Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 - Sticks and Stones

     When others insult you, ignore you, forget you, or work around you - turn around, face God and ask, "Is this true?  Am I invisible? Useless? Obsolete? Unlovable?"  Max Lucado writes:
"Others demote you. God claims you. Let the definitive voice of the universe say, 'You're still a part of my plan."  - The Numbers of Hope
     We make the terrible mistake of assuming other people are mostly wrong until they say (by word or action) something negative about us, never considering that their unkindness arises from their own insecurities or immaturity.  Instead, our own uncertainties and faults add weight to these "sticks and stones" and the unkindness embeds itself deeply into our hearts and minds, making forward movement difficult and Satan is satisfied.
     Trying to become more self-confident won't fix the problem since we've failed many times. Loving ourselves only takes us so far since we know how unlovable we can be. Shooting our mouths off in similar retorts or actions only reveals our insecurities and immaturity, leading to further hurt and adding guilt. So, how do we handle the demoters in our lives?  We don't.  We don't focus on them at all.
     Instead, we spend our time living for and listening to One opinion, One response, and only Two thumbs up.  We fill ourselves on the fullness of God until we're too full of His Love to take in the hurtful words of a "demoter."  We live to discover the "extravagant dimensions of Christ's love." (Ephesians 3:18 the Message)

"My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father Who parcels out all heaven and earth. 
I ask Him to strengthen you by His Spirit -- 
not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength -- 
that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite Him in.  
And I ask Him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love.  
Reach out and experience the breadth!  
     Test its length!  
          Plumb the depths!  
               Rise to the heights!  
                    Live full lives, full in the fullness of God!" 
Ephesians 3:14-19
     The best Christmas gift we can give ourselves this year will be to trade in the "sticks and stones' other people throw at us for the Solid Rock Who was born in the straw and died on a tree for us. We should pity the demoters and live for the One Who promotes Love and lives in us.  
Father, thank You for loving us with Your own, unconditional, unmatched Love.  We crave the Love You don't hold back.  You are perfectly kind and You draw us in and use us. Please, show us how to let You surround us and fill us so we have no room for sticks and stones.  May we accept Your Truth as we conform to Your image. Deflect all other opinions we have of ourselves as we lose ourselves in Your unfathomable Love. 
In the Name of Jesus Whose extravagant Love lives in us

Inspired by Live Loved, by Max Lucado

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011 - What A Best Friend Should Be

     Yesterday I substituted for a group of first graders I felt were socially mature for their ages. They worked beautifully together in the classroom and enjoyed discussing ideas and working with one another.  Everyone had the same rules, tools, assignments, and privileges so there was very little tattling or disharmony until we went to the playground and joined the rest of the first grade classes.  Suddenly two rubber kickballs resulted in a power struggle among a number of boys while groups of girls huddled to re-negotiate best friends for the day. 
     I remember the safety of having friends, and sometimes a best friend, on the playground.  I also remember the loneliness of a "bad day" when a best friend was sick or decided to play some stupid new game with another girl in our class, leaving me watching from a distance or lost and wandering around figuring out what to do.  
     Jesus never has to choose between friends so He alone could make the promise, 
"I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt. 28:20)  
He doesn't play favorites but still treats each of us as His best friend.  Where we move away, fail to stay in touch, forget special dates, don't make time to get together, let hurts cause distance between us, or drop the ball when we're most needed, Jesus sticks because we're grafted into Him.  
"Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches." John 15:5
He's the Friend Who died for us when our own sin condemned us. He's the Friend Whose example we should follow but never expect from anyone else. He's the Friend Who cannot be replaced by a thousand other friends.   
Lord Jesus, thank You for the privilege of friendship You give us.  Forgive us for allowing anything and everything to put distance between us. You put into our friendship so much more than I can or do. If you were like other friends, You might have given up on me long ago. Thank You for looking out for my needs and interests. Thank Your for the compassion You show me. Thank You for not throwing up Your Hands when I'm in a dark mood or just plain irritable.  What would we do without Your friendship? Thank You that we don't have to find out,
In Your own comforting Name I pray


Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011 - Perfect Gifts in Store

"I will praise the LORD at all times. 
I will constantly speak His praises.  
I will boast only in the LORD; 
let all who are discouraged take heart.
Come, let us tell of the LORD's greatness; 
let us exalt His Name together.
I prayed to the LORD, and He answered me, 
freeing me from all my fears." 
Psalm 34:1-4

     When I realized we would go shopping while we were in Branson with a group from our church, I called my mom to see what she wants for Christmas.  Mom would rather have something she wants than be surprised with something she doesn't, so it seemed wise to check first.  She knew exactly what she needed: a new robe, lightweight but long-sleeved that zips or buttons up the front.  Although this request sounded simple, I stepped off our bus asking God to put Mama's exact robe in place for me to find.
     The first store in line was Belk, one of Mom's favorite shopping spots, so I headed to the sleepwear department in full faith that God was working on my request.  I found two that fit her description - twice as many as I had asked for but with differences in fabric, length and color.  So, I called Mom to ask, mid-calf and mint green or ankle-length and light blue?
     "Aww, (She honestly said "Aww") when your daddy and I were dating, his mother called my mother to see what he could give me for Christmas and he gave me a mint green sweater and skirt set. I've been drawn to mint green ever since then."
     "Mint green it is, then," I said, replacing the other robe. It was then that I noticed the label in the collar: Miss Elaine, my mom's name.  No doubt, this was her robe.  I bounced  to the cashier in joy until I saw the price tag and heard that gosh-awful sound you hear on television shows when something goes terribly wrong: the sound of a record player being abused.  I turned to look for price cut signs on the "Miss Elaine" nightwear racks, but saw only space - empty, empty space.  
     "Fits her description, right size, sentimental color, is already personalized - what other evidence do you need that this is the exact robe God placed here for you to find??  Get it!! He'll take care of the budget some other way."  
     When the cashier said (without blinking), "That's twenty dollars and ninety-two cents," the small cloud that had blocked some of my sunshine evaporated and I think I heard God laugh.  
     "How much?" I asked, afraid she would change her mind. She repeated the price that was 75% less than the tag demanded.  When I told her I hadn't seen any sale signs she just shrugged and said, "That's the price it rings up for."  Well, hallelujah and thank You God!
     Sometimes I wonder about my own sanity: Why don't I pray constantly about everything when God keeps revealing how much He cares and works in exact ways?  Today, I share this story of God's perfect blessing to ask, "Why do we let our pride lead us to settle for what we can do when God has perfect gifts in store for those who ask?"  God heard my request and answered it within ten minutes just as clearly as if He had spoken or put up a neon arrow pointing to that mint-green robe.  If He's willing to take care of a Christmas gift for me and my mom, what other, greater things might He do through us if we ask?  Maybe we don't ask because we're afraid we might find out, and that discovery could change our lives.
Lord God, praises to You for loving me, hearing me, and answering me so exactly, so perfectly.  Thank You for gifts we don't deserve, for answers beyond our requests.  Thank You for speaking our language to help us understand Yours.  Lead us to ponder Your Love and Your Faithfulness and then to respond just as You want us to respond.  Shape our prayers to fit Your Will.  Mold our hearts to receive and pass on Your Love.  There is no one like You.  May we never settle for less than You want to do through us.
In the Name of Jesus, the Perfect Gift and the Giver of perfect gifts

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday, November 27, 2011 - Singing Parts vs. Shouting Opinions

"Live in harmony with each other.  Don't try to act important, but enjoy the company of ordinary people.  And don't think you know it all! . . . 
Do your part to live in peace with everyone, as much as possible." 
Romans 12:16 & 18

 "Mockers can get a whole town agitated, but those who are wise will calm anger." Proverbs 29:8

