Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas to You!

Only four more days! That’s right, Christmas is upon us! Take a few minutes to think back on that first Christmas long ago…

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. 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. 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 Savior, 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. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them,” (Luke 2:1-20; KJV).

Wishing you and yours a very merry Christmas and a special time to reflect on the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! God bless!

*I’ll be spending time with family over the holidays, and invite you to join me back here on January 3 for the first post of 2012 – and who knows? There just may be a surprise waiting for you! 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life's Inconveniences

Only a few more gift cards to buy. Only a few days left to get them. But one of the gift cards I need to track down is from a store several miles across town. With a busy week ahead, imagine my exasperation when I realized I had a slow leak in my tire. Sure enough, the small head of a nail was peeking out at me from in between the tire treads. Talk about inconvenient!

Within a couple hours the tire shop had my tire patched. And at no cost to me! Yes, some things are still free! My slight inconvenience paled in comparison to that of some people from long ago...

The government was the cause of their inconvenience. Caesar Augustus had issued a decree that everyone would be taxed. Not only was there a tax to be paid, but everyone had to return to their home town in order to make their payment. No mailboxes in those days. No ifs, ands, or buts, the tax had to be paid in person, period. Major inconvenience for most of the townspeople of Nazareth, but for Joseph, he had the added inconvenience of a pregnant wife. Mary was nearing the end of her pregnancy and would find it difficult to travel the long distance to Bethlehem. Despite their less than desirable situation, Joseph and Mary headed on their way.

I can only imagine how many stops the couple must have made between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Maybe ten stops or more a day? And this journey was not for the faint of heart. Given Mary's pregnancy, it could easily have been a week's journey. And think about the mode of transportation. Probably a donkey for Mary, while Joseph led the way on foot. Mary couldn't have been comfortable! When I compare the rough back of an animal to the plush, heated seats of my car, I have to laugh. And vow never to complain on a long road trip again!

I remember the comfort of my own bed the night before my scheduled C-section. And the confidence I had in the team of doctors at the hospital. Mary didn't have that luxury. No familiar surroundings greeted her as she went into labor. No sterile environment, or medications to ease her pain. Not even a room in an inn. Just the sounds and smells of common animals, and a feeding trough that would have to double as a bed for their baby. "And she brought forth her first born 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).

It would have been so much more convenient for Mary to stay behind in Nazareth. And being nearly nine months pregnant, no one would have blamed her. No doubt they didn't welcome the difficulties, but it seems like Mary and Joseph realized there was more to life than seeking personal convenience. Through their obedience, the scriptures were fulfilled, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting,"(Micah 5:2).

Next time I'm tempted to complain about life's inconveniences, remembering Mary and Joseph's trials will prompt me to be thankful instead!

Do you complain when you're faced with inconveniences? What could you do today to be more thankful? 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for both the trials and blessings You allow in my life. Thank You for reminding me of the difficulties others faced - and how they choose to be obedient to You. Help me to praise You for Your goodness instead of complaining of any inconveniences. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Praises & Presents

As the year winds down, it's easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of activities - from decorating and baking, to parties and gift-giving. Yet the strains of Christmas carols have served to remind me that these festivities originated following the birth of a very special baby, Jesus Christ. I've been inspired to praise the Lord for His goodness!

David shares numerous reasons to praise the Messiah, "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; KJV). What a Savior!

One of the 'good things' I'm praising Him for, are my blogger friends. I appreciate each of you and thank you for sharing this journey with me. In the past couple months, I was given two awards that I want to pass on as 'gifts' to all of you! Merry Christmas!

The first award, The Versatile Blogger Award, was given by the gracious Sheri Salatin at Sheri Salatin: Farming with Heart - Writing with Passion - Loving with Joy. A big shout out to Sheri! Here are the rules for passing this award along:

*Thank the person who gave you this award, and include a link to his/her blog

*Nominate 15 bloggers for the award (they can be bloggers you've recently discovered, or ones you follow regularly)

*Finally, share 7 fun things about yourself

The second award, Tell Me About Yourself Award, was passed along by the fun-loving Cheryl Linn Martin at Life in Flip Flops. Thank you so much, Cheryl! Oddly enough, the rules for passing on this award are exactly the same as the previous award! So, enjoy!

My 7 fun facts:

* I grew up in Michigan, spending 22 years there, before migrating south. And yes, it's true, my blood has thinned and I can't tolerate the cold anymore!

*My degree is in Corporate Wellness, but my passion is inspirational/devotional writing

*My favorite meal is fillet mignon, followed closely by fish tacos

*Fall is my favorite time of year. I love seeing God's creativity in nature!

*I've been playing the piano since I was 5

*I love vacationing at the beaches of South Walton, FL

*I'm going on my first mission trip to South Africa in 2012

Thank you, ladies, for these awesome awards! And I encourage all my blogger friends to add these awards to your sidebar and join in the fun!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Right Worship

Not much is known about them. But each year they grace the front of Christmas cards. Were there three men or more? It isn't clear. Where were they from? Once again, no specific information is given. One thing IS known, however, they were wise. The second chapter of Matthew begins with these words, "Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem," (Matthew 2:1; KJV).

Intelligence is a gift. These men were well aware that God had given them something special - and they were using it to seek Him. A brilliant star had appeared in the heavens, and somehow they knew that it led to the long-awaited Messiah. They travelled countless miles, ending up in Jerusalem, in the audience of Herod the king.

Herod was unaware of the birth of this 'King of the Jews,' the wise men referenced. He called the chief priests and scribes, demanding where Christ was to be born. Words from the scroll of Micah were consulted, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting," (Micah 5:2).

The wise men left Herod, heading in the direction of Bethlehem. As they gazed up at the night sky, their hearts nearly skipped a beat. There it was - the star they had seen in the east. And it led them directly to the object of their search - Jesus.

The search had ended. Celebration followed. These men had trusted God to lead them to Christ, and they were not disappointed. As they were invited into the home of Mary and Joseph, they "...fell down, and worshipped him (Jesus): and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh," (Matthew 2:11).

