That They May Be Saved

1 Corinthians 10:33b For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

As my birthday drew close, Clara (4) designed the perfect birthday present. She wanted to cook dinner for me. She had my full approval so as a show of support I dropped hints with various family members that perhaps someone should help her with this pursuit. Like a game of "pass the secret" gone bad that buck got passed right back around to me.

I found myself serving as her planning, shopping and cooking assistant. We chose a stuffed chicken breast from Costco that she could microwave, whole wheat pasta that she could top with butter and Parmesan, strawberries and for a decadent dessert - brownies with ice cream and chocolate sauce. As I helped her prepare each dish, she glowed with the pride of her accomplishment and waited expectantly for my encouragement and praise.

In the end I was glad no one had volunteered to help her. I won't soon forget the moments we shared in the kitchen. This birthday she really gave me two gifts - a meal and the joy of watching her heart transformed with kindness.

This morning the passage is 1 Corinthians 10:19-33. Paul is driving home the point that we have complete freedom in Christ but need to choose to exercise that freedom circumspectly. Clara's innocent gift of service to her mother blessed an entire family of six. All of us enjoyed her simple but delicious meal. Most importantly, she demonstrated what it looked like to do far more than we are judged capable.

I have yet to tell a single person that she cooked dinner for my birthday who did not respond in great surprise. No one would believe a four year old could prepare a meal. No one would expect a Christian to consistently consider the "good of many" either. In the 33rd verse of this scripture that's exactly what Paul instructs us to do.

I am challenged this morning to consider what God is asking me to do that's far beyond me. It was Paul's unwavering commitment to his purpose that allowed him to accomplish far more than anyone would expect of him. At the end of verse 33rd he states that purpose - that they may be saved.

Jesus, I am willing. Ask me to do far beyond that which I feel capable. Just like I stood by Clara's side at the stove, You are with me. Unlike me, You will not politely suggest someone else assist. You jump at the chance.

Whiners (Not) Anonymous

Philippians 2:14 Do everything without complaining or arguing.

One of the sweetest times of my day is when we gather around the dinner table and I get to hear one of my dear family members pray. A few weeks ago during Rynne's (3) turn she was rockin' along thanking Jesus for her Mommy, Daddy, and Jesus, when all of the sudden I heard, "And thank you for Dora. Oh and thank you for Boots."

I smiled at her innocence. I mean really who thanks God for a cartoon character? Later that night, I could hear God nudging my heart and asking me why I never had taken the time to thank Him for Dora and Boots. Sometimes Dora and Boots provide me just enough minutes to finish my precious time with Jesus. Other days they give me thirty minutes to clean, straighten and cook uninterrupted. I guess I should be thanking God for Dora after all.

Today my reading is from 1 Corinthians 10:1-18. In this section, Paul outlines four sins committed by the Israelites when they had left Egypt and were wandering around in the desert.

  1. Idolatry (Verse 7)
  2. Sexual Immorality (Verse 8)
  3. Testing the Lord (Verse 9)
  4. Grumbling (Verse 10)

Personally a little "harmless" complaining does not seem on par with idol worship, sexual sin and challenging God. Yet the punishment issued in the wilderness was the same for each of these - death. Had I been God, I would have given the whiners the easy road. It's probably a good thing I'm not. He sees my bad attitude and ungrateful heart as the same as any other sin. He forgives me unconditionally and limitlessly regardless of how much grumbling I do.

Jesus, thank you for reminding me of the importance of a grateful heart. There are a hundreds of little blessings and many significant ones you pour out on me daily. Today I will choose to keep my eyes open and thank you for Dora and Boots and so many other ways You show your kindness and mercy toward me each day.

Climb On

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived 
what God has prepared for those who love him.
1 Corinthians 2:9

No team from our organization had ever made it to the top of Mt. Fuji with every member in the group. We made a pact to be the first. I was fairly certain I was considered the weakest link. If my fellow team members thought so, they were accurate in my physical assessment. Generally picked "last" for any sport in PE, physical prowess was not my claim to fame.

We began our climb as night fell over the island. Our goal was climb all night, reaching the top to the glorious reward of sunrise. As we ascended, weariness overtook me. It became more tempting at each successive rest area to claim it as my final destination. Two things pressed me forward - the prize awaiting me at dawn and my sincere desire to not let my team down. What my teammates didn't know standing at the bottom of Mt. Fuji is that what I lacked in natural ability, I would supplement with determination.

The climb was excruciating but far worth the final payment. As a mixture of the joy of accomplishment and the awe of God's creation filled my heart, I surveyed the grandest sight I'd ever taken in before or since. I drank in the scene, willing my mind to remember the coolness of snow in late July, the smell of air free from pollution and a sight beyond description.

This morning's reading is 1 Corinthians 9. The beginning of this chapter discusses the rightness of a church financially supporting its' ministry staff. This concept has taken deep root in the American church and most serving in ministry are truly well taken care of. My family is one who is extraordinarily thankful for the generosity of God's people to allow us to use our gifts for the kingdom on a full-time basis.

As Paul ends this chapter, he highlights two additional concepts:
  1. Be Relatable - Paul makes the point that as he ministered, he made a an effort to relate to his audience. This does not mean Paul was insincere or wore a mask, but rather that he chose to be engaged in the interests, habits and culture of his listeners. Today I'd like to issue a challenge to each of us. The next time we find ourselves in a group setting whether it's church, a PTA meeting or our monthly MOPS group, would join me in scanning the room for the person most different from you? That person may don a sour expression, have unapproachable body language or just look nothing like the folks where we grew up, but that person is likely crumbling inside just waiting for someone to care enough to notice them. Now let's cross the room. The short distance that separates us can bridge the gap of a lifetime of hurt and lead a heart to Jesus' healing hands.
  2. Remember the Prize - Paul kept his eye on the prize. Every day he lived intentionally to complete well what God had set before him. Sometimes my view of the prize is blocked by mounds of laundry, testy people or my own insecurity. To see the prize, I first have to unobscure my view by identifying what's preventing me from carrying out God's purpose for me. Than I have to walk steadily forward without allowing myself to turn aside to the multitude of temptations awaiting me on the side of the road. Easier said than done.
One of these or each of these may seem as insurmountable to you as climbing Mt. Fuji was for me. For one the opening of their finances to give generously to others seems improbable. To another the thought of reaching out to the unapproachable seems terrifying. To another the idea of living a life of purpose seem ludicrous. Yet God dreams all of this for our lives and more.

Today, Jesus, I will once again climb the mountain with you. I will give when it feels like a sacrifice. I will reach out despite the frightened feeling I have inside. I will live a life of purpose even when my moments seem meaningless. I will climb because I remember the view up there and know it's only a speck compared to the wonders You have prepared for me.

I'm Free to Give Grace

2 Corinthians 13:14 May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

I was doing the frantic try to find the needed supply for my child before school the next morning thing. She needed a particular novel and needed it stat. I could not find it at the first few stores I went in. I assessed my situation and decided my greatest chance of success would be to go to a large national retailer. And sure enough - sweet success!

The same day, I ran into a more "seasoned" Christian woman who I both look up to and admire. She asked what I had been up to and I laughed as described my frenzied search for the book. Shocked, she looked at me with a mixture of sadness and disgust and said, "I can not believe you purchased a product from __________." She then went into a litany of reasons that particular merchant is one step shy of the devil himself and basically implied I was Satan's advocate.

This will probably not be much of a revelation but between carpools, homework, cleaning, laundry and simply living with four other females and one male, I don't really have too much time to research the corporate decision-making of every large firm operating in America. While I applaud those who do, I'm just not one of them. That sweet lady had thrown grace to the wind in favor of strict adherence to a set of guidelines that are cultural not Biblical.

Today I am reading 1 Corinthians 8. The issue of whether eating meat that was sacrificed to idols has surfaced. Paul clearly explains the two sides of the coin. One side is that we have complete freedom in Christ to eat as we choose as long as our heart is clear before God. The other side is that if our doing so causes another Christian to sin it's not worth exercising our freedom.

Just this week I ran into a man I hadn't seen in twelve years and he almost immediately inquired, "Do you not wink anymore?" This surprisingly is a legitimate question. Before I started spending daily time with God, I winked at everyone. It was part of my playful personality and I truly meant nothing by it other than the shared secret of joy in special moments.