     Music can be therapeutic or traumatizing - depending on how, who, when, and even where.  Hearing your favorite Christmas carol sung by a death metal group - traumatizing. Hearing a generic version of "Happy Birthday" shouted to you in a crowded restaurant by a group of stressed servers who don't know you or your name - traumatizing. Oh, but a choir singing "Silent Night" in harmony and with heart or singing the "Hallelujah Chorus" with vigor - therapeutic and inspiring.  Listening to children singing "Away in a Manger"  or "Little Gray Donkey" melts the cold heart and warms the toes. 
     I wonder what the musical score would look like if some great musician could write the notes out for our home, our church, or our community. Would the notes be piled on top of each other until they were an indistinguishable blob on the page?  How many measures would beat along harmoniously until some sour note broke the spell?  How many screeching voices would drown out the the soothing ones?  With everyone claiming their right to "share" their opinions and criticisms, a pianist would have to scramble across the keyboard to play every note equally and forget any kind of melody or structure at all. 
     "Peace on earth" may begin with me keeping my mouth shut until my appointed time to sing or even keeping my opinion to myself - period.  My part may be small, but it adds to the overall effect.  You may or may not have a solo.  I may play in an ensemble. Either way, singing in harmony even poorly is more therapeutic than shouting because we have the right to shout. 
Lord God, forgive us for being consumed with spouting opinions when You've given us good works, great works to sing so the world can be healed. Use our voices for good, as testimonies of Your Power and salvation. May our lives demonstrate Your "Peace on Earth and Good Will to men."  Dissolve our personal agendas and wills into Your own, just as Jesus prayed You would do in His life.  
"Father, if You are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from Me. 
Yet I want Your will, not mine." 
Luke 22:42
We're entrenched in our bad habits of mouthing off instead of singing Your praises.  Heal us with Your mighty Power and lift our hearts to higher ground to share more than just our opinions, 
"And now, may the God of peace, 
Who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, 
equip you with all you need for doing His will.  
May He produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, all that is pleasing to Him." 
Hebrews 13:20-21
In the Name of Jesus Who spoke only the words You gave Him,
"The words I say are not my own, but my Father who lives in Me 
does His work through Me." 
John 14:10

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011 - "How to Love People FOR DUMMIES"

"So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks of them." 
2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT 

Walter is one nasty, grumpy, cussing old man.
    We watched part of a video of comedian Jeff Dunham using his talent for ventriloquism to create characters based on stereotypes. (Disclaimer: the bleeps were so numerous we stopped watching.) There was a crotchety old man named Walter, the Dead Terrorist Achmed, and a redneck named Bubba J.  Through the mouths of these "dummies" he said things he couldn't say without them, voiced unapologetic stereotypes and stated biases that would blackball him if it weren't for those little guys with their humorous faces.  
     We do the same thing with a different set of dummies. "Righteous indignation" handles all our grudges. "Spot Light" points out other people's sins to avert eyes from our own. "Reputation" labels people as "bad influences" to keep our families at a safe distance.       However, when Jesus said, "Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you," (Matthew 5:44), He tore these dummies away and exposed us as the voices behind these unloving, unkind, unChristlike attitudes and comments. 
     Father, You are Love and You embrace the least of these, including me. Who are we to think we're better? Forgive us when we label people as unworthy of our forgiveness, our time, our attention, our friendship, our compassion.  Help us minister without regard to age, color, creed, religion, appearance, or their response to our efforts.  When we're tempted to judge or label others, put a picture of our own hypocrisy before our eyes and bring us to our knees in repentance.  Speak Your healing, loving words to anyone who needs them through us today.  
In the Name of Jesus, Love in human form

"Love does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked."
1 Corinthians 13:5

"As we have opportunity, let us do good to all."
Galatians 6:10

"Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.'
1 John 4:7

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thursday, November 24, 2011 - Thanksgiving Blessing

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10

"I will wait quietly before God, for my hope is in Him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will never be shaken."
Psalm 62:1

May your list of blessings far exceed your list of requests today.
May you find a quiet hour to reflect on the God Who reigns.
May your day in every way celebrate how God has carried you through the year,
how His Presence is with you today,
and how He'll be with you through the winter ahead.
May thanksgiving and praise be on the menu 
and may you enjoy seconds and thirds!
Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 - Biggest Losers Are Smarter than Stones

Rock speakers: some stones
are smarter than others.
"Praise the LORD!
I will thank the LORD with all my heart as I meet with His godly people.
How amazing are the deeds of the LORD! 
All who delight in Him should ponder them.
Everything He does reveals His glory and majesty.
His righteousness never fails.
Who can forget the wonders He performs?
How gracious and merciful is our LORD!
He gives food to those who trust Him;
He always remembers His covenant. . . 

