Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A New Year, A New Perspective

It's the week of New Year's and many of us are thinking about changes we will be making and goals we will strive for in 2015. Entering a new year is always exciting because it's like a new beginning - a clean slate.

I especially love a new calendar with those small, white, empty boxes just begging to be filled with things to do, places to go, events to celebrate. Yes, I'm talking about a paper kind of book calendar that you actually write in with a pen or pencil.

On January 1, I'm looking at 2015 through new eyes.

With every sunrise God invites us to start our day afresh with Him, to wake up immediately aware of His presence, and to experience life to the fullest each and every moment in His presence.

Even if I fail or succeed with my personal goals and resolutions, I know that every day with Jesus I'm graced with a new beginning. Every day He invites me to spend the day with Him in all areas of my life, not just for a few minutes at the beginning, middle, or end of my day. He wants me to experience Him ALL day long.  That is something to look forward to. I can still hear my dad singing, "Every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before."

We will never learn all there is to know about our eternal Savior, but in our earthly life spans it's pure joy to seek and know Him the best we can. The more time we spend getting to know Him, the deeper our love for Him grows. The deeper our love for Him grows, the more we anticipate every single day we are graced with.

I pray your year begins and continues with an acute awareness of God's presence very near and real in your life, and that you look forward to each day with great anticipation. Every day can be sweeter than the day before when you're in love with Jesus Christ.

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 NKJV) 

Have a JOY-full New Year!

My Pleasure,

Saturday, December 27, 2014

'Tis the Season to Remember - Christ

Advent. The time has come! 

Christmas Eve. The last candle to light - the Christ candle.

It was a holy night. Passing the flame one by one to light candles, we sang carols. Such a warmth and spirit of Christmas filled the room. I glanced down the pew. Rick, Mimi, Turner, Madison standing with me singing and celebrating our Savior, ALL together. Since we sang a cappella, I was able to join my family in the pew instead of sitting on the piano bench. A rare occurrence these days with our different roles and responsibilities in our churches and lives.

Lifting candles high, we remembered the reason for the season - Christ, the Messiah, the Light of the world!

A Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11 NIV)

The Savior was born for you, for me, for all mankind. How will we continue to remember Him, not just during the holidays, but all throughout 2015?  Let us remember and remember Him well.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

'Tis the Season to Remember - Love

She cries a lot these days, especially now that the holidays are here. A vital piece of her is missing this Christmas - the piece with whom she became one almost 63 years ago. 62 Christmases as man and wife. Seems like a lifetime ago in some sense, but like yesterday in others.

It's Christmas Eve, and she is choosing to spend it alone. She's remembering. As she is remembering the lifetime of love spent with the love of her life, the Christmases that have been, we will be celebrating and remembering as well. A huge part of our family will be be missing - her husband, my husband's dad, my father-in-law, and my kid's Papa.

The anticipation has escaped her this year. There seems to be more dread than excitement, more tears than laughter. The twinkle in her eye has dimmed, but not gone. It's just not as bright this Christmas.

What is at the root of all this grief?

LOVE. A very deep, unconditional, unwavering, forever kind of love.

Advent week 4 - LOVE.

"God is love." (1 John 4:8b) The Bible says so.  We can love only because we are made in the image of our Creator. He loves, therefore we can love each other.

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life."  (John 3 :16)

Christmas is the manifestation of God's love. Jesus. Immanuel. God with us.

Love came down to dwell among us and reveal to us the indescribable love of God for all mankind.

Hug your loved ones a little tighter and more often this Christmas. Take some time today, tonight, or tomorrow and read the Christmas story (Luke 2 is where our family reads from) - the greatest event in the history of mankind- the Advent of the Promise- when anticipation became reality. When the God of Hope, Light, Joy and Love stepped out of heaven and into a broken world and into the hearts of those who would believe.

Merry Christmas!

My Pleasure,

Monday, December 22, 2014

'Tis the Season to Remember - Joy

"Joy to the world the Lord has come. Let earth receive her King." (Isaac Watts, 1719)

We've sung this beloved Christmas carol so much of our life time that sometimes we forget it's message... JOY to the world!

As I was finishing up some shopping the other day, here are a couple of non-joyful comments I heard around me:

A woman snapping at another woman while standing in line to get boxes: "You just stepped in front of me. I was in line ahead of you." 

A grumpy elderly husband to his elderly wife as she stopped to look at some Lilly Pulitzer items: "Why are you stopping to look at that stuff? You aren't going to buy any of that crap. Move on to the make-up counter where we were headed." 

Advent, Week 3 - Joy! 

An attitude. A frame of mind. A heart filled with the gift of Christ.

These two were anything but joyful as they shopped. I was first horrified for the young woman humiliated in front of all of us in line behind them. The non-joyful woman was next anyway, and she was carrying on a conversation with the lady behind her. I didn't see who actually was in front of who, but I know that girl could have crawled in a hole.

The grumpy old man was so cruel with his speech to his wife (and I'm assuming they were married) that I really wanted to go pour some Christmas cheer all over him, but I refrained and just repented of all the times I'm snippy with my husband. It's demeaning and humiliating to be talked to in such a tone.

You may have read one of my earlier posts about how I grumble under my breath sometimes when things aren't done the way I think they should be done. Well, I decided shortly after that post that I need to immediately move into a grateful attitude and thank God for the person or thing that has just caused me to grumble. Exchanging grumpy for grateful!

Gratefulness is a much better state of mind than grumpiness.

A heart of gratitude delivers much JOY! Neither person with the grumpy attitude delivered joy to those around them. My thoughts stalled on those who were the recipients of their ungrateful hearts displayed in a very public way. God gave me a picture of myself when I'm not in a joyful frame of mind. It's not very pretty.

This Christmas and everyday of the year, let's work to sift our thoughts before we speak, allowing only the good to flow from our lips. The world will be a much more joyful place to be.

"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person." (Colossians 4:6 NASB)

Thank You, Jesus, for caring about the words we speak and the attitude we speak with. Thank You for the mirror you placed in front of me today. Forgive my unkind words and grumpiness with others and especially with those who are closest to me. Help me to speak with grace, seasoned with love and truth, as I seek to point people to You and not away from You.  In the JOY-full name of Jesus, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Monday, December 8, 2014

'Tis the Season to Remember - Peace

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7 NIV)

This past week was anything but peaceful. My calendar was on overload with rehearsals, performances, shopping, teaching, speaking, and trying to care for a husband who strained his back the first part of the week. Whew! I wasn't sure if I was coming or going half the time.

On this foggy, seasonably cold morning, I'm settled into homemaking. I'm swiffering the hardwoods, washing clothes, waiting for windows to be delivered and eventually replaced. (That's a whole 'nother story in itself.) But in the midst of it all, I'm stopping. I'm listening, and I'm remembering what this season brings.

The Advent candle for week two shines with the light of...


PEACE on earth.

PEACE to all men.

The missing piece in the scurry of the season is God's PEACE.

His PEACE replaces chaos with calm, short tempers with patience, and grumpiness with gratefulness.

Wars and rumors of wars will always be until Jesus returns to earth to reign, but until then we have access to the true PEACE of Christ in our hearts- where real peace takes root and from where real peace spreads.

