Always is Never Impossible

Galatians 6:9-10 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we shall reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those who belong to the family of believers.

A little over a year ago, I rescued a little black dog. Brady is part schnauzer, part terrier and part rebel. While cute, Brady seems to have almost no capacity to do what I want him to do and a huge capacity for doing what he wants. Take the couch for example. I must tell him "off" a hundred times in an average day, yet he still comes back to the couch the next day to determine if he can put his paws on it. Long after he's gone I will remember Brady as the dog who made me believe child training was easy by comparison.

This morning my reading is Acts 9:22-43. After receiving death threats in Damascus, Saul has returned to Jerusalem. He receives a rather chilly reception from the believers there. Barnabus, whose name aptly means Son of Encouragement, intervenes by introducing Saul to the apostles. After a period of ministry in Jerusalem, Saul again receives death threats and returns to his hometown of Tarsus (Verses 22-30).

Next, Luke turns his focus toward Peter and his ministry in a small town outside of Jerusalem called Lydda. Here, Peter heals a man who'd been paralyzed for eight years (Verses 32-35). So, when a much beloved follower in a neighboring town passed away, the disciples asked Peter to come. Peter brings this dear lady, Tabitha, back to life to the delight and joy of all who know her. Any time that a woman is highlighted in scripture my interest is peaked and today I am definitely challenged by this woman of great faith. I see distinct qualities in her life, that I desperately want in mine:
  • Consistency (Verse 36) - "There was a disciple named Tabitha, who was always doing good and helping the poor." What a tribute. If Luke were describing me, he might say, "Shannon is sometimes a great mom", or "She somewhat thinks of others." I truthfully cannot imagine anyone who knows me well using the word always connected with any positive behavior I might exhibit. My heart yearns to follow Jesus like Tabitha, so that His attributes are so woven into the fabric of who I am that it appears to those who know me best that I "always" demonstrate them.
  • A Legacy Builder (Verse 39) - "All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Tabitha had made while she was with them. Tabitha's character and behavior were knit together in such a way, that she had left a legitimate earmark on those who knew her. If I were to exit this life today, what thumbprints would I leave behind? Would I leave more than just my DNA in my children? What could be shown at my deathbed as evidence of what God called me to do while I walked this earth? Whatever those things are, today is the day to begin leaving an indelible mark on my children, family and friends.

Today, Dear Jesus, I will intentionally build my character and relationship with You. My aim will be consistency in whatever you ask me to do or be. I don't want to be a sometimes, somewhat disciple but instead an every day, always follower of Christ.

Faith With Flesh on it

For almost the first two decades I was a Christian, my life remained almost entirely unchanged. I tried to do the right things, went to church, served my family and community and was the best wife and mother I knew how to be. Yet, I knew deep in my heart, that I had not experienced the fundamental transformation depicted in the Bible. That was until I met a woman who encompassed all that I longed for my life to be. Her marriage was a picture of Christ and the Church. Her home was a haven of compassion, love and kindness. Her children were everything anyone could hope for in their kids because they loved Jesus even more than their parents. The cool thing was she hadn't always been that girl. Just ten years prior, none of these things were a reality in her life. For me, she was Jesus with flesh on and I knew I could follow her into the life of which I had dreamed.

Today my reading is Acts 9:1-21. Saul, who supervised Stephen's death remains focused on destroying the early church. To further his cause, he gains permission from the synagogue authorities in Jerusalem to travel to Damascus. His goal is to arrest as many followers as possible and bring them back to Jerusalem. With murderous threats still on the forefront of his tongue, Saul receives a surprise visitor while he travels. Jesus appears in a blinding light and asks Saul why he's persecuting him. Even Saul, soon to be the apostle Paul, is speechless at the sight and sound of Jesus. Turns out he's blinded too but in the midst of his blindness, he finds belief. (Verses 1-9)

The Lord then appears to a faithful follower named Ananias and instructs him to go to the house where Saul is staying, lay hands on him, and heal his blindness (Verses 10-12). Talk about drawing the short straw. This definitely falls under the category of things I'd rather get a root canal than. Before him, was laid out a God-sized task. Ananias, much more politely than I might have, attempts to tell God why this is a very bad idea (Verses 13-14). Obviously not dissuaded, the Lord reconfirms Ananias' call to this task.

Ananias does exactly what is asked of him. If fact, he does it in a spirit of complete humility and willingness. If I had been called to heal the man who days before was murdering my friends and fellow believers, I might have been tempted to just breeze through the house, mumble a greeting while I half-heartedly healed him and then got the heck out of Dodge. When Ananias greets Saul, he calls him Brother. This is faith with flesh on it.

Saul is radically changed and immediately begins to preach in the synagogue that Jesus is the Son of God (Verse 20). I have no question about Jesus' power to change, but I would not discount the impact of Ananias' example in Saul's life. God knew exactly who to send to Saul. He knew the first thing Saul needed to see after his stint with blindness was a life filled with all the power and all the humility of Christ. Later Saul (Paul) would write, "Your attitude should be that same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in 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 2:5-8) As Paul penned those words, I'd be willing to bet Ananias' face was intertwined with the face of Christ.

I know the question Jesus is asking me today. Am I willing to be faith with flesh on for someone else? Am I willing to be humble enough to vulnerably share my struggles and victories with others? Am I willing to give this day over to leading a woman who's even one step behind me to the place where I am with Jesus today? You might as well start calling me Shananias because I'm saying yes!

Let's Give 'Em Somethin' to Talk About

Acts 5:42 Day after day, in the temple courts and house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

On days when Clara and Carynne have preschool, one of my favorite treats is to relax at Starbucks and read my Bible, a Bible study or another Christian book. Starbucks is a cross-section of the relatively affluent, suburban world. It is a meeting place for business people, friends and even family. Starbucks holds a special place in my heart because it is this locale that has generated a multitude of opportunities to talk to regular people about what I'm reading and why. Now that's worth the cost of an overpriced cup of coffee!

This morning I am reading Acts 8:26-40. In this relatively short passage, Luke details a God-ordained encounter that the apostle Philip has with a high-ranking official from Ethiopia. A man of dedication, he had traveled all the way from his homeland to worship in Jersusalem. This might not seem too extraordinary until you realize that he was a eunuch. A castrated male would not even be allowed to enter the temple, let alone worship there. He made this incredibly long journey just to be near the temple and yet not enter it.

An angel appears to Philip and instructs him to go to the road this man would be traveling. The Spirit directs him to the eunuch's chariot and a life-changing conversation ensues. No longer does this man just have to be in the proximity of God, he can have a intimate relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ. There is no physical limitation that will prevent Jesus from entering his heart. That is indeed good news!

While I may not personally get face time with the heavenly hosts, God has called me, along with every believer, to share the gospel with my fellow travelers on the road of life. Whether its a coffee drinker, a neighbor or a preschool mom, we all really thirst for the same thing - Jesus. Today, I'm serving up my venti-sized, extra-pumped, extra-shot Jesus. That's even way better than Starbucks!

Scattered to Gather

Matthew 9:37-38 Then he (Jesus) said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."

It's been decades since I've lived in a house with trees that drop their leaves in the fall. As I face another scorching hot Southern day, I look out into my backyard which is a virtual canopy of deciduous trees. I am looking forward to breathing the crisp air as I pile up the leaves and then leap into the pile. This is one of many pleasures in life best shared with a friend so I can't wait to introduce this ritual to my kids come autumn. It seems illogical to spend all that work gathering the leaves only to scatter them across the yard again. Once you've experienced it for yourself though, you actually begin to enjoy the labor of scattered leaves.

Today my reading is Acts 8:1-25. Stephen has just become the first martyr in church history. His friends are still mourning his death, when the entire church becomes the target of great persecution. Saul is leading the charge going from house to house and dragging off suspected Christians to imprison them. I picture myself in a cold, dark prison cell praying my fate is only a beating and not a cruel death. Throughout the hours of the night, my thoughts linger on my kids. I realize that I didn't get to say goodbye to my children and tell them one last time how very loved they are.

Followers are also scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. I number myself among those running for their lives. I am aiming for an obscure town in Samaria. What would I do when I arrived? How would I survive without the network of believers supporting me? Would these people so different from me help or hurt me? According to Verse 4, those who were dispersed "preached the word wherever they went".

I conjure up in my mind the groups of people from whom I feel the most different. These range from those living in government projects to the homeless. They have various cultural backgrounds and skin colors. Some speak broken English if any at all. What would I do if I had to run for my life and found myself among any of them? Philip found himself unexpectedly in just such a place, Samaria (Verse 5). I'm certain this turn of events wasn't in his life plan yet when he arrived he just continued being faithful to his calling and preached the gospel to everyone he encountered. He healed the sick and made well the cripple, just as he had in Jerusalem (Verse 7). Many believed the truth about Jesus and were baptized.

When this news reached Jerusalem, Peter and John traveled to the town to lay their hands on the people themselves so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Most scholars believe this was so that what happened at Pentecost for the Jewish believers would be duplicated for the Samaritans. Their long-time nemeses had just become their brothers and there was no effort to which they wouldn't go to ensure they felt totally accepted into the brotherhood.

What about you, Shannon? When you see someone at church who's "different" from you, how much effort do you make to ensure that person feels equal in Christ with you? Do you go out of your way to notice the poor, lonely or distressed? What would you be willing to sacrifice so that just one of them might know Jesus?

