Monday, January 31, 2011

Of Pillows and Plans

Sleep is good. The right pillow can make a big difference. After using the same Tempur-Pedic pillows for years, my husband and I decided it was time to invest in some new ones. (I know what you're thinking - using the same pillows for years? Ewwww! But really, they're designed to resist dust mites and allergens, and are too pricey to replace every year...)We decided to go with the same style - neck pillows. According to the company, "The contoured design helps align your head, neck and shoulders for more relaxing and restful sleep." Exactly what we were looking for. We placed our order.

The pillows arrived two days later. Before bed, I slipped them into pillowcases, realizing how worn and flat our old pillows had gotten. But after lying down, we both realized that the new pillows would take some getting used to - they were so much thicker than the old ones, and they were super firm. We both had full schedules the next day, and didn't want to risk a poor night's sleep getting used to new pillows. We peeled off the pillowslips, and welcomed back our old, worn friends. We'd give the new pillows a chance the next night.

I was just as skeptical the next night. But we put the pillowcases back on the new pillows, and laid down. I kept my old pillow by my bedside - just in case. Although the new ones seemed too firm at first, my husband said that the material in them is sensitive to body temperature and after just a few minutes it would adjust to the shape of our heads, while providing the individual support each of us needed. He was right. As I rolled over onto my side, I was amazed that the added height of the pillow took the pressure off my neck and shoulder, allowing my muscles to relax completely. The next morning, I was thrilled I had been willing to give the new pillow another chance. Not only had I slept great, but I felt more refreshed than I had in a long time.

Funny how I get set in my ways. I'm so used to doing things the same way, that when God offers me something different, I hesitate. It seems safer to stick with the familiar, even when God is reaching out His hand, assuring me He's got something far better for me. I just need to trust Him, step forward in faith, and follow His plan.

Remember Gideon? He had grown up under tough circumstances. The Israelites were slaves to the Midianites. Conditions were so bad, that Gideon had to thresh his family's grain in secret, or the Midianites would take it. Because of these extreme difficulties, Gideon doubted the Lord even cared about him. Imagine his shock when the angel of the Lord appeared to him, speaking words full of hope, "The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour," (Judges 6:12; KJV).

Gideon's skepticism was clear, "Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites," (Judges 6:13). He wasn't convinced that the Lord had big plans for him!

The Lord's words were reassuring and meant to encourage, "...Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?" (Judges 6:14). Gideon remained skeptical, reminding God that his family was poor and he was a nobody. Although he had endured tough times, Gideon wasn't quite ready to trust a God who was offering he and his people deliverance. He wasn't ready to step out in faith.

Twice, Gideon requested that God prove His deliverance. Twice, God obliged. The rest of the story is nothing short of a miracle. Gideon left his old life behind, finally trusting that God would provide deliverance through him. The Lord used Gideon and his three hundred men, armed with only trumpets, pitchers and lamps, to completely route out the enemy!

It's easy to stick with the familiar. It's comfortable. But just think about the possibilities. God is offering you the adventure of a lifetime. Are you willing to take Him up on it? Take that first step of faith, and seek the Father's best for your life!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that I often fall into a comfortable routine where I'm no longer looking for Your direction. Help me to trust You and move forward in the plan You have for me. Thank You for loving me. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 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.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Proper Balance

The pain is back. I'm not sure what I did. Maybe it's just a combination of my daily routine and general muscle tension, that causes a few vertebra in my spine to shift just enough to cause the familiar ache I'm feeling. My shoulders tense up, and I have a burning sensation in my upper back. Time to schedule a visit to the chiropractor.

It never ceases to amaze me, that the chiropractor can run a hand along my spine and tell me what I've been experiencing. He gives a simple explanation, "It's your spinal cord that acts as the major cable exiting your brain, travels down inside your spinal column and branches off into spinal nerves at various levels of your spine. These spinal nerves then exit between individual spinal vertebrae and go to the various parts of your body." Makes sense. So when T8 is out of alignment, my stomach is affected. When C6 is out of alignment, it's my neck muscles, tonsils, and shoulders that suffer. An adjustment makes all the difference.