May the PEACE of Christ reign in your hearts this Christmas and into the New Year.

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

'Tis the Season to Remember - Hope

In all the busyness, the hustle and the bustle, we must make moments where we stop, look, and listen - to remember the reasons we celebrate Christmas.

Over the next several weeks, I want to give you some powerful reasons to remember during this holy season.

'Tis the season to remember...

Hope in knowing that God's best is yet to come. Hope in the promises of God.

During this Advent season leading up to Christmas, let's remember how God's people anticipated the coming of the Savior.

The first candle burns bright with and represents the Hope of the Messiah's birth.

Hope was prophesied. Hope was promised!

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; (Isaiah 9:6a)

'Tis the season to remember....

May all your days be merry and bright with the Hope we have in Jesus Christ!

My Pleasure,

Friday, November 21, 2014

An Amazing View

I just finished hanging the word Eucharisteo across my kitchen window. "Why...", you may be wondering, "would you hang that in the window?"

Well, for two reasons. First, to hopefully spark conversations, and second, to remind me to focus on the view God has placed right in front of me throughout my day.

Eucharisteo has become a very important word in my life over the past three years, as well as in the lives of many across the globe all because of one woman's obedience in writing a book with this as the theme. (One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.)

Voskamp breaks the word apart explaining that charis means grace; Eucharisteo means thanksgiving; chara means joy. When we return thanks back to God, we are grace-full, joy-full and thanks-full all at the same time. Just as Jesus was at His last meal on earth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

On the night before the Word was about to be broken and spilled out, Jesus gave joy-filled and grace-filled thanks for the bread (representing His own body) and the wine (representing His precious blood), knowing what was in His immediate future; a horrific death on a cross as the sins of the world would be placed on Him.  He gave thanks for His divine purpose in stepping out of the glory of heaven to come to earth so He could bring His Heavenly Father the most glory, by becoming our sacrificial Lamb.

Eucharisteo has been seared into my mind and has affected the way I think about life, death, and what it truly means to be thankful to God in all things and for all things.

The Eucharist is what Christians receive during Communion, the Lord's Supper. It's a representation of Christ's body and His blood, willingly poured out because of God's unconditional, deep love for all mankind. A sacrifice beyond compare, Jesus, the Word, the Son of God, paid the ultimate price to set us free from the chains of our sin. He died for all. He rose again for all. Jesus is our all in all.

Amazing.  Grace.

Eucharisteo reminds us to be alert and grateful, and not just for those things we deem good, but being consciously aware of the good blessings, the joy in all things, even in death, just as Jesus did.

For in all things God is working for our good because He is good.

He's working in the obvious and the not so obvious.
He's working in the hard of life, the simple, and everything in between.

When we begin to examine life through the amazing lens of Eucharisteo, our view of God expands, becoming more vast, more grand, and more glorious than ever imagined.

My Pleasure,

Monday, November 17, 2014

Life Is Better In Real Time

As I've sacrificed Facebook for the month of November, so far I really haven't missed it. I haven't missed scrolling through what everyone's having for dinner, where they are, what they're doing, or where they're going. I've really enjoyed the freedom in not knowing everything about everybody.

I have a life that I love and I enjoy living it. I enjoy doing life in real time with people face to face. It's so much better than chasing people on Facebook to catch up.

I love to meet up with friends, family, or new friends over lunch, coffee, or just hanging out - that's what I'm talking about - in real time and real conversation. Real hugs, and visiting in real places.  It doesn't get any better than that.

Just good old fashion conversation is all it takes to stimulate and cultivate real relationships. I do enjoy "visiting" with friends who are far away or those who I can only meet with through technology, but I'm talking about the joy of spending more time pouring ourselves into our real-time relationships whenever and wherever we can.

Keeping up with hundreds or thousands of "friends" is not only frustrating and time consuming, it's impossible. We can't know everything about everybody and we certainly don't need to.

So this November, I'm spending a little more time with family and friends in real places, enjoying the freedom of being unplugged, and focusing on the sphere of influence God has given me to display His glory, His love, and His gospel in real time.

During this Thanksgiving season, why don't you give it a try?

My Pleasure,

Friday, November 14, 2014

Am I a Grown-Up Yet?

I loved being a kid. From running barefoot through the cool grass in the summertime, climbing trees, swinging as high as a kite on my squeaky, aluminum swing set, hanging upside down from the swing set bars, to walking atop the one brick narrow fence that surrounded our back yard. I was a fearless, spontaneous, fun and carefree little girl who lived life to the full.

As I grew up and went on to college, I was never one who fretted or was overly concerned about much. I usually went with the flow. I never in a million years would have ever dreamed I would become a control freak. But, as I have gotten older, I seem to be more concerned about being in control of things; things that really don't matter.

For example, I could have cared less early in my marriage as to how the dishes were arranged in the dishwasher. Now, almost 30 years later, I'm obsessed with the position of the dishes and especially the spoons in the utensil basket.

We turn our eating utensil handles down so the water can easily clean the portion we eat off of. There is a larger section in the basket where, if you put spoons in handle down, they slip, becoming wedged under the other section of the basket. It is very difficult to retrieve them and it really gets under my skin.  How crazy is that?

Just the other night as I was unloading the dishes, the spoon scenario occurred and I went into an under-my-breath rant about who and why would anyone put them in that section of the basket. My go-to voice when I'm irritated is "the growl". You know, the "URGGHHH", mom-is-irritated-voice?

I've also discovered I'm obsessed with my never-before-cared-about, 5 step process of washing clothes. First, I pour the aroma beads in, then turn on the water, pour in the detergent, put the softener in the dispenser, and THEN put the clothes in. If I'm around when another person in my family is washing clothes and they put the clothes in first (before the beads or turning on the water), I have to walk away or I'll have a spasm. What is wrong with me?

I should be grateful that somebody, anybody in my household would load the dishwasher, or do the laundry for goodness sake. I feel like I've stepped into the old black and white movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Who or what has invaded my skin?

And the worst is how I've become a terrible back seat driver, although I'm seated in the front seat. Just ask my husband. Bless him! (Wait! On second thought, don't.) It's like sitting on pins and needles every time we go somewhere just because I'm not the one at the wheel. Good grief! What is up with that?

Okay, I know what some of you are thinking. It's just part of the maturing process of a hormonally challenged woman.  Well, it may be.  But, we are not going there today, or any other day.

So how did this fearless, fun-loving little girl who grew into a carefree, never-sweat-the-small-stuff kind of wife and mother morph into an anxious, need-to-be-in-control, control freak?

Here's my take:

As the grown-ups in our lives, the people we've always gone to for a sense of security, advice and wisdom, begin to slowly slip away, I think we become anxious. We look around and realize that we are now the grown-ups in the room; the ones looked to for guidance, security, advice, etc. It's a very sobering thought.

I've always thought of grown-ups as being those adults at least 20-30 years ahead of me; full of wisdom; the ones who keep me from acknowledging that I'm getting older. Grown-ups are the ones in control. Right?

Wrong! Especially if I'm becoming the grown up in the room.  None of us are really in control and we definitely don't have all the answers.

