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).

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Living a Disciplined Life

I love to go out to eat. One of the highlights of any vacation for me, is the opportunity to check out restaurants that are local favorites. Dinners include an entree, and more often than not, a dessert. I'm on vacation after all, right?! It's only after I get home and approach the bathroom scale that I break out in a sweat. Maybe I shouldn't have sampled that last dish of creamy gelato...

The motivation to work out kicks in, as I'm forced to slide the counterweights on my scale farther to the right. I'm willing to become more selective in my food choices. I wave goodbye to the sugary confections I've become fast friends with, and say hello to sugar-free replacements. I step up to the plate of discipline.

The dictionary defines 'discipline' as, "controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; a systematic method to obtain obedience." The key is controlled behavior. There's nothing wrong with an occasional dessert. When I have to have a sweet something with every meal though, I've shifted from being in control, to being out of control.

Just like discipline is necessary in order for me to maintain the proper weight, it's vitally important in other areas of my life as well. I am able to make wise decisions when I'm disciplined with my finances. My time is best utilized when I practice discipline. My speech can be controlled and edifying when discipline is in place. Get the picture? This little ten-letter word can have an immense impact on my life if I apply it!

Being disciplined in any area is a choice. It's willfully submitting to whatever it takes to get that area under control. Seeking God's wisdom about the particular area is essential. He welcomes our request for His wisdom, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5; KJV; emphasis mine).

Wisdom and disciple don't come overnight. When we understand what our Heavenly Father has to say about discipline for a certain area, we have the opportunity to put it into practice - one day at a time. This life-long process compels us to spend time at the Master's feet, daily. Speaking of wisdom, the writer of Proverbs encourages, "Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord" (Proverbs 8:34-35; emphasis mine).

As the dictionary definition implies, discipline doesn't come without a price. Denying myself can be downright frustrating. Society's focus on instant gratification has gone a long way in convincing us that we have the right to what we want, immediately. Why wait and save up the money to buy that item, when we can have it now and charge it to our credit card. Never mind that our impatience will end up costing us more in the long run. When we submit ourselves to be exercised by discipline, controlled behavior is the outcome. We see the wisdom in only purchasing the things we can afford.

As you pursue wisdom to become more disciplined in any area of life, remember the words of James, "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be enreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).

Life is full of opportunities for discipline. Are you willing to do what it takes to become disciplined in your living? Although the initial cost may seem high, and the road may seem long, the rewards make it all worthwhile!

Thank You, Lord, that Your Word gives me the tools necessary to live a disciplined life. Help me to glean wisdom from You, daily. Your Word is clear that those who handle matters wisely shall find good, and those who trust in You are happy (Pro. 16:20). I praise You today, Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Life's Potholes

The pothole was massive. It was too late to avoid it. As the front, passenger-side tire hit the hole, all I could do was groan, knowing that the impact had surely caused some damage. We continued on to our destination, hoping that everything was fine. Over the next few days, we tried to convince ourselves that the slight vibrations we felt were coming from the road. With a schedule that didn't allow us to take our vehicle into the shop, we continued to drive it the following week.

Being the larger of our two cars, we had no choice but to pack it full of our daughter's college gear and head off to our destination, six hours away. A message on the dash warned us to check the tire pressure. Each time we drove the car, that same message appeared on the dash, convincing us that maybe the vibrations we felt were more than just the road.

When we arrived back home, a trip to the car dealership was on the top of the To Do list. What the mechanic discovered was shocking. The impact from the pothole had significantly bent the wheel rim of the tire, causing the vibrations we had been experiencing. Once repaired, the smooth ride was a pleasant reminder of how our car was supposed to function.

The road of life has its own share of potholes. The pothole of loss. The pothole of anger. The pothole of hopelessness. The pothole of temptation. Some of them can be avoided, simply by listening to the wise advice of friends who have been there. Some of them sneak up on you, luring you into their depths. Even after you've hit one of these potholes, the damage can be hard to assess. We try to convince ourselves we're ok, but the vibrations follow soon after.

The pothole of pride is deceptive. I've found myself resisting help after hitting this pothole -too sensitive to admit that my walk has gotten wobbly. I avoid those who reach out a helping hand and instead, withdraw - isolating myself from all that could restore me. Time rolls on and I convince myself that the vibrations I'm experiencing are merely part of life. Warning signs glimpsed during my daily devotions fail to catch my attention, after all, I am ok, aren't I?

The Master Mechanic is ever so patient. Constantly wooing me and waiting for me to make an appointment with Him. At long last His powerful words soak into my soul. He is my Creator. He wants to restore me. "For he knoweth our frame; he remembereth that we are dust" (Psalms 103:14; KJV). He alone can repair me, allowing me to function in a way that testifies to His goodness.

I humble myself. He's there to hear my cry. I allow His skillful hand to fix my bent perspective. He gently reminds me, "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Hebrews 12:11). He places me back on life's road. I'm reminded of how pleasant it is to function properly, and I'm more aware of the path the lies ahead.

Have you hit a pothole recently? Don't hesitate to make an appointment with the Master Mechanic. He's waiting to repair any damage you've experienced, and get you back on the road functioning better than ever!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for this road of life. Thank You for warning me about the potholes that I'm sure to face. When I hit a pothole, help me to run to You to repair the damage. Thank you for Your love and restoration. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A New Chapter

The house is still. Her room is strangely empty. A chapter of her life is complete and a bright new chapter has begun. Although it happened before our eyes, it's still hard to believe that childhood dependence has gradually shifted to the independence of adulthood. I still remember being entertained for hours by a little girl who couldn't get enough of playing, 'Waitress.' With pen and paper in hand, she'd make up a menu that left my mouth watering. Now she's the one ordering from the selection at her college cafeteria.

After a weekend of travelling, unpacking, getting our daughter, Riley, settled in her dorm, and making the trip back home, my husband and I are just coming to grips with the fact that our lives have radically changed. And change can be challenging. But change also helps me to realize my need for an unchangeable God. What an encouraging promise echoes from the book of Hebrews, "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8; KJV).

The same God who comforted parents decades ago, offers that same comfort to those experiencing an empty nest today. When I begin to wonder whether I was an effective mom, I can look beyond myself to the One who gave me the incredible gift of a daughter. At the age of seven, Riley called on the Lord Jesus Christ to save her, and became His child. I can rest assured that He is able to take good care of her! The book of John encourages me with the truth that nothing is able to remove my girl from the Father's hand, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand" (John 10:27-29).

The campus is beautiful. Meticulously maintained grounds, with palm trees swaying in the warm Florida sunshine, make the setting positively idyllic. The student body is the perfect size without being overwhelming. Everyone is extremely friendly. The college is founded on Christian principles. These things aside, if this wasn't the college the Lord had directed her to, we would not have felt comfortable enrolling her. But in spite of the fact that the college is several hours from our home, and we won't see our daughter as often as we'd like to, there was a sense of peace that settled over my husband and I, even as we said our tearful goodbyes. The Apostle Paul speaks of this peace we can experience when we pour our hearts out to the Lord, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Phil. 4:6-7).

No doubt, the days ahead will be filled with the challenge of change. I'm thankful for a God who never changes, who takes care of His own, and who fills my heart with peace when I lay my concerns at His feet. What a mighty God we serve! "Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:8-9).

Are you being challenged with change? Lift your eyes to the Lord, and you'll find Him more than able to meet your need!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I'm so grateful that You never change. You hold me in the palm of Your hand, and You cover me with Your peace. Help me to surrender to the work You're doing in my life. May I be an accurate reflection of You to those around me. Amen.