Discover New Worlds

Kid reading the Book. EducationBooks take you to new worlds. Your mind tramps through new places and situations, but your feet don’t get muddy. When you read my books you walk through some of the same fascinating cultures and sub-cultures I have encountered as I grew up in American, lived 16 years in Taiwan, and now live in New Zealand.

During my 35 years of writing for Christian publication I’ve seen the publishing world turned upside down. In Taiwan I reached out to Chinese people who knew little about Christianity with ESL Bible studies. In New Zealand I’ve needed to tailor church programs and puppet scripts to fit a small mission church in various stages. In recent years I entered a new world of cooking as I learned to cook gluten-free recipes for my celiac husband. I want to use this website to share these resources with others. I hope you’ll find them helpful.

You may also want to follow my weekly blog in which I talk about subjects of interest to writers and people in ministry. I hope these posts will bring hope and help to others in ministry.

Prepare for Rain

spiritual droughtA Christian coach witnesses crises in his personal life, his professional life, and his spiritual life. He doesn’t see God at work. A godly prayer warrior tells him about two farmers who desperately need rain. Both farmers pray for rain, but only one of them goes out and prepares his fields to receive it. “Which one are you?” asks the godly man. “God will send the rain when he’s ready. You need to prepare your field to receive it. “

I love this scene from the Christian film, Facing the Giants. It spoke to me during a time of spiritual drought in our ministry. For a variety of reasons we had lost a number of core families in our small mission church. As a result we had only a few kids in our youth group, a few kids who came to our Discovery Club, and no one under 18 who came to Sunday School. As I came to the New Year I was itching to plan out the year’s activities: Sunday School, youth programs, and ladies’ activities. But how could I plan when we had so few people to plan around? I soon figured out that this would not be a plan-ahead year. It was a year of faith, a step-by-step year, when we could only plan a few weeks ahead at a time.

After much prayer and thought we totally reinvented our kids’ and youth program. We combined them into one Friday night program that included both age groups. Each week I taught a Bible story with applications that would target the larger age group.

It was risky. Would the youth quit coming when the younger kids joined them? Would the younger ones be overwhelmed by the higher athletic ability of the youth? How could I teach the eight-to- eighteen age group effectively?

This might not be the ideal program in most situations, but the Lord led us into it and we followed. The Lord blessed. Our particular blend of kids and youth accepted the broader age range. Some nights we had less kids or less youth, but with the combined group we always had enough to play games. It was unusual, but it was working.

In April a new family started coming regularly. They enjoyed our Discover program, but also came Sunday mornings during our adult Sunday School time. I had told the Lord in January that if a family actually started bringing their kids to Sunday School I would teach them, so I did. Now I had a class with an age range from three to fourteen. It was different, but it worked. Then another new family moved to town and started coming. They had three children, two of which really need a nursery. We needed to reinvent some of our other church programs.

Today our church is stronger, but I still need to go to church sometimes with plan A, B, and C in my briefcase. God is blessing our church, and sometimes it doesn’t seem to be in direct relation to our efforts. Still I believe we need to prepare for rain. We need to be faithful to prepare for people we don’t yet have, for ministries we haven’t yet started. God will honor these acts of faith, the faithful expectation of his blessing. It may not be in the way we expect, but the Bible clearly shows that only God can work in hearts, yet he expects us to do our part too.

What about you? Maybe you’re an organizer like me and you’d like to plan all kinds of exciting events but you are in a drought period. Maybe everything is changing and you can’t plan ahead because you don’t know how many workers you’ll have or how many kids will commit to program practice. Maybe you’d like to start a Bible study or new ministry but you’re afraid no one will be interested. Maybe your ministry is in crisis and you wonder if it will even continue. You can only see a faint glimpse of God’s leading and you’re afraid to take the next step. What do you do?

Take the next step that God leads you to take, praying for the Lord to direct you step by step. God may prosper your present endeavor or he may use the things that don’t work to move you in another direction. But he will lead you if you sincerely want to follow him.

Faith is that next prayerful step into a dark future.  It’s the farmer who prepares his field during a drought. It’s the servant who labors on when her work seems to be in vain.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6 NKJV)

How’s your faith today?

P.S. In December I announced that I planned to launch my new book on January 15. One reader wrote: I can’t find your book on Amazon. Did I miss something? She didn’t. Due to circumstances beyond my control the book has not been released. I expect it to be up in the next week or so. Don’t worry, if you’re following my blog or Facebook Page, you won’t miss it when the time comes.

