Thursday, June 28, 2012

Uniquely You

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).

Saul offered David his armor. He 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.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Setback or Opportunity?

Setbacks – none of us are immune. The missed deadline. The unexpected illness. The loss of a job. Some setbacks are nothing more than minor inconveniences, while others rank up there on the Richter scale.

I remember the year my husband’s company merged two business units. Steve wasn’t interested in the position he was offered, so he voluntarily left the company. What we didn’t know at the time, was that it would be nine months before he’d find a suitable job. This setback touched many areas of our lives and launched us on a daily walk of faith.

During this same period of time, our pastor experienced a heart attack following a prolonged battle with diabetes. His untimely death was a huge setback for our congregation. A setback that once again called us to walk by faith.

Steve and two other men from our congregation were chosen to head up a pulpit committee to search for a new pastor. A difficult task. A task that would require much time and prayer. Because of his availability, Steve was able to devote his time to this all-important task. And the Lord knew exactly what He was doing. Within days of choosing a pastor, the Lord provided Steve with a new job.

I’m reminded of a setback in the life of the apostle Paul. He was put in prison for preaching the gospel. Talk about a major setback! It seemed his ministry was put on hold – what could he possibly accomplish while he was in jail? God had a plan.

Although his circumstances were far from ideal, Paul continued to trust Christ. Paul looked beyond his circumstances and continued to share the gospel with anyone who would listen – jailers and guards included. Paul’s focus? “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” (Philippians 1:21; KJV). The Lord also used this time to inspire Paul to write many of the epistles - books of the Bible he wouldn’t have had time to write while on the road.

When setbacks come, I want to respond like Paul – focusing on Christ instead of my circumstances. What about you? Do setbacks derail you from living the Christian life? What step will you take today to stay on the path of faith?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for reminding me that setbacks often serve as interludes for me to refocus on you and your plan. Help me to learn from the example of Paul and stay devoted to  reaching others for you no matter what. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How Do You Decide?

As the old saying goes, 'Time marches on.' Seems like only a few years ago, my husband and I were bringing our daughter home from the hospital. But in March, she left the glorious teen years behind - a new decade unfolding before her.

Remember being twenty? I do. Life was full of decisions - what college major to pursue, what job to apply for, who to date? Things haven't changed that much. A twenty-year-old still faces lots of decisions. Don't we all? I'm glad there's Someone available to guide that decision-making process, no matter how old we are!

Decisions don't always seem that important to me. Sure, I pray for direction concerning the seemingly 'big' things, but sometimes I fool myself into thinking I can handle the 'small' decisions. As I perused the clothes racks at the mall recently, I was excited to find lots of things on clearance. I was tempted to scoop up a number of items and head back to the dressing room...until I remembered the reason for my trip to the store. I didn't need winter clothes, I was looking for a spring outfit. Logic triumphed over emotional spending! Lesson learned. Oftentimes, it's the little things that take me furthest off course.

God wants me to come to Him anytime I need direction. In fact, He encourages me to ask for wisdom, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him," (James 1:5; KJV). Because Jesus lived on this earth, He knows the difficulties I face. He endured temptations, yet He never sinned. He extends an incredible invitation, "...come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need," (Hebrews 4:16).

The more I read and study God's Word, the better equipped I am to make good decisions - whether big or small. The Apostle Paul was quick to remind the Corinthians to do everything for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).Today, I'm determined to trust the Lord, and acknowledge Him in all I do, knowing that He will direct my paths! (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Are you facing lots of decisions? What step are you willing to take to seek direction from the Lord?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for caring about every decision I make. Help me ask for Your wisdom, and be obedient to the direction You give. In Jesus' name, Amen.

*This article appeared in the March 2012 edition of My Forsyth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fry Now...Pay Later

'Sun' and 'damage.' Two words that I don't normally think of in the same sentence. After all, I love being outside on bright sunny days. And doesn't a tan look healthy? Damage from the effects of the sun on my skin is the farthest thing from my mind. But a trip to the dermatologist put some things into perspective for me.

A mole that I've had for years was the subject in question. The dermatologist referred to it as 'atypical.' That didn't sound too good! I was reminded of all the times I had been out in the sun, sans sunscreen - from my teenage years into my twenties. Okay, I have to admit that even as recently as this summer, I've worked out in the yard minus the sunscreen, a time or two.

I think back to my high school days, when I spent hours in the sun before heading off to work. I can still see my Dad shaking his head and hear him saying, "You're doing it to your skin again!" But at seventeen, with not a wrinkle in sight, all I was interested in was a deep, dark tan. I was willing to ignore the posters that warned, "Fry later!"

