The Messy Middle of Change

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I am in the middle of transition … the ministry that I lead is in the middle of transition … my husband is at at the end of a huge transition … even this faithful blog that has been published every Thursday for the better part of a decade is in the creative throes of an extreme make-over!

Call it what you wish … transition … change … remodeling … make-over … re-invention … adjustment … or switch … it is still maddening!!

I don’t know about you but when I experience transition it rips and tears at the very heart of my being.

Will anything ever be stable again?

Will I make it through the violent waves of this unending storm known as “change”?

Will my life ever connect with solid ground again?

What was I thinking when I agreed to this gargantuan change?

Is it too late to “change” my mind and go back to the equilibrium that was peacefully mine before the reconstruction?

Change comes at us from many different forces and from various motivations. It can be self-induced or it can be driven by the decisions that others have made.

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Transition can be joyously welcomed or defiantly resisted.

Change can be forced upon us unexpectedly or it can be achingly longed for year after unchanging year.

Even an abrupt adjustment can be slogged through or danced through … it’s up to you.

My husband and I decided last year to transition our church to younger leadership.  We had planted the church and had pastored it for 10 glorious years.  It was a place of restoration and of purpose for us.

However we heard the voice of God whisper to our hearts, “It’s time for a change.”

So … we obeyed.  What else can you do when God speaks?

We enthusiastically passed our church to a vibrant couple who are like a son and daughter in the faith to us.

We put our family home on the market that same month.

Craig has taken a job with a missions’ organization that plants churches and trains young pastors in unreached places on the globe.  (I can’t even tell you publicly where these churches are so delicate is the information.)

His job necessitates a move to a mid-western city where the organization is headquartered.

In August of 2017, just two months after the house went on the market, I had the last surgery that completed my battle against cancer and its ugly remains.  Two days after my surgery, Craig left for India for a month.

He was home for 2 days and then he moved to Oklahoma. I am staying in Buffalo, NY, while we wait for our home to sell.  We see each other about once a month as we embrace this interesting season in our life together.

Let me just be vulnerable with you for a minute … I have never desired to become an expert on how to handle transition.  I am the type of woman who would be so happy to live in the home that has been in my family for generations. 

I would have loved to cooked decades of family meals in the same kitchen that my mother and grandmother had graced.

Oh! How I would have enjoyed watching my childhood friends raise their children and then delight in their grandchildren.

There would have been something so satisfying about sitting in the same church pew that my dad had worshipped in.

But that is the not the road that the Father has chosen for me.

“For to whom much is given, much will also be required.” – Luke 12:48

As I linger over the lessons that I am learning during a season of exciting but difficult change, I’d love to share just a few of my perspectives with you today.

First of all, if you are in a season of change, keep your eyes fixed steadily on the One Who never changes

While the waves of transition are tossing and turning every single detail of your formerly undisturbed life, keep looking at Jesus!

I have often said that although God never changes … He certainly loves change!

We serve a God who loves to stir things up in a believer’s life simply so we put all of trust in Him and not in our temporary circumstances. What a brilliant and miraculous way to corral our hearts to His tender care!

Secondly, frame your change with hope not with worry.

I could absolutely buy real estate at the address of “24/7 Worry” during these first calendar days of 2018.

I could be worried about our finances.

I could embrace anxiety concerning what will happen to this ministry that has flourished and thrived in Western New York.

I could be in constant emotional anguish over our home and choose to be irritated that it hasn’t sold yet.

I could choose those responses but I choose not to choose those responses!

I choose none of those things.

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I choose to frame my life and this vicious transition with hope, faith and joy!

Everyday that has been given to me by my Father was meant to be a day of joy and I will settle for no less … even when my pathway is obscured by the fog of transition and change.

Every unknown circumstance is an opportunity for me, a beloved daughter of the most High King, to trust that His ways are higher than my ways and that Father knows best.

I choose hope when the winds of upheaval toss and turn the stable life that I have built for myself.

I choose.

And finally, I have decided to “name my change”.

When you “name” something, you are taking ownership of it.  When you give something identity, you are saying, “This belongs to me!”

Rather than resist change and refuse to acknowledge its very existence, choose to embrace it and give it a glorious and meaningful identity in your life.

The name that I have chosen to give to my current season of change is, “Miracle Joy”!

What a great name, right?!

I believe that I am going to see miracles before my very eyes during this season of my life.  I know that I know that I know that the joy that I am experiencing will also give me strength for the murky days of ahead of me.

So change … bring it on!  I am up for you, change! You don’t intimidate me one iota!

Change - you are a miracle in the making and you are delivering a grand opportunity for joy!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week. As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me. And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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A New Charge for a New Year

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Welcome to 2018!  You have arrived!

You have arrived at the land of new beginnings … of a fresh start … of a spanking, clean and untouched calendar year.

It’s time for you to turn the page from the old to the new … from the used to the immaculate … and from the damaged to the spotless.

Are you up for the task?

I always love anything new!

I love a new notebook … a new Bible … a new friend … a new novel … a new recipe … or a new baby!  There is just something so remarkable about that which is as yet unstained and fresh.

I love knowing that I have truly learned from past mistakes but that past mistakes do not hold any damaging power in my current life. I cherish moving beyond previous blunders and former miscalculations into the arena of brilliant potential and exciting possibility.

I hope that as you tackle the New Year with your face to the wind and with your back to previous blunders that you will not minimize the impact that this year holds. My prayer is that your resolutions will have nothing to do with a number on a scale, with figures in a debit column or with simply adding a stamp to your passport.

365 days.  52 weeks. 12 months. 1 year.

8,760 hours. 525,600 minutes. 31,536,000 seconds.

As a woman who has become an expert of sorts on how to embrace life at its very heart, I’d like to share with you three simple ways to live well in 2018.

Are you ready? 

It will only take about 10 minutes of the 525,600 minutes that you have been given this year… and … after all … what do you have to lose?!  Even if you feel that you have absolutely wasted the next 10 minutes by listening to my heart and by reading this blog … you will still have 525,590 minutes left!

I actually believe that you might just gain a thing or two as you glean from what I have learned from 63 attempts at embracing a new year with uninhibited gusto!

First of all – remind yourself daily that it is the little things that give you the gift of living a big life.

Hold a baby … smile at a stranger … save a dollar … read a good book … visit with your neighbor … send flowers to a childhood friend … volunteer at church … encourage someone at work … giggle with a 4 year old … listen to a grieving widow … take your pastor’s family out to lunch … call your mom.

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It is the little things in life that are the building blocks of a larger-than-expected existence. It is no small thing to be faithful in the little things.

The little things of today become the big things of tomorrow.

Pay your bills on time … read your Bible every day … sing out loud while you drive … reminisce with your siblings … stay positive on social media … bake cookies for the neighborhood kids … let someone else go first.

It’s the little things in life that occupy the largest part of your days so give them the measure of importance that they deserve.

Secondly – die to self daily this year.

Every morning when you wake up … on all 365 days of living … choose to die.

Tell yourself at the break of every dawn, “This is the day that I will die to self … to opinion … and to preference.”

That doesn’t sound like very much fun, does it?

But in reality, it is the best investment you will ever make in establishing vibrant relationships, in living a truly powerful life and in choosing to leave a grand legacy.

Die to self daily.

I have always loved this long quote by one of my role models, Elisabeth Elliot, whose husband, Jim Elliott, was martyred for the cause of Christ. 

“When you are forgotten, or neglected, or purposely set at naught, and you don’t sting and hurt with the insult or by the oversight, but your heart is happy, being counted worthy to suffer for Christ … That is dying to self.

When your good is evil spoken of, when your wishes are crossed, your advice disregarded, your opinions ridiculed, and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, or even defend yourself, but take it all in patient loving silence … that is dying to self.

When you are content with any food, any offering, any raiment, any climate, any society, any solitude, any interruption by the will of God … that is dying to self.

When you never care to refer to yourself in conversation, or to record your own good works, or itch after commendation, when you can truly love to be unknown … that is dying to self.

When you can see your brother prosper and have his needs met, and can honestly rejoice with him in spirit and feel no envy, nor question God, while your own needs are far greater and in desperate circumstances … that is dying to self.

Are you dead yet?!

“That I may know Him … being made conformable to His death. – Philippians 3:10”

And finally … just be kind

Default to kindness in every situation, with every person and at every questionable juncture.

Be kind while shopping … while talking … while working … while traveling … while parenting … while serving … while communicating.

Be passionately and perpetually kind for 31,536,000 seconds of 2018.

Be kind to your spouse … to your co-workers … to your children … to your parents … to the mailman … to the girl in the fast food window … to the receptionist in the doctor’s office … to anyone and everyone.

Just be kind.

Don’t allow a day or a situation to pass without taking the opportunity to be enthusiastically kind.

Make it your goal this year to be the kindest person alive at your moment in history.

Don’t lay your head on your pillow at night unless you have been kind to at least one difficult person.

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Don’t try to be right … just be kind.

Don’t try to outshout others … just be kind.

Don’t be impatient … be kind instead.

Don’t push and shove … just be sweetly kind.

If you can embrace these three challenging but simple pieces of wisdom, when you turn the calendar page from 2018 to 2019 … or from time to eternity … you will be a person who has no lasting regrets.

You will have the sweet assurance that you have made the most of every single day that was given to you by the Creator of the universe.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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When Shining Splendor Exits Your Heart

Today's blog post is a guest post written by Carol's good friend, author Christy Christopher.

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“Who is among you who reverently fears the Lord, who obeys the voice of His Servant, yet who walks in darkness and deep trouble and has no shining splendor in his heart? Let him rely on, trust in and be confident in the name of the Lord and let him lean upon and be supported by his God.”
Isaiah 50:10 AMP

There are moments and seasons in life, when the light dims and my vision skews. It's as if I suddenly walk into a dark cave of confusion, discouragement, or sudden, stabbing pain. My friend, sometimes a season of shadows and challenge comes, simply because we are His. Isaiah points out in chapter 50, verse 10 that the one who truly fears the Lord and obeys His voice will sometimes walk into a dark, cold cave of uncertainty.

Imagine you are doing well, loving God, obeying what He has asked of you, and one day you walk right into a web of crisis, grief or calamity. Suddenly, without warning the shining splendor of your life darkens and you are sideswiped! Joy and peace are nowhere to be found.

What does one do before the “day breaks and the shadows flee”? How does a child of God proceed in the quicksand of life? What does one do when his heart won't stop bleeding? How do you take the next step in the darkness of looming depression and anxiety?