Reverence for the LORD is the foundation of true wisdom.
The rewards of wisdom come to all who obey Him.
Praise His name forever!"  Psalm 111:1-5, 10

I love the title of the show "The Biggest Loser" since the biggest loser is, in fact, the winner of not only losing the most weight, but of changed habits and a changed lifestyle.  I have a feeling God will award on a similar basis: 
He may have a series of  "Biggest Loser" awards for those who lost themselves in:
* thanksgiving to Him for every blessing;
* wonder at His works;
* reverence at His holiness;
* praise for His faithfulness;
* His unconditional and unfathomable love.
* giving back to Him and to others;
* His Word to learn, teach and preach God's Will;

This Thanksgiving I want to lose myself in Him, knowing I'll find what my heart desires.
Father, You taught us through Your Son that if we want to keep our lives we must lose them.  Strengthen us against self-preservation and free us from holding anything back from You.  You deserve our thanks for every good gift. You deserve our praise for Your faithfulness, daily protection and guidance. You deserve our reverence because You are the One True, Holy, Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent God.  We owe You our love and service and can never repay what You've poured out on us.  Forgive us when we let mealtime blessings - even longer than usual Thanksgiving blessings - suffice for a relationship with You. Draw us into loving Your Word more with every reading and draw us into Your sweet, healing Presence more with every prayer.  
In the Name of Jesus Who said,  "If they (My disciples) kept quiet, the stones would do it for them, shouting praise." (Luke 19:40) Make us smarter than stones, Lord.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday, November 22, 2011 - Losing Weight for the Holidays

"I have come to call sinners to turn from their sins, 
not to spend My time with those who think they are already good enough." 
Luke 5:32 

     We all have a few extra pounds we could lose to make the holidays more meaningful.  Dr. Luke passed along a prescription from the Great Physician that, if taken to heart, will prepare us to enjoy a lighter, brighter season.
     We need to:
1. Drop the gavels and stop judging others to lose the weight of being judged. 
"Stop judging others, and you will not be judged." Luke 6:37a

2. Throw the thought machine overboard that cranks out criticism to avoid the weight of its force as it comes back on us like a boomerang.
"Stop criticizing others, or it will all come back on you." Luke 6:37b

3. Let go of the grudges we carry so the freedom of forgiveness can rush through us. 
"If you forgive others, you will be forgiven." Luke 6:37c

4. Kiss those heavy masks of hypocrisy goodbye and loosen the logs in our own eyes.  
"How can you think of saying 'Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log from your own eye; then perhaps you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye." Luke 6:42

Father, we're obsessed with our physical weight when You look on our heavy hearts and see the obesity of sin. It seems the only exercise we get sometimes is pointing our fingers and flapping our jaws. Forgive us, Lord, and help us love sincerely, purely and with hearts freed from these old ways. Cleanse us from all that hurts You and that keeps us from being like You. Guide us to let go of burdens that weren't meant for us to carry. May we sacrifice judging, holding grudges, plotting revenge, and masks of hypocrisy in favor of resting in Your God-ness and Goodness.  
In the Name of Jesus Who called us to
"Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light." Matthew 11:29

Monday, November 21, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011 - Dreams, Green Shoes and Toilet Paper

"O LORD, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. 
You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my every thought when far away.  . . Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! 
Your workmanship is marvelous--and how well I know it!""
Psalm 139:1-2, and 14    

