking my story without permission, but God showed me a long time ago that my writing could never be about money. Do I get paid? Absolutely. I'm paid well and I love writing and there are times that copyright is very important and that people don't plagurize, etc. blah, blah, blah. . .

But this was different. It was people who were excited about what God could do in the life of an ordinary person. How he could help her find forgiveness for those who hurt her in the past. How he reached past a hardened, broken heart to reveal himself. How he showed her destiny when she couldn't see past her faults and weaknesses. How today she is still running after the Savior and delights in who she is through Him.

One little story traveled around the world and I received hundreds of emails from people hungry to know God. Some read like this:

"I am sitting at my desk and tears are running down my face as I read your story. Is this God? Could he possibly want to do the same thing in my life that he did in your's? Will you pray with me so that I can also know this God?"

I was humbled, amazed, in tears over and over again as I watched how God could take a simple story and open the door for relationship and purpose with others as they began their own journey of faith.

What is your story? Who is God to you? What does it mean to be intimate with the God that breathed the universe into existence?

In just a few days we celebrate a very special day. Whether that day is the original birth day or not is irrelevent, really. Because every day is a day to know God and to share your story. But perhaps you and I can celebrate the spirit of Christmas by sharing our stories every day between now and the 25th.

Why?

Because there are thousands and thousands of people who are waiting to hear. . .

Suzie Eller
http://realteenfaith.com (click on Suzie's story)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hijacked Holy Days

Well, its that time of year again. It comes twice a year and this year you better watch out. I am talking about the Christian Holy Days. Christmas, once held dear as the day of the Savior's birth, has morphed into the strange tale of an obese slave driver of elves who is able to not only observe you at all times, but invades your home at will. Yes, he brings presents for the good children, but those little ones who haven't played nice all year (or, perhaps, dared to pray in school) get coal.

And it amazes me how Jesus laying down his life on the cross and resurrecting himself three days later was sanitized into a visit from a large, wandering rabbit who drops off eggs and candy. And people say the immaculate conception is just not believable?

We have allowed those who are not even of our religion or, even worse, who hate our religion to redefine the Holy Days for us and the rest of the world. Children visit Santa at the mall instead of pray to Christ in church. They search for Easter eggs instead of the meaning of the Resurrection. Our children are banned from singing "Silent Night" and we can't say "Merry Christmas" at work because it may offend someone. Isn't that kind of like crashing a birthday party and kicking the birthday boy to the curb while you enjoy his cake and gifts?

How about I AM OFFENDED! How about I want to say MERRY CHRISTMAS at CHRISTMAS time, I want to hear CHRISTMAS music, go to CHRISTMAS sales and I want to call it CHRISTMAS break, not winter break. How about YOU GET YOUR HANDS OFF OF OUR HOLIDAYS!

Or perhaps we should test just how tolerant the offended would be if we did the same to them. Why not join the celebration of Ramadan with month long eating contests? Maybe we could make up a story about a dreidel spinning master named Chanuka Harry and we could hold worldwide dreidel competitions? Perhaps the Hindus would enjoy us bar-b-qing some juicy burgers outside their temples? The opportunity for offense is limitless.

Why is it only Christians, the very ones who founded this country and made it safe for everyone to practice their religions, who have to tolerate a hostile takeover of their religion? I say it is time to take back your Holy Days.

It is time to celebrate CHRISTMAS in church with a nativity scene. I say we remember the Savior's sacrifice on the cross and rejoice in his victory over it. And to anyone who has a problem with the intolerant fanatics who have the nerve to want two Holy Days a year where WE, THE CHRISTIANS, get to decide how to celebrate OUR HOLY DAYS....why don't you just thank us for the sales, the great decorations and the excuse for an adult to wear a bunny suit and respect our Freedom of Religion. Especially since we gave it to you.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

It's About Time

As the Christmas season approaches, we're all hit with a flurry of things to do and things to buy. Already this year, we've spent hours setting up our Christmas tree, putting up decorations, sending out Christmas cards and running from store to store, or shopping online, to find that "perfect" thing for every person in our family.

It seems every conversation is focused around the season, too. "What should we do for Christmas Eve?" "Do you think so-and-so would like this-or-that?" "Do we have enough holiday bucks to do one more thing?" :)

But this season, amidst all the craziness, we must not forget one very important truth: the greatest gift we can give each other is time.