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“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:13

It's in these moments that we need three things: faith for the conviction of what is true, hope for a confident expectation of our future, and frequent love feasts with God and one another. The love of God is a cloak of stability in the face of unstable circumstances.

Putting on the lens of faith, hope and love, will be our ticket through any life trauma event we face in this world. The journey upon this earth will get rugged. It will suddenly turn steep. It will lead you into storms so ferocious that you think you might die on the spot. But the One who engineers a pathway through sea, will escort you through your fiery ordeal. Your heavenly Father will accompany you safely to the other side. He will offer you drink when your soul is parched. He will feed to you bread from heaven when you are faint and can hardly take another step. God will encircle you with His loving embrace when your heart feels like it might break in two. One day, you will cross the finish line and enter into eternity with Him. But until the day breaks and the shadows flee, remember that He is the Lover of your soul and the Lifter of your head.

Now three things remain: faith, hope and love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

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My lover is mine and I am his … until the day breaks and the shadows flee.
Song of Solomon 2:16-17

God’s whisper ... My beloved, you are cocooned in the lining of My heart. Receive My warm waves of ease and peace today. Tenderly, I am caring for you as a mother would her child. Come into My embrace now and be nourished and satisfied with all you need.

I call you to contrast your surroundings. When there is chaos, I give you peace. When there is danger, I bring safety. When there is reason to fear in the natural, I encase you in assurance. What shall separate you from the worldly way of thinking and processing? Is it not my constant presence with you? Anxiety must bow at My peace radiating through you. Depression will be dispersed as it collides with My glory living and active in your heart.

In truth, you can be in this world but not of it. I am teaching you to live from the atmosphere of heaven. At your arising, darkness must flee. Think of a light switch. The switch turned on, suddenly eliminates the darkness. You are that switch and My hand is upon you to chase away darkness. There is no dark place where I cannot go and bring light. So, as I am in you, there is no dark place you can go or experience that you cannot dispel evil and darkness. You are My flashlight in the earth! Even in your dark season, it shall not overtake you, but you will see how I will allow you to see sparkling treasures in the shadows and difficult places. There is no such thing as gloom and doom for My child.

Circumstances and situations are given to you in order to catapult you into greater realms of intimacy with Me! So, let go now, of all that hinders you from nestling down in My love for you. I see what you need, I know what makes you sad, mad, happy and glad!  It’s all wrapped up in my intentions for you.

Take care then My Beloved and find the ease and peace that brings great contrast to the chaos and challenge of the day! In doing so, you will be that city on a hill for the world to see and be drawn to, in the day of great darkness in the earth!

In doing so, you will be one whom I can count on to grow My Kingdom in the earth. For I will send you on many rescue missions to undo the bands of oppression upon people that I love. I will use you as one who will unlock the prison door for the one chained up by the evil one.

Together dear one, we will do exploits in the earth and shine like the stars in the backdrop of heaven!

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I have written a book called “Until the Day Breaks and the Shadows Flee”. It is divided into three sections: lessons in faith, lessons in hope and lessons in love. This devotional trilogy, is a palatable blend of inspirational pictures, exciting testimonies from my life, occasional Hebrew and Greek word study, God whispers and encouragement which will be a source of comfort and strength to any storm-tossed soul! It’s my hope and prayer that you will be challenged in your faith, resuscitated in hope and saturated in His love for you! Visit Carol’s online store to pick up your copy!

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Mary, Did You Know?

Most likely, it took Mary and Joseph nearly a week to travel the 80 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem due to Mary’s advanced pregnancy.

Use all of your creative and imaginative abilities to picture the very young Mary at 9 months pregnant, riding on the back of a donkey.  For 80 long miles, Mary was jostled, bumped and jolted in her advanced condition.  Mary experienced the uncomfortable pain of every rut from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Her back ached … her feet were swollen … and her heart was tired.

Although the timing of the journey was inconvenient, perhaps it was a relief for Mary and Joseph to escape the wagging tongues at the village well and the insensitivity of the old women who were counting the months on their fingers.

Mary and Joseph were required to travel away from their hometown in order to register for the census that had been decreed by Caesar Augustus.

As Mary and Joseph entered Bethlehem, the streets were teeming with a mass of humanity. It was in those moments, while Mary was being squeezed and joggled by the enormous crowds, that she felt the first of her labor pains. Perhaps her water broke on the crowded street, wetting her garment and the donkey on which she was riding.

Did she quietly whisper while in pain, “Joseph! Please find a place for me to rest!”

Joseph found nothing more than a cave ... a barn ... a stable in which to prepare for the quickly approaching arrival of their Son.

The King of Creation would make his earthly entrance among the animals that He and His had created and that Adam, the first human being, had named.

There was no red carpet laid out in anticipation of his arrival nor were the conditions sanitary or even welcoming. 

Jesus was born among filth, dirt and excrement.

The smelly stable was rife with manure and unkempt animals; the hard ground was saturated with the urine of the barnyard creatures and the clean hay was sparse. Cobwebs were drooping from the ceiling while a mouse or two scurried by in fear.

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The cows were munching on the pungent hay and sheep were sadly looking on as Mary labored and bled.

It was into this putrid atmosphere of mankind that the Savior entered the world!

My heart stops as I picture the enchanted face of the teen- age mother meeting her baby Boy for the very first time!

She was gazing into the face of God ... and He was looking back at her.

The God who had invaded our filth instantly captivated a mere girl who would serve as His earthly mother.

He was deeply in love with her.  He couldn’t stop gazing into her joyful eyes.

God had wrapped his tiny hand around her finger and around her heart as well.

He was her Son ... yet her Lord. He was her Baby ... yet her Majesty.

Mary was spellbound not only by the ten tiny fingers and the ten miniature toes, but she was spellbound by the very presence of God.

God had come to earth! The miracle of joy had a name.  Joy’s name is Jesus.

Who did this little person look like? Did He have Mary’s father’s nose? Or did He display Joseph’s father’s ears?

What we do know is that he came equipped with the heart of God.

What we do know is that He came with healing in His infant heart.

What we do know is that He who is “Love” personified came because of His great love for those of us who live among the dirt and manure of sin.

What we do know is that with Him … He brought heaven’s joy!

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Mary could not take her eyes off of her baby Boy so great was her love for this heaven-sent Child.

And the most amazing miracle of all was that the infant Savior could not take His eyes off of His young mother, a living, breathing specimen of the world that He came to save!

And He hasn’t stopped loving us … or looking at us since.  It started with Mary … but it continues to you.

Don’t take your eyes off of the true meaning of Christmas. Know that when Jesus was born ... He was born for you. He was born to you. He was born because of you.

He longs to be born in you!

It doesn’t matter what your circumstances might be or what filth He has found you in.  He came simply to love you.

Love has come.  Love has a name.  Love’s name is Jesus.

This Christmas, and every day of the coming year, allow the Baby in the manger to wrap his love around your heart. Invite Him to be born in you!

If you have never prayed this prayer, I’d like to invite you to pray it this year and to receive the greatest Christmas gift of all time:

“Jesus, I recognize you as the Savior of the world. Father God, thank You for sending Jesus into my dark and cold world. I am a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus, will you forgive me of my sins and come into my heart today? Thank You for living in me and for one day taking me to heaven to live with You for all of eternity! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

Merry Christmas, my friend! Joy has come to our world! Let there be joy!

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The John-Jump!

Elizabeth was basking in the miracle of a surprise pregnancy even though she was well passed the age of childbearing.

When Elizabeth was in her sixth month, Mary, her much younger relative, arrived at her house. A heavenly messenger had just informed Mary that she had been chosen to carry the Savior of the world.

Elizabeth’s was a pregnancy that had been long waited for and prayed for; Mary’s pregnancy was a surprise!  It was an early surprise.

Mary “went in a hurry” to the home of Elizabeth, the wife of a priest who had also been raised in the home of a priest. Perhaps Mary was longing for the stability and peace found in the home of Elizabeth.

Perhaps Mary was trying to escape the wagging tongues and the crude remarks made at the village well.

Perhaps Mary’s parents sent her to the older and wiser Elizabeth because they didn’t know what else to do with the outrageous story that their formerly perfect young daughter had surely fabricated.

When Mary entered the home of Zacharias and Elizabeth, the baby boy within the ancient womb of Elizabeth, jumped for joy!

The instant that John, although unborn, sensed that he was in the presence of Jesus the Messiah, he began to exuberantly leap for joy!

John, although still in his mother’s womb and unable to see Jesus with his natural eyes, sensed that he was in the presence of the Lord.

My friend, there is only one possible response to the presence of the Lord and that is a response of pure joy!

Elizabeth excitedly told Mary that this was no soft little nudging that she felt from the baby within but that it was a gargantuan leap!

 

The unborn John was exploding with joy at being in the presence of Jesus!

“In His presence is fullness of joy!” — Psalm 16:11

The spirit of John, even as an infant in his mother’s womb, was responding to the Spirit of Jesus Christ where there is always fullness of joy.

“Joy to the World! The Lord has come!”

Perhaps as the years went by, these cousins would have an afternoon play date at one another’s homes. I wonder if every time Jesus walked into the room if John, the lively one, would begin to jump up and down!

John’s mother, the proper and elegant Elizabeth, might have said, “John dear, stop jumping! You are being so lively, son. It’s time for you to calm down.”

“But mama, I just can’t help it! Every time I am around Jesus my legs just start jumping for joy!” might have been this strong- willed son’s response to the quiet and peaceful ways of his mother.

When Jesus walks into our world, into our lives and into our homes, we must respond with complete joy.

Our hearts should begin the effervescent and perpetual John-jump!

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In the Lord’s presence is the only place that you will ever experience true and complete joy.

Joy is not found in having your children home for Christmas, in the giving and receiving of mountains of gifts, in decorating the house like a picture in a magazine or in eating culinary concoctions that will satisfy your holiday taste buds.

Those earthly delights are all connected to happiness but never to joy. Joy is found in one place and one place alone: in His presence!

 

Perhaps especially at Christmastime we are guilty of looking for joy in all the wrong places.

This Christmas, make room for his presence.

“Let every heart prepare Him room …”

Spend time with your friends and family singing the beloved Carols of Christmas; read the story of his birth from the Bible with those you love.

The greatest gift you will ever give to someone whom you love does not come wrapped with a bow but it is the promise to pray for his or her heartfelt needs.