      God connected two big dots in my spiritual life this morning: my eerily prophetic dreams and the book "When God Winks at You."   
     Before you think I'm getting all weird on you, let me explain about the dreams.  A friend asked me several years ago "Do you think God speaks prophetically to us through dreams?"  This uncharted, unpredictable type of spiritual discussion makes me nervous, so I gave her a knee-jerk, fear-based reaction, babbling something to the effect of "dreams just tell us what's bothering us below the surface."  God heard me and asked, "Really?"
     That night began several years of dreaming things that would come true the next day. The first time it happened during a visit with Tom's parents in Florida.  I had forgotten my raggedy sandals and dreamed I was shoe shopping with Tom's mom. After she followed me through the shoe department, I turned to say, "Let's go," when we both saw a pair of green shoes between us.  She laughed and asked me, "Do you want me to buy those for you? I will if you'll wear them!" 
     If I had remembered the dream the next morning it would've fit my explanation of a dream: I forgot my sandals, needed some new ones, and Tom's mom and I often shop together.  Nothing weird about that, except for the "green" part.  However, I forgot the dream until later that day when she and I went to buy a few groceries. Next to the supermarket was a department store and I asked, "Do you mind if I check in here for a pair of sandals since I forgot mine?"  She said, "I'll go with you."  We wandered through the shoe department, but I didn't see anything I liked and turned to tell her, "Let's go" when we spotted between us a pair of green sandals and, you guessed it, she laughed and said, "Do you want me to buy those for you? I will if you'll wear them!" 
     The dream flooded back and haunted me the rest of the day.  In a daze I kept asking, "Why?" and "What does it mean?"  And so began a stream of dreams similarly filled with odd situations, useless information, and specific details I couldn't have predicted (green shoes??).  This "gift" scared me until I realized, it wasn't a gift but God's gentle reprimand not to tell people what He does and doesn't do: "Don't tell people I don't speak through dreams because I can and do if I choose to teach personal lessons that way."
     Now for the second dot: Each night before we go to bed we read a "Godwink testimony" from the book "When God Winks at You."  My first stop this morning was the bathroom where there was no tissue on any of the three holders.  That's when last night's  dream hit me: Nick called from the bathroom to ask me, "Do we have any more toilet paper?"  and I said "yes" and hunted some down.  God smiled and winked at me: "I know where you are and I know the most intimate details of your life, the deepest secret thoughts in your head, the deepest fears of your heart, your comings and goings, and when you need to replace the bathroom tissue."  A warm feeling bubbled up in my soul and burst into laughter because God is with me, He cares, and He speaks through whatever He chooses, from dreams and green shoes to toilet paper. 
     God Almighty, Omnipotent Father, thank You for Your constant Presence and interaction with us. Open our eyes to see You working and our ears to hear You speaking.
Keep us from making any assumptions about how You work or communicate.  Free us to hear You, to respond in love and to obey every leading. May we allow Your Presence to be our comfort as we learn to be comfortable in Your constant Presence. 
In the Name of Jesus Who lives as one with You and calls us to do the same

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011 - A Vast Difference

"If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us."
 1 John 1:8

    How can we protect our children from falling away from a life of faith? We teach them the vast differences between us and God. 

*Humans fail, but God never fails.  
"Her (Jerusalem's) prophets are arrogant; they are treacherous men. 
Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law. 
The LORD within her is righteous;
He does no wrong.
Morning by morning He dispenses His justice, 
and every new day He does not fail,
 yet the unrighteous know no shame."
Zephaniah 3:4-5

*Parents, even Christian parents, make serious mistakes, but 
God works perfectly in us without a hitch or glitch.  
"Even if my father and mother abandon me, the LORD will hold me close." 
Psalm 27:10   

*Friends break promises, but God faithfully keeps His covenant with His people. 
"a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which  God, Who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,"
Titus 1:2

*Church members take their frustrations out on other people through moodiness, distance and general grumpiness, but             
God is Love, never changes, never leaves or forsakes us, and keeps an open-Arm policy. 
"Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." 1 John 4:8
"I the LORD do not change." Malachi 3:6
"God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." Hebrews 13:5
"Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." Hebrews 13:8 

*Christians have been known to hold longtime grudges, but 
God forgives each time we ask. 
"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just 
and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 
1 John 1:9

