Friday, January 29, 2016

A Chimney Sweep Steps In Just In Time


Recently we removed our gas logs so we could have a real, crackling fire in the fireplace. The first time we lit a fire, smoke started filling the room. I was coughing and sputtering, shouting for my husband to do something.

The flue was open, but a down draft seemed to keep pushing smoke back into our den.

Before, when we used the gas logs, we had begun to smell gas each time we ignited them, but no carbon monoxide was ever identified after checking our home for CO2 levels.

This past year was the 50th anniversary of one of my favorite Disney movies, Mary Poppins. I love the chimney sweep song, Step In Time. Watching that scene over and over through the years, I never dreamed a real Chimney Sweep would step into my home at just the right time.

(And no. His name was not Dick Van Dyke.) 


On the outside, our fireplace is beautiful. It was just freshly painted and not a drop of soot can be seen. No one would have ever known there was a problem unless a fire was burning. To render our cinder problem, an inspection had to be done. The chimney could not accomplish what it was designed to do until the hinderance was searched out, found, and removed.

A down draft was part of the culprit because of a crack in the fire wall. But, a more intense search allowed the Chimney Sweep to discover another significant problem that needed immediate attention.

My sweet, wonderful father-in-law was always a DIY kind of guy. He could "fix" anything he set his mind to including keeping birds and bats out of the chimney. His idea to cover the top of the chimney opening with chicken wire to keep pests out really did work.

Sort of.

Trapped on top of the chicken wire was debris of various sorts. Bird nesting materials of pine needles, leaves and sticks had molded into a large, charred mud brick, completely blocking the chimney opening. The amount of debris filled a five gallon bucket.

No smoke was flowing up or out of that mess.

To put this all in perspective, our chimney has been a fire hazard just waiting to ignite. But for the grace of God, even with the gas logs burning and the CO2 escaping into the house, we are fine, healthy and safe.


This reminds me of how our spiritual lives can become quite hazardous if we don't consistently have a heart sweep to remove the sin debris and clogs, freeing up the flow of the Holy Spirit to powerfully work in and through our lives.


By not dealing with our sin debris, it can reek havoc forming a hardness of heart towards the things of God, resulting in relationship breakdown. Sin hinders our up-flow of pure praise and thanksgiving, tainting our pleasing, life aroma offering, rising up to a holy God.




Sin also clogs the out-flow of His love into the lives of others. When we aren't clean before the Lord, our light in the world is dim. Our salt becomes less flavorful and hinders the preservation of truth. Until we have a heart sweep by the Holy Spirit, our impact for Christ is hampered.

As vessels to be poured out for God's glory, we don't want to waste what little time we have to spill Him out to be hindered by sin debris and clogs.

How about you? Are you experiencing a breakdown in your relationship with Christ? Do the things of God seem not to stir your soul? Have you become hardhearted because of a particular sin habit?

If you answered, "Yes," it's never too late to ask the Father for a fresh wind of the Holy Spirit to sweep through your heart. God wants to safeguard our hearts from sin, keeping our relationship with Him open and free flowing to complete the work already begun in us.

Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10 NKJV).

My Pleasure,
Melanie


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Faith-Walking is Risky Business




Faith has always been a familiar word in Christian lingo. To say,"By faith, I believe and confess that Jesus is the Son of God," is speak-easy.

But, when stepping outside of the comfort of Christian-ese conversation, it's not as live-easy as one may think

Living out what we say we believe in our day-to-day, especially among non-believers, is hard. 

It's risky business. 




  • Showing love to a hard-nosed boss or coworker who seems to thrive on degrading and demeaning others is risky.
  • Forgiving someone who has wronged or offended us is risky.
  • Building relationships with people who are different from us is risky.
  • Following a God-driven dream is risky.
  • Speaking the name Jesus in conversation is risky.

I know. 

But I also know I couldn't risk it alone.

I know because in Christ I chose to show love to one who was emotionally abusive in the workplace.

I know because in Christ I've forgiven face to face someone who had harmed me.

I know because in Christ I have intentionally built relationships with those who are different from me.

I know because in Christ I've followed the Holy Spirit's lead to make a dream come true.

I know because in Christ I've learned to speak the name Jesus in conversations every chance I get.

Every step of faith in Christ is taking an intentional risk - a risk in relationships, a risk in business, a risk with reputation.