In their wisdom, these men knew that Jesus was worthy of the finest gifts they had to offer. They came prepared to worship. From our introduction to these men on the pages of scripture, to the last words we read of them, they are faithful to use the gift God gave them to glorify Him.

Although Herod had instructed them to return to him after they found Jesus, the Lord warned them to take a different route on their journey home. They obeyed without question.

What gift, talent, or ability has God given you? Are you using it selfishly or using it to pursue Him? How will you worship Him today with your gift?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the example of the wise men, who diligently sought Jesus. And when they found Him, worshipped wholeheartedly. Help me to use the gifts You've given me to worship and glorify You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Parenting Challenge

Parenting. It's a word that can strike fear in the hearts of the bravest. It's a job filled with rewards and challenges. Many a young couple will head home from the hospital with their bundle of joy, unsure whether they'll remember all the baby care basics. After all, babies don't come with instruction manuals.

I remember bringing our daughter, Riley, home for the first time. It was March, and yes, there was snow on the ground. The first couple days were a bit of a blur, but I DO remember the incessant crying. It was referred to as colic, and no matter what it was called, it was hard to deal with. Imagine being a new Mom, and feeling totally inadequate as your newborn squalls for hours. I was convinced I must be doing something wrong.

With each new year, the challenges change. Some are easier to deal with than others, and with clear direction from God's Word, the right guidance can be given. But parenting isn't easy!

Throughout history, parents have been faced with challenging situations. Remember Hannah? She had prayed for a child for years, and yet she remained childless. One year when she and her husband made their annual trek to the temple, Hannah prayed earnestly, "O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life..." (1 Samuel 1:11; KJV).

The Lord answered Hannah's prayer. Imagine her satisfaction as little baby Samuel filled their home with joy. But Hannah had given the Lord her word, and when Samuel was weaned, she took him to the temple and told the priest, "For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord," (1 Samuel 1:27-28).

No doubt, in the few years Samuel was at home, Hannah had patiently taught him the things of the Lord in preparation for his apprenticeship at the temple. Each year Hannah visited her son, and brought him a new coat. Surely those visits served as additional opportunities to instruct her son. Because Samuel chose to listen to his mother's voice of wisdom, it's recorded, "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men," (1 Samuel 2:26).

King David was a phenomenal ruler, but parenting proved a big challenge for this man of God. I'm sure it was hard for David to balance his time between his duties as king, and his responsibilities as a father. As a result, he was faced with some serious disobedience from his boys, who were now young men.

Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Look at David's response, "But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth," (2 Samuel 13:21; KJV). The sentence stops there. His anger probably consumed him, yet he failed to punish Amnon. David failed to hold him accountable for his actions.

Another of David's sons, Absalom, took revenge into his own hands and murdered his half-brother Amnon, two years after the incident. For some reason, David didn't confront Absalom either. It's unclear why David withheld much-needed discipline from these two sons.

Although David made mistakes, it's reassuring to read the words penned about him, "And when he (God)had removed him (Saul), he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will," (Acts 13:22; words in parentheses mine; italics mine).

Neither Hannah nor David were perfect parents, and a perfect parent doesn't exist today. Fortunately, the Lord gives grace and wisdom liberally. Lean on Him and His guidebook when raising your family!

What do you struggle with as a parent? How has the Lord proven to be faithful in your parenting?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the opportunity to be a parent. Help me to study Your Word and find the grace and wisdom I need as I try to be a godly parent. I pray my child/children will love You with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Special Cousins

Christmas decorating is nearly done. Shopping is well under way. In just a few weeks, we'll have the opportunity to spend the holiday season with our extended family - one of the things I truly treasure this time of year. I can already picture my nieces and nephews opening their gifts and enjoying a special camaraderie that only cousins can share. My mind drifts back to some cousins from long ago.

Zacharias and Elisabeth didn't have any children. They had prayed diligently for the blessing of a baby, but with each passing year their hopes waned. But that all changed with the appearance of an angel with unbelievable news.

Zacharias was performing his duty as a priest in the Temple one day, when an angel of the Lord appeared, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. Imagine! What could this mean? Zacharias was afraid. The angel began to speak, "Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John," (Luke 1:13; KJV). I can picture Zacharias' surprise. Maybe he closed his eyes and re-opened them, wondering if his mind was playing tricks on him. But the angel was still there.

How could it be possible? Zacharias and his wife were old - surely they were well beyond child-bearing age. There was no way...He couldn't keep the question to himself any longer, "Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well sricken in years," (Luke 1:18). The angel, Gabriel's, response was a bit more than Zacharias had bargained for, "And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season," (Luke 1:20).

Imagine Elisabeth's surprise when her husband came home, unable to speak, yet sharing news that an angel had appeared to him, assuring him that they were going to have a baby! She was probably speechless herself, with words like, "No way!" echoing through her mind. But with God, all things were possible, and sure enough, Elisabeth conceived.

A few months later, and miles away in Nazareth, Elisabeth's cousin Mary received some incredible news as well. The same angel, Gabriel, appeared to Mary informing her that she would be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah. He went on to share with her, "And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren," (Luke 1:36).

The Messiah that had been prophesied all these years would be Mary's son? Unbelievable! And her cousin's son, John, would prepare the way for him. Mary chose to believe the angel's news and made a visit to Elisabeth.

As soon as Mary greeted her cousin, she was in for a surprise, "And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy," (Luke 1:41-44).

What followed, was a sweet time of praising the Lord for His incredible goodness. Two cousins, both expecting babies by miraculous means. I believe they spent an unforgettable three months together before Mary returned to Nazareth.