At all stages in our spiritual life, we are children learning how to grow into the mature image of Jesus Christ; daily practicing how to let go of things that don't matter, and how to handle with grace the things that do, as well as, learning to be grateful for the unexpected, out of our control, sometimes messy moments of life.

Growing up begins with an attitude of gratitude; a heart of thanksgiving-for ALL things. I think I'm beginning to get it.

As I become intentionally grateful for the dishwasher and the people who help me with the chores, I spend less time having "rant-fests". Instead, I spend more time having "praise-fests", giving God glory for the family He has given me a lifetime to love and serve.

My grown-up attitude is always being tweaked. Through trials of trust and surrender, my faith is stretched. It can be messy and uncomfortable, but it's all slathered in God's amazing grace.

I'm still growing and learning to recognize and admit my ungrateful heart moments, and in the strength of the Holy Spirit, reel in the moodiness, the occasional, unexplainable rant, and even my anxious thoughts.

When ungratefulness invades our hearts, our homes, and our relationships, it interrupts the flow of grace in and out of our lives which stunts our spiritual growth. We need to bow the knee, ask for forgiveness from God and the people who experience our irrational behavior, forgive ourselves, and let it go.  Then, as we move forward, if we have truly learned from our past failures, we make the necessary changes which reflect the character of Christ. This is a clue that we are finally growing up.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23 NIV)

My Pleasure,

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Simple - Amazing - Everyday - Blessings

It's November 2014 and, as the Thanksgiving holidays approach, much attention is being given to the counting of blessings.

Remember the old hymn, "Count Your Blessings"? We always sang it in church during the season of thanks. Every year at our Thanksgiving family reunion my dad would have me go to the piano and play this hymn as our family gathered around singing about the blessings that our God had so graciously given to us over the past year. Sweet memories of growing up in the Cook family.

I've been intentionally counting the simple- amazing- everyday- blessings since the summer of 2012.  As I've mentioned many times before, I was challenged by the author of One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp, to begin a "Thanks Journal". It has made the biggest difference in my attitude of gratitude.

The fun part of the journal is reading back over the jotted blessings from past years. What an amazing God we serve! If I hadn't been engaged in the search for all of the simple-amazing-everyday-blessings, I might have missed what God has placed right in front of me! My regret is that I didn't begin one earlier.

During this season of Thanksgiving, join me in this adventure by taking the Gifts Journal Challenge. Here's what you'll need to begin:

- a small journal
- a pen
- an alert mind
- a grateful heart

There's even an app for this if you'd rather use your I-phone. I choose the journal approach because it sits in my kitchen window in plain view, ready for me to hold and count. It also leads to conversation and is a reminder for my family as well. I hope you'll join me. Let me know if you do by commenting in the space below. Happy counting!

Count your blessings; name them one by one.
Count your blessings; see what God hath done.
Count your blessings...name them one by one...
Count your many blessings see what God hath done.  
                                                                                        Words: Johnson Oatman, Jr., 1856-1922
                                                                                        Music: Edwin O. Excell, 1851-1921

My Pleasure,

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Sacrifice

But Samuel replied: "Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? (I Samuel 15:22a)

Our pastor challenges us every year to sacrifice something during the month of November as we move toward our Thanks Service. 

I've been thinking about this for weeks and praying about what I should give up. Some people give up sweets, some give up soft drinks, some give up fast food, etc. Most sacrifices seem to be related to physical health.

The day after Easter, I gave up bad eating choices because I really needed to lose some weight, and I asked God to help me do it. He has helped me and I've lost 16-18 pounds.

To me, this was a common sense sacrifice; one I could not do in my own strength, but one that would benefit my physical health.

I'll confess that I haven't "sacrificed" anything in particular during the month of November since our pastor began the November challenge four years ago. I cannot sacrifice for sacrifice sake. I need to hear from the Holy Spirit when I need to give something up.  I'm led to sacrifice something I don't need through God revealing what I do need from Him.

My answer is clear.

This month, I need to spend more time with Him. To do that, I need to sacrifice something that is an unnecessary distraction. So, I'm sacrificing Facebook.

"To obey is greater than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams." (I Samuel 15:22b)

Sacrificing something I don't need in order to gain something I do need is why obedience is better than sacrifice. 

This month I hope to accomplish something that I believe I'm suppose to start. It blends together the spiritual gifts of encouragement and hospitality into one project.

Listening intently to the Spirit's voice through prayer and time in the Word is what I need to do this month. As I move forward in obedience with this project, I covet your prayers.

Of course, I'll keep you posted. (But not on FB!)

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Grace Gifts, Reasons to Give Back

For the past few days I've noticed a hydrangea blooming in the back yard. Isn't it a little late in the season for hydrangeas? I'm really thinking it is, but I'm no botanist, and this is South Carolina.

A few days later, this is what I found. This gorgeous, pink flower, standing tall and proud, just begging to come inside and brighten up my day.

 Gift #1136, Hydrangea

Last Tuesday night, 9 of us gathered around a table to celebrate the life of a wonderful friend. This friend has traveled a difficult road this past year. In June of 2013, she called me while I was at the beach and shared the news she had received. "I have breast cancer," she said.

My heart sank and sadness flooded my soul. Not Lara. Not the healthiest person I know.

Now, she's cancer free and we could not be more ecstatic and blessed to have her by our side.

Gift #1137, Lara.

Wednesday, a life-long friend went into surgery to have a cancerous tumor removed from her stomach. By the afternoon we had received word that the surgeon could not remove it because of its location. The next step, chemotherapy.

My heart sank. I even felt nauseous.

Gift #1138, childhood - adult friends.

Thursday, Gift #1139 -Birthday!

My birthday began with Bible study with some fabulous women, and then lunch with my favs: Rick, Turner and Madison.

Then, while at lunch, another tragic call. More friends hurting. Their child, lying in a hospital in critical condition after a horrible car accident.

My heart sank again. Sadness flowed through me...again.

Gift #1140, Life.

I remember God's gifts - the flower, friends, my birthday, life.

No one is promised tomorrow. We are not privy to God's timetable or the number of our ordained days.  We just have to run this one race well; this one life God has given, in His strength, in His power, in His love and grace, with faith.

We are proclaiming and claiming this truth in our Bible study, "God is greater than our struggles." 

He has us! He's got this!

Press on with your eyes fixed on Jesus. Run for the joy that lies ahead! Run, baby! Run!

Tall and proud; my hydrangea. Today it blooms. Tomorrow it may die, but it is bursting forth its praise for the Creator who gave it life. God's gift has blessed me.

Tall and proud I stand! God's child.  I live this day to the full because I'm not privy to what tomorrow holds.

So today I burst with praise, for my Creator has given me life to do so.

May my gift of praise bless Him.

"Bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name." 
(Andrae Crouch, lyrics) 

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Little Web Wisdom

Lately, I've heard many people say, "I don't read much anymore what people post on Facebook because it's all negative and depressing." Have you heard anyone say this?

Personally, I think long and hard about what I release on the World Wide Web. Sometimes, I probably overthink my words. I pray about, edit, rewrite, and reread my words over and over until I'm absolutely sure that, when I hit "Publish" or "Post", it is something that will be helpful, and not harmful. (I've even been working on this post for a while.)

Sure, I could use cyber space to vent, complain or grumble, but I choose not to.  What good does that do anybody, especially for people who are looking for encouragement?