Take time out of the busy-ness and have some non-Christmas conversation. Discuss what's on your mind and your goals and dreams. Rather than running to a store, go for a walk in the park--even if it's cold. I think you'll find it's the perfect breath of fresh air to get you into the true spirit of Christmas.

Chris

Christopher Maselli
TruthPop.com

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Listening


I spent much of the past month and a half choreographing a Christmas musical for the local high school choir. Last weekend as they sang and danced their hearts out for packed audiences, I watched with as much delight as the folks seeing the show for the first time.

I love working with those students. They're talented, fun, and so appreciative. The whole process energizes me. And I learn from it, too.

A couple of weeks before rehearsals begin, the director gives me the music, and I face my biggest challenge. I listen.

Over and over again I listen to a song until it works its way from my ears to my feet. I listen until the dance emerges from somewhere inside me, and I know I've found just the right steps.

Then I start all over with the next one. I always wonder if I'll finish all the songs by the time I'm supposed to start teaching the dances to the students. Somehow I always do, and then the real fun begins. Step by step they learn each dance, and we practice, practice, practice until they've memorized every nuance of every movement.

Finally opening night arrives, the spotlights blaze, and the stage comes to life.

As I watch them dazzle their audience I can't help but remember the slow, steady process it took to get there. What is now an explosion of energetic expression started with a hidden work no one saw. Listening.

Isn't our walk with the Lord a lot like that? If we want to find our way and keep from stumbling in this divine dance of life, we have to start by sitting still and listening. To His heartbeat. To the song He whispers in our ear. We have to listen until we know how the dance is supposed to go. And then we're ready to walk out on stage where all the world can see. The lights come up. The music plays. And the dance begins.

But it really began with a hidden work no one saw. No one but the One who's always ready to whisper His song. The real question is, are we ready to listen?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Soap up and Shut up

I saw the ad for the waterproof radio and thought, "Wow! I'd LOVE that!" But then I thought about the hype and noise that would mar the one ritual in my day that guarantees quiet. The body needs a daily quota of rest and food; the soul needs a daily quota of entertainment-free silence. Especially the teenaged soul, which gets even less than the adult RDA, thanks to school. Tongue in cheek, the late Mike Yaconelli gave this advice to people who love teens (like me):
Hey, kids today are MTV kids! They can’t sit still for any length of time. Silence, solitude, prayer, meditation, fasting? All totally lame in the eyes of this generation! Nope, keep ’em busy, active, noisy, and shuttling from one Christian rock concert to another. Fill every moment of your program with something to do—otherwise you’ll lose their attention (which would be disastrous because then they’d have to pay attention to God and their souls.)
Our souls are starved for down time that doesn't involve noise, and sometimes a long, hot QUIET shower is the only way to get a fix.

Mitali

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Overcoming Temptation

What would you do if an old boyfriend called you? (Or, in the case of our guy readers, an old girlfriend?)

Two weeks ago, I would have thought I'd be slightly shaken, but I'd be able to say, "Sorry, I'm married. I love my God. I love my husband. I love my work as a Christian writer, and I'm not interested. Please don't contact me again."

Until he emailed.

Out of the blue, someone I hadn't talked to in sixteen years, and I hadn't dated in 20 sent me a note via email. At first I tried to tell myself we were just catching up, there was no harm in it. But after a few emails led to a phone conversation, and he confessed he'd been thinking about me all these years, that he felt we were soul mates . . . Well, then I knew I was in trouble.

You see, this was the first person I was intimate with. We were only teenagers, and in my eyes he was "the perfect guy." He moved away, and we'd gone our separate ways, but obviously I had carried something for this guy all these years.

How did I know I was in trouble, especially with my thoughts and emotions? The pounding of my heart clued me in . . . and the longing to have him continue to say all those sweet things to me through email and over the phone.

Yet, even in temptation, I knew where to turn. After the second day of contact, I brought my friends and husband on board. I told them what was happening. I explained my crazy emotions. And I asked them to pray and encourage me. I also broke off communication with the old boyfriend.

Are "older" Christian women (I'm 34) who love Jesus, love their husbands, and love serving God with their lives tempted? Yes. And this temptation also opened my eyes to a few things.

1) While the world tries to tell us sex is no big deal, everyone is doing it . . . there is no denying that hearts and souls are knitted together during this act. And the painful truth is that sometimes this binding still keeps us bound, no matter how many years pass.