One day it occurred to me that this could be a distraction to my Christian brothers and perhaps even sisters. If my winking were misconstrued as flirting, it could bring unwelcome thoughts into someone's mind. I chose to surrender my habit of winking to God and ask for His help in breaking it. My choice to cease winking does not give me the right to become the winking police and go around my neighborhood handing out citations to Christians who wink. In fact, I am probably the only person in Christian history that God will ever have to convict about this issue.

Where my sweet older friend got off track was in believing that her decision to not visit a specific vendor meant that everyone had to as well. Her heart was clean before God. Mine was as well. I still shop at __________ from time to time, usually in full on sweat over the purchase of some school novel.

Thank you, Jesus, for freedom. Thank you giving us the freedom to choose where we shop, what we eat and even whether or not we wink occasionally. Today help me remember that with that freedom comes the responsibility of giving grace to others. With a smile and maybe not a wink, I'll extend grace this very day.

No One Takes My Life

Psalm 86:11 Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.

A few weeks ago I was serving in a children's classroom at church. On of my more challenging charges walked up to me and announced, "Yesterday I only ate an apple because I want to be skinny". She's five. How heart-breaking that a five year-old has already enslaved her heart to pursuing a weight for which her body type wasn't built.

Today I read 1 Corinthians 7:20-40. In this section, Paul describes the benefits of remaining single and encourages those called to singleness to embrace this calling that frees one up to serve God with undivided time and devotion. I salute all my single friends who so incredibly depict this kind of passion for Christ.

I am married and thank God for my marriage. He uses it to shape me, stretch me and grow me into a woman who seeks after Him. Though married, I too desire to serve God with an undivided heart.

The 23rd verse gives me a peak at how to do that. "You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men." A slave? Surely I haven't made myself a slave to men, have I? I become a slave to men, when I:
  • Get Consumed With Thoughts of Acceptance - I can seek the approval a particular person so much that I become enraptured. Am I wearing the right clothes? Is my house as well-decorated as hers? Will my parents like this blog post? Am I still as desirable to my husband? I am plagued at times with a multitude of questions. These type thoughts indenture me to whomever I am trying to please.
  • Try to Live a Lifestyle I Can't Afford - It is so much easier to just go charge lunch than to admit to a friend I have no cash to pay for one. It is so tempting to agree to additional expenditures for my kids rather than stick to our budget. These are just a couple examples of financial blunders I make from time to time. When I spend more than I make, I become a servant of my creditors.

Sweet Jesus, forgive me for letting myself become a vassal to such unworthy things. I belong to You. I only want to be Your slave. I have a friend who wisely asserts, "You'll know how well you're doing at being a slave of Christ when someone treats you like one." Today, Jesus, help me turn my focus from enslaving my life to that which is unmerited to freely giving my life away to You and Your precious people. No one takes my life from me...I freely give it.

Birthday Blessings

Psalm 16:5 Lord, you have assigned me my portion and cup; you have made my lot secure.

Today is my 40th birthday. I thought I might awake to dread, sadness or regret but like every day with Jesus I awoke with excitement. I am truly satisfied with the life God has given me but also eager to see all the adventures He will unfold in my future. As I reflected on God's goodness this morning, I realized I already have the best gift of all - contentment.

Today's reading is 1 Corinthians 7:1-19. I'm going to breeze right past the first verses that talk about Scott owning my body... (Okay, I hear you God, "absolutely" is the right answer) and listen for a sweet word from Jesus today. Verse 17 screams out to me on this special day. "Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him."
  • This Place Is My Assignment - This home filled with love, laughter and girl drama is my assignment from the Lord. On my birthday, I want to give my family the gift of a joyful mother and an encouraging wife. Today I thank God for this special assignment.
  • This Place Is My Calling - This address will raise four women. I have no doubt that each of them has a high calling on their life. I may be raising teachers, pastor's wives, doctors or mothers. Regardless, the world will be significantly impacted by the four dear girls whom I care for each day. This is my calling. Today I thank God for calling me here.

Thank you, Jesus, for Your precious birthday gift to me. I am truly content to be here in this place. Your assignment is significant. Your calling is privileged. Thank you for giving me life - assigned, called, blessed!

Sowing Peace Beans...It's Better Than Jack's Beanstalk

James 3:18 Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.

Several years after my divorce was finalized, I found myself embroiled in a three year court battle with my ex-husband over the terms of our divorce. There were days I felt hopeless and distraught. I could not understand how something "final" in my life could continue to cause me and my children so much anguish.

One of the most painful parts of this entire process was the recognition that the court system itself cares very little about what is best for the children involved but instead tries to mold every case into a set of pre-determined, cookie-cutter standards. This is not to say that there is not many dedicated Christians practicing and presiding over family law. My lawyer was one of those and I have thanked God for her many times. Her love for Jesus and His children, though, could only be expressed within the bounds of legal precedent. Surely there could have been a better way.

Today's passage is 1 Corinthians 6. The first eight verses address the topic of Christians being involved in lawsuits. The final twelve verses tackle the issue of sexual immorality. When I first read the Bible cover to cover, I was amazed at the variety of subjects dealt with in Scripture. It was during this court battle that I first read these words, "If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment...Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead one brother goes to law against another-and this in front of unbelievers!" 1 Corinthians 6:1, 5-6

My heart was broken. My ex-husband is a music minister's son. I was the daughter of a late-blooming preacher. If anyone should have known and applied the truth of God's Word it was us. Sadly, I didn't even know it well enough to apply it. By this time we were months into this fight, but I committed myself to praying for resolution outside of the court system. God heard my cries for help, saw my repentant heart and worked for me to garner an out-of-court settlement that could only be His hand at work.

What a miracle! God in His mercy loved me. His love was not dependent on how many verses I had read or how well I'd applied them to my life. He just loved me because that's who He is. He did for me what a thousand lawyers could never do - he changed my heart.

Jesus, thank you for the wisdom of your Word. There may come a day when someone else wants to take me to court. This time I will enter that battle knowing who my real enemy is and understanding that You desire me to be a peacemaker. To raise a harvest of righteousness in my four precious daughters requires me to sow in peace. Today I will sow peace in my heart, in my home and in my relationships.

Outreach is Reaching Out

Matthew 25:40 ...Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

You might consider Doug and Susan the typical unchurched couple. They had built the quintessential suburban life for themselves and their two sons. They had everything the world defines as success, but they had nothing. No peace. No satisfaction. No joy.

Then one day Mike invited them to the Christmas Eve service at his church. Susan showed up in a skin tight leopard print dress but no one seemed to mind. That night they saw love - God's love lived through His people. Two weeks later they both decided to follow Christ.

Today Doug is the pastor of a church plant. Susan long ago offed her leopard print dress and spends much of her time with two things she used to deplore - dogs and women. A few years ago I was one of those women Susan hung out with. God used them to grow Scott and I in our faith. Now Scott too works in a church. I thank God for Mike.

This morning I am reading 1 Corinthians 5. Paul addresses two opposite issues in this passage. The first is the church being too soft on explicit long-term patterns of egregious sin in the life of the believer. While I'm sure this is a problem, my experience is that most Christians judge other believers far too readily and over matters of occasional disobedience. All of us are sinners who are being transformed by Jesus. Our churches would likely be more healthy if we spent more time examining our own lives and less time shredding the lives of others.

Paul's second concern is Christians who make no effort to make or build relationships with people outside of the church. There are far too few Mikes who are willing to hear some unpleasant language or witness some uncomfortable interactions in order to love people right where they are. Jesus' love is compelling. Jesus' love is a magnet to a person without hope.

Today, Jesus, I want to be a Mike. I want to love people right where they are. I yearn for Jesus' light to shine through my smile, conversation and concern and radiate on lives full of darkness. Thank you, Jesus, for Mike who loved the regular people of the world enough to really invest in getting to know them. Because he cared, countless lives, including my own, have been changed.

You're So Mean, I Just Have to Be Nice

Matthew 12:34b For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks

In the movie You've Got Mail, the main characters are Joe Fox, President of a giant retailer, Fox Books and Kathleen Kelly, owner of a generationally family owned bookstore. Kathleen is a gentle, non-confrontational female who rarely can think of a snappy response to an unkind remark. Her inability to do so is suddenly resolved when faced with her adversary, Joe Fox. Joe liked her better when she said nothing at all.

