Thursday, December 23, 2010

A Baby is Born

She came into the world two days ago. A beautiful baby girl weighing in at 7 lbs. 3 oz. Ten tiny fingers, ten little toes, sweet delicate features all pointing to a marvelous Creator. We got the first picture of our niece only hours after she was born. Her eyes were closed as she slept peacefully, oblivious to the excitement her arrival had created. Swaddled in clean blankets, the hospital staff gave careful attention to every detail.

Another baby entered the world many years ago. Extended family members weren't there to usher in the birth of this boy. No hospital staff attended to the baby's needs. In fact, shocking conditions accompanied the birth of this little one. His birthplace was a stable. His bed, an animal's feeding trough. His mother Mary, and his earthly father, Joseph, were far from home. They had traveled a long distance to pay their taxes in the city of Bethlehem.

"And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," (Luke 2:6-7; KJV).
Why would the King of the universe come to the earth in such a humble fashion? Imagine baby Jesus wrapped in rags that were typically used to prepare a body for burial. Yet each detail had significance, pointing to the mission this God/man would fulfill. He came to earth to become the Savior of all mankind. He would live a sinless life. Giving His life as a sacrifice to pay the sin debt of the entire world.

All those years ago, kings and priests didn't welcome his birth. But lowly shepherds knew the importance of Jesus' birth and were presented with the opportunity to worship the newborn King.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:8-16).

As Christmas approaches, what will be the focus of your celebration? Getting gifts? Or the birthday of the King - Jesus Christ? Let the inspiring example of the shepherds draw you to the Savior's side in true worship! A very Merry Christmas from my house to yours!

Prayer: Blessed Heavenly Father, thank You so much for the precious gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ. I'm so grateful He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died on the cross - shedding His blood, that through Him, I might be saved. Help me to worship You in spirit and in truth this Christmas season. I love You Lord. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Gift Inside

The house is decorated. The gifts have been purchased. The baking is done. The only thing that remains is wrapping the presents. A quick inventory of supplies, reveals a myriad of gift wrap and bags to choose from. Colorful bows will add the finishing touch to each present.

Christmas is only a few days away. Our family will pass out gifts, one at a time, and watch as the recipient opens each present. Candid photos will record enthusiastic responses and surprised expressions for us to enjoy throughout the year. As the wrapping paper is torn from each box, it's the gift inside that will be treasured.

Travel back in time with me to a little town called Bethlehem. The marketplace is thronged with merchants selling their wares. The sound of voices fills the air as salesmen strike deals with customers. Townspeople stand in line, waiting to buy food and drink. Every inn is filled to capacity - some weary travelers are turned away.

Unbeknownst to the people of Bethlehem, a precious gift is born that very night. "And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn," (Luke 2:7; KJV). This baby is God's gift to mankind. The Savior, who willingly left His throne in heaven, veiled Himself in flesh to live a sinless life and shed His blood on the cross to pay our sin debt. In the words of the Apostle Paul, "Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift," (2 Corinthians 9:15)!

Gifts are supposed to be accepted and unwrapped by the recipient. The present that I leave unopened under my Christmas tree won't be of any use to me. The same is true regarding the gift of Jesus Christ. He was sent for your benefit. He "made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," (Philippians 2:7-8). His desire is to give each one of us eternal life: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23).

How can such an amazing gift be unwrapped? He provides the answer, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life," (John 3:16). Believe in Him. Believe that you are a sinner. Believe that Jesus shed His blood and paid your sin debt on the cross of Calvary. Put your faith in Him, and receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ!

Have you left the most important gift unopened this season? Don't wait till Christmas. You can receive this gift today. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. And you'll spend an eternity rejoicing in heaven!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to be born as a babe in a manger all those years ago. I praise You that Jesus willingly went to the cross, shedding His blood in payment for my sins. Thank You for the gift of eternal life You give me when I believe in the finished work of Jesus. To God be the glory! Amen.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Star with a Purpose

The app is incredible. Google SkyMap. I can point my phone up to the sky in any direction, and the application will tell me which stars I'm looking at. Pretty mind boggling. In Google's own words, "If there’s a specific constellation you’re looking for you can search through the application’s database, and SkyMap will help you find it in the sky, using an intuitive arrow system to tell you which direction to turn. When you get close, a circle will appear on the screen surrounding the stars that make up the constellation. It’s really a stargazer’s dream come true."

This amazing technology has made me more aware of a marvelous Creator! I'm convinced of the Psalmist's words, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork," (Psalm 19:1; KJV).

Imagine how handy this tool would have been 2000 years ago. I can picture the wise men holding up their smart phones, searching for the star that would lead them to the new-born King. But God's plan was infinitely better! An easily recognizable star, shining in the east, that would lead the men directly to the Savior.

Their journey was long. They came a considerable distance from the east to Jerusalem. Their excitement mounted as they made their way through the crowded streets to the palace. But no one knew anything about a baby. King Herod called the priests and scribes together to do a little research. Where would this baby be born? The scrolls contained an answer, "In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel," (Matthew 2:5-6).

Cold chills must have gripped the King as he contemplated this potential menace to the kingdom. He feigned kindness to his guests, telling them to find the baby and return to the palace, so he could go and worship the baby too. His unspoken plans played out in his mind. When the wise men returned, he would send his troops to do away with this threat to his throne.

The wise men continued their journey, destined for Bethlehem. They searched the sky. Sure enough, there it was: the star that had led them faithfully thus far. "...And lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy," (Matthew 2:9-10). The star had been created for a purpose - to shine in such a way as to guide these men to the Savior. It did its job: "And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh," (Matthew 2:11).

See the connection? You were created for a purpose too. Just like the star of Bethlehem, each of us is given the opportunity to shine for Jesus, pointing others to Him. Don't let the hustle and bustle of the season dim your light. Instead, choose to be like that brightly shining star of long ago, leading others to the truth of a loving Savior who was born to reconcile sinful man with a holy God.

When your light is shining brightly, it won't take a neat app to find you, you'll be clearly visible. Doing your part to make your Heavenly Father known!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunity to shine for You. During this busy Christmas season, help me to be still and know You are God. I humble myself in worship of You. Help me to shine brightly, pointing others to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 13, 2010

And The Winner Is...

Congratulations to Diana Ferguson, winner of the autographed copy of Jody Hedlund's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride!! Be sure to visit Diana's creative blog sites: Pass Your Plate, To Everything a Season, and Texas-Blogging Gals!

A special thank you to all who participated in the giveaway! I appreciate your support!

Grab a cup of coffee and join me over at Eternity Cafe today, where you'll be challenged to 'let your light shine' this Christmas season! Stay warm and be blessed!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

An Interview and a Giveaway!

We've all heard the moving stories of famous preachers and missionaries from days gone by. William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, John Bunyan, and countless others. Have you ever thought about the women behind these great men of faith? In her debut novel, The Preacher's Bride, historical romance novelist, Jody Hedlund helps us imagine what it would be like to live in the 1600's, married to a man who is intent on sharing the gospel no matter the cost.

Today, I have the pleasure of interviewing author, Jody Hedlund!

Maria: Thanks for joining us today! Tell us a bit about your debut novel, The Preacher's Bride.

Jody: The Preacher’s Bride is a tale about finding true love amidst the intense discrimination and persecution that existed after the Restoration of the monarchy in 1650’s England.