Looking back, I would have been wise to heed his words of wisdom. Properly applying sunscreen and limiting my exposure to the sun would have minimized the pigment spots, moles, and fine lines and wrinkles. But instead of listening to his advice, I chose to do things my way - learning by experience.

We really DO learn by one method or the other. Either we listen to wise advise and act on it. Or we choose to ignore counsel and attend the School of Hard Knocks. I'm reminded of the instructions God gave the children of Israel.

He had reviewed the commandments with them and proceeded to give them a list of all the blessings they'd receive IF they obeyed His directions. Then He outlined an ominous list of curses that would plague them if they chose to disobey. Much the same thing we do with our own children. Outlining the good that comes from obedience, and the consequences that result from disobedience.

I'm sure you're familiar with the story of the Israelites. At times they obeyed God whole-heartedly - for awhile. But by and large, they drifted back to their sinful ways or those of the surrounding cultures. Before I simply write them off as a stubborn and rebellious lot, I need to take a look at my own life.

Do I have a teachable spirit? Am I willing to take God at His word and believe Him? Do I believe His Word is the truth? If the answer is 'Yes' to each of these questions, then I need to live like it. I need to give God top priority in my life. I'm to, " the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might," (Deuteronomy 6:5; KJV). When I obey, His blessings follow. When I put myself first, I follow in the footsteps of the prideful and end up in a mess. "Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall," (Proverbs 16:18).

God created me with free will. I can choose my method of learning. The Bible is filled with wisdom and the right way to handle all kinds of situations. Will I choose to believe the truth of God's Word and live according to it, or will I go my own way, and ignore instruction? Today I choose to listen to God's instruction.

Do you listen to godly counsel or have to learn things the hard way? Accept counsel from the Word of God, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you, " (James 4:7-8a).

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for Your instruction manual, the Bible. Forgive me for the times that I'm stubborn and go my own way in spite of being warned. Help me to have a teachable spirit and to be willing to learn from godly counsel. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

*A repost from June 2011.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Prepare for Growth

The sultry days of summer loom ahead, full of promise and potential. For our yard, this means a number of things. The work of planting is done. Time to make the transition to fertilizing what has been planted.

Beautiful fuchsia and white flowers have graced our azaleas and camellias this year, their nearly perfect blooms reminding us that it is time for their June feeding. To ensure hearty annuals, we apply fertilizer monthly during their growing season. Our perennials follow a different schedule, requiring us to apply fertilizer only once during the summer. Although the needs of each plant-type vary somewhat, each is in need of fertilizer which provides necessary nutrients so each plant can make its own food through photosynthesis.

Surprisingly, we're very similar to these plants. Following salvation, each of us is in need of 'fertilizer' in order to guarantee our proper growth. God gives us the Bible as a guide book to provide the 'nutrients' we need in order to make good life choices.  The Apostle Paul encourages us, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15, KJV). 

Just as plants have unique requirements, the Lord knows our needs may differ from the needs of others. This poses no obstacle for our Creator. His word is able to meet every need, and He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

As we allow Christ to fertilize our heart's soil, we will become more and more like the tree described by the prophet Jeremiah, "For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jeremiah 17:8).

As you care for your garden this summer, choose to allow the Master Gardener to have access to the soil of your heart. Submitting to His will and way will yield fruit beyond compare!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dogs, Snakes, & People, Oh My!

We've seen a lot of them this year. According to reports, warmer than normal winter temperatures and an increase in the number of rodents have led to an explosion in the snake population. Unfortunately, my husband, Steve, and I can attest to the fact. The snakes we're seeing? Copperheads.

Don't get me wrong, I have a healthy respect for the role snakes play in the environment - the copperhead eats small rodents, birds, lizards, other snakes, amphibians, and insects. The problem? When it comes to our dogs, up close and personal is a bit too, well, up close and personal!

Our Golden Retriever, Precious, had to learn the hard way that not all animals want to be her friend. As Steve and I headed out to walk our dogs, we could tell something was wrong with Precious. Although her tail wagged furiously as she came out of her doghouse, she didn't look right. Her slim retriever face had been replaced by that of a Shar Pei. With neck and face swollen twice their normal size, we loaded her into our SUV and headed for the vet.

Two tell-tale punctures above her lip, dotted with blood, spoke volumes. She had been bitten by a copperhead - the venom  causing the distortions to face and neck. A shot of steroids helped to bring the swelling down. Armed with antihistamine and antibiotics, the vet assured us that she would look like our familiar Golden within 48 hours. What a relief!

But we still had a problem. A snake problem. Where had the copperhead come from? And if there was one, there were probably more. Not a comforting thought.

We began the eradication process. Steve mowed over the ivy that had slowly begun creeping across Precious' area, and cleaned up the tree debris that doubled as a potential snake hideout. We were feeling much better already. But our relief was short-lived.

