Dwelling with a deadline

God often weaves my life’s tapestry with interlocking threads.

One of my favorite songs in the psalter is Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, which I’ve reflected on over the years here and here and here. I also wrote a meditation on it that appears in my devotional A Month of Sundays. But in recent weeks, personal circumstances have caused my husband and me to refer frequently to its petition: “Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us” (verse 15a).

God seemed to embroider my tapestry with a golden thread last Sunday evening, when guest pastor Rev. Mark Vander Hart (a longtime family friend) preached on Psalm 90. You can listen to his sermon, A Necessary Prayer to Establish Us, via a link on this sermon page (5-3-15 PM).

Only three days later, the May 6 morning reflection in the Morning and Evening devotional by Charles Spurgeon was based on 1 John 4:14 and reinforced the concept of God as our dwelling place. Spurgeon asked, “Do you want a house for your soul?” He made the point that this dwelling comes “without price,” even though we would like “to pay a respectable rent” and “do something” to win Christ and have the house. We can pay nothing but the “ground-rent of loving and serving him forever,” dwelling in Jesus and feasting on his love.

When this world shall have melted like a dream, our house shall live, and stand more imperishable than marble, more solid than granite, self-existent as God, for it is God himself–“We dwell in him.”

When Rev. Vander Hart spoke about God as our dwelling place, he referred to Ephesians 1:3-10 and emphasized about how God chose us from the foundation of the world and how we’ve been with him a long, long time.

Rev. Vander Hart’s references to deadlines especially resonated with me. As a writer, I live with constant deadlines. Each day I face outside and self-imposed deadlines. But Sunday’s sermon reminded me of my ultimate deadline: death.

Rather than being morbid, that reminder is motivating. We don’t see how God weaves every thread into the tapestry of our lives. But the Utlimate Weaver creates each of his children into a beautiful masterpiece.

He provides six days each week to work for him, and he gives each of us our own personal and inevitable deadline. He has determined our exact number of days (Psalm 139:16). Let’s make the most of them!

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Slaying the Discouragement Dragon

Jerry Vanderstedt’s image of Smaug, created at San Diego’s Comic-Con in 2014 (image from Vandersteldt’s Facebook page). You can find more of his incredible artwork by clicking on this link to his website.

Discouragement can seem as overwhelming as a fire-breathing dragon. It singes your body, saps your energy, and steals your very breath. Like Smaug in The Hobbit, its speech invades your mind and twists your thinking. How can you defend yourself against such an insuperable enemy?

Several recent events have discouraged me in my work. In fact, I can’t remember a time when I’ve felt discouragement so strongly. My feelings led me to an online search for Bible texts that might help lift my spirit. I needed divine assistance to switch my focus from feeling sorry for myself to keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).

I found many lovely verses, including several I’ve written about, like the frequent biblical commands to “fear not” or “be strong and of good courage” and 2 Corinthians 12’s promise of “sufficient grace,” all of which I reflected on in A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God. I came across beautiful verses about God’s “tender mercies” and his “great peace” as well as the “deep delight” we can have in him; verses I explored in Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. My search brought up several Psalm references, including these gems I discussed in Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss – “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head” (Ps. 3:3). “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (Ps. 33:22). And this verse, which also appears in Discovering Delight: “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word” (Ps. 119:114). I was even reminded of how God encouraged Elijah when he ran away and wallowed in his pity party, an incident discussed in Matthew Muddles Through.

My morning search also yielded a very helpful lesson on Overcoming Discouragement by Steven J. Cole, pastor of Flagstaff Christian Fellowship in Arizona. Rev. Cole bases this excellent lesson on Ezra 5:1-17 and suggests this strategy for dealing with discouragement:

To overcome discouragement, we need a fresh encounter with God’s Word, we need to get back to work for Him and to persevere, trusting Him to accomplish His will through us.

When we’re discouraged, we’re tempted–like Elijah–to hibernate and wallow in pity. But we must dig into the Word, force ourselves to get back to work, and trust God to fulfill his purpose for us (Psalm 138:8). People and circumstances will discourage us, but God’s word encourages us.

As I face the Dragon of Discouragement, the sword in my hand may appear small and dull. But this weapon isn’t mine at all; it’s God’s. And it’s the substantial and razor-sharp Word of the Lord.

