Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

“Open for me the gates of righteousness;
I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.”
Psalm 118:19 (NIV)

Gratitude is such a powerful force! It lifts our perspective, mood and spirit. In fact, I believe it can usher us into the presence of God.

So I invite you to look for reasons big and small to give thanks today. The reasons begin as soon as we open our eyes and raise from our bed. We can thank God for another rising sun to light and warm our day, to ripen our food, and to cause winter flowers to bloom. Now you tell me, what you are thankful for today?

If you want to know more about the power of gratitude, and you missed my "Thank You Power" devotion earlier this week, pop over here to read it. I think you'll be inspired.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A friend's devotion

It was so touching to read your comments on yesterday's post ... to hear you pour out gratitude and see your spirit lifted in the process. Many of you have experienced great losses recently and you showed us how to give thanks in every thing, as is the will of God for everyone.

A girlfriend, Sharon Sloan, wrote this devotion below for Thanksgiving week and I think it points out an important truth: thankfulness ushers us into the presence of God. Blessings ~ Rachel

“Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise;
give thanks to Him and praise His name.” Psalm 100:4

A heart of genuine thanksgiving and praise ushers us across His threshold so we can dwell in the Lord’s presence throughout the day. As we seek to abide in Him, our thankful hearts prepare the way for us. With a grateful and respectful posture before the Lord, we can expect to hear His still, small voice and sense His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear Him, on those who hope in His unfailing love.” Psalm 33:18

Genuine thankfulness flows from a humble and reverent heart before the Lord. As we go to Him with gratitude, acknowledging Him in all things, our hearts are postured to receive direction from Him. Then, as we commune with Him from the depths of our hearts throughout the day, we can bring Him our petitions, our fears and our struggles. With the humility of thankfulness as a backdrop, our hearts are poised reverently before Him. He will guide us and lead us. “I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God.” Ecc. 8:12

When my children approach me with a humble and thankful heart, it is much easier for me to talk with them, rejoice with them, pray with them and guide them. Their hearts are ready. But when they are being selfish, stubborn, prideful and entitled, they don’t hear and are not ready for my instruction and help. The condition of their heart is key to our communication.

It is the same with us and our Heavenly Father, who loves His children perfectly. When our hearts are right before Him, He can minister His Truth to us and reason with us. He can encourage and equip us. He can commune with us. “He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God.” Psalm 50:23

Let’s make it routine not just to count our blessings, but to continually give thanks to God for them. To acknowledge Him in all our ways. To bow before Him with sincerity, thankfulness and reverence. We will dwell in His presence, commune with Him and receive His encouragement and love. Then we'll have "sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” Col. 3:22

Thanks, Sharon, for the Word today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Gratitude journaling

Welcome if you've found your way here from my devotion. Feel free to introduce yourself and maybe tell me what are you thankful for at this moment on this day.

If answering that question is surprisingly harder that you expected, maybe you should join me in staring a gratitude journal. I've keep one in the past and I can tell you it is certain to stoke the fires of gratefulness in your heart, and bring the many benefits of "thank you power" I wrote about in the devotion linked here. You just have to commit to doing it several nights a week - it only takes a couple minutes.

"God gave you a gift of 86,400 seconds today. Have you used one to say 'thank you?'" ~ William A. Ward

So how do you start? Simple. First choose a book to be your gratitude journal. It can be a journal book, a small sketch book, or a small spiral bound notebook - whatever works for you. Just make sure you find it visually appealing. You can decorate the cover of a subject notebook if you wish- try ribbons, stamping, photographs, or maybe decoupage. If you do create yours, I hope you'll post a picture of it on your blog and then leave the link here in the comments so we can come see it. Until I see yours and get inspired to decorate one myself, I'm using the one pictured here. It's by Dayspring.

Place your journal beside your bed along with a pencil or pen. All you do is at the end of the day, sit with your journal and write down 5 things your are thankful for. Once you've completed your list, whisper thanks to God (from whom all blessings flow).

At first it might seem hard to list 5 things every day. Also, your lists might look the same a lot at the start, and that's OK. Just remember you can list "big" things (grace, health, family, job, friends) and also "little" things (bird you spotted this morning, the friendly waitress who made you laugh, the house down the street that looks so festive at Christmas time, minty-fresh toothpaste). Anything positive will do, so long as you can be honestly thankful for it.

What if you come up with more than 5 things one evening? Great, feel free to jot more down. What if you come up with less than 5? Look back over past entries and see if that helps get your mind going. You can always list precious promises like salvation or God's promise to never leave us!

