Friday, September 30, 2016

Launching Out a Little Farther

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret, And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship. Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. - Luke 5:1-5

I believe we're all familiar with this account of the draught of fishes. There is no doubt, a great miracle occurred that day on the Sea of Galilee. But today, rather than looking at the miracle, I want to focus on Jesus' request of Peter.

At the beginning of the passage, we see the people pressing in on Jesus, so much so that He ran out of room to stand. Looking around, He spotted Peter's boat, and the not-yet disciple sitting there washing his nets after a disappointing night's work. Jesus stepped into Peter's boat and commanded him to launch out a little. Notice there is no record of Peter's verbal response, only his obedience. After all, what was the big deal?  There's no real risk in launching out just a little.

But look at what happened next. Once Jesus had finished teaching the people, instead of telling Peter to return to the shore, which I'm sure is what Peter suspected He would do, Jesus commanded Peter to launch out farther. He directed the would-be disciple out into the deep. Mind you, Peter wasn't afraid of the deep waters. He was all too familiar with them. But that's not to say that Jesus' request was an easy one for Peter to follow. After all, what would people think when they saw Peter out trying to catch fish in the middle of the day? It was ludicrous. Every good fisherman knew that the best time for fishing was at night. No doubt, Peter only wanted to finish cleaning his nets so he could go home and get a good rest before starting another night's work – hopefully, a profitable one. But Jesus had other plans.

Often in life, Jesus directs us to launch out a little, steering us away from our comfort zones. Like Peter, many of us tend to respond in obedience, feeling secure enough in that our comfort zones are still within reach. But what happens when Jesus commands us to launch out a little farther? Do we still obey, or do we question, complain or outright refuse?

We cheerfully give our tithes each week, but when Jesus convicts our hearts about giving more to missions, we hesitate. We faithfully attend church every Sunday morning, but when Jesus urges us to attend Sunday and Wednesday nights as well, we give a list of reasons and excuses why that won't work for us. He nudges our hearts to go out of our way to help a brother or sister in need, but we explain away the conviction, justifying that it was only our compassion speaking.

Jesus is pleased with our obedience in taking that first step towards launching out as He commanded, but often He wants us to go a step farther. Are we willing? Will we go? Peter's first response was a complaint mingled with an explanation:  Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing.  But he quickly turned it around into obedience:  nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.  And because of that obedience, his life was forever changed.

We often wonder why God isn't doing wonderful things in our lives or working miracles through us. Perhaps it is because we are not where He wants us to be. We're clinging to the shoreline when He has clearly commanded us to launch out a little farther. To experience the greatest blessings of God, we're going to need to take a step of faith. We need to launch out into the deep waters. When we do, I guarantee the reward will be much greater than fish.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

What's In Your Mouth?

I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth. - Psalm 34:1

This short and simple verse is actually quite a mouthful. Look at what the psalmist is saying: "I will bless the Lord at all times." All times. Not just in the good times. Not just when I feel like it. Not just when it's convenient. But all the time.  The word bless in this passage means to praise, worship, honor or magnify. Now I ask you, is this something that you do all the time? If you're anything like me, the answer is no. But the verse doesn't stop there.

"His praise shall continually be in my mouth." On the surface, it appears that this phrase is simply repeating the opening phrase with different wording, and in a sense, that is exactly what is taking place. But it goes beyond that as well. If praise is continually in our mouths, then that means there is no room in our mouths for anything else, including griping, complaining, demeaning others or the like. We simply cannot praise and fuss at the same time. We have to either do one or the other, and I'm sad to say that there are a lot more complaints that come out of my mouth then there is praise.

I came across this passage last week in my Bible reading, and then one of the ladies in our Sunday School class brought it up again Sunday morning. Ever since then, I haven't been able to escape its convicting message. I need to follow the psalmist's example. I need to bless the Lord at all times. I want His praise to continually be in my mouth. I'm tired of whining and complaining when things don't go my way. The fact of the matter is that God is always good, no matter what circumstances we may be facing. He is always worthy of our praise and worship. It shouldn't matter how we feel or what kind of day we are having because, no matter what, God is faithful.

I don't know what you're facing today, but I encourage you to join me in this endeavor to praise more and grumble less. My prayer is that each of us will get to the point where we can honestly say that we  bless the Lord at all times and that His praise is continually in our mouths, no matter what. Will you join me?
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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

When It Seems There Is No Hope

Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way; yet saidst thou not, There is no hope: thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved. - Isaiah 57:10

During my Bible reading last week, this verse jumped out at me, and today I would like to make an application using this verse. Let's begin with the first phrase: Thou art wearied in the greatness of thy way. Does the way before you seem great today? Does the path appear long and scary? Troublesome roads can leave us weary, even if we haven't traveled them yet. Just the thought of the path ahead is enough to cause fear and dread. Whether were facing a difficult day, week or even year, the path before us evokes anxiety within us, making us weary before even taking the first step.

But look at the next phrase in this verse in Isaiah:  yet saidst thou not, There is no hope.  No matter how tired, weary or fearful we may become, we should never allow ourselves to feel that there is no hope. There is always hope. Jesus made sure that when He came to die and rise again. Not only did He purchase our salvation, but He also bought our right to believe and have faith in the things that we cannot see, including the things that lie at the end of the road which we are facing. And as long as Jesus lives, there will be hope.

So how can we tap into that hope? In the midst of our dread and anxiety, how can we remember that God will get us through this? The answer can be found in the very next phrase of the verse above:  thou hast found the life of thine hand; therefore thou wast not grieved.   To dispel the fear and worry, we must remember who life is all about and in whose hand our lives are held.  Psalm 27:1 says, The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?   The Lord is the strength of my life; therefore, I need not fear anyone or anything. The Bible assures me that He will never leave me nor forsake me, and because of that, I should not lose hope. Because if the Lord is with me, there is nothing that I cannot do.

I do not know what road or situation you are facing today, but I urge you to remember these words. Don't lose hope, dear friend. God will get you through this, no matter how impossible it seems. He is walking with you, and His loving arms of protection surround you. Though the way before you may seem daunting, go forward in faith, knowing that the Lord is the strength of your life, and because of that, you can continue to walk in hope.

In Christ, there is no such thing as a hopeless situation!

