Saturday, January 19, 2019

Thinning the Melons in My Life

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward
selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless
things; preserve my life according
to your word.”
Psalm 119:36-37 (NIV)

Years ago I helped my father-in-law plant watermelons…acres of watermelons. Five seeds to a hill . . . hill after hill after hill. Our backs were sore from bending and our hands had blisters from hoeing but before we knew it, tiny plants were shooting up in the mounds of warm soil.  Each stem was dark green and healthy and I envisioned watermelons by the thousands, ready to be picked and eaten!

However, my father-in-law made an odd request: “You need to go to each hill and thin it down to just two plants. Pick out the two strongest looking plants and pull up the other ones.” I was dumbfounded! Pull up those healthy plants?

The more plants you have, I reasoned, the more watermelons you will harvest. I just couldn’t do it. I made the decision to pull up only one plant from each hill. I worked long and hard until I looked up and saw my father-in-law watching me with a “She needs a lesson on watermelons” look on his face.

Shaking his head and smiling, he explained to me that there was a good reason to pull up all but two plants in each hill. “I know all the plants look good right now but if you leave every single one in each watermelon hill, they will crowd each other out. You will have several vines but none will be strong and healthy enough to make really good watermelons.”

He continued “They will compete for the moisture, for the sunshine. All your work will be in vain.” So, head bowed, I retraced all my steps and followed his directions exactly as he had instructed me.

In life, there are times when we have several things that “look good” competing for our attention. Maybe it’s leading music at church AND teaching a Sunday school class AND writing for the church paper AND being the head of several community organizations AND…Whew! Do you get the idea?

Those are all good things – absolutely! But we need to be careful as wives and mothers that we do not spread our energy and ourselves too thin. All those things will compete for our time and we will find that we do not do any of them well.

Even worse, those we love – our children and our husbands – will suffer from our lack of time and attention to them because our focus will be on trying to take care of ALL the "watermelon plants” in our lives. We will become pulled in so many directions that we will find ourselves unable to do any one thing well and therefore every area – every “good thing” – will suffer as a result. Do you just feel your stress level increasing with that statement? Me, too.

Can I simply ask you: what is your passion? What do you feel the Lord has planted in your heart? What idea keeps you awake praying in the middle of the night?

 That is where your focus should be. If you do not feel pulled toward one particular area, go before the Lord and ask Him to show you what He wants you to focus on in your life with your talent.

            Learn to say “no” to some good things as you are trust the Lord to show you His best direction for your life. Learn to thin the melons.

Lord, I desire more than anything to be the servant that you want me to be. Show me the things – the good things – in my life that I can give up in order to see the better things that you have for me to do for you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • Do you find yourself exhausted and drained at the end of the week because of all the activities you have been involved in the past seven days?

  • How do you respond to your family when your energy level is low because of your involvement in other things?

  • List every organization/activity that you are involved in for one month.

  • Pray about each one and then ask the Lord to show you which one(s) you should cross off the list and which one(s) you should focus on.

Power Verses
  • Psalm 119:36-37 (NIV) “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.”

  • Isaiah 40:31 (NIV) “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

  • Philippians 4:6 (NIV) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Friday, January 11, 2019

Leaving home for Home

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.
In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so,
I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a
 place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for
you, I will come back and take you to be with me
 that you also may be where I am.”
John 14: 1-3 (NIV)

It had been a year to the day since my sister had passed away from cancer. I sat in my usual church pew - south side, four rows from the back –trying to focus on the picture over the baptistery of the cross and Jesus with His arms outstretched.

            My heart ached for her loss – not just for me as her sister but for her husband, daughters and grandchildren. I could not contain the tears threatening to break through or the knot that began to swell in my throat as it had so many times those past several months after saying goodbye to Mary.

 “Help me with this heartache, Lord.” I silently begged. “I miss her so much!”  And as He often does when His children call His name, the Lord whispered to my heart this wonderful thought:

"On this day a year ago, you were preparing for Mary to die. But I was preparing for her to live! You were sadly expecting her to leave the earth but I was eagerly waiting for her to arrive in heaven."  