When Elizabeth told Mary that the baby within her womb “leaped for joy”, the word used to describe this action is the Greek word “skirtao”.

The word “skirtao” is used only one other place in the New Testament.

“Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for (skirtao) for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” — Luke 6:22 & 23

We learn from the response of the unborn John that the presence of Jesus will instigate a genuine leap for joy in an otherwise ordinary life.

However, according to the words of Jesus found in Luke, we are also expected to leap for joy when our life has fallen utterly and completely apart.

When we have been vilified and rejected by people and when we have been victimized by unfair circumstances, that is the time that we are commanded by Jesus to skirtao!! To leap for joy!

There is no logical explanation for this joyful response in the face of emotional pain and deep disappointment but it is the healthiest response for a believer.

You can jump!

You can jump for joy!

You can do the John-jump at the worst moment of your life because Jesus has promised never to leave you or forsake you.

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This Christmas, respond to the joy of his presence especially if you are going through dark events and disappointing circumstances.

May I just gently and sincerely tell you that there is really no earthly reason not to respond to Who Jesus is but with complete and utter joy? There is no circumstance, person or event that has the power to rob one of his children of the joy of our Lord’s dear presence.

Christmas has given us the assurance that while living on earth, we can be the beneficiaries of heaven’s joy!

When Jesus came, He paved the way for joy!

Don’t expect the festivities to relieve the pain – only His presence can do that for you! When Jesus came to planet earth, He made the way for heaven’s joy to infiltrate our lives.

My prayer for you during this Christmas season is that you will know the joy of the presence of the Lord.

I pray that like John you will respond to his presence in the most miraculous of ways.

I pray that you will not mistakenly believe that joy is extracted from your circumstances but that you will worship the Baby in the manger and allow your heart to enter fully into the joy of Christmas.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

This blog was taken from Carol's new devotional, "Let There Be Joy!" You can order this devotional at Amazon.com or at justjoyministries.com.

 

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May It Be Done to Me...

Mary had grown up in the same village as Joseph, a carpenter’s son, who was several years older than she.

Perhaps they had admired one another from a distance ... perhaps Joseph had just been waiting for his darling Mary to grow up into young womanhood! When Mary was just 13 or 14 years old, it was settled between the two families: Mary was to become the wife of Joseph.

Engagement, or betrothal, at this moment in history held the commitment that marriage does today. Although Mary and Joseph were not living together and would stay pure until their wedding night, the only way out of a betrothal was divorce and the only reason that justified a divorce was adultery.

The engaged Mary was in her girlhood home one afternoon, maybe working on her wedding attire, or sewing towels for her new home when she sensed someone in the room with her. Perhaps Mary looked frantically around to see if anyone had joined her.

“And coming in, Gabriel said to her, “Greetings, favored one!” The Lord is with you.” – Luke 1:28

Christmas, for Mary, brought the challenge of understanding what the favor of God means in a person’s life.

Mary was about to learn that being highly favored does not guarantee a life of unbroken happiness nor does it promise that all of one’s dreams will come true. There is actually a tremendous price to be paid by those who are highly favored by the Father.

Favor means that God is willing to use an ordinary person for His greater plan.

Mary was about to be confronted with the reality that favor happens when God places a piece of Himself into an earthly life.

No longer was the God of the universe a mere concept or a Divine Being Who never engaged himself in the affairs of every day life.

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The presence of God Himself had invaded the life of this young girl.

I can nearly hear Mary’s racing heartbeat as she attempted to process all that was happening around her this day.

The Bible says, “Mary was perplexed and wondered what kind of salutation this was”. Mary’s cheeks were most likely flushed and her heart was beating wildly.

 “The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God.” – Luke 1:30

Sweet Mary, who was trying to wrap her heart and mind around the message of the angel may have been incredulously pondering, “Me?! God chose me?! I am the chosen one to carry God’s child? I am to be the mother of the Messiah?”

Christmas, for Mary, ushered in the understanding that God’s ways are much higher than human ways.

Mary was learning, like all of us must, that when Divinity invades humanity ... Divinity always wins!

Christmas is a reminder to me ... and to you ... and to Mary ... that his ways are always higher and better than anything that we could ever think of or imagine!

Christmas is not about the holiday spirit that rushes toward us the day after Thanksgiving and compels us to shop, spend, and eat. Christmas is about the Holy Spirit bringing peace and joy through a Baby Boy to the mess that we have made of planet earth.

Christmas commences the moment when a person submits to the deep longing that has always existed to be overshadowed by all that He is and all that He does!

It happened for Mary ... and it can happen for you! Perhaps an appropriate prayer to pray this Christmas would be,

Holy Spirit! Overshadow me! Overshadow my dreams, my preferences and opinions! Birth something new and something grand in me! Create something in me that will change this generation for the Kingdom of Christ!”

Christmas, for Mary, was learning the ultimate truth of this one statement: “Nothing will be impossible with God!”

When Christmas rolls around each year, we must embrace the absolute faith that nothing is impossible with God!

You honor God when you ask of him the impossible.

Impossibility is God’s specialty! It is what He does best! You serve a God Who loves to show himself miraculous in the face of profound disappointment and darkness.

Mary, the very young, but specifically chosen mother of Jesus, utters one of the most courageous statements in all of Scripture in her conversation with Gabriel. In response to the announcement of the angel that Mary’s world had just been interrupted with heaven’s plan, Mary clearly and humbly declared, “Behold the bondslave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to your word.” — (Luke 1:38)

A “bondslave” was a slave who was able to go free but instead chose to stay and serve his or her master. Mary willingly chose to offer temporary housing to the Savior of the world because that was God’s desire.

When her world collided with God’s ultimate desire, Mary died to self and submitted to God the Father.

Has God asked something difficult of you? How have you responded? Have you said, like Mary did, “Behold the bondslave of the Lord, may it be done to me according to Your word.” ?

When God requires one of his children to lay down his or her way for His best plan, often there is a struggle of the human will. Unfortunately, rather than respond with the maturity and wisdom of the young Mary, many of us whine and complain.

Some of us even have the audacity to question whether or not God even knows what he is doing!

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God is looking for bondslaves: He is on an eternal and relentless search for men and women who are willing to serve Him simply out of love.

God desires men and women who will allow him to interrupt their perfectly planned lives with His unbelievable and miraculous plans! Are you willing to be a bondslave of the Father?

Mary’s pure heart and true resolve are revealed through the final words of her statement, “ ... May it be done to me according to Your Word.”

 Is that the resolve of your heart as well?

“May it be done to me according to Your Word.”

When your will comes into conflict with God’s Word, my friend, it is God’s Word that must win at all costs.

This Christmas, I declare, with Mary, that His Word will have the highest authority because I have chosen to be His bondslave.

There is absolutely nothing I would rather be than the bondslave of the Lord.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

This blog was taken from Carol's new devotional, "Let There Be Joy!" You can order this devotional at Amazon.com or at justjoyministries.com.

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The Miracle of Christmas

It’s Christmas … the most wonderful time of the year!

This season is miraculously wonderful not because of the scrumptious and sugary holiday cookies nor is it due to the lavish gifts found under the Christmas tree.

Christmas is not defined by the reindeer who dance or by the shoppers who spend.

Christmas is not “Christmas” because of decorations, or due to parties or even because of the chestnuts that you might find roasting by an open fire.

Christmas is wonderful because of Him ... because of a Baby that was born long ago and yet continues to live on in the hearts and lives of millions of people who serve Him and love Him.

The historical account of the birth of Jesus didn’t start in Bethlehem or even in Nazareth but it began with an elderly couple who knew the deep fulfillment of living wholeheartedly for God.

The Bible describes Elizabeth and Zacharias in the loveliest of ways: “They were both righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” — Luke 1:6.

Elizabeth and Zacharias had been married for many years and yet still had no babies. The heartache must have been wrenching for this man of prayer and for his Godly wife, but the Bible records they continued to walk blamelessly in every aspect of their relationship to the Lord.

For the priest Zacharias and for his faithful wife, Elizabeth, there had been no 3 a.m. feedings, no messy diapers and no sweet giggles and baby smiles. Their life had not turned out in the manner that they had hoped for or prayed for.

Disappointment is part of all of our lives, isn’t it? Disappointment is an inescapable treaty of the human experience.

How do you respond to disappointment? Do you use it as an excuse for over-indulgence or for griping and complaining?

Although Elizabeth and Zacharias had empty arms and dashed hopes, they continued to serve God wholeheartedly as the years continued to pass.

The Bible says that the prayer of the righteous one avail much! (James 5:16)

When you continue to live a righteous life and continue to pray in spite of your human disappointment, your prayers will still get the job done! Just ask Elizabeth and Zacharias …

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The Bible also says that the righteous live by faith. (Hebrews 2:4)

Elizabeth’s name actually means “God is my oath”. Elizabeth believed the promises of God long after others would have given up in frustration. She believed that God was listening to her prayers while her friends cooed over their own babies and then decades later when her circle of friends experienced the joy of rocking their grandchildren to sleep.

We can learn from Elizabeth and Zacharias to trust God even when circumstances are challenging.  We are reminded, by the story of this elderly couple, to live a righteous life through long days of disappointment.

Pray fervently and believe that God is listening to your prayers. Continue to embrace a positive heart attitude even when you don’t get your own way.

Pray on, my friend, pray on!

Allow the steadfastness of Elizabeth to remind you that true believers walk by faith and not by sight. Although she was barren, she continued to believe in the promises and in the nature of a faithful and miracle-working God.

Zacharias was chosen to be the priest who would enter the holy place in the Temple: it was his turn to offer incense to God on behalf of the people.

However, as Zacharias was standing beside the altar of incense, he received a surprise visitor! The angel Gabriel had been sent from heaven to bring a life-changing message to the elderly Zacharias and Elizabeth.

Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard,” were the words of the heavenly messenger at this history- changing moment.

God had been silent for 400 years and at this very instant, Zacharias heard the audible answer for which he and his wife had been praying since the day of their marriage many, many years ago.

After all of the years of waiting and praying and believing, heaven’s intervention was about to be experienced in the life and marriage of Elizabeth and Zacharias.

Could it be true?

Was it even possible after decades of marriage that they would conceive and bear a child?

I wonder if Zacharias wondered if Elizabeth’s elderly frame be able to withstand 9 arduous months of pregnancy and then the pain of giving birth?

I wonder if Zacharias’ heart was joyously asking, “God, are you really this good?!”

