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.