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Emily Josephine’s Latest Publication

Now Available! The Fourth and FINAL Novel In My Series, “Little River Village Christmas”

The fourth – and last – book in my “Little River Village Christmas” series, Christmas Grace, is now available! Click here to download a sample and/or purchase it from the Amazon Kindle store.

 

 

Christmas Mercies, the first book in the series, is FREE in all the online ebook retail stores. If you have not yet read it, click here to view it in the Amazon store. Click here to see it at Smashwords (if you purchase it from Smashwords, you can download it in whichever format your particular reading device requires).

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In the first three verses of Psalm 1, the Lord reveals how to become blessed and prosperous. In today’s study, I want to focus on the fourth verse. (Click here for my thoughts on Psalm 1:3).

The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.

The wicked

The first thing I need to point out is that the word wicked here does not refer to people who commit obvious sins: adulterers, murderers, thieves, and so on. When you’re studying the Bible, you have to take the whole into account. “Wicked” is being contrasted with the man described in the first three verses of the psalm, the one who avoids the world’s sinful patterns, instead delighting and meditating on the Lord’s instruction. Taking that into account, we can rightly conclude that a bona fide Christian, one who has faith in Yeshua as their Savior, could be labeled as “wicked.”

Yes, there are a lot of church-goers who have never made a heart commitment to God. But there are plenty of those who have, and who sin on a regular basis and don’t realize it!

How can that happen? Two steps. First, they become entrenched in the world’s way of thinking because it surrounds them, has infiltrated their minds since birth. This cultural brainwashing leads to self-deception, which is the most dangerous kind of deception. Because we are products of the mainstream culture, we can become blind to the many ways its worldview clashes against God’s holiness. That blindness enables us to hear godly preaching, or read the Bible, and justify our actions which clearly contradict what we’re hearing or reading.

I believe that once saved, always saved (assuming a person comes to God of their own volition with a humble and repentant heart, rather than merely making a head-acknowledgement of belief). However, even true believers can get lost.

That doesn’t mean that they are eternally damned. It means that in this life, they’ve lost their way with the Father.

When you take the first four verses together, “the wicked” include both those who have never acknowledged God and desired to live to please Him, as well as believers who have backslidden.

They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Chaff is the hard shell around grain that must be removed before the grain is edible. It weighs almost nothing, so any little breeze can blow it around.

So those who are lost, for whichever of the two reasons I just mentioned, are neither fruitful or blessed. Rather, because of their choice to follow the advice of the ungodly and to walk in the paths of sinners, their lives are empty, void of any of sense of purpose. Because of that, temptations and opportunities can and do blow them every which way.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion gained by worldly and fleshly pleasures. Once the pleasure is over, they find that they remain an empty shell. And once again, the ways of the world influence them, instead of they being able to influence the world.

Your next step

If you have never humbled yourself before God and asked Him to be Lord over your life, that is what you need to do in order to be blessed and to prosper in everything you do. If you are a believer and you have any sense that you have backslidden; if you’re tired of feeling purposeless; if you’re laden with guilt and shame because you know you haven’t kept your heart, mind and actions set on the Father; then you need to turn back to Him. Pray to be able to trust Him again. Because in the end, believers backslide because they stop trusting God and start trusting the world.

If you are in neither of the two above categories, pray for someone who is. Every day.

The end.

With that, I discovered something about myself these past few days. I really loathe blogging. And writing out Bible studies is tedious.

I want to write fiction. Period. It’s where I find my joy.

So I’m going to stick to that.

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In the last post in this study of Psalm 1, we looked at what it means to delight in the Lord’s instruction and to meditate on it. Now, let’s move on to verse three:

He is like a tree planted beside streams of water that bears fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

The third verse of the first Psalm describes the benefits of a person who avoids sin and ungodly ways by delighting in the Lord’s instruction. Let’s take them one at a time.

Like a tree…

Stop right there. People who are blessed by God because they walk in His ways aren’t like a blade of grass. Or a sunflower. Or a bush.

They are like a tree. They aren’t easily cut, broken, or torn up. They are strong, resisting all but the most destructive of winds.

…planted besides streams of water…

Such a believer is not like just any tree, but one who has a constant source of hydration. You can take that figuratively on two levels. First, a tree that never thirsts doesn’t have to struggle to grow or stay alive. Thus, a believer who is blessed because they follow hard after God thrives spiritually.

