Life is for Now

Ephesians 4:1 I urge to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

Two years ago I lost a dear friend very suddenly. During her abbreviated life, my friend was a shining example of how everyone should live. She threw fancy dinner parties with the "good china" in the middle of the week for the most exclusive of guests - her husband and daughter.

She wore her pearls because it was Tuesday, because every day deserves dressing up or simply because she knew pearls did far more good on your neck than in a drawer. She took time to hold babies, time to admire her daughter and time to tell her husband how wonderful she thought he was. If she had known in advance when her last day would be, I suspect she would not have changed one thing in her life or schedule.

This morning I read the final Chapter of Acts, 28. Paul has journeyed over 13,000 miles mostly by foot but sometimes by ship over a span of about twenty years. He traveled so far that had he moved in a straight line, he could have made it halfway around the globe.

As Acts 28 opens, Paul and his companions have been shipwreck on Malta where the residents treat them with a great deal of kindness. After spending three months there, the journey to Rome commences once more. This time the travel is uneventful.

Finally, Paul arrives in Rome and is greeted by Christians from all over the area surrounding Rome. As Acts draws to a close, Luke reports that Paul "boldly and without hindrance...preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ." How fitting that Paul's biography ends with him doing exactly what God called him to do. Paul may have been theoretically imprisoned but no amount of house arrest would prevent Paul from seeing beyond the bars to God's grand purpose for his life.

Whatever day my biography ends, I hope this is precisely how my last page reads. My prayer is that someday my friends and family gather at a funeral and say, "She wouldn't have changed a thing."

Welcome to the Beach!

James 2:17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Carynne does not like the water. She screamed during her bath from the time she was tiny and now considers the swimming pool to be an object of horror and torture. With the help of a patient but firm swim instructor, she has made great strides this summer. Before her teacher taught her to swim, she did three things.

First, she made it clear that not swimming was not an option. She would not allow Carynne to have the lifeboat of not swimming. It didn't matter how much she screamed, kicked or cried, she was going to get into the water.

Second, she made certain Carynne got rid of her old habits. Old patterns of not getting her face wet or relying on the safety of the steps would have to be left behind before she could learn to swim. She couldn't move forward and learn to swim while staying stuck in the mire of her old ways.

Finally, she had to make Carynne let go of her fears and insecurities. As long as she was desperately clinging to some adult, she'd never learn to swim for herself. She had to get over her fear of being alone in the water and the feeling of helplessness that she might not be able to swim and just start swimming.

Carynne has made huge strides this summer. She still doesn't like the feeling of falling water on her face but once she relaxed, she realized there's pleasure in moving past her fears and insecurities and swimming out in faith.

This morning's passage is Acts 27:27-44. Paul and 275 others are stuck on a ship in a raging hurricane, desperately trying to reach safety. After two weeks, the sailors realize during the black of night that the ship is approaching some type of land (Verses 27-28). However to reach that shore, they would need to put their faith into action.
  • Cut the Lifeboat - Paul realized the sailors were planning an escape by using the lifeboat (Verse 30). Rather than endanger the lives of everyone by losing the expertise of the sailors, Paul has the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat (Verses 31-32). As the lifeboat floated off to sea, it carried any hope they had in its' saving them with it. Sometimes I don't move forward in faith, because I'm too busy checking out my lifeboat options. If my marriage doesn't work out, I can get divorced. If I can't easily live on what I make, I can just charge the rest. When I cut the lifeboat, I put my full hope and trust in God for my future. I may have to stop using the "D" word or cut up my credit cards before I can move toward the shore God has prepared for me.
  • Throw off the Provisions - Paul advises them to eat since most had not taken any nourishment for two weeks (Verse 33). This seems like sound counsel. It's what comes next that's baffling. They throw the rest of the bread overboard (Verse 38). The food that awaited them on the island, couldn't be attained without unencumbering themselves of the food they used to eat. Sometimes I can't move toward the shore because I'm weighted down by habits, patterns and associations from my old life I'm not willing to break free from.
  • Enter the Water Whether or Not You Can Swim - When the ship ran aground on a sandbar some distance from shore, the centurion ordered those who were able to swim to shore (Verses 41, 43). The others were commanded to grab some wood and float to shore (Verse 44). Both of these actions required a great deal of faith. The swimmers entered the water having no idea what creatures, current or calamity might await them. The floaters had no abilities of their own on which to rely but put their entire hope in a piece of broken ship. Sometimes I don't move forward in faith, because I'm too busy second guessing my abilities and fearing the unknown waters. God asks plenty of things of his loved ones that require us to dive into uncharted waters, many times with little ability of our own to support the task. We put our faith in God who uses the broken pieces of our lives to accomplish His purposes.

Jesus, help me trust You today and put my faith into action. Today I will cut my lifeboats, throw off old ways that are weighing me down and jump in the water leaving my insecurities and worries behind. I know what awaits me on the shore-You-is worth stepping out in faith.

Anchored by Faith

Hebrews 4:14b Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

One of the things I found surprising after I became a mom, was the amazingly calming effect my voice had on my newborns. Whether their cries were born of pain during an immunization or uncomfortable circumstances such as hunger, when I spoke their cries were calmed. My words cut through their pain and assured them it was only temporary. My quiet reassurance reminded them of my past faithfulness; they knew they would eat again.

When they stopped focusing on the person causing them pain or the circumstance of hunger and started focusing on their source of help and hope, their attitude totally changed. Their surroundings had not changed. Their leg still throbbed. Their tummies still rumbled. They could wait for my help because they had the faith to believe it was coming.

This morning I am reading Acts 27:1-26. Paul is setting sail for Rome. Through several ports the trip goes quite smoothly and Paul is even allowed the extra privilege of seeing friends to have his physical needs met (Verse 3). At Myra, Paul is transferred to a new ship.

This new captain makes slow progress which puts the sojourners at the risk of encountering treacherous weather. Paul admonishes the centurion to winter where they are and continue their journey in the spring (Verse 10). Paul's advice is ignored and they sail on right into a hurricane (Verse 14). The storm is relentless and pounds the ship for days. After enduring many days without food, the crew has lost hope of survival.

Paul's faith, though, is unwavering. He stands and encourages the crew and passengers with his bold assurance that God will deliver him to Rome as He promised. He tells them, "Keep up your courage...for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. (Verse 25)"

The courage to face life's challenges is rooted in faith. The courage to weather life's hurricanes is grounded in faith. The courage to continue when a situation seems hopeless is anchored in faith. I want that kind of courage so I need that brand of faith. There are three steps to bolstering my faith hidden in the text.
  • Don't Let People Get in the Middle - Paul found himself in a situation that could have been entirely avoided had the centurion heeded his advice (Verses 10-11). Not only did he not hold it against them but he returns the slight with the kindness of encouragement. As the storm rages on, it is Paul who gives words of calm and strength (Verse 25). When I find myself in a storm manufactured by someone other than myself, it is so tempting to let anger or resentment distract me. All the while, God is standing patiently by for me to choose forgiveness and refocus my attention on Him where it belongs.
  • Stop Focusing on the Storm - Storms are inevitable. Even when Jesus was physically on the earth, He encountered storms (Mark 4:35-40). When Jesus encountered a storm, He didn't stop it, He calmed it. The storm was still there, but it was no longer allowed to negatively impact He and His disciples. I too encounter storms. When I am in one, I can choose to focus on the storm with its' strong winds and driving rain or focus on Jesus, my calm within the storm. Paul knew the storm was only temporary so he chose to focus on God's promise, Rome. Focusing on God's faithfulness calms any storm.
  • Don't Let Circumstances Dictate - Paul was surrounded by hysteria and the bottomless pit of hopelessness. Not only were they in the midst of a hurricane but they hadn't eaten for days (Verse 21). If the hurricane didn't kill them, starvation would. If Paul had let circumstances dictate, he too would have succumb to despair. My circumstances are not my destiny. No matter how bleak my circumstances appear, my actual future is based on God's unchanging goodness and grace.

I have faith (Verse 25). Some days I need to utter those words out loud, to reaffirm my belief that You are my faithful and true travelling companion. I have faith because You are bigger than people. I have faith because You are my calm in the midst of the storm. I have faith because Your story for me is not authored by my circumstances. Jesus, I believe in You.

I've Fallen and He Can Get Me Up

Isaiah 40:29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.

It didn't take too long past Hannah's (14) first steps, before I realized that boo boos hurt a lot worse if someone else sees them. Anytime she would take a tumble, Hannah would immediately turn to see if I was watching. If she knew I saw her, tears would spill down her cheeks. However, if I pretended not to notice, she would get right back up and keep toddling happily around.

I was reminded of this just a few months ago. It was Easter Sunday at Hope, so the parking lot was swarmed with cars and their passengers. As I happily jaunted out to my car, humming "He's Alive" to myself, my shoe turned and I hit the pavement head on. Immediately, I looked to see if anyone was "watching". No physical pain even registered, only the embarrassment of falling in front of a sea of people. I would be halfway home before I even realized my leg was bleeding. It only occurred to me this morning, that the embarrassment hurts worse because it's a public display of my weakness.

This morning's reading is the 26th Chapter of Acts. Paul is still in prison in Caesarea. The king over the region, Agrippa, is there visiting and desires to hear Paul's defense against the charges by the Jews. Paul's defense is eloquent and convincing. Both the local magistrate, Festus, and Agrippa concur that there is no foundation for Paul's death or imprisonment (Verse 31).

