Friday, December 31, 2010

Do the Math -- We Win!

"'Don't be afraid,' the prophet answered. 'Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.' And Elisha prayed, 'O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.' Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha." -- 2 Kings 6:16-17

Like so many others, I sat down this morning and reflected on all that has happened during the course of the year.  Although I lost friends, I didn't lose any close family members.  As a family, we had our share of illness and injuries, but managed to survive the year without a cancer diagnosis or other catastrophic disease.  Money was tight and our debt reached an all-time high, but God provided a job for me that allowed us to have a good Christmas, fund the publication of a second book, and resurrect the hope that we will pay off our bills and finally attain financial peace.  We faced the challenges of parenting a teenager in a hostile and ungodly culture, but experienced God's hand of protection and little glimmers of progress along the way.  A book was published and a ministry was born with little fanfare but with a whole lot of hope, faith, and love.  For us, 2010 was a very good year.

Looking ahead, I know that the challenges we faced in 2010 will accompany us as we cross into a new year.  The same God who was with us will go before us, providing for each need, supplying peace in every stressful circumstance, and comforting us when our hearts are broken. 

Every one of us will face giants this year, challenges that threaten to completely overwhelm us.  But if we will look to God's Word and use the God-given power within us, rather than our own limited resources, to face those challenges, we will be victorious.  We cannot fight the battle alone.  Think about it!  If you can remember that God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) plus you equals four, then you have already outnumbered your foe because Satan is only one person and certainly no match for our God!

No matter what challenges you face in the year ahead, remember to do the math -- we win!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Power of the Peas

"To him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy--to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore!  Amen." -- Jude 24-25

Traditions are an integral part of the holidays.  Whether it's waiting until Christmas Eve to trim the tree, baking cookies with your children during the holidays, or eating black eyed peas on New Year's Day to ensure good fortune, we all love the traditions that bring joy and comfort to our lives.  Personally, although I love black eyed peas, I don't put much stock in their power to make my year any better than it would be otherwise.  Last year I couldn't even find black eyed peas in the store to cook for New Year's Day (I settled instead for purple hull peas, a close relative) and my year turned okay just the same!  Not great, but definitely okay. 

For many New Year's Day will be filled with football, fun, and of course, black eyed peas.  We will turn our back on the hardships we suffered, take a deep breath, and say a prayer that the coming year will be better than the one just ended.  But will we live any differently tomorrow than we did yesterday?  Most will continue to do their best and hope that everything turns out well for all their efforts.  Others will walk in complete dependence on the Lord and suffer in spite of their faith, but still manage to praise him in spite of their problems.  Some will be blindsided by tragedy and others will be surprised with unexpected blessings.  None of us can predict what will happen, but we can rest in the assurance that our all-powerful God is, and will always be, in control.

As you remember the events of this year and make your resolutions for next, resolve above all else to give God the keys and let him do the driving this year.  If you will spend a little less time doing what you think you should do and focus instead on being all God wants you to be (we are, after all, human beings), you might be pleasantly surprised by the blessings that come your way in the months ahead.  

Happy New Year and pass the black eyed peas!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Nearer to Heaven in 2011

"And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." -- Romans 13:11

It is not uncommon for someone to come up with a catchy way to characterize the New Year.  As I sat down this afternoon and posted my status on Facebook, the following words came to mind:  "Closer to Heaven in 2011."  They say no thought is original, but this is one saying I've not heard before.  Whether or not someone else has had the same thought or I happened to have originated it, the truth is certain that some of us will indeed be closer to heaven in 2011!  Will you be one who can say that with confidence?

The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 13:11 that "our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed."  This reality should motivate believers to live each day fully as though it were our last, walking in righteousness, shining Christ's light in a dark world, and sharing God's love and the hope of salvation with those who do not know him.

The Bible tells us what the end times will be like.  "But mark this:  There will be terrible times in the last days.  People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God" (2 Timothy 3:1-4).  One doesn't have to look very hard to see the manifestation of this prophecy in our very day!  I look forward to the day when I shall meet my Savior face to face in the place he has prepared for me (John 14:2), don't you?

If you have not settled the matter of your salvation with Jesus, let today be the day you ask him to forgive you and come live in your heart.  Then you, too, will be able to rest in the assurance that you are nearer to heaven in 2011!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Stepping Into New Territory

"Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, 'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request." -- 1 Chronicles 4:10

Although it has been several years since I read The Prayer of Jabez by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson, it remains one of my favorite books and a great source of inspiration for a dreamer such as myself.  In 2010, before I celebrated my fiftieth birthday, my first book was published.  This fulfilled a dream that was years in the making, a dream I never dared would come true.  God has a way of doing what we  dream of when we least expect it, even though we stop praying about the dream long before it comes true.  I love that about God.

As we venture into the uncharted territory of a New Year, I can't help but get excited about the prospects ahead!  Perhaps you are excited, too.  I believe that as we seek a deeper knowledge of God and a closer relationship with him, he is going to open doors (and perhaps close a few) and do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).  Difficult times will be ever-present because Christ's return and the end of our world is closer than ever before.  But God will continue to prove himself faithful as we place our trust in him.

What is it that you want for the New Year?  As you look back on this year and take inventory of all that has happened, thank God for his blessings and provision.   Make a list of what you would like to see happen next year and commit that list to him in prayer.  Know that if you pray according to his will with a heart that is pure, he will answer your prayers.  His answers may not come according to your time frame, but God has promised to answer prayers offered in faith by those who walk close to him.

Have a dream you want to see fulfilled?  Don't give up on the dream or on the Dream Giver!  Continue to seek him first in every area of your life, giving him permission to have his way in you.  As you surrender your all, he will take you places you could never imagine and do through you things that only God can do!  The New Year awaits you -- dare to step into new territory with God!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Where Is He Now?

"Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.'" -- Matthew 2:1b-2

I awoke very early on Christmas morning, sleepless and frustrated knowing that I needed a good night's rest before preparing a traditional Christmas dinner for family and friends.  Yet I couldn't go back to sleep.  Never one to waste a minute, I had my quiet time earlier than usual and began contemplating questions from the second chapter of Matthew, where the familiar story of the Magi's visit is told.

As I read the story this time, I read it with a fresh set of eyes and heart hungry for deeper insight.  Although the Magi of old had asked for the geographical location of the newborn King, if one were to ask "Where is he?" today the answer would be quite different.  Jesus, though born in the stable on that first Christmas, resides today in the hearts of his followers.  We see his attributes in the lives of those who know his Word and live in obedience to all he has taught us in Scripture.  His glory is evident in those who maintain a spirit of joy despite the troubles they face, who exhibit peace in the midst of chaos and turmoil.  His character is evident in the mercy they show to others, their willingness to serve, and their generosity in giving to those in need.  They speak as ones who have authority (Matthew 7:29) because they know the Living Word and walk in the power of his Holy Spirit.

When Herod asked the chief priests and teachers of the law where the Christ was to be born (v. 4), they replied, "in Bethlehem in Judea."  Yet Jesus desires to be born in the hearts of those who do not yet know him.  His dwelling place was never meant to be a manger in a filthy stable or a house in Bethlehem, but rather the hearts of men.  We are told in Scripture we ourselves are God's temple and that his Holy Spirit dwells in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). 

When Herod heard that the Magi had come to worship the newborn King, he sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child.  As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him" (Matthew 2:8).  We know from Scripture that Herod's intent was not to worship him, but rather to destroy the Christ child.  But Christ desires our worship.  If someone were to make a careful search of our lives, would they find Christ in us?  How will others know and worship the One who was born in a manger all those years ago if they cannot find him in the lives of those who profess to believe him?

Where is he?  Do you see Christ in the lives of people you know?  Do they see Christ in you?  If you have not yet made your heart Christ's dwelling place, I pray that you will let this be the Christmas he is born in you. 

Joy to the world!  The Lord has come. 
Let earth receive her King. 
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.   --  Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Great "What If?"

"Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." -- Philippians 2:2-4

For many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year.  So much anticipation surrounds Christmas Day, especially for the children who cannot wait for Santa to come and leave all their hearts' desires wrapped in festive packages, just waiting to be torn open on Christmas morning.  For many of us, the most anticipated part of Christmas is the Christmas Eve service we will attend tonight.  In warmly-lit sanctuaries all around the world, Christians will gather to worship their newborn King and to ponder in their hearts, as Mary did, the true wonder and miracle of Christmas.