Today, Jesus, I know the greatest desire of Your heart is to gather Your people back to You. This day, I will look beyond the exterior of skin color or socio-economic status and see people's hearts. I will give them the very best I have to give - You. I will scatter myself wherever You send in order that You might gather those who are Yours.

Take Two Aspirin and Call Your Heart Surgeon...Right Now

John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

There are moments in which you know with certainty your life has changed forever. I experienced that sensation each time I held one of my newborn daughters. The minute I looked down into their sweet faces my heart was slayed with an indescribable love. Instantaneously, I knew why parents stand at the side of murderous children. I understood why parents pray for a prodigal child for decades without any loss of resolve. I comprehended why parents can so easily forgive their children the most egregious of offenses. When your heart has been pierced with that kind of love, your heart toward that person is forever changed.

Today I reading Acts 7:44-60, the gripping conclusion to Stephen's moving sermon. He has demonstrated with great clarity why Israel and all mankind needed a Messiah to rescue us from religion and forge a path toward relationship with God. His audience is so enraged at his words they gnash their teeth at him. Stephen is immovable in his witness and testifies to the living Christ standing at the right hang of God (Verse 56). Now infuriated, they drag him out of the city and kill him. As Stephen draws his last breath, he looks to heaven and cries out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them."

Stephen's heart was full of supernatural love. While it may come natural to love one's children like that, it is extraordinarily unnatural to love people in general like that. Yet Jesus Himself tells us that it is supernatural love that sets His people apart as genuine Christians (John 13:35). In his sermon, Stephen describes the Jewish people as "people with uncircumcised hearts". When God established his covenant with Abraham and promised to make a nation from his family, He gave Abraham the custom of circumcision as a symbol of this covenant. By cutting off the foreskin, one marked their son as belonging to the nation of Israel.

Circumcision was only an outward symbol of belonging. To truly belong to a family, one's heart must be circumcised. When I allow God to surgically remove all the thoughts and attitudes that no longer have a place in my saved heart, He can then replace it with an abundance of His love. It is only through allowing God to cut my heart, that it can ever be made whole, healthy and vital.

Jesus, I want to love people according to Stephen's example. You are the Master Surgeon. I give my heart to you today. Circumcise my heart and return to me only the pieces that reflect You. Today, I will allow Your supernatural love to flow through me to Your people. I will smile at the grumpy, wave at the cold, speak to the unfriendly and most importantly forgive the uncircumcised.

Do You Know Who You Really Are?

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light.

"I'm Carynnie", our three year old announces to anyone she meets. We named her Carynne (pronounced Kuh-Rin) with the intention of calling her Rynne or Rynnie. She obviously did not receive the memo because as soon as she could talk, she derived her own name. No amount of correcting or cajoling will change her mind because she is certain of who she is.

This morning, I am reading Acts 7:22-43. Stephen begins his sermon with a Jewish history lesson. He is building up a case for the long-awaited Messiah's arrival one character at a time. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (Verses 2-19) start the line-up and then we are introduced to Moses. Moses is indisputably one of the greatest leaders in history. Stephen describes him as "powerful in speech and action" (Verse 22). This is a sharp contrast to how Moses characterized himself. Exodus 3-4:17 gives the account of God calling Moses to leadership out of the fiery bush. Moses provides a litany of excuses why he is not the guy for this job. "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10)"

God declared Moses to be powerful in speech while Moses portrayed himself as slow of speech and tongue. Those are two starkly different pictures. Do I know who God really created me to be? Do I acknowledge the gifts he has given me and actively pursue using them for His glory? Moses went so far as to twist God's gifts into deficiencies. Honestly, I tend to deflect heart-felt encouragement from others concerning the gifts God has given me. At times, this is out of a genuine humility and desire for God alone to receive the glory. At other times though, this is because I am fearful and don't want to take that next step God has mapped out for me. Staying where I am seems a much smoother road than chartering the rocky terrain that awaits.

Shannon, if you knew who you really were and could see yourself from My perfect perspective, you would never second-guess your gifts. Jesus stirs my heart today towards confidence. He wants me to be totally confident in what He calls me to each day and confident in Him that He's already equipped me to traverse that terrain. Shannon, do you really know who you are? You are the daughter of the Most High, a princess chosen by the King of the Kings and my very own sister. Today, Precious Jesus, I will choose to confidently see myself through Your eyes and acknowlege the gifts you've graciously granted.

The Jury is No Longer in Session

Luke 6:45 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

"This is horrifizing!", I heard Clara (4) tell her imaginary friend on her way up to her room. I was on trial for asking Clara to go clean up her room with Clara serving as chief prosecutor and her imaginary friends sitting as judge and jury. I'm fairly certain they threw the book at me. She had no idea I was overhearing her most private thoughts as she walked upstairs. Her comment revealed that she was obeying on the outside but on the inside she really didn't want to. There are times in my life as well when I obey on the outside but on the inside my heart is rebellious. It is probably just as apparent to those around me. Jesus, the cry of my heart today is to be totally authentic. I don't ever want to pretend or wear a faker's mask. Teach me today how to be sincere in action and thought.

Today's reading is Acts 7:1-21. Yesterday, in Chapter 6, Stephen was chosen as one of the men to oversee the distribution of food to the widows supported by the church (Acts 6:5). He was full of God's grace and power and was able to perform miracles (Acts 6:8). Opposers arose against Stephen and argued with him. When that didn't work, they produced dishonest men who would lie and accuse Stephen falsely (Acts 6:8-14).

Had I been Stephen, I would have been disturbed perhaps even indignant over the false accusation. Just yesterday, someone similarly wronged my husband and my heart was filled with hurt and anger. Stephen, however, was not filled with hurt and anger but love and peace. This showed up on the outside. "All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel. (Verse 15). His faced glowed with the joy and righteousness he had on the inside. Out of love for God's people and a dedication to his calling, he returned their hatred with forgiveness. He answers their accusations with a stirring sermon, which is recorded in Chapter 7 of Acts.

This morning Jesus is whispering into my heart that while it may seem difficult to change my actions, the real locale that needs to change is my heart. God wants to continue to change my heart toward people. If my heart is changed, my actions will be love and grace. Jesus, please help me to stop holding court in my heart. I am not the judge of other's behaviors and actions. I have only one right - the right to love others abundantly and completely as You have loved me. Today I will exercise that right.

Action Overcomes Distraction

Hebrews 12:1b Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

I am by nature a stream of consciousness thinker, talker and doer which means that one thought, phrase or action flows into the next seamlessly in my mind even though they may be completely unrelated. When I entered adulthood and assumed the responsibility for cleaning my little apartment, this became very apparent to me. A typical day of cleaning for me might have gone something like this. I would begin a task such as vacuuming only to vacuum into the corner where I saw some dust on the baseboard. I would abandon vacuuming in favor of dusting the baseboards only to round a corner and see a spot on the tile. I would begin to mop the kitchen floor only to notice some dishes on the counter that needed to be washed... You can imagine my cleaning routine was not very effective because I never finished projects, only started them.

This morning I am reading Acts 6. This chapter opens with Jewish Christians of Greek origin complaining to that their widows were not receiving food during the daily distribution (Verse 1). This no doubt was a very real issue. Churches and groups of Christians gathered in any setting today also have genuine concerns that arise. Additionally, problems arise frequently in Christian families. How can I keep an issue from turning into a distraction used by Satan to derail Christian fellowship, unity and effectiveness?
  • Stay Focused on My Calling (Verse 2) - When this complaint made its way up the chain of command and was finally heard by the apostles, they responded by affirming their dedication to the call to teach the Word. When interruptions come my way, I too need to stay focused on what God has called me to do. This will require that I...
  • Find an Immediate Solution (Verse 3) - The apostles acted quickly by suggesting an answer to the problem. They proposed delegating the overseeing of food distribution to seven men who are "full of the Spirit and wisdom". This met with the enthusiastic approval of those gathered (Verse 5). When facing a potential challenge, I need to rely on God's wisdom and act quickly before the challenge becomes a distraction.

The apostles refused to be drawn away from God's purpose for their lives. As a result, "the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith." (Verse 7) Personally, I'd settle for just positively impacting the lives of my husband and four kids today, getting some laundry done, getting my workout in and managing to keep my home straight. This will require me to have the same level of resolve and commitment to my calling in my life as the apostles had in theirs.

This day will most likely be a typical day for a busy wife and mother of four. I will face many potential distractions. Sweet Jesus, today I will remain focused on Your calling in my life and act with immediate solutions to prevent issues from mushrooming into distractions.

Just Say Yes...God Does the Rest

Isaiah 30:21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it."

In my opinion, there are some movies that should be part of every person's basic education. Schindler's List is one of those. The film centers around an entrepreneur, Oskar Schindler, who is a German and a member of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis). Schindler relocates to Poland to earn a small fortune off the production of war materials. He staffs his factory with Jews because they are the cheapest labor as the law requires no payment of wages to them. Over the course of the war, his heart toward these people changes and possessing a deep desire to see none of them tortured and killed, he spends his entire fortune saving their lives from the fate of death in the concentration camps. Oskar Schindler is just an ordinary man. One who neither professed faith or even necessarily morality, yet is a shining example of how God works through people to accomplish good.

This morning I am reading Acts 5:22-42. The apostles have just been miraculously freed from prison to continue their work of preaching the gospel. They are faithfully continuing their work which mystifies the Jewish leaders. Frustrated and considering issuing capital punishment, an unknown Jewish leader steps in and convinces the council to leave them alone. Look at Verses 38-39 with me: "Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."