So many of us have been taught the adage, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." That is the best one of us could do in our own willpower to be sure. I wonder if God would look at Kathleen Kelly, just like he does me, and long to empower her to a life better than silence-filled resentment or hurtful, regretful retorts.

Today's reading is the 4th chapter of 1 Corinthians. Paul is outlining the character qualities necessary to be used by God. In Verses 12-13, he gives four distinctives of he and his companions lives:
  1. Hard Work
  2. Bless Those Who Curse Them
  3. Endure Hardships
  4. Respond Kindly to Slanderers

Each of these represent an incredibly high life standard. For me, the last is the most difficult. When someone speaks hatefully to or about me (or worse my husband or children), I feel I'm quite noble when I just hold my tongue. God wants much more for me than I can imagine from myself. He can grow a heart of love in me so big, it returns gentle, kind words to verbal attacks.

Jesus, today I choose to want more from my tongue than I might ever think possible. Today I choose to speak kindly to hurting hearts who spew venom in an attempt to make others join in their pain. I trust you to transform my heart, which will transplant my words. Help me speak Your words of tenderness and love today.

I Have a Dream

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

In August 2009 we went to Orlando for our family vacation. The first day we visited Sea World, we rushed in at the last possible moment to Shamu stadium but thankfully were still able to find seats. As the show started, the crowd joined the trainers in chanting a special Shamu ditty guaranteed to get him excited to come out and perform wonders for the crowd. Only he didn't come out. Neither did any of his cousins. That particular day the whales (well actually we learned during the pre-show they're a form of dolphin) were more interested in having their food forked over than earning it with a killer performance.

We decided to return a second day. This time we were in line thirty minutes ahead of time, eager to get the very best seats and hopeful Shamu was in an entertaining mood. A kind stadium worker made pleasant conversation with our family as we waited and then asked Hayleigh (then 10) if she'd like to be in the show. What a thrill! Hayleigh would play the role of one of the female trainers dreaming of growing up to be a whale trainer. Not only was she broadcast on the screen in front of 5,000 but she interacted with one of the dolphins front and center.

My plan was for Shamu to perform on cue the first day. God had a different, much better plan. We had given our vacation over to God and covered it in prayer. The Creator of the Universe heard from heaven and orchestrated a show for our family much better than whales - His obvious, real, demonstrated love for us.

Today's reading is 1 Corinthians 3. Paul is addressing an issue in the Corinthian church. Different folks in the church were claiming they followed various church leaders. Paul asserts that we should only follow Jesus. Their dream of a healthy, vibrant church could only come to fruition in Jesus - the Giver and Maker of dreams.

Every woman has dreams stored up in her heart. At times, my heart almost feels like it will explode from the stored-up passion burning there. God sees our dreams and knows our dreams. He fuels are dreams and is the Fulfiller of our dreams. As I read this chapter this morning, I thought about my yet unfulfilled dreams. This passage provides hope for a dreamer like me.
  • Jesus is the foundation (Verse 11) - When I build my dreams on the unshakable foundation of Jesus Christ, He becomes the Master Builder. He takes my dream, molds it to His sure foundation and builds it on His perfect schedule.
  • Jesus is my blueprint (Verses 18-19) - When I allow my dreams to be shaped within the parameters of God's Word, Jesus' gives me His wisdom to help me accomplish those dreams.

My heart aches at times with the deep desires burning in my heart. Some of my unfulfilled dreams are so raw, I can barely think of them without pain stinging my soul. Jesus knows me. Jesus sees me. Jesus' sure foundation will build my dreams. Jesus' blueprint will guide my dreams.

Today, Jesus, I give You my dreams. I can trust You to see them, grow them and blossom them into reality. I know the seeds You've planted in my heart will grow in Your time and in Your way. In the meantime, I'll keep dreaming God-sized dreams.

Make My Life is an Action Word

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

For the first forty years of his life, he walked right past people like "that". Beggars were despicable to someone who had worked hard from childhood and earned every penny he'd been given. He thought anyone willing to give away what they had earned, particularly to someone so undeserving, was at best a poor money manager and at worst a lunatic.

Over time, God began to speak into his heart that He had given everything for someone who was so undeserving - him. Slowly, his cold heart was filled with the love of Christ. Today when he passes one of "those people", he empties his pockets. Like Jesus, he chooses to give all he has.

I got to witness the life change in this person. He said he was a Christian. It was when he acted like it that I believed him.

This morning I start a new book, 1 Corinthians. I'll read the first chapter. Paul opens his letter to the church in Corinth by instructing that:
  • God empowers us to live the Christian life (Verses 4-9),
  • He desires all believers to be unified in Him (Verses 10-17), and
  • Christ was intentionally sent in a manner unexpected by man (Verses 18-31)

As I read this morning, God draws my heart to the first part of the passage. A couple of days ago, God spoke into my heart the importance of telling my story. This morning He is talking to me about the significance of living my story. "For in him (Jesus) you have been enriched in every way...because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you." (Verses 5-6) What had been spoken about their lives had been proven true in their lives. Their words and actions matched. Paul gives three reasons I too can live what I say.

  1. God has gifted me (Verse 7) - God has given each of us unique gifts that He intends to be used in His church and kingdom. In this verse, Paul states that "you do not lack any spiritual gift." No one person has all the spiritual gifts possible, only a few, so how could I lack no gift? Because God gave each of us the gift(s) needed to live out our faith. He has literally gifted each of us to live as a follower of Jesus.
  2. God will preserve me (Verse 8) - It is the daily reliance on God's strength, that gives anyone the courage and stamina to live out their faith. God wants me to turn away from my own power and depend solely on His. I will then be fortified in my faith.
  3. God is faithful (Verse 9) - I am not reliable. I let people down and I certainly fail from time to time. God, however, never fails us. When I keep my heart and eyes fastened on Him, He is faithful to work in and through me to make my testimony sincere.

Jesus, thank you for gifting me, preserving me and being faithful. I can rely on You as my source of energy and strength so that my life will match my words. Today I will live out my faith.

Who Am I Following?

Psalm 90:14a Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love.

A few weeks ago I had three of the four kids at Target with me. It had been a long afternoon full of errands so I decided to treat the kids. Each was allowed to pick out one grocery item they most wanted ($2 or less of course) and I promised to buy it.

Clara (4) is a natural leader and influencer. Knowing that Carynne (3) models everything she does, Clara went from item to item in the store and "chose" at least fifteen different things. She thought this funny because Carynne was right behind her changing her mind to Clara's selection time and time again.

It never occurred to Rynnie that day to ask herself what she really wanted. She had her eyes fixed on her sister. Carynne's treat turned into a trick when she ended with something Clara actually wanted instead.

This morning I read the final chapter of Romans-16. Paul sends his greetings out to many friends and family members, followed by one final admonition. He warns the Romans to guard themselves against those who:
  1. Cause Divisions - This person may portray herself as the peacemaker who's working for resolution. She spends time talking with people on both sides of an argument and secretly sows seeds of dissension. She feeds on conflict.

  2. Put Up Obstacles - This person has it "all together". If you stopped by her home for a surprise visit you would find every couch cushion in perfect position. She never leaves her home without every aspect of her person in exact order. She makes sure you know it too. She creates a standard no "normal" girl could ever live up to. She devours other's self-esteem.

  3. Use Flattery - This person may appear syrupy sweet. She compliments everyone and everything and is often the "most popular" person in the room. She uses insincere praise to gain the acceptance of others. She feasts on being shallow.

Clara used each of these tactics as she steered Rynnie to her snack of choice. Paul describes these people as "serving their own appetites". That is exactly what Clara was doing. She used her charm and influence to ensure that she got two treats not just one.

When I allow this to happen to me, the outcome is usually a lot worse than a pantry packed with two of the same snack. Instead it's my faith that's at stake. Will I allow those gorging themselves on conflict, flattery and false standards to derail my walk with Jesus? Or will I look beyond them to the One who loves me and them deeply? Will I see Jesus who mends division, loves the ordinary and celebrates the sincere?

Jesus, today I choose to peak around the corner past these type distractions so I can see the real attraction - You. You are the one who satisfies the cravings of my heart. Today I will not settle for these other substitutes.