My deal with myself is that if I can't fill a list of 5, I'll copy into my journal a verse from the Bible (like Psalms) that speaks about being grateful, or that gives me a reason to be thankful to God. I also enjoy including motivating quotes in my gratitude journal such as:

"I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder." ~ G.K. Chesterton

The gratitude journal shouldn't take long to fill out each evening. And as the days and weeks go on and you make this a part of your routine, you'll find yourself making mental notes through out the day - I'm going to remember this and write it in my journal. That's when gratefulness becomes the lens through which you look at your day, and the benefits of "thank you power"start kicking in.

So give it a try and let me know how it goes if you choose to start a journal. If you don't plan to start one right now, just post a comment here and tell us what you're thankful for today.

  1. I'm thankful so far today for a warm house on this wintery morning.
  2. For the kisses my little boy just gave me.
  3. For my morning green tea, and the health benefits it has.
  4. And for the holiday coming on Thursday ... because while my husband likes the "routine" days of life, I like the "punctuation" marks like holidays.
  5. I'm also thankful you visited!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Will you pray for this event? updated

UPDATE: Thanks so much for praying for this event. I was at the Lone Star Cowboy Church in Montgomery, Texas on Saturday night for a holiday event. I loved the cowboy church, by the way. They were great to work with and their sanctuary was beautiful, in a rugged cowboy kind of way.

These women's hearts were open to the Lord, and many responded at the end as we prayed. Please keep praying for this community. As I was driving there from the Houston airport before the event, the pastor's wife, Darla Weaver, called to let me know their community has suffered tragedy this past month. Seven different teenagers at different times have died in the last few weeks. They had two funerals right before I came last week. So many families are grieving, and the whole community feels shaken at the multiple tragedies in rapid succession. I know you'll pause and pray.

Pastor Randy, wife Darla Weaver

Here are some more pictures ... I'm guessing you all want to know what a cowboy church is like. I was certainly curious before I went.

The main church building on their property, which included other buildings, plus a pen and a riding area. You can't see it but there was a sign that says, "Please do not tie horse to fence."

However, most people drive there in cars.

But not always!

This is the bar in the foyer where they serve coffee and about 75 dozen donuts every Sunday.

I attended the first of their three church services on Sunday before heading back to the airport, and very much enjoyed worshipping with them. These cowboys rock.

I had to stop and refuel my rental car before returning it at the airport. In the process, I managed to lose my debit card. Only I didn't realize this until I was checking in at the airline counter. It was my only means of money other than the $12 cash I had left after paying a couple of road tolls. Not good.

You should have seen me trying to figure out how to eat lunch and dinner at airports (home of the $6.55 plus-tax plain hot dog) for just $12. And the airlines no longer pass out free Cokes and pretzels on the flights either.

Without the debit card, I couldn't pay to check my luggage. Airlines now charge about $20 to check a bag - even for one small bag. Fortunately, this one was small enough to qualify as a carry-on, but the bottles inside the bag were not. So I had to throw away my voluminizing shampoo and conditioner. It was a brand I love that was recently discontinued too.

Plus, or shall I say "worst of all," I had to throw away a big bottle of hairspray that I'd just bought last week. Doesn't Homeland Security know it is dangerous to make a southern woman part with her hairspray? ... We're talking threat level RED dangerous. Especially when it's a hungry southern woman who can't afford to buy a Starbucks to soothe her nerves.


Hey Friends. I leave tomorrow for a Christmas outreach event in Texas. I'm very excited to go and to see what God does in the hearts of these women. Would you pray for this event? Thanks so much, and blessings to you.

Psalm 131

Welcome if you're visiting from my devotion today at Proverbs 31. If you haven't read it, you can follow the link and do so. I suggested we could talk about the reflection questions if you want, so ...

Let's talk ...

Can you recall something you have “weaned” off of, and now your appetites are changed?

For me that list would include things like sleeping way too late. I do still sleep in sometimes, just to a much lesser degree. It would include the cigarettes I smoked in college. That was hard to wean from, but I'm so glad those appetitees changed! Perhaps also the need for God to give me some tingly feelings and ground-breaking new insights every time I sit down to read the Bible. Interestingly, I think I get more out of my Bible reading now that I've let go of that expectation. I do expect to get something out it when I read scripture - I pray for that - but I don't need the "beaming light from heaven" experience to keep me coming back.

Is there something you are being weaned from now? Or something you know that God wants to wean you from?

Hum ... I'm not sure ... well, right now I'm working on some of my eating habits. So that might qualify. I eat fairly healthy, but I do have a sweet tooth that can get me into trouble. When I indulge that sweet tooth too much, my energy and ability to focus slips. God has placed many great opportunities on my plate at the moment, and I need to be a good steward of my energy to attend to them. So I guess I'm weaning some from eating whatever I want without regard for how it will affect me.