This leader, Gamaliel, will also play a vital role in the training of the final person designated an apostle. Saul (later renamed Paul) who became the missionary to the world beyond Israel was trained as a Jew under Gamaliel's tutelage (Acts 22:3). Paul's masterful understanding of the Jewish Scriptures (the Old Testament) laid the foundation for the labor he would later do spreading the gospel. God worked mightily through this Jewish leader to not only save the lives of the original twelve apostles but also to train the thirteenth.

Oskar Schindler and Gamaliel have one thing in common with each other and the deepest desire of my heart - they were used by God. God works just as incredibly through ordinary people today. Schindler could easily have hardened his heart and refused to see the Jews as anything but disposable. Gamaliel could have been more concerned with what his fellow council members thought of him, than the fate of a band of rouge Jews. Each chose to say "yes" to God when given a divine assignment.

Shannon, will you say yes today to whatever work God gives you to do? Today I can say yes to a phone call from a hurting friend, yes to showing kindness to a stranger and yes to writing an encouraging note to someone struggling with their faith. God's assignments for me today may not save the lives of hundreds or even twelve Jews but they might improve someone's outlook on their day or circumstances. Whatever I encounter today, I will say yes to God.

Ticket for One to the Popular Group?

Ephesians 3:17b-18 And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have the power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.

Just thinking about that night makes me feel like I'm ten again. It was one of those defining moments of childhood. I had been invited to a spend-the-night birthday party given by one of the "it" girls of the 5th grade. Up until this point I had been relegated to the "goody-goody", quiet, smart girl group. We were Girls Scouts but the cool girls were Campfire Girls. They had better uniforms, bright blue not yucky green or brown and by far the most prestigious membership roll. My heart longed to be included in their group and I would have given anything to be counted among them. I felt like Charlie unwrapping his Golden Wonka Ticket as I opened the invitation to one of their exclusive events. I thought I must be the luckiest, most privileged girl on the planet.

The euphoria lasted until about ten o'clock on the night of the party. Once the parents went to bed, the host's true intent for inviting me became apparent. A game of truth or dare ensued and knowing acceptance was always garnered more quickly through a dare, I asked for one without reserve when the bottle spun my way. My dare was to kiss another girl's bare bottom cheek. I was horrified but did it anyway. I thought a little humiliation was a small price to pay for the attainment of my goal of ascending to the "it" group. The smack had no sooner left my lips before a wave of regret and shame washed over me so fierce, that I immediately wanted to run back home. As sobs racked my body, I managed to utter enough comprehensible words into the phone to inspire my mom to come pick me up. I had never been more happy to return to the status-free life of a Girl Scout.

This morning, the passage I am reading is Acts 5:1-21. This section opens with the tragic recounting of a couple who wanted to appear to be something they weren't. The end of Chapter 4 tells that it was common practice in the early church for those who owned houses or land to sell the property and give the entire proceeds to the apostles for distribution to those in want. The result was that there was no person among them in need (Acts 4:34-37). Ananias and Sapphira were a married couple who got the terribly misguided idea to sell some land, keep some of the proceeds for themselves but go and give the remainder to the apostles under the ruse that they were giving the full amount of the proceeds. A righteous God had none of their hypocrisy and both paid for their lie with their lives (Verses 1-11).

Next we get an update on what the apostles are up to. God has enabled them to perform great signs and wonders (Verse 12) which inspires huge crowds to gather around them. They are able to heal every ailing person presented to them (Verse 16) and some people even lay their sick friends and relatives in the street, hoping that if Peter's shadow just crosses over them they too would be healed (Verse 15).

The fame and recognition the apostles was receiving incited jealousy among the Jewish establishment and once again they sought to imprison the apostles. This time though in the middle of their night in the slammer, an angel appears to them and instructs them to go immediately to the temple courts to preach the full message of a new life in Christ. They are miraculously loosed from their prison shackles and freed to obediently follow the instructions they had received (Verses 17-21).

What could two hypocrites, the crowd clamoring for the apostles' attention and the envy-poisoned Jewish leadership have in common? This morning Jesus whispers into my heart that these each represent a pitfall of striving to gain the favor of certain people.
  1. The Hypocrite (Compromising Your Values for Acceptance) - We aren't told why Ananias and Sapphira held back some proceeds for themselves. There is a clue given at the end of Chapter 4 though. Acts 4:36-37 introduces a character who will play a significant role in the spread of the gospel beyond the walls of Jerusalem. He had journeyed all the way from Cyprus (about 250 miles) to bring to the apostles the earnings from the sale of a field he owned. By birth named Joseph, the apostles donned him Barnabas, which means Son of Encouragement. Who wouldn't want to win the favor and acceptance of the church leadership and even garner a special nickname? I think it was this very motivation that stirred Ananias and Sapphira to sell their land. Their hearts weren't entirely set on pleasing the Lord and hypocrisy was the result. This is exactly what happened to me. When I set my heart on joining a certain clique whatever the cost, the true price I paid was compromising my values.
  2. The Crowd (Exchanging the Favor of People for the Favor of Jesus) - Once the Lord manifested Himself in the lives of the apostles through miraculous signs, the masses pressed in around them. Desperate for a solution to what seemed like their greatest need, they even laid their ill in the street for a patch of Peter's shadow. In trying to align themselves with people instead of the Lord, they missed the real blessing. While the passage states that more and more men and women believed that is certainly not the entire make-up of a "crowd". Many found a solution to a temporary need of physical healing but walked away without having their permanent need of spiritual healing met. This is what happened to me when I believed my happiness could be found in acceptance by a particular group of girls. Even if I had made it into their group, my healing would have been temporary. What I was really looking for was a solution to was the longing in my heart for acceptance that could only truly be filled by Christ.
  3. The Jewish Leaders (Taking Down the Competition) - The high priest and his friends were consumed with jealousy over the attention that the apostles were receiving. Their envy incited them to do whatever it took to quiet the hysteria. Jail seemed like a perfect solution to assuage their prideful, self-important egos. While I never stooped to the level of retaliation as a child, probably because I was too busy being a people-pleaser, I have certainly seen many examples of this happen. Just yesterday one of my daughters was telling me about a girl who had posted in her Facebook profile how awful another girl in the community was. If she couldn't be accepted into that girl's group, she would attempt to take her down by using slander and defamation. The dichotomy of pride and insecurity rears its' ugly head when someone attempts to be accepted by others by taking down the competition.

Today I am a far cry from ten, but just as easily I can fall to the temptation to be accepted, wanted and included by others. To prevent this from happening, I have to arm myself with remembering whom I am in Christ. I am totally acceptable to Him, so wanted He died to redeem me and have been adopted as a sibling to Jesus by the Father Himself. That is the ultimate in inclusion!

Jesus, today I will remember what an honor it is to be in Your group. Your group is the only one that really matters because it has secured an eternity for me in heaven, given me the peace to enjoy the life you've given me here and the privilege of sharing Your truth with others. Help me by mindful today of how you see me and treasure Your complete, unmerited, unending acceptance.

Bold is Beautiful

1 Timothy 3:2-4 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.

Today is Father's Day. Not only am I thankful for my own dad today but the sweet husband I have who is Daddy to our four girls. On Sunday mornings, Scott leaves for church before seven. He was long gone when we gathered around the table for breakfast. Even though he wasn't there, I felt the need to inspire gratitude in my kids for what a great dad they have so we went around the table and said just one thing each that we were thankful for about Scott. The responses ranged from I'm thankful he makes money for our family to I'm thankful he makes me feel safe and protected to I'm thankful there's no cost he won't pay to follow Christ and be in God's will. He indeed is a wonderful father, boldly standing for Biblical fatherhood and marriage in a society that celebrates neither. He definitely should be celebrated today.

Today I am reading Acts 4:22-37. Peter and John have been released from prison after being stringently warned not to speak or teach about Jesus again. Now they are returning to their fellow believers who gather around them to pray. I try to think what I would pray for had I been in their shoes. Things like protection, wisdom and discernment immediately spring to my mind. After praising God for who He is (Verse 24) and acknowledging they indeed had strong opposition (Verses 25-28), they pray for only one thing - boldness.

This is the opposite of what I'd have been praying for. Born a people pleaser, I'd be much more concerned if I was offending someone than whether I was boldly proclaiming the Word of God. Verse 31 proclaims that God immediately responded to their prayer, for they "were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly". I wonder how it would change our country if every church boldly proclaimed every teaching found in Scripture. Even many of the strong, evangelical churches I've been associated with glossed over or ignored entirely parts of the Bible that might prove unpopular in our modern day society.

God has graciously given me a living example of godly boldness. My husband boldly leads our family and God's church according to Biblical principles and is unafraid of any opposition that might arise. He is resolute in his principles and steadfast in accomplishing what God leads him to complete. Maybe this Father's Day, what I really need to learn is a lesson in boldness.

Sweet Jesus, today my singular prayer will be for boldness. I ask for the kind of boldness that speaks the truth in love, that lives according to Your principles alone and that doesn't shrink in the face of strong opposition.

