Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sugar Overload

I gave in. Friends were coming over for dinner, so I had the perfect excuse to make dessert. And not just any dessert - but one boasting three delectable kinds of chocolate. With my willpower on a swift decline, I included a sugary-helping of dessert with both lunch and dinner. A little help from my family ensured that the Chocolate Explosion was polished off over the course of the weekend.

By Sunday evening, I had to admit I had overdone it. Not only did my clothes feel a bit too tight, but the sugar had overwhelmed my immune system. Sluggishness, a sore throat and head congestion greeted me Monday morning. Ugh! If only I could rewind to Friday and go lighter on the dessert throughout the weekend. Live and learn.

If I practiced some self-control where the Chocolate Explosion was concerned, I may have avoided getting sick. I had bumped into an undeniable truth: self control is important in all areas of my life - even in the small things.

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, also known as temperance (Galatians 5:22-23; KJV). Yielding to the Spirit is the key to living a life filled with this precious fruit. Is it easy? No - it requires hard work. My old sin nature is constantly at war with my new spiritual nature. That's why the apostle Peter says to diligently pursue adding some things to my faith. Pursuing something diligently means work is involved!
What should I be striving to add to my faith? "And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance (self-control); and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity," (2 Peter 1:5-7). Lots of great things I need to add to my faith - one of which is temperance.

Self-control doesn't come naturally. It's something I have to learn. The apostle Paul put it best when speaking with the Philippians, "Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me," (Philippians 4:11-13).

How was Paul able to exercise self-control and contentment in these situations? He submitted himself to the will of Christ and obeyed the Lord in each circumstance. As a result he was able to demonstrate self-control and he experienced contentment.

With the holiday season right around the corner, the reality is that I WILL be making desserts and attending festivities where sugary goodies will be the highlight. My plan? Remember the example of the apostle Paul - demonstrate self-control and learn to be content with a modest portion!

Do you struggle with self-control? What step will you take to put this fruit of the Spirit into practice in your own life?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the fruit of the Spirit that includes self-control. Help me to realize the importance of demonstrating self-control even in the small areas. Teach me to be content, knowing that you are able to strengthen me in every situation. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

An Interview with Artist & Writer, Mary Barton Nees

Last month I had the opportunity to attend the Getaway-To-Write retreat in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. In addition to having plenty of time to write, it provided a wonderful opportunity to meet some talented ladies. Today I have the wonderful privilege of introducing you to one of them. Join me in welcoming multi-talented artist and writer - Mary Barton Nees.
Maria: Thanks for joining us today, Mary. Tell us a bit about yourself: 

Mary: Thanks for this opportunity Maria! The most significant impetus in my life happened in 1970, I became a Christian when I bowed my head with a friend in my college dorm. I took Jesus at His word as the only One who ever claimed to be the way, the truth and the life.  It really all started then. A close friend had been killed near me the summer before, and I could not shake my need for truth over ultimate issues. No one (and I asked everyone I knew, including professors) had answers for the questions that drove me since that death. Jesus did not just say He knew a way, He said He alone was the way. Only His words got deep into my core: working, softening, and re-setting broken places. I know first hand the supernatural power of the Word on a prideful, calloused heart.  I sure did not want religion, but somehow, Jesus wanted me. 

These were radical years. Our campus was taken over and shut down by activists both my freshman and sophomore years. I was interested in those issues and listened to all the speeches, but at the same time my heart was awakening. I became then convinced that unless Jesus is allowed into someone’s life as Savior, all our own saving attempts will be dangerously flawed. Jesus was the true radical who changed me from within. 

I met my husband during those years and together we committed our lives to discipling other men and women wherever the risen Jesus would take us. After my husband’s theological training, we served two churches: one in New York and then one outside Philadelphia. This was all-encompassing work; this is where we grew up ourselves.  We also raised four great kids and shepherded them through all the tests of believing, and still believing in cultures that seemed not to care about God. Our favorite getaways were in the woods and on canoe trips in the Minnesota wilderness. I would always pack my watercolors for those golden days of respite.

Maria: Your background is fascinating. Especially love your statement, "Jesus was the true radical who changed me from within." Sounds like He has certainly set the stage for the work you’re currently involved in - tell us about it:

Mary: In 2003 we moved from the Northeast of the United States to North East Tennessee. The reason for the big shift was an opportunity for my husband to specialize in a larger church, being one on a staff of many. He now gets to work exclusively where his heart beats: equipping others to get involved in God’s heart for the world before our opportunity to do this as Westerners closes. We also both work for an organization that facilitates seminary level training in restricted-access nations.  At the same time, this move afforded my going back to school to gain my Master of Fine Arts degree at a local university. I have worked on the adjunct staff of this Art department, when not traveling with my husband.