Reminds me of the importance of proper balance. Remember the time Jesus sent seventy disciples out on a mission? They were to travel to various cities, preaching and healing the sick. The results were pretty amazing. "And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name," (Luke 10:17; KJV). He had given them a job to do, and they were successful, but don't miss His focus, "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven," (Luke 10:20).

My focus is to be on the Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, He has a job for me to do, but it doesn't take priority over developing my relationship with Him. I have to be honest, sometimes when I focus on the tasks I'm to accomplish, I'd like to take credit for the work. When my priorities are straight, and I'm seeking Him first, my heart beats in rhythm with the Master and I gladly give credit where it's due.

Fulfilling my purpose in life is only possible when I have a proper relationship with the One who gave it to me. My faith in God leads me to serve Him. Faith and works cannot be separated. Look at the words of the Apostle James, " What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone, " (James 2:14,17). When I spend time cultivating my relationship with the God of the universe, I can't help but love Him. Works flow freely out of my love for Him.

Are you out of balance? Do you find yourself working for God's approval - trying to earn His love? Restore proper balance by developing your relationship with God first. Know God's love for you and then serve Him out of a heart of love!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me of the importance of proper balance. It's so easy to try to do things to gain Your approval. Help me to take time to know You. I long to love You with all of my heart, soul, mind, and strength. Give me the desire to serve You out of a heart of love. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Right Tool

It takes the right tools to complete a job successfully. Not only in carpentry, but also in cooking. There's nothing worse than getting half way through a recipe, only to find that I don't have a key ingredient to finish it. Yes, I think of my ingredients as 'tools' of sorts.

There was the time we were having friends over for dinner, and I was busy whipping up my signature dessert - cherry cheese danish. I carefully unrolled my crust and patted it neatly in the bottom of the jelly roll pan. While it was baking in the oven, I turned my attention to mixing the filling. Only after I spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled crust, did I realize there wasn't a single can of cherry pie filling in my cupboards. I couldn't serve cherry cheese danish, without the cherries, now could I?! A trip to the grocery store became a must. I needed the right 'tool' to complete my recipe!

Then there was the cream cheese incident. My wonderful husband had volunteered to accompany me to the store. I wrote out my list and psyched myself up to tackle the grocery shopping. Not my favorite task. But I must say, I love it when my husband comes with me because he's a big help. He asks me what I need him to get, and we finish the shopping in record time. This particular time was no exception.

As we made our way home and I began unpacking the groceries, I noticed that something was missing. The cream cheese. The cream cheese I needed in order to make dessert for the neighbors. My husband had picked up cream cheese spread instead of cream cheese for baking! It was entirely my fault for not specifying what type of cream cheese I needed when we were at the store. I didn't stop to think that he couldn't read my mind. Oh well, we could use cream cheese spread on bagels. Back to the store I went for the missing ingredient for my recipe.

Much like my recipes, life requires the right 'tools' in order to navigate successfully. Prayer is essential. A lifeline connecting me to the very God of the universe who's in control of it all. The book of Hebrews issues an invitation, "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; KJV).

Prayer is the avenue that allows me to pour out my deepest thoughts and concerns. And is the means by which I can praise my Heavenly Father. His word encourages me to, "Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you, " (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).

The Psalms are a virtual feast for my soul, as I worship my great God. "I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name. In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul, " (Psalm 138:1-3).

Prayer. A key ingredient for a successful life. Don't go through the day without it!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the tools You give me to live a successful life. I'm so thankful for the opportunity to talk to You in prayer. Help me develop a close relationship with You as I share my dreams and disappointments. Accept my worship and praise, and help me to live in obedience to Your will. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bloom Where You're Planted

Difficulties and disappointments happen. Life can be downright hard. From the time I entered fourth grade, I knew my Dad struggled with health issues. Due to a genetic predisposition for disease and some unhealthy choices, it was only a matter of time before his health began to decline. He had a triple bypass that year, and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis a few years later. I can only imagine the pain he experienced on a daily basis.