Monday, September 26, 2016

THY WILL BE DONE



When I first heard this story, I thought, Wow this could be me. Though Hillary's story is different than my own, I could certainly relate to what she was saying. I, too, have been in a place where I prayed for something, and the answer to those prayers was nothing like I had imagined. I've been in that time of darkness where I poured out words from my heart--words of pain and heartache that I felt no one could possibly understand. But time after time, I have received emails, letters and personal testimonies of how something I said comforted and encouraged someone else who was hurting. Through this, I am reminded that our pain has a purpose. Not only does it strengthen our faith, but it also allows us to be comforted so that we, in turn, can comfort others.

When I first saw this video yesterday, I felt like I needed to share it on my blog, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that it just wasn't right for my devotional blog. But this morning, during my own personal devotions, the Lord used His Word to confirm that I was, indeed, to share this video this morning. Not only that, but I was to remind you that, whatever you're going through, God has a purpose and a plan. And instead of asking God, "Why me?," ask God, "How can I use this to help others?" I know it isn't easy, and it certainly isn't painless, but God is the God of all comfort, and He may be preparing you to encourage someone else. So hang in there, dear friend. God is working all things for your good!

Note: To hear Hillary's song, Thy Will, click on over to today's Song of the Day post.

Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. - II Corinthians 1:3-4

Friday, September 23, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Loving the Unlovable

There are certain jobs God has called me to do in which I find great joy.  There are others that often make me downright miserable, which really doesn't make sense to me.  Aren't we supposed to be joyful when we're doing the Lord's will?  Shouldn't we find peace in knowing that we're doing the things He's called us to do?

So, recently, these questions led me to thinking that maybe this one particular task that I dreaded was not really something He had called me to do.  Perhaps I had misunderstood.  Or perhaps it was His will many years ago when I first took on the responsibility, but maybe it was time for me to step away.  After all, deep down, the only reason I feel like I do it is because no one else will.  Is that a good reason to do something?  If I gave up this dreaded responsibility, wouldn't it free up more time and energy for me to do the things I'm sure God called me to do?

All that being said, I didn't want to step away from the position until I was absolutely certain that that was what God wanted me to do.  Being in God's will is more important to me than my own personal comfort.  So, I prayed and prayed and prayed.  I waited.  I listened.  And to be honest, all the while, I kept hoping that God would let me off the hook.  I didn't want the job any longer.  It was too time-consuming and FAR too stressful.  It created in me a terrible attitude, and I personally didn't think it was worth losing my testimony over.  But, evidently, God had another opinion on the matter.

Instead of taking away the responsibility, He actually placed even more of it in my lap.  Just, boom, here you go!  Obviously, I wasn't happy with this response.  In fact, I was quite disappointed and frustrated.  Didn't God care that I was unhappy in this position?  I know He understands how much it stresses me out and causes an array of attitudes to swell up within me.  What was He thinking?  How can this be for my good. . . or anyone else's, for that matter?

The answer to that question came to me in the form of an e-mail from a friend.  She was discussing her own current trial which involved an angry, mean-spirited coworker.  In her e-mail, she stated that even though she wanted to be mean right back, she kept hearing the still, small voice reminding her that her job was to love the unlovable.  At the time, my focus was on my friend's predicament, but later, as I mulled over that phrase, "love the unlovable," I realized that it doesn't only refer to people.  It also refers to circumstances.

To drive the point further home, my dear husband pointed out that maybe God wouldn't allow me to step down from the position until I straightened out my attitude.  That was certainly not what I wanted to hear, but deep down, I knew he had a good point.  My attitude about the entire situation was stinky, and I knew it.  But rather than stick with it and go through the effort to fix my attitude, I wanted to simply run from the problem.  It definitely seemed like the easier route, but I know that easier is not always better.

I think maybe God is waiting for me to accept His will for my life (in all areas) and to learn to love the unlovable.  Sure, it's easy to do the pleasant tasks, the ones I find joy in, but where's the sacrifice in that?  God has given me this job to do, unpleasant though it may be, and He is longing for me to find joy in that service.  Unfortunately, this will require a lot of work on my part, especially in changing my attitude and thought process toward the position.  However, I can rest assured that I am not working alone.  Who better to teach me how to love the unlovable than Love Himself?

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. - Philippians 2:13
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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Fighting on My Knees

The older I get, the more I realize that every day brings with it at least one battle.  Naturally, there's the fight against this old, wicked flesh.  In addition to that, there are health battles, financial battles, relationship battles (and I'm not just talking about the husband/wife kind, though those are prone to happen as well from time to time), battles with balance and too many more to name.  Each day presents me with a list of both opportunities to pursue and battles to face.  I've come to understand that's just the way it is in this life.

But you know what else I've discovered?  I fight best when I'm on my knees.  No, seriously, when I fight the battles on my knees, I am always victorious.  When I try to face them on my own two feet, on the other hand, I always fail.  While this phenomenon may seem odd, the success rate of this "knee fighting" is due to the method itself and what it entails.  Allow me to walk you through my version of fighting on my knees.

It begins on my knees in worship.  Kneeling prostrate at the feet of Jesus, I shower Him with praise for Who He is and what He's done.  I recognize His many blessings in my life and thank Him for the way He has worked in each circumstance.  Additionally, I thank Him for what He is about to do in my life, knowing that He is always working for my good.  In this state of worship, I acknowledge Jesus as my Lord and Savior and offer praise for His great sacrifice on the cross.  And sometimes I simply weep due to His great grace and mercy.

The next phase involves prayer.  Whether physically or symbolically on my knees, I realize that I can do nothing without the power of God in my life, and it is here that I gain access to that power.  The position of my physical body is not important, but the position of my heart certainly is.  It is still bowed before God, humble in His almighty presence.  During this time, I alternate between talking and listening.  I pour out my heart, then listen for God's response to my cries.  I ask questions and heed His answers.  Whether loud or quiet, I can rest assured that He always hears, and with this knowledge, I gain strength to face the oncoming day and the battles it holds.

Before rising, there is one last thing I must do.  Bowing at the feet of my Master, I surrender everything I have to Him.  My life.  My will.  My desires.  My expectations.  My actions and attitudes.  Everything!  With every ounce of humility I can muster, I admit that I am not the one in charge of my life and that it is not even, in fact, my life.  It is His to use as He wills.  I beg my Lord to empty me of myself and my own ambitions and to fill me with His spirit, to arm me for the battles that await.  And with a smile, I leave myself behind, rise to my feet and go to war, armed with the power of God.  How can I be defeated?