2) God's way of escape works. Praying, diving into God's word, turning to sisters in Christ, asking for prayer and support, confessing to my husband, asking my husband to pray with me . . . these are all hard things. It's much easier to keep things a secret. Not to tell. Not to show vulnerability. Yet, if we remain in the dark with our actions, we cannot expect to find light for our souls.

3) God can bring good out of hard stuff. The result of this temptation is that my husband and I have been more open with our struggles and temptations. We've started praying together more often . . . and concerning more issues. I've also built a new level of trust with my Christian friends who love me, despite my hang ups.

Did the enemy of my soul find something to shake me up? Yes.

Yet, God proved that no matter what temptations I face, He is at my side every step of the way to overcome them . . . as long as I turn to Him and depend on Him. Through the sacrifice of Christ, chains of the past can be removed for good--even chains I didn't realize existed, twenty years after the fact.

God is faithful!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Going Against the Grain


“Studies reveal that people in executive positions read two to four hours per day. So to be as productive as you need to be, you often act in ways that run counter to what society tells you is ‘productive activity.’”

This quote is from a Christian leadership book, written for those who want to make it to the top in business. But I think a key point can be extracted for all of us. If you want to do your best and be your best for the Lord, you may have to do some things that run counter to your culture’s values.

I recall being stunned when I first read that quote. I had always pictured people in executive positions having an even more frenzied work life than I had. I imagined them zipping from one high-powered meeting to another, on to a power lunch, then more meetings, and then racing off to catch a plane to start over the next day in another town. I had not pictured them taking half a day to read! For a blissful moment, I tried to imagine getting to read two to four hours per day during the day, instead of late at night when I’m too sleepy for more than a few pages. According to this leadership book, the intensive reading program was a key factor in every executive rising to the top.

What counter-cultural things might you need to do to be as productive as you want to be? Go to bed early instead of watching movies with your friends till 3 a.m.? Eat well balanced meals instead of the daily diet of artery-clogging burgers and fries? Instead of settling for doing less than your best, ask the Lord what you need to do to max out your performance. It might not be what you think, and others might not understand. That's okay. Let the Holy Spirit guide you. Instead of urging you to work more, harder, faster--he just might tell you to go curl up with a good book!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Brand New Contest


I've been wading through a maze of HTML today but I finally have the information for my new contest up on my site and this is my very first place to announce it! All the details are on my Becoming Beka website but I'll give you all the basics.

"The Encore Prize Box" will include a hot off the press, autographed copy of The Encore as well as other cool prizes making the box worth more than $50!

Intrigued?

For every submission you make, you'll get one entry in the drawing for The Encore Prize Box. There are four submission categories...

Movie Picks – In 150 words or less, tell readers about your favorite movie and why they should go out and rent it right away.

Website Picks – In 50 words, tell us about your favorite website and why we should surf on over.

My Blessing - In no more than 150 words, tell us about something God did for you in 2005.

WebHelps - In fifty words, tell us about a spot on the Internet that a teen can find valuable information about a topic, any topic. Where do you go when you have a question?

Be sure to check here for the complete rules and a link to the form to enter.

I hope you'll enter, and go ahead...spread the word about it!

Monday, December 05, 2005

WWJD

WWJD

A few years ago the initials WWJD swept the Christian culture. Unfortunately it sold a lot of T-shirts and wristbands, but didn't make much of an impact otherwise.

And yet it is still a great question to ask.

A good friend called me today and he wanted to know what to do for a friend. His heart was in the right place, but listening to him I realized that his methods were askew. Dangerous even.

I gently asked him, "when you search out the New Testament, do you see a model for that approach? Is it the right thing to do?"

After thinking, his answer was "no". He decided that getting alone with God was the first thing that he needed in this situation. You see, he was going by feelings. The decisions and plans he was making had very little to do with biblical wisdom, but rather an impulsive move because it felt "right".

Feelings are great, but they can also be misleading. You may never catch me wearing a WWJD T-shirt, but I hope that the question is imprinted on my heart.

WWJD?

Friday, December 02, 2005

I have to admit...


... I watch MTV.

Oh, I use the excuse that I just do it as research-- check out the latest in clothes and trends and stuff for my writing.

Truthfully, I've never gotten over my own teen obsession with the video as an artform. I totally dislike a lot of the music MTV plays, but seeing a "When September Ends" or "Untitled"- kind of video with some true meat to it just brings me back over and over again.

