Wednesday, February 29, 2012

"Takin' Care of Business . . ."

Mark 1:35
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

Ask Pastor Emily any day of the week how she is doing.  Her answer?

"Busy!"

And, she truly is.  I've never know anyone more energetic, enthusiastic about, and committed to her calling in life.  If there's a pot to stir for the better, you can bet Emily's spoon is in it!

Hers is a busyness born of goals set, intentions focused, and promises kept.  While it might appear as though Emily is juggling too many balls at once, in reality, her life is one of carefully balanced priorities.

How many of us can say that?

While keeping busy may suggest a life full of meaning and purpose, are we simply fooling ourselves?

Are we too busy to sit down, take a deep breath, and reflect upon the imbalances in our lives?

Have you recently told someone, your spouse, a co-worker, your child, "I'd love to, but I just don't have the time"?

During this contemplative season of Lent, do yourself, your family, and your friends, a big favor.

Analyze your busyness.

Rethink your priorities.

Set reasonable goals.

Seek balance.

Remembering all the while the busy, busy life of Jesus.

Jam-packed with healings and teachings and feedings and traveling.

And, raising from the dead.

Yet, He always took time, made time, to converse with His Father in heaven.

To pray . . .

That His busyness was to ever be about the business of God.
~
What are you missing in your busy life?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to take the time to look at our busy lives and see where we are out of balance, unfocused, or neglectful of others.  Lead us to a place where we can find peace and serenity in all of life's demands.  May we never be too busy to pray.  Amen.

Readings
Psalms 119:49-72 or 49 (53)
Genesis 17:25-36
1 Corinthians 2:1-13
Mark 1:29-45  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

"Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better . . ."

1 Corinthians 1:31 (Jeremiah 9:24)
Therefore, as it is written: "Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord."

"Here it is, Mom."

My son, Daniel, hands me a list of the boys he wants to invite to his upcoming birthday party.

In perusing it, I note two new names added since last year and a familiar one that's strangely missing.

"Daniel, why isn't Joey's name on this list?"

Daniel scowls and folds his arms defiantly over his chest.

"We're not friends anymore."

"Not friends?  But, you've been friends with Joey since kindergarten!  What happened?"

"Remember the week I was trying out for the school play, Charlotte's Web?"

I nod.

"Well, that's when it all started.  Joey bragged all week long that he was going to get the part of Wilbur.  Kept boasting that he was the best singer in chorus.  That he could act better than any of us."

"So, when you landed the lead role . . ."

"Yep!  He hasn't spoken to me since.  He's such a jerk!"

"Now, Daniel, don't call him a bad name.  Maybe, Joey would like to speak to you, but is too embarrassed after all his sounding off.  Maybe, he's waiting for you to make the first move."

Daniel ponders this for several moments.

"So, Mom, you think I should invite Joey to my party anyway?"

"That's up to you, honey, but, it would be a nice gesture."

"But, what if he doesn't come?  What if he's not embarrassed, but just hates me?"

"There's only one way to find out."
~
When the day of the party arrives, so does Joey.  All smiles.  Joking.  Toting a large, gaily wrapped gift which he hands to Daniel.

"You'll love what's in here," Joey assures him.  "I've got something just like it, only better."
~
Are you boasting today in anything other than the Lord?

Will you join me in prayer?
While it's true, Father, that some of us can do things better than others, make us ever mindful that this does not make us better than someone else in Your eyes.  Let us not brag to others about our talents and worldly goods.  Let our only boast be in You.  Amen.

Readings
Psalms 45 or 47, 48
Genesis 37:12-24
1 Corinthians 1:20-31
Mark 1:14-28 
 

Monday, February 27, 2012

"These Are a Few of My Favorite Things . . ."

Genesis 37:4
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.


Showing favoritism, especially within a family, is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

As my son and daughter are growing up, I do everything I can to ensure I treat them equally.  From attempting to spend even one-on-one time with each to spending the same amount of money for their birthday and Christmas gifts, I try.  I really do.

I even count the number of items in their Christmas stockings.  Heaven forbid, one receive an extra trinket stuffed inside!  A chorus of "It's not fair!" would surely arise from the slighted party.

Despite my good intentions and best efforts, however, I don't always succeed.

Particularly, when it comes to daughter, Sarah.  Who, by the age of two, thinks she should be allowed to do the same things five-year-old brother, Daniel, does.

And, gets as angry and ornery as a stirred up yellow jacket when I tell her "no".

What a handful!

Tears.  Pouting.  Stomping her foot.

So jealous of her brother.

So mad at me.

Until I suggest we engage in a fun activity together.  Baking cookies.  Playing her favorite board game.  Taking a walk in the woods.

Tears dry.  Her sweet smile returns.

She gives me a hug.

"It's still not fair," she says.
~
Have you experienced favoritism in your life?  How did it make you feel?

Will you pray with me?
We are so grateful, Father, that you don't play favorites, that you love all of us, Your children, just the same.  Help us to love others as You love us and to treat others as we would like to be treated.  Amen.

Readings
Psalms 41, 52 or 44
Genesis 37:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-19
Mark 1:1-13 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"You've Got a Friend . . ."

Hebrews 2:18
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

I love being a blogger!

Since beginning my daily devotions in May 2011, I am delighted by the changes, for the better, I see in myself. I'm more disciplined in my daily routines. I relish the time I spend in meditating upon scripture. Revel in the stories or lessons God places on my heart.

Rejoice in the writing, writing, and more writing. Which, I am the first to admit, has vastly improved in these past nine months.