Two new books launched

DSCN4962What a fun Friday! A radio interview and book signing doubled the fun during my local launch of two new books. Between 10:15 and 10:45 yesterday (December 19), Patricia interviewed me on the local Christian radio station, KCWN 99.9. After that, I signed books during the station’s Christmas open house until 1:00. I want to thank General Manager, Bev De Vries, and DJ Patricia for their gracious hospitality. The station’s facility is decorated beautifully, and entering it feels like stepping into a welcoming home.

Patricia made the interview completely painless. In fact, it was a lot of fun. Growing up as the middle child in a pastor’s family, she felt a lot of affinity for my book-boy Matthew. Talking about him and the problems he faces in Matthew Muddles Through was a hoot. She shared her enthusiasm for the story with listeners.

Bev De Vries took this picture through the production room window while Patricia and I were on the air.
Bev De Vries took this picture through the production room window while Patricia and I were on the air.

We then discussed my other new release, Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. She described it as going “deep” and we talked about the writing style, which Aimee Byrd called “a commendable style of commentary meets personal devotion.” Patricia and I also spoke briefly about Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss and A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law. Before I went off the air, I had the opportunity to share my excitement about my current memoir collaboration project with Uriah Courtney, who was recently exonerated after more than eight years of wrongful incarceration.

booksBook signings are always enjoyable. It’s great to meet new friends and experience the support of existing ones. The best kind of book signings are when a steady stream of people comes in and I have time to speak to each person individually. And this was one of those signings with wonderful opportunities to talk to individuals, including some people I hadn’t seen for years.

I’m thankful for the doors God opens and I grateful he equips me to walk through them. books-2

Local launch and book signing

Glenda Mathes and Diane Smith at my September 9, 2013, book signing
Glenda Mathes and Diane Smith at my September 9, 2013, book signing

This Friday, Lord willing, I’ll be interviewed by Patricia on KCWN 99.9 FM and will be signing books during the station’s Christmas Open House from 11:00 to 1:00. The station is located at 304 Oskaloosa St. in Pella. Local people, come over between 11:00 and 1:00 for some cookies and conversation!

And if you’re still looking for Christmas gifts, you can’t go wrong by giving someone an opportunity to dig into God’s Word. Discovering-Delight-front (1)Copies of my new devotional, Discovering Delight: 31 Meditations on Loving God’s Law will be available for $10.

Searching for a gift for a middle grade reader, aged 8 to 12? Why not foster their reading skills with a novel that conveys truth in an engaging story? Matthew Muddles Through is about an ordinary but imaginative kid, the middle child in a minister’s family, who faces trouble on every side. Matthew’s humor and imagination help him cope with his problems, and in the process he learns more about loving others and trusting God. Copies of this juvenile fiction novel, the first is a series of three, will be available on Friday for $10.

PrintI’ll also have available copies of A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God and Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss for $10 each. One fortunate person will be able to purchase my singular copy of Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism for $15. This is the first volume of the popular Life in Christ catechism curriculum, which has sold in several countries and is being translated into eight languages.

Save shipping! Buy any of these books on Friday and the author will be happy to sign them for you.

Those of you who don’t live nearby may be interested to know that I’m scheduled to be interviewed on the Janet Meffert Show on Monday, December 20, at 2:30 Central time. You can listen online at the show’s website.

Visit those in prison

With Rev. Nathan Brummel and John Surowiec after teaching a writing seminar at Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in Danville prison in Illinois.
Rev. Nathan Brummel, Glenda Mathes, and John Surowiec

Matthew records some of Christ’s most terrifying and sobering words about Judgment Day. In Matthew 7: 21-23, Jesus warns that righteous actions are meaningless without genuine faith. And in Matthew 25:31-46, he describes how he will separate the sheep from the goats, the latter of which will include those who didn’t feed the hungry, assuage the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, or visit the sick and those in prison.

That final category has long been the last bastion of my personal disobedience. As much as possible, I ignored Christ’s command to visit those in prison. It was so far beyond my comfort zone that it was more than off my radar; it was out of the atmosphere.

When Rev. Nathan Brummel spoke at our church last fall and suggested in private conversation that I should consider speaking to women at the Rockville Correctional Center and teaching a seminar on writing to the men at Danville Correctional Center, I mumbled, “I don’t know,” but my mind screamed, “No!”