I Will Tell The Story

Psalm 96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

Last week I was given a homework assignment by one of Hayleigh's teachers. I had to tell all about my sweet daughter in a million words or less. A million words? How could her teacher limit me to just a million words? I could talk for hours about her fun-loving personality. I could talk for days about her kind heart. I could talk for months about her generous spirit.

Today I am reading Romans 15:14-33. Paul is beginning to wrap up his letter to the Christians in Rome. He expresses his heartfelt desire to come and visit them. His love had been sent ahead in his epistle and in prayers for them to God. As Paul writes his conclusion, he lets the Romans know that he has not ventured "to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me". Have you ever felt led to tell a family member or friend about your faith but felt unprepared to do so? I know I have.

Here, Paul gives us great insight into our most powerful tool - our unique story. Before I started walking with Jesus, my life was marked with achievement and overcommitment. I tried to fill the void in my life with accolade and accomplishment. There was nothing I wouldn't say "yes" to especially if I thought someone would thank or acknowledge me. That is except for anything God was asking of me. I was too busy earning gold stars to be concerned with God's plan for my life. I thought I was doing just fine on my own.

Then one day I wasn't. After the surprising end of a three year relationship, I found myself truly alone. It was then I noticed some fellow students who seemed different than other people I'd known in my life. They appeared truly happy regardless of what circumstance happened their way. I began to ask these kids what was different about them and one by one they gave me the same answer - Jesus! On New Years Eve 1990, I decided I'd had enough of planning my own agenda in my own strength and said "yes" to the only thing I'd ever really need to again - a personal relationship with God.

A number of years after giving my heart to God, I decided I really wanted to get to know Him. I began to read my Bible and talk to God in prayer. It was then that my life truly began to change. I learned to say "no". I realized I didn't need other's approval to be complete. Most importantly, I discovered that God would never be any more impressed with me nor could He love me any more than He already did, regardless of what I did or did not achieve. What freedom! What peace!

God wants each of us to tell our story because it's really His. Like Paul, we can simply speak of what Christ has accomplished through us. Jesus, today I will tell Your story. Indeed You've changed my life. You've made my heart new and filled it with joy and peace.

A Bad Attitude Can't Stop Me From Loving You

Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Recently a television show from the 80s, The A-Team, was remade into a movie. The show centered around three Vietnam vets wrongfully accused of a wartime crime who had been imprisoned, had escaped and became soldiers of fortune. They then traveled around the world righting injustices. I faithfully watched this show as a child and particularly found the character of B. A. Baracus intriguing. B. A. (Bad Attitude) Baracus was a burly bodybuilder who was quick with a punch and even quicker with an insult. While entertaining to watch, his character was not someone with whom I'd actually want to associate.

Today's passage is Romans 15:1-13. Paul has just completed a section about learning to listen to God on minor issues of the faith and bearing gently and graciously with others whose view may differ from my own. In these verses, Paul instructs us to bear with each other, maintain unity and accept each other. It may be just me but I personally encounter people who make B. A. Baracus look like he exudes warmth. And, honestly, some days that person is me. How is it possible to love someone like that?

This passage give two sweet assurances from God that give me hope that even I can love everyone from the prickly to the positive.
  • Jesus Carries My Insults Too (Verse 3) - Paul quotes Psalm 69:9 where it is written that Jesus redirects insults intended for me to His very own heart. When He bore our sins, He also bore our insults. What a vast, unfathomable love. He even wants to take the sting away from barbs intended to inflict hurt. Allowing Jesus to carry my insults makes loving others a far less painless path.
  • Jesus Accepts Me to Help Me Accept Others (Verse 7) - When I cried out to Jesus, He didn't respond with a 10 step program after the completion of which He'd accept my membership application. He accepted me just as I was. He in turn gives me the strength to accept others just as they are.

Thank you, Jesus, for your sweet gift of grace that allows me to love others. Whether it's bearing my insults or reminding me that You accepted me first, You give me exactly what I need to love. Even on days when I feel more like I have a Bad Attitude than a godly one, His grace is always enough.

Let's Not Play in Minor Leagues

1 Corinthians 10:31 So whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

I was in 5th grade and the Izod craze was in full swing. Everyone who was anyone had one, so I guess that made me a no one. I could hardly wait until Christmas. I had already decided that would be the only present for which I would ask. I went to sleep at night dreaming of how fashionable I'd look as I danced down the halls of El Paso Elementary School. When I dressed in the morning, I pretended I was slipping on my new all cotton shirt beautifully emblazoned with the Izod logo.

Finally, Christmas morning came. I carefully chose the box I thought was most likely to contain my new shirt. I ripped off the wrapping and threw open the find a Braggin' Dragon brand shirt from Sears. I was certain my classmates would notice the minor detail of uh flames shooting out of my alligator's mouth, so I became very patriotic that spring semester. I walked nearly everywhere with my hand over my heart. A minor detail led to a major impact.

Today my reading is Romans 14. Essentially, this chapter concerns the minor issues about which guidance is not spelled out in scripture. In Paul's day the dissension centered around issues of food and drink. Though the world may have changed a bit in 2,000 years, the fact that people still argue over insignificant issues has not. If Paul were writing today, he might address the varying opinions on movies, television shows, dress and alcohol among others.

In this passage, Paul gives parameters to help each individual make a decision rather than passing out advice on each of these trivial issues. When I face a decision about what to wear, see, do, eat or drink, I can use Paul's guidelines to aid me in making a godly choice.
  1. Be Fully Convinced in My Own Mind (Verse 5) - The Bible strongly urges us to obtain the counsel of those we consider wiser than ourselves on a multitude of issues. The nature of these issues, however, is such that eventually we must determine for ourselves what is right as an individual and family. Often when these type things crop up I am thankful that I am a wife and have the God-ordained leadership of my husband to assist in making decisions. Nevertheless, until I am fully convinced of what God is telling me to do about this issue, I shouldn't act.
  2. Remember That I Will Give an Account to God (Verse 12) - When making a decision about an issue that is not spelled out in the Word, I need to be mindful that I will stand before God one day. Shannon, how would you feel about standing before God and relating to Him your decision? This is an excellent question to ask myself. If I would have any reservation proudly telling Jesus my choice, I may need to revisit the issue.
  3. Be Mindful of Others in My Sphere of Influence (Verses 13-15) - Every Christian has someone whom they are influencing. It may be a spouse, child, sibling, neighbor or fellow church member. God may give me complete freedom of conscience on one of these minor issues, but if my doing so damages the faith of another Christian I am not acting out of love.
  4. Do Not Impose My Standards On Others (Verse 22) - Whatever decision I make, Paul admonishes me to keep that decision between myself and God. In other verses in this chapter, Paul advises to not pass judgment on others and to do what leads to peace. These minor issues are definitely not worth causing dissension among Christians over. I need to make the choice to be a vehicle for peace, not a torch for discord. The best way to do that is by keeping my opinions to myself.

Jesus, all too often I allow minor issues to cause major angst in my life. Today, fill my heart with love and peace in the place of criticism and judgment. As I measure where I and my family should stand on a particular issue, help me be fully convinced, mindful of You, mindful of others and always kind in my thoughts and actions towards others.

The Loving Law of the Land

Romans 13:8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

One morning about 18 months ago, I was driving my daughter to school the opposite direction from which I typically approached. I was day dreaming a bit as I drove and failed to notice the posted school reduced speed limit sign. As I sped by a policeman, I was snapped back to my senses and dreadfully knew a ticket was impending.

As the officer pulled me over, I knew this was an excellent real life learning opportunity for my kids who were in the car with me. I could choose to attempt to weasel my way out of the ticket. After all, I am not typically a speeder and could in good conscience tell the policeman I had made an honest mistake rather than maliciously disregarding the law. Or I could roll down my window, smile at someone expecting a frown and thank him for his sacrifice and service to my neighborhood and community.

I chose the latter. I followed that initial statement with a sincere apology for my disregard for the law and made it clear that I did not think day dreaming was a reasonable explanation for my actions. I thanked him for upholding the laws of our community and for giving me the opportunity to contribute to our local revenue stream. And I wasn't even sarcastic. I don't know what my children saw from the back seat but I know what God saw in the front seat - a heart filled with love for that officer, my family, my neighbors and my Jesus.

