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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Zero In

If you've been following along in the process, you know now that the steps of optimizing your day build upon one another.  Today's action is no different.  Up to this point, we've said a quick word of prayer to dedicate ourselves and our day to the Lord.  We've given thanks for a particular thing.  We've read and meditated on Scripture, and we've written down some of our innermost thoughts.  Now, we're going to take all of that and zero in on how each of those things can impact our day by asking ourselves this question:  "Armed with the knowledge I've gained this morning and the thoughts the Lord has laid on my heart, in what specific ways can I serve the Lord today?"

Remember, the key here is to zero in, which means we're not going to give a general answer like, "I will strive to do good and resist temptation."  No, that's not going to do it.  At this point, you need to look at your day, your agenda, your plans for that single day, and set actionable goals to serve God in specific ways based on your daily schedule.  For example, let's say your reading and meditation this morning involved a passage about praise, and the Lord laid it on your heart that you need to worship Him more.  Then, you look at your daily schedule and find that many of the things on it are things that cause you to grumble and complain.  Right there, you can stop and say, "I am deciding right now to find something to praise God for during these tough spots in my day.  I won't gripe or whine but will keep my heart focused on God and how worthy He is of my praise."

Or perhaps you look at your schedule and see that you're expected to spend the majority of the day around someone who gets on your nerves.  Decide that you're going to do your best (God working in and through you) to show the love of God to that person and to bestow grace on that person even though you may not think they deserve it because you are reminded that God shows you grace each and every day when you don't deserve it.

As a final example, I'll share with you what the Lord laid on my heart Sunday morning during my optimization.  He's been working in my heart about giving more and expecting less, so Sunday morning, as I looked at my busy day, filled mostly with church activities, I made a decision.  I was going to serve the Lord with gladness, giving unto others as much as I could and expecting nothing in return.  Anytime during the day that I began to feel overwhelmed or grouchy, the Lord brought to mind my goal, and I thanked Him and continued the service without ill feelings.  The difference was phenomenal, and it felt so good to do for others with a right spirit instead of "grudgingly or of necessity." (II Corinthians 9:7)

I don't know what your days may hold, and I can't say what the Lord will impress on your heart.  But whatever it is, be specific.  The more specific you are, the more likely that goal will stick with you throughout the day and be imprinted on your heart and mind.  And don't kill yourself trying to come up with something.  Honestly, I can't think of a single time when I looked at my schedule and God didn't immediately point out some area where I could "zero in" on my service to Him.  The process takes a couple of minutes, but the impact will last throughout the entire day.

Philippians 2:12 tells us, Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This passage is not saying that we have to work for our salvation.  It is saying that God has done a good work in us, and we need to let it work its way to the outside so that others can see.  In other words, we work because we're saved.  Zeroing in is taking the message that God put in our hearts and putting it into action throughout our day.  It's good to know the things of God, but it's even better to do them.  That's what this step is all about.

In what specific ways can you serve God today?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Inscribe

We're nearing the end of our morning optimization process, and from the feedback I've been given, it is helping others as much as it's helping me.  That's awesome to know!  Yesterday, we spoke about meditating on the things that we've read in God's Word.  Today, I want to go a step further, and some of you may not like this part, but please bear with me.

The second "I" in optimization stands for "inscribe," which is another word for write.  Yes, I'm talking about journaling.  The fact of the matter is that some of the most successful and productive people on the planet use a journal.  It's the truth!  Well, I think that we, as Christians, ought to seek to be just as successful and productive in our daily walk with Christ, so journaling is a definite must.

I know what some of you are saying.  "Sure, Dana, that's easy for you to say.  You're a writer.  I can't write.  I don't like to write.  My spelling and grammar are horrible!"  I'm not talking about writing a book here, and it doesn't matter what your spelling and grammar are like because no one is going to read this but you.  It's your private journal, and what it contains is between you and God.

So, the first thing you'll want to do is decide on a medium for your journal.  You can use a plain spiral notebook, a fancy leather journal, or if you're more comfortable with a keyboard, you can set up a private blog for your morning thoughts.  It doesn't matter.  What is important is that you're happy with the setup.  For me, I spend enough time at the computer as it is, so I have a lovely, leather journal with lined pages that suits me just fine.

Once you've chosen your journaling method, make a commitment to write/type something in it every single morning.  So, what are you supposed to write during this time?  Anything!  You can write down the Bible verse that you read that morning or the thoughts you were meditating on.  You can write out your worries and fears as a way of getting them out of your heart and mind and then commit them to God.  Write down what you're feeling.  Write down what God lays on your heart.  Write down what you're thankful for.

It's entirely up to you, but there's something about journaling that helps clear the mind.  It's actually a little weird how it works.  I've found that if I write down the negative things I'm feeling, it gets it out of my system like I've poured them out onto the page.  Then I don't feel the power of them anymore. But, when I write down something positive (like what I'm thankful for or my daily verse), the writing process reinforces that thought in my brain, making it easier to access throughout the day.  Strange, huh?  But, honestly, this is what I've discovered about journaling, so I urge you to give it a try.

If you're stumped at first and don't know what to write, try jotting down what you're thankful for or your daily verse.  You may find that the words start spilling out from there.  Another thing to keep in mind is that it doesn't matter how much you write each day as long as you write something.  It can be a sentence, a paragraph, a page, or more.  And what you write today doesn't have to be the same thing that you wrote yesterday.  Perhaps yesterday you wrote down some thoughts that were weighing heavy on your mind.  You don't have to do that again today if you don't want to.  Today you could inscribe your meditations.  There is so much freedom here, and it can be an enjoyable process if you'll allow it to be.

On Monday, we'll talk about another step in the process, and it, too, may be something you want to write about, so you see, the possibilities are endless.  Before then, decide on your journaling method and pour your thoughts onto paper (or computer).  Come on, give it a try!

My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer. - Psalm 45:1

Friday, August 26, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Meditation

So far, we've discussed the first four steps of optimizing our day:  oil pulling, prayer, thanksgiving, and illumination.  Today's action, meditation, picks up where yesterday's left off.  We spoke in yesterday's post about reading a passage from the Word of God or your favorite devotional (which should be based on the Word of God). Today we're going to take the reading a step further and meditate on it.

Meditation is the act of thinking or pondering.  It goes beyond just reading the words and allows the message of those words to penetrate the mind and heart.  One of the most familiar illustrations of meditation is that of a cow chewing its cud.  To meditate on a portion of Scripture essentially means to chew on it and chew on it and chew on it until you get all the "goody" out of it.