This does not happen in a vacuum. It is not the practice alone that betters my technique.

It is my readers.

Friends and fellow bloggers from whom I gain invaluable inspiration and insight through the comments they leave and the blogs they share.

And, which I faithfully read. Noting their individual styles. Learning new life lessons. Gleaning fresh wisdom and perspective.

Making new friends. Wonderful friends! Many who live halfway across the globe.

Those precious ones whom I would never have met if it weren't for blogging.

Who are now an intricate part of my world, my life, my heart.

Through our stories, poems, and non-fiction writings, we come to know one another.

We laugh together. Cry together. Critique. Encourage.

Exchange cyber-hugs and blessings.

A caring, sharing community of persons who know all too well the inherent loneliness of the writing profession. The long hours glued to the keyboard. Entertained only by the ideas dancing around in their own heads.

Needing to know others who can empathize with what we go through in the creative process.

Other who reach out with their thoughts in words and photos.

To touch our lives. To cheer us on. To lift us up.

To love us.

Just as we are . . .
~
Will you tell your friends today how much you love them?

Will you pray with me?
We thank you, Father, for the gift of friendship, for the beautiful souls who come into our lives and stay in our hearts forever. Bless and keep them, now and always. We give thanks especially for Your precious Son, Jesus; the best friend any of us could ever have. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 63:1-8 (9-11), 98 or 103
Daniel 9:3-10
Hebrews 2:10-18
John 12:44-50

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit . . .

Philippians 4:13
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

We are four days into the season of Lent.

I decide at the last minute to add one more practice. One which I attempted briefly years ago, but, just couldn't manage to stick with it.

Praying the rosary.

My fingers, still itching to play computer solitaire, find solace as I caress each bead.

The peace of mind induced through my daily yoga routine enhances my ability to focus on the prayers and meditate upon the Holy Mysteries.

I have to read the prayers at first. It will take much longer than these four days to memorize all but the Our Father and Hail, Mary.

It, indeed, may take the entire forty days of Lent.

But, I am determined to stay with it this time. Hoping this discipline of prayer will last long after this season has passed.

And, no, the changes I've made in my everyday activities are not easy. Not yet comfortable. Not disciplines I can accomplish on my own.

But, can do only through the One who gives me strength.

Who calls me into a closer, more intimate relationship with Him.

Jesus, my Lord . . .
~
Are your Lenten resolutions still in place? How are you progressing? Are you finding it tough going? Or, has it been easier, and more rewarding, than you could have imagined?

Will you pray with me?
Bless and comfort us, Father, during this time of Lent when it is difficult to keep our commitments to You. Remind us that Your strength is perfected in our weakness. Help us to trust that You will see us through. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 30, 32 or 42, 43
Ezekiel 39:21-29
Philippians 4:10-20
John 17:29-26

Friday, February 24, 2012

The "Purrfect" Touch


Philippians 4:5
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.


As soon as she can reach and grab, my
granddaughter, Virginia Rose, takes aim for the family cat, Aslan.

Fortunately for he
r, he is a laid-back gentleman of a feline who tolerates a tug to his fur or tail as if it were a love pat. No protests. No retaliation.

It's all good!


But, my daughter, Sarah, and her husband, John, know Virginia's roughhousing won't be welcomed by other, less patient animals. Especially, my elderly, cantankerous, curmudgeon of a cat, Jordan.

They correct Virginia's behavior toward Aslan, teaching her the pr
oper way to stroke him. Softly. Gently.
She learns quickly and mends her ways.

Still, when Virginia is around Jordan, I ke
ep a close watch. She may be gentle with her touch, but the cat, who is easily irritated, could lash out with a claw.
And, one day, Jordan does just that. With seemingly little or no provocation.

It is the barest of pinpricks on Virginia's skin. There are no tears. But, she is momentarily taken aback.



The two sit at a distance for a few moments, carefully eyeballing one another.


Jordan languidly turns away and stares out the window as if nothing ever happened.

Virginia finally reaches out a tentative hand toward the cat.

Touches her fur, oh, so lightly.

Pat. Pat. Pat.
This time, Jordan sits quietly, accepting the touch of this sweet, tiny hand.

Virginia looks up at me with a smile full of sunshine.

"Kittah," she says.

~

Are you showing your gentleness of spirit to others?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to always treat others with the same kindness and gentleness with which we would like to be treated. Let our spirit of gentleness be evident to all. Be near to us, Lord, we pray. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 31 or 35
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Philippians 4:1-9
John 17:9-19



























Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Leader of the Band

John 17:4
I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.

When he graduates from high school in the 70s, my husband, Danny, decides to postpone college. He is a self-taught guitarist with a powerful tenor voice. Why not make a living as a musician?

Danny pursues this route for years. Performing in restaurants. Bars. Hotel lounges.

Honing his skills.

Hanging with the wrong crowd.

About as far removed from God as east is from the west . . .

Fast forward thirty years.

Danny has survived college. Made good in the workplace.

Survived . . . a heart attack. A bitter divorce. A bout with pneumonia so severe, the doctors place him in an artificial coma for six days.

Survived . . . but, not quite arrived . . .

His sister, a devout Christian, stays with Danny for six weeks while he recuperates from the pneumonia. Cooking. Cleaning. Taking care of the boys. Taking care of him.

Talking about God.

Of salvation in Christ.

Danny has heard it all before.

But, this time . . . this time . . .

He listens with his heart. Feels in his soul. Grasps with his mind.