Despite the frenzy of last-minute shopping and the stress of paying for it all, there is a kinder, gentler spirit of goodwill that surfaces in mankind in the days leading up to Christmas.  If only for a few days, we are more generous toward those in need, mindful of how blessed we truly are, and a little more forgiving, perhaps, of those who offend us.  What if every day could be like Christmas?

What if the pews of our churches were as full on Sunday morning as they are on Christmas Eve?  Can you even imagine the impact we could have in this world if we walked with the Lord every day instead of just once a year?

What if we were kind to those around us all the time?  The cashiers who ring up our Christmas purchases are likely the ones we see at the stores we frequent throughout the year.  Why should our warm smiles and friendly conversation with them be limited to the holidays?

What if every day we were as sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged as we are at Christmas?  The Salvation Army doesn't just need a handful of change tossed into a red kettle during Christmas.  They work all year long to provide the needy and homeless with shelter, food, clothing, and the hope of the Gospel.  If we indulged ourselves a little less throughout the year we could better support the charities who are working so hard to be the hands and feet of Christ to those in need.

What if we thought of Jesus as more than just a baby in a manger?  You know, the story doesn't stop there.  Jesus left the riches and glory of heaven to dwell as one of us in a world marked with every form of sin and evil, but there is so much more to his story.  He grew up and became the sacrifice for all our sin so we could spend eternity with him in heaven.

This year, as we leave the twinkling lights and festivities of Christmas behind, let us resolve to take the spirit of Christmas with us every day of the year.  There is no greater gift we could give our Savior than to extend his peace and goodwill to all mankind and to worship him more often than once or twice a year.  He is worthy.  He is waiting....for you and for me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Land of the Lost

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." -- Luke 19:10

"Land of the Lost" was a 1974 children's program about a family who was trapped in an alternate universe inhabited by dinosaurs, primitive people, and aggressive lizard-type/humanoid creatures called Sleestak.  The series chronicles the efforts of the family to find their way back to their own world while exploring the exotic features of the Land of the Lost (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_of_the_Lost_(1974_TV_series).  Since the original series there have been remakes, movies, new series, and a growing fascination with the idea of being lost from family and the safety of home.

In an Advent sermon series, our church sent interviewers into our city to ask people on the street two questions:  "Who is Jesus?" and "Why did He come here?"  As you might imagine, the answers given in response to the questions covered the gamut.  There were believers who without hesitation proclaimed him to be the Son of God who came to save mankind.  My heart was grieved, though, by the number of people who were either indifferent or absolutely clueless.  Though some of their responses were ridiculous and laughable, they awoke in me the harsh reality that there are many people who do not know the truth and the conviction that I have not done a very good job of sharing the Gospel with those I know are lost.

We are all living in a modern-day "land of the lost," a world where sin runs rampant and where mankind lives oblivious to the consequences of that sin.  Jesus left a perfect world to live among and save lost people.  Are you one of the lost, or are you working with him to show lost people how to find their way back home to the world where Christ reigns as King, rules as Lord, and desires intimate fellowship with his own?  If you don't have a relationship with Jesus, you can receive the gift of his salvation by acknowledging and confessing your sin, believing that he came to seek and save you, and inviting him to live in and through you.  There is no longer a reason to be lost....Jesus is the Way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Tall Order

"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you:  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven...Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." -- Matthew 5:43-45, 48

We all have them -- those relationships that make us just a little crazy and cause us to nearly lose our religion at times.  Often the very people who ruffle our feathers live in the same house with us, making it very difficult to remain civil and loving.  We try our best to model Christ's example of love and patience, but find ourselves succumbing to anger and taking on the very character attributes we oppose in the person who is so hard to live with!

God, "who reconciled us to himself through Christ," has given us more than a command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  He has also given us a "ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us" (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).  I'd call that a tall order, wouldn't you?  I can accept God's reconciliation of us through Christ and the ministry to which he has called us, but I have a difficult time not counting my enemy's sins against him.  But can we be effective ambassadors of Christ if we don't extend the same kind of grace and forgiveness to others that he extends to us? 

When my frustration level soars because the message of the Gospel doesn't get through or that difficult individual and I can't quite seem eye-to-eye, I have two options.  I can either stay in the battle and run the risk of compromising Christ's character by playing the game on the enemy's terms, or I can walk away, shake the dust off my feet (Matthew 10:14) and continue to pray for that individual.  I have to remind myself that the person I am having such difficulty loving is not the real enemy anyway.  Satan is.  And Satan loves nothing more than to take those people closest to us and use them to weaken our resolve to walk in godliness and be ministers of God's reconciliation.

If you have a relationship that is making you crazy because nothing you say or do is getting through, pray for that person and let God take control.  Shake the dust off your feet and go about the things that bring you joy and keep your focus where it should be -- on God himself.  We can allow the stress of bad relationships to consume us, or we can turn from them and run to the One who will never be abusive or unkind.  In his presence, we will find peace and the perspective we need to pray for that one whom God desires to reconcile.  Some of these challenging relationships are too big for us to handle, but they are never too big for our God.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Are You Afraid Of?

"He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Amaziah had done.  He sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God.  As long as he sought the LORD, God gave him success." -- 2 Chronicles 26:4-5

In all my years of living on this earth, God has taught me many lessons.  These lessons have been painful at times, especially when they have involved my children.  As a parent, I see my children making many of the same mistakes I made during the years I wandered far from God.  Although I realize that the mess I made of my life was the very thing God used to draw me back to him, it breaks my heart to know that my children are going to make their own mistakes no matter how hard I try to convince them that the stinging effects of sin are not worth the pleasures of the present.  My own experience and words alone will not keep them safe.  They will have to reach a place in their own lives where they embrace God's Word for themselves.

Life has taught me that there is no fear in fearing God.  There is only freedom.  That is to say, if we walk in the fear of the Lord by obeying his Word and surrendering to his lordship, then there is really nothing for us to be afraid of.  His Word assures us of provision, forgiveness when we confess our sins, and protection when we follow him.  But try to tell that to a teenager who is listening to the voice of his peers and living life based on the world's value system!  He is more afraid of missing out on fun or being labeled a Jesus freak than he is afraid of being outside God's will.  Isn't the same true of many of us?  Age is no respecter of foolishness.

What are you afraid of?  Are you afraid that if you choose to follow God in total submission, you will have to give up your friends or all that you have worked so hard to accomplish in life?  Does obedience to his Word mean that you will have to give up all those dirty little habits that have become so comfortable to you?  Maybe, maybe not.  As one who has struggled with these very questions, I can assure you that whatever things were gain to you, you will eventually count as rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ more and being found in his righteousness (Philippians 3:7-9), if you choose to walk in the fear of God rather than be afraid of him and his truth. 

So, what are you afraid of?  Don't let fear of what others think keep you from walking in the fear of the Lord.  Dare to face your fear and surrender everything to him.  There is no safer or more pleasant place to dwell than in God's presence and purpose for your life (Jeremiah 29:11).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Loving Cup

"And now I will show you the most excellent way...But the greatest of these is love." -- 1 Corinthians 12:31b -- 13:13

"And the prize for most loving mother goes to....."  Oh, please!  Some days I think someone needs to take that loving cup and hit me over the head with it, particularly when my patience wears thin with my kids and those closest to me!  After all, as a Christian I should always be loving toward others, right?  Even when I am offended, disrespected, or ignored altogether, God calls me to walk in love even though I'd rather give the other person a swift kick in the you-know-what.

What is love anyway?  In today's passage of Scripture Paul tells us clearly what love is and what love is not.  Love is patient and kind.  It is not envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered, or prone to carry a grudge.  Wow!  How often are we just the opposite -- not patient or kind, but rather more often rude, self-seeking, easily angered, and so on?  I don't know about you, but I am the least likely to be awarded a prize for being "the most loving" anything!

What if for one day we could actually walk in the kind of love that is described in this passage of Scripture?  Can you imagine the kind of impact we might have on others and the difference our lives  might make in a world that is so lacking in love, patience, and kindness?  We can never measure up to God's love standard, except by the power of his Holy Spirit as we wholly surrender ourselves to him. 