It's All About You, Jesus

1 Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Summer has been quite an adjustment for me. It's not as if I've never had a summer with four kids before, as this is my fourth with four, but it's the first one during which I've traveled so extensively. Here is Summer '10 thusfar at a glance:
  • Week One - Ease into summer with Cheer Camp (3 days) and Pom Practice (6 days)
  • Week Two - In Dallas for the Week for Niece's Graduation
  • Week Three - Drive to NW Arkansas to Retrieve Hannah from Pom Camp, Catch-up on Laundry, Leave Two Days Later to go Back to Dallas to Have Hannah's Braces Taken Off
  • Week Four - VBS Everyday in the Morning; Practices, Appointments, etc. Every Afternoon

As you can imagine, I've been quite a ways off of my usual daily cleaning and laundry schedule. By day four of Vacation Bible School, it appeared World War III was upon us and the origination point was my home. I am very committed to the principle that as a woman, you don't run off to volunteer at church if you're leaving your home a wreck. I prayed and gave my home up to Jesus that morning, admitting I wasn't on track and asking for His help. He whispered in my heart that I had thirty minutes before I absolutely had to get ready for Vacation Bible School. Why not use those thirty minutes for His glory to bless my family with a clean and straight home?

As I literally ran through the house, dripping with sweat, and singing to myself about cleaning my house for Jesus, here is what got accomplished in those thirty minutes:

  • Picked up clutter off floor of every room on the main floor, including all the "camp-out" gear from our indoor family spend-the-night which had occurred the night before last
  • Vacuumed the floors of every room on the main floor
  • Unpacked a suitcase
  • Made my bed
  • Gathered up the laundry
  • Sorted the laundry
  • Traded out the laundry (folded a batch, transferred a batch, started a batch)
  • Gathered the trash
  • Took out the trash
  • Cleared the table
  • Unloaded the dishwasher
  • Washed the breakfast dishes
  • Dried the dishes
  • Put the dishes away
  • Washed the countertops

Giving an absolutely ordinary thing in my life like cleaning my house, enabled me accomplish more in thirty minutes with Jesus' help than I could have all day doing it on my own. It really is all about Him.

Today's reading is Acts 4:1-22. Peter and John have just healed a man crippled from birth and Peter has preached a convincing sermon about why Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah (Chapter 3). Chapter four opens with the religious establishment rising up against them, armed with indignation that they were preaching about Jesus and teaching the truth of His resurrection (Verses 1-2). Peter and John are arrested and put in jail overnight (Verse 3). In the midst of Peter and John's difficulties, their faith is unwavering. They continue in what they know they've been called to do without hesitation, relying solely on Jesus to work through them. I am not an apostle who walked personally with Jesus for three years. Could God possibly work through someone as unlikely as me? Jesus whispers in my heart to read on and hear from Him how that very thing is possible for every one of His redeemed.

  • I've Got the Power (Acts 3:12) - When the crowd pressed around Peter and John to inquire how they were able to heal this crippled man, Peter asks them, "Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?" I too need to realize that it is God alone not my abilities, determination or even dedication that accomplishes anything. I have a choice and don't have to rely on God. I could probably have accomplished a few items on that list in my own strength the other morning, but God's power was required to super-charge my morning chores for His glory. It's all about You, Jesus.
  • I Ain't Afraid of No Opposition (Verse 4) - Anytime a person takes a stand for Jesus, he or she will face strong opposition. Peter and John had been thrown in jail. Had that been me, I would have wanted to throw in the towel. God continued to work while Peter and John were incarcerated and another 2,000 men believed in Christ. There were plenty of things working against me that morning - tiredness after three days of VBS, selfish thoughts trying to crowd my mind and a strong desire to procrastinate to name a few. When I gave God those thirty minutes and let Him decide how I would use them, He worked against all that opposition to accomplish far more than I could ever do on my own. It's all about You, Jesus.
  • Don't Look at Me, I Didn't Do Nuttin' (Verses 9,12) - The next morning the temple leadership met with Peter and John to inquire by what name they had healed this man (Verse 7). They could have easily taken the credit themselves, but again Peter boldly states that it is Jesus alone through which the healing was accomplished. Peter goes on to declare that there is no other name in heaven by which anyone can be saved. If someone asked me about my house cleaning routine, I could credit my discipline for doing it even when I didn't feel like it, or the various women in my life who have taught me tricks through the years, but like everything else in my life ultimately it is only Jesus who deserves the credit. It's all about You, Jesus.
  • Only the Ordinary Need Apply (Verse 13) - The religious leaders were astounded by Peter and John's courage and realized they were completely ordinary, unschooled men who had been with Jesus. Back in Verse 8, the text notes that Peter was filled with the Spirit. It was not any extraordinary skills or significant talent they possessed but Jesus alone who worked through them. I am just an ordinary mom and wife. I have moments of frustration and anger where I really do wish Calgon would take me away. I have days where a girls' getaway somewhere beachy seems far more appealing than dealing with the girls' stay-vacation I live daily. It is because I am completely ordinary that when I surrender my absolutely mundane life to Christ that He can work through me and in me. It's all about You, Jesus.
  • Just Do It (Verse 19) - Seeing no other solution, the temple authorities ordered Peter and John to stop speaking and teaching in the name of Jesus. Peter refused, noting they could not help speaking about what they had seen and heard. Peter and John said yes to God, then God continued His work through them. No matter what challenge I am facing, no matter how unqualified I feel, God is still sufficient to accomplish His purposes and He wants me to agree to being used by Him. The other morning, God eagerly waited for me to say, "Yes", and then worked through me to pack hours of housework into minutes. It's all about You, Jesus.

Jesus, thank you for teaching me today that every day You have special assignments You want to accomplish through me. So often those assignments are in the very ordinary happenings of my day, that You can make extraordinary when they are surrendered to You and Your plan. Today my day is Yours. I pray that I hear You when You call and say, "Yes" to Your plans for me today.

Why Does This Surprise You?

Philemon 7 Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, (sisters), have refreshed the heart of (this) saint.

This past week has been Vacation Bible School at our church. We were blessed with approximately 1,500 children, about 250 of whom I had the privilege of serving through the Preschool Snack station. I suspected the work would be hectic, and it at times, was. I figured someone would get testy with our work station, and they did. What took me by complete surprise was just how much I enjoyed working with the other girls at my station. It was as if God looked down at all of us, smiled and said, "I love you sweet girls. You are each my chosen princess and I'm going to give you a special present this week you weren't anticipating - each other. Together your group will be funny, engaging, thoughtful, kind and encouraging. Your work will turn into pleasure. Your days will turn into treasured memories. Never forget how much I love you."

This morning the passage I'm reading is Acts, Chapter 3. In this section of scripture, Peter and John are entering the temple for a time of prayer, when they encounter a man crippled from birth. He is stationed there daily to beg for money, hoping to gather enough to eat another day. He asks Peter and John for money. Peter and John weren't flush with cash but they gave the very best they had to give - they completely healed him.

All those milling about, praised God and were filled with wonder that Peter and John could do such a thing. Peter, knowing they had done nothing but Jesus can do anything, seized another opportunity to speak about Jesus. He begins his speech by inquiring, "Why does this surprise you? (Verse 12)", and then proceeds to explain who Jesus was and why He had to die as the sacrifice for each of our sin.

The question, "Why does this surprise you?", resonates with me today. God graciously blessed me this week and yet I was surprised once again by His goodness. Later, Peter says, "Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord (Verse 19)". That is precisely what last week was for me, a time of refreshing. Here the Word tells me God giving me times of refreshment is a direct result of having established a relationship with Him. Because God always keeps His promises, I should never be surprised again when He blesses me so abundantly beyond measure. Yet I know I will be.

Jesus, thank you for your kindness towards me by blessing me with such sweet friends to spend last week with. You truly have plans for good and not to harm me. Thank you for surprising me with Your goodness even when I shouldn't be surprised. Today I will be more attentive to Your work in my life and all the little blessings You send my way. You are the author of every good thing in my life.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

Acts 2:46-47 Every day they continued to meet together 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.

I love constructing lists. I make lists at Christmas time of each person's gifts to make certain they are equal. I write lists of what I'll cook for dinner in a given week. I then scrawl a list of what I need at the grocery store. I make lists of movies I like, projects I want to do around my house and even places I want to visit one day. Obviously, if I ever catch sight of a list in the Bible, I take note. I figure if God made a list I'd better pay attention.

This morning I reading Acts 2:22-47 which records the real meat of Peter's first sermon. Peter holds back no punches and lays the truth of Christ's death and resurrection on the line. He challenges his audience to respond and 3,000 choose Christ. I imagine myself in the crowd that day. I've been at church services where tens or hundreds respond and I am absolutely slayed with delight. What would it be like to witness thousands coming to know Jesus all at one time? Yet this isn't even the biggest miracle in the passage.

Verse 42 tells us that after their salvation, these new believers along with those already saved (about 120-See Acts 1:15), devoted themselves to four things - the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. Am I dedicated to those things? I'm afraid the answer's no, so I better figure out what they are and how I can show myself dedicated to them.
  1. The Apostles' Teaching - Today this would be the complete Word of God. Peter used the Old Testament and what would become the New Testament in his message so no doubt that pattern continued as he and others instructed them in the faith. I too need to make reading, studying and learning the Word a priority in my life.
  2. Fellowship - Gathering with other believers for encouragement and friendship was a top priority in their lives. I have witnessed in my own life how difficult it is to continue in the faith when I don't have a support group to lean on. My faith is strengthened when I gather with other believers. Fellowship should be a main concern for me.
  3. The Breaking of Bread - I have recently learned that this is not referring to Wednesday night supper. This is a shame because the cooking is so unbelievably good here, I could totally be dedicated to it. This refers instead to the act of communion. Belonging to a Protestant evangelical church means that the Lord's Supper is offered only a few times a year. If I'm going to be devoted to something offered that infrequently, I need to plan my calendar accordingly so I can have a better chance of actually participating in it.
  4. Prayer - It seems the importance of prayer has been a recurring theme for me over the past few months. It is easy for me to find time to pray for myself, Scott and the kids. It's getting beyond that, I find more difficult. It requires a sacrifice of time and energy to truly pray for others, my church, my community and my country. So, the more deeply I'm willing to love others outside of my circle of six, the easier it will be to give the time and energy necessary to do so. I need to devote myself to increased love and greater prayer will follow.