Saved!
~
This year marks the ninth one for Danny leading contemporary worship at our church. He reflects back to all those years spent playing in the restaurants, the bars, the lounges. The ones he once saw as squandered . . . wasted.

But, God redeems them.

Because, without the experience, the years of practice, performing in public, Danny would have never been prepared for this.

Would not have been chosen to lead.

Would not have completed the work God gave him to do.

All for His glory . . .
~
How have your past experiences uniquely shaped who you are or what you do today?

Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Father, for the saving grace of Your Son, Jesus. Through Him, our past mistakes and struggles find redemption. We know, too, that You will be ever faithful to complete the good works You began in us. Amen.

Psalms 37:1-18 or 37:19-42
Habakkuk 3:1-10 (11-15), 16-18
Philippians 3:12-21
John 17:1-8


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down"


Psalm 102:11
My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass.

Genesis 3:19
Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.

Today is Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. A season in the church year dedicated to repentance and fasting. To the giving up or taking on of a practice which will draw us closer to the Lord.

It is also a time when we are asked, willingly or unwillingly, to contemplate our own mortality. The ashes from palms burned after the previous Palm Sunday are used to place the symbol of the cross on our foreheads.

The symbol of suffering.

Of dying . . .

When the Father turned His face away. For. Just. That. Moment . . .

And, eternal flesh and blood succumbed to death.

Became fully one of us.

The living who will die.

Flickering shadows. Shriveled grasses.

The bodies returned to the dust . . .

Yet, out of the ashes a promise is raised.

Of new life. Of hope. Of faith renewed.

For down this long, reflective, self-denying, forty-day road - a light.

Glorious in splendor.

Shining from an empty tomb.

Easter!

He is risen!

We, too, will rise from the ashes.

And, enter into new life with the Lord.
~
Will you be attending an Ash Wednesday service?

Will you pray with me?
During this season of Lent, Father, give to us repentant and obedient hearts. Help those practices we are giving up or the disciplines we are taking on draw us closer to You. Prepare us in all humility to receive joyously at the end of this journey Your promise of eternal life. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 95, 32, 143 or 102, 130
Amos 5:6-15
Hebrews 12:1-14
Luke 18:9-14

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

"Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble . . ."


Philippians 3:7
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

The "Dot Com Bubble", on which millions of investors are riding high, bursts in early 2000. The stock market takes a nosedive. And, so do many individual's retirement nest eggs.

Pastor Wallace learns that Ed, one of his church members, has suffered a particularly severe blow. It can't be easy to lose $400,000 almost overnight. Wallace decides to pay Ed a visit. See how he's holding up.

"Welcome, Preacher!" Ed hollers cheerfully from his front porch when he sees Wallace get out of his car. "What brings you out this way?"

"Just checking in with you, Ed," Wallace answers as he approaches the house.

"Jane!" Ed calls to his wife through the screen door. "Preacher's here. Can you put on some coffee?"

The men shake hands and settle into the wooden rockers on the porch.

"Now, Preacher," Ed begins with a twinkle in his eye, "if this is about the missus and me missing church last Sunday, we were both down with a stomach bug. Don't think you'd have wanted us there."

"No, no, that's not why I'm here," Wallace assures him. "I just got wind of some pretty bad news today. Wanted to see how you are coping with the loss."

Ed looks perplexed for a moment. Then, a slow smile spreads across his face.

"Well, now, news sure has a way of traveling mighty fast in these parts. Should have known better than to say anything to Miss Louise. She's the one who told you, right?"

Miss Louise, the church secretary, had, indeed, been the one to spill the beans.

"Doesn't matter how I heard about it, Ed," Wallace insists. "What matters is how you are dealing with it. I mean, $400,000? That's one whopping amount of money!"

"Yes, it is," Ed confesses, "but, it doesn't matter."

"How can it not matter?" Wallace is incredulous.

"Look around here, Preacher," Ed says with a sweeping gesture. "I got 30 acres. A comfortable home. A car and a truck. They're all paid for. I don't owe anyone a dime. I got my health, the best wife in the world, and the love of Jesus in my heart. What more could I possibly want?"

At that moment, Jane steps onto the porch carrying a tray full of coffee and cookies.

"On second thought," Ed says with a grin, "there is something else I want."

"And, what's that?" Asks Wallace.

"A good, hot cup of coffee!"
~
What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?
~Mark 8:36

Will you pray with me?
Create in us an attitude of gratitude, Father. May we always be thankful for the blessings you have given us. Remind us that earthly treasures are fleeting, but our treasure in heaven is eternal. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 26, 28 or 36, 39
Proverbs 30:1-4, 24-33
Philippians 3:1-11
John 18:28-38

Monday, February 20, 2012

Father Knows Best!

Proverbs 27:1
Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

"I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world. Italy, Greece, the Parthenon, the Colosseum. Then, I'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. And then I'm gonna build things. I'm gonna build airfields, I'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, I'm gonna build bridges a mile long . . ." ~George Bailey, It's a Wonderful Life

Wow! George Bailey's dreams are larger than life. He knows what he wants. His goals are set. The sky's the limit!

Then, as it does to us all, life happens. Smack dab in the middle of George's best laid plans.

Right in the middle of ours.

And, nothing turns out the way he, and we, hoped . . .

Does that mean we shouldn't dream? Know what we want? Set lofty goals?

By no means!

But, if and when a door should close, do we know how to look for a window?

Can we take disappointment not as a discouraging detour but as a road less traveled?