Perhaps you have your own version of fighting on your knees, or maybe this is a new concept for you.  Whatever the case, I hope you are encouraged that, even though each day brings about new battles, you are guaranteed victory if you're fighting on your knees.  Daniel found that victory.  So did David and the three Hebrew children.  And Joshua.  And so many more, including Jesus Himself.  Think about it, what was Jesus doing when the mob captured him and ultimately led Him to Calvary?  He was praying in the garden.  He was fighting the battle on His knees.  And in the end, He won!

We can too, but only if we're fighting in the proper stance.  You can try standing on your own two feet if you want to, but as for me, I've learned my lesson.  I'm staying right here on my knees!

 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? - Psalm 118:6

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Best of the Best: Whose Fault Is It?


I've been reading recently about great men and women of God from history. As I read their stories, I find myself saying, "Boy, I sure wish God worked like that today. Wouldn't it be nice if He spoke to me the way He spoke to them?"

This morning, the Lord smote my heart about that. He reminded me that He is a God who never changes. He reminded me that He is a God who is not a respecter of persons. He reminded me that I have the same opportunities to hear His voice and see His work as the men and women of old did. The difference? I'm not listening, and I'm not paying attention.

Did you ever notice how easy it is to be upset when things don't go right? We fuss. We complain. We argue. But, how about the times when things DO go right? Do we stop and praise the Lord for working things out? Do we have a worship service right then and there? Do we tell others about how the Lord met our needs? Sometimes, but mostly we just go on about our day, not even taking notice of the things that went smoothly. We are unobservant and ungrateful people.

I'm reminded of an old Southern Gospel song called, "Who Moved?" It basically says that if we don't like the current state of our spiritual lives, it's our own fault, not God's. He hasn't moved. We have. If we feel distant from God, it's because we've gone our own way instead of following in His footsteps. If we can no longer hear His voice, it's because we've surrounded ourselves with too much noise. If we can't see Him working, it's because we're too distracted to notice.

God hasn't changed. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Neither does God play favorites. He doesn't decide that He's going to spend more time with this child or that child. The amount of time we spend with God is up to us, not Him. He's always there waiting for us. He's always available to us. He welcomes our fellowship. He'll never turn us away. He wants to hear from us. He wants to speak to us. He wants to comfort us. And, He wants to work in our lives.

So, if our spiritual life seems a little dry, whose fault is it? We have access to the water of life.
If our pathway seems dark, whose fault is it? We should be walking with the Light of the world.
If life no longer holds happiness, whose fault is it? Christ is our joy and the source of our song.
If we feel we can't go on, whose fault is it? The Lord should be our strength.

You see? It's not that God is not available to us. It's simply that we are not making use of God's full potential. We've trusted in Him to save us, but we're not trusting in Him to keep us safe. We've trusted Him as the way of salvation, but we're not trusting Him to lead us in the way of life. We've trusted in Him for eternal security, but we're not trusting in Him for day to day security.

God is waiting for us. Whether or not we choose to avail ourselves of all that He has to offer is up to us. So, if we're not feeling His presence in our lives, whose fault is it?

Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. - James 4:8

Monday, September 19, 2016

Best of the Best: Help! I'm Stuck!

Have you ever played with a Chinese finger puzzle (aka, Chinese finger trap, Chinese handcuffs)? Who would have thought that a simple braided tube could evoke both panic and laughter, depending on whether or not your fingers happen to be the ones in the tube?

The trick to the Chinese finger puzzle is that the captive must keep in mind that the trap defies logic.  In other words, common sense tells you to pull your fingers away from the tube, but because of the way the trap is designed, your attempts to pull free only tighten the trap around your fingers.  The trick is to relax and allow your fingers to go limp.  Then, and only then, will you be freed.  In order to free yourself, you must throw out common sense and your own vain attempts to pull free.  Letting go and relaxing is the key.

Life certainly has its shares of Chinese finger puzzles, doesn't it? Things that ensnare us.  Time and time again, we find ourselves prisoners of bodies that lack strength and energy, finances that spend far more time going than coming, deadlines that hover, storms that threaten, relationships that stress and frustrations that could fill the Grand Canyon.  And the fact of the matter is that all of these things are just part of life, and there's not much we can do about it.  What was can deal with, however, is how we approach these puzzles.

I am, by nature, a very logical and analytical person.  If I weren't such an emotional basketcase, I'd make a great Vulcan (though I'd prefer to pass on the pointed ears).  I have a tendency to attack any given problem or situation from a logical and analytical standpoint.  Step one, assess the problem.  Step two, create a list of possible solutions.  Step three, choose and implement the solution.  Step four, survey the results, then repeat if necessary.  Steps five through ten, consume significant amounts of chocolate. Straightforward.  To the point.  Think it through, then act accordingly.

It sounds like a good strategy, but there's one problem--I've left no room for faith.  And so I pull and thrash and expend time, energy and other valuable resources attempting to solve my latest Chinese finger puzzle.  My logic says, "Pull, and if that doesn't work, pull harder."  My faith says, "Just relax.  Your Father can take care of this."  Two different voices.  Two distinct messages.  But I only get one choice.  To whom will I listen?  Will I continue to struggle, always searching for new ways to make everything work according to plan?  Or will I just relax and allow the Lord to have His will and way in every area of my life?

I wish I could say it is an easy choice.  It should be, but the truth is, sometimes it's just so difficult to let go.  But I've recently come to realize that I'll never be truly free until I do.  Until I place my complete trust in Him, I won't be free of worry or anxiety or depression.  Until I surrender everything I have and everything I am, I will be held captive by my own desires and ambitions.  Until I learn to relax, I will be cut off from the real peace and joy that the Lord wants for me to have.

You know the best way to escape from a Chinese finger puzzle?  Don't stick you fingers in there in the first place.  Likewise, the best way to avoid the frustrations and discouragement of life is to not stick our fingers in the mix.  Just give the problem to God.  Don't get mixed up in it.  Don't waste time and energy trying to find the solution.  Just turn it over to the One who knows all and relax.  He's working all things for your good, and unlike us, puzzles don't ensnare Him or stress Him out.  Let it go.  Just take a deep breath, and relax.  God's got this!

Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. - Philippians 4:6-7
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Friday, September 16, 2016

Best of the Best: When Prayers Seem Unanswered

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:  For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.- Matthew 7:7-8

And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive. - Matthew 21:22

If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you. - John 15:7

If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it. - John 14:14

At first glance, it seems that the Bible is saying that if I want something, all I need to do is ask God for it, and I'll have it.  Let's give that I try.  I want a million dollars in my bank account.  I want an enormous slice of chocolate cake.  I want perfect health, effective immediately.  Hmm.  Nothing happened, so does that mean that the Bible isn't true?  Has God failed to keep His promises?