Maria: You're a multi-talented lady! I know you’ve also recently completed a work of non-fiction. Give us a sneak peek into your debut book:

Mary: This past year I have spent many hours developing what I hope is a provocative primer into the core Biblical themes that repeat and progress from Genesis to Revelation. The book is only 7 chapters (with 3 appendixes) and is intended to catch the attention of people like I was before Jesus. I know there are plenty of hurting, searching folks out there; they are on my mind a lot. They are my friends. I would hope this book could be a tool to get them meaningfully into just a few key passages which can open up their heads and their hearts. That’s the idea; but whether it ever takes off besides just with my friends, I have no idea. I have over 20 queries out on this project and so far have 9 rejections.

Maria: I know rejections are part of a writer's life. I also know God has a plan for this book you've written! What do you hope your readers glean from your book?

Mary: I think like an artist, big picture themes and patterns fascinate me, and when it is Scripture: these themes are life changing. My hope would be that through looking directly at the pivotal words from the “mother of all living” that some hearts could be caught with hope. Eve models a prototype in Genesis 4 that repeats throughout the book: hope is found only by humbling ourselves before the Maker who (Himself humbly) awaits us. And this is just the beginning. The chapters move into other key patterns: the mystery of prayer, the first use of the concept of grace, the purpose of prophecy and then the unique claims of Jesus in time. Ultimately we all have a choice with these things. It’s important therefore to at least consider what is available to know about God from Scripture, before our time here is done. If we ignore the continuing echoes of the Creator, I am afraid we have already made our choice.

Maria: Sobering thoughts. I'd love to read your book. Changing gears just a little, I happen to know you are also a very talented artist. When did you begin painting? Is your artwork for sale?

Mary: I have been interested in art from earliest ages. I grew up going to the Art Institute of Chicago and remember being marked by Monet’s haystacks: right in front of me were these piles of straw that were aflame! To me, art is symbolic language that can get behind defenses and speak. That in fact is the very purpose of this mysterious thing we call beauty. Psalm 19 says that the Creator is “talking without words” through what He has made, to those who will look and listen. But in my younger years, I never imagined being a practicing artist. I went to undergraduate school to study design and environmental analysis at Cornell University. My goal was to use art effectively, practically in culture.  I worked as a product designer after college, and then a graphic artist. Later in Philadelphia I took some wonderful painting classes and learned printmaking at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. What moves me is finding ways for art to influence, to talk beyond and before words. That is a huge aspiration, I am still eager to get there!

Yes my artwork is for sale. I don’t put prices on my website purposefully because I do hope the work talks first before prices distract.  Maybe that’s silly and I am making it hard for people to buy? If someone’s really interested, they can read about me, and email me. I am preparing work now for two local shows. www.marynees.com

Maria: Thank you for sharing pictures of some of your work with us. It's beautiful! How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted both your writing and artwork?

Mary: Hopefully I have answered this, but happy to say more. He is the core of what motivates me. Even before I knew His name, He was motivating and moving me. I am convinced therefore that there are others out there, who don’t look at all like they are interested in spiritual things, but whose hearts are asking very weighty questions.

Maria: So true! Share one lesson you’ve learned on your journey as an artist and writer:

Mary: I am simply following. I am exercising the equipment I already have and moving forward with it, as an expression of Him. This sounds easy, but sometimes it is the hardest fight. I doubt my ability, I argue with the time I think I have, I get pulled by many other good things on my schedule. My pride gets me all tangled up. It has taken me a long time to even come to grips with the crazy idea that doing artwork is somehow important Kingdom work. When I see how the Creator values and uses beauty, however, I am moved again to pattern after Him. Even today, I fought getting my stuff in the car and drove out to a knob on a hill to set up my easel.  As soon as I got there, the windows of my heart opened up and I relaxed. I no longer do artwork to produce a result, I work to follow Him and this is freeing me. Maybe that will soon show up in my work.

Maria: I think it already does! What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers? 

Mary: Here’s something really beautiful I just found in a Puritan prayer, unfortunately the book I found this in, “The Valley of Vision” does not attribute authors: The words just melt me:

Thou incomprehensible but prayer hearing God,
Known, but beyond knowledge, revealed but unrevealed,
my wants and welfare draw me to Thee, for Thou hast never said “seek me in vain.”