And, when life is an uphill battle, can we shift gears? Maintain the belief that, somehow, some way, we will eventually arrive at the top?

When God answers our prayers with a "no", I firmly believe it is because He has dreams and desires and goals for our lives which we have yet to imagine.

Ones we will never realize if we stand forever at that door. At the fork in the road. Or, stall out on that hill.

We must move out in faith. With a prayer in our hearts and on our lips. Following His lead.

Trusting that our Father knows best . . .
~
Where is the Lord leading you today?

Will you pray with me?
Help us to be prepared, Father, to change course willingly and gratefully when You are calling us in a different direction. Let us not allow disappointments to defeat us, but to always see them as opening the windows of new opportunities. May we walk by faith, trusting that You know what is best for us. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 25 or 9, 15
Proverbs 27:1-6, 10-12
Philippians 2:1-13
John 18:15-18, 25-27

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Will You Take Up the Cross?


Luke 9:23
Then he said to them all: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me."

Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Ash Wednesday, February 22, marks the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

Traditionally, Lent is a time when Christians give up doing something they ordinarily enjoy. Or, enjoy too much. Like candy. Or, dessert. Red meat. Coffee. Soda. Tea.

One year, a friend of mine actually gives up Facebook. I think most of you reading this here would agree - that's some serious self-denial!

Last Lent, I give up playing computer solitaire. I know. That doesn't sound like much of a cross to bear. But, I feel addicted to it. It drains precious time I could spend doing so many other productive, meaningful activities.

It has to go. And, it will go again this time around. Because, after Easter, like an unwanted guest, it creeps back in . . .

But, to me, Lent is not just about giving up something. It is, also, about taking something on. Beginning a new practice or routine which draws me closer to the Lord.

The two disciplines I adopt last Lent are maintaining an organized prayer list and completing a dedicated scripture study.

These habits, thankfully, stay with me. My prayer list is always next to my computer where I see it continually. And, I study the scriptures daily as I prepare my devotions.

So, what am I taking on this Lent?

I am resuscitating some yoga exercises I did years ago but all but abandoned when I began steadily working out in the gym. My body needs the stretching. My mind needs to be in that contemplative place where I can truly be open to hear God's voice.

To listen in the calm and repose.

Make room for His thoughts.

Be still and know . . .
~
What will you be giving up or taking on this Lent?

Will you pray with me?
During this season of Lent, Father, help us to deny ourselves in joy and obedience to Your will. Bless the new disciplines we decide to take on. In it all, Lord, draw us closer to You. May we, with grateful hearts, take up the cross of Jesus daily. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 148, 149, 150 or 114, 115
Ecclesiasticus (Apocrypha) 48:1-11
2 Corinthians 3:7-18
Luke 9:18-27

Saturday, February 18, 2012

When Opportunity Knocks . . .

1 John 3:17
If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?

During his days at seminary, Pastor Wallace volunteers regularly at a church-run soup kitchen.

He is walking there from class one day when he gets a craving for a whopper and fries. He whips into the Burger King, makes his purchase, and carries it with him.

Oh, the aroma of the juicy hamburger and crisp fries is so tempting, Wallace wants to sit right down on the curb and wolf them down. But, he is running late as it is. He will just have to wait until he's in the soup kitchen and grab bites here and there.

As he approaches the church, Wallace spies a scrawny, unkempt fellow sitting on the steps. His arms are wrapped around his knees. His head, covered by a soiled, red baseball cap, is bowed, hiding his face.

Wallace hesitates for a moment. He glances down at his Burger King bag, then looks back at the man.

Something nudges him from within.

Give him your lunch, Wallace.

The succulent burger . . . the savory fries . . .

"Surely," Wallace rationalizes, "this man is waiting for the soup kitchen doors to open. He will certainly be fed. With better food than what I'm about to eat."

Without a second thought, Wallace strides on to his destination.

Once there, he quickly dons an apron and hastily downs his now lukewarm fare.

He manages to get to his serving station just as the doors open.

As the parade of hungry and homeless pass by, Wallace searches for the skinny, disheveled man in the red baseball cap.

To no avail.

The man he thought would assuredly be first in line never shows . . .

Because, your lunch was his lunch.

"And, I'm convinced to this day," Pastor Wallace tells us, "that in not giving this man my lunch, I missed the opportunity to meet Jesus."
~
Are you missing opportunities to meet the Lord?

Will you pray with me?
Too often, Father, we avert our eyes and hearts from the needs of the poor and hungry. We assume that someone else will take care of them. In so doing, we miss our chance to see and serve Christ. Forgive us, Lord, and help us not to miss our next opportunity to show Your love to a person in need. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 107:33-43, 108:1-6 (7-13) or 33
Genesis 35:1-20
1 John 3:11-18
John 11:1-16

Friday, February 17, 2012

Buyer Beware!

John 10:41
Many people came to him. They said, "Though John never performed a sign, all that John said about this man was true."

For our honeymoon, Danny books a luxury cabin in the Nantahala Mountains of North Carolina. The photos and description of it he sees on-line promises the perfect getaway for us. It does look charming!

When we enter the cabin, we are not disappointed. It is as warm, cozy, and inviting as the pictures implied.

There is only one drawback.

The view.

The cabin, nestled on a hillside, looks out at mountains. And houses. A few trailers. The main road . . .

Funny how the description which touts "a majestic view" omits any mention of the presence of civilization.

Lessons learned? Photos can be cropped. And, words which sound too good to be true often are.