Still the Spirit worked in my rebellious heart and I finally agreed. I share these reflections not to focus on any person (especially me), but to demonstrate how great God is and with the hope of igniting in you a spark that might eventually burst into flames that incinerate any lingering intimidation.

Speaking to a womens group at a church in the Illiana area
Speaking to a women’s group                              at a church in the Illiana area

I initially didn’t want to go through all the stress of preparing speaking presentations, and I certainly didn’t want to step through the secure doors of any prison. But I tried to submit my stubborn will to God’s sovereign will.

Heartfelt prayer combined with focusing less on myself and more on Christ quieted my spirit. By God’s grace, I could walk through clanging doors and metal detectors without my jelly legs giving way. I could walk through halls crowded with prisoners without fear, even smiling and greeting them. And I could thoroughly enjoy interacting with the men in Divine Hope Reformed Bible Seminary as I shared some writing tips with them.

Eager students with sharp minds and teachable spirits, these men remained engaged and asked lots of questions that kept me on my teaching toes. Even though we concentrated on writing skills and practices, their Christian faith was evident. They repeatedly expressed appreciation for the instruction, but especially for our simple action of coming to visit them in prison.

That evening and the next day, I participated with Paula Brummel and Annette Gysen in leading a conference on Resting in God to women inmates at the Rockville, IN, facility. On Friday evening, we led book discussions on my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting God, which a donor had contributed to women signing up for the conference. What an incredibly humbling experience to hear firsthand how God is using something I’d written to touch the lives of these women! It was as if he peeled back the veil and showed me a glimpse of his work behind the scenes.

In my first presentation on Saturday, I encouraged the women to rest in our Triune God’s steadfast love by trusting in the Father’s sovereignty, believing in the Son’s salvation, and walking in the Spirit’s sanctification. Paula then spoke passionately about God’s ordinance for Sabbath rest, and how it applies not only to the past, but also to the present, as well as what it means for the future. After lunch, Annette used meaningful real-life examples to discuss resting in God during times of suffering. In my final presentation, I talked about how we need to surrender all to Jesus in submission to his will, in sorrow for our sins, and in selflessness toward others. I stressed that resting in God primarily involves focusing less on self and more on Christ.

Like the men at Danville, these women told us how grateful they were for the visit. Their love for the Lord shone in their faces and sparkled in their speech. We concluded our visit with singing and prayer, the final song being “Amazing Grace.”

The next day, at morning worship in my own church, the last song was “Amazing Grace.” I sang with tears running down my face, clinging to my husband. All I could see was an image of those women’s glowing faces.

Don’t be afraid to open the intimidating door of visiting those in prison. God can and will equip even the most reluctant and terrified Christian. I’m living proof. Trust him!

The above article by Glenda Mathes appeared on pages 18 & 19 of the June 25, 2014, issue of Christian RenewalThe article prefaced this one about my brother in the Lord, Uriah Courtney, wrongfully incarcerated for eight years. And in this earlier blog post, I wrote about how God’s work was evident at every turn during my time in Illiana.

God’s work in Illiana

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My sister, Bev, provided invaluable help for the book signings.

Late Saturday night I returned from a five-day speaking trip in Illinois and Indiana. Since then I’ve been decompressing and processing. My mind churns with memories and images that are difficult to distill. One thing I know: God’s Spirit amazed me over and over!

He equipped introverted-homebody me, who hadn’t been able to prepare as well as control-freak me would have liked, to speak with a confidence I certainly didn’t feel on my own. He revealed the compassionate faith of many dear sisters in Christ who welcomed my biological sister and me with open arms and hearts. God kept us safe while traveling over 1,000 miles. And he floored me when I witnessed his amazing grace working in the lives of men and women inmates.

Warmly welcomed by the Heart-to-Heart women at Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL
Warmly welcomed by the Heart-to-Heart women at Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL

Bev and I left the Pella area on Tuesday morning and arrived at our restful home away from home that evening. For two nights, we stayed in a beautiful condo that provided a quiet haven between speaking engagements. Painted above the headboard of the bed where I slept were the words of Psalm 23:3, “He restoreth my soul.” Providentially, that was also the first verse in my PowerPoint presentation, Soul Rest: Finding Rest in God. From where I lounged on the sofa, I could see through the front window the glowing spire of a nearby church.