Here are a few questions you can ask to help you meditate on your reading:

(1) What did I just read?  (Summarize)
(2) What is this passage saying in general? (What is the interpretation?)
(3) What is this passage saying to me?  (What is the application?)
(4) How can this passage give me strength or encouragement in my daily walk with the Lord?
(5) Is there anything else I can glean from this Scripture?
(6) Are there any other related verses that come to my mind?
(7) What does this passage tell me about God?

Don't feel that you need to answer every question or that you're limited to those seven questions.  The point is to allow the Scripture to become more than words.  The Bible is alive, and it can work powerfully in our lives if we let it.  Ponder the verses.  Take them to heart.  Allow God to speak to you through them.  You may be amazed at what you see!

I haven't counted them, but I think it's safe to say there are probably hundreds of verses about meditation in the Bible, but I want to share with you one of my favorites.  Psalm 143:5 says, I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.  That's just so poetic, and as the creative type, I love the word "muse."  As a verb, it means "meditate, ponder, contemplate, chew on," but as a noun, it means "inspiration."  How appropriate!  When we spend time meditating on the Word of God, it inspires us to live out our days for His glory.  It inspires us to focus on Him, who He is, and what He's done.  That inspiration can linger with us throughout the day because we took a few moments to hide the Word of God in our hearts.

It's exciting, isn't it?  But before you get too carried away, let me remind you that we're not done yet.  There's more to come, and just as it has been with each step, the next one builds off of this one which is why it's important to do these in order.  Oh, and by the way, you should still be doing your oil pulling at this point.  Remember, you should be doing it all the way up to the final step.  Fortunately, you can chew on the Scriptures while still swishing your oil.

Until tomorrow. . .

My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord. - Psalm 104:34

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Illumination

Let's talk today about the fourth step in optimizing our mornings, and that step is illumination.  To illuminate something is to shed light on it, and that is exactly what we'll be doing each morning.  While we're doing our oil pulling and after our moments of prayer and thanksgiving, we're going to add some light to our day by reading a short passage in the Word of God.  After all, Psalm 119:105 says, Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Keep in mind that, just like your morning prayer, this is not your primary devotion time.  You can accomplish that later in the day.  This is just something short to, once again, get your focus on God.  It can be a verse, a short passage or even a short devotional that brings out an application from a portion of Scripture.  The idea is to bring your morning awareness to God and how magnificent He is.    We're not reading to check this off our to-do list.  We're reading to hear what God has to say to us.  So, pay attention.  What you read is up to you, but here are a few suggestions to help you get started:

Psalm 23 - Read one verse per day, or read the entire passage for several days in a row to let it sink in.

The Names of God - Focus each day on reading a passage about a particular name or character trait of God.  For example, in Psalm 23, He is our Shepherd.  In Genesis 17, we see Him as El-Shaddai (God Almighty).  Genesis 22 portrays God as Jehovah-Jireh (God the provider).  You can find a list of these names and passages online or purchase a book that has them. Each day, read the passage or passages related to a particular name or attribute and allow the light of Who God is to shine down on you.

The book of Psalms - Most of the psalms are pretty short, and all of them have something that will bless your socks off if you'll take the time to read through them attentively.

The Gospels - The first four books of the New Testament are filled with fantastic stories of Who God is and what He's capable of.  Read a chapter at a time, or if you have a study Bible, the chapters will be divided into individual stories that you can read on a daily basis.

There's a Verse for That - Please forgive the shameless plug, but if you want to focus on verses by topic, you might enjoy using this book as a guide.  It includes verses for varying circumstances like when you're feeling alone, afraid, discouraged or confused.  Read one verse or a few until something jumps out at you.  You can get the ebook version of this book for free on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and other online retailers.

Giggles and Grace Devotional Series - While I'm doing shameless plugs, I might as well mention this series as well.  If you're not familiar with these books, they are full of short devotionals that focus on a verse and an application of that verse.  Most of these devotions can be read in less than five minutes.

Grace for the Moment by Max Lucado - This is similar to the Giggles and Grace books, only the devotions are even shorter and, as a whole, there is less humor.  It makes for a great morning devotional read.

These are just a few ideas.  I'm sure you probably have others.  Perhaps you have a devotional guide by your favorite author, or maybe you want to read my daily devotional blog for your morning reading.  That's fine.  The idea is to read something that will bring light and encouragement to your day and help bring (and keep) your focus on God.  Tomorrow, we'll take this reading a step further, so be sure to check tomorrow's post.

For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. - Romans 15:4

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Thanksgiving

If you haven't been keeping up with the posts, you may want to go back and read the past three posts on "Optimizing Your Day."  Today, we're picking up with step three which is Thanksgiving.  Remember that you can continue doing your oil pulling during this time.  In fact, I recommend you do because the longer you swish, the more benefits you'll see.

I don't need to explain to you what thanksgiving is.  We all know that we should be grateful for the many blessings the Lord has bestowed upon us.  But I do want to impress upon you the importance of beginning your day with gratitude.  There will be many things during the day that will make you want to fuss, gripe, or maybe even cry.  That's just life.  But by beginning your day with a focus on your blessings, it's much easier to overlook or deal with life's frustrations.  By starting off with gratitude, we can circumvent that mindset that cries out, "Nothing good ever happens to me!"

There are so many things to be thankful for, and throughout the course of the day, we should try to thank the Lord for as many things as we can, whether it be the close parking space on a rainy day or the good report at the doctor's office.  Big things.  Little things.  We do need to pay attention to how much God is doing in our lives.

But during your morning optimization, it is important to narrow your thanks down to one thing, preferably different than the days before.  The reason for this is because it's easy for us to generalize things in our minds and actually to allow the thoughts to pass through our minds without really taking them in.  In a sense, we begin to recite a list.  "I'm thankful for my salvation and my family and my house and my church and. . ."  But as we're reciting, are we giving thanks for those things, or are we simply stating the facts because we know we should be thankful for all those things?  By narrowing it down to one thing per day, we force our minds to think about and focus on that one thing.  Why am I thankful for this?  How has it impacted my life?  How can I use this blessing to impact the lives of others?  Do you see how difficult it would be to do that with an entire list?