*People only half-live due to secret sin and private issues, 
but God shines His Light in our darkness and brings healing and wholeness. 
"But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought peace was upon Him, 
and by His wounds we are healed."
Isaiah 53:5

*Humans exalt themselves and other people only to end up constantly disappointed,

when Jesus humbled Himself and proved worthy of our complete and constant devotion.
"Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who being in the very nature God,
 did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, 
being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, 
He humbled Himself and became obedient to death -- even death on a cross!" 
Philippians 2:6-8

*Some leaders prove to be wolves in sheep's clothing who mangle and steal life, 
but Jesus, the Lamb of God, gives us abundant life in Him for eternity. 
"Watch out for false prophets. 
They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." 
Matthew 7:15 
"Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."
Ephesians 5:6-7
"Then next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, 
'Look, the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world!'"
John 1:29

*Believers need accountability and fellowship to stay in God's Will; 
God stands alone as good and challenges us to test, try and prove His goodness. 
"From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work."
Ephesians  4:16
"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house. 
Test Me in this,' says the LORD Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'"
Malachi 3:10

     These vast differences mean we can't put anyone on a pedestal for our children to follow. Our job is to lead them to test, try and prove for themselves that God alone deserves their trust.  As our children grow in their faith we need to avoid handing them our quick answers in favor of praying with them for God's answers. This same principle applies to all our spiritual relationships because each time we pray with someone we take them into the Presence of the God Who stands ready to help them. When we stop short of God's Presence to offer someone our own opinions, answers or comfort, we deprive them of a personal faith-building experience. If we're not careful, we allow them to confuse our words with His Word.  As an added blessing, allowing God to have that pedestal all to Himself frees us to live honestly and openly as imperfect humans working alongside other imperfect humans to perfect our faith in the only perfect One.  
Lord, forgive us for wanting and giving the easiest way, the quickest answers, and the shortest shortcuts. There are no magic pills or perfect people to follow and we miss blessing after blessing when we try to put anyone but You on a pedestal. Guide us to trust You enough to help other people trust You.  Stop us from secretly thinking we have to help You fulfill Your promises or uphold Your character, but open our mouths to testify to all the ways You've fulfilled Your promises in our lives. Keep us from being stumbling blocks to anyone's vision of You or relationship with You.
In the Name of Jesus, the only One Who ever lived a perfect life on this earth! 

Inspired by Live Loved, by Max Lucado

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - Wrap, Don't Warp

"The world of the generous gets larger and larger."
Proverbs 11:24 (the Message) 
    One day last week Nick said he thought it would be cool to be able to "warp" from place to place, from era to era.  It took me two seconds to see how we would ruin our lives with such a "gift."  Relationships would evaporate completely as we warped past each other and never stayed in one place long enough to build one. Who would stay put and keep the home fires going? Where and when would home be?  Where would we go to get wrapped in love, joy and peace? 
     We've already warped our lives and relationships to the point many people feel isolated and lonely on a daily basis and those feelings are keener during the holidays when we all dream of Norman Rockwell Thanksgivings and Thomas Kincaid Christmases.  If you're one of these people, feeling out of touch, out of the loop, and out of sorts, you're not alone.  Each of us feels it to some degree for different reasons, different losses, different choices, different distances.  It reminds me of when I learned that everyone in a crowded room felt the same way I did: shy and hesitant to initiate conversations, yet we quickly judged each other as unfriendly or "snobby."  
     God designed us so that when we wrap other people into our lives, our own fire grows a little brighter, our own loneliness eases.  Christ calls us to take the initiative and open our doors and hearths to each other, to be hospitable and loving.  I foresee a toasty Thanksgiving and a very Merry Christmas for believers who stop wishing they could warp here or there to make plenty of room at their tables, in their hearts and around their hearths this year.
Father, may we not plan picture perfect holidays that leave out the very Spirit that we celebrate. May we be conscious of people around us who hurt with fresh losses and holidays without someone, holidays away from family or in new places.  Use us to minister through hospitality to whomever You lead. May we be Christlike and loving, kind and giving, receptive and unselfish.  Thank You for using us to help others survive and thrive during the holidays.