On Wednesday morning, the Heart-to-Heart ladies of Oak Glen URC in Lansing, IL, welcomed us. They helped me get the PowerPoint presentation set up–until the wi-fi was turned off. We sang a few songs until a helpful fellow from the church came and got all the connections set correctly and I was back in PowerPoint business. That morning was a great time of meeting some old friends and many new ones. We had a lovely lunch with a dear, longtime friend.

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Sweet fellowship with the sisters at Community URC in Schererville, IN.

That evening we joined the women at Community URC in Schererville, IN, where an old friend I’d met at many Classis meetings brought in his digital projector and screen. Skillfully-made decorations enhanced the joyful experience of meeting these dear sisters in the Lord. The fellowship was even sweeter than the refreshments.

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Sharing God’s comfort with women from several churches at New Life CRC in Highland, IN.

On Thursday morning, we headed north to Highland, IN, where we found more fellowship at New Life CRC among women from many different churches. The common chord in our hearts, drawing us all together that day was the memory of Jan Robb, who had led Bible studies in various churches and had contacted me about speaking shortly before her tragic death. Through a series of providences, God led me to connect with another woman and brought me to Highland.

After a lovely lunch with a dear, new friend, we drove down to DeMotte, IN, and set up at Immanuel URC. What a joy that evening to renew old and kindle new acquaintances, including our mother’s cousin and two delightfully polite 13-year-olds!

Meeting my mom's cousin, Wilma, at Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN.
Meeting my mom’s cousin, Wilma, at Immanuel URC in DeMotte, IN.

Friday was a huge day of teaching a writing seminar to the men in Divine Hope Reformed Seminary within the walls of Danville Correctional Center in Danville, IL. What a privilege to witness the Spirit’s work in their changed lives–their hope and joy in Christ! These men were eager to learn and kept me on my teaching toes. They were attentive and polite students, expressing their immense gratitude for the visit and instruction.

On Friday evening, we arrived at the women’s prison facility in Rockville, IN. Paula Brummel and Annette Gysen helped me lead book discussions on my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting on God, which a donor had given to the women who signed up for the Resting in God conference. How incredibly humbling to hear women testify how something I wrote is drawing them closer to God. I was totally overwhelmed that God should choose to use me. Many of the women shared underlined text and how it touched their hearts. God’s grace floors me.

With Rev. Nathan Brummel and John Surowiec after teaching a writing seminar at Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in Danville prison in Illinois.
With Rev. Nathan Brummel and John Surowiec after teaching a writing seminar at Divine Hope Reformed Seminary in Danville prison in Illinois.

On Saturday morning, a “situation” in the prison kept us from being admitted at first. But after about a half hour’s wait, we were permitted to go through the wanding and patting down process before entering the prison.

In my initial presentation, I encouraged the women to rest in our Triune God’s steadfast love by trusting in the Father’s sovereignty, believing in the Son’s salvation, and walking in the Spirit’s sanctification. Paula spoke on Sabbath rest, past, present and future. After lunch, Annette discussed resting in God during times of suffering. In my final presentation, I talked about how we need to surrender all to Jesus in submission to his will, in sorrow for our sins, and in selflessness toward others.

The conference concluded with all of us women standing and singing Amazing Grace. What an experience! Back in Pella on Sunday morning, the last song during our worship service was Amazing Grace. I sang with tears running down my cheeks, clinging to my husband. All I could see was an image of those women’s glowing faces.

It was an exhilarating and exhausting week. Praise God for his Spirit’s work in the churches and in the prisons. In the hearts of church members and prison inmates, who are no different in God’s eyes.

Writing book reviews

A few months ago, I blogged about how to Support Your Author Friends. One of the suggestions I mentioned was to review their books.

Elaine Marie Cooper
Elaine Marie Cooper

My new Word Weaver friend, Elaine Marie Cooper, recently posted this entertaining article about How to Write a Helpful Book Review (or How to Keep an Author from Crying). She provides humorous and illustrative “do” and “don’t” examples related to an imaginary book she makes sound so appealing I’d like to read it.

Elaine’s recently released Fields of the Fatherless is available in Kindle and paperback formats at Kindle. This moving story from a young woman’s point of view tells a fictionalized version of historical events surrounding a little-known battle at the beginning of the American Revolution.

I’m thankful for every review people post about my books. I’ve received some incredibly humbling ones in magazines and online. But I’d certainly appreciate more. If you’ve been blessed by my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God, would you take a moment to head over to its Amazon page and post a review? Many people have personally expressed appreciation for Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss. If you’ve found it helpful, would you consider sharing that in a review? You don’t have to be a writer or a publishing professional. Any reader can post a review.