So, for your morning optimization, pick one thing for which you are truly grateful.  As strange as it may seem, I've found that there's usually something specific on my heart that I want to thank the Lord for.  I don't have to think about it.  It's almost like I woke up with it on my mind.  For example, this morning I woke up remembering that one of my big book promotions went well yesterday, and my book surpassed two of the top authors in the field.  That excited me when I saw the results last night, so naturally, when I awoke this morning, those happy thoughts were still with me.  So, during my thanksgiving time this morning, I praised the Lord for the high rankings on my book and for all the people who, I hope, will receive a blessing from said book.

What you choose to thank the Lord for is entirely up to you, but I think that you, too, will find that the Lord will place something on your heart.  It doesn't have to be a big thing.  In fact, it may seem very insignificant, especially to someone else, but that doesn't matter.  If it's important to you, it's important to God, so thank Him for it.  Fill your heart with gratitude for Who He is and what He's done!  And when you've done that, you can move onto the next step which we'll discuss tomorrow, Lord willing.

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. - Psalm 100:4

Monday, August 22, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Prayer

Yesterday, we discussed the importance of beginning each day with oil pulling to rid our bodies of toxins and improve our overall health.  While you're doing the oil pulling, you can move on to step two, which is prayer.  (Obviously, you'll be praying silently because it would be difficult to do otherwise while swishing coconut oil around in your mouth.)

Let me say first off that this is not your primary daily prayer time.  You can take care of that whenever it suits your schedule, but this is just a few quiet minutes alone with God.  Remember the entire Optimize Your Day program should take no more than thirty minutes, so don't feel you need to cram all your prayer requests into this small time frame.  That's not what this is about.  It's not about asking for things.  It's all about starting your day in the arms of the Savior.

Obviously, this is a personal time between you and God, so I won't presume to tell you what you should say.  That's completely up to you.  I will say that I typically use this time to dedicate myself and my day to the Lord.  I thank Him for a good night's sleep and for another day to serve Him.  Then I ask Him to use me in a mighty way throughout the day.  The words and the message change a little from day to day, depending on my mood and the current state of my heart, but for the most part, this is just time for me to remember why I'm here and who I serve.  Getting that straight in my head and heart before I begin the day is vital to my physical, spiritual and emotional health.

Just as with the words, the posture you use during this process is entirely up to you.  You can kneel on the floor, sit in a chair, or recline on the couch.  You do what feels right and what you feel the Lord would have you to do. The most important thing at this time is to rid your mind of all distractions and focus solely on Jesus.  This is His time!

Here's my favorite part of this entire program.  Let's say that you were planning to pray while fixing breakfast, but your five-year-old lost her shoe, the one she had to wear to school that day, and you spent the morning searching for said shoe, leaving you with no option but to hand each of the kids a Pop-tart as you headed out the door.  No problem, you think, I'll just use my lunch break to catch up on my prayer time.  But your boss has another idea, and you spend your lunch break in a business meeting.  The day goes on and every opportunity to grab some quiet time with the Lord backfires in some way.  By the end of the day, you finally have some time, but you're exhausted in every way possible.  Doesn't it make you feel good to know that you've already spent time with the Lord?  Sure, you wanted to do more.  I get that.  But at least the day didn't rob you of every opportunity.  By making this your priority of the day, nothing else could steal it away.

Because of this, I recommend getting up about 30 minutes earlier than the rest of your household if possible.  That way you can have this time all to yourself.  No distractions!

Prayer is a powerful thing, and ideally, we'll get to spend more than a few minutes in prayer each day.  But, at the very least, begin your day by talking to the Lord.  He deserves our time and attention more than anyone else, so it's only fitting that He gets our attention first.  That way, too, He gets our best and not what's left after a hard, frustrating day.

My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up. - Psalm 5:3

Friday, August 19, 2016

Optimize Your Day: Oil Pulling

If you missed the introductory post to my new series, Optimize Your Day, then you’ll want to go back and read it here. Today we’re going to discuss the first step in optimizing our day, and it’s the one that will probably make the least sense to you at first. After all, the entire purpose of optimizing our day is to begin the day with the Lord, so how does oil pulling fit in with that. For that matter, what in the world is oil pulling?

Simply put, oil pulling is the process of placing about a tablespoon of unrefined organic oil (I use coconut oil) in your mouth and swishing it around for 15-20 minutes first thing in the morning. I know it sounds weird, but you wouldn’t believe the benefits that come from this simple morning practice. Allow me to name just a few: improved oral health (including the reduction of plaque and cavities), better breath, the elimination of toxins from the body, reduced headaches and body aches, clearer skin, improved blood pressure, and the list goes on. All of that is possible just from swishing a bit of oil around in your mouth, making sure to keep the oil moving and even pulling it through your teeth.

Before I tell you what this has to do with starting your day off with the Lord, let me explain a couple of things about oil pulling. First off, this should be the first thing you do in the morning. Don’t get a drink of water. Don’t brush your teeth. Don’t put anything else in your mouth until you’ve done your oil pulling. The reason behind this is that oil pulling is a detox. In other words, you’re pulling toxins out of the body, so naturally, you’ll want to get rid of as many toxins as possible before loading the body down with food and drink. Also, you want to be careful not to swallow the oil because you don’t want to ingest the very toxins you’re trying to get rid of. Lastly, when it’s time to spit out the oil, always use a trashcan instead of a sink. As the oil hardens, it can cause serious issues with your plumbing.

Now, let me explain how this impacts our morning and ultimately draws us closer to the Lord. It’s quite simple. The better we feel, the more likely we are to spend time with and serve God. It’s easier to do things for God when we feel good, and oil pulling is a vital—yet simple—step toward reclaiming our health. In just a few minutes each morning, we can rid our bodies of toxins that are slowing us down and wreaking havoc on our health. By eliminating or reducing these health issues, we free up more time and energy to spend doing the Lord’s work. That’s why this is the first step in optimizing your day. That and because you’ll find that you can do almost all of the other steps while you’re swishing that oil in your mouth.

When I first started oil pulling, I didn’t enjoy it. Sticking a tablespoon of oil in my mouth first thing in the morning nearly made me gag, and the process of swishing that stuff for nearly 20 minutes made my jaws hurt. So, I worked and tweaked and finally found a system that works perfect for me, and I’d like to share it with you. For starters, work your way into it. You don’t have to start with an entire tablespoon on your first day. Neither do you have to swish it for 20 minutes on your first time. Start small and work your way up. Maybe try one teaspoon for 5 minutes and build up from there.