I could just imagine our Father shouting "Get ready! My child Mary, my precious servant, is coming soon! Be prepared for her arrival!" as angels hurried to have her mansion ready.

We see the death of loved ones as a loss and it certainly is – for us. We mourn the fact that we will not talk to them again here on earth . . . we miss smiles and laughter and hugs and their very presence with us.

But our Father views the death of His children as something entirely different. He welcomes them Home. He ushers them into His presence. He puts His arms around them and showers them with love and compassion.

Amy Grant sang it very well: “In a little while we’ll be with the Father. Can’t you see Him smile! In a little while we’ll be Home forever . . . in a while. We’re just here to learn to love Him. We’ll be Home . . . in just a little while.”

I have no doubt that, as my sister stepped into His presence, Our Father declared for all to hear: “Well done Mary, my good and faithful servant! Welcome Home!”

Father, Thank you for loving us for an eternity…for wanting us to live with you…for not only building our heavenly Home with your hands but for celebrating as you bring us into your kingdom! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • Do you ever get caught up in the everyday craziness of life here on earth?

  • Does that cause you to think more or less about our eternal Home?

  • Thank the Lord each morning for your temporary home away from Home.

  • As you give thanks, ask God to place people in your path who need to know about your eternal Home.

Power Verses
  • John 14: 1-3 (NIV) “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

  • I Corinthians 15:55 (NIV) “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

  • I Corinthians 15:51-52 (NIV) “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”

Friday, January 4, 2019

Who Has the Answer?

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

Nursing school was an amazing experience for me. No two days were ever the same. As students we rotated through different aspects of the medical profession, from pediatrics to geriatrics, from surgery to emergency rooms. All areas were important in our training to become the most competent nurses that we could be.

Early one morning we were observing a procedure and the physician was explaining through a protective mask what he was doing. I was at the back of the viewing area and could not clearly understand him so I whispered to the student beside me “What did he call that type of suture?”

Her answer did not make sense to me so I turned to another student with the same question. Her response was completely opposite from what I had just heard. I asked 3 or 4 more students and their answers were just as varied.

Shaking my head, I turned to see our nursing instructor looking directly at me. “Now that you have asked everyone else, why don’t you ask the one who knows the answer?” she gently corrected me.

And she was right. I had the expert - my instructor - in front of me and yet I tried to get my answer from everyone else.

I hate to admit it, my friends, but there are times when I do that very thing in my spiritual life. I am faced with a situation or problem and instead of going directly to the One who has every answer I instead look at other sources to help me.

Here’s the question: would I do that with anything else in my life? For example, if my father was Mario Andretti and my car started making funny noises, who would I turn to for help? Or what if my father was Bill Gates and my computer crashed? Who would I trust with my computer files?

In the same way, my Father is God and He should be my first source to find answers for everything I am facing. Yes, I know that there are great Christian resources that are an encouragement and the Holy Spirit will often nudge me to share with a Christian friend and prayer warrior. But my first thought should be one of “I need to take this to my Father.”

Today’s Scripture is a promise from the Lord. When He says “Call to me and I will answer you . . .” He is encouraging us to bring all our seemingly unsolvable problems and tough situations to Him because He will answer us.

Jeremiah must have found that promise to be true in his own life because he spent more than 40 years faithfully going before God and then sharing His truth with a world that did not want to listen or believe.

Just as I should have taken my question to my nursing instructor, I need to bring all my problems before my Father. He truly is the one who knows the answer.

Father, there is no problem too big for you. Thank You for wanting me to share everything in my life with you and thank you for your answers. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • When you are confronted with a situation that needs a solution, where do you turn first for answers?

  • Do you ever think that your problem is too big for God to handle? Why or why not?

  • Journal a situation or problem that you are facing today.

  • Beside that problem, journal three promises from the Lord in His Word that tell you He is able to handle everything that you face. Praise Him for His answers.

Power Verses
  • Jeremiah 33:3 (NIV) “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

  • Psalm 34:17 (NIV) “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.”