As you look forward to this Christmas season, make it a point to spend time with family and friends. And most importantly, take the opportunity to celebrate the Savior's birth!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of family. And for a time that is set aside to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Help me share You with others this Christmas season. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Price Worth Paying

December. The month we celebrate the birth of Jesus. As I decorated our Christmas tree and festive music played in the background, I couldn't help thinking about the time leading up to that first Christmas so many years ago...
No doubt Mary was excited. I imagine she was anticipating her marriage to Joseph, the talented carpenter. Wedding preparations were in full swing. No detail would be overlooked. The list of food for the celebration was thoroughly checked and re-checked. Although modest, accommodations for the guests were carefully thought through.
After a full day of chores and working on her wedding dress, Mary was more than ready for a good night of sleep. Little did she know this night would radically change the course of her life.
The being in her room could be none other than an angel. Before she could react, he was speaking, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women," (Luke 1:28; KJV). A bit frightened, Mary was troubled at his words, and wondered what he could possibly mean. Before she was able to respond, the angel delivered his message, "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus," (Luke 1:30-31).
What? How could this be possible? Mary was a virgin. The angel gave her the answer, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God...For with God nothing shall be impossible," (Luke 1:35, 37).
Wow! Nothing less than incredible! To be highly favored by God, and chosen to be the mother of the Messiah. Mary's response was immediate, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word," (Luke 1:38). No hesitation. Full obedience.
As I continued to hang the Christmas ornaments on my tree, I couldn't help but think of the cost of obedience. For Mary, her reputation would be ruined. She would be shunned by family, friends, and society for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. It was possible that she could be stoned. Even her fiancé, Joseph, may not believe her. But Mary chose to believe God, and fully surrendered to His will for her. Although her life wasn't easy, Mary's obedience was rewarded by God. The Messiah was born Who would provide salvation for all mankind.
Obedience. Being willing to submit to the Lord's authority. I had to ask myself if I am willing to pay the price of being obedient to my Savior, if it means running the risk of suffering. Tough question. But one that I can answer in the affirmative when I contemplate the outcome - hearing the words of my Heavenly Father, "...Well done, thou good and faithful servant," (Matthew 25:21a).
Are you willing to pay the price of obedience to Christ? What step will you take to be obedient today?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your Word. I love the examples of ordinary people, just like me, who chose to be obedient to You. Help me to choose to be obedient to You today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*The events leading up to the appearance of the angel are fictionalized by me. The quoted scriptures contain the factual account. For the entire story, read Luke 1:26-38.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Life's Ups & Downs

The irony was unmistakable. We had spent an enjoyable Thanksgiving day with my sister-in-law and her family. As we caught up on family news, she asked how our sixteen year old cat, Courtney, was getting along. I remember smiling when I answered that she was doing well. Imagine my shock when we got home later that evening, and Courtney's eye was almost swollen shut. She was fine when we left - what could have possibly happened in the few hours we had been away?

A trip to our local vet escalated our concern. Not only did she have elevated blood pressure, but the pressure in her right eye was almost three times higher than normal. The doctor suspected glaucoma. I had heard of the condition, but wasn't aware that it could affect animals.

Glaucoma is an eye disorder marked by unusually high pressure in the eyeball that leads to damage of the optic disk (Encarta Dictionary). In humans, the condition is extremely painful. The vet referred us to an ophthalmologist, who could examine Courtney further and give us our options. Armed with medication to control her blood pressure, we left the vet's office ready to contact the specialist on Monday.

We received good news over the weekend. Courtney's blood work came back within the normal range for a senior cat. I heaved a sigh of relief, imagining the swollen eye was due to her high blood pressure, and now that she was on medication, everything would return to normal. But my sense of relief was short lived.

The ophthalmologist visit eased some concerns, but raised new questions. The pressure in Courtney's eye had come down significantly, but the doctor's specialized equipment uncovered another problem - a mass on her iris. We had a big decision to make. Ultimately, removing the eye would give her the best prognosis.

Life is full of ups and downs. King Solomon understood this truth when he penned these words, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance," (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4; KJV).

Knowing that God is in control even in the midst of life's valleys, is comforting. Christ himself experienced times of joy and grief while on this earth, so I know He can identify with the ups and downs I go through.

Job, a God-fearing man in the Old Testament, experienced one of life's extreme valleys. He lost his children and all of his wealth in one day. Instead of cursing God, consider his response, "...What? shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?" (Job 2:10b).

Even when life gets difficult, I'm determined to adopt the attitude of Job - to praise the Lord no matter the outcome! "...the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord," (Job 1:21b).

What about you? Are you currently in a valley? How will you respond?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your comfort in the middle of life's difficulties. Help me embrace the truth that You are good, no matter what I may be going through. Today I choose to praise You because You are "great, and doest wondrous things: thou art God alone," (Psalm 86:10). In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

True Satisfaction

Who can deny that food and holidays go together? Thanksgiving is no exception. Spending time with dear family members can only be made sweeter by a table laden with food. My mouth is already watering in anticipation of all the delectable things that will make up the Thanksgiving Day feast.
I imagine myself loading my plate with all kinds of goodies - pumpkin pie topped with real whipped cream, just a sliver of the pecan pie, and oh, I can't pass by the apple bread without having just a little. A dessert connoisseur's dream. But in this dream of mine, something is missing. Food that will truly nourish my body. If my plate is loaded solely with sweets, it'll only be a matter of time before my body craves what it really needs - proper nutrients. You know, the ones found in the turkey, green beans, squash, and cranberry relish, also on the table.
When fueled with the appropriate balance of food, my body is able to function properly. The problem: sometimes I fall prey to eating the things that sound good to me, rather than those that are good for me.
Thanksgiving wouldn't be the same without taking time to reflect on the past year's blessings. However, in a rush to finish cleaning the house, prepare the mid-day meal, and welcome family, I sometimes leave out what I really need - time spent with my Savior; praising Him for His goodness. Time allowing Him to orchestrate my days in such a way that balance is restored during a time that tends to get chaotic.
Consider the beautiful metaphor spoken by Jesus himself, "I am the the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst," (John 6:35). Sweets cannot satisfy my body's hunger, neither can my soul be satisfied in living a life apart from Christ.
As you get together with friends and family this year, and put the finishing touches on your Thanksgiving Day feast, remember to make plenty of room for what will truly satisfy - the Lord, Jesus Christ!
Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for who You are! Thank You for the blessings you pour out in my life. Help me to enjoy a time of worshiping and praising You this Thanksgiving - remembering that it IS all about You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Brushing Out the Tangles

Her soft snores punctuated the stillness. At first, I couldn't make sense of the sound. But a quick glance in the direction of the living room confirmed my suspicions. My cat, Courtney, lay curled up on one of the chairs, fast asleep, gray fur sticking up in all directions.