This book is inspired by Elizabeth Bunyan, the second wife of John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim’s Progress. I loved the brave way Elizabeth defended John during one of his trials when he was under arrest for his “unlicensed” preaching. Her strength to face a court of persecutors and her determination to faithfully support her husband touched me so deeply, that I decided her little-known story needed to be told to the world.

Maria: Which character in your book can you most easily identify with? And why?

Jody: My 92 year old grandmother recently finished reading my book. She wrote me a letter and said she kept seeing my name in place of Elizabeth’s, the heroine. Apparently my grandma was seeing my personality coming across in Elizabeth’s. I didn’t intentionally write Elizabeth to resemble me, but in hindsight, I can see that as a strong woman of faith she shares many of my characteristics.

Maria: Your book has done extremely well! Describe how you felt when you found out The Preacher's Bride was on the CBA best seller list.

Jody: Stunned to make the list. Excited to see a dream come true. Grateful to God for his goodness. Humbled that people are reading and enjoying my book.

Maria: Share some lessons you've learned on your journey from rough draft to publication.

Jody: Perseverance is KEY. There will always be discouraging times no matter where we’re at in the journey. For a while, I wondered if an agent would ever pick me up. And after hearing the dismal statistics about how few debut authors get picked up by publishers, I wondered if a publisher would ever take an interest in my books. But, I persevered and learned that if we continue to grow in our skills and work on our stories, industry professionals will eventually notice us.

Maria: How do you keep your writing fresh?

Jody: Currently I’m in the researching and plotting phase of my third contracted book. While in this phase, I’m reading a couple of fiction-writing “how-to” books. Reading them refreshes me, sparks new ideas, reminds me of techniques I need to practice, and pushes me to improve.

Maria: You're an extremely busy lady, and family is obviously very important to you, how do you prioritize your day? How many hours do you spend writing?

Jody: I struggle every day to balance the new demands of being a published author and the mother to five busy children. I try to set personal deadlines ahead of publisher ones so that I’m not running behind. I also keep myself on a fairly strict writing schedule. I block time into my day and stick to it. I give myself daily word count goals or number of chapters to edit, and I work hard to meet my goals. And then I try to be just as intentional with my family—especially setting aside regular family time together.

Maria: How has being a published author changed you?

Jody: Through the stresses and deadlines and increased workload, God has stretched me to grow. As I’ve juggled a writing career and other responsibilities, I’ve had to learn to let go of some of the things that aren’t important (like a dusted house or perfectly prepared meals) and instead cling to what matters most (like family time).

Maria: Any chance you might write a non-fiction book in the future? If so, what topic?

Jody: I’ve always tossed around the idea of writing non-fiction. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of ideas, particularly about parenting and marriage. I could even see myself delving into a writing how-to book. But for now, at this busy stage in my life, I’m sticking with fiction.

Maria: What goals have you set for your future? Writing and otherwise.

Jody: I’m actually taking the future one day at a time. I want to be obedient to God’s plans for my life. For now, he’s given me a three book contract. I intend to write the very best three books that I possibly can. Then after that, I’ll see where he leads me!

Maria: What final words of wisdom would you like to share with our readers?

Jody: God’s life lessons aren’t always clearly written out on a blackboard. Instead, it’s often when we’re in the middle of difficulties, stresses, and hardships that we slowly begin to see what God is trying to teach us. And ultimately the lesson is that he longs for our holiness more than our happiness.

Maria: Definitely words of wisdom we can all take to heart! Thank you so much for joining us today, Jody! Congratulations on your first successful novel! And God give you many more successes as you continue to write for His honor and glory!

Good news! If you're interested in winning an autographed copy of Jody's debut novel, The Preacher's Bride:

• Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot) maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.

• Receive an extra entry by becoming a follower, or by reminding me that you're already a follower.

• Receive a bonus entry by posting about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook and/or Twitter. Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.

• This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.

• Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Sunday, December 12, 2010. Winner to be announced in Monday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

Take a moment to read Jody's biography!

Jody Hedlund is a debut historical romance novelist who was a double finalist in the 2009 ACFW Genesis Contest. She received a bachelor’s degree from Taylor University and a master’s from the University of Wisconsin, both in Social Work. Currently she makes her home in Midland, Michigan, with her husband and five busy children.

She’s represented by agent Rachelle Gardner and her debut book, The Preacher’s Bride, released in Oct. 2010 and is available online and in most bookstores. Stop by her blog, Author, Jody Hedlund, where she chronicles her journey to publication and dispenses her two-cent writing wisdom.

Visit Jody at the following locations:


Monday, December 6, 2010

A 40 Day Adventure

As we move toward Christmas, I'd like to point you to my friend, Susan Panzica's blog, Eternity Cafe. Last year, the Lord burdened her to begin a project called 40 Days Focus on Christmas. Her goal is to, "incite personal revivals that will draw our readers closer to Jesus during a period of time that is traditionally harried and anxiety-ridden." In Susan's words, "It is one thing to say and even believe that 'Jesus is the Reason for the Season,' but to live it is something else."

I'm captivated by Susan's prayer, that her blog will provide a daily spark to keep Jesus and His incarnation the focus of every readers' thoughs, plans, actions and activities. Her mission statement is simple, "My desire is not that you get into the Christmas spirit....but that you be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Susan asked a number of bloggers to participate in writing posts for this 40 day adventure. I am privileged to be a part of this team, and encourage you to stop by Susan's blog today and every day between now and Christmas for a time of spiritual renewal!

What helps you focus on Christ during the Christmas season? Determine to give Him His rightful place today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for this Christmas season when we celebrate the birth of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank You for blogs devoted to pointing others to You. Although things may get hectic around me, help me to choose to be still and reflect on the reason for the season - it's all about You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Blessings of Friendship

England. A country that's been brought to mind often, with the recent news of the engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton. But I was thinking about the distant land for other reasons. A blogging friend of mine from England was in the states visiting her sister. She had contacted me to see if we could get together and meet. How exciting!

As we sat at Starbucks, sipping our hot beverages, I couldn't get over the fact that I was actually talking to Linda Meade in person. In this tech-savvy day and age, our writing and a love for the Lord had brought us together. More than followers of each other's blogs, we've now had an opportunity to meet face-to-face and begin a friendship.

It was fun to discuss our cultures. The similarities as well as the differences. Linda and her daughter, Laura, had shopped extensively while in the states, taking advantage of discounted prices. I realized that we have it pretty good in the United States in spite of the economic difficulties. But what really got my attention was Linda's passion for Christ. She shared some lessons she had learned, and how she desires to serve the Lord.

We talked about our churches and the importance of a close knit body of believers. How salvation is found in a relationship with Jesus Christ and not in keeping a list of rules. It was such a privilege to share a time of praise. Two believers from different countries. I thought of the scores of believers all across the globe. A passage from Revelation came to mind, "After this I beheld, and , lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb," (Revelation 7:9-10; KJV). To think that heaven will be filled with believers from all nations, praising the God of heaven! Inspiring!

Before going our separate ways, Linda presented me with a beautiful box of stationary. On the inside of the box lid was printed Psalm 37:4, "Delight yourself also in the Lord: and He shall give thee the desires of thine heart." Delighting in the Lord brought these two writers into a unique friendship!

