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.