Most cats enjoy being groomed. Not Courtney. She's quick to jump up on the couch to share some family time, and just as quick to jump down if I try to get in a few strokes with her brush. Oddly enough, when I attempt to hold her still and do a more thorough job, she actually purrs. Done regularly, the frequent brushings keep the mats in her fur to a minimum, and I can groom Courtney quickly. It seems that although she's not crazy about the process, she feels better once she's brushed.

Reminds me of the often painful, refining process the Lord applies in my life. I long to be the type of vessel the Lord can use, yet I'm not quite as eager to sign up for the furnace experiences that help me become that useful, highly polished tool. Much like Courtney, I'm not keen on things that cause discomfort or pain - although I recognize the value of the experiences once I'm on the other side.

Case in point. The flight where I was given the opportunity to share Christ with a fellow passenger. I had a list of things to keep me busy for quite some time. In fact, I was actually looking forward to the down time to get some things done. But then the gentleman across from me started a conversation. It would have been easy to give a brief answer and turn back to my work.

The truth was, I had prayed that very morning to be used as a witness. Did I really mean what I said? Or had it just been a routine prayer? It wasn't comfortable to give up my free time, but I knew the Lord had orchestrated the opportunity. As I spoke with the man, I could almost feel the Lord scouring the selfishness from me.

God's Word is full of truths that, when applied, act as cleansing agents. Powerful purifiers that remove the things from my life that make me rough around the edges. The Apostle Paul describes it accurately, "For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart," (Hebrews 4:12; KJV).

But one trip to the Master Refiner is not enough. Just like Courtney needs a daily brushing, I need daily refining. I know that the process is difficult, but the end result will be a clear reflection of my Master.

Is the Lord refining you? How will you cooperate with Him in this process today?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for loving me enough to scour the rough edges from me. Help me to 'hold still' and let You accomplish Your work in my life. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Wind Blown

It's raining leaves. The weather report promises wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. Evidence of the accuracy of that report is visible outside my living room window. As the wind blows and the leaves fall, the tree branches are slowly stripped of their colorful foliage. Soon the trees will be bare, until spring once again clothes them with new life.

Life is often punctuated by strong 'wind gusts.' I'm sure you've experienced them - unexpected bills, sudden illnesses, difficulties that rock you to your core. As the 'gusts' strip us of the comforts we hold onto, do we stay standing? Does our faith allow us to cling to the One who can see us through every tempest?

Consider David, Israel's second king. Imagine his wonder and excitement when he was anointed by the prophet, Samuel. David was little more than a youth at the time. I think he knew it would be awhile before he would rule the kingdom, but I'm not sure he could have imagined that it would be many long years before he would actually wear the crown. Years fraught with extreme difficulty. Running for his life from the very one whom he would succeed.

David was in a tricky position. Shortly after he discovered he would someday be king, David found himself working for the man he'd replace, King Saul. He was hired to play the harp when Saul battled an evil spirit. David had to be wondering how God would promote him from head musician to king!

Things got even more complicated. After defeating Goliath, King Saul awarded David the privilege of marrying his daughter, Michal. Now David was related to the king by marriage - Saul's son-in-law. But there were definitely times when King Saul could barely contain his jealousy and rage around David. It wasn't mere coincidence that the king's javelin had narrowly missed him! What was going on? The 'wind gusts' had to be blowing mighty strong in David's mind!

The truth became obvious. King Saul hated David, and would stop at nothing to kill him. Much as the wind strips the leaves from the trees, difficult circumstances forced David to shed all comfort, and run for his life. Yet in the face of extreme persecution, he didn't give in to the powerful 'gusts' of life, he remained standing.

King Saul pursued David relentlessly over the course of several years. David had to be tired. Worn out by the constant pressure to stay one step ahead of the king and his men. When would the madness end? Twice it appeared that the Lord had delivered King Saul into his hands. Each time David's men counseled him to take Saul's life. Each time David resisted revenge and spared the life of the king.

Ponder David's resolve, "And David said to Abishai, Destroy him not: for who can stretch forth his hand against the Lord's anointed, and be guiltless? David said furthermore, As the Lord liveth, the Lord shall smite him; or his day shall come to die; or he shall descend into battle, and perish. The Lord forbid that I should stretch forth mine hand against the Lord's anointed:" (1 Samuel 26:9-11a; KJV). Amazing!

Thirteen to fifteen years after he was anointed by Samuel, David became King of Israel. Did David battle the 'wind gusts' of life? Absolutely! Was he able to stand in spite of the intense storm? No doubt! Through faith, he clung to the One who gave him strength through it all!

Are you battling 'gusts of wind' in your life today? What will you do to remain standing?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the trials of life that cause me to cling to You. Help me to pray with the Apostle Paul, "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand, " (Ephesians 6:13). Help me follow the example of David, who chose Your will above his own. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Guest Blogging

Happy Thursday! Today I'm posting over at Robin Prater's blog, cleverly entitled, Robin's Nest. Stop by and peruse her lovely site!

Psalm 62:7-8 In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in Him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Be Yourself

It’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to be someone I’m not. Writing like an author I admire. Or presenting like a Bible teacher I’ve studied under. There’s nothing wrong with admiring great character qualities of other people, but God made me unique – and that’s reason enough to shine for Him with the gifts and abilities He’s given me.

The story of David and Goliath is very familiar. Remember the details? David was the young shepherd boy, who had seven older brothers. Goliath was the Philistine giant who challenged the Israelites to a fight. David found himself in the midst of the Israelites’ camp, when his father sent him to check on his brothers who were part of the army.

The entire Israelite army cowered in fear of Goliath’s threats. His words were brash and bold, punctuated with blasphemy against the God of Israel. David couldn’t believe his ears. As he looked around, he couldn’t believe his eyes. One by one, the men in the army were retreating – taking shelter behind boulders and anything that would give them protection from this formidable enemy.