  • Ephesians 3:20 (NIV) “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us . . ."

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

The Falling Branches

“Those who live according to the sinful nature have
their minds set on what that nature desires;
but those who live in accordance with
the Spirit have their minds set on
what the Spirit desires.”
Romans 8:5 (NIV)

Several years ago, we had the “ice storm of all time” hit our part of the state. Schools were closed, electricity was out for about a week, and everyone in our town scrambled to find ways to heat their homes.

Had it not been for so many problems due to the storm, the sheer beauty of ice on the trees would have been breathtaking. Instead, people found themselves with damage to their yards and trees because of the weight of the ice snapping one big limb after another and forcing each one to plummet toward the ground, leaving deep scars from the impact of the fall. My yard was not exempt from that damage.

A massive oak tree on the south side of my home was my best friend in the summer because of the shade it provided. The branches were huge, the tree majestic but now, unfortunately, the damage from the ice enormous.

As I began the process of cleaning up my yard after the storm, I discovered that a very large dead limb at the top of the oak tree had given in to the weight of the ice and had crashed to the ground, taking with it three healthy limbs in its downward fall.

Isn’t that what happens when we sin? One willful wrong word or thought or action can quickly spread to hurt everyone around us. We are very foolish if we think that our wrong choices will have no consequences and that people will not be hurt or relationships ruined.

“Yes, I am having an affair,” my friend confessed to me, “but it only affects the two of us. Nobody will get hurt.” My heart broke in two. Nobody get hurt? What about your husband and his wife and all the children and the fact that you have destroyed their trust by your actions?

One dead branch – an affair – fell and it took with it several once-healthy branches of spouses and children and trust and marriages.

A former student that I was encouraging to take a different path and stop using drugs took me by the arms and said “Listen, I know you care about me. I get it. But just leave me alone and let me do my drugs. Nobody is getting hurt. I’m fine. It’s my life.”  

And with each police report in the paper with his name in bold type, his family and friends who loved him become casualties from the dead branch of drugs.

What dead limbs do we have in our lives? Maybe it’s gossip or jealousy or an anger issue or always having to be right. Whatever they may be, the dead limbs in our lives can do unbelievable damage to our family, our friends, and even to people around us that we might not know well.

But they do something else, too. They also damage our relationship with God. Our gift from the Lord – the ability to communicate with Him – is broken when we engage in behavior that does not glorify Him or reflect His will for our lives. David knew that. He wrote in Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened . . .”

David had found out the hard way that cherishing (taking pleasure in) behavior outside of the will of God results in heartache, a broken relationship with God and consequences. As the dead branch fell – lusting after Bathsheba, a married woman – it ultimately resulted in the death of David’s son.  A healthy branch, a son, taken down by a father’s dead branch choice.

I encourage you today, this very moment, to examine your life for any dead branches that are hiding in your life, threatening to come crashing down and taking healthy branches with them.

Please know that any focus outside of the will of God in your life will affect those around you and they will be hurt, or in some cases, even destroyed. And your relationship with God will be hurt as well.

Identify the dead limbs in your life and repent, as you give them to the Lord. Then kneel before Him as He removes each unhealthy branch and pulls you back into His presence.

Lord, forgive my self-centeredness and my focus on me. Forgive me for allowing sin to have a place in my life. Forgive me for thinking that I can do whatever I want without hurting those I love. Please give me strength and courage as I cut off any branches in my life that do not glorify and honor you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • What branches do you have in your life that you have been trying to hide from the Lord?

  • Think through each branch. What could be the result of holding on to these branches? Loved ones hurt? Relationships destroyed? Is the branch worth the pain it may cause?

  • Dig into the Word and ask the Lord to show you those branches in your life that do not glorify Him.

  • Make a list with the name of each branch and offer them all up to the Lord. Burn the list as your offering to God and your desire to reconnect with Him and His will for your life.

Power Verses
  • Romans 8:5 (NIV) “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

  • I Corinthians 10:31(NIV) “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

  • Psalm 66:18 (NIV) “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. . .”