The part that helped me the most was making the entire process simpler and less messy. So, I purchased a small paint palette (it cost $1, I think) and made little coconut oil discs. You can do a similar thing with candy molds, just make sure the pieces won’t be too big, especially when you’re just starting. Anyway, the process goes like this: (1) Melt a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a pan. (2) Pour the melted oil into the molds. (3) Place in the refrigerator until they harden. (4) Place the discs in a small jar with a lid, and put the jar in the refrigerator. (5) Repeat the process until you’ve used up the oil that you started with or until your jar is full. If you’re an essential oil fan, or you feel that plain coconut oil would be boring, you can always add a drop of your favorite essential oil to the mix before creating your molds. Peppermint, spearmint, orange, and cinnamon are popular oils for this purpose, and each has its own health benefits.

If you choose to use the molding procedure, then your morning optimization would start like this. Rise from bed. Go to the bathroom (I’m sure I’m not the only one, right?). Head to the kitchen and grab one, two or even three (depending on the size and your preference) of your oil pulling discs and pop them in your mouth. Chew up the discs, remembering not to swallow, then proceed to swish the oil around in your mouth while you find a quiet place to complete the next steps in Optimize Your Day. At the appointed time (after at least 5 minutes), spit the oil into a trash can and brush your teeth. Then continue with your optimization. That’s it!

I know it may sound a bit wacky, and you may not think that it could affect your day one way or another, but I’m telling you, it makes a big difference. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll also find joy in knowing that you’re doing something to care for your temple. And that, my friend, is an excellent way to begin your day!

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Optimize Your Day -- Introduction

Today I want to start a short series based on something that I've been pondering and working on for a couple of weeks now.  It all began when I heard about a book called The Miracle Morning.  The story was that this book contained a morning routine that was guaranteed to make you feel better, accomplish more and overall have a happier and more productive day EVERY day.  I'll admit.  I was intrigued.  There aren't many mornings that I'm jumping out of bed eager to begin the day.  Typically, I'm crawling out of bed, whining about my aches and pains and my mile-long to-do list.

Anyway, I went on Amazon, found the book and started reading.  I was excited to begin each day with my new secret weapon until I found out that this morning routine didn't fit my lifestyle or beliefs.  While the concept is fine, it's too "new age" for me.  It's all about affirmations and visualizations, and while I'll admit that these things have their place and have proven useful, it's all about me.  Everything in the morning routine focused on being self-sufficient and making your own way in life.  That goes against everything I believe.  I'm not self-sufficient.  I need God.  I don't make my own way; I follow where the Lord guides me.  So while I appreciated the thoughts and reasoning behind the system, I simply couldn't follow it.

As I talked with Jason about this, he started brainstorming.  (He's a man, which means he's a natural problem-solver.)  And, in this case, I'm glad he stuck with his natural problem-solving tendencies because he helped me develop my own morning routine that was based on principles that I could stand behind.  The best part is that I've been practicing it, and I love it.  It really does help me to get my mornings off on the right foot and with the proper mindset.  And for the next several posts, I want to share it with you in detail.

I call it "Optimize Your Day," and the steps to follow each morning are taken from the letters of the word "optimize."  But before I tell you what each letter stands for, let me explain the purpose behind this practice.  The reasoning here is not to add one more thing to your to-do list.  It's not to make your morning more hectic or your time more crunched.  In fact, if you'll follow it, I think you'll find that it does the exact opposite of all those things.  But the best part is that it allows us to get our focus on God first thing in the morning, every morning.  And let me tell you, starting your day with God is the best thing you can do.  Christian author and speaker, Sheila Walsh put it like this, I realized that if the first thing I pay attention to is what’s happening in our world, those images and words impact my view of the rest of the day. But if the Word of God is the first thing I give my heart and mind to, I see everything as under the control of my all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving heavenly Father.  Pretty awesome, right?

I also want to point out that this is not a long, drawn-out process.  The entire routine shouldn't take any longer than 30 minutes, and depending on your needs and schedule, it could take even less.  The point is to spend a few minutes on each step of the routine.  Do them all, and do them in order because they build upon one another.  Some of them will make sense to you right away while others will take some explaining.  Some will reap immediate results while others may take some time to see the fruit.  The key is consistency.  Ready?

Oil pulling
Zero in

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I'll explain each of these in detail as well as the benefits of each one.  I hope, like me, that you'll find that the routine works great to get your morning started right and to help get your mind focused on God and all that He's done.  What I love about "Optimize Your Day" is that you do it first thing in the morning before anything else (yes, even coffee).  But because it's the first thing you do, it gets done.  No matter what other chaos and curveballs the day may throw at you, you've already accomplished the most important aspect--tending to your spiritual man.  On top of that, by the time you have your coffee or head off to work, you already feel like you've accomplished a lot even though the day has just begun.  That alone will put a smile on your face.

Seriously, though, I am excited about this new program, and I hope you are too.  I'll tell you more tomorrow, and as always, if you have questions, feel free to contact me.  I'd love to chat with you!

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee. - Isaiah 143:8

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Defining Forgiveness

What is forgiveness?  When we say, "I forgive you," what do we truly mean?  I won't hold it against you?  I'll erase it from my memory?  I understand why you did what you did?  I acknowledge that your good still outweighs your bad?  What is forgiveness all about?

For the longest time, I thought forgiveness was a combination of all the things above.  I was under the impression that to forgive someone meant that I didn't hold the deed against that person and that I removed the instance from my memory.  The problem with my definition, however, was that I felt I was constantly failing in the area of forgiveness.  Allow me to explain.

Several years ago, I was hurt very badly by someone who claimed to be my friend.  This person outright lied about me, and her lie resulted in serious trouble for me with my boss.  After that event, things were never the same with that person, my boss or even my job.  Since that time, I have made every effort to "forgive" her for what she did.  The problem is that every time I see that person or even think about her, I can't help but think of what she did to me and how much her betrayal hurt me.  Since the memory and negative feelings always returned, I assumed I just hadn't forgiven the person, and obviously my failure to forgive was a bad thing.

But recently, I heard forgiveness described in a way like I'd never heard it described before.  Finally, it made sense.  Finally, I no longer felt incapable of offering forgiveness.  To sum it up, to forgive can be defined in three words:  let it go.  That doesn't mean we won't remember.  We will.  It doesn't mean the wrongdoing won't still hurt.  It will.  What it means is that every time that wrongdoing surfaces in our minds, we make a choice to let it go.  Acknowledge it, and then put it away.  Forgiveness means that we don't let it fester until it causes bitterness in our hearts.  It means that we don't allow the wrongdoing to affect the way we show the love of Christ to others. . .including the wrongdoer.  It's the simple (albeit not easy) process of letting it go.  It's over.  It's done with.  There's nothing about the event that can be changed.  What can be changed, however, is how we allow the event to dictate our future.