Burt Bacharach and Hal David clearly understood that "what the world needs now is love, sweet love.  It's the only thing that there's just too little of.  What the world needs now is love, sweet love -- no not just for some, but for everyone."  Today, may we all make a more valiant effort to love those around us, not in our own power but by drawing on the love of the One who laid down his very life for his friends (John 15:13).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

God's Favorite Things

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'" -- Luke 2:13-14

During the Christmas season it is not uncommon to hear the song, "My Favorite Things," played on the radio.  Even though the original version from the movie, "The Sound of Music," has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, somehow this song has made it into standard queue of Christmas music offered by radio stations everywhere.  "Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens..."  You know the song well.

What are your favorite things this time of year?  For many, it's the thrill of the hunt on Black Friday and the search for the perfect Christmas tree.  Parties and gatherings rank high on the list, and the opportunity to do good by dropping a few coins into a Salvation Army kettle somehow makes one feel a little more noble.  With all the traditions there are to enjoy, isn't it easy to get so caught up in the secular celebration that we forget about God's favorite things?

So what is it that really stirs the heart of God?  Certainly it is not the festive table we set nor the meal we set upon it, but I believe he is moved by the love of family and friends toward one another.  The angels themselves proclaimed glad tidings of "Peace, good will to men."  God is blessed when we set aside our differences and gather together to worship him and celebrate the birth of his Son rather than rush past the manger on our way to the next party or sale. 

But God's favorite thing of all is us.  You and me.  Why else would he come down to a fallen world to live as one of us and die for all of us?  Because he is so crazy about you and me that he would do anything to make sure that we could spend eternity with him!   Jesus was God's gift to us, a helpless babe who grew into a sinless man and ultimately paid the death penalty for our sins. 

You, beloved, are one of God's favorite things.  Isn't it time that we all made the celebration of Christ's birth our favorite part of Christmas?

Monday, December 13, 2010

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What's It All About?

"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." -- Galatians 2:20

As I sat in church listening to a sermon about Christmas, my thoughts quickly went from the manger to the cross and I asked myself, What was Jesus' life all about anyway?  We know that Christ was God sent in human form as an infant, to grow and to live as a man among humanity, suffer our sorrows, and ultimately to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  Our sins deserved death, and only the blood of the Lamb of God could save and redeem us.

As a Christian, I have understood and fully embraced the teachings of the Bible.  I know that Jesus was fully God and fully man.  Because of his willingness to leave the riches of a perfect heaven and enter into an imperfect and difficult earthly existence, he fully understands every sorrow and sin we encounter in life.  He is not only sympathetic to our situation, but empathetic because he suffered in his body and his heart was not immune to sorrow and rejection.  What a God we have!

Jesus' life was all about us!  He came to live as one of us and to die for all of us.  If he gave the best of himself and was willing to die an excruciating death for us, why do we find it so hard to give the best of ourselves and live our lives wholly dedicated to him?  Jesus cheated death, but he didn't cheat us.  Yet, we are unfaithful to him every time we willingly choose to sin or neglect to do good when we have the opportunity to do so.

This Christmas season, perhaps we need to set apart some time just for him, to thank him for all he has done for us and to rededicate ourselves to living wholly for him.  It's the least we can do to express our gratitude to the One who gave everything for us!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

My Christmas Wish

"When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh." -- Matthew 2:10-11

With Christmas less than two weeks away, people are beginning to ask me what I want for Christmas. There is no thing I want for Christmas, but there are plenty of wants on my list.  For starters, I want to know God more, become more Christlike, and see others come to faith in him.  I want to know and apply his Word daily, standing on its promises, walking in victory when life unravels around me, and blazing a trail of faith for others to follow.  I want my words to encourage and uplift others, not tear them down. 

I want my children to walk with the Lord now, not after they have made the same mistakes I did.  I want them to understand that they have a choice not to sin, and that there is great freedom in obeying God.  The laws God set in place for us to follow were given to us out of his great love, not a desire to control or manipulate us.  I want them to see that God is not the enemy, but that the true enemy, Satan, is real and seeks nothing but their destruction.  I want them to be wise in their choices of friends and activities, and I want God to use them as peers of positive influence in a generation that so desperately needs the hope and light of the Lord.

I want to parent my children with grace, not a heavy hand or harsh words.  I want to lead them by example, not coercion.  As I live out the life God desires for each of us -- a life of holiness and righteousness -- I pray that they will see Christianity as a life of joy and hope, not legalism or hypocrisy.

I want God's blessings to multiply in my life so I can give more generously to others.  If we all think outside the box, we will discover that we have much more than money to give.  We could volunteer our time and talents to reach those who are lonely, hurting, or in real need of basic provision like food, clothing, and shelter.  There is so much need in our world!  When I think I need more money or stuff in my own life, I don't have to look far to see that there are those who are truly needy.  I want God to give me his eyes to see the need around me and provision to do something about it.  If we each learn to hold lightly the blessings God pours into our lives and allow him to control our pocketbooks, perhaps together we can make a positive difference in the lives of those who are truly needy and make this world a better place for them to live.

I want my books to sell and my ministry to grow, not for the sake of producing income but to give me more opportunities to encourage and share God's Word with those who are on this journey of life with me.  God certainly doesn't need me or my books to accomplish his purposes, but he desires for all of us to make ourselves available to him and to use our gifts and abilities to bring others into his kingdom.  Is there some skill or talent you need to cultivate for his glory?

What about you?  What is it that you want most for Christmas?  Would you dare to ask God for something more than a new computer, clothes, or cash?  God has already given us a precious and unspeakable Gift, his Son.  Will you unwrap that gift this year and in return, offer your life as a gift to Jesus?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Rest of the Story

"For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." -- 2 Corinthians 1:5

When we think of certain people, often it's the phrases they have coined which we remember.  When I read today's scripture verse during my quiet time, Paul Harvey's famous tag line, "and now...the rest of the story," immediately came to mind.  

One of the greatest struggles we face is strained relationships, often with members of our own family. These difficult relationships are heart wrenching and debilitating at times, yet God's Word assures us that even our most intense suffering, whatever it may be, has a purpose.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 the apostle Paul writes,  "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God."  Isn't it comforting to know that at some point God will use our suffering to comfort someone else?  Certainly it is, but often we are so consumed by the struggles we face that we forget God's assurance in verse five:  "For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."  Clearly God's Word tells us there is more to our suffering than we may see.  There is also his comfort!

If you find yourself weary of the struggles you face, remember the rest of the story.  God has a purpose for your suffering, he can use anything for his glory, and just as suffering overflows into your life, so through Christ his comfort overflows.  Today walk in the comfort God promises you, knowing that because Christ himself also suffered, through him you are more than a conqueror!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

New and Improved

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" -- 2 Corinthians 5:17

Every now and then it becomes necessary to replace something old with something new and improved.  Nearly everything in life becomes old and outdated at some point.  Whether it is an old car, worn-out clothing, or simply a tired face, a little attention to the details can go a long way in improving the look and performance and perhaps even extend the useful life of a particular thing.  Sometimes, though, it takes more than a coat of paint or a stitch in time to restore the beauty and function with which a particular object was created.

As I was tweaking my website in anticipation of new opportunities in the year ahead, I began thinking about the way God changes us.  We are constantly being tweaked by the one who created us, through circumstances, by his Word, and through the working of the Holy Spirit.  I suppose until we get to heaven, there will always be something about us that God can find to improve!

The Bible tells us that if we are in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new.  The shed blood of Christ washes us clean from the stain of sin and we are spiritually made new.  Unfortunately, living in a fallen world takes its toll at times, both on our bodies and our spirits.  Isn't that true of all of us?  Thankfully, the God who never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121:4) is always at work completing the good work he started in each of us, always ready to forgive us when we confess our sins and restore us to a right relationship with him (1 John 1:9). 

When Christ returns to take us to heaven, our mortal, corruptible bodies will be made new, once and for all.  In Revelation 21:4-5 (NASB) we are given this blessed assurance: "and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. And He who sits on the throne said, "'Behold, I am making all things new.' And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.'"  Amen and amen!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Wonder As I Wander

"Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!" -- 2 Corinthians 9:15

Life is a journey.  As I wander through each day I often wonder why God allows certain things to happen or try to figure out his plans and purpose for my life.  We all have such questions and days when we can't quite seem to figure out what the journey is all about.  Don't we?