Maria: What a beautiful prayer to meditate on today! Thank you so much for sharing your talents and your heart with us, Mary. God richly bless you as you continue your heartfelt pursuit of the Savior. 

Connect with Mary:


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Light-Bulb Moment

It's an incredible adventure. I'm learning to appreciate each twist and turn on this road called life. Instead of focusing on a particular destination, God's teaching me to enjoy every step along the way. More often than not, He uses simple examples to get His point across. And He uses our dogs regularly to convey His message.

It hadn't been an issue before. Our Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Joe, was good about taking medicine when it was necessary. One of his toenails had been torn off, making it a priority for him to take antibiotic twice a day. I poked the pills into a piece of hotdog, anticipating his eagerness to devour the treat.

With tail wagging and toy in his mouth, Joe trotted over to see what I had for him. A sniff of the tasty morsel and his ball hit the ground. But instead of gobbling up the pill-containing hotdog, he ejected the fragment onto the ground. He was suspicious. After two more failed attempts, he carefully nibbled the meat, leaving the pills on the porch of his doghouse. His sheepish look and quick lick of my hand made me realize he knew I wasn't pleased.

What could I do? He was on to me. He realized these special treats contained something he didn't like. Cleverly, he had figured out how to remove the pills, yet still enjoy the hotdog. I, on the other hand, still had to come up with a way to get Joe to take his antibiotics.
Frustration aside, I experienced a light bulb moment. There was a bigger lesson here. And it was for me. How many times had I approached my Heavenly Father much like Joe had approached me - excited to see what He had for me in His Word? But as I took in the passage of scripture, the hard truth rubbed me the wrong way and I rejected it. I still clung to the promises and passages that encouraged me, but carefully skirted around those verses that pointed out the things I needed to change.

Just like the antibiotic was necessary to clear up Joe's infection, the difficult truths in God's Word are necessary to purge the things from my life that stunt my spiritual growth. The book of Hebrews describes this truth as a well-honed sword, "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).

All of God's Word is relevant for my life - even the parts that are hard to swallow. Today I have the opportunity to embrace each truth, knowing that it is designed to make me whole - conforming me to the image of Christ.

What step will you take to embrace the truth today?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for everything You put in Your Word. I know every bit of it is designed to help me grow into the person of God You'd have me to be. Forgive me for having a bad attitude when I'm faced with difficult truths. Help me embrace them today. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Happy Tuesday! With family in town this week, I'm taking a blogging break. Have a fantastic week and I look forward to posting next Tuesday...See you then!

Psalm 118:24 This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

An Interview with Missionary Wife, Lori Holt

Wife, mother, teacher, counselor - Lori Holt wears many different hats. The most inspiring thing about this young lady? She strives to serve the Lord with every talent and ability He's given her. Today I have the wonderful opportunity to introduce you to Lori. Join me in welcoming this missionary wife ministering in the country of Chile.

Maria: Thanks for joining us today, Lori! Tell us a bit about yourself:
Lori: I’m a sinner saved by God’s grace and blessed way beyond what I ever imagined! I’m so thankful for all the people God has put into my life to help me to know Him more fully. I have an aunt who led me to the Lord when I was 14, and she and her husband were so instrumental in my life when I came back to the Lord at the age of 19. I don’t know where I’d be without them. I really do believe with all my heart that I have the best pastor and pastor’s wife in the world! Austin Gardner knows God, and he knows, preaches, and lives out God’s Word. And he and Mrs. Betty have helped us more than any other people we've ever known aside from our own parents! It’s such a privilege to have a pastor who is also a father.

I’m married to Jason Holt. He puts up with me and loves me unconditionally. We have three healthy, beautiful kids who have all accepted Christ as their Savior. What more could I ask for?

I enjoy cooking very much. I get real pleasure out of feeding my family and friends. I love hosting people in my home. God has given us a beautiful home here in Chile, and it’s always full of people. I love to decorate and garden. There’s something about getting my hands in the dirt and working with plants that make me feel relaxed.
I play piano, horribly, but I play. I learned out of necessity when we got to the mission field. It’s hard on my pride to play piano because I’d like to do it better, but I do it for the Lord.