Now, nobody go run to MTV and get me in trouble with the 'rents or anything, but if you do get the chance to check out Relient K's "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been," (click on the little tv beside the title and you can stream it through RealPlayer) sit and really watch it. Boy, God has really used that video with me today.

The video shows a girl taking a walk. Soon, she realizes that her steps are directly related to the actions of people around her. She's having a ball watching people retrace their steps as she walks backwards. A falling stack of books re-stacks themselves. All kinds of fun stuff. She's laughing and its all good until she realizes that someone crossing the street gets hit by a car. Quickly, she backs up, her actions moving him out of harm's way, but if she moves forward, he's just going to get hit again. So-- since this IS a video and time is of the essence-- she decides to step aside. To change the path she is on. Everything else around her no longer is so neat-- an apple tossed by a fruit seller hits someone in the back of the head, a television is dropped, and other things get messed up. All that chaos causes the distracted man to stop and, as a result, the car passes by without incident.

I haven't been able to get this video out of my head all day. I just think its awesome that my hometown boys are singing to Jesus on MTV like every hour or two, and I praise God for the ministry of Relient K out there in MTV-land. I think there's two great thoughts to be taken from it.

First, the path we chose at times in life might be a blast for us. We might be having a grand old time on it, but those choices may be leading others around us into peril. In Luke 17:1-2, Jesus says to His disciples, Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Pretty harsh stuff, but I bet we can all think back to a time when we looked back and realized an action we took in fun caused someone else to sin. We probably didn't even think a second thought about it at the time, or we might not even known that it was something that would cause our brother to sin.

Second-- and this is the redemption part-- all we have to do is take that step over to the right path. The one that is Jesus. It might be a bit messy along the way. It might not seem like the way to go at times, but we just might save a friend along the way.

Peace,

~B.

Surf the Web BETTER

Obviously, this blog is about writing, but once in a while news comes out that's worth reporting on, even if it's not entirely writing-related. In this case, it's about web browsers--what you're using to view this blog right now.

And this week, the Mozilla foundation has released version 1.5 of their increasingly popular Firefox web browser. If you're still using the browser that comes built-in with Windows, now's the time to give Firefox a try! Some people say it has better security than Microsoft Internet Explorer. I'm not going to argue that here. What I will say is that I was very skeptical when I tried it out. But after using it for a week, I could NEVER go back! It truly makes your web experience better.

Then, once you've downloaded and installed it, don't stop there. Download these plugins which will automatically install into Firefox. They are what will make it really fly. Soon you'll be enjoying the web--and this blog--like never before!
  • Customize Google -- This makes your Google searches better by adding small pictures of the websites beside each hit and more.

  • Fasterfox -- Makes Firefox run as fast as possible on your system, so you're not waiting around as you surf the net.

  • IETab -- This allows you to still view pages in Internet Explorer mode if they're specifically formatted for IE.

  • PDF Download -- This allows you to view PDF files in your browser, easily, or download them.

  • Tab Mix Plus -- Adds a BUNCH of great tab additions.

Then, while you're at it, click to install this theme: Noia 2 Extreme. It will make Firefox look cool too!

After installing, let me know what you think of Firefox.

Chris

Christopher Maselli
TruthPop.com

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Where Are Ideas for Novels Birthed?

(Photo of memorial service for Holocaust survivors in Austria)


One of the most common questions I'm asked is how I get the ideas for my novels.

God gave me the idea for my first novel, From Dust and Ashes, while visiting Austria and a historian told me about the true events liberating a concentration camp.

The idea for my second novel, Night Song, came when I was interviewing veterans for my first book, and they told me about the orchestra of prisoners.

The idea for my third novel, Dawn of a Thousand Nights, came when I was interviewing veterans for my second book, and a friend of one of the veterans told me he was a survivor of the Bataan death march--and would I consider writing about them?

The idea from my fourth novel, Arms of Deliverance (Moody, August 2006) also came from research pertaining to my first three books.

And next from Tricia Goyer is an up-and-coming three book series about The Spanish Civil War and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade of American volunteers. I was researching for my 4th novel, Arms of Deliverance, when I read an autobiography of a B-17 crewmember who was a veteran of the brigade in the Spanish Civil War. I'd never heard about that war, so I started researching. I was fascinated by the volunteers who would fight for the freedom of the Spanish people.

So you see, there is a trend forming . . . I wonder what I'll discover next?

Girls, God, and the Good Life

 
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