Thank you, Linda, for being the embodiment of a friend. The book of Proverbs says, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly..." (Proverbs 18:24a). You certainly did this by reaching out and making time to meet with a blogger buddy! I appreciate you!

Visit Linda's blogs: Simple Blessings, and Days Touched by Grace. You'll be blessed!

For those of you who blog, have you been able to meet any of your blogger buddies in person? What characteristics do you look for in a friend? Will you reach out and be that friend to someone else?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for the friends you bring into my life. Allow each of these relationships to bring glory to You. Help me to be mindful of reaching out to others in true friendship. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Where's Your Focus?

He sat on the hill staring at me. Every time I walked by the window, I could feel his eyes following me. Our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Joe, missed me. The hectic pace of the weekend and the cooler temperatures had made me less motivated to spend time outside with our dogs. Joe was letting me know that I needed to slow down, throw on my winter coat, and push aside any other excuses that would keep me housebound.

I made my way into his bark park, filling his food and water bowls. He picked up his ball and headed over to our usual play place. Joe's favorite activity is fetching his ball. He loves to run. And truth be told, when we play, I tire of the game long before he does! But today was different. Although he had carried his ball with him, he wasn't interested in playing. He just wanted me to cuddle with him, being sure to scratch every square inch of his neck and back. He was more interested in spending time with me, than getting me to play with him.

Joe's behavior gave me a serious reason for reflection. It's so easy for me to get caught up in thanking God for what He does, and the blessings He gives me, that I forget to thank Him for who He is. It IS appropriate to thank Him for the blessings He pours out so abundantly, but I must remember to focus on Him and not just His gifts. Thanking Him for the opportunity to develop a relationship with the mighty King of the universe is SO important.

David gives us a great description of our God, "But thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth," (Psalm 86:15; KJV). And again, in the book of Psalms, "The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy," (Psalm 103:8). Experiencing His vast love, His grace, and His patience is priceless. He is so much more than anything I can imagine. Yet in spite of my short-sightedness, He invites me into a close Father-child relationship.

When I ONLY focus on what He does for me, I'm in danger of relegating the Creator of the universe to the role of a genie. I set myself up as the master, and expect Him to do my bidding. Satan loves nothing more than this subtle shift in power. Self taking control rather than submitting to the Lordship of Christ. My prayers become self-focused, and it's all about my will being done rather than His.

When my desire is to draw near to God for the sake of knowing Him better, proper focus is restored. I'm aware of His holiness, and realize His rightful position as Lord of my life. As I read His Word, trusting in His sufficiency, He directs my paths, giving my life purpose. I'm able to pray, "Not my will, but Yours be done!"

Do you find yourself treating God like a cosmic genie? You enjoy the blessings He's given you, but you don't spend much time with Him? Set aside some time, to get to know the One who has blessed you. He's waiting for you today!

Prayer:Heavenly Father, Thank You for who You are - the sovereign God of the universe, who is in control of it all. Forgive me for the times I focus more on the gifts than the Giver. I praise You for the opportunity You give me to develop a close relationship with You. Draw me to Your side. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Give Thanks

I'll be unplugged this week enjoying family time and the holiday. Spend some time this week remembering all that the Lord has blessed you with! A happy Thanksgiving to you and yours! See you next Monday!

Psalm 136:1-9, 26 O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever...O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

There's nothing quite like a birthday to signal the passage of time. This past week, my husband bolstered my self-confidence by leaving a few candles off my cake, and making sure that twelve of them were 'princess' candles, making me feel extra special! Amazing how the years can fly and yet I still feel like I'm in my twenties...okay, maybe thirties!

Am I the only one who turns a critical eye to the mirror almost daily, scanning my face for additional fine lines and wrinkles, and other sure signs of aging? I remember our recent trip down to Florida to visit our daughter at college. After a late dinner and a fitful night of sleep, I approached the bathroom mirror cautiously. Yikes! When had I developed such prominent circles under my eyes? And where had THOSE fine lines come from? There had to be a logical explanation - and the fact that I was getting older certainly couldn't be one of them! I was convinced it had to be the lighting in the bathroom.

An entire industry has evolved, touting products guaranteed to slow down the aging process. Creams, lotions, and make-up, all designed to restore skin to its former youthfulness. One look in my cabinets and I realize I've bought into the advertiser's claims. There's a difference between taking care of myself, and letting my appearance become an obsession. As the years have passed, I have to admit that I've found myself tripped up by the false belief that somehow my value is tied to how I look. Can anyone relate?

Society would have me believe that what's on the outside matters most. God's Word tells me something different. When addressing women, the Apostle Peter had this to say, "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price," (1 Peter 3:3-4). Outer beauty may fade over time, but inner beauty can continue to grow. It's a person's inner beauty that is most valuable in God's economy.

Take a careful look at the characteristics of the lady described by the book of Proverbs as the 'virtuous woman.' Several admirable qualities are clearly spelled out: she is faithful to her husband, takes care of her household, works willingly, is generous, speaks wisely, is kind (Proverbs 31:10-31). Did you notice her physical appearance? No? That's because it's not mentioned. What a good reminder! Beauty isn't about what's on the outside, it's about what's on the inside. This woman's beauty comes entirely from her character. Her value is said to be far above rubies!

To all my female friends out there - are you looking in the mirror to determine your self-worth? Instead, look to the truth of God's Word, "... for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart," (1 Samuel 16:7b).

How do you determine your self-worth? Focus on developing your inner beauty, knowing that you're priceless in the eyes of your Heavenly Father!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me that I'm precious and highly valuable to You. Help me not to focus on outer appearance, but to cultivate the qualities of inner beauty. Thank You for the truth of Your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Encore Performance

The colors were gorgeous. Reds, oranges, and yellows interspersed among the evergreens. I believe we've reached the peak of fall color in Georgia. Although the color palette shifts subtly from year to year, I'm always amazed at the Creator's artistry. I tend to forget about the colors that will cover the trees like a vibrant, new wardrobe, leaving me to stand in awe of their splendor.

Strolling slowly through the Atlanta Botanical Gardens this past weekend, I snapped enough pictures to fill a photo album. Trees, ornamental grasses, and flowers all seemed to sense the inevitable approach of winter, and were intent on putting on an encore performance. Each spoke clearly to me, pointing to a Master Designer.

God's purpose for His creation is beautifully spelled out, "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork," (Psalm 19:1; KJV). It all points to Him. The Apostle Paul drives this point home, "For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him," (Colossians 1:16).

As part of God's creation, I have an even greater opportunity than the trees, to make Him known to others. God has uniquely equipped me with talents and abilities. When developed, these gifts cause others to take notice. I have a choice to make. Will I use my abilities to make much of Christ, or will I desire the recognition for myself?

Nature has no problem fulfilling God's plan. But I was created with a free will, and must decide who I will serve, self or my Heavenly Father. I'm reminded of my purpose, "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven," (Matthew 5:16). As I grow in grace, realizing that He must increase and I must decrease (John 3:30), I'll be clothed with that vibrant wardrobe that will point others to the Father. Today I choose to live in light of the truth: It's all about Him, it's not about me!

