Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Worth Celebrating

This Sunday - Easter Sunday - is no more or less holy than any other day in my life. Jesus died for all our days - for our ability to wake up on any given Tuesday in June, or Friday in December, or Monday in May filled with God's Spirit.

Nonetheless, Easter is a special time of remembering and rejoicing! For me, it is important to recall what happened in Jesus' life during that holy week some 2000 years ago. To identify with Him in His passion and in His pain, as well as in His triumph.

I find it equally important to reflect on what's happened in my life since I grasped the utter importance of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection for me. Paul writes:

"You can readily recall, can't you, how at one time the more you did just what you felt like doing—not caring about others, not caring about God—the worse your life became and the less freedom you had? And how much different is it now as you live in God's freedom, your lives healed and expansive in holiness?"
~ Romans 6:19 (MSG)

Yes, Paul, I can recall. I remember it with a shudder. Followed by waves of thankfulness rippling through my soul. I am now, in Christ, redeemed. I am cleansed and set free. I'm more knowledgeable of Truth, and its source. I am less critical; less cynical. I am more trusting, and more trust worthy. I am less dominated by unruly emotions, more centered in the unchanging foundation of the world. I can overcome temptation. I can access strength beyond my own. I can love. Really, truly, love. And I have joy.

All this propels me to celebrate the goodness of life in Christ this week. Not to just put on a flowery dress and attend church on Sunday, but to c-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-e with mindfulness and gratefulness. I purpose not to let a single blessing of life in Christ, or the smallest gift from my Father's hand slip by me unnoticed or unacknowledged  this week. I will drink in the scriptures and let them wash through my thoughts. I will pull my family close and love them through their imperfections and mine. And when I say grace before a meal, I will remember the Bread of Christ, broken for me some 2000 years ago.

I invite you to join me.

Thankful for the sacrifice God made through Christ to bring you and me to Himself.

Easter Tradition

I started an Easter tradition a few years ago: Each Easter week I watch the gospel of Mathew on DVD from The Visual Bible series. It's a dramatization of the book of Matthew using dialogue taken word-for-word from the NIV.

It is like the Bible - in this case, Jesus - come to life.

It's long, nearly 5 hours long. So I don't typically manage to watch it all in one sitting, even though I usually want to. I've tried to watch the whole thing at once in order to absorb the whole story. Taking in the whole picture at once gives me a coherent view that often goes missing when I zero in on portions of scripture for daily reading or study. Just like looking at a picture of the whole earth from space brings a different understanding of something I walk, touch and see every day.

Plus, the first few hours of this video is so soothing. Rick and my dad have both fallen asleep watching it with me. Not out of boredom or exhaustion, but just because it has a tranquil effect. Not so much towards the end of the story, when Jesus is falsely accused, imprisoned, hung and buried. But before and after that somehow quietly uplifts my soul in a way that makes it rest easy.

The thing I love most about this dramatization is the attitude and facial expressions of Jesus. He is a joyful Jesus - a laughing God. I see a Savior that reaches out and tousles a disciple's hair as he delivers teaching designed to correct his misunderstandings - our misunderstandings. Familiar lines of scripture take on new shades of meaning for me while watching the actor and listening to the scriptures. Shades that wade into the purples and greens of friendship and life.

With just a brief stop in a blood red that faded to black before astonishingly turning gloriously white.

I am thankful Easter is here - a time when I'm reminded eternal life amazingly flows in me because of this laughing, loving, teaching, dying, rising God I serve. 

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Spring in France, or Italy

Spring Break has officially arrived in my town, only my husband has to go to work today.  It's a special Saturday for high school seniors considering coming to the university in the fall. Rick will teach a shortened class for them today on communication and popular culture.
I don't have to teach today - I'll be reading.  Yesterday afternoon the kids and I visited the public library.  I put several books on reserve, browsed the shelves, and came out with:
  • Bella Tuscany by Frances Mayes (a memoir)
  • Encore Provence: New Adventures in the South of France by Peter Mayle
  • The Time Paradox by Philip Zimbardo (non-fiction)
So you can see, I'll be spending my Spring Break time traveling between France and Italy.