Or, are you obsessing over ambitions or roles you desire that God hasn't necessarily called you to or created you for?

I've definitely done this in the past. For the moment, however, I'm in a good place with this one. ... probably because my plate is full. I struggle more with this when my plate is not very full. I also understand my particular giftings and strengths, so that helps too. Have you ever taken a personality test or a spiritual gifts questionnaire?

Monday, November 10, 2008

The 80's are back, but they're a bust

This weekend my kids were invited to a birthday party at a skating rink. I was stoked! I used to love to skate. In fact, I even have my roller skates from middle school.

It is no small miracle that I still have these skates. Its a long story but when I was 17 my mother died, our house was sold, and nearly all of our possessions were sold as well (sold or stolen - its kind of a sorted story). While I don't have any of the clothes, furniture, toys or mementos from my childhood, I do have my roller skates.

After the birth of my first child, a couple girlfriends and I decided to go roller skating one evening as a girls night out. I strapped on my old skates - white boots with orange wheels - and even though I was wearing maternity jeans instead of my old Jordache jeans, I felt like I was 13 again. We laughed and skated, and did the Hokey Pokey like we were back in the 80's. That was ten years ago. Then I put the skates away again, until this Saturday.

The skating rink this Saturday was perfect. It was complete with a disco ball, strobe lights, and even a "fog" machine and it felt like the 80's were back. I eagerly strapped on my middle school skates and hit the floor. I took my first lap slow but they felt as good as ever. About the time I was ready to experience the wind in my hair, I felt a funny bump under my right skate. Thud ... thud ... thud ... thud... I could tell something was uneven. I looked down at my skate wheels expecting to find a candy wrapper or something stuck to it, instead I found the entire orange covering on one of my wheels had come off!

For a moment the 80's were back and feeling good ... but then my nostalgic bubble was burst.

I took off my old skates and traded in for a pair of the skating rink's skates. They were brown rather than white and they didn't come up past my ankle like my old skates do. At first they felt strange and I skated a little unsure of myself. But after a few laps on them I was feeling at home, skating, spinning, "shooting the duck," skating backwards, and doing the chicken dance in center rink with the kids.

Our favorite pair of shoes is usually an old pair isn't it? We like the ones that are broken in, conformed to our feet, and worn soft in all the right places. They’re the ones we grab when we want to feel comfortable and not have to think about our feet. They aren't much to look at but they feel oh-so-good.

Our old patterns of behavior can be like that too – especially those sinful behaviors we like to repeatedly indulge in. Patterns like gossipping with friends, over-eating, day-dreaming about a married man, or taking our anger out on others when we're in a bad mood. They may not be all that pretty, or smell all that great, but they can feel oh-so-good at the time. They’re comfortably familiar and we often choose to wear them without thinking about it.

Wearing our new identity in Christ, doing the things He calls us to, can be as hard to get used to as a new pair of shoes. It feels awkward, and may even feel binding in spots. At times we give up and throw back on our old selves. Just like the skinny jeans and leg-warmers of the 80's are comming back in fad, back comes my sinful self if I'm not careful. And each time I let it, because it feels good at the time, I lose my bearings. How much better to walk with God in the new garments He made for us.

Let's take a look at the "skates" God encourages us to trade in, and the ones He wants us to put on. Check it out here: Colossians 3:8-15.

All Skate ... tell us what has the power to take you back to your childhood, like roller skating does for me?

And if you're feeling brave enough ... tell us if there is something that you recognize has the power to take you back to your sinful ways?

Couples' Skate ... Take Jesus' hand today and venture out onto the rink of life, trusting that His ways will keep you upright and moving forward with grace you wouldn't otherwise have.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A new dawn

It's a new dawn. It's a new day. And as the sun rises in the sky this morning, we have a new president-elect.

I stayed up late last night to see that fact announced. I watched as John McCain gave a gracious concession speech. His praiseworthy character was on full display. May we all be moved to imitate his passion for serving others with such humility.

Then I watched the historic moment when an African-American man stood up to speak as the president of the United States. Regardless of my differences of opinion with him on some issues, it was a very stirring moment. As I studied the brown and white faces gathered together hugging and cheering in Chicago, I had hope that this election would bring a measure of healing to race relations in this country.

I listened to Obama's speech next. Like McCain's, Obama's words included humility, hope, and a desire to move forward united. And like McCain, he concluded by invoking God's blessing on our nation. If you missed his speech, I encourage you to watch it online. Personally, I thought it was a positive start to what I pray will be effective leadership.

I expect that Obama's elation this morning at a large goal accomplished - a presidential election won - is bitter-sweetly mixed with a heavy feeling of responsibility. He has a huge task in front of him.