As Christmas draws near and we approach the beginning of a New Year, I wonder if, for just a few minutes, we could just spend some time soaking in the wonder of God's "indescribable gift" to us and stop trying to figure out all of life?  We get so caught up in finding all the answers that we overlook the only Answer that really matters -- Jesus.  "For poor, on'ry people like you and like I," the Savior came that we might have life abundantly, both now and forevermore.


I Wonder as I Wander
John Jacob Niles

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing
A star in the sky or a bird on the wing
Or all of God's Angels in heaven to sing
He surely could have it, 'cause he was the King

I wonder as I wander out under the sky
How Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Insufficient Funds

"Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever." -- Psalm 107:1

Our pastor preached a sermon this morning on being thankful even when we have insufficient funds in our bank account.  Although his message dealt with financial stress and our tendency to let a slim wallet diminish our worship and thankfulness for God's blessings, it occurred to me that being spiritually bankrupt can accomplish the same thing. 

All too often we are guilty of allowing adverse circumstances, heartbreak, and family dysfunction steal our joy.  Why is that?  Personally, this is something I have been struggling with a lot lately.  I have found it difficult to grow in my relationship with God because of all the distracting messes that are a part of my life.  In a sense, I have been going through the motions during my quiet time and feel that I am standing still rather than maturing in my walk with the Lord.  Keeping my eyes focused on God rather than on my problems is so hard.  There are many people who share this struggle.  So why do some people cave in to despair while others maintain a joyful, positive outlook despite the problems they face? 

Just as we must deposit money into a bank account if we are to withdraw money from it to pay bills, feed our families, and have cash on hand for everyday expenses, we must fill our minds and hearts with the truths of God's Word if we are to gain strength and have grace to persevere through the difficult trials we face in this life.  How can we deal with financial lack if we don't know the Lord's promises of provision (Philippians 4:19, Matthew 6:25-26)?  How can we face devastating illness without the hope of his healing (James 5:16)?  As parents of wayward children, how can we survive the emotional roller coaster ride without some assurance that it will eventually end and our prodigal children will find their way back home to the Lord they once loved and worshipped (Proverbs 22:6)? 

When is the last time you took a withdrawal from God's Word and made a deposit into your spiritual bank account?  If it has been awhile, take a few minutes this week to seek the Lord by reading his Word and talking with him in prayer.  He has everything you need not only to survive in this crazy mixed-up world, but to thrive in it with a smile on your face and a heart filled with joy and thanksgiving.  And you can take that to the bank!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Snowball Effect

"I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High." -- Psalms 7:17

Some of us awoke this morning to a cloudy sky and the threat of stormy weather.  But even if the sun were to shine brightly, we'd still feel as if a cloud were hanging over our day.  Because of difficult circumstances, hurtful relationships, and financial strain there are many who will struggle to give thanks this Thanksgiving Day.

If this describes you, then I challenge you to start thanking God for the little things he has done to show you how much he loves and cares about you.  Start by thanking him for the house you live in, especially when the weather is stormy.  Remember that he is your refuge, your strong tower, and your shelter from the storms of life.  Keep thanking him for the little things as they come to mind.  Jot your blessings down in a journal or on a sheet of paper.  Before long, the snowball of gratitude will grow bigger and the things for which you are thankful will start coming to mind more quickly than you can write them down!

The best medicine for a sorrowful heart is an attitude of gratitude.  Take a spoonful or, if necessary, drink the whole bottle!  You cannot overdose on thanks and it just may cure what ails you!

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finding Reasons to be Thankful

"Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." -- 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

For some people, giving thanks and enjoying the holidays is something that requires little mental effort.  They are employed, healthy, and enjoy good relationships with those closest to them.  For others, though, the pain of observing Thanksgiving and Christmas is almost more than they can bear.  Because of illness or emotional pain, financial troubles, and dysfunctional relationships with loved ones, just putting one foot in front of the other is hard.  

No matter how hard life has been for you this year, we all have reasons to thank the God who created us and loves us so.  Has he provided for you?  Thank him.  Has he been a comforting presence in the midst of stress and loneliness?  Thank him.  Is there another person you know whose struggles are greater than yours?  Thank him for his goodness to you.  Develop an attitude of gratitude, especially when you don't think you have much to thank God for.  We can always find a reason to be thankful and to celebrate his goodness if we look hard enough.

As Thanksgiving Day approaches, find a quiet place where there are no distractions or take a walk with God.  Pour our your heart to him and thank him for listening to your prayers and for taking care of you each day.  Thank him for every little thing that comes to mind.  Pretty soon, the cares of this world will give way to gratitude and you will find yourself celebrating God's goodness and proclaiming his joy to the world.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

It's Not Easy Being Green

"For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful.  I know that full well." -- Psalm 139:13-14

There are days when I feel a bit like Kermit the Frog in "The Muppet Movie" (1979). Kermit sings a song lamenting the woes of being green, blending in, and not standing out as special or noteworthy. But he eventually resigns himself to the fact that it's really not so bad just being himself, warts and all. Don't we all have days like that?

There are times we tend to beat ourselves up for being down, for whatever reason.  Whether we are tired, sick, or simply sad, some days it is hard to stay motivated and moving in a positive, productive direction.  Maybe it's just that stress finally catches up with us and we realize how weary we have become of living life with a smile on our face when the world gives us little reason to smile. 

As Christians we must realize that we not only have the supernatural power to rise above the mediocrity and stress of daily living, but also that we have a God who completely sympathizes with us when collapse under the weight of our cares and say, "Lord, I can't do this anymore!"  No matter how hard or far we fall, he will be there to pick us up, dust us off, and encourage us if we will look for him and listen to his voice.

It is of the utmost importance that we prepare ourselves daily for the pitfalls that await us on our journey.  A time of prayer and meditation on his Word each day will help us through, no matter what we face.  Some days will be more difficult than others, but his promises will never fail.  We have to know them, though, in order to stand on them.  Do you?

Next time you have a Kermit the Frog moment, remember that God made you just the way you are and that he loves you, warts and all.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Make Every Day a Holiday

Christmas comes the same time every year, but are we every truly prepared? After scaring away the goblins on Halloween, many of us go into a holiday frenzy as we stock our cupboards and freezers with everything needed for a Thanksgiving feast, decorate our homes with lighted trees and holiday knick knacks, and make our shopping lists for Christmas, even though we know good and well we cannot afford it. Even though we tell ourselves each year that this will be the year we do things right by opening a Christmas Club account in January, somehow we never manage to start setting aside the money we need to pay for the holidays. Before long we find ourselves as cranky as Ebenezer Scrooge, reeling as nightmares of unpaid bills dance endlessly through our heads. Bah humbug!

As Christians, we have it all wrong. Every day should be a celebration, a day of giving thanks to God for all He is and all He has done for us. Each day we should look for opportunities to give to others our gifts of time, affection, and service. Since when do we need a holiday to celebrate all the blessings God has showered on us?

The past few years have been challenging for many. Above and beyond the everyday stress of coping with difficult relationships, brokenness, and poor health, our economy has made it difficult for many families to even put food on the table or pay the rent. The thought of having to come up with money to buy our children gifts, fund a trip to visit family over the holidays, and pretend to enjoy it all is simply overwhelming. For those who cannot afford Thanksgiving or Christmas, the pressure to meet the expectations of others is unbearable and only leads to a bad case of holiday blues. What should be a season of joy becomes a season of guilt, depression, and regret. So, what is the answer? How can we make every day a holiday?

True joy does not come from being able to throw lavish parties and give costly gifts during the holidays. Nor does it come from the gifts we receive or the time we spend with loved ones. While all those things bring momentary happiness, true lasting joy comes from knowing the Savior whose birth we celebrate. Without Him, there is no joy – not at Christmas and certainly not the rest of the year.

Jesus is not only the Reason for the Season, but He is the answer to every need we have. For those who are lonely and hurting, especially during the holidays, He is our Faithful Friend and our Comforter. For those who are battered by the storms of life, He is our Shelter and Refuge, our Ever-Present Help in time of need. For those who come from dysfunctional families, He is our Heavenly Father who has engraved us on the palm of His hands and numbered every hair on our heads. For those who are financially destitute, He is the Provider of all we truly need, according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus. He is the Healer of those who are ill and the Prince of Peace for those who are unsure and afraid. He is the great Redeemer for all who sin and seek His forgiveness, and the Deliverer from every temptation and addiction we face in life. He is the Lover of our souls, accepting us just as we are and lavishing His love on us. He is the ultimate Giver of all good things, sacrificing His very life on Calvary to save us from our sins so we could spend eternity with Him in heaven, where there is no sickness, no sorrow, and no pain.