When I read this list, I wanted to offer up all kinds of excuses, some of which I thought were pretty good, as to why this list really isn't practical for me. Then I realized the women doing those things had no dishwasher, no washer and dryer, no microwave and no fast food restaurants. Perhaps I have more time than I think.

Jesus, today I desperately need your help. I can not be devoted to these four things unless my heart is first fully devoted to you. I know in this place of absolute dependence, You will step in as my aid. Help me recognize even the smallest change that I could make today to take one step toward being attentive to these items on Your list. Guard me against the temptation to "mark them off", as You didn't intend these items to be accomplished but enjoyed.

Worth the Wait

God has blessed me with a most wonderful nephew. Dylan is 15, autistic and the absolute delight of our entire family. Dylan loves generously, celebrates enthusiastically, and plans meticulously. His calendar is marked by days of significance like Christmas, Easter and birthdays. Usually this is charming such as when he has us singing Christmas carols in July, but recently he has caught on to the fact the I'm turning 40 in August. He's latched onto this little tidbit like a tiger to its' meat and reminds me every time I see him that I'm going to be "old" come August. Fueled with the encouragement of my family, he's added the labels ancient (think Rome here) and dinosaur. Although I find this all extremently amusing and actually count turning 40 more of an honor than a curse, any difficulty I had waiting for that day has been increased ten-fold with the spotlight that has recently been shined on the upcoming event.

This morning I am reading in Acts 2:1-21. The apostles are pretty much where I left them yesterday, waiting for the Holy Spirit. They will wait a total of ten days before the Holy Spirit will come on them with the sound of a rushing wind and appearing as tongues of fire (Verses 2-3). The Spirit immediately manifests Himself, enabling them to speak in all the various languages of the people then gathered in Jerusalem. Each heard them testifying to the greatness of God in their native tongue (Verses 4-12). Peter capitalizes on their amazement by preaching the first recorded sermon of the new church.

In his opening (Verses 14-21), Peter recognizes that the events that have just taken place are the partial fulfillment of an Old Testament passage from Joel 2:28-32. Not only did Peter acknowledge that God had worked, he was so intimately familiar with God's Word that he saw the connection between those events and scripture. God pierces my heart with truths applicable to me today.
  • God Works in Harmony with His Word - When I pray for selfish desires or out of a place of envy, bitterness or spite, I am not praying in tune with God's Word. I deeply desire to see God work in my life. Since He only works that way, I need to focus my prayers to things that do honor God and stay within the guidelines He's set for me. This requires me to actually know what's in the Word. I can't pray within His boundaries when I have absolutely no clue what those boundaries might be. I need to continue to diligently read, study and memorize God's Word.
  • He Works Whether or Not I Acknowledge it - Verse 6 states that a crowd gathered in response to sound of the Spirit's arrival. A crowd however does not include everyone. There must have been many that heard the sound but chose to ignore it and return to the duties of their day. Just because they didn't acknowledge what had happened doesn't mean God didn't work. How often does God work and I just go on about my business without even pausing to notice let alone thank and praise Him for what He's done? I need to be aware of what God is doing and have a grateful heart for what He does.
  • God Works in My Life So I Can Tell Others - When Peter saw God work, he immediately took advantage of the opportunity to inform others about what God had done and why. God's work in my life is not just for my benefit, but also that I may be a blessing to others. I need to remember to relay to others the mighty ways He has worked and continues to work in my life.

The issue for me today is not how quickly these first forty years have passed but what I plan to do with the next forty. Will I dive into God's Word daily and apply what I learn to my life so I can pray according to the Word? Will I live a life of awareness of God's working in my life and overflow with thankfulness? Will I capitilize on every opportunity God gives me to tell someone else the incredible things He's done in my life?

Action Jackson...or Milholland as the Case May Be

James 2:21-22 Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

My husband and I have somewhat divergent spiritual gifts. While I know I don't want to fall into the trap of actually envying someone else's gifts, it is thrilling to watch God use someone who has different gifts than me. Scott has incredible leadership backed by stalwart faith. He is confident in his relationship with the Lord, consults Him daily with the concerns of His life and then boldly moves forward with whatever God is leading him to do.

This morning, I begin the adventure of a new book of the Bible - Acts. I am reading the first chapter today, which first describes Jesus ascension into heaven (Verses 1-11) and then the selection of a new apostle to take the place of Judas Iscariot who had betrayed Jesus (Verses 12-26). It is the combination of earnest prayer coupled with faith-filled action during this selection process that most strikes me.

Verse 14 states that they joined constantly in prayer. While I'm not familiar with every church in America, I have yet to associate with one that meets the description constantly. Occasionally - perhaps. Rarely - more likely. This was the very first thing the new testament church did after Jesus ascended but it seems more like a last resort or after thought in American churches today. Shannon, when making decisions you need to pray more.

By the end of the chapter, they have proposed two names as potential replacements for Judas, Barsabbas and Matthias. They prayed for God's revelation, trusted Him to give it (Verses 24-25) and then proceeded to make a decision (Verse 26). At times, I find myself waiting on God to absolutely sky-write an answer before I will proceed. Many times throughout God's Word is a contrasting example of faith-powered action. Shannon, when making decisions after you've prayed for my revelation, you need to move forward empowered with faith.

Today, Jesus, I will find at least one friend to join with in corporate prayer, I will pray before I act and then I will act once I have prayed.

Dinner Jesus Way

Matthew 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

What's for dinner tonight? This might be the quintessential question for any family. Hayleigh (11) has figured out that she can have great influence over the answer if she participates in the weekly meal planning process. I often tease that my spiritual gift is cooking. One thing is certain, you know I love you once I start cooking for you. Because Hayleigh is savvy enough to figure out that my love is closely associated with cooking, she smartly suggests her favorites, knowing my tender heart will have little ability to resist putting them on the list.

This morning my reading is the final chapter of John. Seven of the disciples had gone fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. We don't know why exactly they did so but since they're men I'm going to presume it was a combination of thinking about their stomachs and male bonding best enjoyed in silence. Scott is not a fishermen or a hunter but I've known enough guys that were to know that their enjoyment is not altered with a small or even no result of their labor. In fact, they rarely talk about what they caught or killed, unless it was truly extraordinary such as a buck with a high antler point count or a tremendous number of fish. The disciples had fished all night and caught absolutely nothing. Suddenly, a guy calls from the shore to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They did and caught 153 fish! (John 21:1-11)

Instantaneously, John recognized the man on the shore was Jesus. After enjoying breakfast together, Jesus pulls Peter aside. Three times Jesus asks Peter, "Do you love me more than these?" Each time Peter responds affirmatively and Jesus gives Peter an instruction to shepherd His sheep. I have heard many fine sermons on the theological significance of this passage which draw parallels such as:
  • Peter denied the Lord three times (See Luke 22:33-34, 54-62) and Jesus asked this question three times, therefore this passage is about redemption.
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are three parts of the same God so Jesus asked this question three times to teach Peter that He'd have to rely on all three during the coming years, so this passage is prophetic in nature about the foundation of the early church.

Not to discount any of those fine conclusions but I've always figured it's just because Jesus knew Peter was as hard-headed as me and heard things better when they were repeatedly stated. That was until I noticed that Jesus' instruction to Peter after asking the question varied a bit each time. This morning, I hear Jesus giving those instructions loud and clear not to Peter, but to me.

  1. Feed my lambs (Verse 15) - Lambs are the youngest, most fragile members of any flock. In my little flock, that would have to be my sweet little babies, Clara and Carynne. How can I feed a little one who doesn't even know Jesus yet? By providing a Christ-honoring sheep pen and filling it up with words, actions and attitudes that allow them to see Jesus shepherding my heart. Feed my lambs, Shannon.
  2. Take care of my sheep (Verse 16) - To earn the title of sheep, someone must have passed from lamb to a more mature station in life. In my flock, that must be my middle-schooler and high-schooler. Hannah and Hayleigh are both saved and actively walking with Jesus. Jesus still asks me to take care of them by overseeing their spiritual growth, guiding them through difficult choices and leading them with an example of godliness. Take care of my sheep, Shannon.
  3. Feed my sheep (Verse 17) - Now my heart turns to my dear husband. While it is not my responsibility to feed him spiritually, I can give him every opportunity for spiritual growth by not being a stumbling block to him. How do I that? Choosing careful words that build up instead of tear down, showing him kindness and compassion and concentrating on my own spiritual growth instead of analyzing the gaps in his. Feed my sheep, Shannon.

I can hear Jesus whisper in my heart to remember that this little flock, isn't mine, it is His. He is the Shepherd that will guide our family. The only way for me to truly feed my family is to rely totally on Him to do it through me.

Sweet Jesus, help me be intentional about discipling my children and being spiritually encouraging to my husband. Today I will not miss the opportunity to feed my family more than just physical food. I will fill our grocery cart with conversation about You, stock our pantry with learning about You and set our table with praise and adoration for You.