This morning I am reading Romans 13. The theme of this chapter is the relationship between Christians and those in a position of authority above us. Paul instructs us to submit to the governing authorities. The Greek word translated submit is a military term which literally means to order under. So God is asking us to voluntarily order ourselves physically and mentally under the authority of those he's placed in power.

Paul back this up with two reasons why we should do this:
  1. The authorities that exist have been established by God (Verse 1). So if I rebel against someone in power, I am actually rebelling against God.
  2. The person in authority is God's servant (Verse 4). By keeping order, he or she is acting as God's agent.

There is a third reason sort of snuggled into this passage and it is this reason that has my heart skipping a beat this morning. Love. It is a demonstration of love to be respectful and obedient towards someone in authority (Verse 8). "Love does no harm to its neighbor." (Verse 10)

  • When I fail to pay all the taxes I owe by taking a shady exemption or not claiming some of my cash income, it is my neighbor from whom I am stealing. This passage does not give me the freedom to judge how well or poorly the government uses the taxes I give, it simply asks me to pay my taxes.
  • When I fail to regard a posted speed limit sign, it is my neighbor's life I am risking. This passage does not give me the freedom to assess my driving skills or my time constraints for myself, it simply asks me to respect and honor those in authority.

Do you really love your neighbor, Shannon? Do you love your neighbor enough to inconvenience yourself by driving the speed limit? Do you love your neighbor enough to cheerfully give your full tax?

Jesus, help me not forget that day when I allowed Your love to give me a humble and submissive heart towards authority. Today envelope me in that love and help me always remember whom I am loving when I yield my will to that of those in authority. I am loving my neighbors and Your dear children. Help me love them enough.

A Living Love

1 John 3:18 Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue with with actions and in truth.

I was a week overdue with my first child when I began having excruciating pain in my right kidney. My doctor dismissed my concerns and sent me home with a prescription that upset my stomach and an a body all the more eager to deliver. The next morning a friend from my small group at church arrived toilet brush in hand and cleaned my house top to bottom. Like a Mrs. Clean from heaven she left my house, heart and life better than she'd found it. She never said she loved me that day, but her life did.

The passage for today is Romans 12. This is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible. It is practical, clearly written and a gold mine of wisdom for living out the Christian faith. The first eight verses address making your every day life an act of worship. We worship God when we allow Him to change our lives (Verse 2), live humbly (Verse 3) and use our gifts for the benefit of the church (Verses 4-8).

Verse 9 begins with Paul's admonishment that love must be sincere or genuine. He then details eight ways we can demonstrate sincere love in our lives:
  1. Put others first (Verse 10)
  2. Serve God energetically (Verse 11)
  3. Share what you have and have people over (Verse 13)
  4. Speak kindly about those who treat you (or your husband/kids) unkindly (Verse 14)
  5. Celebrate and sorrow with others (Verse 15)
  6. Do not let pride or conceit keep you from befriending someone (Verse 16)
  7. Do everything you can to be at peace with others (Verses 16, 18)
  8. Don't take revenge (Verses 19-20)

Some of these seem more difficult for me than others. I enjoy entertaining and am a natural peace maker. When someone wrongs my child or husband though, I must admit my inclination isn't to speak kindly about that person. Almost daily I pray to become more loving. This passage makes it clear that "I love you" is not something I say as much as something I live. Jesus, today I don't pray to be made more loving but to be more loving. Let me put my love into action.

Freely Give

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

My laundry room is decorated with funky picture frames filled with toothless grins, hand prints turned into turkeys and Santas and pictures painted with watercolors and love. These are just a few of the hundreds if not thousands of pictures and crafts my kids have made me through the years. I once heard a "seasoned" saint remark that young parents like to complain about their children's ingratitude when they themselves easily overlook dozens of presents crafted by hand.

Obviously that statement has made an impression on me. I wonder how it would change my perspective as a parent, if I tried to do ten or even one nice thing for my children for every picture they've colored for me. No doubt my days would then be filled with kindness and gratitude.

This morning I am reading Romans 11:19-36. In this passage Paul explains that it was through the disobedience of the Israelites, that God sent Jesus for all men. It is through the mercy of the cross, that grace will be extended back to the Jews.

There are many "famous" people whose teaching God has used to grow me over the years. Beth Moore, Elizabeth George, Lysa TerKeurst, James MacDonald and Priscilla Shirer are among those. Today God is also reminding me of all the "unknown" people that He has used to draw me through the years. These women may be unknown to the world but they are precious in God's sight and celebrated in the heavens for their sweet service for Him:
  • My mom whose life I saw changed by the gospel when I was a child
  • Susan whose evidence of abundant life was obvious to me in college
  • Pam who showed me what a Christian woman really looks like

So many more. There are pages filled with faithful people whose faithfulness to God has touched my life.

Just as grace flows back onto the Israelites from the redemption of all men, God wants the blessings from others to flow back out of me. He has freely given me others in whom I've seen Him work, through whom I've been taught and with whom I've experienced God. Freely I have received. Freely I need to give back.

Jesus, today I will give away these sweet gifts You've given me through the years. Hugs when I've been sad. High fives when I've been glad. Examples I've followed. Lessons I've learned. An abundance of You working through people in my life. Today I will be that person for someone else.

Turning the Lonely Into Lovely

1 John 1:7a ...If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.

It was one of those moments you dread as a parent. I had brought Hannah and five pals to Walmart for buy treats and rent a movie for their impending spend-the-night. We were standing in front of the movie rental machine scrolling through the selections. The girls were clamoring to rent a film after film Hannah knew would not be acceptable to me. Everything in me wanted to rescue her and play the bad guy by demanding they rent a "G" or "PG" movie. Instead, I resisted my natural inclination and let her be a leader amongst her peers.

Would she try to pass a "sketchy" film by me? Would she come off judgmental and "preachy" as she told them why they shouldn't rent those films. My stomach was in knots. Neither of those. Instead, she graciously listened, silently ignored films she knew she couldn't see and then used her verbal influence with the group to suggest a film that was a happy medium. It wasn't animated but it didn't contain foul language or scenes filled with sexual innuendo. In that moment, she taught me that the lovely don't have to be lonely.

Today's passage is Romans 11:1-18. In this section, Paul recounts an incident that happened to one of the great Old Testament prophets, Elijah. He sitting under a tree in the middle of nowhere, whining because he thought he was the only person left in Israel who wanted to serve and know God (1 Kings 19:3, 14). Personally, I can relate to poor Elijah. Sometimes I want to throw my hands up in the air and cry, "God am I the only one...
  • Who didn't let her kid go....."
  • Who didn't get invited to....."
  • Who doesn't watch....."

It just feels so lonely. It kind of makes me want to go sit under a sad little tree and have a pity party of my own.

In 1 Kings 19, God didn't leave Elijah there to complain and He doesn't want us staying in that place either. Paul gives three nuggets of encouragement in this passage that will turn our lonely into lovely.

  1. Reach Out to Someone Who Feels Like You (Verse 4) - When Elijah asserted to God that he was the solitary follower, God answered that there were 7,000 faithful remaining in Israel. On days when I feel tempted to park my car under Elijah's tree, I need to think about God's statement. Then I need to reach beyond the boundaries of my lonely to someone else who probably feels just like me. Friendship turns the lonely into lovely.
  2. Recognize Who Wants You to Feel Lonely - What's amazing about Elijah's story is that he is out in Podunk, Israel sitting under a tree moping right after one the most amazing events of his life. Just one chapter prior, Elijah had challenged 450 prophets of the false god, Baal, to a contest to demonstrate who's god was really the God. Baal's prophets call for hours but no one answers. Elijah calls and the one and only God answers with fire from heaven so powerful it even consumes buckets full of water (1 Kings 18:20-38). Many times when we make a hard yet right choice in our life, this temptation of isolation immediately follows. Satan takes note of those choices and wants to distract us with seclusion. Fellowship turns the lonely into lovely.
  3. Remember to Give Grace (Verses 5-6) - When I make a difficult decision to follow God faithfully on an issue, it's so alluring to look at others critically because they don't share my passion or conviction. Paul reminds me that I was chosen by God by grace, not because of something I did. I need to share that same grace with others. It is difficult to give grace to others while feeling sorry for yourself. Grace turns the lonely into lovely.