spring reading

Thinking about picking up a fiction book to start as well.  I just finished a preview copy of Marybeth Whalen's The Mailbox, which releases this summer.  I enjoyed it and think it will make great beach reading. As always, I'm all ears for any good reads you've found recently.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Shiny People Affect My Thoughts

Sitting in the overstuffed chair at Barnes and Nobel I feel undersized. My feet don’t quite touch the floor with my back against the cushion. So I pull my legs up and fold them beneath me, making a bird’s nest of my lap. I pour my attention onto the pages of my selected book. People walk past me – surely, it’s a busy Sunday afternoon – but I don’t notice. I’m enamored with the words before me. I’m following in the footsteps of the author, from my perch in the enormous chair.

Twenty some minutes go by before I look up and stretch. The bookstore café sits in my sight line, just two dozen feet before me. People are milling about. None of them in particular stand out. Until I spot the woman, coiffed like a porcelain doll. Ready to be someone’s bright-eyed treasure. She’s attractive, put together, and carries herself with that certain air long time southern residents with a good bit of money seem to possess.

I stop scanning the café and watch only her. That is until a dark-haired man in a suit enters a few minutes later and heads to the tail of the coffee line. His suit is out of place for this time and space. But I suspect he could still stand out in a pair of kaki Dockers.

I watch him awhile, inching his way towards the counter, waiting his turn to order an espresso. Then I return my gaze to the woman, now seated at her table with her trendy bag, cell phone, coffee cup and papers, likely doing something important. Or at least doing something well. I notice my pulse has slightly increased. And when I inventory my thoughts, I find them discussing how to be as attractive and commanding as these two.

That's ironic, given that a few paragraphs back in the book, I’d paused at the author’s line, “When did looking good become your god?”

Monday, March 22, 2010

Opening my eyes, heart & hands

Today I cleaned house, washed 3 loads of laundry, went to the grocery store, and worked on some devotions for Proverbs 31. In the process of all that I used Clorox cleaning wipes, my high capacity front load washer, an automatic dishwasher, a vacuum, a debit card and a laptop.

The grocery store took longer than I expected. I scanned about a dozen aisles worth of foods deciding if I felt like Italian food, a Mexican dinner, or grilling out tonight. I decided on Italian. Spaghetti with a marina meat sauce, a tossed green salad, and Semolina bread. I also picked up some organic eggs and milk for tomorrow's breakfast. Plus apples and granola bars for the kids' snacks. I loaded it all into the back of my car and drove home listening to smooth jazz on XM radio.

Returning home I unpacked the groceries, made a phone call to my husband about a writer's retreat I'm hoping to go on, and then sat down to my computer to work some more. Not once today had I thought about all the luxuries in my life. All the things I take as "necessities" that so many in the world are without. Things like freedom, safety, work with a regular paycheck. Access to uncontaminated drinking water. Running water in my home and a tank to heat it up for relaxing showers. Access to such a great variety of foods. Machines to take me places, machines to do much of my work for me, and machines to play music that soothes my psyche whenever I care to hear it.

Logging onto my laptop again, I saw an email alerting me I'd been tagged in a Facebook photo. I followed the link to discover ...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Admiring Commitment

The carnival winner is announced at the end of this post. Thanks to everyone who participated, and to everyone who took the time to read the devotions.

Some of you had the same reaction I did to writing on the topic of Pleasing God ... oh, that should be easy! The Bible is full of teaching about what pleases God ... let's see.... hum, what should I write about? Oh my, trying to boil this down to a devotion or a singular focus is harder than I expected. So I really enjoyed seeing what each of you did with that topic.

Lately I've been appreciating people who display a single-minded focus on the thing they care about. Last year I became engrossed in the show Whale Wars. I should preface that by saying while I do care deeply about the environment ... I recycle every week, have reusable grocery bags, avoid stepping on ants, and look for various ways to go green ... no one would ever label me radical about it. And frankly, groups of people who were radical about it made me a little uncomfortable. Then I went on vacation and wound up watching a Whale Wars marathon ...   