Unfortunately, that's the first conclusion many jump to.  They claim, "Well, I asked God for this, and He didn't give it to me, so I guess He can't be trusted after all."  Admittedly, I've found myself wondering about it a few times.  But what we must understand is that when we study the Bible, we must study it as a whole.  It is vital that we compare Scripture with Scripture.  So what does the Bible, as a whole, have to say about why our prayers sometimes seem to go unanswered?

1.) We don't ask.  James 4:2 says, "Ye have not, because ye ask not."  Yes, God is omniscient.  He knows what we need and what we desire.  Still, He longs for us to ask.  Why else would He have commanded it so many times?  I think sometimes we're afraid to ask God for things because we don't want to set ourselves up for disappointment if it doesn't happen.  But God longs for us to ask and leave the rest up to Him.

2.) We're not specific.  God does answer our prayers, but often we don't realize it because we didn't pray specifically.  For example, when I pray for God to help us financially, I may be thinking about a bigger paycheck, an unexpected monetary gift, extraordinary book sales or something along those lines.  So, when none of those things occur, I assume God didn't answer my prayer.  However, God may have answered that request by making the tires on my vehicle last longer or by having meals provided by others at a gathering.  Didn't those things save me money?  Sure, it just wasn't what I was expected.  If we want something specific, we should pray for something specific.

3.) We don't believe.  James 1:5-7 says, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.  But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord."  I'm not one of those people who thinks that if you believe in something enough, you can heal the sick, cast out demons, perform miracles, etc.  If God wants you to, sure, but I don't believe it works that way.  On the other hand, faith plays an important part in our prayers.  How many times in the gospels did Jesus commend someone for their faith?  Of the many people Jesus healed, He often commented, "Your faith has made you whole."  After all, if we don't believe God can give us what we want or need, why are we asking for it in the first place?

4.) We ask for the wrong things.  James 4:3 says, "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss."  Sometimes God doesn't give us what we ask for because He knows it's not a good thing for us to have.  Some things are just not in His will.  If we want God to give us the things we ask for, we need to learn to ask for the things He wants to give.  To do that, we need to heed Psalm 37:4 which says, "Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."  That doesn't mean that He'll give us what we desire but rather that He will teach us what to desire.

God still answers prayer.  It may not be in the way or at the time that we expect, but He will fulfill His promises.  Remember, He is a loving Father and a faithful Friend.  He wants us to be happy.  He wants us to live fulfilling lives, and He'll give us everything we need to do that.  The rest is up to us.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,  Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. - Ephesians 3:20
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Thursday, September 15, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Open Sesame


Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the LORD hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. - Acts 12:5-11 

This is a very familiar story, but I want to look at it from a particular angle. Suppose Peter had tried to escape the prison on his own. Could he have undone the chains from around his wrists? Would it have been possible for him to “slip by” all the guards? And if he had accomplished all of that, is it likely that he would have been able to open the gate? The Bible tells us that the gate swung open of its own accord, but in fact, what happened is that God opened the gate.

And did you notice when God opened the gate? It wasn't when the angel first appeared to Peter. It wasn't when the iron bars of the prison door swung open. It wasn't when Peter walked past the first and second guard. No, God opened the gate just in time for Peter to walk through it.

What a lesson for us today. Unlike Peter, many times we try to work out our own solutions. Our efforts usually leave us stranded before a closed door with no way of prying it open. No matter how hard we try, things just don't work out the way we think they should. Could it be that we're standing at the wrong door? Or, is it possible that we're at the right door, but that it is not yet time for that door to be opened?

God saw Peter's predicament and provided an escape for him. God sees our situations too, and He will provide a way of escape for us. We, however, must be like Peter and allow God to do the rescuing. He will open the proper doors at the right time. Our only job is to have faith and then walk through the doors that God has opened.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Best of the Best Series: Oh, So That's Where You've Been!

I'm sure you've heard the phrase, "God inhabits the praises of His people."  I've certainly heard it more times than I can count, but only recently did I discover that the phrase isn't in the Bible.  Close, but not quite.  What the Bible says is in Psalm 22:3:  But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.  See what I mean?  I thought it was a quote, but really, it's more of a paraphrase.  But that's okay because I firmly believe the meaning is the same.  Yes, Israel is God's chosen people, but Christians are also the people of God (John 10:16).  So, does God inhabit the praises of His people?  According to many other teachings in the Bible, I would have to say, "YES!"

So what exactly does that mean?  Well, it's a bit confusing, but I'll try to break it down.  The word "inhabit" means "to live or reside in; to be present in; to fill."  When we're saved, the Holy Spirit inhabits our hearts.  He resides in us.  He indwells us, which means He is always with us.  But there is a difference between God being present and God manifesting Himself.  God is always with us.  We have His promise on that, but sometimes it doesn't feel like He's with us, does it?  That's because He is not manifesting Himself at that moment.  He's not making His presence known or felt.  Why?  Well, I'm afraid many times it goes back to our verse for the day.  If God inhabits the praise of His people and His people aren't praising, then guess what?  We don't feel God.  We don't sense Him.  We feel as if He's abandoned us when, in fact, we've abandoned Him. When solving the mystery of the missing God, let's examine the clues.

Clue #1 -- The times I feel like God is nowhere to be found are typically the times I'm going through a trial.
Clue #2 -- During times of trial, I find it difficult to praise God because He feels so far away.
Clue #3 -- When my mind is not focused on God, it's focused on self, including current circumstances, worries, stresses, etc.
Clue #4 -- The times when God's presence has been the most real to me (when it felt like God was right beside me and holding my hand) were the times when I was centered on Him and worshiping Him in spirit and truth.

Hmm, you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to solve this case.  It's pretty much open and shut.  Where there's praise, God's presence is manifested.  Where there's no praise, God remains present but often silent.

Does God feel distant today?  Are you wondering where He's gone and why He's left you alone in such a mess?  He hasn't.  He's there.  But if you really want to feel His presence, you're going to have to take the first step and offer up some praise.  Yes, it's difficult to praise God in the midst of trials, but it is possible.  Look past the current circumstances and see what God has done in your life.  If nothing else, praise Him for your salvation, His love and His grace.  I guarantee you, before long, you'll sense another presence in the room and possibly even hear a voice whispering, "I'm here, child.  I've been here all along.  I was just waiting for an invitation to approach."