[The dry ground picture is for viewing purposes only and may not be saved or downloaded.]

Catering to Allergy Sufferers at Fellowship Time

Somehow Christians have a hard time fellowshipping without food. Snacks or meals seem to add to the friendly atmosphere of an occasion. Those same snacks, however, often create a problem for people with allergies.

Imagine if you had an allergy or food problem with gluten, soy, egg, dairy or some other ingredient which is hidden in many foods. You go to some activity that has a huge table loaded with goodies. Many of those foods may make you sick, but it’s very difficult to figure out which ones they are. If you don’t eat anything, you look unfriendly. Besides, you’d like to join in. You don’t want to make a big deal about your allergy, but who can you ask to find out what you can eat? The table looks like one gigantic minefield for allergy sufferers. Maybe you should save everyone a lot of trouble and just go home.

Allergy sufferers face this same situation over and over again. How can we help these nice people feel welcome and safe in our gathering? Here’s some tips:

1. Keep labels for all packaged foods in the kitchen. That way allergy sufferers can read the labels and make their own decisions. You could also add recipe cards to this.

2. When catering for allergies, use simple ingredients. Instead of using a seasoning mix or a prepared food, make it from scratch with spices and ingredients that are clearly marked and don’t hide allergens.

3. At each activity make sure there are a few options for people with allergies and label the dishes clearly.

4. Put allergy-free dips on allergy-free trays that are clearly marked to avoid contamination through double dipping.

5. Have one person in your church who keeps track of allergy-friendly food. For example, I cook gluten-free for my husband and try to be aware of ingredients for him and others. If someone needs to know about a certain dish, they can always ask me and if I don’t know the answer, I’ll track it down for them without making a big deal about it.

This past Christmas season I needed a tray that would work for people who couldn’t have gluten, soy, egg, or sugar. I put together a dip that worked well for all of them and put it on a tray of veggies and crackers they could all eat. I’m making a similar tray tonight for a ladies’ night, which is a reminder to me that I needed to add this to my website. You can find it here.

 

3 Secrets to Totally Avoiding Failure

2015—a new year and a new beginning. Maybe you’re writing new year’s resolutions and kicking yourself for the failures of 2014. Maybe you’re Success highway curve stop go sign progresscontemplating new adventures or maybe the risks scare you away from adventure. Success would taste so sweet, but fear’s bitter taste can knot your stomach. Wouldn’t you like a guarantee that you WILL NOT FAIL?

These 3 secrets will almost guarantee that you will never fail again.

 1. Never try anything new.

When you try new things you lack the experience to pull them off perfectly. You’ll probably make mistakes and embarrass yourself. And your chances for failure are quite high.  Stick with things you already know how to do well.

 2. Never try anything hard.

Attempt only those tasks which you know to be well within your range of capabilities. That way you know that, with a minimum of effort, you can do the job well.

3. Never try anything risky.

Don’t do anything until you’re quite sure it will work. Otherwise you just set yourself up for failure.  And never try anything of which people might disapprove. If you do, you may work hard and only receive criticism in return. Criticism is never fun. It makes you feel you’ve failed even if you haven’t. So stay away from risky jobs. Just be content with who you are now. Quit trying to change.

If you follow these three rules you may never fail again.  Aim at nothing, and you’ll hit it every time.

Of course, as you avoid failure, you will probably also eliminate the chances of any kind of significant success. Easy success carries its own high price tag. Before you give up on failure you may want to see if you have underestimated its merits.

Picture the great artist painting in her studio. With seemingly little effort she splashes a new masterpiece onto plain canvas. Empty walls surround her, for her works sell as fast as she can paint them. They bear no resemblance to her first work when, at age one, she scrawled a few colors onto a page. Only a mother could love that drawing. In second grade her best horse picture drew great praise from her teacher. But however well her picture compared to the works of other second graders, the art world would have refused the slightest glance at it. As she grew she improved, but for each picture she displayed, she hid a notebook of drawings she wouldn’t let anyone see. As she reached adulthood her work showed evidence of real genius. Yet even then the critics belittled her work, criticizing her technique, magnifying each supposed flaw. Now we see the artist’s great success. Yet her effortless strokes of paint hide each failure that she evaluated and learned from. Without the failures, the success would have been impossible.

Unseen failures are the raw material of almost all success.

A great photographer snaps lots of pictures and only displays the good ones.

A great writer has lots of ideas and knows how to sort the good ones from the bad.