It is true: the God of Elizabeth and Zacharias absolutely hears your prayers! He is listening intently to your requests and loves it when a believer comes to him boldly and unashamedly.

The Bible instructs Christians from every generation to ask and keep on asking, seek and keep right on seeking, knock and keep on knocking! (Matthew 7:7)

Don’t give up, my friend, don’t ever give up!

The message of Christmas speaks into our silent world today: we serve a God Who answers the prayers of his children.

While you wait, and while you pray, don’t ever give up!

Wait in faith and pray in hopeful expectation.

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May I ask you a question this Christmas season?

For what have you been praying?

Perhaps you are praying for an unsaved spouse or for a rebellious child. Maybe your fervent prayer is for a breakthrough in finances or it might be that health concerns have dominated your prayers for years and years.

My friend, you need to follow the example of Elizabeth and Zacharias and continue to pray with expectation and with hope!

It might seem like you haven’t heard from God in 400 years but the answer and the voice of God might only be one more prayer away.

Christmas is a time when we should expect heaven’s entrance into our dusty, dirty worlds.

Christmas is a time that reminds us that miracles really do happen, that prayers are actually answered and that heaven is just one response away.

You honor God when you ask of him the impossible!

I believe that “Impossible” is what the God of Christmas does best!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is! 

This blog was taken from Carol’s new devotional, “Let There Be Joy!” You can order this devotional at Amazon.com or on our website.

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The Joy of Worship

It’s November!  This resplendent and colorful eleventh month is filled to overflowing with the bounty of the year.

It is a month that is set aside for the giving of thanks and for exhibiting a heart of genuine gratitude. 

What are you thankful for this month?

This month, in my blog, we have been focusing on the genuine and vital components of a thankful heart.

Sincere thanksgiving always includes generous giving to the world around us and to the Kingdom of Christ is one of the lessons that we have learned.

True thanksgiving also includes the forgiveness of those in our lives who have offended or mistreated us is another meaningful approach to this month of November.

Giving + forgiving = thanksgiving.

And then, finally, there is indeed a powerful role that worship, or the giving of thanks to God the Father, plays in the dynamic display of a thankful heart.

If there is no one to thank, then worship loses its focus.  Our greatest praise … our highest worship … our most vibrant thanksgiving … should be aimed at God our Creator!

Music is mere notes upon a line and contains only foreign lyrics unless it is sung to the One Who created you and made you in His very image!

“Without worship we go about miserable.” – Tozer

Worship always involves sacrifice.  Always.  You may not “feel” like worshipping … but worship anyway!

You may not “feel” like singing … but choose to sing louder!

You may not “feel” like remembering your blessings … but make a list anyway!

“God is to be praised with the voice and the heart should go wherewith in holy exultation.” – Spurgeon

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David was a man who often did not “feel” like worshipping but he commanded his soul to sing in spite of his feelings.  He spoke directly to his soul, which is the birthplace of one’s emotions, affections and desires, and commanded his depressed, stubborn soul to sing a praise of God to his King!

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits.” – Psalm 103:1 & 2

David was unable to deny the power of praise and worship in an ordinary person’s life. 

If you want to be healed of human pain – then worship the God who never changes.

If you want to rise above your circumstances – then place your eyes on the One who is able to move mountains!

If you want to be strengthened in the deepest part of you – then you will bring a sacrifice of praise to the One Who made you.

“Worship is an it-is-well-with-my-soul experience.” – Webber

If you want to engage in a life-changing experience that will literally revolutionize the very core of your emotional weaknesses – then you will put your hands in the air and delight in Who your Father is!

“Who pardons all your iniquities …
Who heals all your diseases …
Who redeems your life from the pit …

Who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion …
Who satisfies your years with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.” – Psalm 103:3-5

When David was at his very lowest, he made a list of the incredible things that God had done for him!  You might want to do the same this week …

“The most valuable thing the Psalms do for me is to express the same delight in God which made David dance.” – C. S. Lewis

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Worship will inevitably take your eyes off of “you” and deservedly place them on the God Who cares.

Worship will always remove the focus off from your impossibility and will bring into focus the wonder of the God to Whom nothing is impossible!

Worship will always decrease self and will wonderfully increase a holy and divine awareness of Him and all that He is.

“Isn’t it a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” – Chan

I don’t know what you are going through this crisp and bountiful month of November, but I’d like to gently remind you that there is nothing that concerns you that does not have the capacity to be healed with a heart filled with worship.

As you gather with those you love around the feast and that table that is known as “Thanksgiving”, make sure that you give credit to Whom credit is due.  Encourage everyone at your Thanksgiving table to make a list of the things for which he or she is thankful.

Let your heart burst with gratitude and allow your eyes to spill over with praise.

Even if it has been a meager and disappointing year, you serve an abundant God who works all things together for God! Focus not on what you don’t have but allow the eyes of your soul to rest on Him Who is more than enough!

“You have crowned the year with Your bounty, and Your paths drip with fatness.
The pastures of the wilderness drip, and the hills gird themselves with rejoicing.
The meadows are clothed with flocks and the valleys are covered with grain;
They shout for joy, yes, they sing!” – Psalm 65:11 – 13

I can tell you this – no pasture is going to “out-rejoice” me this month of November!

No meadow is going to be more beautiful than my heart of praise is to God my Father!

No valley is going to sing louder than this girl does!

Every day of this month, I will worship and I will rejoice as I give glorious and deserved thanks to my Creator, my Redeemer and my dearest Friend.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week. As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me. And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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Forgiveness & Thanksgiving

Living in a place of joy always begins with giving … with hilarious, generous, unselfish and lavish giving.

I don’t know one person on the face of planet Earth who lacks joy if he or she has ruggedly determined to be a cheerful, extravagant and liberal giver.

Conversely, I don’t know one selfish person who splashes in joy.  Do you?!

On the road to joy, you must daily walk upon the Highway of Giving.  It is the only route to joyno other avenue in life will deliver you to that delightful destination of delectable joy!

But let’s go beyond simple giving today and let’s examine the power of forgiving.  You see, forgiving is also a pre-requisite to joyForgiving seals the deal on heaven’s joy becoming a strengthening component of your earthly make-up.

It’s easy to say … but it is oh! so hard to do!

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Forgiveness can be a gut-wretching, arduous and gargantuan decision but honestly … the alternative is infinitely worse.

Choosing to be a bitter person will never place you on the road to joy and to healthy living.  Holding on to offenses will only ensure that you are effectively locked out of the Kingdom of Joy.

Vengeful emotions and angry words always lead to a futile and ugly dead-end in life.

If you choose NOT to forgive … you will never arrive at your intended destination.

If you choose NOT to forgive … you ain’t going nowhere …

If you choose NOT to forgive … you will never know the refreshing and rejuvenating effects of joy upon your life.

Unforgiveness will keep you tightly bound in emotional and spiritual chains the rest of your earthly days.

What is forgiveness?  Forgiveness is simply when the innocent one lets the guilty one go free! What?!  Where is the justice in that type of lifestyle?  That doesn’t seem fair at all! 

Yep … you got it right.  Forgiveness isn’t fairForgiveness is a gift of sacrifice and of dying to one’s self.

If you have truly forgiven someone – you don’t bring up the wrong suffered or the pain endured.  If you have sincerely forgiven a person who has deeply wounded you – there is no need for conversation because you have let it go completely and fully.

Let. It. Go.

Forgiving someone else just might be the best gift you have ever given to yourself! When forgiveness is freely and sweetly bestowed – joy comes rushing in like a refreshing breeze on the desert sands.

Forgiveness is the miraculous oasis in a wasteland of offense and pain.

If you are thankful for the Lord’s forgiveness toward you then you must forgive others.

You must.

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“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” – Matthew 6:14 & 15

Forgiveness is important to Kingdom dwellers.  It is a foundational issue of our call to be like the Father and like the Son. The Father sent His only Son to die so that you and I would be forgiven.

When we choose not to forgive others and to hold onto our  human pain, we are making little of what the Father has done for us.

When we choose not to forgive someone who has offended or mistreated us, we are ignoring the power of the Cross.

Humility is the price of forgiveness and joy is the glorious purchase of the price!

If you have experience the unbridled joy of forgiveness … if you know personally the exhilaration of emancipation from your human weaknesses … then you will be constrained to forgive just like Jesus did!

“Then Peter came up to Jesus and said to Him, “How many times may my brother sin against me and I forgive him and let it go? Should I forgive him 7 times, Lord?’

“Jesus answered and said to Peter, ‘I tell you not up to seven times but up to seventy times seven.’ “ – Matthew 18:21 & 22

Who do you need to forgive this month when our entire nation recognizes the joy and blessing of being thankful?

If you desire to fully engage in the celebration of Thanksgiving then you will also fully express the gift of forgiveness.

Thankful people choose to forgive.  It’s what they do when others have mistreated them.  Forgiveness is their immediate and joyful response to unkindness and mistreatment.

Forgiveness is a rich and glorious part of the holiday known as “Thanksgiving”.  Don’t miss this vital and delicious course of sweet forgiveness that will add more joy to your day than will pumpkin pie, parades or sumptuous gravy.

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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Joy in Giving

Joy.

Joy is my message to the world.  This formerly depressed woman is now addicted to the strength that only comes from joy.

I simply can’t get enough of it.  I can’t get enough of joy or of Jesus.  Jesus and joy are found wrapped up in one another.

In His presence there is fullness of joy. – Psalm 16:11

So many people whom I try to encourage with the principles found in the Bible don’t understand joy.  They mistakenly identify me as Pollyanna with a Bible or as Mary Poppins who sings Sunday School songs.

Whenever I am confronted with a person who doesn’t understand the power of joy, this is what I always simply say, “If you don’t understand joy … then just be thankful because thanksgiving and joy are not so very far apart.”

Joy is that supernatural vitamin that bestows a weak human being with strength.  Joy is nourished by thanksgiving, it is nurtured by forgiving and it is sustained by heartfelt giving.

Joy can powerfully be spelled with the letters “G-I-V-E”.

Over the next three weeks, I am going to wring the joy out of these three words … thanksgiving … forgiving … and giving from the heart.

Today – let’s start with giving.

If you want to be the beneficiary of a miraculous joy beyond yourself then you must determine to be a generous giver.

A hilarious giver. A generous giver. An unselfish giver. An abundant giver.