Needless to say, we are a bit gun-shy when planning our anniversary trip to the mountains. Danny researches diligently and locates a seemingly reliable rental company in the area. He talks extensively with their office before making a choice, unwilling to fully trust the photos and descriptions on their website.

The outcome?

Turns out that truth in advertising exists after all.

That is, when you have something so marvelous, it needs only speak for itself.
~
When have you been lured by the promise of a product or service only to be disillusioned?

Will you pray with me?

Thank you, Father, for sending Your servant, John, to prepare our hearts and minds to receive Jesus as Lord. He advertised the coming of the Messiah in all truth and faithfulness. May we, too, point others to the truth of Jesus. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 102 or 107:1-32
Genesis 32:22-33:17
1 John 3:1-10
John 10:31-42

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"Where You Lead, I Will Follow; Anywhere That You Tell Me to . . ."


John 10:27
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

When I get home from work each day, there is Maggie, my dog, to greet me. She leaps and barks excitedly, knowing her walk is eminent.

My cat, Jordan, looks on with an air of disdain at the dog's unseemly eagerness.

I hurriedly toss aside purse and briefcase. Grabbing the leash, I coax Maggie to be still long enough to fasten it to her collar. And, it's out the door we fly!

Jordan slips out with us a promptly vanishes behind some shrubbery.

Our condo complex sits on spacious acreage and sports an endless variety of dog-walking routes. Today, Maggie and I turn left on our street and head for the common area along the main road.

She trots briskly, purposefully, until an enticing smell presents itself. Then, it's stop abruptly, sniff and sniff and sniff until sufficiently satisfied. Then, off we go again.

It is during these moments we pause that I take time to look around me instead of staying focused on our journey's direction.

That's when I catch the glimpse. It's Jordan! She glides across the grass not thirty yards behind us and slinks into a shady grove of Leland Cyprus.

She's following us! Certainly maintaining a dignified distance. She is a cat, after all.

But, yes, she is definitely following us.

Maggie and I continue our walk. Withe every halt, I scan the landscape for Jordan.

I am never disappointed.

Never too close. Never too obvious.

Probably assuming in her cat's mind that I am oblivious to her presence.

She sticks with us the entire way.

Until we near the front door . . .

Jordan's timing is impeccable. The moment the key turns in the lock and the door is cracked, in she darts with lightening speed. Beating Maggie into the house by a country mile.

First in the house!

She's had enough of following.

At least, until tomorrow . . .
~
Are you following Jesus closely, or are you keeping your distance?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to listen for the voice of Jesus and follow Him alone. All we like sheep will wander and stray without His benevolent guidance. We are thankful that He know us and calls each of us by name. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 105:1-22 or 105:23-45
Genesis 32:3-21
1 John 2:18-29
John 10:19-30

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Great Escape!

John 10:9
I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.

My little Norfolk terrier, Maggie, loves to roam freely in our expansive, fenced-in yard. She has never known anything like this!

Where we live before Danny and I marry has no fenced area. Her walks and explorations of our neighborhood are confined by a leash.

What joy she takes now in chasing squirrels and wandering wherever she chooses!

But, there is a catch.

Danny's boys, Giovanni and Nicco, are unaccustomed to keeping the yard gates latched. We strongly caution them to make sure, since Maggie is here, to always, always close and secure them from now on. They take us seriously and promise to do so.

But, old habits die hard . . .

One evening, Maggie whines at the door to be let out. It is dark, but there is enough light from the porch lamps for her to negotiate the stairs which lead from our deck to the yard.

Off she gallops!

I return to my computer where I am checking e-mails and catching up on the news.

About ten minutes pass.

"Where's Maggie?" Asks Giovanni who is particularly fond of my dog.

"She's in the backyard," I tell him. "Want to go check on her?"

"Sure!" He grins and dashes out the door.

It is only moments before I hear his feet thundering back up the deck stairs.

I turn just in time to see his stricken face, his eyes wide with fear.

"Martha! The gate is open! Maggie is gone!"

"Gone?!" I leap out of my chair in a panic. "Oh, we have to find her! Quick, guys! Grab some flashlights. Hurry!"

The boys waste no time. Within seconds, we are mobilized for our search and rescue mission.

But, where to look? Did she amble into the woods? Trot up the driveway?

I have a hunch.

"Let's take the driveway and hope that's the way Maggie went, too."

We trudge up the steep incline together, flashlights beaming in all directions.

"Maggie! Maggie! Here, girl! C'mon, Maggie!"

But, Maggie, adopted from an elderly couple, and always tethered to a leash, does not know to come when called . . .

We reach the top of the driveway and frantically scan the cul-de-sac, flashlights zooming here and there like errant lasers.

No Maggie.

We head up the street. Giovanni sprints ahead.

Dear Lord, please let us find her . . . please . . . please . . .

"Here she is! Here she is!" Giovanni's jubilant cry fills the air. Fills us with relief.

Sure enough. There's Maggie. Just beyond the crest of the hill. Nonchalantly sniffing around a neighbor's mailbox.

Giovanni grabs her collar and steers her, thankfully, toward home.

And, closing the gate?

Never a problem again!
~
How does knowing Jesus is "the gate" in your life help you to trust Him in all your comings and goings?

Will you pray with me?
We know, Father, that we can come and go and never be lost when Jesus is the gate of our lives. He is always there to protect us and watch over us even when we wander or stray. There are always green pastures, no matter what side of the gate we are on, when we trust in Him. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 101, 109:1-4 (5-19) 20-30
Genesis 31:25-50
1 John 2:12-17
John 10:1-18

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

I Get the Message!