Paul had appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11). As a Roman citizen, Paul had the right under trial to "appeal" his decision to Caesar. This would be an action similar to an American appealing a case to the Supreme Court. Had Paul done this in a moment of weakness and fear or under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit? God had already revealed to Paul that he would go to Rome (Acts 23:11). Was Paul just trying to "help" God along a bit?

Whether or not Paul appealed to Caesar out of fragility or a momentary lapse in faith, the secondary question that springs up is: Does God work in spite of my weaknesses? I intellectually know the answer to this question is a resounding yes. Today I want it to take root deep in my heart.
  • Acknowledge Them - "The Spirit helps us in our weaknesses. (Romans 8:26)" It is not a question of if I have weaknesses but whether I'm willing to humble myself before God and seek His help in my weaknesses. For many years, I was a Christian but still convinced I could handle pretty much any situation on my own using my intelligence, talents and abilities. Today I feel like I can hardly face a single circumstance without God's divine assistance. The level of my weakness has not changed. The level of my recognition of my weakness has changed.
  • Delight in Them - "I delight in weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:10)" This seems an odd thing in which to delight. There is almost no greater privilege Christian's have, than seeing the hand of God work in and through their lives. Without weaknesses, I'd be tempted to think I was the one doing the work. When I realize how vast my insufficiencies are, all doubt is removed as to Who is actually doing the work. My frailty means God gets all the credit. That is definitely something I can take delight in!

Jesus, I do delight in you. I stand in awe as I watch You work through someone ordinary like me. Thank you for allowing me to see the depth of my weakness, so that I can praise the height of Your greatness. Your power is made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

A Patient for Patience

Psalm 37:7a Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.

How long is it until Christmas? When will it be my birthday again? How many months is it until Easter? Preschool is not a season marked by patience.

How much longer until I can get my ears pierced? When can I get braces? What age can I get a cell phone? Childhood is not a season marked by patience.

When can I learn to drive? How much longer until I'm allowed to date? When is my curfew going to be extended? Adolescence is not a season marked by patience.

Obviously patience doesn't just come upon us like a rite of passage. How then does one become patient?

Today's passage is Acts 25. Paul has been imprisoned in Caesarea for two years. The government has passed from the hands of Felix to Festus. Festus travels to Jerusalem to gain some understanding who his prisoner is and what the charges are against him. When he returns from Jerusalem, the Jews are in tow ready to accuse Paul once again. Within a few days, the king of the region, Agrippa, has arrived and joins in the circus that has become Paul's trial.

What strikes me most about this passage is that among all the parties described, Paul seems to be the sole one interested in the actual truth.
  • The Jews - The Jews are busy breaking their own religious laws faster than they can accuse Paul of doing so. They plot murder (Verse 3). They lie (Verse 7). Apparently their only true motive is power and control.
  • Festus - Festus is perfectly willing to be an accessory to Paul's murder. He suggests that Paul return to Jerusalem to stand trial because he is more interested in gaining power and favor (Verse 9) than rightfully trying his prisoner. He even admits that Paul has done nothing deserving of death (Verse 25).
  • Paul - In making his defense Paul makes is clear that he has not broken the laws of the Jews or Caesar (Verse 8). Paul is even willing to die, if he has done something wrong (Verse 11). It is a certainty that a trial is a mockery when the prisoner is the most interested in seeing the law enforced.

Throughout this passage, there is no hint that Paul is frustrated, angry or vengeful. Instead, he patiently endures the kangaroo court in which he finds himself. No matter how hard I try to exchange places with Paul, I can not imagine myself having that level of patience. Where does patience of that magnitude come from? It was given day by day as Paul was still before the Lord (Psalm 37:7).

There are many days in my life when I'm tempted to hit the fast forward button. Days marked by temper tantrums, teenage brooding or just repeatedly cleaning up the same mess can all lead to me developing a case of vast impatience. Instead, what I really need to do is be still before the Lord. There God equips me with the wisdom to navigate tantrums, the grace to smile over brooding and the kindness to clean up a multitude of messes.

Jesus, I know I can rely on these moments alone with You to give me the grace, wisdom and kindness to be patient today. Thank you for being so patient with me. You wait for me every morning and just smile despite how long it takes me to learn Your lessons. That is why being still before You makes me more patient - it makes me more like You.

The Fingerprints of Christ

Deuteronomy 7:9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.

Costco is either the best or worst thing that ever happened to me. A natural sucker for a bargain, nothing says savings to me like a 24 pack of toilet paper or a gallon jar of pickles. Truth be told though, my stock-piling tendencies actually took root before I even knew that warehouse shopping was available.

For example, before the birth of each of my children I saw to it that I had a 500 day supply of Q-tips on hand. This was essential to my childbirth preparation because of the approximate one-week period during which the newborn would have her umbilical stump, which necessitated cleaning with a Q-tip. At last count, I still have about 1,950 of these Q-tips on hand.

On thing's sure - no one can deny that I'm supplied and ready for the day's events. Perhaps my bulk-buying ways says something else about me too. Just as a 12 pack of paper towels can be seen at a distance of 100 yards, maybe deep down I'd like what I do to be seen, recognized, acknowledged or better yet even recorded.

Today I am reading Acts, Chapter 24. Paul is in Caesarea, imprisoned by the governor Felix. Five days after his arrival, the Jews show up from Rome to argue for Paul's punishment (Verses 1-9). Paul rebuts their accusations (Verses 10-21). For the remainder of the chapter, Felix allows Paul's friends to take care of his needs (Verse 23) and occasionally visit with him (Verses 24-26). Somehow we reach the end of the chapter and Paul has been rotting their in jail for two years (Verses 27).

Two years is a long time. Surely Paul penned some of his famous letters during this time or ministered in some significant way. The longer I researched this, the more I became convinced that Paul did nothing that was considered important enough to be recorded by history during his two-year stay in Caesarea. I'm tempted to think, "What a waste," until I realize that all my two-year life segments might be categorized in the same way. Is a life a waste if nothing noteworthy or enduring ever happens to that person or gets recorded in the annals of history?
  • To the child to whom a book is read, the reader is a vessel of learning
  • To the person for whom a meal is fixed, the chef is a giver of strength and energy
  • To the daughter for whom a life is patterned, the mother is the founder of a legacy

Truly, a woman's biography is written on the pages of the generations who follow her. What I do today in the seemingly insignificant sphere of my home, workplace or community leaves a lasting imprint on those I serve. Today may the imprint I leave on those I encounter read, "Christian (Like Christ)."

I Do...Again Today

Matthew 19:6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

When my brother and I were young, we had a very exclusive spy organization called JPS. I'd tell you what the J stood for, but then....well you know. The P stood for Pennington (our last name) and the S stood for Scott and Shannon (our first names). Clearly very few people in the world qualified for membership. It was the best of spy organizations as far as I'm concerned. We journeyed all over the world, solving cases and fighting crime, and all from the convenience of our living room. We got to have all of the fun of being spies with none of the mess that comes with an actual commitment.

This morning I am in Acts 23:16-35. A group of forty men has sworn under oath to the Jewish leadership that they will kill Paul (Verses 13-14). They have even demonstrated the sincerity of their vow by choosing to eat and drink nothing until their purpose has been accomplished. Through God's divine intervention, Paul's sister learns of this plot and her son reveals this plot to the commander of the troops who are guarding Paul.

The commander wisely chooses to send Paul to a more secure location under the care of the Regional Governor, Felix. He sends Paul out under the care of 200 soldiers, 70 horsemen and 200 spearmen. We do not know whether the Jews heard about this transport but I'm not sure they could keep the movement of nearly 500 men under wraps. I'm going to assume they found out.

Interestingly enough, there is also no record of these forty men pursuing the troops to slay Paul. Why? Again, we don't know for sure but I'm going to guess they were happy to enter into a vow that thought would win them favor at the synagogue but not a suicide mission that would end in certain death.

This story reminds me of my first marriage. I was all to eager to enter into a marital vow that would provide me with comfort, companionship and contentment but not a suicide mission of marriage that would mean the death of my dignity, happiness and fulfilment. In fact, I thought it would be a bit like my childhood spy club - all the fun without the mess of a true commitment. Oh how I wish that I'd understood that God can turn a suicide mission into a rescue mission. In the perfection of hindsight, I know that had I totally submitted my heart to God, my first marriage might not only have survived but thrived.

Just as God's plans and purpose for Paul were not thwarted by a band of forty misguided men, His purpose for my life was not thwarted by my misguided choice to divorce. Unlike me, God has been completely faithful to keep his vow. He will not leave me, forsake me, turn His back on me. He would never even consider spending a single night on the couch. When I said, "I do" to Jesus, I became His forever bride. Divorce is not an option.

Today I see my marriage as it actually is - a living model of Jesus and His Church. I will not turn my back on my marriage no matter what. Yes there are days it feels more like a suicide mission than a marriage, but I'm keeping my vow. Because God is totally faithful, day by day, I know my marriage will both survive and thrive.

Jesus, You are the true love of my life. Because of Your goodness and grace, You are equipping me to daily be faithful to my wonderful husband who's captivated my heart. Today I will rely on Your strength and faithfulness to continue to keep my vow...til death us does part. Again today, I say, "I do."