All of the above in every season of the year on every day of your existence … be a hilarious giver … be a generous giver … be an unselfish giver … and be an abundant giver.

I have a friend who is 72 years old and even with her highest heels on she can only be measured at a whopping 5 feet tall. She weighs 98 pounds soaking wet.

However, this miniscule friend doesn’t wear high heels often because she has had numerous surgeries on her tiny feet.  Finally, the doctors cut one of her toes off to relieve her of her constant foot pain. She is my 9-toed friend.

When she goes to get a pedicure, her sweet husband always says to her, “Make sure that they only charge you 90% of the full price!”

This tiny woman is my wise mentor, my stable role model, my dynamic heroine of the faith, my relentless prayer warrior and my deeply loved spiritual sister. I want to be like her when I grow up.

My friend’s hands are becoming increasingly crippled due to the tendons that are shrinking in her hands.

She suffers from horrific back pain most nights.

However, when I went to visit her last February, this tiny, gray-haired, pain-ridden woman wore me out with her daily giving!

On Monday, a restored woman came to the house and spent 3 intense hours with us.  This woman, who was our honored guest on a rainy afternoon, has lived a life of drug addiction and prostitution but now has gloriously met Jesus as her Lord and Savior. My tiny friend is weekly discipling this 21st Century Mary Magdalene and is pouring wisdom over her dry soul.

As this new creation in Christ walked out the back door into the rain and wind, joy flooded my soul.

On Tuesday, we went to the church to pray for a wheel-chair bound woman who has been diagnosed with both MS and Lou Gehrig’s disease.  We spent two hours praying with her, laughing with her, singing with her and weeping with her.  It was two hours that I will never forget as long as I live.

I was the recipient of a miraculous joy that day.

On Wednesday, my tiny friend helped her daughter prepare lunch for 20 women who were coming over for a Bible Study.  In the midst of the preparations of chicken salad, homemade soup and lemon squares, my role model slipped away to pick up a nearly-blind younger woman and bring her to that Bible Study.

The joy that was present in my soul at the end of that long day was nearly tangible.

Are you tired yet?!

On Thursday, we drove “across the bay” to have lunch with a 94-year old woman whose husband had recently died. This great-great grandmother was dressed like a fashion icon from the 1940s.  Her make-up was impeccably applied, her red-gold hair was freshly done and her silk scarf was tied in a fascinating manner.

Over crab cakes and unsweetened iced tea, this nearly century-old woman, regaled us with the stories of her man who had fought on the beaches of Normandy. There was a sparkle in her eyes as she spoke lovingly of her sweetheart who had loved her well for over 60 years.

We filled the restaurant with heaven’s joy! Every customer in the place sweetly looked over at our table at three women from three different generations who were giggling like 12 year olds!

Oh! The joy that filled my soul!

On Friday, my dear friend and kindred spirit, took me shopping.  She showered me with new clothes and shared about the richness of the Lord with the clerk who waited on us and then prayed for this single mother right there in the middle of a fine Southern department store!

I could taste the joy as it dripped off of us that afternoon.

Joy is a by-product of giving. If you are lacking joy this month of November, perhaps you should develop a lifestyle of giving.

There is a world in pain who needs your brand of joy … your strain of hope … and your prayers of power.

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When you give to others, you will be the recipient of an unexplainable, dynamic and vibrant joy!

If you lack joy, give what you don’t have to someone else.

If you don’t understand joy, give a smile to someone in need.

If you resent others who have joy, buy a person a cup of coffee.

If you are ridden with emotional pain and discouragement, spend 30 minutes with a soul who is in greater pain than you are.  Sing to that person … pray for that person … encourage that person with your simple presence.

Give when you don’t feel like it.

Give when you have nothing to give.

Choosing to give to others is the prerequisite for receiving the inheritance of joy.

Make the month of November not only a season of thanksgiving giving but also a time for simply giving to others in your world! Don’t let anyone “out-give” you this month! Every day make an intentional choice to give a blessing to someone you meet.

At the end of the month … you will be the recipient of heaven’s joy! I guarantee it!!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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The Voice on Social Media

Can I just share from my heart with you this week?  Can I be vulnerable with you without fear of offense?

I am so concerned, and oftentimes heartbroken, over what Christians write on social media.  I feel that many believers might feel that social media has given them a “voice” to express their thoughts, opinions and feelings and the “voice” is a bitter voice rather than an encouraging and loving voice.

It might be more advantageous for a person to get off Facebook and/or Twitter rather than to cause division in the Body of Christ.  It might be a greater good to quiet that bitter voice that stirs within rather than to give it a platform.

In this day of communication that chiefly happens through the Internet rather than face-to-face, it is easy to vomit rather than to use restraint.  Our fingers are apt to fly across the keys in rapid reaction rather than in thoughtful response.

God has given us a tongue for several reasons

The first reason we are given a tongue, or the ability to communicate, is to worship the Lord!  Our tongue should be used as an instrument of praise and worship to the most High King! So, the next time before you post an opinion on Facebook, you might want to ask yourself, “How does this bring glory to God?”

The second reason we are given a tongue is to encourage others.  Our tongues were made to be tools of healing and not of harm.  God gave us the ability to communicate with others so that we could pour soothing ointment of love and compassion on contentious and vicious situations. So, the next time before you post a rebuttal or a strong reaction on social media, you might want to use this as a litmus test, “Will these words encourage those who read them?”

Now, people might argue with me saying, “I need to speak the truth.”  The Bible says, “But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.” – Ephesians 4:15

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So – you can speak the truth as long as it is done in love, with love, expressed by love, motivated by love and with the final goal being love.

This is the Bible’s definition of love:

“Love is patient and kind … love does not brag and is not arrogant … love does not act unbecomingly … it does not seek its own and is not provoked.” (I Corinthians 13)

That means that all of our truthful social media posts must come under the umbrella of what the Bible identifies love to be.  When in doubt, read the last paragraph again.

Love is patient and kind … love does not brag and is not arrogant … love does not act unbecomingly … it does not seek its own and is not provoked.

The failure of Israel to enter the Promised Land began with the simple desire to murmur … or to allow their opinions to be heard.  They had just a faint desire to complain and to express their discontent and mistreatment.  This decision to “murmur” grew into rebellion and idol worship.

I am going to challenge you today to refuse to be discouraged by other’s opinions or their lack of agreement with you.  Refuse to be unhappy with politicians, sports figures or those who vote differently than you do. Count it all joy when news commentators get under your skin!

The devil wants to keep you distracted by the opinions of others and by your “right” to verbalize an opposing point of view.  The devil wants to sow discouragement, bitterness and separation among the Body of Christ.  Don’t allow it!  Sow seeds of love, encouragement and joy instead.

Let’s cultivate a spirit of gladness on social media! If you want to be used by God, you will determine to use your tongue, your keyboard and your pen as your chief instrument of joy.

If you honestly want to have a conversation with someone whose opinions are different than yours are, do it one-on-one and preferably face-to-face.  And when you have this conversation, start it with prayer and end it with blessing!

You know what?  I have opinions, too.  I have social justice opinions and opinions on abortion and political opinions and civil rights opinions and patriotic opinions.  But I have decided not to allow those opinions to define me or to determine my relationships.

I have decided that rather than allowing my personal opinions to alienate me from a world in need, I would rather give them Jesus and hope instead.

“He must increase but I must decrease.” John 3:30

It was the Englishman, Edward Buller-Lyton, in the 19th Century, who said, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

What did he mean by that phrase?  I believe that he meant that one’s words have more power to kill than does a murderous weapon.  Perhaps he was trying to express the fact that communication is sometimes the most effective missile of an assassin of the soul.

If he were alive today, I believe that Mr. Buller-Lyton might express it this way,

“The tweet is mightier than the sword …”

“The Facebook post is mightier than the sword …”

“The smartphone is mightier than the sword …”

“The laptop is mightier than the sword …”

All I am asking today is that you would examine yourself; ask God to search your heart and then to determine precisely why you are on social media.

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This is what I have decided for me:

I am not on social media to criticize others who are made in the image of Christ.

I am not on social media to criticize pastors or teachers whose methods might be different than mine.

I am not on social media to spout my potentially divisive political opinions.

I am on social media to heal a broken world.

I am on social media to speak the truth of the Gospel message in a compassionate manner.

I am on social media to turn people’s hearts back to Christ.

I am on social media to encourage one another as long as it is still called today. (Hebrews 3:13)

Thanks for listening to my heart this week. As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me. And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is! 

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Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow.

Yesterday … today … tomorrow.

Just three words that dictate our very existence.

Yesterday … today … tomorrow.

Each word defines an individual period of time that holds the consummate power to determine the course of each one of our lives.

Yesterday … today … tomorrow.

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How often have I allowed a difficult yesterday to cross the boundary of my life into today?  How often have I invited the unknown of tomorrow into the joy of today via the transit system known as “worry”?

I was with my two-year old grandson, Jack, this week and he has an interesting concept of time.  Anything that happened before this very minute happened yesterday.

“I went to the park yesterday!” (That was only this morning, Jack, but yes, you went to the park.)

“I took my nap yesterday.” (You did take a nap yesterday, Jack, but that doesn’t get you out of taking one today.)

“I had ice cream yesterday.” (You had ice cream three days ago, Jack, but yes, you did have ice cream.)

“I came to your house yesterday, Marmee.” (You came to my house three months ago, Jack, but yes, you did indeed come to Marmee’s house!)

Conversely, in the Gospel According to Jack, everything that happens after this very minute will happen tomorrow.

(Have I told you how brilliant and how adorable he is?!)

“I get a lollipop tomorrow?” (We’ll see, Jack. You just finished your lollipop from today and you don’t get to have one every day.”)

“I see Pa tomorrow.” (Pa didn’t come with me on this trip, Jack, but you will see him at Christmastime.)

“I ride the train tomorrow.” (I’m sure you will ride the train tomorrow, Jack, because you live in New York City and you ride the train almost every day of your life.”

“I go to your house tomorrow, Marmee.” (Oh Jack! I want you to come to my house every tomorrow of your little life!)

A child understands.  A child “gets it” that yesterday is gone and that tomorrow is yet to be.  Perhaps we could all learn a new concept of time from that “Gospel According to Jack”.

Let me just remind you not to ruin a good today by thinking about a bad yesterday.  And please don’t ruin a perfectly good today by worrying about an unknown tomorrow.

Leave the past in the past … trust all of your tomorrows to God’s care … and determine to celebrate the gift of today!