1 John 2:7
Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.

I love reading aloud to my children when they are small. Both pay rapt attention to the words I say as they admire the illustrations on the pages.

Inevitably, when we finish a particularly enchanting story, I can expect to hear,

"Again, Mama! Read it again!"

If it isn't too close to bedtime, I oblige.

Because, I remember I am the same way as a little girl.

If I like a story, I can't get enough of it.

When I am eight-years-old, my parents give me a copy of Charlotte's Web for my birthday. I am enthralled. I can't put it down.

And, I can't read it just once.

"I thought you already read that book," my mom observes. "Why are you reading it again?"

"Because, I love it."

Love being lost in the magical world of Fern and Wilbur. The geese and Templeton.

Charlotte . . .

No matter how many times I read the book, the is story is ever fresh and new. Inviting. Comforting.

I always feel at home . . .

There are only two books besides Charlotte's Web that I've cherished enough in my life time to read more than once: C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

In reflecting upon the "why" of this, the common thread is clear.

Woven uniquely in each is the "old message".

The one Christ gave to us when He willingly went to the cross.

"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13)

The old message. The true message.

Of friendship. Of love. Of sacrifice.

Of salvation . . .
~
Do you have favorite books you have read more than once?

Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Father, for loving us so much that You sent Your beloved Son to die for our sins. Because of His sacrifice, we can live in freedom, in hope, in faith. Let us love one another as He has loved us. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 97, 99, (100) or 94, 95
Genesis 31:1-14
1 John 2:1-11
John 9:18-41

Monday, February 13, 2012

"I Said Over and Over and Over Again . . ."

John 9:10
But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"

Traveling back from Jekyll Island one summer, I have a close encounter of the most unwanted kind.

My daughter, Sarah, and niece, Rebecca, are snoozing in the back seat of the van. I'm cruising along at the speed limit, contemplating how good a hot cup of coffee would taste right about now. How far to the next exit?

Out of the blue, a jet-black sedan veers toward my lane. Threatens a side swipe. A wreck in the middle of nowhere.

I slam on the brakes and steer into the emergency lane to avoid a collision.

He swerves right with me!

My brakes are screeching! The girls, jolted awake, scream at the top of their lungs.

The sedan swipes the guard rail before coming to a stop.

My bumper rests only inches behind its trunk.

My heart is in my throat. I'm shaking all over. Sarah and Rebecca are crying.

We stay in the van until we see the driver of the rogue vehicle emerge unscathed. He is on his cell phone. Calling the police, no doubt.

Sure enough. Within moments, we are joined by a state trooper and two county police cars.

We exit on the passenger side, still dazed by what has just happened.

Thankful for what did not . . .

The other driver and I are kept separated. The police officers, one by one, interrogate us in turn.

"Tell me, now, exactly how this happened . . .?"

I tell my story precisely.

Again . . . and again . . . and again . . .

I know they have to keep asking. To see if my story changes. To corroborate evidence.

I grow weary in the hot Georgia sun, but patiently answer each officer.

Wishing they could just take me at my word.

Accept my answers as truthful.

Just stop asking . . .

After what seems like an eternity, I am dismissed.

No citation. No ticket.

Free to go.

And, so many blessings to count.
~
Have you ever experienced a time when your veracity was questioned? How did it make you feel?

Will you pray with me?
Help us, Father, to be truthful and trustworthy in word and deed. Let our answers to others be accepted and never doubted. May we, too, respect the answers of others. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 89:1-18 or 89:19-52
Genesis 30:1-24
1 John 1:1-10
John 9:1-17

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Imagine the Possibilities!

Mark 10:27
Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God."

"Let's meet for lunch!" Appears the invitation on Facebook from my friend, Kelly, with whom I used to work.

"Great idea! Why haven't we thought of this before?" I reply.

It is almost two years since I left my teaching position. Kelly and I have stayed in touch on Facebook. How silly not to have gotten together in person before this?

We set the date, the time, the place.

I can't wait to see her!

Recently, Kelly has been posting enthusiastically about an exercise program in which she is enrolled called CrossFit. Has it been working for her, I wonder?

As soon as she walks through the restaurant doors, I have my answer.

She looks fabulous!!!

Over lunch, I ask Kelly to tell me more about CrossFit. She readily obliges.

As she explains the routines she goes through, it sounds like boot camp.

Harder than boot camp.

Makes my workouts in the gym seem like a casual stroll in the park.

"Kelly, you're amazing! You really are inspiring me to step it up a notch or two at the gym."

"Do you know, Martha," she says with a twinkle in her eye, "what most people say when I tell them about the program?"

She leans in toward me as if she is about to divulge a deep, dark secret.

"They say, 'I couldn't do that!' And, you know what I tell them?"

"What?"

"I couldn't either. But," she adds with an earned tone of victory in her voice, "I can now!"
~
When have you allowed your "couldn'ts" to stand in the way of possibilities?

Will you pray with me?
We know, Father, that in You, all things are possible. Remove from us the fears and doubts which limit the possibilities You present in our lives. Help us to remember that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 66, 67 or 19, 46
Genesis 29:20-35
1 Timothy 3:14-4:10
Mark 10:23-31

Saturday, February 11, 2012

"Cupid, Draw Back Your Bow, and Let Your Arrow Go . . ."

Genesis 29:20
So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

Valentine's Day is just around the corner.

That oh, so romantic time!

A day for flowers. Cards. Chocolates. Candlelit dinners.

For love . . .