So why do people, especially Christians, whine or vent on social media?

I didn't have to think long and hard about this one because the old saying says it well:

"Misery loves company."

We whine on social media to attract those who will sympathize with our "poor me" posts and justify our pity parties. But, as Christians, does that represent Christ well?

When Jesus was struggling with something very difficult, like going to the cross, where did He go to pour His heart out? Did He stand on the highest point in Jerusalem and yell, "I don't want to die for the sins of the world!" Did He go in search of those who would justify His distress and encourage Him in the flesh to not do what He was born to do? Certainly not.

Jesus went to the Father, alone, every time.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, He took three of his closest confidants, but He left them to keep watch as He walked a little further to be alone as He fell on His knees in utter sorrow and distress battling between His earthly flesh and His divine purpose.

The only One who could truly settle the battle in His heart, and give Him the strength to press on, was the One He trusted with His fight - His Father.

I'm not saying that we should paint a rosy picture of what it's like to be a Christian, and never share our feelings. Life's hard! We all have inner struggles. But, when Christians display unchecked emotions, degrade people or other Christians for all the world to see, and invite others to join the pity parties, we are not displaying the love which Christ said we should have for one another, nor are we revealing His character.

It's easy to say things when we don't physically see the people who are reading our words, but it would (I hope) be a very different story if we could look into the eyes of those same people we claim to love and then say the things we post. We might would think twice, or three times.

Although I've failed at times, this is what I try to do. I picture the faces of those who may read my blog or FB posts, and I try to speak with wisdom, sensitivity, and love to their tender hearts. I try not to scold, or demean. I try to point my readers to Christ first, then through prayer, humbly share my heart.

Public displays of emotional distress can wound and hurt people - sometimes for life. Our cyber thoughts in black and white can be perceived in ways we never intended, which in turn, hurt us, and the One we love and serve.

It's tough not to share our hurts and disappointments with the world, but it's for the best, and it protects the character of Christ which is our character as Christians.

How can we keep our emotions in check and temper our cyber words with grace?

Here are 3 simple questions I ask before I hit "Send", "Post", or "Publish":

- Is what I've written truly helpful to anyone?

- Is what I've written helpful or harmful to the Body of Christ?

- Is what I've written lifting up Christ or lifting up my need for sympathy and/or approval?

Thank you for allowing me to share with you a little bit of Web wisdom I've learned along the way.

My Pleasure,

Monday, October 6, 2014

Therefore...because of Jesus

The Sunday sermon, on most occasions, drives me to dig deeper because of something said or read, and steers me down a path not necessarily eluded to in the sermon. I like to think of it as going on a personal retreat with the Holy Spirit.

Today's adventure drove me to taking a deeper look at the word Therefore.  I love words, and especially the words which are significantly and strategically placed in Scripture to help us understand the heart of God.

Through many years of studying the Bible and being taught by some incredible teachers, I've learned to always read the Bible in context. When the word therefore is used, I've learned to ask, "What is it there for?", and back up in the text for clarification. Therefore is a connector which joins the previous text with the future text.

The spark from Sunday's sermon drew me to a very simple, but profound understanding of why therefore is used in the New Testament. Researching briefly Strong's Concordance Sunday afternoon, I discovered that therefore is used 53 times in the New Testament.

Though I have definitely not exhausted my research, or my theory theologically, I do believe three simple words could be interjected after every therefore in the New Testament; because of Jesus.

For example, Sunday's sermon was focused on Romans 8:1-4 (NIV) which begins, "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."

What is the therefore there for? If we insert those three simple words, "Therefore, (because of Jesus), there is now no condemnation for those who are in Jesus Christ," it becomes perfectly clear.

Another example: Acts 2:36 (NIV) says, "Therefore (because of Jesus) let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." A description of Jesus is given before in verse 33, so because of Jesus works again.

Here's one more example: Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV) says, "Therefore, (because of Jesus), my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose." An extensive description of Jesus preludes these verses in verses 5-11, so it works here too.

Remember, this is just my theory. I will have to continue looking at all 53 uses of Therefore in the New Testament to see if this works all the time. Until then, think about this:

Because of Jesus - His willingness to step out of heaven and into skin, to be born of a virgin, to live in a body of flesh just like us, but still filled with the Divine...

Because of Jesus - His sacrifice satisfied the wrath of the Father for all sins committed by all humans. His sovereignty, His forgiveness, His mercy, His grace, His love, His position, His humility, His greatness, His Sonship, etc...

Because of Jesus - We who are in Him are not condemned by Him.

Because of Jesus - We are free! Free to point others to Him, free from fear, and free from the power of sin.

We can live life to the full because of Jesus.

My Pleasure,

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Filled to the Brim

My family knows that I don't talk much first thing in the morning, and that I love quiet as I start my day.

"Shhh...don't be so loud," I sometimes whisper to my perky husband if he attempts to share his perkiness with me before I've had my first cup of coffee.

You see, a perfect morning for me begins with the push of a button on our Keurig coffee maker. I love the sound as it begins filling my favorite red, pottery mug with hot, Caribou coffee. Next, I swirl the cream and sweetener until just the right shade of khaki appears.  Then, holding my mug oh so carefully, I sip slowly and deliberately, to awaken my taste buds, and stir my senses with the rich aroma. Mmm...delightful.

I'm cracking myself up just thinking about what I do to wake up in the mornings! 

In our Stronger Bible study, Angela Thomas talks about how our natural nature (the one we're born with, you know, the sin nature?) battles our new nature (the supernatural one we're re-born with in Christ). The two natures are constantly battling one another because we still live in our fleshly bodies.  Her coffee analogy really hit home with me.

So if I say, "Oh, that's just how I am in the mornings," and my family is thinking, "She's grumpy, unkind, and she'll bite your head off if you speak to her before she's had her coffee", then I'm not revealing my new nature in Christ. In fact, with that attitude, I've already allowed the enemy to defeat me before my day even gets started.

When did I begin allowing a cup of coffee to dictate my attitude? 

It's imperative that we are deliberate in giving Jesus complete control of everything about our lives, including our mama bear-like growls in the mornings. If we just chalk it up to, "Hey, that's just the way I am," then what we're really saying is, " Lord, I don't believe You can make me a new creation." 

"Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!"             (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)

However we start our day, our minds and our eyes must go straight to Jesus. We need to think about Him, and talk to Him, even if we don't feel like it. Our spiritual mugs need to be filled to the brim with the attitude of Christ, so as we begin spilling out onto people, we spill out Jesus and not growls.

Our families are usually the first ones to receive what spills out of us first thing in the morning. That's why we must allow Christ to renew our minds and acknowledge Him before our feet hit the floor.

We need to be filled to the brim with a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit each morning. We need to be filled with the sweet aroma of Christ. So, when we're tipped over during the day, we will spill out Jesus instead of spoiled milk.

"For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing." (2 Corinthians 2:15 NIV)

Lord, fill me with Your rich aroma. May I be a sweet fragrance to You and to those around me today.
In Jesus' name, Amen.

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Deep Do My Trust Roots Run?

God gave me a big test on the Tuesday after Labor Day. It was a trust test, and I can say with full assurance that I trust my Jesus with my whole heart - way down deep in my soul.