As you prepare to observe the holidays this year and anticipate the fresh start of a New Year, take a moment to pause and reflect on your relationship with God. Just as the city of Bethlehem was crowded and there was no room in the inn for Mary to bring Christ into this world, many of us are guilty of filling our hearts with meaningless pleasures and vain pursuits in an effort to find lasting joy. Make room for Jesus this year. If you have not invited Him into your heart and received His free gift of salvation, do that today! No gift under your tree will satisfy you or bring you the lasting fulfillment that Jesus will. Once you discover the joy of living a life of obedience and surrender to His Lordship, you will find that every day can indeed be a holiday!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

While I'm Waiting

"The sluggard craves and gets nothing, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied." -- Proverbs 13:4

Ever find yourself in a spiritual slump -- that season of downtime when you are seeking God, clamoring to hear His voice, yet finding Him oddly distant and silent?  Perhaps he has set your feet on a certain path, yet suddenly you feel as though you are walking in the darkness, alone.  The passion that drove you at first has given way to passivity and you begin to wonder what God is up to.

As I look at my own life and question God about these things, I find myself waiting for answers that are slow in coming.  What is God trying to tell me?  Is there an area of sin I haven't dealt with or some preparation I have not yet completed in order to move forward into that area of service which God has planned for me?  What happened to the sense of urgency I had about ministry, writing, and the calling God has placed on my life?

Sometimes I believe God calls us out of the extraordinary, back to the more ordinary aspects of life to give us a chance to prepare for what is next.  As book sales and marketing activity have fizzled out and a new job has demanded more of my time, I realize that I have neglected a lot of the more ordinary responsibilities that come with being a wife and mother.  I haven't neglected my relationships with my family, but I can look around my home and know for certain that I have neglected other things, like housekeeping and office organization.  What I have at times considered to be unpleasant or insignificant tasks are often the very things that bring me comfort and fulfillment when life gets a little too crazy.

While I am waiting for God to speak and give me a sense of direction, I might as well get busy cleaning up my office and clearing out the clutter that has become not only an eyesore, but a hindrance to my creativity and sensitivity to God's Spirit.  As I clean my home and prepare it for the holidays, I can rest in the assurance that God will purify my heart and prepare me to carry out his plans for my life.

If you are waiting for God to answer a prayer or give you a sense of his presence, you might try getting your house in order, too.  Pray for him to show you what areas of your home and heart need cleaning most, then work diligently and expectantly.  Before long, your Guest will arrive and you will enjoy sweet fellowship together!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Detour

"The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail." - Isaiah 58:11

If one were to take a look at my journey over the past few years, it would probably resemble the path Billy often takes in the comic strip "Family Circus."  At least, it seems that way to me.  My journey has been full of twists, turns, and unexpected detours.  A year ago when my first book was released, I had visions of selling thousands of copies and embarking on a speaking ministry that would have a tremendous impact on the lives of women everywhere.  I imagined my dance card filled with book signings, speaking engagements, and opportunities to share my faith and the encouragement of God's Word.  While I didn't expect book royalties to fund a college education or buy a new car, I expected the income to at least help with our monthly bills.  All those dreams proved to be just that -- dreams.

Back in the work force once more, I now find myself living an ordinary existence just like every other working mom I know.  Don't get me wrong -- ordinary is not bad, but somehow I envisioned more.  I can't complain, though, because my paycheck is certainly much better than the royalty checks I have received as a published author.  God keeps me challenged enough in the ordinary things of life to write about them.  For now, my life consists of ministry where God has placed me, not where I imagined myself to be.  As long as he is present in my reality, that is all that really matters.

No matter what detours come along in life, God promises to be with us wherever we go.  Every detour is part of his grand adventure for us, another brush stroke on the canvas of a beautiful work of art he is creating in us.  We can't see the big picture, but he does.   As we continue to make our relationship with him our top priority, despite whatever doubts we may have regarding the path he has chosen for us, those around us will be drawn to his love and he will use us to make a difference in this world.

If you have imagined yourself in a different place than you are today, don't despair. God has you where you are for a reason.  The detour you have taken was divinely mapped out by God to prepare you for something even better down the road.  Enjoy the ride, take in the scenery, and know that God is doing immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Whatever It Takes

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me." -- John 14:1

Where would any of us be without the Lord, especially when we are facing heartache and darkness in our day-to-day existence?  Without the promises of his Word to stand on in troubled times, how would we even begin to make it through?

As I talked with the Lord this morning about a troubling relationship and my lack of trust in this particular situation, I found myself asking the question, Is it that I don't trust this particular individual, or could it be that I don't trust God to handle the situation?  As parents we want to protect our children from the obvious and not-so-obvious dangers they face everyday, but do we really trust God enough to release our children into his hands and allow him to see them through the mazes and obstacle courses they face in life?  For me that is a scary thought because I know the hard lessons I had to learn as a young adult in order to become the woman I am today.  I don't want my kids to go through some of the things I did, yet ultimately I know that they will have to make their own mistakes and suffer the consequences in order to see that perhaps God's ways truly are higher than ours.  God allowed me to go through a lengthy season of sin in order to see that sin is not all it's cracked up to be and to finally surrender the throne of my heart to him.  Oh, why can't our children first experience the joy that comes from obedience and avoid the heartache and pain that come from disobedience to God's Word?  

When we find ourselves praying for someone who is mired in sin, often we will pray for the Lord to do "whatever it takes" in order to bring him back to the Lord so he will begin making wise choices consistent with God's Word.  Are we really prepared for the "whatever"?  Personally, I am struggling with that prayer, yet I know that only when I totally surrender my cares and concerns to God's perfect will, will peace come to my troubled, untrusting soul.  Part of me fears that the "whatever" could prove to be disastrous.  Do I trust God enough to know that no matter what happens, he is still God, still in control, and that his love for me will never change?

When we desire to become more like Christ, we must realize that pain and adversity are the divine chisels God will use to fashion us into the image of his Son.  It is through suffering that he will build in us the perseverance needed to live in a fallen world and cultivate the grace and mercy needed to put him on display as we love those around us. 

Do you have the faith to ask God to do whatever it takes to make you more Christlike or to bring your loved one to that place of peaceful abiding that you know as a child of God?  If not, pray today for God to increase your faith so that you can fully trust in him to do what is best for you and those you love.  The way may not be easy, but he never promised it would be.  He simply assured us that he has already overcome the world (John 16:33).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Heart's Desire

"Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart." -- Psalm 37:4

Psalm 37:4 has long been one of my favorite verses of Scripture.  Lately the Lord has brought this particular verse to mind several times, reminding me that he has fulfilled this promise in ways I could not have dreamed and that as I have grown closer to him, the desires of my heart have changed to reflect the desires of his heart for me.   .

For a long time I knew what the desires of my heart were.  At least I thought I did.  As a single woman just out of college, my dream was to have a successful career, make lots of money, have nice things, and find true love.  After I married, I desired to continue in a successful career, make lots of money, and enjoy the independence and thrill of being married without children.  Once our first child came along, everything changed.

During my pregnancy, I became consumed with one desire alone:  to be a stay-at-home mom and raise the children God entrusted to me. I believe the desire to be a stay-at-home mom was planted in my heart by the Lord himself.  However, I thought that the dream of being a full-time mom was mine to achieve, not God's to fulfill. I felt that if I worked hard enough at building a freelance business which would give me the flexibility to work from home, we would be able to afford for me to quit work.  

In his infinite grace and wisdom, God allowed me to learn that by doing things according to my plan rather than his I was setting myself up for failure and disappointment.  After a series of bad business and financial decisions, it became obvious that I would have to return to work.  My son was seven and in school, but my daughter was less than two years old.  Putting her in daycare so I could return to work, because of my own foolish decisions, nearly killed me.  The only way I knew to cope with the grief and loss I felt was to spend more time with God in prayer and reading his Word.  As I drew near to him, I discovered what it meant to delight in a wonderful and amazing God.