Jesus was the Master risk-taker. Every step He took on earth was a risk. In obedience to His Father, He risked His reputation, His relationships, even His life. Every person He encountered was risky because He chose to not put limitations on His compassion, mercy, and grace, love and forgiveness.

He took a risk on those He called to be His disciples. They were not disciple qualified in the eyes of other Rabbis. They were unacceptable in the eyes of the religious educators. Yet, Christ's disciples changed the world. Their encounters with Christ are the gospels according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Some wrote letters to the Church. Even Peter, the denier, became the rock on which Christ is building His Church. 

Risk leads to relationship. Relationship leads to reward.

Christ risked everything to hang out with those who needed Him most - the want-to-believe-rs; the shunned, the sick, the crippled, the demon possessed. 

Jesus, a Friend for sinners. Souls who need a Savior. 

To live as Christ is risky. He was always being questioned by those in religious authority, asking Him under what authority was He healing, forgiving sins, and on the Sabbath of all days. 

Avoiding being captured, sometimes He melted into the crowd or escaped out into the wilderness. Christ continued taking risks for your sake and mine, showing us how to be a friend to the friendless. He mingled with the unlovely, all socio economic classes, the forbidden races, the adulterers, the murderers, the tax collectors, etc... Why?

To show us the love of the Father and to provide an escape from the wrath of God. To bridge the gap between the sinner and the Father, by saving all who will believe in Him, confess Him before men, and who will take a risk on His behalf. 

(See Isaiah 53) He was arrested, stripped, beaten, spit on, mocked, and hung on a cross, naked in utter shame, ripped to shreds for ALL mankind all because He first loved us. 

The Sinless, became sin for the sinful.

Who are you willing to risk it all for to build a relationship with? 
Will you be seen eating lunch with the pregnant teenage girl at school, the shunned person from your office, the mean girl, the abusive coworker? Will Jesus be in your conversation where the Spirit opens the door? 

What will your risk walk look like today?

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 NKJV).

My Pleasure,
Melanie


Monday, January 18, 2016

A Whisper and a Smile



This morning around 10:00 am, I was sitting quietly working through my Wonderstruck Bible study at the kitchen island. I was busy listing "God's praiseworthy deeds" when my front doorbell rang.

I rarely answer the door when I'm home alone, but the painter was working in the den. I felt safe enough to at least go see who it was.

Standing on my front door step was a lady I didn't know, holding the latest issue of Living Real magazine.

Yes.

Friend, not foe.



I opened the door.

She introduced herself as a neighbor who lived just down the street, and proceeded to tell me how she had discovered Living Real. She had picked it up in Atlanta Bread last evening while talking with her cousin. Her smile was amazing and I immediately felt a connection.

As she spoke of how the magazine had ministered to her in her quiet time on this cold January morning, she said the Holy Spirit prompted her to stop by and thank me for being obedient; for producing a beautiful magazine telling the stories of real people living real faith.

Not only was I embarrassed that I had not met her before, but I also hadn't showered or put on make-up. A bit later when I looked in the mirror, I noticed my eyeliner from the day before had given into gravity and was now shadowing the already dark circles under my eyes. What a ghastly sight I must have been!

We talked for a few minutes. She asked if I had a blog. I, of course, said yes, and showed her how to get to it. We hugged and she left to go on with her day.

What just happened?

Wonder showed up at my door today.

God whispered and smiled at me through the obedience of a neighbor; a sister in Christ. He was affirming His call on my life, the steps of obedience I've taken in 2016, and telling me to stay the course with what He has designed me to do.

Speaking to my restless spirit throughout the end of 2015, God continued to say, Stop filling your time with good things. 

That sounds so strange.

But His voice didn't let up. 

Because I have greater things to show you. 


After closing the front door, I immediately went back to my list of God's praiseworthy deeds and wrote down a greater thing He just performed in my foyer.

I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds. Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God? (Psalm 77:12-13 NKJV)

My Pleasure,
Melanie








Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Behind Closed Doors




It was the week after Christmas and I was standing outside the door. I just couldn't take it any longer. It was time. It had to be done, and today was the day. I had put it off too long. No one else was going to do it, so I had to take the first step.

I winced as I opened the door to face the music. Just what I expected. What I had feared was staring me in the face. My closet had thrown up all over itself. Total disarray. It was disgusting!