Have you been hurt?  I think we all have.  Is there someone that stirs up memories of disappointment and anger in your heart?  If so, know this -- forgiveness is available to all.  Don't let the actions of another rob you of peace and joy.  Acknowledge the fault, but then let it go.  The other person may not notice a difference, but I guarantee that you will.  We all need forgiveness from time to time, but let's not forget that we also need to forgive.

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. - Ephesians 4:31-32

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Unexpected Miracle

As I'm sure all of you know by now, I've been working hard on the launch of my newest book, He's Still Working Miracles:  Daring To Ask God for the Impossible.  What you may not know is why this particular launch was such a big deal to me.  After all, I already have 15 published books on Amazon, so what's one more, right?

First off, this book has been in the works for years.  I wrote it a few years back, but God didn't give me peace about self-publishing it.  So, instead, I sent it out to traditional publishers and waited and waited and waited.  One by one, they rejected the book or just never responded at all, despite my follow-up emails.  I was growing despondent, but still, the Lord wouldn't give me peace about self-publishing.

A few months ago, I received an invitation to join a particular writing class that would teach me how to gain more readers, make more money and ultimately, get my message into the hands of more people. I've seen courses like this before, but there was something different about this one, and I felt strongly pulled toward it.  The problem was that it was very expensive, and no matter how much I wanted it, I simply couldn't afford it.

Out of the blue, I received a VERY generous donation that was enough to pay for the course and then some.  Unfortunately, the time for enrollment of the class had passed.  I had missed it by one day.  But then, I received an email saying that there had been some technical difficulties with the signup form on the last day of enrollment, and several people tried to sign up but couldn't.  To make it fair, the company had corrected the technical issues and extended the registration one more day. I prayed about it, felt the Lord urging me forward, and enrolled in the class.

As I prayed about which book the Lord would have me to work on throughout this course, I finally felt like I had the green light to self-publish this new book.  I can't tell you how excited I was!  As I went through the course, step by step, I followed each direction exactly.  I reworked the material, the title, the description, and even my author bio.  I had an awesome cover created.  The more I worked and learned, the more excited I became.  The Lord opened door after door, and I felt I was finally going to get my big break.  I was certain this was the book that was finally going to have people taking me seriously as an author.  In other words, I had a lot of hopes and dreams riding on this book launch.

And then everything fell apart!  Due to technical issues, Amazon couldn't get the book cover (the awesome one that I had spent money on and was really excited about) to show up on my book page on their site.  This is one of the absolute worst things that could happen to a book because people do judge a book by its cover.  No cover; no purchase.  Because of this glitch, only 5 of the 30+ promotions I set up (which took days) went through because the "listing was incomplete."  In other words, when they gathered information from Amazon and saw that there was no book cover, they decided it was not in their best interest to feature my book.  I don't blame them!  My 3-day launch came and went, and still Amazon couldn't correct the problem.  And despite the fact that I was giving the book away for free during those three days, I still had fewer than 500 downloads.  (I know that may sound like a lot, but a typical launch day promotion averages at least that many downloads per day. You do the math.)

Obviously, the entire ordeal left me feeling stressed, overwhelmed and honestly confused.  I felt I was in the Lord's will.  I was sure I had the green light throughout the whole process.  And not only that, but from my perspective, the entire affair made God look bad, and I told Him so.  "Don't you see how bad this makes you look, God?  The idea behind this book is that you still do the impossible, but you can't even get my book cover to show up.  What does that say about You?  How are people going to take me -- or you, for that matter -- seriously when a simple concept like a book cover seems beyond your grasp.  I don't get it, Lord.  The way I see it, this reflects worse on You than it does on me."

Please understand that I was not trying to be disrespectful.  I was speaking the truth from my broken heart.  This was no different than the speech Moses gave to God when He wanted to destroy the people and start over again.  "Don't do it, God.  It will make you look bad."

But God allowed the entire launch to go by and still didn't correct the problem.  Some miracle, huh?  Actually, it was, and that's what I wanted to get to this morning.  I know this post has been a little long, but bear with me.  God did work a miracle through this trial.  I just had to open my eyes to see it because it wasn't the miracle I was looking for.

For a book with no book cover to get nearly 500 downloads is miraculous.  People don't typically buy what they can't see.  So that, in itself, is a miracle.  Not only that, but my coverless book reached #1 in one category on Kindle free books and #3 in another category.  That is simply unheard of!  The book ranked #738 in all of the Kindle free store (just for a point of reference, anything under #1,000 here is considered a HUGE success).  Now, in the paid store, my book is ranking #5 and #9 in two categories on Kindle New Releases. (That's just 4 books down from Joel Osteen's new book.) Do you see what I'm getting at?  God didn't give me the miracle I wanted, and it's possible that the overall results of the launch could have been better had my book cover been visible and all of my promotions gone through as scheduled.  But, He did prove Himself by making the launch a success despite the MAJOR setback.  To do well on a book launch when everything goes as planned is nice, but it's also expected.  On the other hand, to do well on a book launch when everything falls apart, that's God's doing.  That's simply the only way it can be explained.

Perhaps, you are also waiting for a miracle, and it seems like your pleas to God are falling on deaf ears.  Don't despair, my friend.  God has a miracle for you too though it may not be the one you're expecting.  But when it does happen, you'll have no choice but to examine the situation, smile, and say, "Yep, that was God!"

By the way, now that the free promotion is over, the book cover is showing up on Amazon.  Seriously?

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it. - Isaiah 55:8-11

Friday, August 12, 2016

Who Invited You? -- A Repost

Evidently I'm hosting a bug block party this summer.  I don't remember deciding to throw such a bash.  I can't recall sending out invitations.  But evidently, I did.  Either that, or we have the rudest insects in the world.  They've decided to move in, and there's no deterring them.  I've tried traps and sprays, but the pesky critters are determined to creep and crawl their way through my old house.  The worst ones are the ants.