A great preacher doesn’t happen to have any tapes of his first sermons.

A great gymnast owes a debt of gratitude to the healing process.

You see, failure also goes by other names such as “learning” and “growth.”  The first attempt at anything new, hard, or risky, is bound to be far from perfect. Yet as we evaluate our failures, learn from them, and do better the next time, we improve our abilities.

Some people, however, stop with their first awkward attempt, assuming that they are not “called” or “gifted” for such a task. In such a case, failure can go by no other name.

Is God asking you to do some new thing today? Are your afraid to try because you are afraid to fail? Then you have proven true the adage that says, “Fear of failure is the father of failure.”

On the other hand, if you grab onto that difficult task as a precious opportunity for growth, you may not do well on your first attempt. So ask God to help you learn from your failures and try again. Then you’ll probably find that you won’t do too well your second time either. Yet as you continue to try, evaluate, and change, you’ll soon find yourself learning and growing. You’ll experience the joy of learning to trust God and serve Him better. People may criticize you, but you can know the joy of the Heavenly Father’s smile on you. Remember God is pleased by our best efforts, even though they fall short of perfection.

If you’re not failing at anything, you’re probably not trying to do anything very significant. If, on the other hand, you’re turning failure into learning and growth, you’ve learned a secret. Sometimes failure isn’t so bad after all.

[Image courtesy of Michael Brown/Deposit Photos.]

Christmas Thoughts for People in Ministry

Brammer organAnd I thought this Christmas was going to be simple, easy. What happened?

Maybe you can identify with my thoughts on this Christmas Eve. Because if you’re in ministry, you’re a giver. All year long you give while others take. You are ready to step in when someone else backs out. You set aside your interests for the interests of others.

 Culture Shock

Since we left our home in America to live in Taiwan in 1980, most of our Christmases have been away from “home” and extended family. In time, our daughters grew up and left our home. They were leaving and we were left behind. By now we’ve gotten used to being far from family at Christmas time.

It helps to remember that Jesus was away from home on his first Christmas. Imagine how strange his new world felt when he set aside his majesty and inhabited the body of a helpless baby! He stepped down from the glories of heaven to live in a poor family among people who had little idea of who he actually was.

 Serving Others

Being in ministry means we serve God by serving others. It’s not about me, it’s about others. What do they need? How can I focus on their interests? What do others want to do? How do they want to do it?

Jesus doesn’t ask us to do anything he wouldn’t be willing to do himself. We may tire of constantly serving others, but he gave his whole life, 33 years of it, as the Man serving other men.  And as he was serving others, he was also serving us, who live 2000 years later. He didn’t just preach servanthood. He fleshed it out and modelled it.

 Sacrificing Self

Sometimes ministry means we have to give up some activity that we would love to pursue with passion. Ministry may put us in a time or place that makes it impossible. But we follow where the Lord leads us, dropping behind us things that would hinder God’s primary purposes in our lives.

Jesus did far more than that. Though he came to save us, as he approached the time when he would be separated from his Father in a death of humiliation and pain, he shrank from the idea. He had to consciously surrender his will to the Father anew so he could offer the supreme sacrifice and die in our place. He emptied himself of his own desires for the good of all people, including me.

Affirmation and Approval

Perhaps these thoughts have brought you, like me, to Philippians 2. Verse 6 describes that great step down when he was rudely awakened in the body of a baby. Verse 7 shows his life as a bondservant who was often overlooked. In verse 8 he bows in obedience to the cross. If you’ve been following that trail, you know what comes next. Exaltation and affirmation.  Someday even Jesus’ enemies will bow before him and acknowledge him as Lord. I can’t wait to see that!

Sometimes we may wish for more affirmation and thanks from people, but we don’t have to wish for that from God. He doesn’t forget the “labor of love” which is our ministry. Our labor may seem to be in vain at times, but it is not. When we serve him faithfully, he smiles down in appreciation for what we do. Do you doubt that? Read Hebrews 6:10 and 1 Corinthians 15:58 as many times as it takes for you to sense his smile and approval.

So this Christmas I want to reach out to all of you people in ministry. You may be tired. Satan may tempt you to feel sorry for yourself. I encourage you to forget all that and focus on this: Jesus gave up far more than he will ever ask us to give up. He exhausted himself in service to a greater degree than we ever will. He sacrificed more than he will ever ask of us. And his smile of approval for faithful service is as sure as the promises of God. God sees your work. This Christmas take a few moments to bask in his love and approval.