The second level is remembering that in the Bible, water often symbolizes the Holy Spirit. Someone who meditates on the good things of God and endeavors to walk the straight and narrow path is going to receive a constant refreshing from the presence of God’s Spirit, a stream of water bringing wisdom, peace, joy, and strength.

…that bears fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.

A tree receiving plenty of water can bear plenty of ripe, juicy fruit at just the right time.

That’s key: just the right time. In its season. You can’t pick apples from an apple tree in April; the thing hasn’t gone past the blossoming stage yet! A lot of people get frustrated because they think they should be able to do this, that, or the other thing to help build the Kingdom, when in fact they’re still in their pre-fruit-bearing years. Or in the time of budding.

Remember that when you are faithful in a little, then you are made responsible for much. Be content to be blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit as you focus on the small things God has given you to do right now. Your time to bear fruit will come eventually.

In the meantime, your leaf will not wither. What do leaves do for a plant? They interact with the sun in order to produce chlorophyll, which in turn feeds the plant. So even if you’re not in a fruit-bearing season, if you are the kind of believer described in verses one and two of Psalm 1, you can count on a continual nourishment of both spirit and soul, nourishment that is essential to the production of fruit.

Whatever he does prospers.

Westerners get excited when they read this verse. “All I have to do is obey God, and I’ll be rich!” Therein lies the problem of much, perhaps most, preaching in the Western world today: preachers take Bible verses out of the context in which they were originally written, and paste them into modern societal values.

Yes, God does prosper financially. But it rains on the just and the unjust alike [Matthew 5:45].

Oops. Speaking of Scriptures that preachers interpret in the light of modern Western society. Rain is not a bad thing in this verse. It was written thousands of years ago in the Middle East. In that area of the world, farmers get excited about rain. Rain is a good thing. A very good thing. It represents – bum-bah-dah-dum! – prosperity!

In other words, non-believers can (and do!) prosper financially – and in many other ways – as much as believers can. Just take a look around you. There are plenty of non-believers who are much healthier for their age than believers, others who are much wealthier.

So we need to interpret “prosper” in this verse in a different light than what we’re used to: to bear fruit. If you need to lose fifty pounds, and you change your diet and begin an exercise routine, then eventually lose fifty pounds, you’ve prospered. Your self-discipline has born fruit. If you decide to learn to play the piano, then eventually use the skill to entertain others, the skill has born fruit. The fruit in both examples has nothing to do with earning money.

If we walk close to God, listening for and obeying His instructions to us, His desires become our desires. We won’t go around making plans and trying out different ventures that are contrary to His will for our lives, and therefore fall on our face. Instead, we’ll allow Him to lead us into His best plans for our lives. Thus will whatever we put our hands to prosper – bear fruit – because we’ll be putting our hands to the things that God also has His hands on!

Of course, there is also the spiritual kind of prosperity, bringing joy and peace and a sense of security. Whatever people who are running hard after God do, prospers them in spiritual blessings. Sure, they may develop wealth doing the thing God calls them to, but more importantly, they will find joy and fulfillment as they carry out that calling, that purpose.

Perhaps most importantly of all, the thing prospers by having a positive impact on others. In the life of a believer whose heart is ever toward the Lord, financial and material wealth should be considered a bonus, not the end goal.

Your next step

If you’ve been hitting brick wall after brick wall while attempting to carry out a particular task or reach a particular goal, it could be that you’ve made the mistake of making your plans and asking God to bless them, instead of seeking Him for the plans He has for you. God doesn’t desire for His children to walk in constant frustration. Frustration cannot abide in the same vessel as joy and peace, the major markers of prosperity.

Stop what you’re doing and spend time alone with the Lord. Repent for plowing forward without seeking His will, then ask for direction and guidance. Give it time; chances are high you won’t get an immediate answer or instant clarity. It may take several days or longer for you to figure out His path for you.

And as options come to you, see if meditating on them brings you joy and peace. Push aside the ideas that don’t; pray further about those that do.

Humble yourself before God, choose His ways, and whatever you end up doing will bring lasting joy, a sense of fulfillment, and bear much fruit for the world around you.

Click here for a study on Psalm 1:4.

 

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In this post, I continue with my thoughts on the first Psalm, elaborating on the second verse. If you have not yet read my exhortation on the first verse, click here.

Following is the second verse of the first Psalm:

Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.

Instead.