For Obama, much work lies ahead. I pray he is given the strength to do it.

He inherits many problems. I pray he is given the wisdom and creativity to solve them.

He will have many tough decisions to make. I pray he is given discretion and discernment to make them.

He will have political opposition to reach out to and work with in Washington, I pray he is given the grace and gumption to do that.

And I pray all the same things for us - the citizens of the US. For Obama's responsibilities and challenges are our own. I don't want to sit idly by, complaining, lamenting or criticizing when I could be encouraging, praying and serving. I want to be the light the world is straining to see by. I want to supply the hope our world craves. I want to model the values I desire in my neighbors and my leaders. So may God also grant us wisdom, creativity, discretion, discernment, grace and the gumption to face each day and each obstacle ahead with hope from on High.

This morning I am reading Psalm 21. Verse one begins:

"The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases."

May it be so with the heart of our new president, and every leader that serves us. Some of you, my sisters-in-Christ, are fearful today of what Obama's leadership might bring. I understand that. But I hope that you will remember that the king's heart is not out of God's reach. Nor are God's ears deaf to our prayers.

You can click on the link to Psalm 21 above if you want to keep reading the full psalm.

Oh, one last thing, my Starbucks gave away a free coffee yesterday to anyone who voted. Did yours? I love this country!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The election - just do it

I've gotten a lot of emails lately that make me feel as if the sky might fall depending on the outcome of tomorrow's election. So, have you voted yet? I have - only took me 25 minutes. The hours are counting down for election day and I hope that you too will choose to participate.

I want you to vote not because I'm convinced that one candidate will move us closer to God than the other - no candidate, political party, or form of the human system of government will usher us into the Kingdom of God. Sure, some forms have proven more beneficial than others, and some leaders are better than others. But the Old Testament is one giant case study that reveals god-following leaders (like Moses) bearing godly laws (like the 10 commandments) can't make man or society what God would have us be. We need the cross and the Spirit of God for that. I also recall the disciples mistakenly thinking Jesus came to set up and lead a political government. He corrected them.

Nor do I want you to vote because I'm convinced this is the most crucial time/election in history ever. Many feel that way right now, and they feel panic. This election is "historic" and there are serious crises going on in America. But the people of God have seen worse. Consider the 400 years of slavery in Egypt, or the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., or the holocaust. But nothing that has ever happened in this world, or will happen, throws God off course. Eventually God's Kingdom will be the kingdom of the earth ... but not because we finally elected the right people to office and got all the laws written right, but rather because God vanquishes Satan.

I want you to vote because I want you to engage in your life, in your community, and in your culture. Vote not only for your next president but for your local and state government positions as well. Often times those leaders make a far great difference in our daily lives than who is sitting in the oval office.

I want you to vote because it is a privilege that many do not have, and it does make a difference. Many people suffer under dictatorships. Voting is a privilege that people have died for - both willingly and unwillingly. And we get to freely do it in this country.

I want you to vote because I think it's important that you think and pray through the issues, make your voice heard as best as you feel led, and then trust God to manage the outcome ... just as Daniel did in the last passage we read together. If you continue reading in Daniel, you'll see it revealed that God - not our president or kings - is ultimately in charge here. (See also Romans 13:1 linked here)

Finally, I want to leave you with a stirring thought from John Ortberg:

Imagine that we elected all the right people to all the right offices. President, Congress, governors, right down to the school board, city council members, and dog catcher. Let's imagine that all of these ideal office holders instituted all the right policies. Every piece of legislation—from zoning laws, to tax codes, to immigration policy, to crime bills—is just exactly the way you know it ought to be.

Would that usher in the kingdom of God?

Would the hearts of the parents be turned toward their children?
Would all marriages be models of faithful love?
Would greed and pride be legislated out of existence?
Would assistant pastors find senior pastors to be models of harmony and delight?
Would human beings now at last be able to master our impulses in the areas of sexuality, and anger, and narcissism?

Would you finally become the woman or man you know you ought to be?

In the words of theologian Macaulay Culkin: "I don't think so." Because no human system has the ability to change the human heart. Not even democracy, or capitalism, or post-modern-emergent-ancient-future-missionalism.

So, my friends, I'll go out and vote. But I don't expect the sky to fall, no matter which candidate is elected. (It will only fall if God allows it to, and even then He has a plan for its renewal.) And I don't look to my political leaders or our government to accomplish what only God can do - though I do want the best leaders possible and I care deeply about our country.

I know some will disagree with me here, and that's okay - we have freedom of speech. :) But I hope all will join me in praying for His kingdom to come and His will to be done in America, and on earth, as it is in heaven ... through His power and in His name.