Friday, December 21, 2018

Jerry's Christmas

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You
will find a baby wrapped in clothes
and lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:11-12 (NIV)

I’ll never forget that precious little boy: freckles scattered like tiny raindrops across his entire face, including his ears. Big brown eyes partially obscured by wispy blonde hair that brushed against an ever present smile minus two front teeth.

Jerry was a first grade student at the elementary school where I worked. He came from a home that was short on money but long on love. His clothes were always someone else’s property first, but he never seemed to care.

And this Christmas season was no different.

As a mother of three, I was frantically trying to balance home, husband, kids and job while I shopped endlessly for the perfect “only thing I want” gifts for my family. Somewhere in the rush of the season my focus shifted from the birth of a baby in a manger to the number of presents under our Christmas tree.

There was some success but at a price…a high price. My Christmas budget was shrinking rapidly. “Why couldn’t my children want something a little cheaper?” I kept thinking. “Why do they think they have to have every thing they see on television?”

Those questions were occupying my thoughts as I walked down the first grade hall and saw Jerry coming toward me in his winter coat that was about three sizes too large and worn tennis shoes minus the laces.

“Hey, Jerry! How are you?” “I’m good, Miss Nancy. It’s almost Christmas…Jesus’ birthday…did you know?” I couldn’t help but smile at that comment. “Yes, I have heard that. So what do you want for Christmas, Jerry?”

He quickly replied “Oh, I already know what I’m getting. It’s the same every year.”

At this point I would have expected a child making that statement to duck his head in disappointment and go on, but not Jerry.

As I bent down to hug and encourage him, Jerry put his hands on my shoulders and, with a huge smile, continued. “When I wake up on Christmas morning, there will be a BIG candy cane under my pillow!” he exclaimed as he licked his lips and rubbed his tummy in anticipation of that moment. “And then, under the tree, I will get a little Matchbox car to add to my others. I can hardly wait, Miss Nancy!”

As I hugged Jerry and sent him on to class, I could not hold back the tears of sadness – not for Jerry but for my attitude. Instead of focusing on Christ and His birth, I had gotten caught up in the world’s view that the number of gifts you have under the Christmas tree determines your happiness.

Christmas at our home would never be the same again. All because of a candy cane under a pillow, a Matchbox car under a tree…and a very thankful little boy named Jerry.

Father, thank you for the most priceless gift of love you could ever send – the gift of your Son.  May we never forget that He went from a manger to the cross for us.  In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • Do you find yourself focused more on gifts than the Giver of Life at Christmas?

  • Have you talked with your children about the Ultimate Gift that Jesus gave each of us?

  • Sit down with your children and help them write on slips of paper the gifts that they can give Jesus this Christmas, like trusting Him, being obedient, and sharing Him with friends.

  • Have them wrap each of their gifts for Jesus in a box and offer each one to Him on Christmas morning in prayer.

Power Verses
  • Luke 2:11-12 (NIV) “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you; You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” 

  • Romans 6:23 (NIV) “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

  • II Corinthians 9:15 (NIV) “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”

  • John 1:14 a (NIV) “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

  • Isaiah 9:6-7 (NIV) “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Saturday, December 15, 2018

An Orange, Flip Flop Contentment

“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Philippians 4:11 (NIV)

There was no extra money in our household. My husband worked outside the home, I worked as a stay-at-home mom, and our three children worked at messing up the home.

We were in agreement as a family that this arrangement would work out best for all of us, but it did mean that we had a very tight budget. I admit that there were times when going to the movies or swimming pool every week would have been wonderful but those were luxuries we only occasionally were able to do.

We had to prioritize our money with necessities first and desires second and that often meant that some important things had to be put on hold in order to balance the monthly income.

I remember a woman scolding me because I didn’t take my children to the dentist every six months. “What kind of a mother would neglect her children’s teeth?” she asked me. “A mother who thought it was a no-brainer to decide between putting food on the table or taking her kids to the dentist,” I wanted to tell her but kept it to myself.