Humility is Greatness

James 4:6b God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

There is so many things that Scott has taught me by example over the years but one that really stands out today is how he's taught me to say I'm sorry - quickly and sincerely. Scott does not hold grudges nor does he typically show interest in continuing an argument past the point of resolution. I, on the other hand, can stay mad at him for hours or days over a minor offense and beat a stale argument into the ground. He has shown me how useless that really is in any relationship and how God's way of quick and frequent forgiveness fueled by humility can greatly enhance our marriage.

This morning I am reading Acts 23:1-15. The commander in charge of Paul's most recent imprisonment wants more information regarding why the Jews are so disgruntled with Paul. He released Paul but ordered him to appear before a gathering of the Jewish leadership the following day.

Paul opens his remarks by confirming that he has done what God asked him to. The high priest orders Paul struck for his comment. Paul then hurls a verbal missile in the direction of the high priest. Those standing near Paul question why he would insult the high priest. Paul replies, "Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'" (Verse 5) Paul had been called on the carpet and was absolutely willing not only to admit his error but to both confess and apply the Biblical standard he had broken.

That picture of humility speaks volumes to me this morning. I have a friend who likes to retort that God loves FAT chicks (Faithful, Available and Teachable). Of course God loves every kind of chick but this one makes a cute little acronym - even better. Each of these words is a high calling but I probably struggle the most with the third.

I greatly desire a teachable spirit. I want to be the kind of person that readily admits when I'm in the wrong and possesses the humility to accept a right correction, even if it is delivered by an adversary. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." This phrase is repeated three times in scripture (Prov. 3:34, James 4:6 and 1 Pet. 5:5). My attention is always drawn to phrases that God repeats multiple times. I figure if God felt the need to repeat Himself, I must really need to take heed.

God gives grace to the humble. I need God's grace, plain and simple. So I need to be humble. Sweet Jesus, today I will have a teachable heart and a humble spirit.

What a Relief!

Psalm 103:13b-14 The Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.

A sweet friend on mine posted to a social media yesterday that she was desperate for her kids to take a long nap. Immediately I began to pray that God would give her that break and would refresh her heart, soul and mind to energize her to be God's kind of mom for the remainder of the day. I could almost physically feel her exhaustion and cry her tears of frustration because I've been right where she was.

There are moments in every human life where we feel almost trapped in the life we've carved out for ourselves. We are desperate for relief. The question I ask myself at times like that is, "Is it okay to avoid this? Am I right to seek relief?"

This morning my scheduled reading is the 22nd Chapter of Acts. Paul has narrowly escaped with his life by being arrested. No doubt the misery of prison was a relief compared to the pain of the beating he had been receiving. Paul asks the commander of the soldiers who are taking him into prison for permission to address the very people who had just been beating him.

I imagine this scene being played on one of the reality television show that are popular these days. This is absolutely the moment the station would break for a commercial. Afterwards, the volume would definitely be turned up by all. Surely Paul was getting ready to let these wretched people have it. I'm afraid to say it but Paul's speech would likely end up on the editor's floor; his scene would be cut out.

Paul didn't respond with anger or venom but love and concern. His sole focus was one thing - continuing to make the most of every opportunity to tell his story and allow Jesus to receive all the glory. His story is listened to with great attentiveness until he reports that God sent him to the Gentiles. That is unacceptable to his Jewish audience and once again they are calling for his life.

The commander orders Paul to be brought back inside and flogged, which means to be punished with whips usually reinforced with various pain-inducing implements such as spikes. As Paul is being tied up, he asks the man overseeing his flogging if it is legal to flog a Roman citizen who has not been tried and found guilty of an offense. Paul knows the answer to his question is no, so why did he ask it? Clearly the answer lies in avoidance. Paul knew he either could not or should not endure the pain of the flogging.

This made me wonder if there are times I bring unnecessary suffering on my head that could or should have been avoided. Immediately my mind is flooded with times I have fallen to sin and the pain that inevitably followed. The hurt from sin if my life is marked with emotional scars and damaged relationships. When Jesus died in my place on the cross, he died not only to make a way for my sin to be forgiven but to free me of the ache associated with sin.

At other times, there is pain in my life simply because I live in a fallen world. Jesus love and grace is a free-flowing waterfall always ready to refresh me. When I'm frustrated with being a parent, sick of inconsiderate people or nauseated at the thought of washing one more batch of clothes, there is a source of relief for me. When Jesus dies in my place on the cross, he died not only to make a way for my sin to be forgiven but to free me of the stress of every day life.

Jesus, I want to take one step closer to you every day. As I take one step closer to You, it is also a step away from the life of sin and pain that I'm leaving behind. As I take one step closer to You, it becomes easier for me to see You amidst the pain of living in a fallen world. Only You know just how frail I truly am. You are my Relief.

My Deliverer

Psalm 18:2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

From time to time one of the kids will have "Fire Safety" day at school. This is usually followed by a dramatic presentation of the proper "stop, drop and roll" technique as well as an inquiry about our family's "Fire Safety Plan". Scott and I of course take the opportunity to discuss with the kids how to get out our house, where to meet, etc. in the event of the fire.

Inevitably, however, this discussion leads to a demonstration of Scott's "fireman" skills. He starts showing off by hauling the kids - one, two or even three at a time, up and down the stairs. He wants them to feel safe in our home and have no doubt that he is strong enough to rescue them in a fire. But every heroic demonstration ends with the acknowledgement that our true source of hope, help and deliverance is God Himself. There is no fire, scenario or circumstance that's too hot for Him to handle.

Today I am reading Acts 21:18-40. Paul has arrived in Jerusalem and is busy catching the church leaders there up on what has been happening with the Gentiles. Likewise, they are telling Paul how the church in Jerusalem has grown. A natural tension exists between the two branches of the church because the Jews in Jerusalem are still following the letter of the Jewish law (Verse 20) while the Gentiles have been instructed to follow only four mandates (Verse 25).

To alleviate some of the tension, Paul participates in a Jewish purification ritual. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 that he often adopted the local customs and traditions in order to relate to the people there, that some might be saved. Paul put his personal preferences aside to maintain peace and unity among the believers.

What Paul may not have anticipated is that his trouble with the Jews outside of Jerusalem would follow him inside Jerusalem. Near the end of his seven day purification ritual, some Jews arrive from Asia. These Jews are familiar with Paul and his teachings and stir an uprising against Paul. Many people rapidly join this frenzied mob and soon they are beating Paul in an attempt to kill him.

At this point Paul must have realized that the odds were greatly stacked against him. When I think about it, there are many areas in my life where the odds are stacked against me as well. The odds are stacked against me:
  • To raise four daughters to maturity with their purity in tact
  • To maintain a debt-free lifestyle
  • To raise four children who will still be actively engaged in the Christian faith as adults
  • To be married to the same man for the remainder of my life

In each of these areas, I am doing all I know to do to stack the odds in my favor. I am teaching my teenage and pre-teenage daughter about the importance of purity. I am living within the budget my husband and I set. I am helping my daughters develop a relationship with Jesus, not just participate in a religion. I am loving my husband to the best of my ability.

That's sort of where Paul was. He had come to Jerusalem despite the objections of many people because he believed that's exactly where God wanted him to be. He had done his best to be faithful to the calling God had placed on his life. Yet here he is with his back against the wall, knowing the only way out would be for God to intervene directly or through sending the aid of another. Just as all hope might be lost, God sends Roman troops to retrieve Paul.

Knowing the odds are stacked against me means I have to trust God to intervene when one of my daughters is in a compromising position with a boy, when Scott and I are facing financial difficulties, when one of my children begins to wander or when Scott or I face a sexual temptation. Do I really believe God is able to deliver me? Do I really trust His goodness when hope is wearing thin?

Jesus, today I choose to trust You no matter what. When things are going well, I will thank You. When I face insurmountable circumstances, I will praise You. You are my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer.

How to Unity

John 17:23 (Jesus praying) May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Recently I met with some Christian women whom I both highly respect and admire. We had been jointly praying about a matter for some time. As we prayed, it became apparent we were hearing distinctly different messages from God on this particular subject. This was confusing and disheartening to me. I was having a hard time understanding how we could be hearing such completely different guidance from the same God.

Today I am reading Acts 21:1-17. Paul and his companions have traveled from Miletus to Jersusalem. Along the way, Paul is urged (Verse 4) and pleaded with (Verse 12) not to go to Jerusalem by many sincere, dedicated Christians. Paul will not be dissuaded and journeys to Jerusalem despite the objections of many people.

I analyze this passage and try and figure out who was hearing from God. Surely all those people couldn't have been giving Paul bad advice when they implored him not to go to Jerusalem. Then again, Paul is the early church leader whom I most admire. Surely someone of his spiritual stature could not make a mistake of this size and proportion and was hearing from God on this issue. No matter how hard I try to figure this out with my mind, I end up right back at the same dilemma.

I will probably never know who was right and who was wrong in Paul's scenario or in mine. One thing is very clear to me, though. Jesus wants unity in the church above all other things. When praying for the future church in John 17, Jesus could have prayed for hundreds of different things. Yet He prayed for only one - unity.

It is human nature for every competition to end with a winner and loser; for every argument to end with one party being right and the other being wrong. Through this issue, it has become clear to me that at times in issues of the heart and the church, the winner and right is maintaining unity. Paul's supporters did not get angry with him, turn their backs on him or stop praying for him over this issue. In fact, they sent him off with prayer (Verse 5) and with complete trust in God (Verse 14). Why? How?