May you each have a blessed Christmas wherever you are!

 

Must-Have Homes for Authors

Letters of an old typewriterIf you are a best-selling author with an agent and a major traditional publisher who are doing big- budget promotions for you, you don’t need to read this article. You probably won’t be reading it anyway. But if you are an author with a small independent publishing company (indy publisher) or you are self-publishing your book, you might.

When I published my first book in 1994 with a traditional publisher, authors weren’t expected to promote their books much. That was the publisher’s job. Twenty years later Christian book publication has changed dramatically. Now even traditional publishers expect their authors to promote their own work. If you self-publish or publish with an indy publisher, you are completely responsible for promotion.

Let’s say you have written the best Christian fiction book ever, but your name is not well known and you are self-publishing. Face it, that book will go nowhere without promotion. But where do you begin?

Maybe you’ve gotten yourself on mailing lists that talk about book promotion that sounds impossible. They talk about making podcasts and joining Google’s Author’s Hang-out, and you’re still trying to figure out how to get your Facebook personal profile to work. Pretty soon it sounds impossible. You want to be an author, but the social media expectations make you want to give up.

I’m not suggesting that, to promote your book, you need to do everything that’s out there. But you do need a place for readers to find you. I call these four places “Must-have Homes” because they are close to essential unless you’ve found other social media to take their place. If your readers can’t find you, your book won’t sell. I hate learning to do new technological things and I resist most social media, but my author presence lives in these four homes, and if I can do it, you can too.

Amazon

Today Amazon is the one place your book must be on sale. Your book is probably already distributed through Amazon, but don’t stop there.

Amazon Reviews

Amazon’s reviews are an author’s best publicity tool. Even readers who go to a brick-and-mortar bookstore to buy books often check the Amazon reviews of a book on their phone before buying it.

Maybe you have three 5-star reviews by your friends so you think you don’t need anymore reviews. Actually the more reviews the better. Even negative ones can help. They show that people other than your friends are reviewing it. A reviewer might not like your book, for example, because she thinks there are too many Bible references in it. Another reader might say, “That doesn’t bother me. I like books that are deeper and make reference to the Bible.” So the negative review makes you want to buy it because you feel the review is unbiased, but the reason the reviewer didn’t like it won’t extend to you.

Also, Amazon operates on algorithms. When your book has more than twenty reviews, for example, Amazon starts to suggest your book to readers who look at similar books. So having a good number of Amazon reviews is really helpful for your book.

Author Central

Amazon’s Author Central is also a great place to promote your book. It’s free and easy to put up an Author Central profile, so why wouldn’t you do it? It allows readers  who only come to Amazon for books to find out about you. You can find Author Central here.

Other distributors like Christian Book Distributors and Barnes and Noble can be good too, but Amazon is a must-have.

Website/Blog

Next to Amazon, I believe the most important home for an author is his or her own website or blog. Even a simple blog will give a place for readers to find you and contact you.

Feature Your Books

At the top of my website I have almost all of my books displayed. Each book cover links to a page that tells more about the book, where to order it, gives discussion questions, etc. My website is the best place to find almost all my books and get detailed information about them.

Develop an Email List

A website or blog also gives a place for you to develop the all-important email list. Authors talk a lot about this today, because if readers sign up for your email list, they have given you permission to keep in contact and tell them when your future books come out. Actually, if you have people following your blog or Facebook Page, this will do the same thing.

Offer Helpful Content

If you want people to follow you, it’s important to post helpful information that people will find through search engines when they are looking for information. What content can you give that will actually help readers, not just give them another thing to read?

On my website/blog I have static articles on writing as well as free resources such as Christmas programs and puppet shows, ESL Bible stories, and gluten-free recipes. My blogs are targeted toward writers and people in ministry. I try to give encouragement and practical tips that will help those people. You can find my website here.

Facebook Author Page

Facebook is one of the largest social media in the world. Five hundred million people are on Facebook. Not everyone likes Facebook, but some use Facebook as their favorite form of social networking. You can make your own author Facebook Page for free. It’s not hard and you can probably find a friend to help you set up a Page if you need it.

You can make your blog feed to your Facebook Page. Then whoever “likes” your Page gets your blog on their personal profile. You can offer extra content, like short quotes, on your Page if you like. You can share things from Facebook that you think will interest target readers. I believe the secret is in offering posts that will interest your target readers but not weigh them down with a huge quantity of “junk mail” that only irritates them.