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You can’t change yesterday so focus on today.  Live … love … laugh … embrace … enjoy … and celebrate today! Enjoy the life you have been given today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow is never promised.

The great philosopher, Winnie the Pooh, is given credit for this auspicious bit of advice concerning time, “Yesterday is history and tomorrow is a mystery.  But today is a gift.  That’s why we call it the present.”

I agree with Winnie the Pooh. Today is a gift of heavenly proportions.  Today was meant, by its Giver, for our enjoyment, for our betterment and for our use of it for grander purposes than we could ever imagine.

Today was never meant to be wasted but was always meant to be resplendent!

Today was never meant to be twisted by the pain of the past nor was it meant to be warped by the anxiety of tomorrow.

Today was always meant to be savored … one delicious minute at a time!

Today is the day! Today is your day for dreams to come true … for relationships to be mended … for books to be read … for songs to be sung … for prayers to be prayed … for trips to be planned … and for friendships to begin.

Today is your day!

Don’t allow the regrets of yesterday to become landmines in the glory of today. Live each day in the present tense … with purpose, power and passion.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” – Psalm 16:6

But even while you are living in today, remind yourself often that life always offers you a second chance.  It’s called tomorrow.

Spending today complaining about yesterday won’t make tomorrow any better.  The thoughts that you think today to a large extent dictate the joy of tomorrow.  If you think angry and critical thoughts today, chances are that your tomorrow will be filled with anger and criticism.

“For as a man thinks within himself, so is he.” – Proverbs 23:7

If you fill your gray matter with exciting possibilities concerning tomorrow – it becomes a divine probability that your tomorrow will be the launching pad for the future of your dreams!

Not only do the thoughts that you think today determine the quality of all of your tomorrows, but also the words that you speak today have the power to frame your future.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” – Proverbs 18:21

If you bless someone today with encouragement, with hopeful words and with terms of endearment, I can guarantee you that the blessing will come back to you tomorrow!

If you invest in tomorrow with words of grand expectation and with cheerful reassurance, the future that you are carving for yourself and for the world around you will be filled with restored hope and with unending potential.

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” – Proverbs 25:11

You can’t change yesterday but you can enjoy today and you can determine your tomorrow!  All of your yesterdays are gone … they are past tense.  All of your tomorrows are future possibilities filled with the goodness of God.

Today is your day! Go mining for gold in the caverns of today! Refuse to allow the pain of the past or the worry of tomorrow to rob you of the joy that was given to you as the treasure of your today.

And, if in your travels, you come across a little blonde-haired, brown-eyed two-year -old named Jack, tell him, that his Marmee can’t wait to see him tomorrow!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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It's Time for You to Wait

Are you weary today, my friend? 

Are you tired of waiting for your prayers to be answered?  For your dreams to come true?  Are you emotionally and physically spent and perhaps you are tempted to give in to hopeless living and to futile plodding?

Before you do either of those things, let me share one of my favorite Bible verses with you and let’s just see if it encourages you today -

Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired.  His understanding is inscrutable.  He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.  Though youths grow weary and tired and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.  (Isaiah 40:28-31)

What?!!  Are you kidding me?!  We serve a God Who never grows weary or becomes tired!  If that one fact weren’t revolutionary enough, the truth gets even better!  He is willing to share His strength with you!  He has enough to spread around lavishly and then some more to give and give and give again!

How do I tap into the strength of this perpetually strong Father?  Where do I stand in line to fill my empty bucket up with His enormous power?

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength …”

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The power is found in the wait.  The new strength is bequeathed in the wait. The weary disappears in the wait.

You are completely mistaken if you believe that strength, vigor, and power are attributes of only the young.  If you believe the Bible, then you must also believe that when a person chooses to wait upon the Lord, that miraculous strength is on its way! And God is not checking birth certificates, counting wrinkles or looking for age spots in this waiting line!

When you pause to access the strength of God and Heaven, you are going to have the capacity to run beyond your human endurance and will not even be out of emotional breath.  Your legs will not be weakened nor will your heart be racing with the challenge of it all.  You are going to have the vigor to go the distance and then to go some more. 

However, this incredible surge of Heaven’s power and strength into your human frailty will only be possible when you choose to wait upon the Lord.

But what does it mean exactly to “wait” upon the Lord?

You must eagerly expect and joyously anticipate the promise that God will indeed reward you with His vitality as you read your Bible, as you enter into worship every day, and as you participate in a vibrant and daily prayer life

Those are the disciplines of fortitude that will enable you to not only receive strength from the Lord, but also to apply to your daily walk the strength that you receive. 

In addition to those helpful and hopeful daily disciplines of power, there might also be times and seasons when you beg directly for God’s power.

“God, I need you!  This is too difficult for me to do in my own strength.  Would you give me your power?  Would you give me a word from the Bible I can apply to this situation?  I am waiting, Lord, for all that you have for me.  In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

The word waiting means: “ ... to expect, look eagerly for, to hope for, lie in wait for ...”

When you wait well in the presence of God and are devoted to prayer, you can assuredly anticipate some opportunities that will require the strength of God. 

The word wait actually means more than the definition that has been cited; in addition, it also means: “ ... to bind together, to hold fast to something ...”

If it is strength that you desire, you must bind your life so intimately with God that His strength literally and thoroughly becomes your strength. 

This term “wait” was actually used in the ancient Hebrew culture as a gathering of waters.  The “wait” of a river was literally where two rivers came together – it was the exact point where two became one!

When water is gathered from two separate streams, it is impossible to ascertain which stream the water has come from.  When water is poured from two different pitchers into a third pitcher, it is impossible to discern which molecule of water came from a certain pitcher.  So it is with the strength of the Lord; when you gather yourself to the Lord and intimately bind yourself to Him, His strength will become your own strength.  You won’t be able to discern when your strength ends and when His begins!

It is in the “wait” where His amazing and supernatural strength becomes your strength!

One of the most miraculous and amazing aspects concerning the strength of God is that He does not give human strength to His children.  He gives of His own divine source of strength. 

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During the difficult days of life, if all you needed were mere human strength, then a self-help guru, a psychology course, or a trip to Hawaii would deliver what you required.  However, what you need is a strength beyond human strength; you need more of Him!  You desperately need God’s strength to be gathered inside of you, and you will receive it while you wait and pray. 

Waiting is the string that is attached to strength.

“  . . . strengthened with all power according to His glorious might . . .” (Colossians 1:11).

All the strength you will ever need to deal with the pain of living this side of Heaven is given according to His glorious might.  God has a power source in Heaven that supplies a lavish source of strength and vigor to those who wait for it. 

When God connects His power outlet with one of His children who has chosen to wait well, He then doles out His strength in profuse and glorious amounts. 

There is no end to the power God gives to those who expectantly hope for all that He is.  God would not know how to give in tiny amounts if we asked Him to ... He only knows of one way to give and that way is according to His glorious might!  When one who waits is desperate for strength, God gives all He has and all He is. 

He gives strength to love an unlovable spouse.
              He gives strength to walk through sickness with joy.

He gives strength to face the holidays with not enough money.
              He gives strength to single parents to respond as both mom and dad.

He gives strength to young parents who are weary and stressed out.
              He gives strength to singles who are yearning to be loved.

He gives strength to widows and widowers to look ahead and not behind.
              He gives strength to couples who are dealing with infertility.

            He gives strength!

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Give All You Can

Have you ever thought about throwing in that infamous towel?  Or maybe you erroneously believe that you don’t even have a towel to throw in!

Have you ever been tempted to give in?!  Perhaps you are in that place today where you have decided to just completely quit trying.

Done and done.  Over and out.

You might have no enthusiasm left … no creativity remaining … no love to stir up … no passion in existence … and you have decided that you have absolutely nothing left to give.

Nothing. Left. To. Give.

Are you admitting to yourself, sadly of course, that it is just time to throw in that ragged, over-used, sweaty towel?

Perhaps you think that it might be more honorable to surrender with at least a bit of dignity remaining rather than stay the course and fail miserably.

Can I talk you off the ledge for a minute?  Would you be willing to lay your towel down for just a minute and to listen rather than to toss?

It’s rather obvious to me that in life we have three choices … we have three options when we are out of breath, out of oomph and ready to worm our way out of commitment.

You can either give up … give in … or give all.

Which will it be?

Let’s talk about giving up.

Giving up simply means that you cut your losses and extricate yourself from responsibility.  You turn your back and walk away. No harm … no foul.

You throw in the towel.

Giving up is a short- term solution to a long-term problem. Giving up might sound like a great idea initially but it never is a wise solution in the long haul of life.

Honor is never attached to giving up and most often is the coward’s way out.

I remember my dad used to say to me, “Winners never quit and quitters never win.”

I’ve never forgotten those 7 words of fatherly wisdom … they have come back to haunt me time after time after time.

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My dad believed in faithfulness and in seeing a commitment through to the end.  I was never allowed to quit piano lessons, Girl Scouts or an advanced level Science course before my commitment was over.

My dad believed that there was victory in simply finishing a task.

So put your towel away and listen just a minute or two longer …

Option number two is to give in.  Give in to failure … give in to weakness … give in to other people’s opinions … give in to frustration.

If you decide that you are going to give in rather than go on – what you are actually doing is resigning yourself to the definite possibility that nothing is ever going to change for you.

If you determine that giving in is probably in your best interest, you are welcoming that boring family member whose name is “Apathy” to come and live for a while in the heart that is your home.

Apathy whose sister is “Indifference” and whose mother is “Passivity”.

Your husband is never going to change … your kids are never going to obey … your health will never get better … your finances will never improve … and your dreams will never come true.

“Giving in” is akin to swamp dwelling … just slogging through life with no seen destination … no driving purpose … and no directive boundaries.

Giving in is as lethal as giving up … believe me … I know.  I have done it a time or two and it has never been a powerful choice.  Giving in has always led to regret, to

the misuse of emotions and to paralyzed dreams.

Don’t do it.  Don’t give up and don’t give in.

There is only one choice left for a person of faith.

Give all.

Give all that you can to prayer.  Give all that you can to love.  Give all that you can to hope.  Give all that you can to service.  Give all that you can to others.  Give all that you can to God.  Give all that you can to your family.  Give all that you can to joy.

Give all.

Give all that you can.

I intend to cross my finish line sweaty and not rusty. I intend to use every talent, every gift, every strength and every bit of passion that I possess into every ordinary day.

I intend to believe when everyone else has given up.