Clothes off hangers. Shoes all over the floor. Sweatshirts and sweaters all jumbled up together. Nothing was in the right spot and I was at the point where I couldn't find anything I needed when I needed it.  I had hit the point of no return. "I can't take it anymore!"






I swallowed hard, girded up my loins, and headed in. I pulled out and sorted for what seemed like hours, but with 5-6 large garbage bags filled with clothes, a couple more filled with empty hangers, and one full of trash, my closet was completely transformed. It was like walking into a whole new world. Everything had a place and everything was in its place.

I stood back and smiled. Ahhh... a clean, organized, functional space. A little piece of heaven right here on earth. Why did I wait so long to do this?

Why do I let that small little space get so out of hand? It's not that difficult to hang something up or place a sweater on a shelf, or put shoes (right and left) together on a rack. But, oh no. Not me. I'm Mrs. Clean for a while, but then, out of no where, the closet monster creeps in and, before I know it, my closet is throwing up all over the place... AGAIN.

Isn't this what often happens in our walks of faith? One day we're just plugging along with the flow, and the next we're off the path having lost direction. We don't know up from down or left from right. How did we get here? How do we get back? Where is hope? What happened to courage? Where's joy? Peace! Where are you? We can become so confused and lost in the chaos, that we stand frozen.
Unable to move.

Instead of the closet monster, the sin monster has wiggled in and taken up residence, right in the spot where Christ should be - on the throne of our hearts. Sin has crawled in and we've ignored it for way too long, allowing relationships, work, ministry, and life to move further and further off course.

The only way to get it all under control is to surrender and let God move back into His place of Lordship. How do we do that?

Life is messy, and the messes we make are the messes God wants to clean up. He's the Master Cleaner-upper. When we surrender the messy closets of our hearts to Christ, He will step in and give our hearts a thorough cleansing and refreshing. He loves to forgive, redeem, and make new. It's who He is.

And do you know what's even better? He wants to help us keep our heart closets clean and in order, freeing us from the messes that sin stirs up. But it takes effort on our part.

David asks this question in Psalm 119:9. How can a young man cleanse his way? Then he answers his own question as the Spirit guides his strokes. By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. (Psalm 119:10-11 NKJV)

What is out of control in your life? What messes are you stepping over, avoiding, or just sitting in the middle of? Don't allow sin to keep you behind closed doors. Open your heart. Invite Christ into your mess. He wants to clean it up and give you a fresh, new start.



My Pleasure,
Melanie

Friday, January 8, 2016

Simply Refreshing




I don't know about you, but I love moving furniture around, cleaning out and freshening up the spaces in my home. When a space comes together, I can sit back with a sigh of accomplishment. It feels good to refresh the space where I spend the most time.

In 2016, I'm hitting the refresh button on my life - committing to focusing more on my writing (blogging, Bible studies and devotionals) and giving more attention to my magazine, Living Real.
(You can check out the latest issues at livingrealmag.com)

God is calling me to some soaking time with Him in His Word, His presence, and His strength. I'm taking a much needed "sabbatical" from the hectic busyness of church ministry and focusing on the ministry He's uniquely designed for me outside the four walls of Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.




Sometimes we can become very distracted with really good things, filling spaces where there's a need, but not being where God has called. His intent is not for us to fill a spot, but to be filled with Him so we're not "in a spot" when He says, "Go." Lately, I've felt like I'm "in a spot" and not following His path for me, quenching the freedom to "go" because I'm stuck in a place I deemed good.

I remember when God orchestrated circumstances and gave me the desire of my heart, to be a full-time mom. He called me out of the classroom and away from teaching in the public schools. A couple of times I stepped back in to help out a school, thinking I was where I needed to be, and although the action filled a need, it caused me to sidestep from the path God had directed me to.

Each time I've stepped away from that path and into a gap where I can help, I realize God didn't call me to be a "gap filler."  He designed me to follow Him - to love Him wholeheartedly, to know Him fully, to be filled up with His Spirit, and to spill Him out through His divine calling on my life. And in this season that calling is to spill Him through the ministry of Living Real, blogging, other writings, and speaking.

So, the space I've created in my home is just the beginning of the 2016 commitment to soak in His presence, His Word, and His strength for the calling on my life to write, speak, and encourage.

How are you freshening up and refocusing your relationship with the Savior in 2016? It's worth the time and the effort to be on the same page with Jesus Christ, looking to the Author and Finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

It's simply refreshing!

My Pleasure,
Melanie