Jesus, today may be one of those tough choice days. When I reach the fork, may I take Your path. As I walk there may I reach out to others on the road, ignore Satan's enticement to his path and give grace to anyone walking another lane.

Signed, Sealed, be Sent

Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

He used to drive by churches as he longed to go in. Fear kept him from crossing that threshold. Fear of rejection. Fear he wouldn't be counted good enough. Fear that abandon would cost more than he was willing to pay. Then one day, he was caught off guard by an offer from a coworker. The offer was simple. She only asked if he was interested in having hope. Hope brought a heart long dead back to life. Hope radically changed a life. Hope came to someone too reticent to come to hope.

So often I fall victim to the decision that evangelism is only inviting friends and neighbors to my church. This is a great place to start. But my church didn't talk to the woman at the well. The temple didn't entreat Peter to follow. Even my pastor didn't ask my husband if he wanted hope. Each of these events required someone to meet that person wherever they were - a well, a lake, an office building - before they ever followed Jesus into a church.

This morning's reading is Romans 10. This passage is a stirring presentation not only of how to connect to Christ, but how we can help others to connect to Christ.

Connecting to Christ Myself

"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Verse 13) Jesus promises if I call, he will answer me. My husband, Scott, can remember calling out to God one dark night for help. It wasn't too many weeks later, God asked me to offer Scott hope. When we call out to God, we don't have to wonder whether he'll answer. He is waiting eagerly to hear us call His name. Maybe today you've never called His name but your burning heart is screaming your desire. Confess with your mouth and believe in heart (Verse 9).
  • Confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord". Just tell Jesus right now. You've tried and failed at being the boss of your life. You need Him to take over and clean up this mess you've made. Hold up the white flag of surrender and know He'll take that white flag and wash away your black sin in His red blood.
  • Believe in your heart that God raised him (Jesus) from the dead. If Jesus only died but never came back to life, there would be hope for none of us. Believe that Jesus is alive and that He can resurrect your broken life into one full of joy, life and hope. He came to give you abundant life (John 10:10).

Today if you just surrendered to Jesus or did so decades ago, He signed your name on His hand (Isaiah 49:16). He sealed you with the unbreakable seal of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). He delivered you from a life of darkness (1 Peter 1:9). Now He wants you to be sent.

Connecting Others to Christ

"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Verses 14-15)

As a woman, I am always eager to hear someone call me beautiful. Beautiful feet adorn a woman who says yes to God. Not because she's qualified but because He is. Not because she knows the right words but because He holds the word of life. Not because she's worthy but because He is. All around me there are people literally dying to believe in Jesus. They can not believe if they do not hear. They can not hear if I do not speak. I can not speak unless God sends me. I can not go unless I say yes.

Jesus, thank you for answering when I called Your name. Today, Jesus, take my broken sould that was resurrected to abundant life and send me. I will say yes.

We Serve Because We Love

1 Corinthians 13:3 If I give all I possess to the poor...but have not love, I gain nothing.

A new top favorite to my "All Time Favorite Chick Flicks" list is Letters to Juliet. It is funny, endearing and portrays the beauty of innocent love. Initially, the main characters, Sophie and Charlie are repulsed by one another. Over dinner one night, Charlie, a lawyer, reveals that he does pro bono work for refugees. Thinking he's scored some points with Sophie, he is probably surprised when she says, "I didn't have you pinned down as the save the planet type....but now that you mention it self-satisfied do-gooder fits." In the end she of course falls for every inch of his self-satisfied, do-gooder self. This might have something to do with his eventual declaration, "I am madly, truly, deeply, passionately in love with you." It'd probably work on me anyway.

After I watched this movie, I got a bit stuck on the self-satisfied, do-gooder line. As I reflected, I pondered if there are times I'm tempted to serve in the church or do something kind because of the way it makes me feel instead of out of an all-out passionate love for Christ.

This morning I am reading the 9th Chapter of Romans. In this passage Paul explains why the Jewish people had such a hard time accepting Jesus as the Messiah. They "pursued a law of righteousness...not by faith but as if it were by works." (Verses 31-32) This is sort of like when I do something "good" because of how it makes me feel, or because someone might grant me recognition. Instead, God wants me to do right things as an overflow of my love for Him. In John 14:15, Jesus said, "If you love me, you will obey what I command".

Often at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 will be read which describes love as being patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not rude, not self-seeking, not easily angered and not keeping a list of past mistakes. The first three verses of this chapter make it clear that Paul is really talking about how we should love and serve people in the church. He describes many lofty services people can provide for the church such as speaking, interpreting scripture, having faith and giving financially. In regard to each one though, Paul calls that action meaningless if it isn't rooted and executed in love.

Had Paul been writing to me, he might have said something like this:
  • If you cook a fine meal for your family but spend the entire meal letting them know just what a sacrifice it was, you'd be better off eating McDonalds
  • If you volunteer for an event at church and get excited when they call your name from the podium to thank you (or get hurt when they don't), the committee would have been better off with another member
  • If you give away used clothes to the poor and then tell everyone about it waiting for their nod of approval, you'd be better off keeping the clothes hanging in your closet.

In Verse 21, Paul inquires, "Does not the potter (God) have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?" I can't help wondering if my common isn't made noble when it's done purely out of love.

Jesus, I am madly, truly, deeply, passionately in love with you. It is from that place alone that I want to serve You today. May my common acts of service be for an audience of One. I do them for You. I leave them with You. All because I love You.

Guess How Much I Love You?

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

A few years ago Hannah (14) and I went to see a tween-age film in which the mom and daughter declared their loved for each other with the phrase, "I love you a million ___________." I can't even recall the title of that film but the saying was adopted immediately into Hannah's and my vernacular. When I write a letter, email, text or even note on her school napkin, it is often closed with "I love you a million _________."

When she was a young child, I read her the book Guess How Much I Love You? in which the mommy rabbit describes her love for her baby rabbit with height, width and other measurements. I suppose you could say our love has graduated from a few feet to a million. That special phrase is only written to Hannah. It is our unique expression of our distinct love for each other. She will never confuse my love for her with my love for one of her sisters or even her dad. My love for her is reserved just for her....measured at a million.

This morning I am reading Romans 8:22-39. There are some passages in the Bible I could read every day without tiring. For me this is one of those. There are three stunning attributes of God's love for us described in this section.
  1. Indescribable (Verses 26-27) - Have you ever experienced sorrow, anger or even love that beyond expression? These verses teach us that there is no emotion we have that the Holy Spirit living in our heart can't intimately understand and describe in detail to God the Father. His love for us is beyond words. Like a mother holding her weeping child and wordlessly reassuring her child with gentle caresses, our Father embraces us in His love even when we have no words to tell Him what's wrong. His love is indescribable.
  2. Insurmountable (Verses 28-31) - There is no circumstance, situation or force that God can't face straight on to bring about good in our lives. He is not intimidated. He does not back down. He loves us before, during and after every trying moment of our lives and fights on our behalf. His love is insurmountable.
  3. Inseparable (Verses 35-39) - There is not a single thing that can separate us from God's love. There are thousands of prisoners that never receive a single visitor, but God visits them there. There are thousands of elderly that never receive a single visitor, but God visits them there. There is nothing we could conceive or do to separate us from God's love. He is closer to us than a conjoined twin. His love is wrapped up in the fabric of our souls. His love is inseparable.

Jesus, I don't have to guess how much You love me. You've already told me. Your love is boundless, endless and incomparable. Thank you for indescribable, insurmountable and inseparable love. Today pour that kind of love into my heart and back out onto all I encounter today.

Who's Your Daddy?

Mark 14:36 "Abba Father (Daddy)", Jesus said, "everything is possible for you."

Being a single mother is at times terrifying. You are attempting to be both mother and father, to be the sole financial provider for the family and at the same time keep every other aspect of your family life in order. I began my journey as a single mom in Jacksonville, Florida which is only a couple of hours north of Orlando. That first year, I decided to invest in annual passes to Disney World.