It’s easy to do. Simply state the name of the book and author and relate why you liked it or how it helped you. You don’t have to write a long review; in fact, shorter is better. A review as brief as twenty-five words can pack a powerful punch. On Amazon, you also have the opportunity to rate the book by giving it from one to five stars (five stars being best). 

If you’d like a better idea of how to write a review, check out Elaine’s post for helpful suggestions.

I encourage you to post reviews of all the books you appreciate. Your authors friends will thank you for it!

AMOS on sale!

AMOS coverAmazon is currently selling my A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God for only $7.20! What a bargain! At that price, you should buy several for Christmas gifts.

UPDATE: Reformation Heritage Books is offering it at half price! Only $5!

Chicago book signing

If you happen to be in the Chicago area next Monday, September 9, 2013, stop in between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. at Mid-America Reformed Seminary, where I’ll be signing copies of my books: A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God ($10), Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss ($10), and Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism ($15).

AMOS coverA Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God explores the concept of rest that permeates the Bible from creation to consummation.  After God created and named the different aspects of our universe in six days, He rested. When Christ returns to complete His kingdom, all believers will enjoy perfect rest. Between these two great bookends of history, God calls us to rest in Him every day.

In today’s hectic and distressing world, we need to recapture the concept of daily rest. Demands and distractions agitate our spirits. Disasters trigger anxiety. Diseases generate pain. Despair creeps into our hearts. These influences displace our peace and pull us from resting in God and His Word. The reflections in A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God pause our spinning thoughts and calm our fluctuating feelings.

ENDORSEMENTS:

Glenda Mathes has written an uplifting series of meditations on the subject of rest for the weary. Starting with the premise of sabbath rest as a model for how God wishes his children to live, Glenda weaves a wide-ranging tapestry of how Christians can follow God’s mandate to rest in him both now and eternally. The book is filled with great texts from the Bible, accompanied by interspersed quotations from the Heidelberg Catechism and personal reflections and recollections of the author. This is a great book for all who labor and are heavy laden, and who want to obey God’s command to rest. People for whom Sunday observance is important, as well as those who love the Heidelberg Catechism, will especially resonate with this book.

— Leland Ryken, professor of English, Wheaton College

‘Rest’ is a topic often overlooked in our hectic schedules, but Glenda Mathes shows it is essential to a Christian life. Not as another thing ‘to do,’ but as part of our calling. A Month of Sundays invites us to overcome our distractions and fears and seek the one true source of rest, Christ Himself.

— Janie B. Cheaney, columnist for WORLD Magazine, and a contributing editor at RedeemedReader.com

Little One Lost CoverDo you grieve the loss of a preborn child? Do you wonder how to minister to someone who grieves the loss of an infant? The grief of miscarriage, stillbirth, and newborn loss is often misunderstood and frequently ignored.

In Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, I share my own experience of loss and show from Scripture that these littlest ones are not really lost.

Through the personal stories of several couples, readers learn about a variety of losses, including the pain of infertility. Additional sections deal with acknowledging loss, finding comfort, grieving with hope, and healing from pain.

Steeped in biblical wisdom, this book will resonate with mourning parents and assist anyone who longs to comfort those who grieve a little one lost.

ENDORSEMENT:

Helpful for those struggling with the questions that occur following infant loss, and hopeful because of Christ, Who loses no little ones.

— Dr. Marvin Olasky, Editor-in-chief of WORLD magazine

CoverNot My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism is the first volume in the “Life in Christ” catechism curriculum. It is a workbook aimed at grade five students, but can be used effectively by older or younger students. Many adults appreciate its simple and thorough explanation of the catechism beloved by generations of Reformed believers.

One of the most heartwarming endorsements I’ve received to date was from my oldest grandson, who recently began using it for his homeschool Bible class. He told me, “I like that book you wrote, Grandma. I like how you break each lesson up, so it’s not too much to read.”

I hope to see you on Monday afternoon!

 

A Month of Sundays free at Challies!

AMOS coverTim Challies is famous for his book reviews and “Free Stuff Fridays” on his blog: challies.com

Today he’s giving away packages from Reformation Heritage Books, including copies of my devotional, A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in GodHead over to challies.com to register for your chance to win!