Does the beauty of fall remind you of a Master Designer? Are you developing the talents and abilities God has given you, in order to make much of Him?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the beauty of creation that clearly points to You! I'm grateful for the gifts and abilities You've given me, and pray for the opportunity to use them to point others to You. Help me to be mindful of my purpose and to make much of You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Unbelievable Mercy

God's mercy. Something I definitely don't understand, although I've experienced it firsthand. I think of the many times I've relegated my Heavenly Father to the position of co-pilot, thinking I would make a better pilot than He. My plane quickly gets off-course. As the storm clouds begin to gather, I realize my mistake. After taking a nose dive, I come face to face with my stupidity, asking forgiveness and once again relinquishing the controls to the One who knows best, my Creator. He hears my cries, and in His mercy, pardons my sin.

I have a tendency to categorize sins. You know, the white lie is no big deal, but murdering someone is huge. In God's economy, sin is sin. There aren't different degrees of sin. Each one of us stands guilty. "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God," (Romans 3:23; KJV).
The payment for sin is eternal separation from God, in a place called Hell. Amazingly, God loved us so much, that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to pay the price for our sins. When He shed His blood and died on the cross at Calvary, the debt was paid.

The transaction is complete when we place our faith in Christ's finished work. The Apostle Paul spells it out in his letter to the Romans, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation," (Romans 10:9-10). No longer do we owe a debt we can't pay. Because of God's mercy, our account is stamped, "Paid In Full," and we're able to spend an eternity with Him in Heaven after we die.

Mercy is a shimmering thread throughout the Bible. The Old Testament book of Chronicles includes the life stories of several of the kings of both Judah and Jerusalem. Deeds, both good and evil, are recorded for all to see. Manasseh's 55-year reign is covered in just 20 verses. Early on, we read about his wickedness, he, "...did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel," (2 Chronicles 33:2). He promoted the worship of false gods, and sacrificed his children to idols. Manasseh appears to be evil personified, "...also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger," (2 Chronicles 33:6b).

Even in his wrath, the Lord showed mercy. He urged Manasseh and his people to repent. But the king and the people refused to listen. The Lord had no choice but to judge them. The Assyrians invaded the land, and Manasseh was carried away to Babylon. At this point in the chapter, I can't say I feel the least bit sorry for him. He had it coming, right? The next part of the story astounds me.

Verses twelve and thirteen record an amazing change of heart on the part of Manasseh. "And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him: and he was entreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God." Did you catch that? When Manasseh humbled himself and repented, the Lord heard him and granted him mercy, allowing him to return to his throne.

God's mercy is available to all. Regardless of what you've done, He's just waiting for you to cry out to Him with a humble, repentant heart. Resist the pride that would grab for control, and allow the Lord to guide your life. When the Lord is given His proper place, you'll be able to say with the Psalmist David, "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life..." (Psalm 23:6a).

Does anything need to change in your life in order for you to experience God's mercy? Are you willing to make the necessary changes?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You that Your mercies are new every morning! I'm grateful for the many examples in Your Word that help me avoid sin. When I do succumb to temptation, help me to cry out to You in humility and repentance. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

One of a Kind

Dozens of varieties. I didn't realize there were so many different types of apples. My husband and I stood in the middle of Mercier's country store, trying to decide what apples to choose. With so many choices, we decided to read the placards posted about each variety. There were apples for baking. Apples ideal for sauces. And apples for just plain snacking. Each appeared to be a quality specimen, hand-picked from the orchard and ready for consumption.

With our selections made, we headed home to sample the luscious fruit. True to the description, the Pink Lady was a firm, sweet apple, good for eating and great for cooking. The Staymen was a bit tangy and was recommended for baking, although it was also delicious for snacking. We chose the Cameo for juicing and also found it to have a sweet, spicy flavor when cooked with raisins and just a dash of cinnamon. Delicious! The final variety we selected were traditional Granny Smith apples. Something about the tangy tartness of this apple in a pie just can't be beat.

Although all of them were apples that shared many of the same characteristics, each was cultivated with unique qualities. The same is true for each one of us. Our Creator designed us to have similarities, yet each of us is one of a kind. God made mankind special. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them," (Genesis 1:27; KJV). The Psalmist David acknowledged the wonder of God's design, "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well," (Psalm 139:14).

Each one of us is created with talents and abilities that reflect the Master Designer. To one is given the ability to paint beautiful pictures. To another is given the gift to build. Yet another plays music with inordinate talent. And the list goes on. Boasting in our abilities is unwise. Any talent we possess is a gift from the Creator, and should be used to make Him known.

Throughout the centuries, God's plan has remained the same - to draw all men unto Himself to spend eternity with Him (John 12:32). He wisely equips each one of us to reach those in our sphere of influence. It is our privilege to use the talents and abilities He's given, to point others to Him. King David was a gifted musician, who skillfully set the thoughts of his heart to music, "O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise, even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: and I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great above the heavens: and thy truth reacheth unto the clouds," (Psalm 108:1-4).

Praising God puts the focus where it needs to be: on our Heavenly Father. Using the abilities that He's given me, I choose to give Him the honor and glory He deserves today. In the process, I'll be pointing others to the Creator!

What talents and abilities do you have? How will you use them to glorify God and draw others to Him?

Heavenly Father, thank You for the diversity in Your creation! Thank You that You created each one of us in Your image, giving us unique talents and abilities. Show me how to make the best use of the gifts You've given me to make You known to those around me. May the people of all nations be drawn to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Godly Heritage

The statement bothered me. The governor emphasized that in order to turn America around, we must once again believe in ourselves, and not in a benevolent leader in Washington who would take care of us. Although I agreed with him that those in Washington are not our hope, I was disappointed that no mention was made about the God of the Bible who made this nation what it is. The emphasis was placed on believing in ourselves. The truth is, it's only by turning back to God and believing in Him, that our nation will once again be great.

I thought about the pilgrims and the reason they came to America. They didn't come in search of an easier life or to become wealthy, they came in search of religious freedom. They desired to worship God according to the Bible and not as the Church of England mandated. Both the Government of England, and the Church of England were run by King James 1. Those who didn't belong to the Church were in direct disobedience to the King. In the eyes of the King, this was nothing short of treason. The pilgrims were willing to leave everything they had known, to pursue what was truly important to them - God.

The documents drafted by our founding fathers were based on biblical principles, and became the basis for America's laws. The sovereign authority of God and not man is clearly spelled out in the Mayflower Compact, Declaration, Constitution, and the Pledge of Allegiance, to name but a few. The Declaration establishes the existence of absolute truth, and the sanctity of life.

Give some serious thought to the following words from Faith Facts: It has been said that America has never been a Christian nation, or that our founders were a bunch of atheists, agnostics, and deists. But consider the facts. At least 50 of the 55 framers of the U. S. Constitution were Christians... Every single American president has taken his oath on the Bible and has referenced God in his inaugural address. Every one of the 50 state constitutions call on God for support. The Supreme Court, in 1892 after an exhaustive 10-year study of the matter, said: "This is a religious people. This is a Christian nation." Even today, the Supreme Court opens each session with the verbal declaration, "God save the United States of America."