I really enjoy reading. I actually only read  non-fiction books to help me get closer to God. I feel like I got a late start in my walk with the Lord, and I always have a lot of catching up to do. The Bible is my authority, and I like to read other books by godly, wise, people to help me more fully understand how I can live for Him better. My favorite author is Nancy LeighDeMoss. I have to give her a quick plug. I listen to her radio broadcast on itunes daily, and I've read almost all of her books.  

Anyone who knows me well is laughing right nowJ I fully understand that I talk about her all the time! But I really do appreciate the influence her writings and recordings have had in my life and ministry. And I’m also an advocate for the “True Woman” movement she heads up. I appreciate the effort she and others are making to help women fulfill their God-given roles. 

Maria: I appreciate you giving us a glimpse into your personal life. Did you always dream of being a missionary’s wife?

Lori: Yes and no. I wasn't raised in church. I have a wonderful family; but we never talked about God or Jesus, or attended church.  My testimony isn't pretty.  It’s characterized by ugly words like drugs and alcohol.  But it’s also filled with a very beautiful word:  Grace! So, no, I didn't always dream of being a missionary. I didn't even know what missionaries did growing up.

But once I accepted Christ and gave Him control of my life, He put that strong desire in my heart almost immediately. Yes, being a missionary was a dream I had, but more importantly a matter of prayer in my life.  I knew God would more likely lead me to a man of God instead of a ministry.  I really longed for my own Christian family. So I took missions trips while in Bible college, and trusted the Lord to line my desires up with His. And after what seemed to be a very long time, He brought Jason into my life. We dated for 10 short months, got married, and left for the mission field one year later! It’s so fun looking back now at how God has worked, and it reminds me to trust Him to keep doing awesome things in the future!

Maria: What an amazing journey! It's so neat to hear how God worked. Describe the mission field in South America: 

Lori: South America is very diverse; and obviously Chile is my favorite country. Actually, Chile is one of the most advanced countries on the continent. It costs a pretty penny to live here:  gas stays between five and six dollars a gallon, and I spend double on my grocery bill compared to costs in Atlanta. But even though we have to pay a lot to live here, it’s worth it! Chile is a beautiful country. It’s 2500 miles long and only about 90 miles wide, with terrain ranging from the driest desert in the world in the north to the Patagonia region in the south.
Chile is a great harvest field. The predominately Catholic population is looking for something new. This is true in most parts of South America. And though they aren't begging to hear the Gospel; with hard work and persistence, you can see much fruit here. Jason really believes that this is the time for action in South America. In Chile for example, people are ready. But we’re not the only ones here working for their souls.  There are Mormon temples in every community, and Jehovah’s witnesses on the streets visiting everywhere you look. So we’re working hard here and anticipating that God will continue to do amazing things!

Dressing up for Chilean Independence Day

Maria: The majority of Chileans speak Spanish, right? How long did it take for you to learn the language?

Lori: Let’s see, counting our time in language school, we've been in South America nearly ten years. And I’m stilling learning Spanish! For me, it’s a continual process. I do have an advantage over some of my missionary friends serving in other parts of the world, because Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. But don’t tell that to someone who just got off the plane! Learning any language is a huge hit on your pride. And if you’re not willing to just throw yourself out there and make mistakes, you’ll never learn. 

I’d say that it took about 6 months to be able to communicate on the level of a five-year old. Then after a year, I could teach in Spanish; but it took much more effort than teaching in English.

Now, with the Lord’s help, I have been doing all my devotions in Spanish for several years (you can’t have Scripture in your heart to share with others in their language if you’re not in the Word in their language), and can teach in Spanish with about the same ease as teaching in English. But I still make mistakes all the time. It goes so much further than just grammar. It’s culture. I've got to know the people to make the right jokes, share the right illustrations, etc. Language is so important for a missionary. How can you talk to people about the most important things in their lives; salvation, marriage, raising kids, faith, forgiveness, and so on; without being able to express your heart in their language? I am always working to speak better and know the people more deeply.

A Wacky Tacky day of school
Maria: Wow! I've never thought of it like that before. How challenging! I know you’ve home schooled your children in the past. How has that changed? 

Lori: I home schooled my kids for 4 years. I enjoyed it; didn't love it, didn't hate it, but I enjoyed it. I am a teacher, I studied to be one and like doing it, and I don’t take lightly the responsibility and privilege of educating my kids. But I started feeling a few years ago that the Lord was showing me that there was a better way to juggle the roles of wife, ministry, mom, and teacher.