I read that the best way to rid your house of ants is to follow them back to their nest and destroy the nest itself.  My first question was, "Which trail of ants do I follow?  The ones coming in through the cracks in the kitchen, the ones seeping through the crevices in the laundry room or the ones that have made their way onto Jason's desk in the foyer?"  These are opposite ends of the house, so obviously there is more than one nest.

I decided to start with the ones in the kitchen.  I followed the line of critters this way and that, cocking my head at very unusual angles, until I discovered they were entering and exiting from under the window sill above the sink.  I taped off the area, and for a couple of days, the ants were gone.  But then, they discovered a new crack through which they could enter, so I taped it up.  For two weeks now, I've been taping up holes, cracks and crevices, but each time I do, those pesky critters just find another area through which to invade.  They're driving me crazy, but at the same time, I admire their persistence.  They refuse to give in.  When the way is blocked, they just keep on marching until they find another route.  Tenacious little buggers!

I was reminded of my ant problem the other morning as I was reading my devotions.  I came upon this quote from Dr. Charles Stanley:  "What you choose to think about--or allow yourself to think about--gets you into trouble far more than your emotions."  Oh, wow!  He's right, and that quote hit home.  Those of you who have known me for any length of time can attest that I am a highly emotional person.  I am tenderhearted and prone to occasional outbursts of tears during a sappy commercial.  And I can assure you that my emotions have caused me a lot of grief over the years, or at least, I thought they had.

Reading that quote in the midst of my ant battle helped me to see the situation from a totally different perspective.  I can kill ants all day long (and believe me, I have), but until I trace them back to the source of the problem, more and more ants will continue to surface.  My emotional state is the same way.  I can try to control my emotions day and night, but until I trace them back to their source, I'm fighting a losing battle.  And the source is my thought life.  When my mind dwells on negative things, I find myself in a negative mood.  When I grumble and complain, I feel angry and bitter.  Coincidence?  Not according to the Bible.  Proverbs 23:7 tells us, For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. You think it; you feel and act it.  

The great philosopher, RenĂ© Descartes, made the famous statement, "I think, therefore I am."  Maybe he had something entirely different in mind when he said it, but it measures up with what the Bible says.  I think negatively, therefore I am negative.  I think selfishly, therefore I am selfish.  I think angry thoughts, therefore I am angry.  I think, therefore I am.  I'm moody, therefore I have a problem with my thoughts.  It's not the emotions that are the problem; it's the thoughts that lead to those emotions, just like the ants.  Destroy the source, and you destroy the problems that result from that source.

What a relief!  I've been working so hard (without success, mind you) to control my emotions, when all along I should have been paying attention to what I allowed my mind to dwell on.  Garbage in, garbage out.  That doesn't work for me.  I can control what I think and, in turn, how I feel.  It won't be easy.  It won't be a quick fix.  It will require the persistence of the ants in my kitchen, but it can be done.  And fortunately, I don't have to do it alone!

Now, if you'll excuse me.  I have a line of ants to chase.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. - Philippians 4:8

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Searching for Peace and Strength?

Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee. Trust ye in the Lord for ever: for in the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength: - Isaiah 26:3-4

Did you know that Caleb is irrefutable proof of this verse?  You remember Caleb, right?  When God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt, He commanded them to go in and take the land.  But when Moses sent out twelve spies to scout the land, ten of them reported that there was no way they could conquer the enemies of the territory.  Two of them, on the other hand, stated that the enemy was great but that God was greater.  Those two were Joshua and Caleb.  I'm sure you know the rest of the story.  The majority won out, and the Israelites, missing their chance to enter into their Promised Land, were forced to wander in the wilderness for over forty years.

If I were Joshua or Caleb, I would have been steamed.  They believed God.  They took Him at His word, yet because of the unbelief of others, they suffered right along with everyone else. . . except they didn't, not really.  First off, all of the other people died off at some point in the wilderness, and it was actually their children that finally inherited the land.  Second, as we'll see from Caleb's lips in a second, he and Joshua were as fit in their old age as they had been in their youth.  They may not have been spared the forty years of wandering, but God didn't fail to reward their faith.

Now, what does all of this have to do with Isaiah 26:3-4?  To answer that question, I want to share with you a quote from Caleb at the time of claiming his inheritance after the forty-five years of wandering.  It's quite a speech, so pay close attention.

Then the children of Judah came unto Joshua in Gilgal: and Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite said unto him, Thou knowest the thing that the Lord said unto Moses the man of God concerning me and thee in Kadeshbarnea. Forty years old was I when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadeshbarnea to espy out the land; and I brought him word again as it was in mine heart. Nevertheless my brethren that went up with me made the heart of the people melt: but I wholly followed the Lord my God. And Moses sware on that day, saying, Surely the land whereon thy feet have trodden shall be thine inheritance, and thy children's for ever, because thou hast wholly followed the Lord my God. And now, behold, the Lord hath kept me alive, as he said, these forty and five years, even since the Lord spake this word unto Moses, while the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness: and now, lo, I am this day fourscore and five years old. As yet I am as strong this day as I was in the day that Moses sent me: as my strength was then, even so is my strength now, for war, both to go out, and to come in. Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the Lord spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the Lord said. - Joshua 14:6-12

Did you catch how many times Caleb mentioned the Lord?  I counted nine.  Nine times in that one paragraph.  It would seem to me that Caleb's mind was stayed on the Lord as it talks about in Isaiah.  And he certainly trusted the Lord, right?  So, he was at peace.  During those forty-five years of wandering, Caleb was at peace because He trusted God and knew that God was in control.  But, if you notice, the fourth verse in Isaiah goes on to talk about everlasting strength in the Lord.  Caleb exhibited that as well.  He proclaimed with his own mouth that he was as strong at 85 as he was at 40. He was ready for battle.  He was fit for war.  He was like a young man.  Everlasting strength?  Sounds like it to me.

I don't know about you, but I sure could use some peace and strength today.  My mind is abuzz with decisions, problems, activities and much more.  My body is weary from the daily stresses.  Even my spirit is tired.  Peace sounds wonderful!  Strength would be great!  So, how do we obtain those things?  We follow Caleb's example--we keep our minds on God and trust in Him.  No matter what problems or circumstances surround us, we can rest in the knowledge that God has everything under control.  We may feel like we're lost in the wilderness, but God knows exactly where we are.  He delivered the children of Israel, and He'll deliver us too.  Trust Him!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Scientific Explanations for Miracles?