Are you longing to feel God's presence in a mighty way?  You know what it takes.  Offer up praises to Him, then bask in the results.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Best of the Best Series: The Lifter Up of Mine Head

But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. - Psalm 3:3

What a beautiful verse!  It's so poetic and weaves such an elaborate picture in my mind, especially that last phrase:  "the lifter up of mine head."  I don't know about you, but sometimes life gets me down.  There are some days where I just can't shake the blues no matter how hard I try.  This downcast spirit is often a result of a trying situation or circumstance that creeps (and sometimes elbows) its way into my life.  But sometimes, all it takes to get me down is to look around at my life and say, "Is this it?  Is this as good as it gets?  This isn't quite what I had in mind?"

Don't get me wrong.  I have a good life.  I've been blessed with a wonderful husband, two precious pups, a loving family and a Bible-believing church.  I live in relatively good health with food to eat and a place to sleep.  I have truly been blessed.  But there are still things I would change if I could.  For starters, I would boost my writing career and promote myself out of the "starving artist" phase.  This change alone would allow my husband to leave his job and seek employment that he truly enjoys, no matter the pay.  This dream job of mine would come complete with the perfect salary to meet our needs and still have a little money left over for a rainy day, vacation, savings, and/or emergency fund.  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  I'm sure you have some dreams of your own.  And it can be disappointing and discouraging to look around and see that those dreams still seem so far away.

When I'm truly down and discouraged, I'm prone to hang my head.  Why?  Because I know if I make eye contact with anyone, I'm going to cry, and I don't mean trickle a few tears.  I mean CRY!  You know sobs and snot everywhere cry!  (Pretty picture, huh?)  But you see, Jason knows my little secret.  He knows why I won't look at him, but he also knows that I won't feel right again until I release all those negative emotions.  And the best way for me to do that is to have a good cry.  So, in the most loving way, he places his hand under my chin and lifts my head until I'm looking him in the eye.  The look of love I see in his face brings me to tears, and within minutes, my burden is lifted and my spirit is renewed.

As I read the phrase "the lifter up of mine head", this is the picture that comes to mind.  I imagine God reaching down to me in my saddened state and lovingly placing His hand under my chin.  His lifts my face to His and whispers, "It's okay, child.  I'm here.  Go ahead and cry.  You can even use my shoulder if you need to.  Just don't look away.  Look at me.  I can bring back your joy."  What a picture!  What a blessing!  What a privilege to be the child of such a loving Father.

Does life have you down today?  Are you feeling discouraged or disappointed?  Is your head hanging low in sorrow and sadness?  If so, allow Jesus to be the lifter up of your head.  Look to Him, and find peace in His loving embrace.  He'll dry your tears and remind you of the many reasons you have to smile.  Remember, weeping may endure for a night, but joy WILL come in the morning!
SaveSaveSaveSave

Friday, September 9, 2016

Failure Isn't Fatal

I believe we are all familiar with the famous quote, "To err is human." But somehow, knowing the truth of that doesn't ease our conscience when we fail God. We feel forsaken, unusable and unworthy. Sometimes the mistake is so massive that we fear even God's great forgiveness cannot cover the transgression. But the truth is that sometimes it takes our most significant failures to bring out our greatest attributes.

Take Peter, for example. For the three years that the disciple walked with Jesus, he was arrogant, self-willed and determined to have the last word. Despite Jesus' teaching and not-so-subtle rebukes, Peter just couldn't seem to grasp the magnitude of what Jesus was trying to accomplish on this earth. But after Peter denied Jesus, everything changed. At first, Peter was heartbroken and probably felt as we often do--that God could never use him again. But after the resurrection, at an intimate seaside dinner, Jesus made it clear to Peter that he still had a work for the disciple to do. "Feed my sheep." Thus, the Peter of the book of Acts was born. Unlike the former disciple, Peter--though still bold--was humble, teachable and led by God. Until his dying breath, he proclaimed the love and forgiveness of Christ and won many souls to the Lord.

Then there's Moses. Like Peter, the young Moses had his own ambitions and ideas of how he thought things should be, but after killing an Egyptian in a fit of anger, he found himself spending the next forty years of his life watching sheep. Little did he know that God was preparing him to shepherd His people out of captivity. Moses' failure led to his forty years of training in the wilderness, preparing him for the task that God had called him to do.

So you see, while God does not excuse our mistakes and wrongdoings, He can still use them to bring about a good thing. And part of that good thing is creating a newer, better version of ourselves. Our mistakes are not fatal. In fact, they are often the very things that God uses to get us where we need to be in life and our service to him. So, today, if you feel you've strayed too far or done something too horrible for Him to forgive, remember that God works all things for our good, and that includes our failures. Just ask Peter and Moses.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. - I John 1:9

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Behind the Scenes

Over the past several months, different occasions have arisen which caused me to see that I am behind the times in my writing and office set up. As you would imagine, I have a computer with a nice monitor, but that's about it where my writing is concerned. After having to turn down two requests to be interviewed because I didn't have a working webcam, I decided it was time for me to get up-to-date.

My first step, of course, was to research the best webcam I could get for the least amount of money. I wish I could say that my office additions ended there, but another situation made it necessary to look into the software and equipment I would need to dictate my writing. Because of my chronic dislocations in my shoulder region, I am finding it necessary to spend less time hunched over my keyboard. Dictation would allow me to continue writing without feeling trapped at my desk all day long.

So, Jason and I began studying all the variations of the software and equipment it would take to bring the solution about. Silly me, I thought the process only involved the dictation software and a microphone, but it goes far beyond that. I had no idea there were so many decisions that needed to be made. What type of microphone do you want? Corded or cordless? What type of adapters do you have and/or need? What kind of stand do you need for your microphone? Is the microphone affordable? Does that microphone work with your new webcam? And that's only the beginning of the search to set up my office for video and dictation. If you only knew what has transpired behind the scenes!

One thing I can say is that this entire process has given me insight into the workings of God. On the surface, with my finite mind, I see situations and seemingly ideal solutions, but God sees the whole picture.   He knows and understands what He's doing behind the scenes, and while it may not seem like much to us, I now understand that there is much more to it than meets the eye.   After all, if it takes this much work and study and preparation to set up my office, how much more thought and work does God put into crafting our lives into what He wants them to be?

I am hoping and praying that all of this work behind the scenes will soon pay off with added productivity, more exposure, and less wear and tear on my body. I may even be able to start adding some video devotions to the blog every once in a while.  Wouldn't that be cool?  I would appreciate your prayers as I embark on this new endeavor that the Lord will give me wisdom in making the proper decisions and that he would provide the funds necessary to make these adjustments. (Software and equipment aren't cheap!)