My Dad's suffering played a big role in my career choice. I wanted to help prevent illness. My focus was corporate wellness: emphasizing everything from smoke cessation to weight management. Setting up exercise programs and motivating clients to stick with their regimen became my passion.

As I look back, I can see how God used a difficult situation to inspire positive growth. The same is true today. Each disappointment carries with it the opportunity to create something beautiful. My challenge is to trust the Lord when each trial comes, allowing Him to make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons.

Step back in time with me some twenty-five hundred years or so. Our city of Jerusalem has been ransacked and we've been taken captive by the Babylonians. We're now living among a strange people many miles from home.

Can you imagine it? It's so easy to let your mind drift back to all the comforts of your hometown. The friendly neighbors you had. The bakery you owned and operated in the heart of the city. The temple where you worshipped the Lord. But everything is different today. Your eyes fill with tears as you long for the way things used to be...

Then you receive the letter. A letter from none other than the prophet Jeremiah, inspired by the very God of heaven. His words cause an initial sting, but you know they contain the truth:

"Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace," (Jeremiah 29:4-7; KJV).

Wow! So this captivity is all a part of God's plan. Our poor choices brought His judgment, but even in this place, He desires to bless us, if we just obey Him. Basically, He wants us to move on with life. Bloom where we're planted. Even pray for our captors. Radical commands! His purpose for us is clear, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end," (Jeremiah 29:11).

Fast forward to today. All of us experience difficulties - probably not as drastic as those faced by the children of Israel! What will you choose to do with your trials? Allow them to destroy you? Or trust God through the situation and allow Him to create something beautiful? The choice is yours!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, You are so good to me. Help me to focus on Your purpose for each trial in my life. I need Your strength to choose to continue living life when things become difficult. Thank You for the truth of Your Word. Use every trial in my life to create something beautiful that points to You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Ultimate Terrain Response System

It had been three days. Three days of being housebound. To those living in the north, our predicament was laughable. It only took a few inches of snow for a good portion of our wonderful state of Georgia to shut down. But with only a few pieces of snow clearing equipment, and daily temperatures hovering around freezing, we were just thankful for plenty of food in the refrigerator, wood for the fireplace, and electricity.

After the novelty of the white stuff wore off, we were more than ready to escape the confines of our house and venture forth to see what was happening around town. We bundled up and headed out in the Land Rover with its dependable 4-wheel drive.

The streets in our subdivision were reminiscent of an ice rink. Fortunately, the Terrain Response System (TRS) in the LR2 offered us just what we needed - a setting that gave us maximum traction and control on hard-packed snow and ice. The owner's manual described it this way, "This exclusive capability optimizes drivability and comfort, and is like having a Land Rover expert sitting alongside you." In spite of less than ideal conditions, I realized our vehicle was equipped to handle them. A feeling of safety settled over me.

I've encountered all sorts of different terrain as I've journeyed through life - smooth, rocky, hilly, and often rutted. Oh, to be able to choose the appropriate setting and just turn a knob during life's challenging moments, and know that I'd be equipped for the road ahead! The truth is, I have something infinitely better. The ultimate TRS - my Heavenly Father.

Psalm 121 is quick to point out where my help comes from, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth," (v. 1-2; KJV). Amazing! My God is the one who created this world. I'm convinced He is aware of all that goes on around me.

When the terrain gets rough, He knows all about it. He orchestrates every step of my path and He knows what excess baggage needs to be left behind as I travel forward. My job is to trust Him, knowing that He is with me all the way. He is the expert walking alongside me. His Word reassures me that He watches over me 24 hours a day, seven days a week, "...he that keepth thee will not slumber, " (Psalm 121:3b).