Over the Labor Day weekend I developed an infection. I ran a low-grade fever for a few days, was experiencing some severe pain, and by Tuesday morning, I was in Women's Imaging before lunch having a couple of scans done. (Thanks to a very good friend.)

Without going into details, I knew this could result in bad news, but I was not going into this with out having a heart to heart with Jesus. The night before my tests, I crawled slowly into the bed. I picked up my Bible and began praying through Psalm 84. This is the chapter where I was preparing to take a group of ladies in our "Stronger" Bible study on the following Thursday morning. My thought process and prayer went something like this: If I truly trust You, Jesus, like I say I do, then how will I handle good or bad news?

Praying through Scripture helps us to see where our hearts really are and uncover what we truly believe. It's great therapy for the soul. It helps to identify our sins, our strengths and our weaknesses. The words, I trust Jesus, are not just three trite little words that roll off the Christian's tongue in convenient, non-threatening conversations about faith. They are serious, intentional words we hold onto every single day, and especially when our grace journey takes us through a real valley.

As I prayed and anticipated the outcome of the next day, a particular song from a youth musical I sang in back in the 80's kept playing over in my mind. A couple of the lines are:

"He didn't bring us this far to leave us. 
He didn't teach us to swim to let us drown." 
(Not sure who the composer is.)

God tests our faith as we walk through the deep waters, the scorching flames of fire, and everything in between. As we exit the waters or fires, we discover how deep our roots really run. God's trust tests are the evidence that He is refining us, making us stronger in our faith, and deepening our roots as He moves us from strength to strength (Psalm 84:7), and from glory to glory.

My favorite verse became my favorite verse when I had to be on bed rest for 8 weeks during my pregnancy with Madison, our second child. It reads,

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the LORD your God, 
(Isaiah 43:2-3a NKJV)

Madison was born via C-section one month early. Not only had she made it to the 5 lbs. we were praying for, but she was the biggest baby in the NIC-U at 6 lb. 14 oz. 

On Tuesday, September 3, my scans were normal and my diagnosis was good. Yes, I was relieved to hear the Dr. say, "No masses or malignancies. Antibiotics should do the trick."

You may be thinking, "But what if you had received a different diagnosis?" I had already settled it with Jesus the night before, that no matter what, good news or bad news, I would praise Him all the day long.  Can you hear me? I'm still praising my Savior all the day long! Why? Because I trust Him with my whole heart.

Jesus is my Savior, Redeemer, Strong Tower, Protector, Healer, Defender, etc., and there's power in the name of Jesus.

He doesn't become less when life gets hard. He never changes! He's ubiquitous! (One of our "Stronger" Bible study words.) He's our everything every moment of every day.

Are you in the midst of a trust test now? How deep do your trust roots run?
I pray they run all the way to Jesus.

My Pleasure,

Monday, September 15, 2014

Intentional Grounding - Learning to Trust

Counting down the days until football season began, I found myself excited with every Facebook post about the Dallas Cowboys, or the South Carolina Gamecocks.  It just gets my blood pumping! Yes, some women really do love football.

I give my dad the credit for my fetish with the pigskin. He loved the game and began teaching me about it before I could even walk.  To make watching the games more fun, we pulled against each other. He always let me choose first for the team I wanted to win. I chose my team according to the color of their uniforms. Hey, that's what preschoolers do. And it must have been a skilled strategy, because dad said my team won most of the time. Genius, don't you think?

I learned all of the referee signals via a World Book Encyclopedia apparatus. I knew touchdownillegal man down field, off-sides, personal foul, first down, roughing the passer, roughing the kicker, intentional grounding, incomplete pass, and more before I started to school. Today, I surprise many men sitting around me at the USC games when I make a call before the refs do.

I miss my dad and our TV game days together. I miss the halftimes where we would go outside and throw the football to each other.

I. Miss. My. Dad.

Not only does my dad receive the credit for my pigskin fetish, but I also attribute my ability to trust to him as well.

One of the first ways my dad taught me to trust was teaching me not to fear water. At 7 or 8 months old, he had me swimming off the palm of his hand into Lake Murray where my family spent much of our free time.

Continuing my lessons on trust, as a toddler, my dad would hold me up in the air by my ankles, tell me not to bend my knees, and I could stand up there forever. Because I trusted him, I never thought about falling. Learning to trust my dad was helping me learn how to trust my heavenly Father as well.

As I grew older, I trusted my dad to teach me to water ski. I was skiing by age 5, and slaloming (skiing on one ski) by age 8. I would listen to his instructions intently, as he shouted them over the sound of the boat motor, and then I did exactly what he told me. As the boat took off, I got straight up. He would pull me all over the lake, under bridges, around in circles, and to bring me back in for a smooth landing.

Did I ever fall? Sure, many times. But, I always got back in the water, returned to my place of trust, put on my game face, and began again; all because I knew my dad was there.

I know that trusting my dad led me to an early trusting in Jesus. For that, I am forever grateful. I solidified my belief in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior the summer before I entered first grade, and I was baptized later that summer. Trusting Jesus has always come easy for me.

Do I ever sin, fall short in my faith, or doubt my Lord? Of course. But I repent, allow Jesus to help me up, dust me off, and put me back in the game. I know in Whom I trust. Jesus is always there for me and will never leave me.

Making the decision to trust in Christ is intentionally choosing to believe and trust in the Savior who loves us unconditionally and is always there. The Savior who will never leave us or forsake us. It's being grounded in faith, putting down roots, and then allowing them to grow deep and strong through the pitfalls and failures in life.  I guess I was called for Intentional Grounding early in the game of life. Undisputedly, it was a good call.

...but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 
                                                                                                                           1 Peter 3:15 NASB 

I have sanctified (set apart) Christ as Lord in my heart. I am always ready to make a defense to any and everyone who asks me to give an account for the hope that is in me. I pray I always deliver that account with gentleness and reverence, just like I watched my dad do many, many, times.

I'm very aware that there are those who struggle with a simple faith that I hope in so easily.  There are a myriad of reasons for their cautiousness and timidness to step all in and just believe.  We have to be patient with those who struggle with trust. But for me, my soul's rest is in Jesus Christ, Who not only paid the debt for my sin, but Who also rescued me from the power of sin when He died on the cross. I daily confess with my mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord, the Son of the living God, the resurrected King of kings and Lord of Lords.

He died for me.  He died for you. He loves us so much that He took our place, our punishment. We can trust Him because of His unconditional love, forgiveness, mercy and grace. He understands us. He's patient, long-suffering, and is pulling for all to answer His call for Intentional Grounding.

...who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, (2 Timothy 1:9 NASB)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  (John 3:16 NASB) 

My Pleasure,

Monday, September 1, 2014

Leadership Lessons From a Football Movie and a Book

When the Game Stands Tall has hit the movie theaters. Opening night, August 22, was our Friday night date, and I couldn't have been more excited. Why? Football is upon us people, and #realwomenlovefootball!

The movie is based on a true story about a Concord, California High School football coach, Bob Ladouceur, of the Del La Salle Spartans, and is played by Jim Caviezel (who also played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, and John, one of the main characters on the hit television show, Person of Interest).  