The history of our nation is important. It has helped shape who I am today. As a Christian, what is my responsibility before God and to my country? The writer of second Chronicles doesn't mince words, "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land, " (2 Chronicles 7:14, KJV). The importance of prayer is echoed yet again by the Apostle Paul, "I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty," (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

When I humble myself, giving Christ His rightful place, I realize the answers for our nation don't lie within man, but within a holy God. As I seek the Lord's face and discern His will according to His word, I'm able to see my own sinfulness contrasted with His holiness. I'm given the opportunity to turn from my selfish ways and intercede for my nation's leaders and all those in authority. As a result, the holy God of heaven will hear me, forgive my sin, and heal this land. Imagine the implications, if each Christian would believe these truths from the Bible and obey God. Our nation could once again be described as "one nation, under God..." With God in His rightful place, His purpose will be made known, "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth," (1 Timothy 2:4).

Have you considered the history of America? Will you humble yourself and pray for our nation's leaders? In order for America to be great, we must turn back to God. Share the good news of Jesus Christ with someone today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for those who have given us a godly heritage. Help me to take my responsibility to You and my country seriously. It's so easy to get caught up in living for self. I ask forgiveness for my sin and pray that I'd have the desire to seek You diligently. I pray for President Obama and Vice President Biden and all those who were newly elected as Senators and Congress men and women. Open their eyes to the truth of Your Word. Give me boldness to be a witness for You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Finances Matter

Lots of numbers. So many categories. Knowing where to begin restructuring the family budget was daunting. With interest rates continuing to drop, we're considering refinancing our mortgage with the intention of paying it off sooner. With that goal in mind, my husband and I discussed our options.

With our daughter off at college, a few financial dynamics have changed. Our cars don't need to be fueled up as often. I'm sure those who can relate, are rejoicing with us on this one! The grocery bill has gone down. We no longer pay for weekly piano lessons. On the other hand, school tuition has increased, and we're now making the occasional trip down to sunny Florida to visit our girl. It's a balancing act.

Thankfully, my husband and I were able to discuss each category and come up with a tentative plan, together. I was reminded of King Solomon's wise words, "Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow..." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10a; KJV). I'm not always the most realistic when it comes to financial matters, so being able to discuss several different scenarios with Steve, helped me keep things in proper perspective.

Being able to share life with someone who loves the Lord and has my best interests at heart is a special blessing. It's exactly what God intended when He instituted marriage. A beautiful picture of this union is woven throughout the Old and New Testaments. "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh," (Genesis 2:24). Jesus reiterates these words in the book of Matthew, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh, " (19:5). The same concept is echoed two more times (Mark 10:7; Ephesians 5:31).

As both my husband and I seek God's will for our lives, we are able to encourage one another. King Solomon put it this way, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend," (Proverbs 27:17). As we search God's word, it becomes apparent that He requires faithfulness of His people. Including faithfulness in the area of finances.

Jesus concludes a parable about an accountant, with the following words, "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least in unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon (riches), who will commit to your trust the true riches?" (Luke 16:10-11; italics mine). As a couple, are we faithful with the earthly wealth God has given us? If not, God says we're not fit to handle the true riches of His heavenly kingdom. Tough words. True nonetheless.

Putting God first in our financial dealings, will keep us from making an idol of money. God alone provides lasting peace and security. As we live within our means and pay down our mortgage, we're exercising determination to be good stewards of what God's provided. At life's end, our desire is to hear the Lord say, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord," (Matthew 25:21)!

How do you view money? Are you a good steward of what God has given you? Is there anything you need to change?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for providing spouse/friends who can give me biblical counsel. Help me to have the right view of finances. I want to be faithful with the material things you have given me. Give me the desire to be a good steward of both material and spiritual things. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Every Opportunity

When I received the friend request, I knew the name sounded familiar. I repeated the name several times, and it dawned on me. The young lady had been a member of a teen Bible study I had co-taught several years earlier. It was so good to reconnect and find out that she was doing well. Now in high school, she continues to grow in Christ through an outreach on campus.

Knowing that I have the opportunity to impact lives for Jesus Christ is truly humbling. Beginning in my own family, each day offers me the chance to teach the principles of God's Word from ordinary experiences. The words of Moses reiterate this fact, "And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up," (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; KJV). Basically, it should be natural to speak of the Lord and His ways. And to speak of Him often. Every time an occasion presents itself, whether to family or a new acquaintance.

Life is full of difficulties. From sibling rivalries to unfair treatment, what better time to introduce the caring, compassionate Savior, who invites us into His presence? "Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (Hebrews 4:16). No matter what the difficulty, He wants us to leave our burden with Him, "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you," (1 Peter 5:7). As prayers are lifted, and answers are received, faith in a mighty God begins to grow.

Good times can also present challenges. There is a delicate balance between enjoying a victory, and becoming prideful in its wake. Being reminded of the One who gave the victory goes a long way in cultivating the right attitude. "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights..." (James 1:17a). Reviewing God's many blessings keeps us focused on His goodness, "O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever," (Psalm 107:1).

Numerous opportunities to share Christ's principles present themselves every day. I only need to keep my eyes open for the teachable moments. Each day we get the chance to make a mark on those who are in the sphere of our influence. Are we diligently teaching the ways of the Master? Pointing others to the Truth?

As you consider those on whom you have an impact, pray that the Lord would equip you to make much of Him! May we have the excitement of Peter and John, who boldly proclaimed, "For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard," (Acts 4:20).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the opportunities You give me to influence others for You. Equip me with the ability to share Your principles naturally with those You bring across my path. Help me to keep my eyes open for teachable moments, and to communicate Your ways so others may grow in their faith. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Schedule an Appointment

The results of the blood work were sent to my in-box. High cholesterol and heart problems run in my family, so I decided to have some blood drawn. Although it was a preventative measure, I knew it was important. When I opened the report, I noticed my total cholesterol was a bit high. Fortunately for me, since I'm an avid exerciser, my HDL levels were great, leaving me with a ratio in the normal range. Armed with this information, I know I need to keep an eye on my diet and maybe research some homeopathic remedies to lower my total cholesterol.

With each passing year, I'm more aware of the importance of health screening. I'd rather catch something early on, and be able to deal with it in the infant stages, than adopt the erroneous mindset that just because I've always enjoyed good health, that will continue to be the case. Although not overly pleasant, and sometimes inconvenient, regularly scheduled well-visits have given me the heads up I've needed to address issues before they've become major concerns.

The Bible endorses a similar method for my spiritual life. On several occasions, the psalmist, David, invited the God of the universe to give him a thorough examination. One example reads, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting," (Psalm 139:23-24; KJV). With regular check-ups, David let God put a finger on those things that were displeasing to Him. David became aware of the things that didn't line up with God's ways, and was able to repent of them and walk away with a renewed fellowship with his Heavenly Father.

Sin has a way of sneaking up on me. Because I hear no footsteps, and I'm feeling fine, I'm unaware of the danger. It's only when I find myself discontented, unhappy, and short-tempered, that I realize there's more going on than meets the eye. Deep down in my heart of hearts, my focus has shifted from God to self. My natural inclination is to justify my behavior, instead of making an appointment with the Great Physician. Oftentimes, I get confused and run to a friend to validate my feelings, rather than turning to the Father and admitting that I have a need. My spirit's cry needs to echo that of King David, "Judge me, O Lord...Examine me, O Lord, and prove me; try my reins and my heart," (Psalm 26:1a, 2).