Over the next six weeks, Steve and I killed three copperheads  - each one within a stones' throw of our dogs. Unlike what I had read about these snakes, these copperheads seemed to be extremely bold. Instead of staying hidden during the day and relying on camouflage for safety, these slithering creatures were in plain sight on our walking path.

Obviously we needed to dedicate more time to yard clean-up. Woodpiles, leaf debris, and branches would all have to go. One step at a time.

What an important lesson for me. Without realizing it, I often leave myself vulnerable to the enemy. I allow sin to go unconfessed in my life - and pretty soon I've got piles of debris in my heart that become a breeding ground for more sin. If I refuse to begin the eradication process, the bite of sin will inject its venom - marring my testimony as a follower of Christ. The consequences are devastating - a broken relationship with the Lord, and the potential to cause others to stumble.

No one wrote more poignantly about the consequences of sin than King David. He accurately described the affect of concealing, then confessing his sin, "When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah," (Psalms 32:3-5; KJV).

Confession of sin invites forgiveness from the Lord. A clean heart re-institutes intimate fellowship with our Savior. What could be better?!

Do you have some internal housekeeping to do? Are there any piles of debris in your heart that need to be removed? What step will you take today to rid yourself of sin?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for the lessons I can learn from Your creation. Help me to willingly eradicate sin from my life, so I can have a right relationship with You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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

Thursday, June 7, 2012

How to be Worry-Free

I know it doesn’t change a situation. It can even create some pretty serious problems. I’m talking about worrying. I don’t have to take a class to be an accomplished worrier – it’s something that comes naturally. The enemy knows exactly what buttons to push to send me off into ‘what-if’ mode.

Seems I’m not the only one with the propensity to worry. The children of Israel could worry with the best of them. Remember their exit out of Egypt? The final plague had Pharaoh practically begging the Israelites to leave his land. They were free at last – 430 long years of slavery had come to an end.

I can imagine how ecstatic the people must have been. But their joy didn’t last long. In fact, it ground to a halt and quickly turned into worry when the Israelites realized Pharaoh and his army were in hot pursuit of them. They were afraid. They cried out to the Lord and turned on Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness…it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness,” (Exodus 14:11,12b; KJV).

But Moses shared a message from the Lord – a message of faith that could overcome even the greatest fear. “And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace,” (Exodus 14: 13-14).

The people had a choice to make. Would they choose fear or faith? The Lord was on their side, and as Moses stretched his hand out over the Red Sea, the children of Israel witnessed a miracle. An east wind caused the waters of the sea to be parted so they could walk through on dry ground!

As Pharaoh and his army attempted to follow them into the sea, God caused their chariots to get stuck in the sand. Mass chaos followed as Moses once again stretched his hand out over the Red Sea and the water came crashing down over the Israelites’ enemies. Not a single one remained.

Giving in to fear hadn’t changed their situation. Putting their faith in an almighty God had! Over and over again, the children of Israel were reminded that worrying didn’t accomplish anything. Their God would provide for them.

The same is true in my life. Why worry when I have God’s recipe for peace, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:6-7). Instead of focusing on my problems, I can focus on my great God who is able to overcome any hardship I’m facing.

What about you? Are you a worrier? What step will you take today to replace your fear with faith in a great God?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank You for reminding me that worrying is sin. Help me remember the example of the children of Israel – and choose faith over fear. Thank You for being greater than any problem I face. In Jesus’ name, Amen.   

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Time: Something to be Treasured

Summer's here! Kids are out of school and neighborhood pools are open. Temperatures are climbing and thoughts are turning to up-coming vacations. It's easy to shift into neutral and coast through the lazy days of this season. But time is a precious commodity no matter what season of the year!

When I think of stewardship, I often limit my thoughts to finances. The truth is, I'm just as accountable for my use of time as I am for my money. All of us have been given 24 hours in a day. It's up to us to be wise stewards of this all-important resource. Moses, the leader of the Israelites, shares some sound advice, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom," (Psalm 90:12; KJV).

So how do you spend your time? We all make time for what's important to us. What are your priorities? Do you balance your day to include time for the following: your walk with God, your family, work, and relaxation? Or do you rush about throughout the day, concentrating on the urgent, but never getting to the essential?

God's Word gives the proper perspective, "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil," (Ephesians 5:15-16). Applying wisdom from God's Word allows us to make the very best use of our time.

Staying connected to the Lord is the key. Jesus spells it out for us, "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).

By putting God first and spending time with Him daily, He will give you the wisdom and ability to manage the remainder of your time. You'll discover time for relationships, tasks, and yes, even for fun! How will you use your time today?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the gift of time. Help me to be a wise steward of it. I choose to put You first in my life so You can guide me in the best use of the time You've given. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

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