Some people actually use a creative and helpful Facebook Page instead of a website or blog, so that can work too. I figure, if you are on Facebook yourself, why wouldn’t you use this easy way for readers to find you?

You can find my Facebook Author Page here.

Goodreads

I am NOT hunting for more social media to begin using because I already struggle to keep up with what I have, but I discovered Goodreads this year and am finding it really helpful. LinkedIn may be helpful to certain professional people, but it was no help to me. Pintrest is a great place to pin recipes and some authors use it well, but I don’t use it much. Goodreads, however, is all about books and authors and connections. I can’t understand why all authors aren’t on Goodreads unless they are so well known they don’t need to do any of their own promotion.

On a personal level, Goodreads is a great place to post all the books you read or have read, write a short review on them, give them a star rating and compare books with other readers. If you only do that, Goodreads is helpful to remember details about books you’ve read long after you’ve read them. At first it can be a little hard to navigate Goodreads, but once you start clicking on anything and everything, you’ll soon find your way around.

Goodreads can also be a great home for an author. You’ll want to set up your own author page. It’s not hard and any Goodreads users who find your name and wonder who you are will be likely to go to your author page. They may even follow you.

Goodreads also has these other great features for an author.

Goodreads Giveaways

Giveaways are a good way to solicit reviews. Of course, you can ask your friends to post reviews. These are great, but often sound a little biased. You can offer your book for free on Kindle and hope that some readers will review your book, but I think Goodreads Giveaways is a better source of reviews. Readers who register for giveaways often realize that the main purpose for giving a book away is to get reviews. You aren’t guaranteed reviews from those who win your books, but you may get them. When you send the books they win, you can always mention, “If you enjoy the book I’d really appreciate an honest Amazon or Goodreads review.”

Goodreads Giveaways have several advantages over Kindle Free Books. For one thing, when your book is free on Kindle you may have thousands of people who download it for free. Many of those people will never read it, but they have it if they want it so they don’t need to buy it. With the giveaways, people who are interested in your book register for it. You only give away as many as you choose. You can even give away only one book. But every reader who has registered for the book has looked at it long enough to be interested in it. Some even mark it “to-read,” so if they don’t win the book they may see it on their book page later and decide to order it. At any rate, it allows many readers to get a glimpse of your book and decide if it looks interesting.

Groups

If you want an unbiased review of your Christian book by a Christian author, you can join the Christian Books Only Review Group. I’m one of the first members of this group. Any Christian author can join and we’re currently looking for more members. You can find this group here.

Author Page

On your author page you can:

  • post your author profile.
  • allow your blog to feed to your Goodreads author page.
  • activate the “Ask an Author” setting to allow readers to ask you questions.
  • advertise your book.
  • list giveaways.
  • upload excerpts from your book.
  • upload book trailers and videos.

Combination Approach

The great thing about all these “Must-have Homes” is that they can work together to make each other stronger. Every time you post a blog it can automatically feed to your Author Central, Facebook  Author Page, and Goodreads Author Page. Because these all link together, someone can find you on one form of social media and follow another form for more detail.

My Book Launch

I am in the process of publishing a Christian Cozy Mystery. I plan to launch Broken Windows on January 16, 2115. While the factual nature of Edges of Truth gave us an opportunity for a phenomenal book launch, this book is fiction and lacks much of that potential. I live in Invercargill, New Zealand, which isn’t the end of the world, but you can see it from here. I don’t have much of a fan base in my present location. But I plan to use these four homes to plan an exciting virtual book launch. I’ll give you a peek at these plans so you can see one way to make them work for your book.

I can announce the release of my book in my Cozy Mystery Group and my Christian Fiction Group with Goodreads. I’ll update my Amazon Central Page, my website, Facebook Page, and Goodreads Author Page, and offer a free download of the first chapter in several places. I’ll start a Goodreads Giveaway on that day and give away three copies of my new book. I’ll also activate the Ask an Author Setting  on Goodreads. I have a fun, interactive activity planned for my Facebook Page. Anyone who leaves a comment on that will go into the draw to win a free copy. And I hope that some of those readers will begin to follow my blog on my website, Facebook Page, or in Goodreads. You can follow me on my blog here.

This is a very long article. Congratulations if you have persevered to the end. If you are an author working to promote your own book, I hope you’ve found something helpful here. May the Lord encourage you during this holiday season as you seek his will in communicating his message!

[Image courtesy of Vladislav-Mitic/Deposit Photos.]