That God-given desire to be a full-time mom never left me.  As I have grown in my walk with the Lord, he has also given me new desires:  to minister to others by sharing the encouragement of his Word, to invest in the lives of others rather than in material possessions which will never last, and to teach my own children how to live, love, and serve our God.  These are the dreams that matter now.

What is the desire of your heart?  To acquire worldly wealth?  At what cost?  Delight yourself in God and he will give you the desires of your heart...perhaps not what you want, but what he wants for you.  God only wants what is best for you, so pray that he will cause you to desire what he wants.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Beyond Over the Hill

"The LORD is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made." -- Psalm 145:13b

Today I turned fifty.  It wasn't so bad really, except for the pain in my right knee and my left wrist.   Just kidding!  I didn't wake up to find that I had new aches and pains this morning.  Much to my delight, I don't feel a day over forty-nine!

As I approached this milestone birthday with great anticipation, I kept remarking about being "over the hill."  Then it dawned on me that ten years ago was actually the real "over the hill" birthday.  Now that I'm fifty, I can wear my gray hair with pride and know that it is okay to just be me, cellulite and all.

If the past ten years are any indication, I am in for the ride of my life!  Time will continue to slip away a little faster now that I am on the downside of the hill, but I anticipate a thrill ride that will top anything Cedar Point or Disneyworld have to offer.  The past couple of years alone have been pretty exciting!  To have published a book and have a contract on a second one before the age of fifty was something I never dreamed of, yet it happened.  God has also provided me a new job, new friends, and real purpose for living. 

I have no idea what the future holds, but I'm pretty excited about all that lies ahead because I know my future is in God's hands.  He has it all planned out.  For my part, I plan to rise up each day and call him blessed as I surrender my plans to his perfect will.  When I turn sixty and look back on these next ten years, I know I will be even more amazed than I am today!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Big One

"I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again." -- John 3:3

Although many people do not relish the thought of celebrating "the big one," I am looking forward to reaching that milestone this year.  As I reflect on the first fifty years of life, I can find many reasons to be thankful that I even lived to celebrate this most famous of all birthdays.  Given the reckless living of my twenties, it is a miracle that I even survived to the age of thirty!  Yet here I am, celebrating God's goodness and all he has accomplished in and through my life.  I may be over the hill, but God isn't finished with me yet!

For those who have broken free from addiction, there is an even more important birthday -- the celebration of their sobriety, their "big one."  To have been freed from the prison of drug or sexual addiction is to be given a new lease on life.  Although I never went through a 12-Step program or formal recovery process, I am so thankful that I no longer depend on alcohol to cope with stress or insecurity, as I once did.  Because I no longer live under the influence of an addictive substance, I feel more alive than ever.

But the biggest "big one" of all is undoubtedly the day of my salvation.  As a teenager I was born again into the family of God when I asked Jesus to live in my heart.  The past thirty five years have been an amazing journey of highs and lows, triumphs and defeats, with each day resulting in a closer walk with God than the day before.  Because of my relationship with God, I can celebrate my milestone birthday with joyful anticipation that the best is truly yet to come.

Perhaps you have already celebrated your "big one."  No matter your age, it is never too late to celebrate the rebirth that comes through salvation in Jesus.  If you haven't celebrated your spiritual "re-birthday," I pray that today you will receive the free gift of salvation by inviting Jesus into your heart.  Mark the date on your calendar and begin enjoying the abundant life that God promises to those who follow him.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

When October Goes

One of Barry Manilow's most beautiful ballads, "When October Goes," is playing on my computer as I write this last entry of October.  There was a time when I would grow wistful this time of year as I remembered a magical kiss that awakened a deep love for someone who is no longer a part of my life.  Now I glory in the magic of this month as I celebrate the time I first met my husband and soul-mate twenty five years ago. 

Tonight Steve is out with my daughter trick-or-treating.  For the third year in a row he is outfitted in his Darth Vader costume, being the kid he's always been inside.  That's one thing I love about him.  Not only he is an overgrown kid, he is absolutely the best dad my kids could have!

In keeping with tradition I made hot dogs for dinner.  That's something my mother used to do every year before sending us off into the night.   I think she hoped we would fill up on hot dogs so we wouldn't gorge on candy, but that never worked.  We started eating candy upon departing the first house but always arrived home with enough to make mountains in the middle of the floor.  With six kids, competition was fierce.  We all wanted to see who could get the most candy and spent what seemed like hours bargaining with each other to trade this piece for that. 

Tonight I am sitting home enjoying a few peaceful moments, hoping that a trick-or-treater or two will come by so I can make a fuss and enjoy the chubby little hands plunging into my candy bowl.  I am thinking of my mom and imagining how she relished the quiet when we all took to the streets while she stayed home cleaning up the mess left by a bunch of hungry and excited neighborhood kids.

My husband is proof that one can never be too old to trick-or-treat.  And the little one who just came to my door, pushed in a stroller by his beaming, proud parents, has proved that one can't be too young!  He probably won't remember this Halloween, but I will never forget the joys of trick-or-treating as a child or of taking my kids out when they were little.

It won't be long before my kids are too old to trick-or-treat.  When that time comes, perhaps I will again be sad to see October go.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Master or Mastercard? Breaking the Debt Cycle

"The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender." -- Proverbs 22:7

Dave Ramsey, notably one of the foremost consumer finance experts, has said that sometimes you just have to get mad in order to make any progress eliminating personal debt.  Getting mad isn't quite enough for most of us.  We also have to take on extra jobs or deprive ourselves of things designed to make life easier and more enjoyable, like fast food meals, cellular and computer technology, and even family vacations.  Dave Ramsey, where were you before I got into debt?

One of the most difficult things in my personal struggle with debt reduction has been drawing the line when it comes to paying my bills.  By that I mean listing my expenses in priority order, then stopping when there isn't any money left, even if it means paying a creditor late or sending in just a partial payment.  All too often, I have cheated God by not paying my tithe, or paying my Mastercard on time then using it to buy items like groceries, gas, and other expenditures that should typically be paid for with cash.  Talk about a vicious cycle!  For all my effort, I'm still making painfully slow progress.  I'm sure God must just roll his eyes and shake his head some days, wondering if I'll ever get the hang of good stewardship!

Recently I went back to work part-time to help accelerate our debt repayment and accomplish some other personal goals.  Since I have yet to collect my first paycheck, money is still really tight, but I have decided to break the cycle TODAY.  My tithe is paid, I have set aside a minimal amount of cash to cover living expenses, and I have postponed paying a couple of creditors until the money is there.  No more charging!  No more relying on Mastercard to fund my daily living expenses -- it's time I trusted in the Master to keep his promises!  He has proven faithful to me many times, although I have not always been a faithful steward of what he has entrusted to me.

Who is your master?  Jehovah Jireh, your Provider, or Visa and American Express?  It is time we learn to be satisfied with God, be content with the basic necessities of life, and walk in the financial freedom that comes from trusting in the Master to provide all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Prayer Partners

"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions and with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints." -- Ephesians 6:18

Intercessory prayer (praying for others) is a spiritual discipline that very few possess, but it is one that we all need to exercise consistently.  Although I have been a Christian for a number of years, praying was not something I understood or was good at for a number of years.  As I matured in my understanding, however, and realized that prayer was simply an ongoing conversation with God, I found myself praying more.  In Scripture, we are commanded to "pray continually" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).  Is it possible to even do that?

There is such a great need for intercessory prayer among the people of God.  Whether for personal healing or the healing of loved ones, financial provision, or simply strength to get through the day, our lives are made better when we are carried on the prayers of those who know and love us.  And we possess the power to bless others by praying for them.

There are three things that have truly revolutionized my prayer life.  The first is realizing that Jesus himself prays for me.  Toward the end of his life as Jesus prayed to his heavenly Father, he prayed not only for the believers he would be leaving to carry on his work, but also for those who have not yet believed.  "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" (John 17:20-21). 

The second is knowing that even when I don't know how to pray or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit does.  "In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will" (Romans 8:26-27).