After the Spartans lost a game which broke their 151game-winning streak, Coach Bob was determined to get his team back on track again, but not with fancy tactics, or by degrading the team. He stayed with his strategy which had worked for 151 games straight. Even after a heart attack and some setbacks in his personal life, from which he learned some lessons, he stayed the course. Love and Brotherhood were the bottom line with God at the center.

It was all about the team being unified and working together toward one common goal, and never about the individual. He was not just a football coach for these boys, he was a life coach as well; encouraging them to rise above whatever hardships they faced. Every. Single. Day.  Life lessons in this movie, as well as leadership lessons, were exuded through the life of this coach, and they easily parallel lessons for Church leadership today.

How we respond to each piece of reality in our lives, good or bad, reveals our character and our convictions - who we really are and what we truly believe deep down to our core. A real leader leads with conviction. He or she doesn't waver on their core beliefs, no matter what. Our core beliefs define who we are.

As Christian leaders, we must know what we believe, communicate it well, and lead with conviction. We need to see our lives through the prism of God's sovereignty. If not, we'll misunderstand many of the truths He desires to teach us in His Word, and how to live out of these truths which build character (His character) in us.

I'm reading a book on Leadership called, The Conviction to Lead; 25 Principles for Leadership That Matter by Dr. Albert Mohler. At age 33, Dr. Mohler was the youngest ever to be called to serve as President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Now, 20 or so years later, he has put into a book what it takes to lead an organization and lead it well with conviction. I would recommend this book to anyone who is in any type of leadership position.

Coach Ladouceur was the epitome of many of these 25 principles. And though he probably never read the book, I watched him, throughout the movie, lead with conviction, and I knew his strategy from the get-go. He never wavered. He knew what worked, what was true, and he led others to believe them too. He led young men into adulthood with values, principles, and conviction. Very impressive.

I, too, want to be this kind of leader.

Our job as Christian leaders, men and women, is to lead others into adulthood in their Christian faith. It's teaching them to know God and to make Him known. This process is called discipleship; helping others to fall deeply in love with the Savior through the teaching/preaching the Word, Biblical principles and values to live by, which lead to deep convictions. Then teach them how to teach others to do the same...all encompassed with Love and Brotherhood (Sisterhood) at the core.

Jesus answered: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. This is the first and most important commandment. The second most important commandment is like this one. And it is, "Love others as much as you love yourself."(Matthew 22:37-39 Contemporary English Version) 

So what really matters? The local churches we're called to lead, or be leaders in, should first be about loving God and loving each other. This is how the world knows that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. Then, growing the fellowship to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ as they reach the masses. God's Word is very clear about what points people to Christ - preaching the Word well and loving one another. This is what Christian leadership should be about; leading well with conviction and love.

Calling all leaders! Go see the movie, and read the book! See what you can learn and apply to your leadership skills, all for the glory of Jesus Christ!

No one can lead with perfection, but we can all lead well with "perfect effort". (adapted from Coach Ladouceur)

My Pleasure,

Winners Announced Today!

What have I been up to?

                        Taking banjo lessons!

I got a banjo when I was 15 or so, took some lessons and was able to play pretty well. Now I'm 51 and I'm trying again.

It's not quite so easy this time, but I'm sticking with it for a while anyway.  Don't ask me to play for you any time soon. I've only had 3 lessons. I've got the grinnin' down, but not the pickin' as well yet.

Congratulations to the winners who guessed correctly what I've been up to:

1st prize: Melissa Hanna, $25 Starbucks Gift Card

2nd prize: Donna Edge, a book, The Waiting by Cathy Lagrow

3rd prize: Joyce Wagster, a Living Real magazine long sleeve t-shirt

Thanks to all who participated! Have a wonderful Labor Day!

My Pleasure,

Monday, August 25, 2014

What Is She Up To? Clue #4

This is the last week and the last clue to help you figure out what I'm up to.

I hope you have had fun with this little guessing game. I know I've had fun making up the clues and trying to keep this a secret from my husband.  Whew! I'll be glad when the cat's out of the bag!

Here it goes:

Clue #4

Every week, I sneak out the house
A surprise I'm hiding from Rick, my spouse.

I don't want to share until I can play
I'm "pickin' and grinnin'" - what more can I say?

Remember to post your one guess per week in the comment box below to be eligible for the prizes. The winners will be announced on my blog next Monday, September 1.

1st prize: $25 Starbucks Gift Card

2nd prize: A copy of The Waiting, by Cathy Lagrow (One of the books I read this summer)

3rd prize: A Living Real long-sleeve T-shirt (black only)

Happy Guessing!

My Pleasure,

Thursday, August 21, 2014

As Is

While we spent a few days at the beach last week, a much needed vacation for our family, I finished another book, Finding Spiritual Whitespace- Awakening Your Soul to Rest by Bonnie Gray.

The book is uniquely written with a weaving in and out of the author's personal story which draws you in to uncover your own spiritual whitespace. Each chapter ends with thought provoking questions, mingled with a tease for the next chapter.

As you join Gray on her journey through her healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), you find your own story unfolding as you push through the pages. She helps you discover what real soul rest is, guiding you into deep soul conversations with Jesus, as you bring your weary soul to Him...as is.

The phrase, as is, struck a chord deep inside me. I know Christians struggle.  I struggle. Many times I come boldly before the throne of Jesus Christ with a grateful heart, bringing praise and petitions into His presence. But there are also times when my soul is struggling for rest. Sometimes, I'm just a puddle of a mess lying at the feet of Jesus.

I've learned to come to Him...

As is.

As is is not always pretty.  Many times as is is messed up, hurt, frustrated, angry, sad, disappointed, anxious, depressed, etc. That's what is so beautiful about the way Gray approaches the spiritual whitespace in our lives. The whitespace is where Jesus meets with us, talks with us, and transfigures us.

Whitespace on a canvas is what makes art pop. It causes our eyes to focus on the image to be seen. If there's not enough whitespace, the image gets lost in the clutter. It's too busy, jumbled; too hard to focus.

Gray says, "Life is organic. It's not always plastic, shiny, and perfect. Life changes like the seasons... Rest comes from awakening our hearts to fully open up in our relationship with Jesus." (Finding Spiritual Whitespace, Pg. 212)

A Christian lives a life that is always changing with the Person of Jesus Christ who is always the same. When the two come together, the organic begins the transformation process; taking on the steady, unchanging, glorious image of Jesus Christ.

Our spiritual whitespace is where we intimately connect with the Person of Jesus Christ. If our lives are cluttered with stuff, distractions, and busyness, we haven't made room for the whitespace - the space where Jesus can really go to work through His Word and the Holy Spirit; the space where we have soul conversations with the Savior, the conversations that literally change our lives, renew our minds, and rest our souls.

This book has challenged me to look for and make more room for spiritual whitespace. As I take full advantage of the transforming process, my life will pop with what people need to focus on - Jesus!

The whitespace is where Jesus is whispering distinctly your name and mine to come...with our stuff, our clutter, our baggage, our burdens, our lives, and lay it ALL at His feet...

As is. 

"For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly before the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16 NKJV)

My Pleasure,

Monday, August 18, 2014

What Do You Think I'm Up To? Clue #3

It's time for Clue #3!

