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.