Pride would have me postpone my appointment, in order to give myself an opportunity to get it together on my own. The Great Physician shakes His head sadly, all the while extending a firm yet loving hand. Daily appointments, allowing my Creator access to every nook and cranny of my heart, will point out the areas that need attention. Giving me every opportunity to agree with the Doctor, confess my waywardness and be directed back to the path of vibrant health. Dealt with early on, these areas can be rooted out and need not become major problems.

Do you schedule regular appointments with the Great Physician? Will you let Him examine your heart and point out those areas that need attention? Listen to His words. Agree with Him, confess your sin, and begin to strengthen your spiritual health today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for being my loving Great Physician. Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. Where there are wicked ways in me, lead me in the way everlasting. Help me to make regular appointments with You, that I can be spiritually healthy. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ridiculous Inclines

The hill was steep. My bike was pointed up the path, but I wasn't convinced I'd be able to make it to the top. I was tempted to backtrack and get to our destination via an easier route. Avoiding the ridiculous incline altogether. But with my husband, Steve's, encouragement, we slowly but surely biked up the path that led to the horticultural center. It was worth the effort.

I love Callaway Gardens. Situated on 13,000 acres, this resort complex boasts beautiful foliage and wonderful paths to explore whether on foot or bicycle. The Gardens are special to me. Steve and I celebrated an anniversary here. We brought our daughter and some of her friends here to celebrate a birthday. When family has visited, we've brought them to Callaway to enjoy the idyllic setting. Without exception, we've found it well worth the two-hour drive.

Life is full of challenges. Steep hills often loom in the distance, tempting me to look for a route of less resistance. As a writer, I sometimes get overwhelmed with the realization that writing a book isn't easy. Researching and writing takes time. What will set my work apart from the scores of other writers intent on publication? The hill seems to get steeper.

I'm reminded of the children of Israel, poised to enter the Promised Land. The Lord had faithfully guided their steps with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He was with them each step of the way. Although there were giants in the land of Canaan, the Lord had given them a promise, "Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land which the Lord sware unto your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give unto them and to their seed after them, " (Deuteronomy 1:8; KJV). There was work to be done, but the Lord had given them the land. He would fight for them if they would step forward in obedience.

Focusing on the giants, and their own meager strength, the children of Israel chose to give in to their fears rather than trust their mighty God. A big mistake. That generation ended up wandering in the desert for forty long years and being denied entry into the Promised Land.

I have a choice to make as well. The Lord has guided me along this path of writing and is giving me glimpses of the journey ahead. I know it won't be easy, and many steep hills remain for me to climb. If I only focus on my fears and the things I can accomplish in my own strength, I'll be making a colossal mistake. The Lord intends for me to rely on Him, draw on His strength, and continue to work toward the goal He's placed before me. Inevitably, I'll still face the steep hills, but by trusting His plan for my life, I'll continue on to the top. No matter how ridiculous the inclines, I'm convinced that when I look back on my writers' journey, I'll know it was well worth the effort!

What 'steep hills' are you facing today? Are you relying on your own strength to make it to the top? Are you trusting God to make it to your 'Promised Land'?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this life You've given me. I praise You for guiding me each step of the way. Forgive me for failing to follow You when the road gets difficult. Help me to reach my full potential by staying focused on You, and the task You've placed before me. Thank You for the encouragement found in Your Word. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Coffee with Two Canines!

I know! I know! I don't usually post on Fridays. But today's a special day! I just got word from Marshal over at Coffee with a Canine, that the piece I submitted to him is up on his site! So what are you waiting for?! Go check it out!! And have a beautifully blessed weekend!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Balanced Diet

The food groups. Grains. Meat/Beans. Milk. Fruits. Vegetables. Fats. A balanced diet is important. My meal planning usually revolves around an entree, some type of bread, fruit, and a dessert. What's missing? You guessed it - the vegetables. I'm not terribly creative when it comes to side dishes, so when my neighbor sent me an e-mail inviting me to participate in a fall vegetable share, you can imagine my excitement! With my pre-payment, I'd receive a box of fresh, locally grown, seasonal produce each week. Hmmm...this could be the answer I was looking for. By signing up, I'd be challenging myself to branch out and add creativity to my dinners. I decided to do it!

Yesterday I picked up my first box of goodies. It seemed like Christmas all over again as I gingerly opened the box and peered at the contents: bok choy, field greens, lettuce, sweet potatoes, apples, and what appeared to be white radishes. So what if all of the contents in the box weren't exactly vegetables by definition?! I was ecstatic. This is what I was after.

Since I paid for the produce, I don't want any of it to go to waste. Never mind the fact that I've never actually used bok choy in a recipe before. With a bit of research, I can download a highly rated recipe to try later this week. The original, organic vegetable salad that accompanied our meal last night was exactly what was needed. It created the perfect balance for the pulled pork barbecue sandwiches, fruit cups, and pumpkin cobbler.

Just like a balanced diet is important, a well-balanced life is essential. 'Being' and 'doing' are two key ingredients. 'Being' is rooted in my relationship with Jesus Christ. Spending time with Him daily in prayer and Bible study. He is the focal point, "For in him we live, and move, and have our being," (Acts 17:28; KJV). He is worthy of my praise. In the words of David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, "Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits: Who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; Who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with lovingkindness and tender mercies; Who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle's"(Psalm 103:1-5).

'Doing' prompts me to service. I'm reminded of the verse in the book of Luke, "...Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself." When I love the Lord completely, that love will motivate me to serve Him. Serving my Savior is linked with serving others. Whether speaking a word of encouragement, praying for a burdened believer, taking a meal to someone who's sick, or sharing the gospel with someone who's without hope, I'm doing those things that please the Lord.

Even as my dinner wasn't balanced when vegetables were missing, my life can't be balanced without both 'being' and 'doing'. Spending time at the feet of the Master should motivate me to serve Him. The book of James makes this point clear, "If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone" (James 2:15-17).

'Being' without 'doing' creates a distorted image of God. One in which I'm front and center and there's no room for others. 'Doing' without 'being' focuses on what I can accomplish. I either burn out or develop a false sense of pride. The right balance between 'being' and 'doing', however, gives the proper perspective of humbling myself before a holy God and serving others with the desire to point them to Him. And THAT is exactly what is needed!

Is your life out of balance? If so, do you struggle more with 'being' or 'doing'? What steps can you take today to make your life more balanced?

Heavenly Father, thank You for the life You've given me. I'm so thankful for who You are - my Creator, my Savior, my Master. You know that I struggle to maintain balance in my life. Help me to properly balance 'being' and 'doing' that my life would be an accurate reflection of You. I love You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

To Serve or Be Served

The selections on the buffet looked delicious. Everything from breakfast fare to salad and desserts, tempted us to fill our plates to overflowing. Our waiter catered to our every need, making sure our glasses were topped off, and whisking away empty plates to give us plenty of elbowroom. Every so often, he'd ask how we were doing, and if there was anything else he could do for us. Having been to several restaurants where the service was sadly lacking, it was a breath of fresh air, to observe his obvious desire to serve and please his customers. I'm sure you can relate.

In today's culture, the idea of serving others is somewhat foreign. Having grown up in an era with commercial slogans like, "have it your way," and, "because you're worth it," it's easy to see why the focus has shifted to self. To serve, is to meet the requirements or needs of someone, to satisfy. Literally to put oneself in the role of a servant: one who expresses submission, recognizance, or debt to another.