Yesterday, a feeling of safety helped us continue to drive to our destination although many streets were snow covered and slick. Day by day, knowing that my covenant-keeping God provides me with shelter, and promises to preserve me, I'm able to feel safe and secure.

Where do you look for help as you journey through life? Are you determined to go it alone? Look to the God of the universe, who is the expert able to help you successfully navigate life's road!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You that You are my keeper. You know the path that lies before me and exactly what I need for the road today. Thank You that You not only give me direction in Your Word, but that You walk alongside me each step of the way. Thank You for Your provision of safety! In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, January 10, 2011

An Invitation

Millions of snowflakes cover the ground. Overnight, our yard was transformed into a winter wonderland. As we slept, an army of white crystals fell from the sky. Enough to cause plans to change for virtually everyone in North Georgia. School was cancelled, and one of the busiest airports has all but shut down.

As I bundled up to brave the cold this morning, I wondered what our puppies would think of the snow. Both dogs were still asleep when I climbed the hill with their food and water. Their curiosity was evident as they left the warmth of their houses to explore the white blanket that covered the ground. After a few tentative steps, Joe and Precious decided to make the most of the situation. Their people were outside, why not play? With tails wagging, they leaped and bounded through the snow.

I'm not always as quick to jump on board when I’m led into the unknown. I may take a few moments to assess the situation, then I retreat to the safety of what I know. But God reaches out His hand in reassurance. His plan for me includes stretching and growth. He invites me to place my trust in Him, and take that first step of faith. The choice is mine.

Remember Rebekah? One day her life seemed so routine – feeding the livestock, cooking meals, and helping her parents. The next day, all of that changed. She met a stranger at the well who asked her for a drink of water. The stranger turned out to be Abraham’s servant. He was on an errand for his master: to find a bride for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The servant was convinced that Rebekah was the right woman for Isaac.

In a matter of 24 hours, Rebekah was faced with a life changing decision – to go with this servant and become the wife of Isaac, or remain in the safety of the familiar. Look at her response, “And they called Rebekah, and said unto her, Wilt thou go with this man? And she said, I will go,” (Genesis 24:58; KJV). Brave woman. One who was willing to believe that Abraham’s servant was sent by God, and that she should follow God's plan for her life.

As they neared their destination, I wonder if Rebekah had second thoughts. I can imagine the questions racing through her mind, “What will he look like? What if we don’t have anything in common? What if he doesn’t love me?” Whether she had questions or not, look at how Rebekah was rewarded, “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her…”(Genesis 24:67). God offered Rebekah the opportunity to be a part of His plan and she willingly accepted. She became the wife of one of the patriarchs.

What about you? Is God reaching His hand out to you, inviting you to exchange the known for the unknown? Your plan for His? How will you respond? Although we may not be familiar with each step of the journey, His goal is for each of us to be conformed to the image of His Son. Take a step of faith today, and pursue the path He has for you!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I praise You for the opportunity to be a part of your plan. Help me to follow You in faith when You lead me from the familiar to the unfamiliar. I know I can trust You. Thank You for Your guidance. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Willing to Share

Hot tea and a frosted cranberry muffin. A tasty treat, but it wasn't the food that had my attention. Historical romance novelist, Jody Hedlund was sitting across the table from me. She had graciously agreed to take time out of her busy schedule to meet with me to discuss the ins and outs of writing for publication. What a wealth of information!

As a newbie to the world of writing, light bulbs continued flashing in my head as Jody shared nuggets of wisdom gleaned along her journey to publication. Although our genres are different, the basics remain the same. By the end of our meeting, not only was my stomach full, but my mind was chock full of ideas I knew I'd need to explore further.

Shop talk aside, I was captivated by Jody's warmth and obvious passion for giving fellow writers a jump start in this daunting industry. She candidly expressed how naive she was when she first started writing. I listened intently as she stressed the importance of knowing your audience and how your writing meets a specific need that's not already being met. Wow! And I had been convinced that if my writing was good enough, I'd have big name agents and publishing houses knocking on my door, contract in hand. Yes, I suppose I need to shed the naïveté, too! A special thanks to Jody for her transparency and candor!