The only answer I can come up with is humility and grace. True humility means allowing others to disagree with me without secretly thinking how misguided they are. True grace means allowing others to stumble when they disagree with me and not think, "I told you so" to myself.

Jesus, it is clear to me that I still need to grow in the areas of humility and grace. Today I submit my right to be right to You. I choose unity over winning. I choose unity over being right. Fill me with Your grace that it might splash all over those around me as I pray, walk and live with Your people today.

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Jeremiah 29:11 "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

It was a day I had looked forward to for over a month - career day at school. I was midway through my elementary years and ready to take the world by storm. After hearing from some special guests speak about their chosen professions, it was our turn to go around the circle and share our future career dreams.

Many of the boys wanted to be cowboys, fireman, policeman, doctors and lawyers. The common theme amongst the girls in my class was singing, acting and dancing. A felt a collective breath was drawn as the attention turned to me. My turn was next. "When I grow up, I want to be a stand-up comedian," I proudly declared. That statement was met with laughter all right. My classmates were laughing at me and what a silly idea they thought that was.

Although their laughter stung, they were right about it being a silly idea. It never occurred to me at the time that in order to be a comedian, one had to get up in front of large crowds (terrifying!) and then there's the issue of actually being funny. I crack myself up. It must be everyone else that needs to work on their sense of humor. It's probably a good thing that I limit my act to my family and closest friends.

This morning I am reading Acts 20:17-38. This section opens with Paul sending for the elders from Ephesus and then records the tender, but wise words he speaks to them prior to his departure. This is the type of passage that I read and am almost overcome by the amazing testimony and life of a man like Paul. Today as I read, Jesus whispers in my heart that He has a special purpose for my life as well.

Excited, I dream about all the possibilities. Perhaps my vision of being a comic will be awakened. Better still, maybe God will supernaturally endow me with flexibility and balance so I can perform in the circus. Okay, maybe not. The truth is, God has already called me to very important roles for His kingdom - wife and mother. The pay is nonexistent, the hours gruelling and the titles are not glamorous but yet these jobs are critical. These are to the jobs God has called me to. In the text, Paul makes three statements that will help me better perform in my current roles:
  • I served the Lord with great humility and with tears (Verse 19) - There is not a single day when I feel truly equipped to be a wife and mother. In fact, I "fail" at my job with great regularity. I'm grouchy with Scott. I have unrealistic expectations of my children. I have a lousy attitude. Here though, Jesus is telling me just to relax. The only real requirements of my position are humility and tears. Humility means being willing to daily admit to God that I can't do this job without Him. Tears means being willing to put my whole heart into the job, never holding any part of me back from Scott and the kids.
  • I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me (Verse 24) - Jesus gave me this job to do. My part is to rely on Him daily so that I actually complete the work. What does that mean in a marriage? It means divorce is not an option. It means serving my husband to the best of my ability even when I don't feel like it. It means doing my best to meet his needs - sexual, emotional, social and physical. What does this mean as a parent? It means staying actively engaged in their lives. It means taking primary responsibility for teaching them about Jesus. It means making the most of every opportunity I have to influence and teach.
  • Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers (Verse 28) - Notice that my childhood dream did not include management responsibilities. This is not something that comes naturally to me. While I have natural leadership skills, those are definitely not the same as natural management skills. My husband is an excellent manager. I am not. I prefer for everyone to be happy and get along every second of the day and I definitely prefer for everyone to like me. Neither of those are a possibility at all times if I am going to be an overseer. I have to set aside my need for peace and popularity, in order to be the overseer of the home that God has called me to be.

Jesus, thank you for giving me a life with purpose. Even though I never became a stand-up comedian, Your dreams for me were far better, richer and more fulfilling. Help me today to be faithful to fulfill Your calling on my life with humility and tears. Help me persevere in this calling and be an overseer, first of myself, and second over those You've put in my life to shepherd.

Jesus is My Day Timer

Psalm 118:24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

In just two short weeks, Hannah and Hayleigh will be off to high school and middle school and Clara will begin her last year of preschool. I once heard Joe White of Kanakuk camps say, "The days of being a mother are very long but the years are very short." This is so true. Where has the last year gone?

Once again, I am reminded how important it is to make the most of everyday that I have left with my kids. What does it mean to make the most of my day though? Does this mean maximizing my number of activities? Should I be adding to or subtracting from the extracurricular activities my kids are involved in? How do I know what to do with my time each day?

Today I am reading Acts 20:1-16. This passage chronicles a number of Paul's stops. The passage opens in Ephesus where a major uprising has just been quelled with the intervention of the city clerk. Paul stays with the disciples there long enough to encourage them and then sets out for Macedonia (Verse 1). He travels through Macedonia and speaks words of encouragement along the way, apparently just stopping briefly in each city (Verse 2).

Next, he arrives in Greece, where he stays three months (Verses 2-3). He had planned to go to Syria next but he received word of a plot against him there so he went back through Macedonia instead (Verse 3). Next, Paul arrives in Troas and stays there 7 days. This passage concludes with Paul and his companions arriving in Miletus.

As I studied this passage I wondered how Paul decided his length of stay in each location. Sometimes he breezed through town; at other times he lingered three months. Although it is not stated explicitly in the text, some clues are given to us.
  • He allowed God to lead him - Acts 16:7 relates that Paul and his friends intended to enter Bithynia but "the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to". Clearly Paul was checking his itinerary often with God to ensure he was exactly where God wanted him to be.
  • He focused on the needs of others - This passage opens with Paul staying in Ephesus only long enough to encourage the believers there. He stayed long enough to accomplish what those believer's needed and nothing more. He did not yield to the temptation to believe they could not carry on without him, nor did he focus on his own needs. We that best in Troas where Paul preached all night in order to maximize his impact there while sticking to the agenda he felt God had given him. He believed he was to be in Jerusalem for Pentacost (Verse 16) and would do whatever it took to be there, even if that meant sacrificing his own need of sleep.
  • He tempered his drive with common sense - In my opinion, there is no other figure in the Bible as passionate as Paul. Yet when he heard a plot was rising against him in Syria, he changed his plans to go there. He didn't allow his drive to blot out the common sense of avoiding danger if it were possible.

As I look at my own agenda for the day, I ask myself three questions. Is God leading me? Am I focusing on the needs of others? Am I using the common sense God gave me?

  • Is God leading me? - I can pack my day full of good and profitable activities but if they aren't the ones God wants me participating in, I'm just spinning my wheels. I try to begin each day with a submissive heart and say to Jesus, "This day is Yours. What do You want me to do today?"
  • Am I focusing on the needs of others? - It is so easy to get wrapped up in getting things marked of my list. I sincerely enjoy the feeling of accomplishment of finishing a cleaning project or better yet, staring at an empty dirty laundry bin. However, if I do these things to meet my needs instead of blessing my family, I'm not really allowing God to lead my day. I also fall prey to dealing with emergencies instead of the important. Often the true needs of others lie in the important, not the urgent. Did I make time to write my friend who's struggling in her faith? Did I pray with my kids today? Did I randomly call my husband today to tell him I love. These things rarely get done by living in the urgent.
  • Am I using the common sense God gave me? - From time to time, I let my schedule get totally out of control. I'll have three meetings scheduled back to back, followed by four carpool drop offs that afternoon. The only way I can "do it all" is if everything goes perfectly. Since life isn't perfect, I have created an illogical, unattainable schedule. I need to employ the common sense God gave me and put more space in my schedule.

Jesus, truly my day is Yours. Help me make the most of it by focusing on the tasks You'd have me do and eliminating "noise" that only leads to distraction and ineffectiveness. Today I will allow You to lead me, make serving others my primary goal and use common sense when planning my day. Oh, and I will make the most of this day with my kids.

Choose This Day...

Isaiah 55:8-9 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

When Scott made the decision last fall to enter the ministry, this came at a real economic cost to our family, a pay cut of about 50%. Several changes in our lifestyle have been required as a result. We have downsized our house, one of our cars and even our ability to send our four children to college. It may surprise you to find out that this decision was met with criticism, both from those within as well as those without the church. The focus of that criticism was that Scott's decision was illogical when he had greater income earning potential and foolish when he could provide a higher level of lifestyle for his family. However, Scott's decision was under girded by the fact that long ago he decided that the primary goal of his life would be to please God, whether or not this always pleased the people around him.

This morning I am reading from Acts 19:21-41. This section centers around an uprising against Paul and his companions in Ephesus. The city of Ephesus worshipped many false gods. Chief among them was Artemis whose temple is considered one of the "seven wonders of the ancient world". Just as the economy of Orlando, Florida is derived primarily from sources associated with Walt Disney World, Artemis' temple was a major component of the economy of ancient Ephesus.

In particular, the metalworkers whose entire livelihood was dependent upon selling statues of Artemis, had a high degree of motivation to keep the worship of Artemis intact. They were, if you will, the souvenir shops of their day. It is this group of individuals that participate in a mob-like attack on Paul. I am struck by what a contrast this is to the group of people yesterday who were willing to sacrifice valuable sorcery materials in order to be right with God. There are two applications that Jesus whispers into my heart this morning.
  • Choose Relationship Over Reason - The "saved sorcerers" burned their scrolls worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (Verse 19). No person using only logic would deem this a smart move on their part. Why not just sell them to another sorcerer who wanted nothing to do with Jesus? Certainly the metalworkers would have made that argument. However, these new believers were so dedicated to Christ, that they wanted nothing to potentially harm or damage their relationship with Him. They chose relationship over reason.
  • Choose Piety Over Possessions - In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned, "Watch out! Be on guard for all kinds of greed. A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." This is a lesson the metalworkers would be well-served to learn. They were apparently more concerned with the short-term impact to their pocketbooks than the long-term impact to their souls of worshipping an idol. By contrast, the "saved sorcerers" made it their aim to please God whatever the financial cost. They chose piety over possessions.