David knew the God of Israel could prevail. How dare this Philistine defy his God! David presented his case before King Saul: “Let no man’s heart fail because of him; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine,” (1 Samuel 17:32; KJV). King Saul warned David of the enemy’s ability - pointing out the fact that Goliath was a skilled warrior, having fought in battles since he was young.

David’s confidence didn’t waiver, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine. And Saul said unto David, Go, and the Lord be with thee,” (1 Samuel 17:32, 37; KJV).

Saul offered David his armor. David put on the helmet of brass and the coat of mail, girded his sword on his armor, and attempted to go. But something wasn’t right. The armor felt heavy and awkward. David had never worn armor before. Although it might be what the warriors wore, he knew it wasn’t right for him. He took off the protective gear, and exchanged it for what he was skilled at using: his shepherd’s staff, sling and pouch for stones.

Carefully selecting five smooth stones, David made his way toward Goliath. The giant thought this was some sort of Israelite joke, but David’s voice was strong and clear, “Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied…And all this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give you into our hands,” (1 Samuel 17:45, 47).

With one, well-aimed stone, Goliath was killed, and the Philistine army was scattered. David chose to use the abilities God had honed in him, rather than the armor of the warriors. And God used David to win a mighty victory in Israel.

Although I may not have the same skills and abilities other great men and women of God possess, He has equipped me to magnify Him with the talents He’s given me. What an opportunity to develop those talents for His glory!

Do you wish you had someone else’s talents? Take time to praise the Lord for the way He’s equipped you to serve Him, and work on honing your skills today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for allowing me to serve You. Help me to see that each person You’ve created has different talents and abilities. My job is to use what You’ve given me to bring You honor and glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Numbering My Days

Life is fragile. I was reminded of this stark reality when I received the message. One of my husband's co-workers had been given two weeks to live. The cancer that had been in remission, had returned with a vengeance. My thoughts and prayers turned to the man and his family.

Death isn't a pleasant topic. But as a result of Adam and Eve's sin in the Garden of Eden, it's an age-old reality (Genesis 3). The Apostle Paul spoke about it plainly, "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:" (Romans 5:12; KJV).

With my birthday looming only a handful of days away, I can attest to the fact that life passes by quickly. Moses was wise in his advice, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom." (Psalms 90:12). But how can I apply my heart to wisdom in the days I have left on this earth? Thankfully the Lord spells it out clearly for me, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever." (Psalm 111:10). It's all about reverencing Him. Giving Him his rightful place - first place. Worshipping and obeying Him. And giving Him the praise He is due.

It begins with a relationship. Or should I say, a broken relationship. Years ago I realized that I couldn't bridge the gap between me and God. I couldn't do enough good things to bring myself into fellowship with a holy God. I realized the truth of His Word, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;" (Romans 3:23). I thought about all the times I had disobeyed and chosen to do the wrong things. I had to admit I was a sinner.

Sin demanded a payment. Debt isn't a good thing. Especially if I'm the one who owes the payment. But the only payment that would completely satisfy my sin debt was the one made by Christ on the cross. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23).

In His love and mercy, God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to pay my sin debt. Christ completed the work necessary to secure my salvation, "But God commendeth (showed) his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," (Romans 5:8; parentheses mine).

Christ had done the work, I had a decision to make. Did I believe His death on the cross paid for my sins? Or not? I believed. "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," (Romans 10:9). It's a matter of faith, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast, " (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Having a restored relationship with my Creator made all the difference. Now it's possible to live out the rest of my days on earth applying my heart to wisdom - making much of the Lord and pointing others to the One who makes life worth living!

Have you placed your faith in the One who is able to erase your sin debt? If so, are you applying your heart to wisdom each day?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of life. Thank You most of all, for the gift of eternal life available through faith in Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help me to live wisely, realizing that life is short. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, October 31, 2011

More Than A Game

His tail wagged furiously. He clutched the ball between his teeth. He was ready to play. If he timed it just right, he could roll his ball down the hill when the workers walked by. With any luck, they’d notice the toy and toss it back into his area. A ready-made game of fetch. Ingenious!

The workers were amused and tossed the ball to our dog, Joe. As soon as he caught it, he’d set it down on the hill and send it rolling on its way. The game was fun while it lasted, but there was work to be done. I could see Joe’s confused expression as the men got busy painting the house. He seemed to be wondering why these people were here. Hadn’t they come to play fetch with him?

The humorous incident with our dog and the workers got me thinking. How often do I respond just like Joe? I put together my agenda and think everyone, including God, should get on board. Our dog’s clever antics helped me to realize, I often act as if it’s all about me. The truth is, it’s not.

God’s Word reveals a bigger plan. The Apostle Paul spells it out clearly, “For the love of Christ constraineth us…And that he (Christ) died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again,” (2 Corinthians 5:14a, 15; KJV; parentheses mine). The plan is to live for Christ and share Him with others. Paul puts it beautifully, “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation,” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

John the Baptist embraced God’s plan. John had the right attitude about himself and his purpose. He didn’t claim to be anyone special, but consistently pointed to the One who was. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias,” (John 1:23). He realized he was just a voice. And he used his voice to draw others to the Savior.

Johns’ ministry must have been something. No doubt his unusual clothing and diet attracted attention. But those who followed John, knew he spoke the truth. Day after day, his number of followers increased. Yet John wasn’t in this for himself. He had no qualms about pointing his disciples to the Master.

When Jesus appeared on the scene, John didn’t hesitate to introduce Him to those who were assembled, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me,” (John 1:29-30). John encouraged those who had followed him to follow Jesus instead. John didn’t desire a following. He knew his purpose was to make much of Christ. And he did. His words reveal his heart toward Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease,” (John 3:30).

Spending time with the Lord on a daily basis reminds me of His greatness. He is to be reverenced. And He is worthy of my praise. What a privilege to be involved in His plan – to live for Him and share Him with others!