Miracles Come Packaged for Faith of all Sizes

Jeremiah 29:13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

2009 was a year filled with illnesses of various kinds. Not only was Scott diagnosed with, treated for and healed from prostate cancer but both Hannah (14) and Hayleigh (11) had health scares as well. During her routine spring physical for participation in school athletics, the doctor diagnosed Hannah with scoliosis. A quick trip our pediatrician confirmed this diagnosis and we were off to a pediatric orthopaedic for final confirmation. Hannah had no idea what the future held in store but she knew with certainty the power of God to heal His people and cried out to Him to heal her body. During a regular dental check-up, the dentist inquired with Hayleigh about an unusual spot on her tongue. This irregularly shaped spot seemed like it might be a benign condition but lacking one hundred percent certainty, he referred her to an oral surgeon. The oral surgeon was also inconclusive in his diagnosis so he took detailed photographs of this part of her tongue and sent them off to Baylor Dentistry for a diagnosis. Even Baylor was not able to specifically diagnose so the next step would be a biopsy to eliminate cancer and other sinister conditions. Hayleigh had no interest in someone cutting on her tongue, so the morning of her scheduled biopsy, she too began to fervently pray that God would miraculously intervene in her life. God heard the cries of their sweet hearts and when Hannah saw the orthopaedic, he found absolutely no trace of what the other doctors had seen. When Hayleigh saw the oral surgeon again, the spot on her tongue had diminished over just a few hours to be practically unnoticeable. A skeptic may discredit these accounts but I know this was God's way of building their faith from their tender young ages so they will believe and not doubt.

Today I am reading John, Chapter 20 in which John records several interactions Jesus had with people after His resurrection. Verses 19-20 tell that Jesus appeared to the disciples who were overjoyed to see Jesus. The apostle, Thomas, however was not with them (Verse 24). Thomas did not believe their account of having seen Jesus alive and needed the proof of seeing Jesus' nail-scarred hands and wounded side as conclusive evidence that Jesus was indeed living (Verse 25). Many people have given Thomas a hard time about his lack of faith. Still today someone is called a "Doubting Thomas" when they are struggling with skepticism. Some might even count him as a "lesser" disciple because of his unbelief.

Personally, I don't think Thomas is such a bad guy and I'll bet Jesus, full of mercy and grace, agrees. When Jesus had appeared to the disciples in Thomas absence, He had showed them His scars (Verse 20). I think Thomas just wanted to experience what his friends had - irrefutable evidence that Jesus was alive. A week later when Jesus appeared to the disciples again and this time Thomas was with them, Jesus approached Thomas immediately and showed him His wounds (Verses 26-28). Thomas was filled to overflowing with faith upon seeing the Lord.

Following Thomas' profession of faith Jesus, Jesus says something that I had misunderstood in the past before I really began reading and studying the Bible for myself. "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. (Verse 29)" Satan sold me the lie that I was a "lesser" Christian because I desired convincing proof that Jesus was who He said He was. I thought that if I "really" had faith, I wouldn't need proof. I struggled wondering if I was even saved and what would happen to me if I died suddenly.

Through the conclusion to this passage, Jesus is whispering in my heart to believe His truth, not Satan's lies. This chapter closes with John stating the "these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (Verse 31)." Jesus is not playing an elaborate game of hide and seek or cat and mouse with me. He wants to be found by me and every person and for us to believe based on the real evidence of His resurrection.

Jesus, thank you for working in my life and the lives of my children in a way that we know You are exactly who You claimed to be. Thank you that our belief does not have to be blind, that You long to be found by Your people and that You reveal Yourself freely when we seek Your face. Today I will remember that my faith is based on real evidence that You freely gave so that all who came after Your chosen disciples would believe and have life in Your name.

Looking Doubt in the Eye

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

I have come to believe that a lie detector test should be administered with the wedding vows. Innumerable people have expressed to me that they knew they were making a mistake when they married their former spouse. In my case, marrying Scott Milholland is the best decision other than choosing to walk with Christ I've ever made, but marrying my first husband was not a super great choice. Like many others I know, when I said "I do", I should have been saying, "I don't". Perhaps sandwiched in between the lighting of the unity candle and the pronouncement could be an FBI interrogation to determine the true intent of each party. All joking aside, I pray daily for my four daughters and their future spouses to enter into a covenant marriage based on the assurance of Jesus Christ and not the faulty foundation of uncertainty.

This morning I am reading John 19:23-42. This passage chronicles the period of time from Jesus' crucifixion to His burial. It is not possible for me to read this and not be reminded of Jesus' great love that held Him on cross as He died in my place for my sin. Today I am also inspired by just how much Jesus wants each person to believe and be certain of their faith. In Verse 24 and then again in Verses 33- 36, John relates an incident and then proclaims, "This/These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled...."

In the Old Testament there are many passages (Micah 5:1-2, Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, etc.) that give very specific predictions about details surrounding the life of the coming Messiah. John was certain to point out some of these particulars fulfilled during the death of Christ. Jesus doesn't want me to believe in Him blindly, but rather based on real evidence that I believe with my head as well as my heart.

To this day, there are moments when I am tempted to allow thoughts of doubt fill my mind. These times of temptation often come while spending time reading the Bible, worshipping Jesus through music, or when facing an assignment from God that I feel completely unqualified to do. I can almost feel God pour His love into my heart this morning with these passages. God has given me a very specific answer to the pull of a questioning heart. I can face my doubt head on and say, "I KNOW Jesus is the Christ because ________________" and insert any one of the hundreds of Old Testament prophecies that the life of Jesus fulfilled.

Jesus, thank you for loving me so much that you wanted me to be absolutely certain of my decision to invest my life in following you and developing a relationship with you. You are so kind, gracious and loving. Today, I will face my doubts head-on with the truth of Your Word.

Looks Can be Deceiving

1 Samuel 16:7 Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.

Living in a house with four other girls has its' challenges. For example, there is almost no end to searching for items that have been borrowed by another member of the family. Shoes, purses, clothes, jewelry and make-up can at almost any moment be found in the room of someone other than the owner. For some unknown reason my things are of particular interest. About a month ago, three days in a row I went to put my mascara on to discover that it was not in my make-up bag. Since only one of my four daughters is old enough to wear mascara, the culprit was not difficult to figure out. However, I could not even located her make-up bag to retrieve my mascara. So I did what any good mother of a teenage daughter would do. I let her have the old container and went out and bought myself a brand new tube of even better mascara!

When I allowed Hannah to have my mascara, I did what came naturally to me and I was quite honestly rather proud of my fine Christian character. Afterall, I didn't even complain about it. Later, once I allowed God to talk to my heart, I realized that to be truly godly would mean allowing the other person to have the best I had to offer, not my leftovers. Hannah should have gotten the new tube. Maybe acting out of my impulse means I'm acting out of pride and selfishness masked in false humility and ungenuine selflessness. Ouch!

Today my reading is in John 19:1-22. This part of John details Jesus' meeting with Pilate prior to His release to be crucified. As I read, I became aware that there is three distinct parties in the passage who each acted out of their natural instincts.
  1. Independence - The Soldiers (Verses 1-3) - Pilate ordered his soldiers to flog Jesus. Flogging was a common form of punishment in which a whip oftentimes enhanced with various implements was driven into someone's back and legs. Beating someone's face and driving thorns into their scalp and brow (Verse 3) went far beyond what they'd been instructed to do. The soldiers were striving for independence. They likely rationalized their actions with the label of "enthusiasm for our job" but in reality their independence means they cared more about calling the shots than carefully carrying out instruction.
  2. Success - The Jewish Leaders (Verses 7, 12, 15) - The Jewish leadership did whatever it took to eliminate Jesus as a potential threat to their success. They even played to Pilate's desire to please his ultimate boss, Caeser, by implying that Jesus was a threat to the Roman empire. Jesus had never threatened anyone but they probably thought hey if some "white lies" were needed to eliminate their competition, who really cares? The Pharisees cared more about winning than doing what is right.
  3. Position/Power - Pilate (Verses 4, 6, 8-10, 12-14, 19) - Pilate knew deep down that crucifying Jesus was unmerited and wanted to free Him. The Jews knew the right buttons to push by implying that Pilate would displease Caeser if he didn't grant their request. Afterall, Pilate probably thought he was a good leader and he needed his job to feed his family. Pilate proved in the end that he cared more about keeping his powerful position than responding to his heart's passions.

On the surface, independence, success and leadership are all desirable. God doesn't see the surface; He looks far beyond that to the penetrating places of my heart. My actions can appear to be kind, loving, even generous but God's far more concerned with what's underneath my actions.

Jesus, today, may I take a penetrating look with You beyond my surface to my heart. I want my heart for You to overflow into an exterior that doesn't just appear godly but actually is.

Raise Your Right Hand

Psalm 119:30 I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.

One of the principles Scott and I have tried to instill in our children is the importance of honesty. When caught in disobedience, we encourage our kids to be honest about what's happened. Oftentimes this will even serve to mitigate the punishment since we want to reward the right behavior of honesty while still acknowledging the original act of disobedience. I have struggled over the course of my life to be an honest person and know first-hand the damaging impact that lying can have on relationships. It wasn't until I began to walk closely with God that I saw significant improvement in this area of my life. I want my children to avoid the various heartaches I've gone through, so honesty is a cherished life principle in our home.