I know He really wants me to redeem the time. So I started praying about it. And He has led us to start a new project that we all love. Each calendar school year, a young lady from the US comes on a short-term mission  trip to Chile and teaches my kids and other missionary kids in our team. It’s really been a game changer for the whole family. The kids have more social time, I have more ministry time, and we’re all really thrilled. We’re finishing up our first year, and already have a young lady lined up for next year!  God has really led every step of the way!

Maria: What a neat opportunity for all involved! What is the biggest challenge to raising your children on the mission field?

Lori: My kids love Chile. It’s home. The boys were born here; so their “real” Chileans. When a challenge presents itself, it's through me. And the root of that challenge always grows when I fail to take every thought captive to Christ. If I keep my mind on the most important thing; world evangelism, then I’m happy and fulfilled. But I sure can throw a good pity party! I have thoughts like, “My kids never get to have family around for birthday parties.”  “I wish people would stop staring at me in the grocery store.”  “I miss Mom!”  And the list goes on and on.

Recently a childhood friend suddenly passed away. Our parents and hers have been dear friends all my life.  Leah, the 37 year old who died, was their only child. I want to do more than pray, send a card, or make a phone call. I want to give them a hug, make them some food, love on them. It’s tough. I’m detached. But then the Lord reminds me that our family has a much higher purpose than just these things. He has given us a high calling to be missionaries to share His Word with the people of Chile. And the truth is, we have an amazing life here. I wouldn't have it any other way! 

Kid’s play off of their parent’s emotions. We recently went back to the States for our first real furlough. We were home for nine months. We were all excited about it. But I remember thinking, “Life is going to be so fun in the States, I sure hope the kids don’t think their life in Chile is boring when we get back.” And we did have a blast!

We spent some amazing time with family, got the kids good and saturated with some of their American culture (they really needed that), and even went to Disney World. You can’t get any more American than that. But when we got back home, I never heard a word, not one word, about missing the States. And we came back to a house still under construction with no running water. But they were thrilled to be back. And the two youngest ones had even forgotten all their Spanish. And though I don’t want to sound like I’m taking all the credit for that; I really believe most of it has to do with Jason and me. We love Chile. When I throw pity parties, they’re very privateJ  So the kids play off of us. If we’re excited about something, they are too.  If we don’t like something, they don’t either. My pastor says, “Show me a missionary who’s kids hate the mission field, and you can guarantee that his parents hate it too.” I think there’s a lot of truth in that statement.

Maria: I'm glad your entire family loves the mission field in Chile. What is the funniest thing that’s happened there?
Lori: I’ll tell you a story that is funny now, but it wasn't in the moment! I’m a TN girl. Jason calls me his Tennessee Hillbilly. So being a country girl, I like to go fishing. And Santiago has no lakes, which make it pretty hard to fish. Mom (an expert fisher), was coming for a visit; so we planned a trip. I had been asking around and found out where everyone in the city goes to catch fish. Oh, and by the way, Jason is a city boy; no fishing background there. So we bought poles, reels, and everything else we needed to have a good time.  Then we headed out for our day of adventure!

The area was about an hour and a half away. We paid about $10 in tolls and another $20 in gas to get there.  So we started looking for bait when we came to the edge of the city. Everyone we asked said that no one was selling bait right now and that we could find worms by looking under rocks. I’m thinking, “Why does it have to be so hard to have fun here?  America is so easy,”  but I’m smiling at the kids and looking under rocks with them. We found a few tiny worms after about a half hour, and realized we’d just have to use the plastic bait we had instead of live bait. We didn't even know what we were going to be fishing for, so I guess it didn't really matter. So we got back in the car and started driving toward the lake.

When we got there, it was drained!!  Yes, there was no water!  No one told me that they drain the lake at certain times of the year. So Jason’s “I’ll fix this” mode kicks in, and he gets out of the car and starts walking in the mud where the water is supposed to be to see if the little bit of water that is out there could possibly be deep enough for fishing. And about 100 meters in, he falls and is covered in mud!! The story actually goes on and on, but I’ll stop there with this application:  It really does take more effort to have a good time on the mission field sometimes.  America is an entertainment culture, and we Americans are very spoiled by convenient, clean, cheap, accessible, and good entertainment. You really have to use your imagination sometimes on the mission field!

Maria: Hilarious! I wish you had pictures! On a more serious note, what is the most important lesson God has taught you, while on the field? 