The third thing that has revolutionized my prayer life is the practice of journaling, or "praying through my pen."  Over the past thirty-five years, my journals have evolved from the simple diary entries of a teenage girl to sometimes lengthy prayers to the God I love and serve.  Journaling keeps me focused and reduces the tendency for my mind to wander, as often happens when we pray.  When I sit down to pray and begin writing, I write as though I am communicating with a dear friend.  Certainly Jesus is the dearest friend of all.  Before I know it, I find that I have prayed for an hour or more!

If you struggle with intercessory prayer, keep in mind that we all need the prayer covering of the saints and that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are praying for and with you, even at times when you can't find the words.  Try keeping a prayer journal, not only to keep you focused in prayer but to record God's answers to your prayers. 

It has been said that prayer changes things.  Be alert to the needs of those around you today and offer up a quick prayer in their behalf.  Before long, not only will you see God working in their lives, but you will realize that your own life has changed for the better!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

All in God's Timing

"But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.' My times are in your hands." (Psalm 31:14-15)

After four and a half years of job-hunting, praying, and waiting, often impatiently, for God to answer my prayers regarding finances and employment, I found myself employed again after the swiftest interview process I have ever experienced.  In one day I was interviewed twice and offered the part-time position I now hold!  Many times during that lengthy season of unemployment, I was reminded that God is never late, but rather that he is in control and always on time.

Like many who find themselves in a similar situation, I could have been despondent and worked tirelessly to fix this problem myself.  At times, I did try to manage things for God.  But for the most part, I allowed God to have his way in my life, making the most of the time to draw closer to him and allow him to develop my character and gifts.  Was it easy?  Heavens no!  The process was very painful at times, but God was faithful and always present to fill me with his peace.  He provided for our needs in some very unexpected ways and demonstrated that if we would simply trust him for today's needs, he would supply them. 

You may be waiting on a job or praying for the Lord to deliver a loved one from addiction or a lifestyle of sin.  Keep praying!  If  you are praying in accordance with God's will, he will answer you in due season.  While you are waiting, fortify your faith by reading his Word and leaning on his promises to you.  Know that God's "no" often leads to a greater yes, and that his purpose and plans for your life are good.  Surrender your problems, hopes, and dreams to God and give him permission to complete the good work he has started in you.  Then one day, when your season of waiting has passed, you will be able to look back and see the amazing ways God worked in and through your life to provide for your needs and encourage those beside you on the journey.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

That We May See His Face

"But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head." -- Psalm 3:3

At the end of my first day of work I found myself restless and agitated because of an unpleasant family matter that required my attention.  As is often the case, I found myself a little too disturbed to simply crawl into bed, so I opted to meet with the Lord in my La-Z-Boy, pour out my heart to him, and read his Word.  I never cease to be amazed at what a calming effect that can have!  Sometimes we have to learn that all our advice-seeking from others is no substitute for a heart-to-heart conversation with God.  After all, he is the one with all the answers anyway.

As I prayed through the concerns of my heart, I ran across the above verse from Psalms and began singing in my heart, "Thou, O LORD, are a shield about me.  You're my glory; you're the lifter of my head."  It was just a simple little chorus, but one that brought me great comfort.  As I worshipped him in my heart, I realized that sometimes when we are down, God gently lifts our chin with his hand so that we may see his face.  Only when our eyes are focused on him and the truths of his Word can we find the peace which often eludes us as we struggle with the challenges of everyday life.

No matter what difficulties I have faced today or might anticipate tomorrow, "I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the LORD sustains me" (Psalm 3:5).  Forget the sleep aids!  Spending the last few minutes of a busy and difficult day with the Lord is often all we need to settle down for peaceful night's slumber. 

Monday, October 25, 2010

New Beginnings

"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen." -- 1 Peter 4:10-11

Like you, I am a work in progress.  Crafted by the Master, we are each unique in so many ways.  We are "fearfully and wonderfully made," writes the psalmist (Psalm 139:14).  We possess different gifts and abilities, body shapes and hair color, and personalities of every conceivable variety.  Because of our uniqueness, God is able to accomplish his work on the earth, reaching the lost and encouraging the weary.  That's where you and I come in.

Life is full of new beginnings.  As I prepare to start a new job, I can look back over the past few years of my life and see how God has worked all things together for my good (Romans 8:28), to prepare me for this new occupation.  This job will be unlike any I have had in the past, but I am confident that I will be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17) because of the Word of God which dwells in me and the life experiences that God has allowed to make me the person I am today.

A new job or other life change doesn't necessarily signal the end of a season.  For instance, I will continue to write and market my books, be the best mom I can be, and minister to those God puts in my path.  But it does signal a new adventure, a chance to grow in God's grace and have a positive impact on the lives of those we will meet on the journey.  Charles Dederich said, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life."  Yet the Bible tells us that we do not know what will happen tomorrow (James 4:13).  Therefore, it is important that we make the most of today and live it in the abundance that God intended, serving and loving others according to the example of his own Son, Jesus.

Every day can be a new beginning if we are open to what God wants to do in our lives.  If you are not certain what he wants to do in your life, spend some time with him at the start of each day and ask him to direct your steps.  He will.  God delights in working in a life that is surrendered to his will and loving people through those who know him intimately. 

The most important new beginning of all is the moment you enter into a personal relationship with Jesus by asking him into your heart to save you from your sins.  If you haven't done that yet, make today your new beginning and enjoy the journey of walking with Jesus day by day.  It will be the best decision you ever make and the start of the greatest adventure you will ever have!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Will the Real Enemy Please Stand Up?

"If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." -- Romans 12:20-21

When we are at odds with another individual, we have a tendency to view that person as the enemy.  If we are engaged in a conflict with our teenager, for instance, it is easy to blame him with the negative impact his poor choices have on our family life or our reputation as parents.  We fault him with our own bad mood and negative response to his actions, hesitant to accept our own responsibility for the conflict.  After all, it takes two to tango, doesn't it?

Family squabbles are not always the result of one family member set on destroying the harmony that God desires for our relationships with one another.  Quite often the real enemy is Satan himself, the great deceiver who would have us believe that the offending family member is the enemy and that we should do everything we can to punish the offender.  As the parent of a teenager, I am often guilty of negatively reinforcing my son's bad behavior and choices by meting out unnecessarily harsh punishment rather than loving him for who he is, despite the undesirable behavior he exhibits from time to time.

The verses selected above have convicted me this week of my failure to display unconditional love toward those who make me cranky, particularly members of my own family.  I am a little too quick to say "You're on your own, Bud!" when my son is running behind schedule.  Would it kill me to actually offer to help him in some way, even if I don't feel he deserves my help?  Even when the offense is more serious than simple tardiness, I must learn to love him not on the basis of what he's done, but on the basis of who he is...God's child in need of grace.

We all need a little more grace, and we need to extend it freely to others just as Christ offers it to us.  The next time we are hesitant to love someone we feel is undeserving, perhaps we should consider just how undeserving we were when Christ went to the cross for us. 

Lord, loving others is not our strong suit, particularly when people irritate and annoy us.  Help us to remember that we, too, are guilty of such behavior in your eyes, but that you love us anyway, warts and all.  Help us to overcome the evil we see in others by loving them as you first loved us. In Jesus' name.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Untold Story of the Prodigal's Mother

Hopeless. In a word, that is exactly how she must have felt as her son disappeared over the horizon with not so much as a backward glance over his shoulder. How had their relationship managed to deteriorate so badly? It seemed only days ago that they had sat beside one another in the breeze of a warm summer evening, watching the sun set over the pasture below as the sheep bleated to one another after a long day of lazy grazing.

She remembered the day he was born. After months of waiting and dreaming of the great things her son would accomplish, he arrived just before the bitter chill of winter set in. The harvest had been plentiful that year and there was much to celebrate. Now just days after his birth, the family had gathered around a table laden with the earth’s richest fares, rejoicing not only in God’s bountiful blessings but also in the new life asleep in his mother’s arms.

The first few months were joyful ones for her as she nursed her little one and cradled him often. What special moments they had together! Always dreaming of the special plans God had for him, she prayed for the child, as he lay nestled at her breast, hopeful that Jehovah would capture the heart of her little boy and grow him into a great man of God. Remembering the stories of Moses, Abraham, Joseph, and David, her imagination ran wild with thoughts of all the ways God might use him to reveal the truth regarding His own Son, the Messiah. Surely God’s hand would be with her son all the days of his life, as he followed in the footsteps of his parents and older brother by living a life of dedicated service to their God.