Monday, March 15, 2010

Devotional Carnival - PLEASING GOD

Welcome writers and readers. Last month's devotional carnival was so much fun; we're doing it again this month. I've been working on a new speaking topic about pleasing God, stemming from my study of Jonah at the beginning of the year. I think Jonah thought he knew a lot about what pleases God. I think God thought Jonah had a thing or two yet to learn!

I'm certain I have a thing or two yet to learn about what pleases God, so I'm looking forward to reading YOUR devotional thoughts on the matter.

To participate, post your devotion on your blog today, including a note with link back here that you're participating in this month's devotional carnival. Then come and click on the green "Mr. Linky You're Next" graphic below. A box will open for you to type in your name (or blog name, or devotion title) and the URL to your blog post. Make sure you are entering the link to your specific devotion post and not just your general blog address. Mr. Linky does the rest.

*Clicking on the green linky text below is also how you'll find the links to read others' devotions if you just want to read today. If you're reading, I hope you'll leave some comments to encourage these writers.

Once you're done linking, leave a comment if you want to be entered to win the Starbucks gift card. And enjoy the others' submissions as you cruise around the links sipping your coffee, tea, or whatever while learning to please God. I'll be sipping on a bottle of light green Borba lychee fruit water. I have no idea if that pleases God or not, but I sure hope it does me.

Thankful for clean drinking water and the pure Word of God.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Does evangelism scare you?

On Wednesday, I was writing about heaven and asking people what they expect it to be like.  Part of one woman's comment said:

"I'm struggling with a non-desire to be here on earth any longer than I need to be. I know I'm here for His purpose and I don't want to deny Him anything from His design for me, but I find my desire to work here waining. I guess what I really am questioning is why I don't desire to share this treasure with my non-believing friends and people I encounter? I am comfortable to share and encourage other believers, but those that I encounter that don't know or don't care to know Christ...I avoid sharing my faith with them.

For so long I've battled with whether or not I'd offend them and ...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Heaven Help Us

Continuing the topic from my devotion published today ... Many people I've asked admit they aren't really looking forward to heaven all that much.  Oh sure, they greatly prefer it to the alternative, and they love God, but they suspect heaven won't be all that fun.  At least not compared to here where we have great food, movies, things to accomplish, amusement parks, vacations in exotic locations and hobbies we enjoy. They're afraid heaven will be one long, boring choir concert.

Have you read The Chronicles of Narnia series? C.S. Lewis ends the last book in the series with a paragraph that excites me about heaven:

"... but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story, which no one on earth has ever read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before."

— C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle

I believe heaven will far surpass our best notions of it. I believe that because that's the kind of God I know and serve. And because He is ultimately responsible for all the good things we enjoy in life here. My mother-in-law, a nature lover, once told me she wasn't looking forward to heaven.  I asked why. She replied, "I understand there are streets of gold, and I prefer the greens of moss and grass." I assured her that since God made the greens of grass, she could trust that she'll like whatever heaven contains. She is there now.

I also believe that how I live on earth determines to a degree what my life in heaven will be like - the theology of rewards. I believe that because that's what I see the Bible teaching, and it reflects God's character of justice. (Salvation to heaven, which is not based on my actions but simply my faith in Jesus, reflects God's character of grace). I've been writing about that some in my upcoming book It's No Secret.
So, what do you believe heaven will be like?   Where did you get those notions?

If your notions came from particular verses in scripture, I'd love for you to post them in the comments for us to read and learn from. Let's find out together this week, as best we can on this side of the Great Shadow, what heaven is really like.

Thankful for the hope and promise of heaven.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Calling all devotion lovers - March

As you may know, I am the editor for Proverbs 31 Ministries' online devotional "Encouragement for Today." I'm also the General Editor, along with my friend Lysa TerKeurst, of the devotional book God's Purpose for Every Woman. I read devotions because in just a couple minute's time, they pull my heart towards God.

And that makes me a better woman.

I'm not alone. Last month I got an email from a sweet husband saying: "I signed my wife up to your daily devotionals about 2 years ago. I have noticed a change in her heart, her actions, and words. She is even more beautiful today than when I married her. Thank you for your words of encouragement, your transparency and most of all sharing God's truth and Love."