Are you the center of your world? Or have you embraced His plan?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your plan is so much bigger than me. Thank You for giving me the example of John – a man interested in glorifying You and pointing others to You. Forgive me when I live for myself. Help me to embrace Your plan. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Good and Hot!

Sometimes I take things for granted. I tend to think of a daily shower as a given. A hot shower, a must. Conserving aside, I usually let the water run while I make the bed - ensuring that the water will be good and hot when I step in. Steam on the glass of the shower surround is my cue that the water temperature is perfect. Nothing is quite as soothing or refreshing as a hot shower.

Rewind to last week. Imagine my horror and dismay as I went through my normal routine of turning on the shower, making the bed in record time, returning to the shower, only to find that the water was lukewarm. What was wrong? Then it dawned on me, my daughter was showering in her bathroom and apparently the hot water supply had been zapped...completely used up. All that remained was an abundant supply of lukewarm water. Ugh!

Due to my schedule, I had to get ready. I couldn't put my shower off any longer. No time for the water heater to do its thing and replenish the hot water supply. I gritted my teeth and stepped into the shower. Conserving water was not foremost in my mind, but I know my quick shower would have impressed even the most eco-conscious individual.

The tepid shower incident was unpleasant to say the least. It left me thoroughly chilled, and I was determined not to repeat the experience any time soon.

I had to smile when I realized that God likes things hot, too! Not water necessarily, but lives lived for Him. In fact, it's so important to Him, that He wrote about it in the book of Revelation. "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth," (Revelation 3:15-16; KJV).

Rough words. God's dislike for lukewarm Christians, far exceeds my dislike for lukewarm water. Unfortunately, there are similarities between the church of the Laodiceans in the book of Revelation, and churches today. A familiar attitude that makes me squirm. Because these Christians had everything they thought they needed, they no longer looked to God. Their things gave them security, instead of their relationship with Jesus Christ. How true is this of our churches today? We go through the motions of religion while our hearts are far from the God who desires a close relationship.

A lukewarm shower merely made me uncomfortable. Lukewarm Christianity makes God sick. When I live my life with the attitude that I don't need God or His direction, I'm guilty of making Him vomit. A bit graphic, I know, but maybe it will help me remember my utter dependence on Him. He is the One who formed me in the womb. He is my Creator and Sustainer. He is the only One worthy of all of my praise. What an opportunity to live a life that pleases Him. A life on fire for Him. Now that's hot!

Do you have a relationship with the Savior, or are you merely religious? Would God describe you as lukewarm? Allow the Lord to search your heart. Submit to His will and draw near to Him today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the reminder that I need You. Forgive me when I get caught up in going through the motions. Help me to be thankful for everything You've given me, yet allow me to see that the real treasure is my relationship with You. Allow me to live a life that is hot in devotion toward You! In Jesus' name, Amen.

*re-posted from 1/27/2011

Thursday, October 20, 2011

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.

*a repost from 9-30-2010

Monday, October 17, 2011

Doubting Castle

Thoughts raced through my mind. I felt like I was being punished. Why had the Lord allowed me to get in an accident? At first, I was convinced that I'd be fine if the physical pain subsided. But long after my back healed from the soft tissue damage I'd experienced, I was plagued by anxiety. Irrational fears haunted my days and I was unable to sleep at night. What was happening to me? Never before had I encountered such a fierce mental struggle.

Unwittingly, I had uncovered a stronghold in my thought process. If something bad happened, it meant that God didn't love me. I had given the enemy a foothold in my life. Peter shares an excellent description of the enemy, in addition to some good advice, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Peter 5:8; KJV).

I was familiar with the words penned by the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, "(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds); Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ," (emphasis mine). According to these verses, the battle was taking place in my mind. The most effective way to influence my actions was to influence my thinking. The enemy was well aware of this and bombarded me with lies, hoping that I wouldn't be able to distinguish a lie from the truth.

Throughout my struggle, God's word assured me that I was not alone. He walked beside me each step of the way, no matter how I felt. The Lord even provided armor for me that would protect me from my enemy. I didn't have to develop a strategy or plot a sneak attack, God's word promised me that all I had to do was stand: "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand" (Ephesians 6:13). If I would wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God and lift up the shield of faith which is "able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked," the Lord promised to help me overcome (Ephesians 6:16).

Doctors and counselors played a role in my healing process. Ultimately, it was the word of God that restored my hope and joy. Once I was able to identify my stronghold and recognize the lie I was believing, I was able to replace the lie with God's truth. I was reminded of God's love for me in the book of Romans, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (5:8). When I chose to believe that God truly loved me and began living like the person of value He created me to be, the chains that imprisoned me were loosed and I could walk away from my stronghold.

Once I was set free, I had a choice to make: would I continue to walk in the truth, or when difficulty struck, would I revert back to a lie? In Galatians 5:1 I'm encouraged to, "Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." God's plan is for me to live in the liberty of Christ - secure in His love. Trusting that the things He allows to come into my life are ultimately for my good and His glory.

Are you wrestling with a stronghold? Replace any lies you've believed with the truth of God's word. Use your newly found 'key' of truth to open the gates of 'Doubting Castle.' Take a step of faith today and return to the Master's path for your life!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for your Word. I know that it is powerful. Today I'm choosing to believe the words of 2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Help me walk in faith. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Enjoying Family Time

I'll be unplugged until next Tuesday, enjoying some time with family. Look forward to seeing you on Tuesday - I'll be hosting over at Living by Grace! Have a blessed weekend!

Psalm 100:1-5 Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before his presence with singing. Know ye that the Lord he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. For the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his truth endureth to all generations. (KJV)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Actively Involved

It’s raining leaves today. There is no question as to why it’s called ‘fall.’ The crisp crunch of the leaves that carpet the path from my back door to the doghouses calls me to focus my attention on the beauty of God’s creation. The changing of the seasons gives me special reason to pause and reflect on the majesty of my Creator. Each new season points to a creative God who gives us glimpses of His glory in ways that beckon us to get to know Him better.

The very first verse of the Bible assures us that, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1; KJV). The power of the spoken word of God! In just six days, all the things that make up the universe as we know it were created by our amazing God. As I was thinking about the numerous types of plants, trees, fish, birds, insects and animals that He merely spoke into existence, I was reminded that it was different when he created man and woman.