I've been watching a show on Netflix about mysteries in the Bible.  I knew when I first clicked on it that it would be controversial and would probably make me mad; nevertheless, I was interested in what they had to say.  One thing that I do like about the show is that their "experts" are both Christian and non-Christian, so to a degree, the show covers both sides of any given topic.

What amazes me, however, is the lengths that these people go to in order to dispute the Bible or explain away the miracles.  For example, one "expert" claims that the power contained within the ark of the covenant that struck down Aaron's sons and Uzzah was nothing more than static electricity that had built up as the wool covering rubbed against the side of the ark.  Seriously?  Oh, and get this one.  The parting of the Red Sea, they claim, was probably a result of a tsunami that created a gully long enough for the children of Israel to pass through then the water crashed down upon the Egyptians.  Are you for real?  Also, according to some of these "experts," the ten plagues of Egypt can logically be linked together, including the death of the firstborn which, they claim, was probably the result of disease from the food.  Okay, whatever!

The crazy part was that all of these theories that they claimed as facts had serious problems, the main one being the timing of each event.  I mean, what are the chances that the ark would create static electricity at just the right time to punish Aaron's sons and Uzzah for their disobedience?  And how convenient that the tsunami at the Red Sea timed out perfectly that all of Israel was able to cross and all of the Egyptian army was destroyed.  As for the death of the firstborn, their only proof as to why the spoiled food caused those deaths and not others (including those of Israel) was that the Egyptians gave their firstborn children a double portion of food; therefore, they were poisoned faster.  Sure, and that's not stretching it a bit at all, now is it?  (Note the sarcasm!)

The fact is that these events were miracles, and miracles cannot be explained away.  Science cannot identify how or why a miracle happened like it did when it did.  God works beyond the limits of science, or at least our understanding of it.  And no matter how hard man tries to explain away the miracles of God, the fact remains that God is almighty and can do things that are inconceivable to the minds of men.  There are no explanations.  After all, God doesn't ask us to trust in His explanations; He asks us to trust in Him.  He doesn't have to explain Himself or His actions, and when men try to explain the miracles away, they only show how ignorant they truly are.

There are things in this world that we simply cannot understand, but that's okay.  We don't have to understand; God does.  All we need to do is trust that His Word, and everything contained within, is true.  As for science, well, it's a good thing, and it has helped us to understand many things in this world.  However, science never has and never will be able to explain God.  He is indescribable and unexplainable.  But He is my God, and I choose to trust Him.  How about you?

For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?  Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen. - Romans 11:34-36

***If you enjoy reading about the miracles of the Bible and the lessons we can glean from them and apply to our lives today, then you'll love my new book, He's Still Working Miracles:  Daring To Ask God for the Impossible.  Grab a free Kindle copy from 8/9/16 until 8/11/16.***

Monday, August 8, 2016

Let God Do His Job

I have a confession to make:  I'm stressed!  I know you find that hard to believe since I'm usually such a calm soul (I'd better stop lying, huh?).  Seriously, the past few weeks have tapped into every amount of calm I have and exceeded it by leaps and bounds.  Between my grandmother's illness and then passing, my husband's work schedule which is CRAZY this time of year, and getting ready for a massive book launch next week, I'm not sure if I'm coming or going.  I'm tired.  I'm frustrated at the things that are taking longer than they should and proving to be more difficult than I imagined.  In a word, stressed!

But leave it to God to give me strength and comfort when I need it the most.  In my Bible reading yesterday, I came across Isaiah 43:13.  At first, I read through it--I'm sorry to say--only half paying attention.  But when I reached the last phrase, I sat upright.  What was that?  What did you say, God? So I read it again and again and again.  And then I smiled, snuggled back into the couch and breathed my first deep breath in days.  I bet you're wondering what the verse said, aren't you?  Good because I had every intention of telling you.

Yea, before the day was I am he; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand: I will work, and who shall let it? - Isaiah 43:13

First off, God reminds us that before there was even time, He existed, which means that He created time.  Day, night, the heavens, the earth, and all that's in them.  He created it all with only the power of His words.

Then He goes on to say that no one can take anything from His hand.  To me, that's an assurance of my salvation.  No matter what else I may lose in this life, no one can pluck me out of my Father's hands.  I'm saved, and nothing I do (or that anyone else does) will change that.  That's enough right there to brighten your day, but believe it or not, it was the next part that got me.

I will work, and who shall let it?  The word "let" here means "hinder."  So, God is saying, "I'm working, and who's going to stop me?"  Whoa!!!!  Is my frantic worry over this book launch going to change the work that God is doing (and going to do) through the book?  Nope.  Are my stress and frenzied activity going to make one bit of difference in God's plan for me, my life and my ministry?  Again, no.  I can be tired, frustrated and anxious, or I can choose to be at peace.  The results of God's work will be the same, only my state of health and mind will be at stake.  My stress is only hurting me, not God's plan.

"But what about all the things that are going wrong?  How can I help but be stressed in the midst of such situations?"  That's what some of you are thinking, right?  (Go ahead and admit it.  I was thinking it too after I allowed the message of the verse to sink in.)  To answer your questions, I take you back to the beginning of the verse.  We're talking about the God who spoke and everything popped into existence.  The God who created something out of nothing.  The God whose plan was so detailed and full of variety that we now live in a world of wonders.  What are our problems to Him?  The God who brought down a giant with a stone, the walls of Jericho with a shout, and the barrier between Himself and man with His own Son.  Is there anything He can't handle?  Are our problems a surprise to Him?

Think about it, not only can my stress and worry not hinder God's plan, but neither can the problems in my life hinder His work.  God is working, and nothing can stop it.  So, we might as well calm our nerves and dust off our hymnbooks of praise.  God is saying, "You do what I've asked you to do, then leave the rest to me.  I'll take care of it, and when I say I'll take care of it, I mean it."

Now, everyone, join me in a nice deep breath.  God's got this. No matter what we're facing today, He is working, and nothing will hinder that work.  Trust in His plan.  Trust His heart.  And don't fret about it.  It's really not worth it!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Rolling Through Life on Two Flat Tires

Some days are just rough days.  We're trying to go about our business and do the Lord's will.  Despite our fatigue and frustration, we're doing our best to remain positive and upbeat.  But sometimes, it just doesn't work out so well for us.  Such was the case for my poor, sweet hubby on Monday.

After our long weekend trip, he started back to work bright and early Monday morning.  His day included several errands, a lot of driving, and mechanical work on the new carpet-cleaning van the company he works for is assembling.  Unfortunately, only some of that work got accomplished because as he was making his way toward one of the errands, the tire on his work trailer blew out.