Lori: That apart from Him, I am nothing and can do nothing. But He can use whomever He chooses. And for some reason I can’t understand, He chooses to use me here. My pastor’s wife told me once that she likes to make sure she’s never in a comfort zone. That’s a sign that we’re not pushing forward. So He’s taught me to keep pushing, remembering that I’m just the tool. He’s the One really doing the work, and to Him be the glory for it!

Maria: That's a great lesson for all of us to apply. What goals do you have for the future?
Lori: Generally speaking; to get closer and closer to God trying to know Him more intimately, to keep being a helper to Jason, raise these kids up to love and serve the Lord and loves missions, win and train Chileans to reach others, keep my eye on the ball and not to mess up too badly, speak less and listen more, and bring honor to the Lord through my life.

Specifically, really, I’m trying not to think too hard about it. I love goals; and I’m involved in some projects right now that I’m really burdened about. But my calling is Jason Holt’s help-meet. And one thing I've learned over these 10 years of marriage: You never know what he’s going to do next! So I’m just trying to be ready to have my heart aligned with his for the visions and dreams God puts in his heart for Chile. 

Maria: I look forward to seeing how God continues to use you! How can a person get involved in your ministry?

Lori: We need prayers! Pray for us! Pray for the people of Chile! We need co-laborers! We want to reach Chile before it’s too late. Come and do it with us!

We are taking another step of faith and starting  church number 4 in a city called Belloto. God has worked so many things together to show us that this is His will. Please pray for this new church plant!

Maria: It's a privilege to be able to pray for the ministry there in Chile. What words of wisdom would you like to share with our readers?
Lori: I’m too young to be wiseJ I’m turning 36 on Oct 12. But my God is all-knowing! He says in Philippians…. “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

I don’t really have any words of wisdom, more like words of encouragement for the ladies who are reading:  Figure out what your mark is and press toward it! God intends for each one of His children to go way beyond just being a wife, mother, church member, etc. He has a master plan: world evangelism. And He wants everyone in on it. I’m blessed because I get the package deal. I’m married to a missionary, so it’s easier for me to keep the main thing the main thing. So just ask the Lord to show you YOUR mark in His plan, and press toward it with all you have. We can rest in eternity. Lord help me!

Maria: Thanks for those encouraging words, Lori - God bless you, Jason, and the family as you serve Him there in South America!

Connect with the Holts:

A BIG congratulations to Karen - winner of Merisa Davis' book, "Bill Cosby IS Right: But What Should the Church Be Doing About It?" Thanks for entering the contest last week, Karen - happy reading!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Getting to the Root

Weeds. Plants that are considered undesirable, unattractive, and troublesome. They grow where they're not wanted. They seem to be much more hardy than the vegetation we've purchased and planted on our hillside. I'm talking about the kind of weeds that are tough! The kind that won't come out of the ground without a fight.

As I stared at my hillside this past weekend, I tried to calculate the amount of ground not covered with weeds. Not too much. Okay, so it's been awhile since I've weeded. But who'd have thought the weeds would take over so completely? I pulled on my gardening gloves, as I psyched myself up for the serious business of weed-pulling. Within a couple of minutes I'd made a discovery. There weren't as many weeds as I'd initially thought...they were just much bigger than I had originally anticipated.

When I began yanking on the long, green, tentacle-like growth, I came away with handfuls of weeds, but no root. Without successfully extracting the root, the weed would continue to grow. When I eventually came to the root, I was flabbergasted to find that these weeds were huge. Easily three to four feet in diameter. The shoots that radiated from the root seemed to grasp the soil in a death-grip. Not only did the tentacle-like shoots need to be pulled, but the roots needed to be removed from the earth, as well. When I was patient enough to follow the shoot from beginning to end, I was always able to find the root.

Concentrating on one section at a time, our hillside began to be transformed. My weed pile grew and became a hillside in its own right. The plants that remained seemed to breathe easier, having sensed the removal of the weeds that threatened to choke them.
Things I struggle with can often mimic this monster weed. Several 'shoots' grab for footholds in my life - desiring my own way, ignoring words of wisdom, speaking words out of anger. Only as I peel these 'shoots' away from the soil of my heart, do I get to the root of the problem. Pride. The 'shoots' are only symptoms of the real issue. Treating the symptoms won't extract the root. Pride has to be dealt with first. Once the root is removed, the 'shoots' will have no nutrients for growth - no foothold in my life.

As I allow the Master Gardener to remove the monster weeds from my life, the good things that have been planted by Him, have an opportunity to grow. The Apostle Paul reminds me of the Lord's work, "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure"(Philippians 2:13; KJV).