I intend to get my hopes up and then to defiantly keep my hopes up when everyone else has declared, “It’s hopeless”.

I intend to be unselfish when others only think of self.

I intend to pray fervently regardless of the mountains that seem to stand in my way.

I intend to love people who are hard to love and forgive people who have been cruel to me or to someone I love.

I refuse to be offended.

I will be kind.  I will be truthful.  I will be enthusiastic.  I will choose joy.

I will not give in.  I will not give up.  I will give all!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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You are His Masterpiece

When I say the word, “masterpiece” … what comes to your mind?

Perhaps you think of the great artist Rembrandt … or the composer Chopin …  or maybe you remember Charles Dickens, the classic author.

I have often wondered, “Where do you stand in line to be considered as a person whose life is capable of producing a masterpiece for God?”

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Can you even imagine if you had been the person whom God chose to write a timeless song that echoes through the ages? Can you even conceive of the incredible possibility that God would use you to compose a song such as “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” … “We Shall Behold Him” … “The Hallelujah Chorus” … “How Great Thou Art” … “Amazing Grace” … “No Longer Slaves” or “Joy To the World!”

Is it a dream of yours to write a noble book that touches a generation for Christ and His Kingdom? Do you dream of writing a book such as “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” … “The Purpose Driven Life” … “Lord of the Rings” … or “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

Why did God choose Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel?  What did God see in da Vinci that gave him the credentials to recreate “The Last Supper” on a monastery wall?

Why were George Beverly Shea … David Phelps … Sandi Patti … Josh Groban …  Celine Dion … Barbara Streisand … Julie Andrews given voices of epic strength and range? Although not all of these gifted vocalists have used their talents for the glory of God, certainly their gifting was from God.

“All good and perfect gifts are from above.” – James 1:17

Let me assure you that not all masterpieces can be categorized as works of art, pieces of music or volumes of literature.

Some masterpieces are political movements … some are battles against evil … some are discoveries or inventions … while some of the greatest masterpieces in all of human history are simple but profound acts of service.

I think of William Wilberforce who fought against the slave trade in the British Empire and Abraham Lincoln who signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

I ponder the life of Mother Teresa who served the destitute, lepers, victims of tuberculosis and AIDS.

I wonder about Clara Barton who served as a hospital nurse in the Civil War and then founded the American Red Cross or Florence Nightingale who worked tirelessly night after night while tending to the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War.

Certainly their impact on society and on culture can be considered a masterpiece of service, of kindness, and of selfless living.

And what about inventions and discoveries?!  Why did God choose Thomas Edison to invent the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the electrical light bulb?!

Why did God choose George Washington Carver to discover over 100 uses for the peanut … Jonas Salk to develop the polio vaccine … and Benjamin Franklin to discover electricity?

But let me ask again …”Where is the line?!”

“Where do you stand in line to be considered as a person whose life is capable of producing a masterpiece for God?”

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Certainly God is desperate for an ordinary man or a common woman who is willing to give every ounce of sweat, time and talent to His purposes and to His causes.  Isn’t God looking for someone who will say in this generation, “Here am I Lord … send me!”?

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” – II Chronicles 16:9

But how do you get chosen by the Creator of the universe to partner with Him in a cause so eternal that it lives beyond the dash on one’s tombstone?

I want to be that person, do you?!  Do you long for God to use you beyond your wildest dreams … your human abilities … and your academic limitations?

Does your heart literally pound out of your chest as you ponder the possibility that maybe God has something more for you than you are currently experiencing?

It’s not that I want to be “the next” anybody.  I don’t want to be the next “Joyce Meyer” … the next “Beth Moore” … or the next “Ruth Bell Graham”.  I just want to be the only me!

“For You formed my inward parts;

You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Your works and my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in secret,

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance and in Your book were all written

the days that were ordained for me when we yet there was not one of them.

How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!

How vast is the sum of them!” – Psalm 139:13 - 17

My heart aches to do something extraordinary for the Kingdom of God at my moment in history.  I have this urge that won’t be quiet … this persistent pull that never relents … this unseen purpose that keeps knocking on the door of my heart.

I’m standing in that line … jumping up and down … wildly waving my hands in the air to capture God’s attention.

I am kneeling in that line … quietly waiting … patiently trusting … asking my Father to use an ordinary girl like me for His Kingdom and for His purposes.

I am worshipping in that line … keeping my eyes on the Lord … readying myself to hear His voice and to respond without a moment of hesitation.

What has God called you to do?  What dream has the God of creation placed in your soul?

Do you have an idea that only God could have given to you? 

You, my friend, are God’s greatest masterpiece of creation so stand in the line … kneel in the line … worship in the line!  God needs you and your life at this moment in history. The God Who created you as His most extraordinary masterpiece stands ready to make a masterpiece through your life!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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What Does it Mean to "Work Out Our Salvation?"

There is a phrase in the Bible that has always captured me … perplexed me … encouraged me … discouraged me …  and thrilled me.

The phrase is this – “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling …” – Philippians 2:12.

It is found in the framework of a heartfelt sentence of encouragement from Paul, the Apostle, to his dearly loved church at Philippi.  And although Paul wrote it to the ancient Philippians – the Holy Spirit actually had him pen those dynamic words for you and for me.

But what does it mean?  What does it mean to actually work out your salvation with fear and trembling?

Should I be afraid of salvation?  Is salvation a scary process?  Why should I tremble about God’s work in my life?

I believe in the wisdom of context when trying to figure out a complicated Bible passage, so let’s read a bit before and then a bit after this oft-quoted yet difficult to digest principle.

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13

First of all – Paul calls me “beloved” so that has got to be a good thing, right?  He, and that wonderful Holy Spirit, both care about me and they are invested in the woman that I have the potential of becoming.  Although Paul is no longer alive on planet earth, his voice continues to ricochet through the centuries and calls me, his beloved, to a lifestyle of obedience.

I don’t know about you but nearly every single day of my human existence I contend with cultural issues.  I wrestle with God’s will and with trying to discern what a lifestyle of Godliness actually looks like.

When I am in that bloody wrestling ring with my culture, with that diabolical enemy or even with myself, I must always allow the Word of God to set the ground rules. So, rather than trying to decide on my own what is good and what is bad … what is God and what is not … what is me and what is sin … I must simply open the Bible and go on a glorious treasure hunt within its sacred pages.

I must set aside personal bias … I must ignore religious expectations … I must resist cultural persuasion and I must simply allow that same Holy Spirit that Paul listened to, to speak with me through the powerful Word of God.

That’s how I obey.  I read my Bible and obey.  I remind myself that Paul loved me and I obey.

I caution myself that I don’t have a better idea than God and I obey.

I don’t talk back to the Holy Spirit and I obey.

For it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” – Philippians 2:13

Wait … what?!

God is doing a work in me?  God is building something unseen in me?! God rolls up His sleeves and works on me?!

How wondrous is that?!

God puts forth His loving functionality in my life so that I will become like Him! He shows up in the crevices of my life and operates in spite of my weaknesses so that I will be the beneficiary of His divine strength!

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God knows that I am not enough … but that He is always more than enough!

Wow … just wow!

God is absolutely delighted to work in the garden of my life!  He sings over me as He pulls out weeds … as He plants new fruit … and as He gently whispers wisdom.

I am not a bother to God!  He doesn’t roll His eternal eyes at my incompetence nor does He gossip with Jesus about how that Carol McLeod is just not getting it … she is not getting it at all.

God is actually quite fond of cleaning up my messes and coaching me along the journey of life.

God wants His will in my life more than I want it and so He continues to encourage me on a daily basis, He is careful to direct me in His paths of righteousness and He is quick to supervise my decisions.

So … now let’s go back to that conundrum of a phrase “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

The day that you become a Christian, you didn’t automatically become a know-it-all. 

All of your sins have been instantly forgiven but you still have some learning to do!  Your past failures … your daily missteps … and even your future offenses are now under the blood of Jesus Christ.

There is, however, a process to which we all must submit that is called “maturing in your faith”.

And that is where this phrase applies: “ … work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”

If you want to grow strong in your faith you will work it out.  You will discipline yourself to a lifestyle of Godliness and obedience.

You will choose to live for Jesus even when you don’t feel like it.

You will listen for God’s voice and obey even when you would prefer to get your own way.

You will know that God loves you and only wants the best for you and so you will take the Christian walk seriously.

You will honor the One Who made you with your constant devotion, heartfelt obedience and uncompromising righteousness.  The Christian walk is not stand-up comedy.  This maturing in Christ is not to be taken lightly or half-heartedly.

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Jesus took it so seriously that He died for the possibility you would choose to live for Him.

So, friends, this week … I am working it out.  I am laying down my will, my preferences and my street smarts in order to grow in my faith.

You might see me sweat … you might even hear me groan in pain … and you might think I should throw in the towel … but I won’t.  I will never give up.

I will continue to work it outwith fear and trembling.  It’s no laughing matter for me to work it out … but I intend, like Jesus, to give my life for it.

I’m working it out …What else could I do?!

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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Storms & Other Disturbances of the Soul

Storms can be windy places, can’t they?  The wind can stir things up that only yesterday were extremely peaceful and beautifully untouched.

The ferocious and relentless blowing that accompanies a twister often threatens imminent destruction with no thought of what should be off-limits to the powerful storm.

The gale force winds terrorize everything in their pathway … relationships, hopes, dreams, stability and finances.

And then there is the rain of the tempest that drenches everything without respect to value, significance or longevity.

The perpetual precipitation of the downpour often overpowers preparation and minimizes emotional insurance.

What storm is brewing off the coast of your life today?  Do you see it coming on a bull’s eye path in your direction?

Is it the hurricane of difficult finances or of a challenging health situation?  Perhaps the disturbance that is impending your borders was stirred up by fractious relationships or by continual disappointment.

Storms can be windy places, can’t they?

What should a believer do during the dark and discouraging days of storm-tossed living?  Should you just try to just ride it out?  Or, is it advisable to prepare wisely and then simply hope for the best?

Perhaps what you have tried in the past is to scream for help and then desperately claw your way away from the storm?

Is it possible to make it through a windstorm of circumstances without encountering any life-threatening damage?

Is it possible?

I want to talk to two groups of people today – those who are not in a storm and those who are in a storm.

First of all … if you are not in a storm today …trust me on this … different seasons of life often bring massive and oppressive gusts of wind and downpours of disappointment.