Paul was greatly disturbed by the actions of these metalworkers, particularly a Jew named Alexander. Paul would later mention Alexander in his writings as 1) the kind of person Satan uses (1 Timothy 1:20) and 2) the kind of person a minister has to be particularly careful to be on guard against (2 Timothy 2:14-15).

If I evaluate my life honestly, I can see places where I'm more of a metalworker than a "saved sorcerer". For example, I have chosen the temporary pleasure of possessing a new outfit over the long-term satisfaction of staying within the confines of the household budget we've set. I have also talked myself out of doing something I clearly knew God was asking me to do, because it seemed illogical to me. Sweet Jesus, thank you for teaching me today how to choose You over reason and possessions. As with everyday, You are all I really need.

Choose Your Tools Carefully

After my husband became a Christian, he had the privilege of later leading both his brother and mother to Jesus. I've never asked them but I've always suspected it was watching Scott's life transform before their eyes that made them in part at least realize their own need of Christ. I know there has been no greater joy in my life than having ring-side seats to the miracle of Scott's changed life.

Today I am reading Acts 19:1-20. Paul has journeyed to Ephesus. Paul first teaches in the synagogue for three months and then in another venue for two years. Paul taught so extensively there that every person who lived in that province heard about Jesus (Verse 10). Paul's reputation was increased by the miraculous signs that God did through Paul. Even cloth that touched Paul could be given to the sick and they would be healed (Verses 11-12).

In Ephesus there was a group of people who attempted to use the name of Jesus like a tool. They attempted to drive out evil spirits by invoking Jesus' name, even though apparently they themselves did not believe. One day as they were attempting to do this the evil spirit answered them and said, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" Then the man possessed by this spirit overpowered them and beat them until they were naked and bleeding. (Verses 13-16)

This incident provokes a significant response, even among the believers in Ephesus. Some who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls, worth collectively well over $500,000, and burned them. The result is that "the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power" (Verse 20). The entire region heard about Jesus because of Paul's faithfulness but it was the evidence of the changed lives of everyday residents that caused many to believe.

There is two blaring lessons for me this morning.
  1. Jesus is not a tool (Verses 13-16) - God makes it clear that His name is not a tool to be wielded for any purpose. I used to live a life where I didn't really even think about God for days on end let alone read the Bible or pray. However, whenever something went wrong in my life I suddenly wanted to sprint back to God and invoke His power and blessing over the situation I was facing. Ashamedly, I was using Jesus' name as a tool. I foolishly thought Jesus was a convenience that I could pick up and use whenever I needed and shelve whenever I didn't.
  2. My testimony is a powerful tool - It is so easy to make myself believe that since I'm not Billy Graham or Beth Moore, that my testimony is ineffective. This is a lie. The truth found in this passage, is that many people respond when they see an ordinary person whom God has transformed extraordinarily. There is great power in giving God the credit for the work of change He's done in a person's life. My story is not a tool to shelve.

Jesus today may I truly be aware of the tools I hold in my life toolbox. Today I willingly use the tool you've given me of the story of an ordinary girl. I will share my story. You will, by Your power and grace, make it an effective tool.

Saddle up.

One of the dynamics about having four kids that I find interesting, is their constant attempts at jockeying for position within the family. None of them is content with just being a daughter. Each wants to be the best, favorite daughter. Every night they race to claim the spot next to Dad or Mom at the dinner table. Chore assignments morph into a competition to see who can get the best compliment. Even on special occassions like birthdays, they watch closely to see if each gift garners an equal reaction.

What none of them realize is that the moments they most capture our hearts is not when they are jockeying for it. I am slayed with love when one of them offers their seat to another at the dinner table. I bubble over with joy when they are more excited about showing off their sister's accomplishment than their own. I am fraught with delight when one of them helps the other make or purchase a gift and then exhibits more enthusiasm about her sister's gift than her own.

This morning my reading is from Acts, Chapter 18. This section of scripture details Paul's visits to Corinth, Ephesus, Antioach, Galatia and Phrygia. Today I am struck by the fact the Paul didn't just spread the good news about Jesus wherever he went. He also dedicated himself to making sure that these new Christians were growing in their faith. In Verse 23, Paul was said to be "strengthening all the disciples".

Far different from jockeying for position, stengthening others involves selflessness, an investment of time and a great deal of sensitivity and kindness. It can involve acts of service (Philippians 2:3-4) or living out my life in such a way that my life serves as a practical example for others to follow (1 Corinthians 11:1). For certain, it the opposite of how each of us humans is naturally wired with a strong pull and desire to attain, obtain and achieve only for our own good and glory.

Today Jesus may I serve to strengthen the faith of others around me. Whether in words or actions, may what I do draw others closer to You. Saddle up my horse. I'm ready to ride for the good of others instead of jockeying for myself.

Help Wanted?

Psalm 24:1 The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.

Hannah (14) is by far the most precocious of all my children. She was not yet five the first time she asked me where babies came from. Thankfully, I had read some books on discussing the "birds and bees" with your children and I knew that you don't give them more information than they are actually seeking. I simply responded by telling her, "When a man and woman love each other, they get married. After that, God blesses their marriage and puts a baby in the wife's tummy."

I was hopeful this answer would pacify her for a minimum of a decade so I was quite disappointed when just a few months later she came back for more information. One day she scoots up to me and says, "Mommy, remember when you told me that God blesses the mommy and daddy and puts a baby in the mommy's tummy?". I mutter, "Uh huh", consumed with dread. Hannah cocked her head to the left and confidently inquired, "Well doesn't God need a little help?"

This morning I am reading Acts 17:16-34. Paul has gone to Athens while Silas and Timothy have stayed behind in Berea. Even without his companions, Paul continues to dedicate himself to the task of telling the people there about Jesus. After some time, Paul is invited to speak in front of the Areopagus, which was the highest judicial and legislative council in ancient Athens.

During his time there, Paul had noticed that Athens was full of statues and idols to various gods. There was even an altar to "an unknown god". Paul uses that as his platform and describes the unknown to them but one and only true God this way:
  • He is our creator (Verse 24)

  • He does not live in temples made by hands (Verse 24)

  • He is not served by human hands (Verse 25)

  • He gives all men life, breath and everything (Verse 25)

  • He created all people from one man (Verse 26)

  • He determined exactly where and when each person would live (Verse 26)

So often I get it in my head that God needs my help, as if He's standing in heaven holding a heavenly "Help Wanted" sign. This rears it's ugly head in a number of ways such as when I pray about something while subtly attempting to manipulate my circumstances to "help God along". Or when I feel like I absolutely must say "yes" to every opportunity in the church that comes my way because I think God could not possibly minister without me. Something tells me Hannah's apple didn't drop too far from my tree.

Paul goes on in Verse 27 to tell the Athenians that God did all of that so that men would seek him. God has a very narrow focus - He wants a relationship with every person He created. Just in case any thick-headed people like me were in the audience, Paul also told them that it is in God that we live, move and have our being (Verse 28). He is everything I need and the answer to all my "Help Wanted" needs. He already has everything He needs - He owns no "Help Wanted" signs.

Jesus, thank you for being all that I need. Today, You've made it so clear that You don't need my help but instead offer me the privilege of being a vessel through whom You choose to work. This day may I live, move and have my being in You.

Let the Investigation Commence

Psalm 119:30-32 I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws. I hold fast to your statutes, O Lord; do not let me be put to shame. I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.

For years I had my two oldest children convinced that I could change the color of traffic lights from red to green. When I would approach an intersection and the light was red but the opposing lights were yellow, I would use my special "hand wave" and the color would change before my kid's eyes. They were mystified.

Over time, they began to put in requests for my "special talent". This was most inconvenient because the opposing lights would not always be yellow. For these cases, I created a dramatic hand warm-up ritual to fill the time until I could do my "trick". It took years before the kids investigated my claims for themselves. They were all too willing to just take me at my word that I had this special ability and it never occurred to them that they might be being misled in some way.

Today's passage is Acts 17:1-15. Paul has departed Philippi and traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia before arriving in Thessalonica. After about a month there, Paul was once again run out of town. His next stop was a town called Berea. The people of Berea are described as having more noble character than the Thessalonians because they examined the scriptures for themselves to see if what Paul was saying was true.

For over a decade, I was a very faithful church member who was involved in the church choir, orchestra and preschool programs. I attended church on Wednesdays and Sundays and even went to both Sunday school and worship on Sunday mornings. What I am not proud to tell you though is that during this span of time I almost never read the Bible for myself. From my limited perspective, I didn't really need to. I was familiar with almost any scripture or passage that was used by my pastor or Sunday school teacher. Therefore I reasoned most incorrectly, that I already knew everything the Bible taught and didn't need to read it myself.