Think about the King of the universe, Jesus Christ. In order to fulfill the will of His Father, he "...made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross," (Philippians 2:7-8; KJV). I was struck by the thought that Christ was willing to lay aside the majesty that He shared with God, and come to earth to give His life, that I might be redeemed. He endured shame and excruciating pain that I might be freed from my burden of sin. He did all of this for me, and yet I ignore the opportunity to serve Him. Often expecting Him to be a God who serves me.

I'm forced to look at my prayer life. Some days, instead of taking time to praise Him, I find myself rushing into His throne room and pitching all my requests into His lap. Instead of allowing Him to work out the details, I add my two cents on how He should answer each prayer. Can I truly say I desire His will for my life when I'm clearly telling Him what to do? Who am I, that I should expect the God of the universe to cater to my every whim?! After all He's done for me, my proper response is to take my rightful place as His servant. Remembering that it's all about Him and not about me.

Spending time reading His Word clarifies how I can serve Him. "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?" (Micah 6:8). Being honorable and fair when dealing with others. Extending kindness and forgiveness to others even when it's undeserved. Adopting meek and modest behavior toward my fellow man. These characteristics are unnatural, unless I've submitted myself to the power of the Holy Spirit. He enables me to treat others as I ought to, pointing others to Him all the while.

Understanding His unconditional love for me, fuels a passion for Him that motivates me to serve Him willingly. Today, I choose to give Christ first place in my life. And by careful meditation on His Word, instead of expecting my God to serve me, I humbly submit myself to Him, a servant to accomplish His will.

When you evaluate your life, do your actions indicate that you expect God to serve you? What steps are you willing to take to turn the tables and begin serving Him?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving me so much that you sent Jesus to die on the cross, to pay my sin debt. After all You've done for me, forgive me for expecting You to serve me. I realize I have the opportunity to serve a great God who deserves all of my praise. Help me to internalize Your Word and submit to Your Holy Spirit, that I might serve You all of my days. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Identifying the Root

Weeds. Plants that are considered undesirable, unattractive, and troublesome. They grow where they're not wanted. They seem to be much more hardy than the vegetation we've purchased and planted on our hillside. I'm talking about the kind of weeds that are tough! The kind that won't come out of the ground without a fight.

As I stared at my hillside this past weekend, I tried to calculate the amount of ground not covered with weeds. Not too much. Okay, so it's been awhile since I've weeded. But who'd have thought the weeds would take over so completely? I pulled on my gardening gloves, as I psyched myself up for the serious business of weed-pulling. Within a couple of minutes I'd made a discovery. There weren't as many weeds as I'd initially thought...they were just much bigger than I had originally anticipated.

When I began yanking on the long, green, tentacle-like growth, I came away with handfuls of weeds, but no root. Without successfully extracting the root, the weed would continue to grow. When I eventually came to the root, I was flabbergasted to find that these weeds were huge. Easily three to four feet in diameter. The shoots that radiated from the root seemed to grasp the soil in a death-grip. Not only did the tentacle-like shoots needed to be removed, but the roots need to be removed from the earth, as well. When I was patient enough to follow the shoot from beginning to end, I was always able to find the root.

Concentrating on one section at a time, our hillside began to be transformed. My weed pile grew and became a hillside in its own right. The plants that remained seemed to breathe easier, having sensed the removal of the weeds that threatened to choke them.

Things I struggle with can often mimic this monster weed. Several 'shoots' grab for footholds in my life - desiring my own way, ignoring words of wisdom, speaking words out of anger. Only as I peel these 'shoots' away from the soil of my heart, do I get to the root of the problem. Pride. The 'shoots' are only symptoms of the real issue. Treating the symptoms won't extract the root. Pride has to be dealt with first. Once the root is removed, the 'shoots' will have no nutrients for growth - no foothold in my life.

As I allow the Master Gardener to remove the monster weeds from my life, the good things that have been planted by Him, have an opportunity to grow. The Apostle Paul reminds me of the Lord's work, "For it is God which workeh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure"(Philippians 2:13; KJV). As I give Him access to the soil of my heart, I'm able to glean wisdom from His Word, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

With the weeds removed from the soil of my heart, and my gaze fixed on Christ, I'm poised for growth and an abundant harvest! Remaining ever watchful to guard that which is being cultivated, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life"(Proverbs 4:23).

Have you allowed weeds to grow in the soil of your heart? Spend some time identifying them, and allow the Master Gardener to remove them by the root!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your patience with me. I'm thankful for Your love and tender mercy in spite of my shortcomings. Help me to be mindful of the things that are choking out true growth in my life and allow you to remove them. Thank You for the promise of an abundant harvest when I stay rooted and grounded in You! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 4, 2010

So Much More

It comes around every couple years. I get an exciting e-mail from my wireless provider, that lets me know I'm eligible to get a new phone at a discount. I was able to make the upgrade this past weekend. And my new Droid 2 in its fashionable pink, gel cover sits on the counter, beckoning me to come and 'play.' Wow! Do I have a lot to learn! From the basics, to all the advanced stuff it can do, I'm sure this Friday's tutorial session will help answer my many questions. And maybe serve to bring up some questions I don't even know I have yet!

Adjusting to a full keyboard to type text messages was pretty easy. Figuring out how to pair my phone with my earpiece - a different story. Although Bluetooth technology has been around for years, this is my first experience with it. So I'm battling the learning curve.

But I have to say I feel pretty tech savvy these days, as I tell my daughter about the cool apps I've been able to install on my phone. There's a constellation app that shows me the stars and their names when I hold my phone up to the sky. Then there's the app that lets me scan barcodes and check local prices to make sure I'm getting the best deals. Oh, and I can't forget to mention the app that keeps me up to date on all the local yard sales, and even gives me directions to all of them!

Things I didn't even know existed, are accessible with the touch of my fingertip. But I've had to spend some time reading manuals and digging for the information I need, just to become familiar with the basics. In order to take full advantage of everything my new phone can do, I'm sure I'll have to invest more time pouring over the instruction manual and getting used to new functions.

In much the same way, the God of the universe has given me amazing truths in His Word, the Bible. When I spend time in His instruction manual, I'm able to glean wisdom not only for the challenges I face today, but I can also discern the direction He has for my future. But I can't expect to unearth all of this great information without devoting much time and effort to the careful study of His Word.

The Bible contains both milk and meat. Things that are easily digested and some things that can only be digested by the more mature. Peter encourages believers to grow, "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby" (1 Peter 2:2; KJV). The writer of Hebrews challenges us beyond this stage, "But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).

Solomon, the wisest man of all time, penned the following words, "To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion. A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:" (Proverbs 1:2-5). How important it is to know the true source of knowledge. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7).

My desire is to continue as a student at the feet of the Master, fulfilling the words of 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." There will always be more to learn - more gems to mine from the pages of scripture, more hidden treasure waiting to be discovered. Yes, it will take time to discover all that the Lord wants to show me, but the time spent in the excavation process will be well worth it!

Are you stagnant in your relationship with the Lord? Do you desire to know Him and the plan He has for you? If so, what are you waiting for? Dig into His Word today and get ready to grow!