As I give Him access to the soil of my heart, I'm able to glean wisdom from His Word, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me. I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:4-5).

With the weeds removed from the soil of my heart,  and my gaze fixed on Christ, I'm poised for growth and an abundant harvest! Remaining ever watchful to guard that which is being cultivated, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life"(Proverbs 4:23).

Have you allowed weeds to grow in the soil of your heart? Spend some time identifying them, and  allow the Master Gardener to remove them by the root!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your patience with me. I'm thankful for Your love and tender mercy in spite of my shortcomings. Help me to be mindful of the things that are choking out true growth in my life and allow you to remove them. Thank You for the promise of an abundant harvest when I stay rooted and grounded in You! In Jesus' name, Amen.   

*A re-post from 10/2010

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

An Interview with Author & Speaker Merisa Davis

Remember The Cosby Show? A situation comedy that aired from September 1984-April 1992, TV Guide named it, "TV's biggest hit in the 1980s..." The star of the show, of course, was Bill Cosby. According to Wikipedia, the show was "based on comedy routines in Cosby's standup act, which were based on his family life."

This past spring I had the distinct pleasure of taking a writing class taught by none other than Bill Cosby's cousin, Merisa Davis. A multi-talented lady, Merisa is the author of "Bill Cosby IS Right: But What Should the Church Be Doing About It?" 

Recently, I had the privilege of catching up with Merisa. I invite you to grab a cup of coffee and join me in welcoming Merisa Davis!

Maria: Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us! Tell us a bit about yourself:

Merisa: I am from a real life “Cosby show” family with four boys and a girl. Everyone always compared me to quirky, fashionable Denise Huxtable. I grew up in Charlottesville, VA  and went to college at LibertyUniversity…I actually have two degrees from Liberty. My first job out of college was as a TV reporter and anchor at my hometown station of WVIR-TV. I now work part time at WATC-TV 57, a Christian station here in Atlanta. I also have a women’s ministry and travel around the country.      

Maria: You definitely stay busy! Are there any funny stories you can tell us about Bill Cosby?

Merisa: Whenever I do book signings and events for “Bill Cosby IS Right," everyone always wants to tell ME about THEIR favorite Bill Cosby story or episode from “The Cosby Show!!”
My own favorite “Bill Cosby” story is on one of his albums where he tells about how his wife is gone for the weekend and he decides to let the kids eat chocolate cake for breakfast. Then the kids start singing “Dad is Great! He Gives Us Chocolate Cake!” and then his wife finds out!
I am proud of my cousin and all he has achieved in television, he is an inspiration to me and others as he shares his family humor and gift of storytelling.

Maria: Seems the gift of storytelling runs in your family. Give us a brief overview of your book:

Merisa: “Bill Cosby IS Right” is about Dr. Cosby’s controversial comments given in his speech celebrating the 50th Anniversary of “Brown v. Board of Education,” which was a major news story. I took Dr. Cosby’s entire speech and created ten chapters, and examined the problems facing Black America, using the Bible to provide spiritual solutions. The book also documents the church’s role in the Civil Rights struggle.   

Maria: Fascinating! What inspired you to write your book?

Merisa: When Dr. Cosby was attacked by the liberal media for his statements, I became upset. I knew the Bible supported everything he said and that was the ultimate authority on all issues. Also, at the time I was enrolled in my graduate studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, and my leadership there encouraged me to become a published author.   

Maria: I know encouragement goes a long way for those of us in the writing field. How has your Broadcasting and Journalism background aided in the publication/marketing process?

Merisa: Because of my Journalism background, I understand exactly how a newsroom works, and how producers and reporters decide which story gets on the air. This knowledge helped me to get publicity and sales for “Bill Cosby IS Right.”

Maria: Way to use your expertise! How has your relationship with Jesus Christ impacted your writing?

Merisa: My relationship with Christ is everything and my all in all. It was the Holy Spirit’s leading for me to write “Bill Cosby IS Right” and also to choose a career in Journalism. I am an avid student of the Word of God and thus the Bible impacts my words. Also “Bill Cosby IS Right” launched my ministry.

Merisa Davis with Dr. Fred Luter
The Word lets us know that “A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great and mighty men.” My gift of writing is from the Lord, and has opened many doors for me and allowed me to meet and discuss world issues with Gen. Colin Powell,  Dr. Ben Carson, Dr. Ben Kinchlow and members of the Martin Luther King family as well. Just recently I was able to spend time with Dr. Fred Luter, who is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and he was supportive of “Bill Cosby IS Right” as well. I am grateful for God choosing me to be a writer and I want to use my talents to further God’s kingdom.