Reading devotionals can be a powerful exercise in renewing our minds in Christ. Writing them can too. Writing does wonders for my walk with God. It helps me recognize what God's doing, or has done, in my life. It helps me grapple with and apply God's truths from scripture. And writing devotions helps me turn my thoughts heavenward.

So I got to thinking ... what if you wrote devotions too? And I and others could read them? So I decided last month to hold a devotional carnival here on my blog (see here). It was so much fun, with about 40 participating, that I'm continuing this month. Next Monday, March 15, I'll host another devotional blog link up party.

If you're interested in participating, here's the simple how-to: Offer a key Bible verse that ties with what you are writing about. Keep it under 650 words total. And write on the topic of PLEASING GOD. Anything at all to do with pleasing God. It can be serious, funny, or poetic - it's all up to you. Just be sure that it teaches or illustrates your verse and draws our heart towards God - that's the purpose of a devotional after all.

Then post your devotion on your blog on Monday, March 15th and come here to link it with my post for that day. There'll be instructions on my blog that morning for how to do this with a simple Mr. Linky box. People will be able to get to your devotional post from my blog.

Doesn't that sound like all kinds of spiritual fun?!

PS. The next day I'll randomly draw a name from all the devotion posters that participated, and they will win a $10 Starbucks gift card. I know you want to go start plotting your devotional post right now, along with your Starbucks order. But before you do, go tell a friend about Monday's carnival and get her to participate as well. The more who do, the more we'll all be encouraged to please God.

Thankful for those who pierce my heart with just a few devotional words.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fresh Direction

So far in 2010 God has me on a "taste and see" journey. I've been praying for vision, and He's begun pouring it on. Strong - like trying to drink from the proverbial fire hose.

I asked in a post at the start of the year how we can number our days aright in order to present to God a heart of wisdom. The answer I'm arriving at has a tremendous duality to it. I’m enthralled with the notion that life in Christ is simultaneously about stewardship and serving, and about enjoyment and rejoicing. It’s about both discipline and pleasure. The impulse is strong to make it one or the other, but God does not.

My heart is slowing down in 2010 to focus on both discipline and pleasure, and I'm so excited to see what wondrous paths He leads me down this year. I'm already catching little glimpses of eternity along the way. Look for changes ahead on this blog, in my ministry, as well as in my life.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Free Audio Books in March

Apparently, my current purpose in life is to hook you up with free book giveaways.

Lucky me; Lucky you!

So here is the latest one I have for you – good for the entire month of March.

Free AUDIO books from ChristianAudio.com

This month they are offering a free audio book from 2 authors I adore: John Piper’s Fifty Reasons Jesus Came to Die, and Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship.

If you don’t know Bonhoeffer’s story, it’s a compelling one. Saw a play about his life while I was in grad school at Regent. Few of us will ever have our beliefs tested as this man did. This book is a classic. Use the coupon code MAR2010 to get his audiobook for free.

Piper is a current day pastor I’ve been reading for years. While I haven't read this one by him - I'm about to listen to it - I can recommend him very highly. Use the code MAR2010B to get Piper’s free audiobook.

Not only that, but for the month of March ChristianAudio is also making available the downloads of all Bonhoeffer audiobooks and all Piper audiobooks for just $4.98 each. Find those titles here. That should keep you busy listening while you drive, or do housework, or go for a walk.


Thankful for the ability to listen to other authors speak.

Monday, March 1, 2010

She Reads March

Last night I headed to bed early (exhausted from all my evenings watching the Olympics).  I put on my "Sounds of the Surf" CD and read an advanced copy of Marybeth Whalen's upcomming debut novel The Mailbox.  It is set just south of me at Sunset Beach.

Do you read fiction? Sometimes it's nice to unplug a bit from your own world and enter the world of a character through a book.

She Reads - a division of Proverbs 31 Ministries that I work with - has just announced our March novel pick: Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish. And today you can enter to win a copy of the novel and a simple yet elegant vase by Arizona Pottery.  Just hop over to She Reads to learn about the book, its author, and to enter.

And from there you can read the first two chapters free! Would love to hear what good novels you've read recently.