One thing we can be certain of is that God's work behind the scenes will always pay off. He has a perfect plan, and nothing can thwart it. And though we may not see it now, one day we will see and understand how all the pieces fit together.

Perhaps you are in a situation today, and you feel as if God is not listening or doing anything to help. Have faith, my friend, that God is always working on your behalf and that His work behind the scenes is perfect and necessary for your good and His glory.

Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: - Philippians 1:6

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

You Don't Try God!

This morning while reading through my email, I came across an interesting headline that caught my attention. It read, "Have you been searching for happiness in all the wrong places? Try God." I'll admit I was intrigued, but not in a good way. In fact, there are a couple of major things wrong with that particular headline.

First off, God does not guarantee us happiness. Joy, yes, but happiness, no. The two are not the same. Joy is the contentment and satisfaction that we feel down in our souls because Jesus abides in our hearts. It cannot be taken away from us no matter what circumstances may arise. Happiness, on the other hand, is fleeting. It comes and goes depending on our situations, our moods, and even our surroundings. And for that reason, the Lord never says that we will always be happy, at least not on this earth.

My biggest issue with the headline, however, is the last two words, "Try God." You don't try God. You love Him.  You worship Him.  You accept Him.  But you don't try Him. God is not some product or service that you test out to see whether or not He works for you. He does not come with a money-back guarantee, and there is a strict no-return policy. According to this article, "When you step out to make a wholehearted commitment to try God, you step out to trust an unseen God to save you." Am I the only one who sees a problem with this statement? Is trying God and having faith in God the same thing? It certainly doesn't sound like it to me.

The gist of the article was that the author had found herself at the end of her rope. She had lost her job, her friends, and all hope of a better future. With nothing left to lose, she decided to "try God."   In her words, "The next morning after the spiritual encounter with God, I knew something had changed in my life because I felt lighter." Is that what salvation is all about? Because she goes on to talk about the Holy Spirit entering her heart and her becoming a new creature in God, but she continues the article talking about how she is going to try God like he is some trial product that she can send back if He doesn't do what she expects Him to do or doesn't work out the way she hopes. To be honest, this article saddens me because it reminds me how mixed up some people are about true salvation.

I know I've dealt with salvation a lot over the past few months, but time is growing short, and it is more important than ever to get this message out. Salvation is trusting Jesus as Savior not trying Him out as Savior. It is believing, without a doubt, that Jesus died for your sins and that He was buried and rose the third day so that He could make an eternal home for us in heaven. By accepting that sacrifice and the sin debt that He paid, we are giving our lives over to Him for all eternity. It is a conscious decision to turn away from our old ways and to live a new life in Christ. While it is free to all who believe, it cost Jesus everything and is, therefore, precious and not to be taken lightly.

If you have not accepted Jesus as Savior, I pray that you will do so today before it is too late. But please understand this, salvation has no trial period.   You trust in Jesus, or you don't. You cannot expect to try Him out for a little while to see if He'll fix all your problems. That's not how it works. If you are confused about salvation or would like more information, please feel free to contact me at Dana@DanaRongione.com.

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. - Romans 10:9

Monday, September 5, 2016

Don't Give Up; Look Up

While about my work the other day, I was interrupted by Jason's call from the kitchen.  "Do we not have any snack size storage bags?"

"Yes," I replied from my office.  "They're in the drawer with the other bags."  Being a little OCD, I have the bags arranged in the drawer by size:  fold top, snack size, sandwich size, and quart size. (The gallon size bags have to go on top of the microwave because the drawer isn't big enough.)  Anyway, I digress.

"I don't see any," he replied.  This is not an uncommon occurrence at our house.  In fact, I recently heard a Christian marriage counselor discuss how men can't find things that are right in front of them, so I guess maybe this is a common theme in most houses.

I sighed, got up from my desk, walked out to the kitchen and immediately pulled out the box labeled "snack size".  It was right where I knew it should be.  It was right where I told Jason it would be.  "It's right here," I cried, handing him the box.  Unmoved by my amazing treasure hunting skills, he shook his head.  "No, that's what I thought but look!"  He reached in and pulled out a regular-sized sandwich bag.  I immediately reached into the box and pulled out a snack bag.  "One of the sandwich bags just got put in the wrong box.  It happens."  He had his bag, and we both went on our way.

In Jason's defense, he had looked in the appropriate place.  In fact, he'd even looked in the appropriate box, but one thing had been misplaced.  In his confusion, he'd asked for help from someone who knew where to find what he was looking for.  He was aware that I bought the bags and I put them away.  Who better to ask?

I think sometimes we reach into the box of life and pull out something far different than what we expect to find.  But rather than asking for help from the One who knows all about it, we just give up.  Jason could have said, "I'm looking for a snack bag.  This box says 'snack bags', but it contains sandwich bags.  I guess we just don't have any snack bags," and walked away.

Asking for help can be difficult, and it's certainly humbling, but it's much better than giving up.  Life will not always be what we expect it to be.  Days won't always turn out the way we hope or plan.  Many times, life throws us some major surprises.  But it's no reason to give up.  Instead, let's look up.  Let's ask for direction and advice.  Let's talk and listen to the One who knows the beginning from the end.  He's written our life stories, so He knows all the twists and turns.  He can lead us through the maze of voices and confusion.  He can bring us out, but we can't give up!

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. - James 1:5


***Excerpt from Lilting Laments of a Looney Lass***

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Who Told You? by Guy Right

New Christian Spiritual and Personal Development Book
Who Told You That You Are Naked? 
Genesis 3:11: Live Without the Bondage of Sickness and Suffering (Unveiling Biblical Truths) by Guy Right 

There is a Grace Revolution sweeping the world—the return to the New Covenant of grace as unveiled in the Bible. The Bible says that if we must work for grace, then grace is not grace.  Grace says that God is for you and not against you. If God is for you, then you will walk out of the valley of the shadow of death because a shadow cannot harm you.

While grace is completely free, it still must be received. Misconceptions about God make it hard to receive grace. How can you be sure that God will help you if you believe that God gives and God takes away or that you came into the world naked and leave the same way? These thoughts are not from God. Where did they come from?