All I had to do on a Saturday morning was mention the idea of going to Disney World for the day and the kids were dressed, washed, straightened and in the car practically before I could finish my sentence. Disney became a paradise for us. It was a place where we left the world of schedules, stress and bills behind and just played. Often as I pulled back in our driveway after a long day of driving, playing and laughing, I realized my heart was at peace.

Today I am reading Romans 8:1-21. In this passage, Paul continually contrasts the life controlled by sin with the life controlled by God's Spirit living in the heart of a Christian. This section is a tender roll call of the incredible blessings that come from walking with Jesus.
  • A Mind Filled With Life and Peace (Verse 6) - During those days as a single mom, my mind was typically filled with stress and uncertainty, not life and peace. What I didn't know then was that I didn't have to drive to Orlando to find peace. It was available to me 24/7. How? First I have to set the channel of my mind on Jesus (Verse 5). Once I've set it there and thrown away the remote, God fills my mind with life and peace.
  • A Life (Verses 10-11) - Have you ever heard someone tell another to "get a life"? A life is exactly what I didn't have during those days as a single mom. I sought joy in a destination and didn't know, I could have a life right where I was. A life is precisely what these verses promise us we have through living daily in fellowship with God. Life is literally breathed into our spirit. God uses the same power that He used when He raised Jesus from the dead to resurrect our dead little hearts to full, abundant life.
  • A Daddy (Verses 14-17) - One of the constant worries I had then was the impact on my kids of not having a father. Was I enough for them? These verses assure us that those who walk with God are adopted as His children (Verse 14). Our relationship with Him can be so tender that we call Him Daddy (Verse 15). Sweetly, God even whispers into our hearts, that our names were written on the adoption certificate in permanent ink. We have been written into His will as heirs! I probably wasn't enough for my kids but God was. I could have just as easily ran to Him for help as I ran to Orlando.

Thank you, Jesus, for giving me life, peace and a perfect Parent. Even though I'm remarried and my girls once again have a father, I will never be a perfect parent to them. Through walking the journey of my life with God, I can help them meet a Parent who is. Thank you for teaching me that by walking with You, I can bring Disney World to my home. Indeed everything is possible for you. Life and peace can live right here with us because You are my Daddy.

Servin' in the Spirit...the Antidote to Sobbin'

Jeremiah 33:3 Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.

It was one of my first opportunities to babysit. I was a bit nervous but also excited to demonstrate my competence as a babysitter. Even though I was the youngest in my family, I figured it couldn't be that hard to watch over a little baby, right? Wrong!

Practically the moment the parents walked out of the house, the child began to cry. Too young for separation anxiety, I ran down the practical list of what could be wrong. Diaper: Dry. Tummy: Full. Gas: Burped. I tried cooing and coddling and cuddling. I tried smiling and singing and snuggling. Nothing worked. Finally, I too began to sob. How could I be so unable to serve the needs of this little child?

Today's passage is Romans 7. Paul continues his theme of sin in the life of the Christian. He also explores the role the Old Testament law plays in the life of the Christian. This section is rich with insight and it would take a month of days to explore all God could teach me just from this one chapter. As I read, one verse leaps from the page. " dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Verse 6)"

All too often, I find myself feeling unqualified, unprepared and unequipped for some situation I am facing. Maybe that's precisely my problem. I am relying on some formula or list of rules rather than on Jesus. God wants me to face my issue in the "new way of the Spirit" rather than in the old way of following rules. When I feel unqualified, I need to pray. When I feel unprepared, I need to read the Word. When I feel unequipped, I need to get scripture into my heart.

I am not suggesting that I don't need to continue to learn, grow and develop by reading books and taking classes. I read books on a variety of topics from marriage, to parenting, to public speaking and will continue to do so. I learn all I can from experts in any field of interest to me. But all the instruction in the world won't aid me if I'm not also relying on the power of God to accomplish through me what He sets before me.

When I reflect on that night when I held that baby as she cried tears of desperation, I can remember asking God for help. When I did, I noticed the baby was putting everything into her mouth and chewing on it. "Perhaps she's getting a tooth," I thought at long last. After a quick call to her parents and the application of some much needed Anbusol, she fell fast asleep. I stopped trying to rely on my babysitting training. I started seeking God's help. I found the answer I needed.

Jesus, today I will not face my problems looking only to knowledge of man, but also resting wholeheartedly on Your wisdom. Help me to serve my family, friends and church this very day in the "new way of the Spirit". Oh, and I'll use Anbusol if I have a toothache.

Ignore No More

Numbers 32:23b You may be sure that your sin will find you out.

I had been friends with Elizabeth long enough to recognize her as a young woman who was both refined and restrained. You can imagine my horror one autumn day when I...well....flatulated in her living room as we chatted. Much to my relief, Hannah, then two, was standing close by. Surely I could pass my unfortunate "release" off on her. Precocious from birth, Hannah toddled straight up to me, waved her chubby hand in front of her nose and declared, "Shoo-ee, Mommy, that's a no-no." It was that precise moment when I realized that the harder I try to ignore my sin, the more likely it is to rise to the surface.

Today I am reading Romans 6. Paul has just established in chapter 5 that it was through the sacrifice of one life, Jesus', that every person can be saved. In this section, Paul explains what happens when we sin after becoming a Christian. Jesus was raised from the dead so that we too "may live a new life" (Verse 4). That new life is supposed to start immediately but what if my new life doesn't look so different from the old one? What if it is marked with the same patterns of sin and selfishness I thought I was leaving behind?

I personally chose to follow Jesus on December 31, 1990. What I didn't know that night is that I wouldn't wake up on January 1, 1991 and instantaneously cease all wrong thoughts, words and actions. Becoming more like Jesus would be a lifelong adventure lived one day at a time. Romans 6 gives us a road map to stop ignoring our sin and expedite the process of becoming more like Jesus each day.
  • Count Yourself Dead to Sin (Verse 11) - I thought it was adorable when my kids first learned to count. They would say a few numbers in order and then invariably they'd skip several numbers ahead. That is sort of like me when I became a Christian. I thought that like a toaster, you put in a sinner and out popped a sinless saint. I kept trying to skip numbers in my walk with Christ. As I've grown to know Jesus more, I've realized that usually there's just one thing He really wants to work on me at a time. As I count myself dead to that exact sin, my life in that specific area begins to change.
  • Do Not Offer Your Body to Sin (Verse 13) - Each moment of each day, I have a choice to offer my life to God or to sin. An offering is a gift and a gift comes from your heart. My actions, thoughts and words will not change unless my heart is changed. So after I count myself dead to the specific sin, I must resolve in my heart to offer my life to different actions.
  • Know That I Have Been Set Free (Verse 18) - As long as I believe that Jesus has no power to change me, my life will not change. In Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead is act work within the believer to give us victory over sin. Praise Jesus he has set me free - one sin and one choice at a time.

Jesus, today I will address that one thing You want to change in me today. I will count myself dead to that specific sin, offer my body to different, opposite actions and trust Your power to set me free.

Hope Doesn't Crop up From Nowhere

Romans 5:3-5 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into or hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

I am a certifiable perfectionist (not something of which I'm proud). Being a perfectionist means that perfection's twin sister, "fear of failure", also continually knocks at the door of my heart. Last weekend I went WAY out of my comfort zone and presented a book proposal to two publishers. This is something I didn't feel qualified or competent to do yet really believed God was asking of me to do. So you can imagine my great angst as I trusted God and stepped out in faith. Here are the responses I received:

Publisher One - Sorry we don't publish those kind of books. Well unless you're Beth Moore. You're not Beth Moore are you? (insert nervous chuckle)

Publisher Two - We don't publish any book of any genre unless we can google your name and find hundreds of hits establishing that thousands of people are already hearing and engaged in your message.

Last time I checked I'm not Beth Moore. No disrespect to that beautiful, godly woman, but I'm totally content not to be her. I just want to be me. I also don't have thousands of people clamoring to hear me speak or read what I write. I am actually quite an ordinary girl. The me before walking with Jesus would have taken that rejection personally, internalized it and stamped "FAILURE" across my forehead. Walking with Jesus, I can trust Him to turn rejection into love.

Would I have loved for one of those publishers to sweep in, deem my book worthy of publication and slap a book deal on me? You bet I would. In the midst of that "failure" I could hear my sweet Jesus whisper in my heart, "Your children will learn far more from watching you handle a 'no' than they ever would from watching you handle a 'yes'." Ultimately, the cry of my heart is to see my daughters' lives changed for the kingdom so I can rejoice in any moment that helps to do that.