When I finally did begin to read the Bible for myself I was amazed to find out the many of the scriptures I had heard quoted for years were to some degree at least taken out of context. Here's an example of that:
  • What I Heard - I have heard Romans 8:28 referenced literally hundreds if not thousands of times over the years. The part of this scripture that people usually say is "all things work together for good". The given implication is that for all people, in every circumstance, everything ends up working out well. I am in no way blaming my former teachers because likely they were giving me great instruction and I just wasn't hearing it. This is just what I heard them implying.
  • What I Read - Later when I actually began to read the Bible for myself I was shocked to find out that this verse actually says that "in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose...that (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers." So here's a phrase by phrase interpretation of what this scripture actually says (to me anyway):
  • God works for the good of those who love him - John 14:15 says that those who love God, obey him. It could just as easily start God works for the good of those who obey him. That seems like a smaller group than everybody.
  • God works for the good of those who have been called according to his purpose - I think of this like it says, those who are on God's page not their own page. Now the circle draws tighter still because many times I'm on my own page, not God's. That seems like it might happen less often than in every single circumstance.
  • God works for the good so Jesus will be the firstborn among many brothers - The way I might say this is God works things for good only so that I'll look more like Jesus at the end of whatever I'm going through. If I don't look more like Jesus every day perhaps I'm not in that I love God and I'm on His page group. In other words, the good God's after isn't great circumstances that I enjoy but a transformed life.

This morning I am reminded how important it is for me to be a Berean. Whether I'm in women's Bible study or listening to my pastor, I need to read, study and understand that passage being taught for myself so I can ensure 1) the teaching being given is sound and 2) I'm hearing correctly what the teacher is saying.

There has been nothing that has changed my life more than developing the daily habit of Bible reading and study. As God's word has entered my heart, not just my ears, my life has been transformed. I know with certainty that God still has mounds of work to do in my life so I will continue in this habit until my life here comes to a close.

Jesus, thank you for reminding me of my desperate need to connect with You daily for myself. It's not enough just to live vicariously through my pastor or teacher's relationship with You. I need to open Your Word for myself so that I'll look just a little more like You tomorrow than I do today.

Developing A Beautiful Mind

Isaiah 26:3 You will keep in perfect peace (her) whose mind is steadfast because (she) trusts in you.

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with a sweet girlfriend getting a manicure and pedicure. After an hour of exfoliating, trimming, massaging and painting, I was sitting under the dryer. As I relaxed, I suddenly realized that Christmas music was playing over the loudspeaker. This is definitely not something you typically hear on July 11th.

There was no words, only Kenny G on his saxophone belting out "What Child is This?" The shop owner probably didn't even realize this beautiful tune was a Christmas song. As I enjoyed the lovely strain, I pondered how often in my own life I misinterpret something because I don't have all the information.

Today I read Acts 16:22-40. Once again Paul finds himself in jail. Around midnight, he and Silas are raising their voices in songs of praise to God. It likely wasn't Kenny G but was no less beautiful in the ear of God. Out of nowhere an earthquake shakes the prison so violently that the door to the jail bursts open and the prisoners are released from their shackles.

The shocks are strong enough to wake the jailer and when he sees the prison doors open, he raises his sword to take his own life rather than face the consequences of escaped prisoners. Paul calls out to not harm himself because not one had fled the jail. Immediately the jailer realizes that he had completely misinterpreted what he'd seen. Overcome with gratitude, he asks Paul how he can be saved. Obviously Paul is all too eager to tell him and a wonderful morning of salvation and celebration is the result.

I am a lot like the jailer. I see something, interpret it and act assuming my interpretation is correct. When I do that, I live out of assumption instead of reality. Here is a couple of those kinds of situations that happen to me:
  • Scenario: My friend walks by and I speak to her. She doesn't respond. Assumption: She's mad at you. You must have done something wrong and should spend the rest of the day trying to figure out what you've done so you can make it right. Reality: My friend still likes me. I've done nothing wrong. She just didn't hear me.

  • Scenario: I cook dinner for my husband and he doesn't rave about it. Assumption: He doesn't like this dinner. Maybe I shouldn't cook it anymore. I can't believe I spent all this time cooking a dinner he doesn't even like. Reality: My husband loves the dinner. He's had a long day at work and is just decompressing while very much enjoying the dinner I cooked.

Jesus is the hidden key that unlocks the door to reality. Just as the message of His birth was hidden in the song from the shop owner, His peace can remain hidden from me when I misinterpret what I see around me. Philippians 4:6-7 is an often quoted verse about peace. It tells us to not be anxious, but instead pray about everything and then God will give us His peace. So often we don't read the next verse though. Philippians 4:8 tells us to think about things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I think this is because God knows if I'll just think about the right things, I'll never lack peace to begin with.

For me, I could probably just stop at whatever things are true. When my friend doesn't speak to me or my husband fails to compliment my meal, I can train my mind to think about what's true. The truth is my friend is kind and loves me enough that if I'd done something wrong she'd just have told me, not snubbed me. The truth is my husband loves my cooking and is very forthright when he doesn't particularly care for something. If he didn't like it, he would just tell me.

Jesus, today help me to focus on what is true. Instead of allowing my mind to become consumed with things that are incorrect interpretations based on my limited sight, let my mind be consumed with thoughts of You.

Worthy of Worship

Psalm 29:2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.

A little over a year ago, Scott had a radical prostatectomy, which is the complete removal of the prostate gland. This intrusive and no doubt painful surgery was performed on a Monday. On the following Friday, he was released from the hospital and insisted that he go to church on Sunday. Worried about the physical strain this would be on his body, I objected but he overcame my concerns by reassuring me that he could be in no more healing place than worshipping in his Father's house.

After a thirty minute walk from the front door to his seat (a distance of maybe 300 feet), I would be lying if I said I was not a bit distracted as the service began. At the first beat of the first worship song, however, I was absolutely overcome. Like a flood, the realization washed over me that God has chosen to spare Scott's life and waves of gratitude flowed out. I truly stood amazed in His presence as I worshipped God and thanked Him. Scott was right. We were exactly where we needed to be.

This morning, my reading is Acts 16:1-21. This passage opens just after Paul and Barnabas have parted company. Paul's ministry partner is now Silas. Their first stops are Derbe and Lystra. This is where Paul first meets Timothy. Paul likes him so much that he decides to have Timothy join their ministry team.

From there, they travel through Phrygia, Galatia and on to Philippi. Once in Philippi, they head directly for an area of prayer. It is here that Paul encounters a woman named Lydia, who is described as a "worshipper of God". This in my esteem is a pretty big compliment. I wonder if this description truly applies to me. I decide to search the Scriptures to see what authentic worship might look like.
  • My Posture - Worshippers in the Bible bow down (Gen. 24:48), stand (Neh. 9:3) and kneel (Ps. 95:6). I can worship God sincerely in any posture.

  • My Location - Mountains (Ex. 3:12), homes (Gen. 47:31) and the wilderness (Ex. 33:10) are among the venues where worship takes place. I can worship God anywhere and everywhere I go.

Jesus, today I am more aware than ever that you are worthy of my worship all the time, everywhere and in every possible way. Today my life will be lifted to You in a song of worship. I don't want to be known as a church attender or even a good person. I want to be known, like Lydia, as a worshipper of God.

Please Deposit all Rocks in the Provided Receptacle

Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

The other day I was at the gym and sat down to bike. Normally I use that time to listen to sermons and/or praise music or catch up on my Christian book reading. This day I did neither, as I was immediately drawn in by the images on my individualized television. "The Parent Trap" was playing and I smiled as I remembered all the times I've watched this movie with my own children. The heart-warming plot of this show is the chance meeting at summer camp of identical twin children separated at birth and their subsequent scheme to reunite their estranged parents.

Their plan would have gone off perfectly had it not been for one small problem. Unbeknowst to them, their father was already engaged to be remarried. The twins are all too eager to rid their dad's life of the young gold-digger who has connived her way into their father's heart, so a series of planned incidents to run her off ensues. On one occasion, the twins are hiking with their father and future step-mother and they load her backpack with large rocks to make this nature excursion even more excruciating to her than it already was. Even though I should have been laughing, I instead began to wonder to myself if I have loaded any "rocks" to tote around in my backpack during my walk of life with Jesus.

This morning I am reading Acts 15:22-41. The church at Jerusalem has just decided that the additional requirements of circumcision and following the Mosaic law should not be added to Gentile believers. They craft a letter to send with Paul, Barnabas and two additional representatives of the church in Jerusalem to deliver to the church at Antioch. In it they outline four practices to avoid - eating food sacrificed to idols, eating meat that is still bloody, eating meat from animals that had been strangled and sexual immorality. Other than sexual immorality, none of these are prevalent problems in modern day America but I am certain there is still a lesson for me to learn here.

At the time of Christ, there was over 600 Levitical laws. Additionally, any given rabbi could create his own addendums, so many devout Jews were carrying around literally thousands of dos and don'ts in their heads. The church leadership pared all those down to just four life principles to be followed. That's quite an improvement, in my opinion.

Jesus did the same for us when He was walking this earth. He pared all the teaching of the Bible down to two principles. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus has been asked which is the greatest commandment in the Jewish law. Jesus simply answers, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'.'"

Do I add any rocks to my backpack? Dozens of them come to mind, but here are just a couple of blaring examples:
  • People Pleasing - This Rock = Loving my neighbor means that every person approves of everything I do at all times. Jesus' truth is that His is the only approval I need. As long as I am loving His people, the results of that love are up to Him.