Before God created man, we’re given a glimpse of what He thought about what He had created up to this point, “…God saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25). But man alone was created in God’s image (see Gen. 1:27). Instead of merely speaking him into existence, Genesis 2:7 shows us God’s active involvement in man’s creation: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”

Our purpose is much different than that of any other creature God created. We were ‘formed’ in order to enjoy fellowship with our Creator, bringing Him honor and glory as we follow Him in obedience. It’s astounding to think that the God of the universe would desire a relationship with us. What a loving Father! And He is able to use His creation to continually point us back to Him.

In Psalm 19, David was quick to share how the very creation of God reveals His greatness, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard” (1-3). When I think of the glorious sunsets God paints with just a stroke of His brush, or the complexity and perfection of each snowflake He’s created, I wholeheartedly agree with the Psalmist.

What have you noticed recently in God’s creation that reveals His greatness? I’d love to hear from you.

Don’t allow the busyness of life to keep you from noticing the handiwork of your Heavenly Father! Praise Him for His goodness today!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Whitewashed Lives

The externals are there. The words are right. The look is appropriate. Wholesome activities are emphasized. But, as Christians, how often do we deceive ourselves, giving lip service to what's right, only to realize that we're merely going through the motions? Is the love we have for our Savior truly genuine? Or could we be lumped in with those the prophet Isaiah spoke of, "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me" (Matthew 15:8; KJV). How many times have I majored on the trivial things, only to miss the point God was patiently trying to teach me?

Hear the words He whispers, "It's a question of your heart, child. Who sits on the throne of your heart?"As a believer, my answer should be, "Christ." But all too often, I've glanced at the throne, only to see my reflection staring back at me. I've been calling the shots. I've been so busy managing the external image that I've missed His still, small voice beckoning me to deal with the root issues. Instead of rushing around putting out the many fires of inconsistency in my life, He longs to show me the single blaze that started all the other fires in the first place.

Pride saunters confidently onto the scene. He's a seasoned pro. He gloats over those from centuries ago, whom he has been able to seduce. Take a look at the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' time. Religious leaders with enviable pedigrees. The cream of the crop who were well-educated and highly esteemed in their day. They certainly looked like they had it 'all together.' But Jesus wasn't fooled. He was quick to see Pride's strangle-hold on their lives. "Woe unto you, scribes ad Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness" (Matthew 23:27).

Wait just a minute! How dare Jesus speak to these respected leaders this way! Weren't these men dedicated to keeping every jot and tittle of the Law? Jesus pointed out their error, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matthew 23: 23-24). They had it all wrong, focusing on the small stuff rather than concentrating on the big issue.

While these men tried so desperately to maintain a pious exterior, Jesus was well-aware of the evil root of Pride that had taken control of their hearts. As Jesus' popularity grew and His followers increased, Pride teamed up with Jealousy to stir up these religious leaders. "Then assembled together the chief priests, and the scribes, and the elders of the people, unto the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, And consulted that they might take Jesus by subtilty, and kill him. But they said, Not on the feast day, lest there be an uproar among the people" (Matthew 26:3-5).

These men were determined to keep up appearances. They were the religious leaders, who did this carpenter think He was, anyway? And yet, in spite of their attempts to discredit Him, His answers left them speechless and His followers continued to increase in number! They refused to accept Him as the promised Messiah because He didn't fit their description of who they thought He should be. Pride had such a tight grip on their hearts, that their eyes had been blinded. 'Self' remained on the throne, and Pride remained the victor.

A choice must be made. Will we continue putting out our own small fires, refusing to deal with the bigger blaze that's creating them? Will we refuse to give up our position on the throne of our life and end up like the Pharisees? Or will we deal with the root of our sin, and purpose to live by the words of the Apostle Paul, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service" (Romans 12:1).

A beautiful promise is given to all who surrender the throne of their hearts to the Lord Jesus Christ, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble" (James 3:6b). The promise of grace. Make the right choice today!

Prayer: Gracious Heavenly Father, Help me to submit myself to You. Help me to resist the devil, knowing that he will flee from me. Help me to draw near to You, knowing that you will draw near to me. Cleanse me from all unrighteousness. Amen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Unjustly Accused

The accusation stung. I had witnessed the incident and knew what had happened. Someone else had seen a portion of what had transpired, too. But the person’s account was different and not even close to the truth. It’s tough being unjustly accused.

Unjust accusations are common. Moses endured his fair share. The Israelites had barely started on their journey out of Egypt, when the accusations began to fly. Pharaoh and his army were pursuing them, and they were afraid. “And they said unto Moses, Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt? Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, Let us alone, that we may serve the Egyptians? For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness,” (Exodus 14:11-12; KJV).

Wow! Moses was being obedient to God, but the people were turning on him. Ouch! This cycle was repeated over and over, as the Israelites journeyed to the Promised Land. No doubt Moses experienced anger and heartache as a result of the people’s accusations. Yet he was able to take comfort in his relationship with God. And perhaps it was because of the difficulties, that Moses earnestly sought the Lord. The Lord loved His servant Moses, “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend,” (Exodus 33:11a).

Although false accusations aren’t pleasant, I can allow them to serve a purpose. They can drive me to the ‘God of all comfort,’ (2 Corinthians 1:3). The One who promises to be near me, “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit,” (Psalm 34:18). And I can also identify with others who have experienced something similar. My trials often become opportunities for me to share my Savior, “Who (God) comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God,” (2 Corinthians 1:4; italics mine).

Life isn’t always fair. And when I’m faced with difficulties, I have a choice to make. Let circumstances make me bitter, or turn to the Lord and allow Him to use those circumstances to make me better.

What do you do when you’re unjustly accused? Will you allow the Lord to use the situation to draw you near to Him and to help others?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You that You are the God of all comfort. You know that I hurt when I’m unjustly accused. Help me to see difficult circumstances as opportunities to draw near to You and share Your goodness with others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Time In Between

The steamy heat of summer is past. But the cooler days of fall haven't quite arrived. Sometimes it's difficult to be caught in between. It's not quite time to switch the thermostat from cool to warm, and it's too soon to pull out my long-sleeve shirts and sweaters . But hints of fall color have me eagerly anticipating a change.