The first thing I notice when reading the verse is that little word that holds great significance, “instead.” A blessed person does not follow the advice of the wicked, take the path of sinners, or join groups of mockers. Instead of doing all of that, they delight in the Lord’s instruction.

Delighting in the Lord’s instruction.

This begs the question: what does it mean to delight in the Lord’s instruction? Maybe we should back up a step further, and ask first what exactly is the Lord’s instruction? Keep in mind that the writers of the Psalms were pre-Christ believers. There was no Bible, no Old Testament or New Testament. What they had was the law that God handed down to Moses at Mt. Sinai.

Uh-oh. Does this mean we’re supposed to memorize all of Leviticus and follow all of God’s commands written therein to the letter? Of course not. First of all, Yeshua came to fulfill the law because fallen humanity are incapable of doing so. Second, He clearly stated the one command that trumps and encompasses all others: Love God with all your might, and love your neighbor as yourself. Also, after He went to heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of believers so that we would have living guidance.

Thus, for believers today, the Lord’s instruction is letting His love shine in our lives, and the personal nudges and revelations and whispers into our spirits. That said, the “delight” part is easy to explain: we delight in the Lord’s instruction when we readily and willingly live out His love, and readily and willingly obey His internal nudges and whispers.

I don’t mean to say that we ignore the Bible. The Old Testament shows the path and plan of the Father to redeem humanity, as well as giving us glimpses into His grace and mercy along the way. Obviously, reading the Gospels enable us to learn even more about the character of the Father and about who He wants us to become in Christ. And the New Testament books after the Gospels provide practical insights into how to live a life of love, how to stay on track with where the Father wants us to go.

If my exhortation on verse one of the first Psalm sounded difficult, take heart! Because people who  delight in the Lord’s instruction – allowing God’s Spirit to flow through them and taking time to study His written word – are going to tend to shy away from the world’s ways. They are going to walk humbly, seeking to be healed and made whole so that the temptations of the flesh that surround them will be easier to ignore and avoid.

How is that possible? When you let God take over your heart, your desires change. And you gain immeasurable spiritual strength that you cannot have without Him.

In other words, when you allow the Holy Spirit to fill you, when you have a heart to obey His instruction, you lose your desire to live in sin. Not following the advice of the wicked, not taking the path of sinners, not joining mockers – they all become a matter of course in your daily life.

Delighting in the Lord’s instruction is only the first step to becoming that blessed person who avoids evil. There is an additional step that helps living right before a Holy God to become easier.

He meditates on it day and night.

Modern science has proved out that our thoughts are so powerful, that they literally create our respective realities. You can be a person after God’s heart, desire to please Him in every way possible, yet have a mind filled with either anxiety or garbage, if not both (anxiety is a kind of garbage – believe me, who has had a lifetime of experience dealing with it!). The salvation of your spirit does not equate to the salvation of your soul. You know how the apostle Paul wrote that we need to work out our salvation? That work is mostly done in between our ears! The bad news is, most of us have a lot of garbage in that space. It’s that garbage that leads us into temptation, into making justifications for giving into temptation.

The good news is, meditation – or intense focus – on the right things clears away the garbage and refills our minds with godly thoughts. When our minds are full of godly thoughts, the sinful world becomes repulsive.

How, then, do we go about meditating on the Lord’s instruction day and night so our minds will become more pure? Get up in the morning and focus on a truth that will help you fight a particular battle. If you tend to worry a lot, read out loud several times the verse in Philippians 4:6: “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.”

Then, throughout the day, every time a worrisome thought tries to worm its way into your head, fight it off by thinking or speaking that verse.

If you have a low self-esteem and feel unloved, you might think and say throughout the day, “I am a child of God. He created me because He wanted me. He loves me with an everlasting love, and will never leave or forsake me. He is my shepherd, leading and guiding me into His good plans.”

Should you set aside some time each day just to meditate? If you find that helpful, sure! However, a lot of people who do that leave their meditation during that time only, then as they go about the rest of their days, allow the world to refill their minds with trash. That’s why it’s even more important to cultivate the habit of fighting ungodly thoughts with godly ones as they come up.

Your next step

Right now, take a minute to consider one of your most persistent thoughts or beliefs that are contrary to God’s Word. It may be worry, lusting over someone, low self-esteem.

Next, think of or look up at least one Bible verse or godly positive phrase that counteracts that thought. For the rest of the day, whenever that thought comes up, recite the verse or phrase that will fill your mind with godliness. In the days ahead, take on other ungodly thoughts and beliefs in the same way.