  • Insecurity - This Rock = Loving my neighbor means they will love me back in such a way that I will have no need of God. God's truth is that only He can satisfy the longings of my heart. The only security I need is to be secure in His love.

Thank you, Jesus, that you came to remove all the rocks from my backpack. Today I release every one of them to you. This day I will remember that as long as I'm loving You and Your people, I am doing already what You have asked of me. Indeed your burden is light!

I'm Living on Grace Avenue

Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-not by works, so that no one can boast.

Recently my four-year-old, Clara, asked me, "Is Carynnie going to be bigger than me?" This is quite a strong likelihood, so I did what any good mom would do.....I dodged the question. "Why do you ask, Sweetheart?" "Well, Hayleigh said Carynne is going to be bigger than me, but I'm supposed to be the big sister." There you have it. At four, she's already questioning whether she will measure up to what's expected of her.

Like every person she just wants to know that she is good enough. Mad at the crazy expectations, people place on themselves and others, I wanted to scream in exasperation, "Where is the rule that says you have to be bigger than your little sister to be the big sister?" Instead, I calmly explained to her that God had perfectly designed her in every possible way to be Carynne's big sister, no matter what her size. I told her that God loves her so much that He knew before she ever born exactly what she would need to be a big sister. I reassured her that God never withholds His very best from His children.

This morning I am reading Acts 15:1-21. Paul and Barnabas are still in Antioch teaching the believers there. Some other men come into that region and begin to teach that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved. The Antioch church sends Paul and Barnabus to Jerusalem to meet with the elders there and discuss this issue. That starts a landslide of legalism and soon others are teaching that you must also obey everything in the law of Moses to be saved.

Peter stands as the voice of grace and points everyone back to the fact that God had poured His Spirit on the Gentiles without any additional requirements than their saving faith in Christ. My favorite part of this passage comes in Verse 19 when Peter says, "It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God."

There have been plenty of times when I have either been the subject of someone's attempt at legalism or the instrument of legalism myself. The rules we impose on ourselves can be unwritten but exist nonetheless. It could be the silent exclusion of someone who dresses differently or the verbal expression of rules about habits and entertainment that simply do not exist in God's Word. Whatever they are, they are divisive and definitely not pleasing to Jesus.

Jesus, today I will be wise enough to learn and apply what Your Word actually does say. I will also be humble enough to cast off any addition to it that I or someone else has made. Today let me live at the intersection of Grace Avenue and Love Street and deposit in the corner's trash can everything else.

Impossible to Forget

2 Corinthians 4:8-9 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

Someone was shaking me and talking so loudly. Slowly, I came out of the canyon of deep, uninterrupted sleep. Except someone was interrupting mine. As my mind became coherent, I could hear the woman saying, "Honey, your baby is crying. You need to feed her." Confused, I mumbled, "What baby?" Instantly, reality flooded back to me and I remembered that I had birthed a baby the evening before. She was crying and I had not even heard her let alone remembered I had her. Just hours after birth, if she'd been aware of what was happening, she would have felt forgotten and abandoned.

The 14th Chapter of Acts is my reading for today. The chapter opens with Paul and Barnabas beginning to minister in Iconium through the Jewish synagogue. They see immediate results from their labor as both Jews and Gentiles respond to the message. Once again, the Jewish heads stir the people against them and they narrowly escape a plot to stone them by fleeing to Lystra. (Verses 1-7)

In Lystra, Paul continues to preach and during one sermon he heals a man lame from birth. This leads the crowd to mistakenly believe that Paul and Barnabas are two of the Greek gods of old, Hermes and Zeus. They want to make sacrifices to their newly found "gods", and it is only with a great deal of convincing that Paul and Barnabas are able to dissuade them. In no time though, the pendulum of popularity has swung. With the Jews from Antioch and Iconium leading the charge, the multitude is incited to stone Paul and leave him for dead. (Verses 8-19)

Undeterred, Paul continues on to Derbe where the gospel is preached. From there, Paul winds his way back to Antioch, stopping along the way in various cities to encourage and strengthen the new believers. (Verses 20-28)

As I read this chapter, my heart ached for Paul. None more so though, than when he was left for dead (Verse 19). I wondered what was going through his mind. Did he feel abandoned, alone, scared and confused? There have been times in my life, when I felt abandoned by God. Indeed, there is no lonelier place to be. In those moments, my heart has been consumed with despair and sadness. I couldn't understand why God had allowed that circumstance into my life and why it felt like He had forgotten all about me.

When I have had days or seasons like that in my life, my only valid responses were to abandon my faith or cling to the truth of God's Word. Over time, I have gotten much better at doing the latter.
  • I (God) will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5)

  • Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Jesus, the next time life stones me and leaves me for dead, I will remember your promises to me. I will know that I have not been abandoned, that You never forget Your promises and that even there in my darkest place You are with me. Thank you for never leaving or forsaking me.

Fill me Up with Joy (Make That Unleaded, Please)

Psalm 126:3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Several sweet friends of mine have had babies recently. Anytime someone I know has a baby, it makes me reflect back to the births of my four wonderful blessings. Pregnancy is a surreal experience. It seems one moment you're staring at a stick in joy and disbelief and the next you are absolutely filled with a baby. A baby can rob you of your nutrients, energy and even ability to think long before she's even born. Nevertheless, those days when I was absolutely filled with one of my babies are memories marked with contentment, joy and anticipation.

Today I am finishing Acts 13 by reading Verses 26-52. Paul is still knee-deep in his sermon at the local synagouge. His focus in this part of his sermon is that Jesus is alive. It is because He is living that we can have hope in hopeless moments and joy in joyless hours. Paul wonderfully weaves Old Testament truth with its fulfillment in the living Christ. As he wraps up his sermon, Paul is invited to return the next week (Verses 26-42).

The next week, Paul packs in "almost the whole city". This fills the Jewish leaders with jealousy and they resort to disparaging Paul in an attempt to gain back their own popularity (Verses 43-45). Paul is unfettered by their criticism and turns his attention from the Jews to the Gentiles, who accept his teaching with gladness (Verses 46-48).

As the gospel spreads throughout the region surrounding Pisidian Antioch, the Jewish establishment incites persecution against Paul and Barnabus in order to get them expelled from their region (Verses 49-50). They are successful and Paul and Barnabus depart for Iconium. The chapter closes by recording that the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit (Verses 51-52).

Shannon, with what are you filled-jealousy or joy? Personally, I want to pull my soul up to a tank at God's filling station and nowhere else. How can I best do that?
  • Choose What You're Filled With - When I or someone I love is the object of harsh criticism, I must admit my natural reaction is not to be filled with joy. Perhaps the key is that these believers were also filled with the Holy Spirit. By constrast, the Jewish leaders allowed themselves to be filled with jealousy. When I am filled to capacity with Christ, there's no room left for pride, envy and selfishness. Therefore, joy will be my natural inclination regardless of how other's treat me or my loved ones. I will rejoice when someone else is in the spotlight, rather than concerning myself with the false satisfaction derived from power, prominence and position.

  • Choose to be Unleaded - When Paul and Barnabus left Pisidian Antioch, they "shook the dust from their feet" (Verse 51). This was their way of communicating that they wouldn't be carrying the weight of criticism and rejection into their next destination. So often, I carry around with me insults, criticisms and the sting of rejection. God wants me to be completely unleaded of those types of weights. So, I have to not only choose forgiveness but to unload my satchel of any baggage I'm carrying around with me. I have to shake the dust of insecurity off my feet before I can walk in joy.

Just as being filled with a baby can zap you of your last ounce of energy, being filled with anything besides Christ can do the same. Today I want to be energized by the joy that comes from throwing off the lead of jealousy and insecurity. Instead I want to be first in line at The Fueling Station this morning. It's always open with no lines and no waiting.

If You Don't Have Anything Nice to Say...

Psalm 141:3 Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.

Yesterday I was typing a text to one of my daughters about another daughter. I meant to type what a great big sister she was but instead typed what a great bug sister she was. This wouldn't have been nearly as funny to us if this had not been the same daughter to whom I accidentally responded, "Yes it does" instead of "No it doesn't" last year when she asked if her hair looked bad. Chalk this up to another "encouraging" mom moment on my tally sheet! This amusing little incident did cause me to stop and ponder though how my kids, husband, family and friends would be impacted if I only ever spoke words of encouragement to them.

This morning Acts 13:1-25 is my reading. As Saul and Barnabas mark their one year anniversary in Antioch, our passage opens. Through prayer, fasting and worship, the church receives a word from the Holy Spirit that is it time for them to ship off to their next God-given assignment. Their journey from Antioch to Pisidian Antioch is journalled with stops in Cyprus, Paphos and Perga. For those of you with maps in the back of your Bible, you'll find this labelled as "Paul's First Missionary Journey" (Verses 1-14).

Upon arrival in Pisidian Antioch, Saul (from now on called Paul) and Barnabas make a beeline for the temple. Their entrance is greeted with an invitation that ought to be extended more often, "Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak." (Verse 15) Paul gives them the ultimate message of encouragement, by beginning to mount his argument that Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Verses 16-25). Before my reading for the day comes to a close, Paul has described the Old Testament king, David, as a man after God's own heart.