However, there were many positive aspects of watching our budget closely. One in particular stands out: our children learned an appreciation for and contentment with whatever they got. I remember clearly just how that appreciation was shown on a shopping day several years ago.

I had taken our small children to Wal-Mart with a list of groceries that we needed. But I had also budgeted for a couple of small items for each child. When I told them that they could choose two things, they were overjoyed.

Each one carefully considered his or her purchase but my youngest knew exactly what she wanted: a bag of candy orange slices for 89 cents and a pair of flip flops for 50 cents.

As I pushed my cart after the two older ones, I heard a precious little voice from behind me and turned around to hear my youngest as she prayed “Oh, Lord, Lord! Orange slices and flip flops in the same day! Thank you! Thank you!” and held the candy and shoes high above her head for Him to see.

I just have to ask: are you thankful for the candy orange slices and flip flops in your life? Have you felt contentment, even though you don’t have Pierre Marcolini chocolate candy for $102.50 a pound or Jimmy Choo designer shoes for $695.00 a pair?

 In other words, no matter what you have, can you truly say as Paul did in Philippians 4:11 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
No, expensive candy and shoes will probably never be a part of my lifestyle but I wouldn’t trade an orange candy slice/flip flop contented faith for anything in this world!

Father, thank you for the many many blessings that you have given me. Help me to always remember that my contentment comes from knowing you are taking care of me. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • Have you ever felt like you appreciated what you had and then saw someone else with more?

  • How did your perspective of what you were blessed with change? For the better or worse?

  • Every time you see something someone else has that you don’t, immediately thank the Lord for what He has given you.

  • Each morning before beginning your day, stop and name ten blessings that the Lord has given you because He loves you. Be specific.

Power Verses
  • Philippians 4:11 (NIV) “…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”

  • I Timothy 6:6 (NIV) “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”

  • Hebrews 13:5 (NIV) “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Places You Don’t Want to Be

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you
pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”
Isaiah 43:2 (NIV)

My mother’s favorite childhood memory was getting up early to go with her father, my grandad, as he fished in the river near the family cabin. Her job – and she loved it – was to row the boat as he threw out his line.

            Mother said Grandad always reminded her that oars had to work together, in unison, or the boat wouldn’t stay in the middle of the river in deeper water. “If you want to go in a straight line,” he would tell her, “you have to use the same amount of strength in each arm to pull the oars. If your left oar is pulled back harder than your right one, you will get off course in the water. The oars always have to work together or you will find yourself in places you don’t want to be,” he would warn her.

And if she forgot to heed his advice, they found themselves either spinning in a circle or in shallow water with a bank full of branches . . . and snakes.

That sounds so much like my life. Until the “oars” that I use to get me through each day are from the Word instead of the world, I am going to spin out of control and get off course.  If one oar is faith and the other one fear, I will never stay on the right path because they will work against each other.

The oar of faith will push forward as the oar of fear pulls backward. And the outcome will be as my grandad warned:  “You will find yourself in places you don’t want to be.”

 Where are you today? Rowing in the middle of God’s plans for your life or headed for the branches and snakes? I encourage you to exchange the oar of fear for one of trust.

Call on the Lord to help you pull through whatever is in your path. He alone can strengthen you with faith and trust to keep you from places you don’t want to be.

Father, please help me to stay in your Word every day. I need the strength to face life’s challenges and it can only come from you. In Jesus’ Name. Amen. 

R.A.P. it up . . .

  • Do you ever find yourself in a situation in which you seem to be going in circles and not making any progress?

  • What “oars” are you using to strengthen you? Faith and trust? Or fear and panic?

  • Journal the words “faith/trust” and “fear/panic” in two columns.

  • During your prayer time, journal situations in your life that you are facing and the results of each one if you react with faith and trust or with fear and panic.

Power Verses
  • Isaiah 43:2 (NIV) “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

  • Mark 4:39-40 (NIV) “He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

  • Philippians 4:13 (NIV) “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”

Thinning the Melons in My Life

“Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according...