Prayer: Thank You, Lord that Your Word is alive and active. You desire for me to know You, and You have great plans for me. Help me to spend time daily reading and studying Your Word. Help me to grow into the mature Christian You'd have me to be. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Boxing Match

Feelings. We all have them. Strong emotions that cause us to react. This morning I have to admit that I'm a bit sleepy. It's overcast and beginning to drizzle, and I'd like nothing more than to dive back into bed and let the rhythmic dripping of the rain lull me back to sleep. But I have things to accomplish today. I have a choice to make. Give in to my feelings and sleep the day away, or push those lazy feelings aside, and choose to be productive instead. Sounds like another area of discipline to me!

Let's face it. Sometimes I just don't feel like doing anything. My list of tasks may be a mile long, but my list of reasons for ignoring the list is longer. The struggle begins. My old nature desires comfort and convenience. Feelings are paramount. They do everything within their power to convince me that I have the right to do what I want to. After all, it's my life, isn't it?

My new nature rises to the challenge, reminding me that life isn't all about my comfort or convenience. A verse from God's word packs quite a punch, "...Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34; KJV). I imagine the heavenly hosts cheering, and I respond - "Take that, you good for nothing old nature!"

The fight is on. The old nature continues to box with everything she's got. Toying with my feelings. Trying to convince me that I'm my own master. Surely I don't have to deny myself all the time. After all, I deserve to be comfortable, don't I? What makes me feel good, IS good, isn't it? Doesn't God want me to be happy?

The battle heats up. The new nature responds with an uppercut that leaves the old nature reeling. I realize I am not my own, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

While the old nature bounces off the ropes, the new nature responds with a swift left hook that puts the old nature out of commission for a time. Jesus didn't die on the cross to purchase my happiness, but to pay my sin debt. I now have the incredible opportunity to fellowship with Him. "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;" (Philippians 4:10).

It IS possible for me to bring my feelings under control. As a believer, I have access to every type of 'punch' that will render my old nature powerless. The key is remembering that I'm a child of the King and submitting my will to His agenda. Self-control is a direct product of yielding to the Holy Spirit of God (Galatians 5:22-23).

We were created with feelings and emotions. They are a very real part of how our Creator designed us. But they are not to control us. Lay them out before the Lord and pray for His wisdom to train you to respond properly to them. It's a battle. And you can be victorious!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for creating me with feelings and emotions. I pray that You would open my eyes to the ways I've been deceived by them. Help me to submit my will to You, that I might reap the fruit of self-control in my life. I choose to walk with You, today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, September 27, 2010

48 Hours

The visit was short - fewer than 48 hours. We picked up our daughter, Riley, from the airport and headed for home. Even though she'd only been in college for three weeks, and we had communicated almost every day, there was still so much to catch up on. Classes, roommates, and adventures. Never a dull moment. But it's true, there's no place like home.

While college life is definitely exciting, it also has its share of challenges. Some of the simple things she didn't give a second thought to while she lived at home, have suddenly become much more special. Sleeping in her own bed and using her own bathroom, now rank high on her list as true luxuries. Eating home-cooked meals definitely rivals the cafeteria experience.

In the short weeks since we dropped our girl off at college, things have changed. Riley is maturing. She values things she once took for granted. She realizes the sacrifices we've made to send her to a Christian college. We found a note that Riley slipped under our door on Saturday morning. "Thank you both so much for letting me go to PCC. It has been amazing so far. And I just wanted you to know how thankful I am for letting me go there..." I'll always treasure the words she penned in that note to my husband and me.

What a good reminder for me when I get caught up in the busyness of life. Am I careful to express gratitude for the things God has so richly blessed me with? A loving family. A comfortable home. Dependable transportation. Plenty of food. Or do I display an attitude of entitlement - acting as if I deserve God's blessings?

Remember the story of the prodigal son? His sense of entitlement carried him off to a far away land, where he quickly spent the inheritance granted to him by his father. Times got tough and a famine plagued the land. The friends who had been attracted to his wealth disappeared when his money was gone. No one offered to help him.

In order to survive, this young man had to take a job feeding pigs. "And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants" (Luke 15:17-19; KJV).

How often do I act just like this prodigal? Foolishly thinking I deserve my Heavenly Father's blessings and complaining when I feel I'm entitled to more. What wisdom can be learned when I humble myself and take my rightful place as a servant, giving thanks to the almighty King for all He's done for me. Tuning my heart to be thankful. The Psalmist said, "It is a good thing to give thanks unto the Lord, and to sing praises unto thy name, O most High: To shew forth thy lovingkindness in the morning, and thy faithfulness every night..." (Psalm 92:1-2).

Today is the perfect day to begin practicing praise. Take the Psalmist's advice, "This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24)!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive me for the many times I take Your blessings for granted, and live with a spirit of entitlement. Help me to submit myself to You, taking my rightful position as Your servant. Thank You for Your love and mercy. I choose to praise You, today! Amen.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Rescue

It happens at least once a year. We forget to close the door of our garage, and a tiny, winged friend gets trapped. Every time it’s happened, the hummingbird follows the same pattern of behavior. Instead of flying back out the open door, the frantic bird wings its way to the ceiling. Once all energy is spent, the little captive perches on the braces of the garage door opening mechanism, before continuing its relentless pursuit of freedom.

We’ve come to call these episodes, hummingbird rescues. Both cars need to be backed out of the garage before the rescue can be attempted. A makeshift net is created from odds and ends that reside in this space. Most recently, we attached a small butterfly net to a rake with some duct tape. Ah, the creativity we have to muster when time is of the essence. Hummingbirds require frequent feedings because of their enormous energy output, and our garage is not exactly a cafĂ© for our feathered friends.

As the little bird continued his fruitless quest to return outside, my husband carefully extended the net in his direction. When the hummingbird once again reached exhaustion, he cautiously lighted on the edge of the net. Making every attempt not to startle our most recent captive, my husband slowly moved the net toward the open garage door. Not realizing we were trying to help him to freedom, the suspicious bird would fly anxiously toward the ceiling once again. When this happened repeatedly, I couldn’t help but mutter, “Doesn’t he know we’re trying to help him?”

On this journey of life, I’m afraid that I’ve caused my Creator to echo these very same words. I get myself into a situation that I think I can get out of. I rely on my wisdom to direct me toward an exit, expending valuable energy the entire time. I run out of strength. Resting is a necessity. Once energy is restored, I’m once again convinced I can figure this out, and I ignore the help that’s being extended to me in God’s Word.

All the while, my Heavenly Father has a clear view of the entire state of affairs, and has each way of escape clearly marked. His Word reminds me, “[It is] better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8; KJV). Trust is the key. Do I trust the Lord with life’s difficulties? He has proven Himself over and over, and yet I often hesitate to move in the direction He wants me to go. I’m often as stubborn as the children of Israel, demanding my way rather than submitting to His solution.

He reaches out to me with the safety net of His Word. Within its pages are the answers to all of life’s questions. Wisdom can be mined from its depths. Great truths can keep my feet firmly planted on the path He would have me to walk. When I feel trapped by life’s difficulties, I can call to mind that He is ever with me, His Word assures me, “… I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).

Are you feeling trapped by your circumstances today? Using all of your energy to find a way out? Look to God today. His Word contains the solutions. Ultimately, it is His truth that will make you free! “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).