In the next post, we’ll look at Psalm 1:3 and learn the benefits of leaning into the Father and seeking to emulate His holiness.

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Psalm 1, Verse 1 Exhortation

I was looking around for faith-based podcasts the other day, hoping to find at least a couple that were created by laypeople, and which were not institutional church-oriented.

I found none.

More than once in the past twenty years, I’ve heard that if you want a particular thing, and no one else is providing it and you have the skills and opportunity to do so, God might be calling you to fill the gap. I can’t say for sure that God is calling me to what I’ve decided to do, but it’s something that will not only edify myself, but other people.

I’m going to meditate on one to several Bible verses per day and write my thoughts up in a blog post. Once I get to somewhere between one and two thousand words worth of thoughts, I’m going to make a video out of it. (Or not, she added a few days later, still trying to decide because she was going to be jumping into a new novel in a few weeks.)

This post is my first in what may end up being a long-lasting Bible study series. Today’s exhortation is based on the first verse of Psalm 1.

How happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked or take the path of sinners or join a group of mockers!

I’ve heard that the word “happy” here would be better translated as “blessed.” Blessings come from God, and while they can lead to us feeling happy, the state of being blessed goes much deeper. Someone who is blessed lives under the sense that they are taken care of, that they are loved, that their lives matter.

But how many believers are actually living in that state of blessing today? Many, if not most, of them do at least one of the three “does nots” in this verse on a regular basis, though not necessarily intentionally. However, much of the behavior and many of the beliefs that society accepts as normal, even appropriate, are not seen as such by God.

…follow the advice of the wicked…

Instead of seeking wisdom via prayer or counsel from a fellow believer who walks the walk, we go online to seek answers. That’s not always a bad thing; in fact, the Lord may lead you to find an answer that way. The trouble comes when we go about seeking advice that will tickle our eardrums and make us feel good, rather than the advice we really need.

“The advice of the wicked” doesn’t just mean advice that comes from ungodly sources. Perhaps even more, it refers to advice that is easy to follow, that seems like it will make us more comfortable, that won’t force us to make hard decisions or difficult changes.

That’s not to say that godly advice will always cause you to struggle, be painful, or make life more inconvenient. But it often will. And we shouldn’t shun it, because one of the best ways to grow as a person as well as to discover God’s best path for us is to get out of our comfort zones.

…take the path of sinners…

How many people do you know who claim Yeshua to be their Savior, yet they spread gossip, make snarky comments, steal small items from their workplace, have sexual fantasies about celebrities or attractive colleagues, continually seek after more and more money, or lie, justifying it all with the belief that they’re not really hurting anybody?

How many Christian women (and men) read secular romance novels with sex scenes and justify it by thinking it will help them please their spouse more? How many believers play video games with occult elements (spells and potions and magical helpers, for example), and/or that are filled with violence, claiming that they’re “just games” which aren’t doing anything to pull their soul away from God?

I’m going to stick my neck out and bring up abortion, homosexuality, masturbation, pre-marital sex, and remarriage while the ex-spouse is still alive (these  are all related to lust, which is a topic for its own article).

Yes, there is grace, and our Father does forgive when we ask for it. Yes, He accepts us the way we are, with all of our failings. Yes, God usually deals with our issues one by one and doesn’t expect us to become perfect overnight.

The issue isn’t our issues. The issue is how we allow ourselves to be blinded by our fleshly desires, laziness, and complacency.

When we persist in doing things the world’s way, justifying them in our hearts because “I was born that way” or “I’m just a sinner saved by grace” or “the Bible is irrelevant to today’s culture,” we are taking the paths of sinners.

…join a group of mockers.

How do believers join groups of mockers? How about getting on social media and taking a side? The issue doesn’t matter. You pick a side, and with your posts and tweets and stories constantly try to belittle those who have chosen the other side.

I’m not saying you can’t try to gently and civilly persuade other people that you have good reason to believe what you believe. But I think we can agree that most people on social media who have taken a side to a particular issue are being neither gentle nor civil.

Then there are people who actually mock other groups of people. Back when I was single, I attended a charismatic church where the “pastor” semi-regularly made of fun of Baptists. Many Baptist preachers, in their turn, call Catholicism a cult. And so on.

I know it’s going to be a long time before Yeshua returns. Know how?

The members of the Body of Christ still mock each other.

And He is returning for a pure Bride. From where I’m standing, the Bride has a long way to go before she’s clean enough for her Bridegroom.