Her son, like so many other young boys his age, was taught the stories of the patriarchs, the apostles, and the prophets who had foretold the coming of the Messiah. He knew of the miracles Jesus had performed. But there were those in the temple who preached a different message, who used their position and influence to deceive many who believed. Before long, questions began to swirl around in his mind, confusing him and weakening his faith. What if all those stories about God were not true?

When her son began voicing some of those questions and spending his time with those known to hold different beliefs from theirs, she became alarmed. She prayed. She spoke the truth. She could tell her son was slipping away from them, changing somehow, but there was little she could do to stop what was happening. Her own frustrations and fears tormented her. Their relationship, once so close and endearing, became one of strain and conflict. Although the truths of what he had been taught had not changed, his beliefs had, and she was losing the battle.

As her son challenged the boundaries of God’s commands and his parents’ convictions, feelings of love between the son and his parents gave way to anger and resentment toward them. Frustrated by her own inability to get through to him, the mother became despondent and depressed, feeling as though somehow she had failed him and the God who had entrusted her with this young man’s life. It was more than she could bear.

As his rebellious attitude and restlessness escalated, she knew it was inevitable that one day her son would leave. How she had prayed that God would somehow soften his heart and rekindle it with passion for God and His truth! But that day never came. Having enough of religious traditions and the restrictions he felt they imposed on his individuality, he asked for his inheritance, packed up his belongings, and set out in search of freedom—freedom from religious mores, outlandish beliefs, and a holiness that was impossible for any man to attain. Surely the pastures of a foreign land would be greener than the ones he had called home.

The day he left was a day of great pain, yet relief of sorts for his mother, who had been subjected to his tirades and the unending questions by those who surely blamed her for the disgraceful direction his life had taken. Because the father was away herding sheep much of the time, he could not appreciate the depth of frustration and pain the mother had suffered as she watched her son pull away from them, day by day. Although the son’s decision to leave came as no surprise to her, the father was left stunned by his son’s insistence that he be given his share of the inheritance. It was clear that he had no intention of returning home—ever.

The older son, seething with resentment, had watched as his younger brother heaped insults and disrespect on his parents for months. He had been there to comfort his mother one time too many. For him, this day had not come too quickly. He was glad to see his brother go, although he couldn’t stand the fact that his father had given that undeserving wretch one cent of their inheritance!

In the days that followed, life slowly returned to normal for the father and older brother, but the mother’s broken heart seemed to hemorrhage within, draining her of all her energy and the desire to do anything. She fell into a deep depression, always wondering where her son was, how he was getting along, and fearing the worst. Her prayers, like her tears, flowed unceasingly.

The father, who had always gotten along well with him, couldn’t understand how the younger son had become so selfish and discontent. Yet, he was of age to be on his own. What choice had either parent except to let him go find himself in a distant land?

The younger son left the comfort, safety, and love of his family in search of happiness and independence. While he was away, he squandered his fortune in wild living, even spending part of his inheritance on prostitutes in an effort to satisfy his deep desire for love and fulfillment. Without the watchful eye and concern of his loving parents keeping tabs on him, he could do as he pleased, and he did. One day, though, when the money had run out and the only thing filling his stomach was hunger pain, he realized that he had acted foolishly. Homeless and desperate enough to eat the pods the pigs were being fed, he began to long for the comforts of home. Even his father’s servants lived better than he. They were clothed, fed, and sheltered by a loving master who appreciated and rewarded their good service to him. How could the son have been so foolish as to think he could make it without the love and support of his family?

As he lay out under the stars feeling smaller than the blades of grass beneath him, he looked toward heaven and began praying to the One who had watched over him through all his months of wandering. Deep in his heart he knew he had sinned. All the wine, women, and worldly goods that had consumed his inheritance failed to fill that empty place inside. His physical hunger was only symptomatic of a deeper spiritual hunger that had somehow been suppressed all these months. In the silence of that starry night, far from home, the son began confessing sin after sin. As the weight of his sins slipped from his shoulders, his heart became tender toward his heavenly Father and toward the earthly family he had left behind so many months before. He knew what he had to do.

As the sun dawned fresh upon a glistening meadow, he rose and turned toward home. Not knowing how he might be received, he resolved to go humbly to his father, ask his forgiveness, and settle for being received and treated as one of the hired servants. After several days’ travel, the son anxiously topped the hill overlooking his father’s sheep pasture just as the sun was beginning to set. His father, looking longingly toward the setting sun, saw a familiar silhouette on the horizon. Could it possibly be?

Inside their home the mother poured a pitcher of water drawn from a nearby well. As water splashed from the pail onto the table, the drops mixed with her tears. Would she ever see her son again? With each passing day her hope dimmed like the stars at sunrise. Yet she could never completely abandon the hope of seeing her son once more. As she stood there with her eyes closed, relishing memories of a sweet little boy’s laughter, she was aroused by the sound of music and laughter from outside the house. Curious, she went to the window and looked out, hardly believing what her eyes beheld.

Silhouetted in the glow of the sunset, with servants all around, stood the father and the prodigal in the clutches of a warm embrace. Suddenly the servants scurried in different directions, carrying out the father’s orders to kill the fattened calf, prepare a feast, and bring the ring and robe to make the son’s homecoming official.

As the older brother stood glaring in the shadows, the mother knew that the conflict was far from over. The younger son had returned home to find forgiveness, which she knew the older son would be reluctant to extend. Her prayers of thankfulness for the safe return of the lost son quickly turned to prayers for reconciliation and healing. For now, though, she would simply rejoice in the return of her son and her hope.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dirty Jobs

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." -- Galatians 6:9

"Dirty Jobs is a program on the Discovery Channel, in which host Mike Rowe is shown performing difficult, strange, disgusting, or messy occupational duties alongside the typical employees.  A worker or team of workers takes on Rowe as a fully-involved assistant for a typical work day, working hard to complete every task as best he can despite discomfort, hazards or repulsive situations" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_Jobs).  Some days that's the way parenting feels to me.  It's not necessarily a dirty job, but it is hands down the most difficult task I face each day.

Perhaps the thing that makes parenting so difficult and challenging is the sin that both children and parents struggle with as we attempt to help our kids grow into responsible adults despite the hurdles and hazards they face.  Parenting our children and training them "in the way they should go" (Proverbs 22:6) is the hardest thing we face most days, yet it is the highest calling we have as Christians.  Those of us who have been redeemed from our own sinful pasts realize that as our divine Parent, God undoubtedly suffered the same broken heart over us that we now suffer over our children because of their sinful choices and behaviors. 

I find it interesting that Galatians 6:9 is sandwiched between verses dealing with sowing to the sinful nature or to the Spirit, and doing good to all people.  Paul writes, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows.  The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers" (Galatians 6:7-10). 

Even if we have trained up our adolescent children according to God's principles from an early age, there is no guarantee they will grow into responsible adults without taking a few dangerous and potentially catastrophic detours along the way.  I certainly did, despite my Christian upbringing and my parents' best efforts to raise a good girl.  Had I known the heartbreak my sinful acts and attitudes would cause them and the devastating consequences I would suffer as a result, perhaps I might not have strayed so far from God or remained in my sin for so long.  Just as I'm sure my parents were, some days I am painfully aware that my best parenting is not good enough to keep my children from making mistakes or hurting themselves and others as a result of their sinful choices.  The best I can do is pray for them, lead by example, discipline them appropriately, and pray that the consequences of their choices will be painful enough to send them running home to the arms of their heavenly Father.  

As individuals who are "fully-involved" in the difficult job of parenting, let us pray for the grace and strength to continue doing good so that in due time we will reap the harvest of seeing our children turn back to the Lord, even when they are old.  Let us love and do good to our children, even when we don't feel they deserve it, because God did that for all his children.  If God so loved the world, including you and me, can we do any less for our children?  Let us also do good to those in the trenches with us by offering them encouragement as they struggle with these same issues.  After all, we are not the only parents on the planet.  There are many walking casualties in the spiritual battle for the souls of our children. 

"It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it."  God picked us, so we need to do the best we can for his glory and leave the results to him.  Remember that we parents, too, once walked in darkness, but God brought us into his marvelous light.  If we turned out well, why shouldn't we believe that our children will, too?