For the past 2 weeks, I've been giving clues to help you guess what I'm up to. I began something new a few weeks ago and wanted to share it with you in a unique and fun way.

Several have taken the challenge and put their ideas out there, but only one has come somewhat close.

Clue #3:

A neck, a head, 2 of its parts 
5 strings and tuners help with this art.

To see the other clues, read the previous 2 blogs. Also check out the prizes you could win!

Keep guessing! (One guess per week.)  Winners will be announced Monday, September 1, Labor Day!

My Pleasure,

Monday, August 11, 2014

What I'm Up To...Another Clue!

Last Monday, I wanted to shake things up a bit and have a little blog fun. I shared with you that I have started something new, and the fun is to see if you can guess what I'm up to.

Several of you submitted guesses, and although they were excellent, no one has figured it out yet.

If you didn't see my blog, Clues and Prizes, you can surely catch up with the fun, see what others have guessed so far, and submit your guess! The prizes are listed as well. I'll announce the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners on Monday, September 1, 2014.

Clue # 1 was:

I sit to do this something new. Looking down helps me have a clear view.

Here's Clue #2:

I'm relearning something from far in my past. 
The second time around I'm not learning as fast.
I held the old in a particular way,
Holding it new is no different today.

Remember to post your guess on my blog in the comment box. You can make one guess per week. To become a member on my blog site, click on Join this Site and follow the instructions.  I can't wait to see what you come up with this week. Keep guessing and have fun!

My Pleasure,

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Clues and Prizes

Most people are capable of learning something new. Trying new things keeps our minds sharp and more focused. A fresh beginning brings excitement and anticipation. Learning new things also keeps us from becoming stagnant and bored.

My "who I want to be when I grow up" friend, Patsy Clairmont, through her stirring book, Twirl, has encouraged our book club this summer to try new things. Patsy challenges us to step out of our comfort zone and to take a risk.

"But what if I fail?," my mind screams in my ear.  Failure doesn't need to be feared. Failing at something new is to be expected. Just stay the course; try again. No one would have ever accomplished anything if they hadn't tried. Did the doughnut have a hole in it the first go round? I doubt it.

We learn through failure. We try. We fail. We try again. Sometimes we need to stick with it, and other times we need to make changes, or move on to something else altogether. Learning to do anything well takes time, hard work and patience.

Today, I took the plunge! I embraced Patsy's challenge and began something new! Was I scared?
A little, but I had FUN!

Oh... no. I'm not going to tell you what my new thing is yet.  Here's how it will work:

Each week, beginning today, I'll give you a clue.  If you want to guess what I'm up to, you'll have to leave a comment on my blog. You can know when I post quicker if you become a follower of my blogpost. As a follower, you will receive an email in your Inbox telling you that I have posted a blog. Instructions on how to become a follower are on the right side of this blog page. Click on the words Join this Site.

I will be posting clues, one per week, for rest of August. You may guess after each clue if you like, but only one guess per week, please.

The first 3 people to guess correctly what my something new is will receive a prize.  I will announce the winners on September 1, 2014.

1st prize: a $25 Starbuck's gift card (One of my simple pleasures is coffee. I LOVE IT!)

2nd prize: a copy of The Waiting, by Cathy LaGrow (This was the book which left a great impression on me this summer.)

3rd prize: a $10 gift card for a dozen doughnuts (Just because.)

Here we go....

Week One, Clue #1:   

I sit to do this something new.  Looking down helps me with my view. 

Let the guessing begin!

My Pleasure,

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Who Do You Have In Mind?

You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You. 
(Isaiah 26:3 NKJV)

I've expressed many times before that our quiet time with the Lord doesn't just consist of a ten-minute devotional time where we read a few verses from the Bible, or a page from a devotional book, say a quick prayer and then off we go. It's really about Who we have in mind. 

Certainly some intentional time carved out of our daily for Bible study, prayer, and meditation is very necessary for us to breathe in a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit, but that shouldn't be the only time we think about the Lord. Time with the Lord is an all day affair.

Jesus Christ has always been my best friend for as long as I can remember. I was taught, and understood early on, that God was a very personal God. He walks with me and talks with me, just like the hymn, In the Garden, says.  I can still hear my dad singing those words as he went about his day. 

But sometimes we allow life to get in the way of His walking and talking with us. Our minds become cluttered with the stress of the day, so anxiety and fear tend to crowd out our thoughts of Christ, which provides peace that passes all understanding. 

As a child I spent time with Him all throughout the day. No worries. No stress. My mom said, as she described my preschool days on the swing set, "She would pump her legs as hard as she could, fly as high as her swing would take her, all the while singing at the top of her lungs...

Oh, how I love Jesus, Oh, how I love Jesus,
Oh, how I love Jesus because He first loved me. 

I believe God smiled as He heard my loud, little girl voice floating up to His ears telling Him how much I loved  Him through song. 

I still believe He smiles when, as an adult, Christ is on my mind all day long.  My time with Him is precious. No matter what, I try and focus on Him. He's the center of my being, my doing, my living. 

A mind full of Christ leads to thoughts full of His wonder, His love, His mercy, His majesty, His creation, His blessings, His Word, His grace, His power, His forgiveness, His holiness, His sovereignty, His guidance, His glory...

His peace.  

Just like the bumper sticker states, "Know Jesus. Know Peace. No Jesus. No Peace."

Spend time with Jesus today. Get to know Him. Talk with Him, not just to Him. 

And listen for His voice.

What a peaceful way to spend the day! 

My Pleasure,

(In the Garden, words and music by C. Austin Miles)
(There Is A Name I Love to Hear, words by Frederick Whitfield; music, Anonymous)

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Does God Find Pleasure in Me?

As I prayed this morning for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit and for influence in this world for God's glory, I came across a verse that describes what brings God pleasure.

"The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him, In those who hope in His mercy." Psalm 147:11 NKJV
So I asked Him, "God, how are we doing? Are You taking pleasure in me? Am I focused on being in awe of You, living life to the full with a grateful heart, filled with the radiance of Your glory, Jesus Christ? Is our relationship hindered, causing You displeasure with me?"

God had obviously been preparing me for His answer all weekend through various means, but it wasn't until I read this verse this morning that His answer was right in front of me, staring me in the face. It was NOT pretty.

It was very humbling to hear answers I wasn't expecting. What bubbled to the surface has to be dealt with and removed.  I cannot please my Father when this stuff is clogging the channel of flow. It all has to come out and be cleansed so I can begin to flow freely with His presence, His character, and glow with His radiance again. Those dirty cracks in my heart have to be emptied and then filled with His Spirit.

It brought me to my knees with a repentant heart and I've stayed in a bowed position in my mind most of the day. I need to stay positioned here until this sin-clog is pushed through and released.

Psalm 146:8 says, "The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; The LORD raises those who are bowed down: The LORD loves the righteous."

Our relationship with the Lord is a righteous one because of the righteousness of Christ, but we need to be cleaned out to be filled up anew every morning with His Spirit who gives us the power to radiate Him in the world. So what's clogging up your flow today? Is your life bringing pleasure to the Lord?