In the Name of Your Son Who invites even me to heaven's table 

"Every day they continued to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."  
Acts 2: 46-47 (NIV)

Inspired by Live Loved, by Max Lucado

Monday, November 14, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011 - Body and Soul

"Use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God." 
Romans 6:13

"Just because something is technically legal doesn't mean that it's spiritually appropriate.  
If I went around doing whatever I thought I could get by with, I'd be a slave to my whims.  
You know the old saying, "First you eat to live, and then you live to eat?"  
Well, it may be true that the body is only a temporary thing, but that's no excuse for stuffing your body with food, or indulging it with sex. 
Since the Master honors you with a body, honor Him with your body."
1 Corinthians 6:12-13 (The Message)

     Satan can no longer touch the soul of a believer, but he's bound and determined to steal our witness. In the passages above, Paul deals with sensual sins IN the churches he wrote. Later in 1 Corinthians 6, the Apostle warns us not to be fooled into thinking that because our souls are safe, we can do whatever we want with or to our bodies and get away with it. 
    He uses every sensual or tasty temptation imaginable to draw us into some form of addiction: the taste of food; the rush that comes with sexual images or the next conquest; the drugged or drunken feeling of well-being; the adrenaline and energy from anger; and the list goes on and becomes more personalized for each of us.  If our habits and strongholds, our "personality quirks" and addictions keep people from seeing the power of God, they move on in their search for the life-changing power they need to break the strongholds and addictions in their own lives. Does that mean they want to see airbrushed, photo-shopped Christians? Just the opposite. They need to know we struggle with all the same temptations and addictions, but that we don't struggle alone. They need the same hope and help from the same God Who has already freed us from the greatest threat to our bodies: death. He didn't free us to watch us enslave ourselves to self-destructive habits. He freed us to live in peace, love and joy. (Galatians 5:22)
"To be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace." 
Romans 8:6

   Lord, forgive us for allowing anything into our lives that battles with You for power in us. We've already declared You "Lord," but then we open the door to other "lords."  We want You alone to rule us. You alone are the Mighty God Who has freed us and continues to work in us in Love.  Take away our appetites for self-destructive habits. Live through us so others see You working. May they take hope and know there's a God Who loves them and doesn't use or abuse them.
In the Name of Jesus, Lord over death and Lord Who said "Go and sin no more."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011 - Shoe Boxes

"God comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. 
When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us."  2 Corinthians 1:4

"I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, 
that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth."
Isaiah 49:6

"Truly, as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the LORD." 
Numbers 14:21

     Today represents a day to cross cultural lines, to send a little light into another country on another continent where spiritual Light can be as scarce as water. Today, in many churches is Shoebox day, the day we bring a shoebox full of gifts for children who may understand why or know Who Christ is. We'll see those gifts piled on the stairs by the altar and know we're reaching out into the world with "this little light of mine."  
     Due to the high price of traveling, I don't get out of the country much. I've been out of the country four times, twice as a friend's guest and twice as a gift from my parents. One of these trips was an official "missions" trip but, because I've been commissioned by God to "Go, Tell," they were all missions trips. In fact, because God made us lights for the dark world, a trip to the grocery store and a stay in the hospital are mission trips for believers.  Discussions at the water cooler, with the mechanic or the doctor, with our children's teachers, all represent opportunities to let our lights shine and draw people to the One Who loves them best and can given them true, lasting, meaningful Life. We can be "Christmas in a shoebox" for anyone we meet on any given day if we take off the cover and let Him shine.  