Time to exercise a virtue I have yet to master - patience. From simple everyday events, to life's major stressors, all require varying degrees of waiting patiently. The dictionary defines the word 'patient' as: capable of bearing affliction with calmness; tolerant; persevering. All wonderful characteristics that don't come naturally. That's because patience, also referred to as long-suffering, is a result of the Holy Spirit's work in my life.

Waiting can be hard. But it also offers me an opportunity for growth. I can use this time of waiting to evaluate things. Is there anything I need to change? Something I need to do differently? The Apostle Paul offers some challenging words for me to consider, "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us," (Hebrews 12:1; KJV).

My life is a journey. Others are watching. Times of waiting require patience. Will I give in to my impatience, charging ahead recklessly, or submit to the will of my Heavenly Father who knows exactly what I need? When I make the choice to run life's race with patience, times of waiting become opportunities to point others to the Savior.

On this journey of life, how do you view times of waiting? Do you get impatient? Are you willing to see waiting as an opportunity for growth? Focus on Jesus. Take a step toward patience and make the Savior known!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for times of waiting in my life. Help me to submit to the Holy Spirit, so I can develop the quality of patience. When others see this characteristic in my life, help me to be quick to point them to You. You are worthy of all of my praise. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

At the Heart of it All

The wedding was beautiful. The bride, dazzling in white. The groom, radiant as he stood waiting for his bride. As vows were spoken and rings were exchanged, I had no doubt the bride and groom were in love. In love with each other and in love with the Lord. The Lord was praised for bringing the couple together and He was an integral part of the wedding ceremony.

A wedding signifies the merging of two lives. Marriage was instituted by God himself, and is a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship with the church. “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church,” (Ephesians 5:31-32; KJV). So this translates to ‘happily ever after,’ right? Only when the Lord, hard work, and determination are part of the equation.

Every marriage faces challenges. Sometimes I selfishly want things to be done my way – forgetting my better half. “Oneness in marriage does not mean losing your personality in the personality of the other. Instead, it means caring for your spouse as you care for yourself, learning to anticipate the other person’s needs, helping the other person become all he or she can be,” (Life Application Study Bible, p. 2078). Wow! Now that’s a tall order. But when God is at the heart of the relationship, we put ourselves in a position where He can bless us, and our marriage works.

Remember Ruth and Boaz’s love story? Ruth was a young woman from Moab who was profoundly influenced by her mother-in-law, Naomi. When Ruth’s husband died and Naomi determined to return to Bethlehem-Judah, Ruth willingly left her country, and embraced a new life, “…for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God,” (Ruth 1:16b). Once back in Judah, Ruth was determined to help Naomi. Gleaning in a nearby field gave her an opportunity to harvest food for the two of them.

Enter the knight in shining armor. Okay, he didn’t really wear armor, but check out his list of qualities and decide if he was a keeper: above reproach, self-controlled, wise, respectable, hospitable, gentle, a godly man, and a good manager of his own household – to name just a few. I’m pretty sure he’s the kind of guy every mother dreams of for her daughter!

In order to marry Ruth, Boaz had to fulfill some legal obligations. He was willing to do everything that was necessary. These two demonstrated a strong love for the Lord as individuals and continued to build on this foundation as a couple. And God blessed! “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son,” (Ruth 4:13). That son turned out to be none other than Obed, the grandfather of David! Ruth and Boaz were blessed for their obedience to the Lord by being included in the lineage of Christ.

When we center our marriage on the Lord, we can be sure we will be blessed as well. In fact, any relationship with Christ at its core is headed in the right direction! “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing,” (Zephaniah 3:17).

Evaluate your relationships. Is Christ at the center of each of them? If not, what step will you take today to make Him the emphasis?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the relationships You’ve blessed me with. Help me to build strong relationships where You are honored and glorified. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Holding on for the Impossible

Sometimes I limit God. It’s true. The things I’ve so carefully laid at His feet in the morning have an uncanny way of showing up once again by mid-afternoon. He never intends for me to carry them. But when nothing seems to be happening, I run and pick up my burdens as quickly as I laid them down. I have to admit I have a bad habit of expecting God to work on my time table – and solve my difficulties using my suggestions. When He reminds me to trust Him, I sheepishly relinquish my problems into His more-than-capable hands.

Faith delights God. Faith in Him. He helps me understand, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” (Hebrews 11:6; KJV). Faith trusts that God will work the situation out in a way that’s best for me and will bring Him maximum glory.

I can’t help but think of Abraham and Sarah. God had promised them a son. What exciting news! They had been married for quite some time, but Sarah was unable to get pregnant. Surely after giving them the promise, God would bless them with a child quickly. But month after month, year after year, they remained childless.

Sarah reasoned that she had misunderstood God. Maybe God really intended them to have a child through her servant, Hagar. It was a popular custom in their day. Yes, that MUST be it! So Sarah took things into her own hands and presented Hagar to her husband, Abraham. And sure enough, Hagar had a baby. Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, the Lord appeared to Abraham again. He assured Abraham that he and Sarah would indeed have a baby – a son, just like He’d promised. But how could this happen? Abraham was ninety-nine years old and Sarah was ninety. Definitely impossible. Or was it? God responded to Abraham’s questions, “Is any thing too hard for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14a).

Sarah laughed at the prospect of having a son at her age. I can only imagine her response when she realized she was pregnant! God kept His promise and later that year Abraham and Sarah held their baby boy, Isaac.

Given the choice, Abraham and Sarah would have chosen to have a baby earlier in their lives. But God knew what He was doing. Developing trust. Nurturing faith.

How do you deal with problems? Remember that faith pleases God and make the decision to leave your issues in His hands!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Abraham and Sarah. Although they took situations into their own hands, ultimately they chose the route of faith to receive Your blessing. Help me to choose to live by faith today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.