This morning I am reading the 5th chapter of Romans. This chapter is full of verses that I treasure. Here are three of my favorites:
  • Verse 6 - At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

  • Verse 8 - But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

  • Verse 15b - How much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace (salvation) of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!

Today, though, my unpublished little heart is drawn to verses 3-5. They are hope, light and encouragement for any person whose life's moment isn't playing out like they had dreamed.

  • Suffering produces perseverance - I am not suggesting that a little rejection falls under the umbrella of true suffering. It is however a real pain that does actually hurt. When my heart hurts, God cultivates that seed of sadness into the plant of perseverance. Perseverance essentially is the ability to make it through regardless of difficulties, obstacles or discouragement. I definitely need me some of that!

  • Perseverance produces character - Once the plant of perseverance has firmly established roots, God multiplies it into a crop of character. My former pastor, Jack Graham, wisely states that character is what you do when no one is watching. Character is how you act towards those you most love. It's how you speak when you're chatting with your closest friend. It's every little decision you would make if you knew with certainty "you'd never get caught". Godly character is cultivated in the field of suffering. I can't explain it but have seen it proven true in my own life. Suffering smooths out inconsistencies and overcomes weaknesses.

  • Character produces hope - When the crop of character is growing lush and full, God brings it to fruition in a harvest of hope. Hope is a basic need of people. My husband, Scott, still remembers the first day I began to tell him about Jesus. I simply asked him if he needed hope in his life. He definitely did. Hope is the overflow of suffering. When we come through on the other side of financial loss, illness, death or even just rejection, hope is produced in our hearts.

  • Hope doesn't disappoint - This passage ends with the promise that through hope God's love is poured out into our hearts. There was a time when in my heart rejection = God doesn't love me. By God's grace I can see through these verses that rejection is a gift from God to grow perseverance, character, hope and love in my heart. There isn't a day that passes that I don't ask God to make me more loving. God didn't say "no" to my dream of being published. He said "yes" to making me more loving.

Thank you Jesus for walking with me into uncharted waters I could never navigate alone. Thank you for letting me see how Your perfect loves flows through everything that happens to me. Thank you for taking my perceived failures and weaving them into a beautiful tapestry of perseverance, character, hope and love. Today I receive the gift of love You've given me and will give it away to each person I encounter.

The Love Letter

Psalm 119:72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

Several years ago, Scott started writing his girls letters on various special occasions throughout the year. The first letter he wrote me is framed and hangs in our bedroom. His theme for that initial letter was our first kiss. That kiss is burned on his memory because it was at that moment he knew that God had intervened in his life and brought him the love of his life.

Now my husband is not perfect. Believe it or not, there are even times he irritates me or worse, makes me angry. However, his letter to me hangs as a constant reminder of his great love for me. All I have to do is remember some of its' words and anger, frustration and irritation are washed out of my heart.

This morning's reading is Romans 3. This great chapter contains the words "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Verse 23). As I began to read, I expected to be reminded of Jesus sacrifice for my sin and how thankful I am that God made a way for me to fellowship with Him. Instead, I am drawn like a moth to a flame to the second half of Verse 2. "They have been entrusted with the very words of God."

I sometimes forget that God wrote this love letter directly for and to me. His love is so vast that it required 1,800 pages to contain all His words. He has entrusted me with the very words of God. What have I done with His love letter? Do I treat it like:
  1. An Old Treasure Tucked Away in a Drawer - Occasionally you hear of a family stumbling across the love letters exchanged by their grandparents tucked away in the attic or stuffed in the back of the drawer. These letters usually appear untouched and unread for decades. They may have been read frequently at one time but that day has long since passed. Sometimes we treat God's Word like that. We tuck it away on a shelf or in a drawer and forget about the life-changing power of His love letter.
  2. Fond Memories I Keep Close at Hand - I rarely take the time to just sit and read Scott's letter to me. Its' reading is usually prompted by a bad moment in our marriage or maybe just a sour mood. I know that it is there and I do use it as a resource when I'm struggling but that's really the only time I intentionally read it. God's Word can also be treated that way. We can treat it more like a manual for handling life's crises rather than the instructions for each day.
  3. Words That Fuel My Love and Passion - Do you remember that first love letter you received maybe in junior high or high school? You read it over and over until you virtually had every word memorized, right? You would repeat various sentences with different inflections, trying to pinpoint that exact meaning of each word and phrase. God's love letter is just as exciting. When I read it every day, my passion for God and love for others is ignited. The best part about God's Word is that I can memorize it and carry it around in my heart wherever I go. It serves as a secret store of joy and peace in the midst of any circumstance or situation.

Jesus, thank you for entrusting me with the very words of God. May I not treat Your love letter as something passe or only relevant during a trial but the living and active letter it is that has the power to transform my life today and every day. Thank you for taking the time over thousands of years to record Your great love for me. I treasure Your words. I carry them in my heart.

No Returns, No Refunds and No Exchanges, Please

Matthew 4:10b Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.

December 26th has to be the biggest "hassle" day for retailers. I have seen lines a hundred deep of people waiting to exchange ill-fitting clothing, duplicate items or maybe even unwanted ones. Every year I wonder why all those people can't wait just a couple of days to get their items corrected. If they did their 2-hour return could turn into a 10-minute one. That sounds much more attractive to me. What is it in us that so deeply desires to exchange our Christmas presents, that we'll wait for hours in a line?

This morning I begin a new voyage into the book of Romans. I once heard a Christian author and speaker who I greatly respect say, "The first eleven chapters of Romans is just full of information we'll never understand until we get to heaven." While I think this woman is an amazing Bible teacher, wife and mother, I think she was way off base in this statement. God gave His Word not to the elite, seminary trained few so that only they could understand it. He gave His Word to everyone. That means its' every part is understandable by everyone, even a simple-minded girl like me.

Before I begin the journey into this letter I want to make certain that truth is cemented in my heart.
  • When God gave the law to Moses it was for everyone in Israel. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 which is the summarial basis for the Old Testament law begins, "Hear O Israel". It doesn't say, "Hear only the priests," or "Hear only the most wealthy". Those words were for every person in Israel and they are for me.
  • Paul begins his letters to the Romans, "To all in Rome" (Rom. 1:7). This letter is for every Christian in Rome and it is for me.
  • Paul wants to be so sure that this point is clear that in his letter to the Philippians, he addresses it to "all the saints in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons". It's almost as if Paul is saying to the church leadership, "Don't hoard this letter for yourself. It is for every lover of Jesus in your church." And it is for me.

God wants to be found by His people. He does not hide from us. He doesn't inspire words to be written that He doesn't intend to be understood by every one of His beloved children.

Now that I have that settled in my heart and mind, I am ready to begin. The beginning is exactly where this epistle starts. The major emphasis of this first chapter is how people originally turned away from God. As I read, one essential ingredient sticks out to me. If I want to continue to walk closely with God, I have to not exchange His truth for the world's lies. "They (people in general) exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. (Verse 25)"

It is very easy to shift my focus from the Creator to the created.

  • My Husband - My Scott is the single greatest blessing God has ever given me, but if his approval becomes essential for me to experience joy, he has become my God. If I am incapacitated by the thought of facing a future without him, he has become my God.
  • My Children - My kids are the greatest source of human happiness I experience day by day, however if I can't find time to spend with God because I'm chasing after them, they have become my God. If I forfeit God's best for our family and allow the entire household to revolve around their activities, education and friends, they have become my God.
  • My Home - God has richly blessed our family with a very comfortable home in which I take great joy in taking care. However, if I am more concerned with how my house looks, than the people who live in it, my home has become my God. If I am too busy cleaning counter tops and sorting laundry to pray, my home has become my God.

I could continue to list many things that things, most of which are wonderful blessings from God, that scratch and fight for first place in my heart. That is God's rightful place alone. Exchanging Him for anything else is a losing proposition. I think part of the reason we'll brave a long Christmas exchange line is because we are that desperate to have the longings of our heart filled. Only Jesus can satisfy my heart's longings.

Jesus, today I give you first place in my heart. No returns. No Refunds. No Exchanges.