If I were you, I would prepare thoroughly and wisely for any future storms that crawl up the coast of life and head in your direction.  I am not a prophet of doom nor am I a storm-chasing meteorologist, but I have lived long enough to know that the rain will fall. 

Eventually … the rain will fall and the winds will blow on all of us.

So, if you are not in a blizzard of difficult circumstances and troublesome conditions today, this is what you can do to prepare for the storms of tomorrow.

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 

And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24 & 25

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Build your life on the Rock.  What does that mean, you say?!  I am so glad that you asked …

Have a daily quiet time when life is serene and constant.  Read your Bible even when the flowers are blooming, the sun is shining and the birds are singing.  Dig deeply into the truth of the sacred page even when your heart is singing with joyous contentment.

Memorize a scripture every month … or even a well-loved verse each week. Hide God’s Word in your heart when you don’t have a care in the world.

Develop the Godly and strengthening habit of cultivating a daily prayer time.  Spend time just thanking God for Who He is and for what He has accomplished in your life.  Make a list of blessings and give God abundant praise for each one.

Come to the Father boldly with your prayer requests and trust that He is listening to you and that His answers are on the way.  Don’t just pray for yourself but cultivate the joyful practice of praying for others as well!

Sing. Out. Loud.  Sing at the top your lungs!  Lift your hands in the air and worship God loudly on the happiest days of your life!  Don’t miss one day of this celebratory, enriching and deliberate practice! Out-sing the lies of the enemy and join in the gorgeous harmonies of those who sit around the throne of the Father.

Attend church … tithe your finances … give above your tithe … join a Bible Study … invite people into your home to pray … support a missionary or go on a mission’s trip … volunteer to serve at your church … encourage someone in need.

All of these vital practices will ensure that your house has been built upon the Rock of Jesus Christ.

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As I watch coastal areas prepare for horrific storms, I realize that people are willing to spend money on sand bags to keep the water out, on lumber to board up their windows and on gallons of bottled water to ensure drinking safety.

What are you willing to spend in order to prepare for the next unmanageable storm that threatens the safety of your life?

And now, if you are currently in a severe tempest in life, wise advice to you is this: Dash for shelter and cry out to the only One who is able to save you!

For You have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shade from the heat.” – Isaiah 25:4

Jesus is your shelter!  Money will not protect you … people will often mistreat you … food will betray you … and your career has no saving power.

Snuggle up into the protective arms of Jesus and allow His presence and His power to be all of the safety that you need during the worst hours of your life.

Call on His Name … declare His authority … remember His promises.

There is no storm that is too formidable for Him and there is not blast of wind that is a match for His great power.

When you are in a storm of impending destruction, don’t make things more difficult than they already are.

Run to Jesus … cry out to your Savior … declare the promises.  It is in that place that you will find all of the safety that you need. Remind yourself that you are in the boat with Him and that He is in the boat with you! You are in good hands with Jesus!

“He said to them, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?  Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the sea and it became perfectly calm.” – Matthew 8:26

Thanks for listening to my heart this week. As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me. And, it continues to be a hear that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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Embracing Change

I always associate the month of September with new beginnings … with a fresh start … with life-altering resolutions and a sort of “Here we go again!” attitude.

When I was a little girl, I absolutely loved the first day of school, did you?! I adored the freshly sharpened pencils, the clean notebooks, the new shoes that pinched my toes and the possibility of a new friend or two!  I couldn’t wait to find out who my new teacher would be and was beyond excited to carry my new lunchbox to school.

I remember distinctly not being able to sleep the night before school began for a new year.  I vividly recall tossing and turning in my pink canopied bed with butterflies dancing through the hallways of my stomach!  And I wasn’t just in kindergarten when this happened … my first-day-of-school insomnia was an annual occurrence all the way to my senior year in high school.

As I was pondering the availability that September produces of a fresh start, I suddenly realized that in order to have a fresh start you must prepare for it! I didn’t enter a new school year as a child without being thoroughly prepared for it.  It took weeks of preparation so that all of the required details were accomplished that would guarantee a successful start to the new year of classes.

Perhaps what you have been ignoring in your life is the required preparation to have that amazing fresh start. You will never accomplish a powerful change in your life until you spend time in the preparation that it requires.

Let me just encourage you today to prepare for a fresh start!  Make a plan so that you can begin again!  Plot out your new course or you will forever be stuck on that unending hamster wheel of living.  Who wants that?!

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“Behold the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.” – Isaiah 42:9

Here are a few solid choices that you can make in order to embrace a new and innovative change in life –

First of all, this question, “What do I want to change?” 

Do you want to change your income level?  Or your weight?  Or your health?  Or the way in which you parent?

Do you want a better marriage?  Do you desire to have a healthier relationship with your parents?

Do you want to work less?  Read more? Waste less time on social media?  Reconnect with old friends?  Spend more time with family?

Write out your desired change and keep it continuously in front of you.  Write it out on a sticky note and put it on your dashboard of your car.  Write it in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. Write it on a 3x5 card and put it in your wallet.  Attach it to the refrigerator door with a magnet.

You must be constantly reminded of that which you wish to change otherwise you will never get around to it.

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The second question you must answer in order to enact life-altering and long-term change is this, “Why do I want to change?”

Motivation is a grand determinate in order to accomplish desired change in one’s life.  Conversely, lack of motivation is like throwing water on your slowly burning embers of desire.

If you don’t know why you want to change, then you will never change!  Figure out the “why” before you determine the “how”.

When I lost nearly 50 pounds a few years ago, it was because I had battled cancer and I knew that I had to change my life in order to live a long time!  Talk about motivation!  When death stares you in the face, suddenly you get your motivation on!

I didn’t lose weight to fit into a size 6 or to look good in pictures, I lost weight so that I could live and serve God wholeheartedly.  That is my motivation … what is yours?

And the third question that you must confront is this one, “How am I going to make the desired change?”

Answering this third question is where that infamous rubber meets the road to change.

Do you need to meet with someone to help you establish a budget?

Do you need to join a gym? Do you need to get a library card? Do you need to put a lock on the refrigerator door?!

Plot out a few practical steps that will actuate your desired change and then discipline yourself to embrace new habits.

New habits are nothing to be dreaded but they are the freedom that you have been longing for!

“Discipline” is not a dirty word but it is the word that champions build a life upon!

All successful change requires diligent work and a little bit of sweat!  If you long for a fresh start in life, prepare to be the newer, better version of yourself.

What do you want to change?

Why do you want to change?

How will you make the change happen?

It’s up to you, my friend, but I believe in you! I believe that this is a brand new season for you and that a fresh start is just one choice away.

“Yet one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 3:13 & 14

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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New Beginnings

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I have always loved “new”.

I have always been inspired by freshly-sharpened pencils … a never-been-used notebook … a new, stylish dress … and crisp sheets on my bed.

What “new” things do you delight in?

I have always been rejuvenated by a bouquet of freshly-picked flowers from the garden … a book with an unbroken spine … the sparkling possibility of a brand-new friendship.

There have been stellar and unmatched moments in my life when I embrace the glory of the “new” just like a two-year old splashes in the puddles of a spring rain!

My adrenaline jumps when I experience the glee ofa pair of spotless white tennis shoes … a red, ripe tomato still warm from the sunshine in a summer’s garden … and an empty calendar ready to be filled with the activities of a new year.

As a mother, I’ll simply never forget one of the greatest “new” moments in my life.  I, in fact, have experienced this particular “new” 5 times over. 

As long as I am living and breathing this side of heaven, I will always sweetly remember the sensation of holding a newborn baby in my arms … so fresh from heaven … so untouched by the world … so miraculously unblemished.

5 times I have experienced the gift of a new life … a red, wrinkled face and 10 perfect little toes … clear, innocent eyes ready to explore the life that was ahead.

When I placed my nose up to the perfection of their little mouths, I could almost smell heaven in their baby breath.

There is absolutely nothing that compares to the gift of a new baby.

However, there is another “new” that brings unexplainable joy to my heart!

This unforgettable, too-good-to-be-true, “let’s change the world” celebratory experience is the “new” of a fresh start!

A do-over! A second chance!

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I love the crystalline possibility that comes with being able to start over again … to begin again … to take a deep breath and to set my gaze toward tomorrow in spite of what lies behind me.

A new day … an untouched tomorrow … a pioneer spirit.

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, now I declare new things; before they spring forth I proclaim them to you.” – Isaiah 42:9

I was talking last week to a young woman who is about to jump off the diving board of safe and protected family life into the pool of exciting collegiate living.

I said to her, “Tori!  You can be anyone you want to be!  Decide who you truthfully are in the deepest part of your soul and then be that girl! Don’t let anything or anyone hold you back from being the person you have always longed to become!”

And as I spoke those words over her novice life, I realized that the same possibility was just as true for me as it was for her.

It doesn’t matter that she is a fresh 18 year-old and that I am a seasoned 62 year-old.

It doesn’t matter that my body has been marked by wrinkles and with stretch marks and that she is beautifully young.

It doesn’t matter that Tori has more of life in front of her than behind her while I have more of life behind me than in front of me.

It doesn’t matter that Tori is about to become a college co-ed and I am a grandmother 7 times over.

It. Doesn’t. Matter.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – II Corinthians 5:17

Christ loves to give fresh starts to wrinkled, spotted and tired bodies

He loves to speak new life over the dead, barren places in our hearts.

Christ came to make us new … He knew that there would be seasons in life that would just wear us down with weakness and worry. He came to give new power and new strength.

Christ came to make us new … He understood that discouragement and disappointment would age us into decrepit versions of ourselves long before He was done using us.  And so He came to give fresh hope and renewed joy.

Christ cares not what the date on your birth certificate is, how many wrinkles you have accumulated on your formerly newborn skin, or how much of life has past you by.

He came to make you new! He longs to hold you in His arms and gaze at your potential.

His heart is overwhelmed with the complete joy of giving life to you whether you are 18 or 82.

He loves gazing into your eyes and celebrating all that is yet ahead!

So today is your day for a fresh start … for a new beginning … and for a divine make-over.

You see, the God Who is an expert at making all things new, has made you!

He is the God who is making all things miraculously new … and that includes YOU!

“And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” – Revelation 21:5

Thanks for listening to my heart this week.  As you know by now, my heart is truly not a perfect heart but it is a heart that is filled to overflowing with gratitude for the life I have been given and for the people who walk with me.  And, it continues to be a heart that is relentlessly chasing after God and all that He is!

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