Who told you that you were naked? Why did God ask Adam and Eve this question? God rested from all His work on the seventh day, but as soon as Adam ate the forbidden fruit, God went back to work. The first thing He did was to make tunics for Adam and Eve. When Jesus was crucified, the soldiers divided His clothes among them, but for His tunic they had to cast lots. What is the significance of the tunic?

Is the naked truth about your sins and failures disqualifying you from God’s grace? Are you suffering and in pain? Are you desperate? Then you need to know that only the unworthy qualify for God’s grace. If you need to receive God’s help, then the Bible truths in this book will help you to change your mind about God and position you to receive the abundant life that Jesus promised.

Current reviews excerpts: 

Who Told You That You Are Naked is a profound read, casting light on areas that can be hard to understand. The concepts of law and grace, curse and redemption, and Satan versus God in the Garden of Eden are explored. Even Job’s sufferings are explained in a way that is satisfying. As a Christian, I had always struggled with that particular book and why Job suffered so much. - Lorilyn Roberts 

Another Amazon reviewer - In my 50 plus years of studying God's word I have never had anyone line up the facts so succinctly to make the entirety of the Bible have a relevance that repeats itself over and over; it just blew my head wide open. 

Blessed Mom on Amazon wrote:…a must read for believers (and nonbelievers). Find out the truth about the character of God and His purpose for mankind. You will not be the same after learning these truths straight from the Word of God. 

And many more positive reviews on Amazon. 

Author Bio: 

Guy Right is an investment professional in commercial real estate in the USA. He provides investment strategy and solutions to institutional clients globally. He is married and has five children. Although a Christian for decades, he had limited knowledge of the power of the Gospel of Grace. When beset with work and health problems, the author could have perished if not for God’s deliverance. It was through listening to Bible studies and the preaching on the New Covenant of grace that the author discovered what the privilege of being a child of God truly meant. God’s Grace turned the author’s life around in every area while building a genuinely intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. This book was written to answer the cries of people in despair, people who know God but feel powerless in the face of tremendous adversity and suffering.

Who Told You? is available as an ebook and also as a print book (soon) Free for two days only: September 3-4, 2016



Disclaimer:  I have not yet had the opportunity to read this book, so I cannot vouch for its contents.  Please do not consider this post as an endorsement for the book.  Perhaps after I have read it, I can do another post to review it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Review

I hope you've enjoyed this series on starting your day off right, and I pray that you've already started putting these steps into practice.  Before we call it quits, though, I wanted to take a few minutes to review the entire process plus give you a bonus that will not only make your days more focused and productive but will also make your nights more restful and restorative.  Sounds good, right?  Let's get started.

Oil pulling - First thing in the morning, before putting anything else in your mouth, place anywhere from a teaspoon to a tablespoon of unrefined coconut oil (or pure oil of your liking) in your mouth.  Swish it around and pull it through your teeth until the last step of your morning routine:  exercise.  Right before your exercise, spit the oil into a trashcan (not a sink!), rinse your mouth and brush your teeth.

Prayer - Spend a few minutes dedicating yourself and your day to the Lord.  Be brief but specific.  Just let the Lord know how much you love Him.

Thanksgiving - Pick one thing each day to be grateful for and spend a few moments thanking the Lord for that thing.  Specify what it means to you, why you're thankful for it, etc.  Again, be specific, but don't let it take up too much time.  If you're specific, I guarantee you'll be thinking about it on and off all day long.

Illumination - Read a Bible verse, Bible passage or a short devotion based on a Bible verse.

Meditation - Chew on the verse, passage or devotion that you just read.  Think about how it applies to your life in general.  What can you take away from it?

Inscribe - Spend a few minutes journaling about anything that God has laid on your heart.  You can write out your verse, jot down your meditation thoughts, lay out a burden on your heart or anything else.  It doesn't matter what you write during this time as long as it is God-focused.

Zero in - Put together all the pieces of your morning routine and focus on how you can bring them into practice during your day.  Think specifically about your schedule for that particular day and how you can serve God that day based on what He put on your heart that morning.

Exercise - Do 5-10 minutes of exercise--whether it be walking, strength training or merely stretching--to get your body moving, your blood flowing, and your oxygen levels up.

Now, just to make sure we're all on the same page, here's an example of one of my morning OPTIMIZE routines.

6:30 - Placed two oil pulling tablets (I make my own) in my mouth and began chewing and swishing.  Turned on electric kettle so that it would be hot and ready for my morning hot tea when I finished my optimizing.

6:32 - Sat down in my office chair and prayed.  While I didn't write down my exact prayer, it went something like this.  "Good morning, Lord.  I thank you for a good night's sleep and for another day to serve you.  Today, I dedicate my life and everything about it to you.  May everything that I do be pleasing in your sight.  I choose to die to myself, my vain ambitions and my pride and to seek Your holy face all throughout the day.  Help me, Lord, for I cannot do this alone.  I love you! Amen."

6:35 - Thanked the Lord for the opportunity to begin a new writing project.  Expressed my excitement about the process and my gratitude for having the health, time and ability to write another book that would spread the message of God's Word and ultimately bring glory to Him.

6:38 - Read Psalm 113:3 from my book, There's a Verse for That and a short devotion entitled "Faithfully Present" from Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado.

6:43 - Meditated on both the verse and the devotion, seeing how they went together and also how they applied to my life.  The verse in Psalms talks about giving praise to the Lord all day long while the devotion was talking about God's continual presence in our lives.  That presence is something that I can praise God for all day long no matter what may be happening because, no matter the trial, God is still with me.

6:46 - I jotted down the verse and my meditations on that verse just as I wrote it above.  Then I went ahead and wrote down my zero in because I like to reflect on it later.

6:50 - Today I am running errands, so I reminded myself that no matter where I go today or what I do, the Lord will go with me.  He has my back and is in control of all things; therefore, I can go about my day without worry or fear and, in the process, I can be a testimony to others by sharing God's promise with them.

6:54 - After spitting out my oil and brushing my teeth, I pulled up a YouTube video of a 5-minute morning yoga routine.  I leave my yoga mat rolled out on my office floor (Mitch likes to sleep on it from time to time), so I rose from my desk chair, walked to the mat and there you have it.

7:00 - Left my office feeling revived and charged.  Turned my tea kettle back on to warm the water again (it takes less time the second time) and began my day.  That's it!