All well and good and special. When you have someone special with whom to share it.

But, what if you don't?

Maybe, you are still waiting for Mr. or Miss Right to come along. Or, you have just suffered a break-up. Or, your spouse recently passed away . . .

Turning this day of celebrating love into one of sadness and grief.

I know. In the past, I endure many an achingly lonesome Valentine's.

So, if this year finds you a member of the Lonely Hearts Club, what can you do to shake the pity party and redeem the day?

Here are a few suggestions of activities you could do to lift your spirits.

*Make up goodie baskets for your children. Don't have any of your own? Why not surprise some neighborhood children with a sweet gift?

*Bake Valentine's cookies or cupcakes for your office or Sunday school class.

*Send flowers to a parent, a special relative, or a close friend.

*Send Valentine's e-cards to friends and family.

*Buy a big box of kiddie Valentine's cards to give, with a chocolate heart attached, of course, to your co-workers or neighbors.

*Visit a local nursing or assisted-living home and spread whatever Valentine's cheer you can afford.

*Pamper yourself! Take the day off from work. Go to a spa. Enjoy a massage. Get your nails done. Invite a friend to share dinner at an elegant restaurant. Give yourself a bouquet of roses. Go on! You deserve it!

*And, last, but certainly not least, write a love letter to God. Thank Him for being there for you and for loving you, not just on Valentine's Day, but every day of the year.

Rest, too, in the knowledge that the love you give away will return to you ten-fold.
~
How will you celebrate Valentine's Day this year?

Will you pray with me?
We are so thankful, Father, that Your steadfast love for us endures forever. Let us especially remember on this Valentine's Day, that we can love only because You first loved us. May we always seek to love and serve others in Your name. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 87, 90 or 136
Genesis 29:1-20
Romans 14:1-23
John 8:47-59

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hear Me Out!

John 8:43
"Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say."

Children have an uncanny ability to hear selectively.

"Daniel, time to start your homework," I call to my son from the kitchen. He is in our living room engrossed in building with his Legos.

No answer.

One minute. Two minutes.

"Daniel! Didn't you hear me?"

"Hear what, Mom?"

"Time for homework. You can play when it's finished."

"Okay!"

One minute. Two minutes. Still, no Daniel.

"Daniel!" I shout this time. "Get in this kitchen right now!"

I mean business. He knows it.

In he trots and stops in front of me, an angelic smile on his face.

"Did you need me, Mom?"

"Of course, I do. I need you to do your homework. Now!"

"I thought you said I could do it when I'm finished playing?"

"No, that's not what I said. Didn't you hear me?"

"I heard you, Mom. Guess I just didn't understand."
*
Ten minutes pass. Daniel is busily and intently working on math problems at the kitchen table.

The phone rings from its built-in shelf in our tiny hallway. I hastily wipe my soapy, dishwater hands on a towel and sprint to answer it.

"Hello? Oh, hi, Mom!"

My mother calls to get some gift ideas for Christmas. My voice sinks to a low, almost inaudible whisper as I share my thoughts as to what Daniel and daughter, Sarah, might like.

I don't want him to hear . . .

"Mom!"

Startled, I drop the receiver, clattering, to the floor.

"Tell Nana I want the Lego Pirate ship for Christmas. Thanks!"
~
When you read scripture, are you hearing only what you want to hear, or are you seeking for true understanding?

Will you pray with me?
When we read Your Word, Father, let us hear Your voice speaking to us, cutting through all our preconceived notions and half-truths. Grant us the grace to listen and understand with open and humble hearts. Thank you for never listening selectively to our prayers, but embracing and hearing them all. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 88 or 91, 92
Genesis 27:46-28:4, 10-22
Romans 13:1-14
John 8:33-47

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Whole Truth, and Nothing but . . .


John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

"And, what is truth? Is truth unchanging law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?" ~Pontius Pilate - Jesus Christ, Superstar

The word "truth" in the English language is much like the word "love". Both can be used and misconstrued in a variety of ways.

"For God so loved the world" is a distant cry from "I love chocolate".

And, "Tell the truth" is not the same as "I am the way, the truth, and the life".

What rings true for one person may not hold true for another. We need not go far to see this. Just flip to the op-ed page in any paper or watch the talking heads debating issues on the television. Different opinions. Different truths?

What is considered truth in one generation may be questioned by the next. Laws which segregate blacks from whites in the south exist unquestioned for years. Accepted as truth. Until the civil rights movement raises the awareness of another truth: All men are created equal.

Do you wish, like I do, that we could have different words to clearly represent what type of truth we are referring to?

I find it ironic that the English language with its over 600,000 words, more than any other language in the world, delegates to single words so many varied and, at times, confusing meanings.

Jesus promises us that if we hold on to and believe in His teachings, we will know THE truth. HIS truth.

We will love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.

We will love our neighbor as ourselves.

His truth is the only one which can set us free from the lies, masquerading as truth, which deceive us. The partial stories. Personal opinions. Unjust laws. Faulty traditions.

And, that's the truth. The whole truth.

Nothing but the truth.

So, help me God . . .
~
How has the truth, revealed in Christ Jesus, set you free?

Will you pray with me?
Do not let us be deluded, Father, by the so-called truths this world would have us believe. Help us to look beyond them to the truth of Your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. The only truth which can set us free. Amen.

Readings
Psalms (83), 146, 147 or 85, 86
Genesis 27:30-45
Romans 12:9-21
John 8:21-32

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Take me Out to the Ballgame!"