Of the many ways people are described in the Bible, I have always found this description of David the most complimentary. How my heart would leap for joy if I could authentically be described as a woman after God's own heart. If you have a message of encouragement...
  • Don't let it be drowned out by language unfitting for a Christian (Ephesians 5:4)
  • Don't let it be shrouded in a veil of truth without love (Ephesians 4:15)
  • Don't let it be hidden by grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14)
  • Don't let it be lost among careless and reckless words (Matthew 12:36 , Proverbs 12:18)

The truth about Jesus, His principles and His life applications is the ultimate message of encouragement. Jesus, through me or any of us, can shine hope into the bleakest of outlooks. Proverbs 18:21 says the tongue has the power of life and death. I want my words to be life-giving words of encouragement.

Today, Jesus, I will be a woman after your own heart by speaking words that echo Your very heart - words of encouragement. Set a guard over my mouth and heart so no careless word or rotten attitude, mumbles my message. This day I will offer my little world nothing but mouth-to-ear resuscitation!

Who Did That?

Psalm 9:1 I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.

Out of our four kids, it seems like we have two of everything. We have two who sleep in and two who are early risers. There's two who are assertive and two who are more timid. You'll even observe we have two brunettes and two blonds. The interesting thing is none of the sets of two mentioned, are the same sets of two. Each child has an individual set of interests, giftings and qualities that will uniquely qualify her to be a godly woman of great purpose.

This morning, my scheduled reading is the 12th chapter of Acts. This chapter is a contrast of two men's character. One who only lauds himself and one who gives all praise and glory to God. As the chapter opens, we find King Herod persecuting the church. He has the apostle James put to death and imprisons Peter with the intention of executing him after the Passover (Verses 1-4). As the church earnestly intercedes, an angel appears to Peter in jail, frees him and lead him safely out of the prison (Verses 5-10).

Peter goes straight away to the house where he knew the Christians had gathered to pray for him. When he arrives, he can't wait to tell them all how the Lord rescued him from prison. His sole focus was on the Lord and giving Him all the praise for His intervention in his life. Herod is greatly disturbed by Peter's escape and had all sixteen men who guarded Peter executed (Verses 11-19).

Herod then travels to Caesarea to settle a dispute with the local residents there. After addressing the people, they don him a god, a title which Herod readily accepts. Herod is focused entirely on himself. Because Herod lauded himself rather then God, he was struck dead (Verses 20-23).

My inclination is to assume that I have more in common with Peter than Herod. If I pause though, I may find that's not the case.
  • When my children accomplish something, do see this as a reflection of Christ or me?
  • When I talk to family and friends, is what Jesus doing or what I'm doing my first topic that springs to mind?

Among all the sets of two in my home, may Jesus be the thread that joins our hearts, lives and conversation. Today, Jesus, I will make you the recipient of the credit for every good thing in my life. You alone are worthy to be praised.

Any News Can Be Good News

Isaiah 52:7a How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news!

When Scott was diagnosed with cancer in early 2009, one of the most difficult tasks we faced was telling our children. Bathed in prayer, we sat down and told them as straightforward as we knew how. They were sad but not defeated, concerned but not overwhelmed. Our children immediately ministered to us as we saw their complete assurance that God would take care of us no matter what.

Three days later our oldest, Hannah, was off to a special youth weekend. She was staying in a local home with at least 15 other 7th grade girls. By the end of weekend, nearly every girl in her house had made a profession of faith or a rededication. Many of those girls credited Hannah's deep assurance in God's goodness in the midst of a nearly insurmountable trial as part of their motivation for wanting to draw closer to God themselves. We were only three days into this season of difficulty and God, in His goodness, was already revealing how He would bring about good from this situation.

This morning I am reading Acts 11. Peter has returned to Jerusalem and immediately faced opposition from the Jewish Christians there as to why he had associated himself with Gentiles. The early Christian church had difficulty separating themselves from following the law and had clung to some practices. Peter was leading the way to a new practice of following Christ instead. (Verses 1-18)

Luke next turns his attention to the Christians who were scattered after the stoning of Stephen. Out of that season of great suffering, God has brought about His purpose. The gospel is spreading to towns outside of Israel. Some are even beginning to share the good news with non-Jews (Verses 19-21). When those early Christians were fleeing, frightened for their very lives, they could have no idea what God would accomplish through the worst of circumstances.

As this chapter comes to a close, the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas to Antioch to minister to these new non-Jewish Christians. Barnabus goes to Tarsus to recruit Saul's help and together they teach these new Christians for an entire year (Verses 22-26). Each of those faithful followers who planted seeds in the hearts of these Christians, could not imagine that Saul would begin his lifelong career as a missionary as a result of their faithfulness.

As Scott went through his surgery and recovery, his life was slowed to the pace where God could open his eyes to the multitude of hurting people all around him every day. Scott's heart was softened and he began to spend a great deal of his time at the hospital, in homes and at his office ministering to people who just needed hope in the midst of a dark time. Indeed, God brings about good from the miseries that enter our lives. What a great joy it is to know that wherever and whatever we find ourselves in on any given day, that God is weaving a tapestry of goodness out of the threads of our pain.

Thank you for the example of these early Christians. Even in the worst of circumstances they continued to walk faithfully with you. Even though their names are not recorded in Your Word, the impact of lives continues until today. Jesus, today I know that whatever awaits me, You will be faithful to use not only for my good but also the good of others.

Shoot the Fireworks - We've Got Something to Celebrate!

Acts 10:34b-35 God does not show favoritism but accepts (women) from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

It will soon be Independence Day and I can't wait. I like watermelon, cookouts, fireworks, parades and even the color scheme. Who doesn't look fabulous dressed in red, white and blue? There is one Independence Day memory that I will always treasure. Four years ago, we celebrated the Fourth of July in Colorado. We drove from the horse ranch where we were staying to a nearby town to watch the fireworks display. In great anticipation, we arrived early and stationed ourselves at the best possible viewing post.

As the hours passed, the uncles led the kids in an impromptu game of baseball. This was followed by a concert of Christmas carols sung by us all and led enthusiastically by one of my nephews. As people passed with quizzical expressions on their face, my heart smiled. My sweet family had managed to turn a celebration of Independence into a celebration of Dependence. For that first Christmas night, the Creator of the Universe became the most dependent of humans, a baby. And this happened, so that we in turn might become dependent on Him.

Today, my reading is from Acts 10:24-48. A Gentile, Cornelius, has sent for Peter as instructed four days earlier by an angel. Peter arrives after having had his own instruction from the Lord that nothing is impure that God has made clean. Peter begins to deliver an inspiring message and as he does, the Holy Spirit falls on who are gathered there. God's grace has been extended from the Jews to the Samaritans and now to the Gentiles. Unspeakable joy fills my heart at the thought.

This is a day we ought to celebrate. That God reached down through history and carved a path straight to me, a simple Gentile girl, is a wonder and a delight. The beauty of God's perfect love is more awe-inspiring than the most dramatic fireworks show. The savor of God's expansive grace is more satisfying than any cookout.

Thank you, Jesus, for providing through Your sacrifice a way for me to be totally dependent on You. Today my heart will celebrate Dependence Day. It is a day set aside in my soul to thank You for the privilege of your friendship, for the promise of Your presence and for the provision of Your grace.

Secrets Revealed

Matthew 6:3-4, 6 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

My husband became a Christian when he was 40 years old. Having lived so long without the joy of Christ in his life, he was like a sponge soaking up every bit of the Word he could both by reading it for himself and listening to it being preached on the radio. It was a great joy to listen to his child-like faith expressed as he led our family in the simplest, most heart-felt prayers.

As his faith grew, his priorities, habits and temperament changed dramatically. There was this one area though, that was more difficult for him to let go of - our finances. Scott was practically born a good money manager. He began earning money in early elementary by selling his parents the pictures he colored for them and opened his first account, saving all his wages. Naturally, it was difficult for him to recognize that even in our areas of strength, God wants to reign as King. As Scott began to learn that everything we have God owns and we are merely his managers, his perspective on money changed as well.

Around this same time, our family, then just four of us, went through our first big trial which would test in our lives the principle of whether we loved God or money more. The nature of this trial was such that it affected every one of us, perhaps the children even more significantly than the adults. I was discussing all of this with our kids one afternoon when Hayleigh piped up with, "Mommy, what we really need to do is ask Daddy to pray. God always answers his prayers." Our children had witnessed for themselves the power behind sincere prayer.

This morning, I am reading Acts 10:1-23. In the town of Caesarea there lives a Gentile, named Cornelius, who apparently had converted to the Jewish faith. He is described as man who is both devout and God-fearing (Verse 2). This section of scripture lists two proofs of his faith, generosity and prayer. As I thought through these proofs, I realized often these are two areas people struggle in. I know I certainly have. Part of what makes these difficult to measure is that giving to others and praying to God are done in secret. No one really knows how much you make and definitely not how much you give away of what you make. No one is privy to the private conversations with God and have now real idea of the frequency or duration of these conversations.

What is done in secret for and with only an audience of One is seen in public in the fruit of our lives. Cornelius' love for God was evident to others. Directed by an angel, Cornelius sends some of his men to invite Peter for a visit (Verses 3-8). When his men arrive, they describe Cornelius as being respected by all the Jewish people (Verse 22). The relationship Cornelius has developed in secret with God, had overflowed into his relationships with everyone around him.

Today, I know Jesus is asking me to examine my secret time with Him. Will my overflow be a river or a trickle? With certainty, the tide of my overflow will rise or fall in direct proportion to how much time I spend with Him. Today, I will open the floodgates.