Frustrated and not having the proper tools to change the tire, he made several phone calls to track down someone who could take him the necessary tools.  After replacing the blown tire with the spare, he climbed back into the vehicle and started up the road again.  Would you believe he had gone only another mile or two when the tire on the other side blew out?  I mean, seriously!

At this point, he had no other spare tire. (Most people don't carry around two because what is the likelihood that you would need two at the same time?)  Fortunately, he was near a junkyard that had tires for sale.  After much back and forth getting the "new" tire on, Jason jumped in the vehicle and did what he could to salvage the day, but it wasn't easy.

Do you ever have days where you feel like you're driving through life on two flat tires?  Everything you attempt blows up in your face.  Nothing works as it should.  Everything takes far longer than it's supposed to.  You're giving it all you have, but nothing seems to want to cooperate with your efforts.  I don't know about you, but days like that make me want to crawl back in bed, pull the covers over my head, and say, "Well, I tried, but I guess it isn't meant to be.  I'll try again tomorrow."

Difficult days!  We all have them, and we all need to find a way, like Jason, to get through them.  How do we salvage days that start off bad and keep getting worse?  Better yet, how do we recover our attitudes in the midst of such days?  The answer is blindingly simple though I admit that it isn't always easy.  We pray.  That's it?  Yes, that's it.  (I told you it sounded simple.)

In the midst of frustrating, aggravating circumstances, our flesh likes to take over, so it's imperative that we stay in touch with God.  We need to seek His face, His care, and His counsel.  We should ask for grace and strength to make the most of the day despite the struggles we've had thus far.  And I know this may sound a bit disrespectful, but we can even voice our anger and frustrations--not at God, but to God.  He can take it.  In fact, He's the only one who can listen to us vent out our anger and not become offended.  And just getting it all out in the open will help us feel so much better, as long as we don't dwell on the problem longer than we dwell on the Solution.

Having a bad day?  I understand.  Feel like going back to bed and trying again tomorrow?  Oh, yeah, I hear you.  But I urge you, before you give up on the day, try giving it to God.  Plead for His grace and strength.  Seek comfort in His warm embrace.  Spend some time with the One who cares and the One who can brighten any day, no matter how dark!

Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually. - I Chronicles 16:11

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Boldly Go Where Many Have Gone Before

Again Esther spake unto Hatach, and gave him commandment unto Mordecai; All the king's servants, and the people of the king's provinces, do know, that whosoever, whether man or women, shall come unto the king into the inner court, who is not called, there is one law of his to put him to death, except such to whom the king shall hold out the golden sceptre, that he may live: but I have not been called to come in unto the king these thirty days. - Esther 4:10-11

Queen Esther was in a predicament, to be sure.  Her people were being gathered together for slaughter like animals.  They needed her help.  Surely as the queen, she could convince King Ahaseurus to stop the assault on the Jews.  But there was a law that nearly prevented her from doing that very thing.  The law stated that no one (not even the queen) could come into the king's presence without permission.  In other words, if you weren't summoned, you didn't go for fear of death.

Esther knew she couldn't help her people if she died, but what good would it do the Jews for her to sit back and watch what was happening.  She had to act.  So, she took up her courage, and with much prayer, she entered into the king's presence.  Fortunately, the king allowed her intrusion, and not only was Esther's life spared but that of her people as well.

As I read through this account again yesterday, I was struck by a comforting thought--I'm always welcome in the presence of my King, and so are you!  We do not have to obtain special permission to seek His face or His help.  On the contrary, we are invited to come boldly, to enter into His presence, not with fear and trepidation, but with praise and thanksgiving.

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. - Hebrews 4:16

Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and bless his name. - Psalm 100:4

I don't know about you, but this blesses my soul.  Whatever I need.  Whenever I need it.  If I have a desire, or if I simply want to chat.  The King is always available to me.  He is never too busy.  He doesn't consider Himself too important to be bothered by my petty problems.  No, if it's important to me, it's important to Him.  He wants to help.  He longs to talk and to listen.  And, as difficult as it is to grasp, He wants to simply be near me.  Wow!

Perhaps you have a need today, but you're afraid to bring it before the Lord because you've already asked for so much.  Or maybe you're feeling alone today, and you long for someone to talk to.  Perhaps you're feeling overwhelmed, and you simply need to hear that reassuring still, small voice.  Whatever the need, whatever the reason, you are invited to go boldly into the presence of the Lord.  Not with arrogance or a cocky attitude, but with confidence, knowing that you are always welcome in His presence.  He wants to visit with you, so what are you waiting for?


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Are We There Yet?

When it comes to long road trips, I'm worse than any child.  "I'm hungry."  "I have to go to the bathroom."  And, of course, "Are we there yet?"  I can read the road signs.  I recognize the landmarks.  I know that the 600-mile journey still has a long way to go, but I can't keep my groans and complaints at bay.  I want to be there!  I want to reach my destination.  And, oh, how I long to get out of the car!  Fortunately, God has blessed my dear husband, Jason, with extreme patience.

Our spiritual journey can be equally tiring and frustrating.  We understand that there's joy in the journey, but at the same time, we long to reach our destination.  We grow weary of the miles.  We become uncomfortable and achy.  And we often find ourselves looking up to Heaven and crying, "Are we there yet?"

Not yet, but soon, dear friends.  Yes, I honestly believe that the Lord is coming back VERY soon to gather His children, and in that glorious moment, our journey will be over yet really just beginning.  No more fatigue.  No more worn and frail bodies.  No more wounded spirits.  No more trials and heartaches.  Just peace and joy forevermore.  Now that's a destination!

As we neared the end of our drive home on Monday, we passed by a mileage sign on the Interstate, and I said, "That's such a beautiful sign."  Jason looked at me as if I had lost my mind and asked, "What sign?"  I smiled.  "The one that said that Greenville is less than 30 miles away."  The sign was plain and actually quite boring, but the message it conveyed to me was wonderful--I was almost home!

As we watch the news and see the turmoil of the world around us, let us view it as signs of the times. The Bible tells us that in the last days, perilous times will come.  Well, we're certainly living in perilous times, so you know what that means--we're almost home.  I know things look dark and gloomy, but in this, we can take comfort.  The journey's end is drawing nigh, and the destination to come is more than we can possibly imagine.

I pray you're ready for the trip!

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. - Titus 2:11-14