This morning I'm reading John 18:19-40 which details Jesus' appearances before the high priest and local governmental official. In Verse 37, Jesus says, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me. This verse is a sharp contrast to our modern day world where every person is allowed to determine his own version of "truth". Here Jesus gives a distinguishing characteristic of every truth teller - they all listen to Jesus.

This strikes me in the gut. I tend to be inclusive not exclusive and I treasure union not division. Great numbers of respected, eloquent leaders in every industry are not on the side of truth. Many well-meaning, hard-working, principled every day folks are not on the side of truth. How can I reconcile this in my own life? I love God's truth but only when it's delivered through God's grace. How can I stand solidly on the side of truth without becoming someone I personally wouldn't like?

"Stay close to me and then your truth will be truth overflowing with grace", Jesus whispers into my heart. Just two chapters earlier in John 16:13 Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit would "guide you into all truth". With the Holy Spirit as my Guide to truth and Jesus as the Source of truth, I am struck again at the importance of spending time with God every day. If I want to be the truthful, honest person that I want my children to model, I have to stay closely connected to Jesus by spending time with Him. Further, just as I learned a few weeks ago, there's a vast difference between hearing and listening. Jesus says that everyone on the side of truth listens to Him. I have to engage my heart and patiently wait to hear Jesus speak if I want to stand on the side of truth.

Jesus, I want to stand wherever You are - period. You are The Truth (John 14:6). If I am standing with You, I am standing with Truth. Help me listen with my heart fully exposed and absorb Your truth this morning. I don't want to be an eloquent leader who stands for lies or a well-meaning commoner who stands for confusion. I want to be your humble servant who stands for real truth - Yours.

Awaiting God's Rescue

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

It started with Clara and Carynne dangling their feet in the pool. We had just arrived at a friend's house and were relaxing on the back porch. The pool was wooing them and they just couldn't resist dangling their feet over the side. Still adorned in their Sunday morning dresses, they soon were walking along the expansive first step. Before I knew it the dresses were soaked and off they went splashing on the first step of the pool in nothing but their undies. Even though I was vigilantly watching the girls, I removed my watch in the event a rescue was in order. Mind you I too was still wearing my Sunday morning attire. As soon as I set my watch aside, I looked over and saw Clara out in the middle of the pool. She was not flailing about trying to reach the surface or panicking in any visible way. Instead, she calmly held her breath under the water awaiting my rescue. She had abandoned herself to her situation with complete and utter confidence that I would soon carry her out of the water.

Today I am reading John 18:1-18. This section is John's version of Jesus' arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. I think John best captures Jesus' spirit during this event. Empowered by the time He had spent with God in prayer and resolved to carry out God's will (See also Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42 and Luke 22:39-48), Jesus boldly goes out to meet His opposition (Verse 4). When Peter draws his sword, Jesus responds, "Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me? (Verse 11)" Immediately, Jesus whispers the application to my life into my heart:
  • Stop Flailing and Wait Confidently - Just as Clara saw no need for alarm in the middle of the pool, Jesus never questioned whether His Father would rescue Him from the grave. Since coming to Memphis, there have been days and even weeks when I felt myself flailing. Since before my arrival, I have been praying for a mentor and an accountability group. Thusfar, God has provided neither. There is no need to be flustered when God's Hand is at work. Stop flailing, Shannon, and await God's rescue.
  • Trust God's Timetable - Clara didn't know if it would be seconds or minutes before I dove in to her aid, but it didn't sway her level of confidence that my help was coming. Once I have fervently prayed to the Lord about an issue, I can rest in knowing His delivery is coming in His perfect timing. If I need the group of women I've prayed for, God will provide that or make it abundantly clear that He has another plan for this phase of my life. Either way He will provide His answer and not allow me to drown. Stop politely suggesting your timetable, Shannon, and accept His.
  • Drink His Cup Every Time - Jesus had prayed that the cup of torture, death and atonement would pass from Him. Yet when the Father answered, "No", Jesus immediately accepted God's will and encouraged others to do the same. I am certain Clara would not have chosen the cup of being stranded in the middle of a pool, but she accepted her circumstances for what they were and allowed peace to rule in her heart. By contrast, how often I begin to drink from my own cup the minute God's cup is filled with something I don't want to drink. I could charge ahead of God and organize a group of women today and be meeting with them by tomorrow, but God wants me to drink from His cup not mine. Stop filling your own cup, Shannon, and await God's goodness to fill yours instead.

Sweet Jesus, You are enough for me. I don't have to drink the pool water while I await your rescue. I don't need to flail because You already see me out there amidst the water. Thank you for teaching me to trust Your plan, to wait for Your timing and to deeply drink whatever You pour into my cup.

Worldly, Godly, One.....What?

Some of the sweetest times we have as a family are when we gather for prayer before we eat. I adore hearing the innocent, sincere prayers of my children. Their hearts are totally open to God and typically I walk away challenged to grow in my own faith when I encounter the purity of theirs. Whether they are thanking God for our family dog, naming every member of the family as their "best friend" or praying over an issue in the family, our hearts are totally united in those moments of honest prayer.

This morning my reading is John 17. The 26 verses of John 17 record a prayer by Jesus. He prays first about Himself (Verses 1-5), second for His disciples (Verses 6-19), and finally over every future believer (Verses 20-26). I could spend a month of mornings digesting all the riches contained just in this one chapter, so I call out in my heart to God to narrow my focus to what He wants to teach me today. Three verses particularly speak to my heart.
  • My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one (Verse 15) - One of the things Scott and I observed almost immediately after he entered vocational church work is how easily every friendship and association could be limited to those within the church. Effort will be required to ensure that we get to know neighbors, parents at school and those in our community. Jesus' prayer is not that I go live in isolation with a complete lack of awareness of what's happening around me. Instead, Jesus' prayer is that I will fully engage with the community I live in under God's watchful care.
  • Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth (Verse 17) - This verse seems to stand in contradiction to Verse 15. The word translated sanctify means to "separate from profane things and dedicate to God". How can I separate from profane things and engage in my culture simultaneously? Perhaps the linchpin is what follows sanctify. Jesus prays that I'll be sanctified by truth, which is God's Word. If I stay immersed in the Word I can concurrently grow more like Jesus and remain relevant to the world I live in.
  • [I pray] that all of them may be one, Father (Verse 21) - Verse 20 begins the section where Jesus prays for all other believers. I am literally on the edge of seat with my head leaned forward to hear what Jesus will pray over the future church. Unity is the cry of Jesus' heart for His church. What could one believer possibly do to impact the unity of thousands of believers? 1) Start Where I am - I can begin by building unity in my own home. Unity happens here when I focus on my own need to change and put other's needs before my own. Once I practice it here, I am better equipped to be peaceful in the larger arenas of my life. 2) Understand What Unity is and is not - Unity is setting aside matters of personal preference and personality for the sake of peace. Unity is not a fake pretension of peace fueled by lack of confrontation and gossiping. I am by nature a "sweeper-under-the-rugger". I'd much rather ignore a problem or discuss it with everyone but the offender. I need to learn instead to take offenses to God and let Him be the determiner of whether I take it to the offender (and no one else) or not. Then I'll be an agent of unity instead of dissension.

Jesus, today because I've spent time being sanctified by Your Word, I am free to engage in the world around me. Help me make the most of those opportunities. Additionally, help me promote true unity and peace within your church today.

Thank You for Listening

Matthew 7:7 Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.

Since we relocated to Memphis six months ago, our family has had no kitchen table. We had diligently saved up funds several times only to have unexpected expenditures snatch them back away. Because I cook nearly every night and gathering around the kitchen table to eat is an important part of our family life, I began praying that God would provide a table for us. We spent last week visiting with friends and as we packed up to go, our friend asked offhandedly, "You don't need a kitchen table, do you?" After my very enthusiastic, "Yes. This a a definite answer to prayer.", he went on to explain that he had tried to sell this table in a garage sale a number of times but his wife had resisted because she was certain God had a special plan in mind for the table. She could not have been more right. Our entire family has glowed with gratitude to God every time we have passed that table since. Now I just need to start praying for some chairs...

Today's reading is from John, Chapter 16. Jesus is continuing in His final teaching prior to His death. Jesus forewarns the disciples about the hardships that are to come. Jesus relates that they will be discouraged, scattered, persecuted and even killed. Thankfully, Jesus ends with the good news - they will pray to God, be heard, and answered! At times, I forget what a privilege it is that I have open access to the Creator of the Universe. He never gets drowsy if I drone on and on about a problem, never mentally tunes me out but instead listens with love and compassion. Not only that but He is actually able to assist me with my problems. Whether it's changing my heart to better understand another, miraculously providing for my family or just removing anxiety and worry, big things happen when I pray.

From Chapter 14-16, Jesus tells the disciples four different times (John 14:13, John 14:14, John 15:7, John 16:23) that God will give them whatever they ask in His name. I know my Jesus well enough to understand this doesn't mean that I can go about willie nillie asking for things and expecting instantaneous results as if God were my genie in a bottle. So what does this mean and why did Jesus repeatedly say times?

What it Means - God desires a close relationship with every one of us. Closeness in any relationship is developed over a long span of time in conversation, in proximity and in authenticity. God wants me to ask Him about everything in my life not because He will immediately answer exactly when and how I want Him to but because the time I spend talking closely with Him about the very real issues in my life will draw me closer to Him while I wait for His answers whatever they might be.