Since our meeting, I've had plenty of time to mull over our conversation. I was reminded of some people in the New Testament who were also willing to share the wisdom they had gained. Aquila and Priscilla. They were willing to rearrange their schedules to reach out and teach others the whole truth of God's Word.

A Jewish man by the name of Apollos had come to Ephesus, and was teaching in their synagogue. He was a good speaker and was well-versed in the Old Testament writings of the prophets. The book of Acts provides a good description, "This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John," (Acts 18:25; KJV). Enter Aquila and Priscilla.

After hearing Apollos speak, these two realized that he didn't have the complete story about Jesus. John the Baptist focused on repenting from sin. But the whole message included repenting from sin and then believing in Christ. Aquila and Priscilla were willing to hang around after the meeting, and teach him "the way of God more perfectly," (Acts 18:26). Apollos was eager to learn. He was then able to incorporate Jesus' life, crucifixion, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit into his future messages. Because of Aquila and Priscilla's willingness to teach Apollos, the Lord was able to use him in an even greater way.

Mentors are much needed in our world today. Mentors who are willing to share their experiences and train up a generation passionate to fulfill God's purposes in their lives. Are you willing to be mentored? Or has your experience in life put you in the position of being a mentor? Determine how God wants to use you today!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your Word, and for the mentors You've placed in my life. I pray for a special blessing for them today. As I grow and gain life experiences, help me to be sensitive to Your direction to mentor others. Thank You for Your perfect plan. To God be the glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Embracing Change

Welcome to 2011. A brand new year. A new beginning. A blank canvas. An opportunity to consider the possibilities that lie ahead. And embrace change in areas where growth is needed. I have to admit that I’m a creature of habit. Change doesn’t come easily for me. But as I’ve reflected on the past year, I’ve seen the hand of God most clearly when He has coaxed me out of my comfort zone.

Early last year, as we enjoyed a leisurely dinner, I remember sharing an idea for a devotional series with my husband. He was very supportive and gave me some excellent things to consider. Hmmmm. Once I had put my dream out there, I realized that I needed to follow through with the project. How to get started? I was already spending several hours a week blogging, and now I needed to begin writing this series.

Several months went by and my devotional idea remained just that, an idea. I thought I knew what the Lord wanted me to write, but the words just wouldn’t come. I had determined to illustrate the fruit of the Spirit with short entries written in traditional devotional format. My timeline was structured so I would finish one of the books in the series before I attended my first writer’s conference. As I began writing, the Lord began to stretch my vision. Instead of a simple devotional, He showed me a different plan, one that included an interactive Bible study. Oh, wow! This would require much more research and time. Was I willing to face the challenge?

As I contemplated this change in plans, I thought about the familiar words of Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths,” (KJV). “Ok, Lord,” I prayed, “if You want me to change the format of this series, You’re going to have to help me!” Things started coming together. I joined a critique group and found the accountability I needed. Slowly, lessons were written and valuable feedback was given. I saw the importance of taking one step at a time.

As I continue to work on my series this year, I’m convinced that the Lord will continue to guide me each step of the way. David’s words ring true, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path,” (Psalm 119:105). God’s word gives me plenty of light to navigate today’s road successfully, while keeping me focused on Him for tomorrow’s needs.

Where do you need to embrace change and experience growth this year? Accept the Psalmist’s challenge, “Trust in the Lord, and do good…delight thyself also in the Lord…commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass,” (Psalm 37:3a,4a,5). This year, step out in faith and experience the mighty hand of God in your life!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You so much for an opportunity to live for You. What a privilege You’ve given me to experience Your miraculous presence. Help me to tune in to Your still, small voice, so I'll recognize those areas where I need to grow. Allow me to be used for You this year. In Jesus’ name, Amen.