I know this post is running a little long, but I want to share with you one last thing:  the bonus I told you about.  To gain the most benefit from Optimize Your Day, do it first thing in the morning AND right before you go to bed.  Huh?  No, I'm serious.  This is awesome.  Do the entire routine (with just a couple of tweaks) right before you go to bed, but do it backward.  If you're like me and have trouble remembering the steps in order let alone backward, you can make yourself a chart to keep beside your bed (or print off the one from the top of the page).  Anyway, here's what the nightly routine looks like:

Exercise - Again, just a few minutes will do, and because you're getting ready for bed, you want soft, slow movements.  This is not time for cardio.  Think gentle stretches and deep breathing.  Calm the body and get it ready for sleep.

Zero in - Reflect on how you served God today.  Think of this as a time of accountability.  I like to look back at my morning goal (I always write down my zero in) and see if I accomplished what I said I was going to do.  It's very rewarding to see what I've done well and even helpful to see where I could do better.

Inscribe - Again, write down anything.  What you're thankful for, how your day went, something that happened that blessed you.  Whatever.  The sky is the limit!

Meditation - Here again I pull out my journal and read my morning meditation and then allow myself to dwell on that again.

Illumination - You can read the same verse, passage or devotion that you read in the morning or choose another.  It's completely up to you.  Once again, we're trying to get our minds focused on the Lord.

Thanksgiving - Find at least one thing from the day for which to be thankful.

Prayer - Spend a few minutes talking to the Lord about your day.  Try not to dwell too much on the negative things but give them over to God.  Ask Him to calm your mind and heart as you lay down to rest.

Oil - Notice, I said oil and not oil pulling.  Oil pulling is best done in the morning and isn't all that advantageous at night.  What is beneficial, however, is essential oils.  I personally diffuse essential oils while I sleep and find that I sleep better and wake more rested.  Others place a few drops of lavender oil on their sheets and/or pillows while others rub a nice oil blend on the soles of their feet.  I don't have time to go into all the benefits of essential oils and which oils are best for bedtime, but you can find tons of information online.  So, go nuts, but I do recommend using essential oils.

I have discovered that following this practice before bed puts me in a much better state of mind and helps me fall asleep faster, sleep better and wake feeling more rested.  Instead of lying in bed for hours with my mind tossing and turning about problems and schedules, I feel as if I'm falling asleep in the comforting arms of Jesus.  It's so refreshing!

And to make the process as simple as possible, I place everything that I need for optimizing my day in a small tote bag.  At bedtime, I carry the tote bag to bed and perform my optimization there.  When I'm finished, I set the bag (with all its contents) next to my nightstand.  When I get up in the morning, I grab the bag and head to my office.  With everything in one place, I'm not scrambling around and feeling hectic trying to get everything ready.  I'm not saying that you have to do it this way, but it certainly works well for me.

Well, there you have it.  I hope you've learned something useful, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below or email me personally.  I'd love to help in any way I can.

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. - Psalm 118:24

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Exercise

Whew!  It's been a long journey, but we've finally arrived at the last step in optimizing our mornings, and that step is exercise.  Not only does exercise benefit our bodies, but it also helps increase our focus and improve our overall attitude.  But let me stress that this is not (and should not be) the only exercise you get throughout the day.  This is just a quick boost to get your body moving, your blood flowing and your mind awake.  I like to focus on an exercise session between five and ten minutes long.  Before I go into more detail, let me also remind you that you'll need to spit your oil out into a trashcan and brush your teeth before doing your exercise.  Working out while oil pulling is NOT a good idea!

Okay, so what kind of exercises should you do?  That's completely up to you.  If you have an exercise bike, treadmill or elliptical, you may want to simply do 5-10 minutes of cardio.  That's fine.  If you're a fan of yoga or pilates, YouTube has an impressive selection of quick videos that can lead you through a brief morning workout.  You can take a short walk around your neighborhood or do 100 jumping jacks.  The possibilities are endless, and it may take you a few tries to figure out what works best for you.  Some of you may enjoy doing the same routine every day while others enjoy a little more variety.  That's fine!  You know your needs, your body's limitations and what you like, so take that knowledge and put it into action.

What are you trying to accomplish during this time?  As I said, this is not your main workout, so the focus shouldn't be on calories burned or weight loss.  This time is about waking up your body and loosening your joints.  Even a brief morning routine can allow additional oxygen to the body, which helps us to shake off the groggy, focus our minds and improve our attitudes.  I know some of you will balk (and possibly even unsubscribe) at this, but a five-minute workout in the morning will give you more boost than a cup of coffee.  (That's not to say that you can't have the coffee too.  Okay?  Please don't hate me!)

One last thing I want to address in this area is the plethora of excuses that people can come up with for not exercising.  There are no good reasons to ignore the care of the temple of the Holy Ghost!  Sorry, but it's true.  Are there factors that limit the amount or types of exercise that some are capable of?  Absolutely.  For example, because of my shoulder issues, I can't do exercises like pull-ups or pushups because it puts too much wear and strain on my joints, and they tend to dislocate (NOT FUN!).  So, you know what I do?  I avoid those exercises or find variations of them that I can safely do.  I don't use it as an excuse not to do any exercise at all.  If all you can do is ten toe-touches and five knee bends, that's fine.  Do that!  But please, don't allow excuses to hinder you from getting your day off on the right foot.  I think you'll be amazed at how much better and more energetic you'll feel after doing just a few minutes of exercise.  Try it and see!

Here's a little video I love doing.  I don't do it every morning, but I try to add it into my weekly run of routines.  It's quick, but I promise you, you'll feel a difference, and don't be surprised if you find your body aching for the first few days.  (Trust me, that's a good sign.)  The video contains a couple of exercises that I can't do because of physical issues, so I just substitute in movements that I can do. What I love about this particular video is that it combines strength training with cardio, and it keeps track of time, so I don't have to.  I hope you'll enjoy it as well.


Whatever exercise you decide to do, make it fun!  Remember, this is the last step of our precious morning optimization.  By this point, we've filled our minds and hearts with thoughts of God.  We've prayed, given thanks, read and meditated on the Word of God, and set up a plan for honoring God throughout the day.  Don't allow all of that positive energy to go out the window by thinking, Great!  Now I have to exercise.  I hate exercise!  Instead, think of it as a service to the Lord.  By taking care of your body, you'll be able to do more for the Lord and others.  Keep that in mind as you're working out, and it will help keep negativity at bay.

That's it!  Those are the eight steps to Optimize Your Day each morning, every day.  Tomorrow, I'll do a brief review of the steps and give you a couple of examples of a full morning optimization.  Plus, I have an added surprise that I've discovered has made the process even better, so be sure to check back tomorrow.

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? - I Corinthians 6:19