Why God Repeats Himself - I have a tendency to look everywhere except to God to get answers to questions and problems. It seems easier to ask a friend, read an online article or read a book than to spend diligent time in prayer talking to God about my life. This could be for a number of reasons but two that immediately spring to my mind is convenience and lack of accountability. It is inconvenient to wait on God and continue to seek Him when I'm not really seeing answers to my prayers. I also have much less accountability with a friend or reading on a subject. It is much more difficult to ignore God's quiet guidance in my life when I'm talking to Him instead of another source about my issues.

Jesus wants us to approach the Father with everything in our life, because He loves to see us overflow with joy. According to Verse 24, joy is the end result of answered prayer. If a simple kitchen table can bring so much joy to so many family members, I am certain this is true.

Jesus, thank you for always hearing my prayers and working out Your answers in ways I would never expect. The unspeakable joy of answered prayer has filled our home once more. Today, may I come to you first with every issue and wait in confident expectation to see Your work in my life.

Mrs. Brownthumb

John 15:8 This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

I might be the world's worst gardener. I don't have a green thumb; I have a brown thumb. Any poor plant I touch perishes. One day though someone gave me a cactus. Surely even I could rise to the challenge of keeping a cactus alive. What do they even need except harsh treatment, limited nutrients and utter neglect? Wonder of wonders, this cactus not only lived, it thrived. In fact, it did not shrink even one bit in size under my loving care. Several years later I would realize that it was plastic.

Today's passage is the 15th Chapter of John. This chapter might well be titled the fruit chapter. Given my experience with plants, I tend to shy away from drawing too much analogy out of its' words. Even Mrs. Brownthumb though, can recognize that a tree loaded down with apples is in fact an apple tree. That is the central point of this chapter. My life ought to be so loaded down with His qualities that even the person with the most distant relationship with God can recognize His work in my life. Now that's a bigger challenge than keeping a plastic cactus alive!

Let's explore God's gardening tips:
  • Good Soil Makes Healthy Plants - Throughout this section, the word remain or abide is used. God wants me to dwell in Him, to literally put down roots in Him. The bigger the roots are the more stable the plant. The apples I casually observe on a tree are the result of a complicated root system I can not see. If a person observes even the smallest evidence of God's work in my life, it is the direct result of many hours of time spent with God alone which that person did not see. God's Word is the best possible soil in which to cultivate my root system.
  • Soak Up the Son - Above the roots, grows the first thing we can see - the stem. In Verse 5, Jesus remarks, "Apart from me you can do nothing." As I was reading this chapter, I was picturing myself being a plant and thinking how comical it would be if the plant could talk. I seriously doubt a plant would say, "Now I'm not really sure I want any water today" or "I really don't have any time in my schedule for sun." A plant just does what it was created to do. When Jesus said that apart from Him I could nothing, what He was really saying is that I could do no good things without Him. There might still be fruit hanging on my tree, it just wouldn't be anything that people want to see and surely not anything they'd want to actually pick or eat.
  • Choose Your Flower Carefully - I have never seen someone at the Botanical Gardens digging in the dirt to photograph the roots or laying on their back to snapshot the stem. However, pictures of the flowers are typically being shot at a frenzied, paparazzi pace. That's because the flower is the part we actually came to see. In this chapter, the "flower" or "fruit" is love. The natural by-product of time spent with God and total dependence on Jesus is love. If I could pick just one word for someone to describe my marriage, home or family, I would pray this would be the word.

Sweet Jesus, today You faithfully came again to meet with me. This has been the "root" work in my day. From here, I want to walk about on the stability of your stem in total dependence on You, flowering with Your love.

Gifts Fit for a Queen...Or Just an Ordinary Girl Like Me

Matthew 10:8b Freely you have received, freely give.

Today is my wedding anniversary. About six years and nine months ago, my sweet husband asked me to be his bride and my two daughters if they would be his daughters. That exciting request led to our marriage on 6/5/4 at 3 in the afternoon. We entered the church as 2 and left as 1. Today was not just the day a marriage was made, but also the day a family was formed, so we call this our family anniversary. Everyone in the family gives and receives expressions of love - cards, gifts, hugs and kisses. Of all the things I will receive today, one will be the most precious. At this moment, my heart is beating erratically in wild anticipation. Every year Scott writes us female-types a letter entitled "5 Girls and a Man". He recaps the milestones, memories and emotions of the past year with delightful individuality and touching clarity. My memories are made all the richer when intertwined with the gift of his.

This morning, my reading is John 14. In this inspiring chapter, Jesus outlines several presents He gives to every believer.
  • A Home (Verses 1-4) - Whether I'm still living in the house I was brought home from the hospital to or have moved 15 times in as many years, my home here is just temp housing. Like most women, I crave security in my life and relationships. Nothing spells security to me more than having the same address year after year. Little did I know, I've had that all along. My true address is in heaven where my sweet Jesus has been busily preparing my room ever since I said, "I do" to Him.
  • A Helper (Verses 16-17, 25-26) - There are numerous moments in my life with four children where the thought flits across my forehead that if I just had some help - say like a full-time, live-in nanny, maid, chaffeur, and cook - this mom gig would be a lot easier. Since I'm guessing one of those isn't wrapped up as my anniversary present, I suppose I'll just have to deal. But wait. Here Jesus tells me that He sent the Holy Spirit to empower me through all the moments of my life. He sits at the ready in His apron waiting to cook up joy and peace in my heart, to drive my thoughts toward God, to clean out the dirt and to straighten the chaos in my life. I don't need to get a helper; I already have One.
  • His Peace (Verse 27) - How much I crave peace in my life. Really just being able to go to the bathroom uninterrupted would be a blessing. My life is jam-packed with blessings and sometimes in the midst of all the activity, it seems chaos rains more than peace in my home. Jesus left His peace here with me as a gift. Like a delivery left on the doorstep, it just waits anticipating being opened. I have to choose to open this gift by spending time in prayer and in the Word. When I take the time to unwrap that package first, the remainder of my day overflows with His peace.

Probably one of my favorite phrases in this section, is found in Verse 27. "I do not give to you as the world gives." Jesus has given these three incredible gifts to me but not like I give. What does that mean?

  1. No Re-Gifting - Jesus doesn't take unwanted homes, helpers or peace and pass it along to the next unsuspecting recipient. Instead, His gift to each of us is unique and perfectly packaged for our situation and circumstances.
  2. No Grudges - He doesn't give a gift simply because He was invited to a shower or because that person remembered His birthday last year. Chances are He wasn't invited to the shower and His birthday was forgotten last year. Nonetheless, He prepares the perfect present and gives it without even a hint of a grudge.

Thank you, Jesus, for these perfect presents, not intended just for use on my anniversary but every day. I will open every package You give me today. Help me to learn to gift with Your style, full of grace and thoughtfulness.

Mrs. Lovewell

1 John 4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

I have previously shared with you my affinity for "Chick Flicks". On my personal list of favorites is Sleepless in Seattle. This movie centers around a widowed young father, Sam, and his son, Jonah. Jonah gets the enlightened idea to phone into a national pop psychology radio radio program to get advice about his father's lack of sleeping. The host immediately dons Sam "Sleepless in Seattle". Once he's cajoled into talking on the phone, the radio host asks him, "What was so special about your wife?"

Immediately he snaps back, "How long is your program?"

Sam is right. Love can be quite complex. Gary Chapman attempted to help us understand it by categorizing it into five languages. God helped to clarify with three different Greek words being used in the New Testament to describe it. Yet "true love" remains an elusive pursuit for many in the modern day church.

This morning I am reading John 13:21-38. This passage describes the second half of the events that have come to be known as The Last Supper. Jesus announces that one of them will soon betray Him and after some inquiry Jesus singles Judas out as the one. Once Judas leaves, Jesus gives his closest followers a new commandment (Verses 34-35). Those verses are my focus this morning. "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

Jesus made it clear that this is a vital teaching. It seems to me that in the modern day Southern church Christian love is still best expressed in a casserole. We do a fairly good job at demonstrating love at times of great celebration, such as a birth or times of desperate mourning, such as a death. What about all those days in between? Is there no way to express love then?

When I first began to grow as a Christian God blessed me with a wonderful Christian friend. As a matter of fact, I am sitting in her living room as I write this. She showed me many extraordinary things about love just by living her ordinary life.
  • Ask Questions About the Other Person - In this world where our measuring stick is bank accounts and success, we are often tempted to talk abundantly about ourselves, our children, our activities, etc. My friend doesn't do that. She asks you insightful, thought-provoking questions about yourself and your life. I never fail to feel loved when I talk to her.
  • Notice Unnoticed People - Both of my older children have remarked to me how much they like being around my friend. She makes a special effort to include even children in conversation and in plans. She has shared shoes with my Hannah, shared her love of shopping with my Hayleigh, shared her toys with my Clara and her heart with my Rynnie. Not only does she love my kids but she cherishes their individuality and gives them the freedom to be themselves. I never feel pressured to be anyone but myself when I talk to her.
  • Give Generously - While most people are attempting to get, my friend is constantly giving. Whether it's passing gently used decorations to a friend whose home could use an update or helping her children raise money for "Idol Gives Back", she consistently thinks of those around her. Not once have I heard her complain or frankly even really mention the things she's doing for others but it is a constant pattern in her life. She gives without an expectation of return and releases her love and possessions with absolute freedom. I never feel like our friendship is based on a bartering system or that I "owe" her anything.
My friend has taught me how to love. When you really pare down the Christian faith, that's the essential ingredient. Jesus, today, help me be more like my friend because she is so much like You. Help me focus my conversation on others, love individually and give generously of my time, resources and heart.