Maria: That's wonderful! I had the privilege of attending a 6-week class you taught entitled, Publishing a Christian Book. Give us a summary of the class and when you’re scheduled to teach it again.

Merisa: The class is how I give back to First Redeemer Church, where my ministry was launched. The class teaches people how to organize their thoughts and guides them through the publishing process using materials by Thomas NelsonPublishers, which is one of the nation’s premier Christian publishers. There are many people who have a desire to write a book but do not know anything about the process. My class de-mystifies the process and helps them to write their vision and make it plain.

I teach the class once a year and will teach the 2013 class in the Spring. Signup begins in March.  

Maria: I know your class was extremely helpful to me, so those of you who are local, be sure to make note of that date. What goals do you have for the future?

Merisa: I hope to someday teach at the college level and desire to obtain my PhD in Communications. 

Maria: Great goals! Share some lessons you’ve learned on your journey as a writer:

Merisa: Double check your facts and have a good editor to make sure the product looks clean and professional.

Maria: What words of wisdom would you like to leave with our readers?

Merisa: Recently I had a 12-year-old girl take my class and she has co-written a book with her Grandmother - Alive in Him  -  that was released  in April 2012. Her book is doing very well and she has plans to write a series! I would encourage everyone who desires to write a  book to prayerfully consider following their dream, because if God helped the 12-year-old do it, He can help you too!!!    

Maria: Thanks for those encouraging words of wisdom. I look forward to seeing how the Lord continues to use you and your ministry in the days ahead!

Good news! Merisa has graciously agreed to give away a signed copy of her book, "Bill Cosby IS Right: But What Should the Church Be Doing About It?"

 *Leave a comment to this post, include your email address in the following format: morgan(dot)maria(dot)i(at)gmail(dot)com. Entries without an email address are not eligible.

*Receive an extra entry by becoming a follower, or by reminding me that you're already a follower.

*Receive a bonus entry by posting about this giveaway on your blog, Facebook, and/or Twitter.
 Please be sure and let me know you did so in your comment.

*This is open to US residents only. My sincere apology to those followers outside the US.

*Deadline to enter is midnight Eastern Standard Time, Tuesday, October 9th, 2012. Winner to be announced in Thursday's post. The winner will be notified via email.

Connect with Merisa:



Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Protecting What's Important

It seemed he was taunting me. Every time I looked out the window, the stealthy squirrel was making his way off the deck, clutching a round prize in his paws. I didn't see him snap the tomatoes off the vines - I merely witnessed the aftereffects.   Although, once, he did stop on the stairs, grace me with his best profile and promptly take a bite of the stolen fruit.

Within two days, the squirrels had stripped my four plants of their ripening tomatoes. I was dumbfounded and at a loss as to how to prevent their aggravating thievery. Guns, traps, and cages came to mind - but there were no longer any tomatoes to protect.

Satan's tricks can be just as subtle as those of the bushy-tailed squirrels. As I read and listen to God's Word:

*a seed of truth takes root
*the Holy Spirit provides favorable conditions for the seed to sprout
*the sprout begins to grow

The enemy isn't pleased. Distractions come with the ability to stunt the growth that's taking place. Jesus warns us of the enemy's plan, "The sower soweth the word...And these are they which are sown among thorns; such as hear the word, and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becometh unfruitful," (Mark 4:14,18-19; KJV).

If I don't heed Jesus' counsel, my life can become as empty as my tomato plants - with no evidence that I'm a child of the King. So how do I protect the seeds of truth God has planted in my heart?

*submit myself to the Lord
*resist Satan's distractions
*confess my sin
*draw near to God

The apostle James, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, put it this way, "Submit yourselves therefore unto God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded," (James 4:7-8).

Remember my tomato plants? My husband ended up moving them onto our front porch - where they get plenty of sunlight and the squirrels can't reach them. And I can say with a smile, more tomatoes are starting to grow.

Do you feel you've been distracted by the tricks of the enemy? What step will you take today to protect the precious seeds of biblical truth in your life?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the warning given in Your Word about the tricks of the enemy. Help me to submit to Your will, resist the devil, confess my sin, and draw near to You. I desire to produce 'fruit' in my life that will bring You honor and glory. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*I'm hosting over at Living by Grace today. Come join in the discussion!