Thank You, Lord, for shaking me up, stirring the stagnant, and bringing to the surface the sin within. You are my greatest Pleasure and I want You to find pleasure in me as well. Continue to call me out when You see me losing my radiance. Restore Your joy in me. May You flow out of me and onto others as I seek Your face.  Fill me up again as I spill You out.  Don't let my sin crowd You out. May Your presence be a constant rush of refreshing water flowing in and out of me.  It's in the sweetest, most powerful Name ever spoken, Jesus, that I pray... AMEN.

My Pleasure,

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Full of Surprises!

I opened the small door of my mailbox and look what was in there! Two books I ordered from Amazon.com and my August 2014 issue of Southern Living magazine. My mailbox was chocked full of surprises today, and not one bill!

I love books and magazines.  I can't wait to settle in this evening with my cup of joe and one of my sweet surprises.

Sure, I could've purchased any of these on a Kindle or Nook. But you know what? I wouldn't enjoy them near as much.

You see, I love to hold a book in my hands, turn real pages, and sneak a peek occasionally to see how many pages are left before my simple pleasure begins to wind down, all the while wishing it will never end, especially if it's a really good story.

Even a magazine is a prize held in hand, a work of art. The layout, the pictures, the articles, all crafted to speak swiftly and skillfully, edited with precision from cover to cover.

Flipping down corners of pages filled with ideas to ponder, charm to capture, resources to return to again and again, is truly exciting for me. It's not unusual to find me engulfed in pure bliss with several magazines at a time draped across my desk, kitchen countertop, or island, as I imagine what I would do with the endless colors, designs, cozy spaces with furniture suggestions, as well as a few new recipes to try.

As I'm reeling with glee over the treasures from my mailbox, I'm reminded of how exciting it is when God gives me something new to reflect on, ideas to ponder and put into action, as I hold His precious, timeless Word in my hand, read it, meditate on it, and bask in His glorious presence.

Nothing compares to the flood of colors, designs, ideas, principles and truth spilling into my mind from the most wonderful creative mind ever - God's. I can flip down pages, place book marks, highlight verses, write in the margins and experience God's Word up close and personal, while holding it in my hands and treasuring it in my heart.

"How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. (Psalm 119: 103-106 NKJV)

"Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul keeps them. The entrance of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple. I opened my mouth and panted, For I longed for Your commandments. Look upon me and be merciful to me, As Your custom is toward those who love Your name. Direct my steps by Your word, And let no iniquity have dominion over me. "                                (Psalm 119:129-135 NKJV)

Digital books and magazines have hurt the sales of the real thing. But, as a friend and I were discussing the other day, digital will never replace the pure joy of holding a good book or THE Good Book in our hands.  I know it won't for me.

My Pleasure,

Wednesday, July 23, 2014


I just walked in the door from a fun, relaxing day with my best friend.  We began the day with breakfast and good conversation at Atlanta Bread, then headed off to do a little shopping.

We completed our day at Chicken Salad Chick. Mmm...love the Fruity Fran with the Fuji apples and seedless grapes.

On my kitchen counter I have a flip calendar with sayings for each day that I usually read before I leave the house, but today I forgot, so I flipped it to today's date after I got home.

Here's what it said.

 "The sweetest thing God adds to life is the gift of a trusted friend."

Woah! How appropriate for my BFF-day!

Today I'm thanking God for friends. No matter when our paths have crossed, God has used you to help shape me into the person I am today. You are all special to me and I cherish the gift each of you are in my life.

"A friend loves at all times." (Proverbs 17:17)

Lord, help me to love my friends with a heart like Yours at all times. Amen.

My Pleasure,

Friday, July 18, 2014

Taking Time-Out For Some Time-In

As summer winds down and we beginning filling in calendars for a new school year, let's push the pause button for a few moments and think about the white space.

White space. How do we fill it well, yet guard against wasting it?

I look around me and I see people running here, there, and everywhere; rushing to meetings, trying to make deadlines, working all hours of the day and night, parental tag-teaming as children are taxied to a variety of lessons, activities, sports practices; some for good reason and others for no good reason at all.

Why do we feel the need to fill in all the white space with a barrage of activities? Is it because we think we might miss something, or we'll feel left out? Maybe we believe if our children aren't in an activity everyday we're depriving them of an opportunity to do something bigger and better?

This kind of thinking only offers exasperation and exhaustion, and leaves our souls spiritually empty.

White space filled with meaningless activities prevent us from spending time with the One who gives our lives meaning and fills us with joy.

We all need to take time-out for some time-in...His presence.

"What if all our running around is only our trying to run away from God -- the great I AM,  present in this present moment?" (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts Devotional, page 40)

In all of our running around what if we are teaching our children how to run from God instead of running to God?

So, as we sit down with the family to discuss the white space, the first thing we should do is pray together.  Seek His direction by asking God what His desire is for our family this year. How does He want us to spend His sacred gift to us - this gift called time? Involve the children in the discussion. Talk to and listen to them, being very aware of how much each child can handle, and what stresses them out. Evaluate the past year and discuss what changes need to be made to help things run smoother and to be more peaceful.

Here are a few things to think and pray about as we begin filling in the white space of our year:

- Choose biblically based, spiritual activities including worship, discipleship, opportunities to serve in Jesus' Name, and time for building healthy, Christian, life-time friendships.

- Select activities that will help develop talents and abilities (preferably no more than two at a time).

- Carve out space for family time, fun and games, godly teaching, building relationships and staying connected to each other, including dinner together as many times as possible during the week. 

- Husbands and wives plan dates to focus on your relationship. There's no greater gift you can give your children than a strong, healthy, godly marriage.

Finally, close with prayer by praying a hedge of protection around the family and the calendar. Guard both well.

Everything we do should be done with a grand awareness that God is present everywhere. And everywhere can be a sacred tabernacle - a time-out for time-in His presence. 

You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)

Let's don't run from God this year, let's run to Him!

My Pleasure,

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Happy Anniversary Living Real


July 10, 2014 marks the 5th anniversary of Living Real Magazine. Wow! What an incredible ride this has been.

There are so many people who have been instrumental in helping with this God-size dream and adventure. Through using their God-given talents and expertise, their deep belief in the mission of the magazine, mixed with lots and lots of faith, God has honored our obedience and catapulted the magazine and the ministry it offers.

Writers, editors, graphic artists, printers, patrons, readers, businesses, etc... have all contributed in various ways to help make Living Real Magazine a very professional, high end publication.

And it's FREE!  

We publish twice a year (Spring/Summer, Fall/Winter). You can find us at various places around town, and on the web. http://www.livingrealmag.com

We couldn't exist without the real stories of South Carolinians who have let us tell their stories; personal stories of how they live out their real faith in Jesus Christ through the good, the bad, and the ugly of life.

Our pages are filled with the faithfulness of God to His children, no matter how difficult life becomes, to encourage others to stay the course, live every moment to the full, to give God the glory in all of life's circumstances, and most importantly, to point to the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Our prayer is that this magazine ministers to you personally. If you are not familiar with Living Real, please visit the website and let us know what you think. You can also keep up with Living Real through our Facebook page and Twitter @melanieshull.

Thank you all for a wonderful, exciting five years. May God bless you and us with many more years of living real.

To God be ALL the glory!

My Pleasure,