Father-God, You've given us all the gifts we need and all the Light we need to share.  What's our problem about sharing what You've given us? Help us overcome all the shyness, the fear, the pride, and the selfishness to give away what You continue to pour into our lives: Light and Love.  Make us someone's "Christmas shoebox" today. Use us to bless someone with the knowledge of how much You love them.
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ in Christmas, the Christ in Christians who let You shine

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Saturday, November 12, 2011 (Happy Birthday, Crystie!) Open Arms

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. 
He who believes in Me will live, even though He dies; 
and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do  you believe this?"  
John 11:25-26
"Whoever acknowledges Me before men, 
I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven."
Matthew 10:32
"Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it." 
Matthew 10:39
      Have you ever been invited to something because you accidentally overheard the hostess inviting someone else? Awkward! The hostess looks up surprised and splutters "Oh, you come TOO!" but no matter how much she insists, you know you weren't on the original guest list.  You graciously mention other plans and, as much as the poor hostess tries to cover it, relief relaxes her face. She was already mentally addressing the changes she would be forced to make to accommodate you if you had accepted.  
     God graciously included us on His original guest list when He said, "Whoever." It's a sincerely open invitation, yet our name cards are already in place at His table. He won't have to add another cup of water to the soup or be forced to pull out the broken chair or cram in an odd dish with the matching set because He wasn't expecting us. His Heart longs for us to believe, turn around and accept His invitation above all the others in the stack. His Arms ache to hold us which results in a breathtaking response when we accept: we realize we're home in the Arms of the Father-God Who loves us as angels rejoice in His Presence. 
"In the same way, I tell you, 
there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
 Luke 15:10
 Father, Grace Personified, thank You for inviting me into Your Arms opened wide with Love when You said "Whoever."   Thank You for opening Your feast of blessings to include me.  Thank You that angels rejoiced when I accepted Your invitation and, Lord, help me never misunderstand my place at Your table as something I earned. Keep me from blurring or obscuring Your invitation, but to make it clear that all are welcome, all are loved, all are accepted.
In the Name of Jesus Who told us angels rejoice when we accept Your invitation

Inspired by Live Loved, by Max Lucado

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011 (11/11/11) Thank You, God! Thank you, Veterans!

     Before I got out of bed this morning, Tom asked me out for a lunch date. I'm blessed to still get lunch dates after 29 years and I'm thankful for my husband who treats me with respect and love. He's stuck with me when I've been as lovable and lovely as that grumpy Maxine on the Shoebox greeting cards.  He's a godly man, a loving husband and the greatest dad for our two kids.     Then I saw the beautiful faces of our children: Julie and Nick, ten years apart but so much closer by heart. Julie practiced becoming a mother on her then "little" brother. During the last year Nick transformed from pre-teen into young man somewhere along the way. Just compare the photo to the right from two weeks ago to the one below of him last year when we visited  Hot Springs
for the first time.    
     One year ago we had just moved to a rent house for the first two weeks of our new life and ministry in Benton.  From Alabama to Arkansas, from the Gulf coast to Little Rock; from the battle between the Crimson Tide and War Eagle to a state where Razorbacks rule; from temperate two seasons to the variety and color of four; from being long-time staff members to being the new kids on the block along with hundreds of transitions and changes we couldn't have begun to predict.

     And here are our other Nick and our Addy, two people God grafted in and grew out of our family who bring joy and love in new dimensions, who represent some of the most important answered prayers in our lives.  I knew from what everyone said that one day we'd make fools of ourselves over grandchildren and we'd think ours are the most amazing beings on the planet  - which she is but God keeps surprising me by pouring out blessings through that son-in-love of ours. We're crazy about him as a person,  a friend, as our daughter's husband, as our son-in-law, as our Nick's brother-in-law, and now as Addy's daddy.  
     We're beyond grateful to have our parents - all four of them, to lean on and draw strength from, to enjoy and appreciate more all the time.  We're thankful for siblings who are a phone call or text away. We're thankful for those closest to us - our families, but today we realize we live out our lives and fulfill God's purposes for us on a backdrop of freedom provided by men and women we've never met.  We enjoy spiritual blessings without the imposition of political or government regulation, thanks to people who've stood between power hungry dictators and our borders.  All the sweet, simple blessings God pours out are sweeter because someone said "No" to tyranny.  God has blessed our family in the the beauty and freedom of the United States. Thank You, God, and thank you, courageous Veterans of the Armed Forces.