Romans 12:4-5
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

"Remember success is a team sport. Success is not shaped in a vacuum; it takes a team of like-minded people moving in the same direction to successfully achieve success. Everyone on the team plays a unique role and contributes their part to the overall success." ~ Larry Lewis, http://networkedblogs.com/tqoib

When my son, Daniel, is age seven, he asks to play baseball. I am thrilled as I am a big believer in team sports for children. Learning teamwork at an early age sets the groundwork for success in school and in life.

We sign up to play in the county-sponsored little league. After seemingly endless bench-warming sessions watching his team practice, the day of Daniel's first game arrives at last.

Play ball!

My daughter, Sarah, and I sit together in the stands with scores of other parents and siblings. When Daniel comes to bat for the first time, we hold our breath, cross our fingers.

Let him get a hit. Oh, please, Lord, just one hit . . .

The first pitch is a solid strike over the plate. Daniel doesn't even swing.

"Way to go! Just two more strikes! He can't hit!"

I am appalled.

In the stand of the opposing team, a parent is screeching at the top of her lungs. Daniel can't help but hear her.

Strike two!

This time, Daniel swings. And, misses.

As the pitcher prepared to deliver the next ball, the woman is egging on the crowd.

"Strike him out! Strike him out! Strike him out!" Rolls the thundering chant.

I peer anxiously at Daniel's face. His jaw is clenched determinedly. Eyes riveted on the pitcher.

Just . . . one . . . hit . . .

Smack!

Right over the pitcher's head.

Right into the shortstop's mitt.

Wild cheer from the opposing team's over-zealous fans.

But, it isn't just them. From the parents of our team emerge the same derogatory comments directed at the opposing team when they come up to bat. They even berate their own when mistakes are made.

And, yelling at the umpires? Carte Blanche!

I endure the season; a maddeningly disappointing season as, in this negative, childish atmosphere, the boys don't bond as a team. They gloat when they win. They pout when they lose.

They are not taught to encourage each other. To work together. To understand good sportsmanship.

To win with humility. To lose with grace.

To value the contribution of each team member.

To know that true success comes only when one puts the success of another first.
~
Who are the people in your life who have helped shape your success? How have you encouraged others to succeed?

Will you pray with me?
Thank you, Father, for the unique talents You have given to us. Let us use these to encourage and support others on their road to success. Let us build others up, not tear them down. May we, as Christians, work together in faith to bring this world closer to Your kingdom. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 119:97-120 or 81, 82
Genesis 27:1-29
Romans 12:1-8
John 8:12-20

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

At the Feet of Jesus


John 8:2
At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them.

I am fortunate during my school years to sit in the classrooms of not just good teachers, but great ones.

What separates a great teacher from a good one?

Passion!

For the subject. For learning.

For life!

She goes beyond the call of duty to support and encourage her students. Setting the bar high, yet giving to all the confidence needed to reach above and beyond the goal.

Her words inspire.

No question is a stupid one.

Concepts are patiently repeated.

Lively illustrations and anecdotes are used to help students remember the lessons.

No one is made to feel special. Or, not special.

Students know they are equally loved. Equally respected. Genuinely cared about.

She takes time with them. Makes time for them.

Shares her knowledge with enthusiasm.

A radiant smile on her face. A contagious twinkle in her eyes.

That spark. That flame.

Mirrored in the eyes of her students.

Ablaze!

With passion!
~
When you read scripture, can you envision yourself learning at the feet of the Greatest Teacher?

Will you pray with me?
Open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts, Father, to hear the voice of Jesus in Your Word. Let us sit humbly at His feet and listen to Him. Fill us with a passion and desire to know You, and Your will for us, through Your beloved Son. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 78:1-39 or 78:40-72
Genesis 26:1-6, 12-33
Hebrews 13:17-25
John 7:53-8:11

Monday, February 6, 2012

"For the Times, They Are A-Changin'"


Hebrews 13:8
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Change . . .

Like it or not, it is an inevitable part of our lives.

Sometimes, change is something we choose. A new job. A hobby. Our diet. Different hairstyle. Remodeled kitchen.

But, most of the time, change is foisted upon us. It may be welcome or unwelcome.

We get married. A newborn arrives. Children grow up; move out. Parents age. We age. Loved ones pass away . . .

The list could go on . . . and on . . . and on . . .

Why is it , then, we are often so resistant to change in our lives and routines? Even downright resentful at times?

Because, change charts the unknown. Steers us in directions we never imagined. Stirs up fear and anxiety within us.

Even when change is good. Is needed. Desired.

Will my marriage last? Will I be a good enough parent? How will they do in college? On their own?

And, when it isn't.

My parents are getting older . . . how long before . . .? Is that really me in the mirror? Oh, how I miss my grandparents . . .

But, in the midst of all the changes which mar or muddle or bless our lives, we can rely on one constant.

Jesus.

Yesterday, today, tomorrow. Forever loving. Forever forgiving.

Forever, the same.
~
What are some changes you have experienced recently in your life? How are you coping?

Will you pray with me?
We thank You, Father, for sending Your Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. We know whatever changes beset us in our lifetimes, we can ever count on Him, on You, on the Holy Spirit, to be forever and always the same, steadfast and true. When changes are overwhelming, may we find rest and peace in the knowledge of Your infinite and never-changing love. Amen.

Readings
Psalms 80 or 77 (79)
Genesis 25:19-34
Hebrews 13:1-16
John 7:37-52

Happy Birthday, Virginia Rose!

Psalm 139:14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Seven years ...