Your next step

Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, confess your sin, and repent. That doesn’t mean you become perfect overnight. That means you continually seek the Father for the strength and wisdom to not be a mocker, not walk with sinners, and not follow ungodly advice. That means you give the Holy Spirit permission to convict you every time you make the slightest wrong move.

And that means you have a heart that will joyfully accept correction, and desire above all else to follow God and to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

And so will you be mightily blessed.

Click here for my thoughts on verse two, which will highly encourage you if you believe verse one expects too much of  a mere mortal!

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How (And Why) I Write For Text-To-Speech

If you’ve read all five of my series so far (you haven’t? Why not? Click here and get moving!), you might have noticed that the writing mechanics in the last three (“Pine Mountain Estates,” “Rock Star Husbands,” and “Little River Village Christmas”) are a little different from the first two (“Texas Hearts” and “Choices And Chances”). That’s because when I began to write the “Pine Mountain Estates” series, I decided to write for text-to-speech. Why?

Because I use text-to-speech.

In fact, unless I want to quickly skim over a section, I consume my Kindle books by listening, not reading. Why? Because my eyes strain easily, more easily with each passing year. When I was in my teens, I had to stop reading after an hour because I’d get tired. Nowadays, I have to stop reading after about ten minutes because I start to feel discomfort behind my eyeballs. And get tired.

So I listen to books, using text-to-speech. And that function hasn’t been programmed for every single nuance of punctuation or spelling possible.

For example, when it gets to a chapter heading, it doesn’t read, “Chapter One,” and then pause, like you do in your head before going on to read the actual story text. No, it reads the chapter heading and first sentence of the chapter as one sentence. For example:

Chapter one it was a dark and stormy night.

Chapter one the building was on fire, and it wasn’t my fault.

The only way text-to-speech knows to pause is if there’s a period or comma (or similar punctuation marks) after a word. This is why I started putting periods after the chapter headings in my novels. When you’re listening to a book, having headings run together with sentences is at best annoying, at worst jarring and distracting.

You might have noticed that I use a lot fewer hyphens in my latter books compared to my earlier ones. One reason is that authors tend to use hyphens because they’re too lazy to write a separate sentence, or to write more tightly. I am guilty of that sin in my earlier work.

When it comes to listening to books, the reason I don’t use them anymore is that text-to-speech often doesn’t “see” hyphens. So again, it doesn’t pause like you do in your head, or when you’re reading a sentence aloud that contains a hyphen. Take the following sentence:

She didn’t want to make the same mistake again – it would have been the third time in four days – so she was much more careful this time.

Text-to-speech would read it like this:

She didn’t want to make the same mistake again it would have been the third time in four days so she was much more careful this time.

Now, the chapter heading issue is easy to ignore. The hyphen issue? Downright befuddling. Thus I’ve trained myself to use hyphens only when absolutely necessary. Otherwise, if I feel the need to break up a sentence, I use the ellipsis (…) which text-to-speech generally sees as a period.

I’ve never written “C’mon” for “Come on” in any of my books, and I never will. Why? Kindle text-to-speech has been programmed that “mon” is the abbreviation for Monday. It therefore reads “C’mon” as “See Monday.”

Similarly, “Lemme” as a lazy way to say “let me”, it reads as “lem.” Pronouncing it as if it were a French word.

The absolute worst is dialect. I’m done listening to Jan Karon’s books, because they are full of her attempts to write a thick Southern accent. How do you think it sounds to listen to

Right on th’ money. Glad I asked you t’ think about it.

And that’s one of the milder examples from one of her novels. I’ve encountered several sentences in a row where “the” and “to” have been truncated to “th” and “t.”

CONFUSING!! Sometimes to the point of nonsensical. When authors try to exactly imitate a heavy dialect or an accent in writing, instead of being able to enjoy the story, I’m constantly having to translate the gibberish in my head. Or, look at the book. Which makes my eyes tired, then strained.

Now, in many of my books, I do have characters speaking Black English or in a Southern or Mexican accent. But I try to write out the differences in pronunciation so that they’ll make sense when read by text-to-speech.

There are a few other things I’ve begun to do to make my text-to-speech users have a more pleasant listening experience, but they simply won’t come to me right now. Just know that my writing mechanic quirks, and my refusal to use certain slang phrases that many other authors use liberally, are to help out my fellow book listeners.

You’re welcome. 😉

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